I read so many terrific books in 2019 that I had a hard time whittling down my list to a manageable size. Indeed, several amazing books that I read this year have been left off this list. In the end I decided to pick those books that I stick out the most in my memory and/or that I have the most interest in re-reading in the near future. This list is mostly comprised of fiction books, although a few memorable nonfiction books are included as well.
If you’re a fan of Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy you need to run out and get this spectacular duology by Michael Moreci. Black Star Renegades and We Are Mayhem feature exactly the kind of swashbuckling, thrill-a-minute, space opera action/adventure that I love. I couldn’t put these books down! Cade Sura is an unlikely and immediately endearing main protagonist. He and his band of “Renegades” are characters I thoroughly enjoyed rooting for. I could easily imagine this series being adapted into an animated show on Netflix. My only complaint is that there aren’t more of these books. I really hope that Moreci has plans for further adventures with Cade and the gang! I definitely plan to re-read both Renegades and Mayhem soon and to review each of them here on this blog. Stay tuned!
When I was a kid one of my favorite Disney movies was The Black Cauldron. Only in recent years did I learn that this underrated fantasy film was based on the first two books of The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander. My brother started reading the books and highly recommended them, so I was eager to experience the series for myself. I was able to finish the first three books this year and my only regret is not having read The Chronicles of Prydain sooner. I would have loved these books as a kid! They are high fantasy adventure at its finest! The Prydain tales are filled with epic adventure and lots of memorable characters. Several of the themes explored in the story reminded me (in the best way possible) of Tolkien’s work. Indeed, if you’re a fan of The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia don’t miss out on Lloyd Alexander’s terrific series! I intend to read the remaining books and to review them all here on the blog.
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Walter M. Miller, Jr. was a convert to Catholicism and his magnum opus A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of the crown jewels of Christian science fiction. Indeed, I would go so far as to say it is one of the greatest sci-fi novels of all time. You don’t need to be a Catholic, or even a Christian, to enjoy this classic, but I think it is best appreciated when viewed through a Catholic lens. I won’t spoil anything about the plot, but I will say that the book ends with major questions unresolved. This may not please some readers, but I ultimately found that it enhanced the experience. I think that Miller would have wanted readers to ponder the ambiguous aspects of the novel and come to our own conclusions rather than providing unequivocal answers. If you like science fiction that makes you think and leaves you ruminating on “big questions” long after you’ve finished the book, then I highly recommend A Canticle for Leibowitz.
Church of Spies by Mark Riebling
One of the best history texts I read this year, this important book tells the fascinating and little-known true story of Pope Pius XII’s covert support for the efforts to overthrow Hitler. Church of Spies reads like the best suspense thriller novels and had me on the edge of my seat.
Dinotopia by James Gurney
Dinotopia is nothing less than a triumph of the imagination! This “Land Apart from Time” is still as awe-inspiring now as it was when I first read the book as a child. Writer and artist James Gurney is a genius and has created a fantasy world as rich and detailed as Middle-earth, Narnia, or Thra. The 20th anniversary edition contains a fascinating afterword in which Gurney gives insight into the creative process that shaped this magnificent work. If you’ve never read Dinotopia before, do yourself a favor and experience it for yourself.
The “Thrawn Trilogy” has the reputation of as being among the best of the Star Wars “Legends” novels and, after finally reading them this year, I can definitely see why. Timothy Zahn is a top-notch writer who seems to have a deep understanding of the Star Wars universe and its characters. All of the classic Star Wars cast – Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, Lando, even Threepio – are characterized so well that I felt like I was watching a new Star Wars movie! There’s also a great cast of original characters – Talon Karrde, Mara Jade, Gilad Pellaeon, and (of course) Grand Admiral Thrawn – who fit right in with the greater Star Wars universe, almost as if they’d always been there. Terrific action, witty dialogue, a fascinating antagonist, old friends returning, and new friends to meet for the first time – Heir to the Empire and its sequels are all a must-read for any Star Wars fan.
Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales
Perhaps the best spiritual/religious book I read this year was this series of reflections by St. Francis de Sales. He offers insightful and practical advice that will help anyone striving to deepen their relationship with God and to grow in holiness.
John Adams by David McCullough
Every time I’ve read a biography by eminent historian David McCullough I’ve come away with a greater appreciation for his subject than I had before. This was especially the case with John Adams. This thoroughly fascinating and meticulously researched tome is jam-packed with fascinating insights into the life and times of one of America’s pivotal Founding Fathers. McCullough does such a masterful job of bringing Adams to life that when I finished this book I felt like I knew him! John Adams is simply one of the best biographies I have ever read.
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
Simply a masterpiece! Out of the Silent Planet is a perfect blending of the sci-fi and fantasy genres and is filled to the brim with fascinating ideas. There’s so much to digest here – science, philosophy, theology, and more! I can safely say that no one writes science fiction quite like this anymore. While C.S. Lewis’ “Space Trilogy” undoubtedly deserves its place as one of the pillars of Christian sci-fi on the strength of this one book, I am sorry to say that I was mostly disappointed with the sequels Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. Lewis becomes so fixated on his philosophical and theological musings that the story nearly collapses under their weight. You may feel differently – indeed, my opinions on this trilogy appear to be in the minority. Nonetheless, I heartily recommend Out of the Silent Planet as an underrated sci-fi classic.
The Sky People by S.M. Stirling
This is the first novel by S.M. Stirling that I’ve ever read, and it turned out to be a great place to start! If you’re looking for a story featuring astronauts, cavemen, and dinosaurs, look no further! The Sky People is an entertaining and thrilling homage to the Pulp/Golden Age of science fiction. I often lament the dearth of quality dinosaur fiction and if you feel the same way I highly recommend The Sky People as something right up your alley. I intend to re-read this book soon and to review it on this blog. I believe hidden gems like this ought to be celebrated!
Spearhead by Adam Makos
Spearhead recounts the incredible true story of Clarence Smoyer, the gunner of an American Pershing tank of the 3rd Armored Division in World War II, and how his life converged with that of Gustav Schaefer, a German teenager in the crew of a Panzer IV. The human drama of this gripping and moving tale of war is utterly compelling. Spearhead reads like a novel. If you’re a fellow WWII buff I’m certain you’ll enjoy this book.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
One of the books I used to read over and over as a kid was H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Returning to this undisputed classic of science fiction as an adult was a great experience, as I was able to appreciate it in new ways. This novel may be short by modern standards but doesn’t feel brief. Bleak, thrilling, and at times genuinely terrifying, The Time Machine is a story I will undoubtedly return to again in the years to come. It certainly has a spot on my short-list of favorite novels of all time.
Have you read any of the books on this list? If so, what are your thoughts? What were your favorite reads of 2019? Let me know in the comments section below or on Twitter! See you in the next review.