Beth’s Books 2019

I am finding it more and more rare to find people in this world who still read the way my sister and I do. I was in the post office a few weeks ago and as I went to pay a book fell out of my purse, the cashier said to me “huh, I can’t remember the last time I saw an actual book” This made me so sad – for her.

Anywho – without further ado, for the third year in a row here is my sister’s official 2019 line up. Enjoy!

“This was a different kind of reading year for me. I was in two book clubs, so much of my
reading (or attempted reading) was chosen by others. Not an unwelcome situation, as I read things I would not have picked up on my own, but it did affect the amount and types of what I read, as well as the pace of my reading. There were a number of book club books that didn’t finish, mostly because I ran out of time and had to move on to the next book. I only included the books I completely finished below. Also, in spite of my best intentions, I didn’t keep very good track of what I read. Therefore, the list below is only what I can remember, and likely incomplete.

Part 1: Books I Chose On My Own

Tuva or Bust! Richard Feynman’s Last Journey by Ralph Leighton

This was a travel book – one of my favorite genres. I loved this tale of choosing somewhere to go on a whim and trying to get there — pre-internet. This was a slow motion travelogue in which letters were written and airfares were researched by checking the fare list in the travel section of the Sunday paper. Tuva, at the time, was located in the Soviet Union, which further complicated the attempt to travel there. This was also a sweet book about friendship. Not for everyone, but if you like travel writing and remember the Cold War, it was a delightful time capsule.

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Speaking of the Cold War . . . although, this one is set after that time it is still a USA versus Russia spy story. I enjoyed it – it was fun and suspenseful and had all the elements of a classic espionage novel. It is not great literature and there are times you have to suspend disbelief, but it was a good time.

Life Undercover Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox

So, staying on the espionage track . . . this was a memoir by a CIA agent. I really got into memoirs in general this year and this one was a fast read – finished it in a weekend. She had some insightful observations on attempting to balance marriage and motherhood with undercover work. Definitely recommend.

Mindhunter by John Douglas

I came to this book the opposite way of how I usually get there – from TV. I binge watched the series on Netflix and then read the book. It may have been the better way to do it. The series is definitely made for TV – much more dramatic and only loosely tracks the book. The book is very good in its own right but had I read it first I would have been all upset about how the series changed it.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

Mindhunter put me onto a “how are serial killers caught” kick so I picked this one up next. The book was somewhat anticlimactic given that the killer was caught after it was published. However, it was a very detailed illustration of just how the killer was able to elude police for so long.

Calypso by David Sedaris

I bought this in the airport because I need a book to read on my flight home. I have read Sedaris before and enjoyed him. This one was hysterical – I was sitting in a middle seat on the plane and trying to stifle my laughter so that I didn’t make a scene, but I think that just made it look like I was having a seizure. In addition to Sedaris’s fabulous sense of humor, another reason I like him is this: “The Sea Section [his beach house] came completely furnished, and the first thig we did after getting the keys was to load up all the televisions and donate them to a thrift shop.” Yay for those who eschew TV [including myself in this category, occasional Netflix binge notwithstanding].

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to Her Books by Annie Spence

This was a recommendation from my friend Jen and I LOVED it. A librarian writes notes to various books – some she likes, some she doesn’t. It was funny and sarcastic and irreverent. However, we decided that maybe the snarky humor is generational as not everyone we got to read this book felt the same. However, if you are roughly Gen X and like books about books, pick this one up.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

I needed to read a Maine student book award winner for last winter’s book bingo so I picked this one. It is a middle-grade book that involves a challenge to get out of the library by solving book-related riddles. I listened to the audio version and enjoyed it quite a bit – a clever book about libraries and books – how can you go wrong?

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Another recommendation from Jen and another win. It’s a multi-generational story surrounding a house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I listened to the audio version which was read by Tom Hanks. Hanks’ narration absolutely made this book for me – definitely bumped it up a notch from just reading it alone. Trigger warning of evil stepmother.

Part 2: Genre Fiction from authors that I follow

If you have read my past year’s book reviews, you will know that I read a fair amount of genre fiction. I have a few authors from whom I eagerly await the next installment and pounce on it the moment it is published. For the most part [looking at you Joe Ide] they reliably produce a book every year. Below is what I read in 2019.

Almost Midnight by Paul Doiron

This is a series about a Maine game warden. These books are always satisfying and have a wonderful sense of place. As it turns out, the main character, Mike Bowditch, is also a no TV person: “One of the decisions I’d made, in moving into my new house, had been to sell my television.”

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

I started reading Anthony Horowitz with Magpie Murders. It was my favorite book of 2017. I do like this new series where he inserts himself into the novels – it’s a clever device. This is the second of these, after the Word is Murder. I liked it but am really waiting for another Magpie Murders book – which appears to be coming out in August 2020.

The Fallen by David Baldacci

The only series of Baldacci’s that I have read is the Memory Man series. This is the fourth in the series and it didn’t disappoint. I am fascinated by the protagonist, Amos Decker, who has a photographic memory.

The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

I have been reading the Maisie Dobbs series for years. This is book 15 – the characters are well-developed and have matured over the course of the series but the writing still feels fresh. Love this series.

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly is a master of crime fiction. I am so happy that he has brought Harry Bosch and Rene Ballard together (with a little Mickey Haller thrown in for good measure). This one involves a cold case which is one of my favorite crime novel devices.

Bloody Genius  by John Sandford

This latest in the Virgil Flowers series involved the murder of a college professor. I liked Virgil a lot more when he was single. Now that he is in a serious relationship, my crush is fading.

Heaven My Home by Attica Locke

Another series with a fantastic sense of place, this one is set in East Texas and follows Texas Ranger Darren Matthews. Only the second in the series, I can’t wait for more.

Part 3: Book Club Books

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Annie Spence went on at length about this book in Dear Fahrenheit 451 so we decided to read them together for book club. I liked, but didn’t love, this book. However, it did stick with me. I think I might have been more enamored of it as an angsty teenager than as an adult. I also watched the movie directed by Sophia Coppola – one of the better movie adaptations I have seen.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Another book club pick, I both read and listened to this one. Like The Dutch House, the audio is superior to the printed book. Michelle Obama reads it herself and you feel like you are sitting in the room having a conversation with her.

After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry

Not one I would have picked up on my own, but a pleasant surprise. This is a memoir by a woman whose mother was murdered when she was a child. She doesn’t just rely on memory but goes back through all the records and interviews people to make this a more complete telling of the story. Excellent both as a memoir and a true crime novel and, it took place very near to where I live.

My Antonia by Willa Cather

We picked this a classic for book club. I had read it at least twice before but couldn’t remember much about it. I am not sure what it is about this book – I like it but it just doesn’t stick with me. Even now, the most recent reading is fading from memory.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

This book made many of the “best of” lists and I just don’t get it. It is two teenagers who emotionally torture each other by alternately getting together, breaking up, and generally miscommunicating. It was painful. As an adult, I just have no patience for this.

The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

A classic locked room mystery written in 1934. It was enjoyable but dated.

Part 4: Audio Books My Son and I listened to on Car Trips

Enders Game  by Orson Scott Card

My son is into science fiction so we listened to this classic. I loved it and am not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading it. Published in 1985, it is heavily influenced by the Cold War but forward-thinking and futuristic enough that it holds up over time.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

One of my favorites, I had to really sell my son on this one but once we listened to it, he couldn’t wait to listen to the next two.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I liked this a lot more than my son did but it is probably due to all the 80s references. Set in the future, it involves an on-line contest that requires the participants to know a lot about the 80s.

Treasurer Island  by Robert Louis Stevenson

The recording we listened to had a full cast and sound effects which made it very enjoyable. A true classic novel . . . with pirates.”


Join us back here next year when Beth will take better notes and share with us all the books that she read in 2020 🙂 . Until then – Happy Reading!

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