For the past five years I’ve compiled a list of the best books I’ve read each year. This is the loosest best books list you’ll find on the internet… The only criteria is that I read it in 2019. Many of these books were published outside the year, but I enjoyed them so I’m sharing them here.
Every year, my reading goal is to read a book a week, leaving me at least 52 books richer through the year. And I nailed it this year – reaching 54 books. You can check out my entire year of reading on Goodreads here.
As in other years, my tastes run heavily to noir, historical, horror, fantasy and crime. I am especially partial to works which combine genres, as you’ll see below.
Having said that, I read a lot of classics this year, including finishing Tolstoy’s brick of a masterpiece, War and Peace, and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Both of which were two of the best books I read this year, but given their overwhelming significance as books already, they don’t need my commendation.
I also wanted to make special mention of finishing Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series with Vultures. This six-book series has kept me going through some difficult times, and it is one of my favourite fantasy series of recent years. I highly recommend seeking out the series which starts with Blackbirds.
Best books I read in 2019
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple
One of the best books I read this year was also one of the first I finished. I listened to the excellent audiobook of The Broken Shore while meandering around the road from Thredbo in January.
When a wealthy local is murdered, detective Joe Cashin unravels what seems like a drug fuelled murder, revealing a heartbreaking series of crimes. Piece by piece, Temple breaks down the Australian value of ‘mateship’ into its twin evil, cronyism and corruption.
The Broken Shore is already well acknowledged as one of Australia’s greatest crime novels, having won countless national and international crime awards when it was published in 2006. It’s a book that only increases in relevance to Australian culture as the years go on. I only wish I’d come to it sooner.
Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
It’s a strange thing, that I rated Fevre Dream four stars (out of five) on Goodreads after I had read it, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it all year. I’ve concluded it’s one of the most beautifully plotted novels I’ve ever read.
When struggling steamboat captain Abner Marsh takes the mysterious and wealthy Joshua York on board, he gets more than he bargains for, including a new steamboat called the Fevre Dream. Thrust from complacency and moderate comfort, he must make the decision to do good and risk his livelihood or sit back and ignore the problems of the supernatural world.
Marsh is one of the more memorable fantasy characters I’ve read; he’s gruff but good hearted, takes a while to process things (don’t we all) and isn’t particularly handsome. Although I’m loath to read too much into an author’s psyche from their characters, one can’t help thinking Martin would rather enjoy being a steamboat captain.
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
Quantum physics meets Arsène Lupin, gentleman cambrioleur. What’s not to love?
Jean le Flambeur is trapped in a Dilemma Prison when a woman and her “flirtatious spacecraft” proposition them: steal time, and we’ll get you out of here. If that sounds like the start of a hardboiled novel you’re not wrong; I loved how this book combined the high concepts of quantum physics with pulp fiction.
It’s so rare to find books this original and when you do you have to treasure them, as one would time in a watch…
Honourable mentions: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Most entertaining books
Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
Last Days of Night is the story of bringing electricity to America and the fight between Edison and Westinghouse over AC/DC. Which as an Aussie makes me think of classic rock band Accadacca over any historical fiction… It’s better to go into this without knowing much about the history so you can be surprised by the story.
I really loved some of the “You can’t handle the truth” diatribes from Edison in the book; you can just imagine him shouting them out in court. If you’re looking for a thoughtful page turner that feels like a classic drama, look no further than the Last Days of Night. Highly recommended.
Widows by Lynda La Plante
Damn Lynda La Plante knows how
to plot a novel. From a writer’s perspective, this book is the perfect example
of four-point character conflict. I’d consider using this to teach crime
When criminal mastermind Harry Rawlins and his gang die in a botched robbery, it’s up to the widows to finish the job. One last heist to set them up for life.
Widows is compelling from page one, and the tension doesn’t let up. La Plante is well known for creating Prime Suspect, and you can hear these characters in that same rough and tumble underworld of London. I loved how Dolly uses the expectations of women and their abilities to undermine the men. Of course, she’s just going to the hairdressers…
Honourable mentions: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, Wild by Nathan Besser
Best non-fiction books
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
Swoon. I practically highlighted the entire book. This series of interlinked essays on distance and solitude go from punk rock to hiking to photography to psychogeographies. All of my interests in one beautifully written meditation on loneliness and being alone. One of the quotes from this book now sits above my writing desk:
“But fear of making mistakes can itself become a huge mistake, one that prevents you from living, for life is risky and anything less is already loss.”
Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood
It’s always a big year when Margaret Atwood releases a novel, but instead of turning to The Testaments, I visited her series of essays on writing in Negotiating with the Dead. This book is the equivalent of Margaret Atwood giving you a big writing hug through the pages and saying there, there, it will be okay. It’s packed with such wisdom that I want a copy for my desk so I can refer to it at will and remember that I want to be a writer and I’m doing this thing.
One of the highlights of the book is reading about the early days of Margaret Atwood’s career, organising her own poetry book tours in remote Canada and having to drag her books through the snow on a sled. Whenever I’m having a rough writing day I think of Atwood pulling her sled…
Best short stories
I read several short story collections and anthologies this year. One favourite was Ryu Murakami’s Tokyo Decadence, translated by Ralph McCarthy, which included the horrific short story Penlight, and memorable The Last Picture Show. Do not read Ryu Murakami if you’re a sensitive sort. I mean it. There are confronting depictions of sex, drug use and violence. You have been warned.
I also enjoyed reading the short stories that made up the first book in the Witcher series, The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, and translated by Danusia Stok. The Witcher is my terrible guilty pleasure… he’s essentially a fantasy hardboiled detective who likes to get paid, get laid and drink beer along the way. Plus I just finished watching the wonderful TV series, which draws a lot on this set of stories. After playing the video games, I finally got the backstory as to how Geralt met Yennefer, and boy, it’s a doozy. Such a hardboiled story–she’s lying in bed wrapped in furs being the salacious sorceress that she is, and there’s fighting that’s laden with innuendo and chemistry. Lilac and gooseberries.
I was also commissioned to write an essay on Judith Merril and recommend her short story Dead Center. I also read England Swings SF, edited by Merril, a classic science fiction anthology from the new wave. Of note was Josephine Saxton’s Signals, about approaching the event horizon and everything turning on its head, including gender.
So, there you have it folks, the best books I read in 2019. Hopefully there’s something in here to keep you entertained over the summer (or winter) break. Here’s to another year of good reading.
What’s the best book you read in 2019? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments below.