Student Picks: Books you can’t put down

By Ashley Lyons / Full360 writer

It was a cold, gray day in late December, with the sun struggling to emerge from behind a wall of dark clouds. I’d gotten lost on the way to the store, but now, I parked my car in an out-of-the-way spot at the side of the massive, two-story building, studded with windows that shined against the sky.

The wind sliced at me, chilling my hands and face as I walked along the pavement to the front doors. I wished I’d worn a thicker coat. Warmth seemed to spill from the building as I pushed the doors open, welcoming me inside among the ceiling-high shelves, stacked with books.

I trailed through the shelves, looking at spines and covers, carefully selecting which books I’d take home with me. Their covers were smooth under my fingers, their decals glinting in the dull light of the store. In only a matter of minutes, my arms were piled high, the stack straining the muscles in my arms and shoulders as I balanced them against my chest, the top book pressing beneath my chin.

I hugged my pile tight and walked to the desk, dropping the eight books down on the counter with a heavy thump. The total was $106—money well spent in my opinion. I then hauled my bag of books over to Barnes & Noble’s cozy café, the smell of cinnamon and mocha thick in the air. I ordered a drink and sat at a table off to the side, sipping my hot coffee as I began my reading for 2023.

Now, it’s April, and I’ve read almost all of these books, as well as a few others, and I’d like to share which ones I liked best.

Here are all the physical books I’ve read so far, in 2023.

#5 – A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

This book is super popular online—and for good reason. It’s excellently written, with complex and compelling characters, and an intense and layered plot. It follows the lives of four college friends, through jobs, hardships, relationships, and more. I could hardly put A Little Life down. Despite the book being over 800 pages, I read it in less than a week. However, this book is extremely sad, and I found many parts of it difficult to read. I’d encourage anyone interested in reading this book to check the trigger warnings before picking it up.

#4 – A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

I love YA (young adult) novels, and this is definitely one of the most interesting ones I’ve read. It’s a short, fast paced novel about a teen at a magical school, kind of like a darker, better Harry Potter. This was another book that I had trouble putting down, and I ended up finishing it in less than 24 hours. Honestly, I almost called out sick at work so I read the ending. A Deadly Education is funny and aggressive, with an angsty main character and a cliff-hanger ending that’ll have you instantly reaching for the next book in the series.

#3 – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This 864-page novel proves that good things come in big packages. The Goldfinch tells the story of a young boy who survives a tragic disaster, but the events of that day haunt him for the rest of his life. Though this book is long, it’s fast-paced, and the story twists in unexpected directions that will keep you up late, trying to figure out what will happen next. The Goldfinch is dark and, at times, heartbreaking, but it’s a beautiful story with intriguing and unique characters.

#2 – Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth is a YA sci-fi fantasy novel featuring queer characters and tons of action. It has a unique plot, about a deadly contest between nine necromancers in a bizarre setting. It’s fast-paced from the very first page, with witty narration, and an undeniably amazing cast of characters. This story kept me on my toes and was impossible to put down. I was disappointed by the ending, only because it was over. Gideon the Ninth is a book that I can and will read over and over.

#1 – The Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows and its sequel, Crooked Kingdom, are a package deal. This YA fantasy duology features incredible, dynamic characters that are easy to love, as well as a unique and well-developed fantasy world. Following a group of criminals attempting to pull off an impossible heist, these books are intense, funny, and heartwarming. This series is a lot of fun to read, and its popularity is well earned. The plot is also filled with twists and turns that will keep you intrigued and surprised.

Honorable Mentions

It’s hard to choose just five books to highlight, so here are three more that are also excellent, but just didn’t make my top five.

Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski is the first book in the Witcher series, about a monster hunter in a complex magical world, and is perfect for fans of fantasy literature.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a collection of Norse myths, and is interesting and informative. This book is a must-read for fans of mythology.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is a queer sci-fi novel written in beautiful, poetic language. It’s about two time traveling agents on opposite sides of (huge surprise) a time war, fighting against each other while secretly communicating. It’s short and heartbreaking and extremely imaginative.

Happy reading!

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