My Favorite Books of the Year: 2019

Every year it's hard to narrow down a list, but this one felt REALLY hard. I always think I should be able to keep it to a top ten, but inevitably add a couple more. Perhaps this year was tougher because I tackled the most books ever in one year - 92! 
I am surprised by this because I can't think of anything that I did differently, and I even did some binge television viewing early in the year, which is not normally my thing - I finally caved to the screen version of OUTLANDER! This summer I also had a hard time getting through books while our lives were in flux weighing the option of a cross country move. I thought it might be the fair amount of middle grade books and graphic novels I read pushing up the numbers (Lucy Knisley was my favorite discovery of 2019), yet I still managed an average of 340 pages per book. Either way, I'm pleased, because it was a well rated year - the highest since 2011 when my average rating was 4.1 stars. Of all the excellent books, here are my favorite from the year, in no particular order:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
I got this one in my Book of the Month subscription ages ago, and even though I loved Rules of Civility, I just never felt the call to pick this one up. Obviously, I was glad I finally did! If you, too, think this sounds boring or not up your alley - I'd urge you to give it a chance.
Original review here.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti
This was such a gut punch of a book, and one of the few that I put on blast from my personal social feeds as well as the blog. It's an important story for young adults/middle grade readers. But, I think it's SO worthwhile for all ages.
Original review here.

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
Like A Gentleman in Moscow, the praise for this book finally inspired me to give it a read, even though the description did not really grab me. Riveting and full of heart, I adored this adventurous coming of age story set during the Great Depression.
Original review here.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
I do love a good family drama, and Keane's book is in a category above most others. It's thought provoking and achingly beautiful.
Original review here.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
A courtroom drama that was so engrossing, I uncharacteristically stayed up past my bedtime to read on several occasions. It reminded me of when I used to mainline Jodi Picoult books, but Kim's work feels much less didactic.
Original review here.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I love how Taylor Jenkins Reid keeps changing things up, and writing fresh and unexpected stories. This fictional oral history of a rock band was so fun, dishy and unique and I fell into the 'love it' camp.
Original review here.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
This was my favorite book of the year, for sure. And no one was more surprised than me! I was not a fan of Eat, Pray, Love, mainly because I was irked by her privilege. Although, now I'm starting to rethink my perspective on that, thanks to this great article: I love Elizabeth Gilbert, and you can, too. "Gilbert and her work possess a female power our culture and society are just beginning to recognize."
Regardless! City of Girls is EVERYTHING I love in a novel.
Original review here.

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman
A sleeper hit from my favorite audiobooks of the year, I feel as if more people need to know about the brilliance of this fantastically told story - not just about the craziness of a fraudulent orchestra (playing to prerecorded music), but her own crazy coming of age from Appalachia to the big city.
Original review here.

Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley
Lucy Knisley was my greatest discovery in 2019! Reading her graphic memoirs has been such a treat, and I only have one left before I'm out of new material, WAH! Kid Gloves is a story about her pregnancy, but on the whole it's about the history of women's health and sexual discrimination. I strong armed my husband into reading it, and he really enjoyed it, too!
Original review here.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Will there ever be a year that Patchett writes a book that DOESN'T end up on my favorites list? I sure hope not! This nuanced and authentic story of siblings Danny and Maeve is one of her best. 
Original review here.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Probably the most polarizing of books on the list, this was definitely a book that doesn't leave readers feeling lukewarm. Yes, I was confused for large swaths of this fever dream of a novel. But, I adored the unforgettable journey.
Original review here.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Another favorite audiobook of the year, but also one of the best books I've read in years. A must read for all audiences about the realities of our justice system for victims, and brilliantly written. I look forward to her future work.
Original review here.

Links to previous best of lists below!
Favorite Books of 2018

Favorite Books of 2017 

Favorite Books of 2016 

Favorite Books of 2015

Favorite Books of 2014

Favorite Books of 2013 

Favorite Books of 2012


The Better Liar by Tanen Jones (ARC Review)

The Better Liar by Tanen Jones
Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 14, 2020)
Descripton from the publisher: 

Robin Voigt is dead. If Leslie had arrived at her sister’s cramped Las Vegas apartment just hours earlier, this would have been their first reunion in a decade. In the years since Robin ran away from home as a teenager, Leslie has stayed in New Mexico, taking care of their dying father even as she began building a family of her own. But when their father passed away, Leslie received a rude awakening: She and Robin would receive the inheritance he left them together—or not at all. Now her half of the money may be beyond her grasp. And unbeknownst to anyone, even her husband, Leslie needs it desperately.
When she meets a charismatic young woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Robin—and has every reason to leave her past behind—the two make a reckless bargain: Mary will impersonate Robin for a week in exchange for Robin’s half of the cash. But neither realizes how high the stakes will become when Mary takes a dead woman’s name. Even as Mary begins to suspect Leslie is hiding something, and Leslie realizes the stranger living in her house, babysitting her newborn son, and charming her husband has secrets of her own, Robin’s wild, troubled legacy threatens to eclipse them both.

It's pretty well documented that thrillers are not my go-to genre. Alas, I do cave to them every so often, especially ones that get ALL THE BUZZ. The Better Liar is one of those that broke through on my radar, and had great early feedback. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to read an early copy!
The multiple narrators grabbed my attention from the beginning, with Robin's account delivered from the afterlife, Leslie's as the living sister, and Mary's as the stand-in. As the story unfolds, my allegiance and empathy bounced between Leslie and Mary, both seeming to be in a bad situation. Trying to figure out the lies and the truths being concealed was an ominous slow build. Just as I thought I had a inkling of what secrets they were keeping, the plot would thicken further. I definitely had that 'I HAVE to know how this is going to end' feeling. Jones' writing was propulsive and astute.
"They think the closer you are to someone, the more they narrow; that love shears you down to the slimmest core, as if people contained seeds you could fish out and keep, saying, That's the real you; all the rest is just flesh. But it's the other way around. The more you know someone, the more someones you know. They kaleidoscope outward before your eyes. If you feel you're finally getting a handle on someone's true self, you haven't got at clue. Once you've met forty versions of them, then you can comfort yourself you're getting closer." 
As is the case with thrillers, I spent a lot of time guessing the various twists. Mary's secrets were a bit easier to fetter out, and she breathed the most life into the story. Leslie's was a harder nut to crack, and harder to empathize with until the very end. I thought the direction the author took with her character was rather thought provoking, and that ending gave her, and the novel, some gravitas. I don't think I can speak to it further without spoilers, so I'll just recommend that you read it!
Many thanks to Taylor Noel and the folks at Random House for a complimentary advance copy!


Books I Read in December

Know My Name by Chanel Miller
I already mentioned this memoir on my favorite audiobooks for the year, but it bears repeating: I would recommend, and shove this into people's hands if I could. Listening to the harrowing account of a sexual assault victim, the realities of our broken justice system and misogynistic culture, was really hard to stomach. But her story is so important, not just because she was Brock Turner's victim, but because clearly the process is equally terrible and unjust for most sexual assault victims. It is eye opening and hopefully encourages activism and change. Not to mention the fact that her writing is beautiful - I'm not sure if I've ever come across so many brilliant and evocative uses of metaphor. Her comics are also so engaging and I can't wait to see what this amazingly talented woman's future holds. One of the most moving books I've read in YEARS.

Looking for something light and fluffy after Know My Name, I was drawn in by the cute cover and positive reviews. Alas, this story of a woman in dire need of straightening out her life and moving to the country didn't really work for me. There were several threads that I enjoyed: all of the yummy baking, Livvy's relationship with her boss Margaret, and with Martin's father. Honestly, I felt more love between the two of them than the weirdly fraught romantic relationship with Martin. I think it might have been a case of quantity over quality when it came to the plot. Your mileage may vary!

Conviction by Denise Mina
Even though I usually steer away from books described as thrillers, this came recommended by some of my more trusted sources, and even a favorite author: Elin Hilderbrand! When Reese Witherspoon chose it as one of her book club picks, I went ahead and grabbed it from the library before the avalanche of holds began. Mina's writing style was not at all what I was expecting and I found Anna's snarky and mysterious first person narrative to be delightfully engaging. Mina weaves in some astute observations about misogyny and the patriarchy without feeling forced. Conviction manages to be thrilling, dark, funny, melancholy and thought provoking in equal measure. Really glad I picked it up!

What Happens in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand
As always, Hilderbrand writes such fun, frothy novels with the most amazing sense of place. I have been to the Virgin Islands and it's so transportive to read these books set on St. John, which she clearly holds very dear. As with the first book in this new series, I am definitely invested in the drama of the Steele family even more so - word of warning, this second book ends on quite a cliffhanger!

An Age Of License by Lucy Knisley
Knisley's graphic memoirs are SO ABSORBING and I'm really sad that I'm going to be out of new material soon! This travelogue details her adventures through Europe on a book tour and her anxiety about love and life, which were all very reminiscent of my early 20s. Her vulnerability about her hopes and fears set her books apart. And I thought I had a pretty exciting life of love, travel and city dwelling, back in my younger days. But I feel as if I missed having a love affair with a Swedish dude whilst taking in Paris! Dang! This was an absolutely fun whirlwind of a book.

Recursion by Blake Crouch
I approached this follow up to Dark Matter with some hesitancy, since I really enjoyed his breakout hit. But I shouldn't have worried - I was captivated by Barry and Helena's story from the start. Crouch, again, writes with great cinematic prose. There HAS to be a movie option on this, as well as Dark Matter. There are many parallels to Dark Matter, in addition to it's vivid storytelling, which I love in novels: the idea of multiple lives, whether through time travel or a separate universe, and true love in spite of the these roadblocks. 

Let It Snow by John Green (Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle)
This was the YA-est YA novel I've read in a looooong time. Silly dialogue and high school hi jinks complete with jocks, nerds and cheerleaders. It was cute and fun, though, with a nice dose of diversity and one of those fun 'ties all the characters together in a cool way' endings. Definitely a good pick for a snow day brain candy fix you can read in 24 hours. I think I preferred My True Love Gave to Me, a collection of holiday stories also including John Green's work.