These are the books I've read or listened to in the last four years. Skip to a year using the dropdown menu! Each block contains a review, a picture, the book's length, format I read/heard it in (audiobook, kindle, physical book), and summary of characteristics.
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Alte Sorten by Ewald Arenz
This book was gifted to me at Christmas and I was really happy to have a German book that was already approved by a friend. I think this book helped me improve my German a lot. The way the book is written made it easy to read and understand what was going on. The characters felt real. The two main characters had both experienced trauma and the way they acted made me feel like the author really understood how trauma can affect people's behaviour and emotions. The characters are not polished or surface-deep. They don't always do smart things, but what they did made sense to me. My favourite things about the book are firstly that it is not predictable, and secondly that the characters tend to do the right thing, even if it is not the easiest thing. On top of this, the setting of the book, in the countryside, was really enjoyable for me. I found it funny that I learned lots of new 'farm' words in German. The book allowed me to imagine how life would be as a farmer, being closer to nature and away from the drama associated with being among people all the time!
Emotional, intense, joyful
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake
This book starts like a poem, then time travels before diving beneath forests, and ends by dazzling with the ridiculously fascinating and tantalising world of fungi-human symbiotic possiblities. I read it with so much love and respect for how mother nature does her thing, and for the rare professionals and amateurs who seek to understand her ways. The vastness and mystery around the lives of fungi and its symbiotic partners actually reminds me of the vastness and mystery of space. There is endless space above us, and endless fungal activity below us. This books brings me hope that humans can manage their impact on the planet in a way that benefits both themselves and the ecosystem around them. The growing possibilities of working in partnership with the wonderful and boundless nature around us makes me feel happy.
Fascinating, hopeful, clever
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
Reading the first chapter already brought me out in goosebumps. Reading about the galaxy and the million unknown things above our heads and delving into why we actually exist is something I love. Who doesn't? I think it brings our silly little existences into perspective. I mean, this book doesn't have answers to the meaning of life. It admits that despite the amazing advances by key scientists over the centuries, we still have things to learn. But that we are learning them, and are likely to find them out. The author writes about physics in such a way that gives away how much he loves the topic. And that he knows a heck of a lot. Writing so much in so few words really shows that he must know his stuff. I'd honestly recommend this book to anyone. I think it'd be a great 'required reading' book in schools. Let's admit it—anyone would be fascinated to find out not only that time is bendy, but also many more amazing things about our universe!
Wonderful, thoughtful, hopeful
Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
Each story in this book is different although most are focused around either Miami, Florida, Haiti, or both. The stories focus subtly on relatable but difficult topics. The topics seem to be ones that nobody talks about much, but rather tend to stay within families. There is something incredibly human about each story. I feel like some stories moved quite slowly, where many actions and reactions are described in detail. Perhaps some readers would like the point of each story to arrive more quickly. But, I found something calming about being brought through each story day-by-day rather than all at once. This aspect added to the human feeling of each story for me. The stories are must less 'here is an action movie of someone's life' and rather 'here is this person's real life, boring parts and all'. This is something I really appreciate, because I feel like so few authors (and so few people) tell such relatable stories that validate you and make you feel like you are a normal, okay human after all.
Insightful, human, relatable
Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump
As soon as I heard this book was coming out, I wanted to read it. I am someone who has lived among emotional abuse and I know the huge power it can hold over anyone unlucky enough to be involved in it. To me the behaviour displayed by Trump is odd enough to make me curious about his upbringing. This book is told from the perspective of his niece Mary, the daughter of his older brother. Mary delves deep into the dynamic of the Trump family and describes how its members treated each other. The horrible effects of highly conditional love seems to have driven the Trump children to self-destruction, meekness, warped self-esteem, massive disregard for others, bullying, and more things besides. I definitely think this book gave me a much clearer understanding of why Trump behaves as he does, and makes me think he will never change. If his self-esteem is wrapped up in bigging himself up and calling everyone else a loser at every opportunity, this is what he's gonna keep doing. It's too uncomfortable for him to learn to take criticism, not lie about everything, be fair, or not throw regular child-like tantrums. I'm glad Mary decided to write this book and I hope people from both sides read it and gain an important insight.
Sad, frustrating, clarifying.
A Good Catch by Fern Britton
I bought this because I quite fancied reading a book that was given an award for being a good story to read while on holiday. However, on the whole I was disappointed with a number of aspects in the book. I felt most characters are good by themselves, with lots of potential. But I think they didn't go well together. The relationship between them doesn't seem realistic at all. The storyline seemed a bit chaotic as well, and no part of it seemed to be given time to develop in a more meaningful way. I feel like the author threw together lots of parts of the story just to see if they'd stick. The book is an easy read though with some twists and turns that aren't too predictable, and some of the dialogue is quite enjoyable.
Incohesive, under-developed, emotional
Abolish Silicon Valley by Wendy Liu
This book seems to be divided into two parts and the second half is totally worth waiting for. One thing I like the most about it is you can tell the author is very well-read on and has plenty of first-hand experience with the failings of our current tech industry. Whether those failings are obvious to people, or not very obvious at all. The last part of the book is a densely-packed treasure trove of suggestions on how we can in fact use tech for the good of everyone (i.e. the working class) and not just shareholders and billionare founders. It made me wonder more than ever whether the 'old' ways of doing things that have got us to where we are today are actually outdated, and doing more harm in the present than good. The strikingly obvious lack of regard for certain human beings we have seen in the past years, and the voracious global protests that have recently taken place provide stark evidence that this is so. The author recognises and describes her own biases towards certain things and people and explains how hard it has been for her personally to think in a fairer way, even if she is a long way from (or may never) overcoming them. So I believe as she does that people need to allow themselves to feel uncomfortable in order to allow fairness to everyone. Because every single person deserves to lead a good life free of hardship and judgement.
Sobering, scary, motivating.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This book is set in the time of the Greek gods. The two main characters are two boys - Achilles, a half-god, and Patroclus, a mortal prince. The language used in the book is very beautiful. I especially liked the author's descriptions of the characters' various appearances, whims, and moods. I also liked that she wrote in short sentences. This helped me to digest the story easier. The book is written from the perspective of one of the main characters, and this was a great way to get to know him. I really delighted in the bond between the boys and their fierce loyalty to each other. The scenes were painted in such a way that I could feel myself there. I could feel the sand on the beach, smell the flowers in the woods, and the salty air of the sea. One of the things that shocked me was how women in the book were treated but this was the 'age of kings and honour' where women were apparently not regarded in very high esteem. I read the whole book in a week because I was always hungry to know what was going to happen next. I don't want to give too much away, but if you like a good love story, displays of fierce loyalty, and a good deal of pure and youthful optimism, with some historical Greek 'honour, gods, and war' thrown in, this book is for you :)
Vivid, beautiful, more-ish.
Der Blutige Pfad by Nina Wagner, Claudia Peter & Madeleine Walther
This is the second German book I've read this year and I really enjoyed it. The title's translation is 'The Bloody Path', which is the title of the first story. The book is split into three different stories and all are 'Krimis', which are popular in Germany. Krimis are crime stories and each of the ones in this book are really different from each other and I liked that. It was also great that none of them were really predictable. As it's a German learners book, there are vocabulary tips and information boxes throughout. I don't have too much of an idea what level of German I'm at but I could understand the majority of the text and it's meant for B2 students. I learned some regional German slang and lots of new verbs. Am now looking out for a similar book to continue strengthening my German :)
Charming, simple, varied.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This is the first book in I think five in the series. The series is actually called a trilogy, which should give you the first clue that the author had a lot of fun writing these books and likes to be silly. The story was really easy to read and I liked the characters. Some people have said that it lacks structure and a point, but this could be seen as a strength. It's a book you can sit back and relax with and not take too seriously. There is plenty of jokes and unpredictability to keep you going. I want to get on with reading the next book but I have so much else I want to read. When I am in the mood for the least serious book in the world, I'll go back to the series! I wanted to read the books in the first place because they are total classics and I needed to see what the hype was about. There was an author's note in the beginning of the book and I had lots of fun reading that. Definitely a guy I'd want to meet in person.
Unpredictable, random, delightful.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
The format of this story is one that I haven't always enjoyed in other books, but I did in this one. Each chapter is from the perspective of one person. My very favourite thing about the book is that the characters seemed to pop out and take a seat right next to you. I really liked how the characters interacted and how there was little predictability to the storyline. The emotions portrayed were believable and thought-provoking. It taught me a bit about African American culture, which I am grateful for. It's one of the books I am glad I picked up and whose contents I know I'll be reminded of from time to time.
Eye-opening, emotional, raw.
The Cat Sanctuary by Patrick Gale
This is a book that I read, or rather skim-read many years ago. I have it in paperback somewhere but was reminded of it and bought it again on Kindle for a trip. The setting of the book is mostly rural Cornwall, which I like very much. The setting alone sets half the atmosphere for the book, and the interactions and relationships of the characters does the rest. I feel like some people may find the book a bit tedious because of the amount of conversation in there, but I liked how even the smallest interactions were carefully described. The revelations in the book also came as a surprise to me, and were not predictable in my opinion. This book gave me food for thought and also transported me to a beautiful place. Thumbs up!
Emotional, blunt, triggering.
How to Be Right... in a World Gone Wrong by James O'Brien
This was recommended to me by a fellow Brit over lunch. In the wake of a recent Brexit I was intrigued to hear from a British radio host who is different from most others. That's how he describes himself anyway, and I agree. He is clearly a really intelligent guy judging by the depth of his arguments. I actually had to look up a few of the words he used as well. Something great about his attitude (to me) is that he actively tries his best to remain neutral and not put the blame on individuals who have likely been misled by modern-day news-reporting techniques. He acknowledges that at our core we are all alike - we experience fear, despair, worry and also hope. We are an emotional species and those working for newspapers these days not only know this, but constantly try to exploit it for their own benefit. The book is divided into several concise and very interesting chapters. I'd recommend anyone to read it, not least of all to gain a valuable perspective.
Intelligent, unique perspective, thoughtful.
Ein Ganzes Leben by Robert Seethaler
I bought this book on recommendation from a book store person. I said I wanted to improve my German learning by reading. For someone around the B2 level of German, I have to say this book was definitely a challenge. Very long sentences, complex grammar and a lot of new vocabulary. I read it all out loud to my partner. We both enjoyed the story and we always wanted to know what came next. The story covered the life of a man named Andreas Egger, and the life was a definitely a varied one. Some of the descriptions were quite beautifully written, and some were a little 'too much information' in style. I enjoyed the start and finish the most, where Egger was young and old. These parts were told in more detail, as it's quite hard to fit the 'middle' of his life into so few pages without skimping on detail a bit. I think the book gave a great perspective of a man who didn't have an easy start in life but tried to do his best no matter what.
Humbling, human, introspective.
Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech by Sara Wachter-Boettcher
The best way I can describe this book is equal amounts of saddening and maddening. It details in plain English the inherent problems within some of the world's largest tech corporations. Largest and most powerful, and able to affect our lives in ways we might not have considered. The bias and ignorant attitudes resting within the founders and staff within such companies massively swings their products towards dangerous territory. Some of this includes things like harrassment, lying, blackmailing, abuse, cover-ups, bribing. Think your social media profile is harmless? It isn't. The book should be required reading for everyone on the planet because very little good can come out of corporations that are interested in only themselves and money, and will trample over vulnerable and innocent people to get more power. Reading this has opened my eyes and I believe it's going to forever influence the way I work on digital products.
Saddening, maddening, scary.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Oh I loved this one - the characters, the dialogue, and the imagery. I found myself feeling multiple emotions throughout - from anger to sadness to fear. I don't even generally like science fiction books but this one is so down-to-earth (not literally), and so full of feeling and beautiful ideas that I never wanted to put it down. This book made me examine myself, and humanity. It put into perspective that while humans can be great, they can also be flawed. You should read it to properly understand what I mean ;) Also, the different alien characters in this book are simply delightful. We get to hear about their histories, their peculiarities, their cultures. They are all so endearing and the author makes them seem so plausible and real! I found this really incredible. Another thing I love is that there are gay and non-binary characters - I think it's important for mainstream books to have more of these. The feelings and beautiful perspectives I got from this book will stay with me for a long time - I feel lucky to have found this one (through a friend's recommendation) :)
Enlightening, funny, surprising.
This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay
I got into this book right away and could hardly put it down. Adam Kay's sense of humour made me feel nostalgic for the UK, which felt great by itself. But, the most amazing thing about this book is that it gives a valuable insight into what it's like to be a doctor. Even if some of it seems a little scripted, the majority served to grow my empathy and thankfulness towards doctors, especially those who work where life and death is involved. It reminded me of my time working in a resthome for the elderly. Adam describes to us humanity at its most vulnerable, scared, angry and exhausted. This is something you can't grasp from newspapers or quotes from politicians. The book ends with a call to do something to make people aware of the plight of employees within the NHS. How we should treasure everyone who works there for being there to help us when we need it the most. Adam's dry sense of humour and realness spill forth from every page of his book and I am so, so glad I read it. I miss it already!
Funny, shocking, revealing.
The Bear Went Over The Mountain by William Kotzwinkle
Reading in progress - 50 pages to go.
Silly, satirical, surreal.
The Dolls Alphabet by Camilla Grudova
I knew that book is a little something different before I'd even read the first page. I like that. I think it's good to read unusual things sometimes. The book is an entirely fictional (I hope) collection of short stories that I believe are designed to make you think. Although, to be honest, they could be written for no reason other than the author liked them. There are similarities between the stories, mainly in the use of props and descriptions of people. Not all of the stories were enjoyable for me, but they were worth getting through so that I could reach the ones that were. I particularly enjoyed two or three of them very much. The author writes about dystopian worlds with different social rules, and I find that very interesting. I think we get used to the cultural rules of our society and they end up as background noise. Hearing about a different set of rules is unnerving but can be refreshing. The stories dealing with these rules are ones that I still think of from time to time. It's nice that the contents of a book stay with me like that.
Mesmerising, skewed, absurd.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This is one of the most poignant and thoughtful books I've read. Paul documented his journey with a terribly illness that sprang upon him very early in life. We get to hear about his early life, his time working as a young doctor and the strains it put on his relationship. Getting a glimpse into someone else's life - not only the shiny, polished parts - is quite an honour. Paul explained that he'd always loved writing and would write if he was not a doctor. I really like how he was able to enjoy writing even though his illness was slowly taking away the most important part of his life - his work as brain surgeon. I enjoyed Paul's wisdom throughout the book - in particular how he explained that a job isn't something you do for the monetary compensation. It's something you do because it brings you meaning. Otherwise - why would anyone make holes in people's brains? A haunting thing is that Paul never got to finish his book, which shows that nothing in life is certain and you should treat each day as a gift.
Reflective, haunting, real.
Our House by Louise Candlish
I don't want to give away too many spoilers. The story is about a husband and wife who decide to split, and the events that follow this split. The book switches the conversations and experiences of the main characters between first and third person, which is an engrossing method I haven't come across before. The book is fairly long but an easy read - it had me yearning to read more at times when I'd have put other novels down. I don't know that much about what makes really good character development, but to me the characters seemed to be quite well-developed. There are some elements of the book that seem quite unrealistic, but this is just my opinion. Despite this, the book is an enjoyable read with plenty of emotions, deceit, and misfortune packed in. It's also worth it to read to the very end to see how everyone's separate deeds and doings come together.
Descriptive, thrilling, unpredictable.
My Thoughts Exactly by Lily Allen
I heard of this book after seeing it quoted on an Instagram story. The quote was about Lily losing her baby, which was a difficult thing I felt she wrote about with grace and poignancy. After beginning the book, I found it to be a whirlwind - an honest, vivid and intense account of Lily's life from early beginnings to the present. Before this book I'd known that being famous was often a difficult thing to be. This book confirmed that and does a good job of explaining why. It made me feel grateful for my relatively high level of anonymity and for the people I can trust in my life. I admit that some experiences Lily described got to me quite a lot and triggered some unpleasant feelings, but I'm sure this wouldn't happen for everyone. I'm really glad I picked the book up (well, downloaded it). In the end, it was very interesting to hear about things how Lily experienced them and not from the page of a tabloid paper.
Real, intense, triggering.
Up and Going by Kyle Simpson
I want to begin reading a lot more programming material and a lot of people told me this was a good place to start. The author clearly knows his stuff because he's able to explain fairly complex things in relatively few words. By the end of the book I was keen to learn more from his other books. As a fairly experiened developer, I was aware of the main concepts of JS already. However, I found out why these concepts came to be and learnt some more intricate details about them. There are a few comprehensive practical exercises to try out by yourself, and I did these in no time. I won't remember all the tips in the book, but I know it'll be easy to come back when I need to and find the information I need.
Informative, practical, introductory.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Before beginning this book I was looking forward to hearing about Michelle's wisdom and experiences and I wasn't disappointed. I liked hearing how she grew up and about the people she grew up with. I find that quite often, people will speak of those they admire but not go into details. Michelle gave enough details about key people in her life that I almost felt I could feel them sitting next to me in the same room. I was impressed to hear about her incredibly hard work ethic. I was also intrigued at how her parents raised her - to not be afraid of hard work, to be kind to others, and to be open to people and possibilities. I like how hers and Barack Obama's personalities seem to compliment as much as clash with each other. While I may not be a parent, I share her concerns over her children's protection while living at the white house, and admire the strength she displayed in the face of so much bad and unfair press coverage.
Autobiography, strong, real.
2018Books I read in 2018