This was a really great year, finding myself wanting to list over half of the 66 books I read this year. But I’ll try to keep it manageable and just list the best of the best.
“The Wake” by Paul Kingsnorth. Author has created his own language based upon Old English, but with changes to make it more intelligible to modern readers, in this story of 1066 England. It takes a bit of effort to get started. Basically, you have to give it your full attention and focus on it for the first 30 pages or so, until your brain gets into the rhythm of it. I also found that reading aloud was very helpful. It was SO MUCH FUN! The language is amazing. There is such personality and character and absolutely immerses you in this world. The language is visceral and immediate (with a much smaller vocabulary and with adjectives of the world of 1066. Things are fire and meat and ash and tangible. The language flavors and builds the world it’s describing. Our narrator is delightfully misanthropic and arrogant and a huge hypocrite and kind of a terrible person, but there’s a part of him that’s endearing, and even when he’s being awful (most of the time), I still very much enjoyed reading it. Just…wow. BE SURE TO READ the partial glossary in the back, and the note on language because it has some crucial pronunciation guides (how “c” is always a hard “k” sound and how “g” can be a hard g, or like “y” at the end of “day.”)
“Station Eleven” by Emily St John Mandel This was lovely post-apocalyptic tale of a traveling theatre troupe. Storytelling unfolded in compelling way, with a nice structure moving between times and settings and characters, adding layers and revealing deeper meaning. And a more beautiful hopeful bent than lots of post-apocalyptic stories. I mean, it’s still a major bummer, but our inner humanity shines through in moments. And I loved the role that theatre and music play, as integral to the human experience and to our rebuilding of society.
“Shrill” by Lind West So good. Funny, moving, real, important, powerful, made me laugh a lot, made me cry occasionally. Amazing collection of memoirs, stories, personal essays. Whether you’re already familiar with Ms. West’s writings or not, this is a really wonderful read.
“The Only Kayak: A Journey into the Heart of Alaska” by Kim Heacox Jaw-droppingly beautiful writing. The prose is powerful and clear and gorgeous and I was reading it on kindle and found myself highlighting whole pages, just line after line of beauty. And it tells a really wonderful story about a man’s connection to place. How much he loves Glacier Bay is obvious, and I found myself longing for this land as well. His retelling of history and factoids is engaging, the writing is always inviting. Thank you to my book club for making me read this. Wonderful!
“Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie I forgot how much I love the “Space Opera” subgenre of sci-fi. While heavy descriptions of robots and tech and spaceships leave me bored, I LOVE political intrigue and the anthropological discovering of different worlds/cultures and societies. This was fantastic. A VERY unique narrative voice, as our narrator was once part of a hive-mind ship (stay with me, now) and so approaches things and thinks in ways colored by that multi-consciousness history. It’s really fascinating. Also, her native langue and culture had no concept of gender, so everyone in the book is referred to as she/her. And you watch our narrator really struggle with mis-gendering people and their varying degrees of annoyance/hostility. It was unique way to experience this world and very effective. Great storytelling, too, as narration jumps between timelines and plot is revealed in fun ways. Author is good at providing small details that provide a strong response. (1st in a series of three books. I’ve heard the 2nd/3rd are really more like one long sequel). I made my book club read this and almost everyone enjoyed it (even the person who doesn’t like sci fi novels at all, she found moments to love). (Update from Jan 2021. The 2nd/3rd books are also fantastic, but best to read them together/back to back. The story continues to be revealed in surprising ways. Clever, smart, great fun).
“The Last One” by Alexandra Oliva Thank you, Queen Anne Bookstore, for the recommendation. I do love a dystopian survival novel. A “Survivor” style reality TV show is filming when some type of a world-ending event takes place, but our contestants believe what they’re seeing is all part of the show. Provocative and sophisticated, makes you think about the role of media in determining our perception of reality and how easily the human mind is manipulated. Really fresh take on one of my favorite genres.
“The Bookseller” by Mark Pryor Mystery novel. Fast paced. Narrator is retired FBI, current security at US embassy in Paris. Investigating disappearance of a friend, one of the booksellers along the Seine. Just a fun, solid mystery novel.
“Stilleto” by Daniel O’Malley Sequel to “Rook,” And I loved it even more than the first. Switching between multiple narrators was lovely and we met so many great new characters and learned so much more about this world. Dealing with the Grafters was great. Also, it is LONG! But never felt long to read. Still, 600 pages!! This was wonderful and so much fun. Funny and fast paced, interesting world building, in a secret government agency tasked with controlling magic in modern Britain (with a modern populace who doesn’t know magic exists).
“The Golem and the Jinni” by Helen Wecke Not what I expected, in a good way. It was a book club choice. I’d expected more traditional fluff and fantasy. Instead it’s a lovely layered historical epic with tiny bits of magic that feel very grounded and real. The characterizations are rich and beautiful and flawed and very real, again. It’s also LONG! It never felt slow while reading it but it did take me much longer to finish than books generally do for me. But it’s a wonderfully evocative travel through different immigrant communities in turn-of-the-century New York City. Worth reading. Characters that stay with you.
“Scalped” by Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera Graphic novel series. It’s gritty and violent and dark, a crime/western series. It’s sometimes darker than my heart/soul wants to read, but at other times, it’s perfect. And #6 in the collected books is truly amazing compilation of powerful short stories, beautifully illustrated (Even when the stories told are full of murder and sadness and drugs and corruption and never-ending poverty and despair).
“Bitter Angels” by C.L. Anderson Thanks to Elliot Bay Bookstore for reminding me that I do sometimes enjoy sci fi stories. It’s a stand alone story. Great world building. Lots of politics and things to uncover. Double crossing and government secrets and a murder mystery, too. The writing is very good, too, in a world that’s often gritty with believably flawed characters. And fun to have an older female lead, retired from service with three adult children, re-enlisting to investigate a colleague’s murder. Implications of what happens to humanity when our life spans are increased to several centuries, too.
“Sorcerer to the Crown” by Zen Cho Soooo good. 1800’s London, there is a royal thaumaturgy society in a world that has some magic. Fascinating characters, plot is revealed in interesting ways. Made me smile and laugh often. Just a really great novel with some fantasy elements. (Update from Jan 2021. My bookclub had us read this in Sept 2020. I’d retained almost none of the plot, so it was fun to discover this world all over again)
“The Gospel of Loki” by Joanne Harris So, the woman who wrote “Chocolat” now writes this first-person narrative about the rise and fall of Loki. It’s entertaining, Our narrator is as irreverent as you’d expect from the Trickster God as he tries to set the record straight about all of his activities in Norse mythology. Turns out I don’t actually know very many details of the Norse myths, but this sure filled in a lot of those gaps in my knowledge. Wasn’t as 100% wonderful as I hoped it would be…after awhile it begins to feel one-note/repetitive. Still, it was entertaining.