Wow. How did another year fly by so quickly? This year, Kirsten and I altered the way we rated our books. we decided that a book has to be an amazing example of the genre, unputdownable, and well-written. So, while we read so many books this year that we really enjoyed, our list of 5-star reads was a pretty exclusive group. We love Historical fiction so we were not surprised that these made up the majority of our best books of 2019 list. We were surprised, however, that we did not have any thrillers on this list. But, this does not mean there were no thrillers that we loved! We were also surprised by the number of books we read in December that HAD to be put on this list. What were your favorites this year? Is there a book you read that you think we should add to our list?
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A last-minute addition to the list, I grabbed this book when it was recommended to me over on Instagram. It hits very close to home. The story revolves around four families as they work to get their children into the new public charter school for gifted children in their wealthy Colorado neighborhood. There are lots of family secrets to unravel, drama galore, but there is a message at the heart of this book. How much of our wishes and lives are we pushing on our children? Is being the very best what they should be striving for? I found myself contemplating my own children and how I’m raising them. Isn’t that the best part of a good book? When the story hits so close to home that it leaves you contemplating your life, your children, and your purpose in the world. I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s highly entertaining and, quite frankly, a must-read for the parents of the world.
Thanks to Libro.Fm and Harper for my copy. All opinions are my own. Ann Patchett has done it again with this tale of sibling devotion. Danny and Maeve are victims of an abandoned mother and father who all but ignores them. Danny narrates the story of their lives as it ties into The Dutch House – a storied mansion that their father purchased in Elkins Park. This home is the blessing and curse of their lives. The sign of their father’s success and what ultimately breaks up their family. Emotional and complex, yourself a favor and get the audiobook edition – Tom Hanks narrates!
I heard so many mixed reviews and I finally decided to read it and then kicked myself for waiting so long. The story is about sexual harassment in its various forms – mostly around the workplace – and how women handle that harassment in different ways. A lot of the negative reviews stem from people not liking the main characters which I take MAJOR issue with. Harassment is harassment. Character likeability should have little to do with whether or not you believe the claims. There is a lot of grey area with the handling of harassment because it’s a personal issue and no two people will respond to the same harassment in the same way. I thought the author did a great job digging into those grey areas with characters who are complex. This would be a wonderful book club choice – in fact, my IRL book club discussed it in December!
This book was utterly enthralling. I had heard mixed reviews of this book going into it but I think I figure out where the love/hate comes from. This book has a lot of graphic sex in the form of statutory rape, affairs, and swinging partners. The scenes are graphic but not designed to titillate the reader like a 50 Shades book…but rather to explain why the women felt the way they did. Why they felt power, or love, or understanding in the sexual encounters. So it feels very voyeuristic on some level because it’s so deeply personal. As I said, I thought it was outstanding but I can so easily see how it is not everyone’s cup of tea.
I absolutely adored this book. Rowley is amazing at writing about complex relationships. At its heart, this is a book about James Smale and his amazing and complicated relationship with his mother. When James finally sells his book and goes to meet his editor, it is none other than Jackie O. She forces him to look into himself and answer the questions that he didn’t know to ask. This is one of those books that will stay with you. The emotions are so clear and raw, they jump from the page while the story builds quietly.
Thank you to Booksparks for my copy of this book. When I picked up this book, I hoped for a little time to read but what I found was a gem of a book that I read in one sitting. This family drama is perfect for a vacation read or reading during extended family time. Kicked out of her family for marrying a man “beneath her”, Julia’s world is shattered on the night her child is born. She has nowhere to turn so she must return home. As Julia tried to pick up the pieces of her life, she begins to uncover the story of her mother’s life as well. This book was easy to get into and hard to put down.
This historical fiction novel is part mystery, part love story, and part thriller. MacNeal’s debut takes place in Victorian England during the time of The Great Exhibition. Iris dreams of learning to paint like a true artist, while she tolls away with her twin sister in a doll shop. Silas is a curiosity collector that can’t seem to get Iris out of his head after their chance meeting, and Albie is the rag-a-muffin street urchin I wanted to take home. Their stories weave together in a slow-burn until the blood pumping, heart racing conclusion.
This graphic novel came my way through my local bookstore and it was a beautiful surprise for me. I loved Wonder. The story was told beautifully and with compassion. I wondered if I would be disappointed with how a story about the holocaust would translate into a graphic novel and whether the story could be told with an equal amount of compassion. Happily, I was not disappointed at all. I absolutely loved this book. It is so poignant and powerful with a message of kindness that is so relevant for today.
I just finished this book a while ago and I still cannot stop thinking about it. It is rare that a book comes along that fills in all the nooks and crannies in my heart and this book did just that. It is the story of four orphan children who find themselves traveling in a canoe down the Mississippi. The summary of this book does not do justice to the words within the pages. Read it. Love it. And then email me so we can talk about it.
Thanks to Atria for my copy. All opinions are my own. Philippa Gregory is back with a new non-royal series. Tidelands is set in 1648 in the midst of the English civil war. The king has been overthrown and the country is in turmoil, but in the marshlands of South, the villagers are worried about survival. Alinor is a healer whose services are both respected and feared. She carefully toes the line between wise woman and witch as she struggles to feed her family. One fateful night she decides to help a catholic priest to safety without realizing the danger this secret would bring to her family. I was shocked at the end of the book and I’m eager to get my hands on the second story.
What a ride!!! The Great Pretenders was not at all what I expected, but I adored it! I was expecting a light-hearted story about the glamorous world of 1950s Hollywood with Cary Grant, Ginger and Fred, Rock Hudson and the like. I got them, but this story had meat on its bones. Roxanne is a granddaughter of a movie studio head but she decides to strike out on her own as a Hollywood agent. Upset with her grandfather’s callous treatment of his loyal writers with former communist ties (This is prime McCarthy Era) she begins representing blacklisted writers under pseudonyms.
As if this plotline wasn’t compelling enough, she then begins a deep and meaningful romance with a young black journalist covering the emerging civil rights movement. The author brought to light so many issues of the time in such a thoughtful way. I had never considered how the shifting politics of the time would affect the film industry. The glamour of Hollywood was present, the book was overflowing with old movie references (which I adored), but it was the love and personal growth at the heart of this story that I found most compelling. If you are interested in a beach read that will leave you thinking, this is your book.
Marais’ emotional depiction of South Africa during the late ‘90s results in a stunning novel with depth. She covers racism, homophobia, the AIDS epidemic, and corruption in the church, with eye-opening frankness and heart. Her characters take root in your mind from the first page. I found myself laughing, cheering, and crying along with their stories. The ending left me absolutely shattered as I read through tears. Yet somehow, through the many difficult topics, Marais manages to weave a story filled with love and hope. How many stars can we give?
I started reading this book but when my audiobook library hold came in I changed over to the audiobook version. HOLY COW. The audiobook is EVEN BETTER. Seriously, I think this might have been my favorite audiobook of all time. I expect it to sweep the Audies this year for sure. The book is laid out in chronological order about the making of a band in the 70s, but the story is told in interview style from a dozen sources. The audio version has a different narrator for each character and the performances the actors give are stupendous. I was overcome with emotion numerous times while I was listening. The story itself about the rise and fall of one of the hottest bands was so utterly fabulous – it’s pure sex, drugs and rock n’ roll in all the best ways.
I ordered the Age of Light after I found out about it in our Winter 2019 releases post. It’s a historical fiction novel about real-life photographer and model, Lee Miller. I had never heard about Miller prior to this book, though I was familiar with her lover – Man Ray. She made some life choices that I can’t say I agree with, but I found her to be a strong, feminist woman ahead of her time. This book will be on my best reads of the year list, but be warned – there are some erotic scenes in the novel.
I read the Island of Sea Woman by Lisa See and was captivated from the first page. Lisa See’s last novel The Tea Girl of Humminbird Lane was absolutely brilliant and I felt the same way about this book. It tells the story of a friendship between two women on the Korean Island of Jeju. There, women work as a diving collective to provide for their families and the men look after the children. It was so interesting to read a story where some gender norms are completely reversed and others, like feeding women and children last, were still perpetuated. Beyond the incredible history of this small island is the story of a remarkable friendship between Mi-Ja and Young-sook from over decades. Lisa See has done it again with this remarkable book.
This book is just so full of inspiration that I flip through it constantly. Initially divided into seasons, the book digs further into certain areas and provides in-depth guidance to help you create the design aesthetic of Terrain in your own home. In the Spring section, I found myself particularly drawn to the planters section as I’ve been trying to tackle that project for my home entryway. There was an easy to understand guide to choosing the perfect container followed by plant suggestions, and step-by-step instructions for how to create your ideal planter. Similar instructions are found for wreaths, flower arranging, and Christmas decorating. If you love to give books as presents or you want to inspire yourself to create a welcoming, nature-filled home – then you need this one!
Science Fiction/ Fantasy
To say that I was excited about Erin Morgenstern‘s new book might be the understatement of the year. I preordered it as soon as the name was released AND I squealed with delight when I got an early listening copy from Libro.fm. Oh, and I also bought another signed copy from my local indie bookstore. So ya, I love it. How to describe this book that is an ode to storytelling…..it’s a love story to books, a fantasy within a love story within a fairy tale. The writing is beautiful- Erin’s signature style of vivid imagery left me completely captivated. I listened with Libro.fm and I read it as well. I truly loved every minute of this book as I stopped trying to understand every sentence and predict the story and let it take me away. I’d recommend it for anyone that loved The Night Circus.
I just finished this fabulous fantasy absolutely loved every minute. I love the fact that it takes place at Yale where a number of secret societies actually exist. This is a dark, complex fantasy that was so captivating, I listened to it in a day. I would love nothing more than to go to Yale and have Leigh Bardugo take me on a walking tour of all the places that she references in the book. The book ends on a total cliffhanger which usually makes me very mad. In this case, I am only a little mad because it means the story isn’t over.
This was the first 5 star read I have read in a while and I could not put it down. When people start to become ill with False Memory Syndrome, nobody knows who will get it or how. Barry is a cop who sees the devastating effect of FMS on the people who contract it. Helen is a scientist who studies memory. Barry and Helen come together to find answers and stop everyone’s past from becoming one distorted memory. Blake Crouch is so smart- this book really made me think. If you like sci-fi, this is an absolute must-read.
I was so happy to get a recommendation for this book from Main Point Books. They promised that it is well written, funny and a perfect feel-good book. I was not disappointed at all. I love this book so much. This story is about a woman who becomes a nanny for two children who start on fire when they get mad. This is the reason I included the book in this category. I realize that the fire-starting is more of a metaphor but, it is unlike anything I have read before. There is wonderful humor in this book that is centered around complex and beautiful relationships. I really cannot recommend it highly enough.
I love Alice Hoffman and for me, this was her best book yet. During WWII, in Germany, Hanni Kohn knows that she must do something to save her daughter from the Nazi’s In desperation, she seeks out someone who can make a Golem take her daughter to safety. Instead of the Rabbi, it is his daughter Ettie who helps and creates Ava. The life of the three women is forever intertwined. This beautiful story about love, life, and friendship is more than I could have hoped for.