Look at me coming in at the last second of January to tell you about my favorite 2019 books.
In February, this post would be too late. But January rules stay we’re still allowed to talk about 2019. It’s in the rule book. Look it up if you need to.
I read a lot of books last year. Coming up with fifteen books I loved was harder than it usually is, but here they are. They’re not in any special order, except the first one. It’s my absolute favorite book of 2019.
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
I declared this book a favorite last summer and it stayed in that spot the rest of the year. I still think about this story, these characters.
Ask Again, Yes starts out with two rookie cops who quickly become intertwined through proximity, family, violence, and trauma. The cops’ children, Pete and Kate, are the main characters and the book follows them from the beginning of their parents’ relationships to their eventual marriage and their own family. In between is heartache, addiction, bad choices, and childhood wounds. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t know what I was picking up when I grabbed Ask Again, Yes off the shelf at the library; it looked interesting, and it was on the display case. I’m a sucker for display case books. About halfway through, I realized the parallels to real life for me were, at times, too much. I have never read a book and felt moved to contact the author, but the way Keane writes about childhood trauma, a mentally ill mother, a father who abandons his family, a son who keeps it together until one day he can’t, and alcoholism was too real to be made up. I just want to ask her how she knows, how she knows what it all feels like. How does she know what you think when it all happens and how, how did she know? This is fiction that feels like real life; fiction that has to be written from experience. I sobbed through some chapter. This hurt to read, but it was good and beautiful too. I would never have the words to write what she did so well, and I’m glad this exists in the world.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
I read Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, and felt indifferent about it. It was okay, but not my favorite. Little Fires Everywhere redeems Ng for me. The setting of this story is so strong, it’s a character. The community the characters live in is a meticulously-planned town where appearance matters a whole lot. The story focuses on two women, one an important newspaper writer and the other, a nontraditional single mom. When their children become friends, things turn and secrets come out. I loved the subjects this story wrestled with and the reminder that even if we win the war, it still hurts.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
I don’t even know where to start with this one. It’s so good, I don’t think words will do it justice. I loved that the setting was such a powerful character, almost a secondary main character. (This is different than the setting as a minor character; just go with it.) This book broke my heart a few times. I cried more than I can count. the loneliness and want and betrayals felt so heavy. About two-thirds of the way through I realized we were going the way of Fried Green Tomatoes. Do you remember that movie? I loved it so much as a child, for ways I couldn’t explain. This is not the same story at all, but if you’re familiar with it, you know what I mean. Gah. So, so good. Final thoughts: as a writer, I was blown away by the detail and feel of this book. The setting, the imagery, the symbolism just cracked me open. I’m in awe.
The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine
Engaging, cringe-worthy, interesting, and horrible. All of my favorite things in one book. Amber Patterson is tired of being a poor nobody. So she creates a manipulative plan to make a very rich man fall in love with her. It doesn’t matter that he seems happily married to someone else. It’s so creepy, it’s good. But when things start happening for her, the book changes perspective to his wife. And that’s when it gets even more amazing. I really loved this book. If you need a stay-up-all-night read, this is it. I laid on the couch and read this book cover-to-cover on Christmas day.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I consumed this book. I read this and knew immediately it would be a 2019 favorite. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the beautiful, funny, and heartbreaking story of a woman who finally learns how to heal after an unlikely friendship with a co-worker. I loved the story line and the way she finds bravery in friendship, but it’s saved by a guy. I want everyone to read this one even if it’s just for her descriptions and internal dialogue. Eleanor drove me crazy at time, but I loved her nonetheless. Most books don’t make me laugh out loud, but this one did. It’s so enjoyable.
Learning to Speak God From Scratch by Jonathan Merritt
I listened to this one. Learning to Speak God From Scratch is smart, challenging, and informative (having been around Merritt a few times and learned from him, you could describe him like that as well…). I really enjoyed his history of religious words and how they’ve evolved through time and translation. As someone who writes about faith on the internet, I noticed a few years ago that some words I used were unfamiliar to non-Christians or used differently than I intended based on a person’s background. His research and commentary was engaging and interesting.
Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner
Since I left the classroom, I’ve been reading less young adult novels and that makes me sad. I’m so glad I got to read Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee because it reminded me of how good YA can be. I’m not going to lie, when I saw this author was a male trying to write a story about two high school girls, I was skeptical. I even rolled my eyes. But Zentner did such a good job writing two strong girls. Smart, funny girls who have some struggles. There is a love story, but it’s not the point and there’s no weird sleepover pillow fights of anything. This is a story about friendship and fear and being honest with those we love.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Read this one even if you don’t think you’ll like or you’ll care. It’s so well written and funny and interesting. The inner workings of the White House, how the Secret Service details rolls, all the hoops presidents have to jump through to walk outside or go shopping, it’s all so fascinating. Reading Becoming by Michelle Obama sent me on a search for more first lady memoirs.
I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
I think this is a must-read for white Christians. Often we don’t even know what we don’t know or realize how much of the way we think (or were taught to think, behave, ect.) is anti-Gospel and racist. We’re all racist in our thinking in some way, it’s ingrained in white America that most of us don’t even realize it’s happening. Most of us don’t want to do it, it’s just society norms we’ve wrongly picked up. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness is a good place to start. It is not inherently shameful or bad to be white, you don’t control it anymore than someone controls being black, but with our skin color comes power we didn’t earn and don’t deserve. Channing Brown points out some ways we can do better. Because we can all do better.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
My Sister, the Serial Killer is a short, dark read about Korede and her beautiful younger sister who keeps killing her boyfriends. Korede is smart and plain and often overlooked, and when her sister starts stabbing her boyfriends in “self-defense,” Korede helps her clean up. But the bodies are starting to pile up and Korede can’t keep this up, especially as her sister sets her sights on a kind, gorgeous doctor Korede works with. This is a quick read, but creepy and good too. I couldn’t put it down.
Educated by Tara Westover
THIS BOOK WAS SO INTERESTING. Westover grew up in a survivalist Mormon family in the hills of Idaho–off the grid and unschooled. Her father, who she believes is bipolar, thinks the government is out to get them, and they spend their days working to making money for the end times. They fill their basement with canned food, they sleep with mountain bags (a packed bag ready to run for the mountains with if the FBI shows up), and her dad is filling a 1,000 gallon gas tank hidden in the side of their mountain so they’ll have gas when the world ends. Some really crazy stuff happens in this book and when Tara is fifteen, she decides she wants out so she buys an ACT study book and prepares to take a test for the very first time. She goes on to get her doctorate by thirty. If you’re looking for an engaging and shocking read, this is it.
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
We read this one for book club last year. It was thrilling and I couldn’t put it down. There’s a criminal trial going on and the reader learns the story of what happened through the trial and mostly the third person omniscient points of view. But everyone is hiding things and you know it as you read, you’re just not sure who to trust. Miracle Creek is well written and engaging. The ending killed me a little, but like we discussed at book club, there was no way this was going to be happily ever after.
The Immoral Majority by Ben Howe
This came out in August and is thoughtful and informative. Howe is a conservative Christian who has taken a hard look at the party he loves to determine how, in the pursuit of political power, they’ve embraced moral relativism and toxic partisanship. He explains why the “lesser of two evils” argument is wrong when voting and why conservative Christians are using compartmentalization to make dangerous choices setting them up for a mess later (and now, actually). Howe is not writing to convince you to vote for a different party, but he does offer smart, Biblical principles that help you understand that you can be a Christian and not vote against your morals for political control like some have been led to believe they should. He offers a good reminder that during the last few decades, conservative Christians have come to believe that God’s plan for humanity resides in who they elect president of the United States of America…and why that is a dangerous, limiting belief to hold. (I want everyone to read this book, please.)
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I loved this account of Noah growing up near the tale end of South Africa’s apartheid as a colored child in a place where he was literally a crime for being born. His white father and his black mother were not allowed to be in relationship, let alone have a child. His stories made me laugh, think, and learn. The best things from a book. (I was encouraged to listen to the audio version of this book because Noah reads it. I didn’t get a chance to, but if you can borrow it from your library, I bet it would be worth the wait.)
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
Gottlieb is a therapist who has a therapist. She writes about her patients and the life she needs help surviving. So she gets a therapist. It’s delightful and insightful and another word that ends with -ful that I can’t think of right now. If you’ve read anything I’ve written, you know I’m a huge proponent of therapy. I think everyone needs a little (a lot of) therapy in their lives. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is smart, challenging, and encouraging. I love that Gottlieb helps people make sense of their mess while admitting she needs help herself. The reality that we often can’t see our own stuff clearly is real and Gottlieb’s vulnerability invites us into her healing while encouraging us toward our own.
Do you have a favorite from 2019? Can you narrow it down to one book?
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