2019 in Book Review!

Happy New Year everyone!  I read about 120 books this year, and these are my favorites by category.
 
Literary Fiction
  • A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza: Insightful and intimate story about the intra- and inter-personal dynamics of an Indian-American, Muslim family living in Northern California.
  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan: Born a slave on a brutal Barbados plantation in 1818, Black becomes a naturalist, scientist, and inventor via circumstance mingled with aptitude and fortitude. The book defies categorization — it is simultaneously a wild adventure story and a personal reflection on a life propelled by both trauma and serendipity.
  • Clover Blue by Eldonna Edwards: Northern California commune in the 70s, 10-year old Clover Blue is a wonderful character. Completely engrossing.
  • Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles: A deep, richly painted, adventure story in East Texas just after the civil war. (avail 4/4/20)
  • Lilian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney: Exquisite language, New York City in the 20s through 80s, highest paid woman in adverstising.
  • Circe by Madeline Miller: A surprisingly engrossing page turner that brings to life the stories of antiquity in a new genre of fictionalized mythology.
 
Historical fiction
  • City of Flickering Light by Juliette Fay: Holllywood during the silent era
  • The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chun: A thoughtful and unusual memoir-style novel describing the personal journey of a female, bi-racial mathematician as she simultaneously navigates a male dominated field and slowly uncovers the truth of her family history.
  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier: In 1933, Violet Speedwell is one of the many “surplus” women — women for whom there simply are no men, WWI having depleted the stores. This quiet, slow-paced, and yet utterly engrossing novel follows the 38-year old Violet as she slowly makes an independent life for herself without the availability of traditional options.
 
General Fiction
  • The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman: Funny, intelligent writing, quirky characters, grammar jokes, literary references, and a hidden part of L.A.
  • The Astonishing Life of August March by Aaron Jackson: A fast romp through NYC from the 30s to the 60s. August March literally grew up in the theater — literally. Tossed in a laundry basket at birth by an empty-headed starlet, raised by the laundress who found him, but left him in the theater at night so she could sleep, and educated by a typically vain and pompous leading man (who was the only one to know he existed
  • The Night Visitors by Carol Goodman: Perfectly paced story about a sanctuary for battered women and a woman and child show up. Big themes of Justice, Vengeance, Forgiveness. Classic literary references, balanced views. I forgot how much I love Carol Goodman!
 
Memoir
  • Good Talk by Mira Jacob: A memoir in graphic novel form. Personal experience as a person of color raising a bi-racial child up through the Trump era
  • All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung:well-written and insightful memoir about the author’s trans-racial adoption (white family, Korean birth family), eventual reunion with her birth family, and the birth of her first child.
 
NonFiction
  • Gender Mosaic by Daphna Joel and Luba Vikhansi:Completely shifted the way I think about gender. Focus on research and evidence and NOT on identity politics. Based on copious (and referenced) research and clear but comprehensive writing makes everything pretty straightforward.
  • The War that Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan:Unbelievably good. The story not of WWI, but of how the war happened despite everything that worked so hard to prevent it.
  • The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis:Fascinating book about the birth of the field now known as Behavioral Economics. Part biography, part history, part research summary, this is the story both of the evolution of a friendship and collaboration as well as the melding of two previously disconnected fields: Economics and Psychology.
  • On The Clock by Emily Guendelsberger:Journalist undercover at a series of high churn, low paying jobs: Amazon fulfillment center at “Peak” (December), a Convergys call center, and a McDonald’s (located at the corner of Tourist and Homeless in downtown San Francisco).
 
Mystery
  • The Lost Man by Jane Harper: Completely absorbing. Part mystery — part family drama, all playing out in a landscape that is real, but unlike any that most of us know — the remote Australian Outback.
  • The entire Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths — my new favorite mystery writer
 
F&SF
  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik: A beautifully done fantasy novel that (as an aside) turns gender stereotyping on its head. A merge of fairytales, with a well-blurred line between the magical and the familiar and an unparalleled evocation of place
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of Januart by Alix E Harrow:Great adventure story! Love, betrayal, and a panoply of creatures, cultures, and “magical” objects that leak through Doors: the thin boundaries between our world and innumerable others.
 
YA and children’s
  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi: Vivid and visceral — the kind where every phrase says far more than its constituent words would suggest. Strong themes of righteous vengeance against evil combined with realistic and subtle explanations of what people do. Vibrant, powerful writing.
  • All That’s Bright and Gone by Eliza Nellums:A beautifully imagined book about a child growing up and making sense of her (in no way average) world.
  • This I Know by Eldonna Edwards: A luminous voice — a delicate and unique coming-of-age story set in rural Michigan in the 60s.

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