2019 Award Winning Books
BookBrowseSince 2000, BookBrowse has asked its members and subscribers to select the best books published each year. Through a rigorous voting process, this shortlist is then honed down to find the BookBrowse Awards Winners.
Best Fiction - Olive Again, by Elizabeth StroudPrickly, wry, resistant to change yet ruthlessly honest and deeply empathetic, Olive Kitteridge is "a compelling life force" (San Francisco Chronicle). The New Yorker has said that Elizabeth Strout "animates the ordinary with an astonishing force," and she has never done so more clearly than in these pages, where the iconic Olive struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the unforgettable Olive will continue to startle us, to move us, and to inspire us—in Strout’s words--"to bear the burden of the mystery with as much grace as we can."
Best Debut Author- Solitary, by Albert WoodfoxSolitary is the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement―in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in notorious Angola prison in Louisiana―all for a crime he did not commit. That Albert Woodfox survived was, in itself, a feat of extraordinary endurance against the violence and deprivation he faced daily. That he was able to emerge whole from his odyssey within America’s prison and judicial systems is a triumph of the human spirit, and makes his book a clarion call to reform the inhumanity of solitary confinement in the U.S. and around the world.
Arrested often as a teenager in New Orleans, inspired behind bars in his early twenties to join the Black Panther Party because of its social commitment and code of living, Albert was serving a 50-year sentence in Angola for armed robbery when on April 17, 1972, a white guard was killed. Albert and another member of the Panthers were accused of the crime and immediately put in solitary confinement by the warden. Without a shred of actual evidence against them, their trial was a sham of justice that gave them life sentences in solitary. Decades passed before Albert gained a lawyer of consequence; even so, sixteen more years and multiple appeals were needed before he was finally released in February 2016.
Remarkably self-aware that anger or bitterness would have destroyed him in solitary confinement, sustained by the shared solidarity of two fellow Panthers, Albert turned his anger into activism and resistance. The Angola 3, as they became known, resolved never to be broken by the grinding inhumanity and corruption that effectively held them for decades as political prisoners. He survived to give us Solitary, a chronicle of rare power and humanity that proves the better spirits of our nature can thrive against any odds.
Best Nonfiction- Becoming, by Michelle ObamaIn a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.
Best Young Adult- Butterfly Yellow, by Thanhha LaiPerfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo, Ibi Zoboi, and Erika L. Sanchez, this gorgeously written and deeply moving own voices novel is the YA debut from the award-winning author of Inside Out & Back Again. 4 starred reviews!
In the final days of the Viet Nam War, Hang takes her little brother, Linh, to the airport, determined to find a way to safety in America. In a split second, Linh is ripped from her arms -- and Hang is left behind in the war-torn country.
Six years later, Hang has made the brutal journey from Viet Nam and is now in Texas as a refugee. She doesn't know how she will find the little brother who was taken from her until she meets LeeRoy, a city boy with big rodeo dreams, who decides to help her.
Hang is overjoyed when she reunites with Linh. But when she realizes he doesn’t remember her, their family, or Viet Nam, her heart is crushed. Though the distance between them feels greater than ever, Hang has come so far that she will do anything to bridge the gap.
Booker Prize - 2020 Short ListAwarded in October each year, the Booker Prize is the UK's top literary prize and the most watched single-book award in the English-speaking world. Until 2013 the award was open only to citizens of the Commonwealth of nations (in essence, the UK and former British colonies). As of 2014 the award is open to authors worldwide so long as their work is in English and published in the UK.
Real Life, by Brandon TaylorWallace has spent his summer in the lab breeding a strain of microscopic worms. He is four years into a biochemistry degree at a lakeside Midwestern university, a life that’s a world away from his childhood in Alabama. His father died a few weeks ago, but Wallace didn’t go back for the funeral, and he hasn’t told his friends – Miller, Yngve, Cole and Emma. For reasons of self-preservation, he has become used to keeping a wary distance even from those closest to him. But, over the course of one blustery end-of-summer weekend, the destruction of his work and a series of intense confrontations force Wallace to grapple with both the trauma of the past, and the question of the future.
Deftly zooming in and out of focus, Real Life is a deeply affecting story about the emotional cost of reckoning with desire, and overcoming pain.
Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart1981. Glasgow. The city is dying. Poverty is on the rise. People watch the lives they had hoped for disappear from view. Agnes Bain had always expected more. She dreamed of greater things: a house with its own front door, a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect – but false – teeth). When her philandering husband leaves, she and her three children find themselves trapped in a mining town decimated by Thatcherism. As Agnes increasingly turns to alcohol for comfort, her children try their best to save her. Yet one by one they have to abandon her in order to save themselves.
It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. But Shuggie has problems of his own: despite all his efforts to pass as a ‘normal boy’, everyone has decided that Shuggie is ‘no right’. Agnes wants to support and protect her son, but her addiction has the power to eclipse everyone close to her, including her beloved Shuggie.
Laying bare the ruthlessness of poverty, the limits of love, and the hollowness of pride, Shuggie Bain is a blistering and heartbreaking debut, and an exploration of the unsinkable love that only children can have for their damaged parents.
The New Wilderness, by Diane CookA daring, passionate and terrifying novel about a mother’s battle to save her daughter in a world ravaged by climate change.
Bea's five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is wasting away, consumed by the smog and pollution of the over-developed metropolis they call home. If they stay in the city, Agnes will die, but there is only one alternative - joining a group of volunteers in the Wilderness State. This vast expanse of unwelcoming, untamed land is untouched by mankind. Until now. Living as nomadic hunter-gatherers, Bea and Agnes slowly learn how to survive on this unpredictable, often dangerous land. But as Agnes embraces the wild freedom of her new existence, Bea realises that saving her daughter’s life means losing her in a different way.
At once a blazing lament of our contempt for nature and a deeply humane portrayal of motherhood, and what it means to be human, The New Wilderness is an extraordinary, compelling novel for our times.
Burnt Sugar, by Avni DoshiIn her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her loveless marriage to join an ashram, endured a brief stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents), and spent years chasing after a dishevelled, homeless 'artist' - all with her young child in tow. Now she is forgetting things, mixing up her maid's wages and leaving the gas on all night, and her grown-up daughter is faced with the task of caring for a woman who never cared for her.
This is a love story and it is a story about betrayal. But not between lovers - between mother and daughter. Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Avni Doshi tests the limits of what we can know for certain about those we are closest to, and by extension, about ourselves.
This Mournable Body, by Tsitsi DangarembgaIn this tense and psychologically charged novel, Tsitsi Dangarembga channels the hope and potential of one young girl and a fledgling nation to lead us on a journey to discover where lives go after hope has departed.
Here we meet Tambudzai, living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare and anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job. At every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.
The Shadow King, by Maaza MengisteEthiopia. 1935. With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid. Her new employer, Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilise his strongest men before the Italians invade. Hirut and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale. She helps disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor and soon becomes his guard, inspiring other women to take up arms. But how could she have predicted her own personal war, still to come, as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers? The Shadow King casts light on the women soldiers written out of African and European history. It is a captivating exploration of female power, and what it means to be a woman at war.
The John Newbery MedalAwarded in October each year, the Booker Prize is the UK's top literary prize and the most watched single-book award in the English-speaking world. Until 2013 the award was open only to citizens of the Commonwealth of nations (in essence, the UK and former British colonies). As of 2014 the award is open to authors worldwide so long as their work is in English and published in the UK.
Merci Suarez Changes Gears, by Meg MedinaThoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.
Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren't going well at home, either: Merci's grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately -- forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what's going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.
Edgar AwardsMystery Writers of America is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre. MWA is dedicated to promoting higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre. Each Spring, Mystery Writers of America present the Edgar® Awards, widely acknowledged to be the most prestigious awards in the genre.
Best Novel - Down the River unto the Sea, by Walter MosleyIn this Edgar Award-winning novel, "Mosley writes with great power" about a framed NYPD investigator facing racism and political corruption (Booklist).
Joe King Oliver was one of the NYPD's finest investigators, until, dispatched to arrest a well-heeled car thief, he is framed for assault by his enemies within the NYPD, a charge which lands him in solitary at Rikers Island.
A decade later, King is a private detective, running his agency with the help of his teenage daughter, Aja-Denise. Broken by the brutality he suffered and committed in equal measure while behind bars, his work and his daughter are the only light in his solitary life. When he receives a card in the mail from the woman who admits she was paid to frame him those years ago, King realizes that he has no choice but to take his own case: figuring out who on the force wanted him disposed of--and why.
Running in parallel with King's own quest for justice is the case of a Black radical journalist accused of killing two on-duty police officers who had been abusing their badges to traffic in drugs and women within the city's poorest neighborhoods.
Joined by Melquarth Frost, a brilliant sociopath, our hero must beat dirty cops and dirtier bankers, craven lawyers, and above all keep his daughter far from the underworld in which he works. All the while, two lives hang in the balance: King's client's, and King's own.
Best First Novel by an American Author - Bearskin, by James A McLaughlinRice Moore is just beginning to think his troubles are behind him. He’s found a job protecting a remote forest preserve in Virginian Appalachia where his main responsibilities include tracking wildlife and refurbishing cabins. It’s hard work, and totally solitary—perfect to hide away from the Mexican drug cartels he betrayed back in Arizona. But when Rice finds the carcass of a bear killed on the grounds, the quiet solitude he’s so desperately sought is suddenly at risk.
More bears are killed on the preserve and Rice’s obsession with catching the poachers escalates, leading to hostile altercations with the locals and attention from both the law and Rice’s employers. Partnering with his predecessor, a scientist who hopes to continue her research on the preserve, Rice puts into motion a plan that could expose the poachers but risks revealing his own whereabouts to the dangerous people he was running from in the first place.
James McLaughlin expertly brings the beauty and danger of Appalachia to life. The result is an elemental, slow burn of a novel—one that will haunt you long after you turn the final page.
Best Paperback Original - If I Die Tonight, by Alison GaylinReminiscent of the bestsellers of Laura Lippman and Harlan Coben -- with a dose of Big Little Lies or Stranger Things -- an absorbing, addictive tale of psychological suspense from the author of the highly acclaimed and Edgar Award-nominated What Remains of Me and the USA Today bestselling and Shamus Award-winning Brenna Spector series, in which a seemingly open-and-shut police case with a clear-cut hero and villain turns out to be anything but simple.
Late one night in the quiet Hudson Valley town of Havenkill, a distraught woman stumbles into the police station—and lives are changed forever.
Aimee En, once a darling of the '80s pop music scene, claims that a teenage boy stole her car, then ran over another young man who'd rushed to help.
As Liam Miller's life hangs in the balance, the events of that fateful night begin to come into focus. But is everything as it seems?
The case quickly consumes social media, transforming Liam, a local high school football star, into a folk hero, and the suspect, a high school outcast named Wade Reed, into a depraved would-be killer. But is Wade really guilty? And if he isn't, why won't he talk?
Told from a kaleidoscope of viewpoints -- Wade's mother Jackie, his younger brother Connor, Aimee En and Pearl Maze, a young police officer with a tragic past, If I Die Tonight is a story of family ties and dark secrets—and the lengths we'll go to protect ourselves.
Best Fact Crime - Tinderbox, by Robert W. FieselerAn essential work of American civil rights history, Tinderbox mesmerizingly reconstructs the 1973 fire that devastated New Orleans' subterranean gay community.
Buried for decades, the Up Stairs Lounge tragedy has only recently emerged as a catalyzing event of the gay liberation movement. In revelatory detail, Robert W. Fieseler chronicles the tragic event that claimed the lives of thirty-one men and one woman on June 24, 1973, at a New Orleans bar, the largest mass murder of gays until 2016. Relying on unprecedented access to survivors and archives, Fieseler creates an indelible portrait of a closeted, blue- collar gay world that flourished before an arsonist ignited an inferno that destroyed an entire community. The aftermath was no less traumatic―families ashamed to claim loved ones, the Catholic Church refusing proper burial rights, the city impervious to the survivors' needs―revealing a world of toxic prejudice that thrived well past Stonewall. Yet the impassioned activism that followed proved essential to the emergence of a fledgling gay movement. Tinderbox restores honor to a forgotten generation of civil-rights martyrs.
Best Critical/Biographical - Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s, by Leslie S. KlingerA riveting collection of five of the most famous crime novels of the 1920s, presenting anew some of the most admired authors of the era―with insightful annotations by the Edgar-winning anthologist Leslie S. Klinger. American crime writing was reborn in the 1920s. After years of dominance by British authors, new American writers―with fresh ideas about the detective and the mystery -- appeared on the scene and rose to heights of popularity not witnessed since the success of the Sherlock Holmes tales in America.
Classic American Crime Writing of the 1920s -- including House Without a Key, The Benson Murder Case, The Roman Hat Mystery, Red Harvest, and Little Caesar -- offers some of the very best of that decade's writing. Earl Derr Biggers wrote about Charlie Chan, a Chinese-American detective, at a time when racism was rampant. S. S. Van Dine invented Philo Vance, an effete, rich amateur psychologist who flourished while America danced and the stock market rose. The quintessential American detective Ellery Queen leapt onto the stage, to remain popular for fifty years. Dashiell Hammett brings readers another mystery narrated by the Continental Op. W. R. Burnett, created the indelible character of Rico, the first gangster antihero.
Each of the five novels included is presented in its original published form, with extensive historical and cultural annotations and illustrations added by Edgar-winning editor Leslie S. Klinger, allowing the reader to experience the story to its fullest. Klinger's detailed foreword gives an overview of the history of American crime writing from its beginnings in the early years of America to the twentieth century. This gorgeously illustrated volume includes over 100 color and black and white images as well as an introduction by the eminent mystery publisher Otto Penzler.
Young Adult - Sadie, by Courtney SummersA missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial -- like podcast following the clues she's left behind. And an ending you won't be able to stop talking about.
Sadie hasn't had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she's been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.
But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie's entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister's killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.
When West McCray -- a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America -- overhears Sadie's story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie's journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it's too late.
Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.
National Book AwardsFirst awarded in 1950, the National Book Awards recognize the best of American literature. The Awards are announced in November.
Fiction - Trust Exercise, by Susan ChoiIn an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes. When within this striving "Brotherhood of the Arts," two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed -- or untoyed with -- by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley.
The outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and of their future adult lives, fails to penetrate this school's walls -- until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true -- though it’s not false, either. It takes until the book's stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place -- revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.
As captivating and tender as it is surprising, Susan Choi's Trust Exercise will incite heated conversations about fiction and truth, and about friendships and loyalties, and will leave readers with wiser understandings of the true capacities of adolescents and of the powers and responsibilities of adults.
Nonfiction - The Yellow House, by Sarah M. BroomA brilliant, haunting and unforgettable memoir from a stunning new talent about the inexorable pull of home and family, set in a shotgun house in New Orleans East.
In 1961, Sarah M. Broom's mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant -- the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah's father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventually number twelve children. But after Simon died, six months after Sarah's birth, the Yellow House would become Ivory Mae's thirteenth and most unruly child.
A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom's The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America's most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother's struggle against a house's entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser-known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the "Big Easy" of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.