Whew, 2021 and 2022, huh? The last, let’s see, 18 months have been a rollercoaster ride for me and for seemingly everyone else I know. I may not have been posting here, but I have been reading and books have become even more important to me as a comfort and a distraction. So just to catch up a bit before I jump back in to more detailed reviews, here are the highlights of my last 18 months of reading–not necessarily the best books I’ve read, but the ones that most soothed my soul when I needed it.
Fun YA Series
YA is always a solid place to start when you need something engrossing and distracting, but also a bit hopeful. The two series I’ve enojyed most lately have both been discussed on this blog before, but I am still talking about them.
- Rebecca talked about the first two books in Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series, but The Golden Enclaves comes out in just a few days! The series has magic, and a boarding school, and some romance, while being completely unlike Harry Potter at all. This world is dark, while also managing, especially in the second book, to show how people, even deeply pessimistic people, can change the world and people around them.
- I really enjoyed Maureen’s Johnson’s Truly Devious trilogy when it was focused on the main characters solving the initial mystery about the founder of their mysterious boarding school (I do like a boarding school story). But I was surprised by how much I like the fourth book in the series, The Box in the Woods, where our heroes branch out and solve a new mystery. In all of these books I’ve been impressed with how complex the mystery stories themselves are–Johnson doesn’t skimp on the twists and turns of the crimes and cover-ups, while also drawing really layered teen characters.
Cozy Gay Period Mysteries
A nice English country house with some gentlemen falling in love? That’s my sweet spot. Magic is nice, but not required.
- Cat Sebastian’s Hither, Page and The Missing Page are both really sweet romances/mysteries between a country doctor reeling from his experiences in the first World War, and a spy who might be ready to get out of the business and find a more settled life. She’s written loads of books that are all fun, but I think I like the 20th-century setting of these more than all her others.
- A Marvellous Light, the first in a planned triology, is set Edwardian England–according to the publisher’s website, this makes it a “gaslamp” story–but has similar sort of “odd couple fall in love while solving a mystery” vibes. This one does happen to involve magic, and I do always love it when books have scenes–and this one has many!–where non-magical people suddenly learn that magic exists. It’s like the book version of “It’s bigger on the inside!”
Non-fiction about Archaeology
This is a very specific category of books, but somehow reading about the ancient world is very calming?
- Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox is actually about 20th-century efforts to decipher an ancient language, with a little everygreen sexism in academia thrown in for good measure. Fascinating for anyone who likes process-y stuff and/or grammar nerds, since it walks through how scholars figure out unknown languages.
- Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson is technically about the archeologists who do the work, not the history itself, but it was also fascinating and totally made me want to go dig in the dirt.
I do read literary fiction, although it can be a hard sell when I’m looking for comfort. Of late I’ve felt overwhelmed when I see a big doorstop of a book, but both of these were comparatively short, which made them feel achievable.
- Matrix, by Lauren Groff, was probably the best thing I’ve read all year. It’s the story of a medieval nun who runs an abbey in France. It mostly focused on her internal life as she travels through a life that may seem very small by modern standards, but is huge in spirit. I feel like every description of this book made me less interested in reading it, but it was very compelling and felt more modern than it had any right to.
- I remember enjoying Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clark when it first came out and I also liked the TV adaption of it. But for some reason, her second book Piranesi never caught my attention. I think something about the cover, and maybe the title, made me think it was going to be weird? I don’t generally mind weird, but something turned me off of it. Well, it was kind of weird, but not in a “weird for weird’s sake way.” Instead, it was one of those stories where you have to roll along for the first about 40% not really knowing what’s going on, just having faith that things will become clear. And then suddenly clues start dropping and the rush you get when you start figuring things out is so fun!
Finally, I’ll give a plug to something I was extremely skeptical of for a long time: book podcasts. I love podcasts and listen to many, many hours of true crime and comedy and pop culture discussion every week, but I’ve actively stayed away from reading-related podcasts. I think I was worried that I would feel bad about all the books I hadn’t read and would just end up adding to my already endless To Be Read list? But I’ve found two podcasts that are nicely calibrated to avoid those problems. Currently Reading and Reading Glasses are similar in structure, in that the hosts will talk about the books they are reading or have just finished, but then also address more general topic like remembering what you read, or the best tote bags for books, or how to get into books in translation or in a certain genre. And while I have definitely read things based on their recommendations–I read Piranesi after one of the Currently Reading hosts said it was basically a murder mystery–most of the time they describe books in such clear ways that I often end up deciding that the books they describe are not for me after all. Plus, these shows both manage to release an episode every week, so if you’re looking for book talk more often than the once-a-year schedule I seem to be working on, these could be for you!