The last third of this year has been a bit of a washout in terms of my reading – starting a new job has meant that I’ve barely read a word. I didn’t touch much of the Booker list and I can only just about manage the review section of the paper at the weekend. Admittedly, the book I was trying to tackle for most of the Autumn was one that I’ve been meaning to get to for years – Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. So now I’ve read it and have that small sense-of-achievement glow. And it means I’m good to go for 2020!
Anyhoo – to the top ten reads for me in 2019. Looking back, it was a damn fine year of reading (this is not a list of books necessarily published in 2019) and there quite a few other books that I wanted to include too. But the ‘Top Fourteen’ obviously fails on the alliterative front and so I’ve had to be strict. I realise with hindsight how many of these are historical in their focus – this is clearly my favourite genre. Click on the links for the full reviews.
Disappearing Home by Deborah Morgan – This is a fantastic book and deserves a wide readership. I loved it and want to give it to as many people as a present as possible. Morgan’s tale, set in Liverpool in the late 1070s , is the story of Robyn growing up in tough conditions. Robyn herself is a brilliant creation – Morgan is a strong storyteller – and you find yourself desperately wanting the young girl’s life to turn out well.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – Eagerly awaited, this one didn’t disappoint, thank god. Splitting its narrative between Gilead and Canada, we see what has happened in the 15 years since Offred got in the back of the black van. Sensibly, however, Offred is not one of the narrators in this new book and we have the chance to see this world from three new(ish) perspectives. A worthy joint winner of this year’s Booker (now I need to read the other winning title).
Things a Bright Girl Can do by Sally Nicholls – A YA novel about the suffragette struggle that doesn’t pull its punches. An excellent read for YA readers and older. Nicholls’ narrators are diverse in their class and outlook, and this makes for a fascinating and multi-faceted look at this much-written-about period of women’s history.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett – I’ve revisited this one many times over the years and it makes me laugh aloud each time. The TV series was the catalyst this time. Gaiman and Pratchett made the perfect writing partnership as far as I’m concerned, and I was pleased Gaiman had such a large part to play in creating the Amazon Prime series. It was a very good adaptation.
Lanny by Max Porter – This should have got further in the Booker race (it was the only other one I managed, admittedly). It is a dark and beautiful look at an often romanticised rural existence. The disappearance of a child, often narrated through media accounts, forms the central plot. It reminded me a little of the equally strong Reservoir 13 in that respect. That said, Porter’s writing is highly original and lyrical, setting this very much in its own field – well worth a look.
Old Baggage by Lissa Evans – Oh my goodness, how I loved this book and these characters. This wins the Book of the Year for me. This was, for me at least, a refreshing new take on the work of the women who fought for female emancipation, looking at what happened next. Mattie Simpkin is a character who is, as I said, simply marvellous.
West by Carys Davies – This is a slim but highly memorable quest story set in 19th Century America. I’m looking out for this writer’s stuff now.
The Skylark’s War by Hilary McKay – I loved Clarry’s perception of the world around her as Britain goes to war.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker – Powerful and moving stuff, particularly in the descriptions of the captured women and children at the start. Briseis is taken from her brief reference in The Iliad and given her own tale. It’s brilliantly done and for someone who didn’t study the Classics, a gateway to fantastic stories.
The Order of the Day by Eric Vuillard – This was my final full review of the year and I really loved writing the review (as you might be able to tell – it’s one of my longer pieces). This is the only non-fiction on the list and, focusing as it does on the politics leading up to the Austrian Anschluss in 1938, is a highly readable account of times which don’t seem all that different to today, unfortunately.
So there you have it. Another year, another list. I’ve really enjoyed reading other bloggers’ lists and I’d love to know if any of you have read any of the books I’ve singled out. I wish you all a happy and book-filled new decade!