The Best Books of 2019
It's that time of the year again—the end. Here at the bookshop, 2019 has flown by. It seems like only yesterday that we were looking ahead to the year, eager to get our hands on the new books from Angie Thomas or Margaret Atwood. Three literary festivals, a handful of bookish holidays, and a few hundred author events later, we can't believe it's time to bid 2019 farewell. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your continued love and support. You're the reason we're able to bring so many favorite authors to town, and the reason we were able to celebrate 23 years in business this fall. Sharing books with you is a privilege and a pleasure, and we look forward to doing so for many more years.
2019 was a great one for new books. (Yes, we say that every year. So what? It's always true.) From fantastic debuts to satisfying series-cappers, there were hundreds upon hundreds of great books for any kind of reader. Below, we've chosen thirty of our absolute favorites from the year.
Feel free to browse through all thirty titles, from breezy picture books all the way through to a 944-page history of our great state. Alternatively, use the links below to jump straight to the section of your choice. Be sure to read the author Q&As, where applicable—it's such a treat to hear more from the people who create such splendid stories. Finally, we'd love for you to come and visit us in the shop sometime soon—we’re here to help you shop for the holidays, and we're eager to talk about each of the books below.
Happy reading, friends.
The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown
by Mac Barnett; Illustrated by Sarah Jacoby
In this picture book, Mac Barnett takes a closer look at the life of Margaret Wise Brown. On the surface, it's a biography about an author who's incredibly creative as well as a bit odd. Dig a little deeper, let the words resonate, and you will notice even more. At the heart of this book, Barnett reminds us that not all books are for all kids. And that's okay. It's only by embracing the rich diversity of theme and representation that we can truly have a treasury of books that reflects our experiences as a nation and an industry as a whole. Every time I read this book, I see something new. And each time I read this book I remember why I am a librarian and a bookseller and why I love connecting children and books. Read it; I suspect you will feel the same way.
A Piglet Named Mercy
by Kate DiCamillo; Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen combine their considerable talents to deliver a prequel picture book to the Mercy Watson early reader series. Mr. and Mrs. Watson lived on Deckawoo Drive and wondered if they were the tiniest bit predictable until one day a pig bounced off the pig transport truck and landed in their yard. A charming, lovely picture book that introduces the joy of Mercy Watson to a new generation of readers and their families.
by Holly M. McGhee; Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre
Listen with your heart in this quiet exhortation to listen to everything around us. The prose is perfect. When we listen to our hearts, we will listen to our stories both light and dark. Only then can we listen to others' stories. It's a powerful lesson for the youngest of listeners.
Mr. Nogginbody Gets a Hammer
by David Shannon
After stubbing his toe on a nail, Mr. Nogginbody gets a hammer and takes care of it. Since it's David Shannon, things go hilariously wrong. A very fun new story from a masterful picture book creator!
Look Both Ways
by Jason Reynolds; illustrated by Alexander Nabaum
This collection of ten interwoven short stories that take place at a middle school's dismissal time will make readers look more closely at the world around them and realize that each person they see has a story to tell. I loved this book!
by Greg van Eekhout; illustrated by Beatrice Blue
Cog (short for Cognitive Development) is an infectiously likable robot who has been built to learn. Learning can be tricky, and that one characteristic tends to land him in trouble—lots of trouble. When Cog wakes up to discover not only that Gina, the scientist who constructed him, is missing, but other scientists at uniMind want to remove his brain to learn about the X-module within, Cog and four other robot associates set off cross-country to find Gina. Cognitive learning and hijinks ensue. Readers’ faces will ache from grinning from the first page to the last—promise!
Dear Sweet Pea
by Julie Murphy
Patricia "Sweet Pea" DiMarco has a lot to navigate right now: She’s living in two nearly identical homes due to her parents' divorce, trying to work out her relationships with a former best friend and a new best friend, and surviving seventh grade. When her eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae asks Sweet Pea to forward letters for her advice column, Sweet Pea recognizes the handwriting on one of the letters and decides to answer it herself. You can only imagine what follows—a funny, delightful story in which so many readers will see themselves. Best for grades 5 and up.
Beverly, Right Here
by Kate DiCamillo
Oh my, no one writes the human soul like Kate DiCamillo. Burying her beloved dog Buddy is the last straw for disconsolate fourteen-year-old Beverly Tapinski. Deciding that it’s time to leave town, Beverly lands in Tamara Beach, where she finds not only a job in a fish restaurant and lodging with a kooky lady with a penchant for bingo, but a circle of quirky companions as only DiCamillo can imagine them, who befriend, support, and heal her, becoming the kindred spirits she needs. The heartwarming and poignant third of the series, Beverly, Right Here can be read on its own, but it is even richer and more satisfying if the reader knows Raymie Nightingale and Louisiana’s Way Home.
by Rex Ogle
Rex Ogle can't wait to begin sixth grade, but when he asks his mother for lunch money before the first day of school, he learns that she has signed him up for the school’s free meal program. This experience begins Rex’s efforts to navigate middle school while being poor and hungry. This middle grade memoir, which takes place in Texas, tackles incredibly tough subjects, including poverty, hunger, and domestic violence. The voice is spot on and is what carries the reader from page to page. Rex provides moments of humor, hope and love, leavening his story and turning it into a page turner. It is truly a must read.
Read a Q&A with the author on our blog.
On the Come Up
by Angie Thomas
Brianna is a high school student and aspiring rapper, with the kind of talent for words and rhyme that earns her standing ovations when she performs. When Bri gets the opportunity to record her first single, her anger gets the best of her as she takes lyrical aim at a pair of abusive guards who've recently profiled her and her friends, some of the only black students at her school.
Bri's loaded single blows up just as her mom loses her job, leaving Bri to navigate the strains of poverty and a complicated mother-daughter relationship, racial stereotyping from the media, and her dream of becoming a hip-hop star. In a story that spins on the power of words and stares down stereotypes, Angie Thomas weaves each sentence into a narrative as nuanced and masterly as her heroine's hip-hop lyrics. Forget the sophomore slump—Angie Thomas did it again. The only thing missing is a soundtrack.
— Mary Cate
With the Fire on High
by Elizabeth Acevedo
Emoni is many things, including a high school senior and an amazing cook, but what defines her the most is her love for and her responsibility to her daughter Emma. Trying to balance motherhood with school, a culinary class and a job is a daily struggle, but Emoni's Abuela, her friends, and her teachers provide support. Like a good meal, this stunning coming of age story has heart, depth, and plenty of seasoning in the gorgeous words and the strong characters.
by Laurie Halse Anderson
In an indirect sequel to her novel Speak, Anderson has amassed a collection of verse reflecting her life story. This memoir builds slowly from childhood memories to a searing, unflinching look at modern-day rape culture and misogyny. Emotions throb on every page from tender heartache to burning rage. Even for those who are not fans of poetry, Anderson writes in a way that is easily accessible. Readers will not find complex metaphors or literary devices, but rather a soul poured unrestrained onto a page. Absolutely recommended.
The Fountains of Silence
by Ruta Sepetys
Eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson and his parents arrive in Madrid from Dallas in 1957 to vacation while his father closes an oil deal. Daniel spends his days photographing the Spanish people to learn more about his mother's home country and in hopes of winning the Magnum photography prize that could convince his father to allow him to study photojournalism rather than following him into the oil business. The Mathesons stay at the Castellana Hilton Madrid, where Daniel meets Ana, who has been assigned to his family. Daniel's desire to seek the truth through photography collides with Ana's need to keep her family history secret. This resolution, set against the backdrop of Franco-era Spain, uncovers secrets, pain, and duplicity on the part of the state. Sepetys has done it again, sharing a little known story in an effective, moving way.
Frankly in Love
by David Yoon
Frank Li is just a high school guy trying to finally get a girlfriend. Problem is, his strict Korean-American parents have a small-minded view on who Frank will end up with. This hilarious, cringe-worthy, relatable and diverse high school tale is the perfect school year read. Highly recommended.
Daisy Jones & The Six
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Fronted by brothers Billy and Graham Dunne, The Six is a hard-working ‘70s rock band on the cusp of national stardom. They’re looking for something extra to push them to the top of the charts when they come into the orbit of Daisy Jones, a magnetic singer with equal measures of ambition and self-doubt. The record company throws the two together into a spotlight no one is prepared for, lifting the band to new artistic highs as it pushes them to personal lows.
The book’s greatest strength is its well-drawn characters—a nifty feat considering its unique narrative form. It’s written entirely in dialogue, taken from fictional tell-all interviews with members of the band, producers, and music critics. These interviews are woven into a narrative that simultaneously charts the growth, rise, and fall of the band from many perspectives. It’s almost like reading a script—which somehow makes the whole thing feel more real. Your only regret at the end of the book will be that you can’t listen to the classic Daisy Jones & The Six albums the author describes.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
by Abbi Waxman
Nina Hill enjoys her simple life of working in a bookshop, spending evenings reading or with her trivia team. One day, a lawyer visits her, informing her that the father she never knew has died and left her with a large extended family. This new family that demands her attention threatens to throw Nina's carefully organized life into chaos, and it's up to her to determine what will truly make her happy. Lovely asides about the joy of books and reading make this a great read for any book lover!
Read a Q&A with the author on our blog.
The Dutch House
by Ann Patchett
Maeve and Danny Conroy's lives are uprooted when their father brings his new wife and her young daughters to live in The Dutch House, the family estate in the suburbs of Philadelphia. When their father dies, the siblings are exiled from the home they love.
Maeve, who is seven years older than Danny, decides her role in life is to care for Danny, pushing him in the direction she thinks best for him and putting aside ambition for herself. Over the course of five decades, The Dutch House follows the unshakable relationship between the siblings who keep returning to the house that they can't put behind them.
Written from Danny's point of view, this is a novel about family, abandonment and its effects, hanging on the past, and not letting go.
The World That We Knew
by Alice Hoffman
In Berlin in the spring of 1941, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation in the form of a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem. Ava the golem is created to love and protect Lea when her own mother cannot. This is a beautifully written book—poetic at times. I read and then reread the ending because I didn't want to miss a thing. Highly recommended.
The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake
From the author of The Postmistress, this multi-generational saga of privilege, prejudice, secrets, and loves comes together on Crockett's Island, Maine, which is owned by the upstanding Miltons. Kitty and Ogden rule this family with love and hard work. We learn their story as well as their children's losses and finally the third generation of cousins who must decide what to do with their beloved summer house. Blake draws you in quickly with stories of Nazis, lovers, dead children, and above all the island in all its natural beauty. Loved it!
by Margaret Atwood
Gilead is back with a vengeance in Atwood's newest novel, set about fifteen years after the ending of The Handmaid's Tale. Told from three different female perspectives, the story is unraveled tantalizingly slow as readers fill in the blanks of the past fifteen years. Atwood incorporates elements introduced in the Hulu show and gives fans the answers they have craved for thirty-four years. Highly recommended!
by Bryan Washington
The setting of this collection is Houston, so there's something familiar about these short stories from the start. We have driven through these neighborhoods, walked some of these streets, and seen some of the people Washington writes about. The narrators of these stories delve deeply into the lives of inner-city Houstonians and touch the heart of the connections that create family and community. Most of the stories are narrated by the younger son of an African-American mother and a Latino father who own a restaurant in an East End lot. After his father leaves, his brother joins the military and his sister leaves to start her own family, so the narrator and his mother work the restaurant. As a teenager, the narrator realizes he is gay, and several of the stories have to do with the gay community. The writing style is straightforward and casual with a clarity that shines, and there is plenty of poignancy without cloying melodrama. The stories will pull you in. Recommended.
by Benjamin Dreyer
Dreyer has a droll wit—occasionally smug, in a charming way—and he turns grammar and style into an entertaining puzzle. And this stuff really does matter! It’s such a fun book to listen to on Libro.fm. I’ve been snorting with laughter and having to rewind to hear what I missed!
Save Me the Plums
by Ruth Reichl
The author's first exposure to Gourmet magazine was as an eight-year-old girl, visiting a used bookstore with her father. Immediately drawn to the exotic dishes and ingredients, she became interested in cooking, a subject she pursued as an adult. Decades later, when she was the New York Times restaurant critic, she was offered the job of editor in chief at Gourmet. Save Me The Plums is Riechl's account of the ten years she held that job until the magazine's owner, Conde Nast, shut down its publication in 2009. As a food critic, she had little experience in editing and managing, but her willingness to take risks and to listen to other people's ideas changed Gourmet from the stuffy and snobby magazine for those who had cooks to prepare meals for them to a much more accessible, sometimes edgy, but still glamorous vehicle to reflect the revolution that was taking place on the American food scene.
This is a quick read with lots of anecdotes about the people with whom the author worked and met through her work. She includes examples of the process used in the magazine's test kitchen to develop recipes and even includes a few of those recipes in this memoir. Some of the best bits are descriptions of the meals she ate at restaurants and parties during this period. But she also describes her difficulties in managing both her professional life and her family relationships. She's a great storyteller, and this latest book is a good complement to her earlier memoirs.
Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas
by Stephen Harrigan
Writing with a journalist's attention to facts and a novelist's deft story telling, Harrigan provides readers with a sweeping history of "this outsized state that sits at the center of the nation but stands consciously apart from it." Starting with the Karankawa tribe who met the first Spanish explorers as they came ashore near present-day Galveston, he brings to life the people and events that make up nearly 500 years of Texas history. Harrigan is not an academic historian, which is doubtless in his favor, but he has done thorough research as his end notes and sources indicate. His treatment is even handed, and he grounds his narrative in facts that are often lost in the bright glare of myth and legend. Not that there aren't some larger than life characters in the history of this state whose life stories are ready fodder for mythologizing. By focusing on the individuals, famous, not-so-famous, and infamous, whose lives make up the history of Texas, Harrigan defines what it has meant to be a Texan and still means: adventurousness, willingness to take risks, protectiveness, fear of constraints, bravery, pride, and loyalty to a mythology that they helped to create. Highly recommended.
Running With Sherman
by Christopher McDougall
Christopher McDougall, best known for his memoir Born to Run, returns with the heartwarming story of a neglected donkey given to his family. The McDougalls live in the heart of Amish country. They own chickens, goats, dogs, and cats. As he nurses Sherman the donkey back to health, he decides that both of them need a goal. He knew of an annual burro race in Colorado, so he recruits a team and lays out his plan. With his knowledge of animals and sports, he creates a wonderful story full of resilience, compassion, and a healthy dose of humor.
Southern Lady Code
by Helen Ellis
What fun for ladies who were raised by the Southern Code! Helen Michelle (as her mother always called her) has written a veritable treasure trove of essays that extol the virtues of Southern civility. From writing thank you notes to listening to dinner party stories retold, you will laugh and pause to remember why you were raised this way.
by Abra Berens
Exactly what its title claims, Ruffage is the best vegetable cookbook I've seen in awhile. Abra Berens grew up on a farm, co-owns a farm, and is a chef at a restaurant in Michigan. Her emphasis in Ruffage is on knowing what to do with whatever vegetables you may find in season in your garden (well, maybe not in Houston), your farmer's market, or your local grocery store, "playing to the strengths of the vegetable instead of trying to conform it to [your] desires." Find the best vegetables you can, bring them home, and, with the help of her recipes, build your menus around them. But this is not a vegetarian cookbook—Ruffage incorporates meat, fish, and chicken in many of its recipes, and most of the other ingredients are those that we have in our pantries and refrigerators. Recommended.
by Daniel Leader
Dan Leader opened his organic bakery, Bread Alone, in the Catskills in 1983. Since then, bakers from around the world have come to Bread Alone to learn his artisan bread-baking techniques and philosophy. With beautiful photographs and scientific recipes, Dan makes bread-baking approachable, interesting, and ultimately rewarding. Included are profiles of some of the bakers who inspired and helped Dan hone his craft over the years and a list of bakeries which shouldn't be missed when traveling.
by Anna Francese Gass
What is American food? Native American dishes notwithstanding, our food has become "an amalgamation of the diverse cultures, traditions, and flavors that traveled to our shores throughout the last few centuries." As one of the author's featured cooks notes, rather than a melting pot, the U.S. "is more of a stained-glass window. We come here, live, but we still remain who we are." The author of the varied collection of recipes in Heirloom Kitchen, herself an immigrant from Italy, visited and cooked with the 37 immigrant women she features in her book, documenting their stories and the recipes they brought with them from Europe, Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and the Middle East. Although you may have to visit a specialty grocery store to find some of the ingredients (e.g. Phoenicia), these recipes are designed for you to try at home to get a home-cooked taste of the dishes that are available in many ethnic restaurants. Meatballs, pirogis, spanikopita, tagine—all just like grandma used to make them.
Atlas Obscura, 2nd Edition
by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, & Dylan Thuras
One of our favorite books to give to family and friends is back with 100 new places, color pictures, and everything we loved about the first edition. While you may never go to these off the wall places, you will be seduced into reading about them. Every country has at least one or two oddball places. Uncle Joe will love reading this while you eat the last of the pies.