The year isn’t over yet and I’ve still got three books to read before I’ve completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge – I’ve aimed for 50 books this year which is more than last year but fewer, probably, than I used to read when I was younger!
There are still books on my shelves waiting to be read and lots to look forward to. I’m not sure what books I’ll have read by the time 2020 rolls around, but these are the books I’ve enjoyed the most so far this year…
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
This book is beautiful, poetic, funny and heartbreaking. It’s an example of a novel that could have been sentimental since some chapters are narrated by a cat, Nana, but instead it’s a human story of the love between a cat and his owner, Satoru. One day, Satoru goes on a journey, and takes Nana with him. The people they meet, people from Satoru’s past, act as a gateway into reminiscences, old feelings and grudges and Satoru’s childhood. It shows how strong the bond between human and other animals can be, and what it means to grieve and love. It’s the standout book of the year for me.
‘When an animal’s life is over, it rests where it falls, and it often seems to me that humans are such worriers, to think of preparing a place for people to sleep when they are dead. If you have to consider what’s going to happen after you die, life becomes doubly troublesome. Satoru drove the van through.’
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
This novel is an odd one! I didn’t really enjoy the subject matter much or like the characters in it, especially the main narrator. I found her narcissistic, self-involved, obsessed with her own sexual desires. Equally, this was the point of the novel – she had an addiction to love, an addiction to filling an emptiness within her that leads her to destructive relationships, both romantic and otherwise.
‘Maybe [the ocean and I] were on the same side, comprised of the same things, water mostly, also mystery. The ocean swallowed things up–boats, people–but it didn’t look outside itself for fulfillment. It could take whatever skimmed its surface or it could leave it. In its depths already lived a whole world of who-knows-what. It was self-sustaining. I should be like that. It made me wonder what was inside of me.’
On the surface, this is a story about young woman meets merman, a reversal of the Little Mermaid story, but the focus is on the psychological state of the main character and her redemption. An impressive novel, and one that does stand out from this year. Also a warning – there are a few instance of animal abuse in the novel.
The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick
This was a sweet cosy read about a librarian, Martha Storm, discovering a book that sets in motion a transformative chain of events. Her entire life is changed, and she discovers things about herself and her childhood that she has long since buried.
‘As she read, she felt she was giving this story a new life of its own. It was no longer a reflection of her childhood and whatever happened within the Storm family. It was just a story, to be shared and enjoyed.’
The book, a collection of fairy tales that Martha herself wrote and told to her grandmother Zelda, mysteriously ends up on her doorstep. Zelda has been dead for years, and nobody else could have compiled the stories. I enjoyed this – an easy read, full of books and the magic of a good story, and ultimately heart-warming. A novel that will lift you on a difficult day.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
A fun read about a self-confessed introvert Nina, working in a bookshop, with a passion for all things bookish. Her life is exactly as she wants it – she fills it with her cat Phil, her friends in a local trivia team, and plenty of books.
‘People were… exhausting. They made her anxious. Leaving her apartment every morning was the turning over of a giant hourglass, the mental energy she’d stored up overnight eroding grain by grain. She refueled during the day by grabbing moments of solitude and sometimes felt her life was a long-distance swim between islands of silence.’
But when the father she has never met dies, leaving her with a huge new step family, she is horrified – they all live nearby and she’d much rather carry on living her planned, bookish life. And to make things worse – her trivia nemesis, Tom, has taken an interest in her and she discovers that she actually has a lot in common with him! I really enjoyed this light, bookish, romantic read.
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
By the author of one of my favourite fantasy series (The Bone Season, The Mime Order, The Pale Dreamer), this is a wonderful book featuring dragons, magic, pirates, a fierce bisexual Queen, and a whole lot of brilliance. It’s full of powerful women and LGBTQ characters too. There’s not much else to say, because I loved it, and I hope you love it too if you do decide to read it!
‘To be kin to a dragon, you must not only have a soul of water. You must have the blood of the sea, and the sea is not always pure. It is not any one thing. There is darkness in it, and danger, and cruelty. It can raze great cities with its rage. Its depths are unknowable; they do not see the touch of the sun. To be a Miduchi is not to be pure, Tané. It is to be the living sea. That is why I chose you. You have a dragon’s heart.’
The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell
This is a collection of weird and wonderful stories by award-winning poet and children’s author Jen Campbell. There are twelve stories, each of them contemplative, strange, sometimes creepy and slightly violent, but all stay in your mind long after you’ve finished them. There were some interesting ideas and some were better than others, but I enjoyed the strangeness.
‘There are many different types of beginnings. And who’s to say we haven’t imagined our lives up to this point? Who’s to say we haven’t been propelled into this world from a parallel universe? One that’s just come into existence? This could be the very beginning of it, now. I mean, there’s no one else here. Listen. It’s completely quiet.’
Honourable Mentions and Series
Elise Kova’s Air Awakens and Vortex Visions series – fantasy, romance, epic magical battles and mysteries.
Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse trilogy – plenty more magic, inspired by Russian fairy tales (currently being made into a Netflix series!).
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas – I reviewed this book here.
The Wicked King by Holly Black – the second in a series set in a faery realm, concluding with The Queen of Nothing which is out now.
And *some* of the books I’ve got queued up to read in the next few months:
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa
The Confession by Jessie Burton
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
What books have you enjoyed reading this year?
4 thoughts on “Best of 2019 Fiction Reads”
Run Away by Harlan Coben is a really good one.
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I;m loving Charles Eistenstein’s “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible.” Have also been enjoying a meander back through Jan Karon’s Mitford novels, which in the current climate are a sweet nostalgia.
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I’d like to look into some of these when I can. I haven’t read too much recently, but I did enjoy “The Samurai’s Garden,” by Gail Tsukiyama. I enjoyed the characters and the gentle flow of the plot. This book’s setting is in Japan in 1937, and its format is of journal entries.
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