In the four years I spent getting my undergraduate degree, I read 117 books. To some, this is what they read in a year. To others, this is what they read in a lifetime. For me, it was a mix of books for class, textbooks, and my own reading choices.
With so many books on the list, I thought it would be fun to go back and recount my 10 favorite books in the past four years. So, starting from #10 and moving up, here are my top ten reads from Fall 2016 - Spring 2020. Get ready for a super long blog post.
All except one of these have their own reviews, so you can check them out for something more in-depth and closer to the time I read them. They'll all be linked with their ranking.
10. The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore.
I read this during the first semester of freshman year for my First Year Seminar class. For our final paper, we got to pick from a list of books and write a book report about it. I chose this. Not only because it was the only one that really interested me, but also because I barely knew anything about Wonder Woman and the title of the book intrigued me so much.
The book recounts how Wonder Woman became a comic and how she rose to popularity as the first female superhero in a time when only men were considered heroes. It traced the history of Wonder Woman's creator, William Moulton Marston, and how he was so purposeful in creating her character so that she not only held her own among the men, she proved that she was stronger than them and didn't need them.
I loved reading this book and it taught me a lot about the history of comic books, particularly during the war times and how Wonder Woman was a revolutionary character. She wasn't just a hero, she was also a beautiful and strong woman off-duty. And she never needed to be saved by a man. In fact, when a different writer created a storyline in which Diana left her work to be Steve Trevor's wife, Marston got so angry that he did the "It Was All A Dream" thing and completely negated the whole story by declaring that Diana had a nightmare.
Before you go hailing Marston a feminist hero, he was a strange man whose life didn't quite match up to his ideas of Wonder Woman's feminist storyline. Marston dabbled in everything, mostly in thinking that he was an inventor. He tried several times to invent and patent stuff, but they never worked. He also had a wife and mistress who knew about each other, and they all lived under one roof with his children from both women. His wife was fairly normal aside from being okay with his mistress, but his mistress was a little...weird. Okay, maybe a lot weird.
The thing I loved the most about reading this book was the insight into Wonder Woman. And because I read this before the movie came out, I had an even greater appreciation for seeing Gal Gadot bring the character to life. To this day, I think about how this book made an impact on me. Wonder Woman will always be my favorite female superhero because I know her history so well and because she rose to fame when no one believed than her character could. And I think that's pretty awesome.
9. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.
Another book I read during my freshman year, this was for my Intro to World Literature class. Although I did enjoy the other two books, this one stood out to me the most. I had never read one of Hosseini's books before that, although a high school friend of mine loved The Kite Runner. I knew he was a great author, but I just never read one of his books. I still haven't read another one since this, but I own And The Mountains Echoed and plan on reading it some time this year.
This book taught me so much about culture and what it's like for women living in Afghanistan at the time. Taking place during Taliban rule and during a war, it was really eye-opening to see an account of those events from an author who was born there, but spent years living in the US. The commentary Hosseini provided was not only educational for me, but also changed the way I thought about a lot of things regarding Afghanistan.
Following two women of different ages and tying their stories together, this book does a fantastic job of discussing what it means to be a woman in Afghanistan and also what it means to be a strong woman. This book touches on so many important topics for women - education, the right to love and marry, what it means to have female friends, and the basic right to be seen as a human being. I thought they were well-written and well-discussed through multiple lenses.
Hossini is definitely an author we've talked about less and less as time goes on. I remember him being a big deal when his books came out, but the conversation around his work as died out so much since he hasn't published anything other than his children's book recently. If you're looking for something thought-provoking, well-researched, and educational, I would highly recommend picking this up.
8. The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon.
I read Yoon's debut book before college, and I was super excited when this book came out. It was still in the early years when Asian characters were just making their appearances as love interests, and I was so ready to see that be a reality. Having loved Everything Everything, I knew that I would love this too, and I did.
The book takes place in a single day in New York City, following Natasha and Daniel. One believes in true love while the other doesn't. Both meet and somehow, they manage to change each other's lives. Yes, that sounds incredibly cheesy and if you know me, I rarely read cheesy or romantic books. But this, this was so much more than that. This was a really insightful look at how meeting one person can cause such a ripple effect that nothing is the same because of that one meeting.
I loved seeing the two characters come together over the course of the book, and I loved that Daniel was Korean. Yoon's husband is Korean, so she had some experience with his culture and would ask him questions during the writing and revising process to ensure that she was being culturally accurate. That's a kind of attention to detail you don't see very often. And I greatly appreciated it. Though I'm not Korean, I know how important it is to see a culture portrayed accurately, and I liked that a lot about this book. Being able to see an Asian portrayed as an attractive love interest also made me really happy, because I hadn't really seen it except in Legend by Marie Lu and Cinder by Marissa Meyer.
Even now, this is one of the few contemporary romances I recommend to other people. It will always have a really soft spot in my heart and I will continue to read Yoon's work whenever she writes another book.
7. My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier.
Now we're getting into the books that sound and feel more like me. I picked this up at the end of 2017 because Caz from Little Book Owl read and loved it. I think she and EmmmaBooks are still the only two BookTubers I follow who have read this. The book follows Che Taylor, who thinks that something is wrong with his little sister, Rosa. When they move from Australia to the US, he becomes even more worried that Rosa will do something bad.
This book is just amazing. The whole story is so intriguing and you never really know if what you're reading is true or not. The idea of something being wrong with a little girl who appears so normal is disturbing, but Larbalestier does an amazing job of using that discomfort to propel the story forward. There's never a dull moment in this book and I think it's incredibly underrated. Even as I talk about it now, I'm getting the urge to buy the book so I can re-read it.
Don't get me wrong, the book is dark and it doesn't really pull its punches when it comes to how disturbing it can be. But I think that's what I like so much about it. The book isn't afraid to freak you out to get its point across, all while balancing the thin line of still being realistic and appropriate. I will say that this book isn't for everyone. I love it because I love dark mysteries and thrillers, but that's not the case for everyone. I believe I had some trigger warnings in my original review, so you should look at that if you're wondering if the book might be too intense.
6. 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad.
This is one of the few audiobooks I've listened to and loved. Yet again, this was recommended by Caz from Little Book Owl. She read it ages ago and I would randomly think about it until one day, I decided to download the audiobook instead of buying a physical copy. That ended up being a great decision because I loved the audiobook so much and I think it made me reading experience better than it could have been if I read the book.
One of the things I love most about this book is how atmospheric it is. The writing really lends itself to being told orally. I'm sure it's great in the written format too, and I want to get a physical copy so I can read it, but really, it does so well as an audiobook.
I didn't remember much about this before I started listening to it, only that it had to do with three teenagers being sent to space and something bad happening. What I got was something so great because I didn't know what to expect. Letting the story unfold and discovering stuff at the same time the characters were discovering things made it so much more engaging and creepy when it needed to be. I'll admit that part of the way through the book, I got a little nervous about going to the bathroom by myself because this book did such a good job at making me unsettled. I may also have regretted listening to this at night with all the lights off.
This book also counts as translated fiction. I think it was originally written in German, but I'm not entirely sure. You can't really tell that it's been translated though. That shows the power of good writing and good translating. And the story will stick with me for a long time.
5. Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson.
This is one of the last books I read before I graduated. There's no review because I had completely fallen off the reviewing wagon at that point and didn't feel like forcing myself to write one. I had heard amazing things about this book from the BookTube community and decided to try it out. Normally, I wouldn't read YA mysteries because I find them lacking in what I love from adult mysteries, but this book is one of the best YA mysteries I've ever read.
One of the reasons why I think I love this book so much is because it's a nod to all true crime lovers in real life. The main character, Stevie, is a true crime lover and she's learned some pretty weird things because of that. I've loved true crime for years and this made me feel less weird about the random things I've searched up and learned while researching different crimes. I felt understood by this book, and that made me feel like I was less alone in my strange fascination with crime.
The book is also really well written. Juggling two timelines isn't easy, but Johnson made it work for the story. I kept thinking that I knew what was going to happen next, but I didn't. And that's the best thing. Usually, I can figure it out pretty quickly, but this book kept me guessing in ways that even adult mysteries don't always pull off. I loved not knowing what would happen next and knowing that no matter how I pieced things together, Johnson would throw me off in the end and I'd have to figure things out all over again.
It was because of this book that I really felt the urge to starting reading a lot more again. I fell back in love with the feeling of flipping through the pages in an effort to know more and see what happens next. I even bought the sequels really soon after finishing this because the book ended on a cliffhanger and I HAD to know what happened next. In fact, you might just see them in my June wrap-up.
4. I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.
Another true crime book, this time non-fiction. I had heard about this briefly from a couple of different book podcasts. It came out in 2018 and I somehow read it that same year. Once I started, it was really hard for me to stop.
In general, I don't read much non-fiction. And despite my love of true crime, I don't read much non-fiction about that either. Most of the crime I read about or experience is entirely fictionalized. This book really changed that for me. I became a lot more interested in non-fiction true crime and have curated a small list of books I want to eventually read.
The thing that interested me the most was the fact that I had heard about this serial killer - The Golden State Killer. I knew that name, but I didn't know why it was such a big deal. Listening to this as an audiobook taught me why. McNamara started looking this up and became obsessed with the case, coining the name Golden State Killer and dedicating a whole blog to her search of the man's identity. It had gone unsolved for years and she was determined to find out who was behind the series of crimes that terrorized California for decades. As a trained investigative journalist, McNamara's writing is perfect. Her background allowed her to really dig into these cold cases and she went about things in a way that very few other people could. As a journalist myself, I could really see how she put her training to use and this taught me that if I ever actually wanted to pursue journalism full-time, it would be as an investigative journalist.
Though McNamara passed before she could finish this book, her assistant used her notes to finish the book. McNamara's husband wrote a really sweet afterword for it, and I just about cried when I listened to him read it out loud for the audiobook. A few months after the book came out, the Golden State Killer was caught. No relation to the book's publication or her theories, but I thought it was really cool that we could finally see an end to the cold case. I think McNamara would have been happy and proud to know that something she spent years investigating was finally put to rest and that justice is being served. I would recommend looking up the killer only after finishing this book.
3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
This was the last book I read for Young Adult Literature, a class I took in the fall of my junior year. It was for a group project and I read it in two days. Partly because I had to (procrastination) and partly because I couldn't put it down. Especially with everything happening in the US right now, I think this is one of the best books you can read.
Undoubtedly, this book has a lot of hype around it. For good reason. Thomas is a fantastic writer and she tackles a very hard topic - police brutality against African Americans. I learned a lot by reading this book, and the discussion I had with my group mates showed all of us how much we still had to learn. We spent hours talking about it and cutting our podcast assignment down to 5 minutes was really hard. We had nearly two hours of audio discussion around it. Thinking back, I think we could easily have talked for even longer and produced a podcast episode that would have been at least an hour and a half.
The book does a really great job at discussing the problem of police brutality and racial murder in this country. Though I'm not American or black, I felt deeply because of this book. Of course, I had seen the news articles and heard the stories, but this book made it so much more real to me because I was following the story of someone who witnessed a police officer murder an unarmed black man and had to figure out what she wanted to do about it. And how screwed up the justice system is that justice isn't always served.
There's a lot to learn from this book. Or really, anything that Thomas writes. I haven't read her other book yet, but it's something I intend to look into moving forward. The commentary and the realistic portrayal of racism in this book makes for a great thought-provoking and educational read. And for that, I think everyone should read this.
2. Warcross by Marie Lu.
It's no secret that I've loved Lu's books. Of the 11 books she's published, I've read nine. Almost all of them got a 5 star rating from me. This book was no different.
Gaming and virtual reality are topics I don't know much about. What I do know of gaming comes from watching play-throughs on YouTube and hearing my friends talk about it. VR is almost entirely foreign to me. And this book did a great job at explaining the details of both. Some people say that you have to be interested in either video games or VR to like this book, and to an extent I think that's true. It can be boring if you're not intrigued by either subject, but I've enjoyed learning about the two topics enough that I loved seeing how Lu gave her own explanation of the two subjects.
This book also featured an Asian main character and love interest, both of which I will continue to support and ask for. I really, really felt seen because of that. I liked seeing Asian portrayed as empowered, attractive, and more than their stereotype. I like that Lu set this in Tokyo. And I love that this duology empowers girls to learn more about computers and coding. Though I don't know much about either of those things, I know that it's close to Lu's heart because she was a video game coder and artist for years before becoming a writer.
To prove to you just how much I loved this book, I wrote a four page paper on it. For class. About why this is important literature for young girls in school. I would not stop talking about it from the moment I read it, and I will always have fond memories of what it was like to get so immersed in this world the first time. Also, if you've read the Legend series, you'll recognize the nods to that book in here. I loved that. It tied me over until Rebel was published and I read it.
1. Vicious by V.E. Schwab.
Last but not least, is anyone even surprised that my favorite book of all time is on this list? I read this for the first time in 2017 and loved it so much. V.E. Schwab became my favorite author because of this book. I've followed her career so much because of how much I love this book. And I loved this so much, waiting for the sequel was painful. I got it as soon as I could, and again, this was a book I wrote a paper about. Actually, I wrote it about both Vicious and Vengeful. A 7-page, single-spaced analytical paper for my Comm Theory class. That's how much I love this book.
The writing completely changed me. It has inspired me as a writer to be able to do what Schwab does. I want to create multidimensional characters like she does, write layered plots like she does, have a work ethic like she does. The woman is amazing.
This is a book I will continue to recommend to the end of my days because it impacted me so much. Until then, I had never really experienced what it was like to want to collect every possible edition of a book. Back when I was the only one who had read it, I had to keep my thoughts to myself. When my friends read it, I was able to discuss the whole thing with them and see what they thought of the plot and the conflict. And when I wrote a paper about it, I was able to use a communication theory to explain why the book impacted me the way it did and why it has that kind of impact on other readers.
There's no way I can do justice to my love of this book. I want and need to re-read it again because I miss the world. And if there's ever a single book I would recommend to anyone and everyone, this is it.
If you've somehow made it this far, good job and thank you. If you're also a reader, I'm curious to know what some of your favorite books over the past few years are.