52 books I read in 2019 that are worth reading – one book for each week of the year. You might also enjoy my 2018 book list. You’ll also find great family friendly book lists on my Great Family Reads blog.
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52 Books Worth Reading
What You'll Find on This Page
I enjoy books, but finding time to read can be a challenge. I’m raising four kids, running a home, running this blog, and teaching middle school in the morning. I love having a kindle full of books that I can throw in my bag to read during stolen moments. I’m also a huge fan of Audible, which allows me to “read” books during my commute and while folding laundry and completing other household chores.
I budget for and spend money on books, but you can go the free route by reserving titles form your local library.
Non-Fiction History Books to Read
David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon was a book club book about a piece of history I knew nothing about. It’s an upsetting story, but one that needs reading.
Keith O’Brien’s Fly Girls chronicles the adventures and misadventures of the earliest female aviators in the United States. I love the way the details the author works into telling the stories of these incredible women’s lives.
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis assumes a lot of background information on Thomas Jefferson, which I had only because I read America’s First Daughter last year. It’s a pretty dry read that will primarily appeal to people who already have a vested interest in the topic.
I read Anne Frank’s diary as a teen, but this was my first time reading The Diary of a Young Girl as an adult. I highly recommend reading the book through an adult lens.
Susan Orlean’s The Library Book was a book club read, and despite LOVING libraries (I even worked in one for five years and still occasionally contemplate getting a library science degree) I found this book tiresome. I felt like there were too many detours without solid connecting thread, and maybe more of an emphasis on the author and her journey than the actual library she was writing about.
Popular Science Non-Fiction
Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect by Matthew D. Lieberman. I’ve read enough social science books at this point that I was already familiar with many of the studies that Lieberman cites. I found his writing on autism the most educational from the book, simply because his theories were new to me. The book covers a breadth of topics and so will have something to appeal to just about anyone. I listened to this book on audible, but I think I would recommend a paper copy over the recording.
It is so easy to let life get so busy that we start to burn out! Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski address the hows and whys of this phenomenon in Burnout.
I LOVED the stories about the foxes in How to Tame a Fox by Lyudmila Trut and Lee Alan Dugatkin. I would have preferred for the book to be a bit shorter and to focus exclusively on the fox story without the forays into other species. Personal preference, for sure, and maybe something more distracting when listening than when reading a book.
Non-Fiction Books to Read on Current Issues
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez examines the ways in which science’s tendency to overlook women or treat them the same as men when conducting research wreaks havoc, including putting lives in danger.
With the former Theranos building practically in my backyard, I had to read John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood. The story seems too crazy to be true, but I watched it happen over the years we’ve lived in Silicon Valley. This is well worth reading, whether or not you live in the area, because healthcare companies like Theranos have a tremendous impact on our lives.
In an Unspoken Voice by Peter A. Levine explores trauma and our physical reactions in a new and insightful way. The book is quite academic despite being written for a public audience, but we’ll worth reading.
Memoirs Featuring Current News Headlines
Becoming Michelle offers a wonderfully warm look at the former First Lady of the United States. I especially appreciated the way Michelle Obama wrote about her experience encountering challenges that will resonate with many women, from balancing work and family to dealing with infertility.
What is it like to live as a black woman with a white man’s name? Austin Channing Brown answers this while delving into a range of issues with race in the United States in the book I’m Still Here.
I loved Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. The author’s vivid storytelling helped me better understand the South African apartheid while also exploring race, gender, growing up, and more. Spoiler alert: his mother is amazing.
Molly Burke offers a vivid take on life as a blind YouTube star in her memoir, It’s Not What It Looks Like. This is a short Audible listen that is, to my knowledge, not available in print.
Samra Habib’s We Have Always Been Here is a coming of age memoir of a queer Ahmadi Muslim who eventually moved to Canada as a refugee (the move was due to her status as an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan, not orientation related).
Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller’s memoir, The Broken Circle, tells the story of her family’s escape from Afghanistan back when the Soviets first invaded in the late 1970s. I loved the book’s rare look at the caring version of the Islam faith, as well as the large family dynamics. Like me, Enjeela is one of ten children.
My friend Gwen recommended the graphic novel memoir Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi does an amazing job of capturing her childhood perceptions of a country at war.
If you can read French, I highly recommend Un Sac de Billes by Joseph Joffo. I reread this favorite from my own childhood that tells the author’s story about life as a child in a Jewish family living in France during World War II. I couldn’t find a current print edition of the original book in English to share here, but Vincent Bailly turned it into a graphic novel, and that looks interesting.
Laura Hillenbrand tells a story of survival against the odds in Unbroken. Olympian runner Louis Zamperini crashed into the Pacific Ocean as a World War II soldier. He survived, only to become a prisoner of war.
I probably would not have read Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush if it weren’t an Audible Deal of the Day book, but I’m glad I did. I grew up slight older than the Bush twins and a little younger than Chelsea Clinton, so for several years America’s first daughters were roughly my age. I love my six sisters, and I enjoyed learning about Barbara and Jenna’s closeness. I also loved learning how similar and also different they are from one another as well as their parents.
Self Help Books
Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown was the first self help type book I read in 2019. I’m a fan of this well-known qualitative researcher. This particular book (one of many she’s authored) really emphasizes the importance of personal authenticity and making the most of opportunities to connect face to face with others.
It took me over a year to finish The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When The World Overwhelms Them by Elaine Aron. It is a great book full of solid advice. I recommend it for any parents of sensitive children.
Michael S. Sorensen’s I Hear You was an Audible Originals free book when I got it. I’ve read a lot about validation, so I can’t look at this book through a novice’s eyes, but I did think he did a great job of succinctly explaining what validation is while providing a series of concrete examples. The book felt very accessible to me.
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss is full of advice that can be applied to many aspects of life, from business negotiation to parenting to (apparently) hostage negotiations.
I listened to Patryk Wezowski and Kasia Wezowski’s Without Saying a Word on audible. The information was interesting, but I highly recommend reading this as a physical book.
Middle Grade Fiction Picks
Sharon M. Draper’s Out of My Mind is a book I read on my 11-year-old son’s recommendation. Too many adults dismiss the idea of reading middle grade fiction, and I find this a tremendous loss. Middle grade fiction tends to deal with serious themes in a straightforward yet also emotional and empathic way that provides the opportunity for children as well as adults to learn from the experience of reading a book. This particular tome features a girl with cerebral palsy struggling to help those around her see her intelligence and not only her physical limitations.
My friend Gwen recommended the middle grade fiction book Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. I enjoyed it and recommend it for mature fifth graders through adults.
Jessica Khoury’s delightful The Mystwick School of Musicraft is another book best listened to on audible, simply because the recording includes performances of the pieces that are mentioned in the book. I LOVED this middle grade fiction novel, all the more since I am a musician who is currently teaching middle school music.
Barbarah O’Connor’s Wish is the story of a young foster girl who is trying to find her place in a world where her parents don’t have their own lives together enough to even begin to think about her. It’s sensitive middle grade fiction at its best.
The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood is fun middle grade fiction. The book ends in a bit of a cliff hanger, so if you read the first book you’ll likely want to read the rest of the series! Our family found this book much more fun as an audiobook than as a kindle read.
Wishes and Wellingtons by Julie Berry tells the story of a young Victorian girl who discovers a genie in a tin of sardines. It’s middle grade fiction delight.
Real Friends by Shannon Hale is a graphic novel that I read because my kids were all talking about it. Solid middle grade fiction about finding real friends and how social circles change over time. Illustrator LeUyen Pham brings the story to life.
K.M. Shea’s Sleeping Beauty was a charming installment in this author’s fairytale based young adult series. I love reading these books with my 13-year-old daughter. We also both enjoyed reading Apprentice of Magic by the same author.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee follows several generations of a Korean family as they emigrate to Japan and try to find a place in a world where there is no place they naturally fit in. It’s an engaging read with a fair bit of heartbreak mixed together with inspiring moments – much like the real lives of many people I know in my own life.
I read My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier because my 11-year-old son came home talking about it after reading it in school. I had read it when I was around his age, but I didn’t remember it very well. My 13-year-old daughter decided to read it as well, and we enjoyed talking about it. The book does not have a happy ending, but war is like that.
Marie Benedict took real artistic liberties in writing The Only Woman in the Room – something I have mixed feelings about. But the true side of the story is fascinating and the storytelling gripping.
Current Events Fiction
Julie Clark’s The Ones We Choose explores privacy and friendship through the lens of an IVF mom who used a donor to conceive. I appreciated the complexity of characters in this piece, although their communication skills were sometimes devastatingly human.
James Lecesne’s The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey was a free Audible Originals pick. It’s an unusual lens through which to view a hate crime. I think it’s worth listening to, but I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it if I’d read it.
Gloria Chao offers a light read look at figuring out your own path – particularly as a child of immigrants – in American Panda. It’s an easy read (or listen, in my case) with some food for thought.
Allison Winn Scotch explores the evolution of a marriage through the ups and downs of life in Between Me and You. The chapters jump between narrators (the husband and the wife) and all around a timeline, which can be confusing unless you sit back and experience it as a series of flashbacks without trying to construct a timeline at the same time.
Camille Pagan’s I’m Fine and Neither Are You is another book about the ups and downs of marriage with a side serving of how people cope (or fail to cope) with the pressure of feeling a need to be “perfect”. I read this because it was a Kindle First Reads book. I did like the book, as I often do with these free for Amazon Prime member picks.
Kristan Higgins’ book Good Luck With That deals with body images, relationships, dealing with the past, and self-acceptance.
Valencia and Valentine brims with colorful characters and unexpected plot twists that still work. This novel by Suzy Krause was refreshingly surprising and unpredictable while remaining a relatively light read.
My sister recommended her friend Laura Andersen’s book, The Darkling Bride, when I asked her for good books to keep me awake on a long drive. The synopsis didn’t sound like my typical book, but my sister and I tend to enjoy the same books so I gave it a go. It definitely kept me awake and guessing, and was a fun read that I would recommend.
I am a longtime fan of Alexander McCall Smith. I enjoyed, but did not love, The Second-Worst Restaurant in France. Despite loving this author, he has a habit of writing characters who go on and on about themselves. Sometimes this make me feel tired. That happened some in this book, although not as much as in the Isabel Dalhousie series (which I quite reading at some point for this very reason).
I downloaded Carolyn Brown’s The Magnolia Inn as a light, fun read to keep me entertained and awake on the drive to and from Ventura for Craftcation. It’s a fun, completely unrealistic escape read. No real surprises, but some fun characters.
Debbie Macomber’s The Man You’ll Marry is 100% comfort fiction. Nothing in the book would ever happen in real life, but if you want a silly light read it’s a solid pick.
Second Chances Fiction
Catherine Ryan Hyde writes fascinating books about unusual people helping one another through difficult situations. Just After Midnight follows the trend with new characters and issues to explore.
Shilpi Somaya Gowda weaves an incredible tale of balancing the push and pull of culture, tradition, family expectations, and personal choice in The Golden Son.
Frederik Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry delighted me on many levels. I loved the depth of the many different characters, as well as the interweaving of fantasy, storytelling, and everyday life. I also read and recommend the sequel, Britt-Marie Was Here. I listened to both books on audible. I originally listened to My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry in French (excellent audible narration). I then bought it in English for my 12-year-old daughter, and listened to that version as well after assigning it as our neighborhood book club read. The two translations (from the original Swedish) were strikingly similar.
Levi’s Will by W. Dale Cramer is based on a true story about an Amish family. Be sure to read the afterward about how the book changed the protagonist’s life.
What books should I add to my 2020 books to read list?
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