My Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2019!

Once again I’m very late to post my favorite books on the year, primarily because we were travelling over the holidays.

So, while I read many good books, here – in no particular order – are the books I enjoyed most and are most likely to recommend (all were reviewed this year):

The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Educated by Tara Westover (non-fiction)

Becoming by Michelle Obama (non-fiction)

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

Description

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER!

“If you liked Where the Crawdads Sing, you’ll love This Tender Land…This story is as big-hearted as they come.” —Parade

A magnificent novel about four orphans on a life-changing odyssey during the Great Depression, from the bestselling author of Ordinary Grace.

1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own.

Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an en­thralling, big-hearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.

I absolutely loved this tale of Odie and his friends as they tried to make a new life away from the orphanage that had mistreated them. It reminded me so much of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn! However, there is a lot of mistreatment in this story, and part of Odie’s journey is coming to terms with the cruelty and unfairness that they have been dealt in life. The ending came with a sense of redemption, and I once again was enthralled with William Kent Krueger’s beautiful writing. Highly recommended!

I would also recommend this novel for high school English classes – so much to talk about and think about in it!

Thank you for my ARC via Net Galley!

2 for My Ears: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

I love, love, love the Neopolitan novels by Elena Ferrante. I also loved the HBO series. I have gotten all four for my commute via audible (using credits) and they hold my attention. Hillary Huber is a beautiful narrator and I can see her in my mind’s eye as if she is Elena Greco from the HBO series.

These last two installments are the final chapters in the very large story of Elena and Lila. I like how each book ends and the next one picks up immediately. And they are long! Like 700+ pages long, so it’s impressive that they can keep me enthralled during my Boston drive.

Why do I love these stories? Honestly, I cannot tell you. They are about two girls growing up in a lower middle class neighborhood of Naples in the 1950’s. The writing is beautiful. It’s real, if that makes sense. Ferrante crafts a sentence that has you nodding your head and saying, yes, that’s right, and you’re thinking about love, friendship, betrayal, family – the ordinary stuff of life. These novels aren’t fraught with danger or mystery. Two girls grow up, one goes to school, they have friends, marry, have love affairs, have children, make a living, deal with life in the 1960’s and 70’s. But they are SO good and honest and true that honestly, it can hurt to read them (is that weird?). And at the end, I’m left feeling a little broken.

Good Girls Lie by JT Ellison

If you know me, you know I love mysteries set in boarding schools. They are generally off the mark of what boarding schools are actually like, but they are the kind of thing I imagined them to be when I was a teen. Everyone is so rich and nasty to each other and then, boom, murder!

This was a fast-paced story that kept me guessing and actually did a good job of actually portraying private school life.

Thank you for my ARC, Net Galley and Harlequin! It’s YA fodder that is good for my soul! I will share this with my 16 year old, too (with her own copy).

Description

J.T. Ellison’s pulse-pounding new psychological thriller examines the tenuous bonds of friendship, the power of lies and the desperate lengths people will go to in order to protect their secrets.

Goode girls don’t lie…

Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond.

But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder.

When a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

Don’t miss this fast-paced suspense story from New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison!

For My Ears: American Kingpin by Nick Bilton and narrated by Will Damron

A colleague recommended this title to me, so I purchased it with my Audible credit. I can definitely say that it held my attention during my commute as this story is incredible.

Here’s the overview via Amazon:

The unbelievable true story of the man who built a billion-dollar online drug empire from his bedroom – and almost got away with it

In 2011, a 26-year-old libertarian programmer named Ross Ulbricht launched the ultimate free market: the Silk Road, a clandestine website hosted on the Dark Web where anyone could trade anything – drugs, hacking software, forged passports, counterfeit cash, poisons – free of the government’s watchful eye.

It wasn’t long before the media got wind of the new website where anyone – not just teenagers and weed dealers but terrorists and black hat hackers – could buy and sell contraband detection-free. Spurred by a public outcry, the federal government launched an epic two-year manhunt for the site’s elusive proprietor, with no leads, no witnesses, and no clear jurisdiction. All the investigators knew was that whoever was running the site called himself the Dread Pirate Roberts.

The Silk Road quickly ballooned into a $1.2 billion enterprise, and Ross embraced his new role as kingpin. He enlisted a loyal crew of allies in high and low places, all as addicted to the danger and thrill of running an illegal marketplace as their customers were to the heroin they sold. Through his network he got wind of the target on his back and took drastic steps to protect himself – including ordering a hit on a former employee. As Ross made plans to disappear forever, the feds raced against the clock to catch a man they weren’t sure even existed, searching for a needle in the haystack of the global Internet.

Drawing on exclusive access to key players and two billion digital words and images Ross left behind, Vanity Fair correspondent and New York Times best-selling author Nick Bilton offers a tale filled with twists and turns, lucky breaks, and unbelievable close calls. It’s a story of the boy next door’s ambition gone criminal, spurred on by the clash between the new world of libertarian-leaning, anonymous, decentralized web advocates and the old world of government control, order, and the rule of law. Filled with unforgettable characters and capped by an astonishing climax, American Kingpin might be dismissed as too outrageous for fiction. But it’s all too real.

I bought it for my husband for Christmas because I want to be able to chat about it with him.

Highly recommended non-fiction!

Beating Around the Bush by MC Beaton

I adore Agatha Raisin, and I’ve read all the books in the series and watched the television show on Acorn TV. I am amazed that MC Beaton can keep coming up with plot lines and mysteries for Agatha solve in her cranky and determined way.

Description

New York Times bestseller M. C. Beaton’s cranky, crafty Agatha Raisin—now the star of a hit T.V. show—is back on the case again.

When private detective Agatha Raisin comes across a severed leg in a roadside hedge, it looks like she is about to become involved in a particularly gruesome murder. Looks, however, can be deceiving, as Agatha discovers when she is employed to investigate a case of industrial espionage at a factory where nothing is quite what it seems.

The factory mystery soon turns to murder and a bad-tempered donkey turns Agatha into a national celebrity, before bringing her ridicule and shame. To add to her woes, Agatha finds herself grappling with growing feelings for her friend and occasional lover, Sir Charles Fraith. Then, as a possible solution to the factory murder unfolds, her own life is thrown into deadly peril. Will Agatha get her man at last? Or will the killer get her first?

If you enjoy this series, don’t miss the latest for Agatha Raisin!

Thank you, Net Galley, for my ARC!

For My Ears: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Description (via Amazon) –

How much can a family forgive?

A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

Ask Again, Yes by award-winning author Mary Beth Keane, is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’ youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year, a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact. 

But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past. Ask Again, Yes reveals how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood – villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace. 

Narrated by Molly Pope, this was an intriguing and at times heart-breaking story of two families and the events and love that bind them together. Unforgettable and as tragic as it is redemptive, this is one that you won’t soon forget.

I got mine through Audible.