This has been a great reading year for me, which is my way of saying, I am feeling GOOD. I found a sci-fi series I love, several teen reads I can actually recommend to my daughter, and even some of the best non-fiction I’ve ever come across. (I know. I’m growing up.)
All this reading, and even more writing in other places, has made my posting here less frequent. Not to mention a series of real-world stresses. In truth, having a good book to fall into helped carry me through a fairly stressful winter and spring. The world can never look completely bleak when you still have a good story to turn to.
The end result for all of you is that this reading list update, which I prefer to do every few months, had grown into a mega-monster reading list. In an attempt to make this more readable, I’m not listing them in the order I read them. Instead, I led with the ones I actually recommend. If I gave it a label, consider it a recommendation. The rest are all jumbled together but still in more less descending order of quality. Though, to be clear, I started many, many more books this year that I never finished. These are the ones that I found worth finishing. So they’re better than some!
Without further ado: the books that have made my life better this year. I hope they can do the same for you.
- The Expanse Series (Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abaddon’s Gate, Cibola Burn, and Nemesis Games, plus a few novellas) by James S.A. Corey
“There aren’t any new starts,” Bobbie said. “All the new ones pack the old ones along with them. If we ever really started fresh, it’s mean not having a history any more. I don’t know how to do that.”
I first checked out the books because of the Syfy Channel show that was based on them. We started watching and were pretty into it (It’s quality TV.), but it wasn’t until I got about halfway through the first book that I was totally hooked. I devoured all five huge books in about two months and can’t wait for the sixth one which is supposed to come out in November. This is space opera at its best, spanning the galaxy but still focused in on the very human characters, and the writing is strong. It’s just the right amount of mystery, a nice mix of drama and humor, and takes place in a well-thought-through universe. All of the characters are real people, very flawed and with complex motivations, but there are several you can legitimately root for. In fact, after a while, the series takes on a sort of Firefly feel, with a team of independent personalities weaving in and out of massive system-wide events. (Comparing something to Firefly is the highest compliment I can give.) It’s a fun read. Plus, I love the basic philosophy of the series, which is that however far we travel and however advanced we get, we still just have all the same old human problems. This is epic sci-fi on a scale that feels personal. I highly recommend it.
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left his body in the street like some awesome declaration of their inviolable power would never be punished. It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. You stayed up till 11 P.M . that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.
I had heard from others that this was an incredible book. They didn’t oversell it. I had to really struggle to choose just one quote to share with you. While I was reading it, I jotted down a dozen at least. Coates uses the most powerful and poetic language to describe his own life experiences as he attempts to make sense of life as black man in America. The book is addressed to his son, and it reads with that kind of intimacy. It felt like tip-toeing into someone else’s head and peering out at the world through his eyes. He offers no solutions. He has none. He has no God. He has no answers. But if you want to get outside of your own little view of life, this is a great place to start.
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and was heavily in debt. Any wonder then that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him? Fortunately, among these people a man was judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father. Okonkwo was clearly cut out for great things. He was still young but he had won fame as the greatest wrestler in the nine villages.
This book was written in 1959, and I feel like an idiot for never having read it before. It’s short. It’s fascinating. It’s an African story told in a very African voice. And it packs a visceral punch at the end. If you’ve never read it, you really have to do it. It will only take you a couple of hours, and you won’t regret it.
- The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
Fascinating sci-fi from a powerful African point of view. It’s simmering with rage and also full of beauty. It is graphic in places and pulls no punches, but it moves at a pace that keeps the dense nature of what’s happening from getting too overwhelming. I’ve read a lot of dystopian fiction, but this is the one that most forcefully made me think about the question behind it: if it all really did burn down, what would actually rise from the ashes?
- You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day –
This was my first read of the new year, and it was a good one to start with. If you don’t know who Felicia Day is, you are only half a geek, and that’s okay. You’d probably enjoy her book anyway. She tells her story in a way that will make you laugh out loud and also think you’d better get off your butt and do something with your life. It’s a winning combination and makes for a quick and uplifting read.
- Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
• Don’t make the same mistakes that everyone else makes. Make wonderful mistakes. Make the kind of mistakes that make people so shocked that they have no other choice but to be a little impressed. • Sometimes stunned silence is better than applause.
If you know who Jenny Lawson (aka The Blogess) is, you’ll already know that this book is funny and weird (like bordering on bizarre). In between making you laugh so hard you can’t breathe, she gives you a peek into life with mental illness. Also, this book features taxidermy in the best possible way. Yes, there’s a good way to talk about taxidermy. I swear.
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
You’re in the right place at the right time, and you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough.
Beautiful, dark, magical fiction. This is dark like nighttime is dark, not like evil is dark. It winds around through time and through its characters in a twisting path that brings you to a very satisfying end. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to like this much, but I ended up absorbed and delighted.
- Reading right now: American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
Chicago happened slowly, like a migraine. First they were driving through countryside, then, imperceptibly, the occasional town became a low suburban sprawl, and the sprawl became the city.
I woudn’t normally recommend a book before I’ve finished it, but this is a great book. Reminds me forcefully in style (though not storyline) of King’s The Stand. The writing is amazing, as you would expect, and the main idea as I see it so far is fascinating. Can’t wait to see how it ends.
- Death by Living by N.D. Wilson
Glory is sacrifice, glory is exhaustion, glory is having nothing left to give. Almost. It is death by living.
I’m so glad I discovered this book. Each chapter is its own little window into this idea of life lived as sacrifice, making your life into the ultimate story. The chapters about Wilson’s grandparents are powerful. Also this, which I just couldn’t not copy out for you:
Adam, living his story rightly, would have done the same. Adam would not have been the well-behaved Mormon teenager, abstaining from the fruit. He would have looked at Eve, seen her curse, seen her enemy, and gone after that serpent with pure and righteous wrath. He would have then turned to face the pure and righteous God Himself (that Adam had just imaged), and he would have said something quite simple, something that would be said by another, thousands of years later.
“Take me instead.”
Adam could have been conquerer rather than conquered. Regardless, fallen or unfallen, he was born to die.
So are you. So am I.
- Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
This book was really fun. Set in a fantasy world, but at its heart, this is just a heist story with a group of odd misfits. Yes, please, and when does the sequel come out? (Disclaimer: this is definitely on the older end of YA.)
- Shadow and Bone, Seige and Storm, Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo.
A good YA fantasy series, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Six of Crows. It’s set in the same world as SoC but lacked the band of misfits feel I love so much, falling more into the typical YA category of girl with special powers has to choose between two men she loves. But it was pretty solid for all that, and the third book has one of my favorite all time titles, so there’s that.
- Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
Also fairly typical fantasy YA story. I found the world to be pretty creative, if the plot wasn’t so much. Also, it’s appropriate for the younger end of YA. I wish I could find more to say about it. I did enjoy it while I was reading it, but in retrospect, it was just…decent.
- Scarlet, Cress, Winter (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer.
I had already read Cinder last year and somehow never was into the story enough to keep reading. Then my nephew told me I really should, and I’m not sorry I did. I enjoyed the sequels so much more than the first book. And bonus, they fall within the range of things I’m comfortable with my daughter reading. That’s always nice in a YA book.
- Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Pretty fun new sci-if book that came out this year. I thought the characters were real and interesting and the plot moved along. I’ll definitely read the sequels when they come out.
- Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
Complete change of gears here to some modern YA. Audrey is dealing with her intense anxiety issues as she tries to find her way in the world again after a traumatic event. Not my usual genre, but this was well-written and humorous in that British way that deals with serious issues honestly while also sort of refusing to take them too seriously. It’s one I’ll pass on to my kid, if not something I’d rave about overmuch.
- Poldark: Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham
This is the third of the Poldark books, which were written in the 70s. I had read Ross Poldark and Demelza last year. This is historical fiction done right. A pretty realistic look at life in the era, including the behavior of the characters which is incredibly real. I like these characters a lot, so even though I have to strike the right mood to get into the genre, I’m sure I’ll eventually read the rest of the series.
- MWF seeking BFF by Rachel Bertche
Another non-fiction book! What got into me this year? I actually really enjoyed this book, which outlines the authors yearlong search for close friends in her new city. She weaves her own experiences in with some research she did on the topic of making friends. It’s well-written and not overly long, and I enjoyed it. It’s not profound, but it’s an interesting look at a modern woman tackling an age-0ld problem.
- Calamity by Brandon Sanderson (Book 3 of the Reckoners Series)
This was the conclusion of Sanderson’s YA series, The Reckoners. I really enjoyed all these books. If you have boys looking for good books to read, these should be on your list. David, the main character, is really fun.
- The Dragon’s Path, The King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham
Abraham is one of the two authors who cowrote the Expanse series, so I thought I’d check out his fantasy orI. These books were decent. The shift back in forth between the point of view of several of the characters, and some are way more interesting than others. There are at least two more books in this series, but I don’t know if I’ll finish it. It bogged down for me on some of hate less interesting characters. But if you’re super into fantasy and need a new series, you should check it out. The writing is better than most.
- The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Essentially a spoof of YA fantasy fiction, about the kids who just live in and around the “special” kids who have exciting stories happening to them. It was mildly entertaining.
- Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
Historical fiction on the lit fic side of things, which made it a bit of a stretch for me. It had some really amazing parts. The main character is born over and over again and dies different ways each time, which is a fascinating idea for a plot. Some of her lives are terribly interesting. Some aren’t. It’s really well done, but in the end I found that I was forcing myself to finish it. That’s probably my problem, not the book’s. If you like history, you should read it.
- Disrupted by Dan Lyons
I’ll be honest: I read this book because my husband really wanted me to. Lyons was a successful tech journalist who got laid off from Newsweek, and this details his foray into the world of tech startups. His bitingly sarcastic look at it all alternates between being hilarious and being obnoxious. But it’s a pretty real look at the insane way that whole world works and I’m not sorry I read it. It’s good to have a view into a world I don’t walk in, especially because people I know do.
- First Impressions by Charlie Lovett
This is one of those “If you love Jane Austen, you should read this charming little mystery/romance about other people who love her” kinds of books. There are so many of them. It’s better than most.
- Fishbowl by Bradley Somer
Sometimes he curses his fumbling English. Sometimes he curses other people who can’t understand the beauty of his Spanish when he speaks it, how eloquent and romantic his mind can be. Instead, he has to settle for this stumbling grammar and these inadequate words. Even though Jimenez speaks it well, he feels his ideas become trapped in a cage of English. He finds the language very practical, but it’s not made for the same beauty as his mother tongue.
This book is self-important lit fic and I can’t really recommend it, but that’s one awesome quote, so the book wasn’t a total waste.
- Paper Towns by John Green
If you like John Green books, you’ll like this. It’s a John Green book. It was fine, but it was no Fault in our Stars. I have a bit of a hard time swallowing the teenagers-with-profound-insights-into-life thing, if there isn’t any reason why they should have gained them. I know that’s how it feels to be a teenager, which if why they would love this book, but for me it felt a little forced. My daughter asked me recently if I would buy her this book and I said, “Eh, let’s get it from the library.”
- And Again by Jessica Chiarella
This book was short and had a really interesting concept: what if we found a way to clone people and then put the important parts of their brain into a new body so they got to live on? That sounds like a sci-if book and an interesting one. In reality, it was just about how people are super crappy and getting more life wouldn’t change that. But not in an interesting way. Luckily, it was short, so I read the whole thing.
- Fire by Kristin Cashore
This is the second book in the world of Graceling, which I’ve written about before. I enjoy them. She has a creative mind and writes much better than average heroines. Her sense of morality is oddly disturbing to me, though. I can’t explain it totally, as I usually have a pretty broad tolerance in books, but I don’t pass these on to my kids. It’s just a weird feeling.
- The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
Pretty typical modern YA. The main character has been through a trauma and doesn’t speak but meets boy and eventually gets strength to face her issues. That makes it sound a little worse than it is, but mainly it’s Finding Audrey without the humor. The only reason it makes this list is that it gives a little look into the mind of someone who is amazingly gifted and then has that gift taken away. It’s not terribly profound about it, but that part felt very real, and I read on because of it.
- The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Touted as an adult Harry Potter and recently made into a TV show, this book was utter waste. I don’t even want to take the time to explain why, but let’s just say that people who are given more and more and more gifts and then use them to be worse and worse people are BORING.
And that it! Congratulations if you made it this far! Your reward (hopefully) is a couple of good books to try out!
Happy reading, everyone.