Updated January 7, 2020 to include the first book on the list which was read in the last few days of 2019 and thus, was not on this list when it was first published.
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I am releasing my best of the year in two separate categories. This is the first installment of my best of the year list and for this one I am focusing on “back list” (or, older non-new release) books. (See my Best of 2019: New Releases here.)
Backlist books, oh how I love thee. I did quite a few posts this year (see here and here and here) showing my love and devotion to these books that are so plentiful and wonderful, yet sometimes flounder in obscurity. New releases get so much love and attention (I love them too!), but I feel it is important to also highlight older books as much as possible.
I do this partially because I love them, but also because they are a bit more accessible to every reader. These are the books that are easier to get at the library, at second-hand stores, in less-expensive paperback format, or even as an electronic book (there are SO many e-book deals) .
I am on track to finish around 85 books this year and just more than half of those were not published in 2019 (i.e., this what I am calling “back list titles”). Of those books, here are my hands down favorites.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday, Nov 2018): I listened to this one on audio while driving with my husband recently and we both adored it. A dark and complicated true story that skillfully weaves the case of a missing mother of ten into the history and story of the conflict between Northern Ireland and England (aka “the troubles”), I had a hard time setting this aside as I was riveted at every turn to learn more. I never knew how much I did not know about this conflict and I am so glad I squeezed this one in during the last few days of 2019.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (Doubleay, 2017): I was astonished that I did not know more about this time in history when the Osage Indians were targeted so horrifically and blatantly. And then, the intersection of the plight of the Osage with the start of the FBI was weaved together so flawlessly and interestingly in this book. I have to mention also that I listened on audio and loved Will Patton’s narration so much that I went on to listen to several other books read by him. My review.
The Which Way Tree by Elizabeth Crook (Little, Brown & Co, 2018): I stumbled onto this gripping Texas tale on recommendation from a fellow book lover on Instagram. It’s an epistolary novel (told through letters) about a young boy helping his sister hunt down a panther that killed her mother and maimed the girl in the process. and it instantly became a new favorite book (and I listed it as one of my favorite books of summer).
Circe by Madeleine Miller (Little, Brown & Co, 2018): This retelling from the perspective of Circe, the mythological Greek goddess, captivated me on audio. It’s basically her perspective on many of the stories I read when I was studying mythology in school. I have never been a huge fan of the myths, so I did not expect to love it as much as I did. My review.
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (William Morrow, 2013): If I was forced to come up with one book from this list that stands above the rest, it would be this one. I love certain books in the horror genre, but I was worried this one might be too much for me. Charlie Manx kidnaps children and takes them to “Christmasland,” a horrifying and magical place that also transforms them into something….not quite human. As a child, Victoria McQueen narrowly escapes Manx’s clutches and later in life, haunted by her experience, she is determined to stop him, no matter the cost. It’s complex, gripping, well-written, and dark (but with plenty of light). I loved it.
Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker: I loved the Netflix show Mindhunter and was excited to go back and read this book written by the agents who came up with modern day profiling of serial killers. Many interesting cases are discussed, some high profile (Charles Manson, Son of Sam, etc.) and others that I had never heard of before. Regardless, I was fascinated to learn about the early days of serial killer profiling, including how it was conceptualized, developed and then used to solve other crimes.
Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat (Simon Shuster, 2017): I could not be a true foodie without having at least one food book on this list (right?). I adored this cookbook that reads a bit like a memoir with instructional narratives making it a pretty cool hybrid. I consider myself an accomplished cook, but I learned so much about these four basic tenets of food preparation that I feel like it has elevated my cooking considerably. I read it on Libby (library app) and then IMMEDIATELY bought a hard copy for my cookbook shelf.
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica (Harlequin Mira, 2014): I normally only listen to nonfiction on audio. However, I tried listening to this one and I was really blown away. (And now, mystery/thrillers are ALSO on my audio book listening docket.) With a crazy twist at the end I did not see coming, a gripping and compelling story with atmospheric descriptions, I think this one will forever be on my favorite thriller list.
The Thicket by Joe Lansdale (Mulholland, 2013): I am a sucker for a Texas story and I loved this one about a young boy in turn of the century East Texas who is trying to rescue his sister from some pretty horrendous outlaws. One of my Instagram friends called it “gritty” which is the perfect word for it. However, I loved how Lansdale weaved kindness, love and even humor amongst the grit.
The Bottoms by Joe Lansdale (Vintage Crime, 2010): I am continuing my gushing for Joe Lansdale with this one about a community in Depression-era East Texas terrorized by a serial killer who is targeting black women. During a time when racism was especially rampant, Constable Collins and his family struggle to find justice for the victims. Dark and at times completely horrifying (both from the treatment of African Americans during that time and also from the gruesome murders), I could not turn pages fast enough to get to the end and find out the identity of the killer.