Every year the ABC staff checks through what they read and tallies up their favorites, just for you. Sometimes it’s a top 5, sometimes a top 3, sometimes a top 7, but always it’s a list full of cherished books (or games)(or magazines) that we hope will give you many additions to your TBR pile. For the bookworms, by the bookworms!
Featured ABC staff: IrisW – Martijn – Simone – Ester – IrisM – Michelle – Tom – Jouke – Lília – Sophie – Jilles – Pleun – Jitse – Natalia – MariaS – Marten – Tiemen – Klaartje – Nicki – Sywert – Shirley – Maarten – Hans – Lynn
The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin
This book, about four children who learn the dates of their deaths from a fortune teller and the subsequent lives they lead, was recommended to me by a friend. I wasn’t sure if I would end up liking it, but Chloe Benjamin’s characters grabbed me by the throat and did not let go.
The tension between fate and destiny on the one hand and people making their own decisions on the other is very interesting. The main characters are fleshed out and beautifully flawed, and their relationships to each other and the world at large are fascinating.
To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers (paperback edition also available)
I seem to fall in love with everything Becky Chambers writes, and this book is no exception. It’s short, fascinating and intense, and the ending is definitely something that will sing around in your head for a while after closing the book. I also love the concept of ‘somaforming’: adapting the human body to survive on the exoplanets the main characters visit, rather than radically altering other (potentially already inhabited) worlds to support human life. Exploring rather than colonizing.
Heartstopper Volume 1 and Volume 2 – Alice Oseman
Ages ago, I randomly came across an adorable “boy meets boy” web comic. I spent some enjoyable hours reading through it but didn’t give the whole thing much thought after that, even though the story I’d read wasn’t finished. But when I found out the comic was being published as a physical book, I knew I had to have it!
Heartstopper is great for people who are looking for a cute & fluffy read with a good variety of LGBTQ+ characters. It touches on many of the harder aspects of the queer experience without becoming preachy or depressing. The art style is sweet and deceptively simple, but adds so many layers to the story.
Rebel of the Sands – Alwyn Hamilton
Another one of those “recommended by a friend, wasn’t sure it was for me, ended up loving it” titles. I had been aware of this book and its absolutely stunning cover for quite a while, and had even wrapped it as a Blind Book Date once or twice, but I honestly didn’t think it would be so GOOD. Middle Eastern mythology mixed with some serious gunslinger vibes, a cast of interesting young characters, and a gritty underdog protagonist – what’s not to love?
The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern
Erin Morgenstern’s previous and, until recently, only book The Night Circus has been one of my favourites ever since I first read it. I was very excited about this new novel, but also a little apprehensive that it might not live up to the hype I had built for it. Turns out I was wrong!
The Starless Sea is extremely hard to describe (because it gets a bit weird), but the most important thing is that it’s just as beautifully descriptive and atmospheric as The Night Circus, with vibrant and fascinating main characters.
This year’s honorable mentions: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which was great but ultimately not that memorable, and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, which I would’ve included on this list if I hadn’t been slightly disappointed by the sequel.
The Gabriel Allon series – Daniel Silva (starts with The Kill Artist)
Started reading the Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva. First one is decent, but it gets better after that. Lots of travels through Europe and interesting political/historical settings. Allon is a semi-retired Mossad spy/restorer of classic art.
Sea of Rust – C. Robert Cargill
Boy howdy, what a book. Scary (’cause the scenario reads like it actually might happen), exciting (action/hunt) and philosophical (what does it mean to be human?) all at the same time. Quite a feat.
Any Other Name (Walt Longmire #10) – Craig Johnson
Special mention for this series (again). I just love the characters. They’re old friends by now.
Walt Longmire is a sheriff in Wyoming and deals with murders, disappearances and domestic issues in his own placid and intelligent way, together with local friends and his deputies.
The landscape is one of the main characters. Throw in some native Indian folklore and it’s something quite unique. Funny, too.
The Professor and the Housekeeper – Yoko Ogawa
This novel, by Japanese author Ogawa, is both factual and scientific as well as very tender and sweet. The professor in mathematics has a very short memory time span, and he aims to make sense of everything by holding on to his numbers and calculations. The housekeeper tries to adapt to this situation in every way she can and finds herself quite attached to the man.
The Turqoise Lament – John D. MacDonald
MacDonald’s series with Travis McGee is full of classic novels. McGee is a free spirit, in the ’60s and ’70s, who you would like to have as a friend. In this volume he helps out Pidge, who is afraid her husband wants to kill her. He is committed, loyal, and has a great sense of humor. You can only wish MacDonald was still writing new additions in this series…
Sweet Sorrow – David Nicholls
The latest novel by David Nicholls is a bittersweet story about a teenager, just leaving school, and somehow losing touch with his well-known group of friends he had for so many years. In the summer after his final school year, he joins a theatre group, because he is intrigued by a girl who has joined as well. This is his first solo step at the start of the rest of his life.
Family Honor – Robert B. Parker
Although this is not part of Parker’s famous series of Spenser novels, this series with Sunny Randall as the main character is worthwhile reading as well! Quite a different spirit than Spenser, this feisty young woman is hired to locate a wealthy family’s missing daughter. And she does so with style and humor!
The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa
The latest novel by Ogawa is dubbed an Orwellian novel. Items, concepts and various things disappear one by one, and are automatically erased from memory. However, there are some people that are able to hold on to memories, but this is not allowed, and even persecuted. A thought-provoking novel, very much worth your time.
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Third time rereading it. This time in the pretty Word Cloud Classics edition. I very much appreciate the language Austen uses and love her beautiful yet sharp and critical observations. And of course the love story between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet never gets old.
The Cold Dish – Craig Johnson
Number one in the Walt Longmire series, it is modern age Western that impressed me. It took me a little bit of time and effort to get into, but I couldn’t get enough of the people, the relations and relationships between them with Walt as the main driving force. I will be sure to return to this series next year.
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
From start to finish engrossing. Here and there a bit too violent for my liking, it’s the adventure of six young people in an unforgiving and unrelenting world that had me at the edge of my seat the whole time.
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo
Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World – Timothy Morton
A tentative book that challenges how we perceive our natural environment. Timothy Morton challenges the idea of nature as fetishized object and proposes an idea on how global warming affects us and how we shape our world.
The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood
An eco-religious cult gathers social rejects to prepare for the Flood – that is to say – the end of the world. This narrative is told from the perspective of three women and how they experienced life before and after the Flood and how Adam One shaped their beliefs of nature and non-human animals.
The Posthuman – Rosi Braidotti
An accessible introduction to the field of Posthumanities. Rosi Braidotti, a posthuman scholar from Utrecht University, attempts to write a genealogy of how this area in the Humanities developed since the Enlightenment. With The Posthuman she challenges the tenets that form the human and proposes a shift of values to Zoe-centric ethics.
Ubik – Philip K. Dick
Ubik takes you for a ride in a possible future in which humans with telepathic abilities are hired to spy on others and in which the deceased are kept in a form of cryonic suspension with intact consciousness. After Runciter Associates, a company that hires people with abilities to negate psychic powers, sends Joe Chip with his team on a mission, they are ambushed. Soon after, the team experiences shifts in reality and one by one each teammate disappears. Joe is left alone to solve the mystery. The question is whether he can before he vanishes.
Texaco – Patrick Chamoiseau
Texaco brings ancestral pain and memories of slavery in modern Martinique. Chamoiseau brings oral history to life and tells us a story of resistance, identity and healing.
Der Nazi und der Friseur (translated as The Nazi and the Barber) – Edgar Hilsenrath
A daring novel about the rise of National Socialism and the Holocaust in Germany. The book uses the perspective of a young man who grows up to be a Nazi and a mass murderer, in spite of the fact that his best childhood friend is Jewish. After World War II he assumes a Jewish identity and eventually emigrates to Israel in order to escape prosecution in Germany. The book is also unusual in the sense that it uses humor in its descriptions, a rare phenomenon for books handling such a dark period in European history.
The book was originally written in German, by a German-Jewish author. But because of choosing the perpetrator’s perspective the author initially had difficulties finding a publisher in Germany. It was therefore first published in the U.S. (in 1971; in Germany in 1977).
Unfortunately, in English it’s now only available as a print-on-demand title.
The One Minute Organizer – Donna Smallin
A handy book for getting organized, even though it is sometimes a bit outdated (bills, shopping lists and calculations can be stored digitally these days, for instance) and assumes typically American circumstances like having a garage.
Vegan Living Magazine
Although I’m not vegan, I like reading this magazine because it offers a fresh perspective on cooking. Also, the information on subjects like nutrition is interesting and valuable.
The Tides of War trilogy (The Last Sacrifice, Fallen Gods and Gates of the Dead) – James A. Moore
Violent, imaginative, philosophical.
Minor spoiler: what I initially thought would be the main quest is resolved in the first few chapters… 🙂
The Quantum Magician – Derek Künsken
Bio-engineering ~ high-tech physics ~ space opera heist.
Redemption’s Blade (After the War #1) – Adrian Tchaikovsky
What happens in the aftermath of a war à la Lord of the Rings?
Can be read as a stand-alone novel; each book in this series is written by a different author.
Symbaroum Core Rulebook – Mattias Johnsson
Evocative, enticing illustrations.
Atmospheric dark fantasy RPG, going deep instead of wide.
A small town, bordering on gigantic, looming forests.
Looking forward to rolling D20s for this in 2020!
A Madness of Sunshine – Nalini Singh
Ms. Singh is one of my favorite authors for romantic fiction, and this is her debut as a mystery/thriller author and she still delivers. The romance is still present, but is just a very small part of the whole and she manages to write a powerful mystery, with some interesting twists.
Archangel’s War – Nalini Singh
With this one Ms. Singh closes a cycle in the Guild Hunter series with a golden key – which is what we say in Brazil when something is finished really well. Let’s hope the next one – she mentioned signing a contract for new ones! – will be as good.
Monstress, vol. 3 – Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda
Wonderful series! I haven’t had the opportunity to read vol. 4 yet – a lot of work at the moment! -, but it’s definitely on my to-be-read list.
The Bride Test – Helen Hoang
I was afraid Ms. Hoang would not deliver as good a book as her first one, The Kiss Quotient, but this one is also very powerful. The Kiss Quotient is still my favorite from the two, but this one is a close second. Sexy but also heartbreaking AND heartwarming.
Defy the Fates – Claudia Gray
The third and last in her Constellation trilogy, it is a very good read for YA lovers of light Science Fiction and a nice romance that’s not too sappy or sexy. I’ve enjoyed the series very much (starts with Defy the Stars).
Blossoms in Autumn – Zidrou and Aimée de Jongh
Beautiful graphic novel about mature love. And how fantastic it can be. Lovely.
The Ghost Brigades – John Scalzi
The second in his Old Man’s War series, and I like it a lot. Less hilarious as the first one, Old Man’s War, but it is still fun and also quite philosophical in its own way. If you like SciFi, this is a very good series to read without going too far in scientific terms or ideas.
The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin
Science fiction at its best.
Everything about this book is spot-on: the beautiful writing, the whole and oh-so-human characters, and I was blown away by the depth of the two worlds. Anarres is arid, just-about-liveable, relatively recently colonised by a group of idealists from Urras who set up a nonauthoritarian socialist society; Urras is, much like our western world, green, glorious, ruled by a hierarchical, patriarchical capitalist few, largely to the detriment of the many.
Le Guin’s power lies in her ability to show both societies wholly, from their most shining examples of greatness down to their darkest mistakes. But I still know which world I would take in a heartbeat.
I also read The Left Hand of Darkness by le Guin this year, and was blown away by that, too. But The Dispossessed pips it at the post for being, to me, a more complete book.
The entire Monstress series to date – Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
A gruesome, bloody epic positively BRIMMING with with strong non-male, other-bodied and LGBTQI+ characters (if you’re looking for representation), a dark, raging antihero on a revenge mission (if you’re looking for a fast-paced and twisty plot set in a richly detailed world), and the art… Oh my word. The art is stunning and luscious and super-detailed so that you keep wanting to zoom in but then remember you’re reading this on paper so you can’t. A series to savour and re-read (and take pictures of so you can zoom in on the art on your phone ;-)), in other words. Highly recommended.
The Courage to be Disliked – Ichiro Kishimi & Fumitako Kaga
I didn’t like everything about this combination philosophy/self-help book, but BOY did it tell me what I needed to hear. Alfred Adler’s name was new to me but his psychological theories are interesting, forward-thinking and immensely appealing. I’ve been thinking about personal tasks, and horizontal vs. vertical relationships, and being earnest, and many other topics that come up, ever since I finished the book. It has shifted the way I think and given me options to increase my peace of mind – not an easy task, I’m finding, but I’m a little more hopeful I can get there.
All in all this was a very valuable read for me, and I’ll be re-reading it many times over the course of my life, I’m sure.
The Linesman trilogy (Linesman, Alliance and Confluence) – S. K. Dunstall
What an absolute joy this whole trilogy turned out to be! Ean is one of the kindest, gentlest heroes I’ve come across, and the whole cast surrounding him is just as wonderful. And the lines! 😍 They were given such vivid characteristics; through Ean they became this chorus of excitement.
For me this series has the same feeling of family and belonging that I get from Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers books. And besides that there is also a long political arc that takes all three books and will require re-reading to see through fully, which is great because I get to spend time with Ean and the lines again.
At the end of book 3 many plot lines are tied up but there’s also enough left open-ended that I can’t help but hope this Australian sisterly writers duo has another Linesman trilogy up their sleeves…
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men – Caroline Criado Perez
This book charts the many ways in which the female has been left out of public policy, design, medicine & more (i.e. medicine testing: women’s hormones are too ‘messy’ so it’s tested on men only but then CALLED universal when it turns out to be often useless for women because of our hormones).
It’s full of data and research which is eye-opening, mind-numbing and made me want to rage because half the population of the world is so easily dismissed as unimportant. And so much data is still missing, too, a point repeated every chapter. It should be required reading for any policy maker, experiment planner, data analyst anywhere.
Representation matters. Diversity leads to better lives across the board. Understand that your point of view is only one of billions, and then listen to others who are not like you.
Bosh! by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby
Like many people, my family is trying to eat less meat. I’d never heard of the Bosh boys until I met them (hooray for bookseller perks) and I liked the promise of their first book, which only uses plants and doesn’t really get into meat-substitutes (…a thing I’m not yet convinced of…). So I took it home and we’ve been cooking our way through all the recipes. Almost all that we’ve tried have been resounding hits (their Ultimate Chilli is incredible, as is their Sticky Shiitake Mushrooms) and when they’ve merely been yummy they have given some great new ideas on how to use flavours and vegetables to create delicious, hearty meals that make you forget you ever wanted or needed meat. Looking forward to tackling their second book when we’re through to the end of this one.
Honorable mentions: Daisy Jones & the Six, A Memory Called Empire, The Housekeeper and the Professor, the Longmire series, The Kiss Quotient, Fates and Furies, Hexarchate Stories, the Imperial Radch trilogy (…again… :-)), We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, and Gideon the Ninth.
Hellbent – Greg Hurwitz
Orphan X used to be a government secret weapon until he ran away and now helps people in need. This time it is his adopted father who calls him for help. This is a great action thriller with a beautiful character line. The best of the series and great fun to read.
The Mastery of Love – Don Miguel Ruiz
Reading this book a second time this year has not been a waste of time. It is filled to the brim with wisdom we should live by to have a loving and fulfilling live. A classic!
Carved in Bone – Michal Nava
This is a beautiful novel, a prequel to the Henry Rios gay crime series. It is about the slow destruction of a gay man and about Henry who is just out of rehab trying to rebuild his life. Even though the two story lines are unfolding at different times, they keep crossing each other to tell one story about dying or surviving in the the early eighties when the AIDS epidemic started. Besides crime, this book is about the beginning of the AIDS crisis and the horrors it brought upon the gay community.
Somewhere Over Lorain Road – Bud Gundy
Don’t let the cover of this book fool you. This is a great crime novel about how a series of murders of three young boys in 1976 destroyed a family. The main character, Don, a gay man living in San Fransisco, is coming home to help his family when his father is dying. His father was one of the suspects of these killings forty years ago, and still, after all these years, the stigma of suspicion is still palpable. Don wants to help his father remove the suspicion before he dies, and tries to figure out what happened all those years ago. But the story is about much more, like growing up gay, about the love of a family, about loosing people, about falling in love. Highly recommended.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
“People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy” and that’s the truth.
This book is absolutely amazing. It pulled me in and would not let go. It’s beautiful, painful, shocking, poetic and absolutely delicious. Evelyn is such an amazing complex character with so much depth. You might find some of her choices insane but still you understand them, especially if you place them in the right historical context. The story makes you realize that a lot of us are fortunate to live in freedom. That a lot of people can love who they want to love but that this wasn’t the case a couple of decades ago. And it’s still not possible for a lot of people in certain countries.
There where a couple of chapters I found a little too romantic but then again they did not bother me that much.
The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah
What a incredibly intense read this was. It reminded me of The Shining but without the horror. Then again, when you look at it, alcoholism and severe abuse are real everyday horrors. I felt so many emotions while reading this book, from joy to utter sadness and everything in between. Leni and Cora are amazing characters, strong and real; I will miss them severely. The Alaskan nature described by Kristin Hannah was so vivid I feel like I’ve been there.
The last 50 pages where a little to dramatic for me. Don’t get me wrong, I cried my eyes out, but it felt a little to much like a Hallmark commercial. All in all I would definitely recommend it to anyone. You won’t regret it!
The Whisper Man – Alex North
Wow what an amazing book! Till about halfway through I found the book very creepy and it actually gave me a massive horror vibe. Do you remember that movie Se7en? Where everything was creepy and dark? That’s the vibe I got from this book. All the characters, also the good ones, are severely flawed and have a heavy emotional load on their shoulders. The character are very well rounded and the writing is superb, you could really feel the pain they are going through. The end was not spectacular but ok, I could see why people would be disappointed by it. All in all I would definitely recommend this one to lovers of the genre.
Someone We Know – Shari Lapena
What an absolutely perfect holiday read ! In the book we follow several people in a small community, and everyone has loads of skeletons in the closet. A woman in the neighbourhood is brutally murdered but who did it? It’s a very simple but clever plot and it had me guessing till the end who done it.
My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
What a extremely original book! Written in ultra short chapters that make you want to read on fast. Very funny but also quite sad in other parts. All in all highly entertaining!
Teatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti
Chilling, spine tingling, psychedelic and weird horror stories reminiscent of Lovecraft. Ligotti was my best discovery this year.
Rusty Brown – Chris Ware
Ware’s style is clear and crisp and his narrative is bold and extensive, but this story is quite the opposite. Rusty Brown is the ultimate anti-hero, his life goes nowhere and is cringing to read, but this still makes a very interesting narrative giving a social critique on the alienation in modern society.
The Hero’s Quest – Jeffrey Alan Love
Love’s graphic style is, in my humble opinion, wonderful. The way he works with shading and just a few colors if beautiful. This year he made a children’s book that is just as wonderful to read as his other work.
Cimarron: Freedom and Masquerade – Charles Freger
Initially I got into Freger’s work through his book Wilder Mann, depicting European folklore costumes. He’s traveled around the world for more folkloric documentation and this is his book on folklore costumes from the Americas. It’s fascinating to see the different characters that are being portrayed. If you look beyond the scope of this book, and at Freger’s other work, you will see how Folklore costuming transcends boundaries, even continents, in a human celebration of stories and feasts.
De Bourgondiërs – Bart van Loo
A history of the Low Countries through the Middle Ages as told from the perspectives of a host of the key players. Van Loo cleverly engages you to follow the development of the society that would in the end become The Netherlands and Belgium. A must read for history fans.
[This book is only available in Dutch.]
Lampie and the Children of the Sea – Annet Schaap
This is a new children’s classic that I’ve read to my son in Dutch with great delight. A story of a girl who gets placed out of her father’s custody after a shipping disaster that she blames herself for. She gets moved into a house with curious inhabitants and surrounded by secrets. What is the noise she hears at night? What are those wet stains? A captivation story for all ages.
The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin
My lovely colleague Marten recommended this to me and it was excellent! This was my first Le Guin book and I regret nothing. I’m glad I finally read this/one of her novels. Books that tackle the arbitrariness of gender-constructions always tickle my fancy. Le Guin definitely tackles this in a great manner!
This is a book I’ll read again (and again) in the future to grasp more of the beautiful details in Le Guin’s world-building.
Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo
This was the book I was looking forward to the most in 2019! Tartt-esque Secret History-vibes, ghosts, and a badass protoganist who doesn’t take no for an answer.
In at the Deep End – Kate Davies
I refrained from reading this book in public, because boy oh boy did it make me blush. If you’re looking for a steamy, lesbian, coming-of-age novel, this is the one for you. Also, the not-so-subtle cover will definitely grab your attention.
His Majesty’s Dragon – Naomi Novik
A sassy dragon, dragons used for warfare, Napoleonic Wars, and a very formal sea captain thrown into a very informal environment. Best combo for an awesome fantasy novel!
Red, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston
A (forbidden) romance between the Royal Prince of Wales and the President’s son, set in a world where Trump doesn’t exist. What more could you want?! Definitely THE feel-good book I needed this year!
The Book of Dust: the Secret Commonwealth – Philip Pullman
Wow this was was amazing, it was so good to reunite with Lyra again and see how she turned out after the first trilogy. It took me by surprise how this book took the kind-of happy ending of His Dark Materials and totally turned it around.
The Priory of the Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon
This took me on a ride I did not expect. Dragons, assassins with powers, and a prophecy about a queen.
You really get the feeling that the main characters are making decisions that affect the whole nation and beyond.
Nevernight – Jay Kristoff
A gory and funny story about a girl’s revenge and her shadow demon. She joins a guild of assassins and has to complete exams to be accepted. If I say more I ruin the plot twists and the fun.
Empire of Sand – Tasha Suri
This book stayed with me for a while. The atmosphere is amazing. And the fantasy side of the story is very unique. The main protagonist has power that comes from blood and spirits and finding a way to communicate with those spirits.
The romance was just so well written I didn’t want it to end.
The City in the Middle of the Night – Charlie Jane Anders
Weird. That is the word that pops into my mind when I think of this book, but it is a good kind of weird. The kind of weird where you have to re-read certain parts just to have a good understanding of what is happening. But once you have that understanding it just takes you on a great ride!
Wanderer – Sarah Leon
I loved this novel (Or is it a novella?) with its larger than life emotions and its in-your-face symbolism. It really made me want to listen to Schubert, which I think is a good thing.
The Europeans – Orlando Figes
Orlando Figes must be one of the best and one of the most prolific history writers out there. What sets this apart from other Europe-in-the-19th-century histories, among other things, is the angle he uses to tell his story. The relationship between Pauline, Louis Viardot and Turgenev gives him an incredible frame to talk about the culture of 19th century Europe!
Sketches from A Hunter’s Album – Ivan Turgenev
Reading The Europeans made me want to read Turgenev. I was curious about this collection of short stories which had such an impact on 19th century Russian society it got the writer imprisoned (on his estate) and is said to have played a major part in the abolition of serfdom in the Russian Empire. But wow, can this man write! All this time wasted reading Dostoevsky, I wish I had discovered Turgenev earlier!
Long Way To A Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz
Whoa! I feel good, I knew that I would, now
I feel good, I knew that I would, now
So good, so good, I ‘m reading this bo-ok!
The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
Whoa! I feel nice, like sugar and spice
I feel nice, like sugar and spice
So nice, so nice, I got you
The Left Hand of Darkness – LeGuin
Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
Somewhat reminiscent of Gormenghast but with skeletons, lesbian necromancers and one very cool protagonist (see cover).
Despite the story revolving around death – necromancer nobles are called upon to go through a series of mysterious trials in a haunted gothic palace to become the new servants of the deathless Emperor God – the plot is filled with life, energy and a rather peculiar kind of humor.
For those who like their space opera (or epic fantasy that happens to be in space) with a twist and slightly on the weird side.
I liked it. Liked it a lot.
A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine
The debut by Arkady Martine, A Memory Called Empire, is an intricate and delightful space opera with the emphasis on political intrigue. Set in the heart of an empire that encompasses the stars it tells the story of an inexperienced ambassador thrust into the middle of a conspiracy that had her predecessor murdered and threatens to consume said empire itself.
Although there are a few explosions, the dialogues are the real fireworks of this novel. Smart, eloquent, funny and occasionally touching it is the kind of scifi I absolutely adore.
The Dragon Republic – R. F. Kuang
With The Poppy War, a novel that mixed elements of Chinese history and mythological tales with an ending that subverted the classic hero’s journey story in a rather grim and explosive way, R.F. Kuang debuted last year as a rising star in the fantasy genre.
I was a bit worried whether the sequel The Dragon Republic would be able to live up to the high expectations that The Poppy War had set, but it meets and easily surpasses those. Our ‘heroine’ Rin finds herself having to live and deal with the choices she made at the end of book one and the resulting consequences. Just as with any good sequel the stakes are higher, the world is expanded and the action features even more explosions and gut-wrenching scenes. What I especially like about Kuang’s work is that she doesn’t pull her punches. This is dark stuff, the kind of story that after finishing it makes you want to drink hot cocoa and wrap yourself in a blanket. And yet, despite all the horrible things that happen, there still remains a lot of humor and, dare I say it, hope in this story.
Gamechanger – L. X. Beckett
This will be the book I put in the hands of anyone looking for a smartly written cyberpunk novel that isn’t Neuromancer. Gamechanger reads as if Malka Older and Kim Stanley Robinson joined forces to do a collaborative near-future worldbuilding exercise and said world has been heavily imbued with the zany pace of a Neal Stephenson novel like Snow Crash or The Diamond Age.
Set about 100 years in the future, humanity is slowly starting to rejuvenate the world after a century of ecological collapse. It is the story of a seemingly simple legal case regarding anti-social behavior that spirals out into a conspiracy involving sapient AIs, ancient oligarchs and the future of humanity. Like all good sci-fi, Gamechanger is not a prediction of what our future is going to look like – although I wouldn’t mind having my own artificial sidekick – but a reflection on our own society and current social and technological trends; one that is told in an entertaining and intelligent way.
The Overstory – Richard Powers
I never would have imagined that a novel about trees, endangered trees even, would affect me in such a profound way. The writing of Richard of Powers has always been very powerful, but one can truly say that The Overstory is his magnus opus.
The narrative follows the lives of a group of people who are in some way connected with the last remaining giant redwood trees, each trying in
their own way to desperately save these last remaining wonders.
Powers make you realize how we are connected to this world and all the other living beings on it, especially trees, and yet at the same time
how we destroy the very habitat we live in. Although it is a story of desperation and the inability of humanity to see the obvious truth, it
is a powerful reflection on what it means about being human on this planet we call Earth.
Other favorites: Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger, The Calculating Stars by
Mary Robinette Kowal, Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone, To Be Taught,
If Fortunate by Becky Chambers, Exhalation by Ted Chiang and Utopia For
Realists by Rutger Bregman.
Erik of het klein insectenboek – Godfried Bomans
There are several editions, first printed in 1940. This book was read to me as a kid and was my great source of inspiration.
[English title: Eric in the Land of the Insects. No longer in print, but still available through our supplier of second-hand books.]
A History of God – Karen Armstrong
This book taught me a lot about religion and now I want to read her complete works.
Strange Planet – Nathan Pyle
For a good laugh.
Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell
A worrying book about criminology.
Upheaval – Jared Diamond
The Expanse series (starts with Leviathan Wakes) – James S.A. Corey
So far I’m on the 8th book (including 2 of the prequels) and ahead of the TV series based on the books, which inspired me to read them. It has been a pleasure to discover more, and come to care about, about the characters and the future they live in. The first full book is Leviathan Wakes, but there’s also a boxed set of the first 3 books to get started with.
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
Our book club read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and it was a firm favourite! The main character being forced to live in a hotel made for an interesting constrained setting, and the vivid descriptions of the spaces and relationships was a treat to experience. This is definitely one where public opinion is not wrong – in my opinion.
The Marc Dane series (starts with Nomad) – James Swallow
It’s been a year of series and I read the first 3 of James Swallow’s Marc Dane novels in rapid succession: Nomad, Exile and Ghost. Fast-paced, an overload of action and interesting characters – and back stories. I have book 4 on my to-read list. It’s going to be tough choosing between it and another Expanse novel.
The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides
One book that managed to worm its way in between the series was The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. A friend was raving about it on social media and convinced me. I finished it in a weekend because I couldn’t put it down – the perfect escape read.
Essential – The Minimalists
I don’t read much non-fiction but have enjoyed the essay collection Essential by The Minimalists. Joshuah Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus have an informative site, an engaging podcast and generally good info on “loving people and using things”. Their film “Minimalism: a documentary about the important things” is a pretty good introduction to their way of life. I appreciate their lack of fundamentalism!
The Stand – Stephen King
This one has been on the to-read list for way to long. Finally started it this year and it is definitely worth the time to read this 1400+ pages… or cheat and read the old edited down to “just” 900 pages version like I did. 😉
A Boy And His Dog At The End Of The World – C. A. Fletcher
Staying in the End Of The World theme this is a heart-wrenching tale about a boy and his dog…at the end of the world. Fletcher kindly asks in the beginning of the book to keep the discoveries made a bit of a secret. So I shall. Just read it!
Counting Heads – David Marusek
Great little weird sci-fi read.
The Dreaming Void – Peter F Hamilton
As I slowly work my way through all the books written by Hamilton this was the start of the series that I read this year. Kind of a follow up from Judas Unchained, containing a couple of classic characters and a bunch of new ones. Hamilton is a great world builder.
Viking Age Brew: The Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale – Mika Laitinen
Detailing the history and tradition of a specific Finnish Ale with roots in the middle ages, interviewing current brewers and discovering the history of beer brewing. It also has a bunch of great recipes for the aspiring home brewer.
The Hunting Party – Lucy Foley
I’m still in the middle of this crime story about a couple of friends that meet up for a New Year’s Eve at a deserted estate in the Scottish Highlands. The only other people that are present are the estate host, a strange lady called Heather, and an ex-marine, Doug, who is the gamekeeper. You sense that between the friends there is friction and envy. They all have something odd.
Then… a body is found. Who is it? (I still do not know even now at page 247.) And who did it?
Fleishman is in Trouble – Taffy Brodesser-Akner
A couple with marital problems end up in a divorce and this book describes their struggle with the new situation, trying to cope with their children, new loves and old despairs.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
Actually, this is a horrible story. But the way this story is composed is really good. You get to know Eleanor, the main character, and although she is at times very odd, you do not think too much about it. Then the story slowly evolves and you finally find out what happened to her. You understand why she is weird and acting strangely and the puzzle is complete. Very nicely done, I had to shed a tear at this, in its core, very cruel story.
A Geek in Japan – Hector Garcia
Very nice and thorough view on Japan, its culture and its people. A real must-read if you are planning to travel to Japan, and even if you have been there this is a really good reference book.
The Polyglot Lovers – Lina Wolff
Intrigued by its beautiful cover I started reading this disrupting novel. Well-written and raw. That’s what I would like to say about this book. I am still reading it, not finished yet, as it is not a book you can read in one go!
De goede zoon – Rob van Essen (not translated into English yet)
Wow. I don’t know how to catagorize this book, but it’s on many Best Books of the Year-lists for a reason. An autobiographical, set in the near future dystopian thriller without a plot, a many-layered literary masterpiece. (Although some people totally disagree and thought it was boring. Those people are wrong of course.)
The Spectacle of Illusion: Magic, the Paranormal & the Complicity of the Mind – Matthew L. Tompkins
A Thames & Hudson publication, so it looks beautiful. This was a very interesting read. A short history of séances and psychic research, and of (stage) magic, and of psychology, connecting these stories by way of a great collection of illustrations. Should find a place on any fortean‘s bookshelf.
Het been in de IJssel – Joris van Casteren (not yet translated into English, in Dutch only available second hand, or as e-book)
I like Joris van Casteren. I mean, I like his books. Always clearly written, journalistic but also with a literary writer’s eye, and he chooses his subjects well. Here he tries to find out to whom the leg belonged that was found in the river IJssel. Which results in a very interesting and tragic story.
Mij eerste moord, en andere verhalen – Martin Michael Driessen
Not a very well-known author, but I think considered one of the best writers in the Netherlands by those ‘in the know’. Different settings and different styles, a lot of death. If you try this out, start with the stories ‘Een ware held’ or ‘Het heilige water’. Not translated into English yet.
Monument voor de quagga – schlemiel van de uitgestorven dieren – Reinier Spreen (self-published)
Very interesting and surprising (and sometimes shocking) history of the quagga, a horse-zebra-like species, the last of which died in Artis Zoo in 1883. And that is definitively not a spoiler. This books takes you from the first Dutch ‘settlers’ in South-Africa, via Linnaeus and later Darwin, to ‘de-extinction’ research that partly inspired Michael Crichton in writing Jurassic Park…
And here are two more English ones 😉 : The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham, the famous scifi-classic I finally read this year. (I read this old edition with that great spooky cover-illustration); or any of the Beasts of Burden series. Love the art, and very much like the stories and characters.
Fred Herzog: Modern Color – Fred Herzog
Present – Stephan Vanfleteren
How To Change Your Mind – Michael Pollan
I heard him speak at the John Adams Institute lecture. A Boomer evening.
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters – Priya Parker
A good help for social engineering and party organizing.
Mr. Five Per Cent: The Many Lives of Calouste Galbenkian, the World’s Richest Man – Jonathan Conlin
We discovered the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon a couple years ago and were intrigued. The book was recently reviewed in NRC and is a fascinating story of the discovery of oil and gas exploitation in the 20th century. Mr. 5% made the contacts, translated, and drew up the contracts, including a 5% fee on all sales.
The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben
This is my favorite book to give away. What a wonderful new perspective, written in warm science talk.
The Parisian – Isabella Hammad
Highly praised debut novel about a Palestinian who went to Paris to study to be a doctor in the 19th century, and was thereafter called “The Parisian”. The author creates a rich historical family context of a time and place rarely documented in English.
Shakespeare and Co.
Two books: one by present day collators (only available second-hand) and one by Sylvia Beach herself about the iconic bookshop in Paris.