My Year in Books: The 2023 Edition

Even though I read some amazing books in 2023, 2023 was not my best year for reading.

Cover collage

Demon Copperhead both blew my mind and devastated me. (So much so that I tried to cleanse my palate after I read it by reading an actual fluffy novel. I did not finish it.)

I told everyone I know (who would not get upset about a queer romance, even if embedded in a gorgeous Asian-mythology-inspired fantasy) about The Spear Cuts Through Water.

I have continued to think about Becky Chambers's books, A Psalm for The Wild Built and A Prayer for The Crown Shy. The series is e a sweet story that also rips your guts out by making you think about just how demanding and soulless American culture is, and how much of our life we lay at the altar of earning money so we can pay bills. 

I had some great audio book experiences.

But I also had two audiobooks, The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches and Gideon the Ninth, which I got three-fourths the way through and ran out of checkout time and now I'm still waiting to pick them back up. 

I read quite a few books that I expected to love but which were just OK. 

I read a lot of speculative fiction...if you add up all the age categories, about 75% of what I read was speculative. I don't necessarily think that's a problem but it is noticeable. Is speculative fiction, no matter how well-written, more about escaping reality than contemporary or non-fiction? Probably somewhat, but I'm not sure it's about escapism for me. I think I'm drawn to speculative fiction because I love thinking about how the fantastical is still applicable.

I always set a goal to read a romance novel every year. But even Susanna Hoffs couldn't get me to accomplish that; I read about 50 pages of  This Bird has Flown but that was all I could manage.

I didn't finish a single poetry book, not even the Best American Poetry which is one  of the reading goals I meet most consistently. 

I even DNF'd the library reading challenge that I created!!!

It just was one of those years I guess. 

I do still have 128 books in my "Books to Read in 2023" list though. (Literally.) 

But, at any rate, I did read some books. Thirty-six to be exact. A good chunk of those were audio rereads, but, still. I always tell library patrons (and anyone else who wonders) that audio books still count as reading, so right now I'm telling myself that. It all counts and I still love reading.

Here's to more stunning books in 2024. More poetry for sure. More focused time reading and less mindless social-media scrolling. More conversations about books with friends or random people on social media or library patrons. More author meetings. More consistency with reviewing books as soon as I finish them.

(More work on my own novel.) 

Here's my list of books I read in 2023; the purple titles have links to my reviews: 

Contemporary Fiction

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Roses in The Mouth of A Lion by Bushra Rehman

Winterland by Rae Meadows


Historical Fiction

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Good Night, Irene by Luis Alberto Urea

In The Upper Country by Kai Thomas


Speculative Fiction

Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

The Fellowship of The Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The God of Endings by Jacqueline Holland

A Psalm for The Wild Built by Becky Chambers

A Prayer for the Crown Shy by Becky Chambers

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez

Starling House by Alix Harrow

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher

Tress of The Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen



Brave the Wild River by Melissa L. Sevigny

Everything is Fucked: A Book about Hope by Mark Manson


Graphic Novels

But You Have Friends by Emilia McKenzie

Courage to Dream by Neal Shusterman

Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes 


Middle-Grade Fiction

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery

Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maude Montgomery

Iron-Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barbra Higuera


YA Fiction

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Champion of Fate by Kendare Blake

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves behind Them All by Laura Ruby

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling


And if you're curious, you can see other yearly reading reviews HERE

Happy reading!

My Year in Books: the 2022 Edition

I read 37 books in 2022. This is about my average amount of books for the year, somewhere between 30-40. Is that an abnormally low average for a lifelong book nerd who's also a librarian? Probably (when I see people's year-in-review book posts and they've read 149 that year I feel a bit like a failure). But I chalk it up to the fact that I have several hobbies, so when I have time to do something it's not always reading.

Plus there's no shame allowed in reading!

2022 book collage

Some insights I've gotten as I've put together my list:

My blog has mostly become book reviews. I used to blog about all sorts of topics but this year it was almost all books. I'm not sure how I feel about that, as I still have many opinions to share, but I also know that no one reads blogs anymore. Maybe that is the nudge I need to submit more of my work.

I have a hard time writing about poetryI did read some poetry this year. Warsan Shire's Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head is the book I mention most often as my favorite read this year—but I wrote not a single word about it. (Well, that's not entirely true. The book sparked a dream and the dream sparked a half-written poem.) I am going to rectify that this year.

My relationship with YA fiction is changing. Or maybe it's that YA itself is changing, I don't know. I checked out many; I did read the first ten pages or so of The Epic Story of Every Living Thing by Deb Caletti, an author I have loved in the past, but I just couldn't get interested. Ditto A Year to The Day by Robin Benway. I only finished three YA books this year. Instructions for Dancing, which I read last winter, made me furious. The Carnival at Bray, which was a reread, reminded me of what I DO love about YA, which is when it connects to some part or other of my own adolescence.

Maybe it's that so many other hard things have happened during the past three or four years that my adolescent traumas at last feel distant enough that I don't have to keep rubbing my thumb on them via books.

Or that there's a YA trend of books that feel like romance novels, in the sense of you know it's going to turn out happy in the end, and I need a bit more grittiness in my life.

Or maybe I just haven't paid enough attention to find the right ones. 

My favorite reading experience was shared. Because it has apparently been banned throughout the entire state of Utah (not a single public library has this on its shelves, nor is it available in digital format), I bought a copy of Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. I read it and then passed it along to many of my reading friends. (If you're local and want to read it I'll be happy to share it with you too!) This sparked a whole bunch of really interesting conversations. I learned more about trans people and the issues they face, learned more about my friends, and recognized some of my own issues with the construct of gender.

Shame on Utah for being so close-minded and afraid.

My three favorite books this year:

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell

And with that, here's my index of the 37 books I read in 2022 (with links to my reviews):

Historical Fiction

Babel: An Arcane History by R. F. Kuang

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell

Outlawed by Anna North

Still Life by Sarah Winman



Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Braver Than You Think by Maggie Downs

Happening by Annie Ernaux

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl

Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert McFarland


Speculative Fiction

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd Jones

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

How to Be Eaten by Maria Adelman

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

Spear by Nicola Griffith

A Spindle Splintered by Alix Harrow

Thistlefoot by GennaRose Nethercott

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

When Women were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill

World War Z by Max Brooks


General Fiction

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

The Last Confession of Sylvia P. by Lee Kravetz

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt


Middle Grade & Young Adult

The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley

Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo


Graphic Novels

Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe 



Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire

How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems by Joy Harjo

The Hurting Kind: Poems by Ada Limon

How was your year in books?

My Year in Books: the 2021 Edition

As I’ve looked at various friends’ 2021 reading summaries, favorites list, best-of photo collages…I’ve found myself thinking about what makes a book outstanding for me. For me, my favorite books have a mix of literary quality that resonates, good writing, strong characters, and a story that explores something more than simply plot. But the absolutely best ones—the outstanding, the ones that will stay with me for as long as I have a brain and memory and conscious thought—do something even more personal.

2021 favorite books
I read 49 books in 2021, which is a really good reading year for me. (I usually read about 30-35.) I loved most of them; some were just OK and a few were dismal. I also read, but didn’t finish, about ten others. Obviously I read books. I work with books. I have books all over my house. I blog about books and write about them on Instagram. I talk to my friends and family members—even complete strangers sometimes—about books.

Clearly books matter to me, but all books don’t have the same impact. For me, the most outstanding books are the ones that help me understand something better about myself. People who don’t read a lot of fiction tend to think that you can only find such knowledge in nonfiction, especially self-help, but that doesn’t hold true for me. (I don’t really love self-help at all, even, yes, such popular gurus as Brene Brown; they leave me feeling like I watched a one-sided conversation rather than engaged in a dialogue.) In fiction, in a story written by someone who doesn’t know me at all, I often find the little pieces of knowledge, understanding, or insight that I need to keep going.

I was lucky to have three books this year that did that for me.

  • The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente gave me hope that even though it will be unrecognizable and difficult, when I get through the current apocalypse in my life there will also be some beauty and hope on the other side.
  • The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin helped me understand myself as a mother better; it relieved some of the ache and swell of regret for my mistakes.
  • Thirst by Amelie Nothomb illuminated some of the choices I am making as I continue on my faith journey.

I had other favorites: Matrix by Lauren Groff, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, Burning Roses by S. L. Huang. And many others that I loved and am glad to have read for different reasons.

But those three—if they were the only books I read this year, I would still count it as a great reading year. They helped me feel seen during a year I felt largely invisible.

And I just want to throw out into the universe how grateful I am for writers. Writing is hard. I am grateful to the people who invest their time in writing books because they make my life so much better. Sometimes they even save me.


Enough sap. Here’s my list of the books I read in 2021, organized by genre. The hyperlinks go to the reviews I wrote.


Burn by Patrick Ness (YA)  

Burning Roses by S. L. Huang  

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin   

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (YA)   (audio)

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor (YA)   (audio)

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor  (YA)  (audio)

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin   (audio)

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett     (audio)

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune  

In the Quick by Kate Hope Day   

The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina by Zoraida Cordova   

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab   

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor (YA)  (audio)

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin   (audio)

Of Salt and Shore by Annet Schaap   (YA)   

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow  

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore  

The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente     

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman  (audio)

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir 

The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton (YA)  

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman  

The Sisters Grimm by Meena van Praag   

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin  

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor  (YA)  (audio)

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood     (audio)

Thorn by Intisar Khanani   



The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams 

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell   

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang    

Matrix by Lauren Groff   

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker  

Sisters of the Wolf by Patricia Miller-Schroeder (YA) 

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nielson Spielman  

The World that We Knew by Alice Hoffman  



Be Not Far from Me by Mindy Mcginnis  (YA)  audio

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver  

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman  

One Great Lie by Deb Caletti  (YA)  

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margo by Marianne Cronin   

The Quarry by Damon Galgut   

They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman   

Thirst by Amelie Nothomb 

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawaii Strong Washburn   

The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff (YA)  



The Book Shop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser  

Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins   

You Have a Match by Emma Lord (YA)  



The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooely   


How was your reading year?

Summer 2021 Reading Challenge Recap

Back in June, I decided to do the “Twenty Books of Summer” challenge with 746 Books. I wrapped my summer challenge up on Sunday, September 12, which is a few days later than I originally planned because I had one book I still wanted to finish and count for summer. There are no summer reading challenge police so I’ll just go with that random date, even though I’d planned on starting my autumn reading challenge on September 7, the Tuesday after Labor Day. Plus it took me a few days to write my reviews of the last three books. 

Summer reading collage 2021Tomorrow I will post my plans for fall reading, but I wanted to wrap up how my summer reading went, just to give myself the feeling of being done. Here’s how it went:

My goal was to read twenty books, with full accompanying skepticism that I would actually accomplish that. I am proud of the fact that I read thirteen books, listed here with my rating (you can click on the link in each book’s title if you want to read my review).

The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser   **.5
Burn by Patrick Ness  **.5
Burning Roses by S. L. Huang. ****
The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff   **.5
The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs by Tristan Gooley   ***.5
The One Hundred Years of Margot and Lenni by Marianne Cronin ****
Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn   ****
The Sisters Grimm by Mena van Praag
The Star-Crossed Lovers of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman ***.5
The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin   *****
Summer Days and Summer Nights: 12 Love Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood   ***.5
The World that We Knew by Alice Hoffman   ****

The overarching goal of the challenge was to read books that were already on your TBR by picking out specific titles. I kind of failed at reading many books from my list. You can click HERE to see the original list, but here are TWO (lol) books I did read from it:

Sharks in the Time of Saviors
The Stone Sky

What I learned from this challenge: I was surprised at how it motivated me to keep reading. I loved the feeling of the number of books I’d read getting larger and all of the book reviews existing on my blog. I’m certain I couldn’t have read 13 books in roughly three months if I wasn’t recuperating from foot surgery for almost all of that time, but regardless, I still feel a sense of accomplishment. I am the first to confess that I check out and/or buy far more books than I actually finish. I’m not sure if all readers do this or if it’s just my voraciously bibliophiliac self. Sometimes I’ll have as many as ten books checked out (ok, sometimes even more) and I end up reading the first 15 pages and then abandoning. Not because I don’t like the book, really (or at least not very often), but because my Squirrel! brain thinks “oh, that’s nice but what about this book?” Finishing so many books in a season helped me remember that I can stick with an entire novel, even at the expense of not having time to read all the other novels I want, and just how satisfying it is.

I’m glad I did this challenge!

Summer Reading Plans

A few weeks ago, I discovered 746 Book’s “20 Books of Summer” reading challenge. The idea is neatly summed up in the title of the challenge: read 20 books this summer and review each one.


I thought this sounded like great fun so I set about making my list. Right around June 1, I started reading a book off my list.

Only thing: I never shared my list. Or the challenge. But after talking to Becky about it yesterday while we were hiking, I decided it’s never too late to start.

So here it is, my goal list of 20 books to read this summer, with the full and honest acknowledgement that it is highly unlikely I will actually read twenty books before September 1. But that is OK because just making the list itself has helped me be more focused and purposeful in my what-to-read-next choice. I suspended all of my other holds (so my library’s gotta be thanking me!) and am looking forward to just seeing how many I actually get to. I made the list so it would be a sort of reflection of my reading tastes…my idea of beach reads and vacation books, the types of nonfiction I like the best, a few books that aren’t released as of this blog post but that I’ve been looking forward to for MONTHS, some older books I have been intending on reading, fiction that speaks to my personal reading quirks. These are listed alphabetically rather than the order I will read them in, because…I don’t know the order yet!

  1. American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption by Gabrielle Glaser. A memoir/history focusing on the US adoption system during the 1960s.
  2. Ariadne by Jennifer Saint. Tells the story of the princess of Crete who helped Theseus kill her brother, the Minotaur. Greek retellings are my jam!
  3. Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. I meant to read this memoir about friendship last year but staying close to friends felt like a painful thing to read during the pandemic and shut downs, so maybe this summer!
  4. Brooklyn was Mine edited by Chris Knutsen and Valerie Steiker. A collection of essays to read in preparation for maybe going to New York this fall.
  5. The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray. A novel about two sisters taking care of their older sister’s teenage daughters after she is arrested. I’ve wanted to read this since it came out in 2019.
  6. Dearly: New Poems by Margaret Atwood. I bought this right when it came out last fall, read two poems, set it down, and didn’t pick it up again. How can that be true of poetry by my favorite author?
  7. Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi. I listened to a little bit of this on audio and enjoyed it but I think I want to read the physical copy.
  8. The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff. I don’t like traditional “beach read” novels but am counting this as a summer read, since it’s set at a family beach house. Rosoff is one of my favorite YA authors.
  9. Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. A combo historical/contemporary novel, about an Amelia-Earhart-esque character and the actress who plays her in a movie after her death. I don’t generally like books about Hollywood or acting, but I continue to be drawn to this one so I will try it.
  10. Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian. A retelling of the Arthurian legend, told from the perspective of The Lady of Shalott; a book that releases this summer.
  11. Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change by Maggie Smith. One of my favorite poets writes a sort-of self-help book, although I think it is more about creativity.
  12. Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenridge. Reconstruction-era Brooklyn in a novel that “parses what freedom actually means for Black women.”
  13. Lore by Alexandra Bracken. I’ve actually checked this YA novel out twice but never read it! A contemporary story based on Greek mythology.
  14. Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn. Magical realism set in Hawaii and the west coast…another “beach” read. I am reading this one now!
  15. The Soul of a Woman: On Impatient Love, Long Life, and Good Witches by Isabelle Allende. I’ve loved Allende since I was 15, so I really want to read her memoir. Plus, “good witches” is always going to grab my attention.
  16. The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin. I recently listened to the first two books of this trilogy, because when I read them this third book wasn’t out yet. This will be my trip book, since I read the others while on vacation in 2017. Will the return of the moon destroy or revitalize the world? Can Essun and Nassun ever repair their relationship? Will the citizens of Castrima find a new home? Is Alabaster now a Stone Eater? How did I miss that Essun’s arm turned to stone? I think this series is one of the most brilliant I have ever read, but I’m afraid to be disappointed by the ending.
  17. The Turnout by Megan Abbott. Abbot is one of those authors who I’ll read no matter what she writes. She does a sort of menacing, subtle literary thriller that just…shiver. Works for me. This one is set at a ballet studio.
  18. What Comes After by Joanne Tompkins. Every year I try to read a few things outside of my usual favorite tropes, and suspense/thrillers fall into that category. I picked this book because I initially thought it was a thriller, but I don’t think it actually is. More psychological drama, but I can be 100% ok with that, so I’ll try it anyway.
  19. Whose Story Is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters by Rebecca Solnit. Because I love her work and haven’t read this one yet.
  20. The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec. A fantasy novel based in Norse mythology, about Angrboda, who is mostly known as “Loki’s wife” in the mythology but here her story is told. That’s one of my favorite book tropes…a little-known woman from mythology brought to life.

As I wrote about each of these books, I remembered all over again how much I want to read them. It’s impossibly lofty to set myself the goal of roughly 6,000 pages in three months, but I am going to try it, and let my reading be controlled by only this list (unless, of course, I find something else I can’t resist). And, to make it official, I am guessing I will read EIGHT of these this summer. September will tell!

Have you read any of the books on my list? Any guesses as to what ones I’ll actually read?

My Year in Books: The 2020 Edition

One of my yearly goals is to write something about every book I finish. (Sometimes I also write about the books I didn’t finish, but not often.) I’ve mostly accomplished this for the past five years, but 2020 was an exception. I’m not really sure why I dropped the ball, as I read some books that I loved, but there you go. It was 2020 after all! (Also the fewest books I’ve read in a year.)

So this is obviously out of chronological order (I usually post this in the first week of January), and fairly incomplete with links to what I actually thought about each book, but still it is useful to me. I like being able to come to an organized list rather than having to search my blog (which, let’s be honest: almost never finds what I need it to find, after 15+ years of blogging and an apparently not-very-developed search algorithm, thanks Typepad) when I want to know something about a book I’ve read.

No more waiting, here’s my list of books I read in 2020:

Audio Books:

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melmud.  A society of fundamentalist Christians living on an island after a supposed devastation has destroyed most of the world. I enjoyed it until the end, which thoroughly annoyed me.

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick. An assistant librarian in a small town in England turns her life upside down when someone leaves a book of fairy tales for her to find—one clearly written by her grandmother, who is supposed to be dead. This book falls squarely into the “up lit” genre, which I am just beginning to explore.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. A generational novel about two Black families who are connected by an unexpected teenage pregnancy. I loved this book so much. I think I need to read the print version and then I will write about it. 

Scars like Wings by Erin Stewart. This young adult novel tells the story of Ava Lee, whose family was killed in a fire she barely escaped from. When she must go back to school, she starts coming to terms with her scars, both the physical and emotional ones.

Young Adult Books:

Agnes at the End of the World by Kelly McWilliams. I’m sad I didn’t write anything about this book because I LOVED it. Agnes and her sister try to escape from the fundamentalist cult they’ve grown up in, only to discover that the world outside is suffering from a virus that might kill all of humanity. Which sounds like a lot but wow, the author did a great job with this story.

Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli. Gymnasts vying for the Olympics. How could I not read this?

The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid by Kate Hattemer. This one is right on the border…a little bit too sexy to be firmly in the YA category, it’s more on the “new adult” side, but still shelvable in YA. (I discussed this with two of my coworkers just to be sure.) It’s the story of Jemima Kincaid figuring out her last days of high school while she navigates what it really means to be a feminist. 

Love and Gelato by Jana Evans Welch. After her mother dies, Lina spends a summer in Tuscany with the father she never knew. I’m a sucker for most things set in Italy so this was fun.

Historical Fiction:

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman. I read this prequel in the continuing story of the Owens family of witches in October and it was perfect. It tells the origin story of the Owens’ family’s magic. I loved it! The last book in this series, The Book of Magic, comes out next October and I will definitely be spending my time with the Owens women again.

This Tender Land by William Kent Kruger. Odie, Albert, Mose, and Emmy run away from the orphanage where they are being abused and travel across the American Midwest by foot, through the landscape impacted by the Great Depression. I still think quite often about Odie’s evolving relationship with God.

General Fiction:

Girl by Edna O’Brien. Tells the story of a teenage girl who is kidnapped by Boko Harem and then later escapes. “Good” in the sense of moving, powerful, unforgettable, and so well-written. But a devastating story.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I think I read Little Women at least ten times as a kid, so this was clearly a reread. Undertaken with a little bit of trepidation as what if I couldn’t love it anymore? And there were definitely some annoyances that my 10-year-old self never saw, but I’m glad I reread it. (I also realized, upon revisiting that post, that I meant to write another one.)

Speculative Fiction:

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag. A woman and her daughter travel across the world that is transformed after global warming has caused the seas to rise.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal. Explores the impact of syphilis on a royal family. I enjoyed this book but am not sure I could recommend it to just any reader. You have to be willing to enjoy a book that almost never lets up on darkness and despair. I loved the ending. But it was a hard book to get through, even for me.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow. I love love loved this book about finding doorways to other worlds.

The Dark Tower Series:
This was my main reading this year. It kept me company during the pandemic and was the perfect way to distract myself from worrying about imminent death.

The Gunslinger

The Drawing of the Three

The Wastelands

Wizard and Glass

The Wind through the Keyhole

Wolves of the Calla

Song of Susannah

The Dark Tower

My Year in Books: The 2019 Edition

I realized as I wrote this list that I didn't finish a single book of poetry. I read poems and parts of poetry books but didn't finish any of them. I read almost all of Joy Harjo's American Sunrise but not the whole thing; most of Lay Back the Darkness by Edward Hirsch, and some of the poems from Eat this Plum. And quite a few (but, again, not all) of the Best American Poetry 2019 poems. So yeah, that is high on my list of resolutions (read more poetry) because a life without poetry is blah.


Here's the list of books I read this year, organized by genre:

2019 books collage

General Fiction

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson. Another favorite, because museums and antiquities and Wales and Denmark and trying to figure out who the hell you really are.
Conviction by Denise Mina. Thrillers aren't my favorite, even though everyone loves them right now, but I enjoyed this one. (By "enjoyed" I mean...I liked reading it, I'm glad I read it, but I didn't LOVE it.) Partly because it was set in Europe which I enjoy.
The Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiavarini. I donated a set of 12 of this book to my library's book club in my mom's name. I liked it but it's a little bit cozier of a story than I usually read. Which has made me wonder if an edgy quilting novel is possible? :) 
Sula by Toni Morrison. This one ripped me open, tore all my guts out, and left me empty. But in a good way. It helped me understand a few things about some of my relationships. And it reminded me of just how good Toni Morrison was. The second book I cried over in an airplane, on my way to Denver this fall.

Young Adult

Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza. I enjoyed this story of a girl who tries to seek out the family of the person who donated his heart to her, but I don't think it's one that will stick with me.
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline. Post-apolaclyptic story with elements of First People mythology. Another one I loved. 
The Furies by Katie Lowrie. A novel set in a small English town about contemporary witchcraft. I wanted it to be better than it was.
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves behind Them All by Lara Ruby. This historical fiction/ghost story blend is one of my favorite YA novels I've *ever* read.
Unpregnant by Jenni Hendricks and Ted Caplan. The "funny book about abortion." It was OK to me. I liked many things but the humor is not my style.
The Burning by Laura Bates. Another one I have mixed feelings about. Loved many things about the story but the structure felt clunky to me.


Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. A reworking of the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale, with other threads woven in. I LOVED this one.
The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. Fantasy based on Russian mythology and the second book in a series I loved.
The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden. The third novel and an excellent conclusion. This series is a perfect read for January.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. Another excellent read. And a wild ride. And sort-of unlike anything I've read before. Pondering the meaning of life via alchemy, plus adventure and books and repeating time and OH MY. I loved it!
Naamah by Sarah Blake. The story of Noah from the bible, but from his wife Naamah's perspective. An amazing, gorgeous, moving, memorable book.

Science Fiction

Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. The book that kicked of my women-in-science-fiction streak (that I didn't really start on purpose). A scientist from earth sets out to figure out the secret of reproduction on a planet with only women.
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey. A crew on a simulation of a flight to Mars.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. Science fiction set on a planet that doesn't rotate. Still thinking about this one.
Contact by Carl Sagan. Wrapping up my quartet of science fiction with women protagonists. This book has shaped my thoughts for decades now.

Graphic Novels

Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal. What if men vanished from the world?
Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva vs. The Patriarchy by Liv Stromquist. Don't be afraid. It's really interesting and made some feminist points I'd never considered. 


The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. How to leave behind only what matters. I read this and thought "I wish I could share this with my mom without offending her" but it might've offended her, and then before I had the courage she passed away and she had definitely not done any death cleaning.
The Soul of An Octopus by Sy Montgomery. I read this when I was the host of my library's book club. So fascinating. I finished it on my way home from South Carolina and it was the first book this year I cried over in an airplane.

Middle Grade

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly. A story based on Polynesian mythology. I will never forget the scene with the turtle shell.

31 Poetry Recommendations for The Sealey Challenge

One of my goals for 2019 was to read a print version of some poetry every single day. I have been off and on with this goal, mostly off for the past three weeks or so.

But August is a challenge month done by the poet Nicole Sealey. Her challenge is to read a book of poems every day for the entirety of August. I LOVE this idea and am going to play along, except I know I won't finish an entire book every day. So I'm going to reestablish my poetry-every-day habit, and in the spirit of social media challenges, I am going to share more on my social media about poetry or poems or the poems I read and love.

HERE is an explanation of the challenge and a list of 31 poetry titles recommended by contemporary poets. It is a great list and a good place to start.

But I thought I would also share some of my recommendations, so here it is: Amy's list of 31 poetry titles you might want to read in August. Even if you just picked up ONE book of poetry from your library (it's in the 811 section of Dewey) and read only one poem a day, you might just find you love poetry too.

  1. My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet. The first book I’m going to read. “Aja Monet’s ode to mothers, daughters, and sisters—the tiny gods who fight to change the world.”
  2. Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar. The second book I’m going to read. “The work here means to go out on limbs, be it to fling blossoms, chew fireflies, or push old nests into the river once the rearing is done.”
  3. A Woman without A Country by Eavan Boland. The third book I’m going to read. I started this one a couple of years ago, but only got a few pages into in before I picked up something else.
  4. Any edition of The Best American Poetry anthologies. These look like they are long compared to other poetry books, but there are also two introductions (one by the series editor and one by that year's editor) and quite a bit of biographical info about each of the poets, so it's not as long as you think. I buy my own copy of this book every year because I love finding both new poets and new poems by poets I already love. It is a great way to immerse yourself in contemporary American poetry and get a sense of what that means.
  5. Love Poems (for Married People) by John Kenney. This is sort-of funny poetry. Funny because it's true, so it's also painful. But funny. (As an example: One of the poems is titled "When Are You Going to Turn off Your Kindle?")
  6. Power Made us Swoon by Brynn Saito. Woven through all of the poems in this book are poems about Warrior Woman, who is "descended from the dark/river of women"; the rest of the poems are disparate but unified by Warrior Woman. One of my favorite lines: "I don't know whose story/has taken up residence in my body, what ghost."
  7. Anything by Mary Oliver. She is accessible (meaning you won't just think "huh?" after every poem) and wise and her poetry will make you despair over the crumbling natural world while you simultaneously remember just how glorious and beautiful it is.
  8. Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. His poem “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong,” which is in the collection, is in my top-20 all-time favorite poems. “The most beautiful part of your body/is where it’s headed. & remember,/loneliness is still time spent/with the world.”
  9. Magdalene by Mary Howe. Poems through Mary Magdalene's perspective.
  10. American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin by Terrence Hayes. This book will challenge any assumptions you've made about yourself being "woke." Seriously, I want everyone to read it. It is political but deeply personal (if you can even separate the two). 
  11. The Mobius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone. Poems set in a purgatory that is part burlesque, part feminist poetry stage. The ghosts of the dead can do scandalous things. This is something that contemporary poetry can do in the hands of skilled poets, create something heretofore unimagined and make it breathe.
  12. Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems about Love by Pat Mora. In theory this is a collection of poetry for teenagers, but if you've ever been a teenager, or a teenager in love, you will connect. Plus the poet explains the origins and methods of some of the poetic structures she uses, so you learn about poetry while you're reading poetry.
  13. Averno by Louise Gluck. I could also write "Anything by Louise Gluck" here, because her understated, wry poems are all a punch to the gut you never see coming. But this is my favorite by her, as it explores the Persephone myth.
  14. Native Guard by Natasha Threthewey. All of her poetry is worthy of your time. This one, which I just read last year, changed me because it gave me a different vision of the voices a poet can use in her work.
  15. Ariel by Sylvia Plath. Not because of the Sylvia Plath suicide idealization or because her husband was an awesome poet but an enormous asshole, but because the poems are just so good. And because many of them are cultural touchstones.
  16. Stone Spirits by Susan Elizabeth Howe. She was one of my favorite professors at BYU. A local poet in the sense that she lives in Utah, but her poems are published everywhere. This collection is her first and it is excellent.
  17. Blackacre by Monica Yoon. This book got me through my Narnia Winter. Not sure I would be here without it. 
  18. American Journal: 50 Poems for Our Time edited by Tracy K. Smith. Smith is the current poet laureate and this anthology is awesome. It is small enough to carry with you in almost whatever bag is your favorite. I've read it in line at Taco Bell and Target, while waiting for a movie to start and while waiting for a doctor's appointment. This is another awesome place to start discovering who contemporary American poets are and what they do.
  19. Selected Poems by Anne Stevenson. I discovered Stevenson when I was in college and she is a seminal influence on my ways of thinking. Her poems about motherhood are exacting in how brutal and beautiful that experience can be.
  20. Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl by Diane Seuss. Poems about art are some of my favorites.
  21. Transformations by Anne Sexton. Or really any of her books. I really…I love her poems. But the more I know about her as a person the more I really have to work to separate the poet from the poems. So many of them are intimately connected to my relationship with poetry itself, the connections it makes and how it helps me feel embraced by the world at large. But she had some strange ideas about sex and motherhood that I cannot get behind. I cannot admire her as a person, but her work is incredible. This duality can be an inherent part of any literature, of course, and I think it is possible to make that separation.
  22. Anything by Seamus Heaney. I had a dream once that I met Seamus Heaney at a store that was having a sale on wool socks. I would like to turn that dream into a poem one day.
  23. Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay. Full of "Self Portrait as a __________" poems. At first you might thumb through and think "those poems are too long for me" but they are worth the emotional investment. You wouldn't want to miss lines like "we walk inthe rubble/of the African dream,//brushing shipwreck/from our hair and dresses" because you're afraid of a little bit of length would you?
  24. Good Bones by Maggie Smith. So freaking good​. Especially if you've ever A---been a mother or B---had one. 
  25. The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O'Brien. I bought my copy of this book at the British Library in London, but hopefully your library has one too.
  26. Oceanic by Amiee Nezhukumatathil, if only to learn how to say her name (but of course for the poems too).
  27. Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith. Race, gender, politics, society. Will break your heart.
  28. American’s Favorite Poems by Robert Pinsky. This is an anthology that Pinsky put together while he was the poet laureate. It is poems selected by everyday, average American people who happen to like poetry. Because yes: everyday, average American people like poetry! (HERE is what I wrote after I actually met Robert Pinsky, which was a pretty cool day in my life. 
  29. Anything by Donald Hall. His book Without, about his wife Jane Kenyon’s battle with cancer is one of my favorites. (Is that weird…to love a book about someone’s death? It is a way of witnessing, for me.)
  30. Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds. Her poems are so joyfully invested in her marriage and sexuality that this was utterly shocking to me, a chronical of her divorce. Like Without, it is a devastating book about loss and grief, but so beautiful.
  31. The Door by Margaret Atwood. The whole book is excellent, of course. But the title poem? If you are anywhere close to 40 or older, the title poem with fill you with fear and rip your heart out and make you mourn for the briefness of life and the length of death.

If you read any poetry this month, I would love to hear what it was and what you thought of it.

Book Review: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

A favorite quote:
Girl nerds are in even more trouble than boy nerds, because everybody says we don’t exist, or if we do exist, it’s because we’re trying to get the boy nerds to like us. I don’t like any of the boy nerds in my school. I’m smarter than all of them, so they’re mean to me just like everybody else.

Some books are really, really hard to describe. "What are you reading?" is a question people often ask me, almost always followed by "what's it about?" (And that's actually a fairly loaded question anyway. What a book is "about" often depends on what the reader brings to the book, what her reading history is, what she needs to take from a novel, and besides, is it about the story? the characters? the place? the plot?)

MiddlegameMiddlegame​ by Seanan McGuire is even harder to explain. It's about a colorblind boy named Roger, who seems to be able to have conversations with his imaginary friend, who's named Dodger. It's also about a girl named Dodger, who is brilliant at math but not so much at language arts, who seems to be able to have conversations with her imaginary friend, Roger.

It's about an alchemist, James Reed, who is attempting to embody the theory of ethos. Actually put pieces of it into two separate bodies who, when they eventually are able to connect fully, will do...something extraordinary. 

Reed was created by another alchemist, Asphodel Baker, who wrote a series of children's novels (sort-of like the Wizard of Oz, but only slightly, and sort-of like Narnia, but not really, and while there are excerpts in the book from the children's books, I'd really like to read Over the Wayward Wall) that were read across the world but are actually instructions for alchemists.

It's about Erin, who is sort-of like Roger and Dodger, but not really, and who might be there to help them (with what?) and might not, but she is definitely there for a purpose.

It starts with Roger and Dodger being ambushed and shot at in some mysterious way that ends abruptly with we got it wrong and then it tells you a bit of the Baker children's story and then it starts on Roger and Dodger's story.

It moves, sort-of, between those three things, forward (probably) through time, but always going back to that moment of ambush, which is similar but different every time it repeats.

Plus you read about some of the work of contemporary alchemists as well.

So it's definitely non-linear, even though the story mostly goes forward, with Roger and Dodger meeting and then disconnecting as they work towards what is described in Baker's book as the Impossible City on the Improbable Road.

(Which isn't the yellow brick road, not at all, but Oz does come into the narrative.)

I feel like I'm bungling this explanation but I don't know how else to write it. I've erased and rewritten already, several times. Which just goes so well with the book itself that if you've read it, I could leave it at that.

If you haven't read it, well.

If you need a book that is straightforward and uncomplicated and that doesn't ask you to pay much attention, you probably won't like Middlegame.

If seemingly-senseless violence bothers you, you probably won't like Middlegame.

If you like strange books that play with time, you will like Middlegame.

If you like books that make subtle references to all sorts of cultural and literary things, but without being pretentious about it, you will like Middlegame.

If you like books that make you think about the junctures in your life, the places when you made a choice that changed everything, and how it would be different if you'd chosen different, and if different would've been worse or better—you will love Middlegame.

Not everyone will love this novel. It does require your attention, but not in a painful way. In a fascinating way. It isn't a simple book, or an easy one, but one that is worth the effort.

And all of that is to say: I loved Middlegame. Even though it's hard to describe. Maybe because it is hard to describe. 

Let me know if you read it!

PS: If you loved the following books, I think you will also love Middlegame:

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
My Real Children by Jo Walton
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
The Midwich Cuckoos​ by John Wyndham
Time After Time by Kate Atkinson
All the Birds in the Sky ​by Charlie Jane Anders

A List of Books I Might Want to Read. Maybe.

I was thinking today about my process for choosing the books I end up reading. Sometimes (always?) this is overwhelming because there are SO MANY BOOKS I want to read! Right now, in fact, I have three YA books, three novels, and five non-fiction books checked out. I'm actively reading two of the novels but I want to be reading all of the books.

And then every time I go to work I read about some other new book (or ten) that sounds so good.

But as my reading time is limited, and as reading is not the only thing I want to do (because I also want to make all the quilts and run all the miles and scrapbook all the pictures, and then sometimes I have to clean my house and do the laundry), I am fairly picky about what I actually end up reading. (Even if I do request the library to buy a book, and then I check it out, I probably only read 25% of what I bring home. Dismal, I know.) Partly because I am easily beset by non-rational guilt. I shouldn’t feel guilty about sitting down to read. But I always do. The guilt is lessened if I’m reading something really, really good. I mean, it’s my karmic duty as a bibliophile and lover of beautiful writing and all things word-related to pay attention to the excellent books, right? I don’t need to feel guilty for books that are more than an escape.

My pickiness gets sharper and sharper the more buzz a book has. This is really because if everyone is reading a book, I don't want to read it. It stems back to my adolescent angst and the dressed-in-black goth girl who is still a part of me. I want to think I am cool and hip and a trend setter. (Even though I know I am none of those things!) Is a book good because it fits my "good book" criteria, which is often different from what everyone else seems to love, or is it good because everyone else loves it?

The books in this list are some I've heard a lot of people talk about, which seem like they would almost be just my kind of novel. But maybe not. They might suffer the same fate as the other 75% of books I check out: hauled home, stacked in my scrappy space, the first few pages read, then returned. Or I might just love them.

And you a book lover, that is just not too difficult or painful of a problem to have!

Inspection josh malermanInspection
by Josh Malerman. A story about genius teenagers, who are each trained at a gender-specific facility, and what happens when a male and a female student meet each other. Why I'm interested: just the kind of science-fiction story I tend to like, and besides, books in any sort of boarding school are my jam. Plus it seems like a blend of Never Let Me Go and The Knife of Never Letting Go, two novels I loved. My hesitation: a negative review from PW, plus I tried to read Unbury Carol, also by this author, and the writing style didn't really grab me. On the other hand: the comparisons to Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor, and Keith Donohue make me think I maybe just didn't give Unbury Carol enough time. BUT! EVERYONE has read and raved about Bird Box. I resist jumping on bandwagons.

Daisy jonesDaisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I KNOW! Everyone adores this novel. I think I would enjoy it, a story about a 70s rock band and their internal strife & romance. Why I'm interested: I mean, I know most people like music. But music has been a shaping force for me, even though I am completely incapable of creating it. (Maybe because I can't sing and I never learned to read music?) So a novel about a band is one of my favorite things. My hesitation:  everyone adores it. I start getting suspicious when something is getting a lot of buzz. Is it buzzy because it's really good? Or is it buzzy because everyone's buzzing about it? On the other hand: "Read Daisy and the Six" just keeps coming back to me. Almost like a prompting. BUT! Remember what I wrote about bandwagons?

Black leopardBlack Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. Tracker, whose keen sense of smell helps him locate almost anyone, travels through a medieval Africa searching for a lost boy. Why I'm interested: A Booker-prize-winning author writing fantasy? And it's non-Eurocentric? and dark and twisty? OK. You've got me. My hesitation:​ two things. One is that I am always reluctant to start an unfinished trilogy. It's just too difficult to keep track of plot lines. Two is probably dumb and maybe sexist of me...but the older I get the more I resist reading male writers or books that mainly have male characters. On the other hand:  I enjoy quest stories so much. BUT!  Many reviewers call this an "African Game of Thrones," and while you know I love dark & twisty, my psyche could only handle the first GoT book. It was just too dismal and it actually took me awhile to trust writers again after reading Game of Thrones. Will Black Leopard be as unbearably dark?

Machines like meMachines like Me by Ian Mcewan. Set in an alternate version of London in the 1980s, this is the story of Miranda, her downstairs neighbor and boyfriend Charlie, who invests his inheritance on an AI prototype, and Adam, the artificial intelligence. Why I'm interested:  an AI who writes haiku because it will eventually be the only form of communication; plus, I think it could be an intriguing exploration of identity and humanity. My hesitation: I loved and adored and continually think about Mcewan's novel Atonement. But Sweet Tooth made me so angry that I haven't read a Mcewan novel since. On the other hand: Maybe I should just try him again. Just to see if I like Atonement or I like Mcewan's work. BUT! Now that I think about it, am I really interested in a novel about beings of artificial intelligence? Or am I just getting on a bandwagon of a different (High British Literature) sort?

QueenieQueenie by Candice Carty-Williams. A Jamacian-British woman's very bad year of trying to get over a breakup with her boyfriend. Why I'm interested: Dare I confess it's for the cover? I really like the cover. No, really, that isn't the only thing. It's set in London, for one. And it seems like the type of novel that is as much about the protagonist's relationship with her family and friends as it is about love and/or romance. And also to prove that I am not an aging old fuddy-duddy who's too uptight to read a funny-and-sweet romance. My hesitation: Maybe I am too old to read this kind of book? And maybe I've been a fuddy-duddy my whole life, and reading Queenie will just remind me of how unadventerous my life has been? And of how things that are funny to most people are just never funny to me? On the other hand: You just never know what you'll find in a book. Maybe this will surprise me, even though I don't know where that optimism is coming from. BUT! Several reviewers have said this is a black Bridget Jones's Diary, which, gah. Why can't books just be what they are, instead of another version of a different book? Is it really like the first book? Or is that comparison made as a way to draw attention to it?

Care and feedingThe Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Grey. Three sisters, Althea, Viola, and Lillian, have to contend with each other, their shared history, and their daughters when one of the sisters is arrested. Why I'm interested: I am drawn to stories about sisters, and currently I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between aunts and nieces, which I think this looks at. Plus: my friend Karenika loved it, and she has great taste. My hesitation: OH. MY. GOSH. I can't even clearly explain why, but I just really don't like the title. It feels too ambitious and showy. Like it's trying too hard to be cool. (WAIT! Am I trying too hard to be cool?) On the other hand:  books with awful titles can still be really, really good (I'm thinking of you, A Heart in a Body in the World). BUT! Again with the comparison: this one is compared often to An American Marriage, which I loved, and I don't want to set up an expectation and then be disappointed. 

And, finally, to prove I am not entirely a curmudgeonly, snooty old librarian, here's a list of new(ish) books I have absolutely no hesitations about:

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi. Fairy tale retelling.
Women Talking by Miriam Towes. A group of women in a Mennonite community confront their attackers.
Normal People by Sally Rooney. A friendship between two teenagers in Dublin.
The Island of Sea Women​ by Lisa See. A friendship between two sea divers in Korea.
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson. An illness springs up in a university town that causes people to sleep without waking.

Have you read any of them? What did you think? And how do you choose your books?