Summing up my reading in 2019 means choosing my favourite books of the year – always a fun activity. As I have, to date, read over 300 book in 2019 there are plenty to choose from. This year I have decided to sort them into three lists of which this is the first. Assuming I get around to it when I have planned to I shall post the other two over the next few days.
All the books in today’s list are novels that I have read for the first time this year. I read them all in print form or on my friendly Kindle. They were not all published this year because I don’t just read new books. They are from a variety of genres but all of them have stuck with me and made me think in addition to being an enjoyable read. Some of them have been mentioned before in previous blogs.
I recommend all of these – they have enhanced my year. In no particular order here are my 10 favourite novels read in 2019 :
- Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. This is a gem of a book. It is a retelling of the story of the Iliad but from the point of view of the women. It is totally accessible to those without a classics background (I know because I am that person) but a friend who has that knowledge also found it excellent. This is not an easy read, it is not romanticised and the ending is not particularly happy. I still recommend it though – it is beautifully written. Pat Barker is a favourite writer of mine and I also recommend the Regeneration Trilogy which is set in WW1.
- A Month in the Country by JL Carr. This is an older book (published 1980) and also an historical novel. It is set just after WW1 and follows a summer in the life of a man who has been hired to uncover a medieval wall painting in a rural church. The book is narrated by the main character as an old man and talks about healing and the resumption of an old pattern of life after the disruption of the war. It is a short but beautiful read. When I first read it I blogged about some other books which I felt were similar and also worth reading – you can find that blog here.
- A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay is a fantasy which reads very much like an historical novel. Anyone who reads my blogs will know that I have a particular fondness for this author’s books. Kay is also a poet and it shows in the way that he writes but his particular skill is in weaving together lots of stories to create a picture of a particular time and series of events. This book includes an assassination, a horse race, a healer and two mercenary commanders. It is excellently plotted and never predictable (readers of Kay are well aware that he is quite happy to kill or maim a main character for the sake of the story). I recommend this and all his books, many of which are stand-alone – try Tigana, Ysabel or Under Heaven for three very different stories.
- Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. One of my aims in 2019 was to read more books with a main character of a different ethnicity to myself. I can’t say that I have been notably successful in this but having it as an aim means that I have occasionally picked up a book that I might not otherwise have considered – this is one of those books. This book is a modern retelling of Sophocles’ play Antigone which you don’t need to have read to enjoy it (I did know the play). It is the story of two British Muslim families who have to deal with the consequences when relatives become radicalised. The book looks particularly at the experience of the women whose lives are affected. It is primarily a story about priorities and loyalty and is a very thought provoking read. I have read nothing else by this author, yet, but this book reminded me of The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid which I also recommend.
- Vanessa and her Sister by Priya Parmar is another historical novel but set in 1905 and tells the story of the Stephen siblings Vanessa (later Vanessa Bell the painter), Virginia (later Virginia Woolf the writer), Adrian and Thoby and other members of the Bloomsbury set before any of them have achieved success. It concentrates on the relationship between Vanessa and Virginia and how this affects their life. I’ve read a bit about these writers and their time but this book is easy to follow even of you haven’t and it is an interesting read about artistic integrity and family loyalties. I did read Virginia Woolf’s book To the Lighthouse this year which I found interesting.
- Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older is an urban fantasy set in Brooklyn. Its heroine is a young woman who discovers her magical heritage through paintings. It is a Young Adult book but still has plenty to offer the older reader whilst highlighting the situation of people of Hispanic origin in contemporary America. It is a mystery, a fantasy and a love story and a really enjoyable read. Similar books are the Brooklyn Bruja series by Zoraida Cordova which are also Young Adult.
- Transcription by Kate Atkinson is set in WW2 and after the war and features a young woman who becomes involved with both MI5 and the BBC. Juliet’s war seems to continue into the 1950s and she doesn’t know or understand a lot of what is happening or what has happened. She has to learn to put events in context and so does the reader. A clever book which I think captures the atmosphere of the time well. Other books set in the same time are Elly Griffiths’ Brighton Mysteries which are an excellent read.
- Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood is a retelling of The Tempest set in modern day America. This is a really clever book in which the author sets up a series of parallels in the main character’s life and also in the work he is doing in the local prison to stage a version of the play. This is a book about revenge and ghosts and a gripping story. I loved it. I have read only one more of this series of Shakespeare retelling which was Macbeth by Jo Nesbo which I thought was also clever but too long.
- The Long Call by Ann Cleeves is a very recent crime novel set in North Devon. She introduces a new character and writes about the police investigation into the death of a man which touches on his life. This is well written and gripping and the author introduces red herrings and lots of narrative threads until it all makes sense. An excellent book which also touches on how we deal with the vulnerable in our society including those who have a learning difficulty, are homeless, or are subject to domestic abuse and coercive control. The sense of place is excellent and reminds me of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway mysteries which are set mainly in East Anglia.
- An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris is a post-apocalyptic fantasy. In a USA which has becomes divided and reformed magic exists and mercenary groups exist to help people get from one town to another in a lawless world. The main character here is a gunslinger who discovers that she too has magic and that her blood is sought by those in power because it can potentially bring healing. This is great fun and an interesting melding of a number of different genres including dystopian fiction and Westerns. One for the reader of urban fantasy who is tired of werewolves and vampires. You could also try her Harper Connolly series which is about a woman struck by lightning who acquires the power to find dead bodies.
Ten very different books here – fantasy, historical fiction, literary fiction, crime novels and more. If only 2020 will bring such riches …
If you enjoyed this post you may also like to look at my favourite books of 2018 (only one post) which you can find here.