My 10 Favorite Books of 2019

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2019 was a hot and cold reading year for me. There were months when I devoured books and others in which I barely read at all. I did manage to read many of the books I own but didn’t get around to as many new releases as I’d hoped. I set a goal to read 75 books but ended up reading 57 instead. 34 were fiction, and 23 were nonfiction. Most of what I read was in print, but 13 were ebooks, and one was an audiobook.

Despite my stops and starts, I did read some excellent books and want to share my top 10 picks today. All summaries are from NoveList, and all opinions are from my currently sleep-deprived brain.

2019 Releases

All this could be yours book cover

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Family secrets are revealed in the heat of a New Orleans summer.

WHY I LIKE IT: The family secrets to which the description refers center around a dying man named Victor. He’s a terrible person, and his family knows it. There’s his daughter Alex, a strong-willed lawyer and single mom who visits her dad in his final hours. Alex’s brother Gary is in Los Angeles, chasing his dreams and refusing to come home. Gary’s wife Twyla is falling apart and has a compulsion to buy more lipstick than she could ever use. And then there’s Barbra, Victor’s wife, who doesn’t want to face the dysfunction of her life and family. These characters are memorable and engaging, making for a page-turner of a book.

Daisy Jones and the Six book cover

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: When singer Daisy Jones meets Billy Dunne of the band The Six, the two rising 70s rock-and-roll artists are catapulted into stardom when a producer puts them together, a decision that is complicated by a pregnancy and the seductions of fame.

WHY I LIKE IT: One of the best experiences while reading fiction is losing yourself in a story, becoming so absorbed in an author’s creation that you ignore the clock for a few hours. That was my experience with Daisy Jones and the Six. Because the book is written as an oral history, the characters and their interactions seem real. It was like I could almost hear the songs the band was playing. I expected to like this book, but it exceeded any expectations I had. (I’m excited about the TV adaption, too!)

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God book cover

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God by Sarah Bessey

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The author tells her story of recovering from a traffic accident and how this experience changed everything she believed about God.

WHY I LIKE IT: I’ve followed Sarah Bessey’s work for many years, and believe this book is her best yet. It’s a mix of memoir and theology, tragedy and spirituality, and stories of physical pain and unseen wounds. Bessey’s vulnerability is as beautiful as her writing, which is poetic and seemingly effortless. I’ve read many spiritual memoirs, and but none have been this creative or thought-provoking.

The Nickel boys book cover

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Follows the harrowing experiences of two African-American teens at an abusive reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

WHY I LIKE IT: Due to its violence and depictions of cruelty, this was a tough book for me to read, yet I couldn’t put it down. Knowing that this novel is based on a true story makes it all the more timely and important. Ellwood and Turner, the boys of the title, are unforgettable. This is a short but powerful book.

Normal people book cover

Normal People by Sally Rooney

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The unconventional secret childhood bond between a popular boy and a lonely, intensely private girl is tested by character reversals in their first year at a Dublin college that render one introspective and the other social, but self-destructive.

WHY I LIKE IT: Whether I’m reading literary fiction or a bestselling thriller, I enjoy novels with good dialogue. Without it, I’m not interested in the book, no matter how intriguing the premise. Normal People has excellent dialogue thanks to Sally Rooney’s sharp attentiveness to the awkwardness and complexities of young love and identity.

Backlist Titles

Dopesick book cover

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America
by Beth Macy

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: In a book that includes deeply human and unforgettable portraits of the families and first responders affected, the author takes readers into the epicenter of America’s more than 20-year struggle with opioid addiction.

WHY I LIKE IT: If you pay much attention to American news, you’ll often see articles about opioid addiction. After reading some of them, I wanted to know more, so I picked up Dopesick. Beth Macy has crafted a fascinating, heartbreaking book about the history of the opioid epidemic, the lives impacted by it, and the damage left in its wake. If you think nonfiction is boring, this book will change your mind.

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Two half-sisters, unknown to each other, are born into different villages in 18th-century Ghana and experience profoundly different lives and legacies throughout subsequent generations marked by wealth, slavery, war, coal mining, the Great Migration and the realities of 20th-century Harlem.

WHY I LIKE IT: I’d heard nothing but praise about Homegoing and doubted it could live up to the hype. I was wrong, dear reader, and knew it within reading a few pages. This book left me stunned. Somehow, Yaa Gyasi has fit hundreds of years worth of history into 300-ish pages. I cannot wait for her new book, due later this year.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: After losing her parents, a young college graduate in New York City spends a year alienating the world under the influence of a crazy combination of drugs.

WHY I LIKE IT: What person hasn’t wanted to climb into bed and stay there for an indefinite amount of time? I have, and so does the narrator of My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Grieving the loss of her parents and overwhelmed by the world, a woman decides all she wants is to sleep. A premise like this could have gone a lot of different directions, but Ottessa Moshfegh infuses her novel with compassion, warmth, understanding, and just the right amount of quirk to make this a compelling story.

Sadie book cover

Sadie by Courtney Summers

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Told from the alternating perspectives of nineteen-year-old Sadie who runs away from her isolated small Colorado town to find her younger sister’s killer, and a true crime podcast exploring Sadie’s disappearance.

WHY I LIKE IT: I love true crime podcasts and mysteries, so of course I love Sadie, which combines both. It’s a sophisticated young adult book that blends suspense with pitch-perfect restraint. The story didn’t go where I expected it to go, and the characters didn’t always feel what I expected them to feel. Sadie’s structure and writing make for an exciting and unique story, one which I’ve recommended to many students who have also enjoyed it.

Watching you book cover

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: When a murder occurs in Melville Heights, one of the nicest neighborhoods in Bristol, England, dangerous obsessions come to light involving the headmaster at a local school, in this place where everyone has a secret.

WHY I LIKE IT: One of my favorite story structures is a varied cast of characters who are all connected in ways that are slowly revealed to the reader. Lisa Jewell executes that structure so well, especially in Watching You. I was hooked from the first page and sped through this novel. It reminded me why I love mysteries and thrillers and is a definite highlight of my reading year.


Do you like any of these books as much as I do? What are your favorite books of 2019? Leave a comment and let me know!

My Favorite Books of 2018

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I’m back after a Christmas break and am so excited to finally be sharing my favorite books of 2018. My favorites are determined by what books earned 5-star ratings from me on Goodreads. I’m stingy with my stars, so a 5-star book is one that had great prose, a strong viewpoint, and a story that stays with me. Out of the 60 books I read in 2018, only seven earned 5 stars. Five of them are 2018 releases, and two are backlist titles from the same series. Toward the end of the post, I’ll also list some honorable mentions. These titles are in random order as ranking them caused too much literary stress. Let’s get started!

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

The Goodreads Summary: Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer–madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can’t quite place–feels her inner world light up. Then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she’d always imagined.

Why this book is a favorite: This book stands out to me because the relationship that receives the primary focus isn’t Greer and Cory, but Greer and Faith. I haven’t read many books that focus on female bonds, much less a relationship that features a woman over sixty. I appreciate the feminist slant of this novel and think Wolitzer tells a compelling story. After I read this book, I wrote that it was one that would stay with me, and that’s turned out to be true.

Calypso by David Sedaris

The Goodreads Summary: If you’ve ever laughed your way through David Sedaris’s cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you’re getting with Calypso. You’d be wrong.

When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself.

Why this book is a favorite: I’ve been a Sedaris fan for years, and have read all of his essay collections. I’ve enjoyed each one, but I think Calypso might be his best. I laughed out loud several times, which hardly ever happens when I’m reading. Sedaris is hilarious, but what I admire about him is his ability to write both comedy and tragedy so well, and sometimes even on the same page. Calypso stands out because of that skill.

Educated by Tara Westover

The Goodreads Summary: Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Why this book is a favorite: If this book had been a novel, I would have thought the story was too outlandish. The fact that Educated is a memoir makes it powerful and unforgettable. Westover’s story is fascinating from beginning to end, and her writing is fantastic too. That combination makes for a book I could hardly put down. I finished this in a couple of days because it’s so engrossing. There’s a reason why this book has been receiving so much praise. It’s certainly deserving.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The Goodreads Summary: In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.

Why this book is a favorite: There are skills certain authors have that astound me. One of those skills is writing a lengthy novel with a lot of fully-developed characters and another is telling a story that goes back and forth between timeliness in an effortless way that makes perfect sense. Rebecca Makkai achieved both of those feats with The Great Believers. A lot is going on in this novel, yet Makkai never lets the story get away from her. It’s a beautifully constructed novel that’s full of love, friendship, tragedy, and healing. I said these titles are presented in random order, but I think The Great Believers is my number one pick this year. It’s outstanding.

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1by Tana French
The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad #2) by Tana French

NoveList Summary for In the Woods: Twenty years after witnessing the violent disappearances of two companions from their small Dublin suburb, detective Rob Ryan investigates a chillingly similar murder that takes place in the same wooded area, a case that forces him to piece together his traumatic memories.

NoveList Summary for The Likeness: This novel finds Detective Cassie Maddox still scarred by her last case. When her boyfriend calls her to a chilling murder scene, Cassie is forced to face her inner demons. A young woman has been found stabbed to death outside Dublin, and the victim looks just like Cassie.

Why these books are favorites: Tana French is the best thing that happened to my reading life in 2018. I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries this year, and none of them are as good as her Dublin Murder Squad series. (I’ve only read two of the six books so far. I want to savor this series.) Both Rob and Cassie are fascinating and complex protagonists. The cases in both of these books kept me guessing. French creates such a strong, moody atmosphere and sense of place, a combination that made me feel as if I’d actually been transported to Dublin. I cannot recommend these books highly enough and am looking forward to reading the next volume.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

The Goodreads summary: Born on a farm and named in a field by her parents–artist Chrisann Brennan and Steve Jobs–Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s childhood unfolded in a rapidly changing Silicon Valley. When she was young, Lisa’s father was a mythical figure who was rarely present in her life. As she grew older, her father took an interest in her, ushering her into a new world of mansions, vacations, and private schools. His attention was thrilling, but he could also be cold, critical and unpredictable. When her relationship with her mother grew strained in high school, Lisa decided to move in with her father, hoping he’d become the parent she’d always wanted him to be.

Small Fry is Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s poignant story of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes. Scrappy, wise, and funny, young Lisa is an unforgettable guide through her parents’ fascinating and disparate worlds. Part portrait of a complex family, part love letter to California in the seventies and eighties, Small Fry is an enthralling book by an insightful new literary voice.

Why this book is a favorite: When Small Fry first appeared on my radar, I had little desire to read it because I wasn’t interested in Steve Jobs (or so I thought). As I started reading all of the Best Of lists for 2018, I kept seeing this book pop up. My library had the ebook available, so I decided to give it a try after all. I ending up devouring this story within a couple of days. Lisa Brennan-Jobs tells a complex and moving story from beginning to end, and it’s her story, not the story of Steve Jobs. I’m always interested in how relationships work, and the tumultuous bond between Lisa and her father is one I won’t forget. If you like memoirs, don’t miss this one. It’s heartfelt, vulnerable, and compulsively readable. I loved it.

Other Books I Enjoyed This Year

  • Providence by Caroline Kepnes
  • The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison
  • This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
  • The Witch Elm by Tana French
  • Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

And Now a Little Something for the Stats Nerds

Fiction vs. Nonfiction: These numbers don’t surprise me. I’ve always read a bit more fiction than nonfiction.

Formats: Though I really do enjoy audiobooks, my number is so low this year because I’ve been opting for podcasts instead. I got a Kindle Paperwhite this past year, so the high number of ebooks has a lot to do with how much I enjoy that device.

Books I Own vs. the Library: Since I work for libraries, the library number is always high. One of my goals for 2019 is to read more of my own books, though. I’d like to see that number be 50% or higher next year.


That’s it from me this year. In case you missed it, my reading goals for 2019 can be seen here. If you like what you see on this site, please make sure to share it. Thanks for reading!


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My Top 5 Books from the Past 8 Years

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For me, December means Christmas, time with family, copious amounts of hot chocolate, and lots and lots of book lists. I like seeing what books people have read and enjoyed in a year, so “best of” lists are always exciting. As I read through the lists that interested me, I thought it would be fun to go back through my Goodreads log and see what my favorite books have been in the past, so today I’m sharing my top five books from the last eight years. An asterisk denotes a lifetime favorite. 

Book covers for Stoner by John Williams*
My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer*
Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical edited by Hannah Faith Notess
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

2010:
Stoner by John Williams*
My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer*
Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical
edited by Hannah Faith Notess
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Book covers for Cathedral by Raymond Carver
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
The Poetry of Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. by Edward Snow)*

2011:
Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O’Connor*
Cathedral by Raymond Carver
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
The Poetry of Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. by Edward Snow)*

Book covers for The Secret History by Donna Tartt*
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor*
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Glaciers by Alexis Smith*

2012:
The Secret History by Donna Tartt*
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor*
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Glaciers by Alexis Smith*

Book covers for Night Film by Marisha Pessl*
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman
Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

2013:
Night Film by Marisha Pessl*
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman
Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

Book covers for The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt*
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

2014: 
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt*
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Book covers for The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides*
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett 
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson*

2015:
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides*
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett 
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson*

Book covers for A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara*
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs 
by Johann Hari
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush 
by Jon Meacham 
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

2016:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara*
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs
by Johann Hari
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush
by Jon Meacham 
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Book covers for The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

2017:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


Are any of these books on your favorites list? What books have stood out to you over the past few years? I’d love to hear about them. 


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