Another year, another list of books. I tried very hard to narrow down my list to a reasonable number and realized I really suck at this. I did include a variety of genres, then threw in several contemporary and multi-cultural romances as they don’t usually get the love (pardon the pun!) on these best-of lists.
There are two authors, Michael Connelly and Christina Lauren (who is really two authors writing together) who had two books apiece this year, and all their books are on the list. I have two books, In a Holidaze and Love Lettering, that overlap with Caitlin Brisson’s list. There is one book that was published in 2019, The Nickel Boys, but I figure if it can win the Pulitzer in 2020, I can include it in my list, too. My list, my rules.
THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead: Even though it is a very short book, I took my time reading it. Some of the passages in the story are just heartbreaking, and I wanted to give it the consideration I felt it deserved. It is an emotional read for sure, with a shocking twist at the end. How can I love a book that tells such an overwhelmingly disturbing story? Because Whitehead is a superb storyteller, and he’s written an unforgettable book. Don’t miss it. (LITERARY FICTION)
TWENTY-ONE TRUTHS ABOUT LOVE by Matthew Dicks: a novel written in lists. Very clever, often funny, sometimes touching, just like life. I was completely immersed in Dan’s world, and didn’t pick up my head until I turned the last page. (EPISTOLARY NOVEL)
THE LAW OF INNOCENCE by Michael Connelly: A new Lincoln Lawyer book is always cause to celebrate! Lots of legal action here and with the twists and turns of the case, the pages fly by. Another terrific read from one of my favorite authors. (LEGAL THRILLER)
FAIR WARNING by Michael Connelly: an unputdownable book with intriguing characters, a familiar setting, and a fast-paced, twisty storyline with a shocker of an ending. If you’ve never read Connelly, this is as good a place to start as any. In my humble opinion, Connelly remains the premier crime writer of our time. (THRILLER)
ALL THE BROKEN PEOPLE by Leah Konen: The main protagonist is an unreliable narrator, but the twist here is that all the characters are unreliable, making this a fast-paced, unputdownable rollercoaster of a read sure to appeal to fans of Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins. (PSYCHOLOGICAL SUSPENSE)
28 SUMMERS by Elin Hilderbrand: Based on the film, Same Time, Next Year, this story is a decades-long romance based on the same premise. Mallory and Jake meet, have a long weekend fling, then repeat every year on the same weekend. A completely engrossing, beautiful, unputdownable read. (WOMEN’S FICTION)
THE CACTUS by Sarah Haywood: This story is filled with dry wit and humor, making me laugh out loud many times. It is also emotional and at times, heart-wrenching, and we can’t help but be drawn to these characters even though I was not always sure who to root for. But it doesn’t matter, I was immersed in this world and sorry to have to leave it. (BRITISH CHICK LIT)
HELLO, SUMMER by Mary Kay Andrews: more of a mystery and a family story but still has the touch of romance that I’ve come to expect. A happy ending, intrigue, and humor galore, making this a terrific escape and a thoroughly entertaining read. (BEACH READ)
IN A HOLIDAZE by Christina Lauren: This Christmas version of one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day, is a terrific read. As in the movie, Mae understands that something has to change to get her back to real life, whatever that turns out to be. She keeps reliving the holiday until she finally gets it right – or so she thinks. Lots of angst mellowed by a lot of laughs make this a really fun holiday read. (CHRISTMAS ROMANCE)
Honorable Mention: JINGLE ALL THE WAY by Debbie Macomber
SAY YES TO THE DUKE by Eloisa James: Viola wants to marry the Vicar, and the Duke of Wynter wants to marry Viola. Shenanigans ensue, along with some heat. James excels at the witty banter the genre is known for, and this book is no exception. Sweet and funny, this is another excellent addition to her latest series. I loved it. (HISTORICAL ROMANCE)
WAITING ON A COWBOY by Jennifer Ryan: First book of a new series with the childhood friends to lovers plotline, with an a twist – an abusive boyfriend makes an appearance and Ryan makes it clear that something like that could happen to anyone. (COWBOY ROMANCE)
Honorable Mention: TOUGH TALKING COWBOY by Jennifer Ryan
SNAPPED by Alexa Martin: This latest entry into this terrific series is one of the best. In addition to a hot romance, Martin dives into some real problems in the NFL; the hero is a Black quarterback and his romantic interest is a biracial publicist. If you don’t follow football, just know that while the league is majority Black players, not so with the quarterback position. Or the coaches. Or the owners. Martin brings these inequities to the forefront, in addition to CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy,) and the problems the older, retired players have with minimal pensions and no health coverage. That changed for the newer players, and I love how Martin makes a point of discussing how these old guys are trotted out for honors at games, while left to rot on the sidelines for the rest of their lives. Sorry, this really upsets me so I was thrilled to see it addressed here. An excellent read even if you don’t care about that stuff. (SPORTS ROMANCE)
THE MARRIAGE GAME by Sara Desai: Enemies to lovers is always a popular trope in romance, and this one is done exceedingly well. Throwing in a big, extended, nosy Desi=American family plotting an arranged marriage with its parade of kooky suitors adds a lot of laughs to this heartwarming and sexy story. It is a sweet and sexy and funny and total escapist read. (DEBUT ROMANCE)
LOVE LETTERING by Kate Clayborn: Released on the final day of 2019, Love Lettering quickly became one of my favorite books of the year. But was too late for 2019, so here it is! This is a love letter to New York City with interesting, well developed characters, and the romance seemed to bloom organically if you’ll pardon the pun. The art of hand lettering so intrigued me that I started down a rabbit hole, and first found this interview with the author, which led me to this article on Bullet Journaling, which I had never even heard of. (BOOK THAT SHOULD NEVER HAVE FALLEN THROUGH THE CRACKS)
SHIT, ACTUALLY: The Definitive, 100% Objective Guide to Modern Cinema by Lindy West: Every essay is a gem. You can pick up the book and read any of the essays, and just know you will be laughing. If I could gift you all with this book, I would. (HUMOROUS NONFICTION)
A PROMISED LAND by Barack Obama: What can I possibly add to the accolades this book has already received? Obama is a beautiful writer, and I took my time reading this, enjoying every word. It was brilliant and funny and sad. a very emotional read for me. I loved it. (MEMOIR)
More, more, more!
Alphabetical by author:
LOVE HER OR LOSE HER by Tessa Bailey: a romance centered around an already married couple works beautifully here. Bailey is a terrific storyteller and writer – it’s not easy to put passion on the page without making it feel banal or hackneyed. The sex is definitely steamy, it works in the story and even has some funny moments thrown in, just like real life.
THE ROOMMATE by Rosie Danan: Can a socialite and a porn star form a meaningful relationship? This book will not be for everyone, but if you like terrific characters, an interesting storyline, real conflict, a strong feminist agenda, and well-written sex scenes as much as I do, then you won’t want to miss it. Debut.
THE HAPPY EVER AFTER PLAYLIST by Abby Jimenez: this book sucked me in and I just about cried when I turned the last page. I wanted to stay with these characters – they are interesting and fun and damaged and thoroughly brought to life on the page. My original review revealed that this is a terrific story that is bound for my best books of the year list. And here it is.
THE HONEY-DON’T LIST by Christina Lauren: this is about an über-successful husband and wife who renovate homes and have a hugely popular TV show and home renovation empire (Chip and Joanna Gaines immediately sprung to mind.) But the romance is centered around their assistants! This is a super fun read.
LOATHE AT FIRST SIGHT by Suzanne Park: A terrific romance in an unusual and interesting setting, the video game industry. There are a lot of laughs and many a bump in the road until the happy ending is reached in this feminist love story. Debut.
MUSICAL CHAIRS by Amy Poeppel: the book revolves around a musician, her famous conductor/composer father, and her trio but is really a wonderful story of family dysfunction, sibling rivalries, professional jealousy, and one very independent woman. The setting is a wealthy Connecticut beach town and that pushes this book adjacent to the beach read genre.
THE BOYFRIEND PROJECT by Farrah Rochon: Samiah is a Black woman at the top of the tech pyramid, and trust me, she had no easy climb. But this brilliant woman is somehow fooled into dating a man who is dating other women and when he is confronted by three of them, it goes viral. This was one of the best romances I’ve read in a while; I loved how smart the characters were and how real they felt to me.
IF THE BOOT FITS by Rebekah Weatherspoon: Amanda and Sam are in love, but can their relationship survive the Hollywood assault? Happily ever after is guaranteed, but getting there was so much fun.