In lieu of a slow new release day we’ve put together the list to end all lists, a comprehensive look at the adult fiction titles BookPeople booksellers couldn’t get enough of in 2019. From runaway bestsellers to local favorites, our staff read far and wide to bring us this heap of good reads. And whether you’re looking for a new book to get an early start to your 2020 reading goal or just need something to fill out those last minute shopping lists, we’ve got something here for you!
*These titles are in no particular order.*
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
2019 opened with this gargantuan heap of literary high fantasy from the inimitable Marlon James. Overwhelming and rewarding, this first part of James’ Dark Star trilogy is not for the faint of heart.
From Tomoko: Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a vast and encompassing story in which every part is essential to the whole. James has built a world in which the fantastic both soars sky-high and roots around the depths of demented imagination. There are witchmen and -women who cast spells powered by pieces of fresh-cut infants, and not-witches like the Sangoma who hunt them. There are clawed monsters and winged demons that drain blood and eat hearts and infect victims with crackling lighting seed that circuits through their bodies, glowing from the inside out and driving them with mad devotion. White scientists (even wickeder than witches), islands that swim like fish, river goddesses, smoke children, and god-killers live and breathe in James’ world. His world is brutal and cruel, visceral and graphic, deliciously vivid and the filthiest kind of funny. In it are wicked monsters and wickeder people, but also men who fu(enlist in consensual carnal satisfaction)ck and men who love, and a boy who became a man that borrowed an eye from a wolf and is said to have a nose (though they forget to mention that he also has a mouth). It’s unforgettable, with a sense of timelessness that makes it feel as old as the world and steeped with reality that leaches into memory and lies waiting for more. An experience not to be missed!
And Uriel: Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a towering achievement in fantasy literature. In it, Marlon James has rendered a wholly original landscape of African myth that is as palpable as its prose is poetic. Marrying the best of the genre and his own imagination, James has set out on the first part of an ambitious journey with a novel that is absorbing, mesmerizing and beyond rewarding.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
You’ll fall head over heals for this touching/tender/hilarious romance novel. Here’s what our booksellers had to say:
From Collyn: Red, White & Royal Blue is rom-com gold! I ripped through this book in two day, proceeded to scream about it to ANYONE who would listen to me, and then booked myself a flight to DC. Alex Claremont-Diaz is the charming son (and Austinite!!) of the U.S.’s first female president. He’s on track to become the youngest Senator in modern history, when one social faux pas forces him to play buddy-buddy with his least favorite person, Prince Henry of Wales. Imagine ‘The Prince & Me’ meets ‘My Date with the President’s Daughter’ but you know, like make it super gay (I mean who in their right mind would choose a straight rom-com over a gay one????). McQuiston’s ability to write funny, sweet characters as well as some super-steamy sex scenes makes this book an absolute joy and a quick read! She had me gushing over Henry and the White House trio! This book is cute and sweet and everything you could ever want in a great beach/summer read. The minute I finished it (at 4am because I could NOT put it down) I wanted to start it all over again. If you liked Crazy Rich Asians you’ll love this.
From Rachel: Red, White, & Royal Blue is an wonderful breath of fresh air; so rarely do I
read a novel that is this much fun from the first page to the last. I loved Alex’s voice as the main character–he’s always thinking ten steps ahead even before he knows what he’s actually feeling. Prince Henry was completely–it’s the only word for it, really–charming, but he never stretches into caricature. Being able to follow the two of them circling each other felt like a privilege, a genuine glimpse into private lives usually kept private. What really brought this book–and these characters–to life is the considered way McQuiston incorporates queer histories of both the White House and the English monarchy into Alex and Henry’s letters and conversations, As much as it may seem that these two are breaking with tradition, they aren’t without forebears: James I, Eleanor Roosevelt, and even a namesake, Alexander Hamilton, to name only a few. They might be making history, but they belong to it too. And as a Texas Democrat, let me just end with: CLAREMONT 2020!
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
NECROMANCY IN SPACE!
From Molly: “Wow! This book truly has it all — old creepy molding castles full of necromancers called together to defeat a great evil; a good old-fashioned whodunnit murder mystery; a hot jock charmer of a lead character; and much MUCH lesbian flirtation. Much flirtation in general! Flirting everywhere, as well as death, spells, and excellent fights. After getting good and grounded in the gooey world of this book, I had stupendous fun ripping through it. 10 skulls all the way up!”
And Maya: Skeletons, swords, and murder mysteries abound! Gideon the Ninth had everything I could ever ask for — lesbian necromancers that tread crumbling halls like cloaked wraiths, vivid sword fights, and humor as sharp as the rapier-wielding Gideon herself. This book was so shockingly good that the only thing on my mind is that I want to start reading it all over again!
And Will B.: There are times where you read the back of the book and instantly know you want to read more. This is very much one of those times. Muir throws us right into a
very interesting society built around the tenets of Necromancy. I absolutely love this idea because of course Necromancy is one of the most maligned types of magic in fiction and role playing games. We follow the titular Gideon as she first attempts to escape the Ninth, the tomb that she feels herself interred in, that holds her greatest foe, the lady of the House Lady Harrowhark. But what happens when the relationship has to change? What happens when one needs something from the other. We then follow as Gideon has to act as her worst enemy’s bodyguard as she answers the Undying Emperors summons to meet with the heads of the rest of the houses. Filled with great humor and a wonderful eye for action scenes this one was a joy to read. One of the most interesting worlds I have been thrown into in years. I highly recommend this to those not afraid to mix a little sci-fi in their fantasy, as well as those looking for a new and interesting series. This is one to watch!
And Christine(!): Gideon the Ninth is brilliant and oh-so deliciously original. I can’t put it down, but it’s a book I don’t want to finish because then it’ll be over and I’ll have to wait anxiously for the next one.
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Before she joined our motley crew of booksellers, marketing and events manager, Cristina L., made the Indie Next list with this fabulous review of Dominicana. Here’s the blurb that blew the rest away:
Cristina L.: Angie Cruz is a beautiful writer with a powerful voice, and readers of Julia Alvarez and Sandra Cisneros will greatly enjoy this book! Dominicana is a riveting story about family, womanhood, and what it means to be an immigrant. Ana Cancion, who’s only fifteen, leaves her home behind for a new life in New York City with her soon-to-be husband, Juan Ruiz. Big lights, tall buildings, and a bright future constitute the promise of a new beginning. However, upon Ana’s arrival, her fate untangles into something unexpected. It’ll be really hard to forget these characters and the realness in their heartache. Throughout these pages, I fell in and out of love, I laughed, I cried, and I was deeply moved.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong delivered the gut punch novel of the year. There was not a dry eye in the house by the time we put this one down.
From Eugenia: I must admit, this was not a read-in-one-sitting type of book for me. I had to take my time with it, to not only savor Ocean Vuong’s brilliant writing but to fully engage with the characters in Little Dog’s memories. On Eart We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a beautiful, difficult, tender, and overwhelming read, a read for a rainy day, for a friend, for a lover, for family, to keep close by, in your heart, on your nightstand, for safekeeping.
From Christina M.: Wow. Such a beautifully written, haunting story of love, family bonds, survival, and mental illness. This is one that will stay with you long after the last page.
From Salvador: Haunting. Disturbing. Traumatic. Riveting. Beautiful. All these terms describe this book about Little Dog, a Vietnamese boy who we are introduced to as a child refugee. His mother is crazy, his grandmother has PTSD, and they are both at turns loving and cruel to him. I would sometimes linger over one beautiful sentence for days, adoring it’s truth and depth before I would continue reading. This is one of those rare books that I’ll read again, and that I’ll recommend over and over.
Black Light by Kimberly King-Parsons
We love seeing a Texas author do BIG THINGS. So imagine how thrilled we were when Parsons’ scrappy short story collections was longlisted for the National Book Award!
Hear her conversation with T. Kira Madden at BookPeople here!
From Consuelo: It is rare for me to read literature set in my home place of the Texas panhandle. Parsons drew up memories that I thought I had long lost, but even if I didn’t have this connection to her stories, her characters each have their own form of vulnerability that makes them so easy to empathize with. She’s created something raw and so beautifully human.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
2019 was the year for millenial wunderkind Sally Rooney. Utilizing spare prose and an uncanny understanding of human connections in the 21st century, Rooney delivered a standout novel that floored us and a good chunk of the literary community.
From Molly: I’m by no means the first one to say this, but heck I’ll say it again — Sally Rooney is our modern George Eliot. No one writes the 2019 social novel of manners with her level of observation, complication, and sensitivity. Her sophomore effort introduces us to Marianne and Connell, whose secret high school relationship led to the kind of entangled growth that can only begin with the most potent kind of love. As they move from high school to college to the wide open beyond, their social standing shifts, tipping along with it who holds more power over the other. Less cynically, they remain magnetically drawn to each other, as much for their beguiling differences as for the shared language they’ve built between them, secret and untranslatable to everyone else. These are normal people who feel exceptional to themselves and to each other, cementing and exploding their ordinariness. From page one, I read this novel of love and coming of age and conversations of the day with my heart aflutter in my throat — I hated to turn the last page.
From Uriel: Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne” played as I turned the last page of
Sally Rooney’s Normal People, her lush, sophomore effort that puts modern love under the microscope. Like the song, the novel is a bittersweet ode to love lost and found; subtle and heartrending. Rooney tells the story of Connell and Marianne, the on-again, off-again couple of the novel, with acuity, capturing the minutiae of millenial romance. It’s absolutely impossible not to get entirely invested in the lives and loves of these two.
From Eugenia: Sally Rooney’s writing made me feel like I was 20 years old again. It took me back to those days of love and lust and stupid misunderstandings, the first time you’re out in the world on your own, confused as hell– I could feel it all again, as vividly as the first time. Rooney is a spectacular writer and I recommend Normal People to anyone who loves character-driven stories with exquisite sentences.
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Named one of The New York Times‘ 10 Best Books of the Year, Lost Children Archive is an exquisite and topical piece of auto-fiction.
From Eugenia: I love Valeria Luiselli’s writing because it sits with you forever. It’s impossible to finish a Luiselli book and immediately pick up another. You have to let it simmer– the sentences, the music in her writing. There’s this intimacy in the moments she chooses to share with us, from the perspective of these beautifully developed, familiar characters. In The Lost Children Archive, we get to spend time with a family on a road trip. We listen to Bowie in the car, eat at middle-of-nowhere diners, and argue over a wrinkled map of the United States. Told from the perspective of mother and son, The Lost Children Archive is a story of family and memory, honoring the beauty of documenting the things that matter to us most– whether it’s the sounds of an echo or a photograph of the open road. With this deeply personal and moving story, Valeria Luiselli will set up camp in your heart for good.
From Uriel: Readers not yet privy to the brilliance of Valeria Luiselli have a true gem to
discover in The Lost Children Archive. The confluence of sights, sound and memory reaps an engrossing chronicle of a patchwork family and a timely take on the topic of human migration.
From Christina M.: Some stories stick with you and keep you up at night. The Lost Children Archive is one of those stories. Luiselli once again brings the plight of migrant children to our attention–this time in an even more personal and heart wrenching manner. The first person narrative makes the emotions and stories that much more real. Read this book and ask yourself, what if it were my kids?
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
We tore through advance reader copies of Ninth House. Leigh Bardugo’s first adult effort absolutely upended BookPeople as booksellers clamored for a copy and added their names to the ever-growing waitlist to be the next to read this mesmerizing caper that looks at the supernatural happenings in and around Yale. Here’s a taste of the bookseller love, but check out this post from earlier in the year that captures the totality of our deep admiration for this title!
From Tomoko: Dark and lavish with vivid detail, NINTH HOUSE is a murder mystery shrouded in magic and sporting a sharp-tongued heroine
with a highly satisfying sense–and execution–of justice. While any comparison to “adult Harry Potter” pretty much ends at “magic school,” this book is a bit like if you dropped a Gryffindor with a deeply traumatized past into an all-Slytherin college. Ambition and power leach from every uncanny crevice in this visceral indictment of institutions that equip the rich and powerful with the tools to remain free of consequence–but Alex Stern, the latest “Shepherd” of Yale’s secret, mystical societies–is Bardugo’s avenging arbiter of unflinching justice.
From Thomas W.: “Ninth House absolutely does not give a fuck what you think is considered “proper”. Or to be more accurate, main character Alex
Stern doesn’t give a fuck what the privileged elite of Yale who care all-too-much at times. Early on, Alex is offered a chance to hide the tattoos sleeves she got as a young addict in L.A. and she jumps at the ability to blend in more. But (no spoilers, promise!) when Stern goes to confront the villain she realizes that she shouldn’t blend in and decides to be unapologetically herself by returning her tattoos and letting that part of her past become part of her identity again. I cannot recommend Ninth House enough, not just for the amazing story and dark take on Ivy League life but also for the in-your-face attitude that every page is steeped in.”
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson’s latest is a generations-spanning journey about one family’s improbable trek to the present moment.
From Consuelo: In Red at the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson once again takes her understanding of people – their love and their pain – and commits it to the page. She lays it all out, yet there are spaces between the words that say even more. Beautiful prose from a brilliant writer.
From Eugenia: I know most of us were already aware of this, but my God, Jacqueline Woodson is greatness. Truly. We are witnessing GREATNESS. Red at the Bone is a gripping, masterfully crafted story focusing on three generations of a family and how their lives come together and fall apart with and without each other. Through Woodson’s powerful language, we enter the minds of these characters and hope and grieve right alongside them. The author has given us so much in these pages– love and loss, desire and ambition, light and dark, and sentences you will want to revisit time and time again.
From Cristina: I found myself tearing up at this book more times than I’d previously
anticipated. Red at the Bone is a disarming story that explores an unplanned pregnancy, family dynamics, social classes, race, and how we wrestle with the unimaginable. At just the age of 17, Iris finds herself in an uncharted situation: a teenage pregnancy. Aubrey, Iris’ boyfriend, only wants what’s best for them, yet he is also battling with his own challenges at home; a dying mother and an uncertain living situation. Sabe and Po’Boy devoted their whole lives and dreams to assure that Iris could have the best future they could provide. Despite the unrest that will follow, their lives will come together for baby Melody. A beautiful book that left me wanting more, just as each character is left desiring more from the life they will have to part from.
From Raven: “We are led into an intimate history; no matter the pain or joy being expressed I couldn’t tear my eyes from the near ineffable beauty of the words. The purest kind of empathy runs through each page of this small story.”
2019 was a great year for books, so much so that we had the toughest time picking just 10 books for this end-of-year list. Do you agree or disagree with this list? Which titles would you add? Let us know! And keep an eye out for all the wonderful reads coming our way in the new year (decade!!).
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