Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 best fiction

I'm back with my favorite fiction of the year. I just looked over the list and there's no way I can keep it to six. I really hit on some good books this year. The biggest disappointment was "Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles. I read it because I enjoyed his "A Gentleman in Moscow" so much (see below), but with scarcely a character I liked, it left me pretty cold.

Here we go, as always, in no particular order:

1.  "A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles. Quite simply, I loved this one. The story of a person formerly of a noble class sentenced by the new Soviet regime to house arrest in a posh hotel, the characters are charming and interesting, and there is so much depth in the main character I had to go back and re-read certain passages to make sure I caught everything.

2.  "Before We Were Yours" by Lisa Wingate.  This was one of Wife's book club selections and she told me very little about it other than I really needed to read it. She tells me that about most of her book club books, so I didn't think that much about it. But, oh my, when I was not far into it, I told her she failed to tell me it was disturbing!  It's a fictionalized account of a black market baby market that took place in Memphis, Tennessee. If you like historical fiction, I can't recommend this one enough. You'll want to do your own research into the real-life events around which this story is built.

3. "News of the World" by Paulette Jiles. Another of Wife's book club picks, she shared with me more of the story line in this one before insisting I move it to the top of my TBRs. It's a post-civil war story of an aging "news reader" who gives live news readings to paying audiences. During his travels through north Texas, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan girl to relatives in San Antonio. Before being rescued by the U.S. Army, she was being raised by Kiowa Indians. The interaction between the two, and the encounters they have during their journey, make for compelling reading.

4.  "Look Homeward, Angel" by Thomas Wolfe. This was my nod toward more classical literature this year, and it did not disappoint. Written in 1929, it was Wolfe's first novel and considered by many to be autobiographical, covering the main character's life from his birth to age 19. Although at times dark and depressing, I quickly lost myself in the story and characters.

5.  "Funny Girl" by Nick Hornby. By the author of "About a Boy" and "High Fidelity," this one is set against the backdrop of English television. I've long been a fan of Hornby and find his characters both charming and hilarious. This is more of the same.

6. "Camino Island" and "Rooster Bar" by John Grisham. I know, I know, Grisham turns out novels like running water, but call him my guilty pleasure author. Criticism notwithstanding, I think he's an outstanding story teller. I am lumping these together because both came out this year, but I'm partial to "Rooster Bar" because it's about the for-profit law school industry, a subject I find immensely interesting. He spoke of this one when I saw him last June here in Nashville (he had just sent it to the publisher), and I knew when he shared about the subject matter that I would be drawn in. ("Camino Island" isn't half bad either).

7.  "The Pecan Man" by Cassie Dandridge Selleck. A beautiful southern narrative with elements of "To Kill a Mockingbird," a widow sets out to clear up misunderstandings from more then 25 years earlier regarding a homeless black man she hired to cut her grass. In so doing she learns as much about herself as any of the others involved.

8. "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng. I learned about this one on the podcast I mentioned in my post on non-fiction, and then happened to see it on Older Son and DIL's bookshelf and borrowed it from them. Older Son told me he picked it up on a sale table (in an airport, I believe). He warned me that "it's weird," and it is. But it is also a page turner and I read it over the course of a few days. It traces the life of a female college student who marries her Asian professor and goes on to have three children with him. A tragic event provides the overall backdrop. It's not exactly a happy book to read, but there are encouraging moments, and it's extremely well written.

9. "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi. This book made waves in 2016 for the youth of its author (born in 1989!). It's the story of two half-sisters, born in 18th-century Ghana, and the different tracks their respective lives take, one sold into slavery and one married to a wealthy businessman, and their descendants.

Considering the combined Grisham books, this is a total of ten, so I'll stop there. I will give Honorable Mention to "The Nightingale" by Kristen Hannah and "Small Great Things" by Jodi Pecoult. I will also mention that I just finished "To Kill a Mockingbird" for, I am estimating, the fifth time in my life, on my new Kindle, and my gosh, what a beautiful book. For many reasons, I refuse to read "Go Set a Watchman" which was supposedly also written by Harper Lee and released only last year. There was way too much drama and controversy surrounding its release and way too many questions about why it was published some 50 years after "Mockingbird," that I don't want to read it and set myself up for disappointment. It's kind of like what my late mother said about "Gone With the Wind" -- there is no sequel.

Happy reading to all in 2018. (And Happy New Year in general).


Kelly said...

I've read a couple of these (including an honorable mention) and you'll find one of them on my list later in the week. (you can guess which one!) I've heard other praise for #2 and I think someone in book club mentioned we should read it.

You always have me heading straight to Amazon to add to my wish list with your recommendations!!

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

I have A Gentleman in Moscow on my kindle, ready to read when I decide to. I had started it and was not taken in right away but between yours and Kelly's and my book club's reviews you all have me convinced to go back to it.
I LOVE Nick Hornby as well. I've read several, but not Funny Girl. I will have to add that one to my list as well.
Happy New Year!

Bob said...

Almost everyone I know who has read “Gentleman” agrees (including me) it’s slow at the start and takes 50 or so pages to get into it. I think you’ll find it worth the effort.

Blogoratti said...

Great list and thanks for sharing. Have a wonderful new year, best wishes!

Andrew said...

Good list! Thanks for sharing!

I have developed a horrible malady throughout middle age. I used to be able read for hours at a time. I could easily polish off a sizeable novel in a weekend. Now... I get sleepy after 20 minutes. It's awful.

Thankfully, there is Audible, and I get in a few audio books a month while driving or working around the house... but I miss the feel of reading.