I’m reviewing my 2019 reading year by passing out “Book Oscars” to books that were a big win for me in various genres and categories. Hope you find some good inspiration from this list as you compile your own TBR!
Each new year, it’s my custom to reflect on my past reading year by awarding “Book Oscars” in various categories. I read so many fantastic books in 2019 and met dozens of memorable characters, some of whom I feel sure will become lifelong friends. These Book Oscars represent just a slice of my reading year. When I see how many great books I read last year, it gets me excited about what I might discover in the months ahead!
And silly me, I used to think I’d “found” all the best books by the time I got through college! As if.
I hope you enjoy this 4th annual Book Oscars ceremony! Please share your own Book Oscars in the comments section at the end of the post!
The Tea and Ink Society 2020 Book Oscars
I love discovering praiseworthy literary heroines, so the Best Heroine award is one of my favourites–and hardest to choose. There were so many strong female leads to pick from, but this year the award must go to Thankful Curtis of Bright Island by Mabel L. Robinson. Thankful is so independent and wild and free. Even as she matures, she doesn’t lose her fire. I love that she’s hard-working, loyal to her home, and not one to conform with the pack. Also, I want to live on Bright Island.
For the second year in a row, Malcolm MacPhail takes the prize in the Best Hero category! I loved Malcolm’s continuing story in The Marquis’ Secret by George MacDonald, in which Malcolm is older and wiser yet retains his Highlander spunk. Sometimes Malcolm is too bold, but his striving for truth and goodness makes him a very rare hero compared to the literary men you find in today’s fiction.
Very Important Note: Do not read the Amazon description of this book, or any reviews, if you haven’t yet read The Fisherman’s Lady (to which this book is a sequel).
This may come as a shock, but the Best Villain award goes to Edward Rochester in Wide Sargasso Sea. Jean Rhys’s novel explores Bertha Mason’s life in Jamaica and her marriage to Rochester, a backstory only hinted at in Jane Eyre. Part of the story is told from Rochester’s perspective, and it’s incredible the way Rhys makes him sympathetic and understood, yet shows how he becomes the villain (or one of the villains) of Bertha’s history.
Best Romantic Storyline
So many romantic plotlines end with characters falling in love or getting married, but Leo Tolstoy does something different with Levin and Kitty in Anna Karenina. We meet them before their courtship, and eventually witness their engagement, wedding, and early years of married life. Of course, the novel isn’t even named after them, but their relationship provides a vital foil to the vicissitudes of Anna’s life. I appreciated their love story because it represents reality. The things they struggle with, their misunderstandings, joys, union and individuality, all ring true to life. This very long novel is worth re-reading just to examine Levin and Kitty’s storyline.
This Oscar goes to The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Raskin manages a large cast of characters for such a short novel, but they’re all unique and memorable. She achieves this in large part through dialogue. The characters reveal themselves–often without intending to–through their comments and conversations.
Best Setting and Descriptions
One of my beefs with contemporary fiction is that it’s often weak on setting and description. So I was surprised and appreciative of the lush atmosphere of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. That novel gets the award! The book takes place in coastal North Carolina, in marsh land that’s both familiar to me (as a native of Savannah), and foreign (because the Georgia coast and the North Carolina coast are still plenty different!). Delia Owens was a nature writer before she was a novelist, so her landscape in Crawdads lives and breathes like a character.
Best Young Adult Novel
My favourite YA read this year was Sleepaway Girls by Jen Calonita. It’s a fun story about a group of friends at summer camp, with every camp trope you could hope for: rivalries, color wars, camp traditions, and romance. If you love the camp scenes in the 1960s Parent Trap movie you’ll enjoy this very much.
Best Middle Grade Novel
For this award, I’m choosing Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (although it’s won plenty of real awards, too!) Set in the early 1900s on the stark Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts, the novel follows the story of Crow. Crow is an orphan and an outsider, but she finds safe harbour with her adopted father, Osh, and their friend Miss Maggie. Crow is determined to find answers about her origins, but when she pulls at the threads of her story she unravels more than she could’ve imagined.
My husband recommended The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch to me, and it took the award for Best Thriller! It’s a speculative fiction/sci fi thriller, with a dose of Lovecraftian horror. In this novel, special agents make trips into the future in an attempt to stave off a coming apocalypse. My husband and I had many great conversations about the book after we’d both read it. It’s the kind of book you’ll want to puzzle and talk over. Note that it’s R-rated, so proceed with caution, or you can ask me for more details.
Best Historical Fiction
I read more historical fiction this past year, so I’m giving this genre its own award category. And The Book Thief by Markus Zusak wins. I’d seen the movie before, but the book is long and provides a much fuller, more immersive story. If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s about a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany who steals books and finds solace in words. (And it’s about much more than that, of course, but there’s a start!)
My favourite non-fiction read in 2019 was What Falls from the Sky by Esther Emery. I don’t read many memoirs, but after reading this book I think perhaps I should! This is Emery’s memoir of her year without internet. Although it’s a challenge she undertakes on a whim, the no-internet year ends up being a tremendous catalyst in her life. What Falls from the Sky was not what I expected: it was far more beautiful, riveting, and thought provoking.
Books I Didn’t Like
There were only a few books I read last year that were total disappointments.
The Essex Serpent – I thought I would like this for its Victorian setting, but it was a letdown. Long and slogging, I felt like it was trying to “say something” with its symbolism, but I was too bored and annoyed to probe. Read Once Upon a River instead, which deals with similar themes but in a more satisfying, eloquent way.
Genuine Fraud – Although another book by the same author won the Book Oscar for Best YA last year, I thought this novel was too dark and gory, and not as clever as I’d expected going in.
The Last Mrs. Parrish – Poorly written, obvious “twist,” with plenty of unsavory content.
What are the best books you read in 2019? Who were your favourite characters?
Here are the previous years’ Book Oscars: