The 10 best books I read in 2019

Another year coming to a close, another stack of books read…

At just 25 books high (see the full list here), 2019 has probably been my lowest reading year since I discovered words on paper.

Some part of me is slightly ashamed of that – and also aware that when I’m reading, I’m feeling balanced and well – but another part of me is actually happy that it’s a fraction of the books I’ve read in previous years.

I haven’t rushed anything. I’ve followed where my reading nose takes me and tumbled into new genres, authors, and writing styles.

I’ve read books at home, in coffee shops, on train journeys across the world, and on treks across the Arctic. And there have been some fantastic books in the mix.

1. The Sun is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert – best travel & adventure book of 2019

I rated this a solid 5 / 5 on my reading list for good reason. It’s Caroline Van Hemert’s memoir of her 4000-mile human-powered adventure across Alaska with her husband, Pat, who grew up spending winters alone in remote cabins. It was perfect to read when I was in Greenland on my own adventure this summer, and it has quickly become one of my favourite adventure books.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – the book with my favourite characters of 2019

Read this for a story of showgirls, glamour, self-discovery, and fulfilment in 1940s New York. I will always defend Elizabeth Gilbert as a fabulous writer, citing this book and The Signature of All Things as evidence. I loved it and gave it a 4.75 / 5.

Into the Magic Shop by Dr James R. Doty –my overall non-fiction top pick of the year

This is the second 5 / 5 book on my reading list this year, alongside The Sun is a Compass. Into the Magic Shop is a fantastic celebration of the magic of aligning our hearts, brains, and goals to live a compassionate life – and my most-gifted book this year.

Read my review >

4. The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler– the best fiction book I read this year

Where do I start? The Tobacconist is simply crafted but one of the most haunting books I’ve read in years. From the author of one of my all-time favourite books, A Whole Life (review here), comes this heartbreaking story about a young man and his friendship with Sigmund Freud during the Nazi occupation of Vienna. I gave it a 4.25 / 5, but it’s one of those books that grows on you long after reading.

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5. Freedom Seeker by Beth Kempton – to motivate your unconventional life

Read this and you’ll want to start a business, book a round-world trip, and change how you live. I rated this 4 / 5, which puts it ahead of Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life, another one of Beth Kempton’s books I read this year.

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6. Wild Signs and Star Paths by Tristan Gooley – a beautiful guide to reading nature

This is a book for all you fellow nature nerds. Tristan Gooley is my go-to guide for learning more about nature; sensing direction from stars and plants, forecasting weather from sounds, and predicting the next action of an animal. 4.5 / 5.

Some Thoughts About Relationships by Colin Wright – for essays on building better relationships

Colin Wright’s essays on relationships provide plenty of food for thought, including unconventional ideas and exercises to be more honest and open with your partner. It was one of the first books I read it 2019 and one I managed to convince my boyfriend to read too. 4.25 / 5.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – the best of the “books I should’ve read years ago”

I’ve meant to read more by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for years, and I’m still yet to read Half of a Yellow Sun (I know, I know). Americanah takes you from Nigeria to the U.S. and back again to show life between cultures and a great love story. 4 / 5.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – a memorable voyage into a new world

An 800-page enthralling, epic fantasy about a world on the brink of war with dragons – and the women who must lead the fight to save it. 4 /5.

Zen: The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyō Masuno – a lovely little book to remind us of the simple things

Peace, slowness, simplicity, joy, and zen… Japanese monk and garden designer Shunmyō Masuno shows us the art of simple living in this splendid little book. 4.25 / 5.

It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at

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