I figured I’d use this week’s Stack Overflow column to highlight some of our favorite books from the past year. This list is made up of books that were reviewed on GeekDad in 2015, regardless of publication date. So that means it may include some older books, and that unfortunately some very good books published during 2015 won’t make it on this list.
I’ll start with my picks, sorted by genre, and then include some more staff picks from Robin Brooks, Jim Kelly, Will James, and Jenny Bristol.
My wife pointed out just the other day that our toddler is quickly becoming the second-biggest geek in the house. Not only is she a tiny Star Wars fan, but she also recognizes a whole lot of Marvel characters–thanks in no small part to this storybook, which happens to be one of her favorites. Although I admit I get a little tired of reading the same stories over and over again, there are a lot to choose from here, so sometimes I can redirect her attention to one I haven’t read recently. Originally included in this Stack Overflow.
This wordless book, a follow-up to Becker’s Caldecott-winning Journey, is a visual feast. Two kids use their magic chalk to bring their drawings to life, collecting crayons from various locations and keeping out of reach of the soldiers who are after them. It’s like Harold and the Purple Crayon meets Indiana Jones. Originally included in this Stack Overflow.
My toddler loves these seek-and-find books, and I like that they tell a lot of stories without words. At the beginning of the book are little profiles of several of the characters, along with a question about each. As you page through the book, you can follow that character along to see what happens. The illustrations are fun and full of little details, so even though I’ve looked at them already, I still discover something new each time. Originally included in this Stack Overflow.
I didn’t read quite as many kids’ books as I have in past years. My two older daughters plow through them much more quickly than I’m able to now, but I still have a tradition of reading bedtime stories to them. A lot of our favorites tend to be the funny books.
I just loved the premise of this book–that there’s a secret organization made up of kids who are so average that they’re totally forgettable. But the two main characters, Jonathan and Shelley, were a great pair. The book is filled with goofy spy tropes and clueless kids, and my daughters and I enjoyed every bit of it. Originally included in this Stack Overflow.
This is another silly book, about two very different sisters. One is obsessed with being a princess, and the other wants to fight monsters. Meanwhile, the evil (but not very bright) Count Mordmont hatches a scheme to get rich by kidnapping a princess for ransom. Hijinks ensue. Oh, and there’s a goat. Originally included in this Stack Overflow.
This year I reviewed the last of the Supers of Noble’s Green trilogy, about a little town where the local kids have superpowers. The first involves a mystery about why the kids lose their powers (and all memories of them) when they turn thirteen. In the second, Daniel–not a local, and usually without powers–starts to display some powers of his own. Finally, in the third book, some supers have moved to town for a new academy, and it seems not everyone is using their powers for good. I liked the way that the series is told from Daniel’s point of view, and that it’s as much about his detective work as it is about the various abilities. Originally included in this Stack Overflow.
Really, I could do a whole “best of” post about comics, but I forced myself to narrow it down to just a few.
I really don’t know why it took me so long to write up the Hereville series, but it’s fantastic. An Orthodox Jewish girl has some fantastic adventures and learns a bit about her faith at the same time. Well, usually. Originally included in this Stack Overflow.
Okay, if you’re a GeekDad reader, then this book should be on your list. It’s a mystery-adventure comic featuring beetles, and it’s filled with scientifically accurate details (on top of the beetle civilization fantasy, of course). The illustrations are wonderful and the story is intriguing. Originally included in this Stack Overflow.
This series gets my pick for being one of the most mind-blowing that I’ve read. The artwork looks surreal, but there’s an actual story there that explains at least some of the bizarre visuals. It’s a story that continually surprised me, page after page, and I’m eager to see where it all leads. First two volumes originally included in this Stack Overflow, and third volume mentioned here.
Scott McCloud, well-known for his comic-based treatise on comics, Understanding Comics, created this massive graphic novel about creativity and mortality. It’s beautiful to look at and really makes you think about what you leave behind, both material and immaterial. Originally included in this Stack Overflow.
I actually got into this series with the third book, Impulse, which intrigued me enough to go back and read from the beginning. I’d actually written off the series in my mind after seeing the trailers for the 2008 movie, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these young adult titles are smart, providing commentary about science, politics, and even parenting. Impulse was included in this Stack Overflow, and then I interviewed Steven Gould for my Bounded Enthusiasm podcast.
It’s funny to say that one of my favorite fiction books of the year isn’t one that I really enjoyed, but The Affinities gets my pick for being one of the most thought-provoking. I didn’t always like the main character, but the concept of the Affinity groups stayed with me for months after reading the book, and still pops up in my mind from time to time. Originally included in this Stack Overflow.
Even if the only word I took from this entire book was tsundoku, this book would probably be on my list, because that word pretty much defines my year: it’s a Japanese term that means “leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.” A beautiful little book about untranslatable words from around the world, perfect for lovers of language. Originally included in this Stack Overflow.
Okay, yeah, everyone’s talking about Star Wars now, but a couple months ago I was immersed in Back to the Future fandom, and this book was one of my favorite parts. It’s a visual feast, filled with production photos and ephemera, but it’s also a great source of stories about the creation of one of the best sci-fi trilogies ever. That’s heavy. Originally included in this Stack Overflow.
Use the science of gaming to improve your life! That’s Superbetter in a nutshell, and for anyone who loves games, that’s pretty fascinating. The book explains the scientific research, tells entertaining anecdotes, and–most importantly–gives you practical exercises to strengthen your physical, mental, emotional, and social resilience. I interviewed Jane McGonigal for my Bounded Enthusiasm podcast.
Robin Brooks’ Picks
Pierre the Maze Detective is one of the finest children’s books I have seen in some time. It’s engaging and entertaining, with lots going on for children to discover. It demands to be pored over. Every page has a multitude of things to see: jokes, quirks, and, of course, mazes. This book is like The Ultimate Alphabet for maze-freaks. There is just so much stuff to see. Each maze pulls you in as you find more and more little details. It’s the sort of book you sit down to look at for five minutes and find yourself still there half and hour later. There are sixteen mazes in all. Each double-page spread has a theme and a main maze. There are many smaller mazes within and numerous hidden objects to discover too. Some of the hidden things are generic, such as gold stars and red trophies, whilst others are tailored to the page’s theme, such as the must-see exhibits at the museum. This gives the book an extra dimension, and combined with breathtaking attention to detail, makes it captivating. Originally mentioned in this Stack Overflow.
The Wonder is a children’s picture book by British author/illustrator Faye Hanson. It’s about a boy who unleashes the power of his imagination, and from start to finish it is a work of art. In a world that forever demands they grow up faster, the book’s message to children is to slow down, daydream, and let your imagination run riot. The Wonder features some of the finest artwork I’ve ever seen in a picture book. This combined with its message that your imagination can take you anywhere made it a firm family favorite during 2015. Original review here.
This is modern science fiction at it’s finest. It’s a book about friendship, acceptance and wormhole tunneling. It’s like reading your favorite ever Star Trek episode. Only better. Original review here.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot certainly wins the award for best novel title of 2015. David Shafer’s novel about the perils of social media and an inter-connected world is a lo-octane, thought-provoking thriller that kept me hooked throughout. With an immersive look at the culture of technology and spycraft, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a book that will appeal to the geek in all of us. Original review here.
Jim Kelly’s Picks
For 2015, one of my favorite science fiction reads all year had to be The Lazarus Gate for a variety of reasons. First, it takes place in Victorian London (but it’s NOT steampunk). Second, it features alternate universes. Third, the hero of the story, Captain John Hardwick, is a broken ex-soldier who is extremely well-developed. With a sequel on the horizon, I just cannot wait to see where author Mark A. Latham takes this developing storyline. Originally reviewed here.
My library is filled with a number of “history” books related to role playing games, and many of them focus on the most famous of RPG individuals, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax. Author Michael Witwer provided an outstanding look at Gary Gygax this year with his Empire of Imagination. If you’re a player of the game (now or in the past), you’ll enjoy a narrative-based examination of the life and times of Gary Gygax and the development of the world’s most famous RPG. Originally reviewed here.
It may have been released to mixed reviews, but the Ready Player One follow-up from Ernie Cline titled Armada still managed to make me smile. Yes, it was a total riff on The Last Starfighter, but that was also part of the big joke–movies, technology, games, and more related to alien invasions have all been planted to prepare the world for the real deal. Yeah, the book was completely over-the-top when it came to geek in-jokes and quotes, but isn’t that why we loved Ready Player One? This is what Cline does, and does well–give geeks a fun story that involves all of our geekiest interests. Originally mentioned here.
Will James’ Picks
Although this Star Wars pop-up book is a couple of years old, I just stumbled upon it recently. My son and I thoroughly enjoyed it when we first got it–you can hear all about it on his podcast–and now, over a month later, we still read it at least once a day. If you love the original trilogy, this beautifully engineered pop-up book is a must have in your library. Original review here.
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction books, mostly due to a lack of time, but also because it’s rare to find a person I’m both interested in reading about and have a meaningful connection with. Felicia Day’s book went right to the top of my list because I’ve been a big fan of hers since the beginning of The Guild, and it did not let me down. Her story was so familiar to me that I had no problem connecting with her and the book from page one. If you’re a geek who had an awkward childhood, are a fan of Felicia Day, or just love funny, well-written autobiographies, you should definitely check out You’re Never Weird on the Internet. Original review here.
As a parent of a two-year-old, I have gone through countless ABC books with my son. The Sullivan brothers are the first to create a book that has really captured my son’s attention for more than a couple of readings though. The art is beautiful and every page has a clever rhyme that is not only funny for kids, but also have a subtext just for parents. My son was memorizing the book from the start and now, six months later, he still enjoys reading the book and frequently recites the book when we aren’t even looking at it. Original review here.
Jenny Bristol’s Picks
Compiling many of the webcomic’s entries in book form, along with some new content, the book version of Poorly Drawn Lines has some real twisted entries, some that have become new mantras for me, and some that just amuse. Reza Farazmand’s art is simple, clear, flat, and perfect. Original review here.
Following up on the previous year’s Letters of Note, this quality book contains 125 list entries, formal and casual, ancient and new. They stretch from reasons why ancient Egyptian workers missed work to a list of gifts given to Queen Elizabeth I to Kurt Cobain’s list of items needed to make the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video. Original review here.
In this book, you are Neil Patrick Harris himself as you choose your way through life, making decisions about your upbringing, personal life, acting career, and mad magic skills. Mixed in with actual anecdotes and events are alternate versions of your life as NPH. You’ll learn much about him, but it will be up to you to determine what is fact and what is fiction. Original review here.
American Places by William Zinsser
Great writer and literary personality William Zinsser takes us on a tour of sixteen important places in the United States, looking at them from the perspective of those who work there, those who know about the places, and the history of them. Zinsser is a true craftsman with words. He will talk about a place with such perfect description that you can see it clearly in your mind, knowing that no other words should have been used. Original review here.
Guiding you through designing and creating your own country, this book is great fun for families to work through together. Become the ruler of your own country, made from your own design. Name your country, design your flag, draw maps, arrange the government, and more. Original review here.
Coloring books for adults were very popular in 2015, as we get back in touch with the “in the moment” experiences that we had as kids. Except with cooler images to color. Here are several compelling books we took a look at in 2015. Original review here.
If you’re a fan of intellectual paper dolls, check these out. Each page highlights an important figure in literary history, such as Edgar Allan Poe or Jane Austen, and includes changes of clothes and fun accessories, such as Jane Austen’s dance card, Cliff’s Notes for Shakespeare, and swap-out insect heads for Franz Kafka. Original review here.
Combining needle-felted art with the original Star Wars trilogy has produced children’s board books that, while not spoiler-free, are compelling in their sophistication. Recreating scenes from the movies, the artwork was labored over and no detail has been ignored. Original review here.
Jeffrey Brown was at it again with another Star Wars-based book for kids. Not restricted to the original trilogy, this book takes a lighthearted look at the Star Wars universe. With Darth Vader looking out for his kids, Luke and Leia, everywhere from Mos Eisley to the Cloud City provides a fresh context. Learn alternate uses for carbon freezing, the hilarity that would ensue with a clone army that all looked alike, and how Han really won the Millennium Falcon from Lando. Original review here.
So, how about you? What were your favorite books of 2015, and what are you looking forward to reading this year?