In creating this list, I discovered that while I’ve been very conscious of my overall diversification of my reading, I’ve slacked on ensuring that diversity across genres so unfortunately for my reading, this list leans heavily toward white authors and likely titles you’ve heard of numerous times. The truth is that I don’t read a ton of non-romance titles, but I do still read enough that making a list like this feels important to me. And I do love each of these books so I hope, despite the limitations, that you’ll find some books to love on this list too. And please feel free to leave me recommendations for urban fantasy by authors of color because right now I’m really into that genre. (It will need to have a romantic subplot, though.)
The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
Because as much as I want to be the one crying, I want to be the kind of person someone can hold on to.
One of the first books I read in 2019 and also the book that had me LITERALLY sobbing. So that was fun. This book is gorgeous. It’s about Lucy, the daughter of a pastor and chronic good girl, and how she responds when her mother’s cancer comes back. She’s pretty mad at God, tbh, and like, fair. But she also wants to spend as much time with her mom as possible only her mom tells her that instead of going to Jesus camp to be a camp counselor like normal, her mom has arranged for her to be a counselor at the neighboring camp for “troubled” kids. Lucy learns so much about herself, her privilege, and just how to be a better and more compassionate person from this camp. There’s a romantic subplot in it that I absolutely adored. And the bits with her mom? They about destroyed me. It’s so good. But also, I really did sob so hard I could barely see the pages for the last fifty or so.
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out, blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true?
One of the things Robin DiAngelo touches on in this book is that it’s often the white progressives who commit some of the most hurtful acts against people of color and if that’s not a callout I needed to spur me back toward trying to actively work through the racist society and ideals, I don’t know what is. Just kidding, it’s the current RWA mess. Like, one of my goals is obviously to work at being antiracist, but also, I just never want to be a Nice White Lady out here tone policing people who have every right to be angry. But back to the book, White Fragility is a callout to white people by a white person to help us understand that if someone comes to us and tells us something we did was shitty, that’s a privilege and it means that this person trusts us. So it is IMPERATIVE that we respond correctly, which means NOT getting defensive or doubling down. An “I’m so sorry. Thank you for telling me. I will do better in the future,” type of response is much better. We cannot put our white guilt on people of color because that’s not fair. Basically, just, if you’re white and you haven’t read this book, please, please think about doing so.
Shrill by Lindy West
Denying people access to value is an incredibly insidious form of emotional violence, one that our culture wields aggressively and liberally to keep marginalized groups small and quiet.
This book has been sitting on my shelf since I won the paperback copy in a Goodreads giveaway. So sorry Goodreads for never getting around to that. And I still didn’t, technically, because I read audio version instead. Anyway, the point is, I really enjoyed this essay collection. Lindy West has a fairly straight forward but really thoughtful way about her writing that, especially when listening to her narrate it, makes it feel like you’re having a conversation with a friend who happens to have a lot of really smart things to say.
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
This nonfiction book is WILD. It’s about the Theranos scandal, which I knew next to nothing about. In fact, I really wasn’t sure who this Elizabeth person was that I kept hearing about because somehow this scandal didn’t permeate my consciousness until Dani’s raving about the book finally got me to actually listen when my hold came through. Essentially, Elizabeth Holmes swindled so many people into investing billions of dollars into her poorly run, badly managed, and utterly incapable of delivering the promises she made company. And it took YEARS to fall apart. There’s also the story of how Carreyrou got the reporting stuff to fall into place which was really neat to read about as well.
The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas
Perhaps she had always been a monster, but even the lady monsters of the world couldn’t escape the expectations that came of being women.
I mean, the Lady Sherlock series in general, but this book absolutely caught me off guard. I mean, are you kidding?? The twists at the end just had me practically screaming. In fact, I may have actually screamed. This book put me through the wringer. If you aren’t familiar with the Lady Sherlock series, essentially, Sherry Thomas reimagined Sherlock Holmes as Charlotte Holmes, a lady who doesn’t really want to deal with societal trappings and sets off to make her own path by using her deductive skills to her advantage. There’s a Lord who is a fantastic secondary character and the kind of sort of love interest. Oh man. So good, honestly. But do not start the series thinking about the romance. It’s the minorest of subplots.
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
When you’re a freshman girl, you don’t understand what’s so unlikeable about guys who are interested in freshman girls.
I mean, y’all know I love Taylor Jenkins Reid, but wow, this book was so cool! Hannah is returning to LA and not really on a high note. But her best friend Gabby has invited her to stay in her spare bedroom while Hannah figures things out and has planned a welcome back get together. Hannah has to make a decision about whether she’s going to go home with her high school boyfriend and first love, Ethan, or if she’s going to go home with Gabby. And then the book starts rotating between the timelines depending on the choice that Hannah made. I loved it. I think this book has really great commentary, I love Gabby, and I just… I really liked this book. Also, I just love Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writing.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
“Being a hero isn’t about being perfect. It’s about doing the right thing, doing your best to get the people you care about home safely. You were willing to sacrifice yourself to do that. I don’t care what you say to negate that–I was there.”
I just absolutely adore this urban fantasy series based on Navajo mythology. Maggie is one of the most badass heroines ever and Kai is my everything. Anyway, this book is about Maggie who is a monster hunter who has to go hunting for a big deal monster and also her former mentor ghosted her and she’s still reeling from that because she kind of thought she was in love with him. Also, he’s a god. There’s a ton of adventure and Maggie trying to unpack some of the trauma that she has already survived when we meet her and some of the best side characters of all time. Such a great book. I cannot wait for the third one.
Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep
I didn’t want to keep my mouth shut and plaster a smile on my face and stay in the background like I had all those years at the palace. I just wanted to be myself, for the first time in a long time.
Evie is so different from Maggie, but I really loved her character too. She’s a badass in a very different way. We get to see Evie as everything she’s ever known is taken away in a massacre when her family is betrayed and how she survives. Watching her so, so slowly start to really come into her own and reconcile who she was born to be with who she is as a person is really quite the journey. When I finished this on the plane on my way back from San Diego, I was outraged I didn’t have Protect the Prince on hand to immediately dive into book two of the series. I would definitely recommend.
Written in Red by Anne Bishop
If you adapted too much in order to deal with them, you ran the risk of forgetting who you were and you could end up being neither and nothing.
I feel like for these last few books you’re really just getting series I found and fell in love with this year, and The Others was definitely one of them. I’m still not sure how to describe the series, but essentially Meg stumbles into The Others territory and agrees to be the Human Liaison. Simon isn’t sure about this, but Meg doesn’t smell like prey so it’ll be fine. Simon is a wolf who can shift into a human like skin, but he is definitely not a werewolf. Like, the others call human meat a special and there’s talk of eating humans, so like… you know, be forewarned? Also, Meg can predict the future if her skin is cut so there’s also blood. What I loved about this series is that it’s like a small town paranormal situation and I LOVE that. There is a sort of romance over the five book series, but it’s like… so faint. Still great though. The friendships and relationships in general in this book are *chef’s kiss*.
And those are my best nine books of 2019 that were neither 2019 releases or romance novels. There were strong threads of romance in many of the non-nonfiction books though because I am who I am. Please let me know your favorite non-romance books that you read last year!