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The Best Books of 2024 (So Far)

The best books of 2024, halfway through the year.

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Every year, at the end of June and the end of December, I put out my list of the best books of the year.

Some years, the list explodes with books that are likely to become lifelong favorites. Others, I struggle to fill the list with worthy reads.

Filling the list at the halfway point of 2024 is, unfortunately, a bit of a struggle.

Of course, the list is always dependent on my personal reading: the books I choose, my habits, how quickly I read, how long I stick with non-5-star reads. I generally try to only include books published in 2024, so any 5-star backlist books are not included here (though let me know if you’d like me to include those!).

This year, looking back so far, I’ve read more backlist books than usual, making the pool of books to choose from smaller, and I’ve stuck with a lot of good-but-not-great books.

This isn’t a bad thing–I’ve enjoyed my reading–but it does make me reevaluate my approach for the rest of the year.

While I’ve been embracing lighter reading, and probably will through the summer, fall is always my favorite time for literary reading.

Because literary books are usually the ones that capture my bookish heart for life, I expect plenty more “best of the year” books to emerge.

Here’s what I’ve been loving so far this year.

My Favorite Books of 2024

The Women by Kristin Hannah

The Women

Author: Kristin Hannah
Publish Date: February 6, 2024
Genres: Historical Fiction

After years of hearing about the heroic men in her family who served their country, Frankie McGrath decides to take the same step: she joins the Army Nurse Corps to serve in Vietnam. With almost no nursing experience, she is thrown into the fire and learns on the job, facing the worst traumas imaginable. Through two tours, she gives everything she has trying to save the soldiers and the Vietnamese she treats–only to be roundly rejected when she returns to the U.S. Even after the war is over, Frankie’s personal war has just begun.

Hannah has topped her previous winners with this novel: it’s sure to be on my best of the year list. The Vietnam War has long been one of my favorite historical fiction topics and I was thrilled when this book was announced. The stories of the soldiers, medical staff, and Vietnamese deserve to be told. This one happens to tell the stories of the women who served, who were invisible to many of the people there (I chatted with a veteran neighbor about this book and he confirmed that he never saw a Western woman in Vietnam–which meant he was lucky, because he wasn’t injured). Highly recommended.

James by Percival Everett

James

Author: Percival Everett
Publish Date: March 19, 2024
Genres: Historical Fiction

After decades of endless readings and analysis of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Percival Everett gives us a new perspective: that of Jim, the enslaved man who escapes with Huck after he learns he is to be sold and separated from his wife and daughter. While we so often think of Huck Finn’s story as an adventure (with admittedly dark origins for Huck as well), for Jim it is a life-and-death journey. We learn of his intelligence, deep interest in philosophy, and the ways that he and other enslaved people adjust their language and behavior to survive and accommodate the white people who oppress them. Huck is rightly reframed as a mere child who Jim feels protective of but can actually do little to protect.

I don’t actually like retellings of classic novels (think modern versions of Jane Austen), but I do like novels told from the perspective of other characters (another that I enjoyed is March by Geraldine Brooks, which tells of the story of the father from Little Women). This one more closely adheres to the narrative we’re familiar with, while giving James a voice and agency. I would have liked to reread Huck Finn before starting this, so I recommend that if you have the opportunity. Nonetheless, the story is familiar and this new perspective isn’t just incredible, but feels necessary.

Just for the Summer by Abby Jimenez

Just for the Summer

Author: Abby Jimenez
Publish Date: April 2, 2024
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance

Emma and her friend Maddy are traveling nurses, moving to new places every few months and never settling anywhere. It suits Emma fine. When she reads a post from a man who says the women he dates always find “the one” after they break up, she responds on a whim and says the same is true for her. They begin texting and she feels pulled to go to Minnesota, where he lives. They agree to date for a short time, with the idea that they will each then meet their “one” after they break up. It’s a fun summer plan, but it goes sideways when they start to have real feelings. And Justin has complications that Emma is not ready to take on, while Emma’s past makes her just want to run.

This is the third in Jimenez’s Part of Your World series, though each book stands alone. I love all of Jimenez’s books–this one maybe a little less than the previous two, probably because the characters are younger. But Jimenez is amazing at giving her characters real issues to deal with. There aren’t easy answers here, for either Justin or Emma, and this really isn’t a rom-com. It has all the sweetness and banter of a good romance, with the depth that makes Jimenez one of the best of modern romance authors.

How to End a Love Story by Yulin Kuang

How to End a Love Story

Author: Yulin Kuang
Narrator: Katharine Chin & Andrew Eiden
Publish Date: April 9, 2024
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance

When Helen was a teenager, her younger sister died by suicide. The driver of the car that hit her was Grant Shepard, Helen’s classmate and town golden boy. Her family has never forgiven him, and Helen hasn’t seen him in 13 years. When her popular YA novel is adapted into a new television show, she is shocked to find Grant in the writers’ room with her. Grant knows that working with Helen will be tough, but he’s doing his best to manage his panic attacks since the accident, and this is an opportunity he needs. The two have always been different, but can they come together for the sake of the project–and will they find that sparks fly when they do?

Kuang hit all the right notes in what I like in a romance novel, with a similar approach to Abby Jimenez in taking heavy and emotional storylines and infusing romance and a bit of humor (the heavy topics veered this away from rom-com territory, but there was levity). The writers’ room setting added an interesting forced proximity element, with added professional tension and vibrant side characters. I’m looking forward to more from her. (And as an interesting aside, Yulin Kuang is the adapting screenwriter for Emily Henry’s People We Meet on Vacation and the writer/director of Henry’s Beach Read. So she knows both romance and screenwriting well!)

Colton Gentry's Third Act by Jeff Zentner

Colton Gentry’s Third Act

Author: Jeff Zentner
Narrator: Charlie Thurston
Publish Date: April 30, 2024
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Romance

Colton Gentry is a country star on the rise when he makes a career-ending mistake: he rants about guns onstage. He is quickly canceled by all of country music, his superstar wife ends their already-rocky marriage, and he returns home to mourn his career–and the best friend who was killed in a mass shooting. When he runs into his former high school love, Luann, she offers him a spot as a sous chef in her restaurant. It’s his second chance: at life, at sobriety, and maybe at a chance with Luann–if he can keep it together and commit to all of them.

I loved this heartfelt story of grief and rekindled flames. The story alternated timelines to tell the origin story of Colton and Luann, and Colton’s song “Honeysuckle Summer” was a good descriptor for those golden-tinged days of the past. There’s plenty of romance here, in both past and present, but also friendship, redemption, and family. Highly recommended for those who like romance books with a bit more to offer.

Ordinary Bear by C.B. Bernard

Ordinary Bear

Author: C.B. Bernard
Publish Date: April 16, 2024
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers, Literary Fiction

Farley is a bear of a man, and as one of the only white men in the Iñupiat Alaskan village where he works as an investigator for an oil company, he stands out. When his young daughter comes to visit from Oregon, tragedy strikes. Farley is left injured and broken over his inability to save her. He returns to his home in Oregon to search for some kind of redemption. On arrival, he makes friends with a mother and her young daughter, as well as some of the homeless population. When the daughter disappears, he vows to get her back. As he searches, he treks through the darker corners of Portland, and his own memories, ready to do anything to save her–and himself.

I loved this literary mystery and found myself alternately shocked and heartbroken. The tone of it reminded me of We Begin at the End, which I also loved, though the story is very different. Highly recommended.

Margo's Got Money Troubles by Rufi Thorpe

Margo’s Got Money Troubles

Author: Rufi Thorpe
Narrator: Elle Fanning
Publish Date: June 11, 2024
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

Margo is twenty and pregnant–and the father is her English professor at her junior college. She decides to keep the baby and is confident she can manage on her own–with an ex-pro-wrestler father and Hooters waitress mother, she always has. But the world is not set up for single mothers and she struggles to keep a job–and the roommates she needs to make rent. When her dad, Jinx, shows up and moves in, his tales of pro-wrestling give her an idea: OnlyFans. She discovers that the platform is all about storytelling and works to build her following. But the one thing that saves her could also be her downfall.

What a delightful surprise this book was! I wasn’t sure what to expect–both pro-wrestling and OnlyFans are well out of my wheelhouse, but this offered smart commentary on both, on topics including showmanship, storytelling, character, “real” vs. fake, and what is considered “legitimate” work–all in a funny, heartfelt story. Margo is smart and determined, even as she realizes how unbending the world is to parents and how she needs to find clever solutions of her own (as all parents seem to). It might just change your perspective on some of these “seedier” pursuits and the reasons people do them.


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The Best Books of 2024 (So Far)

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