Travel and reading are inextricably intertwined. It’s impossible for me to lounge poolside or take my window seat without a good book in my hand. Between travel books that whisk me around the world in a few hundred pages, historical fiction that helps me travel through time, and thrillers that bring me on a brief journey through some of my worst nightmares, I fly through books almost as fast as I devour ice cream cones. If you’re looking for a great book to take with you on your next holiday, keep reading to discover the best books of 2019!
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The 19 best books of 2019 (according to The Sweet Wanderlust)
The Marriage Pact
When Jake and Alice said “I Do,” they meant it forever. So when they’re invited to an exclusive club of people committed to upholding the institution of marriage and ensuring its members stay married forever, joining seems like a no-brainer. Things get scary, though, when the couple begins racking up infractions and are whisked off to face punishment. Is the risk worth the price?
The Marriage Pact is a Black Mirror-esque thriller that’ll have you wondering just how far you’d go to prove your devotion to the promise of forever.
Bring me Back
Ten years ago, Finn and Layla are in love and on holiday in France. Finn parks the car at a rest stop to use the bathroom… and never sees Layla again.
Now, Finn is engaged to Ellen, Layla’s sister. They grew close after her sister’s disappearance and… well… one thing led to another.
Everything seems fine until long-lost items from Layla start turning up in the strangest of places. And then the messages start. Is Layla back? If so, where has she been? And if it’s not her, who could be playing such a cruel prank?
Bring me Back will have you on the edge of your seat, flipping pages until the very end on this twisted journey to the truth.
The Other Woman
Emily and Adam fall truly, madly, deeply in love. Emily is smitten and eager to start a life together. But first, she has to meet his mom. Adam is quite the mama’s boy, insisting his mother be treated with utmost respect above all else.
Emily readily agrees… family is important to her, too. But she didn’t expect his mother, Pammie to be quite so awful. The slights begin small- insisting that Emily and Adam not share a bed while at her house or making a full meal and guilting her about her lack of hunger after Emily tells Pammie she’ll be eating with her family before arriving.
When Emily and Adam get engaged, Pammie turns from bad to worse. What is it about Emily that Pammie hates so much? Will Emily make it to the altar? Or will Pammie get her wish?
The Other Woman is full of twists and turns, and you’re sure to close this psychological thriller with your jaw on the floor.
The First Mistake
Sandie Jones’ second novel is as delightfully twisty as her first. Several years ago, Alice was widowed, leaving her to care for her daughter and the business she and her husband Tom started together. His death took her to a dark place, and that anxiety has shadowed her ever since.
Today, though, it seems like those days are behind her. She’s remarried a man named Nathan, who is a devoted husband and loving father. Alice’s business is taking off, with the opportunity of a lifetime just about to go through. And her best friend Beth is loyal, trustworthy and a whole lot of fun.
The shadow of anxiety returns when Alice begins noticing signs of infidelity in her husband. Of course, he denies everything… but Alice knows something isn’t right. And then there’s Beth, who after years of friendship, still hasn’t met Nathan, making excuses every time they have a chance to bump into each other.
What’s really going on? And why did Alice’s dead husband Tom just show up on Facebook with an update from yesterday? Once you start The First Mistake, you won’t want to put it down. Clear your calendar and settle in for a roller coaster of twists and turns.
Holy shivers. This one is creepy. And twisty. And will leave you sleeping with one eye open. But I didn’t expect anything different from the woman who brought us Gone Girl. Gone Girl was published six years after this novel was published, but a new HBO series has brought it to the limelight again.
Reporter Camille Preaker is recently returned to work after a stay in a psych unit when she’s sent to her hometown to cover the brutal murders of two preteen girls. Her homecoming is not a happy one, though. Her mother (the wealthiest woman in town) and step-father seem inconvenienced by her arrival. And her step-sister is utterly confusing, playing with her dollhouse (and dressing like a doll herself) at home and leading the pack of cool (read: mean) girls at school.
Something horrible is happening in town, and it’s up to Camille to figure it out. Everyone in this book is messed up. Everyone in this book has gone through some kind of unspeakable trauma. This is your trigger warning… if you have any sort of trigger, this book will set it off. That said, Sharp Objects is well written, brilliantly executed and suspenseful until the end.
The Last Year of the War
As always, Susan Meissner dives deep into her subject and takes us all along for the journey. German-American Elise Sontag and Japanese-American Mariko Inoue become best friends in the most unlikely of places – an internment camp in Texas. Their friendship is forged in the fires of WWII and it’s a bond the girls are sure will last forever. But when Elise’s family is repatriated to Germany and Mariko’s family ends up back in Japan, the friends’ communication is severed. Why did the letters stop? And is it ever too late to rekindle a friendship?
The Last Year of the War is a dual-era novel takes us from the US to Germany and back to the US again as Elise struggles to find a place where she belongs. Above all else, it’s a story of forgiveness that will have you calling friends from your past to reconnect.
The Perfect Wife
The description of this book led me to believe I’d be reading about Abbie, a loving mother to a young son and wife to a tech genius. The description says she suffered a terrible accident five years ago and was brought back by a miracle of science only to find that perhaps her husband, Tim, has secrets he’s not sharing with her. I expected a psychological thriller, where the wife outsmarts the husband just in time to bring that sweet, sweet justice (or revenge).
What I didn’t expect was a sci-fi thriller. This genre usually isn’t my cup of tea and I probably would have skipped this book had the description informed me that the “Abbie” I’d be getting to know is actually an emotionally intelligent cobot (that’s a companion robot). I almost bailed immediately, but as the real Abbie’s memories and digital footprint were downloaded into cobot Abbie, I got hooked on the story.
Told from a then-and-now perspective, the past segment is narrated by the collective, while the present is directed at you (cobot Abbie). The novel is timely and heartwarming and made me think really hard about what makes someone human. Is it the empathy, the call to morality or simply having flesh and blood? Author JP Delaney tackles gender inequality, harassment in the workplace and male entitlement at the tech company. At home, Tim and Abbie struggle to do what’s best for their son, Danny, who suffers from Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, a late-onset form of Autism.
Cobot Abbie sets out to find the truth about what happened to Abbie that night, and soon the AI is taking matters into her own hands. Sci-fi lover or not, The Perfect Wife is a must-read for anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers.
Something in the Water
In this book, we start with the ending. Erin, a documentary filmmaker, is burying her new husband Mark, a handsome investment banker. The question is: What in the world happened to get her here? We go back to the beginning and find that a discovery on their honeymoon in Bora Bora is simultaneously the best and worst thing that could ever happen to the happy couple. On the surface, they’ll be set forever. The question is… exactly how long is their forever?
Something in the Water is a great beach read… just make sure there aren’t any shovels nearby…
Mistress of the Ritz
I am fascinated by WWII historical fiction novels and Mistress of the Ritz offers a unique perspective on an oft-covered subject. In this book, Melanie Benjamin tells the fictionalized story of Claude and Blanche Auzello, the manager and “mistress” of The Ritz in Paris during WWII.
Part love story, Mistress of the Ritz covers the couple’s whirlwind romance and the tensions of the marriage of an independent American woman and a traditional French man. When the Nazis move into the Ritz, making it their headquarters, the glitz and glamour of the hotel is infused with an air of danger. Gone are the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and in their place, Nazis – including Hermann Goring – make plans to take over the city.
Throughout the war Blanche and Claude play host and hostess to the Nazis – but things are not always as they seem. The Auzellos are keeping secrets from each other that threaten not only their livelihood, but their very lives. Stifled by her husband in an atmosphere demanding perfection, Blanche finds a friend in an unlikely woman – a member of the French Resistance and secretly joins their cause. At the same time, Claude is doing his part to ensure that Paris does not fall so easily. Will their efforts be discovered by the Nazis?
Once Upon a River: A Novel
People read for many reasons. To learn, to relax, to escape. It’s a special gift when a writer can aid in your escape from reality and keep you on your toes for 480 pages. Diane Setterfield is that kind of writer. Once Upon a River is, as the title suggests, set upon a river. The River Thames itself is full of twists and turns, flowing in all directions and touching many communities as it makes its way to the sea.
It is in one of these communities where regulars were being entertained by storytellers while drinking at their local pub, The Swan, on the night of the winter solstice. As they listened to stories, an injured man carrying the lifeless body of a young girl burst through the door. That is… she was lifeless… until she wasn’t. After the little girl’s miraculous return from the dead, a battle ensues between two families in an effort to return her to her rightful family.
Is this Amelia, stolen from her bed at the Vaughn’s home two years ago? Or is it Alice, the daughter of Robin Armstrong, whose estranged wife was recently found dead? Perhaps it’s Ann, the younger sister of Lily White, the parson’s housekeeper? The little girl isn’t talking.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough – at one point, it gave me full body goosebumps! Like The Thirteenth Tale (you can read about that in my The best 15 books of 2015 post), you’ll be guessing until the very end. Just when you think you have your mind made up… like the Thames, the tides will turn again!
“‘I think I put my hand over her mouth…’ ‘Don’t say that. Don’t even think that. You wouldn’t have done that.’
They sit very still in this room full of blood and sorrow – girls whose pulses burst in their veins and boom inside their ears. Their heads. Some where a clock ticks. A bird calls…
Three girls. One dead.”
The past never really stays in the past… especially when the past holds a terrible secret. Three friends made a promise nearly 30 years ago to never tell a soul. But it seems that their secret just might be unearthed by events beyond their control.
After Sally, Beth and Carol made their vow of silence at Catholic boarding school, Carol drifted away from her friends. Teresa Driscoll’s psychological thriller, The Promise, delves deep into the past and brings you to the current events responsible for their anxiety of discovery today. Sally and Beth hire a private detective to track down Carol as they try to figure out how to right a wrong from their past. And in digging up the past, they just might change the future.
I Will Make You Pay
Teresa Driscoll has not one, but TWO books on my list of top 19 books of 2019! In I Will Make You Pay, journalist Alice Henderson is terrorized by a stalker every Wednesday. The threats are escalating and no one knows who’s behind them or why Alice is being targeted. As the weeks pass, her family is targeted and things start getting dangerous. In this novel, you’ll suspect everyone… and come up grasping at straws. This book is a page turner until the very end!
Home for Erring and Outcast Girls
This book caught my attention first because of its setting. Arlington, Texas is just a few miles from the town where I grew up near Dallas, Texas. The Berachah Industrial Home was a religious haven, housing ‘ruined’ women, homeless girls and unwed mothers from 1903-1935. It was rare at the time in its belief that a mother and a child belonged together. And that’s exactly what brought Lizzie and Maggie to the home’s doors at the lowest point in their lives. In this building, the two women found hope, home and family.
In this multi-era historical fiction novel, as the reader is entrenched in the story of the Berachah women, university librarian Cate Sutton is also doing her own excavations. She came across the cemetery of the home, and through her job in University Collections, begins looking into the history of the home and its inhabitants. Cate’s been running from her past for decades… will she stop running long enough to find healing like so many of the Berachah girls did before?
Threads of religion are woven throughout Home for Erring and Outcast Girls. Julie Kibler does an incredible job of showing the many amazing things religion is responsible for as well the the negative side of church politics and the tragic aftermath of a church protecting the wrong person. This book will strike righteous indignation over the mistreatment of women through the decades and remind you that you are stronger than you believe.
The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes
The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes’ cheery cover, reminiscent of a Rifle Paper Co. design, belies the tough topics and eccentric characters in the book. It took me a couple chapters to get into, as Ruth Hogan paints beautiful pictures with her words and I had just come down from the high of a fast-paced thriller. Once I settled into the rhythm of this novel, though, I couldn’t put it down and finished in less than a day.
Masha lost her son more than a decade ago, and is still punishing herself- grieving his death and her inability to save him. All hope seems lost, and Masha has resigned herself to live in mourning. That is, until she meets two women who change her life. The peculiar Sally Red Shoes is a woman who spends her days feeding birds in the cemetery, singing to gravestones, and often greets Masha with a four-letter word– said with a smile, thanks to a jumbled up vocabulary. And Kitty Muriel, is an elderly sexpot in a new romance with the town Elvis.
Each woman has something to teach Masha… but will be able to stop merely existing and start living?
From the author of Pretty Little Liars comes a tale of scandal, betrayal, deceit and murder. When a university is hacked, private emails of students, administrators and the university hospital become public. The fallout is swift- jobs are lost, marriages fall apart, and the university president’s daughter, Kit, finds her husband dead after his explicit emails to another woman are discovered in the hack. The only problem? Kit can’t remember how she got home that night. She’s almost certain she didn’t kill her husband…
Kit’s sister, Willa, comes to town to support the family— but Willa has secrets of her own. If you love suspense and scandal, you’ll love Reputation. Secrets never stay secret for long… and reputations can be ruined in an instant.
Rumors can be a nasty thing. A few years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to stop gossiping- and while I’m certainly not perfect, making a conscious attempt to change left a marked improvement on my life.
The Rumor reveals just how quickly a few whispered words can spread and how many people’s lives can be affected by a careless comment. Joanne hears that convicted child-killer Sally McGowan may have moved to her sleepy, beachside town of Flinstead. And when the nuggets of information fed to her by her son’s father, a reporter, earn brownie points for her and friends for her son, she wonders whether sharing what she knows can really be that bad.
Turns out, it can. Soon, she’s suspicious of every older woman in town- and she’s not alone. One woman in particular is targeted, and her shop is vandalized. Is this a warranted act of justice on a child-killer? Or a horrible act on an innocent woman?
Lesley Kara’s writing ensures that you suspect everyone and trust no one.
City of Girls
I’m familiar with the Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love. I believe her memoir is responsible for many of those, like me, who travel for a living. But her newest novel, City of Girls, is equally powerful. Ninety-five-year-old Vivian Morris receives a letter from Angela stating that her mother has died, and she is finally able to ask the question she’s held for decades, “Who were you to my father?”
The novel is written in letter format and Vivian writes hundreds of pages of explanation to Angela. She shares who she was as a 19-year-old in 1940 New York, kicked out of Vassar and sent to live with her flamboyant, theatre-owning aunt, the crowd she spent time with–showgirls and the like–, her first great love, and the dreadful mistake responsible for an exile from New York. Gilbert covers sexuality and promiscuity, the cost of the war, female friendships, and the meaning of true love.
When the 470-page novel was over, I mourned the loss of the characters whose lives I’d immersed myself in for days.
Before and After
Judy Christie & Lisa Wingate
I recommended Before We Were Yours as one of the best books to read in 2017. It’s not often a book stays with me long after I close the book– but this was an exception. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. Lisa Wingate’s novel, a fictional account of little lives affected by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society not only drew attention from those who’d never heard of the terrible deeds committed by Georgia Tann– many of the children whose lives were irrevocably changed by the woman saw themselves in Wingate’s story. The adoptees and their children began reaching out to the author, and soon a reunion was in the works. Journalist Judy Christine joined the project to capture the stories of the survivors for Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
Contained in the pages of this book are the true stories of people affected by Georgia Tann. You’ll read the stories of men and women who were taken from their birth families– often by trickery and deceit. Meet their adopted families paid exorbitant amounts of money– far beyond the legal amount prescribed for adoption in those days. And get to know the siblings still searching for their relatives stolen by Georgia Tann. Their stories are a complex web of abandonment, missing siblings, great opportunities and privilege, and emotional reunions with blood relatives.
If you loved Before We Were Yours, Before and After is a must-read.
The Lost Girls of Paris
I love historical fiction… especially those set during WWII. I love reading stories of hope in hard times and of unexpected bravery in the midst of terror and light in the darkest of places.
Unlike many dual era novels, Pam Jenoff’s latest, The Lost Girls of Paris, is set in a span of just a few years. But what a difference a few years can make in the 1940s. The year is 1946 and Grace Healey takes a shortcut through Grand Central Station due to an accident along her usual route. She’s late to work, and should mind her own business… but an abandoned suitcase catches her eye. What she finds inside will alter the course of her life forever. The photos of several young women could easily be forgotten, but when it turns out that the suitcase belongs to the woman who died, a mystery begins to unfold.
As Grace digs deeper into the photos left behind in Eleanor Trigg’s bag, she uncovers a network of female secret agents who were trained to act as couriers and code-breakers during WWII. This fascinating tale is based on true events and will leave you in awe of the brave and heroic young women who gave everything in a dark part of history.
Note: Many of these books were received as advanced reader copies from Net Galley and the publishers in exchange for my honest review.
What’s the best book you’ve read in 2019? What book are you most excited to read in 2020? Let me know in the comments!
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Pin this best books of 2019 checklist!