While compulsively adding books to my 2018 to-read list, I realized that 2017 was a pretty good year for me bookwise. So I decided to put together a (short) list of ten books that I really enjoyed reading last year (with the specification that most of these books weren’t published in 2017, I just happened to read them that year). Hopefully this list will inspire you to add some of these books to your to-read shelf if you haven’t done so already.
Dune by Frank Herbert – Needless to say, one of the greatest masterpieces of the science fiction and fantasy genre, the story of Paul Atreides whose father begins his rule on the planet Arrakis, only to be caught in a political plot which threatens his life and family. Not only is the world building amazing in this one, but the characters are also compelling; the story explores not only their path but also subjects such as ecology, religion and politics. In my eyes this is a classic, a must-read, as I feel it’s one of those books that has shaped an entire genre.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss – Ever since I’ve read ‘The Name of the Wind’ and its sequel I was hooked on Patrick’s writing. Rarely have I encountered such beautiful and mellifluous writing, it’s like each and every word was thoroughly thought of, each and every sentence a perfect gear of a bigger machinery that works wonders. This one is shorter than the other two and gives us a little bit more insight into the character called Auri (I recommend reading the other two from ‘The Kingkiller Chronicle’ series as it’s about a character introduced in the first book). It is quite different from his other two books and if I’m not mistaken even Rothfuss himself stated this at some point. More like a short-story, more like a tale, it’s a touching metaphor for many things and I really loved it.
The Gunslinger by Stephen King – You can find a more in-depth review of this one right here on the blog. An interesting mix of fantasy and western, the tale of Roland, the last gunslinger, and how he chases his nemesis, the man in black. Very interesting concepts are presented in it and the tension slowly builds as the plot advances – I was hooked. The characters are beautifully built and brought together in a gripping story.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik – I began reading it on a late summer night and I still remember how much I laughed from the first pages. The protagonist, Agnieszka, is a young girl living in a small village (I think the fictional land where she lives would be the equivalent of nowadays Poland) that must pay tribute every ten years to a local wizard called the Dragon (the tribute is one teenage girl) in order to gain his protection. Obviously, everyone expects him to choose Kaisa this year (the most beautiful girl in the village and all that jazz) and they are shocked when Agnieszka is taken instead. The main characters aren’t what you expect. This is a lovely story, reminding me of old fairy-tales, only an upgraded version. There are hilarious moments, sarcastic characters, magic and plot-twists. It’s a great book and easy to read. Also, if you’re tired of trilogies (they’re everywhere these days!) this one is for you, it’s a stand-alone.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert – Woop-woop, surprise, a non-fiction one! Who knew I even read this genre?! Just kidding. This one is from Stanford’s annual list of three books for their incoming undergraduate student. It’s more of an anthropology/science based book, discussing several types of human behavior and its relation to different animals that have become or are on the brink of becoming extinct. I liked it because the language is very accessible and it’s structured almost as a travel-journal – in each chapter the author talks about travelling to a certain place with a bunch of scientist, describes her experience there and analyzes the findings. And entertaining read and a good option for those of you who just aren’t into fiction.
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey – Where do I even start with this one? As a matter of fact I’m not into zombie themed books, movies, anything really… but this one was surprisingly good. After the well-known humanity-infected-with-something-that-pretty-much-makes-them-zombies milestone, there are a few uninfected humans in certain facilities, in one of them studying a group of infected kids (they still retain their mental capacities, the only moment when they lose control being when a human is really close and they can feel the scent). Melanie is one of those kids and also the protagonist; the book explores her relationship with many other characters, some infected and some not. It’s a very touching story actually, bringing into question themes such as humanity, what it really means and how it affects us all.
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence – Is there any book by Mark Lawrence that I don’t love?! Don’t know, haven’t found it yet. We have this quirky main character called Nona who after being cast out from her village ends up with some slave masters and other unsavory characters and then is take in by the sisters from a convent where she begins her training and discovers what she is really capable of (trust me, these are not your typical nuns). It’s a great coming-of-age story and I’m looking forward to the second volume. Lawrence, as always, creates bold characters and genuine dynamics between them – it’s one of the things I love most about his books. If you’re a fantasy lover you shouldn’t miss this one.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – This is another one from Stanford’s list. It explores in parallel the stories of two half-sisters (each from a different African village) and their descendant, each chapter focusing on a new character and showing us how that particular branch of the family has fared (in one chapter we see the sisters, then their sons and daughters, then their grandchildren and so on). Each chapter is pretty much its stand-alone story, but when you finish the book you find yourself following this family through several hundreds of years and seeing the bigger picture, how everything connects almost like there is a collective memory for each and every family. It discusses themes such as home, family, how we are connected with our ancestors and how our descendants are connected with us, but it also talks about racism and slavery. As you can imagine it’s a very emotional read where you actually become fond of the characters (or at least I did), it’s ingeniously crafted, a true masterpiece of storytelling.
King of Thorns (and also Emperor of Thorns – because you should always finish an awesome trilogy once you started it) by Mark Lawrence – Yes, yes, I know, another Mark Lawrence one. He is just that awesome, what can I say. These are the volume 2&3 from his ‘The Broken Empire’ trilogy, and though often when reading a trilogy the second book is more of a transition book where things are almost boring, this is not the case here. Jorg Ancrath, the magnificent and fabulous anti-hero of the story, continues to woo us by being a tough bastard and pursuing his revenge quest after already becoming the king of his little land. He must confront prince Orrin in the second volume, the prototype of the knight-in-shiny-armor. We find out more about our beloved Jorg, what drives him and his relationship with Katherine in this astonishing book. If you haven’t read this trilogy yet, what are you doing with your life?!
Caraval by Stephanie Garber – This book will keep you second-guessing yourself, it will be plot-twist after plot-twist (sometimes it feels like you are literally punched in the face) and you will not see half of them coming. It’s about two sisters who ever since they were little dreamt of attending Caraval, a stunning once-a-year performance where you as a visitor could choose to participate to the show (kind of like a treasure hunt but much more realistic feeling); this year they can finally participate. After a heap of trouble they reach the island where the Caraval is held and everything turns out quite differently from what they expected. There is love and betrayal and intricate plots. It’s an easy read so if you’re looking for something light but that will also keep you up at night, this might be it.