I read some GOOD fiction this year, from classics, to middle grade, to new adult fiction. If forced to choose I think I’d have to say The Shadow of the Wind and The Spies of Shilling Lane were my two favorite reads of 2019. They are very different stories but both outstanding in their own ways. My numbering system reflects the Good Reads numbering system so that I’m consistent with five stars (*****) being excellent! Here’s what I read in 2019:
I’m always going to read the new Louise Penny, what can I say?
This book got off to quite a slow start but finally picked up and definitely is an important read. I kind of think every parent should read it. Backman’s writing style is unique. He inserts himself as a narrator and sometimes editorializes or asks questions but it really works and adds to this story, instead of being annoying. While in many ways this is a brutal story, it also is one of hope. It asks, no matter what the cost, will you do the right thing?
You either love this one, or hate it. I’m finding I love Tolstoy in general. The themes of love, death, and what makes a life are why his novels are universal: they ask the big questions. This was my third time around and I’m still noticing things I never noticed before. And now I’m thinking I need to read War and Peace because I watched the mini-series last year on Prime and it was fabulous.
Although Victor Hugo needed a good editor for this book (editing the sections on Waterloo, slang, and the history of the sewer system comes to mind) it is still profound. I teared up at the end. This is my second time through and the first time it took me a long time–almost a year–to work through it slowly. This time I read very quickly for a HS English class I was teaching. It is so full of deep and thoughtful passages, not to mention the plot itself is so moving. It really is a must-read.
Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan**** (audio)
Joy Davidman is famous for marrying C. S. Lewis, and I had a vague notion of her being a writer herself and that she died of cancer. Little did I know of her tumultuous first marriage, that she had at one point a blooming literary career, and of her conversion to Christianity. She didn’t fit the Christian “mold” during her time, nor even in our time, probably. She was a divorced single mother raising two boys while fighting to reignite her writing career and make ends meet. She and Lewis struck up an unlikely relationship where she fell in love with him first. Their marriage caused a bit of a stir in Lewis’s circles and if it had happened today probably Twitter and Facebook would have had lots to say about it. It is a unique story that had me riveted.
The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley***** (audio)
This mystery was weird but it’s Flavia, so I hardly care. I just love the characters and hope for more of them.
This book reminded me a lot of Kate Morton in style. The plot captured me and I loved how it had a touch of magical realism to it. I felt like the ending was very satisfying.
Frankenstein read by Dan Stevens? Yes please! This was my second read through of this novel. I first read it in high school. If you’ve never read it, it’s probably not what you think it is. Who is the monster in this story? Where does responsibility lie? What ethics are involved with the creation of new technology? This book will never go out of style.
An interesting and sad book. Mostly, I was interested that the author was a nature/scientific writer before trying her hand at this novel. The end had a nice twist.
The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes**** (audio)
This is a the first book in a series. It has a very interesting premise. It’s based on the real-life Mitford sisters who were famous/infamous aristocratic English women. The mystery series places each sister as the main character for each book. The mysteries are also real-life mysteries from the time period. The author combines both stories into a satisfying mix of history and fiction.
Dear Mrs. Bird by A. J. Pearce***** (audio)
I LOVED this book. It was very delightful despite the hardship and sadness it depicted. I loved the main character and her plucky attitude. I’m always really amazed at the fortitude of the English during the Blitz. This isn’t the first novel or nonfiction piece that I’ve read that shows how people just went on with life (dancing, films, etc.) even in the midst of German raids. It also shows the bravery of the men and women on the home front and how they organized themselves in fire brigades, rescue teams, and taking emergency phone calls in the midst of bombs. If you liked the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society I think you’d like this because the wit and indomitable spirit is similar.
This was such a unique book with a story within a story that was very engaging!
An enjoyable book that covers a hard topic without being overwhelming emotionally.
This books is pretty different from most books I read, but I enjoyed the departure. The writing was terrific. It was very masculine in tone/feel, which fit the story. It was written in almost a clipped tone, the way you think. The only negative was since it was a page-turner/thriller type of book sometimes I was reading so fast I got confused about who was thinking/talking. It brought tears to my eyes at the end. I think this would make a wonderful movie.
This was an enjoyable summer read, although it felt a bit Hallmark-ish. Whether you see that as a drawback or a plus is up to you! 🙂
The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan***** (audio)
I tried reading this then switched to audio because it’s read by one of my favorite narrators and I actually had a hard time getting into it on paper. But as soon as I switched to audio I was hooked. I adored Ryan’s last novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and this one was delightful! One of my favorite novels of the year.
I loved the fact that the main characters are a bossy housewife and timid accountant who are on the later end of middle age. I loved that Mrs. Braithwaithe isn’t even that likeable in the beginning. But she grows on you and she changes through the story. It’s a story of unlikely friendships and unlikely spies. I definitely recommend it, especially for those who liked Dear Mrs. Bird, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and The Summer Before the War.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed The Odyssey the first time I read it back in college. I enjoyed it greatly the second time around as well in this new translation by Emily Wilson. It’s great on audio, especially since it’s an epic poem, it lends itself well to more of the oral presentation.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan*****(audio)
A wonderful book! Part historical fiction, part fairy tale, this middle grade read was spectacular on audio where the music literally came to life!
The plot in this one was a bit convoluted and maybe not very convincing, but a visit to Three Pines is always enjoyable for me—even when murder is involved.
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool****(audio)
Moon Over Manifest was a very well-written book, although the pacing was bit slow for me. But it fit the book’s story, actually. Although it’s a middle grade novel I actually think it leans toward YA or adult. It reminds me a bit of To Kill a Mockingbird–not in content–but in the fact that although it’s about a child, the themes are much bigger. Vanderpool also wrote Navigating Early, which I adored and thought was better than this novel. Both novels are characteristic in her style of multiple storytelling threads that connect at the end, deal with loss, and are pretty sophisticated in the way the story is written. I’m eager to read more of her work.
This book had been on my radar for a while, because two friends had said it was one of their favorite books of all time. At first it was a bit slow for me but it picked up and is incredible! It took a while for the ground work to be laid and the plot to really get going. The writing is beautiful, the plot unique, complicated, and exciting, the characters fabulous. I loved the touch of comedy with Fermin, who was just delightful.
Enjoyed this book. A sweet, fast read. I wasn’t enraptured by it, but it was nice for Christmas. A lot of historical fiction fans like Hazel Gaynor but I’ve tried a few times and this was the only one I’ve been able to get into.
I mean, it Poirot! It’s Agatha Christie! What’s not to like? A delightful Christmas mystery with my favorite quirky and witty detective–Poirot. What could be better? Nice and short too to slip in during the holidays.