Admittedly, this hasn’t been a benchmark reading year for me. When I was parenting kiddos in the middle grade range, it was easy to find time to read on an almost daily basis. Now that I’m chasing a fifteen month old, I’m doing good to have a weekly reading date. I still love books just as much as I used to, I’m just learning to be more selective. I try to choose books I know will garner four or five stars, and I’m quick to abandon anything that isn’t striking a chord. In case you need permission to walk away from the book you’re currently reading, I always suggest doubling your age in pages. For me, that means abandoning a boring book by page 75 or 80 — there is no shame in moving on.
Today, I’m joining some of my favorite Birmingham Moms to share More Five-Star Favorites for Your Reading List — these aren’t books you’ll need to worry about abandoning! Whether you’re looking for something transformative or just a way to escape the mundane, we have plenty of books to add to your 2020 TBR pile.
Recursion by Blake Crouch
Let me preface this by saying that I don’t normally gravitate towards science fiction, but if the book has Blake Crouch’s name on the cover — I’m going to devour it. I read his first novel last year and assumed it was going to be a one of a kind, but I actually enjoyed his follow up even more. Crouch somehow magically entwines things I can’t begin to understand with beautiful characters, family stories, and even romance?! Recursion follows a New York City cop and a brilliant neuroscientist as they untangle the truth behind the mysterious False Memory Syndrome, even as their own memories shift and crumble around them. This is the very best kind of page turner (I think I read it cover to cover in about four hours!) — you will be confused, delighted, and completely mind-blown as the story develops.
– Kristin F.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Storytelling across decades always makes a wonderful novel, in my opinion, and this novel delivered on that for me. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo unfolds as an aging movie star finally tells her story to a young reporter. Slowly, across the decades and through the lens of her seven marriages, we learn about the challenges Evelyn faced and the many choices she regrets making. We also see how deeply she loved the people in her life, and ultimately, we learn why this particular young reporter was chosen to hear her story. Along the way, we share a flamboyant, totally engaging ride with two women whose lives intersect at just the right time.
– Chris L.
Educated by Tara Westover
I love reading memoirs, especially when they read like fiction. Educated is one such book; it was fascinating and enlightening and inspiring but also disturbing. Tara Westover wrote this memoir of her life after growing up in the mountains of Idaho in an extremely isolated Mormon family described as “survivalist”. Her parents didn’t trust the government and believed their family needed to be ready to “head to the hills” when the government came after them. Because of these beliefs, Westover’s father did not allow his children to attend school, instead requiring them to work in the family junkyard and “study” at home. Despite the lack of education and preparation for an academic future, Westover was able to study for the ACT on her own and was accepted to Brigham Young University. From there, different professors recognized her academic potential and presented her with opportunities to pursue education at prestigious universities like Cambridge and Harvard. It is hard to fathom the childhood Westover had and the path she traveled from the mountains of Idaho to the Ivy League. This is a fascinating and eye-opening book!
– Betsy G.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I’ve been avoiding The Goldfinch, because it seemed so long and so literary and who has time for that? It turned out to be magical and I’m not sure why I put if off for so long. The storytelling is brilliant — you are wholly invested in Theo’s story and will waffle between cheering for him and wanting to smack the back of his head. Honestly, most of the characters were insufferable and hard to root for, but I think that was part of its charm. The art history student in me loved the underlying story of art and its impact and I read an equal amount of internet articles about the painting, as I did pages of the actual book. P.S. The audio is also amazing — I alternated between the two.
“It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway… an individual heart-shock. Your dream, Welty’s dream, Vermeer’s dream. You see one painting, I see another, the art book put it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum gift shop sees something else entire, and that’s not even to mention the people separated from us by time… it’ll never strike anybody the same way and the great majority of people it’ll never strike in any deep way at all but — a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular. Yours, yours. I was painted for you.”
– Kristin F.
Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda
I think at this time we can all agree that Lin-Manuel Miranda is fabulously talented at literally everything. His short book, entitled Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You, is a busy mom’s dream. It’s at times funny, endearing, and encouraging. This book is perfect for those of us who are in that season of life where we can barely manage a daily shower much less consistent reading. Each page has a short thought or sweet reminder for the morning, paired with one for the evening (hence the title: Gmorning, Gnight). I can promise you it is a doable amount of reading as every snippet is pulled straight from Miranda’s Twitter account and, as such, is no more than 22 words. If you really need to feel like you’ve picked up an actual adult book at least once since your house filled up with babies, or just want something light and easy, this one is for you!
– Katie P.
The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton
This book is a must read, especially because it takes place right here in Alabama. It tells the powerful and heartbreaking tale of a man who spent 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. Yet, in spite of this, his faith grew stronger and he used his time to transform the lives of others. Reading this book opened my eyes and heart to view racial and faith issues with new perspective. It’s one of those books that becomes a part of you and I will not forget it.
– Stacey O.
It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine
It may seem strange to recommend a book about grief, but I truly believe this should be on everyone’s reading list! This book provides such a refreshing view of grief, written by a therapist who suffered a devastating loss. It opened my eyes to how unhealthy our culture’s perspective on grief truly is. It’s full of explanations for what is “normal” inside grief and specific ideas of how to help yourself (or others) carry the grief you’ve been given. I found myself underlining section after section… page after page. Megan’s writing helped me feel seen and understood. It’s helping me be kinder and gentler to myself in a season of grief, and I believe it will also equip me to be a better friend to others grieving too.
One of my favorite things about this book is that it doesn’t have to be read in order. If there is a section that you really need to skip ahead to (maybe the one focused on the early days of grief? Or perhaps the chapter about how to help someone else who is grieving?) – you can prioritize the portion of the book you need the most.
If you or someone you love is grieving a loss, or if there are losses in your past that you still feel the weight of – I would absolutely add this book to your reading list.
“Our hearts get broken in ways that can’t be fixed. There is pain that becomes an immovable part of our lives. We need to know how to endure that, how to care for ourselves inside that, how to care for one another.” – Megan Devine
– Ericka J.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
If you loved reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a kid and more recently, Where the Crawdads Sing, you’ll love this moving novel that follows four orphans as they journey through the Midwest in the summer of 1932. Along the way they meet struggling farmers, traveling preachers, and any number of searching souls, and in every encounter, they survive together, always hopeful for the future. Just when you lose hope that these children will find a place that welcomes and cares for them, you discover that they find a way to persevere. I think the Goodreads review said it best, “This Tender Land is an enthralling, big-hearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.”
– Chris L.
It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa Terkeurst
When our small group was looking for a curriculum this fall, I selfishly suggested Lysa Terkeurst’s latest offering “It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way” because I had been longing to read it since I went to her “She Speaks” writing conference in 2018 and heard her read the epilogue for the attendees in person. The emotion in just the few pages she read to us were riveting and now that I’ve finished the book, I can tell you that the entire book is just one bittersweet revelation after the other. “It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way” is a Biblical dive into what is quite possibly one of the true common denominators of adulthood- life is never quite what we expected. Or desired. Or even prayed for. We know that God has a plan for our lives but a lot of the time our hopes and dreams don’t match up to our day to day lives. From the little inconveniences of the everyday grind to life-altering tragedies, Lysa has such a way of being relatable while also nudging the reader to be honest with themselves about their own expectations in contrast to what the Bible says about our circumstances. It’s a beautiful view on how suffering can be a gateway to appreciation and growth towards a deeper relationship with God as well as a clear explanation of how God loves us too much to always give us what we think we need. “It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way” is a book that will reach you in whatever stage of life you’re in or during whatever trial you’re going through. This is also a great gift to give a friend if you’re not quite sure how to help them in a difficult time.
– Haley I.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
After all the hype behind Where the Crawdads Sing, I HAD to read it. The book was so popular, I was 102nd in line to check out the book at the library! When I finally got my hands on it, I was intrigued with the main character, Kya. One thing I loved about this book is how Delia really brings nature to life and makes it feel as if I am in the marshes with Kya. She lives in rural North Carolina where she continues to be abandoned by her family members. Kya struggles with relationships, including friendships with people her own age. Although Kya had a difficult time relating to people, she had a love for the wildlife around her. Her love for the marsh and her isolated living situation, makes her mysterious and intriguing to the outsider. The family abandonment and abuse was challenging to read, and at times, unrealistic to a certain extent. With that said, I was still able to empathize with Kya in the decisions she makes throughout the novel. Murder mystery is probably my favorite genre so this story line was easy for me to get hooked. Delia kept my attention throughout the novel where there is even a pivotal plot twist that kept me guessing to the very end!
– Chelsea A.
We would love to hear about your favorite read of 2019 — help us add to our reading list for next year by sharing some of your favorite books in the comments. In case you missed it, check out our Five-Star Favorites from 2018 for even more beautiful books!