Best of 2017: The Shortlist

A month ago, I published a “longlist” of sorts featuring my favorite reads of the year. (You can see that list with short descriptions for each title here.) I read a few more books after that, though, and wanted to narrow it down to highlight the very best titles I read last year, and here she be! Without further ado, my top 7 reads from 2017 (in no particular order, because let’s be honest — I can’t choose just one favorite):

  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. This one is full of family drama, perfection-seekers, secrets, and jealousy: the perfect recipe for disaster. You’ll stay up all night to find out what happens in this startlingly realistic work of fiction.
  2. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Probably my favorite magical read since the Harry Potter series, this novel is beautiful in its simplicity and wintry mystery. It’s based on the Russian fairytale of Snegurochka and set in 1920s Alaska — so basically, it’s a very cozy, romantic read for adults who love a little magic in their lives.
  3. Salt Houses by Hala Alyan. Without a doubt, the most beautifully composed story I read in 2017. Spanning multiple generations of a Middle Eastern family through several marriages, deaths, and wars, Salt Houses is one of those reads that didn’t get nearly enough hype for the quality of writing it contains.
  4. Celine by Peter Heller. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Celine is a badass granny detective and I want to be her when I’m 65. She’s probably my favorite character of the year — okay, definitely — and that fact combined with the tight plot in this thrilling mystery make it a book I want to add to my shelves and read over and over.
  5. Descent by Tim Johnston. This title was my favorite thriller of the year, and believe me — I read a lot of those. The novel isn’t just gripping and fast-paced; its characters are fleshed out and the prose is absolutely gorgeous, which is something quite unexpected for the genre. (Because let’s be honest — most thrillers are all about the shock factor and not so much about solid lyrical writing skills.)
  6. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. The only nonfiction title on this list (but not the only NF I read last year!), this book was an absolute thrill (and horror) to behold. I was taken aback by the very tumultuous history of the Osage tribe’s rise to wealth in Oklahoma during the oil boom and repeatedly repulsed by the actions taken by white Americans to suppress the native people over and over again. I can’t recommend this gem enough.
  7. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Okay, I know I already said Celine was my favorite character of the year, but it’s really quite possible Ove is a tie. Or at the very least, a close second. He’s persnickety, he’s obnoxious, he’s blunt, and he’s hands-down the most endearing old man ever written. This book made me laugh out loud, gasp in surprise, and cry at least twice. It’s quick, it’s sweet, and it’s one of the books I’m most likely to recommend to anyone and everyone. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for?!

Overall, I’m really pleased with the quality of novels I read in 2017 and am looking forward to tackling a large quantity of unread books that have been accumulating on my shelves for the past several years. So far this year, I’ve read Tell the Wolves I’m Home (I started it in 2017, but only got halfway through before the new year started, so I’m counting it as a 2018 read) and Pachinko, both of which have set the bar high for the other titles on my TBR shelf for the year.

What were some of your favorite reads in 2017?

Review: Celine

He laughed too, but what he felt was alarm. He looked past Amana and Gabriela to the outer rocks and saw the dark swell. It was the next wave and it was the second in a set and he watched it as if in slow motion: the wall lightening to green as it rose, rising impossibly tall, the guarding boulders out in the cove dwarfed beneath it, the quivering top frayed by wind and then a piece of it curled and collapsed and the water fell: a surge of whitewater chest-high roared in over the black slack of water of the inner cove and he was slugged and knocked over, his shoulder and neck hit rock, he came up lunging out of ice foam to see the tumult sucking back.

Last week, I made my first trip to a public library in over two years (for two years, I walked my classes to the library to check out books, but never got any for myself); and checked out books for myself for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-many-years. In truth, I only went to the library because I needed to check out the movie version of Of Mice and Men for my senior English class, which had recently finished studying the novel; but while I was there, I decided perhaps I could look into a few books I’d been eyeing on Litsy.

One of my four selections: Celine, a March 2017 fiction novel by author Peter Heller. Wedged neatly between two white spines on the New Releases shelf, Celine‘s lush green cover immediately drew my eye and I knew I’d heard of this mystery before. (A quick review of Litsy confirmed this suspicion.)

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CELINE FTW!

The novel opens in the past with an exquisitely crafted piece of prose that sets the stage for the rest of the story. It is here that young Gabriela is introduced to readers, before meeting her again some forty years in the future when she enlists the help of the novel’s title character, Celine: a 68-year-old private investigator born and bred of the upper crust society that is bourgeoise New York in the 1930s-40s. An anomaly for her breed, Celine challenges the expected roles of the jewel-encrusted “old wealth” families of her time period, bucking tradition to attend a boarding school that encourages students to work like farm hands; enroll and study at college; work for the FBI; and establish her own mostly-pro bono business as a private eye. Celine is everything society raised her not to be — and for that, readers will love getting to know her decadently-layered character.

Anyway. Gabriela, tied to Celine through their alumni status at the same college, seeks out Celine for help locating her father who has been missing for more than twenty years. Although Gabriela’s photographer father is assumed to have been mauled by a bear in the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park, a body was never recovered and more than a few details point to possible alternatives to the conclusions investigators came to just a few short days following her father’s disappearance. Celine is immediately enamored with the graceful, intelligent, and beautiful young woman who shows up at her door with a heartbreaking story of an unbelievable childhood, and she agrees to take the case. After arrangements are made, Celine and her husband (Paul) head to Yellowstone to sift through the puzzle that is not quite as open-and-close as investigators led Gabriela to believe decades ago.

As Celine and Paul work together to uncover the truth, Heller reveals nuggets of Celine’s own past to readers in a teasing manner . . . one tidbit at a time. Readers will race to finish this puzzle of a novel (and then regret not savoring it a bit more slowly, as several early details become important later on, as the mystery unravels).

The Good: Heller’s prose is to. die. for. (See the opening quote and try not to love it.) Although fragments bugged me in a nagging sort of way off and on throughout the novel, I quickly determined Heller is a Writer of Esteem. The opening scenes at the ocean completely drew me in; so much so that I raced through the rest of the novel and wanted to cry a bit when the story was all over. Another reader on Litsy noted that the ending felt a bit like an opportunity for continuation or a series, and though this is purely speculation, I’m happy to imagine a world in which Heller publishes more novels in the Celine vein. The plot of this work is enticing and not overly-populated with characters, which makes for a more intimate knowing of the individuals most central to the story. And, of course, Celine is a total grandmotherly badass. What’s not to love about that?

The (Not Actually) Bad: I read this one too quickly. Seriously. I started it Sunday night and was finished by Tuesday morning — and no, I did not skip work to read. It was just. that. good. My advice to readers: savor it, slowly. This one is definitely going on my to-be-purchased list, and I anticipate a reread in the near future.

The Verdict: 4.5/5 stars. Really, y’all: I just loved this book. I want to be Celine when I grow up, and I don’t doubt you’ll feel the same way.