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Best of 2019: Get Lit’s 14 Favorite Books of the Year

by  | December 18

With everything from page-turning thrillers to powerful nonfiction, evocative historicals to magical fantasies, 2019 was a year for the books—literally. We are fortunate to be closing out the decade with some remarkable works, some of which have made their way onto our keeper shelves. Out of everything published and read this year—including new releases from the likes of longtime favorites Stephen King, Alice Hoffman, and Jennifer Weiner, plus newcomers such as Saeed Jones and Candice Carty-Williams—it was hard for each of us to choose just one favorite. Honestly, even narrowing it down to a collective 14 was a real struggle, but we did it, just for you. So without further ado, here are the books we cherished most and that truly made our year.

How We Fight for Our Lives

How We Fight for Our Lives

by Saeed Jones

Courtney’s Pick:

Hands down, my favorite book of the year was How We Fight for Our Lives. Saeed Jones’s background as a poet comes through in the lyrical movement of the stories he shares in this raw and candid memoir. I was engrossed from the beginning, and laughed and cried along with him as he made space in the world for a southern young black gay man: himself. He weaves the narrative of his relationships and journey so beautifully, you can’t help but feel personally invested in his experiences. Having met Saeed in real life, I can tell you that he presents himself the way he writes: powerfully, honestly, and full of life. A relatively short book, you can devour it in an afternoon, depending on how often you stop to reflect, cry, or try to convince your best friend to read it, too. This is not a memoir, or an author, you want to miss.

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I Miss You When I Blink

I Miss You When I Blink

by Mary Laura Philpott

Heather’s Pick #1:

I’m not much of a nonfiction person. At least, I didn’t used to be. Reading memoirs like Mary Laura Philpott’s I Miss You When I Blink has shown me the light, however. A fellow perfectionist and worrywart, Philpott serves up a collection of essays that revolve around the various times she’s faced big, potentially life-altering decisions about who she is and what she truly wants when it comes to marriage, parenting, work, and everything in between. You hear a lot about midlife and quarter-life crises, but for some of us, identity crises happen on a rolling basis. I thought I was the only one who felt this way, who regularly questions the road not taken and taken, so this book made me feel both understood and validated. I Miss You When I Blink has a permanent spot in my home library, because I already know I’ll be reading it again the next time that life serves up one of its signature curveballs.

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Devil's Daughter

Devil's Daughter

by Lisa Kleypas

Heather’s Pick #2:

Lisa Kleypas’s novels have been a staple of my reading diet since college, when I picked up a copy of Dreaming of You and never looked back. Even so, her latest historical romance, Devil’s Daughter, took me by surprise in the best possible way. Not only is it a strong installment in her current Ravenels series, but it’s also an unexpected and rewarding continuation of her fan-favorite Wallflower series. The book offers readers a new peek into the lives of characters we’ve adored for about 15 years now, even while it forces us to make room in our hearts for fresh faces. Quite a feat, that!

The plot is relatively straightforward: Phoebe, Lady Clare, a young widow with two young boys, tries (and fails) not to fall for her late husband’s nemesis, a reformed rogue, West Ravenel. But the slow buildup of romantic tension between them, and their refreshing honesty with each other at every turn, are why Devil’s Daughter is one of my top reads of 2019. Well, that and also that I got to check in on my favorite Kleypas hero, Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent (Phoebe’s father), from Devil in Winter, who remains irresistible.

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Queenie

Queenie

by Candice Carty-Williams

Anne’s Pick:

I keep finding myself without copies of Queenie because I end up giving the book to my friends (which might be the best endorsement possible). In fact, Candice Carty-Williams has created such a fully realized character, that I am delusional enough to think that Queenie Jenkins is my friend.

When we meet Queenie, she is dealing with a messy breakup, unsatisfying hookups, casual workplace racism, and constant judgment from her family. She combats it all with humor, empathy, and, sure…sometimes questionable decision-making. But as Queenie confronts her past trauma, I found myself completely overwhelmed with love for her.

I can’t wait to read more from Carty-Williams in 2020. In the meantime, I’m bound to accidentally give away my signed copy of Queenie to a friend!

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Three Women

Three Women

by Lisa Taddeo

Susan’s Pick:

Hands down, my favorite book of the year is Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women. I have given it to many friends, discussed it with all of them, and it is still on my mind. Three Women is a true story based on nearly a decade of reporting about the sex lives of three American women: Lina, Maggie, and Sloane. While these women’s stories are each different from one another, they are all similar in the way the three grapple with the fragility, complexity, and inequality of female desire. If you are looking for a book that makes you think about power and the ways it’s expressed—and judged—I highly recommend you read, share, and talk about this book.

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Mrs. Everything

Mrs. Everything

by Jennifer Weiner

Ariele’s Pick #1:

Queen Jennifer Weiner’s Mrs. Everything is far and away her most powerful, emotionally resonant, and timely work to date. It’s an exploration of women’s rights, sexual freedom, and the changing landscape of American politics. It’s the perfect mix of poignancy and levity—what you’d expect from a Jennifer Weiner novel—but on emotional and socio-political steroids. This is a big, juicy page-turner, infused with characters who will engage you, and social issues that illuminate the world into which it has been published.

From 1951 to 2016 and beyond, Weiner covers sixty-five years of American history through sisters Jo & Bethie; from bell bottoms to shoulder pads, from Jell-O to Julia Child, from Peter, Paul & Mary to the Indigo Girls, from the Me Generation to #metoo. Painting on a broad canvas, Weiner explores not only the arc of two specific women’s lives, but also how the place of women in society has changed over the course of the 20th century. The novel ultimately asks if women’s lives today are any freer or more fulfilled than those of their mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations, and speaks to the paradigm-shifting power of women and their truths. Without question, one of my favorite novels of 2019, and it’s also a New York Times and Washington Post Notable pick, and NPR best book of 2019.

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The Family Upstairs

The Family Upstairs

by Lisa Jewell

Ariele’s Pick #2:

When Libby Jones turns 25, she finds out the truth about her birth family, and also learns of her massive inheritance: a mansion on the banks of the river Thames in London, worth millions of pounds. As Libby digs into the truth about her family’s murky past, she uncovers a cult suicide; a baby found alive and well, but alone; teenagers missing—and suddenly sinister characters from her unknown past are coming to light, searching for Libby and what else? You’ll have to read the novel to find out. Lisa Jewell is the master of domestic suspense, and her skill at building tension and doubt is on full display in The Family Upstairs. If you’re looking for a wild ride with fascinating characters and twists and turns galore, this book should be your pick. You’ll want to talk about it with your friends too, so maybe grab an extra copy to be safe.

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The Turn of the Key

The Turn of the Key

by Ruth Ware

Saimah’s Pick:

If you are a fan of mysteries that keep you on the edge of your seat, you won’t want to miss Ruth Ware’s newest book, The Turn of the Key.

The story begins with Rowan Caine writing to her lawyer from a jail cell…she’s been arrested and is awaiting trial for the murder of a child. Through her letter Rowan shares the events that lead to her being in prison. She had been working as a live-in nanny for a family in their smart-tech home in the Scottish Highlands. Shortly after Rowan moves in, the parents go away on a business trip and she is left alone with the kids. But the “smart” house seems to be going haywire—the technology seems to be hacked—and Rowan can’t tell if someone is playing tricks on her or if the house is actually haunted.

This was my favorite book of the year—I just couldn’t put it down. As I was reading, I came up with several theories about who the real killer was and who could be hacking the house’s tech, but with each chapter I started second-guessing myself and did not see coming the final twist at the end. It’s my #1 recommendation for all my friends this year!

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SLAY

SLAY

by Brittney Morris

Nicole’s Pick:

I will never tire of writing about this book. Slay follows Kiera, a young black gamer who attends high school as your average teenager by day, but by night runs the expansive online RPG world known as SLAY. SLAY is unique because it was built as a place for people of color to truly be themselves. Kiera’s world is turned upside down, however, when she learns a SLAY player is murdered because of an in-game dispute, and an anonymous troll threatens to sue her for anti-white discrimination. Slay is Ready Player One meets The Hate U Give. But it’s more than that. Slay gives voice to the millions of black gamers and blerds (black nerds) out there looking for safe spaces to be themselves in a world so ready to take those spaces away.

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The Dearly Beloved

The Dearly Beloved

by Cara Wall

Sara’s Pick:

I’ve been obsessed with this book since the moment I finished the prologue: “The story that was the four of them was over.” Without context, it doesn’t mean much, but Cara Wall takes you on a decades- long journey with four characters who are truly unforgettable: Charles, Lily, Nan, and James. All of them so different from one another and their relationships with each other so unique, it was refreshing to read. The Dearly Beloved gave me a new perspective on faith and empathy.

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Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars

by Sarah Gailey

Sara Roncero-Menendez’s Pick #1:

Magic school, sisters, and murder—the perfect ingredients for a fantasy noir, and Sarah Gailey's book delivers. Ivy Gamble feels like she lives in the shadow of her sister, Tabitha, who was born with the ability to perform magic. The two had a major falling out after their mother's death, but when Ivy is hired to investigate a gruesome murder at Tabitha's magical school, the two are thrown back into each other's orbit. However, as you would suspect, things are not what they seem as Ivy tries to navigate teenage angst (from the students), dark secrets (from the teachers), and her own misdirections to find out the terrible truth. A refreshing take on the "Chosen One" narrative, Magic for Liars looks at not only what privilege can do to one's perspective, but how it can put others in danger. Ivy's narration casts a spell of its own and draws the reader into a twisted web of loyalty, grief, and grit as she tries to solve a case even magic users can't quite figure out. We're not in Hogwarts anymore, that's for sure.

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Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Sara Roncero-Menendez’s Pick #2:

Love is hard: I don't think anyone would deny that. But it can be even harder to break out of a toxic relationship, as Freddy finds herself in with Laura Dean, one of the coolest and cutest girls in school. The two have an on-again, off-again relationship that has Freddy pulling away from her friends and loved ones. However, with a little help from a psychic and an advice columnist, Freddy starts to grow up and out of the loop she is stuck in. Mariko Tamaki is a fantastic storyteller, and this is one of her best works yet. She perfectly encapsulates what it's like to be in love with someone you put on a pedestal, and all of her characters feel like real people, nuanced and complicated. The art by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell is simply gorgeous, with lots of little details (facial expressions, body language) thrown in to catch your eye on multiple read-throughs. If you love graphic novels, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me is a must-have for your collection.

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A Cathedral of Myth and Bone

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone

by Kat Howard

Sara Roncero-Menendez’s Pick #3:

As a mythology nerd, I love when authors take traditional stories and folktales and twist them. Kat Howard does this beautifully in her short story collection A Cathedral of Myth and Bone. In these stories, women find themselves being swallowed up by their boyfriend's fiction; overcoming curses; praying to folk saints for help; finding themselves fighting forces outside their control. My favorite selection is “Once, Future,” a novella set in a graduate seminar where the students take on the roles of Arthurian legend, only to find the story literally playing out on their campus—which means one of them is in mortal danger. I found this book just by surfing around my office library shelves of new releases, and I am so glad I picked it up. Howard has a way of transporting you to a whole other world and eliciting joy and despair as she twists the fates of her characters. A perfect read if you're looking to indulge in the darker side of fantasy.

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The World That We Knew

The World That We Knew

by Alice Hoffman

Holly’s Pick:

The World That We Knew is a beautifully written work of historical fiction, with a tinge of the magical elements we know and love from Alice Hoffman. Set in the thick of Nazi-era World War II, Hanni understands that Berlin is no longer safe for her daughter, Lea. Desperate to provide her with some sort of protection, Hanni pleas for a rabbi’s help. But it is the rabbi’s daughter who ultimately assists Hanni, by creating a rare mystical golem, whom they name Ava. Once Ava is brought to life, she is sworn to protect Lea in her escape toward Paris. Throughout the novel, Lea’s and Ava’s lives become entwined with other children, who demonstrate remarkable bravery in the midst of a tumultuous war. Love is the characters’ only saving grace in a world of unspeakable evil, catastrophic loss, and fierce resistance. This is definitely an emotional read, but the story is told so beautifully that it will be worth the tears.

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