2019 was a great reading year for me.
A couple of these books have become all-time favorites of mine, and I’m looking forward to reading them over and over again.
It was hard to narrow this list down to ten books, so here are my top 15 books of 2019.
15. $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer
I’m fascinated (and infuriated) by class distinctions in America. Having grown up poor as well as having lived most of my adult life struggling to get by, it’s a topic that’s dear to me. It’s also a problem that I think we, as a nation, need to focus on much more.
This non-fiction book examines several families in America who are scraping by on so little money that it’s hard to believe that they’re surviving. I learned a lot from this book, such as the fact that there are areas in rural America without library access, and how hard it is for people living in this type of poverty to take advantage and get by on shrinking government assistance.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in class division in America, or anyone that wants to understand poverty better. It’s definitely not a happy read, but it’s important.
14. The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
The Simple Wild is the novel that taught me that I don’t hate romance books.
I was inspired to pick it up due to its being set in rural Alaska but ended up falling in love with the characters. It’s a hate-to-love romance, which is done often in the romance genre, but it’s done so well in this book. I was in tears by the end of the novel, but I know it’s one that I will read and re-read many times. Also, the sequel to this book, Wild at Heart, was released just last month. I’m looking forward to reading that as well.
13. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Young adult contemporary is a genre that I usually avoid. For the most part, I find the stories and characters much too young for me to identify with or even care about. I’m not sure what actually prompted me to pick up With the Fire On High (maybe it was the gorgeous cover?), but I’m certainly happy I did.
Elizabeth Acevedo made the characters come to life on the page, and her descriptions of Emoni’s recipes made my mouth water. The story is magical, and it was refreshing to read about a teenage character with a strong sense of responsibility, especially where it concerns her daughter. There is also an incredibly healthy romantic relationship in this novel that I thought was beautiful.
Even if you’re like me and rarely pick up YA contemporary, give With the Fire on High a shot.
12. Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno
The only reason that I picked this book up was in order to participate in Chelsea Palmer’s Facebook Book Club. I clearly need to step outside of my comfort zone more often, because Summer of Salt is a beautiful, tragic, and powerful magical realism novel.
Following twin sisters nearing their 18th birthday, the story deals with difficult and heavy topics while the magical qualities balance it nicely. The setting was beautiful as well, being set on an island popular for its bird watching.
It was a very short read, but so heavy on the atmospheric beauty and story.
11. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
As I’m putting this list together, I’m starting to realize that maybe I don’t hate young adult contemporary.
The Hate U Give is a book that’s been talked about non-stop since its release at the beginning of 2017, and with very good reason – it deals with a topic that’s been heavily debated in America for years: gun violence. Not just gun violence, but specifically police killing black, unarmed citizens.
Angie Thomas did a fantastic job of handling this very heavy and tragic topic. You feel the pain of the main character, Starr, and the community at large, as Khalil, an unarmed black teenager, gets shot.
I’m not going to get into the politics of gun violence, police brutality, and racism on a book blog, but if these are topics that are important to you, give The Hate U Give a read.
10. The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
I love time travel stories, but so few books get it right. It’s usually sloppy, full of plotholes, or is just bad. Kate Mascarenhas wrote time travel right in The Psychology of Time Travel, though.
This novel has really stuck with me, despite having read it nearly a year ago. The story follows four female scientists building the first time machine, and one of them has a mental breakdown during the process. Due to the sensitive nature of the project, that team member is removed from the team, and the public at large never learn the real story.
Non-linear stories can be difficult for authors to pull off, but I was amazed at how well this author kept the story flowing. My mind was blown when I discovered that this was Mascarenhas’ debut novel! All of the characters have very unique and distinct personalities, practically the entire cast is made up of female characters, and there’s great LGBTQ+ representation.
My favorite part of this novel, however, was how the topic of time travel and the death of loved ones were dealt with. I imagine there are very few people in the world that don’t wish that they could go back in time and see a loved one who’s passed. I know I would. This is one of the main themes of the novel, it’s fascinating.
9. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson is a name that’s been on my radar for some time, but I never actually got around to reading one of her books. Which is a shame, because her writing style and gothic fiction are right up my alley.
At less than 200 pages, this short novel offers a very rewarding experience for the reader. I tend to have a dark and morbid sense of humor, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a dark, morbid, and quirky novel. It was love at first paragraph:
“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I disklike watching myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”
Woven into the story are themes of agoraphobia, mental illness, and isolation. The novel left a big impact on me, and I’ve been thinking about this book a great deal since reading it.
8. The Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo’s continuation of this series, the Six of Crows duology, ended up on my favorite books of 2018 list, so I wasn’t surprised at how much I loved the original trilogy (even though I read the two series backward!).
The world that Bardugo has created for her GrishaVerse books is enchanting. I love that it’s based loosely on Russian culture since that’s not something I’ve read a lot of in fantasy. The characters (especially Nikolai), the story, the landscape… it’s all wonderful. While far from perfect, the Grisha world has easily become one of my all-time fantasy worlds.
7. Sadie by Courtney Summers
Sadie is a dark young adult mystery/thriller novel about a girl searching for the murderer of her younger sister. It’s a very dark novel and one that you won’t be able to put down.
I listened to this novel as an audiobook, which was an amazing experience. It’s done with a full cast and, since parts of this novel are told in podcast format, works even better than the physical format (at least in my opinion).
One of the reasons I was so drawn to this novel and its main character, Sadie, is because Sadie has a severe stutter. I’ve written before on this blog about having a speech impediment, and although it’s not the same type as Sadie’s, I was excited about seeing a character with a speech impediment written into a book and not being made the comic relief.
6. The Last by Hanna James
This post-apocalyptic mystery novel blew my mind when I read it in May 2019. Many of you might already know that my favorite genre of fiction is post-apocalyptic, so I had a feeling that I’d enjoy this book set in a rural Swiss hotel. However, I wasn’t expecting the genre to mesh so perfectly with a murder mystery.
The review I wrote of The Last is still, to this day, the one that I’m most proud of on this blog. It would take far too much space here to explain the many reasons that I loved this book, so read the review for all of it. I also had the pleasure of doing an interview with the author.
5. The Last Wish (The Witcher #0.5) by Andrzej Sapkowski
The very last book that I read in 2019 definitely ended up being among my all-time favorites. A friend introduced me to The Witcher 3 game years ago, and I was so obsessed with it that I bought a Playstation just to play it (well, that and Fallout 4). Ever since finishing the game, I’ve wanted to start the book series, and with the release of the Netflix series, there was no better time to start.
My only complaint is that I wished that I would have read it sooner. I loved this collection of short stories, and am eagerly looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Season One of the Netflix show follows many of the stories in The Last Wish, so it was fun to read while watching the show.
4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel, is magical. While the writing might not be for everyone, if you tend to enjoy slow-moving, atmospheric, whimsical stories, then I strongly urge you to read this novel.
While the characters and plot were both well-done, it really was the atmosphere of the story that drew me in. The circus is done in shades of black, gray, and white, and some of the tents inside the circus are truly things of wonder, such as my personal favorite, the Ice Garden. I’m planning on re-reading this novel in 2020, and I feel that I’ll enjoy it, even more, the second time around.
3. Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
My older brother, who is also an avid reader, recommended this book to me. I trust his judgment, so I went into it with high expectations. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was this wild ride of a story.
I’ve never read a story like Reincarnation Blues. It was a wholly unique experience, with slight vibes of Salman Rushdie’s magical realism and dark humor. It follows a character named Milo, who is coming close to his ten-thousandth reincarnation. He only has a few more tries to reach perfection, and while trying to reach that goal, he also tries to help his girlfriend, Death (yes, that Death) lead the life she wants.
Here’s part of what I wrote in my original review:
There’s so much dark humor, along with wisdom about making the most of our own lives. Filled with plenty of joys and tragedies, this book will make you feel so many different emotions as you turn each page, making the experience of reading this novel quite powerful.
I don’t use the term masterpiece often, but Michael Poore’s Reincarnation Blues is a masterpiece. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year and has easily forced its way into my top ten favorite books of all time. It’s been ages since I’ve read something as unique and imaginative as this, and I recommend that everyone read it.
Read this book.
2. A Hero Born (Legends of the Condor Heroes #1) by Jin Yong
In late 2018, not long after Read Yourself Happy got started, I was researching Chinese fantasy novels and came across the Legends of the Condor Heroes series. The author, Jin Yong, is one of the most famous writers in China, and this series is widely regarded as a solid piece of China’s cultural heritage. At that point, I definitely wanted to read it, but I could not find an English translation still in print. It was disappointing as hell, but I kept it on my TBR list in hopes of one day finding a translation
A couple of months after this, St. Martin’s Press announced a new reprint of the English editions! It was worth the wait! A Hero Born is incredible – I literally could not put this book down. I read it in just a couple of days and cannot wait to read the sequel, which the publisher very kindly sent to me for review (psst.. review coming soon!).
A Hero Born is an epic Chinese martial arts fantasy series that was originally published in a newspaper as a serialized story, and then published as a novel later on. The tale follows two sworn brothers who pledge that their children will also become sworn siblings.
After a tragic event, the children are separated and brought up in very different settings. The people who raised them are trying to do so in order to prepare them for a duel that they will perform against one another when they turn 18, even though the children don’t know this.
The fight scenes were so well-written and intense that it was easy to visualize every step taken by the warriors. The book has so much to offer, from love, war, betrayal, and friendship to amazing scenery, fight scenes, and dialogue. It’s a series that you can easily lose yourself in.
1. The Stormlight Archive Series by Brandon Sanderson
I don’t even know where to start with how incredible this series is. Brandon Sanderson deserves his title as the master of world-building.
Thus far, I’ve only read the first two books in the series, The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, and I’m planning on doing a re-read of those during the summer, along with the third book, Oathbringer, in preparation for the newest part of the series, Rhythm of War.
I rarely say that books are perfect, but these first two books are about as perfect as you’re going to get without getting into Tolkien territory (a position I will gladly defend as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are my favorite books of all time).
Without writing another full review here, suffice it to say that the characters, landscape, world, and everything else in these books are incredibly well-done. My favorite character is definitely Kaladin, a former warrior and surgeon’s apprentice who finds himself a slave, and as such suffers from depression. Mental health was dealt with so well in this novel.
Another aspect of this world that hooked me was the highstorms, massive storms featuring giant rocks being tossed about in the wind, torrential rain, and weather so bad that people caught outside during them usually wind up dead.
If you call yourself a fantasy fan, and you haven’t started The Stormlight Archive series, stop procrastinating and do it. Yes, the books are long as shit (1,000+ pages), but so worth it.