I wouldn’t be a librarian if I didn’t share my favorite books! I read a lot and across many genres and one of the best parts of my job is to recommend great books I’ve read. Since we’re closing in on another year (and another decade!) I thought it would be a good time to highlight a few of my favorites that I’ve read this year.
Written by the same author of The Thirteenth Tale (which I haven’t read yet, but heard is quite good), this tells the story of a mysterious stranger who brings a seemingly dead child into an inn on a cold winter’s night and the child miraculously comes back to life. The story is set in England and has an almost storybook, darkly fantastical feel to it. I definitely want to read more of her stuff.
This is the conclusion to an amazing trilogy heavily inspired by Russian fairy tales. If you are a fan of Russian/Slavic folklore or medieval Russia, I suggest this series! Start with book one, The Bear and the Nightingale.
Yes, this was written by THE David Duchovny. I was apprehensive about reading a novel written by someone known for being an actor, but he can write! I totally heard his voice too through the entire story. This is a retelling of the Irish myth of Emer and Cuchulain but set in modern-day New York City. This book very much reminds me of American Gods in that there are appearances of other deities across other pantheons as well. This one is probably my absolute favorite that I read this past year, but I’m a sucker for anything dealing with mythology.
Technically I started this in 2018 and took a few months before picking it up again. I listened to this one on audiobook. The narrator was excellent and really brings the reader back to the scenes where the main character “travels” back to the Maryland plantation of her ancestor. It was very vivid and definitely was hard to listen to at points with the detailed descriptions of slavery – but they were not gratuitous and served a definite purpose of moving the plot along. I can’t believe it took me so long to read Octavia E. Butler, who was such a prolific science fiction writer. If you want to read any of her books, I think this is an excellent place to start.
This was a book I picked up at work that I wound up liking much more than I was expecting to; this author was completely unknown to me, though apparently she wrote an entire series about Greek mythology (maybe a grown up Percy Jackson? I haven’t read them yet). This novel is set in Alaska about 900 c.e. and tells the story of an Inuit two-spirit, a boy trapped in a girl’s body and how their family and village are changed when a group of Vikings come upon their land. This is somewhat based on actual historical findings of Vikings making contact with Inuit around this time period. It was meticulously researched and also extremely descriptive (there are scenes of rape and animal gutting/skinning, etc. so this book may be disturbing to some people). I thought it was extremely well written and the author was very respectful for approaching a story about a people that are not her culture.
This was another historical novel I read that dealt with a subject that I knew absolutely nothing about – the Jewish community that settled into China, particularly Shanghai, during World War II to escape the Holocaust. This is a story that goes back and forth between modern-day Australia and the past with two girls who grew up in this Jewish community in Shanghai. One of the girls is an Austrian Jew who had escaped with most of her family, and the other a Chinese girl whom she befriends. The present-day portion of the novel is told from the perspective of the Jewish girl’s granddaughter, who discovers secrets her grandmother had kept hidden from her and the rest of her family. It was a fascinating novel about a portion of holocaust history that we often don’t hear about in the West.
Confession: I LOVE Latin American literature – my favorite book is Like Water for Chocolate. This book is set in 1920s Yucatan and follows a girl who somehow gets involved in a century-old dispute between two ancient Mayan death gods who are brothers trying to destroy each other. The story takes them on a road trip through Mexico to the U.S. border during the height of Art Deco. Yes, this girl is taking a road trip with the Mayan god of death, how cool is that? It’s wonderfully atmospheric with some Mexican folklore thrown in. I love it.
I never thought I’d enjoy a book based on a 1913 miner’s strike as much as I did, but I wound up loving this one. I’m originally from Michigan (I live in Kansas now), so part of this was learning more about the history of my state, and also it tells the story of a very strong woman, stories that are often left out of history. This particular novel is based on the real-life story of Annie Clements, who led an 18-month strike in Calumet, Michigan, which was the location of one of the top copper mining companies of its day. Ultimately, her efforts combined with World War I which followed soon after, led to the eventual demise of Calumet as a robust mining town. (For the record, I’m not from Calumet, but from the Detroit area, but anything Michigan history is still fascinating to me, as much of my family settled there in the late 19th century after emigrating from England and Canada).
Margaret Atwood is one of my all-time favorite authors so I knew I was going to love this one. It’s been many years since I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale so I wasn’t sure if I was going to be confused by this, but much of the background information I remembered came back as I read it. This book takes place many years after The Handmaid’s Tale so this could be read by itself without too much confusion. I will admit, there are parts of it that are very disturbing because of their relevance to today’s issues of women and bodily autonomy, which makes a work like this that much more important.
This was a book I also wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. I read this one on audiobook and listened to it on my trip to California in October and I must say, if you read this book, definitely check out the audiobook! This novel tells the story of a fictional rock band from the 1970s and is told in flashbacks, as each of the different band members and those around the band, recount the story of their early beginnings to how they eventually fell apart (anyone remember VH1 Behind the Music? It’s kind of like that). The audiobook has some pretty big name narrators including Benjamin Bratt, Jennifer Beals (from Flashdance) and Pablo Schreiber (American Gods’ fans – he’s the actor that plays Mad Sweeney). It was such a great book to listen to on a plane to L.A.! It put me right back to the Hollywood scene in the 70s, drug cliches and all. If you need a more laid-back read, try this one.
These were a few other books I read this year that I enjoyed and also definitely recommend, they just didn’t stick out as much as the ones mentioned above.
There There, Tommy Orange
Another one I listened to on audiobook. Very good, though kind of dark and depressing. Tells a series of stories of intersecting characters – all Natives living in Oakland, CA that are attending a local pow wow. Deals a lot with what it means to be Native in modern America, especially in an urban setting and how they navigate a white dominant world.
The Gown, Jennifer Robson
The book is about embroidery! This is a historical novel based on the embroiderers who worked on Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding gown. Of course, as a crafter, I loved the parts about working in the embroidery room, but there’s also a bit of royal history thrown in there and of course, cozy little themes about friendship, family and love.
Educated, Tara Westover
This was one of the hot memoirs of the year. It tells the story of a woman who was raised by Mormon survivalists in Idaho(?) without a formal education. She decided at 17 to attend Brigham Young University, so she had to cram 12 years of standard education into 6 months in order to take college entrance exams and she eventually went on to earn her Ph.D in History from Cambridge and Harvard (I think? I read this one months ago). This story is one of those stories that sounds almost too unreal to be true.
Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
This was another one of those novels people were talking about all year and I think was on the New York Times Bestseller list for a long time. It probably still is. I was intrigued, it was about a girl who grows up in a cottage on a North Carolina marsh who is cut off from society, doesn’t go to school and from about age nine, learns to fend for herself. She is ostracized by the people of the town and as she grows up, this misunderstanding leads to her being implicated in the murder of a local boy. It was very atmospheric and well written. What’s really interesting though is the story behind the author and how her husband was a suspect in the 1990s of the murder of poachers (in Africa)! (a link to the article about it can be seen here.
Waking the Witch, Pam Grossman
I love anything witchy or pagan related so this one definitely caught my eye. This was written by the creator of The Witch Wave podcast and goes pretty in depth about the image of the witch in popular culture and how that image has been used both to disenfranchise and empower women. She also intertwines it with her own personal experiences with her identity as a witch. This was a quick, fun and enlightening read. I still haven’t listened to her podcast yet, but maybe someday soon I’ll check it out.