As the year draws to a close, it’s worth reviewing the books that left the greatest impression on me. I read 40 books this year, blowing away my goal of 25. I made an effort to include new books, rather than rereads and it really paid off. While there was a lot of blah or just mediocre, it was worth it for finding these 5 jewels, which I’m happy to share with you today.
5. The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
A truly enjoyable sci-fi novel. Scalzi is skilled at creating interesting and unique characters that readers connect with easily and then placing them in wonderfully trying situations. For that reason, I flew through my listen to this book (and its sequel) and I’m looking forward to the conclusion of the series when it arrives.
This is the book that put me on to Scalzi’s work, leading me to 3 or 4 other of his novels during the 2019 year. I even recommended one to my dad! (Which one, you ask? Hugo Award Nominee Old Man’s War. Even better–Dad liked it a lot!)
As an added bonus, Scalzi is keeps a humorous and frequently updated website. Check it out for thoughts on the writing life, his own career and thoughts about life.
4. A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
This book felt lovingly tailored for me: It dabbled in linguistics, intrigue and light politics. But mostly it was the permeating thoughtfulness with which she approached language and culture that I loved.
She examined the intricacies of being an outsider–an indelible, permanent outsider–who both loved and struggled against the dominant culture. It was this conflict, examined through the prism of poetry and language in particular that I adored. In fact, I would have liked more of those notes!
And where normally you may expect a political intrigue story to offer a slower, drier plot, this was a story with juice. It propelled its characters forward with mystery, violence and intrigue.
I can’t wait to see what Martine does next.
3. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
An epic female-fronted fantasy that covers vast landscapes and fascinating cultures. Who would say no to that? It explored female friendship and romantic love, and did not shy away from asking what strength looks like in its many forms.
This is a lengthy tome. I sometimes felt the world leapt fully formed form Shannon’s head with its detailed mythology, cultures and traditions. To quote one Goodreads review: “Also, dragons, pirates and magic. Need I say more?!“
2. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Delightful. Just a delightful read, with the kind of characters that linger with you. There’s something youthful about this book and something utterly charming. It was one of the few books that I felt compelled to sit down and review on the blog here.
It borrows richly from Russian mythology/fairy tales and tells a wonderful new tale. Having little experience with Russian mythology, it was delightfully new.
But beyond the rich folklore, the thing that stayed with me the most was the characters (especially Vasilisa, who I adore) and a lingering sense of chill from the magical and wintry setting.
See The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden on Goodreads. As a bonus, there are two sequels and they’re both great.
It was a close runner up to…
1. Circe by Madeline Miller
I’m not alone in loving this book (and honestly, I’m not bucking any trends with my favorites this year). Martine several awards for her fantastic retelling of the complicated and powerful Greek sorceress. Our Circe, here, remains complicated, but also profoundly sympathetic. She is outmatched by the more powerful gods but yearns only to make her own way. Her struggle and her compromises speak to something real.
Circe isn’t the only complicated character here. Miller gently twists the famous encounter between Odysseus and Circe as well as her relationships with Penelope and Telemachus.
I purchased this book as a gift to myself after some good news, and was still tempted to buy a signed copy from Miller’s website. I rarely purchased books as I have access to a phenomenal library… So yeah. Good stuff.
So that’s my top 5 books for 2019. It was a good year of reading, both physical copies and via audiobooks. In fact, 4 out of 5 of my favorite books this year were audiobooks! How neat!
Share with me your favorite 2019 books in the comments below. And happy reading in 2020!