Some books I have read in 2019 and can recommend (details for many can be found on Book Jam blog posts). Those I HIGHLY recommend are in bold. I did not bother to list the books I read and can not recommend without reservations. OK, if I have reservations about recommending any of these, I mention them in the brief descriptions. 2011 - 2018 reading lists are located on our old site . Lisa Christie
2019 Reading - Adults
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (2019) - One of the most devastating and beautiful books I have read in a long time. I knew I was in trouble when I started silently crying at the unfairness of the arrest of Elwood, the first boy described in this novel. I knew I was in trouble knowing the stories in this book are based on true stories of a reform school in Florida that operated for 111 years. So like Millie in the final chapters, I took breaks from learning about what happened to Elwood and Turner (in my case by reading magazine articles and children's books). Please don't let this deter you from picking this novel up and reading the tales of the Nickel Boys - boys sent to a fictional juvenile reformatory in the Jim Crow South.
Befriending Your Body by Ann Saffi Biasetti - a primer to helping people escape eating disorders. Night ???? by Michael O - The author of weaves a tale of post WWII England that I had never thought about - the spies. What happens to them after their time as intelligence gatehrers overseas ends? Do they continue to work for the UK government? Does their past come back to haunt them?
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson - accidentally re-read this as it was all I had to read on a vacation.
The Travelers by Regina Porter (2019) - One of the best books I have read this year. A clever, character-filled saga of two families and the people intertwined in their lives. Their stories leap backwards and forwards over 50 years pulling you along with them to Vietnam, Berlin, New York, New Hampshire, and The American South. Ms. Porter's characters, humor, and prose will stick with me for a long time. (I also thank her for the cast of characters listed in the opening pages; I referred to it more often than I'd like to admit.) This is just gorgeously written and full of characters you enjoy spending time with and getting to know. ENJOY!
Call Your Daughter Homeby Deb Spera (2019) - Three women in the Deep South just prior to the Great Depression are connected in unexpected ways. In the opening pages, Gertrude, makes a dramatic choice to save her four daughters from starvation and her abusive husband. We then meet Retta, a first-generation freed slave, employed by the Coles the prominent family who owned her ancestors. As the story continues, things aren't as clear cut as they seem when Cole family matriarch Annie discovers the terrible reason her family has been ripped apart. All three must learn to trust their instincts as they navigate harsh circumstances. A pitch-perfect story of redemption and hope and a reminder that facing unthinkable truths sets you free. Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Olen Butler attests, "Call Your Daughter Home is an exhilarating and important book."
Big Sky by Kate Atkinson (2019) Jackson Brodie is back, living on the coast and making a living as a PI. He also is sort of sharing custody of his teenage son with his ex? current? lover the flamboyant actress Julia. Into this mix steps a human trafficking ring, a circle of friends whose existence depends on secrets being kept, a theater for "once-famous" performers, and an elderly dog. This book is Ms. Atkinson at her best.
Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones (2019) - I am a HUGE fan of Mr. Jones's debut August Snow. So I was excited to see this new mystery brings August back. I was even more thrilled that I liked this second in what I hope is a long series even better. Detroit itself is once again a character with
xxxx by Nick Hornsby (2019)
Ask Again Yes by Kate (2019) - This is an amazing saga of two families living side by side in Queens. Combined with the news, it was a bit intense -- I had to put it down and read a kids book and that enabled me to finish it in one fell swoop. If yu are in the mood for a well-written saga about life and choices and love and friendship and all the things (additction, mental health, poor choices) that can enhance or interfere with those things - this book is for you.
The Gifted School by Bruce Holinsger (2019) - This is one of those books that might be easy to read and feel better about your life - "I would never do that". "Aren't these people insane?"Or to be cynical about -- "wow what a coincidence that this novel is released as the college admissions scandal unfolds in the courts. How opportunistic". Or to dismiss as a "beach read". And while it is hard to hang your hat on any of the characters and want them to succeed or relate to their extreme circumstances, Mr. Holsinger somehow still makes them relatable and I kept reading. I picked this up as it seemed timely and I was looking for a relatively easy to digest quick read -- basically a "beach read". This novel (Mr. Holsinger's - a University of Virginia professor - first) about what happens when a pubic school system in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado creates a school for "gifted children". Basically it is the current college admission scandal for K-12 students. The story unfolds through the eyes of four families in an elite town and one family from a town far enough away to be affordable and allow them to clean the houses of families in the elite town. As you can guess before you even open to page one, people behave badly, long-standing friendships are severed, and secrets are revealed. For me, all that may be beside the point, because what I received in this "beach read" is a book that has me thinking about how while I would like to think I would not go to the extremes of the characters in this book to help my children, I drive a barely three year old car with 62,000 miles on it due to hockey, soccer, baseball, and football carpools and games. I have gone to a teacher / principal once or twice to advocate on my sons' behalf. So I probably shouldn't throw too many stones before acknowledging my own glass house. Is it the best book I have ever read? NO. Does it have me reflecting on my life and the life of those in this lovely area I call home? Yes. That is a pretty good review for a "beach book". Plus, it will give your book club plenty to talk about.
The Fleur de Sel Murders by Jean-Luc Bannalec (xxx) - This book made me want to visit Brittany immediately. And as a bomus the writing was brisk and the book just a fun read on a hot summer afternoon.
Fleischman is in Trouble by xxxx (2019) - I feel as if Jane Austen and Ms. xxx would have enjoyed sharing a cup of tea and observations about society; and that we all would have benefitted from the novels emerging from their discussions. Ms. xxxx takes a topic I really really did not want to read about - divorce and middle-aged dating - and writes so well I ended up completing every page. Her writing is bracing; her plot is relatable; and her humor is lovely.
Ordinary Hazardsby Nikki Grimes (2019) - Memoirs often pull at one's heartstrings, and this one definitely does. But it also is so full of hope -- possibly because as we read we know Ms. Grimes emerged from her childhood of traumas (estranged but loving father, mother with severe mental health issues, poverty, foster care) to become an award-winning poet. My favorite moment of hope emerges at the end when as a young woman she has the courage to approach James Baldwin and tell him she is a writer too, and ask him to look at her work. He does so; and then he provides his phone number for her to call. I love it because it shows Mr. Baldwin as a caring person, but mostly because it shows that Ms. Grimes had the gumption to believe in herself when her circumstances could have caused the opposite response. Written with a poet's excellent word choices, this book is for everyone.
When We Were Vikings by Andrew David Macdonald (2020) - I can not wait to put this book in the hands of everyone I know when it is finally published on January 28, 2020; truly the best book I have read to date in 2019. To sum, this book lovingly, and with great prose and plot, reminds us that we are all legends of our own making. The heroine Zelda has some significant mental issues. She also has a fierce determination to live her life boldly and an obsession with Vikings (the historical ones, not the football team) that helps her in this quest. This book starts with her 21st birthday party and slowly unfolds to show how she and her brother Gert navigate, as young adults, the honestly crappy hand life has dealt them: dead mother, absent father, abusive uncle, poverty. When Gert, who is trying to both take care of the two of them and keep his college scholarship, makes some pretty poor choices, Zelda rises to the occasion with help from a superb librarian, a great social worker and Gert's strong-minded ex-girlfriend. You will cheer for Zelda every step of the way and be a bit sad when you leave her orbit at the end. I find it hard to believe this is Mr. Macdonald's debut novel.
Long Bright River by Liz Moore (January 2020) - A great thriller about two sisters in Philadelphia whose teenage choices land them in completely different spots -- or do they? One is a police officer and a single mom, the other a prostitute and drug addict. When addicts keep turning up dead, their lives collide.
Takes One To Know One by Susan Isaacs (October 2019) - Corie is a believable former FBI agent who loves and is a bit bored by here post-retirement life in e the suburbs on Long Island,. Yes her step daughter is a mazing and yes her husband is an intelligent handsome judge who loves her. But he current life as a reviewer of Arabic books is killing her soul. In wanders a suspicious bland man who may be a serial killer. Good for the beach or when you don't need to think too hard about a book.
The Body in Castle Well: Bruno Mystery #14 by Martin Walker (2019) - This time an American graduate student turns up dead in the bottom of a well allowing an exploration of the French Resistance, art and modern France. Enjoy and be prepared to be hungry as Mr. Walker describes all the dishes Bruno prepares.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someoneby Lori Gottlieb (2019) -- I loved every page of this rather long memoir of life as a therapist and someone in therapy. Ms. Gottlieb's honesty about her own mental health needs -- recovery from the apparently unexpected abandonment by her fiance - intertwined with tales of her clients really allows you to look at your own mental health and what can be done to help (even if you think you are fine).
Searching for Sylvia Lee by Kwon (2019) - While the blurbs describe this as a mystery/thriller, I'd say this is a book about secrets and how they infect families - even if keeping them is well-intentioned. I loved this book - so far it is my recommendation for summer 2019.
Body in the Castle Well by Martin Walker (2019) - These books never fail to keep me entertained and hungry (although I am getting a bit tired of the main character's love dilemmas - just decide already.
The Rationing Charles Wheelan (2019) - This appealed to the policy wonk in me.
Wide Sargasso Sea-- skimmed this again for book club.
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (2017). As a woman of a certain age facing a life with teenaged sons and trying to figure out what marriage after 20 years looks like, I realize I have fogotten how fraught and exciting and lonely life as a college student can be. This intense novel by Ireland's Sally Rooney reminded me in a delightful way. Frances a striving poet and her performance artist partner / lover Bobbi are befriended by An older couple. Complications ensue, including the perhaps predictable affairs and strivings for more for everyone. I read it in one long sitting. Enjoy!
Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper (2018) - The fish have left Newfoundland and so has pretty much everyone in this lovely hopeful novel about how things change. As the New York Times said “Lyrical…the town is filled with magic, and so is Hooper’s writing…Our Homesick Songs is a eulogy not just to a town but a lifestyle – one built on waves, and winds, and fish, and folklore.”
Bibliophile by Mount (2018) - This illustrated history of books, bookshelves, bookstores and authors is fun and everything your favorite booklover didn't know he/she needed. Only problem now I want one of her illustrations. Enjoy.
Befriending Your Body by Ann Saffi Biasetti - an affirming, practical guide of how to live in your own skin.
Well That Escalated Quickly by Franchesca Ramsey (2018) - Ms. Ramsey of MTV fame offers the lessons of her life as a social media star and activist. She discusses how her life changed dramatically once her YouTube video "What White Girls Say . . . to Black Girls" went viral -- yup, twelve million views viral. She is simultaneously funny and serious about the importance of social justice, and what we can all do better in our efforts to help others. A great book for anyone in your life who would like to see their passions and messages spread. A great reminder we can all do a better job communicating. And just a lovely look at someone who would probably be very fun and enlightening to have as a friend.
We Need to Talk by Celeste Headlee (2017) – Honestly, I can’t review this book more accurately than indie bookstore reviewers did, so I am totally copying their review here. I will say, I think this book – once I actually incorporate some of its advice – may change my life. So from the indie bookstores’ review, “today most of us communicate from behind electronic screens, and studies show that Americans feel less connected and more divided than ever before. The blame for some of this disconnect can be attributed to our political landscape, but the erosion of our conversational skills as a society lies with us as individuals. And the only way forward, says Headlee, is to start talking to each other. In We Need to Talk, she outlines the strategies that have made her a better conversationalist—and offers simple tools that can improve anyone’s communication.” I add this book here to help you have great conversations during all those gatherings you will host and attend in 2019, and because I think we all could use some help having better conversations. ~ Lisa Christie
When You Read Thisby Mary Adkins (2018) - The format of a story told through emails drove me a bit crazy at first. So Much so I put it down after reading about 60 pages. But then the characters haunted me a bit and I wanted to see what happened to them. So I picked it up and read it in one swoop while waiting in a doctor's office. I am glad I did, while I may have preferred a straightforward narrative, I really enjoyed watching the dying Iris, her boss Smith, her sister Jade and her office replacement Carl figure out their lives and jobs and loves over the course of this novel. A great beach read or novel for Valentine's Day - whether you like that holiday or no. I see it as a movie someday soon - and fans of Rainbow Rowell's crazy teens and Maria Semple's Bernadette, should pick this up.
Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018). Rarely does a book live up to its hype, but somehow, Mrs. Obama’s book does. Her reflections on her childhood, her own children, her career to date, and, of course, her interactions with her husband and other political leaders allow us all to learn something useful for our own lives. To top that off, she writes well. Her tale is unique. She has a great sense of humor and the right amount of gravitas. If you have not yet read this, we recommend you do so you can start 2019 off with a great book. BONUS: We have heard this makes an amazing audio book experience as well
Dark Chapter by Winnie Li (2017) - Based upon the author's actual rape by a 15 year old boy while hiking outside of Belfast, the book unflinchingly looks at the aftermath of a rape for the victim and the rapist.
2019 Reading - YA and kids
Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson (2019) - I LOVED this novel about Amara and her search for her place within her far flung family. She, her dad, her mom, and her soon to be born sister, inhabit and love Beavertown, Oregon. Here, her father has his dream job with NIKE, her mom owns her own clothing business. However her dad's family resides in Harlem, a place she has requested to see for the first time as her 12th birthday gift. This requests sets in motion a series of questions and events regarding secrets (her beloved grandma died the day she was born) and reconciliation (her dad has not spoken to her grandpa in 12 years). Woven with important reminders of sites in NYC and important African - Americans, this novel will have you relating, smiling and thinking differently upon its completion. Ms. Watson is the recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award and a Newbury Honor winning author; this book reminds us all why. xxx by the Poet X author Out of the Wild Night by Blue Balliett (2019) - Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up Against Tyranny and Injusticeby Veronica Chambers (2019) - a collection of short biographies of important people who had the courage to change history. People profiled include Ghandi, Fannie Lou Hamer, Samuel Adams, Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Anastasia Somoza. A good reminder to us all that we may only be one person, but we have power to change unfair and unjust things. The Other, Better Meby Antony John (October 2019) - So Mascot was one of my favorite books of 2017 and Mr. John's second book - The Other, Better Me - may be my favorite kids' book of 2019 thus far. Life for Lola, the heroine, changes dramatically when her teacher asks her class to pick one thing about themselves that could be different and write about how their lives, and they themselves, would change in this "other "scenario. Lola decides to imagine life with the father she has never met. Then, she and her best friends, aspiring detective Kiana and possible boyfriend Nick, decide to actually find her dad. In doing so, they quickly learn life is never as simple as it seems. The author, Mr. John, unfolds their story with complete compassion and lovely humor. As a bonus for those of us who appreciate librarians and books, a librarian and a book play an important role in Lola's life. Basically, I loved The Other, Better Me and I hope you will too.
It's Not Always Black and White by Kimberly and Gilly (October 2019) - This YA novel set in a riot tells the story of Lena and Campbell two high school girls, one black and one white, who are thrown together and must help each other to get home and well, survive. The authors to an excellent job of recreating what it must feel like to be caught up in the violence surrounding a riot and how the color of one's skin affects how one navigates the events that emerge from violence.
Child of the Dream by Sharon Robinson (Sept 2019) - An insider's look at The Civil Rights movement from Jackie Robinson's daughter - who was there when her father was using his fame to help MLK and others.
Merci Suarez Changes Gearsby Meg Medina (2019) - This novel won the 2019 Newberry Award for excellence in children's literature and its insightful compassionate, and often funny look at navigating middle school demonstrates why. Merci, a scholarship student to a prestigious prep school is different than her peers in that she doesn't have their resources, she must perform community service to keep her scholarship. However her questions as she navigates 6th grade are universal - including how to survive the wrath of the popular girl when she and her popular friends think Merci is interfering with their current crush. She also is scared and confused by the changes in her beloved grandpa Lolo, her champion in her family. Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh (2018) - Refugees are in the news and in great need. Ms. Marsh tackles this topic in a tale that allows kids to internalize what it must be like to be a migrant without a known destination. Ahmed has fled the oppression and war in Aleppo only to find himself orphaned in Belgium; Max a boy from Washington DC has been reluctantly relocated by his parents to Brussels. Both are struggling to figure out what to do next in their lives in Europe. Their lives collide unexpectedly leaving us with a tale of compassion, bravery, and everyday heroes. A GREAT way to introduce kids to the news of refugees that they see each day in the paper. And a great story for us all. As the School Library Journal stated in a starred review this novel "thoughtfully touching on immigration, Islamophobia, and terrorism, this novel is a first-purchase. Hand to fans of Alan Gratz’s Refugee."
Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay (2018) - Reminiscent of The War That Saved My Life, one of my son's favorite books of all time, Love to Everyone tells the story of WWI through the eyes of a young English girl, Clarry Penrose. Clarry manages to find good in everyone and everything. This proves a difficult task as her father isn’t fond of children and her mother died days after she was born, a fact her brother blames her for and takes awhile to forgive. She has to fight to be educated as her dad thinks girls don't need schooling. She also only sees her favorite person in the world - her cousin Rupert- once a year. in annual trips to Cornwall. All of this is minor to the issues WWI creates for her family, her stalwart friends, her town, and her country. A lovely tale about a girl who refuses to accept the fact many doors are closed to her dreams; and one that brings WWI into the reader's heart with realistic descriptions of war time realities on the home front and in the trenches. A truly gem of a book for fans of historical fiction and well-told tales.
All American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney (November 19, 2019) - A look at life of an Atlanta teen who starts to explore her Muslim heritage. Her life is a bit complicated when her boyfriend's dad turns out to be an ultra-conservative Muslim hating Broadcast personality. This conflict and others cause her to embrace her faith and the consequences of being Muslim in America. A great insight into what life is like for many.
The Benchwarmersby John Feinstein (2019) - Once again Mr. Feinstein creates believable teen characters and uses sports to help them deal with life. In this case a girl wishes to play for a 6th grade boys soccer team and even in 2019 is met with hostility, but also new friends.
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (2019) - I know little about Philippines politics or life but this tale of a Filipino-American boy has me curious. Jason - Jay - is a senior in MI ready to finish High School and move on to college until news his beloved cousin Jun has died under mysterious and shady circumstances arrives. And no one will talk about it. Jay decides to travel to The Philippines and find out for himself what happened. Full of details about Filipino life and coming of age in America as a "hyphen", I can't recommend this book enough. Where the Heart Isby Jo Knowles (2019) - Once again Ms. Knowles tackles tough topics with love and candor. This time Rachel's 13th birthday brings parental fights and ultimately loss of a childhood home.
Here to Stayby Sara Farizhan (2018) - A great book about high school life today. The main character, Bijan Miajidi, is pulled from the obscurity of JV basketball to the varsity limelight, which he hopes will help make it easier to talk to his crush Elle. Instead, he is targeted by an internet photo doctored to make him appear as a terrorist. As he tells the story of what happens next, his narrator voice is joined by his internal narrators - ESPN basketball commentators Reggie Miller and Kevin Harlan - providing color commentary and comic relief to the often difficult events of the novel. In short, Ms. Farizhan compassionately and effectively covers coming out stories, cyberbullying, pressure to get into the right colleges, sports, and racism, without preaching, in a true page-turner.
Pay Attention Carter Jonesby Gary Schmidt (2019) - Mr. Schmidt (of Wednesday Warsfame) may have just become my favorite author for kids with this book; OK, maybe that is Kwame Alexander, or Jacqueline Woodson or ... Anyway, Mr. Schmidt's newest novel is a superb look at what happens when tough things occur in life. In this case, the tough things include the unexpected death of a younger brother and a father who finds another family to love and is never coming back. But as Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, a butler who shows up on the family doorstep one day, continually reminds Carter, the narrator of this gem of a book, life is difficult and one has two choices in life to be a gentleman or a bore. Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick is hanging around to ensure Carter chooses to be a gentleman. Told with humor (e.g., fabulous scenes of learning how to drink proper tea, and play cricket) and love, this tale of how the lives of Carter, his three sisters, and his mom are forever changed when a butler arrives on their doorstep. Think of a portly Mary Poppins who makes you walk the dog and clean the dishes.
Solo by Kwame Alexander - re-read with my son while he was sick.
A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds - re-read with my 16 year old as he recovered from the flu.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee (March 2019) - A great book for younger readers (4th-7th grade) that helps them understand Black Lives Matter, while also providing insights into navigating middle school, friendships, teachers, and the ever-evolving process of figuring out exactly who you are. Ms. Ramee's main character, a 7th grade African American girl named Shay, hates to get in trouble, doesn't understand her older sister's insistence being black is embedded in certain traits, and honestly really just wants to get out of Middle School with her friendships intact, her grades their usual A+ level, and perhaps with a cute boyfriend. The world is conspiring against all her wishes, and her hand is forced when a local white police woman is acquitted for shooting a black man. Shay will make you assess what is important for you to stand up for, how your unique traits will manifest your stand, and ideally to actually stand up for something. I hate to compare it to The Hate U Give, but Ms. Ramee's debut novel is reminiscent of Ms. Thomas's unflinching look at what it is like to be a Black Adolescent in the USA today, and that is high praise.