Today I am continuing my Year in Review by revisiting my favorite books of the year. (I am doing this series instead of my regular What I’m Into post that I normally do with Leigh Kramer) I read a total of 61 books this year (I am currently reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, but I don’t think I’ll be able to finish it in the next two days so 61 it is). Most of them were good books because, let’s face it, if it’s really awful I probably won’t bother finishing it. Ain’t nobody got time for that ;). Several of the books I read this year have made it onto my Best Books of All Time list.
One of the things I most enjoyed about my reading this year was the opportunity to read lots of different genres. I learned so much about the world and about myself from the books I read this year. The downside to the wide spread of genres is that it made it difficult to compare books when trying to choose favorites, so instead I made it easier on myself by breaking it down.
The Way of Kings ($7.68 for Kindle) and Words of Radiance (still on sale for Kindle for $3.75) by Brandon Sanderson. I wrote about these on my recent Kindle deals post, so I’ll just reiterate – these are the first two books in a series that is still being written and they are two of the best books I have ever read in this or any other genre. I cannot say enough good things about them. They are masterpieces. This is a fantasy epic that will appeal even to those who aren’t huge fantasy readers. This is a story about honor and justice and revenge. The characters are fantastic and the world with it’s various people groups and magic system, etc is captivating. If I could recommend just one book from this year’s reading to everyone I know it would be this book. (PS- If you get it, stick with it through the prologue. It’s a weird start to the book but I promise after you get past those first two chapters you’ll be hooked).
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (Only $1.99 right now!): This is also one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you are into fantasy at all, you must read this book and the sequel The Wise Man’s Fear ($5.99!) The prose is gorgeous. The world-building is phenomenal, the characters will become dear friends. I really can’t say enough positive things about this book. This is the first-person narrative of a terrifically gifted young man who grows to be the greatest wizard the world has ever seen.
The Secret Place by Tana French ($11.99 on Kindle, $16.06 hardback) I love, love, love Tana French. She and Kate Atkinson are my favorite mystery writers, hands-down. This book did not disappoint me. I will say – this was the first of her books that I guessed who the murderer was pretty early on, but I don’t really think it was because it was too obvious. I just had a good gut instinct on this one. The Likeness is still my favorite French book, but I really enjoyed this one. As a warning – this is an Irish Detective novel so the language is pretty salty.
The Silkworm by J.K. Rowling under the name Robert Galbraith. ($10.99 for Kindle and $16.09 in hardback) This is the second of Rowling’s Cormoran Strike mystery novels. It did not disappoint. Rowling is, of course, a master storyteller and the mystery was intriguing, the characters were well-developed, and the plot was engaging and unpredictable. I thought this book was great fun, though I probably liked the first Cormoran Strike book (The Cuckoo’s Calling ) slightly better.
Best Spiritual Memoirs:
Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions by Rachel Held Evans (still on sale for Kindle for $2.99): Evans’ story about coming from a fundamentalist evangelical “it’s us against the world” background and learning to be ok asking questions, even if you don’t find answers right away resonated deeply with me. I love that she actually articulates some of the really hard questions of life and faith in this book and doesn’t try to smooth them over with Bible verses or trite Christian phrases. My biggest takeaway was something Evans said at the very end of the book – that there is a difference between questioning God and questioning what you believe about God.
Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett (still on sale for Kindle $3.03). This is a story for tired Christians who need to experience God in the ordinariness of life. It particularly resonates for those of us who grew up evangelical and have always felt burdened by the need to pray more, read more, do more. This book will probably be especially meaningful for those who feel they’ve lost themselves in parenthood, but even as someone who is not a mother I could relate so well.
Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber ($8.89 for Kindle and $12.97 in paperback) I just finished this book at the beginning of December which is why you haven’t heard me talk about it before, but it was profound to me in many ways. I read this after listening to a podcast interview she gave a few months ago. I admit that it’s not for everyone, but I am not the kind of person who has to agree with everything someone else says in order to appreciate the truths they share. Bolz-Weber is the pastor of an unconventional Lutheran church in Denver, Colorado called the House for All Sinners and Saints known for such things as the blessing of the motorcycles and the chocolate fountain in the baptismal on Easter Sunday. She writes beautifully about how she came back to faith by believing that there was a place in the Church for someone like her—covered in tattoos and recovering from addictions. One of the most beautiful bits of her book to me was when she talked about falling in love with the liturgy. She says she loved it, “because the liturgy has it’s own integrity. It doesn’t depend on mine.”
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (still on sale for Kindle for $2.99) I found this book completely fascinating. If you are an introvert or you love an introvert, you must read this. It taught me so much about how I work as a highly sensitive introvert in contrast with my husband who is more strongly introverted, but is not highly sensitive. I also found her exploration of Western culture’s “extrovert ideal” so helpful in understanding the ways in which I’ve trained myself to act more extroverted. This helped me make sense of why I am 100% sure I’m an introvert, but other people sometimes seem surprised by that.
Daring Greatly: How to Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brene Brown ($10.99 for Kindle and $14.66 for hardback). I believe everyone struggles with shame and vulnerability and I also believe the ideas and strategies in this book about embracing vulnerability and developing shame resilience has the power to change people’s lives. I encourage you to read it and be open to finding yourself in it. You can read my full review of this book here or watch Brene Brown’s TED talks on this topic here and here.
Best Food Writing
Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist (Still $1.99 for Kindle right now): This book is about food and hospitality and about the table as a place for building community. I wrote more about what this book meant to me here. This book fit into two genres since it’s part spiritual memoir part culinary book (with recipes!) and makes the list in both.
Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage by Molly Wizenberg ($12.99 for Kindle or $15.18 in paperback). I love books about food and the food industry and this one – about a young couple opening a specialty pizza restaurant in Seattle, both satisfied my voyeurism about that world and broke down some of my romanticized notions about what owning a restaurant is like.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan ($7.99 for Kindle and $9.60 in paperback). This book follows the food chain from one end to the other for four different meals. The industrial food chain which produces the McDonald’s chicken nugget (which, you will learn, is largely composed of corn, rather than chicken). The industrial organic food chain where grass-fed beef and non-chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used to mass-produce organic food for places like Whole Foods. The local organic food chain where all of the food is raised locally using sustainable practices and intentionally not traveling far from where it was produced. And finally a meal from a forager’s food chain where all of the food was personally grown or collected by the consumer. This book was fascinating and enlightening and convicting and will certainly challenge you to think about where you food is coming from and what you are putting into your body from an ethical standpoint more than a health one. I genuinely think this book will impact my food choices in the future.
Best Contemporary Fiction
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (still on sale for Kindle for $3.99). I read four books by Liane Moriarty this year. Also, she’s Australian, so I feel cultured reading about people in Sydney. 😉 This is her newest release and probably my favorite. I think she’s a great contemporary writer, writing about complex family relationships and suburban drama in a fresh way. Her characters are always interesting and fully-formed. This particular novel revolves around the death of an elementary school parent at a school function, but who died and how it happened remains a mystery until the very end. It’s a fun, engaging read.
What Alice Forgot also by Liane Moriarty ($7.99 for Kindle and $8.70 in paperback). This is probably Moriarty’s most popular book – it’s about a woman who wakes up after a fall with no memory of the past ten years of her life. While the whole “I have amnesia” trope can feel overdone or predictable, the complexity of the characters made this a much more nuanced story instead of just a cheap plot device. This was a fun, quick read, but it also left me thinking a lot about how the little choices we make in life that can add up to change the direction of your life. Little moments can pull you somewhere you never imagined going. This book also deals with infertility in a very genuine way that I’ve never quite seen done in fiction.
Best Historical Fiction
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak ($7.99 for Kindle and $8.52 for the paperback). I’m sure you’ve heard of this book or maybe seen the movie, but this book is a gem. The characters are unique and interesting (especially the choice to have it narrated by the character of Death) and the story is moving. I sobbed through the ending. It’s one of the best WWII fiction book I’ve ever read. I suppose some people would complain that they felt “emotionally manipulated,” but, I mean, it’s a WWII book – if you don’t have an emotional response to it there’s probably something wrong with you. (Just kidding, sort of).
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr ($10.99 for Kindle and $17.16 in hardback). This book is gorgeous and haunting and will stay with you long after you finish it. In alternating chapters the book tells the story of a blind French girl whose father is the Keeper of the Locks for the Museum of Natural History in Paris and a German orphan boy whose talent with engineering gets him recruited into an elite military academy and then sent into the field tracking the Resistance during WWII. As WWII progresses their paths collide as each deal with the aftermath of one of the most terribly times in human history.
I recently bought a ton of books with the Amazon gift card my parents sent for my birthday and I am looking forward to doing lots of reading over my winter vacation which starts next Friday! (I know, I know, I have a problem!)
Disclaimer: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.