As the year (and decade!) rolls towards a close, I thought it would be nice to put together a quick review of all of the books I’ve read this year, as well as my favourite books for 2019. For a more lengthy, in-depth book review, please check out my Goodreads account over here.
My initial #ReadingChallenge2019 goal was to read 19 books (since the year is 2019 and I read 15 books in 2018). Surprisingly, I surpassed my original goal by 200% by reading 60 books this year. In 2018, one of the things I wanted was to read more quickly, and I suppose I have achieved this in 2019. I have to thank Pansing and Times Distribution for sending me many review copies and advanced reading copies my way, as well as my job, for helping me improve my reading speed!
A side note: People often remark, how do you want to read when you spend all day at work reading? I mean, if you enjoy reading, I’m sure this activity would still be fun outside of work.
For clarification, I would like to set out from the outset that my review of these 60 books are of the 60 books that I read in 2019, and not all 60 books are books published in the year 2019, although many of these books are! Those which are 2019 books will be marked with “(2019)” for easy reference.
At the end, I will list out my favourite must-read titles from my Reading Challenge 2019.
So with that, let’s get started.
(1) Do I Matter? A Journey to Building Your Self-Esteem by Wong Lai Chun, Samaritans of Singapore (2019)
A (literally) reflective, concise, gentle yet direct book with journalling Q’s for better understanding one’s self-esteem and how other people think.
I recommend this if: You feel lost, need guidance, directions or help, or are a caregiver/family member to someone who needs help.
(2) Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused life in a Noisy World (2019)
A monumental and relevant book on how tech and the digital world has changed and transformed over the past two decades and how attention economy conglomerates are hankering after our attention, and how we can claim back our time and attention to live less distracted, more meaningful and fulfilling lives.
I recommend this if: You spend a few or more hours on your phone each day, can’t live without it, and would like to disconnect and understand Cal Newport’s digital minimalism philosophy.
(3) Recursion by Blake Crouch (2019)
A mind-bending science-fiction action-packed Hollywood-esque thriller involving a scientist, a cop, multiple timelines, saving humanity, a supposed disease called False Memory Syndrome and a ‘memory chair’.
I recommend this if: You are interested in time travel, like the movie Inception, enjoy action films, or are interested in science fiction, thrillers or dystopian books.
(4) The Laundromat: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite by Jake Bernstein (2019)
Now a Netflix film starring Antonio Banderas, Gary Oldman and Meryl Streep, this shocking non-fiction was formerly published as Secrecy World, and involves an up-to-date retelling of both big picture and detailed scandals of the aftermath of the Panama Papers (including the downfall of global Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca) and the IJI’s investigative journalism efforts.
I recommend this if: You haven’t been keeping up with The Panama Papers or the news in the past few years, but are interested in uncovering true crime tales about money-laundering and what supports its existence.
(5) How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
I was surprised that I enjoyed this much older book so much; personally, I think everyone can benefit from reading this book, to become better, more empathetic and understanding human beings and to have more meaningful and less abrasive interpersonal relationships.
I recommend this if: You think other people are idiots, actually, I recommend this book to everyone, it’s a great read.
(6) The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (2019)
This sparkling, hopeful yet dystopian and lengthy new sequel (30 years in the making) is a joint-winner of the 2019 Man Booker Prize, and is a fan fiction-esque follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale; I imagine Margaret Atwood to be not too different from J K Rowling and the reactions from serious fans seemed quite polarised with more falling into the “why did she even write this book?” camp, personally, I was fine with this book but it seemed like Atwood was pandering to fans (and failed their expectations) and the book was less literary and dark in comparison.
I recommend this if: You enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale (movie or Hulu version), want more details of The Handmaid’s Tale universe or enjoy dystopian books.
(7) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
I breezed through this short and dark, dystopian, literary book about women whose freedoms have been taken away and sole purpose is to bear children, and came away with the conclusion that it seems to work better in a visual form.
I recommend this if: You want to read The Handmaid’s Tale, enjoy dystopian books, or enjoy English literature, I’m sure there is a lot to uncover and analyse in this book.
(8) The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel by Renee Nault and Margaret Atwood (2019)
I actually read the graphic novelisation of The Handmaid’s Tale before the original book and thoroughly enjoyed/grimaced at this very graphic, extremely beautiful and pristine hardcover book, I found the storyline confusing, but after reading the original story in literary form, I was not any more enlightened.
I recommend this if: You can’t get enough of The Handmaid’s Tale, or simply love graphic novels, this one didn’t disappoint and really captured the essence of The Handmaid’s Tale (Disclaimer: Probably not suitable for children)!
(9) Alpha Girls: The Women Upstarts who took on Silicon Valley’s Male Culture and Made the Deals of a Lifetime by Julian Guthrie (2019)
A one of a kind non-fiction about four pioneering women venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and their inspiring can-do spirits in spite of life’s hurdles and sexist society.
I recommend this if: You are looking for new inspiring role models, or want to start out on your own as a woman (e.g. beginning your own tech start-up company) or you’re looking for a more feminist read.
(10) Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong (2019)
A hilarious series of true stories in the form of letters from stand-up comic Ali Wong to her daughters when they turn 21, extremely shocking, entertaining, funny and down-to-earth; I finished this funny book in one sitting.
I recommend this if: You need a laugh or an entertaining page-turner or can’t get enough of Ali Wong (“I have suffered enough.” – Ali Wong) (Disclaimer: Probably not suitable for children).
(11) Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope by Megan Phelps-Roper (2019)
I think I can easily crown this book as best book I’ve read in 2019, I haven’t seen very many reviews on this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed this detailed autobiography by Megan Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, who grew up in the church and eventually left her family and the cult.
I recommend this if: Like me, you love reading about cults, or religion in general.
(12) Bunny by Mona Awad (2019)
This was perhaps the most bizarre, dramatic, weird book I’ve read this year, it’s like a dark cross between Twilight and The House Bunny, with fairytales and an added twist of what is real and what isn’t?
I recommend this if: You like young adult fiction and anything weird is your jam.
(13) Murder by the Book: A Sensational Chapter in Victorian Crime by Claire Harman
A dramatic, relatively unknown true story of a high-profile murder inspired by a book, which left the minds of famous literary sensations like Charles Dickens, and Queen Victoria herself boggled.
I recommend this if: You like history, true crime, anything from the Victorian era.
(14) The Daily Zen Journal: A Creative Companion for a Beginner’s Mind by Charlie Ambler (2019)
A highly recommended, thought-provoking, practical, direct journal incorporating zen meditation quotes and techniques and journal cues, with lots of beautiful, relaxing illustrations.
I recommend this if: You are interested in journalling, self-help books, or zen meditation.
(15) Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal with Julie Li (2019)
A practical, at times brutal, tough love self-help guide on how to spend less time on your phone and more time with your family, and most importantly, how to be “indistractable”.
I recommend this if: You spend too much time scrolling on your phone and want to get back to living in the real world.
(16) Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa
A very heart-warming and (very) Japanese book about isolation, discrimination, loneliness, loss and hope, easily one of my favourite books read in 2019.
I recommend this if: You need something to warm your heart, or if you love Japan, or Japanese literature.
(17) Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb (2019)
A revealing book about an otherwise private and deeply personal profession, the relationship between a therapist and her therapist, and the therapist-patient relationship, and techniques on how we can land on our own feet again after going through personal crises.
I recommend this if: You are interested in knowing more about how therapy works, and the perspective of a therapist, or if you like books written by women, this is sort of like chick lit in non-fiction format.
(18) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
A very moving classic about a loving boy on the run who loses his child-like perspective, and who wishes to protect his younger sister’s innocence.
I recommend this if: You enjoy classics, bildungsroman books, books like The Great Gatsby, or English literature.
(19) A Nearly Normal Family by M. T. Edvardsson (2019)
Another strong contender for best book of 2019, this exciting criminal psychological thriller will have you turning pages to figure out, who is the killer in this seemingly normal Swedish family?
I recommend this if: You like psychological thrillers or true crime!
(20) The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (2019)
One of the more bizarre books I read this year with the prettiest of covers, The Memory Police is set in a dystopian world where things (and memories) vanish one by one over time because of The Memory Police, and a group of people try their best to save humanity (Disclaimer: I did not like the symbolic ending).
I recommend this if: You like Inception, thrillers, dystopian books, original ideas, or Japanese literature.
(21) An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
An African American newly-wed goes to jail for a crime he didn’t commit, the question is, will their marriage survive; this was a moving, very American, very symbolic story about marriage and all of its beauty and ugliness.
I recommend this if: You enjoy American stories, stories about love, reading books by African Americans, or want to read more books by women of colour.
(22) Normal People by Sally Rooney
I loved this book, and am aware that Normal People has divided many opinions (a lot of people seem to dislike it, and say it’s very angsty or the characters are intolerable/annoying/don’t grow), it reminded me of my own personal experiences in university, and is written in a very simple, easy to follow and visualise way.
I recommend this if: You are feeling nostalgic about university, or life as a teenager/young adult, or if you like young adult fiction, contemporary fiction, UK books generally, the characters in this book may require some patience, expect no inverted commas.
(23) Homeless: The Untold Story of a Mother’s Struggle in Crazy Rich Singapore by Liyana Dhamirah (2019)
A very gripping and haunting book on what it’s like to experience homelessness in Singapore as a young mother, I loved this complicated but sad story and read it in one sitting.
I recommend this if: You want to learn more about homelessness, income inequality, Singapore in general, definitely recommend this.
(24) Mr Salary: Faber Stories by Sally Rooney (2019)
This was a miniature book part of the Faber Stories short story collection, and I finished this short story in one sitting, this was my first time reading anything by Sally Rooney, and I enjoyed its simplicity and flow.
I recommend this if: You like mini books, cheap books, contemporary literature, simple short stories, Sally Rooney’s writing, expect no inverted commas (if you can’t tolerate that, skip this book).
(25) Circe by Madeline Miller
A very visual, modern, and epic take on the lesser known story of the Greek goddess, Circe, daughter of the sun god Helios and Perse the nymph.
I recommend this if: You are interested in Greek mythology, folklore, short paperback fiction.
(26) Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson (2019)
This was a pretty disappointing, transphobic, fatphobic read, and I’ld probably say skip it, it didn’t seem well-researched and it’s hard to believe this same writer wrote Oranges are Not the Only Fruit.
I recommend this if: You want to read all of Jeanette Winterson’s books.
(27) Delayed Rays of a Star by Amanda Lee Koe (2019)
Sadly I didn’t like this heavy book that much, I think most of it went over my head (too specialised, too technical, too intellectual, too high society, too many characters for my brain to appreciate and enjoy).
I recommend this if: You like absorbing random information like a sponge, or if you are a serious film buff who can appreciate this book about early film starlets.
(28) Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo Del Toro and Cornelia Funke (2019)
A dark, sad, imaginative masterpiece of a fairytale based on the original film and all of the ideas that went into Del Toro’s movie, pretty illustrations included!
I recommend this if: You enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth, or if you like fairytales, folklore.
(29) Slowness by Milan Kundera
Like many of Kundera’s books, this one is pretty grey and less straightforward, very experimental novel, I suppose the key theme behind this book can be glimpsed from the book jacket, by slowing down, we can enjoy life’s pleasures more fully, surprisingly relevant still in this day and age of speed and instant gratification.
I recommend this if: You enjoy philosophy, Milan Kundera, experimental fiction that explore philosophical ideas and concepts.
(30) A Savage Dreamland: Journeys in Burma by David Eimer (2019)
I loved this exciting, detailed book about the author’s first-hand account of his time and travels in Burma across many years, he really transports you back in time to the Burmese villages and small towns, and exposes you to different religious people.
I recommend this if: You like travel books, travel blogs, or if you are interested in Burma, the Southeast Asian region.
(31) Dune by Frank Herbert
This is the incomparable, OG science fiction story that came before so many others like Star Wars and Star Trek (PS. there’s gonna be a new Dune movie come December 2020), Dune explores with great intellectual depth and great panache different themes such as environmentalism, power, human relationships and politics.
I recommend this if: You are interested in science fiction/fantasy genres.
(32) N.P. by Banana Yoshimoto
A self-aware exploration of taboo and LGBT themes through a Japanese, magical realistic lens, Banana Yoshimoto is like a younger, female, more observant Haruki Murakami.
I recommend this if: You are interested in Japanese literature that is more focused on ideas rather than plot or characters.
(33) Neon Soul: A collection of Poetry & Prose by Alexandra Elle
I’m a big fan of Alexandra Elle’s life-affirming works, this is a collection of poems to brighten up the heart and soul.
I recommend this if: You like simple prose and poetry, or you want to find a soft, warm voice you can relate to after experiencing something traumatic or sad.
(34) How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne (2019)
Heavy/light hearted chick lit-esque book (maybe it hit too close to home) about Tori Bailey, a best-selling author with millions of fans, basically, she has everything in life but is she TRULY happy? (Answer: no, but the book concludes with Tori learning to accept herself for who she is and to stop seeking external validation).
I recommend this if: You are struggling with societal’s expectations/expectations you have imposed on yourself in terms of fitting your life into a socially acceptable narrative.
(35) The Gendered Brain: The new neuroscience that shatters the myth of the female brain by Gina Rippon (2019)
An intriguing book about myths concerning the brain and gender stereotypes in scientific studies.
I recommend this if: You are interested in anything medical or science-related, books about gender, feminism, the brain.
(36) The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
A moving Japanese book about loss, and the strong bond between pet owner and pet.
I recommend this if: You are a pet owner or cat owner.
(37) Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life by Beth Kempton
Wabi sabi means to observe the beauty in imperfection and appreciate the simplicity around us, this book was a little lengthy and repetitive at times, but it was thought-provoking with questions, concepts, and ideas.
I recommend this if: You are feeling lost, or if you are interested in Japanese philosophies, mindfulness, self-help books, want to let go of perfectionism.
(38) The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
This was an absolutely moving and heart-breaking and very realistic story about a man and his wife, being displaced by the war, losing his son, and their trying journey from Aleppo, Syria to the UK, to seek asylum as refugees.
I recommend this if: you are interested in reading about politics, human relationships, family, losing a child, life as a refugee, social work, the effect of war on people.
(39) The Little Book of Ikigai: Live a happy and long life the Japanese way by Ken Mogi
Ikigai means the reason for one’s existence, and so this thought-provoking book is about helping you find the reason to wake up every morning the Japanese way, this is a very practical and useful self-help guide with many references to Japanese culture and way of doing things.
I recommend this if: You are interested in all things Japanese or want to better understand ikigai as a concept or want to live a more purposeful life.
(40) The Other Americans by Laila Lalami (2019)
Told through different perspectives, this is an ambitious novel about an American family dealing with loss, I love how the author depicts difficult human emotions, but a lot of the story, characters and themes were skimmed on, even though this was a pretty lengthy book.
I recommend this if: You enjoy books written in the eyes of different characters, enjoy the book An American Marriage, want to read more books by women of colour, or simply like American books.
(41) The Farm by Joanne Ramos (2019)
An intelligent, modern, funny, trying to be but not really dystopian book about surrogates living in a supposedly wonderful resort, as well as Filipino experiences and racial and social class inequality.
I recommend this if: You enjoy social commentary on inequality, or are interested in Filipino culture and experiences, or want to read more books by women of colour.
(42) The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo (2019)
A fantastically rich, slow-paced page turner of a book with magical realism involving a blend of Malaysian culture, colonial rule, and Southeast Asian folk tales, Yangsze Choo is a masterful storyteller and I had the pleasure of meeting her, her advice to me was to keep writing and not stop.
I recommend this if: You are interested in Singapore/Malaysia, Southeast Asian folklore, or like magical realism.
(43) Choose Wonder over Worry: Move Beyond Fear and Doubt to Unlock your Full Potential by Amber Rae
A down to earth, enjoyable, colourful book about how to move away from anxiety and self-doubt, and towards doing our best, this book helps to highlight in an empathetic manner, misguided thinking and delusional thinking, how we can make better choices for ourselves, the author also provides many highly personal anecdotes.
I recommend this if: You are looking for self-help books on how to overcome your worries and find joy and curiosity instead.
(44) The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
A very gritty, sizzling, dark but amazing book about the life of a woman (with a young child) facing two life sentences for killing her stalker (based on a true story).
I recommend this if: You like Orange Is The New Black or like reading about true crime, criminal justice, correctional facilities in the US.
(45) A Place For Us by Cassandra Chiu (2019)
An autobiography and social commentary on living life with visual disability and a guide dog in Singapore, an extremely unique and moving story that will make you rethink how accessible the world is for less able-bodied people, and how society treats people living with disabilities, a real page-turner that I finished in one sitting.
I recommend this if: You haven’t read any books by someone with a disability, or enjoy books about living in Singapore.
(46) They Told Us To Move: Dakota—Cassia (2019)
A pretty saddening book about several elderly folk (some poor, some illiterate) who were forced to leave their estates due to estate redevelopment, and in the process, had to move to newer, smaller flats and lost their social connections, and the helpfulness of the Cassia Resettlement Team volunteers who helped these old people to move.
I recommend this if: You are interested in books about Singapore, socio-political commentary, the very real, lesser known but incredibly valid lives of elderly Asian people.
(47) In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays by Bertrand Russell
A smart and progressive book of essays about the benefits of idleness, perhaps similar to another book I read earlier this year, Slowness by Milan Kundera, Russell advocates for shorter working hours and for socialism over capitalism.
I recommend this if: You are interested in philosophy, politics, or sociology, or any intellectual discussions/debates.
(48) Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
I feel that when you’ve read one Murakami book you have read them all; personally found this short story collection about men whose women have vanished or left them, quite sad and sexist and a bore, I didn’t enjoy this book.
I recommend this if: You are a real Haruki Murakami fan and want to read all of his books (don’t worry, I was once like that and queued overnight outdoors in London to meet the man for an autograph).
(49) The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn
This book probably covers all the major thriller tropes, crazy woman, unreliable narrator, mental illness, etc., but it was a real page turner from start to finish, although I must say the author’s actions like lying about his mother having cancer left a bad taste in my mouth.
I recommend this if: You love thrillers.
(50) Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Had to read this after watching the amazing Netflix film, sadly it kind of fell short of my expectations because the writing was a little amateurish (very YA lit), the ideas and themes were wonderfully dystopian though.
I recommend this if: You are interested in dystopian books, books made into movies, you like young adult fiction.
(51) Terrific Mother: Faber Stories by Lorrie Moore
A dark, funny, feminist short story in a miniature book.
I recommend this if: You don’t have time to read, or simply enjoy short stories.
(52) A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
I enjoyed this very rich, dramatic and hilarious story about an unfortunate and unlucky man and his life, although not set in India, the book is heavily set against a backdrop of Indian or South Asian culture.
I recommend this if: You are interested in South Asian fiction, or stories involving family drama.
(53) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Dramatic is probably an understatement, Japan has The Tale of Genji and Russia has Anna Karenina, this book is incredibly long, and not gonna lie, took me years to finish reading this, I think you have to have a lot of free time on your hands to appreciate the beauty of Anna Karenina.
I recommend this if: You enjoy the classics, can appreciate European or Russian literature, you like dramatic, long tele-nova like books.
(54) Kardashian Dynasty by Ian Halperin
Is it unfortunate I have so much Kardashian related trivia in my brain, perhaps, but fortunately some of the information in this book about Kris Jenner the momager was new to me, but most of it, I already knew from watching past episodes of this reality TV show (a former guilty pleasure), the amount of sleuthing in this book is unfortunate, the author could have done more investigative journalism rather than copy and paste news articles and TV show transcripts into book format.
I recommend this if: You like reality TV, E! News, celebrity goss, The Kardashians, or if you’re not the biggest Kardashian fan but want to keep up.
(55) The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera is pretty whimsical and free-wheeling, this was a mind-boggling and playful book, nothing is ever straightforward with Milan Kundera, it’s all pretty grey.
I recommend this if: You are interested in philosophy, interpersonal relationships, experimental writing, existentialism.
(56) A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
I absolutely loved this horrific, original and imaginative book with a made up Russian-inspired language of its own, honestly this is quality literature and a real classic in its own right.
I recommend this if: You are interested in the English language itself, classic books, literature, UK books, or Bildungsroman type books.
(57) The Flea Palace by Elif Shafak
Magical realism and hyperbole feature heavily in this book, this is another pretty bizarre, long-winded, abrupt, convoluted and wordy read about a Turkey flat named Bonbon Palace with a garbage problem that took some getting used to, it definitely wasn’t what I had expected!
I recommend this if: You are a patient reader.
(58) Becoming by Michelle Obama
This autobiography by the amazing First Lady (and biography of the former US President Barack Obama) is fairly long, but so well written and very enjoyable and pleasant to read, I love all the minutiae details and her brilliant, perfectionist, A star student voice, did you know Michelle Obama trained Barack Obama at a law firm and that’s how they met?
I recommend this if: You are interested in politics or the American experience or life in The White House.
(59) The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
This scary, eerie, horrific, senseless thriller involving the murder of young children is based on a true story, and really got my skin crawling, it was an absolutely fast-paced page turner!
I recommend this if: You are interested in thrillers, murders, true crime.
(60) I Want To Go Home by Wesley Leon Aroozoo
This gut-wrenching book has both an English and Japanese translation, and reads like a travel diary of sorts, following a filmmaker, photographer and translator on their trip in Japan to meet a man who unfairly lost his wife following a great tsunami and earthquake and who subsequently learned how to dive, so that he could go in search of her body every week to bring her home.
I recommend this if: You are interested in film-making, travelogues, the slice of life genre.
After reviewing the 60 books I’ve read this year, I conclude that my top 20 must-read book recommendations are:-
- A Place For Us by Cassandra Chiu
- Homeless by Liyana Dhamirah
- A Nearly Normal Family by M. T. Edvardsson
- The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn
- The Daily Zen Journal by Charlie Ambler
- The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
- Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper
- They Told Us to Move: Dakota—Cassia
- The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
- The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel by Renee Nault and Margaret Atwood
- Normal People by Sally Rooney
- A Savage Dreamland: Journeys in Burma by David Eimer
- The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
- How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Dear Girls by Ali Wong
- Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa
- Dune by Frank Herbert
- A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
- Circe by Madeline Miller