It turns out that even with having the busiest wedding season of my career, I still managed to double my goal. Or, at least, nearly double it. (I am currently reading my 96th book of the year and I have no doubt I’ll hit 100 before the ball drops on NYE.)
Last year I found myself reading a lot of non-fiction, which surprised me since I’m not typically a non-fiction lover. This year, I kept myself fairly even, going back and forth between fiction and non-, heavier and lighter reading. During the busier wedding season months, I read a lot of light stuff that I could pick up and put down or listen to on audio. The heavier stuff I saved for when I could spend more time on it without being interrupted. In total, I’ve read over 34,000 pages. (I didn’t count; Goodreads does a “my year in books” breakdown, which I always find fascinating.)
I tried really hard to narrow down my favorites, but it was hard so I’m feeling a bit proud that I finally got this list down to thirty. Yes, I know. Thirty, lol. In no particular order, here are my favorite 30 books from this year. (Though, truly, I had to cut so many wonderful titles off because the list was just so extensive it was becoming a bit ridiculous.)
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
I cannot tell you how badly I want to visit Bletchley Park now. 🤞🏻 This book was incredible, absolutely incredible. The mix of historically accurate places, people, machines, brilliant minds, and top secrets with the drama of the unfolding storyline, popping back and forth between the countdown to Elizabeth and Phillip’s wedding and the years during WWII, was riveting. I couldn’t put it down.
I love (love, love) the genuine character builds of Osla, Mab, and Beth; their differences, their friendship, their betrayal and hatred, and their forever-bond. This entire cast of characters, all the way from Prince Phillip (in real life, he became godfather to the real Osla’s child!) to Francis to Harry to Boots. I cannot recommend this book enough and I, for one, am on pins and needles for the TV series make of it. I went down a spiraling rabbit hole of internet research into code breaking, bombes, the Enigma code, cribs, and lobsters after reading this.
As an interesting note, I was reading this when Queen Elizabeth II died and during the mourning period and it all felt very surreal reading about her marriage in the book during her present day death.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
What. A. Masterpiece!
Taylor Jenkins Reid can weave a story and, my gosh, this is intense and intricate and moving and…perfection. I sincerely feel just shockingly blown away turning this last page.
“Billy: I’m saying that when you really love someone, sometimes the things they need may hurt you, and some people are worth hurting for.” (page 214)
“Camilla: All I will say is that you show up for your friends on their hardest days. And you hold their hand through the roughest parts. Life is about who is holding your hand and, I think, whose hand you commit to holding.”
Interesting note: Mick Riva, a character from TJR’s Malibu Rising, makes a cameo in this book, which was the coolest little cross-over surprise.
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
This was a short read; so beautifully written and incredibly impactful. It tells the story of a Colombian couple seeking refuge in America with their young daughter. Two of their three children are born U.S. citizens. They struggle daily with fear of being found and deported or, worse, separated. This book follows their lives from various angles, giving perspective and voice to the ones who seek safety and full lives in America and find it is far different than they had imagined.
Night Road by Kristin Hannah
I’m a sucker for Kristin Hannah, but even I didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did. It’s tragic and heartbreaking and unfair and there are just layers upon layers of relationship and class dynamics. There’s Jude, the wealthy helicopter mom; Mia and Zach, happy bright teenagers with their whole lives ahead of them; and Lexi, the former foster child with a dark past. She becomes best friends with Mia and then girlfriend to Zach and the three are inseparable. Until… And then, because grief causes you to want to blame someone or something, all fingers point to Lexi.
It’s a book you won’t be able to put down.
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez
Anyone who grew up in or around Evangelical culture knows the reality of this book; has lived it. But reading about it, reading the facts behind it, the history, is still shocking. I cannot recommend this enough—and have—to basically everyone.
The further removed I get from this culture (now as an adult), the more toxic I can see it was and is and the immense damage it has done and is doing to so many people…in every single area: race, immigration, sex, violence, male dominance, misogyny, politics, America-first/America-chosen mentality, etc. etc. etc.
A couple of quotes I highlighted…
“Although he’s regularly asked to do so, God does not take sides in American politics.”
“The ‘moral majority’ had reasserted itself, electing the least moral candidate in memory to the highest office of the land.”
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
I absolutely loved this book! Maybe it’s because I read Verity (mystery thriller; not my usual genre) before this and a whole slew of summer romance books (light, easy) before that, but the storyline was both beautiful and rich without feeling heavy, almost as if there’s no climax…just wonderfully written moments piled upon beautifully described moments. It spans so many decades, but never feels confusing or boring or long. Every moment feels necessary even while being unnecessary, little pieces of life in great, wonderful description.
To note, the audiobook is a must for this. Tom Hanks reads it and he brought the people to life in the best ways. I don’t know if I would’ve loved this book as much without his voice.
Best Wishes, Warmest Regards by Daniel Levy and Eugene Levy
For anyone who even remotely loves Schitt’s Creek, this is a must have book. It’s beautiful. I loved so much reading the behind-the-scenes thoughts on scenes and episodes from so many of the cast and crew. The mixture of fan art, behind the scenes photos, and episode stills were so perfectly put together. I actually found myself crying at the end of the book reading about the last episode, exactly as I had watching the last episode. Schitt’s Creek will forever be one of my favorite shows and this book is a work of art celebrating everything about the people and love in the show.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Ohemgee, I have THOUGHTS. But mostly: this exceeded all the hype, which is a huge feat considering how massive the hype was for this story. I want to channel Elizabeth Zott’s energy, brilliance, boldness, and bravery for the rest of my life. She is…a role model. This is easily one of my top 5 favorites of the year.
It’s coming as a series to Apple TV+ next year and I am sooooo excited!!!
Speak by Tunde Oyeneyin
I remember when Tunde first started teaching at Peloton. I loved her energy and was inspired by both her arms (!!!) and her encouragements. I was there for the Speak Up ride she referenced. I was there for the class after she cut her hair. I was there for her Two for One ride with Alex. She is someone I wish I were friends with in real life because she is genuine, honest, and fun.
This book is a beautiful memoir, giving much more depth to some of the brief glimpses we’ve gotten in classes. (I knew her brother, dad, and mom all died within 6 years time and I knew about the Beyoncé song, the makeup career, the weight loss, but I didn’t know truly because, well, those are stories that take more time than between climbs or speed pushes.)
I have loved @tune2tunde since her start at Peloton and I love her somehow even more now.
Will by Will Smith
First bit of advice for this book: it must be listened to on audio, read by Will himself.
I grew up in a conservative family without TV so it’s safe to say I also didn’t listen to rap (until my teens when I found Christian rap, LOL) so I do not have a childhood tie to Fresh Prince in either audio or visual realms. I think my first memory of Will is from watching Hitch, which, honestly, while a delightful romcom, is not the pinnacle of his acting career.
I had been on the wait list for this book for ages and, in that time, there was the Oscars slap heard round the world so my idea of who Will is was muddied. (Was he in the right? Was he not? Should I even have an opinion as a white woman? Nah.)
Will Smith is a fascinating guy. Period. Full stop. This book covers his entire life and there was not one moment that was not completely and immensely interesting. I have just a thousand thoughts and all of them are good. But, perhaps my favorite story (which I will definitely apply to my actual life) is the one about building the brick wall.
Five full, bursting stars. This is a good one.
State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny
If you’re a Homeland fan (or are intrigued with the inner workings of government…or just like a thriller storyline), you’ll love this book! The Clinton/Penny pairing is genius and it’s evident where each of their individual strengths shine. I love that they are friends IRL and I would definitely love to see more work from them together.
There are a lot of players in this book (as well as locations worldwide) and that can feel overwhelming at the start, but it was a page-turning suspense all the way to the end. I could not put it down.
Embarrassingly, I’ll be honest, until I read this, I really didn’t have great knowledge of what our Secretary of State does. I loved that Hillary brought her firsthand experience of the job into the book (what could logistically be plausible) and that Bill offered his tidbits to the authors on how a president would realistically respond in various situations.
The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs
This book is an exceptional historical review of the lives of Louise, Alberta, and Berdis, the mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, and James Baldwin. “While the sons have been credited with the success of Black resistance, the progression of Black thought, and the survival of the Black community, the three mothers who birthed and reared them have been erased. This book fights that erasure.”
I happened to be reading it over Mother’s Day, which made it especially meaningful. I tabbed so many pages and highlighted so many paragraphs, a few of which I’m including in the Instagram review carousel (click to read). I cannot recommend this book enough!
Books Lovers by Emily Henry
Any new Emily Henry book is an automatic must-read for me and this might be my favorite yet!! A literary agent and an editor in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina in a would be “meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.” Spoiler: it’s terribly cute.
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb
If only everyone could have a relationship like Bessie and Bobby… What a treasure of a book. Bess Kalb invited us into this sacred relationship between her and her grandmother and I am so grateful for it.
Bess (granddaughter) writes this book from the narrative of Bobby (grandmother), in a first-person style of storytelling. (There are also voice mail transcripts, which are a delight!) The book spans the life of Bobby’s parents to Bobby to Bobby’s daughter (Bess’ mother) to Bess. It’s all woven together exquisitely. This is a book that will fill you up in the very best and most tender of ways. I’m not even part of their family and I’m still so proud of these words that Bess has preserved for her future generations.
“Bessie, if you try on a dress and you don’t immediately want to parade outside the dressing room and show it off to everyone in the store, take it off and forget it ever existed.” (voice mail 2012)
“You mustn’t be so angry at yourself for not getting through to me in those last days. You’ll never escape the knife blade of guilt pressed to your throat. You must move forward. You’re sorry and so am I. What are we supposed to do now? Talk about it? Ha. You can write all you want, but you’re still at a desk in a world where I don’t exist. I’m the way you think.”
“You’re my angel. I am you. I’m the bones in your body and the blood that fills you up and the meat around your legs. I’m the softness of your cheeks and the way they freckle in the summer, and I’m the streaks of rust in your hair, and I’m the nose under your nose and the eyes that narrow with fire and roll backward in delight at all the same things. I’m your style. I’m your laugh. I’m the rage in your heart that I’m not here. You’re the body I left behind. I made sure of that. From the moment I met you, I never stopped telling you my stories. Because nobody will write them but you.”
How to Fake It in Hollywood by Ava Wilder
Okay, so the cover needs a remake. (It’s cheesy, IMO.) But other than that, this book is exquisite. I loved this love story. There is depth here that I appreciate that lacks in some romance books. I love how Nora is portrayed, I love how messy Ethan is, I love Grey, and I love that not everything turns out perfectly with a bow on top. A truly great read that is much deeper than the cover would imply.
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
I knew nothing about Garfield before this book, nor really anything of his story, but, whoa, to those medical practices!!! 😬
In brief, Garfield was just a few months into his presidency (one that he didn’t run for and tried, in fact, to decline!) when he was shot by Charles Guiteau, who felt “called by God” to murder him, in a train station. (This was before Secret Service or security detail of any kind, which is mind boggling in its own right. Presidents just freely walked about the street and rode public transportation.) For two long, grueling months, Garfield remained alive, while infection, not from the bullet, but from the doctors’ probing unwashed hands and unsterile instruments, causing sepsis and, ultimately, death.
A few notable bits:
1) in our current day of medicine, it is estimated he would’ve made a full recovery in just a few days as the bullet itself caused no fatal damage.
2) Alexander Graham Bell is part of this story–fascinating!–as he worked feverishly to create a machine to find the bullet (in the future, the x-ray).
3) Joseph Lister is also part of this story. He tried to educate other doctors on his theories (and successful practices) of sterilization to prevent infection, but doctors, particularly U.S. doctors, thought he was crazy. Even those who did try some of his methods, sterilizing their instruments, for example, blundered their own efforts by wearing lab coats that had never been washed (the more blood and puss remnants on the coat, the more successful and elder the doctor) or dropping an instrument and picking it back up for use or, gah, holding it in their mouth during surgery if both their hands were occupied.
4) Willard Bliss, the doctor who weaseled his way to the top by self-proclaiming to be Garfield’s primary doctor, blundered the entire treatment and, ultimately, ended up causing his death by his own arrogance and dogged unsterilized probing and exams.
5) Charles Guiteau, aye. I don’t have much to say for him except his ideology was really, really screwed up.
Ultimately, this book is fascinating in every way and Millard did a marvelous job weaving together the various people who were involved, making history come completely alive with her vivid writing. Garfield’s presidency is really just a blip on the radar of U.S. history, so short it was, but this provided background to his life, his values, and what an intelligent man he was.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
Let me start by saying, this is an excellent audiobook. There’s so much singing in this book that is conveyed so wonderfully by the narrator, Caitlin Kinnunen, that is an extra delight to listen to it rather than read it. The bonus is that you’ll get to hear Jimmy’s song, “Mary Jane.”
Let me start with what Mary Jane is not. Despite the bold publisher blurb, it IS NOT Almost Famous meets Daisy Jones and the Six. At least they get the next bit right when they call it a “funny, wise, and tender novel about a fourteen-year-old girl’s coming of age in 1970s Baltimore.”
More from my list of IS/IS NOT:
– It IS actually funny. I LOL’d more than once and smiled often.
– It IS NOT a Young Adult novel. Despite the 14-year-old protagonist, Mary Jane has mature themes well suited for mature readers.
– It IS a literary trip back to the 1970s. Avocado-colored appliances, macrame, and President Ford references abound.
– It IS NOT a novel with a huge “what will happen” plot that pulls readers through its pages. This is a slice-of-life story where the enjoyment comes from the characters and their experiences together.
– It IS a great exploration of class, race, lifestyle and gender stereotypes from the era. In one summer, Mary Jane leaves the sheltered nest of her conservative home when she nannies for a free-spirited family that opens her eyes to many things including the alternative meaning of her name.
Really, Mary Jane is just a delight. If you can still squeeze in one last trip to the beach or pool this summer, toss this in your tote bag and get ready to rock and roll with a groovy girl and her far out friends-to-family story.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
“I hate Evelyn, but I think I like her very much.”
Perhaps my favorite TJR book to date! (Stiff competition there; Malibu Rising will go down as a forever favorite.) This was absolutely beyond. It included twists I never saw coming in both the recollection and current storylines.
Also, everyone needs a Harry in their lives. ❤️
I Must Betray You by Ruth Sepetys
“I Must Betray You is a work of historical fiction. The Ceausescu dictatorship and the extended suffering of over twenty million Romanians, however, is not fiction. It was hauntingly real yet remains unfamiliar to many.”
I admit, I knew zero things about the brutality, evil, and deceit of Ceausescu’s dictatorship rule. I picked this book up because I’m a huge fan of Ruta Sepetys, author of two of my favorite books, Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray.
“Ceausescu’s criticism of the Kremlin combined leaders of many countries that he was a maverick, when, in reality, his reign revealed him to be a monster. Ceausescu understood that in order to rule through tyranny, his first step was isolation. He isolated Romania from the rest of the world and then proceeded to further isolate individual citizens by separating and positioning them against one another.”
The storyline follows Cristian, a 17 year old boy, as he gets blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. It’s a riveting story, made even more graphic as I started researching the reality of Romania in 1989, when this book takes place. I will never eat a banana again without thinking of the wonderful joy and privilege of being able to eat a fresh banana like it’s nothing. (If you’ve read the book, you know.)
Thank You For Listening by Julie Whelan
Okay, I’m going to have to quote my friend Gail on this one: “The difference between reading a physical copy of this book and listening to Julia Whelan narrate it is akin to watching ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in black and white versus Technicolor.
“It really is that compelling of an audiobook! Whelan pulls out all the stops with her sophomore title, nailing at least a dozen different accents throughout the book (including an Irish brogue with a main character!)
“Overall, the tone of this one was light on the romance and heavy on the career and family drama. But I found it to be a fascinating peek behind the current of an industry (audio narration) I knew little about. And in that sense, it’s a book that few could have pulled off as convincingly as Whelan, herself a retired actor-turned-narrator.”
I loved this book, but truly, truly Julia reading the audiobook was the huge reason this was a winner for me!
The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer
I happened, without trying at all, to be reading this book over January 27th, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. That timing made for an extra powerful impact.
This book is told from two POVs: Emilia’s and Roman’s. It’s based in Warsaw with both the persecution of Jewish people and the brave rescue work done by Polish people. It is powerful and compelling and a book that I could not put down.
Just when it seemed like we were getting to the other side of the German horrors, in come the Soviets with new horrors. I should’ve known something would happen because there was still a good chunk of book left, but it still threw me.
Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid might be my favorite author of all time.
There, I said it.
I’ll be honest: if anyone else had written a book so heavily focused on tennis, I may not have picked it up, but I had this on my list from the moment it was announced and I waited (not so) patiently on a very long hold list at the library (that moved relatively quickly, which proved how quickly everyone else ahead of me also blazed through it).
TJR’s style of writing always pulls me in. She has an amazing way of developing characters so that, by the end of a book, you feel like you’ve grown with them. You have felt things about them; anger, annoyance, sadness, pride, happiness, and friendship (however one-sided it ends up being as you close the book).
I absolutely loved the ending. Though, I will be the first to admit, I did not know how it would end. I could envision multiple endings and, even with just a few pages left, I STILL didn’t know what would happen. I DIDN’T KNOW. I gasped at the absolute perfection—chef’s kiss—of a way to wrap up this book. I keep thinking back even now and, truly, not a single other ending could have been better.
Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman
Yessssssss! Not only do I adore the ten year growth period in this storyline, but dang do I love how realistic Sussman made a world where the Gabe Parkers and Ollie Matthiases hang out with the Chani Horowitzes. The mash up of interviewer/actor turned trusted friend turned something more complicated was so good. This love story is undoubtedly complicated, but understandably so and also equally wonderful.
The Light of Days by Judy Batalion
The subtitle: “The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos” …I struggle to even write words. This book is phenomenal. Twelve years in the making, it is meticulously researched and I am so grateful that each of these women’s heroic’s acts have been translated and firmly documented (in many cases from their own first hand accounts on toilet paper scraps and smuggled pencils in prison). So many hundreds of thousands of lives exist today because of these female resistance fighters, most who died for the fight.
The boldness, the strength, the resilience, the bravery, the mental and physical stamina…it is all beyond my comprehension. I will never understand. I will forever be amazed.
I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
I didn’t have a clue who Jennette McCurdy was before reading this (listening on audio book, which is honestly a must because it’s read by her and…you must), but that is utterly beside the point and an unnecessary prerequisite because whether or not you have the foggiest idea of who she is, you should read this book. (Trigger warnings: sexual and parental abuse, disordered eating, alcoholism.)
It is somehow both incredibly sad and also funny. There is a part in the audio book where Jennette chokes up briefly and I’m so glad they didn’t record over that part. It was incredibly impactful. It is hard to absorb both the intense love she has for her mom while also being so manipulated by and abused by her mom.
I am so happy McCurdy [finally] found her way from acting to writing, even after her mom shut down that dream from screenwriting back as a child. She is clearly meant to write and this book is a masterpiece of a memoir and a debut.
As reviewed by this Goodreads reader: “As a journalist and resident of Washington, D.C., Leibovich is in a unique position to discuss politicians. Unlike many of the books written by others, this book is not a memoir. And it’s not actually about Trump, either. Although Trump appears throughout the pages, Leibovich focuses on members of Congress and other officials who worked at the White House during Trump’s tenure.
“The crux of this book looks at the way in which Republican members of Congress betrayed their Constitutional oaths to the United States for the sole purpose of remaining in power; enabling and then whitewashing, illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional behaviors and actions in order to keep their jobs. We saw this in real time, but the author takes us backwards to reexamine the effects of how this submission of morals to one man, rather than to the Constitution, has had on our nation, and how it will continue to unravel our society.
“Both people in the country and abroad are cognizant of what happened from 2016 to the present. But reading about how politicians reacted to the author and the things that they said to him during his many informal interviews with them is eye opening. Leibovich argues that the price of submission to a single man, rather than to the Constitution, has devastating effects. Not only did it divide the country, but this unswerving cult-like devotion threatened to destroy it.
From the epilogue: “[Trump’s] story does not so much move in circles as it does in spirals. The longer it goes on, the worse it gets.”
The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin
I love this book, I love this book, I love this book. It is magic.
It is incredibly sad, but also funny and sweet and tender. I laughed out loud at bits with Lenni and Father Arthur. I cried at the tenderness. I just cannot stop thinking about how absolutely beautiful this whole story is. I want to hug it. Is that weird? I want to hug this book because it is so beautiful.
It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
Why do we ask the victims why they didn’t “just leave” or leave sooner instead of asking the abuser why they didn’t “just stop?”
Contrary to the official synopsis, this is not a love triangle book. Not even a little bit. This is a hard story of love and hurt and forgiveness and pain and doubt and strength. The moment in the book when the title is spoken gave me chills. I had every conflicting emotion while reading this which, as the epilogue says, is sort of the point.
This book is about love, yes, but it’s also about the cycle of abuse and the generational impact that it has. Hoover said even as she was writing it, she was trying to figure out a way to make it be different. But she knew the story she had to write, one heavily influenced by her own parents and her father’s abusiveness. This is not a blanket story; no one size fits all for domestic abuse. But it does peel back the layers and invite you in to an intensely challenging choice.
No Cure For Being Human (And Other Truths I Need To Hear) by Kate Bowler
Somehow both funny and sad. It’s honest and raw and beautiful and full of hope. This is the memoir everyone should read.
Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey
I adored this book. Partly because it is located in Columbus, Ohio and references several things there (German Village, Jeni’s, Graeters, the zoo), but also, I just really loved Everett and Teddy and their character arcs. It was romance, but without anything graphic, which I’m not opposed to, but it feels more trope-y to have sex scenes instead of building character. It was a beautiful love story of both a couple as well as finding your own passions and interests.