It’s been a phenomenal year for books — I read 52 this year, most of them new releases, yet barely scratched the surface of my list. Below are my 5-star, stayed-with-me reads that I wish I could read again for the first time. (Books I read and loved this year, but which come out in 2020, will appear on my most-anticipated post.)
NINTH HOUSE, Leigh Bardugo. Bardugo’s first adult novel, and first book that takes place in our world, tackles the classism and misogyny that corrupts hallowed institutions like Yale University. Galaxy “Alex” stern is the sole survivor of a terrifying multiple homicide in the outskirts of LA. While recovering in the hospital, fully aware that her troubles are far from over when she’s discharged, she receives a visit from a mysterious stranger who proposes an unconventional solution to the fix she’s in: she can come to Yale, expenses paid, but in exchange must keep watch over the school’s secret societies. Anyone who loves ghost stories, gothic novels set on college campuses, or urban fantasy will love NINTH HOUSE. Not yet convinced? Read my profile of Bardugo on VICE. Aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.
THE GREAT BELIEVERS, Rebecca Makkai. In 1980s Chicago, Yale Tishman, a development director of a small art gallery, is on the verge of making a historic purchase that could make his career. But as the AIDs crisis threatens to overtake his life, Yale must re-evaluate everything he cherishes. I quite literally sobbed when I finished this, which is an infrequent event for me, but the ending of this was so moving and well-earned that I’ll never forget Yale’s story. (Read a longer review here.) Aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.
THE SONG OF ACHILLES, Madeline Miller. A heart-wrenching, stunning portrait of love and loss told from the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles’ lover. I am rarely drawn to stories in which sex and romance play a central part (I am fully aware this is a major personal failing), yet Miller’s rendering of how love draws us up and sometimes fails to save us is so brilliantly told it melted even my frigid heart. Aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon
FAKE LIKE ME, Barbara Bourland. When a young, up-and-coming artist loses nearly an entire show’s worth of huge paintings in a fire, she’s forced to make a decision: back out of the show that could catapult her into art-world fame, or commit what is essentially fraud — and recreate every painting in only a few months. She settles on the latter, and retreats to a crumbling compound where a famous artist had drowned years before. FAKE LIKE ME is a thrilling portrayal of how the wealthy, even in the supposedly progressive art world, exploit those beneath them. (Read my longer review here.) Aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.
CHIMES OF A LOST CATHEDRAL, Janet Fitch. The sequel to Fitch’s extraordinary novel about the Russian Revolution, “The Revolution of Marina M,” finds Marina pregnant, alone, and destitute in rural Russia. While the first novel in this series is about what people will give — or are forced to sacrifice — to accomplish a better, more equitable society, CHIMES addresses what happens in the aftermath: to the people left behind, to the people corrupted, and to those who lose their faith. These books top my favorites-ever list, alongside Fitch’s previous stunner, “White Oleander,” which I read as a teen and which changed me forever. (Read a longer review here.) Aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.
Other books I really loved include!!
THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY, Alix E. Harrow. My mini-review, aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.
COSTALEGRE, Courtney Maum. My mini-review, aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.
BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD, Attica Locke. Aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.
THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE, Katherine Arden. My mini-review, aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.