It’s become customary at this point in December for me to share a round up of my ten favourite books of the year (usual caveats apply – in no particular order, year of reading as opposed to year of publication – if you’ve been following for a while you’ll know the story 🙂 ). It’s also become customary for me to worry that the best book of the year is going to come my way before New Year’s – but with a busy month ahead, I think the chances of that are looking slim. I read 36 books this year (hopefully 37 by month’s end) which made my whittling-down-to-ten process a bit easier (last year I read 45 books). But as two of 2019’s books were frankly massive – War and Peace and Les Misérables, I’m calling it a good year for reading.
And speaking of War and Peace and Les Misérables, let’s start….
WAR AND PEACE BY LEO TOLSTOY
Now, I said this list was in no particular order, but let me just add another caveat: that applies mostly to the last eight. Because I have to admit that War and Peace wasn’t just one of my 2019 favourites, it’s up there with the best books I’ve ever read. Leo Tolstoy’s tale of the lives and loves of five families in Napoleonic Russia had me enthralled for most of the summer. If you want to read more about my thoughts on it, there’s a whole post on the subject here.
LES MISERABLES BY VICTOR HUGO
Ditto, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables – which had me enthralled for the remainder of the summer – and which you can read more about in the same post. Jean Valjean’s struggle to escape his past in the prison hulks against the backdrop of revolutionary France made for memorable reading fare. I was entranced by Hugo’s characters, by his insights on humanity – and by his mesmerising use of language. This has to go down as one of the most quotable books in history (I feel the need for a copy of my own now, as opposed to a library book, to underline.)
CITY OF GIRLS BY ELIZABETH GILBERT
And what would a top ten round up be without an appearance from Elizabeth Gilbert? Last year it was Big Magic, and this year it’s City of Girls – where heroine Vivian starts a new life with the showgirls at her aunt’s New York City theatre in a colourful coming-of-age account. Whatever Elizabeth Gilbert does, it seems, turns to the magic she speaks of – oh, to bottle some of that storytelling fairy-dust. I’m hoping for lots more from Ms Gilbert in 2020. Whatever she wants to do next, I’m in.
BECOMING BY MICHELLE OBAMA
Speaking of inspirational women, they don’t come much more galvanising than Michelle Obama. Back in April I fell in love with her memoir Becoming, which traces her route to the White House as First Lady of the United States. Her authenticity literally jumps out from every page, and this book is deserving of all the accolades thrown at it.
Read it, if you want to be uplifted and inspired.
DRUMS OF AUTUMN BY DIANA GABALDON
Another stalwart of the yearly top ten fixtures – at least in my book – is Diana Gabaldon, and her inimitable Outlander saga. I could have picked either of the two books I read from the series to feature, but I’ve opted for Drums of Autumn (mainly because I like the photo of this one best 😉 ). Curling up with another instalment of the Claire and Jamie story always feels like wrapping myself up in a warm, familiar blanket.
Thankfully, I’m unlikely to have to live without the pair for a while yet as I still have four books in the series left to read.
YOU BY CAROLINE KEPNES
Another book which promises a welcome follow up is You, which kept me on the edge of my seat (both on Netflix and on paper), back in the Autumn. Caroline Kepnes’ account of serial-killing stalker boyfriend Joe weaves a terrifying web that might leave you wondering whether you should ever post on social media again. It’s page-turning stuff though, and every bit as good as its Netflix counterpart. One for fans of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train and other stories of that ilk.
THE YEAR AFTER YOU BY NINA DE PASS
If you like stories aimed at the young adult market though, look no further than The Year After You, by Nina de Pass, which I devoured over the course of a wet weekend back in February. It’s a tale about friendship and healing against the backdrop of a Swiss boarding school, with a narrative that unravels like a thriller – making you dart on to the next chapter as soon as you’ve finished the one before. It’s one of those books that ticked all the boxes for me – plus, it also wins my ‘best cover of the year award’ for its dreamy blue-toned artwork. Proof that young adult fiction isn’t just for young adults.
In fact, it’s quite acceptable for 40-somethings too.
MIDNIGHT CHICKEN BY ELLA RISBRIDGER
If you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas present for the book-loving foodie in your life, look no further than Ella Risbridger’s Midnight Chicken. And if the Outlander saga is a cosy blanket, this recipe-book-slash-memoir is a bowl of soup as soothing to the soul as Ella’s prose. Reach for it when you feel sad, lonely, happy – or just need a reminder of the restorative powers of beloved activities. Prepare to feel warm and comforted (and possibly, tempted to get up in the middle of the night to cook chicken, and eat it with your hands).
DUMPLIN’ BY JULIE MURPHY
Back on the young/not-so-young adult theme is Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, which had me worshipping at the temple of Dolly Parton back in February. It’s a story of friendship, fun, beauty pageants, the music of Dolly – and a sprinkling of romance. It will have you smiling from ear to ear – and swaying to the likes of Jolene if you watch the brilliant Netflix adaption.
A reminder that if you can’t be young, be young at heart, always.
And a reminder – if you needed one – that Dolly Parton says some really clever things.
REBECCA BY DAPHNE DU MAURIER
Last but by no means least for this top ten outing is Daphne du Maurier’s best-selling gothic romance Rebecca. I can’t believe I managed to get by for 40-odd years without hearing many details of the story, but somehow it escaped my radar until, well, basically, last month. Du Maurier’s tale of a woman living in the shadow of of her husband’s first wife feels as fresh today as it undoubtedly did in the 1930’s. Proof that no matter the decade, good writing is destined to stay in style.
And as 2020 approaches, so does another decade of reading opportunities. I hope you’ve enjoyed this round up – perhaps there are some of your favourites (or even future favourites), here? For now, all that’s left for me to do is wish you the happiest of festive seasons and Christmas stockings full of bookish offerings.
Two questions before I go though: what’s been YOUR favourite read of 2019 so far?
And also: same time, same place, next year? 🙂
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