Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I had a book review blog. And then I started this blog and it was just too much. Though I was still reading just as much as ever, I couldn’t keep up with Ultimate Bridesmaid and work a full-time job and have a life and blog about books. So my book blog fell by the wayside, but I certainly didn’t stop reading and I definitely didn’t stop having opinions about what I read. I even tried to write a really long recap post of every book I read last year, but it was exhausting. So finally I just decided to share a selection of my favorite reads from last year with you.
If you’re looking for something totally different, try The Bees by Laline Paull.
Tired of reading about how messed up we humans are? Take a break from the cares of the human world with this book told from the perspective of a lowly worker bee. You immediately get sucked into the captivating but alien world of the hive as Flora 717 struggles to find her place. Born a sanitation worker, she stifles an unnatural urge to have a baby, the sole duty of the hive’s Queen. I ended up learning a lot about bees while also being totally engrossed in the Handmaid’s Tale-like struggle of one bee to rise above her birth.
If you already miss Downton Abbey, read Below Stairs by Margaret Powell.
This kitchen maid’s memoir inspired both Downton Abbey and the older television show Upstairs, Downstairs. Margaret Powell went into service at a young age and eventually rose through the ranks to become a cook. Her exploits include trying to find a nice young man to marry at any cost and her work in several houses across England gives a broad picture of the different circumstances servants endured. Her voice is so witty and fresh and she does a marvelous job of having a laugh at the goings on both upstairs and down. I sped through this book. Reminded me a lot of Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, another really chatty and fun little memoir.
If you’re looking for a vacation read with substance, try The Vacationers by Emma Straub.
Sometimes you’re in a space where you need a certain book and The Vactioners just fit the time in my life when I read it. It’s a little bit like The Corrections lite, but with better scenery. It may have officially renewed my desire to go to Spain, but it’s by no means a fluffy beach read. Behind the stunning portrait of Mallorca is a family in crisis: Franny and Jim are dealing with the fallout from his workplace affair with a much-younger woman, their daughter Sylvia is hell-bent on losing her virginity before she heads to college in the fall and their son Bobby is trying to find a way to ask his father to bail him out of debt from a pyramid scheme he’s sunk his savings into.
If you love dystopian novels, try Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel.
I might have said I was getting a little worn out by the dystopian genre, but then I read Station Eleven and realized I was just tired of poor renditions on that theme. Station Eleven manages to take well-trodden territory and make it fresh. Part of its appeal is the unique premise: a group of minstrels moving through the post-apocalyptic wilderness trying to maintain their humanity by performing for survivors.
If you want a fun, light beach or plane read, try Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t read all award-winning serious literature. Sometimes I just needs something easy breezy and fun. Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians fits the bill, opening a window on a world I knew nothing about: the lives of the super-rich Asian JetSet elite of Singapore. Kwan grew up in this world, so his stories are by no means exaggerations (in fact, he claims he toned it down a little bit).
If you love historical fiction, read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
Wolf Hall manages to add something to the conversation about a period of history that’s been absolutely papered with fiction. I’ve read a lot of books about the reign of King Henry VIII, but this is the first to be told from a perspective outside the royal family (Thomas Cromwell is the novel’s focus). It’s also the first fictionalization of this time period I’ve read that isn’t dominated by the romance, seduction and gender politics of the court. Though that’s certainly still an element of the story, both the religious revolution and feudal struggles for power are given equal weight, which forms a more interesting (and probably more realistic) picture of what was going on in Henry’s court.
If you’re looking for a tragic romance, try Euphoria by Lily King.
A really lovely book with a captivating, unique premise. Euphoria is set in the thirties at the very dawn of anthropology as a science. Established anthropologist Andrew Bankson has made a name for himself studying the Kiona tribe in New Guinea, but feels utterly alone in the field. He meets a young couple, Nell and Fen, who are just starting out in their research and immediately latches on to them in hopes of companionship and maybe more. Bankson helps Nell and Fen find a nearby tribe to study, but it become clear to him over time that Fen feels threatened by his wife’s natural affinity for working with native peoples. Fen’s professional jealousy combined with Bankson’s growing attachment to Nell leads the threesome down a dark road.