One of my favorite book tools, as both a librarian and a reader, is Goodreads. If you’ve never heard of it, Goodreads is a reader-driven book review and discussion website. You don’t have to be a professional reviewer, author, publisher, librarian or bookseller to use it — anyone who reads books can both read and write reviews on the site.
Every year, Goodreads announces its readers’ Choice Awards. In the opening round, nominees are chosen based on the site’s top-rated books — those that were published in the past year with a user rating of 3.5 or above are selected as nominees. Readers can also write in their own nominations, the top five of which in each category will move on to the next round so that there are 20 books per category in the semifinal and final rounds. Any member on the site can cast votes until the contest closes.
Last year, I was disappointed to find I’d only read one Goodreads Choice Award book, and not just among the finalists, but out of all the books, including the original nominees! Typically, I’ll have read one or two books in five or six of the categories, but I really dropped the ball in 2016.
This year, I tried much harder to read books published in 2017 and as many new authors as I could fit in. When the winners were announced on December 5, I was pleased to find I had read 13 books in 10 categories and I felt much better about myself. I’ll tell you about those 13 books below.
If you’re interested in the 2017 finalists and winners that you can find in Douglas County Libraries’ collection, check out the books in these four lists. You can place holds directly from the lists.
List 1: Fiction, Mystery and Thriller, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, and Romance categories
List 2: Science Fiction, Horror, Humor, Nonfiction, and Memoir and Autobiography categories
List 3: History and Biography, Science and Technology, Food and Cookbooks, Graphic Novels and Comics, and Poetry categories
List 4: Debut Goodreads Author, Young Adult Fiction, Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction, Middle Grade and Children’s, and Picture Book categories
Exit West (Fiction – 6th Place)
I enjoyed this book far more than I expected. It’s about a young couple in a war-torn country who become refugees and seek asylum. There’s an element of quiet, magical realism to this one as random doorways turn into portals and refugees can step through these doors, leaving their homes behind and walking into more peaceful areas. The problem, of course, is that governments don’t want unvetted people easily showing up in any and every country.
More important, though, is the growth of the couple’s relationship as they go from college students to expatriates, and as they try to find safety and stability among violence and chaos. It’s a terrible tale with a realistic, yet still hopeful ending.
Glass Houses (Mystery & Thriller – 3rd Place)
Confession: I haven’t actually read this one yet, but it’s on my to-read list. Highlighting a book I haven’t read will seem perfectly normal if you read my earlier post about Louise Penny
. I didn’t vote for this book because I could not in good conscience do so, but I assume I will enjoy it immensely once I get to it. If you’re a fan of character-driven stories and don’t mind some light mystery, I strongly recommend this series.
Pachinko (Historical Fiction – 8th Place)
I didn’t vote for this one because I didn’t think it was the best historical fiction of the year. I liked the book well enough, but it also bored me throughout. Several of my Goodreads friends mentioned they hadn’t known about the animosity between Japan and South Korea during the 20th century so they felt they learned something interesting. I went into the story armed with that knowledge; it’s why I wanted to read this book in the first place. While I didn’t learn anything new on that front, it was refreshing to get a different perspective via South Koreans living in Japan rather than South Koreans in occupied territory or comfort women and their children. I’m a sucker for family sagas so this should have appealed to me on many levels, but, as I said before, I was bored just as often as I was engaged and I don’t think I’ll remember this story for long.
I listened to this book and didn’t particularly like the narrator, Allison Hiroto, so perhaps I would have enjoyed the book more had I read it with my own two eyes.
This is by no means hard science fiction — it has far too much magic and time travel paired with elements of the classic government thriller. However, it’s a fun, speculative romp through spy vs. spy territory in which magic has been rediscovered and competing factions travel increasingly further back in time to affect contemporary politics.
This is definitely not a character study. The protagonists are fairly standard and boring, while the supporting cast could have been picked out of a hat. But if you’re not looking for strong character development anyway, and you want some interesting and sometimes funny fiction, this is your book.
Yes, I voted for this one.
I have three favorite audiobooks for 2017, and this is one of them. I gleefully voted for it! Preston, who has penned articles for National Geographic, was part of a team that flew to Honduras to learn more about the myths surrounding two lost cities, La Ciudad Blanca and The City of the Monkey God.
As you may imagine, there was some pushback over Americans who are not archaeologists storming the jungles of Honduras for treasure and fame. Preston touches on that, presenting both the pros and cons of the expedition. Mostly, though, he describes the genesis of this adventure, as well as how it all worked out once it got going. It’s an exciting story that introduced me to my new favorite horrible disease: leishmaniasis. Also, there are howler monkeys. Who doesn’t love those?
Note: Of my three favorite audiobooks, this one has the weakest narrator. His pronunciation of Spanish and Mesoamerican words leaves something to be desired.
Here’s another one I haven’t actually read (and I’m glad because I didn’t have to agonize over voting for this or The Lost City of the Monkey God), but I do own the book and I follow Doughty’s YouTube channel, Ask a Mortician, and her website, Order of the Good Death. Thus, I feel qualified to talk about this book. Pro tip: If you’re currently journeying toward the death of a loved one, Doughty may be a great resource for you.
You might have read her previous autobiographical work, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, about her time as a crematory operator. If that turned you off, don’t worry: This one is not about cremains. It’s about Doughty’s travels around the globe to experience a variety of death rituals across cultures. Much more upbeat!
Doughty’s mission is to help people make peace with death, especially in America where we have sanitized and vilified the end of life, making it into something we can’t talk about because it scares us. I wholeheartedly support Doughty’s work and recommend this book even though I’ve yet to read it myself.
I was disappointed to see that this finalist did so well, especially when compared to some of the other finalists in the category. Like many readers, I absolutely loved “Wonder Woman” when I was a kid. I watched the TV show starring Lynda Carter and subsequently spun around on the playground trying to transform from Diana into Wonder Woman. I had a Wonder Woman doll (that came to a bad end soon after I got her), and my ultimate goal, at the time, was to own Wonder Woman Underoos.
While I was in college, Wonder Woman comics transformed. They focused more on the portrayal of her body — her chest grew while the rest of her thinned out and she was often shown in needlessly provocative poses — and less so on her story. I lost interest shortly after and stopped reading comics altogether.
Earlier this year, The Legends of Wonder Woman, Volume 1: Origins came across my desk. I read it and was charmed; it was just like being back in childhood. I fell in love all over again, so when DC Universe’s Rebirth of Wonder Woman showed up, I was excited to read it, too. It was horribly disappointing. I felt the art was less than mediocre, once again focusing on Diana’s body. The elements of female friendship and women’s changing role in the world, which had been prevalent in Origins, was watered down to be more fetishistic and less realistic. It also got a little tongue-in-cheek meta as Wonder Woman pondered her origin stories, all her timelines, wondering who she really is.
Having been so put off by this one, I was saddened to see that it made it to second place, ahead of even my favorite in this list (Saga, below).
Saga, Vol. 7 (Graphic Novels & Comics – 3rd Place)
This is the graphic novel I voted for because I am madly in love with this series! Have you read any of these yet? It’s a space opera graphic novel series that focuses on the “graphic.” It’s full of violence, sex, racism, speciesism, drug use, and general horribleness all illustrated with Fiona Staples’
phenomenal artwork. Warning: Some things can’t be unseen and might be best unseen, no matter how well they’re drawn. If that doesn’t put you off, though, and you’re a fan of space travel, star-crossed lovers, adorable babies sporting wings and horns, sweeping dramas, family sagas, strange characters, uncomfortable situations, and intergalactic war, plus a dash of sweetness and humor, check out the first in this series
and see where it takes you.
Monstress, Vol. 2 (Graphic Novels & Comics – 5th Place)
While I’m still not hooked on the storyline, the art in Monstress is a treat for the eyes. It’s probably not surprising that fans of Saga are also fans of this series; there’s some commonality between the two stories, mainly involving people on the run who are caught between violent factions fighting with each other. This tale follows a young woman possessed — possessed by what she does not know. She’s out to get revenge against the witches who killed her mother but learns in the process that her mother wasn’t the paragon of parenthood, and that friends can betray you. She also meets a pirate shark. As in, a humanoid shark who is a pirate. That, in itself, should be a recommendation for this book.
Sana Takeda’s illustrations are absolutely stunning. I got too caught up in looking at the detail in each panel to actually follow the story, but I will keep reading (looking at) these as long as they continue to be published.
While I get why this resonates with readers, I couldn’t connect with it myself. I mentioned in my Goodreads review that I felt far too old for this, but I also felt my niece would eat it up.
If you enjoy sweet(ish) stories about being alienated (pun intended) and how one finds one’s place in this cold, heartless world, this graphic novel is for you!
Paper Girls, Vol. 2 (Graphic Novels & Comics – 10th Place)
I have no idea what this story is about. It’s a super-trippy tale about newspaper delivery girls from the 1980s on a time-travel adventure. Regardless, I enjoyed following along even if I didn’t understand a thing that was going on.
This is another graphic novel with excellent illustrations. They’re not nearly as evocative as Fiona Staples’ work in Saga, nor are they as gorgeous as what you’ll see from Sana Takeda in Monstress, but Cliff Chiang does a fantastic job bringing the feel of a moment into the story.
The Hate U Give (Debut Goodreads Author – Winner; Young Adult Fiction – Winner)
This is another favorite audiobook from this year. I voted for it in both categories and was thrilled that it won in both. If you’ve already read this but want to revisit it, I strongly recommend listening to the audio version, narrated by Bahni Turpin. Her perfect performance enhances this already phenomenal story.
The story focuses on Starr, a black teenage girl from the inner city who attends a private school with a predominately white student body. She has all the normal teenager troubles; she likes basketball, shoes, and hanging out with her friends; and she’s got a boyfriend and they sometimes have troubles. After she witnesses a close friend’s death at the hands of an overzealous white police officer, she has to deal with her anger and grief and must come to terms with where she fits in the lives of others. She also has to come to terms with how her neighborhood, skin color, and family background influence who she is to herself and to others.
If the political nature of the story puts you off, I’m here to tell you it expands far beyond the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a powerful story that is sincere and well-written. It’s also timely and important, especially for readers who are removed from the issues presented in this book.
Caraval (Debut Goodreads Author – 2nd Place; Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction – 5th Place)
My reaction to Caraval was not as glowing as the reactions of most other readers. This is the kind of young adult novel I try to avoid: It centers on a main character who doesn’t have a lot of depth and yet somehow winds up in the center of a dangerous adventure and love triangle.
This is fantasy in that it doesn’t take place in our world and there’s a magical live-action game that’s played on a remote island. There are no mythical creatures or epic quests, however, making it sort of fantasy-lite.
I would recommend this for fans of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy.
Strange the Dreamer (Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction – 4th Place)
I was completely invested in the first half of this story. The second half focused on a forbidden romance, and since I am not a fan of romance at all I quickly lost interest. However, many readers love that about this tale, and you may, too!
A little girl in a monochrome world sees a real fox abscond with her beloved stuffed fox. The girl and her best friend embark on a colorful adventure as they attempt a search-and-rescue mission for the stolen toy. It’s a cute story with adorable illustrations and some positive messages, including the importance of sharing, representation and compassion. I voted for this one.