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The Top 12 Books I Read This Year

Old and New

By FloraPublished 2 months ago 21 min read
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The Top 12 Books I Read This Year
Photo by Tom Hermans on Unsplash

I can't think of a sparkly enough intro within the stress and busyness of the holidays....

So let's get straight into it. It turns out I didn't do anything but read this year. From my Goodreads list of over a hundred books I devoured since January 1st, these books made me think long after the last page and flooded my Goodreads with five stars.

(Nothing is in a particular order.)

O N E

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Goodreads Summary:

It is a perfect July morning, and Elle, a fifty-year-old happily married mother of three, awakens at "The Paper Palace"—the family summer place which she has visited every summer of her life. But this morning is different: last night Elle and her oldest friend Jonas crept out the back door into the darkness and had sex with each other for the first time, all while their spouses chatted away inside.

Now, over the next twenty-four hours, Elle will have to decide between the life she has made with her genuinely beloved husband, Peter, and the life she always imagined she would have had with her childhood love, Jonas, if a tragic event hadn't forever changed the course of their lives.

As Heller colors in the experiences that have led Elle to this day, we arrive at her ultimate decision with all its complexity. Tender yet devastating, The Paper Palace considers the tensions between desire and dignity, the legacies of abuse, and the crimes and misdemeanors of families.

Genres:

Family Drama, Romance, Fiction

Trigger Warnings:

Sexual abuse. Parental Abuse. Cheating.

Read if you like:

Complicated love stories, crying and laughing in one sitting, that complex feeling of simultaneous certainty and confusion, and the slow agony of healing.

My thoughts:

I devoured this novel. It was lined with such beautiful and powerful prose. The characters were complex and detailed. The story was heartbreaking and joy-inducing. Everything about it made me want to find out why Elle was the way she was and how she was going to move forward with her tangled life. I have bought this book for every book reader I know, and every single one has laughed, cried, and hung onto every word Cowley Heller gifted us with. Such a beautiful debut. I read it in February and still think about it and the feeling it gave me almost a year later.

T W O

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Goodreads Summary:

This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that the perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.

Genres:

Highschool Drama, Teen Romance, Fiction, Coming of Age

Trigger Warnings:

Sexual abuse. Drug use. Suicidal ideation.

Read if you like:

Reliving the complexities of teen love and desire, clever quips that make you laugh and think, reminiscing on the pain of being young, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the early 90s.

My thoughts:

I have adored the 2012 Perks of Being a Wallflower film for years and wanted to hear more from Charlie. Within a few pages, I was entranced by Charlie's mind and writing and wanted to hear his perspective on anything and everything. This book made my heart ache remembering the pain of being a teenager and made me fondly recall first love, best friends, and the torture and excitement of giving away one's innocence. I rarely read books more than once, but this one will be read over and over. I think I will always–like Charlie, Sam, and Patrick–be searching to feel infinite.

T H R E E

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Goodreads Summary:

Humbert Humbert - scholar, aesthete and romantic - has fallen completely and utterly in love with Dolores Haze, his landlady's gum-snapping, silky skinned twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lo herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love. Hilarious, flamboyant, heart-breaking and full of ingenious word play, Lolita is an immaculate, unforgettable masterpiece of obsession, delusion and lust.

Genre:

Drama, Fiction, I hate to say... Romance (In the effed-up perspective of Humbert Humbert)

Trigger Warnings:

Grooming. Pedophilia. Continual Sexual Abuse of a minor. Kidnapping. Murder.

Read if you like:

Reading outside of your comfort zone, exercising discernment, books that explore topics of morality and delusive, misguided love and desire, and finding humanity in mental illness while still holding people accountable.

My thoughts:

I read a review of this novel by Lisa of Troy on Goodreads that started with:

“I didn’t say I liked it. I said it fascinated me. There is a great difference.” - Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

And I think that is the perfect way to start. This book fascinated me. The story wasn't enjoyable, per se, but the mental battle and lingering questions were. Somehow Nabokov makes you care about–maybe even like–a grown man that has kidnapped, groomed, and continuously sexually assaulted a minor in the name of romance. As disturbing and infuriating as the novel is, it was captivating to see the evolution of Humbert Humbert and how trauma affected Lo's behaviour, development, and decision-making throughout her adolescence. It read like a study on the human condition, morality, and how we become the way that we are. I could only dare to stomach this book once, but once was enough to fascinate me for years to come.

F O U R

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Goodreads Summary:

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills - and it can be great: you've had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar - the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild - is the person thousands turn to for advice.

Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond. Rich with humor, insight, compassion - and absolute honesty - this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.

Genres:

Self-help, Advice Column, Memoir-esque, Essays, Humour

Trigger Warnings:

Anything and everything hard that humans go through and need advice for–childhood trauma, divorce, abuse, addiction, familial complexities, etc.

Read if you like:

Soul searching, tough love, tender moments within beautiful writing, brutal honesty, laughing through the pain, and being called Sweet Pea.

My thoughts:

I fell in love with Strayed's writing within the very first column. Her advice is brutally honest with the most tender intentions. She made me laugh, ache, reminisce and seek forgiveness. She gifts us with parallels to her own life experience that resonate beyond the questions that were asked. It made me want to go to Rumpus.net and read every single response she had ever put into the universe and buy her memoir, Wild. My soul feels like it was being held by a friend. This book will be in the hands of many of my friends this Christmas gifting season.

F I V E

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Goodreads Summary:

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Genre:

Historical Fiction, Romance, Old Hollywood Memoir-esque, LGBTQ

Trigger Warnings:

Homophobia. Verbal abuse. Terminal illness.

Read if you like:

The glamour and romance of Old Hollywood, career-driven young ladies that speak their minds, bittersweet moments, exploring the societal reactions and commentary of women aging, and feeling punched in the gut.

My thoughts:

I know, I know, I know. Everyone has read this book. But I only picked it up in March this year and it began a marathon of Taylor Jenkin Reid novels immediately after. This story felt like the perfect combination of magic and tragedy. It made me want to twirl in gowns of piling silk, have secret love affairs, and be a badass career woman. I fell in love with the tragic brilliance of Evelyn and the different types of love that defined her life. It made me ache for all the work we still have to do regarding homophobia, women in the workplace, society's negative perspective on women aging, and the right to privacy. I have such beautiful sorrow when I recall this story and want everyone to experience such an alluring, broken, and hopeful piece of work.

S I X

Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

Goodreads Summary:

Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more...?

Genre:

Graphic Novel, Teen Romance, LGBTQ, Dramedy

Trigger Warnings:

Homophobia.

Read if you like:

Smiling so hard your cheeks hurt, British love, Coming of age while coming out, and supportive friends that protect each other from homophobia and transphobia inflicted by close-minded, hate-filled people.

My thoughts:

I never imagined I would get into graphic novels, but this was the gateway to my curiosity. I stumbled across the Netflix series and pined over Charlie and Nick's relationship. It made me squeal with delight and pang with longing for their union. I kept saying OUT LOUD TO MYSELF "this is so cute oh my goodness this is so cute this is sooo cute oh my goooshhhh sooooo cuuutte!" Or "JUST KISS ALREADY!!!!!!" The art is stunning and the story is beyond cute. Read, read, read!

S E V E N

Lie With Me by Philippe Besson (translated by Molly Ringwald–of all people)

Goodreads Summary:

Just outside a hotel in Bordeaux, Philippe chances upon a young man who bears a striking resemblance to his first love. What follows is a look back at the relationship he’s never forgotten, a hidden affair with a gorgeous boy named Thomas during their last year of high school. Without ever acknowledging they know each other in the halls, they steal time to meet in secret, carrying on a passionate, world-altering affair.

Dazzlingly rendered in English by Ringwald in her first-ever translation, Besson’s powerfully moving coming-of-age story captures the eroticism and tenderness of first love—and the heartbreaking passage of time.

Genre:

French Drama, Romance, Fiction, LGBTQ, Coming of Age

Trigger Warnings:

Young death.

Read if you like:

Body and mind-consuming love, passion and longing, secret love affairs, coming of age in France, thinking what could have been, and beautiful, poetic prose.

My thoughts:

This book wasn't long enough. 150 pages of such beauty made me long for more, more, more. This book encapsulated first love in the most exacting way–insecurity, passion, doubt, obsession, immaturity, regret, and the road not taken. I hung onto every moment as the two pure dilettantes stumbled through their lives, trying to find their way. The shadow of their affections haunted even me and left me dreaming of them in another life, in another world.

E I G H T

What Happened to You? by PhD Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey

Goodreads Summary:

Have you ever wondered "Why did I do that?" or "Why can't I just control my behavior?" Others may judge our reactions and think, "What's wrong with that person?" When questioning our emotions, it's easy to place the blame on ourselves; holding ourselves and those around us to an impossible standard. It's time we started asking a different question.

Through deeply personal conversations, Oprah Winfrey and renowned brain and trauma expert Dr. Bruce Perry offer a groundbreaking and profound shift from asking “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”

Here, Winfrey shares stories from her own past, understanding through experience the vulnerability that comes from facing trauma and adversity at a young age. In conversation throughout the book, she and Dr. Perry focus on understanding people, behavior, and ourselves. It’s a subtle but profound shift in our approach to trauma, and it’s one that allows us to understand our pasts in order to clear a path to our future—opening the door to resilience and healing in a proven, powerful way.

Genre:

Self-Help, Educational, Psychology, Non-fiction, Mental Health

Trigger Warnings:

This book is exploring the effects of trauma, so imagine any trauma and it will likely be discussed at one moment or another.

Read if you like:

Trying to understand why you are the way you are, self-help, getting to know Oprah, cool sciencey brain things, and bettering your understanding of humanity and our imperfect condition.

My thoughts:

This book made me want to go and hug everybody in my line of vision. Humans are so special and go through way more than should be endured sometimes. We are the way we are for a reason. This book made me ponder two things:

1. You don't know people's stories and why they behaved in a certain matter (good or bad) and to have grace, forgiveness, and attempt understanding are gifts we can give society and ourselves. Cause trauma responses can range from violence, people pleasing, avoidance, compliance, extreme anger, depression, anxiety, etc. Instead of saying, what is wrong with you,? say, what happened to you?

2. Even when trauma can manipulate our brains and encourage destructive or hurtful behaviour, we still have the choice to find help, better understand why we are the way we are, and learn how to navigate and manage the mind and body's reaction to trauma. Therefore, understanding gives grace, forgiveness, and humanity to those struggling with trauma, but does not excuse or condone violent, irrational, or hurtful behaviour. Trauma shouldn't enable abuse. People need to seek help.

N I N E

Daisy Jones & The Six by Tayor Jenkins Reid

Goodreads Summary:

A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous break up.

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the real reason why they split at the absolute height of their popularity…until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go-Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Another band getting noticed is The Six, led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

Genre:

Historical Fiction, 70s Music Fiction, Romance, Drama

Trigger Warnings:

Drug and alcohol abuse. Abortion.

Read if you like:

The 70s, badass women, music, crying for what could have been, opening discussion about abortion and rights for women's bodies, and exploring different types of dreams within society.

My thoughts:

It made me wish I could listen to a Daisy & The Six record–but I guess living in their fictitious world for a moment will do. The most powerful part of this book for me was the conversations had by women. Although more than half of the band are males, the relationships between Daisy, Camila, Karen, and Simone made my heart bind to this novel. Jenkins Reid delved into the societal pressures put on women and explored multiple perspectives on women's rights and bodies, romantic relationships, having children, navigating careers, and the bonds between women.

T E N

I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

Goodreads Summary:

A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by iCarly and Sam & Cat star Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.

Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.

In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.

Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.

Genre:

Memoir, Non-fiction, Mental Health, Tragedy with Comedy

Trigger Warnings:

Eating Disorders. Parental Abuse. Suicidal ideation.

Read if you like:

Learning about the corruption within the entertainment industry, understanding eating disordered mental illnesses, laughing and crying within one page, dark humour, and relaying empathy for the struggles inflicted on child actors.

My thoughts:

I listen to the audiobook of this book because I wanted to hear McCurdy's story straight from her lips. Her storytelling and capability to convey so much emotion with simply the tone and infliction of her voice brought me to tears. She made me laugh, she made me cry, she made me want to take child Jeanette in my arms and rock her while she cried. Her story is so powerful and such a testament to the struggles young women have with the world's obsession with thin bodies, pretty faces, and the ability to be exploited. When I first read the title, I was shocked by the bluntness of it all, but the more I listened, the more I understood her. Maybe death was a mere symbol that a controlling, abusive relationship with her mother is done forever and now the healing can begin–beautifully, brutally, and blaring.

E L E V E N

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Goodreads Summary:

Bee Königswasser lives by a simple code: What would Marie Curie do? If NASA offered her the lead on a neuroengineering project - a literal dream come true - Marie would accept without hesitation. Duh. But the mother of modern physics never had to co-lead with Levi Ward.

Sure, Levi is attractive in a tall, dark, and piercing-eyes kind of way. But Levi made his feelings toward Bee very clear in grad school - archenemies work best employed in their own galaxies far, far away.

But when her equipment starts to go missing and the staff ignore her, Bee could swear she sees Levi softening into an ally, backing her plays, seconding her ideas... devouring her with those eyes. The possibilities have all her neurons firing.

But when it comes time to actually make a move and put her heart on the line, there's only one question that matters: What will Bee Königswasser do?

Genre:

Romance, Comedy, STEM fiction

Trigger Warnings:

Sexism. Vivid sexy scenes.

Read if you like:

Geeking out about science, brainy flirting, women kicking ass in the professional world, raging over sexism, steamy sexy scenes, men written by women, and awkward, cute couples.

My thoughts:

I have heard some backlash on this book. Some reviewers talked about how unrealistic and silly it was. And I say to that: THAT IS WHAT I WANT! I want silly endings and cheesy conversations and skewed emotions that sabotage the potential of love. I want brainy flirting and steamy sex. I want an unrealistic, yet real, ride of falling for someone and the insecurity, sabotage, and foolishness it brings. And this book was a delicious mix of it all. Some people like fantasy with dragons and swords, and some of us like fantasy with smart, sexy men that are obsessed with cute, driven women that they share great chemistry with (STEM wink) and explore the most random love story.

T W E L V E

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Goodreads Summary:

Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers begin slowly opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths.

First is Zara, a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else until tragedy changed her life. Now, she’s obsessed with visiting open houses to see how ordinary people live—and, perhaps, to set an old wrong to right. Then there’s Roger and Anna-Lena, an Ikea-addicted retired couple who are on a never-ending hunt for fixer-uppers to hide the fact that they don’t know how to fix their own failing marriage. Julia and Ro are a young lesbian couple and soon-to-be parents who are nervous about their chances for a successful life together since they can’t agree on anything. And there’s Estelle, an eighty-year-old woman who has lived long enough to be unimpressed by a masked bank robber waving a gun in her face. And despite the story she tells them all, Estelle hasn’t really come to the apartment to view it for her daughter, and her husband really isn’t outside parking the car.

As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.

Rich with Fredrik Backman’s “pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature” (Shelf Awareness), Anxious People’s whimsical plot serves up unforgettable insights into the human condition and a gentle reminder to be compassionate to all the anxious people we encounter every day.

Genre:

Comedy, Swedish Fiction, Drama, Mystery

Trigger Warnings:

Addiction. Suicide.

Read if you like:

Quirky fiction, smiling while you read, relatable characters, lighthearted mysteries, Sweden, and feeling warm and content as you close the book for the last time.

My thoughts:

This was the first Backman book I read, and I have started a rampage to get through his work. His style is so unique, clever, and quippy. Every page left me with a smile and a desire to delve even more into what makes each character, simply and brutally, human. They made a miniseries of this novel on Netflix with subtitles, and it made me fall even more in love with the story. Backman gave me the yearning to look beyond the surface of people and ask why, why, why. Why are you the way you are? I bet it is beautiful, scary, sad, and wonderful.

Okay, you didn't get a stellar intro, so you are getting an alike outro.

Comment with the best books you read this year or with your Goodreads name so we can geek out about books together.

Have a great holiday season! I hope Santa brings you some books.

xoxo Flora

book reviews
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About the Creator

Flora

𝒯𝑜𝓇𝑜𝓃𝓉𝑜-𝒷𝒶𝓈𝑒𝒹 W𝓇𝒾𝓉𝑒𝓇

𝕗𝕚𝕔𝕥𝕚𝕠𝕟, 𝕡𝕠𝕖𝕥𝕣𝕪, 𝕒𝕟𝕕 𝕙𝕦𝕞𝕠𝕦𝕣

@ꜰʟᴏʀᴀꜱ.ᴀᴜʀᴀ

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  • Rachel G. Davidabout a month ago

    the paper palace and anxious people are definitely in my top ten this year too! great list - can't wait to read the others.

  • Leslie Writes2 months ago

    Adding many of these to my list now! Thank you for sharing.

  • Michele Hardy2 months ago

    I like the diversity across genres in your reading list. And great insights.

  • Martha Ball2 months ago

    I appreciate your detailed reviews and thoughtful trigger warnings! Thanks for sharing.

  • Kendall Defoe2 months ago

    I read "Lolita" a few years ago and am impressed when anyone else picks it up. I am now reading Claire Keegan's "Small Things Like These" & this year I read a lot of Murakami, Etgar Keret, Joan Didion and Alice Walker's journals. I really want to read McCurdy's memoir... And next time, skip the trigger warnings! Life does not have any, and neither should books. ✌🏾

  • Melissa Ingoldsby2 months ago

    Awesome

  • Madoka Mori2 months ago

    100 books! And I thought I was doing well with my new year's resolution of a book a week. Dang. Highlight of the year was discovering Sarah Hall, who is a fantastic writer that I'd never heard of before. I read a few of hers, but I think 'Burntcoat' was my favourite. We got two new Cormac McCarthy books this year, which made me incredibly happy. I would also highlight the unexpected gems of Vurt by Jeff Noon — like nothing I've ever read before, it was like a fever dream or acid trip — and From Hell, the comic by Alan Moore that raised the medium into a true work of literature, it was asounding.

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