Tuesday, December 24, 2019

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Books

One of my favorite holiday (and birthday) traditions is the stack of books Bryce gifts me. He picks them out based on what I've loved in the past, but also based on lists like the NPR Book Concierge (so I cannot look at that list until after Christmas) and prides himself on finding books that I would not have picked out for myself.

The other night at dinner, he asked me, "What are the best books you've read in the past few years?"

Oh man, that's a loaded question. I read a LOT, and I have to keep track in a Keep list because I cannot hold all the titles in my head, but a peek at the title brings a flood of details back to me. So I had to think on it a bit. And consult my list.

I thought it would be fun to share with you this, my list of books that I consider BEST, from the past couple of years (in no particular order). It may be a bit more than "a few":

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood 
Speculative fiction/dystopian: farther-in-the-future sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, gloriously multi-faceted and didn't ruin a favorite.

The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
Fiction: A sort of modern ghost story where a couple basically builds a haunted house, supernatural with mysteries and observations on human relationships.  Love this author (other favorites are The Winter People, The One I Left Behind, and Don't Breathe a Word.

The Seven (and 1/2) Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (my edition was Canadian and didn't have the 1/2) 
Fiction, mystery: A mind-bending twisty mystery with a bit of supernatural that had me thinking long after I'd finished, immersive and not a particularly easy read as you have to pay close attention. Totally worth the effort.

first, we make the beast beautiful: a new journey through anxiety by Sarah Wilson
Nonfiction, memoir hybrid: LOVED this book, best book on anxiety I've read in a while. You can pry my sugar out of my cold, dead hands. Loved a lot of the other practical exercises, though! :)

The Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake
YA Fantasy: Like Game of Thrones lite, awesome world building and cutthroat traditions, strong female characters

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrande
YA Fantasy: Ditto the strong female characters and cutthroat traditions, more modern day with horror fantasy woven in, interesting premise.

Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpapers & Arsenic in the Victorian Home by Lucinda Hawksley
Nonfiction/Art: A Bryce Find that explores the history of colorful Victorian wallpaper that was totally laced with arsenic, interspersed with full color panel reproductions of said wallpaper. FASCINATING.

Notes to Self by Emilie Pine
Nonfiction, Essays: Beautifully honest, gorgeous essays including some discussion of womanhood and infertility. Has been reviewed by Different Shores and The Road Less Traveled.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Fiction, YA-ish Fantasy: A gorgeous mystery with some dark fairy tale twistyness woven in, magical and dark. Another Bryce find

The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams
Nonfiction, Memoir: An incredible exploration of living with adversity and then the process of dying unfairly young from colon cancer. Beautiful, haunting, honest, and raw.

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang
Nonfiction, Memoir: Amazing explorations of living with schizoaffective disorder, eye-opening, honest, raw, beautiful.

Rachel Hartman's trilogy (Seraphina, Shadow Scale, Tess of the Road)
Fiction, YA Fantasy: Caveat that I haven't read Shadow Scale yet, I got Tess of the Road first and then went back to the beginning, although you don't have to read them in order, a Bryce find. Strong female characters, bucking societal norms, dragons and giant snakes and interesting mini-dragon things called Qigutls. Great world-building.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Nonfiction, Inspiration/memoir hybrid: Gorgeous manifesto to the power of creating despite fear, super inspirational (but I still have fear, sigh). Love her writing, even though I hated Eat, Pray, Love.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Fiction: Part hilarious, part heartbreaking, a story of a socially awkward woman and her quest for belonging, romance, friendship, overcoming her personal demons. Laughed and cried in equal measure.

The Changeling by Victor Lavalle
Fiction, Fantasy/Mystery: An amazing mystery with a man searching for answers about his father who mysteriously disappeared and trying to figure out what's really happened with his wife and son (wife is accused of killing his baby son, which sounds like a terrible premise for ALI people but I swear it's okay and all is not as it seems, without spoiling anything). Although it takes place in Queens, strangely steeped in Norse mythology.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Fiction: A brilliant reimagining of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Gorgeous.

The Darker Shade of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab
Fiction, Fantasy: Blood magic allows special people to travel between nearly identical worlds, some with magic, some without, some devastated and angry... it's got magician's competitions, pirates, a little romance...I devoured them. Bryce Find.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Fiction, YA Fantasy: Book 1 of a series, worldbuilding based on West African mythology where a race of magicians are persecuted and in danger of genocide, colliding of the ruling class and an ever-powerful maji. I love that as she gains more power and confidence, her hair gets wilder and more natural (and the author insisted on having natural hair for the cover flap photo). Immersive. Also, more blood magic.

The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater
Fiction, YA Fantasy: I DEVOURED these books, and cried when they ended. A Bryce Find that resulted in him gifting me 4 books as they came out. Combines boys' boarding school/town girl, supernatural psychic stuff, Welsh mythology. She's a gifted writer.

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
Fiction, Fantasy: Imagine if Scooby-Doo took place when they were in their early 30s as a sort of reunion when bad stuff starts happening and one of the gang has died. Super weird, gloriously so. A Bryce Find.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
Fiction: A beautiful book about loving someone with severe depression who is intent on dying by suicide. Told by the sister, moving and lovely and sad.

Okay, Fine, Whatever by Courtenay Hameister
Nonfiction, Memoir/Essays/Project: A love letter to trying to live less anxiously and overcome fears (or at least attempt to), Courtenay chronicles her difficulties with a change in her career, her relationship with her weight, her dating escapades, and other adventures. It was like reading a conversation with your new (and very smart) best friend.

Anything by Maira Kalman (esp The Principles of Uncertainty)
Nonfiction, illustrated memoir-ish: Hard to classify. Love her honesty, her dealings with loss and grief, her amazing illustrations. A Bryce Find!

There you go, a by no means exhaustive list of favorites but a list of books that made me happy in the past two years or so, many of them gifts from Bryce. Also, I apparently read a LOT of fantasy and memoir/essays. I'm not sure what that says... Maybe I love escaping into other worlds and other people's lives.

EDIT: I can't believe I left out Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates! A letter from Mr. Coates to his son on life and race, a tough but necessary conversation and a call to action.


  1. What a great gift you've given. I love seeing lists of people's favourite books. I've just put many of those books on my to-read list. Some (like Between the World and Me) were already on my to-read list at the library. And I read the Raven series last year I think, based on another blogger's recommendation, and loved it.

    1. Isn't The Raven Cycle wonderful? I would read that one again. Book lists make me so happy, to read and to share. I just read Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, another Bryce find, and that was some really great magic-y fantasy set in Yale. Unique and gripping! He's so good at finding me books.

  2. What an amazing list! I also loved "The Testaments" and "Three Dark Crowns" series, as well as "Eleanor Oliphant" and "Children of Blood and Bone" and "Between the World and Me". It's wonderful that Bryce gifts so many great books!

    I'm also bookmarking this to come back to when I need a new book - most of these sound incredible. I definitely want to find the one on arsenic in Victorian wallpaper and "The Raven Cycle" series.

    1. Oh yeah, that arsenic wallpaper book was strangely gripping! And beautiful. I love when you learn about something that on the surface sounds terribly boring (a book on wallpaper) but is actually incredibly fascinating. That one was an NPR Bryce find. My next book to read is Children of Virtue and Vengeance, excited for that one! LOVED Children of Blood and Bone. I feel like from our book posts we have similar tastes. What have you read lately?

  3. I have a few of these on my TBR list and a few that I've already read. But I need to echo Evelyn Hardcastle -- that was such a fun book.

    1. I know we don't agree on the Darker Shade of Magic series, but oh yeah! Evelyn Hardcastle was such a great read, such an inventive mind.

  4. I've never heard of the PBS Book Concierge -- I just went down the rabbit hole, looking through their recommendations. What fun! Thank you for that! What books did you wind up getting? (You may have already written about this; I haven't peeked ahead, lol.)

    Are you on Goodreads? I'd love to follow you there, if you are!

  5. I'm gonna have to bookmark this page when I'm looking for ideas of what to read next! I got "The Testaments" as a Christmas present and looking forward to starting that soon