The 21 Best Books of 2019
Wow. How did another year fly by so quickly? This year, Kirsten and I altered the way we rated our books. We decided that a book has to be an amazing example of the genre, unputdownable, and well-written.
So, while we read so many books this year that we really enjoyed, our list of 5-star reads was a pretty exclusive group. We love Historical Fiction so we were not surprised that these made up the majority of our best books of 2019 list.
We were surprised, however, that we did not have any thrillers on this list. But, this does not mean there were no thrillers that we loved! We were also surprised by the number of books we read in December that HAD to be put on this list. What were your favorites this year? Is there a book you read that you think we should add to our list?
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Best Books of 2019: Thrillers
Whisper Network by Chandler Baker
July 2019 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
Sloane, Ardie, Grace, and Rosalita have worked at Truviv, Inc. for years. The sudden death of Truviv’s CEO means their boss, Ames, will likely take over the entire company. Each of the women has a different relationship with Ames, who has always been surrounded by whispers about how he treats women. Those whispers have been ignored, swept under the rug, and hidden away by those in charge.
But the world has changed, and women are watching this promotion differently. This time, when they find out Ames is making an inappropriate move on a colleague, they aren’t willing to let it go. This time, they’ve decided enough is enough.
Check out Ideas and Books for an Office Book Club Theme for inspiration on how to incorporate this book for book clubs into your next meeting! This contemporary fiction will have you and your friends talking.
The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal
This historical fiction novel about art is part mystery, part love story, and part thriller. MacNeal’s debut takes place in Victorian England during the time of The Great Exhibition.
Iris dreams of learning to paint like a true artist, while she tolls away with her twin sister in a doll shop. Silas is a curiosity collector that can’t seem to get Iris out of his head after their chance meeting, and Albie is the rag-a-muffin street urchin I wanted to take home.
Their stories weave together in a slow burn until the blood-pumping, heart-racing conclusion. This made our list of the best books of 2019.
Best Books of 2019: Fiction
Only One Life by Ashley Farley
When I picked up this book, I hoped for a little time to read but what I found was a gem of a book that I read in one sitting. This family drama is perfect for a vacation read or reading during extended family time.
Kicked out of her family for marrying a man “beneath her”, Julia’s world is shattered on the night her child is born. She has nowhere to turn so she must return home.
As Julia tried to pick up the pieces of her life, she begins to uncover the story of her mother’s life as well. This book was easy to get into and hard to put down. It’s a best book of 2019 for sure!
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
October 2019 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
Ann Patchett has done it again with this tale of sibling devotion. Danny and Maeve are victims of an abandoned mother and father who all but ignores them.
Danny narrates the story of their lives as it ties into The Dutch House – a storied mansion that their father purchased in Elkins Park. This home is the blessing and curse of their lives.
The sign of their father’s success and what ultimately breaks up their family. Emotional and complex, this family saga book will be on our best of 2019 list for sure.
The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger
This contemporary fiction story revolves around four families as they work to get their children into the new public charter school for gifted children in their wealthy Colorado neighborhood. There are lots of family secrets to unravel and drama galore, but there is a message at the heart of this book.
How much of our wishes and lives are we pushing on our children? Is being the very best what they should be striving for? I found myself contemplating my own children and how I’m raising them. Isn’t that the best part of a good book?
When the story hits so close to home that it leaves you contemplating your life, your children, and your purpose in the world. I can’t recommend this book about motherhood enough. It’s highly entertaining and, quite frankly, a must-read for the parents of the world.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
This book was utterly enthralling. I had heard mixed reviews of this book going into it but I think I figure out where the love/hate comes from. This book has a lot of graphic sex in the form of statutory rape, affairs, and swinging partners.
The scenes are graphic but not designed to titillate the reader like a 50 Shades book…but rather to explain why the women felt the way they did. Why they felt power, love, or understanding in the sexual encounters.
So it feels very voyeuristic on some level because it’s so deeply personal. As I said, I thought it was outstanding but I can so easily see how it is not everyone’s cup of tea.
The Editor by Steven Rowley
I absolutely adored this book. Rowley is amazing at writing about complex relationships. At its heart, this is a book about James Smale and his amazing and complicated relationship with his mother. When James finally sells his book and goes to meet his editor, it is none other than Jackie O.
She forces him to look into himself and answer the questions that he didn’t know to ask. This is one of those books that will stay with you. The emotions are so clear and raw, they jump from the page while the story builds quietly. This is such a great book club book because there is so much to discuss. It’s on our list of books about publishing too.
Best Books of 2019: Historical Fiction
White Bird: A Wonder Story by R.J Palacio
This graphic novel came my way through my local bookstore and it was a beautiful surprise for me. I loved Wonder. The story was told beautifully and with compassion.
I wondered if I would be disappointed with how a story about the holocaust would translate into a graphic novel and whether the story could be told with an equal amount of compassion. Happily, I was not disappointed at all.
I absolutely loved this book. It is so poignant and powerful with a message of kindness that is so relevant today. This is the only graphic novel on this list of full cast audiobooks and is a must-read book from WWII books for kids.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Wow. This is one of those rare books that really has it all. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize as well as the National Book Award and definitely lives up to its hype. It is a beautifully written, powerful, and poignant book about the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the 1980s and its aftermath 30 years later.
Yale Tishman is the development director of an art gallery that is about to bring in an extraordinary collection of art from the 1920s. He has just lost his friend Nico and is losing friends all around him. Fast forward to 2015 when Nico’s little sister is in Paris searching for her daughter who disappeared with a cult three years earlier. I cannot say enough about this book – it’s one of the best books of 2019!
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
It is rare that a book comes along that fills in all the nooks and crannies in my heart and this book did just that.
It is the story of four orphan children who find themselves traveling in a canoe down the Mississippi. The summary of this book does not do justice to the words within the pages. This is one of our best books of 2019.
The Great Pretenders by Laura Kalpakian
What a ride!!! I was expecting a light-hearted story about the glamorous world of 1950s Hollywood with Cary Grant, Ginger and Fred, Rock Hudson, and the like. I got them, but this old Hollywood book had meat on its bones. Roxanne is a granddaughter of a movie studio head but she decides to strike out on her own as a Hollywood agent. Upset with her grandfather’s callous treatment of his loyal writers with former communist ties, she begins representing blacklisted writers under pseudonyms.
As if this plotline wasn’t compelling enough, she then begins a deep, meaningful romance with a young black journalist covering the emerging civil rights movement. The author brought to light so many issues of the time in such a thoughtful way.
I had never considered how the shifting politics of the time would affect the film industry. The glamour of Hollywood was present and the book was overflowing with old movie references, but it was the love and personal growth at the heart of this story that I found most compelling. This story made our best books of 2019 list.
If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais
Bianca Marais’s sophomore novel is a brilliant work of literary fiction that has left me in its wake weeks after I finished it. Thank you so much for my copy of this book!!! This story examines difficult topics with such love and sensitivity. From AIDS and poverty to racism and homophobia, this isn’t a book that you can skim over parts.
Every word has its place but, it is written so poetically that I found myself trying to remember the words of wisdom within the pages. If I could give more than 5 stars I would. I laughed and cried with the characters in this book whose stories captivated me from the first page. It’s one of the best books of 2019.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
March 2019 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
This best book of 2019 pick needs to be listened to, not read. Seriously, I think this might be one of the best audiobooks of all time.
I expect it to sweep the Audies this year for sure because full cast audiobooks can really take the story to the next level. The book is laid out in chronological order about the making of a band in the 70s, but the story is told in interview style from a dozen sources.
The audio version has a different narrator for each character and the performances the actors give are stupendous. I was overcome with emotion numerous times while I was listening. The story itself about the rise and fall of one of the hottest bands was so utterly fabulous – it’s pure sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll in all the best ways. This is one of the novels about music that isn’t for the faint of heart and is a feel-good book you will not want to miss.
The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer
This historical fiction novel is about real-life photographer and model, Lee Miller. I had never heard about Miller prior to this book, though I was familiar with her lover – Man Ray.
She made some life choices that I can’t say I agree with, but I found her to be a strong, feminist woman ahead of her time. This book from our list of best romance novels of all time will be on my best reads of the year list, but be warned – there are some erotic scenes in the novel. As books for book clubs go, this is one of the best and it’s one of our favorite novels about artists. It’s also on our list of the best books of 2019.
Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
I read the Island of Sea Woman by Lisa See and was captivated from the first page. Lisa See’s last novel The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane was absolutely brilliant and I felt the same way about this book.
This historical fiction tells the story of a friendship between two women on the Korean Island, Jeju. There, woman work as a diving collective to provide for their families and the men look after the children. It was so interesting to read a story where some gender norms are completely reversed and others, like feeding women and children last, were still perpetuated.
Beyond the incredible history of this small island is the story of a remarkable friendship between Mi-ja and Young-sook over decades. Lisa See has done it again with this remarkable book – a best book of 2019 pick for us!
Best Books of 2019: Non-Fiction
Terrain: Ideas and Inspiration for Decorating the Home and Garden by Greg Lehmkuhl and Caroline Lees
This book is just so full of inspiration that I flip through it constantly. Initially divided into seasons, the book digs further into certain areas and provides in-depth guidance to help you create the design aesthetic of Terrain in your own home.
In the Spring section, I found myself particularly drawn to the planters section as I’ve been trying to tackle that project for my home entryway. There was an easy-to-understand guide to choosing the perfect container followed by plant suggestions, and step-by-step instructions for how to create your ideal planter.
Similar instructions are found for wreaths, flower arranging, and Christmas decorating. If you love to give books as presents or you want to inspire yourself to create a welcoming, nature-filled home – then you need this best book of 2019 pick!
Best Books of 2019: Science Fiction/ Fantasy
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
To say that I was excited about Erin Morgenstern‘s new book might be the understatement of the year. How to describe this book that is an ode to storytelling…..it’s a love story to books, a fantasy within a love story within a fairy tale.
The writing is beautiful- Erin’s signature style of vivid imagery left me completely captivated. I truly loved every minute of this book. It was pointless to predict the story. So, I let it take me away with the lyrical prose. It made our best books of 2019 list and I recommend it to anyone that loved The Night Circus. It’s one of my favorite full-cast audiobooks as well. If you love magical realism books, this pick is for you.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Alex Stearn is the sole survivor of a horrible homicide. While recovering in the hospital, she is offered a chance to attend Yale on a full scholarship.
She finds the Secret Societies of Yale, each practicing a unique type of magic. There are so many things about this urban fantasy book that I love. It is filled with magic, unlike anything you have ever read before. It has fantasy, secret societies, magic, and mystery. I could not put it down.
This book about secret societies is definitely at the top of my list and it is perfect for fans of dark academia. If you are a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo, this is her first adult book and we could not help compiling a list of books just like it.
Recursion by Blake Crouch
This 5-star read is making our best books of 2019 list for sure. When people start to become ill with False Memory Syndrome, nobody knows who will get it or how.
Barry is a cop who sees the devastating effect of FMS on the people who contract it. Helen is a scientist who studies memory. Barry and Helen come together to find answers and stop everyone’s past from becoming one distorted memory. Blake Crouch is so smart- this book really made me think. If you like sci-fi, this is an absolute must-read.
Best Books of 2019: Magical Realism
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
Who else loves book recs from indie booksellers? I was so happy to get a recommendation for this book from Main Point Books. They promised that it is well-written, funny, and a perfect “feel good” book. I was not disappointed at all. I loved this book so much, that it made our list of best books for 2019!
The story is about a woman who becomes a nanny for two children who start on fire when they get mad. There is wonderful humor in this book that is centered around strong and beautiful relationships. It is such a well-written and wonderful book I cannot recommend it highly enough.
The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
I love Alice Hoffman and for me, this was her best book yet. During WWII, in Germany, Hanni Kohn knows that she must do something to save her daughter from the Nazis In desperation, she seeks out someone who can make a Golem take her daughter to safety.
Instead of the Rabbi, it is his daughter Ettie who helps and creates Ava. The life of the three women is forever intertwined. This beautiful story about love, life, and friendship is more than I could have hoped for. If you love fantasies and are looking for historical fiction, this pick from books about WWII is perfect for you.