I read 107 books in 2019.
It’s nowhere near my record, but it is up slightly from last year.
My reading still hasn’t returned to 2012-2016 levels, but I suspect that has a lot to do with continued rejection of YA and middle grade stories (only 11% this year, last year it was 25%). Sci-fi amounted to 37%, pushing up from a third or less in previous years.
2019 Reading Themes
- Discovering new authors: I found some new authors this year, not necessarily my favorite books of the year, but some solid contenders. I’ll be watching these folks: Annalee Newitz, Tayari Jones, Nicky Drayden, Percival Everett, Naomi Kritzer, Linda LeGarde Grover, Kao Kalia Yang, and Jessie Mihalik.
- Most read authors: Rainbow Rowell (4), G. Willow Wilson (4), J.R.R. Tolkien (4), and J.K. Rowling (4).
- Star Wars: With the new movie coming out (read my spoiler-filled take on Rise of Skywalker), I gave into the temptation of the ‘journey to the movie’ cash-grab books. While none were amazing, most were pretty good (for an uber fan).
If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.
The Books I Read in 2019:
- Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones – 4 stars
Well written and engaging family drama.
- So Much Blue by Percival Everett – 4 stars
A story of a painter recalling an affair and a traumatic event from college while going through a family issue in the present. It takes a little bit to get going, but then it’s pretty captivating.
- Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling – 4 stars
This is one of those tiny books, where they turn a speech into an entire book, and it’s just a fun and cute little book on your shelf. Helps when it’s full of brilliant words from a brilliant writer.
- Time Siege by Wesley Chu – 4 stars
The action of Time Salvager continues in this middle chapter of the trilogy. That’s always kind of a disappointing place to be, what with the lack of resolution, but it works pretty well in this one. It’s non-stop action. It lacks the time traveling fun of the original, but it’s a pretty great world that’s been created.
- Havoc by Ann Aguirre – 4 stars
This might be the rare second book in a trilogy that I like better than the first. This was an action packed, tight adventure. I think the finality of it—the entire penal space station at risk—made it a lot more engaging than the usual bloodshed and backstabbing of the original.
- Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen – 3 stars
A funny memoir of a religious upbringing, it has a few laughs, but it was all over the place. I couldn’t follow a coherent thread.
- Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans – 5 stars
I love the approach Rachel Held Evans takes engaging with the frustrations and difficult questions with the Bible. Lots of underlining on this one.
- The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin – 5 stars
I’ve never read James Baldwin before, and now I’m kicking myself. He has such a profound, scathing, prophetic voice. The things he said about race more than 50 years ago are still painfully true today. It’s a quick read, but will take a lot longer (and multiple readings) to truly digest.
- Becoming by Michelle Obama – 4 stars
I’m generally not that into memoirs by famous people. But everybody raved about Becoming, so I gave it a shot. I nearly gave up in the first 50 pages, but I’m glad I stuck it out. While it started off slow, it eventually picked up a head of steam and became really engaging. The contrast between the Obama years and Trump is a little painful to behold. Overall, Michelle Obama offers a lot of thoughtful insights and poignant reminisces.
- Mem by Bethany Morrow – 3 stars
An interesting concept about memories that are extracted and become robot-like people called mems, but it’s told from the perspective of a unique mem and nothing is quite fully explained. Left me feeling a little lost and wishing for more.
- The Boat People by Sharon Bala – 4 stars
Inspired by a true story, this is a deft interweaving of multiple viewpoints about a boat of refugees that shows up on the shore of Canada. It’s heart breaking and honest.
- Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith – 4 stars
A story of grief and love, exploring three interconnected lives after a husband is killed in the line of duty and his pregnant wife and best friend cope with the loss.
- Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou – 3 stars
This is a collection of essays and a few poems from that literary giant Maya Angelou. Three stars seems a little low for her, because her writing is always a treat, but it’s a fairly disjointed collection. There’s a theme of advice and wisdom being passed down to us all, because Angelou doesn’t have a daughter. Some great nuggets here and there, but mostly it’s just the joy of her sweeping voice. (And I should admit, the main reason I even picked it up: the cover artwork by Alma Woodsey Thomas.)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling – 5 stars
Re-read this one to the kids. Some wonderful moments here, though it does have some iffy sections.
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – 4 stars
I’m not sure what to think of this book. It’s wonderfully written and the characters are believable, but it was also a tough read. The story had unexpected twists and turns, and I enjoyed how the story leapt across the years. But I wasn’t drawn back to it. It was difficult. Really good, but also hard.
- Breakout by Ann Aguirre – 4 stars
The end of this series really ties all the pieces together, and goes deeper than I expected. It’s more of the fun strategy and violence. It also has an excellent ‘scouring the shire’ scene where we get to see how it all ends up—much longer than I expected it to be, and it was pretty good.
- Calling My Name by Liara Tamani – 3 stars
This coming of age story follows a girl from early teen years through graduation. It reminded me of a Judy Blume novel with little moments that seemed disconnected. It also seemed curious that the novel spanned such a dramatic change in ages. Initially it felt like middle grade story, but by the end it was definitely a YA story. It also delves into faith in interesting ways.
- Erasure by Percival Everett – 4 stars
I find Percival Everett’s work to be so beguiling. In some ways it feels like I’m reading snobbish literary fiction, the kind that bores me, but then it take interesting twists and is written in a style that pulls me in. Erasure is no different. The main character, Monk, is a prolific but virtually unknown author and professor, a not-too-far-off caricature of Everett himself. Disgusted by a popular ghetto novel, Monk decides to write his own parody and pass it off as someone else’s—and of course it becomes wildly successful making Monk rich. We get the entire novel Monk writes, making for a bizarre novel-within-a-novel experience. Overall, it’s a weird book, but also so intriguing.
- What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons – 4 stars
It says right on the cover that it’s a novel, but it reads like a memoir. It’s full of nearly disjointed memories and thoughts, told in a sort of stream of consciousness. It’s not quite plot, though we do slowly move through and around the death of the main character’s mother. There are also moments of factual history pulled in that ground it to reality, giving it that memoir feel. The acknowledgements and author bio also sound eerily similar to the main character, making me wonder how autobiographical this really is. But aside from all that, it’s a beautiful read. It’s not exactly wonderful, because it’s about death and loss and grief, but it is beautiful.
- Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin – 3 stars
This was such a difficult story. The narrative jumps around a lot, so it’s hard to follow, and at times the religious language gets so deep it trips over into something out of Revelation. I think the only thing that kept me reading was that the language was so biblical and churchy that it felt like a step back to the church I grew up in.
- Banthology: Stories From Banned Nations by Sarah Cleave – 3 stars
I’m not a big fan of short stories, though this collection has a great premise—stories from countries banned under Donald Trump’s first Muslim ban. It’s a good introduction to some stories from cultures we don’t normally pay much attention to.
- Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre – 4 stars
A complex space adventure drama that takes a little while to get going. We follow Zara Cole, a tough street kid who is (eventually) chosen to be one of “honors” piloting the alien Leviathan space vessels (an idea similar to concepts in scifi work by Octavia Butler and Nnedi Okorafor). As she escapes her problems on earth, she encounters more and more mysteries with the alien Leviathan and their secrets. Despite a somewhat slow start, I think it eventually got going and became pretty intriguing. It’s the first in a series and leaves plenty of unanswered questions, but it’s a satisfying first installment.
- The Last Thing You Surrender by Leonard Pitts Jr. – 5 stars
A brutally honest exploration of racial issues during World War II. It’s a great story with a lot of heart and a lot of depth.
- Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman – 3 stars
A heady theological exploration of how the message of Jesus relates to the poor and oppressed. There are some good moments, but I also had a hard time getting through it.
- White Oleander by Janet Fitch – 4 stars
This story is like tragedy porn. It’s a series of unfortunate events for Astrid. Her mother murders her boyfriend and goes to jail, sending Astrid into a series of horrible foster homes (how can that trope still be realistic?). It’s beautifully written, but it’s stark and depressing. I think in the end it was worthwhile, but it’s still pretty bleak.
- Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan – 4 stars
This was a fun fantasy adventure with a giant flying bat. I mean, c’mon. It moved pretty fast and kept me engaged, which is saying a lot since I don’t have a lot of patience for fantasy.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling – 4 stars
Such a sprawling conclusion to the epic series. Finally finished reading the entire series to my son, and it did not disappoint. I still think some better editing could have tightened this one up, but it’s still a lot of fun. Surprisingly, I didn’t hate the epilogue quite as much this time around.
- Spin by Lamar Giles – 4 stars
A fun mystery/thriller that revolves around a teen DJ killed just as she’s making it big. Two of her friends discover the body and set off a quest to find out what happened. It’s full of social media twists and technological details that make it fun, though I wonder how they’ll hold up over time. There is a bit of revenge glorification which felt kind of odd, but otherwise I liked it.
- Bite by K.S. Merbeth – 3 stars
When the cover blurbs reference Mad Max, you’ve got to deliver. This really didn’t. It’s standard post-apocalyptic faire. It is quick moving, but it doesn’t go anywhere exciting. It’s too over the top to worry about realism, and it’s too busy being OK with cannibalism to have a lot of depth. The pace did keep me reading, so I’ll say that for it.
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne – 3 stars
I heard a lot of negative hype going into this, the “eighth Harry Potter” book, and I think it was somewhat overblown. If you’re expecting a full-blown Harry Potter book in length and quality, you’ll be disappointed. But if you accept that it’s a play and keep your standards a little lower than the usual Harry Potter book, I think it has some good moments. I did think it started a little slow and I wasn’t super encouraged by some of the initial choices, but once it going going it was pretty good. (And I think 3 stars is mostly reflective of the fact that it falls short of a Harry Potter book, and that’s probably a fairly harsh way to judge it.)
- The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson – 4 stars
I was really excited to see another novel from Ms. Marvel co-creator G. Willow Wilson. Overall it was a good read, but I felt like I really wasn’t hooked until the second half. The flight of Fatima and Hassan didn’t hook me like it should have, and it wasn’t until Gwennec came on the scene that the story really took off. I think the story felt more conflicted then, and it resonated a lot more. All in all, it’s a different kind of fantasy novel, and that’s part of what I love about Wilson’s writing.
- Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston – 2 stars
I added this book to my list on the strength of E.K. Johnston’s writing and the hype that declared it the story Padme always deserved but never got in the movies. I’d read Johnston’s other Star Wars yarn, Ahsoka, and enjoyed that one, so I thought I’d love this one. Not quite. It’s just like the boring senate scenes in the prequels, with less of the drama and more of the backroom process. If you want to see the kind of work Padme did in the senate, learn more about how and why she had decoys, and read lots of fashion details, then this might have some interest. But if you want some Star Wars action, this one is a snooze.
- Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove – 4 stars
It was fun to return to the world of Firefly. My only complaint was it didn’t have the pacing of the TV series—which is probably a ridiculous complaint for a book, but there it is.
- Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno Garcia – 4 stars
Yet another vampire tale, but it was engaging and fresh.
- Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik – 5 stars
This was all around fun.
- There There by Tommy Orange – 3 stars
This novel followed a large cast of interconnected characters up to a robbery, but it felt a little too scattered and didn’t keep me hooked. It felt like a bunch of short stories.
- The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson – 3 stars
A summer adventure of two kids working to solve a historical mystery. The mystery part really didn’t hook me, though the historical story was interesting.
- Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller – 5 stars
I’m usually not a fan of marketing templates, but I’ve found this approach is really good.
- Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller – 4 stars
A fun pirate adventure. What’s not to like?
- Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story by Jacob Tobia – 5 stars
A helpful and insightful memoir that gives a glimpse into the nonbinary perspective. Jacob makes the point that no single memoir can encapsulate the nonbinary experience and tries to avoid telling what’s become the typical tragic tale. What I found most interesting was Jacob’s experience in church. While they did have some rough patches, their church was ultimately affirming.
- An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – 4 stars
For all the YA fantasy books out there, this one felt original and mostly kept me hooked (which is hard to do these days).
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – 3 stars
I first read this probably 20 years ago in college. I read it again to the kids, and it was an interesting experience. I didn’t remember much of it, and I was surprised at the wandering and somewhat anti-climactic plot. My kids really enjoyed it though, and we dove right into Lord of the Rings.
- The Leavers by Lisa Ko – 4 stars
This is a pretty fascinating immigrant and adoption story. In some ways it’s hard to read, but it’s also compelling and pulls you in. I read it pretty quickly.
- Valor’s Choice by Tanya Huff – 4 stars
A sci-fi military adventure that hooked me. It’s a lot more strategy and military procedure (from the viewpoint of a sergeant) than anything, but it was still fun.
- The Mueller Report by Robert Mueller – 3 stars
I wanted to read it for myself, and honestly, it’s mostly approachable. There were only a few times I got lost (or bored) in the legalese. Three pressing insights come from the whole thing: 1. Trump didn’t conspire with Russia. 2. But Russia did hack our election. 3. And Trump tried to obstruct the investigation. It’s not a good report for American democracy. The real question is if we’ll do anything about it.
- The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father by Kao Kalia Yang – 5 stars
Really compelling memoir about a Hmong refugee who grew up in Laos and escaped war to struggle with racism in America. The introduction really didn’t hook me, but once it got into the father’s story it really got good. The audio version is voiced by the author, and her voice breaks up in some of the really tough parts, making for a powerful listen.
- We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates – 4 stars
I remember Ta-Nehisi Coates doing the round of interviews when the book came out, and there was a strain of a kind of incredulousness that he wasn’t more hopeful. After reading the book, I can see why. He sees Trump as a racist backlash to Obama, a return to who we are. The problem isn’t Trump, the problem is much deeper than that. And it doesn’t leave a lot of room for hope. Like other Coates books I’ve read, this one demands a lot more than a simple reading. I felt like I was scratching the surface and would need to revisit it multiple times to really grasp the ideas fully. Some powerful, well argued and well researched stuff.
- The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez – 4 stars
A Mexican family travels to the U.S. to secure better treatment for their daughter who has suffered a traumatic brain injury. She connects with a Panamanian boy in her apartment complex who understands her despite her injury. It’s a story full of immigrants, laced with the stories of more immigrants.
- Defy the Fates by Claudia Gray – 3 stars
The final chapter in Claudia Gray’s Defy the Stars trilogy. I really liked the opening installation of this trilogy, but like most of these YA trilogies, I started losing interest in this chapter. It jumps around a lot, and I guess it all comes together at the end, but it just wasn’t as fresh and fun as the original.
- The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan – 4 stars
This love letter to book lovers is just a fun read about a librarian who loses her job and starts a mobile bookstore in rural Scotland, falling in love along the way.
- Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen – 4 stars
This is a fun time travel story that follows an agent trapped in the past (circa 2030) who has to start his life over again, only to get pulled back to his present (2142). It’s typical time travel complicated (not too confusing) and spends more time on the family relationships than the hard science, making for an enjoyable read.
- The White Card: A Play by Claudia Rankine – 3 stars
Reading plays is always a lesser experience and one I don’t normally do. So I’m a bit out of my element here. But what’s interesting about this play is it’s basically two short acts of conversation. It’s a rich, white, progressive family interacting with a black artist about racism and all the ways that conversation can go sideways.
- Heating Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly – 4 stars
This micro essay format is fun. The essays are quirky and funny, and it’s perfect as a quick summer read.
- Wool by Hugh Howey – 4 stars
I loved this story the first time around. It’s so inventive and really sucks you in. The world-building is incredible. But this time around, as I listened to the audiobook, I couldn’t help being troubled over the main conceit of the story being overly complicated—and I’m not even sure it makes sense (and if I have to think about it that hard, it is too complex). It’s still a fun yarn though.
- The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien – 4 stars
I’m reading this aloud to the kids and while it has some great moments, oh my gosh is Tolkien wordy. Some of the descriptions and the history and just too much. I have a new appreciation for the way the movie trilogy reworked things. The kids have loved it, despite the wordiness, which surprises me still.
- For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer by Chana Kai Lee – 4 stars
A history of the life and work of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. There’s nothing especially astounding about the biography—it’s a fairly standard chronological retelling—though it does explore some of the pain and failure in Hamer’s life. For all the work Hamer did, there were few successes. She ran for political office and lost every time, organizations she founded crumbled, and she ended her days battling sickness and depression. Sometimes it’s too easy to gloss over the life of activists like Hamer and spin a narrative that they made a stand and justice prevailed and things were better. There was no dramatic victory for Hamer.
- The Better Part of Valor by Tanya Huff – 4 stars
Another fun military sci-fi romp in Tanya Huff’s Confederation series. This one had the frustrating annoyance of the vastly superior alien technology that’s never explained, but the actual adventure was fun.
- The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien – 3 stars
Re-reading this one to the kids. It’s still shocking how wordy Tolkien is. I have a whole new appreciate for the movies.
- The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders – 4 stars
A curious sci-fi setting—a tidally-locked planet that half burns, half freezes—and the story of a girl finding her place in a harsh society and a people finding their place in a harsh world. It’s not really what I expected, but it was enjoyable all the same.
- This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone – 4 stars
You had me at time war. Any time travel story is intriguing, and a time war all the more. But it’s not really what you expect. It’s a love story following the correspondence of two rival agents. It’s interesting and weird and one of those stories where you don’t want to think too hard about it.
- Broken Places & Outer Spaces by Nnedi Okorafor – 4 stars
A quick read and stunning insight into the mind and fiction of Nnedi Okorafor. I’ve read her fiction and been fascinated by her perspective, but I had never heard this story of her struggle with paralysis.
- The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi – 4 stars
Scalzi’s writing is so incredibly readable and fun. It’s got a quick pace and a quicker wit and I just find it enjoyable. My only regret is that this one is a series, so it’s not the full story. Perhaps I’m spoiled by Netflix binging, but I just want the full series. I was tempted to skip this one and wait for the end, but given the Old Man’s War series, you never know when it truly ends.
- Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien – 3 stars
I’ve been reading the series to the kids, and everything finally comes to a conclusion. Reading it again, I’m struck by how long winded Tolkien is. But parts of that are wonderful. I still love the Scouring of the Shire. I think it’s one of the best ways to linger with a book when the story is over but you don’t want it to be over.
- The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – 4 stars
Interesting premise and execution, if a little dark and depressing.
- How We’ll Live on Mars by Stephen L. Petranek – 3 stars
Interesting thoughts and ideas, but not as engaging and inspiring as I thought it’d be.
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – 5 stars
Such a wonderful heartfelt and whimsical book. I re-read it because Rowell is coming out with the sequel to the spin-off of the fan fiction of the literary world referenced in Fangirl (did you follow that?). So I’m trying to catch up. I don’t know if I love the world of Simon Snow as much, but Cath and Levi in Fangirl are just wonderful. It ends too early.
- Laguardia by Nnedi Okorafor, Tana Ford & James Devlin – 4 stars
Inspired by Trump’s travel ban, excessive TSA screening and security theater, and aliens (including multiple meanings of the word), this graphic novel is an interesting exploration in what makes us human and how we react to the other.
- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – 4 stars
A tough read and a bit depressing, like many of Whitehead’s works. It’s well written and engaging, with sharply drawn characters. And sharply drawn abuse—hence the tough read.
- Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech – 4 stars
Oh Gooseberry. What a wonderfully sad little story about change and loss.
- Tomboy by Liz Prince – 5 stars
Not only does this memoir skewer gender norms in a fun and playful style, but it’s a coming-of-age memoir about the most awkward time in our lives that explores dealing with gender issues. Nothing like a good awkward teen story.
- Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year by Linda LeGarde Grover – 4 stars
A book of simple stories and remembrances, full of wonderful turns of phrase and memory and history and culture. The focus on Duluth and the seasons gives it a nice local feel, but the best part is just the explanations of Ojibwe cultural practices with a sense of how they’ve changed over time. But it’s a story your grandmother would tell, not a rote history lesson. It’s intriguing how often the Indian boarding schools are mentioned, an intergenerational trauma that many of us might remember as old history, forgetting how it continues to have an impact.
- The Disasters by M.K. England – 3 stars
A teen space adventure that just kept rolling and never really slowed down to see if any of it made sense. It was a good read and I liked the characters, but I didn’t want to think too deeply about any of it.
- Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – 4 stars
I re-read this (and Fangirl) for the release of Wayward Son. I don’t remember loving Carry On (though apparently I gave it five stars)—I remember thinking it was neat idea but kinda weird. Re-reading it, I really enjoyed it. Rainbow Rowell is so good at characters and how they relate to each other.
- With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo – 4 stars
An inspiring story of a teen mother overcoming her challenges and building a life for herself. What’s really compelling about the story is her ability in the kitchen. The passages that described Emoni’s cooking skills and how she combined flavors were perhaps the best.
- Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell – 4 stars
This is the sequel to a spin off fan fiction of a made up fiction—still following me? It’s complicated. But this is basically a story about what happens after the story is done. What do the heroes do when they’ve already had their hero’s journey? Have another quest, right? Well, it’s never quite as good, is it? It’s why can never get into the Star Wars comics, because the best story was already told in the movie. It’s why the Cursed Child is a fun read, but it’s just not the same. It’s fun to see what our characters are up to, and I would read Rainbow Rowell’s grocery list, but it’s just not as compelling. I read Carry On and Wayward Son back to back, and the difference in character development and building that emotional connection and growth is shocking. It should have been obvious when I realized Wayward Son was half the length. We just don’t get the same journey we did in Carry On—in many ways that’s to be expected (we went through so much in Carry On), but I don’t think the story really wrestled with the emotional weight of what they were going through as much as it could have. Still, the writing is fabulous and it’s fun to follow these characters through anything, so it earns four stars.
- A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell – 5 stars
The description made me think this was a near-future retread of Sherlock Holmes that might be fun but would have a fair bit of camp. While it does play on Sherlock Holmes, it’s not a fun, witty adventure. Instead it paints a bleak picture of a nation plunged into civil war in reaction to gun safety measures and civil rights. We follow Janet Watson, an army surgeon who loses her arm, as she tries to place her life back together while struggling with PTSD. It does eventually slip into a mystery, but it’s much more focused on the struggle to reaclimate after war. The world building is incredible and Watson’s gritty pain is real and ugly.
- Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill – 5 stars
A more personal, localized, and urgent version of Robopacalypse. From the first chapter I was hooked. I loved the way it switched back and forth from current action to robot history, keeping me hooked and wanting to know more (even in the history chapters). Good stuff.
- My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi – 2 stars
I really wanted to like this—1980s nerd obsessed with Star Trek, c’mon!?—but I just couldn’t get into it. Ebony-Grace is a difficult character to like and I got the impression there was some kind of autism or ‘on the spectrum’ issues at play, though it was never addressed. Ebony-Grace is stuck in her imagination, playing the space fantasies she shared with her grandfather and failing to connect with the neighborhood kids who care more about double-dutch and break dancing. I just never felt like Ebony-Grace had any believable growth.
- The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal – 4 stars
An alternate history of spaceflight, triggered by a meteor that takes out Washington in 1952 and threatens the human race with eventual extinction. It really focuses on the women computers and their effort to become astronauts in the face of male sexism. It’s an interesting story and I love the apocalyptic elements, but the writing had a certain stiltedness that was a little off-putting (kind of like the ‘lady astronaut’ series title feels stilted—though it ultimately fits with the 1950s timeframe).
- The Hound of Justice by Claire O’Dell – 3 stars
This installment is less gripping than the original. For most of the story we don’t get the frustrating Sara Holmes, which both breaks up the intrigue of this duo and is also a welcome relief because Holmes is so frustrating. The story should be more engaging than the original because it starts off with such a big moment, but it feels less intense. Ultimately I found the ending to be a bit of a let down.
- Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks – 4 stars
Just a happy love story about two dorks who love working at a pumpkin patch and one helps the other to finally talk to his crush.
- Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds – 3 stars
I’m not a fan of short stories, so it’s a miracle I even finished this one. But Reynolds does tell a good story, and these at least kept my attention. They’re barely connected and the pay off didn’t feel like much of a pay off. But it does offer glimpses of good characters.
- The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz – 4 stars
This is a fun time travel story (if a story with lots of murder can be called fun) in a world where time travel is normalized. It’s all about men’s rights advocates trying to edit women’s rights away while a group of feminists try to defend the timeline. It’s a little mind-bending, but if you don’t dwell on that it’s lots of good fun.
- Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Spark of the Resistance by Justina Ireland – 3 stars
A fun little story that follows Rey, Poe, Rose, and BB-8 on a supply run after the events of The Last Jedi, where they respond to a distress call and encounter the First Order and a lost weapon of the Empire. It’s an engaging enough story, though it feels inconsequential. I’m curious if any of the new characters make an appearance in The Rise of Skywalker (doubt it).
- Elements of Fiction by Walter Mosley – 3 stars
A rambling take on how to write fiction. It’s probably a lot more practical than many stories I’ve read. He makes up examples as he goes along, which helps explain what he’s talking about and how it works.
- 1919 by Eve Ewing – 3 stars
An exploration of the 1919 race riots in Chicago through poetry. I’m not a big fan of poetry, so I had a hard time getting into it. But the history and the poetic language is good.
- The Power by Naomi Alderman – 5 stars
Wow. This is a compelling book. The style really sucks you in and grabs you. Ultimately it’s a story about the power dynamic between men and women being flipped, and what happens to society if that were to happen. Naomi Alderman fleshes it out to a frightening degree. A few times that felt a little heavy handed, but honestly that just felt realistic. The power dynamic is heavy handed, so what do you expect. One of my favorite reads of the year, if not number one.
- War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi – 3 stars
I really wanted to love this book, and it certainly had its moments, but in the end it fell short. It went too long and became too unbelievable. There were a couple stories here and rather than just tell one, we get them all layered on top of each other, stepping on beats and vying for attention.
- Autonomous by Annalee Newitz – 4 stars
A sci-fi Law and Order of sorts, that follows a do-gooder pirate drug dealer and the robot agent tracking her down. Set in the mid-22nd century, this is the kind of story that can often can too weird and far out to follow. But it’s really engaging and interesting, throwing in all kinds of history and bringing us along with out being too fantastical or unrealistic.
- Invisible Kingdom Vol. 1: Walking the Path by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward – 4 stars
You had me at space nuns. G. Willow Wilson sets up a new comic book world that follows a faithful acolyte and a grizzled pilot who both discover a conspiracy that turns their worlds upside down.
- Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse – 4 stars
Part two of this series is more fun monster hunting/slaying. It’s a bit frustrating not being able to remember the exact details of how the first installment ended, but I figured out the basics.
- Ms. Marvel, Vol. 9: Teenage Wasteland by G. Willow Wilson and Nico Leon – 4 stars
More fun, quippy Ms. Marvel.
- The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry – 3 stars
Another of these middle grade Star Wars stories that heralded the coming of the new movies. In this case we don’t get any insights into the new movies, but watching Luke learn how to use a lightsaber is pretty cool.
- The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living by Joseph M. Marshall III – 4 stars
An exploration of Native American thought on ethics and character, as told through Native stories. It sounds a little academic or stereotypical new agey (complete with Marianne Williamson blurb on the cover), but it’s engaging and insightful. The examples are thorough and includes of history about Native genocide.
- They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker – 5 stars
A graphic memoir about George Takei’s childhood in the Japanese internment camps of World War II. The story of the internment is pretty rough, though Takei does a good job couching it in with the perspective of history and our strides forward since then (and slips backward). It’s a history we often don’t remember, which makes this an important read.
- I’ll Be There by Holy Goldberg Sloan – 5 stars
This is one of those books that just comes at you with a quiet, tender story that just grabs you. I loved the characters and I love the simple, matter of fact asides the story continually offers (though it can make getting into the book a little harder). It reminds me a lot of a character I tried to write about a few times, and that might be why the story connected with me the way it did.
- Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories by Naomi Kritzer – 4 stars
I’ve had a hard time with short story collections. I don’t think I’ve finished one in something like 10 years. I like stories, but often the randomness of a collection just doesn’t connect with me and I can’t stick with it. But this one kept me reading. It helps that Naomi Kritzer is local, but I think it’s more than that. I think she has a style that just kept pulling me along, even when the story was more of a fantasy thing I was less interested in (more robots wanting cat pictures, please).
- Force Collector by Kevin Shinick – 3 stars
The Star Wars novels released leading up to a new movie are a perfect way to sucker fans into desperately reading anything that might give them some glimpse into the new movie (and make a lot of money). With the exception of the backstory on Rose and her sister, most of these stories fail to deliver. At best, they’re fun little asides. And that’s mostly what we get here. If you weren’t into Star Wars, it’s not really that great of a story. But for uber fans, it’s got some fun connections. Nothing ground-breaking and [I don’t think] anything that teases Rise of Skywalker. But it does have a couple great cameos that made it worth the read. Also, the main character, Karr, has the ability to touch objects and get visions—much like Rey in Force Awakens. So it’s kind of fun to see that concept explored in much more detail.
- Star Wars: Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse – 4 stars
Sometimes these in-between Star Wars movie books can be a letdown. More than anything, they serve to whip up the fans into a frenzy before the movie comes out (and milk some cash). It’s hard to know if this reveals anything about Rise of Skywalker before the movie comes out, but I doubt it. If anything, it gives us more time with Leia since I suspect the movie will give us precious little of it. It has some old friends return, including Wedge and Maz Kanata, and even a character from another in-between movie book, Bloodlines. What the book lacks is much of a focus on Rey. It follows several other characters, and we don’t get nearly enough Rey. But overall it’s a fun read, well-written and pretty enjoyable. Nothing earth-shattering, but for Star Wars fans it’s enjoyable.
- High School by Tegan Quin and Sara Quin – 3 stars
I usually grab celebrity memoirs with a lot of interest and then slowly lose interest as I read. Celebrities aren’t always as interesting as we think they are. This coming-of-age story from twin musicians Tegan and Sara is perhaps most intriguing for me because they came of age the same time I did. The photos of baggy pants, wallet chains, and striped sweaters look all-too familiar. Of course their story of experimenting with drugs and coming out is light years from my own, but it’s still insightful and engaging. Maybe not must-read material, but if you know the band at all or grew up in the 1990s or want the insight of LGBTQ experiences, it’s a decent read.
- Diesel Heart by Melvin Carter Jr. – 4 stars
If you’ve ever met Melvin Carter Jr., it’s quickly apparent that he likes to talk. He tells stories and can jump from one topic to the next, always passionate and brutally honest. He has a raw voice that doesn’t sugar coat anything. Which makes his story of growing up in the latter half of the 20th century in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood gripping. He encounters a lifetime of racism, from St. Paul’s gutting of the Rondo neighborhood to serving in the Navy during Vietnam to serving on St. Paul’s mostly white police force for 28 years. It’s a memoir with a lot of heart and character. (Read my recap of his reading at Amore.)
- The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates – 4 stars
The writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates is always pretty dense, and his first novel is no exception. But it does suck you in a tell a powerful story. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. Giving real events fantastic explanations always puts me off. The Underground Railroad actually happened and the real story doesn’t need that kind of embellishment. But still. It’s incredibly well written, and while I’m usually not one for literary works, this one definitely kept me interested.
- We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby – 3 stars
Lots of people have called this book funny, but it’s a very sarcastic, depressing, painful humor. Maybe more prickly than funny. I could only handle it in very small doses—took me a year and a half to actually finish it. She really has that dark, pissed off cat vibe down, and in short bursts it can be pretty great. But getting through an entire book is hard.
- Fool’s War by Sarah Zettel – 4 stars
This was a really fun space adventure that dove into artificial intelligence and the potential threats they pose. That sounds like it could be a little too heady, but the author managed it in a pretty approachable, fast-paced manner. Kept me hooked. I’m also impressed the sci-fi concepts from more than 20 years ago really held up. There’s also an interesting sub-thread where the main character is Muslim. It doesn’t have that much to do with the overall story, but it’s an engaging piece we don’t often see.
- Ms. Marvel Vol. 10: Time and Again by G. Willow Wilson, Nico Leon, Ian Herring – 3 stars
More Ms. Marvel fun, including an interesting exploration of how her powers work and a better connection with her friends. It includes a special 50th issue with guest writers Hasan Minhaj, Rainbow Rowell, and Saladin Ahmed. It’s also the end of G. Willow Wilson’s run as writer for the series (Ahmed will take over).
- Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart, Volume 1: Riri Williams by Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli, Marte Gracia – 4 stars
Riri Williams takes over for Iron Man as Ironheart and gets her on AI Tony Stark. It’s a pretty fun story with some deep and sad moments.
- Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – 2 stars
This one killed me. I really liked the book until the last 20 pages. Then it sucked. I like stories about marriages, even when they’re falling apart. It’s interesting to see the relationship calculus at work. The over-sexed app was a bit of a gimmick and the point of view was a bit confusing, but the relational dynamic pulled me in. The disappearing wife reminded me of Gone Girl. But then we get the other side of the story, there’s really no payoff. Spoiler alert, she has a nervous breakdown. That’s it. I kept hoping the ending would reveal something, but it’s just that we have impossible expectations for our relationships. It left me feeling empty and wasted. Meh.
Again, if you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.