Vicky’s Best Reads 2019

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As director of the Colby Community Library, I started putting together a list of “Best Reads” in 2009.  This year, the 11th list contains my 31 (wouldn’t you know there would be a tie for first!) favorite fiction titles read in 2019.  Read and enjoy!

30. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge lives in the small town of Crosby, Maine. As a high school math teacher, Olive Kitteridge meets hundreds of students and their families in her career. This type of interaction, plus the fact that everyone knows everyone in this small town, leads Olive Kitteridge to form her own opinions and judgments on the various people and what they should and shouldn’t be doing.

29. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge with potentially explosive results.

28. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.”  For a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, however, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy his future.

27. The Quintland Sisters by Shelley Wood

The story of the Dionne Quintuplets, the world’s first identical quintuplets to survive birth, is told from the perspective of a midwife in training who helps bring them into the world.

26. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called “Marsh Girl.”

25. The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

This book follows three generations of a powerful American family—a family that “used to run the world.”  When the novel begins in 1935, they still do. Kitty and Ogden Milton appear to have everything. After a tragedy befalls them, Ogden tries to bring Kitty back to life by purchasing an island in Maine.

24. Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

From the dramatic redbrick facade to the sweeping staircase dripping with art, the Chelsea Hotel has long been New York City’s creative oasis for the many artists, writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and poets who have called it home—a scene playwright Hazel Riley and actress Maxine Mead are determined to use to their advantage. Yet, they soon discover that the greatest obstacle to putting up a show on Broadway has nothing to do with their art, and everything to do with politics.

23. The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander

In 1962, in the Soviet Union, eight-year-old Katya is bequeathed what will become the love of her life: a Bluthner piano, built at the turn of the century in Germany, on which she discovers everything that she herself can do with music and what music, in turn, does for her. Yet after marrying, she emigrates with her young family from Russia to America, at her husband’s frantic insistence, and her piano is lost in the shuffle.

22. Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

Hollywood, 1938:  As soon as she learns that M-G-M is adapting her late husband’s masterpiece for the screen, seventy-seven-year-old Maud Gage Baum sets about trying to finagle her way onto the set. Nineteen years after Frank’s passing, Maud is the only person who can help the producers stay true to the spirit of the book—because she’s the only one left who knows its secrets. But the moment she hears Judy Garland rehearsing the first notes of “Over the Rainbow,” Maud recognizes the yearning that defined her own life story.

21. The Dutch House by Anne Patchett

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

20. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends who come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

19. The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

Two truths and a lie.  Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group, played it all the time in their cabin at Camp Nightingale. The games ended the night Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin into the darkness. The last she—or anyone—saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

18. Summer of ‘69 by Elin Hilderbrand

Welcome to the most tumultuous summer of the twentieth century. It’s 1969, and for the Levin family, the times they are a-changing. Every year the children have looked forward to spending the summer at their grandmother’s historic home in downtown Nantucket. As the summer heats up, Ted Kennedy sinks a car in Chappaquiddick, man flies to the moon, and Jessie and her family experience their own dramatic upheavals along with the rest of the country.

17. The Mountain Midwife by Laurie Alice Eakes

Ashley Tolliver has tended the women of her small Appalachian community for years. As their midwife, she thinks she has seen it all until a young woman gives birth at Ashley’s home and is abducted when Ashley tries to take the dangerously bleeding mother to the nearest hospital. Now Ashley is on a mission to find the woman and her newborn baby before it is too late.

16. Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

Two sisters, but only one farm. A family is split when their father leaves their shared inheritance entirely to Helen, his younger daughter. Despite baking award-winning pies at the local nursing home, her older sister, Edith, struggles to make what most people would call a living. She can’t help wondering what her life would have been like with even a portion of the farm money her sister kept for herself. With the proceeds from the farm, Helen builds one of the most successful light breweries in the country, and makes their company motto famous: “Drink lots. It’s Blotz.” Where Edith has a heart as big as Minnesota, Helen’s is as rigid as a steel keg. Yet one day, Helen will find she needs some help herself, and she could find a potential savior close to home. . . if it’s not too late.

15. Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He’s a normal Italian teenager—obsessed with music, food, and girls—but his days of innocence are numbered. When his family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps, and falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior. In an attempt to protect him, Pino’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier—a move they think will keep him out of combat. But after Pino is injured, he is recruited at the tender age of eighteen to become the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy.

14. The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni

In San Francisco’s seamy Tenderloin district, a teenage street hustler has been murdered in a shelter for boys. The dedicated priest who runs the struggling home stands accused, but despite damning evidence that he’s a killer—and worse—Father Thomas Martin stands by his innocence. Attorney Peter Donley stands with him.

13. The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Elise Sontag is a typical Iowa fourteen-year-old in 1943—aware of the war but distanced from its reach. Then her father, a legal U.S. resident for nearly two decades, is suddenly arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. The family is sent to an internment camp in Texas with armed guards and barbed wire. The only thing that makes the camp bearable is meeting fellow internee Mariko Inoue, a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles, whose friendship empowers Elise to believe the life she knew before the war will again be hers. 

12. The First Mistake by Sandie Jones

THE WIFE: For Alice, life has never been better. With her second husband, she has a successful business, two children, and a beautiful house. HER HUSBAND: Alice knows that life could have been different if her first husband had lived, but Nathan’s arrival into her life gave her back the happiness she craved. HER BEST FRIEND: Through the ups and downs of life, from celebratory nights out to comforting each other through loss, Alice knows that with her best friend Beth by her side, they can survive anything together. So when Nathan starts acting strangely, Alice turns to Beth for help…but is Alice’s trust misplaced?

11. Never Tell by Lisa Gardner

A man is dead, shot three times in his home office. His computer has been shot twelve times, and when the cops arrive, his pregnant wife is holding the gun. D. D. Warren arrives on the scene and recognizes the woman—Evie Carter—from a case many years back. Evie’s father was killed in a shooting that was ruled an accident. For D.D., two coincidental murders is one too many.

10. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live aboard their family’s Mississippi River shanty boat in Memphis in 1939. When their father rushes their mother to the hospital one night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are at the mercy of the facility’s cruel director.  Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together.

9.  The German Midwife by Mandy Robotham

A prisoner in the German camps in 1944, Anke Hoff is doing what she can to keep her pregnant campmates and their newborns alive. When Anke’s work is noticed, she is chosen for a task more dangerous than she could ever have imagined. Eva Braun is pregnant with the Führer’s child, and Anke is assigned as her midwife.  Before long, Anke is faced with an impossible choice. Does she serve the Reich she loathes and keep the baby alive or does she sacrifice an innocent child for the good of a broken world?

8.  Never Ever Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson 

Amy Whey is proud of her ordinary life and the simple pleasures that come with it. Her greatest joy is her family: her devoted professor husband, her spirited fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and her adorable infant son. However, Amy’s sweet, uncomplicated life begins to unravel when the mysterious and alluring Angelica Roux arrives on her doorstep one book club night.

7.  Keeping Lucy by T. Greenwood

The heartbreaking and uplifting story, inspired by incredible true events in 1969, of how far one mother must go to protect her daughter. Ginny Richardson’s heart was torn open when her baby girl, Lucy, born with Down Syndrome, was taken from her. Under pressure from his powerful family, her husband, Ab, sent Lucy away to Willowridge, a special school for the “feeble-minded.” Ab tried to convince Ginny it was for the best. Two years later, however, when Ginny’s best friend, Marsha, shows her a series of articles exposing Willowridge as a hell-on-earth—its squalid hallways filled with neglected children—she knows she can’t leave her daughter there.

6.  Someone We Know by Shari Lapena

Maybe you don’t know your neighbors as well as you thought you did. “This is a very difficult letter to write. I hope you will not hate us too much. My son broke into your home recently while you were out.” In a quiet suburb in upstate New York, a teenager has been sneaking into houses—and into the owners’ computers as well—learning their secrets, and maybe sharing some of them, too. It seems like everyone has secrets he or she would like to remain hidden.

5.  Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

“2 CHILDREN FOR SALE.” The sign is a last resort. It sits on a farmhouse porch in 1931, but could be found anywhere in an era of breadlines, bank runs and broken dreams. It could have been written by any mother facing impossible choices.  For struggling reporter Ellis Reed, the gut-wrenching scene evokes memories of his family’s dark past. He snaps a photograph of the children, not meant for publication. The photo leads to his big break, but the consequences are more devastating than he ever imagined.

4.  Vanishing Girls (#1) in Detective Josie Quinn series by Lisa Regan—you will want to read the entire series!

When Isabelle Coleman, a young girl goes missing, everyone from the small town of Denton joins the search. They can find no trace of the town’s darling, but Detective Josie Quinn finds another girl they didn’t even know was missing. Mute and unresponsive, it’s clear this mysterious girl has been damaged beyond repair. All Josie can get from her is the name of a third girl. The race is on to find Isabelle, and Josie fears there may be other girls in danger.

3.  Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

This companion tale to the book “Moloka’i” tells the story of Ruth, the daughter that Rachel Kalama—quarantined for most of her life at the isolated leprosy settlement of Kalaupapa—was forced to give up at birth. The book follows young Ruth from her arrival at the Kapi’olani Home for Girls in Honolulu, to her adoption by a Japanese couple in California, to her marriage and unjust internment at Manzanar Relocation Camp during World War II to the life-altering day when she receives a letter from a woman who says she is Ruth’s birth mother, Rachel.

2.  Run Away by Harlan Coben

You’ve lost your daughter. She’s addicted to drugs and to an abusive boyfriend. She’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to be found. Then, by chance, you see her playing guitar in Central Park, but she’s not the girl you remember. This woman is living on the edge, frightened, and clearly in trouble. 

And tied for the Number 1 spots…

1.  Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

It is 1914, and the world has been on the brink of war so often, many New Yorkers treat the subject with only passing interest. Eliza Ferriday is thrilled to be traveling to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Romanovs. The two met years ago one summer in Paris and became close confidantes. Now Eliza embarks on the trip of a lifetime, home with Sofya to see the splendors of Russia, at the brink war. If you enjoyed “Lilac Girls,” you will like this novel.

1.  Cemetery Road by Greg Iles

When Marshall McEwan left his hometown at age eighteen, he vowed never to return. Now his father is dying, his mother is struggling to keep the family newspaper from failing, and the town is in the midst of an economic rebirth that might be built upon crimes.  More disturbing still, Marshall’s high school sweetheart, Jet, has married into the family of Max Matheson, patriarch of one of the families that rule Bienville through an organization called the Bienville Poker Club.  After two murders rock the community to its core, Marshall joins forces with Jet, who has lived for fifteen years at the heart of Max Matheson’s family, and begins digging into both murders.