Top Ten of Twenty-Seventeen / by Madeleine Riley


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Twenty-seventeen was my busiest reading year yet.

I more than doubled the volume of my average reading and stepped outside my reading comfort zone a number of times. At the start of the year, I set my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal to 70 books, and gave myself free reign outside any reading challenges. 

I ended the year with 139 books under my belt, more than I've ever read in a year. I read at every opportunity, and stayed up past my (admittedly, early) bedtime more than a handful of times to finish a great book. Thanks to inspiration from my lovely friend Hollie, I even started reading while running

Twenty-Seventeen was also a busy year, period.

Here are some highlights:

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I spent my February break on a staycation with my college roommate. We took long walks (it was decidedly warm for that time of year), ate delicious food, and soaked up quality time together.

I wrapped up my first year of teaching, packed up my classroom, and said my goodbyes to this fabulous team of educators. (And yes, that is @thebumblingbookworm - we were teaching partners and that's how we become bookish besties!)

As soon as school let out, my mom and I hopped a ferry to The Hamptons to visit my little brother, who lives there during the golf season. I spent every possible minute at the edge of the water with a book in my hand.

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My grad school bestie came to stay for my favorite holiday of the year -- Fourth of July -- and we had a blast watching the fireworks from my favorite spot at the mouth of the harbor.

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Another friend from college came out for her annual summer visit and we explored this teeny little Colonial Wildflower Gardens in Lexington, MA. I can't wait to go back next summer.

I spent every available minute over the summer right here by the water before we had to say goodbye to our hometown for a city closer to my new school.

After six years of dating, we moved into our first apartment together! He carried approximately 100 boxes of books for me with a smile (or was it a grimace?) and we rejoiced in making our little space feel like home.


In August, I asked if anyone else would be interested in joining me for a personal growth project: reading more diverse literature. To my surprise, I got hundreds of responses in the first 24 hours, and the Diverse Books Club was born. (We now have over a thousand active members on Goodreads, and I couldn't be more grateful.) Out of this venture, I've also made some amazing new friends.

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In October, we flew out to the mountains of Colorado to see my childhood best friend get married.

I cried. A lot.

We celebrated Halloween by heading to a fundraiser, and I think it was our best couple's costume yet. (If you're not a fan of Parks & Rec, here's the inspiration for our costumes.)

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My new teaching partners brought their adorable little girls to see our annual Christmas Walk in my hometown. We watched Santa come in on the lobster boat, make snowflake ornaments at the local bead shop, drank hot chocolates, and toured the Gingerbread Festival (where you can enter to win a homemade gingerbread house competition.) It was the most magical way to kick off the holiday season.

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I got to send out my very first Christmas card! (Big dreams being realized here, people.) And because I only sent out a handful, consider this our virtual holiday card to you.


And, in case you've never seen the glory of a teacher trying to make it to winter break, here's a picture of me eating teacher gifts while wearing socks featuring cats in Christmas wreaths, which a colleague bought for me and forced me to wear for a whole day. Wrangling seven-year-olds just days before Christmas is a struggle, friends. But of course, I missed their personalities and can't wait to see them again this week.

Now, for the bookish stuff.

Selecting the ten best books I've read this year certainly felt like a arduous task, but when it came down to it, these ten titles really blew me away in 2017.



Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

We read this for the Diverse Books Club in November and it's been my favorite selection so far. The titular character is a teenage girl on the autism spectrum, who's dealing with a changing family dynamic as her adoptive parents get ready to welcome a new baby.


Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

A huge thank you to Dane himself, who sent me this book at the beginning of the summer and asked me to give it a chance. This was my hands-down, favorite read of the year. It's a story of survival and love and in a way, serendipity.

Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor

This WW1 epistolary novel had my heart beating out of my chest. The characters are so memorable, and the relationships so real. I can't wait to read more by these authors.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

We read this for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club and I adored it. It's the only non-fiction book to make my top ten list this year. It's an extremely slim collection of letters exchanged by a woman and the proprietor of a bookstore in London. It's about friendship and love of great literature. 

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Another Modern Mrs. Darcy pick, This Is How It Always Is may have been the book I recommended the most this year. It's the story of a family whose dynamic undergoes a change when their youngest son emerges as transgender. It's heartbreaking and powerful and oh, so important for today's world.

Glass Houses by Louise Penny

As you already know, Louise Penny is my queen. This latest installment in the Inspector Gamache series was well-worth the wait. I loved every minute of my return to Three Pines.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter may be the most universally-loved book I've seen on Instagram this year. Whether you're into sci-fi or not, this book is worth a try. It's mind-bending and, as the manager of my local bookstore likes to put it, "ultimately, it's a love story." Quite right.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Thank you to Dana, my friend over at Simon & Schuster, who sent this to me knowing that I would love this witchy tale. The prequel to Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman's latest novel is ethereal, whimsical (but with a darker tone), and absolutely powerful.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I listened to this on audiobook and fell head-over-heels for the grumpy old man character of Ove. He'll remain with me for a lifetime of reading, and I'm sure I'll turn back to this book again in the future.


Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

On a whim, I plucked this off my mystery shelf for my last read of 2017. Halfway through, I knew I'd have to make room for it on my top ten list for this year. Also a WW1 book, this first installment in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series had me absolutely charmed. With an incredibly intelligent protagonist and a respect for human nature, I can't wait to read more from this series this year.

I spent our week-long winter break soaking up as much rest and stillness as possible. It's been about five degrees here for the entire break, so it was a great excuse to stay inside and keep cozy. I spent a lot of that time reflecting on the year. For me, 2017 has been a year of personal growth, lots of questioning, and the desire to be a better human. I'm grateful for both the good and the bad, because I've had the opportunity to grow in every situation.

I recognize that this life I lead is a lucky one, so I'd be remiss not to comment on 2017 as a whole. I feel...disappointed and angered by the things that have taken place outside of my bubble, and as we head into 2018 I want to encourage you all to use reading as a tool for positive change in the year ahead. Because reading matters. Books have the power to change the way we think and to inspire us to act. So while I will always indulge in reading for pleasure, I think reading for growth is one thing we can all commit to this year.

(And if you're looking for somewhere to start, try joining us in the Diverse Books Club!)

Thank you, as always, for following along with me here on Top Shelf Text! I can't wait to see what 2018 will bring. 

What were your favorite reads (and moments) of 2017?