Although I’m working on getting a new comic book series of reviews out I figured the first post of the new year shold be a reflection of last year. In this post I’m going to be picking my favourite book of each month. The only rule is that it has to have been new to me in 2019, so no re-reads.
January: The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre
I didn’t think this would be able to match my love for the BBC adaptation, and I’m happy to say, that I was very mistaken. The Little Dummer Girl welcomes you into the theatre of the real, as Charlie, a young actress, is recruited to go undercover for the Israeli Secret Services. This was my first le Carré book, and it will not be my last, because the 650 pages absolutely flew by. The perspectives are split, about 85% Charlie, and 15% everybody else, and I did find Kurtz chapter in particular a bit of a struggle. The final scene differs slightly from the TV show, and I did prefer this version, just for the final line of dialogue.
February: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
This was just the sci-fi novel that I wanted it to be, and all those glowing reviews are well deserved. After Steelheart, my faith in Brandon Sanderson has been restored, and I might even be ready to continue with the Stormlight Archives. That’s not to say that it was a perfect book, and I still believe that Sanderson’s first person narration is not as strong as his third person narration. Spensa’s a strong character, but sometimes you can just feel Sanderson fall out of her narration, and this also became a problem toward the final battle, where he’s forced to dip into an alternate POV. Overall, I loved Skyward, and cannot wait to recommend it to everyone!
March: The Steel Prince by V.E. Schwab
As someone who loves both the medium of comics, and the Shades of Magic series, the announcement of this series was like a dream come true, and the reality did no disappoint. The visual aspect of the magic in the series translates perfectly to the comic book pages, though given Schwab’s talent for descriptions, that comes as no surprise. What did surprise me was that I think I’m a little bit in love with Maxim now. What can I say, the boy has a certain charm about him, and he”s not bad to look at either. Aside from the stunning magic, the plot was entertaining, and engaging, giving the characters plenty of meet on their bones in just four short issues. The continuation of the series cannot come soon enough!
April: Enigma Variations by Andre Aciman
My love affair with Aciman is over a year old now, having first read Call Me By Your Name last February, and I can finally say that he has a book to rival it. Enigma Variations looks at five times that our narrator fell in love over the course of his life, and how each was a different kind of love, and he was a different kind of person. It resists a lot of the same themes from CMBYN but from a different perspective, once that has more permanence as we get to see our narrator at different stages in his life. Aciman’s prose is lyrically stunning, and I truly believe that this is a book everyone should read, maybe not everyone will like it, but everyone should read it at least once int heir lives. I know that I will read it many more times in the future.
May: King of Fools by Amanda Foody
While I was finishing up two of my MA essays I found the time to read this book, and by read I mean absolutely devour. I’m pretty sure I read over half of it in a single day. King of Fools takes what was fun about the first book but amps it up to an insane degree that I thought I was going to die reading it. The tension between Levi and Enne was such that I thought I might self-combust. My one gripe was that the timeline felt a little messy, especially given the first book had a very strict timeline, I wouldn’t have minded similar time stamps. In fairness to Foody the time is mentioned to try and establish it, but I just didn’t think it was a clear as she wanted it to be. Foody has expanded the world, not necessarily in size, but in detail so that I feel very at home in the City of Sin. I am in denial about the last sixty or so pages. Special shout out to Roy who I hope is a permanent fixture!
June: Aurora Rising by Kaufman & Kirstoff
As much as I hate to admit it I was in a little bit of a reading slump until I opened the first page of Aurora Rising. Essentially this book resurrected me. Tyler Jones is top of his class at the training academy when he stumbles across Aurora, cryogenically frozen for the last two hundred years, and rescues her from a dead ship. The only catch is that, due to his act of heroism, he’s now stuck with a crew made up of the dregs of the academy. Say hello to squad 312. I absolutely loved Aurora Rising, and it might be my favourite of Kristoff and Kaufman’s books (out of the ones which I have read). It was fun, fast paced, and just an all-around good time. The characterisations were excellent as we get POVs from all seven of the squad. There was just enough romance to keep me begging for more, and it is slow-burn stuff so don’t be put off if you’re not a romance fan. The sci-fi was strong so that it felt the authors knew their own world, and were carefully drip-feeding us with what we needed to know. Honestly, it’s probably my favourite sci-fi of the year. I can’t wait for the sequel!
July: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
The Female Persuasion follows Greer, a girl in her early twenties, who is trying to work out who she wants to be and what she wants to do with her life, and the influence of a famous Feminist figure, Faith Frank. There you have it, a summary of this book in a single sentence. Somehow I can’t quite capture this book in such a small space. At its core, this is a book about feminism, both the big picture and also the little moments in life. This is definitely a book that can change you, and, as silly as it sounds, it’s changed me and the way that I think about feminism. Given the popularity of other feminist themes books at the moment, hype which is rightly earned, it seems a shame to see this one fly under the radar. Yes, it’s a feminist book. Yes, it’s trying to teach you something. But it’s also a book with a lot of heart. It’s a book about family and relationships, and about that awkward post-university time in your life when you’re thrust into this big world and you’re not sure where you want to go. Wolitzer’s novel is about the big things as much as the little things and an inspirational reminder to ‘use your outside voice’.
August: Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
Bloodydamn excellent. I never have a bad word to say about Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga, and that’s not about to change.
September: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
How to review this book? That is the big question because everyone seems to be reading it, and everyone has an opinion on it. I went into this book somewhat dubiously because I haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale since I was sixteen years old. I adore the TV adaptation, but I knew better than to set my hopes on that. In short, I was looking forward to the release but it wasn’t my most anticipated book of the year. More than anything it was an interesting prospect to write a sequel over thirty years after the original book. However, come release week I was swept up in the hype. What can I say, I’m a book person and the levels of excitement were contagious. You probably want me to get on with talking about The Testaments, right? Well, it’s been a long time since I read The Handmaid’s Tale, being twenty-three now, and I probably should go back to read it but I think I actually prefer The Testaments. Is that sacrilegious to say? Well, I’m saying it anyway. The pacing of this book was a thing of wonder as it reacquainted us to Gilead through the eyes of three narrators who each have a different relationship with the state. I often say that I’m awful at reading chapter headings, and was very worried as two of the narrators were identified by numbers codes, which were very similar. However, Atwood’s povs were so distinct that the book was exceedingly easy to read. When you pick it up it’s very hard to stop. I love The Testaments and consider it a must-read for anyone who has read The Handmaid’s Tale, fan or not the works are different enough that you may find that your opinions differ on the books. It’s given me an interesting idea for a blog post, so that might be heading your way soon(ish), so keep your eye on
October: Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell
How do you know when a book is going to be a favourite? Well, if you have to stop reading every couple of pages to swoon, sigh, or squeal, then you can be pretty sure that the book is a keeper. Wayward Son is easily one of my top books of 2019 and not just because it’s one of the prettiest books of the year. Did Carry On need a sequel? No, but Rowell did everything exactly right. She managed to maintain the velocity of Simon and Baz’ relationship by throwing in so much angst, which I adore, that it felt like a first book. The angst meant that she didn’t rest on her laurels, that she couldn’t sit back and say ‘well, I’ve already given you their relationship, so I can just leave it at that’. I think that I’m even more obsessed with the SnowBaz ship than ever, and now we’re getting a third book! Do you know what? I’ll take a ten book series, thank you very much. How do you know when a book is going to be a favourite? Well, going straight back to the first page after the last line is a pretty good sign.
November: The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh
Apparently, me screaming while I lay in bed finishing this book is not quite an adequate review. Overall I adored The Beautiful and will be waiting, with bated breath, for the sequel. Given my experience with Ahdieh duologues, particular in regards to her The Flame in the Mistseries, it does make me a little apprehensive. However, the presence of certain unavoidable plot points ensures the presence of one of my favourite tropes. I want more vampire, more love, more bitting, and more angst. Essentially, the perfect recipe for a vampire book!
December: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern and The Death of Captain America by Burbaker, Epting, et. al.
(Okay, so I ruined my own rule but I just cannot choose between these two)
When I review a book I try to dedicate a sentence or two to encapsulate the plot for anyone who may be unfamiliar with it. When it comes to The Starless Sea that seems like an impossibility. Before reading I had very little idea where the narrative would go but after reading The Night Circus it really didn’t matter to me. Now, almost five hundred pages later the ability to fully grasp the plot eludes me. Like true art The Starless Sea has a fluidity that resists any attempts to define it. As Oscar Wilde once wrote, to define is to limit and in this case why would anyone want to limit something as gorgeous as this novel. Morgenstern has truly outdone herself this beautiful fever-dream of a book. I’m sure that it won’t be for every reader, but it was most definitely for me and the faith that I had in this book, and in this author has paid off. The Starless Sea will surely remain one of my favorite books.
I never thought I would be sitting here telling you that there is a Cap story that is better than The Winter Soldier but here I am, and here is that story. There are so many twists and turns in what is almost an espionage thriller that I don’t even know where to start with it. Even when you think you know what’s going on, and who is responsible for something, everything is turned on its head and your theories come crashing down around you. I do have the next couple of collections but I can’t imagine what Brubaker could possibly do to improve because he has set the bar so high. You need to read The Winter Soldier and Red Menace just so you can do yourself a favour and read this one. Hell, screw all the other Cap stores and just read this one. Trust me, you don’t want to be sleeping on it.
If you want to know some of my realtime reading reactions then check out this twitter thread: https://twitter.com/victoriaeellis2/status/1203313880996425728
Whew! This was quite a long post so if you made it to the end congratulations!
What were your favourite books of the year? Did we have any similar ones?