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Word Foreword

2017 Retrospective: Books

This blog post was originally published on the old Word Foreword on January 31st, 2018.

In 2017 I barely missed my reading goal of 75 books, falling short by just 2. This was still up from my 2016 goal of 52 books which I also missed. This year, I decided to bring the expectations down a little bit and set a reasonable, reachable goal of 65 books. My biggest misstep last year, though, was that I focused quite a bit on older books. I pushed myself to read books that were out of my wheelhouse (some Young Adult, for example, and more non-fiction than I've ever read). Only toward the end of the year did I realize my oversight and start looking for stories released this year.

So, while these nine are my favorite stories that I read published in 2017, there are quite a few more on my list that I intend to read sometime this year. That list includes The Bear and the NightingaleGod's Last BreathKings of the WyldRed SisterJade CityAge of SwordsGodblindA Plague of Giants, and I'm halfway through the audiobook of All Our Wrong Todays, which may or may not have bumped something off this list – the prose is absolutely beautiful, and the concept is fascinating. That's over a month's worth of reading right there, and releasing a "Best of 2017" sometime in March didn't really feel right.

So without further ado, here are my Top 9 Books Released in 2017.


9. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I bought Turtles All the Way Down on release day, one of few books I did this year. I loved each character and consumed this book in two days. Although it's somewhat short, I felt thoroughly satisfied with each character arc and entirely engaged with the disappearance of Mr. Pickett. This is one of those mushy, feely books that reaches out and caresses your heart until you cry – but you don't know if you're happy crying or sad crying because honestly there are just so many feelings to process. I loved it. I enjoyed the emotional journey that John took me on.


8. Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Six Wakes was one I was initially hesitant on getting but ended with the most pay off. There's a lot of excellent craftsmanship and prose here, all wrapped around an absolutely stellar premise surrounding cloning and criminals paying off their debt to society by doing public service on a starship. There are lots of great ethical questions, the front-most being how does your society punish lawbreakers when there functional is no death? There are a half-dozen great characters that are each fleshed-out and given life.


7. Killing Gravity by Corey J. White

One of the trends I noticed in 2017 (and continuing into this year) are that novellas are becoming more and more popular. It seems most of them are coming out the Tor.com house, and Killing Gravity is the first on my list to fall into that category. The amount of worldbuilding in under 200 pages is impressive, but the character building that goes along with it turns this book up to 11. If you're a fan of Warhammer 40k, but you want something a bit leaner, without all the extra stuff (or without all the superimposed unnecessary grimdark for the sake of grimdark) – this will be your go-to read, I promise. Mariam can be violent and fierce with her psychic powers, but it's not just throwaway bloodshed.


6. Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis is the first city on the moon. Weir's book is a look at a heist in this city. What's best about Artemis is the worldbuilding and science that Weir put into making the metropolis feel truly alive. From the engineering behind the spheres that people build in, to the difference in biology that people experience after spending their lives in different gravity. This is explored in other science fiction (like The Expanse), but Weir plays with it in exciting ways. If you choose to experience Artemis, I highly recommend the audiobook. Rosario Dawson voices Jazz, the main character, and the tale is told first-person (just like Weir's previous novel, The Martian).


5. Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Holy shit this book is so much fun. There are quite a few different things going on in this supernatural-mystery-thriller that can get you on board, so let me break it down. The first and most important is the words. It's super unique, and at times it can feel a bit forced, but Cantero's prose and structure are absolutely a blast. Some parts were written like script scenes, some parts are written like a stream of consciousness, but it always fits. The second is the nostalgia factor, which is spot-on. If you ever watched and enjoyed any Scooby Doo movie or TV show, you will kill for this book. The whole premise feels like a "What If?" Scooby-Doo, where the what if question is a "Where are they now?" VH1 episode of the Scooby Gang as adults. The final bit to get you on board is Cthulhu. If you like that 1920's-Insanity-is-alive-as-a-monster vibe, dig into this. Please.


4. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I took Greek & Roman Mythology in high school, and it was really enlightening to see where a lot of our stories come from, especially to learn about the application of Campbell's Monomyth. Norse mythology has grown quite popular in the last few years (with shows like Vikings and movies like Marvel's Thor) and so reading these stories in a digestible format with the excellent writing from Gaiman exceeded my wildest expectations. Since then, I've started to seek out the mythology and religious stories from several other cultures to try and learn their stories and more about their ways.


3. Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

The second book of The Wayward Children does not pick up neatly where the first book left off. As a matter of fact, the whole of the events takes place before its predecessor. It also focuses on just two main characters, instead of the ensemble cast of Every Heart A DoorwayDown Among the Sticks and Bones is the second novella on my list (also by Tor.com), but it packs a lot of emotion into each word. Jack and Jill are characters from the first book which have quite a bit of unspoken history and tension built up – and this book seeks to educate and detail just that. By the end of the book, I was torn for these twin sisters who must face a tragic future. Typically, these sorts of "prequel"-like stories are tough to pull off, because you already know how their story goes, but McGuire leans into that and grows the tension off of what you already know.


2. La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials has been a favorite of mine for a long, long time. The Golden Compass was one of the first books I read on my own as a child, and it was one of my daughter's first books she read by herself (which she read while I read this in late 2017). Like Down Among the Sticks and Bones, I was hesitant with this book because it takes place before the events of previously published books (prequel syndrome). However, the first book in The Book of Dust series hardly contains characters from the others. Lyra is there, as an infant, and serves more as a plot device than a character. Lord Asriel and Lady Coulter appear but not in a significant capacity. Instead, the story focuses on a little boy named Malcolm and his daemon Asta. Le Belle Sauvage is much more of a spy novel than the others when Malcolm finds a secret message and the secret agent who was meant to get that message finds him. This builds Lyra's world much more and leans into the political and religious arguments present in His Dark Materials.


1. Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig

Chuck tells a lot of stories. It's kind of what he does for a living. It's kind of what I want to do for a living. So when someone like Chuck tells you about his process, about the things he's learned along the way, and give tips on writing relatable characters, pacing, etc. you listen. Sure, a lot of that is stuff I've learned before from other outlets like writing conferences, panels, interviews online, etc. And some of it is covered in other books by other famous authors. But there's always something new that you can learn and I'll be damned if I didn't pick up two or three things. I will say this, though. If you're a content creator of any kind (literally, if you have a single creative bone in your body) pick this book up. The last segment has the absolute best advice for creatives. That last portion is relatable and personal, and it had me weeping. Honest.

Will Sobel