I had put off putting together my ‘Best Of’ list for the year, as I had a couple of new-to-me titles I wanted to read before bidding farewell to 2019, and I didn’t know how they would be. But after a lazy winter Sunday with no plans and a snowstorm that kept me home all day, I finished the remaining books I’d intended to read this year. And while those two titles were great, they did not land on the ‘Best Of’ list.
I finished 170 books in 2019, which is the most I have ever read in a single year. Most of them were fantasy and science fiction, but I enjoyed books from a variety of genres, plus multiple nonfiction titles. Rather than picking a certain number from the whole collection, I decided to break it down by genre and choose the best books within each genre.
These are all books I read for the first time in 2019, but that does not necessarily mean they were published in 2019.
- Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World by M.R. O’Connor
After a GPS mishap leads O’Connor and her family into a dead end in the desert instead of a swimming hole, O’Connor goes on a journey to learn how different groups of people navigated through wide expanses of seemingly featureless territory: the snows of the Canadian Arctic, the desert of the Australian Outback, and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
- The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Steven Brusatte
Brusatte, a paleontologist, brings his passion for dinosaurs to the pages of this informative and entertaining book about every child’s favorite creature: the dinosaur, and in so doing proves that a love of the pre-historic beasties is not just for children.
Lonely and unemployed, self-described introvert Jessica Pan decides she is tired of wearing a Jessica-shaped hole in her couch every night and spends a year saying ‘yes’ to new situations, even if they involve extreme amounts of extraverting and trying wild new experiences. In so doing, she finds new friendships and discovers that being outgoing doesn’t mean she has to change her introverted self.
- Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer
At age nineteen, Lara Prior-Palmer was unsure of what she wanted to do with her life. Though she tried many things and applied for even more positions, nothing stuck for her, leaving her at loose ends. One day, on a whim, she applied to compete in the Mongol Derby, a grueling test of endurance and skill across the steppes of Mongolia. Though Prior-Palmer was woefully unprepared, she went on to become the first female and youngest rider ever to win. She describes the circumstances of her unlikely victory in this dreamlike account that weaves together her experiences among the lonely steppes, the people she met, the horses she rode, and the only book she brought with her: Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
- The Long Call (Two Rivers #1) by Ann Cleeves
Matthew Venn is a by-the-book detective inspector in Devonshire, England. On the day of his estranged father’s funeral, a man is found dead on the beach. He has been murdered, and the investigation takes Venn back to a place he would rather not revisit: his own past. Cleeves’s writing is atmospheric and fully defines each of the characters as the story reveals them. It’s a story that will stick with readers long after the last page is turned, and leave them anticipating the next story in the series.
- Lethal Pursuit (Barker and Llewellyn #11) by Will Thomas
When an agent of Her Majesty’s government is found dead almost on their doorstep, Barker and Llewellyn are hired by the Prime Minister to investigate his death and guard the priceless piece of history the agent brought back to England with him. But when a collection of secret societies involve themselves in the matter, they discover that this job is more complicated than they thought it would be, and potentially lethal to boot.
- Madame Victoria by Catherine Leroux, translated from the French by Lazer Lederhendler
In 2001, a woman’s skeletal remains were found outside the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. Her identity was never discovered. In this series of linked short stories, Leroux speculates as to the identity of this ‘Madame Victoria’.
In the first two volumes of her Booker Award-winning trilogy, we meet Thomas Cromwell, a commoner who escaped his abusive father, fled to the continent as a boy, fought in wars, became an accountant, and ultimately rose to the heights of power in the English court of King Henry VIII. Along the way, he fights political battles with such figures as Thomas Moore, Stephen Gardiner, and Anne Boleyn as he fights to keep his power, his wealth, and his head in the vicious games of the high nobility.
- The Half-Drowned King (The Half-Drowned King #1) by Linnea Hartsuyker
After the death of their father, Ragnvald and his sister Svanhild want nothing more than to keep the family farm from the clutches of their odious stepfather. But after Ragnvald is betrayed and nearly drowned, he finds himself among the followers of Harald Fairhair as he seeks to become king of Norway. Svanhild, on the other hand, is expected to marry whomever her stepfather chooses. But when fate gives her the chance to escape her stepfather’s cruelty, she must choose between family or freedom.
- Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be publicly executed in Iceland. After her conviction in the autumn of 1829, she is sent to a remote farm in northern Iceland to await her execution. The family is horrified to be hosting this woman, about whom they have heard horrific stories. But as they get to know her, they discover that she is not the monster they thought she was, and that the truth is more complicated than they thought.
- Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by Colleen Doran
Gaiman’s dark retelling of the fairytale of Snow White comes from Snow White’s stepmother, the queen who sent the huntsman to take the heart of her beautiful stepdaughter. But the story may not have begun the way we thought it did, and in Gaiman’s hands, it is creepier and darker than ever. Colleen Doran’s sumptuous Art Nouveau-inspired illustrations bring the story to life like never before.
- Monstress, vol. 4: The Chosen by Marjorie Liu, Illustrated by Sana Takeda
In the latest installment of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s Eisner Award-winning series, Maika Halfwolf discovers some disturbing truths about herself and her family, and find a conspiracy swirling around her. Meanwhile, the fates of Kippa the Kitsune girl and Ren the Nekomancer are revealed, with consequences that will be far-reaching.
Best Young Adult Fantasy:
- Finishing School (series) by Gail Carriger
– Etiquette and Espionage
– Curtsies and Conspiracies
–Waistcoats and Weaponry
–Manners and Mutiny
Teenaged Sophronia Temminnick would rather climb a tree than climb into a carriage, but when her mother reaches her wit’s end, Sophronia is sent to finishing school in the hopes that she will become a proper lady. Little does Mrs. Temmennick know that the school she has sent her daughter to is a training school for spies, assassins, and covert operatives in whose hands fashion is a deadly weapon. In their years of schooling, Sophronia and her friends learn the best way to deal with vampires and werewolves, how to properly poison the guests at a dinner party, and the best way to flutter one’s eyelashes at a ball. It’s even odds as to which of these is most important.
- The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad
Fatima lives in the flourishing city of Noor, a stop on the Silk Road where cultures blend and a myriad of languages fills the air. The mystical Ifrit guard the city against the Shayateen, spirits of chaos who would slaughter everyone in the city if they could. But when one of the most powerful Ifrit in Noor dies suddenly, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot comprehend, but could save Noor, or lead to its destruction. Azad’s debut novel has its flaws, but the overall effect is beautiful and gives the reader a look at a city like no other, where the relationships between the female characters are every bit as important as the budding romances.
Best Science Fiction:
- The Murderbot Diaries (series) by Martha Wells
– All Systems Red
– Rogue Protocol
– Exit Strategy
Though the galaxy sees it as a terrifying artificial intelligence that must be controlled, Murderbot would really rather be left alone to figure out its own identity and watch the hundreds of hours of television shows it has downloaded. But when unexpected and terrifying aliens and corporate conspiracies threaten the lives of the ridiculous humans Murderbot encounters, drastic measures must be taken.
- Ancestral Night (White Space #1) by Elizabeth Bear
Haimey Dz works on a salvage ship with her best friend, two cats, and the friendly AI who runs their ship. Together, they explore deep space, looking for wrecked ships they can salvage for supplies and materials they can use to pay off their debts. But the depths of space holds many secrets, and when Haimey and her crew run afoul of pirates, she discovers that she may hold the key to protecting her civilization from terrorists who seek to destroy the society as she knows it. But along the way, she finds that her own past may be nothing like what she believes it to be.
- Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1) by James S.A. Corey
Humanity has colonized the solar system, building new societies on the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, and beyond. In spite of the incredible leaps humanity has made, we can’t seem to get along, even when a terrifying threat from time immemorial appears out of the deep and threatens all of humanity.
- The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
As the youngest– and unwanted– son of the emperor, Maia was never meant to leave his exile in a swampy, dilapidated mansion under the watchful eye of his abusive cousin. But when an airship ‘accident’ kills the emperor and most of his heirs, Maia suddenly finds himself on the imperial throne. Unschooled in the ways of the court and its politics, he must learn the complicated systems and figure out who is friend and who is foe before conspirators can utterly destroy him.
- The Tiger’s Daughter (Their Bright Ascendancy #1) by K Arsenault Rivera
Shefali and O-Shizuka are bound by fate and love. Best friends in childhood, and lovers later in their lives, they are heirs to fading cultures. O-Shizuka is the heiress to the degenerate Hokkaran empire, while Shefali is the daughter of a warrior-woman and leader of the Qorin, fearsome nomads of the vast steppes. But evil haunts the edges of their realms, and it is spreading. While vain, prideful O-Shizuka is convinced that her sword is the answer to all problems, Shefali is less sure. But together they will face this evil or die trying to destroy it.
- Jade City (The Green Bone Saga #1) by Fonda Lee
The Kaul family is one of two crime families who control the island of Kekon. Their strength comes from the mineral jade, which grants users mystical and superhuman powers, and is only found on Kekon. But superhuman powers are not enough to keep the family or its territory safe from treacherous forces both within and without, and the three scions of the family must come together in spite of their differences, or be destroyed in a street war the likes of which their family has never seen before.
- The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
In the waning days of the last Muslim stronghold in Spain, Fatima a Circassian concubine to the Sultan and her best friend Hassan, a mapmaker who can draw maps of places he has never seen, must face the end of their world as they know it. The Christian soldiers of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella are at the sultan’s doorstep, and they find Hassan’s magical abilities to be a great threat. Fatima and Hassan must escape the city and flee, unprepared, across the land to seek refuge on the mystical island of the Bird King. The Islamic poem, The Conference of the Birds, winds through this elegant novel about good, evil, friendship, sacrifice, and forgiveness.