I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
December 30, 2019
It was a good year for books. I read/listened to 60 this year and I’m happy to say there were very few bombs in the bunch, which is a very good thing. When I came to the end of last year, I decided I’d followed the herd and read too many new releases, so this year, I made an effort to seek out older great books as well — and it shows in this list. Widening the net really improved the quality of my reading choices, because realistically many of the ‘best’ books of 2019 will be completely forgotten a decade from now, but a book from 1976 that’s still widely read today is probably fantastic.
Check out my favorites below. If you’d like to see everything I read in 2019, you can find it here. And I’d love to hear about your favorite books of 2019 — Leave a comment and tell me what you enjoyed.
Scythe, Neal Shusterman
WOW. I absolutely loved this book and would recommend it to anyone. I’m going to make sure everyone in my family reads it — I’d compare it to The Hunger Games, and I think it’s every bit as good, IF NOT BETTER.
We are introduced to a time in the future where disease and natural death have been all but eradicated — In order to keep the population under control, a group of people called scythes meet a quarterly random killing quota, which means that everyone lives indefinitely unless they are unlucky enough to be targeted and killed (‘gleaned’ is the term they prefer) by one of the scythes. We meet two teenagers, Citra and Rowan who have been apprenticed to a scythe — Neither wants the job, but since scythes’ family members are immune from gleaning, they really can’t say no to the job opportunity. But while scythes are trained to live by the highest moral standards, some have slipped through the cracks — and Rowan and Citra are about to be caught in the crossfire.
Scythe moves at breakneck speed and has so many unexpected twists and turns, all of which are completely believable in this world that Neal Shusterman has created. Reading the book is like watching an excellent movie, and the end leaves you anxious to read more, as soon as possible. I am so excited about this series and its potential and really hope it’s made into a movie soon! It will definitely be one of my favorite books of 2019.
Follow the River, James Alexander Thom
23-year-old Mary Ingles was married, a mother of two, and nine months pregnant with a third child when her settlement was invaded by a Shawnee tribe and she, her sons, and sister-in-law were kidnapped while the rest of the settlers were slaughtered in front of them. This book, though fictional, closely follows the true story of how Mary survived despite impossible odds.
I was completely riveted by this book. It starts strong and its intensity never lets up — It reminds me of reading a Jon Krakauer adventure tale about a woman in the 1700s. It’s like The Revenant for women, and it would make a terrific movie. You will be absolutely amazed by Mary’s story, and the author’s note at the end giving more details about the real Mary Ingles and what happened after this story ends is equally shocking.
Obviously, the Shawnee people in this tale are not portrayed in the best light, although considering this book was written in the 1980s, I think the author does a good job of allowing the reader to see through Mary’s eyes that they were far from ‘savage’ — Mary quickly discerns that their civilization was much more advanced and their people more clever, emotional, and resourceful than she had realized before being brought to their village. I think the author realistically portrays settlers’ attitudes toward Native Americans at at that time and takes pains to differentiate between their beliefs and what was really going on.
I’m looking forward now to reading The Captured by Scott Zesch, true stories of some of the white children who were kidnapped by Native Americans during this time period. I’m fascinated by the fact that a number of the white women and children who were kidnapped and adopted into tribes later did not want to return to their white civilization, even when they had the opportunity.
And for a totally different look at Native American culture and the troubling impact our history has on their present day experience, I recommend Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog. It rocked my world and I’m definitely re-reading it soon.
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
Olive Kitteridge is a sharp-tongued, no nonsense school teacher, wife and mother living in small-town Maine. We get to know her over the years in a series of short stories, some about Olive, others about townspeople who come across Olive at some point in the story. It sounds like a simple enough premise, and it is — But with her incredible writing talent and keen eye for human nature, Elizabeth Strout manages to go much, much deeper.
I read many of these stories with a lump in my throat, even crying at the end of a few. Strout has a knack for exposing some of the darkest and most frightening thoughts and emotions we all have/will have as we age, but often don’t want think about or admit to. There’s plenty of sobering realism in Olive Kitteridge about growing older, dysfunctional relationships between parents and their adult children and between husbands and wives, and the cruelty humans too often show one other, but there’s also hope and a reminder that we need to live each day to the fullest, devote serious time and effort to our relationships with family members and friends, and appreciate all we have at every phase of our lives — because none of it lasts forever.
I really loved this book. It just might end up being the best book I read in 2019.
Olive, Again, Elizabeth Strout
I have to admit I was a little afraid that this sequel to Olive Kitteridge couldn’t possibly live up to my expectations. Reader, I am thrilled to report IT DID. And now that I’ve read three of Elizabeth Strout’s novels, I’ve decided she’s one of my very favorite authors.
Olive, as you’ve probably guessed, is back, and now she has an AARP card. We experience old age through her and the people around her in a series of short stories, and in the process have an opportunity to review our own lives and think about where we want to be in our own final decades. Although some of the stories in this collection fell a little short, overall it’s still a very strong work and I love the way Elizabeth Strout uses her characters to confront the issues we’re all afraid to talk — or even think — about. If you read and loved Olive Kitteridge, read Olive, Again as soon as you possibly can.
The Bronze Horseman, Paullina Simons
I’ve seen The Bronze Horseman appear on many ‘best books of all time’ lists and so I saved it for a time when I was in a reading slump. Well, this book brought me right out of my most recent book malaise — It’s definitely going to be in my top five for the year.
This is the story of Tatiana Metanov, a young Russian girl living in Leningrad during World War II. She falls in love with a soldier and he with her, but absolutely everything stands in their way. It seems impossible that they’ll ever end up being together — yet true love always finds a way, right?
Both Tatiana and Alexander, the soldier, are brought alive by the author. You love them, you root for them, you feel like you really know them and understand them — so as a romance, this book is very compelling.
But there’s so much more to The Bronze Horseman than romance. We learn all about how Russian soldiers and citizens were treated by their government during World War II. It’s surprising, to say the least. Even more shocking, we learn what it would have been like to live in Leningrad during the war. The city was held under siege by the Germans for 872 days, resulting in the deaths of 800,000 of its citizens. Paullina Simons clearly did exhaustive research on the siege and the details are amazing and horrifying and unforgettable — I have a feeling the siege is what I’ll remember most about this novel years from now.
This book is long, but it’s one of the few I’ve read at this length that really flew for me, although it did take me a hundred pages or so to really get into the story. I ended up being grateful for the length because it allowed me to really become invested in the characters and care about what happened to them. I’ll warn you too that there are some pretty graphic sex scenes in this book, but since they evolved naturally and over a long period of time, they seemed appropriate to the story rather than sensational and unnecessary.
Bottom line? This book is both fabulous romance and compelling historical fiction. I think you’ll love it, and I personally can’t wait to read the next two sequels.
Daisy Jones and the Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book may not be great literary fiction, but it is most definitely a GREAT read. Written as an (entirely fictional) oral biography about a young woman who shot to stardom as a rock singer in the 70s (there are definite comparisons to A Star is Born, in the best possible way), you’ll get lost in this tale of sex, drugs, and rock and roll and fall in love with Daisy Jones in all her quirky, troubled glory. Reading this book, I felt like I was watching Almost Famous all over again and totally loving it. I highly recommend this book as a beach read — It’s pure, page-turning fun from start to finish.
Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane
The story of a boy and a girl who grow up together, weather a family tragedy, and fall in love, Ask Again, Yes has a definite spot in my top ten books of the year. This is very well-written literary fiction about people who could be your own next door neighbors, and it will move you, make you laugh out loud, perhaps even cry a little, and most importantly, think. It’s about life and death, emotional baggage, family, and the great and consuming power of true love. Read this the next time you’re looking for a sure thing, particularly if you enjoy literary fiction dealing with suburban life.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Samantha Irby
I 100% adored We are Never Meeting in Real Life and feel like Samantha Irby could be my best friend — and isn’t that the greatest feeling when you’re reading a book of essays? I listened to the audiobook version, which is narrated by Irby, and I loved it — but I actually bought a copy of the book as well, because literally every sentence Irby spoke was a comedic gem and I knew I’d want to go back and read these essays again.
Irby is hilarious, raw, and very real in this book. She’s not afraid to tell you exactly how she feels about men, women, Crohn’s Disease, working the front desk at an office full of veterinarians, and much, more. She is so honest about herself and her own shortcomings that it frees her to be honest about everything else without you completely hating her. And did I mention that she’s ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS? I did. I know. But it’s worth saying again. Not since David Sedaris have I found a writer who has made me laugh as much as Samantha Irby.
I’m thrilled that Irby also has a blog (www.bitchesgottaeat.blogspot.com) and I’m now reading that, starting at the very beginning. Yay.
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
I read and adored The Kite Runner several years ago, so after hearing A Thousand Splendid Suns was just as good, I was saving it for a special occasion. That occasion finally came when I was choosing the reading list for my daughter’s World Literature course this year. We just read it together and it was absolutely amazing. And heartbreaking. And eye-opening. And a reading experience I’ll definitely remember for many years to come.
Written about the experiences of two women whose lives intertwine in war-torn Afghanistan, A Thousand Splendid Suns made their experiences on the other side of the world deeply personal and relatable to this suburban white woman in Tennessee. Khaled Hosseini writes beautifully and movingly and I soaked up every word, and by the end of the book I felt connected for the first time to the struggles faced by so many woman right now in the Middle East — That, to me, is what reading is all about and it was something I was excited to share with my daughter. While reading the book together, we also read news reports of Afghanistan’s current political and cultural climate and synopses of its history. We ended with a better understanding of Afghanistan’s place in the world and the impact its constant unrest is having on its people.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is certainly one of the best books I’ve read this year and this decade, for that matter, and I highly recommend it.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
I listened to the audiobook version of this story, which was read by Elaine Stritch, and the combination of her excellent narration and Barbara Robinson’s pitch-perfect narrative voice sent me right back to my small-town childhood again. I literally felt like I was a ten-year-old listening to a friend relay the incredible story of the awful Herdman kids and that time they all participated in the local Christmas pageant, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. It was the kind of thing that easily could have taken place in my hometown back in the day, which made it an extra fun listen. I even cried a little at the end!
I enthusiastically recommend this book either as a Christmas listen or as a read-aloud with your own kids. Your whole family will LOVE it. I promise. I can’t believe this book made it into my top ten of the year, but honestly there aren’t a whole lot of really wonderful Christmas family books out there for grade school-aged kids and this one is magnificent.