Best non-2017 books I read in 2017

I know it’s ‘end of year lists’ season because I have enough of a Buzzfeed habit to now be seeing the same tweets I’ve seen all year in new lists that use the year in their title. And whilst there are a lot of reading days left of 2017, I realised that to get in more than one list of books from this year, I’d have to start now.

First up is the nebulous category ‘books not published in 2017 that I read for the first time in 2017’. I’m going for things not published new in hardback or paperback in the UK in 2017 as far as I know. Seeing as I spent so much of 2017 reviewing upcoming books or reading very new ones, this list may seem a bit random.

  • Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon – This dual biography moves between their lives a chapter at a time, not only drawing parallels but giving a real sense of the mother and daughter who didn’t get to meet. It is packed full of detail and is worth it for not feeling overwhelmed by the author’s judgements about people who turn up in their lives, unlike many biographies of Wollstonecraft or Shelley.
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – A powerful and sweet young adult novel about being the new girl at school, falling in love, and being transgender. It really focuses on finding friends who support you as well as navigating teenage life and rituals whilst dealing with your own and your friends’ secrets.
  • Room by Emma Donoghue – Obviously I’m very behind having only read Room this year, Donoghue’s incredible novel from the point of view of a five year old imprisoned in a single room with his Ma. The way that the style captures the character and his worldview makes it a crucial read.
  • Byrne by Anthony Burgess – I’m including Byrne almost solely because I’m annoyed Burgess wrote it, stopping me writing a story that has a structure that’s a Byron joke: a poem in ottava rima that slips into Spenserian stanzas and back again. You might have to specifically care about that to read it (or just be a huge Burgess fan) as it’s the story of an ageing Don Juan-esque composer written in verse.
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin – I read most of Giovanni’s Room on my birthday (1st Jan) in the bath, so it only just counts. A classic short love story about two men in 1950s Paris. If you haven’t read it, do.
  • The People In The Trees by Hanya Yanagihara – I wasn’t sure whether to include this one because A Little Life is so much better (but I read that at the end of last year), but I think her earlier novel is worth a read too. It’s about a young doctor who goes on an expedition to find a lost tribe, gains fame from what he discovers there, and things don’t go well from there. If you’ve read A Little Life, you won’t be surprised it can be horrible at times, but very interesting as well.

Five Female-Character-Heavy Reads

When I asked for recommendation requests, a friend wanted books featuring a ‘pack of female characters doing stuff’. No problem, I thought. And then I looked through my Goodreads ‘read’ shelf. It turns out there are a lot of books I’ve read featuring one or two female characters doing things—together or separately—but a real lack of groups of them doing interesting things.

Leaving out Little Women and any of the teen fiction books I actually read when I was young, I’ve put together a list of books that are either general fiction or YA that fit the category. And have resolved to find more for the second version of this list. Links to longer reviews (if I’ve written them) from individual book titles.

  • Girlhood by Cat Clarke – Not out yet, but Girlhood has to go on my list because I read it recently and loved it. It centres around one female character and her group of friends at boarding school in Scotland, and what happens when a mysterious new girl appears and seems to have so much in common with one of them, down to the same tragedy. Clarke creates a tense narrative alongside an honest and and enjoyable version of teenage troubles like going to university, sexuality, and coping with grief.
  • The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey – A small community in an Irish island, mostly made up of women, deal with loss, a new stranger, and calls to leave their home for the safety of the mainland. A different interpretation of the request, but a book with a real range of female characters working together and apart.
  • Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson – A novel about the friendship between four girls living in Brooklyn in the 1970s and how they grew up, grew apart, and saw each other differently. The book is in a photographic style giving snapshots of memories and really getting across how friendship can be tied to time and place.
  • The Bomb Girls’ Secrets by Daisy Styles – I’ve included this one because it best fits the idea of female characters together doing things, in that it is a novel about young women coming together for the war effort, gradually getting closer and also forming a band. A light period read ideal for anyone who’d prefer something more historical than YA in the group of female characters category.
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – Russo’s YA novel about a trans girl starting a new school isn’t just about a group of female characters, but the friendship between Amanda and her new group of friends—each with their own secrets and problems—forms a crucial part of the book.