Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Top 10 Books of 2019

A new year is here and that means I get to share my favorite books of 2019! I had a great year for reading with a total of 87 books. I participated(and completed) a book challenge with my sister that had us reading one book a month together. I also had my personal classic challenge for the 4th year in a row.  I only finished one of my three and I'm definitely thinking I'll take it easier this year with my selections.

I was really behind on reviews this year and found myself letting them slip by the wayside. So I apologize for any sparse sections that are the result of not taking notes.

As always there are no special conditions for this list. It's taking EVERY book I read this year into consideration and picking my top ten. Regardless of length, genre, publisher, etc. These were my favorites. Period.

Okay, I lie, I did have one reread that I excluded because that wasn't really fair since it's my favorite book of all time and it'd end up as number one on my list every time I read it(so every 2-3 years) and that'd get pretty boring. (if you're curious it's Watership Down). Other than that though, this is best out of the rest.

So out of 87 books I narrowed it down to my top 10 favorites! And here they are!

10. Call of Brindelier by Missy Sheldrake (4✯)

30367498. sy475 YA Fantasy/Adventure/Romance

A selfish prince on trial for treason. A beloved princess hiding a talent for forbidden magic. The race between Dawn and Dusk to claim Brindelier, a hidden city in the clouds with a promise of ultimate control over the source of power in the Known Lands: The Wellsprings. 

Azi and Rian are back! The newly-betrothed couple once again find themselves drawn into the plots of fairy-kind, bestowed with gifts of new titles and strange, powerful abilities. A threat is revealed; one which Flitt insists is worse than anything they have yet faced. Is she referring to the gathering of Sorcerers who call themselves the Circle of Spires, or is a darker, more sinister force at play? Tib knows. He’s seen the might of the Dusk firsthand.

I always love when I find a series that manages to be consistently good throughout. It's something that seems to happen less and less for me and that makes me all the more excited to recommend this book. Book 3 of the Keepers of the Wellspring was another great addition to the series. I had a few quibbles with some minor things but overall a solid story. The couple who were front and center for book one return to the spotlight here and I missed them so much in book 2! I loved the battle/action scenes and found it impossible to set the book down once I got into the thick of one.

I like that the characters have flaws and struggles. I like that everyone has something they're battling with whether it's prejudice, hiding who they are, a reluctance to change, or temptation. It makes them easy to connect with and though sometimes it might make me dislike them or a choice they make I do believe it makes them feel more human.

9.  Saving Marilee by Annette K. Larsen (4✯)

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NA Non-magical fantasy/romance

Marriage wasn't bliss—not for Marilee. Instead of finding contentment with the handsome son of a sovereign duke, she found betrayal and neglect. And fear. A fear that finally lifts when her husband dies, freeing her from his domineering hand. But freedom alone can't give her peace, and she must battle to regain her love for life, rebuild her happiness, and reclaim the ability to trust. When her charming neighbor intrudes on her quiet life, she must determine whether his interest is genuine, and whether he deserves the fragile bit of trust she has managed to scrape together. However, trusting is a risk, and she has vowed never to put herself at the mercy of someone else’s whims. Can Marilee take that chance, knowing how terribly she’s chosen before? She doesn’t know if she can survive being wrong again.

For all those who have suffered in silence, no matter the hardship. Everyone deserves a voice.

I wish I could explain just how much I loved this book. This takes place in a fantasy world but with no magic. Apparently some people were thrown off by not being able to pinpoint the genre and then got annoyed when it didn't line up with what they imagined it should be. So if you DO read this there you go. Not all fantasy has magic in it but since this is an invented world it's still fantasy. Okay, enough preaching about genre!

So this book has a very lonely feel to it. Marilee almost never leaves her property the whole book and she's very isolated. I think that helped portray how she felt . . . alone. Her abusive husband has died and now she's left to pick up the pieces of her life. She's been shattered and she's trying to put herself back together.

I felt there was a really important "realness" to this story. The suave man who comes in and says all the right things and seems charming. Then slowly the wife's life falls apart as he picks apart who she is. He makes everyone think she's crazy. He's inconsiderate and belittling. He would do things like lock her in her room and then when she got upset about it use it to say, "Look, she's raving and banging on the door. I told you she was crazy. I'm doing this for her safety." On the outside, most healthy people could say, no, that's not crazy to freak out like that. But when you're in the situation it's a lot harder to see the truth. After awhile, Marilee started wondering if she really was irrational and crazy.

He cuts her off from her friends and family, doesn't allow her to leave, dictates what she'll wear and eat, and terrorizes her.

I was like oh my gosh, I KNOW people who've been through a situation like that. The psychopath that presents a great picture to everyone on the outside. They dress nice, speak well, have great jobs, nice homes, and put up a great front to everyone whose not close to them. If you try and speak up and say hey, this isn't right, this person is nuts, they're not treating me right . . . no one believes you!

So I found this a very powerful story that faced a hard, true to life situation and because I have people in my life that have been there it made it all the more impacting.

It's a slow story and there's not a huge action plot or anything. But I love some good character building and I thought Marilee's situation was one I'd seen in real life and could understand and get invested in. And she was written so well that it was a great reader/book pairing for me.

Buy it on Amazon or FREE on KU!

8. Ella Wood by Michelle Isenhoff (5✯)

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YA Historical fiction

Love. War. Both equally destructive to Emily's ambitions.

Though she left Charleston a spoiled daughter of the South, Emily returns from her stay in the North a changed young woman. Her assumptions about slavery have been shattered, and her secret dream of attending university has blossomed into fierce ambition. As the passions that are sweeping the North and South toward war threaten to envelop the city she loves, Emily must battle her father's traditional expectations in her own bid for independence. Meanwhile, the real fight may lie with her heart, in the form of a patient young man who is gently but steadily pursuing her.

This was an intriguing book because unlike a lot of historical fiction that centers around the Civil War(or just before that) the main character is more focused on herself than slavery being central. I think that was probably pretty realistic for slave owners and their families--especially when you're thinking teenagers--to not be too concerned about the slaves in their lives.

I mean, teenagers at any point in history are pretty zeroed in on their own personal problems. I was. Heck, I was super mopey and dramatic about the imagined travesties and injustices of my life. So it's nice to feel like yes, this is a real teen. She wasn't cruel or completely unaware of the enslaved humans in her world, but you could tell that it didn't effect her so she pushed it from the forefront of her mind.

This shows how the world was slowly shifting and crumbling. How the divide between north and south grew. And it takes the whole book but eventually Emily starts realizing that she should be more concerned about the lives of the slaves. It's really a lot of growth to see a 16 year old girl go from fixating on the guys in her life, what she wants to do with her life, where she wants to go, etc. to someone who realizes there are other things that are more important to fight for.

7. The Little Selkie by K.M. Shea (5✯)

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YA Fairytale Retelling/Romance

Dylan—a selkie—makes a terrible mistake when she brashly chases an evil sea witch onto land. Captured and stripped of her pelt—leaving her unable to return to the sea in her sea lion body—Dylan’s only chance of survival is to serve as the sea witch’s tool. Instead of allowing the sea witch to use her selkie ability to control water, Dylan asks a wandering enchantress to seal her voice, rendering her unable to use her selkie magic. Stranded—with no allies and no way to contact her family—Dylan fears she will never successfully steal her pelt back.

Luckily, Dylan is not alone. She is befriended by Prince Callan, a kind, human prince whose country is being pulverized by the sea witch. Combining the strength of humans and the intelligence of the selkies, the pair unites to save their people.

But when the storm is over will Dylan choose to stay with Callan, or return to the sea and leave him behind…forever?

This was easily one of my favorite retellings of the Little Mermaid. Yes, Dylan is a selkie, but the plot still holds such strong traces of the original that there's no doubt you'll be able to identify what the story is based on.

There's so many good points to this but I want to say that Dylan stood out as a very original and unique character. She didn't care what other people thought about her or what they said. She let insults flow over her because she truly just didn't care. She stood up for her friends because she realized they WERE bothered when someone was nasty to them. She was the girl who was standing at the buffet line filling her plate to brimming and not caring about what others thought. She wore what she liked, went where she liked, and overall I was like yes, this is the kind of role model readers need(especially the target audience of teens).

Dylan made me smile and the story was so much nicer for her having been trapped on land because she was trying to do something good rather than some stupid "I saw an unconscious guy once and now I'm madly in love to the point of doing something dumb". Heck, while Callan is trying to find the mysterious girl who rescued him guess who doesn't even remember him at first? Yep, Dylan saved him and forgot about him LOL. When she does remember him she was like, ugh, he was so heavy and inconvenient.

Truly a great story with lots of highlights but for me the character of Dylan was the best.

Find it on Goodreads!
Buy it on Amazon or FREE on KU!

6. The Kiss of a Stranger by Sarah M. Eden (5✯)

10048521NA Historical Romance

When Crispin, Lord Cavratt, thoroughly and scandalously kisses a serving woman in the garden of a country inn, he assumes the encounter will be of no consequence. But he couldn't be more mistaken--the maid is not only a lady of birth, she's the niece of a very large, exceptionally angry gentlemen, who claims Crispin has compromised his niece beyond redemption. The dismayed young lord has no choice but to marry Miss Catherine Thorndale, who lacks both money and refinement and assumes all men are as vicious as her guardian uncle.

Trapped between an unwanted marriage and a hasty annulment, which would leave his reputation tainted and Catherine's utterly ruined, Crispin begins guiding his wife's transformation from a socially petrified country girl to a lady of society. Their unfolding relationship reveals encouraging surprises for both of them, and privately each of them wonders if theirs may become a true marriage of the heart. But their hopes are dashed when forces conspire to split asunder what fate has granted. As a battle of wits escalates into a life-threatening confrontation, will it be possible for Crispin and Catherine to live happily ever after?

First off I really like this series. This was the third one I've read(yes, out of order) and it didn't disappoint. Crispin is a nice guy who is being hounded by a lady that just will NOT take a hint. Finally he's pushed to the point of doing something drastic. Mid-conversation he turns aside and pulls what he believes to be a maid into his arms for a long kiss. While he achieves his goal of offending the parasite who has been dogging his steps, he also finds himself in a mess.

Catherine's led a horrible life with her evil uncle that can't wait to be rid of her and strip away her inheritance. When he catches Crispin in the act of kissing her, well, let's just say he finally can work on his goal. He forces Crispin into marriage since he has sullied his niece's reputation and then waits for everything to fall apart.

I loved seeing Crispin being torn between not wanting to ruin his new wife and yet not wanting to keep either one of them in an arranged marriage. But he also finds himself slowly falling for someone he knows must hate him for ruining her life.

I love a romance that isn't love at first sight. A love story where they're thinking of the other person and being kind. They look out for each other's interests and it's not all raging hormones and junk.

Find it on Goodreads!
Buy it now on Amazon!

5. Sand and Storm by Stella Dorthwany (5✯)

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NA Fantasy Romance

When junior mage Faryn is offered an internship with Professor Shaun Valerian—famous for edgy magic and breaking hearts—she can’t afford to say no, even at the expense of her own archaeological dig. But when they join an expedition in the middle of the enchanted Caladoner desert, Shaun reveals he’s up to far more than excavating dragon sarcophagi. Growing high above the sands is a storm so massive it could destroy the planet’s magical balance. There’s just one chance to stop the cataclysm—a lost super weapon, long buried in a forgotten temple. A temple that Faryn must rob.

Faryn’s cousin Cora has also been drafted into the temple expedition. Newly married to a man she barely knows, Cora is more interested in kindling romance than in digging up artifacts. But as the desert’s strange enchantment infiltrates the magical bond that ties her to her husband, Cora begins to burn with a power that’s been forbidden for centuries. It could kill her—but it may be the only way to unlock the legendary weapon.

As the storm clouds darken, Faryn and Cora will have to choose: between safety and sacrifice, between duty and love, between old dreams and a new magic that will change the world—if the world can survive it.

Another fun romance novel that revolves around a couple who were less then willing to enter into marriage. Cora isn't sure why Damorin and her grandfather are so fired up about this arranged marriage, but she trusts that her grandfather wouldn't pair her with someone who wasn't a good man.

It doesn't take more than a few hours though for Cora to realize that Damorin has zero interest in building a relationship.

Meanwhile Cora's cousin, Faryn, is on her own adventure. Tagging along with a professor she adores, Faryn finds herself at a special dig site examining a temple.

When Cora and Damorin head to the same site, things start spiraling out of control. I really don't care for love triangles and this had them in multiples. But it wasn't hard to figure out that Faryn's interested in only one of the people chasing her and the other is more there for a note of humor.

Cora's situation was a bit more interesting because she really wants a relationship and Damorin is dead set against having one. So when someone pops up who is funny and kind and, if nothing else, interested in Cora, she finds herself with a friendship that makes her marriage all the more complicated.

I liked that Cora doesn't have an affair and it's clear that she's not looking to cheat on Damorin, she just is lonely and wants a friend. She finds one and yes, he's interested in more but when push comes to shove Cora is determined that her marriage is going to work.

The sequel Blood Traitor was equally amazing and though I still don't enjoy Faryn's sections as much as Cora's they do help to set up the plot as a whole.

Find it on Goodreads!
Free on KU or $0.99 on Amazon!

4. The Collar and the Cavvarach by Annie Douglass Lima (5✯)

YA Sci-fi

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time. With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

I won't say too much about this one since I actually have a blog post for it where you can see my thoughts in detail. It's actually the only book I did an extended review for on my blog in 2019 so that should be saying something!

I do want to give a shout out though for books 2 and 3 as well. I read them as well this year and gave both 5 stars.

Overall a great start to this trilogy and I loved the raw human emotion and struggles that the characters experience.

Find it on Goodreads!
Buy it now on Amazon or FREE on KU!

3. Storm Glass by Jeff Wheeler (5✯)

YA Fantasy

Theirs is a world of opposites. The privileged live in sky manors held aloft by a secretive magic known only as the Mysteries. Below, the earthbound poor are forced into factory work to maintain the engine of commerce. Only the wealthy can afford to learn the Mysteries, and they use their knowledge to further lock their hold on society.

Cettie Pratt is a waif doomed to the world below, until an admiral attempts to adopt her. But in her new home in the clouds, not everyone treats her as one of the family.

Sera Fitzempress is a princess born into power. She yearns to meet the orphan girl she has heard so much about, but her father deems the girl unworthy of his daughter’s curiosity.

Neither girl feels that she belongs. Each seeks to break free of imposed rules. Now, as Cettie dreams of living above and as Sera is drawn to the world below, they will follow the paths of their own choosing.

But both girls will be needed for the coming storm that threatens to overturn both their worlds.

Storm Glass is the story of two 12 year old girls--though this is definitely not an MG book--who live in completely different worlds. The two don't meet, but you can see how their stories touch and will intersect later.

The bits with Mrs. Pullman were really well-written and were quite chilling. Heck, she could rival Dolores Umbridge for nasty witch with too much authority who hates children and is downright cruel.

Sera's parts are lacking in action and she never leaves her home, but wow, there's so many dynamics that are packed into her scenes. Scenes with hardly any new characters and no change of scenery! It was incredible. I did like how her character was a balance between a person with strong morals who was willing to put herself out there to protect others and a kid who is still intimidated by the scary adults *cough* her dad *cough* in her life. It was very believable the way she reacted.

I enjoyed so many of the secondary characters too. I liked the lawyer guy at the end who helped Sera, and Joses, and Hugilde.

You can tell this is all gearing up to something big. It's a story that's a beginning. It has a nice bit of self-contained plot that wraps up so that we do have a solid story with all the steps a book should have. And yet, it does leave you wanting more and some unanswered questions, and basically leaves you with the feeling that this is just the beginning. Which it is. It's the perfect way to start off a series.

Overall, really fun and amazing. This got my blood pumping, it got me invested. Love the characters, the world building. The writing is stellar and really had me swapping from super interested and MUST TURN PAGE to raging at the injustice of the world and wanting to leap into the pages and strangle some of these horrid people. Also lots of great little bits that I think impart important "life lessons" such as not having to explain yourself all the time, and not following the crowd. People watching your life don't know anything beyond what they see, so don't follow their advice just because. Remember they can't see the whole picture.

Another pitch for book 2 as well here. I gave that one five stars and hope to be continuing on with the series soon.

2. Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani (5✯)

17969479. sy475 YA Fantasy Adventure

In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.
Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted for the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

I enjoyed book 1 Sunbolt but took some time getting to Memories of Ash as I felt that Sunbolt was too short to feel truly complete(so I did feel a little ripped off) and I felt like a lot of time had been devoted to the characters, plot, and place the first part of the book took place in to just have the character leave all of that behind and not return to it.

Interestingly enough my husband and a friend of mine felt similarly about Sunbolt. I braved Memories of Ash first and it completely blew me away. This definitely felt like a full novel. The character is traveling through some interesting places and I get the feeling that we will eventually return to them. So the level of detail didn't feel unwarranted(plus it was a journey so it wasn't like we spent a long time on any one place). There were my two issues in Sunbolt wiped away.

We get to see how much Hitomi has grown. There's plenty of adventure and heart racing moments. I loved the traveling and meeting new people(and non-humans) and seeing new things. I loved the glimpse into a different culture as Hitomi meets some of her father's people. I'm really hoping that gets explored more in-depth in later books.

I loved how many new characters there were and the variety of loyalty and integrity that they showed. So many characters who helped out Hitomi and had various reasons for doing so--even at risk to themselves. Just a nice cast of well-rounded individuals. I loved that she got to meet backup with Kenta because he's a character that NEEDS more page time.

I liked that Hitomi is willing to risk everything to help out Stormwind. It shows a lot about her character and makes it easy to get behind her.

Overall this book is rich in characters, world building, and a unique story. You need to read Sunbolt for this to make sense but, as I told my friend and husband, Memories of Ash is even BETTER.
Find it on Goodreads
Buy it on Amazon!

1. Selkie's Song by Kimberly A. Rogers (5✯)

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NA Fairytale retelling/romance

A selkie’s song can enchant a man and tame the sea . . .

Naia’s unusual love for human things led her to become the sole artisan in her clan. But when this passion leads to her abduction, she loses more than contact with the sea when her pelt is taken. Unable to shift forms or return to the sea without it, she knows she will die if she cannot recover the pelt soon. Cut off from her family, Naia must appease the human king while persuading his lovesick son to honor past arrangements.

Malik has loved and lost before, an experience leading him to shy away from love. When Naia is stranded, however, he risks everything to find her. Together they uncover a plot that would sweep up humans and selkies alike in a war that would destroy the Five Kingdoms and possibly all of Sonera.

When the enemy acts, can they save sea and land . . . and each other?

Hands down my all time favorite retelling of The Little Mermaid. A little crazy that it's also the second selkie version I've come across and it happened to be in the same year.

A few chapters in I actually got misty-eyed because I was like THIS IS GOING TO BE GOOD and it's been so long since a romance plot hit me in the feels that knowing I was going to get a good one was like *sniff sniff* it's been too long.

I mean the mermaid character(who is a selkie) has this garden underwater(it's not actually underwater. They live in air pocket houses in the rocks and her roof is actually part of some rocks that poke above the waves and they have tiny holes for sunlight to come in.) where she raises land plants for no other reason than she loves them. She's seen as odd and the misfit because of how she looks and what she does for a hobby.

And this selkie leader--he is freaking tracking down flowers that are really beautiful and exotic and transporting them in cases underwater to bring to her for her garden.

And she has nooooo idea and I was like, "I'm not crying you are!!!" because it was so darn sweet how he was just doing something for her like that. That's romance peoples. He figured out what she liked, what she was passionate about and he showed interest. He wasn't going, "ermagosh you're so hawt and we just met and you're hawt so I like you." No, he actually has gotten to know this woman and her family. He's learned what interests her and he's going out of his way no matter how busy he is and get her something she likes even if she's totally oblivious.

Every problem I've ever had with the original and the numerous retellings was dealt with for the FIRST time. It makes me so happy that someone else doesn't like the same things and fixed them! And put in a super sweet romance that I could actually get behind.

I have to say though that the prince was so well done that I wanted to strangle him. He needed to die a slow and horrible death. I didn't warm up to him at all and I can't imagine how Naia managed to not drown him.

Find it on Goodreads!
Buy it on Amazon or FREE on KU!