It’s time again to temporarily set down the pots and pans and pick up a good book. Don’t worry, I’ll be back to posting food again next week, but I really do like to break it up every now and then with something a bit more intellectually stimulating.
I fell a bit short of my 75-book reading goal in 2018. Maybe I was overly ambitious, having read 84 books in 2017 (not sure what happened there). Still, out of the 56 I did manage to read (I’m a fast reader, what can I say) I definitely encountered some good ones, and finally have enough really good ones to warrant another post.
These are the 6, er, 7 books that wowed me. That moved me. That stole productive hours from my day and kept me reading late into the night. The books that left me desperate for a sequel (sadly, none of them have one). They run the gamut from sentimental young adult to post-apocolyptic to murder mystery to romance. And actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had a more diverse group of books in one of these posts, now that I think about it. While I read all different kinds of books, the one common thread between all of them is a truly engaging story. A book might be beautifully written but if it doesn’t grab me, doesn’t suck me in, it’s not going to end up on my list.
Books keep stupidity at bay. And vain hopes. And vain men. They undress you with love, strength and knowledge. It’s love from within. – The Little Paris Bookshop
If you don’t already, follow me on Goodreads! I try to post ratings/reviews of books as I finish them, although lately I’ve only been rating the really good ones (mainly to refresh my memory when it comes time to write another of these kinds of posts, lol).
(As always, there are some affiliate links in this post, but all opinions are entirely my own).
Once upon a time we were the standard colors of a rainbow, cheery and certain of ourselves. At some point, we all began to stumble into the in-betweens, the murky colors made dark and complicated by resentment and quiet anger. At some point, my mother slid so off track she sank into hues of gray, a world drawn only in shadows. – The Astonishing Color of After
The Astonishing Color of After
I’ll admit, it initially drew me in with the beautiful cover, but the inside is just as stunning. The Astonishing Color of After is the story of a teenage girl whose her late mother returns to her in the form of a beautiful red bird, guiding her to Thailand in search of answers. It tackles the difficult, often taboo issues of mental illness and suicide, race and identity, as well as the deep personal grief in overcoming the loss of a parent. Heartbreaking, poignant, and beautifully written. I definitely recommend this one, but be sure to have a tissue (or two) handy.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
By far, the best book I’ve read in a long time. It felt like I was reading a narrative version of the board game Clue, if Doctor Who had written the rules. Serious props to the author for what is probably the most intricately layered timeline I’ve ever encountered… with more than a few unexpected twists. You’ll be confused. Almost the entire time. And that confusion won’t let up once the book is done either (wait, what? what just happened? hold on). The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a book that surely warrants a second read. Also, the writing is fantastic; there were numerous paragraphs and phrases that had me reading them over again out of sheer awe at their brilliance and wit (like the quote below… I mean, what a great way to describe someone who is not so bright, lol).
Working within the confines of Jonathan Derby’s intellect is like stirring croutons into a thick soup. – The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
The Oracle Year
What would you do with the knowledge of specific events in the future? Would you keep them to yourself? Try to save the world? Sell that knowledge for personal gain? The Oracle Year explores this question, when the main character, Will, wakes up one morning from a dream with 108 predictions about the future.
I really enjoyed this one, despite it being more of a ‘dude’ book than the strongly feminine books I usually read. The plot and premise are so totally unique in a way that’s both outlandish and all too real at the same time.
The Book of M
Another post-apocalyptic novel along the lines of The Passage and Station 11, except the ‘disease’ in this case is less gruesome, but in some ways far more terrifying. I won’t give it all away, but let’s just say The Book of M has one of the most unique concepts for a plague sweeping through humanity that I’ve ever encountered, a disease devastating in more ways than one.
But even if I never say it, it’s still real, because a thing does not have to be said to be real. It just has to be remembered. – The Book of M
The Great Alone
Absolutely wonderful. The Great Alone is tragic and beautiful and vast in its tale of a young family in crisis who move to the Alaskan wilderness to find independence, adventure, and a little of the wildness within themselves. Also, this book reinforced the fact that I have no desire to live in a remote Alaskan town anytime soon, thank you very much!
You know what they say about finding a good man in Alaska—the odds are good, but the goods are odd. – The Great Alone
The Kiss Quotient
Quirky and cute and more than a little bit steamy, The Kiss Quotient is an unconventional love story will leave you feeling all the things. Like a gender-reversed Pretty Woman, with an autistic heroine who is genuine and sincere and nothing but herself 100% of the time. Sure, it’s a bit predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. This would be a perfect follow-up after reading the Great Alone (lol), you know, lighten things up a bit.
The Marriage of Opposites
Set primarily on the tropical island of St. Thomas, The Marriage of Opposites tells the tale about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro, the Father of Impressionism (and in fact the book itself was so vivid in its depiction of the island that one could even consider it an impressionist masterpiece, painted with words). Based in historical fact but illuminated with fictional fancies and a forbidden love so strong it threatened to rip apart a community, this book is a must read for lovers of art, adventure, and historical fiction.
Perhaps that was what my mother disliked most. I resembled her. I could not help but wonder if for some women, that was the worst sin of all. – The Marriage of Opposites
Other Notable Reads:
Almost 5 stars. Not life-changing, but still definitely worth a read!
The Girl Who Smiled Beads – beautifully written and devastatingly tragic, this is the true story of a girl who escaped the genocide in Rwanda.
The Girl From Everywhere – another girl, this time not quite so heavy (and very much made up). I love magical books like these that create their own world with their own rules: here, the magic involves sailing to other worlds and other times using vintage maps to navigate.
Before We Were Yours – Told from two perspectives that span generations, this is the heartbreaking tale of unimaginable horrors as children are literally stolen from their impoverished parents to be adopted out to wealthy southerners (the fact that it is based on a true story is even more horrifying).
The Neighbors – “That’s not how I expected things to end.” (That’s what I wrote when I finished this book a few months ago, and yet now I can’t seem to remember exactly how it ended and all the reviews online are frustratingly spoiler free). Regardless of my mnemonic lapse, if you like books filled with suspense, secrets and more than a few twists and turns, this one is definitely worth reading (and it appears I have to go read it again).
The Little Paris Bookshop – A light and easy read for fans of books and travel and France. Although I have to admit it was far less about books and Paris than the title would imply. Still, I very much enjoyed this one and its cast of quirky characters (including a scene-stealing cat).
The Book of Essie – The terrifying reality of reality TV, and what happens when a young reality TV star wants out of the spotlight in which she has lived her entire life. Full of secrets, scandal and deception, but also pockets of love, friendship, and sisterhood.
Boxing ourselves into tiny cubbies based on class, race, ethnicity, religion—anything, really—comes from a poverty of mind, a poverty of imagination. The world is dull and cruel when we isolate ourselves. – The Girl Who Smiled Beads
So, what should I read next? If you’ve read anything exceptional lately, please share in the comments! I may have 300+ books on my to-read list, but there’s always room for one more. :)