Last week I created a list of books that I felt were some of my worst reading experiences for the year. This week I have returned with something that has a much better resonation to it: the best reads I’ve encountered in the past three-hundred-sixty-some odd days. While I glance over the scribbles on this faded, white piece of lined paper lying next to my beaten-up laptop, I cannot help but feel a teensy bit of pride at this list. There are eleven total books listed and ¾ of this list consists of diverse books and books with proper representation. This is a great foundation for me to expand upon as a blogger and as an avid devourer of literature for the next set of fifty-ish weeks! Let’s take a look at the five-star-tastic list of titles! The order they’re all in is simple: from the first to the last; older to the newer.
- Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
A novel that is an exquisitely enrapturing, forthright, and heart-rending piece of literature that examines the complex relationship of two sisters, Pearl and May. They reside in Shanghai during a time of lush beauty, fashionable clothes, and presumptuous attitudes. Then Japan attacks and everything in their world is turned brutally upside down. This is a gripping and compelling story that spans a course of 20 years.
The reasons this book made it to my top 11 is because there is so much to learn within its pages. Some of these lessons include the American immigrant experience, which was immensely horrifying, an identity crisis that comes with assimilation and holding on tight to cultures and values acquired in the homeland, the terrible face of the atrocities of war, and (most importantly) the familial bonds that can help carry us along through life’s bullshit.
You will need tissues while reading this book! The emotions are like a tornado that picks you up in its overwhelming vortex until it just dumps you out in the fields to find your way back to reality.
- Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
Sputnik Sweetheart is about a young girl, Sumire, and her long-time best friend who’s revealed only as “K.” They have an uncensored friendship, where they discuss many things and topics, ranging from personal experiences to simple banter. Then Sumire falls in love and the world as she knows it begins to change and shift in ways that she never could have imagined.
“In the spring of her twenty-second year, Sumire fell in love for the first time in her life. An intense love, a veritable tornado sweeping across the plains–flattening everything in its path, tossing things up in the air, ripping them to shreds, crushing them to bits.“
Murakami’s able to excellently incorporate the right amount of surrealistic details necessary to make the story unsettling, haunting even. The emotional symbolism that plays with the magical lyricism of the narrative is breath-taking. There are cognitive metaphors that express the profound effects of love, and the abject ache that love can bring, and these are all expressed with piercingly realistic details. This is the very essence of literature that can show you a myriad or perspectives while maintaining an air of vague, minimalist specifics. It’s outstanding.
- Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti is a young woman of the Himba people, and she is the first of her people to ever receive admission to Oomza University, the finest educational institution in the whole galaxy.
Reasons why Binti is such an amazing work of art? It takes everything about science-fiction that I love—aliens, space, humans and their ability to adapt (or not)—and weaves it into a story that’s exquisitely dynamic and invigorating. It creates an absolutely enthralling and mentally engrossing experience for the imagination. Within a hundred pages, we get a story that has a distinguishable beginning, middle, and end. My favourite aspect is that the narrative is built upon the foundation of a faction of African culture and beliefs, specifically the country of Namibia. Science-fiction is not limited to the white saviours and heroes, but should be about the diversity that takes place outside of this world. Okorafor takes diversity and intertwines it with a very rich and rewarding atmosphere. This book shows us why diversity in science-fiction works, and how it splendidly kicks ass while doing it.
- Batman: Arkham Asylum – A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison
This graphic novel takes us to the madhouse where the inmates of Arkham Asylum have taken over with The Joker at its helm. Batman is demanded as the reward for the freedom of the hostages. Accepting this demented request, Batman makes his way through the asylum, where deep within the shadows of the detention centre, the Dark Knight comes face to face with some of his most insane demons yet.
I loved this comic for one simple reason: it BRILLIANTLY illustrates Batman as a human being who has imperfections and complex inner struggles just as any other human being out there. At the core of his super hero theatrics, he is nothing more than a man with some fucked up psychological issues that stems from trauma and grief. These are the elements that make Batman such an amazing hero. He understands the darkness that fuels his baddies in such an intimate way because he faces them day in and day out. The Dark Knight is not immune from insanity or limitations. Also, the artwork is sensationally complimentary to the dark, gothic, and disturbing contents of the tale. In a word, it’s stunning.
- Another by Yukito Ayatsuji
Another is an intellective horror suspense novel. It is far more eerie and creepy than it is frightening. It’s a paced intellectual story about a supernatural curse that has befallen third year middle-schoolers in fictitious Yomiyama, Japan.
There are quite a few elements that made Another such a stellar book. The first is the macabre atmosphere with tension that deepens with every page turned. It’s an all-encompassing uncomfortable heaviness of the inevitable. The second is subtlety. The subtext is so fluid and carefully masked in emotions, expressions, and things that are not said that it’s very difficult to predict the results. Lastly, the writing is twisted and haunting, original and stunningly strange. The prose is immaculate with words that feel scintillating yet accessible. Another is the epitome of intellectual thriller and is downright psychosomatic.
- The Sea of Monsters: Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book Two by Rick Riordan
I was genuinely surprised by the Percy Jackson series. It’s the series that got me hooked on middle-grade literature as a twenty-some-odd oldy reader lady. My favourite instalment of the serial is the second book. I won’t give a synopsis because I don’t want to spoil anything for readers who haven’t encountered this series yet. But for me, book number ni (2 in Japanese) had characters that I liked the most including the Cyclops Polyphemus. There’s nothing likeable about him, but goddamn he was entertaining. Aside from the cast, I liked the themes. This is where the seeds of maturity and growth in regards to relationships (friendly, romantic, and familial) start to take root within our teenage protagonist. From here on out, every action he takes in the following novels helps to shape him into a hero that many people can relate to. I enjoyed that very, very much. In long serials, such as this, the aspects I attract to the most are those points in a character’s life that you can look to and say, “There, everything changed at this exact moment.”
- Saga Volume 6
There’s not much I can say. Saga is just ingeniously, exciting, moving, perfection incarnate. As always, it’s a total and complete pleasure reading Saga. I’m so addicted to it, like a bad and wonderfully orgasmic nicotine habit.
“Well my mommy is from this planet and my daddy is from the moon and he loved her so much that he put his penis inside her and then I got in my mom’s tummy which made her happy except now she can’t go in bounce houses because they make her go pee a little bit.”
Did I mention that it’s marvellously creative and hilarious as well?
- Alice by Christina Henry
Alice is an adult retelling of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, but it’s not the sweet and innocent tale of madness that is illustrated in Carroll’s stories. This version is an extremely dark and twisted tale that has been dipped in gothic fantasy and horror that resides within a world of dystopia.
This read was absolutely fucking riveting. It’s an unapologetically visceral portrait of blood, gore, and rape. It will take your breath away with a morbid combination of shock and fascination. Then there is an overhanging fog of excitement that engulfs you as you watch two distinctive characters fight for freedom and peace of mind. Alice and Hatcher share chemistry that is built upon the trauma from their tragic pasts. This doesn’t leave any room for instalove bullshit, but a realistic exhibition of feelings built on the foundation of faith. Being a victim of rape, we see Alice struggle with feelings that she can’t differentiate as authentic, or gratitude towards a saviour. A superb exploration of what’s reality versus psychological conjuring keeps you questioning the legitimacy of what’s happening. Regardless of all of the dark and dreary elements, Alice shows us that having mental illnesses IS NOT A HINDERANCE TO SUCCESS AND INDEPENDENCE, but can sometimes be a means to finding those elements. Madness does not equate to lunacy. In fact, it’s usually the journey towards something extraordinary, and a life of victimization doesn’t mean you’re broken.
- Does My Head Look Big in This? By Randa Abdel-Fattah
At its core, it is a story about a young lady that makes a life-changing decision, to wear a hijab full-time, and she faces everything that goes with it.
This novel is delightfully positive. Yes, there are portions that deal with bullying, prejudice, over-bearing parentals, etc., which aren’t so pretty, however, in every situation there is a lesson to be learned. All the lessons offer a distinctively positive message that can resonate with folks of all ages, but especially with young adolescent girls. I strongly believe that every teen lady out there can learn something fabulous about themselves as individuals and strong-minded women by reading this, whether you’re a Muslim or not.
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
You want to talk about a big fucking shocker, this book was definitely it! I was not expecting this to be anything more than trashy smut set in Scotland. Boy, how fucking wrong was I! Gabaldon’s writing is stunningly beautiful, with a meticulously intelligent prose. This is a tremendously well-researched piece of literature, and a wondrous example of how a writer can create an outstanding novel with cultures they are unfamiliar so long as they have dedication and respect for said cultures. The relationships are imaginatively realistic. There is nothing crude, or tasteless about the sexual encounters. They are, once again, very natural and believable; very much what sex would be like between two people who had an emotional, or physical attraction to one another. There are some encounters that are sweetly intimate. Other scenes are simply about the carnal wants of human desire. There’s even a few sex scenes that’s just about two people wanting to be so close to one another to stave off their fears, loneliness, and impending bleak future. Gabaldon’s sex scenes are classy, mature, and genuine. Between the rich history and lush scenery, or the complex political intrigue and budding, epic romance—there’s just a bit of everything to keep it excellently irresistible.
- The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
“I feel skewed, as if someone’s taken my values and tugged them so far away from me that is seems ludicrous to reach out and try to grab them again.”
This novel totally blew my fucking mind. The characters, writing, plot, technical shit—it was all just so brilliantly put together that I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself after I finished it. It reads super-fast and is bewilderingly enrapturing. The novel knew where it was going and it was damn confident of itself, which made me more and more confident and secure in allowing myself to be carried away by it. The romance was unexpected, bittersweet, and pleasantly natural. There was no insta-love bullshit, or forced chemistry. In fact, the chemistry is sensationally ordinary and instinctive. Their personalities were a compliment to one another and the flow of emotions that begins to emanate is an evolution in their relationship. This is hands-down a phenomenal fucking read, and a tie for my number one most favourite book for 2016 (tied with Another).
That does it for my list! As always, ’twas a pleasure prattling about bookish tidbits with you all. I wish you all a happy biblio-holiday! But before I go… What are some of your most memorable and favourite reads of the year (so far)? — HAPPY HOLIDAYS & SEASON’S GREETINGS!!