Originally I planned to document every book I read during service. I figured that, if I had 820 days in Rwanda, I could read about 120 books. Well, I had a bit more time on my hands than I imagined I would. After I hit the two-hundred mark, I decided to stop that and just share the books I enjoyed reading the most.
Sleeping Giants – Sylvain Neuval
This book weaves a tale of what would happen if an ancient (but extremely advanced) alien race left a bit of themselves behind on Earth (for protection?, for warfare?). What would we humans do if we found it? How far would we go to uncover the truth? How would our governments react? I found myself finishing this in one day…it was that good. The characters are unique and I loved to hate many of them. There aren’t many shocking twists or turns…which speaks volumes about the writing and story line that it kept me so enamored.
Throne of Glass series – Sarah J. Maas
Assassins, magic, and crumbling kingdoms galore. More importantly, this series has a complex heroine who takes center stage. It doesn’t quite steer clear of the YA tropes (like the standard love triangle), but if you’re into epic fantasies with more than just one or two main characters…give this a read. The world building in this series is pretty great. Oh, and despite the series not being finished yet (book five of seven has just been released), it’s absolutely good for a long brain-vacation away from site. I doubt this author is going to pull a George R.R. Martin, so the series should be finished by 2017.
Red Rising series – Pierce Brown
Alright, so I’ve been obsessing over this series since I got halfway through the first book. The third and final book (sort of) was just released and I used the last of my Amazon gift card credit to purchase the Kindle version. (My normal means of obtaining books isn’t always on the up-and-up, so that speaks volumes about my interest in finishing the series.) Having been optioned into a movie pretty quickly after the first book was released, critics are comparing the series’ hype to that of The Hunger Games. While there is an arena of sorts and a lot of gruesome action, this book is by and large a science fiction tale of an anti-hero. There’s a lot of discussion on classism and references to ancient warfare throughout the series, which makes for interesting commentary on where the human race has been and where it might go in the future. Keep in mind the second and third books are pretty epic space operas, but you don’t have to be into science fiction to enjoy this series.
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
I can’t pretend to be a huge history buff, but I love me some Henry VIII. This book (followed by a sequel of sorts) focuses on Thomas Cromwell’s narrative throughout Henry’s many “adventures”. It’s a story that’s been told hundreds of times over the centuries, but Mantel brings a fresh perspective and keeps things interesting. If you’re not interested in reading (there are some people like that in the world , yeah?), there’s a recent mini-series of the same name starring Damian Lewis.
Me Before You – Jojo Moyes
I will fully admit to sobbing at the end of this book. While Moyes is wholeheartedly a romance novelist, this book was less a story of romance and more a story of the human spirit and what happens when it’s crushed. It takes on a popular political divide, the right to die, and does so through the transformative story of a young British Millennial who’s lost the sense of adventure…until she meets a daring quadriplegic and begins working as his caretaker. It spoke to me particularly because of the main character’s unwillingness to try new things; she feels like a life of adventure just wasn’t for her. As I sat reading this book, with only four months left in my Rwandan adventure, I thought about what it might be like to feel a loss of spirit when I return back to the States and settle back into the traditional life path. It got to me y’all!
Red Queen & Glass Sword – Victoria Aveyard
Red-blooded humans versus silver-blooded super humans…until the unlucky heroine breaks the mold and ends up on the run from…well…pretty much everyone who wants to kill or imprison her. There’s a lot of unique “abilities” going on in this book that go beyond the normal super human powers, but all the classics are still there. It’s got the flare of an X-Men arc, but the staying power of an epic fantasy. Oh, and the author isn’t afraid to kill main characters, so that’s always interesting.
The 5th Wave & The Infinite Sea – Rick Yancey
Read the book before you watch the movie. Seriously. It might seem like your standard Body Snatchers-esque post-apocalyptic series, but Yancey throws some twists in there when you least expect it. The books are fast-paced, but still manage to make you feel for a number of characters outside the core two or three. There’s also a lot of scene changes, unlike The Walking Dead seasons three through four.
The Martian – Andy Weir
I’m sure you’ve all seen the movie, but that doesn’t make the book any less spectacular. If anything gets your brain out of the village mentality it’s going to be an uber dramatic story of survival set in mankind’s next frontier. There’s also plenty of science in the book that couldn’t be fully developed in the film, so it still makes for an interesting read.
The Purge of Babylon series – Sam Sisavath
Hands down, the best zombie fiction I’ve ever read. This series is on its sixth book and each one just keeps getting better and better. The author takes a lot of risks with his many characters, but they all seem to pay off. This book is definitely more a story of survival and triumph of human nature than a one-note horror story.
The Walking Dead comic series – Robert Kirkman
I think this pretty much speaks for itself; the comic series that spawned an entire franchise. After downloading, you’ll need a program like FF View to open the file and get reading.
It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War – Lynsey Addario
This has got to be my favorite memoir. Sure, Tina Fey and are funny and thought-provoking feminists, but have they been kidnapped and held for ransom in the middle of the Iraq war? No? I didn’t think so. In between chapters detailing her work in the middle east, north Africa, and the Congo, Addario discusses her personal life and why she felt forced to choose between the love of her work and the loves of her life. More than any other memoir, this book got me thinking about what it would mean to choose between a career and a family. Sandberg’s Lean In does a great job of starting the discussion, but Addario’s work aims to complete it. It is possible to have it all.
Cravings: Recipes for What You Want to Eat – Chrissy Teigen
Never before have a laughed as much (or at all) while reading a cookbook. There are maybe five or six recipes in here that I can recreate in Rwanda, but I read it front to back in two sittings because Chrissy is such an entertaining writer. The pictures made my stomach grumble and I plan to work through this recipe by recipe when I get back to the States because the food sounds just that good.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging – Sebastian Junger
When compared to Junger’s Restrepo or The Perfect Storm, this book might feel a little light (and short). Despite the quickness of the read, I felt it encompassed a lot of the feelings I’m having out COSing and going home. It explained why these feelings happen to those of us who live in “tribal” societies and then make the transition back into individualist ones. Do I feel that much more prepared to re-integrate? No, not really. But I do now feel like this emotional state is not a unique one. People have been making this transition for hundreds of years (albeit, many by force)…and now I’m got some historical context to throw at anyone confused by my many emotions back home.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies – Jared M. Diamond
I know, I know. The international and expat community has a lot so say about Diamond and he’s well known for a number of works. But this one held my interest more so than any other. I hadn’t realized the huge evolutionary history enmeshed in the East Africa region until reading this book. It seemed that every topic shift began in this region, which gave me a lot of pride in serving in Rwanda. Even if you’re not serving in East Africa, this book does a lot of explain where we all came from and, given that history often repeats itself, where we might be heading.
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters – Jason Stearns
This book may not be the most apolitical, nor is it the most complete volume of African history, but it did keep me absolutely fascinated with the fates of the Central and East African nations. Rwanda has always had a huge hand in shaping the development of its surrounding regions and this book does an excellent job of threading the country’s history throughout its pages. Stearns had me flipping pages quicker than any other work on this region has.