There were so many wonderful books published in 2019 that were added to my TBR pile! Alas, my 2019 reading topped out at 40 books this year, because of pesky things like… my actual career (which I’m lucky enough to love). We Hoarders, however, will push forward with the hope that one day, reading and reviewing will delight AND pay the bills!
As the year winds down and 2020 is knocking at the door, I thought I would share just a few of my favorites (and not so favorites) from the past 12 months. Hope you enjoy the list!
THE ISLAND OF SEA WOMEN by Lisa See
The book that made me ugly-cry. I unabashedly fell in love with the remarkable women of this novel. This is one of those books that you close at the end and wonder how you’ll get on with your life. The story is set on the Korean island of Jeju, and it follows the lives of Mi-ja and Young-sook. These girls come from very different backgrounds, and they lead very different lives. But they discover an incredible bond amongst their all-female diving collective, and their resourcefulness and athleticism are jaw-dropping. Not only do the women of this novel financially support their families, but they are the key sources of strength when Japanese colonialism threatens everything they know in the 30s and 40s. I can’t possibly do this novel justice with a single paragraph, so I’ll just have to plead with you to read it. It’s beautiful in every way.
TRANSCRIPTION by Kate Atkinson
My slow-boil of 2019. Ignore the 3.5 on Goodreads – this novel deserves better. Perhaps I loved it more because I chose to listen to the beautiful audio rather than read the hardcopy (which, by the way, I also had on my shelf). I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for all things Kate Atkinson. Life After Life is still in my all-time Top 5. I’ll also admit that the first half of Transcription is so purposeful that it comes across as slow. However. The second half of this novel smacked me right in the face, and by the book’s end, I was completely taken aback. Atkinson had done it again, and with perfect, whimsical, gorgeous writing. Try it. Stick with it. You won’t be sorry!
LETHAL WHITE by Robert Galbraith
I know – I know – it was published in 2018. But I can’t be held responsible for being forced to wait for my turn with the library audio. I also must confess that if J.K. Rowling re-wrote a phone book, I’d read it. This latest installment in the delicious Cormoran Strike mystery series was well worth the wait. It was unpredictable, clever, and amusing at all the right moments. And yes, I still have a mad crush on Cormoran. J.K. Rowling is one of the most brilliant writers of our time, and after reading this series and all of Harry Potter (a few of them twice), she remains one of my all-time favorite authors. I was at a business dinner recently, and they did this exercise where we went around the table and had to say who we would most like to have dinner with. I chose Ms. Rowling. One can always hope…
THE HUNTRESS by Kate Quinn
2019 was the year that I (finally) discovered the fabulousness of Kate Quinn. Shame on me for taking so long. After I inhaled The Huntress (2019) without chewing, I gobbled up The Alice Network (2017). The Huntress is a breathless tale of an English journalist and a Russian female bomber pilot who come together to hunt down a Nazi war criminal called the Huntress. This book has everything: fantastic characters, brilliant dialogue, and a plot that will have you reading into the wee hours of the night. I’ve recommended the novel to anyone who will stand still for 5 minutes, and am now anxious to read her newest book, Ribbons of Scarlet: a Novel of the French Revolution’s Women. Here, Quinn joins forces with 5 other award-winning authors to bring to light 6 women whose paths cross during a very tumultuous time in history. Can’t wait!
BOY SWALLOWS UNIVERSE by Trent Dalton
I love being surprised by novels, and this one was an utter delight. The story takes place in 1983 Brisbane, and it circles the life of Eli. Eli is a boy who doesn’t have much going for him. His father is lost, his mother’s in jail, his stepfather is a heroin dealer and his babysitter is a criminal. Despite all of this, Eli knows what’s up, knows what’s right, and he understands his mute brother better than anyone. I loved every character in this book, and still miss them to this day. Boy Swallows Universe is heartbreaking and joyful in equal measure, and by the end of Eli’s tale, you’ll be cheering.
ONCE UPON A RIVER by Diane Setterfield
I don’t recall seeing Young Adult in the description for this novel, but it absolutely is most appropriate for teens. I’ll admit that it was sweet, but if you’re going to weigh in at 460 pages, you’d better have more going for you than saccharin. This was a hyped-up, meandering fairy tale that left me shrugging and underwhelmed. I didn’t connect to the characters or the plot, and it was sadly void of any true depth. The good news is that I’m in the minority with this review, as GR has this coming in with a 3.99 average. This novel will continue to sell well after my frustrated review.
KEEPING LUCY by T. Greenwood
I was so disappointed with this novel. I wanted to love it, but it did not live up to its description. This is based on true events, but it reads more like a thinly written Thelma & Louise than a story about a mother who rescues her disabled daughter from a repugnant “school.” The focus should have been on Lucy, and the fight to shut down the school. Not the travels of Ginny and Marsha as they run from the law with Ginny’s “kidnapped” daughter. Speaking of Ginny – really? It’s 1971 and she’s an adult who’s never driven a car or used a credit card? And she’s so intimidated by her father-in-law that she allows him to commit her baby to an institution without her consent? In 1969?? While I appreciated the effort behind this novel, I’m afraid that it just didn’t resonate with me.
THE WOLF AND THE WATCHMAN by Niklas Natt Och Dag
Congratulations to The Wolf and the Watchman for being my most detested book of 2019. Yes, the author’s prose is excellent, but the content belongs in a sewer. This story is depraved and pointless. I thought that I was going to immerse myself in an enthralling mystery, and instead, I was presented with a lengthy tale of how grotesque human beings can be. Don’t even get me started on the fact that it also read like 3 disjointed novellas. Wash your hands if you make the mistake of touching this; you will not come away better having read it. I still wish I could scrub some of the scenes from my memory.