The mist wafting through the air surrounding the Pond was light and breezy on this cool winter’s evening. Cuddle clutched Party under one arm, and carried a few Blubberware containers full of homemade food in the other towards the Pond.
“I really hope everyone likes the food I’ve brought for the Pondluck dinner party tonight!” Cuddle worried, “maybe I didn’t put enough sauce in the mushrooms, or enough water in the rice.” Party seemed to squirm a little as Cuddle tightened her squeeze anxiously.
Setting the silverware out neatly and a long picnic blanket down by the edge of the water, Cuddle thought about the books she was going to talk about at the book club/Pondluck dinner party get together tonight. It was their year end gathering, and everyone is going to talk about their favorite books and eat good food that each of them made and brought. She smiled as she remembered some of the titles she’d read including a Pride and Prejudice retelling and a great book about a girl working at her grandma’s diner.
The Pond’s inhabitants waddled, flew, and traipsed in, greeting and embracing one another after asking permission. As she looked at her Pond family: Gen with a festive “ringing in the new year” hat instead of his usual, Varian being their best naked frog, and Sprout looking cute and dapper as always, and more filing in, Cuddle thought about the warmth in her heart and gave Party a tight snuggle, feeling a small snuggle back.
How nice it was to have a welcoming and safe home, with accepting, loving, and caring Pond family members. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this content, as she blinked back tears of joy at finding a place where she truly belonged.
To be totally honest, 2019 was not a great reading year for me in terms of quantity. Adjusting to having a baby in late 2019, along with managing her medical care for her diagnoses and my own postpartum mental health has been an arduous task, and reading unfortunately fell by the wayside. I didn’t log a lot of the books I did finish, and I don’t have any clue how many books I read but if I had to guess, it would probably be around 30-40. This is a far cry from the 120-150 I have been reading in the past few years.
Having way less time, emotional and physical bandwidth, and focus to read actually helped me curate what I read more, and I’d say the overall quality or average star rating I gave the books increased, because I didn’t really take a chance on any books I even had an inkling may have been “meh”. I read a lot of contemporary/realistic fiction and romance by women of color, which is right where my niche is. I would say a couple of the books are probably my forever favorites, and I definitely met several characters along the way who are near and dear to my heart.
YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by Steph Cha
In 1990s Los Angeles, a Black teenage girl is shot by a Korean convenience store owner, set against the backdrop of the 1992 LA riots. The lives of two families – one Black and one Korean – are changed forever after this horrible incident.
YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY is probably my number one book of 2019. I can’t say enough good things about it. Steph Cha is the author of the Juniper Song mystery/thriller series, the one lonesome mystery/thriller series I have read with a female Asian-American lead investigator and protagonist. I was thirsty – no, PARCHED – for something, ANYTHING in my favorite genre with an Asian-American protagonist and this series was the answer to my prayers.
But I digress. YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY is a standalone novel and it is a force. It alternates between the 1990s and present day where Shawn Matthews, a young Black man, is grieving and recovering from the death of his sister Ava, and Grace Park, a young Korean woman, is about to learn the truth about her family’s secrets. Cha perfectly illustrates the experience of being a young Asian-American woman, dealing with the harmful racial, discrimination and stereotypes, but also confronting the anti-Black attitudes within the Asian and Asian-American community. There is discussion about legal matters regarding gun violence, juxtaposing how it was dealt with in the 90s versus present day.
This book has its roots in and is inspired by the death of Latasha Harlans in 1991, who was shot by a Korean convenience store owner who only received probation and a fine as a sentence. If you read any book off of this list, let it be this one. Be prepared to confront your own prejudices that you may not even know you carried. It’s amazing. Trust me.
THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang
Esme travels to the Bay Area of California from Ho Chi Minh City to potentially marry Khai, who she has never met, and their love story explores immigration, self exploration, and defining love.
Of course I am going to include a Helen Hoang title on my favorite books of 2019 list! She truly is such a gem to the romance community and after THE KISS QUOTIENT, I was ready for more, like, yesterday.
THE BRIDE TEST employs the semi-arranged marriage trope, and, like THE KISS QUOTIENT, features an endearing protagonist who has an autism spectrum diagnosis. Khai, our male protagonist, experiences massive character growth and over the course of their relationship, he builds his definition of love, including how he and Esme would show their love and respect in specific situations, and what communication is needed. They also discussed how tedious, binding, and frustrating the immigration process is, and how powerless people can feel in all aspects of their life, including relationships, jobs, and finances. I loved this one just as much as Hoang’s first novel, and would highly recommend it.
SPEAKING OF SUMMER by Kalisha Buckhanon
Autumn goes in search of her missing sister Summer, who are both Black women, and her story covers mental health, racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, grief, and trauma.
This book is just phenomenal. It is layered, emotional, and incisive. In sum, it takes a deep dive into the American criminal justice system and how it silences and diminishes the visibility and voices of Black women. So many of the stories we see on the news of missing and murdered women are White, wealthy, and beautiful victims. Not to say that these stories should not have attention and that they aren’t absolutely heartbreaking, but Black women’s stories are just cast aside, as if saying that the legal system does not value their lives at all.
On top of describing this rhetoric, Buckhanon portrays compassion fatigue through Autumn’s narrative, in that she empathizes so much with other Black women who have been pushed aside and told that death and murder are just the way that their lives were going. However, utilizing all of her emotional energy leaves her no room for herself and her own trauma. She also works through grief and other various mental health issues, compounded by being a WOC. I cannot recommend this book enough, and it is a shame that I hardly hear anyone talking about it.
CHECK PLEASE! by Ngozi Uzaku
Eric Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion, joins his college’s new hockey team and navigates college life.
Check Please! is one of my favorite graphic novels of all time. It blends strength in competing in sports with strength in softness and camaraderie between teammates and friends, and some lovey feels. Even though the cast of characters is mostly boys and men, there was an appreciation for stereotypically feminine, and sometimes devalued, activities and interests such as baking. The manga-adjacent art style added to the wholesome feel, akin to a sports manga series.
This book is blurbed and championed by Joe Johnson, one of my favorite formerly competitive figure skaters (who has now retired to work for Cirque du Soleil); he and his ice dance partner Karina Manta are the first partnership in which both athletes openly identify within the LGBTQIAP+ community. I say this every time I talk about Check Please ad nauseum but I just love them SO MUCH. Please read this one… you won’t regret it!
THIS IS OUR STORY by Ashley Elston
Five boys from a rich private school went hunting and one was found shot to death. Kate Merino who works for the lead investigator finds herself in the middle of it all and is trying to find justice.
You definitely have to suspend your disbelief about some aspects of THIS IS OUR STORY. However, it is the perfect blend of private (read: rich, slightly mysterious White boys in uniforms) versus public school competitiveness and rivalry, and a propulsive mystery that is compulsively readable. The book is broken up into plot-driven chapters and interviews with possible suspects and witnesses. There are some themes that touch on sexism and the power of money.
I wouldn’t say that this is the greatest constructed or written book of all time, but it is most definitely one of my favorites of the year because I loved that I got to buddy read this with Madalyn from Novel Ink Blog (clickable link: https://novelinkblog.com/), and this is actually the first book we have successfully read together after abandoning several. APPLAUSE FOR US!
RED, WHITE, AND ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston
The FSOTUS, Alex, and Prince Henry of England are placed in a forced friendship situation and develop a hate-to-love romance, with hearty sides of hopeful post-Obama American politics and steamy emails.
The one word I would use to describe RED, WHITE, AND ROYAL BLUE is hopeful. Hopeful that a cross-continental M/M relationship can exist in the public eye, and hopeful that the future American president can be this no-nonsense, kickass, and also caring and motherly, woman. The chaos of Alex Claremont-Diaz and the more reserved but passionate nature of Prince Henry of England is the perfect relationship we all need to root for. Their close group of friends and relatives is made up of queer and POC young adults, all of whom are so lovable and fun. The book also deals with intersectional identities in politics and how they play on one another in the American South.
Like THIS IS OUR STORY, I love this book because of the memories I have with it. I traveled to Los Angeles to go to Casey McQuiston’s book signing for RWRB and met a bunch of my friends in person, including Chelsea from Chelsea Dolling Reads, Olivia from Livvie Simone (she did the AMAZING artwork for Tomi Adeyemi’s companion journal!), and Rocky from Blonde with a Book. Taylor Jenkins Reid was moderating the event, and I got to meet her, and even find out that my daughter’s name was on her short list for HER daughter’s name! Bless up, Baby Squibbles.
Even though I didn’t read a lot in 2019, I definitely read some books that will stay with me forever, and some books that really had a helping had in healing and recovery after giving birth.
Next year, I will be speaking on a few podcast episodes for Reading Women as a co-host in the first half of the year so I have some books already planned! As I adapt more to having less time and energy in motherhood, I will be able to find new ways to read, and hopefully next year will see the same quality in books – look at how many favorites I had! – but an increase in quantity.