Book Review: Top 10 Books I Read Last Year

My reading companion

I tried to avoid spoilers in these books so it should be okay.

Some images are from my own Instagram

My favorite thing to do in the world is read. Nothing has ever come close. It has been a passion since I taught myself how to read as a child, and I used to have so many books that it’s amazing my parents didn’t go bankrupt fulfilling my craving. And then it all changed. I went to college and mostly only read school books. I started my career and didn’t make the time to read. A few years back, I decided to kick myself back into gear and join the Goodreads reading challenge. I started with 20. The year after I challenged myself to 40 and read 60. And last year I challenged myself to 100 and got to 113. So you could say I’ve gotten back into the swing of things and then some.

The best thing about reading again is catching up on everything I missed, but also trying out books I never would have seen before. Of the 113 books I read last year, here are the ten standouts. This is a subjective list, as I wouldn’t necessarily name these as the best critically acclaimed books I read, but personally, they were the best for me. I’m not going to get into deep detail to avoid spoilers, so just know that I’m recommending them for a reason and check them out.

10. The Daily Show: An Oral History by Chris Smith

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was a stable of my high school and college years. I never missed an episode up until the day Jon Stewart retired and my heart broke. I have tried Trevor Noah, and I often see clips from his shows, but I don’t tape it every night because it’s not the same. The relationship viewers and The Daily Show had was built on trust and a shared WTF MIGHT AS WELL LAUGH response to the world. Awhile back a book came out about the behind the scenes of Saturday Night Live, and I’d often wanted something like that for the Daily Show. VOILA. This is from a series of interviews with how the show was created, how everyone was recruited, and how it went from a silly comedy half hour to the highly respected biting satire it became. All the correspondents share their stories of when they came and went, some controversies and imperfect decisions are openly discussed, but overall everyone knows how special The Daily Show was. Jon Oliver has managed to take some of that gold over to Last Week Tonight, but he can’t cover as much as TDS could. There will never be anything quite that liquid gold again in my opinion.

9. The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero

I wasn’t really on The Room bandwagon for a long time; I’d never been to a midnight screening, none of my friends really talked about it, and so I heard about it in a roundabout way. Through the Nostalgia Critic, one of my favorite internet vloggers. It led me to watch it for myself, and like most people, I couldn’t look away. It’s a baffling experience. I haven’t seen it more than the one time, and I don’t want to go to a screening, but I am glad I saw it. Tommy Wiseau, by all accounts, is an unstable abusive jerk, but he’s a fascinating one. So when I heard there was a behind the scenes book about it (hey look another one of those on this list), I immediately bought it. Greg does an excellent job of telling this story, and here’s why: you can tell he really and truly cared about Tommy. Regardless of whether they stopped being friends at that point, although I think they’ve made up since, there is genuine affection in here. He doesn’t shy away from the worst parts of Tommy’s bizarre behavior, or how horribly he treated the crew and other people in his life. But I felt like I understood from his POV how he became friends with Tommy and why. If anything, this pushed the mystery more, because we still don’t have answers to Tommy’s background. If his best and only friend doesn’t either, we may never know. This was an honest book, because he did talk about how creepy and horrible Tommy could be, while also painted with a sympathetic lenses. I really enjoyed it. I also liked the movie a lot too. I reviewed the movie here.

8. The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen

I know this is a cheat as it’s three books in one, but it’s because I wouldn’t necessarily name one of these books separately, but as a whole they were a very good story. There are aspects of this book I didn’t love. I figured out the ‘twist’ very early on, and I sighed a little bit at everything constantly going Jaron’s way. The romance felt forced. I will say that the ‘twist’ wasn’t meant to be much of one, and that it was obviously a major quickly done arc so that by book two it didn’t matter. I thought the story did an excellent job of portraying long term grieving and the reality of being an inexperienced irresponsible person forced into a situation and powerful position you didn’t want. We’ve seen it before, but I felt like Jennifer really managed to express that feeling well. It was an easy read, I read all three in a few days, and I came away smiling and feeling like it was a well done adventure.

7. Thug Notes: A Street-Smart Guide to Classic Literature by Sparky Sweets

If you have not seen the YouTube channel/video seres of Thug Notes, stop reading this and immediately go look it up. This is a magnificent gem that I stumbled on one day, and I’ve become an avid fan ever since. So of course I bought the book! I’ve read it several times since, and it still makes me laugh. The man behind Sparky Sweets I don’t know much about, but Sweets himself is a stereotypical ‘thug’ in terms of presentation and the way he speaks. He wrote this book in the same casual way he speaks, and there are also some pretty hilarious sketchings in there too. What he does is do a deep critical analysis/summary of a famous literary piece of work (Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Shakespeare), and he breaks it down very clearly and concisely the way Spark Notes would … only with a Thug persona. I honestly don’t think I can put it into words, so the image up there will have to speak for itself. This was inexpensive and came directly from his channel, and I was more than happy to pick it up.

6. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by  Mackenzi Lee

I love this book. I love it so much that I’ve read it about 10 times. It is so deeply charming and funny and it made me smile ear to ear. Monty is a flawed protagonist but he’s charming, and Percy is a wonderful character. I was surprised at how the book directly approached major tension like LGBT romances, parental abuse, racial tensions, physical illness and ignorance of it, sexism and gender norms, white rich privilege, and others. And it’s all done in this light and energetic way so while the serious things are taken seriously, they also come with some empathy and humor. Monty makes mistakes and he doesn’t get away with them, which I personally adore. He is also oblivious to his own privilege, which he’s called on several times. It was a delightful experience reading this book and I rooted for everyone the entire time. I am greatly looking forward to the sequel.

5. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

This book messed me up. There is no other way to put it. I started it not expecting it to be one of those books where I go ‘stop reading this after dark, you’ll have nightmares.’ And nightmares I did have. The thing is, it’s extraordinary in how it builds tension. At first I was a little bored because the tone was so dry, and somewhere along the way the bizarre description got to me. I found myself shaking at one point I was so anxious, and I needed to take mental breaks from it. The general story is that a team of scientists are sent into a mysterious area where everyone who has been sent in came out with no memories or came out dead. The main character’s POV is where we spend all our time, and she is the wife of a colleague who went into that zone before. Basically it is a study in uncomfortable descent into supernatural madness, and I was here for it. Just in small doses. I do understand how readers felt cold about it; I do feel there is a significant amount of buy-in required to enjoy. I will admit that the second book did not inspire me to finish the third, so that may happen some day. But this one stands all on its own.

4. Nemesis Games (#5) by James S. A. Corey

I read all of the Expanse books in one year, and I could have said ‘all of these’ if I wanted to, but no, this book in particular. This was the first book where we had the POVs of the other members of the crew. I wanted that to happen since book one and I was frustrated it never happened. The story gave me what I want, and then made me regret it quickly, because this was a harrowing tale. It was the darkest of the books by far, and it threw everything I thought I knew about the universe under the bus. The amount of times I went nooooooooooo! at this book while reading was numerous. It had been awhile since I talked out loud to a book, but I yelled at this one several times. I keep getting excited when my friends are reading because I want them to get to Nemesis Games so we can both scream at each other. Everything about the Expanse is perfect.

3. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

I have to admit my bias up front, as I know Alexandria in real life. She is a brilliant individual and I’ve been so happy for all of her success since publishing. But not everyone I know who published a book would get a mention on a top ten list, unless it was worth recommending. This book is difficult to read, I had to stop a few times to take a deep breath and come back to it. It’s a story about two separate stories that you don’t think connect, until you see how she’s weaved them together and they’re tied closely by the end. It is very honest and brutal and I really do think everyone should try it, but be aware there are heavy triggers for rape, child sexual abuse, general abuse, and some other things that are very heavy.

2. Assassin’s Fate  by Robin Hobb

I am obsessed with the Farseer series by Robin Hobb. I’ve been reading it since I was young. I think it’s bene like twenty years of me reading everything she’s ever written, but my truest love was with this series. I usually hate first person, but I’ve been with Fitz so long that he really transcended that struggle. It’s amazing to think about the fact we’ve been on a journey with Fitz since he was a child through now as an older man. This was about the Fool as much as it was about him, and I’ve been hardcore shipping those two for the entire series. The first book of this las trilogy introduced Fitz’s daughter Bee and I wasn’t really that into her at first, but by the end I was on board and felt a lot of sympathy for her. This was for sure the last ride for Fitz and the Fool in no uncertain terms, the ending is an ending, and I don’t think she plans on continuing in the world. I highly recommend starting at the beginning and reading all of them; yes I know it’s long. Yes I know there are a ton of them. It’s worth it. Every page.

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This book won a bunch of awards and topped the list for a lot of people, and I am going to be no exception. The Hate U Give is painful and honest and will kick you in the gut. It directly relates to the heavy situation in the US right not about racism and the murder of black people due to a corrupt racist police system. Angie wrote this in response to everything that was happening and perhaps it was catharsis for her too. Starr witnesses the murder of her friend, and she’s put into the center of this terrible public tragedy while struggling to grieve at the same time. It is harrowing to read but I feel like everyone should read it. The movie is coming out soon which is nice, but I’m not sure anything can compare.  I stayed up late finishing it and found myself crying at the end, which rarely happens. Read it. Go right now and get this book. You’re welcome.