Celeste’s Top 20 Books of the Year (2019)

Celeste’s Top 20 Books of the Year (2019)

The featured image above was specifically designed by Felix Ortiz for Novel Notions’ Top 20 Lists.

If you’d like to see more stats about my reading year, click here.

The literary world was kind to me this year.  In 2019, I read over 115 books, and a ton of those have been 4 or 5 star reads. It was incredibly difficult to narrow my list down to my top 20 books, but I finally managed it. There will be a handful of honorable mentions at the end of this post, for those I just couldn’t bare to not include. I’m taking a page from Petrik and following three rules for my list:

1. Only one book per author.
2. Rereads don’t count.
3. The books were new to me, but didn’t have to be published this year.

For the first time, I’m ranking my reads for the entire year. That being said, every single book on this list was a 4.5 or 5 star read and I highly recommend them all.  You can view my full review of each book (including the honorable mentions) by clicking the link in each title.  And now, without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2019.

20. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials, #3)
Publisher: Scholastic

I was honestly blown about by His Dark Materials. It is one of the richest, most lovingly crafted trilogies I’ve had the pleasure of reading. It is epic and heartbreaking and sweet and fierce, and I absolutely loved it. Both Lyra and Will, and many of their supporting cast, will always have a place in my heart. Especially Lyra. She is kind and brave and incredibly loving, and I think every little girl could use a role model like her. Each book somehow improved the volume that preceded it, and it’s a series that I believe will lend itself very well to rereadings. His Dark Materials is a modern classic of the fantasy genre for a reason, and it’s well worth your time.

19. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes
Publisher: Atria Books

If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride, you really need to give this book a read. And I wholeheartedly recommend doing so through audio, as the story was far more impactful in my opinion whey voiced by those who lived it. If you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, I’m begging you to give it a shot. It’s beloved for a reason. Everything about As You Wish made my heart happy. Now excuse me while I go rewatch the movie was the hundredth time.

18. The Institute by Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner

Whether you’re a horror fan or stay far away from the genre, whether you’ve been reading King for decades or decided on a whim to give him a try with this book, I think you’ll find something to love here. I honestly believe that this is one of the strongest books he’s written in recent years outside of Sleeping Beauties, which he coauthored with his younger son. The Institute is more philosophically disturbing than visceral, and it gave me a lot of food for thought. It’s amazing that so many decades into his writing career, King just keeps getting better and better. I can’t wait to see what he creates next.

17. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (Alex Stern, #1)
Publisher: Flatiron Books

Joe Hill said that Alex is a heroine with “a bruised heart and bleeding knuckles,” and I can’t think of a more perfect description. Some such characters can feel very alienating to readers but Alex has this cautious vulnerability and fragile hope to her that made me instantly care deeply about her…  If you couldn’t tell, I really loved this book. While it was a dark tale, it wasn’t hopeless by any means. I love that Bardugo gave us a satisfying ending to this particular story while still leaving Alex’s world wide open for further exploration. I can’t wait to see what Bardugo writes next. And I’ll definitely be preordering the next installment in this series as soon as I can.

16. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie (The First Law, #2)
Publisher: Orbit

Abercrombie could (and should) give classes on crafting amazing character development. Every single perspective character grew by leaps and bounds in this book. Even those whose point of view chapters were scant in The Blade Itself were incredibly compelling and vibrant and sympathetic. I cared about every single perspective character, and was always a teensy bit desperate for my time with them to last a little longer before the point of view shifted. Abercrombie did an amazing job of imbuing each plot line with a sense of urgency that kept me on the edge of my seat for the duration of the book. It was honestly a little exhausting, but in the best way possible. This book is grimdark done absolutely right.

15. The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
Publisher: Redhook

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is such a fun ode to books. Books about books always spark joy in me, and this particular book fanned that spark into a cheery and inviting fire. Stories matter, and Parry’s debut celebrates that fact. If you’re a lover of the written word and believe that there’s nothing better than getting lost in a good book, this book is so definitely for you.

14. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Publisher: Atria Books

A Man Called Ove is one of the most charming, delightful, funny, poignant books I’ve every read. I laughed more times than I can count, but that laughter almost always had to find its way around the lump in my throat, because tears threatened to hit the pages almost as often. This book moved me more than I can express. I could barely read the last chapter through the haze of unshed tears, which finally spilled as I read the final words. It was a perfect story, and there’s not a single thing I could change about it.

13. The Martian by Andy Weir
Publisher: Del Rey

I highly recommend The Martian to everyone, especially if you enjoy audiobooks as R.C. Bray does a phenomenal job with his narration. Whether you’re a fan of science fiction or not, this is a book everyone should read. It’s the ultimate survival story, and you’ll be rooting for Mark Watney with your entire being.  His is a story of man versus the void, vanquishing certain death time and again with science.  His optimism and snarky attitude and determination make him one of my favorite fictional characters of all time.

12. Educated by Tara Westover
Publisher: Random House

Tara’s story is one of heartache, but it’s also one of triumph. It was a huge struggle, but Tara was finally able to create an identity for herself instead of letting her identity be dictated to her by the forceful personalities in her family. I have such immense respect for someone who could risk everything she knew like that for a chance at a better life, even without having any support system to catch her if she failed. Of the seven siblings, four never even attained GEDs, and their families all work for their parents. The other three not only went to college, but earned doctorates. Theirs is a family divided in more ways than one, and I pray that they will find healing one day. Educated taught me to never take the freedoms I’ve been given for granted. The freedom to pursue an education and to find and choose my own faith are incredibly precious, and this book reminded me to always value those gifts.

11. A Time of Blood by John Gwynne (Of Blood and Bone, #2)
Publisher: Orbit

The third installment of this trilogy is a book that I will be eagerly awaiting and will start reading as soon as I can get a copy. Everything else will have to wait. There was nothing about A Time of Blood that I would change. Not a single solitary thing. Gwynne has become on of those rare authors whose books I will immediately preorder as soon as they’re available. If he writes it, I’ll read it, no matter what it is. I don’t think I can give an author higher praise than that.

10. Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence (Book of the Ancestor, #3)
Publisher: Ace

I can’t recommend this trilogy highly enough. Whether you’re a fantasy fan or not, this is a series well worth your time. It has so much to offer to so many, and I dearly hope that it acquires the audience and notoriety it deserves. I feel that Nona’s story offers many profound lessons that could bring our world healing and understanding of one another if we would all take its words to heart. There is tragedy in Holy Sister, and the mourning it brings, but there is also vitality and passion and selflessness. It’s a beautiful book that I can’t wait for the world to read.

9. In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire (Wayward Children, #4)
Publisher: Tor.com

What blows my mind about In an Absent Dream is the fact that, going in, I already knew how it was going to end. And yet the ending still absolutely wrecked me. I’m baffled by how much Lundy’s story impacted me emotionally. Do I recommend this book? Without reservation, to anyone and everyone. Whether you read fantasy or literary fiction, whether you love YA or hate it, whether you’ve read the preceding books in the series or not, In an Absent Dream is absolutely worth reading. While having read Every Heart a Doorway first is suggested, as you will first meet this book’s protagonist within its pages, it’s not required. And if you happen to be a fan of the Labyrinth, Bowie’s cult classic film, you will undoubtedly have a soft spot for the Goblin Market as presented in these pages. This is a stunning story exquisitely told, and it deserves to be read.

8. Recursion by Blake Crouch
Publisher: Crown

This is a book that I can tell is going to stay with me for a long time.  While it reminded me a bit of movies like Minority Report and The Butterfly Effect due to the moral and philosophical questions it raised, Recursion is completely, uniquely itself, and I don’t think there’s another story like it. It’s mysterious, speculative, suspenseful, thrilling, romantic, and unfathomably deep. I strongly recommend that every reader, no matter your taste in genres, pick up a copy of Recursion. You won’t regret it.

7. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

While Kya’s character and the marsh itself were by far my two favorite elements of this book, Owens also incorporated a compelling and multifaceted mystery into the narrative. It was never predictable. I had no idea how things would turn out in the end. Which is just another reason that I absolutely adored this book. Kya’s story is sad and beautiful and inspiring, and I can already tell that this is a book that I’ll be mulling over for years to come and revisiting often. Whether you’re from the American South or from a world away, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book and meet Kya. She’ll immediately win you over.

6. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Ballantine Books

I don’t know if this is a story that other readers will connect to as strongly as I did, but I do think that the audiobook is compelling enough to entrance even the skeptical. If you’re a musician or a music lover, I beg you to give this a listen. Even if you’re not, if there’s any passion in your life you would throw yourself into for art’s sake, even at the possible cost of your health and happiness, you shouldn’t miss this book. It’s wild and crude and moving, and will have you humming songs that don’t actually exist. It’ll speak to your soul in the way that only music can.

5. The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett
Publisher: Orbit

As much as I adored the Divine Cities, this book surpassed that trilogy for me. The Troupe moved me, and it spoke so deeply to my heart. I loved the characters, and the setting, and the writing. But most of all, I loved the Song. This is a standalone novel, and though I can compare it loosely to The Night Circus in setting and The Ocean at the End of the Lane in tone, it is utterly unique among the hundreds upon hundreds of books I’ve read in my life. It’s an instant favorite for me, and I implore you to read it and experience that same magical, musical power for yourself.

4. The Rise of Magicks by Nora Roberts (Chronicles of the One, #3)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

I can’t recommend this series highly enough to everyone, no matter your preferred genres. If you’re a fantasy fan, please don’t let the fact that Nora is a “romance” author deter you. The woman can seriously write. Her world building, and lore weaving, and character development are all absolutely stellar. And for someone fairly new to the game, her battle scenes were completely gripping. If you’re already a longtime Nora fan, and are hesitant to pick this up because of the darkness of theme and plot, please give it a try anyway. You already know that you’re in good hands; trust her to get you through a radically different story in such a way that you’ll be completely won over by the final pages. (Side note: my grandmother devoured this series and isn’t a fantasy fan. Chronicles of the One, written by one of her favorite authors, opened her up to reading more fantasy. I can’t tell you how excited I am about that.) This trilogy is truly something special. It’s among my top ten series I’ve ever read. In my whole life.

3. The Sword Of Kaigen (A Theonite War Story) by M.L. Wang
Publisher: M.L. Wang

There is one chapter in particular that was one of the most heartbreaking, epic, brutal, joyful things I’ve ever read. I actually went back and read the entire chapter over again, which just isn’t something I ever do. There was more character development for a secondary character in the span of this chapter’s scant few pages than some main characters are given over the course of multiple books in a series.  If you haven’t noticed by this point, I was absurdly impressed. I couldn’t have loved this book more. I think that anime fans are really the target audience here, but also I think this is a book that would surprise and enthrall just about anyone who picks it up. However, do be aware that this book is unapologetically brutal. I had to take a break after multiple chapters because I emotionally couldn’t handle any more. But it was so worth it. The Sword of Kaigen will cut your heart to the quick. And even when you’re reading through tears, you’ll never wonder if it’s worth the pain.

2. Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames (The Band, #2)
Publisher: Orbit

What I didn’t expect was how powerfully emotional Bloody Rose ended up being. Eames did an impeccable job of reminding readers that the term “tragic artist” evolved for a reason and is generally at least somewhat true. Almost all art, in whatever form it takes, stems from an emotion so vast that the artist has to pour it out in some fashion or they’ll explode. This is especially true of music, and the songs that touch us the most deeply are those that are raw and visceral, like the artist melted the heart in their chest and poured it from their lips for all the world to experience. Bloody Rose is fun and heartfelt and will have you singing “Don’t Stop Believing” at the top of your lungs. Or, at least, inside your head. Fable is headlining, and seeing them is more than worth the cost of admission. They’ll rock your world.

1. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Publisher: Redhook

Harrow is more than an author; she is a Wordsmith, a sorceress wielding a pen in place of a wand. Her writing is effortlessly stunning and unconsciously literary. Not only does Harrow have a gorgeous way with words, but she appreciates the building blocks of language in a way that I’ve rarely if ever seen in fiction. Something she did that I felt was incredibly unique was drawing attention to letters themselves. For the first time in my adult life, I’m honestly contemplating rereading a book immediately, or at least within the same year. Maybe I’ll hold out until release day, and experience it again when I receive my preordered copy. I haven’t read a book twice in one year since I was in middle school. I can already tell that January is going to be one of my dearest friends, and that I’ll be revisiting her often. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a marvel, and I can’t wait for the world to read it.

And honorable mentions go out to:

Never Die by Rob J. Hayes, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs, Conversations with Oscar Wilde by Merlin Holland, Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson. Vendetta in Death by J.D. Robb, The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier, Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, and The World of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin.

Thank you to all the authors of these amazing books for sharing them with the world.  I can’t wait to see what wonderful stories 2020 holds.  I hope it’s the start of the most amazing decade literature has ever witnessed.

What are some of your favorite books of the year?

10 thoughts on “Celeste’s Top 20 Books of the Year (2019)

  1. Hmm, I’ve been on the fence about The Institute, but since Sleeping Beauties was a DNF for me, maybe I’ll hold off.

    The Martian was a fun read, great science based sci-fi, and Book of the Ancestor has been fantastic, although I’ve yet to read Holy Sister. Chronicles of the One is a series I need to catch up with – I just bought the first book in mass market paperback.

    And Yah for Bloody Rose! Not quite as good as Kings of the Wyld but still a fantastic read.

  2. This is an absolute ripper of a list. We share a few favourites ( The Sword of Kaigen blew me away, so many feels, the characters were phenomenal) and there are also a few that I was hoping to get to. Happy reading in 2020

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