For the Love of Books, Year in Review

Shelly’s Year in Books | 2019

Before the calendar turns to 2020, I need to announce my top reads of 2019.  Except for my first read of the year, the third book in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series, Child of the Prophecy, my year got off to a rather uninspired start with a series of merely OK reads.  Then I picked up The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms, whose previous books I’d thoroughly enjoyed, especially her debut, The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane.  I followed this with a run of mostly great reads through the rest of the fall then finished up strongly with Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, the gorgeous first book in her Winternight trilogy.  Here are some highlights from 2019:

  • Child of the Prophecy (Sevenwaters #3) by Juliet Marillier is the culmination of the story that began with Daughter of the Forest.  Though it lacked some of the romance of that first novel, this installment brought the mysticism and magic back to the series.  From what I’ve read, I believe Child of the Prophecy was meant to be the end of the story but Marillier has written three more Sevenwaters stories and I am looking forward to seeing where the story will go.
  • The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms, with its uplifting story of a single mother who relinquishes her children to the care of their long-absent father for a summer as well as the interesting ideas about education that will appeal to anyone who struggles with required reading as I’ve always done, made its way not only on my list of top reads but became a Goodreads Choice Award finalist for best fiction as well.
  • How to Stop Time by Matt Haig was at times slow and often maudlin and yet there were times when I couldn’t get enough of it.  I particularly enjoyed the historical passages like meeting William Shakespeare or traveling with Captain Cook.  But what makes How to Stop Time truly special is its perspective on human relationships, history and politics, and how we spend our time on earth.
  • Well Met by Jen DeLuca is possibly the best romance I’ve read in years.  The nerd in me loved the Renaissance Faire setting while the student of human nature in me enjoyed how relatable the two leads are and how believable their relationship is.  And I’m not the only one who loved this one.  Well Met was a semi-finalist for a Goodreads Choice Award for romance.
  • Reading The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman was like looking into a rosy-colored mirror.  The story of Nina, a young woman with whom I share not only my passion for reading and books but an often debilitating case of anxiety around people not to mention a love of trivia and a habit of communicating through film quotes and references, is sweet and wickedly funny (a trait it shares with Waxman’s other two novels, The Garden of Small Beginnings and Other People’s Houses) with a delightful touch of romance and a message about self-acceptance and overcoming your personal hurdles. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill must have connected with many other readers because it too was a finalist in the fiction category for a Goodreads Choice Award.
  • The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal, a novel about overcoming the odds stacked against you, following your passion, the strength of women, and the ties of family, builds on the critical success of Stradal’s first novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest.  This novel has a better flow and a stronger story.  In this age of female empowerment, it is nice to see a cast of strong, yet flawed women who kick ass while doubting themselves the whole time.  That’s what it’s like to be a woman.
  • Kopp Sisters on the March (Kopp Sisters #5) by Amy Stewart makes it 5 for 5 so far for the Kopp Sisters series on my top reads list.  A lot has changed for Constance and her sisters so the story is quite different from the previous four novels but is at least as good if not better than the last couple.
  • The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight #1) by Katherine Arden captivated me almost immediately, transporting me to the northern forest of what is now Russia to a world inhabited by spirits that protect the forest and the homes of the hardy people that have made their homes there.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if at least one of the other two books in this historical fantasy trilogy made its way onto next year’s top reads list.

So, which one of these great reads is my favorite book of 2019?  As wonderful as some of these books are, I admit the choice wasn’t that difficult.  Drumroll, please…

Bookish

I chose The Bookish Life of Nina Hill not only because of its sweet story or delightful cast of characters or Waxman’s trademark wicked sense of humor.  This book made me feel less alone in a world that often makes you feel like your quirks and fears and passions are something to be ashamed of.  While Nina has come to accept herself as she is, she also comes to learn that she can stay true to herself while bending to make room for more in her life.  And it is darn funny!

These are just a few of the books I’ve read this year.  To see the full list and read the reviews, check out My 2019 Year in Books on Goodreads!

Source: Shelly’s Year in Books | Goodreads

Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: How to Stop Time

How to Stop TimeHow to Stop Time by Matt Haig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I understand that the way you stop time is by stopping being ruled by it.

Thank you to Goodreads for the opportunity to read Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time. Rarely do I come across a book as potentially life-changing as this one. How to Stop Time is the story of Tom who has a rare but not, he learns, a unique condition where he ages slowly – like only 1 year to every 15 years of an average human’s life. More than 400 years old and Tom still struggles with how to live his long life. Heartbroken and scarred by the loss of his love during the Elizabethan era, the only thing that keeps him going through his loneliness and the overwhelming memories is the hope of finding his daughter which he hopes to do with the help of the Albatross Society, a network which claims to protect people with this condition in return for a bit of ‘recruitment’.
There is a deep melancholy running through Tom’s tale but even in the darkest moments, the moments when he must remind himself what he’s living far, the narrative shines with rays of hope. Albeit thin ones throughout most of the novel. Tom’s struggle and fear of a world filled with superstition and prejudice forces the reader to examine not only how they would live if they had hundreds of years to live rather than our brief time here but also to ponder how the world and our relationships would differ with the perspective that longevity would bring. Haig talks often about how little the world as far as the human experience goes changes despite the importance we give each event we experience. Is the 21st century really that different from the 20th? Or the 20th from any of the centuries before it?
The novel gives the reader a lot to think about. My favorite parts of How to Stop Time, though, are the forays into the immense chunk of history Tom has lived through – performing at the Globe Theater with Shakespeare, discovering new lands with Captain Cook, meeting Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at a Parisian nightclub.
This is not a book made for light reading. While you could pick it up and quickly read one of its short (sometimes only a single page) passages, it is best read when you can curl up and devote a few hours to it and disappear into Tom’s long history. And to absorb its many, many words of wisdom.

I haven’t really read anything else like How to Stop Time but at times it reminded me of Jon Cohen’s Harry’s Trees.  While they aren’t similar in subject matter, they both gave me a sense of hope belied by their melancholy beginnings.  Both novels also spoke of our connections through things bigger than our human lives – history, nature, books, love.  Also, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to tout Harry’s Trees again. 

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