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2019 Reading List

Goal for 2019: Read 35 books. Write blurbs about them all.

The Books:

  1. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas — A powerful novel about racism, socio-economic disparity and the drive to improve a life. Bri, the main character, has so much heart, hope and integrity. Loved this. (Advanced reader copy)
  2. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor * — Initially, I only started listening to this because it was the final unread audiobook I had. But then something odd happened — Lazlo Strange, the junior librarian with a fascination and devotion to learning the secrets of the forgotten land Weep and Sarai, the god spawn who could infiltrate and manipulate dreams, endeared themselves to me. This took me awhile to read, but was enjoyable none the less.
  3. The Missing Season by Gillian French — I fell in love with Gillian French’s YA lit starting with Grit, her first published novel. The Missing Season is a YA thriller with all the requisite twists and turns. A new girl moves in, makes friends with a motley crew of skater kids, their girlfriends and their wannabe girlfriends, and finds her place. All the while though, the kids warn and worry about the so-called Mumbler, who is said to stalk and kill one teen each year at Halloween, making it look like the kid died of something other than murder. She thinks it’s just a joke. Then one of the crew goes missing. (Advanced reader copy)
  4. All the Wild Hungers by Karen Babine — This year-in-a-life memoir explores the author’s mother’s battle with cancer through food. A vegetarian, Babine set about to help her mother’s body heal through nutritious bone broths, restorative roasts and other food made with love. She has names for all her thrifted cast iron cookware and inspired me to buy a special rack for mine. On a more serious note, I connected with this novel because of the cancer theme and was so glad when her mom rang the bell in the cancer unit, signifying that her treatment was successfully completed.
  5. Is There Still Sex in the City? by Candace Bushnell — Chick lit had a moment in the late 1990s and early 2000s when suddenly the market opened and women couldn’t get enough. I should know. I was one of them. Back then, Jane Green, Sophie Kinsella, Jennifer Weiner and others had an array of colorful covers and women-centered plots that readers ate up. The books topped bestsellers lists. Really, truly, things have never been the same. That was also the heyday of Sex in the City — the HBO series based on Candace Bushnell’s semi-autobiographical column and book. And, oh, how I loved Sex in the City. How I wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw. How I adored all the things Candace Bushnell wrote … so when I got my grubby hands on her newest book, Is There Still Sex in the City? you can bet that I started reading right away. This book takes us into the lives of friends in their 50s who are faced with dating. Again. These women are mostly divorced. Mostly interested in finding someone. Mostly open to new things. They dabble in cubbing, app-based dating and relationships. But they always come back to the relationships that matter most: those with their friends. I love this book. It’s tragic and real; honest and open. And it exposes some of the grittiness that comes with being single. Highly recommended to fans of Sex in the City and Bushnell’s other work. (Advanced reader copy)
  6. The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood — Two stories are told in tandem. Vivien is a young woman in love living a wonderful life in San Francisco at the turn of the century when the 1906 earthquake rips apart her life. Claire is a 1960s housewife cooking, cleaning and caring for her child when the kidnapping of a neighborhood boy upends her view of the world. Their stories, filled with love and loss, eventually come together in a sweet, what-happens-next? way. I picked this book up in a Massachusetts bookstore on a whim. I love period pieces with strong female characters and the fact that one of the women was a writer only sweetened the appeal for me. The story kept me interested and entertained throughout. It was — despite some heavier topics — a lighter read that I finished in a day.
  7. Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl — In my early years as a food writer, I subscribed to several food publications. Bon Appetit was fun and accessible. Cooking Light was filled with recipes I wanted to make, as was Everyday Food. But Gourmet was aspirational. It was a window into other cultures and traditions, a beautiful look at the intersection of food, history and memory. I loved it. And at its helm was Ruth Reichl, the former restaurant critic turned food magazine head who turned Gourmet from a hoity-toity magazine to one that drew cooks like me in. This memoir recounts those years for Reichl — from the shock of being asked to take over the magazine to the joy of the work they did to its ultimate and sudden demise. As if I didn’t already respect Reichl enough, this book renewed and rejuveninated that admiration. And it reminded me how much I miss Gourmet. (Advanced reader copy)
  8. The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff * — It’s the 1940s and the world is at war. In Great Britain, the SOE, a counterintelligence agency, starts a women’s division intended to infiltrate occupied France. It’s also the late 1940s and a woman in New York who lost her husband in an accident during wartime is struggling to figure out what’s next for herself. This is a book of strong women in a difficult time, breaking free from expectations and societal norms to be better, stronger, braver. Filled with secrets and mystery, this was an excellent read that I was so excited to listen to. What a wonderful story told by a masterful writer.
  9. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler — Told in varying points of view from several members of the same family, this book explores nuances of family, secrets and abuse. I found this book at times uncomfortable to read. Every character, except, perhaps, one child, was deeply flawed in a way that grated on my nerves. And yet, I kept reading. Despite the selfishness, the foolish decisions and the unnerving unwillingness to fight for one’s own happiness, I did find some redeeming qualities in the characters and the book.
  10. Cape May by Chip Creek * — Two things drew me to this book: first, the title. Cape May is a place near and dear to my heart. I spent some wonderful tween years summering with a friends’ family and took my kids (and ex-husband) there once as well, intending to go back though we never did. Second, this was on the shorter side for audiobooks, which — after my last two audiobooks — was preferred. Newlyweds Henry and Effie have headed to a family home near the ocean for a few weeks of honeymoon bliss. It’s the 1950s — and they are getting to know each other and exploring their sexuality for the first time. But what they didn’t plan for was that Cape May changes when autumn sets in. It’s deserted, shutdown, lonely even. But when they meet an old acquaintance of Effie’s and fall in with her hard-partying ways, they become enamored with the life they lead— and more. There’s a lot of excess and pushing of boundaries in this book. I don’t want to give away the plot but it’s curious, sexy, uncomfortable, cruel and disappointing. I found it difficult to listen to as the characters made poor decisions after poor decisions. Though this is getting a lot of acclaim, I am not a fan. On the positive side, the descriptions of Cape May are vivid and familiar. And though New Hampshire Avenue doesn’t exist (at least I don’t think it does), the scenery rings true and familiar to this Cape May-loving lady.
  11. Riverdale: The Day Before by Micol Ostow – As a kid, I loved Archie comics. As an adult, I fell hard for Riverdale, the TV series. I watch it on Netflix, though I think it airs on the CW. Regardless, when I learned there was a novel series, I had to read the first book, The Day Before. It’s a prequel that takes you one day back — to the time before Jason Blossom was killed, before Polly was sent away and before Betty and Veronica had ever met. And I love it for that. What this YA novel does well is paint a picture of Riverdale and the lives the characters lived before everything changed. It’s not a deep novel. But it’s entertaining for me, as a fan of the show.
  12. The Library of the Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick * — TK
  13. The Violets of March by Sarah Jio — Sarah Jio and I corresponded once or twice when she wrote a health blog for Glamour in the early aughts. I was a recipe developer, and sometimes my work was relevant to hers. So when this book was released, I was psyched because I felt a small connection to its author. It turned me into a fan and I have read everything she’s written since. This book was intriguing and curious and hopeful in a way I enjoyed. I re-read it this spring, having forgotten why I loved it so. And I found, again, a nuanced story of family secrets, love and hope for a better future. It was a different experience the second time around, but still so, so good.
  14. The Witch’s Kind by Louisa Morgan * — From the author of A Secret History of Witches comes this tale set before, during and after World War II in a timeline that jumps between the past and the present. It’s the story of Barrie Anne Blythe and her aunt Charlotte, who live in the Pacific Northwest and have a gift. They can see and feel things others cannot. When an unusual orphaned baby appears in their lives, Barrie takes her in and raises her as her own. This story is nuanced and has multiple elements unfolding at once. It’s beautifully done and touches on love, loss, domestic violence and survival. A very good read (or listen).
  15. Park Avenue Summer by Renee RosenRead my mini-review in Bangor Metro magazine here.
  16. God Land by Lyz Lenz Read my mini-review in Bangor Metro magazine here.
  17. The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen * — Read my mini-review in Bangor Metro magazine here.
  18. The Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand * — TK
  19. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling — I first read this book at age 20, just after graduating from college, at a time in my life when I was working in Manhattan and living in Connecticut. I read book after book that summer on the train commuting — and it was there that I fell in love with Harry, Hermoine, Ron and all their friends. Rereading this almost two decades later, I devoured it again, rediscovering what it was that made me love this book in the first place. Yes, I will be rereading them all.
  20. My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi * — Ebony-Grace Norfleet has been sent from Huntsville, Alabama, where she lives with her mom and grandfather to Harlem in New York City to stay with her father. She’s a girl with an active, boundless imagination, who — perhaps — resides a little too much in it. As she acclimates to this different world, she must also confront reality too. This was a great book to listen to with my kids. With vivid storytelling and a vibrant storyline, its message about finding your place in a changing world resonated with my middle schooler and soon-to-be high schooler.
  21. The Island by Elin Hilderbrand — TK
  22. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger — I couldn’t recall if I had read this before or not. So I decided that this summer was the perfect time to read (or reread it). And you know what? I loved it even more than I loved the movie. Go figure. If you’ve ever worked in publishing — particularly publishing in New York — this is a novel worth diving into.
  23. Pretty Guilty Women by Gina LaManna * — Though it’s not really all that similar, this book reminded me of the musical and film Chicago. It’s about female friendship and the lengths friends will go to to protect someone from an abuser.
  24. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan * — I had no idea this was the second book in a loose series. But it didn’t matter. It can stand alone and does — beautifully. I love this tale of finding oneself and ones place in the world.
  25. The Curse of the Werepenguin by Allan Woodrow * — This was one I selected with my kids in mind, and I am so glad I did. It was funny, entertaining and fun.
  26. Chances Are … by Richard Russo * — Richard Russo is a Mainer and the father of a bookstore owner I know. He’s the author of Nobody’s Fool, a film that starred Paul Newman and filmed — in part — around the corner from my home in Poughkeepsie, New York. I picked this book because … Well, I should really read something by Richard Russo, shouldn’t I? And this beautiful book about family, friendship, passion and coming of age was a wonderful introduction to his work.
  27. The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel * — I’ve been very into historical fiction this year, and this book didn’t disappoint. It’s set in Champagne, France, during World War II and tells the story of a winemaker, his wife, his apprentice and his wife — along with a few others. It’s raw and wrenching and lovely.
  28. Cog by Greg van Eekhout — TK
  29. Catherine’s War by Julia Billet — This is a middle-grade graphic novel about a young girl and her family who went to extraordinary lengths to survive World War II. It comes out on Jan. 21, 2020 and is a wonderful, heartful read.
  30. All the Flowers in Paris by Sarah Jio — Sarah Jio used to write a blog for Glamour Magazine. She and I were faintly acquainted, so when her first novel debuted I read it — and it was excellent. I’ve been a devoted follower of her work ever since. This novel is a departure for her, set in Paris (her previous books have centered around Seattle and the Puget Sound where she lives). And it tells the tale of two women — one in World War II Paris and one in present-day Paris. It’s breathtaking, thoughtful and raw. I loved it.
  31. Bernard Pepperlin by Cara Hoffman * —What if the dormouse from Alice in Wonderland escaped the fabled tea party and ended up in … New York. And what if he found himself in the middle of a plot to stop time there? I love this tale of wonder and bravery, adventure and loyalty. It was wonderful to share with my kids.

* Indicates book was read via audiobook.