It was such fun to look back on what I’ve read this past year and pick my favorites! Below you’ll find mostly adult fiction titles, including some standout graphic novels, as well as a stellar young adult novel (Wilder Girls!). 2019 was also the year I dabbled in reading outside my comfort zone of generally weird and spooky, venturing into the land of romantic fiction and true crime. Much to my surprise, I was so utterly charmed by a romance novel that it ended up on this list (I’m looking at you Chloe Brown). I hope that if you haven’t read one of these titles you will be inspired to stop by and check it out this winter. Maybe you will also find yourself pleasantly surprised by broadening your reading horizons *wink*. Wishing you a joyful holiday season and happy reading!
Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time by Gary Saul Morson
I‘ve been reading two books by a literary critic that I like a lot named Gary Saul Morson. He wrote a great book about Anna Karenina called Anna Karenina in Our Time: Seeing More Wisely, so I was curious to learn about his other work. One book, Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time, is about how certain novelists, like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, create stories that convey a sense of time as open, even if the novelist knows what is going to happen. It also talks about how novelists represent free will in their characters, and fight against an interpretation of the world as deterministic. The second book, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics, co-authored with Caryl Emerson, is about the work of a Russian literary critic and philosopher named Mikhail Bakhtin, who came up with some very innovative and exciting ways of thinking about the novel as a genre. Morson is a wonderful, lucid, and deep thinker, and I’m enjoying these books very much. Andrew
The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchison
Sixteen-year-old Elena is the product of a virgin birth (it’s a real thing with a scientific explanation). She also hears voices and can perform miracles (there is no scientific explanation for this). Elena is just trying to navigate normal high school crushes and family drama, and she really doesn’t have time to save the world. Also, she’s not really sure she should be saving it. This is a truly bizarre and thought-provoking novel for fans of A.S. Kind and Libba Bray’s Going Bovine. Megan
This book is really all about the importance of being a good role model as a parent and letting your child be who she wants to be. The book dives into the history of the Disney princess culture and how it has evolved over the years and has affected our culture, specifically our young daughters. I found the book to be somewhat lacking in concrete insight for navigating the logistics of fostering my child’s authentic self while she is very drawn to the imagery and excitement of princess culture. Beth
I Hate Fairyland by Scottie Young
Do you love/hate fairy tales? Hero journeys? Landscapes made of candy? Have you ever wondered what would happen if Dorothy hadn’t found her way back to Kansas? Then you will enjoy this graphic novel. I hate Fairyland (Volume 1) follows the story of Gert, a green haired, ax wielding, foul mouthed, middle aged 6 year old (In Fairyland, time goes by but you don’t age). Gert hasn’t really taken the conventional path to finding her way back home and after a few decades of failed riddles and violent vendettas she may have worn out her welcome. A hilarious, graphic-graphic novel. Greg
March. Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
This autobiographical graphic novel relates the early life of Senator John Lewis from his rural upbringing on an Alabama farm through his early involvement in the Nashville Civil Rights Movement. March does a very nice job of providing the larger context of the movement and what is happening outside of Nashville and Lewis’s immediate world. However, the authors manage to keep the story from losing focus of Lewis personal experience and the impact that creates. This is done in part by having the story told from Senator Lewis’ own voice as he provides an impromptu tour of his office on Inauguration Day, just before President Obama is about to be sworn into office for the first time. A fascinating and powerful read. Trent
The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen
When Johanna Langley’s father Sir Hugo suddenly dies, Johanna wants to understand what happened to him during WWII. He was a British bomber pilot who was shot down over German-occupied Tuscany near the town of San Salvatore. Local resident Sofia Bartoli tended to his needs at severe risk to herself, family and village. When Johanna visits San Salvatore 30 years later, no one remembers her father or wants to talk about Sophia. A treat for fans of historical fiction. Emma
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
This book has been on my radar for several years, and being the chosen book for One Community Reads, I finally dove into it, and I am so very happy I did. This is a grim read but a necessary read. Author, Matthew Desmond does an excellent job of engaging the reader in a piece of non fiction. He introduces the reader to eight families in Milwaukee living in poverty and struggling with eviction. Readers learn about the business and culture of evictions, while getting a glimpse of what it’s like to live in some of the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee. Many residents are spending more than half of their meager income on housing. For most, what money is left after paying rent simply isn’t enough to get by, hence, starts a downward spiral leading to evictions. The fates of the eight families in this book are in the hands of two landlords. I couldn’t help but feel that there is blood on the hands of everyone. Desmond spent years living in these neighborhoods, painstakingly taking notes and recording events. I highly recommend this book to everyone. Mary
Monkey Mind by Daniel Smith
Having several friends and family members who suffer from anxiety, I wanted to read a book to help me understand and empathize with them. Monkey Mind, so far, has done the trick. It is an extremely eye-opening memoir about the onset and treatment of Daniel Smith’s anxiety disorder. He intersperses stories about his own life with research and writings about anxiety from scientists and philosophers like Kirkegaard and Freud. When the audiobook starts to feel overwhelming (because Daniel Smith’s rehearsals of his absurd, painful, and self-destructive thought patterns can be just that), I remind myself that this is how it is to live with anxiety, and that I am one of the lucky ones who can turn off the audiobook and walk away. The book is not 100% heavy and dramatic, though — Daniel Smith’s dry humor about the situations he finds himself in is one of the strengths of the book. Trigger warning: the author does not shy away from sharing a story about how he was raped at 16, and while he documents what happened (in my opinion) tactfully, it is still distressing. Lindsey
Where I Lost Her by T. Greenwood
Eight years after many failed fertility treatments and a tragic adoption, Tess is still grieving and bitter as she visits her childhood friend in her hometown in rural Vermont. Torn between her great love for her best friend’s two daughters and her jealousy of the life they lead, as well as the growing rift in her marriage, Tess’ visit is fraught with emotion. While driving home from a late night liquor store run, Tess sees a small, wounded half-naked little girl in her headlights on the dark country road. When she stops to help, the girls disappears into the woods. As Tess calls together the community to search for her, she finally finds a sense of purpose until those around her begin to suspect she was drunk, broken-hearted and imagined the whole thing. This book is a great look into grief, relationships, healing and what matters in life. Sara
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
In the 1970s, the Amazing Telemachus family toured the U.S. as psychic performers, led by patriarch/con-man Teddy and the genuinely talented Maureen. Debunked on national television, they lost their notoriety. Twenty years later, they’re all struggling with real world problems, albeit with a psychic dimension. Irene, a human lie detector test, can’t maintain a relationship and has brought her son Matty home to live with her father. Raconteur Frankie, who practices telekinesis, can’t get his business off the ground and is in hock to a local mobster. Buddy, the youngest, sees the future, and is steadily working to prevent it, even if it means building holes in the backyard. Told in alternating chapters from each character’s point of view, this quirky tale of family, mobsters, the CIA and first love, is a hoot – funny, crazy and tender. I listened to it on audiobook and it was a treat! Dori
All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudson
Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhorn
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas
Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce
Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
So you read The Martian by Andy Weir (or maybe just saw the movie) and thought that was pretty cool, I should read more science fiction. Or maybe you have never once thought that you should read more science fiction. Who cares about all that outer space and robot nonsense? It wasn’t long ago that I fell into the latter camp, but then I realized I really liked time travel and that eventually lead me down a science fiction rabbit hole and I discovered that there really is something for everyone in this genre.
The Twelve Books of Christmas
HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND HAPPY READING!
This annual post combines two of my favorite things: making lists and talking about amazing books. Of course, it is always a challenge to winnow the list down. A quick look at my first draft of my list (yes, there are multiple drafts), tells me that I read and enjoyed a lot of mysteries and memoirs and a TON of YA. That being said, my final draft has more variety. In no particular order, here are some of my favorite reads of 2014:
1. The Secret Place by Tana French. I think this is the third year in a row that Tana French has made it onto my end of the year Top Reads list. She is amazing.
2. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Last year my list included The Husband’s Secret, which was full of family drama, hidden secrets, suspense, with a touch of romance and humor. That pretty much describes this latest offering. The audio is fantastic.
3. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. Are you looking to feel better about your own quirky family? Check out the hilariously dysfunctional Foxmans!
4. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. If someone forced me to pick only one favorite of 2014, I think this would the one.
5. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Nonfiction always surprises me. Who knew a book about rowing would be a favorite?!
6. The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence. Quirky characters and an unlikely friendship!
7. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. This French import is a book about a book…and a murder. Plenty of twists and turns. Read the book before it hits the big screen!
8. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Humor and heart! This is another one that is fabulous on audio.
9. Vicious by V.E. Schwab. Superpowers and moral ambiguity abound in this dark and dangerous read.
10. Out of the Easy by Ruta Septys. New Orleans in the 1950. A murder threatens to derail a young girls dreams of a better life. Heartbreaking and lovely.
11. The Storied Life of A.J. Fickery by Gabrielle Zevin. A love letter to book lovers.
12. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King. The prolific Mr. King takes a stab at a cat-and-mouse police procedural.
13. 10% Happier by Dan Harris. A non-intimidating, practical look at meditation.
14. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. A new-to-me series full of wizards and magic and good vs evil. And a skeleton detective. LOVE.
I can’t wait to see what all of my coworkers put on their lists. Be sure to check back all week for more fun lists!
Bonus: Memorable Memoirs of 2014
If you are a reader of graphic novels you don’t need me to tell you how wonderful they can be. There is something refreshing (and maybe just a bit nostalgic?) about reading a story told in both words and pictures. But don’t dismiss graphic novels as fluff or kids stuff just because they are illustrated. I have found many graphic novels that are entertaining, powerful, and moving. I personally love a series, but I have also found a number of enjoyable standalones. My introduction to graphic novels was Bill Willingham’s Fables series, and it not only remains a favorite, but it is also a series I love to recommend. Here are some more of my favorites:
1. Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley is a charming memoir that is sure to delight all you foodies out there.
2. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh is a hilarious and heartbreaking glimpse into the world of depression. The book is a compilation of new material as well as material previously published on the author’s blog.
3. Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer is a coming of age story about a girl moving away from her small town and finding herself in a big city. This is the perfect gift for the high school graduate in your life.
4. The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Ann Marie Fleming is a biography of her great-grandfather, China’s greatest magician. This is a fascinating look at Chinese culture and the early world of vaudeville. Definitely worth picking up.
5. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston is a novel told in pictures and tells the story of a young girl coming of age in the 1920s. Her dream is to be a writer, but life seems to have other plans for her, until she is swept off her feet by a handsome young man. Loaded with vintage postcards, magazine ads, letters, and fashion spread, this book pairs perfectly with The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
6. 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth, How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You, My Dog: The Paradox, and Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants by Michael Inman are all ridiculous, irreverent, and absolutely hilarious. Inman is the creator of The Oatmeal.com, the internet home of his comics. His humor isn’t for everyone, but if it IS your style, these books will leave you in tears!
7. Chi’s Sweet Home by Kanata Konami will make a cat lover out of even the staunchest nay-sayer (I should know, I was one of them!). These tiny, darling books chronicle the author’s adventures in adopting a street kitten.
8. Locke & Key by Joe Hill follows the Locke family as they move into their family’s ancestral home, a Victorian mansion called Lovecraft. Bad things happen. The story is dark, disturbing and utterly addictive. Joe is certainly giving his father, Stephen King, a run for the title of King of the Macabre!
9. Y: the Last Man and Saga by Brian Vaughan are two offerings from a Cleveland native. Y: the Last Man follows Yorick, the lone survivor of a plague that kills all the men. Saga is his newest offering and it is just plain bizarre, in an awesome way! Interplanetary wars and star-crossed lovers!
10. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman…do I really need to explain this one? Actually, I gave up in the show after the first season, but the books are fantastic. They are so much more horrifying than the tv series and after the first book, they books and television show are two entirely different things. I think it’s safe to read and watch simultaneously.
And just so that I am not ending on that horrific zombie note, here’s a nice bonus:
Eric Shanower’s Oz series is a must-read! This graphic adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s classic Wizard of Oz series is one of my favorite discoveries. The story is fresh and illustrations are amazing. Every time I look at them I want to take them apart and frame the pages. I encourage you to venture to the Children’s Department and rediscover Dorothy and her band of misfits as they have adventures in the land of Oz.