This post is WAY overdue, but since it is more for my own records than anyone else, here’s everything I read in the last four months of 2019:
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (Audio)
I didn’t think this book could possibly live up to all the hype, but it totally did. I LOVED it. Stylistically (and, somewhat, thematically) it is similar to The Dearly Beloved – which I also adored, While I’d say The Dearly Beloved is primarily about faith, friendship, and family; Ask Again is mostly about marriage. It is BEAUTIFUL. Raw and real, heartbreaking; but – still, somehow – hopeful too. This was easily five-stars for me. Probably one of my favorites of the year.
The Need by Helen Phillips (Audio)
I couldn’t order this one fast enough after hearing Laura Tremaine talk about how much she liked it; but, in the end, it wasn’t really for me… Honestly, maybe this is one I would have enjoyed more if I’d read it instead of listening to it… It was confusing and a little too far fetched for my taste. (It was longlisted for the National Book Award though so… You probably shouldn’t trust me!)
The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey (Audio)
This isn’t a new book, but I came across it (along with the rest of the world probably) after Kristen Bell mentioned it on Instagram. And, THANK GOODNESS I did. I don’t read a ton of “parenting” books, but this one was SO helpful. I got tons of great, practical advice as a mom and a teacher. Plus, it didn’t feel preachy or judgey; in fact, I’d call it encouraging.
After the End by Clare Mackintosh (Audio)
To me, this was a mash-up of My Sister’s Keeper and Sliding Doors / Maybe in Another Life… It made me think about things that REAL families have to face, and it was very well-written. Still, it was so, so sad… I actually considered stopping it as soon as I realized what it was about because I just wasn’t sure I couldn’t hand it, but I decided to stick with it because I had heard so many good things about it. The shift about 1/3rd of the way through intrigued me and drew into the story, but it never really stopped being sad… THAT SAID, I absolutely LOVED the author’s note at the end of the novel, and it really pulled it all together for me, making this an important (albeit, hard) read.
This was kind-of a slow burn for me (i.e. it took me a while to get through), but I ended up really liking it. The four friends started college (and met each other) the same year I did, so that element was especially neat. I loved the depiction of friendship as being both hard and good. I loved that they got mad at each other, hurt each other, and also showed up – no matter what – when they needed to… I few parts of this felt under-developed and some felt over-developed; but, taken as a whole, it worked.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Audio)
I should probably start by saying that I’m in the minority with my opinion of this book; and, to be fair, I think this is another one that would have been better if I’d read it instead of listened to it, but… I just never really got “into it.” I KNOW this is well-written and a VERY important story; but I had a very hard time keeping up with the characters, the time periods, etc. I DID love the “twist” at the end and found that it helped me realize my own privilege and need for a “silver lining” or hope in all terrible things…
**Since I finished reading, I listened to several podcast interviews with Whitehead and several reviews that have helped me appreciate the book more. I think this probably deserves a re-read for me…
I had heard this talked about and was interested in the premise (a memoir about a young girl and her mother’s secret affair), so I ordered it on Audible as soon as it came out. It ended up being very different, in a good way, from what I expected… I completely agree with the comparisons to The Glass Castle and Inheritance, but it is completely original too… This is a mother-daughter story, and (perhaps more so) a story of a girl becoming fully herself. It is an intense, and often painful, story told beautifully. A quick read/listen, but one I will be thinking about for a while…
The Grace Year by Kim Liggett (Audio)
This book completely surprised me, and I loved it. It is an English teacher’s dream — written for young adults, I’ve heard it described as a blend of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games, but I saw clear connections to Lord of the Flies, The Crucible, and The Scarlet Letter too. It is high-interest – lots of action and drama – but it’s also about love and friendship with strong relationship development; and, most importantly, about empowerment and voice of the individual. Not to mention, it is SO relevant in our society today with themes of misogyny, women’s strength, and the #metoo movement.
This is definitely NOT just for young adults… The plot is smart and creative. The writing is powerful and sharp. The end is great — very satisfying, but not tidy, and definitely thought-provoking. This would make an awesome Cook Club choice (for your friends or your classes)!
I honestly didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did, but I’ve been selling it to my students like crazy, and I can’t wait for the movie!!
American Predator by Maureen Callahan (Audio)
I’m a big fan of true-crime, and I definitely don’t consider myself a “prude” when it comes to the genre; but, this is probably the creepiest and darkest one I’ve ever read. It is super detailed and graphic, and goes DEEP into the mind of a serial killer – Like, In Cold Blood x10. Not for the faint of heart, but very interesting. Very well researched. Actually, I feel like I learned a lot about the investigative process and even a little about self defense. This one definitely will have me double checking my locked doors for a while!
This was such an interesting behind-the-scenes look at something I’d heard so much about in the news (of course)… I learned a lot about what goes on before a news story breaks, about the Harvey Weinstein story, and – though I didn’t realize this would be included – the Brett Kavanaugh case. Very well researched. Very well told. Very important.
An oral history of 9-11, this book was absolutely fascinating. One of the most important things I have EVER read… It is incredibly well-researched, expertly compiled, and a powerful look at some of the most horrific AND some of the most beautiful moments in our country’s story. I STRONGLY recommend the audio version!
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell (Audio)
I actually started this audiobook on the morning of my half-marathon and – while the pace was maybe a little slow for running 13 miles – I really enjoyed it. The last 3rd of the book, specifically, was really really good. A great “thriller” with some quality writing too!
American Royals by Katherine McGee (Audio)
About the fictitious American Royal family in line from George Washington, I felt a little silly rating this as high as I did (5 STARS), and I almost didn’t because it didn’t feel “important enough,” but, the truth is, I ADORED this book. It is marketed as Young Adult, but don’t let that turn you off. It is fun and light, romantic and sweet, *and* it also makes you think — the PERFECT vacation or holiday read in my opinion! I enjoyed every minute of this and can’t wait for the second book to come out!!
EDITED TO ADD: This is particularly interesting / thought-provoking in light of Harry and Megan’s Royal Exit recently. So juicy!
This is another one that totally caught me off guard by how much I liked it – a former student recommended it to me (love that) almost a year ago, but I put it off because I hadn’t heard much else about it, and I wasn’t sure how much it would keep my attention… I was SO wrong though. I don’t know why it didn’t get more hype when it first came out in early 2018, but it is EXCELLENT – one of my favorites from the year, in fact!
Amazon describes it perfectly as “A personal and sociological examination – and ultimately a celebration – the evolution of female friendship in pop culture and modern society.” It is charming, and insightful, and super interesting. I related to SO much of it, and it made me appreciate my own friendships that much more. I highly recommend!!
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Audio)
I was really excited about this one; and, in the end, I think my expectations were just a little bit too high… The storyline felt very “2019” to me (in a good way) — it touches on race, class, relationships, friendships, and even social media — and it did make me think. Still, I didn’t think any of the issues were particularly well-developed, I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable, and – while it was a quick read/listen – it didn’t leave a big lasting impression on me. (Lots of my favorite readers loved it though, so… maybe it’s just me. ??)
Like Big Little Lies in corporate America! I loved the “collective we” narrator and the message of this book about the challenges of being a working mom and a woman working in a male-dominated industry. Interesting and a little thriller-ish, but more of a social commentary on our times and a story of women supporting women! (This would pair GREAT with She Said!)
So, there you go! Do you agree with my reviews? Disagree? Let’s chat!