2019 Book Challenge Reviews
One of my favorite literary things to do each year is the Goodreads Book Challenge. At the beginning of the year, you choose how many books you plan to read that year and then challenge yourself to get there.
In 2017 and 2018, I pledged to read 30 books and accomplished them both years. In 2019, I upped it a bit to 35. It was a little slow-going at first, but in the end, I managed it.
In addition to just reading a book, I also decided to start writing brief reviews for each. As an author, I know how valuable reviews are and I can hardly complain about not getting enough when I’m not doing it myself.
So, without further ado, here are the 35 books I read in 2019 (yes, graphic novels count!)…
1. Hilda and the Hidden People by Luke Pearson & Stephen Davies
I really love Hilda, so I was excited to see they were releasing a novelized version of the story! It was a quick, simple read but had just enough added content to not make it feel monotonous if you’ve already read the graphic novels or watched the show. Recommended for all Hilda fans!
2. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
I really liked this book a lot! This whole series is such a refreshing take on dragon fantasy and I can’t wait until I can recommend these to my daughter (she’s only 5 now)! Very beautiful prose and interesting characters!
3. Monstress Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
I heard great things about this new dark fantasy series and it definitely didn’t disappoint! It features an extremely powerful and conflicted anti-heroine that was fascinating to read! Reminded me a little of Berserk. I will definitely be continuing this series!
4. Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
For me, this was a more difficult book to get into than it’s predecessor Seraphina or it’s successor Tess of the Road. I love the concept of the book and the ending was wonderful. However, it seemed like Seraphina could have figured everything out much sooner than she did. This made the drama and tension feel a little like cheating – and frustrating – since the answer to her problems seemed somewhat obvious about halfway through the book. It was still beautifully written though and I look forward to future books set in this world.
5. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Another one that I’ve heard really good things about. I loved the beginning and was hooked immediately. It dropped off a bit in the middle but picked up for a really intense and satisfying ending. I’m going to go out of order a bit and listen to the prequel next as I really liked the character of Mr. Benedict.
6. Amazing Spider-Man: Red Goblin by Dan Slott & Stuart Immonen
I haven’t read Spider-Man in a while but kept running into this book whenever I would check the Amazon reviews of my own books. Based on my favorite Spider-Man baddie, this storyline really brings out the best in Norman Osborn and makes him a real threat that you’re not completely sure how Spider-Man will ever overcome him. Great writing, illustrations, and a creepy character design for Red Goblin really suck you in.
7. Abigail and the Snowman by Roger Langridge & Fred Stresing
I actually ordered this book thinking it was a picture book for my five year old. I love yetis so I read it anyway and really enjoyed it! It was simple and charming with nice artwork. Reminiscent of the Hildafolk books.
8. The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
It’s official, I love Anthony Horowitz. He did an amazing job with his two Sherlock Holmes novels and created a really fresh mystery story with Magpie Murders. Now he’s literally put himself as a character in a murder mystery, where he plays the Watson character to gruff, Sherlockian (fictional) detective Daniel Hawthorne. The mystery itself was good as usual but I really loved the insight into his real life as a writer and how he worked these fictional events into it.
So far everything I’d read up to this point was very good and I was on a bit of a hot streak. Then, I hit a wall for a bit…
9. The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart
I was a little disappointed by this one. I really loved Stewart’s first book, Riverkeep, and as a child of the 80s, The Sacrifice Box seemed like a perfect fit. The story starts off strong enough but begins to fizzle halfway through, mostly due to overused horror genre stereotypes that really didn’t make sense within the construct of the story (ugh, more zombies…).
10. Minecraft: The Island by Max Brooks
As an avid Minecrafter, this book was a delight to listen to, especially with Jack Black as the audiobook narrator. The struggles of the protagonist were very relatable to anyone who has played the game and I found myself constantly giving him advice in my head. I would have liked for more answers as to why this guy just randomly woke up in a Minecraft world with faded memories of the real world, but perhaps that will come in a future book. I haven’t read the followup book “The Crash”, but I read the synopsis and I’m predicting now that the main character of “The Island” is the lost friend that is mentioned. We’ll see if I’m right! Recommended to any fan of the game but non-gamers probably wouldn’t find as much enjoyment in it.
11. Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz
I’ve seen all the James Bond movies but never read the books (even though I own all of the original Fleming novels). So, as I was on an Anthony Horowitz kick, I decided to give this one a try. I did enjoy it and it was well written but I didn’t have as much as fun as I do with Horowitz’s mysteries. In particular, I really liked the first half of the book with the Grand Prix racing, which was based on an old Ian Fleming script for a canceled Bond TV show.
12. The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
A difficult book to rate and I’ve had to give it a week or so to mull over. To start with, the first book in this series, The Shadow of the Wind is my all-time favorite book. I have read it and listened to the audio version of it at least five times since I first discovered it almost exactly nine years ago. In that respect, every book that has followed it in this series has been a letdown. The Angel’s Game was depressing and The Prisoner of Heaven seemed a bit unnecessary. If this book had only dealt with Alicia Gris and her story, I probably would have really loved it but the inclusion (shoehorning) of Daniel Sempere and his family/friends into the mix is where it really went wrong for me.
13. The River by Peter Heller
For the first 90% of the book, I was really invested and enjoyed every page. The journey of two best friends canoeing through the wilderness with a forest fire at their backs and several mysterious and potentially unsavory characters somewhere nearby was exciting, tense, and well-written. And then […] dies. I admit, I kind of checked out of the story at that point but kept hoping there would be something more that would justify it. Unfortunately, it never came and the book ended a bit abruptly. It’s too bad, because if it had ended well, this would have been one of my new favorite books and I probably would have given it five stars.
Then luckily, thanks to one of my new favorite authors, April Genevieve Tucholke, things picked up again!
14. Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
You know you’ve found a great author when you read something completely out of your genre-interest and love it. Every review I’ve read of this book describes it as “weird” but I really don’t see that at all. It definitely gives off a facade of weirdness most of the way through, but at the end, you realize that it all makes sense. It was a bit jarring at first bouncing back and forth between three points of view almost every page or so, but I quickly became accustomed to it and enjoyed it. Overall, it was a great character study of varying teenage personalities with a dash of mystery and suspense thrown in.
15. Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia & Gabriel Picolo
This was a really good book about my favorite Teen Titan! It’s always nice to see Raven given the spotlight as she is a pretty fascinating character. I really enjoy this type of introspective, character-building story rather than the usual action-packed variety of comics.
16. The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz
Another great mystery, though with two items of note…
One, I figured out the murderer even before Hawthorne, the PI, did. I consider myself reasonably intelligent and have read my fair share of murder mysteries, but I never figure out the murderer as certainly as I did this time. I continually said out loud, “It was *****” every time they began to talk about someone else as a possible suspect. Not sure if this means I just connected with this one in particular or the answer was too easy, but there it is.
Two, I was a bit surprised that Anthony Horowitz wrote himself to be such a fool in this one. He makes tons of mistakes, can’t keep his mouth shut, and continuously walks blindly into potentially dangerous situations. In the first book, it was easy to believe that Anthony Horowitz the author and Anthony Horowitz the character were one and the same. In this one, I had a hard time believing that a man who writes murder mysteries for a living could be so thick. Other than that though, I really enjoyed it and am eagerly awaiting the next book.
17. Raven’s Gate by Anthony Horowitz
I wanted to like this much more than I did. The idea for the story is a good one and it begins well, setting up the main character and making you care for him. However, once that intro is over, it devolves into a repetitive sequence of plot pieces that begin to feel old and frustrating very quickly. Matt’s attitude doesn’t grow very much either and even after all that happens to him, he’s still roughly the same character at the end.
18. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
Not bad, I liked the first 3/4 of the book but it suffers from the same issue (in my mind) as A Study in Scarlet where it breaks the flow of the story to tell a lot of backstory that really doesn’t need elaboration. So far after reading the first two Holmes novels, I much prefer the snappier pace of the short stories, which I’ve read almost every one.
19. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
I usually don’t go for books that are modern updates or continuations of classic literature, but I was in a Sherlock/mystery type of mood and the premise of this intrigued me, so I went for it. I’m really glad I did! I think this book does a great job of building a world where Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty actually existed and what that world would look like and how their descendants might interact in modern times. As someone who has read their fair share of Sherlock Holmes novels and stories, I appreciated all the callbacks to the classic tales. The thing I probably liked the most though was how the author didn’t make Charlotte Holmes as polished as her forebear. You can see hints of her brilliance and she will obviously one day be a great sleuth, but for now, she’s still learning and is vulnerable at times and makes mistakes.
20. Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
It’s hard to review a book that ends with “to be continued”. How a story ends has a great bearing on my overall opinion of a book. So, I’ll treat this as an incomplete review until I’ve read the sequels and find out the ending. So, far, I’m thinking 3-4 stars. An amazing ending could tip the scales but we’ll see…
My favorite time of the year is fall/Halloween and this year I really hit the seasonal books hard…
21. Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
I love YA books (which is why I write them!) but I don’t always enjoy Middle Grade as much. Katherine Arden being the author gave me hope though, and Small Spaces turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the year. It was just what I needed to get in the mood with Fall quickly approaching! The characters were great, Ollie was an intriguing and well-written heroine who I came to know well, though I could have used a bit more info on Coco and Brian. I also wish there had been a bit more info on The Smiling Man himself, as everything about him was pretty vague, but I suppose that is also part of his intrigue. Overall, I would recommend this to anyone looking for a great Halloween or light spooky story.
22. The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris
I love Neil Patrick Harris (how can you not?), so anything he does immediately draws my interest. This book really is just a delight. Harris’s love and enthusiasm for magic really shine through and I love all the little interludes where I can easily imagine his voice speaking the words I’m reading. The story itself is a bit simple, but it is Middle Grade and the first in a series, so I didn’t expect too much. What is there though is charming and engaging with likable characters that you can’t help but root for.
23. Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell & Faith Erin Hicks
Not sure what more to say than, if you love Halloween, pumpkins, fall, pumpkin desserts, fall festivals, pumpkin patches, or anything related, you need to stop reading this review and go read this book!
24. Hilda and the Great Parade by Luke Pearson and Stephen Davies
I didn’t enjoy this one as much as its predecessor. For some reason, the author decided to change around the order of events from when they happen on the show. Basically, take episodes 3,5, and 7 and move them around so that the beginning and end of episode 3 bookends the other two and you have this book. If the changes made sense, I wouldn’t mind so much, but I felt like a lot of subtle moments were lost through this and some characters made worse. Now, I will say that I haven’t read this particular graphic novel (I’ve only read 1 and 2 so far), so it’s possible this is how it was there and the show changed it. Either way, I felt the show’s order to be much better for character building and not rushing things too much.
25. Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick
What I liked best about this book was the cozy, small town of Pumpkin Falls and its variety of quirky citizens. Reminded me a little of Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. However, the mystery that they spend most of the book in search of wasn’t too thrilling. I honestly wasn’t even sure why anyone in the story would even be curious about it, which unfortunately meant, I wasn’t really either. I know this is a middle-grade book, so maybe I’m not the best judge here, but even compared to some other MG books of this genre, it doesn’t really stack up.
26. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
This is one of my favorite stories and I either read or listen to it every year around Halloween. I also just found out that there really is a Sleepy Hollow, NY (their high school mascot is the Horsemen!) and that Washington Irving was from Tarrytown, so I think now I may either have to move or plan a vacation!
27. Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge
Wow, this book is a wild ride and I loved every minute of it! At only 169 pages, it doesn’t waste any time jumping right into the action and it never lets up. The whole narrative of the book takes place over the course of about 6-7 hours on Halloween night, 1963.
It’s a bit jarring how the narrator talks to you like you know what’s going on from the beginning and like the strange, abnormal things that are part of this town’s culture are normal. You need to re-train your brain a bit to suspend your disbelief. Once you do, it’s a really amazing read.
The writing style is one I think you’ll either love or hate. It’s done in a film-noir style, narrating what’s happening as it’s happening and throwing in quippy remarks on the situation throughout. I personally loved it but can understand how some may not.
For me, I plan to re-read this book every Halloween for the foreseeable future.
28. The Mystwick School of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury
What a great idea to release this as an audiobook first! Even though I think I would have really liked this had I read it first, having the musical accompaniment in the background added so much to the experience. The climax in the second to last chapter alone was so amazing, I listened to it twice in succession!
29. Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving
I’m not sure why, but every time I saw the title “Rip Van Winkle”, I immediately associated it with “Rumpelstiltskin” and moved along. It was only after browsing through reviews of my favorite Washington Irving story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, that I started seeing references to “Rip Van Winkle” and the two stories’ similarities. I finally read it yesterday and I’m really glad I did! For starters, this is nothing like “Rumpelstiltskin”; I’m not sure why my mind kept connecting them subconsciously! It’s another fun ghost story set in the Hudson River Valley with a similar feel to Sleepy Hollow. It’s only about half the length and I wish it had been longer, but it was still a fun read that I’ll probably come back to from time to time.
30. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
I liked a lot of elements of this book. The characters were fun and interesting. The introduction to the world was clever and unique. The trials that Morrigan faces were all well-conceived and subverted expectations. However, the main problem that separated this book from Harry Potter – which it is commonly compared with – was that I didn’t really care that much about the world of Nevermoor. The biggest allure, in my opinion, of the Harry Potter series, is that you desperately want to live there and be a part of that world. With Nevermoor, I didn’t get that feeling at all. This is a middle-grade book, so potentially in my youth, I might have, but reading it as an adult kept me from connecting with it. Still, it is well written, and I’ll probably read the next book sometime down the line.
31. Dead Voices by Katherine Arden
Dead Voices was a good book but it was a bit of a letdown after how much I loved Small Spaces. Once again, I really loved the characters and it’s nice to see their continuing development as people and friends. The setup and the second half of the book were really great but I had a hard time getting to that second half because the beginning was pretty slow. I also felt like the ghosts appeared too early and often at the beginning, which removed any horror from the second half that could have been built with a more drawn out lead-up to actually seeing a ghost for the first time. Overall, however, this is just nitpicking and I really enjoyed listening to this book on my drive home from Disney World.
32. MediEvil by Chris Sorrell & Jason Wilson
This was a fun sequel/prequel to one of my favorite games! It was much shorter than I had hoped it would be but was worth the read.
33. Solo by Mur Lafferty
Solo as a movie was really fun, not on the same level as The Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope, or Rogue One, but was still an enjoyable experience that I watched several times before reading this novelization. Now that I’ve read the novelization, my enjoyment and appreciation for the movie has risen exponentially.
One of my chief complaints with Solo was how quickly everything moved, sometimes without giving as much information or attention to detail as I would have liked. This book addresses that complaint to a tee. I now know exactly how Han knew Lando was cheating in their first Sabacc game. I know more about Q’ira’s true motivations. Etc. Etc. There is also a great epilogue that ties this story into Rogue One.
I watched the movie again over the weekend and found that the lack of more information and the pace didn’t bother me anymore, because I already knew what the characters were thinking and why they were doing what they were doing. It’s true, you shouldn’t have to read the novelization to completely understand the movie, and that’s why I can’t put Solo on the same level as the best of the best. However, if you are like me and have time to read this book, I think you’ll find that your appreciation for the movie will grow and for a movie I already liked and found to be a fun watch, this is a great thing because it’s now one of my favorites.
34. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: A Classic Mickey Mouse Tale
Confession, I’m 37 years old and still love Mickey Mouse, probably more than I did even as a child. This is one of my favorite Mickey stories and is adapted wonderfully with some beautiful illustrations. I hope they do more of these in the future with classic Mickey shorts.
Ok, so maybe this last one is cheating a little bit but it’s a book and I read it, so I’m counting it! Plus, who has time to read during the Christmas season?
35. Mickey Mouse Goes Christmas Shopping by Annie North Bedford
Pretty simple story that we enjoyed reading during the holidays with our five-year-old daughter.
Overall a pretty good year of literature! There were definitely more good books than bad and to conclude, here are some final stats for the year…
Most read author: Anthony Horowitz (4)
Favorite book of 2019: Small Spaces and Dark Harvest (tie)
Favorite audiobook of 2019: The Mystwick School of Musicraft
5 Star Reviews: 6
4 Star Reviews: 18
3 Star Reviews: 8
2 Star Reviews: 2
1 Star Reviews: 0
Tags: A Study in Charlotte, Abigail and the Snowman, Amazing Spider-Man, Anthony Horowitz, April Genevieve Tucholke, Arthur Conan Doyle, book reviews, Brittany Cavallaro, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Chris Sorrell, Dan Slott, Dark Harvest, Dead Voices, Faith Erin Hicks, Hildafolk, Jessica Khoury, Jessica Townsend, Kami Garcia, Katherine Arden, Luke Pearson, Marjorie Liu, Martin Stewart, Maureen Johnson, Max Brooks, MediEvil, Minecraft: The Island, Monstress, Mur Lafferty, Mysterious Benedict Society, Neil Patrick Harris, Nevermoor, Norman Patridge, Peter Heller, Pumpkinheads, Rachel Hartman, Rainbow Rowell, Rip Van Winkle, Seraphina, Shadow Scale, Small Spaces, Solo, Teen Titans: Raven, The Labyrinth of the Spirits, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Magic Misfits, The Mystwick School of Musicraft, The River, The Sacrifice Box, The Sentence is Death, The Sign of Four, The Word is Murder, Trenton Lee Stewart, Trigger Mortis, Truly Devious, Washington Irving, Wink Poppy Midnight