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The Best Novels of 2019 (So Far)

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If you’re looking for an escape from 2019, these 10 novels promise to whisk you away into stunning settings. But they also tackle real-world concerns in creative ways, exploring everything from grief to mother-child relationships to spirituality. So whether you’re looking for an epic fantasy or a contemporary family drama, you’ll find something to love on our ranked list of the year’s best novels (so far).

10. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

This coming-of-age novel from Elizabeth Gilbert is a rousing testament to the power of female friendship, sexuality and ambition. Vivian Morris is 19 when she’s sent to live with her aunt and work in her theater—until scandal sends her back to her parents. But she’s given another chance at New York, and she doesn’t make the same mistake twice. Beginning shortly before World War II and following Vivian over decades, the book centers on the relationships between women and the men who support them. The result is a fascinating, emotionally complex tale about a young woman (and the not-so-young woman she ages into) trying to find her way while staying true to herself. —Bridey Heing

(Read Paste’s review of the book here.)

9. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

The first book in Marlon James’ Dark Star Trilogy is unpredictable in the best way. Influenced by African folklore and history, the novel follows a man named Tracker who joins a band of mercenaries hired to locate a kidnapped child. But this is no straightforward rescue tale; both human and supernatural forces are intent on murdering the mercenaries in myriad ways. On any given page, you’ll discover everything from witches to cannibalistic creatures in the band’s path, and it’s rarely clear which characters are trustworthy. Even more captivating than James’ ability to keep you guessing is the mystery he slowly unravels around the child, ensuring you’ll be clamoring for the sequels by the end. —Frannie Jackson

8. The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty

S.A. Chakraborty’s debut novel, The City of Brass, demonstrated that the mythology of the Middle East is fertile ground for fantasy literature. While City of Brass introduced the fraught politics of the djinn, its sequel, The Kingdom of Copper, tackles the millennia of war crimes and betrayals through its three point-of-view characters—all wanting the best for their city and all harboring their own resentments. It’s not a simple tale of good versus evil, but a complex web of characters believing they’re making the best choices to serve their people. Its twists and turns are surprising, setting up the next book in the Daevabad Trilogy for an epic finish. —Josh Jackson

(Read Paste’s review of the book here.)

7. Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Helen Oyeyemi’s newest novel can’t be summed up in a paragraph. Part grim fairy tale, part haunted bedtime story, part Baker Pixie Dream Girl bildungsroman, part Oliver-Twist-goes-to-the-Wonka-Factory, part private school parent board drama, part Kill the Rich thriller, part cozy mystery, part anti-geography lesson, Gingerbread manages to be every story and no story at the same time. Listening to Oyeyemi’s narration of Gingerbread’s audiobook might make it easier for readers to follow the tale, but it also might confound the situation further. For fans of Oyeyemi, either of those outcomes is truly a gift. Read it, listen to it, sleep with it under your pillow, allowing it take up prickly-sweet residence in your dreams. —Alexis Gunderson

(Read Paste’s review of the book here.)

6. Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

Quantum entanglement—a physical phenomenon that occurs between pairs of particles, no matter the distance between them—is as close to magic as anything described by science. In Seanan McGuire’s Middlegame, those pairs take the form of Roger and Dodger, a boy and a girl who can see through one another’s eyes and hear one another’s words. Theirs is a world anchored in both reality and fantasy, and that dichotomy is at the heart of McGuire’s tale. This clever coming-of-age story boasts two original leads and memorably menacing villains, delivering a page-turning thriller. McGuire already has Hugo and Nebula Awards under her belt, and it wouldn’t surprise us to see one more. —Josh Jackson

(Read Paste’s review of the book here.)

5. Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

Elizabeth McCracken’s entertaining novel starts with a bang: a woman shows up in a cemetery with a bag of gold bars, no explanations of how she got there, and plans to build a bowling alley. Her name, or at least the name she gives, is Bertha Truitt, and she refuses to say more about her life before she arrived in the small town of Salford. But once she builds her candlepin bowling alley, she brings together the town misfits into a family of sorts. This touching, often humorous book spans decades and generations, highlighting the way one person can change the numerous lives by giving them space in which to flourish. —Bridey Heing

(Read Paste’s review of the book here.)

4. Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s latest novel is a complex portrait of queerness, the immigrant experience and intergenerational trauma. When the titular Patsy has a chance to leave Jamaica for the United States, she takes it—despite having to leave behind her daughter. Over the course of a decade, Patsy and her daughter experience parallel struggles to find themselves in cultures that don’t want to accommodate them. Dennis-Benn’s richly nuanced characters navigate the lines between caring for themselves and caring for others, grappling with the ways we are capable of hurting the people we love the most. —Bridey Heing

(Read Paste’s review of the book here.)

3. Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad

Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s debut novel spans hundreds of years, weaving stories linked to a single location in Bangkok, Thailand. From a missionary doctor in the 19th century to teens in the drowned Bangkok of the future, the characters offer fascinating snapshots of life and loss linked to the enthralling city. While Sudbanthad’s novel requires a bit of work to identify how the diverse tales intertwine, the satisfaction you’ll experience at solving these quiet mysteries is well worth the effort. Bangkok Wakes to Rain heralds the introduction of a luminous novelist to watch, delivering a captivating story with every chapter. —Frannie Jackson

2. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & The Six, an oral history of a fictional rock band, explores how unreliable humans are both as narrators of our own lives and as participants in the lives of others. This visceral book is best experienced by listening to the full-cast audio version featuring Jennifer Beals, Pablo Schrieber, Benjamin Bratt and Judy Greer (among others). But the novel is killer no matter how you read it, encapsulating the rock-celebrity culture of the ‘70s with such glam, humane precision that you’ll forget neither Daisy Jones nor The Six are part of real rock’n’roll history. —Alexis Gunderson

1. The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

You’d expect Ann Leckie’s standalone foray into fantasy, The Raven Tower, couldn’t possibly be as sweeping as her Imperial Radch sci-fi trilogy. You’d be wrong. Framed as a story told by a silent boulder god to a mysterious you investigating a present-day mystery, The Raven Tower makes excellent use of its relative brevity. This is a world rich enough that a hundred more stories could be told about it (some of which Leckie has already written in short form), but the novel is satisfying all on its own. Is it possible you’ll be startled by how deeply you sympathize with a vengeful, millennia-old boulder god? Yes. But part of the joy of reading Leckie is uncovering such surprises. —Alexis Gunderson

Looking for more reading recommendations? Check out our lists of the best nonfiction books, best audiobooks, best Young Adult novels and best book covers of 2019 so far.

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