The Top Ten Books I read in 2017

I went into 2017 aiming to read diverse fiction books and non-fiction. I definitely read diverse books, though I failed to read many from earlier eras.

I also set out with the idea that I was going to use my reading as an escape. I’d been feeling pretty down at the end of 2016 after Election Day. My therapy for my disappointment was reading whatever I wanted during 2017.

Looking back over the books that really left an impression on me in 2017, it turns out most of them weren’t escape reads, though I did read quite a few I would consider as such.

As ever, my reading list is comprised of books I read in 2017, not necessarily books published in 2017. See my entire 2017 reading challenge here.

My stats:

Total books read: 103

Total pages: 36,334

Books by men: 36

Books by women: 63

Anthologies or co-authored works: 4

Fiction: 78

Non-fiction: 23

Poetry: 2

Indie-pubbed: 10

Books by minorities or people of color: 21

Books from 21st Century: 92

Books from 20th Century: 9

Books from other centuries: 2

My Top Ten, in no particular order:

1) The Moral Arc by Michael Shermer (2014): At its heart this is a hopeful book, and I read it at a time when I needed hope. I appreciated Shermer’s ambitious attempt to offer a philosophy of morality based in science and reason, although I do think at times he neglected to account for the darker angels of our nature in favor of focusing on the better ones.

2) Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (2011, 2014): In a year when “science” faced political and popular opposition, Sapiens stood out as a proudly scientific book full of interesting information about the history of Homo sapiens. I appreciated the information, but not always the tone of this book, which sometimes slipped into somewhat dismissive or over-generalized musings. That said, the profound and thought-provoking examination of the human species was worth the irritation. I also read the next book by this author, Homo Deus, in which he tries to predict the future of humanity, but I think he was at his best when firmly grounded in evidence, without so much speculation.

3) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016): One reason I love fiction is how a story unfolds on so many levels. This book is a beautiful example of layers—layers of time and history and memory and experience and how they come together to create a character’s story. This was one of those precious books in which the total effect was more than the sum of its parts. I don’t rank this list, but if I did, Homegoing would be in the spot of #1 for my 2017 reads.

4) The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben: After the self-important voices of The Moral Arc and Sapiens, The Hidden Life of Trees offered a delightful alternative in my non-fiction science reading. This was a book of passion, written by a forester with a profound relationship with his trees. I found myself utterly caught up in his joy and excitement as I read about the fascinating lives of trees. A breath of fresh air!

5) Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (2014): This book came highly recommended, but I was a little worried about reading it. I was already feeling a little bruised and battered by trying to talk about racism in America with what I’ll call racism “deniers.” I feared reading this book would only make me sadder. However, Just Mercy armed me with more concrete information, which is always helpful. I read this back-to-back with Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning. The two books taken together provided me with a deeper understanding of America’s enduring shame.

6) Missoula by Jon Krakauer (2105): I’ll read anything by Jon Krakauer. I appreciate his accessible approach and his genuine curiosity as he examines diverse topics. In the case of Missoula, I did fear the heavy subject matter (rape) was likely to depress me again in a social climate exploding with the misogyny that led to 2017’s #metoo scandals. But Krakauer did a fine job with this book, using a specific case of one city to show problems in how we attempt to deal with rape in our culture. I was a little startled that he his posited himself as unaware of the magnitude of this problem, but if one thing has come out of 2017’s turmoil, I’d hope it’s that no one is left unaware that one in four women experience sexual assault in their lifetime.

7) The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman (2015): This was a fun read that blended the best of fantasy and Regency romance. I picked it up on a lark at the library because I liked the cover, and it turned out to be one of those books I simply couldn’t put down, right on through the next book in the series and a related novella. I look forward to the third installment.

8) An Ember in the Ashes/A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir (2016, 2017): This is the unfinished fantasy series keeping me on tenterhooks, supplanting Games of Thrones and The Name of the Wind as the top “next installment” that I will devour in one night when it finally is released. Ember in the Ashes has it all: an exciting story, deep world-building, juicy intrigues, epic familial drama, diverse and dimensional characters, and a slow-burning romance with a love triangle. The only trouble is the release date for Book Three keeps getting moved further out…Sabaa, please. Stop listening to all that music and get that book written!

9) His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (2015): This was another serendipitous find at the library, a random book I picked out for no particular reason except that I felt like reading a historical novel with a touch of mystery. I found a well-written mind-bender of a story that held me captive from start to finish. Thought-provoking, chilling, and intense, it transported me back in time in the same way Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood did, years ago.

10) We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2017): Ta-Nehisi Coates does not write to make you feel comfortable or hopeful, nor to provide solutions. But he’s a thoughtful writer, concerned with exposing the interior of his mind in the most precise way he can. I appreciate his embrace of the essay form and his painstaking explication of his thought process and his experience, and how the personal relates to the political in understanding racism in America. Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates asks you to listen in the deep way that only reading can train you to do.


My Ten Best Reads of 2015

Every year I make a goal on Goodreads to read one hundred books. My book selection process is pretty loose—a lot of serendipity is involved. I tend to read books that fall into my lap or that I can get for free at the library, although this year I was actively trying to read more non-fiction.

Here are a few stats from my reading year:

I read 110 books that I reported on Goodreads: 79 were fiction, 3 were volumes of poetry, and 28 were non-fiction. I guess it is hard to change a reader’s stripes. Even so, 28 non-fiction books was an increase from the year before.

I tend to favor books by women, although I don’t actively seek out books by author gender. I read 59 books by women, 42 by men, and 9 that were anthologies or co-written with both genders represented.

After reviewing my stats I decided that next year my main goal will still be to read more non-fiction. I also want to whittle away on my Goodreads “to-read” list, so I’ll actively seek out books from that.

Here’s a link to my 2015 reading challenge.

Here is my list of my ten best reads of 2015 in no particular order. They weren’t necessarily published in 2015, I just happened to find and read them this year.

1) Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler

This was my first Octavia Butler book but it won’t be my last. I loved the vast scope of the historical story and the abstract mythos of masculinity and femininity that was carefully woven through the plot and characters. A work of an intelligent and broad imagination.

2) All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Any best books list of 2014 was probably topped by this book; I was just a bit late to the party to read it. Carefully crafted and well-edited, this story was spare and perfect; reading doesn’t get much better than this. I especially enjoyed the empathetic writing and the historical scope of the novel.

3) Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

Another historical novel for my list—I fear I am biased towards historical fiction. This book took an underexplored topic—female pilots and spies in WWII—and blasted it open with a rip-roaring plot and layered characters I couldn’t help but love.

4) Dust and Light, by Carol Berg

If only I could write such perfect, packed sentences as Carol Berg. She takes fantasy writing to new levels of intricacy and craft. I love the slow build of her plots, the deep development of her characters, and the final, perfect weaving of all her disparate story threads into satisfying conclusions. More people should read and know her work.

5) The Underground Girls of Kabul, by Jenny Nordberg

This non-fiction book explored the fascinating topic of young girls born into families without sons in Afghanistan. Apparently sons are so prized there that it is considered a great shame to have only daughters, so much so that families are willing to disguise one of their daughters as a boy until she reaches puberty, to gain the status and privilege that having a son bestows. This was a well-written and sensitive exploration of the lives of these girls, showing the conflict between an old misogyny and an emerging possibility of equality.

6) A Path Appears, by Nichloas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

This inspiring read followed up Kristof and WuDunn’s book, Half the Sky, in which the situation of women and girls the world over was put beneath a magnifying glass. A Path Appears is a hopeful book, a book that looks towards the future with a big social conscience. Its goal is to get more people involved in philanthropy by presenting case studies of the results and positive rewards of charitable giving. For a layperson utterly uninvolved in the world of non-profits and charity, it was interesting and eye-opening, and I think this book represents an important first step towards creating a better world.

7) The Bronze Horseman, by Paullina Simons

This historical novel was pure reading pleasure—an addictive story that I could not put down. Romantic and epic, it tells the story of a love affair between Tatiana and Alexander, denizens of Leningrad during the siege of 1941-1944.

8) Ash and Silver, by Carol Berg

Carol Berg was the only author to double-dip in my list—and it’s because she is that good. The two books on the list are a duet covering one story that details the life of Lucien de Remini, a thwarted sorcerer who is wanted by his government for crimes he did not commit. What I love so much about Carol Berg is that she’ll take on a big, psychological theme, in this case, identity and memory, and weave it into an amazing, action-packed plot that perfectly expresses her theme. Highly recommended for fans of character-driven fantasy that defies formulas.

9) Redeployment, by Phil Klay

These short stories were tight, impactful, and of the moment. I particularly liked that they gave a soldier’s eye view of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, complete with all the complexities and dangers they face. Told in spare, controlled writing that left an impression long after reading.

10) Middle Passage, by Charles Johnson

This is probably the strangest book on my list—I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book quite like it. One part historical novel, one part allegory, one part satire, one part spec fiction—this is the work of a complicated imagination chewing on difficult questions. It’s not a read for people who cling to convention in their fiction, but if you like novels of ideas that force you ponder big issues via subtle story telling, this might a read for you. Complicated and engaging on many levels at once, this small book left a large thought-crater in my mind.

I’m looking forward to more reading in 2016. What books are you planning to read?

September 2015 Goals

It’s the last day of August, and it must be time to review goals and make new ones. I had a very productive month of August, although my plans shifted around a little thanks to new book-making news.

In August I planned to:

1) Do new writing: Yes. I got ToB&L 7 to a reasonable stopping point, and now I need to really get to work on the giant plot knot tangle of the endings of the final 4 books.

2) 4-5 Pilates blog posts: Check! I posted a total of six times to the new Pilates blog, mostly exercises, but a few thoughts as well.

3) The Gantean process blog and promo: By the skin of my teeth I worked up my nerve and posted my Gantean Blog.

4) ToB&L 3 Revision: Check! I got through this one pretty easily and cut about 10,000 words.

5) Client line edit: I only got the MS for this yesterday, so I’ll roll it over into next month.

6) Finish researching costs and benefits of making paperbacks with IngramSpark as well as Createspace. Check! I didn’t find that producing with Ingram would be a good idea for me right now.

In August I also agreed to format Tamara Shoemaker’s Mark of Four, and got about halfway through that project. I began beta reading Tony Caruso’s massive A Town Called the End and got about a quarter of the way through that. I also began some restructuring work on my Tales of Blood & Light Book Four, so I’ve been a busy bee.

Here are my September goals:

  1. New writing: I’d like to shift gears and work on something not ToB&L-related for a while, so that means I’ll have to read one of my half-manuscripts to get my bearings to start some new work.
  2. Continue ToB&L Book Four structuring. Basically I’m taking two books and turning them into one.
  3. 4-5 posts on Pilates Blog
  4. Finish beta read for Tony Caruso.
  5. Finish formatting for Tamara Shoemaker
  6. Start to revise The Cedna based on beta reader feedback. Notes are slowly trickling in from beta readers– I expect this one to roll over into October.
  7. Start line edit for Joel Hedgepeth.
  8. Write one promotional blog for new version of The Velocipede Races. You can add it to your want to read list on Goodreads!

That’s a pretty ambitious list for a single month, so I’m off to get to work!

June Goals

The month of May went by in a flurry of book-making.

My goals were:

1) New writing— I completed this one as usual. Tales of Blood & Light (Lethemia) Book Seven is shaping up to be a dark mystery plot.

2) Finish Cedna revision and send Cedna to beta-readers. I finished the revision and sent The Cedna to Beth. I polled beta-readers, but I will wait to actually send it out until next month.

3) Submit fully revised Flashdogs stories. Begin Flashdogs project– Check! Stories submitted and I’m now in the midst of the big, beefy formatting project.

4) Do final Gantean revision and prep for late June publication! Check! This took up the bulk of my time in May. Both print and ebooks of The Gantean are nearly ready for publishing. Stay tuned for cover reveal and other exciting announcements! The Gantean will be released June 27th, 2015!

June Goals:

1) Publish The Gantean

2) Start line edit for Tamara Shoemaker’s Mark of Four fantasy. I just finished my global edit on it yesterday. Now she’s revising, and we’ll do the nitty gritty starting on June 21. Another great book from Tamara!

3) FLASHDOGS! The FlashDogs have a two volume Solstice edition coming out on June 21st. I’m madly formatting both ebook and print books for them. They are already shaping up to be lovely books full of fun flash fiction.

4) NEW WRITING. I’m hoping I can draw ToB&L Book 7 to some kind of conclusion.

5) Send The Cedna to beta readers. I just need to check some formatting and collect appropriate emails.

Looks like June will be another busy month!

Mayday, Mayday

It’s May 1st and so it must be time for GOALS.

Last month I proposed to succeed at six goals. Here’s how I did:

1) New writing. Yes, though this one was a bit of a slog. I hit the slow part of my process on the draft of Lethemia Book 6, which always occurs around 35,000 words. But I persevered and managed to meet my word count goals.

2) Flashdog stories. CHECK! I  finished the two I have decided to use and sent them to Beth for a first read.

3) Format and review Kindle the Flame. CHECK! You can pre-order Tamara’s first epic fantasy novel now on Amazon. The print files are in review as I write this.

4) Revise The Cedna, Lethemia book 2. CHECK! I began and got halfway through my Cedna revision. I will continue next month.

5) Edit for Joel Hedgepeth. CHECK! Read and reviewed. Such an interesting story!

6) The Gantean revision. Half-check. Beth got the book back to me mid-month, and I applied her suggestions and made some edits, but I have not yet begun the last revision. That will go on my May goals, below.


1) New writing

2) Finish Cedna revision and send Cedna to beta-readers. Let me know if you wish to beta-read! It would help if you’ve read a draft of The Gantean, as they are a duet.

3) Submit fully revised Flashdogs stories. Begin Flashdogs project– I am the formatter/book designer. This will be fun and probably a little complicated.

4) Do final Gantean revision and prep for late June publication! Are you interested in receiving an advance review copy of The Gantean in exchange for a review on your blog/Amazon/Goodreads? Let me know! I’m also interested in trading book reviews with those of you who have novels out in the wild. Contact me: emily (at) luminouscreaturespress (dot) com.


I can’t believe it’s already time to review my March goals and set my April ones. But here it is, 5:30 am on April 1st!

I had seven goals for March, since seven is the most magical number. Let’s see how I did:

1) Finish revision on The Gantean and send to Beth for reading. CHECK! I did this. I feel proud that I did, too, because I nearly slacked off and decided to wait. Christine Kam-Lynch gave me a special email prod (as she does so well) to get it done, not to mention a small pep talk about following through on my Lethemia Fantasy series.

2) Read The Gantean on my kindle for flow. This one I did not do. I decided to wait until after Beth does her read on it to stagger our readings. We both agreed that this is likely to catch more issues and have fewer mistakes slip through the cracks. The Gantean is a complicated book that has been changed many times, so continuity issues are rampant.

3) Revise Lethemia Book 2. Oh, dear. I didn’t get to this one, either.

4) New writing. Possibly begin Lethemia Book 7 since I finally had an idea about it, thanks to feedback and discussion from Christine after her comments from Book 5. SUPER CHECK! This is where a great deal of my time went this month. I wrote 22,000 words in Lethemia Book 7 and rewrote the first 30,000 words of Lethemia Book 5. I also drafted three short stories for the Flashdogs’s next anthology.

5) Maps for The Gantean and Kindle the Flame. CHECK! I got smart on this one and outsourced my Lethemia maps to my friend Maya, a supremely talented artist from Paonia, Colorado, and I helped Tamara Shoemaker with a simple map for her upcoming Heart of a Dragon Series.

6) Beta-read Tony Caruso’s massively revised A Town Called the End. CHECK! I finished Tony’s book in a flash and sent him a global overview and chapter by chapter commentary. He’s now working furiously on even more revisions, I’m sure. I promised him when I started reading for him that he would learn to love revisions, and I think it’s working.

7) If I have any time left over (ha ha!) I want to read through Lethemia Book 5, which has been stewing in rough draft form for over a year. CHECK! I not only read over it, I am a third of the way through a full rewrite. See Goal #4 above.

In March I also did my line edit on Tamara’s Kindle the Flame. We pushed, editing 2-4 chapters a day. Tamara was awesome and worked so hard, and we finished the edit by the skin of our teeth on March 31st! I’ve been taking on more editing and reading jobs in the past few months and really enjoying it.


Here are my goals for April 2015:

1) New writing, always. I expect this month I’ll focus on Lethemia books 7 and 5, since I’m on a roll with them.

2) Flashdog stories. I’m writing three stories based on picture prompts and the theme of solstice for the next Flashdogs anthologies. All three stories are drafted, but, as usual, they need major word count reductions, further proof that my talents lie well outside the limits of flash fiction. We aren’t talking 100 word revisions, either. All three stories need at least 1000 words taken out to qualify.

3) Format and review Kindle the Flame. Tamara’s goal is a May 1st pre-order run and a June 1st publication date. This will be easy to achieve.

4) Revise The Cedna, Lethemia book 2. I didn’t do it last month, so I must do it this month. I should probably tell Christine Kam-Lynch to prod me.

5) I have an edit scheduled with Joel Hedgepeth on his novel about a pharmacist who inherits a house from one of his clients and gets entangled in a court battle. It’s not my normal reading, but I’m looking forward to the variety.

6) Depending on Beth’s turnover time, I may try to revise The Gantean based on her remarks and do my read-through on the kindle.

I’m going to stick with six goals this month since last month that’s  what I was able to complete.

February Review

In order to keep myself on track, I make monthly do-lists for my writing. I’m going to be posting them here for accountability.

February’s do list was:

1) Finish revision on Lethemia Book 4 (seven book fantasy series) and send to Christine (early beta reader). Check! I did this and Christine already gave me a slew of excellent and useful feedback.

2) Revise The Gantean based on feedback from latest readers: Check, mostly. I finished the in line comments yesterday, but I still have some big picture tweaking to work through. I will do some of that today but I probably won’t be officially finished until next week.

3) Send The Gantean to Beth for beta read. This one has to wait until I’m done with the revision, so I’m adding it to my March list.

4) New writing. I did a little new writing, though not as much as I wanted.

5) Finalize blurbs for The Velocipede Races. I spent the past two months asking for blurbs for my sports action femme-punk bicycle romance which will be published by Microcosm Publishing sometime next year. I collected seven blurbs, so goal met!

6) Beta-read/edit Tamara Shoemaker’s Kindle the Flame, a YA fantasy story with dragons and romance. Done! Tamara’s book was a great read. She plans to release it sometime this spring.

7) Draw and edit map for The Gantean. I didn’t get to this one, though I have a rough draft map ready to go. I’m helping Tamara with her map for Kindle the Flame, so I plan to combine these map-making activities into one task for March.

And here is my do list for March:

1) Finish revision on The Gantean and send to Beth for reading.

2) Read The Gantean on my kindle for flow.

3) Revise Lethemia Book 2.

4) New writing. Possibly begin Lethemia Book 7 since I finally had an idea about it, thanks to feedback and discussion from Christine after her comments from Book 4.

5) Maps for The Gantean and Kindle the Flame.

6) Beta-read Tony Caruso’s massively revised A Town Called the End. I beta read for him last year, so this is a second go. Looking forward to it!

7) If I have any time left over (ha ha!) I want to read through Lethemia Book 5, which has been stewing in rough draft form for over a year.