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
- 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!
It’s my favorite time of year! All the sparkly lights and sweet treats and sappy movies? Love ‘em all! …Plus?! It’s time for everyone’s Top Ten books, movies, television, songs and Everything Else! Oh, what’s that? You want to know *my* Top Ten reads of 2018? Well, thanks for asking! Here they are -in alphabetical order- a mix of old, new, true stories, and fiction for all ages:
Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
I’ve learned –and enjoyed!- something from every book Ms. Brown has written and this book continues that tradition! If you’ve never read any of her previous books, I might suggest starting with Daring Greatly.
The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Odd, creepy, and thought-provoking! (Do you really need more?) Read it before you see it?
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
I read this for Notable Books Council but have re-read it in preparation for Our Community Reads –coming in 2018! This book stands the test of time –and repeated reading!
As You Wish by Cary Elwes
I listened to Cary Elwes read his own memories of making The Princess Bride (one of the most perfect movies ever made!!). Charming! (But maybe more for die-hard fans of the movie than for the general reader…)
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
This must have been a tough book to write but the effort was well worth it. I won’t waste your time with what I liked –read it and you’ll know on your own why it’s so good.
The Gilded Cage by Vic James
A world that feels familiar but isn’t anytime/anywhere I’d like to live. I’d describe this as fantasy with strong social commentary message?
Renegades by Marissa Meyer
Not all superheroes are super people but as the two main characters begin to really consider the world they’re growing up in –part of what they’re learning is the world is less black & white (more shades of gray) than they thought.
The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
For all of my enjoyment of a sappy holiday movie –this book would kind of have the opposite effect. The story isn’t easy to read, but I think it’s one of an overlooked gem.
A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty
The final book in The Colors of Madeline series, this book was well worth the wait! The author kept a few good surprises and the ending was just right (for me)!
The Gene: an intimate history by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Taking a huge, almost incomprehensible topic, and making it engaging with personal connections? I give this an A++++!
Blood at the Root by Patrick Philips
Completely disturbing and completely true, this sordid history of a white-only county in Georgia continues to haunt me.
Grocery by Michael Ruhlman
A mini-history of grocery stores with more than a few entertaining shout-outs to Heinen’s, and the brothers currently running this expanding chain.
As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti
If you were granted one wish on your 18th birthday, what would you do? In this tiny town in the middle of the Nevada desert, they’re wishes have been granted –but the results aren’t always positive for the wisher…
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Thoughtful and timely – oh, please read this one!
Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge
Individual snapshots of how gun violence affects not just the individuals involved but the entire community.
Now that I’m done, I notice two big things… I read the same title (on different books) twice and there are a lot of serious-type books on my list. If you’re looking for some of the more upbeat titles I read, you can check out a collection development article I wrote for Library Journal this year called Twice-Told Tales. The books are all classic stories with a twist, for example: telling the story from a different character’s point of view or taking a recognizable storyline from the past and putting in a modern setting.
Happy Reading all Season Long!