The best books of 2019 — so far

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 15, 2019

By Deirdre Parker Smith

About this time of year, publishers will make lists of the best books so far. They want to keep their titles in readers’ minds, and fall is the next rush of book releases.

In fall, the more “serious” books often show up on shelves. We’re done with summer reading, and now that days will get shorter, we might have more time to read something a little more in depth. And let’s be honest, we’ve already seen and heard the word Christmas and its companion, shopping.

I have a favorite of 2019, too, “Prairie Fever,” by North Carolina author Michael Parker. It was published in May, and it is a wonder of a book, featuring two sisters, their dreams and disappointments and the prairie life that challenges and forms them. The prose sings, the sense of place brings the landscape to life.

It was exciting to read Kristie Woodson Harvey’s final installment in her Peachtree Blluff trilogy, featuring mother Ansley and daughters Caroline, Emerson and Sloan, each with perplexing problems that Harvey will work out in the end.

Annelise Rodriguez, who taught at Catawba College last year, wrote a book of short stories, “love War Stories,” about the dilemma Latino women face. The assumption is they will marry and run a household, that they are no one and nothing without a husband. Rodriguez challenges that belief with a collection of fascinating characters.

I’m also a big fan of George Singleton’s short stories. He lives in South Carolina, has his tongue locked to his cheek and can skewer the South that sustains him like no one else. His latest is “Staff Picks,” and you won’t meet a funnier group of misfits than he has collected.

BookBub, a website that covers all things bookish.

They’ve listed 30 of the best books of 2019 (so far). None of my picks are on there, but “Maid” by Stephanie Land made the list. Retired editor Elizabeth Cook reviewed it in March. Land does whatever she can to stay out of the homeless shelter she and her daughter ended up in through a series of bad decisions. The story is of her low-paying jobs she takes just to survive. One of them is cleaning other people’s houses. Land describes her slow and tedious navigation of a system that requires endless documentation. In turn, she feels stigmatized by using the very help she works so hard for. Yet she perseveres and manages to thrive.

Many of the 30 books on the list take place outside of the United States, and that reflects a trend in new novels. Finally, other voices are being heard. And finally, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, we are learning about the world outside us.

“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” by Ocean Vuong, is still on bestseller lists. It’s a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. That letter reveals a family history that begins in Vietnam. BookBub describes it as “a brutally honest exploration of race, class and masculinity.”

“Queenie,” by Candice Carty-Williams is the story of a 2-year-old Jamaican-British woman living in London and straddling two cultures — neither of which she fits neatly into. Queenie is trying to discover who she wants to be and why she’s doing what she’s doing.

“The Stationery Shop,” by Marjan Kamali takes place in 1950s Tehran, in the midst of political upheaval then, as now. Roya hangs aout at Mr. Fakhri’s book and stationery shop, where she feels safe among fountain pens and writing paper. Mr. Fakhri introduces her to handsome Bahman, who has a passion for justice and love Rum’s poetry. They fall in love, but their future is destroyed during the coup d’etat that changes the country’s future forever. What will become of them?

“The Bride Test,” by Helen Hoang is not a romance novel, but an exploration of autism and love. Khai Diep has no deep feelings. He believes he’s defective. Then his mother returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride, who can show him affection and how to return it. Esme Tran is a mixed-race girl who will do everything she can to help him and convince him there’s more than one way to love.

Ruth Reichl’s memoir, “Save Me the Plums,” covers her growth as editor of Gourmet magazine, how food has change over the decades, and how retaurants have become an important part of the culture. She also talks about chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert, wirters like David foster Wallace and others. It also includes recipes and Reich;’s transition from editing a wildly popular magazine to being unemployed when the magazine folds.

Other books on the list include:

“The Night Tiger,” by Yangsze Choo.

“Daisy Jones & The Six,” by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

“The Guest Book,” by Sarah Blake

“Normal People,” by Sally Rooney

“Recursion,” by Blake Crouch

“The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls,” by Anissa Gray

“Red, White & Royal Blue,” by Casey McQuiston.

“Ask Again, Yes,” by Mary Beth Keane

“Three Women,” by Lisa Taddeo

“Evvie Drake Starts Over,” by Linda Holmes

“The Huntress,” by Kate Quinn

“Searching for Sylvie Lee,” by Jean Kwok

“In West Mills,” by De’Shawn Charles Winslow

“The Unhoneymooners,” by Christina Lauren

“Black Leopard, Red Wolf,” by Marlon james

“On the Come Up,” by Angie Thomas

“Fleishman Is in Trouble,” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

“Once More We Saw Stars,” by Jayson Greene

“American Spy,” by Lauren Wilkinson

“The Dreamers,” by Karen Thompson Walker

“The Only Woman in the Room,” by Marie Benedict

“The Farm,” by Joanne Ramos

“Disappearing Earth,” by Julia Phillips

“The Silent Patient,” by Alex Michaelides