I read 90 books in 2019 (less than last year, by design.) The best of the lot are summarized below and my Goodreads reviews for each can be found here. (To be clear, not all of these books came out in 2019. That’s just when I read them.)
As usual, in 2019 I tried to read books in many different genres, with an emphasis on perspectives and voices that don’t always echo my own. Hopefully you’ll find a suggestion below that connects with you and inspires your 2020 reading list–even if that’s just to read a single book.
I read a number of great sci-fi books this year and my favorite was the twisty time travel novel, Recursion by Blake Crouch. This book made my head hurt… in a good way, (and my heart too). Runners up for the top spot were the very X-men-esque story, The Nobody People by Bob Proehl, (Word of warning: this book is the start of a series and ends in a cliffhanger) and the beautiful, trippy book, Light From Other Stars by Erika Swyler, a meditation on space, time, and love.
My choice for best memoir is hands-down Know My Name by Chanel Miller. You likely heard about Miller’s story in the news (after she was assaulted at Stanford University by a person I won’t waste space mentioning here by name.) This book tells her side of the story, and it’s a powerfully written one. Runner up: The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.
I read a lot of thrillers each year and the book No Exit by Taylor Adams easily stood out from the bunch. It’s a claustrophobic, tightly-paced tale about a small group of people trapped in a snowstorm at a highway rest stop…one of whom has an abducted child locked in their car. Runner up: The Whisper Man by Alex North.
Best YA (Young Adult)
My favorite YA book of the year was Frankly in Love by David Yoon, a refreshingly new take on the teen love story with many interesting insights on race, racism, and growing up as the child of immigrants. This book is witty, nerdy, and very charming. Runner up: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett.
Best Historical Fiction
The book, Things in Jars by Jess Kidd is as loosely connected to “history” as you can get. The book takes place in Victorian era London where a super smart lady detective, her seven foot tall maid, and a ghost (whom the detective has a bit of a crush on) try to track down a kidnapped mermaid-like creature. Note: I read an early galley of this book. It won’t be published until February 4.
I feel like each year I bemoan the state of romance writing. Most of it just doesn’t connect with me. However, this year I had luck with TWO books: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and The Things I Know by Amanda Prowse. Both stories featured non-traditional characters, which helped avoid some of the He-Man/Princess tropes that tends to make books in this genre feel formulaic.
As someone who would indeed go to the ends of the world for her pups, the book A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher was an easy sell for me. I was delighted to find the writing of this book as strong as the premise. This book is chock full of twists, so I’m not going to say another word about the story.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, (who also wrote the gorgeous book, The Night Circus) will not be for everyone. It’s very long and takes its time telling its story about a magic library in the center of the Earth and the people who protect the stories housed there. However, if you’re a fan of books and the art of storytelling, (and can get on board with Sea’s lush descriptions and rather dreamy pacing) this is a lovely read.
Full disclosure: I know author Brian Solis and like him an awful lot. I thought his latest book, Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life was pretty great and had some genuinely helpful and educational information in it, (which is my #1 requirement for reading non-fiction.)
Best Literary Fiction
This was a hard one. I read a lot of very good literary fiction this year, but wasn’t necessarily in love with any one book. However, there were some standouts. I finally got around to reading Madeline Miller‘s CIRCE and found it worthy of all the high praise. I also really liked Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner, Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner and The Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler, (which will be published in March).
Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton is being billed as “The Secret Life of Pets” meets “The Walking Dead” and the description is somewhat apt. It’s a zombie apocalypse story narrated by a domesticated crow named S.T. who says things like, “who doesn’t find a sparrow to be a delicious hors d’oeuvre? They’re like airborne pizza rolls.” To be clear, the book itself is NOT funny–things get mighty serious for S.T. and his bloodhound friend, Dennis on their adventures. But this narrator’s unique voice and insights into human behavior make this book a memorable read.
Best Stephen King
As I mention every year, if “Uncle Stevie” keeps churning out the books, I’ll keep reading them. I liked his latest offering,(even if–in my opinion–it had some structural issues and didn’t necessarily stick the landing). It’s got all the hallmarks we’ve come to expect in a fast-paced King read: a kid with cool abilities, a well-meaning but flawed adult who is trying to help that kid, and some bad folks they must battle along the way.
The Warehouse by Rob Hart could also be classified as “Sci-Fi” but that category was getting crowded at the top of the post, so I’m using its alternate one here. If you’ve ever bought anything from Amazon, you should read this book. It takes place in a “future” not so far removed from our reality and is guaranteed to make you think before you click that “buy” button again. (Read it before the inevitably watered-down movie version comes out.)
Best Weird Books
I read some delightfully weird books this year. Two of them I really loved and one was so weird I’m not even sure how I feel about it. First up is Little Weirds, Jenny Slate‘s memoir, (which is more like a collection of interesting essays). This book IS weird… and beautiful and inspirational. I also loved the book Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson about a woman who is a nanny for children who spontaneously combust (!). As for the third book, Bunny by Mona Awad? Well, it’s one of the weirdest books I’ve EVER read, akin to maybe watching the movie Heathers on acid. Can’t say that I loved reading it but it might be entertaining for you if you’re up for “WTF is happening right now?” adventures in your brain.
Best Author Encounter
I read a lot of books each year, which means I write a lot of book reviews too. This year that practice led to a truly unique interaction. After reading a galley of the book Darkness: Book One of the Oortian Wars by Iain Richmond I wrote a long, detailed review that described my enjoyment of the material, but also outlined a few areas where I felt like the book had weaknesses. Imagine my surprise when the author emailed me personally to offer a very thoughtful, honest response to my review, even agreeing with some of my points. I think Richmond’s classiness is reason enough to give his book a shout out in my annual list. Just a reminder that writing books is a hard, lonely business. Be kind with your words online my friends, because you never know who is reading them.