Roundtable: Favorite 2017 Read

It’s no secret that there’s a bunch a readers here at Speculative Chic. Asking our writers what their favorite read of 2017 seemed like an easy task, but it wasn’t. When you read as many books as we do, how do you pick just one? And did it have to be a book published in 2017, or just a book read in 2017? Well, as Editor-in-Chic, I decided to use my powers for good and told them to pick whatever they wanted and as many as they wanted. So without further adieu, here are our favorites. Come check them out, add to your TBR pile, and let us know what your favorites were!

J.L. Gribble: I am an incredibly fast reader. I say that not to brag, but as a statement of fact. Even with that disclaimer, it’s not often that I sit down in one evening and read an entire novel because it has drawn me in and won’t let go. Andy Weir’s sophomore release, Artemis, was everything I could have wanted from a science-fiction novel and more.

I don’t want to rehash my original review of the book, so instead I’ll focus on why it sticks in my head as the best book I read in 2017 (even though I read it late in the year, I still checked the rest of my Goodreads list to verify). On a personal level, it hit all my sweet spots. Spitfire heroine who’s too smart for her own good. Developed characters that operate in shades of gray. A convoluted heist. Impeccable worldbuilding. Diverse characters who exist as real characters rather than textured background.

Weir’s scientific know-how returns in this story with a fabulous added twist. Unlike The Martian, the hero of Artemis does not exist in a vacuum. Jazz is surrounded by an entire micro-society of people settled on the moon, which means Weir also proves his chops with sociology and economics in this story. Though set farther in the future, it comes across as just as realistic as Weir’s first novel. (On Twitter, Weir has even confirmed a delightful Easter Egg in Artemis that links directly to The Martian.) Artemis will appeal to any science-fiction fans, even those who might not have enjoyed the journal-entry format of The Martian.

Obviously, this has already been optioned for film. I can’t wait to see this story on the big screen. I’d happily read a sequel in one sitting. Honestly, I’d happily read this book again, too.

You can read my full, spoiler-free review of Artemis on my personal blog.


Lane: It’s flat out impossible to have a favorite book of the year, not least because I have different TYPES of favorite books. Books I would reread over and over again. Books that make me impatient for the next one in the series. Books with characters I love. Books by authors I love. And so forth and so on.

So I’m going to give you a bunch of my faves this year.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells. This one actually ticks off all of those categories above. A slim little novella with an awesomely exasperated protagonist — the self-proclaimed “Murderbot” — who is both responsible for keeping its scientific party safe, and a potential threat to the scientists. I loved it. Read it three times already and can’t wait for this year to bring me more Murderbot.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. Okay, I admit it. Give me a book with a title that begins “The Strange Case of” and I’ll pick it up. This book rewarded me for doing so. It’s half-adventure story, half-writerly brangling over who got to tell the adventure story, and always delightful. You ever wanted to read about the female “monsters” of the famous literature classics? Here you go. And if you don’t want to read about Rappaccini’s daughter, or Jekyll’s offspring, or the cat-woman from the Island of Dr. Moreau finding their own lives… well, you should. I can’t wait to see which “monstrous” woman we meet next. You can read my original review for it here.

Erin Hartshorn put out two books this year that I loved. The Boston Technowitch series: Ghost Garages & Siren Circles. I really adore urban fantasy, and this particular series had a lot of elements I appreciated — the aforementioned technowitch who used her smart phone to deliver curses (to the deserving!), a great mixture of Greek magic and Chinese magic, a messy family life, and an unusual love interest. She put out two books last year, and now I’m greedy for the third.

Laura Bickle wrote The Dragon’s Playlist which I adored to pieces and have been recommending to fantasy readers, especially YA readers, all over the place. I reviewed it here.


Nicole: I feel kind of weird talking about Caraval again since I’ve already done so a few times to the point that now I worry about sounding obsessive, but it’s just something I really enjoyed. I mean, it’s the perfect choice if you like Labyrinth or Night Circus, enchanting descriptions and mysterious intrigue. Caraval is a place filled with secrets and brimming with magic, where you buy things with lies or dreams or time. Where wishes do occasionally come true, and where I’d like to go again — even if for a brief time — in the upcoming sequel, Legendary.

I loved that Caraval made me guess the ending up until I finally had to give up. I’m so tired of being able to predict the endings, or the actions of characters, and finding myself completely in the dark was a delight I haven’t experienced in quite some time. Likewise, it’s the sort of book you read twice. Once because you’re enthralled with the plot — you want to know what happens next so you eagerly devour each page to find out. The second is because you already know what’s going to happen, so you’re there for the tiny details. To actually take the time to relish word choices and descriptions you only got a sampling of the first time around.

At work we have something called the 100 Club in which you try to sell 100 of a title. I chose Caraval, and where I have failed before, I am clawing my way to victory this time. I’m up to 35 handsells, and I know I’ve sold a few more when I’m not there because I keep sneaking Caraval into different places in the store — occasionally in spots it’s technically not supposed to be. It’s on the Staff Recommends display. The new releases table up at the front of the store. I’ve stuck a little “staff recommends” card under it in the Teen section (on which I’ve written, “READ ME, I’M AWESOME.” And yes, I wrote it in all caps, and no, those cards aren’t supposed be placed with the book in its section). I’m not going to stop, and I’m going to keep doing it even after the book is in paperback. Does that count toward the 100? I don’t know. But I want people to read this book because the author, Stephanie Garber, has done a lovely job on it, and I feel like everyone ought to experience it for themselves.


Erin: Neal Shusterman’s Scythe is set in a future where the already ubiquitous Cloud has grown so large as to gain a measure of sentience. This enlightened version of the Cloud, dubbed the Thunderhead, is so powerful and all-knowing that it’s taken over in many areas of people’s lives. There’s no need for government, no need for cops. The Thunderhead knows all and sees all, and has even found a way to cheat death, creating a society of mostly well-behaved immortals.

But because the idea of ever moving beyond Earth has been ruled out — after a disastrous attempt to colonize the moon, humans decided it wasn’t worth the effort to leave our home planet — there needs to be some measure of balance to prevent overpopulation. Enter the Scythes.

Scythes are people who are chosen and trained by other Scythes to take the lives of others, and when they kill, it’s for keeps. If a member of the public is gleaned, they cannot and will not be Revived. Once Scythes are officially named, they wear special rings and long, hooded robes in any color of their choosing. (Well, any color except black, because how on-the-nose and tacky would that be?) Through their rings, they also wield the power of Immunity, which is usually issued for a year and totally at their discretion. Do a solid for a Scythe and there may or may not be a year of freedom from the semi-random specter of death in it for you. Semi-random because Scythes are given statistics and quotas, and they’re censured if they overglean from any particular part of the population.

This first book in Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series follows Citra and Rowan, two high-school-aged kids chosen to become the apprentices of Scythe Faraday, as they’re taken from their mundane existences and taught the ins and outs of death and suffering.

If you’ve read Shusterman’s Skinjacker Trilogy or his UnWind Dystology — and you really should read them — you might have noticed that he’s developed fixations on technology and death, and in finding new and interesting ways to explore the intersection thereof. Not that this reader’s complaining!

Shusterman has proved a dab hand at fleshing out intriguing premises set in futures that feel like they could be just around the corner. His stories move along at a wonderful clip, they’re full of thrilling twists and turns, and they’re populated by flawed, complex heroes and truly terrifying villains. Shusterman is also adept at knowing when violence is most effectively shown or told, and he can create a compelling romance with just a handful of well-placed thoughts and interactions.

Bottom line: The pages of Scythe flew by for me, but the ideas it raised have been hard to shake. Book two in the series, Thunderhead, came out on January 9th, and I can’t wait to have it in my hot little hands.


Nancy: Picking out my favorite book of 2017 turned out to be more of a challenge then expected, because there were TWO books that could have easily won that spot: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin, and A Dragon of a Different Color by Rachel Aaron. These two (drastically different) speculative books rocked my socks off in a BIG way this year. But when it comes down to it, I have to give the trophy to The Stone Sky, because writing a fantastic series book is one thing, but writing a fantastic finale is another thing entirely.

The Broken Earth trilogy is the story of a world plagued by regular cataclysmic events, and the people who struggle to survive in a world where the Earth itself it trying to kill them. The Stone Sky focuses on one woman and one girl who have the power to save the world, or end it all. Beyond that, I won’t go to deeply into plot details, for those who haven’t read the first two books in the trilogy. But as it is a work by N.K. Jemisin, you can expect creative worldbuilding, a diverse cast of complicated characters, and a plot that’s not afraid to go to some dark, yet thought-provoking places. I thought The Stone Sky did a splendid job of finishing everything off, and parts of the ending moved me to tears. I always look forward to Jemisin’s latest release, and this book is a prime example as to why.

Bonus! Top 5 Graphic Novels of 2017: Attack on Titan: vol 22 by Hajime Isayama, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 6: Who Runs the World? Squirrels by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, Monstress: vol 2: The Blood by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, Ms. Marvel: vol 7: Damage Per Second by G. Willow Wilson, and The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renea De Liz.


Kendra: I had a hard time choosing a favorite since I read a couple really great series last year. It’s probably cheating to re-read an old favorite and then say that was the best of the year, even if that old favorite has a brand new addition. So I guess that means The Vorkosigan Saga is out. Which left the Paradox trilogy by Rachel Bach and The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan.

I almost went with the Paradox trilogy because I remember it so fondly. With time, the little things that bothered me about the story and the character have faded to the background leaving me with a pleasant “hey, I really liked those books” feeling. That’s what happens when an ending is just right for a series. That’s what I remember. That satisfaction sticks with me more than any memories of specific details. So Paradox almost had my vote. Almost.

But I also finished The Memoirs of Lady Trent series this year and that included a re-read of A Natural History of Dragons, plus In the Labyrinth of Drakes, and Within the Sanctuary of Wings. And let’s be honest, there’s very little that can compete with these, let alone the whole series put together.

This is one of those series where each book is better than the last. Even The Tropic of Serpents, which was my least favorite, had tons to recommend it. So I can’t really pick one. This whole series was my favorite for the year. I loved the science, and the archaeology, and the history all wrapped up with fantasy and dragons.

And it went out with a bang. Within the Sanctuary of Wings was truly spectacular and not only continued the legacy of the first four books, it put them into a different context entirely, so now I can’t wait to re-read the whole series with that knowledge. Marie Brennan did a fantastic job weaving a story of love and curiosity and discovery. Definitely one of my all time favorites.


Kelly: When I was in the seventh grade, a boy named Jeff asked me how many books I had read in my life. I said, “Too many to count,” and he was as impressed as if I had told him that I could shoot laser beams out of my eyes. Eventually, I did start keeping a record of how many books I read in a year and in 2017, I read 117. Until recently, I rarely ever read science fiction or fantasy books. It’s something of a surprise to me that I actually had a lot of speculative books to choose from for my favorite.

The best speculative book that I read in 2017, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, is a book that I never would have read if it wasn’t for Speculative Chic. The cover did not grab me but I was browsing outside my comfort zone, searching for books to review, when I read the intriguing premise. The heroine, Vasya, lives in the remote Russian wilderness during medieval times. Wild and free-spirited, she doesn’t want to conform to the traditional roles of wife/mother or nun available to women at that time. The Russians honor the household and forest spirits, known as chyerti, but Vasya can actually see them. Her life is forever changed when her father marries Anna, who can also see the chyetri and mistakes them for demons. Then a new priest comes to the village and leads the people away from the old traditions, leading to devastating consequences.

Arden does a wonderful job of transporting the reader to the wintry wilds of remote Russia, but I also enjoyed learning new things about Russian culture and folklore. Vasya is an inspiring and independent heroine who declares that she would rather die than live with the confines that her culture puts on women. The book was beautifully written and I truly connected with the characters. Read my full review of The Bear and the Nightingale at Speculative Chic. I am looking forward to reading and reviewing the second book in this trilogy, The Girl in the Tower.


Merrin: Let 2017 be known as the year that I finally began to understand the appeal of audiobooks. Probably had something to do with 2016 being the year that I finally got really into podcasts, no? Either way, my favorite read (or listen) of 2017 was the audiobook of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, followed closely by its sequel A Closed and Common Orbit.

The thing I liked about both of them was that the somewhat simplistic plot took a backseat to the character development. And when I say backseat I mean, like, third row in the suburban backseat, there was little to no backseat driving from the plot. Which is was FINE. I feel like I’ve read a lot of fiction about space written by really highly intelligent people with science backgrounds who understand the physics of the cosmos but not the whispers of the human heart. Which, again, is fine. But boy was it nice to read a story about space by someone who wanted to intimately outline every single person on this crew in detail.

And I loved all of them. I loved all of them so much that when I found out that the sequel was about an entirely different group of people I almost didn’t listen to it right away, but I’m so glad I did because that one is also amazing for similar reasons.

They both get to the thing I love about all of my favorite space franchises, and that’s how people deal with space, how alien cultures differ from human culture, and how all of them interact with each other. See my extreme love of the Mass Effect franchise for reference.

As these books were released in 2015 and 2016 respectively, they can’t be my favorite books that were actually released in 2017. That honor goes to Leia, Princess of Alderaan, which I reviewed earlier in January. This one is a favorite for character development reasons as well, but also for being one of the first media tie-ins I’ve ever read that was actually really good. It really changed my mind about whether or not I would consume tie-in media at all. Plus, it gave really good background for Leia and Admiral Holdo before The Last Jedi, which added so many layers to their interactions in the movie.


Casey: I read 64 books in 2017. This is a respectable number for myself. Of everything that I devoured, old favorites included, one book from last year has remained in the back of my mind: Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide. I reviewed the novel shortly after it came out, but this is not a rehash of that review. Instead, here’s what makes the book stand out for me as the best of what I read last year.

The characters. Each and every character is a tangled, layered individual. They are whole people, with internal conflicts and personalities that contain mysteries and depths that we as readers are not privy to. Honestly, I do not truly want to know all of those secrets. It would be too intimate, and these are characters that I respect. This means that they are as free to keep things from me as they wish. This is how skilled Emrys is at bringing her characters to life: you almost believe that they are real, somehow. The plot of the novel almost takes a back seat to the beautiful character study that is the majority of this novel.

The setting. This is Lovecraft’s New England, and it is realistically brought to life. From the tragedy that is the town of Innsmouth to the pompous Miskatonic University, each place is believably described and realized. If I yearn to visit a fictional location, the writer has succeeded in their job.

I’ve thought of this novel often ever since I read it. I want to read it again and sink into this world and live again among these characters. It’s a beautiful book, and I look forward to many return visits.


Ronya: I surprised myself by reading a lot of books in 2017, and I found so many good books that it was difficult to choose one title. My favorite read turned out to be Borderline by Mishell Baker, closely followed by its sequel, Phantom Pains. (Ha! Two titles!) Normally, urban fantasy is not my thing; I’ve read a few samples here and there, but never was compelled to search for more. What attracted me to Borderline were favorable reviews of its inclusiveness and representation of characters of different sexualities and different mental health challenges. Fantastic. Did it live up to the hype? Absolutely, and more besides. Borderline introduces Millie Roper, a twenty-something aspiring filmmaker who has spent the last few months in a psych ward, recovering from a suicide attempt in which she lost both legs — all thanks to her borderline personality diagnosis. A mysterious woman named Caryl recruits Millie — now sporting bones knit together with steel and learning to use prosthetic legs to get around — to the Arcadia Project, an organization that oversees the doorways between Earth and the fairy world. Millie and her new… coworkers… share and employ a sense of dark humor as they track down an escaped fairy prince moonlighting as an actor. Besides the fantasy world, the draw of it all is that Baker presents Millie and company as flawed, real people living day-by-day — and who get the job done. Borderline is followed by Phantom Pains, which was just as much fun, and I am eagerly awaiting the third book, Impostor Syndrome, to be released in March.

8 Comments

  • Weasel of Doom January 12, 2018 at 9:00 am

    And just like that, my TBR list grew by like, 10 books. At least 🙂

    A special shout-out to Kendra for recommending “The Memoirs of Lady Trent” here on Speculative Chic back in July. I have “In The Sanctuary of Wings” waiting for me on audiobook (Kate Reading does a wonderful job as narrator).

    Reply
    • Nicole Taft January 12, 2018 at 8:39 pm

      Haha, I know, right? I already had a few things on here, and those few things now have second books and the list just keeps getting longer and longer and longer and…

      Reply
  • Kelly McCarty January 13, 2018 at 1:53 am

    I’m definitely adding The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, The Stone Sky, and Winter Tide to my reading list. I feel a little bad that I read Caraval and didn’t like it as much as everyone else. It was okay but I think it suffers in comparison to the similar The Night Circus.

    Reply
    • Shara White January 13, 2018 at 10:11 am

      If you add Stone Sky, be sure to read The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate.

      Reply
    • Carey Ballard January 18, 2018 at 2:34 am

      I thought the same thing about Caraval, but other people thought the same thing about The Night Circus in comparison to Christopher Priest’s The Prestige or Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. I liked the imagery in Caraval far better than the imagery in Night Circus, but liked the characters and storyline better in the latter book.

      Reply
  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier January 13, 2018 at 10:15 am

    This is a nice reminder that I really need to read Phantom Pains. I really enjoyed Borderline.

    Reply
    • Carey Ballard January 18, 2018 at 2:34 am

      IT WAS SO GOOD! Cannot wait for Imposter Syndrome.

      Reply
  • Carey Ballard January 18, 2018 at 2:40 am

    I bought Claudia Gray’s book and Winter Tide… I think I will move them closer to the top of my TBR pile, with N.K. Jemisin.

    Artemis fell flat for me. Not that I think a sophomore effort should equal the first; I don’t. But the main character was not what I expected at all. Which made it really difficult to appreciate the rest of the book. Story goes that Weir was going to submit a different book for his sophomore pub, but Artemis was published instead. And optioned. I’m kinda curious to see what that as-yet-unpublished book is, though!

    Reply

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