The Best Books of 2019

With the year rapidly drawing to a close, it is time to reflect on the past year. Here at the library, of course, that means talking about all the great books we have read. Our full list of recommendations (including fiction, non-fiction, young adult and children’s books) has already been released, but some of us can’t help but want to tell you more. Here are a few select reviews from our best of list written by our dedicated and always reading staff.

Alan:

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

From one of the best mystery writers of our time, the modern Agatha Christie, comes a suspense-filled epistolary tale of a nanny hired at a posh, remote estate in the Scottish Highlands. Idyllic until things take a turn for the darker. In a series of letters to an attorney, the facts of the case are revealed as our narrator unravels, and we wonder how reliable she is…

Chaz:

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

The solution to information overload is to be mindful with how and why you interact and engage with technology. Does it serve your essential and personal goals?  Can you achieve the same result without using the technology? Cal Newport explores a philosophy of digital minimalism that fits this time of life.

I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi

How much time do you spend learning about money? 10 hours? 1 hour? None? Actively avoid thinking about it? The title may seem off-putting, as if it were some kind of get-rich-quick scheme, but on the contrary, Ramit teaches the long game of growing wealth over time. This requires taking an honest look at your finances and spending habits, and making a clear budget for money to have fun with (guilt free!). Where is the motivation in saving money for 40 years if you can’t enjoy some of it in the meantime?  Ramit provides a simple framework for understanding where you’re at with money, both mentally and financially. He shows how you should focus your resources to maximize debt reduction and wealth creation.  Through the book, you grow your self-understanding and are able to make a plan that will lead you confidently into the future.

Indistractable by Nir Eyal

There are many dozens of definitions for distraction, but Nir Eyal has got to have one of the most useful ones. He says that a distraction is anything that keeps you from fulfilling your word. This book is a manual for empowerment- teaching the importance of honoring your word and with this, growing respect for yourself. Did I say that I can peruse Instagram, or did I already commit to working in the garden Saturday morning? Nir provides a simple method for self-empowerment with many examples and situations to draw from.

Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller

Is Dave Ramsey the best personal finance expert in the world? Probably not, so why is he the most successful? It’s because he has the clearest message: financial peace. Donald Miller explores the 7 elements that make up a story and how businesses can clarify their message and invite customers into the story. The business is the guide – the customer is the hero. What is the story?

Eileen:

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

Arthur believes in romance and signs from the universe. When his heart skips a beat at the sight of Ben at the post office and then a magical flash mob proposal breaks out, he believes. Ben, however, does not believe in signs. The box of items he’s mailing back to his ex is clear evidence that the universe has nothing for him. But what if there’s more to the universe than both of them see?

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Fifteen year old Will knows the rules: no crying, no snitching, and it’s up to him to avenge his brother’s murder. With a gun shoved in his waistband, he takes the elevator from the seventh floor to fulfill his role. But the elevator door opens on the sixth floor, and in walks a dead man.

Stand on the Sky by Erin Bow

Aisulu’s dream of eagle hunting goes against the Kazakh tradition that restricts training to men. When her parents take her ill brother to a distant hospital, she’s left with a strange aunt and uncle- and an orphaned eagle to rescue.

Linda (click on the links to Linda’s review for each title):

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Lisa:

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of those books that you cruise through in a couple reads because it is just that hard to put down. Imagine if Cinderella was set in rural Jazz Age Mexico, only instead of a benevolent fairy godmother, it is the deposed Mayan god of death who changes our young heroine’s life. Instead of being carried away in a beautiful enchanted pumpkin carriage, she is bound to the former lord of the underworld when a sliver of his bone embeds in her hand and her blood reanimates his corpse. Far from being a maiden needing to be rescued, our heroine, Casiopea Tun must not only save herself, but save the entire world from falling into a new age of darkness on Earth should she fail to defeat the schemes of the reigning god of death, Vucub-Kame. I hope you enjoy this amazing mix of Maya folklore, Mexican culture, drama, and historical fiction, as much as I did.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya Hartman is an incredible work of historical research and non-fiction writing. Hartman is able to strike a satisfying balance between heavily-footnoted academic, and very personal and engaging narrative writing styles. The personal stories and photographs used illustrate in a very relatable way, what life was like for Black women in Philadelphia and New York City at the turn of the century. Each chapter is a revelation that challenges what we commonly believe about Victorian life, and the way that women were allowed to move about their worlds. Hartman uses expert research and storytelling skills to give voices to women who were only brief news stories, or even nameless photographs in the historical record. These histories are often overlooked but should never be undervalued in terms of what they can tell us about the history of women’s rights, the struggles Black women faced during the Great Migration, and the wide variety of ways that Black urban women were making lives for themselves during a very turbulent time. I found myself having to re-read pages to make sure I didn’t miss a single detail

Margo:

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

I loved this story. My 83-year-old mom loved this story! It made me laugh and it made me cry.

Quoting from a New York Times Book Review author Mary Beth Keane states “No one ever plans to become estranged.” This profound truth sets the stage for a thought-provoking novel delving into how one deals with injustice, pain, and deception especially when it happens in your own family.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope meet each other on the job in the NYPD. The young rookie cops work at a precinct in the Bronx. Francis meets and falls in love with Lena. Wanting to raise a family, the couple moves out of the city and into the suburbs. Several years later the Stanhope family move in next store, but there is a breach of some sort. Brian’s wife Anne is standoffish. The relationship that buds, however, is between Gleeson’s youngest daughter Kate and Stanhope’s only child Peter. Kate and Peter become best friends.

Set in the 1970’s when mental illness and addiction were subjects rarely discussed, Keane paints a portrait of two very different families with Irish Catholic roots whose lives become entwined. Layered with complex characters, a story of love, sorrow, tragedy, and ultimately, forgiveness unfolds.

Transcending time and generation, the story is timely and relevant. In an age where offenses are taken, and misunderstandings fueled by bitterness lead to many broken relationships, Ask Again, Ask offers hope.

Mindy:

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg

In many ways, this is a familiar story about a woman struggling to balance her photography career and creative ambition as a single mother. However, the storytelling is completely original, as it unfolds in the form of a photography exhibit catalog curated by the woman’s daughter. The imagery is so vivid that you almost feel like you’re seeing the photographs instead of words on a page.

Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer

Flight Portfolio is the fictionalized story of Varian Fry, a real historical figure who covertly rescued countless Jewish artists and their works from the Nazis. I’m not usually a big reader of historical fiction, but I’m a big fan of this author and her richly imagined characters and exquisite writing.

Susan:

The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

I adored this book! It starts strong and remains strong to the very end. This is magical realism in a small southern town in the vein of Sarah Addison Allen but with a charm all its own. Sarah Dove is the seventh daughter of the Dove family, an old family in town whose daughters all have magic. Sarah’s magic is that books talk to her, telling her which person in town needs to read them. As the town librarian, she makes sure each book gets to the right person. Such a lovely idea! Sadly, her beloved small town of Dove Pond is failing. The population is dwindling, they have no jobs for the young people, and most of the downtown storefronts are vacant. People are worried. Luckily, the town lore is that whenever the Dove family has seven daughters something good happens for the town. As a seventh daughter, Sarah has always thought she would save the town, but she has no idea how to do that. Then Grace Wheeler, broke and with crushing family responsibilities, comes to town and Sarah realizes that it is her job to befriend Grace and help Grace save the town. This is a lovely novel of friendship, family, belonging and finding home.

Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

The serial killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury. That’s the premise for this totally original legal thriller by Irish author Steve Cavanagh. What’s the best way to get away with murder? Have someone else convicted of the crime. What’s the best way to have someone else convicted of the crime? Make sure you (the killer) are on the jury! I’m a big fan of this author, and this is his best legal thriller yet.

Theresa:

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

They say one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but an interesting title always attracts me. The title of Anissa Gray’s debut novel grabbed my attention and her writing held it. The book begins with the stunning arrest of Althea and Proctor, a well-respected couple in their community. As her sisters struggle with their disbelief at the arrest of their eldest sister, and with caring for their nieces, what happened and how is revealed through the separate stories of those involved. This is primarily a character driven novel, with a dash of mystery on the side.