Favourite Reads of 2019

2019 proved to be a difficult year for me. Thank goodness for books!


2019 proved to be a difficult year for me. Thank goodness for books! I almost didn’t make my reading goal this year but a few long flights allowed me to power through and reach 50 for the year. So without further ado, here are the five fiction and the five non-fiction books that I read in 2019 that I left the lasting impression.

Fiction:

The Nightingale
Well, well, well, isn’ it wonderful when the hype about a book turns out to be true? This novel had the perfect combination of things that I love in a good book. A historical-fiction plot based in WWII (one of my favourite settings), strong and dynamic female characters, great writing, and a few surprises in store at the end. If this book has been on your TBR pile, it’s time to go and pick it up!

The Last Wish
I am ecstatic to have found another fantasy series that I’m in love with and I will definitely be devouring every book in this series. After playing some of the Witcher games it was a nice surprise to find out that there was also a book series. This novel really stuck with me and is a quality fantasy read. Needless to say, I don’t plan on leaving the Witcher world anytime soon.

Confederacy of Dunces
One of most hilarious and clever books I’ve ever read. The writing and character work in this novel is nothing short of brilliant and it pains me to think of the talent with lost with the author’s early passing. This book would appeal to anyway the read and loved Don Quixote or who is interested in misadventure stories with unique protagonists.

A Chorus of Mushrooms
I received this poetic and Murakami-esqe book as a gift this year and it was the most beautiful story I read this year. It details 3 generations of Japanese-Canadians and the importance of family and personal identity. Stay tuned for the full review of this book soon.

The Monsters We Deserve
If you have ever read Frankenstein, then you need to read this little known book. This short novel leaves the reader wondering what actually happens to the narrator and how much of this tense story is real or metaphorical. The writing is smart, highly creative and very well-paced making for an engaging read.

Non-Fiction:

Educated
There are many memoirs out there that are written by pretentious and self-important people that make for dull reads, which is generally why I don’t read too many. Then there are memoirs that detail the life of a seemingly ordinary person that has led the most remarkable life and has overcome challenges that many of us can’t even envision. This is one of those memoirs. Well-written and very engaging, this book is worth the hype.

Know My Name
I hope Chanel Miller makes millions with this book. Chanel is the young woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner. This is her story and what a story it is. It’s phenomenally written and ridiculously engaging. 

The Way Through The Woods
Since my family and I experienced our own intense personal grief this year, I picked up this in hopes it might be an interesting read and be able to recommend it. This book snuck up on me. It’s half about the author’s personal mourning with the other half detailing facts about mushrooms and how learning about them helped the author deal with her grief. It’s both interesting and educational and provided me with insights on grief that stuck with me long after finishing it.

Stiff
Keeping on the theme of grief and death this was another book that appealed to me in 2019. Mary Roach approaches cadavers in a very entertaining, informative and tactful manner. She observes and interviews the intricate lives of those doing the less-than-glamorous work with corpses while also exploring the strategies they use in order to cope and maintain their humanity with the surreal nature of their jobs.

Perfectly Hidden Depression
The author of this book is shedding light on an area of depression that requires some serious attention. Her writing is personable, concise, insightful, informative, resourceful and clinical.  Perfectly hidden depression presents differently than your standard depression and after years of experience with patients, this author felt the need to draw attention to the behaviour she was seeing. Read my review to see if you fit this subset of depression.

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“Only women there—and children,” Jeff urged excitedly. “But they look—why, this is a CIVILIZED country!” I protested. “There must be men.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 176 pages.
Read from September 17, 2019 to September 19, 2019.

While it isn’t necessary to read Moving the Mountain before this book, I would still recommend it as it sets the basis for the author’s ideas.

Three male explorers, Terry, Vandyck, and Jeff stumble upon an all-female society. Not wanting to believe it at first, the three men are forced to reassess their views on women in their own society and the basis of some of their beliefs about women. This society of women is strong and educated and live harmoniously among themselves and are able to reproduce asexually. For these women, nothing is more revered than motherhood and the harmony of their society.

While Van and Jeff come to understand, learn and appreciate this all-female society and are humbled by its feats and the women within it, Terry, however, cannot get past his own insecurities and that fact that the women in this society don’t fall for his patriarchal charms. The men fall in love, Terry unsuccessfully with Alima, Jeff with Celis, and Van with Ellador. Terry can hardly wait to leave and continues to get frustrated that this society doesn’t meet his own values. Jeff and Celis choose to stay within the all-female society but Ellador wants to learn more about the world and convinces Jeff to take her and explore.  Despite Van making his best efforts to explain the rest of the male-led world, there are are still many aspects that Ellador finds are to accept.

There are many positive aspects in this novel and it was much more readable than Moving the Mountain, having read more like a piece of fiction with philosophical and politic aspects rather than just an essay with a loose storyline. I appreciate some of the views the author had on how to run a society, especially her views on animals and equality. However, being a mother is still the main aim and purpose for a woman in this novel. So for all the advanced ideas that Ms. Perkins had she still missed the mark on that one. I mean, she does admit that motherhood is not for everyone yet motherhood and children are practically the religion of this society of women. She also has a clear stance on abortion and the use of negative eugenics that I don’t particularly care for. This book, however, is still poignant at pointing out the faults within the patriarchal society that is still relevant today.

I enjoyed how Jeff and Van came to undo the preconceived notions about women and how they progressed to mutual respect, love, and admiration for the women in this society and how their relationships developed. While Jeff and Celis’ relationship was not as successful as Van and Ellador’s, Terry’s hostile reactions and mistreatment of Alima was predictable and showed how damaging some patriarchal beliefs are to men’s sense of self and entitlement. Overall, this is still an important and essential feminist read.

 

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

“A story lives transformed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 176 pages.
Read from May 7, 2019 to May 8, 2019.

Confession; This is my first read by Ian McEwan and I think that this novel was a great introduction to his writing. I look forward to adding a few more of his books to my TBR pile.

This is a deeply emotional novel of the marriage of a young couple in the early 1960s. Florence comes from a well-to-do family and is a brilliant violinist who hopes of pursuing a musician as a career. She is recently married to Edward, a historian, of whom she met by chance at university. The two of them maintain this image of a perfect relationship and are looking forward to the next step in their lives after marriage. The novel opens with the two of them on their honeymoon right after their wedding. While the world is slowly starting to emerge into the swinging sixties, Florence and Edward, are still generally conservative, meaning that they have yet to become sexually intimate. Edward is beyond excited to consummate their marriage but is extremely worried about his performance and is wracked with anxiety. Florence, on the other hand, is terrified. She has no desire to be intimate with anyone and has been frigid throughout their whole relationship. However, Florence’s behaviour is not created out of modesty or disgust as Florence has a secret trauma she cannot bring herself to deal with. The story is a slow burner with the climax (no pun intended) during the moment the two of them attempt to consummate their marriage. The couple’s lack of communication and utter embarrassment about the whole ordeal leads to tragic consequences for both of them.

As a reader, you want desperately to shake Florence and Edward and get them to actually discuss their feelings instead of hiding behind this facade that each of them has created. Florence and Edward’s story addresses human vulnerabilities and the extremes that we go to in order to maintain an appearance and not show our deepest selves and secrets, especially when it comes to sex. As a reader, you connect deeply with this newlywed couple as many of us have experienced similar issues with vulnerability and communication and you really want the best for them. Both Florence and Edward had an idea of what they thought might make them happy but their inability to communicate their fears resulted in their demise and their whole lives changed within an instant. You can almost feel the deep regret oozing from the pages by the end of the novel.

This is a moving novel on a difficult topic that the author masterfully executed. I would recommend this novel for anyone interested in literary fiction or stories about intimate relationships.