This is the most books I’ve read in a year since I was a teenager. Perhaps even more than then, as I can’t be sure about the pre-Goodreads/Storygraph era. All I know is that I used to carry a schoolbag laden with library discoveries and beg my parents for books each birthday and Christmas. Well, those days are back, except now I am the one funding my very expensive reading habits. But there are worse things I could be spending money on, right?
This year, I read seventy books. That number feels insane! I was aiming for sixty books, but a beach holiday in Greece got me well on my way to that, so I decided to increase the challenge.
I’ll be honest: I cut it very close, only finishing my 70th book two days before the year ended. I was stressed for a moment. Reading is meant to be relaxing, but not on this deadline.
Usually, I rank all of the books I’ve read in a year, but no one wants a list of seventy books. So, instead, let’s check out the seven books that stood out amongst the rest.
A friend loaned me her copy of Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner and insisted I try it. I often find that the best books are the ones that someone close to you enjoyed first, as it just adds another layer to the reading experience.
In this memoir, Michelle recounts her difficult relationship with her mother, and how they shared a deep love of food. It’s an account of slowly losing her mother to illness, as well as her general experiences of growing up mixed-race.
Crying in H Mart is an unflinching look at grief, both the beauty and ugliness of it, and how we must search for solace wherever we can. For Michelle, this is through connecting to a heritage she knows little of through food, and finding peace through cooking.
Anyone who has experienced a loss like Michelle’s will feel so seen by this book, and anyone who hasn’t will merely weep at the empathy she evokes through her careful prose.
“From the indie rock star Japanese Breakfast, an unflinching, powerful, deeply moving memoir about growing up mixed-race, Korean food, losing her Korean mother, and forging her own identity.” — Goodreads
Even if you’re not a huge fantasy reader, I recommend giving The Poppy War a chance, especially if you enjoy history. This series weaves Chinese history (particularly the Western and Japanese occupation) into a story of power, corruption, belief, and strength.
There are no good guys in this story, only heroes who live long enough to become villains. It was agonizing to read in the way that only the best books can be. It is not for the faint-hearted, as there is a lot of violence depicted. But it is a stunning take on the brutal history and woven so deeply into the truth of faith.
Don’t mistake it for a romantasy book, it is pure historical fantasy. But it is truly on another level.
“Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.” - Goodreads
Now that I’ve read this incredible book, I don’t understand how we’re all not talking about it all of the time. It is a love story, but not between the two main characters. It’s about the love in friendship, the love in ambition, the love in passion, the love in survival, and so much more.
This book spans so many years and topics, and yet it took its time, guiding the reader through all of it. I also love how much detail goes into the gaming industry, and you can tell Zevin is intimately familiar with it. We need to discuss Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow far more than we do!
“In this exhilarating novel, two friends--often in love, but never lovers--come together as creative partners in the world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality.” - Goodreads
You’re definitely going to be seeing Fourth Wing on a lot of lists this year, and that’s because it is just that good. I don’t believe it is ‘overhyped’, I think it deserves all of the attention it is getting. This book (and the series as it is coming) is well-thought-out and carefully constructed. It takes tropes yet reimagines them, creating something unique in every relationship in the novel.
But what really stands out to me in this novel is the representation. Most clearly in Violet, who has an illness resembling Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. She manages to overcome it to achieve incredible things, but also is helped and assisted, which I think speaks to equity over equality.
That’s not the extent of the diversity. Queerness is woven into the story without needing to be explicitly stated or the characters' identity; many are described to be intimate with both genders. There is a non-binary character consistently referred to with the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’, without it being an issue. And finally, there is a deaf character and sign language is portrayed to be a normal thing to know. One character is even embarrassed not to know it and asks to learn it.
Aside from that important aspect, it’s a high-paced, exciting novel with dragons!
“Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda—because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die” - Goodreads
I have been intending to read Know My Name for years, but I’ve been a little afraid. I knew it was going to be a powerful and heartbreaking book. I remember the Brock Turner case so clearly and the tears I shed reading Chanel’s witness statement. I didn’t know if I could handle reading the story around it.
While this book is by no means easy to read, it is worth the effort. It is so personal and vulnerable, and with the sadness of the events that night comes the hope in Chanel’s story. It’s a tale of strength, and focuses a lot on what happens after the life-changing event. We get to follow Chanel build herself back up and handle more than she ever thought she could. It’s a testament to her strength.
“Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.” - Goodreads
I wish I could capture into words exactly what makes this series so incredible. I think it’s largely the main character. She’s by no means a purely likeable character. She is stubborn and so frustrating, but the strength she displays is admirable. The relationships are paramount to the novel, not just romantic ones, but friendships as well. The magic and fantasy aspects are woven in well, and it never feels like information is being dumped on you.
Sarah is an extremely talented writer and never fails to have you on the edge of your seat. I love that these books don’t just have a linear plot with a specific build-up, but it ebbs and flows, so you never know quite what will happen. She never relies on scene fillers to pass the time; everything is relevant, even if you don’t know how quite yet.
“In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom.” - Goodreads
I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Good Material a week before its release when I attended Dolly Alderton’s live event in London. Hearing her speak about this novel and everything that went into writing it made the reading experience even more special.
I very rarely read books from a male perspective, especially books about breakups. It was a fascinating turn of pace, and gave a familiar topic such a different take. Dolly is one of my favourite writers, and she brings her usual witty openness to this novel. I loved the view of a male comedian (even though I don’t think I’d date one after reading this!), and it was such an enjoyable book to read.
Plus, when you get to Jen’s chapter near the end… everything truly changes for the reader.
“Living out of a suitcase in his best friends’ spare room, waiting for his career as a stand-up comedian to finally take off, he struggles to process the life-ruining end of his relationship with the only woman he’s ever truly loved.” — Goodreads
There are so many more books I’d love to mention, but I promised to keep this short at seven books! So if you’d like more recommendations, I suggest checking out my fantasy reading guide, books I wish I could read for the first time again, and books to read on your next holiday.
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Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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