This is my favorite part of the year as a book reviewer. Out of the 95 books I read in 2019, I get to share with you the very best of the best that I personally experienced. I hope somewhere in this list you find a title that piques your interest! I think it goes without saying that all of the books here get my certified seal of approval and I love for you to love them too.
If you’d like to see my favorite picks of 2018, click here!
But first, some honorable mentions…
Sabriel by Garth Nix
This is a tragically underappreciated book about a young girl who goes off on a journey to find her missing father– a necromancer tasked with putting raised spirits back to rest. The magic system is totally unique, the characters are lovable (if not a little flawed), and the setting shows off Nix’s incredible imagination. This gets two big thumbs up from me!
The Way of the House Husband vol. 1 by Oono Kousuke
This is a very funny and wholesome story about a former Yakuza boss that was just as enjoyable to read as it was to look at. I’ve already preordered the second volume and I can’t wait to get a hold of it when it comes out!
Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin
One of my biggest reading surprises of 2019. I haven’t seen anyone posting about this book so let me be the one to tell you that it’s an extremely well-written story about family, obsession, and power. Smoke is full of twists and turns and memorable characters.
The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen
Definitely the closest book to making it onto my top 10. Despite reading some nasty reviews as I was just starting the audiobook, I was hooked into the world of Sabor from the first chapter.
All of the previously mentioned titles are wonderful books and I highly recommend that you give them a try!
Now we’re onto the big 10, in descending order. I agonized for hours over this list, mixing and matching the placement of them but I think I’ve finally settled on a ranking that properly reflects my feelings.
#10 Monstress vol. 1: The Awakening by Marjorie Liu
This has to be one of the most visually striking graphic novels I have ever come across. I was constantly blown away by the love and care that illustrator Sana Takeda put into drawing and rendering each frame with brilliant color. This is to say nothing of the characters or the story itself which are phenomenal as well. This is a gritty, violent story so please beware if that’s not something you’re interested in. If that doesn’t turn you away though, you’ll be treated to a layered and imaginative story full of mythos, magic, and war.
#9 The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black
Ending a series is really hard. You need to wrap up all the loose ends, finalize your character arcs, and (hopefully) have readers feeling satisfied, if not a little sad that it’s over. I have been let down by finales before (thinking of: Ruin and Rising, The Amber Spyglass, and another that you’ll see in my next list) but I was really hoping Holly Black would stick the landing here. And she absolutely did.
I devoured QoN in a matter of hours and I am so pleased to say that this is a nearly flawless end to the Folk of the Air series. These characters had me biting my nails the whole time and now, Jude and Cardan have officially been welcomed into my OTP Hall of Fame.
#8 Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book is a Goodreads Choice Awards winner for a reason. I’m sorry, did you say it won best historical fiction? You’re telling me it’s fiction, and this wasn’t a real band? I’m not sure I believe you.
Daisy Jones is a classic rock icon up there with Stevie Nix and Robert Plant. I felt like I was getting a real glance into the lives of old rockstars and I felt for them on a deep level. They are extremely flawed and nuanced. I loved every moment of this story.
#7 Lord of the Flies by William Golding
While the beginning takes a while to get going anywhere, the last 100 or so pages of Lord of the Flies had me reading with my eyes wide and my mouth agape. I never read this one for school and I can totally understand why so many who did, really didn’t like it. I’m 22 years old and this book freaked me the hell out.
It still comes to me so vividly, like I was really there on the island myself. Flashes of little boys playing in the sand, and older boys adorning their faces with war paint. The white hot heat of a bonfire. A pig’s head, skewered on a stick.
I haven’t had such a visceral reaction to many other books, and I like to think I’ve read quite a few. I’m still being haunted by Lord of the Flies and so I feel like it has to be here on this list.
#6 The Wicked King by Holly Black
Has the ending of a book ever made you feel physical pain? I had to take an Advil after finishing this. It made me feel emotions I didn’t know I had, and I loved it so much. I can’t say much else about it because it’s the second book in a trilogy and I have to tiptoe around spoilers.
If you loved The Cruel Prince you should read this. If you felt lukewarm about The Cruel Prince you should read this. So much happens, everything changes, and thank goodness Queen of Nothing is already out so you don’t have to wait months in agony to find out how it all ends.
#5 Claymore vol. 27: Silver-Eyed Warriors by Norihio Yagi
Speaking of perfect endings to book series…
I mentioned in my last Rapid Fire Book Reviews post that I’ve been following Claymore as a series for ten years. I started watching the anime at twelve, and began saving up my money to buy the first couple volumes of manga. For a long time I only had up to volume five, but I read them over and over again. I admired the courage of our main character Clare, and I could relate to the struggles she was going through. The fantasy setting gave me a place to escape to.
What I’m getting at, is that Claymore holds a lot of nostalgia for me. It’s incredibly close to my heart. So when I got to read the ending ten years after beginning the series, I felt like I was finally saying goodbye to a part of my childhood that I’ve been hanging onto all this time.
Yagi gave us a wonderful ending that I feel respectfully ended the main character’s arcs with a hopeful tone for the future and I really really appreciated that.
#4 The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
My older brother and I started watching the Lord of the Rings movies when we were 5 and 8 years old, respectively. He hates to read, and I… have been distracted by other books for seventeen years. But this is the story we have bonded over all this time, the characters we used to pretend to be, and the quotes we always write in each other’s birthday cards.
I’m only upset that it’s taken me this long to finally read the book. I alternated between reading my copy and listening to the audiobook narrated by Rob Inglis and I adored both. Inglis really performs the book– he gives different voices to all of the characters and he actually sings all of the songs. It was such a pleasure, I found myself looking forward to my commutes to work and to my boyfriend’s house an hour away.
#3 Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames
2019 was my introduction the genius that is Nicholas Eames. He’s here to prove that as a fantasy fan, you really can have it all. And Bloody Rose is just another fantastic example.
This is a very character-centric story with a fast paced plot to match. All of the characters in the main plot are given enough time to grow and develop before your eyes. By the end of the book you’ll feel like you know all of them personally. The struggles they go though are real and human even if the circumstances and settings are not.
If you want to check out the best of what modern fantasy has to offer, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not picking up this series by Nicholas Eames.
#2 Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
Guess what? I’m not done talking about how much I love this author and his work.
Here is another character driven narrative, but with a slightly more upbeat tone. In the words of fantasy Youtuber, Daniel Greene, “This book… gets the Most Fun Award. My god, this was a blast to read.”
Like with Bloody Rose, every character in the main cast is meticulously fleshed out with personality and back story. It’s diverse and nuanced. Everyone has agency!
One of my first praises of Kings was that it touches on every emotion and it does so with care and respect. Our cast is made up of older men who haven’t been in their primes for ages yet are still going at challenges with everything they have. We see hilarious banter between them and we also see them experience moments of weakness where they are brought low and made vulnerable. I loved that grown men can cry without any reservation. I wish we saw that portrayed more often.
This book had me laughing out loud at the start of a chapter, and crying by the end of it. You really do get the feeling that you’ve gone through these trials with Clay Cooper and his band.
I had the most difficult time wrestling with the placement for Kings of the Wyld on this list. It could very easily have been number one, if not for the book I decided to put in its place. Genre-wise they fit together but in terms of everything else they are so different that it almost seems unfair to compare them. I tried going off of my enjoyment, but I enjoyed them both more than anything else I read this year. I tried going off my emotional responses to both books, and came to a moot point there too. Then I did a thought experiment: what if I was stranded on an island and I could only read one of them. That didn’t help either…
My point is that while Kings of the Wyld is number two on this list, in my heart it’s a number one along with the book listed in that spot. They’re both absolutely incredible and I think my life has been made brighter by reading both of them. I think you should read both of them too.
But for the sake of proper end-of-the-year Top 10 Lists, I present to you my number one pick of 2019:
#1 The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Here’s a book that rivals A Game of Thrones in terms of its scope and its characters. This is surely a fantasy epic of the highest caliber. I’m always amazed that authors like Martin, Tolkien, and Sanderson can manage to work out all of the fine details that go into making a fictional world so real and relatable.
I might even go as far as to say that out of the three, Sanderson has the most original world building. Roshar is a vast and alien land full of conflicting ways of life. On that alone, I could give this book five stars, but the characters are the true gems on this crown. Shallan, Dalinar, and Kaladin are some of the most moving characters I’ve come across. Period. Set in their own ways, influenced by their unique worldviews, they spark serious change in the story they bring to life.
I have no idea how Sanderson does it but I am extremely impressed and I can’t wait to see where else the Stormlight Archive takes me in future books.
I did a full length review of this book at the beginning of the year that you can read here.
So there you have it, my favorite reads of 2019! What were yours? I’d love to know, so please drop a comment. My TBR can always get longer.
I hope you have a wonderful morning/day/night wherever you are, and I wish you a happy New Year!