Back in the Reading Groove
After two years away from the bookstore, I finally fell back into reading every day in 2021. As of October 1, I had over 60 books under my belt this year. Audiobooks make up the bulk of them because I can work on noisy and/or mindless boat projects and read at the same time.
This list includes every book I finished this year, in order of completion. I often have more than one book going at a time. Sometimes I'll download the library e-book of something I'm reading in paper so I can carry it with me or read in bed without turning on the light. I enjoyed some of these more than others, but all of them were worth seeing through to the end.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee E - fiction - Racism, assimilation, love, tradition, war, and poverty all feature heavily in this family saga about four generations of Korean immigrants in Japan. So good!
Reminder! libro.fm sells DRM-free audiobooks and supports the independent bookstore of your choice. Buying through them means a portion of your purchase price stays in your community, and another portion supports a small company in Seattle. Subscription is the way to go, but you can also buy individual titles without a membership. Scamazon doesn't need more of your money.
BC=recommended for book clubs
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes P - starting over/ second chances/ romantic comedy, set in New England. A quick, escapist read that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Bear Necessity by James Gould-Bourne A - Unemployed father and young son try to bridge the gaping hole left by mother's death, set in England. Alternately comedic and heartbreaking.
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher A - fiction - A boy sets sail in search of his stolen dog in a post-apocalyptic adventure set in the British Isles.
Little Family by Ishmael Beah A - fiction - a motley crew of kids living in an abandoned airplane look out for each other, surviving and coming of age on street smarts in an unnamed country.
*Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri A, BC - YA autobiographical fiction - an Iranian middle school boy attempts to assimilate in suburban Oklahoma while retaining the love of his native country. Very funny. I highly recommend the audiobook, read by the author.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon A - YA fiction - housebound protagonist takes a chance on the outside world because she wants to meet the new neighbor.
*In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado A, BC - dark, poetic memoir of a relationship with an abusive partner through her college years. Gut-wrenching but beautiful. Lots to discuss.
The Parisian by Isabella Hammad A - fiction - A young Palestinian man's wealthy father sends him to study medicine in WWI France so he will not be conscripted. When he returns, his home is under British rule, and his outlook and priorities have shifted, making him chafe against societal strictures and expectations. The history of Palestine unfolds as a backdrop to his life.
The Martin Chronicles by John Fried A - fiction - boy coming-of-age in 1980s New York City. Enjoyable but not memorable. I had to look up the description to write this.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas P, BC- YA fiction - teen girl witnesses the killing of her best friend by police and must decide how to respond when asked to testify. Timely, immediate, and intense.
*Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams A, BC - fiction - A young Jamaican-British woman pines for her ex-boyfriend, pushes back against familial and societal expectations, and eventually finds herself after many self-destructive exploits. Great voice and a humorous style make the sometimes dark story engaging.
Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs by Jennifer Finney Boylan A, BC - memoir - Intertwined stories of the dogs she has loved and her life as a parent and transgender woman. While gender identity and transition are discussed, they are not the focus of this book.
Almond by Wong-Pyung Sonh A - fiction - a solitary boy who does feel emotion but whose mother has taught him how to fake his way in the world must adapt when left on his own as a teen.
Luster by Raven Leilani A - fiction - a young woman involved with a man in an open marriage is invited by his wife to move into their suburban New Jersey home and befriends their adopted daughter, a Black teen isolated in a white town. Interesting plot with plenty of interpersonal tension.
*The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray A, BC - fiction - in a small Georgia town, pillars of the community are sent to prison when their betrayal of the town through theft of fundraising money is revealed. The points of view of their children and other family members stitch together an intricate family saga.
The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons A - fiction - a dead man stuck in a 90-day waiting period to arrive in the afterlife spends his last days on earth under strict instructions not to get involved with the living, which, of course, he does.
Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson A - memoir, read by the author. Lawson brings her over-the-top hilarious style to a third book, delving further into her mental and physical health challenges and relating more ridiculous stories. Her first book (Let's Pretend This Never Happened) is still my favorite, but I loved this one too.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi A - fiction - a Stanford PhD candidate researches addiction in mice as she struggles to process her brother's death from a heroin overdose. Meanwhile, her depressed mother moves from Alabama into her apartment and rarely gets out of bed.
*All Adults Here by Emma Straub E, BC - fiction - An accident provokes the matriarch of a family to reevaluate her life and open her mind to new possibilities. Her adult children navigate their own disparate lives, reluctant to break out of the relationship patterns they developed as young adults. Interesting characters and situations.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata E, BC - fiction - A young woman falls into a job at a Japanese convenience store and learns to navigate social norms by imitating her peers. Happy with the clearly outlined tasks of her job, she stays there for 18 years under mounting pressure from her family to marry or start a career.
Adrift: A True Story of Tragedy on the Icy Atlantic and the One Who Lived to Tell about It by Brian Murphy A - nonfiction - The story of a North Atlantic shipwreck in 1856, 400 miles from shore as discerned through letters, ship's logs, and other historical accounts, including first-hand testimony from the sole survivor who spent nine days adrift in a lifeboat.
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata E - fiction - The strange tale of an imaginative young girl, her toy hedgehog, the bond she forges with a cousin during summer vacations, and the social pressures that
tear them apart.
Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen A - fiction - An absurd, hilarious mystery in Hiaasen's trademark style, set in Palm Beach, Florida, at the height of the fundraising season, featuring a mammoth Burmese python, a missing woman, a felonious animal wrangler, her stalker, a mysterious swamp dweller, inept criminals, and the Winter White House.
*Y The Last Man by Brian K Vaughan E - graphic novel series - This has been on my to read list for years, and I devoured all ten volumes in a few days. One day a young man wakes up to discover that he and his pet monkey are the last males on earth. Chaos erupts as governments and businesses scramble to replace their leaders and people try to clear bodies from the streets and keep their loved ones safe. Provocative storytelling and great pacing.
Fathoms: the World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs A - nonfiction - Prompted by a beached whale carcass near her home in Australia, a writer examines the many ways that whales impact the environment (their decomposition is fascinating) and humans impact whales, from whale watching tours and whaling ships to microplastics.
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney E - fiction - A cocaine and alcohol-fueled journey through 1980s New York City, first published in 1984. This one was on my list for years, but it didn't live up to the hype.
*The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery A, BC - nonfiction - A naturalist's approachable, immersive exploration of the world of octopuses, including time spent as an aquarium docent and as a scuba diver. Fascinating!
*Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice A, BC - fiction - On an Anishinaabe reserve in northern Canada, the phones and power go out regularly, so at first no one is worried. But after a week or two without supply trucks, things begin to unravel. I loved the audio for the language I would not otherwise hear.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor A - YA fiction - Another one checked off the TBR list. Anje at Third Place Books sold me years ago: "Like Harry Potter, if Harry Potter was a teenage girl with albinism who discovers that she has latent magical abilities and ends up not only saving Nigeria, but the entire world! Imagine if instead of picking a wand, you got to pick a juju knife...."
*A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott A, BC - memoir - The author grew up in native and white communities dealing with racism, poverty, a mother hospitalized repeatedly for bipolar disorder, and a legacy of oppression. Powerful and immediate prose.
Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons A - fiction - First in a new epic fantasy series full of magic and political machinations. This one wasn't the best fit for audio, with a large cast of characters and many details. I got a bit lost toward the end and wished I could easily refer back to previous chapters. That said, I did see it through to the end, about 19 hours of listening.
Afterland by Lauren Beukes A - Reminiscent of Y: The Last Man, but in prose form. Three years after a pandemic killed most men, a South African woman flees a compound in the U.S. with her 12-year-old son (who reads the Y comic in the story). Desperate to protect him from those who would use him for a range of nefarious purposes, she treks across the country toward a beach in Florida and potential escape to her home country. Exciting!
The Divers Game by Jesse Ball A - fiction - My attention flagged during this dystopian novel. Probably better in print.
The Roxy Letters by Mary Pauline Lowry A - fiction - Light, funny epistolary novel about a twentysomething woman living in Austin, working as a Whole Foods deli maid, and trying to get her life together as her beloved hometown becomes increasingly gentrified.
Akin by Emma Donoghue A - fiction - A retired chemistry professor reluctantly takes his 11-year-old great nephew -- an acquaintance of only a few days -- on his first trip to France since his early childhood. Neither party is happy with the arrangement, but both learn to compromise.
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon E - Still going strong after 20 years in print, this literary mystery is a booksellers' and booklovers' favorite. Set in Barcelona in the first half of the 20th century, it includes a mysterious author, star-crossed lovers, a possibly magical library, and the son of a bookstore owner, and the evil Inspector Fumero.
Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks A - fiction - When Mount Rainier erupts, residents of an intentional community high in the Cascade Mountains are cut off from the world. At first, they take pride in their sustainable homes and ability to get by without help. Told in the form of a survivor's journal and interviews with researchers and government employees. We both enjoyed this one a summer road trip.
Clutter: An Untidy History by Jennifer Howard A, BC - nonfiction - Overwhelmed by the need to clean out her mother's house, Howard dives into the history of the modern world's obsession with stuff. Interspersed with the story of her own clutter-clearing project are interviews with professional junk haulers, notes on Victorian seaside souvenirs, reasons we have the Container Store, and the difference between hoarding disorder and having too much stuff.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng E - fiction - In small-town Ohio, a teenaged Chinese-American girl has drowned in the lake near her home. As the story unfolds, her family fractures, driven by guilt, anger, suspicion, and a lack of closure.
Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland A - YA fiction - A genre-bending tale set in the Sonoran desert that combines racial tension, young love, conspiracy theorists, domestic abuse, alien life, and folklore.
Toil and Trouble by Augusten Burroughs A - memoir - We listened to this in the car and both enjoyed it. Wayne has read Burroughs before, but this was my first experience with his work. This volume reveals that he is a witch and elucidates many instances of knowing the unknowable, predictions that came true, and other witchy happenings. Very funny. Give this a try if you like David Sedaris.
Each of Us A Desert by Mark Oshiro A - YA fiction - In a remote desert village, a young girl fulfills her obligation as the local story keeper, listening to confessions and stories that burden others, then sending them into the winds. When tragedy strikes in the form of an evil tyrant, she sets out on foot across the desert to find a kindred spirit and learn more about her gifts.
First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami E -fiction - Eight new short stories in typically weird Murakami style, this time all written in the first person singular voice. I always wonder if it's the stories I like or the translator. This collection is translated by Philip Gabriel, but my favorite Murakami stories are all translated by Jay Rubin. **shrug** If you're new to Murakami, I recommend starting elsewhere: A Wild Sheep Chase, Kafka on the Shore, or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone A - middle grade fiction - When G'ma picks up Scoob in a new RV and invites him to go on an adventure over spring break, he is more than happy to oblige, especially when it means he might miss a few days of school. As they ride across the South, following an old copy of the Green Book, Scoob learns some segregation history and some unexpected family lore. But he left his phone at home, G'ma is acting funny, and he really wants to talk to his dad.
*Actress by Anne Enright A, BC - fiction - Katherine O'Dell is an Irish theater legend whose star has faded over the years. Norah, her daughter, raised in the wings, longs to know her father's identity and solidify her own. Great audio production.
*Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia E - Prompted by a disturbing letter, a headstrong young socialite is sent to a remote house to check on her recently married cousin. The house she finds is overgrown and largely unkempt, its inhabitants unfriendly and uncompromising. The harder she pushes to take her cousin from the house, the creepier things get.
*Chances Are... by Richard Russo A, BC - fiction - Three college friends, now in their sixties, reunite at a summer house handed down through one man's family. The gathering brings an old mystery to the surface - what happened to the mutual friend who disappeared after college? This book didn't sound like something I would enjoy, but I loved the characters and their deep backstories. My first foray into Richard Russo, and I will go back for more.
Beach Read by Emily Henry A - Does what it says on the box. Breezy romantic comedy about two writers who make a bet and end up challenging their own assumptions. A fun, quick read set in a Michigan beach town.
*A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet E - fiction - A group of families rent a vacation home in New England, and immediately the children turn a bit feral while the adults dissolve into a haze of drug and alcohol. In the wake of a destructive storm, the kids decide to take matters into their own hands.
The Alarming Palsy of James Orr A - fiction - A marketing guy with a happy family and a role in the neighborhood association wakes up one morning to find that half his face is paralyzed. Diagnosed with Bell's Palsy, he is told to just wait it out, and that it will likely get better on its own. He stops going to work and spirals downward in all aspects of his life. I finished it in hope that he would learn something or grow through the experience. Nope. Depressing.
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong A - Debut novel by a Vietnamese-American poet written as a letter from a son to his illiterate mother. I may revisit this one in print; I was distracted during parts of the audiobook.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn A - YA fiction - A high school student goes away to an early college program with her best friend. On the eve of their first day, she encounters a mysterious group practicing strange magic. A bit of Harry Potter, some Hunger Games, a little Arthurian legend, a budding romance, and some southern racists. Some good ideas, but overall a bit clunky.
Legends of the North Cascades by Jonathan Evison P - fiction - Parallel stories set in the North Cascades during the Ice Age and in the modern day. Both are solid stories, but I preferred the modern one, about a man struggling to raise his daughter alone after his wife's death.
The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin E - fiction - Set in a rapidly gentrifying Portland, Oregon, this novel is as dark as any other Vlautin novel. His characters are real and often desperate, and Lynnette is no exception. She longs to buy the rundown rental that house she shares with her mother and nonverbal adult brother, her only chance to give them all a stable home. As the deadline approaches, her mother buys a new car she can't afford and refuses to cosign the loan. Willy writes the modern West like no other.
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok A - fiction - Complex family drama about Chinese immigrants in New York and the Netherlands. When Amy's brilliant, successful older sister disappears, she faces her fears and goes to the Netherlands to search for her sister.
Deep River by Karl Marlantes P, BC - Three Finnish siblings flee totalitarianism and settle in the logging camps of the Pacific Northwest. The sister, a tough as nails communist, chooses her principles over all, often to her own detriment, and becomes a union organizer. This long-awaited (ok, I've had it for a while, but it was in storage) historically rich family saga did not disappoint.
Big Wednesday by Denny Aaberg & John Milius A - This novel is based on a cult classic surfing film that I had never heard of. It has a bit of a beat generation feel. Teenagers on longboards surfing secret beaches until they are drafted. When the war is over, they are different, and surfing has changed too.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers A - I listened to the Wayfarers trilogy last year, but I'm revisiting them with Wayne. He started the first book in print and didn't like it. I guess the voice works better on the audiobook. I'm enjoying it the second time through. Light sci-fi with a social conscience. Think Firefly meets The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee E - fiction - Racism, assimilation, love, tradition, war, and poverty all feature heavily in this family saga about four generations of Korean immigrants in Japan. So good!
Heart Berries by Therese Marie Mailhot A - I picked this up in print ages ago and read a few chapters, but it didn't grab me. I found it a bit disjointed and confusing, but I suppose it's a memoir of mental illness, so that makes sense. She is certainly a talented writer, and I'll keep an eye out for her next book.
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore E - fiction - on her 21st birthday, Oona jumps into her own body at age 51. After that, each year she leaps to another age and spends a year there, often wondering if she can change her fate, sometimes finding letters from herself. Fun.
The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr (E)
Fight Night by Miriam Toews (P)
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (P)
The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo (P)