I’m so good at reading books in the winter. Then, spring turns into summer and it gets too hot to sit outside and read in the evenings, social obligations pop up, my work hours lengthen and flex and books that should take a few days to devour take longer and longer, full weeks, even. So, I’ve been in a reading rut. I’ve read some lovely things, especially lately, but this second reading report includes a lot of books I didn’t love or even like, a few I slogged through just so I could mark them as finished and at least one I loved until the end when nothing was settled and I threw the book across the room in a fit of disappointed rage.
Every year I line up a big stack of really incredible, much-anticipated books to read while winter slumps into spring. Then, I go on a book-reading bender. I stay up past my bedtime, I walk around the house clutching an open book, reading it as I put dishes into the dishwasher, sass the cat or just walk from one part of the house to another. I carry a book with me everywhere, reading for two minutes before my yoga class, reading while my computer restarts, reading, reading, reading.
I didn’t originally plan to exclusively read books written by women in 2018, at least not in the beginning. In the beginning, I just started reading. Then it was February, I was dutifully logging my latest reads on Goodreads, as I’ve done for past decade or so, and I realized all seven of the books I’d read in 2018 were written by women.
My reading definitely slowed down in the third quarter, probably because work keeps me very, very busy in the summer months. Then there was summer travel and by the time August ended, I realized I’d been reading the same book for multiple weeks, which almost never happens.
Still, I’m averaging around five books a month and I managed to read 15 books throughout July, August & September. Fingers crossed I can maintain or exceed that pace in the next few months and hit my goal to read 70 books.
GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER by Shobha Rao – ★★★★★
This book starts in India and ends in Seattle, Washington. It’s one of the most important books I’ve read this year, incredibly heartbreaking and absolutely devastating. It’s the story of friendship, the kind of friendship and love you’ll do absolutely anything for, no matter the cost, because, “What is love, if not a hunger?” This book broke my fucking heart, cracked it open and then stomped on it. It’s a hard read, difficult and painful in a way that’s similar to Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. It is abusive, violent and triggering, but important and poignant.
CIRCE by Madeline Miller – ★★★★★
As a kid, I was obsessed with Greek mythology. Give me your stories of Zeus and Hera, Artemis and Apollo, tell me again how Orion was put into the sky. Circe took me back to that love, telling the story of Circe, a badass heroine, nymph, goddess and witch. Miller weaves the story well, starting from Circe’s childhood sitting at the feet of her father, Helios, to her encounters with Odysseus and, later, his widow and son. It’s a delightful slip into a very different world.
STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel – ★★★★★
I’m a sucker for a good post-apocalyptic read and this book is that, but also so much more. The story takes place 15-20 years after a plague called the Georgia Flu. There’s a traveling theatre troupe, a comic book, a self-proclaimed prophet and an airport sanctuary. It’s beautifully written and beautifully told and the characters are easy to love and understand. It’s emotional too, and dives into what it means to survive, what it takes to survive and the connections formed by our collective humanity.
THEN SHE WAS GONE by Lisa Jewell – ★★★★★
I’ve been real disappointed by thrillers this year. I keep trying though, keep hoping there will be a character I don’t hate, a plot twist that doesn’t seem forced or a storyline so complex and meandering it makes me curse. And then I read Then She Was Gone and I stopped being so cranky about it all because this book is good without trying too hard, with a main character you can actually root for and story that’s easy to follow while still maintaining my interest and pushing me to figure what happened. There’s no brain matter mushed into the floor with this one, no blood-splattered descriptions of what happened, just good writing and a real good story.
FATES AND FURIES by Lauren Groff – ★★★★★
This book was a big deal a few years ago, but I didn’t get around to reading it until this year. This book was tough, like all of Groff’s novels. I really enjoyed Arcadia, but Fates and Furies was a slow start for me. In simple terms, it’s the story of a marriage, but it’s far more complicated than that. I didn’t get the hype until halfway through the book, when we got to Furies, and that, for me, was what made this book. Groff’s writing is beautiful and difficult and her stories leave me conflicted in a way that’s unique. Sometimes I can’t tell if I love or hate what I’m reading when it comes to Groff’s work.
WHAT ELSE I READ THIS QUARTER
THE POWER by Naomi Alderman – ★★★★★
This is hands-down, absolutely, without a doubt the best thing I’ve read this year. It starts with a world that looks familiar and then something changes. Suddenly, teenage girls have a physical power, like an electric charge, that they can harness to hurt and destroy property and people. From there, everything changes. This book wins because it made me feel things, it made me think about the world we live in today and about the alternative worlds that could be waiting for us and it made me want to force it on all my lady friends so I have someone to discuss it with.
THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah – ★★★★★
I listed Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale as one of my favorite historical fiction books and I was really, really excited for her latest release. The story begins in the 1970s when thirteen-year-old Leni moves with her mother, Cora, and her father, Ernt, to the wilds of Alaska. Ernt was held captive during Vietnam and comes home from the war a vastly changed man. Alaska is his idea, a solution that appears perfect when he receives notice he’s inherited land from a fallen brother. At first, things are great, but winter nights are long in Alaska and there’s as much to fear inside the house as there is out of it. At its core, this book is about survival, both from the wilds of the wilderness and the wilds of humanity.
SWAMPLANDIA by Karen Russell – ★★★★★
This book was named one of the top books of 2011 by the New York Times. It’s been sitting on my Kindle for years. I didn’t really know what this book was about when I started reading it and it took some time for me get into it. On the most basic level, it’s about a fallen empire of alligator wrestling, but it’s also about family. It’s about searching for the things you’ve lost, too, and while the book trends toward the terrible in its later chapters, there’s also a bit of comedy sprinkled throughout.
THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn – ★★★★★
This is another one that tops my historical fiction list. It tells the story of two badass babes, one who has a spy during WWI and the other who has found herself pregnant and missing her cousin in the aftermath of WWII. They team up to hunt their demons and look for the missing cousin and what unfolds is an incredible story of female friendship. It also prompted me to look into the female spies of WWI, whose stories are largely unknown.
GIRL AT WAR by Sara Nović – ★★★★★
This book is about a 10-year-old Croatian girl from Zagreb growing up in the midst of a civil war that battered an entire region. It sat on my Kindle for way too long and I wish I’d read it a decade ago, when I was deployed to the Balkans. This book is beautiful written and heartbreaking. The essay in the back, “What it is like to be a deaf novelist,” also gave me perspective on a topic I’d never considered.
THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO by Taylor Jenkins Reid – ★★★★
I thought this would be a nice palate cleanser in between a few heavy books. I was wrong. It tells the story of Evelyn Hugo, a 79-year-old Hollywood legend. After a lifetime of glamour and scandal, she’s finally ready to tell the truth about her life. She picks a relatively unknown journalist, Monique, to tell her story. She starts in the beginning, with her very humble upbringing, goes through the sometimes traumatic and painful details of her marriages, talks about the only person she ever loved and admits her biggest and darkest secret.
THE GOOD DAUGHTER by Karin Slaughter – ★★★★
I love a good thriller and have struggled to find one that kept me motivated to turn the page. This one popped up on a random list and I picked it up from the library hoping for something halfway decent and was immediately obsessed. Sisters Charlotte and Samantha Quinn lived through a horrendous attack in their family farmhouse when they were kids. Their mother died and both suffered at the hands of her killers. Years later, a school shooting rocks their small community and brings both women back together to uncover the truth about both their own pasts and the story of the alleged school shooter.
AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by Tayari Jones – ★★★★
Celestial, an artist, and Roy, an executive, are newlyweds when Roy is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He’s arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Five years later his conviction is overturned and he returns to his life which is very, very different. This book felt exceptionally timely, with race in America at the forefront of the story. More than that though, is the realness I felt in reading this book. It felt like real life, with human emotions and struggles and complex, well-developed characters.
ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman – ★★★★
Full disclosure: I did not love this book in the beginning, It took around 150 pages before I changed my mind. Eleanor Oliphant is not very likable in the beginning. She’s socially awkward, seems to care little for the others and is abrasive, at best. Things start to change when she and a coworker, Raymond, help save Sammy, who has fallen on the sidewalk with a full bag of groceries. From there, you get to know Eleanor, learn more about her background and why she is the way she is and slowly she starts to seem much less awful, and much more human.
ALSO READ THIS QUARTER
SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by Sarah Schmidt
I’m a bit of true crime fanatic. I listen to a lot of podcasts about murder and this marvelous and creepy book is about Lizzie Borden and the murder of her father and stepfather, Andrew and Abby Borden. The story centers around the day of and after the murder and is told by Lizzie Borden herself, her sister, the family’s maid and the acquaintance of an uncle. Lizzie is portrayed as creepy, awful and crazy in a way that was fun to read while the other characters help fill in the details of Lizzie’s life and the relationship she had with her family. The writing style took a bit for me to get used to, but by the end of the book, I was hooked. Amazon || Goodreads
THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver
This incredible books tell the story of a missionary family, the Prices, who leave Georgia in 1959 for the village of Kilanga in the Belgian Congo. The family includes Nathan, the father, his wife, Orleanna, and the couple’s four daughters. On the flight over, they’re restricted to 44 lbs of luggage per person so they wear their belongings, piling on layers and slipping housewares into their pockets. In the Congo, Nathan wants to hold his first baptism but the river is infested with crocodiles. And that’s how it goes, mostly. Misfortune and tragedy and, in the background, independence for the Congo. The narrative is split, with the four daughters and Orleanna narrating the story, all with their own distinct voice. Amazon || Goodreads
THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn
This book is partly about badass lady spies during World War I, but it’s also about the aftermath of war. It’s told both in 1947 and in 1915 and is the story of two women. Eve Gardiner wants desperately to join the fight against Germany during World War I and finally gets her chance when she is sent to France and trained by the “Queen of Spies.” And then there’s Charlie St. Clair, a pregnant, unmarried college girl searching for her missing cousin who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Their lives collide in 1947 as Eve helps Charlie search for her cousin and they travel around France on a search that includes heartbreak and also, revenge. Amazon || Goodreads
THE RED TENT by Anita Diamant
In college, I took an incredible class about women in the Bible. The Red Tent was mentioned in that class, and I, curious, read it after the semester ended. It’s the story of Dinah, who is mentioned only briefly in Genesis as being “defiled” by a prince. The story is told in her voice and starts with her mothers – Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah, the four wives of Jacob. She talks about the love she received from these women and then, about her experience with the prince and the aftermath of her supposed defiling. The red tent is the tent women are sequestered to during menstruation and childbirth, and, for the women of Jacob’s tribe, it is a place of female companionship and support. Amazon || Goodreads
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr