Karen’s Top 10 Reads of 2017

The first Team ALBTALBS List! (I always wait until January of the next year to post in case someone read an OMFG AMAZING LOVELOVELOVE book that should go on the list on say, December 31.) 

There were so many good books I read on 2017 that to pick 10 is actually hard, however:

Captured Shadows by Richard Rider was a lyrical Victorian love story, as much about photography as it was about Archie and Jim. Avoiding many of the cliches used in historical m/m Rider made that my favourite romance read of 2017. (In fact, Karen also reviewed this book, if you want to check that out here!) 

Jim Sinnett spends his days on respectable portrait photography and his nights creating scandalous erotic pictures for men who hide their desires in locked cabinets and between the pages of books. When a new friendship leads to a secret opportunity, one more dangerous than ever before, Jim agrees to step in front of the camera but finds himself baring much more than his skin.

A twisting historical romance set in the fog of Victorian London, Captured Shadows follows the path of love, blackmail and obsession to a devastating climax.

Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta at over 1500 pages this whole series sped by in reading terms, it’s epic but is focused on individuals, so that you really get caught up in the politics and power, but while seeing and feeling the impact this has on people. It has some of the strongest female characters I have read, ever. Anyone who has ever dismissed YA , but likes complex, romantic, human books should read this. In these 3 were one of 2 of my stand out reads of 2017. (The individual titles are Finnikin of the RockFroi of the Exiles, and Quintana of Charyn.) Here is the back cover copy from Finnikin of the Rock:

2008 Printz Award Winner Melina Marchetta crafts an epic fantasy of ancient magic, exile, feudal intrigue, and romance that rivets from the first page. 

Finnikin was only a child during the five days of the unspeakable, when the royal family of Lumatere were brutally murdered, and an imposter seized the throne. Now a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escaped roam the surrounding lands as exiles, persecuted and despairing, dying by the thousands in fever camps. In a narrative crackling with the tension of an imminent storm, Finnikin, now on the cusp of manhood, is compelled to join forces with an arrogant and enigmatic young novice named Evanjalin, who claims that her dark dreams will lead the exiles to a surviving royal child and a way to pierce the cursed barrier and regain the land of Lumatere. But Evanjalin’s unpredictable behavior suggests that she is not what she seems — and the startling truth will test Finnikin’s faith not only in her, but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.

Book 2, Froi of the Exiles:
Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home . . . or so he believes. Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been taken roughly and lovingly in hand by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper with a warrior’s discipline. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds in its surreal royal court. Soon he must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad princess in this barren and mysterious place. It is in Charyn that he will discover there is a song sleeping in his blood . . . and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen.

Book 3, Quintana of Charyn:
Quintana of CharynSeparated from the girl he loves and has sworn to protect, Froi and his companions travel through Charyn searching for Quintana and building an army that will secure her unborn child’s right to rule. While in the valley between two kingdoms, Quintana of Charyn and Isaboe of Lumatere come face-to-face in a showdown that will result in heartbreak for one and power for the other. The complex tangle of bloodlines, politics, and love introduced in Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles coalesce into an engrossing climax in this final volume.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon. Another big book, this is the true story of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley, and my goodness it sucked me in , Wollstonecraft history in particular suffered, after her death, as her husband believed he was protecting her. Very inspiring, and brilliant.

This groundbreaking dual biography brings to life a pioneering English feminist and the daughter she never knew. Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley have each been the subject of numerous biographies, yet no one has ever examined their lives in one book—until now. In Romantic Outlaws, Charlotte Gordon reunites the trailblazing author who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and the Romantic visionary who gave the world Frankenstein—two courageous women who should have shared their lives, but instead shared a powerful literary and feminist legacy.

In 1797, less than two weeks after giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft died, and a remarkable life spent pushing against the boundaries of society’s expectations for women came to an end. But another was just beginning. Wollstonecraft’s daughter Mary was to follow a similarly audacious path. Both women had passionate relationships with several men, bore children out of wedlock, and chose to live in exile outside their native country. Each in her own time fought against the injustices women faced and wrote books that changed literary history.

The private lives of both Marys were nothing less than the stuff of great Romantic drama, providing fabulous material for Charlotte Gordon, an accomplished historian and a gifted storyteller. Taking readers on a vivid journey across revolutionary France and Victorian England, she seamlessly interweaves the lives of her two protagonists in alternating chapters, creating a book that reads like a richly textured historical novel. Gordon also paints unforgettable portraits of the men in their lives, including the mercurial genius Percy Shelley, the unbridled libertine Lord Byron, and the brilliant radical William Godwin.

“Brave, passionate, and visionary, they broke almost every rule there was to break,” Gordon writes of Wollstonecraft and Shelley. A truly revelatory biography, Romantic Outlaws reveals the defiant, creative lives of this daring mother-daughter pair who refused to be confined by the rigid conventions of their era.

Dear Mona Lisa by Claire Davies and Al Stewart. I think that these two write love stories like no others, stronger rooted in reality, and this is probably my favourite of their work. A short book that deals with parental sacrifice, finding love later in life, and coming out later in life. Made me cry

Tom, shy office clerk by day and drawer of foxes by night wakes up one Monday knowing the most extraordinary week of his life is about to begin. In five days time a lifelong ‘secret’ will be made gloriously public—but will it mean losing the person he loves most?

Getting married…

It seems like only yesterday Tom changed nappies and sang nursery rhymes to a laughing baby. He relishes the demands of being a daddy; especially teaching his little girl to draw and paint as she grows up.
But the years tick by and times change. Long-buried secrets must come to the surface which may test even the strongest ties.

Tom and Lawrence…

He writes a list of all the things he has to do before the weekend and sticks it in the middle of his wall. The names and goals hang like threads of a spider’s web, inevitably leading to the centre, and all to the same place.

Dear Mona Lisa…

How to explain?
Each morning he notes the colours of dawn, listens to the birds and waits for the perfect moment. In one hand rests the balance of life and a terrible responsibility, in the other a wedding ring. Difficult days and the past loom, but his friends rally round and one by one the words come to life.
Everyone waits as Tom finds the strength to open up and set free the secrets of his heart in a celebration of family, friendship and love.
A quirky story of modern life, set within the breathtaking landscape of Bradford.

Foxes by Suki Fleet. I hate angst, and by that I mean the manufactured situation in a book where one of the MC’s learns that the other has done/ said/ been seen doing something that is ambiguous, but due to past relationships/ insecurity/ general idiocy the other MC walks away. Many people decribe Fleet’s books as angsty, but I don’t find them so. Her ability to make you care is wonderful, and this book is my favourite of hers. Its stunning and heart breaking with a little fairy story magic.

When Dashiel’s body is found dumped on an East London wasteland, his best friend Danny sets out to find the killer. But Danny finds interaction difficult and must keep his world small in order to survive. By day he lives in an abandoned swimming pool and fixes electrical devices to trade for supplies, but by night, alone, he hunts sharks—a reckless search for dangerous men who prey on the vulnerable.

A chance meeting with an American boy selling himself on the streets throws this lonely existence into disarray. Micky is troubled, fragile, and Danny feels a desperate need to protect him—from what, he doesn’t know. As Danny discovers more about Micky, he realizes that what Micky needs saving from is the one thing Danny can’t help him fight against.

To save Micky, Danny must risk expanding his world and face something that scares him more than any shark ever could: trusting he will be accepted for who he is. If a freezing winter on the streets, a sadistic doctor, and three thousand miles don’t tear them apart first, that is.

Tales from Cushman RowVenery Series (An Exaltation of Larks & ) by Suanne Laqueur. Although these books can be read independently, I read them back to back , and I have to say that they really surprised me. I read the tags on GR, and both books seems to infer that there were elements of menage, which is something I don’t really like. But when a friend started to read Larks, and insisted that I do the same, I did!

Larks is quite a sweeping story about the tangled lives of the Lark family, especially Alex and Val who are married. More than any book I have read recently this addresses the love in a marriage, and how you need to work at parts of it, Val is actually my favourite character in a book this year, she’s wonderfully honest and loyal.

Finches takes Javi, a wonderfully complex character from Larks, and gives him his love story, alongside that of a boy called Geno.

I have already read both of these twice. (Yes, I fully realize the cover I used, Tales isn’t the two specific books, but it’s peripheral to the series, and you know how I am about images and balance.)

September 11, 1973: Eleven-year-old Alejandro Penda watches from his apartment window as Santiago, Chile falls to a military coup, destroying his family and his childhood. Arriving alone in America, he’s taken in by the Larks: a prominent family in the town of Guelisten. Though burdened by unresolved grief for his disappeared parents, he becomes fiercely loyal to the Larks, eventually marrying one of their daughters, Valerie.

September 11, 2001: Javier Landes watches from his apartment window as New York City falls to terrorism. As one of Manhattan’s top-paid male escorts, this professional lover has never lacked for company and is loyal only to himself. But in the wake of 9/11, Jav is named guardian for an orphaned nephew in Guelisten and must open his carefully-guarded heart to pain he’s long suppressed.

Alex, Valerie and Jav meet first in their twenties, with a sudden attraction each finds strange and compelling. When they meet again in their forties, they discover not only is their bond still strong, but their life experiences are strangely similar. Each was shaped by a 9/11, and their unfinished business from the past will change everything they know about love, loyalty and friendship.

“Life has rules. You cannot come in the middle of the night and take what we agreed isn’t yours.”

Across three decades and two continents, Suanne Laqueur’s fifth novel explores the unpredictability of sexual attraction, how family ties are forged, torn and mended, and how love’s downfall can turn to exaltation.

And then the back cover copy of  A Charm of Finches.
“I swear. Give me one more chance and I will make the most of it.”

Ex-hustler Javier Landes is asking for his third chance at love. The third time proves to be the charm when he meets a Manhattan art therapist named Steffen Finch. What starts as casual and curious deepens into a passionate relationship–everything Jav has ever wanted, and everything he fears losing.

Stef’s business card reads Curator & Sailor. His creativity and insightful nature have made him into a talented therapist, the one to call for tough cases. His professional success can’t conceal a deep desire to connect with someone, but Javier Landes is the last person Stef expected.

Geronimo “Geno” Caan is Stef’s most challenging case. Shattered physically and mentally after a brutal sexual assault, Geno learns to let art express what can’t be spoken aloud. But as Geno’s attachment to Stef intensifies and spills onto Jav, the boundaries between professional and personal begin to blur.

Over the course of a year, Jav, Stef and Geno form an unexpected and unconventional triangle, revealing how men make love in times of war and how love is a great wisdom made up of small understandings. The long-awaited second book of the Venery series, A Charm of Finches is an epic tale of survival and secrets that will stay with you forever.

I don’t think these are in any particular order, but I could be wrong. Feel free to ask Karen! [Also … if I made a mistake this post may be updated, so check back!] 

8 thoughts on “Karen’s Top 10 Reads of 2017

  1. Limecello

    Thank you so much for this list, Karen! So many books that I’d never heard of that sound so interesting. I’ve already found the Lumatere Chronicles at my library and can’t wait to start reading! I do have a question though – how “romance-y” is it? As in a) is there a HEA? and b) is the romance a central thread to the series?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. karenwellsbury

      Really sorry for the late reply Lime ! Trying to do this without being too spoilery, there are 2 main couples in these books, and their love stories are critical in the book, if not the main focus. There are solid happy endings as well. When you do come to read them let me know, I’ll hold your hand

      Reply
      1. Limecello

        Eee sounds fantastic, thank you!!! I’ve been in a huge reading slump, but I definitely think I’m still on my [adult] high fantasy romance kick. <3 Thanks again!

        Reply
  2. Pingback: Limecello: Karen’s Top 10 Reads of 2017 – Instagatrix

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