It’s time for my favorite post of the year!
“Favorite books of 2019” is also the Top Ten Tuesday topic for this week (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl), and since in 2019 I’ve read aroung 100 books instead of 150 as I did in 2018 and 2017, I’m actually going to stop myself at ten, with five honorable mentions at the end. My list of favorites that aren’t novels (so, from novellas and graphic novels to TV shows and poetry) will be in a different post, hopefully coming soon.
I chose the order in a way that wouldn’t only count how much I liked the story – as I liked all of these, and putting them in order basing myself only on that was going to be difficult – but also how much they affected me after I read them.
My favorite book is at the end of the list.
The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum
The best books about space are always the ones that manage to make you feel small while reminding you that life is beautiful, and how we can thrive on this spinning rock of a planet. And there’s something about the way K. Ancrum writes that is perfect for that: the short chapters and the mixed media format combined make you fly through the story quickly, but the feeling of wonder and hope stays with you.
This is also a story about queer found family and star-spanning sapphic love, and what more could one want?
The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta
The Lost Coast is a love letter to the communities queer people form and the power of queer love, wrapped in a wonderfully atmospheric contemporary-fantasy package. This is one of those books that is queer to its essence while not being about tragedy, because there’s more that is unique about our experiences than pain and trauma; it’s a story about finding and recognizing your own power in the context of a group, and the importance of having people to ground you as well. I hope I’ll get to spend more time with Danny, Rush and the other witches in the Californian redwoods.
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
Among all the impactful, stare-at-the-sky-in-wonder, weird, and challenging reads, sometimes I forget that reading can be, you know, fun. Fun doesn’t mean mindless or forgettable: sometimes you want to remind yourself what it was like to be a tween who wants to go on an adventure, and sometimes you want to get emotional about fox ghosts, in a book that has the same feel as the ones from your childhood – but that, unlike them, has the existence of queer/trans/polyamorous people built in its very worldbuilding and is based in a non-western culture, being Korean-inspired sci-fi. If I could give one book to tween Acqua, it would be this one; that doesn’t mean it was any less valuable as an adult.
The Fever King by Victoria Lee
At this point, I know I will always fall in love with the kind of stories whose point is to ask, does the end really justify these means, all over again. I’m predictable, and so is this book, but sometimes it doesn’t matter because the execution is that good. The Fever King is a story about trauma, intergenerational and not, and what it means to live as a survivor; it also has one of the most interesting sci-fantasy magic systems I’ve ever read, directly based on learning. I can’t wait to see where this story will bring me with The Electric Heir next year, and whether Noam and Dara will get to be something resembling happy and in love.
Also, if you like reading about villains, please, read this book. I hadn’t had such an intense book hangover since 2017.
The Wise and the Wicked by Rebecca Podos
I don’t know if I get what it means to be in love with a person, but I know this book does.
The Wise and the Wicked is a story about looking at the future while dealing with intergenerational trauma, following a magical Russian-American family, and it has what’s my favorite m/f romance of the year. It felt so real, and sweet, and sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of how a romance can be all of these things while being what makes a book shine. (I’m usually more here for tense, possibly evil stuff.)
Everything about this felt so vibrant and alive, just as bright and unforgettable as its cover. Because of its kind of magical weirdness, its attention to detail, and the major queer characters and trans love interest, I’d recommend this book to everyone who likes Anna-Marie McLemore’s novels.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Sometimes a book can change your life.
I’m not a different person than I was when I read With the Fire on High, a story about an Afro-Puerto Rican teen mother who wants to become a chef, but it did set my life on a different path than the one it would have taken otherwise. It’s as much about finding the strenght to make difficult decisions about your own future as it is about the link between food and culture, and I really needed to think about both things. There are many ways books have affected me – this is not the only novel I’ve read that has made see my life in a different way – but “literally pick up a hobby” was not one of them. I’m not almost-magical like Emoni, but I can do more by myself than hard-boil an egg now, and that’s progress.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Let’s start this by saying that the main character is named Jam and her parents are Bitter and Aloe, “bitter Aloe jam”, and any book that includes a blatant Aloe ferox reference has to end up on a list of favorites. (That is, after all, my favorite plant.)
Not only Pet is a near-future utopian story and the closest I’ve ever seen to a middle grade-YA crossover, it’s one following a black trans girl with selective mutism in which not one of these three things is ever seen as a problem by anyone or the narrative, and it’s also one of the stories with the most relevant commentary on complacency and the nature of evil I’ve ever read. It’s probably the only book I’d really recommend to everyone.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
By now, I think it’s obvious that if you’re writing adult SFF, the one way to my heart is to build something that feels like a puzzle to read, one that requires effort while feeling effortless, one that won’t let me stop thinking about its content for a moment while I’m not reading it.
This is about science and philosophy, about superpowers and alchemy, about power and balance, it’s a mindfuck and a masterpiece, and over all of that, it’s about an ascent to godhood.
Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear
I have condensed many times this book down to “space archeology, with pirates”, and it is that, and it also has F/F hero/villain sexual tension, and horrible cults, and wonderful, vaguely terrifying alien artifacts.
It is all of these things, but what stood out to me the most about it was the scale on which it operated. From it being something as small as the story of someone learning to cope with her traumatic past and finding a sense of self, to it being a story about systems of government and sentience’s neverending search for fairness, and to it being about something as incomprehensible to the human mind as what’s written in the scaffolding of the universe – there were so many levels to this, and as I said before, the best books about space are the ones that get how impossibly enormous this everything is, while reminding you that the personal still matters.
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
“Court intrigue set in the heart of a space empire, featuring a main F/F romance and an unforgettable cast in which you’ll see other powerful, active, competent women apart from the main character and her love interest” was already a perfect premise, but I was still not ready for this. A Memory Called Empire is about navigating two different cultures when the one you weren’t born into is devouring the one you were, and about living as a bilingual person; I usually don’t get to see what I deal with in my daily life reflected in a novel, much less in SFF involving queer characters. There’s even a subplot involving a sci-fi-induced haunting, and the court intrigue is the best court intrigue I’ve read in years if not ever, and with all of these things, there was no way this wouldn’t end up being my favorite book of the year.
I haven’t read enough books to have 15 favorites exactly like last year, but I have five more books that were really important to me, so here they are!
Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali, that didn’t end up on the “favorites” list just because I don’t particularly like the number eleven, for showing me how beautiful the YA contemporary romance genre is in the hands of a skilled author and making me believe in it again.
The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh, for reminding me that popular disdain towards a trope doesn’t necessarily mean the book has nothing to say, and for its unapologetic portrayal of a heroine navigating Catholic self-loathing. Bring love triangles back, thank you.
Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter, as I’ve never been told by so many people that they’ve read a book because of me as with this one, is important to me both for the way it talks about messed up people’s twisty path to hope and healing, and for reminding me that sometimes good reviews do matter.
The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante, for showing me that stories about bilingual ESL main characters can get published (the main character is a Salvadorian lesbian), for being the most heartrending YA book of the year, and for having the softest romance born from horrible circumstances.
The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley, for being the book I’ve thought about the most this year, probably, and for being a masterpiece I deeply appreciated despite it including so many things I theoretically hate. It’s not my favorite book by Kameron Hurley, but it is her best one.
What were your favorite books of 2019?