Best Books of 2019 – A Year in Review

Every year, at the end of the year, I look back on all the books I have read the year before and list my favorites overall. This year, I again topped my 100 books in a year goal and made it to 123. The added bonus of this post is that you don’t have to bother to read any of my other posts over the course of the year.

There were ten five-star books this year:

And here’s the bulkier list of 24 books that I gave four-and-a-half stars:

The Dearly Beloved

Happy New Year! And boy did I start 2020 off with a bang! I woke up late, and stayed in bed much of the morning of January 1 to finish this marvelous book. While I began The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall on December 31, I couldn’t wait to continue in 2020. About a quarter in, I wasn’t digging it too much. But right thereafter, I fell in love. It’s a wonderful story of two families, both husbands who became ministers. It’s really the tale of relationships, between humans and between humans and God. But, it’s so much more than that. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love a family saga and this is a shortened one that was so satisfying that I feel like reading the beginning again because I’m sad I didn’t get into it earlier. I am so glad I stuck with it to declare my first book in the new year as a FIVE STAR book. Grab it – you won’t regret it!

All This Could be Yours

All This Could be Yours by Jami Attenberg focuses on the Tuchman family whose patriarch has had a heart attack. One child, Alex, returns to say goodbye to her father with whom she has a fraught relationship. The other child, Gary, does not return, his relationship with his father being even more fraught. The story is told from multiple perspectives and is interesting with possible mob connections and a problematic parent relationship, but some characters aren’t fully integrated and there were story elements which I didn’t feel were fully fleshed out. Overall, I enjoyed the story and it was a quick read, but it wasn’t a top read of the year.

The Starless Sea

I was really excited to find Erin Morgenstern’s newest, The Starless Sea in the new books at the library and eager to get started on the 500 page tome. And, boy was I disappointed. Fantasy is certainly not my favorite and this one bounced around back and forth and in and out of time in a way that was, at first confusing, and then, as it became more interesting, fine. Amazon describes it: “Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student…when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages…he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues…that lead him…through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth.” Even though I finished this one, I really only kept reading to find out the ending (which I liked). However, I can’t say I really enjoyed it overall.

The Liar

I have heard amazing things about Waking Lions, also by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, but The Liar was available at the library first, so I started with her second book rather than her debut. If nothing else, this one grabs you just because of the cover. I liked this somewhat quiet story about a teenager who made one simple mistake that spiraled out of control. It makes you think a lot about the truth and how people spin things for their own gain.

the night olivia fell

Another day, another thriller/mystery. the night olivia fell by Christina McDonald was the last in the December line of thrillers, I think. Everything else on my nightstand from the library is lower-key. In this one, we begin with Olivia falling off a bridge into an icy river. She is kept alive because she is, shockingly, pregnant. Her single mother, Ali, who has kept secrets for Olivia’s entire seventeen-year life, makes it her mission to find out what happened to Olivia that night while she keeps vigil over the hospital bed where Olivia is kept alive so her baby can come to term. Alternate chapters are told from Olivia (before death) and Ali’s points of view both before and after her fall. This was a well-developed story that kept you guessing all the way through. I kept thinking I had it solved, only to find out I didn’t. I really couldn’t figure it out until the end – this is the way a thriller should be. Indeed, I enjoyed this one more than most of the others I read this month.

Conviction

I had Conviction by Denise Mina checked out this summer and never got around to reading it before I had to return it. I didn’t think much more of it until Reese chose it as her December book club read. It came available at the library again and this time I started it right away. Another thriller to add to the December list, this one was my least favorite of all the ones I have read this month. And, sadly, I had the highest hopes for it. I didn’t much like the protagonist and the story took too long to develop. There were too many meander-y plot points and, ultimately, I just wasn’t that interested. The story had promise – a woman starts listening to a mystery podcast that brings up her past – at the same time that her husband is leaving her for her best friend. There’s a mystery about her past as well. All these elements should lead to a great story, but, for me, they didn’t. I’m afraid I can’t recommend this one.

The Family Upstairs

Being on a December thriller-ish kick, the next up was recently published The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell. Amazon says, “Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.” We trace the stories of three characters in this saga and piece together what happened twenty-five years ago. It’s a decent thriller, though not really “bone-chilling,” as Amazon purports. I’d grab it as an enjoyable choice, even though I didn’t love it.

A Stranger on the Beach

I’m not sure how A Stranger on the Beach by Michelle Campbell ended up in my TBR pile, but I always enjoy a good thriller. This one followed The Two Lila Bennetts, so I have been full-on scary in December. In the first few pages of this one, we learn about Caroline’s new beach house and the collapse of her marriage. Frighteningly enough, at the same time, a stranger appears on the beach in front of her house and the money in all her bank accounts disappears. How are all these things connected? And is she a reliable narrator? I enjoyed this one, though it wasn’t particularly deep and I had predicted the ending by the time it got there.

The Two Lila Bennetts

The Two Lila Bennetts by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke is described as “Sliding Doors with a killer twist.” I did love that movie, so I thought I would give this one a try. Amazon’s description is: “In one life, she’s taken hostage by someone who appears to be a stranger but knows too much. As she’s trapped in a concrete cell, her kidnapper forces her to face what she’s done or be killed. In an alternate life, she eludes her captor but is hunted by someone who is dismantling her happiness, exposing one secret at a time.” Lila is a high powered attorney who has done a lot of damage over the years to those she loves. The book walks through those mistakes and gives you two versions of her story. While it wasn’t amazing, the pace was fast and the stories were interesting enough. I always enjoy a collaboratively written book as well (I have so many questions…). It’s a good one to add to the stack.