Wow, this is it. The end of a decade. I read some truly amazing books this year, and also more books than I ever thought possible. For a bit, I played with the idea of a Top 20 if I could read 200 books, but alas, I am a bit short, so we’re here with a Top 10 instead. (Not only that, I couldn’t think of 20 that would fit the bill.) Also, out of 172 total books read, a staggering 90+ were some kind of fantasy (whether urban/high/magical realism), and so that’s why there hasn’t been a Top 5 Fantasy post, but I did do a Top 5 Middle Grade & Contemporary, both of which are linked!
As always, there are a couple rules with this post:
- It doesn’t have to be published in 2019, just read in 2019.
- Rereads don’t count, and only one book per author.
- Only one book per series, as well!
They’re arranged alphabetically, and all of these were five star reviews for me. Each will contain a Goodreads link so you can read the summaries if you’re intrigued on the why they made this list, and then I’m going to try to hook you with one sentence. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started!
What: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Why: I honestly didn’t have expectations going into this because I didn’t really know what it was going to be, but if I’d had any, it would have surpassed them. This was expertly crafted, and so different from Leigh’s other works as to be a little astounding. I’ve noticed the shift between YA and MG writing styles, but to see it so specifically in YA to A was incredible. It’s like a completely different person wrote this, and I adore both of them so much. This also felt like a book that we needed right now, and I want to join Dawes and Alex’s girl gang immediately.
Hook: When the magic secret societies of Yale get out of hand, it’s up to Lethe House, the unofficial ninth, to keep them in line.
What: To Love and Let Go by Rachel Brathen
Why: I actually wrote an entire post about why I loved this so much, but it’s long, so I’ll be quick here. I’ve followed Rachel for several years now on Instagram, and I’ve watched her go through the stages of grief of losing her best friend. I knew, going into this book, that it would be difficult to read, that it would be wrenching to watch her go through it all again. But what I hadn’t expected was for it to mirror everything I was feeling with my own friend loss. It felt like destruction at the time, like pain and sorrow all over again, but as I came out the other side, it was to find a little more healing had happened, and I am forever grateful for Rachel and her powerful words.
Hook: A young woman tries to navigate the impossible ocean of pain that comes with losing your best friend.
What: Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy
Why: I could fill an entire post about why I loved this book, but I’ll try to keep this short. This is the most ridiculous, fast-paced, wild ride I’ve ever been on, and I loved every single second of it. Insane really is the best word for this book. It’s the epitome of space opera, and because of that, it’s colorful, it’s inclusive, it’s diverse, it’s magical, it requires a hell of a lot of suspension of disbelief, it’s full of archetypes and predictable plot lines, it’s gay as heck, and, the best of it all, it’s a King Arthur retelling set in space with a teenage Merlin and a female Arthur. I mean, seriously, what more could you want out of a book?
Hook: Ari isn’t interested in destiny, and Merlin isn’t interested in diapers.
What: The City of Brass by SA Chakraborty
Why: This book nearly destroyed me, which would have made for an interesting year considering I read it in February. I’m still thinking about it with as much shock and awe as I was all those months ago, and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to handle rereading it next year to get ready for the finale. This was probably one of the best fantasies I’ve ever read, and I’m just continually astounded by it. It was expertly written, the characters are next level phenomenal, and the world-building alone could keep me coming back for more. Truly, I don’t think I’ve ever admired someone’s world-building quite like this. It’s so well done, so in-depth, and just so intricate, and I’m amazed at the level of detail. Also, I want to wrap the Qahtani boys up in blankets and keep them safe forever.
Hook: Nahri would really like to just be left alone to heal people in Cairo, but fate, and the djinn, have other plans for her.
What: Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
Why: I’ll be honest, it came down to this book and another. If I really had to put this list in order of favorite, I’d be able to, and this one bumped out one you’re all going to be shocked to see missing (CDTH), but it punched me straight in the heart and didn’t let go. This was not only expertly written, but GAY JAMES BOND is forever going to be my staple. The combination of foreign politics, immensely flawed characters, and soft romance just about murdered me with every page.
Hook: Cyril must make a choice–the drag queen he loves or the city he calls home.
What: The Holy Wild by Danielle Dulsky
Why: If I had to pick one book to feature this year out of all 172 that I’ve read, it would be this one. This is it. If this was in order of favorites, this would be at the top. The Holy Wild was a life-changing book for me. It’s one that I’ve recommended to every possible person, even if they don’t practice witchcraft. It’s one of the most empowering and inclusive books I’ve read in a long time. It truly changed the way that I look at the world around me, at my daily life, and at the way I listen to and ignore my divine feminine power. It’s beautifully written, and it deserves to be read slowly.
Hook: This is how you stoke the flames inside you–by giving voice to your inherent power.
What: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell
Why: Have you ever just wanted to be totally and wholly consumed by a book? This trilogy, so far, is like the slowest burn of all time, and it’s so good. The payoff in the finale is going to be so worth it after all this excruciating build-up, and I can’t wait to watch it all fall apart. Esta Filosik quickly skyrocketed to another “would die for her” character, and that’s not even starting in on the sharply dressed men. The time travel to early 1900s Manhattan alone might have hooked me, but the phenomenal writing, the magic system, and the gang vibes definitely kept me.
Hook: Remember: time is not linear, everyone is out to get you, and magic should be distrusted & protected at all costs.
What: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Why: This is the kind of writing that keeps me going, quite frankly. Sometimes, books just hit me squarely in the enjoyment zone, and there’s nothing to stop me from loving it dearly until the day I die. This is definitely one of those books. It’s so feel-good and fun. All those memes about blushing furiously while reading smut, but completely straight-faced while reading adorable fluff–total lies. I had to literally stop myself from bingeing this in one day because my face hurt from smiling so much. Is it basically fanfiction? Yes, and that’s why it’s so damn good.
Hook: American’s first son falls in love with England’s royal prince.
What: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Why: I don’t think I’ve ever physically emoted so much while reading a book. This is definitely one of those books that I should not have read in public because I was just gushing so much in so many different ways. 10/10 would die for Nathaniel Thorne, but also 10/10 would let Elisabeth Scrivener kill me because she doesn’t need anyone to volunteer to die for her because she’s too much of a badass. The writing in this was spectacular. It left me giggling pretty consistently, and the moments in-between were spent in either shock or tears. This was just so well done. It was pure enjoyment, and I couldn’t put it down for anything.
Hook: A warrior librarian must team up with a dashing sorcerer and his demon servant to defeat enraged grimoires.
What: The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien
Why: If anyone is surprised to see this book on this list, you’re aren’t paying attention. It’s absolutely the oldest book on this list, but I’m really glad I waited until now to read it because I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it before. This sparked such an insane level of joy in me that I decided to really settle into my ongoing project, An Adventure in Tolkien, and read as much as I could find. If I’d thought I loved Tolkien before The Silmarillion, I knew nothing. This book is next level. The characters alone would have kept me coming back, but the absolutely genius level of lore put into this work is insane, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for this man. Like, damn. If you love Lord of the Rings, this is so, so worth it. It made me laugh and cry hysterically equally.
Hook: When one god decides he wants free will, he steals a few pretty crystals and tries to settle in a dark mountainous land for a quiet life, but war erupts, and every elf in existence nearly dies trying to get the crystals back.