4 of my favorite books I’ve read this year (so far)

4 books to read

This year, I set out to read 100 books. We are now almost 1/4 of the way through the year, and I’ve just reached the quarter mark of my reading goal with 25 books. To celebrate, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite books I’ve read this year. At the end, I’ll share some of my secrets for reading fast. Also, I’d love if you commented with some of your favorite books you’ve read because I’m always looking for recommendations!

Note: These are affiliate links, which means I get a small kickback at no extra cost to you when you purchase through them. The recommendations are purely my own, based on my own reading experience.

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, by Meg Elison

midwifeBecause I’m currently working on a dystopian novel, I’ve been adding more of this genre to my reading list. This book surprised me at how much I loved it, and it tops my list for a reason. Meg Ellison is a San Francisco Bay Area writer, which is exciting to me since I live in the North Bay (hey neighbor!). This was also her first book, a fact that’s almost unbelievable when you begin reading this book. Elison’s way of rounding out her characters is incredible, and her description places you right there in the story.

The premise of the book is that a disease has swept over the earth, killing almost anyone, especially women. The women who do survive find they’re unable to get have children, as they and/or their infant dies during childbirth. Women are also such a rarity that those who have survived death are in danger of enslavement by predator men.

The main character is a female in this world, but she takes on the persona of a man to keep herself safe. The way Elison changes this character’s identity is seamless and artful. With an inexperienced author, it could have come off as confusing, but not so with Elison. The author addresses gender roles, sexuality, morality, and the different ways people cope in the fall of society in this story, and does so with grace and utter believability.

This was one of the first books I read this year, and it’s still stuck with me. It’s the first of a trilogy, and I enjoyed the second book (The Book of Etta) just as much. The third book is due to publish in April.

Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson

jacobThis is an oldie from my childhood that I sat down with one day when I wasn’t feeling well and needed a book that felt kind of like a blanket. This was absolutely my book blanket. In fact, my husband walked in on me when I was almost to the end and caught me with a tear-streaked face and a sob in my throat. I pretty much cried the whole last half of the book, but it was that really good kind of cry that only a great book can produce.

The story follows Louise, a tomboy girl growing up in 1940s Chesapeake Bay, and the twin sister of beautiful Caroline, a girl as fair and delicate as much as Louise is dark and strong. As time goes on, we see Louise struggle with her identity, feeling held back because of the person she is compared to her sister. The story will resonate with anyone who struggles with jealousy or frustration, especially those who grew up with these feelings. It’s a middle grade to young adult book, but don’t let that fool you. The writing is beautiful, and it still stands strong almost 40 years after it was published.

5,331 Miles, by Willow Aster

5331milesI discovered Willow Aster because she teamed up with Tarryn Fisher (one of my favorite authors and human beings) to write the End of Men series, a steamy dystopian romance that will have you fanning yourself as you turn the pages.

5,331 Miles is much more innocent then the End of Men series, but no less incredible. It’s the endearing love story of Jaxson and Mirabelle, two English kids who grew up together and move to the US at separate times, and who also keep missing their chance at love. The characters are flawed and completely human, making mistake after mistake, and still remaining likeable. And the love scenes? Touching and beautiful. This one left me with a smile on my face.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon, by Sarah Addison Allen

moonSarah Addison Allen is tiptoeing her way into my favorite author slot. Her books have a hint of magic wrapped up in sweet character-driven stories, and her writing is beautifully descriptive, and just as magic as the storyline. This latest book was one I never wanted to end, and yet I couldn’t stop reading until it was done. It’s the story of Emily, a girl who goes to live with her grandfather after her mother dies, and discovers this quirky little town where her mother grew up….and that the noble, altruistic mother she grew up knowing was not the same girl the town knew. Emily finds herself living under the shadow of her mother’s mean girl persona as a teen, and she pays socially for her mother’s mistakes as the town turns their noses up at her. However, Emily also meets a few people who are willing to look past her mother’s mistakes and see the true person this girl really is.

As for the magic, it’s honestly just a sprinkling—which is what I love about Allen’s writing. She doesn’t try to overexplain it or even make it a huge part of the story, but offers just a taste of something mystical that enhances the sweet flavor of the story. I just finished the book last night, and it still lingering with me.

HOW I READ FAST

To read 25 books in three months, it takes a bit of strategy. First off, I read every day, mostly at night before I go to bed. This works because I don’t watch a ton of TV (though I do watch American Idol, and was seriously getting irritated that there were TWO two-hour episodes every week. So. Much. TV.). But the kind of books I read matters, too. First off, I do not pad my numbers with novellas, though I’m not opposed to the occasional short read. So far, all of the books I’ve read have been full-length novels. However, length does matter. There’s one book I’m reading that proved to be much longer than I anticipated, and I had to put it down because it was clogging up my progress. Now that I’m ahead of schedule, I plan to pick it up again.

I also pay attention to those genres I read faster than others. My favorite genres are dystopian or end-of-the-world books, magical realism, and romance. That last genre I read the fastest for several reasons. First, I really, really love a good falling in love story, and even better when paired with a bit of steaminess. Second, the writing in standard romance novels isn’t that dense, allowing the reader to breeze through the story without chewing on the words. Yes, I really love reading books with exquisite descriptions and incredible world building (Barbara Kingsolver is my queen). But sometimes I just want a book that serves as an escape. So when my book number is lagging, I reach for chick lit, romance, or any other kind of book that I know I can read in a day or two.

Finally, I make sure I read at least 8 books a month, and strive to read more (since 8×12=96). Once I reach that magic 8 number, I pick up any book I want, even the long ones, and keep on reading.

All right, your turn. What are some of your favorite books you’ve read? Go!

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Quit or continue: What to do if you don’t like the book you’re reading

so many books

At the beginning of this month, I joined thousands of readers to read Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick of the month. From what I could tell, Reese chooses a lot of fun novels that her reader fans love reading together. I thought it would be fun to turn my passion for reading into one that includes community, so I bought the February pick and started reading. It started out well enough, introducing all the characters and presenting a few issues that would become the theme of the book. But when I reached the middle of the book, I realized it wasn’t going to get any better. The conversations were too cute. The issues all felt fabricated. And it seemed like the author was just throwing things in to give the story diversity, but still lacked originality or depth. I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, since a glance at the comments on Reese’s Instagram revealed a lot of the same issues I was having with this book.

I felt cheated. I really wanted to read a book I could discuss with others who felt the same kind of passion I did. But more than that, I’m on a mission to read 100 books this year. This book had already taken 4 days of my reading time, and I was only 50% of the way through. To read 100 books in a year, my average reading time needs to be 3 days per book (I said “average.” Some books I breeze through—*hello, romance*—so that I have time to savor deeper stories). I was in a conundrum. If I finished this book, I would use up more of my precious reading time on a book I didn’t love. If I put it down and started over, that was 4 reading days wasted on a book I couldn’t count toward my goal.

Side note: I’m not naming the book, even though a quick search will tell you what book it is. My feelings are my own, and I don’t want to include my thoughts on this book to an internet search of the book. I recognize the hard work of any author who writes a book, regardless of whether I liked it or not. Her traditional publisher thought this book was good enough to be published and promoted. I am just the voice of one reader, and there are plenty of readers who felt differently and love the book.

I put this dilemma out there to those who follow me on Facebook and Instagram, and here’s what some people said:

  • I used to always finish every book I started, but there are so many books I want to read and so little time to do it in.
  • Stop reading it for a while, go back, read a chapter. If I can get that far, it is very difficult to stop. Each circumstance or book is unique.
  • Sad to say I quit. It’s tough to continue something that isn’t grasping your attention.
  • I used to keep going. These days I am just too busy to spend my life on something that I don’t find beneficial. I mean, if I don’t have another book at hand, I keep going though, because reading.
  • Life is too short and there are too many books to waste another minute!
  • I very rarely quit. Sometimes it pays off at the end and sometimes I’m just glad it’s over.
  • Far too many GREAT books to struggle through weak ones.
  • I actually POSTPONE. Sometimes, a really great book just needs a particular mindset and I may not have it when I first read it. I’ve had a number of books that I just couldn’t get into when I first attempted and weeks/months/years later have picked up and thoroughly enjoyed. There are, of course, others that I just couldn’t stand so I simply stopped.
  • In the same boat and still I keep going even though I am not remembering or even caring about what I’m reading. It’s all about powering thru.
  • I started skimming it, reading a sentence here and there to get the flavor of the story or topic.

As you can see, most of these commenters think you should quit if a book isn’t grasping you the way you should. In the end, I powered through the book to reach the end. My feelings over my reading investment overruled my desire to give up on the book. I felt slightly better having reached the conclusion, though no less frustrated with the lacking depth of the story.

However, I have come to the realization that if I truly don’t like a book, the best thing I can do is put it down and start another. Like one person wrote, I can always pick it up later when I’m in the space to read it. Like another person wrote, there are too many great books out there to struggle with one I don’t find that great.

My friend Becky, who blogs for The Page Sage and The Bookworm, advises readers to give books to page 100 to decide whether a book is good or not. If it’s not, put it down and start another. “If you’re not enjoying it, don’t force yourself to finish it,” she says. “Reading is a time to unwind in another world for a while, not a time to suffer through something.”

How about you? What do you do if you don’t enjoy the book you’re reading? And what book would you absolutely recommend everyone read?