Well, I held out as long as I possibly could before declaring my favorite books of 2019. I always feel like I should give all my year’s reading a fair shot at making the list and therefore not even think about favorites until December 31st, but does anyone even care about your favorite books of the year after January 1st? No, they’re all on to next year’s books! But I think it’s safe to say that between now and the next four days, I’ll mainly be finishing up books that I started and didn’t get quite through but definitely don’t want to abandon!
I’ve had a weird reading year. As usual, I keep track of everything I read using a spreadsheet that generates stats. If you too want to partake in the magic of tracking and reading stats, you can check out the reading log I built for Book Riot that took approximately 10 hours to make but will save you time and delight you with CHARTS. This year, I read 105 books, which is a lot of books, but that’s 40 fewer than last year. (And 40 is also a lot of books!) I read way more diversely, leaned into audiobooks, and I really got into nonfiction, but I also felt stretched thin. I read a ton for my Book Riot work, both for the Read Harder podcast and TBR service, which left me less time to marathon books purely for fun and re-read favorites. My podcast schedule left me feeling like I was constantly reading to satisfy a requirement, not for fun. I also had some pretty big writing deadlines this year and made the switch to full time freelancing in May, so the theme of 2019 seemed to be constantly re-centering myself and my reading life definitely took a hit.
Nonetheless, here are my 20 favorite books of 2019 in no particular order! It’s a good mix of backlist and 2019 releases, because backlist titles are awesome and it’s never too late to pick up a great book. I’m sure there are tons of 2019 titles that will end up on next year’s list because I am behind, story of my life.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
My library teens convinced me to pick up this book and I am so glad I did! It’s a darkly humorous book about a near-ish future where death has been eradicated but Scythes still “glean” people at random to control population. Two teens get caught up in an epic struggle among Scythedom that asks a lot of big questions about morality, ethics, and the nature of life. It’s the only book we picked for teen book club that generated so much discussion I had to cut the teens off after our hour was up. Also, did I mention it’s funny?
The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan
Dervla McTiernan’s debut novel was on last year’s list and this follow up starring Cormac Reilly definitely did not disappoint. It’s got murder, conspiracy, rich people misbehaving, mistaken identity, and academic drama galore! I cannot wait for her next book!
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks
This graphic novel is my catnip. A fall-tastic story about two work friends who decide to make the most of their last night working at the Disneyland of pumpkin patches and discover a few things about their relationship! It’s funny, it’s colorful, it’s so happy. I am almost jealous that I didn’t write it.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
This is a National Book Award finalist and totally suspenseful and inventive novel about a world where there are no monsters, until a creature named Pet emerges from a painting to tell our protagonist that they have to hunt one more monster hiding in pain sight. It’s a short, gripping novel that I listened to on audio in very nearly a single sitting.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
I’m a big Leigh Bardugo fan, so this is no surprise…and yet I was surprised at how much I loved this occult mystery set in New Haven, CT with old money, poor students, and very creepy happenings. It’s not YA, although I think Bardugo’s YA fans will really dig this book. My ONLY complaint is that this is very clearly the start of a series and we have no info on when the next book will be released. Plus, I once heard Leigh say at a panel that she was so excited to sign with an adult publisher who didn’t expect her to publish a book a year, and while I am very happy for her and her creative process, this is sad for us because I don’t think 2020 will bring us the sequel we want.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
I want Samantha Irby to be my IRL best friend! For real, this collection of essays is hysterically funny and honest, and I listened to her narrate the audiobook while driving from Michigan to DeKalb, IL, which is a real hazard when you consider how many semis there are around Chicago that I almost drove into because I was laughing so hard.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
At this stage, I think it’s safe to say that Elizabeth Acevedo’s books are must-reads for me. In fact, they’re must-listens as long as she’s narrating the audiobook–her performance of this novel was absolutely brilliant and I love that we got this story about a young woman taking chances and forging her own path without any wild, contrived plot drama. It was just an excellent coming of age story!
Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen
If you read one book off this list, please make it this one. Samantha Allen confronts so many stereotypes about small town and rural queers in this amazing book, which is part road trip diary, part memoir, and part investigative journalism. Queer people are living in small towns and making a difference and creating communities everywhere, not just the big cities.
My Real Children by Jo Walton
Full disclaimer, I started crying about 50 pages before the end of this novel and I did not stop. This isn’t a book that follows a traditional narrative. It starts in our world, with a young woman presented with a fateful decision in the days after WWII. The rest of the book alternates between her two lives depending on the choice she makes, but each of her lives diverges from our known reality in a small ways, then bigger ways. However, they are unified by a few commonalities. This book is queer, and weird, and so very moving. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry again, dang it!
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Hands down my favorite kids’ book of the year! It’s about a little girl whose family immigrates to the U.S., but the only job they can get is caretakers of a motel, which is owned by a very cranky and bad man who takes advantage of them financially and exploits their labor. However, our protagonist is bright and she’s plucky and she helps her parents wherever she can and soon they’re helping other immigrants who have been exploited. It’s also a very age-appropriate book about immigration and the challenges and unfair labor practices that immigrants face–and there’s a sequel out in 2020!
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
I inhaled this in almost a single sitting, staying up til 1 AM to finish. I’m such a big fan of Machado’s writing, and her memoir about domestic abuse was beautifully written, even though it was painful at times. I think she’s terrifically brave for putting her abuse to paper and then sharing it with the world so that we can start a conversation about queer intimate partner abuse–because queer relationships aren’t all perfect.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
This book is really weird and bonkers and I admit that I struggled to understand the plot for a good 100+ pages BUT I DID NOT CARE because I love Gideon so much and this sarcastic, hilarious, sometimes immature voice had me cracking up every other page. Seriously, just read the first paragraph.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Oh, I wanted to hug Freddie and tell her that if Laura Dean keeps breaking up with her, it’s time to break up with Laura Dean. Like with Machado’s book, I love that we are finally making space for all kinds of queer relationship stories, not just HEA. This is a great one for teens figuring out what love is and isn’t, and it’s beautifully illustrated.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
I know I am super late on this one, but 2019 was the year I finally gave in to Audible and bought the audiobook because I only wanted to experience this book with Noah narrating it to me and it was not the wrong decision! Full of hilarious anecdotes and sobering history lessons, this is an incredible memoir from a truly talented comedian and writer.
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
I’m so glad that I discovered Sarah Gailey’s work this year because they have like 3 books coming out next year and they are all speculative and queer and very very very good. This is about a PI investigating a murder at a high school for teens with magic, which would be fine except the PI doesn’t have magic but her twin sister (and teacher at this school) totally does and there is HISTORY there. I loved how Gailey mashes the mystery and fantasy genres together here!
The Lost Man by Jane Harper
If you know me at all, you know I LOVE Jane Harper! I read her latest release on a flight from Philadelphia to Seattle, and yes, I read the ENTIRE novel on that flight, finishing just as we landed. The book is just that suspenseful and taut, and the setting–super remote, so far out in the middle of the nowhere you could die if you aren’t prepared Australia–was kinda creepy but gorgeously depicted!
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
This is by far my favorite audiobook of the year, narrated by Bahni Turpin. It’s an incredible novel about international politics, which is something I know nothing about, told from the POV of a young Black woman who finds herself caught between two countries and two ideologies.
All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Let’s just say that if Moïra Fowley-Doyle puts out a new book, it’s gonna be on my faves list. This is a queer novel about family curses, sisters, and exposing the injustices of history in order to heal. Plus, it’s magical. Yes, please. More, please.
A Madness of Sunshine by Nailini Singh
Singh is a romance writer who has written an amazing first crime novel here. Keeping with the remote setting theme, this one is set on New Zealand’s west coast and is about a missing young woman whose plight stirs up unpleasant memories for the town while the community’s sole police officer (an outsider, naturally) tries to stay ahead of the game. It’s really riveting and perfect for Harper and French fans!
A Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
I’m just going to say it, I love YA fantasy but I’ve struggled to find new YA fantasy that I love. THIS ONE IS AMAZING. It has grimoires and dangerous libraries and kick ass librarians and grumpy sorcerers and hilarious banter and capricious demons and high stakes! Plus, it’s a standalone so no waiting for sequels! (Although I wouldn’t complain if Rogerson did write one…)
What are some of your favorite reads of 2019? Tell me about them!