Thursday, January 5, 2017

The books of 2016

It's time once again to talk about my favorite books of the past year. Books are one of my favorite frugal hobbies. I get most of mine as ebooks through the library, or by borrowing them from friends and family. However, I have quite a large collection of books I own (pared down regularly, but still huge) and I pull from them regularly to reread. I'm one of those weird people who loves everything about books, from the tactile pleasure of turning pages to the smell to the beautiful covers. I love staring at my collection of books and remembering fondly the stories, characters, and hours I've spent with them.

HusbandX, on the other hand, looks at my books with a hint of resignation and a wordless reminder that we're not going to get a larger house just to have space to stash books. He enjoys books, but not in the same way.

This past year, my total books read was just over 80. I write this with humility, because while it seems like a lot it's because this is what I devote a large amount of time to. I don't watch much TV or many movies, I haven't knitted much at all, I'm not a gamer, and there are times when I've used it as an anti-social crutch. (No I don't want to go out, I'd rather finish my book!) Paring this many books down to a few favorites might seem tough, but every year has its stand-outs.

1. I started my year with Urban Cycling, by Madi Carlson. The author happens to be a friend of mine, and a complete badass when it comes to biking. After reading her book I can say that she's as warm and personable on the page as she is in person.
This book is on my list not because I'm friends with the author, but because I learned a lot from it. Madi makes cycling for transportation in the city seem realistic and doable, even for families. She knows what she's talking about, having two kids and no car herself.
In addition to philosophy about biking and discussions about the pros and cons of various bikes and bike components, she also has advice about basic bike maintenance. I don't know much, but I have become a pro at greasing my chain since reading the book. Even HusbandX asked for some advice after I read it!
Highly recommended for beginners in particular, but all cyclists or anyone thinking of starting to bike can get something from it. I did, and I've been a cyclist for most of my life.

2. Curtsies and Conspiracies, by Gail Carriger, is the hilarious start to a young adult Steampunk series. She's got books in the same world written for adults which I have yet to read but they're on my list. If they're anything as witty as this series--and I'm told they are--then I'll spend many more delightful hours reading about Victorian morals clashing ridiculously with espionage work.

3. Better than Before, by Gretchen Rubin, is a book about research into and the author's attempts at creating good habits. The premise is that by figuring out how one responds to influence (are you someone who must keep a promise when it's made, or someone who chafes at promises, or someone who only responds to outside pressure?) then you can figure out ways to motivate yourself to create better habits and, thus, a better you. She also documents various things that throw a wrench in all of this, such as sudden sparks of inspiration, or whatever you want to call it, that lead to a big change. As I was reading the book I talked with a friend about it and she said, "Oh! I had that, and now I floss every day. I can't even tell you why, I just woke up one morning and decided to floss. I haven't missed a morning since then."
I found it very fascinating to think about how and why we form habits, and have definitely been using this knowledge in my life. I find that it can be rather freeing, as knowing what I want my habits to be shows me what matters the most to me. Then it's easy enough to cut the rest free from my life and focus on the things I value.
The books I didn't borrow from the library or
from friends and family.

4. The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman, is another young adult page-turner. It might seem similar to the Gail Carriger series, as it's another Victorian fantasy, but while the Carriger books are light-hearted and funny this was definitely a bit darker. Not sad and not scary, but definitely not one I settled down with to laugh.
I'm excited for the second book to come out. I think the author can do a lot more with it, now that the fantasy world has been set up, and the plot will move forward faster.

5. The "Legend" series by Marie Lu started rather slow. The first book was good but nothing special. Still, it was a series and people have raved about it so I figured I'd read the others. Oh boy. The second book was really good and the third was amazing. I really wasn't sure what direction it was going to go in and that's a very exciting thing. So many books are predictable and rote that finding one where I see many possibilities for resolution but don't know which one is coming is genuinely thrilling. I don't want to say any more because I don't want to spoil anything.
If you enjoyed the Hunger Games series at all, you'll love these too.

6. The Hands-On Home" by Erica Strauss, is seriously the best book I've read about housekeeping and gardening. I've loved her blog for many years and was super excited when she published her book. She's such an approachable author that sometimes it feels like I'm having tea with a friend rather than reading a book. She's got everything from cleaning recipes to cocktail recipes in this book, and it's all neatly categorized. Even though I read it through the library I plan to buy a copy because it will be very handy to use as a reference.

7. The YA book The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh, and its sequel are a duology retelling of Scheherezade. When I saw the books I was intrigued, because how on earth was she going to make the prince any sort of notaterribleperson? She made it work and kept me reading until the last page of the second book was done. Even then, the next book I read suffered by comparison. This was another one where I rushed out to buy the book in a fever of impatience to read it. Then I had to order it and wait two whole days. Injustice!

8. The Pride of Lions and its sequel, The Blood of Roses, by Marsha Canham are two of my favorite romances. Don't let the genre throw you off, they're actually great novels. I've read these books probably half a dozen times over the years and they're still great. Set during the Scottish uprising in 1745, it's a clash between two people of different temperaments and warring nationalities. What I love the most about them is how much the characters change over the course of the two books. Honestly, they have more genuine character development than most books of any genre do. Added to that, it's clear the author actually did research about the time period. I won't say it's completely historically accurate (romance is, in the end, fantasy--readers don't want to hear much about scabies and syphilis) but it's close enough.

9. The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan, showed me just how much of the Great Depression was left out in my high school US history class. It was very sobering, and it made me really grateful for the times we live in.

10. Me Before You was made into a movie, which I watched on one of my flights to Russia. It was a really good adaptation, but as usual the book is better. It has so much more nuance, which is a good thing when it's about such a complex issue. If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, read the book. Then watch the movie. The actors did a wonderful job, and I read the book with their voices and faces in my head because of that. But definitely, read the book.

11. Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card, was as good as my brother promised it would be. I read Ender's Game a couple of years ago and it is, of course, a great book. Ender's Shadow adds so much to it, though. It's the same story but from Bean's perspective. If you haven't read either of them, read both. They're well worth your time.

12. Sustained, by Emma Chase, was a romance novel that actually had me laughing out loud. When I was going over my reading list to determine which books I'd put on this list, this one made me grin with remembrance. I loved this one, and for as much as I love the genre I'm pretty particular about my romance novels. I've read enough bad ones to adore the keepers, and this is among the latter.

We'll be reading these books for years to come.
As a bonus, I'm going to put in our favorite children's books of the year. The Munchkin has gotten so many, but our new favorites are definitely Rosie Revere, Engineer, and Ada Twist, Scientist. I've gotten choked up reading those (remembering what it's like to have a grownup laugh at you, for instance) and I can't say for sure, but I think HusbandX might have gotten a little teary the first time he read them to our girl too. They have wonderful messages about perseverance and failure, but also about curiosity and the joys of discovering, questioning, and creating. I've noticed a huge uptick in the question, "Why?" since we got these for Christmas.

In addition to both of the protagonists being female, I also love that Ada is not white. We need more good books with diversity in them and we need to read them to all kids, not just minority kids. These books are a win on all counts.

As always, feel free to let me know some of your favorite books of the past year. I'm always on the lookout for more to add to my (massively, insanely huge) to-read list.

Happy reading!

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