Best Books I Read in 2017

2017 was a year of good reading! I read more books this year than I have any other year previous. The number of books I’m reading concurrently across different platforms has blown out, too, to sit at around 5 or 6 from a stable 3 or 4 at the start of the year.

It means that this list was harder to collate than it normally is and had to expand a bit to include new categories arising from my changing reading habits. Hooray for graphic novels, poetry and mystery/thriller reads!

I’ve continued to not be able to pick an overall “best book” this year, though a few came close. Instead I’ve split them out into mostly genre categories with a double up category for best audio.

You can check out every book I read this year here.

I’ve given a quick paragraph review under each of these to keep the post to a reasonable length, but there’s also a link to each of my full reviews under each the listing in this post. The exception is for graphic novels or comic volumes which I don’t tend to review in full.

Best Fantasy

Servant of the Empire

Servant of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts

An underestimated hit for me. I’ve had a patchy history with Feist and found the first book in this trilogy a bit same-y with Mara seemingly unable to lose. It also felt like a standard fantasy book from its era with an Asian-inspired spin. Some of those elements remain, particularly between Mara and the “barbarian” Kevin, but there’s so much going on plot-wise that it doesn’t detract too much. The stakes get very high and consequences are bloody. Mara makes mistakes and we see a lot more of her ruthlessness and flaws. Mara isn’t particularly likeable which is refreshing. You can respect her and not be ok with her decisions and actions at the same time. Glad I stuck with the series.

Full review here.

Royal Assassin

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

This series is excellent and Hobb hops over the middle book problem by giving me a big, juicy palace intrigue and a villain I can loathe. The plotting is tight in this book with multiple sub-plots, actors, lines of power, and motivations crossing and interweaving all over the place. Much of it happens in the background of scenes, too, in plain sight but not noticed by Fitz and therefore not noticed by a reader initially. Hobb has created a world and people so well-understood in the first book that when she undermines it here in the second you really care – you know the damage being caused and you get angry about it. Masterful.

Full review here.

Best Sci-fi

Steal the Stars

Steal the Stars by Mac Rogers and Nat Cassidy

A story available in both podcast and novel form, I can recommend it in both. A love story set in a privatised military facility looking after an alien and set in a contemporary time this book is a good example of the breadth scifi can cover. It’s not particularly speculative, but it’s got goddamned aliens and scientists in it! Character-centric, action-packed, tense, and propelled by a feeling of inevitability it has enviable “can’t put down” pacing. Dak as a protagonist makes this book – her voice, her views, her flaws, her heart and her character arc across the book are wonderfully original. The story makes an odd tone and focus shift at the midway point, but both halves are strong in their own way so I didn’t mind it. The ending may not work for some people, but it’s certainly discussion-worthy and has some images that stick with you.

Full review here.

Best Horror

World War Z

World War Z by Max Brooks

I was stunned by this book. I wouldn’t have picked it up if my boyfriend didn’t grab a copy on Audible to read for himself and it would have been my loss for dismissing it as ‘a zombie book’.

It did everything I’ve ever wanted in an post-apocalyptic story and more. I loved the pragmatic problem solving of it. I loved the contrast between big picture, historical events and tiny, human experiences. My favourite part though was the choice of narrative device – the reporting-after-the-fact interview style was brilliant and cracked the fourth wall. It felt like a documentary of something that happened.

Best accidental read of the year. Hands down.

Full review here.

Best YA/MG

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This book is possibly my favourite Neil Gaiman work I’ve read to date. A series of linked short stories about Nobody “Bod” Owens told every two years of his life as he grows up in a graveyard. It’s a fascinating narrative device and worked perfectly. Each of the stories is wonderful. I couldn’t pick a favourite. They’re all different, but rich with Gaiman’s mythological knowledge, wry awareness of the world, and the innocence of Bod at their heart. The whole book is covered in that bittersweet charm Gaiman does so well in his children’s fiction. I could read this again and again.

Full review here.

Best Mystery/Thriller

The Dry

The Dry by Jane Harper

I’m slowly working into reading more mysteries and thrillers, and this book really led the way for that this year. It was so incredibly readable and refreshingly Australian. The setting is overwhelming and real. The dust and dryness of it is everywhere – the title isn’t boring, it’s pointing out one of the key strengths of the book. The twin plots interweave well and are interesting enough to keep the pacing going even when not much was seemingly going on. The ending pops nicely and with elements I didn’t see coming. It works even for people who don’t tend to read mysteries.

Full review here.

Best Short Story Collection

Toad Words and Other Stories by T. Kingfisher

Ursula Vernon (writing here as T. Kingfisher) is one of my absolute favourite short fiction writers. Her stories are often set in wild, woody places and populated by pragmatic, independent women of all ages living and thriving alongside strangeness. The stories here are fairy tale retellings, but Vernon makes them her own bringing her own voice, wisdom and snark to the telling. A great place to start if you’re unfamiliar with Vernon’s work.

Full review here.

Sisters of the Revolution

Sisters of the Revolution edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

A really educational read. Many the stories here were new to me – too often I find anthologies are reprints of works I’ve read before or not varied enough to really bring something new. Not the case here. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have put together a wide collection of feminist speculative fiction including old and new pieces, a lot of writers of colour and stories told from non-western or non-US contexts. The breadth covered here really opened me up to the shapes and things that short fiction can do. As a feminist anthology I found it educational and challenging in a philosophical way, too, showing me different angles on rage, female oppression, and bodies. This isn’t the sort of anthology you read to enjoy so much as one to read when you want to challenge your own prejudices and ideas about fiction and feminism.

Full review here.

Best Novella

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

Tor.com are doing some great modern Lovecraft novellas at the moment and this was the best one I read this year. It’s accessible enough for those with little prior-Lovecraft knowledge, but a clever inversion for those who are familiar with the original work (The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath). I really enjoyed Johnson’s world of female academics in a world where maths doesn’t make sense. Vellitt Boe’s solo journey was strong, too, leading to an ending that mirrored the original and was resonant for the protagonist. I plan to one day mark this novella up and see all the thinking behind it, because something this smart and lovely is worth analysing.

Full review here.

Best Poetry Collection

Hold Your Own

Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest

Kate Tempest is one of my favourite modern poets and this collection is an excellent example of her work. Individual pieces tied together with an overarching theme and series of linked poems. The poems nod to classic work while looking at contemporary themes of homelessness, societal breakdown, gender, love, war and classism. Goes without saying it’s beautiful, too.

Full review here.

Best Graphic Novel

Saga

Saga by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples

There is really nothing I can say about this series that hasn’t been said loudly and repeatedly since it started in 2012. A space opera with originality and heart. The artwork is amazing. The characters and world are fascinating. I love that they tried to make something that could only exist in comics and succeeded. I love how much I care about these people and how much these issues can hurt. It’s also unashamedly aimed at an adult audience which gives it a no bullshit frankness I really appreciate. This is the gateway drug to give your friends who think they don’t like comics.

Best Non-Fiction

Story Grid

The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

The book revolutionised how I think about stories. Most importantly it gave me a framework to analyse my own stories through and try to improve them. I railed against reading this for a long time after hearing friends sing its praises because I thought it would be prescriptive or make all of my writing ‘same-y’. I was wrong. The Story Grid is an analysis toolset that you can apply to your work and help you spot strengths and weaknesses. Just learning about how to check whether a scene ‘works’ (or ‘turns’) is worth the price. Both the ebook and the paperback are quite expensive, but there’s a wealth of free material and a podcast on the Story Grid available for free on the website. I’m a convert!

Full review here.

Best Audio

World War Z by Max Brooks

Narrated by a full cast giving each interview excerpt a different ‘voice’ lifted the documentary style of this book and leant it a chilling realism. Having a distinct voice to attach to each one helped to keep the different stories straight and they stuck with you. It helped pick out recurrent story threads, too, moreso than just having a name would have.

Snippets – audio echoes – from this have stuck with me. The woman who talked about zombies crashing into her living room. The military genius who had gone quietly mad. The girl recounting her frustrations at a lack of government evacuation planning (“They just kept telling us: ‘go north, go north, go north’.”).

It carries a lot of weight when you can hear the emotions behind each character’s story in their voice: disappointment, fear, triumph, guilt, anger. Fantastic stuff.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Narrated by Gaiman himself and with musical interludes from the Dans Macabre this was a great audiobook. The chapters each being complete stories worked a treat. Gaiman’s character voices were good and his ability to convey exactly the wryness or wonder he intended was lovely.

Steal the Stars by Mac Rogers and Nat Cassidy

A radio play podcast this story was created to be listened to and is brilliantly done. The cast performance is great. The audio production and sound effects are easily followed and add character and colour to the story beyond what a standard audiobook narration would. It really shows the difference between a radio play and an audiobook. Serialised story podcasts are doing well and Steal the Stars is an excellent example of what this form can achieve when done well. The novelisation does a good job, but if you only do this story one way audio is the way to go.

Honourable Mentions

Best New Voices of Fantasy

The Best New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle

Full review here.

His Bloody Project

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Full review here.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Full review here.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Full review here.

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Full review here.

Sandman 8 World's End

Sandman #8 – World’s End by Neil Gaiman

Sapiens

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Full review here.

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft

Full review here.

One of Us is Lying

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. Mcmanus

Full review here.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Full review here.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Full review here.

Shantaram

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Full review here.

Pan by Christopher Ruz

Full review here.

Long List Anthology 2

The Long List Anthology Volume 2 edited by David Steffen

Full review here.

Psynode by Marlee Jane Ward

Full review here.

Killing Gravity by Corey J White

Full review here.

The Hidden Life of Trees

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

Full review here.

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