So after reading 137 books in 2012 and writing a book about it, I felt a fair amount of self-imposed pressure to keep it up in 2013. I didn’t want it to be a fluke. Clearly it wasn’t a fluke, just an insatiable love for reading.
I dove in to so many great worlds through books in the past year. The number doesn’t really matter, just that joy of reading.
Of course we like numbers. This year I hit 146.
That sounds crazy. And intimidating. If you want to read more, don’t focus on my crazy numbers. Just find some books you love and start reading. I’ve got plenty of tips for you.
I’ll be putting together a top five (or 10 or 15) list of my favorite books of the year, like I did last year, but I’ll need some time to whittle that list down (Update: Here’s my top 10 fiction of 2013). Though it will probably include The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Martian and something by Rainbow Rowell.
I had a few trends this year, including getting into some great new authors (John Scalzi, Hugh Howey, Rainbow Rowell, Neal Stephenson and Mira Grant), tackling a few classics (I’m not big on classics) including Call of the Wild, The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, Chinua Achebe and Anne Frank (yeah, somehow I’d never read her diary), and getting into the history of the civil rights movement (which included discovering a new hero in Pauli Murray). And like always, I read a lot of post-apocalyptic sci-fi.
So let’s get to it. Here’s my reading list for 2013:
- Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott
This trippy Jesus follower breaks down prayer in a way that only she could. Short, sweet and a nice kick in the pants.
- Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle
A story of biblical time travel in L’Engle’s typically intellectual style.
- The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle
It’s kind of nice to shift gears with L’Engle’s work and read something with a little more action. Much of her fiction is very intellectual and lacks physical action. This psuedo-spy thriller had some of both.
- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
A time traveling love story sounds nerdy, but it’s head- and heart-spinning. A celebration of love against all challenges, even time.
- Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
In the tradition of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, this story of colonial troops verses aliens is pretty great. It explores some interesting ideas about life and old age.
- Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Didn’t like it as much as Levithan’s other work. It reads like a first novel, perhaps because it is. The love story isn’t amazing and a lot of the details feel like creative writing class ideas, all crammed into one book. Some nice moments and good quotes (“Sometimes you just have to dance like a madman in the Self Help section of your local bookstore.”), but overall I was unimpressed.
- Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
My first venture into steampunk, which was kind of fun since Priest set out to give a rationale for all the goggles and leather. However, for a book about a gassed out, abandoned city full of zombies, the story moved with a slow, rambling shuffle. It had plenty of action, but it always seemed to be in slow motion.
- Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle
I haven’t read this classic on creativity and faith in a while, so it was time for a re-read (plus I wanted to give it a review on Church Marketing Sucks). It’s such a great exploration of faith and child-like wonder and how an artist creates and what it means to be a person of faith creating stuff (of course she’s a little more eloquent than that).
- Feed by M.T. Anderson
A weird dystopian future where people have this Internet-like feed jacked into their heads. They’ve also dropped a few IQ points and it’s kind of like Idiocracy. It was kind of annoying to follow. I kept hoping the story would get more engaging and it was really just depressing.
- Divergent by Veronica Roth
Kind of a weird dystopian setup that didn’t feel realistic, but the character and storytelling are very engaging. It also offers enough closure for the opening work in a trilogy, something many trilogies today overlook.
- The Passage by Justin Cronin
A post- (and pre-) apocalyptic vampire novel that’s told in incredible detail (adding up to an overwhelming 766 pages). It was thrilling and suspenseful, addicting like a Stephen King novel (though not quite as bloody). It took a little bit to get used to the intricate prose, which often gave way more detail than necessary, but it also jumped around and kept the plot moving.
- Redshirts by John Scalzi
An entire novel based on what happens when the expendable “Redshirts” of the original Star Trek TV series figure out how expendable they are. Hilarious set up. Pretty fun follow through. But the 75 pages of codas at the end felt weird and tacked on.
- First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci
Quick story about a teenager who feels very alone and alien. It’s a little weird, but also touching.
- Every You, Every Me by David Levithan
The more I read of David Levithan, the more I like him. Instead of just writing a novel about characters, he finds a really interesting way to approach the story. In this case it’s through a series of pictures delivered to the character like a scavenger hunt (which is actually how it was written). Of course it’s not a fun scavenger hunt, it’s all about teen depression, suicide and psychotic episodes. But the approach makes it really engaging.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
A story about an orphaned girl in Nazi Germany who discovers herself by stealing books and hiding a Jew in her basement should be incredible. The story is good, but 550 pages is a bit too much, especially when Death is narrating.
- Fat Vampire by Johnny B. Truant
If vampires never age and always heal, if they’re fat when they’re turned are they always fat? This short novel answers with a resounding yes, launching into a wacky, heart-warming vampire tale.
- Earthseed by Pamela Sargent
I remember reading this entire book in a single day in 8th grade. The story captivated me–an intriguing mix of Lord of the Flies and sci-fi. I recently discovered that 25 years after publishing this book, the author turned it into trilogy, so I thought I’d re-read it before hitting up the new ones. Re-reading is always interesting, but I’d completely forgotten the major plot twists during the second half. It’s still pretty good–a lot more teen drama then I remember, but maybe I understood it better then.
- Feed by Mira Grant
Twenty-five years after the zombie uprising a trio of bloggers follows a presidential campaign into a massive conspiracy. How many layers of awesome would you like? Riveting, fun and more than just another zombie tale. Great read.
- Farseed by Pamela Sargent
The long-awaited 2007 sequel to the 1983 novel Earthseed. Meh. It devolved into an odd drama that lacked a real protagonist.
- The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
A sequel to Old Man’s War that dives deeper into the world of the Colonial Union, just as engaging and stretching as the original.
- The Last Colony by John Scalzi
The third in a trilogy of the Old Man’s War series (though Scalzi has written more), this one lacked the punch of the first two, primarily because colonizing a planet is a lot less exciting than gallivanting across the universe as a soldier.
- Deadline by Mira Grant
This sequel to a thrilling zombie tale falls flat. I guess that’s what happens when the narrator doesn’t survive the first one. I honestly thought this would work better, but more than the narrator shift, I think the plot was too convoluted. The conspiracies never quite made sense and the whole thrill of danger never felt quite believable.
- Blackout by Mira Grant
The sequel continues and nearly falls apart. I only kept reading out of sheer stubbornness. Massive global conspiracies are never that believable. The first volume in this series excelled because it focused on two bloggers telling their story. The second two chapters failed because the conspiracy was so intense the bloggers couldn’t tell their story. Lame. And I’ve never read a zombie book where the zombies were so sidelined.
- Tell Me a Story: Finding God (and Ourselves) Through Narrative by Scott McClellan
Looking at life as story and finding the inspiration, encouragement and motivation to be worthy storytellers. A great little book that condenses a lot of disjointed thoughts about story that have been floating around in the past few years. (Church Marketing Sucks review)
- Fat Vampire 2 by Johnny B. Truant
A great idea spawns a quick story and then turns into a multi-part series. I liked the opener, but the sequel drags.
- Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg
Interesting memoir of a prison librarian, though it seemed overly long for what it was.
- Wool by Hugh Howey
A post-apocalyptic dystopia where the mysterious world keeps cracking open a little at a time. It’s thrilling, engaging and addictive. Hard to put down.
- Seed Seeker by Pamela Sargent
The last piece of the Earthseed trilogy. Just like the sequel, I say meh. Even more so. The new characters were interesting, but there was no compelling motive or driving interest.
- Social Media Guide for Ministry by Nils Smith
A practical guide to social media for churches with loads of real world advice. (Church Marketing Sucks review)
- An Ocean in Iowa by Peter Hedges
A quirky story of a 7-year-old boy in 1960s Iowa trying to cope with his mother’s alcoholism. It was interesting, but kind of rambling and a little hopeless.
- I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier
A slowly-building mystery that gets pretty intense by the end. In many ways it feels like a lot of the head-scratching, blow-you-away movies like Memento or Sixth Sense, except it’s a young adult novel written in the late 1970s.
- The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
A great story that really sucks you in, though it’s also long and hard to read quickly. It has that beautifully written style, kind of like Barbara Kingsolver, that’s wonderful but also impossible to speed through.
- Zom-B by Darren Shan
Took way too long for the zombies to come and in the meantime we had to deal with a juvenile thug of a character. The only reason I read it is because the sequel looked interesting, [SPOILER ALERT] a story from the zombie’s perspective. As you can imagine the main character comes around by the end, but I generally dislike stories where the main character is an ass for most of the book.
- Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan
The sequel gets much more interesting as the character is a zombie herself but still has consciousness. Unfortunately, this is a multi-book series with no closure in sight.
- Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi
The second in a trilogy, which is always kind of a letdown. This one didn’t quite seem to go anywhere until the last third.
- Anthills of the Savanna by Chinua Achebe
A little more academic and literary for my tastes (took me forever to figure out who the characters were since the narration kept switching back and forth), but it did offer an interesting perspective on African politics and culture.
- Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter
A teeny-bopper zombie tale, this one with more spirit-like zombies and lots of teen romance. Longer than it needed to be and the mystery felt like someone leading you on. Meh.
- On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Continuing my way through the Little House series and this one finally gets us to Minnesota. The plot in these stories is so minimal, but I do enjoy getting a glimpse of life in the 1800s.
- Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein
Story of an orphaned boy discovering his place in the galaxy. I liked the easy-going style, though it would have been helped by a more driving overall plot. The end literally gets weighed down in bureaucracy.
- The Island by Michael Stark
A world-ending virus turns into a demon apocalypse. Very wordy, rabbit-hole-like narration. It’s especially long in the beginning but as more action develops it gets better. I liked the post-apocalypitc element of retreating to an island to wait out the end, but the demon bits were a little weird and not explained to a satisfactory degree (it’s supernatural, why should it make sense?). The book is broken into five ebooks which is a little annoying, though it did prompt me to buy the last two installments, so I guess it worked.
- The Twelve by Justin Cronin
The sequel to The Passage and all in all a good story. I like his literary style paired with essentially vampires and I like how he crafted this sequel by going back to the beginning and giving us more of characters we only glimpsed before. It nicely dovetails with the original and doesn’t simply push forward. What I don’t like is that it gets into a lot of unexplained “supernatural” details about this world that we’re just supposed to accept. Feels too deus ex machina and makes the ending too easy.
- Eve and Adam by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate
Fast-paced, bio-medical thriller starring teens. And clones! Ended kind of abruptly without actually addressing all the wild ethical issues it raised.
- Life After Art by Matt Appling
Some interesting thoughts on rediscovering creativity. Some arguments rubbed me the wrong way, but getting past that there were some quality insights. (Church Marketing Sucks review)
- The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
A post-apocalyptic novel that reminds me of The Road with its scatterbrained style and lack of dialogue punctuation and attribution (takes a while to get used to). While it’s steeped in the similar despair of the genre, there’s a lot more hope.
- Have Space Suite—Will Travel by Robert Heinlein
One of Heinlein’s early children’s novels, it’s not as gripping as his other stuff. He spends too much time explaining the science of science fiction (not sure it’s correct either, it was written in the 1950s) and it starts off pretty slow. Halfway through it starts to get better.
- Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi
This is a retelling of Scalzi’s The Last Colony from the perspective of a different character. Very interesting take that nicely fills in some holes in The Last Colony. Though it’s also a retelling, so it’s not exactly full of suspense and edge-of-your-seat drama like most Scalzi books.
- Insurgent by Veronica Roth
I didn’t like it. It’s the second in the Divergent dystopian trilogy and while I liked the opening well enough, this one went downhill. The plot was rambling and directionless with no sense of where we were going and the characters were whiny and guilt-ridden, refusing to talk about or address their issues. Some of that is understandable, but get on with it. The strong Tris of Divergent was absent in this chapter.
- Unicorn Western 1 by Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt
The fantasy elements of a unicorn combined with the gun-slingin’ rough ridin’ of a Western. It took a little bit to get going, but it’s quick and quirky. Unfortunately, it’s a serial, so there’s not much resolution at the end. Guess I’ll have to read the other installments. It sounds like they have the first 9 plotted out (and four currently released) with a grand plan for 27 (?!).
- The Returners by Mikey Neumann
Historical figures are being reincarnated and someone’s trying to kill them. The premise sounds just awesome and despite some typos the unrelenting pace and tone were great. The plotting and overall logic could use a bit of work though, as it was never clear who was on what side, especially with all the side switching and sudden reveals.
- The Martian by Andy Weir
Amazing Robinson Crusoe style story of an astronaut trapped on Mars. The technical know-how, the seat-of-your-pants engineering, the duct tape! One of the best books I’ve read this year.
- Yesterday’s Gone Season 1 by Sean Platt and David Wright
I’ve been listening to their Self Publishing Podcast and figured it was time I finally read something they wrote. I’m not a fan of the unexplained fantasy element, but weirdness aside, this is a pretty gripping, what-happens-next?! story. Written like a serial TV series with episodes and seasons, it offers numerous cliffhangers, which will perhaps be my biggest complaint–when do we get closure? But the characters, tone and style are just great. It’s a fun ride.
- Fat Vampire 3 by Johnny B. Truant
I enjoyed the first volume in this series, wasn’t so impressed with the second. Tried the third because I listen to the author’s Self Publishing Podcast and wanted to dive deeper into the story. I think three was better than two, but not by much. The story was a little less confusing, but it still felt like it didn’t go anywhere. Just when it was getting going with a really interesting fight sequence, the book ended. To be continued.
- Fat Vampire 4 by Johnny B. Truant
Since I opted to give the Fat Vampire series another shot and was met with the no-resolution ending of book three, I had to try book four. And here’s where I realized why I don’t like this series. It’s all talk. It’s full of exposition and explanation with very little action. Much of book four is Reginald thinking and weighing scenarios. A little bit of that is OK, we need to understand what’s going on. But it goes on and on. Even an exciting train wreck was dulled by this need to explain and ponder every detail. Ug. This one ended without any resolution either. The series has gone from stand alone books with a good sense of resolution to a serial that leaves you hanging, without the cliffhanger you can’t ignore. The author also referenced one of his own books (Unicorn Western), taking the opportunity to make fun of it. I haven’t decided if that’s shameless jack assery or awesome.
- Plague Zone by David Wellington
A guy sneaks into a zombie-infested plague zone to get revenge on the single zombie that killed his family. What? I couldn’t get over how ridiculous that motivation was.
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Abby recommended this one as a classic and I thought I should finally read it. Not bad, but it didn’t captivate me. At least I can now get Ponyboy references.
- Directive 51 by John Barnes
An apocalypse spawned by luddites armed with technology-killing nanobots who are co-opted by terrorists in a thrilling novel that’s really about presidential succession during unprecedented disaster. The post apocalypse gets a lot less interesting when you realize that’s what it’s about. Plus, I started to lose interest when at one point a nuclear bomb is detonated that was constructed entirely by robots on the moon. No explanation is ever given as to whether these are NASA robots gone amok or what. We never even hear about anything in space, like stranded astronauts aboard the International Space Station or whatnot. If you’re going to pull out robots on the moon dropping H-bombs on us, you need a little more explanation.
- Light by Michael Grant
The end of the six-book Gone series is finally here. I spent the first third of this book trying to remember what happened in the previous five volumes. It was good to see how this all came to an end, but I think the series had been dragging for a while.
- A Flock of Ships by Brian Callison
A World War II navel story. Pretty good, though it did take me a while to get a hang of the navel lingo.
- Slow Apocalypse by John Varley
All the world’s oil goes up in smoke, prompting a worldwide collapse. The story follows a screenwriter in Los Angeles who gets a heads up to the coming apocalypse and prepares as best he can. The story struck me as a lot of cataloging and diary keeping as opposed to great storytelling.
- Ex-Heroes by Peter Cline
Zombie apocalypse meets superheroes. Love the concept, not so thrilled with the execution. I don’t like it when these stories resort to comic book throw downs where anyone can just punch harder to win. I also dislike unexplained bad guys. But superheroes vs. zombies is pretty cool.
- Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff
Bob is a crazy, ridiculous person who puts a premium on whimsy and action. It’s a great book and some great thoughts, but I don’t know if we can all be that person. I think I have a lot to learn about letting go and controlling things less, but there are some things you can’t just wing.
- V Wars by Jonathan Maberry
A story about the vampire apocalypse, told from multiple angles and threaded together. Each thread was written by a different author, which brought a unique flavor, but a little more overlap would have been good.
- Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield
Sort of a zombie-based post-apocalyptic novel that centers around a woman trying to find her daughter. All the questions aren’t answered, so of course it’s a series. Does have some interesting dystopian elements that emerge early in the post-apocalypse world, kind of a beginning of the dystopia that you don’t see very often.
- Unblogger by Darrell Vesterfelt
A quick ebook about blogging warning against the dangers of getting sucked into the hype and instead focusing on blogging for the right reasons.
- Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
A zombie that falls in love with a living person and brings about a cure to the zombie plague. A unique and creative approach to what’s easily becoming a tired trope.
- By the Shores of Sliver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
It’s kind of funny reading this series and realizing that each book is the family uprooting and moving somewhere new. This is perhaps the most disjointed of the books, starting oddly with scarlet fever and Mary’s blindness and ending with them finally settling in South Dakota.
- Unicorn Western 2 by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
I love the concept and I love the way these guys crank out content (A 9-part series totaling 250,000 words in just five months!?). If only the story lived up to the hype. Part one was a good start, but part two falls into the problem I noticed with Truant’s Fat Vampire series—it’s too much explaining and not enough action. Except for a quick fight that was over before it started, this book had virtually zero action until the very end. I really want to like this series, but I’m just not feeling it.
- Run Your First Marathon: Everything You Need to Know to Reach the Finish Line by Grete Waitz
Did I just read a book on how to run a marathon? I did. I haven’t committed to a marathon yet, but I needed to learn some more about long distance running. If it goes well, maybe I’ll do it.
- The Son of Laughter by Frederick Buechner
A retelling of the life of Jacob from the Bible. It started out interesting but it got kind of old. After a while it felt like there wasn’t anything new or interesting to the story. One of the hazards of retelling old tales like this. Part of my low rating is probably due to my high expectations for Buechner. I love his stuff and this one just didn’t hit the mark for me.
- Going Bovine by Libba Bray
What starts out as a slacker teen story takes a really weird turn as he’s diagnosed with mad cow disease and goes off on this fantastic adventure to find a cure and save the world, an adventure which (SPOILER ALERT) may or may not be real.
- Starfish by James Crowley
A captivating story of two native children escaping from the government-enforced boarding school and trying to survive on their own in the wilds of Montana. Some pacing issues and what felt like abrupt ending kept it from being a much better story.
- Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Beauty pageant contestants stranded on a tropical island. Awesome set up, wacky satire, impressive follow through and wrong on so many levels (Christian pole dancing? Maxi-Pad Pets?!).
- Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse by James Wesley, Rawles
Wow. Just wow. This novel is so incredibly bad and so incredibly amazing at the same time. As literature it’s horrible: It reads more like a survivalist supply list and NRA propaganda than a story. But that’s exactly its strength: The author is a brilliant survivalist who knows his stuff. If you can get past the laughable attempts at storytelling, ridiculous political bias (Cannibal looters are also card-carrying communists?!) and Christianist voodoo (Fornication! Abomination! Implanted chips! [while he stopped short of calling them the Mark of the Beast, they were named Mark IV]), there’s some great post-apocalyptic stuff here and lots of interesting military and guerrilla warfare. Not sure if I can forgive the author for making fun of Mad Max though.
- The Human Division by John Scalzi
John Scalzi is quickly becoming my favorite sci-fi author. The Human Division is a serialized collection of inter-connected stories in the Old Man’s War universe. They’re gripping, funny and thoroughly entertaining. My only complaint is that the on-going mystery throughout the series is never wrapped up. Apparently the serial was renewed for a second season, so the mystery will continue.
- A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton
The title says it all. It’s a quirky, sparse story that’s truly more about the journey than anything else. There’s some whimsy to enjoy, but otherwise I wasn’t enthralled.
- Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan
David Levithan is becoming one of my favorite young adult writers and I keep seeing his name everywhere. This one is a mix of sci-fi and young adult, much like his Everyday, with a kid cursed with invisibility. It gets a little Hogwarts with spells and curses (though the Harry Potter references and jokes are pretty great), but the grounding in real world teen is pretty solid. Some drag in the middle and an end that’s not entirely satisfying keep it from being a favorite, but it’s pretty good reading.
- Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
I really enjoyed this quirky tale of an outcast teenager trying to come to terms with her life, solve the mystery of her friend’s death and trying not to repeat the mistakes of her alcoholic father and runaway mother. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what I liked so much, but there’s something about the detailed description of an average night for a pizza delivery driver that’s engaging.
- Shift by Hugh Howey
A sequel/prequel to Wool, this chapter is disturbing and creepy in that it explains how the silos were set up in the first place. So it’s much more dystopia than post-apocalyptic, and generally increases the creep factor. It gives a fascinating insight into the world of the silos and sets things up for the trilogy’s final chapter. It’s a thrilling read, though it doesn’t quite match Wool‘s all-around awesomeness.
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
A rambling, weird, self-absorbed, profane teenage boy tells the story of how his mom made him be friends with a girl who was dying. This is not the tear-jerking Hallmark story with grand life lessons. It’s funny, vulgar and touching in its own weird little way.
- Homeland by Cory Doctorow
I’m a fan of Doctorow’s work and while I liked Homeland and the previous volume Little Brother well enough, there’s something off-putting about it. Doctorow always shares tons of just past the edge sci-fi stuff in his books, explaining how things work in really interesting ways. But in this series it comes across as condescending. I’m not sure if the main character just rubs me the wrong way or what, but it doesn’t feel like a natural way to share the details. Sometimes I feel like I’m reading a novelization of BoingBoing.net. We get some great characters (independent candidate Joe Ness) and interesting situations (remote controlled drones over a protest crowd), but there’s a lot left unanswered. Worth noting that perhaps the scariest part of the book is that Aaron Swartz wrote the afterward, before killing himself in 2013 after being the subject of a federal witch hunt.
- Reamde by Neal Stephenson
Super long (1,042 pages!), multiple character caper story where things just keep unfolding. Lots of seemingly pointless asides, though they usually payed off. I thought it was fun enough to keep me hooked through the entire length, but that length is a tall order. On the interesting side, it believably connects online gaming with terrorist cells.
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
A World War II novel about two women who served as a spy and a pilot in a war dominated by men. Interesting read, though the structure is a little odd, especially when it shifts perspectives halfway through.
- Show Me a Story! Why Picture Books Matter: Conversations With 21 of the World’s Most Celebrated Illustrators by Leonard S. Marcus
I always shy away from nonfiction because it usually isn’t as captivating and tends to drag on. While children’s books seemed like a fascinating subject, this one had a lot of drag potential. But I found it to be fascinating. I found myself going to the library to look up some of the illustrators and check out their work. Makes me want to read more with my kids and try to write more children’s books. The best chapters were Mo Willems, Ashley Bryan and Chris Raschka–more because I connected with them than anything they said.
- Promise the Night by Michaela MacColl
Based on the life of Beryl Markham, the first woman to fly solo from England to North America, this book tells the story of her growing up as an unruly child in British East Africa. We get brief glimpses of her famous flight, but the story is primarily about her constantly bucking expectations while growing up. I was hoping for more of her trailblazing career in horses or planes.
- Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan
A trio of teenagers experiencing and responding to the 9/11 attacks. It painfully captures the feelings of that time. My favorite part is the way it addresses how music changed, especially how U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind became much more poignant.
- Monster by Walter Dean Myers
A quick read about a black teenager on trial for murder. He doesn’t quite realize (or won’t admit) what he’s been swept into. It’s especially interesting for how it doesn’t give us easy answers into the character’s actions or state of mind.
- Quarantine: The Saints by Lex Thomas
The first book in this series sets up a brutal scenario of teenagers trapped in their high school and resorting to Lord of the Flies type gangs. By the end the main character escapes and we’re expecting the sequel to show us the outside world. Wrong. While trying to escape the high schoolers are inexplicably trapped again and what was a story of intrigue just gets weird and brutal. The story doesn’t go anywhere, the characters aren’t developed (or reintroduced) like they were in the first installment and there are too many unanswered questions.
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
The story of a 14-year-old boy in Malawi who built a windmill so his family could survive famine. It’s mostly biography and you get loads of background on village life in Malawi, which all makes the famine and the windmill much more intense.
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass
I think I’ve only read excerpts before, but it was interesting (and chilling) to read this classic.
- How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
Milo is so obsessed with the movie that we finally looked into the book, though the two don’t share much in common. It’s a fun little read, but nothing overly impressive.
- The Runaway Robot by Lester Del Rey
I remember reading this story as a kid and it was worth a re-read. A boy and his robot try to sneak back to earth and it touches on robots intelligence type questions. A little odd juxtaposing it with the Frederick Douglass I’d read earlier today.
- Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830-1970 by Lynne Olson
An eye-opening, transcendent account of the civil rights movement, punctuated with the power of women. I was impressed with the transparent account that didn’t shy away from the movement’s failings. It’s stronger when we don’t whitewash everything to be perfect and squeaky clean.
- The Violence of Love by Oscar Romero
A wonderful collection of writings and sermons from the martyred El Salvadoran priest who spoke out for the poor and oppressed.
- Linda Brown, You Are Not Alone: The Brown v. Board of Education Decision edited by Joyce Carol Thomas
A collection of writings and reactions from children’s authors. Perhaps most interesting was the discussion of the negative impacts of the desegregation ruling.
- Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos
The first take at a teen novel from this Pulitzer-winning author and I wasn’t impressed. I like Hijuelos for his smooth, lyrical writing and it just felt dumbed down here.
- CMYK: The Process of Life Together (Expanded Edition) by Justin McRoberts
A deep, thought-provoking discourse that explores McRoberts’ latest songs and their inspirations. It explores difficult issues of life and faith with honesty and grace.
- Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now by Maya Angelou
Quick thoughts and wisdom from Maya Angelou’s life. It’s much more distilled and practical advice than her autobiographies, but it’s straight advice and little if any story, which is part of the joy of her writing.
- Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest, and Poet by Pauli Murray
A thorough account of a woman who lived before her time, confronting civil rights and the role of women and ultimately turning to priesthood in the Episcopal Church. While thoroughly detailed, any biography of this type can start to drag, but the incredible nature of her life propelled me onward.
- Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family by Pauli Murray
A memoir of Pauli Murray’s grandparents, from slavery to Jim Crow. Especially powerful reading about her grandfather fighting in the Civil War and then going south to teach former slaves.
- How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp by Shawn and Maile Smucker
The story of this family of six and their four month cross-country road trip. I’ve never wanted to go on a road trip with my family so badly before.
- Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne
Back to my post-apocalytpic favs. This time around it’s a group of children and teens trapped in a discount retailer by dangerous chemical compounds raining from the sky. If the set up sounds ridiculous, it is, but it’s mostly forgotten as all the action takes place indoors. It’s not gripping, but it’s good enough I’ve kept reading the sequel.
- Sky on Fire by Emmy Laybourne
The sequel to Monument 14 that gives us a needed measure of closure. The series still continues, but at the close of this chapter there’s a much more satisfying ending. This volume takes the story outside of the store the kids have been locked in and gives us two parallel narratives. It still lacks some of the riveting qualities I expect in my post-apocalyptic fiction, but there are still some engaging moments.
- Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkeny
I don’t usually count children’s books, but this one is short on pictures and long on words (over 100 pages), so I’m counting it. A great introduction to some of the amazing black women heroes. I especially liked the style that broke away from stilted biography and had depth and character.
- When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over by Addie Zierman
From the author of the blog How to Talk Evangelical, Addie shares a poignant story of growing up in the Christian bubble and sliding from enthusiastic Jesus Freak missionary into alcohol-fueled depression. It’s an engaging and honest confessional on faith that’s much needed today.
- The Folk of the Fringe by Orson Scott Card
A collection of post-apocalyptic short stories from the sci-fi master. This one explores Card’s Mormon faith and ultimately presents and engaging Mormon-dominated post-America.
- Pauli Murray: Selected Sermons and Writings by Pauli Murray
It’s great fun seeing this civil rights activist reaching the pinnacle of her life as a priest and reading her sermons. I wouldn’t call them ground-breaking or must read, but they have a familiar, prophetic, justice-rolls-down feel to them.
- Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Two brokenhearted teens getting over their lost love and falling for each other in a single night. I like it better without having to imagine Michael Cera in the lead role.
- Dark Testament and Other Poems by Pauli Murray
No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get into poetry.
- The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
While beautifully written, the slow pace and lack of plot nearly derailed this book for me. After 50 pages I set it aside for a while and almost didn’t come back to it. I finally finished it, though the lack of any real change or forward progress in the main character was enough that I could have left it unfinished and wouldn’t be any worse for it.
- The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways by Meredith Gould
The best primer I’ve read on social media yet. Meredith covers it all with grace, humor and insight. (Church Marketing Sucks interview)
- A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
A short but moving read about war in Sudan and clean water.
- Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Super long and mostly engaging cryptography mystery about World War II. Bogged down when he spent too long explaining math. Also surprised at how often he skipped over the action or described it after the fact as opposed to letting you experience it firsthand. The end was a bit of a let down. Way too abrupt for an 1100-page book and I didn’t think he convincingly tied everything up–which is a horrible mistake for a book that long (justify your length!). Despite all these complaints I did like it, but it could have been so much better with some simple tweaks.
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
A beautiful, awkward, heart-rending teen romance that’s dorky and punk and all that you’d expect.
- Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt
A far-future post apocalyptic story about a group searching for the secrets of the past. It starts off rather slow but gives an intriguing perspective.
- What Is the What by Dave Eggers
Incredibly honest and real story of a Lost Boy from Sudan and his escape from terror in Africa only to find more terror in America. A much more real and heart-breaking story than any others I’ve read about the Lost Boys.
- This Is a Soul: An American Doctor’s Remarkable Mission in Ethiopia by Marilyn Berger
The story of Rick Hodes’ life is incredible. His passion and selflessness is a bit intimidating. I found the writing to be so-so, though it didn’t feel like it wore thin until near the end.
- The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
This is the book J.K. Rowling wrote under a pseudonym. I’m not a big fan of the murder mystery, private eye sort of story, but Rowling made it readable and enjoyable. The ending confrontation felt a bit formulaic, but overall it’s good proof that Rowling can write about muggles.
- Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
The set up is genius—a late 1990s IT guy is tasked with reading staff emails flagged as inappropriate at a Midwest newspaper freaked out by new technology. But it gets even better when it turns into a love story and the main character is just awkward and doofy enough to love, but still funny and eventually confident enough that you can root for him. It’s the kind of read you want to savor.
- Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
A memoir about wacky, mental parents, sexual abuse and an all-around bizarre childhood. I kept expecting it to be more over the top than it was (thanks to a 10-years after publication intro that gave kind of a weird set up), but it just felt bizarre. Kind of a lost feeling as a reader, wandering why somebody doesn’t confront some of these awful situations.
- The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester
A fun and somewhat fresh story about kids with powers and the people who don’t approve of anything abnormal. A little heavy handed, but it had some great moments.
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
An incredible account of hiding out for over two years from Nazi oppression during World War II. It’s both a simple diary of a teenage girl trying to come to terms with herself, but also a complex glimpse into the horror of the Holocaust. A cloud of despair hangs over the entire novel, though it’s also full of Anne Frank’s hope and joy.
- The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
I remember reading this a long time ago, but I wanted to read it again. I’m always drawn to these stories of isolation and survival. It’s inspired by the true story of a native woman who was left alone on the island for 18 years.
- Invasion by Walter Dean Myers
A glimpse into the D-Day invasion from a U.S. infantryman. Explores the terror and insanity of war from a personal perspective.
- Dust by Hugh Howey
The thrilling and hopeful conclusion to the Wool trilogy. I loved the first volume, Wool. While engaging, I found the second volume, Shift, depressing. Contemplating the lives and motives of the people who created the world of Wool was just not pretty. But Dust is the end and the new beginning. We get to see Jules fulfill her quest and it’s a great ride. Plus Howey knows just how much of an end to give us. It doesn’t stop too abruptly, but doesn’t drag on forever. Just the detail we need. Great read.
- Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
A quick, tender-hearted book that will make you cry and (minor spoiler alert) still ends happy.
- The Enchanted Castle by Marc Secchia
Historical fantasy for middle grade readers set in Ethiopia. That’s enough to get my interest, though the fantasy angle isn’t my favorite. The story of a ‘ferengi’ slave girl who makes friends with the Princess of Sheba is engaging, and then she starts talking to animals while an invading horde lies in wait. Lots of interesting elements are introduced here, though it’s the first in a series so many of them don’t get played out just yet.
- Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue by Hugh Howey
After reading the Wool series I had to try something else from Howey. Molly Fyde is a great character and the action is pretty incredible, though I think the story had a few rough spots that kept it from being amazing. Felt like several different books—more like episodes (wonder if that’s how Howey wrote and released it?) that interrupted the arc of the whole a bit. But overall that’s a minor complaint.
- The First Days by Rhiannon Frater
Another zombie novel, this time with female protagonists. I think the frantic pace of the story is probably what I liked best.
- Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz
A fascinating exploration of the history of extinction on planet earth and how humanity can escape it. Puts a lot of my post-apocalyptic stories in a whole new light.
- After the Snow by S.D. Crockett
An interesting post-apocalypse by new ice age story that starts off as survival in the wilderness, then turns to fish out of water in the city. Has a backwoods voice that took a little getting used to, but I liked. Wasn’t quite what I expected, but I liked it until the end. SPOILER ALERT: The story was approaching a climax based on this idea of reaching the shore to meet a boat to go to the island. Details on this boat or island were completely lacking, but no matter, that was the goal. Then two pages from the end, within site of the boat and the people waiting for the boat, the main character decides the island is a metaphor and he’s fine where he is. What?! Didn’t make any sense.
- In the After by Demitria Lunetta
An intriguing post-apocalyptic world dominated by aliens attracted to light and noise. When a community of survivors is found the story twists into an unsettling dystopian future.
- Parasite by Mira Grant
People don’t like Obamacare, how about a genetically engineered tapeworm living in your digestive tract? It’s the new wave of health care and it saved Sally’s life after a horrific accident left her in a coma. Too bad she can’t remember any of that life. It’s got a bizarre near-future bio-tech setup and thunders a long at a good clip. I saw it coming pretty early but the ride to the end was still fun. Too bad it’s the first in a series and I’ll have to wait to see how it all turns out.
- Call of the Wild by Jack London
Haven’t read this classic before, but checked out the audio version while I was running and it was a great little story for running.
- The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe
An epidemic ravages a Canadian island and a teenager records the event in her diary. There are a bunch of distracting threads that are never played out and it just got frustrating. I’m surprised I stuck it out and finished it.
- Partials by Dan Wells
A post apocalyptic dystopia with some genetically modified non-humans thrown in for good measure. Great action and good pacing.
- Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
Only John Scalzi could make a 350-page book fly by so fast. It’s a gripping court-room drama about alien life on an intergalactic frontier. Fun stuff. I wanted to the read H. Beam Piper’s original first, but now I’m afraid it could never be as good as Scalzi’s version.
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Just a lovely story of a neurotic college student who writes fanfiction and is trying to figure life out. It includes a great spoof of the Harry Potter world and is just all around fun. I didn’t want it to end.
- Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility Can Save the Public Square by Andrew Marin
It took me a few chapters to get used to the academic approach—I almost gave up—but I’m glad I stuck it out. This book is so needed today. Andrew Marin proposes (and lives out) a way to get beyond the all-or-nothing form of discourse that dominates religion and politics. It’s a lot to wrap your head around and I’d need to do some serious study to learn how to implement it, but as progressives and conservatives clash over everything, from health care to gay marriage, we need a new way forward. Or maybe an old way. But we need something that can work in today’s polarized climate.
- Dogsong by Gary Paulsen
Another good read (listen) for winter running, the simple story of a modern native who rediscovers the ancient ways.
- Tree Shaker: The Story of Nelson Mandela by Bill Keller
A quick little intro to the life of Nelson Mandela and a good reminder of how very little I know about history.
- The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
A quick and poignant story about a sorrowful boy, an angry girl and a caged tiger. Kate DiCamillo seems to have a knack for these quick little vignettes about wounded children rising above their pain and loss.
- Farside by Ben Bova
A mystery on the far side of the moon that felt a little scattered and not as engaging as I’d hoped.
- The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
A companion novel to Life As We Knew It, which I enjoyed but was frustrated by a few problems with it. One was an unnecessary mockery of religion. That feeling was flipped on its head in this one as the Catholic faith of the main characters is a primary theme, and it’s never in a mocking tone. Though I still had more to nitpick. I found it hard to believe that post-apocalyptic New Yorkers would need to raid dead bodies for shoes, warm clothes and jewelry to trade for food. Apparently there are no stores in New York to loot? Also found it hard to believe that a family living alone in a 12+ story apartment building never bothered to break into any other apartments to find food. We get a comment from the author about how difficult that would be, but it seems like any lock could be overcome by a starving character and a power drill. This is an interesting series, but I’m at a loss for why it’s so popular (four books so far) or why I keep reading. But I do.
- The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
I keep seeing these books in the bookstore and wondering what they’re about, but I’m never interested enough to check them out. Then Lexi got me one for Christmas, so I gave it a read. It’s a very junior high boy type book with lots of goofiness. Not bad and obviously loads of Star Wars references, so that’s fun.
- Kindred by Octavia Butler
A surprise top read of the year. I listened to it while running and was just engrossed in the story. A black woman from the 1970s is mysteriously transported to 1800s slave-holding Maryland. She jumps back and forth in time, slipping dangerously between radically different societies. I’ve read Butler’s stuff before and found it severely intense but good, though this was less fantasy and more realistic than other stuff of her’s I’ve read, and I really enjoyed it. I like this genre of unexplained time travel where the story is more about what happens and never focuses on explaining the time travel.
- Horde by Ann Aguirre
The third and final book in the Razorland trilogy, which brought a strong and satisfying conclusion to the saga. I kind of wish there was a little more about the freaks and their transition, but overall it was good. My favorite part about Aguirre’s writing is she knows how to end a book, letting things stretch out and fill in all the open questions.
Yep, that’s a lot of books. If you want to read more, check out 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.