I read 101 books in 2018.
That’s down from recent years, but up slightly from last year, so I guess the good news is that I’ve kept my reading slump from getting worse?
I’m still feeling slumpish in my reading, and basically having to work hard to find things I really enjoy reading.
That means I start and stop a lot of books, and I’ve tried to steer into some of my favorite genres (sci-fi) and avoid some that aren’t doing it for me (middle grade & YA); though ironically, middle grade and YA are my third and fourth most commonly read genres (behind sci-fi and non-fiction). Though I think I still read less of those genres than last year. (I think I still find myself reading middle grade and YA because some of the most interesting stories and authors are in those genres.)
Trying to diagnose my own slump has been difficult, though it seems like chasing down interests works the best. I read a lot of sci-fi (almost a third), Star Wars (six!), and some favorite authors this year (I read three books each by Octavia Butler, Madeleine L’Engle, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, and Nnedi Okorafor).
It does help that I went on a major reading kick in December, especially the second half. I’ll admit, I was trying to break last year’s reading numbers, but I also just wanted to read some good books. I requested a huge stack from the library and just started plowing through them.
So that’s 2018. I’ll talk favorites (fiction and non-fiction) and statistics in other posts.
If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.
You can also check out my previous reading lists: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001.
The Books I Read in 2018:
- Bloodline by Claudia Gray – 3 stars
Some 20 years after Return of the Jedi, this is the story of how the Republic begins to crumble and the First Order gains a foothold. It’s mostly a story of government bureaucracy and political ambition. If it sounds regrettably similar to the prequels, you’d be right. Thankfully, we get to follow Leia and a few action-packed breaks from Senate procedure. It has some fun moments, but it’s not earth shattering. There are hardly any revelations that shed light on The Force Awakens, other than the general idea of how the First Order came to be.
- Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston – 4 stars
I’ve never been into the Clone Wars cartoon, so I have little connection to the Ahsoka character. That said, this is still an engaging story and an interesting thread in the line of Jedi hunted down by the Empire and the beginnings of the Rebel Alliance. I don’t know if it offers much in relation to the movies, though the connection to Bail Organa is fun.
- Canto Bight by Various – 3 stars
This is a collection of short stories taking place on the casino city Canto Bight from the new Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The stories are mostly disconnected from each other and don’t reveal anything about the movie. In fact, the stories are pretty disconnected from the Star Wars world in general. There are some vague mentions of the First Order and the Resistance, and we hear about Jedis, wookies, and farthiers—but these stories could have taken place in virtually any universe. That’s a bit of a let down. They’re fine stories, but if you’re looking to dive into the Star Wars world, these don’t quite deliver.
- Retrograde by Peter Cawdron – 4 stars
A colony on Mars deals with the aftermath of a nuclear war on Earth. It’s a great setup and a thrilling story. The attention to scientific detail is great, while still being a fast-paced thriller.
- Beyond the Empire by K.B. Wagers – 4 stars
This is the final installment in the Indranan War trilogy. We finally get to see Hail uncover the full plot against her empire and kick some ass. The book is pretty fast paced, considering much of it is meetings and strategy. It’s a fun read.
- The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma – 3 stars
This is a memoir from a girl whose father read to her every night for something like eight years. The reading streak is amazing and inspiring. It’s a great way to champion the power of books and the wonder of reading aloud. But it’s also not much more than that. Her father is a real character, but it felt like any time we got close to something deeper and more engaging, the story veered away from it.
- Ms. Marvel Vol. 8: Mecca by G. Willow Wilson, Marco Failla, Diego Olortegui, Ian Herring – 4 stars
I’ve grown tired of other comic series and stopped reading, but I’ve yet to tire of Ms. Marvel. The plots are always engaging and deep—more than the typical cliche fair of the super hero movies. And Kamala Khan herself is just so darn likable.
- Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson – 3 stars
This book is billed as making you fluent for any cosmic scientific discussion, but holy cow, it’s still pretty dense. It does offer some perspective and some insights.
- Infomocracy by Malka Older – 3 stars
While it had a pretty driving pace, I often found myself struggling to grasp everything that was happening. It’s an interesting peek at a system of global democracy and how it could be gamed and abused, but I didn’t feel like I deeply engaged with the characters.
- Black by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith & Jamal Igle – 4 stars
Pretty great setup where only black people can have superpowers, and how the world works as a result.
- I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi – 3 stars
This book was a hard one for me. I’m not great with nonfiction, and I had a hard time getting into it. I think the challenge was that I needed to be in the right mood. Luvvie is funny and entertaining, but she also swings wildly between talking about serious stuff and utterly ridiculous stuff. I had to be in the right mood for the ridiculous stuff (though the serious stuff was on point).
- Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor – 4 stars
Nnedi Okorafor’s work is so unique and different. I really like it, but I also struggle with it. Half the time I feel like I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m hanging on anyway. She really does sci-fi and intergalactic warfare in a way that’s completely different from the usual militaristic stuff.
- Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! by Marley Dias – 4 stars
A fun and inspiring book about how kids and teens can get involved and do good.
- Black Panther: The Young Prince by Ronald L. Smith – 4 stars
T’Challa is sent to Chicago as a 12-year-old while Wakanda is threatened. He has to keep a low profile and avoid trouble, and of course that doesn’t happen. It’s a quick read and has some fun action.
- They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery – 4 stars
This book gives keen insight into the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and police violence protests, starting with Trayvon Martin, moving through Ferguson and Baltimore. It ultimately ends with Philando Castille and Alton Sterling, as well as the Dallas and Baton Rouge police officers who were killed—events that likely happened as the book was being finalized. As such, the book has no mention of Trump and barely any mention of the 2016 election, which in hindsight seems like a seismic shift on the narrative of the book, but it’s never covered. Of course that’s asking too much, but it definitely colored my reading. But overall it’s detailed and powerful, with of admissions of wrong doing and giving proper credit.
- Stride Toward Freedom by Martin Luther King Jr. – 4 stars
This detailed history of the Montgomery bus boycott is an accounting both of what happened and the strategy that led to the movement’s success. It’s full of specific action plans as well as the philosophy behind those ideas. It’s incredible how much of what King says is still painfully relevant today.
- The Last Good Man by Linda Nagata – 5 stars
This fast paced, military techno-thriller had me on the edge of my seat. The near-future technology was completely believable and frightening. The book moved at a quick pace and kept me hooked. Great story and mystery.
- Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray – 5 stars
A wonderfully refreshing android space adventure story. It had depth and heart and a lot of fun. I couldn’t put it down. The cover copy calls it romantic, but that feels misleading. It’s not your typical YA romance. It’s also the first in a series, though it does stand on its own.
- Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison – 4 stars
What a great little book celebrating black women leaders. I love books like this that offer snippets of history, little tidbits that often encourage more exploration and study. This book features a diverse range of 40 black women from all walks of life. Perhaps my favorite part of the book was the stories I’d never heard before, like the artwork of Alma Thomas or the Civil War spy Mary Bowser. The connections are also great, like the fact that both Mary Bowser and Josephine Baker served as spies—Bowser in the Confederate White House during the Civil War and Baker smuggling messages for the French Resistance during World War II.
- Together We Rise: Behind the Scenes at the Protest Heard Around the World by Women’s March Organizers – 5 stars
This retrospective of the 2017 Women’s March is incredible. It explores all the complications of pulling off the largest mass protest in American history. It’s inspiring and challenging and all the things it should be. I’ve picked up a couple photo books of the Women’s March, but they don’t hold a candle to this. Pictures are worth a thousand words, sure, but sometimes a few thousand words are worth a lot too.
- Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Ann Petry – 3 stars
The new version with a Kadir Nelson cover and a foreword by Jason Reynolds prompted me to check this out, but it’s really the story of Harriet Tubman herself that outshines either of those recent additions. Her life story is just remarkable. Of course I knew that, but reading the details is rather sobering.
- Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia – 4 stars
A heartfelt story about a boy who loses his grandfather who taught him how to play the blues. His mom won’t let him play music and he struggles to cope with loss. It’s a quick read and engaging.
- Run for Something: A Real-Talk Guide to Fixing the System Yourself by Amanda Litman – 5 stars
A powerful, encouraging, inspiring book for anyone yearning to make a difference. It’s written by a progressive, so it definitely slants to the left (and has a fair amount of profanity), but the advice is really nonpartisan. It’s full of practical details about why it’s worth it to run (even if you’ll lose), how to actually do it, what strategies work, and more. Even if you don’t want to run, but want to support a campaign, it’s worth the read.
- The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros – 4 stars
A quick read with beautifully written vignettes.
- Otherworld by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller – 4 stars
A YA techno-thriller that flips back and forth between the real world and a virtual reality space. It’s fast paced and kept me reading, but it’s the first in a series so all the disjointed threads never get pulled together. That’s more than a little disappointing and starts to feel lazy. The pace of the book kept me reading and is why I’m giving it 4 stars, but I’m not sure I’ll bother to finish the series.
- Camilla by Madeleine L’Engle – 3 stars
I’m not sure what to make of this coming-of-age YA story written in 1951. It’s been compared to Catcher in the Rye, and I can see some of that, though it’s not quite as dramatic and high-brow. It’s a teenage girl falling in love for the first time while struggling with her mother’s infidelities. It’s realistic and honest, but it’s also, I don’t know: Forgettable, maybe? There are a couple great lines in it and you can see a lot of L’Engle’s strong ideas about God, science, and relationships.
- A Live Coal in the Sea by Madeleine L’Engle – 5 stars
This is an inter-generational family drama that makes a soap opera seem tame. It’s told in a flashback fashion, so while it has a plot and moves along, it also had a gentle pacing that works well. It’s technically a sequel to the 1951 Camilla, and while it’s not technically required to read that one (and it’s kind of meh), it really added depth and dimension to A Live Coal in the Sea.
- Front Lines by Michael Grant – 5 stars
An alternate history story where women could fight in World War II. It’s basically a typical World War II story but with women soldiers. But it’s also typical Michael Grant with good characters and a driving plot. It’s also a trilogy, so there’s more to read, though thankfully this first installment stands alone pretty well. It’s just a good read.
- If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson – 4 stars
It’s such a simple YA love story, and then… oh we keep having to sing this same song, don’t we? I mean, sure, it’s not a “simple” YA love story because it’s exploring an interracial couple, but it’s sweet and innocent. There’s little technology intruding (sure, it’s pre-cell phone, but the relationship isn’t centered on phone calls an online chats) and it’s just the simple story of their love. As always, Woodson does a phenomenal job with language.
- Behind You by Jacqueline Woodson – 3 stars
This is like an extended epilogue to If You Come Softly. It’s great to read after that book, because the end of that one comes swift and sudden. This is like a long debriefing session. I’m not sure it would stand on its own, and it’s even a bit too long for an epilogue, but it is helpful. It’s about coming to terms with death and accepting it in your own way.
- Silver Stars by Michael Grant – 4 stars
The continuing saga of women soldiers in World War II. As usual from Grant, it’s a pretty gripping story, even if the action feels a little uneven. The first in the series felt more direct and this one felt a little rambling.
- Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik – 4 stars
An engaging and approachable biography on a subject that could have been mighty dull. The story of a Supreme Court justice? Detailed legal arguments? But it manages to be brisk and engaging. Certainly it’s not a detailed, in-depth biography, but it’s a good introduction.
- Play Like a Girl: How a Soccer School in Kenya’s Slums Started a Revolution by Ellie Roscher – 3 stars
It’s an insightful and inspiring look at making change in difficult situations. The ways this school is able to confront challenges and help these girls make a way in the slum is pretty incredible. The book is pretty densely packed.
- The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui – 4 stars
A fascinating graphic novel memoir, it tells the story of a woman trying to come to terms with her family’s history. Born in Vietnam, her family escapes to America when she’s a child, but as she becomes a mother herself she tries to understand what her parents went through, giving a detailed and conflicted history of Vietnam.
- Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler – 3 stars
This is a collection of two previously unpublished short stories by Octavia Butler, published after her death. Both feel very much like Butler’s work. The first is more of a novella, and like much of her work requires that you just go along with things without understanding and soon it starts to make sense. It’s intriguing, but I always want more. I’m not a big fan of short stories (though for Octavia Butler I’ll make an exception). The second story, Childfinder, is really short and feels like a precursor to her Patternmaster series. It would have been fascinating to see an expanded version of this one.
- Meet the Austins by Madeleine L’Engle – 3 stars
Like a lot of old school middle grade books, Meet the Austins is more a series of semi-disjointed adventures with a vague over-arching plot. That makes for a less engaging book and is probably why middle grade books have shifted focus to the over-arching plot. But given that it was written 58 years ago, it had its moments.
- Purple Hearts by Michael Grant – 4 stars
The conclusion of this trilogy brings us to the end of World War II (and beyond… gotta love a series that knows how to give closure), though it takes us through some of the worst horrors Europe witnessed. The Omaha Beach and hedgerow sections are good, though some of the other battles feel like we don’t get an ending, we just move past to the next thing. Ultimately the Nazi death camps and the resulting revenge is a little hard to read, and contrasting it with segregation in the U.S. is a painful reality. In the end this series envisioned World War II if women fought alongside men, and explored some of the changes and issues that would raise, but it still stuck with historical reality. The epilogue hints at wider societal changes, but the novel really doesn’t explore any of those. That would have been an interesting place to take this series, but it also would have been very different. As is, it’s World War II with women soldiers, so don’t expect more than that.
- What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper – 4 stars
I just finished reading a fictional series on World War II that touched on the Holocaust. It only seemed appropriate to read this novel about the aftermath of the Holocaust. So often this is just a difficult subject, and it’s certainly true here. But it’s important. I think the most difficult moment was when two Holocaust survivors return to Poland to see if any family survived, and they stumble upon a massacre where 40 Jews were killed. Even after the horrors of the Holocaust, Jews were still persecuted. That just blows my mind. There are so many stories about the Holocaust, but this story of surviving afterward is more rare—and in some ways the defining question: What do we do now?
- Midnight Without the Moon by Linda Williams Jackson – 4 stars
“Dreams have more meaning when you have to fight for them.” This is the story of a 13-year-old black girl named Rose in 1950s Mississippi finding her place among the backdrop of Jim Crow and the Emmett Till murder. In some ways it’s a hard read, because she lives with her hard grandmother and is forsaken by her mother. The grandmother is less than nurturing, abusive at times, and you find yourself yearning for something to go Rose’s way. It’s full of the civil rights struggle, but it’s more about how ordinary poor folks saw the civil rights movement. It also has a sprinkling of faith that gave the needed measure of hope in the face of darkness. I chose this book after reading about World War II and the treatment of Jews and blacks. It’s fascinating to see those connections.
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – 4 stars
This story about a bold, brash poet finding her voice and questioning her faith and sorting out love and life is pretty great. I love listening to the audiobook of free verse novels like this because they just flow so much better than me reading it. This one seemed to end quickly, but I loved Xiomara’s way with words.
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – 4 stars
An African-influenced YA fantasy, this story explores a world where magic has been brutally oppressed, but is trying to make a resurgence. It’s a quick-moving and engaging story, though at times the YA-ness of the characters is a bit much. I’m also not a fan of the lack of closure and being set up for a trilogy—but that’s par for the course these days.
- For Every One by Jason Reynolds – 4 stars
This is one of those inspiring writer/creative type books, but it’s written as a poem/letter. It’s short and a quick read, though you should really linger over the language. I think it will be a good book to go back to and savor.
- Sunny by Jason Reynolds – 5 stars
I think this is my favorite of Jason Reynolds’ track series. I like Reynolds’ books, but it’s always interesting how they sneak up on you. They don’t usually feel amazing—I don’t give many of his books five stars. Solid fours. But sometimes they surprise you. This is one of those. It’s simple and short. It’s written in diary format (which can be pretty meh). But the character of Sunny is just so interesting. He speaks in a whimsical, lyrical way, kind of like jazz or the dancing he so loves. The story is pretty basic, it’s just a week as Sunny gives up running and tries discus. But it’s got a lot of depth and heart.
- Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray – 4 stars
I started this book a little frustrated with the trend of the YA series. I always hate starting a subsequent book in a series and having to remember where everything left off. This book doesn’t do a good job of catching you up. The initial chapter wasn’t super engaging either, so I felt like quitting. Glad I didn’t though. The book picked up and I pieced together enough of what happened in the previous book. This volume had the same quick action as the previous installment, and if anything it felt more tightly focused and faster paced. It was good. Of course it doesn’t end either, so now we have to wait for round 3.
- The Dispatcher by John Scalzi – 4 stars
This was a great, short sci-fi novel. It’s the best kind of sci-fi, where the author comes up with a really intriguing ‘what if,’ and then tells a compelling story in the world ruled by that ‘what if.’ Fun, quick-paced, enjoyable.
- Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaption by Octavia Butler – 4 stars
The original book was amazing, so it’s a lot for a graphic novel to live up to. They do a pretty good job though. This is such a powerful story, it’s engaging to see it come to life in this format.
- The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright – 5 stars
Any book that causes you to laugh out loud while you’re running and listening to the audio book is pretty good. This is such an honest and authentic story, and that makes it really engaging. It’s probably too honest for some people—lots of profanity, while talking about Jesus (gasp!). But it’s a good look at the weird Christian world and the life of missionaries and the manipulation that can happen. It’s the kind of stuff a lot of us would rather not think about.
- Clade by James Bradley – 4 stars
A story of environmental collapse, this novel follows a related group of characters through several generations. Every section jumps ahead a decade or so, so you get a sense of change over time. Each jump follows someone different, which is a bit jarring: you have to play catchup to figure out how who you’re following is connected (in one case I never did), which kind of ruins the emotional attachment. Otherwise it’s a pretty quick and powerful portrayal of environmental panic.
- Dread Nation by Justina Ireland – 5 stars
What if zombies rose up during the Civil War? That’s the wonderful premise of this YA alternative history zombie thriller. Part of what makes this book so engaging is that it explores a lot of ideas about race and gender and purpose. So often these horror genre books (vampires, zombies, etc.) have little depth, blaming real evils like slavery or genocide on fictional horrors like vampires or zombies, excusing human evil. Not here. Ireland forces us to confront some of humanity’s worst tendencies. And kill some zombies.
- Last Shot: A Han and Lando Novel by Daniel Jose Older – 4 stars
Han and Lando have to work together to stop a droid uprising. Set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, with flashbacks to before A New Hope, this story jumps around throughout the Star Wars world, letting us follow a fun adventure with some of our favorite Star Wars heroes.
- Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan – 3 stars
I’ve never been into Bob Dylan, so this is not a book I would have picked. But we read it for book club, so I gave it a shot. His prose is incredibly poetic. But he’s also all over the place, rambling around. He tells interesting stories, but the references are before my time or interest and the narrative thread jumps around a little too much.
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown – 5 stars
Some honest, poignant, and approachable conversation on race. I’ve read a lot of books on race, and sometimes they can be intimidating. The topic is heavy enough, but sometimes the books are academic in nature or are such a high level that you really have to wade through them. Brown’s feels much more approachable. That’s not to say she doesn’t tackle heavy stuff (she does) or have hard things to say (she does) or is intellectually light (it’s not), but it just feels very conversational. It’s also a book I felt like I needed to read again as soon as I finished it.
- P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy – 3 stars
This book is gut-wrenching. It’s about a pre-teen girl, Evie, writing letters to her sister who gets pregnant and whose uber-Catholic parents ship her off. The baby is adopted, the sister is basically disowned, and the parents never speak of her. Evie has trouble processing all of this, and desperately wants to talk to her sister again. Meanwhile, Evie is struggling with her feelings for June, a same-sex no-no in the eyes of her faith. So you’ve got these awful parents and this awful religious extremism and a young girl struggling with her identity. The letter-writing conceit isn’t great either. And if that’s not enough, SPOILER ALERT, the sister actually died in child birth and the parents never told Evie. The wretchedness of these parents knows no bounds, and it really starts to strain believability.
- Jade City by Fonda Lee – 3 stars
I almost gave up on this book multiple times. I’ve been in a picky mood lately and I’m usually very picky about fantasy. This was an interesting story, but it was really more about mob warfare than the fantasy component. Interesting strategy and tactics, but I just wasn’t blown away.
- Landline by Rainbow Rowell – 4 stars
Listened to this book again on our vacation this year. Good stuff.
- The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson, Nicole Galland – 3 stars
Interesting setup with a government agency trying to bring magic back. It turns into a time travel story. And frankly, it’s just ridiculously long. I can’t believe I actually read the whole thing.
- What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty – 4 stars
A fascinating story about memory and life and how things change over time. It was actually a pretty light read despite the intense topic.
- Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper – 3 stars
An interesting glimpse at life under Jim Crow and the threat of the KKK. Unfortunately, it feels more like one of these ‘slice-of-life’ novels and it’s a little short on plot. It feels more like moving from one incident to the next, as opposed to an overall, driving plot. So I didn’t find it as engaging as I usually find Draper.
- Hunger: A Memoir of My Body by Roxane Gay – 4 stars
This was a really difficult book to listen to. Roxane Gay shares some of the darker moments of her life, including being gang raped as a 12-year-old. She talks about how that violation drove her to see food and fatness as a defense mechanism, a way to become invisible. But she also explores all the painful ways our society excludes and demoralizes people who are fat. It’s a fascinating memoir, but it’s not exactly uplifting and inspiring. It’s real and honest and brutal.
- Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding – 4 stars
Some really insightful essays about feminisms in the Trump era. Some really captured how I’ve felt after the 2016 election. A few really dove into some sharp critiques of how we engage Trump (one in particular destroyed the “he’s crazy” argument) in effective ways.
- Don’t Make Me Think Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web and Mobile Usability by Steve Krug – 4 stars
Some foundational thoughts and strategies about web design. Nothing ground breaking here, but the specifics and depth of thought are helpful.
- Never Again: A New Generation Draws a Line by David Hogg and Lauren Hogg – 4 stars
A quick read from two survivors of the Parkland shooting and organizers of March for Our Lives. It’s a painful read, but especially interesting to read the real story after there’s been so much flak and garbage thrown their way. The kids are pretty amazing.
- Head On by John Scalzi – 3 stars
Scalzi has set up a fascinating world with the Haden disease and the robotic threeps people walk around in. He then sets up an elaborate mystery in that world, and it’s a good yarn, but something about it feels lacking and I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on it (I had the same issue with Locked In).
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling – 4 stars
Been trying to read this book to the kids all summer long and finally finished it with the audiobook on a road trip.
- The Belles by Donhielle Clayton – 3 stars
The obsession with beauty in this world was a bit hard to get used to. It’s an intriguing world and the plot clips along at a good pace, but the fact that it’s the first of a series was disappointing.
- Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler – 3 stars
I’m not a fan of short stories, but I’ll make an exception for Octavia Butler. Her writing is so immediate and yet cerebral. There’s a lot of talking. She also explores some really unnerving concepts that are much more realistic than most of science fiction. Her ideas about how humans would interact with aliens go much deeper than some war story and reveal a lot more about human nature. None of the stories in this collection really blew me away (again, I’m not a fan of short stories), but she explores some interesting ideas. She also has a pair of essays about writing that are worthwhile for any writer.
- The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald – 3 stars
For book nerds, it’s always fun to read about bookstores. That was the main appeal to this book, and there wasn’t much more than that. It was kind of oddly depressing.
- The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden – 4 stars
A unique sci-fi/fantasy combo that brings together robotics and AI with demon-like creatures. It reminded me of work by Nnedi Okorafor. Drayden put together a fast-paced adventure that followed multiple threads but kept them all working.
- Most Wanted by Rae Carson – 4 stars
A prequel to the Solo movie (which is also a prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy, which is a sequel to the prequels—in case that makes your head spin enough), this book tells the story of how Han and Qi’ra become friends and their rise through Lady Proxima’s criminal network. Unlike some other Star Wars books I’ve read, this one is focused and fast-paced, giving enough of the characterization that we need to see these as the characters we know and love, but also see them grow, while also keeping the plot moving. It was a fun read.
- The Infinite Future by Tim Wirkus – 3 stars
This is a weird one. It’s a book inside a book, with multiple other layers of stories within stories. It’s an intriguing mystery, and despite the weird setup I found it really engaging. A lot of the reviews call it “mind-bending,” which I suppose it could be, but that makes it sound incomprehensible, and it wasn’t that bad. Perhaps the worst part of it is that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. All that complication felt like an exercise in futility, which seems to be a theme in the book (look for how many times random characters have an intention to write their life story and never do).
- We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – 4 stars
Re-read this one for book club. Such simple ideas that shouldn’t be so controversial, yet some how they are as we see in headlines and daily life.
- Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – 4 stars
Re-read this for book club. Really like her practical suggestions and approachable writing style.
- Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse – 4 stars
A great fantasy/post-apocalyptic thriller in the vein of Joseph Bruchac’s Killer of Enemies. It follows the female bad-ass killer trope, but gives her enough gravitas and heart that it’s far from a stereotype. It kept moving at a steady pace and kept me hooked. It does launch a series, but there’s enough closure at the end that it’s not a disappointment.
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – 5 stars
With beautiful writing and a peculiar sci-fi/fantasy plot, this was a joy to read. It felt like it was missing just a tiny something and maybe should be 4.5 stars instead of 5, but it was still a good read. The idea of a borderless world thanks to a fantastic phenomena was pretty interesting.
- Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel – 4 stars
A fascinating story about an alien robot hidden in pieces across the planet and slowly discovered by humanity that has to figure out what to make of it. This opening chapter of the trilogy was easily the best.
- Dream Country by Shannon Gibney – 4 stars
Fascinating exploration of Liberian immigration/emigration over multiple generations crisscrossing the Atlantic. This is pretty heady material for a YA novel, though I’m not even sure it needs to be classified as such. There’s a lot to digest here and I could see it requiring multiple reads to really get into it all.
- Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel – 4 stars
The promised aliens in the opening book of this series finally show up, sort of. Instead we get more robots and mass death as humanity comes to grips with an alien force of such advanced technology they really don’t consider us. As is usually the case with these stories, the second installment doesn’t pack as much punch as the first and the idea starts to get a little tired (though we hang on anyway to see how it turns out).
- Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie – 4 stars
A space adventure/revolution where humanity is confined to spaceships searching for a new home. We follow a pair of characters who join the military and become enhanced as they discover it’s more than they bargained for (cuz, of course). The story avoids some cliches and has an engaging pace. Best of all? It’s a stand alone story. No setting up for a cumbersome trilogy here.
- The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan – 5 stars
A lovely story. I enjoyed this one.
- Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel – 3 stars
The third in this trilogy, and it didn’t get decent until the end. I get that sci-fi says more about humanity than the aliens, and with this one it’s right there in the title, but still the aliens are a pretty fun draw. The series finally gets to the aliens in this one, and we get very little of the actual aliens. Meh.
- Lu by Jason Reynolds – 4 stars
Of all the books in the Track series, this one took me a little bit longer to get into. I’m not sure if I didn’t connect with Lu’s voice or what, but once I got about a third of the way into it, it started drawing me in. The ending was a bit of a surprise, but I think in a good way.
- Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson – 4 stars
Jacqueline Woodson has this incredible ability to take a the barest threads of a story (six kids talking in a classroom) and make it an engaging book. She weaves several stories from the kids together and confronts several big issues, including immigration. Good stuff.
- Someday by David Levithan – 4 stars
We finally get a true sequel to the incredible Every Day, a book that doesn’t really need a sequel. But sometimes it’s just fun to see where a sequel would go. In this case, we get a glimpse into the world of another person like A. It’s pretty fascinating, though not quite as jaw-dropping wonderful as the original. Some places seemed to lag a bit, though I really loved the vignettes of random strangers (especially the old woman… that was beautiful). There could be a lot more to this world, and it’s fun to see the possibilities laid out like this (but please, David Levithan, don’t go there).
- Blended by Sharon Draper – 4 stars
This story seems simple and basic, and it moves along at a slow clip, dancing around race and touching on issues here and there. There’s a dangerous undercurrent that the story seems to hover around while it focuses on Isabella’s divorced parents, and then there’s the surprise ending that seems to come out of nowhere—I don’t want to give it away—but I would wager it feels like a surprise for some people but not others.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: New School Nightmare by Carolyn Nowak – 4 stars
Well this was fun. An alternate reboot where Buffy is a middle schooler and moves to Cleveland. And it’s a graphic novel. It has lots of sly references to the TV show and captures the humor pretty well. It’s a stand alone (feels almost like a single season), but I hope they do more.
- One Blood: A Parting Word to the Church on Race by John Perkins – 3 stars
Some good thoughts on how the church needs to address the issue of racism, but it feels like a wade in the shallow end. I suppose it is, the rest of John Perkins’ writing is probably the deep end and this is just a summary. There are some good thoughts, but it wasn’t as gripping and illuminating as I was hoping for.
- Star Wars: Lando’s Luck by Justina Ireland – 3 stars
This is a quick, fun, kind of throwaway Lando adventure. We get more of L3 and her attitude, as well as Lando’s swagger, but there aren’t exactly any vast Star Wars secrets revealed (though there is a nice jab at anyone who shoots first). It’s a fun story.
- All Systems Red by Martha Wells – 5 stars
Well that was fun. I’m a sucker for a good robot story, and this one definitely delivered. It had attitude and was super fast, with plenty of intrigue and suspense. I’ll be checking out the rest of the series for sure.
- Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley – 4 stars
A hard-nosed mystery novel that just keeps moving faster and faster.
- Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older – 4 stars
Dinosaurs are not only alive during the Civil War era, they’ve been domesticated and serve as beasts of burden. And Magdalys can talk to them. This fast-paced adventure follows a group of children from the Colored Orphan Asylum who are at risk from a dastardly group of slavers eager to kidnap and ship the children south. It’s a fun and quick read, and my son saw the cover and had to read it. He read the first two chapters and declared it awesome.
- A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain – 5 stars
A time-traveling murder mystery? Yes, please. But when I started reading it, the opening chapter of a serial killer at work put me off. And I’ll admit the author bio touting her experience writing about soap operas and this being her first novel was not helpful. And nearly 500 pages? I almost gave in at the start. So glad I didn’t. The opening action sequence hooked me. In all reality it’s not a time travel story, but an FBI procedural relocated to the early 1800s. The story is fast-paced and focused on the murder mystery, not the time travel. So if you’re looking for hard science and wormholes, it’s more hard sleuthing and British culture.
- Artificial Condition by Martha Wells – 4 stars
The second installment in this series is just as fast-paced and fun. It does start off a little slowly, but it’s more of the same robot fun.
- I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett – 3 stars
When the cover says the author is “one of the most adventurously experimental of modern American novelists,” I generally don’t take that as a good sign. This novel was absurd and comical, which also isn’t generally a good sign. But the writing was some how gripping, even as it meandered all over the countryside, both lampooning over-intellectualized literature while also being that at the same time. It felt like college-level reading where I’m supposed to be getting all the big ideas, but they’re going completely over my head—yet the voice was so readable that I stuck with it.
- Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells – 4 stars
More from Murderbot… this is just a fun series.
- Black Panther: Long Live the King by Nnedi Okorafor, Andre Araujo, Mario Del Pennino, Tana Ford – 3 stars
Some interesting stories from Wakanda. I wish it had been more of a unified story that three disjointed ones, but still fun.
- Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents by Pete Souza – 4 stars
The bevy of photos Souza has shared that contrast the Trump and Obama presidency is brutal to read cover to cover. It’s shocking how many ridiculous things Trump has said over the years and how incredibly far we are from normal partisan disagreement.
- The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis – 3 stars
A poor boy gets forced into helping a slave-catcher track down escaped slaves. It’s an interesting history and a side of slavery we don’t often see. Unfortunately, the story seemed to start off slow and didn’t seem as engaging as some of Curtis’ other work.
- Exit Strategy by Martha Wells – 4 stars
The fourth and for now final installment in the Murderbot Diaries series, this one brings things full circle and is just as edge-of-your-seat exciting as the others. It’s a quick and fun read.
- Wakanda Forever by Nnedi Okorafor, Alberto Alburquerque – 3 stars
Fun seeing more of the Dora Milaje, especially as they team up with Spider-Man, X-men, and the Avengers.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling – 5 stars
Read it aloud to the kids, working our way through the series for Milo. Reading it again, it felt every bit the 870 pages. Could have used some editing. But it’s still a lot of fun.
- Red Clocks by Leni Zumas – 4 stars
This book is an exploration of the lives of women in a near-future where abortion has been made illegal. It’s an interesting co-mingling of the stories, though it’s strangely detached (the biographer, the daughter, the wife, etc.).