It's hard to believe it, but 2019 is now in the books! For me, 2019 was a year full with a happy, frenetic energy that was at once uplifting, joyous, exhausting, uncertain, and novel . The beginning of the year through May saw me in an invested creative mentorship with a fiction student I advised in UMaine's Honors College; August saw me in transcendent, connective happiness and emotionality as I married the love of my life and honeymooned in London; October saw me anxiously pretzled as my book was put out on submission to publishers; November saw me breathless as the sale of my book became real. The lion's share of the year saw me in deep, intense revisions of that forthcoming book (before it was forthcoming) and in deep, time-consuming (but heartfelt) labor surrounding the planning of my wedding. And among all of this, the normal background rhythms of work and errands and keeping house with my husband, Kevin.
I'm grateful that in the midst of the happy madness that was 2019, I made a bit of time to read some truly enjoyable, truly fantastic books. Some were disturbing, others enlightening, others dastardly, others simultaneously beautiful and ugly. I'm glad to have read each and every one of them.
I hope you got to read something you loved this year, too!
Here are the books I read in 2019, in the order I read them:
VERSES FOR THE DEAD by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Fiction, 2018)
The Pendergast Series of books by Preston and Child have, for me, become my reliable go-to thrillers, and VERSES FOR THE DEAD is the latest installment. The varied settings in this serial killer-with-a-confounding MO story are great: from glittering Miami to the northern climes of Maine to the deep swamps of rural Florida. And as always, Special Agent A.X.L Pendergast of the FBI brings his signature southern-gothic-Sherlock-Holmes vibe to the party.
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by Agatha Christie (Fiction, 1939)
This was my first Agatha Christie experience! I was really delighted by the quick pace, unflinching lack of sentimentality, and clever premise. A really enjoyable read. Like a little puzzle, perfect and crystalline.
I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK by Michelle McNamara (Non-Fiction, 2018)
A beautifully, obsessively written true crime book about the horrid crimes of the Golden State Killer and the law enforcement professionals bent on solving this seemingly unsolvable case. McNamara unexpectedly passed away before the final draft of the book was complete and before Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected GSK, was arrested. Her research and writing partners pieced together the rest of the book based on what she left behind. Many believe her sticktuitiveness in keeping the case in the spotlight was one of the many reasons why this cold case was recently solved.
THE INNOCENT WIFE by Amy Lloyd (Fiction, 2018)
This was one of those books in which you feel like you can only bare to perch, and not settle -- and that's to the book's credit. The framework around the story is a MAKING A MURDERER-esque documentary project, so it feels very of the moment and compelling in that way. Imagine falling for a convicted murderer whom you believe to be innocent. Imagine your letter-writing to him in prison escalates into love. Imagine he is released from prison and now you are together. Imagine he may be keeping some things from you. Imagine he may not be as innocent as you once believed him to be. The main character is at once repulsed by and attracted to him, which makes reading the book all the more unsettling.
IDAHO by Emily Ruskovich (Fiction, 2017)
**2019 Reading List Top Pick**
Not only one of my top books of 2019, but also maybe one of my top ten books...ever?? I dunno, time will tell -- but it's up there. Here's a delicious, engrossing literary take on the thriller. It's about violence and memory, and how grotesque truths submerged eventually come burbling back up. The prose is gorgeous, the landscapes and people at once wild, unforgiving, and fragile. The wife of a man with escalating dementia tries to piece together the story of what happened to his ex-wife, now in prison, and his daughters, now dead, before his mind slips beyond her reach. At once wrenching, tender, and tragic.What a stunner.
STAY SEXY AND DON'T GET MURDERED: THE DEFINITIVE HOW-TO GUIDE by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark (Memoir, 2019)
Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark host the super popular podcast MY FAVORITE MURDER, which I love. The podcast, at heart, is a true crime podcast in which stories of terrible crimes or spooky happenings are recounted, but the hosts do what a lot of us do when faced with the mortal abyss of human monstrousness -- try to process through a bit of neurotic humor and empathetic, cathartic talking. The podcast, like the book, is also "about" so much more -- community, mental health awareness, breaking down stigma around trauma, etc. The book also talks about the formative experiences of the two women and what draws them to the macabre. Fans of the pod will love this book.
BEING DEAD by Jim Crace (Fiction, 1999)
I had neither heard of the book nor the author when a dear friend of mine recommended BEING DEAD to me -- and I'm so glad he did. This, along the same lines as IDAHO, is an exquisite meditation on life, death, love, and decay of various kinds. Gorgeous, engrossing prose sweeps you into the grasp of this deeply humane and wistful story of longtime spouses on their final, tragic walk down memory lane -- without ever getting remotely saccharine. The husband and wife are people of science, and the books treats them as such. Another stunner!
THE NEED by Helen Phillips (Fiction, 2019)
This was a sort of buzzy book in 2019, and I think that buzz is totally deserved. It's a trippy, memorable book anchored in the main character's deeply visceral -- almost panicked, aching -- experience of motherhood. Motherhood as it relates to the mind of the self, the body of the self, and the children that come from that body and mind, and how all of these things relate. It also has a cool sort of "alternate reality" premise used as a framework to destabilize both the reader and the main character -- the finding of strange artifacts in an archaeological dig site, like an old bible that refers to god with she/her pronouns. And a double? A doppelganger come to steal away her life? A mental break concretized via hallucination? You decide.
THE INSTITUTE by Stephen King (Fiction, 2019)
I'm a big Stephen King fan, so whenever I see a new brick-heavy tome of his being released, I'm right there at the front of the line. There's so much in this book that feels classically Stephen Kingian -- children with weird powers, children with revolutionary courage, spooky, secret government organizations, tear-jerking deaths, great writing you feel like you never want to leave. I really enjoyed this one; it brought back fond memories of IT -- the camaraderie, the banding together to fight evil, etc. I really liked it. (Anyone else very excited for the HBO adaptation of his other recent novel, THE OUTSIDER??).
MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Fiction, 2018)
General buzz around this book is what brought it to my attention, and in general, that buzz is well-deserved. It's the story of two sisters -- one who is beautiful, charismatic, and tends to leave a string of dead lovers in her wake, and the other who is responsible, long-suffering, and always grudgingly helping to cover her sister's tracks. The prose is crisp, unflinching, and unapologetic in a very Agatha Christie way, which made it a breeze to read. It also ends with a rejection of redemption or moral cataclysm whatsoever, despite some threats that such things might come to pass -- all of which really worked for the story.
BUBBLE CHAMBER by Dave Kress (Fiction, 2019)
**2019 Reading List Top Pick**
This is a book made up of two novellas: BUDA AND PEST and FADS AND FALLACIES IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE. BUDA AND PEST is a sort of heartbreakingly lovely/tragic story of Hungarian youths who (mostly) live through the Nazi and Soviet occupations there. There's love, humor, rebellion, and drift. It really stuck with me. FADS AND FALLACIES IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE is very different -- a kind of madcap story about a murder, and how the kook behind it tries to explain his terrible act away via myriad lenses and lies. In both books, the writing is stellar -- electric and complex and fun. A third -- yes, a third! -- stunner!
THE TRESPASSER by Tana French (Fiction, 2016)
This is the second novel by Tana French that I've read, and I have found both to be engrossing, smart,and terrifically written police procedurals. This book, like IN THE WOODS (2007), takes as it's backdrop Dublin's murder squad. A dual story is told here -- the story of the murder the detectives are trying to solve, and the story of the professional peril (both real and imagined) felt by the lead detective on the case. French's writing, like King's, is the type that feels really easy to sink into -- it's deft, clear, and artful. I have another Tana French novel on my To Be Read pile, THE WITCH ELM (2018), which I'm excited to get to.
OLD BONES by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Fiction, 2019)
Almost a Preston and Child-bookended year, but not quite! And not a Pendergast Series novel! OLD BONES takes one of the peripheral characters from the Pendergast Series, Nora Kelly, and gives her a platform on which to shine on her own. Nora is a renowned archaeologist, and in this story she's drawn into a mysterious and exciting expedition having to do with "lost camp" of the Donner Party. Fans of the Pendergast Series will also be pleased to see another peripheral-favorite character take a large role here -- Corrie Swanson! It has hidden treasure, historical tragedy, and two capable female protagonists that lead the book -- the women are the heroes, plain and simple -- which is refreshing to see in a book that's a combination of crime procedural and adventure tale.(Also, the story of the Donner Party is truly fascinating, and not just for the obvious, grisly reasons -- I recommend THE INDIFFERENT STARS ABOVE (2009) by Daniel James Brown for further, well-researched historical reading about it. I read this a few years ago, and it's great).
INVISIBLE WOMEN: EXPOSING DATA BIAS IN A WORLD DESIGNED FOR MEN by Caroline Criado Perez (Non-Fiction, 2019)
**2019 Reading List Top Pick**
Whoo boy. Whoo. Boy. If you are a being that identifies as human, you will feel your blood pressure rise while reading this enlightening and maddening book. If you are a being who identifies as human and as female, good luck not busting a vessel. This book was one of the most fascinating, riveting non-fiction books I've ever read, and though heavy on statistics (helpful, illustrative ones), it is absolutely accessible to the average mathdumdum like me. The facts, insights, and egregious data gaps elucidated here are eye-opening to say the least. A great read for anyone.
So as not to confuse the exact thrust of the book, I will provide the Amazon write-up for it here:
" Data is fundamental to the modern world. From economic development, to healthcare, to education and public policy, we rely on numbers to allocate resources and make crucial decisions. But because so much data fails to take into account gender, because it treats men as the default and women as atypical, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems. And women pay tremendous costs for this bias, in time, money, and often with their lives.
"Celebrated feminist advocate Caroline Criado Perez investigates the shocking root cause of gender inequality and research in Invisible Women, diving into women’s lives at home, the workplace, the public square, the doctor’s office, and more. Built on hundreds of studies in the US, the UK, and around the world, and written with energy, wit, and sparkling intelligence, this is a groundbreaking, unforgettable exposé that will change the way you look at the world"
So, that's my 2019 list!
And what am I reading now? Currently, I'm reading THE 7 1/2 DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE by Stuart Turton (Fiction, 2018) and THE SILENT PATIENT by Alex Michaelides (Fiction, 2019).
So what did you love in 2019? What are you looking forward to loving in 2020?
Best wishes for a wonderful 2020, friends!
Until next time, happy reading!