Archive | December, 2019

Top 10 Litpicks of 2019

18 Dec

It’s that time of year again! I beat my goal of 52 books with a whopping 59 for the year (crossing my fingers I can get one more in for an even 60). Although that feels low to me (thinking about my pre-husband, pre-baby years of 100+), I am thankful that I met my goal! Life has been busy. Here are the ones that stood out for me this year:

1. Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera. Set in South Carolina in the early 1920s, the story follows three women – Gertrude, Retta and Annie – as their lives intersect on a struggling tobacco plantation. There is a lot going on in this novel, and I was there for all of it! I loved learning about the boll weevil infestations that ravaged the south before the Great Depression, it’s a small part of the set-up of the story but it was interesting. Perfect for the Where the Crawdads Sing crowd.

2. Normal People by Sally Rooney is one of my more recent reads, perhaps that’s why it’s so far up this list. I really enjoyed this very relatable story of Marianne and Connell – it also had sort of a Gothic undertone that I felt made it that much more engaging.

3. Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe may be my most surprising top ten finalist – I’m not even sure where you would find it in a bookstore (YA? Contemporary fiction? Mystery?) and that’s part of why it was so great. It’s loosely based on the author’s boyhood in Australia. Eli Bell is a typical boy – but not really. He doesn’t know his father, his mother is in jail and his step-father is a known heroin dealer. His brilliant older brother is equal parts blessing and burden – a genius who does not speak. At all. These characters felt so real and so perfectly flawed and true. So good.

4. Jojo Moyes’ new book The Giver of Stars is finding major commercial success right now and I think it’s warranted. I really loved this story about the packhorse librarians of WPA-era Kentucky. This rekindled a major Appalachian obsession that started when I read Catherine Marshall’s Christy years and years ago. Worth the hype!

5. If you are one of the readers who read and loved Elena Ferrante’s quartet of Neapolitan Novels, you should check out A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio. They share the same translator, actually, which may be why they feel so familiar I’m not sure.  Set in Italy, it’s the story of an unnamed narrator (a young girl) who leaves her home one day with her father and is dumped unceremoniously at the home of her birth parents. She hadn’t known that her parents were not her birth parents, and up until the moment her dad left she had no idea she’d be living with these strangers. I thought this was a great story about figuring out who you are and coming to terms with unexpected twists and turns life throws at you.

6. Time for the most obscure title on my list! If you want to read Fallen Mountains you will have to order it online or request that your library purchase a copy. It’s not easily accessible but it’s worth the hunt if you love a great, straightforward mystery. Set in a small town in Pennsylvania with tons of great characters, secrets and cover-ups start to pile up when a recently returned man goes missing. The writing in this is so incredible. I was immediately interested in each strand of the story line, and then shocked at the way they all came together.

7. I flew through Kevin Wilson’s new novel Nothing to See Here this past weekend. It sounds bizarre (kids that burst into flames when they’re agitated or upset) but it was actually a pretty serious family novel (exactly the kind I like). Lillian gets a call one day from her best friend from high school (Madison) asking her to move in with her and her hot-shot politician husband. Madison’s husband’s ex-wife has died and now his twin 10-year-olds are coming to stay. Lillian’s job is to take care of the kids and keep them hidden from the press, as Madison is worried they’ll catch on fire and ruin her husband’s reputation.

8 & 9. I’m a sucker for an original format. Anything that’s a little out of the usual typically skyrockets my opinion. Two fit that bill this year – Taylor Jenkin Reid’s Daisy Jones and the Six and Myla Goldberg’s Feast Your Eyes. There are a lot of similarities here, now that I’m thinking about it, but most of them would spoil Daisy Jones. Both stories look back over the career(s) of once-famous-still-talked-about artists, and both stories look back in an interesting way. Daisy Jones and the Six reads like the transcript of your favorite rock band’s documentary, trying to unearth why things ended the way they did. I’ve heard the audio version of this is A+, each member of the band getting his own narrator/voice. The Myla Goldberg isn’t about a band, but rather a photographer who made waves with some controversial photographs of her daughter. The story is told through the catalogue notes of her show at the Museum of Modern Art. Both of these stories felt so real they had me googling the respective artists – fictional though they be.

10. This last one I actually read at the end of 2018 and knew that it would probably be on this list. I know a lot of people love books like A Man Named Ove and Arthur Truluv and oh any other cloyingly sweet story about a cranky old men trying to turn their cranky old lives around. I don’t love those kinds of books but man did I love When All is Said, which is not too far off from that. This story is about Maurice Hannigan (Ove-style-old but definitely not cranky) who heads to the bar inside his small town’s hotel one night and has five drinks. Each drink he toasts to one of the five most important people in his life – his brother, sister-in-law, son, daughter and late wife. I loved that his stories about each one perfectly created an image of his life, and I loved him. This one is definitely left an impression.

Runners Up & Also Enjoyeds:

Rounding out the Year

3 Dec

I sat down to work on my Top Ten Litpicks of 2019 and realized I have a little catching up to do before I can dive into that post. I haven’t been reading AS MUCH lately, but here’s what I loved:

Normal People by Sally Rooney and Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. The Trevor Noah is older – if you didn’t read it when it came out and haven’t read it yet you should do so right away. It was the fastest and most amazing memoir I read this year (I know that’s a short list). So so good and so crazy. Plus his voice is so distinctive that when I was reading I could hear it in my head which made it that much better. 5 stars!

Normal People has been on a lot of lists already this season as one of the best – really it was so good. It’s a love story, but also feels sort of Gothic and twisted in the some of the same ways Lying in Wait did (no murder in this one). Starts in high school with social outcast Marianne secretly dating popular kid Connell – he doesn’t want anyone to know about her. We follow them to college where the tables turn; Marianne is now being successful and making friends and Connell is really struggling. This story did feel very… I don’t know … familiar? Not that I’ve read it before, it just feels like relationships I’ve seen my friends in and even feelings I’ve had myself. Very NORMAL. So good. 5 stars.

Another five-star read that I just finished last night – Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here. This one sounds super bizarre because it features 10-yr-old twins that spontaneously burst into flames. It becomes such a normalized thing in the novel you don’t even find it weird after a bit. Madison and Lillian are roommates at a girl’s boarding school when something happens that causes Lillian to leave the school. Years later, Madison is married to an older politician and calls Lillian to ask a favor – to come live with her in her mansion and take care of her husband’s estranged twins. Twins who happen to burst into flames when they’re upset or scared or mad. Sounds like Kevin must have children of his own – although mine don’t actually burst into flames, it does seem within the realm of possibility. 5 stars!

The others were fine – Picnic at Hanging Rock is much older, a mystery set at a girl’s boarding school in Australia, the girls all go out for a picnic and not all of them return. Felt a little dated but I needed to know what happened to them! 3 stars

Holding on to Nothing was actually pretty good. I’ve been on an Appalachian Lit kick and this fit right in. A contemporary love story about a young girl who was ready to burst out of her small town until she falls in with the handsome musician from the town’s most notoriously worthless family. 4 stars

This Tender Land I enjoyed until it started getting super religious. Two brothers at an orphanage/school for Native American children. They’re the only whites and get into enough trouble that they set out on their own. 3 stars