The best books I’ve read this year.

It’s December already! I catalogue my books at LibraryThing, and I’ve also been keeping a list of books that I’ve read this year (both might be slightly incomplete, since I neglected to keep track for a few months and tried to do it all from memory afterwards.) Anyway, since December is “best of the year” list time, and I don’t think I’ve ever done one of those, so here goes.

Graduating from college has given me a lot more time to read – in college, it seemed like I always had homework to do and felt kind of guilty about reading. The books I did read were pretty short and usually young adult/mystery. After graduation, I read a few more young adult books but then transitioned to an epic fantasy spree, which I’m still on. Also, I’m bad at describing things that I like about books, but I wanted to make this list anyway.

Anyway, the books!

  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie): I’ve always been a Christie fan, but this book is well known as one of the best/most innovative of its time. To say any more would be a spoiler, so I won’t.

  • The Little House on the Prarie series (Laura Ingalls Wilder): Also a classic. I got a box set of these books for Christmas last year, and I enjoyed them very much. I love old-timey writing and books set in that time period and stories about farms, so it really appealed to me.

  • Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China (Jen Lin-Liu): I believe the term for this kind of book is “food memoir” – the author goes to cooking school in China and apprentices at both a noodle stand and a high end restaurant. I learned a lot about Chinese food and a bit about Chinese culture, and was constantly hungry.

  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver): Also a Christmas gift, also about farming and food. It chronicles Barbara Kingsolver’s family’s attempt to spend an entire year eating completely local food (which also involves them growing a lot of it.) It really made me appreciate how much work goes into doing that, but I also wanted my own farm at the end of it. The recipes also all sounded amazing.

  • The Acacia Trilogy (David Anthony Durham): The first volume (Acacia: The War with the Mein) started my fantasy spree this year. I’m not very good at describing books, so I’ll just quote the blurb:

    Born into generations of prosperity, the four royal children of the Akaran dynasty know little of the world outside their opulent island paradise. But when an assassin strikes at the heart of their power, their lives are changed forever. Forced to flee to distant corners and separated against their will, the children must navigate a web of hidden allegiances, ancient magic, foreign invaders, and illicit trade that will challenge their very notion of who they are. As they come to understand their true purpose in life, the fate of the world lies in their hands.

    It’s complex and interesting, the characters are mostly pretty three-dimensional, plots and schemes abound, characters are the right mix of noble and selfish. I think it’s “dark” just like A Game of Thrones, but I enjoyed Acacia much more (I also read A Game of Thrones this year and found it good, although rather depressing and long-winded.) I immediately ordered and read book 2, The Other Lands and pre-ordered and waited eagerly for The Sacred Band, which released in October. They definitely lived up to the first book.

  • Embassytown (China MiĆ©ville): I’m just going to quote my LibraryThing review. (I was lucky enough to get an advance reading copy of this through their Early Reviewers program.)

    This book was excellent. When I first started reading it, I appreciated it mostly for the ideas and the writing (Language is really cool!) I was afraid that that the characters would be flat and there would not be much of an emotional core to the book. I was happy to be proven wrong – the book delivers on every count.

    I don’t think that covers how amazing the book was – it is about a colony of humans living on an alien world, but the aliens are incapable of understanding human speech except via specially trained “Ambassadors”, who are twins raised to essentially function as one person and speak simultaneously (called “Language”.) This species are truly alien. The idea of Language and its semantics, limits etc. play a huge role in the story, as does the need and importance for communication. It’s amazing.

  • The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson): Yes, I read all thirteen books this year (and can’t wait for the fourteenth/hopefully last next year.) I’m not a huge fan of the first book (The Eye of the World) – while it was all right, it wasn’t as compelling as other first books in series’. I kept reading, though, and now I’m a convert. The worldbuilding is intricate and the detail is stupendous, and I really enjoy well-realised worlds. I like the journey that all the characters go through and how they transform (a lot of books means that it’s not rushed or unbelievable.) I like the realistic portrayal of people’s reactions to things (except that the women blush and tug on their dresses way too much, but it’s kind of charming, in a way, I guess.)

  • The Mistborn series (Brandon Sanderson): This series is amazing! The magic systems are well thought out, consistent and really cool. The plot of the first book (The Final Empire) is a cross between “defeating the evil lord” and a caper! I love capers and fantasy, but I never really thought they could come together so cohesively. The second and third books mess with your head even more, the premise is really clever. The protagonists are interesting people and also exhibit character growth. A fourth Mistborn book (The Alloy of Law) has been recently released, and is a western set in this world, which is also pretty cool. That was also good, although not as epic.

  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (N.K. Jemisin): This book/series explores the really interesting premise of gods being captive. It’s written in a lyrical style, and the world that it is set in is pretty interesting because gods and humans coexist, but the gods are controlled by humans. I don’t really know what else to say – it’s good, read it. I also read the sequel, The Broken Kingdoms, but didn’t find that as compelling.

  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert C. O’Brien) and From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E. J. Konigsburg): These two books don’t have much in common except that they’re excellent children’s books, but I kept mixing them up in my head for a long time. I wish I’d read these when I was younger, but I am extremely glad I got to read them now.

Honourable mentions (mostly only honourable because I’m not sure what else to say about books other than “amazing!”, “excellent”, “terrific”, etc.)

  • Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
  • The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge.
  • Bone in the Throat by Anthony Bourdain.
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.