Like most people who write, I read a lot. I mean, a crazy amount. There’s rarely a moment in my day when I’m not reading something. I also listen to audio books, which means I “read” almost twice as much as I ever have before, driving, cooking, walking, shopping, getting ready for work and everything in between. These days I’ll read one book in the traditional way, while listening to a different book throughout the day. Depending on the book, I’ll switch back and forth between the two versions. Since the audio version can often feel like watching a movie or play, I’ve also been known to read the entire book then listen to the audio version. Taking in a story in two different ways always reveals something new. Since audio books can be crazy expensive, I borrow them from the library which helps satisfy my endless craving for more.
Bottom line is, my consumption has risen this year, which makes choosing the best more difficult. I’m going to list ten, but they are in no particular order.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
This damn book ruined me for other books for a long while. I downloaded it, read the first page and that was all it took. Not only did the story consume me completely until I finished, it clung to me like tar; sticky, dark and impossible to wipe off. A twelve-year-old slave, George Washington Black, is on a cruel sugar plantation that makes short lives of its chattel. The brother of Washington Black’s vicious master, Christopher, takes a liking to Washington Black, but we soon learn Christopher’s privilege is just as damaging as the master’s whip. Globetrotting adventures, hope, heartbreak and writing that leaves you in awe. I’m going to read everything Edugyan has ever written. One of her books will surely end up on my 2019 best of list.
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
I picked up Silver Sparrow because I’d been blown away by An American Marriage, the book Oprah has optioned for a movie and the one which has rocketed Jones to writing stardom. I’ve been Facebook friends with Jones since Silver Sparrow first came out but hadn’t gotten around to reading it. I’ve sort of lurked around her posts, watching as her recognition has grown and grown and grown. She’s had one hell of a year and I’m so happy for her.
In Silver Sparrow, an African American teenage girl learns her mother is, “the other woman.” The man who is her father, who comes and goes in the stretch limousine he drives for a living, is married to someone else. She becomes obsessed with her father’s other daughter and orchestrates occasions for their paths to cross. Jones demonstrates her skill in telling a story from multiple, sympathetic points of view, each one richly drawn and absorbing.
I am embarrassed to say I met Jones at the Decatur Book Festival this summer for the first time, face to face and was as tongue tied and senseless as a Beatles groupie. She was beautiful, calm and patient. I hope she forgets me so if I run into her again I can get a second chance at a first impression!
15 Lives of Harry August by Claire North
It’s the story for those of us who have wondered what life would be like if you could do it all over again knowing what you know now. Harry August, and a bunch of other people, discover they are immortal by living the same life over and over again. If you think this means they eventually get it right, consider there is a secret cabal who find their unusual lives threatening. North’s writing is as incredibly interesting as this unusual story. I listened to the audio version and Peter Kinney’s characterizations of so many different voices was completely engrossing.
I’ve read many mixed reviews of this book. Often people say they try to slog through hoping it will get better. Others says it’s too confusing, yada yada yada. I suggest saving 15 Lives for a long weekend, or a vacation where you will have several uninterrupted hours to really dig into it. A little extra effort pays off in the end.
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
This science fiction tale is told completely through interviews of the people participating in a crazy, secret project that results in consequences no one anticipated. It starts with the discovery of a gigantic, steel hand, about the size of a house, buried deep beneath the earth. I haven’t read the other two books in this three part series, but I intend to. Not only is the story unexpected and filled with surprises, the interview format is a curious writing device. The subjects aren’t always reliable, sometimes holding back information, other times providing too much. I applaud Neuvel for sticking to the restrictive format no matter what. The story is made more fascinating for it.
The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne
I smile when I think of this book. I almost forgot it since I read it in January. I remember thinking I’d started the year right with a great read. It belongs on this list since this is by far, the most unusual accidental sleuth I’ve ever read. Dr. Theo Cray is a computational biologist.
A computational what now?
This dude sees patterns and details everyone else misses. When he tries to use scientific conclusions to help solve a murder, he is dismissed and forced to do things on his own. For such a super intelligent guy, there are times when you want to kick him in the pants for doing stupid stuff, but you’re also amazed at how he pulls the facts together.
Mayne is a magician as well as a writer and you can see his sleight of hand at work here. There is a second book in the mystery series out now Looking Glass, and Murder Theory is slated for a March 2019 release. I’m adding both to my reading and listening list.
So You Want To talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
I’ve been black all my life and all my life I’ve struggled to explain things to people who aren’t black Americans. How do you explain the issues about race in this country? How did we get to this point? Why didn’t having a black president make racism go away? And what about slavery? This link to a Youtube talk Oluo gives, is just a taste of what you will find in her book. Oluo speaks to white people in these pages, but it is for people of all colors and races. I learned so much from her. Her wisdom and simple, nonjudgmental explanations were magical to me.
In the world we live in today, when white nationalism and hate crimes are on the rise and, well … Trump, this book was like a buoy that helped keep me afloat. A white woman friend suggested it to me and now I recommend it to anyone who will listen. Thanks again Jerri Bell!
I sat in on Oluo’s interview during the Decatur Book Festival as well this year. It was well worth the hour of my time, just as reading the book is worth every word consumed.
The Boy on The Bridge by M. J. Carey
Simply put, if you liked The Girl With All The Gifts, you’ll enjoy The Boy On The Bridge. It’s a different world, a different set of characters, a different reason for the end of the world and a different point in time, but Carey tells us the story with all the same skill and depth as the first book. I was sucked in from the beginning and had the same desperate desire to see what happens next. I enjoyed it just as much as the first book.
The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
This is a delicious, absorbing read that bounces back and forth between modern day historians studying the centuries old writings of a rabbi, and the life of that rabbi in the 1660s. The story mirrors the relationships between the self-absorbed graduate student and the senior history expert struggling with her failing health, and the ailing rabbi and his young scribe who worries she will be persecuted if it is discovered she is doing what is forbidden for a woman – writing. Kadish expertly switches storylines and points of view seamlessly so you are unaware you’re reading two separate books artfully melded together.
Fear by Bob Woodward
This aptly titled book is just one of many that will be written about this period in our history. Woodward wrote this based on the administration’s first year. Think about that. Just one year. So much happens.
The fear comes in as you realize how well the stage is set for the second year. An out of control White House bouncing off the walls with policies that force us to remember we are Americans … jailed children, teargassed refugees, a midterm that shifted power and the looming results of investigation after investigation. This story isn’t over. Hopefully we all come out okay in the end.
The Undead 23: The Fort by R. R. Haywood
It’s hard to believe I’ve been reading this zombie apocalypse series through more than 25 books…a couple of days in the series carry over through more than one book and there are a couple of companion novels. No matter how many hundreds of thousands of words Haywood writes in this series, readers continue to beg for more. It’s funny, heartbreaking, fast paced and thoroughly enjoyable. I’ve read the entire series more than once and listened to it more than once and the funny parts still make me laugh. If you start from Day One, just know that was Haywood’s very first book. It takes him up to about Day Four before his mastery with characterization comes through. I can’t have a “best of” list without having at least one Haywood story included. By the way, Haywood’s Extracted series has been optioned for a movie. We’re still waiting for some smart producer to pick up The Undead world so we can enjoy it on the small screen.
That’s it. Those are my top ten selections out of the scores of books I read this year and it’s only November. I figure I can get a few more in before 2019 is here.
Read my recommendations along with those of a bunch of other authors in The Military Spouse Book Review blog. The lovely Andria Williams pulls this together each year featuring different authors in multiple posts. Keep checking in and sign up for updates. I get many of my reading list additions from TMSBR blog.
What were your favorite books this year? Suggestions and links are much appreciated!