Six Stunning Must Read Books of 2019

We’ve reached the mid point of 2019. It’s a good time to take a pause and reflect. 

A time to ask yourselves some questions. Have you:

  • kept up with your challenges and projects?
  • nailed that TBR stack?
  • found any knock out, truly brilliant books?

My answers to the above are, in order, partly,  no  and  YES.

I won’t bore you with how much I’m behind on my projects to read my classics club list or the Booker prize winners.   And I’ve already confessed about the rising state of my TBR.

Let’s talk about something far more interesting: six books I’ve read so far this year that were stunning. There’s  a psychological thriller, a classic novel, two memoirs  and two literary fiction titles.

Milkman by Anna Burns 

After a few years when the winning novel in the Booker Prize didn’t set my world alight, in 2018 we finally got a book that absolutely deserved the prize. Milkman by Anna Burns is an intense and powerful novel about trying to survive in a city where to be different, is to be in danger. The unconventional narrative form (no character is ever named) takes a little getting used to but don’t give up. If you do you’ll miss one of the most compelling novels I’ve read in years.

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell 

Gaskell wasn’t alone among Victorian novelists in her anguish about the plight of workers in the newly industrialised cities. Like Dickens she wrote about their appalling living conditions, sickness and hunger. Mary Barton was her first novel and it’s a no holds barred tale about industrial strife in Manchester. This is a must-read novel for anyone interested in social issues.

The Woman in the Dark by Vanessa Savage 

Vanessa Savage’s debut novel is a spectacular psychological thriller. The Woman in the Dark is a  tale of a family’s descent into crisis when they move into a house whose previous  occupants were murdered. Within this she spins a disturbing narrative about the legacy of child abuse. Just one warning before you begin reading this: you’ll lose lots of sleep because you won’t be able to put it down .

The Salt Path  by Raynor Winn

Imagine you’ve lost your home and your business. You have nothing but a few hundred pounds in your savings. Your husband has just been diagnosed with a degenerative brain condition. Faced with that situation Raynor Winn decided to take a walk. Rather a long walk. Six hundred miles in fact. The Salt Path is her account of walking the coastal path, camping wild and encountering hostility because strangers thought they were untouchable homeless vagrants.  This is a memoir that can make you angry but it will also make you laugh because Winn has a wonderful eye for the absurd situations in life.

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

Adam Kay was a hospital doctor specialising in obstetrics for six years and kept a diary of his time on the front line of healthcare. This is Going to Hurt is  astonishingly funny but also sobering because Kay shows how poorly junior doctors are treated. Underpaid and expected to work well beyond their contracted  hours, the job puts a strain on friendships and relationships. This is an astonishingly frank novel but despite his criticisms, Kay is still a firm believer in the principles of public healthcare.

Circe  by Madeline Miller 

This was a book I wasn’t looking forward to reading. I did so only because it was selected by the other book club members.  But this re-imagining of Circe (the Greek sorceress who gets a brief mention in Homer’s Odyssey) was a revelation. Miller’s descriptions of the world inhabited by the Titans among the Greek gods is breathtaking. If you’ve not yet read this, do yourself a huge favour and go out now and buy a copy. You won’t be sorry.

Those are my six choices for the first half of 2019. It will be interesting to see if any of them still make the cut when I come to the end of the year.

What would you choose from your own reading so far this year? Any knock out reads for you?

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on July 3, 2019, in Favourite reads and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 48 Comments.

  1. I am reading 3 books at the moment and have read Milkman of Anna Burns. The three books which i am reading did not make it to the long list but was submitted for consideration and they are CIRCE, NORMAL PEOPLE and WOMEN TALKING. I should be able to finish reading them by 5 September 2019 i.e. by the time Shortlist is out. I liked Anna Burns ‘Milkman’ specially in terms of the form adopted sledgehammering the phrase “Brevity is the soul of Wit”.

  2. I will be reading Circe and The Song of Achilles soon in anticipation of meeting Miller at an author event in September. They both keep getting excellent reviews. I have had many outstanding reads this year so far: We Are Okay, The Shape of Water, Giovanni’s Room, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Less, The Atomic Weight of Love, Chocolat, Beartown, The Night Circus, Call Me By Your Name, When They Call You a Terrorist, The Truth According to Us, One Crazy Summer, Pachinko, Soul on Ice, The Calculating Stars, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and Where the Crawdads Sing. Honestly, all of these have been wonderful reads! It’s been a great year! And I look forward to more as the year progresses! I am even more interested in Milkman, given your recommendation!

    • You lucky person, getting to meet Miller. I bet that will be a fascinating event. I read a review today of Where the Crawdads Sing – it does sound interesting

  3. Books about walks of various kinds could almost be a subgenre of their own. Walking and writing memoir (walking through life’s path) definitely have an affinity. This one sounds very worth seeking out.

    I’m so glad you liked Circe! I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it so much because I wasn’t that enchanted by Miller’s first novel. But for some reason this one clicked with me.

    • Salt is absolutely worth reading Lory….

      Circe was one I wasn’t expecting to enjoy either but for different reasons – I struggle with books about characters that are not real…..

      But in the event Miller wrote about these characters in such a compelling way their ‘other worldy’ nature didn’t bother me one iota

  4. Karen, I am very pleased to hear you recommend Mary Barton, as it is on my Classics Club list. I would also love to read Circe. Some of my stand out reads of the year are Howards End by E. M. Forster, Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley and By Sword and Storm by Margaret Skea.

  5. I keep trying to avoid Milkman. Reviews such as this bring back to it. I need to bite the bullet I think. I’m eagerly awaiting the moment I can begin The Salt Path and looking forward to your review of Circe – there seem to be mixed feelings about that one.

  6. I must admit The Salt Path appeals – I’m keeping an eye out for it locally! 😀

  7. I find it so much easier to remember my ‘knock-out’ reads the same year I’ve read them-I’ve got a terrible memory apparently, so this is a great idea for a post. I’m still hesitant to pick up Milkman but you may have convinced me. So far this year, I’ve loved French Exit by Patrick deWitt and Autopsy of a Boring Wife (review to come!)

  8. I used to do challenges but now I just have two slow burners and don’t actively work on either of them.
    But I think they can be a good idea for people who want to read more and find it hard to make time for it. And sometimes they can bring up the ‘new, exciting and unexpected’: I discovered some good stuff from a challenge called What’s in a Name?

  9. Wow! You’re the first person to talk about Circe in a way that actually made it sound interesting enough to me to make me put it on my TBR. I think it was because, like me, you said you weren’t that psyched about reading it. I hope I end up enjoying it as you did. I’ll keep an eye out for your official review!

    I put holds on the other books you talked about, if the library had ebooks available, and if not, I put them on my TBR.

    I’d say my top read so far this year are:
    The Goldfinch
    The River
    We Were LIars
    Radio Silence

  10. I’m delighted to see such a positive rec for Milkman. I frequently question why certain books ever won the Booker so it’s nice to see that they got it right for a change. I have a copy of it myself that I really need to get to sometime soon.

    • I started to lose interest in the Booker about three years ago. I miss the diversity of authors from different countries that you saw a decade or so ago because it introduced me to authors I never heard of

  11. I loved Milkman. I would also recommend another book by an up and coming Irish writer: Her Kind. Set in the 13th century it is a reworking of the real Kilkenny witch trial. Like Milkman t has some quirky style conventions but the plot and the characters are brilliantly realised.

    • I hadn’t heard of this book Frank so went looking for a review. It does sound good. But the paperback isn’t out until Feb next year….

  12. I will have to look back at my own pile, but Circe and Milkman will certain be on the list. I think Milkman is a work of pure genius.

  13. I see you’ve knocked that headline problem on the head! The Salt Path is the one that most appeals.

    • It’s easier to write headlines for list posts or thought pieces. The really tough one is to write a title for a review – still wrestling with the question of whether to include the book title.

      • I think it helps those looking for a review to have title and author in the headline.

        • I’ve been discussing this with a guy who’s an expert on blogging and he recommended not to do it (because everyone else does that so your blog doesn’t stand out). As I say, I’m not absolutely convinced yet

  14. I like the sound of The Salt Path and Circe, I shall add them to my lists.

  15. Great post. I’m putting The Salt Path on my wishlist – my birthday is coming up soon.

  16. I’ll try to find some of the titles.Thank you for the short review of each book.

  17. I haven’t read the other titles yet, but I completely agree with Circe!

  18. All six are books I’ve heard about, but not read. On they go to my TBR.

  19. All of these sound so good. The Salt Path is the only one I’ve read and I loved it. I still think about that couple. I’ve looked at the others but don’t have them. I need to focus on the TBR but oh my… know how that goes!🤠🐧

  20. The years and selfies both great reads so far. Salt path is one I may try at some point in the future

  21. I really enjoyed Circe – and The Salt Path is on my holiday pile 🙂 I’ve just finished West by Carys Davies. It’ll make my Top Ten at the end of the year 🙂

  22. Judy Krueger

    You could say that the point of challenges and TBR piles is to find those stunning novels, right? So that is good. I too have been blown away by so many books already this year. Here’s to another stunning 6 months!

    • Sometimes I feel we do challenges just for the point of doing a challenge….rather than as you say to introduce us to something new, exciting and unexpected

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