Books

The Best (and Worst) Books I Read in 2019

The Best (and Worst) Books I Read in 2019

Hooray! It’s my annual recap of the books I read last year! This is one of my absolute favorite recurring posts.

I read 28 books in 2019. That is fewer books than I read in 2018, which I keep telling myself doesn’t actually matter. I’m just so insanely competitive with myself! I think I’m especially kicking myself because there were several books that I started (ahem…in May….) that I didn’t quiteeeee finish before the ball dropped in Time’s Square. But ultimately it’s about enjoying what I’m reading, not trying to read more or finish before some arbitrary deadline. Quality over quantity.

I continue to listen to audiobooks far more often than reading physical books. It just works better with my busy schedule! I can listen to audiobooks while driving and cleaning, whereas I rarely carve out time to actually sit down on the couch and hold a book in my hands. The one exception is vacations–I love to read actual books on vacation!

While most of the books were ones I chose myself, some of them were selected by my book club. I really like being “forced” to read books that I otherwise probably wouldn’t pick up. I have discovered quite a few favorites that way! And, even if I don’t love the book, at least I feel like I broadened my horizons.

Without further ado, here are the books I read in 2019, along with my opinions on each. They are in alphabetical order, and the ones that are *starred are ones that I highly recommend adding to your own reading list! There are many good books on this list that did not get a star. I tried to reserve stars only for books that I enthusiastically recommend.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works by Dan Harris.

Book Review: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works by Dan Harris  |  Fairly Southern

I really enjoyed this book! Dan has a dry sense of humor and had me laughing out loud throughout the book. I really liked hearing more behind-the-scenes stories about the life of a newsie. As someone who is familiar with meditation, I didn’t necessarily learn tons of earth shattering information about it, but it’s a good overview of the benefits, especially for folks who might be a bit skeptical (like Dan was).

*An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green.

I tore through this novel, which was told from the perspective of a 23-year-old woman who becomes involved with extraterrestrial contact on earth. I’m not usually one for Sci-Fi, but this book felt really realistic (takes place in present day with current technologies/social medias, relatable characters, excellent commentary on the polarization of our country and the world at large). This is the first book in what will be a series, and I can’t wait for the next one to come out. I really hope they will make it into a movie!

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

This novel about the wealthy class of New York City during the Gilded Age was just not my style of book. Didn’t hold my interest. The airs put on by the individuals comprising “high society” drove me a bit batty!

*An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen.

Book Review: An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen  | Fairly Southern

Gripping! This psychological thriller is told through two different viewpoints: a somewhat unhinged psychiatrist and one of her research study subjects. I loved the way the narrative unfolded and particularly thought the psychiatrist’s character was well written. There were lots of little twists and turns throughout the book, which I enjoyed compared to many thrillers that have one huge twist near the end. I continue to be amazed by how these two co-authors can write such a cohesive book together!

*Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Book Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama  |  Fairly Southern

I really enjoyed getting to know Michelle Obama more personally and hearing more of her backstory. I also really enjoyed hearing more about what life was like for her in the White House. Outside of politics, I found her to be quite inspirational as a woman. Her approaches to modern motherhood and marriage were really awesome to read about. My only critique of the book is that I thought it was a bit long. There were a few slow parts that could have been tightened up more to make it a truly fantastic memoir.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby.

Book Review: The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby  |  Fairly Southern

This educational book gives an excellent overview of how the predominantly white Christian church in America has played a huge part in racism and oppression toward Black people. A great reminder of some historical events I’ve already studied, and I learned some new tidbits too.

*The Cookie Cure by Susan Stachler & Laura Stachler.

Book Review: The Cookie Cure by Susan Stachler & Laura Stachler  |  Fairly Southern

This memoir, written by a mother/daughter duo about their experiences with cancer and healing, was incredibly emotional and inspiring. It was also a quick and easy read. All of the best things! Highly recommend.

Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks.

Book Review: Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks  |  Fairly Southern

This book really drew me back into the world of Nicholas Sparks and got me watching all his movies again! Sweet love story and wonderful scenes at the NC coast.

*The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green  |  Fairly Southern

Yes, I just now read this book. I absolutely loved it, probably because I felt so close to the main characters due to my own daily work with children and teenagers who have cancer. I got drawn right into the teenage angst in this novel. I appreciated the honest look at illness and dying through the lens of those experiencing it. And, it was a love story, which of course I always love. I basically read it in a day. Highly recommend!

Firedark by Mereda Hart Farynyk.

Book Review: Firedark by Mereda Hart Farynyk  |  Fairly Southern

This was a really good (and fast) fantasy involving lots of young love, which I’m always a sucker for. The book could use a bit of polishing and some of the parts (especially towards the end) felt perhaps slightly rushed. But I really enjoyed it and will definitely read the sequel once it comes out!

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls  |  Fairly Southern

This memoir details the author’s chaotic childhood living in poverty with a loving but dysfunctional family. It was fascinating to hear her accounts of her not-so-normal parents. Remarkably, she tells the story with very little editorializing or judgment toward her parents, who by all accounts were quite neglectful and/or abusive at times. She was skilled at going back and telling the story as she saw it back then as a child, not layering on her judgements now as an adult. But by the end, I found I was wanting her to make some sort of proclamation about whether or not she had a “good” childhood or whether she recognized her parents as mentally ill or abusive. I wanted her adult reflection on how her childhood impacted her long term; I wanted analyzation. Still not sure how I feel about it.

The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille.

Book Review: The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille  |  Fairly Southern

Definitely an interesting read! It’s the longest book I’ve read in a while, but I never got to the point where I just wanted it to be over. I enjoyed learning more about Mafia culture, especially being the descendent of New York/New Jersey Italians myself! It was also neat to learn more about the Gold Coast, an area that I previously held little knowledge of.

Guests on Earth by Lee Smith.

Book Review: Guests on Earth by Lee Smith  |  Fairly Southern

This work of historical fiction follows the life of a young woman who is sent to live at a psychiatric facility in Asheville, NC. There, she meets Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald) along with many other patients and staff who become family. Great character development and very well written, if a bit slow at times.

*The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas  |  Fairly Southern

This young adult novel has endearing characters and does a great job highlighting modern day racial tensions in America as well as the issue of police brutality. I loved that it tackled big, serious issues while also making me laugh out loud at things the characters said. The story felt “real.” Highly recommend!

*How to Walk Away by Katherine Center.

Book Review: How to Walk Away by Katherine Center  |  Fairly Southern

This novel sucked me right in, and I finished it in just a couple of days (rare for me). Easy read about a young lady whose life is changed forever by an aviation accident. The main character goes through some pretty difficult stuff and the book doesn’t gloss over that, but it’s also full of humor and love and healing too. Just beware the cheesy ending!

*The Lucky Few: Finding God’s Best in the Most Unlikely Places by Heather Avis.

Book Review: The Lucky Few: Finding God's Best in the Most Unlikely Places by Heather Avis  |  Fairly Southern

I was torn on whether to give this memoir a star. The first half of the book is an enthusiastic star from me. As someone who may adopt one day, hearing the adoption stories of others is very educational and inspirational, and this one is particularly so. My complaints with the second half of the book were some word/phrasing choices that were off-putting to me, as well as a faith component that was never really explained. The author frequently stated that God extended her grace and helped her during a tough season, but never actually gives examples. It sometimes felt like she was just repeating Christian buzzwords rather than actually sharing about a personal divine encounter. 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern  |  Fairly Southern

This novel about a magic competition that occurs in the context of a fantastical circus is quite a unique read. I read ⅔ of the book using the audiobook version. My audiobook copy expired, so I then switched to the book version. I highly recommend the book version of this book, as I found it easier to follow and more engaging when I actually read it myself. For some reason I didn’t find it as interesting when I was listening, and I think I may have unconsciously tuned out some details that I would have picked up on more readily in the book version. 

*One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus.

Book Review: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus  |  Fairly Southern

This mystery was very easy to read and sucked me right in. I really liked the general premise of the book: that one of the characters is lying. I won’t say that I couldn’t see the ending coming, but that didn’t bother me. Very enjoyable nonetheless! I especially liked one of the character’s transition from a doormat girlfriend to a young lady in charge of her own life.

*Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush.

Book Review: Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush  |  Fairly Southern

I really enjoyed this joint memoir! I honestly didn’t know a lot about the Bush twins prior to reading this. It was neat to learn more about them and their entire family. The book seems like a little bit of a money grab, but I enjoyed it, so whatevs. The chapter about Barbara’s high school boyfriend was incredibly moving and brought me to tears. There were also parts of the book that made me laugh, and that is my definition of a good book (makes you laugh AND cry).

*A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult.

Book Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult  |  Fairly Southern

This novel centers around a shooting at an abortion clinic, detailing the backgrounds and beliefs about abortion of many of the people involved. There are few tidy ends at the end of the book, as it really just focuses on a single day in time, so the characters don’t really have a chance to change or grow (though there are flashbacks that illustrate previous growth). I sometimes don’t like when there are still loose ends or unanswered questions at the end of the book, but I liked the ending of this one. The loose ends made it feel more real and leave the door open for lots of different possibilities for each of the characters.

*The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris  |  Fairly Southern

Incredible read!! A couple of years ago my book club read a ton of WWII books, and I was ready to take a break from the topic of WWII and focus on some additional topics. Not to knock the importance of WWII; I just wanted some variety. After a breather from the war, I felt ready to read another WWII book. This one was stunning. Of course, it was heartbreaking, but it was also an eye-opening and beautifully written account of what life was like for one individual in one of the most notorious concentration camps. I actually thought this was a work of historical fiction until I got to the end and found out it was a true story. Learning that these people and events were all real brought me to tears. So glad the author recorded this man’s story, and along with it, the stories of other courageous individuals. 

*Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.

Book Review: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt  |  Fairly Southern

The book begins as young teenager June is coping with and trying to make sense of the death of her uncle Finn, who died of AIDS. Absolutely beautiful book about love, family secrets, grief, and coming-of-age that spotlights the complexities of family relationships. Incredibly well written and insightful.

This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel.

Book Review: This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel  |  Fairly Southern

This novel about a family with a queer/possibly transgender child is really good because it highlights so many aspects of the experience of being trans and/or having a trans family member while also exposing how gendered our society can be.

*Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington.

Book Review: Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington  |  Fairly Southern

This motivational book redefines success as something beyond fame/money and provides practical steps you can take to realize this “third metric.” I personally found it very applicable (I am totally someone who feels caught up in a constant “time famine”) and helpful. I still struggle with busyness and not being as mindful as I should be, but this book was the catalyst I needed to finally start doing yoga every week, so that’s a start (and a very positive one at that!).

*Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty.

Book Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty  |  Fairly Southern

This novel about a backyard party gone awry wasn’t necessarily the great masterpiece of fiction ever written, but it was at once suspenseful and lighthearted. I was dying to find out what happened at the barbecue. Great easy read!

The Vacationers by Emma Straub.

Book Review: The Vacationers by Emma Straub  |  Fairly Southern

This was an easy beach read about a family on a vacation in the midst of a lot of relationship upheaval. It was pleasant enough to read but wasn’t something I was raving about. Good, not great!

*Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand.

Book Review: Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand  |  Fairly Southern

This novel was the best escape to somewhere warmer during the cold wintery months! I love Elin’s books. They are easy “beach reads” that suck you in and stay so interesting. In this book, a grieving family discovers a husband’s secret life, while several romantic relationships develop of course.

*The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware.

Book Review: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware  |  Fairly Southern

I FLEW through this thriller. It sucks you in right from the beginning and is very suspenseful. But, I actually debated giving it a star because the ending fell a little short for me. I was expecting a shocking twist after reading In a Dark, Dark Wood by the same author. This book definitely had some twists, but the ending wasn’t too twisty or shocking. Still recommend it though since the book is so good most of the way through.

Alright friends, that’s a wrap! Leave me a comment if you also have thoughts on the books listed. And, be sure to comment with suggestions of books to add to my reading list for 2020! You can see what’s already on my list on my Pinterest board.

And, you can read my book recaps from previous years here: 2018,  20172016.

xoxo Laura

P.S. – This post may contain affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Read my full disclaimers/disclosures here.

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