The featured image above was specifically designed by Felix Ortiz for Novel Notions’ Top 20 Lists.
Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m cheating… my Best Books of 2019 post is a little different from the rest of the Novel Notions team.
It’s felt like a bit of a strange reading year for me, with a lot of study, non-fiction, and comfort rereads. My number is sitting at 164 so far, with a whole load getting that very respectable 4 star rating. However, there have only been a small amount that have truly floored me, that have deserved the 4.5 or the big, shiny 5 star rating. These are the kind of books that stay in your memory forever, that you recommend EVERYWHERE and as often as possible. They’re the ones where it’s almost impossible to stop your eyes from flicking forward to see what’s coming next because you’re so excited to get there. When I made that feeling the criteria for my list, it made things immediately clear. I don’t have 20, I have 10. They were all published this year and I loved them all. I hope you consider giving them a go too…
First up, there’s The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
This is a book that has so much to say. It told essential stories through compelling characters AND had the guts to take narrative chances. A powerfully affecting novel which offers insights about both past and present. It’s unmissable fiction.
Next, there’s The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
This beautiful book was a present from my amazing co-blogger, Petrik, who knew I was desperate to finish this trilogy. I read it so recently that I haven’t written my review yet but it was emotional and perfect.
Start your journey with The Bear and the Nightingale.
Or if you’re all caught up, buy it
Now we have The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
This is one of those books that is so damn clever that it leaves you in awe of the author’s organisational and planning skills as much as their writing. Masterfully crafted, with social commentary sharp enough to cause a fatal bleed, and seriously fun to boot?? Yeah, this is a real good time. An excellent addition to the genre.
Nobody will be surprised to see Wrath of Storms by Steven McKinnon
Symphony of the Wind was my favourite of SPFBO 4 and this sequel hit all the same high notes. Gallows is fast earning a place on my ‘Favourite Characters Of All Time’ list– anyone who can get himself in this much trouble deserves some serious admiration. If you’re late to the ‘damn, self-pub books are really good’ party (that I only joined last year myself), this will give you that celebratory feeling for sure.
If you missed Symphony of the Wind:
If you’re ready for Wrath of Storms:
This list wouldn’t be complete without The Poison Song by Jen Williams
What can I say about The Winnowing Flame Trilogy? Too much for this small space. It’s truly something special, beautifully written with incredible characters, and deserves way more attention that it’s received thus far. The Poison Song is an exceptional finale that exceeded every expectation and which epitomises the kind of inventive, diverse, and emotional fantasy writing the genre really needs. Everything about this series is so creative, so vibrant and refreshingly different that it almost needs to come with a caution. Beware reader, this is ground untrodden, an exhilarating yet hazardous journey. You have been warned.
If you think you’re prepared for The Poison Song:
The best crime fiction book I’ve read this year is The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox
If you want to know what the best of modern British noir looks like, ta da…it’s right here. Every book in this trilogy got the full 5 stars. They show gritty reality boldly done, with a main character who follows his own version of right and wrong, but somehow manages to be the bright light at the heart of a dark world. They’re intense and clever, with this last book the kind of emotional rollercoaster that leaves your mind wired. Crime writing doesn’t get much better than this.
I’ve never been able to write reviews that say anything more than ‘OMG, soooo GOOD, READ IT’… so I’ll just provide the links to buy:
My grimdark obsession is Pries of Lies by Peter McLean
Oh Tomas Piety, why are you so damn bad… (No, YOU, have an unhealthy attraction to a murderous gang leader/book character…). With his War for the Rose Throne series, Peter McLean shows just how much you can do with a superlatively executed character voice. Especially when it’s just the frontrunner in the very competitive ‘Really Cool Shit awards’, just ahead of exceptionally realised worldbuilding and a plot full of bloody surprises.
Join the gang in Priest of Bones:
When you’re ready for more…Priest of Lies:
Shadow cats will always make the List, so here is Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff
Look at Mr. Kindly right there on the cover. Look at all that epic badassery just hinted at in the illustrations and tag line. My review for this just reads: Fuck. I think I ugly cried for the last 30%. What else needs to be said? Probably lots. So I’ll let you have Petrik’s review, since he uses better words. For me, this was one of the most surprising, brutal, and all round extraordinary series of the last few years, finished PERFECTLY with Darkdawn.
There’s little chance you’ve not read them yet, my clever gentlefriends, but just in case:
These last two books are my favourites. No competition. Except with each other. They’re too different to really compare and it was impossible to choose one over the other. So out of a whole heap of UNMISSABLE FICTION, here are two of the MOST MEMORABLE….
The ridiculously excellent A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie
I met the author at a signing and typically, managed to embarrass myself. However, my cringeworthy memories are not enough to knock this out of the (shared) top spot. Best yet, it’s the first in a new trilogy which promises to be even better than the first. The first, you say?? If you’ve not read The First Law Trilogy, do you ever have a depressing, violent, and bloody treat to come. Read that first. Really. Then you’ll be ready for A Little Hatred. This book is exceptional. Indisputably, spectacularly, criminally good. Clever, funny, and packed with cutting commentary, it’s a worthy successor.
Absolutely, definitely, HAVE-TO READ FIRST books:
Ready for the Age of Madness?
And last, but most definitely not least, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Welcome to adult fiction, Leigh, please stay with us forever. There’s so much I want to say about this book that I struggle to find the words. It’s a story that felt like it was written for me and me alone. So as much as I want everyone to read it and love it as much as I did, I’m happy to hold my feelings and this book close to my heart regardless. I can’t freaking wait to see what comes next. Plus, it’s made me want to pick up all her other works, YA be damned. Though, I’m not going to lie, Ben Barnes being in the Netflix adaptation of the Shadow and Bone Trilogy had a hefty influence too.
So that’s it, that’s my list. The books that were, for me, the best of 2019. I hope you all find something on here that appeals. And I can’t wait to catch up on all YOUR Top Lists too. Until next year, my friends….
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year