Top Ten Tuesdays: Top Ten Books that Surprised Me in 2019
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This week’s topic: Top Ten Books that Surprised Me in 2019
Today’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “Bookish Discoveries I Made In 2019”, but as we all know discoveries can also be accidental surprises, and lucky me, I had quite a few of those last year. The following are the books that might not have made it onto any of my “best of” lists, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy them immensely. For a couple, it may be a shocking turn of events that blew my mind, while others may have been outside my comfort zone but ended up growing on me nonetheless. So without further ado, here are ten books in 2019 that surprised me in some way.
Having very much enjoyed Charles Soule’s debut The Oracle Year, I was curious about Anyone and was surprised to find that it to be a bit of a departure. A relentless sci-fi thriller that would also make any fan of Blake Crouch or Black Mirror feel right at home, Anyone is old through multiple timelines, with the story first taking us inside a barn in Ann Arbor, Michigan where brilliant neuroscientist Dr. Gabriella White is on the verge of a breakthrough in her Alzheimer’s research project. Unfortunately, her funding is also about to run out, leading Gabby to throw caution to the wind and risk it all in an act of desperation. To her horror, after experimenting with her equipment in a way she’s never had before, she finds her mind mysteriously transported into the body of her husband Paul. And thus, “flash technology” was born, a process which allows an individual to transfer their consciousness into another person’s body, a process which would change the world forever—for of course, no discovery this big can stay buried for long. To say that I was impressed is an understatement. Soule has truly outdone himself by writing an even more unique and mind-blowing novel, ratcheting up the excitement and knuckle-blanching action. (Read the full review…)
I was a bit nervous about starting Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, but I actually ended up enjoying it quite a bit. I think many reviewers have hit the nail on the head with this one, when they say how you feel about the book will be highly dependent on your expectations and whether you were hoping for something similar to the author’s previous work, because I am telling you now—it is not. First of all, Ninth House takes place in a contemporary real-world setting, and boy, can it get too real sometimes. The story follows 20-year-old Galaxy “Alex” Stern, newly admitted into the freshman class at Yale. An ex-junkie, raised by a hippie single mom in Los Angeles where her life plunged into a downward spiral of chaos and darkness after dropping out of school, Alex never thought she would find herself in New Haven getting a second chance. But of course, there is more to everything than meets the eye. For you see, Alex can see ghosts. Called “Grays”, these spirits of the dead are everywhere on campus, drawn to the occult ritual energies performed by magical practitioners of the secret societies known as the Ancient Eight. Ninth House was marketed as Leigh Bardugo’s adult debut, and in this book, she makes no bones about tasting this new freedom and spreading her wings, going bolder and darker than she’s ever gone before. The darker, grittier, and more mature tone of this novel was a stark but welcome change, one I personally felt was quite refreshing. There’s just something about this one that’s so real and from the heart, that despite its grimmer outlook and more macabre themes, I’m glad I read it. (Read the full review…)
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this. The Bone Houses follows seventeen-year-old Aderyn—Ryn for short—who lives in the remote village of Colbren with her younger brother and sister at the edge of the woods. Their mother had died shortly after the disappearance of their father, who walked into the forest years ago on a job and never returned. To make ends meet, as well as to pay off the debts of her drunken uncle, Ryn works as a gravedigger for the town. However, with the recent spate of cases involving the rising dead, business has been significantly impacted, to say the least. One night, Ryn ends up saving the life of a young mapmaker named Ellis, who has come to Colbren to map the nearby mountains for the prince. But Ellis also has his own personal reasons to be here. An orphan, he was found as a child wandering these woods alone before he was rescued and brought to the city to be raised. Fifteen years later, it is his hope to find some trace of his true parents, so he offers to hire Ryn to guide him through the treacherous wilderness. What I loved most about this book is that it felt like a haunted fairy tale. Because of this, I didn’t mind so much that the story itself was relatively predictable. Traditional folklore features strongly in the plot, and I enjoyed the fascinating mix of eeriness and magic. The ending twist also brought it all together in a way that was satisfying and emotionally significant. (Read the full review…)
On principle, I don’t DNF, even though they say life is too short for bad books. But then once in a while, a book like Gideon the Ninth will come along and make me glad I hold to that rule. I’m just so glad I kept reading until the end, because against all odds, I actually enjoyed myself quite a bit. The story starts with a introduction to our eponymous protagonist, an orphan who has grown up living in servitude to the Ninth House. For as long as she can remember, death and necromancy has been a part of Gideon Nav’s life, as well as being tormented by the young scion of the house, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, a powerful bone witch in her own right. Eventually though, Gideon becomes tired of always having to play the servant to the princess and devises a plan to get off planet in an escape shuttle. However, before she can make her move, a major shakeup at the Ninth House suddenly causes all of Gideon’s plans to fall apart. If you’re thinking about picking this novel up, I say give it a chance. It has all the hallmarks of a “either love it or hate it” book, and the fact that its elements are so different and eclectic means that it’s best experienced personally. I didn’t think it would be for me, but obviously the end of the book changed my mind, and after this wild ride, I find myself looking forward to checking out the next volume in the series. (Read the full review…)
To be honest, I almost didn’t want to read this. After the way Danielle L. Jensen’s first series ended, which left a horrible taste in my mouth, I’ve learned to be cautious of anything else she writes. However, because the description of Dark Shores sounded so enticing with its promise of sea-faring adventures and pirates, ultimately I decided it might be worth a shot. Fortunately, in the end, the book gave me no cause to regret that decision. Set in a world inspired by Ancient Rome, our story features a fractured empire with characters from both sides of the divide including a mariner princess and a soldier of the legion. In this world, conquest is the name of the game, and the Celendor Empire means to win it. Ruled by a corrupt and power-hungry senate, the Cel have long a long history of subjugating nations and their peoples in the name of bringing in more wealth for themselves. Now the only places they have left to conquer are the seas and Dark Shores, the near mythical land on the other side of the world. I had a good time with this book, which went a long way in making up for the cruel parting shot in the final chapter of the author’s Malediction trilogy. So long as Jensen doesn’t rip my heart out and stomp it to pieces like that again, I think this new series and I will get along just fine. (Read the full review…)
Having only read Mark Lawrence’s fantasy before this point, I had thought The Book of the Ancestor was a departure for him, but One Word Kill was truly an entirely different beast. It was also a novel I inhaled in about two sittings, and it is now up there among my favorites by the author. The story takes place in the 1980s, following 15-year-old protagonist Nick Hayes and his small group of friends who get together every week for their role-playing sessions of Dungeons & Dragons. But at the beginning of the book, Nick receives the devastating news that he has terminal cancer, and the consequences and the events following his diagnosis bring them together in solidarity in a way that no one could have possibly imagined. Despite its short length and YA vibes, this book isn’t just all about geeky fun and secret heist action, for it is also a character-first story that packs an emotional punch, combining cheerful sweetness and poignant feeling in equal measure. It also has time travel, even though it doesn’t feel like any time travel story I’ve read before. Honestly, I think it’s because Lawrence never allows the tech and science-y bits to gain the foreground, focusing instead on the human aspects. As a result, this story plays out like a very personal drama. If this is what we can expect from the next installment, it’s going to be awesome. (Read the full review…)
The Priory of the Orange Tree is a labor of love. As a reader, I could sense so much passion and effort poured into this novel, it is no wonder Samantha Shannon decided to take a break from The Bone Season series in order to birth this one into the world. But let’s first just get this out of the way: clocking in at more than 800 pages, this book certainly measures up to the task, but it also contains all the strengths and weaknesses one might anticipate with such an ambitious undertaking, especially considering we are dealing with the author’s first foray into the epic fantasy genre. Clearly inspired by the traditions established by authors like George R. R. Martin or Robin Hobb, Shannon tries her hand at a sprawling, world-spanning saga of myth, dragons, and political intrigue. But with so much world-building and character development to establish, this story takes a long time to find its legs. Still, the main forces driving The Priory of the Orange Tree are compelling, especially once character motivations are revealed and they become the most important factors fueling the story’s many conflicts. This isn’t a perfect novel, but quite honestly, I did not expect it to be. Epic fantasy can be a tricky genre riddled with traps and pitfalls for even the most experienced authors, and in spite of this, even given the novel’s flaws I think Shannon did a marvelous job pulling it all together. (Read the full review…)
Well, I had my doubts, but not anymore. In Slayer, Kiersten White has accomplished the formidable feat of writing a novel in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe that not only provides a wistful trip down memory lane but also thoughtfully builds upon the existing lore and mythos of the franchise. Our story begins with the introduction to Nina and Artemis, the twin daughters of Merrick Jamison-Smythe who was the first Watcher of Buffy Summers. After their father’s death, the girls’ mother whisked them away to Ireland where the family lived in a castle with a remnant group of Watchers, carrying on their research even though the world has been much changed since all magic went away. But over the last two months, Nina has been experiencing some unsettling changes. She has become stronger, her reflexes are faster, and her dreams have started to become filled with strange visions. Since the Seed of Wonder event, no more Slayers could be called, but somehow, in an act of bravery and selflessness, Nina had triggered her innate potential right before the critical moment, making her the last Slayer. I’ll be honest, I don’t really consider myself a Buffy mega-fan, but in a way, coming to Slayer with this equivocal and noncommittal attitude might have helped, because it allowed me to simply sit back and enjoy without the burden of expectation or hype. This book had a good mix of drama, action, and intrigue which I enjoyed tremendously, and it will be interesting to see what’s next. (Read the full review…)
Few retellings invite more scrutiny from me than Beauty and the Beast, one of the most beloved fairy tales, so I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this. Told from the perspective of the Beast, our story begins in the enchanted forest where our protagonist lives with the curse cast upon him long ago. Slowly, painfully, he begins to remember the man he once was, but has no memory of why he was made into this beastly form, let alone how to break the curse. For many years he lives alone in his crumbling castle where the magic of the place seems to know his very heart, for it appears to cater to his every need. But even his invisible servants cannot help him with his one true desire, until one day, a lone traveler arrives at his door seeking rest and shelter. My favorite part of this book is hands down Shallcross’ depiction of the Beast. He is no monster, and over time it becomes clear that there’s not a malicious bone in his body. As for the atmosphere, The Beast’s Heart also offers a nice change of pace. It is dark, but not oppressively so; moody, but not to the point of being melodramatic. As retellings go, this one’s pretty low-key, which makes it a somewhat slow and plodding tale. And while not all will have the patience for this, on my part I relished every moment. (Read the full review…)
Not gonna lie, I’ve always been hard on the romances in my fiction. While I have nothing against romance, I’ve always said that if there’s going to be a romance arc in any book, it needs to be convincing—not to mention I also want the characters, plot and other story elements to be strong. It also helps when a novel is upfront with the reader on what to expect. In the case of Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik, it is an example of a sci-fi romance mashup that handles all these points very well. As the fifth of six children, our protagonist Ada’s usefulness to her wealthy family only extends to her marriageability into one of the other High Houses, and to avoid that fate, she ran away years ago. As our story begins, Ada finds herself in a holding cell with another prisoner named Marcus Loch aboard a bounty hunter’s ship, soon to be handed off to the man she was supposed to marry. Though Ada knows better than to trust Loch, she’s also aware he’s her only chance to escape. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Loch is hot as hell and has the body of a Greek god. In case it’s not glaringly obvious, Polaris Rising is mostly a romance first, and a genre novel second. It can be awfully self-indulgent at times, thought it goes about it boldly and with no apology. Admittedly, the romance genre is not something I can take in large doses. But like a rich, fluffy and decadent dessert, whenever I do read these kinds of books they’re always oh so satisfying and delicious. (Read the full review…)