Favorite Books Read in 2023


Favorite books read in 2023

Here’s what stood out to me of the 80+ books I read this year. 

“A Memory Called Empire” by Arkady Martine

This was so flippin’ good. You’re dropped almost immediately into a “who dunnit,” with a newly assigned ambassador to the Gigantic Teixcalaanli Empire. This is a rushed assignment, and Mahit has to hit the ground running, try to figure out how the previous ambassador died, while trying to do the complicate political dance to continue preventing the empire from colonizing her small space station. Add a dash of some unreliable information sources: the people of Liesl space station have implanted imago devices, which carry a long lineage of the personalities and lived experiences of generations of their predecessors. It’s a fascinating bit of world building, but Mahit’s imago is 15 years out of date, so the only memories she can access from the previous ambassador are soooo old. Plus everyone she encounters likely has secret motives and multiple plots (she is a “barbarian” ambassador sent to the Empire’s seat of power). All the swirling diplomacy and false smiles and misdirections and personal agendas. It’s just fantastic! Plus the World Building is sooooo cool. The Teixcalaanli are fascinating and watching the way that their media has spread and shaped them and their conquered planets. The pacing is soooo good. Discoveries and secrets and adventure and mysteries and ever-present lurking threat and immediate dangers. It’s just such a well written and plotted political quagmire. And while Mahit’s concern for the death of her predecessor and for preventing the colonization of her people is obviously SUPER important to her, that’s all just a minor blip amidst all the power struggles within the seats of power in the Empire (having a murky line of succession will do that). And there are hints of a looming outside threat to the entire Empire, too! Truly wonderful. And the author deftly keeps it all grounded inthe very real personal and very understandable emotions. Our characters are interesting and well-rounded and complicated and flawed and very human. Space Opera is best when this genre allows us to see so much of ourselves and learn so much of ourselves. From the Vox review: “When you live in a place filled with power and wealth, it can be difficult to see how power and wealth breed destruction radiating out from the center. The empire can’t help but knock over smaller, independent nations, because even when it doesn’t try to, its pop culture and brand of politics infect everything around it. Smaller nations can stay alive through crafty diplomacy or military might or some combination of the two, but they still have to coexist in a world built by people who don’t realize how much chaos they’ve caused. The chaos becomes oxygen. It’s all around, so it must be normal.” BIG ideas swirl amidst the page-turning fun. I also really loved the sequel “A Desolation Called Peace”

“I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson

One of my favorites for the year. The narrative voices of the twins were SO PHENOMENAL. Fully unique and compelling and alive and imaginative and artistic and the way each of them orients to and within the world is amazing. Noah’s chapters are taking place at age 13, and Jude’s chapters are taking place three years later. Alternating between the timeline and their individual viewpoints was so effective. I felt instantly transported into their brains and worlds. Noah, as a visual artist, sees and describes things in such fantastical imagery. I honestly had to stop and check, two pages in, that this wasn’t actually a fantasy novel (as he was talking about being chased by giants and other metaphorical images. Wait, are these REAL giants?!? Nope, high school bullies. But so evocative). There’s real heartache and grief and the magic of first friendships and first loves and the complications of growing up and navigating early dating and hurts. It’s all wonderfully real and capital T true, and told in such compelling and immersive ways. Grown up issues and kid issues and it was just truly gorgeous and transportive and cathartic.

“Harlem Shuffle” by Colson Whitehead

I am consistently impressed at Whitehead’s wide RANGE of genre and tone and character building. Every novel I’ve read of his has been fantastic, but they are often so starkly different. This is a fantastically fun (and funny) heist, crime, low-key gangster period piece, set in the late 50’s/early 60’s of Harlem. It’s instantly engaging. The writing is phenomenal. The characters are so fully formed, you can feel them breathing from the page. The plot keeps the pages turning. We’re following Carney: striving furniture salesman and family man by day, with some less savory connections and dealings in the shadows. The lines between right and wrong are sometimes not so clear, and other times VERY clear but you can still often understand why a character chooses to cross them. Especially as the very real systemic problems and rigged systems of doing things “the right way” continue to be exposed and made plain. It’s also just dang entertaining. I saw Whitehead speak in Seattle for the release of the 2nd book “Crook Manifesto” and that helped spur me onto finally reading this novel, that’s been sitting on my shelf for a few years. Also my aunt Ellen was raving about it too, so I knew it was time. And so glad I did. Proved a fantastic companion for a trip to a cabin at the beach. I’ll leave with some words from the reviewer in The Guardian “And finally, you’ll discover a tenderness beneath the swagger. Whitehead draws his roster of secondary characters, especially the ones that could easily become stock figures such as crime bosses and petty thieves, with as much care as the primary ones. His portraits are never mean-spirited; instead, Whitehead renders the humanity of hustlers. He gets their sweetness down. Some of them have clean aspirations of farm life or higher education. He makes us love them the way their mamas must. Take, for example, Pepper, an enforcer who would be played perfectly by Samuel L Jackson. He asks our humble furniture salesman, Carney: “What made you want to sell couches?” Carney replies: “I’m an entrepreneur.” “‘Entrepreneur?’ Pepper said the last part like manure. ‘That’s just a hustler who pays taxes.’””

“Babel: Or, The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution” by RF Kuang.

Such a compelling and immersive and propulsive experience. This alternate history of 1830’s Oxford contains a really fascinating magic system. This world and history is very very much like our own, but there is Magic. But this isn’t faeries and vampires and wizards. The “magic” is created by scholars through the power of translation and definitions. When inscribed on silver bars, translated word pairings can create magical effects. Really wonderful discussions about language and power and the inherently tricky work of translating ideas and what is “left behind” shifting from one word/culture to another. And in Kuang’s Oxford, that “left behind” bit creates power. Magic that can be used for amazing healing and help in the world. But is most often weaponized by those already in power, or used for frivolity by the 1% (making garden fountains on grand estates burble more pleasingly or roses bloom year round). The journey our main character (and friends) go on feels so very true and believable. As this cohort of immigrants and women (people who would NOT have been allowed in Oxford in 1830, but are grudgingly accepted as necessary for the work of the magical translators) find each other and friendship and hardship and then, at different speeds, begin to start questioning the systems around them. And that sure sounds like it would make for a grim read, or at least, something that feels Heavy and like Work. Yet Kuang has crafted a novel where the pages just fly by. Plus, footnotes in fiction!! I’m always such a sucker for those. It’s wry and oftentimes hilarious. It’s also full of real world pain and trauma. And found family. Struggle and success. In essence, it’s life. Exploring the role and consequences of Empire and Colonialism. Of systemic hierarchies. Of class struggle and instransigent governmental structures. BIG ideas. Multiple and differing choices we all face when we are faced with/learn about injustice. And the multiple and differing and messy ways we all respond. Pretty much everyone in book club devoured this novel. Been thinking about it for months now. Truly, one of the best things I read all year. Really appreciated the nuanced and flawed characters throughout. They all felt REAL and believable, even when some were taking actions that hurt your heart or angered or frustrated you. And fascinating watching Robin’s internal and external journey.  

“The Oleander Sword” by Tasha Suri

So friggin’ good. I’d delayed reading this sequel, because I was on an (ultimately fruitless) search for an intensely detailed recap of the first book. While I’d remembered over-arching plots and characters, the story was so lush and rich and full of intensely gorgeous and detailed world building (each kingdom with its own rules and religion and cultures), I’d wanted a refresher. I did find several reviews that went over the first half of the book in details, but then stopped for fear of spoilers. So I ended up skimming some of the previous book and just plain re-read the final 80 pages or so, which was a delight. These words flow so pleasingly across the palette. And this sequel drops you right into the action. (So maybe wait until third book is published, so you can just read all three at once?). Some new POV characters, and old favorites. The stakes continue to be Intense with a capital I. Loyalties are stretched, hearts are conflicted, further discussions of empire and power and the murkiness of both. The ways in which power (who can have it, the cost of striving for it, collateral damage along the way) affects everything, even those just trying to live their lives on the sidelines. Truly fascinating new things are revealed. The cultures and religions described are so rich and vibrant and fully realized and wonderful to explore. Malina and Priya continue to be compelling characters. But truly, all the characters are fascinating and detailed. It’s just a phenomenal piece of writing, and Suri continues to show us that a “happily ever after” isn’t a part of the real world, and that conquest and power (regardless of motives) is damaging and hard and complicated, whether it’s being sought/wielded for moral reasons or not. Intense stuff. 

“Remarkably Brighty Creatures” by Shelby Van Pelt

Oh, this was lovely! Can’t remember who mentioned it so that I added it to my library holds list, but soooo glad I did. I had NO IDEA half of this is narrated by the Octopus at an aquarium, counting down the days of his captivity. The unlikely observations and interactions between the octopus and the elderly cleaning lady at the Aquarium. I’m smiling just remembering this story. Characters felt Very real, and sometimes frustratingly so (I’ve known too many Camerons in my life, and his understandable but frustrating inertia in life). This story is just plain charming. Some real emotions and true human moments. Plus, did I mention that part of it is narrated by a Giant Pacific Octopus?!? Wonderful. 

“Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Novel” by Tyler Feder

Beautiful and sweet and sad and appreciated. A dear friend gifted me this awhile ago, after my mom passed, with a heartfelt note that I may not be ready to read this, and I may never be interested, and that was okay, but here it is. Took me 18 months to be ready, but it was a very touching little memoir. Specifically focusing on her experiences of losing a parent when you’re younger (she was a freshmen in college, and her sisters in high school). About the lack of resources where she saw herself reflected, so finally deciding to write her own. And it’s also a lovely and poignant examination of the process of losing someone, and finding a way forward. The family dynamics. The interactions with the larger world. It was very touching. 

“The Swimmers” by Julie Otsuka

What a strange and lovely little book. It starts with a We narration representing all the different types of people who go swimming at the community pool. Long evocative lists and varied adjectives are piled upon each other, in rhythmic paragraphs mimicking the rhythm of swimming laps. There’s a meditative quality to it, but it’s also full of hyper-specific details. Our bookclub was split on how we each consumed these words, some focusing and absorbing each detail, and others letting the details wash over them. Both methods were found to be effective. The middle section introduces change. A crack appears in the pool. There is an ongoing almost Kafka-esque quality to this crack and the various vague but excessively named bureaucratic agencies that inspect and respond to the crack. We explore the different human reactions to this change. Eventually it is announced that the pool will be closing temporarily and then indefinitely. The frustrations and grief and anger and emotions such a loss causes. Reading this after having lived through the first years of Covid gave the metaphor extra power. What happens when something beyond our control shows up and throws our daily routine into a tizzy. There’s curiosity and worry and superstition, and things continue to change and we’re powerless to stop it. We’re shown such a variety of human reactions to such happenings.

And then we get to the final third of the book. I was NOT expecting this and was not prepared. One of our many colorful character gang of swimmers is Alice, a woman with dementia. But when she slips into the water, she remembers exactly what to do. In the final section of the book, we are following her story now that the pool has closed. Once again we have a “We” narration, this time it is the voice of the senior living Memory Care institution. Always smiling, always using euphemistic language. Always pitching things in a positive light, but very upfront about the costs involved and how being able to spend more money will garner a much better experience for your loved one. We also get some You narration, describing the behavior and emotions of the woman’s adult daughter. They’ve a strained relationship, and it’s emotional and tough and beautiful and real. Watching the daughter get glimpses into her parents’ relationship and learning to see more love and care there than she’d noticed before. There’s long rhythmic hyper-detailed paragraphs again, listing all the things Alice has forgotten and the things she remembers. She remembers details of being forced into an internment camp as a child. She remembers her daughter had a cat named Gasoline. She has forgotten the name of her husband. Again, some let this information wash over them, and others of us absorbed each descriptive word. Both approaches yielded satisfying results. Having not read the back of the book before reading this, and because Alice was just one of many swimmers for the 1st two thirds of this novel, I didn’t expect this change in focus/subject matter. And this is how I became the woman quietly crying, while reading this book poolside on vacation!! Having had my own experience’s with my mom’s dementia, this hit me! I found it powerful and beautiful. (Also I sat in further gratitude, that my relationship wasn’t difficult. And that my mom passed before her dementia got so bad that she was forgetting people). “Don’t mind the crying lady on vacation.” Ha. Turns out these servers are probably used to people crying for a whole host of reasons. They all just went about their business and didn’t inquire or interact. Also, the parts written about the Memory Care facility were full of wry cutting humor, but sometimes a laugh-to-keep-from-crying type of funny. It was all terribly true (in the same way the observations and reactions from the different bureaucracies were terribly true). And having worked in a pool in college, the descriptions of swimmers felt very accurate, too. Every subculture has it’s own vibes, and we’ve got several former lifeguards and swim coaches in book club, and they all felt the realness of these descriptions.

So it’s a book about all the different types of swimmers, about mundane habits and tasks and finding meditation and meaning in those things. And how we change, often against our will, when those things are taken away or changed. And then we follow Alice as the loss of this routine and her dementia grows and we follow her husband and daughter as this happens. And then my pal Sarah pointed out that there could be a larger metaphor here. The pool and the swimmers in all their variety and emotions and different experiences, this could represent your mind and your memories and experiences. And then the cracks begin, as dementia begins. And different parts of your brain react differently. And you try to paper over the cracks, and tell yourself they aren’t a big deal, and become superstitious, and all the myriad ways we respond. As some swimmers (memories?) leave the pool earlier than others. Until finally the pool is shut down. Woah. This book is tiny but powerful, with lots of layers, and carefully chosen words, and so many descriptions and ideas and words for you to swim through. Lovely and humorous and sad and upsetting and real and affecting and sweet. 

“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin

Enough people finally told me to read this, so I did. It’s instantly engaging. The characters are so real and complex and flawed and human. The story is interesting, and while they’re older than me, I still had lots of nice nostalgia moments. Wishing characters were better at communicating with each other, as you watch lots of misunderstandings and hurt feelings and the consequences of making assumptions and then actively re-framing years of friendship and interactions. Narrative plays with time, bouncing between past present and future in a wonderful way, that explores layers and keeps the pages turning. Also really interesting reading about the different games that they develop. Sam talking about how you can’t reason/logic someone out of their perceptions of you really hit home. Understandable (and sometimes not) fumblings and missteps as they’re growing and learning to be adults. It just felt very real and immersive and interesting. Issues of alienation and isolation and finding your people and how to fit in or not within established systems. Learning and experiencing all the parts about being human. It’s stories within stories, like the video games they design.

“Stay True” by Hua Hsu

What a beautifully written memoir. So many times i was struck by a turn of phrase or description. In this memoir of his early college days. Strong sense of place and sense of time/era. As well as what that growing up post high school and into college experience is like. How friendships and formed and lost. Early fumblings at relationships and finding out who you are and how to be an adult. Evocative and brought up several of my own memories. And it’s also a beautiful and real examination of death and grief. Don’t remember who told me about this so that I added it to my library queue. Not generally drawn to memoir (unless it’s a travel memoir), even from people I know. But this was a nice and shorter read. And he is a very very wonderful writer. Many many quotes that i highlighted.

“Murder on Sex Island” by Jo Firestone

This was a god-damned delight. Jo Firestone is so friggin funny and I cannot recommend the audiobook highly enough. Wonderful getting to hear her unique voice (often full of humorous emotion) narrating this ridiculous story of Staten Island divorced social worker turned alter ego Private Investigator. Hired to to undercover on a “Love Island” style reality show to solve a murder. Ha. Observations are ridiculous and hilarious and it’s also a fun who-dunnit. I’ve only ever watched one episode of Love Island (on an Oregon Coastal get away with a dear pal who was obsessed, so we had to watch the two hour finale. It was a fascinating experience, and gave me some tiny insight into just how REAL the things being done on this fictional “Sex Island” reality show are. But still, this will be hilarious good time for anyone who hasn’t watched this type of reality show, too. 

“The Moor’s Account” by Laila Lalami

Compelling and lovely and fascinating historical fiction. Envelopes you in this world of 1500’s Americas, following a group of spanish conquistadors who get lost for many years. The true facts around this novelization were WILD!!! And the imagined way Lalami intuits and fills in the gaps all seem eminently plausible. The pages turn beautifully. The descriptions and interactions and variety of human experiences are quite telling and fascinating. Whether celebrating in Cortez’ looted riches or fighting the mosquitoes in a swampy quagmire, the reader is transported. And man’s pride and folly and care and harm for each other. This historical novel has ALL the twists and turns. Soooo good. 

“Project 562: Changing the Way We See Native America” by Matika WIlbur

Truly stunning. These photos are gorgeous. The profiles are touching and powerful and funny and real. There’s so much joy and reality and pride and truth here. Amazing hearing the author speak of her 10 year project and the true collaborative nature of this project… moving away from a Western Journalism perspective where these photos and stories would Belong to her alone because she took them down. Instead, she thought of this project as communal and in partnership with her subjects. Which required lots of effort and back and forth communications. And has resulted in something powerful and beautiful and real. This book is such a gift.

“The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune

I was completely charmed and taken in by this book. Hadn’t read the back or anything about it. But I’ve had multiple people, from very disparate parts of my life, recommend it over the last year. Grateful my pal Peter gave me his copy when I was over for dinner one evening, “Just, take it. You have to read it.” Hadn’t expected I was going to get this wonderful cast of wayward magical kids. You’re transported on this journey, and you fall in love with all these characters. A few in bookclub had quibbles about the plot (and one person did not care for Linus and had major issues with the book, but still loved the orphanage characters). But pretty much all of us enjoyed the journey. If you’re looking for a sweet escape, full of hijinx and memorable characters and things working out in the end (even when maybe realistically they shouldn’t have been sorted as cleanly), this book is a great comfort. Found family and finding confidence in ones self and being fiercely protective of those you love. It’s a simple story, well told. Just lovely. And then there’s magical beings, too. 

“Atlas Alone” by Emma Newman

Hoo boy. I’ve loved each one of the books set in this imagined future, and have really appreciated that each is so friggin’ different from the previous books. Newman is one hell of an author. (honestly, the first book of the 4 is probably my least favorite, and I still quite liked it). This one is wrapping up some of the plot points left hanging from the second book, and continuing with a few of those characters, but with a new narrator with a fresh new viewpoint. Nefarious plots are investigated. Lots of continued big ideas, and small scale traumas and hardships. Glimpses into the truly gross and inhuman corporate excesses and fanaticism of the elites on this ship. Big ideas and grand scope, yet it’s such a smaller scale intimate and very human story. Masking and hiding, being so isolated and unable to trust even ones closest friends. It was a very good read, and I’m left itching for MORE MORE MORE. But Newman is taking a break, a long one. I hope she decides to return to this world. But the journey and different glimpses into different peoples and timelines have each been wonderful and dynamic and keep my guessing and turning pages. Such fascinating character studies and mysteries and adventure stories with Big Ideas swirling all around. Great stuff. 

“Hild” by Nicola Griffith

This was one of my absolute favorite books read in 2013 when it came out. And I was thrilled to learn Griffith had written a sequel ten years later. But I also knew I’d want/need to be re-reading this first. This is such a gloriously descriptive and dense novel, that never feels heavy or unweildy. You luxuriate in the prose and the descriptions. Since Hild’s “superpower” is from being hyper observant, it works so so well. The way important details are revealed through an observation of a wild thrush or an embroidery pattern. Which sounds like maybe it would be boring, but it is so beautifully immersive and engaging. But also, it is a BIG novel. And I was hesitant to give 500+ pages back to this world in preparation for giving 500 more pages in the sequel. So I was thrilled to find the library had an audiobook version. 22 hours(!!) but I decided to give it a shot. And basically tore through the whole thing in three days. It was wonderful being back in this world, and to have a narrator be there to be so confident in the old english pronunciations and vocabulary and names. This historical novel is such a joy and so well trodden and lived in and human. Here’s how I recapped it at the end of 2014: “Oh, how I do love historical epics. Gorgeous full story inspired by the seventh-century woman in ancient england who would come to be revered as Saint Hilda, who worked as the Seer to one of the kings. One reviewer said it was as “immersive as a river in rain. Her prose is so startlingly beautiful that reading description never feels like work — which is no mean feat, considering that many of her descriptions are about the running of medieval households.” It’s lovely and complex and well researched with taut/complex political maneuvers and clever and wonderful.” And then here was my initial review for myself when I first read it ten years ago: “Loved loved loved this. Sweeping historical epic, but the characters and events felt so small and personal…lovely minute details added such a richness and fully fleshed world, without ever feeling boring or slow. (I can’t quite think of buttermilk the same). Man, I swear you could almost taste the tastes, smell the smells, etc. The character of Hild is so fascinating and such a keen observer of her world. The plot DID NOT go where I expected, but it was fantastic.

The Old Irish and Old English names are a real trial. Very hard for my brain to deal with, and having so many characters with names so similar (while I’m sure it was accurate, it was VERY confusing). Griffith makes NO effort to hold her reader’s hand. if you aren’t paying attention and can’t remember, too bad. There is a family tree at the beginning, but one would really REALLY benefit from a full list of characters, because so many folks are mentioned who play key political roles, but we never even meet them. And they’re not part of Hild’s family. Also, the glossary and pronunciation guide are at the BACK of the book. I only discovered this halfway through. Would’ve been more helpful initially.”

—-Honorable Mentions—

“Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage” by Stephanie Coontz

This impeccably researched history of marriage throughout the ages is one of the books I’ve definitely thought about the most this year. Fascinating look at the institution of marriage and how it has changed over millenia and across cultures. While the first third, and some of the conclusion, deals with lots of interesting different cultural versions and ideas over the years, the majority of the book is mostly tracing marriage across western europe and north america. Lots of new information, and other things I already knew. Great resources and very well researched. Led to a super engaged and dynamic book club conversation. 

“Shutter” by Ramona Emerson

Ohhhh. This was fascinating, following a Navajo crime scene photographer (who also happens to see spirits. Which, as you can imagine, is an inconvenience if not a problem when combined with her job). Chapters alternate between current day and hee childhood and past. Keeps the pages turning, layering in important character insights, and just really nice little moments. Each chapter subheading lists the specific camera(s) used in that chapter, which was fun and gave great sense of place/purpose to this story. Real moments of loving connections with her grandmother and others in her community. And just very real interactions with coworkers and neighbors and the spirits. All of it was interesting, fast paced, and well done.

The pal who recommended this wasn’t sure if it would be too scary for me. So i was a bit worried. But didnt need to be. Its got some good atmosphere, and several ghosts hanging around their crime scene bodies (so descriptions of violent crimes and mutilations). But even though there is some supernatural menace, it wasn’t too scary. 

“Any Way the Wind Blows” by Rainbow Rowell

I found this a very satisfying wrap up to these characters adventures and finding themselves as they’re growing up and testing out adulthood. Some big truths and some bigger emotions (this is a Rowell book after all). Complicated family relationships remain complicated but people eventually start using their words and finding ways forward. The concept of lots of new “Chosen Ones” popping up in the magical world was interesting and unexpected new subculture to explore. And Baz and Simon start actually using their words, even though it’s a struggle. It was realistic but also reassuring. Loved Penelope’s journey here. And several of our side characters get interesting journeys of self discovery. I enjoyed the “peek behind the curtain” discoveries in lots of different ways. Finding out that things and systems and peoples are as binary nor as sorted as you’d thought when a child. It all felt very real and true, set in a world that also have magic and magical creatures in it. Some of the best things one wants in their YA.

“Passage West” by Rishi Reddi

What a complicated and emotional and very human story. You can tell how much research went into this tale of two Indian immigrants to the US Pacific Coast in the early 1900’s. From logging camps in Washington to sharecropping in California, we spend years following these two men, through friendships and hardships and fights and celebrations. The complex relationships, the cultural and political currents around them, familial obligations and oppressive laws. It’s mostly illegal for immigrants to own land, and the sharecropping system has so many pitfalls and opportunities for abuse. It’s also almost impossible for immigrants to bring their wives/family into the US. But also, the racist miscegenation laws make it illegal for many racial groups to marry anyone already in the US. So these men are often forced into long years of isolation and loneliness. There was so much history here, while following these very human stories. I’ve found myself often thinking about this novel throughout the year. 

“The Last True Poets of the Sea” by Julia Drake

This was a lovely journey. Our narrator is so raw and confused and quick to assume everything is her fault. In other words, she’s a teenager. After her brother’s suicide attempt, she’s shipped off to spend the summer with her uncle in the town of Lyric (founded by her great great great grandmother, the sole survivor of a shipwreck all those years ago). There’s mystery, and working at the aquarium, and a nice gang of quirky kids, and learning to find out who you are, and learning to communicate, and lots of explorations of mental health and emotions and family drama and trauma. As well as complicated teenage romantic relationships. And lovely writing. And funny word play. And clever pals. And lots of shipwreck discussion (historical and metaphorical). I loved being immersed in this narrative voice. It was a beautiful and easy to read journey. “A warm, wise, strange meditation on developing the strength to be vulnerable.” -Kirkus

“A Court of SIlver Flames” by Sarah J Maas

While the first book felt a bit formulaic and just average, appreciative of the pals who told me to stick with it, as this series took some interesting twists and turns, delving into the darker and traumatic effects of these high fantasy epic battles and the problematic nature of the relationship in the first book. All the content warnings. And so it was a fun way to pass the time, and this final book was good, too. Enjoyed getting to read Nessa’s story. It’s always interesting to read through the eyes of an unlikeable character. We get to see inside her head and learn a lot more of the layers and complex emotions and traumas she’s dealing with. Interesting reading about our Scooby Gang with an outsider’s eye. From someone who is constantly invited in, but stubbornly chooses for her own complicated reasons to remain on the outside. The journey towards healing. Enjoyed learning more about the library and the sanctuary it provides to those who find it. I enjoyed spending more time in this world and furthering the journey. I appreciate that things aren’t easy or pat, even though these are still novels where Good ultimately wins. But it’s all messier and more complicated (but in a way my heart can still handle write now. Not TOO grim or dark. But there are definitely stakes and consequences. And alliances are fraught and murky. The politick-ing is complex and well wrought). Appreciated getting more nuance and insight into Cassian, too. 

“Act of Oblivion” by Robert Harris

Excellent historical fiction about events after Charles II is made king, and the Regicides (those who signed the king’s death warrant along with Cromwell) are hunted down. While I knew a few of the large historical bullet points, there was LOTS that I learned. Honestly hadn’t ever heard of “The Act of Oblivion” itself, and found this idea of official “plugging your ears and saying La La La” law fascinating. What a way to ignore the years of civil war, king’s execution, and Cromwell’s rule. It’s full of fantastic historical details. Harris writes well and paints very evocative scenes. Often painted so well they help reinforce that I have ZERO interest in living in the 17th century. Yikes. You can basically Smell some of these descriptions. Ugh. Two of the “at large” regicides have moved to New England. The invented character of Nayler provides a great focus for this manhunt. We meet tons of historical characters and important and interesting events. There were so many factoids that I kept needing to tell friends about. Some of the descriptions and interactions with the Native Americans felt cringey and uncomfortable. While it seemed an intentional choice to be seeing these people through the eyes of our Englishmen in hiding, there was definitely some weird “noble savage” stuff happening that didn’t feel great. But the descriptions and settings and differences between the different religions of England and New England were explored in ways that felt organic and informative. The main characters are given interesting depth and rich internal lives. This is a story on the edges of the Royal Court and machinations, with some interesting insights. But it truly shines when exploring the lives of more average peoples during these days. Through the Plague and great fire. Through horrible torture and executions. Through lives in hiding and risk. Totally interesting read. Shout out to the giant billboards all over London’s tube stations in Sept 2022 that got me to add this to my library hold list. 

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