With 76 5-star reads this year, you better believe it was hard to choose favorites. I narrowed it down to 46 by dropping all my re-reads. Then I removed any Mary Stewart novels and Greek/Roman classics because–per my scheduling post–those will get separate posts later. But still. This was hard!
However, without much ado, I give you my favoritest favorite books of 2019 (in no particular order.)
Sanditon: Jane Austen’s Last Novel by Jane Austen & Anne Telscombe (aka Marie Dobbs)
Jane Austen wrote the first 11 chapters of Sanditon before dying at age 41. And they are brilliant. Chapter 3 begins, “Every neighborhood should have a great lady.” Genius. But alas, never completed. Instead, in 1975, Anne Telscombe finished the story. And her conclusion feels way more like Georgette Heyer than Jane Austen. It is a completely different tone and suffers horrendously from hindsight, with characters enthusing about gaslights and other inventions just about to make it big. But you know what? It does not matter. This was still one of my favorite reads from 2019 because it was genuinely entertaining. Unfortunately, or perhaps fittingly, the mini-series based on the story and released this past year did not take well and will not be completed with a second season.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
Beauty and the Beast…with an epic twist. You know the story. An enchantress curses a prince to live as a beast until he finds true love. But did you know the first girl failed to break the curse? And the second. And the third. And so on. Each time he fails, Beast goes crazy and destroys all he loves. But it resets. New girl. New chance. All the memories. Except now he has only one reset left. Meet Harper. She lives in the bad part of town and has cerebral palsy. Then she saves an unconscious girl from a sword-swinging weirdo and gets dragged to a fantasy kingdom to break a curse. But she’s not sticking around.
I’ve read loads of Beauty and the Beast retellings and this is hands-down my favorite. It is dark, gritty, and hopeful with very memorable characters. That said, I have no interest in reading the rest of the series. YA authors really need to quit it with the cliff-hangers.
The Trial by Franz Kafka
It took me several tries to get into The Trial but once I did, I devoured it. It tells the story Josef K., a respectable bank officer suddenly and inexplicably arrested and tried but never told what for. It illustrates the falseness of a “justice” system without the rule of law and the character’s own false optimism that it will all get cleared up. I loved it. But then again, I also loved The Metamorphosis which some people do not so consider yourself warned.
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose
Speaking of courtrooms…Twelve Angry Men is a classic American play (and movie, actually) about the meaning of “innocent until proven guilty” and how one man’s conviction can change the hearts of a whole group. Some plays you need to see performed to really feel the pathos. This is not one. The words jump off the pages even with just a casual read. It is a rallying cry for the American justice system. I found it moving and inspiring. Definitely an instant favorite and as relevant for 2020 as 1954 when first written.
The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis
Do you ever hear so much about a book that you feel like you’ve read it already? That’d be me with The Weight of Glory. I’ve heard so much about the sermons and essays inside this volume that a part of me was surprised to discover it still unread. It was marvelous. I read through the titular piece three times before moving on. I highly recommend this collection of sermons and essays as thought-provoking reading you can take all at once or slowly and one at a time. (And if you understand the essay on Transposition, do tell me, because I did not.)
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Speaking of books to take slowly…it took me 2 years to complete The Cost of Discipleship. I could not rush it. Everything I read needed to be chewed over and sifted. I found it thought-provoking. Challenging. Encouraging. Motivating. Most of all, I relished reading doctrine. The book was a breath of fresh air. The downside of taking such a long time to read it, however, is that I’m not sure I can pin-point what all impacted me or which quotes I liked best. It impacted me gradually and I fell in love with all the quotes. Guess I need to add it to my to re-read list for 2020.
Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine by Dorothy L Sayers
I love C.S. Lewis and appreciate the emphasis on his writings displayed by many Christian writers and academics today. But if I may be so bold, Christians really need to start paying more attention to Dorothy L. Sayers. Letters to a Diminished Church is a collection of essays on what it means to be made in the image of God the Creator. And it is so good. Sayers writes with biting wit and clear truths and reveals profound ideas. She touches on ancient history, Medieval allegory, and modern psychology. She unhesitatingly jumps from author to author in fleshing out her ideas, including references to Lewis’s Space Trilogy. While I love her book The Mind of the Maker, I strongly recommend starting with Letters to a Diminished Church. Like with The Weight of Glory, the essay format means you can take it as slow or fast as you want without losing the ‘thread’ of the thought.
Edge of His Ways by Amy Carmichael
“Thank God courage is as ‘infectious’ as discouragement.” Edge of His Ways is a daily devotional with a different writing of Amy Carmichael–usually a letter or journal entry–highlighted each day. Amy is one of my personal heroines and if you are not familiar with her story, I recommend checking her out. This devotional is encouraging, inspiring, and challenging. The copy I read had a very feminine, floral cover which is a pity because I think it is an equally excellent devotional for men and women. If looking for a short, encouraging daily read, I highly recommend.
Thailand: The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide by Alexa West
Last, but never least, Alexa West’s amazing Thailand: The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide. If you are traveling to Thailand, you should get this book. If you are traveling anywhere in Southeast Asia, you should see if she has a book about that country. (She probably does.) This goes double if you are a solo traveler and triple if you are a solo girl traveler. Reading Alexa’s book feels like getting advice from a trusted friend and it never once steered me wrong. Some of my favorite experiences last year while living in Thailand came from her suggestions.