I read a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. Throughout the year I look forward to writing this post – when I start a book I think “will this be one of my favorites for the year?”
Most of the books highlighted below were not released in 2019, that is just when I read them. Like my 2017 and 2018 book posts, I also want to preface this post with some information about me as a reader. I read mostly fiction narratives of the fantasy, mystery, science fiction or romance variety. I very rarely read non-fiction books (outside of research for my work). I also listen to many audiobooks (currently re-reading Little Women) and I count them here. I read a lot while traveling and I travel very often work. I count graphic novel volumes as a book but not individual comic books/issues. Also I included a few of the chapter books (books read in multiple sittings and are 75+ pages) I read with my second grader (though he is now reading many on his own).
Logistics aside, I want to share my favorites of the year and hope that others will share theirs! A full pictorial list of everything I read this year is below too. My reviews are brief, because seriously, time is a hot commodity, but I have also shared the GoodReads description.
In no particular order, my top ten favorite books I read in 2019:
by Seanan McGuire
Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.
Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.
Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.
Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.
Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.
My Review on August 13:
I’m a McGuire fan girl and I’ve read nearly every story she’s set out to tell me. In the author’s note in the back of this book she acknowledges this novel wasn’t something she had to skill to write until now. Yes. As a reader we get the pleasure of watching talent grow, deepen, and turn great into holy shit that was cool. The characters here are reminiscent of her prior uses of cryptology but exist in a different way, seemingly in an unconnected universe. She uses some of her favorite magical tools from stories past but in a way that’s more dark and grounded. This book isn’t a fast paced adventure, it’s a slow burn. It’s a thinker and gave me some strange, strange dreams.
Though, admittedly, in their San Francisco adventures I silently hoped they’d run into October.
My comments today:
Like I said in August, I’m a McGuire fangirl. I read four McGuire books this year and picking one is a challenge, but this novel is a standout and I’ve already sung the praises of the October Daye and Wayward Children series. The blurb doesn’t do this one justice. It’s haunting, complex, unsettling, smart, and emotional. A true standout. Not to mention my sweet cousin met Seanan at a book signing in San Francisco and got me my very own dedicated and signed copy! Squeal!
by David Sedaris
If you’ve ever laughed your way through David Sedaris’s cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you’re getting with Calypso. You’d be wrong.
When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself.
With Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: these stories are very, very funny–it’s a book that can make you laugh ’til you snort, the way only family can. Sedaris’s powers of observation have never been sharper, and his ability to shock readers into laughter unparalleled. But much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when your own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future.
This is beach reading for people who detest beaches, required reading for those who loathe small talk and love a good tumor joke. Calypso is simultaneously Sedaris’s darkest and warmest book yet–and it just might be his very best.
My Review on November 19: This is a book about aging, family, and humor. Not always easy, often sad, and usually relatable. One of his best yet.
My comments today: I “read” this via audiobook – which is how I recommend consuming all Sedaris at least once. His voice amplifies his meaning.
by Madeline Miller
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
My review on July 16:
I can’t explain exactly why this felt like a real page turner to me, as it’s primarily focused on her exile and lore I was already familiar with, but somehow I couldn’t put it down. I’m not entirely satisfied with the conclusion but it’s also precisely what I would expect from this book. Circe is not always a particularly sympathetic character and her story is not necessarily a strong or inspiring‘s one so much as one about discovery, loneliness, and developing a sense of self.
by Neil Gaiman
Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.
Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.
Scary, gripping and deeply unsettling, American Gods takes a long, hard look into the soul of America. You’ll be surprised by what – and who – it finds there…
This is the author’s preferred text, never before published in the UK, and is about 12,000 words longer than the previous UK edition.
Finished on July 6, my comments today: I mean, duh, this one of the best books I’ve read. Gaiman is master of the surreal. I started this one as an audiobook check out from the library’s database service, which is 20+ hours. When I went to renew it had been removed! No! I was on the road at the time and picked up a used copy at a great local bookshop in downtown Colorado Springs. It was a weird feeling to switch from listening to reading in between, but actually made for a pretty intense and rich experience with this novel. I really enjoyed Gaiman’s forward on this, discussing his trip across the U.S. while writing this. It captures America in a hard, cool way.
by Naomi Novik
Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.
When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk–grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh–Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.
But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.
Channeling the vibrant heart of myth and fairy tale, Spinning Silver weaves a multilayered, magical tapestry that readers will want to return to again and again.
Finished June 22, my comments today: I also strongly suggest Novik’s other book in this universe, Uprooted. These are fairytales, but the characters are flawed, interesting, and real. It’s a charming, if not occasionally unsettling, take on fairytale romances – but don’t get it wrong. These are not love stories. In this novel the relationship between Miryem to all those around her is the most interesting. Wanda’s story is moving but also inspiring. The Staryk king and his kingdom are well thought-out and crafted.
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)
by Felicia Day
From online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood.
The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world… or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs.
After growing up in the south where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons”, Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an Internet star.
Felicia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange world is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir.
Hilarious and inspirational, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should embrace what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for a digital misfit.
My thoughts on May 28: I read a lot of these “individual essay actresses memoirs” at this point, and I have to say I found this one to be one of the most charming. We are big fans of many of her projects and I’ve casually followed her career for years. The last few chapters get particularly real and honest.
I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities, and Other Stuff
by Abbi Jacobson
From the co-creator and co-star of the hit series Broad City, a “poignant, funny, and beautifully unabashed” (Cheryl Strayed) bestselling essay collection about love, loss, work, comedy, and figuring out who you really are when you thought you already knew.
When Abbi Jacobson announced to friends and acquaintances that she planned to drive across the country alone, she was met with lots of questions and opinions: Why wasn’t she going with friends? Wouldn’t it be incredibly lonely? The North route is better! Was it safe for a woman? The Southern route is the way to go! You should bring mace! And a common one… why? But Abbi had always found comfort in solitude, and needed space to step back and hit the reset button. As she spent time in each city and town on her way to Los Angeles, she mulled over the big questions– What do I really want? What is the worst possible scenario in which I could run into my ex? How has the decision to wear my shirts tucked in been pivotal in my adulthood?
In this collection of anecdotes, observations and reflections–all told in the sharp, wildly funny, and relatable voice that has endeared Abbi to critics and fans alike–readers will feel like they’re in the passenger seat on a fun and, ultimately, inspiring journey. With some original illustrations by the author.
My thoughts on March 22:
I legitimately laughed out loud and had to gasp-back tears throughout this book. This is an honest book and a personal journey. This is not your standard “famous person writes a memoir collection of essays” though there are certainly chapters that focus in on parts of her life, it’s overall a story about a road trip from New York to LA after some challenging personal events. Can’t recommend this enough to every 30-something woman in my life.
My comments today: Have you watched all of Broad City yet? (stop reading and go do so) Love women bold, salty, vulgar, unashamedly complicated and flawed? Finding yourself? Lost yourself? Go on this trip with Abbi.
by Isaac Asimov
The three laws of Robotics:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
2) A robot must obey orders give in to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
With these three, simple directives, Isaac Asimov changed our perception of robots forever when he formulated the laws governing their behavior. In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot through a series of interlinked stories: from its primitive origins in the present to its ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future–a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete.
Here are stories of robots gone mad, of mind-read robots, and robots with a sense of humor. Of robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world–all told with the dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction that has become Asmiov’s trademark.
My comments January 29: Another science-fiction revisit from my youth, though it was copyrighted in 1950 before my mother was even born. Several of these remarkable short stories take place in 2015 and 2021 (and beyond). Asimov imagined a much more evolved world; one humans were probably capable of achieving but didn’t. Regardless I love these robot stories. Such fun here, mixed with psychological interest, social metaphor, and great science fiction. Did I mention a major character is a woman? Who is a scientist and discussing her career? 1950s sci-fi got there y’all. #SusanCalvin
My comments today: A cool thing about hitting your mid-thirties is the opportunity to revisit books you read 20 some years ago as a teen. You can learn much about who you are and how you have grown and changed through books. Different takeaways, different lessons, different likes and dislikes, same story. Humans are cool as hell.
Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars (although I recommend all volumes)
by Jeff Lemire (Writer), Dustin Nguyen (Artist), Steve Wands (Goodreads Author) (Letterer)
Young Robot boy TIM-21 and his companions struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet. Written by award-winning creator, Jeff Lemire, Descender is a rip-roaring and heart-felt cosmic odyssey. Lemire pits humanity against machine, and world against world, to create a sprawling epic.
My reviews by volume:
Volume One: Immediately an emotionally compelling story and Dustin Nguyen’s art is unbelievably beautiful.
Volume Two: Seriously excellent storytelling. Relatively heavy sci-fi with many characters but the art, storytelling, and lay out keep everything quite clear while still being incredibly visually compelling. Enjoying these volumes a ton.
Volume Three: This volume jumps around in the timeline quite a bit, which made it harder to sink into from a story-continuity perspective, but also filled in a lot of really important parts and answered questions I didn’t know I had about the plot. Nguyen’s art just gets better and better. Effie/Between Queen is just stunning.
Volume Four: The first issue in this volume – with the three paneled pages telling the three different stories that cover about 30 minutes of time – are breathtaking both in art and in storytelling.
Volume Five and Six: These are simply gorgeous and complex, thoughtful storytelling. Best original comics I’ve read in a while.
by Terry Pratchett, Nigel Planer (Audiobook Narrator)
Mightily Oats has not picked a good time to be priest. He thought he was there for a simple little religious ceremony. Now he’s caught up in a war between vampires and witches, and he’s not sure there is a right side. There’s the witches — Agnes, Magrat, Nanny Ogg, and the formidable Granny Weatherwax… And the vampires: the stakes are high but they’re intelligent — not easily got rid of with a garlic enema or going to the window and saying “I don’t know about you, but isn’t it a bit stuffy in here?” They’ve got style and fancy waistcoats. They’re out of the casket and want a bite of the future. “From the Trade Paperback edition.”
My comments June 17: Knocked out the audio book on my road trip today. Some of my favorite quotes:
“Repent!’” Nanny Ogg went on. “Repent? Me? Cheek! I can’t start repenting at my time of life. I’d never get any work done. Anyway,” she added, “I ain’t sorry for most of it.
Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum (Discworld, #23)
“And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.” “It’s a lot more complicated than that—” “No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.” “Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes—” “But they starts with thinking about people as things…” Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum (Discworld #23; Witches #6)
“He grinned. It was the sort of grin that Agnes supposed was called infectious but, then, so was measles.” Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum (Discworld #23; Witches #6)
My comments today: I think I may finally be emotionally prepared to read Pratchett’s final novel, which happens to be focused on my favorite Discworld character, Tiffany Aching. This man was a honest, witty, genius. Thank goodness he wrote so many damn books.
The whole list from 2019: