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Top Ten Books of 2017

This year has gone so quickly, and I can’t believe the time has come already for me to write up my Top Ten Books of 2017! I had a hard time narrowing them down this year, as I’ve been lucky enough to read some truly incredible books. I hope you enjoy reading this post – please let me know if any of these books have also made it into your top ten!

 

10. All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan

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“How do I describe him now? Where do I start? How do I distill the first impression created in those few distance seconds? How do I extract his finished portrait, composed of layer upon layer of color, back into the pale, hasty pencil sketch that my eyes drew the first time they landed on him? How can I use a mere few lines to paint the whole picture with all its breadth and depth? Is it even possible to attain that sort of scrutiny, that measure of lucidity, when the hands of loss keep touching the memory, staining it with their fingerprints?”

This is a beautiful and moving love story, looking at the ups and downs of a relationship that goes against the religious, political and social beliefs of both people within it. The ending had me in tears, and I couldn’t put the book down.

Read my full review of the book here.

 

9. Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

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“There is music in your soul. A wild and untamed sort
of music that speaks to me. It defies all the rules and laws you humans set upon it. It grows from inside you, and I have a wish to set that music free.”

This is a truly magical novel, based on Christina Rossetti’s poem Goblin Market, that really captures the fantasy, lust and danger of the piece it is inspired on.

Read my full review of the novel here.

 

8. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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“Reading a novel was like returning to a once-beloved holiday destination.”

This became one of the most popular novels of the year after the gripping TV adaptation aired over the summer, starring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley. The book, however, is even more full of twists and turns, capturing the reader with every page.

Read my full review of the book here.

 

7. The Loving Spirit by Daphne Du Maurier

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“The child destined to be a writer is vulnerable to every wind that blows. Now warm, now chill, next joyous, then despairing, the essence of his nature is to escape the atmosphere about him, no matter how stable, even loving. No ties, no binding chains, save those he forges for himself. Or so he thinks. But escape can be delusion, and what he is running from is not the enclosing world and its inhabitants, but his own inadequate self that fears to meet the demands which life makes upon it. Therefore create. Act God. Fashion men and women as Prometheus fashioned them from clay, and, by doing this, work out the unconscious strife within and be reconciled. While in others, imbued with a desire to mold, to instruct, to spread a message that will inspire the reader and so change his world, though the motive may be humane and even noble–many great works have done just this–the source is the same dissatisfaction, a yearning to escape.”

Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourite authors of all time, and I’ve spent much of this year collecting these beautiful editions of her books and trying to make my way through as many of them as possible. ‘The Loving Spirit’ is a brilliant novel, working its way through generations of the same family and showing how something as pure as a desire for adventure can be passed on over decades.

Read my full review of the novel here.

 

6. Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon

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“The real problem, said Mary, was not women, but how men wanted women to be.”

This is a fantastic joint biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter, Mary Shelley, looking at the parallels between their lives. Both women were geniuses of their time, Wollstonecraft as a philosopher and feminist and Shelley as the revolutionary writer of one of my favourite books, ‘Frankenstein’. This book is a thorough and fascinating explanation of these two extraordinary women, and well worth reading.

Read my full review of this biography here.

 

5. Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

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“Ah! There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.” – Jane Austen

This brilliant new biography of Jane Austen explores the life of the famous author through the places that she called home. Austen had many homes throughout her life, and each allows us to focus on a particular aspect or period of her life. This is the best biography of Austen I have read so far, and with her love of the home, I feel it is one she would approve of.

Read my full review of this biography here.

 

4. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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“What if the puzzle of the world was a shape you didn’t fit into? And the only way to survive was to mutilate yourself, carve away your corners, sand yourself down, modify yourself to fit? How come we haven’t been able to change the puzzle instead?”

Picoult is another of my favourite authors, and this book is truly incredible. It deals with the stigma still attached to black people in the South of America today, and is truly shocking. It makes you think very deeply about your own views, and in true Picoult style presents a strong conflict between right and wrong.

Read my full review of the book here.

 

3. Milk and Honey/The Sun and her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

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“neither of us is happy/but neither of us wants to leave/so we keep breaking one another/and calling it love” – milk and honey

“i do not weep/because i’m unhappy/i weep because i have everything/yet i am unhappy”  – the sun and her flowers

I couldn’t possibly choose between these two incredible books by Rupi Kaur. I read ‘milk and honey’ for the first time this year, and bought ‘the sun and her flowers’ as soon as it was published in June. Both books address questions of feminity, masculinity, abuse, relationships, break ups, mental health and friendships, and are fantastically and beautifully written.

Read my review of ‘milk and honey’ here.

 

2. Home Going by Yaa Gyasi

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“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”

This is an absolutely incredible book, and it was very hard to choose between this and the book I eventually chose for the top place. It tells the story of women and men through generations, beginning with two mothers and continuing with their descendants throughout time. The book is incredibly moving and thought-provoking; I cried more times than I can count, and put the book down feeling truly shaken and stunned.

Read my review of the book here.

 

1. The Hiding Places by Katherine Webb

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Katherine Webb has been in my Top Ten list, even previously in the top position, every year since I started this blog; 2017 was no exception. The release of her latest novel, ‘The Hiding Places’, was one I anticipated eagerly, and once I read the book I simply couldn’t put it down. It is beautifully written, with a fantastic twist, engaging characters and true talent. I absolutely loved this book, and am hoping for another Katherine Webb release in 2018!

Read my full review of this book here.

 

 

 

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Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “this is the journey of

surviving through poetry

this is the blood sweat tears

of twenty-one years

this is my heart

in your hands

this is

the hurting

the loving

the breaking

the healing”

 

REVIEW: I love poetry, and am always seeking out new poets with work I can enjoy. I had wanted to read this highly praised series of poems by Rupi Kaur for some time, and picked it up on a shopping trip last weekend. I flew through the whole thing in one sitting, and put it down having felt the strangest rush of emotions. Upon finishing it I felt restless, and instantly desperate to read it again. Kaur’s poems, based on four main themes – hurting, loving, breaking and healing – instantly connect to the reader, drawing out memories and emotions evoked by the incredible thought she puts in to every verse. The book is fantastic, and even when dealing with sensitive themes that the reader may not actually have experienced, makes us feel every inch of the pain that Kaur has poured into the words. It is also an incredibly feminist text, addressing the way men view women in terms of the male gaze, sexual objectvity and even rape and abuse. Kaur’s poems put the power in the woman’s hands, and address the many ways in which men view and exploit female sexuality. I absolutely loved this book, and am eagerly awaiting payday so I can purchase Kaur’s latest release, ‘the sun and her flowers’. I will end this review with one of my favourite poems from the book, one that really struck a chord with me based on an experience I went through in the summer of last year;

“neither of us is happy

but neither of us wants to leave

so we keep breaking one another

and calling it love”

 

 

 

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Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her spirit and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away. But when her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl must journey to the underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds – and the mysterious man who rules it – she soon faces an impossible decision. With time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.”

REVIEW: Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ is one of my favourite poems – in fact, Rossetti herself is among my favourite poets. My Mum even bought me a beautiful Folio Society copy of ‘Goblin Market’ and other poems for my eighteenth birthday. S. Jae-Jones was clearly inspired by the poem ‘Goblin Market’ in the writing of this fantastic novel; she quotes it at the beginning of the book and quotes a number of other poems by Rossetti throughout. The novel tells the story of Liesl, a gifted young composer who is overshadowed by her beautiful sister Kathe and her talented younger brother Josef, who looks set on his way to becoming the next Mozart. What no-one knows is that Liesl is the talent behind the music that Josef plays, and has continuously helped and inspired him, despite her compositions being scorned by her drunken father. Liesl and Josef have always had a deep belief in the stories their grandmother Constanze tells them about the Goblin King and his Underground court, and the Goblin Grove has acted as a sanctuary for them for many years. Liesl has long forgotten her childhood friendship with the young Goblin King, and the promise she once made to one day be his wife, and her belief on the stories themselves is starting to slip away. After a terrifying experience with Goblin fruit sellers at the market, however, Liesl is forced to confront the reality of the Goblin King. Her sister Kathe is taken by him and, although the rest of her family have erased Kathe from their memories, Liesl cannot. She finds her way to the Underground world of the Goblin King through her music, and manages to set Kathe free. As her price, however, she must stay Underground with the Goblin King, whom she feels a reluctant but powerful desire for. The complex relationship between Liesl and the Goblin King makes for gripping and powerful reading, the desire between the two characters so strong that it practically jumps from the page. The love that slowly begins to develop between them is so full of passion and emotion that the reader is completely sucked in by it, the sacrifices they make for each other painful to read of  – and the ultimate sacrifice that is made at the end of the novel made me cry for quite some time, though I will not spoil it here.

I absolutely loved this book. S Jae-Jones really captures the magical, fantastical, yet somehow Gothic and slightly terrifying atmosphere of much of Rossetti’s poetry, especially ‘Goblin Market’. She turns this epic poem into a beautiful, gripping story full of emotion and meaning, and I enjoyed every page. I only wish the book could have been longer!

 

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The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy

This isn’t a book review – thought I’d change things up a bit, as it’s Christmas. Carol Ann Duffy is one of my favourite poets, and a couple of years ago my Mum brought me this little illustrated book as a festive stocking filler. It’s since become one of my favourite poems, and, although it’s quite lengthy, I thought I’d type it up for you all to have a read of this Christmas; because, to me, it really seems to capture the spirit of Christmas. 

“Christmas Eve in the trenches of France,

the guns were quiet.

The dead lay still in No Man’s Land – 

Freddie, Franz, Friedrich, Frank…

The moon, like a medal, hung in the clear, cold sky.

 

Silver frost on barbed wire, strange tinsel,

sparkled and winked.

A boy from Stroud stared at a star

to meet his mother’s eyesight there.

An owl swooped on a rat on the glove of a corpse.

 

In a copse of trees behind the lines,

a lone bird sang.

A soldier-poet noted it down – a robin

holding his winter ground – 

then silence spread and touched each man like a hand.

 

Somebody kissed the gold of his ring,

a few lit pipes; 

most, in their greatcoats, huddled,

waiting for sleep.

The liquid mud had hardened at last in the freeze.

 

But it was Christmas Eve; believe, belief

thrilled the night air,

where glittering rime on unburied sons

treasured their stiff hair.

The sharp, clean, midwinter smell held memory.

 

On watch, a rifleman scoured the terrain – 

no sign of life, 

no shadows, shots from snipers,

nowt to note or report.

The frozen, foreign fields were acres of pain.

 

Then flickering flames from the other side danced in his eyes, 

as Christmas trees in their dozens shone,

candlelit on the parapets,

and they started to sing, all down the German lines.

 

Men who would drown in mud, be gassed, or shot,

or vaporised,

by falling shells, or live to tell,

heard for the first time then –

Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles schlaft, einsam wacht… 

 

Cariad, the song was a sudden bridge,

from man to man;

a gift to the heart from home,

or childhood, some place shared…

When it was done, the British soldiers cheered.

 

A Scotsman started to bawl The First Noel

and all joined in,

till the Germans stood, seeing

across the divide, 

the sprawled, mute shapes of those who had died.

 

All night, along the Western Front they sang,

the enemies – 

carols, hymns, folk songs, anthems,

in German, English, French;

each battalion choired in its grim trench.

 

So Christmas dawned, wrapped in mist,

to open itself

and offer the day like a gift

for Harry, Hugo, Hermann, Henry, Heinz…

with whistles, waves, cheers, shouts, laughs.

 

Frohe Weihnachten, Tommy! Merry Christmas, Fritz!

A young Berliner, 

brandishing Schnapps,

was the first from his ditch to climb.

A Shropshire lad ran at him like a rhyme.

 

Then it was up and over, every man,

to shake the hand,

of a foe as a friend,

or slap his back like a brother would;

exchanging gifts of biscuits, tea, Maconochie’s stew,

 

Tickler’s jam…for cognac, sausages, cigars, beer, sauerkraut;

Or chase six hares, who jumped

from a cabbage-patch, or find a ball

and make of a battleground a football pitch.

 

I showed him a picture of my wife.

Ich zeigte ihm

ein Foto meine Frau.

Sie sei schon, sagte er.

He thought her beautiful, he said.

 

They buried the dead then, hacked spades

 into hard earth

again and again, till a score of men

were at rest, identified, blessed.

Der Herr ist mein Hirt…my shepherd, I shall not want.

 

And all that marvellous, festive day and night, 

they came and went,

the officers, the rank and file, 

their fallen comrades side by side

beneath the makeshift crosses of midwinter graves…

 

…beneath the shivering, shy stars

and the pinned moon

and the yawn of History;

the high, bright bullets

which each man later only aimed at the sky.”

 

 

 

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Love and Misadventure by Lang Leav

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: (this book, as a collection of poetry, doesn’t really have a blurb, so I’ll choose one of my favourite poems from the collection instead)

“There is a love I reminisce,

like a seed

I’ve never sown.

 

Of lips that I am yet to kiss,

and eyes

Not met my own.

 

Hands that wrap around my wrists,

and arms

that feel like home.

 

I wonder how it is I miss,

these things

I’ve never known” – A Stranger

REVIEW: I cannot say enough wonderful things about this poet. I discovered Lang Leav through Tumblr and bought her book as I gradually discovered that many of her poems beautifully conveyed things I myself have felt or feared. Leav’s poetry is witty, memorable and cuts right to the core of the problems faced by many young women today, allowing the reader to feel an increasing sense that they are not alone. I love Leav’s poetry, and find it really helps on those down days when no words can express what we are feeling.