Are you looking for a good book to read? Check out this list of 52 books to read. Each book was selected from a (slightly) longer list of books I read in 2018. What should I read in 2019?
52 Books to Read
Growing up, I always described myself as a non-reader, but I’m guessing that’s a lie of you read 52 books in a year. Actually more than that, but these are the ones I read in 2018 that were worth writing down.
I love books enough that I created a books-only site, Great Family Reads. I thought about publishing this list there, but the books are mostly grown-up books, so I’m keeping it here. You can find daily kid-friendly book recommendations on my Great Family Reads instagram account.
How Do I Choose Books?
I come from a massive bookworm family (hence, perhaps, not considering myself a bookworm. I had siblings who used reading as their principal occupation. It’s always been a side hobby for me. Just a big side hobby.)
I choose books based on recommendations from family and friends, the two book clubs I belong to, and recommendations from other bloggers. You’ll find several Kindle First Reads picks on my list. I borrow books from the library, but also invest in them and also donate and borrow from the lovely Little Free Library in our neighborhood.
How do I Find Time to Read?
Audible books allow me to “read” while I’m driving, washing dishes, cleaning, folding laundry, and walking the dog. I go through phases of paying for kindleunlimited – joining and then cancelling until they come up with more books that seem worth reading.
I don’t own a television, which automatically frees up all sorts of time. My kindle full of books accompanies me most places – a habit that got expensive when I lost a kindle on a plane this fall. I told my children to make sure they hadn’t left anything in their seat back pocket, and then (of course) left my kindle in my seat back pocket.
You won’t find many violent and suspenseful books on my list, especially outside of the non-fiction section. My overactive imagination tends to equal not much sleep after reading those. I do read non-fiction books that are upsetting, because I want to learn from history.
So you won’t find spy thrillers on my list, but I do have most other genres, from self-help to chick lit to historical fiction, non-fiction, and fantasy. Within genres, books are listed in the order I read them last year, for lack of a better system.
Non-Fiction History Books to Read
- Alone by Michael Korda is an interesting book on World War II told through the viewpoint of the child of a famous actress and movie maker. It ends with the Battle of Dunkirk, which I wasn’t expecting.
- The Lost Airman by Seth Meyerowitz. I read a lot of World War II books, but this is a story I had not heard before. It’s well worth reading. Some sections of the book are quite graphic, so it’s not for the faint of heart.
- Irena’s Children by Tilar Mazzeo is another World War II book. It tells the story of Irena Sendler, a young Polish social worker who saved 2,500 children from the Warsaw ghetto.
- Anthony McCarten’s Darkest Hour tells the story of how Churchill decided to fight rather than appease Hitler during World War II. I still need to watch the movie based off of this book. This book was especially interesting to read after reading Michael Korda’s account of the same time period earlier in the year.
- I knew absolutely nothing about Harry Truman before reading The Accidental President by A. J. Baime. I recommend this look at a president that I suspect many other U.S. Citizens know very little about.
Non-Fiction Books to Read on Current Issues
- Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder. This book is well-researched and well-written. The author really brings individuals to life through her storytelling. It’s an important look at the domestic dark side of our current economy.
- The Geography of Thought by Richard Nisbett is an interesting idea – a book looking at how the different philosophers of East and West have shaped Eastern and Western thought. Unfortunately, the book is written in hard-to-process and sometimes poorly edited English. I also wish that this West-based author would have paired with an East-based co-author.
Memoirs Featuring Current News Headlines
I read a lot of memoirs this year, but chose to highlight a few separately in this section as they dealt with issues I found cropping up in news headlines over and over throughout the year.
- A River in Darkness describes one man’s escape from North Korea. I wish the story had a happy ending, but sometimes we need to read books that don’t end happily because we need to understand the reality.
- In the Country We Love: My Family Divided. Actress Diane Guerrero started life off as an illegal immigrant. This is her story. Written by Diane Guerrero and Michelle Burford.
- Red Notice is the back story of the Magnitsky act, which was passed in large part due to activism by author Bill Browder. This was a book club book, well outside of my normal range of books. I found the story believable in part because it paints the author in a not so flattering light.
- Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James. D. Houston tells the first person account of Jeanne being interned in Manzanar during World War II, and some of the effects this had on her life. The book is well worth reading, and could be a good introduction to this topic for middle or high school aged children.
- It’s Not Yet Dark by Simon Fitzmaurice. This book was written by Fitzmaurice while he had Lou Gehrig’s disease. Despite the difficulty of his diagnosis, I was struck by his gratitude for what he had and his ability to find the light in life. I recommend the audible version of this book.
- At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider. This memoir follows Oxenreider’s family traveling the world for 9 months. I had hoped for a deeper read, but I wonder if that would only have possible had she stayed somewhere for a year – or maybe five years – to more fully integrate into a community. I did enjoy listening to his book while on a road trip with my own children.
- Keep on Moving by Dick Van Dyke. I got this book on audible because I like Mary Poppins and it was some deal of the day, but Dick Van Dyke is amazing in his ability to not let age slow him down.
- Lab Girl by Hope Jahren was another book club pick. If you already love trees, you will adore this book. If you don’t love trees, read this book because you need to stop missing out on the wonder that is the trees of this world. I applaud her courage in sharing her honest description of dealing with severe mental health issues.
- The Tenth Island by Diana Marcum was a free Kindle First Reads pick. While I didn’t adore the book, it is an interesting look at a part of the world that moves at a different pace – particularly compared to Silicon Valley, where I live!
Self Help Books
- Laura Markham’s Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids is full of good advice, but I feel like I should warn you not to get overwhelmed.
- Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk by Danielle Krysa is full of great tips on stepping outside of your comfort zone and simply going for whatever it is you dream of achieving.
- The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks is all about conquering the hidden fears that hold us all back.
- Self-Compassion by Kirsten Neff shares a healthier approach to self esteem – one that is more attainable, too.
- In Lost Connections, Johann Hari examines the link between connecting with others and preventing and treating depression. This was a sibling-recommended read that I find especially relevant in our often too self-focused world.
Middle Grade Fictions Adults Need to Read
Middle grade fiction features gripping stories told kindly and succinctly, but with often surprising depth. I believe every adult should read at least three a year. I’ve listed several here!
- R.J. Palacio’s Wonder is a brilliant book that both adults and children will learn a great deal by reading. The movie is good, but the book has depth that you cannot portray on a screen. I love this book, and so do my 9-year-old, 11-year-old, and 12-year-old children.
- Find a copy of Auggie & Me (also by R.J. Palacio) as soon as you finish Wonder. This not-a-sequel follow-up book adds depth to some of the characters who we only understood at a surface level in Wonder.
- Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick pairs two misfits together in an unbreakable friendship. My 12-year-old daughter and I read this book together, as well as its sequel, Max the Mighty.
- Gordon Korman’s Restart features a football star who falls off the roof of his house – and forgets everything about who he is. This turns into an opportunity to reflect on who he’s been – and how he can become a better person.
- I read the entire The Princess Diaries series (11 books!) with my 12-year-old daughter this year. The books are for an older audience than the film, and some of the characters are very different. This is chick lit for middle grade fiction.
- Lemons by Melissa Savage features young misfits connecting to develop a powerful friendship.
- My 11-year-old and 12-year-old both enjoyed reading Madeleine L’Engle’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time, but I got a lot out of the book that I missed when I read it as a child. My 12-year-old and I both read all five books in this quintet series.
- A Dream of Ebony and White by Melanie Cellier was one of many books by this author that I read with my 12-year-old daughter this year. As you may have guessed, it offers an alternative telling of the Snow White book. If you have a fairy tale loving daughter, we recommend all of this author’s imaginative retellings.
- My daughter and I read K.M. Shea’s Snow White after reading Melanie Cellier’s version. Like Cellier, Shea offers imaginative retellings of many popular fairy tales. My daughter and I agree that Shea’s retellings are gentler than Cellier’s, but both versions are worth reading.
Current Events Fiction
- The Hate U Give was the first book I read in 2018, and one of the most impactful reads. I highly recommend the book. The movie is also good, although they were not able to develop the characters as thoroughly due to the shorter time frame.
- Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera features an incredible translation by Lisa Dillman. The story about a girl immigrating (illegally) from Mexico is a tough read, but very in line with current events. This was another book club read for me.
- The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni features the life of a boy born with ocular albinism – red eyes, but otherwise like any other child. The book was inspired by a true story, but it’s not a retelling of that story – simply inspired by the true story.
- Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde follows a mixed-race couple living during Loving vs. Virginia case.
- Victoria by Daisy Goodwin is a fun and light look at Queen Victoria. I wished for a bit more depth of character.
- The audible rendition of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar was an interesting listen, but I recommend making sure you are familiar with the play first as otherwise it can be difficult to track characters.
- Hearts of the Resistance by Soraya M. Lane is a girl power World War II book with a mostly happy ending. I was a little frustrated by the fact that the lead character is a British girl named Hazel posing as a Frenchwoman – still named Hazel. The UK name seems like a dead giveaway as to her true nationality. Why not change it with all the rest of her false paper documentation?
- I enjoyed learning how Turkish diplomats saved the lives of many Turkish and non-Turkish Jews during World War II in The Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin.
- Women went undercover in dangerous situations alongside men during World War II, but while the men returned as heroes the women were always assumed to have spent the war doing something safe. Eliza Graham’s The Lines We Leave Behind explores the challenges faced by one such young woman who lives in the loneliness and vulnerability of one whose wartime heroism cannot be explained to family and friends.
- I read Alice Walker’s The Color Purple last year after keeping it on my “to read” list for years. It’s a very intense read – something I knew, and that kept me pushing it off for years. That said, I’m glad I read it and recommend reading it at least once in your lifetime.
- America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie reimagines Martha “Patsy” Jefferson’s life. Imagines is key here, because – while the authors do refer to first person documents – they take a lot of artistic license in reading between the lines. The book does paint a vivid picture of Patsy Jefferson’s life, as well as her relationship with several key revolutionary figures.
- I enjoy listening to Alexander McCall Smith’s books on audible. They feature interesting characters with human flaws who remain lovable. This year I read The House of Unexpected Sisters, which is part of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Series. Like most of his books, this is gentle fiction.
- The characters in The Ladies of Ivy Cottage by Julie Klassen felt far too enlightened for their time for me to take this seriously as historical fiction. and so I’ve placed it in chick lit rather than historical fiction. It is an enjoyable read, particularly if you enjoy Jane Austen’s books.
- Vittoria Cottage and the two other Drumberley series books by D.E. Stevensen are charming, sweet reads.
- Sometimes you just want a silly book. Accidental Tryst, featuring accidentally swapped cell phones, is a light clean read. There is not much depth or character development.
Second Chances Fiction
This may not be a typical book category, but I find myself reading books that fall into the category where it’s hard to place them elsewhere.
- Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs combines second chances with – perhaps not surprisingly – making peace with the past.
- The Secret Child by Kerry Fisher is another secrets and redemption read, although in this one it is much more about the cruel ways we sometimes allow circumstances outside of our direct control to shame and control us.
- The Secret Life of Bees is a book I heard about for years before reading. I’m glad I read it, but it’s hard to give a concise synopsis. It’s a bit of a coming of age tale with brief touches on racism in America and an overall redemption theme.
- Catherine Ryan Hyde is probably my favorite second chances fiction writer. I loved the psychiatrist in her book The Wake Up. If everyone who needed counseling could see someone like this character, the world would be a different place.
- The Sometimes Sisters by Carolyn Brown is a quiet read about sisters coming to terms with themselves and one another.
- I read The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie while we were in Scotland last summer. A fitting read, since that is where the book takes place. Much of the book is heartbreaking, but it does have a happy ending.
And there you have it! 52 books for 52 weeks in the year – or even more, if you go on to read many of the sequels that I did not link to individually.
What should I read this year? Please help me choose 52 books to read in 2019!
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