Reading 2019

I read 78 books in 2019, a respectable quantity, even if I didn’t fulfill the challenge I set for myself. I enjoyed reading most of them, but as usual, only some were truly memorable (“memorable” defined as “I can remember that I read this book and I have an opinion about it”).

As usual, in order of date finished. Here goes!

  • The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (8/10; finished 1/11/2019): The library sent me a message that this book was finally available for me. I’d forgotten completely that it existed, much less why I’d wanted to read it, but I trusted that my past self had had a good reason to put it on hold. The quick-and-dirty summary is Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day. Every day, Aiden Bishop wakes up in the body of one of the guests at Blackheath House. Every evening, Evelyn Hardcastle is killed. Aiden only has eight chances to break the cycle by discovering Evelyn’s murderer, and on top of that, he’s got competition. I was a bit disappointed with how Aiden’s framing story worked out, but I enjoyed the mystery that’s most of the book.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (8/10; finished 7/1/2019): The first time I tried to read this, back when it was newly popular, I didn’t finish it before I needed to return it to the library. Then I couldn’t renew it, and by the time I could’ve gotten it again, I’d gone on to other books. But I acquired the ebook for a good price, and I was determined to try again someday. I made it through this time! I get that Clarke was writing a pastiche of 19th-century novels. Probably what made it successful as a pastiche is what annoyed me about reading it: I’ve given up on some classics like Vanity Fair and Les Misérables because I lost interest in the tangents and wandering and side stories when I wanted more focus on the main plot. But it was frustrating that this book didn’t really hook me until I was about 40% of the way through it—in a book this size, that was around page 300 or so, and that’s an awful lot to invest in a book in the hopes that eventually your patience will pay off. It’s on this list in great part because my patience did pay off.
  • The Book of the Ancestor trilogy (and a novelette) by Mark Lawrence: My first real immersion into science fantasy, which I’ve decided shouldn’t be combined with either science fiction or fantasy as a genre. People work magic in these books and they have the vaguely medieval setting of many fantasy novels. But unlike many fantasy novels, the people of Abeth know it’s a planet orbiting a dying sun and that it’s their ancestors’ technology that’s keeping them alive. Imaginative world-building, yes, but let’s not forget the other good parts, like supremely skilled fighting nuns (!).
    • Red Sister (8/10; finished 12/31/2018—no, that’s not a typo: I read it in 2018, but I didn’t make one of these lists for that year, and it’s almost a 2019 read): Books on writing often discuss the importance of the first sentence and the impression it makes on the reader. Red Sister has a particularly fine pair:

      It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.

      And I was hooked.
    • Grey Sister (8/10; finished 2/23/2019): In which I learned that Mark Lawrence had had the excellent idea of prefacing the book with a summary of what you needed to remember from Red Sister in order to follow this book. I happened to be reading the trilogy when the first two books were already published, but this would’ve been valuable if I’d had to wait a year or so between volumes. Also, some adult protagonists!
    • Bound [short story? novelette?] (8/10; finished 4/5/2019): Like I said, I started reading The Book of the Ancestor a few months before Holy Sister came out, and Bound helped tide me over after I finished reading Grey Sister. It’s always nice to see characters you like, and this ended up giving more context for a scene in Holy Sister.
    • Holy Sister (9/10; finished 4/23/2019): Some unexpected but rewarding twists and a generally satisfying end to the story. Yes, that sounds generic, but the closer you are to the end of a story, the harder it is to avoid spoilers.
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (10/10; finished 10/8/2019): Love, love, love. Heck, I even played with divining the plot before reading it. It was appropriate October reading, what with its nine flavors of necromancy. Plus a star-spanning Empire, and of course, the oh-so-prickly relationship between Gideon Nav, makeshift Cavalier of the Ninth House, and Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter and Gideon’s despised nemesis. Yes, I already have the sequel, Harrow the Ninth, on pre-order.
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (9/10; finished 11/9/2019): I am calling this a fantasy novel, and that’s what it’s been marketed as, but I don’t recall any magic appearing in it. It’s more like a political thriller set in a world that just happens not to exist. It is a good book. It is also a troubling book that does not end at all comfortably. I’m probably wimping out from giving it a 10 (which the quality merits) by how jangled I felt when I finished it. It’s the first book of a trilogy, and I both want to read the rest and don’t want to.
  • The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer (9/10; finished 12/24/2019): The only nonfiction book on my list this year, and the title pretty much says it all. This is the first of three books in which Bauer tells world history from many places at once, rather than focusing on one area like Chinese history or Roman history. She helps the reader navigate by finishing each chapter with a timeline that covers that chapter’s events or rulers and matches them up against what had happened in the previous chapter, and she’s generous with maps as well.
  • Conceal, Don’t Feel: A Twisted Tale by Jen Calonita (8/10; finished 12/31/2019): Literally discovered by serendipity. This was on a table at my local Barnes & Noble, and I kept walking past it on my way to my favorite sections. Eventually I noticed it enough to notice the “What if Anna and Elsa never knew each other?” on the cover, and was intrigued enough to pick it up. While I wasn’t paying attention to movie tie-ins, Disney came up with a line of “what if” books for their movies, of which this was the latest volume. The books in the Twisted Tales series are darker than their inspiration, marketed to YA audiences rather than middle-schoolers. As that tagline suggests, in this story, Elsa and Anna grow up separately, each believing herself to be an only child. I liked that it answered some questions I’d had about Frozen, such as who was regent until Elsa came of age, and whether there were any other towns in the kingdom of Arendelle besides Arendelle itself.

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