It’s that time of year again: everyone shares their top books of the year and my bank balance weeps while I add dozens of titles to my TBR. Having read 109 books this year myself, choosing a mere 10 favourites wasn’t easy. That being said, the amount of time I spent wavering over what books to include is a sure sign that I had a good reading year. In the end, I narrowed it down to those which have imprinted themselves on my mind and that I’ve found myself thinking about as the year has flown on by.
So, in chronological reading order, here are my top 10 books of 2019…
The ‘Six of Crows’ Duology by Leigh Bardugo
And, I’m cheating already. I am pretty sure everyone and their aunt has read, or are at least familiar with this iconic duology. The two fantasy novels were my first reads of the year and I knew they would make this list as soon as I finished them. On the one hand, they are brimming with bloodshed, characters hell-bent on revenge and redemption. On the other, the doom and gloom is enlivened by the group’s easy banter, the romance plots, and the sea of twists and turns following their schemes. I’m so excited to return to the Grishaverse in the upcoming third instalment!
The Stand by Stephen King
Out of all the books I’ve read this year, this is the one that has stuck with me most. I originally gave The Stand 4 stars, but I think that was down to the overwhelming length more than anything. At 1,325 pages, my first Stephen King book also happened to be his longest.
It would be impossible for me to summarise the plot in a mere few sentences. In short, 99.4% of the population is wiped out by the relentless plague known as Captain Trips caused by a lab-made virus (the plausibility amps up the scare-factor). We then follow a handful of survivors who traverse across America in search of the beckoning voice they begin to hear in their strange dreams.
The Stand is a masterpiece. It’s a rich, atmospheric, American epic enriched with detailed storytelling. Despite its size, I wouldn’t hesitate to read this all over again. But first, I’ll be making my way through the enormous King book bundle I purchased myself on a whim earlier this year…
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
You know that age-old hyperbolic expression “I couldn’t put this book down”? Well, I literally could not put this book down. I was completely engrossed in this historical military fantasy.
I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that Kuang was only 19 when she wrote this. It was already impressive as a debut, but for her to have painted such a rich portrait of racial atrocities, drug dependence, sexism and genocide at her age is incredible. The extensive world-building, multi-layered character development, rich historical background, and everything in between is sublime.
*The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
2019 was evidently a great year for debut novels, and the winner for the most charming debut of the year goes to this rom-com with the quirkiest of set-ups; Tiffy and Leon share a flat, they share a bed, but, they have never met.
I just loved the little Post-It notes Tiffy and Leon leave for each other around the flat, despite never having met. They’ll be besides left-over mushroom stroganoff or next to a batch of stress-baked flapjacks. Over time, they begin to pick up on each other’s moods and quirks solely through the cues they leave around the flat: the unwashed dish left on the counter, the half-drunk cup of tea. O’Leary’s writing was so charismatic and readable that I risked a car nearly knocking me over when attempting the art of reading-while-walking. It was worth it.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
2019 was also a great year in terms of discovering new-to-me authors, including award-winning and bestselling author Kristin Hannah. The Great Alone, set in an unforgettable Alaskan setting, was the most visceral book I read all year. This survival story is an emotional family saga about courage, the power of love and friendship, and an unshakeable bond between parent and child. It was both heart-breaking and heartwarming, and ended on a bittersweet note. Kristin Hannah blew me away. The Nightingale is on the top of my TBR for 2020!
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
From harsh Alaskan winters to rip-roaring Hollywood drama, Evelyn Hugo’s unfiltered, unmoderated honesty about the ins and outs of her seven marriages blew me away.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo portrays what it was like to be female in the film industry. Evelyn was a woman in a white man’s world. A Cuban woman in a white woman’s world. A bisexual where same-sex attraction was destructive and demonised. Reid reminds us that no matter how glamorous someone’s life might look – be it a celebrity or someone you envy on social media – they still have days, weeks, even years where they feel unloved and rejected. Fame makes no one invincible. This book is packed with plot twists, romance, Hollywood scandal and messy, beautiful characters.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Another new-to-me author who I can’t wait to read more of is John Boyne. I knew this book would become an all-time favourite from just the first line. This book is an epic saga spanning 70 years which follows the life of Cyril, a gay man growing up in 20th century Catholic Ireland. His story unfolds in seven-year leaps, comprising witty dialogue and charming characters whose attitudes change as the years go by. Moreover, Boyne addresses hard-hitting themes such as the enraging prejudices and hypocrisy of the Irish Catholic church. However, these are enlivened by some absurd humour. The saddest part for me was having to accept that the story was over. Boyne has created a masterpiece.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
If you’d told me last year that non-fiction would make my top 10 books of the year I’d have laughed in your face. However, 2019 was the year I dipped my toe back into the genre. Reasons to Stay Alive now takes pride position on my bedside table ever since I devoured it one summer’s day. I find that the short chapters, lists and the simple format make this book easy to dip in and out of whenever in need of a pick-me-up. In this powerful book, Haig seamlessly articulates how debilitating it is to live with a mental illness. Every word is worth reading.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Now, I think The Secret History may be my number one book of the year?
From the first page, we know classics student Bunny is going to be murdered by his classmates. But, why did they do it? How did they do it? What happens next? Tartt’s writing so crisp and elegant that even the most minute observations lead to beautifully lyrical, bordering on abstract, descriptions. Then, the characters. Oh, they’re diabolical, flawed to every degree, and should be unlikeable. Their pretentiousness almost leaps out from the pages. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but find their obsession with ancient Greek culture and their sinister logic endearing.
I envy anyone who is yet to read this for the first time (please let me live vicariously through you when you do.)
*Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
From murderous students to a cantankerous yet charming elderly lady, Olive Again is the last book on my list that everyone can fall in love with. Strout skilfully weaves separate stories together, with Olive as the thread, as she explores the profound depths of human nature. I loved watching Olive’s journey of self-awareness, even as she succumbs to the idea of wearing the detestable Depend underwear as she grows into her eighties. The most heart-warming moments were those in which she connected with people who she had previously dismissed, ultimately finding solace in female friendship. This was a sweet little book in which Strout brilliantly captures the human experience.
- If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio
- Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Persuasion by Jane Austen
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
- Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
- The Harry Potter audiobooks – 4 down, 3 to go!
What are the best books you’ve read in 2019?
*Kindly received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.