2019 was my best year of reading so far. I read 88 books, averaged 4.1 with my ratings, and discovered some of the best books I’ve ever read. It was hard to narrow it down and even harder to rank them, but here are my shortlisted top ten reads of 2019, in reverse order.
10. Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan
I enjoyed the concept of Ruth Hogan’s first novel ‘The Keeper of Lost Things’ but thought it was missing something. I still wanted to read Queenie Malone but had average expectations. It makes me so happy when my expectations are exceeded. And this book did exactly that.
Tilly can see ghosts, just like her daddy could. But he’s dead now, although he doesn’t visit her like the others. Out of the blue, Tilly and her mum run away to Brighton, taking refuge in Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel. Tilly loves it there, but perfect things never last and she is sent away to boarding school, a decision she will never forgive her mother for. As an adult, she finds her late mother’s diaries that hold more secrets than she can bear to believe. What do you do when you find out your whole childhood was a lie? And the only people with the answers are dead?
Written from two perspectives, we see Tilly in her childhood years and Tilda as a middle-aged adult. Tilly’s chapters were fun, sweet, and sad with some great one-liners. The childhood perspective and references ignited a wave of nostalgia. In contrast, Tilda’s chapters were raw, emotional, and real. You could feel her suffering through the words and see how events in her childhood lead to her being isolated, shy, and closed-off.
The perfect recipe
The storyline of this book was brilliant. It was an easy read with a great flow, despite the flashbacks which can sometimes be jarring. There was a great mixture of funny and sad, enough to set my emotions all over the place. The revelations caught me off guard every time and I love when a book does that.
Genre – Contemporary fiction
In three words – Uplifting, unexpected, underrated
9. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
This book was nothing short of beautiful. I experienced every emotion, from heartbreak and sympathy to joy and laughter.
Ove is a grumpy old man who lives by a rigid schedule and wants nothing more than a simple life. After his wife dies, his loneliness and isolation are increased when he is made redundant from his job. With his daily schedule no longer set, he decides the only thing to do is kill himself so he can be reunited with his wife. But his attempts to commit suicide are thwarted by his annoying neighbours who can’t seem to leave the man in peace. They begin to break through Ove’s layers and in turn break down his hostile exterior, opening his eyes to a life he never knew was possible without his wife.
A book of life lessons
I don’t even know where to start with this book. The story was simple, with morals tied to many chapters. It was a story about love and compassion, heartbreak and loneliness, community disputes and community spirit, acceptance and change, and an appreciation of being alive. Ove was someone I grew strongly attached to, especially after hearing his story and understanding how he became to be the man he was. The end of the book left me in tears and made me reevaluate my life. It encourages you to live life to the full and really hits home that life is too short.
Genre – Contemporary fiction
In three words – Inspiring, witty, charming
8. The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh
It’s rare for me to rate a book five stars. It’s even rarer for that book to be a romance novel. It’s a genre I typically avoid due to predictability but this book was a huge exception.
Boy meets girl by chance encounter. They spend six wonderful days together. They both fall helplessly in love. Man leaves for airport and promises to call. Girl never hears from him again.
Not your typical romance novel
I know what you’re thinking. Another soppy romantic story following all the same conventions. But this book was unlike any other I’d read in the genre. The writing style was effortless, there was a gradual build-up of events, and the twist caught me completely off-guard.
A story you can relate to
I loved the characters in this book and felt such a strong connection with Sarah. Like the book says, we’ve all had our hearts broken by the one who didn’t call and I found myself desperate for the love story to continue. I never hated Eddie; I knew I would have fallen in love with him the way Sarah had and prayed there was a valid explanation as to why he disappeared. When the reasons were revealed, I was so shocked and hadn’t made the connections at all. When a twist catches me off-guard, the book is instantly a winner.
Genre – Romance
In three words – Unpredictable, relatable, emotional
7. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
There is a very good reason why this book was featured in so many lists for best books of 2018. It absolutely reached my high expectations as I embarked on a personal journey with Lale during his brutal years under the Nazi rulers.
A true and heartbreaking tale
This compelling story needs to be read in order to prevent anything like this from happening again. The inhumanity was impossible to accept and I felt overwhelmed by emotion reading some of the things Lale witnessed. My heart broke for this man who had to suffer this ordeal for the rest of his life. However, there was a ray of sunshine in otherwise impenetrable darkness in the form of Gita – prisoner 34902. The love that developed between Lale and Gita was strong, beautiful, and unbreakable. I have no doubts that without each other, the outcome would have been very different. Although their years in captivity were undoubtedly torturous, it is a small consolation knowing that they may never have found each other otherwise. This makes the hopeless romantic in me happy.
You can read my full review here.
Genre – Historical fiction
In three words – Heart-wrenching, distressing, real
6. The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup
This book far exceeded my expectations. As far as thrillers go, it had everything I look for – plenty of action without being unrealistic, twists and turns throughout, red herrings that caught me completely off guard, and an ending that I did not see coming.
Keeps you on your toes
There were a number of secondary plots that kept my attention away from guessing who the killer was. The characters were well-crafted and there were just enough to have plenty of suspects without being unnecessary additions. I thought the plot was intricate and extremely well constructed. It was one of the best thrillers I’ve read, especially for a debut. I can’t wait to see what the author produces next.
Check out my full review of The Chestnut Man here.
Genre – Nordic thriller
In three words – Gruesome, mysterious, fast-paced
5. The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
This book is a work of art. Sometimes, authors can build such a vivid picture in the reader’s mind through words alone, and Lefteri is one of those incredibly talented artists. If you loved ‘Where The Crawdads Sing’, you need to read this one next.
Nuri and his wife Afra live in Aleppo with their son, Sami. Nuri and his ambitious cousin Mustafa have an apiary business where their lives revolve around tending to the bees and producing the finest honey. But, in the midst of violence, Aleppo becomes a target of the war. No longer safe in the country they call home, the family must flee for their safety. Told through the eyes of Nuri as he adjusts to his new life in England, his memories flashback as he fights his demons and recounts the difficult journey he and his wife made to find not only a new home but each other after suffering an unimaginable loss.
I truly connected with the characters in this book and gained the smallest insight into what life is really like for people who aren’t safe in their own country. It was heartbreaking to read and I just wanted to take everyone in and welcome them with open arms to a place where they can belong. Credit to the author for bringing this story to life.
Genre – Historical/contemporary fiction
In three words – Raw, overwhelming, insightful
4. Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
This was my first read of 2019 and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
A thrilling winner
Simply put, this was one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. It was impossible to put down and kept me awake in my haste to find out the ending. Unlike many thrillers that gradually build tension and then rush the ending, this one was perfectly timed. It switched between the past and present, allowing the reader to visualise the story and piece everything together. The way the author tackled the whole book was perfect. There was so much suspense I was physically holding my breath from page to page. If that doesn’t urge you to read it, I don’t know what will.
Take a look at my full review of Behind Closed Doors here.
Genre – Thriller
In three words – Suspenseful, realistic, terrifying
3. Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
This book revolves around three-word sentences so here are mine: Five full stars(/moons). It tells a remarkable story that is raw, emotional, and brimming with feeling.
Eli doesn’t lead a typically normal life. His brother chooses not to talk, instead communicating with gestures, eye contact, and finger air signs. His mum and step-dad mean well but are a little preoccupied with their underground heroin business. Oh, and his babysitter is a convicted killer.
How to describe this book?
To be honest, I can’t put it into words. I almost DNF’ed at the start, and yet here it is at number 3 in my top 10. The writing style is weird and takes some getting used to. But stick with it and you will be transported to a crazy, crazy world. The craziest thing is that many of the events were not only true stories but witnessed by the author. This made it even more terrifying.
Find out more about this book by reading my full review here.
Genre – Contemporary fiction
In three words – Unique, cultural, poignant
2. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
After seeing all the hype surrounding this book, I was sceptical as to whether it would meet my very high expectations. I am relieved to say the hype is definitely justified – what an incredible journey Eleanor Oliphant takes you on.
Eleanor leads a simple and fairly unfulfilled life that she would describe as fine. She follows a strict schedule, avoids people where possible (preferring to engage with her house plant), and drowns her weekends in vodka. Her life is fine. Until she meets Raymond during an unexpected event that involves saving a pensioner. Soon, she will learn that friendships aren’t all bad. And that maybe she isn’t unlovable after all.
A literary heroine
Eleanor is such an endearing character you can’t help but love. Her quirks, outspoken views, and dry humour made me laugh out loud. I loved how one small act of kindness opened up a whole new world to Eleanor and made her realise that having people that love you is a wonderful thing. The characterisation is one of the best I’ve seen in any novel.
Morals to take away
This book really makes you value friendship and love, as well as those people you might first judge as being different who are actually just lonely. A brilliant book and all the stars.
Genre – Contemporary fiction
In three words – Quirky, charming, endearing
1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
When it came to choosing my number one, I thought I’d really struggle. But then I read Jane Eyre in the last month of 2019 and the decision was made.
Orphaned from a young age, Jane is sent to live with her aunt and cousins where she experiences hardship and severe lack of love. After being sent away to a school where she barely survives, Jane applies for a job as a mistress in Thornfield Hall. Here she meets troubled Mr Rochester and falls in love, despite her resistance. Just as the future begins to look bright for Jane, she discovers a terrible secret that may, once again, leave her an outcast and alone in society.
19th-century feminism at its finest
I don’t think I’ve ever been more invested in a story like I was with Jane Eyre. The writing was beautifully composed with so many sentences that felt crafted straight from the author’s heart. I felt a real connection to Jane and admired her unwavering self-respect. Unlike many other women at that time, she stood up for herself and refused to let anyone direct her. She wore her independence like a badge of honour and followed her head when she knew it was the right thing to do. She knew the true meaning of love and marriage, refusing to settle for anything less.
I think we can all learn a lot from Jane Eyre. This is a truly remarkable book and one that I encourage everyone to read.
Genre – Classic
In three words – Enlightening, empowering, expressive
I can’t tell you how surprised I am that a classic is my top read of 2019. It’s still quite a new genre to me and I have never connected with a classic like this before. I can’t wait to discover more in 2020. What were some of your favourite books of 2019? Check out my Instagram to see what I have lined up for 2020.
Happy reading bookworms 😘