I read eighty four books in 2019, which is a great deal more than I have read in years previous, so I had a lot more contenders for my top ten favourites list. However, I have managed to whittle it down and these are the ones that I still think about now regardless of when in the year I read them, the ones which affected me the most, and the ones I feel the greatest attachment towards. I read from a wide range of genres, so there should be something for everyone on this list. Let me know if you share any of my choices, or if there any books on your favourites list you think I ought to get to this year. I will reveal my favourites in descending order, beginning with my tenth favourite, and going all the way to my number one book for the year of 2019.
1. Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier
This was my first Juliet Marillier book, which I read for Jean and Jill‘s Femme Fantale readathon back in March. Jean had highly recommended Juliet Marillier as a stand out female fantasy author, so I was intrigued to read from her bibliography. Heart’s Blood is a Beauty and the Beast retelling in which Anluan has isolated himself within his castle on the hill and only Caitrin, who is fleeing from her own devastation can attempt to help him. The story concerns generations old curses and helpful ghosts, and I couldn’t help but be charmed by it. I loved Heart’s Blood so much that I purchased another book by Marillier, which I will be eager to get to in 2020.
9. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
I had seen the hype for this book on various social media platforms for months, and the concept sounded intriguing to me, so I took a chance and read it. I am enormously glad I did – Becky Chambers has a gift for writing, her words flow so beautifully on the page and the book is filled to the brim with diversity. Chambers develops each character masterfully and the relationships between them are fulfilling and wholly realistic, you almost forget you are reading about space and fictional species. This book is about Rosemary, who takes a job on the Wayfarer in order to escape her problematic past, and all of the adventures which ensue. She makes solid bonds with her crew, finds herself in trouble multiple times, but also uses her intellect to figure her way out of trouble. The world is rich and interesting and the characters are endearing, I would recommend this book from the bottom of my heart and hope to read the other two books in the companion series in 2020.
8. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Initially, I had wanted to read Never Let Me Go first, but I found this one on sale, so snapped it up. This book is about Stevens who recounts his memories of working as a butler at Darlington Hall. Despite recalling several unusual events, and even upon realisation that the things around him may not have been what they initially seemed, Stevens maintains an almost catatonic like calm throughout the book. Even when you feel as a reader that his regrets should cause him to break from his rigid persona, he continues being the professional he has always taught himself to be. His career comes first, it always has and it always will, and any happiness he could have had, he allows to fall to the wayside. The sadness that is held within these pages is palpable, and it made me cry in several places, because I felt that Stevens must mirror individuals in reality and the idea that people are often unable to pursue their own happiness broke my heart. I will hopefully be reading Never Let Me Go sometime in 2020.
7. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Speaking of books that made me cry, this makes that particular list. Flowers for Algernon explores intellectual differences, alienation and isolation on either ends of the spectrum and bullying of individuals who do not fit the social norm. Charlie Gordon goes through life being considered a burden by his mother and a joke by his colleagues and those he thinks are his friends. Each time someone treated Charlie badly, I felt a spike of anger, especially when that person is his primary caregiver and the person who should love him unconditionally. When he gains extreme intelligence from the experiment, his life changes, but there reaches a point where he is ostracised once again, highlighting society’s discomfort with anyone who is not ‘normal’. The writing is accessible despite being a science fiction classic, and I feel this should be required reading for people of all ages given that it emphasises the detrimental effects bullying can have on an individual and their sense of identity.
6. The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla
This collection of essays and experiences highlights the institutional racism that is faced by people of colour within the UK on a daily basis. Time and again, people have showed their ignorance, and embedded hatred all the while protesting they’re not racist or xenophobic, but this has to change. The amount of times I’ve had arguments with people in the street, with members of my own family even, about their outdated and ridiculous views is unbelievable and I would love to push this book into every one of their hands. I would be interested to read the US version of this compilation to compare any differences between the two countries, especially with Trump spouting bigotry from his position of power.
5. Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
This is the first of two entries on the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 longlist, with a third, Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi being an honourable mention. This success with the list, finding multiple books by inspirational people that I would love to reread in the future has persuaded me to read the whole longlist in 2020 as I did in 2019. Remembered involves a mother telling her story to her son who is in a coma in hospital following the attack he is accused of committing with a streetcar on the streets of Philadelphia. Spring recalls her time as a slave, with interjections from the ghost of her dead sister, with the desperate hope that her break in silence will help guide her dying son home. The maternal anguish in the book is palpable and you find yourself crying with Spring as she tells her heartbreaking life story. I felt angry, desperate, briefly hopeful and then immediately disconsolate. Battle-Felton has a way of making the reader feel every blow that is dealt to her exploited characters, and I am excited to see what she releases in the future.
4. Salt Slow by Julia Armfield
In an attempt to read more short story collections, I picked up Salt Slow when it was released and absolutely fell in love with Julia Armfield’s writing style. The stories are sometimes melancholic, sometimes disturbing, sometimes part social commentary and as a whole create something almost lifelike in nature. I read this book in two sittings, which is a testament to how compelling the stories within it are – anyone else promise themselves just one more chapter? Well with this, it was always just one more story until I’d found the book had flown by. Julia Armfield is definitely another author who is going on my auto-buy list for the future.
3. Lanny by Max Porter
Max Porter is a master of the English language and plays with form so creatively that you can’t help but be charmed. I went to a book talk and signing with him back in March and was inspired even further by the descriptions of his writing processes and his book recommendations. I preferred Lanny ever so slightly over Grief is the Thing with Feathers, but both received five stars from me. The book is about a young boy, Lanny and his interactions with all of the whimsical characters who live in the village alongside him, as well as the rumination of the mysterious Dead Papa Toothwort. I remained interested and compelled to continue throughout, and despite the confusing sounding plot, it actually flows extremely effortlessly. I’m hoping we won’t have to wait too long for Porter’s next book, as he is a new favourite author of mine.
2. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden
Abeo Kata’s story is wholly heartbreaking and comes with a whole host of content warnings, but is necessary and informative for those of us who take our comfort for granted. Abeo is the daughter of a government official and seemingly loving mother, but when everything goes wrong for her father, she is given up to a religious shrine in an attempt to restore luck to the family. Abeo experiences a whole host of horrific things no young child should ever have to experience, all the while having to accept that her own caregivers willingly put her in this position. I had no idea that this was a practice in West Africa until I read this book and it made me feel so deeply upset that I researched the subject after finishing the book. Ritual servitude is still being practiced in certain countries despite being outlawed, and I believe books like this are needed in order to raise awareness and hopefully destroy the tradition. Even if you’re not necessarily interested in the Women’s Prize, which this was longlisted for, I would urge you to read this book because of it’s importance.
1. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
My number one favourite of this year is the long awaited second novel from the author of The Night Circus. The Starless Sea follows Zachary Ezra Rawlins, who finds a book in his university library which outlines an event which happened in his childhood. However, the book is older than he is, so how can this be? The mystery and intrigue doesn’t end there as Zachary is led on an adventure that involves underground libraries, silent book protectors and people who may or may not want to kill him with tea. This book gave me so many nostalgic, magical feelings, reminding me of how I would feel consuming books as a child. It was a wonderful feeling, one that made me feel inspired to seek out more of these fantastical stories, and one that has left a warm feeling in the pit of my stomach. I sincerely hope Morgenstern finds the inspiration for more stories in the future because she creates masterpieces for a living and I remain in awe of her talent.
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