My first list of fiction books this year is kind of a grab bag. This is everything that didn’t fit neatly into my two dominant genres – sci fi & fantasy and romance (those lists are coming later in the month) but that I still wanted to talk about in some way. From award-winning short stories and classic novels to YA mysteries, there’s a little for everyone on this list and I hope you find a new book you want to add to your list! What did you love reading this year?
1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid This book ticked all the right boxes for me. I loved the memoir-like writing style to tell Evelyn’s story interspersed with Monique’s personal life growth and the introspection that arose as a result of Evelyn’s past. But mostly, I fell in love with the complicated story of Evelyn’s past and the choices she made to have the life she wanted. There was so much more to her life than the snippets of news articles the world saw of her or the characters she played in movies, there was a real person who schemed and wanted and hurt behind every decision she made and its those complications that made her so fascinating. She wasn’t nice by her own admission. She could be cruel and manipulative and hurt the people she cared most about to achieve a very specific end but she also loved deeply and was trapped by a world that only wanted her to be one thing. They wanted the glamour of an actress not the real person behind it, they wanted a white movie star instead of her biracial heritage, she needed to pretend to be straight instead of revealing her bisexuality and that her final act was to proudly declare that she was both and all of it was remarkable. If you loved complicated women making difficult choices, read this book and come cry over it with me.
2. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri This is a stunning collection. It was my first introduction to Lahiri’s writing and I was instantly taken in by the mood and style of these short stories. They were emotionally evocative and made you feel so much for these characters in a small space and to be able to accomplish that so effectively takes an incredible amount of talent. There’s a sense of melancholy as many of these characters look for a bigger world. Circumstances and choice have left them feeling boxed in by expectations or obstacles in their path and there’s a sense of emotional and sometimes physical isolation that runs through these stories that really resonates. The writing is beautiful and the collection as a whole is smartly chosen and flows together to create a cohesive whole. If literary short stories are something you’re even a little interested in, give this book a try.
3. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel Stories that center around food in some way are likely to work well for me but the particular way that this book blended the recipes with magical realism was perfect. Tita’s connection to food and the way she is able to (quite literally) pour her emotions into her cooking when they become too overwhelming to keep inside was the perfect vehicle to tell this story of her life and forbidden love. I was not actually a fan of Tita and Pedro’s love story and preferred her relationship with John but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the storytelling and the lives of Tita and the rest of her family. The fairytale-like feel combined with the beautiful writing made this something memorable and unique in my reading this year and I’m so glad I picked it up on a whim.
4. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid A bittersweet love story about two people who see and understand each other in beautiful, profound ways but can’t be together for a variety of reasons is so entirely up my alley and sure enough, I could not get enough of this book and the overwhelming number of feelings it delivered. First of all, emotional pain aside, I really love the format of this as an interview-style retelling of memories. The individual perspectives and how they overlap and differ work perfectly to tell this story of this band and these people. Second, for anyone who has ever shipped a slowburn, doomed ship (or dabbled in any sort of RPF fandom) will see exactly where this is headed and Jenkins Reid completely nails the set up and feelings payoff. These characters all jump off the page and feel like they could have really been a band in the 70s. It has excitedly already been optioned for Amazon as a miniseries and should translate onto screen beautifully. I cannot wait to hear these songs for real and experience the pain all over again.
5. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison I never read Toni Morrison’s works in school but after so many people wrote beautiful things after her passing earlier this year, I knew I needed to correct that oversight as soon as possible. This story is heartbreaking and gorgeously written. It is a story about growing up in a world that sees you as fundamentally unworthy of things like decency or love because of the color of your skin or circumstances of your birth and the way young children internalize that message. Morrison asks us as readers to see these characters, especially these children, as people who have been grievously let down by the people around them. It’s not an easy book to read in either its style or content but I am glad I did. I see why Morrison has the legacy she does and this will not be the last book of hers I pick up.
6. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman Grumpy people who learn how to embrace others and the untidiness of life when it’s shared are my favorite. Give me all the stories about people who find they are better with others and while it’s not the life they so neatly envisioned, it can sometimes be richer. Ove is admittedly a difficult human to read about initially. He’s so set in his ways, curmudgeonly and more than a little off-putting. But despite all that, people keep trying and he keeps trying because he knows it’s what his wife would have wanted for him. She wasn’t around to balance him anymore so he had to learn a whole new way of living. And he succeeds! He finds a new sort of family and joy when he was fully prepared to give up on the idea of a world without his wife. That gradual growth alongside with the grumbling that these people just wouldn’t leave him alone to die in peace ultimately lead to an emotionally satisfying conclusion that left me feeling cozy inside.
7. The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson Sometimes the best thing you can say about a book in a series or trilogy is that you immediately want to read the next one. Unfortunately, I finished this book a couple days after its release and have been waiting all year for the final installment. I love the journey this mystery has taken and the way we get to experience it unravel with Stevie. Johnson’s writing style is so good for this type of story, it pulls you around giving you just enough to make you unable to put it down while also making you love these characters and the world they inhabit. If you are or were a teen that was drawn to mysteries and solving puzzles, I cannot recommend this book enough. You’ll love Stevie and the feel of this story.
8. Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde I have typically struggled with books that center around fandom because the experiences never feel right to me. This is the book that changed that. This book captures everything I love about fandom and how it can influence and strengthen you as a person. It’s about finding inspiration in a fictional character and allowing that to change you as well as finding your people to hold you up and push you to be a fuller version of yourself. It gets the easy understanding that happens when fans of a similar piece of media become friends. It also manages to touch on the way that fandom can impact the creators of their favorite work when that affection is taken too far and blends into actors’ personal lives, especially when done as part of a PR strategy. It is fandom at its best combined with a coming-of-age and coming into yourself story and it was finally a fandom story I could see myself in.
9. Apprentice in Death by JD Robb This is the 43rd book in the series, which completely blows my mind. That is a lot of hours spent reading about these characters and each time I do, I’m reminded just how much I love Eve Dallas and the family she’s built for herself. I love her dedication to making her city safer because that’s what its residents deserve. I love her commitment to justice in the hopes that it will offer some measure of peace to the family of the victims. She cares so deeply and that in itself is remarkable after the childhood she had and the lack of care shown for her until she joined the police force and Feeney took her under his wing. I was reading this alongside a reread of the October Daye series and I was struck by the similarities between Eve and Toby and their anger that the world isn’t better and insistence on making it just a little more so. This book encapsulated everything I’ve loved about this series for over a decade now and it continues to be a pure joy to watch Eve grow and become even stronger as she leans into the love of those around her. If you loved Kate Beckett, I cannot recommend this series enough
10. You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan This is a story all about meeting the right person at the right time to profoundly impact your life. I don’t remember a thing about Mark and Kate’s respective romances but I do remember their friendship and how they were there for each other at precisely the right moment. They sat by each other in class and never really talked until this kind of whirlwind week around Pride but in that week, they forged something real and meaningful. It left me feeling warm and content and grateful for the people in my life and I loved it.