Our Favorite Reads 2019

Whether it’s your mother complaining you look too tired/thin/fat/overworked or that one brother-in-law insisting he’s found the perfect unicorn investment to sink your life savings into (all $250 of it!), it seems like everyone has an opinion this time of year.

We here at DeadDarlings are no different except that our opinions might actually hook you into a good read. With all the year-end lists of best books out there (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), we couldn’t resist creating one of our own! So shrug off all that unwanted advice about Marie Kondo-ing your home, improving your parenting style, or upgrading your job/boyfriend/investment portfolio/skincare routine/car/life and pick up one of our favorite reads. It might just change your life.

(Do you have a favorite read you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!)

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Hands down, my favorite read of 2019 would have to be Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes a Novel. I wrote my first book by the seat of my pants. It was a long, messy process. When I started my second one, I wanted to have more of a plan ahead of time, and get it done quicker. Brody’s step-by-step advice was a great place to start. My first draft is almost done!

Tracey Palmer

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My favorite read is the screenplay for the movie Seven. I was struggling to plot my serial killer novel and it turns out Seven isn’t just one of the creepiest movies ever, it’s a classic example of story structure that works without being formulaic. I used it as a roadmap, and it got me past my roadblocks and pushed me to places in my writing I would never have gone to without it.

Emily Ross

Author of Half in Love with Death

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The literary love of my life this year is Bunny by Mona Awad. It’s dark and surprising, voice-y and implosive, hilarious and tragic. It reminds me to take risks and have fun with my own novel in progress. The writer and the reader in me loved living in its lines, and that’s where I want to live now forever, Bunny.

Sara Shukla

Follow on Twitter @sarajshukla

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The novel I’m constantly thinking about this year is Diane Setterfield’s Once upon a River, which is set along the banks of the Thames at the turn of the 20th century. Setterfield has woven together four major story arcs, each with its own cast of quirky characters, into one immensely satisfying ending.

Julie Peterson

Follow on Twitter @theJulieP

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I loved The Travelers by Regina Porter. She creates a sweeping family story in such beautiful, tight language that it doesn’t feel like a saga. The Great American Novel doesn’t have to be a doorstop!

Helen Bronk

Year 5 Novel Incubator graduate

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A recent book I adored: Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham. Vivid, extraordinary research that broke my heart and made the tragedy come alive in a way it hadn’t before. I simply can’t wrap my head around all the mistakes and shortcuts made in the construction of the reactor and then in clean up afterwards. The explosion and meltdown, I think, is the least understood and most deadly disaster of the century.

Rachel Barenbaum

Author of A Bend in the Stars

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Sometimes I question whether writing multiple points of view is a smart move, but I keep recalling Tommy Orange’s There There, to remind myself how inner conflict can smolder like a hush, and how interrelationships among characters can be left murky and still draw a multi-dimensional space. There There offers some of the finest evidence that if the writing is good enough, readers don’t need all the answers splayed out like a roadmap.

Pamela Loring

Founder of The Salty Quill Writers Retreat

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I was blown away by Nathan Hill’s delightful, diverting, and poignant novel The Nix, a 600+ page debut that somehow manages to weave together our current media-political reality with Norwegian myths, massively multiplayer online gaming, and the 1968 democratic convention. It’s a wonderful story about love, protests that spin into riots, and adult children finally finding lost parents.

James LaRowe

Year 7 Novel Incubator graduate

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I’m currently reading The Seas by Samantha Hunt, published in 2004, reprinted in 2018.  It’s obsessive, dreamy, weird, hilarious and magical, and encourages me to continue to play and explore with my own writing, to color outside the lines.

Louise Berliner

Year 5 Novel Incubator graduate

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My favorite read of 2019 was the ARC for Jane Gilmartin’s The Mirror Man. Jane is a member of my writing group, and to see this book go from early drafts to the nearly finished product has been nothing short of inspiring. Seeing Jane’s journey through the querying stage, the almost-giving-up-but-writing-group-wouldn’t-let-me stage, the I-got-an-agent-oh-wait-they-left-the-biz-what-now-oh-good-I-got-another-one stage, to planning her book launch and beyond I’m reminded that it isn’t just the writing that takes perseverance. And The Mirror Man is a phenomenal story!

Leanna Hamill

Follow on Twitter @leanna_h_

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My favorite read from 2019 was a reread of Hanya Yanigahara’s novel A Little Life. Originally published in 2015, a new version of the softcover came out this year, and it became the third copy of this book sitting on my shelves. It’s about four friends who go through life together supporting one another through various trials and tribulations, but it focuses in on Jude, who has a traumatic past that, despite the amazing life he is able to create for himself in adulthood, remains around every corner to haunt him. It is in turns harrowing and joyous, but overall is an emotionally obliterating novel I just can’t stop thinking about or keep myself from picking up over and over again. The sheer love you will feel for these characters makes this an incredible novel.

Kate Burcak

Follow on Twitter @kateburcak

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I read a ton of books this year. The ones that most obsessed and inspired me are There There by Tommy Orange, Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, and Bunny by Mona Awad!

Andrea Meyer

Follow on Instagram @dreamama or Twitter @dreameyer

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Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson sat on my bookshelf for years and I’m glad I finally read it. The author uses weather, the human body, and a present-day trial to tell the complicated story of a community and one person’s struggle to let go of the past and move on. A great model text for use of setting and structure.

Jennifer Johnson

Year 5 Novel Incubator graduate

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Though neither of these books are recent titles, both have stayed with me:

Last Orders by Graham Swift has multiple first person POV characters. Despite their similarities in background, and ages, each character has an absolutely distinct voice. And it is the simplest of set ups: four men driving from London to the sea to spread the ashes of a fifth man. Their histories, resentments, affection and jealousies are masterfully intertwined.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes is also multiple points of view in third person. I read via a combo of print and audio. (I highly recommend the audio. The actor is a genius.) This is a sweeping novel about the Vietnam War. I can’t say enough about all this writer accomplishes, but for starters, he put me in the mountains and jungle with the use of sensory hooks. He also writes about race and racism among the Americans thoughtfully and honestly.

Deborah Good

Year 4 Novel Incubator graduate

1 comment

  1. Two more recommendations I’d like to add:

    This is tough because I’ve read so many spectacular books this year. I could put forth Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling for the incredible way he gets so deep into the psyche of his young, battered protagonist, or Ali Smith’s Winter for her brilliant and utterly unique storytelling, or Deirdre Madden’s The Birds of the Innocent Wood for her impeccable and precise prose, but I will opt for Donal Ryan’s From a Low and Quiet Sea for its intriguing structure and the way he uses such a structure, combined with marvelous prose, to tell a searing and engrossing tale in under 200 pages.
    Bob Fernandes
    Follow on Instagram @isolovedoris
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    Light Years by James Salter. So many novels start off with dazzling prose then slip into a lower gear, so to speak. The care in crafting the language is just not the same after the first chapter or so. The sentences are not as memorable. But Salter composes sentences brilliantly, page after page, from start to finish. For me, he’s the best American composer of the sentence. I’ve been re-reading Light Years throughout 2019 to decode his style and improve my own writing.
    Desmond Hall
    Author of the forthcoming novel Your Corner Dark
    Follow on Twitter @AuthorDesmond

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