Top Ten Books of 2019

Hey everyone!  Here we are, the end of a decade and the beginning of a new year.  It’s time now to talk about the best books of the year, and I think I’m going to do an all-genre list.  Normally I’d just stick with YA, but there are a few other books I’ve read this year that I feel deserve some mention, but I’ll keep that to a minimum.  YA is, as always, my main focus.

So let’s take a look!  And yes, they are in order of how I would recommend them.  Should be fun.

Top Ten Books of 2019

10. All Fall Down by Ally Carter

One of the more unexpected books I read this year, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this.  We’re introduced to Grace, who is dealing with some huge emotional issues revolving around the death of her mother (that Grace witnessed) and there’s a lot of political drama between the nations on Embassy Row.  It’s dark, suspenseful, and impossible to put down.

9. An Affair of Poisons by Addie Thorley

This is only one of two books on this list that I picked up without any prior knowledge of the book or author.  And to say I had fun reading this magical historical fiction would be putting it mildly.  A re-imagining of 17th century France with alchemists, we follow Mirabelle, a young poisoner-in-training who realizes too late that she’s only been a cog in a deadly machine.  Mix into that a kitchen boy who is the illegitimate son of the King and you’ve got a daring story.

8. The Five by Hallie Rubenhold (Nonfiction)

This book was recommended to me by a friend who is a librarian.  This is one of the boldest and most feminist nonfictions I’ve ever read and it was so eye-opening that I can’t even tell you.  The Five takes a look at the unfortunate lives of the five confirmed victims of Jack the Ripper.  They weren’t prostitutes like we’ve been told for over 100 years–instead they were unfortunates, poor women whose life circumstances had forced them to make difficult choices.  Addicted, homeless, divorced, it didn’t matter.  But you’ll never look at them or Victorian England the same way again.

7. A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

I read this one back in the first week of January and I loved it.  Some of it was the nostalgia value of having the book set in 2002, where dial-up internet was still a thing and everyone closely guarded their phone’s minutes.  But on the other hand, this book tells a very important story, of life after 9/11 for those who were Muslim Americans.  And it’s so important that we can see the world from another perspective.

6. Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George

A twist on the Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, this book places the well-known tale into the Roaring Twenties in New York.  Bootleggers, flappers, and mobsters run amok in this story set in a small speakeasy trying to remain afloat.  It’s that juxtaposition between the familiar (the play) with the unfamiliar (the setting) that made this a lot of fun to read.

5. On the Spectrum by Jennifer Gold

This was the second of two that I picked up with no prior knowledge.  I picked it up for the Eiffel Towers on the cover, but I stayed for the characters and the unexpected depth.  The “spectrum” in the title does in part relate to our narrator’s brother’s autism, but also in part to her own issues with an eating disorder.  And the fact that both of these were portrayed as a spectrum next to each other was so different and so moving that I couldn’t help but get swept along with the story.

4. My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (Historical Fiction)

Anything by these two is quickly becoming my favorite thing.  This story, from the perspective of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, was certainly no exception.  It’s more of a life story than anything, going from the 1770s when Eliza’s family deals with the early years of the War for Independence all the way to the 1850s.  It’s quite the span and it can be a bit dense at times, but I did not cry harder over a book this year than I did this one.  So many tears were shed, even when I knew what was going to happen.

3. The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

I’m well aware of Dessen’s reputation as a writer–at least 3 of her books live on my shelves and I’ve read many more.  But for some reason, I was still taken aback by this story of class and identity.  There’s the Lake North/North Lake class conflict that was really interesting, coupled with Emma’s/Saylor’s struggle to figure out who she is and who she wants to be.  It was a lot of fun to read and it slowly gets beneath your skin until you’re actually sad the book’s over.

2. Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean (Romance)

I read a lot of romance novels because I enjoy their characters, plots, and happy endings in this not-so-happily-ever-after world.  And Sarah MacLean is the queen of romance, if I do say so.  Each book is better than the last and this one continued to blow me away.  I could not put it down.  The heroine is feisty, stubborn, and clever, which is the best combination.  The hero is strong, powerful, and wickedly smart.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that the hero is nicknamed “Beast” and the plot has some resemblances to Beauty and the Beast, which is my favorite story (obviously).

Now, on to the #1.

Drum roll please…

1. A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

I suppose this shouldn’t be much of a surprise, considering it is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  But it was such a bombshell.  The heroine has cerebral palsy, which makes her something of an outsider in her Washington, D.C. home.  And our hero is a prince in what is essentially a fantasy realm, cursed in a way that he feels helpless to ever break free.  Part of that curse involves kidnapping girls to see if they can fall in love with him.  Only he’s running out of time and hope.

Thank God the sequel comes out soon.

Nowhere But Here (Thunder Road, #1)

Image result for nowhere but hereFirst Lines: Top three awful moments of my life: Meeting my biological father at ten, breaking my arm in three spots at nine, falling into a hole and being trapped there overnight with a dead body at eight.  Other than that, I love my life.

You know, that first line got my attention pretty quick.  I give kudos to that because that’s awesome.  Ok, so I’m currently working through a number of books on my to-read list that I’ve been meaning to get to for years and just haven’t.  (That means you’re going to be seeing some older books popping up around here for a while.)  It’s been ages since I’ve read anything by Katie McGarry and I figured it was time.

Emily is happy with her life in Florida with her parents, her friends, and her safe life.  Yeah, she’s curious about the biological father that gave her up–and chose a motorcycle club called the Reign of Terror over her–but curiosity does not mean she wants to be part of his world.  When an unexpected trip to Kentucky turns into most of her summer vacation with relatives she didn’t know she had, Emily learns quickly that appearances do not tell the whole story.  The club isn’t what she thought it was and neither are the secrets everyone seems to be keeping from.  Another unexpected is Oz, the guy with gorgeous eyes who seems to be keeping a close eye on her.  Oz has only one goal: to join the Reign of Terror.  These guys are family, the good guys.  And to prove that he’s ready to join, he’s got to spend his summer protecting Emily from a rival club with an ax to grind.  But he never planned on Emily turning his world upside down.

This was what I’ve come to expect from McGarry: a fresh, interesting set of characters with unique personality traits coupled with a lot of very real issues for the characters to battle.

Let’s start with the characters. Emily has grown up in Florida, hundreds of miles away from the biological father she barely knows. She’s fearful but sassy. And the longer she stays in Snowflake (which is an incredibly funny name for a town full of bikers), the more she wants to discover the secrets people are intentionally keeping from her. Oz is determined to become part of the Reign of Terror biker club, just like his dad and everyone he calls friends. But Oz royally screwed up the one job he was supposed to do to get him into the club and he can’t stop trying to make up for it.

Both of the characters will surprise you at times. There were some things about Emily that had me giggling or just surprised about that twist in her character. And Oz, he’s playing against all the stereotypes Emily has about bikers (especially after hearing her mother warn her away from bad boys her entire life) and even his own single-mindedness. Oz was probably the biggest surprise in this book and I enjoyed that.

As for the plot, we’re dealing with some heavy hitters here. Cancer. Adoption. Facing fears. The danger of lies that grow over time. Characters have to make some seriously tough decisions and sometimes they make the wrong choices. It was really interesting to read all of that playing out.

The only reason I didn’t give this 5 stars was because it took me quite a while to get into the story. Emily is so closed off to everyone in Snowflake for so long that it was hard to feel like the story was going anywhere for a while. I’m happy I stuck with it because once I got there, it was so good.

Once A King (A Clash of Kingdoms, #3)

Image result for once a king erin summerillFirst Lines: I lean against the dusty Elementiary shelf crammed with books and jars of animal bits, and stare at my father’s letter.  His nearly indecipherable scratch strikes me with swift disappointment.

I’ve read this entire series in a year, which is kind of unheard of (partly because we’re always waiting for the next book for a year or more!), but I was happy to find this at the library and knock another series off my list.  Though I was a little nervous that our main character from the last two books wasn’t going to be a narrator this time around.

For twenty years, women with magical powers calls Channelers have been persecuted and killed in Malam for their abilities.  King Aodren is desperate to change that.  The persecution was wrong when it started in his infancy and it’s wrong now.  The only problem is that 20 years of prejudice aren’t easy to erase overnight.  Rumors of a deadly Channeler-made substance are only fanning the flame of hatred.  Lirra, a wind Channeler and the daughter of the most hated man in Malam, has every reason to distrust King Aodren when he asks for her help.  But she can’t help but wonder what’s going on herself.  Who is making this substance?  Could they possibly know how dangerous it is?  With Lirra’s help, Aodren sees a way to end the prejudice and begin a new world in Malam.  But his enemies are powerful and it only takes one mistake to topple a kingdom…

Hmm. This was not my favorite book in this series, something I worried about when I saw Britta’s story line ended with the previous book.

In this book, our main characters are Aodren and Lirra, two characters we met previously. Both of them are great characters and I’m not knocking them in the least. I like Aodren’s personality a lot, especially his drive to make up for his mistakes and make his country a better place, no matter how difficult that job is. And Lirra’s determination and skill set as a spy made her interesting to read about as well.

My problem more stemmed from the plot, which felt very simplistic. It’s basically a mystery the whole time and yeah, there’s a subplot about this kingdom summit that happens once every five years and all that, but the crux was the mystery. And I don’t know, the mystery was fine and everything but since it was basically the whole focus of the story, I eventually kind of got tired of it.

That’s not to say the story’s bad by any means. Some of the things that happened to Lirra and Aodren were suspenseful and interesting and I didn’t want to put the book down. But when I look at the bigger picture here, my impressions overall, I was just a little underwhelmed by it all.

Still, I won’t say I’m mad that I got to see these characters again. Aodren became my favorite with book 2 and I don’t hate that I got to see his story get a better resolution. Also, this book was a fast read and I’m not mad about that either. I just wish there was a little more happening in the plot.

Maybe This Time

Image result for maybe this time kasie westFirst Lines: The cafeteria had been transformed into a red-and-pink extravaganza.  Like Hello Kitty herself had decorated for the occasion.  The flowers, my contribution to the party, sat in the center of each table.

Ok, so when I see a new Kasie West book, it gets my attention.  I know what I’m getting: a cute rom-com style story.  I’ve read so many of her books at this point that I’ve got her figured out.  And each time, I’m a little nervous because there were 1-2 books along the way that I didn’t actually like.

Sophie Evans will be at any major occasion the year brings.  Weddings, funerals, New Year’s…you name it, she’ll be there with her flowers.  What she wasn’t expecting this year was to see Andrew Hart, the son of a fancy new chef in town, at all the same events.  He’s arrogant and entitled and he drives Sophie crazy.  All she wants to do is get through this year and work on her sketches so she can apply to design school.  But every time she turns around, there’s Andrew making her life complicated.  Except maybe it isn’t that complicated after all…

If you’re looking for something groundbreaking, this is not it. But if you’re looking for a cute teen love story told over the course of a year as the two characters see each other at special events throughout the year, then this is for you.

The storytelling itself was a little different, and that was pretty cool. We only see the characters at special events. Holidays, weddings, funerals, you get the idea. Sophie works for a florist, Andrew is the son of a caterer. So while the timeline was a little odd at times, it was pretty cool to see how their relationship developed and changed with all of these random meetings.

The characters were cool, but they weren’t all that different from previous West characters. Sophie’s snarky and sarcastic to the point of rudeness at times. She wants to be a designer, so her art is everything. Andrew is sweet but isolates himself to protect himself, as he and his father constantly move around. And as sweet as they were, I just had some trouble relating to them. I think part of that is because of the storytelling. There’s all this going on in the background of their lives that we never really get to sink our teeth into and that made it harder to feel like they were actually dealing with those issues. (Yes, I know I just praised the storytelling, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have other unintended consequences.)

If I had to describe this book quickly to someone, I would simply say it’s a rom-com. It’s cute, it’s funny, it has some depth to it, but it’s still very sweet. I got what I was looking for with this book.

I’m not really sure what else to say. It’s not my favorite Kasie West story, but it’s definitely not a bad showing.

Top Ten Reads of the Decade

I keep forgetting that this marks the end of a decade.  Can you believe it?  When this decade started, I was a wide-eyed senior in high school, 18 years old and discovering more every day what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Now I’m 28, a college graduate and a 6th year middle school teacher now established in a house of my own.  It’s crazy how many things have changed and how many things have stayed the same.

One of the constants?  My Goodreads account, lucky enough for you!  I started my acount on Goodreads in 2008, a little less than 3 years before I started this blog in 2011.  So I thought it might be fun to go through an try to pick out my favorite reads from each year!  I can’t promise they actually came out the year I read them, but at the time, they blew my mind.  I’m only choosing from books I rated 5 stars at the time, which is unfortunately still making this a difficult decision.

Let’s take a look!

Top Ten Reads of the Decade

2010 – Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

So many existential books this year (maybe because I had no idea where my life was about to take me after high school?), but this is the one that left the biggest mark.  I remember being in the minivan, on a family vacation that summer with this book.  I’d packed a backpack with 5 books to tide me over for a week.  (It was pre-Kindle.)  I was reading this in the van, trying to hide my tears from the other five family members in the vehicle with me.  It moved me that much and I’ve never forgotten that.

2011 – The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

There was a lot of stiff competition this year, with options like Stolen by Lucy Christopher (which was an Experience), Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, and Die For Me by Amy Plum.  I was deep into my paranormal phase at this point, so nearly every book I loved was supernatural in some way.  But The Goddess Test had to be my pick because I’ve read the book like 8 times since.  There’s just something about Kate and Henry that keeps me coming back time and time again.

2012 – Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

My paranormal phase clearly took a turn for the dark side during this year, as some of my contenders for my top book were Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (about assassins working for Death), The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (about murderous ghosts), Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (again, a murderous ghost), and Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter (again…you get the point).

But in the end, I had to go with the book that shifted my world view the most.  This book is beauty in an uncomfortable story.  A story about love, hope, and determination, we follow Lena as she struggles to survive the harsh conditions the Soviets put her family through in the 1940s after they are taken from their home in Lithuania.  I’ve read it multiple times and it never gets old–or easier to read.

2013 – With All My Soul (Soul Screamers, #7) by Rachel Vincent

This was actually a hard decision because there weren’t many options.  At 112 total books for the year, this was the least I’d ever read in a twelve-month period.  (My students would still freak out about that number being WAY too high.)  But I settled on this book because at the time, I remember it being the absolute best finale I’d ever read in my life.  It was creative, brazen, suspenseful, and satisfying.  I still stand by that.

2014 – The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolff

And we’re back to a slew of fantastic books to choose from.  I ended up choosing this one because this book hits so many of the right chords.  It’s a story of Titanic told in verse–from multiple perspectives.  I studied Titanic extensively as a kid (and well into my twenties) and I thought this book did everyone justice, from the third class passengers to the first, from Captain Smith to the rats who stowed away on the ship.  (Yes, the rats.)  Each voice was distinctive and the inevitable events of the night of April 14th are everything you want it to be.  It’s brilliant and underrated writing.

2015 – Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

You know how I said 2013 was my least read year?  Now we’re in my most read year, at 174 books.  I still don’t know how I physically did it, being a first year teacher AND having 8 of those books being from the Outlander series, which are massive tomes of 1000+ pages each.  And now the hard part was the clear trend I had toward social themes of every shade and shape, making so many of these books incredibly important.  So while I want to pick books like Outlander or Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (about the horrors of arranged marriages among some cultures today) or The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler (about what it means to have a voice), I had to choose the breakout debut of the year that showed the realities of mental illness.  Made You Up is moving, clever, and a book I will keep recommending for years to come.

2016 – A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2) by Sarah J. Maas

Around this point in time, I started getting far more critical with the books I read.  In the past, if I enjoyed a book, I gave it 5 stars.  Now, it had to move me to tears or make me think or be impossible for me to put down to earn 5 stars.  It’s actually kind of fascinating how the number of 5 star reviews seems to be dwindling.  This year, I only had 19.  Out of 168.  So of course, I had to go with the queen.  This is my favorite book in this series and I love how it completely changes your outlook on characters we’d previously met.

2017 – Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Ok, so I lied.  This is the year I read the least.  I only read 108 this year.  (“Only,” right?)  This decision, though, is not getting any easier.  In fact, of the 20 5-star reviews I had, 8 of them are rereads and thus disqualified.  However, the obvious choice of the ones left was Scythe.  Dark, wise, and slightly satirical, this social commentary on death and power is so fascinating.

2018 – The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones

It didn’t take much for this book to win my vote because this one blew my butt off the couch while I was reading.  It surprised me so much that I could not put it down and I think I might have been crying by the end.  And it all started because there was a weird title on the library shelf that caught my eye.

2019 – To Be Announced Soon…

You actually kind of luck out here!  Next week, I’ll count out for you my top ten of this year culminating in my favorite book of the year.  Unfortunately that does mean you need to wait to find out what I picked, but you get ten books instead of one.  That makes up for it, right?

Top Ten Rereads of 2019

I know there’s a constant debate out there–to reread or not to reread?  That is the question.  Personally, I love to reread.  If a book, the plot, or the characters managed to worm their way into my head and/or my heart, you can betcha I’m going to go back and check in on them again at some point.  There was something special about them and I’m not going to let that disappear.

For me, rereading is a lot like watching a favorite movie over and over again.  Sure, maybe I know all the words to When Harry Met Sally or Willy Wonka, but that doesn’t mean I get less enjoyment out of the experience.  In fact, it usually makes it better because I’m anticipating things.  And I’m catching the details I missed last time.

So in honor of all of that (and because I had an unusually high number of rereads this year), I figured I’d devote a list to the books I reread and enjoyed.  Not all are YA, but I hope I can introduce you to something new and worthwhile.

Top Ten Rereads of 2019

1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

This year marked my sixth time reading this book.  Before you start thinking I’m nuts, I teach this book.  I know it backwards and forwards at this point, but the ending still gets me every time.

2. The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

As I mentioned last week, this is truly becoming my new Christmas tradition.  Only the second time I’ve read it, it has become a cute, touching Christmas read for me.  Some people read A Christmas Carol or Pride and Prejudice for the Christmas season, but this one is mine.

3. Never Seduce a Scot by Maya Banks

Ok, this is one that’s a romance novel, but it’s so good.  I won’t get on my soapbox about why romance is so underrated when it shouldn’t be, but I’ll simply say that romance shows us a world where women are listened to and treated with respect.  In this book, we’re introduced to two Scottish clans were fight like the Hatfields and McCoys.  The King declares that the two families must unite, if only so they can’t rise up against him.  And that’s how we meet our two heros, particularly Eveline, who is deaf and no one knows it.  (Everyone thinks she’s addled from the fever that nearly took her life.)  I can’t tell you how much I love this representation of Eveline.  Her story alone, her strength, guts me every time.

4. Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

It’d been ten years between readings of this book and I remembered loving it the first time.  Perhaps not as much the second time around, but I always like to read a story where Death is personified as a person.

5. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

I’ve talked before about how much I love this story and how much it means to me.  Much like what I said about #3 on this list, I just love the representation and the heroine’s journey.  Elise starts off the story meek, passive, and insecure, but she doesn’t end it that way.  I love her story arc.  This was one of the first stories I ever read where I discovered my love of fantasy.  If it hadn’t been for this book, I might never have read Sarah J. Maas.

6. Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill

This is an old favorite of mine, hearkening back to the days when vampires were hot.  (So about ten years ago.)  In this story, we’re introduced to Merit, a college doctorate student who is nearly murdered on campus, only to be saved by vampires she now has to pledge her undead life to.  It’s clever, funny, and cute in a lot of unexpected ways.  But mostly I love Merit’s sarcasm.  It’s charming.

7. Destined by Jessie Harrell

One of my favorite retellings, this is a retelling of Eros (Cupid) and Psyche.  It’s not modernized in the least, preferring to stick with the Greek cities.  It stays very true to the myth, only embellishing where the original myths lacked detail.  It can fall into the cliches and it is sometimes pretty corny, but I still love it.

8. On Dublin Street by Samantha Young

Another romance, this is a modern love story with a dark side.  I’m not sure why, but I’m really drawn to stories with a dark side.  In this, we’re back in Scotland (I’ve got a thing for Scotland, ok?) and a bartender named Jocelyn who has no one.  With her family dead, she’s very closed off to everyone who tries to get to know her.  Enter Braden, who doesn’t take no for an answer and is determined to get past Jocelyn’s defenses.  Braden’s a bit of an alpha, which I typically don’t like, but there’s a lot of heart to go with him and that makes up for it.

9. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I teach this book too, but even if I didn’t, I would have read it this many times.  This is one of my favorite books.  So beautifully written, so marvelously told.  Again, I love that Death is personified (here, he’s our narrator), but I adore Liesl Meminger and the years we spend with her and Rudy and Mama and Papa and Max and everyone else.  They all become so real and I can’t ask for more than that from a book.

10. Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers

Rarely anymore do I read this book cover to cover, but that’s just because I know which scenes are my favorite.  (I pretty much skip most of the first hundred pages to get to the action.)  But this book, no matter how many times I’ve read it, makes me shiver each time.  Each and every time.  It comes back to something about the writing.  And, once again, Death is personified.

****

Apparently my two favorite things are Death personified and Scotland.  And while maybe I should be weirded out by the former or at least the combination of these two, I can’t say I am.  If you pitch me a book with either of these two things as part of the premise, you’ll probably have my attention.  And I’m not ashamed of that.  Books about Death (as a person) seem to have such a unique and interesting perspective on life, which appeals to my philosophical side.

And the ones about Scotland, well, I just can’t pass up a good brogue.