The time has come to finally talk about my favorite books of the year!
I have read 135 books this year, and today I’m narrowing that down to my top nine books of the year. The reason there are nine instead of ten is that I couldn’t think of another that quite reached the level of these others. I read a lot of incredible books this year, but there has to be something special for it to be a Favorite Book of the Year.
Honestly, these nine books together represent who I am as a reader pretty thoroughly. Like, if someone asked me about all the kinds of books I like, I could just hand them this list and that would about cover it. That’s pretty neat.
Seven of these books are 2019 releases, interestingly enough. Six are YA, three are adult. We’ve got three contemporaries, one historical fiction, and five fantasy books.
Okay, enough intro…let’s talk about my favorite books of 2019! In no particularly order except the order in which I read them.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
“But the truth is, also, simply this: love is indomitable.”
Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of the first female president of the US, almost causes an international incident because of his rivalry with the prince of England. The two are forced to stage a friendship for the press, but Alex soon discovers that Prince Henry isn’t quite as boring as he’d always thought.
I never knew that a queer royalty romance novel was exactly what I needed in my life, but here we are. This is the only book I read twice this year, and I’m guessing that I’ll be reading it a lot more in coming years. Alex and Henry quickly became some of my new favorite characters, and the relationship that forms between them is one of my all-time favorites.
This book is more than simply a love story, though. It’s about history and the legacy we leave behind; it’s about the desire to leave the world better than we found it. Each page is full of so much heart – and plenty of laughs, and historical letters, and swoon-worthy emails – and I know that this will be a favorite for a long time.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
“He is slow, and the sea sings to us both, but he returns to me.”
On the island of Thisby, November brings the annual Scorpio Races, a competition on the backs of deadly capaill uisce (water horses). Puck Connolly is the first girl to enter the races, desperate to keep her family intact, and she’s up against the reigning champion, Sean Kendrick.
Something about this book feels like magic. I’ve talked over and over about how Maggie Stiefvater is able to evoke emotions and images that I didn’t even know were possible through the written language, and The Scorpio Races is one of the best examples of this. Even though I’ve never been to Thisby, never ridden a capaill uisce, never met Puck and Sean, I feel like I have because the writing carried me vividly through it all.
I couldn’t even tell you exactly what it is about this book that makes it perfect. It’s really everything about it, from its beautiful language to its rich setting to its understated but sweet romance. Maggie Stiefvater proves to me once again why she is one of my all-time favorite authors.
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
“Some truths are safest buried. Some castles best kept in the sky. There’s promise in tales that are yet to be spoken.”
The East and the West have been kept separate for a long time. In the East, a dragonrider in training makes a small, life-altering decision. Across the ocean, a mage disguised as a lady-in-waiting keeps a queen safe from assassins. Meanwhile, rumors of a legendary evil rising again begin to spread across the world.
This book gives new meaning to the term “epic fantasy.” At over 800 pages, there is so much story contained in this book, with some of the most impressive worldbuilding I’ve ever seen. For me, though, the characters were the real highlight. I got to know Ead, Sabran, Tané, Loth, and all the rest so well that they feel like friends of mine. And I loved that this was a story so centrally about women! I didn’t even realize that that was something I had been wanting in my fantasy until picking this up. Plus, dragons!!
Interestingly, this is the only book on this list that I didn’t give five stars this year. But looking back, it’s one of the books that has stuck with me the most, and I’m retrospectively bumping it up. Everything about this book felt like a masterpiece. Honestly, it kind of reset the bar for high fantasy going forward.
I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
“Don’t ignore the problems. Learn from them. But also don’t knock what you get right. Every success deserves a celebration.”
After being kicked out by their parents for coming out as nonbinary, Ben De Backer moves in with their older sister, who they haven’t seen in ten years. All Ben wants to do is get through their last year of high school unnoticed, but then they meet a classmate, Nathan, who changes everything.
Looking back, I don’t think I could tell you most of the things that happen in this book, but I certainly remember the feeling it left me with: a little bit of sadness but a whole lot of hope. Mason Deaver managed to write a quiet, understated story that was much more about characters than about plot, while making me want to cling to every single word.
Not only is this book beautifully written, but its characters are all delights, from Ben (who I just want to protect), to Nathan (the light of my life), to Hannah, Ben’s sister (so many family feels). This feels like a book that came straight from the author’s heart, and the fact that it’s going to mean so much to lots of readers only makes it more special.
Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
“The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.”
It’s 1989 in New York City, the AIDS crisis is raging, and three teens’ lives get tangled together. Reza, an Iranian immigrant, is terrified that someone will find out that he’s gay, so he starts dating Judy, even as he starts getting closer to Judy’s best friend, Art.
This is another book in which it was so clear that the author cared deeply about every word he put on the page. I haven’t read any other books from this period in recent history, and this book allowed me to understand the AIDS crisis, the historical queer community, and the activism that got us to today better than I have before.
I could recommend this book on that criteria alone, but there’s so much more to love about it. Even though I spent much of this book wanting to yell at the characters for making stupid choices, I also empathized with them so deeply and understood exactly where they were coming from. This book is full of love and heartbreak and hope and Madonna references, and I adored it!
Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden
“Everyone, everything has potential for magic. You just gotta be standing somewhere in the world and in the body that lets you see it.”
Bea runs away from home and ends up hitching a ride with Lou, an old family friend. As the two drive across West Texas, trying to figure out where they’re going and protecting a stray cat from some mysterious men following them, Bea and Lou figure out how to trust each other and listen.
This is the first time a graphic novel has ended up on my top books of the year list, and it’s no surprise at all that it ended up being a Tillie Walden book. Even though I read this in a single sitting, it has stuck with me ever since. It’s the type of book that never really leaves you.
Everything about this book is stunning, from the art style and color scheme, to the magical realism woven through the story, to the themes of grief and trauma and healing. Reading it felt like opening up a wound inside myself and then feeling it heal over the course of the book – painful, but a good kind of painful. I can’t even tell you how many times I cried while reading this. And that is the highest kind of compliment I can give!
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
“I think the best stories feel like they’re still going, somewhere, out in story space.”
Zachary Ezra Rawlins found a door when he was a child, but he didn’t open it. Years later, he discovers a book in his university library telling the story of him finding that door. Obsessed with finding out how he ended up in a book, he starts searching for anything that will lead him the magical, underground library at the shore of the Starless Sea.
I mean, “magical, underground library” and “doorways to other worlds” already sounds incredible, but when it’s combined with this book’s beautiful writing and captivating storytelling, it’s just about the best thing you can imagine.
This book is impossible to fully explain, since so much of its enjoyment comes from figuring out how everything fits together, bit by bit. Essentially, it’s a love letter to storytelling and people who love books and magical worlds. And it’s so intricately woven that I could read this book a hundred times and probably still be catching new details. Honestly, this book reminded me of everything that I love about reading.
Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater
“Dreams are not the safest thing to build a life on.”
Dreamers and dreams, hunters and thieves fill the first book in the sequel series to The Raven Cycle. The Lynch brothers, all of whom are made of dreams in some way, are trying to build their lives on what their father left behind, while Hennessy, another dreamer, is just trying to survive.
This book was almost guaranteed to be a new favorite simply because it’s by Maggie Stiefvater and it’s about characters that I already love. But there was always the chance that it was going to be a disappointment. Luckily, that was not the case at ALL.
I loved all of the new characters introduced in this story, as well as all the returning characters from The Raven Cycle. Even though this book has a very different feel from the first series, it still felt like the perfect follow-up while remaining its own unique entity. Art forgery, black markets, brand new revelations, plenty of dreams, and of course Maggie Stiefvater’s beautiful writing all combine to make this book the masterpiece that it is.
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
“You will never find me in trouble. You will find me in the library. If you can remember where that is.”
When Elliot Schafer ends up in a magical land, he expects it to be just like in the stories: fantastical creatures, true love, and lots of good books. All of that exists in the otherlands, but it’s not exactly how Elliot imagined. Along with his crush, an elf named Serene, and Serene’s friend Luke, Elliot survives four years at border camp.
This book made me laugh out loud more times than I can count, but it also made me tear up more times than I can count, and for me, that’s the perfect combination. Elliot is such an entertaining and snarky narrator who never, ever passes up the opportunity to point out someone else’s stupidity or mistakes. But he also feels lonely, unloved, and desperate for some kind of connection with others, and for that, I love him.
Reading this book, which takes place over the course of Elliot’s teenage years, feels like going on a long journey alongside Elliot, Luke, and Serene. Their friendship is absolutely the best part of this book, and I would happily read another couple thousand pages about them. This book has been out for a couple years, but I’m SO happy that I finally managed to pick it up in 2019!
What were your favorite books that you read in 2019? Have you read any of the books on my list?