I recently got back from a 5-week trip to New Zealand… and I didn’t read a single book while I was there! I’m shocked too, but I did a lot of hiking and adventuring, as well as writing, so there wasn’t a lot of time for reading. So my posts might be a little scattered over the next few weeks.
More importantly though, it’s already February and I haven’t posted about my favourite books from 2019 yet! Since I read a lot of new releases, I usually do 2 posts. This one is about my top 10 favourite books of 2019 that were published in 2019. And I’ll do a follow-up post about my top 5 reads of 2019, that were published in other years. Not sure why I started doing it this way, but apparently that’s just how I do it now.
10. The Stories You Tell by Kristin Lepionka
This is the 3rd book in Lepionka’s mystery series about private investigator Roxane Weary. The first book is called The Last Place You Look and I can’t recommend this series enough! Roxane is a rough-around-the-edges, but well meaning investigator that somehow keeps landing in the middle of criminal police investigations. Despite her past record of solving cases and helping out the department, her support is unwelcome at the station and she’s forced to run her own investigations on the side. Lepionka’s writing gets better with every novel and I think her stories provide the perfect blend of mystery writing and personal drama, making each book more than the sum of its parts.
9. The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black
Honestly, I’m a little surprised at myself including this one on the list. Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy has been taking the YA world by storm, but I didn’t love either of the first two books in the series. I stuck with it though and found myself surprisingly excited for the final book in the trilogy. Once I started reading this book it totally consumed me and I could not put it down until I finished! It’s a delightfully nasty book about Faeries that’s full of murder, deceit, and romantic intrigue. It’s definitely not literary fiction, but it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat!
8. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Another book that I’m a little surprised to see on this list. Queenie has gotten pretty mixed reviews, mostly I think in part because of its hard-to-love protagonist. Queenie has just split up with her boyfriend and she is really struggling to move on. She is distracted at work and has little respect for herself, seeking to escape through bad sexual relationships. She’s worn down by casual racism and micro aggressions and struggles with her mental health. Parts of the novel are funny, while other parts are frustrating. It’s hard to watch Queenie continually make bad decisions, but her struggle is so relatable and authentic that despite her flaws, you really want to see her succeed. It’s a book about learning to love and take care of yourself and seeking forgiveness.
7. The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta
Will Marchetta ever write a book that I don’t love? The Place on Dalhousie is the third novel she’s published in the Saving Francesca universe, though you can read any of the three books as a standalone. Like all of Marchetta’s books, this is a story about friendship and the characters carry the story. Rosie and Martha are both grieving after the death of their father and husband respectively. Martha married Rosie’s father Seb after the death of her mother and the two have never gotten along. After Seb’s death they find themselves fighting over who inherits his house on Dalhousie Street. At the same time, Jimmy Hailler has been running away from his life and lamenting that he never really had a family. A chance run in between him and Rosie changes their lives in ways neither of them anticipates.
6. Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok
I read Jean Kwok’s other book, Girl in Translation, a few years ago and really loved it. Everything about Searching for Sylvie Lee appealed to me – literary family drama with a mystery element – count me in! Searching for Sylvie Lee is about a Chinese-American immigrant family whose eldest daughter disappears when visiting family in the Netherlands. Sylvie was always the star child of the family and her younger sister Amy is distraught and flies to Amsterdam to look for her. But she starts to discover that Sylvie may not have been the perfect sister she thought she was and was harbouring secrets of her own. This is a character driven novel with a strong plot behind it.
5. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
I’m starting to sense a bit of a theme with this middle section of the list. Ask Again, Yes is another character-driven family drama that tells the multi-generational story of two families living in suburban New York; the Gleeson’s and the Stanhope’s. The families have had a somewhat tumultuous history together, but their children become good friends until one day a tragedy occurs that splits everyone apart, resulting in consequences that shake both families for decades to come. It’s a story about friendship, family, mental health, and forgiveness. It explores whether one event can have the power to shape our entire lives or whether we have the power to influence how we let it change us.
4. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
This book was so close to being my number one pick of the year, but it doesn’t have a strong ending, so I had to knock it down a few spots. Despite the ending though, it’s one of the most memorable books I read in 2019 and I think about it a lot, even though I read it over a year ago now. The Island of Sea Women is about a matriarchal island in South Korea and the female Haenyeo that make their livelihood diving for sealife. I thought the Haenyeo were fascinating on their own, but the story also centers around the friendship between two girls during the 1930’s and 1940’s when the Japanese colonized the island. The girls have a close friendship but come from very different backgrounds. Life becomes increasingly hard leading up to WWII, culminating in a dark event and choice that drives a wedge between the two friends that may never be healed. The story had so many layers and so much emotional depth, on top of being a really interesting historical account of the island. Like I said, it has a disappointing ending, but it’s a story that sticks with you long after reading.
3. Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson
I will remember 2019 as the year I discovered poetry – and Andrea Gibson’s 4th anthology was the shining highlight of the discovery. I’m still learning how to read poetry and I really liked Gibson’s work because I thought it had an incredible amount of depth, while still being super accessible to people that don’t necessarily read poetry that often. Gibson won the first World Slam Poetry competition in 2008 and is well known in the LGBTQIA+ community. They write on all kinds of social topics that are extremely relevant in America, including identity, gun control, mental health, substance abuse, and the justice system.
2. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
I can’t remember what inspired me to pick up Angie Kim’s debut novel, Miracle Creek, because on the outside it does sound like it has a bit of a random plot, but I ended up being totally enthralled with the audiobook! Miracle Creek is about the Yoo family, who treat patients using a hyperbaric pressure chamber called HBOT, which allows patients to breathe in pure oxygen. One day though someone leaves a lit cigarette outside the chamber, blowing it up and killing two people. What follows is a courtroom drama investigating who was responsible for the explosion and what happened leading up to that moment.
This is one of those books that is more than the sum of its parts. In addition to the courtroom drama, Kim introduces us to all of her characters and their struggles and flaws. Everyone is facing a different struggle, from the challenges of immigrating to America, to raising autistic children, to making a marriage work. Kim develops a very nuanced cast of characters while still carrying the question of who is ultimately to blame for the accident? Everyone is flawed and makes mistakes, but who is just flawed and who is a criminal? Listened to it as an audiobook and could not stop listening until I was finished!
1. Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The top two books on my list were actually both audiobooks! Taylor Jenkins Reid became really popular from her last book, the Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (which I would also hugely recommend) and I couldn’t wait to read her latest book, Daisy Jones & the Six, about a rock band in the 1970’s. It’s formatted in a series of interviews from all of the band members that reads like a VH1 music documentary about how the band got together and then later breaks up at a concert in 1979. And Damn is it ever compelling. Part of what makes the audiobook so strong is that it’s narrated by a full cast, so you really get the personalities of all of the individuals coming through and it honestly reads like a real life documentary. So much so that it’s hard to believe that none of the band members or their music is actually real.
The story has a subtle brilliance because it takes place in current day – so all the events are actually 40 years ago and everything is recounted slightly differently by each of the band members depending on how they remember and experienced the events. So it’s hard to know what’s truth and what’s exaggerated and it’s really up to you as the reader to draw between the lines to what you think the truth is. Reid takes the time to develop all of her characters and each one is incredibly nuanced and flawed. Her characters completely walked off the page for me and felt like real, living, breathing people. Kudos to the author for a well written story and to all the voice actors for their flawless execution. The audiobook is really a work of art.