The Irregular Reader’s Top 10 Reads of 2017

With 2018 coming on like a speeding train, it’s time for the nearly obligatory (but still fun) top ten list! With over 150 books under my belt this year, it was very hard to narrow it down. Looking back on my favorite books this past year, I found I went quite often for horror and fantasy–basically any sort of escapism I could find (but can you blame me?). I kept the list focused on books published in 2017, which helped to narrow down the candidates, but also meant that fantastic titles like Rejected Princesses didn’t make the cut. Life is cruel.

Well, without further ado, here are my top ten books of the year (in no particular order. It was hard enough to choose ten, please don’t make me figure out rankings!)

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Kate Moore’s fantastic and intimate portrayal of the young women who worked with radium as dial painters in the early 20th century is heartbreaking and beautiful. Moore takes incredible care with her research and her story, and these women jump right of the page as living, breathing people. These girls could be your sisters, daughters, wives, and Moore does an excellent job of bringing their suffering and perseverance into the light.

Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

Okay, I am an alumna of the University of Vermont, and lived in the state for years, so I am definitely biased in this regard. However, Bill McKibben has brought us the feel good, small town resistance fable that we didn’t know we needed. McKibben captures the think-local, take-care-of-our-own, live-and-let-live attitude of this small, eccentric state, and the thought of being able to fight the good fight with nothing more than good beer, local produce, and an Olympic biathlon team is just so tempting in this day and age.

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

I have rediscovered the horror genre this year, thanks in no small part to the oft-touted Nocturnal Reader’s Box.  The Grip of It by Jac Jemc was one of those gems from the box, and it creeped the hell out of me. Jemc brings us an unconventional haunted house tale, told by the alternating (and slowly degrading) narratives of a husband and wife, who move into and old, and odd, house in the suburbs. I loved how the story became more and more fragmented as the book went on, and the line’s between reality and illusion, normality and monstrosity began to blur. This is not a book for someone who wants everything laid out for them, but if you’re seeking a profound sense of unease that lasts beyond the reading, look no further!

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

Okay, this book is essentially a 600 page flashback, but the scope of the story,  and the depth of the characters (and the promise of more in future books) cried out for inclusion in my top ten. Kevin Hearne has brought us an old-fashioned fantasy epic, a complete world populated by giants, monsters, and magic that provides a huge sandbox to play around in. There is just so much here, and so much promise. This is world building along the lines of George R.R. Martin or J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

This is the second of Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy, continuing the story begun in The Bear and the Nightingale. Arden’s fairytale story, lovingly set against Russian myth and history, make the books delightful to read. Here we find fantasy at its best, both enthralling and moving. We can’t help but cheer Vasya on as she navigates a world of magic and monsters.

Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix

I’ve got to put this one in for the sheer amount of books it managed to add to my TBR. I adored Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstör and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and grabbed this bad boy right out of the gate. Here, Hendrix’s love of all things cult horror is on display. Prepare yourself for an entertaining and informative romp through creepy kids, murderous beasties, haunted abodes, and demonic possessions galore.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

I love Neil deGrasse Tyson’s work. I love how he can take a stupefyingly complex concept and explain it in a way that is understandable for a lay person without being condescending. This is a rare gift in any profession, but as we continue to look further and further into the stars, I can’t help but feel that deGrasse Tyson has come along at the perfect time.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

This is the true story of the Osage murders of Kansas in the 1920s. When oil was discovered under their reservation, the Osage suddenly found themselves the richest people per capita in the country. Then they started to die, mysteriously. Grann tells the story of institutionalized racism, human greed, and murderous intent. This wave of deaths has been all but forgotten in the present day, but is a story that needs to be told.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

This seems to be one of those love it or hate it books, but I loved it. I found this retelling of the Lizzie Borden murders to be lyrical, the dialogue and prose flowing like poetry. Schmidt’s description of the hot, humid summer days surrounding the murders lends the book a sticky, claustrophobic feeling. This a gorgeously rendered Lizzie Borden story.

Gwendy’s Button Box by Richard Chizmar

This lovely little novella takes us back to Stephen Kong’s fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, where all the most terrible things happen. This story focuses on Gwendy, an awkward, overweight girl who comes into possession of a mysterious box with the power to change–or destroy–everything.
It’s always so hard to pick just a few of my favorite reads over a given year. I’ve got a long list of honorable mentions I could go into, like the gruesomely fun Quackery, or the post apocalyptic world building of Lotus Blue, or the laugh out loud satire of Will Save the Galaxy for Food. Maybe next year I’ll have to up my list to a top twenty . . . But that just seems crazy unwieldy.

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