Whenever I read a book that I fall in love with, it becomes my goal to pass it along. I look for just one person in my life who enjoys that type of book, and I insist that he/she read it. If that person loves it to, it becomes a shared experience that makes me feel so good.
This year, however, I have a blog. So instead of searching individually, I’m going to share with all of you the best books I’ve read this year, broken down by category. (One caveat – these are not all recently published. This just happens to be the year that I discovered these.)
For more book recommendations, see my “Books I Can’t Stop Talking About” series
If you try and enjoy of these books, please leave a comment.
Best Pure Sci-Fi Novel: I’m sure you’ve been seeing the ads for Matt Damon’s new space movie. Go see it, but I’m telling you, no matter how good the movie is, it will not be as funny and engrossing as the novel it’s based on, The Martian, by Andy Weir. There’s still time to rush out and buy the novel before the movie comes out. Trust me, you’ll hang on every page and stay up late to finish it.
Best Time-Travel Sci-Fi: If you love time-travel, you need to learn about Connie Willis. Though most of her novels are standalone, she’s created a unique set of time-travel rules and procedures that give her novels a gripping edge. And the research! Rarely does historical fiction give this strong a sense of taking you into the moment.
The 2-book series Blackout and All Clear are set in England during WWII, primarily centering on the Blitz. Make sure you have both books before you start, though, because Blackout stops so abruptly it feels like pages are missing. Apparently it was written as one very long book and then chopped in two by the publisher.
Best Superhero Novel: Ignore the fact that this is a young-adult novel – it’s hilarious. Well, it’s all in the title. I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President, by Josh Lieb, will make you laugh out loud at least once per chapter, if not once per page. It’s a short read, so grab this one when you just need to spend an afternoon enjoying a little nonsense.
Best Sword-and-Sorcery Fantasy: I am a huge fan of Joe Abercrombie. This man is a master craftsman of action novels. I first discovered him with the one-off book “Best Served Cold,” but, like any pure fantasy guru, he tends toward trilogies. This month the third volume of his “Half A” Series was released, so run out and get your hands on it. (That’s an order!)
I refuse to give away any of the plot, as one of my favorite things about him is that you never have a clue where his stories are going, though he always takes logical steps to get there. He loves doing feints, where he’ll telegraph a plot twist, let you see it from a mile away, then at the last minute, he’ll change it up again and leave you shocked.
One warning, though – it does get violent and bloody. Almost all of Joe’s novels center on war, and he doesn’t shy away from fight sequences.
But you can’t help but love a guy who writes lines like: “We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.”
Look for Half a King, Half the World, and Half a War.
Best Fantasy Romance (with Time Travel): Because of Showtime, most people have now heard of the Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon. The first book in any series like this is always the best, of course, but after that, Book 4 in her series, Drums of Autumn is the one that stands out.
With all of her books running in the neighborhood of a thousand pages, it won’t surprise you to hear that Diana often takes quite a while setting up adventures, with scene after scene of people sitting around discussing the plot thus far. Books 1 and 4 are the ones that avoid that trap, and so much action is packed into these two that when you’re done with either you’ll feel like you’ve read an entire series.
Disclaimers galore, though: intense sex scenes, plenty of violence, cussing, war & politics … but the nastiest part is that the main character is a doctor so the author loves to shove in scenes of 1700s surgery. My recommendation is to skim any scene that begins with her going for her medical bag.
Non-Fiction is worth mentioning, too. It’s hard to recommend a non-fiction book, because whether people will try it is entirely based upon whether they care about the subject and whether they will ever spend time on non-fic. So my rule is that I only recommend NF books that read as though they are fiction. By that, I mean the story has to be compelling and easy to read. If it feels like a textbook, I won’t mention it.
My favorites from the past year are:
Best Non-Fiction Science: Why I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming by Mike Brown, the Planetary Astronomer who discovered the temporary “tenth planet” which resulted in the downgrading of Pluto’s status. Amazingly, this book is funny, personal, and has quite a bit of tension toward the end.
(Or, just read this summary in one of my earlier blog posts.)
Best Non-Fiction History: If you’re interested in early American colonies, Giles Milton‘s research on the early colonies of Roanoke and Jamestown is fascinating. Big Chief Elizabeth centers on the efforts of Sir Walter Raleigh to colonize the new land, between politicking in England and the men (and later women) who suffered through the harsh conditions of the under-provisioned adventures.
(Or, click here for a recap of the highlights of the Roanoke colony.)
Please feel free to add your own recommendations to the comments section.