KHill’s Favorite Things: the best of my 100-book year

December 15, 2017

(Originally posted on my old book review blog, HilliterateBlog!)

Happy holidays, fellow literature lovers!

As the end of 2017 draws near, I've accomplished what once seemed like the impossible — finishing 100 books in one year! This feels extra braggy coming off of my last post's NaNoWriMo hype, but I have to say it feels a bit more like a guilty, wow-I-had-no-life-this-year confession than a brag. But book blog world won't judge me, right?

*hides self in blanket like a self-conscious human burrito*

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Thx 4 the support, Goodreads <3

Anyway, all of this reading has shown me that there are so many incredible authors out there with so many wonderful books — enough that I could spend a lifetime doing nothing but reading and still not make it through my ever-growing want-to-read list. I have so much respect for the people who put these amazing stories onto paper and send them out into the world, and I want to share a few of my favorites from this year with arbitrary and sometimes ridiculous awards that I would give them! It's like my version of Oprah's Favorite Things, but spoiler...they are all books. Hope you all have enough room under your seats!

Note that these books were definitely not all published in 2017; I just read them this year. Better late than never, ya know? ;) Also, some may get a more extensive review in the future, but this is just a glimpse.

Favorite Newest Series by a Longtime Favorite Author — Embassy Row series by Ally Carter

I grew up reading Carter's Gallagher Girls and Heist Society novels and they remain two of my favorite YA series ever, so I waited a long time to start her third series, worrying it wouldn't live up to the first two. I wish I hadn't waited; Embassy Row is an exciting trilogy containing All Fall DownSee How They Run, and Take the Key and Lock Her Up. It takes readers on a journey with Grace Blakely, granddaughter of an American ambassador, as she investigates the dark secrets of her adopted country and of her own family. Like all of Carter's work, it is packed with suspense and girl power.

Favorite Modern Remix of Jane Austen — Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

I recommend this book all the time because it just made me so happy. Sittenfeld takes Pride and Prejudice and sets it in present-day Cincinnati with hilarious and lovable iterations of each of the famous characters. Honestly, it made me more of a P&P fan than I've ever been before. It even features a fictional version of my guiltiest reality TV pleasure, The Bachelor, and I don't think romantic contemporary fiction gets better than that.

Favorite Series Based on my Favorite High-Functioning Sociopath — Charlotte Holmes series by Brittany Cavallaro

I am a huge fan of BBC's Sherlock, so this YA series appealed to me instantly and it has not disappointed. Cavallaro has two books out so far, A Study in Charlotte and The Last of August, following the adventures of Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson. They are each the descendants of (can you guess?) Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, who are, in this world, not fictional. Each has a very similar personality to their famous ancestor and together they solve mysteries and it is simply glorious.

Favorite Use of Primary Sources to Tell the Story —  Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Everyone remembers primary sources from school, right? Like referencing the Gettysburg Address or a letter written by Abraham Lincoln to his wife in a paper about Lincoln? Semple uses letters, emails, overheard conversations, and more collected by the protagonist's daughter to tell the story of the quirky Bernadette Fox and the events leading up to her running away from home. It is so creative and funny and makes the reader quickly fall in love with Bernadette, without even spending time inside any of the characters' heads like we might in a more traditional novel format. It's hard to describe this book precisely, but it was absolutely hilarious, relatable, and so heartwarming. I'll be reading it again and again.

Favorite Ensemble of Characters — The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This book is like a hug, seriously. It's set just after World War II on a small English island that was occupied by the Germans. A writer from London begins corresponding with some of the island's residents in order to write a story about them. As she learns about their lives and their book club (as mentioned in the title) through their letters, she feels the desire to travel there and meet them in person. The reader falls in love with each of the unique personalities living in Guernsey and can sympathize with each of their hardships, as well as the way they've found happiness through their community with each other. Sounds cheesy the way I just put it, but it is such a sweet little story and much different from a lot of WWII era historical fiction.

Favorite Flannel-Clad, Low-Key Stalker Protagonist — Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

I said some of my awards would be ridiculous, okay? If you've read my blog before, you're already aware of my Rainbow Rowell obsession. This was one of her first that I read and I just love it. The aforementioned protagonist, Lincoln, works in IT at a newspaper in the late 90s. As people are still figuring out how to use the internet in a workplace, he is tasked with reading employees' emails without their knowledge and reporting if anyone is using email for non-work-related purposes. He reads the regular exchanges of two women who gossip about their lives and love, but doesn't report them as he becomes more...attached. Awkwardness, cuteness, and hilarity ensues.

Favorite Unexpectedly Sci-Fi Series — Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson

This series isn't yet finished, but I've read all the books that are out so far — The Name of the Star, The Madness Underneath, and The Shadow Cabinet. I started Name of the Star because its synopsis mentioned a teenage girl getting wrapped up in finding a murderer who is recreating the Jack the Ripper killings in modern London, which is totally creepy but totally fascinating to me. Then about halfway through the first book, GHOSTS appear and I was like, "wait what," because I'm not usually big on sci-fi. But I stuck with it, and now I'm hooked. Gimme book 4, Maureen!

Favorite Behind the Scenes Glimpse of Stars Hollow — Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between) by Lauren Graham

Okay, so you probably wouldn't care about this book unless you're a Gilmore Girls fan. But if you are, it's amazing. Graham (the actress who plays Lorelai) takes readers through her journey of becoming an actress, getting cast and subsequently filming Gilmore Girls, that show ending and her time on the show Parenthood, then returning to Gilmore Girls for the Netflix reboot. Lauren Graham seems so much like her character in real life and I want to be her friend. That's all.

Favorite Breakfast Club-ish Murder Mystery — One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Five high schoolers from all different social circles get sent to detention under mysterious circumstances...four come out alive. Dun dun DUUUNNN. Okay, but the one who dies goes into anaphylactic shock from some peanut oil so it's not a gruesome, Lord of the Flies situation. But the kid who is killed runs the school gossip site and had life-altering dirt on all of the other students who were in detention that day and they all become suspects. Who put the peanut oil in his cup of water? This one kept me guessing for most of the book, which doesn't always happen when you read as many murder mysteries as I do. Each of the characters is really well developed, too, and I honestly didn't want the book to end. Sequel, please, Karen? Maybe nobody has to die in the next one, though.

Favorite Story that Ripped my Heart Out and Stomped on it — All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

This is an incredibly sweet YA love story about Violet and Finch. While they seem totally different on the surface and to their friends at school, each struggles with their own demons, mental illness, grief for lost family members, etc., that helps them to bond. Your heart will swell up with happiness and love and also get smashed in two, at least a couple of times each. And it's oddly still enjoyable?

Favorite Non-fiction that Proved It Was Actually Possible for Me to Love Barack Obama More than I Did Before — Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco

Written by the former Deputy Chief of Staff to President Obama, this memoir is a fascinating, engaging, and comedic look into life at the right hand of the most powerful man in the country. It is a really enjoyable read that doesn't feel too heavy with political messages but still hit home for me how lucky we were to have President Obama (and makes it extra depressing to think of the current state of affairs..wait what who said that not me). Mastromonaco also provides really interesting insights into being a woman at the White House, like how there were no tampon dispensers in the bathrooms when she started working there. Don't worry, she fixed that.

Favorite Eerily Accurate Glimpse into My 15 Year-Old Self's Dreams — Grace and the Fever by Zan Romanoff

Okay, this novel is some very thinly veiled One Direction fan-fiction, but I am here for it. Grace is a superfan of a band called "Fever Dream" and this novel follows what happens when she stumbles into a chance meeting with one of the band's members, Jes, and gets wrapped into the roller coaster of his life. Yes, young KHill thought many times about this exact scenario happening, but with Nick Jonas of the illustrious Jonas Brothers. He would have fallen in love with me, naturally. Anyway, a fun and easy read for the fangirl in all of us.

Favorite Badass Ex-Spy Protagonist —The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

First of all, the characters in this novel are based on a real network of female spies in occupied Europe and the historical note about those women gave me chills. The fictionalized version follows two women, Eve and Charlie. Eve is a cranky, rough-around-the-edges older woman who was a spy in WWI and Charlie is a young American woman who tracks her down to help find Charlie's missing cousin, Rose, after the end of WWII. The novel jumps back and forth between Eve's past and Eve and Charlie's present and it is an intense account of the horrors of war and the bravery of those who served — especially those serving and subsequently struggling in secret, like Eve. A really well-done historical fiction.

Favorite Graphic Novel Series that Also Happened to be My First Graphic Novel Series — March: Books 1, 2, and 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

The Congressman John Lewis, one of the people I admire most in the world, co-authored these graphic novels depicting his experiences in the Civil Rights Movement and, in particular, the events leading up to the march from Selma to Montgomery. These were some of the most powerful works I read this year and I'd recommend them to anyone, young and old, whether or not you think you'd like graphic novels. The events and issues depicted are still so relevant and important to our society today.

Favorite Writing that Felt Like a Conversation with my Best Friend — The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

A lot of YA fiction can feel conversational, but I feel like Nelson's prose is especially accurate to the way young women speak and think. Incidentally, this book was also recommended to me by my best friend (shoutout 2 KT). It is a unique kind of love triangle story with ups and downs and some really lovable love interests. Did I say "love" enough yet? I love this book.

Favorite Love Story, Which is Saying Something Because I Clearly Read a Lot of Love Stories — Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Oh my goodness, Simon. Our protagonist is a sweet, funny, relatable guy with awesome friends and family who totally love and accept him...but no one knows that he is gay. No one except "Blue," that is, though Blue is only his email penpal who doesn't know his real name or identity (nor does Simon know Blue's). We watch their relationship develop via email while also seeing how Simon learns to feel comfortable with his identity and how he wants to come out. It's such an enjoyable read from start to finish (and the romance with Blue is the CUTEST), and there is a movie version coming out next year that I can't wait to see! But read the book first, of course.

PLUS the following books that I have already reviewed on my blog, with their posts linked here:

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Summerlost by Ally Condie

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Carry On and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Aaaand that's a wrap for 2017, folks! Can't say this for many things, but for my own reading habits, it was a great year.

Please share some of your favorites with me in the comments, or your thoughts on any of the books I mentioned if you've read them! Wishing everyone a happy 2018!

KHill