Monday, December 9, 2019

12 Best Books of 2019

'Tis the season for the best of lists! By publishing this in early December, I'm running the risk of excluding something that I'll read this month but so it goes! I was surprised to find that 7 of my 12 favorite books were non-fiction! In the past, I've tended to read more fiction than non-fiction but that was not the case this past year. I hope you find something on the list that piques your interest. It was hard to narrow my list to 12 as I've read 95 books (!!!) so far in 2019!

Character-driven Fiction:

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth KeaneI was so sad when the book came to an end as I wanted to see how the character's lives would continue to unfold. It's about 2 families who live next door in a suburb of NYC. A tragic event happens that forever changes their lives and has a ripple effect on the rest of their lives. The heart of the story is a love story about the son of one family and the daughter of the other. Mental health and addiction is a core theme in the book.

This is definitely a character-driven novel, but there is also a plot to move the book forward. It reminded me Anne Patchett's novel, Commonwealth, so I'd recommend this to fans of that book.

Christodora by Tim Murphy - This solidly resides in the literary fiction category. It jumps around between points of views and periods in time so it took some concentration to weave together the story lines and remember how the characters were connected. But it was worth the effort. The book covers the AIDS crisis of the 80-90s, the work of AIDS activists, drug abuse, adoption and human relationships. Similar to Ask Again, Yes, I was sad when it came to an end as I wanted to see what happened in the characters lives. 

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo - Similar to the first 2 picks,this is another character-driven novel. Clearly that is a writing technique that I love but it is not for everybody! This novel is about a family in Chicago with 4 daughters. The husband and wife had one of those rare marriages where there is just so much love and adoration. Their 4 daughters are sort of handicapped by witnessing this love because they struggle to find something similar. There's a lot of disfunction in this novel and the characters are all unlikeable at some point of the book but the characters were very real and I felt compassion for them, even when they were making terrible and at times avoidable mistakes.

Plot-driven Fiction:

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny - I read a lot of Louise Penny books this year - 9 of them, to be exact! It's hard to pick a favorite, but I think Kingdom of the Blind, book 14 of the series, was my favorite. This series really does get better and better. Some will say you can read them out of order but I would not recommend doing that as you'll miss out on the through line story that builds with each book in the series. I will say that the first couple of books in the series are good but they aren't as great as the books to come. But it's worth starting at the beginning!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens - This book received a lot of buzz and I think it was worthy of the attention. It's set in the marshes of a North Carolina coastal area. The main character is basically abandoned by her family so she raises herself and has such a love and appreciation for the marshes. The author of this book is a wildlife scientist so she pays particular attention to describing the area where the story takes place. Sometimes detailed descriptions of settings can bore me but in this case it didn't. I will say there is some controversy and conspiracy surrounding this author as an article was published about her husband and his suspected involvement in the murder of a poacher in Africa. I'm skeptical about the truth of the allegations. I think if you were worried about your involvement in a murder, you wouldn't draw attention to yourself by writing a novel (which also is about a murder).


A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold - This was a good, but difficult, book to read. It’s by the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters. She talks about the life of her son, how surprised and devastated they were by his horrific actions, and she looks back on his life for signs they missed that Dylan was troubled. The heart of Dylan’s issue was depression and mental health issues. Now that I am a parent, I feel it’s important to educate myself about mental health and the warning signs the Klebolds missed. I hope and pray that our country makes progress on treating the pervasive mental health issues as well as makes progress in making it more difficult for people to acquire guns. But I feel that parents are at the front line of this battle and need to understand what to watch for and how to get help for their children.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight - This was an excellent page-turning memoir written by the co-founder of Nike. I had heard good things about this book but it exceeded my expectations. The book reads like a novel as Knight and the group of early Nike employees faced so many challenges in the early years of the company. This book made me want to go out and buy a pair of Nikes! I have so much respect for what this shy, introverted track nerd accomplished!

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou - This is another fiction book that reads like a work of fiction. It's about a company called Theranos that allegedly was developing a blood testing technology that only required a drop of a patient's blood instead of a vial. It’s maddening to see how an unproven, unverified medical device was used to make patient decisions. So little due diligence was done by the clients of Theranos, like Walgreens. I hope the medical community and regulators have learned something from this experience.

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro - This book was so riveting for me. It’s about a woman who, on a lark, takes an genetics test and finds out the man she thought was her father actually wasn’t. Her parents had passed away by this point in her life so she wasn't able to ask them what the H happened and instead had to piece things together through her own research. This is such a relevant topic these days with the advent of inexpensive genetic testing. It made me wonder how many people receive a bombshell like this. But it also made me think about what it means to be a mother and father - how much do genetics really matter in the parent/child relationship? I think the answer is not very much but it’s easier to say that when you are certain of your genetic origin. I will say that my MIL's book club read this, upon my recommendation, and some of them thought the author was "whiny." Maybe it's a generational difference but I felt true compassion for the author. 

Just Mergy by Bryan Stevenson - This was an amazing and heartbreaking book about our broken criminal justice system. Bryan Stevenson started a non-profit that works with incarcerated individuals, including those on death row and juveniles that have been sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. It’s sad to see how racism has impacted our criminal justice system, especially in the south. I heard that a movie based on this book has been made. I look forward to checking it out. 

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton - This was another heart-breaking read about our broken criminal justice system. The author spent 30 years on death row working to overturn his conviction. He was imprisoned at age 29 so he had spent more of his life on death row than as a free man when his conviction was overturned through the help of Bryan Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy. It's hard to wrap your mind around the fact that it took so long to overturn his conviction when there was clear evidence that showed that he could not have committed the murders.

Becoming by Michelle Obama - This book was probably my favorite read of 2019. I know there are strong opinions about Michelle Obama, especially among those who did not vote for her husband, but I think if you can set your political views aside, anyone can enjoy and be inspired by this book. I actually did not vote for Obama in 2008 or 2012 as I was more aligned with the Republican party back then (that is no longer the case since Trump was chosen as their candidate for president! I'm a woman without a party and vote for the candidate that is most aligned with my values these days) but I've always respected Michelle Obama. I really enjoyed seeing how their relationship developed and how she balanced working and being a mom on such a public stage. I also learned some unknown tidbits about living in the White House. 


Jeanie said...

I've read a few of these and agree so much with your assessment. I really want to read Inheritance and thanks for including that because I was trying to remember the name so I could ask for it for Christmas!

Stephany said...

So many of these are either on my TBR or favorites I read this year/last year. Becoming was the best book of 2018 for me, and I loved Bad Blood and Where the Crawdads Sing. Those will definitely make my top-10 list for 2019. 

Great list! And you're going to crack 100 books, potentially! Way to go, you!!

missris said...

I *loved* Michelle Obama's book! She's a great writer and I thought she was really brave and honest in her book, which only made it better.

Gracie said...

I think Shoe Dog was my #1 favorite book this year!

katielookingforward said...

My uncle works for nike, so I definitely need to read shoe dog!

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

Becoming is probably my favorite book of 2019 too. Which is sad because I read it so early in the year!! But it was so good! I really want to read, Ask Again, yes!

Shoshanah said...

I’m currently reading Where the Crawdads, and really loving it so far!

Amber said...

Many of these will also be on my top books of 2019 list including Becoming, Just Mercy and Where the Crawdads Sing. I'm also about halfway through The Most Fun We Ever Had right now and loving it, so it may make the list as well! I think I'm going to split my 2019 favourite list into favourite audiobooks and favourite books I read as 2019 was the year I really got into audiobooks, about 10 or 11 of the books I consumed this year were in the audio format.

I didn't love Inheritance as much as you did. I listened to it and I actually did think the author came off a bit "whiny" and also just didn't really like her that much for some reason, I felt distanced from her and for some reason had trouble finding a lot of empathy for her. I don't know why! But it was a super super interesting book and some of the stats in the book about the number of people who are finding out their parents aren't their parents through these DNA testing sites (I want to say she cited a state of around 1 in 1000 or something?) is quite staggering!

San said...

I only read the last three books on your list (all excellent!), so I'll have to put the others on my to-read list! Thanks for the recommendations.

Jolene - EverydayFoodie said...

Okay, now I want to read: The Most Fun We Ever Had, A Mother's Reckoning (I loved the Ted Talk she did!), Shoe Dog, Inheritance, and Becoming Michelle Obama. Those all sound so good!!!

The criminal justice system makes me so sad. We watched a heartbreaking special on TV, "Justice for All" about the US Criminal Justice system a while back. I highly recommend it, but it is so sad.