So many books, so little time.
That’s what they say, and in 2019, it was the truth. Here are the can’t-miss, shouldn’t-skip books of the past 12 months, in the categories of fiction, non-fiction and children's books.
If the subject of death can be taken lightly, there’s no better way than in “How Not to Die Alone” by Richard Roper. It’s the story of a man who works in London as a finder: when someone dies, the people in his office are tasked with locating the survivors of the deceased. That’s not the funny part; the humor comes in a blurted statement that literally takes on a life of its own, and the lengths the man goes to perpetuate it. Clever, witty, perfect.
Lovers of Mark Twain’s adventure books will relish “This Tender Land” by William Kent Krueger, the story of two boys who run away from an Indian Training School in 1932, and they head down the Mississippi to escape the adults who want them back. Lush, exciting, and irresistible, this novel will fill a good evening or two.
What can you say about a book that starts off with an attempted suicide? That’s “Talk to Me” by John Kenney, and that’s what happens after a TV newscaster insults a temporary worker and because of it, his life falls completely apart. Media folks will particularly enjoy this story, but if you’re a news junkie or a hardline TV watcher, you’ll love it, too.
If you’ve already seen the movie about Harriet Tubman, then you know the kind of treat you’re in for when you read “The Tubman Command” by Elizabeth Cobbs. Taking one small event from Tubman’s life, this novel blows it up big and makes it exciting, while reminding readers that Tubman was a woman, first and foremost. For readers who need a novel that means something, this is it. (Tip: get it in an audiobook, for the full effect).
And, last but not least in the fiction category, “American Pop” by Snowden Wright is a sweeping, multi-generational novel about a family who’s patriarch creates a drink sensation. When he passes the business down to his scheming children, interesting — and heart-wrenching — things begin to happen...
For political animals and those who are tired of politics as usual, “Palm Beach, Mar-A-Lago, and the Rise of America’s Xanadu” by Les Standiford is a book to read. It’s a biography of a place and the people who made it, and it’s also a history of us, our need to explore, our adventurous spirit, and our forever fascination with celebrities.
Expect something a little different in “Toil & Trouble” by Augusten Burroughs, who reveals in this book that he’s a witch. Not the bubbling cauldron type, but one who knows things but can’t explain why, but who still has to work to find love, home, and happiness just like the rest of us. This book is sweet and quirky and perfect.
You don’t have to have visited Las Vegas, nor do you have to remember the Rat Pack to enjoy “Elvis in Vegas” by Richard Zoglin. Sure, it helps, but loving glitz, glamour, entertainers, and scandal is really all you need to want this book.
It’s not cheating to put together “Bitten” by Kris Newby and “Mosquito” by Timothy C. Winegard in one Best Of list, because they really belong side-by-side on your shelf. Newby’s book is about all the things that can bite you and maybe kill you.
Winegard’s book is about one thing that bites and kills more humans than any other creature. How can you resist books like those?
And then there’s “The League of Wives” by Heath Hardage Lee, a book about the wives of the men who served in Vietnam and were captured, and what these brave women did for themselves, their husbands, and others to bring their men home. If you remember the war — or if you didn’t — you owe it to yourself to read this hidden history.
It’s going to be hard to decide if the story in “Sulwe” by Lupita Nyong’o is the better part of the book, or if the illustrations by Vashti Harrison are the better reason to have it. Either way, this beautiful book is about a little girl who learns to come to terms with the tone of her skin in a way that’s magical. Story or illustrations? Both.
Kids ages 7-12 will love the slightly-creepy story of friendship in “The Afterwards” by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett. It’s the story of a girl who finds a garden in which things that are dead, aren’t quite dead. When she discovers her best friend in the garden, she must make a hard, hard decision. Bonus: borrow it back for a wonderful reminder of childhood friendships.
And rounding out the best of children’s books for 2019 is “Fraternity” by Alexandra Robbins, who takes a look at college fraternities and some young men who joined them. It’s an eye-opener for teens who are heading to college soon, and it’ll give parents something to think about and discuss.
And now for the housekeeping…
Some of these books are from earlier in the year, so they might be out in paperback soon. Check with your local librarian or bookseller. They’re the Rock Stars of the book world, and they won’t steer you wrong. Season’s Readings!
Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of the Detroit Lakes Tribune book review column, “The Bookworm Sez.” She has been reading since she was three years old, and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,000 books.