I’ve been at this since 2012 I think. That’s 8 years of reading choices. For the most part each book was carefully chosen, because it had inspired and thought-provoked me in one way or another. Or had just made me laugh, or fear, or cry. If I were to go back now through each list I’d be able to tell you a story connected to this or that book and it would make it a tiny bit more personal from me to you. I tried doing that in the small reviews which accompany each book.
This year the list is shorter, but short is sweet, no? I still hope you might find something new or remember something old through this list. And if you’re feeling particularly lonely or nostalgic towards some year of this passing decade, click on the link, browse some. You might catch a memory, might remember a story or discover a new one. Who knows. As always: feel free to leave comments with your favorite books. I’m open to suggestions to kick off the new year with.
Was not in the market for procedural crime novels, but holy fuck I’m glad I picked this one up.
A lover’s quarrel ends up bloody. A pretty girl is dead and they call it a domestic. One of the predictable ones. The how and why seem pretty obvious. Until they aren’t and things get shifty. Nothing really fits, the bits and pieces discovered don’t make up the puzzle whole. The story leans at odd angles which is what I loved about it. At the beginning there’s almost this unsettling, unnatural feeling about the world, the case and it mainly comes from the perspective of the main character – it gets you rubbing your hands to keep warm, makes you eye the trees from the corner of your eye lest they bend too low and block out the weak sun in that gunmetal sky.
The lead character, one Detective Antoinette Conway is super though and merciless – she doesn’t take shit from anyone and in her case, a lead detective in the Murder Squad in good ol’ Dublin, there’s a lot of shit to take from her colleagues. She’s on edge, tip-toeing with razor sharp precision around other detectives attached to this case, which keeps getting more convoluted by the minute. Her theories and those of her partner spiral them both down a hole they’d rather not slide into.
I absolutely loved Detective Conway – her brutal approach towards the harassment she receives on a daily basis is honest and her way of navigating through this world is very forward, very fast-paced. She’s learned how to deal with assholes, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Her voice, god bless Tana French, is what I’d been wanting to hear in my head. She’s the type of character I love to spend time with – although she’s very heavy-minded, there’s an aura of death and darkness around her, she’s a delight to listen to, to hear her honest opinion on the world, the people, life. She’s the loner, the late-night drinker and thinker. She’s calculative. And no, you won’t read big action scenes in this book, you won’t get to experience the peril the main character faces. You’ll sit in interview rooms and listen to murder suspects get manipulated into the truth by experienced detectives. You’ll see the roles they play and how they use them to get out the truth. And you’ll want more. Thankfully there’s a whole series based around the Dublin Murder Squad with different characters taking the lead. Go check it out if you’re in the market for some crime!
I’ll be honest – I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Is it sci-fi? Sure. Is it fantasy? Absolutely. Is it very unusual – a post-apocalyptic world, so dystopian, right? But the world we get to experience in the novel has been destroyed by a gigantic, flying, yes flying bear named Mord. Yep, you heard that right. The Company, the big Evil, a biotech company now lies in ruins mostly – and serves it right for creating monsters and torturing them until they go insane, learn to fly and burst out through the roof. Yes, we’re talking about Mord again. I mean as scary as it is, can you imagine an enormous flying bear? Would it be a black bear or a brown bear? Sorry, I got carried away…Anyways…
So we’re far into the future and society as we know it is no longer. To get by, Rachel, our main character lives as a scavenger and her loot is often entangled in the fur of Mord. Her partner, no wait, lover, Wick often uses what she’s found and what he’s found as genetic material for the freaky drugs he makes and sells (they create happy memories out of our own minds or depends on how they’ve been manufactured, you get to experience someone else’s happier days from the past. Also they look like tiny creatures, so…there’s that). One day though Rachel discovers an odd creature stuck there in Mord’s fur and she takes it to her sanctuary. She names the creature Borne.
Borne is not something easily describable. It alters for us readers as it does for Rachel and it creates a bond with her that we’re eager to de-mystify, because it makes no sense, it has no source, no back story. At first.
VanderMeer throws biotech, magic, monsters, drugs, visions, ruins, weapons, everything at you in the form of a very neatly written story, easily dived into. It’s fun to explore, it’s very refreshing in the genre, and the narrative feels like it knows where its going, knows what to offer you at each stage. So you’re not in over your head with that many names, or entities at first. You understand the basics of the world, but the story slowly unwraps more and more of it. 10/10.
Yes, I’ve put Coraline into the Horror section of this list, because as much as it is a children’s story, it’s strange and far darker than you’d imagine. (Well done Neil Gaiman, you’ve managed to make buttons scary.) I love the screen adaptation and wanted for a long time to read the story raw, page by page. Oh boy.
It’s a story to finish in one sitting with it being something like 150 pages long, but don’t get fooled. Short is sweet, but also scary. Preoccupied with work parents and a desire for exploration and adventure lead Coraline through a door into a world matching her own like a mirror – only difference is, her (other) mother and (other) father grace her with their attention and affection. They offer unconditional love, delicious food, games and songs and not a trouble in the world – all things Coraline terribly desires – for only a small price – that Coraline stay with them forever. And that she replace her eyes with buttons. To match mammy and daddy of course.
Coraline is a clever novel as I’ve found all Neil Gaiman stories are – it’s funny, charming, haunting, scary, hopeful, sad. I particularly like my edition of it, because it has illustrations done by Dave McKean, who I respect and love for his Sandman cover art. His depiction of the other-mother will haunt my dreams for years to come!
If you want a short novel to read wrapped in a blanket on a wintery night, but also want some spooks and you have a door in your house you’ve never opened, but are curious about, this is definitely for you.
There’s a long, more extensive review of the book I did some months ago which you can check out HERE, so I might be repeating myself now.
This story is fascinating.
It’s about cosmic superiority, existence in a reality bordering on social chaos but also constructed of perfection. It’s about the sea and how it looks from the window; it’s about ships and how they sound in the night; it’s about a stranger who seems larger than life and comes with stories which sound heroic and he, the hero of them; it’s about a stranger who comes to visit and decides to stay; it’s about love or the lack of it, about disappointment, and about understanding how one sits in the world between those two feelings. It’s magnificent, thick with poetry, rich in language and bound to either enchant you or leave you somewhat hollow. Me, it left with wonder and awe, of the parallels it drew, the colors it shifted.
If you haven’t had the chance to introduce yourself to Mishima, do it through “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea”. I highly recommend it.
If you’re even a bit interested in the life and person of Elon Musk, this is the book you need on your shelf for those moments when you’re feeling especially entrepreneur-ish or Musk has tweeted something nerdy and you want to know who does that personality trait of his have anything to do with sending rockets into space or running a multi-billion dollar company for electrical vehicles. It’s a journalistic investigation into his life created via interviews, facts, memories, stories. It doesn’t paint him neither black, nor white. So it keeps honest to who Musk is and why he’s that person.
If you feel like getting to know the real-life Tony Stark, this is your guide book to his quirkiness, to his insane workaholic lifestyle, to his business, his inspiration, his desire.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Why do I feel the title and the author should be reason enough to buy and read this? No review, just straight up get that on your kindle or better yet, get the hardcover (it’s gorgeous) and have a mead while you’re reading some of the best norse myths re-told by Neil Gaiman in his masterful way of telling stories and bringing characters to life.
What seeps through this book is Neil’s own love for mythology. You can see a lot of it in his own work, so this is also an homage to the source material. He’s managed to rekindle my love for reading myths by taking these much known characters – Odin, Thor, Loki to name a few – and making them very vivid, very alive. They emerge from the pages with all their glory and all their faults, wise and not so wise, cunning and then again played for a fool, angry and happy and immortal.
It’s a fresh breath of air for mythology.
I’ll inject an honorable mention right here, because it’s related. Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology by Cory O’Brien is also I think a very neat way of getting people into reading mythology. This compilation of myths from all corners of the world is hilarious and full of profanity. In a good way. Compared to Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, there is nothing to compare – the epic tales told with Gaiman’s masterful prose are one, and this here explores the crazy side of myths, which is also fun in my opinion.
GRAPHIC NOVELS & MANGA
Do ya’ll remember Descender? The beautifully drawn, pastel sci-fi comics about a boy bot, his robot dog and the fate of the universe? If yes, good for you, well done, you’ve had fun reading it!
If not, go check it out – it’s a beautiful blend between that old sci-fi feel with a fresh plot and great characters.
Now “Ascender” itself takes places some 10+ years after the events in the first series and whilst the original storyline dealt with dehumanization, the uprising of robots and the civil dispute and war between the two factions (this being the spoiler free, short version of all the events that transpire. Spoiler warning: there are giant, cosmic robots), this time around the story focuses on the re-discovery of magic, pure and latent, now stirred free from the nether of the universe. Of course the story keeps with its fast paced sci-fi narrative, only this time it follows the daughter of one of the main characters from “Descender”.
I highly recommend this graphic novel, because the story is very refreshing and again it has breathtaking art.
Okay, this one I’ve been meaning to dig into for quite a while. At the Aniventure ComicCon this year there was an entire section dedicated to Junji Itto and I spent a good chunk of time staring at titles that meant nothing to me, trying to pick up a good manga to start off with. So I did a little research, a little sneak peak into the comment section in GoodReads and decided to dive straight into Itto with the help of “Fragments of Horror”.
You can see just by the cover art that it’s a worthy purchase – I love “Skrik” by Edvard Munch, so maybe that helped with the choice, but other than that and a nice rating online, I knew nothing about the stories compiled inside these 230 pages.
The anthology does not disappoint. I’m not a big fan of manga mainly because there weren’t any available for buying back when I was really into anime too. But I’m a fan of horror so introducing myself more in depth with Junji Itto felt like a nice starting point for my manga reading experience.
The collection consists of 8 macabre tales which range from strange to stranger still, because whilst being dipped into the horror genre, they have a nice range of subgenres woven into them – some are funny, some carry a heavy dose of eroticism, some are downright freaky and eew! inspiring. Visualizing each story for the page must have been so much fun- Itto has a very specific style of drawing, I’m sure you’ve come across some of his pieces online one way or another. Here’s a memory jogger:
Yeah, you’ve seen something similar to that.
I had a lot of fun reading this anthology and can now proudly call myself a fan of Junji Itto. So I’ll be looking forward to more of his stories, more of his art, because they do give a good unsettling spook. Too good…
And that’s it! I doubt that all the best reads of the decade have gone into these lists uploaded here, but some of the good stuff are definitely here – for me at least. So join in, share a book or two or three, heck there’s no limiter on sharing good books. Here’s to another 10, hopefully!