Top Ten Litpicks of 2017

10 Dec

I’ve been postponing putting this list together in hopes that one more might make its way on here, and the one I’m reading now MIGHT be a contender (Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak) but who knows. This year I’m feeling a little shaky with my list – I know people who haven’t loved these in the same way I have. But these definitely topped my list. I read 67 books this year and here are my ten favorites, roughly in order, followed by some runners-up:

1. One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain. Chances are good you haven’t heard of this one, that your bookstores don’t stock it and your library might not either. BUT boy is it good! It’s the story of a woman named Sarah Creamer who ends up raising a boy on her own (even though she has not one good mama bone in her body, as her mother told her). They are so, so poor and she worries that she won’t be able to provide for him – can barely provide for him now. She reads in the paper about the huge cash prize awarded to the 4H’s Grand Champion steer and decides that she will sell every last thing she owns and buy a calf for her boy to raise, thinking of course he’ll win the next year’s competition. It’s not as easy as it sounds, turns out, to raise a calf into an award-winning steer and she finds help in some unlikely places. Perfect small town family story, highly recommend.

2. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. My cousin described reading this book as “feeling constantly carsick” and that’s definitely true, it’s not an easy read. It’s dark and back-woodsy but written so, so well and so compelling that it tops my (and many other’s) list. It’s the story of a young boy living with his elderly black grandparents. His white grandparents want nothing to do with him or his little sister, his mom is deep in a drug addiction and his father in jail. When his father calls to say he’s being released, the mom grabs both kids and heads to the prison to pick him up. I loved the grandfather, the boy himself, the way it was written.

3. Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan. I’m coming to think of J. Courtney Sullivan as sort of an Alice McDermott with much more plot. I loved this story about two young sisters who come over from Ireland – and then don’t speak for 50 years. We go back and forth between their arrival in New York City and their reunion years later, the mending of fences.

4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. This is on a lot of lists this year and I’m sure it’s crossed your radar. I loved this story of two families that get all tangled up in Shaker Heights..little fires sparking up everywhere.

5. Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout. She is just a beautiful writer – I never read Olive Kitteridge but I get the feeling this is similar. Short stories about a lot of people in a small town that are somehow connected to Lucy Barton (the heroine of her previous novel). I didn’t read My Name is Lucy Barton but it’s in my stack now, I loved her people so much.

6. The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak. It’s sort of shameful that this is the only book by a male author on my list (and I only had one last year? seems crazy). This guy reminds me so much of Kent Haruf and I loved this story of a young man and his mother living on the outskirts of town and waiting for their brother/son to come back from Vietnam. Krivak’s previous novel, The Sojourn, was a National Book Award finalist when it came out and tells the story of the father/husband of these characters – and I believe there is a third that will pick up where this one left off, or perhaps with the next generation. I didn’t read the last one, you don’t need to to love The Signal Flame.

7. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. Something about this novel really hit me the right way. I loved the quirkiness and the heaviness and the whole atmosphere. It’s the story of Samuel Hawley and his twelve bullet wounds (12 was maybe too many, my only criticism) and also the present day story of his daughter’s coming of age struggles.

8. Salt Houses by Hala Alyan. I love a good sweeping generational story every now and then and this one was just what I needed at the time I read it. Set in the Middle East, it opens with Salma reading her daughter’s tea leaves on the eve of her marriage. The forecast is fairly devastating, but Salma keeps it to herself. We follow Salma, her daughter Alia and Alia’s children as they bounce from Jaffa to Kuwait to Paris.

9. I Found You by Lisa Jewell. These last two are pretty much thrillers with a slight literary twist, more my usual now than ever before because they really suck you right in. Pretty much the only way I can get a book finished now, sadly, is to be sucked right in. This one was a creepy story starting with a man who washes up on the beach and cannot remember who he is. As he learns more about what he was doing at the beach far from home, as we learn more about him – eeek I thought this was really good.

10. If We Were Villains by M.L Rio. Kind of a modern-ish day retelling of Secret History. Or at least similar enough to be compared. Fast-paced story about seven young Shakespearean students at a small but elite college for the arts. There’s a death, an investigation…10 years later the detective still isn’t sure the right person is serving time in prison.  Again, maybe not the best work of literature to hit the shelves in 2017, but it worked for me.


These were all close runners-up for 2017 – definitely worth checking out. I cried pretty much the entire way through Arthur Truluv and would recommend it completely for anyone who likes those sweet, feel-good stories that deal with life after loss and aging and unlikely friendships. You can find reviews of all of the other titles back in the archives. I’m looking forward to a great year of reading in 2018!

8 Responses to “Top Ten Litpicks of 2017”

  1. Brenda McClain December 17, 2017 at 3:44 pm #

    Oh MY. What an honor. How humbling….. Thank you! Thank you more than I can say!!

    • elewis020 December 18, 2017 at 1:56 pm #

      Loved it so much! I am giving copies to everyone this year for Christmas.

      • Brenda McClain December 18, 2017 at 2:01 pm #

        I can’t thank you enough. Words fail me. May I ask how you found out about my book? THANK YOU.

    • elewis020 December 18, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

      I got a copy from Netgalley. My grandfather is a cattle rancher, so the premise appealed to me. I worked at Rainy Day Books in Kansas City for about a dozen years before I married and had babies and am always on the look out for something great that is kind of under the radar. Most of my blog followers are old customers of mine. Two of my friends who are still at the store heard you speak in Nashville and said you were amazing! I’d already been singing your praises. I’m hoping they read and love OGMB too and can sell it better from the store.

      • Brenda McClain December 18, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

        This is awesome — thank you. Yes, I met some great gals at the Southern Festival of Books, and they mentioned Rainy Day Books. We even talked about my coming for an event when the paperback comes out. It came out last week. Do you think I should contact the store? And, if so, who would you suggest? I didn’t write their names down! I would love to do an event out your way. Thank you again!

      • elewis020 January 10, 2018 at 10:12 pm #

        I’m so sorry to be so late in replying – YES definitely email Rainy Day. Vivien Jennings is the owner and in charge of scheduling events, but mention Mary McBride (who you met at the Southern Festival of Books). Vivien’s email is Also, I gave your book to my grandmother for Christmas and she sent me the nicest, gushiest (for her) email about how she loved it. Can you send me your email address and I’ll forward it? Best of luck with the paperback, I’m rooting for you!

      • Brenda McClain January 15, 2018 at 10:12 am #

        Thank you so much! Sorry for my late response to you — have been in TX with the Pulpwood Queens, where ONE GOOD MAMA BONE won Pulpwood Queen Book of the Year. I am still reeling! Oh, your precious grandmother — and YOU for giving my book to her. What an honor. Email: Thank you for rooting for me!! I will email Vivien — yes!! THANK YOU!!

  2. Elizabeth Potts December 18, 2017 at 9:39 am #

    Wonderful choice. It is the best book ever.

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