My favorite reads in my 39th year

39th year reads
I love talking about books. Since reading a certain number of books each year is one of my birthday list items, I wanted to look back and share my favorite books with you from my 39th year.
As I read over the list I was struck by how many of the books are ones that I could recommend. A few years ago, I adopted a policy of not finishing books that I didn’t truly find compelling and that mean that the books that make it to the list are usually ones I want to finish (a few rare exceptions like books I finish for book club that I may not have loved or books that I finished because they are only one I had with me while I was traveling).  Although I really could recommend most of the books from my list, in the interest of being discerning, I am picking out my favorites (for different reasons) for you.  There are some definite themes in the books I sought out this year:  younger adult books, split time periods, thrillers, books that incorporate storytelling in really modern ways (using email, google searches, Facebook status posts, Google searches and more as ways to drive the plot forward), books that incorporate storytelling in “old” ways (the use of letters!!!), and books with some comedic chops.  So, in no particular order in terms of favorites– the order is based on the order I read them in this year-,my favorite reads from this past year…
The synopsis from Powell’s:  A heartbreaking, stay-up-all-night novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before YouA Brief Encounter for our time, The Last Letter from Your Lover is a sophisticated, spellbinding double love story that spans decades and thrillingly evokes a bygone era. In 1960, Jennifer Stirling wakes in the hospital and remembers nothing—not the car accident that put her there, not her wealthy husband, not even her own name. Searching for clues, she finds an impassioned letter, signed simply “B,” from a man for whom she seemed willing to risk everything. In 2003, journalist Ellie Haworth stumbles upon the letter and becomes obsessed with learning the unknown lovers fate—hoping it will inspire her own happy ending. Remarkably moving, this is a novel for romantics of every age.
My thoughts:  Oh, this tale of lost love was sweet and surprising and will be of interest to any romantic.  I loved the different points of view featured, the simultaneous love stories, and the different periods of time represented in this piece.
The synopsis from Powell’s:  Díaz turns his remarkable talent to the haunting, impossible power of love — obsessive love, illicit love, fading love, maternal love. On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness — and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own. In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in the New York Times-Bestselling This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

My thoughts: I have heard Junot Diaz speak twice and really love his perspective.  He has a unique, powerful voice.  He’s not for everyone– his language is a bit direct and if F bombs make you blush, stay away.  But this group of linked short stories are so powerful and real and true and Diaz’s voice is like no other.  I listened to this one on tape and Junot Diaz is the reader, and he’s a fabulous reader (not every writer is, to be honest).  He zeroes in on the human condition– especially for boys and men of color– in an honest, searing, incisive way and it’s breathtaking.
The synopsis from Powell’s:  A “cheerfully engaging”* novel for anyone whos ever asked herself, “How did I get here?”

 Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child.  So imagine Alices surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! She HATES the gym) and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — shes getting divorced, , she has three kids, and shes actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether its possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that shes become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether its possible to start over…
My thoughts:  One of my focus areas is on intentional living, making sure that the life you get is one you wanted to get and not having life happen to you so that you wake up, ten years later, and think, “How the hell did that happen?” And because empowering women to be intentional is such a part of my focus, this book had me in its first pages, when Alice wakes up with partial amnesia and cannot believe that the life she is living is her life because it is so different from what she (the 29 year old she that she thinks she still is) imagined for herself.  I also loved how this book so powerfully showed how little things can splinter, fractures build up, things change if we are not careful and deliberate.  It is a light, tender, and thoughtful read.
The synopsis from Powell’s: Ellen OFarrell is a professional hypnotherapist who works out of the eccentric beachfront home she inherited from her grandparents. Its a nice life, except for her tumultuous relationship history. Shes stoic about it, but at this point, Ellen wouldnt mind a lasting one. When she meets Patrick, shes optimistic. Hes 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 Patricks ex-girlfriend is stalking him. Ellen thinks,Actually, thats 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.
My thoughts: Years ago, I taught a college seminar on Exploring the Creative Process.  One of the assignments I gave my students was an immersive experience where they had to fully take in the full catalog of an artist’s work.  The one requirement was that it had to be somebody whose work they really loved.  From there, they had to read every book they had ever written, listen to every album they had ever released, watch every movie they had ever directed, or look up every work of art they had ever painted.  I bring this up because I feel like I am going a bit immersive with Moriarty right now as I have two recommendations for you now and have her newest book, The Husband’s Secret, on my bedside table.  This book is a really great mix of intrigue and romance and it has a gorgeous passage in it about parenting.
The synopsis from Powell’s: Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.  Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle — and people in general — has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.  To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence — creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.
My thoughts: If you have talked to me at all about books this year, then you already know that I have insisted you read this book.  It is hysterical– laugh out loud funny which is such a feat for a writer.  Semple’s characters are colorful and her dialogue fabulous.  Moreover, I love how she uses unconventional tools like emails and more to tell the story.  It is a fast and furious read that will delight you.
The synopsis from Powell’s: When Kate, single mother and law firm partner, gets an urgent phone call summoning her to her daughter’s exclusive private school, she’s shocked. Amelia has been suspended for cheating, something that would be completely out of character for her over-achieving, well-behaved daughter.  Kate rushes to Grace Hall, but what she finds when she finally arrives is beyond comprehension.  Her daughter Amelia is dead.  Despondent over having been caught cheating, Amelia has jumped from the school’s roof in an act of impulsive suicide. At least that’s the story Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. In a state of shock and overcome by grief, Kate tries to come to grips with this life-shattering news. Then she gets an anonymous text:  Amelia didn’t jump.  The moment she sees that message, Kate knows in her heart it’s true. Clearly Amelia had secrets, and a life Kate knew nothing about. Wracked by guilt, Kate is determined to find out what those secrets were and who could have hated her daughter enough to kill. She searches through Amelia’s e-mails, texts, and Facebook updates, piecing together the last troubled days of her daughter’s life.Reconstructing Amelia is a stunning debut page-turner that brilliantly explores the secret world of teenagers, their clandestine first loves, hidden friendships, and the dangerous cruelty that can spill over into acts of terrible betrayal.
My thoughts:  This is a heart in your throat read, especially for parents.  But it is good and gripping and also uses alternative methods of storytelling to move the narrative forward.  Another fast and furious read as you try to figure out what exactly happened to Amelia.

The synopsis from Powell’s:  A sweeping story told in letters, spanning two continents and two world wars, Jessica Brockmole’s atmospheric debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.  March 1912: Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence — sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets — their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive.  June 1940: At the start of World War II, Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, has fallen for a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Her mother warns her against seeking love in wartime, an admonition Margaret doesn’t understand. Then, after a bomb rocks Elspeth’s house, and letters that were hidden in a wall come raining down, Elspeth disappears. Only a single letter remains as a clue to Elspeth’s whereabouts. As Margaret sets out to discover where her mother has gone, she must also face the truth of what happened to her family long ago.

My thoughts:  I am a former high school history teacher so I have to be honest, I now typically shy away from any book that is historical in nature.  I got filled up on history early in my life.  Is that awful to say?  Well, it is my truth so it is what it is.  That said, this was a book that I had to read regardless of it going back in time and dealing with two periods in history that I read and studied A LOT in order to teach them.  A romantic book, these letters will make you ache in loss, recognition, and hope.  Really spellbinding.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The synopsis from Powell’s:  “Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what its like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what its like to be young and in love with a book.” John Green, The New York Times Book Review

Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.

So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.

I’m not kidding, he says.

You should be, she says, we’re 16.

What about Romeo and Juliet?

Shallow, confused, then dead.

I love you, Park says.

Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.

I’m not kidding, he says.

You should be.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits — smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love — and just how hard it pulled you under

My thoughts:  This is such a nostalgic book for anyone who grew up in the 80s and, even better, it is nostalgic for anyone who had a teenage first love.  Oh, my heart reading this one.  I loved both Eleanor and Park so much and really related to their experiences of not quite fitting in until they found each other.  The storytelling in this is brilliant, and I love the perspective of each narrator.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion  

The synopsis from Powell’s:  Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical — most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.  Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent — and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie — and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.  The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of overwhelming challenges.

My thoughts:  This one reminded me so much of Where’d You Go, Bernadette.  Here, the quirky male character must face himself and his fears when life goes in a direction he didn’t expect.  Conditioned to maintain control, Tillman has to figure out what to do when things get a bit out of control.  It is funny and tender and you’ll find yourself rooting for everyone, even a philandering husband.

What have been your favorite reads this year?  Have you read any of these books?  What did you think of them?  
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3 responses to “My favorite reads in my 39th year”

  1. Anna

    Always feel like it’s Christmas morning when I get book recommendations from avid readers. Thank you! Off to Amazon 🙂

  2. Wendy L.

    This is probably the best list of book recommendations I have ever come across. Thank you so much for the in depth descriptions of each. I so often come across a blog post in which the book recommendation is the book title and a picture of the front cover, lame! I have added most of these to my “must read” list. My book recommendation for you is “Sex, Rain, and Cold Fusion” by author A.R. Taylor ( The book follows physicist David Oster on his difficult journey through adulthood. He is an intelligent man plagued with making poor decisions in life and love. He has an overly complicated sex life and is trying to make his passion of studying underwater physics a reality. The book appeals to men and women because it’s witty and funny and has everything from: murder and sex to a very comical look at the world of physics and dynamic hilarious characters. I would say the book is “geek chic” and definitely borders on comedy that can be compared to the “Big Bang Theory” or Chris Buckley’s “Thank You for Smoking.” Hope you will enjoy it as much as I did

  3. Rita Ward

    This is a great list. I appreciate the thorough write up for these and I’ll be checking a few of those out for sure.
    I’m a big reader of business books and self improvement so my husband recently bought me a copy of Joy Chudacoff’s What’s Next?
    Absolutely one of the best books I have ever been gifted and I’ve been recommending it to all of the women in my family. It is the perfect read for women with their own business or thinking of starting one up but I think it goes way deeper than that and offers so much more in terms of helping you realize you goals and dreams in life. A lot of credit must go to Joy Chudacoff for the clean and simple format and wonderful wisdom she has so brilliantly put to paper.

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