Best Books of 2019

Books a Million, Part XXI: Memoirs, Chick Lit & Growing Up Different

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Winter tends to be my favorite time to catch up on my reading. From the week of Thanksgiving until midway through January, everyone in the tourism industry seems to disappear—it’s as if conference season is over, their budgets have been planned for the following year, and they’re taking a very lengthy hiatus. I took the opportunity over the holidays and my birthday trip to Puerto Rico to whittle down my 2019 book list, just a smidge.

Here’s everything I’ve read in the past couple months in case you’re heading on a Spring Break or summer trip of your own soon and looking for a good vacation read of your own.

Man in the (Rearview) Mirror by LaRue Cook

I’m at that point in my career where so many peers and friends are publishing books, and I can barely keep up with reading them all. But when a friend sent me a link to LaRue’s book, I bumped it up the chain and immediately ordered the paperback instead of waiting for the Kindle version to drop. LaRue and I started as writers at the UT paper, The Daily Beacon, on the same day; I was 20, he was 18, halfway through his freshman year. We immediately became journalist friends, and I was soon promoted to features editor, he one of my most reliable writers. He later went on to be the editor of the paper after I graduated.

Our lives ran parallel for years; I worked a stint at Entertainment Weekly, and he took over the same job a year or two later. He and his girlfriend at the time, another of my close college pals, moved to NYC in my final months there before moving to California, so I got to spend some time with them as my neighbors while he was getting his feet wet in sports writing for ESPN. But then, he dropped off my radar. He was never on social media back then, despite being younger than me, and I often lose touch with people I can’t track via Facebook and Instagram. I now know that’s partially because he was going through his version of an existential crisis, and after a decade with ESPN, he quit, moved back to Knoxville and became an Uber driver. While doing this (and driving more than 5,000 passengers around town), he wrote a book—a memoir told through the parallel lives of his passengers. A read that covers so many topics in the span of 234 pages: racial inequality, sexual orientation, faith and religion, his own infidelities. It’s always weird reading a memoir by someone you know, as it feels a bit like your peeling back the layers of their soul. I’d love to write something similar someday, but am not sure I’d ever be able to approach it with such honesty as LaRue did. This is a great book for anyone looking for a non-fiction read that examines how losing your pillar at a young age—in this case, LaRue’s dad at 15—can go on to shape a person’s identity as a young adult.

Man in the Rearview Mirror by LaRue Cook

Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais

I’m still shook by this book. You know that it’s a powerful read if you’re still thinking about it two months later. I started and finished this book at the beach in less than 24 hours, and man, it was some heavy stuff.

Taking place in an 18-month span during the height of apartheid, Hum chronicles the lives of two very different heroines—a nine-year-old white girl whose parents are slain and a 50-year-old black woman who came to the big city to track down her rebel daughter caught up in the Soweto Uprising—and at the heart of the story, impresses upon the reader how no matter the color of our skin, our sexual orientation, our religion or where we were born, no one is any greater or worse than the next human (and that good people do bad things and bad people do good things). Particularly poignant during the racial inequality happening still today, this book really tugged at my heartstrings and should be on everyone’s must-read list.

Hum If You Don't Know the Words book

All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

I love me a good mystery, and All the Missing Girls is in a similar vein to Gone Girl and every Mary Kubica book I’ve ever devoured. It starts off with Nicolette, a 28-year-old teacher who had fled her small Appalachian town after high school to move to the big city, returning home to care for her ailing father—and confronting the ghosts of her past, specifically the disappearance of her best friend. Not long after she arrives, another young girl goes missing, and Nicolette makes it her mission to figure out what happened to her—and if it is indeed linked to the same missing girl from a decade prior.

Contrary to what other reviewers have written, I found the pace of this book quick and engaging, and those who like suspense will likely find it entertaining. The only thing I didn’t really care for was the erratic storytelling style in which the author kept jumping a day back in time to set the stage. It made it a bit confusing to piece together the timeline on the reader’s end. Overall, though, I’d read this book again and give it four out of five starts if I were still rating my reads.

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

We’re never really told what exactly is wrong with Eleanor Oliphant; we just know from the opening lines of the book that she’s different. And that difference takes us through her life in a deadbeat job with no friends or family to call her own, a curious character who becomes overly infatuated with a rockstar she’s never met, to the point where she begins to stalk him, both at gigs and at his own home, and even thinks he’s her boyfriend.

Socially awkward Eleanor is always saying the exact wrong thing, and she’s never even aware she’s the butt of everybody’s jokes in the office. A chance encounter, however, brings her close to a coworker who she previously had written off as uninteresting: She falls into an unexpected friendship with Raymond when they come to the rescue of an older man who has fallen in the street and needs to be taken to the hospital. This book isn’t so much plot-driven, as it is about character development, and Honeyman is a master of that particular trope. Peculiar and uplifting despite its somber undertones—alcoholism, mental illness, child abuse—Eleanor Oliphant was one of the most unexpectedly endearing books I read in the past year. The cadence of Eleanor’s narrating takes a bit of getting used to, but once you insert yourself into her mind, reading in her voice becomes second nature.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

The High Season by Judy Blundell

The premise of this book—an artist and gallery curator, Ruthie, dealing with a separation who longs to keep her life in a sleepy Long Island coastal town in one piece when everything around her seems to be falling apart—made me think this was going to be a beach read (or maybe the fact that it was actually set on an island did that). But it was a bit, well, sleepier than that. It took nearly halfway through the book until I even knew what it was really about: Ruthie’s failed marriage, her career crumbling at the hands of her board and coming to grips with everything changing around her, including the loss of her home and her daughter, who is midway through high school. There was a socialite aspect to this book I kind of liked when the Hampton set arrived in the North Fork for the summer; it brought a little Sex and the City edge and scandal to what was dragging on as a mundane novel to that point.

In the end, this book was fine; not great, not terrible. I liked the art gallery aspect of it; the fact that SVV and I are part of so many groups and on various art boards these days made the book a bit more relatable. If I still gave ratings, this one would get two-and-a-half stars: very slow in parts, but enough of a story to hold my interest till the end.

The High Season by Judy Blundell

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillroy

The Wedding Date is, hands down, one of the worst books I have read ever. I am still shocked it got such positive ratings on Good Reads and Amazon—does no one read for content anymore?! I stuck with it kept waiting for the plot to develop and … nothing. In the opening pages of the book, Alexa meets Drew in an elevator, then soon after agrees to be his fake wedding date to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. The two fall into an on-again, off-again romance, and there’s just no storyline AT ALL.

I never read any of the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, but I imagine it was a lot like this: heavy on the sex scenes, light on the content. No thanks, not my jam. It’s a shame, too, as this could have been a powerful tale about interracial relationships and the trials faced by both side, but instead it was just plain garbage.

The Wedding Date book cover

When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger

If you loved The Devil Wears Prada, you’ll be happy to see that Lauren Weisberger is back many years later with another follow-up tale that chronicles Miranda Priestley’s assistant Emily Charlton as she navigates life’s changes after her time at Runway. (Side note: Somehow I must have missed the second in the series, Revenge Wears Prada? Anyone read it?) Emily is a fixer, an image consultant of sorts for the Hollywood set, and when her career starts to falter, she takes a job in Greenwich, Conn., trying to help a former supermodel navigate a scandal involving her senator husband while also suffering life in the suburbs.

I’ve read every other book of Weisberger’s, and while none can compare to Devil, this one is satisfying for anyone who loved the original.

When Life Gives You Lululemons

Crazy, Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

I’ll admit that I had no desire to read this book until I saw the movie trailer. Then, I immediately signed up for it at my local library, but was approximately 368th on the list, no exaggeration, so it took ages to land in my inbox. And when it finally did, it was worth the wait—nothing at all like I expected.

Rachel Chu is a professor at NYU whose boyfriends Nicky invites her back to Singapore with him for his best friend’s wedding; little does she know, his family is basically Singapore royalty. Despite the fact that she’s Asian-American—she never knew her father, but her mother was a Chinese immigrant—many members of Nick’s snobby family doesn’t give her the time of day, particularly his mom who is out to destroy their relationship. What follows is a fascinating look into how the upper crust, the social-climbers for whom dropping a cool million on a pair of earrings is an everyday occurrence, live—private planes! private clubs! private islands!—in one of the world’s most extravagant, over-the-top cities. One of my dear friends is a Singapore native, and I fact-checked much the book with her—she says it’s very accurate to the 1% there and even knows the families upon whom the book is based.

I then watched the movie on a recent flight and was equally pleased by it. I suppose next up I’ll be reading the second and third installments of this trilogy—please tell me they’re as entertaining as the first?

Crazy Rich Asians book cover

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

You know the kind of book you think is going to end one way, then midway through, you’re hit with a whammy and completely left off-guard? That’s The Last Mrs. Parrish to a tee. Amber Patterson is a con-artist who weasels her way into heiress Daphne Parrish’s world of excess by becoming her friend in Single White Female fashion—later going as far as trying to become her, attempting to take over her husband and her home. The book ping-pongs between narrators, both Amber and Daphne, and there’s really no way to tell you anymore of the plot of Amber’s metamorphosis into Daphne without spoiling any of the zingers, of which there are many. Go. Read. This. Book!

I’m really, really hoping The Last Mrs. Parrish gets made into a movie starring (or produced by) Reese Witherspoon.

The Last Mrs. Parrish book

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Oh my, I LOVED This Is How It Always Is. I didn’t know what it was about in the slightest, but so many people recommended it, that I immediately requested it from the library. Based on Frankel’s own experiences with having a boy who early on began identifying as a girl, this book chronicles a set of five brothers, the youngest of whom always felt different. When this feeling becomes evolves into exploration—wearing dresses, putting on makeup, playing with dolls—his parents begin to realize it’s more than just a phase. So they take steps to letting their son become their daughter by moving across the country and completely resetting their lives.

At the root of this story is the message that all families have issues, all families keep secrets—it’s how they choose to deal with them that sets them apart.

This Is How It Always Is book cover

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Currently I’m reading The Paris Secret and A Gentleman in Moscow, neither of which have really grabbed my attention, but I’ve also got Bad Blood, Becoming, Pete Buttigieg’s Shortest Way Home and Far Away and Further Back, a memoir by my friend Holly’s dad. I guess it’s a non-fiction kind of reading month over here!

What have you read and loved so far this year?

COMMENTS
  • April 16, 2019

    As always, I love your reading round-ups – of course, it’s one of my favorite things to write about too! These are all new-to-me books. I’ve added This Is How It Always Is and Hum If You Don’t Know The Words to my to-read list. Some of my faves so far this year have been the YA novel Moxie (Jennifer Mathieu), The Rise and Fall of Great Powers (Tom Rachman), and Becoming (Michelle Obama).

  • April 16, 2019

    I LOVED Elinor Oliphant–one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and certainly one of the best characters I’ve read in a long time! Also really enjoyed (way more than I thought I would!) Crazy Rich Asians (and I’ve read the 2nd book, too. #3 is on my list!), though I thought the movie was only meh. A good movie, perhaps, if I hadn’t read the book. 🙂

    If you haven’t read Jenny Colgan, give her a try. I like her most recent series around a remote Scottish island–The Summer Seaside Kitchen is the first book (and I think has been called other things as well.) Her Little Beach Street Bakery series is also lovely, as is Rosie Hopkin’s Sweet Shop series.

    Right now I’m reading The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. I’m into it. Two stories that are separate but intertwined (if that makes sense) and it’s just beautifully written and I fall into it every time I open the book.

    I also just read Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. Also quite a good (and fast) read! Not as dark as Big Little Lies. I recommend it.

    Now I’m excited to go to the library after work today and pick up some more treasures….

  • April 16, 2019
    Valerie

    I love your reading lists Kristin! I feel like they are in that perfect spot where they overlap with mine enough that I know I’ll like your recommendations, but not so much that I’ve read everything you mention.

    I also resisted the Crazy Rich Asians books for so long, and then finally read the first right before the movie was released. I am not even a little ashamed to admit I bought the second and third immediately on Kindle so that I could keep going. I thought they were great in the same way the first was – absurd, entertaining, and full of fun characters. Not something I would read if I wanted to think hard, but perfectly delightful.

    I also LOVED Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and could not stand The Wedding Date. I am so glad someone else said it! I couldn’t understand even a little why so many people recommended that one.

    I just finished Less (hilarious and surprisingly touching), All the Light we Cannot See (heartbreaking but excellent), and Today Will Be Different (love Maria Semple, so it’s good, but nowhere near Where’d You Go Bernadette?). I’m in the middle of Modern Lovers and loving it so far.

  • April 18, 2019
    Chelsea Fry

    I really think you would love All the Ugly and Wonderful Things! It was really good, I read it in a couple of days.

  • April 18, 2019

    I downloaded Hum to read on my South Africa trip but I got sucked into Trevor Noah’s (incredible) memoir instead. I’ll get around to it!

  • April 25, 2019

    So I 100% agree with you on The Wedding Date. I didn’t like her writing style either – it was very juvenile. I did love the entire Crazy Rich Asians trilogy though. A couple of great books I’ve read so far this year include Verity (thriller), Inheritance (memoir) and An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.

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