award shows for books

Behind the scenes (and often right out the front too!) we at Segullah love books, and will often discuss and recommend them left right and everywhere.  Just before Christmas there was a discussion around what book recommendations we all had for certain types of readers.  Each dot point is a staff member’s suggestion, with stars after a title indicating how many additional staffers recommended it as well. Note that some areas overlap, with books only listed once.

Hopefully the list here will provide you with some suggestions if you’re looking for great reads and/or to use that Audible, book voucher or discretionary funding!

1) loves history, biographies, and literary fiction

  • I found Swimming to Antarctica to be a little known gem that has stayed with me for a long time. It’s a memoir from Lynn Cox, an American long distance swimmer who set the world record for the English Channel twice-once when she was 15, and the she went back to reclaim her title when she was 16. Her crowning achievement was swimming from the U.S. to Russia (there are apparently 2 islands a mile apart in the Bering Sea, one is American, the other is Russian– who knew) during the Cold War. It’s a pretty cool book for somebody who likes autobiographies.
  • I also thoroughly enjoyed Katherine Graham’s autobiography about her life as the editor of the Washington Post, but I don’t know if somebody without ties to DC would enjoy it as much.
  • Pope Joan (Donna Woolfolk Cross) is a cool historical fiction based on a legend of a pope who gave birth during a processional. Meticulously researched, it’s got very nice prose.
  • At the end of last year there was also an annotated biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder called PIONEER GIRL published by the South Dakota Historical Society that would also be a great gift book.
  • ROSEMARY (Kate Clifford Lawson) was a fascinating look at the life of Rosemary Kennedy. H IS FOR HAWK (Helen Macdonald) was a beautifully written memoir, albeit a little slow and ruminative in places, but would be good for a more cerebral reader interested in single female British college professors who turn to falconry to help deal with grief (as well as the life story of T.H. White, author of “The Sword in the Stone,” who was also a falconer.)
  • THE BOOK THIEF (Markus Zusak), or THE CURSE OF CHALION* (Lois McMaster Bujold), but most of all I recommend OLD MAN’S WAR (John Scalzi). I recommend Old Man’s War for lots of people, especially guys. Yes, it’s usually found in the sci-fi section, but it’s clever, witty and deals in humanity.

2) literary fiction or beautifully written creative nonfiction

  • My favorite literary fiction books from the past two years or so have been THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI*** (Helene Wecker), THE CHILDREN ACT (Ian McEwan), ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE (Anthony Doerr), STATION ELEVEN (Emily St. John Mandel), (EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU* (Celeste Ng), NORA WEBSTER (Colm Toibin), CITY OF BRICK AND SHADOW (Tim Wirkus), and THE LOWLAND (Jhumpa Lahiri).
  • I know it’s on the top of many “Best of 2015” lists, but I loved THE NIGHTINGALE (Kristin Hannah). Historical fiction focusing on WWII in occupied France and based on the true story of females working with the French resistance to help Allied airmen cross the Pyrenees. It can be harrowing but I never found it to be overly explicit. Beautifully written and compelling. it’s a great book for women. Caveat: I listened to it as an audiobook and the narration was excellent, which always helps. But, to me, the storytelling was engaging, the historical setting was fascinating (I’ve read lots of WWII books, but never one about occupied France from a woman’s POV) and although I was afraid the characters would be caricatures when I first started, they became real and complex to me.
  • I read it [the previously mentioned The Nightingale] and had mixed feelings–it felt pretty soap opera-ish and full of cliches to me. I still enjoyed reading it, just as long as I didn’t stop to think too hard about the plot 🙂 I liked CODE NAME VERITY, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, and SUITE FRANCAISE better as books about wartime France.
  • Anne Lamott’s Small Miracles was lovely, as is 1000 SMALL GIFTS (Voskamp), both non-fiction. Also, LOVE LETTERS OF THE ANGELS OF DEATH (Jennifer Quist) for fiction.

3) will read anything as long as it’s engaging

  • I liked THE COMPANY (Robert Littell), a historical fiction book about the CIA. We have lots of CIA friends (the “farm” is here in Williamsburg) and I’ve been told by one person that he was shocked by how much about the CIA was revealed. Fun stuff for somebody interested in world history and espionage.
  • More “fun” books that are a little less literary are anything by Rainbow Rowell (FANGIRL* is my favorite), Liane Moriarty (I liked BIG LITTLE LIES and WHAT ALICE FORGOT), Jojo Moyes (I particularly liked ONE PLUS ONE), CINNAMON AND GUNPOWDER by Eli Brown, and WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE?** by Maria Semple. Some of these have a bit of language and explicit scenes, I think.
  • The Humans (by Matt Haig) for sure.

4) a voracious reader with a weakness for fantasy

  • For fantasy readers, my favorite fantasy this year was Naomi Novik’s UPROOTED** (though there is one questionable scene–depends on her tolerance for non-graphic sex scenes!), BONE GAP** was lovely, literary YA magical realism (though comes with the same caution as previous one).
  • Oh, and THE GOBLIN EMPEROR* (Katherine Addison) was a terrific, detailed fantasy novel. It’s adult fantasy, so it’s denser and a little slower than YA, but I don’t remember there being anything immoral and it had a wonderful message about kindness.
  • I am also a fan of THE NIGHT CIRCUS (Erin Morgenstern). One of my favorite fantasy trilogies is THE RIDDLE-MASTER OF HED (Patricia A. McKillip)
  • I’ll keep thinking–I’ve read so many ARCs of 2016 novels recently that I really want to recommend books that aren’t out yet . . . (Stay tuned for a book list of books we can’t wait to read in 2016!)
  • If they haven’t read MISTBORN** series (Brandon Sanderson) well, look no further. I lost 2 weeks of my life to that series. Could not put it down. Another staffer: All the fantasy lovers in our family have devoured the Mistborn books!
  • For a more compact fantasy story than Mistborn (which is much more a sweeping epic) try THE EMPEROR’S SOUL. It’s a novella from Sanderson that I found to be incredibly creative and different. Short and clean and a cool magic system. Plus a female ninja. Female ninjas are always cool.
  • GARDEN SPELLS (Sarah Addison Allan), QUEEN OF THE TEARLING (Erika Johansen), or WRITTEN IN RED (this one’s by Anne Bishop and is a lighter read in some ways but still engrossing).

5) loves Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, engaging nonfiction, philosophy

  • For a light laugh out loud story that is hilarious and clean I recommend GOOD OMENS*,by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Way too much fun.
  • As far as nonfiction, I really like Rebecca Solnit’s essays lately. I also recommend THE BOYS IN THE BOAT**** by Daniel James Brown.
  • I also enjoyed BEING MORTAL by Atul Gawande, but you may not want to get it for anyone lest they think you are worried about their health. 🙂
  • I haven’t read it yet, but the other day at work we got a book called THIS IDEA MUST DIE by John Brockman that is a collection of short essays by various thinkers about scientific ideas they think are wrong. It looks very though-provoking.

6) clean YA

  • Any of Kasey West’s books are fun, clean YA romances. I also thought Amy Finnegan’s NOT IN THE SCRIPT was cute.
  • Check out Amy Harmon’s books. MAKING FACES was incredible, though I can’t remember for sure how clean it was. Also, I read DUMPLIN’ (Julie Murphy) recently and while it’s set in high school, it was great.
  • THE SPIRIT THIEF (Rachel Aaron), first in a wonderful series, kind of fantasy but great for YA.

7) literary fiction or thoughtful, beautifully-wrought nonfiction

  • Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC is wonderful for anyone. I just finished it and I think it’s one I’ll come back to often. So much good advice on being true to your own instincts and finding a “stubborn gladness” in creativity, but not weighing it down with the burden of unrealistic expectations.
  • THE ARRIVALS (stunning “picture” book by Shaun Tan). MONSTERS AND MORMONS (anthology).
  • PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK (Annie Dillard). Or Madeleine L’Engle’ s wonderful TWO-PART INVENTION, on her marriage, and her A CIRCLE OF QUIET.
  • Anne Lammott’s SMALL VICTORIES: SPOTTING IMPROBABLE MOMENTS OF GRACE was lovely, and I love her BIRD BY BIRD and Natalie Goldberg’s WRITING DOWN THE BONES is wonderful too (all non-fiction). For fiction, HOW TO BAKE A PERFECT LIFE (Barbara O’Neal). THE CROSSING (Michael Radburn). PRAYERS FOR SALE (Sandra Dallas). THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN (Garth Stein).

8) I don’t really know her tastes in reading yet, but I’m guessing the classics?

  • There is a beautiful new annotated edition of LITTLE WOMEN that just got published (crossed my desk at work yesterday) that would be a great gift for anyone who likes classics. It’s published by W.W. Norton.
  • I just re-read one of my favorite ‘modern classics”, POSSESSION* by A.S. Byatt. It’s great for anyone who likes classic lit and poetry, with some mystery and critique of current trends of academia thrown in. It’s a meaty book (I think it has one swear word and a few suggestive scenes, plus satirical discussions of feminist/freudian lit crit).
  • My brain is blank beyond my default recommendation of Jane Eyre. 🙂
  • Do they like cake or baking? EAT CAKE by Jeanne Ray (fiction). Find out the favourite classic and get one of the brilliant cloth covered versions.

9) a sucker for anything involving a tragic main character and redemption

  • THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV (Fyodor Dostoevsky) – that pretty perfectly fits the redemptive and tragic spots. Or A TALE OF TWO CITIES (Charles Dickens).
  • favorite books are Les Miserables, The Scarlet Letter, The Road, and Paradise Lost. Oh, and also Diary of a Wimpy Kid. J
  • Has he read much Wallace Stegner? He’d probably like his fiction, based on his taste (I agree with everything he likes except The Road–ew)
  • A MAN CALLED OVE** by Fredrik Backman. The author is Swedish and I was a little hesitant at first because I thought it would be schmaltzy (grumpy old curmudgeon who actually has a heart of gold finds meaning in life, etc.) but it struck a good balance for me between being realistic and heart-warming, funny and sad. (Note: there were staffers who loved and hated this book!)
  • UNBROKEN* (Laura Hillenbrand) non-fiction, biographical, following an Olympian who later becomes a POW of the Japanese during Second World War.
  • THE BOOK THIEF (Markus Zusak), or THE CURSE OF CHALION* (Lois McMaster Bujold), but most of all I recommend OLD MAN’S WAR (John Scalzi). I recommend Old Man’s War for lots of people, especially guys. Yes, it’s usually found in the sci-fi section, but it’s clever, witty and deals in humanity.
  • A TOWN LIKE ALICE (Nevil Shute). Fiction with Australia, England, World War 2, lost loves, female and male prisoners of war in the Pacific, Australian Outback, sacrifice, amazing!

Also, for lighter reading/gifts/stocking stuffer type ideas:

  • Liz Climo’s collections are wonderful (normally 1 page, 2 picture cartoons about friends and family), as are the LITTLE DEE comics (Christopher Baldwin), CALVIN AND HOBBES (any of them, all done by the incredible Bill Watterson) and THE NATIVITY by Julie Vivas is gorgeous.
  • Also, if anyone has people who love literature and the classics, LITERATURE: UNSUCCESSFULLY COMPETING AGAINST TV SINCE 1953 has all Dave Sheldon’s literature related comics in once place (his takes on Tolkein are brilliant).

So, what would you recommend as your favourite read from last year, or best recommendations for the readers listed above? Happy reading!

1 Comment

  1. Naismith

    January 28, 2016

    I also love Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, but some readers may find the frequent use of the f-word in the first three books to be off-putting.

Comments are closed.