The 2019 Hitlist

Welcome back bookworms!

A little while ago I asked if a round up of my 2019 reads would be worthwhile and, receiving a resounding yes, here I am! After looking through the books I’ve picked up this past year (I diligently record and rate everything I read on Goodreads, so I can remember the highs and also think ‘what the hell was that about?’ over the lows) I’ve decided that this can’t feasibly be one blog post, it would be too much to expect you to sit through, so, if you’ll humour me, I’m going to split it in several pieces. We’ll start off with ‘5 Star Reads’, the big hitters of the year, over two posts, and then follow up with another post or two containing the ‘Best of the Rest’, books that although may not have reached the 5 star heady heights, still deserve a mention.

I’ve got my mitts on some great books in 2019 so even with this division I already fear for the length of these posts. I’d also like to add that I save some of my most anticipated reads for this time of year, as Winter/Christmas is my favourite reading season (yes I have a favourite reading season, don’t judge!) so you can safely go ahead and assume anything by Elizabeth Strout, Philip Pullman and Erin Morgenstern have got 5 stars, I am just reading them now or in the following week or two, so they won’t feature here. And one last caveat – the idea of sorting my 5 star reads into any kind of countdown to a number one spot was too much for my tired little brain, so they’re mainly being presented in the order I read them, from January to December. Well, with all that ado we best get on!

Milkman by Anna Burns

Faber & Faber

What a bloody brilliant start to my year this was. I’d been nervous of this winner of the 2018 Man Booker, whispers of it being difficult to read and stylistically challenging. I’m so glad I decided to see for myself as this book paid back tenfold in rewards for pushing myself that bit harder with this novel. We follow an 18 year old, quiet, book reading girl living in Belfast during the Troubles, and while we’re aware of the major political strife and violence occurring, the book focuses in on the more direct effects on her life at this moment. We see strict patriarchal structures asking her to be a person she doesn’t want to be, the stifling claustrophobia from her family and religious doctrine, and Milkman himself. No characters are named in this book, we meet mammy, boyfriend, the sisters, and then Milkman. A man much older, and powerful, than our protagonist, his presence is oppressive as he makes it clear he will be her partner. Architecting meetings so that the rumour mill will kick in and the town will believe his declaration and hold over her, her actual life and the one people believe she is living take two wildly divergent paths. This novel puts weighty problems within the pages, both on the shoulders of the protagonist and for the reader to work through, but it is worth it for the skill Burns has with her prose, how wickedly funny this book can be and the demonstration of the personal being political and vice versa.

Testament by Kim Sherwood

Quercus

This sensitively handled first novel deeply moved me. Set across two time periods we follow the story of a Jewish artist, Silk, during the Holocaust. This is then interwoven with this the story of his granddaughter, Eva, in the present day. When Silk dies Eva is contacted by the Jewish Museum in Berlin. They have the testimony of Silk in their possession and wish to display it in the museum. Seeing on the page the questions posed to those liberated from the camps were asked to answer, sometimes only hours or days after they were freed, is heart rendering. Eva herself is unsure whether her grandfather would have wanted this document made public so travels to Berlin to see his testimony, where she finds much more about the man and his past than he had ever revealed. Sherwood has drawn from her own family history and the deep effect the holocaust had on them, and I believe this can be felt in the writing, bringing an honesty to it that is both upsetting and beautiful.

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Ebury

The final instalment of this trilogy and, oh my, it did not disappoint. Each book improved on the last for me and this series has easily found itself on my ‘favourite books of all time’ list. I don’t want to talk about this book here as if you haven’t read the series I don’t want to spoilt what happens, and if you have read the first or second book, well, you don’t need me to tell you to get the third, you’ll already be doing so. What I will do for this who are wondering if they should get involved in this world of Russian dark magic and derring do is insert a link here to my review of the first in the series!

The Little Snake by A. L. Kennedy

Canongate

Charmed doesn’t even come close to the effect this book had on me. For old and young alike this homage to ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is the most beautiful of fables. A young girl named Mary, happily living in the beguiling city she has always called home, befriends a small snake called Lanmo. He visits her as she grows older, providing comfort as the city around her begins to change beyond all measure as corruption and war take hold. Knowing there will come a day when he can no longer see Mary, the two try to accept the trials that can beset us in life with bravery and grace. Lanmo also visits others, more morally dubious than Mary, and dispenses just deserts that cannot help raise a wry smile with the reader, holding accountable those who have a striking resemblance to public figures we may also not feel so warmly towards. I could reread this several times over, almost a novella it could be consumed in one sitting, and I think you’d always come away warmed, remembering what really matters in life.

Brother by Matthew Dickman and Michael Dickman

Faber and Faber

Some poetry to wet the whistle now. This is a collection split down the middle, and flip reversed, with each half given to a brother. Both award winning poets in their own right, Matthew takes one half and Michael the other. This is the first time the two have had their work published together in a volume and it was devastating circumstances that led them to do so, after their older brother lost his life to suicide. The grief rings off every page, but there is also light to be found in the darkest of times as they remember the relationship they shared and the memories they made. An incredibly special collection.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Macmillan

Yas Queen!! Or Yas Prince should I say! I am SO HERE for this graphic novel. Set in France, an undisclosed time ago, a young woman named Frances is working as a seamstress in a shop where her talents are seriously undervalued. When one day her work is spotted by an appreciative eye she receives a job offer she can’t refuse, making clothes for a member of the Royal Family! Moving into the palace she meets her new employer, to find they will not let her see their face, simply passing on requests for the most extravagant of dresses. Eventually discovering she is providing show stopping fashion for Lady Crystallia, who is also known as Prince Sebastian during the day, the two work to keep his secret while also allowing him to live the life he feels most happy in. Will the demands set on a Prince prove to be too much to make this possible? This story is an absolute JOY and the illustrations are perfection. Perfect for ages 8 to 88!

To prevent you all from suffering fatigue I’ll stop here for the day, but I’ll be back soon with the final instalment of the 5 star reads of 2019, and then will follow soon after with Best of the Rest! Hope some or all of these have piqued your interest and do let us know what your reads of the year have been!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

The 2019 Hitlist

Official launch party of Dogeared Reads with Special Guest!

Although the paint has dried, the cushions plumped on the armchair and the first visitors have started to roll on in, we really couldn’t open the dogeared reading space without a celebration could we?! Welcome to… The Launch Party! Grab yourself a glass of bubbly (although of course a pot of tea is at the ready for those who want to keep things ‘dogeared’ style)

If you haven’t visited before, please wander round and make yourself at home. This is a space for those simply dipping their toes into the literary pool to see if they want to further dive in while also very much a safe place for those with book addiction, somewhere they can come and be amongst friends and share their ‘issues’ – struggling at work today as you only had 2 hours sleep because you had to finish those last pages? That is ok my friend, we will soothe and comfort you with our shared experiences, possibly becoming something of book pushers as we divulge the title that resulted in the dark circles under our eyes. So please, introduce yourself in the comments, share any favourite reads of late, or warn your fellow friends of a book that has not given you sufficient enough of a buzz – when bad books happen to good people I think we can all sympathise.

Like all good opening ceremonies we have started supping our champagne but really we need to get cutting the glorious red velvet ribbon to make things ‘official’, and heavens, you didn’t think little old me would be doing it did you?! No! Dogeared readers deserve the best, so if you could all be upstanding to greet our special guest who is going to toast our new home, the wonderful author of ‘Etta and Otto and Russell and James’, Emma Hooper! *room bursts into applause before polite shushing in anticipation of Emma’s speech*

Unlike many other art forms like theatre, film and live music, reading is most often a solitary pursuit. Even visual artist often consumed in public, gallery spaces. There is something wonderfully insulatory about the solitary act of reading, a retreat, a comfort in oneself; however, there is something lonely about it too. To digest art is, very often, to want to share and compare, opinions, interpretations, ideas stirred. That is why forums like this blog are important. They give readers a chance and a place to turn this solitary act, at least temporarily, into a communal one. To achieve the depth of experience that sometimes only comes from sharing and listening and discussing. A wonderful thing indeed, like this blog, and all other forums and formats like it. As an author AND a reader, well, I think this is just about one of the best things there is. Long may this blog continue. Long may this discussion continue.”

Thank you Emma for your lovely words! It is true that this space can be all about community, although I may be the one tapping away the review you guys can make this space just as much your own by chatting away in the comments. If you are not so much one for typing out your thoughts, then that is ok too, read away and engage with this space as much or as little as you want to. Remember – you can also get involved with the content of the site, if there is a book you would like to see discussed, or maybe a list of great recommendations for Christmas presents, do not hesitate to give me a message and I will get straight on it! If you don’t fancy posting in the public comment section you can bend my ear using dogearedreads1@gmail.com.

Now enough of the talkin’ and time to get dancin’ (or to huddle in the kitchen discussing Anna Karenina – hard done by woman or just a bit of a whinge?), kick off your shoes and settle in for the night – just no drinks on top of the book piles ok?!

Until next time – happy reading folks!

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper £7.99 (Penguin)

*Don’t worry gang, we will be hearing more about the wonderful Emma Hooper when I review her wonderful first novel. For more of her beautiful words you can find her on twitter @waitress4thbees or watch her performing, multi talented wonder that she is, in her band, just click here to have a look.

Official launch party of Dogeared Reads with Special Guest!

‘spill simmer falter wither’ by Sara Baume

At first glance it seems only fitting that the first book reviewed on this site should be one that focuses so heavily on all things canine, but it rightly earned this opening position by leaving me reeling by its emotional intensity and poetic language. After finishing the last page and laying the book by my side I found myself staring at my wall for half an hour letting this tale sink into my bones.

We are introduced to Ray, a 57 year old man who feels underserving of a name that summons up images of sunbeams, as he goes about an isolated life in a small seaside town. Living, or possibly sheltering, in a house that he once shared with his father, Ray welcomes in his first real friendship when he makes the decision to take on a dog from the local kennel. Rescued after a life of badger baiting Ray seems to find himself reflected in the dogs now disfigured face, noting when he first gazes on the photo advertising the hounds face in the local newsagents “I see my own mangled face peering dolefully back”. Christened ‘One Eye’ the pair form a close knit duo who head out for coastal walks when the rest of the community close their doors for the night, Ray to avoid the looks that seem to him wary and suspicious, One Eye to avoid aggressive run ins with other dogs or small children.

They begin to fall into everyday routine and Ray confides in One Eye in a way in which he has never managed with a human before. Gradually his story is unpeeled, a complicated and lonely life with his father while friendship always remained firmly on the other side of the window he would gaze out of. An observer of life, he tells the dog “I’m not the kind of person who is able to do things, have I told you that? I lie down and let life leave its footprints on me”. This is not to be the case for much longer though as a sudden altercation on an evening walk forces this solitary sole to take to road with his scant savings to protect this one relationship that has come to mean everything to him.

The pair travel through the countryside by day and sleep on quiet roadsides by night as they push on, running away but with nowhere to go. The reader can do nothing but watch these two desperate creatures struggle on as they find solace in each other and their survival against all odds.

I was struck when reading this novel by the extent to which nature and landscape become almost a third character. The language used by Baume to describe the hedgerows, birds and the darkening sky means you immediately recognise the place they are travelling without it ever being named. The books title reflects the seasons in which this story is told and the pattern of new life awakening and then as the year goes on descending into darkness makes us wary of the arc the pair are on.

Baume has written short stories in the past but this is her first foray with the novel. She has arrived on the literary scene with a book that is tells a tender and fragile tale but is written with confidence and a slightly experimental style that has paid off, writing in both the first and second person, which adds texture to what could appear a quiet conversational piece.

I am a fast reader yet ‘spill simmer falter wither’ demanded that I took my time and absorbed every single word, a book that made me want to read aloud sentences and paragraphs to those around me exclaiming “just listen to how beautiful this is..”. This will be a novel that stays with me long after that last sentence, one that I will be pressing into hands of those looking for a talented new voice, Sara Baume – I wait eagerly for your next outing.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baum, published by Heinemann £7.99

‘spill simmer falter wither’ by Sara Baume

‘She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain’

Come in, come in and settle by the fire I have conjured up with my mind! I hope you have a cuppa in hand so we can complete the introductions and then get on to the much more important business of talking about all things literary! First of all it is only polite I introduce myself. My name is Danielle and I am happy to confess that my life is one consumed by books, it has been suggested before I have some kind of problem. For every one book I read I would say another five enter my flat, I also suffer from a real and genuine ailment which no Dr takes seriously –  a fear of dying before reading all the great literature out there. I am lucky enough to have landed my dream job working in what I consider to be the finest bookshop in the land (supported by our place in the ‘Guardian’s Top 10 Bookshops in the World‘ list) so I spend my days happily chatting away about everything reading related. Alas this still does not quench my thirst to talk about books, I have found myself becoming a nuisance to those I follow on twitter – if I see them discussing what they are currently reading I will always end up jumping into the conversation. Although most are no doubt sick of me I do still get asked for recommendations on a regular basis. So here we are, this blog is an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, stop the pestering of the innocent bookworms out there and then those who want to hear (read) me harp on can do so of their own accord.

I read a real mix of contemporary, classic, genre fiction (we can debate the whole ‘genre’ topic another day!), non fiction and plenty of YA goodness. My literary diet is varied and complete, unlike my actual diet which mainly consists of carbs and cheese. I will be reviewing pretty much everything I read on here, and no doubt news from the literary world will creep on in too, with comments on latest releases, author interviews, book podcasts and festivals.
So make yourself snug in this corner of the internet, I hope it will become a place you can turn to for some good book nattering and inspiration if you are looking for something to pick up and read next.
Now I have done my introduction it would be really lovely if any of you guys would like to say hello in the comments and let me know what you enjoy reading, any favourite authors or books.
My first review will be up on Saturday so pop by for a read, you can sign up for handy notifications when a new blog is posted, and spread the word to your book loving friends!
Until next time – happy reading!
‘She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain’