2019 Wrap-Up: Lauren’s Favorite Reads of the Year

 2019 was a whirlwind – I got accepted into departmental honors, started my first job working in a law office, became an AUNT, and started this baby book blog with my other half. There was a balance of great, good, and not so good things that happened in the past year, but one of the undeniably great things was learning about and reading a host of diverse, own voices books that were everything teenage me could have ever dreamed of, and that (fake) adult me needed. I read so many fantastic books this year and I’m certain 2020 will bring even more, but here (in no particular order) are the books I read in 2019 that left a huge mark on me. 

Title: Descendant of the Crane

Author: Joan He

Publication Date: April 9th, 2019

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company

Genre: Fantasy

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago. Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

Descendant of the Crane was one of the first books I read that unapologetically used Mandarin throughout the book. The world-building was to die for, and I loved Hesina and the rest of the cast so much. There was political intrigue, a murder mystery, courtroom drama, and illegal magic – honestly, what more could you ask for? Descendant of the Crane was an amazing debut, and I know I’m not the only one begging for Joan He to get the second book deal she deserves.

Title: Spin the Dawn

Author: Elizabeth Lim

Publication Date: July 9th, 2019

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books

Genre: Fantasy, romance

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise. And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

Marketed as Mulan meets Project Runway, I already knew I would love Spin the Dawn long before I actually got my hands on a copy, and it sure as hell didn’t disappoint. The magic and mythology in Spin the Dawn make it shine, but what really made it an instant favorite for me was Maia herself. Underestimated and duty-bound, watching Maia break out of her shell and value herself and her skills meant the world to me. I loved Spin the Dawn more than I could ever imagine and I’m DYING to find out what happens in Unravel the Dusk.

Title: The Poppy War

Author: R.F. Kuang

Publication Date: May 1st, 2018

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Genre: Fantasy, historical fiction

Age Range: Adult

Synopsis: When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising. But surprises aren’t always good. Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. And while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

While I may not be as much of an ethics nerd/Chidi Anagonye type as Orianna, I will never say no to a truly morally gray book or character. The Poppy War was mind-blowing on so many levels, and was such a refreshing change of pace from other novels that paint the protagonist as clearly being on the right side of history. The Dragon Republic was number one on my wishlist this year, and I am eagerly anticipating The Burning God. Rebecca Kuang, I am ready to get my soul wrecked by you over and over again.

Title: Our Wayward Fate

Author: Gloria Chao

Publication Date: October 15th, 2019

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Genre: Contemporary, romance

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Ali Chu knows that as the only Asian person at her school in middle-of-nowhere Indiana, she must be bland as white toast to survive. This means swapping her congee lunch for PB&Js, ignoring the clueless racism from her classmates and teachers, and keeping her mouth shut when people wrongly call her Allie instead of her actual name, pronounced Āh-lěe, after the mountain in Taiwan. Her autopilot existence is disrupted when she finds out that Chase Yu, the new kid in school, is also Taiwanese. Despite some initial resistance due to the “they belong together” whispers, Ali and Chase soon spark a chemistry rooted in competitive martial arts, joking in two languages, and, most importantly, pushing back against the discrimination they face. But when Ali’s mom finds out about the relationship, she forces Ali to end it. As Ali covertly digs into the why behind her mother’s disapproval, she uncovers secrets about her family and Chase that force her to question everything she thought she knew about life, love, and her unknowable future.

No book has ever made me genuinely laugh as much as Our Wayward Fate. I could relate to Ali on so many levels, and I’m definitely in love with Chase. There were a ton of “if you know you know” jokes scattered throughout the novel, and it was one of the first times I was able to experience that in a language I knew. I lent my copy to my mom to read and even she was laughing all the way through the book, bringing Our Wayward Fate that much closer to my heart.

Title: The Gilded Wolves

Author: Roshani Chokshi

Publication Date: January 15th, 2019

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Genre: Fantasy, historical fiction

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance. To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood. Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading The Gilded Wolves, and I was completely stunned by how much I loved it by the end. The cast of characters is one of the most dynamic versions of the found family trope I’ve ever seen, and I loved that there was so much real representation, not just representation for representation’s sake. As someone who got the chance to read The Silvered Serpents early, I can say for sure that the story only gets better from here. (Look out for my review of The Silvered Serpents next year!)

Title: Love from A to Z

Author: S.K. Ali

Publication Date: April 30th, 2019

Publisher: Salaam Reads

Genre: Contemporary, romance

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together. An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are. But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry. When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break. Then her path crosses with Adam’s. Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister. Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals. Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting. Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting..

I. ADORE. This. Book. Love From A to Z just might be my favorite YA contemporary of all time, and considering the other amazing books I read this year, that’s saying a lot. I could rave about Love From A to Z forever (and I have), but you can read more about my extremely positive feelings here. This is the one book I’ve been recommending to people, no matter what they’re searching for, because I truly think it has something to offer everyone.

Title: Tweet Cute

Author: Emma Lord

Publication Date: January 21st, 2020

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Genre: Contemporary, romance

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account. Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time. All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

Tweet Cute is just a fun book from start to finish! Filled with pop culture references and memes, it’s almost too silly, but cheesy enough to work. The romance is adorable and the humor is exactly my cup of tea, but there’s a level of heart in Tweet Cute that I didn’t expect. The family dynamics are complicated and messy and realistic in their ridiculousness and that’s what really cemented the book as one of my favorite reads this year. As someone who has Gossip Girl as a guilty pleasure and loves a good pun, Tweet Cute was basically written for me. You can read the rest of my rave review here.

Title: Crier’s War

Author: Nina Varela

Publication Date: October 1st, 2019

Publisher: HarperTeen

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQ

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will. Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier. Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla. Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

Crier’s War was everything I didn’t know I needed in a fantasy book. It turned the human/non-human pairing on its head and while parts of the book felt familiar, it was still extremely refreshing and new. The ending left me reeling and I am DYING for the sequel. I purchased Crier’s War for a secret Santa present and ended up getting a copy for myself, but I wasn’t expecting to find a new all-time favorite in doing so. And I’m so glad I did!!

2019 was personally a great year for books for me, and I can only imagine that 2020 will be even better. What were some of your favorite reads in 2019? What books are you most looking forward to in 2020?

Let me know in the comments, and see y’all in the new year!

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