I know this title is a bit misleading since winter isn’t totally over, but we had our first breath of spring air the other day here in Iowa City, so I’m taking that as a sign that spring is close by! For me, one of my favorite things about the warm weather is being able to ditch my blankets, warm lamps, and big mugs for some grass, sunlight, and soft breezes. As an English and creative writing major, I’m alwayssss reading: for pleasure and for class, for rain or for shine! So, I’d love the opportunity (once again!) to talk about the books I’ve read and what I thought of them. Here are ten books that I read under the covers of my warm and fuzzy bed, both for pleasure and for my classes this past semester.
Klara and the Sun by Kazou Ishiguro
I read this novel for my Global Science Fiction class (a class where we read famous science fiction works that were written by authors outside of the United States) and I absolutely loved it! It follows Klara, a solar-powered AI that is designed to help families and be companions for children in a futuristic United States. Klara is bought by Josie, a young sick girl, and her single mom. As Klara continues to learn more about human life and emotion, she encounters Josie’s strange family dynamic and the real reason why Klara was the perfect AI for Josie.
This novel was longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize and the 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. After reading it, I could definitely see why this novel was up for such prestigious awards! It is a bit slow in the beginning, but it really picks up halfway through, and the big reveal is insane! I think this is a great book for just about anyone to pick up.
One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
I read this book for fun because it’s a quick read and there’s actually a show on Peacock based on the novel (I’ll admit… I haven’t watched the show yet, but I’m sure I’ll get to it) The book follows five high school students in detention when one of them suddenly dies when the teacher exits the room. After suspicions about the incident being more than “just an accident” start to circle, the four remaining students band together to try and clear their names, all the while not knowing if one of them actually did kill their classmate.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of murder mystery books, but I decided to give this one a shot. I thought the book was good and the reveal was well thought out, but I felt it dragged a bit too much. I didn’t feel super connected to any of the four characters whose point of views we examined, and the writing style didn’t entirely fit with my personal taste. I think there is definitely an audience for this book but unfortunately, it might not be me! That being said, while I don’t think I’ll be picking up the second book in the series, the TV show on the other hand??? I might still have to check that one out!
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
I also read this book for my Global Science Fiction class and, honestly, I think this was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read! So, this is your official warning that this IS NOT AN EASY READ!!! However, if you’re someone who’s interested in more math and science works then this might be the perfect novel for you!
As mentioned above, the reason I struggled so much with this novel is because there were so many math equations, physics explanations, astronomical studies, etc. which are areas of study that I personally don’t know much about and have trouble understanding. But what I can do is appreciate how well-thought-out and detailed this novel is, and how the science of science fiction literally MAKES SENSE!!! For those of you who also like a little bit of history in your novels, this book takes place in the 1960s during the Cultural Revolution in China. It follows an astrophysicist who discovers a new planet, TriSolaris, during her undercover studies at Red-Coast base. If this story sounds interesting but too difficult to read, Netflix has plans to develop this novel into a TV show, so stay tuned for that!
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li
I read Li’s collection of short stories for my International Literature Today class (a class where we interacted with International Writing Program writers and got to read their work and ask questions in person). For those of you who don’t know, Yiyun Li is actually an Iowa Writers Workshop alum, and she was also a visiting professor in 2015. A lot of her famous works have been written in Iowa City and take place in the Midwest. Some have even been adapted into films!
Personally, I really enjoyed her stories and her writing style. It was nice that her stories were easy reads and super short, so I usually read a story a night before going to bed. That being said, each story really packed an emotional punch and really got me thinking before I fell asleep. It’s nice being able to see the influence Iowa City has had on such a well-known and talented writer, so if you want to support some Iowa alum, I recommend picking up her collection!
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Another book that I read for my Global Science Fiction class (as you can tell, I did A LOT of reading for this course!) and follows a chief engineer whose working on a completed spaceship for his dystopian world. The novel is written in journal format, and in this particular world, humans don’t have emotions. But as the novel progresses and the main character, D-503, meets I-330, he falls in love with her and starts to learn what emotions are and the faults of his society in removing them.
I really enjoy books that play around with the format, and I enjoyed the journal entries of this book as chapters. I thought it was really interesting to see someone descend into their own madness and emotion for the very first time and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a weird and different science fiction book written out of the US!
Love By Night by S.K. Williams
While in Barnes and Noble, a friend of mine recommended this book to me after I told her I wanted to read more poetry books. She explained how this was a great book for people who are just getting into poetry, and I completely agree with her! I really felt that this collection of poems was a great bedtime read and a perfect way to “cleanse my pallet” after reading so many science fiction books over the course of the semester.
While I’m not a poet, poetry is a genre I really admire and love to read, so if you’re looking for some insightful poems regarding love, self-healing, mental health, etc. I would definitely check this collection out!
Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
I feel like every time I do one of these book recommendation blog posts, I ALWAYSSS end up mentioning a Sarah J. Maas book. I’m currently plowing through her Throne of Glass series, and this is the fourth book in the collection. So, I can officially say I’m halfway through!
For those of you interested in a young adult fantasy series that’ll keep your attention for a while, the first book follows Celaena Sardothien, a famous assassin who’s recruited to fight in a contest to become the King’s official assassin and potentially gain her freedom back. In the fourth book, (I promise, no spoilers), so much of the story is expanded and it’s so cool watching all of the characters come together in this fantastic edition! If you’re looking to dive into a stunning fantasy world then this series is one you don’t want to miss!
Hrafnkel’s Saga and Other Stories translated by Hermann Palsson
Doing a complete 180, this novel is one of the official Icelander sagas that tell the tale of Vikings in the 10th century. It’s an interesting read and follows generations of Vikings as they conquer lands, get into disputes, and fall in love with princesses. I didn’t read the entire thing (the novel has some short stories at the end which I, unfortunately, did not get to), but I found the first stories to be really insightful, funny, and a cool way to examine how Vikings went about their storytelling back then!
This was not a book I read for pleasure, but one I was glad to have read! I am currently in a Medieval Norse Literature class where we focus on Norse mythology, Vikings, and more!
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
For my Novel Writing class this semester, I had to read a couple books as I worked on my novel draft for class. The very first book we read happened to be this one and, I hate to admit it, but I’m not sure I’m the biggest McCarthy fan… I definitely understand the hype; he’s a fantastic writer and storyteller, but I personally wasn’t a fan of the writing style in this novel. Then again, maybe you’re a reader for McCarthy’s writing!
The story follows a young cowboy after his father sells the farm he grew up on. The cowboy, John Grady, ends up going to Mexico where he finds himself in dangerous situations, making new friends, and escaping death time and time again. I found this book to be a bit of a hard read, but if you’re into cowboy stories, countryside reads, and books that follow characters from a distance, then maybe this is the novel for you!
The Saga of the People of Laxardal by Unknown
The final book on this list is another book I read for my Medieval Norse Literature class and, yes, this time I did read the whole thing! This book is similar to Hrafnkel’s Saga in the sense that it follows generations of Vikings and gives its readers so many perspectives on what Viking storytelling looked like. If you’re interested in something longer with a touch of romance as the side plot, I would definitely recommend looking into this novel!
Those are the ten books I read over the winter! As you can see, my writing taste is a bit all over the place, but hopefully, there is something for everyone thrown into this mix. Stayed tuned for what I ended up reading over the spring and summer and, as always, Go Hawks!!!