As I did last year, here’s a list of recommendations for your reading this year. You’ll probably see some of the books I’ve read and reviewed over the last year and some more that I didn’t touch on in depth. I’ll indicate when books are YA and when they are series books because there is nothing I hate more than going into a series unaware.
So here we go!
What to read if you are interested in this “Teen Paranormal Romance” genre but don’t want to read anything crappy: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl! I picked this up in the Cleveland airport because I had finished all the books I had brought home to read and already had to read one of Mom’s in Chicago. I needed something to get me through Cleveland and I saw this and thought since it was being made into a movie I should it. I did not expect myself to like it almost immediately and wonder if I had the other three books in the collection. It’s a paranormal romance in that there is magic going on, and that the two main characters are in love, but other than that it’s just a regular old fantasy story. Basically when Lena turns 16 she will be “Claimed” by the magic that rules her family, for either Light or Dark, good or evil. Ethan, falls in love with her and decides to help her. The characters are well written and the setting, a small town in the South, is perfect for the story. Did I mention there’s an awesome librarian named Marian? She is seriously ‘Marian Madam Librarian.” Awesome. (YA, book 1 of 4)
What to read if you don’t mind being sad, or if you’ve ever lived near an Indian Reservation, or heard of one, or ok, just read this book, it’s Important: The Round House by Louise Erdich. This is a hard book to read. It’s beautifully written and hard to put down but it’s hard. The main character’s mother is raped and almost burnt to death in the first chapter. The rest of the book is about finding the rapist and the effects of the crime upon a Native family in a North Dakota reservation. This book opened my eyes to the difficulties of prosecuting crimes on Indian land, especially if the accused is not Indian and how dangerous reservations are for Native American/Indian woman. They are 2.5 times as likely to be raped than other women in the U.S. Sad. But a great book and an important one to read, I think. Also, it won the National Book Award for fiction this year.
What to read if you like your feminism to be hilarious: How to Be a Woman by Catlin Moran. Somehow I heard of this book (bitch magazine? maybe?) but it’s great. It’s not really, like the cover says, the UK’s Tina Fey, but she is hilarious. She writes about growing up poor, struggling with her weight, having kids, and working in the music industry. It’s hilarious. Also, if you google her she makes lots of great faces. I mean really, look how cute: (My images are being funny today, so sorry it’s small. I’ll fix it eventually; also I know some people will go on and on about how Moran it’s a good feminist, but I don’t care. She makes me laugh.)
What to read if you’re thinking of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (and who isn’t?) but don’t want to read The Killer Angels because it’s super boring: Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz. A writer who loved the Civil War as a boy, tried to connect with modern (written in the mid-1990s during the debate over the Confederate flag flying in some southern states) remembrance of the war. He joins re-enactors, interviews Daughters of the Confederacy members and tries to figure out what the effect of the war has been on the South and our country. Hilarious and at times, chilling.
What to read if you want to weird your friends out with interesting and most likely inappropriate facts about sex and sex research: Bonk by Mary Roach. It’s really more about science and the science of sex, than sex. So don’t be weirded out, Mom. It’s interesting what people will think to study and how they can get volunteers to help them study it. Maybe not for the faint of heart because of one particularly detailed description of a penis surgery.
What to read if you are interested in alternate history Chicago, plus magic/aliens: The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkowski. I don’t think this is a series, but it just came out, so there’s always a chance it could become one. It’s the story of Darcy, an orphan bounced around a number of foster families in the Chicago area until she meets a mysterious boy who informs her that she’s actually a Shade – an alien than can turn invisible – and that she’s under arrest. Shades are the terrorists of an alternate Chicago where the Great Chicago Fire never happened. Interesting and well written, even if the guy, Conn, is a little strange. (YA)
When you can stand to read about a fictional school shooting or need a reminder to take your birth control: We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Another hard book. It came out about 10 years ago and I read it over Christmas break. It’s a series of letters written from a mother to her husband about their son Kevin, who kills eleven people in a school shooting. To say it’s heartbreaking is obvious, but it’s also hard to figure out how to feel about the mother. She’s a serious unreliable narrator at times and you feel like she is lying to assuage the guilt she feels, but other times you’re not so sure. Maybe she was right all along. Read it to try and figure out what’s true.
What to read if you like it when crazy stuff happens on space ships and if you can get through the first chapter about getting your eyes glued shut for cryogenic freezing: Across the Universe by Beth Revis. Amy and her parents are frozen and put aboard the space ship Godspeed en route to a planet that will help save the human race from extinction. They will be frozen for over 300 years but someone wakes up – and thus tries to murder – Amy. There’s lots of secrets on the ship and Amy has to figure it out before someone tries to kill her again. This book has interesting ideas on what life might be like in this situation and touches on human evolution, how we hope our leaders lead (the leader on the ship compares himself to Hitler . . . . favorably. Yikes.), and what we might do when the Earth dies. I’m going to start book two of the series today and the third comes out this year, so look for updates on this. (YA, book 1 of 3)
What to read if you like your murder mysteries with a dash of occultism, American tent revivals, gin, New York, and flappers: The Diviners by Libba Bray. I’ve talked about this one before, but it really is great. Gin, the theater, creepy American cults, murder, jazz – it’s all there. Or read Bray’s Going Bovine if you want a contemporary roadtrip comedy with a touch of mad cow. Just read something Bray wrote this year, ok? (YA, book 1 of 4, I think)
What to read if you want to know potatoes and bat guano are related: 1493 by Charles C. Mann. I know I’ve talked about this book before and it’s predecessor, 1491, but seriously they are amazing. You think globalization is a new thing brought on by the advent of the Internet? Think again, sister.
What to read if you want a 1000 page and counting YA fantasy trilogy (and that’s only two books): Finnikin of the Rock/Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta. These books are long and you may think while you’re reading them that you will never finish and that you don’t care what happens to the characters as long as the book is over. But once it is over, you can’t wait for the next one. It’s the story of Lumatere, a people without a country and how they get it back. (YA, books 1 and 2, of three)
What to read if you would like some beautiful, lyrical writing about the struggles of friendship: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Two Mexican American teens in the 1980s trying to figure out their lives. This book touches on the hardships of being friends and that guilt and pain that sometimes comes along with it better than most things I’ve read. Really wonderful. (YA)
What to read if you’ve ever made a comment about not wearing a red shirt on an away mission: Redshirts by John Scalzi. This book is meta-upon-meta but in a hilarious way. Towards the end you may be doubting all realities, but it’s worth it. Basically, ensigns on an Enterprise-like space ship realize they keep dying on away missions only to find out that it’s because (this is not really a spoiler, so shush) they are in a Star Trek-like TV show.