Classic Pairings for Some of 2019’s Best New Releases

It’s been a good year for new releases and there are some really promising looking ones on the horizon. Below I’ve written about the best of the books published in 2019 that I’ve read so far and a classic I’ve paired with each of them based on the impressions the books left upon me. I received all of the new books as free review copies from the publishers, but I actually don’t review the books I don’t like, and wouldn’t gain anything by false reviews (Maybe I would? Is that how I’d be able to get a second home in England?).  I’m hopeful these reviews and classic pairings will give you a good sense of which 2019 new releases you’ll want to pick up and perhaps even inspire a reread or initial read of some amazing classics. 

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The new release:  The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray

  • My review: How amazing is this cover design? Thankfully, the inside is equally beautifully crafted. This is a book I don’t want to say too much about because I feel like unpeeling the story’s layers is a lot of the pleasure of reading it. I will say that Gray artfully pulls a rawness and poignancy out of the individual and familial issues that are woven through the book and somehow makes you feel for each of these flawed characters. I love details like a description of the food on each pantry shelf to represent some of the relationships and, in general, so value Gray’s gift for characterization. I think, and hope, this is a book we’ll keep hearing about this year. Thank you for this beautiful book, Berkley.

The classic pairing: East of Eden by John Steinbeck (this edition is awesome)

  • There is a sprawling, epic feel to Anissa Gray’s debut, despite its relative brevity, likely because it, too, features characters weighed down by their past.  I think that the theme in Steinbeck’s masterpiece of “timshel/thou mayest”, the idea that we have free will and make our own choices, is an essential one for unpacking the complex characters in The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls.

The new release:  Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin

  • My review: Gretchen Rubin has an extraordinary gift for crafting life philosophies that seem so simple and straightforward, yet have not been previously articulated. I deeply admire her as a thinker.  Like Rubin, this book is practical in the best way. It’s not a one size fits all step by step guide to magically never again having clutter. Rubin knows and embraces that we’re all different and therefore what works for one person might not work for another. Instead, she offers up tips like imagining you’re listing your home, thinking about whether you’d buy something if you’re considering whether or not to keep it, the one minute rule to do something right away if it can be done in one minute, and using language like “curating your photo collection” rather than “going through photos to delete the bad ones”. While reading, I ended up tackling some clutter I’ve been meaning to get to, like “aww”ing through Maeve’s newborn clothes, and, if you’re craving that organizing and calming inspiration, I definitely recommend giving this a try. I know I’ll be flipping back through often. Thank you so much to Crown Publishing!

The classic pairing: A Little Princess by Francis Hogdson Burnett

  • Both books are short and sweet and leave you feeling good and inspired, with a new appreciation for beauty in the everyday.

The new release:  Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts

  • My review: I love when authors shine a light on someone left out of our collective history. Maud Baum is the daughter of famed suffragette Matilda Gage and the wife of the author of The Wizard of Oz, but is fascinating in her own right. I’ve often wondered about the wives of dreamers like an L. Frank Baum or Walt Disney. What’s it like when your husband puts all your money towards project after project, always optimistic, always a little restless? How does it feel being the partner day in and day out to someone who has brought magic to thousands of people? Letts thoughtfully explores these questions while deftly uncovering and weaving together the real life story behind the story we all know so well. The plot flips between Maud’s earlier life to the book’s present moment about the relationship between Judy Garland and an older, protective Maud during the filming of The Wizard of Oz. Certainly very absorbing! Read this if you like strong women, old Hollywood, redemptive tales of struggle, or, you know, The Wizard of Oz. A note of caution: if you’ve lost a child, this book does contain heartbreaking loss. I will say, though, that even though parts of this were hard for me to read, in the end the aching and beautiful belief in somewhere over the rainbow remains. Thank you so much to the people over at Penguin Random House for the free review copy.

The classic pairing: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

  • Both main characters have a tough beginning and constant struggle to prove themselves in their own right.  These are strong, practical protagonists that you root for and remember long after you finish their bittersweet tales.

The new release:  The Editor by Steven Rowley

  • My review: When an author can use a popcorn ceiling to convey theme beautifully, I’m in. This story of complex family dynamics, uncovering the riddle of who your mother really is, and Jackie O. as the narrator’s editor had me fully absorbed. I’ve heard some people say that they felt like Jackie O. overshadowed the other characters, but I was actually the most invested in the protagonist’s family.  The scene when he went home to visit his family had me picturing how good of a movie this could be (get on that, somebody).  I wish the book had ended 50 pages sooner because there was some added drama that I didn’t think was necessary, but it’s by no means the type of ending that will have anyone book throwing nor should it deter you from reading what is overall a fascinating and excellent read. Thank you so much, Putnam Books!

The classic pairing: The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

  • This, too, features a weird family and one liners you might miss if you’re reading too quickly. Plus, wouldn’t you like to see Jackie O. at a dinner with the Mitfords?

The new release:  The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

  • My review:  Much thanks to Pantheon Books for the free review copy. McCall Smith calls this first in a new series “Scandi-blanc” because he’s playing with the tropes of popular Scandi-noir crime fiction.  Like the author himself, it’s brimming with playful humor and thought-provoking insights. I read it in any spare moments I could grab, chuckling to myself and feeling happily charmed by the characters, sly commentary, and goofy plot points. I can see many of you really liking this one, so next time you want something light but not vacant…consider this one! I couldn’t get enough.

The classic pairing:  “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl in his short story collection Tales of the Unexpected  

  • Have you ever read this short story? It was one of my favorites to teach. Such great, weird humor. The Alfred Hitchcock TV version of it is worth a watch, too. Dahl’s humor is the more twisted approach to McCall Smith’s playfulness, but I feel like they’re in the same game.

Have you read any of these? What new books or classics have you read so far this year?


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4 Comments

  • Kayla says:

    I love these pairings! Such a fun idea! I’ve read some of the paired books, but none of these new release, although there are a few I’m interested in.

    • Erin says:

      Thanks so much, Kayla! It was a fun way to try to think about the impressions the new books left on me. I think you’d particularly like Finding Dorothy and, based on how clean and pretty your pictures are, could see you enjoying Outer Order, Inner Calm!

  • What an amazing idea! I love this post because you had me at East of Eden. I remember your shared Gray’s book on Instagram and it made me curious but now I’m hooked. I’m going to try to manage one library read this month and that might be it. Or the Editor!

  • Erin Costello Smith says:

    Shell, so curious to hear your thoughts if you do read either of those. Care and Feeding is heavier, where as The Editor deals with heavier topics but also has a light touch. I like unweaving the complexities in both of them.

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