Novel Approach names the top ten books of 2019
There have been so many amazing books published this past year and if I had it my way, I would have read them all. Of course, I only have one set of eyes and a finite amount of time in the day. Now, while we certainly plan to keep reading more books in the new year, here is a recap of our favorite books that we reviewed in 2019.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Reading “The Starless Sea” is a decadent and rich experience, like the current of honey that runs through the novel, Erin Morgenstern’s latest book leaves readers with a sweetness on their tongue and a yearning for more.
Morgenstern captivates the reader with her wonderland of stories within a story about a mythical underground library. This particular book is a bookworm’s novel as Morgenstern layers literary references into the delicately woven narrative. When Zachary finds an odd book at his college’s library, he can’t quite resist reading the collection of short stories called “Sweet Sorrows” and is shocked to find a story about his childhood is included in the book about a strange library called the Starless Sea. Zachary sets off to find out more about how a moment from his life, described with intricate detail, could possibly have been included in such an old book. His research leads him to a charity ball that results in him falling down the rabbit hole, entwined in an old feud with book lovers, and finding himself plunked into the surprisingly real Starless Sea.
Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
A strange phenomenon strikes causing a small population of Americans to become sleepwalkers, who gather together to wander across the country. Shana Stewart’s sister is the first walker, and she becomes the first shepherd, herding and protecting her sister across the country. Dr. Benji Ray, a disgraced former CDC doc, finds himself involved with studying the odd disease and he, too, joins the flock. A small town pastor claims the flock of sleepwalkers, with numbers growing each day, are the Devil’s pilgrims and an old rock star joins the shepherds to get his name back in the spotlight.
The confusion about the flock of sleepwalkers incites fear and confusion among Americans, inspiring violent militias to murder them. As the world devolves into chaos, people ask if the walkers are the cause or the salvation from all the insanity.
Wendig crafts a compelling thriller, expertly weaving elements of the current political climate into the narrative. This enthralling novel will hold you in its grip for all 800 pages of it as society devolves and shatters the world.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
A harrowing fictional account of two boys who meet at the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reform school in Florida, during the civil tights movement. Elwood is a studious and hardworking young man who wants to live his life by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, but he finds that one misstep lands him in hell. Elwood befriends Turner, a cunning liar, without a family, who is skeptical about society’s potential for change.
Nickel is a gruesome nightmare of an institution that takes boys and young men and grinds them into dust through strenuous labor and vicious abuse. Whitehead’s latest novel is a gritty and harrowing tale of friendship forged between Elwood and Turner in a monsterous and corrupt institution. While the Nickel Academy is fictional, Whitehead’s novel is inspired by accounts of abuse from the very real Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, which also operated out of Florida.
Whitehead writes this haunting and devastating tale centered around a stunningly resilient protagonist with an urgent grace that makes the book difficult to put down even when his descriptions of the abuse causes the reader to squirm.
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames
Dive into the muggy throng of family drama with Juliet Grames’ novel “The Seven of Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna.” The unnamed protagonist tells the story of her grandmother, Stella Fortuna (Lucky Star for those who are less familiar with Italian), who escaped death many times in her long life. As the story of the Fortuna clan unfurls, the reader along with the archivist protagonist pay witness to Stella’s compelling story. She is a woman who commands attention in a time when women were hushed; she’s a woman who aspired to be independent in a time where women were regulated to the tasks of motherhood. Stella has an unparalleled strength and her life’s long list of accidents and tragedies will break the reader’s heart. She was a clever girl, a thrifty immigrant, a devoted daughter, a mother and a victim of life’s many traumas. Grames’ novel, inspired by her own grandmother’s accident, captivates and compels readers throughout the twists and turns of this gripping immigrant’s narrative. It is a book to be devoured in a single sitting and a story to be thoughtfully considered.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
In his debut novel, Ocean Vuong tells the story of a relationship between a mother and son through a letter Little Dog writes to her, knowing she will not be able to read it. Little Dog’s letter explores the family’s roots in Vietnam, the scarring of war across generational lines and the burden of memory.
“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is a confessional love letter, pulsating with Little Dog’s grief for those he has lost and the muddled relationship he has with his explosive mother. Vuong’s novel examines the desire for beauty, the shifting planes of identity and trauma through the delicate and shattering recollections of Little Dog.
As a poet, Vuong is no stranger to crafting intricate and ornate prose. His words, his novel deserve to be savored, rolled around the mind like a fine wine on the palate. Vuong’s storytelling immerses readers into the mind of Little Dog, gently luring them beneath the waves of violence and compassion with his melodious and hypnotic writing to drown us in unexpected beauty.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
In her latest novel, Elizabeth Gilbert thrusts readers into the world of 1940s theater. As an older woman, Vivian Morris reflects on her life in a letter, allowing her fashion obsessed existence as a costume director at her aunt’s decadently crumbling theater to be unfurled with a rollicking commentary that adds a charming sparkle to the narrative. Readers will become so entranced by Vivian’s story they’ll completely forget why the narrator was writing it in the first place and tumble into her charming backstage stories. “City of Girls” is a crackling coming-of-age story rife with captivating characters, humor and an honest glimpse into womanhood and chosen families. As a young woman, Vivian hurls herself headfirst into the glittering world of her showgirl friends, unabashedly seeking trouble at every turn until she collides with a ruinous scandal.
Vivian’s brutally honest depiction of her life and her snappy asides will endear her to readers as she shares stories about the family she has stitched together, in a version of New York that has been lost to time.
Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chobsky
In Stephen Chobsky’s long-awaited second novel, readers will find something far more sinister than they’ve come to expect from the “Perks of Being a Wallflower” author. Twenty years after his first novel, the author’s writing has swerved into something darker. Readers be warned: “Imaginary Friend” is a hair-raising tale of what happens after a little boy goes missing in the woods.
Kate moves with her son to a small town in Pennsylvania to get away from a short-tempered boyfriend. Unfortunately, the move isn’t as peaceful as she would hope. After Christopher is lost in the woods for six days, he isn’t the same little boy when he returns. Now Christopher is talking to an imaginary friend that instructs him to build a treehouse in the woods. It’s only when working on the treehouse with friends that the boys discover a child’s long-buried skeleton. This delectably thrilling tale will leave readers rooted in place until they finish the final chilling sentence as Chobsky leads them through this spooky tale.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
“The Beekeeper of Aleppo” follows the journey of two Syrian refugees as they make their escape to England. Nuri and Afra love their country and didn’t want to leave the home they loved until the violence there murdered their son. After witnessing her son’s death at the hand of a bomb, Afra, an artist, loses her sight. Nuri guides his heartbroken wife out of Syria and he shares the story of how they smuggled themselves to England. Nuri, is a gentle soul, a passionate beekeeper who longs for his apiaries and to be reunited with his cousin in England. Readers witness his heartbreaking flight from Syria through his eyes as he jumps from his present efforts to gain asylum in England to his nightmarish trip to and from Greece.
Christy Lefteri’s latest tale examines the obstacles refugees face as they flee to safety while also delicately wrapping devastation with radiantly nuanced nostalgia for a lost home. By exploring how the characters see, Lefteri crafts a poignantly mesmerizing story that provides a much-needed human context to what we read in the headlines. “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” is a lyrical and enchanting tale of perseverance based on the stories Lefteri heard when she volunteered with UNICEF at a refugee center in Athens.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nahisi Coates
When readers first meet Hiram Walker, he’s drowning in a river. During this near-death experience Hiram begins to reflect on his life, thinking back on the moments in his life that led him to that moment, trapped in the Goose with his white half-brother flailing in the current. Hiram was raised as a slave on his father’s plantation and finds himself serving his cruel and dimwitted brother. As Hiram tells his story, Coates paints each paragraph with evocative imagery of life on a declining plantation. After escaping the river, Hiram finds he can no longer live under the bonds of slavery and makes a run for it. From here Coates’ takes the reader on a vivid quest for freedom, as Hiram recounts all that befell him after he left his father’s home at Lockless.
Coates paints a powerful and electrifying picture of what it was like to live in a society that valued people as property and the death-defying desire for freedom.
This book is not just historical fiction, it is a beautiful meditation on memory and the gifts we can inherit from our ancestors. “The Water Dancer” is not to be devoured, but a book meditated over, every word savored and pondered.
Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay
Seeking thrills, people have found ways to make elevators more exciting, using them to inspire amusement park rides like the Tower of Terror or even to surf through elevator shafts. Linwood Barclay takes that idea and flips it on its head as New York’s finest try to track a killer using elevators to torment one of the world’s most vertical cities. Reporter Barbara Matheson, detectives Bourque and Delgado as well as the city’s turbulent Mayor Headley are all racing against the clock to get answers about the fatal series of elevator accidents plaguing the Big Apple. Written with enough twists and turns to build a skyscraper’s stairwell “Elevator Pitch” is sure to keep readers in its grip until the final page drops.
Barclay leaves the readers breathless and winded as he jumps the point of view from a dozen characters and given the unexpected plot driver is faulty elevators, you never quite know if that character will make it out unscathed. Barclay cranks the suspense factor up to 11 and readers might find themselves more willing to take the stairs after reading this adrenaline pumping thriller.