My goal was to read 24 books this year; two each month. But alas, in the midst of moving and starting a full-time job, I only read 19.
Edited to add: 20, I read 20 but I forgot, so I added it at the end of the post.
Fiction is my jam when it comes to reading. I do enjoy memoirs, but only read one this year. I read children’s books, young adult books and literary fiction.
As a side note, they say you write what you read, but I write non-fiction for a job and read fiction for pleasure. I am not sure what that says about me because I rarely pick up a book in the same genre I write. What I can tell you is this: I love to read stories that take me into different worlds and different experiences. Also, if you have read my “about” page you know my dream is to win a Newberry medal someday, so there’s that. Right now I write about disability ministry and raising kids with disabilities, and perhaps I will figure out how to marry those interests into a Newberry book. It could happen. You never know.
So these are the books I read in 2017. I will let you know if I recommend the book or not. Even the books I did not like, I am the type of person who must finish a book once I start it.
So here they are, in chronological order:
1. Hollow City: Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.
Why I read the series: I was teaching middle school Spanish at the time and several of my students were reading the series. I love talking about books, and it was fun discussing the series with some of my students.
Plot summary from Amazon: “Having escaped Miss Peregrine’s island by the skin of their teeth, Jacob and his new friends must journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. Along the way, they encounter new allies, a menagerie of peculiar animals, and other surprises. Complete with dozens of newly discovered (and thoroughly creepy) vintage photographs, this new adventure will delight fantasy fans of all ages.”
2. Library of Souls: Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.
Overall thoughts on the series: I enjoyed the series. It is not Harry Potter, but I loved how the author used old pictures to create his story and characters, it was fascinating.
Plot summary from Amazon: “Time is running out for the Peculiar Children. With a dangerous madman on the loose and their beloved Miss Peregrine still in danger, Jacob Portman and Emma Bloom are forced to stage the most daring of rescue missions. They’ll travel through a war-torn landscape, meet new allies, and face greater dangers than ever. Will Jacob come into his own as the hero his fellow Peculiars know him to be?”
3. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.
Why I read the book: I love cultural stories. One of my favorite children’s books is “Esperanza Rising” by Pam Munoz Ryan. I read “Esperanza Rising” to my Spanish students so they had a new perspective of why people immigrate to the Unites States. I was looking forward to “Echo,” but my issue with the book is she pulls you into three separate stories and drops them each at the most crucial moments with no explanation of how the characters made it through. Story then resumes several years later. I felt slightly cheated as a reader.
Plot summary from Amazon: “Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica. Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo. Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, Echo pushes the boundaries of genre, form, and storytelling innovation to create a wholly original novel that will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.”
4. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.
Why I read the book: I knew the story had to do with disability and diverse characters. I loved Nicola Yoon’s writing style. Her main character was lovely. I know the book was made into a movie and had some backlash from the disability community (specifically from those with the main character’s condition) and I very much understand where they are coming from (which is something I had not considered when I read the book, which makes sense as I am an able-bodied person as some of those problematic details often escape me). But I really enjoyed Nicola Yoon’s book.
Plot summary from Amazon: “This innovative, heartfelt debut novel tells the story of a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world. When a new family moves in next door, she begins a complicated romance that challenges everything she’s ever known.
‘My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in 17 years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla. But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean, and wearing all black – black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly. Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.'”
5. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.
Recommend: Yes… but…
Why I read the book: The book deals with mental illness in adolescents. I found the book to be eye opening and Niven did a great job at letting us into the mind of someone who struggles with depression. I think the book should begin with a disclosure making it clear it deals with suicide and provide numbers and contact information for suicide prevention.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit The Mighty’s suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741
Plot summary from Amazon: “Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death. When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.”
6. From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Why I read the book: It deals with WWII and the horrific events that took place in Italy. I had no idea how much the Catholic church intervened and helped rescue jews. I read books like these because I believe we must never forget, and we must be vigilant so these events never happen again.
Plot summary from Amazon: “Italy, 1943 – Germany occupies much of the country, placing the Jewish population in grave danger during World War II. As children, Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco were raised like family but divided by circumstance and religion. As the years go by, the two find themselves falling in love. But the church calls to Angelo and, despite his deep feelings for Eva, he chooses the priesthood. Now, more than a decade later, Angelo is a Catholic priest and Eva is a woman with nowhere to turn. With the Gestapo closing in, Angelo hides Eva within the walls of a convent, where Eva discovers she is just one of many Jews being sheltered by the Catholic Church. But Eva can’t quietly hide, waiting for deliverance, while Angelo risks everything to keep her safe. With the world at war and so many in need, Angelo and Eva face trial after trial, choice after agonizing choice, until fate and fortune finally collide, leaving them with the most difficult decision of all.”
7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Why I read the book: Honestly I read it because the show was coming to Hulu and I am someone who has to read the book before I watch the movie/show. It was a chilling telling that, unfortunately, is not as far fetched as people would want it to be. Abuse and control over women is something we fight even now, and there are people who use “religion” to justify hate crimes and abuse.
Plot summary from Amazon: “The Handmaid’s Tale explores a broad range of issues relating to power, gender and religious politics. After a staged terrorist attack kills the President and most of Congress, the government is deposed and taken over by the oppressive and all controlling Republic of Gilead. Offred, now a Handmaid serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife, can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name. Despite the danger, Offred learns to navigate the intimate secrets of those who control her every move, risking her life in breaking the rules in hopes of ending this oppression.”
8. Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
Why I read the book: I love children’s books and Neil Gaiman is an incredible storyteller. It is a fascinating magical story, but I am not a fan of “horror” stories. While this is a children’s book and perhaps not scary for most, I personally do not enjoy creepy stories. This is 100 percent personal preference and has nothing to do with Mr. Gaiman who I must say is phenomenal. If your children like scary or dark stories, I would recommend. Also, skip the movie because the book — as expected — is so much better.
Plot summary from Amazon: “Her family has just moved to a completely new town, and so Coraline already feels a bit strange. In her new house there is one door that opens onto a brick wall. At least, it does until one day the bricks are gone and Coraline finds herself stepping over the threshold into another house . . . a house that’s just like hers. At first things appear marvelous in this other house. The food is better. The toy box is filled with windup angels that flutter about, books whose pictures crawl and shimmer, and little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there’s another mother and another father—and they want Coraline to be their little girl and stay with them forever. They want to change her and never let her go. Other children are also trapped, as lost souls behind a mirror, and Coraline is their only hope. She will have to find a way to meet the other mother’s challenge in order to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.”
3. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Why I read the book: I have loved almost every single book by Moriarty and this was no exception. Her books are “who done it” and suspenseful. But she is funny in her writing and that, my friends, is a gift not many writers posses. It was one of my favorite reads of the year, and I devoured the book in two days. Her characters are real and honest and flawed. I loved that about her stories!
Plot summary from Amazon: “Pirriwee Public’s annual school Trivia Night has ended in a shocking riot. One parent is dead. The school principal is horrified. As police investigate what appears to have been a tragic accident, signs begin to indicate that this devastating death might have been cold-blooded murder. In this thought-provoking novel, number-one New York Times best-selling author Liane Moriarty deftly explores the reality of parenting and playground politics, ex-husbands and ex-wives, and fractured families. And in her pitch-perfect way, she shows us the truth about what really goes on behind closed suburban doors.”
10. Divergent by Veronica Roth.
Why I read the series: Honestly I read the series because everyone else seems to have read them and I cannot stand people talking about books and not being to participate in the conversation.
Plot summary from Amazon: “In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue – Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is – she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are – and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves…. or it might destroy her.”
11. Insurgent by Veronica Roth.
Thoughts on the series: Tris is not a super likable character, but she is experiencing PTSD throughout the series. People tend to do what they have to do to survive and protect people they love.
Plot summary from Amazon: “One choice can transform you – or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves – and herself – while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love. Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable – and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.”
12. Allegiant by Jennifer Roth.
Final thoughts: I truly enjoyed the series, but, what I did not like about the third book is it is the only book told from Tris’ and Four’s perspectives. It was inconsistent with the rest of the series told only from Tris’ perspective, and in my opinion, confusing.
Plot summary from Amazon: “One choice will define you. What if your whole world was a lie? What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything? What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected? Told from a riveting dual perspective, this third installment in the series follows Tris and Tobias as they battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and their selves—while facing impossible choices of courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.”
13. The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider.
Why I read the book: The main character has an accident and ends up with a disability, but the disability narrative is nothing more than a plot device. In my opinion, the plot was weak and the writing was, too. For good YA I recommend Nicola Yoon, Rainbow Rowell or John Green.
Plot summary from Amazon: “Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them; a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: In one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life. No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met – achingly effortless and fiercely intelligent. Together, Ezra and Cassidy discover flash mobs, buried treasure, and a poodle that might just be the reincarnation of Jay Gatsby. But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: If one’s singular tragedy has already hit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?”
14. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.
Why I read the book: Yoon writes diverse characters and she writes about other cultures. This was also one of my favorite reads of the year and a great insight into what immigrants face in the United States. I loved there was no “happy” ending because often undocumented immigrants don’t have a happy ending. It is told from the perspective of Natasha, Daniel and the Universe (yes, “the universe,” but trust me, it works). I am a big fan of Ms. Yoon.
Plot summary from Amazon: “Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is 12 hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story. Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store – for both of us. The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?”
15. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.
Why I read the book: I believe the more we learn from people who are different from us the “richer” we can become if we are willing to listen and learn. I knew little about South Africa and Apartheid, it was fascinating to hear from someone who lived it. I listened to the book on tape, read by Noah, and it was absolutely the right choice for this book.
Plot summary from Amazon: “Trevor Noah, one of the comedy world’s fastest-rising stars and host of The Daily Show, tells his wild coming-of-age story during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.
‘Nelson Mandela once said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’ He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, ‘I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.” (Trevor Noah)
The stories Noah tells are by turns hilarious, bizarre, tender, dark, and poignant – subsisting on caterpillars during months of extreme poverty, making comically pitiful attempts at teenage romance in a color-obsessed world, thrown into jail as the hapless fall guy for a crime he didn’t commit, thrown by his mother from a speeding car driven by murderous gangsters, and more.”
16. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Why I read the book: I know this is a book many read when they are in high school, but I moved to the United States my senior year of high school and never had to read it. I knew it was about a man with an intellectual disability, so I decided to read this “classic.” This book confirmed what I know: people look at intellectual disability as the “bottom of the totem pole” when it comes to disability. This is why our efforts to educate and advocate are so important. Intellectual disability is not a lesser life, and books like this one portray intellectual disability as such, nothing more than myths and stereotypes. It is narratives like this one that are so damaging to people with intellectual disabilities. Yes, some of the things he describes have been a reality for people with intellectual disabilities, but the answer is not to erase disability.
Plot summary from Amazon: “Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance–until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?”
17. Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate.
Why I read the book: I absolutely loved “The One and Only Ivan” by Applegate, so I looked forward to this book. I liked it. Not as much as Ivan. I wanted more from the story. It was, however, a great book for children to understand what it can be like to be homeless.
Plot summary from Amazon: “Katherine Applegate delivers an unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience. Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent, and not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again. Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything? Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.”
18. Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz.
Why I read the book: I love stories about immigrants, after all, I am one. This book is loosely based on the author’s own immigration experience. I did not enjoy the writing, I know de la Cruz is an accomplished writer but it did not translate in this book well. The writing, to me, was “sloppy,” but I would have gotten past it if her story was relatable. This book is an immigrant fairytale: star student, national academic awards, star athlete, parents with jobs that allow them to be home with the kids, and connections to high political figures. This is so different from the story of most immigrants. I cannot fault the author for her personal experience, but most immigrants do not have connections to congressmen who will help them become documented. I felt angry and hurt by this story, because there is little in these pages that the thousands of undocumented immigrants in this country could possibly relate to. I want real stories, not fairytales. And it worries me people who know little about this process will think this is how the system works.
Plot summary from Amazon: “She had her whole life planned. She knew who she was and where she was going. Until the truth changed everything. Jasmine de los Santos has always done what’s expected of her. She’s studied hard, made her Filipino immigrant parents proud and is ready to reap the rewards in the form of a full college scholarship to the school of her dreams. And then everything shatters. Her parents are forced to reveal the truth: their visas expired years ago. Her entire family is illegal. That means no scholarships, maybe no college at all and the very real threat of deportation. As she’s trying to make sense of who she is in this new reality, her world is turned upside down again by Royce Blakely. He’s funny, caring, and spontaneous – basically everything she’s been looking for at the worst possible time, and now he’s something else she may lose. Jasmine will stop at nothing to protect her relationships, family and future, all while figuring out what it means to be an immigrant in today’s society.”
19. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling.
Why I read the book: This is my favorite series of all time. This will be my fourth or fifth time reading the series (I cannot remember). My oldest and my husband are also reading it (we are all in different books and I just started it again). I think J. K. Rowling is one of the most brilliant storytellers of all times. If you have any connections with her, hook me up, please! Also, everyone in my family is a Hufflepuff, in case anyone wanted to know.
Plot summary from Amazon: “Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal bearing a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger and a snake surrounding a large letter ‘H’.”
Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!”
20. The Night Circus by Erin Morgensten.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Why I read the book: I read somewhere fans of “Harry Potter” would like this book. It is no Harry Potter, it is a different writing style and story. Sure, they both deal with magic, but they are quite different. That said, I really enjoyed this story, it was intriguing and beautiful. It was indeed, magical.
Plot summary from Amazon: “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love-a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.”
What were your favorite books of 2017?