This year wasn't the strongest in terms of books I absolutely loved. Sometimes I often feel behind in terms of reading even though I read at least 1 book a week and perhaps if I could read twice as many a year I'd love twice as many. But that may not be the case. In terms of everything it's subjective and for me these books were the ones that knocked it out of the park for me and stayed with me and will continue to stay with me. I highly recommend them all.
- The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks, Illustrated by Canaan White (2014): I read lots of fiction but want to up the ante in terms of poetry, nonfiction, and graphic novels that I read annually. So Harlem Hellfighters was major treat in terms of it being historically based and also having the heart and angst to tell the story of an honored group of military men who made waves during WWII and still dealt with all kinds of racism at home and abroad even. The last lines "Was it all for nothing? Only if we're forgotten" remind you that race relations are still very tentative in this day and age and that men who fought hard for their country still aren't seen as equals.
- NW by Zadie Smith (2012): If you didn't read any bio I've ever written which included favorite books you'll see that On Beauty always appears. I was excited for Smith's latest and also a bit cautious. But in the end Smith is one of our strongest contemporary writers today and I admire her growth and experimental nature as a writer even more in NW. Her dialogue is exquisite and her characters are fully drawn. More please, Zadie.
- Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle (2013): I'd heard good things about Nate in the first and second of Tim's books. And after reading a hilarious paragraph on pirouttes I bought the book when I swore I wouldn't purchase anything at SCBWI in LA then met Tim who is a super friendly guy. And to be on the We Need Diverse Books team with him now is a big treat because Better Nate is a feel good, real book about pursuing your dreams, disappointment, staying who you are while at the same time trying to find out who you are. It's a great, fast, fun and funny book that is right for all ages. More Nate too, please.
- The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (2014): I happened upon this line at Book Expo thanks to a coworker who reminded me that Mitchell wrote Cloud Atlas which I very much enjoyed. So it was worth being in a long, weaving line to get Mitchell's latest. Clocking in at over 700 pages Mitchell's work weaves in speculative elements, heart, and goes across time and continents to tell Holly's story. We see Holly's losses and her strength and by the last page you're glad to have gone on the journey with her.
- brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014): Another BEA find! I got to meet Jacqueline after the We Need Diverse Books BookCon panel and snagged her book, in high demand. She's also a southerner come NYC and we have similar trajectories in terms of our family line. She's another WNDB advisory board member and simply a wonderfully kind person. bgd is one of those books I so wish I'd had as a young reader and you don't simply read this memoir in verse you fall into it. Each line, each word exquisitely chosen. It's been a major success in Jacqueline's career and I'm proud to have been a first reader clamoring for it at BEA. It's well awarded for last years' National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
- The Tastemakers by David Sax (2014): A tight and interesting read, especially if you're interested in food or a food lover like I am. Somewhat dated in terms of what's trend and what isn't due to timing of publication. Either way it doesn't take away the relevance or the unpredictability of what does or doesn't become a trend in the food world, nor does it take away from Sax's great style and vivid way of showing you the items, the competition, and even the planning that goes into attempting to create a trend.
- Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater (2014): It's inevitable that a Maggie book is going to end up on my list of favorite reads as long as she publishes at minimum one. Last year she published 3. Goodness gracious. Sinner is the spinoff book staring side characters that became more mainstays of Cole and Isabel as they attempt to be together and grow together outside of the Forever trilogy. It's one of those "quiet" books about internal struggle with fantasy elements and Maggie uses it to her continued strength. I enjoyed every minute, word, page, interaction of Cole and Isabel and automatically want more but this also feels complete. And I know I can always go back to page one to enjoy it all over again.
- Red Rising by Pierce Brown (2014): A new trilogy and automatic NYT bestseller that's a sci-fi revenge story. Darrow lost his love and starts to lose himself as he infiltrates the higher tier of society from Red to Gold. There are elements I didn't like, for instance lack of diversity and also rape used against women in battle, but Darrow is someone who's rise (and fall) you can relate to and the writing itself sticks to the emotions and the action going on around Darrow. So I'm invested enough to read the sequel coming out next week.
- Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (2010): I'm late to the Kitchen Confidential train and I don't usually read, um listen, to audio books. But Bourdain narrating Kitchen is the best thing and really sucks you in. He hits the right notes for his writing and isn't necessarily a performer but the right reader for this book. Again, I'm into food as you know so hearing about the underbelly and his rise, though I noticed he skipped over parts, is interesting. I will never eat seafood on a Sunday again in a restaurant, of this I am fairly certain.
- When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago (1993): The first of three memoirs that Santiago wrote about her childhood in Puerto Rico and then her entrance to New York City hits on all cylinders. Santiago's prose is fantastic, lush, and packs a punch. She does well to keep the restrained knowledge yet deeper understanding of the destructiveness of her parents relationship (not even marriage) and how her mother could love her one moment and smack her upside the head the next. Santiago's willfulness as a child, the eldest, and the humor that lies in her and her siblings relationship and her growth is wonderful. Looking forward to the next two memoirs.
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013): One of the most lauded books last year to publish in 2013 Americanah made a lot of "Best" lists and also won the NBCC award. Not without merit of course. This is one of the more honest explorations of race in America from the Non-American Black (NAB) perspective also incorporating the American Black (AB) perspective as well. I had some qualms with the main character of Ifemelu but the fact is she is human, flawed, rough, emotional, and all. She is a woman we can identify with in terms of the good and the bad and that's always been one of the biggest strengths of Chimamanda's writing.
- Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, Illustrated by Joy Ang (2013): Adorable about sums this picture book up. I met the agent for this book at SCBWI in LA and bought this book for a coworker who was expecting his first child. A baby with a mustache that can be either a good or a bad one? Come on how cute IS that?! And Ang's illustration adds a soft and additionally sweet touch to the story as the titular character goes through his own good/bad mustache phase. And there's more Mustache Baby to come too, people.
- Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979): Yes, what took me so long to get onto the Octavia Butler train?! Kindred was one of the first books I read this year and I loved every second. It was written almost 4 decades ago and everything Butler wrote still has pertinence today in terms of race relations and perception and our connections to history. Butler has that magic touch of taking the everyday and twisting it on his head and for the character of Dana to have to go back and save her family line while meeting a sociopathic ancestor is a lot to handle, but addictive to read.
- Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang (2013): A nominee for the National Book Award Young People's Literature last year Yang's two (yes two) graphic novels looking at the Boxer Rebellion is great, especially from the two different perspectives. I highly suggest you read them both back-to-back to get the full weight of those on the side of the fighters and the side of the perceived "devils."
- Astray by Amy Christine Parker (2014): I'm not adding this to the list because Amy is my CP or because it's awesome, though those reasons help. It's because Amy's sequel to her debut Gated takes on the aftermath of being "rescued" from a cult and deals with the truth of how assimilation or attempting to find normal is not an easy thing and acceptance isn't always ready with open arms. Amy challenges her main character and readers to see beyond the smoke screen of a "happy ending."
- Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (2011): I'd been wanting to read this book and winning a copy a la Goodreads was a great way to do so. I'd heard rave reviews for this book and it took a few pages but once I was in I was all in. The futuristic world, the narcissism of society, the dependency on others to make you feel like a better person while at the same time trying to find self and all this woven around a love story between middle-aged likable schlub Lenny and the youthful and often unawares Eunice. Like Oscar Wao the title will let you know what to expect but the journey to get there is very good storytelling.
So here's to another year of great books, new and previously published! And provide me any recs of things you've loved and I'll add to my ever growing list.