Best Books I Read in 2021

What a year, right? In 2016-2019 I felt like the tension in the world was building to something. In 2020 we imploded, but found optimism in the darkness. The audacity of that, I mean really. Instead of optimism, in 2021 I (we?) sank deeper into disillusionment, anxiety, and exhaustion. Now, it wasn’t all doom and gloom and plenty of light seeped into the darkness. For me part of that light is always, always, always art and creativity – and thus books.

I set a goal of 85 books in 2021 and read 96, so I’ll consider that a win for my soul. I read plenty of things I would consider frivolous (though, is the need to daydream and escape ever really frivolous?) and several books that took themselves… very seriously… but in all it was a great literary year for me.

I also included chapter books I read aloud to the kids. While many are not particularly stimulating to me, watching words and books mean something to them is transformative for me.

Thank you to those armies of authors who write early reader chapter books. These are not the great novels you imagined in college, I’m sure, but please know that your work counts for something – you are creating a love for reading and nurturing a growing intellectual confidence in new humans. What a beautiful gift to the world.

Alright, let’s get to it shall we? I selected several books that truly stayed with me this year, and put the full pictorial list at the bottom.

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

A gripping novel of myth, environment, adventure, and an unlikely friendship, from an award-winning Australian author. Ren lives alone on the remote frontier of a country devastated by a coup d’état. High on the forested slopes, she survives by hunting, farming, trading, and forgetting the contours of what was once a normal life. But her quiet stability is disrupted when an army unit, led by a young female soldier, comes to the mountains on government orders in search of a legendary creature called the rain heron—a mythical, dangerous, form-shifting bird with the ability to change the weather. Ren insists that the bird is simply a story, yet the soldier will not be deterred, forcing them both into a gruelling quest. Spellbinding and immersive, Robbie Arnott’s The Rain Heron is an astounding, mythical exploration of human resilience, female friendship, and humankind’s precarious relationship to nature. As Ren and the soldier hunt for the heron, a bond between them forms, and the painful details of Ren’s former life emerge—a life punctuated by loss, trauma, and a second, equally magical and dangerous creature. Slowly, Ren’s and the soldier’s lives entwine, unravel, and ultimately erupt in a masterfully crafted ending in which both women are forced to confront their biggest fears—and regrets.

My GoodReads Review from April 2021:
I did not set out to read this book in one sitting, but here we are at 1am. Wow. This novel is an allegory meets tragedy meets mythology meets war time story, all of which is written in near poetic rhythm. The author depicts almost manic moments of violence and grief with such gentle delivery I never felt as though I was a reading a “war” novel. I was left with a calm, quiet, thoughtful sadness but also very content and not depressed. The magical or mythical elements are treated with extreme care and interest. Highly recommended.


The Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god–and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it. Drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and family secrets, Jess finds that making deals with capricious spirits is a dangerous business. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny. If she fails, the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.

My GoodReads Review from November 2021:
The set up and characters in this book immediately grabbed my attention but I found the pacing of the first half a little hard. I sort of had to force myself through but once it turned and got more action packed and exciting I couldn’t put it down! Lots of cultural nuance in here that was fun and interesting to learn about mixed with some good old-fashioned possessions, ghosts, and gods.


Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Vern – seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised – flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world. But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes. To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future – outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.

My GoodReads Review From November 2021:
This one was brutal but beautiful and surreal but gut wrenchingly honest. An excellent commentary on colonialism in the United States, and a scary, dark metamorphosis that was also strikingly … hopeful? Hopeful is definitely not the right word, but the ending felt empowered. Check your social norms at the door and go deep into this.


A Four Book Rainbow Rowell Love Fest

Before I share the next three books I just need to be clear – Rainbow is so, so good. An author from my part of the world (she is from Omaha, Nebraska) who is as honest as she is irreverent and hopeful. Two of these are technically YA I think (Any Way The Wind Blows and Fangirl), but some discussions of sex, so definitely meant for older teens not your 10 year old. Also, Any Way The Wind Blows is the third in a fantastic trilogy, don’t start here.

Finally, please don’t write these off as “romances” or just sappy love stories. Yes, they are mostly about relationships, but then aren’t our lives? There is good, meaningful stuff in these pages. Also, If you enjoy love stories and have limited your reads to strictly heterosexual story lines, you’re missing out on some rich, meaningful story telling.

Of the four, Landline resonated with me deeply, being about mid marriage and career, with a hint of fantasy and magic baked in.

Landline

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now. Maybe that was always beside the point.

My GoodReads Review in September of 2021:
Where Attachments (her other adult fiction novel) was an improbable but possible foray into new adult love, Landline is a surreal love song to marriage – if not a love song with lots of angsty and sad verses. While ultimately a love story this book also explores the difficulty of balancing passion with love and career and sacrifice … and some light time travel. I related to a lot of the stuff in this book pretty deeply as I come up on 18 years with my husband whom I met at the age of 18. I can see how for some folks this wouldn’t appeal as much as some of the other stories she writes, but this felt like the love story I needed at age 36 with two kids, going on 18 years with the same person. It resonated in a wonderful way reminding me that the best part of my life is coming home.

Attachments

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now- reading other people’s e-mail. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke. When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories. By the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself. What would he say . . . ?

My GoodReads Review in August 2021:
Rowell has a knack for making what are generally absurd storylines and outcomes that seem unfathomable, feel so relatable, true to life, and human. I am endlessly a sucker for a good love story and she puts out the best.

Fangirl

Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan… But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fanfiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath that she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend; a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world; a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words…and she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind.

My Review From GoodReads in September of 2021:
Speaking of Fangirls, I’m one of Rainbow’s. I couldn’t put this down. It was sweet, smart, brutal in its honesty. Also, reading stories that take place in the dorms I lived in and in my cities in Nebraska is this special and intimate thing. I did realize about 3/4 of the way through that I wished I had ever stayed as true to myself as Cather does (fears and self-loathing aside). I found myself reaching to personally identify with her college experience. I was/am more like Wren in my attitude and approach to life… again, for better or worse.

Any Way the Wind Blows (Simon Snow #3)

New York Times bestselling author Rainbow Rowell’s epic young adult fantasy Simon Snow series continues in Any Way the Wind Blows. In Carry On, Simon Snow and his friends realized that everything they thought they understood about the world might be wrong. And in Wayward Son, they wondered whether everything they understood about themselves might be wrong. In Any Way the Wind Blows, Simon and Baz and Penelope and Agatha have to decide how to move forward. Any Way the Wind Blows takes the gang back to England, back to Watford, and back to their families for their longest and most emotionally wrenching adventure yet. This book is a finale. It tells secrets and answers questions and lays ghosts to rest. Carry On was conceived as a book about Chosen One stories; Any Way the Wind Blows is an ending about endings. About catharsis and closure, and how we choose to move on from the traumas and triumphs that try to define us

My GoodReads Review from August 2021:
I read fantasy romance genre novels like it is my job. I love elves, halfings, witches, and wizards; I love rough and tumble adventures with ‘hero’s journey vibes;’ I love love stories. Simon and Baz in Rainbow Rowell’s trilogy is the best love story I’ve read in years. Their story – not to mention their ridiculous stop at the Renaissance Faire we love in Omaha Nebraska in the second book – is one of the truest, most brutal and gut wrenching, and beautiful stories I’ve read. These teenage to young adult men had me laughing, crying, and relating. If you enjoy love stories and have limited your reads to strictly heterosexual story lines, you’re missing out on some rich, meaningful story telling. So your sex looks different? No matter. We can all relate to being in love and all the beautiful issues that come with it. Thank you Rainbow for giving us these character


The Fifth Doll by Charlie N. Holmberg

Matrona lives in an isolated village, where her life is centered on pleasing her parents. She’s diligent in her chores and has agreed to marry a man of their choosing. But a visit to Slava, the local tradesman, threatens to upend her entire life. Entering his empty house, Matrona discovers a strange collection of painted nesting dolls—one for every villager. Fascinated, she can’t resist the urge to open the doll with her father’s face. But when her father begins acting strangely, she realizes Slava’s dolls are much more than they seem. When he learns what she’s done, Slava seizes the opportunity to give Matrona stewardship over the dolls—whether she wants it or not. Forced to open one of her own dolls every three days, she falls deeper into the grim power of Slava’s creations. But nothing can prepare her for the profound secret hiding inside the fifth doll.


The Hobbit or There and Back Again by by J.R.R. Tolkien

Ok, ok, if you’ve met me it should be pretty obvious I have already read this, long before 2021. This year, however, I read this aloud to my son Max and the experience was just so rich and meaningful. As an aside, if you’ve read aloud much of the Narnia series and found it tricky in pacing and vocabulary, I found Tolkien much easy to narrate aloud.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.


There we have it – my best books from 2021. Below I’ve copied the images for every book I read in 2021. Many of these very nearly made the full post, several were very bad. I read far fewer graphic novels this year. I don’t know that the change means anything exactly, but an interesting observation.

Be well. Read on.

Favorite Reads of 2020

Like everything else in 2020, I didn’t quite hit my reading goal. In fact I missed it by one – I read 99 books, out of my goal of 100. I was almost through number 100, but prioritizing family time (and probably spending too much time scrolling on my phone), made me to set it down yesterday. This morning I rolled over in bed, listening to my kids play Minecraft Dungeons in the living room, picked it up and realized I’d only had 3 pages left (3!), as the rest of it was a preview of the next book.

So, in sum, I missed my goal by three pages and 8 hours. Goodbye 2020.

Continuing in this trend, as I write this, WordPress and Goodreads are continually crashing and reloading, making my usual method of drafting this annual post not impossible, but exceedingly burdensome. I may return later (I will not), but for now I’ve just posted covers and my brief comments.

Anyhow, I read some amazing books and graphic novels this year! As always lots of fantasy and romance, which rarely make this list, but remain excellent escapes. Just like prior years, I only include graphic novel collected volumes, not individual issues. Also, many of these books didn’t come out in 2020, that is just when I read them. After the highlights, I’ve shared some honorable mentions and pictured all the books I finished this year.

“There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.” ― Bertrand Russell

My Favorite Books in 2020

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

by Kim Michele RichardsonKatie Schorr (Narrator)
My review from January 6, 2020: This novel was striking, sometimes very hard and heart breaking, fascinating, and very well written. I was/am pretty unfamiliar with this period of time in Kentucky and the condition which causes blue skin – so this was educational and engaging. Our main character is gracious, humble, brave, and stubborn. I listened to this as an audiobook and the performer was very good. Her gentle accent and inflections really added to the story.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune

by Nghi Vo
I read this in October 2020. This short novel was compelling and beautiful in so many ways. Unexpected results and very unconventional writing. The imagery created intrigue – and any confusion it caused only made me read on more urgently.

Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table

by Ruth Reichl
I finished this novel on June 24 2020 and I was so sad to see it go. Ruth’s life is simultaneously an impossible, picturesque, almost liberal-cliché ideal but also raw, honest, flawed, and tragic. Her relationship to food and the food industry feels honest and equal parts inspiring and disappointing (in the experiences she has). Her affairs and marriage are really honestly portrayed here, as well as her heartbreaking adoption story. This memoir is unafraid and brutal while also being full of whimsy, passion, humor, wit, and most importantly excellent recipes (I made the crab cakes – delicious).

The Bear and the Nightingale

by Katherine Arden
I finished this novel in June 2020 and almost wish I’d held it for a winter night. This take on Russian folklore is magic but gritty and cruel. I love folklore and fairytales, and particularly enjoy the older versions or modernized takes, meaning versions that include the hardships, horrors, and pains that inspire storytelling in first place. This did not disappoint. I also enjoyed the authors notes on the lore’s history: “Morozko is the name of the Russian Jack Frost, a winter demon who is sometimes benevolent and sometimes cruel. He features in multiple fairy tales. What I found interesting about this character though is he has his mythical roots in slavic paganism, as a dark god of winter and death called Chernobog. He evolved over the years from a pretty powerful deity to sort of a wicked fairy-tale creature, and finally (after some European influence) to Ded Moroz, the Russian Father Christmas. I found this journey (from wicked pagan god to giver of treats to children) absolutely fascinating.”

Writers & Lovers

by Lily King
I finished this novel in March 2020, and it left me with lots of reflections, feelings, and judgements. This novel is funny but also sad and relatable.

Escaping Exodus

by Nicky Drayden
The concept of this novel is… well… bizarre? Imaginative? Insane? Possibly one of the most thoughtful environmental metaphors ever (maybe)? If you enjoy science fiction, fantasy, space travel, and social commentary, read this book. Seske Kaleigh is an engaging protagonist you find yourself cheering for again and again.

City of Girls

by Elizabeth Gilbert
When I finished City of Girls in mid April 2020 it was just what I needed. Sometimes, when the characters are good enough, stories have the luxury of meandering around without any meaningful conflict for 200+ pages. This is one of those. The first half of this book is purely scene-building and I ate up every drop. Then you have your major conflict but the following 200 pages are essentially character development, in which the only notable conflict is that WWII is one of the partial backdrops. Yet, somehow, I want to meet Vivian and listen to her for hours. This worked for me, despite its lingering pace. Maybe it’s because it never went more than a page without mentioning fabric, cocktails, or sex? I’m here for it.

In at the Deep End

The first book I finished in and 2020, and it was appropriately titled. This is an intense read; both extremely sexually graphic and very, snort your tea out your nose, funny. It makes you uncomfortable, but in a way that sympathizes you to the main character’s choices.

I often read books that fall in or intersect with the romance genre and as such they typically include a couple of sex(y) scenes, including relatively frequent LGBTQA relationships given the novels I choose, but never have I read a novel that so unapologetically rejects flowery similes for private parts. No “pearled” nipples or “the heart of my heat” here. The author talks about sex bluntly and honestly relates it back to how human’s make choices, feel about others, and manage their lives. It is graphic? Yes. Is it real? Yes.

She calls it like she sees it and the outcome is a honest look at the act of sex, humans, obsession, and comfort zones.

Some others to highlight…

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini is a very long book, which almost deterred me at first, but it moved pretty quickly. Like a lot of action-adventure stories it felt like the whole story was moving from place to place constantly and I don’t know that I could confidently pick out a “middle” but regardless I enjoyed the journey. Kira is an excellent narrator and relatable.

I fell hard for Ellery Adams’ mysteries this year. These are cozy and easy reads. While the happy ending is assured and the characters predictable, the mysteries themselves are complex and I’m often surprised by the culprits! Her novels are an excellent way to spend an evening leaving the world behind.

…and speaking of mysteries, it goes without saying that everything I read by Agatha Christie takes me to a new place and time. Clever beyond words. My favorite this year was Cards on the Table.

I try to make a point of reading some “classics” every year, some re-reads and some new to me. This year I read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (a re-read), The Best of Isaac Asimov (probably only considered “classic” by nerds, but I care not for your judgements), and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The Asimov collection starts in his early(ish) life as an author, the first story being published in 1939 and spanning some work through the 1970s. I hadn’t read any of these before. In particular, in the early works, it was notable that the only female characters were wives, whereas in some of his later novels characters like Susan Calvin were instrumental. That said his creativity, clever but simple wit, and mastery of the human condition shines through. True “before it’s time” classic science fiction.

Fahrenheit 451 is one of those American classics I swore I had probably read in high school lit, but after listening for a hour, I knew I hadn’t. It’s classic dystopian science fiction and every other page is a remarkable quote or takeaway. Tim Robbins narration was intense, rapid, and moving.

On The Edge by Ilona Andrews – The Ilona Andrews team always craft a complex mystery with remarkable world building. I found the first chapter and this one to be a bit too wordy and full of set up but eventually got into it. The book covers though? They’re embarrassing (I usually check these out from the library instead of on my Kindle) especially when the mystery is good and the romance is so secondary to the plot. 

Finally, this is probably the first year in the past five I haven’t included my favorite authors on this list – Neil Gaiman, Seanan McGuire, and Terry Pratchett (who is sadly deceased, but whose full catalog I have yet to complete). While I read some pieces of all of them this year, none were my favorites of theirs, though all still fantastic. That is to say, if I were trying to convince someone else to read them, the work of theirs I read in 2020 isn’t where I’d have them start so I omitted it here.

Full Pictorial List

I don’t want to do negative here, so I won’t call any titles out, but don’t consider the below covers endorsements. I read some real stinkers this year too.

My Top Ten Favorite Books in 2019

I read a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. Throughout the year I look forward to writing this post – when I start a book I think “will this be one of my favorites for the year?” 

Most of the books highlighted below were not released in 2019, that is just when I read them. Like my 2017 and 2018 book posts, I also want to preface this post with some information about me as a reader. I read mostly fiction narratives of the fantasy, mystery, science fiction or romance variety. I very rarely read non-fiction books (outside of research for my work). I also listen to many audiobooks (currently re-reading Little Women) and I count them here.  I read a lot while traveling and I travel very often work. I count graphic novel volumes as a book but not individual comic books/issues. Also I included a few of the chapter books (books read in multiple sittings and are 75+ pages) I read with my second grader (though he is now reading many on his own).

Logistics aside, I want to share my favorites of the year and hope that others will share theirs! A full pictorial list of everything I read this year is below too. My reviews are brief, because seriously, time is a hot commodity, but I have also shared the GoodReads description.

In no particular order, my top ten favorite books I read in 2019:

Middlegame
by Seanan McGuire

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

My Review on August 13:
I’m a McGuire fan girl and I’ve read nearly every story she’s set out to tell me. In the author’s note in the back of this book she acknowledges this novel wasn’t something she had to skill to write until now. Yes. As a reader we get the pleasure of watching talent grow, deepen, and turn great into holy shit that was cool. The characters here are reminiscent of her prior uses of cryptology but exist in a different way, seemingly in an unconnected universe. She uses some of her favorite magical tools from stories past but in a way that’s more dark and grounded. This book isn’t a fast paced adventure, it’s a slow burn. It’s a thinker and gave me some strange, strange dreams.

Though, admittedly, in their San Francisco adventures I silently hoped they’d run into October.

My comments today:
Like I said in August, I’m a McGuire fangirl. I read four McGuire books this year and picking one is a challenge, but this novel is a standout and I’ve already sung the praises of the October Daye and Wayward Children series. The blurb doesn’t do this one justice. It’s haunting, complex, unsettling, smart, and emotional. A true standout. Not to mention my sweet cousin met Seanan at a book signing in San Francisco and got me my very own dedicated and signed copy! Squeal!

Calypso
by David Sedaris

If you’ve ever laughed your way through David Sedaris’s cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you’re getting with Calypso. You’d be wrong.

When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself.

With Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: these stories are very, very funny–it’s a book that can make you laugh ’til you snort, the way only family can. Sedaris’s powers of observation have never been sharper, and his ability to shock readers into laughter unparalleled. But much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when your own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future.

This is beach reading for people who detest beaches, required reading for those who loathe small talk and love a good tumor joke. Calypso is simultaneously Sedaris’s darkest and warmest book yet–and it just might be his very best.

My Review on November 19: This is a book about aging, family, and humor. Not always easy, often sad, and usually relatable. One of his best yet.

My comments today: I “read” this via audiobook – which is how I recommend consuming all Sedaris at least once. His voice amplifies his meaning.


Circe
by Madeline Miller


In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

My review on July 16:
I can’t explain exactly why this felt like a real page turner to me, as it’s primarily focused on her exile and lore I was already familiar with, but somehow I couldn’t put it down. I’m not entirely satisfied with the conclusion but it’s also precisely what I would expect from this book. Circe is not always a particularly sympathetic character and her story is not necessarily a strong or inspiring‘s one so much as one about discovery, loneliness, and developing a sense of self.

American Gods
by Neil Gaiman

Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.

Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.

Scary, gripping and deeply unsettling, American Gods takes a long, hard look into the soul of America. You’ll be surprised by what – and who – it finds there…

This is the author’s preferred text, never before published in the UK, and is about 12,000 words longer than the previous UK edition.

Finished on July 6, my comments today: I mean, duh, this one of the best books I’ve read. Gaiman is master of the surreal. I started this one as an audiobook check out from the library’s database service, which is 20+ hours. When I went to renew it had been removed! No! I was on the road at the time and picked up a used copy at a great local bookshop in downtown Colorado Springs. It was a weird feeling to switch from listening to reading in between, but actually made for a pretty intense and rich experience with this novel. I really enjoyed Gaiman’s forward on this, discussing his trip across the U.S. while writing this. It captures America in a hard, cool way.

Spinning Silver
by Naomi Novik

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.

When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk–grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh–Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.

But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.

Channeling the vibrant heart of myth and fairy tale, Spinning Silver weaves a multilayered, magical tapestry that readers will want to return to again and again.

Finished June 22, my comments today: I also strongly suggest Novik’s other book in this universe, Uprooted. These are fairytales, but the characters are flawed, interesting, and real. It’s a charming, if not occasionally unsettling, take on fairytale romances – but don’t get it wrong. These are not love stories. In this novel the relationship between Miryem to all those around her is the most interesting. Wanda’s story is moving but also inspiring. The Staryk king and his kingdom are well thought-out and crafted.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)
by Felicia Day

From online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood.

The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world… or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs.

After growing up in the south where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons”, Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an Internet star.

Felicia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange world is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir.

Hilarious and inspirational, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should embrace what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for a digital misfit.

My thoughts on May 28: I read a lot of these “individual essay actresses memoirs” at this point, and I have to say I found this one to be one of the most charming. We are big fans of many of her projects and I’ve casually followed her career for years. The last few chapters get particularly real and honest.

I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities, and Other Stuff
by Abbi Jacobson

From the co-creator and co-star of the hit series Broad City, a “poignant, funny, and beautifully unabashed” (Cheryl Strayed) bestselling essay collection about love, loss, work, comedy, and figuring out who you really are when you thought you already knew.

When Abbi Jacobson announced to friends and acquaintances that she planned to drive across the country alone, she was met with lots of questions and opinions: Why wasn’t she going with friends? Wouldn’t it be incredibly lonely? The North route is better! Was it safe for a woman? The Southern route is the way to go! You should bring mace! And a common one… why? But Abbi had always found comfort in solitude, and needed space to step back and hit the reset button. As she spent time in each city and town on her way to Los Angeles, she mulled over the big questions– What do I really want? What is the worst possible scenario in which I could run into my ex? How has the decision to wear my shirts tucked in been pivotal in my adulthood?


In this collection of anecdotes, observations and reflections–all told in the sharp, wildly funny, and relatable voice that has endeared Abbi to critics and fans alike–readers will feel like they’re in the passenger seat on a fun and, ultimately, inspiring journey. With some original illustrations by the author.

My thoughts on March 22:
I legitimately laughed out loud and had to gasp-back tears throughout this book. This is an honest book and a personal journey. This is not your standard “famous person writes a memoir collection of essays” though there are certainly chapters that focus in on parts of her life, it’s overall a story about a road trip from New York to LA after some challenging personal events. Can’t recommend this enough to every 30-something woman in my life.

My comments today: Have you watched all of Broad City yet? (stop reading and go do so) Love women bold, salty, vulgar, unashamedly complicated and flawed? Finding yourself? Lost yourself? Go on this trip with Abbi.

I, Robot
by Isaac Asimov


The three laws of Robotics:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
2) A robot must obey orders give in to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

With these three, simple directives, Isaac Asimov changed our perception of robots forever when he formulated the laws governing their behavior. In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot through a series of interlinked stories: from its primitive origins in the present to its ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future–a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete.

Here are stories of robots gone mad, of mind-read robots, and robots with a sense of humor. Of robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world–all told with the dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction that has become Asmiov’s trademark.
 

My comments January 29: Another science-fiction revisit from my youth, though it was copyrighted in 1950 before my mother was even born. Several of these remarkable short stories take place in 2015 and 2021 (and beyond). Asimov imagined a much more evolved world; one humans were probably capable of achieving but didn’t. Regardless I love these robot stories. Such fun here, mixed with psychological interest, social metaphor, and great science fiction. Did I mention a major character is a woman? Who is a scientist and discussing her career? 1950s sci-fi got there y’all. #SusanCalvin

My comments today: A cool thing about hitting your mid-thirties is the opportunity to revisit books you read 20 some years ago as a teen. You can learn much about who you are and how you have grown and changed through books. Different takeaways, different lessons, different likes and dislikes, same story. Humans are cool as hell.

Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars (although I recommend all volumes)
by Jeff Lemire (Writer), Dustin Nguyen (Artist), Steve Wands (Goodreads Author) (Letterer)

Young Robot boy TIM-21 and his companions struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet. Written by award-winning creator, Jeff Lemire, Descender is a rip-roaring and heart-felt cosmic odyssey. Lemire pits humanity against machine, and world against world, to create a sprawling epic. 

My reviews by volume:

Volume One: Immediately an emotionally compelling story and Dustin Nguyen’s art is unbelievably beautiful.

Volume Two: Seriously excellent storytelling. Relatively heavy sci-fi with many characters but the art, storytelling, and lay out keep everything quite clear while still being incredibly visually compelling. Enjoying these volumes a ton.

Volume Three: This volume jumps around in the timeline quite a bit, which made it harder to sink into from a story-continuity perspective, but also filled in a lot of really important parts and answered questions I didn’t know I had about the plot. Nguyen’s art just gets better and better. Effie/Between Queen is just stunning.

Volume Four: The first issue in this volume – with the three paneled pages telling the three different stories that cover about 30 minutes of time – are breathtaking both in art and in storytelling.

Volume Five and Six: These are simply gorgeous and complex, thoughtful storytelling. Best original comics I’ve read in a while.

Carpe Jugulum
(Discworld #23)
by Terry Pratchett, Nigel Planer (Audiobook Narrator)

Mightily Oats has not picked a good time to be priest. He thought he was there for a simple little religious ceremony. Now he’s caught up in a war between vampires and witches, and he’s not sure there is a right side. There’s the witches — Agnes, Magrat, Nanny Ogg, and the formidable Granny Weatherwax… And the vampires: the stakes are high but they’re intelligent — not easily got rid of with a garlic enema or going to the window and saying “I don’t know about you, but isn’t it a bit stuffy in here?” They’ve got style and fancy waistcoats. They’re out of the casket and want a bite of the future. “From the Trade Paperback edition.”

My comments June 17: Knocked out the audio book on my road trip today. Some of my favorite quotes:

“Repent!’” Nanny Ogg went on. “Repent? Me? Cheek! I can’t start repenting at my time of life. I’d never get any work done. Anyway,” she added, “I ain’t sorry for most of it.
Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum (Discworld, #23)

“And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.” “It’s a lot more complicated than that—” “No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.” “Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes—” “But they starts with thinking about people as things…” Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum (Discworld #23; Witches #6)

“He grinned. It was the sort of grin that Agnes supposed was called infectious but, then, so was measles.” Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum (Discworld #23; Witches #6) 

My comments today: I think I may finally be emotionally prepared to read Pratchett’s final novel, which happens to be focused on my favorite Discworld character, Tiffany Aching. This man was a honest, witty, genius. Thank goodness he wrote so many damn books.

The whole list from 2019:

My Favorite Books in 2018

December 10 2018 | I set a goal of reading 100 books in 2018, which I completed sometime in November and I expect I’ll finish another few. Like my 2017 post, I want to preface this with some information about me as a reader. I read mostly 300-500 page fiction, usually of the general narrative, fantasy, mystery, science fiction or romance variety. I very rarely read 600+ page or non-fiction books. So before everyone is all “how do you have the time?!” know that I can polish off a 300 page science fiction novel in about 2-3 nights. I LOVE audiobooks and I count them here. When I’m walking or running, books are often my companion. I read a lot while traveling and I travel a lot for work. I loathe airports and books absorb me, so I turn to them while flying. I usually knock back 3 books per trip. Also, I count graphic novel volumes as a book. I do not count individual comic books/issues. Also new this year I included all the chapter books (books read in multiple sittings and are 75+ pages) I read to/with my son. I’m going to continue to include the books and graphic novels I read with him – and eventually our daughter. He has started reading entirely independently this year and we’ve joined a parent-child book club. It’s remarkable to share this joy with him!

That is all to say, I surround myself with words and fantastic stories unapologetically; it was not hard to read 100 books this year, given how books infiltrate my life.

In addition, I want to start logging all the amazing (and some “meh”) children’s picture books I read with my daughter. I haven’t yet decided whether to start a seperate GoodReads account to track these or if I should just set my goal at 250 and include them in my general count. Details, details.

Logistics aside, I want to share my favorites of the year and hope that others will share theirs! A full pictorial list is below too. My reviews are brief, because seriously, time is a hot commodity but I have also shared the GoodReads description.

Finally, one last note, most of these books were not released in 2018, that is just when I read them.

As I mentioned, finishing my goal doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading until 2019, so please, join me on Goodreads and finish out 2018 with me!

Finally – SHOUTOUT LINCOLN CITY LIBRARIES! Thank you for being an important resource to me and my family.

In no particular order, my favorite books of 2018:

The Power by Naomi Alderman 

ThePowerGoodReads: In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday TimesYoung Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

Elsbeth’s Thoughts: This book, and a couple specific scenes, still haunt me or make me pause often. This is an amazing book. Easy to consume, creative beyond measure and undeniably impactful. I was interested in it because Alderman was an editor for one of my favorite science fiction website and also wrote the storylines for Zombies Run – a popular interactive running/walking app where the runner participates in an unfolding Zombie scenario (it is cool as hell for runners).  Anyway, this book is wild, at times hilarious, at times hard to read, and not at all what you expect it to be. Is is a feminist manifesto? Maybe? Does it explore the human condition and the inherent good and evil in us all? Absolutely.

Binti (#1-3, Trilogy) by Nnedi Okorafor

GoodReads: Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

Elsbeth’s Thoughts: This is simply excellent science fiction that includes diverse, rarely seen in literature, representation. I cried during these books. I empathized with Binti. I judged her. I loved going on this 3 book adventure with her. The audiobook performance is suburb and adds to the novels. These are short reads, almost novellas, but some of the best science fiction I read this year.

 

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan

GoodReads: From one of America’s most critically acclaimed graphic novel writers – inspired by true events, a startlingly original look at life on the streets of Baghdad during the Iraq War. In his award-winning work on Y THE LAST MAN and EX MACHINA (one of Entertainment Weekly’s 2005 Ten Best Fiction titles), writer Brian K. Vaughan has displayed an understanding of both the cost of survival and the political nuances of the modern world. Now, in this provocative graphic novel, Vaughan examines life on the streets of war-torn Iraq.

In the spring of 2003, a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo during an American bombing raid. Lost and confused, hungry but finally free, the four lions roamed the decimated streets of Baghdad in a desperate struggle for their lives. In documenting the plight of the lions, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD raises questions about the true meaning of liberation – can it be given or is it earned only through self-determination and sacrifice? And in the end, is it truly better to die free than to live life in captivity?pride

Based on a true story, VAUGHAN and artist NIKO HENRICHON (Barnum!) have created a unique and heartbreaking window into the nature of life during wartime, illuminating this struggle as only the graphic novel can.

Elsbeth’s Thoughts: If you’ve never read a comic book or graphic novel volume that brings you to tears you’ve missed out on the best of the medium. This story of the lions who escaped the Baghdad zoo in the bombing Iraq in 2003 contains some of the most beautiful illustrations I’ve ever seen in comic art juxtaposed against one of the most gut wrenching (and remarkably written) stories out there. Vaughan has earned his accolades in this industry – this book tells the story of the true and varied costs of war, and the reality of being wild and “free,” in a more nuanced way than any text-only novel possibly could.

Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book, both by Neil Gaiman

I’m lumping these together, though they are not related in any way beyond being by the same author. I went on a Gaiman binge this year. These two were the captured me in the biggest way – though everything I’ve read by him is starting at a baseline of excellence.

neverwhereNeverwhere on GoodReads: Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.

Elsbeth’s Thoughts: Richard Mayhew is so painfully relatable, likeable, and little depressing. The world Gaiman creates here is gritty, ruthless, exciting, scary, fantastic, and somehow a little appealing. This is a great book and to put to bluntly, I just enjoyed the hell out of it. It was a fun ride, and one I suggest others enjoy.

The Graveyard Book on GoodReads: After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddlergraveyard.jpg wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family…

Elsbeth’s Thoughts: This was the first of Gaiman’s youth/children’s books that I have read. I’ve seen Coraline of course, but not read the book. This is not for young children, but I’m very excited to read it with my kids in a few years (thinking ages 8 or 9). This is gruesome little tale that is full of love, heart, and mystery. The book is split into sections, which are sort of full little stories into themselves. Bod is a charming character who sticks with you. The twists and turns actually managed to surprise me – and I think it helps I love graveyards.

Here is the review I wrote immediately after listening this book: “I listened to the audio version of this and I cannot recommend that enough. Listening to the author read his own words about this beautiful, unique coming-of-age story about a boy raised in a graveyard was beyond moving and compelling. The end had me smiling through tears. I wanted to run to my kids schools and hug my babies, telling them to go explore and enjoy this great big world. I think my son (and especially my preschooler daughter) are still much too young for this book, but I look forward to sharing it with him when he is closer to 8.”

Night Watch (Discworld #29) by Terry Pratchett

GoodReads: For a policeman, there can be few things worse than a serial killer at loose in your city. Except, perhaps, a serial killer who targets coppers, and a city on the brink of bloody revolution. The people have found their voice at last, the flags and barricades are rising…And the question for a policeman, an officer of the law, a defender of the peace, is: Are you with them, or are you against them?

Elsbeth’s Thoughts: Let’s start with these two quotes from the book:

“Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come round again. That’s why they’re called revolutions. People die, and nothing changes.”

“There were plotters, there was no doubt about it. Some had been ordinary people who’d had enough. Some were young people with no money who objected to the fact that the world was run by old people who were rich. Some were in it to get girls. And some had been idiots as mad as Swing, with a view of the world just as rigid and unreal, who were on the side of what they called ‘the people’. Vimes had spent his life on the streets, and had met decent men and fools and people who’d steal a penny from a blind beggar and people who performed silent miracles or desperate crimes every day behind the grubby windows of little houses, but he’d never met The People…
People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people..
As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up. What would run through the streets soon enough wouldn’t be a revolution or a riot. It’d be people who were frightened and panicking. It was what happened when the machinery of city life faltered, the wheels stopped turning and all the little rules broke down.

And when that happened, humans were worse than sheep. Sheep just ran; they didn’t try to bite the sheep next to them.”

nightwatchThe final resolution of this novel was quite as bleak or depressing as the above quotes, but this particular portion of the book really impacted me in a way that many novels haven’t recently.

It did something books always should: It challenged some of my ideology and self-perception.

I sometimes fancy myself a revolutionary but as an attorney I appreciate order, logic, and even-thinking. As such Vimes deeply appeals to me, but his thoughts on “revolutions” spoke to me in a way I’m not used to. It is not pure cynicism, but rather a so-complex-it’s-simple world view.

Keep in mind, this is still part of the Discworld universe and lives in the land of fantasy – which in many ways made its social commentary even more striking and hard to swallow.

We all know Pratchett was good, but novel after novel I find I’m self saying “God damnit he was SO good.”

The Tiffany Aching Series, starting with The Wee Free Men (Discworld #30), by Terry Pratchett

Like Gaiman, I couldn’t pick one Pratchett book. I already highlighted Night Watch as a stand alone, but I’m putting the Tiffany Aching books together. They include, “The Wee Free Men,” “A Hat Full of Sky,” “Wintersmith,” “I Shall Wear Midnight,” and Pratchett’s last ever novel that I have not yet had the heart to read, “The Shepherd’s Crown.”

Tiffany is special. Just so, so, importantly, wonderfully, powerfully specially.

GoodReads: An inner series in the Discworld saga. This set of books are about Tiffany Aching, a witch-in-training with only a frying pan and her common sense and the Wee Free Men.

weefreeElsbeth’s thoughts/favorite quotes as posted to GoodReads immediately after reading:

The Wee Free Mean:Tiffany Aching is who I’ve wanted to be (and who I’ve sometimes felt like) since I was 9 years old myself. Again, these novels, laughs, wit, tears, and irreverent intellectualism. Pratchett was a master.

A Hat Full of Sky: “Rain don’t fall on a witch if she doesn’t want it to, although personally I prefer to get wet and be thankful.” “Thankful for what?” said Tiffany. “That I’ll get dry later.””

A young woman named Tiffany is changing my life. The power in these novels, set in whimsical fantasy, is moving, bone deep, and thoughtful in a way that can only have written in a spirit of joy and contented acceptance of the world. Terry Pratchett challenges readers not to be anything but themselves, which forces you to realize, your true self is your strongest self.

Wintersmith: “This I choose to do. If there is a price, this I choose to pay. If it is my death, then I choose to die. Where this takes me, there I choose to go. I choose. This I choose to do.” Oh Tiffany. How you’ve reached me and moved me.

I Shall Wear Midnight: “If you have let pride get the better of you, then you have already lost, but if you grab pride by the scruff of the neck and ride it like a stallion, then you may have already won.”

Tiffany Aching has made me a better, happier person. Oh, the power of words on a page.

Honorable Mentions:

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire

Pride and Joy (OG Runaways #1) by Brian Vaughan

Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell

Plutona by Jeff Lemire

Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery by Aaron Sanders

Full Pictorial List:

books2018_6books2018_5books2018_4books2018_3books2018_2books2018_1

My Favorite Books of 2017

December 1 2017 | I set a goal of reading 50 books in 2017. I did it.. and then I read 7 more and I expect I’ll finish another 2 or 3. Like my 2016 post, I want to preface this with some information about me as a reader. I read mostly 300-500 page fiction, usually of the general narrative, fantasy, mystery, science fiction or romance variety. These books are my escape. I very rarely read 600+ page or non-fiction books. So before everyone is all “how do you have the time?!” know that I can polish off a 300 page romance novel in about 72 hours, reading it post my children’s bedtime. I also read a lot while traveling. I loathe airports and books absorb me, so I turn to them while flying. I usually knock back 2-3 books per trip. Also, I count graphic novel volumes as a book. I do not count individual comic books/issues.

New this year I included a few chapter books I started reading with our kindergartener at bedtime. Because I’m going to start including the books and graphic novels I read with him – and eventually our daughter – that are read in multiple sittings and are 100+ pages and I’m going to set my 2018 goal at 100 books!

Logistics aside, I want to share my favorites of the year and hope that others will share theirs! A full pictorial list of my current 56 is below too. The reviews here are mostly what I wrote on Goodreads directly after finishing the book. I figure those reviews are the most fresh and frankly, putting this together was enough work. I don’t have time for more in depth reviews, but always happy to talk about books!

As I mentioned, finishing my goal doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading until 2018, so please, join me on Goodreads and finish out 2017 with me!

Finally – SHOUTOUT LINCOLN CITY LIBRARIES! Only two books of my entire 50 were purchased. Thank you for being an important resource to me and my family.

In no particular order, my favorite books of 2017:


Written in Red (The Others #1)

by Anne Bishop
writteninredGood Reads Summary: As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others. Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

My Review: I read another “first book in a series” by Anne Bishop earlier this year. I believe it was her first published novel. I enjoyed it, but uffda it was overly complicated and the sexual overtones (in a book I would NOT consider a romance novel) were… awkward at best. Fast forward to her most recent series, “The Others” and this book. Over-complicated turned into detailed world building. Awkward sexual overtones turned into a slow building, interesting, character nuisance. These books (I’m currently already into the second one in the series) are slow paced, but well crafted. If you’re into fantasy, human v. fantasy storylines check these out. Great fiction.


Once Broken Faith + The Brightest Fell (October Daye #10 + #11)

by Seanan McGuire

toby2Once Broken Faith Goodreads Summary: Politics have never been October “Toby” Daye’s strong suit. When she traveled to the Kingdom of Silences to prevent them from going to war with her home, the Kingdom of the Mists, she wasn’t expecting to return with a cure for elf-shot and a whole new set of political headaches. Now the events she unwittingly set in motion could change the balance of modern Faerie forever, and she has been ordered to appear before a historic convocation of monarchs, hosted by Queen Windermere in the Mists and overseen by the High King and Queen themselves.  Naturally, things have barely gotten underway when the first dead body shows up. As the only changeling in attendance, Toby is already the target of suspicion and hostility. Now she needs to find a killer before they can strike again—and with the doors locked to keep the guilty from escaping, no one is safe. As danger draws ever closer to her allies and the people she loves best, Toby will have to race against time to prevent the total political destabilization of the West Coast and to get the convocation back on track…and if she fails, the cure for elf-shot may be buried forever, along with the victims she was too slow to save. Because there are worse fates than sleeping for a hundred years.

toby1The Brightest Fell Goodreads Summary: For once, everything in October “Toby” Daye’s life seems to be going right. There have been no murders or declarations of war for her to deal with, and apart from the looming specter of her Fetch planning her bachelorette party, she’s had no real problems for days. Maybe things are getting better. Maybe not.

Because suddenly Toby’s mother, Amandine the Liar, appears on her doorstep and demands that Toby find her missing sister, August. But August has been missing for over a hundred years and there are no leads to follow. And Toby really doesn’t owe her mother any favors. Then Amandine starts taking hostages, and refusal ceases to be an option.

My Goodreads Review of the Brightest Fell: I loved this ending. I loved this leg of the story. This story feels like a transition so I can see how some felt this installment was boring or lacking, but it was clear. Darkness this way comes. Toby is no longer a novice, she’s all woman.

Blog Review: If you’ve talked to me about books in the past four years you’ve heard me scream READ SEANAN McGUIRE! You’ll note her name appear again on this list. The October Daye series has stolen my heart. Adventure. Silliness. Diversity. Extreme world building. Flawed but strong characters. These books are a joy and just get better and better.


The Quiet Child

by John Burley

quietchildGoodreads Summary: It’s the summer of 1954, and the residents of Cottonwood, California, are dying. At the center of it all is six-year-old Danny McCray, a strange and silent child the townspeople regard with fear and superstition, and who appears to bring illness and ruin to those around him. Even his own mother is plagued by a disease that is slowly consuming her. Sheriff Jim Kent, increasingly aware of the whispers and rumors surrounding the boy, has watched the people of his town suffer—and he worries someone might take drastic action to protect their loved ones. Then a stranger arrives, and Danny and his ten-year-old brother, Sean, go missing. In the search that follows, everyone is a suspect, and the consequences of finding the two brothers may be worse than not finding them at all.

My Goodreads Review: That book was… haunting? Comforting? I don’t know, but it’ll stick with me. Amazingly well crafted and I loved the shifting viewpoints.

Blog Review: I was right. I still don’t know if I even liked this book, but it’s still with me. I think of it often and consider.


North to the Orient
by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Goodreads Summary: In 1931 Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh set off on a flight to the Orient by the Great Circle Route. The classic North to the Orient is the beautifully written account of the trip.

northMy Goodreads Review: Anne is witty and poetic in her writing. The antiquated terms are at times charming and at times jarring. Her descriptive paragraphs about viewing rivers generally from above was just beautiful. I was saddened by the last 20 or so pages and their account of the massive flooding in China. The horrifying situation was covered rather topically, which I found odd. She seemed somewhat disconnected from it.

I appreciated her humor in regards to the ridiculous questions she faced as a woman. I was curious too about how she felt about leaving her son and undertaking this journey as a parent. I got the impression to was common for women of means to leave children in the care of nannies, so perhaps she (oddly) faced less criticism for that decision then, than a modern mother would now.

 


Down Among the Sticks and Bones(Wayward Children #2)
by Seanan McGuire

sticksGoodreads Summary: Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. This is the story of what happened first… Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline. Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got. They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted. They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

 

My Review: Holy Shitballs. This discussion on the influence of parents and the theme of gender as an obligation is well crafted, remarkably intellectual, and delivered in a consumable and easy to grasp fantasy story. This is whimsical, but be warned it is also desperately sad. Also, a must read for parents in my view. The Wayward Children series is shaping up to be one of the best collections out there.


Witches Abroad (Discworld #12)
byTerry Pratchett

witchesGoodreads Summary: Be careful what you wish for… Once upon a time there was a fairy godmother named Desiderata who had a good heart, a wise head, and poor planning skills—which unforunately left the Princess Emberella in the care of her other (not quite so good and wise) godmother when DEATH came for Desiderata. So now it’s up to Magrat Garlick, Granny Weatherwax, and Nanny Ogg to hop on broomsticks and make for far-distant Genua to ensure the servant girl doesn’t marry the Prince. But the road to Genua is bumpy, and along the way the trio of witches encounters the occasional vampire, werewolf, and falling house (well this is a fairy tale, after all). The trouble really begins once these reluctant foster-godmothers arrive in Genua and must outwit their power-hungry counterpart who’ll stop at nothing to achieve a proper “happy ending”—even if it means destroying a kingdom.
My Review: I love Pratchett but admit his quirky style is sometimes a bit exhausting for me to read – so I love the audiobook versions. Perfect. I feel like Magrat Garlick, Granny Weatherwax, and Nanny Ogg are my constant companions. These books are so damn clever and fun. 


Ready Player One
byErnest Cline

playerGoodreads Summary: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
My Review: Is this a very tightly crafted story? No. It is a joyride for pop culture loving, 30-something nerds? Yes. I hope the movie doesn’t screw it up.


Paper Girls, Volumes 1 and 2 (Paper Girls #1)
by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang(Illustrator), Matthew Wilson(Illustrator)

paper1In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.
paper2My Review: Can I just stay up all night reading comic books? These make me want to.
I did not love Cliff Chiang’s artistic style in the Wonder Woman Blood/Guts/Iron/War/Flesh/Bones volumes/series, though it grew on me – but I am obsessed with his work in Paper Girls. Just swooned by it. It’s possibly retroactively making me like the wonder woman art more. Vaughn is great here too. I’ve heard that the story is too out there or confusing, but I’m loving it. Space and time travel with teenage paper deliver girls is (apparently) sort of my jam.

Everything Else:

To be fair there are a LOT of good books down here (and some shitty ones) but they can’t all be the MVPs

2017Books12017Books22017Books3

My Favorite Books of 2016

November 23 2016 | I set a goal of reading 50 books in 2016. I did it! I want to preface this post with some information about me as a reader. I read mostly 300-500 page fiction, usually of the general narrative, fantasy, mystery, science fiction or romance variety. These books are my escape. I rarely read 600+ page non-fiction books, that I’m sure hold merit but not my eyes open at 10pm after a full day at the office and getting a preschooler and a toddler to bed. So before everyone is all “how do you have the time?!” know that I can polish off a 300 page romance novel in about 72 hours, reading it post children’s bedtime. Other books take more time. I also read a lot while traveling. I loathe airports and books absorb me, so I turn to them while flying. I usually knock back 2-3 books per trip.

Logistics aside, I want to share my favorites of the year and hope that others will share theirs! A full pictorial list of my 50 is below too. Note, I count graphic novel volumes as a book. I do not count individual comic books/issues.

The reviews here are mostly what I wrote on Goodreads.com directly after finishing the book. I figure those reviews are the most fresh and frankly, putting this together was enough work. I don’t have time for more in depth reviews, but always happy to talk about books!

Finishing my goal doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading until 2017, so please, join me on Goodreads and finish out 2016 with me!

Finally – SHOUTOUT LINCOLN CITY LIBRARIES! Only two books of my entire 50 were purchased. Thank you for being an important resource to me and my family.

The Department of Speculation
by Jenny Offill
Read: October 16, 2016
18473997Goodreads Summary: Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all. Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.With cool precision, in language that shimmers with rage and wit and fierce longing, Jenny Offill has crafted an exquisitely suspenseful love story that has the velocity of a train hurtling through the night at top speed. Exceptionally lean and compact, Dept. of Speculation is a novel to be devoured in a single sitting, though its bracing emotional insights and piercing meditations on despair and love will linger long after the last page.

My Review: I read this book on a plane today as I was told it’s best to read it in one sitting. My goodness. At only 179 pages, it still managed to leave me a bit speechless. It’s written in a broken, but beautiful, chain of consciousness and prose. It took me 10 or 15 pages to fall into her mind, but once I did it no longer felt fragmented but comfortably, if not oddly, sequential. I’ve never read anything quite like this. A narrative in short prose, but not poetry, definitely a narrative. A walk through love, marriage, becoming a mother, martial struggles, aging – but without any of the cliches often plaguing books of that subject matter. It’s not an easy read exactly, as I had to re-read several pieces multiple times, but it was thoroughly satisfying.

 

Sparrow Hill Road
By Seanan McGuire*
Read: September 4, 2016

Goodreads Summary: Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off 17666976the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea. It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running. They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her. You can’t kill what’s already dead.

My Review: A little more than halfway through this book I found myself thinking that Rose’s POV reminded me quite a bit of Verity Price’s (a lead character from another series by this author). About that time the Healys are mentioned and the shared world is obvious. Loved this book and bouncing around the timeline. A take a ghost stories that only McGuire would be capable of. I love how she blends ancient mythology from a variety of different backgrounds with modern snark. Recommended.

* Seanan McGuire is my favorite (urban) fantasy author. Hands down. No competition. Always, in every novel, Seanan’s voice shines through, full of wit, empathy, and somehow hopeful cynicism. Her character’s are powerful and flawed, and everything is tinged with silliness and yet seriousness. This year I also read her InCyryptid series and her newest stand-alone, Every Heart a Doorway. Her October Daye series dominated my 2015 reading list and is far and away my favorite of her work. I also applaud the diversity of characters in her work and range of characters, though she occasionally leaves some undeveloped. The only real issue I have with most of her books are the covers. I know from her social media she loves her cover artist, but honestly, I find them a little… bad.

 

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore
By Robin Sloan
Read: August 9, 2016

13538873Goodreads Summary: The Time of Shedding and Cold Rocks has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.

My Review: This novel is a fictional mystery and a narrative about a 20 something startup failure working in a used book shop next to strip club – but it draws a beautiful metaphor and striking parallel between the development of the printing press and the rise of digitally stored data accessible world wide. What does immortality mean as our ability to literally leave our mark shifts? While is occasionally (ok, somewhat regularly) goes into overdrive trying to be “of the moment” with its tech references, this book is charming, smart, witty, a bit exciting, and thoughtful. Quick read, also. Epilogue is a bit over the top.

 

Sleeping in Eden
by Nicole Baart
Read: June 18, 2016
Goodreads Summary: The lives of a middle-aged doctor and a love-struck young woman 15803042intersect across time in Sleeping in Eden, Nicole Baart’s haunting novel about love, jealousy, and the boundaries between loyalty and truth. On a chilly morning in the Northwest Iowa town of Blackhawk, Dr. Lucas Hudson is filling in for the vacationing coroner on a seemingly open-and-shut suicide case. His own life is crumbling around him, but when he unearths the body of a woman buried in the barn floor beneath the hanging corpse, he realizes this terrible discovery could change everything. Years before Lucas ever set foot in Blackhawk, Meg Painter met Dylan Reid. It was the summer before high school and the two quickly became inseparable. Although Meg’s older neighbor, Jess, was the safe choice, she couldn’t let go of Dylan no matter how hard she tried. Caught in a web of jealousy and deceit that spiraled out of control, Meg’s choices in the past ultimately collide with Lucas’s discovery in the present, weaving together a taut story of unspoken secrets and the raw, complex passions of innocence lost.

My Review: I couldn’t put this down. Finished it in the space of 18 hours, distractions in the form of sleep and my children slowed me down or I’d probably read it in 6! Characters were relatable, empathetically written and the bit in Omaha’s Old Market was spot on. My only complaint is that clues and pieces led almost exactly to the outcome I expected. It took some twists and turns getting there but overall, who “Woman” is was relatively clear from the get-go.

 

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow
By Rita Leganski

Read: June 13, 2016
15732761Goodreads Summary: Conceived in love and possibility, Bonaventure Arrow didn’t make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. No one knows Bonaventure’s silence is filled with resonance – a miraculous gift of rarified hearing that encompasses the Universe of Every Single Sound. Growing up in the big house on Christopher Street in Bayou Cymbaline, Bonaventure can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He can also hear the gentle voice of his father, William Arrow, shot dead before Bonaventure was born by a mysterious stranger known only as the Wanderer. Bonaventure’s remarkable gift of listening promises salvation to the souls who love him: his beautiful young mother, Dancy, haunted by the death of her husband; his Grand-mere Letice, plagued by grief and long-buried guilt she locks away in a chapel; and his father, William, whose roaming spirit must fix the wreckage of the past. With the help of Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole housekeeper endowed with her own special gifts, Bonaventure will find the key to long-buried mysteries and soothe a chorus of family secrets clamoring to be healed.

My Review: This book impacted me. It was very spiritual but didn’t quite cross into preachy or judgmental (though it edged closely here and there). I’m still sitting with my reactions and deciding how it spoke to me, which it what one should do after a good book.

 

A Sudden Light
By Garth Stein

Read: March 22, 2016
Goodreads Summary: In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his 21412272first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after. But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future. A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.

My Review: I didn’t take the time to review this on Goodreads in writing (though I gave it 5 stars). This book is brilliantly crafted, creepy and emotional. This story has stuck with me.

 

Rat Queens (Multiple Volumes)
By Kurtis Wiebe, Illustrator Roc Upchurch
Read: January – February 2016 
20299683Goodread Summary:  A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they’re in the business of killing all god’s creatures for profit. It’s also a darkly comedic sass-and-sorcery series starring Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief. This modern spin on an old school genre is a violent monster-killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!23012877

My Review: There are moments it feels like it’s trying a little hard, but it’s fun as hell. Diversity, flawed entertaining female characters, sex, drugs, and questing. What’s not to like? I really enjoyed the second volume (a) because I love origin stories, (b) I love relationship and battle stories, and (c) this felt more serious and grown up than volume one. As before I love the art, but I felt like this volume was a little inconsistent. Never bad, but a character’s features would look totally different one page to the next.

 

Garden Spells
By Sarah Addison Allen*

Read: May 20, 2016
1158967Goodreads Summary: For nearly a decade, 34-year-old Claire Waverley, at peace with her family inheritance, has lived in the house alone, embracing the spirit of the grandmother who raised her, ruing her mother’s unfortunate destiny and seemingly unconcerned about the fate of her rebellious sister, Sydney, who freed herself long ago from their small town’s constraints. Using her grandmother’s mystical culinary traditions, Claire has built a successful catering business — and a carefully controlled, utterly predictable life — upon the family’s peculiar gift for making life-altering delicacies: lilac jelly to engender humility, for instance, or rose geranium wine to call up fond memories. Garden Spells reveals what happens when Sydney returns to Bascom with her young daughter, turning Claire’s routine existence upside down. With Sydney’s homecoming, the magic that the quiet caterer has measured into recipes to shape the thoughts and moods of others begins to influence Claire’s own emotions in terrifying and delightful ways. As the sisters reconnect and learn to support one another, each finds romance where she least expects it, while Sydney’s child, Bay, discovers both the safe home she has longed for and her own surprising gifts. With the help of their elderly cousin Evanelle, endowed with her own uncanny skills, the Waverley women redeem the past, embrace the present, and take a joyful leap into the future.

My Review: It’s been a long time since I read an entire book in one evening, even a 305 page shorty. I love this author for that. Always the right mix of lightness, relaxation, and ease with interesting plots and such fun and subtle pieces of fantasy and magic. It’s like a quilt and coco in book form.

* Sarah Addison Allen is another of my favorite authors for fiction that includes just a touch of magic and fantasy. Her books are a warm fire, a cup of tea, a connection with an old friend. She is amazing at bringing love and warmth off the page and bringing the reader into lovely and magical places.

 

Graphic Novel Honorable Mentions: Saga Volume 6 by Brian Vaughen, Wonder Woman Volume 3 (Iron), Volume 4 (War), Volume 5 (Flesh), Volume 6 (Bones) by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang (Artist)

 

The Full 50:books1books2books3