I’ve been a bit absent online these past two months, both because of the holiday period but also because I was trying to finish editing my novel-in-progress before the new year. It took longer than expected, but in the end I managed to send it off to beta readers just after Christmas, so that’s at least one resolution achieved! (even if others fell by the way side).
Now that I’m finally back to blogging, I figured I’d start the new year by looking at my favourite reads from the last one. I picked up many great books in 2019 but I’m only going to list the 5 that most impressed me, and I’ll do my best to keep my ramblings on each brief and spoiler-free (if you want to know more about any of them you can click the links to see the blurbs on Goodreads).
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Fantasy / Fairy Tale Retelling
I already mentioned Spinning Silver as my favourite novel from the Hugo finalists last year, and now it’s making it onto my overall favourites list too. I’d previously enjoyed Novik’s Uprooted, but for me, this topped it.
The rich, wintery, fairy tale world was fun to get lost in and I loved all the distinctive characters. I found it hard to put the book down, particularly toward the end. I also liked that the main character’s strength was her cleverness, especially when it came to accounting and money-making – not skills I often see lauded in fantasy. She was a perfect example of how inspiring heroines don’t necessarily need to wield swords to succeed, or be flawless all the time.
Children of Ruin
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Genre: Science fiction
Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time made my favourites list in 2018, and its sequel Children of Ruin is now following suit for 2019. Even though it didn’t have quite the same novelty factor as the first, it was an awesome read and kept the bar high. It had a lot of the old elements I loved (e.g. fascinating inter-species communication issues) but introduced enough new elements that it didn’t feel like a simple re-hashing of its predecessor.
It was nice to spend time with my favourite arachnids again, but also to be introduced to two new alien species – the more disturbing of which I particularly loved. Once again, I feel like one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest strengths is turning sci-fi tropes on their head and showing you the perspective of the “monster”.
Author: Peadar Ó Guilín
Genre: Young Adult Dystopia / Horror
The Call is another one I discovered because of the Hugos (its sequel was a Lodestar Award finalist). I’ve read a lot of YA dystopias, but this one felt a little different – something about the horror elements, the Irish setting and the way it was written meant that even though it had a lot of the usual tropes, it didn’t just seem like another Hunger Games copy. It was also incredibly suspenseful!
The central premise is that when teens get “the Call” they are instantly transported to a horrific magical world where they have to survive for a day (3 mins in our world) before they’re transported back… which means that at any moment any character can just vanish, and 3mins later they reappear either alive, dead, or magically disfigured depending on what they endured. Suffice to say, it makes for a very tense read, and it kept me up late at night turning pages.
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Young Adult Dystopia
Many people have recommended Scythe to me and I’ve had it on my list for a while, but last year I finally read it. Like The Call, its a YA dystopia that manages to be different enough not to trigger the fatigued feeling I sometimes get in this genre.
I think the most interesting thing about this book is the uncomfortable moral questions it poses… how do you control population in a world where no one dies naturally? Is there a good or noble or fair way to do so? Does life have meaning without death? The story explored these ideas without presenting clean or easy answers, and did so in a very entertaining way. There were lots of surprises I didn’t see coming, and I liked that it often did the opposite of what I expected: e.g. the artificial machine intelligence that controls everything is not automatically evil, and the characters whose job it is to kill aren’t necessarily villains. I didn’t see the ending coming and I loved it – it was even more satisfying that I’d thought it would be.
The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
The Cruel Prince has been mentioned so often online and won so many popularity contests that it feels almost clichéd to mention it here… but hey, I really enjoyed this book. It was one of those addictive stories I just didn’t want to stop listening to (I had the audiobook version) and it had me gobbling up the sequels in quick succession. I enjoyed the romance, the conflict, the plot twists, the suspense… not to mention the enemies-to-lovers trope which I’m always a sucker for.
I also appreciated that the main character wasn’t by any means a morally pure and perfect – yes, she’s courageous and clever and generally tries to do the right thing, but she also has an ambitious, murderous streak that helps her contend with all those devious fairy folk, not to mention makes her more interesting.
While it didn’t make my top 5, I also really enjoyed the final instalment in the Throne of Glass series, Kingdom of Ash. It’s a series I’ve been journeying with for a long time (7 books!), and I know some readers weren’t happy with the conclusion, but on the whole it left me satisfied and at one point even provoked a few tears.
And it’s not fantasy or science fiction, so I didn’t include it above, but I loved the autobiography Lion: A Long Way from Home by Saroo Brierley. The film based on Saroo’s story amazing, but I wanted to read the book to learn what happened in more detail from his perspective, as well as to see what was changed for the screen. The film made me cry but I thought I’d at least manage to make it through the book without waterworks since I knew the story already… no such luck 🙂
So those are my top picks. If you also enjoyed any of these books, or have your own favourite from 2019, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.