Best Books of 2019
Well, 2019 was a record year for me in regards to reading books! I originally set what felt like a lofty goal of 24 books for the year. That’s 2 per month, or 1 every 2 weeks. And since I had only read 15 books the previous year, I thought 24 was a long shot.
But I made some small changes in 2019 to help me read more. And it turns out those small changes really worked. Like, REALLY worked. Because I ended the year at a total of 47 books read! Almost double my original goal.
I read A LOT of great books in 2019. One of my favorite things about reading is sharing book reviews and recommendations with friends. So I’m sharing my top 20 books (top 10 non-fiction and top 10 fiction). And as a bonus, I’m sharing the middle-grade chapter books I read and loved.
Non-Fiction Favorites of 2019
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
This is one of my two favorite books from 2019 (the other is in my fiction list). I couldn’t stop talking about this book for WEEKS after finishing it on audible. I loved it so much, I also purchased the hardback along with the follow up, Homo Deus.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is interesting, informative, and thought-provoking. Some reviews criticize the second half as being opinion based and arrogant. While certain parts were based on speculation, I didn’t take issue with it. After all, it’s impossible to write about unrecorded events otherwise. This isn’t a research essay intent on relaying only facts, so if that’s what you’re looking for you’ll probably be disappointed. It is, however, a fantastic summary of human evolution (not just physical, but social, cultural, and cognitive as well) and a fascinating blend of science, history, and philosophy.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
This is the second book by Brene Brown I’ve listened to on Audible and I’m convinced I need to just buy all her books in hard copy so I can read them with a pen and a pad of sticky notes at the ready. In The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brene Brown covers her 10 ‘guideposts’ for wholeheartedly living with authenticity, according to who you are at your core and not who you’re ‘supposed’ to be. The text is full of revelations, stories, and research-based evidence that I know I’ll want to revisit.
This book isn’t just for perfectionists. Anyone who struggles with feelings of inadequacy, self doubt, impostor syndrome, or lack of direction and purpose can benefit from Brown’s advice and antidotes. She concludes from years of research that truly happy people embrace their own creativity and talents and share them unabashedly with the world rather than hide behind perceptions of who they or others think they should be. In short, learning to love and embrace one’s true self leads to a fulfilling, happy life.
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga by Deepak Chopra
I’ve been drawn to yoga for years, but could never really put my finger on what attracted me. I just knew it felt good, and not just physically. Yoga helped me feel more centered and grounded as well, and I wanted to understand why.
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga: A Practical Guide to Healing Body, Mind, and Spirit is divided into three parts. Part I explains the history and philosophy of yoga. This is where my understanding of the practice and lifestyle deepened and my curiosity was piqued. Part II covers meditation and breathing, including the benefits of various meditation and breathing practices. Part III describes yoga practice, and describes some popular asanas and their benefits.
I recommend this book for anyone who wishes to expand their knowledge of yoga philosophy and practice. However, the explanations of asanas was abbreviated, so if you are looking for a book to help you get started with your yoga practice, you may need another resource to supplement this topic.
The Wheel of Healing with Ayurveda: An Easy Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle by Michelle S. Fondin
After gaining more understanding of yoga philosophy, I was interested in learning more about the Ayurvedic lifestyle (of which yoga is just one part). The Wheel of Healing: An Easy Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle is an easy-to-read, comprehensive (while brief) explanation of this ancient lifestyle. Complete with self-assessment guidance, this book is a great intro to Ayurveda.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Becoming, by Michelle Obama is one of those books I picked up because everyone else was raving about it. I wasn’t sure I’d love it, but I was intrigued. But boy did I end up loving it. Originally, I listened to the audiobook, but have since put the hardback on my list of books to buy because there are so many things I want to underline and highlight.
Michelle’s story is so unique (there’s only one ever ‘first black First Lady’, after all), yet so relatable. When she talks about motherhood and juggling her own interests and career with being the kind of parent she wants to be, it feels like it could be a girlfriend talking to you rather than one of the most recognized women in the world.
Aside from being relatable, Michelle’s story was also eye-opening to me. I learned a lot about privilege from her words. She describes a childhood that gave her certain privileges, and put her in a place of advantage. Yet, you can see how even the most advantaged black child can still be at a disadvantage socially. And she teaches this point so gracefully, without resentment or blame in her voice.
If you’re into audiobooks, I highly recommend listening to Becoming. Michelle narrates it herself and it’s like sitting down for coffee and listening to her tell you her life story.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah has such an interesting story – one most Americans can’t even fathom having lived. Imagine growing up in a country where your parents literally have to hide the fact that they came together to birth you. Yes, he truly was born a crime. And that’s barely the beginning.
I new very little about South Africa under Apartheid and in Born a Crime, Trevor Noah does a wonderful job explaining the system while relating his experience growing up under institutionalized racial segregation.
The Ultimate Happiness Prescription: 7 Keys to Joy and Enlightenment by Deepak Chopra
The Ultimate Happiness Prescription was a re-read for me in 2019. I read it the first time back in 2015. This quick read is packed with so many inspirational tidbits for everyday happiness. I plan to make note to revisit this book at least once a year.
Educated by Tara Westover
Tara Westover grew up the youngest of seven children in the mountains of Idaho sheltered from much of the mainstream society. Her survivalist parents saw basic public services, schools and education, and modern medicine as the ploys of the devil to prey on the weak of mind and faith. She never set foot in a classroom until the age of 17. Yet she went on to earn degrees from Brigham Young University and Cambridge University, and was a visiting fellow at Harvard. Educated was one of the best books I’ve read this year. Tara Westover tells her unbelievable story poignantly, humbly, and beautifully. I couldn’t put it down.
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben
The Hidden Life of Trees is a fascinating explanation of the complex relationship trees have with their environment and with each other. There are things going on below and above the soil that we would never guess. Reading this book will give you a whole new perspective and appreciation of the role trees play in our world.
Raw: My Journey into the Wu-Tang by Lamont “U-God” Hawkins
Never having listened to a single song by Lamont “U-God” Hawkins or the Wu-Tang, Raw: My Journey into the WuTang was sort of a wild card. I went on a sort of celebrity bio/memoir spree and this one was part of a deal on Audible. Listening to Hawkins tell his story about growing up in the New York City projects and the dream of a group of young men to use their love and talent for hip-hop as their ticket out of the ghetto was entertaining and enlightening.
Fiction Favorites of 2019
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was one of the best books I’ve read in my life. I finished this book almost one year ago and I’m still thinking about it. I loved it so much I did a whole post reviewing this treasure of a book.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” If ever there was a novel to illustrate that quote, this is it. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is unexpected and unforgettable. Equally heartbreaking and heartwarming, this wonderfully written novel about the powers of loneliness and friendship is one of the best I’ve read in years.
Tara Road by Maeve Binchy
A good friend who’s book recommendations I always trust suggested I read Tara Road by Maeve Binchy. This book was so lovely and I fell in love with Ria Lynch, the main character (along with her home, Tara Road). This is a book for those who love a good drama about family, friendship, and self discovery – and especially for those who have a particular fascination with old homes.
When You Read This by Mary Adkins
When You Read This by Mary Adkins is a different kind of novel in that the entire story is told through various pieces of electronic correspondence by the characters (emails, texts, blog posts, messages to therapists, etc.). It is about a woman who died of cancer in her early 30s, leaving behind a blog she wrote in her last months that she leaves to her boss/friend to publish. But the boss/friend has to get the approval of the woman’s older sister who is dealing with the loss in her own way.
The format of this book made it a big-time page turner. I couldn’t put it down! And the story carefully unfolds, leading the reader through each piece of correspondence searching for more clues and tidbits as to what happens next. When You Read This will make you think about the story your own online life tells about who you are, what you care about, and your true desires.
The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger
The Gifted School follows a close-knit friendship circle of four mothers and their upper-middle class families through the dramas of their school. When the local school system announces plans for a special “Gifted School”, competition gets the best of the adults while the kids begin to learn more about their own true strengths and interests as individuals. With a very Big Little Lies vibe, The Gifted School is smart, juicy, and so much fun to read.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
City of Girls captured me from page 1. The story is told from the perspective of an older lady looking back on her time as a young woman in New York City, working in the theater in the 1940s. This is a gorgeous story about love, heartbreak, friendship, and more love like I’ve never read before. (I’m intentionally keeping this summary brief because this is one of those books that is best when you don’t know many details going in. 🙂 )
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
What a blast from the past. Little Fires Everywhere took me back to my own late 1990s high school years, and I can relate so much to the daily lives of the Richardson children and their friend, Pearl. It was the perfect backdrop for this story, providing just the right level of access to information (or lack thereof, really) to make for a believable plot and turn of events.
The plot overall was thought-provoking and emotional, especially, I think, for moms (and even more so for moms with daughters). The characters could have used a bit more development, and there were some convenient coincidences that pulled me out of the story. But not enough to distract from the questions and debate this novel sparks, stirring you to think about people’s choices, actions, and reactions from different perspectives, which is the most important aspect for me.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
The Immortalists was my first Chloe Benjamin novel and I immediately looked for more by the author upon finishing this book. This is the story of four siblings who, in late 1960s New York City, who visit a fortune teller and learn the dates of their deaths. The book separately follows the lives of each sibling and ultimately illustrates a poignant message about the perceived link between length and quality of life. Both thought and conversation provoking, this book connected me to lots of other readers in a way few books have!
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray weaves the story of a working-class family healing after a shocking secret is revealed and turns their lives upside down. The business owner parents fall from grace as their small community discovers what they’ve been hiding and the teenage children are left to sort through the pieces of their own lives with the help of their extended family. This family drama explores the relationships between sisters, mothers and their teenage daughters, as well as husband and wife.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The book everyone was talking about did not disappoint. Daisy Jones & The Six is a fictional iconic 1970s rock band told through the back-and-forth of an interviewer and the various members of the band and those close to them. The band, full of tension and drama, infamously broke up without any explanation and the interviewer gets to the bottom of it years later – and it’s not what you think. (Not what I thought anyway. 😉 )
The Anatomy of Dreams by Chloe Benjamin
I told you I was hungry for more by Chloe Benjamin after reading The Immortalists! The Anatomy of Dreams is about a young couple who works as research assistants to a psychologist studying sleep disorders. Things get complicated when lines of morality and legality become blurred when sleep study participants are trained to become lucid during their dreams.
Middle Grade Chapter Books
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
This book was another friend recommendation and my kids and I loved it. In The Wild Robot, Peter Brown tells the tale of a robot named Roz that has washed up on a remote island, all alone with no humans around. The robot follows her programming to learn how to survive by understanding and taking cues from her environment. Since her new environment is entirely made up of wilderness, the robot comes up with some surprising methods of survival. I always enjoy when a book sparks conversations with my kids, and this one did just that.
The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown
Part Two of Roz’s story, in The Wild Robot Escapes we learn of the robot’s origin and purpose. We also learn about the world in which the story is set, which is a future in which robots are widely used for everyday applications by much of the general population. The robot finds herself working on a farm, but desperately wishing to return to the remote island that had become her home. Another conversation starter, we loved this book just as much as the first.
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
The big oak tree plays a special role in the neighborhood when once a year the residents place their wishes, written on scraps of fabric or paper, upon it’s branches. And being such a central figure, the tree hears and sees a lot of what happens in the community. When a new family moved into one of the houses flaking the big oak tree, some of the neighbors aren’t very welcoming and the tree feels compelled to break the rules and tell it’s story. The Wishtree by Katherine Applegate initiated conversations with my kids about including others and accepting people of differing cultures.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Camp Green Lake is an intense detention center for boys who’ve broken the law. Under the hot desert sun, the boys spend their days digging large holes. Before long, the main character, Stanley, realizes they are not digging purely for punishment. They are searching for something, and it’s something the warden wants kept secret.
While the main story in Holes is a bit dark, the subplot that takes place 100 years prior is driven by racism and alpha male entitlement that leads to some pretty horrific outcomes. While we enjoyed this book (much better than the movie, of course 😉 ), we also took lots of time to discuss some of the more difficult scenes.
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Want to share your love for reading? I would LOVE to have you join my small reading group called Friends Who Read. We chat weekly about whatever it is we happen to be reading at the moment, and just share our love for all things bookish. 🙂