2019 In Review: Some Books I Loved (Part 1)

on Wednesday, December 25, 2019
Well, I've fucked my back in Singapore which is making this holiday far less festive than I'd anticipated. On the upside, it's allowed me plenty of time to consider the books I've loved over the past 12 months and cobble together something resembling a Top 10 for the year. As usual, that will come in the last couple of days of the month. One thing that struck me while going over my list (124 books and counting) is that there were quite a few novels I really dug but can't include in the final countdown (dada da daaa dada dadada). With that in mind, I thought I'd do some extra posts to crap on about them. Apologies to those of you who are friends on mine on Goodreads because I'll mostly just be copying and pasting my reviews from there. But hey, I'm hurting over here, and the best I can do is channel eight-year-old me with scissors and a stick of glue. Note: As there were a lot of books I liked, I'm dividing this over two posts.

The Nancys by RWR McDonald
An absolute delight from the very start, The Nancys took me back to my days of obsessively devouring crime fiction. Not only is it a good old fashioned murder mystery of the exact kind I have always loved, but it possesses a genuine warmth and laugh-out-loud humour not often associated with the genre. I'll avoid any plot description so I don't stumble into spoiler territory but, gotta say, I loved it.

A Mistake by Carl Shuker
I picked this excellent little novel up on a recent trip to New Zealand and, wow, what a great read. A smart, unsentimental look at the fallibility of those who we, quite literally, trust with our lives. A Mistake could easily veered into the realm of melodrama but Shuker avoids the sensational to look at the human impact, as well as the frantic arse-covering of the bureaucratic machine that turns the health care engine.

The Trap by Ludovic Bruckstein
Bruckstein might just be the least known of the Holocaust survivor novelists. That he has languished for years on the outer is a travesty. The Trap is a disorientating, cleverly constructed gem of a novella, with a twist at once hilarious and heartbreaking. The second novella, The Rag Doll, is more conventional in style but is no less moving. It is also, sadly, very timely. In many ways it reminded me of the two Hanses - Keilson and Fallada. If you dig them, Bruckstein is a must.

Lucky Ticket by Joey Bui
I was fortunate enough to blurb this extraordinary debut and, while I could go on for hours about it, I'll simply add that you have to read it. It's bloody great (apparently "bloody great" is frowned upon as wording for a cover quote).

Dawn by Selahattin Demirtas A truly incandescent work of prison literature, this story collection soars not for its insight into the life of a political prisoner (there isn't much of that at all) but for its near perfect ability to see into the souls of the regular people whose stories it tells. From the light touch of magical realism where pigeons converse with men in a prison yard, to the brutal realism of the title story (quite possibly the best albeit most harrowing thing I've ever read about so-called honour killings), Dawn is just flawless tale after flawless tale. Astounding.

Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar
Astounding in its ability to both touch and unsettle, Wolfe Island is a rain dance beneath the clouds of the Apocalypse.

The Hollow Bones by Leah Kaminsky
From the embers of history, Kaminsky weaves a cracking tale of adventure, competing loyalties and the folly of sacrificing reason on the ideological altar.

You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr
I'd heard a lot of good things about You Will Be Safe Here and was worried that I might be disappointed when I finally got around to reading it. How wrong I was! Harrowing in what it depicts but beautiful in the way it does so, this exceeded my expectation. A morally complex window into silenced histories (I knew only a little about the Boer Wars and nothing about the SA Conversion Camps), in which Barr avoids the temptation to tie up loose ends for the sake of comforting the reader. Great book, brilliantly executed.

Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard
Well, hasn't YA lit changed since my day? And for the far, far better. It's hard to add to the raves that keep getting heaped upon Invisible Boys so I'll have to settle with reiterating them. Yes, it's blisteringly good. Yes, it's fucking real. Yes, it repeatedly punches you in the guts. Yes, it's ALL THE FEELS AT ONCE. Oh, and most definitely yes, it's genuinely IMPORTANT. But most of all I adored it for the beautiful things it says about love, friendship, family, finding yourself and the embarrassing clumsiness (whether we like to admit it or not) of being a teenager.


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