I read 184 books in 2023. I think it’s safe to say my COVID reading slump is officially over.
If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.
Reading Themes for 2023
A big way to keep up your excitement about reading is to lean into what you like. I read a few memoirs and really enjoyed them, so I leaned in and read a ton of them (almost surpassing science fiction, which is unheard of).
Last year I started tracking books read per month, curious about seasonal trends. Surprise, surprise—this year’s graph looks pretty close to last year’s graph: Lots of reading in the winter months and it levels off during the summer, with a slight bump during warmer months.
And while I read a ridiculous number of books this year, I only read four books in May. Sometimes you’re in a slump, and that’s OK.
I’ll share more reading stats in another post, since I track a ton of things and started setting goals on weird things. I don’t like having a number of books as a goal, but I did set goals to read certain types of books or books by specific authors. Kind of like gamifying my reading, I guess, which sounds horrible and dumb but I actually really enjoyed.
On to the list of books!
The Books I Read in 2023:
- Big Bad by Lily Anderson – 4 stars
A fun and goofy Buffy novel focused on an evil alternate dimension where Jonathan, Andrew, and Anya try to stop the real Buffy from ending their alternate reality. It’s a who’s who of Buffy villains and non-stop witty nerdery. It’s probably a little longer than it needs to be, but it’s still a fun read.
- A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers – 4 stars
The second in the Monk and Robot series. Really it’s just wonderfully slow and contemplative, without being boring. I mean, nothing much happens, but it’s still wonderful. I like the section where the title comes from, explaining that crown-shy trees stop short of intermingling with other trees “so that they might give their neighbors space to thrive.”
- Swearing Is Good For You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language by Emma Byrne – 2 stars
An interesting article stretched into a mediocre book. The premise is fantastic and the intro is great—but that’s really all you need to know. We get a chapter on profanity increasing your pain tolerance and one on swearing as a good way to unite coworkers. But otherwise it’s a bunch of rabbit holes that don’t really address the topic (chimps can swear! tourette’s isn’t really about profanity, swearing is sexist). Fuck that.
- How to Stop Time by Matt Haig – 5 stars
Fascinating story about a man who ages extremely slowly to the point that he’s lived for 400 years, and all the complications that come with that. It’s sort of a time travel story only in chronological order, if that makes sense. A good thinker, but nicely readable too.
- Okoye to the People: A Black Panther Novel by Ibi Zoboi – 2 stars
Lots of repetitive talk and very little action. It’s a prequel story of sorts, early in Okoye’s tenure with the Dora Milaje as she accompanies King T’Chaka on a trip to New York. Meh.
- Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik – 4 stars
A space/mystery romance where the mystery part takes a major backseat to the romance. To the point the first half is just super slow, slow boil between the two romantic love interests. Yes, let’s chop vegetables and feel the romantic tension. The mystery plot barely gets going until the last two thirds, and then the two threads effectively have back-to-back climaxes (if you know what I mean). It’s longer than it needs to be, but it’s still pretty good reading. Just frustrating that it could be so much better if it dove straight into plot instead of building romantic tension for ever and ever.
- The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish – 3 stars
What a bizarre memoir full of ridiculously outlandish and ghetto stories. Tiffany Haddish is over the top and honest and funny.
- Burning Roses by S.L. Huang – 3 stars
Kind of a weird, fairy tale retelling of sorts about coming to grips with mistakes made and trying to make amends.
- Weird Kid by Greg van Eekhout – 4 stars
Greg van Eekhout does it again! Another fun and quirky middle grade story following a unique character with a unique voice. Good stuff.
- God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons from the Bronx by Desus and Maro – 3 stars
Is it possible to get a contact high from an audiobook? I don’t know, I was going to say I felt dumber after listening to this, but that’s kind of mean. And not really true, they talk about a lot of dumb stuff, but they make ridiculous references and connections, so they’re clearly not lacking in intelligence. It’s just a weird take on a book, basically a podcast in book form? Makes me wonder if they recorded the audiobook version first and transcribed the book from there? It’s that stream of consciousness. It has its moments, there are some funny lines, but a lot of drugs, crime, and hype. Which if you know the Bodega Boys isn’t really a surprise.
- Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – 2 stars
I kept waiting for this to get better. I almost quit several times, but then it would get interesting again, and at some point I was too far in to quit. But meh. I hate when sci-fi books don’t explain anything and the mystery is supposed to be part of the appeal. No thanks.
- The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain – 4 stars
A weird little novella about a long-long djinn returning to power in a world turned upside down and precisely controlled by an AI. Out of left field, but pretty fun.
- A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker – 5 stars
Published in 2019, this is eerily predictive of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this case it’s terrorism and violence, combined with a deadly flu, and the result is a societal change that outlaws gatherings. It’s set against the power of live music and the reason we gather in community, so it presents a really interesting story. We get two perspectives and they flip back and forth. It takes a while for them to sync up and for you to realize the connections, but it’s really good. Slows down in a couple places and maybe the intensity and two-thirds isn’t as good as the first third, but that’s a pretty minor complaint. Great book.
- Displacement by Kiki Hughes – 3 stars
A time travel history of the Japanese internment camps, inspired by Octavia Butler’s time travel novel Kindred. It’s kind of a weird device to use for this, though the history of the camps is always painful and frustrating.
- When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele – 5 stars
For some reason I resisted reading the book, fearing it would be intellectual argument, the kind of nonfiction that reads like a slog and I can’t get through. But instead it’s the argument of story. It’s the life experiences that led up to the cry black lives matter and the fuel that keeps it going. Today, a few years after this book came out, it feels like many don’t reject black lives matter as terrorism, but instead as communism. Either way, it’s all an attempt to dehumanize and to insist that black lives don’t matter. When they do. They do. They do.
- 2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis – 5 stars
A geopolitical thriller about how the next world war happens. It’s gripping and realistic and horrifying. The story follows multiple different characters through the crisis, and it’s impressive as a work of plot-driven fiction that’s completely gripping but doesn’t give you much in terms of character development. And gets away with it.
- Burn the Page: A True Story of Torching Doubts, Blazing Trails, and Igniting Change by Danica Roem – 4 stars
The first out transgender legislator in the U.S. shares her story, and it’s a wild one—full of binge drinking and fronting metal bands. But in the end it’s really a story about owning who you are and standing up for what’s right. Like any memoir telling a life story, it meanders a bit giving us more than we need on some topics. But in the end it’s inspiring and encouraging.
- The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander – 4 stars
A novel in verse about a boy growing up in Ghana before being caught up in the slave trade.
- Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – 3 stars
A short novel telling the stories of multiple generations. It’s interesting hearing the various perspectives, but it felt like it came up short, like there were too many gaps and not enough movement. Woodson paints an incredible picture though.
- The Princess and the Scoundrel by Beth Revis – 3 stars
On the face of it, a Star Wars novel about Han and Leia’s honeymoon sounds pretty lame. Of course there are some, let’s say, Imperial entanglements. But the weird premise aside, there are some nice moments. The author nails Han Solo’s voice and the interaction between Han and Leia. There are also tantalizing references to the rest of the Star Wars cannon, including other books, comics, and TV shows. Watching Leia wrestle with the legacy of her family is also intriguing, though not much comes of it.
- Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey – 3 stars
An odd little story about a space lighthouse keeper, a war hero struggling with his demons and slowly going crazy. It’s ultimately a treatise on war and forgiving our enemies.
- Goddess of Filth by V. Castro – 3 stars
Weird possession that’s not possession by an Aztec god to uncover sinful humans. Or something? Kind of a strange story that felt rushed, but the voice kept it interesting.
- Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes – 3 stars
It tries to be a rollicking space opera, but it moves too slowly for confusing reasons and the character motivations are kind of maddening. Nothings really resolved in the end, so expect to keep reading the series. Meh.
- The Barren Grounds by David A. Robertson – 3 stars
The first installment of a Narnia-like adventure with indigenous roots and main characters in foster care. While it does draw on a lot of other fantasy stories, it also feels unique.
- Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel – 3 stars
Time travel, pandemics, and moon colonies. A lot going on in this one and it takes a while for it to all come back together.
- Girl of Flesh and Metal by Alicia Ellis – 2 stars
This story had a lot of potential. Robots and AI-powered cybernetic limbs and fancy tech companies. But it struggled under the weight of YA whininess and weird plot holes.
- Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy with Ali Fadhil – 3 stars
Based on a true story, this book tells the story of a young Iraqi teen in Basra during the first Gulf War in 1991. It’s short and fairly simple, but gives a glimpse of life under Saddam Hussein and during the war.
- Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen – 4 stars
Perhaps the most wholesome vampire story I’ve read—no violent attacks and instead focused on punk rock and family dynamics. Sounds weird, and it is, but it’s good.
- Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon – 4 stars
Ug, this book was indeed heavy. I expected it to be about the heavy weight of being Black in America, and it is about that, but it’s also literal as Kiese Laymon explores his own eating disorders, as well as other addictions. It’s a difficult book. Gripping, hard to put down, but not exactly full of positivity. Its just heavy.
- The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver – 4 stars
This is such an interesting book. I enjoyed it, I liked the story, I appreciated some of the turns of phrase and descriptions that characterize Kingsolver’s writing. But I was disturbed by the weird adoption story—first that it happened and the character just seemed to go with it and the consequences don’t come up for a hundred pages or so. That was weird. But then (spoiler alert) it’s resolved by just faking some paperwork? What’s more disturbing is that this is a Native American child being “adopted”—after all the horrible history of native children being taken from their homes and forcibly separated from their rightful parents—and that issue is never really addressed. In the way this book addresses immigration it feels ahead of its time, but in the way it talks about adoption it feels like the 1950s.
- The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker – 3 stars
Alice Walker has a great descriptive voice, but such depressing stories. I suppose that’s the point, but it makes for grim reading.
- Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr – 4 stars
A pair of teenage sisters try to navigate their broken family and neglectful parents. It’s one of those books that nails the voice and just draws you in. I could listen to Gem all day long. The plot felt a little adrift, would have worked better if it had a little more direction and purpose. But overall really good.
- Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson – 5 stars
Such an excellent story. It’s told in a unique, compelling way, stitching together multiple narratives while still giving us consistent characters to care about. Complete and concise. An excellent reread.
- Hell of a Book by Jason Mott – 3 stars
This book is not quite magical realism, more like some kind of dadaist absurdism. That’s maybe why I couldn’t enjoy it. I loved the voice, especially in the beginning when it was very rooted in reality. The more absurd it got, the more I lost interest. It does wrestle with America’s dark history of racism in a unique and interesting way (reminds me of Trees by Everett Percival).
- Dark Canyon by Louis L’Amour – 3 stars
A quick story of bank robbers settling down and cow rustlers in the southwest. A quick and fun read with sharp characters and lots of manliness.
- State of the Union: A Marriage in 10 Parts by Nick Hornby – 4 stars
A quick novella that reads more like a script (it is a TV show, unclear which came first) that shows a couple’s interactions in a bar before they go to their marriage counseling sessions. It’s wry and funny, tender and awkward.
- Wanderers by Chuck Wendig – 5 stars
A sprawling post-apocalyptic epic in the vein of The Stand or The Passage. Fascinating and creepy and gripping. Took a little bit to get into it, a little suspension of disbelief over the whole walker concept (still not sure I understand the ‘why’ of that), but aside from that it was a rollercoaster ride.
- Trust: America’s Best Chance by Pete Buttigieg – 4 stars
I like that this wasn’t a campaign bio or self-indulgent memoir. He wrote it after bowing out of the Democratic primary in 2020. It’s a clear-eyed look at the erosion of trust in America, and a hopeful look at how we can rebuild that trust. It’s deeper than Democrat vs. Republican or this idea vs. that idea. It’s about the bedrock of our democracy, which has only been underlined in the years since he wrote it.
- More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera – 4 stars
What a trippy, painful, harsh story. It really takes a while to realize what’s happening, and then you can’t put it down.
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor – 4 stars
The story of a Black family’s struggles in 1930s Mississippi in the midst of Jim Crow segregation and lynching. It’s told from the children’s perspective, but it doesn’t shy away from brutality and ugliness.
- Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austen Hartke – 4 stars
A thoughtful and gentle exploration of transgender theology. Austen Hartke has a tender approach that’s kind and just, but also full of depth.
- On Her Knees: Memoir of a Prayerful Jezebel by Brenda Marie Davies – 3 stars
This is a curious memoir that attempts to deconstruct Christian purity culture. The swipes it takes at promise rings and the like are justified, but the story feels like it’s constantly going off the rails due to her own choices. That drama can make for a good memoir, but readers need to feel like we understand what you’re doing. Instead we get a mishmash of rants against purity culture while also boldly saying she’s going to bring Jesus to Hollywood. Maybe that should have started with her husband? It’s bad decision after bad decision, and after a while it starts to feel like voyeurism.
- The Keeper by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes – 3 stars
A creepy graphic novel about death and loss.
- Somewhere in the Unknown World: A Collective Refugee Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang – 4 stars
A collection of refugee memoirs, telling the stories of poverty, loss, and overwhelming challenge. All of the stories had Minnesota connections and they come from all over the world (though oddly none from Central or South America).
- Dr. No by Percival Everett – 4 stars
Such an absurdist story, but still entertaining and engaging. A mathematics professor on the spectrum who studies nothing tries to thwart a super villain intent on unleashing nothing on America. Still following? It reminded me a bit of Homer in the Scorpio episode of the Simpsons, lampooning James Bond in the most ridiculous way.
- Rapture Practice: My One-Way Ticket to Salvation by Aaron Hartzler – 5 stars
This is another deconstruction memoir, though it’s told from the perspective of growing up in the midst of an extremely conservative Christian home and we never get the adult perspective. Which in some ways is refreshing—a little less judgement though a little more awkward. Sometimes it reads like a YA novel and the first little bit when he’s young is kind of tough. But I could have grown up with this kid. My church growing up wasn’t far off, though my family wasn’t there. A lot of it felt way too familiar. Probably not a five-star read for everyone, but it hit so close to home for me that I couldn’t put it down.
- Apocalypse Yesterday by Brock Adams – 5 stars
This is a really creative approach to the zombie/apocalypse narrative, focusing on a character who thrived in the end of the world and when life returns to normal, yearns for the end of the world. The audiobook, read with the perfect gravelly voice, really takes it up a notch. Yeah, it’s a little kitschy, a little bit redneck, but all kinds of good.
- Machine by Elizabeth Bear – 3 stars
A space mystery with lots of intrigue and possibility, but it just became too much. The mystery was overly complicated, intentionally so, and that was a letdown, and even knowing that it was hard to follow. Then there was just too much internalizing—it could have been a hundred pages shorter, easily.
- Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride – 5 stars
What a powerful, wonderful story. Brought me to tears.
- The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang – 3 stars
A thought experiment of a novella about digital chimps of a sort.
- In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero with Michelle Burford – 3 stars
Diane Guerrero was born in the U.S., but her parents were undocumented immigrants. When Diane was 14, her parents were deported and she was left all alone. It’s a wild story, and she goes through a rough self-mutilating/suicidal time. It’s the kind of story we need to hear in the conversation about immigration.
- St. Paul: An Urban Biography by Bill Lindeke – 4 stars
A pretty straightforward, chronological history of St. Paul. It’s detailed enough to be interesting, but brief enough to not be overwhelming. I especially appreciated the attention paid to racial dynamics—whether it was history I knew, like treaties with the Dakota in the 1850s or the bulldozing of neighborhoods like the West Side Flats and Rondo, or history I wasn’t aware of, like cross burnings in the Mac Groveland neighborhood, the impact of redlining, and riots along Selby Avenue.
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – 5 stars
This has always seemed like one of those American classics that every high schooler is forced to read and so they hate it. I was never forced to read it, so when I finally picked it up, I really enjoyed it. It’s tender and quiet, but also harsh and horrible.
- The Sentence by Louise Erdrich – 4 stars
This is a weird book. I waffled between three and four stars, but I’ll give it four because it’s about bookstores and Minneapolis and kind of meta. The author owns a bookstore in Minneapolis and actually appears several times in this book about her own bookstore, which is a little weird. It’s also a ghost story and the woman being haunted went to jail for body snatching. Weird. It also basically follows the first year of COVID-19 and George Floyd and all the garbage of 2020, so that’s rough. It’s weird and a bit rambling at times but also interesting.
- Happyface by Stephen Emond – 3 stars
An illustrated novel about a teen hiding his problems behind a smile and how, predictably, that doesn’t go well.
- Shameless: A Sexual Reformation by Nadia Bolz-Weber – 4 stars
More reevaluating how the church is really messed up in how they talk about sex. A little less memoir than previous books I’ve read, a little more theology. Which is actually a really interesting mix. Really good book. Interesting and thought provoking.
- Secret Identity by Alex Segura – 5 stars
What an exceptionally well told story with fascinating characters and an engaging setting. This really roped me in quickly and was just fun to watch it unfold. It’s not exactly epic and the middle had a moment or two where it dragged, but just all around solid good book.
- The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – 5 stars
I really enjoyed this simple love story about a probably autistic guy trying to find a wife using a questionnaire and meeting someone totally unexpected. Just a surprising and wonderful character and a joyful read.
- The Electric State by Simon Stålenhag – 3 stars
Hauntingly beautiful images of a post-apocalyptic world, though the story felt awfully scattered and had that feeling of being too clever for its own good.
- Murder by Other Means by John Scalzi – 3 stars
A quick whodunit in John Scalzi’s Dispatcher series. It’s a good, fast-paced story, but it’s a little mundane compared to Scalzi’s usual stuff.
- They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera – 4 stars
A really interesting concept (Adam Silvera seems to be good at that) where people get a call the day they’re going to die. An entire industry has sprung up around this and we follow two teens who meet the day they’re both going to die. It’s a pretty dark setup, but it’s more light hearted than you’d expect.
- Work Like a Boss: A Kick-in-the-Pants Guide to Finding (and Using) Your Power at Work by Nancy Lyons – 4 stars
A guide to rethinking how we approach work. It’s pretty densely packed, which led to me setting it aside a few times and taking a while to actually finish.
- Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage by Anne Lamott – 3 stars
It’s another of Anne Lamott’s short collections of rambling essays about what a train wreck she is, sprinkled with insightful quotes, witty comments, and the occasional gem. She just keeps cranking these out. This one focuses on her recent marriage, but otherwise just rambles about. A few gems, a little more rambling.
- Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – 2 stars
A dystopian novella about a poor woman dreaming of an escape to Mars.
- Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras – 3 stars
A chilling look at life in Colombia in the 1990s under Pablo Escobar, following a rich and poor family through the perspective of a child. It was slower than I like.
- Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler – 3 stars
A ‘dying of cancer’ memoir (though she’s not dead yet, which feels like a Monty Python sketch or a miracle), which you really have to be in the right frame of mind to read. I found it best when she got really snarky, but it only came in fits and starts. More than anything I couldn’t stop thinking what a horrible shitshow the U.S. healthcare system is.
- A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines – 4 stars
A troubled teacher talks with a man on death row in late 1940s Louisiana. It’s slow but moving.
- Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World by John Hope Bryant – 4 stars
This is a fun business book because the author talks about flipping typical business on its head and pursuing good capitalism. It’s about making a profit not just for yourself, but for everybody. Sorely needed and mostly ignored.
- Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving – 4 stars
I definitely resisted reading this one (learning about racism from a rich white woman, really?), but it really kicked my butt. It spells out a lot of white culture and how we clash with out cultures—which is really quite normal. But because we’re the dominant culture, we assume our way is the right way, forcing others to follow along, unintentionally creating a path of racist destruction. The writing isn’t amazing, but I appreciated the short chapters and real examples. It’s really helpful for white folks trying to understand racism and how we can begin to dismantle it.
- Kraken Calling by Aric McBay – 4 stars
Spoiler alert: This story involves zero kraken, which is too bad, because the title is the sole reason I checked out this book. Kraken is the name of an eco-terrorist organization, or revolutionaries, depending on your take. The story follows two eras, one a very near future where things are beginning to fall apart, the second about 20 years later where the U.S. has collapsed into authoritarian control or isolated pockets of whatever. It does a great job weaving the two eras together and making everything chillingly believable.
- The All of It by Jeannette Haien – 3 stars
An interesting story about a priest and a deathbed confession, but it felt a little uneven.
- My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix – 4 stars
The tagline really nails it: “A heartwarming story of friendship and demonic possession.” It’s full of the 1980s and Southern charm, plus creepy possession and the horrible things teens do to one another.
- The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett – 4 stars
This is an odd post-apocalyptic story about a pandemic that kills 99.9% of the population across multiple worlds. We follow a motley crew of prickly survivors who are trying to get back to Earth for some reason. The story is pretty down on the science of scifi, much more focused on the characters and their motivations. It’s interesting, if a little frustrating and gruff.
- The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark – 3 stars
A steampunk story in New Orleans that mixes airships, gas, Confederates, and gods. It’s a little too quick to really get into.
- The Last Policeman by Ben Winters – 4 stars
A pretty good whodunit murder mystery set in a pre-apocalyptic world where a civilization-ending asteroid is barreling down on the world.
- Breaking Old Rhythms: Answering the Call of a Creative God by Amena Brown – 3 stars
I think I expected more poetry in Amena Brown’s prose. She writes incredible poetry, but it felt a little flat translated to Christian living.
- Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation by Frederick Buechner – 3 stars
While sold as a memoir about vocation, it’s really just Buechner writing about his work. He talks about attending seminary, becoming a minister, running the religion department at a boarding school, and then being an author. So it’s his vocation more than how to find your vocation. But it’s still interesting, especially as he talks about how various books came to be. He also has wonderful insights and turns of phrase here and there. It feels a bit like the left over autobiography that only a real Buechner nut would be interested in.
- She Memes Well by Quinta Brunson – 3 stars
Fairly typical celebrity memoir. The best parts were when she explained how she got into creating memes and viral videos—those early days of Internet meme-dom were fascinating, the rest less so.
- Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China by Eddie Huang – 4 stars
I love listening to Eddie Huang narrate his own work. He’s got a fast, funny style that’s marinated in cultural references. I don’t always get everything, but it flies by so fast it’s just a good read. I think the premise and follow through on this book was a bit lacking—it really doesn’t come through on what it promised by the end, but the journey getting there was still worth it.
- Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee – 5 stars
This is a really fascinating and thoughtful memoir about a conservative Christian who realizes he’s gay and wrestles with the theological implications. It’s unique because he doesn’t take the typical liberal slide, and if anything finds a weird middle ground. From that place he challenges the church to reassess how they approach this issue, no matter where they stand on it.
- This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson – 4 stars
This book is gay and everybody should read it. There’s a startling lack of LGBTQ+ education, which is something the general populous needs—not just gay people. It’s touted as an instruction manual for being gay, and covers all kinds of things, from coming out to sex ed (since public education skips gay sex). Which means lots of folks want to ban it (which is how I ended up reading it; it was challenged in the library where I serve on the library board). Rather than banning it, I think more parents should have their kids read it. Understanding LGBTQ+ folks a little better won’t turn anyone gay, but it might help us be kinder.
- On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed – 3 stars
Part history, part memoir, this short volume focuses more on Texas history in general than Juneteenth in particular.
- The World We Make by N.K. Jemisin – 3 stars
This was a really interesting concept in the first book, but round two felt a little forced and dragged out. Turns out the N.K. Jemisin had originally envisioned a trilogy and switched gears after creative burnout. The pandemic and political realities following her fantasy didn’t help matters. That explains a lot, though it still feels like the story is aping Trump and not the other way around. Honestly? Not interested in reading more fascist characters.
- Bad Island by Doug TenNapel – 3 stars
A weird little family adventure.
- Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More With Less by Jim Vandehei, Mike Allen, Roy Schwartz – 5 stars
Damn. It’s not often I rethink my everyday work. But this book has me reconsidering how I write and imagining new possibilities for all my clients.
- Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas – 3 stars
Intriguing memoir about the experience of an undocumented immigrant, sent to the U.S. by his mom without his knowledge. Really underscores how difficult this issue is and how few good solutions there are.
- Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House by Cliff Sims – 5 stars
I’m absolutely not one to read a tell-all memoir from a White House staffer, especially not from Team Trump. But this one was fascinating. While I disagree with a lot of what Cliff Sims says, he has an honest style that’s quick to admit to Trump’s shortcomings (as well as his own). He definitely defends the former president, but he also has insight into what makes Trump tick. It explains a lot of how Trump operates and why he’s so confounding.
- Creative Quest by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson – 3 stars
An interesting if a little dense and meandering exploration of creativity.
- Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America by Ayaz Virji with Alan Eisenstock – 5 stars
I love when a book is so good I rip through it in a single day. That’s what happened here. It’s about a Muslim doctor in rural Minnesota struggling with the election of Donald Trump and the blatant xenophobia all around him. It’s a fascinating story, full of frustrating and heart-warming anecdotes. Much of the book centers around a talk his gives in his town about Islam, and it cracks me up how much the talk is a meandering train wreck. The guy is well received and the talk launches a speaking tour and the book, so clearly it worked, but it’s just funny how he’s all over the place trying to explain things. Anyway, it’s a great book. Frustrating, but hopeful.
- Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself — While the Rest of Us Die by Garrett M. Graff – 3 stars
Entirely too long and ridiculously detailed (80 pages of notes!), this history of the U.S. effort to preserve government in the face of catastrophe is as redundant and bizarrely arcane as the efforts it describes.Yes, it’s fascinating to hear about all the nuclear war era attempts to preserve command and control structure, but the repetition is maddening. Would have been helpful to hear more practical justification, though I suppose there’s little to be found.
- Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews – 3 stars
A memoir of a transgender teen. It’s not as gripping as some of the others I’ve read, though maybe that’s because it focuses on his romances a bit more. That’s where all the drama is, and the transition process feels normal in comparison.
- Double Dutch by Sharon Draper – 3 stars
A middle grade story about kids and their secrets.
- I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times by Monica Guzmán – 5 stars
This book is all about how to bridge political divides, which today is truly God’s work. I have incredible respect for people who are able to do this. It’s so incredibly helpful, but so challenging to do (and stick with). If anyone wants to learn more, the author works for Braver Angels, an organization that helps do this work. This book is challenging to get through because it kept making me think of conversations and arguments and debates and distracting me from the book. There is something that bugs me about the book and the approach. What do you do with areas where it’s offensive to debate or question. LGBTQ+ issues come to mind, where you’re debating a person’s existence. The author touches on that a few times, but I never got a satisfactory answer.
- The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork – 4 stars
A YA story about life and death. One teen is dying from cancer, the other is bent on murderous revenge. It’s an interesting and engaging story, perhaps mostly because it comes at it from such a unique angle.
- The God of Endings by Jacqueline Holland – 5 stars
An engrossing vampire story that’s densely packed. Seriously, the writing is just dense, not as in hard to understand, but packed with details and emotion. It’s hard to breeze through, but it’s still engaging.
- Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H – 3 stars
This memoir is a bit all over the place. But I appreciated the perspective of a queer, immigrant, South East Asian Muslim.
- I Swear: Politics Is Messier Than My Minivan by Katie Porter – 4 stars
A really engaging and interesting memoir from a politician, primarily because Katie Porter tells it like it is. Probably worth 4.5 stars. I hope we get more smart people like her engaged in government.
- Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang – 3 stars
This YA story about teen suicide is pretty grim, but it had a unique enough approach that I stuck with it. That approach is also a downside as the jumbled way the story is told and what feels like multiple narrators gets confusing. Doing it as an audiobook didn’t help, but it could have been handled better. A good attempt with lots of potential.
- Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple – 2 stars
This first-hand account of the Syrian war should be fascinating, but it’s a rambling, jumbled mess. I forced my way through it because it’s something I know next to nothing about and wanted to learn, but it was a slog.
- I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver – 4 stars
A rough but hopeful YA story about a nonbinary teen who gets kicked out of their house when they come out to their parents. The family drama and teen awkwardness is on point, though the mental health aspects were tough (not sure if that’s because they were accurate but difficult to relate to or something else).
- Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah – 5 stars
What a brutal, far-too plausible book.
- King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender – 4 stars
A middle grade story about coming to terms with death and being gay.
- Sacred Strides: The Journey to Belovedness in Work and Rest by Justin McRoberts – 4 stars
An engaging reflection on the nature of work and rest. Some helpful insights here and good stories, though it’s maybe more applicable and less humorous than some of his other books, so I guess it depends on what you’re reading it for.
- Wool by Hugh Howey – 5 stars
After watching the TV show, I felt inspired to re-read the book to compare. Still a pretty fun book, and plenty of differences between the book and TV show that make it worth diving into both.
- Poe Dameron: Free Fall by Alex Segura – 3 stars
This is the backstory of Poe Dameron hinted at in Rise of Skywalker. We learn how he became a spice runner with Zorii (and how he got out of it). It’s interesting backstory, but it’s nothing amazing.
- Dark Disciple by Christie Golden – 4 stars
The Star Wars story of Quinlan Vos and Asaj Ventress working together to assassinate Count Dooku. This was an unproduced arc from Clone Wars that was turned into a novel after the series was canceled. It gets a bit cheesy at moments, but it’s great to see more of Ventress’ story.
- Goodbye From Nowhere by Sara Zarr – 3 stars
A teen dealing with his parents’ infidelity and the fact that life changes. It’s engaging, but there are definitely those frustrating YA moments when a teen is making boneheaded decisions. Realistic, I suppose, but maddening to read.
- I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro – 3 stars
A recap of multiple dreadful moments in the life of comedian Tig Notaro, including the death of her mother, a near-death illness, and cancer. It has funny moments, in her understated way, but it wasn’t hilarious.
- The Scourge Between the Stars by Ness Brown – 4 stars
An Alien-like space thriller. It starts out a little slow, but once it picks up it’s hard to put down. A pretty fun debut.
- Nimona by N.D. Stevenson – 5 stars
After watching the Netflix movie I had to give this a re-read. The movie takes a different direction in a few places, though I think both really have their place. Fun and quirky and full of heart.
- Terminal Alliance by Jim Hines – 4 stars
Humanity is rescued by an alien race and pushed into military servitude. At the bottom rung of the galactic hierarchy, we follow an even lower rung—a crew of space janitors who step up to the plate when the humanity needs them most. It’s a nice take on the space opera and has its moments of fun.
- Silver Under Nightfall by Ren Chupeco – 3 stars
While the action kept me reading, the political intrigue felt bloated and hard to follow, with a final conclusion that felt too unbelievable.
- The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry – 2 stars
I get that he wrote it in the late 1960s (the version with the afterword that I read was published in 1989) and for its time it’s probably remarkable, but I just couldn’t get past a white man writing about race solely based on his childhood experience with the two Black people he knew. He even owns up to that to a certain extent, but it still undermines so much of his argument. He makes some good points, but it also feels like he’s just trying to apply his anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist, pro-environment, pro-agrarian sentiments to the issue of race, essentially dismissing racism in favor of what he thinks are bigger issues. As much as he tries to acknowledge it, it feels reductive of Black experience. It reads like a white guy who doesn’t know any Black people trying to solve racism.
- Still Stace: My Gay Christian Coming-of-Age Story by Stacey Chomiak – 4 stars
I find these gay Christian memoirs so fascinating and heartbreaking. Much of the appeal for me is the familiar subculture I recognize, but that quickly gives way to the difficult journey. This one is similar to others I’ve read. While it is illustrated, it’s not a graphic novel.
- Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe – 3 stars
A fascinating graphic novel memoir that explores nonbinary/genderqueer experience. The downside is there’s not much of a story. It ends kind of abruptly. So a helpful book to understand that experience, but not a gripping story.
- When Fathers Cry at Night: A Memoir in Love Poems, Letters, Recipes, and Remembrances by Kwame Alexander – 3 stars
This memoir explores fatherhood and in many ways failures and brokenness.
- The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older – 3 stars
A Sherlock Holmes style mystery that takes place on Jupiter. The mystery and romance was interesting enough, though it seemed a little clunky at times.
- Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle by Dante Stewart – 3 stars
I think I was expecting a more straightforward memoir, and this isn’t it. The blurb pitches a shift after Donald Trump, and while that happens, it’s not really explained in narrative style. There are some interesting insights and perspective of being Black and interacting with the white world.
- Melissa by Alex Gino – 4 stars
A simple middle grade story of a child struggling with gender. The story is simple, but the issue is far from it. This book does a great job showing the complexities of navigating the issue for a child as they sort it out for themselves and try to live their own truth.
- Shift by Hugh Howey – 4 stars
This second installment in the Silo trilogy gives us the whole back story of how the silos came to be. As I started rereading and remembering how the story goes back to the beginning, I remember thinking that I didn’t need to know how it all happened, that it ruined the mystery. But finishing the book, I feel like it did rise above just giving answers of how it happened and became a gripping tale that ties back to Wool.
- Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole – 4 stars
The Coast Guard in space sounded cool, but when the story quickly shifted from a near space war with China to a reality TV contest was I more than disappointed. Thankfully it didn’t continue in that vein. It’s a great space story with some fascinating detail.
- Dust by Hugh Howey – 4 stars
Continuing the story is always challenging, and this case I think it had a rocky start from just being frustrated with the characters for not communicating with each other. But it eventually overcame the bumps and took off.
- Heartstopper Volume 1 by Alice Oseman – 4 stars
A fun love story, just a shorter, graphic novel version of the TV show (even though it came first, I’m just reading it after watching the TV show).
- Heartstopper Volume 2 by Alice Oseman – 4 stars
Such a happy, heart-warming love story.
- Heartstopper Volume 3 by Alice Oseman – 4 stars
Just more of this idealized romance, and everyone seems to be getting together. A little more depth and concern here as it gets to some deeper mental health issues.
- Heartstopper Volume 4 by Alice Oseman – 4 stars
This volume definitely got heavy as it more deeply explored Charlie’s mental illness. But I was impressed with the care and tenderness with which it approached the topic.
- Dear Church: A Love Letter From a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. by Lenny Duncan – 4 stars
A direct call to the church to dismantle white supremacy and truly live to their calling. While at times the oration is simply soaring, sometimes I felt a need for more practical steps. The last third seemed to have more of that, but it felt like it came too late.
- Facing the Music: My Story by Jennifer Knapp – 4 stars
I’ll be painfully honest: This is a boring memoir. If you’re looking for the drama of Jennifer Knapp’s disappearance from Christian music and come back and coming out, she really doesn’t play to that angle. The story’s there, but you have to wade through a lot. I found hearing her full story fascinating, but it’s not exactly a riveting tale. She tells it chronologically, which means an awful lot of growing up and discovering music before she ever finds her faith, a guitar, explores her sexuality, or any of that. I enjoyed it, but more because I grew up in the same sub-culture.
- Solitaire by Alice Oseman – 4 stars
This story, and the story of the story, is fascinating. The story itself is fascinating because the main character basically has undiagnosed depression. At times Tori is insightful and funny and weird, and it’s great. At other times she’s spiraling and it’s not great. The story of the story is fascinating, both because Alice Oseman published this at 17 and it’s hard to believe that she wrote it and that they published such a dark story, but also that HeartStopper is basically a prequel to Solitaire and it’s hard to believe how that all came together. It’s a fun little world, perhaps a little more real and honest than many fictional worlds we find.
- The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi – 4 stars
A quick and darkly fascinating tale.
- Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman – 3 stars
This is basically the story of Nick and Charlie having a fight. That’s about it. What’s bizarre to me is that this was written before the Heartstopper series. Not sure why we would care about Nick and Charlie without the Heartstopper series or why on earth Alice Osman could write this and make it feel like Heartstopper came first, but there it is.
- All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou – 3 stars
The fifth in Maya Angelou’s series of biographies, these start to get dreary and dull. There are so many unnecessary interactions and descriptions, but then occasionally it gets to something really interesting or an especially insightful moment—often suddenly dropped without any preamble.
- Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness – 3 stars
As the title tells you, this book is a lot. It eventually settles into a chronological autobiography that leads up to Queer Eye. It’s interesting and wow has Van Ness been through a lot, but it’s not earth shattering.
- From a Certain Point of View: Return of the Jedi by Various – 4 stars
The third installment of this series that inserts short stories throughout the action of a Star Wars movie filling in the gaps with different perspectives. It’s a fun concept. Though I have to admit this one fell a little short. It’s still fun. There are still some gems. But overall it wasn’t nearly as fun as the original. Which is too bad, because there are even more option of interesting things to explore. Makes me wonder how much Disney tied the hands of the writers, giving them instructions not to touch other properties.
- The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley – 4 stars
Stories of old age and slipping memory can be fascinating when done right. This one reminds me of Old Jack by Wendell Berry. There’s more plot to it, and it’s engaging watching the past and present come to light.
- A Place for Us: A Memoir by Brandon J. Wolf – 3 stars
There were parts of this I liked, but also parts that felt rambling and disjointed. Ultimately, it doesn’t tell a very cohesive story. There are moments, for sure. But I felt like the style kept getting in the way, saying things in a way that confused me.
- Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey – 4 stars
A dark but beautifully written memoir about domestic violence that turns to murder.
- Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade by Delilah S. Dawson – 5 stars
One of the best Star Wars novels I’ve read, this story follows Padawan Iskat Akaris and her disillusionment with the Jedi and eventual embrace of the dark side. She’s a tragic character and it’s a dark story, but it shows the weakness of the Jedi approach. It definitely has some slower, character building sections that bog it down, especially compared to the end where it seems to scream past moments. But overall it’s a compelling Star Wars story.
- Trans Mission: My Quest to a Beard by Alex Bertie – 3 stars
Read more like an instructional manual than a memoir. Lots of helpful information and good perspective, but not as much memoir as I was hoping for.
- Star Wars High Republic: Path of Deceit by Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland – 4 stars
This Star Wars story takes place even earlier than the previous High Republic series. This story is a prequel of sorts, telling the origin of the Path of the Open Hand, a force cult that will be the focus of this new High Republic series. It’s a unique set up and I think this story is a bit separated from the rest of the series, but it’s an interesting romance/cult story.
- Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas – 5 stars
A historical romance with vampires? Yes, please. The inhuman vampires are more creatures of legend, giving a creepy vibe to the backdrop of Mexican-American war in the mid-1800s. The romance gets a bit belabored at times (oh the drama), but it’s not long before vampires come into play again and it gets good.
- Star Wars the High Republic: Convergence by Zoraida Córdova – 3 stars
These High Republic Star Wars stories often suffer from telling grand stories that stretch a little bit too far instead of focusing on fewer characters. Same issue here. The first maybe two-thirds of the book was pretty good, but the last third never seemed to come together and I couldn’t understand the motivations of some characters.
- A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney – 5 stars
Awful death experience memoirs aren’t exactly “good” reads, but there’s something raw and powerful about well-written ones. That’s what this is. Rob Delaney has a very relatable “well fuck” approach to the illness and death of his son, while also reveling in the moments of happiness and joy.
- Brown Boy by Omer Aziz – 3 stars
Meh? I’ll give it three stars because I finished it and something had to keep me going, but by the end it felt more like two stars. The first half felt fairly compelling and I enjoyed learning the immigrant story and the multiple worlds he moved between. But about halfway through his motivations stopped making sense, or at least they weren’t clear, and he seemed to breeze over things that seemed more interesting and linger on the dullest stuff. I don’t expect every memoir to have some grand lesson or incredible life experience, there are other lessons to be had, but this one felt like it didn’t know where to go.
- Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – 3 stars
With Mexican horror movies and Nazi occultism, you’d think this would be a no-brainer, but it has such a slow burn it was hard to get into and stick with. I did stick with it and finally finished it, though I’m not sure it got much better. It’s a good read for Halloween, but wasn’t quite gripping me.
- Starter Villain by John Scalzi – 4 stars
Yet another fun, quick sci-fi read from John Scalzi. This one is about an average guy who inherits a villain organization, with all the wacky fun that involves. Scalzi’s real skill seems to be coming up with wild ideas and then playing them out. This one seems to involve a fair amount of talking. Though Scalzi does a good job of interrupting the dialogue with action, it still feels like a lot of talk. A fun read, but a little heavy on explanation.
- Where Peace Is Lost by Valerie Valdes – 5 stars
A wonderfully unique and refreshing sci-fi yarn. It has a fantasy feel to it, but doesn’t get overly lost in world building, it has an impressive backstory that’s slowly revealed, the characters are clear and sharp, and there’s enough action to keep things moving. Perhaps best of all, it’s a stand alone. No tripping into trilogy territory. Great read.
- Lone Women by Victor LaValle – 4 stars
Lot of Stephen King vibes here, which isn’t my normal thing, but I did enjoy this mysterious/supernatural tale of life on the late frontier in Montana.
- The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad by Mike Birbiglia – 4 stars
A painfully honest and funny look at parenthood. It’s kind of a comedian confessional, and leans more to honest/funny than heartwarming dad (though there is some of that), which honestly makes it bearable and enjoyable.
- Star Wars: A Crash of Fate by Zoraida Córdova – 3 stars
A YA love story adventure set in the Star Wars universe (barely). It’s in the prequel era with occasional references to the First Order and one character from Rebels (who never actually shows up). So it’s supposed to stand on its own. Overall it feels rushed (all the action in a single day) and a little convenient, though the characters are likable and relatable.
- Orphaned Believers: How a Generation of Christian Exiles Can Find the Way Home by Sara Billups – 3 stars
An interesting history/memoir of the evangelical church of the 1980s and 1990s with all its foibles and problems and how it led to the embrace of Donald Trump. It’s heavy on the rapture, due to the an obsession of the author’s dad. It’s very familiar territory for me, though as much as Billups said she didn’t have all the answers, she acted like she had all the answers.
- Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation by Jon Ward – 4 stars
A fascinating and detailed look at the evangelical movement from a former insider and eventual outsider. Ward becomes a journalist and starts covering politics, moving away from the evangelical church while still clinging to belief. It’s an interesting perspective and a worthy critique of many of the failures of evangelical thought and action, especially in the Trump era.
- Confessions of a Recovering Evangelical: Overcoming Fear and Certainty to Find Faith Through Doubt and Questioning by Daniel Henderson – 4 stars
There were parts of this I really enjoyed. Anytime these memoirs mirror my own journey, I appreciate them so much more. But there was a lot that felt frustrating, from the tone that seemed to swing from remorse to giddy joy to the plethora of formatting issues and typos (maybe that was the ebook formatting). I get it, sometimes it’s fun to make fun of the stodgy religious types (that’s what we’re coming to read after all), but sometimes it felt like a little too much. Maybe the sarcasm just didn’t land with me. 4 stars because I connected with the topic, but 3 for not being as strong as it should have been.
- Black Widow: A Sad-Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books with Words Like “Journey” in the Title by Leslie Gray Streeter – 4 stars
It’s hard to write a funny memoir about your husband dying, but Leslie Gray Streeter pulls it off. It eventually becomes more of an adoption story, and ultimately it’s about making it through grief.
- Loves God Likes Girls: A Memoir by Sally Gary – 2 stars
This is kind of a bizarre gay memoir because it doesn’t even mention LGBTQ+ issues until literally halfway into the book. The first half starts to feel like the author is explaining detail about her childhood and adolescence to explain why she’s gay, which she later says contributed to her being gay but isn’t the whole story. The author also ends up taking the stance that homosexual relationships aren’t God’s plan for anyone, implying that she’s going to be celibate, but she’s written a subsequent memoir about her marriage to a woman. So at best, it’s a memoir of a life in transition. That all makes it pretty confusing. While there are engaging moments and interesting stories, it feels like a lot is left unsaid. She describes episodes of psychotic rage her father would slip into, and while they later restore their relationship, there’s never any explanation of what was going on. There’s a lot of frustration with growing up in a church that rejects LGBTQ+ people and a society that didn’t even allow conversation, but little of the work to address that (which seems helpful, given the end of the book pitches her nonprofit that does that work; perhaps that’s her second memoir?). I finished it, so it had enough of a voice for that, but an all around frustrating read.
- Billy, Me & You: A Graphic Memoir of Grief and Recovery by Nicola Streeten – 4 stars
A poignant graphic novel exploring grief over the death of the author’s two-year-old son. Quick but interesting and touching.
- Do I Stay Christian?: A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned by Brian D. McLaren – 4 stars
A fascinating book that offers reasons to both leave Christianity and stay in the faith. Those first two diametrically opposed sections were interesting and engaging, though the third part that tries to reconcile them started to drag on.
- Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier – 3 stars
The stories of how video games are made are interesting, but they start to blur together after a while. The one that sticks out the most is Stardew Valley, made by just one guy all by himself!
- Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford – 4 stars
A difficult but well-written memoir. It kind of sneaks up on you how painful and difficult this story is, and it never feels like we get a lot of healing.
- Stay True by Hua Hsu – 4 stars
An interesting memoir about growing up and losing a friend to random violence. Hua Hsu’s style is kind of meandering, like he keeps getting distracted and going down random alleyways before coming back to his point. It’s engaging though, if a little random. But I have to say I hate the trope of ending the book (spoiler alert) by telling your therapist you’re going to write a book. Ug.
- The Book of Delights by Ross Gay – 4 stars
This is such a peculiar essay collection. It’s always fun to read the prose of a poet, and while his random ramblings are delightful, what I most enjoyed is the format. Every day he found something to delight in and wrote a short, often rambling, essay about it. It reminds me of my early days of blogging and makes me want to try that sort of approach.
- A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle – 3 stars
One of my reading goals this year was to read some Madeleine L’Engle, but I was never feeling in the mood for her realistic fiction. As I’ve been very into memoirs lately, I finally realized I could re-read some of her memoirs, so I started in on the Crosswick Journal series. I forgot how rambling this series is. It’s interesting, but she’s definitely all over the place. One thread I hadn’t picked up on in the book before (or just didn’t remember), is her journey from atheism/agnosticism back to faith. There’s a lot of good stuff for writers and doubters, as long as you can get through some of the lengthy asides.
- Birding While Indian by Thomas C. Gannon – 4 stars
A fascinating mix of birding memoir and Native American political rant. That probably sounds dismissive, but I found both aspects more intriguing than expected. Birding has never seemed that interesting, but this dive piqued my curiosity. Thomas Gannon also dove into socio-political issues in an approachable, honest, and flippant manner that was engaging and interesting (I added several books he quoted to my to-read list).
- Fruit Punch by Kendra Allen – 4 stars
A gritty, coming-of-age memoir written in a Black vernacular that shifted from rough to poetic. Rough also summarizes her life, with difficult coming to terms with relationships and sexual assault. Quick and immersive read.
- An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice by Khizr Khan – 4 stars
While a relatively straight-forward chronological memoir, this story really soars on the power of Khizr Khan’s belief in the American ideal. I remember watching him speak during the Democratic National Convention in 2016 and being blown away. The power of an immigrant inspired by American freedom is really something.
- This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us by Cole Arthur Riley – 5 stars
Damn, this book just came out of nowhere with a powerful voice. Ironically, I listened to the audiobook and the author reads it herself in a very solemn monotone. It took a little getting used to, but it was really powerful. As I listened, it quickly felt like a book I would need to re-read to really grasp, but there was so much insight and incredible turn of phrase. This one is a well that demands repeat visits.
- Stringing Rosaries: The History, the Unforgivable, and the Healing of Northern Plains American Indian Boarding School Survivors by Denise K. Lajimodiere – 2 stars
Indian boarding school stories are tragic, but the most shocking part of this book is how recent the stories are. I often think if boarding school as something that happened in the early 1900s, but most of these people were born around 1950 and some were in boarding schools being horribly treated as late as the 1960s and 1970s. While it’s a history that needs to be known, this book is more a catalog of experiences, simply recounting 16 different stories, than an actual narrative history of boarding school abuses. An important and necessary book, and of course a difficult read, but it’s not a book I’d recommend.
- Is It Hot in Here? Or Am I Suffering for All Eternity for the Sins I Committed on Earth? by Zach Zimmerman – 3 stars
A collection of memoir-ish essays and random lists from a comedian, which can be iffy. The Southern Baptist turned gay atheist vegetarian bits kept me reading, but they weren’t exactly zingers.
- The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone – 3 stars
Despite rave reviews, this one took me a while to get through. The long second chapter on Reinhold Niebuhr and his failure to address lynching seemed like a weird way to go on a book about lynching. Why are we so concerned with someone who didn’t talk about lynching? I mean, I get it, white folks ignored the issue. But that seems secondary to the problem itself and quickly lost my interest. I appreciated the connections the book made and it is a terrible indictment of American Christianity. But for me it didn’t live up to the hype.
- Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World by Christian Cooper – 4 stars
A engaging and insightful perspective from a Black, gay, nerd, birder. It probably runs a little longer than it needs to, but it’s a good read.
- Aging in Place: Navigating the Maze of Long-Term Care by Mary Mashburn – 3 stars
A random grab while browsing the library shelves, this thin volume offers some helpful tips, but nothing that blew me away or shifted my thinking considerably.
- Araña and Spider-Man 2099: Dark Tomorrow by Alex Segura – 2 stars
It’s funny how bad this story is. I usually give up a book this bad, but it had so much potential. A time traveling Spider-Man story? But every turn was bad. Introducing a new character and jumping back and forth with the set up, only to kill characters off with no explanation? We even get Spider-Gwen introduced in the third act. So bizarre.
- Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh – 3 stars
I didn’t know anything about MuslimGirl.com, and the memoir is kind of random, though the most striking thing is just the litany of Islamophobia, certainly since 9/11, but even continuing since then and spiking with every incident.
- The Deep Sky by Yume Kitasei – 5 stars
A fun sci-fi whodunit about an explosion aboard a one-way colony ship. Really good.
- A Wing and a Prayer: The Race to Save Our Vanishing Birds by Anders and Beverly Gyllenhaal – 4 stars
An in-depth, detailed look at disappearing birds (3 billion in the last 50 years) and the conservation efforts to save them.
- Pieces of Blue by Holly Goldberg Sloan – 5 stars
Holly Goldberg Sloan has a way of telling stories that are both simple and dramatic at the same time. They’re like slice of life stories but they take these surprising twists and turns. Pieces of Blue is no different, though it still took me by surprise. Good stuff.
- All Systems Red by Martha Wells – 5 stars
Murderbot is such a fun series. It’s interesting how short and quick the first installment is. Just enough to whet your appetite.
- Artificial Condition by Martha Wells – 4 stars
More Murderbot, more fun.
- Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells – 4 stars
More Murderbot fun. This one really kept the pulse-pounding action moving once it got going. Fun ride.
- Exit Strategy by Martha Wells – 4 stars
The end of the initial saga of Murderbot, this is more edge of the seat action. Seems like this one took a little longer to get going and was a little more complicated, but good stuff and nice to see it come to a logical completion (and better still that there’s more).
- Network Effect by Martha Wells – 5 stars
Really enjoying re-reading the Murderbot series. I love how this one starts off with fast-paced action, and it keeps up for the first third of the book. It does slow down in the middle and the plot is pretty complicated, but it’s a lot of fun and effectively takes the series up a notch. Good stuff.
- Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells – 5 stars
Murderbot in a murder mystery? Yes, please.
- System Collapse by Martha Wells – 4 stars
Finished the new book in the Murderbot series after re-reading the whole series. This one is basically a sequel to Network Effect and works best when read immediately after that one. It’s good as usual, though it sets up a bit of trauma for Murderbot, which changes the tone of the narration a bit, which I didn’t like as much. It’s an interesting tweak, I just didn’t like how it impacted the action (the Murderbot’s lack of confidence is not something I wanted to see more of). Overall it’s still Murderbot fun, and despite some slow sections in the middle, the last quarter is really fun.
- Don’t Let Them Bury My Story: The Oldest Living Survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre in Her Own Words by Viola Ford Fletcher – 3 stars
A 109-year-old survivor of the Tulsa Massacre shares her story. Her account is harrowing, though a good half of the book is about the court case, her trip to Africa, and all the media hoopla around the anniversary. There’s only a chapter or two about her story and the aftermath, which is really the engaging and interesting part.