Yep, you read right. I’m finally posting my list of favorite books read in 2017, nine months after I originally planned. Most of you probably don’t care. I get it. Problem is, this has been a monkey on my back for months (guilt). This is traditionally my favorite post to write and I’m compelled to cross it off my list. Plus, playing with my reading stats helped get my creative juices flowing. I’ve decided to write my ode to 2017’s reading, regardless of the calendar.
I didn’t meet my reading goal in 2017. I only read/listened to 72 books (I was hoping for 85). There were some I couldn’t finish, and they’re only included if I got at least halfway through. Remember, life is too short to read books that don’t feed your soul. For me this year, that was 8 books, more than ten percent, but it was a weird year. Self-help was my number one genre – if that tells you something. Historical fiction was a close second, followed by memoirs. My books were split evenly between fiction and nonfiction, with 36 books each.
Speaking of my self-help kick, Sarah Knight was the author whom I read the most, with her three best sellers: The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F%^#, Get Your Sh&* Together, and You Do You. I read two books each from the following authors: Beatriz Williams, Daisey Goodwin, Elin Hildebrand, and Jen Sincero (another filthy-mouthed self-help goddess😊). I read 43 authors who were new to me, 21 of whom published their first book. I only read 11 books by male writers (15%). So sexist! Another fun tidbit, I read three books by writers named Allison (all spelled differently). Just over half the books (37) were published in 2017.
Dana (Miss Howard County, not Miss Kentucky), would you believe I only awarded 26 five-star ratings last year? Not bad for Miss-Lose-and-Fast-with-the-Five-Stars -ha! That’s an all-time low for me. The highest GoodReads rating of a book I read was The Hating Game with a 4.22 (I gave it a 5). The lowest was The People We Hate at the Wedding 2.85 (I gave it a 3). The book I rated the lowest was The Check List Manifesto (a 2, which I never do!). This self-help book was supposed to explain how checklists, which once implemented in operating rooms vastly increased efficiency, would increase your productivity. At least I’m pretty sure that’s where the author was going. I never got to the helping me part, because the author scared the shazam out of me with his descriptions and examples of disastrous events that happened to people medically – often because of there wasn’t a check list. I kept turning down the volume, uttering “lalalalalalala” so I didn’t have to hear the gruesome details (FYI, this was one of the books I didn’t finish).
Shall we get to the good stuff? My 2017 favorites are separated into fiction and nonfiction and listed alphabetically.
Can I See You Again? By Allison Morgan – My favorite fun read of the year. Bree is a successful matchmaker with a book coming out about what else? Matchmaking. There’s a big promotional tour planned and a lot riding on the success of the book (which is a separate, albeit heartbreaking, aspect of the story). Just before her book is published, her boyfriend dumps her. Not a good look for a person giving advice on finding your true love. She askes one of her clients, Nixon, to do her the favor of posing as her boyfriend, all the while still trying to find him his perfect match. Of course he’s hot, smart, and rich. Then the boyfriend comes back and proposes, but Bree has already introduced Nixon to the world as her one and only. Oh, and she may have found Nixon the perfect woman, but the prospective perfect match is unaware of the favor Nixon is doing for their cupid. Bree’s boyfriend is aware, but reluctantly agrees to wait to announce their engagement until to the book tour is over. What a mess! I found the book to be clever, funny, fast paced – the perfect summer escape.
Commonwealth by Anne Patchett – I know this book received mixed reviews, but I really liked it. First, I love Patchett’s writing. Second, I’m a sucker for a family saga. This one is packed full of drama. Infidelity, jealousy, bitterness, cancer, death of a child, sibling rivalry, divorce, and cross-country co-parenting. There wasn’t a character who I really connected with, but I did empathize with the children in the story, because they all suffered from the impulsiveness and selfishness of their parents. I was also intrigued by how differently the children reacted to their childhood, which rang true to life. What kept me hooked was my hope for some character redemptions and a few happy endings. Not going to spoil the ending.
Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen – Most of the reasons I listed above about Commonwealth apply to this book as well. Love the writer, love the decades-long family drama. But this one, well, there’s a whole mysterious element that involves a crazy aunt and her story was shocking!!!! So many questions were unanswered for me. The Miller family matriarch is the one I was obsessed with. Did she know what happened with her sister? How did she deal with the transformation of her son (vague, but I don’t want to give anything away). If I ever see Anna Quindlen, she’s going to have to tell me. Also, I found the whole issue of the Valley and the purposeful flooding to swallow a town to be very interesting, as well as disturbing. This was a book club pick and we had a lively discussion. Eighteen months later, I’m still thinking about this book…
Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Smith – Okay, you’re going to kill me. Another decades-long family drama by a favorite author. This one is set in Boston about an Irish Catholic family with lots of secrets! It could be an autobiography of my family, (Seriously, except for the nun, we don’t have those). Sisters Theresa and Nora emigrate to Boston from Ireland in search of a better life. The girls are close, even though they couldn’t be more different. Theresa is beautiful, outgoing, and ready to experience all that America has to offer. Nora, the older sister, is a bit more serious and devout and wants to study hard to be a teacher. Fifty years later, Theresa is a cloistered nun and Nora is the matriarch of a loud and boisterous family. After one of Nora’s children dies, the family gathers for the funereal. After decades of being away, Theresa appears, and everyone wants to know why. Secrets always come out…
Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum – Typically I’m not a big fan of YA. Adolescence was hard enough, I don’t need a story to take me back. However, this one was raved about by so many of my reader resources that I had to try. It pulled me in immediately because the main character, Jesse, is grieving her mother’s death. As someone who lost her mom as a teenager, it really resonated with me. I highlighted the hell out of this book. Jesse’s teen voice is authentic, and yet because of what happened to her, she comes across as mature (she didn’t irritate me at all!). I related both as a teen who lost her mom, and the mother of a daughter who never wants to have her suffer this way. So many good elements to this story – parent-child relationships, young love, teen friendships, and of course the whole concept of “tell me three things.”
The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner – This book had me at Cape Cod and long-lost sister (again, I could relate to a lot in this story). Marin is a lawyer in New York City whose life comes crashing down around her rather quickly (some of it through no fault of her own – some of it totally her fault). She ends up on a road trip with the sister who discovered her through a DNA website, heading to the Cape to meet the paternal Grandmother she was unaware even existed. And that’s all I can say about that. This the perfect summer read – cleverly plotted with family drama of every variety: infidelity, paternity mysteries, long-held family grievances, unplanned pregnancies, grief, love, forgiveness – secrets and shocking plot twists everywhere you turn!
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – The one and only romance that I read in 2017 and it was doozy. You can’t see me, but I’m fanning myself as I write this. It was a steamer! Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeton are coworkers who must sit across from each other all day long. This is torture, because they absolutely hate each other! And we all know about that thin line that separates love and hate. The dialogue in the book was snappy and hilarious. I laughed out loud often while I read, when I wasn’t blushing. But I promise you this is more than a sexy romp. Both Lucy and Joshua are well developed characters and the more we get to know them, the more we want to climb into the book and push them together. This book made me very happy. For that alone, it deserves five stars!
Victoria by Daisey Goodwin – My cousin absolutely loves the PBS show based on this book and has been urging me to watch it. I’m sure many of you can relate, but I didn’t want to without first reading the book. Oh my goodness. I haven’t been this thrilled with royal historical fiction since The Other Boleyn Girl. This book was soooo good! Goodwin based her book on years of research, much of it from the actual diaries of Queen Victoria. This is thrilling, coming-of-age story (Victoria became queen at just eighteen). Alexandrina Victoria spent much of her life in seclusion, even sleeping in the same room as her mother. Her mother wanted to keep her safe from others who desired the throne (there’s an uncle who was next in line). There was some greed and self-serving motives as well. Once Victoria becomes queen, she surprises everyone by doing it her way – with a little help from the Prime Minister (Lord Melbourne). There are a few love stories in this epic drama. Victoria is a feisty and immature Queen who often mis-steps and causes a few scandals in the royal court. Alas, then she finally meets Prince Albert.. So good!
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith – It’s just a coincidence, I swear, that I read about and loved two queens this year. I’m really not an Anglophile – much. I became enamored with Lilibet after watching The Crown on NetFlix (must-see TV) and needed to know more about Elizabeth’s life after the end of season one. Unwilling to wait a year, I headed to the bookstore. Bedell’s book did not disappoint and closely followed the show. However, the author did brush past the rumored dalliances of Prince Phillip, which was a bit disappointing. Still, it’s hard to not admire England’s longest reigning monarch. She’s quite an impressive figure – loved and admired by her subjects. Rightly so. The book was well researched and written.
Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight – I read three of Knight’s snarky self-help books this year. All three are engaging and quick reads. To be fair, there’s nothing new here (especially for those of us who gorge on this genre, as I have), but her delivery is unique (or was, until she spawned a whole sub-genre of f-bomb filled tomes of self-improvement) and funny. I laughed quite a bit, her voice is that of a girlfriend who is tired of you coming to her for the same advice – repeatedly. Get with the program already! And yet, she can’t hide her affection for you and you know she’s always on your side. All her books have been best sellers and her fourth will hit the shelves by the end of this year. And yes, I’ve pre-ordered it! BTW, I also bought the audio versions of her books because when I need a good swift kick in the a$$, I like to listen to her.
The Joy Plan: How I took 30 Days…. By Kai Roman and The Well Life by Brianna Borten – Okay, this is a double, because they’re somewhat similar, but with different approaches. Both these books are on my real-life bookshelf reserved for favorites and they’re flagged heavily with post-its. The Joy Plan is my dream self-help memoir. Roman outlines her personal 30 day journey/plan to find joy and rebuild her life after some unfortunate events. She was able to take 30 days to focus on her self (she only has two kids and a husband who total bought in). I wish! Still, I enjoyed it and she has practical tips and exercise for the reader. Mindfulness is big. In The Well Life, the authors take a more holistic approach to wellness. They focus on three elements. Sweetness, the freeing of your mind, body and soul. Structure and how it can free you from an excessively busy experience. Space to understand the big picture. This appealed to my inner-hippie. I want to visit the authors’ wellness center in Boulder. Again, mindfulness is a key component. Ohm….
Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom – Can you believe I only just read this book in 2017? I’ve read a few of Albom’s books, but not this one. I don’t know what I was waiting for – wait, I know. It’s a book about dying. As a rule, books about dying are taboo for me. This one was a little easier to take, because Morrie wasn’t tragically young, and his children were grown. I read this book in one day, even though I was scared that it would give me an anxiety attack. It didn’t. A beautifully written book that’s compelling and filled with all the wisdom we wish we were born with. It’s a short book that should be read slowly and then again. I soaked in Morrie’s observations and advice. I laughed quite a bit, too. Totally worth all the hype (even if this was published decades ago).
Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur – I believe that this may have been the first of the Trump books to come out post-election. NBC assigned Tur to cover Trump in 2015 and thought she’d be on the beat for only a few weeks. I was curious to read her account of the Trump campaign, because he often called her out when on stage and mocked her. It used to drive me crazy. I was a fan of Mark Halprin’s books Game Change and Double Down, which were about the Obama campaigns. I love a reporter’s bird’s-eye view. Unfortunately for Tur, she was witness to some very shameful behavior and was the victim of that bad behavior. Regardless of your party affiliation, this is a riveting read that should be a civics lesson on how citizens shouldn’t behave. Tur’s voice is engaging, and I hope for her sake, she gets to cover a different candidate in 2020.
You Are a Badass by Jen Senciro – Yes, I’m sorry, it’s another self-help book. I went a little cray-cray in 2017😊. This was funny and entertaining and part memoir. Loved it. And yes, I totally felt like a badass after I read it.
My Honorable Mentions by Genre:
Chicklit: Hello, Sunshine by Lara Dave
Cookbook: The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay Andrews
Health: Younger: A Breakthrough Program by Sara Gottfried
Historical Fiction: Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams
History: First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies by Katie Andersen Brower
Memoir: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Self-Help: Yup, I’ve got more – but I will spare you!
Southern: The Bookshop at Water’s End by Patti Callahan Henry
Women’s Fiction: Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
And now my favorite part of my Favorite Books of the Year posts, my superlatives. Some are fun and random, and others are based on the (possibly useless) data I collect every year about my books.
Best Female Character: Cora Cash in Daisy Goodwin’s The American Heiress. I would have picked this book as a favorite, but I have a rule about not picking more than one book by the same author. Goodwin’s Victoria ever-so-slightly won out.
Best Male Character: Joshua Stapleton in The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Character I Loathed: Danny in Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave
Best Title: The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Grinder. I bought this for the title alone. I honestly have fond memories of this book, but I only gave it a three. I really wish I remember why!
Best Cover: Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams. She always has gorgeous covers.
Worst Title: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney. The title is literal. That’s what Lillian does, as she reflects on her life. The story was great, the title (and main character’s surname) – not so much.
Book I Gave the Most as a Gift: Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
Sauciest Revelation: There’s all kinds of juice in Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stelter. How’s this for timing? I finished it the week before Matt Lauer was fired.
Book that Made Me Laugh the Most: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a %^&* by Sarah Knight
Book that Made Me Cry the Most: Nothing made me cry! Would you believe that? I would not let a book make me cry. If I sensed it was going there – bah-bye.
Most Overrated (imo): South & West by Joan Didion. Far be it for me to criticize Ms. Didion, author of one of my all-time favorites (The Year of Magical Thinking)! However, I wouldn’t even call this one a completed book. It was like someone took her journal and hit publish. I did not get it.
Most Popular Story Setting: Once again, New York City was the place where most of my books lived – 13. LA and New England rounded out the top three.
Most Popular Profession: Ten books featured a writer as the main character.
Most Read Publisher: Penguin Random House, 7 books. The most read imprint was Little Brown & Co., 9 books. I only read 9 books this year that were from independent publishers or self-published.
Favorite Place I Bought a Book: I usually pick a sweet little independent book store, but this year I had quite the rainy, cold morning at a Baltimore Barnes & Noble. It was located on the Inner Harbor, with multiple stories and brick interior walls. It was divine. I walked out with huge parcel that had to be double-bagged.
Oldest Book I Read: The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald – originally published in 1925. Perhaps my third time reading it? Hunter was reading it for school and I wanted to be able to help him if necessary. It wasn’t – he loved it.
Longest Book I Read: The Queen Elizabeth biography by Sally Bedell Smith, 663 pages
Shortest Book I Read: South & West by Joan Didion, 160 pages
Month I Read the Most: April, 10 books (mostly on spring break!)
Month I Read the Least: December, 2 books. Damn you Hallmark Channel!
Booked I Threw in Anger (there’s always at least one!): The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green. I read post anxiety attack (the big one). Was looking for light, fun summer read. It was not – and it pissed me off.
Most Shocking Surprise: Nothing blew me away this year. I only read one thriller and it was predictable.
Book I Didn’t Think I Like, but Did: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance. Everyone told me I had to read it – especially after the election. I’m familiar with the area that the author writes about and couldn’t image it would be the least bit interesting. Boy was I wrong. I read it in one sitting.
Book That Made Me Feel Like the Odd Girl Out: The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines. Love them, love their show. Their book, a little boring.
Book That Made Me Blush: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Book That Gave Me an Anxiety Attack: The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. Not kidding, he had me convinced if I didn’t have a list to check off, I’d be doomed.
Number of Books I Read with a Swear Word in the Title: Four
“One of the worst parts about someone dying is thinking back to all those times you didn’t ask the right questions, all those times you stupidly assumed you’d have all the time in the world. And this too: how all that time feels like not much time at all.” – Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
“…love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.” – Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
“It never ceases to amaze me the precious time we spend chasing the squirrels around our brains, playing out our dramas, worrying about unwanted facial hair, seeking adoration, justifying our actions, complaining about slow Internet connections, dissecting the lives of idiots, when we are sitting in the middle of a full-blown miracle that is happening right here, right now.
We’re on a planet that somehow knows how to rotate on its axis and follow a defined path while it hurtles through space! Our hearts beat! We can see! We have love, laughter, language, living rooms, computers, compassion, cars, fire, fingernails, flowers, music, medicine, mountains, muffins!”
– You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
I did it. Finally! Thank you for indulging me. I’ve been reading a lot this year and I’m well on my way to 100 books. Can’t wait to do this again in January 2019.