It was such fun to look back on what I’ve read this past year and pick my favorites! Below you’ll find mostly adult fiction titles, including some standout graphic novels, as well as a stellar young adult novel (Wilder Girls!). 2019 was also the year I dabbled in reading outside my comfort zone of generally weird and spooky, venturing into the land of romantic fiction and true crime. Much to my surprise, I was so utterly charmed by a romance novel that it ended up on this list (I’m looking at you Chloe Brown). I hope that if you haven’t read one of these titles you will be inspired to stop by and check it out this winter. Maybe you will also find yourself pleasantly surprised by broadening your reading horizons *wink*. Wishing you a joyful holiday season and happy reading!
If you check out some of my previous Top Ten lists -you might notice I like to go for bonus titles.. heh! This year I split my list into ten fiction and a bonus nine nonfiction… double heh! I’ll also mention, this year I was part of the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction & Nonfiction Committee -and the entire list is worth a look! You’ll also notice some of the titles on that list are also on mine, so maybe that counts as a double Top Ten suggestion?
This list is *not* in order of preference but does follow the Librarian Tradition of Alphabetical Order:
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
No one in this story is perfect, and that’s what makes it such a fun book to read!
Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen
Time travel is a key feature, but it’s really about family and finding a place you belong.
The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
A magical, emotional, thoroughly engaging story!
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
You don’t have to love Jane Austen to love this book.
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz
A mystery set in a boarding school with plenty of surprises.
Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia
Like The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin -for adults.
Normal People by Salley Rooney
Teens growing into young adults -set in Ireland.
Save Me From Dangerous Men by Eli Saslow
Gritty and graphic, and all kinds of grrl power.
The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine
If you’re a word nerd -this one’s for you!
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Ah -all the feels.
Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise Aronson
We should all rethink how we think about aging.
Catch and Kill by Rowan Farrow
Fascinating and well-researched look at decades of misconduct by men in power.
Becoming Dr. Seuss by Brian Jay Jones
Theodore Geissel was more than the creator of children’s books, and this book will tell you that story.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
While telling the story of one woman’s disappearance (and likely murder), readers will also get a clear background on The Troubles in Ireland.
Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane
A beautifully written look at the natural world and how it’s changed, and continues to change.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Not just a book about libraries, but also a great “true crime” mystery!
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
Ladies, be ready to be annoyed and then -let’s change the world!
An Elegant Defense by Matt Ritchel
Do you know how your immune system works (or doesn’t work)? You will after you read this!
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer
How do we not talk more about some of the topics in this book?!
I hope you find something you enjoy -and- that you have a happy, wonderful Holiday Season!
It was fun to look back and see what I was reading all year long–some of them feel like I finished them so long ago, and some I remember every detail like I read them yesterday. It was another year of suspense and mystery for me, with a little fantasy thrown in. Not usually my favorite genre, but I may be changing my mind a little. In no particular order, please enjoy ten of my favorites that I read this year!
Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter This is about to be a Netflix original, and you will be riveted by it.
The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor Another book about a homecoming gone wrong by the author of The Chalk Man.
The Lost Man by Jane Harper An amazing tale of love, death and survival in the Australian outback. One of my favorite authors who also wrote The Dry.
Watching You by Lisa Jewell No one’s secrets are really secret. Someone is always watching.
The Witch Elm by Tana French A stand alone from the wonderful author of the Dublin Murder Squad series.
I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan A twenty-year-old murder and a podcast questioning whether the man convicted actually did it–what could go wrong?
I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh As usual, this author has you suspecting everyone until the bitter end.
A Better Man by Louise Penny You probably won’t find a list of mine without Inspector Gamache on it, and I hope it remains that way for years to come.
Crimson Lake by Candace Fox A suspense-filled novel set in Australia which is the beginning of a series– some of the most interesting characters I’ve ever met.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi The first of a fantasy trilogy that is a must read for adults and teens. I’m on the holds list for the second book which just came out!
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
I loved reading the Wizard of Oz series when I was a kid. The MGM musical is one of my favorite movies. So, this historical fiction novel that traces the life of Maud Gage, later Maud Baum, touches on many themes that I enjoy. We get behind the scenes looks at how the creation of the first book and the classic technicolor movie might have happened. Maud’s mother Matilda Joslyn Gage, the most prolific suffragette writer, has a big influence on Maud and Frank. From the perspective of 2019 when there is a record number of women serving in the U.S. Congress (at 24%) it is fascinating to see the strength of women who fought for early women’s rights. This book really brings the history to life. I enjoyed that the story was told from Maud’s point of view, and I recommend that you check out this book too!
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker
With a lot of examples professor Pinker proceeds to lay out his case that the world and the human condition are in fact getting better. Or at least with the problem solving tools of the Enlightenment we humans are capable of improving the world’s problems.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
This award winning graphic memoir about a father and daughter’s relationship is captivating. The fusion of visual and verbal language is some of the best out there.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
A book about Haig’s personal journey with depression. A book that makes sense to those dealing with depression. Short poems, lists, and essays have a refreshing informality.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Dana is a black woman living in the 1970s who is mysteriously pulled back in time to the early 1800s. The book is a bit more fast paced than the Outlander series with back and forth time travelling.
Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection
This is not only a book of essays and archival history about the musician Lead Belly, but a BONUS set of 5 CDs. He was a singer of folk tunes, blues, and an early influencer of rock & roll.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
A teen 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?
Hell’s Heart (Star Trek: Prey #1) by John Jackson Miller
The Jackal’s Trick (Star Trek: Prey #2) by John Jackson Miller
The Hall of Heroes (Star Trek: Prey #3) by John Jackson Miller
While waiting for new Star Trek TV content I read this trio of paperbacks. Beloved characters from the existing series and a handful of new well-drawn characters embark on a new adventure involving the Unsung and peril in the Klingon-Federation alliance.
The Public written and directed by Emilio Estevez
Thanks for taking a look at my top reads of 2018. I’ve included titles that moved me in some way. Below you will find memoirs, fiction, children’s books, and pop-up books. These books range considerably. Some of the titles display magnificent examples of paper engineering, while others humanize very real social justice issues. Thanks to my profession and personal responsibilities I have the opportunity to explore a wide array of books. I hope you find something from this list that sparks you.
My reading gravitates to mysteries and suspense and this year to the British Isles, particularly Ireland.
The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan. Debut novel that draws you into the dark heart of Ireland.
Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear. Debut procedural featuring Cat Kinsella as a young London policewoman whose investigation takes her to her own family secrets back in Ireland.
The Witch Elm by Tana French. The talented French is back with a non-series title about a happy-go-lucky young man whose fortune takes a terrible turn.
The Child by Fiona Barton. The skeleton of a baby found on a building site sends reporter Kate Waters scurrying over London to unravel the mystery of the child.
These novels are all set in the U.S. and while not strictly mysteries, each one has twists and turns and some mysterious goings-on.
Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker. Three years earlier the Tanner sisters disappeared. Now one is back, but where is Emma, the other sister?
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl become entangled in the lives of the Richardson Family. Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown. Billy Flanagan disappeared on a hiking trip a year ago and is presumed dead. But now her daughter is having waking dreams that her mother is still alive.
A year is not complete without a couple of scifi/fantasy titles.
The Book of M by Peng Shepherd. In a dangerous future world, where people lose their shadows and their memories, a group of survivors search for answers. Those who loved Station Eleven and The Passage will love this as well.
Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers. “From the ground we stand. From our ship, we live. By the stars, we hope.” This is the code of the Exodans, the decendants of those last humans who left Earth and reside in The Fleet, stationary ships in space. Third in the Wayfarer series.
And last, but not least, a picture book for cat lovers.
Niblet & Ralph by Zachariah O’Hara. Two look-alike cats mistakenly switch places in this in this sweet and delightful book for all ages.
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
Four girls attending boarding school participate in a sinister game which involves lying to everyone except each other. However, years later when a body is found, it becomes obvious that someone broke the only rule of the game.
The Day She Disappeared by Christobel Kent
When Beth disappears, everyone says she’s run off with another man. But her best friend Natalie, doesn’t believe that at all, and proving it just might get her killed. A perfectly paced psychological thriller that keeps you wondering until the end.
Where I Lost Her by T. Greenwood
After heartbreaking infertility and failed adoption attempts, Tess sees a young, half-dressed little girl in the road who disappears into the woods. But with no other sightings, missing child reports or witnesses, Tess begins to be doubted by the townspeople and herself.
The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor
Young Eddie and his friends develop a game using chalk figure codes which leads them to a dismembered body and to the end of their game. Years later chalk figures are showing up again, and one old friend turns up dead. Eddie must figure out what happened years ago in order to save himself and the others.
Self-Portrait With Boy by Rachel Lyon
A young female artist accidentally photographs a boy falling to his death—a breathtaking image that could jumpstart her career, but would also devastate her most intimate friendship.
The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
Essie is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a hit reality TV show about her family’s life and fire-and-brimstone religious beliefs. When Essie winds up pregnant, will she be forced into an arranged-blockbuster-marriage episode? Or will she escape her strange, always-on-display life?
The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter
Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy, small-town life is torn apart by a horrifying attack which leaves their mother dead, and their family forever shattered. Twenty-eight years later, another violent act forces them back together, and brings up long lost secrets and questions.
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Five-year-old Madison disappeared while chopping down her family’s Christmas tree. Three years later, her parents are still desperate to find her and hire a private investigator known as “the Child Finder,” who is their last hope.
The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Tarot card reader, Hal, discovers she has been left an inheritance. She is certain it is a mistake, but is desperate for cash and decides to play along. But once at the family estate with the brooding, mysterious heirs, she wonders if she has made a terrible mistake.
The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell
Adrian Wolfe has been divorced twice and recently lost his newest wife to suicide or so it seems. As Adrian searches for answers, he discovers his perfect modern life with two amicable divorces and 5 step children who love each other seamlessly may not be as perfect as it appears.
- Favorite Fiction
- Circe by Madeline Miller
- The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah
- If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
- Favorite Nonfiction
- I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
- Dopesick by Beth Macy
- Calypso by David Sedaris
- The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
- American Prison by Shane Bauer
- Endurance by Scott Kelly
- Favorite YA
- The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
- Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
- Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
- Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
- Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
- Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman
The top titles I read this year turned out to be mostly crime fiction. A few other genres sneak in, but I have them mostly relegated to honorable mentions and to a special section for on-going graphic novel series. Even if most of the titles are contained with the crime genre, I have tried to read from a diverse array of authors.
Rice Moore to find safety seclusion from his past has taken a job as a caretaker of a remote Appalachian nature preserve. However, when he comes across a poached black bear in the woods things start falling apart as soon as he starts making inquiries with the locals who are generally wary of outsiders. Rice spends a lot of time in the untouched Appalachian wilderness which McLaughlin lovingly writes at length in vivid prose. This is a thriller that will be enjoyed most by those that also enjoy a walk in the woods.
I adore reading deWitt. I honestly do not much care what is happening in his stories. Rather, it is his unique perspective and witty presentation of absurd situations that cannot get enough of. This is not my favorite deWitt book – like I said above, I enjoy a western, and The Sisters Brothers is a masterpiece – but it is a great deal of fun all the same. In French Exit, deWitt lampoons New York high society.
Lark is a rural East Texas town that has had two suspicious deaths in quick succession; one a black out-of-state visitor, the other a white local girl. Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, decides to head on up to Lark and take the lay of the land. However, Mathews is still suspended from the Rangers, and the local white sheriff is more interested in sweeping things under the rug than stirring up trouble. And a strong undercurrent of racial tension running through Lark means there is a lot of trouble to be had. Full of flawed and interesting characters, rich East Texas atmosphere, and compelling story this was my favorite of the year.
The conclusion of Stephenson’s nearly 3000-page trilogy, Baroque Cycle, is just as ambitious as the first two volumes. A dense, complicated series that sprawls through history as Europe begins to enter the Age of Enlightenment. The Baroque Cycle defies to be pigeonholed to a genre; it is part swashbuckling pirate adventure, part history of calculus, part political thriller, and so much more. Though this series was sometimes a slog it is also the series I continue to contemplate and itch for more. Perhaps, Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon will be the balm.
I enjoy a western. There is something about the legends we have constructed around the historical figures and locations of the time that captivate me. In Doc, Russell does just that by blending fact in fiction as young Dr. John Henry Holliday, also known as Doc Holliday, begins practicing dentistry on the Texas frontier. Holliday finds it difficult to pay bills on dentistry alone and soon takes up professional gambling and befriends the Earp brothers. The rest is history… mostly.
A Drop of the Hard Stuff is the seventeenth, and likely final, book in the Matthew Scudder series. While this is a good installment in the series, its selection in this list is so that I can recognize the phenomenal series. The series begins with a disillusioned Matthew Scudder in 1970s New York that has quit his job with the NYPD and taken up unlicensed PI work and drinking. Scudder ages in real time and as the series progress Scudder grows and changes with the world around him. He stops drinking, starts attending AA, and makes and loses friends and relationships. By the end of the series, Scudder is both the same man and a very different one. The series spans four decades and it is intensely rewarding to journey along with Scudder as he and New York evolve with time.
This was the most fun I had with a book this year. The unnamed narrator, a young woman with limited prospects, takes a job keeping books at a small nightclub. Soon she begins practicing some shady accounting and is taken under the wing of the infamous and ruthless Gloria Denton. Casinos, racetracks, heists – all the money in the city runs through Gloria before it makes its way to the big bosses out of town. Gloria will provide access to the action and the lavish lifestyle if only the narrator can keep from falling for the wrong guy. Megan Abbott takes the bones of the same old, time-tested gangster story and gives it new life. By the end symbols of toxic masculinity are kicked apart and lay shattered and bloody on the floor.
Eddie recently got jammed up by the cops while driving around Vermont with a truck full of stolen booze. Now that he’s back in Boston with a little time before his sentencing, he’s hoping Foley, a local cop, can put a good word in for him if he feeds Foley a little information. Eddie, who’s still running guns for the local mob, wants to rat on his source of guns, not the mob boss that Foley is aiming for. Eddie might not want to go to jail but he’d in an uncomfortable position if people knew he is ratting. Everyone has an angle and friends are friends only until they aren’t. Elmore Leonard style dialogue drives this novel that Leonard also called the best crime novel ever written.
Jim Thompson is not exactly known for invoking the warm and fuzzies with his novels. If you are searching for something to brighten your day or your view of humanity, look elsewhere. The Grifters starts with Roy Dillion, a successful short con man, having a bad day. An easy con goes awry, and he gets an unlucky slug in the stomach that causes unexpected and lasting damage. While laid up healing Roy’s structured life continues to slip away as he tries to balance the three competing women in his life.
For the last several years crime novels are the genre that has made up the majority of my reading. So, when I stumble across an article from an author that I respect, Megan Abbott in this case, and she is calling out In a Lonely Place as a groundbreaking, and subversive novel canon to the genre, my ears perk up, and my to-read list grows and so should yours. Read my recent Read it or Weep summary here.
Best Continuing Series:
This British bildungsroman centers on three university students as they transition into the complex world of adulthood and living on their own. Even though the young adults are frequently melodramatic and angsty – as one would expect – it is a series that is immensely humorous, fun, and finds the joy in life even feels hopeless and chaotic.
Though I no longer even make an attempt to maintain an up-to-date awareness of teen and juvenile publishing, I make sure to know when the next Lumberjanes is to be released. I was on the verge of dropping the series as a few of the volumes had been a little lackluster, but A Bird’s-Eye View was so pleasantly absurd that I am fulling back on the Lumberjanes bandwagon. The Lumberjanes inhabit a diverse and adventure-filled world where obstacles are overcome through teamwork and acceptance.