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Steph’s Best Reads of 2017

| 14 January 2018 | Reply

Steph’s Best Reads of 2017

The age old question of whether art imitates life or vise versa is never so hard to figure out as in times of great tumult in the real world, and there’s no denying that 2017 was one of those years. As the real world grows stranger, fiction has to work harder to shock readers and to pull them away from their own surreal lives into those so lovingly constructed by the wordsmiths of the world.

These are the books that engaged me the most throughout 2017 and, given the range of genres and topics covered, you’re bound to find something to entertain and change you, if only for a little while.

Drop a comment below and let us know what you enjoyed in 2017, what you’re looking forward to in 2018, and if there’s anything on the lists below you’re eager to get your hands on.

Happy reading!





4. All Aboard the Discovery Express

A fun look at the history of transportation featuring a journey around the world with clues to solve on every page. This is a great way to pass some time over the holidays while also learning about history and ways to create codes that can be used for secret messages with friends.

It’s educational and fun at the same time, and while it would be ideal for readers between 10 and 14, there are varying levels of information depending how deep you want to go, so younger readers could still find something here to enjoy without having to read every single flap and piece of information.


3. Peter Pan Moleskine Collection

A lot of thought and passion was clearly employed in the making of these lined journals, which are an absolute must have for fans of Peter Pan. They are so beautifully designed that it would almost be a shame to write in them, but what a waste it would be to not give them purpose!

To write in these notebooks will be an awfully big adventure!


2. The Slime Book

This book is loads of fun for kids and parents alike, and is bound to keep the kids out of trouble for long stretches of time.

It literally offers hours of fun, and many of the recipes within don’t stick to clothing or carpet. There is also a scientific element here, and it’s great to see the ways different combinations of things can turn icky, sticky, liquid glue into goo that can be shaped and stretched and bounced.


1. Harry Potter: Pensieve Memory Set

This set is gorgeous inside and out. The box comes complete with a latch on the outside and velvet-lined interior; a gorgeous notebook with a light-weight cover yet with a somehow chunky, old-style feel, and quotes from the movie throughout; Dumbledore’s wand which doubles as a pen (though not the easiest to get a proper hold on with the nodules down the length of the wand); and two memory vials with removable stoppers, so you can write and roll up your own memories to add.






7. Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

A great story for any young readers who are either reluctant or struggling to read. The main character hates reading, especially aloud, because she keeps making mistakes. When her mum takes her to the library and she is offered the chance to read to a dog. When the dog doesn’t judge her or laugh at her when she makes mistakes, she continues working on her skills and eventually is able to read aloud to people without fear of them laughing at her.


6. Lucy’s Book

A story for lovers of books, even though there might be some squeamishness about the book being taken in the bath, turned into a banana sandwich, and so on, the story as a whole is love letter about reading and sharing books.


5. The Sloth Who Came to Stay

This book is gorgeous and spot on in every way and helps remind us in the age we live in, with technology helping us pack more and more into the same amount of time, that there are more important things and people we should be focusing on, and that there is joy to be had in doing something purely because it makes you happy.


4. The Amazing Monster DetectoScope

Fantastically designed, complete with with a “shutter” that slides open on every page to reveal the monsters in the picture. As always this is filled with fantastic images by Base, and the story is bound to strike up nostalgia for parents.


3. Poor Louie

A good story for any family with a new baby or with a “fur child” as it explores the changes that come with a new member joining the family, and fears of being forgotten, only to wrap up with a happy, feelgood ending that reassures the older sibling that they are not forgotten.


2. Here We Are

Super cute and sweet, this is ideal for the newest members of the human race, as an introduction to the planet. The message throughout, and especially on the final page, about us all being human, no matter what we look like and where we come from, and how we’re never alone on Earth. Bound to leave a warm-fuzzy feeling.


1. Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover

This is the gorgeous, heartwarming story about humanity’s journey in creating and developing rovers, but more specifically about the titular Curiosity – including the creation, naming, journey, and work on Mars – told to readers by Curiosity herself. The accompanying illustrations are gorgeous and this is bound to be a hit with any science-loving families and a great way to introduce future scientists to the rover journey.






4. What Not to Do if You Turn Invisible

Welford has delivered a book that will pull you in, have you rooting for the main character and those she loves, and fearing for her in times of stress and danger. Most of all, Welford’s book is bound to act as a reset button and remind you of all the fun things that can be found in a middle grade novel done well.


3. Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space

The voice here will appeal to readers of The Last Kids on Earth and A Series of Unfortunate Events, and there’s even something a little Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy about the sense of humour. Highly recommended for middle grade (or young-at-heart grown-up) readers who like a sense of humour and wish there were more sci-fi books on the shelves for this age group.


2. Maybe a Fox

Maybe a Fox is a deeply emotional middle grade book, dealing with relationships, burning wishes, and loss. It is the kind of middle grade that will pull you in and won’t let you go until you’re finished, the kind that will absolutely devastate you, and you will emerge feeling somehow bereft and hopeful all at once, and with a feeling of gladness for having read it.


1. How to Bee

A gorgeous story with certain vibes one might recognise from stories like A Little Princess and The Hired Girl but with a futuristic climate-change setting, this is a quick and engaging read, written in the voice of a character who has not been properly educated because she is one of the children who works on a farm doing the jobs that would have been carried out by bees and pests had they not been wiped out by the damage humans have done to the environment.






5. Landscape with Invisible Hand

After the vuvv arrive on Earth, holding people to the ideals of the 50s movies they’ve observed from the human race and replacing much of their industry with better technology that leaves people without work. Adam’s family is running up more and more bills, which is why he originally agrees to “50s-date” for publicity, and he eventually ends up in more debt than ever.

This is not an upbeat book, but it does have a certain optimism about it, and it is in some ways reminiscent of current political goings-on in the world, so this one will engage readers and is bound to generate some discussion over the holidays.


4. Daughter of the Burning City

Daughter of the Burning City offers an interesting combination of themes. Yes, this is a fantasy story, and it’s set in a travelling circus, but the thing that sets it apart is the mystery. As Sorina’s illusions begin to be killed off, she sets out to find out who is doing it, not to mention why and how; but even for readers who clue into the whoearly on, there are still the why and how to keep you guessing, and once you enter Gomorrah, it can be pretty hard to leave…


3. Moonrise

In Moonrise, a novel in verse, Sarah Crossan weaves the story of Joe, who was first told what was going on with his brother when he was too young to know what it meant, but felt a mixture of emotions all the same, and now as he awaits his brother’s scheduled date of execution.

This is a confronting story that is both devastating and heartwarming, and you won’t be able to put it down… or forget it any time soon!


2. Down Among the Sticks and Bones

Down Among the Sticks and Bones offers a challenging of gender roles, and of stereotyping and pigeonholing in general. But it’s also a Seanan McGuire story, which means there is a certain amount of misfortune and doom, and it’s just delicious.

This is a prequel to Every Heart a Doorway, but should not be read first. Spoilers abound for the story that takes places later, so be sure to do yourself a favour and read them in the right order!


1. The Loneliest Girl in the Universe

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is in turns terrifying, with the pitch black coldness of travelling alone in a twenty-year-old space ship that isn’t what it used to be, has its ghosts, and is the only thing stopping you from freezing, suffocating, or both; and cutesy and upbeat with the most unconventional kind of blossoming puppy-love you could imagine.

These things might sound like they don’t belong together, but Lauren James weaves them beautifully for a story unlike anything you’ve read before.






4. History of Wolves

In turns sweet, discomforting, funny, and foreboding, and with so many elements involved, this is a hard book to categorise, but it will undoubtedly stick with the reader, and you’re bound to wonder what Linda did beyond the last page.


3. Gather the Daughters

Gather the Daughters, while producing a story that doesn’t exactly break the mold (at least when it comes to books about fictional cults), presents a scenario and characters that are so well-built the reader can’t help but cheer on these girls, while at the same time worried about reading of their potentially terrible fates.

These girls who, though raised to be kept under the thumb, and despite being raised into these awful conditions where these awful things are treated as “normal”, still manage to find a backbone, rebel, and make it known that they’re not okay with what’s going on.


2. This is How it Always Is

This is an absolute joy to read and it covers the important topic of gender dysphoria, written by someone who has been through this transitional period with her own child. 

Frankel’s novel will leave you with the warm and fuzzies, but it also has a lot of heft, which stops it from being a pointlessly fluffy story, instead resulting in one that is sure to hold a place in your heart for many years to come.


1. Calling Major Tom

This book is science-lite, and it is important to make sure your suspension of disbelief is properly functional before embarking on this journey. But if you can manage that, you’re in for an incredibly fun and engrossing ride.

Though it does deal with some pretty serious topics – the reader knows that no matter how the story resolves, Thomas is on a one-way trip to Mars and will spend a decade or two alone, if not the rest of his life – this is an uplifting story that is bound to leave you with a smile on your face.





5. The Boy on the Bridge

Until now readers, along with the cast of The Girl With All The Gifts, could only speculate as to what happened, and none of it was good. Now we’re finally privy to what went on decades before the story that has captured the attention of readers the world over.

This is a slower build than the previous book, but all said and done, this is a wonderful trip back into the universe of The Girl With All The Gifts, full of Carey’s brilliant words that somehow capture the gore and the atrocity of a situation in a beautiful way, and full of characters you can’t help but root for, even though you’re pretty sure they’re doomed because Rosie never returned from her voyage.

Again, this is a prequel, but it is advisable to read The Girl With All The Gifts first.


4. The Silent Companions

Told across three time periods, the most recent being some time in the late 1800s, this is a tale of old mansions, wooden statues that move on their own, and strange sounds in the night. 
The Silent Companions are something that come out of our own history, and they are super creepy, and Purcell has tapped into this creep factor in order to deliver the kind of story that will have you checking your surroundings as you read, just to make sure none of the companions have decided to sneak up on you.


3. Spoonbenders

Surrounding a family of past performers, this is a story about three generations under the one roof, and what happens when each one’s best-laid plans all come crashing together. This is in turns funny and urgent and historical and mysterious. Spoonbenders shows Gregory’s skill and ability to write as well in (mostly) general fiction as he does in speculative fiction. This has a dash of the “other” but is for the most part set in our own world.


2. The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night

In her collection of short stories with a shared theme of fairytales, loyalty, and not fitting in, Jen Campbell shows off her skill as a writer, and her ability to draw readers into the lives of these engaging and well-realised characters.

Each story is so interesting and well-done that the reader just needs to devour more awesome prose by this talented, heartfelt writer.


1. Strange the Dreamer

Part fairytale, part myth, part dreamscape, and with elements that would be at home in an historical drama, Strange the Dreamer is a hard book to pin down. There’s romance, and laughter, and stories galore, and quite a few monsters, to be sure.
This book is something of a love letter to dreamers and those who love books and stories, and it offers a world so well-built that the idea it doesn’t exist seems ludicrous.






6. The Periodic Table Book

The Periodic Table Book is well presented and can pull its own weight in the arena of books about the elements, but is also accessible for young and future scientists as well as those of us who have let our knowledge of the periodic table slip a little in the years since school. For so little text on each page, there is a surprising amount of information to be found here, meaning it is adaptable to the reader in question and allows some room to grow.


5. The Princess Diarist

The voice Carrie Fisher uses in The Princess Diarist is all at once honest, humorous, and maybe a little self-deprecating, and one can’t help thinking “me too, me too!” while reading of her misadventures (and surrounding thoughts), albeit on a less-famous level. This is why the book feels like having a conversation with Carrie, and why you would likely come away thinking you could have a conversation if you met her somewhere, without being treated like a lunatic. 

Though sadly time has run out on the chance of meeting her and striking up said conversation, as a result the words in this book are some of the last offered by such an icon, and in some ways perhaps more honest than that we’ve been privy to before.


4. Un-Discovered Islands

From the well-known story of Atlantis to more obscure tales from around the globe; from ancient history right up to the present day. This is an atlas of legend and wonder, of places discovered and then un-discovered.

Ultimately this is a book reminiscent of the days of adventure long since gone; a love-letter of sorts to the time when the world was a mysterious place, travel from one country to another could easily take a month or more, and you had no idea what you were going to see along the way.


3. Exploring Space

In Exploring Space, Martin Jenkins manages to cover such a large chunk of human history, as it relates to our pondering on and exploring of space. In just under sixty pages, Jenkins manages to cover some 2,300 years, give or take, starting at the earliest astronomers in Ancient Greece.

The topics explored in the book carry all the way through to rovers, the international space station, New Horizons, and a potential future colony on Mars.

With such a range of topics covered in such a small number of pages, it is understandable that they do not go too far into any, but rather offer something of an overview, perfect for budding astronomers or astronauts, or even those of us who look up at the night sky and wonder what else is out there in the universe.


2. Only Dead on the Inside

A funny take on the zombie apocalypse, and how one might make it through will all their limbs and children in tact.
Breakwell is known on twitter for the hilarious anecdotes he shares of discussions he has with his four daughters, which are at times hilarious, terrifying, gleefully morbid, and heartwarming in the way that only creepy things said by little children can be.
This translates well in the book, where Breakwell turns his sarcastic wit towards ways children could actually be a good thing in the zombie apocalypse and, on the flip-side, ways those same children are more likely to get you killed.


1. And Then You’re Dead

This is a hilarious collection of science-based speculations on how various situations would kill a human being. It’s the kind of thing that will give you new information to discuss, plus a lot of laughs, but without getting too bogged down in the fact that all of these scenarios end in the theoretical “you” dying.




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