Favorite Books of 2019
Ask Again, Yes

Ask Again, Yes

When two rookie cops who meet at the NYC Police Academy strike up a friendship, it sets in motion a tragic chain of events that echo through the decades, through the lives of their children and their children’s children. I found this book exceptionally difficult to read—it's depressing and dark and triggers abound—yet I was eager to find out what would happen next to these doomed families, and the astonishing developments of the last 75 pages vaulted this to my best-of-the-year list. I'm a sucker for a good redemption story, and this one delivers. For fans of Atonement and Little Fires Everywhere. More info →
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Resistance Women

Resistance Women

The novel was inspired by the life of Mildred Harnack, a real historical figure whose story was previously untold because the U.S. government deliberately buried it after the war. Harnack was one of dozens of members of the network of American and German resistance fighters the Gestapo called die Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra). The bulk of the action takes places between the wars, beginning in 1929; I was initially surprised that a novel about Nazi Germany before and during WWII began SO early, but Chiaverini's chosen timeline serves her story well: as a reader, you see events escalate over time through these women’s eyes: first they’re incredulous, then increasingly horrified, all the while asking each other, what do we do? The setup feels leisurely (even in print) but the payoff is worth it. More info →
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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

I read this back in April and it's really stayed with me: I still think about it, and recommend it, all the time. Psychotherapist Gottlieb employs an unusual two-pronged approach to show us how therapy really works, and to examine how we grow, change, and connect to each other. First, Gottlieb introduces us to four of her patients, taking us inside the room to show us what happens in their sessions. But Gottlieb is also in therapy herself, thanks to a sudden breakup, and through her eyes, we get the patient's perspective as well. I so enjoyed getting to know the people in these pages, session by session, and rooted hard for them as they worked through the process. Part memoir, part educational glimpse into the profession: if you like to learn something from the books you read, and you enjoy a good story, well told, add this to your list. More info →
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This Tender Land: A Novel

This Tender Land: A Novel

I'm so glad this is the year I discovered William Kent Krueger: I read three of his titles this year, and would have included another Krueger title in this list had I not forced myself to whittle it down to a halfway-manageable number! This standalone coming-of-age story focuses on three Minnesota kids during the Great Depression, whose respective situations become ever more impossible due to human cruelty and circumstance. They realize no one is going to save them, so they have to save themselves—and that's when the Huck Finn comparisons start kicking in. I alternated between text and audio on this one, and it was excellent in both formats. A great story, well told. My husband Will just finished this one and he also loved it. More info →
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The Dutch House: A Novel

The Dutch House: A Novel

This was so good I've already read this twice—once in the striking hard copy, and once on audio, narrated by Tom Hanks. I love sibling stories and meaty family sagas, as well as stories told with a reflective, wistful tone. This one delivers on all counts. Cyril Conroy means to surprise his wife with the Dutch House, a grand old mansion outside of Philadelphia. But a symbol of wealth and success for some is a symbol of greed and excess to others—including, crucially, Cyril's wife—and the family falls apart over the purchase. In alternating timelines, we get the whole story, over five decades, from Cyril's son Danny. (If you want to hear the incredible story of how Kate DiCamillo wrote the perfect final paragraph without reading the book, you must listen to this episode of What Should I Read Next!) More info →
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Kindred

Kindred

I waited far too long to read Kindred by Octavia Butler, and I was riveted from the first page. Time travel meets slave narrative in this modern science fiction classic. When Dana, a modern Black woman from 1976, gets transported to the antebellum south in order to save one of her white ancestors, she preserves her own history. But it doesn't end there. As she keeps getting pulled back to the past, her trips grow more and more dangerous, and Dana must figure out how to survive in a reality far more terrifying than the history books ever suggested. If you still need a push to read Kindred, listen to Volume II Episode III of One Great Book. More info →
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Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age

This debut is a coming-of-age story for right now, and addresses hard and heavy topics and yet remains a DELIGHT thanks to Reid's sparkling voice. On page one, we meet Emira, a twenty-five year old black babysitter to a white Philadelphia family. Before the night is over, Emira's been racially profiled for a crime she didn't commit, in the grocery store late at night, with her young charge in tow. This is the first domino in a chain of events that changes the lives of everyone involved forever. Confident and complex and a total page-turner. More info →
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The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

I didn't read this for so long because I thought it was going to be hard and heavy since it was written by a psychiatrist who has done a lot of work with trauma survivors, but if someone had told me how fascinating it would be, I would have picked it up immediately. Also interesting, it's changed the way I read some books because I'm noticing how well some authors demonstrate how their characters are acting out lingering affects of trauma. One of the highest compliments you can pay a nonfiction book is you want to change things in your life because you read it. More info →
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To Night Owl From Dogfish

To Night Owl From Dogfish

This collaboration between two highly successful authors—one who primarily writes for kids, the other for grown-ups—is a modern version of The Parent Trap, about two twelve-year old girls who live on opposite coast who strike up an unwanted correspondence after they discover their dads fell in love at a building conference and are secretly dating. This is not good news to either of them, as they make clear in the ensuing emails that comprise the book. And then it gets worse, when the girls are forced to attend camp together because their fathers went them to become friends. Things go horribly wrong in more ways than one, but there's not a single page here that doesn’t feel fresh, funny, charming, and real. A feel-good story for readers of all ages—numerous adults loved it this summer, as did nearly everyone in my family. More info →
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Ayesha At Last

Ayesha At Last

In this retelling of Jane Austen's comedy of manners, set in contemporary Toronto, Darcy becomes Khalid, a devout Muslim man whose mother is trying to marry him off. Elizabeth becomes Ayesha, a teacher who'd much prefer to be a poet. When they first meet, it's utter disaster: she thinks he's rigid and judgmental; he thinks she's not a good Muslim because of the drink (virgin) and cigarettes (not hers) she's holding. But circumstances bring them together again, of course. I loved the supporting cast featuring good friends, a cousin dreaming of a Bollywood-inspired wedding, an embarrassing mother, and a Shakespeare-quoting grandpa. If you're a P&P devotee, this is a delight. If you've never read the original, you can still enjoy this story about family, friendship, and love. More info →
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The Nickel Boys: A Novel

The Nickel Boys: A Novel

Colson Whitehead brings Jim Crow-era Florida to life through the real story of a reform school in Tallahassee that claimed to rehabilitate delinquent boys and instead abused and terrorized them for over one hundred years. Elwood Curtis is bound for a local black college when an innocent mistake lands him at The Nickel Academy instead. Elwood finds comfort in Dr. Martin Luther King's words and holds to his ideals, whereas his friend Turner believes the world is crooked so you have to scheme to survive. All this leads to a decision with harrowing repercussions for their respective fates. This was a tough read emotionally, but such a good one. More info →
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The River

The River

This is my very favorite book I read this year—and to think I almost didn't pick it up! When two college friends plan a long canoeing trip in northern Canada, they anticipate a peaceful yet memorable summer escape filled with whitewater paddling, fly fishing, and campfire cooking. The first hint of danger is a whiff of smoke, from an encroaching forest fire. The next comes from a man, seemingly in shock, who reports his wife disappeared in the woods. If these boys didn't feel compelled to do the right thing and go look for her, they’d be fine, but instead they step in to help—and are soon running for their lives, from disasters both natural and man-made. A tightly-written wilderness adventure, a lyrical mystery, and a heartrending story of friendship, rolled into one. More info →
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