Best Book I Read in 2019

Time for my annual post of great reads for the previous year. Without further ado, here is the post my newsletter subscribers got to read LAST WEEK (hint, hint) entitled: The Best Book I Read in 2019.

My 2019 in Books

  1. Number of books read: 65
  2. Ratings: 5 stars = 14; 4 stars = 29; 3 stars = 16; 2 stars, 1 star, or unrated = 6
  3. Fiction: 55; Non-Fiction: 10
  4. Books with a Minnesota connection: 25 (17 rated 4 or 5 stars)
  5. Pages read = 14,275

The Best Book I Read in 2019—Honorable Mentions


  1. Raymond Chandler—The Big Sleep
  2. Allen Eskens—The Guise of Another
  3. Johnnie Merrimon—The Last Child
  4. Matthew Walker—Why We Sleep . . .

The Best Book I Read in 2019–Finalists


The Best Book I Read in 2019–WINNER

Gregory Lee RenzBeneath the Flames

WHY? First-time author, debut novel. Renz is a natural storyteller. He cuts to the heart of the story and brings out the deepest thoughts and feelings of the characters. I’d been anticipating this novel for about two years. When I finally read it, I was worried that my heightened expectations would lead to a letdown, no matter how good the story was. To my astonishment, the book was far better than even those high expectations. It blew me away with the raw power and emotions of a more-or-less typical firefighter in a large inner-city fire station.

The prose was lean and fit the story perfectly. The dialogue was as realistic as I could imagine. It raised the story a notch above what most writers would have settled for. There were no wasted scenes or trite details. Every word advanced the story and filled it with power and intensity. It earned a place on my “favorite first novels” list. It’s not only the best book I read in 2019, but it’s also one of the best books I’ve read in the past ten years. Congratulations, Greg Renz.

My Rating System

I follow the guidelines. A three-star rating means I liked a book and thought it was better than average, although not a book I would enthusiastically recommend. The curve is naturally skewed because truly awful books rarely get published, despite the revolution in independent publishing that literally allows anyone to publish any piece of writing for a relatively low cost. I also factor in my reading experience and ability to filter out the worst books from my reading list and populate that list with books I expect will be better than average.

I put a lot of stock in the consensus of reviews, especially when a book has received enough reviews. Then, that the rating will be representative of a large number of readers and not skewed by “friends-and-family” reviews. F-and-Fs are reviews that seem to be written by people who know the author and either want to give or are coerced into giving a glowing review because of personal pressure or a sense of obligation. Those reviews are pretty obvious when a book has less than ten or twenty reviews, especially when there exists a one- or two-star review that takes the author to task for poor editing, proofreading, or in some cases, inferior craft. A few books received no-stars– not because they were worse than one-star books, but because I chose not to rate them for personal or professional reasons.

My Questions for You: How many books did you read in 2019? What was your “best book I read in 2019?” What do you think of my finalists?


I didn’t reach my goal of getting 30 new reviews of Straight River by year-end. But many of you did find the time and the words to post on a review website. For those of you who still hesitate to write any comments, know that allows a reviewer to post a star rating for a book they’ve read with no comments required. It’s a simple one-to-five rating system and only takes a minute. Check it out HERE.

If you’d like to post a review or rating of either Straight River or Castle Danger, click on the images below, which will take you to their respective pages.

Straight River Cover

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