2019 was a good year for books. Long-time faves Andrew Pyper and Sandhya Menon hit it out of the park again with their releases this year. I finally got around to trying N.K. Jemisin, and was completely blown away by The Broken Earth trilogy. And a couple of books I got as gifts last Christmas (Bibliophile and Brother) were so good they made it on my Best-Of list all the way back in January.
So, in the order I read them, the books that I absolutely loved this year are as follows:
1. Bibiliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount
A beautiful, illustrated love letter to books and the people who love reading. There are lists and illustrations of beloved novels, and through it all is just an underlying sense of a shared love for reading and for the sheer loveliness of books.
2. Brother by David Chariandy
Such a beautiful, heartwarming and heartbreaking book, about a pair of brothers from a Trinidadian immigrant family in Scarborough. I absolutely loved the relationship between Francis and Michael, and it was heartbreaking to see the harsh realities they had to deal with.
3. The Homecoming by Andrew Pyper
I came for an Agatha Christie-style mystery about an estranged family dealing with the family patriarch’s will, I stayed for the truly creepy, messed up twists that Andrew Pyper is known for. I love that the story turns out to be more science fiction than supernatural. And I especially love that at the heart of all its truly scary plot threads is a drama about family, and our very human need to love and be loved.
4. The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth Trilogy # 1) by N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin has created such a rich, layered, complex world that I don’t even know how to begin talking about this trilogy. On the surface, there are beings made of rocks and humans with the power to manipulate the earth, and the trilogy is about one woman’s quest to find her daughter.
But beyond that, there’s also so much about family, friendship and survival, and the very contemporary reality that we humans are really messing this planet up and now have to contend with the consequences. The Fifth Season was my personal favourite of the trilogy, I think because the world was still so new to me, and every page was a discovery, but throughout all three books, N.K. Jemisin blew my mind over and over again.
I came into this trilogy completely cold, and I recommend doing the same. It can feel confusing at times, but it’s so worth sticking with it. Trust the author to bring it all together in a way that’s messy and raw and so incredibly good.
5. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
N.K. Jemisin is a tough act to follow, but when the library only has so many copies of her Broken Earth trilogy and you’re super impatient for a fantasy fix, the good news is, you discover authors like Guy Gavriel Kay.
Tigana is about a land so oppressed that even their name is erased from public knowledge. Former residents are the only ones who can say the name, but outsiders are unable to understand it when they do. Cultural erasure is a violent act, and I love that Kay drills it down all the way into the level of generational memory.
6. There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
Sweetie is the YA romance I wish I could have read when I was younger. Menon finds the perfect (to me) balance with her plus-size heroine, where Sweetie is kick-ass and confident in her body but still has to contend with fatphobia from others, including her own mother. Her romance with Ashish is just adorable, and I loved seeing them fall in love with each other.
7. How to Hack a Heartbreak by Kristin Rockaway
A fun, feel-good, kick-ass, girl power romantic comedy. I thought Mel’s romance with Alex was sweet, but more importantly, I absolutely loved how Mel’s women friends all banded together to help her get the app she developed off the ground. It’s pure hell to the yeah girl power energy, Sex and the City for the #MeToo era. It’s a great read for women in tech and women longing for change in the online dating world, and just overall a fun read.
8. The Farm by Joanne Ramos
I thought this was going to be another Handmaid’s Tale-type dystopia, but it’s really more a character study than anything. Unlike many dystopias that have a direct call to action, The Farm invites us to linger with these characters and immerse ourselves in their experiences.
I love that the main character Jane is a Filipina immigrant to America, and a single mother. This leads to her joining what is basically a baby-making farm for rich white people to make a better, more financially stable future for her daughter. The novel explores realities like how white surrogates are perceived to have more value than brown or Black ones and how even among surrogates there are inequalities of privilege. I also love that the villain, the farm’s Chinese-American director Mae, is also constrianed by racism and sexism in her climbing of the corporate ladder.
9. What a Woman Needs by Caroline Linden
The chemistry between the leads is fantastic. I love their constant battle of wills before they get to know each other better. The mystery subplot is a bit less fleshed out, but Charlotte and Stuart are incredible together, and I love how their relationship progressed.
10. SLAY by Brittney Morris
So powerful, about a Black teen who develops an online game that celebrates Black culture and becomes a safe space for Black gamers around the world. I love Kiera and Cicada. I love that the Black culture references within Slay are international and not just American (e.g. Fufu – look it up). I love that the game is played by such a broad diversity of people from around the world (e.g. Cicada is French).
This book was incredibly powerful to me, an adult Asian-Canadian woman. I can only imagine how much more this book will resonate with Black readers, and especially teen girls who can see themselves in Kiera’s shoes.
11. Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc
I’m not disabled, but I’ve always been a chubby kid and am now a plus-size woman, and I related SO HARD to Leduc’s thesis that fairy tales allow only certain types of bodies to be granted happy endings. Leduc also raises many good points on the trope of transformation in fairy tales and superhero stories, and the message therein that you must “overcome” your less-than-“perfect” body to get your happily ever after. There’s a lot of emphasis on “overcoming” your own obstacle, and considerably less emphasis on the role that a supportive community can play in making your world better overall.
I read the e-galley, and wished so hard that I could mark the e-galley up, because there were so many brilliant passages throughout. I can only imagine the impact this book could have on disabled readers who’ve grown up with the same fairy tales. It’s out in February 2020.
12. The Awakening of Miss Henley by Julia Justiss
I love the way Emma and Theo’s relationship developed, and the witty dialogue reminded me a lot of Jane Austen’s writing.
13. Pride, Prejudice and other Flavors by Sonali Dev
I love the Raje family and the relationships amongst the “Animal Farm” cousins, I love the complex emotional stuff Sonali Dev brought into the characters’ back stories, and I love how real both Trisha and DJ are. I also love the descriptions of Trisha’s reactions to DJ’s cooking — *I* want to taste his cooking now!