Megan's Favorites of 2019

It’s that time of year, again-the time when we reflect on our year of reading (mostly murder) and make a favorites list (so much murder). I have given up all pretense of creating a Top Ten List and have abandoned descriptions (follow the links for book details), which has helped ease some of my anxiety around this task. If you like mysteries, suspense, and thrillers there are quite a few here!

YA Fiction

Adult Fiction

Nonfiction

Middle Grade

Happy Reading!

~Megan

New Nonfiction Coming in December 2019

Here are some nonfiction books for you to take a look at this winter!

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12/03: The Measure of Our Lives: A Gathering of Wisdom by Toni Morrison – It’s compelling sequence of flashes of revelation- stunning for their linguistic originality, keenness of psychological observation: the reach of language for the ineffable ; the singular power of women; the original American sin of slavery; the bankruptcy of racial oppression; the complex humanity and art of black people.

12/10 How Not to Diet: The Groundbreaking Science of Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss  by Michael Greger – In this powerful new book, discover the cutting-edge science behind long-term weight loss success. Every month seems to bring a trendy new diet or weight loss fad – and yet obesity rates continue ti rise, and with it a growing number of diseases and health problems. It’s time for a different approach. 

12/31: Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by B. J. Fogg – The world’s leading expert on habit formation shows how you can have a happier, healthier life by starting small. Already the habit guru to companies around the world, Fogg brings his proven method to a global audience for the first time.  Whether you want to lose weight, de-stress, sleep better, or exercise more, Tiny Habits makes it easy to achieve.

 

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12/31: The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It by John Tierney & Roy F. Baumeister – This wide-ranging book shows, we can adopt proven strategies to avoid the pitfalls that doom relationships, careers, businesses, and nations. Instead of despairing at what’s wrong in your life and in the world, you can see how much is going to right and how to make it still better.

12/31: Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World With the Practice of Rain by Tara Brach – In this heartfelt and deeply practical book, she offers an antidote: an easy-to-learn four step meditation that quickly loosens the grip of difficult emotions and limiting beliefs. Each step in the meditation practice ( Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture) is brought to life by memorable stories by author.

 

 

What We’re Reading Now…..

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy…

Meet recently separated Toby Fleishman, medical professional by day, kids every other weekend, newbie bachelor exploring the the singles scene through a dating app on his phone. Toby’s life has been turned upside down by his ex-wife’s disappearance.  Has she truly disappeared, is she avoiding Toby and their shared responsibilities with their kids, or is she having a nervous breakdown?  Toby will embark on a desperate search for his ex-wife while juggling his career and trying to parent 2 unraveling kids.  Don’t pass this book up.  From the outside it seems like another “Bridget Jones ” type story, but there is much more here to enjoy and explore. This book is witty, fast-paced, with sharp observations about marriage, divorce and parenting in today’s world.  Mary

The Tale of the Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

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This is the tale of the ‘shining’ Genji, the favorite son the Japanese Emperor, and Genji’s many romantic dalliances and the resulting political consequences. While a bit of slog at roughly 1200 pages and with an unsympathetic main character, this novel, argued by many to be the world’s first novel, fascinatingly details the intricate court life of a thousand years ago in Heian Period Japan. Trent

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

High school dropout Galaxy “Alex” Stern has narrowly escaped her disastrous Los Angeles past of drug dealer boyfriends and violence, awakening in a hospital bed the sole survivor of a gruesome multiple homicide. While recovering, she is offered a strange but irrefutable second chance: attend Yale completely free of cost if she serves as the new “Dante” for Lethe. Lethe is the Ninth House of the Houses of the Veil, secret societies at Yale that generally practice magic to ensure their own professional success and financial security. Alex is responsible for overseeing the rituals and magic of the other eight houses, assuring everyone involved survives and that no dangerous magic escapes. Soon though a young woman is found brutally murdered on campus and Alex suspects magic was involved. Wildly atmospheric and emotional charged, this page-turner is highly recommended for fans of dark adult fantasy. Nicole

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner

The Topeka School: A Novel by Ben Lerner

Lerner is one of my favorite contemporary novelists.  Whenever I read one of his books, I feel that he is describing aspects of my own experience, but much better than I could ever do – sort of giving me the words, or some words, I guess, that make sense to me, and help me understand my own life up to this point.  The Topeka School is a fictional take on Lerner’s adolescence – he grew up in the Midwest, Jewish, white and privileged, but also experienced anomie, rootlessness, angst, all the blues that come with being a teenager.  The novel is very smart, poignant, and incisive, as well as experimental in ways I find really interesting and exciting. Recommended as a fascinating study of violence, whiteness and maleness, that is not afraid to be both honest and compassionate.  Andrew

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Nebula and Hugo Award winning Binti by Nnedi Okorafor is a quick placed novella that introduces the reader to Binti as she leaves home to study at the most prestigious university in the galaxy, Oomza University. The author propels the reader into a futuristic world where marvels of technology live as the everyday and intergalactic travel is routine.  At times the amount of new information and fast pace can be a bit overwhelming, but when enjoyed as a whole series (there are two sequels that expand on many of the terms, concepts introduced) the reader is presented with a rich narrative that explores heroism, growth, and family.  Greg

The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

It is 1957 and Naoko Nakamura wants to marry American serviceman Jimmy Kovac. Her family has other plans for her including an arranged marriage. Pregnant Naoko leaves her family’s home to marry Jimmy. When Jimmy is away, Naoko finds herself in a maternity home designed to take care of unwanted pregnancies, namely mixed-race children. Eventually Naoko escapes from the maternity home and her sickly baby is born. Decades later in Ohio Jimmy’s daughter, Tori, is given a letter from her father on his deathbed to be given to Naoko in Japan. Tori is determined to find her half-sister. This is an enjoyable well-researched piece of historical fiction.  Emma

Inland by Tea Obrecht

Inland by Tea Obreht

Two lives unfold in the late 19th century American West in Inland by Tea Obrecht. A duel narrative, we hear the story of Lurie, a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts, lost souls who always want something from him. Lurie’s mysterious traveling companion hears his story. Meanwhile, Nora awaits the return of her sons and her husband in drought stricken Arizona while conversing with her daughter, who died in infancy. Haunted by their pasts, Nora and Lurie do what they can to survive. I listened to the audiobook, which was transporting, with talented narrators who really captured the characters. Dori

El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America by Carrie Gibson

El Norte: the epic and forgotten story of…

A deep detailed history of the Caribbean and North America with a little coverage of major events in Meso and South America. The Spanish have older roots here than the English. Written records like diary entries and letters by government and church administrators are quoted as often as possible. Gibson is specific also about the different ingenious cultures (ex. Tainos, Maya, Apalachee, and Zuni) encountered. It is a thick history book and is taking quite a commitment of time to work through it, but I am finding it constantly fascinating.  Byron

Veterans Day

Veterans Day was on November 11 and on that day we honored those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. For those of us who haven’t served, it can be difficult to understand the experience of military service. Here are a few book and movie titles to improve our understanding of what veterans and their families have gone through in the past and continue to experience.

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~ Dori

What we’re reading now…..

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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Whitehead’s harrowing story about a reform school in Florida during the Jim Crow-era is fictional, though based on real life accounts.  The story does not dramatize the violence and horrors of the reality, rather lets the circumstances speak for themselves.  It is a powerful story regarding the very real racial inequality of our country in the not so distant past.  Beth

Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell

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This is the second short story collection I have read by author Karen Russell. Just like her other anthology Vampires in the Lemon Grove : Stories, Orange World offers the reader a variety of stories where everything seems similar and yet uncanny. In a USA Today interview Russell has said that her work isn’t so much magical realism as it is “magical thinking” writing. Highly recommend for fans of Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, and Victor Lavelle. Greg

Russell’s third collection gives readers eight amazing stories that span a variety of subjects and experiences, all beautifully written, insightful, and often wonderfully weird. Each work is wildly creative, whether you are transported to a future Florida ravaged by rising ocean water and climate change, joining two young women as they attempt to survive an evening trapped in a haunted ski-lodge, or following a widowed farmer as he recklessly returns to a life of raising tornadoes on the Nebraska prairie. Russell skillfully weaves tales that combine both the supernatural and mundane, crafting subtly creepy and emotionally resonant stories. A highly recommended volume for fans of her prior collections, as well as those who enjoy darkly humorous literary fiction. Nicole

The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

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I recently read the stage play The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by writing partners Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was first published in 1970 during the Vietnam War era, a time when many young people were protesting the American involvement in that conflict. In the play Henry David Thoreau, as a young man, engages in Civil Disobedience by not paying his taxes to show his disapproval of the Mexican-American War. The parallel is clear. The play also shows Thoreau’s relationship with Ralph Waldo Emerson and allows the character to express several themes that he would write about in his middle age before he died at the age of 44. The script is often dream-like with multiple flashbacks from the jail cell used to highlight moments from Thoreau’s development as a thinker who would not just “go along” with the status quo. Byron

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

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This is the story of Edith and her sister Helen who have been estranged for decades when Helen convinces their father to leave the family farm to her. Helen uses the money to rebuild the Blotz beer brand with her husband Orval Blotz. When granddaughter Diana’s parents are killed, Edith raises her. Together they barely scrape by. Diana has a talent for making beer and eventually buys a small brewery. With Diana’s talent, perseverance, and the help of her grandmother and Edith’s elderly friends, the brewery is successful. This is a hopeful and heartwarming story of take-charge women when the going gets tough. Emma

 

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

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In the Spring of 1981, the four young Skinner siblings lose their father to a heart attack and soon to follow will lose their mother to severe depression, a time period that the siblings will refer to as The Pause.  Caught between the easy & comfortable life they once had and an uncertain future, the children navigate The Pause with fear and resentment, only to become fiercely loyal to each other.  Two decades later The Skinners find themselves again confronted with a family crisis that will test the strength of these bonds and force them to question the life choices they’ve made and what exactly they will do for love.  This book was much like Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.  If you like family drama, like I do, I recommend this book. Mary

The Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson 

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is convinced that her best friend’s death is not part of a suicide pact that has already claimed the lives of the school’s two most popular mean girls. When she finds a mysterious grimoire with a too good to be true solution to her problem, she sets out to resurrect Riley. Of course things don’t go as expected–instead of bringing back Riley to get answers to her murder, she resurrects her bestie AND their bullies, the newly dead mean girls June and Dayton. To make matters worse, none of them have any memory of their deaths. Mila has one week to figure it all out while keeping her zombies out of sight. Surprisingly deep and insightful, this body-positive witch tale is a fun exploration of bullying, friendships, and redemption. Megan

Follow Her Home by Steph Cha

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Juniper Song has no experience as a detective.  The closest qualification she has when asked by her best friend to investigate whether his father is having an affair is that she is a Raymond Chandler super fan.  However, this lack of practical training does not deter Juniper from taking the role of Phillip Marlowe and agreeing to do some light snooping.  Following the tradition Marlowe long ago set, Juniper is quickly knocked out soon after she begins looking into the matter.  Only, when Juniper wakes up, the stakes have risen when she also finds a dead body in the trunk of her car.  Great noir that, while paying homage to Chandler, looks to update and add to the genre. Trent

Watching You by Lisa Jewel

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I read this quick moving thriller in a few sessions. Told from the points of view of a few “watchers”: a young, restless newlywed living with her brother and his wife has her eye on the handsome older neighbor who is the new school principal; the awkward teenage principal’s son has his eye on most of the neighborhood; the crazy lady next door is sure EVERYONE is watching her, and her daughter has heard terrible rumors about her new principal and is befriending his son to find out if they are true. This voyeuristic neighborhood is thrown into turmoil when someone is brutally murdered. Everyone saw something, but can anyone put it all together? Sara

The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions by Ken Wilber

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Wilber is a philosopher and transpersonal psychologist, and this is one of a few tomes he has written, all wonderful, about helpful ways of thinking about more out-there topics like mysticism, consciousness, and spirituality.  Wilber is also a Buddhist, but his critiques of religion are applicable to Western and Eastern approaches.  I have been reading him for some time now, and have always found him very insightful.  For anyone interested, a great place to start to understand his framework, which is called “AQAL” – standing for “all quadrant, all level” – is his Integral Psychology from 1994.  Andrew

What we’re reading now….

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson

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This is a slightly twisted thriller that takes place in the suburbs of Boston.  Henrietta and her husband Llody move to a new suburb for a change of scenery.  Before they know it they are attending a dinner party at their neighbor’s house, and Hen stumbles on a suspicious clue that potentially links her neighbor to a murder in their old town.  Things quickly escalate as the story unfolds, and nothing is quite like it seems.  Beth

Silent City by Alex Segura

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Due to his drinking, Pete is barely holding on to his dead-end and unfulfilling sports editor job with the Miami Herald, and his social life is a mess.  Pete is half-in-the-bag and skipping on work when he accepts the request from the Herald’s washed-up columnist to search for his missing daughter.  Not really remembering why he agreed to help, Pete figures he will make a few calls to mutual acquaintances and ends up stumbling around and stirring up trouble as he plays detective. Silent City is Segura’s first in the Peter Fernandez series.  The recently published fourth installment, Blackout, is nominated for the Anthony Award to be announced in November. Trent

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

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I am reading this for our Classic Book Discussion on Monday, August 12, at 7pm.  I have just finished part one and started part two (there are three parts).  The novel was written in French and published in 1856 (I am reading the more recent translation into English by Lydia Davis); when it was first published, in serialized form, the government brought an action against it for immorality (!) – the charge was acquitted.  The book is absolutely marvelous – the writing is really uncanny and exquisite, almost perfect in a way, and is the first example of what is called “literary realism,” a technique that we are now habituated to experience when reading novels, but was in many ways inaugurated by Flaubert.  Put simply, the book is about a dissatisfied and romantic heroine, Emma Bovary, who seeks to escape the boredom and banality of her life through increasingly desperate acts.  If you are interested, please procure a copy of the book, read it (and hopefully enjoy it), and come on August 12 to discuss.    Andrew

 The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

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This is the story of Martha Storm who volunteers at her local library. She lives in her childhood home surrounded by her dead parents’ possessions along with various projects she plans to finish for others. Martha receives a mysterious book signed and dated by her grandmother, Zelda, who supposedly died years before the date of inscription. Martha is determined to understand what happened and uncover any family secrets. This is a charming story with a happy ending.  Emma

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love by Dani Shapiro

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In 2016 author, Dani Shapiro, on a lark, decided to submit her DNA for analysis at a genealogy website.  Soon after she received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father.   Dani Shapiro urgently begins a quest to unlock the story of her own identity.  She unfolds many secrets kept for a myriad of reasons.  He journey is a compelling story of paternity, identity and belonging.  This story is more a personal journey than a scientific journey.  I did find the author to be self absorbed at times, however, I am empathetic with the tremendous emotional upheaval this discovery caused the author.  A quick and interesting read.  Mary     

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep 

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This the story of the murder of Willie Maxwell, a southern preacher who was accused of murdering five people in order to collect the insurance money, the lawyer who defended the both Reverend Maxwell and the man accused of murdering him, and Harper Lee, the author seeking to write her own In Cold Blood.  This book reads like three separate stories, beginning with Willie Maxwell,  his alleged victims, and rumors of voodoo. Tim Landry, his charismatic lawyer is introduced to readers as the man who won acquittals in five murder trials. It is Harper Lee that ties these stories together. Readers are treated to a detailed biography of Nelle Harper Lee, including tales from her childhood, accounts of her friendship with Truman Capote, and details of her complicated writing career.  This is a real treat for true crime lovers and fans of Harper Lee.  Megan

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

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Andrea Cooper knows her mother Laura–a strong woman who has protected, loved and taken care of her for her whole life. Andrea, after an unsuccessful attempt at making it big in New York City, has come back home to her small childhood town of Belle Isle, GA to take care of her mother who has been diagnosed with breast cancer . She thinks she knows everything about the sleepy town and her never changing mother–until a mall shooter almost kills them both, and Laura takes him down like some sort of NAVY seal operative. It turns out her mother used to be someone else, and if Andrea doesn’t figure out who that person was, why her mother is in hiding or who is after her, they both may not make it. Sara

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

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This is a story about a poor teen who joins a city wide track team. He’s never been part of a team before. His mother is working and putting herself through college. He frequently gets in trouble at school because his classmates make fun of the neighborhood where he lives, his ill-fitting clothes, the fact that his mother cuts his hair, everything associated with being poor. Can he adapt to the rules at track practice with Coach and find a place among the other young runners? Reynolds writes in a way that definitely gets inside the head of this teenager. I became interested in this title when I heard the author speak as part of the PBS Great American Reads series, and it is another part of my effort to read books from more diverse voices. So far it is very relatable even though I never participated on a sports team in school myself. Byron