Another year is at an end and it’s once again time to list my favorite of the books I’ve read during the year. I read a lot of books this year, 261 books in fact. Mostly contemporary romance, both m/m and m/f, but I also read a lot of fantasy, magical realism, some historical, and some chick-lit this year. I discovered new and new-to-me authors to add to my auto-buy list and made a major dent in my To-Be-Read List – although it doesn’t really help that I add books to the list as fast as I mark them off it. It’s a bit like running in place. In short, it was a challenge for me when it came time to choose favorites. My criteria (aside from being entertaining and well-written) was that the book had to (a.) have a deep emotional impact on me, and that it (b.) lingered in my mind long after I finished reading it.
My Top 10 Books of 2017:
( 1.) His Mossy Boy (Being(s) in Love #8) by R. Cooper
It’s no secret that R. Cooper is one of my favorite authors. All of her books and stories are emotionally satisfying to me. They are my #1 go-to comfort reads. They are subtle, well-crafted, layered stories and I love the way she writes characters who are beautifully fragile yet earnest and even hopeful in the face of adversity. They have depth and complexity and the author renders them skillfully. I love the way she weaves stories which are at once poignant, entrancing, and charming. I am particularly fond of the Being(s) in Love series, of which this book is the latest installment. It picks up not long after the previous book, Treasure for Treasure, and the main characters first appeared in that book. You don’t need to have read Treasure for Treasure prior to reading His Mossy Boy, but it did enhance my own enjoyment of this book because several of the characters reappear in this book. His Mossy Boy is a slow-burn romance full of longing, self-examination, and unresolved sexual tension, along with the endearing magical Beings that populate this series.
( 2.) The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish
I’m not sure how to describe this book. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read. It’s almost a modern day fairy tale with a touch of old world vibe. This is a beautiful story. The language is beautiful, the imagery, the gentleness. It’s charming and enchanting. Corbin Wale is a wonderfully unique and fascinating character. Alex Barrow is the most steadfast, genuine, honest character I’ve read in a while. Together they combine into a deeply rooted true love story for the ages.
( 3.) Peter Darling by Austin Chant
This book was marvelous and magical. It’s a beautifully written, compelling trans story of Peter Pan, now grown up, revisiting Neverland and discovering truths about both himself and his old nemesis, Captain Hook. It’s a captivating story that I never knew I needed until I read it. I’m in love with this book.
( 4.) Nocturne (Hours of the Night #2) by Irene Preston & Liv Rancourt
If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I adore this series. It’s one of the strongest, best written paranormal series I’ve read in a very long time. Nocturne is everything I love in a story combined: mystery, suspense, romance, and the paranormal, all set in and around New Orleans during Mardi Gras season. The characters are compelling, the tension and suspense builds gradually but steadily and never stalls, the mysteries are not easily solved by either the characters or the reader (very huge plus for me, who usually figures everything out in the first quarter of a book and grow bored), and it’s filled with well-researched ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity. This book was excellent on every level. I can hardly wait for the next installment.
You can read more of my thoughts on the Hours of the Night series here and here.
( 5.) How to Blow It With a Billionaire (Arden St. Ives #2) by Alexis Hall
This series is brilliantly imagined and executed. Alexis Hall has taken a worn out, overdone trope and turned it on its ear. It’s fresh and fun and intense and an emotional rollercoaster ride. I almost cheated and listed both books in this series, because you need to have read the first book in order to understand everything that is going on in this one, but I feel that this second book is a stronger book. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the first book. Arden is the most refreshing, most irresistibly vibrant and lovable character I’ve read in a long time. I love everything about him. And Caspian intrigues me. But much of the first book, How to Bang a Billionaire (Arden St. Ives #1), was spent setting up the series, introducing the cast of characters, laying the groundwork, etc. This book brings the story fully to the forefront. The characters are more developed and their interactions are on a deeper level and get us to the heart of this relationship. This book made me laugh out loud and it made my heart weep. This being the second book in a three book series, we are left with a cliffhanger and not a HEA or even a HFN. So, now I just really need to read the third book and it doesn’t come out for months and I’m left with this aching and longing in my soul. But I have faith in both Arden St. Ives and Alexis Hall to pull it all together in a satisfying climax in that final installment.
( 6.) Who We Are by Nicola Haken
This book runs the emotional gamut. There’s laughter and tears, frustration and despair, love and fear. It’s about everyday life, dreams put on hold, family responsibility and the struggles and triumphs that come along with it. These characters are realistic and relatable, fully-drawn and compelling. The supporting characters are fully-developed and intriguing in their own right. All in all, it’s everything I love in a story.
( 7.) House of Cards (Porthkennack Book 4) by Garrett Leigh
One of the highlights of 2017 for me has been the introduction of the Porthkennack series, a series of m/m romance books by a collaboration of talented authors which are all set in the charming, fictional Cornish seaside town of Porthkennack, a town with a long and sometimes sinister history. I’ve enjoyed all of the books in this series to a varying degree, but House of Cards has been my favorite, so far. It’s a slow-building friends-to-lovers story with complicated, multi-dimensional characters who are both dealing with the demons of their pasts. It’s also populated with interesting side characters whom I hope to see more of in future books. There are also tattoo artists, smugglers, and chicken rescuers.
( 8.) The Poison Within (Inspector Skaer #1) by Kasia Bacon
Although this is a short novella rather than a full length novel, it belongs on this list. I’ve enjoyed all of this author’s stories and novellas set in her The Order Universe thus far but this one was my favorite. Part romance, part police procedural, part paranormal, it’s a fully formed story brimming with intrigue and diversity, and populated by complex, well-developed characters. Kasia Bacon is that rare creature who can convey a wealth of character and atmosphere in a very concise yet vivid way. I spent over ten years editing short story anthologies and I’ve only seen a handful of writers as adept as this author at the short form.
( 9.) Foxglove Copse (Porthkennack Book 5) by Alex Beecroft (Trigger Warning for Bullying and Animal Abuse)
(10.) The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (Trigger Warning for Sexual Abuse)
Now, these last two books were a tough call when it came to putting this list together. They are both powerful, provocative, and riveting stories, but they both contain disturbing and distasteful subject matter. They are also both masterfully written and stayed with me long after I finished reading them. If you like dark and twisted stories, these are definitely that. The Roanoke Girls, especially, is a f*cked up story and it will screw with your head, but it is intensely engrossing and I could not put it down.
Foxglove Copse disturbed me in a completely different way. One of the main characters suffers from severe anxiety, just like I do. Every time he had an anxiety attack, so did I. One of the characters in the book is a teenager who is bullied. I, too, was bullied as a teen. The crimes committed in the book are disturbing to me on a visceral level. But this story is so well-crafted and so thoroughly descriptive, I felt like I was living this book and it haunted me for quite a while.
Best Books I Read in 2017 That Were Published Before 2017:
( 1.) The Imperfection of Swans by Brandon Witt (2016) (Trigger warning for eating disorders)
This book is full of angst, unresolved sexual tension, personal struggles, and a ton of emotion. The romantic relationship is a slow-building, unhurried development, not rushed and not perfect for a while. But there is such depth to these characters. Their dreams are real, their fears are deep-seated, their struggles are realistically portrayed. It’s a powerful, moving journey that left me emotionally limp with a book hangover that lasted for days.
( 2.) Garden Spells (Waverley Family #1) by Sarah Addison Allen (2007)
The women of the Waverley family — whether they like it or not — are heirs to an unusual legacy, one that grows in a fenced plot behind their Queen Anne home on Pendland Street in Bascom, North Carolina. There, an apple tree bearing fruit of magical properties looms over a garden filled with herbs and edible flowers that possess the power to affect in curious ways anyone who eats them.
I read this book for my February 2017 TBR Challenge and loved it. I’ve since read every book by this author that I could get my hands on and I’m grateful to have been reminded how much I enjoy magical realism in books. The rhythm and lyricism of the storytelling in this book is beautiful and draws you in to this world of Bascom, North Carolina and into the heart of this town and this family, with their history and their heartache and their hopes for the future. It is told from multiple viewpoints, giving scope and perspective and a true sense of place to this enchanting world in which the tale unfolds.
( 3.) Wait For It by Mariana Zapata (2016)
If anyone ever said being an adult was easy, they hadn’t been one long enough. Diana Casillas can admit it: she doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing half the time. How she’s made it through the last two years of her life without killing anyone is nothing short of a miracle. Being a grown-up wasn’t supposed to be so hard. With a new house, two little boys she inherited the most painful possible way, a giant dog, a job she usually loves, more than enough family, and friends, she has almost everything she could ever ask for. Except for a boyfriend. Or a husband. But who needs either one of those?
I’ve yet to read a book by Mariana Zapata that I didn’t love. Her voice is fresh and engaging and it pulls me into the story every time. Like most of her books, family plays a big part. There are also a couple of surprise guest appearances by characters from the author’s previous books, which I found delightful. I love that sense of recognition when I’m reading along and then, “Wait! I know you!” This is, once again, one of my favorite kind of books: a book about realistic characters dealing with real day to day life issues, family responsibility, unexpected twists and turns, and the families that we choose to form for ourselves.
( 4.) The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (2008)
I really enjoyed this epistolary novel about the German Occupation of Guernsey in the Channel Islands during WWII, subtly interwoven with the description of the everyday lives of the inhabitants of the island and, in spite of the subject matter, this is not a dark story. It is charming and graceful and full of life and love and hope. I read this book for my May 2017 TBR Challenge. You can read my full review here.
( 5.) Stargazey Point (Stargazey #2) by Shelley Noble (2013)
Devastated by tragedy during her last project, documentarian Abbie Sinclair seeks refuge with three octogenarian siblings, who live in a looming plantation house at the edge of the world.
South Carolina’s Stargazey Point used to be a popular family beach resort, but the beaches have eroded, most of the businesses have closed, and the crowds have gone. It’s the perfect place to hide from the rest of world.
Economically depressed small town community, colorful, quirky, fully-fleshed characters, slow-building romance, mysterious secrets from the past… what’s not to love? It helps to read the prequel novella, Stargazey Nights (Stargazey #1), to gain some deeper insight into some of the characters, but I don’t think it’s strictly necessary in order to follow this story – although it, too, is well worth the read. Shelley Noble’s Stargazey Point is a beautiful story of love, heartbreak, friendship, and new beginnings.
( 6.) Chef’s Table by Lynn Charles (2014)
I’m a sucker for foodie fiction, especially when the characters are this likeable and the story is this deep quest for finding one’s true place and purpose in the world. There’s food, friendship, family, and love. It’s a great book all around.
( 7.) Angelina’s Bachelors: A Novel with Food by Brian O’Reilly (2011)
Filled to the brim with homemade warmth, Angelina’s Bachelors is a sweet tale of overcoming grief, redefining family, and following your heart through food.
Populated by an entertaining cast of characters and filled with amazing food and unexpected friendships, this book is one young widow’s journey to discover who she is and what she truly wants out of life after the sudden loss of the husband she’s built her life around. Set a few decades in the past (1960s or early ’70s, I believe) in South Philadelphia, it is another book about community and forming chosen families, which is a theme I love in books. It is also packed full of recipes, so be warned. Reading this book will make you hungry and possibly increase your waistline.
( 8.) Starting from Scratch by Susan Gilbert-Collins (2010) (Warning: Contains mentions of off page physical abuse and sexual assault.)
Why is someone who just defended her doctoral dissertation still wasting her time at her childhood home, two months after her mother’s funeral, making coq au vin and osso buco? Olivia Tschetter, the youngest of four high-achieving South Dakotan siblings, is not returning to “normal”—or to graduate school— quickly enough to suit her family. She wants only to bury herself in her mother’s kitchen, finding solace in their shared passion for cooking.
Threatened with grief counseling, Olivia accepts a temporary position at the local Meals on Wheels, where she stumbles upon some unfinished business from her mother’s past—and a dark family secret. Startling announcements from two siblings also challenge the family’s status quo. The last thing she needs is a deepening romantic interest in a close but platonic (she thought) friend.
But while Olivia’s mother is gone, her memory and spirit continue to engage Olivia, who finds herself daring to speak when she would never have spoken before. Told with humor and compassion, Starting from Scratch explores the shifting of family dynamics in the wake of shattering loss and the healing power of cooking.
This book evoked strong memories in me of the time following the loss of my mother and how lost I felt and how I needed to feel as if I was still connected to her and not let her memory fade. This is a story of the emotional journey of one woman’s quest to understand her mother and to keep her mother’s legacy alive while finding her own place in life now that school is behind her.
( 9.) The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen (2013)
The Van Ripper women have been the talk of Tarrytown, New York, for centuries. Some say they’re angels; some say they’re crooks. In their tumbledown “Stitchery,” not far from the stomping grounds of the legendary Headless Horseman, the Van Ripper sisters—Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie—are said to knit people’s most ardent wishes into beautiful scarves and mittens, granting them health, success, or even a blossoming romance. But for the magic to work, sacrifices must be made—and no one knows that better than the Van Rippers.
This book is an enchanting novel about the bonds between sisters, the indelible pull of the past, and the transformational power of love. In a similar vein to Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells, The Wishing Thread is another story of family ties, mysterious heritage, and community history, laced with magical realism and the healing power of love and belief.
(10.) The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen (2011)
Sarah Addison Allen invites you to a quirky little Southern town with more magic than a full Carolina moon. Here two very different women discover how to find their place in the world–no matter how out of place they feel.
Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily’s backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.
Magical realism is a weakness of mine and Sarah Addison Allen is a master at this genre. This book ticks so many of my checklist boxes: tight-knit small town, quirky characters, mystery, and magic. Sometimes when you’re seeking answers, you end up with even more questions, and sometimes while searching for one thing you find something else entirely. This book is filled with mysterious occurrences, long hidden secrets, and enchanting intrigue interwoven with love, loss, and longing.
Further Recommendations – Other Books I Loved This Year:
All of The Order Universe stories and novellas by Kasia Bacon
All of the Porthkennack series books
The Amour et Chocolat series by Laura Florand
The La Vie en Roses series by Laura Florand
And last but not least, every book ever written by Sarah Addison Allen