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!
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This is a story about isolation and resilience. Kya, also known as the Marsh Girl, was abandoned by her family in the marsh lands of North Carolina. Alongside the story of her survival in the marsh as a child, an alternate timeline of a murder is unwound throughout the story. The writing is lyrical and descriptive which drags you deep into the marshes of North Carolina. The book is both heartbreaking and triumphant. Beth
The Complete Poems of A.R. Ammons by A.R. Ammons
American poet A.R. Ammons taught creative writing for years at Cornell, and recently a two-volume collection was published. I’m working my way through the first volume and hope to read the second as well. His poetry is a very intense exploration of the relationship between the natural world and the metaphysical. His voice is charming and unforgettable, and he is able to be funny and profound at the same time. Ammons grew up in rural North Carolina, and some of his most affecting poems (for me) are about his memories as a child, taking care of the animals on his family’s farm. A good, slow, enjoyable and worthwhile read. Andrew
In Palaces for the People, Klinenberg makes the argument that social infrastructure is fundamental to both the physical and social health of a community. In using the phrase “social infrastructure,” Klinenberg is referencing community places that cause human contact and social connections to form, including libraries, places of worship, parks, and schools. The connections made at these locations create social safety nets and allow for exposure to others; this imparts tolerance and understanding in a society often becoming more divisive. An interesting read; the frequent mentions of how libraries are valuable resources for communities may have influenced my appreciation and enjoyment. Trent
The Familiars by Stacy Hall
This is a fictionalized account of the real life Pendle Hill Witch Trials. It’s 1612, Lancashire, England and young noblewoman Fleetwood Shuttleworth has yet to bear a child after four years of marriage. Each of her pregnancies have ended in miscarriage and the doctor has made a dire prediction-Fleetwood will not survive another pregnancy. And yet, she once again finds herself with child. When she meets Alice Grey, she begins to believe that both she and her baby might survive. Fleetwood places all her trust in her new midwife, who prescribes various herbs to treat Fleetwood’s ailments. While her health improves and her pregnancy progresses Alice finds herself being accused of witchcraft. Can Fleetwood save the only woman who can save her? Megan
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Kindred was pushed up in my reading priorities in February, but as is often the case I don’t usually read books based on monthly themes. I am now part way through listening to it being read by Kim Staunton on my commutes. It has some similarities to the Outlander series, but this book was written 12 years earlier in 1979. 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 with back and forth time travelling. Dana must learn to survive living on a plantation in the slave state of Maryland where she has no rights. She meets a couple of her ancestors and learns about her surprising black and white family tree. She experiences physical trauma similar to the women of several generations past. There isn’t really a science fiction device for the time travelling, so it is more fantasy based. Sometimes time travel stories can be full of loopholes and anachronisms, but Butler has very carefully constructed the plot based on history that the hero Dana cannot so easily change for the better. Byron
This is the story of Alice, the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt. Alice is just 18 years old when McKinley is assassinated and her father becomes president. Rebellious Alice is in constant conflict with her father and stepmother. She soon marries Congressman Nick Longworth and must deal with his infidelity and heavy drinking. Alice gives birth to Paulina, who is believed to be the daughter of Senator William Borah. When Paulina dies young, Alice raises her granddaughter. This is an epic story of a strong independent woman way ahead of her time. Emma
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
George Washington Black, Wash as we come to know him, is a ten year old slave on a sugar plantation in Barbados in the mid 1800s. When the eccentric brother, Titch, of the exceedingly cruel master, Eramus, comes to stay, Wash is taken under the wing of Titch. Wash is both confused and terrified by such an unlikely kindness extended to him. Titch is a scientist, inventor, explorer and abolitionist. Wash is swept up in the life of such a diversified, yet strange young man. This is a story of friendship and betrayal, love and redemption. The author deftly talks about slavery, racism and identity. It reads like both historical fiction and adventure. Have patience with this novel, at times, it seems disconnected, but well worth it. Mary
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Nine people join at a remote health resort in Australia for different reasons. Some are hoping to lose weight, some are getting over broken hearts, and others have heard it is just the most amazing experience ever. As each of them are cut off from the outside world and required to follow a rigid, individualized schedule prepared for them by the spa’s extremely eccentric owner/director, they begin to wonder what they have gotten themselves into. Should they stay and experience the promised life-changing experience, or should they run while (and if) they still can? Not as good as The Husband’s Secret or Big Little Lies in my opinion, but still a good read with some interesting twists and turns. Sara
When I Spoke in Tongues by Jessica Wilbanks
This memoir is about a woman who grew up in a very religious yet impoverished rural Virginia community and becomes an atheist. As I read it, I could not help but think of Tara Westover’s Educated. Even though there were many similarities in their stories, When I Spoke In Tongues dealt mostly with the complicated, painful process of leaving one’s faith. The most interesting aspect of the author’s journey away from faith was the way her relationships with family members changed. Jessica Wilbanks holds an MFA in creative non-fiction, and the writing in this book is haunting and beautiful. This book would be important for anyone who decides to depart from the faith tradition they grew up with, as well as anyone who wants to know more about Pentecostalism as a movement. Lyndsey
Waterworks by E.L. Doctorow
I went back a few years and revisited a 1994 E.L. Doctorow novel, The Waterworks, because it was recommended. Set in post-Civil War New York, the book is narrated by a world-weary newspaperman, McIlvaine, whose freelance writer, Martin Pemberton, has disappeared. Pemberton, smart, rebellious, and scion of the wealthy and recently deceased Augustus Pemberton, had confided to McIlvaine that, though his father had died, he believed he recently saw him passing by in a carriage. McIlvaine enlists the help of Donne, a rare honest police officer during the Boss Tweed era, and the two search for Martin, discovering his half-dead body in a facility where the genius Dr. Sartorious is trying to defeat mortality. Doctorow starts off well, lyrically capturing New York and its inhabitants, the poverty, wealth, power and industry, but eventually the plot becomes too gothic and the characters stereotypically good or evil. Maybe this isn’t one of his best? Dori
Lists of books with an LGBTQIA authors or character:
- 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
In no particular order (such a rebel this year!):
Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife
Ok -so now I want a raven!
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Funny, kind, and honest look at who she was, who she is, and who she’s becoming.
Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
If it’s a “no” on the raven, I’d be happy with a European starling like Carmen…
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
The care and attention paid to the production of this book matches the content.
Rescue Board by Rebecca Erbelding
There’s always more history can teach us, if we’re willing to learn.
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Suspenseful, with nuanced characters.
Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
Oh my! Great story about the Great War!
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
Even the people closest to you have hidden stories.
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Little white lies, neighborhood gossip, and friendship in tough times.
The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue
Unnerving! -with a great, twisty ending!
Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman
Western + fairy tale + suspense = this book.
Gilded Age by Claire McMillan
Hello Cleveland! Hello CMA’s Jazz Bowl! hello hankie (to dry my tears.)
Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman
100%! (bonus -if you like audio? Sound Up!)
Girl at the Grave by Teri Baily Black
Historical fiction mystery with a touch of feminism.
The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman
Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall
Sad to see the series end but loved the journey.
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrack Kelly
A Newbery Medal winner -for a reason!
I’m excited to see what 2019 will bring!
Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time by Gary Saul Morson
I‘ve been reading two books by a literary critic that I like a lot named Gary Saul Morson. He wrote a great book about Anna Karenina called Anna Karenina in Our Time: Seeing More Wisely, so I was curious to learn about his other work. One book, Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time, is about how certain novelists, like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, create stories that convey a sense of time as open, even if the novelist knows what is going to happen. It also talks about how novelists represent free will in their characters, and fight against an interpretation of the world as deterministic. The second book, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics, co-authored with Caryl Emerson, is about the work of a Russian literary critic and philosopher named Mikhail Bakhtin, who came up with some very innovative and exciting ways of thinking about the novel as a genre. Morson is a wonderful, lucid, and deep thinker, and I’m enjoying these books very much. Andrew
The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchison
Sixteen-year-old Elena is the product of a virgin birth (it’s a real thing with a scientific explanation). She also hears voices and can perform miracles (there is no scientific explanation for this). Elena is just trying to navigate normal high school crushes and family drama, and she really doesn’t have time to save the world. Also, she’s not really sure she should be saving it. This is a truly bizarre and thought-provoking novel for fans of A.S. Kind and Libba Bray’s Going Bovine. Megan
This book is really all about the importance of being a good role model as a parent and letting your child be who she wants to be. The book dives into the history of the Disney princess culture and how it has evolved over the years and has affected our culture, specifically our young daughters. I found the book to be somewhat lacking in concrete insight for navigating the logistics of fostering my child’s authentic self while she is very drawn to the imagery and excitement of princess culture. Beth
I Hate Fairyland by Scottie Young
Do you love/hate fairy tales? Hero journeys? Landscapes made of candy? Have you ever wondered what would happen if Dorothy hadn’t found her way back to Kansas? Then you will enjoy this graphic novel. I hate Fairyland (Volume 1) follows the story of Gert, a green haired, ax wielding, foul mouthed, middle aged 6 year old (In Fairyland, time goes by but you don’t age). Gert hasn’t really taken the conventional path to finding her way back home and after a few decades of failed riddles and violent vendettas she may have worn out her welcome. A hilarious, graphic-graphic novel. Greg
March. Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
This autobiographical graphic novel relates the early life of Senator John Lewis from his rural upbringing on an Alabama farm through his early involvement in the Nashville Civil Rights Movement. March does a very nice job of providing the larger context of the movement and what is happening outside of Nashville and Lewis’s immediate world. However, the authors manage to keep the story from losing focus of Lewis personal experience and the impact that creates. This is done in part by having the story told from Senator Lewis’ own voice as he provides an impromptu tour of his office on Inauguration Day, just before President Obama is about to be sworn into office for the first time. A fascinating and powerful read. Trent
The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen
When Johanna Langley’s father Sir Hugo suddenly dies, Johanna wants to understand what happened to him during WWII. He was a British bomber pilot who was shot down over German-occupied Tuscany near the town of San Salvatore. Local resident Sofia Bartoli tended to his needs at severe risk to herself, family and village. When Johanna visits San Salvatore 30 years later, no one remembers her father or wants to talk about Sophia. A treat for fans of historical fiction. Emma
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
This book has been on my radar for several years, and being the chosen book for One Community Reads, I finally dove into it, and I am so very happy I did. This is a grim read but a necessary read. Author, Matthew Desmond does an excellent job of engaging the reader in a piece of non fiction. He introduces the reader to eight families in Milwaukee living in poverty and struggling with eviction. Readers learn about the business and culture of evictions, while getting a glimpse of what it’s like to live in some of the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee. Many residents are spending more than half of their meager income on housing. For most, what money is left after paying rent simply isn’t enough to get by, hence, starts a downward spiral leading to evictions. The fates of the eight families in this book are in the hands of two landlords. I couldn’t help but feel that there is blood on the hands of everyone. Desmond spent years living in these neighborhoods, painstakingly taking notes and recording events. I highly recommend this book to everyone. Mary
Monkey Mind by Daniel Smith
Having several friends and family members who suffer from anxiety, I wanted to read a book to help me understand and empathize with them. Monkey Mind, so far, has done the trick. It is an extremely eye-opening memoir about the onset and treatment of Daniel Smith’s anxiety disorder. He intersperses stories about his own life with research and writings about anxiety from scientists and philosophers like Kirkegaard and Freud. When the audiobook starts to feel overwhelming (because Daniel Smith’s rehearsals of his absurd, painful, and self-destructive thought patterns can be just that), I remind myself that this is how it is to live with anxiety, and that I am one of the lucky ones who can turn off the audiobook and walk away. The book is not 100% heavy and dramatic, though — Daniel Smith’s dry humor about the situations he finds himself in is one of the strengths of the book. Trigger warning: the author does not shy away from sharing a story about how he was raped at 16, and while he documents what happened (in my opinion) tactfully, it is still distressing. Lindsey
Where I Lost Her by T. Greenwood
Eight years after many failed fertility treatments and a tragic adoption, Tess is still grieving and bitter as she visits her childhood friend in her hometown in rural Vermont. Torn between her great love for her best friend’s two daughters and her jealousy of the life they lead, as well as the growing rift in her marriage, Tess’ visit is fraught with emotion. While driving home from a late night liquor store run, Tess sees a small, wounded half-naked little girl in her headlights on the dark country road. When she stops to help, the girls disappears into the woods. As Tess calls together the community to search for her, she finally finds a sense of purpose until those around her begin to suspect she was drunk, broken-hearted and imagined the whole thing. This book is a great look into grief, relationships, healing and what matters in life. Sara
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
In the 1970s, the Amazing Telemachus family toured the U.S. as psychic performers, led by patriarch/con-man Teddy and the genuinely talented Maureen. Debunked on national television, they lost their notoriety. Twenty years later, they’re all struggling with real world problems, albeit with a psychic dimension. Irene, a human lie detector test, can’t maintain a relationship and has brought her son Matty home to live with her father. Raconteur Frankie, who practices telekinesis, can’t get his business off the ground and is in hock to a local mobster. Buddy, the youngest, sees the future, and is steadily working to prevent it, even if it means building holes in the backyard. Told in alternating chapters from each character’s point of view, this quirky tale of family, mobsters, the CIA and first love, is a hoot – funny, crazy and tender. I listened to it on audiobook and it was a treat! Dori