Let’s Curl Up With A Good Book.

2019 book recs

So I’ve been reading a lot in the past few years. But the last time I told y’all about my favorite books was February of 2018. Since that post, I’ve read 131 books. Ergo, I clearly have a backlog of amazing books (and also a few awful ones. Should I list the books I didn’t enjoy? I feel like I should) to share with you. You can find a list of all the books I’ve read and my ratings over at GoodReads (I think you’ll have to friend request me), but for the sake of this post, I narrowed down my recommendations to my top 12 books (or series) out of the 131. 

But first, the best ones. 

The only book I’ve read twice in less than a year: 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. 

 

I read this book last year on vacation and had to finish it at perilous risk of no sleep (which was followed up by the hotel fire alarm going off twice in the middle of the night, so that was just great) and so, 10 months later, I went back and read it again – slower this time, since the suspense wasn’t killing me. I enjoyed it just as much the second time around. I love a book that is written in a happy tone, regardless of the circumstances going up and down in the book. This book has some darker themes, but the overall feel of the book, from the very first page, puts you in a light, happy mindset. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the storyline, and it gave a thoughtful, original approach to several issues.

The books I had to read because I got into the television series but the books were better:

The Poldark Series.

Have you watched Poldark on Amazon Prime yet? It’s a really fantastic show for those of you who enjoyed Downton Abbey, or who just like a good British drama. It happens right after the US War for Independence and is about a British soldier who comes home, defeated, and trying to put his life back together. But the books are funny and delightful in a way that the show totally misses out on. The show is fantastic too, and I recommend both. I like how authentic the peek at the late 1700s is – it’s not overglamorized or over-makeuped. (Let’s pretend that’s a word.) Caution: the books were written quite a while ago and many of their covers are atrociously ugly. Don’t let them scare you away.

Engrossing, Beautiful Fiction:

The Night Circus.

This book was lovely. It built a world that I could visualize and desperately wanted to enter into. The buildup of the story is slow, but it is created with such purpose and beauty that you don’t want it to be an iota faster. If you want to sink into a lovely fantasy world and just stay there for a while, this is the book for you.

 

 

The Only Non-Fiction, Non-Memoir Book I’ve Finished in a Long Time:

The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith.

If you’ve ever found yourself feeling like you’re going backwards in your faith, or find yourself thinking differently than you used to, or wondering why everyone in their 30s is going through a Mid-Life Belief Crisis, this book is so enlightening. It explains a general framework that we go through during our life as our viewpoints, perspectives, understanding of others, and maturity levels change. I have recommended this book to so many people. It’s crazy expensive, but there are a few used copies floating around.

 


The Book That Got Me Hooked on Memoirs:

The Fox Hunt.

If I were to have to choose one book to command you to READ THIS ONE BOOK ON THIS LIST, The Fox Hunt would be my choice. This was a serendipitous random book buying in the airport before getting on a flight. There were only 10 book choices at the kiosk, I was desperate for a new book, and I picked this one up. It had me riveted the entire flight and I wished my flight had lasted longer because I didn’t want to quit reading for a second. Such a fabulous, beautiful, important story about how a man, who grew up in a country torn apart by religious civil war and completely brainwashed into hating all other religions, was rescued from that war by friends on the internet from three different religions. He captures the essence of respect for other people’s humanity and not “othering” others just because that’s what you’ve been taught. But besides the deeper meaning, the story itself will have you on the edge of your seat.

A Fun, Happy, Quirky, Funny  Read:

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions.

I rarely find fiction funny. But this book was definitely a laugh out loud book. I love the witty, snarky, busybody, indecent character of Auntie Poldi, I adore her determination for solving mysteries for herself, and I can’t wait to read her sequels.

 

 

A Series Worth Delving Into:

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

These books are a delight. The slow, comforting voice they’re written in combined with the exotic setting of Botswana will let you experience a world that you’ve never quite imagined before. They will take you on a calm, relaxed journey through a beautiful country and culture while solving mysteries and learning about life.

 

 

A Book That Reads Like a Tell-All Blog:

Educated.

 This book fascinated and horrified me, but I was also shocked that it was written (and also that she was very brave to write it.) Because as soon as I finished the book, I stalked down all the people in it on Facebook – it took all of five minutes – and matched up their “fake” names with their real names. I felt so creepy (okay I am creepy) as I looked at the real pictures and Facebook statuses of this family that were absolutely bashed in a 20-something year old’s memoir. But wow it was a good book.

 

The Books My Husband Won’t Let Me Tell You About:

Sometimes I read books and tell Chris about them and he’s like “uh yeah don’t blog about that because I don’t want those people coming after you.” (The first one of these commands came after I read a couple insider tell-all books about a certain cult that a certain Top Gun movie star is involved in – those books were craaaazypants.) The two I read this time were so fascinating but also horrifying. They read like post-apocalyptic fiction, and you totally start subconsciously assuming it is fiction, then you remember that it’s real stuff that really happens in this world, in a country that gets mentioned in the news quite a bit. But I guess for a complete list of Banned-To-Blog-About-Books, you’ll have to email me.

A Book That Will Make You Feel All The Things:

All of Me.

This is an autobiography from a woman who has Disassocitive Identity Disorder (formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder.) She has a very severe, “gold standard” case where her personalities never overlap, never have the same memories, never interact with each other. So for 40 years, she lived with life gaps and memory gaps and didn’t understand why she was being blamed for things she didn’t do. It took her doctors years to convince her that she had multiple personalities – and this is just the main personality’s story – the doctors had to convince each personality separately (and some still do not believe that other personalities share a body with them.) Her story is a hard one to read, one that will blow your mind, one that will give you hope for humanity and healing, and one that will make you really mad at parts of humanity. But mainly it will blow you away – especially the second half.

Gossipy, Funny, Lighthearted Trilogy:

Crazy Rich Asians.

First of all: The movie was so dumb. Thank goodness I had read the trilogy before it came out. I made it halfway through the movie and turned it off. But the books were a fun ride through the insanely rich lifestyles of Singapore and China, and the footnotes were the best part.

 

 

You Must Read If You Live In Birmingham:

Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistle Stop Cafe.

Yeah I should’ve read this years ago but I didn’t. It was such a fun trip into a Birmingham that existed before I was born, and had so much old Birmingham landmarkery and history in it. It was just a fun read (the movie cuts out all of the Birmingham-specific lore.)

(I also enjoyed her book “The Whole Town’s Talking” last year but it confused me because I kept waiting on the plot and there isn’t really one. So go into it more as a winding tale about a town over many generations and it’s quite enjoyable.)

 

A Book I REALLY should have read a long time ago:

Prince Borghese’s Trail.

This book is about the 1996 road rally that spanned 10,000 miles in 45 days, traveling from Beijing to Paris. My dad rebuilt two 1950 Fords for this race and navigated one of them across the most crazy roads in the world. His team came in second place. The lady that wrote the book was a good friend of my dad’s on the race, and he gets referenced and quoted a lot. I read this book in the month following my Dad’s death – it was bittersweet. In one way, it felt like I’d discovered a journal of my dad’s, and it gave me a piece of him that I didn’t have when he was alive. In the other way, I regretted not having read it while he was alive so that I could discuss various aspects of their adventure with him. But at any rate, the book is an interesting chronicle about a bizarrely unique experience. The first couple chapters have way too much technical “car talk” in them, but once they head across the world, it gets really fantastic.

Books I didn’t enjoy:

The Great Alone. I really thought I would love this since it had rave reviews and I enjoyed The Nightingale. But I did not. It was one tragedy after another and so much sad. Blech.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Holy Crap this book was depressing. But what really bugged me about it was its complete lack of realism. The kid was old enough to understand things. It’s like he originally wrote a book about a three year old but then the publisher said the kid should be nine, and he made him nine without making any changes to his level of intellect or understanding. 

Dead End in Norvelt. It always makes me sad when I don’t like Newbery books. This was one of them.

The Wangs Vs. The World. Hands down the worst book I’ve ever made myself finish. The kind that makes you mad at yourself that you finished it.

Raymie Nightengale. Weird, depressing, and fell flat.

The Selection Series: The first book was excellent. The second and third books went downhill fast. It’s YA, but got way too graphic in book three, which made me super irritated. 

Books I Couldn’t Finish:

I have never allowed myself to not finish fiction books (yet somehow I’m allowed to not finish non-fiction books), but I had two last year – both, interestingly, were heavily pushed to me by Amazon. So I’ve decided to not believe Amazon’s book recommendations ever again. They were Matchmaking for Beginners (HATED the main character so hard) and The Paper Magician (so cliche and cheesy.)  Now that I think about it, The Wangs Vs. The World was an Amazon recommendation, too. DANG YOU AMAZON. 

So. What have you loved, hated, or not finished this year? Do we line up in our book tastes?

Leave your comment below!

Comments

  1. Kristine Toone says:

    I’ve ready most of your suggestions! And interestingly – I’m 1/4 of the way through Matchmaking for Beginners. I don’t stop reading books very well, but I’m close to bailing on this one. Going to add Fried Green Tomatoes to my soon-to-read list – good local suggestion!
    Did you read Matched? More like Hunger Games than The Selection – YA dystopian. Similar to Divergent. All 3 books are good.
    Recently read (well in the last year) and really enjoyed: Daisy Jones and the Six, Prognosis (a post-traumatic brain injury memoir. whoa.), Running for my Life (had my son read this one too for his non-fiction summer reading, captivating biography!), When Breath Becomes Air (I feel like this should be required reading for ALL humans), A Mind Unraveled (a memoir of a man with epilepsy – WHOA did I learn a lot!), An American Marriage and Small Great Things (both powerful fiction on race issues. Also recommend The Hate U Give in that area), and last (I promise!!!) both America’s First Daughter and My Dear Hamilton (exquisitely researched historical fiction on Patsy Jefferson and Eliza Hamilton).

    • Thanks for the recommendations! I haven’t read Matched. I’m kinda tired of Dystopian right now. Maybe too much of the world feels dystopian for reals. Oh and I almost put America’s First Daughter on this list. Loved it! I enjoyed My Dear Hamilton but it didn’t grip me.

  2. The Southern Ladies Code is a must-read- short but you will howl with laughter- especially since you’ll see quite a bit of our family in it!

  3. Forrest M says:

    Because I agree with your opinion on so many of the books on your list, I think that you might also enjoy The Widows of Malabar Hill and Where the Crawdads Sing.

  4. If you haven’t read The Rosie Project, you should! I think you would enjoy it.

  5. Linda Haley says:

    I’m WAY behind! I’ve been wanting to read the Poldark series.The TV show is quite addictive. Loved the Detective Agency and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. My daughter went to Speech and Debate regionals with her interpretive piece from that. Perhaps there is a need to suspend disbelief, but I think part of the tug is the concept that such atrocities could have been occurring right under the noses of the German citizenry. The book is a ironic parallel to that, perhaps.

  6. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty was so good, I couldn’t put it down! When I was finished I wanted to re-read it immediately. I liked it even better than What Alice Forgot (which I read based on your fantastic recommendations!) Thanks for the great list!

    • I enjoyed that one as well! I’ve read two others of hers – the Hypnotist’s Love Story and The Husband’s Secret. They were both okay, but didn’t measure up to What Alice Forgot and Big Little Lies.

  7. Stephanie says:

    Is the Poldark series really romance-y? I love British everything, pretty much, but don’t like to read romance stuff.

  8. I love Fannie Flagg! My favorites are Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man and Welcome to the World, Baby Girl.

    I know you said you’re done with post-apocalyptic fiction, but have you read Station Eleven? I loved it.

    If you like WWII fiction, Wunderland was good.

    Email me those banned books!! :)

  9. Kate Jaco says:

    Thanks for sharing! I added quite a few to my to read list. I’m going to have to email you for the banned books.

    I really enjoyed the Crazy Rich Asians series so much. Educated was crazy. It’s so weird to think that people are raised like that still today in the US. I’ve also read several of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books the past few months and think they’re so good. I thought Before the Fall was good, too. I’m currently reading Dreamland – it’s a non-fiction book about the heroin and oxycontin epidemic in America. It’s very well written and a fascinating and eye opening read.

  10. Gwen Kennedy says:

    Rachel,

    Thank you for this wonderful book list! I just stumbled across your blog. I was Googling “before and after red light therapy”. I have a DPL II, which I fell off the wagon with my 2x daily usage on my face, due to studying for the CFP (passed and have a life now!). Now, with oodles of free time, I have been weighing purchasing a JOOV, but am so happy that I found your blog post! I will most definitely be making a purchase of this instead.

    As far as books, in the last five weeks since the exam, I have been consuming novels like New Englanders do ice-cream! I had no idea that Poldark was a book series (love that show) and thankfully someone else feels the same way about Crazy Rich Asians (the movies)! I actually felt my intelligence leaking out of my brain! I will look forward to reading the trio instead… and look forward to reading your blog!

    -Gwen Kennedy
    (in Boston)

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