Top 10 Reads of 2019

December feels like it was 10 years ago. Among everything that’s happened in the last six months, I realized that I never shared my favorite reads from 2019. If you, like me, are in need of something really good to get you out of your stress induced reading slump, consider giving one of these a try.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
Nina works at a bookstore and hangs out at trivia nights with her friends. Her mom sends occasional postcards from her travels, and everything is right with the world. But then the father Nina never knew dies, and suddenly she has family members coming out of the woodwork, all of whom want to get to know her. Worse, her trivia nemesis seems interested in getting to know her better. All Nina wants is peace and quiet. Can she adjust to a new normal?
This one was delightfully quirky and funny, and I made it my very first staff pick at the bookstore when I started working there. More people should read romantic comedies.

May Bird Warrior Princess by Jodi Lynn Anderson (Full Review)
This is the final installment in a children’s trilogy about a girl who gets sucked into the land of the dead, known as the Ever After, and has to find her way home. After two books, May and her hairless cat, Somber Kitty, have only just returned to the land of the living when the unthinkable happens. A prediction about the end of the world, and the Ever After, comes true.
This whole series blew me away. The character development, the world building, was all phenomenal. The first book honestly creeped me out, but I kept coming back for more. May grows from a scared child into a brave young woman, capable of taking on the “big bad”, along with all of the ghouls and monsters out to get her. With the help of some friendly ghosts and monsters of her own, May is the kick-butt heroine kids need.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca (Full Review)
Emily has just moved to town to take care of her sister and niece when she is thrown into participating in the local renaissance faire. She tries to keep an open mind, but Simon, one of the organizers, just will not let any missteps slide. Which would be frustrating enough if he didn’t look so good in pirate’s leathers. Now Emily is trying to balance caring for her family with the topsy-turvy events of her weekends, and she’s not completely sure she can keep up.
First of all, a rom-com at a renaissance faire?! With a side of bookstore?? Sign. Me. Up. I read this in one sitting, and I was very happy with how well the relationship was written. It was real, and characters had good boundaries, and I just loved it so much. 10/10, will reread regularly. The sequel, Well Played, is due out Sept. 22nd, 2020.

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark (Full Review)
Agent Hamed al-Nasr and his partner Agent Onsi investigate a mysterious tram car in this alternate universe, early 1900’s Egypt set novella. Humans and Djinn live in quasi-harmony in the city of Cairo, where magic makes mass transportation and many other things possible. Women are gathering to fight for the right to vote, and the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities deals with anything out of the ordinary.
This novella blew me away. I was captivated from the first page, and when it ended I desperately wanted to know what case the agents would be assigned next.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
For as long as they can remember, the people of The Protectorate have given up a baby to the evil witch who poisons the forest so she will let them live in peace. That’s just the way it is. For as long as she can remember, Xan has rescued a child from the same grove of trees every year and brings them to the villages far away from the poisoned forest. As she travels, she feeds them star dust to keep them full and healthy. Xan is getting old though, and one year she makes a mistake. She feeds an infant moon dust instead of star dust, and just like that the little girl is en-magicked. Now Xan, her swamp monster Glerk, and her dragon Fyrian have a little witch on their hands to train and care for, and to keep safe from the dangers looming in the long silent shadows of the forest.
This magical middle grade novel was both heart wrenching and heart warming at the same time. Mystery and truth were so tightly wound that I could hardly tell one from the other, which made the ending that much sweeter.

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny (Full Review)
A man wakes from a coma, at first unsure of who he is, but then sure of one thing. He is Corwin, a son of Oberon, and a rightful heir to the throne of the one true world, Amber. If only he can remember how to get back there.
This book so tightly winds world building with character development that it is hard to separate one from the other. What is true and what is imagined? Who can be trusted, and how does our world factor in to Amber? With vague ties to Arthurian and Merlinian legends, the 10-book Chronicles of Amber series is one every fantasy lover should pick up.

Gift of the Shaper by D.L. Jennings (Full Review)
On a routine trip into the neighboring town of Lusk, Thornton and his best friend, Miera, barely escape from black-clad thugs who claim to want something other than money from the pair. Their return trip moves even more dangerous, and by the time they reach Highglade, Thornton’s father is nowhere to be found. Convinced the thugs have kidnapped him, the young apprentice will stop at nothing to find the only family he has.
This debut novel was just the quest fantasy I needed. Wars, prophecies, and gods are all wrapped up in a neat package with great world building reminiscent of Tolkien. The sequel, Awaken The Three, hits shelves August 11th, 2020.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Full Review)
A story of faeries and witches and demons who try to push the seasons around for their own gain, Spinning Silver is a masterpiece of interwoven storylines. Heroes all, Miryem, Wanda, and Irina must band together to bring nature back into balance and return peace to their families and their kingdom.
This was the second book I’ve read by Novik, and while I think this one was slightly harder to follow, given the mutli-POV, it was so interesting to see similar people react to things in totally different ways.

Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston (Full Review)
This whirlwind adventure takes the old-as-time story of Anastasia and launches it into space, where it takes on a life of its own.
This book was my second staff rec pick when I was the bookstore. It’s so well written, and all the characters are such colorful individuals that I just couldn’t help loving them all. Lots and lots of queer and POC rep in this one too! The sequel and end of the duology, Soul of Stars, is now available as well.

Temptation Ridge by Robyn Carr (Virgin River #6)
Luke Riordan is a retired Blackhawk Pilot, ready for some peace and quiet in the mountain town of Virgin River. Shelby is ready to get back to living after five years of caring for her very sick mother. She’s just settled into her uncle’s home in Virgin River when she meets Luke and sparks fly, but their difference might be too much for them to overcome.
I love just about all of the Virgin River books, but Luke and Shelby’s story has a very special place in my heart. They’ve both been through a lot, and come from military families, and there’s also a 13-year age difference rearing it’s ugly head to keep them apart. If you’re looking for a happy ending despite the odds, this whole series is for you.

Honorable Mentions:
Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (Full Review)
Shades of Magic Vol 1: The Steel Prince by V.E. Schwab

How Shirking My To Do List Brought Me A Writing Breakthrough That Was Five Years In The Making

I had a to do list today, just like I do every day. Most days I check off nearly everything on them. In a normal job setting, I chip away at everything as a brisk pace without delay, though in my personal life I am a master of procrastination and working frantically in equal parts. I had quite the list today: apply to full-time editing jobs, apply to part-time internships, shop for groceries, do a load or two of laundry, write a book review, read a book, work on my homework. It was quite a long, and mostly inconsequential list that can wait for tomorrow.

As Tuesday is my only quiet, peaceful, truly self-ordered day, I decided to hide out in a cafe where nobody would look for me and write. Not my primary WIP, which I’ve been diligently chipping away at and should still make my self-imposed deadlines for, but the elusive portal fantasy that I poke at time and again. It’s been simmering for well over a decade now, and I go back to drop in new ingredients, add a dash of this or that, give it a stir, and occasionally add a new side dish to. Someday it will be ready, but since it doesn’t have a recipe, I just have to wait and see when that day will be.

I scraped through yesterday on heaps of coffee and well-timed naps, and though I slept deeply last night, I woke this morning to the sort of quiet world that exists in the liminal spaces of life – somewhere between sleeping and waking, where anything is possible. Every once in a while I wake to this sort of feeling, and I know that the day is ripe to dive through the portal once again and see what I can discover about the world I started inventing and exploring back in the early years of the millennium.

Today, I discovered a new character. I knew his name before but could not conjure an image of him to my mind. He had bits and pieces to his life, and I knew he was important, but whether to me or to another character I hadn’t yet puzzled out. Today I saw his face, and learned his motivations, even while I was writing the inner thoughts of another character with whom he comes into contact. It is always cheering to see a new face among my pages. Like an adventurer myself I leap excitedly into the breach that takes me to Everest, where I am always clearing out the fog and greeting the new faces I find there.

A lot of how I write this particular book is based purely on personal experience. I started it in sixth or seventh grade and fumbled through the dark of how exactly a novel was supposed to be written. I did take a novel writing class in seventh grade which helped a little, and the feedback from it helped me to shape the world that my characters now call home. However, the actual story has changed at least three times since then and probably more than ten. I blame reading The Eye of the World that same year for my enormous vision, but once I had begun to create it I was committed. I devoted entire summers and Christmas breaks during high school to developing it, and even though it’s hardly close to being finished, I’ve broken through a kind of barrier that seemed to keep the characters at arms length over the years.

Writing without a real outline while you attempt to populate a planet is both a challenge and a delight. The world is always just at the edge of my thoughts, and even when I have writer’s block or can’t for the life of me see where a scene is going, I can go back and dive into the minds of my main characters and attempt to see the world through their eyes. What would they focus in on in this scene? What would they do in this situation? How would they remember a particular moment if they reflected on it? I can hardly recall now the date when my characters came into being, or where I plucked them from, only that they were the kind of heroes I wanted to read about, and that if I were to go on an adventure I should want to be like them as I did it. They have become my most constant companions, and I’ve learned to lean into their adventures when I become stuck in my own, and vice-versa. What would R do in this situation? I ask myself, and even occasionally translate my own experiences into the context of their world so I can play them through it. Some of these writings even maneuver their way into the actual manuscript, though that is not always the case.

Today has been one of those magical days where I was able to dive into the mind of a character without becoming wrapped up in world building, and walk through their thoughts and memories of a scene I haven’t even written yet. It was through writing their memories of a scene that I came across the face of my character – he is neither new nor so old to be called that either – and finally saw the scene as they must have, meeting him for the first time. And finally, finally, I knew how to finish a scene that I have been bemoaning for at least five years. Writing is magical that way. Sometimes you have to look at a scene from every direction (including backwards into a character’s memories) to realize what needed to happen.

I am ecstatic, to say the least, that I finally know where that particular scene is going. It’s been an ongoing itch, the need to fix and finish it, and the character I met today has also been at the edge of my mind. To find that they belonged together is immensely satisfying. I feel like I just finished reading a book with a perfect, happy ending because the narrative of my story is smooth and strong once again. This scene has been a chink in my armor for nearly five years if I estimate correctly, and finally fixing it absolutely makes up for the awful day I had yesterday, not to mention all the frustration I’ve felt over the scene since I first came across it.

And now, back into the breach I go. Adventure awaits.

Top 10 Reads of 2018


Despite working full-time and attending graduate school, I managed to read 36 books in 2018. I’m pretty happy with that number given 16 of those were in October or later. I think this means I’m learning to balance everything a little bit better. The fact that I’m getting around to sharing them before May is a visible improvement as well. You all just got gift certificates to bookstores for the holidays, right? Now you have something to spend them on! In no particular order, here are my Top 10 Reads of 2018.

1 – Sorcery & Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot – Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Magic is in the air in Regency England, and I am totally into it. Kate and Cece are two cousins whose narrative is told solely through letters written to each other. The escapades these two get into rival some romance novels and magical adventure novels. The letter format is a little strange to get used to, but once you’re in it, it blows you away.

2 – A Dark and Stormy Murder – Julia Buckley
A struggling writer is handed the opportunity of a lifetime when her best friend sets her up with a job as the assistant and ghostwriter to her favorite author of all time. Chaos ensues when someone shows up murdered on the property. Small towns, Gothic houses, lots of mystery and a dash of romance set this series in motion. Always a recipe for success in my book.

3 – The Secret – Julie Garwood
If your name is some variation of Julie/Julia, chances are I read and loved your book in 2018. This one takes a well-born British lady and drops her into the Scottish Highlands. Secrets and midwifery abound, as do hefty doses of rivalry and romance. No secret that this is one of my all time favorites, and my mom’s favorite as well. A review is forthcoming!

4 – Supergirl: Being Super – Mariko Tamaki, Illustrated by Joëlle Jones
Aside from the obvious parts of this origin story, I’d like to take a moment to truly appreciate the diversity in the town of Midvale. Sure, Kara still looks like the quintessential American cheerleader, but her friends and colleagues have varying appearances, making Midvale much more realistic than in past renderings.

5 – The Bear and The Nightingale – Katherine Arden
As if you all didn’t already know of my love for fairytale retellings, let this be a testament. The Winternight Trilogy features god-like sorcerers, dangerous winters in the Russian highlands, and one girl who is the key to peace between life and death, should she accept her fate… And she’s not sure she wants to.

6 – Geekerella – Ashley Poston
An absolutely wonderful Cinderella retelling, bringing together all of my favorite things: fairytales, Sci-Fi fandoms, and food.

7 – Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Except for a strange sex-doll scene that I could have done without, this book was exceptional. The 80s references are all on-point, and I’m sure I even missed a few that I might catch in a re-read. While the movie was a totally different experience later in the year, the novel was a Sci-Fi and Game lovers dream.

8 – Virgin River – Robyn Carr
Small mountain town chock-full of retired marines, check. Old Doctor who needs a young assistant, check. The Virgin River series is different from others because it’s not just about the romances, but about rebuilding a town that has all but gone to seed. Each book builds on the businesses and townsfolk in a new twist on a constant front-running genre. A review is forthcoming.

9 – The Lido – Libby Page
I can’t get over how wonderful this book was. Showing loss, depression, and anxiety in a completely understandable and real way while depicting a town on the verge of community collapse, it rocked my socks. Libby Page is a debut author and I am already dying to read anything and everything else she is willing to write.

10 – The Viscount Who Loved Me – Julia Quinn
This may be the second book in a series, but it is undoubtedly my favorite in The Bridgerton Saga. The characters are so colorful and their actions are laugh-out-loud funny. Kate and Anthony are hands-down my favorite Bridgerton couple, and my face always hurts from smiling while I read this one.


What were some of your favorite reads in 2018? I’m always looking for great recommendations!


Other Best of the Year Lists:
Top 10 Reads of 2017