The Best Books I Read In 2017

The best books I read in 2017 (in no particular order):

1: Hunger by Roxane Gay for being brutally honest.

2: Ill Will by Dan Chaon for its perfect atmosphere, utter creepiness, and for digging into the Satanic Panic of the 80’s.

3: The Nix by Nathan Hill for its exploration of mother / son relationships and for being hilarious in a way that emulates the great John Irving.

4: Colorless Tskuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami for speaking candidly about depression.

5: Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis for utilizing dogs to explore the best and worst of humanity.

6: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich for its quiet beauty, poetic prose, and utter heartbreak.

7: White Noise by Don Delillo for taking the words right out of my mouth, more than once. A satire that centers around an obsession with death.

8: Stoner by John Williams – easily the most beautiful book I read last year. The simple story of one man’s life as he leaves his family farm to start life as an academic.
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9: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood for ripping me out of my comfort zone.

10: The Break by Katherena Vermette for talking about some of the ugly parts of Canada. And the beautiful parts too.

11: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin for making me love SJ even more. THE ultimate biography of her life.

12: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – the most unique book I read this year. Abraham Lincoln mourns for his dead son, and the ghosts in the graveyard narrate what they witness. Haunting and sad, but so so beautiful.

I’m not sure how I missed this book in my best of 2017 collage , but Christodora by Tim Murphy is the best book I read this year. It deserves it’s own spot on the page.

From my review: Christodora is a bold story centered around AIDS activism and gentrification in New York in the 80’s and 90’s. There’s so much more to it than that, though. There is love, death, and heartbreak. There is loneliness, addiction, and depression. There is beauty, art, and hope.

I still think about this book nearly one year later. If you haven’t read this, and if you loved A Little Life, be sure to check Christodora out.

Here’s to 2018!

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BOOK REVIEW | The Dark Tower #1 – The Gunslinger by Stephen King


4/5 stars

This book is so difficult to review, so I’m not really going to review it. Stephen King is a master of his craft, and the first book in the Dark Tower series is no joke.

This book focuses on word building and filling in backstory; sort of a 200 page prologue. There is so much going on in this short book that it’s almost difficult to comprehend. I want to continue with this series but may need to read this again first.

What surprised me the most is how violent and gory this book is – for some reason I suspected a bit of a lighter fantasy. Nope, this is classic King.

We follow the Gunslinger as he follows The Man in Black. Along the way he meets a boy from another time / dimension. That’s, more or less, the point of this book. We also learn a bit about the Gunslinger’s past and relationship to the man in black.

I’ll be circling back to this book in 2018 if I decide to take on the entire series. I’m not a fan of fantasy (too realistic and cynical I guess), but I’ve always wanted to tackle these books.

BOOK REVIEW | Broken River by J. Robert Lennon

5/5 stars

This book is so unique. It opens with a violent scene: a family in upstate New York is trying to escape from their house with their young daughter in tow. The whole scene is narrated from the perspective of “the observer”, a ghost-like presence that floats in and out throughout the entirety of the book. We do not know what the family is trying to escape, but the husband and wife are murdered as their daughter hides in the woods, leaving the young girl alone. The killers remain on the loose, with the observer being the only witness to the crime.

Over the years, the abandoned house becomes a spot for young lovers to find privacy and eventually for vandals to destroy. Realtors try relentlessly to sell the house – it is renovated beautifully, and then destroyed again. No one wants to buy a house where murders have taken place. After a long vacancy, the house is finally sold, renovations take place yet again, and a new family moves in.

Karl is an overgrown teenager – childish, irresponsible, and unfaithful. His wife Eleanor is a cancer survivor and begrudging, though successful, “chick-lit” novelist who suspects her cancer may have returned. Irina, their adolescent daughter, is witty and wise, brave and insecure, and an aspiring writer as well. Eleanor and Irina take a great interest in their home’s history, unknowingly becoming  apart of its narrative. A local resident, Samantha, soon becomes entwined with the family, culminating in a dramatic denouement.

It’s difficult to put into words that which makes this book so good. I cared about these characters – they are all spiraling in different ways, and I wanted them to wake up. They are messy, real. The omnipresent observer served as a clear vantage point for everything going on – sort of a non-judgemental landing place that helped to piece it all together. This is the sort of book that begs the question: what does it all mean? How much control do we have in our lives? Are we really writing our own narratives? Is everything predetermined? There are no bells or whistles here, just great storytelling and character development. I’ll definitely be checking out Lennon’s other books in 2018.

BOOK REVIEW | The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

2/5 stars

I didn’t like this book.

Wini, Pia, Sandra, and Rachel are 4 long-time friends, ready to embark on their annual girl’s-trip. When Pia suggests that they go white-water rafting, differences in opinion quickly emerge. There is excitement, trepidation, fear, and uncertainty.

Everything about this book was just sort of OK…I didn’t connect with any of the characters and their tour guide was a cliche of a young, woodsy, hippie type. Worst of all, the scares didn’t scare me. 2 starts for being a wilderness adventure – I love books about surviving the elements.

BOOK REVIEW | Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

4/5 stars

Murderess is a strong word to have attached to you. It has a smell to it, that word—musky and oppressive, like dead flowers in a vase. Sometimes at night I whisper it over to myself: Murderess, Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt across the floor.

That’s a taste of the Atwood magic at work in Alias Grace – writing that is hard to match with a compelling story to accompany it. Atwood tells the tale of Grace Marks, a young Irish immigrant who comes to Canada to work as a domestic servant. Along with stablehand James McDermott, Marks is convicted of the murder of her employer and his housekeeper in the 19th C. Based on true events, Atwood’s telling is entertaining and engrossing, though characteristically a bit long winded. It’s hard not to imagine that Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites was influenced by this book.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW | All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage

4/5 stars

I’m going to blast out a few very quick reviews today, as I want to get caught up before the new year.

All Things Cease to Appear continually reminded me of Idaho by Emily Ruskovich, though the 2 books are very different. In both books, a crime is committed and the details surrounding it never fully become clear. Much like when crimes happen in reality, I suppose.

George Clare returns home one day to find his wife Catherine murdered and their young daughter alone. He quickly becomes the top suspect in the case, and as we learn more about his marriage we begin to suspect him too.

The shining star of this book is Catherine – she transforms throughout the story, finally reclaiming her independence from a bad marriage shortly before he life ends. I went into this expecting a thriller, but this is literary fiction with mystery and tragedy as the drivers. Atmospheric, unsettling, beautifully written.

 

BOOK REVIEW| Kill the Father by Sandrone Dazieri

4/5 stars

I absolutely loving diving into a new, meaty, crime book and Kill the Father did not disappoint. The first installment in Italian author Sandrone Dazieri’s ‘Colomba Caselli’ series was a great start to what will hopefully be an ongoing project. I love a good crime book, and this one hit all the right spots – a complex, deeply woven, murder-mystery with an unlikely pairing set on solving the case.

A boy and his mother go missing, and detective Colomba Caselli, on leave from work after suffering a trauma of her own, is called upon to look at the details of the case. With reluctance, she becomes involved in the case, and is introduced to someone who is believed to have insight into the mystery.  When Dante Torre was a boy, he was held captive for years by a man known only as The Father. He eventually escapes and manages to rebuild his life. With a new boy missing, Dante must re-open this dark chapter of his life and prove to the police force that The Father is very much alive and still at work.

This story is heavily character-driver, and soon the initial mystery that drew me in – a boy and his mother go missing – eventually becomes a part of the backstory. We discover more about Colomba and Dante, and the focus shifts to uncovering who The Father is and how he is committing his crimes. I missed a bit of the intensity that comes from similar stories where time is everything, and the hunt of the missing child is the focus, though I enjoyed the character progression and look forward to re-visiting these characters again. There was a focus on mental health and trauma that were a welcome addition to a formula that crime fiction fans know well. I could have used some more grit too, but I think that says more about me than it does the book!

This is a nice addition to any crime fiction collection, and the cliffhanger in the very last line of the book will definitely have me reaching for the second installment when it is released.