I literally read 200 romance books last year, which is wild, but makes sense because 2018 was such a drain on me, mentally, emotionally, physically… You get it. It’s not that it was a bad year for me personally. I got the job I desperately wanted, but it meant moving out to the mountains and away from my sister and friends. But I got to travel a good amount to see my best friends so it wasn’t all bad. Anyway, the important thing is that even though I didn’t read a ton (I think 60 something?) of non-romance books, I definitely read enough to create a list of some really fantastic books that boosted my reading year!
1. Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is decide to leave when it is no longer wise to stay.
This book might not be perfect, but I loved it so much I pretty much haven’t stopped talking about it since I read it. Told from dual perspectives in completely different years, Next Year in Havana tells the story of the Cuban Revolution from the perspective of a young, rich socialite falling in love with a man fighting for Fidel Castro and the story of the socialite’s granddaughter taking her ashes to Cuba where she falls in love with a man who rebels against Cuba’s government. The amount that I loved both perspectives is really just overwhelming in its intensity. I learned so much about Cuba and it just blew my mind. For Cuba to have played such a part in our foreign relations, one might have thought it would be better taught in the US, but um, not to me, it wasn’t! Anyway, I literally cannot recommend this book enough and it’s truly excellent on audio.
2. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.
This book broke my heart and also was so beautifully written that I’m still in awe and I read it almost a full year ago. This fairly short novel tells the story of the descendants of two half-sisters, one of whom was sold into slavery and one of whom became the not quite wife of a British man who sold people. The way the intergenerational trauma is told through this book is eye-opening and heart breaking. The history of racial oppression in the United States is long and it’s so vividly clear in Homegoing that we haven’t quite managed to give truth to the promises made in the foundational documents of our nation, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” But we also get to see the events happening through descendants of the non-slave sister in Ghana and those were equally powerful. And while this book absolutely could have (and to some did!) go straight dark and bleak, I felt like it ended with a note of hopefulness that maybe, just maybe, we can do better and begin to heal the intergenerational trauma that we’ve caused.
3. You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
“Stop right there, Sonia Das. My Jesus is a brown-skinned carpenter who loves women.”
Speaking of generational stories, I absolutely adored this one by Mitali Perkins, which tells the story of one family which immigrated from India and settled in New York. Mitali writes so beautifully and brings such life into these characters that you can’t help but fall into the book so easily. I desperately want to re-read this book because the complex relationships between the women in this book (mother-daughter, sister-sister, grandmother-granddaughter) are all so brilliantly told and written. I just absolutely fell in love with Mitali Perkins writing and I’m really looking forward to picking up her release this year.
4. The Poet Xby Elizabeth Acevedo
I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.
I never expected to have a novel told in verse on any kind of favorites list and I was pretty reluctant to pick up The Poet X because I was convinced I wouldn’t like it. Well, that was stupid and thank God for Latinx Heritage Month because this book blew me away. The audiobook is narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo who is a slam poet herself and so it just blew me away. Speaking of complex relationships between women, the mother-daughter relationship in this novel is so, so complex and beautifully done. The relationship X has with Catholicism? Brilliantly detailed. There’s honestly not one thing I disliked about this book (I mean, I don’t like X’s mom, but I don’t think you’re meant to, so…).
5. Becoming by Michelle Obama
Failure is a feeling long before it’s an actual result.
Is there anything to say about Becoming besides like, Michelle Obama is a perfect human being and listening to her be vulnerable about the things she’s experienced is magical? I mean… She’s Michelle Obama. And listening to her tell me about her life was utterly delightful. She’s been through a lot, Michelle, but she recognizes her privilege in having such a loving and supportive family and that means everything. Also I absolutely adored the way she talks about her and Barack and some of the difficulties they had because they grew up so differently. I could also, also, also, this book all day long, but really, if you haven’t read it yet, you definitely need to get to it!
6. We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union
Here’s to us being afraid and doing it anyway.
Speaking of nonfiction that has stuck with me, let’s talk about Gabrielle Union. She’s amazing and she’s honest in a way that many memoirs later, I stand by is rare. She and Roxane Gay have set the bar for that for me and I appreciate their honesty so much. The sentiment that has most stuck with me about We’re Going to Need More Wine is when Gabrielle talks about being a privileged rape victim and like my whole world just kind of stopped? I feel like I’ve done my part in learning about privilege and recognizing my own and things, but wow, Gabrielle calling herself a privileged rape victim really actually got me to the point where the concept of privilege clicked. I just loved hearing her story and when I saw that she and her husband had a child through a surrogate, I was so happy, you would think I knew them. Truly a remarkable memoir.
7. Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas
To whatever end.
This was such an epic conclusion and easily one of my favorite series finales of all time. I can’t say much without spoiling things so I’m just going to mention it and run away!
Seven is my favorite number and these are the seven books that have really stuck with me this year. Honorable mentions to Before the Devil Breaks You and Not If I Save You First by Libba Bray and Ally Carter respectively, though. What were your favorite books this year?