All the books I read in my sweats in 2019

Yes, it’s that time.  The time of the year that I tell you about all the books I read in the past year!  It’s the moooooost wonderful tiiiiiiiime of the year!  OK, maybe that’s a little “extra”, as the youths say.  But it is fun for us book nerds, yes?

I feel like I did pretty well this year in terms of book enjoyment.  In my 2018 book review, I found myself coming up short on fiction books that I had actually enjoyed that year, despite careful vetting prior to reading.  I usually try to read some non-fiction books every year too for variety and personal growth, and I did try.  Oh, did I try.  But something about the non-fiction books this year….I was unable to keep my eyes open.  Even though I really wanted to know all about the content that was in the books, I just could not stay awake while reading any of them.  I ended up with a lot of partially read non-fiction books.  I think this has more to do with my level of fatigue than with the books themselves.  Because, let me tell you, fatigue level this year (both physical and mental) was pretty “extra”, and I think we can all agree that there is a certain level of concentration required to attend to a non-fiction book for any length of time. Anyhow, maybe in 2020 I will do a better job expanding my non-fiction horizons; 2019 was almost all fiction, plus a couple of much enjoyed memoirs.

All right, let’s get to it, then.  And yes, the books you see below are presented in the order in which I read them.  Obviously.  If you are not wearing comfortable pants while reading this, go change them now, because that’s how we roll here, and you should not read books, or even read about reading books, in uncomfortable pants.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas–John Boyne ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book was both beautiful and tragic in its simplicity.  Written from the point of view of a little boy, Bruno, who moves to a new, unfamiliar place with his family, full of curiosities but devoid of any playmates.   While exploring, Bruno meets a little boy about his age on the other side of the tall fence.  They find many similarities between them, but neither of them completely understand why each of them is on their respective side of the fence.   A very sad yet poignant book; highly recommend.

 

The Boat People–Sharon Bala ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Boat People is a compassionate look at the refugee crisis, and is thus an extremely timely and compelling work.  When Mahindan and his young son flee their home country of Sri Lanka to escape the violence of a civil war, their boat of refugees land on the shores of British Columbia.  Instead of walking out of the boat and into safety, the “boat people” find themselves in a government detention center and become subject to intense scrutiny, including accusations that they are part of a terrorist group.  As the days and months creep along in the detention center, Mahindan’s hopes for safety and freedom for himself and his son slowly crumble, culminating in his son being taken from him and placed in the foster care system.  The story is also told from the perspective of Mahindan’s lawyer, and the Canadian judge who must face her own blind spots and come to terms with her own family history as she adjudicates Mahindan’s case.

Educated: A Memoir–Tara Westover ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I heard a lot of buzz about this book before I finally picked it up and read it, and I have to say that it really did live up to the hype.  Educated is the true story of a young woman who grew up isolated from much of society.  Her father, prone to violence and conspiracy theories, was opposed to public education, so Tara did not go to school until the age of 17.  This is the story of how she overcame the abuse, brainwashing, and gaslighting of her childhood and made her way into a world that her family had demonized and denied her for her entire life.  Reads like fiction; I loved it.

Becoming–Michelle Obama ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I very much enjoyed reading this memoir from the “woman behind the man”.  In Becoming, we get to read about Michelle’s childhood, her accomplishments, and the early days of her relationship with Barak.  So much of what she writes is incredibly relatable, particularly (for me) her days as a young wife and mother trying to balance it all.  We get an interesting inside look at President Obama, who seems to be as intense and thoughtful in his private life as he is in his public life.  She is crazy smart, and I enjoyed her reading her reflections on life and her time as First Lady.  The book was very well written, with a cohesive narrative and excellent storytelling.  When I read memoirs written by famous people, I always wonder if they use a ghost writer.  It doesn’t say anywhere in the book that she did.  She is obviously extremely smart and well spoken, so I don’t doubt that she could write this book in its entirety.  I just always hear writers talk about how hard it is to write a book, so I imagine it would be even harder for someone who isn’t a writer by trade.  What do we all think?

The Great Alone–Kristen Hannah ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My sister said she wouldn’t be my friend anymore if I didn’t like this book.  Luckily, it was a good one!  Phew.  Set in the 1970’s, Ernt Allbright moves his wife and daughter to Alaska to live off the grid.  Ernt, having recently served in the Vietnam war, is unstable and paranoid.  Leni and her mother Cora find out that learning to live with Ernt’s demons may be even harder than learning to survive in the harsh Alaskan landscape.  Well paced and suspenseful, it made for a very compelling and entertaining read.

 

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies–John Boyne ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was one of my favorites this year.  Set in Ireland, this is the story of Cyril Avery, born in the 1940’s to an unmarried teenage girl and adopted by a wealthy but eccentric couple.  As the story of his life unfolds, we get to watch as Cyril discovers and comes to accept his true identity.  Central to this unfolding is his friendship with rich, charismatic Julian Woodbead, who becomes a touch point for Cyril as he navigates life and comes to terms with the fact that he is homosexual.  I just could not put this down.  It was so good.  Nothing I could say by way of synopsis or praise could ever put into words the richness of this story and its complicated, affecting characters.  Read it.

The Home for Unwanted Girls–Joanna Goodman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Set in the 1950’s in Quebec, the powerful novel is the story of a young woman, separated from her daughter at birth by the hands of her parents, who are determined to erase all evidence of their teenage daughter’s indiscretions with a poor farm boy and give her a fresh start.

Maggie’s is told that her child, Elodie, has been adopted.  In actuality, Elodie is raised by nuns in the Quebec orphanage system.  As a result of a terrible law enacted in the province, Elodie’s orphanage is converted into mental hospitals in order to continue receiving government funding, and Elodie’s living conditions go from bad to worse as overnight she is suddenly declared a mental patient.

Haunted by her loss, Maggie spends years trying to find her daughter and overcome the shame and pain of her past.  Though the story is fictional, the historical detail about the conversion of Quebec orphanages to psychiatric hospitals in the 1950’s-60’s is true.  A very good read overall, though the ending is perhaps a little unrealistic.

Behold the Dreamers–Imbolo Mbue ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Behold the Dreamers (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel by [Mbue, Imbolo]

In NYC in 2007, Jende and his wife Neni have big dreams.  Recently immigrated from Cameroon, Jende worked for years to save enough money to bring his wife and son to live with him.  While Neni attends school, Jende gets a very lucrative job as a driver for a senior executive at Lehman Brothers.  It seems that all of the pieces start to fall into place for them as Jende’s work gains him the respect and trust of his employer.  However, Jende and Neni’s hopes for a piece of the American dream start to crumble as the recession hits, with Jende’s employer at the center of a financial scandal.  Beautifully done.  Oprah was right again.

 

State of Wonder–Ann Patchett ⭐️⭐️⭐️

State of Wonder: A Novel by [Patchett, Ann]

I came away from this book with mixed feelings.  I truly enjoyed reading it.  Then after it was over, I considered the sheer unbelievability of such a tale and felt less keen to recommend it (I know it’s fiction, but really…).  It was well written, as one would expect from Ann Patchett.  The story is about a young doctor/researcher at a pharmaceutical company, Marina, who travels to the Amazon after her colleague, Anders, dies while on a work assignment. Marina’s journey into the Amazon to find out the truth about Anders’ death unearths some completely unexpected findings.  I would say that it was a good paced read that held my interest.  It’s just that when it was over, I found myself saying, “wait, what?”  If you are OK with the fact that this is a story that is in no way realistic or believable, then you will probably enjoy it for its entertainment value.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna–Juliet Grames ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna: A Novel by [Grames, Juliet]

In a word:  Whoa.  This book was completely absorbing.  I would say this was another of my favorites this year.  It was also a nice, thick (464 pages!), sink-your-teeth-into-it-on-vacation kind of read.  The book follows the Fortuna family through five generations, starting with the birth of the main character, Stella, in the village of Calabria, Italy.  As Stella comes of age, the family immigrates to America.  Stella is a force to be reckoned with, but life as a woman within the constraints of her patriarchal, Italian family is an uphill battle.  I loved it!  

 

Pachinko–Min Jin Lee ⭐️⭐️

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by [Lee, Min Jin]

I really wanted to love this one, but I just didn’t.  It started out strong, but then it just slogged along.  It was slow.  It was bleak.  And then it got sadder.  And sadder.  I have nothing against sad books, as you can see from my general reading choices.  But this one….I needed my meds adjusted after this.  I can appreciate why this book earned praise, but it just was not my favorite.  I’m not going to give you a synopsis of this one because I’m just glad it’s over and I don’t want to talk about it anymore, OK?

 

 

The Girls–Emma Cline ⭐️

The Girls: A Novel by [Cline, Emma]

Ugh, why did I finish this one?  I don’t know.  I kept hoping it would get better.  I was intrigued by the story line of a young girl from a loveless home who gets caught up with a group of older girls during the summer in the 1960’s.  The girls end up being part of a cult, with a gross skeevy guy, Russell, as the leader.   Evie is obsessed with Suzanne, an older girl who is beautiful and seems mysterious.  As she spends more and more time with “the girls” she starts to lose her grasp on reality.  The description of cult life seemed weak.  I wasn’t really sure what the whole premise of the cult was, other than the fact that Russell was the object of all the girls’ attention.  It wasn’t really clear to me what kind of dogma Russell was peddling, only that all the girls in this commune setting worshiped him in some way, and he had his choice of sexual partners.  It sounded like they didn’t bathe very often, so….yuck.  

The Last Romantics–Tara Conklin ⭐️⭐️

The Last Romantics: A Novel by [Conklin, Tara]

The first half of this novel was solidly enjoyable.  The Skinner siblings grow up mostly by themselves.  Their father dies, and their mother subsequently slips into a deep depression, not leaving her room for months on end.  They are left to fend for themselves most of the time.  This bonds them together and affects each of them in different ways, and as the story progresses, we see how this shared history shaped each of them differently.  The first part of the book where the story focuses on their childhood was quite engaging and I enjoyed it.  The second part of the novel when we see the siblings as adults…..not as good.  The character development takes a strange, unsavory turn, particularly with the main character, Fiona.  

The Only Woman in the Room–Marie Benedict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel by [Benedict, Marie]

I enjoyed this book very much.  It is a fictional biography, based on the life of film star Hedy Lamarr, who was not only a beautiful screen siren in her day but who also possessed a brilliant mind.  Of (somewhat covert) Jewish descent in war-torn Austria, she married a wealthy and powerful munitions dealer, whose work supported the Nazis during WWII.  Her husband was controlling and abusive, and Hedy was expected to give up her acting career and any thoughts of independence to be his trophy wife.  Within this stifling environment, Hedy found herself in the company of  powerful leaders (e.g. Hitler, Mussolini) who discussed technology and war strategy in her presence during meetings and social dinners, and who obviously assumed that she had fluff for brains and could never understand such topics (science is HARD, right ladies?).  She became a self-taught scientist and used the information she learned from these encounters to develop technology for alternating radio frequencies, which allowed for remote control of torpedoes and was later used against the Nazis.  Her work also laid the groundwork for GPS and cell phone technology, as I understand it.  In reading some of the reviews on the book, it seems that some have suggested that this is a rather watered down version of Hedy’s story, and that later in life she turned into a meth-head and went the way of many troubled Hollywood stars.   The book highlights the fact that she did not receive the recognition she deserved for her inventions . In my opinion, the ending was kind of abrupt, though overall I did enjoy this book.

Where the Crawdads Sing–Delia Owens ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I snuck this last one in just before the New Year, and I’m glad I did.  The author tells us a story about Kya Clark, a girl living on the marshy shores of North Carolina.  Abandoned by her family at a young age, Kya lives a reclusive life in the marsh, fending for herself, and somehow eluding social services.  She never goes to school, but possesses a brilliant mind, and learns as much about science and nature from her natural environment as many spend a lifetime trying to learn from books.  As she comes of age, she meets a boy who teaches her to read and opens whole new worlds for her–one of books and words, and the other of love and connection with another human being, something she had never experienced to that point.  I loved it.  The writing was beautiful, the story compelling, and I blew through it in about 4 days.

So that’s it for this year!  Tell me what you read and what you loved!  Give me your suggestions for this year!  So far I have nothing specific in my roster, so I would love to hear what you have enjoyed.  Happy reading in 2020!

 

 

All the books I read in my sweats in 2018

It is that time of the year again! The time of year when I tell you my honest review on all of the books that I read this year.  I have to be honest, this has been my favorite post to write every year.  Even though this is only the third year.  Whatever.  As always, the books are listed in the order that I read them, because to do otherwise would be to surrender to complete anarchy and I might as well not write anything and we all go home and go to bed, goodnight.

Unfortunately, I had a few books this year that I really disliked for one reason or another.  Usually when I don’t like a book, I abandon it after 50 pages or so.   But there were a couple that I read to the end, either hoping they would get better or too lazy to go to the library for something else, or both.  In response to this situation, I have added a poop emoji to my five-star scoring system.  Because I couldn’t warrant giving even one star.  Not even one.  Just poop.

Let me know if you have read any of these picks, and what’s on your list for next year!

Claire of the Sea Light–Edwidge Danticat ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2

Ever since I went to Haiti, I have been so interested in reading Danticat’s works (who is a Haitian-American author).  As I mentioned in my review of Breath, Eyes, Memory last year, this author excels at painting a picture of the culture that the characters inhabit, which is of great interest to me..  The story is interesting in that it introduces many different characters of different classes, and weaves their individual stories together in a way that leads back to Claire.  The story starts and ends with her, on her birthday, and the conflicting joy and pain that is present on that yearly anniversary.    However, at the end of the book I felt a little unsatisfied.  Just as I was getting to know each character, the story ended.  I felt like the opportunity for a deep dive was lost because there were so many characters who needed attention.  I did like it, and I still want to read more of Danticat’s works, as her voice is unique.

 Little Fires Everywhere–Celeste Ng ⭐️⭐️

This is the story of a mysterious single mother and her teenage daughter who move into an idyllic neighborhood, disrupting the seemingly perfect facade of a family with whom they become friends. I give this one a “meh”.  I could take it or leave it.  I know that there are many who would like this book, and there isn’t necessarily something majorly wrong with it, it’s just not my taste.  Maybe a beach read for someone who enjoys this type of fiction.

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Lupus: How a medical doctor healed herself naturally with supermarket foods — Dr. Brooke Goldner ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I read this book very early in the year and I am glad that I did!  This book is written by a doctor (yes, she is a real doctor) who was diagnosed with severe lupus in her teens.  She was on chemo and in and out of the hospital for many years.  She was able to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor, despite suffering several mini-strokes during her residency, among other things.  She met the love of her life during her residency who happened to be a personal trainer, and they decided to get married, even though her doctors told her that she probably wouldn’t live past the age of thirty due to the severity of her illness.  She asked her fiancé to help her get in shape for their wedding, and he put her on a whole food plant based diet with tons of greens.  She had previously been a vegetarian but he had her cut out all processed foods and animal products (she described herself as a “cheesetarian” prior to that).  Several months in, she was not only looking great but her lupus markers had disappeared when she visited her doctor for routine followup and blood work.  They had stumbled upon something that actually has put her into full remission and given her excellent health.  She now has been able to help many people with a variety of autoimmune disorders (lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.) greatly improve or completely heal their conditions.  I have psoriasis (which is autoimmune) and have had a smattering of strange autoimmune things come and go over my lifetime (iritis when I was in elementary school, anti-thyroid and anti-cardiolipin antibodies when I was pregnant) and a family history of multiple sclerosis. I have always been concerned about developing psoriatic arthritis.  I decided to give her program a try.  I was already on a plant-based diet so I added the green smoothies and omega-3’s as she suggested (and tried to eliminate my cheats–tortilla chips, chocolate–still working on that!), and my psoriasis is 80% clear!  Sure, I am now the weird crunchy granola hippie that everyone likes to make fun of, and I get a few looks when I carry my huge green smoothie into work, but I don’t care.  For me, it’s better than the alternative.  If you have any kind of autoimmune disease, you may want to check it out!  She is not selling any gimmicks, just using ordinary supermarket foods.  Shout out to the Ian Cramer podcast, which is where I first learned about Dr. Goldner.  You can listen to that episode here.

Lilac Girls–Martha Hall Kelly  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book is insanely popular for good reason.  There are so many  novels written around the events of WWII that this specific brand of historical fiction has almost become a genre unto itself.   I almost did not want to read it for this reason.  But I saw it in the library before I went on vacation, and it was a really thick book.  I love really thick books.  I feel so accomplished after reading them!  Anyhow, I am so glad I did read it.  Set within the context of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939,  the author tells the stories of three women–a young Polish girl sent to a German concentration camp after being caught assisting the Polish underground resistance, an ambitious German doctor who ends up working in the same concentration camp, and a French socialite living in New York City who finds her own personal and professional life forever altered after the Germans move through Poland and invade France.  The story is beautifully written, each character well developed, and the weaving together of their stories is thoughtful while also appearing to be organic.  Highly recommend.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness–Michelle Alexander  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The New Jim Crow is an incredibly insightful, well researched, and important book for our time that I think should be required reading.  It discusses in great detail the evolution of civil rights in America, and argues quite effectively that we have not come as far as a society as some would like to think we have in regard to racial equality.  The author looks at the history of segregation in America, and how African Americans have gone from being sold as slaves, to experiencing segregation in the era of Jim Crow laws, to our current time where the criminal justice system perpetuates racial caste by with its disproportionate incarceration of African Americans.   She discusses how so many of our systems are set up to target and discriminate against people of color, and how the “War on Drugs” declared in the 1980’s has facilitated the mass incarceration of African Americans and the school to prison pipeline.  Eye-opening.  It reads like a text book, so though the info is excellent, it’s not a huge page turner in the way a novel would be. So while it is a must-read, do not read when drowsy.

Behind Closed Doors–B.A. Paris  💩

I don’t like to be too harsh with my criticism toward any book, because I imagine that behind every book is an author who labored to bring the story into the world.  However, with no disrespect toward the author, I really hated this book.  I’m not even sure why I finished it.  I guess I was hoping it would redeem itself toward the end with some sort of interesting twist.  (Spoiler alert–it didn’t).  The story is about a woman who unsuspectingly marries a sociopath after he swiftly works his way into her heart by showering both her and her special needs sister with affection.  The moment they say “I do”, he flips his sociopath switch on and locks her away, abuses her in various ways, and keeps her isolated from the outside world, threatening harm to her sister if she tries to tell anyone or escape.  There was absolutely no mystery or nuance in this book.  The antagonist just blurts out his motives when explaining to his wife/captive the reasons for his new behavior (He likes the smell of fear.  Eyeroll!).  He turns out to be a completely one-dimensional and predictable character.  The plot and resolution were also predictable and, at times, just too cheesy for words.  It was like one of those melodramatic movies on the Lifetime channel that you are not enjoying but also can’t look away from.  I half expected Valerie Bertinelli to jump out of the pages as the protagonist.  Thumbs down.

My Name is Lucy Barton–Elizabeth Strout  ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is an interesting book in that it doesn’t seem to have much of a plot.  The book centers around a series of conversations between Lucy Barton and her estranged mother, who comes to visit her when Lucy is stuck in the hospital for an extended period of time.  Watching their relationship shift through these conversations within the context of her illness was interesting.  Moves kind of slow.  I give it a so-so.

 

 

 

 

The Polygamist’s Daughter–Anna LeBaron  ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is a memoir written by Anna LeBaron, the daughter of the infamous polygamist Ervil Lebaron.  She details the horrors of her life growing up in a polygamist cult and her subsequent escape at the age of thirteen.  It is a haunting to read, but also an eye-opening look into the world of a radical Mormon cult.  Interesting factoid–Anna is related to Ruth Wariner, the author of  The Sound of Gravel, which was one of my favorite books from last year.  But they never met each other until after they both published books about their lives in the same cult!  Their fathers were brothers, and Ervil, Anna’s father, ordered the hit the lead to the subsequent murder of his brother, who was Ruth’s father.

 

This is How it Always Is –Laurie Frankel  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

THIS BOOK IS AMAZING!  This is my pick of the year!  The story is about an absolutely normal and completely endearing family with three boys.  Their youngest son, Claude, identifies as a transgender female very early in his childhood.  The story follows the family as they learn to love, accept, and navigate the complications and family dynamics that come about as Claude grows up.  This book is beautiful, funny, smart, sensitive, and I loved it.  A must read!

 

 

 

 

The Distance Between Us: A Memoir–Reyna Grande ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is a fascinating memoir about family, poverty, illegal immigration, and generational trauma.  The author, who grew up in Mexico, recounts in vivid detail the instability and poverty of her childhood.  Her father crosses the border illegally to make money so that he can build his family their dream home, promising to come back soon.  Reyna is left with her cruel and abusive extended family, sustained by the hope of her father’s promises that he will return.  When she finally does get the opportunity to cross the border into the U.S. (illegally), she faces a whole new set of challenges, a different kind of poverty, and the continuation of a painfully abusive legacy in her family.  This is a difficult yet beautifully written and timely memoir.  Required reading for our time.

 

The Alice Network –Kate Quinn  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I almost didn’t want to read this one because it was a Reese Witherspoon book pick.  No offense, Reese, but it just seemed to me like you stole that whole idea from Oprah and I’m not down with that.  Anyhow, this was again another situation in which I had nothing to read and this book was lying around, another hand-me-down from my mom.  I really liked it, so it turns out Reese has good taste and now maybe I will cautiously trust her judgement with future book recommendations.  Anyhow, The Alice Network has two story lines, the first of which is based on a true story of a network of female spies who were instrumental in providing intelligence about the Germans during WWI.  The other story line, set in England in 1947, revolves around Charley, a young woman from a wealthy and reputable family who becomes pregnant out of wedlock and is sent away to London to “take care of her little problem”.  In an act of rebellion she skips out on her “appointment” and romps around to try to find her missing cousin, Rose.  As she begins to uncover what happened to Rose, she crosses paths with Eve, one of the former members of the Alice Network.  As the truth about Rose emerges, Eve has to come to terms with her painful history as a spy in WWI.  I loved Eve’s story line from the WWI era.  Charley’s story seemed like more of a filler that served to advance Eve’s story.  Overall a good book, though I didn’t care for the Charley story line as much.

An American Marriage–Tayari Jones ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book could be considered the fictional equivalent of The New Jim Crow, reviewed above.  A successful, professional African-American man, in the wrong place at the wrong time, is accused for a crime he did not commit and subsequently goes to prison.  His wife is left behind to deal with the emotional turmoil and loneliness left in the wake of his conviction.  Years pass, and he gets out of prison to find that not only has life has gone on without him, but he has suffered loss upon loss.  Loss of his old life, of his reputation, his friends, even the ones he thought would be most faithful.  This book is about racial injustice in America, but also about marriage, loyalty, and love.  Not an uplifting story, as you can imagine, but an important one.  Very well done.

Stay With Me–Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀  ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book is about Akin and Yejide, a young, educated, married Nigerian couple who are very much in love.  When they have a difficult time conceiving a child, they not only suffer all of the heartbreak that comes from infertility, but they also have to deal with Akin’s meddling family, who are very invested in Akin producing an heir.  Akin gets strong-armed into taking a second wife (or, you could argue that he just needed to grow a pair and stand up to his mother), in spite of the fact that the couple had previously agreed that they would not practice polygamy, a common practice in their culture.  What ensues is a series of lies, deceptions, and tragedies.  Lots of twists, but pretty dark.  Even for me.  Stay with Me got a lot of five-star reviews on Goodreads, but I’m not sure I agree.  It wasn’t my favorite.

There There–Tommy Orange  ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I have never read a book like this before.  This is a story the revolves around multiple characters within a Native American community.  As their individual stories intersect, culminating in a tragic event at a local Powwow, the author weaves for us a bleak picture of the social and relational issues that plague this community.  This was the third book in a row of very bleak, sad, dark books that I read over the summer.  So though I appreciated the issues that the book addressed, I felt utterly depressed afterward (though I think that may have been the point of the book).  I do not recommend reading this trio of books (An American Marriage, Stay with Me, and There There) in succession as I did.  I was so bummed out at the end that I was almost ready to pick up something by Nicholas Sparks just to lighten the mood.  Luckily, I came to my senses and stopped myself.  Phew!

The Flight Attendant–Chris Bohjalian  💩

My mom read this one first and passed it along to me.  I had nothing to read one day, so I picked it up.  The time I spent reading this book– I will never get back.  If I was in prison and this is the only book that was available to read, I would rather do endless push-ups or accept solitary confinement.  In brief, this book is about a woman who is a binge-drinking alcoholic who works as a flight attendant (comforting thought!).  She wakes up one day with a dead man in her bed, but can’t remember much from the night before because she blacked out after drinking.  In an attempt at self-preservation, she flees the scene and tries to piece together what happened, while simultaneously trying to weave together a series of lies about her whereabouts that night.  I have enjoyed this author’s other works in the past, namely Midwives, which I read in 1999 and loved.  This one, not so much.

The Sacred Enneagram–Christopher L. Heuertz  ⭐️⭐️

I really wanted to like this book, since I am a little obsessed with the Enneagram. I had high hopes, based on the title and description, that this book would enhance my understanding of Enneagram principles and discuss practical application in the areas of spiritual growth and personal development.  However, I found this book really difficult to slog through (read: boring).  Usually I am fascinated by this stuff, so I am not sure if it was the organization of the book or the writing itself–it just didn’t hold my attention.  There were some gems of wisdom here and there, but the book was also really heavy on the history of the Enneagram, with lots of name dropping.  I have heard this author speak on a podcast in the past and was completely transfixed by his knowledge and depth of insight.  I think he comes off better as a speaker than as a writer.  If you are interested in the Enneagram, I suggest starting with The Road Back to You by Suzanne Stabile and Ian Cron.

Small Great ThingsJodi Picoult  ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book that explores the subject of racial injustice and privilege in America.  This seemed to be the theme for the books I read this year, though it was unplanned.  The main character, Ruth, is an experienced labor and delivery nurse who is good at what she does and takes pride in her work.  She also happens to be the only African American in her workplace.  On a seemingly routine shift, Ruth finds herself taking care of a white supremacist and his wife, who promptly speak to her supervisor to request that she not be allowed to care for them or touch their baby for the duration of their stay.  When a tragedy ensues, Ruth finds herself facing a court trial and possible jail sentence.  I enjoyed this book.  It was well paced and kept me engaged the whole time.  Ruth is a character who is easy to sympathize with.  Interestingly, the author was able to make the white supremacist in the book very human as well.  In spite of the serious subject matter, this has a little bit more of a chick-lit feel than a literary one.   However, it was a page turner and I would recommend it if you are keen on this genre.

The Middle Place –Kelly Corrigan  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Middle Place is a smart, funny, and beautifully written memoir which is at once a tribute to the author’s beloved father, and a chronicle through her diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in her late 30’s.  Kelly shares childhood memories and lets us in on her special relationship with her dad, who also happens to be an unfailing optimist, her biggest cheerleader, and her soft place to land.  As Kelly is in the thick of her cancer treatment, her father is diagnosed with cancer as well.  She subsequently struggles with the possibility that her father won’t always be there for her, and the strangeness of being in “the middle place”–the middle of life where she is at once a daughter and a wife/mother, a patient and a caretaker, both grieving and grasping on to joy where it presents itself.  I loved this book.  It is honest and raw, and Kelly unapologetically says all of the things that I have felt in times of pain and suffering, without any of the platitudes, cheesy advice, or false assurances.  Just her honest journey.  She is also wickedly funny with a little bit of an edge, which just made me love her more.  Highly recommend.

 Half of a Yellow Sun–Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book is a very interesting historical fiction novel set in the late 1960’s in Africa during Nigeria’s Biafran war.  If you are like me, you perhaps have never heard of the State of Biafra, which was birthed in 1967 when the minority Igbo people (who were significantly outnumbered by the Hausa people) declared independence from Nigeria.  What ensued was a bloody 2.5 year war that left the country devastated and completely obliterated Biafra.  The story is set around fraternal twin sisters from a wealthy family who, for various reasons, have never been terribly close.  Olanna (the pretty one) is attached (but not married) to a University professor and Biafran revolutionary, Odenigbo.  Her twin sister Kainene (the gritty, cynical one) is involved with Richard, a white British author who moves to Nigeria to write a book.  The cast of characters seems to be held together by Ugwu, Odenigbo’s houseboy, who comes of age as the political conflict escalates and progresses through the war.  I liked this book in that it brought my attention to a time in history that I would not have known about otherwise.  The first two-thirds of the book really dragged for me, and I had trouble slogging through.  However, in the last third the pace picked up and the pieces started to come together.  Not an uplifting tale.  A few of the characters irritated me, particularly Olanna, who we were told over and over was beautiful, smart, and kind, and yet didn’t seem to have enough self-respect to leave her cheating, lying, live-in boyfriend.  Don’t get me started on that.  Really the only likable character for me was Ugwu.  Cast of characters aside, it gets 3 stars, mainly for the historical subject matter.

Sharp Objects–Gillian Flynn ⭐️⭐️

I closed out the year with this psychological thriller by Gillian Flynn.  I read Gone Girl a few years back and it blew. my. mind.   Sharp Objects was her first novel, and it was a decent escape from reality for a few days and kept me turning the pages.  It didn’t have the same kind of unexpected twists, turns, and breath holding moments like Gone Girl, and I was able to guess the ending about half-way through the book.  I have heard that the HBO series is really good, so I am a little interested in seeing that, but I give the book a “meh”.

 

 

 

So what’s on my list for next year? Here are a few I have my eye on.  Let me know what you plan to read, or any of your favorites from this year that you recommend!

Pachinko–Min Jin Lee

Educated: A memoir–Tara Westover

Becoming–Michelle Obama

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas–John Boyne

The Heart’s Invisible Furies–John Boyne

The Orphan’s Tale–Pam Jenoff

The Tattooist of Auschwitz–Heather Morris

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma–Bessel A. van der Kolk

Braving the Wilderness–Brene Brown

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith–Barbara Brown Taylor

The Boat People–Sharon Bala

Thanks to my sister who filled me in on her favorite books from last year so that I could compile some of my 2019 list. I have about 50+ books that I have gradually collected on my Goodreads “want to read” list, and I get lost in indecision every time I look at it!

Ok, your turn! Tell me your hits and misses, and happy reading in 2019!