The year isn’t over, but so many fantastic new books have already been published, that we would feel amiss if we didn’t stop to recognize some of our favorite reads thus far. Divided in separate lists of fiction and nonfiction, here are 30 books that have amazed and inspired us in 2019.
Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane
Readers will immediately feel pulled into this absorbing story of two families whose lives are forever entwined. As next-door neighbors in a New York suburb, and colleagues at the police department, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope first met in the 1970s. The two men were never exactly friends, but in the ensuing years, their children Peter and Kate have grown up together and are quite close. When a shocking act tears the neighbors apart, can either family find a way back from the depths of trauma? Will Peter and Kate’s now-forbidden relationship overcome their parents’ misgivings? Keane’s new book is tender and wise, literary fiction of the highest caliber.
How Not to Die Alone, by Richard Roper
Years ago, Andrew made a split-second decision to pretend he was a family man in order to secure a job. His seemingly benign lie has come back to haunt him when a new employee and mentee, Peggy, enters his life and his heart. Like the rest of Andrew’s colleagues, Peggy assumes Andrew is married with two daughters, so how can he come clean after all this time? Each moment of his career feels like a glimpse into his own future; as an administrator in the U.K.’s Death Council, Andrew is responsible for going through the belongings of people who have died alone. If Andrew doesn’t make some changes, he may very well share their fate. Don’t miss this clever, poignant read.
Sunset Beach, by Mary Kay Andrews
Drue Campbell’s life isn’t going the way she expected. Once a gifted athlete, an injury has ended that dream before it began. She’s jobless and unmoored, and when her estranged father shows up at her mother’s funeral, having recently married her high-school frenemy, things seem to go from bad to worse. But then she finds out she’s inherited her grandparents’ beach house, and her father offers her a job at his personal injury law firm, which she takes in desperation. Fielding phone calls isn’t very exciting—until she stumbles into a murder mystery that leads her to an old cold case involving a missing person that might be connected to her own family. Drue’s life is still not going the way she expected, but she’s certainly not bored. A sharp, fast-paced novel with a quirky, unconventional protagonist, this one is an unforgettable beach read with bite.
The Border, by Don Winslow
After losing everything but his career in the war against drug kingpin Adán Barrera, Art Keller finds himself at the top of the DEA, with Barrera defeated. But the war on drugs has come home in a flood of cheap heroin that’s killing Americans at a record pace. As Keller moves to block this deadly invasion, he finds himself fighting not Mexican drug cartels, but his own bosses in Washington. Politically motivated enemies are one thing, but Keller begins to suspect the shocking truth—the incoming administration is actually partnered with the very cartels he has spent his life fighting. Winslow concludes his bloody, operatic trilogy delving into the chaotic war on drugs with a suitably intense final act.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton, by Sara Collins
Set in the early 19th century, this story follows Frannie, a slave owned by John Langton, who is given to George Benham in London. Benham has Frannie spy on his wife, Meg, whom he suspects of scandal, but Frannie and Meg become lovers. When George and Meg are found murdered, Frannie is arrested—but claims she cannot remember the events leading up to their deaths. This breathtaking novel combines all the pleasures of a historical romance and a murder mystery, made all the more complex and tragic by Frannie’s status as a slave.
The Unhoneymooners, by Christina Lauren
Olive Torres has found herself at a bit of a low point. She’s just been laid off, for one, and now she has to spend her twin sister’s wedding attached to best man Ethan Thomas, who just happens to be her nemesis. Then something rather horrible but also rather wonderful happens: Everyone in the wedding party gets a bad bout of food poisoning. Ethan and Olive, however, are not afflicted, which means they get to go on the honeymoon that the bride and groom can no longer enjoy. The two form a temporary truce and head off to Maui, where they soon realize they have more in common than they’d ever imagined. This witty, heartfelt, enemies-to-lovers romance will leave you utterly charmed.
City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert serves up a frothy mixture of period piece, salacious gossip-girl drama, and coming-of-age energy as she tells the story of 19-year old Vivian Morris. Vivian, kicked out of Vassar, is sent to live with her Aunt Peg in New York City as World War II boils over across the ocean. The move suits Vivian just fine, as she finds working at her aunt’s disreputable theater, drinking and flirting in nightclubs, listening to jazz music and falling in love with an actor to be the best possible way to spend her time. As Vivian is slowly forced to face the consequences of her actions and her adventures, she also becomes aware that her privileged existence is in sharp contrast to the horrors unfolding around the world as Gilbert expertly ramps up the psychological complexity in this gorgeously told story.
Supermarket, by Bobby Hall
This first novel written by Bobby Hall—a.k.a., rap star Logic—is a dense, dark thriller that will keep surprising you. Flynn is a depressed young man who takes a job at a supermarket because he needs something—anything—to give him a reason to get out of bed in the morning and leave his mother’s house. At the store he journals, observing the weirdos and freaks he works with, the customers, and the adorable coworker he’s falling for. When a horrible crime is committed at the supermarket, everything changes, and Flynn begins questioning his reality. It’s no surprise this sublimely creative breakout novel became an instant bestseller.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong
This nonlinear roman à clef debut from a critically lauded poet is written as though from a son to his illiterate mother. It depicts a family history of intergenerational abuse mixed with fierce love. The letter writer, known as Little Dog, feels like an outsider in a variety of ways. As a teenager, he emigrated to America from Vietnam with the three women who make up his world: mother, grandmother, and aunt, each traumatized by the Vietnam War. As a young gay man, and the first of his family to attend college, he attempts to reconcile the violence of the past with a future that won’t hold still or accommodate narrative conclusions. In short, it’s like real life: messy, tragic, lovely, and painful all at once.
The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides
Six years ago, artist Alicia Berenson painted a psychologically dense work based on a Greek myth, then allegedly tied her husband, Gabriel, to a chair and shot him in the face. Alicia hasn’t spoken a word since, spending her time in a drugged daze at the Grove, a secure forensic facility in North London. Theo Faber is the wounded, gifted psychotherapist who convinces Alicia’s doctors to let him try to get her to speak. Theo’s work with the silent patient is interspersed with excerpts of Alicia’s diary leading up to the day of Gabriel’s murder. As the clues about what truly happened begin to fall into place, Theo’s personal and professional worlds blur dangerously, leading to an explosive conclusion.
The Sentence is Death, by Anthony Horowitz
The second novel in the addictive Daniel Hawthorne series features Hawthorne’s investigation into the murder of a famous divorce lawyer—found bludgeoned to death with a very expensive bottle of wine. But the victim wasn’t a drinker. And what’s to be made of his enigmatic last recorded words: “You shouldn’t be here. It’s too late…”? Horowitz’s famously recalcitrant detective is accompanied once again, in a brilliantly meta twist, by novelist/author Anthony Horowitz, whose inexperience in the arena of crime solving is made up for by his enthusiasm. This elegantly written series is full of shocking twists and manages to feel at once like a crime fiction classic, and a fresh, modern take on the genre.
The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff
An abandoned suitcase discovered in Grand Central Terminal in 1946 contains the photographs of twelve female spies. The owner of the suitcase has been killed and now it’s up to young war widow Grace Healy to uncover what happened to the women who were sent behind enemy lines, never to return. Grace is joined by her late husband’s best friend, Mark, as she digs for the truth about the group’s leader and its most vulnerable spy, a young mother named Marie who worked as a radio operator sending covert transmissions out of Paris. Perfect for fans of Resistance Women and Lilac Girls.
A Bend in the Stars, by Rachel Barenbaum
With the real-life solar eclipse of 1914 as its inspiration, this heartpounding historical drama set in WWI-era Russia depicts the Abramov siblings at the most pivotal moment of their lives. Raised by their matchmaker grandmother, physicist Vanya and surgeon Miri (who is stigmatized because she’s a woman) have grown up to become formidable game changers in their respective fields. In fact, Vanya’s work could end up proving or disproving Einstein’s theory of relativity. But amid the outbreak of war, Vanya disappears and Miri must risk her life to locate him.
Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips
In this intense, original, must-read debut, two sisters vanish from the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia, and over the course of twelve chapters (each representing a month in the year that follows), readers will come to know the female denizens of the isolated, shoreline community as they respond in very different ways to the crime. From the girls’ mother, to witnesses, detectives, and other possible victims, every character is vividly rendered, as are the locations and histories that wind around the story like vines.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James
This novel is a deeply literary work, bordering at times on the poetic in its imagery, but it is also enormously fun, with imaginative worldbuilding and a plot that is both measured and propulsive. The Black Leopard is a mercenary able to shape-shift into a jungle cat, and the Red Wolf, also called Tracker, is a hunter of lost folk, with an incredible sense of smell that enables him to hone in on his quarry from vast distances. Sometimes with Leopard and sometimes alone, Tracker works his way across Africa in search of a kidnapped boy, moving through a beautiful, densely detailed world of violence, storytelling, dark magic, giants, and inhuman entities.
Hardcover $21.59 | $26.99
From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, by Tembi Locke
In this vibrant and poignant real-life story of love, loss, and Sicilian cooking, actress Tembi Locke describes three summers she spent in Italy with her daughter, Zoela. Locke met her future husband, Sara, on a street in Florence—his traditional Sicilian family didn’t approve of the courtship with a black American who was also an actress. The two ultimately married and created a life in Los Angeles, before a devastating cancer diagnosis changed everything. Reconnecting with her husband’s family, Locke comes to find solace at the table of her mother in law, and discovers the healing power of family, community, and food. The book concludes with a large selection of the recipes that she describes, rounding out the experience of reading her moving story.
Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, by Adam Higginbotham
The HBO series has provided a much-needed revival in interest in the 1986 accident in what was then Soviet Ukraine. Of course, there’s a great deal more to such a significant story then even a very well done miniseries can offer, so Higginbotham’s definitive, years-in-the-making chronicle is perfectly timed. The author spent over a decade conducting interviews and researching documents, some available for the first time, to provide a detailed accounting of not just the disaster, but of its context: of the time and place, of the carelessness and lies that made it seem almost inevitable, and of the difficult aftermath. This new accounting tells of Chernobyl through the stories of people who lived through it, making it both compelling history and a timely reminder of the costs of carelessness.
Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age, by Mary Pipher
A daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, caregiver, clinical psychologist, AND cultural anthropologist, Pipher is uniquely qualified to discuss the challenges and joys of aging for women in the modern world (more than two decades ago she similarly analyzed the difficulties of being a teenaged girl in the media age). Ageism becomes more prominent with each passing year, and misogyny never goes away, but Pipher also shows that older women can, and often do, turn their experiences and struggles into a reserve of wisdom and gratitude that can serve them well and lead to lasting happiness. Pipher doesn’t just offer platitudes, but real, sensible advice on things like life-centering exercises, finding friends and community, avoiding isolation, and even navigating end-of-life care in the face of loss. It’s an essential book for women stepping into old age (and those who hope to get there someday), but also for the loved ones of those women.
Hardcover $17.52 | $26.00
Lake of the Ozarks: My Surreal Summers in a Vanishing America, by Bill Geist
Author and recently retired CBS News correspondent Geist was popular for over three decades for his lighthearted, wonderfully corny human interest segments covering some of the weirder corners of American life. In his latest, the baby boomer looks back to his own childhood in the midcentury American midwest. Specifically, he revisits the middle-class summer vacation hot spot, Lake of the Ozarks, and the eccentric personalities who influenced Geist’s life and career. It’s a charming, often very funny, portrait of a bygone era.
Hardcover $22.41 | $27.00
Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, by Stephanie Land with Barbara Ehrenreich
In her already acclaimed new memoir, Land recounts the years of her early adulthood, when a summer fling became an unexpected pregnancy, derailing (for a time) her hopes of college and a journalism career. In order to provide for herself and her child, the single mother worked maid service jobs by day while attending college classes at night, all the while writing about her experiences. She recounts her story here, shining a bright light on the stigma that attends being one of the working poor—of the judgement and dismissal by employers and government aid workers, and of the impossibility of sustaining a family on a minimum wage. The book is compassionate, but also honest and unflinching about what life is like for the people who often work the hardest for bare subsistence wages.
Howard Stern Comes Again, by Howard Stern
At some point, the king of shock jocks became true radio royalty with a career spanning over four decades and success across multiple mediums. His first book became a hit movie, and his second was also a bestseller—but that was over 20 years ago, and much has changed in the life of Howard Stern since, from his departure from terrestrial radio, to his mega-bucks deal with SiriusXM, to shakeups in his personal life. It’s clear in this memoir that he has plenty of new stories to tell about his life, his celebrity encounters, and his perspective on the ever-changing realities of the radio business—and he does it all in the same frankly confessional, totally candid voice that has made him an icon for the past four decades.
Hardcover $22.37 | $26.95
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep
In the 1970s, one Reverend Willie Maxwell was accused of killing five of his family members for insurance money. After he had given the eulogy for the stepdaughter he’d allegedly murdered, he himself was shot by another relative. The same lawyer who defended the Reverend secured an acquittal for the vigilante. No one was more intrigued by the sordid story than Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, who spent years working on a never-published true crime work to rival that of her friend Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. In this fascinating new book, Casey Cep explores both the original crime and Lee’s obsessive, ultimately futile work to craft it into a powerful work of non-fiction.
The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, by David McCullough
David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, returns with an in-depth study of the settlement of the Northwest Territory, telling the stories of the hardy and fearless pioneers who traveled into the unknown determined to enlarge and enrich our country with their bare hands and at risk of their very lives. The movement west began sooner than most people realize, with the first settlers—veterans of the Revolutionary War—arriving in Ohio in 1788. McCullough tells the story of the town they carved out of the wilderness through the eyes of five historical figures, who becomes characters in a story about bravery, tragedy, diplomacy, and the conquest of a wilderness that wanted nothing more than to sweep them aside.
Hardcover $17.99 | $24.99
Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-to Guide, by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark
Kilgariff and Hardstark helm the immensely popular podcast ‛My Favorite Murder,’ and here offer a combination memoir and self-help book that crackles with their easy banter and personal chemistry. You might think self-help and true-crime—even the humorous kind of true crime the podcast trades in—would be an odd combination, but Kilgariff and Hardstark effortlessly link the two, showing how many of their own mistakes put them into vulnerable positions that wouldn’t be out of place as the introduction to an unsolved assault or murder. In the end, their message is simple and powerful: stop being polite and start advocating for yourself. That message is delivered with warmth and wit, making this a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the messy lives of two very interesting people.
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, by Sonia Purnell
“She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.” That was the message sent out by the Gestapo in 1942 regarding Baltimore socialite Virginia Hall, who had escaped to London from Vichy-controlled Paris and joined up with the spies at the Special Operations Executive. Referred to as “the limping lady” because of her prosthetic leg, she returned to France to coordinate the underground resistance effort. Her cover blown, she then escaped on foot to Spain before venturing back into France again to lead guerrilla forces in advance of the Normandy landing. Hall’s is an incredible true story, and its told like never before in this book by celebrated journalist and historian Sonia Purnell.
Every Man a Hero: A Memoir of D-Day, the First Wave at Omaha Beach, and a World at War, by Ray Lambert and Jim DeFelice
The number of individuals who can recount firsthand their experiences during World War II is sadly dwindling, but that doesn’t mean there are no new stories left to tell. Ninety-eight-year-old Ray Lambert was a combat medic and among the first wave of Allied soldiers to land at Omaha Beach on D-Day. Lambert grew up on a farm in Alabama during the Great Depression before he and his brother enlisted for service that took them to some of the war’s most important and harrowing battles. Timed for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing, Lambert’s memoir is a powerful addition to the library of works about the greatest and most terrible conflict in history.
The Second Mountain, by David Brooks
Part of what makes finding meaning and purpose so difficult is there are so many ways we can seek to do it: we might do deep personal work, grow a family, lead a city through a crisis, or head up a classroom. Writer and commentator David Brooks has thought deeply about how to blend these commitments to craft a life full of purpose. He encourages readers to understand their calling in life and engage with their world using a powerful image of two mountains. Those who are striving for fame, security, or validation are on a mountain they’ll never stop climbing. But for Brooks, life is really about climbing off that mountain and onto a different one, built decision by decision, the growing shape of a meaningful life. On that second mountain, we begin a quest to focus on others through work, faith, family, and service to the community. It’s a potent message, clearly communicated.
The Moment of Lift, by Melinda Gates
No one can say Melinda Gates hasn’t had an impact on the world; she’s devoted much of her life to serving in powerful ways. In The Moment of Lift, she argues that if we lift up women, we will lift the entire world, including the people most desperately in need. As she details the issues women around the world face, including everything from child marriage to harassment, it’s impossible not to feel inspired to take action. If you’re not sure where to get started, Gates offers issues that will call to those on the second mountain. She encourages readers to join the movement in her new book; part manifesto, part memoir, and part call to action. We don’t need to be perfect to begin. We don’t need to become bodhisattvas to find purpose. We need simply to reflect, focus on what matters, and when the path curves, swerve toward meaning, service, and connection.
Hardcover $26.98 | $32.50
The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty, by Susan Page
Even before publication, this memoir of the former first lady made headlines for its candid observations about the current state of presidential politics, but journalist Page covers the entirety of Bush’s life, informed by extensive research, personal diaries, and interviews with family, friends, and Mrs. Bush herself during the last six months of her life. Sometimes controversial and frequently underestimated, Barbara Bush molded herself into the powerful head of a family that produced two United States presidents while navigating he rrole as a prominent woman across generations of change.
The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, by Rick Atkinson
Rick Atkinson, best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning works on World War II, steps further back in time to chronicle the first two years of the American Revolution. This is the first book of what will be a trilogy covering the entirety of the war. With an incredible level of detail and benefitting from new research (including access to materials only recently made available), Atkinson begins with the battles at Lexington and Concord and focuses on the lives of the extraordinary individuals who play key roles in the country’s founding and the subsequent, seemingly unwinnable conflict. This isn’t a whitewashed look back—the author considers the British perspective on the war and isn’t shy about exploring the hypocrisy of the slave-owning American leaders—but an unvarnished consideration of a critical period in the genesis of America.
What’s the best new book you’ve read in 2019?