Archive for the ‘top five’ Category

Friday, December 8th, 2023

Top Five Books of 2023

2023 is almost over, and that means it’s time for LibraryThing staff to share our Top Five Books of the Year. You can see past years’ lists HERE.

We’re always interested in what our members are reading and enjoying, so we invite you to add your favorite books read in 2023 to our December List of the Month, and to join the discussion over in Talk

>> List: Top Five Books of 2023

Note: This is about what you read in 2023, not just books published in 2023.

Without further ado, here are our staff favorites!



cover image for Babel cover image for Glassworks cover image for Hello Beautiful cover image for Happiness Falls cover image for I Have Some Questions for You

Babel, or, The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang. Okay so I haven’t even finished this, but this post will be live by the time I do, and I know it belongs at the top of my top five. Victorian England. Oxford. Magic. Empire and colonialism. Language and translation. It is beautiful and brilliant.

Glassworks by Olivia Wolfgang-Smith. Four generations of messy humans connected in a variety of ways, each failing to understand those who came before them. Gorgeous prose.

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano. Do you like to be emotionally gutted by words? I do. Read this.

Happiness Falls by Angie Kim. Is it a mystery? A literary family drama? An exploration into language and cognition and philosophy? D, all of the above?

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai. An interesting and unexpected take on a mystery/thriller.

I read a lot of really great books this year, so I want to also give honorable mentions to these (Pick 5, you said? Is this cheating? I don’t care!): Tom Lake by Ann Patchett, Congratulations, The Best Is Over! by R. Eric Thomas, The Fragile Threads of Power by V.E. Schwab, The Stolen Coast by Dwyer Murphy, Yellowface by R.F. Kuang, Vigil Harbor by Julia Glass, Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen, Hang the Moon by Jeannette Walls, Sam by Allegra Goodman, and They’re Going to Love You by Meg Howrey.


cover image for Exhalation cover image for Why We Did It cover image for Romney: A Reckoning cover image for The Alignment Problem cover image for Sid Meier's Memoir

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Ted Chiang is that rare coming-together of a fine writer, a fine storyteller and someone who invents and then works through legitimately interesting science-fiction ideas. I loved his Stories of Your Life and Others, which included the story which became the movie Arrival. The stories in Exhalation are of the same quality. I particularly enjoyed The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate, which melds time travel and the narrative conventions of the Arabian Nights, and Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom, which imagines limited communication between branches of a many-worlds universe.

Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell by Tim Miller and Romney: A Reckoning by McKay Coppins. Why We Did It and Romney: A Reckoning both deal with the descent of the Republican party from what seemed a “normal” center-right party to the moral, ideological and policy train-wreck-dumpster-fire of the present day. How did it happen? How did so many normal politicians and staff go along with it? Who ignored the rot that turned into Trumpism and why? Who’s responsible? And what, if anything, can be done about it? Why We Did It is the personal and political memoir of a Republican operative—a gay man who became a “hitman for homophobes”—but finally left, disgusted. Romney: A Reckoning is a more straightforward political biography, reaching back to Romney’s early days, but focused on the last few years. It answers the question how one of the most ideologically “flexible” Republicans became an inflexible opponent of Trump and everything he did to the GOP. Romney gave Cobbins free reign over his emails and personal journals, and as many interviews as he wanted, and the anecdotes and quotes he came back with are solid gold.

The Alignment Problem: Machine Learning and Human Values by Brian Christian. I read a ton about AI this year, especially the problems with it. The Alignment Problem is by far the best, explaining the technologies better and deeper than the others, and going into the problems without being hyperbolic or alarmist. The whole OpenAI debacle sent me to reread Cade Metz’ Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World, which remains the best narrative of the deep-learning book, until Metz writes the story of OpenAI.

Sid Meier’s Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games by Sid Meier. I love well-done biographies of businesses, such as Steven Levy’s Facebook: The Inside Story, In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives or Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer that Changed Everything. This year I also read Jason Schreier’s excellent Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made, which recounts the stories of key games and the companies that made them. Sid Meier’s book is like those, but told from the perspective of the amiable, somewhat doofus-y programmer who made them. Also, the Sid Meier games are basically the games of my childhood. I played most of them, and have (deep in my brain) nuggets of trivia only Meier’s book could have found for me again. Not a book for everyone, but a book for me.

Honorable mention goes to: The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter by Joseph Henrich. Henrich makes a compelling case that the key human capacity is our capacity to learn. It really belongs in my top five, but I didn’t have much interesting to say about it.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells. I enjoyed this first of the Murderbot Diaries. Wells took an interesting idea and a compelling, original narrator and wrote a fine tale. I wish it were longer and I won’t forget it. I even started the second, and then I asked myself “Do I really want seven more helpings of this?” I did not. This says more about me and my dislike of series, franchises, reboots and other episodic and immortal intellectual properties than it does about the book.


cover image for I Have Some Questions for You

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll. This fictionalized account of women who encountered Ted Bundy and the aftermath of their encounters, was so much more than I expected from Knoll. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the true crime fascination our society has and this novel brilliantly focuses on the victims rather than the perpetrator.

A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney. I didn’t think anything would make me cry more/harder than When Breath Becomes Air and, well, I was wrong. Delaney’s memoir of the loss of his two year-old son is devastating. But it’s also beautiful, and funny, and hopeful.

You Could Make This Place Beautiful: A Memoir by Maggie Smith. Is there anything Maggie Smith can’t make beautiful? This is a gorgeous memoir on divorce and rebuilding.

My Last Innocent Year by Daisy Alpert Florin. I devoured this book! This is some of the best coming-of-age writing I’ve ever read, but it’s by no means a commonplace story.

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai. What Abby said. This certainly wasn’t what I was expecting, and I’m definitely not mad about it.


Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. This book was so much fun to read. The kind of book that you simultaneously want to read as fast as possible and read slowly so it never ends!

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. I love a great, long book. Despite a lot of this book being about war, which is usually not my favorite thing, Stephenson’s prose made it a joy to read!

Fairy Tale by Stephen King. I love my Stephen King books. A Stephen King book about a boy and his dog on an adventure is something I cannot resist.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. So many things in this book were familiar to me, having grown up in the 80s/90s and enjoying video games and online role-playing games. It’s always fun to read a book where you can relate to the experiences of the characters.

The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen. One of my daughter’s SantaThing books from 2022, this picture book is so much fun. It has great rhythm, beautiful artwork, and even a page with hidden animals that my daughter always loves to look at!


The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. It’s been many years since my last Stephen King read, but it was like riding a bike: a hero, a journey with scary thrills, and a happy ending. I hear they’re making a series out of this—produced by the Duffer Brothers (that’s right, Stranger Things)—and cannot wait to see it.

How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community by Mia Birdsong. A thoughtful and intentional exploration of the modern ways we (in America) build and maintain community, and how some groups in particular are laying foundations. Mia’s storytelling made me reflect about how much awesome, transformative value real community can hold through the most challenging of times. I consider this a strong read for the average American, as modern families embark on the rising challenges of everyday life.

Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese. If you’ve ever heard of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, this is the fictional story of the woman behind the main character of that book, Hester Prynne. Woven into the fabric of 19th-century Salem, Massachusetts stands Isobel Gamble, a talented seamstress and embroiderer from Scotland, looking to make a life for herself in America. She arrives in Salem about 125 years after the Witch Trials, and is forced to consider her own lineage as she walks the tightrope of status and reputation in Salem society. Isobel goes through many trials and tribulations as she seeks to define love, freedom, and strength: many of those qualities that, if bared too much, garnered a woman to be labeled as a witch herself. I loved the depth of character and history in this tale. Will definitely look out for more of Albanese’s work.

Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains by Kerri Arsenault. Everything is poisoned, paper mills are toxic waste factories, the government is lying (either outright or by omission) to us. Some people like reading tragic fiction, I apparently gravitate towards the real thing. I found this to be a depressing but necessary read, especially being a Mainer. Now please excuse me while I go and Google dioxin…

Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Feder. My annual nod to my son Finn’s collection this year. This is a great book for parents of curious young minds looking to supplement an honest exploration of all the different types of bodies that exist, and how each one has its own special gift.


Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, illustrated by Alton Raible The first book in Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s classic Green Sky Trilogy, originally published in 1975, Below the Root is an immensely engaging and deeply moving work of fantasy/science fiction for young readers, one which explores the legacy of violence in a future society that has done everything it can to rid itself of this curse. I love pretty much everything about the book, from the world building to the vocabulary and the way it is introduced, the emotional depth of the characters to the story itself. As if all of this weren’t enough, this book is also greatly improved by the gorgeous artwork of illustrator Alton Raible. Although written in the 1970s, and a product of its time in many ways, in other ways the story here feels oddly current, particularly when it comes to the way in which the goal of avoiding or mitigating harm is used as an excuse for suppression. To offer such wonderful storytelling, and to have such powerful social and intellectual relevance, almost fifty years after its publication, speaks to this book’s staying power, and to its brilliance.

Anna Witch by Madeleine Edmondson, illustrated by William Pène du Bois. From beginning to end, I found Anna Witch a positive delight. It was so lovely, in both storytelling and illustration, that I felt I needed to own a copy of my own, and have now added it to my personal library. So many of the little details here, from the physical characteristics of witches in author Madeleine Edmondson’s world to the fact that they always use names that are palindromes, added to my reading enjoyment. The story itself was also engaging, addressing a number of common childhood themes—young people learning at their own pace, children both needing their parents and needing distance from them—in a magical way. The artwork from Newbery medalist and two-time Caldecott honoree William Pène du Bois was every bit as appealing as the story, capturing both the magical charm of the story and characters, and the emotional pitch of each scene.

The Black Riders by Violet Needham, illustrated by Anne Bullen. The first of Violet Needham’s eight-book Stormy Petrel series, The Black Riders is a marvelous Ruritanian romance for younger readers. First published in 1939, it has become something of a cult classic since, offering a rousing adventure story that is also beautifully written, and that features a wonderful cast of characters. I appreciated the fact that, while there are clear factions in the story, and while the young hero cleaves strongly to his side, the opposition is not depicted as evil, and neither is their leader. Indeed, while in some ways the story here is quite naive, in other ways, it is a very sophisticated book, addressing complex moral questions in an intelligent way, and never talking down to its young audience. Needham is considered a master of Ruritanian tales for children, and I look forward to reading more of her work in this vein.

The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman. My list of Top Five books for 2022 included The Thursday Murder Club—the first entry in Richard Osman’s mystery series of the same name—and I commented at the time that one of the strengths of the story was the wonderful cast of characters, who truly came alive on the page. In the course of 2023, I have read the second and third in the series, The Man Who Died Twice and The Bullet That Missed, and found that this was also the case with these books. I am not yet done with The Last Devil to Die, but suspect that it is going to be my favorite of the lot, owing in no small part to my love for the characters. As someone who cares for an elderly loved one with dementia, I was deeply moved by the author’s sensitive depiction of a loving couple whose marriage is being affected by Alzheimers. If Osman found it as heartbreaking to write those scenes as I found it to read them, it is no wonder he has announced that he is taking a break from the series.

Saved by the Boats: The Heroic Sea Evacuation of September 11 by Julie Gassman, illustrated by Steve Moors. The story of the maritime evacuation of lower Manhattan on September 11th, 2001, in which some 150 vessels and 600 sailors—many of them civilian volunteers—helped to rescue more than 500,000 people trapped on the island, ferrying them away to safety, is told in this immensely poignant picture book. The story, written by Julie Gassman, who herself escaped Manhattan on that day thanks to the maritime evacuation, is simple but powerful, and I found myself tearing up, while reading it. The artwork from Steve Moors, in muted grayish tones that are sometimes relieved by a bright blue, didn’t speak to me at first, but eventually felt just right for the story, capturing the contrast between the gray dust that coated everything and everyone that day, and the sparkling blue of that September sky. My mother escaped Manhattan on 9/11, thanks to the maritime evacuation, so this story had personal significance for me. It has also been of comfort, since the October 7th terror attacks in Israel, and the more recent spate of praise for Osama Bin Laden’s “Letter to America” on social media, to recall this story of good people stepping up in terrible times, and to remind myself that while there are those who respond to the evil of terrorism with celebration or justification, there are others whose response is to rush to help their fellow human beings.


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Apocalypse fiction is a genre I tend to really enjoy, and this book was such a treat. It’s very character driven, and I was intrigued by how the storylines entangled throughout the book.

Fungirl by Elizabeth Pich. Fungirl is messy and vulgar and hilarious. Pich’s art style is so whimsical and cute. I don’t think I have ever laughed so much while reading a book.

Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi. Peaces caught my eye because I love magical realism, and Oyeyemi’s wonderful prose and surreal story did not disappoint. It’s set on a majestic old train with an unknown destination. The characters are quirky and mysterious and queer, and there are two cute and rambunctious pet mongooses. I adored this book.

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. I’m actually still in the middle of reading this one, but I feel like I have already gotten so much out of all the wisdom in it. I really appreciate hooks’ definition of love and her thought provoking look at love in our culture and relationships. This is a book I will be thinking about for a long time after I’ve finished reading it.

The Chromatic Fantasy by H. A. This is such a delightful graphic novel! The art is absolutely gorgeous and H.A. is an incredible visual storyteller. The characters are funny and charming and it was such a joy to watch their romance and adventures unfold in such a beautifully illustrated story.


That’s it!

Come record your own Top Five Books of 2023 on our December List of the Month, and join the discussion over in Talk.

Labels: top five

Monday, December 12th, 2022

Top Five Books of 2022

2022 is almost over, and that means it’s time for LibraryThing staff to share our Top Five Books of the Year. You can see past years’ lists HERE.

We’re always interested in what our members are reading and enjoying, so we invite you to add your favorite books read in 2022 to our December List of the Month, and to join the discussion over in Talk

>> List: Top Five Books of 2022

Note: This is about what you read in 2022, not just books published in 2022.

Without further ado, here are our staff favorites!



True Biz by Sara Nović. This is a magnetic, electrifying novel, about identity, family, politics, culture, language, and the Deaf community. I absolutely loved it.

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. I didn’t know a book could be both devastating and hopeful at once, but apparently it can.

Still Life by Sarah Winman. A truly beautiful story of small moments, art, poetry, unexpected found family, a large outspoken parrot, and the backdrop of picturesque Florence.

The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley. I love everything I’ve read by Natasha Pulley, and was waffling between including this book or The Kingdoms (it’s also great! Go read it!) in my top five this year. The Half Life of Valery K doesn’t have a fantasy spin to it like much of her work, but Pulley excels at writing compelling imperfect characters that draw you deep into this unexpected historical novel.

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. A wonderfully epic family saga.

And because it’s hard to choose just five, honorable mentions to Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li, Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson, A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martin, and Less is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer.


Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. Video games, Cambridge, Massachusetts and friendship—what’s not to like?

After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul by Tripp Mickle.Fascinating study of Apple, Cook and Jony Ive.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. Absolutely fascinating. I chased it with Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by Richard Rhodes.

If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens … Where Is Everybody?: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life by Stephen Webb. Enjoyable book with a clunky title. Webb systematically lists and reviews nearly every solution to the Fermi paradox anyone has ever proposed.

Persians: The Age of the Great Kings by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones. I particularly enjoyed the coverage of Achaemenid religion and culture.

Special mention goes to The Metaverse: And How it Will Revolutionize Everything by Matthew Ball. The first half of this book, covering the various challenges, mostly technical, involved in creating a metaverse was riveting—and news to me. The second half was laughable, wild-eyed boosterism—and all-too familiar.


The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. Retirement goals right here, folks. This book was a delight! It was only later that I realized the author is THE Richard Osman of Taskmaster fame (a favorite show of my household).

Luster by Raven Leilani. Oooooof, this was good.

All of This: A Memoir of Death and Desire by Rebecca Woolf. I read a lot of memoirs, especially about losing loved ones, but this is a different beast: Woolf and her husband were in the midst of splitting up when he was diagnosed with cancer. Her memoir recalls caring for him at his end of life and also moving on in a way that others didn’t find socially acceptable.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn. Brilliant women breaking codes during WWII? We love to read it.

These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever.. This book wasn’t even among my highest rated of the year, but I cannot stop thinking about it. There’s little I love more than really digging into characters to determine what makes them tick, why they do the things they do. Nemerever definitely gives all of that and more to the reader. But beware: it’s DARK.


If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. This book was amazing. I was floored. I was also strangely reminded of a series of books… an unfortunate series… the self-aware narrator, bizarre characters, meta-fictional elements, and general absurdity of this book reminded me at odd points of A Series of Unfortunate Events. And I have LibraryThing members to thank for bringing this book up in a Talk post so I was able to learn about it!

Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Allen Williams. A novelization… normally, I would shy away from a book like this, but somehow I didn’t realize that’s what it was until I had started reading it, and by then I was enjoying it so much, I didn’t care! I love the film, and this book was very true to the plot of the movie, while also adding backstory that wasn’t in the movie, but that adds to the richness of the story itself. This is the perfect kind of story for me: whimsical, fairy tale-like, but with just enough horror to remind you that it’s not a children’s story.

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich. This story was very fascinating. It’s probably the first book I’ve read that addresses Covid, so that made it feel very familiar. The characters seemed very real and were well developed, which is one of my favorite things in a book. Another thing I enjoyed in this book was the use of multiple meanings of language, for example the title re-appearing many times throughout the story in different contexts with different meanings.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami. This was one of the last Murakami books I had left to read as I read through all his works. I’m not sure if I’m disappointed I didn’t read it earlier or glad to have had it to enjoy near the end. In some ways this was very different from the rest of his books. Usually his books contain small elements of “unreality” (for lack of a better word), but this book didn’t really have anything set in the real world although one part was clearly closer to the real world than the other. But of course, the people were all real enough, which is one thing I need to have in any non reality-based story. I would say, like a lot of good plot writers, Murakami is not necessarily an ending writer, so I can’t say I understood or was particularly satisfied by the ending, but I didn’t really expect to be. His books are journey rather than destination, and the journey is almost never disappointing!

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami. I saved this book as my last Murakami to read because I love his longer books. This one did not disappoint! It had all the elements I expect from a Murakami book and felt familiar almost from the start. I love reading a long book that is written well and enjoyable. You begin to really feel that you know the characters and the settings. This book made me feel that I wanted it to go on forever.

Chris C (ccatalfo)

Real-World Machine Learning by Henrik Brink, Joseph W. Richards and Mark Fetherolf.

AWS: The Most Complete Guide to Amazon Web Services from Beginner to Advanced Level by Raoul Alongi.

Practical Deep Learning for Cloud, Mobile, and Edge: Real-World AI & Computer-Vision Projects Using Python, Keras & TensorFlow by Anirudh Koul, Siddha Ganju and Meher Kasam.

Deep Learning for Vision Systems by Mohamed Elgendy.

DataStory: Explain Data and Inspire Action Through Story by Nancy Duarte.


Circe by Madeline Miller. I haven’t read a book this well-written in a long time. Elegant prose throughout. I loved the way Miller added depth and nuance to the classic Greek myths I’ve read throughout my lifetime. The whole book was just delicious, the ending poetic.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson. This is a really well-told history of the lives of two men during the Industrial Revolution and the construction of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (the Columbian Exposition). Both visionaries of their own time: I wouldn’t say one good and one evil, but a stark representation of just how impressive a time it was. On one side Daniel Burnham, the lead architect and operational manager of the World’s Fair, who sacrificed his own (and others’) blood, sweat, and tears to direct the construction of one of the greatest exhibitions ever seen. On the other side, H.H. Holmes, a cruel and chilling psychopathic murderer who cut out his own infamy in the White City.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. The fear of the unknown is almost always an irrational one, and it must be faced directly in order to grow in any way. This is the lesson the book’s main character, Linus Baker, learns when the government operation he works for (DICOMY, the Department in Charge of Magical Youth) plucks him from his boring, safe, desk job in the city and thrusts him into an island orphanage overlooking a cerulean sea.

What starts as Linus’s standard DICOMY investigation, governed strictly by its Rules & Regulations Handbook, evolves into a gentle unraveling of the illusion Linus has lived under all his life. By the end of the book, Linus Baker becomes the sweet, gentle hero we all wish to see in the world.

Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker. I entertained my sober curious journey with a few “quit lit” books this year, and this one was my favorite so far. While Whitaker gets a little heavy-handed at times in tone (I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author), this is the quit lit book that resonated the most with me. Whether it just reached me at the right point in time, or whether the author was able to deliver the right mix of introspection, scientific/political/cultural analysis, and humor, I just loved it. Will likely listen to it again.

Hooray for Birds! by Lucy Cousins. I have to give a nod to a children’s book for my son, Finnegan. This one is quite fun to read along with kids as they “waddle like a penguin” or “stand very tall on just one leg” like a flamingo. Have a giggle with this one!

Chris H (conceptdawg)

The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt.Fascinating stories about the everyday things around us and the design and thought that goes into every one of them. Cell towers, spray painted codes on streets and sidewalks, hidden power stations and camouflaged vents for sewer systems, and boundary stones are just some of the mundane things that are discussed in the book. 99% Invisible is a podcast concentrating on similar themes and many of the stories in the book are taken from previous episodes, so if you are a listener you’ll probably enjoy this book but some of the stories might seem familiar.

Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans by James Stavridis. A great overview of how the world’s oceans have played critical roles in the history of geopolitics from the ancient world until today. Stavridis—a US Navy admiral—dives into the history of each ocean in respective sections of the book, mostly concentrating on history with respect to trade and warfare.

The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St Clair. I’m a color nerd so any book on color is likely going to be enjoyable for me. This is not the absolute best book on the history of colors and pigments (that award I’d give to Finlay’s Color: A Natural History of the Palette) but Secret Lives was enjoyable and packed with stories about scores of colors: their histories, their sources, people connected to their development, and usually an interesting anecdote or two. Due to the small—one to two pages—chapters on each color it was enjoyable for an easy read that you can pick up and put back down in quick sessions.


Captain of Dragoons by Ronald Welch. Part of the Carey Family Chronicles, a loosely-connected collection of children’s novels which follows the fortunes of a noble Welsh family over the course of many centuries, this is the first work of fiction I have ever read set during the War of the Spanish Succession. Engaging, informative, and ultimately poignant, it is a worthy addition to a brilliant historical fiction series, and kept me engrossed throughout. I particularly appreciated some of the characters’ discussion about the wider significance of the events unfolding around them, as it gave a better sense of the time, without ever feeling intrusive or artificial.

Berry Song by Michaela Goade. This lovely picture book from Caldecott medalist Michaela Goade—she won in 2021 for her work on Carole Lindstrom’s We Are Water Protectors—marks the Tlingit artist’s debut as an author, and is both a narrative and aesthetic triumph. Some of the scenes here were just so gorgeous, both in their overall composition and in the little details—the scene of the little girl entering the forest with her blue bucket, the one in which her hair is made of berries and her dress is the sea—that I needed to spend some time poring over them. The text itself emphasizes the girl and her grandmother’s relationship to land and sea, and the ties of love and gratitude that bind them together. Even the endpapers here are beautiful, highlighting the wealth of different kinds of berries to be found in Alaska! Overall, a wonderful new picture book I would recommend to all picture-book readers looking for gorgeous artwork, stories of our ties to the land, or featuring a Native American / Tlingit cultural background.

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen. Poet Joyce Sidman and engraver and small press operator Rick Allen, who previously collaborated on the Newbery Honor-winning title Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night, joined forces again in this picture book examination of the lives of animals and plants in winter. The twelve poems here, about everything from migrating tundra swans to brumating snakes, snowflake formation to arboreal wisdom, were paired with lovely illustrations featuring the fauna and flora in question, as well as a curious fox who makes his way through the book. The poems themselves were appealing, with an occasional turn of phrase that was quite memorable, and a variety of form—one example each of both a pantoum and a triolet—that I found very interesting. The beautiful artwork was created through a mixture of old and new mediums: begun as hand-colored linoleum block prints, and then finished digitally. In sum: a gorgeous picture book, perfect for young children who enjoy poetry, love animals, and appreciate wintry vistas.

The Redheads by Josephine Elder. Published in 1931, this obscure British girls’ school story chronicles the interconnected experiences of five redheads—four pupils and one teacher—at the Addington High School, as each one seeks to adjust to new and changed circumstances in their own way. Josephine Elder, who is particularly noted in the school story genre for her sensitive appreciation for and skilled depiction of the nuanced experiences of girlhood friendship, delivers an engaging and ultimately heartwarming tale here, one in which each character seems to come alive, exhibiting a mixture of good and bad qualities. This is not a title in my own library, or that is held by any libraries here in the states, so I feel very fortunate to have been able to read it, thanks to a friend who is a fellow collector of vintage girls’ literature.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. After a few false starts, I found myself racing through this mystery in two days’ time, and ended up enjoying it immensely. I liked all of the characters, and found them all quite interesting, in different ways. The humor appealed to me, and some of the end-of-life situations, by which I decidedly do not mean the murders, were immensely moving. In the end, I think what really impressed me here was less the mystery, and more the characters, with whom I hope to visit again, in the two sequels that have since come out.


Labels: top five

Sunday, December 5th, 2021

Top Five Books of 2021

2021 is almost over, and that means it’s time for LibraryThing staff to share our Top Five Books of the Year. You can see past years’ lists HERE.

We’re always interested in what our members are reading and enjoying, so we invite you to add your favorite books read in 2021 to our December List of the Month, and to join the discussion over in Talk

>> List: Top Five Books of 2021

Note: This is about what you read in 2021, not just books published in 2021.

Without further ado, here are our staff favorites!



The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo. This fantastical retelling of The Great Gatsby is amazing. It’s glittering and lyrical and jazzy and as it races towards the inevitable tragic end, it feels like Gatsby should have always been queer and full of magic.

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams. An utterly unexpected delight of words.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe. Reads like an epic fictional family saga, and is, in a word, damning.

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner. This fantastic and intense memoir is an honest and unflinching reflection on grief, identity, family, and food.

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske. This book is a queer historical magical murder mystery, set in Edwardian London. It is everything.


When terrible things happen, I crave nothing so much as reading and watching about terrible things. During lockdown last year, I read two books about Chernobyl. I watched Contagion—twice! So this year I read two books about the Coronvirus pandemic, two about pandemics generally, and two about the last days of the Trump administration, covering both the pandemic and the insurrection. I read little fiction this year, which probably wasn’t good for my mental health, but what was this year?

Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic by Scott Gottlieb. Gottlieb was head of the FDA under Trump, and while his account is detailed and convincing, it is sometimes angry and surely not unbiased. (His assessment of the CDC under Redfield is particularly harsh.) Most interesting, however, are his deep dives, such as a chapter on the government’s attempts to solve a crippling shortage of one critical element for COVID testing—nasal swabs. This is a book that assumes you don’t need everything wrapped in a personal story to keep your attention, want it all explained, and will sit for the answer. Honorable mention goes to Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live by Nicholas A. Christakis.

I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. I suspect Leonnig and Rucker’s account will become the standard account. Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa was also good, but mostly adding details to Leonnig and Rucker’s. The message of both books is clear: The end of the Trump administration was worse than you think. Got it? No, it was worse than that. Understand now? No, you don’t, because it was worse than that too.

The Third Reich at War by Richard J. Evans. They say men become their fathers, and this book, which was on my father’s bedside book pile for ages, proves it’s happening to me. I was expecting a military history, but the bulk of the account concerns the Holocaust and other Nazi attrocities. It makes for very tough reading, but it deepened my understanding of the regime and of how tyranny and genocide operate, with lessons for today and the future.

Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife by Ariel Sabar. I adored Ariel Sabar’s Atlantic article, which thoroughly demolished the Coptic “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” as a modern forgery. The book repeats the achievement on a greater scale and uncovers more details of the deception. The book is so good overall that the few mistakes I could catch, and a neglect of non-western (i.e., Orthodox) Christian thinking on priestly celibacy, really rankled me.

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place by Janelle Shane. The only really “light” book on this year’s list, a joyful romp into how modern “AI” goes wonky. (It’s the only AI book you can read to your teenage kid for the jokes.) I read it together with a book on my 2019 list, Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust by Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis, a more sober (but still sometimes funny) account of how AI fails and (less convincingly) some ways to solve it. As I was on a bit of an AI kick, I read four other books on the topic, including Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World by Meredith Broussard, and, in a different vein, Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World by Cade Metz.


God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney. I’m a fan of Kelsey McKinney’s writing in general and I was thus hyped when I saw she was publishing a book! And y’all, not only did she publish a book, but I’m pretty sure she published it just for me. I’m not a PK (preacher’s kid), but I did grow up in the church in Texas, so although the experiences in the book were not mine, it was all very familiar.

The Book of Lost and Found by Lucy Foley. This is not my usual genre (dark, depression, soul crushing), but I really, really liked this book. After finishing I immediately texted Abby Blachly for more recommendations in the genre.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. It’s been a minute since a book made me gasp. This one did.

Circe by Madeline Miller. I’m years late to reading this one and it definitely lived up to the hype. Such a gorgeous and well-written book.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.. This book DESTROYED me and I’m not sure I’ve recovered. This is the highest praise I can bestow upon a book.


Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. This year I discovered a love for the books of Haruki Murakami; I have yet to read one of his books that I don’t like, but this has been my favorite so far!

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. This book is a beautiful, fantastical journey…

Over in the Woodland: A Mythological Counting Journey by Nicole Abreu, illustrated by Susannah Covelli. This picture book features beautiful artwork and mesmerizing text depicting mythological creatures in a counting book format.

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver. Lionel Shriver is another favorite author of mine, and this book did not disappoint; it looks at what could happen if US currency loses its value worldwide, and some of its predictions hit a little close home in our current Covid world.

Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown. I’m not usually a fan of non-fiction, but this graphic novel that tells the story of how the video game Tetris became a sensation across the globe was fascinating!

Chris C (ccatalfo)

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Mike Wiking.

The Art of Making Memories: How to Create and Remember Happy Moments by Mike Wiking.

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio.

Practical UX Design by Scott Faranello.

Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty by David Kadavy.


Wrestling with the Devil: A Prison Memoir by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o recounts the year he spent imprisoned at Kenya’s Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, all for writing a play (that empowered the community but challenged the regime). Powerful, insightful, humorous at times, and a good history lesson on White colonialism in Black communities.

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone. This one gave me a few surprising twists, which isn’t a usual occurrence with most mysteries I read. Well done! I’m going to have to read more from Carole Johnstone.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. An unmatched level of prose in this one. Parts of the story stopped me short, with haunting flickers of relatability in traumatic female experiences. It’s obviously a classic that I needed to finally check off my TBR list, but now I have to read the sequel because the ending left me hanging off a cliff!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This was another classic that I had to read this year, finally. I have watched the movie many times, and have to say that it’s one of the better adaptations I’ve seen. They took quite a bit from the book, and the book was such an enjoyable read I felt that watching the movie first didn’t ruin the experience. This will definitely be a regular re-read.

How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. A witty, validating read for the modern woman (or man)! Just read it, you’ll be entertained, at least, and you might even gain some added perspective.

Chris H (conceptdawg)

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett. This was such a wonderful addition to the Pillars of the Earth/Kingsbridge series. If you liked the first installments then you’ll love this one too.

The Thomas Hill Trilogy: The King’s Spy, The King’s Exile, The King’s Return by Andrew Swanston. A fun series: full of murder, mystery, intrigue, and cryptography.

Porsche Unseen by Stefan Bogner. A wonderful look at future design ideas within the Porsche design department accompanied by exquisite photography.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson. A book with technology, witches, magic, and time travel to historic Boston and London. It’s pretty spot-on for me.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. If you enjoyed The Martian then you’ll enjoy this one just as much.


The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book by Kate Milford. A marvelous middle-grade fantasy, set in Kate Milford’s made-up world of Nagspeake, this book is modeled on such classics as The Canterbury Tales or The Decameron, and features a set of characters thrown together by circumstance, who must each relate a tale for the entertainment of their companions. These stories give some fascinating insight into the magical world of Nagspeake—an independent city-state in the Middle Atlantic region of an alternative-history North America—and are interconnected with all of Milford’s other books. Recommended, along with all of the Greenglass House books before it.

Anna ~ Charlotte by Clare Mallory. Well-written, entertaining, engrossing, and emotionally involving, this middle-grade novel from New Zealand author Clare Mallory was written in 1949-1950, but not published until 2016. It manages to combine so many of the charming elements of vintage girls’ books—the school story elements, the friendships, the satisfying self-improvement narratives—with a realistic, sympathetic and non-sensational depiction of bullying, family dysfunction, and alcoholism. This story addresses real problems, but it does not feel like a “problem novel,” as they would come to be called a number of decades later.

Knight Crusader by Ronald Welch. Originally published in 1954, and awarded the Carnegie Medal that year, this British novel for young readers is a marvelously told work of historical fiction—instantly engrossing and consistently engaging. The historical setting is believably depicted, and the characters feel as if they truly live. This is definitely not one of those “historical” novels that feels like a contemporary tale dressed up in period costume, with characters whose outlook on life would be more appropriate today, then in the twelfth century. Rather, one feels as if the characters were people of their time, and the reader enters into their feelings, rather than feeling they were created to reinforce her own.

Branches of Hope: The 9/11 Survivor Tree by Ann Magee, illustrated by Nicole Wong. An immensely powerful and poignant picture book, one which addresses the calamity of the 9/11 terrorist attack through the story of the Callery pear tree which survived being buried by the rubble of the World Trade Center. Ann Magee makes her debut here, and her tree-centered tale is well matched by illustrator Nicole Wong’s lovely artwork. I wasn’t sure at first that I cared for the opening scenes, in which the calamity of 9/11 intrudes, with no explanation given in the text as to what is going on, but then it occurred to me that this was a story from the tree’s perspective, and that human actions and affairs would seem well-nigh incomprehensible to our arboreal friends at the best of times. This realization made the opening scenes even more powerful to me, and I appreciated how the narrative from the tree’s perspective was paired with visuals that depicted both the events surrounding the tree, and the life of a family experiencing 9/11 and its aftermath. I was moved to tears by this book, both because of the story it was unfolding, and because of my memories of New York, after the attack.

The Three Lucys by Hayan Charara, illustrated by Sara Kahn. Based upon events in his own family’s life, Lebanese-American author Hayan Charara addresses the devastation that war causes in this deeply moving picture book. Following the story of a young boy who goes away from his home for what he imagines will be a one week visit to relatives, the book depicts the way in which children and animals—the eponymous three Lucys are the family cats—suffer as a result of adult actions. The story here is pitch perfect, exploring serious real-world issues from a child’s perspective. There is a sense of the more complicated grownup world in the background, but the boy has his own concerns, and so do the three Lucys. Charara’s moving story here is skillfully matched by illustrator Sara Kahn’s watercolor artwork, which perfectly captures the emotional register of each scene. I wept, reading this.


A Promised Land by Barack Obama.

Cosmos by Carl Sagan.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

That’s it!

Come record your own Top Five Books of 2021 on our December List of the Month, and join the discussion over in Talk.

Labels: top five

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

Top 5 Books of 2020


Every year we make a list of the top five books read by LibraryThing staff, and we’re not going to let 2020 stop that tradition. You can see past years’ lists here. And you can talk about your reading year on Talk.

What were your top five for this year? We want to know, so we started a list that all of LibraryThing can add to. Note: This is about what you read in 2020, not just books published in 2020.


The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. I found this historical fantasy, steampunk London book just completely captivating. It’s a delicate magical mystery, and its sequel The Lost Future of Pepperharrow is just as good.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey. I loved this the way I love a Sarah Waters novel. Gothic and tense and SO tightly written, it unfolded so precisely and beautifully. Perfection.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. This book has heart. It is charming and delightful and queer and kind and I want to clutch it to my chest and keep it safe forever.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. Magic secret societies at Yale. Need I say more?

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. A quiet and evocative book set in Dublin in 1918, in a hospital maternity ward, in the middle of the Spanish Flu pandemic.


Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Funny and provocative, this tightly-plotted novel had me laughing, crying, and cringing. The story begins with twenty-something Black woman Emira being falsely accused of kidnapping the white girl she babysits. Reid uses this set up to tackle questions of race, gender, age, and class. I found myself constantly entertained while also doing some tough self-reflection.

Writers & Lovers by Lily King. It was not that long ago that I was living in Boston writing stories that I worried would never be published. Which is to say, I related very much to King’s latest novel. I actually saw myself so deeply in this book that I wondered if anyone else in the world would like it. People did. In retrospect, there are a lot of differences between my experiences and Casey’s: I never waitressed or went on a writing retreat or dated a much older man. I think it’s a testament to King’s ability to write so specifically about this character and her world that it becomes universal.

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier. The protagonist of Frazier’s debut novel is eighteen and pregnant. She works as a pizza delivery girl and at night, while her boyfriend is sleeping, she sneaks out to her dead father’s shed and drinks can after can of beer. She is lost and the only thing that seems to feel real to her in Jenny Hauser, an older woman who orders pizza with pickles. The two become friends, of sorts. Our heroine fixates on Jenny in a way that can be hard to read, but feels very true. This is a bold book that surprised me at every turn.

The Book on Pie by Erin Jeanne McDowell. I won this book from a local independent bookstore right before Thanksgiving. I am normally the pie-baker in the family, and I was feeling sad about not being able to share pies with my parents. A recipe for hand pies solved that problem deliciously. I had less success with my attempt to make the Apple Butterscotch pie: my butterscotch pudding never set. But, I took the whole thing, crust and all, dumped it into the ice cream maker and made apple pie ice cream. I think McDowell would approve.

Quintessence by Jess Redman. Perhaps my favorite trope is a group of unlikely kids coming together to save the world. In this middle grade novel, four mismatched kids must help to return a fallen star to the sky. There’s a mix of magic and science, and a blurring of the line between the two, which is something that I also love very much. What really makes this novel stand out, though, is the way Redman addresses the main character’s anxiety. Alma has panic attacks, but the book isn’t about that. With anxiety on the rise in children, this book offers a nice reminder that all kids can have adventures and save the world.


Annus horribilis! It started in New Zealand, which was lovely, but by March we were fleeing back to the US on the last Hawaian Airlines flight, leaving the only country that would truly defeat the virus. In truth, I could barely concentrate on reading for months. Eventually reading came back, with a special focus on lighter fare, and home schooling and enjoying time with my 14 year-old son, Liam.

Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution by Richard Beeman. Although I studied American History in college, I had never done a deep dive on the Constitution. Beeman provides a detailed narrative reconstruction of the (somewhat vexed) primary sources, with some valuable content and analysis. To understand the Constitution and its origins well is, of course, a corrective to much contemporary political discussion and—shall we say—treasonous shenanigans?

Facebook: The Inside Story by Stephen Levy. This is a comprehensive, well-sourced and engrossing narrative of Facebook’s improbable rise. Unlike Brad Stone, whose The Upstarts, on Uber and Airbnb, utterly missed what was toxic and broken in Uber, Levy sees clearly how Facebook’s culture and reckless early decisions created the dangerous mess it eventually became.

Honorable mention goes to two other company bios I read this year. In the Plex, Levy’s portrait of Google, was great, but didn’t quite match up to Facebook. The topic is interesting, but he does not seem to have enjoyed the same access to top Google people as he had to Facebook people. And Google is simply less of a trainwreck. Lastly, I enjoyed We Are the Nerds by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin, about the history of Reddit. As LibraryThing began on the edge of some of the circles involved in that story, it had an element of reminiscence for me.

Red Shirts by John Scalzi. My 14 year-old son and I enjoy listening to science fiction together, but have struggled to find the right books. We ended Dune about a third of the way in when my son proclaimed that it had no funny parts at all. (Honestly, he’s right; Dune takes itself way too seriously.) After Red Shirts we listened to Agent to the Stars, Scalzi’s other humorous book.

Red Shirts takes place in a Star Trek-like universe, where some of the minor characters are beginning to suspect something is wrong with reality. Agent to the Stars imagines that aliens initiate first contact with a Hollywood agent. These books aren’t great literature, but they are fun!

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. I’d read it when young, but on a re-read—holy smokes this is a great book! Douglass is an absolute master of his craft and aims. My son and I were fairly floored by it. If you haven’t read it, you simply have to.

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. H. P. Lovecraft was, of course, a racist, and racism is shot throughout his work, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to me that a Lovecraftian exploration of American racism would work. It largely does. I resisted putting it on my 2020 list, but however jagged the story can be, it “stuck”; my mind keeps returning to certain scenes months after I finished the novel. I have not seen the HBO miniseries, but I hear it’s good.


The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. Being emotionally devastated by beautifully written stories is one of my favorite things. I’m still thinking about the characters and their lives and this perfect book.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo What Abby said.

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia. 2020 was the year of a global pandemic, yes, but also the year of Kate Racculia for some reason. I know so many folks who read and loved this book and rightly so! It is so stinkin’ good! The highest praise I can give this book is that it’s evocative of The Westing Game, but more modern, more fun, and with more heart.

The Searcher by Tana French. Is it even a best books of the year list if I’m not talking about Tana French? My father-in-law and I share an appreciation for French’s books and after reading this one we both had the same reaction/synopsis: there were no major plot points that made any sort of impression, but we loved reading it. The Searcher is said to be French’s take on a western, which is not a genre I particularly like (save True Grit. True Grit is a masterpiece.), but this book proves that I will read and enjoy literally anything that Tana French offers me.

Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia. This one was a departure for me as I tend to avoid anything remotely scary, but I’m glad I made an exception. Reader, I wasn’t scared! It was heavily gothic and atmospheric and creepy, and I enjoyed every bit of it.


The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Blockchain : the next everything by Stephen P. Williams

21 lessons for the 21st century by Yuval Harari

Yesterday’s son by A. C. Crispin

The rational optimist by Matt Ridley


Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman. Braverman’s coming-of-age memoir is as raw, wild, and visceral as the Arctic. Great read.

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West. A collection of essays that hits on the big issues in America today. A witty, intelligent, cathartic read. (And yes, yes we are coming.)

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. If you’re looking for a fun, adventurous mystery, and you can overlook a few plot/character holes, this is it. It was a welcomed escape read.

Perfume by Patrick Süskind. Chilling.

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson. A nod to my children’s-only genre from last year’s picks, this was one of my favorite bedtime reads with my now 20-month old son Finn. Each animal in the story was given their own voice, of course (in the spirit of Redwall). Looking forward to collecting the series!

Honorable Mention: A Promised Land by Barack Obama. I can’t vouch for the whole book just yet (and I’m “reading” the audiobook narrated by Obama), but it’s been a delightful listen so far. Best described as a nostalgic breath of fresh air.

That’s it!

Come record your own Top Five of 2020 on Lists and Talk.

Labels: top five

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

Top Five Books of 2019

Every year we make a list of the top five books every LT staff member read this year. You can see past year’s lists here.

We’re always interested in what you are reading and loving, so we invite you to add your favorite books read in 2019 to our list. Again, not necessarily published in 2019, just ones that you read.

>> List: Top Five Books of 2019

Without much further ado, here’s our staff faves of the year!




Gideon the Ninth by Tasmyn Muir. This is the lesbian necromancer space opera you never knew you were waiting for. Gideon the Ninth is one of the sharpest books I’ve read in a long time.

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson. A smart, political, nicely paced spy story, featuring a young black woman working for the FBI in the 80s.

Shades of Magic series by V. E. Schwab. Feisty pirates, brooding royals, magic, multiple Londons, strong women, queer characters–this series literally has it all.

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. This short, queer epistolary story of two time traveling spies who fall in love across time and space has prose so deliciously lyrical that I just want to eat it.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey. Magic for Liars is a queer noir detective story set in boarding school for mages. It’s smart literary fantasy, and I absolutely loved it..

Honorable mentions: Both Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (featuring love notes with attached bibliographies, because what could be better?) and Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner would have made my top 5 if they weren’t already included in a coworker’s list (thanks Kate and KJ). And I just read too many good books this year, so also let me also note The Dutch House (give me a messed up family saga any day, but written by Ann Patchett, and I will devour it), and Mostly Dead Things by Kirsten Arnett which has the most fantastic sense of place (taxidermy in swampy hot Florida!).


Tangata Whenua: an Illustrated History by Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney, Aroha Harris. I’m currently in New Zealand, taking in as much history and culture as I can. As far as I can tell, this is the best general overview of Maori history. It’s a wonderful text—scholarly in tone, but general enough to cover a lot of ground. It has one serious drawback as a touring text—it’s HEAVY!

Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust by Gary MarcusExcellent review of what’s wrong with AI. Less convincing on the future.

Mac Bundle! Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer that Changed Everything by Steven Levy and Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process by Ken Kocienda. Inspiring comfort reads.

V(ery) S(hort) I(ntroduction) Bundle! The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction by William Doyle and World War II: A Very Short Introduction by Gerhard L. Weinberg  I’m a huge fan of the Oxford UP series “A Very Short Introduction“. Lately I’ve taken to getting into a topic, such as World War II or the French Revolution starting with the VSI, and then taking up a longer text. This year, for example, I read the French Revolution VSI alongside Simon Schama’s Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution.

Aliens: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life by Jim Al-Khalili I’ll never be a scientist, but this is one emerging and creative subfield I’m eager to peek into whenever I can.

Dishonorable mention: Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley by Antonio García Martínez. The topic is very much at the center of my interests, but the personality of the author was so odious, I had to stop reading.


Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. I would read a detailed ingredient list of any product were Taffy the writer. I’m fully and unhealthily obsessed with her writing. I had high hopes for her debut and I was NOT disappointed. Taffy’s character development is up there with the greats—and I’m a harsh judge.

Normal People by Sally Rooney.Speaking of character development, WHEW. Everyone has been talking about Rooney this year and this is the one to read. I devoured it, I want more.

Nothing Good Can Come from This: Essays by Kristi Coulter. This book knocked my socks off. As someone who identifies as sober curious, I read A LOT of sober memoirs, and Nothing Good Can Come from This is on a whole different level. Coulter has managed to pick apart her relationship with alcohol from the standpoint of being an ambitious woman, a young woman, a naive woman, a married woman, etc. This is so much more than a book about quitting the drink — it’s a book about becoming a person. I recommend this one to folks who aren’t sober curious — that’s how good it is.

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi. A YA love/coming of age story set in my hometown of Austin, TX? I never stood a chance. Mary H.K. Choi seems like the raddest of people and I’m here to say I’m a fan of her writing.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. This book made me equal parts angry and uncomfortable and sad. Three Women was not what I expected it to be, and I find myself reluctant to recommend it, but I think there’s something so important about this deep dive into women and their desires.

Honorable Mention: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. Everything you’ve heard is true! This book was a damned delight!


Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. I have bullied at least seven people into reading this charming romance between a First Son of the USA and a Prince of England and now it’s your turn. Lovable characters, social media written the way it’s actually used, a dash of Star Wars, and two disastrous boys falling in love against a high-stakes presidential election.

Saga Series by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples. Takes the tropes of space opera—bounty hunters, animal/robot companions, star-crossed romance, glitchy ships, weird drugs—and spins them in a big blender. You probably don’t want to read this comic series in public because, uh, nsfw. I adored every issue.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Raza Aslan. This helped me contextualize all the biblical places I was able to visit earlier this year on a trip. A look at the historical man: Jesus of Nazareth, and his surrounding land and century. Not St. Paul friendly. Fascinating, illuminating, ultimately deepened my faith.

When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History by Hugh Ryan. Written to fill in a lacuna in the historical record, Ryan investigates queer history in the borough of Brooklyn. Loosely bookended by Walt Whitman and the Stonewall Riots, this book chronicles everything from early drag on Coney Island to the infamous Sands Street. Come for a grounding in the borough’s history, stay for Whitman’s extensive little black book.

Severance by Ling Ma. The world ends in a flu, but first it’s an uncomfortably accurate meditation on (book industry) office work in the 2010s. Also a nuanced story of a first-generation Chinese-American woman and an ode to NYC. For fans of The Stand and Station Eleven.

Honorable mentions: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood because it is a good sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale and I devoured it in one sitting. How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones, because we should just let poets write all the memoirs, if this is what they do with them.

Chris C.

The Book of Why by Judea Pearl.

The Art of Statistics by David Speigelhalter.

Rebooting AI by Gary Marcus.

Strings Attached: The Life and Music of John Williams by William Starling.

The Grapes of Math by Alex Bellos.


My List this year is the “I Had A Baby!” edition!

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle.My absolute favorite book in my son’s collection! Pretty illustrations, great lessons on kindness within the story, fun to read and a sweet, sing-song rhythm for my son to follow along. Reminiscent of The Little Engine That Could.

The Monster At The End of This Book by John Stone. It’s a Little Golden Book featuring a Sesame Street character (Grover), so how could it not be lovely? This book is so fun to read with my son.

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert. Perfect for exploring colors, shapes, and a good book to grow into with advanced plant words like “rhizome” and “Delphinium”.

Ocean Meets Sky by Terry and Eric Fan. Gorgeous illustrations, and a sweet story. The lead character shares my son’s name, too, so of course I love it that much more. It’s a little more advanced for my son, but will be a great book for him as he grows!

The Baby Book by William Sears. Recommended to me by fellow staffer Kate (to whom Abby recommended), this book has it all. The entire team of Sears doctors worked to put together this in-depth reference for virtually any questions you might have about your child’s development for the first couple of years. Something I return to quite often! A worthy resource.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.
Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow by Matthew Skelton.
Dune by Frank Herbert.


Tell us about your favorites for 2019 on Talk, or add your own Top Five to our list!

Labels: top five, Uncategorized

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Top Five Books of 2018

Every year we make a list of the top five books every LT staff member has read this year. You can see past years’ lists here.

We also like seeing your favorite reads, so we compiled a list that all of LibraryThing can add to. We’re interested in not just the most read books of 2018, but the best of the best. What were your top five for this year? Note: books on this list weren’t necessarily published in 2018—these are the best we’ve read this year, regardless of publication date.

» List: Top Five Books of 2018—Add your own!

Without further ado, here are our staff favorites!


The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. If you want to feel gutted by excellent literature, this is the book for you.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney. I love this book, this flaneuse, this love letter to New York, with its exquisite prose and heartbreaking history of one strong woman. I love this cover. And I love Lillian Boxfish. “The structure of the city is the structure of a dream. And me, I have been a long time drifting.”

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung. Phenomenal. Incredibly poignant memoir about adoption, family, race, and just being a human.

Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht. This is the queer lady spy novel of my dreams.

The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal. In an alternate history where a meteorite strikes DC in 1952, bringing on the kind of climate change that could make earth uninhabitable, Elma is a mathematician and former WWII pilot who becomes involved in the space program. I cannot even begin to say how much I loved this book.

Honorable mentions
Honorable mention to the Rivers of London series which I discovered and then devoured this year.


An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon. Really great sci-fi that prods at the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade and what a history of oppression does to people, set in space. The protagonist, Aster, is unlike any other I’ve read. Manages to feel very personal, while taking aim at the entire society Solomon has built here. Everyone should read it.

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey. Sci-fi but with lots of feelings. About a team prepping for a mission to mars, and how that impacts them and their families. Made me want to call my mom a lot.

Circe by Madeline Miller. Fans of Miller’s equally excellent previous work (The Song of Achilles) will come for the beautiful writing; everyone should stay for the righteous wrath of a witch scorned.

The Quick by Lauren Owen. This book keeps changing what it is: first it’s a Secret Garden-style childhood mope, then it’s a Young Man off to The City to Seek His Fortune, then oh wait, it’s a love story! And that’s all before the vampires show up and things get really interesting.

The Wicked + the Divine. A comic I’ve been reading for the last five years that’s drawing to a close. Great writing, great art. Every 90 years, 12 gods (from different pantheons) are reincarnated as young people—this time around, they’re pop star archetypes: Lucifer/David Bowie, Inanna/Prince, Amaterasu/Florence Welch, and so on. Mythology nerds will enjoy.

Loranne’s… mentions?

The Power by Naomi Alderman. I had such high hopes for this one, having heard rave reviews: women everywhere develop the power to electrocute via their hands. It was ultimately a disappointment: great writing, cool premise, but completely glosses over even the existence of trans/non-binary folks. What’s worse than ignoring people who don’t fit the strict gender binary: there’s a total fakeout—could have explored that character and had it be very interesting, but discarded them instead.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis. A book club read I just couldn’t get through. Maybe if you’re not into social media, don’t write a “romance” that hinges on it? Reminded me of The Circle (and that’s not a good thing).


Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archaeology by Eric H. Cline. I started out disliking this book, whose early chapters go over much of the ground of Gods, Graves, Scholars, but not as entertainingly. It grew on me, and won my heart when it profiled an archaeologist (George Bass) I worked with once upon a time. It may not be perfect, but it’s so far as I know it’s a unique thing—an comprehensive, accessible, scholarly overview of world archaeology. Cat, meet catnip.

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English by John McWhorter. I love McWhorter. I just love him. That is all.

The Winged Watchman by Hilda Van Stockum. A children’s book I listened to with Liam and Lisa. It’s something of a lost classic—a story of a rural Dutch family during the German occupation that is both exciting and, in the end, true to the pervasive horror and occasional mercies of the period.

In the Land of a Thousand Gods: A History of Asia Minor in the Ancient World by Christian Marek. I’m still working my way through this, a nearly 1,000-page summary of Anatolian history. No doubt it would be dry to some. As someone whose deepest historical and archaeological interests coincide perfectly with the topic, it is quite the opposite. The parts I know already read like rereading an old love letter, and the parts that are new to me make my hair stand on end.

Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church by John W. O’Malley. John O’Malley, SJ is best known for his work on the early Jesuits (see my 2017 top-five list). In recent years he’s taken up the ecumenical councils, including a rather good basic lecture series, a history of Trent, and a history of Vatican II (on my 2011 top-five list). His history of Vatican I is similarly good, and oddly appropriate to the moment. This is all my attempt to make up for having attended Georgetown when O’Malley was teaching, not taking any of his class and indeed being completely ignorant of who he was.

Dishonorable mention

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. In my 2014 list I gave Engines of God a dishonorable mention, writing “Why do I bother reading science fiction?” In 2013 I wrote “I love good science fiction, but most of it is crap,” and proceeded to disparage Wool, The Black Cloud, Children of God, and The Midwich Cuckoos. The year before, I said the same of The Kraken Wakes. In recent years Annihilation and The Maze Runner got the stick. I think you can see where I’m going with this one. Certainly, the idea of The Three-Body Problem is clever, but Cixin, Wyndham, McDevitt and the rest: that’s not enough.


Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston. I’ve read a great number of recovery memoirs (voyeurism? curiosity? something in between?), but this addition to the genre stands alone, at least for me. While Johnston shares pieces of her story and journey to sobriety, she also incorporates the results of years of research on the subject of women and drinking. I spent half the time reading this book with my jaw unhinged, my mouth hanging open in disbelief, and the other half reading statistics and other data aloud to my husband. I don’t think I’ve highlighted a book this much since graduate school.

The Incendiaries: A Novel by R.O. Kwon. I first heard this book mentioned on the Forever35 podcast by Doree Shafrir as “cults + North Korea + The Secret History,” which was all I needed to hear. I read The Incendiaries in a single sitting, which is definitely a testament to its excellence as I have two kids under four years old. Honestly, it exceeded expectations.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby. Samantha Irby is a delight, y’all. I have *never* laughed so hard reading a book. Like, snort-laughing, gasping-for-air-crying. But beware that this book is essays isn’t all laughs: Irby is just as adept at discussing the difficulties of life, of which she’s had more than her fair share.

Educated by Tara Westover. Westover’s memoir of growing up in a survivalist, Mormon family and making her way to Cambridge for a PhD is as shocking as it is impressive. Although her strength, tenacity, and intelligence are laudable, I was perhaps most impressed by how delicately and respectfully she portrayed her family—even those who have obviously done her wrong.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith. My personal favorite Cormoran Strike novel. I’m a fan of Galbraith/Rowling and I couldn’t put this one down. As my father-in-law put it upon finishing the lengthy novel: “No wonder it took her so long!”


If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. A murder mystery/campus novel/Shakespeare homage, this gem isn’t for everybody, but if you like even one of those genres, give it a try. Familiarity with Shakespearean tragedies helpful.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer. This Pulitzer winner is a deceptively small novel about a mid-career gay novelist on a scrimped together round-the-world trip. In addition to its hilarious, beautiful language, I loved how it delicately demonstrates the monumental changes travel can engender in a person.

Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat. If I ever become even a halfway decent home cook, it will be because of Samin. Also, there’s a really great Netflix series and the illustrations are gorgeous.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee. This collection of essays by one of my favorite authors covers everything from Chee’s rose garden in Brooklyn, his time as waiter for the ultra-rich, and his activism in San Francisco amid the AIDS crisis in the 80s. Come for the solid lessons on craft, stay for the illustration of a fully-lived life.

Circe by Madeline Miller. Miller made a splash with her debut novel Song of Achilles, an adaptation of The Iliad through the lens of the love of Achilles and Patroclus. Now, she tackles The Odyssey through the eyes of the witch Circe in a moving, righteously angry, and emotionally loaded interrogation of women’s place in Ancient Greece, and now.

Honorable mentions

The oeuvre of James Rollins I’ve spent most of this year on the road, and Rollins’ action thrillers made planes and buses and ferries pass more quickly. Think Dan Brown morphed with Michael Creighton with some Indiana Jones for good measure.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. What Abby said, above. Only didn’t make my top five because it’s in hers.

Chris C.

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford.

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

The Cello Suites by Eric Siblin.

Breakfast with Socrates by Robert Rowland Smith.


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. A compact, powerful message that must be read, broadcast, and the lessons heavily applied to the world. Read. This. Book.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. I devoured this book. The characters had depth, the stories blended together seamlessly, a page-turning plot structure…very well done.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I was a little skeptical of how Gaiman would make retellings of Norse mythology interesting…silly me. A delightful little collection.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Great read. I loved the mundane observations Lahiri’s characters added to the overall theme of each short story. Definitely gave me more knowledge and insight into a culture I needed to learn more about—I’ll surely be looking for more.

Winter of the Gods by Jordanna Max Brodsky. Another fun read in the Olympus Bound trilogy, a modern NYC crime series intertwined with Greek mythology. The shortcomings I’ve found in this series, for me (the endings that drag on a bit and the characters that aren’t as well-developed as I’d like), are saved well enough by the good research Brodsky puts into her writing.


The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Narrated by the author, this novel told in verse is at once a very easy read and an incredibly powerful one. I bought the hardcover after finishing the audiobook because like a book of poetry but unlike most novels, I really wanted to be able to mark it up and revisit certain passages.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. I’m not much for zombies, but I’m very glad I made the exception for this one. For fans of Gail Carriger, Mackenzi Lee, and NK Jemisin, and anyone who enjoys a rollicking, fast-moving historical reimagining with whip-smart characters. Justina Ireland also gives real good Twitter.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. As with much of my reading this year, I didn’t know anything about this beyond reading a brief summary before listening to it (Scribd is proving quite excellent for book roulette), and I was blown away. It was intense, and also beautiful, empowering, heartbreaking, infuriating, and inspiring. It’s one that has stayed with me and which I think of often.

The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty. This author-narrated audiobook was both a joy to listen to, and a sobering recollection of one Black man’s ancestors and the lives they endured. In the afterword, Twitty acknowledges that the book is a complete mishmash of genres: he is apologetic about it, however, while I find it to be one of the book’s greatest strengths. Part culinary memoir, part history lesson, part spiritual journey, all heart.

How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by NK Jemisin. Nothing like a surprise December title to shake up the annual top 5. This short story collection exceeded any expectations I might have had if I’d known it was coming before the day it was actually released. The variety in themes, landscapes, and characters’ experiences and demographics is incredibly refreshing in a genre that can often feel like authors are revisiting past successes or giving their take on a story that’s been told time and time again. The audiobook was top-notch, and I’ll be seeking out a couple of the narrators so I can stalk their work forever. The first and last stories in particular were fascinating and exquisitely performed.

Honorable mentions

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I’ve been told for years that I should read this, and to everyone who said so, you were right.

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi. Mafi’s lyrical prose and Bronson Pinchot’s narration are a perfect match.

Dishonorable mentions

Julie & Julia. This books has EVERYTHING: slurs against mental illness, disparaging terms for folks with disabilities, fatphobia… hard pass, thanks. Just… wow.

The Essex Serpent. I bailed on this one despite high hopes because of the increasingly icky-feeling use of an autistic-coded character as a plot device.

Chris H.

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor.

The Mechanic’s Tale by Steve Matchett.


Tell us about your favorites for 2018 on Talk, or add your own Top Five to our list!

Labels: holiday, lists, reading, recommendations, top five

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Top Five Books of 2017

Every December, LT staff members compile a list of our top five favorite books we’ve read this year. You can see past years’ lists here.

We also like seeing members’ favorite reads, so we compiled a list that all of LibraryThing can add to. We’re interested in not just the most read books of 2017, but the best of the best. What were your top five for this year? Note: books on this list weren’t necessarily published in 2017—these are the best we’ve read this year, regardless of publication date.

» List: Top Five Books of 2017—Add your own!

Without further ado, here are our staff favorites!


Hunger by Roxane Gay
This memoir is both baldly honest and achingly human. Gay writes in her forthright manner about her lifelong relationship with her body and soul, pointing her incisive lens on how fat women experience a deeply prejudiced world.

Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan
Combining two of the world’s great storytelling cultures, Gilligan’s book about Jewish people in Ireland in the 20th century, told through three intertwining stories, strikes a unique and heartfelt note.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
This collection of connected short stories really nails the unique interpersonal conflicts of small town Maine better than any book I’ve ever read, except perhaps a couple Stephen King novels.

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee
This author’s first book (he’s better known for his second, The Queen of the Night), which details the fallout from a sexually abusive choir conductor, contains the spectrum of human emotions in spare, wrenching prose, and some lush descriptions of Maine landscapes as well.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
The book I have been physically pressing upon every woman in my life who has ever been called “kinda intense.” Machado’s short story collection uses the format of gothic tales to interrogate the daily visceral horrors of women living under a patriarchy which is both distant and intimate at the same time. My favorite? “Eight Bites,” a.k.a. the answer to the question: “where does the fat go after bariatric surgery?”

KJ’s honorable mentions:
Honorable mentions go to the fantasy books that helped me through the hard parts of this year: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Note from Abby: this book is utterly charming, the perfect balm to the insanity of 2017), The City of Brass, and The Queen’s Thief series.


The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
I read the entirety of Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy this year, back-to-back-to-back, and if I’m being 100% honest, those three books would all be in my Top Five. But I wanted to give a special nod to the second installment, for knocking my socks off where other middle-of-the-trilogy books often fall short. If you like inventive fantasy, with rich, unique worlds, or if you just like rocks, definitely give her work a shot.

Touch by Claire North
This was one of the most fun, compelling books I read all year. A sci-fi thriller about a centuries-old entity that can take over a person’s body via touch, and who finds theirself being hunted down.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Smart, well-written, hard sci-fi set around China’s Cultural Revolution. Full of wonderfully complex characters and a unique premise—once you figure out what’s really going on.

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan
If a 1980s girl gang of newspaper deliverers + time travel doesn’t sound like an awesome, wild ride, then this probably isn’t the comic for you. If it does…

Injection by Warren Ellis
My favorite creepy, weird comic about a group of geniuses who unleash an AI onto the Internet, and what it does once it settles in.

Loranne’s dishonorable mentions:

  • Armada by Ernest Cline: Meet “All the pop culture references that couldn’t be crammed into Ready Player One: The Novel”. I’m not much of an RPO fan to begin with, but attempting to read this one (my only DNF this year!) makes me actively dislike RPO in retrospect.
  • Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari: A big ol’ NOPE. What a slog that amounted to nothing.


Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
A fantasy world with gay spies and smugglers in an eerily prescient fascist state.

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
A fantastic but somewhat quiet character study of astronauts during a simulation of a mission to Mars. (Note from KJ: cosigned from the resident company space opera nerd.)

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
This book has everything. It’s an Ocean’s Eleven-esque heist, with magic, and with maps in the front. (I’m a sucker for a book with a map in the front.)

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
Murder mystery + theater students who are both incredibly pretentious and undeniably human + so much Shakespeare. Glorious.

The Unseen World by Liz Moore
This book is smart, and heartbreaking. If your motto is like mine, “get wrecked by literature,” read this.

Abby’s honorable mentions:

  • The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone: The amazing story of Elizabeth Friedman, one of the first code-breakers, whose achievements are buried in history behind those of her husband.


Honestly, I would have an easier time of listing the five books I disliked most this year (I’m looking at you, Lincoln in the Bardo). Turns out 2017 was difficult for a lot of folks! Add a newborn and a toddler to the mix and my year in reading was less than stellar. I did, however, read every single children’s book published, so here’s my top five in children’s literature:

Supertruck by Stephen Savage
We love all of Savage’s books, but my son especially loves this one. And the dedication definitely didn’t* make me cry.
(*it did)

Dog on a Frog? by Kes Gray
Silly rhymes, which led to lots of laughs.

Gaston by Kelly Dipucchio
A cute book that challenges what it means to fit in, complete with great illustrations, and dialogue which necessitated my horrid, exaggerated french accent which made my son howl with laughter. Plus dogs!

Extremely Cute Animals Operating Heavy Machinery by David Gordon
My sons is crazy about trucks—to the point that we’ve exhausted our library’s vehicle-centric kids’ collection. This one popped up a few weeks ago and he loved it: animals, trucks, and a sneaky lesson about forgiveness.

Everyone by Christopher Silas Neal
Sparse and beautifully illustrated, my son had LOTS to say about this one.

Kate’s honorable mentions:


When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
I had no idea when I started this book that it would be one I consider potentially life-changing YA. Featuring protagonists with intersectional identities; questions of culture, gender, sexuality, and family; a healthy dose of magical realism and unique prose, I wish it had been around 20 years ago for teenage Kirsten to read.

The Lightning-Struck Heart by TJ Klune
Look, I’ve boiled this down to a simple pitch: it is at once the raunchiest and most wholesome thing I’ve ever read. This book has everything: wizards, a royal family, sexually aggressive dragons, a hornless gay unicorn—need I go on?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Listened to this on audio—Bahni Turpin’s pacing probably isn’t for everyone, but her delivery was perfect throughout. This is a very accessible story about police brutality, race relations between classes, and living one’s truth. Recommend to absolutely everyone.

The High King’s Golden Tongue by Megan Derr
Yep, more MM romance fantasy, because 2017. I loved the characters in this one, as well as Derr’s decision to center a linguist as necessary to successful governance. Another fun romp, a bit less absurd than the Klune, but no less enjoyable.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Beautifully told stories of intricately interwoven lives, over seven generations of a family. Do recommend looking up the family chart if you listen to it on audio.

Kirsten’s honorable mentions:


Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Lockwood by turns dazzles and drives me nuts. Either way, I’m sure to remember the characters that inhabit her breakthrough memoir—the strangest and most interesting of whom may be the author. The next State of the Thing newsletter will include my interview with her.

The Samurai by Shusaku Endo
Silence made my list last year, in anticipation of the Scorcese movie. Samurai is a much “larger” book, and might have made a more successful movie.

A History of Britain by Simon Schama
Especially volume three (1776–2000). Help me, I’m turning into my Dad. Schama was one of a number of British history books I read this year. Also memorable—and even more of a Dad-read—was Lukacs’s The Duel: The 80-Day Struggle Between Churchill and Hitler.

John W. O’Malley The Jesuits: A History from Ignatius to the Present and St. Ignatius Loyola and the Remarkable History of the First Jesuits.
After Georgetown, devouring a raft of “Jesuits in Space” novels, and experiencing the first Jesuit Pope, it was time to do a deep dive into Ignatius and his order.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
I read and/or listened to a number of books with my eleven year-old son this year. Hatchet was one of the stand-outs.

Tim’s dishonorable mentions:
This year was marked by as many duds as successes. A few deserve special mention.

  • Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari: What a terrible follow-up to Sapiens—or rather, a magnification of everything flip and cliched in Sapiens, without any of its interest.
  • The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher: Dreher is asking some of the right questions, and he started a necessary conversation. But his answers are mostly wrongheaded—and frequently gross.
  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer: How on earth did this win the Nebula? If this is the best, why bother?
  • The Maze Runner by James Dashner: Now and then I like to read a celebrated YA book. This one’s a stinker.


Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
This sensuous historical romance chronicles the evolution of Nancy Astley, an oyster girl who follows her beloved male impersonator to the theatres of London. The abrupt end to their romance is just the beginning for “Nan King,” who discovers other parts of herself—and other lovers—in Victorian England.

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou
Incredible tale of an orphan from Loango who flees to Pointe-Noire at 13, and experiences a myriad of adventures, trials, and tribulations.

The High House by James Stoddard
High fantasy starring the newest steward of Evenmere mansion. Evenmere holds the power to the universe, quite literally, and our hero must protect it from those who seek to endr reality as we know it.

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc
A creepy thriller! A young couple’s relationship—and sanity—is tested after moving into their new and suspiciously cheap home in small-town Wisconsin.

In the Woods by Tana French
Det. Ryan returns to the woods of his Dublin hometown to investigate the murder of a 12-year-old girl. The case resembles one in 1984, where Ryan and two friends went missing: he was found with no memory of what happened. Now, he must try to remember…

Chris C.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
I found this oldie but goodie absolutely fascinating and eye-opening. Offers an insightful history of the world’s cultures from a variety of different angles.

Stranges in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
An account of a writer’s journey to understand a part of the US she doesn’t personally “get.”

Numbers and the Making of Us by Caleb Everett
A fascinating look at the way numbers have shaped societies and human development from a technological and linguistic point of view. I particularly loved the linguistic aspects.

Sicily: A Literary Guide for Travellers by Andrew Edwards
A tour through Sicily from a literary point of view, visiting important Sicilian writers’ towns and explaining some of Sicily’s variety through a history of it’s literature.

Agile Data Science by Russell Jurney
An introduction to a set of tools and practices for processing large amounts of data and producing visualizations and/or predictions from that data.


The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Radical Candor by Kim Scott Malone

The Weekly Coaching Conversation by Brian Souza


Tell us about your favorites for 2017 on Talk, or add your own Top Five to our list!

Labels: holiday, lists, reading, recommendations, top five

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

Top Five Books of 2016

Every December, LT staff members compile a list of our top five favorite books we’ve read this year. You can see past years’ lists here.

We also like seeing members’ favorite reads, so we compiled a list that all of LibraryThing can add to. We’re interested in not just the most read books of 2016, but the best of the best. What were your top five for 2016? Note: books on this list weren’t necessarily published in 2016—these are the best we’ve read this year, regardless of publication date.

»List: Top Five Books of 2016—Add your own!

Without further ado, here are our staff favorites!


A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Hands down, the most devastating, beautiful book I’ve ever read. This is now the benchmark by which I judge all other “sad” books. Should come with a button which reads “I survived A Little Life.”

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Since finishing this book I’ve been waiting for something, anything to live up to it. No dice yet.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
I attended Lindy’s reading in St. Louis at Left Bank Books and, y’all, she is a force with which to be reckoned. Inspiring, thoughtful, and funny.

The Girls by Emma Cline
I read this on a trip to California and it was the perfect choice. Cline did an amazing job capturing the insecurity and loneliness of being a young teenaged girl, and the resulting motivations for action.

The Trespasser by Tana French
Not my favorite installment of the Dublin Murder Squad, but it’s still Tana French, y’all. Her writing is best.


March: Book One by John Lewis
Representative John Lewis’s personal account of his life as part of the Civil Rights Movement should be read by everyone. It’s intense, and Nate Powell’s black and white art is used to great effect to build on Lewis’s story.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
This wrapped up Leckie’s Imperial Raadch trilogy, and it hit all the right notes. Continuing to probe at what is left in the wake of an imperial steamroller, and pushing all my “robots are people, too” buttons, it was heart-tugging and funny, and left me wanting more of this universe.

Monstress, Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu
Sana Takeda’s work on Monstress is hands-down some of the most beautiful art in current comics out there, and the world the co-creators have built is rich and intriguing.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

Loranne’s honorable mentions:

  • The Trespasser by Tana French
  • Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang: The only reason this one isn’t in my Top Five proper is because I’m not done with it yet! Chiang’s stories are intimate and thought-provoking, and, if you like reading books movies are based on, the title piece—”Story of Your Life”—can’t be beat, as the inspiration for the movie Arrival.


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This narrative, which follows 5 generations of a family separated in the 18th century by the Atlantic slave trade, is a book I have physically shoved into multiple people’s hands. Alternating perspectives between American and Ghanaian descendents of two sisters, it touches on the histories of those countries through the eyes of ordinary people.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
This memoir/academic research/musings/fragment collection explores how to make a queer romance, and a family, in a world where there are no solid models for either of those endeavors. This stuck with me for weeks.

Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones
In 2014, I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Jones read aloud a few of the poems in this collection about a black gay man coming of age in the American South, but only got around to reading the whole thing this summer. My two favorites are: “Sleeping Arrangement” and “Pretending to Drown.”

Glorify by Emily C. Heath
This came to me at exactly a time when I needed a breath of fresh air into my faith. Rev. Heath suggests a refocusing for the progressive church centered in discipleship, and offers compelling reasons why. My mom, my church’s Lenten reading series, and many others also enjoyed reading and discussing it.

The City Watch Series by Terry Pratchett
I had dabbled in Sir Terry before, but had the opportunity to plow my way through Loranne’s copy of the City Watch books early this year, and enjoyed it mightily. I laughed; I cried; I developed a fondness for parenthetical footnotes. For a series of fantasy books, they really nail down issues that are perpetually present in the real world, pointing out political hypocrisies and themes. My favorite was probably Feet of Clay. Will re-read again, definitely.

KJ’s honorable mentions:
Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and Pocket, which helped me read >30k words a day of election coverage for 10 months on my phone without killing my eyesight. My soul, yes, but my eyes are fine.


The Great Poets by Gerard Manley Hopkins
I encountered Hopkins in my 20s and dismissed him as cramped—how wrong I was! I listened to him again between Boston and Portland, and almost drove off the road in unexpected pleasure. I haven’t discovered a poet I love this much in a decade.

Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction by David C. Catling
A nice break from my usual interests; utterly fascinating, and surprisingly handy for understanding this year’s glut of astrobiology stories.

Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction by Amanda H. Podany
This was the year I got addicted to Oxford’s “A Very Short Introduction” series—can you tell? Despite all the classics and archaeology, by ANE knowledge was pretty scattered. This tied it all together for me, and led to further exploration. Other titles, such as the Ancient Egypt one, weren’t as satisfying.

Silence by Shusaku Endo
Can I add something I’m still reading? I can tell it’s going to be a favorite.

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey
I’m not exactly unbiased here—my wife is the author and the book is dedicated to me and Liam. So read what Abby wrote.


A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Utterly devastating and literally heartbreaking. And beautiful. This book made me sob uncontrollably while on a plane (the stranger sitting next to me never commented, at least), and then proceeded to give me a book hangover where I was unable to read anything else for a month after.

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey
Magical and creepy and lovely. I love Lisa and I’m (probably) going to love anything she writes, but this was particularly amazing.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
I love books with multiple timelines that piece together at the end, and this did it perfectly.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Speaking of twisting narratives that weave into a complex awesome puzzle… I should have read this two years ago when KJ first told me to and I refused to believe all the hype. I was wrong.

The Green Road by Anne Enright

Abby’s honorable mentions:
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, and the fantastical wonderful world of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle books (but in particular The Raven King).


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
I am one of those awful people who has seen the movies but not read the books, until now. I decided I shouldn’t postpone any longer. Not that Rowling’s writing needs it, but Jim Dale made this book even easier to read. Looking forward to Book three! I didn’t skip Book two, don’t worry!

Love in the Asylum by Lisa Carey
Loved this book! Lisa’s provocative—in a good way—story-telling made this an interesting & easy read. The characters’ thoughts, gestures, and interactions are real, relatable, and I quickly settled into the story. Great read. Bonus: historical (fiction) story within the story.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Another must-read for fantasy lovers. It was a cute, easy read that, though I think I would have appreciated it more when I was 10, is still an automatic classic.

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka
This book is the argument for authentically natural farming—farming that follows most closely the behavior of nature. A short, good read that I’ll likely reference while planning my own garden!

No Death, No Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh
Like just about every other human being, death is sometimes a challenging concept for me. This piece is a great meditation on how to define death, and how to remove fear from the inevitable. Worth the reflection.

Chris C.

The Master Algorithm by Pedro Domingos
I can’t recommend this book enough. I found it absolutely fascinating and revealing.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman

Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer


The Trespasser by Tana French
Latest book in Tana French’s “Dublin murder squad” series. Not my favorite of the series, but definitely not my least favorite either.

The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks
Book 4 of the “lightbringer” series. I was disappointed by book three, so wasn’t expecting very much, but really enjoyed this book. Looking forward to the fifth and final book!

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene
I was taking a physics course this year, so this book was a great supplement to some of the stuff we starting to learn in class, but with more detail/focus on cosmological physics concepts.

The Whispering City by Sara Moliner
Murder mystery/thriller set in 1950s Barcelona!

Storm Front by Jim Butcher
I always wanted to start this series, but never got around to it. Figured I might as well dig in while on vacation in Puerto Rico. Didn’t disappoint! A bit cheesy, but you kind of expect that from a noir private investigator/wizard series.


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Achingly beautiful, and a wonderful narration by Frazer Douglas. This has been my before bed soundtrack pretty much since I first listened to it: I must have listened to the whole thing 5+ times through by now.

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey
Even if I didn’t know and adore the author, this would have been one of my picks. You really feel like you’re a part of the world she builds, and the touch of magical realism plus these turns of phrase that made me stop reading and just think—gorgeous.

Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan E. Coyote
In case I didn’t already have a massive crush on Ivan Coyote.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
This was a total surprise. I’d seen the book featured in the window of a local shop for a while, and was looking for a new audiobook when this title popped up. By turns funny and bemusing and sweet, it’s just a damned good book.

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis
A really difficult but hugely illuminating book. Listening to Angela Davis narrate it made it that much more powerful. Very timely and a quick read, highly recommend to everyone.

Kirsten’s honorable mentions:

Chris H.

Turing’s Cathedral by George Dyson
A great (albeit extremely detailed) history of the computer. Featuring Einstein, von Neumann, WWII, Turing, the Manhattan Project, Eckert, Mauchly, Princeton Institute for Advanced Research, etc.

The Matthew Shardlake Series by C.J. Sansom
I’m a sucker for medieval mysteries and these are a lot of fun.

Grunt by Mary Roach
Because I tend to love anything that Mary Roach writes about. She goes in-depth into each subject she investigates and comes out with fun, interesting stories that are great for creating conversations around. See also: Packing for Mars or Bonk.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Do yourself a favor and read the book and skip the rather boring movie. The book has a great sense of humor (humour?), although it gets a little strung out towards the end. I enjoy hiking and would love to do the App Trail at some point, but reading this book will have to do for now.


Um Estranho em Goa by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

Site Reliability Engineering by Betsy Beyer

Maus by Art Spiegelman


Tell us about your favorites for 2016 on Talk, or add your own Top Five to our list!

Labels: holiday, lists, reading, recommendations, top five

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Top Five Books of 2015

Every December, LT staff members compile a list of our top five favorite books we’ve read this year. You can see past years’ lists here.

We also like seeing members’ favorite reads, so we compiled a list that all of LibraryThing can add to. We’re interested in not just the most read books of 2015, but the best of the best. What were your top five for 2015? Note: books on this list weren’t necessarily published in 2015—these are the best we’ve read this year, regardless of publication date.

»List: Top Five Books of 2015—Add your own!

Without further ado, here are our staff favorites!


Euphoria by Lily King

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
This is one of the most unusal and unexpectedly lovely WWII stories I’ve read.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Only Sarah Vowell can write a history of Lafayette (Everyone give it up for America’s favorite fighting Frenchman!) that mentions the recasting of Darrin on Bewitched.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer

What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn


Among Others by Jo Walton
My only regret is that I didn’t discover this one sooner. An amazingly well-written book about loss and how the narrator deals when her identity is ripped away from her at a young age. That somehow manages to not be too depressing. It also helps that the narrator is an avid reader, and the book is full of references to (real) books she’s read.

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow
Short (for me), simple (in terms of plot), and moving. Plus, Jen Wang’s illustrations are lovely.

Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
I read all of The Expanse series (so far) in about two months. Each book was better than the last, and this one was no exception.

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Loranne’s honorable mentions:

  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: So well-written. I laughed; I cried; I mostly cried. Because we all know how this one’s going to end.
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin: This was a SantaThing gift I received last year, and it was such an amazing pick that I probably would have missed on my own. I have a sneaking suspicion that Jemisin’s latest, The Fifth Season, will make my 2016 list.


As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

One of my favorite movies (and books), this memoir specifically about the making of The Princess Bride was an excellent listen. Cary Elwes narrates the majority, but
Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Mandy Patinkin, Bill Goldman, and Rob Reiner all read from their interviews from the book.

Seeker by Arwen Dayton

Combining archaic, steampunk, and modern technologies, while deftly bringing the main characters’ stories together through dedicated chapters, this truly is the best new fantasy I’ve read in some time.

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

I enjoyed this one more the further I got into it. By the last page, I was ready for the next book in the series. While I was wary of another retelling of Oz, it was well done and didn’t feel tired.

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Son by Lois Lowry


A bad year for fiction, except for all the books I read or reread with my son (e.g., Holes, Hobit, Heinlein).

Blue Guide Istanbul by John Freely
This and Freely’s others got my family though Isanbul.

The Fall of Constantinople by Steven Runciman
Great book, but especially so since it formed the structure of an hour-long retelling of the Fall that I did with my son, over dinner in the Galata tower, overlooking the action.

What Philosophy Can Do by Gary Gutting
Should be required reading for everyone who argues onlne.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
I cast around for good science fiction, and rarely find it. So I was expecting to drop this after a few chapters. It’s a much better book than that.

The Classical Tradition by Anthony Grafton
A huge, new encyclopedia of the reception of Antiquity—hugely enjoyable, but perhaps not for all.


Find Me by Laura van den Berg

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell
Delightfully strange story I picked up as an ARC at ALAMW14. It stayed with me long after I finished it.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
TBC is the last book I read before giving birth to my son and I’m SO GLAD it was good enough to hold me over until I had the brain capactiy to once again read.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Kaling’s second effort outshines her first. While her first book focused on what guys should wear to look hot, her second is a collection of opinions on being a successful woman and not apologizing for it. And also gossip. It was delightful.

Kate’s honorable mentions:
Blackout: The Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

Chris H.

The Martian by Andy Weir

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
I live on random knowledge and this book was chock full of the stuff. Loved it.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
One of the more beautifully written books that I’ve read in a while.

Empires of the Sea by Roger Crowley

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey


Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker
The author puts my heart into words, when it comes to planes and the heart-longing-lonliness of why we travel. Reminded me how much I once wanted to be a pilot.

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
Much like a perennial favorite of mine, The Manticore by Roberston Davies, his person’s trip through therapy was therapeutic in itself to read. I also highly recommend the related (Tony winning) book/musical Fun Home, if you like using theater to feel big feelings.

1914 by Jean Echenoz

The Green Road by Anne Enright
I’m always a sucker for dysfunctional Irish families and also “enduring holidays with people you don’t like” narratives, so this was perfect.

KJ’s honorable mentions:


The Secret Place by Tana French
Everything in the Dublin Murder Mysteries series is good, and this is no exception. Great read, great character development.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
I read all 3 of the Cormoran Strike novels this year. All of them were great detective stories, but the first was my favorite.

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks
The third book in Brent Week’s Lightbringer saga. Not as great as the other two, but keeps the story going with enough cliffhangers to want to read the next installment.


The Martian by Andy Weir

Abomination by Gary Whitta

Egghead: Or, You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone by Bo Burnham

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Movie Title Typos: Making Movies Better by Subtracting One Letter by Austin Light

Chris C.

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco
A classic anyone who develops software in an organization should read.

The Musician’s Way by Gerald Klickstein

Data Scientists at Work by Sebastian Gutierrez
Interesting read especially about the mindset of people working in this field.

The Jazz Bass Book by John Goldsby

Becoming a Better Programmer by Pete Goodliffe
How could I get any better? Seriously though, a helpful collection of essays or lessons focusing on various aspects of the software development process.


The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
This was a fun YA read, and I probably liked it so much because it was the first fiction book I’ve read in a *long* time. It was also reminiscent of a lot of the fantasy novels I read as a kid. I had a pretty long stint of reading non-fiction, DIY, and self-help books. Happy that my Secret Santa from last year’s SantaThing awarded me this book! Will definitely be reading more from this series.

Slade House by David Mitchell

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
This was my first novel by Waters, and it won’t be my last. Waters’ writing immerses you into the time where the novel is set, her attention to detail draws you into the story in a way that only a skillful writer can. Excellent character development.

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
What an interesting aspect of WWII research. This historical novel looked at the war through the lens of music and its influence on entire cultures and nations. Not just any music, but that of the famous Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich, peering into his entire tumultuous, revolutionary life in Leningrad and seeing the common “chord” through it all that never lost Shostakovich’s focus. A passionate story that bolsters music as one of the all-time unifiers in life.


You Don’t Know JS: Scope and Closures by Kyle Simpson
Hands down best book(s) on javascript that I have read. Author has the gift of conveying deep and advanced concepts in a concise and compressed manner. A good read for all whether just starting out in javascript or advanced in understanding concepts

The Art of UNIX Programming by Eric S. Raymond
3.5 out of 5 stars. While, no doubt, various precious gems can be derived throught this work of Raymond, the text is too bloated with outdated and irrelevant examples

Introduction to Sociology by Anthony Giddens
This was an academic text book and it did the job. I was interested in certain topics and was able to extract useful information regarding those topics


Tell us about your favorites for 2015 on Talk, or add your own Top Five to our list!

Labels: holiday, lists, reading, recommendations, top five

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Top Five Books of 2014

It’s become a LibraryThing tradition: as the year draws to a close, LT staff members list of their top five reads (you can see 2013’s list here)—this is our fourth year running!

We also want all members to get in on the fun, so we compiled a list that all of LibraryThing can add to. We’d like to see not just the most read books of 2014, but the best of the best. What were your five favorite reads of 2014? Note: books on this list weren’t necessarily released in 2014. These are just the best we’ve read this year, regardless of publication date.

» List: Top Five Books of 2014 — Add your own.

Without further ado, here’s the wordier breakdown of the staff’s favorites, including some honorable (and dishonorable) mentions:


The Quick by Lauren Owen

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Abby’s honorable mentions:


Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
This space opera won lots of awards in the last year, and with good reason. It’s not only good sci-fi, but it poses interesting questions about AI, the self, and identity. Well worth a read.

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
A sci-fi/fantasy mish-mosh that revolves around an interplanetary civil war, this one finally convinced me to start reading comics regularly.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
I first picked this up a couple years ago, but couldn’t get into it until this year. It’s a bit slow to start, and is as obtuse as any Murakami novel, but I really enjoyed it. If the intersection of “melancholy” and “bizarre” sounds appealing, you should check it out.

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
Imagined text conversations between characters and authors of the classics. I still find myself quoting Ortberg’s version of Achilles sometimes.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler
It was an interesting look into the mind of a woman whose career I greatly admire, and that made it worthwhile for me. I laughed, I cried.

Loranne’s dishonorable mentions:

  • The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty: This skewed a little more YA than my tastes typically lean, so perhaps I should have known better. But, I picked it up for book club and was just kind of disappointed. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller: Another selection for book club. If I have to read one more book by a male author in which the curves of an inanimate object are likened to those of a woman’s body (either specific or general), I will light something on fire. Aside from that, it wasn’t a bad book, per se, just very much not my thing.


The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin


The books that really stand out, however, read to or with my eight year-old son, Liam. Reading is always a big part of our life, but it was especially so during the two periods when my wife was away at a writing colony. We had a lot of lengthy drives listening to audiobooks, and sometimes even listened to audiobooks during dinner. We’re running out of stuff to read!

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Read it with my son. I had never read it before. It’s a ripping yarn, and it’s main character, Long John Silver, remains a cultural touchstone.

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
Audiobooked with my son. It’s a classic that appears to have slipped off the classics shelf. That’s too bad. Despite having virtually no action, my son adored it.

Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein
Audiobooked with my son. I have a soft spot for this imperfect juvenile, and we were on a Robinsonade kick. The “let down” (with strong messages about adolescence) were his first exposure to such an ending—and not well received. has a good post about it, “Beware of stobor!”.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Hadn’t read it since I was a teenager. It’s better than I remember.

The Martian by Andy Weir
Hugely enjoyable account of an astronaut stranded on Mars. (I’ve audiobooked it three times.) I interviewed the author for our newsletter.

Tim’s dishonorable mentions:

  • The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka: Not three but sixteen books about three travelleing friends. They’re fine—many steps up from that execrable Magic Tree House series—and I’m glad my son got what amounts to a tour of history. But I hope to never read another sentence by Jon Scieszka.
  • The Engines of God by Jack McDevitt: Why do I bother reading science fiction?
  • The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham*: See above. Boringly sexist too.
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky: It’s pure gold, and doing it by audiobook left me swimming in Dostoyevsky-prose for weeks. But I left off reading in the middle and have to start again; I can’t read something unless I’m fully “up” on it—unless I feel like I’m holding the whole thing in my mind. Maybe next year…

*Perhaps a better question is “Why do I bother reading John Wyndham?” considering The Midwich Cuckoos made Tim’s “dishonorable mentions” last year…


The Secret Place by Tana French
Tana French is always worth the wait. This book did not disappoint.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
More Cormoran Strike, please. Vying with French’s Dublin Murder Squad as my favorite series.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
I love an unreliable narrator and already regret giving my copy of this book away.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
Biggest surprise of the year for me, especially considering how much I was looking forward to Amy Poehler’s debut, which I’m finally brave enough to say I straight-up hated.

The Quick by Lauren Owen
Thanks to Abby Blachly for the recommendation.

Chris H.

The Last Lion, Vol. 1: Winston Churchill, Visions of Glory by William Manchester

Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of K-129 by Norman Polmar

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie


We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
This is both really long and really sad. I loved it, but it’s hard to recommend to people.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
NOT over-hyped. In a sea of post-apocalyptic throwaway books, this literary novel brought art back to humanity, even after the “end of the world.”

The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner
As a Mainer who loves Shakespeare, I was the perfect audience for this take on King Lear. I shoved it on anyone in my tiny fishing town who would stand still long enough.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
Everyone loves lady pirates, blowing up the unethical opium trade, and lavish descriptions of food preparation. Everyone.

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet by Myrlin A. Hermes
Always here for queering Shakespeare texts.

KJ’s honorable mentions:


Faithful Place by Tana French

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

While You’re Here, Doc by Bradford B. Brown

The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin

Organic Chemistry I As a Second Language by David R. Klein


What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

The Walking Dead: Compendium One by Robert Kirkman

The Life of Corgnelius and Stumphrey by Susie Brooks

Chris C.

Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick

Doing Data Science by Rachel Schutt

Statistical Inference for Everyone by Brian S. Blais

Machine Learning with R by Brett Lantz

Unity 4.x Game Development by Example by Ryan Henson Creighton


No Death, No Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is such a great writer for those who practice the philosophies of Buddhism. His writing is simple, reflective, and he repeats a lot of the same lessons over so you can internalize those lessons much easier.

Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England by Tom Wessels
This one was a re-read; the illustrations are beautiful! You’ll never look at a New England landscape the same again after reading this book.

Edible Perennial Gardening: Growing Successful Polycultures in Small Spaces by Anni Kelsey
I read this book after buying my first home and taking a permaculture course online. This is a great guide for designing your perennial/permaculture garden! I can’t wait to build my garden at home!

The Elements of Style (Illustrated) by William Strunk
I was recommended this book from a colleague when I asked for good books to improve my writing skills! A great book for the foundations of the English language and writing.

The pH Miracle: Balance Your Diet, Reclaim Your Health by Robert O. Young
I have continued to read this book over the last year or two, as a way to improve my health and reduce/eliminate my digestive issues. Following the pH diet principles has saved my health!


JavaScript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford

Code Complete by Steve McConnell

Practical Vim: Edit Text at the Speed of Thought by Drew Neil

Rework by Jason Fried

The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt


Tell us about your favorites for 2014 on Talk, or add your own Top Five to our list!

Labels: holiday, lists, reading, recommendations, top five

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Top Five Books of 2013

For the last two years running (2012 and 2011), LT staff members have each compiled a list of their top five reads for the year.

For 2013, we wanted everyone to get in on the fun, so we compiled a list that all of LibraryThing can add to. We’d like to see not just the most read books of 2013, but the best of the best. What were your five favorite reads of 2013?

» List: Top Five Books of 2013 — Add your own.

Continuing this grand tradition, here’s the wordier breakdown of the staff’s favorites, including some honorable (and dishonorable) mentions:


Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler Mike’s suggestion. Wonderful atmosphere.

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn Unexpected story of aliens landing in 14c. Germany, and of misunderstanding and understanding.

Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking by Philippe Coudray First book my son read cover-to-cover.

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis I don’t believe I had read it before. Told it was a dud, but I loved it.

The Circle by Dave Eggers Not the greatest novel qua novel, but it’ll stick with me. And it was enormously validating to have some of my fears put out there.

Tim’s dishonorable mentions for 2013:
Wool by Hugh Howey: I love good science fiction, but most of it is crap. Hot or not, it’s crap…
The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle: Bad “classic” science fiction. Didn’t finish.
Children of God by Mary Doria Russell: I adored The Sparrow. The sequel is a big disappointment. It’s a “negative sequel.” Like the Matrix sequels, it makes the original worse.
The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham: Bad “classic” science fiction.


Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Where’d You Go, Bernadette* by Maria Semple

*Abby would like it noted that she blames The Circle by Dave Eggers for making her put other books on hold, which might have actually been the best this year.


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Everything Is Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford

Kate’s dishonorable mentions for 2013:
There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron
The Never List by Koethi Zan
Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason
You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt: A 1980s Cold War bildungsroman, complete with spies and mistaken identities?! I was supposed to love this book. I did not love this book.

Chris H.

Rough Passage to London: A Sea Captain’s Tale by Robin Lloyd

The Unincorporated Man by Dani Kollin

The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands by Nicholas Capp

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman

The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures by Edward Ball


The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan

The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

Low Town by Daniel Polansky


Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

The Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner

Chris C.

Building Machine Learning Systems with Python by Willi Richert

A Wizard, a True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio by Paul Myers

Machine Learning for Hackers by Drew Conway

Frank: The Voice by James Caplan

Make: Electronics: Learning Through Discovery by Charles Platt


The Rathbones by Janice Clark

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt

Cypherpunks by Julian Assange

The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

KJ’s honorable mentions for 2013:
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Open City by Teju Cole


The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
This one’s a re-read for me (for sci-fi book club), but it’s also one of my all-time favorites, so it’s going on the list.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Definitely my most anticipated book of the year, and it did not disappoint. Allie Brosh is a hilarious, insightful genius.

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
This one didn’t change my reading life the way his first novel, The Gone-Away World did, but it’s also excellent.

Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood
I binged on the whole trilogy in about a month, but this was my favorite by far.

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
I absolutely loved The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, but didn’t think this one quite measured up. Still very good, though.

Loranne’s dishonorable mentions for 2013:
The Circle by Dave Eggers: I really enjoyed doing One LibraryThing, One Book, but when I finally finished this one, I wanted to throw it against a wall. I just did not like it. At all.
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany: Another selection for sci-fi book club. I just couldn’t get into this one. I didn’t even make it to the halfway point. Kept waiting for things to get interesting/start making sense, and they never did.


Tutte le poesie by Eugenio Montale

Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves

The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol by Nikolai Gogol

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

The Origin and Goal of History by Karl Jaspers

Matt’s honorable mentions for 2013:
Locomotrix: Selected Poetry and Prose of Amelia Rosselli by Amelia Rosselli
The Professional Chef’s Book of Charcuterie by Tina G. Mueller
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh


Tell us about your favorites for 2013 on Talk, or add your own Top Five to our list!

Labels: holiday, lists, reading, recommendations, top five

Monday, December 17th, 2012

LT Staff’s Favorite 2012 Reads

I asked everyone on the LT staff to put together a list of their five favorite reads from 2012. Here’s what they came up with:


The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.

Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare: An Ecologist’s Perspective by Paul A. Colinvaux.

Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl (with my son).


The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

Abby adds “Because picking just 5 is hard, honorable mention to: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.”

Chris H.:

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham.

The Fourth Part of the World by Toby Lester.

The Icon Handbook by Jon Hicks.

The Art of Urban Sketching by Gabriel Campanario.

The Road to Ubar by Nicholas Clapp.


Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer by Wesley Stace.

The Passage of Power by Robert Caro.

The Rector and the Rogue by W.A. Swanberg (the new edition edited by Paul Collins).

The Social Conquest of Earth by E.O. Wilson.

The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann.

Honorable mentions here for The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King and PYG: The Memoirs of a Learned Pig by Russell A. Potter. NB: I always post a top ten fiction and a top ten non-fiction list on my blog on December 31, so check in there at the end of the year for the complete list.


How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Kate gives an honorable mention to Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan.


The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks.

In the Woods by Tana French.

The Riyria Revelations (series) by Michael J. Sullivan.

Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook.

Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin.


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Hunter.

PHP Master: Write Cutting-Edge Code by Davey Shafik.

What were your favorite 2012 reads? Come tell us here.

Labels: holiday, lists, reading, top five

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

LT Staff’s Favorite 2011 Reads

I asked everyone on the LT staff to put together a list of their favorite reads from 2011. Here’s what they came up with:


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Listened to this twice through in the car with my son. White simply never puts a foot wrong. The book is perfect.

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch. Engrossing door-stopper survey of Christianity—with a thousand years of Greek and Jewish civilization thrown in for context.

Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis. A highly enjoyable series of vignettes related to the Founders. Ellis lied about his war record, but he’s still worth reading.

What Happened at Vatican II by John W. O’Malley. Excellent overview of the council from a historical, rather than theological angle, demonstrating, against recent chatter, that “something” did indeed happen.

Xenocide by Orson Scott Card. The only Card book I read in 2011, Xenocide isn’t as good as Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, but it’s still hugely enjoyable. The audiobook version is particularly engaging.


A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. Yes, I’m one of the people who didn’t get started on A Song of Ice and Fire until the HBO series came out. But then I got to read/devour all five right in a row, without waiting years for them to come out, like the rest of you. Who’s laughing now?

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. I just love Ann Patchett.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Erin Morgenstern writes beautifully, and it’s a treat to enter her fantastical, magical world. (If you liked this, you should probably also read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and its sequel that came out this year, The Magician King).

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. There’s a reason this book is hitting so many “best of the year” lists. An unexpectedly wonderful, woven together story about baseball, college, love, and life.

Bossypants by Tina Fey. This is a book that will make you look like a crazy person laughing loudly to yourself if you read it in public.


I Was Told There’d be Cake: Essays by Sloane Crosley.

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett.

In the Woods by Tana French.

Bossypants by Tina Fey.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell.

Chris H.:

The Sugar King of Havana by John Paul Rathbone.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach.

Colossus by Michael A. Hiltzik.

The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Obsessive Consumption by Kate Bingaman-Burt.


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

Back to Our Future by David Sirota.

Decision Points by George W. Bush.

Parachute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster.


Liberty’s Exiles by Maya Jasanoff. Even when I read this in May I knew it would be on my Best of 2011 list. It’s an extremely well-written account of the loyalist diaspora, drawing on a massive amount of new archival research. Full review.

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips. As I wrote in my review, this novel “includes the text of a newly rediscovered Shakespeare play. Or it doesn’t. Either way, it’s a delightful examination of books and forgeries and Shakespeare scholarship, wrapped up in a meta-narrative and tied with a bow.” Full review.

Then Everything Changed by Jeff Greenfield. I absolutely devoured this set of fascinating alt-histories. What if a suicide bomber had killed JFK outside his house in December, 1960, before the electors had cast their ballots? What if RFK hadn’t been shot in June, 1968, just after winning the California primary? What if Gerald Ford had recovered from a crucial gaffe during a 1976 debate, and won reelection? Greenfield delves into some seriously wonderful political arcana. Full review.

Pym by Mat Johnson. A darkly satirical reimagining of Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Full review.

The Story of Charlotte’s Web by Michael Sims. From my review: “If you’ve ever enjoyed White’s masterpiece, or like to know the “story behind the book,” this is a title you should be sure to add to your shelves. It’s a keeper.” Full review.

NB: I always post a top ten fiction and a top ten non-fiction list on my blog on December 31, so check in there at the end of the year for the complete list.


A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks.

The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman.

What were your favorite 2011 reads? Come tell us here.

Labels: lists, reading, top five