2017 might have been a dumpster fire of a year but not for people participating in Cannonball Read 9. A year filled with books both good and bad, #CannonBookClub discussions, reading recommendations, author praise, free book offers and fundraising for the American Cancer Society made this year just a little bit easier for the 290 people registered. We asked this year’s Cannonballers to give us the titles of the best and worst books they read this year. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor got three recommendations by the folks below, while A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and Trevor Noah and Roxane Gay’s memoirs also were suggested by more than one person.
There are a couple of reviews not mentioned below that I’d like to draw your attention to, beginning with denesteak’s review of Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli. After a review hiatus, denesteak came back in September with a poignant and personal review of this memoir by a Spanish interpreter for the New York City immigration court. Second, camilaputz’s review of O Filho de Mil Homens by Valter Hugo Mãe. This was her first review in English, and it is lovely and thoughtful. And last, but never least, reviewing duo Pattykate’s reviews of the first book of The Bible, which are delightfully irreverent and hysterical.
If you read through the books below and have thoughts and comments, consider joining our gang for next year, Cannonball Read 10, as we read books and say #fuckcancer. Registration is open now.
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer - Published in 2015, some kind of bizarre synchronicity led me to read Missoula in 2017, just a few months before the firestorm of harassment and assault accusations that marked this year as the year of the Silence Breakers. This book is as unflinching and essential as it is difficult to digest.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor - Fangirl time: Laini Taylor writes my favorite prose in the fantasy space, and her imagination is second to none. I’ll read whatever she writes and can’t help but lose myself in it every time.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey - With respect to the classics and accepted contemporary classics of epic fantasy, the Kushiel series now my favorite in the genre by far.
Heartless by Marissa Meyer - I read a lot of silly-bad books this year, but Heartless gets the dishonor of being my worst for being both terrible AND the greatest disappointment. I was a fan of Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, and this follow-up was just a lazy, poorly-conceived and poorly-executed mess of a fairy-tale adaptation. Boo and off with her head!
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier - This is the only book I’ve given 5* to this year that I hadn’t read before. It deserves it. Dark, compelling, and with an unreliable narrator done right. I loved Rebecca, but thought My Cousin Rachel was even better.
The Stand by Stephen King - I started reading The Stand in high school, but couldn’t get past Larry and his innate awfulness. I’m glad I stopped then, because I appreciated it more now than I could have as a teenager. While not without its flaws, this epic battle of good versus evil was utterly captivating.
Skullsworn by Brian Staveley - I was a huge fan of Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, and this standalone novel in the same universe, with a great character from those books, was a fantastic foray into this world that offered something fresh and exciting without simply recycling the feeling from the series. Pyrre as a character is a very different narrator (as was the switch into 1st person for the novel). The stakes are high, the tension higher, and the subplots meld effortlessly into the whole. Great fun, whether you’ve read Staveley’s other books or not.
Follow You Home by Mark Edwards - I’m too smart for this shit. You’re too smart for this shit. Everyone is too smart for this shit. Nonsensical plot twists, ridiculous characters, crap writing. The fact that it offered some suspense in the beginning only made it all worse by the end.
Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng
Moonglow by Michael Chabon - This book has everything, from Nazis to retirement communities in Florida to synethesia-level simile. I have gifted this book in 2017 more than any other because I want everyone to have the opportunity to experience it.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay - It was hard to choose between this and Difficult Women because the stories of the latter are so haunting. But the exceptional balance of honesty and and mirroring in “Hunger” means it wins the day. It’s a must-read.
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich - Stunning prose, plus a really intense conversation about climate change, science, religion, reproductive rights, and women’s rights through the lens of RIGHT NOW 2017. GODDAMMITTTTTTTTT.
The Devourers by Indra Das - I have written one-star reviews, and this is not one of them (I explain my 2 stars in my review), but when I look back at the books I read in 2017, this is one I’m most furious about, today.
We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union - I think I was just blown away by the life Union has led compared to what I was expecting from a successful actress married to an NBA superstar. She was eloquent and honest while sharing her remarkable life story.
Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur - Tur’s insider vantage point told a compelling story of how the unhinged maniac we now call president came to power. Obviously a journalist is going to put together a well researched book but Tur elevates her story with heart and humor.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7) by JK Rowling - As one of several people who read Harry Potter this year (all of which are 5 star books) I have to choose one of them for my Top 3 of the year!
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins - I had trouble deciding between Into the Water and 11/22/63 but decided to go with Into the Water because it is a 2017 publication and because I cannot believe it won a Goodreads Choice Award and need to warn people not to read it based on that distinction.
That Month in Tuscany by Inglath Cooper
A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea by Melissa Fleming, Doaa Al Zamel - Non-fiction memoir account of a Syrian refugee, a teenaged girl, who had to flee her home and face her worst fears. I feel so strongly about this book that I donated a copy to our middle school library. Welcome the refugees!
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris - Brilliant graphic novel with stunning visuals all done in Papermate inks and a heart wrenching story of a girl trying to find out the truth about her murdered neighbor, her family and herself. Volume 2 due out next year.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie - Another memoir, this one is full of poetry, pain, humor and history — of Alexie’s deceased mother and of Native Americans. It is both painful and beautiful to read.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance - Ugh. Working class white dude benefits from the government funded social system and then bitches about other people not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. I just re-read my review and I hate him and this book all over again.
Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives by Gary Younge - I will never stop telling people to read this book.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Without You, There is No Us: Undercover with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim
Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken - Enjoyed it at the time, but huge disappointment in hindsight
Mockingbird Vol. 1: I Can Explain by Chelsea Cain, Ibrahim Moustafa - The Chelsea Cain run of Mockingbird was fun, beautiful, and refreshing. I read a lot of female centered graphic novels this year, written by men and women. I think it helped keep me sane.
Bloodline by Claudia Gray - I was not expecting this book to affect me as much as it did. It was a fantastic deep dive into the best Skywalker.
The Weight of it All by N. R. Walker - This wasn’t the best book I read this year, but it was the book I returned to the most often when I needed a comfort read.
Daredevil: The Man Without Fear by Frank Miller
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling - I did a full series reread this year, and I really dug into my relationship with these books, their characters, and Rowling as an author. This review is my most personal, and this book is probably still my favorite of the series. Maybe. For now. Today.
Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… and Why by Sady Doyle - To paraphrase my review: I’m choosing this as one of my best books of the year not because it’s perfect but instead because it is perfect for right now. It is at the top of the heap of the many feminist works I read this year.
A Trick of the Light (Inspector Gamache #7) by Louise Penny - Don’t start here, read book one Still Life first. And then know that I’m telling you from the depths of book nine that the series gets better, stronger, and delves deep into character. Some are bad, some are troubled, but all are trying. Book seven, A Trick of the Light floored me with what Louise Penny was able to do so far into her series.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway - Throwing out a few other 2 star reads, I’m left with this one as it encapsulates all the things which don’t work for me. It isn’t a bad book (I didn’t read a bad book all year), but it was the worst book for me I read this year.
Allen Ginsberg by Mind Breaths: Poems 1972-1977 - They can’t all be Howl, I guess.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller - The single most touching book I’ve read this year. Its impact is still tangible.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - I have, possibly, an unhealthy personal attachment to this book.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander - My review doesn’t do this book justice. This is vital, necessary reading.
Shadow’s Edge by Brent Weeks - I’ve never hated so strongly a book that I enjoyed. There’s a good book. It’s just encased in the misery of others, and a perverse pleasure at the degradation of women.
Lab Girl by Hope Jaren - I read some great nonfiction this year, so it was a close contest, but this book is absolutely inspiring. Favorite quote: “One grain of pollen is all that is necessary to fertilize an ovum and then develop into a seed. One seed may grow into a tree. One tree can produce one hundred thousand flowers each year. Each flower can produce one hundred thousand grains of pollen. Successful plant sex may be rare, but when it does happen it triggers a supernova of new possibilities.”
American War by Omar El Akkad - Most poignant, relevant work of fiction I read this year. This novel addresses war, torture, shifting ideologies, and the plight of refugees. Favorite quote: “…perhaps the longing for safety was itself just another kind of violence-a violence of cowardice, silence, submission. What was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?”
Moby Dick by Herman Melville - I read this because it’s a classic that I thought I’d better cross off my literary checklist eventually. Then the language, grandness, and ambition of the novel won me over entirely. Favorite quote: “Call me Ishmael.”
So, Anyway… by John Cleese - I was overly generous in giving this book 3 stars. I had it at 2 stars and got sentimental at the last second.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood - I finally read this book this year, and I loved it! It feels so current even though it was written decades ago. That’s scary…
Sex and Insensibility by Maggie Preston - My review pull quote:
It has some sex scenes, which is totally good with me. They’re good sex scenes too. There’s no “throbbing member” or anything off-putting. They’re actually sexy sex scenes. The characters act like real people with real motivations and back stories. I guess I’ve read a lot of crappy books in my life, because saying that the characters are believable sounds like a low bar. It’s so awful though when you’re reading a book and you’re thinking “Why the hell did they do that? No sane person would do that”, or something along those lines. Anyway, I digress.
Hagseed by Margaret Atwood - I guess it was the year of Atwood for me. Some were hits (see my 2 best books of the year), and some were misses or near-misses (see MaddAddam trilogy books 1 and 3).
Only the Truth by Adam Croft - I just want to highlight my witty title: If Only the Truth were that this was a good book!
American Gods by Neil Gaiman - Neil Gaiman has always been a little hit-or-miss for me, but this one lived up to the hype in my opinion.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
Something Like Summer by Jay Bell - Touted as being super emotional and sweet, but was ultimately irritating and filled with tired tropes and unlikable characters.
You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero - It’s not good.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor - Laini Taylor’s prose is beautiful and her imagination knows no bounds. I really wish this book hadn’t ended on a cliffhanger, but it was a gorgeous and deeply satisfying read.
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas - Because none of Sarah J. Maas’ previous books had been more than mediocre reads for me, albeit with some imaginative world-building and a lot of promise, I was really not expecting this book to be so incredibly engrossing, moving and entertaining. It’s not a book that will work read on its own, being the second book in a trilogy, but it’s worth reading the not-so-exciting A Court of Thorns and Roses just so you can truly revel in the awesome that is this book afterwards.
Wildfire by Ilona Andrews - The triumphant conclusion (or is it?) of their Hidden Legacy trilogy sees Ilona Andrews (husband and wife writing team) tie up most of the loose ends and give their characters a very satisfying ending (but not after they’ve had to go through a lot of challenges, both personal and external). While I am very fond of all of their books, they just keep getting better the more they write, and Wildfire is an excellent read (I’ve re-read it twice since it came out).
The Rebel Heir by Elizabeth Michels - I haven’t read anything truly hate-worthy this year, frankly, while this book has a dumb title that has nothing to do with the plot (no one in this book is the heir to anything), and the story left a lot to be desired, it’s just a fairly middling historical romance with uneven pacing, some rather anachronistic plot details and a couple who didn’t really convince me that they had a future together.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - Classics are classic for a reason:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
They found the car by Gipi - I have not been able to get this book out of my mind since I read it, it is simply stunning.
Night by Elie Wiesel - It’s so important to continue to bear witness to the horrors of the past.
Hopefully this quote is not as true as Wiesel states.
“Books no longer have the power they once did.
Those who kept silent yesterday will remain silent tomorrow”
Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood - No.
The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin - This is kind of a cheat because it’s two books in one review, but it’s the last two books of one series so, I’m ok with it. Fantastic series.
Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher - Look, if you haven’t read anything by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) yet then just stop and go read one of her books. They are always, always enjoyable.
Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire - I don’t actually think this is objectively in the top three books I’ve read, it’s good but not great, but subjectively I’d feel remiss if I didn’t put it here. If it hadn’t hit me the way that it did I don’t think this would be a five star read, however, it DID hit me that way and it is the book that affected me the most this year and for that alone I need to give it a spot.
The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg - This one kind of gets this slot by default. Most of my one star reads were DNFs, and none of them have really stuck with me as something I remember as BAD. This one, which I rated two stars at the time, was just unenjoyable and the whole series aggravated me. So for that, it gets worst slot.
The Unseen World by Liz Moore - I don’t normally read lit fic, but this book is impeccable and lovely and wonderful.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay - Completely vulnerable and raw, like reading an open wound.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor - This book ensorcelled me.
The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry - Don’t. Don’t do it.
The Hike by Drew Magary - Crazy story about a guy who gets lost and is just trying to get home. Bonus points for sassy crab best friend.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - Hilarious and devastatingly sad story about a man who thinks he’s alone in the world and is ready to leave it.
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel - Definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but I literally couldn’t put this book down.
The Dead Key by DM Pulley - Just no.
Artemis by Andrew Weir - Artemis has its problems, yes, but they were things I anticipated going in. Still, it has a WOC main character and it’s basically a heist book on the moon.
Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse - Sharp and clever, a mystery that takes Mycroft Holmes out of his beloved London and into the islands of the Caribbean and teaches him more about his world. Picked it up for Abdul-Jabbar, finished it for Cyrus Douglas and the harsh realities of the world.
Terminal Alliance: Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse by Jim C. Hines - I don’t know what else to say I didn’t in the review. Janitors, zombie-like “feral” humans, an intergalactic conspiracy, sex-crazed Nusurans, Puritan-named villains, musical higher-ups, and a Janitorial squad leader who’s human through-and-through.
Girl in the Glass by Zoe Brooks - When I finished reading Michael Crichton’s book Sphere I threw it across the room in a rage.
If I’d had a physical book for this instead of my Kindle, I probably would have done the same.
Born A Crime by Trevor Noah - My first audiobook and it was hilarious and poignant!
The Devourers by Indra Das - I think I was one of the few that enjoyed this horror historical fiction!
Giada’s Kitchen: New Italian Favorites by Giada De Laurentiis - My first cookbook review was so fun! I want to read/cook more from this chef.
The Heart Don’t Lie: Jewels’ Dilemma by Yasheca Lasha - A ratchet erotic novella that desperately needed an editor to transform it into a memoir!
Kill The Boy Band, by Goldy Moldavsky - It’s not great literature and it won’t win the Pulitzer or the Man Booker prize, but it’s funny and satirical and spoke directly to my thirteen-year-old boy band loving heart.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
Grey, by E.L. James - It blows. Chunks. That’s all I have to say about that.
Kristin Lavransdatter (The Wreath, The Wife, The Cross) by Sigrid Undset - A beautifully told and beautifully translated noble family epic.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith - This book had no business being as incisive, funny, sassy, saucy, and wry as it is. It looks like it will be sentimental schmaltz, but it’s an absolutely brilliant novel.
My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard - Love it or hate it, but I found this to be brilliant, funny, humble, and weird. (Plus there’s five more!)
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - A racist screed/apologia masked within a family epic.
Do you agree or disagree with any of the above? Are you prepping for a lengthy comment saying why? Then you are a perfect candidate for Cannonball Read 10. Join us, won’t you?