My Top 2 Books for 2019

Last year I picked 10 books. In 2019 I read over 50 books, but I’m only picking a top two. These two books were by far the best two books I read this year, and trying to come up with 8 more to live with them on a list seemed almost insulting. I even gave a few others 5 stars. But these books both entranced me and stuck with me.

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig


I picked this book up because I follow Chuck on twitter and I’d read a couple other things he wrote and enjoyed them. I thought I’d like Wanderers, too.

Like is not a strong enough word. This is the perfect book for when you want to engross yourself in something epic. It’s long and winding but entertaining every step of the way. While there are many post-apocalyptic books out there, fewer actually occur during the apocalypse. I think a rapid decay of the world is difficult to write, and Wendig does it masterfully. He manages to include a variety of protagonists all with depth and room for growth. This book covers the end of the world from the first strange occurrence to the shocking end.

I thought Wanderers was going to be my number one book in 2019. How could I read something I enjoyed better? It wasn’t possible. Learn more.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo


Until I read Ninth House. Leigh Bardugo wrote one of my favorite YA fantasies, Six of Crows. (It’s a fantasy heist story!) Ninth House is for adults. I’d call it urban fantasy, although it’s set on Yale’s campus and not a major city. It also forgoes a lot of things that are often found in urban fantasy that I’m not particularly interested in: vampires, demon hunters, and explicit cross-species sex scenes. (I’m fine with these things existing, and if you like them, great, but it’s not really my cup of tea.)

I do like creepy magic and secret societies. I love creepy magic and secret societies. The creepier and more secret the better, and this book delivers. Now, a book could be chock full of creepy magic and secret societies and still not be a good read (although I’d probably read it anyway). This book wraps the creepy magic and secret societies around the mysterious death of a woman, a Yale student who can see ghosts, and her mentor who disappears. It also tackles some serious issues.

Here’s the thing about me: I read every night before I go to sleep. That’s how I read over 50 books in a year without really trying. I have to read. I read until my eyelids get heavy and I start to fall asleep.

After finishing Ninth House I couldn’t read. I didn’t read another book for about a week. I couldn’t get this book out of my head and I knew nothing else would be as satisfying. I don’t think it’s a literary masterpiece that will eventually be read by disgruntled English 101 students, but it hit every note for me and I absolutely loved it. (We read it for my work book club, and everyone who came to the discussion gave it a positive review.) While it could be read as a stand-alone and it has a solid ending, I still can’t wait for the sequel. Learn more.

Cover photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash. According to the Unsplash description, this is the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale.

My Top 10 Books for 2018

2018 was the year of “I’m not sure I’m going to like this book, oh wait, I love it.” A list of books that I was skeptical about at first, in the order that I read them.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

I’d read Laini Taylor’s book Daughter of Smoke and Bone and barely finished it. I’d liked her writing style, but the plot read like something a bad fanfic author would cobble together. Then came Strange the Dreamer, which sounded like a book I would enjoy, but I was hesitant. After hearing enough people tell me they hadn’t liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone either, but they’d given Strange the Dreamer a try and loved it, I picked up the book and instantly became one of them.

This book is for you if: You love unusual fantasy, you’re quiet and bookish and want to read about a protagonist like yourself, you have a vivid imagination.

Buy it from Amazon or your favorite bookstore, or check it out from your local library.

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials were my absolute favorites when I was younger, and when I found out about La Belle Sauvage I was afraid it wouldn’t measure up. It did. I can’t wait for the next one.

This book is for you if: You loved His Dark Materials, you want to read a book with a kind and nurturing young male protagonist, you get ocular migraines and want to read a really good description of them that makes them feel like magic (it’s perfect).

Buy it from Amazon or your favorite bookstore, or check it out from your local library.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

There was so much hype for The Hate U Give built up before I had a chance to read it, I wondered if it would be one of those times when the hype doesn’t live up to the reality. Thankfully, I did. This book made me laugh, cry, and think.

This book is for you if: You’re not sure if it’s as good as you keep hearing (it is), you don’t understand why Black Lives Matter is such a big deal, you like realistic fiction (this is the only completely magic-free, non-sci-fi fiction book on my list).

Buy it from Amazon or your favorite bookstore, or check it out from your local library.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

This was the first book I read for my work’s bookclub, and let’s just say I don’t read a ton of non-fiction. Or, when I do, it’s usually either memoirs of people who were in a cult or memoirs of female comedians. But I thought, having something go really wrong with your brain is kind of like being in a cult, right? So I gave it a shot. And it was not only very well-written (always a gamble with memoirs) but incredibly interesting. I was hooked. I could not put this thing down.

This book is for you if: You usually prefer fiction but are down for a memoir, you’re interested in how the brain works, you like happy endings.

Buy it from Amazon or your favorite bookstore, or check it out from your local library.

Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders

While I love short stories, I often have a difficult time with short story collectionsbecause there’s no piece of plot enticing me to read the next one. Except when they’re so amazingly good you can’t wait to read another one.

This book is for you if: You’re looking for a short read, you like books that leave you thinking, you wonder what it would be like to know the future.

Buy it from Amazon or your favorite bookstore, or check it out from your local library.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

I was given this book through my work’s gift exchange. A few days later, and before I had the chance to read the book, I saw a preview for the film at the theater. The film didn’t look like my cup of tea. It started out interesting, but from the preview it looked like a jump-scare horror film. Not for me.

I haven’t seen the movie, but I loved the book. It’s creepy, sure, but no jump scares.

This book is for you if: You like sci-if but are sick of all the usual tropes, you want to read a book that reads like a plot-driven adventure video game, you know the book is better than the movie.

Buy it from Amazon or your favorite bookstore, or check it out from your local library.

Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson

This was one of my Amazon Prime’s first pick selections. I thought it was going to be chick lit. Don’t get me wrong, I like chick lit. But a lot of it is shallow and forgettable. I’m not even sure if I could call Matchmaking for Beginners chick lit. It’s an incredibly well-written female coming of age story. Reading this book made me want to write again.

This book is for you if: You want to read something that makes you a better person just by reading it, you like a little magic in your realistic fiction, you briefly lived in New York and sometimes missing it hurts.

Buy it from Amazon or your favorite bookstore, or check it out from your local library.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

I loved Uprooted and didn’t think Spinning Silver could be as good. It was even better. The world is more mysterious, the heroine has more agency, and the story is this wondrous gradual journey.

This book is for you if: You like fairytale retellings but are sick of Beauty and the Beast, you like plots that move slowly but still push forward, you don’t like passive protagonists.

Buy it from Amazon or your favorite bookstore, or check it out from your local library.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

I lied at the beginning. I knew I’d like this one. But work book club’s reaction was not as positive as my own. Perhaps that counts.

This is the one book on this list that I knew I would like before I read it. A friend recommended it and she was spot on. I’ll say though, that it’s not an easy read. The protagonist lives with racism, slavery, and sexual assault and it’s brutal. There’s no toning down or romanticizing. But the writing is beautiful and everything about it is a powerful read.

This book is for you if: You like fiction with enclosed settings (space ships, bunkers, deserted islands, underground silos, speeding trains), you want more diverse protagonists, you like sci-fi that’s more about people than tech.

Buy it from Amazon or your favorite bookstore, or check it out from your local library.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I don’t read much self help. (I do listen to the By The Book podcast, though!) I never read Eat, Pray, Love. But people who’s opinions I trust kept talking about how amazing this book is, so I grabbed it with an audible credit. I’m so glad I did. Rarely I’ll read a book that feels like it was written just for me, right at this particular place in my life. Who knew it would be a self help book written by the Eat Pray Love author? Other people, apparently. But not me.

This book is for you if: You want to be a creative person, but you don’t know how or you don’t have time or you don’t think you’re good enough, you cringe whenever people say to “find your passion”, you don’t feel like you’re living your best most creative life.

Buy it from Amazon or your favorite bookstore, or check it out from your local library.

My first read for 2019? Finishing up a long series with Kingdom of Ash. So many feels!

Cover Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash. Old books, new books, I love them all.

My Top 10 Books For 2018

Reading, Playing, Writing, Doing – Final Edition

This is going to be the last “Reading, Playing, Writing, Doing” update, but it’s not going away! I’m merging this feature in with Happy Friday. Instead of just a list of links, Happy Friday posts will now include this information about what I’ve been up to. I enjoy writing this more than the link lists. On Friday I look at my Happy Friday draft and see two links in there and then I have to scramble to find more so it feels like a full post.

Yes, I feel like I’m in one of these things


I finished Song of Achilles and started An Unkindness of Ghosts. Since I bought a paper copy, I wanted to get my lamp setup for comfortable reading. The outlet was too far from the bed so I looked for an extension cord. My fiancé said there was one in the garage that was nine feet long. While nine feet was too much, he went and got it anyway. It was closer to 20 feet. Too long. I looked behind the bed headboard and, lo and behold, an outlet! The bed had to be moved a little, but now the lamp is in the perfect spot.


After a cultural victory in Civ 6, I’m finally done with Civ 6. This left more time to play World of Warcraft. Since my fiancé and I are leveling Alliance characters together, I’ve been playing my Horde character solo.  Here she is dressed up like a pirate:

I love that her ears stick out of her hat!

I’ve been having more fun with the Horde side quests than the Alliance ones. Princess Talanji might be my new favorite character. Sylvanas, who? Forget the Horde, I want to defect and join the Zandalar. Even though I’m a Blood Elf and not a Troll. I’m saving how much fun I’m having in Vol’Dun for another post.


My main writing accomplishment this week was to complete the outline of the one short story idea I have. It’s about the apocalypse, psychological experimentation, and a strawberry.


The theme for the week was “meals with relatives.” We made dinner for my uncle who’s officiating our wedding and my aunt. I cooked these herb butter chicken thighs and they were as easy and amazing the second time as the first. We made waffles for breakfast for my parents. Tonight we’re having dinner with my fiancé’s mom and his aunt. For once we’re not cooking!

Yesterday we went to the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. There we picked up some deliciously tart rhubarb jam and smoked salmon. We had brunch at Social, which is one of our favorite places mainly because the first time we were there they gave us two free appetizers. I had the prettiest looking avocado toast ever.

Yes, I took a photo of it which cements me in the “basic millennial” category. It was so good though!

There’s just one strawberry in my story, but I’d probably eat all of these in real life. Cover photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash.

Reading, Playing, Writing, Doing – August 19 Edition

It’s the end of one week and the beginning of another. Here’s what I’ve been up to this past week.


I finished Spinning Silver and added a brief review on Goodreads, then picked Song of Achilles back up. I loved the book at first, but now that they’re at war I’ve found it less interesting.

Next on my list are these two books. I actually bought paper copies, so I took a #bookstagram photo:


I think I may have just ended my Civ 6 addiction. As in, just now. I was playing away and thought I’d switch governments. I thought we could handle 3 days of anarchy. We could not handle three days of anarchy. Now America is ahead. Darn you, Teddy!

My fiancé has gotten more into WoW than me. He’s been leveling up a new character from the beginning during nap time while I’ve been trying to take over the world. We hit 112 on our mains last night.


I decided I want to write some short stories. The trouble is, I’m stuck when it comes to short story ideas. Short stories have constraints that can be both helpful and bang-your-head-against-the-wall inducing. I picked up Damn Good Story because I wanted to improve my writing of short stories in particular, but I couldn’t find a short story-centric book that looked good. I love Chuck Wendig’s blog so I thought I’d give his book a try.


Several months ago I started going to Physical Therapy because of related problems in my neck and left hand. It was keeping me awake and hindering my knitting. My therapist discharged me earlier this week and I can knit again! I’m starting a hat for my mom. I finished the swatch yesterday:

My swatch sitting on my sticker covered laptop. It’s Malabrigo Rios in Chamaleon.

Next I need to cast on but the Long Tail Tubular Cast On is giving me trouble. You have to finish all the stitches in one go and it requires attention. It’s not mistake-friendly at all. I have the hang of the mechanics but mess up the pattern. I’m hoping to get it done before bedtime tonight.

Do you knit or crochet? Friend me on Ravelry!

I’ve got some reading to catch up on! Cover photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash.

Reading, Playing, Writing, Doing – August 12 Edition

Unlike last week, this has been a busy week with work, kid stuff, and other responsibilities. I’m impressed that I managed to get some reading and gaming in this week. Notice that I didn’t mention writing.


I noticed Naomi Novik had a new book out. I’d loved Uprooted and Spinning Silver appeared to be in the same vein. I put Song of Achilles on hold to read it.


Spinning Silver has a slower pace than Uprooted but I’m still enjoying it. I love Miryam. This is good, because I put a book about sled dogs on hold to read Song of Achilles and I put down Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers on hold to read that. I want to finish Starship Troopers someday but I’ll probably have to at least skim what I already read because I can’t remember what happened. The sled dog book belongs to a friend; I’m sure she’d like it back if she hasn’t forgotten it exists.

“Hey Alli. Finish the sled dogs book!” Photo by Jérémy Stenuit on Unsplash.


The fiancé and I have been playing World of Warcraft together. We did the new Siege of Lordaeron content last night, but his computer crashed during it and he had to reboot. I’m finding warrior-ing difficult because you can’t just stand there and blast things. You have to move around and my character constantly yells at me that we don’t have a target. Bosses are fun, but the lesser mobs die too quickly when 7 other players are fighting them.

Otherwise it’s been Civ 6 all the time. I finished (lost) my game as Gilgamesh and started a new one as Tomyris. I wanted to play more aggressively.

Screenshot 2018-08-11 16.02.53
I’m about to kick Arabia’s butt. Until Egypt and Russia declare war on me, too.

Now all the Civs think I’m a warmonger and dislike me, except for Brazil. I managed to sweet talk Brazil into a friendship. Next I want to start a long game with a huge map and only 3 other civilizations.


Even my blogging suffered from my business last week. This week may be busy as well, with work, physical therapy, a meetup, and wedding plans. With writing blog posts, I can write a little and feel accomplished. The novel is harder.


Saturday morning two of my cousins took our engagement photos. They were more family photos since we included Indy. He did not want to cooperate. He’d only met the cousins a few times and I don’t think he remembered them. He’s been in a defiant stage and wants to say no to everything. I think we got a few good ones. When we were done, after Indy avoided my cousins the whole time, Indy decided he wanted to go home with them. He held their hands out to their cars. Okay, kid.

Much of Spinning Silver takes place in a frozen world, similar to the one in the cover photo. Photo by Jaanus Jagomägi on Unsplash.


Reading, Playing, Writing, Doing – August 5 Edition

Here’s a recap of what I’ve been reading, playing, and doing this week! It’s been a fairly low-key week. My fiancé took Indy to his mom’s (Indy’s grandma’s) yesterday morning, so I was able to have some alone time. As an introvert, this is essential, and as a mom, this is rare. It also means more time for reading and gaming!



Our pick for this month for work book club is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It tells the story of Greek hero Achilles from the point of view of his partner, Patroclus. Miller doesn’t hesitate to capture how terrible it was for nearly everyone in ancient Greek society, particularly women. My knowledge of Achilles from from the film Troy. I know how the story ends, but I’m engrossed regardless. My coworker liked it so much he’s already read another book by the author plus The Iliad and The Odyssey.


After a bit of fun playing our low level goblins, my fiancé and I decided to pick something to boost to 110. After all my talk of going Horde, we picked Alliance. He wanted to be a Gnome. He’s a Mage and so I picked a Draenai Warrior. I thought if I could tank we could more easily get into dungeons.

Flash forward to after I confirmed the boost when I remember why I never tanked before. I get lost. The tank always seems to be the person who knows where to go next in a dungeon and I am terrible with directions. I suppose if it’s too terrible I could switch specs or finish leveling something I started way back when. A healer this time.

I spent most of today’s nap time playing Civ 6. I have a special relationship with Civ and Sims games that involves buying the latest version right away, playing it at launch, then initially hating it and wanting to jump back to the previous version. Then I’ll let it be for a while until I get the urge to play again, and at that point I’ll be hooked. Sims 4 has been more difficult and I still miss some of the features from Sims 3, but I’m totally on board with Civ 6. The Civ games are a series I can see myself playing with my kid when he’s older. My latest game has been as Gilgamesh.


Although, reading Song of Achilles has me wanting to play as Greece. I hardly ever Finish Civ games so I’ll probably start over!


Last week I wrote a lot of blog posts! I’m sure that will continue this week. Currently bouncing around in my head is a great idea for a fantasy novel, but I’ve been really itching to write a short story. Maybe I could condense the concept into something smaller. Meanwhile my in progress novel remains untouched.


We tried a new taco place: Stan Diego. It’s a joke, because the town it’s in is called Standale. There is a big orange VW van with surfboards on it inside which I think is supposed to represent San Diego. I’ve been there several times and never saw one. Indoor vehicles aside, the chicken taco was phenomenal.

I normally don’t take pictures inside restaurants (unless it’s I’m instagramming my food, obviously). This time I felt the need to send this to my friend who lives in San (not Stan) Diego.

This morning we rode our bikes to a nearby park which boasts a play area for smaller kids. I found this appealing because I’m always terrified Indy is going to fall off big play equipment. Of course, the first thing he wanted to do was go down the slide in the big kid area. The tall one where the hand rail is higher than his head. He also climbed up the jungle gym, with me right behind.

The bike ride part was genius. It’s easier to get a toddler to leave the playground if he’s going in a bike trailer instead of the car.

What did you read, play, write, or do last week? I need to publish this post now–before my bedtime!