Friday, December 20, 2019

Book Chase's Favorite Ten FictionTitles of 2019

For some reason, I had a harder time choosing my favorite novels this year than I usually have. After much thought resulting in some books being on the list, then off the list, then back on the list - and much shuffling between numbers one and ten - this is what I ended up with:


1.  A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World - C.A. Fletcher - Almost the entire human race has lost the ability to reproduce, and now the Earth’s population has dropped from its peak of 7.5 billion down to less than 9,000 people. Think about that.  9,000 people spread over the Earth’s surface means that surviving families (those few people over the generations who have mysteriously retained the ability to reproduce) can go an entire lifetime only seeing a few people not part of their own family or small tribal group.  When strangers do show up, it is not always a good thing for the ones being visited.


2. Unsheltered- Barbara Kingsolver - This is a brilliantly constructed novel of historical fiction that uses an old house to link characters from the 19th century to a group of them from the 21st. It all happens in Vineland, New Jersey, and involves a small group of real-life figures of whom very few readers will likely have heard. But that's part of the brilliance of Kingsolver's story - and it helps to make the author's fictional characters almost indistinguishable from those who lived and breathed in Vineland in the past.  It's so easy to get lost in the 19th century setting that I was always a bit reluctant to return to 21st century Vineland.


3.   Hunter's Moon - Philip Caputo - This one is a novel about Michigan's Upper Peninsula disguised as a collection of interrelated short stories that present a surprisingly violent view of life in that remote area of the country. A small group of characters appear in more than one of these stories examining the relationships over a number of years between parents and children, husbands and wives, and between longtime friends. Caputo's books set the bar really high a long time ago, but this is one of my all-time favorites of his.


4.  Little: A Novel - Edward Carey - As read aloud by the remarkable Jayne Entwistle, Little is an incredible experience. The audiobook's first person narrator is Marie Grosholtz, a tiny seven-year-old who understands very little of the world around her. She does knows, though, that she has inherited her mother’s prominent nose and her father’s jutting lower jaw, a combination of physical characteristics that will forever keep her from being considered an attractive woman.  On top of this, Marie is so tiny that it is only a matter of time before she is forced to start answering to the nickname “Little.”  The little girl just may be the Forest Gump of historical fiction.


5. The Nickel Boys - Colson Whitehead - Elwood Curtis, a young black boy growing up in Jim Crow era Tallahassee in the early 1960s, lives alone with his grandmother because a few years earlier his parents abandoned him like an old beat-up piece of furniture. With his grandmother’s guidance, Elwood has done so well that he is now a high school senior who will soon be attending college. But  even hard work cannot always compensate for simple bad luck, and because of one innocent mistake, Elwood is sentenced to time in an infamous juvenile reformatory known as the Nickel Academy before he can make it to college.


6. The Girl in Red - Christina Henry - Red, much to the dismay of her Shakespeare-teaching mother, has grown up on dystopian novels and horror movies. And because she has treated those books and movies as an end-of-the-world instruction manual, she is better prepared than most to help her family survive the mysterious virus that is doing its best to wipe out the human race. She seems, though, to have forgotten the most instructive aspect of all those apocalypse books and movies she’s devoured over the years: surviving the initial life-changing catastrophic event is just the beginning. Now comes the hard part.


7.  The Dutch House - Ann Patchett - Fans of multi-generational family sagas are going to love Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House. The story is told over a fifty-year period during which the Cyril Conroy family manages to go from poverty, to riches, back to poverty, and then back to riches again all without really trying very hard to make any of it happen or not happen. Passivity, in fact, seems to be a Conroy family trait – but going-along-to-get-along is not a great way to deal with a sociopathic gold-digger, a lesson Mr. Conroy won't live long enough to learn.


8.   The New Iberia Blues- James Lee Burke - This one is proof that an author's advancing age does not necessarily mean that the quality of his work is on the decline. Burke is 82-years-old now, but you would never  suspect that if this twenty-second Dave Robicheaux novel were your first experience with the man's books. Dave Robicheaux, the main character of the series, is Cajun, alcoholic, a cop, and a knight in shining armor to those he's sworn to protect from the more powerful.  This is probably my favorite detective series of all time.


9. Chances Are... A Novel - Richard Russo - It’s September, and most of the tourists and summer residents have finally packed up and left Martha’s Vineyard for another year. But three sixty-six-year-old men, friends since they first met as college freshmen, have decided to spend a weekend on the island catching up and reminiscing about the experiences they shared in the crazy 1960s. The men are still close friends but have not been together for ten years, so they have a lot to talk about. The real question is how willing they are to share some of those secrets they’ve been hiding from each other.


10. Dark Sacred Night - Michael Connelly - This one is part of the immensely popular Harry Bosch series, but it is a little different in that it introduces a potentially new longterm partnership between Harry and female detective RenĂ©e Ballard.  What starts out as a rocky relationship between the two cops morphs into one of mutual respect by the end of the book.  Detective fiction fans who have not ready Harry Bosch yet have no idea what they are missing.  Don't be one of those people. (The very recently released The Night Fire continues the Bosh/Ballard relationship.)

And there you have it, my favorite novels of 2019.

12 comments:

  1. Choosing favorites is a difficult task! The only one on your list that I've read is The Girl in Red, but I do like the authors of some of your favorites and will get to several of those books eventually. :)

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    1. It was especially tough for me this year because I read more books than I have in the last couple of years. But I also abandoned more books than ever, twenty, than I ever had, and that gave me more time to read only those books that already appealed to me going in. There are five titles that I was just sure were going to be in the top ten that ended up getting bumped.

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  2. What a great list! I always have a hard time choosing my favorites, too. There are so many good books, and it's hard to narrow them down to just ten. :)

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    1. I guess, though, that proves how good a reading year we had. Nice problem to have, really.

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  3. Your 'favourite books' posts ought to come with a health warning because I invariably want to trot over to Amazon and buy them all. Some fascinating books here, Unsheltered is the one that appeals the most but others are worth looking into I fancy. Nice post, Sam.

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    1. Unsheltered is a good one, Cath. I really enjoyed the structure of the book and how the old house tied the generations together as being the only constant in the story. Kingsolver is just an excellent writer. Glad you enjoyed the list, thanks.

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    2. The only book I've read by her is The Poisonwood Bible which I thought was 'superb'. She is indeed an excellent writer. Several authors you've recced over the past few months that I want to read more of, another is Ann Patchett, so The Dutch House is on my radar too.

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    3. Happy to hear that you are intrigued enough by a few of the authors that you wil be taking a closer look at their work, Cath. Let me know if I've led you astray. :-)

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  4. Looks like a lot of good books! The only one of these I've read is Unsheltered, but I've got a few of the others on my TBR list.

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    1. I really enjoyed this year's books, Jeane. I'm hoping that 2020 offers lots of stuff to get excited about - but I really want to spend some time next year on the back catalogs of a few authors I enjoy.

      Have a great Christmas!

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  5. I haven't read any of these, but several of them are on my TBR list. Hopefully, I'll be able to read some of your picks in 2020. *Sigh* So many books, so little time ...

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    1. It's a nice problem to have, but it can be frustrating for sure. I brought four books back to the library today (two of them unread or abandoned) and came home with five new ones. That seems to keep happening, so I'm trying not to have more than five checkouts at a time in 2020. We'll see how long I can pull that one off.

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