I love the middle of the year on the bookish internet! I love seeing people’s lists of favourite reads so far and I love stat chat. I’m also curious to say which of the books I currently think of as my favourites now are still on the list at the end of the year. I actually wrote most of this post a few weeks ago, to actually coincide with the mid-point of the year but work’s been bonkers ever since so it’s a ‘better late than never’ deal today and all of the stats and whatnot are as they were as at 30th June.
I feel like I’ve had a brilliant reading year so far. I’ve been really enjoying working on reading off my shelves and reducing the number of unread books I own. I’ve only bought 28 books so far this year and I’ve borrowed 5 from the library. Now that might actually still sound like quite a lot but at the same point in 2018 I’d already acquired a ridiculous 142 books. A number that’s so stupid, I’m almost embarrassed to write it.
So far in 2019, I’ve read 40 books and 13,517 pages. I’m really pleased with how much I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve been picking up – my average star rating out of 5 for the year is 3.7. There have been more 2 star reads than I’d like but nothing I completely hated. I am a bit disappointed with the diversity of my choices, though. Of the 40 books I’ve read, 21 were written by authors from the US and 14 were written by authors from the UK. I’d hoped for far more than 5 books written by authors from countries and cultures that I’m less familiar with. Something to focus on for the remaining 5 months of the year.
On to the favourites! I’ve picked out my top 5 from the year so far, and even spent far too long putting them in reverse order of preference…
This sat on my shelves for a completely ridiculous eight and a half years before I picked it up on holiday in June. My heart still hurts at the memory of what Waters put the characters I loved through. The novel runs backwards, with sections focusing on four characters in 1947, 1944 and 1941. The writing is beautiful without being overdone but it is 100% Waters’ characters that have secured this a spot on my favourites list. I was frustrated by them, rooting for them and completely heartbroken with them. It’s also interesting to get a picture of London and women at home during the war and how their social status was starting to change. There are also chapters featuring characters who have conscientiously objected to the war, which is another interesting angle that I don’t think I’ve read about before. It’s a bit of a chunkster at over 500 pages but definitely one that’s worth the time you’ll invest in it.
I listened to this on audiobook back in April, after it had secured its place on the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist but before it then made its way on to the shortlist. I enjoyed it at the time – the audiobook is fantastically well done and the plot is a real gripper – and it’s grown on me more and more since. I’m sure everybody knows this by now but it’s the story of a Nigerian woman, Korede, who finds herself cleaning up after the deaths of multiple men at her sister’s hand. When her sister meets the man that Korede loves, Korede is forced to look at who her sister is and to consider how far she’ll go to protect her sister and the man she loves. I particularly loved how the novel tackles the relationship between sisters and family dynamics; how Korede’s fierce protective instinct is challenged and pushed. The ending too was a real sucker punch. If you like a crime novel that offers something a little bit different, you want this in your life.
I used to read a lot of YA fantasy. I haven’t read anything like as much this year (74% of my reading has been ‘adult’) but the ones I have read have all been really good. This one in particular was absolutely fantastic. The series’ heyday was back in the early 2010s so I’m hugely late to the party but glad I finally did make it. The series is about a huge war between angels and ‘revenants’/demons. The writing is far better than you usually find in YA fiction. I mean, just look at the blurb for heaven’s sake:
Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living – one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.
Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was like a jewel-box without a jewel – a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness.
This was not that world.
The themes are pretty damn dark too. There’s death and necromancy and torture and some truly awful characters. Even the romantic plot at the centre, which can so oftenrender YA fiction predictable or inject a thread that is too sickly sweet, is gloomier and more complicated. It’s just absolutely brilliant. I read this over a couple of sunny afternoons in April and I can’t wait to get to the final instalment.
The second historical fiction on this list, and the fourth book I read this year. The fact that this has clung onto its spot for so long should say a lot about The Wicked Cometh. It’s a real gothic treat that I obviously recommend that you pick up but would maybe say ought to be savoured in autumn/winter. It’s set in the gritty streets of 1830s London, following Hester White as she tries to work her way out of poverty. It touches on some of the real dark side of medical treatment and progress of that time and it’s not for the faint hearted. As you’d hope with a gothic, gloomy historical fiction, the atmosphere is incredible – one of those books where you can just feel the fog and grime seeping off the pages. There’s some LGBTQ+ representation that is just beautifully done, and an ending that made me weep. I’m sad that it didn’t get the exposure it deserves so if you do like historical fiction, please do take a punt on this. You won’t regret it!
Taking the top spot at the middle of the year is Exit West, another of my June holiday reads. I can’t really sum it up any better than I did in my June wrap up: It’s the story of Nadia and Saeed, starting off in an unnamed, war-torn country. As Nadia and Saeed meet, their country is being subjected to air strikes and an increasingly strict religious military regime. The writing is just stunning. Sparse and simple but absolutely flooring. I know that people say this a lot but I really do feel like Exit West is such an important book. It recounts Nadia and Saeed’s decision to leave their home, their reluctance and the pain it causes them, following them as they struggle to find a new country to call home. The challenges they face in their potential new communities were disappointingly familiar but what really struck me was how well Hamid relays the small struggles that his characters face. The simple pleasure of a hot shower in a private room with a soft towel. The grief of thinking you’ve found a home only to be forced to move on again. The power of the smell of familiar cooking when you’re far from what you know. It’s beautiful and crushing and should be required reading. I have Hamid’s earlier novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and I’ll be getting to it later this year definitely.