My top reads of 2019

It’s almost a year since I started this rather occasional book blog, and what a year it’s been for reading! According to Goodreads, I’ve read 145 books in 2019 - though I reckon it’ll be 147 or 148 by midnight on 31 December. As is usual for me, I’ve read widely across genres, with literary (general?), crime and historical fiction being my go-tos, with non-fiction (which I seem most likely to review as it gives me All The Thoughts!) and fantasy (largely YA) also featuring.

I’ve discovered some new-to-me favourite authors, most notably Robert Bryndza (I’ve read all his crime books now and have to wait for him to write more, boo!), Barbara Erskine (I’ve read enough of her books now to deduce the formula, but I still want to read them all…) and Jonathan Coe (I nearly put What a Carve Up! on this list before deciding to restrict it to 2019 hardback/paperback releases. Though it’s surprisingly current given it was published in 1995). Next year, I also want to delve into the back catalogues of Victoria Hislop, Louise Doughty, Bernadine Evaristo and Elif Shafak.

I’m sure you can appreciate how hard it’s been to narrow all those books down to a top 10, but I did it! Don’t ask me to rank them, though…

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

The Library Book

Kind of an obvious choice as I’m a library enthusiast and got a very long review out of it! I just love non-fiction books that cast their nets wide, include the author’s thoughts and feelings, and are chock full of interesting information about people and what makes them tick.

The Binding, by Bridget Collins

The Binding

Another book-lovers’ book, this. Quite aside from looking absolutely gorgeous, this story is original and captivating, based in a universe where you can pay to have your unwanted memories bound in a book, and so long as you don’t open it, they won’t trouble you any more - a system ripe for corruption. The protagonist’s story could easily be just one among many - alas, it doesn’t sound as though we can expect a whole series set in the same universe.

The Five: the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold

The Five

As with The Library Book, I really rate The Five because it’s so far-reaching. Hallie Rubenhold goes right back to the roots of Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, investigating where they came from, who their families were, and how they ended up destitute and vulnerable in London.

She convincingly argues that they were victims of a society that had no sympathy for poor women long before - and beyond - the swift violence that ended their lives and immortalised them in the public imagination. If I’d kept on with academia, this is the kind of book I’d have wanted to write.

Big Sky, by Kate Atkinson

Big Sky

I love Kate Atkinson, and I especially love her Jackson Brodie books - her observations, characterisation and dark humour are always spot on. Big Sky marked the return of the series after a decade-long hiatus and it did not disappoint. Long may she reign.

Common People, by Kit de Waal (ed.)

Common People

Writing and publishing are hella unrepresentative, requiring free time, connections, knowledge of unspoken rules, and often an extra source of income to get anywhere. Common People is a mixture of pieces that directly describe the experience of being working-class in a middle-class profession/environment, and episodes from working-class life that entertain, inform and provide a perspective we need more of in literature. Enjoy and check your privilege.

Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield

Once Upon a River

Another gorgeous cover and lush read. As in her first book, The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield really gets across the power and value of storytelling, this time with a pub where the locals love to hear and tell stories, and a river rich with folklore - I especially loved the idea of Quietly, the ghostly ferryman who appears when people are in danger on the water. Interweaving plots guide you towards the identity of the young girl who washes ashore dead, only to come back to life and become the centre of contesting claims.

Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernadine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, Other

The only winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, in my eyes (denying a black woman the full limelight was SUCH a dodgy move). Girl, Women, Other is full of contemporary history, life, and heart. And to think I was nearly put off by it being a verse novel (turns out the idiosyncrasies of punctuation give it flow rather than being a barrier). I need to read the rest of Bernadine Evaristo’s books in 2020.

Freak Like Me, by Malcolm McLean

Freak Like Me

Another absolute joy of a book. Like slipping into a warm bath of 90s memories, a confirmation of my belief that things just haven’t been the same since then, and so funny with it.

Confessions of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell

Confessions of a Bookseller

Would I want to run a bookshop? No. Do I like reading about bookshops? Hell to the yeah.

The Lost Ones, by Anita Frank

The Lost Ones

How do I love The Lost Ones? Let me count the ways… It’s got a creepy old house with multiple staircases and passageways and mysterious disused rooms, explanation-defying spooky occurrences, devastating family secrets, tragic and moving backstories, and social history. I can’t wait to see what Anita Frank does next.

So there you have it - my top 10 reads of 2019. I’ll be posting my December round-up next week, and then my first review of 2020: Who Did You Tell?, by Lesley Kara.

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About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK