Best Books of 2019

My list will include books not published in 2019, but ones I read in 2019. I prefer not to read only new books. I like to mix it up.

Each book will link back to my review, but I’ll also let you know why these books stuck in my mind even after I read them.

Click on the book covers, if you’d like to purchase the book via Amazon affiliate links and keep this blog running.

Top Five Fiction:

These Dreams by Nicole Clarkston is one of the most epic and tension-filled P&P variations I’ve ever read. I fell in love with Clarkston’s Colonel Fitzwilliam, and I wanted to hear more about his romance in Portugal. But beyond that, the story of Lizzy and Darcy takes on new levels as they dream about one another and their connection is even stronger than expected.

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner is an amazing tale about U.S. internment camps, hope in the eyes of adversity, questions about identity and how we define ourselves, and so much more. There are very few WWII books that are about the internment camps here in the United States, and this is the first one I read about that did not focus on the internment of the Japanese but on German Americans.

Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is told in verse and is stunning in its ability to capture so much about adolescence and growing up with restrictive parents, especially when Poet X is beginning to realize how creative and talented she is. This one really spoke to the younger poet in me.

Mrs. Rossi’s Dream by Khanh Ha highlights the tragedy of war and how those that can cut the lives of loved ones short can also be the ones that provide closure to those dragged down by grief and still searching for answers.

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely is just one of two books in the series that had me laughing and shaking my head simultaneously. It is filled with humor and romance and listening on audio will have any romantic swoon. This one is a fun look at the role of the internet in romance, too.

President Darcy by Victoria Kincaid is a modern day P&P variation that places Darcy in the most prestigious position in America, which can be absolutely horrifying for someone who hates being in the public eye. I love that the presidential protocols are front and center and that Darcy will even flout them to gain Elizabeth’s favor, but what happens when they are thrust into the headlines will rock their worlds.


Top Four Poetry:

Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams is a more intimate look at identity and tragedy than the next collection on the list, which is why this one is so jarring and familiar to us all. Big themes are brought down to earth in this collection and grounded in the daily struggles we all face or have faced. I consider this part of series of poems begun in the collection below.

As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams is a wide look at society and identity and how we sometimes fail to realize that we tear ourselves apart in the search for what is “right.” Through recent historical events, the poet requires us to scrutinize our society through a new, intimate lens and to see the path forward — one full of hope that something new and better will rise from the ashes of the old.

Nanopedia by Charles Jensen picks apart the facade of American life, taking a scalpel to our bravery and claims of diversity to find classism, bigotry, and more beneath the surface. It is another collection that examines identity — the identity of every American and of America itself.

An Everyday Thing by Nancy Richardson looks at the intersection of politics and society, with some focus on the Kent State shootings. She juxtaposes these tragic events with the idea that these are an every day thing.


Top Two Short Story Collections:

Were We Awake by L.M. Brown explores our own hidden lives and the lies we tell ourselves just to keep up appearances or bury the pain we feel. Funny thing about lies, they have a way of surfacing when we least expect it. I couldn’t put it down and read it in one day.

Treading the Uneven Road by L.M. Brown is a collection of short stories set in Ireland with a cast of characters who are like little puzzles to solve. Even as we follow these characters, readers come to realize that where they come from — a tiny village bypassed by progress — is slowly dying. This dying town weighs heavily on these stories and is a character who motivates Brown’s protagonists or forces them to take action.


Top Three Kids:

Bunjitsu Bunny series by John Himmelmann is a series of books with a zen focus for kids that allows them to rethink how they react to certain situations — whether it is bullying or just something that doesn’t come easily to them — and it helped my daughter get into a reading groove when she was really struggling. Isabel is a strong character with a lot to learn and a lot to teach herself and her classmates.

The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale is a new series that we started reading that has colorful illustrations, action, and adventure, as well as a cast of princess who are willing to save their own school.

Pug Pals: Yay for Vacay! by Flora Ahn is the second book in a series of pug books. My daughter loved these sister dogs and their antics. This was the best of the two we read because the sisters were over their initial hangups with each other and started working together. Plus the disguises they had were funny.


Top Two Memoir:

Beautiful Justice by Brooke Axtell is a journey from the darkness of sexual abuse and human trafficking, but it is so much more than that. It’s a creative journey for an artist who survived a great deal more than any child should be asked to endure. She offers a lot of examples of wrong turns she took in her recovery as well as many of the right ones. Through a mix of poetry and prose, we can catch a glimpse of the pain but her story is a tale that will speak to those who have suffered. She only asks that they find the courage to heal, to tell their stories when they are ready, and to do what they feel is right. She Is Rising is an organization the helps other women and girls that were abused or victims of human trafficking.

I Can’t Make This Up by Kevin Hart is a memoir of his rise as a comedian, and although some may find his comments crass at times and his language is foul, he tells his story with humor — laughing at himself but also presenting a case for restrictive parenting and how it ultimately helped him in his career choices.


Top Three Nonfiction:

The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas was a surprisingly informative, well researched, and engaging read. I initially thought that this book would be dry, but Barchas surprised me with her ability to connect with the reader effortlessly about her search for those cheap paperbacks that helped Jane Austen’s words reach the level of fame they have today. I was particularly fascinated with how companies used Austen’s cheap books to sell soap and other things.

Green Card and Other Essays by Áine Greaney is a collection of essays about the author’s immigration experience after leaving Ireland. She speaks to the sacrifices the family made when they came to the United States for a better life, but she also speaks to the secondary motivators of leaving one’s home land — not just the economic reasons many people ascribe to immigrants.

Weird But True! USA from National Geographic Kids offers a ton of information in digestible bits for kids. This is a book that adults and kids can share and quiz each other for years to come. It was fun to read this aloud as a family and revisit some of our favorites. We all learned something new.


Please leave your recommendations of books you loved in 2019. I’m quite sure I missed some great reads!

Bunjitsu Bunny vs. Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

Source: Library
Paperback, 120 pgs.
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Bunjitsu Bunny vs. Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman is the fourth book in the series, and Isabel is making new friends, facing fears, and learning that you can never win if you stand in your own way. The book is chock full of drawings in black and white for the most part, except of course our intrepid hero, Bunjitsu Bunny. These are chapter books with pictures and have helped my daughter transition to books with longer chapters. It’s been a long road with reading, but this series has kept her going.

My daughter did not want this series to end, and she made me renew the book at the library several times before she would pick it up and start reading.

The title story comes very quickly in this book, and my daughter kept looking for another chapter in which Bunjitsu Bunny battles herself, but I think there is a subtlety she missed in some of the later chapters where Isabel must overcome her own hurdles. The last chapter finds out bunny getting a well deserved rest, but we’re hopeful that more adventures will come for this hero who uses her brains and savvy to overcome her opponents and help her friends — and sometimes strangers, too.

Bunjitsu Bunny vs. Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman carefully weaves in zen teachings with the art of karate, etc., to teach kids to use more than might and anger to solve problems. A wonderful series for boys and girls alike.

RATING: Cinquain

Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon by John Himmelman

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon by John Himmelman is the third book in the series, and as you probably guessed, my daughter loved this one too. She now has me acting out the scenes using her favorite stuffed animals.

Here, Bunjitsu Bunny continues to learn lessons in kindness and patience, as well as the value of practice. In the same zen-like manner, this bunny tackles the challenges she faces with calm thoughtfulness. One great lesson is to look in front of you for the answers you seek before running around everywhere else to find the answers.

In addition to the Bunjitsu Code, which is in every book, there is an interview with the author. Kids can learn about Himmelman’s favorite subject in school, which just happens to be my daughter’s favorite — art. I loved learning about the origin story for Bunjitsu Bunny, especially since this talented martial artist is based on a real young woman who had similar talent in martial arts.

Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon by John Himmelman is another fantastic installment. Isabel is the best bunjitsu student, but she also has a big heart and is willing to help others and be responsible. There are so many wonderful lessons for children, and they can read these books to you.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Bunjitsu Bunny’s Best Move by John Himmelman

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Bunjitsu Bunny’s Best Move by John Himmelman is the second book in the series and further explores how kids and bunnies can avoid fighting even when someone is determined to fight with you. The power of the mind and kindness are on full display in these adventures.

These are great beginning chapter books for kids. My daughter sometimes asks to read just one more chapter before bed, if she’s not really tired or really interested in what Bunjitsu Bunny is doing next. While many of these adventures just take one chapter from beginning to end, it gives kids a chance to see how longer chapter books continue a story with the same characters. It gives them an opportunity to see that longer books are not necessarily going to be too hard or boring.

One of my favorite adventures in this book teaches patience and the importance of practice. It involves a little bit of origami and even offers step-by-step instructions on how kids can make their own paper bunjitsu bunny. Bunjitsu Bunny’s Best Move by John Himmelman is wonderful second book that moves the series out into its own and away from revamped folk tales.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

The Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny

The Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 128 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman offers a variety of tales of Bunjitsu Bunny, who is a master of the arts. Isabel is a thinker, and she often finds a more peaceful solution to any challenge she faces. Although the Bunjitsu Code is at the end of the book, it is clear throughout the book that the code is Isabel’s guiding force. This early chapter book for young readers offers simple fables with a mix of Eastern philosophy and simple black and white drawings with red. These tales are a new twist on older stories like ‘Tortoise and the Hare.”

Isabel is the best in her class, but she rarely uses brute force to solve problems. My daughter has been looking for books to keep up with her reading this summer, but she initially balked at this story. She told me that she was not into ninjas, but she quickly changed her mind when she started reading. I think Isabel’s calm personality, intelligence, and ability to address problems without fighting interested her.

The Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman is a delightful early chapter book for young readers. It has enough illustrations to illicit laughs and interest from young readers. She’s eager to get the next book in this series.

RATING: Cinquain