ICPL's Favorite Books of 2019: Fiction

Every year ICPL staff vote on their top books published that year, identifying their favorite reads in 10 categories: FICTION; YOUNG ADULT; PICTURE BOOKS; MIDDLE GRADE AND CHILDREN'S; MYSTERY; ROMANCE; SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY; BIOGRAPHIES and MEMOIRS; NONFICTION; and GRAPHIC NOVELS.

Join us as we share our favorites in each category, then be sure to check out what titles were named BEST OF THE BEST for 2019. To make our BEST OF THE BEST list, a book had to be nominated by more than one employee. The book with the most staff nominations is ICPL's BEST BOOK of 2019!

We'll announce the BEST OF THE BEST for 2019, and our pick for BEST BOOK of 2019, on December 31. For now, enjoy our favorite FICTION books of 2019!

The testaments

Margaret Atwood

ON ORDER BOOK
Fiction, Dystopian

In this brilliant sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, acclaimed author Margaret Atwood answers the questions that have tantalized readers for decades.

Tell me everything : a novel

Cambria Brockman

FICTION Brockman Cambria
Fiction

"In her first weeks at Hawthorne College, Malin is swept up into a tight-knit circle that will stick together through all four years. There's Gemma, an insecure theater major from London; John, a tall, handsome, and wealthy New Englander; Max, John's cousin and a shy pre-med major; Khaled, a wise-cracking prince from Abu Dhabi; and Ruby, a beautiful art history major. But Malin isn't quite like the rest of her friends. She's an expert at hiding her troubling past. She acts as if she is concerned with the preoccupations of those around her -- boys, partying -- all while using her extraordinary insight to detect their deepest vulnerabilities and weaknesses. By Senior Day, on the cusp of graduation, Malin's secrets -- and those of her friends -- are revealed. While she scrambles to maintain her artfully curated image, her missteps set in motion a devastating chain of events that ends in a murder. And as their fragile relationships hang in the balance and close alliances start shifting, Malin will test the limits of what she's capable of to stop the truth from coming out. In a mesmerizing novel that peels back the innumerable layers of a seductive protagonist, debut author Cambria Brockman brings to life an entrancing setting through a story of friendship, heartbreak, and betrayal"--

user image

I grabbed this book off the new shelf, then kept setting it aside for others for nearly two weeks. When I finally sat down to read it, I was hooked by the first chapter and didn't stop until the last page! An amazing debut from Cambria Brockman! I can't wait to read more from her in the future.
- Meredith

The water dancer : a novel

Ta-Nehisi Coates

FICTION Coates, Ta-Nehisi
Fiction

"Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage--and lost his mother and all memory of her when he was a child--but he is also gifted with a mysterious power. Hiram almost drowns when he crashes a carriage into a river, but is saved from the depths by a force he doesn't understand, a blue light that lifts him up and lands him a mile away. This strange brush with death forces a new urgency on Hiram's private rebellion. Spurred on by his improvised plantation family, Thena, his chosen mother, a woman of few words and many secrets, and Sophia, a young woman fighting her own war even as she and Hiram fall in love, he becomes determined to escape the only home he's ever known. So begins an unexpected journey into the covert war on slavery that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia's proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the deep South to dangerously utopic movements in the North. Even as he's enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, all Hiram wants is to return to the Walker Plantation to free the family he left behind--but to do so, he must first master his magical gift and reconstruct the story of his greatest loss. This is a bracingly original vision of the world of slavery, written with the narrative force of a great adventure. Driven by the author's bold imagination and striking ability to bring readers deep into the interior lives of his brilliantly rendered characters, The Water Dancer is the story of America's oldest struggle--the struggle to tell the truth--from one of our most exciting thinkers and beautiful writers"--

The Paragon Hotel

Lyndsay Faye

FICTION Faye Lyndsay
Historical Fiction

Fleeing to Oregon from New York City in 1921, Alice James takes refuge in the city's only black hotel and helps new friends search for a missing child, hide from KKK violence, and navigate painful secrets.

user image

Lyndsay Faye writes some really good, suspenseful historical fiction and The Paragon Hotel is no exception. Set during Prohibition, Faye really captures the city of Portland in the early 1920's, the unease of the post-war years, and vividly brings a variety of characters to life.
- Anne M

The girl he used to know

Tracey Garvis Graves

FICTION Garvis Graves, Tracey
Fiction

Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people's behavior confusing, she'd rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.

user image

This was a beautiful story about college loves who find each other years later. Can they fix what went wrong before?
- Meredith

Evvie Drake starts over : a novel

Linda (Radio talk show host) Holmes

FICTION Holmes Linda
Fiction

"In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth "Evvie" Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn't correct them. In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy's childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the "yips": he can't throw straight anymore, and he can't figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button. When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie's house, the two make a deal: Dean won't ask about Evvie's late husband, and Evvie won't ask about Dean's baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken--and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they'll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they've broken, the plans they've changed, and the secrets they've kept. They'll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there's always a chance--right up until the last out"--

user image

This sweet story was EXACTLY what I needed after reading several psychological thrillers. I love Evvie. I love Dean. I love Andy and his daughters.
- Meredith

The gifted school : a novel

Bruce W. Holsinger

FICTION Holsinger, Bruce
Fiction

"This deliciously sharp novel captures the relentless ambitions and fears that animate parents and their children in modern America, exploring the conflicts between achievement and potential, talent and privilege. Set in the fictional town of Crystal, Colorado, The Gifted School is a keenly entertaining novel that observes the drama within a community of friends and parents as good intentions and high ambitions collide in a pile-up with long-held secrets and lies. Seen through the lens of four families who've been a part of one another's lives since their kids were born over a decade ago, the story reveals not only the lengths that some adults are willing to go to get ahead, but the effect on the group's children, sibling relationships, marriages, and careers, as simmering resentments come to a boil and long-buried, explosive secrets surface and detonate. It's a humorous, keenly observed, timely take on ambitious parents, willful kids, and the pursuit of prestige, no matter the cost"-

Ask again yes : a novel

Mary Beth Keane

FICTION Keane Mary
Fiction

"A family saga about two Irish American families in a New York suburb, the love between two of their children, and the tragedies that threaten to tear them apart and destroy their futures"--

user image

The incident that defines the characters and the stories didn't happen right away, but the book is beautifully written that it doesn't matter. I was drawn into the words. The amazing story was a bonus.
- Meredith

The most fun we ever had : a novel

Claire Lombardo

FICTION Lombardo Claire
Fiction

A multi-generational novel in which the four adult daughters of a Chicago couple--still madly in love after forty years--match wits, harbor grudges, and recklessly ignite old rivalries until a long-buried secret threatens to shatter the lives they've built. When Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that's to come. By 2016, their four radically different daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator-turned-stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt when the darkest part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she's not sure she wants by a man she's not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects. Above it all, the daughters share the lingering fear that they will never find a love quite like their parents'.

The secrets we kept

Lara Prescott

FICTION Prescott Lara
Historical Fiction, Fiction

At the height of the Cold War, two secretaries are pulled out of the typing pool at the CIA and given the assignment of a lifetime. Their mission: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR, where no one dare publish it, and help Pasternak's magnum opus make its way into print around the world. Glamorous and sophisticated Sally Forrester is a seasoned spy who has honed her gift for deceit all over the world--using her magnetism and charm to pry secrets out of powerful men. Irina is a complete novice, and under Sally's tutelage quickly learns how to blend in, make drops, and invisibly ferry classified documents.

user image

Oh, you need to read this book. Follow members of the CIA's "typing pool" picked to assist in the mission to get the novel Doctor Zhivago published and distributed in the Soviet Union. Their story is intertwined with Olga's, the mistress of Boris Pasternak, as she deals with the consequences of the novel's existence--it was not a favorite of the Kremlin, by any means. It is a page-turner. Also, you DO NOT need to read Doctor Zhivago to enjoy this book. However, it is a great read as well!
- Anne M

The farm : a novel

Joanne Ramos

FICTION Ramos Joanne
Fiction

Nestled in New York's Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, private fitness trainers, daily massages--and all of it for free. In fact, you're paid big money to stay here--more than you've ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds; your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a Host at Golden Oaks, or the Farm as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her own family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she'll receive on delivery. Heartbreaking, gripping, provocative, The Farm pushes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit to the extremes, and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

Daisy Jones & the Six : a novel

Taylor Jenkins Reid

FICTION Reid Taylor
Fiction

"Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go-Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it's the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she's twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things. Another band getting noticed is The Six, led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she's pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road. Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend. The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice"--

The lager queen of Minnesota

J. Ryan Stradal

FICTION Stradal J. Ryan
Fiction

"A novel of family, Midwestern values, hard work, fate, and the secrets of making a world-class beer, from the author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest"--

user image

Warning: You will crave pie and beer while devouring this wonderful story.
- Meredith

Call your daughter home

Deb Spera

FICTION Spera Deb
Fiction

"It's 1924 South Carolina and the region is still recovering from the infamous boll weevil infestation that devastated the land and the economy. Gertrude, a mother of four, must make an unconscionable decision to save her daughters from starvation or die at the hands of an abusive husband. Retta is navigating a harsh world as a first-generation freed slave, still employed by the Coles, influential plantation proprietors who once owned her family. Annie is the matriarch of the Coles family and must come to terms with the terrible truth that has ripped her family apart. These three women seemingly have nothing in common, yet as they unite to stand up to the terrible injustices that have long plagued the small town, they find strength in the bond that ties women together."--Publisher's description.

The dreamers : a novel

Karen Thompson Walker

FICTION Walker Karen
Fiction, Science Fiction

One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep, and doesn't wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster. Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, higher than has ever been recorded before. They are dreaming heightened dreams, but of what? Written in luminous prose, The Dreamers is a breathtaking and beautiful novel, startling and provocative, about the possibilities contained within a human life, if only we are awakened to them.

user image

Every page of this book made me uncomfortable and anxious. What book on a contagion wouldn't? The loss of individual control, the breakdown of society, the baffled experts...this is not for pleasure-reading. But I've been thinking about the book a lot after finishing it, particularly the ethics and beliefs the characters subscribe to that are tested when the virus hits. It was worth the quickening pace of my heart.
- Anne M

The bookish life of Nina Hill

Abbi Waxman

FICTION Waxman Abbi
Fiction

Raised by a single mother, Nina Hill has a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. Then the father she never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews. They all live close by! They're all excited to meet her! She'll have to Speak. To. Strangers. And now Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. -- adapted from back cover

user image

Book lovers rejoice -- Nina Hill is the bookworm we've been waiting for! Between her cat (Phil), her crazy co-workers at the book store, her love of random facts and the family she never knew she had, Nina's life has gone from quiet and organized to super crowded. She's not sure she likes it, but maybe change isn't all that bad and maybe her new life has some room left for her trivia pub quiz nemesis, Tom. A super cute read with a very relatable heroine.
- Meredith

Mrs. Everything : a novel

Jennifer Weiner

FICTION Weiner Jennifer
Fiction

"A smart, thoughtful, and timely exploration of two sisters' lives from the 1950s to the present as they struggle to find their places--and be true to themselves--in a rapidly evolving world. Mrs. Everything is an ambitious, richly textured journey through history--and herstory--as these two sisters navigate a changing America over the course of their lives"--

The Nickel boys : a novel

Colson Whitehead

FICTION Whitehead, Colson
Fiction

In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award-winning The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.00As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is "as good as anyone." Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides "physical, intellectual and moral training" so the delinquent boys in their charge can become "honorable and honest men."00In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear "out back." Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King's ringing assertion "Throw us in jail and we will still love you." His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.00The tension between Elwood's ideals and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys' fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.

Red at the bone

Jacqueline Woodson

FICTION Woodson, Jacqueline
Fiction

"Two familes from different social classes are joined together by an unexpected pregnancy and the child that it produces. As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody's coming of age ceremony in her grandparents' Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody's mother, for her own ceremony-- a celebration that ultimately never took place"--Adapted from jacket.

user image

Jacqueline Woodson writes in such a beautiful, poetic narrative. Red at the Bone is a story about choices and consequences. It examines how individuals within two families view and handle the circumstances that they are dealt by weaving together fragmented memories and moments experienced by these individuals.
- Becky

Tinfoil butterfly

Rachel Eve Moulton

FICTION Moulton Rachel
Fiction

Emma is hitchhiking across the United States, trying to outrun a violent, tragic past, when she meets Lowell, the hot-but-dumb driver she hopes will take her as far as the Badlands. But Lowell is not as harmless as he seems, and a vicious scuffle leaves Emma bloody and stranded in an abandoned town in the Black Hills with an out-of-gas van, a loaded gun, and a snowstorm on the way. The town is eerily quiet and Emma takes shelter in a diner, where she stumbles across Earl, a strange little boy in a tinfoil mask who steals her gun before begging her to help him get rid of "George." As she is pulled deeper into Earl's bizarre, menacing world, the horrors of Emma's past creep closer, and she realizes she can't run forever.

A lush and seething hell : two tales of cosmic horror

John Hornor Jacobs

FICTION Jacobs John
Fiction

[The author] turns his fertile imagination to the evil that breeds within the human soul. A brilliant mix of the psychological and supernatural, blending the acute insight of Roberto Bolaño and the eerie imagination of H. P. Lovecraft, The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky examines life in a South American dictatorship. Centered on the journal of a poet-in-exile and his failed attempts at translating a maddening text, it is told by a young woman trying to come to grips with a country that nearly devoured itself. In My Heart Struck Sorrow, a librarian discovers a recording from the Deep South -which may be the musical stylings of the Devil himself. Breathtaking and haunting,-- Adapted from dust jacket.

Things you save in a fire

Katherine Center

FICTION Center, Katherine

From the New York Times-bestselling author of How to Walk Away comes a stunning new novel about courage, hope, and learning to love against all odds. Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt and healing tour-de-force about the strength of vulnerability and the nourishing magic of forgiveness.