My biggest challenge when it comes to reading is that I watch too much Netflix (and hulu and Amazon). So I end up reading less and watching more. My goal for 2019 is to do the opposite: read more and watch less.
Each year I try to read 24 books — two each month. I was a book away from meeting my goal.
As a side note, even when I do not like a book, I am the type of person who must finish a book once I start it, so even if I do not like a book, I am compelled to finish it.
1. The Crossing by Tonia Christle
Genre: Disability Fiction
Why I read the series: The author is one of my closest friends, and this is one of several books in a series she has been writing for a couple of years. Positive and unique disability representation, since you have an actually disabled author writing on issues of disability. It also addresses trauma and PTSD from abuse.
Goodreads summary: “A young woman returns to the hospital where she was treated only to discover her invisible friend from childhood is real — and his sister is a patient.”
2. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Genre: Historical Fiction
Why I read the book: Truth be told, I am not well educated about how WWII impacted other countries. This particular story takes place in France and follows the lives of two sisters and the role they each played in the war. It was heartbreaking and beautiful and full of hope and sadness. It was my second favorite read of the year.
Amazon summary: “France, 1939 — In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
With courage, grace, and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France―a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.”
3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Why I read the series: It is my favorite series and I read it every other year.
Amazon summary: “The Dursleys were so mean that hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.
And strike it does. For in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockheart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls’ bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley’s younger sister, Ginny.
But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone–or something–starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects…Harry Potter himself?”
4. The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
Genre: Literary Fiction
Why I read the book: I am a fan of Sue Monk Kidd and found this book for .25 cents at Goodwill. This book is different from her other novels (the ones I have read at least) as it does not deal with slavery. I love the writing and Sue Monk Kidd writes stories that are hard to put down. That said, I never felt I could root for the main character.
Amazon summary: “When Jessie Sullivan is summoned home to the island to cope with her eccentric mother’s seemingly inexplicable behavior, she is living a conventional life with her husband, Hugh, a life ‘molded to the smallest space possible.’ Jessie loves Hugh, but once on the island, she finds herself drawn to Brother Thomas, a monk about to take his final vows. Amid a rich community of unforgettable island women and the exotic beauty of marshlands, tidal creeks, and majestic egrets, Jessie grapples with the tension of desire and the struggle to deny it, with a freedom that feels overwhelmingly right and the immutable force of home and marriage.”
5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Why I read the book: It is a classic. I tried listening to the book on tape read by the author and I could not get into it. With the movie coming out, I decided to try reading it myself. I know some people love this book, but I did not. It was confusing and I felt there was no depth to the characters. I felt like I was fed a story on morality and spirituality and the characters were secondary to that. The random quoting of scripture was odd and forced to fit in. I finished the book with no attachment to characters and this was a book I finished because I started it, not because I liked it.
Amazon summary: “It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.
‘Wild nights are my glory,’ the unearthly stranger told them. ‘I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.’
A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.”
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Why I read the series: I read it every other year. This is my favorite book in the series.
Amazon summary: “For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort.
Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter’s defeat of You-Know-Who was Black’s downfall as well. And the Azkban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, ‘He’s at Hogwarts…he’s at Hogwarts.’
Harry Potter isn’t safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may well be a traitor in their midst.”
7. Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
Why I read the book: Last year I read “All the Bright Places” by this author and enjoyed the story and her writing style. This was another good story, but like her other book, I believe a trigger warning would be helpful for some people dealing with similar issues; there is a lot of “fat shaming” and bullying as the main character is grossly overweight and it also addresses the mental health issues she deals with as a result. The book also centers around disability, and not necessarily in a positive way (the character tries to hide it, as it is an invisible disability) and his parents, family and friends are not aware of it, which I found hard to believe.
Amazon summary: “Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen.’ But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for EVERY POSSIBILITY LIFE HAS TO OFFER. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.
Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything in new and bad-ass ways, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.
Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. . . . Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.”
8. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Genre: Magical Realism
Why I read the book: Magical realism is the staple of my Mexican culture, so I love the genre. This was the first magical realism book I’ve read by someone who is not a well know Latinex writer. I absolutely loved this book. It is one I will read again. It was magical and beautiful and the setting was a character on its own. My favorite read of the year.
Amazon summary: “Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.”
9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. RowlingGenre: YA
Why I read the series: My favorite series. I read it every other year. As a side note, this is my least favorite book in the series.
Amazon summary: “Harry Potter is midway through his training as a wizard and his coming of age. Harry wants to get away from the pernicious Dursleys and go to the International Quidditch Cup. He wants to find out about the mysterious event that’s supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving two other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn’t happened for a hundred years. He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard. But unfortunately for Harry Potter, he’s not normal – even by wizarding standards. And in his case, different can be deadly.”
10. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Why I read the book: I have read almost every single one of John Green’s books. I knew this book dealt with mental illness. John Green has said in interviews he wrote his mental illness and intrusive thoughts into the story. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I was looking forward to seeing this representation in a book. If you wonder what it is like to have intrusive thoughts and how a teen learns to cope plus you like a good mystery, this is a great read. Also, can we all agree John Green picks the best names for his characters?
Amazon summary: “Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.”
11. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Genre: Magical Realism
Why I read the book: I had to read this book when I was in high school for my literature class. It is a Mexican classic, so I wanted to read it again. I was extremely disappointed I could not find it in Spanish, so I had to read it in English, which was quite a loss for me (I get all my books from the library, so the book is available in Spanish for purchase). This is not a book for children or younger teens, as the content is mature.
Amazon summary: “This classic love story takes place on the De la Garza ranch, as the tyrannical owner, Mama Elena, chops onions at the kitchen table in her final days of pregnancy. While still in her mother’s womb, her daughter to be weeps so violently she causes an early labor, and little Tita slips out amid the spices and fixings for noodle soup. This early encounter with food soon becomes a way of life, and Tita grows up to be a master chef, using cooking to express herself and sharing recipes with readers along the way.”
12. Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
Why I read the book: I love, love, love “The One and Only Ivan” from Katehrine Applegate, so I am a faithful reader of hers. While this is no Ivan book, it was a sweet story that deals with racisim.
Amazon summary: “Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .
Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood ‘wishtree’―people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with a crow named Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this wishtree watches over the neighborhood.
You might say Red has seen it all.
Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experience as a wishtree is more important than ever.
Funny, deep, warm, and nuanced, this is Katherine Applegate at her very best―writing from the heart, and from a completely unexpected point of view.”
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. RowlingGenre: YA
Why I read the series: My favorite series. Read it every other year.
Amazon summary: “In his fifth year at Hogwart’s, Harry faces challenges at every turn, from the dark threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the unreliability of the government of the magical world to the rise of Ron Weasley as the keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team. Along the way he learns about the strength of his friends, the fierceness of his enemies, and the meaning of sacrifice.”
14. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Genre: Literary Fiction
Why I read the book: I heard about the book because at The Mighty (where I work as the Parenting Editor), three books were selected for “book club” and this was one of them. It is a story about an autistic woman written by an actually autistic woman, and we are all about promoting the voices of disabled writers. I have read stories where characters are autistic, but none were written by actually autistic authors, so I was really excited to see accurate autistic representation. A few pages in and I turned to my husband and said, “I think I am reading a sex book.” This book is not, to my knowledge, in the Erotica genre, but in my opinion it should be (granted I have never read an Erotica book and it is most definitely not for me — the reason I cannot recommend the book). I put it away for a few days and decided to come back to it only because of the authentic autistic representation which is lacking in our culture. What I liked: we get a glimpse of what it is like to be autistic and experiencing sensory overload, saying honest comments that are hurtful to people and not understanding why people are offended, and the intricacies of dating when you are autistic. There were some great autistic representation scenes, like her description of going to a night club and the interactions with her escort’s family. However, the book was too focused on sex (and it was explicit) and although you can easily skip those scenes as it is not the main premise of the story, it is a major part of the book.
Amazon summary: “Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases–a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.
It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice–with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan–from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…
Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but crave all of the other things he’s making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…”
15. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Genre: Literary Fiction
Why I read the book: It is a classic, and as soon as I got the recommendation from Amazon, I knew I wanted to read it. Even as an immigrant, my experience is unique and I appreciate learning about how other people navigate life as minorities.
Amazon summary: “Acclaimed by critics, beloved by readers of all ages, taught everywhere from inner-city grade schools to universities across the country, and translated all over the world, The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero.
Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous – it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become. Few other books in our time have touched so many readers.”
16. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Why I read the series: My favorite series. I read it every other year.
Amazon summary: “The war against Voldemort is not going well; even the Muggles have been affected. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses.
And yet . . . as with all wars, life goes on. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Harry receives some extraordinary help in Potions from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince. And with Dumbledore’s guidance, he seeks out the full, complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort — and thus finds what may be his only vulnerability.”
17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Why I read the series: My favorite series. I read it every other year.
Amazon summary: “The brilliant, breathtaking conclusion to J.K. Rowling’s spellbinding series is not for the faint of heart–such revelations, battles, and betrayals await in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that no fan will make it to the end unscathed. Luckily, Rowling has prepped loyal readers for the end of her series by doling out increasingly dark and dangerous tales of magic and mystery, shot through with lessons about honor and contempt, love and loss, and right and wrong. Fear not, you will find no spoilers in our review–to tell the plot would ruin the journey, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an odyssey the likes of which Rowling’s fans have not yet seen, and are not likely to forget. But we would be remiss if we did not offer one small suggestion before you embark on your final adventure with Harry–bring plenty of tissues.
The heart of Book 7 is a hero’s mission–not just in Harry’s quest for the Horcruxes, but in his journey from boy to man–and Harry faces more danger than that found in all six books combined, from the direct threat of the Death Eaters and you-know-who, to the subtle perils of losing faith in himself. Attentive readers would do well to remember Dumbledore’s warning about making the choice between “what is right and what is easy,” and know that Rowling applies the same difficult principle to the conclusion of her series. While fans will find the answers to hotly speculated questions about Dumbledore, Snape, and you-know-who, it is a testament to Rowling’s skill as a storyteller that even the most astute and careful reader will be taken by surprise.”
18. The Children Act by Ian McEwan
Genre: Literary Fiction
Why I read the book: A friend recommended it several years ago. It was not what I expected at all, but it was a good story. It presents situations that would be quite difficult for anyone to decide. I wondered what I would do, yet it is a reality that with the ease of social media we make those judgement calls about other people without truly looking at “both sides.”
Amazon summary: “Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge who presides over cases in the family division. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude, and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.
At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: Adam, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, is refusing for religious reasons the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents echo his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely expressed faith? In the course of reaching a decision, Fiona visits Adam in the hospital—an encounter that stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.”
19. The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery by P.G. Bell
Why I read the book: I saw a friend recommend it for fans of Harry Potter. It was an OK book but I will not be reading the rest of the series. I found the main character to be unlikable, and it is hard to feel a connection with the book and characters when you don’t like the person driving the story. Cute book and a good adventure for kids, just not my personal cup of tea.
Amazon summary: “The Impossible Postal Express is no ordinary train. It’s a troll-operated delivery service that runs everywhere from ocean-bottom shipwrecks, to Trollville, to space.
But when this impossible train comes roaring through Suzy’s living room, her world turns upside down. After sneaking on board, Suzy suddenly finds herself Deputy Post Master aboard the train, and faced with her first delivery―to the evil Lady Crepuscula.
Then, the package itself begs Suzy not to deliver him. A talking snow globe, Frederick has information Crepuscula could use to take over the entire Union of Impossible Places. But when protecting Frederick means putting her friends in danger, Suzy has to make a difficult choice―with the fate of the entire Union at stake.”
20. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
Why I read the book: It is the latest winner of the Newberry Medal and the writing was beautifully crafted. Erin Entrada Kelly can write. I was really excited about this book but the disability representation and disability slurs were blatantly ableist. One of the characters is a bully and uses the R-word throughout the book and specifically towards a kid who has a learning disability. Not once is the R-word addressed as problematic or explained why, which is quite an oversight when you have kids reading this book who might not understand the R-word is hate speech towards people with disabilities — to resolve it with, “Don’t call me that,”is not enough and quite problematic. Sure, kids say that word, but that doesn’t mean it is OK to throw it around without talking about the implications it has to the disability community. Another character is deaf, born to hearing parents, so she has to rely on lip reading and her hearing aides. There is no mention of sign language, and while this is not unusual for kids in her situation, what a missed opportunity to teach that people can communicate in different ways. Last, the bully gets one of the characters at the bottom of a well, and it is never addressed what a dangerous situation that is and the fact that the bully could face criminal charges (and should have)… but the adults never learn about what happened because nobody died.
Amazon summary: “Told from four intertwining points of view—two boys and two girls—the novel celebrates bravery, being different, and finding your inner bayani (hero). “Readers will be instantly engrossed in this relatable neighborhood adventure and its eclectic cast of misfits.”—Booklist
In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so he can concentrate on basketball.
They aren’t friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.”
21. Shine by Jodi Picoult
Genre: Literary Fiction
Why I read this book: I actually listened to this book on tape while wrapping Christmas presents. I read “Small Great Things” and this was a prequel to the story. It is a really short story told form the perspective of Ruth when she is just a small child.
Amazon summary: “Today is Ruth’s first day of third grade at Dalton. The prestigious institution on New York’s Upper East Side couldn’t be more different from her old school in Harlem. Despite being the smartest girl in her grade, Ruth suspects that her classmates and teachers see only her dark skin. She also notices that Christina, the daughter of her mother’s employer, treats Ruth very differently when they’re hanging out with the popular girls rather than playing together. Ruth must navigate between two worlds, never losing sight of the dreams she has for herself – in hopes that someday someone will see her for who she really is.”
22. The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
Genre: Literary Fiction
Why I read the book: I was looking for a book and all the ones I wanted to read were not available at the library. When that happens, I start looking at favorite authors and see what is available. I really enjoy Liane Moriarty and while I had overlooked this book several times before, it was a book I could check out right away. In true Liane Moriarty fashion, I had a hard time putting this down and I learned a little bit about what it is like to do hypnotherapy, which was pretty intriguing. On the down side, there were several ableist comments that perpetuate stereotypes about disability. All in all, Moriarty may be one of my favorite authors.
Amazon summary: “Ellen O’Farrell is a professional hypnotherapist who works out of the eccentric beachfront home she inherited from her grandparents. It’s a nice life, except for her tumultuous relationship history. She’s stoic about it, but at this point, Ellen wouldn’t mind a lasting one. When she meets Patrick, she’s optimistic. He’s attractive, single, employed, and best of all, he seems to like her back. Then comes that dreaded moment: He thinks they should have a talk.
Braced for the worst, Ellen is pleasantly surprised. It turns out that Patrick’s ex-girlfriend is stalking him. Ellen thinks, Actually, that’s kind of interesting. She’s dating someone worth stalking. She’s intrigued by the woman’s motives. In fact, she’d even love to meet her.
Ellen doesn’t know it, but she already has.”
23. Somewhere Inside by Tonia Christle
Genre: Disability Fiction
Why I read the series: I began and ended the year with one of Tonia Christle’s books! This book is intense, Christle digs deep into the implications of trauma and what happens when you are triggered, even by people who love you and don’t mean to do so. How her characters help each other through the ramifications of traumatic and abusive events is exactly what should happen and how people should be supported. Disability and trauma representation is authentic and the details shared clearly come from someone who is actually disabled and knows what it is like to have a disability, from physical limitations and the things you have to plan for all the way to facing ableism on a daily basis.
Goodreads summary: “A mysterious boy shows up on his long lost sister’s front porch, searching for family and hiding a secret.”
What were your favorite books of 2018?