What a wild year. I discovered so many great books this year! Some of them were rather old, but some of them were brand spanking new. All of them were first reads (I could gush about some rereads too!). I had a lot of five star reads. I’ve only recently begun using star ratings on GoodReads. I wanted to see how it would work and I think I like it. Half of the fun of doing this list was going back and reading my original reviews/notes on GoodReads. So much gushing!
These books inspired me (one even gave me a huge breakthrough on my own novel!), they broadened my horizons, they made me laugh and they made me cry. I started the year saying I wanted to read more classics, and boy, I sure did. Now I think I want to dial that back a bit, but there are still several classics on my list. I’m already planning for 2020. But for now, here is (in no particular order) what rocked my world in 2019.
Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes!)
by Lorna Landvik (Contemporary Fiction)
I didn’t want this to get lost in the shuffle, so it goes on top. A seemingly quiet regional book, this is really much more than that. It goes beyond to suggest to us several things: what makes a good life? What makes a good person? How do you reconcile something that you’ve done that felt right but you knew was wrong? What do you want to be remembered for? And so much more. Landvik is local to me, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her several times. This book shines with her usual wit, but Haze, her main character, is enough of her own person to be separate. The story is told in a series of her small-town newspaper columns, as she lies in a coma. We also get to meet several of her friends, and get a bit of the stories of their lives, most notably 14 year old Sam, whose voice rose above everything. I loved the format of this story, I loved the genuine voices, and I wanted to be within the pages more than anything. Fans of A Man Called Ove, Landline by Rainbow Rowell or Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk will love this!
The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe
(Supernatural Contemporary Fantasy)
The mark of a good book for me is how long the feeling of it stays with me, or how long I can hear the character’s voice in my head. Well, it’s only been about a month since I read this one, but I know that these characters and this story will stay with me for a while. This was a perfect October read, but it was much more than that. The story of Connie, a woman finding her way, endowed with gifts she may not understand, is interspersed with the stories of her ancestors, such as Deliverance Dane and Temperance Hobbs. You may remember The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Luckily for us, this book follows the same family, a few years later. There is so much happening – it was mysterious at first, then it grew to be touching and intriguing and harrowing and sad and inspiring. I will have a friend in Connie for a long time.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (Fantasy)
My review of this on GoodReads is a rather incoherent swoon, and I really am too close to improve upon that much. I just know I cannot wait to read this again, and I want to have Gideon for a best friend. We could companionably sit for hours polishing our swords, she reading dirty magazines and me reading Darkdawn. I could do this. This was billed as the most fun you will ever have with a skeleton. But it is also listed as science fantasy. I call it space opera, but that may be incorrect. Whatever. It is markedly twisty, ingenious and complex. It is funny. It made me almost ugly cry. The language is to die for and the story will grab your heart out of your chest. I loved this. Unequivocally. If you bought me a copy I would love you forever. I owe the library overdue fees for this one.
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson (YA Fantasy)
I gobbled this one up in one day, hugging it several times. It was exactly what I wanted and needed in a fantasy. A love letter to libraries and a world ruled by books. A fun, feisty and daring heroine, with just enough fear and self-doubt to make her believable. The world was a simple one, but that let the libraries shine. I loved it. Great language and a fascinating magic system.
Sabriel by Garth Nix (Fantasy)
Here it is. The book that made me stand up and pace the room, realizing that a thousand years of history was not too much for my characters to ask for. This was the book that gave me a huge breakthrough on my own WIP. I will forever be grateful. I will also be sad that I cannot read it again for the first time. And what the heck took me so long? It has been languishing here for 20 years! Don’t make the same mistake I did. Go read it now. And then the rest – Abhorsen. Lireal. I am not done with the series yet but I am here for more necromancers and charter magic. It all starts here with Sabriel. She is amazing. With nothing more than words, bells, and a sword, she must keep the Dead from Life. Wow.
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (YA Fantasy/Magical Realism)
Going back through my nearly incoherent GoodReads review, all I can say is that this book was the linchpin for me on the series. While I loved Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and I was hooked by The Raven Boys, this book made me realize what we were doing here, and how far this could go. I have not yet read The Raven King (though I mean to this month) because I simply don’t want this to end. Maggie has built each book around a character, and drawn each of these ensemble cast members so complexly (is that a word?), they really feel like real people. This particular book brought in such imaginative and wild elements, I just couldn’t believe what I was reading. But I wanted to, so I read on. There is no comparison.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (Classic fiction)
So many five star reads this year, and this was certainly not the least of them (I also read War and Peace). But given that this book drives people equally wild with passion and derision, I am glad I fell on the side of passion. I thought it was wonderful! So many amazing passages, and the glimpse into the culture of whale hunting (while I cringe) was fascinating. I felt it ended too swiftly, but I do think that I will read it again someday. It was that good. Beautiful writing and a gripping story make this a classic worth reading. Also, hats off to this lovely Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, with its soft cover and deckled edges, that was just so comfortable to read and had great illustrations in the back (including a cutaway view of a whaler and a map!).
Upstream by Mary Oliver (Nonfiction/Essay)
I read this last January, when the snow was deep and it was cold and white outside. It was lovely to read about Oliver’s woods, and her experiences with the animals and the pond and her own animals. I loved her treatises on literary greats, and how she wove that into her further musings on nature. If you’ve enjoyed Oliver’s poetry, you will love this. If you like essays by E.B.White, Annie Dillard and Anne Fadiman, you will love this. If you have not read any of those, read this. It will take you behind the curtain, lead you into the woods, and give you an overview of the lives of literary forefathers. But mostly it is beautiful. A lovely Christmas gift from my Book Aunt, and proof that I do not have enough books (they keep making new ones!).
Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye (Middle Grade)
I read this as part of a review of the second book in this MG series, Apprentice Needed. I love these characters. They have stood out to me more than any other MG I read this year. I currently have the third book in the series sitting on my stack for next month, and I cannot wait. These copies were sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I am happy to recommend this series to anyone who loves MG fantasy. If you know a kid who has finished Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, turn them on to this next.
Endless Night by Agatha Christie (mystery)
I do better with her Miss Marples, but if you are looking for a mystery that will creep you out, this is the one. She, the Queen of unreliable narrators and locked room mysteries, has here come up with something that feels like what you are used to, but oh, it is not. A perfect October read (in fact, I had it in my Halloween Reads list, which you should totally check out). But of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention that this has been A Year With Miss Marple, and I have read every Miss Marple book! (Okay, we have one left.) It has been lovely, and if I had to choose, my favorite Miss Marple title would be They Do It with Mirrors. But it is a close thing. Start with Murder at the Vicarage, and read them in order. One a month was a lovely pace, not to confuse them too much.
Honorable mentions to Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – did not disappoint and kudos to her for putting together her first adult novel with as much care and attention as her YA novels, and to The Odyssey by Homer, which I finally read this year and was every bit as epic as people have been saying for two thousand years.
I’m not done reading yet this year – I still have 9 books to read to make my goal! But I am confident I will manage it. Right now I’m reading Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness and Bleak House by Dickens (my first Dickens novel!). And I’m aching to start The Raven King and Villette and the last Miss Marple of the year, Nemesis. This will all happen soon. It is hard to pick favorites from 90 books. But these I’ve listed above have stood out head and shoulders above the rest. I am so glad that I read them all. Come join me on GoodReads so I can see what you recommend. Find me here.
Tell me what your favorite book of 2019 was in the comments! And stay tuned soon for my first-ever Best of the Decade list! I will be reaching back into the vault for that one – 6 years of Examiner articles (as the Minneapolis Books Examiner), 4 years of blogging, and hundreds of books read.