My favourite books of 2019

This year has been a rather eventful one for me — in all kinds of ways.

Repatriating after almost 21 years in the UK has posed many challenges, but I’ve not regretted it and I have loved being able to buy Australian books as soon as they’ve been released instead of waiting a year or more for an overseas publication date!

I undertook a few reading projects across the year, with mixed results.

All up, I read 87 books — choosing my favourite proved a tough call. Surprisingly, more than half of the titles I loved were non-fiction reads (I seemed to read a LOT of non-fiction books this year) and 50 percent of the titles came from Australia.

Without further ado, here are the books that made an impression on me this year. They have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s surname. Hyperlinks will take you to my full review.

No Friend But the Mountain: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani (2018)
This award-winning memoir looks at Australia’s offshore immigration detention system from the point of view of a Kurdish-Iranian journalist caught up in it.

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne (2018)
A rip-roaring read about a would-be writer hellbent on topping the bestseller lists — at any cost.

Eggshell Skull: A Memoir about Standing Up, Speaking Out and Fighting Back by Bri Lee (2018)
This riveting memoir marries the personal with the political by charting the author’s first year working in the Australian judicial system as she grapples with an eating disorder stemming from her own sexual abuse.

Yellow Notebook: Diaries Volume 1, 1978-1987 by Helen Garner (2019)
This collection of sublime and pithy journal entries spans 10 years of Garner’s life and showcases her ability to capture the tiniest of details to elevate seemingly ordinary occurrences into scenes of extraordinary power.

Constellations book cover

Constellations by Sinead Gleeson (2019)
A brilliant collection of deeply personal essays examining the body, illness and how the relationship between the two shapes our identity.

The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper (2019)
A true-crime story looking at the police investigation and subsequent court trial of a man charged with deliberately lighting a fire in Churchill, Central Gippsland that burnt 32,860 hectares and killed 11 people.

The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie (2018)
This year’s Stella Prize winner, Laveau-Harvie’s memoir recounts how she had to deal with her Canadian-based elderly parents — one of whom was trying to kill the other — from afar.

The Offing by Benjamin Myers (2019)
A beautifully rendered tale about the unlikely friendship between a teenage boy and an elderly woman in Yorkshire following the Second World War.

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (2019)
This atmospheric Victorian Gothic drama focuses on Irishman Bram Stoker, actor and theatre director Henry Irving and leading stage actress Ellen Terry and follows their complicated, intertwined lives as they work together at the Lyceum Theatre in London in 1878.

The South by Colm Toibin (1990)
A luminous tale of art and love and sacrifice set in Spain and Ireland in the 1950s and 60s, which has lingered in my mind long after I finished reading it. In fact, I loved this book so much I added Toibin to my favourite authors page.

I trust you have had an exciting reading year and discovered some wonderful books and writers. Have you read any from this list? Or has it encouraged you to try one or two? What were your favourite reads of 2019?

Please note that you can see my favourite books of all the years between 2006 and 2019 by visiting my Books of the Year page.

28 thoughts on “My favourite books of 2019

    • So many books had to be left out, but I think this list reflects my reading year very well. I binged on Australian books for most of the year having visited Australia in February and stocking up on titles, then moving here in June and buying (and borrowing) more! Sadly, when I got the job in September I more or less stopped reading and it’s been hard to get the mojo back…

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  1. I’ve not read any of your choices! John Boyne is on my shelf though. I love the cover of Eggshell Skull, but the content doesn’t appeal. I hope The Arsonist is published in the UK though, as i was intrigued by that earlier in the year when it was a Six Degrees starter, and I shall look out for the Sinead Gleeson too. I’ll be doing my final Books of the Year on 31st!

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    • You must read the Boyle. It’s so entertaining and the lead character is the kind of nasty villain we love to hate while secretly cheering him on! I might not have painted an accurate description of Eggshell Skull… it’s actually a very broad ranging book and by far the best memoir of its type I’ve read this decade! I’m pretty sure The Arsonist is already out in the UK cos I put the (much uglier) UK cover in my review… Will look forward to reading you EOY list tomorrow!

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  2. No Friend but the Mountains was certainly special. I think we lost and NZ gained a great writer there, though obviously Dutton was determined Boochani was going to go anywhere but here.

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    • I’m not sure whether New Zealand has gained a writer. I’m pretty sure his visa was only valid for a month and I’ve not heard whether they granted him a bridging visa prior to resettlement in the US… Whatever the case you can’t help but respect the man’s resilience and determination in the face of so much bureaucracy and inhumane treatment.

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  3. I noticed that about half your list are memoirs, diaries, essays, and and true-crime fiction. That’s fine but a bit surprising.
    I have read the John Boyne which is also in my ‘Best of Year’ list, and the one I most want to read is the Colm Toibin.

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    • Most of the nonfiction I read was Australian and I think it was probably the case that they were the books I gravitated you first when I moved back because most of that genre never reaches the shores of the UK so it felt like a real treat to access it so readily. Glad to hear you liked the Boyne. Am pretty sure you’ll love the Toibin. It resonated with me because I visited Barcelona in May for 4 days so a lot of the places in the story were familiar to me.

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  4. I still want to read The Erratics based on the review you wrote earlier this year, and it appearing again in your “best of” list. I will have to add it to my #TB40 list.☺️

    What an eventful, successful year you have had. Many blessings in 2020!

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    • I sure have had an eventful year. Even before I moved back to Australia I did a lot of trips… to Cambodia, Barcelona, Dublin and Rome… as well as a holiday to Australia where the seed was planted about a possible permanent return. Anyway, I hope you get to read The Erratics… I’m not sure it has been published in the US yet?

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  5. I’ve been following your blog for many years and it’s led me to many good books. The least I can do in return is let you know some of my reading highlights.

    The Children’s House – Alice Nelson
    The Biographer’s Lover – Ruby J Murray
    The Horseman – Tim Pears – any of his
    The Offing – Benjamin Myers
    Mink River – Brian Doyle
    Women Talking – Miriam Toews
    Olive, Again – Elizabeth Strout

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  6. Very pleased that two on your list are waiting in my TBR stack (Boyne and Garner – I got the Boyne as soon as it was released but then hesitated because I wondered how it could match The Hearts Invisible Furies, which was on my best of list last year).

    And I really must read No Friend…

    Cheers to another fabulous reading year.

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  7. Seriously Kim, how do you fit so much reading in? You once told me it’s because you have no kids and no life. But I don’t buy it!! You’ve still got all the adult responsibilities…. spill the beans…. 🙂

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    • I was out of work for 9 months this year, so that definitely helped. As soon as I started a new job (a complete career change for me) in mid-September my reading mojo definitely dried up and I’m still trying to rediscover it.

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  8. These all sound so good! I’m especially interested in the Boyne and Toibin, but The Erratics and Constellations are very tempting too!
    I think The Arsonist would make me too angry… Having people deliberately setting fires is all we need!!

    It sounds like you had a great year, reading and otherwise. Happy New Year! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Naomi. The Arsonist is really well done because it explores the idea that Australia has a lot of arsonists – she explains what makes them tick, why they do it etc The man at the centre of this case had learning difficulties so even though he did a horrendous thing Hooper paints a relatively empathetic portrait of him.

      Hope you get to read the Boyne and the Toibin – they are both excellent Irish novels.

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  9. What a lot of fine reading you’ve squeezed into this year after all! I agree that the Boochani memoir was amazing. And I was somewhat heartened by the turn of circumstances for him, since it’s been published. (Somehow I feel like I should leave that vague, as those this was fiction and sharing the details would be a spoiler – but of course it’s a true story – his story – so that shouldn’t matter.) I hope you enjoy your 2020 reading every bit as much!

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  10. What a lot of fine reading you’ve squeezed into this year after all! I agree that the Boochani memoir was amazing. And I was somewhat heartened by the turn of circumstances for him, since it’s been published. (Somehow I feel like I should leave that vague, as those this was fiction and sharing the details would be a spoiler – but of course it’s a true story – his story – so that shouldn’t matter.) I hope you enjoy your 2020 reading every bit as much!

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  11. I love seeing everyone’s best of the year lists. I definitely want to read more John Boyne , ever since I read and LOVED The Heart’s Invisible Furies. And I’ve been meaning to try something by Colm Toibin for so long , I don’t know why I’ve never gotten around to it. Good to know about this one, I hadn’t actually heard about his book The South.

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  12. Pingback: Looking Around……. – reviewsrevues

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