My Top Books of 2017

My Top Books of 2017

My Top Books of 2017When you’re a writer, stories are life. You can’t create them without ingesting them. That’s why Stephen King famously said:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

That’s why this annual look back at my top books of 2017 is always one of my favorite posts. For better or worse, however, this year was the “worst” reading year in my entire life, in terms of quantity. I said that last year when I’d read only 80, but this year I really mean it. I’ve topped out at just 42 books read, which for me seems like a really dismal number. The good news, however, is that amongst those 42 books were some really good ones.

Following is my list of my top 5 favorite books in both Fiction and Non-Fiction, with a few bonus writing-craft titles thrown in.

But, first, some fun stats:

Total books read: 42

Fiction to non-fiction ratio: 20:22

Male to female author ratio: 28:14

Top 5 genres: History (with 10 books), Classic Fiction (with 9), Fantasy (with 5), Writing How-To (with 5), and Historical (with 3).

Number of books per rating: 5 stars (3), 4 stars (20), 3 stars (10), 2 stars (9), 1 star (0).

Top 5 Fiction Books

1. Blood Song by Anthony Ryan—Read 3-26-17 Four and Half Stars

blood song anthony ryan

Loved it. It’s not as flashy as, say, Brent Weeks, but this is an incredibly thoughtful, well-realized, steady, and thoroughly enjoyable epic fantasy. The protagonist is one of those rare “good” characters that manage to be utterly sympathetic, engaging, and heart-rending (so much so that he was one of the inspirations for this post: “5 Tips for Writing a Likable ‘Righteous’ Character“). I can’t wait to start the sequel soon!

2. Among the Flames by Kim Vandel—Read 6-12-17 Four and Half Stars

Among the Flames Kim Vandel

Kim Vandel has rocketed onto the elite list of my favorite authors. She has a solid style, a masterful control of character and subtext (which inspired this post “4 Ways to Amplify Your Characters’ Subtext“), a way of making even mundane details interesting, and a great slant on supernatural YA. My only true complaint about this second installment in the series is that it’s too short. I could happily have handled five hundred more pages of Kate and company. As it is, I must suffer heroically through another year of waiting for the sequel. At its heart, this is a romance—and yet, there’s no romance in either this book or the previous one. And that’s half the charm. Vandel is doing what so few authors have the patience or the guts to do in creating a long-lasting, evolving relationship that relies on characterization rather than gratuitously rushed romance. Again, can’t wait for the sequel!

3. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett—Read 10-9-17 Four and Half Stars

Men at Arms Terry Pratchett

Sublimely hilarious, beautifully plotted (you can find my structural analysis in the Story Structure Database). Peopled with a delightful cast, most notably the charmingly heroic and lovable Carrot. My favorite Pratchett book so far.

4. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell—Read 3-13-17 

Gone With the Wind Margaret Mitchell Scarlett OHara Rhett Butler

I love it when things live up to their reputations. This book is a tour de force in so many ways. Structurally, it’s amazing—which is, I think, the largest reason it’s so incredibly readable, even at its great size (you can read my structural analysis in the Story Structure Database). The characters are well-realized, the themes deep and nuanced, and the historical viewpoint certainly thought-provoking. It has its downfalls, of course (most notably its wretched portrayal of African-Americans), but overall, it’s a charmingly satirical novel that demands introspection from the reader in regard to the intervening ebb and flow of history.

5. Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann—Read 2-16-17 

Doctor Faustus Thomas Mann

What an extraordinary book. Thomas Mann—even translated into English—has such an immersive and yet easy style of writing. He’s a pleasure to read even when he’s not saying anything interesting, which he certainly is here with this deeply symbolic web of personality and history. Most interesting of all, however, is his deft use of a highly unreliable but entirely earnest non-protagonist narrator. I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Magic Mountain (one of my top five books last year), but it cements Mann as one of my favorite classic authors.

Top 5 Non-Fiction Books

1. Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend—Read 6-6-17 

Boundararies Henry Cloud John Townsend

This book is life-changing. Turns out a discussion of boundaries is really a discussion about every single relationship in your life, your personal self-worth and discipline, your childhood, and your religion. The good doctors come at this from a Christian perspective, but they pull no punches in addressing the massive problem Christians, in particular, have with these issues. At every turn, they are brutally honest, logical, and biblical. The end result is the encouragement and empowerment to live a centered life, free of guilt and balanced in God’s will.

2. This Fabulous Century: 1950-1960 by Time-Life Books—Read 2-16-17 

Time-Life This Fabulous Century 1950-1960

I’ve yet to read any of this series that wasn’t interesting, but this is a standout. It’s a thorough, in-depth, and always educational overview of one of the most transitional decades in the 20th Century.

3. A Mighty Fortress by Steven Ozment—7-16-17 Four and Half Stars

A Mighty Fortress Steven Ozment

This is a rapid-fire historical overview of the German people that often reads like a fast-paced documentary. I would have enjoyed a little more depth in the exploration of personalities, but overall, this is an excellent big-picture view that offers some surprising insights.

4. Rasputin: The Saint Who Sinned by Brian Moynahan—Read 5-23-17 Four and Half Stars

Rasputin the Saint Who Sinned Brian Moynahan

Like most of the world, I have always been fascinated by the murky half-myth, half-reality in which lurks the dark figure supposedly at the heart of the Romanov dynasty’s downfall. Moynahan brings clarity, forthright details, and a fair-handed approach that ultimately casts the largest share of blame on Empress Alexandra’s wrongheadedness.

5. Life Lessons by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler—Read 10-6-17 

Life Lessons Elisabeth Kubler-Ross David Kessler

A beautiful book with interesting insights. Nothing unforeseen, but good reminders about what it really means to live a full and meaningful life with no regrets.

Bonus: 3 Books for Writers

1. Cover Design Secrets Bestselling Authors Use to Sell More Books by Derek Murphy—Read 5-16-17 Four and Half Stars

Cover Design Tips Authors Can Use to Sell More Books Derek Murphy

Great advice, much of which goes against the grain, but is so sensible it makes you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. I learned much and appreciated Derek’s viewpoint. I will be approaching my future covers with a new perspective.

2. Dramatica Unplugged: The Story Mind by Melanie Anne Phillips—Read 4-14-17

Dramatica Unplugged Melanie Anne Phillips

Dramatica is such a complex system that it’s really helpful to break it into down into smaller chunks like this. Gave me new ideas to think about.

3. 5 Minute Book Marketing for Authors by Penny Sansevieri—Read 4-15-17 

5 Minute Book Marketing for Authors Penny Sansevieri

This is an excellent primer for writers just starting out with marketing and wanting a rounded plan of action for selling books.

My Books

And if all these goodies aren’t enough to fill your To Be Read pile this year, here’s a few more! 🙂

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What were your top books of 2017? How many books did you read? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Katie,

    Thank you for sharing this list. As someone fascinated with the Russian Revolution and Rasputin, I look forward to Mr. Moynahan’s book.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s very thorough and well-researched. I’ve been reading about Romanov Russia for a long time, but I still learned a lot.

  2. Daeus Lamb says:

    Alright, you strong-armed me. I’ve been told to read Kim’s books too many times. I broke down and bought Into the Fire.

  3. I’m so honored to have made the list! And now I will get back to work on book 3…

  4. I have honestly no idea how many books I have read this year, but I’m thinking it was 40+ ish. I read your book Behold the Dawn, and I have your Creating Characters and another by you(don’t remember the name at the moment).

  5. Even though I love reading, I’m struggling to find excellent fiction that’s moral and God-honoring, so I went through a reading slump this year. I instead went crazy with writing, making it my mission to produce excellent moral fiction, and learned a lot, thanks to you—but I know I should be reading more. Your books were the first fiction ones I’d read all year. I was so happy to find something both incredible and clean!

    I’m trying to get back into reading regularly again. I thought I saw somewhere that Kim Vandel’s series were Christian—do you know?

    Madi

  6. Ruchama Burrell says:

    I am a reading addict. Fortunately, I am also a very fast reader, so there’s no way I could count books I’ve read or “read at” (skimmed, put aside to finish later, dipped into old favorites for a brief reprise and other less than cover to cover reading adventures. I’m curious about one thing. Why do you describe Gone with the Wind as “satirical?” I agree with you about the normalized racism in the book. Having read it a number of times straight through from the first time (age 15) to my current reprise (at age 75) of a few chapters so I can learn from her narrative technique, I can skip the apologia for the KKK in the post war sections. It’s also an excellent way to learn how people from the South (like my own mother) viewed themselves and mythologized their past in the l930’s when the book was published. That mindset is still alive in parts of the deep south. I am not sure what’s satirical about it. Socially critical comedy in the Atlanta sections, yes. But satire??????

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think there’s what I’d call an “edge” of satire to Gone With the Wind, in that it is not, in any way, an elegy to the South. Scarlet (and Rhett too, to some extent) are entirely antithetical to the usual romanticized view of the South.

      • Ruchama Burrell says:

        We may be dealing with a generational difference in terms of your response to GWTW. However, as regards to the South’s view of the South, I must demur. First, Melanie was the central character in Margaret Mitchell’s mind. She called the book “really Melanie’s story.” And you cannot find a more idealized view of Southern womanhood than Melanie, except perhaps, Ellen, Scarlett’s mother. And Rhett is very much a beloved Southern type, the rascal who beneath it all has as true heart. Southerns embraced and still embrace GWTW’s mythologized view of their past. Ted Turner, born in Ohio but raised in the South bought the moving picture itself and had at least one theater for years that showed nothing but GWTW.

        When one theatre in Mississippi that had shown the movie as part of its schedule for years, the reaction was rapid and fierce. As the daughter of a Alabamian mother and Yankee father, I spent a lot of my younger years in the South and among Southerners I can attest that many of the attitudes in the story about people from the North coming down and telling them how to live persisted then and watching news reports demonstrates if you pay attention, that these attitudes are still alive and well among many in what used to be called Dixie.

        Gone with the Wind is filled with romanticized elements. Here’s one observation: we are told that Scarlett’s and the Tarletons’ grammar was not better than that of their “cracker ” neighbors. However, in the narrative itself, Scarlett speaks and thinks in proper English as do the Tarletons.

        Finally, Scarlett represents one valued aspect of Southern womanhood, the determination not to be defeated. Steven Vincent Benet’ once said that the Confederacy was propped up on ladies’ ivory fans. He was probably right.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Well, I’m not a Southerner, so my view is undoubtedly more subjective than not. I concede to your understanding. 🙂

          • Linda Burrell says:

            Thanks. It had occurred to me that you must not be a Southerner or closely connected to any. GWTW was the first movie my Alabamian mother took me to, literally as a babe in arms. I had to be carried out. Seeing it later at about 5 (Mom really loved the movie) I became a life-long pacifist after viewing the scene of all the wounded and dying by the railroad tracks. Here’s something that might interest you. In my opinion Mitchell was inspired by Vanity Fair. Thackery also has two main women characters, a “bad girl” Becky Sharpe and a “good girl” who’s name I can’t recall because she is such a nonentity. I think Mitchell improved on Thackery when she created Melanie, who has strength and courage and wisdom. And, of course Vanity Fair really is a satirical novel.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Huh, you’re right. I can definitely see the parallels with Vanity Fair.

  7. Boundaries is a most excellent book. I read it for the first time last year and would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

    I’ve yet to read a Pratchett book I didn’t like. I don’t think I’ve read that one yet, but I did read Guards! Guards! which also has Carrot and is highly entertaining.

    That Rasputin book sounds intriguing. I would like to know more about the person with such mythic infamy.

  8. Thanks for this list! I always enjoy reading about favorite books of my favorite authors (YOU!)

  9. Thanks for posting this. I’m going to look for those books, especially the fiction ones. This past year I went back in time with Gilbert Morris, Larraine Snelling and Anne Perry.

  10. SJ Robertson says:

    I’ve read 50 book this year according to Goodreads. The two standouts were Amor Towles novels.

  11. Are you working with Dramatica software?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      No, it was too clunky for me. But I like the book.

      • LOL. I spent six weeks trying to figure it out, read that book, and lots of others, websites, discussion groups, etc. I’m giving it another shot in January. Cheers!

  12. Interesting list. Some of the books you have chosen are already on my bookshelves.(I think it’s time I revisited ‘Boundaries’ and ‘Dr. Faustus.’ Thomas Mann’s ‘Faustus’ is doubly memorable for me because of his (the protagonist’s) insighful analysis of one of my favourite pieces of music – Beethoven’s Opus 101 Piano Sonata(his last)
    I follow your You Tube tutorials. I had my first novel published at the age of 75.

  13. ROBERT EASTERBROOK says:

    Gee, you always embarrass me with this. 😉 However, I think matched you in 2017. :p FICTION:
    Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson: The Butlerian Jihad; The Machine Crusade; Dune – Red Plague [short story]. Kevin J. Anderson: Horizon Storms – The Saga of Seven Suns, book 3. James Patterson (Book Shots): Cross Kill [short book]. George Simenon: Pieter the Latvian [Inspector Maigret, a.k.a Poirot]. Franz Kafka: The Trial [imagines he’s a bug, very weird]. Margaret Drabble: The Gifts of War [sad story]. Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows. Taryn Hayes: The Seekers of the Lost Boy [YA]. H. G. Wells: The Invisible Man. James Boyne: The boy in the striped pajamas [also very sad].
    NON-FICTION: Books on writing.
    James Scott Bell: How to write Pulp Fiction. Ben Bova: The craft of writing Science Fiction. Bryan Cohen: How to write a sizzling synopsis. Robert Zuckerman: Writing the Blockbuster Novel. Margaret Atwood: In Other Worlds. [Can’t say for sure these books were useful – except James Scott Bell’s, which was informative.]
    History & science.
    Richard Dex: The Tudors. Robert Hutchinson: Elizabeth’s Spy Master. Geoffrey Robertson: The Tyrannicide Brief. Nessa Carey: The Epigenetics Revolution.
    For fun (believe it or not). Robert Messenger: 101 Great Typewriters (a doff to you, Ms. Weiland). Paul Lauiero: Sh*t Rough Drafts – funny. For example …
    The Hobbitt: “What have I got in my pocket?” Bilbo wondered aloud. “A dead fish,” answered Gollum. “What? No, that’s disgusting. Guess again.” “Two dead fish.” “I already said No to one dead fish. Why would it be two? guess again.” “Three dead fish.” 😉

  14. I always enjoy seeing your end-of-year list. 🙂 Kim Vandel is still on my TBR list due to your mention of her last year… I really need to read her books one of these days. But in my defense, I have read a lot of books this year, (and bought even more- I have a problem.) Here are my top five books from 2017, in order.

    5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling

    I read the whole HP series for the first time this year, and while I can’t say I was super impressed (crosses fingers hoping Potterheads won’t attack her), I can see why people enjoy them so much. And OotP stood out to me. Mostly because of Luna Lovegood. It was worth reading all seven books just so I could find out Luna Lovegood exists.

    4. The Great Gatsby, by Scott Fitzgerald

    Unlike HP, I would say this one definitely lives up to the hype. I loved the powerful themes and how Fitzgerald takes a cast of morally more or less despicable characters (even Nick is no shining paragon, a fact he makes little effort to hide) and somehow makes them sympathetic in spite of it all.

    3. Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

    I can’t believe I’m putting this book in third place… it’s solely because it has such stiff competition. And it’s a little less a book that was helpful to me in particular (although it certainly was, in certain ways), than a book I would recommend in a heartbeat to others. Besides, I’m a philosophy nerd, so of course I loved Lewis’s philosophical argument for the truth of Christianity.

    2. The Wounded Healer, by Henri Nouwen

    The Wounded Healer is a brief but beautiful book (alliteration alert) about the challenge of Christian ministry in the modern world. Nouwen has incredible insight into our society and the kinds of challenges people face, as well as the ministry that is most needed to aid them. But honestly, I can’t write a description that will do this book justice. Read it.

    1. The Once and Future King, by T.H. White

    Life-changing. Mind-blowing. 5+ stars. A philosophical, whimsical, ultimately tragic-yet-hopeful book that is equal parts epic fantasy and meticulously researched historical fiction. Read. It.

    Wow, I’m apparently feeling very verbose this morning. Sorry for the long comment… hopefully you’ll gain something from all my rambling.

  15. Do Manga (Japanese comics) count? I am reading two weekly series and two monthly series? I have read your structuring and outlining books. Plus four of the six Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi thesaurus books.

  16. I love (almost) all books by Terry Pratchett! The “Guards” series (or the “Vimes”-series, you are clearly right, he is the true hero of them) is great, gradually turning darker and more serious with every book (but still being full of the Pratchett humour!) But I also came to love the “Tiffany Aching” books – never mind them being labelled Young Adult.
    I have to say I have not heard of “Dramatica” so far. But I will have a look – thanks!
    And – this being as good a place as any to mention it – thanks for all the great resources in your blog! I love hopping around here, finding new bits of inspiration/knowledge/food for thought.

  17. My favorite book of this year was Revenger by Alastair Reynolds. I think it’s technically a 2016 book, or it was released in the UK in 2016 and then was released later in the States.

    Not sure why publishers still do that. Somehow it’s worked out that all my favorite novelists are British, and I’m always either waiting for a US release or ordering from UK sellers on Amazon.

  18. I picked up Boundaries when it was on sale at Amazon, on your recommendation. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I can tell from the description and from your review that I would have benefited from reading it a while ago. 🙂 I also want to read A Mighty Fortress and Mann’s Doctor Faustus. Studying German is one of my hobbies, but I am not nearly good enough to try the original! Not yet, anyway.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Never too late.

      And good for you for learning German. I’m stumbling along with French–enough that I can make out some of the untranslated French passages in Mann’s books, but not enough that I’d want to tackle a whole book in the language yet.

  19. Kate Johnston says:

    I read more books this year than I have in a long time, which was one of my 2017 goals–read more!! I won’t list them all here, but one stands out in my mind, Beyond Words, what animals think and feel, by Carl Safina.

    It is a gorgeously written non-fiction book about the author’s personal research on three endangered species: elephants, wolves, and killer whales. Heartbreaking and thought-provoking. Makes you want to run out into the world and DO something to help.

  20. Exiles, the fourth installment in Ilyon Chronicles, and Final Spark, the last installment in the Michael Vey Series, are probably my top picks for this year. So many delicious books, so little time to read. 🙁

    Now I’m anxiously awaiting Nadine Brandes’ new book in 2018. 🙂

  21. A Mighty Fortress looks interesting—I’ve been thinking lately that I’d like to do some reading on German history, owing to some German ancestry and an interest in learning more about Reformation history in particular.

    Goodreads informs me I’ve read 80 books this year, though I’ll probably add a few more titles before New Year’s—I’ve got bookmarks in three right now, and I think there’s a few I forgot to log as read. I just posted my top-ten list for the year yesterday: http://www.elisabethgracefoley.com/2017/12/top-ten-tuesday-top-ten-books-read-in-2017.html

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yep, that was my thinking too. I’m more than a quarter German, but new surprisingly little about German history. This book was a great intro.

  22. Dunno how many books I’ve read this year but one of my favorites has been THE DISASTER ARTIST, by actor Greg Sestero, about the legendary bad movie THE ROOM and its enigmatic creator Tommy Wiseau. I have to admit to finding it inspirational in a strange, backhanded way!

  23. DirectorNoah says:

    It’s hard to pick my favourite books of the last ten years, let alone this year, for the simple reason, that most of the books I read, I like equally for different reasons. But there are a few authors whose work really stands out as extra special to me.

    Brent Week’s Night Angel trilogy is one of those. I loved the hard, gritty fantasy world he painted so well, and Durzo’s character from the first book, had real depth and emotion to him, and was a brilliantly compelling and haunted figure. I was totally gripped throughout. Rachel Caine’s novels also come to mind as being very slick and polished.
    Catherine Fisher is another absolute favourite of mine. Her books are written almost in a semi-dream style, with worlds that are so richly poetic and gothic.

    And of course, not forgetting Dreamlander, which was a thoroughly enjoyable read this year, with such a uniquely refreshing concept and beautifully crafted world. Can’t wait for the sequel! 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ah, yes, I adore Brent Weeks’s Night Angel. It’s one of my favorite stories ever. I am seriously honored to have Dreamlander mentioned in the same comment. 😉

  24. Hi Katie,

    It’s great to see your favorite books of 2017!

    I Haven’t heard of Anthony Ryan but Blood Song sounds very interesting. Been warming up to Fantasy and Epic fantasy recently.

    I’m so happy to hear about Kim’s new book! Confess I haven’t read the first one yet though, ugh. Too many good books to read.

    Toodles

  25. My first post!
    My reading quantity is low, but im proud of having just finished my first Charles Dickens -a Christmas Carol- I liked comparing it to the two movies im familiar with, one with Albert Finney and the animated version with Jim Carey.

    Best non fiction Christian book John Andrews learning to grow on purpose. Fairly short but quite deep.

    I can recommend a book called ‘Speed of Trust’ by Stephen Covey, while it appears a business book, its extensive analysis of trust covers family life too and many of the principles can be applied in building a good writing reputation.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Welcome, Michael! Christmas Carol is a must. 🙂 The trust book sounds good too. I’ll have to check that out.

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