Like many an AAR reader, I was a child repeatedly decried as “lost in a book.” I am a swift reader and, while growing up, read a book every two days. In 2019, I read 87 books (for the first time) and reread countless others. And, fortuitously, I lost myself in many.

The most fun I had reading last year, I owe to Holly Black whose The Folk of Air trilogy I devoured as though it were the Kindle equivalent of Fosters’ Key Lime Pie (my favorite dessert EVER.) All three books are DIKs–my review of the first two, The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King is here, my review of the final book, The Queen of Nothing, is here–and, taken as a whole, they are fabulous.
The series is exquisite enchantment–gorgeous, absorbing, lavish with magic, love, and conflict. The books build on one another beautifully, each deepening the complex narrative and illuminating the dispositions and motivations of the characters. The principals here, varied and satisfyingly authentic, are among the believable I’ve encountered in fantasy. Black mixes the contemporary and the mythic in ways that surprise and the the romance between Jude and Cardan is flawless and one I’ll savor in the years to come.

Buy it at Amazon

I confess I had a hard time settling into The Art of Theft. The overarching plotlines of this series are complicated and, when I began reading this fourth novel in the series, I couldn’t recall who had done what to whom and why. However, after a month of picking up and putting down my iPad, I finally connected to the narrative and suddenly found I could do nothing but read. As usual, Thomas’ writing, plot, insights, and character are phenomenal. And, in a time where art is judged through the lens of our (and there’s the rub, isn’t it?) moral compasses, those who wish to inculcate their stories with progressive values should use this book as their textbook–this is a story whose feminism, support for queer love stories, etc… is woven brilliantly into the novel. (You can read Caz’s DIK review of the novel here.)

I could have used more Charlotte and Ash but who couldn’t?

Buy it at Amazon

After reading The Art of Theft I longed for more Sherry Thomas. Given that Mulan is one of my favorite animated films and The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan received rapturous praise from AAR’s Alex and Caroline (you can read their DIK review here), the book seemed like a smart choice. I listened to it–which I highly recommend, Emily Woo Zeller is superb–and loved it. Rich with historical detail, humor, and intrigue, this fabulously feminist #ownvoices telling of Mulan (Did you know that the Disney movie is based on a folksong from China set during the  Northern Dynasties?) is ethical and engaging. #winwin

Buy it at Amazon

I love books where I immerse myself in the unknown, in characters and worlds wildly unlike my own. But there is a peculiar joy in reading a book that feels as if it was written for me, about my world. Such a book is Jennifer Weiner’s masterly novel, Mrs. Everything, which follows two white sisters over the course of their lives, beginning in 1950. Though I wasn’t born until 1961, the scope of this novel is the story of being a woman in the United States as I experienced it, decade after decade. (You can read our DIK review here.) Weiner is interested in change, both personal and societal; if you’re convinced we’ve not made any progress in the past 70 years, well, I’d say you’re wrong and this expansive, generous novel shows why.

Buy it at Amazon

I like Laura Lippman’s standalone stories–What the Dead Know is smashing– and so when Shannon gave a DIK to Lady in the Lake (you can read her review here), I read it. It’s not a perfect book but, months after reading it, I still think about it. As Shannon wrote, “Not only does this novel deliver a fascinating mystery, but it also explores the darkest parts of the human heart and mind as it unearths dangerous secrets.” Lippman’s sense of place–Baltimore in the 60s– is on fire here and her insights about both the civil rights movement and the women’s movement are thoughtfully devastating. It’s a book made for satisfying book club discussions.

Buy it at Amazon

Have you read Denise Mina? I have and, though I’ve enjoyed her earlier works, they’re often… grim. Conviction, her 2019 bestseller, is not. It’s a wild rumpus of a read; funny, astute, and so smartly plotted I found myself thinking oh no she didn’t in the best way possible. At the novel begins, Anna McLean, an upper middle class Glasgow housewife is bored with her comfortable life, and spends her mornings drinking coffee and listening to true-crime podcasts–the latest about a family murdered on an exploding yacht (the Dana). By the end of the second chapter, her life has blown up spectacularly, she’s on the run with the least likely of sidekicks, trying to solve what really happened on the Dana, and is finally coming to terms with her past. I tore through this book, then went back and read it, slower, appreciating the prose and plot, a second time. Both times, it was a gas.

Buy it at Amazon

I, like several other AAR readers, adored Dukes Are Forever (you can read our DIK review here) and Lady Derring Takes A Lover (you can read our DIK review here.) The former finished out Bec McMaster’s fabulous London Steampunk series perfectly–I wouldn’t change a thing–and Long’s return to historical romance was a gift. They were the best straightforward romances I read this year.

Buy them at Amazon

One wouldn’t think it a romance, however, Circe by Madeline Miller is not only a love story (of sorts), it is the most extraordinary book I read last year. I listened to this book and, when its last words were uttered, I found myself sobbing. It was such a glorious beautiful thing. I felt as though I had been given some extraordinary gift, that the experience of listening to this book was a rare joy. I regret I’ll never again be able to hear it again for the first time.

We live in a time of great rage. Many believe the worst of us will prevail and that the horrors of the world outweigh its wonders. I have never held that belief tightly to my heart or to my mind. Life is a gift and there is so much to cherish. Even mourning, in its own way, is a blessing.

This book is a celebration of humanity, of womanhood and, yes, even manhood, with all of our flaws and glories. I hope you all will read it.

Buy it at Amazon

I wish you all great books and great love in 2020!