Best Books of 2019!
I've been selling books since 1994, and I can honestly say that 2019 is the best year I can remember for great new fiction. I've never ended the year with a list like this one -- I read 151 books and there were 21 books I rated a 4 1/2 or 5 out of 5 this year, with a record 4 getting perfect 5s! It was very difficult to compile my list this year, but I gave it my best shot. Any of the top 4 could change position on any given day or mood swing! While this list is completely fiction, I did read good nonfiction this year, only they all fell just short of the top spots! Without further ado . . . my top ten reads of the year!
1. NOTHING TO SEE HERE - Kevin Wilson
Kevin Wilson's new novel, NOTHING TO SEE HERE, is a deceptively light and humorous story, but there is so much more to it than the delight the reader experiences. When a senator from Tennessee is about to be vetted for Secretary of State, he suddenly inherits his two children from his estranged first wife when she dies. And the kids are wild. And they spontaneously combust every once in a while, setting everything aflame. An old friend / somebody-to-be-taken-advantage-of the family is asked to care for them, and she embarks on a journey of self discovery while tending these dangerous kids. It is hilarious, wicked, barbed, heart-breaking, and fabulous . I've never read anything quite like it, and it moved me to tears while making me laugh in surprised staccato bursts! What a terrific book!
2. DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT by Lucy Ellmann
What an astonishing piece of fiction, as if Erma Bombeck rewrote Finnegan's Wake! This rambling stream-of-consciousness novel manages to be funny, heart breaking, and angry in equal measure as a housewife in Ohio worries about everything from her kids to Donald Trump to guns. All in nearly one frantic run-on sentence! It is also a novel about mental illness and the perception most people have of someone who has a mental illness. Just brilliant and deserving of all the accolades it is receiving!
3. THE DUTCH HOUSE by Ann Patchett
Patchett's best book since Bel Canto! This story of a family and the house that ultimately splits them into fighting factions is downright Dickensian -- like Bleak House but fast and funny! The characters are so real they practically leap off the page and the prose, as expected, is flawless. I truly can't believe how much I loved this book!
HOLLOW KINGDOM by Kira Jane Buxton
This is that rare anomaly in books -- a completely original idea that works! After the zombie apocalypse, a domesticated crow (the foul-mouthed, snack food obsessed S.T.) and his dim-witted bloodhound friend decide they must set free all the pets that are dying inside of locked houses abandoned by human. The adventure is brilliant, full of terrifying battles against mutant and beast, and S.T. is a hero for the ages -- Snake Plisskin from ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK in avian form. The comedy is actually laugh out loud funny, the horror is gory and scary, and the animal behavior is spot-on. It is also heart-breakingly, achingly sad in spots, and I wept for two chapters straight (if you've read it, you know exactly which ones!). Never has the bond between human and pet, nature and man been explored in such a vibrant and entertaining (if sobering) manner.
DEEP RIVER by Karl Marlantes
Rarely does a book hold me in its grip for over 800 pages, but Karl Marlantes' follow-up to his novel MATTERHORN did just that! DEEP RIVER i\s the story of the Koski family, Finns who escaped to the American Northwest from Russian aggression in the early 20th century. through the decades, they become loggers and engineers, midwives and mothers, healers and labor activists. Seen mostly through the eyes of Aino, the sister of the three siblings and a vocal opponent to the lumber barons, this epic novel draws you into its world, expertly creating an historical atmosphere, and offering characters of such depth that it is sometimes astonishing. This is an immersive novel like PACHINKO or WAR AND PEACE or THE FAR PAVILIONS that surrounds you for weeks as you inhabit this world.
6. RED AT THE BONE by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson's new novel RED AT THE BONE is one of the year's best, evocative, provocative, and stunningly well-written. Don't let the slim size fool you; this one is packed to the brim with emotion. This lyrical, poetic novel unfolds in various time periods, all centered around a single family event and how that affects each member of the family. It brilliantly evokes that feeling when we are young and indestructible as well as the disappointments of life as well as unexpected delights that unfold when we least expect them. The characters are wonderfully alive, and the world they inhabit is one I'd love to live in -- a place full of love and family. It is a lovely gem of a novel!
7. THE TOPEKA SCHOOL by Ben Lerner
Ben Lerner's new novel THE TOPEKA SCHOOL delves into our past to attempt to explain our present and how we got here. One fractured family, their narrative explained through differing viewpoints and time periods, tries to weather being a liberal family in a very red state during the Reagan years and beyond. the son, who is on the debate team, is the focus, but every single character is fully fleshed out and realized. How did we go from a country that talks and debates to one that merely spouts words as quickly as possible -- even if it's all just gibberish? This brilliantly written, haunting novel digs into the core of urban family life and the very definition of American -- and it digs with bloody, damaged hands. So, so good!
8. LEADING MEN by Christopher Castellani
This is, simply put, a magnificent piece of historical fiction. While examining the time when Tennessee Williams went to Italy with his long-time lover Frank Merlo to write sequences for Vuisconti's film SENSO, Castellani introduces us to a world forgotten and fabulous. From parties at Truman Capote's villa to the dizzying extravagant film sets, Frank and Tennessee meet a young actress and another writer, one long-since forgotten, John Horne Burns and his lover, which leads to an examination of 'the sidekick/the other'. What does it mean to be a muse, and can a muse ever hope to mean as much to an artist as his actual art? Castellani, through luscious prose and delicate plotting, delves into the heart of what it means to be loved as well as what it means to have BEEN loved -- two very different things.
9. THE EDITOR by Steven Rowley
Steven Rowley's new novel, The Editor, is exactly the kind of balm I needed in today's climate. Focusing on a young writer who discovers his editor is none other than Jackie Kennedy Onassis, the book actually explores several kinds of relationships ... romantic, familial ... in a humorous and touching manner. Although the writing is wickedly barbed and the zingers fly at the speed of a 1940s rom-com, The Editor is so much more. There is real heart in the writing as well as real love between the characters. And nobody, I mean nobody, is infallible. It's a true delight and the kind of book people who loved Eleanor Olyphant Is Completely Fine and/ or Less will truly enjoy. Just be prepared with a box of tissues and your favorite cocktail (Jackie would suggest daiquiris.)
10. THE COSMOLOGY OF MONSTERS by Shaun Hamill
When is the last time a horror novel was both scary and charming? A COSMOLOGY OF MONSTERS is THAT book! Riffing on themes from HP Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury, Hamill weaves a complex tale of lost cities, Halloween haunted attractions, and doorways to other worlds. I really enjoyed this literary horror story, which starts out as a love story (don't ALL good horror tales?) and grows progressively creepier. The book posits the questions -- who are the real monsters and why do we love to be scared. Truly a delightful, yet uber-creepy homage. I loved it.
LIGHTS ALL NIGHT LONG by Lydia Fitzpatrick
THE STATIONARY SHOP by Marjon Kamali
ASK AGAIN, YES by Mary Beath Keane
THE NICKLE BOYS by Colson Whitehead
THE SNAKES by Sadie Jones
THE CHESTNUT MAN by Soren Sveistrup
THE PARISIAN by Isabella Hammond
THE WATER DANCER by Ta-Nehisi Coates
GROWING THINGS by Paul Tremblay
THE NINTH HOUSE by Leigh Bardugo
INLAND by Tea Obrecht
THE SILENT PATIENT by Alex Michaelides