My Best Books of 2019

Hi all! Some of you saw this over on Facebook: my top 10 books read in 2019. I read over 100 books in those 12 months, so these are some serious contenders. Here they are for you, in order.

But first…

Best Books: the eBooks

My lovely and talented wife Rachel and I have this thing. I built us shelves in our bedroom on either side of the bed. As we finish a book, we put the book on the shelf. That makes it easy to go through at the end of the year and pick the top 10 best books. 

Which doesn’t work with eBooks. Just under half of the books I read last year were eBooks. Most of those were boring business books and not real contenders, but two really made me smile and I’m sharing them here before we go to the ones I could take a picture of. 

eBook #1: Lick and the Invasion, by Lick Darsey

You know how there’s a sliver of redneck depiction where you can’t tell whether it was written by a Coastal Elite making fun of them, or by a Down Home Country boy celebrating what he loves best? This is that, with beer and fishing and guns and trucks and an alien invasion, and an RV that would have the vehicle designers from Mad Max Fury Road literally erect with jealousy. 

Not to be taken seriously, this is a short, fun romp you’ll get through in one sitting and laugh the whole damn time. 


eBook #2: The Whole Damn Tommy Valentine series, by Gregg Edwards Townsley.

In the proud tradition of Robert B. Parker and Joe R. Lansdale, Tommy Valentine presents us with a weird and wonderful tough guy who spends most of his time ruminating on the meaning of life while his wife solves problems. 

When the problems try to solve her, Tommy steps in with old-school thuggery and sets things to a graphic and satisfying end. Very much worth the read. I got a couple of them some time ago, then binged the whole thing on a weekend while my wife was out of town. Great relaxation reads. 

My Top 10 Best Books of 2019

10. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Neither the title nor the author need an introduction. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a treatment of some of the most entertaining myths we humans have come up with, written by a master who’s spent his entire life exploring myths in fiction. 

I made a joke on Facebook where I suggested this was “a little derivative.” My wife was surprised how surprised I was that people jumped to Gaiman’s defense. But seriously, a top shelf effort by one of the best authors writing today.

9. The Imaginary Corpse by Tyler Hayes

This book must be read to be believed. Absolutely the most creative thing I put my eyes on this year, and really too weird to describe. The best elevator pitch would be “if Raymond Chandler wrote The Velveteen Rabbit.”

Only it’s also got a triceratops, Captain Marvel’s more awesome big sister, and the Memory Squids. I loved this book. 

8. Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

This was a reread, but I read it every few years. One of the most important books on writing in existence (as evidenced by its long time in print and doing well, and by the author’s VIP status teaching its lessons at conventions all over North America). 

It details the pieces and parts of a good book, and pairs that detail with instructions on how to organize your own writing to make sure you simply rock each of those parts. I liked it so much, my Book in a Year Planner draws heavily from its influence. 

7. Tales From the Loop by  Simon Stalenhag (and others)

This is a twofer. Simon Stalenhag is an artist who paints these amazing images of science fiction mingling with what TV and the movies tell us the 80s were like. (See the cover images for an idea). Really compelling and creative, got my juices seriously flowing.

But that’s not all!

A bunch of nerds went and turned it into a tabletop role-playing game, capturing the feel of Stranger ThingsThe Goonies, and Wargames so perfectly I remain in awe of the skill…and deeply pleased by how well they captured the feel of the art.

6. The Secret of Zoone by Lee Edward Fodi

One of two middle-grade books on the list this year, which tells you something off the bat. I don’t handicap, so it’s as good as the other contenders despite that mild handicap. 

This fanciful, dimension-hopping adventure with a hapless kid and a “skyger” who reminds me (in all the best ways) of The Tick ticked all the boxes while still surprising me and never falling into the traps of the genre. Well worth a read.

Also, Gabe loved it. 

5. Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

Cherie’s YA novel was my #1 book from last year. This adult werewolf story did not disappoint. It’s a deeply evocative story about a woman’s search for her vanished husband, important and current social issues, and – as I mentioned – a Big Damn Werewolf. 

Mrs. Dimaline’s prose is delicious, but not delicious like Oreos. It’s delicious like a really good stew that somebody put almost too many chilis in while you weren’t looking. 

4. Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

I won’t say anything but this. 

It’s a creepy and hilarious story set in a IKEA that comes in like Paranoia and goes out like Call of Cthulhu. If that doesn’t hook you, I just don’t know what else to do. 

3. Wicked River by Lee Sandlin

I usually skim nonfiction. Most of the time, each paragraph has a sentence worth of information, so I find the sentence and move on…but this book has a narrative voice that kept me reading as closely as a solid mystery novel. 

It tells the story of the Mississippi River from the late 18th century through the end of the Civil War: the days when it was the lifeblood of a frontier, and full of the kinds of stories that grandkids ask their grandparents to repeat. 

2. Eight Times Up by John Corr

The second middle grade book on this list, it’s a beautifully written story of how aikido classes help a kid reeling from his parents’ divorce and coping with an unspecified neurotypicality issue.

But not in a preachy, movie of the week, way. In an engaging, sweet, often hilarious and occasionally tear-jerking way. I read it twice this year. Once for me, once with Gabe. 

1. American War by Omar El Akkad

Set in the aftermath of a second US Civil War, this is a book about jingoism and the endgame of our dividing culture. More than that, it’s a book about how extremists become extreme. More than that, it’s a book about empathy: why it’s important, and how it gets extinguished.

And it’s written in the most violent prose I’ve encountered in a long while. This book still keeps me up at night. It’s not just great. It’s important. That’s what makes it my Best Book for 2019.