At the end of each year, the Bookish team loves reflecting back on the great books we’ve read. These are the books that made us laugh, cry, and swoon, and kept us talking nonstop. Here’s a look at the best frontlist, backlist, and audiobooks we read this year.
Share your favorite 2019 reads below!
The book I read this year that I can’t stop thinking about is Wanderers by Chuck Wendig. This literary thriller draws on all the best aspects of storytelling: characters with emotional depth, a mystery that unravels slowly, and, with some near-future science fiction, moments of fear and anger offset by tenderness and quiet. It’s a book I couldn’t put down, and one I’ll likely gift to a few friends this holiday season.
You know when you love a book so much that you cannot put your feelings into words? That’s Brazen and the Beast for me, and here’s why: First, there’s Lady Henrietta Sedley, who is taking control of her destiny by dubbing her 29th year “the Year of Hattie.” She’s going to ruin her reputation with a single night of fun before taking over her father’s businesses. The only thing standing in her way is Beast, the strong and silent hero who secretly loves fluffy pillows and feminist literature. Between Hattie’s fierce hunger for a life she can be proud of, Beast’s vulnerable heart, and the electric chemistry between them, I never stood a chance. It’s the year of Hattie, but long may she reign.
One of my 2019 reading resolutions was to listen to more audiobooks, and one of my favorites was the 2018 novel An American Marriage. It tells the story of a newly married couple, Celestial and Roy, who are torn apart when Roy is wrongly incarcerated. Through their letters to each other, we see how Celestial’s life continues to move forward, while Roy’s is standing still, and how this changes their relationship forever. The book is narrated by Sean Crisden and Eisa Davis, who both do an incredible job of pulling you into the story and making you feel as though these characters are your close friends. This is an absolutely stunning story and one I cannot recommend highly enough.
The Avant-Guards by Carly Usdin, illustrated by Noah Hayes
For someone who dislikes sports, I sure do love reading graphic novels about them. See Fence; Check, Please; and now The Avant-Guards. I picked up the first volume at BookCon and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It’s about Charlie, a transfer student who is convinced by classmate Liv to help start their college’s first basketball team. Along the way, Charlie meets the rest of their ragtag team, begins to confront her anxiety, and starts to crush on Liv. With dynamic and colorful art, endearing characters, and a strong thread about finding yourself, I was completely charmed by this graphic novel. Carly Usdin’s first volume touches on themes of friendship, gender and sexual identity, mental health, and love. This installment was a slam dunk, and I cannot wait to pick up volume two in 2020.
Don’t be fooled by the flowers on the cover: this romance from Talia Hibbert packs an emotional punch you won’t soon forget. Olu Keynes needs to get away from London after being betrayed by an ex, and decides to volunteer at a festival in the countryside. It’s there he meets Griffin Evertt, the farm’s manager. Despite his stoic appearance, Griffin is a total cinnamon roll who is willing to take things slow as Olu works to overcome the internalized anger and self-loathing that makes him believe he’s undeserving of happiness. This is a thoughtful and nuanced look at the realities of managing mental illness, as well as a moving romance between two hurt souls starting to find solace in each other. Between the emotional depth, gorgeous writing, and trope perfection, I can’t wait to read more from Hibbert in 2020!
Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell
Like every avid reader, picking my favorite book of 2019 was a big challenge. But among the many brilliant books I read this year, I feel like I’ve never really recovered from Mouthful of Birds. This short story collection is without question one of the strangest and most compelling books I’ve read in a while. Floating somewhere between horror and magical realism, Mouthful of Birds traps a cast of ordinary and profoundly human characters in beautiful, but also disturbing and otherworldly settings, and will have you hooked until the last page.
Holly Black is the Queen of YA fantasy! The second and third book in the Folk of the Air trilogy came out in 2019, and both were absolutely incredible. The Queen of Nothing is the final book in this faerie series following Jude Duarte, a human girl who was raised in Faerie, and Prince Cardan, her rival and the cruel prince that tormented her in her youth. This series has been filled with jaw-dropping twists. I loved the way Black wrapped up this series with this action-packed conclusion that gave perfect resolutions to all of my favorite characters. I can’t wait to see what Holly Black has in store for readers next!
Abby Jimenez’s debut utterly destroyed me and I’m so thankful for it. This romance follows Kristen, who has been suffering with uterine fibroids and has finally resolved to have a hysterectomy to end her month-long excruciating periods. Then she ends up meeting the perfect guy: Josh, who has always longed to have a large family. For most of the novel, Kristen tries to deny her feelings for him. She really struggles with self-esteem and guilt over how her body has failed her. She loves Josh so much that she doesn’t want to see him sacrifice his future for her. This was a book that made me uncontrollably sob for an entire day. There were several just devastating moments that tore me up. I’ve never read a character struggle with uterine fibroids when so many women do and I enjoyed seeing that represented on the page. I’ve already read Abby Jimenez’s 2020 follow-up The Happy Ever After Playlist and all I can say is Jimenez is a new favorite.
Sadie was one of my reading regrets of 2018, and I quickly resolved to read it in January of 2019! I listened to this as an audiobook and found the reading experience to be heightened because of it. Sadie is told through two perspectives: Sadie hunting down her sister Mattie’s murderer and the true crime podcast host looking into Sadie’s disappearance. Sadie’s story is about avenging her sister who meant everything to her. Their relationship resembled a mother/daughter bond and Sadie tried so hard to protect Mattie. The audiobook is fantastic because it has a full cast of narrators for all of the characters, which brings the podcast to life in an authentic way. It’s a very powerful read about sexual abuse and how society looks at young girls. The first line of the book is “Girls go missing all the time” and I think that reverberates through the book. The ending is very ambiguous, but at the same time has hope amongst the sadness. This book blew me away in all the best ways.
My favorite new-to-me author of 2019 has to be Alyssa Cole! I fell head over heels for her Reluctant Royals series after picking it up based on Kelly’s excellent recommendation. Alyssa Cole’s characters are so smart and fleshed out. I’ve fallen in love with all of her couples, but especially Nya and Johan. Nya and Johan complement each other in such a beautiful way. Their stories dealt with grief and loss in unique ways that were able to showcase their growth together. Plus, I can’t resist a fake dating situation and, even better, here it included a fake engagement. You know a romance novel is great when you have to force yourself to put it down because you don’t want to see it end.
I’ve recommended this book to everyone since it came out this summer. And I’ve already re-read it! Trick Mirror is a collection of incisive essays from one of the best writers at the New Yorker on everything from Houston rap, MDMA, the early days of reality television, athleisure, and the marriage industrial complex. Tolentino writes about the push and pull she feels to participate in capitalism, in social media, in gender norms, and in organized religion. She understands their powers, their pleasures, and their inescapability, as well as their destructive capabilities. In the introduction, Tolentino writes that she tends to write her way out of a problem–to write until she feels certain about something. But then she wonders if writing herself into certainty isn’t some kind of false comfort–that as she becomes more certain of her position, that its opposite is also possibly true. Trick Mirror is full of sharp observations, a writer questioning her own motives and desires, and some extremely funny prose.
Simply put, I think this is the most simultaneously accessible, intellectually rigorous, inspiring, and sharp book about the current political landscape that I’ve read all year. Lennard engages seriously in what we mean when we say that we are opposed to fascists and to a fascist way of life. Being Numerous looks at the politics of everyday life and how we relate to each other as friends, lovers, family, and ghosts.
I’ve heard Edna O’Brien described as “Sally Rooney before Sally Rooney.” And, honestly, it fits: They’re both Irish authors who made huge splashes at young ages with novels about young Irish women, including their sex lives. For O’Brien, this was The Country Girls and for Rooney, Conversations with Friends. O’Brien’s 1968 short story collection, The Love Object tells the stories of eight different women–successful professionals, aging domestic workers, girls going to their first big party, and women having afternoon affairs. O’Brien explores the inner lives of very different women with unsentimental curiosity; their desires, and their disappointments. I’m not always a big short story reader, but this collection knocked me out.
My Sister the Serial Killer is such a fast, thrilling read! I read it in one sitting on a plane and when I landed I couldn’t stop talking about it. Not only do we, as the title explains, have a serial killer on our hands, but this is also a really interesting story about sisterly love. Korede, a Nigerian nurse, helps her sister dispose of the bodies of ex-boyfriends. Like Korede, I’d do almost anything to help my sister, but Ayoola’s murder spree places Korede in some compromising situations. This is a darkly funny novel packed with suspense and insight into Nigerian culture.
I jumped on the bandwagon and picked up Where the Crawdads Sing earlier this year. Both my parents, my sister, and a few friends read it ahead of me and would not stop talking about it. I finally read it was so happy I did! It’s really hard to encapsulate “what” this novel is about. The story follows Marsh Girl through childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. There’s politics, poetry, murder, and, of course, true love’s kiss. In a way, it reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird, which made me like it that much more. It lives up to the hype and then some, and I recommend everyone who hasn’t read it yet put it on the top of their 2020 TBR lists.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky is a World War II historical fiction novel based on a true story. It follows a young Italian boy as he runs through the burning city of Milan, is sent away to a camp in the mountains, and eventually finds his way to being a spy and the personal driver to one of Adolf Hitler’s generals. As a WWII novel, there is tragedy but the boy’s story and ultimate heroism are captivating. When I heard after that the boy from the novel was real, I got chills and immediately wanted to reread it.
Confession: I have listened to the audiobook of Red, White & Royal Blue three times in the past six months. To understand just what a departure that is for me, realize that I almost never read romance novels and, apart from a few longtime favorites like the Harry Potter books, I don’t re-listen to audiobooks. What made this one so special? It hit all the right notes. The character voices were spot-on, the dialogue as written was hilarious and sometimes heart-breaking, the plot was sweet, sexy, and enchanting. I laughed out loud for nearly the entire first half of the book and cried through the fabulous ending. There were literary quotes, and nerdy quotes (“Never tell me the odds!”); in short, it was a perfect diversion from real life. Written with such charm and wit, this romance makes me realize I could easily see myself becoming a long-term fan of the genre.
This is one of those books that I truly needed some time to digest before I could even begin my review. I kept hearing about this author, and am so glad I finally picked up one of his books. Lock Every Door was a thrilling journey following Jules, a broke, newly single, heartbroken young woman who is down to her last bit of cash with no hopes for work insight. When she responds to an ad for a job as an apartment sitter, the deal is too good to be true and she wonders how she managed to find such an incredible offer. The job takes her to a massive, beautiful apartment in the Bartholomew, a famous apartment building in Manhattan whose current residents are incredibly wealthy. Her new job consists of living in the apartment, with some major stipulations. After befriending a fellow apartment sitter, the building’s dark history starts to come out, leaving Jules scared and hunting for answers. With the help of some curious residents and a search into the building’s history, Jules is left with an even bigger fear: getting out alive. The characters were so incredibly interesting, the history drew me in, and Sager expertly kept me on the edge of my seat with his incredible writing and deviously clever plot.
Saving Meghan by D.J. Palmer
We are often bound to repeat our parents’ mistakes. Becky grew up as a pawn, used by her mother to help deceive officials and doctors to claim disability checks. Now a mother herself, Becky is constantly searching for information about her daughter Meghan’s mysterious and unnamed disease. But to what lengths would a mother go to save her child? And at what point do her actions come into question? This book will keep you teetering from one side to the other. I was clueless from page one, never wanting to believe a mother could hurt her child, yet the unanswered questions and odd timing kept me guessing until the final pages. I could not put this one down.