I read a bit of everything, so my lists have a tendency to feel pretty random, skipping back and forth between genres and themes. Usually, on any given year, I tend to gravitate to something in particular. This year, I found myself craving a lot of fantasy and tales about the afterlife.
Like all writers, I have to choose between making time to read and making time to write, so this year, I managed to get in 63 new reads, which is pretty average for me.
Of them, my favorites were:
The Ghost’s Child by Sonya Hartnett - This was the deceptively simple tale of an old woman who comes home to find a mysterious young boy waiting for her, and she begins to tell him the story of her life. I am not usually a crier, but the ending gutted me.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik - A fantasy-adventure about a young girl who is offered as tribute to a scary old wizard known as “the Dragon.” To her surprise, she becomes his apprentice, and ends up fighting against the threat of magical beings threatening their kingdom. This book kept me riveted from start to finish. I’ve said before that it’s the mark of a good book when I follow my friends and family around, reading passages aloud to them. This fits the bill.
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly - A young boy living in England during World War II is dealing with the death of his mother and his father’s subsequent remarriage. He wanders into a strange, fairy-tale world called Elsewhere. A thrilling, beautifully-written coming-of-age story. Another one I couldn’t put down.
Nightwoods by Charles Frazier - The story of a young woman named Luce living rough in North Carolina mountain country in the 1960s. When Luce's sister dies, Luce finds herself trying to raise her orphaned nice and nephew. Haunting and beautifully written. (Frazier also wrote Cold Mountain, another favorite of mine.)
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain - I had intended to read this book for years, but with Bourdain’s passing in June, I ran out and got a copy. In addition to being a lifelong foodie, I spent a few years in the food service industry, but even if I had not, Bourdain speaks of it in a way that manages to be both brutally matter-of-fact and oddly poetic. You’ll never look at line cooks the same way again.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward - This is simply an outstanding book. I feel like summarizing this book sort of cheapens it, but here goes: a family living in Mississippi deals with race issues, the prison system, death, and the sins of the past. I devoured it in a single afternoon and I knew as soon as I’d finished that this one was a life-changer.
Everlost by Neal Shusterman - A wildly original tale about dead kids and the afterlife they inhabit, filled with memorable characters, and an ingenious use of historical elements like the World Trade Center Towers and the Hindenburg.
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver - Don’t let the girly cover or the YA label fool you. This is some heavy stuff. It’s the story of a teenage girl who dies on Valentine’s Day and gets to relive the last day of her life seven times—gets to? Maybe it’s a punishment, or maybe it’s a shot at redemption. Oliver perfectly captures the dynamics of the high school hierarchy, especially among teenage girls, whether they're friends, enemies or frenemies.
Twist Me by Anna Zaires - Real talk: I’ve already read this book three or four times. It’s that good. The transgressive love story of a rich, handsome, but dangerous man who kidnaps a young woman, holds her hostage on a deserted island, and makes her both love and desire him. Written in prose so clean and precise it practically snaps on the page. It’s the first of a trilogy, and I checked out the second book but couldn’t get into it. I ain't even mad. I will just keep on revisiting the beginnings of Julian and Nora's dark and, yes, twisted connection over and over to my heart’s (and, er, other parts’) content.
Thank you for reading! I hope you find something here that piques your interest. Please feel free to leave a comment below.