I have a hard time picking favorites when it comes to books, which is why lists (that don’t have a specific order) are probably my go-to. Stories and other narratives just mean different things to me at different times and yes prose/ideas come into play, but there are plenty of books I like for purely mattering to *me*.
So, what I’ve done here below is break down my “Best of” are the books that I read in 2019 to the main three genres I have read from(and Nonfiction), along with a fifth separate list for books, called Grab Bag, which consists of books too genre-blendy to confine to any one list.
Like I said before, these aren’t in any real order, but I have also reviewed most of these on the blog, so I’ll have each one linked to their respective post as well, in case you’re curious. If you want to see a full record of my reading list, broken down by genre and form, please go here.
Darkweird by Matthew Davis – Having also read the previous book this year, I had to go with the second, because of how Davis doubles down on themes and masterfully grows his characters further. It’s not often that you can tell in a series that an author becomes “better,” but Davis clearly does after his debut, RED SKY BLUES. This book was a real treat and I’m not one for urban fantasy.
Pimp My Airship by Maurice Broaddus – I’m generally not a fan of steampunk, but there was something about Broaddus’ prose that hooked me immediately. I mean, let’s be real, (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah & Sleepy are an amazing pair to tag along with through the industrialized and class-stratified/gentrified alt-Indianapolis. Do not miss out on this!
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse – This was one of my first books read in 2019 and I fell in love with Roanhorse’s style and world. I’d be dying for an indigenous fantasy and this novel fit the bill pretty well, along with the flairs of post-apocalyptic and urban fantasy flavors. I have the second book ready to go for later this year.
The Bone Ships by R.J. Barker – I came late to the party on this one, but boy did it sting that I did! An original nautical epic fantasy, Barker manages to make this story feel as intimate and entertaining as any sea shanty. Filled with ships literally made out of dragon bones and a cruel, hard culture, this is a book with a fully realized world and begins what promises to be a great series.
Changing of the Guard by Matthew Spencer – This was the first book I had read of Spencer’s and I had to say that I was impressed. A grimdark-esque world filled with assassins, court politics, and ethnic tensions, for fantasy it feels almost closer to our own world. Yet, don’t let that brutality get to you, this is a book manages to dole out humor and doesn’t entirely leave all “goodness” behind.
North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud – I have found that I have a huge soft spot for horror collections and this work launched itself into not only one of my favorite collections, but favorite books of all time. Ballingrud is a meticulous writer with brilliant focus on tone and atmosphere when it comes to his stories. All of them have deep gut-level themes that remind me immediately of Raymond Carver(one of my favorite short story writers of all time). Don’t miss out on this one!
Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones – This one had been sitting on my TBR list for a long time and I immediately regretted letting this one sit for so long. Jones writes this intimate ghost story that deals with masculinity, heritage, and responsibility. I loved this story for a lot of different reasons, but the strength of this story rests on Jones’ ability to translate ethereal feelings to paper.
The Fisherman by John Langan – Taking a hard left from the previous book, Langan’s new spin on cosmic horror is a masterful tale within a tale within a tale. Folded between these covers are two stories that depict a river that flows from a lake where something dark and forgotten lies. Langan manages to mirror Lovecraft’s style, while also elevating it and morphing it to new and horrible realities.
Spicy Constellation & Other Recipes by Chad Lutze – This is another collection that I truly appreciated. The title itself is quite fun and the writing/stories themselves are all varied bits of horror and humor sprinkled in. Lutze is an author I am going to continue to be on the watch for, considering these stories left me both uncomfortable at times, but also satisfied.
The Immaculate Void by Brian Hodges – This was another cosmic horror with a unique spin. A brother searches for a disturbed and aloof sister all the while cosmic bodies begin to wink out of existence as something beyond our understanding comes gliding our way. While utterly galaxy spanning in scope, but claustrophobic at the same time, Hodges masterfully presents a fresh voice within cosmic horror.
Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky – After loving CHILDREN OF TIME, reading the sequel was a no brainer, but it takes the place of the previous book purely because Tchaikovsky doubles down on…*everything.* It was awesome to see how this future of humanity becomes more complicated and more diverse as time goes on and of course this book gives us our first taste of something truly alien.
Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – I was pleasantly surprised by this book and was unexpectedly gutted by the ending, so obviously I loved this story. As a near-future science fiction set in Mexico, this book feels somewhat bleak, yet there is so much hope that Garcia still weaves into the pages, especially with our heroine’s choices(or lack there of).
Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell – I have stayed away from space opera for a long time, so when I picked up Powell’s novel, the first in a trilogy, I was curious. Little did I know that I didn’t need to worry. Filled with interstellar warships, faster than light travel, and aliens, it pushed all the right buttons for me. And Powell’s humorously entertaining prose, the book reads like a breeze. I fell in love with it immediately.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang – This is the third collection on this list and Chiang’s stories are something of mind puzzles to me. After reading his “Story of Your Life,” which is one of my absolute favorite short stories, he has been a favorite of mine. Obviously, I gobbled this one up too quickly and was left hungry for more. This mix of fantasy and science fiction stories that wander through strange and peculiar issues are uniquely his own and unparalleled.
Dead Astronauts by Jeff Vandermeer – This was the very last book I read in 2019 and I have a review elsewhere forthcoming on this, so I won’t say too much other than: I loved this book so much. Experimental, timely, visceral. Vandermeer proves once again that he will test his readers to the absolute limit in order to force them to recognize a point of view other than their own. This book was my absolute favorite for the year.
Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack – Womack’s work is impeccable and she does a wonderful job unpacking the history of Afrofuturism in the USA. Filled with references of other works that I would implore you to check out, this was my first read for 2019 and it was a lovely way to begin the new year.
The Reckonings by Lacy M. Johnson – Filled with essays on relevant and urgent topics, Johnson is here for a reckoning indeed. After her intimate debut memoir, this essay collection is full to the brim of piercing and often unsettling insights as to how we often make ourselves a little “too” comfortable in the systems that enfold us. And even still, sometimes it’s not even the external forces around us, but its our own prejudices and biases that bind us.
Dear Ijeawele; or, A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – This brief little manifesto was a lovely, insightful piece on Feminism and how to go about this in our day and age. Adichie’s writing is always graceful and concise, while sliding in a small amount of wit. You could read this over your lunch break and I urge you to do so.
Educated by Tara Westover – This book made quite the splash when it was first released, I was late to the party and listened to this on audio book. I’m not sure if my choice of medium heightened the impact of this book, but this was a crucial book to read as much as it was a hard one to listen to. Westover’s story is both tragic and inspiring. A heartfelt memoir at its core, this is one book that needs to be read at least once.
What I Talk About When I talk About Running by Haruki Murakami – While, I know Murakami can be polorizing, I thought his part memoir, part travelogue was an insightful glimpse into his discipline of running and how that paralleled his writing. It helped me re-contextualize my own approach to writing as well as getting my butt out there and running myself.
All Hail the House Gods by Andrew Stone – There are few books that I think about months after finishing them, but AHTHG was one of them. Such a bizzaro mix of sentient houses and the humans that worship them, the story and its’ themes have stayed with me awhile. There aren’t that many books that do that, so please give this one a moment.
Roughneck by Jeff Lemire – The only graphic novel on here, so it’s got to be good right? Well, this was an excellent read, for not only the art, but Lemire’s core story had such powerful themes around family, legacy, and healing past wounds, that when the ending came around I was crying. Despite its name, this book has a tender message for the reader, you just have to be brave enough to get to it.
Snow Over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Serna – Another one of my late in the year reads, this was a wild wild ride. Serna straddles so many different genres that it is hard to pin this book down, even if you wanted to. Filled with rich prose and a story that is as beautiful as it is brutal, it offers a glimpse of hope for our world, that it can take care of itself, even if we are poor stewards.
The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor – The only classic on my list, which isn’t surprising, because I don’t read classics all that often. I’m also a sucker for Flannery, so if you need me to pitch this, just follow the link to my review, otherwise you should be reading at least her short stories anyway!
The Power by Naomi Alderman – The last book here is a powerful alt-history told via a historical record exchange between two historians. Alderman entertains a future/past where women have developed a special power and wrestle it away from the literal patriarchy and all chaos ensues. While, some of Alderman’s conclusions are a little concerning, especially with the idea of “power corrupts,” this book delivers on asking hard questions and begs the question, “Who are we when our enemies cower before us?” Fantastic read, especially for those invested in our current moment in history.