With another great year for books across all genres behind us, it’s time to look to the most popular books of the year and determine which ones are our favorites. Goodreads on December 10 will announce the picks from readers for their 11th annual Goodreads Choice Awards. Until then, to whet your appetite, BookTrib editors Jim Alkon and Jeff Daugherty present their own picks for this year’s standouts:

FICTION

Jim: Despite some stiff competition, I feel The Testaments (Nan A. Talese) practically won this category a year ago when Margaret Atwood announced it. It certainly lives us to its pre-launch hype and answers many questions left hanging from Atwood’s dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale. (OUR REVIEW)

Jeff: Any one of Goodreads’ picks for Best Fiction would have been a winner, but On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press) stands out as this year’s most unexpected work of fiction. Ocean Vuong demonstrates in his debut novel that his masterful control of language can easily make the leap from poetry to prose. Vuong’s words are never flowery and always honest and this epistolary novel is no exception. (OUR REVIEW)

MYSTERY AND THRILLER

Jim: Neil Nyren says author Alex Michaelides grew up reading Agatha Christie obsessively, “but Christie never wrote anything like this.” I’m going with The Silent Patient (Celadon Books). Not only does it grip you immediately, Nyren says, but “it takes you to dark corners of the human psyche you never knew existed.” (OUR REVIEW)

Jeff: The Silent Patient has to take it here. I enjoyed a few of the other thrillers on this list (An Anonymous Girl was a great read and a huge step up from The Wife Between Us) but between the slow burn, the use of unreliable narrators and the truly shocking ending, The Silent Patient is easily the thriller of the year. It published in February and it’s held that title all through 2019—that ought to tell you something.

HISTORICAL FICTION

Jim: It would be easy to pick masters like Ann Patchett or Colson Whitehead, and I could even make a case for Kate Quinn’s The Huntress. Call me sentimental, but Elin Hilderbrand’s brilliant Summer of ’69 (Little, Brown) cuts too close to home for me – the angst of the Sixties, Nantucket, even my hometown Brookline, MA. This layered tale captures the anxiety of the war period and brilliantly contrasts it to the unique highs and lows of four women during an eventful summer. (OUR REVIEW)

Jeff: If Colson Whitehead hadn’t written a book this year, Ann Patchett probably would’ve taken the prize for Best Historical Fiction. But he did, and The Nickel Boys (Doubleday) is everything that fans of The Underground Railroad have been waiting for. It’s a Jim Crow-era tragedy based on a heartbreakingly true story. Whether this is your first Whitehead novel or your fifth, it should be at the top of your TBR. (OUR REVIEW)

FANTASY

Jim: With George R.R. Martin in this category, how could one possibly go with another? Watch. In The Nine (She Writes Press), Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg masterfully weaves a story that contemplates the questions of how far is too far for a mother to go when it comes to protecting our children and looking out for what we think is their well being. (OUR REVIEW)

Jeff: The best fantasy novel of the year is Steel Crow Saga, obviously. But it’s not on this list, so let’s go with Of Blood and Bone (St. Martin’s Press). If you’re confused, and wondering why this book’s getting nominated again in 2019, you’re probably thinking of Children of Blood and Bone. Easy to confuse the two? There might’ve been some drama surrounding the novels’ similar titles last year. Anyway, you can’t go wrong with Nora Roberts.

ROMANCE

Jim: BookTrib reviewer Y.M. Nelson notes that when the breadth of your reading experience in paranormal fiction is a couple of YA series and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, almost nothing can prepare you for the popular world of paranormal romance. But with J. R. Ward’s new novel in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, The Savior (Gallery Books), you will want to delve further.  We’ll give the nod to book 17 in the series. (OUR REVIEW)

Jeff: Can The Unhoneymooners (Gallery Books) be called high concept? It’s got a pretty simple (though clever) premise: there’s a bought and paid for honeymoon and the only people who can go on it can’t stand each other. What ever will they do! Even Nora Ephron would’ve chuckled at this one. Give it a shot, it’s a fun, cute and light.

SCIENCE FICTION

Jim: Ian McEwan won me over years ago with one of his lesser-known books, Sweet Tooth, to the point that I jump blindly into any of his offerings. An unfair advantage? Perhaps. But let’s be real – where does he come up with this stuff: a love triangle between Charlie, Miranda and a near-perfect synthetic – that’s right, synthetic – human? One vote for Machines Like Me (Nan A. Talese).

Jeff: Blake Crouch makes sci-fi fun for non-sci-fi readers like me. Seriously, go on any list of recommended thrillers and you’ll find Recursion (Crown) and his first novel Dark Matter. This one even has a bit of a neonoir twist that’ll appeal to fans of Blade Runner. It’ll have you doubting everything you know, including the memories you hold closest. If you’re looking for a novel that’ll upend your life for a couple days, Recursion is it.

HORROR

Jim: Wakenhyrst (Apollo) by Michelle Paver is a creepy, easy read and ghastly ghost story in the gothic tradition, horrifyingly wonderful and well constructed with memorable characters. I’m giving it the nod over the all-too-easy-to-pick Stephen King.

Jeff: Kinda weird that Stephen Chbosky decided to follow up his seminal coming of age novel Perks of Being a Wallflower a whole twenty years later with a very long horror story for adults, but Imaginary Friend (Grand Central Publishing) is really good, so no complaints here. You’re going to feel uneasy reading this book. If you really want to pump up the dread, get the audiobook, turn off the lights, and try not to get too spooked.

HUMOR

Jim: Hope Rides Again (Quirk) by Andrew Shaffer, like its predecessor Hope Never Dies, is ridiculously insane and inventive, casting Barack Obama and Joe Biden as amateur sleuths. You almost want to say you can’t make this stuff up, but Shaffer just did – he’s my choice here for his combination of mystery, action, intrigue and absurdity. (OUR REVIEW)

Jeff: Whether you’re a fan of Chelsea Handler already or simply interested in a self-aware, hilarious slice of life memoir about dealing with one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory, Life Will Be the Death of Me (Spiegel & Grau) is the book for you. Plus, since it’s Chelsea Handler, it comes with hours of supplementary viewing material that’s readily available with your Netflix subscription.

NONFICTION

Jim: Therapists are real people too, you know – with their own set of personal issues. So when L.A. psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb faces a major crisis in her life, she decides to see a therapist of her own. I’m picking Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), for Gottlieb’s ability to take us to the inner chambers of her patients’ lives and finding that the questions they are struggling with are the very ones she is now bringing to Wendell. (OUR REVIEW)

Jeff: There’s a lot of competition this year. Rachel Hollis’ new book, the “My Favorite Murder” debut, another Malcolm Gladwell and another Mark Manson. The thing is, Ronan Farrow published Catch and Kill (Little, Brown) this year, and between its bombshell revelations and the long form fulfillment of Farrow’s investigative journalism that we’ve come to love, this one deserves the win. Also, Farrow supposedly proposed to Jon Lovett in the track changes of this book, so…

MEMOIR AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Jim: Maid (Hachette) by Stephanie Land takes this category on so many levels.  When the author turns to housekeeping to make ends meet, she provides important stories not only of the “working poor” but “the underbelly of upper-middle-class America and what it’s like to be in their service.”

Jeff: Saeed Jones’ How We Fight for Our Lives (Simon & Schuster) is a brilliant, beautiful meditation on race, sexuality, intersectionality and identity in America. It’ll gut you and make you laugh and honestly it’s short enough that you can read it on your flight back home for the holidays, so there’s really no excuse not to pick this one up. Don’t just take my word for it—Roxane Gay also loved this one. Is there a better endorsement than that?

HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY

 Jim: What a fascinating topic to explore: the lives of five women murdered by Jack the Ripper. In Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Hallie Rubenhold takes us on a gripping, gut-wrenching journey, setting straight some incorrect assumptions about the victims and letting us in on a slice of Victorian London.

Jeff: If you’re a fan of Bret Meltzer’s fiction, you might enjoy The First Conspiracy (Flatiron Books), a nonfiction history of the beginnings of the counterintelligence movement in the early days of the United States and the plot that could have led to George Washington’s death before the start of the Revolutionary War. It’s a thrilling story and an easy recommendation.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Jim: The Wall Street Journal calls Robert Macfarlane “the great nature writer of this generation.” Underland (W. W. Norton & Company) is being hailed as his crowning achievement, a magnificent exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself.

Jeff: Everybody fears death. It’s a fact of life. Just as HBO’s “Six Feet Under” made mortality a little less scary eighteen years ago, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? (W. W. Norton & Company) by mortician Caitlin Doughty aims to do the same. And it succeeds, as it’s very funny and actually very informative on subjects that you never thought you’d want to learn about. For every death-related question you were too afraid to ask, Doughty has an answer.

FOOD AND COOKBOOKS

Jim: I am as much intrigued by Kwame Onwuachi’s story as I am by his culinary talents.  His Twitter page describes him as “Forbes 30 Under 30, Zagat 30 under 30, top chef, James Beard winner, Author, Food and Wine Best New Chef, Hogwarts alumni,” and in his picture he’s smiling with the Obamas. Good enough for me – I’m going with Notes From a Young Black Chef (Knopf). Now about those recipes…

Jeff: Notes from a Young Black Chef is not really a cookbook. It’s a memoir and a book about race and a book about food. But this category isn’t just for cookbooks, and Goodreads nominated Kwame Onwuachi’s blockbuster debut. Read this one.

GRAPHIC NOVELS AND COMICS

Jim: I’m choosing Margaret Atwood for a second category, along with adapter/artist Renee Nault for The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel (Nan A. Talese), which well illustrates the power, imagery and effective storytelling ability of the graphic novel format. If you like red, you’ll love this book.

Jeff: Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks make a formidable writing duo. Pumpkinheads (First Second) is adorable and not just for YA readers.

POETRY

Jim: I can’t stop counting all the people who swear they got chills reading Lord of the Butterflies (Button Poetry) by Andrea Gibson. People are calling this moving work of poetry their best collection yet, and some go so far as to call it the most fascinating book of poetry they’ve ever read.

Jeff: It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Laurie Halse Anderson. Now the Speak author is back with a free verse poetry memoir, Shout (Viking Books for Young Readers), which deals with themes Anderson has covered before like survival and reclamation of the self. It’s a powerful and timely work, and the perfect companion piece to Anderson’s body of YA work.

DEBUT NOVEL

Jim: Hate to be a bore, but I’m making The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides my second two-time category winner, for the same reasons I gave it the nod in Mystery and Thriller. Sorry.

Jeff: Queenie (Gallery Books) may be next year’s TV hit, and Candice Carty-Williams is already literary fiction’s next sensation, so why wait to experience the debut of the year? Queenie is the story of a young woman finding herself while adrift in the multicultural sea of contemporary London. It’s a coming of age novel that considers race and gender identity in a society that defaults to “white, male.”

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Jim: I’ll go with Five Feet Apart by Rachel Lippincott (Simon and Schuster), the moving YA novel that captures the hearts of readers through its fragile tale of young love while giving much-needed attention to a debilitating lung disease–Cystic Fibrosis. The title of course: The young lovers can’t come within five feet of each other without risking their lives. In a BookTrib interview, the author says the most important message is to have the strength and the courage to live your life with an open mind and an open heart, no matter what your circumstances are. (OUR INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR)

Jeff: Angie Thomas made a splash with her courageous YA debut The Hate U Give. Her sophomore novel On the Come Up (Balzer + Bray) about the daughter of a late hip-hop legend is even more powerful. It’s a love letter to black youth and hip-hop ambitions. It’s a novel about dreams, written for teens by a young and gifted author who, like her protagonist, used to want to be a rapper. Perfect for YA audiences but can be enjoyed by all.

YOUNG ADULT FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION

Jim: My first thought was that 640 pages is a lot for anybody to stick with, but Neal Shusterman’s The Toll (Simon and Schuster) is worth it. It’s the highly anticipated finale to the bestselling trilogy, where dictators, prophets and tensions rise, and it asks the question of whether humanity will finally be torn apart by the immortal beings it created.

Jeff: Wilder Girls (Delacorte Press) is really, really good. Rory Power is a debut author to watch out for. (OUR REVIEW)

MIDDLE GRADE AND CHILDREN’S

Jim: Coyote and her dad travel the country in an old school bus for the five years since her mom and sisters were killed in a crash. But it’s time to go home again – and that’s not an easy journey. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise (Henry Holt and Co.) by Dan Femeinhart, a touching tale with lessons for all, is my selection here.

Jeff: Raina Telgemeier is just about the best at tackling uncomfortable subjects for middle grade readers. In some ways, growing up is as horrifying a body horror as any Cronenberg film. Guts (Graphix) (not to be confused with the Chuck Palahniuk story of the same name) does a great job depicting that uncertainty and anxiety.

PICTURE BOOKS

Jim: It would be easy to jump on the Mr. Rogers craze – two recent books and a high-profile movie – but I’ll go with Sulwe (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) by Lupita Nyong’o, a powerful, moving picture book about colorism, self-esteem, and learning that true beauty comes from within.

Jeff: Sulwe is a wonderful and beautifully-illustrated picture book about loving oneself. It has the added perk of being written by Lupita Nyong’o from Us and Black Panther.