On July 4th I read my 50th book of 2018!
Being completely on summer vacation for nearly a month now has confirmed that I would be a phenomenal stay at home dog mom. I love sitting around all day! Since July 4th I have read TEN books (and watched a lot of Netflix). Now I’m taking the time out of my relaxing day (one of the last before it’s back to work!) to write about some of my favorite books I’ve read so far this year.
8 of the first 50 were Science Fiction and half of those were written by Stephen King. What can I say? The man knows how to write a story. My favorite of King’s was actually a collection of short stories called Full Dark, No Stars. I got it when a friend of mine moved back to the States and gave me a stack of books. It was that stack of books that got me on a Stephen King kick (thanks, Kristen!). Full Dark, No Stars is all about ordinary people pushed to do extraordinary (extraordinarily violent) things by life circumstance.
It reminded me of my weeks in Indianapolis with YouthWorks when every week we heard from a man who worked with individuals experiencing homelessness. This man (I think his name was Mike) talked about how most people are just one event away from homelessness. One accident, one job lay off, one big illness. Full Dark, No Stars explored this idea, except instead of homelessness, King was exploring murder. What would it take for an ordinary person to meticulously plan and execute a murder (or murders)? Read it and see.
One of my new favorite books of all time was a fantasy book I read this year. It’s called Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor and it prompted me to read two more books by Laini Taylor, both of which were good, but nowhere near as amazing as Strange. Strange the Dreamer is a unique story about banished and hated gods hiding out in the sky and a romance that takes place only in dreams and a librarian’s bold adventure to his favorite topic of study. If you’re into fantasy at all, read it!!!
Beautiful and full of monsters? All the best stories are.
– Strange the Dreamer,Laini Taylor
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert was another really unique story. It was like Alice in Wonderland, except kind of creepy and instead of Alice falling into the wonderland, this wonderland leaked out to kidnap (a completely different) Alice’s mother (spoiler?).
There were two more Stephen King books in this category, including It, which was a hard one to categorize because I didn’t really want to make a whole category for “Horror.” But it’s not really science fiction and all of the creepy unrealness makes the story unfit for “Fiction.” It is a long story – King is not brief – but I loved it all. It bounces back and forth between the past and the present, something I usually enjoy, and centers on a friendship forged through struggle and horror. Reading the book almost had me wanting to see the movie, just to see how it compares, but while I’m willing to read the book (and enjoy it!) I still think the movie would be too scary.
Stand, be brave, be true,
stand for your brother, your friends;
believe, believe in all the things
you have believed in…
courage is possible and words will come
smoothly every time;
no more Losers, no more cowering…
believe in yourself,
believe in the heat of [your] desire.
– It, Stephen King
I think I’m finally growing up! I haven’t been reading as much Young Adult novels and I have in the past. So far this year I’ve only read six, and one of them was a graphic novel (This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki) and owne was really a children’s chapter book (Noah Barleywater Runs Away by John Boyne) that I listened to while painting my spare bedrooms purple.
The only YA book I’ve loved this year is The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay. I was 100% for the complicated romance going on in this book. It’s heavy feelings in the bodies of two teenagers who have gone through some stuff. It’s beautiful and hard and heart-wrenching. I cried, but I cheered, too.
I live in a world without magic or miracles.
A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels
or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die
and music disintegrates and things suck.
I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality
that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.
– The Sea of Tranquility, Katja Millay
Netflix has been giving me what I like by turning weirdo physiologically challenging Historical Fiction novels into series. I’m talking about The Alienest (which I have yet to read) and Alias Grace which is, of course, written by Margaret Atwood. (Atwood is the genius that brought us The Handmaid’s Tale. I read three of her books this year, and even more last year. 10/10, would recommend Atwood.) Alias Grace was definitely a stand out read for me in the Historical Fiction category. I had watched the series, so I knew the surprise ending, but it’s still bananas and I loved going along for the ride a second time.
The story of Grace is that she is an Irish maid charged with a murder she claims she doesn’t remember. Throughout the novel (and the series), a handsome psychiatrist unravels the story with her through a series of interviews. The question remains unanswered until the end – did Grace murder these two people or is she innocent? The answer might surprise you.
This year I have read some really beautiful, really well written and well developed Historical Fiction novels. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is about Indian-British twins born to a nun at a mission hospital in Ethiopia and raised by two doctors. The Coal Tattoo by Silas House is about two very different sisters, Easter and Anneth, living in the south in the 1950s and 60s. Chains by Laurie Hals Anderson follows a young slave named Isabel to New York City at the start of the Revolutionary War.
But my favorite work of Historical Fiction (alongside Alias Grace) is Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. Oh I’m feeling something right now just thinking about it and it was one of the first books I read in 2018. Cold Mountain follows solider Inman on his journey back to his love. The romance! Plus it’s a journey story and I love journey stories – following a main character on their journey as they meet new people and see new things and hear new stories – it’s my jam.
This was the review I wrote on GoodReads: “So beautiful. A story of stories. Everything was so eloquently written and the characters were so well rounded and colorful. I can’t believe this was Frazier’s first novel. Everything about it says experience, hard work, and talent.”
What I’m certain I don’t want…
is to find myself someday in a new century,
an old bitter woman looking back,
wishing that right now I’d had more nerve.
– Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier
We all know I love a good memoir audiobook, right? Well, if you didn’t before, now you know. I love listening to a good memoir. I do a fair amount of work online/on my computer and besides my various Spotify playlists, the best background noise for me is an audiobook. When I listen to audiobooks, I prefer to listen to memoirs, especially if they’re read by the author. During the first 50 I listened to 4 memoirs and read 1.
The other nonfiction books I read were pretty random. Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly is the author’s account of her time in an insane asylum in the early, early 1900s. It is devastating. As a reporter she, surprisingly easily, got herself admitted to an insane asylum and then wrote about her experience. It was inhumane, straight up. If I hadn’t read this work of nonfiction, my thoughts on What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman (wherein a very sound of mind young woman is admitted to an insane asylum by her controlling father in the 1920s) would have been very skeptical. Nellie Bly’s report and Wiseman’s narrative seem to terrible to be true. Unfortuately, Bly’s was not a work of fiction.
I also read The Girl Who Was on Fire by Leah Wilson, which was a collection of essays about The Hunger Games Trilogy, which I love, love, love, and Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Kaum, which was a collection of essays on exactly what you think they were on. As someone who has decided absolutely that I will never be pregnant or bear a child, it was interesting to read the works of other individuals who had made a, by definition, unpopular decision regarding children.
Certainly I am yet to hear a convincing argument
as to why I should spend more than about twelve hours a year,
max, doing anything I don’t want to do.
– Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed:
Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, Meghan Daum
My favorite memoir audiobook (smooth transition/tie in to introduction, right?) was Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar read by Kunal himself. I am a big fan of the first two seasons of The Big Bang Theory. I have literally memorized many of the early episodes because I have watched them that much. So that’s how I know Kunal. He is even funnier than you’d know. His memoir had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions. His comedic delivery is flawless. He is also really wise! In addition to be a humorous telling of key events in his life, Kunal’s book was very inspiring.
I just wanted to share my story because I thought maybe it would help people believe that anything is possible. And it is.
– Yes, My Accent is Real, Kunal Nayyar
General Fiction, coming in hot!
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is about a young woman living with some kind of mental illness (right?). That’s honestly really it. It’s a different kind of main character with a, in a way, very slow moving and uneventful plot, but Eleanor was refreshing in her uniqueness. Her realistic personal growth was encouraging.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey was kind of a fantasy, and putting it in this category might actually be a spoiler alert, but I just go by what GoodReads tells me and this book is first and foremost fiction, then fantasy. It’s about a childless couple living in a remote Alaskan wilderness who find – or rather, are found by – this child. The underlying question throughout is whether or not she actually exists. It’s magical and kind of haunting.
I guess maybe I don’t want to be warm and safe.
I want to live.
– The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
I read four Mystery/Thriller books and none of them were great. I think I gave them all 3 stars. I will continue to read and enjoy mediocre Mystery books. When I come across a good one, I’ll let you know.
Talk to me!
Have you read any of these books? Which ones did you like? Which ones did you think were terrible? I used to get really bent out of shape when a book I loved had really terrible reviews on GoodReads. Now I kind of like that one story can be different things to different people. Have you read any great amazing books this year?
As always, you can find book quotes from (most of) the books I read at Words, Wisdom, etc. And because this blog post wasn’t long enough, find a complete list of my first 50 below. (Just follow me on GoodReads.)