It’s that time of year again! Every newspaper, magazine, blog and podcast is putting forth its ‘best books of 2019’ list, so I’m here to join in the fun.
Below are my Top Five Reads of 2019, in no particular order. I managed to read 27 books this year (I think that’s a record!) so it was incredibly difficult to narrow the list down to only five titles. This year is a little odd, as three of these books aren’t actually published until 2020, but now you’ll know to look out for them!
Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
My favourite duo are back with another YA sci-fi masterpiece. After the success of The Illuminae Files, I had no doubt Amie and Jay would bring us another incredible tale of teens in space, but this honestly blew me away! The characters were so likeable and relatable, and the plot was as mind-blowing and thrilling as you can get. There was laughing, crying, gasping, and a whole bunch of swearing at the authors (especially at the end... I mean, COME ON, guys!). My fave member of the Aurora legion is the sexy diplomat Scarlett Jones—I did the squad test, and I’m a ‘Face’ just like my girl Scar—with Finian the bi Betraskan ‘Gearhead’ taking a close second. For me, this was a perfect combination of Star Wars, Neon Genesis: Evangelion, and Stranger Things.
A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer (Bloomsbury, Jan 2020)
This is the sequel to A Curse So Dark and Lonely, a gloriously dark retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Heart picks up where Curse left off, but with the story told from two completely different perspectives. In book one, we saw the world through the eyes of Harper (the ‘beauty’) and Rhen (the ‘beast’), but this time, we live through Commander Grey (AKA Scary Grey, a fan-favourite from book one), and Lia Mara, the daughter of Emberfall’s number-one enemy, Karis Luran. This is YA fantasy at its best. Mystery, magic, politics, romance, action—it truly has it all. The thing I loved most about this book is how it turned the story completely on its head, showing us that what’s ‘right’ for some isn’t always right for all, and that power and pressure can change a person deeply. I can’t say much without being a Spoily McSpoilerson, but if you haven’t read this series, go and grab a copy of A Curse So Dark and Lonely today!
(Advance reading copy pictured)
Less by Andrew Sean Greer (Abacus)
I’m always a bit wary of big, IMPORTANT, award-winning books, and I’ll admit it took me a little while to adjust to the tone of Pulitzer Prize-winning Less, but in the end, I really, REALLY loved it. It follows gay writer Arthur Less as he travels the world on a literary tour, his fiftieth birthday looming ominously. It’s satirical and clever but also heartfelt and honest. A lot of my favourite passages were about gay relationships: what makes them different, what makes them work (or not work), and what helps them stand the test of time. The protagonist is neurotic and difficult, but highly relatable, and his journey is both eye-opening and moving. It’s a quick read, but a brilliant one!
The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper (Bloomsbury, June 2020)
A gay teen romance set during the filming of a reality TV show about the first NASA mission to Mars? YES, PLEASE. This book is too adorable for words. But not only that, it’s a super interesting look at media and social media and where we’re heading as a society. If you’re in it for the gay romance (and why wouldn’t you be?) you will ADORE Cal and Leon. The boys meet when they relocate to a purpose-built 1960s NASA village, where their parents will train and compete for a single seat on the first manned mission to the Red Planet. Not only did this book make me laugh and cry, it also made me super nostalgic for the ‘60s—not that I was alive, but you can be nostalgic for the idea of something, right? The Gravity of Us is equal parts adorable, insightful, fun, and heart-warming. If you love LGBTQ+ YA, this is definitely one for you!
(US cover pictured)
Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Bloomsbury, Jan 2020)
This is a BRILLIANT contemporary from debut American author Kiley Reid. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Kiley in Sydney, and she is every bit as funny, warm, and intelligent as this novel. In Such A Fun Age we meet Emira, an African-American babysitter who is accused of kidnapping her white boss’s child by a supermarket security guard; and her boss, Alix, a wealthy mother/writer/entrepreneur. The story is told from both women’s perspectives, and it is an incredible examination of privilege, race, family, and relationships. We all know I don’t read a lot of adult fiction, but this is an absolute page-turner. Emira, Alix and the supporting players are some of the most clearly-drawn characters I have ever read, and the dialogue so real, the scenes jump right off the page. It’s often laugh-out-loud funny, often cringey (in a good way), but also incredibly thought-provoking and, at times, quite moving. This one is definitely not to be missed.
(Advance reading copy pictured)
So there you have it! Honourable mentions must go to Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard, Toffee by Sarah Crossan, Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough, Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell, and The Map from Here to There by Emery Lord, and Find Me by André Aciman.
See you all next year! Happy reading!