As usual, some books were really hard to categorize as one thing or another, and some categories were so difficult to narrow down to 3 books! I read dozens of thrillers and mysteries, whereas classic fiction I read maybe 5 a year, so it’s much easier to choose only 3. I also change the categories every year a little bit, in order to reflect my reading trends of that particular year – for example, if I read a bunch of new authors (more than 1 book by them, that is), I like to include a Best New-To-Me Authors, which I didn’t do this year, but I did include a Best Brazilian Books & Best Translated Fiction, since I’ve been reading lots of both this year, and also added more Non-Fiction categories.
Funnily enough, none of the books below were 5 star reads, but they were still favorites that I LOVED and want to re-read. Also they all broke my heart. Breasts and Eggs was witty, smart and insightful into the lives of women in Japan; Little Gods made me fall in love with the main character just to break my heart; and My Dark Vanessa is one of the most complicated, dark books out there and deserves recognition for all the nuance and sensitivity with which the author wrote about its heavy themes.
A really strong year for historical fiction! I loved all three books below, although I admit they’re mostly bleak stuff, all three are wonderfully written. How We Disappeared shines a light on the fate of Singaporean women who were kidnapped and forced to serve as “comfort women” to Japanese troops – it’s also not as difficult a read as I thought it would be, the author mixed a bit of mystery in which made this not as hard. I knew I would love The Mirror and the Light and so it was not a surprise when I did – this is such a worthy ending to the wonderful trilogy of Thomas Cromwell. The Mercies broke my heart in a million pieces with its story about witch hunting in 17th century Norway, love, suspicion and loss.
It was not the best year for fantasy, although I really loved all three books below, it took me a long time to find books that really stood out, because I was feeling lukewarm about most of the fantasy I read this year. Still, all three books below were fantastic, with A Thousand Ships being such a fun read, Harrow the Ninth messing up with my brain and The Burning God being such a worthy ending to a fantastic series.
This was the year of literary science fiction ruining me for all other kinds of sci-fi out there These three books blew my mind, and although I read all of them early this year, no other came close to stealing their spots!
Severance by Ling Ma / Review
The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa / Review
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
I did not think I’d read that many romances this year, but coming up with this list made me realize I actually read really outstanding ones, and more than I remembered. The three ones below especially were amazing reads and different kinds of romance, all of them tackling important social issues and still leaving you feeling hopeful. I highly recommend all of them.
An Unconditional Freedom by Alyssa Cole
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite
Lovely War by Julie Berry / Review
It was also a great year for mysteries – the three below blew my mind. Sun Down Motel is supernatural mystery with ghosts and so wonderfully atmospheric, The Body Lies is a chilling story about a professor who gets stalked, and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is a slow-burn mystery about (maybe) animals taking revenge on people.
I had a bit of a mixed experience with thrillers this year, but these were absolutely great page-turners. The Hunting Party gave me Agatha Christie vibes, He Started It had plot twists that blew my mind (and that ending! Omg), and They Never Learn was just so deliciously fun to read.
I actually didn’t read quite as much horror as expected, but it was definitely enough to come up with a top 3, and they’re all really great reads! Things We Lost in the Fire gave me THE CREEPS, O Vilarejo tied together all the short stories into one horrific narrative and the illustrations were so creepy, and Bunny was a darkly funny book that I devoured and then I couldn’t stop seeing bunnies all around me for WEEKS (I swear).
Literary fiction was my comfort read this year – there’s something so great about being immersed in a story not only for the plot or characters, but for the writing itself. It was hard to choose a top 3, but these were all amazing: Ducks, Newburyport needs no introduction, it read so easily and was really funny and emotional, The Fire Starters talks about inherited violence with hints of magic and was wonderful to read; finally, Hurricane Season made me forget I had a life because I wanted to read this ALL the time (my favorite book of the year!).
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann / Review
The Fire Starters by Jan Carson / Review
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor / Review
I’ve been slowly trying to get into classic fiction again, which I love reading but somehow never pick up, distracted by new releases instead. I am very happy to have read very interesting classics this year, and I’m actually proud that this top 3 is entirely comprised of non-English books.
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende / Review
This was the absolute hardest top 3 to come up with! I’ve read lots of translated fiction this year and some made it to the top 3 in other categories. Snare is a noir thriller set in Iceland; Human Acts tells the story of the political unrest in South Korea and the horrors that came from it; Permafrost is a poetic story about a young woman reflecting back on her relationships and wishing something would help “melt” her permafrost heart.
Snare by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, translated by Quentin Bates / Review
Human Acts by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith
Permafrost by Eva Baltasar, translated by Julia Sanches
This was actually hard to choose from, I’ve read an unprecedent amount of memoirs this year, and there are many more on my radar and I suspect next year will be even harder to choose a top 3.
Science and Technology
Admitedly I didn’t read a whole lot of science & tech books this year, and all my three choices are space-related, oops. Space Race one focuses on the race between Korolev and von Braun, and the political drama that led to the amazing developments in space technology. The End of Everything talks about the current theories on how the Universe could end, how horrible each would be, and how likely they are to happen. Failure is Not an Option is a memoir about working in mission control and I got it just a few days ago!
Space Race by Deborah Cadbury / Review
The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack / Review
Failure is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz
I ended up reading quite a lot of true crime this year; Evil Has a Name is a great book to read following up I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara – I preferred her book because it took such a sensitive tone and focused on victims, whereas Evil Has a Name is your usual true crime investigation book, but it was still interesting. American Predator was a chilling read, this killer was so incredibly calculating, it’s really scary. And We Keep the Dead Close was an eye-opening read about Harvard’s history of misogyny (it vaguely touches on racism and homophobia, too) and a murder that just seemed so sensational and ritualistic. The amount of shady people in that book, oh my gosh, I suspected everyone.
Evil Has a Name: The Untold Story of the Golden Killer Investigation by Paul Holes / Review
American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan / Review
We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence by Becky Cooper / Review
This is a bit miscellaneous, with two books that delve into racism, how it’s systematically sustained and how hard it is to talk about it with people who don’t experience it. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race was a painful, honest and emotional read that I really enjoyed. The New Jim Crow was a huge eye-opener and goes deep into the incarceration and the war on drugs. The Collapse, in contrast, is a history book about the fall of the Berlin wall and how it came to happen due to a series of accidents, misunderstandings and peaceful protests by East Germans, and not by the careful political machination I learned in school.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The Collapse by Mary Elise Sarrotte
I thankfully am going back to reading more Brazilian books this year and these were some of my favorites!
Felicidade Clandestina por Clarice Lispector / Resenha
Quem Tem Medo do Feminismo Negro? por Djamila Ribeiro
A Chave de Casa / The House in Smyrna por Tatiana Salem Levy / Resenha