My Favorite Books From 2019
Over the past few weeks, “best of 2019” lists have been everywhere. For books, movies, albums, food, trends – you name it, there’s a list for it. I love making lists, but these are hard for me because “best” is so subjective.
I’ve previously ranted about my displeasure with “best of” awards and lists- it seems more fair to call it them “most popular” lists. And no, those two things do not always mean the same thing.
I struggle with my year end review because I genuinely want to give my readers a breakdown of my year of reading. 180 books completed, across many different genres, is difficult to break down to what is “best.” So instead, I came up with a way to acknowledge the books that moved me most across the various genres.
This year, I’ve broken down the 180 books I completed into genres, and give you one to three titles from each genre that I found exceptional.
When you’re done reading this post, I’d love your feedback. Do you disagree with my assessment on some of these titles? Do you have a favorite from 2019 that doesn’t show up here?!
My Favorite Books From 2019
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
*Hands down my favorite book of 2019! This is the story of one woman, a starlet, and her rise to fame. That alone is interesting enough. Underneath are themes of societal expectations of sexuality and gender norms, domestic violence, and the effects of wealth. This is a story within a story, and I appreciate how the tales being told of the past affect the characters in the present. All of the characters are complex. Each is flawed and likable in different way at different places in the book.
Seven Lives and One Great Love:Memoirs of a Cat by Lena Divani
I find most cat/dog narrated books to be dull and unrealistic. This is not the case here! There are laugh out loud moments in our feline narrator’s stories and some sad ones. Throughout, he remains snarky, commenting on his life, companions, and surroundings exactly as I expect a house cat would.The writing is top notch in all aspects.
In One Person by John Irving
This novel is a stunning accomplishment, I don’t think anyone but Irving could pull it off. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by John Benjamin Hickey who gives our protagonist/narrator Billy the exactly right personality with just a little bit of snark. This story is wonderfully Irving. His characters are flawed humans, making poor choices and suffering the consequences, just as happens in real life. He pushes his characters to extremes, and his books all have a “weirdness” that is unique to him.
Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
This is a contemporary thriller with an old timey feel. I love the creepy vibe of this book that hits the reader from the start. It’s a fast paced story with straight forward writing. The scenery is described wonderfully and adds to the atmosphere. There are so many unique, quirky characters, I enjoyed guessing what each one might be up to in secret.
The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
There’s a lot going on in this family, as we gradually learn through alternating glimpses into the past and present of Lucy and her mother-in-law, Diana. It’s a wonderful exploration of the dynamics between mothers-in-law and their daughters-in-law. It looks at the stereotypes and digs into how these women came to be who they are and why they interact as they do, with rest of the family woven in as well. This is a compelling story that had my wheels spinning from the get go!
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
This is one of those instances where labeling a book as “thriller” does an injustice, there’s so much more to this one! At the center of the novel is an immigrant family who own a controversial alternative medical therapy business. After a horrible accident, threads unravel to figure out whether it was intentional and who is to blame. Through flashbacks, the reader gets little snippets of the character’s lives and motivations. Kim’s writing is gorgeous, her scenes are detailed and realistic. The characters are all complicated human beings, fully demonstrating their dark and light sides.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
I can’t stop ranting about how great this book is! I’ll warn you: it is pure sex. The storyline is unique and cute. And while it’s a steamy romance novel, it’s also a lesson in unconditional love and acceptance – self acceptance as well. Plus it’s got a strong, intelligent female protagonist and is wonderfully sex positive.
Star Crossed by Minnie Darke
The style here is similar to that of movies like Love Actually and Valentine’s Day. I liked figuring out how all the side characters would come together, and I especially LOVE that one of those characters is a dog! Astrology is a main character in the story, woven in throughout each chapter’s path in different ways. I enjoyed the character development a great deal. It was fun to watch them explore the line between fate and personal choice.
Creative Quest by Questlove
What I appreciate most here is how Questlove looks at creative thinking as it applies to just about any discipline: musicians, painters and writers, then also chefs, producers, DJs, filmmakers, even scientists and technology inventors. This book makes the point that making things is creative, end of story. And that’s what we need to perpetuate more, as creative beings. It doesn’t matter what you’re making or who the audience is. His own personal stories illustrate his points at times, giving the content emotional depth.
The Art of Happy Moving by Ali Wenzke
Ali calls on her experiences moving 10 times in 13 years, to guide readers in a clear straightforward way through the entire moving process. Her writing style is casual and honest. This isn’t only about your move, it’s about all aspects of your life, and your family. The book is packed full of checklists and other resources to help you stay organized and not forget anything. Even people who aren’t currently planning a move will find useful advice in here for evaluating their current lifestyle and home environment.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
The writing is exceptional, it feels like fiction and not non-fiction reporting. This presentation is what makes the women’s stories compelling, but also caused me to wonder “what’s the point of all this” a few times. By the end, the point was loud and clear: women are judged for their sexual appetites (and actions, and their bodily functions. Judged not just by men, but by other women, and by themselves.) Meanwhile, the men suffer few consequences of their actions in the same exact scenarios. It’s extremely sexually explicit at times, and will make most readers uncomfortable at some point. That’s part of why this is such an important book.
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
This is an incredible story, told with raw honesty and grace. At age 54 author Dani Shapiro took a DNA test for fun. From its results, she learned that her father was not actually her biological father. This is where the story begins. What follows is a roller coaster of emotions as Dani struggles to understand what she’s learned and make sense of how it was possible. Dani’s writing is straightforward and powerful. The reader is right there with her as she tries to conjure up childhood memories to connect with the facts she’s learning.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
While it’s labeled Self Help, it’s a beautiful memoir chronicling one therapist’s need for therapy. We get stories of Lori’s life and past, alternating with stories from four of her patients. Lori writes tenderly yet honestly about her patients. She’s able to weave threads from their stories with her own, to create a deeply emotional narrative. This book made me laugh, then was also quite sad at times. It’s a moving account of human connection and personal growth.
To Drink Coffee With a Ghost by Amanda Lovelace
A beautiful collection focused on grief. The style is the same as her previous works. I appreciate that Lovelace’s poems aren’t wordy. Her power lies in the exact words she chooses to use, since there aren’t many. As I’ve I said about Lovelace’s previous poetry collections: To witness any form of art which is so obviously part of the creator’s healing process is a gift. Any reader will likely find something in any of her books to aide in healing and foster a sense of belonging.
Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton
I can’t say I’ve encountered a novel quite like this before. Our crow narrator is hilarious. The story in general had me laughing in parts and near tears in others. It’s ultimately story of survival, but also an exploration of love, belonging, and acceptance.The writing is magical, the story is complex and weird. The animal characters are well constructed, and the world they live in is brought to life with vivid imagery. And with all that being said, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much if I hadn’t listened to the audio book. Narrator Robert Petkoff brings the characters alive with personality and snark.
The Reckless Oath We Made by Brynn Greenwood
This is an exceptional work of fiction. What the author accomplishes by maintaining two different styles of English is impressive. ( At first it’s weird, but just go with it, trust me…) The chapters are narrated by various characters, which allows them to show off their personalities and inner workings. Just like in her previous novel, Greenwood has created characters who are not necessarily “good people,” but are doing the best with the circumstances they’ve been born into. Ultimately this novel is about love, loyalty, and acceptance.
Specifically 2019 Releases
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
I absolutely adored Evvie from start to finish. She’s easily going to be one of my all time favorite protagonists. Evvie is so relatable because she’s wonderfully human, she’s flawed and good intentioned. The writing here is sharp, witty, and true to life. Everything wasn’t tied up in a nice neat bow. While this is Evvie’s story, it’s also the stories of the side characters who are important in her life. This novel is ultimately about adulthood not looking like we pictured it, and trying to figure out what the hell to do about it. It’s a wonderful story all around about being human and taking care of ourselves.
Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald
I relished this novel from start to finish! It’s an epic love story for sure, with a lot of other components as well. It’s a story about the many forms love can take, about devotion to family and place, and duty. I appreciated the time frame, as WWII plays an important role. It’s fascinating to learn about how the lives of Americans were impacted by the war and the losses they suffered. The is an amazingly complex story-line. Grunwald manages to construct it with great care and credibility. She takes an unreliable concept and makes it not only believable but magical and heartwarming. The author’s note explaining the great deal of research she did adds a lot to the story.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
This novel is incredibly complex and rich with detail. It’s the story of two siblings whose mother leaves when they are young. It’s their story, but also the story of this house they live in, which drove their mother to leave, and where they stay with their father. It’s difficult to sum up what this novel is about: Family, place, belonging, expectations, loyalty, obligation, forgiveness. It’s ultimately a family drama, packed with history and geographic details. The writing is poetic and vivid, spanning time and family generations.