Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books Of 2019

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week is my favorite post of the year. I get to talk about all the books I loved. So much positivity in one place! I’m not going to include rereads, and I’m not going to rank my favorites because that’s too hard. Also, I’m not limiting myself to ten, so welcome to Top Fourteen Tuesday. Let’s do this.

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The Best Books I Read In 2019

Best Adult Books

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan's last thirty years—from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding—that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness—are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Why I Love It: I quickly fell in love with the fierce female characters. The plot is vivid, harrowing, believable, unpredictable, fast-paced. Bonus points for teaching the reader about Afghanistan’s history.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage—after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures—Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time—until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin's second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant, which, finally, she does—but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine.

Why I Love It: I never thought I’d be riveted by a super-depressing story about marriage and the pressure that society puts on couples to have children, but here we are. The characters are morally gray and unpredictable. Every time I thought I knew what was going to happen, the plot took off in a new direction.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

There are three things you should know about Elsie. The first thing is that she’s my best friend. The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better. And the third thing might take a bit more explaining.

Eighty-four-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light. If the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?

Why I Love It: The mystery! The compassionate characters! The cover looks like cake! Florence has dementia, and most people in her life just shrug off the weird things she says, but her two friends actually listen to her and help her solve a (very compelling) mystery. I didn’t want to put this book down.

Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

One of the comedy world's brightest new voices, Trevor Noah is a light-footed but sharp-minded observer of the absurdities of politics, race and identity, sharing jokes and insights drawn from the wealth of experience acquired in his relatively young life. As host of the US hit show The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, he provides viewers around the globe with their nightly dose of biting satire, but here Noah turns his focus inward, giving readers a deeply personal, heartfelt and humorous look at the world that shaped him.

Noah was born a crime, son of a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother, at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents' indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the first years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, take him away.

A collection of eighteen personal stories, Born a Crime tells the story of a mischievous young boy growing into a restless young man as he struggles to find his place in a world where he was never supposed to exist. Born a Crime is equally the story of that young man's fearless, rebellious and fervently religious mother—a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence and abuse that ultimately threatens her own life.

Why I Love It: Even if you’ve never seen Trevor Noah’s comedy shows, you should read his memoir. I promise you’ll be entertained while learning about South Africa’s culture, history, and flawed legal system. The book is accessible and insightful, hilarious and heartbreaking.

Best Young Adult Books

Eliza And Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.

Why I Love It: This book kept me awake until 2 in the morning because I couldn’t sleep until I found out how it ended. Eliza’s struggle to find balance is relatable. It’s a thoroughly modern novel about what happens when your online life and your “real” life collide. I love the message that online life is real life.

The Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes

Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, she doesn’t believe that her mother killed herself three years ago. And since her father is about to be executed for his crimes, Molly is convinced that her mother will return to her soon. Finally, the hole in her heart will stop hurting.

Pepper Al-Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with serious girl problems and the most embarrassing seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer . . . or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly and Pepper are tasked with finding Ava’s murderer, they realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

Why I Love It: The synopsis sounds serious, but the book is actually pretty fun. Usually I don’t have the attention span to read nonstop for hours, but I didn’t notice the time passing while I was absorbed in this mystery. It’s full of plot twists and quirky characters.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie hasn't had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she's been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie's entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister's killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie's story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie's journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it's too late.

Why I Love It: This is what I want crime fiction to be! It takes the focus off the murderers and the detectives and puts it on the victims. The murderer barely makes an appearance on the page. Sadie and Mattie are not props in his story. This is their story.

Daughter Of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Why I Love It: The worldbuilding. The fantasy world in this book is stunning. I was completely caught up in all the bizarre little details. The author kept me shocked and creeped out with the monstrous plot twists. Karou is a badass. I badly wanted her to succeed at everything she did.

Best Middlegrade Books

The Miscalculations Of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn't remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she's technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test—middle school!

Lucy's grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that's not a math textbook!). Lucy's not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy's life has already been solved. Unless there's been a miscalculation?

Why I Love It: Even kids who don’t have OCD or a math obsession can find something relatable in this novel. It’s a story about the desire to make friends and what happens when a friend betrays you. It’s about secrets, bullying, accepting differences, community service, and how even geniuses need help sometimes. A sweet, thoughtful novel.

After Zero by Christina Collins

Elise carries a notebook full of tallies, each page marking a day spent at her new public school, each stroke of her pencil marking a word spoken. A word that can't be taken back. Five tally marks isn't so bad. Two is pretty good. But zero? Zero is perfect. Zero means no wrong answers called out in class, no secrets accidentally spilled, no conversations to agonize over at night when sleep is far away.

But now months have passed, and Elise isn't sure she could speak even if she wanted to―not to keep her only friend, Mel, from drifting further away―or to ask if anyone else has seen her English teacher's stuffed raven come to life. Then, the discovery of a shocking family secret helps Elise realize that her silence might just be the key to unlocking everything she's ever hoped for.

Why I Love It: It’s well-researched, beautifully written, and full of vivid imagery. The magical realism/fantasy elements make After Zero stand out from other contemporary middlegrade novels. This is the type of book that needs to be required reading in schools because it promotes empathy and patience. The world needs more of those things.

The Science Of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

How do you grow a miracle?

For the record, this is not the question Mr. Neely is looking for when he says everyone in class must answer an important question using the scientific method. But Natalie's botanist mother is suffering from depression, so this is The Question that's important to Natalie. When Mr. Neely suggests that she enter an egg drop competition, Natalie has hope.

Eggs are breakable. Hope is not.

Natalie has a secret plan for the prize money. She's going to fly her mother to see the Cobalt Blue Orchids—flowers that survive against impossible odds. The magical flowers are sure to inspire her mother to love life again. Because when parents are breakable, it's up to kids to save them, right?

Why I Love It: I laughed. Twig is probably my favorite fictional person of 2019. I love her energy and lack of impulse control. The author gets an A+ for creating charismatic, realistic twelve-year-old characters. I would have wanted to be friends with these kids when I was twelve.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Miranda is an ordinary sixth grader, until she starts receiving mysterious messages from somebody who knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

Why I Love It: It’s so clever! At the end, the whole mystery snaps together like a puzzle. Short, innovative, and surprising. I badly want to reread it to see what foreshadowing I missed. One of the best time-travel books I’ve encountered.

Best Picture Books

Sheep In A Jeep by Nancy Shaw & Margot Apple

A flock of hapless sheep drive through the country in this rhyming picture book.

Why I Love It: It made me smile. Charming illustrations and a fun rhyme scheme. It also contains an important life lesson: Never loan your Jeep to a sheep.

All The World by Liz Garton Scanlon & Marla Frazee

Following a circle of family and friends through the course of a day from morning till night, this book affirms the importance of all things great and small in our world, from the tiniest shell on the beach, to warm family connections, to the widest sunset sky.

Why I Love It: The illustrations are gorgeous. I don’t know where this story is set, but I want to live there. Everything about this book is cozy. Even the rhythm of the sentences is soothing.

What’s the best book you read in 2019?


  1. Eliza and Her Monsters has been on my TBR for so long. Seeing it on your best of the year list just put it back on my radar. Off to see if my library has it.

  2. I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns and Sadie too. Eliza and Her Monsters and Daughter of Smoke and Bone are ones I've wanted to read for a while now so I'm happy to see them both on your Best Of list.

  3. I keep meaning to read Born A Crime, and I keep forgetting! Putting a hold on it NOW so I won't forget anymore lol. I've been meaning to read A Thousand Splendid Suns, too. Glad you enjoyed it so much! I really need to read the Smoke & Bone series, too. Looks like you had a good reading year!

    Here's my TTT post.

  4. Born a Crime is one of my favorite books! Trevor Noah is so talented - this book is poignant and funny at the same time. Thanks for sharing your list and happy New Year!

  5. Thanks for reminding me to read more Hosseini. :) And that "Stay with Me" book sounds interesting!

  6. I re-read DoSaB this year and the second book, I haven't read them since before I started blogging my reads. I love that trilogy so much and I wish I had more. I highly recommend the novella Night of Cake and Puppets, it takes place kind of along side the second book (you don't need to read that book first). It's about Zuz and Mik's first date. It's super cute.
    I hope you have a great New Year!
    My TTT: Marie @ Pages to Explore

  7. I don't know but I had always thought 'Sadie' was a horror book, I guess I should have read the synopsis.

    I had like the tagline for 'Daughter of Smoke & Bones' which I can't remember but something about when a devil met an angel or something but it got me interested but sadly I couldn't get into the first book.

    I didn't read enough to even have any favorite books but I did just finished 'West' by Edith Pattou and that was pretty good.

    Have a great new year.

  8. Stay With Me sounds super interesting, and Sadie was one I really wanted to read. Never got to it, even though I liked a couple of her previous books. Maybe in 2020 I'll get to that one.

    Happy New Year!!!

  9. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is just soooo good!

  10. Great YA picks, but I probably loved your middle grades picks even more. Lightning Girl just owned me. What a fantastic book. I loved everything about it. I remember really enjoying When You Reach Me, back when I read it, and TSoBT and After Zero were also hits for me.

  11. Sounds like you read a lot of books that had heavy topics but were really good. That does sound great how Sadie doesn't focus on the murderer. I really want to read the Smoke and Bone series, so I'm glad to see it on your list!

  12. Born a Crime is so good! I love Trevor Noah. Happy New Year!

  13. Nice variety of titles! I love that you included MG, children, and YA! Great literature can be enjoyed by all ages! Born a Crime is on my winter TBR!

  14. I haven't read any of these but there's quite a few that I really want to. Happy New Year! :)

  15. I haven't read any of the books on your list, but The Arsonist sounds like my kind of story and I love that cover! Sheep in a Jeep is one I'm adding too, because I'm always looking for a fun story to read to my grand kids. Rhyming ones are usually a hit. Have a lovely New Years Eve and holiday! :)

  16. I love Laini Taylor's series. I need more from her. :)

  17. A wonderful list, thanks for sharing your favourites!

  18. This is such a great list -- especially Sadie. I didn't put it on my best of list at the end of the year bc it had been on every other best of list i did during the year lol

  19. There are some fantastic books on your list! I am really intrigued about Born a Crime! It sounds like a fascinating read that will open my eyes. Happy New Year! :)

  20. A Dance With Dragons was right up there as one of my few five star reads and it was my first book of the year! I'm hoping for a better standard of books this year as last year had a lot of books that didn't live up to expectations!

  21. Great list! Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of my all-time favourite books! I hope you will enjoy the rest of the trilogy too. I also loved A Thousand Splendid Suns, it's a beautiful book.

  22. I really hope to get to Three Things About Elsie and also Sadie this year so great to hear you enjoyed them so much.

    I hope 2020 is full of many wonderful books for you!

  23. I actually haven't read any of these, but yay for having a fantastic reading year! Happy reading in 2020!

  24. I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns and Born a Crime. Sheep in a Jeep was one of my kids' favorites!

  25. Great list! I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns this year, and I really enjoyed Stay With Me. Sadie is one I really want to try, I don't think I've seen a bad review of it yet. Happy New Year!

  26. Amazing list!! Sadie is still on my TBR. I'm hoping to get to that one soon!

  27. I haven't read any of these books yet, AJ. I have had the audiobook of Born a Crime for a long time so I just need to make time for it. I also would like to read Eliza and Her Monsters and Sadie. Great list!

  28. I read Sadie a while ago, and while it wasn't my favorite book, I appreciated the suspense and the urgency of the story. Although I'm not as familiar with the other books on your list, Born a Crime is a book I've been hoping to read for a while, and I'm glad you enjoyed it! Happy new year! :)

    claire @ clairefy

  29. Oh man, I still need to get round to reading the last book of that Laini Taylor trilogy. I never seem to want to go ahead and have it be over, because it is so good!

  30. I love your eclectic reading taste and all your reasons why- adding 3 Things to my tbr.

  31. I love that you have books from various genres and age levels! Sadie is one that I'll FINALLY be reading soon for my book club. I want to read Born a Crime and Eliza & Her Monsters as well.


  32. Sadie was a really good read. Definitely one I won't forget for a while. Happy New Year!

  33. I've been wanting to read Eliza & Her Monsters! It really s ounds great.

  34. Daughter of smoke and bone is one of my favorite books of all time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  35. Awesome list AJ! I loved Eliza and Her Monsters a lot, and I actually was debating adding After Zero to my tbr!

  36. This is a great list, AJ! I loved The Kite Runner and it's made me hesitate to read A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, even though I know I will likely love it too. I just don't want to be disappointed. STAY WITH ME is new to me, but it does sound really good. I'm adding it to my wish list. I love the cover of ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS. DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE has been on my TBR pile for a long time. One of these days . . .

  37. I loved Stay With Me!! And thanks for the reminder to add A Thousand Spelendid Suns to my list.

  38. Sadie and Eliza And Her Monsters have been on my TBR for ages! I should really get to them :) Three Things About Elsie sounds so good! Definitely adding that too

  39. I still need to read the Trevor Noah book and After Zero. 📚

    I loved When You Reach Me. 💟💟💟

  40. What a great list! I'll have to add a bunch of these to my To-Be-Read. 😁

  41. So happy to see A Thousand Splendid Suns on this list, and Born a Crime too! I really enjoyed those ones. For me, Sadie was just okay but I know a lot of people loved it and I am glad you could. I so need to read Eliza and her Monsters, The Arsonist and I even own Stay with Me so you have me all the more excited!