I didn’t want to endeavor to curate a Top Ten or a Best of the year post. That leaves too many great books out. So, this isn’t that. I do believe there is value in sharing the books that I especially enjoyed this year. As of today I read 318 books in 2019. That number will probably go up by two or three before the actual end of the year.
There are so many great books that it’s impossible to read all of them, and then ranking them is a way too subjective for me. What I can tell you is what we remember reading and enjoying off the top of our heads. (The “we” varies as to which kid read each book with me) It was extremely hard to narrow down the list once I began scrolling through my images, and began remembering more books that I loved. Really, checking my GoodReads account is your best bet. I gave out quite a few 5 star reviews this year.
Before we get to it, I want to say Thank you. 2019 has been a year of phenomenal growth for me both as a writer and as a book reviewer, and I’m so excited about all the new projects I have coming up in 2020!
Going forward, I’ll link to Amazon for the Kindle version of any book I review and link to IndieBound in case you are shopping for a physical copy. I’m attempting, in my own small way, to provide an alternative for your book purchasing needs. I’d like to start linking to WorldCat as well, but did not have time to add those links to this very long post.
In January of 2019, I had maybe fifty subscribers, and that number has grown to over 7,000 readers. On days when I feel discouraged about society, I remember that many people are still reading, and that makes me smile.
I’ll be taking the last two weeks of the year off to do some blog maintenance. A ton of my old reviews didn’t transfer correctly, and I want to get that remedied. I’ll be back in January with a slew of new release reviews!
Grab a cup of whatever you need to sustain yourself, and buckle in for the longest blog post of the year. Let’s start with the little kid set:
Mary Edward Walker, born in 1832, who knew what she wanted in life. Her independence went far beyond clothing as she graduated from medical school in 1855 and then went on to volunteer in the army during the Civil War.
However, it all started with pants. Mary didn’t want to wear dresses all the time. As you can imagine, people in her community were shocked. So shocked that they arrested her! Kids need to read that societal norms are always in flux, and if they don’t like something, they can affect change in the world.
I loved everything about this book: the artwork, story, and message are all top-notch.
Don’t search Pinterest for Advent activities. This book is the way to go. You get 24 1/2 stories, all leading up to Christmas and a slew of activities to keep you busy every day. This is the kind of book that makes me wish we had little people in our house again. So much fun that I’m saving it for future grandchildren.
Middle-Grade books seemed to be the book we read the most this year. Proving I really am twelve years old on the inside.
This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews:
This book is a graphic novel that is utterly enchanting. You’ve watched all of Stranger Things, then maybe you did a family re-watch of Goonies. What’s next?
I read most of this book while I was sick with a fever and feel like it was like reading a Hayao Miyazaki film. It’s so full of bite-sized wisdom like:
“No one is going to force you to, but if you don’t jump in, you’ll always think back on this moment and wish that you had.”
All together, suitable for all ages, spooky without being scary. Tons to talk about while reading. It checks all my boxes for the perfect read-aloud. Plus, lots of pictures for younger kids!
The History of the World In Fifty Dogs by Mackenzie Lee
I knew I’d love these essays. I’m a big fan of dogs and history, so I was enthusiastic about this book from the get-go. Then I got to this line:
“Good bois were all over Egypt- it’s Unde-NILE-able.”
I enjoy the right mix of internet punning with my history. Don’t be fooled by the cartoon appearance; this book is for middle graders up through teens. It turns out you can mix cute art, funny banter, and history in a book that YA readers can use as part of their studies. Shop your local indie bookstore
Some kids crave scary well before Stephen King is appropriate. The title says scary, and it means it. This collection of short stories is a wildlife documentary amount of scary. If you’ve ever watched PBS and yelled for the baby animal to “Watch Out!” You’ll love this.
I’ll give this warning: the stories included are dark and sometimes disturbing. I read parts to my teen, and he agreed that at 9 or 10, he would have had nightmares. I’d be completely fine calling this YA, but in my opinion, it is not suited for kids under the age of twelve. Your mileage may vary. Pre-read it if you have any doubts, by page thirty-three, six foxes have died. Also, note that it vilifies Beatrix Potter in a way that has a ring of truth to it. Shop your local indie bookstore
Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee
I struggled to explain the “#me too” movement to my eighth grader, and this book was just what I needed to open up the conversation. If all middle-grade authors handled the complicated business of growing up with the skill that Barbara Dee does, we’d all be better off. It’s not an “another book about bullying” as the issues of consent, and sexual harassment are much bigger and more complicated than that. I wish I could gift it to every junior high student I know.
Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy
Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco is having a bit of a rough year. Her parents are getting divorced, and she’s got friend drama in middle school, and on top of all that, she starts answering letters written to her neighbor’s advice column. (without permission)
- I’m a sucker for a cute cat, and her cat Cheese and all his antics made me smile.
- I Love how hard her parents try to make things okay for her when they just can’t fix the way things have to be now.
- She giggled at her parents’ attempt to keep things “normal” by living in twin houses on the same street. Weird, yet endearing.
- Oscar- the best of best friends
This is a quick, easy read for the middle school reader in your world. As always, Julie models lots of body positivity, and her characters have authentic reactions to their circumstances, which is still excellent for this age of readers to see and hopefully emulate. Shop your local indie bookstore
Greystone Secrets: The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Chess, Emma, and Finn Greystone are siblings living a normal life when one day they see a strange news story on TV that tells of three siblings with their exact same names that get kidnapped in Arizona. Very soon after that, their Mom announces that she is going away on business and doesn’t know when she’ll be returning.
Why would these kids have the same names as them? That is only the beginning of the puzzles, riddles, and underlying weirdness that the kids encounter as they try to piece together the truth in their circumstances. Shop your local indie bookstore
American Royals by Katherine McGee
Such an exciting concept. What if George Washington became our King instead of our President? Think about the US having a wholly British type Royal Family. The book alternates POV between four characters:
HRH Princess Beatrice, who is next in the line to be the very first Queen of America. Her Father just changed over to a firstborn Royal Heir as opposed to the firstborn Male heir of tradition.
HRH Princess Samantha, Beatrice’s younger sister, who is the spare heir and then, of course, is both more angsty and adventurous.
Daphne Deighton, commoner, the Prince Jeff’s ex-girlfriend who always seems to be plotting something, and I wonder why we have her POV and not Jeff’s?
And Nina Gonzalez, Samantha’s best friend who grew up in and out of the Royal household.
Crier’s War by Nina Varela
I can honestly say that this book, although for sure a fantasy, is also a well-done (gay!) romance. The Sci-Fi elements are like the cherry on top for me.
What else did I love? Political Intrigue and the fact that in this world, you are either mortal or made.
It all began when human Queen Thea – who cannot bear children – commissions her people to build her a child. One who can replicate every aspect of human life. In this world, individuals are Made with Four Pillars: Reason, Calculation, Organics, and Intellect.
Crier (automade) and Ayla (human) make a great couple. The dual point of view is so intriguing; the reader gets a little piece of the puzzle from one perspective or the other a little bit at a time leading up to a cliffhanger ending. Shop your local indie bookstore
Thirteen Doorways: Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
This book is haunting. And not because one of the main characters is a ghost- because the prose, story, the voices that it evokes are like a misty cloud surrounding the reader from start to finish. As soon as I turned the final page, I wanted to start over again because I flat out sped read the last half needing to know how it would all unfold. Now I’d like to reread it knowing the answers and just let the words envelop me. Every woman knows about the wolves hiding behind the doorway. They’re all different, and we all know we’ll face them. This story isn’t a hit you over the head feminism book, and I didn’t even understand the title until I was more than halfway through reading. Shop your local indie bookstore
Light at the Bottom of the World By London Shah
Teenager Leyla McQueen, a British/Afghan Muslim submersible racer, is a delight. She’s optimistic and is the kind of character that you want to succeed. The year is 2099, and all of surviving humanity is living underwater after an asteroid hits Earth. You’ll get plenty of British scenery (from the Old World), even though things have changed in the new reality of life on Earth. The descriptions of this modern society were captivating. So much is new, while people act out in the same ways that they do now.
Without giving away spoilers or too much plot, it’s hard to say more. I feel that with some stories, it’s best not to know too much before you read it yourself.
If you need to label it, I’m honestly not sure if it’s more dystopian, science fiction, or political conspiracy? In any case, once you start reading, it’s a hard book to put down.
I scrolled through all the books that I recorded reading, and between the two, I came up with these four titles for anyone over the age of sixteen.
Deep State: A Thriller by Chris Hauty
Hayley Chill is an ex-Army boxing champion who is serving as a White House intern. She discovers the body of her boss, Peter Hall, the President’s Chief of Staff, and a single clue, which suggests he did not die of natural causes. Soon enough, Hayley is on the trail to solving the case herself. She isn’t sure who, if anyone she can trust, and as a reader, I wondered just how far up this conspiracy would go. After creating this nifty graphic, I realized that the finished book isn’t ready until January 7, 2020. Well, I read it this year and, if you have a gift card you can get it very soon after the Holidays. So, I’m leaving it here. Shop your local indie bookstore
The Body: A Guide For Occupants by Bill Bryson
I could hold my own now if I needed to critique a television medical drama from the knowledge I gained in reading this ginormous 400-page tome of humanness. It’s a partial history of science and part straight-up anatomy.
It’s the owner’s manual that no one has thought to hand out. Only this isn’t some hard to understand volume; it’s in plain English. I didn’t take Anatomy at school and the only text I’ve encountered while homeschooling was nowhere near as readable as this is.
If you are a science geek, you’ll devour this. If you are a Bryson fan, he’ll drag you into being interested, and if you wanted to use this as a high school science text, I’d support you. I’m probably going to make it required reading at our house. Shop your local indie bookstore
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
I had no idea that I would love this story so much. It is hilarious, and swoon-worthy all at once. Anyone who is even remotely interested in politics will find themselves invested in the story and entertained by the little mentions of past political players. The story follows Alex, the son of the first female President and his journey after a particular political scandal with Henry, Prince of Wales. The plot is diverse and dynamic and brings into perspective the struggles currently faced. McQuiston’s novel is current, representative, funny, and a must-read for rom-com lovers! Shop your local indie bookstore
The Alter Ego Effect by Todd Herman
I read a handful of what you’d call self-improvement books each year. This one stood out for me as it gave me some advice, that as a writer, was easy for me to implement. You’ve heard the phrase “fake it til you make it” That’s kind of what this is, on a simplified scale. Only with Herman’s method you adopt an alter ego in whatever area of your life needs it (maybe all of them?), and he lays out the steps that you can use to achieve your goals by not standing in your way.
The steps in the book include: building a back story, finding a totem and a field of play. Once you’ve decided on your alter ego, you can then activate them and start just “being” better at whatever you choose. It is intriguing as a concept. Think of all the actors that are painfully shy in their own life, but can act in front of thousands of people. The book gives you lots of examples of people who have used this method, and it is impressive. Best of all, it costs nothing to try. If you’ve heard that you are getting in your way, this may be helpful for you to read.
This book didn’t make it into the infographic, basically because I’m too lazy to re-do it. This year and next are winding up to be pretty contentious for Americans as the Presidential Election approaches. There are things that we can all come together and enjoy. One of these is this book. No matter what your political leanings are, I feel like this version of Joe Biden encompasses bi partisan politics perfectly. You are guaranteed at least four deep belly laughs. And I’m not just saying that because of the Chicago setting or the fact that I got to read the alternative ending!
In closing, I want to give a shout out to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It has a publication date in 2011, and I somehow missed it all this time. For once, I’m linking you to the Audible version. It’s read by the remarkable Jim Dale and that makes it all the more magical. This book is my go to, number one recommendation this Holiday Season. I know that the author has a new book out (The Starless Sea) and I’m saving it for 2020, just so I can savor it. If it’s anything at all like The Night Circus, you are in for a treat.
The Night Circus arrives without warning (as it did into my reading life!) and it is the definition of enchanting. It has the kind of plot that just keeps growing and gaining complexity to the point where as the reader there is no telling where the plot is headed, but you cannot wait to find out.