New Family Member and 2019 Books

Meet Penny, our new puppy, who is a lab-hound mix. She is just the sweetest!

We couldn’t be happier. I honestly didn’t know the level of happiness dog owners have, and now that I know, I really wish I would have gotten a dog sooner. The hassle and commitment it requires is all worth it.

I feel the same way about reading. It can seem like such a chore to pick up a book sometimes, sit myself down, and calm my soul enough to focus on the book instead of the million other things I have to get done. But when I manage to do that, it is a whole new level of enjoyment.

Somehow I read 6 books in October. I honestly don’t know how that happened. I have a spreadsheet filled with all the books I’m going to read, four per month, scheduled out to the year 2022. I am very serious about planning the most important things in my life and reading is no exception. You need to understand that I am a crazy person when it comes to planning. Every minute of every day is written down somewhere. I try to utilize every single scrap of time I have, because if I don’t, it just falls through the cracks of life unused and I don’t make progress on anything. I’m a working mom with two kids under 5, have a side hustle, a husband, two pets, and a hopefully-someday-writing career. I can’t afford to let ten minutes go by that I haven’t used in some way.

So it was quite the surprise when I realized I’d read more than my scheduled books, somehow, and that something magical is happening in my very tight calendar: I am naturally making room for reading. I don’t know where the time came from, and there is probably some other neglected duty that didn’t get done because of it. But this is the first time in my life when reading has been enough of an internalized priority that my mind understood it just had to read no matter what.

My goal for 2019 was to read 30 books. I managed to read 32, largely in part to my amazing book club. Get yourself a book club. There is nothing finer than finishing a book and being able to look forward to discussing it with friends.

Here are my top five picks from this year, but I honestly enjoyed pretty much all the books I read. You can click over to my Goodreads profile here if you want to see the other 27.

In no particular order, my entirely subjective list:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill – 5 stars

I really liked this book while I was reading it and immediately after. What I didn’t expect was that it would keep reverberating throughout my thoughts several months later. This book awoke my imagination in a way a book has not done since Harry Potter. But don’t read it expecting Harry Potter. It is its own animal, and it is a fantastic journey. A ritually abandoned baby is rescued by a kind witch who only meant to feed her on starlight but accidentally fed her the moonlight instead, and it gave the girl more magic than anyone could handle. In the middle of an abusive power situation (aka sadness farm), the chaotic magic in this girl upsets and frustrates the efforts of evil doers and good doers alike. This book delivered a delicious combination of adorable and dark, a balance that is not easily achieved, and ultimately made me feel wholesome by the end.

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal – 5 stars

Book two in the Lady Astronaut series. I am in love with this series. Because it is enjoyable, but also because it is the one book that is in the Science Fiction genre which is ALSO in the Historical Fiction genre, which bridges a gap between me and what most of my friends read. I find myself recommending this series to literally everyone, regardless of their preferred genre, because it has a little bit of everything. This second book is set in 1961 when the accelerated space program attempts a dangerous mission to mars. Funny, heartwarming, and little more Sci-Fi than the first book since it actually takes place in space. But the historical fiction element is still there, very much so.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz – 5 stars

This book. *shakes head* It starts off with two groups of people, one chasing the other, and before I realized it I was cheering for both to succeed, forgetting that they are antithesis to each other and that my heart was going to be broken when they finally faced off against each other. Set in a future where only-sort-of fair laws have been put in place to make sure sentient robots have rights, but no such carefully crafted rights protect humans from being indentured, robots and unfortunate humans alike struggle against the mass corporations and big pharma who control their lives and systems. When a pirate distributes a drug from big pharma to the populace for free, attempting to do a good work, then finds out the drug is flawed, she must work fast to fix her mistake before people die, and before the authorities catch up with her.

The fabricated future in this book is at times painfully close to our own present. It brings up all kinds of questions regarding autonomy, freedom, gender, and basic human rights. Be prepared for your brain to do some heavy lifting, but also to be blown away by the world building and sucked in by the characters.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – 5 stars

I’ll admit I read this one purely because I knew it was surrounded in controversy. I wanted to be a bit of a rebel. It was absolutely amazing and I loved every single minute of it. Every single word. Right up until the end, which spoiled the entire thing for me and made me wish I hadn’t read it (and not in a good way). I gave it five stars because it did truly take me on a journey that was so spectacular, even the worse ending could not take away from it. I just wish it had ended in a more satisfying way. A young girl who has been allowed to grow up playing with street urchins and hang around scholars stumbles onto a quest journey without really knowing it, and playing a large role that she is largely unaware she is playing in the grand scheme of things. Every human has a daemon perched on their shoulder in various animal forms, and she travels with her companion through danger and heartache, eventually coming to realize her place in the world. She is brave and headstrong while still acknowledging her fear. She is kind hearted. And, I mean, the whole armored bear protecting her thing was absolutely adorable. I definitely recommend reading this book, if for no other reason than to be familiar with what is actually in it instead of getting information from the radically polarized. But I’m certain you will find other reasons to read it as well. I want an armored bear plushie now.

The Pirates of Moonlit Bay by Samaire Provost – 5 stars

This book surprised me entirely! It’s by a fairly new author and doesn’t have a lot of visibility yet. And though it sounded a little too….much? (what with the main character being advertised as a princess and a pirate and a paladin), it ALL WORKS. It was so refreshing to read a book that threw convention to the wind that says you can’t have a main character be all those things. Hilarious, good-hearted, and generally joyful, while still dealing with harsh situations. There is a whole slew of strong female characters throughout in the most pleasant and empowering way. A princess runs away from a ball after being proposed to by someone she doesn’t want to marry. Before she can return home, she is kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery. But that doesn’t last long. On the journey to her new master, she escapes, befriends one of her enemies, battles fantastic beasts and becomes a sisterly protector over a fierce, shape-changing little girl who is actually a griffin. Then she’s captured again and works her way out of slavery once more by surrounding herself with other women allies and friends, drawing out their strengths and being clever as heck. If you like princesses, but also really like capable women, this book will show you the two are not exclusive while making you laugh and smile.

Honorable mentions, both 5 stars: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine and Skyward by Brandon Sanderson.

I started a new job this year, and the first book I listened to on my new commute was A Memory Called Empire. Thanks to Arkady Martine, my route to work is now forever going to make me think of foreign language poetry competitions and just how deadly they can be.

I was enthralled by Skyward, which was a nice surprise, seeing as how Sanderson can be hit and miss with me. True to Sanderson form, I was thrilled while I was reading the book, but as soon as it ended, it failed to leave a lasting change on me. So I consider it light and enjoyable reading. This would be a great book to read right after you read something heavy and need to just enjoy life again.

What were your favorite books from this past year?

Thanks for reading!

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