Whether you’re looking for an escape from the real world or hoping to learn something new, you can’t go wrong reading a book. Combined, we made it through more than 125 books in 2019. Some of those were duds and some left us mulling over the story for days, if not weeks. In the end, the following books were some of our favorites.
Be aware that Amazon links on this page are affiliate links. As part of the Amazon Associate program, qualifying purchases made through these links may result in us earning a commission. However, you don’t have to make a purchase to read these titles. With a library card, you should be able to borrow them all for free through the Kent District Library. You may also be able to find them for sale at Lowell’s new used book store, Bettie’s Pages.
Amanda’s Favorite Books from 2019
I returned to reading for myself, rather than just to my kids, earlier this year. In 2019, I completed nearly 60 books. It’s hard to narrow these down to my top three favorites (all of which I rated five out of five stars), but here they are with a handful of mentions that I also enjoyed. I look forward to what finds I’ll come across in 2020!
The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman
I read The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman at the end of May, and it has remained one of my favorite books of the year since then. Others I’ve really liked but eventually something else came along to knock it down a spot or two. This book switches between the story of Lilly and Julia. Lilly who, in the 1930s, was kept hidden in an attic until one day she was sold to the circus to become part of the sideshow must figure out life outside of the only room she has known. Julia, in the 1950s, has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm but her own past there was not a happy one.
Upon returning to her former house, Julia finds herself engrossed in the mystery of Lilly. Are the two connected and if so, how? There is joy and sorrow on the part of both of these characters as their individual stories unfold. The main characters as well as the minor ones are interesting. Both Lilly and Julia have a lot learn, share, and overcome.
This is a book I can see myself reading again sometime because I enjoyed it so much and wouldn’t mind experiencing it again. I also liked Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vandera where I felt equally invested in the characters of the book and the story they were telling.
The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad
The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad is my favorite read of the year when it comes to historical fiction from WWII. It’s inspired by a true story and an aspect of this time in history I’ve not read about in the past – the use of homing pigeons. This is the story of Susan, who raises homing pigeons with her grandfather in Britain, and Ollie, a pilot from Maine who travels to Britain to join the Royal Air Force. The two meet by chance and form a friendship. They become separated when Ollie is on a plane which is shot down behind enemy lines.
Will Dutchess, one of Susan’s pigeons, be able to help the two communicate long enough to save Ollie? I loved the characters in this book – even Dutchess! I felt invested in them and their plight during the war. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, especially set during WWII, give this a try. I also liked The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff and The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner both also set during WWII but like The Long Flight Home aren’t about survival in a concentration camp.
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
I also enjoy a good mystery/thriller/secret agent/sci-fi type book. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch definitely falls into the sci-fi category, but it’s a thriller of sorts as well. Jason Desson has a wife, child, and all around good life. He goes out to meet a friend for a quick drink and ends up being kidnapped. He wakes up and his life isn’t as it seems. His wife isn’t his wife. He doesn’t have a child. And now he must figure out what’s going on.
The first half of the book is about Jason trying to figure out what is happening to him. The second half deals with what he does once he finds out. It’s hard to go into much detail about this book without giving away some major points in the plot. But the book does make one think about how choices could change the outcome of the future. I like Jason as a character and enjoyed and wondered how his story would end when the book was over.
Recursion by this same author has the same sci-fi feel to it. I enjoyed it as well but not as much as Dark Matter.
Maryalene’s Favorite Books from 2019
I typically have four books in-progress at any given time: a nonfiction title for early morning reading, a fiction book for before bed, an audiobook for while cleaning and driving and a children’s chapter book to read to my youngest two kids before bed. In 2019, I read 68 books using this system, and here are three standouts.
My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl
I loved this book. Not only did all the recipes I tried turn out great, but Ruth Reichl is a gifted writer. Normally, I only read through the introduction of a cookbook and then skim the rest. However, I read My Kitchen Year from front to back. It’s half memoir, half cookbook as it chronicles how Reichl spent the year after the magazine she edited, Gourmet, folded. Scattered throughout the book are Twitter entries from that year along with the backstory and applicable recipes. Everything is so beautifully written, and there are fantastic photographs too. It was a joy to read.
If you read other reviews of the book, some people seem to take issue with Reichl having such deep feelings about losing a job. Apparently, because she is obviously well-off financially, she is not allowed to feel bad about how her employment ended. However, going through a grieving process after unexpectedly losing something you toiled over for a decade sounds understandable to me. Having a country house doesn’t mean you are immune from human feelings.
I have two minor quibbles. One is that while the book is lovely to hold and read, the binding is not conducive to cooking. Even with a cookbook stand, it is difficult to keep open. The other is that there are no times listed on the recipes. While Reichl wasn’t in a rush during her kitchen year, some of us need to be able to easily see if we’ll be able to squeeze in a particular dish on a busy night.
But all in all, I highly recommend this book.
Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family by Kathleen Flinn
Maybe it’s because this book largely takes place in Michigan or maybe it’s because Kathleen Flinn’s parents are of the same generation as mine, but whatever the reason, I found this to be a treat to read. I always love hearing about how people lived at a time when my parents were growing up, and this book is a great reminder that all families have stories worth telling.
Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good follows Flinn’s parents as they journey from California to Michigan to Florida. Plus, Flinn recounts her early years on a rural farm near Davidson before moving into the suburbs as a young child. There are stories about ice fishing and deer hunting and heading to the UP. The book is a bit heartbreaking at the end, but I guess the same can be said about life in general.
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
When my 6-year old selected this as a read aloud chapter book, I thought she might regret the decision. First published in 1890, A Little Princess isn’t exactly written in the snappy prose found in today’s modern children’s books. However, she had no trouble following the story, and we both agreed it was a fantastic book.
A Little Princess is about Sarah Crewe. Raised in India, at age seven, she is sent to a London boarding school by her father. Sarah’s mother is dead and, apparently, sending your young child to study half the world away was something loving parents of means did back in the late 19th Century.
Sarah quickly becomes a favored child at the school, in part because her father is quite wealthy and ensures that she is lavished with everything she might want or need. You would think this would be a recipe for creating a spoiled child, but Sarah is actually quite kind and relatively humble for her station in life. Then, her father dies, his fortune is lost and Sarah is banished to the attic to work as a servant in the school.
As a modern reader and mother, it’s appalling to think that this story could somehow reflect the realities of growing up as an orphan during this time period. However, it gives you pause to consider how people can manage through even the most seemingly unbearable conditions.
I would recommend this book for all ages but be aware that Burnett paints Sarah as very charming and everyone else as less so. For instance, Sarah’s best friend is described as fat and stupid, and an orphan on the street is said to be a frightful savage. Her descriptions feel a bit harsh but again, they are likely a product of their times.
What about you? Tell us about a book you read and loved in 2019 in the comments below or on our Facebook page.