I’m sure I could say it every year if I wanted to but – what a year for reading 2019 has been. There have truly been some incredible books that have burst onto the scene in the last twelve months, and whilst I would love to share every single book I’ve read with you, we would be here for several months. So, here is the list I managed to narrow it down to; my top nineteen of 2019, in no particular order.
Rage Becomes Her Soraya Chemaly
A powerful work of modern feminism, using science and statistics to rebuff stereotypes, this beautiful book burst into my world at the beginning of the year, and I am still not over it. It’s hard going at times, but in that kind of way that it makes you want to read more because it isn’t easy. There is so much strength in the words, so much power in making misogyny sound as absurd as it really is. I’m so grateful for this book having been a part of my life this year, and can’t recommend it enough.
The Corset Laura Purcell
I wrote about The Corset here when I had just finished reading it, and it has stayed with me just as vividly as the year has gone on. It creates this wonderful balance between doubt and truth, the supernatural and the scientific, it envelopes you in its world and you want to never finish reading. I also happened to listen to this as an audiobook, and it was a fabulous listen with a superb narrator. This was always going to make the list.
All That Remains Sue Black
Before ending up in my wheelchair aged 16, my plan was Egyptology or Forensic Anthropology. Or both, because obviously as a teenager, your goals are clear. This beauty of a book was right up my street, written with respect and wit, opening one of those doors into a secret world that as human beings we are naturally curious about; death. And here specifically, the very curious nature of deaths when the question is, ‘is this all that remains?’. I could listen to the Scottish narration again and again. I loved every page.
The Testaments Margaret Atwood
The long dreamed off sequal to The Handmaid’s Tale finally arrived with a bang this year, and I know I was far from alone in pre-ordering so I could start reading as quickly as possible. Whether you fell in love with the book or the now very successful TV series, The Testaments was written in such a clever way that it was there to welcome you, no matter how you had discovered the dystopian universe of Atwood’s creation. It was no surprise at all to see this win the Man Booker Prize this year, despite the wonderful competition it was up against; you can’t escape the pull of this work.
The Silence of the Girls Pat Barker
Good historical fiction has something special about it, managing to drag you both into its world and back in time. This takes skill, and by all the Greek Gods does Pat Barker have skill. Finally hearing from the women during a critical time period in ancient history, we get a glimpse of a world where life was always one wrong step away from being killed or disposed of. This was a captivating read, one that I couldn’t put down and needed to keep reading, regardless of everything else that was happening in life. This is a must read for everyone who hasn’t read it yet, whether they normally read historical fiction or not; there is more power to this than its point in time.
How To Come Alive Again Beth Mccoll
Another book I’ve already reviewed here this life changing book was always destined for this list, regardless of how many other books I read this year. The beauty of it was the balance between being an aid and not a self help guide, but being a self help book and not a lecture. It hit that sweet spot that is missed so often by ‘professional’ works, because it was written by someone who really understands what they are talking about. Mental health is heavy weight to carry, but there is hope and happiness regardless of how heavy it is.
Body Positive Power Megan Jayne Crabbe
On a similar note, ie, changing my life completely, Body Positive Power unleashed a wave of possibilities for me. I had never really considered that I could love my body AND be fat at the same time. It’s such a controversial take on things – why is that? Now, my UK size 22 body is loved and cherished and fed (when possible health wise) without a second thought. This book is a must. It turns social perception on its head and makes you furious it ever existed at all.
The Familiars Stacey Halls
If this WAS a sequential list, this book would be in single digits, and low single digits. I was so utterly absorbed by this book. It was captivating, and so deliciously engaging. I felt the emotions of the characters flowing through me, and wanted to read it quicker than was humanly possible because I needed to read every word, but also wanted to read it so very slowly so that it never ended. A stunning and flawless work of historical fiction, Stacey Halls is releasing her second book, “The Foundling”, in early 2020. Am I very much hoping I get allocated a copy for review? Yes. Have I resorted to bribery yet? Nearly. For more flowing compliments, see my review here. Truly, one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.
The Rules of Seeing Joe Heap
This was one of my first books that I was sent to review when I started AndOnSheReads, and my fondness for this book, and its author, has not changed. As someone who is visually impaired, it is of course always lovely to see representation of blindness, but equally it is wonderful to just see a well written, easy to read, absorbing novel. The Rules of Seeing is such a delight, it warms you up inside like a good cup of tea. You watch the characters grow on their own and together, and keep your fingers crossed for a happy ever after. It’s making me smile just thinking about it. You can read my full review here.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz Heather Morris
Whilst I’m the first to admit this was not the most cheery read, and certainly not lighthearted, there was beauty to be found in the love and unity displayed in even the most horrific of circumstances. And, whilst we must never dismiss being able to find joys in horror as acceptable reasoning, it gives strength to the idea that when good triumphs over evil, it isn’t always in the biggest of ways. Tiny little moments, like smuggled chocolate, make your heart pound as you know the risks being taken, and you hope beyond hope for the people you have found space for in your heart. This book stays with you, and doesn’t let go easily. In the current political climate, that is a good thing.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo Christy Lefteri
Another one of the early books I was sent to review, this beautiful book made me cry so many times. I felt so much love for the Syrian characters, trying desperately to find safety as their world comes crumbling down. I’m struggling to find a short way to describe this book because really it needs pages dedicated to it. There is so much power in these pages, so much that everyone would benefit from, and would be able to pass on benefit from. Again, in the political climate, a must read. We can help in small ways, and that begins with understanding. This book is a brilliant introduction to the knowledge needed to empathize with such traumas that have been experienced.
This Is Going To Hurt Adam Kay
Like so many other people, this year I have fallen under the magic that is the non fiction diary that ex-doctor Adam Kay published in 2017. I was somewhat slow on the uptake. This ended up in my hands as part of one of my book challenges this year: A book from the 2018 bestsellers list. Having meant to read it for ages, I finally got around to it, and I couldn’t put it down. It was one of those books where you find yourself trying to do everything single handed so you can keep reading. The mix of emotions you encounter in the pages, and in yourself as you turn them, is incredible. Adam Kay has since released a second book, which, I imagine, will be something I read in 2020, as “a book in the 2019 bestsellers”. Brutal, hilarious, and fundamental in representing the problems in the NHS.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes Caitlin Doughty
Stories from a crematorium worker, now well know for her workings of The Order Of The Good Death. I read this book out of curiosity, and also from general interest; having planned on working in forensics as I mentioned above, there is that unknown What Happens Next? that I wanted answers to. Obviously I’m far from the only one. This book is full of humour, science, honesty and peaceful kindness to help you understand the workings behinds the scenes. This entry can only really be followed by,
From Here To Eternity Caitlin Doughty
The only author appearing twice on this list of mine, this book was one that had a terrific impact on me. I looks at cultures around the world, and how they handle death. There is something serene about it (evenly balanced out by Doughty’s wit), letting you in on things you never realised you needed to know. By the time I had finished both these books, death no longer seemed scary. I was able to finally start the ball rolling with sorting out a will, and formally express my wishes for after my death to my husband. It made me more positive about death in general, and find some peace with grieving deaths I have struggled with. Beautifully educational and wonderfully witty, I can’t recommend them enough.
Everyday Sexism Laura Bates
This book, combined with the above “Rage Becomes Her” supplied me with the fuel to get through this year. By this point, I think I’m running on pure spite, staying alive just to irritate the type of people who hate loud women. This should be essential reading for all women, and then all men. We need to read it first though; just so we’re prepared. I get all fired up thinking of this book, and the layers it peeled back in me, making me less hesitant in calling things out, and continuing to be who I am – an opinionated, gay, disabled, plus size woman, so many things that irritate so many people. From seatbelts being designed to support men and not women, to the pay gap, and bursting out through the glass ceiling, if you haven’t read this book yet – do it. You’ll thank me. You should probably thank Laura Bates for writing it too.
The Prison Doctor Dr Amanda Brown
Unlike Adam Kay, Dr Brown is still in practice at time of this being written, and that takes an interesting side to the book. Her experiences in shifting from county GP to HMP medic are horrendous and utterly fascinating. I bought this book on the way to a family party from a service station when the battery on my Kindle died, and honestly, I wanted to skive off the party, stay in bed, and read. A fascinating insight to the human condition, this book is compelling in so many ways.
Everything I Never Told You Celeste Ng
There is so much I could say about this book, but I won’t, because I’m yet to write my review. It is special and powerful and wonderful and raw. Focusing on a family and the impact after a major trauma, Ng demonstrates with superior insight how dramatically different everyone is in their reactions, and how sometimes it is only by breaking things down to their base layer, you can find the answers you had no idea were there. A mystery novel like no other, there is beauty in the even the pain that Ng captures.
Unnatural Causes Dr Richard Shepherd
Yes, I know, another medical and death related book, I’m well aware. But it’s not my fault that there have been so many fantastic options this year.
Dr Shepherd is the UK’s top forensic pathologist, which is an interesting enough statement in itself. I would be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that what captured me the most were the slowly growing signs within the pages that something wasn’t right with Dr Shepherd, and by the end of the book I was genuinely thinking, “I hope he knows he’s developed PTSD, or I’ll have to write to him”. I have PTSD myself – when you read those signs, you know.
I loved this book through pure fascination of the science and, put bluntly, seeing others doing what I wished I could have done myself. But its magic in capturing an audience comes purely from Dr Shepherd.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle Stuart Turton
Another book that would make it into my top reads of all time, this seemed to be a love it or hate it book. Some people weren’t sure about the layout and some didn’t stick around for the twists, but those that did loved it. I nagged a friend for a week to hurry up and read it as I needed someone to discuss it with.
This is probably the most unpredictable and unique work of fiction I have encountered in all my book loving days, and that is why I love it so much. You won’t find anything like this on any other shelf. Its magic comes from being utterly alone in its plot, and I wish I could turn back time to read it for the first time all over again.
SO there we are, we made it! 2019 has been a wonderful year for books generally, and for me personally in what I’ve read. 2020 is already shaping up to be a brilliant year for reading, and I’d love to hear what you’re excited about! Let me know in the comments.
Thanks for being around this year, readers, and wishing you a peaceful new year.