Top 3 Best and Worst Books of 2017

I wasn’t blogging in 2017, but I never stopped reading! Overall, it was a good year for books, with most of my reviews coming in at 4 or 5 stars. There was only one complete dud, and a few 2-star disappointments. Below are the three best and the three worst books that made it onto my reading list last year.

The Best

Top 3 Best and Worst Books of 2017S. by J. J. Abrams, Doug Dorst
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 456
Goodreads | Amazon

One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace, and desire.

A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.

Without a doubt, the jewel of the year was S., cowritten by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. In fact, I feel comfortable saying that this is one of the coolest books I’ve read not just in 2017, but in the past several years combined. It’s so wonderfully complex, and the format reminded me a lot of the Griffin and Sabine books I love so much (notes written in each character’s unique handwriting; actual cards, letters, and other things pressed between the pages to take out and read; a whole heaping of intrigue and conspiracy crowned by a budding romance; etc.). My only complaint: occasionally I got so caught up in reading the handwritten notes in the margins, I forgot to read the text of the actual book and had to flip back a page or two to catch up. Being too into a book is hardly a real drawback. Read this if you read nothing else this year.

Top 3 Best and Worst Books of 2017The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Series: The Interdependency #1
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 336
Goodreads | Amazon

Our universe is ruled by physics. Faster than light travel is impossible--until the discovery of The Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time, which can take us to other planets around other stars.

Riding The Flow, humanity spreads to innumerable other worlds. Earth is forgotten. A new empire arises, the Interdependency, based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war--and, for the empire's rulers, a system of control.

The Flow is eternal--but it's not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well. In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity. When it's discovered that the entire Flow is moving, possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever, three individuals--a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperox of the Interdependency--must race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

The Collapsing Empire was the very last book I read in 2017, and it was a great way to end the year. Fantastic premise. Fantastic characterization. Fantastic writing, with great wit and a unique voice for each character (each chapter focuses on one of a few main players). Everything was so well done. A very solid 5 stars for this book, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting its sequels (book 2, The Widening Gyre, is already scheduled for publication in October).

Top 3 Best and Worst Books of 2017Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 296
Goodreads | Amazon

Earth is long since dead. On a colony planet, a band of men has gained control of technology, made themselves immortal, and now rule their world as the gods of the Hindu pantheon. Only one dares oppose them: he who was once Siddhartha and is now Mahasamatman. Binder of Demons, Lord of Light.

I’d heard a lot about Roger Zelazny, he being one of the main pillars of the sci-fi genre, but I’d never read one of his books before. What a waste of years! I had a hard time putting Lord of Light down. The plot centers around humans so technologically advanced they’ve styled themselves as gods of the Hindu pantheon, but they’re still so human. Accordingly, the writing is a wonderful juxtaposition of epic, formal narrative style and wry, tongue-in-cheek humor that continually reminds you that although the characters might have godlike powers, gods they certainly are not. I loved every page.

The Worst

Top 3 Best and Worst Books of 2017The Vorrh by Brian Catling
Series: The Vorrh Trilogy #1
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 485
Goodreads | Amazon

Next to the colonial town of Essenwald sits the Vorrh, a vast--perhaps endless--forest. It is a place of demons and angels, of warriors and priests. Sentient and magical, the Vorrh bends time and wipes memory. Legend has it that the Garden of Eden still exists at its heart. Now, a renegade English soldier aims to be the first human to traverse its expanse. Armed with only a strange bow, he begins his journey, but some fear the consequences of his mission, and a native marksman has been chosen to stop him. Around them swirl a remarkable cast of characters, including a Cyclops raised by robots and a young girl with tragic curiosity, as well as historical figures, such as writer Raymond Roussel, heiress Sarah Winchester, and photographer Edward Muybridge. While fact and fiction blend, the hunter will become the hunted, and everyone’s fate hangs in the balance under the will of the Vorrh.

I picked this up partly because I liked the cover (I often choose books this way, I admit it), and partly because that cover included some glowing praise from Jeff VanderMeer, whose book Annihilation is one of my favorites. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to its promise. The whole plot was just…weird and impenetrable. You know the awkward feeling of not being party to an inside joke? The whole experience of reading this book is just like that. It’s kind of historical fiction, and kind of not. It’s kind of magical realism, and kind of not. It’s kind of mythological, and kind of not. All in all, what it truly is is a disappointment.

Top 3 Best and Worst Books of 2017The Insect Dialogues by Marc Estrin, Frederick Ramey
Genres: Nonfiction
Goodreads | Publisher

In 2016, Marc Estrin decided to publish Kafka's Roach, the unedited version of the manuscript that a dozen years earlier Fred Ramey had acquired, edited, and published under the title Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa. Estrin's decision raises questions about the editor's role in the life of a book, the trajectory of one author's career, and whether a published novel is a stable thing anymore. All of that is worth a wide discussion, and so Ramey asked his erstwhile author to engage in a colloquy.

The Insect Dialogues is the record of the email conversation that ensued.

This book sounded like it was going to be really interesting: an actual series of e-mail exchanges between an author and his editor about his decision to publish the unedited version of one of his books, and the related issues that raises about the writing and editing process. And it probably would have been interesting, if the author hadn’t come off sounding like such a pretentious, defensive ass. It took me right back to reading dense literary criticism essays in college, and those are not experiences I particularly care to relive. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

Top 3 Best and Worst Books of 2017Doctor No by Ian Fleming
Series: James Bond #6
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 309
Goodreads | Amazon

James Bond travels to the Caribbean to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a secret service team. As he uncovers the astonishing truth about strange energy waves that are interfering with U.S. missile launches, he must battle deadly assassins, sexy femmes fatales, and even a poisonous tarantula. The search takes him to an exotic tropical island, where he meets a beautiful nature girl and discovers the hideout of Doctor No, a six-foot-six madman with a mania for torture, a lust to kill, and a fantastic secret to hide.

Last and legitimately least is the only book I gave a 1-star rating last year (if you’ve read the explanation of my star ratings, you’ll know that 1 star means the book was so bad I actively warn you against reading it). I’ve seen and enjoyed most of the James Bond movies, so I wanted to see how the books compared. That was a mistake, and it’s one I won’t be repeating. The writing was so gratuitously racist and misogynistic, and even the “action” sequences were really wooden and boring. I’m sorry I wasted my life on this, and I recommend you stay away! Just watch the movies if you want to enjoy some James Bond adventure.

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