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Top 15 Recent Reads

I am fiercely monogamous, except when it comes to books- then I can never commit to one at a time.

My mom, my brother and I are all voracious readers, and it was common for all of us to all be reading

multiple things at once. This is because if one person set a book down for a moment, someone else

would eventually pick it up, and start reading before the original reader had a chance to finish.

Whenever that happened, it meant you’d have to find something else to read for a bit until the book

eventually resurfaced somewhere else in the house. It became an unspoken book distribution system,

and while for the most part we have similar tastes, it meant reading a wide variety of genres. I think it’s

why I’m habitually reading 5 or 6 books simultaneously, even now. The only time we’d all manage to sit

down and read a book from start to finish without it disappearing was when mom would read to us at night. Then, whatever book we were listening to would become sacrosanct and had a very specific spot it went, and it would stay there untouched until the next story time.

I have about 38 books under my belt this year, but these are my top 16-17 'fun' reads for 2023.

1. ‘The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II’, by Svetlana Alexievich, and

Soviet Women in Combat: A History of Violence on the Eastern Front’ by Anna Krylova.

I read these two books in quick succession, and they compliment each other nicely. I have always been

fascinated with WWII, particularly through the stories of individuals who lived through it, and Soviet

WWII narratives are a little harder to find because of propaganda and censorship. Krylova does an

excellent job of presenting information about female veterans, positions, battles, etc. which is

interesting and well-written, but there is very little regarding personal narratives or trauma. Alexievich

fills in these gaps quite nicely in the oral histories of survivors, reminding us that war is devastating, and

giving a voice to a largely invisible population.

2. The ‘100 Cupboards’ Series, by N. D. Wilson.

My friend from Maryland mailed these to me recently, and I was very excited to see that they were

based around a small town in Kansas not too far from me (Henry). I convinced her to read Harry Potter,

so she sent me her favorite series from childhood as a response…with sticky notes covering the

descriptions on the book jackets so I couldn’t peek ahead. I haven’t finished these yet, but I would agree

that the writing itself is superior to Rowling’s, and I’m enjoying them immensely.

3. Uprooted, by Naomi Novik.

This is a wonderful fantasy novel based on Polish folklore, which my friends and I started a mini book

club on. My friend, J. finished it before all of us, but he respectfully did not spoil the ending. It’s

beautifully written but is definitely not for children under 16. It does contain a lot of typical fantasy

tropes and feels like a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but has a unique enemy in The Wood and

characters that don’t feel like 2-dimensional blobs (cough cough Sara J. Maas cough). I feel like the

entire Slavic department would have nerded out over it, in the best way possible.

4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo

I took several books with me after visiting my family a few weeks ago, and this was one of them. I

remember reading it years ago, and it’s been nice going through it again, though I prefer the Disney


Like most of Hugo’s works, it is highly philosophical and a bit long, but worth reading. I don’t think I’ll

spoil it too much, but I will say three things: 1) the goat is in the book and plays an active role in the plot

2) Frollo is still creepy and tries to rape Esmerelda- and so does Phoebus, which is hard, because as an

animated character, he’s one of my favorite Disney heartthrobs. The good news is that Quasimodo beats

the crap out of both for it. 3) Esmerelda dies, despite Quasimodo’s efforts to save her. Frollo still gets

pushed off the roof, and Phoebus… well, he gets married. Phoebus is a manipulative, oily f*boy who

doesn’t like the word no, so while it sucks for his wife, I suppose being stuck in an unhappy marriage and

confined to a pretend life for the rest of his life is adequate.

5. Moonfire Bride, by Sylvia Mercedes

This is something I read last year, and I have been meaning to write a review of this for some time,

especially as I’ve been thinking about what kind of books I would like my daughter to read. I knew

almost as soon as I started reading this that it was based on Cupid and Psyche, which didn’t surprise me

as this author often uses mythology as templates. It’s worth reading and sweet, despite its predictability

and the imagery in it is wonderful. At some point, I will be posting a longer analysis in contrast with

another fairytale motif. If you like dark fantasy and romance, but want something more than smut, then

I’d highly recommend reading it.

6. Tulipomania, by Mike Dash

The 17th century was wild. If you have never heard of the tulip craze in Holland you’re missing out. This

book provides an overview of one of the strangest market bubbles and busts in history. Imagine a flower

being sold for the price of a house. Yup, dead serious. Suddenly all those still-life paintings of flowers make a lot more sense.

7. Until We have Faces, C.S. Lewis

Another adaptation of Cupid and Psyche, but with a totally different approach. This is C.S. Lewis’ final

work. It’s told through the eyes of Psyche’s sister, and while there’s a lot going on in the book, I think

most of it can be boiled down the fact that at some point, we may demand the divine be accountable,

but when we do, we will find instead that we must give an account for ourselves. The themes of love,

jealousy, possessive love, etc. make one think, and I feel there’s a message about true beauty being

found in being honest, especially with ourselves.

8. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

Another story I’d like to read to my little one someday. The main message of the novel is that good

friendship can overcome all obstacles, and I always found it very comforting as a small child. As an adult,

reading it feels like a warm bowl of soup on a winter night, and brought lots of happy memories to mind.

10. Unwind, by Neal Shusterman

This is a dystopian novel that is disturbing but thought provoking. I swiped it from my parents’ living

room when I was visiting my family a few weeks ago. It will make you think, and it’s one of those stories

that gets under your skin in a slimy, cold kind of way. I also found this short film based off of the book.

11. Son of Hammas, by Mosab Hassan Yousef

This is a book I remember reading in high school and I think it's even more relevant with current events. It is written by a Pakistani man who was a son of one of the Hammas leaders, and it is eye-opening. Mosab offers a perspective not often heard and worth considering, especially if you’re worried about only hearing the sound of one hand clapping on the news. He’s also remained consistent for over a decade.

12. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas

This is a book that my brother was telling me for years I needed to read. I am now very sorry that I didn't read this earlier because he's right- it's amazing. I don't want to give too many spoilers, but this novel is also based on a true story. While the person it's based on was essentially swallowed up and forgotten by history and did not get a happy ending in the real world, it's good that that there is justice in fiction.

I’m providing a link here as well for anyone curious about the story’s origins.

13. Man, Fuck this House, by Brian Asman

Seriously how can you NOT buy a book with such a fantastic title? This short book is a horror spoof and a comedy, and I found it very enjoyable. There were a few areas where the writing didn't flow as nicely as I would have liked, but it still works and is a very enjoyable novel that you can easily finish in the afternoon on the couch. It's oddly satisfying.

14. Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is probably my favorite contemporary writer and I'm very sad that he's dead. This is either the fourth or fifth book I've read by him and it's an absolute riot. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I will say there is only one Terry Pratchett, and he does not share power. I think The Colour of Magic is still my favorite simply because it was my introduction to the Discworld, but I have yet to be disappointed by anything he's written.

15. 'The Hero and the Crown' by Robin Mckinely

A classic fantasy novel from the 80's, this is also a book I procured via the 'book distribution system' this fall. It's got a strong female lead character without following a cringey template, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I have to read 'The Blue Sword' next.

16. The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit was a book that Tolkien arguably wrote for children, and I remember my mother reading it to me when I was 6 or 7 years old. Although it will be several years before I will have a kiddo who is big enough to understand it and appreciate it fully, I have made it an active goal to re-immerse myself in as many of the books my mother read to me as a child as possible so that I will be able do them justice when it's my turn to take over her role as the bedtime storyteller.

Again, I think abridged versions are for wimps, but one thing I do remember is getting very irritated over the very detailed descriptions of the dwarves' cloaks as a child (like realistically who has time to notice the colors of each unexpected guest's coat...??) Not the rest of the book but just that specific detail. I honestly really liked the details for the most part, but it seemed so random. Still, re-reading this is bringing back a lot of happy memories. I don't think any fantasy fan should go without it.

There is also a wonderful podcast called 'The Tolkien Professor' that I would also recommend, especially if you like to hear the thought process behind world building.

That's all for now folks. I might do more obscure reviews in the future, but the rest of my current reading list is either heavy, artsy, or otherwise "a little out there", and probably not something most people would rush to pick up at their local book store, unless they're into mysticism, sociology, or utterly bizarre history (for example the histories of things like the color mauve, salt, or Coca-Cola- I have about 16 oddly specific books like that!).


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