Monday, December 23, 2019

What My Book Club Read This Year

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2020's right around the corner and I got to thinking back on the books my book club has read in 2019. We're a multigenerational group, originally started in 2015 with my mom, my sister-in-law and her mom. We've now expanded to a group of eight women and we try to meet monthly, but sometimes skip a month here or there if things get busy. We tend to like books with strong female characters and tend to pick new releases because several of us are big readers and we try to pick books no one has read before. It's been a really fun group of ladies to get together with and we've read some really great books over the years.

If you're looking for even more suggestions of titles to try with your book club, check out last year's post with some of our top book club reads of 2018.

Here's what we read in 2019:

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (Flatiron Books, 2018). This was our January book and it made a great start to the year by sparking some great discussion. Liane Moriarty is an author that we generally enjoy, so this may have been a sure bet, but I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would. When nine strangers meet at a retreat in the Australian desert, none of them could predict what happens. The quirky characters and mix of poignant and humorous tone made this one a winner for me, even if the plot does go a little off the rails.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (Little, Brown, 2018). This beautiful, surreal book explores a teenage girl's grief after her mother's suicide. Reeling from her mother's death. Leigh is visited by a large red bird she's convinced is her mother. The bird leaves her a box of things and instructions to visit her mother’s birth home Taiwan. As Leigh searches for the bird - her mother - in Taiwan, she gets to know the grandparents she never knew and learns things she never knew about her mom. She also ruminates on what happened with her best friend Axel, the boy she’s in unrequited love with, in the months leading up to her mom’s death. Throughout the book, surreal images and colors leap off the page. All the members of our book club agreed that the artistry and imagery in the writing was fantastic, although this was a little too heavy for some.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Putnam, 2018). Yes, our book club, like every other book club, read this book this year. Our holds lists are a mile long for this book at my library! And I can tell you that it's a great read. Seven-year-old Kya is abandoned by her entire family except for her abusive dad in their shack in a North Carolina swamp. The story switches between two timelines - Kya's childhood and young adulthood in the 1950s and 60s as she copes with her abandonment and learns how to survive in the marsh - and 1969 when popular former quarterback Chase Andrews has died in the marsh and foul play is suspected. You know that Kya and Chase are connected and you find out how as the story slowly unrolls. Kya is an amazing character and I loved the nature writing in this book.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (Scribner, 2017). This one was probably my personal favorite of the year. Li-yan and her family live in a remote Akha village in China, growing and selling tea to eke out a living. It's a harsh life and when Li-yan has a baby out of wedlock, she starts to explore life outside her village, eventually leaving for the city to get an education and build a business empire of her own. There are a lot of coincidences that stretched my disbelief at times, but I was enjoying the story so much that it didn't bother me. We talked a lot about the role of women in the Akha society (and society in general) when discussing this book. 

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper, 2018). Willa has arrived at middle age with a pile of problems to deal with. She and her husband have both recently lost their jobs, her adult son has recently lost his wife just after his baby girl was born, and they've inherited a ramshackle house that is falling down around their heads. Willa's last hope is to get the house put on the historic registry in hopes that there will be some money for preserving it, so she starts to research. Alternating chapters tell the story of science teacher Thatcher Greenwood who lived in the house in its heyday. Although most of us are fans of Barbara Kingsolver, I'm not along in thinking this one was a bit slow, although some really enjoyed it. 

The Library Book by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster, 2018). This one was my pick and unfortunately it was a dud for our group (although I know lots of other groups and readers who have LOVED this book. It was even the LibraryReads TOP pick of 2019!). This true crime book investigates the 1986 burning of the Los Angeles Public Library, presenting a history of the library along with the search for a suspect in this devastating crime. I personally did find the history of the library interesting (of course I did!), but I think most in the group were disappointed by the anticlimactic true crime angle. 

Whisper Network by Chandler Baker (Flatiron, 2019). This twisty turny #MeToo mystery is set in a high-powered legal department in Dallas where an anonymous list of "bad men" has started circulating among professional women. Sloane, Artie, Grace, and Rosalita have worked at Truviv, Inc. for years and they have each kept secrets. When the sudden death of Truviv's CEO means that their boss Ames will likely take over, whispers start spreading... this time the women have decided enough is enough. Our group often likes novels with a feminist viewpoint and this book encouraged lots of discussion about our experiences with sexism that we've experienced. 

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (Gallery Press, 2019). This was our October read and it was a perfect spooky mystery for that month. When Rowan Caine starts a new nannying job - a job she came across when she wasn't even looking for anything - it seems too good to be true. The salary is amazing and she gets to live in a high tech mansion in the Scottish Highlands. But she quickly changes her tune when her new employers leave her alone with the kids to jaunt off to an out of town job and truly spooky stuff starts happening in the house. This is a thriller with lots of twists and turns and we had a lot of fun talking about the twists we saw coming and those that were total surprises.

Defending Jacob by William Landay (Delacorte, 2012). Andy Barber is an experienced attorney, but this latest case has thrown him for a loop. A kid at his son's high school has been murdered in the park and Andy's son is a suspect in the case. This book really gets you thinking about how well you actually know the people in your life. As many of our book club members are parents, I think this book touched some nerves and we talking a lot about kids and parenting and whether we thought Andy was a good father. 

Our last meeting of the year was in November, so this is our complete list of 2019 books, but we've got the next two picked out. I haven't read them yet, but I'm looking forward to both of these:

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton (Penguin, 2018) 
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (Pamela Dorman Books, 2019)

Here's to another year of great reading in 2020!

Are you in a book club? What books has your group enjoyed? And if you've read any of these, what did you think?