The 18 Best Reads of 2017

Best Reads of 2017

I thought about the new year coming, and that I had best give you a quick overview of what my highlights were! I also found it interesting to discover that some of my favourite authors, such as Juliet Marillier, were not on the list. Maybe I can hope for more novels from them in 2018…

January: Emily Barr – The One Memory of Flora Banks and Sara Barnard – A Quiet Kind of Thunder. Both of these novels are worthy YA novels that tackle interesting neurological disorders.

FebruaryVic James – Gilded Cage and Emily Reynolds – A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind. A nice fantasy/futuristic novel and another neurological offering (but this time a personal story).

MarchSally Hepworth – the mother’s promise and Laurie Frankel – This Is How It Always Is. These two novels took us out of YA territory and into more Adult fiction. The former novel looked at a hypothetical problem, while the latter looked at real life gender non-conformity.

AprilBrigid Kemmerer – Letters to the LostJohn Scalzi – The Collapsing Empire and Amy Tintera – Avenged. Three hits here, another YA, the only Sci-Fi of the year and a Fantasy. Avenged was the second novel from Ruined in 2016.

May: I spent some time overseas in May, and thus, no 5-star reviews here either.

JuneEmery Lord – The Names They Gave Us. Just one novel this month, a fabulous YA novel from an author I am coming to adore. Another of her novels starred in November. When We Collided is her novel from 2016.

JulyKathleen Duey – Sacred Scars. I had reviewed Skin Hunger, and read this one at the same time, but I took a long time to get around to reviewing it. Actually, this is not even a new novel to my shelf or new in any sense of the word. Many years later we are still waiting on the third and final novel in this series…

August: No novels reviewed here, due to my PhD completion. I’m Dr. Herbert now!

SeptemberMegan Jacobson – the build-up season. This YA novel was a worthy successor to her first novel, yellow. Once again, Jacobson attempted to address some holes in YA fiction with interesting family relationships.

OctoberAllison Rushby – The Fifth Room. Here we have a bit of science, and another hypothetical. How far would you go to do the experiments you wanted to do?

NovemberAJ Conway – The SuccessorKrystal Sutherland – A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares and Emery Lord – the start of me and you. Conway’s other novels My Nova (2012) and Skyquakers (2016) are more Sci-Fi, while this novel is a straight fiction. Krystal Sutherland follows in the great YA standard she set in Our Chemical Hearts. And finally we see a third brilliant novel from Emery Lord (which honestly I didn’t expect, as when there is more than one novel per year by an author, I start to worry about quality).

DecemberKatie Kennedy – Learning to Swear in America and Garth Nix – A Confusion of Princes. Finally we see one of my old favourite authors here, Garth Nix. Technically this novel probably isn’t a 5 stars for me any more, but it was still awesome for its age-bracket. Learning to Swear in America brought a little science back into YA to round out the year!

Keep in mind that I did not get around to reviewing some of these novels until well after their release dates. That means that for those where you can expect a sequel, well, those are almost released! This includes ‘Gilded Cage’, expect a review of the second novel, Tarnished City on the 9th of January 2018. There are also some novels left that I have read but not reviewed, and these will now roll over to 2018.

Review: Garth Nix – A Confusion of Princes

A Confusion of Princes
Garth Nix

Khemri is Prince. But unfortunately, there are 999 other candidates for Emperor – and the rest are not as new to their roles as he is. With less than 2 years to prepare before the Emperor resigns, Khemri is asked to go on seemingly innocuous missions to prove his worth.

This is a usual good-quality Garth Nix novel that didn’t disappoint me. The main character Khemri certainly develops as a character, and it is interesting to see his progression/regression from Prince to person. Basically Khemri is ripped away from everything that is familiar, and then thrust into a world that not only does he have faulty information about, but also is out to kill him. The ending really came as a surprise to me. Wow!

I confess, I rescued this novel from a garbage bin. My copy was donated to the op-shop where I volunteer, and it was a rather badly beaten up ex-library copy, not even good enough to pass on for a book sale. Never fear though, it will now have a long and healthy life on my shelf.

You could consider this sci-fi, but it is very light sci-fi, perfect for a teenager to get into the genre for the first time. I confess that I am probably too old for this novel now, which is why I have starred this as both 4 and 5 stars. But if I need a light read, and Garth Nix is calling my name, this one might be it (or Eoin Colfer’s The Supernaturalists).

Review: Katie Kennedy – Learning to Swear in America

Learning to Swear in America
Katie Kennedy

Yuri’s Doctoral work should win him a Nobel prize – it’s not like everyone can use physics to analyse antimatter to divert a meteor from destroying Earth. There’s only one small problem – he has to leave his native Russia and come to the USA, and he doesn’t speak the language. A local teenager he meets by chance might show him why the lives he can save are actually worth saving.

I love how Yuri analyzes scientifically everything that goes on in his head. It reminds me of how I read everything that passes by me too. Yuri’s English isn’t that great, but he certainly can speak a language beyond what is offered. I love Yuri’s stubborn nature, and how he sticks to his goals. And how brilliant he is! How one boy can have so much knowledge, and yet know so little, astounds me.

NB: You won’t actually really be learning how to swear in America(n). The swear words here are very mild, and still perfectly suited to teenagers that are sensitive to swearing in novels.

There’s lots more young adult novels coming out now about the importance of science, particularly astrophysics, including The Square Root of Summer and Stargazing for BeginnersMost people think of Newton’s apple when they think about physics – but there is so much more to it! Physics is the beginning of time-travel, and once we have explored the current natural world (think biology and chemistry), it’s important to examine more of things outside of earth.

I swear to you that I previously reviewed this novel, but apparently it has been eaten by something. So, I just had to reread a little bit of it to make sure it was as good as I had previously thought it to be. I realised then that I had gobbled it up on the first sitting, and didn’t remember all of the fabulous punch-lines as well as I could. 5-stars from me. Don’t let its plain cover fool you – it hides an entrancing storyline inside.

Bloomsbury | 1st August 2017 | AU $12.99 | paperback

Review: Emery Lord – the start of me and you

the start of me and you
Emery Lord

Paige only dated her first boyfriend for two months before he drowned. Her life is filled with pitying looks from sympathetic strangers – which she doesn’t feel like she deserves. When she decides that this year is the year to get her life going forwards again, she makes a list of increasingly unlikely things to do.

This novel was engaging, powerful and awesome! I’m not sure that it was quite on the same level as When We Collided or The Names They gave Us though. I wasn’t expecting to see another novel from Emery Lord so soon, and I worry about the push by someone to churn out too many novels.

It seems like teenagers constantly forget that other people have feelings! Was I ever like that? Everyone makes mistakes, especially when they don’t know what first love looks like. The heart leads everyone so falsely! Not to mention the dangers of keeping a journal.

I enjoyed reading about Paige, but I did wish that there was a little more substance to her. It’s hard to explain, but she didn’t feel as real to me as some other characters. I also would have benefitted from a bit more about the motivations of the other characters, but it’s hard to see that in a first-person narrative.

Past me, you’re a terrible person. All I can remember after having left this review too late is that it left me wanting to cry in parts, and to celebrate in others. That’s ok! I’ll just pick it up and flick through it…. several hours later. Oops? I reread it. I guess that gives it 5 stars… but I’d recommend reading her other two novels first if you have limited reading time.

Bloomsbury | 1st November 2017 | AU $14.99 | paperback

Review: Krystal Sutherland – A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
Krystal Sutherland

Esther Solar is cursed by Death. So is the rest of their family – eventually their phobias will kill them. So far, Esther has avoided learning what her phobia is, but she’s got a very long list of what might become a full blown phobia. An unexpected relationship blooms when she decides to face each phobia one by one – and maybe it’s not Death that’s causing all the problems.

I loved this novel so much. I loved Our Chemical Hearts by this author, and couldn’t wait to receive and read this one. I wasn’t expecting it to come so quickly after I requested it. I was in the final stages of submitting my PhD, and I still made time to read it. Ahhh. So worth it.

Facing your fears can be really difficult, and facing them with a mental illness in tow is even harder. Jonah and Esther’s relationship allows them to both make progress, even with the hang-ups they still hold from Primary School! I loved Esther as a character, and I liked the way the other characters weren’t defined by their illnesses – because they were defined as their curses instead.

I’m not sure it is fair to let the problem of love to be a phobia. I think that blurb lies to me! And also, it set me up for expecting the whole thing to be a bloody romance, when the novel was much more than that. Not to mention the pastel pink tinting of the cover. Trust me, just ignore the cover and dive straight into the novel.

Wow, this novel fits so much in. Anxiety, addiction, selective mutism (eg. A Quiet Kind of Thunder and The Things I Didn’t Say), abuse, the whole shebang! Love, love, love. I admit, even though I had a half-written review here waiting for me to finish, I did do a little rereading… So 5 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 28th August 2017 | AU $19.99 | paperback

Review: AJ Conway – The Successor

The Successor
AJ Conway

Five offspring of a business magnate gather to get their inheritance. But instead of a fat cheque, they each receive a clue to find where it has been hidden. These siblings have always been rivals, and in the race to get their hands on the money and business, they are willing to stop at nothing, not even murder, to get it.

This is Conway’s greatest literary achievement so far. This novel made me keep reading it, and the range of characters was diverse. I have to say that I didn’t see most of the novel coming! Ah, twisty good bits. It’s amazing what secrets people can keep – and how awesome it is to set up a clue-finding trail. I only wish he had been there to see it!

I would even consider reading this novel again, despite its flaws. Some of the dialogue is a bit iffy, and occasionally there are too many descriptive words in a row that it throws the reader out of the story. Not to mention there is a lot of shouting going on – on one page I saw at least three characters all ‘shouted’ rather than ‘said’, if you know what I am talking about.

WHY? Why did I not review this novel while it was fresher in my mind with its awesomeness? All I can remember now is a feeling of being unable to put it down. And as I flick through it again to refresh my memory, I can feel myself wanting to sink back into the novel. Despite my terrible review, please get yourself a copy of this novel.

I think I’m going to give it 5 stars, even though it wasn’t perfect. I loved the way it exposed each family member in turn and didn’t flinch from the cut-throat corporate world out there. A.J. Conwey’s work is well worth your time, and I hope to see more novels from her in the future. If this novel isn’t for you, perhaps you’d prefer My Nova or Skyquakers. I’ve promoted this author from the beginning and will continue to do so.

Review: Allison Rushby – The Fifth Room

The Fifth Room
Allison Rushby

Self-experimentation is the only way to get results… Or at least that’s what an international secret society of Doctors believes. Brilliant highschoolers are invited to take part in this self-experimentation, and are pitted against each other to win a prize of continuing their research. But its a challenge, they’re all brilliant, but how many of them are willing to go to the end?

Oh my! This book was amazing! I gobbled it so greedily, and then neglected to review it. But just sitting here writing this review is making me want to re-read it, that’s how good it was. Uh oh, it’s within reach, I might actually reread it now….

Is this a psychological thriller? I don’t know, but it had me on the edge of my seat. I wasn’t scared for myself at any point, and I wasn’t jumpy, so I’m not sure it’s a thriller. Nevertheless, I couldn’t put it down!

I know they set it up for a sequel, but I don’t care! It was amazing! The ending was just what I wanted. I didn’t really see it coming, and I found the final reveal to be entirely keeping with what we knew of Miri’s character. I don’t agree with all of her actions, but she’s certainly a believable character.

I’m giving this novel 5 stars, and strongly recommending you go and get yourself a copy. As we approach Christmas (it’s after my birthday, I can start mentioning it now), this would be the perfect gift for the aspiring high-school doctor (or undergraduate student) or teens in favour of thrillers with captivating storylines.

Scholastic | 1 September 2017 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Megan Jacobson – the build-up season

the build-up season
Megan Jacobson

Iliad is named for a war, and she has a war going on inside her. Growing up in a home suffering from domestic violence, Iliad has been kicked out of five boarding schools and is now on her last leg of year 12 – successfully failing most of her units against art. Getting a dreamy boyfriend will solve all her problems… or will it?

Oh Ily, you are so clueless sometimes! And it’s not all about you. But I think her mother and nan made the wrong decision sending her away. Clearly she has PTSD, and although it might help to get away from triggering scenarios, it’s not going to heal her – therapy would have been the right thing to do. Domestic violence is currently coming under a lot of scrutiny in Australia, so at least we can hope this improves, even in the remote community that Ily seems to live in.

By the author of the breathtaking yellow comes another breathtaking novel that almost made me cry… Oh ok, I did actually shed at least one tear. And it wasn’t even at the end! It was right in the middle when I didn’t know what would happen. I honestly would have been ok with any ending, because I wanted the author to just keep writing.

I can’t think of anything I didn’t enjoy about the novel. I connected with Ily, I didn’t see everything coming and there was the right amount of emotional jerking. Oh, only one minor complaint. Ily should have blocked the mobile number, not just deleted it from her phone. Also, the blurb is inaccurate and gives away the last 3/4 of the novel.

As a young adult novel, this included tasteful sex scenes that should highlight to young readers the difference between a thoughtful lover and an asshole. Also, safe sex even when it is spontaneous. Ahh. A well written novel. A very happy reader. Just what I needed.

Why are you still reading this review? Go buy a copy.

Penguin Random House | 31st July 2017 | AU $19.99 | paperback

Review: Kathleen Duey – Sacred Scars

Sacred Scars
Kathleen Duey

Sadima is desperate to escape from life in a cave, and she longs to have a better relationship to Franklin, one more like when they first met. It’s not to be though as Franklin becomes more enamoured with Somiss and his students. Many generations later, Haph is trying to survive learning dangerous magic with dangerous teachers – with only one student to come out on top… Unless Haph can make some changes to the trust issues running rampart in the school.

I left this novel impossibly long to review… But I have a very good reason/excuse! This is a trilogy, and I’ve owned the first two books (Skin Hunger) for at least 5 years I think. I picked them up from the op-shop as a steal, assuming that the third book must have been published. But no! The author seems to have dropped off the end of the earth for the last couple of years, despite apparently there being a release date for the last book. I emailed the publishers and lo and behold, it’s a mistake. No release date in sight.

Once that third novel is finally published, I’m going to reread these from the beginning, they are that good! So I’ve giving it 5 stars but I wouldn’t suggest you read it until the third one is finally published! Get your hands on a cheap second hand copy, but don’t read it! For goodness sake, don’t read it! But absolutely chase up the publishers (Simon and Schuster) to make sure that it eventually happens. For your reference: ISBN 9780689840982.

Review: Emery Lord – The Names They Gave Us

The Names They Gave Us
Emery Lord

Lucy is used to going to Christian Camp every summer with her Pastor father and enjoys being part of the family. Her life seems pretty perfect, right up until the moment her mother’s cancer comes back and her boyfriend decides to ‘take a break from her’. As one of her mother’s last wishes, Lucy finds herself as a counselor at a camp for troubled teens instead where she’s going to discover a family history she never knew existed and find out more about herself than she ever could have imagined.

The ending! Oh the ending. It should have been more bittersweet, but it wasn’t. Actually, it was just a tad cloying? And I would have appreciated a little more closure. I can say that the rest of the novel was not leading up to that at all. I think this is a problem I had with Lord’s first book too… Perhaps I should have anticipated it more, but I am warned for next time now (and there had better be a next time)!

I really like Lucy’s character, although I could have had a few more juicy details in general. I initially didn’t get along with her, but warmed up to it. Maybe I could have had a bit more of Jones too. Insta-love drives me bananas sometimes, but due to the other themes of the novel I was buying it in this case. Lucy needed some comfort, and Jones could provide it.

I initially started reading the novel, and then dreaded continuing, because sadly my experience with strongly Christian folks is negative. Or perhaps I just don’t have enough of it, and read too much about how the Salvation Army, which I used to look up to, refuses to provide help to Queer people. Anyway, off topic. Don’t go into this novel with preconceptions, they’re probably going to be incorrect.

I really enjoyed this novel in the end and had a lot of trouble putting it down. It’s not surprising really, since I loved Lord’s first novel, When We Collided. I think WWC remains my favourite, but this novel is well worth a read too. I’m going with 4 stars, but it is a possible re-reader.

Bloomsbury | 1st June 2017 | AU $17.99 | Paperback