Five Favorite Books I Read in 2017

I chose poorly in 2017, which is perhaps why I was unable to reach my 40-book goal this year. (I’m still reading No. 32 The Man Who Smiled and listening to No. 33 Artemis). I selected no less than a dozen books that ended up being ho-hum or outright bad, which made my resolve for reading a weak one. Some books I didn’t even review on the blog, if that tells you how uninspired I was (Believing the Lie, The Graveyard Book, and more). Plus, four of the books I read this year were for my literature and creative writing class, so while they counted toward the total, I didn’t review them here.

Yet, since I read so many unremarkable books this year, choosing my favorite five was easy! (Original reviews are linked.)

  1. Ready Player One
    Hands-down, this is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, and credit goes to Susan (of “Susan and Lesli”) for recommending it to me. Granted, I listened to it on Audible instead of reading it on paper, but if there was ever a book to listen to instead of read, it’s this one. Narrated by Wil Wheaton, Ready Player One is a love letter to the 80s kid who longs for the good old days of Family Ties reruns,  and Atari.
  2. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
    There are two time periods that capture my heart in equal measure. One is the back-to-back Tudor and Elizabethan Eras in England, and the other is the Roaring 20s, specifically the Lost Generation writers who lived an expat life abroad. Zelda Fitzgerald surely would’ve had a different life with access to proper mental health care. Alas, her tragedies flowed straight from her mixed-up mind into real life. If you are equally interested in the Fitzgeralds (and Hemingways), you’ll love Z. 
  3. The Great Divorce
    I’m not sure why it’s taken me until my late 30s to enjoy C.S. Lewis, but better late than never. In a time that feels spiritually void, The Great Divorce reminds me that God is always present and always listening, offering perfect love for our imperfect selves, and the white noise of our collective bickering is small potatoes when it comes to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. From a literary standpoint, I am all over the imagery and symbolism of The Great Divorce. The writing and message are a perfect pair.
  4. Wonderstruck
    I selected Wonderstruck as one of four novels I taught this semester in my literature and creative writing class, so there isn’t a stand-alone review to link (yet). Written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck begins with two stories – Rose in Hoboken, 1927 and Ben in Minnesota, 1977. Rose’s story is told via illustration, while Ben’s is a traditional narrative. The pair of children seem to have nothing in common, but as each side unfolds we see that Rose and Ben have much in common, from their hearing impairments to their search for family. Told in three parts, Wonderstruck is a fast-paced, emotional tale of endurance and an exploration of what one might do to find a home. (Wonderstruck has been made into a film!)
  5. A Column of Fire
    Aside from Hogwarts, Kingsbridge is my favorite fictional setting and I was thrilled to go back there one last time. Just in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, A Column of Fire brings together several families – some Protestant, some Catholic, and a few who long for religious tolerance. Not only did it quench my thirst for the Elizabethan era, it was the perfect book to read after a series of duds. Per usual, I didn’t want it to end.

An honorable mention goes to Faceless Killers by Henning Menkell, the author of the Wallander series. If you’re into crime/thriller novels, and especially if you’ve watched the BBC TV show Wallander, check it out! I’m currently reading a second Menkell book (The Man Who Smiled) and have a third waiting in the wings. He’s joined the company of Tana French and Mo Hayder on my crime/thriller bookshelf.

My goal for 2018 is to MAKE BETTER CHOICES. I’m not sure where my brain went this year, but I wasted a lot of time on books I didn’t enjoy. Not again! Cheers!

Book Review: Faceless Killers

A few years ago I caught a show on Netflix called Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh as the Swedish detective. It fell in line with other mystery/thriller shows made overseas that I love (Broadchurch, Hinterland, Whitechapel, The Fall, etc.).

When I learned that the show was based on the work of Swedish crime novelist Henning Mankell, I decided to give the first one a go.

Faceless Killers was published in 1997, an interesting point I’ll circle back to, and centers around the vicious, barbaric murder of an old farmer and his wife in a sleepy Swedish town called Lunnarp. The crime makes no sense to Ystad police inspector Kurt Wallander, but he is an experienced, determined investigator, and the only clue he has to go on is one word the wife said the moment before she died: “Foreign.”

Mankell takes the reader on a series of swerving paths as any crime novelist does. His style reminds of Ken Follett’s crime novels (Eye of the Needle, The Key to Rebecca, A Dangerous Fortune), which was a delightful surprise. The process of discovery unfolds to readers as it does for Wallander, a man whose own demons involve an aging, senile father, a wife who wants a divorce, an estranged daughter, and a drinking problem. Readers meet other detectives and pertinent characters, but it is Wallander’s steps we trace.

Faceless Killers is a detailed police thriller with plenty of hopeful leads and dead ends to make a reader anxious – but in the best way possible. Mankell creates the sort of frustration that compels you to keep reading. We must solve the mystery! We must know who did it! It’s this kind of pull that creates a bestselling series. When you wake up thinking about a fictional murder case and wondering if there are more clues to discover, you want to get up and read.

A note about the publishing date – If you are at all paying attention to the current immigration/refugee issues in Sweden (or Europe as a whole), it might interest you that these matters were relevant 20 years ago. Forgive my historical ignorance, but that wasn’t something I understood in the late 1990s. The internal conflict among Swedes regarding immigration is not new, so to read about it in an older work of fiction was eye-opening. It put into perspective our own national debates about preserving culture, helping those in need, and immigration reform.

I have two more Wallander books on hand, so hopefully those are as good, if not better, than the first. I’ll keep you posted.