I should probably limit myself to a Top 10 list for this, right? But I just can’t help myself! I’m choosing 25 of my favorite books from 2019. Not all of them were published this year, but most were. Here are my favorite picks for the following categories: Fiction, Memoir, Wellness, Romance, Gardening, and Politics.
I’d love to hear what books made your BEST OF THE YEAR list, too!
Hiram Walker is a slave. Born a slave and destined to die a slave—despite being the illegitimate son of the plantation master. Over time he develops a gift for reading white people and then knowing how to best entertain them, especially his father. This keeps him alive, but Hiram wants more, and he’s determined to unshackle himself from the dying tobacco fields of Virginia, no matter the cost.
Emmeline and her father live on a small island—all alone and in the middle of nowhere. Emmeline knows next to nothing about how they got there. What she does know is that in their small cabin is a whole wall of tiny corked bottles, each containing a specific scent. From a young age, Emmeline understands that her father will do anything to preserve all the smells trapped inside—even if it means keeping Emmeline from leaving the island.
Annika is different. Though beautiful, she is extremely shy and constantly unsure of the “right” thing to say or do in social situations. When she finally manages to go off to college (after being homeschooled since 7th grade), she has a tough time. At Chess Club one night, though, she meets Jonathan. The story follows their relationship as it develops over the next ten years.
Marianne is the quirky and intelligent outcast in high school, while Connell is the well-liked dudebro jock. Their paths shouldn’t cross, but somehow they do, and the two begin a serious on-again-off-again relationship that lasts all the way through college. The book follows them as they try to figure out who they are as individuals and who they are together.
The Sorenson family has been through it lately. Parents David and Marilyn are deeply devoted to each other and have worked hard to raise their four (now adult) daughters with kindness and commitment. But they can’t deny that each of the girls is struggling, like bad. Everyone in the family is feeling the strain, and no one is quite sure how (or if) it will all turn out okay.
Rebecca and Eric have been best friends since forever. At the end of their senior year, Eric hints that he might want something more than a friendship, and things get…weird. The two part ways, and Rebecca moves on to a different relationship—one that she knows Eric would never approve of. When Eric shows back up in her life, Rebecca has to decide whether to tell him the truth or stick to her little white lies.
George Simon, the son of a rich white lawyer, voluntarily enlists right before Pearl Harbor is attacked. Against all odds, he survives—but only because Gordy, one of the black cooks, saves his life. This is how George meets Thelma, Gordy’s wife, and Luther, Thelma’s brother. The book follows all four characters as they each try to survive the war. Spoiler alert: bad things happen.
Military criminal investigators Scott Brodie and Maggie Taylor are called in to find Captain Kyle Mercer, a former soldier in the army’s elite Delta Force unit, who’s gone AWOL. The story is that Mercer uncharacteristically deserted his post, was captured by the Taliban and tortured, but then miraculously escaped. Now he’s been tracked all the way to Venezuela, and it’s up to Brodie and Taylor to bring him back to the States so he can be formally court-martialed.
Margo Manning is a teenage socialite who acts like Lindsay Lohan by day and James Bond by night. With help from a small crew of drag queens, she’s running big jobs for dangerous people. But when her father dies unexpectedly under suspicious circumstances, she and her team have to figure out how to take down her father’s murderer without getting caught or blowing their cover.
Twenty-six year old Cassie Hanwell is one of the only female firefighters in her Austin fire department, and she’s a dang good one, too. Her future looks bright…until she punches a sleazy politician in the face. Cassie is forced to transfer to a different station near Boston, but the new crew doesn’t like having a woman in the firehouse, and they plan on letting her know it every chance they get.
Jonathan Van Ness, from Netflix’s uber-popular show, Queer Eye, dives DEEP into his past and reveals it ALL. He is, of course, his usual lovable self, but holy smokes… she’s been through some things, honey! Lots of drugs, sex, pain, and suffering—but he still manages to end the book on a positive and uplifting note. One of the bravest, most honest memoirs I’ve ever read.
Another lovely lad from Queer Eye! Tan France is the style expert who helps people rethink their wardrobe choices so they can become the best versions of themselves. This is his story about growing up in a conservative Muslim home, going through various stages of rebellion, becoming a successful businessman, and then eventually landing Queer Eye. He is delightful. Truly.
I watch Vanderpump Rules religiously. Like, religiously. I’m not proud of that, but there you go. In this memoir, Stassi is honest and unapologetically herself. She confesses some pretty embarrassing facts, which of course is entertaining. But what I love most is how uplifting and positive she is. She’s very supportive of other women, and her perspective on relationships, sex, even hookups, is genuinely insightful.
The section on “The Seven Stages of Selling” alone makes this book worth buying. Serhant gives great advice on business development, follow up, and basic life organization. His advice to “follow back” (i.e., keep in touch with past clients, even people who didn’t hire you) is mind-blowing. He’s a reality TV star, but I honest-to-God took notes…
A group of Major League Baseball players unite to help their friend through his marriage problems. (Let’s just say there haven’t been a lot of home runs in the bedroom…) Their education tool of choice? Just some good ol’ fashioned bodice rippers. And that’s all you need to know. Read it.
Alex is First Son of the United States and Henry is the Prince of Wales. At a royal wedding, drunk Alex accidentally pushes Henry into a cake, and the tabloids go wild. In an effort to smooth over the politically embarrassing moment, Alex and Henry are forced to orchestrate a fake friendship. Only the “fake” friendship becomes something more as both Alex and Henry realize the other isn’t exactly what he seems.
Lucy and Josh hate each other. They work in the same office for different bosses, each of whom is competing for the same position. Eventually, one of them will be fired, and, in the meantime, they’ve made it their job to openly loathe each other. But when they share an unexpected, fiery kiss in the elevator after work one day, they both feel all kinds of confused. Suddenly their feud feels a lot more complicated.
Stella loves numbers and has become wildly successful putting her algorithms to work. Now she’s 30 and has a ton of money…but is as lonely as ever. She decides she needs help knowing how to, well, love. So she hires escort, Michael, to teach her what she needs to know. The only problem is that their business arrangement is becoming personal, and Stella isn’t quite sure what to do with her new feelings. (Mommy porn at its finest, y’all!)
Marc Brackett is a professor at Yale who studies emotional intelligence, especially in children. Through his research at Yale University’s Child Emotional Center, he’s come up with a science-based system called RULER that helps kids better recognize their emotions, understand them, label them, express them in a way that helps them actually get heard, and then regulate them. Amazing resource.
We all know by now that typical household and personal care products have a ton of added chemicals that are hurting us on a daily basis. There are so many other healthier options available now. This book explains the few simple products you need to get your house clean, features lots of DIY recipes, and offers affordable earth-friendly reusable products.
Holy smokes, this book is a game changer. The Nagoski twins argue that women have become conditioned to ignore cues from their bodies, push themselves too hard, and then hate themselves for not being able to meet every impossible demand made of them. Then they give practical advice on how to change the stress mess we’re now in.
Author Kim John Payne talks about the effects of too much, too fast, too early—how all the pressure to perform is harming our kids. He encourages parents to simplify children’s diet and schedules, as well as decrease the amount of screen time they get and the amount of information we share with them. I loved this book. It made me feel like it’s ok to follow my intuition and just do what works best for my family.
A great resource for anyone who works with kids in an outdoor classroom—but also can be helpful for parents, too. This book gives great advice on arranging play spaces in a way that includes children at all developmental levels and encourages them to interact, imagine, and play in a safe, comfortable space.
This book focuses on roughly 50 of the most widely used garden plants—from butterfly bush to crab apple, lilac to yews, etc. Each plant is listed alphabetically and given a two-page write-up that includes a picture, pruning tips, guidelines for when to prune and which tools to use, and advice for different pruning “intensities.” It offers just the right amount of info without overwhelming the reader.
Written by a senior official in the Trump White House (we don’t know who), A Warning is an inside look into how things are currently (not) functioning in the Oval Office. I thought it was going to be a book written for liberals, but it’s actually more like a plea to Republicans (from a Republican) to rethink what the party stands for.