A few years ago, I signed up for the social book-organization site Goodreads. As I thumbed through all the recommendations and optional settings, I noticed I could set myself a reading challenge for the year.
No problem. I read all the time.
I set myself a goal for 12 books. Come November, I checked my progress.
I had read three.
When did I stop being a reader? Somewhere between university and full-time work, among deadlines and amid family obligations. I still thought of myself as a reader, but the evidence of my own reporting showed that my actions did not match my intentions.
I resolved to make time in my life for reading, and now I have an extremely organized reading routine (I’ll get into that in a future post). This year I surpassed my goal of reading 24 books—I’m at 32, with one more half-completed. I’ll get the last word in before the stroke of midnight on the 31st.
Although I’m now reading more than ever, I tend not to leave reviews on Goodreads beyond a star rating. Now that I have a website, I’d like to review the occasional novel or game book and leave a list of recommendations at the end of the year. Here are my favourites from 2019.
Kingdom of the Blind (Louise Penny)
I’ve long been a fan of Penny’s hero, Armand Gamache. An inspector at the Sûreté du Québec, Gamache brings patience, intelligence, and kindness to his work solving crimes and dealing with institutional corruption. KINGDOM OF THE BLIND, fourteenth in the series, sees Armand tackle a good old-fashioned mystery, as he and two others are named executors of a wealthy woman’s will—though neither Armand nor his co-executors have ever met the deceased. The dead woman’s heirs come to life on the page, each with secrets and motivations that throw them under suspicion. Armand must deduce why the dead woman named him from the grave. To execute a complex will? Or to solve a murder?
Penny has an incredible touch with setting, bringing alive the lush Québec scenery and the brutality of a Canadian winter with her elegant prose. If you’re new to Gamache and want to start at the beginning, his adventures kick off with STILL LIFE.
The Turn of the Key (Ruth Ware)
I’m obsessed with Ruth Ware’s books. Contemporary psychological thrillers, they have a wry humour, a dark underbelly, and often redemptive endings. Some thrillers can get too intense for me, and Ware strikes the right balance.
THE TURN OF THE KEY is a modern haunted house story. A young nanny takes a job at remote Heatherbrae House, an architectural marvel with “smart” integration throughout. Lights, appliances, locks—everything’s controlled by a single app. But when she’s left alone with her two small charges and the house starts going haywire, Rowan isn’t sure if she’s facing technological gremlins or something truly supernatural.
Ware is great at setting red herrings, and I was left constantly guessing throughout the book. I saw one twist coming, but not the others!
The Whisper Man (Alex North)
Another book that melds contemporary mystery with a hint of the supernatural, THE WHISPER MAN follows a recent widower and his young son trying to adapt to their new home. Trying to start over after his wife’s death, Tom Kennedy and his son, Jake, move to a strange little house in the town of Featherbank.
Twenty years ago, a serial killer who lured young children away held Featherbank in the grip of terror. And for the last twenty years, the Whisper Man has been safely locked up. Why, then, does Jake report seeing a monster outside his window? Who is whispering through the mail slot, beckoning Jake outside? Can the mysterious little girl who no-one else can see help Jake escape a dark fate?
This book kept me guessing right until the end, and it played fair with its twists. It also made me sleep with the light on one night.
Gods of Jade and Shadow (Silvia Moreno-Garcia)
Young Casiopea Tun is a servant in her wealthy grandfather’s home, dreaming of the day when she’ll have enough money to live independently from her father’s cruel family. Her ideal life seems out of her reach, as distant as the constellation for which she was named. Then one day she opens a wooden chest and frees the god of death, Hun-Kamé, from a magical imprisonment.
Hun-Kamé needs Casiopea’s help to regain his power and his throne. Casiopea realizes the god may be her way to a better life. But as the two embark on a series of dangerous quests, their reliance on each other deepens. Hun-Kamé becomes more human every day, and Casiopea must question what she’s willing to pay for her dream.
This was a marvelously plotted and dreamily described book, with plenty of history to illuminate Mexico in 1927. I devoured this book in a few days and it lingered in my mind long after.
The Test (Sylvain Neuvel)
This 100-page novella took me about an hour to read, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Set in a near-future Britain, the book centres on Idir, an Iranian immigrant, taking a 25-question citizenship test. Pass, and his family becomes citizens and can stay in the country. Fail, and they are deported.
THE TEST sets up a single scene with immediate stakes, draws us into Idir’s world, then pulls the rug out from under us. Pretty much anything I say about the book will be a spoiler, so I’ll just say it’s a book I won’t quickly forget.
There were other books I liked fine, but these were the standouts for me. Next year I’m setting my challenge to 36 books, so I’ll have plenty more recommendations to come. Until then, you can always friend me on Goodreads to see what I’ve been reading and enjoying.
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