Saturday, January 04, 2020

Melanie's Top Reads of 2019

There was a point this year when I was really worried that I wouldn't be able to write a 'best of' post this year. I found it hard to find books I wanted to read, but more importantly, books I really enjoyed reading. I did hit the jackpot and found some books I really adored and here are my top 5 reads of 2019, starting in reverse order:

Number 5 - Circe by Madeline Miller 

Back in April I finally decided to check out a recommendation from one of my friends Circe by Madeline Miller. I had the audio version of the book so this is technically a 'listen to' rather than a read...but lets not split hairs. Perdita Weeks brought the troubled daughter of the sun god Helios to life, as we follow Circe from her home with the gods, to her exile by Zeus on Aiaia. Miller creates a fantastic story for the mythical Circe and interweaves a number of other myths and mythical characters to share the stage with her. Miller has received awards and accolades for this Circe and here is one more - one of my fave books of 2019!

Number 4 - Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

In July I took my sister's advice this time and purchased Machines Like Me (again another audio book). I loved everything about this book - the alternate history of 80's Britain, McEwan's android science, the moral conflict and finally, the narrator - Billy Howle. McEwan is one of those authors who are a bit hit and miss with me but this time it was a big hit. See my thoughts here.

Number 3 - Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

I thoroughly enjoyed Arden's Winternight trilogy and thought that The Winter of the Witch was a fantastic ending to this series. Again, this was another audio book (I did actually read some books!) and the narration, again was amazing. In this final instalment we join Vasya on the end of her magical journey that is steeped in Russian folklore.  I liked it sooo much I wrote a full review if you want to check it out here.

Number 2 - La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

I was late to the prequel of the His Dark Materials party.  I had La Belle Sauvage on my TBR (yes Audible library) for too long before I decided I needed to find out what it was all about.  I was totally gripped from the first word until the last. Michael Sheen is a superlative narrator but it's Pullman's story that really shines through here. The young Malcolm, his daemon and the baby Lyra have an epic adventure that only Pullman could tell.  I almost think I liked this story better than the original  - His Dark Materials.

Number 1 - it's a tie for first place in my book reading heart for 2019

A Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

A Thousand Doors of January tells the story of January Scaller and her life as the ward of the very wealthy Mr Locke. The story flits from past to present and from one world to another and it's not until near the very end that the reader gets to discover the intricacies of Harrow's plot.  Needless to say I loved this book and what is even more exceptional is that it is a debut novel. Kudos x 10 to Harrow for this very first novel. I wrote a full review if you want to find out more. Check it out here.

The Binding by Bridget Collins

I described The Binding in my review as a gentle love story but the more I think about my description of the story I don't think I did the book justice. There is a real ethereal and haunting quality to this story. The binding and what it really means for the main protagonist Emmett isn't uncovered until most of the way through which adds to the tension and the mood of story itself. This is a book that stays with you and even a year later (almost) I am still caught up thinking about Emmett and what happened to him and imagining what could happen next. Great book and a fantastic audio book as well.

Well that is faves of 2019.

I have an honourable mention (well mentions) - Aching God and Sin Eater by Michael Shel. Aching God was a finalist in the SPFBO 4 and one of Qwill's faves in 2018 but I only just read it in 2019. This is an amazing book and Sin Eater is even better. Thought I would keep these two as 'mentions' as Aching God was part of the SPFBO. My recommendation is to read both together to get the full effect. I can hardly wait for book 3 to come out.

I would love find out what your top reads of 2019 were so please leave me your top picks in the comments section.

Little, Brown and Company, April 10, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages

“A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story,” this #1 New York Times bestseller is “both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right” (Alexandra Alter, The New York Times).

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER–NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR, The Washington Post, People, Time, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, Newsweek, the A.V. Club, Christian Science Monitor and Refinery 29, Buzzfeed, Paste, Audible, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Thrillist, NYPL, Self Real Simple, Goodreads, Boston Globe, Electric Literature, BookPage, the Guardian, Book Riot, Seattle Times, and Business Insider

Machines Like Me
Nan A. Telese, April 23, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

New from Ian McEwan, Booker Prize winner and international bestselling author of Atonement and The Children Act

Machines Like Me takes place in an alternative 1980s London. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first synthetic humans and—with Miranda’s help—he designs Adam’s personality. The near-perfect human that emerges is beautiful, strong, and clever. It isn’t long before a love triangle soon forms, and these three beings confront a profound moral dilemma.

In his subversive new novel, Ian McEwan asks whether a machine can understand the human heart—or whether we are the ones who lack understanding.

Winter of the Witch
Winternight Trilogy 3
Del Rey, October 1, 2019
Trade Paperback, 400 pages
Hardcover, Audiobook, and eBook, January 8, 2019

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

“A tale both intimate and epic, featuring a heroine whose harrowing and wondrous journey culminates in an emotionally resonant finale.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Vasilisa Petrovna is an unforgettable heroine determined to forge her own path. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

La Belle Sauvage
The Book of Dust 1
June 4, 2019
Trade Paperback, 480 pages
 eBook, October 19, 2017


Philip Pullman returns to the parallel world of His Dark Materials–soon to be an HBO original series starring Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda–to expand on the story of Lyra, “one of fantasy’s most indelible heroines” (The New York Times Magazine).

Don’t miss Volume II of The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth

Malcolm Polstead and his daemon, Asta, are used to overhearing news and the occasional scandal at the inn run by his family. But during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm finds a mysterious object—and finds himself in grave danger.

Inside the object is a cryptic message about something called Dust; and it’s not long before Malcolm is approached by the spy for whom this message was actually intended. When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, he begins to notice suspicious characters everywhere: the explorer Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; a gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a daemon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl—just a baby—named Lyra.

Lyra is at the center of a storm, and Malcolm will brave any peril, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through it.

“Too few things in our world are worth a seventeen-year wait: The Book of Dust is one of them.” —The Washington Post
“The book is full of wonder. . . . Truly thrilling.” —The New York Times
“People will love the first volume of Philip Pullman’s new trilogy with the same helpless vehemence that stole over them when The Golden Compass came out.” —Slate

A Thousand Doors of January
Redhook, September 10, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages

In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Lush and richly imagined, a tale of impossible journeys, unforgettable love, and the enduring power of stories awaits in Alix E. Harrow’s spellbinding debut–step inside and discover its magic.

The Binding
William Morrow, April 16, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 448 pages

Proclaimed as “truly spellbinding,” a “great fable” that “functions as transporting romance” by the Guardian, the runaway #1 international bestseller

"A rich, gothic entertainment that explores what books have trapped inside them and reminds us of the power of storytelling. Spellbinding.” — TRACY CHEVALIER

Imagine you could erase grief.
Imagine you could remove pain.
Imagine you could hide the darkest, most horrifying secret.

Young Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a strange letter arrives summoning him away from his family. He is to begin an apprenticeship as a Bookbinder—a vocation that arouses fear, superstition, and prejudice amongst their small community, but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.

For as long as he can recall, Emmett has been drawn to books, even though they are strictly forbidden. Bookbinding is a sacred calling, Seredith informs her new apprentice, and he is a binder born. Under the old woman’s watchful eye, Emmett learns to hand-craft the elegant leather-bound volumes. Within each one they will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, a binder can help. If there’s something you need to erase, they can assist. Within the pages of the books they create, secrets are concealed and the past is locked away. In a vault under his mentor’s workshop rows upon rows of books are meticulously stored.

But while Seredith is an artisan, there are others of their kind, avaricious and amoral tradesman who use their talents for dark ends—and just as Emmett begins to settle into his new circumstances, he makes an astonishing discovery: one of the books has his name on it. Soon, everything he thought he understood about his life will be dramatically rewritten.

An unforgettable novel of enchantment, mystery, memory, and forbidden love, The Binding is a beautiful homage to the allure and life-changing power of books—and a reminder to us all that knowledge can be its own kind of magic.

Honorable Mention

Aching God
Iconoclasts 1
April 9, 2018
   eBook, 604 pages
March 27, 2019
   Trade Paperback 602 pages

“Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”

The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside and isolated with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. But just as old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, he receives an urgent summons back to that old life.

To save his only daughter, he must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. Along with a group of inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. He has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But how can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?

First volume in the planned epic fantasy trilogy Iconoclasts, Aching God is the debut novel by RPG adventure designer Mike Shel.

Also included is an advanced preview of Iconoclasts - Book II: Sin Eater.

Sin Eater
Iconoclasts 2
May 20,  2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 574 pages


A year has passed since Auric Manteo descended into the haunted depths of a Djao ruin to return a lethal artifact, only to face down a bloodthirsty, imprisoned god. Now his daughter Agnes comes to bring him back to the capital with promises of hidden secrets finally revealed.

But the city decays, poisonous disorder is rife, and whispered prophecy foretells of cataclysm and doom. Summoned by their no-longer human queen, Auric and Agnes are commanded to carry out an impossible task, one that can be accomplished only with the mysterious blade Szaa’da’shaela, gifted to Auric on a lunatic's whim.

Can Auric and his daughter survive a journey fraught with blood, menace, and madness? And can they pay the price demanded by a being every bit as evil as the Aching God?

Sin Eater is the sequel to 2018’s widely praised Aching God and book 2 of the Iconoclasts Trilogy. Get your copy today!


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