I love books! Reading is one of my many hobbies and probably one I devote the most time to. I love reading about nature and all sorts of other worlds too. I’m a huge fan of fantasy and dystopian fiction with the occasional foray into sci-fi. Here are my favourite books from 2019.
Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story by Daphne Sheldrick
Technically I finished this in 2020 but I read most of it in 2019 and it’s such a wonderful book I had to share it with you. I’d never heard of it but a friend gave it to me for my birthday (books are the best gifts!). It’s the true story of Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s amazing life in Kenya rescuing orphan elephants (and many other species). I learnt so much about elephants from this book. They are wonderful animals, they should be in charge of the world.
It’s a heart-wrenching read at times as it shares the brutal realities of poaching. But it also shares the beauty of Kenya, its people and the rich diversity of wildlife. It shows you that wild animals have unique personalities and emotions of their own. It shares the amazing stories of passionate people risking their lives to save wildlife. I’m now more desperate than ever to visit Africa!
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
This has become one of my favourite books. Anyone who knows me (and regular readers of this blog) know I’m a bit obsessed with trees. Every turn of the page brought a fascinating new insight into the secret magical world of trees and forests. With a simple and engaging style, Wohlleben shares the latest science from the social life of trees with anecdotes from his life working in forestry.
Did you know that trees will keep a neighbouring tree stump alive by feeding it nutrients? Or that the chemicals trees give off to communicate with each other make us feel better? Were you aware that trees within the same species can have more genetic diversity than separate animal species do? After reading this, a walk in the woods is even more special as I imagine all the activity and life that I know is happening around me.
The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg by Tim Birkhead
As a lover of birds, this book caught my eye a couple of years ago. But I thought can a book solely about eggs really be that interesting? But then it caught my eye again at Birdfair and my friend offered to buy it for me as a gift (thanks Chantal!). And I’m so glad I decided to read it. It was fascinating! Who knew there was so much to learn about eggs?
They really are remarkable things. They are strong enough to protect and cushion a developing embryo in a variety of habitats yet weak enough for a chick to break out of. They are waterproof and defend against bacteria whilst also allowing air to leave and enter. They come in a shocking amount of shapes, sizes and colours. There’s also so much we still don’t know about eggs. If you are interested in birds or just how the world works, check out this book.
The Toll (Arc of Scythe #3) by Neal Shusterman
The conclusion to one of my all-time favourite trilogies. Each book just gets better. It’s set in a future ruled by a benevolent AI called the Thunderhead. Death has been conquered. The Thunderhead has solved climate change and restored nature and wildlife. It’s solved pretty much all society’s ills, except one. Overpopulation. That problem has been left to humanity, as the AI is not allowed to take human life.
That’s where the scythes come in. Trained assassins who glean people under a strict code of honour at random to keep population numbers stable. A group of weaponised assassins who act outside the jurisdiction of the Thunderhead. What possibly could go wrong?! I really hope our future looks something like the future set out in these books (except maybe minus the scythes!).
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
I’m fairly new to sci-fi compared to my long term relationship with fantasy and dystopian books. This is the first space-opera style book I’ve read. In fact, I think I’ve only really read one other book set in space. Anyway, I really loved this book and was very sad when I finished it! I could happily read about the everyday intimate lives of the crew on the ship for hundreds of pages. I loved learning about other believable alien species and their cultures. I loved how this was character-driven and overall a positive feel-good book.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
The sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m including this because I can’t deny that I really enjoyed reading it and I know plenty of people loved it. I couldn’t put it down. It was mostly an action-packed adrenaline rush that made me desperate to know what would happen next. I enjoyed finding out what happened to Gilead. I adored Aunt Lydia’s character and her sections of the book. I was interested to read about the other characters and seeing their experiences in Gilead.
However, with my literary head on (and as a huge fan) I have to agree this is not one of Margaret Atwood’s best. By far. If it was by another author it would be good but from her, it should be better. I’m also surprised it was a joint winner of the Booker prize. Which seems very harsh on the other winner who, it sounds like, deserved the title to herself. But if you like The Handmaid’s Tale (or the tv show) and want to know when happens next then this is definitely worth a read. Just don’t expect the same gravitas as The Handmaid’s Tale.
Strange the Dreamer duology by Laini Taylor
I have SO MUCH LOVE for these books! They are set in a mysterious world following the story of Strange, an orphaned librarian who sees the world in a different way. He is obsessed with the ancient forgotten city of Weep and one day hopes to visit and unravel its secrets. Laini Taylor is my favourite author and these two books were as brilliant as I’d hoped. These books shine with a light so bright that makes most other books pale into obscurity.
They reminded me why I fell in love with reading. Rarely do books, even fantasy, feel original anymore (everything has been done) but these felt so different to anything else I’ve read (even Taylor’s other books). Bursting with life, mystery, depth, character, creativity, emotion, poetic prose and colour. These books felt like a magical drug I didn’t ever want to stop taking.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
This is a really important book and particularly relevant now with the recent (and despicable) rise of the TERFmovement. It follows the fictional lives of a family raising a boy who, when he grows up, wants to be a girl. This is one of those books that has the power to shift your perspective and instill empathy and understanding for those who live lives different from yours.
The author is raising a transgender child and so this draws on her real-life experiences. It was an emotional and delightful read. I loved this family, filled with complex and interesting characters. It explores not only the experience of a transgender child but the impact that can have on a family and how they navigate living in a society that doesn’t always accept people for who they are. A must-read for everyone I think.
The Illumination of Ursula Flight by Anna-Marie Crowhurst
A book club read I probably wouldn’t have picked out for myself, I’m so glad I read this book. A beautifully written charming story of female empowerment and coming-of-age set in 17th century Britain. We follow the life of quirky and creative Ursala as she sets out to become a playwright. An arranged marriage and a prejudiced society won’t stop her from achieving her dreams. I would so love to be friends with Ursala, she’s hilarious!
Arthur: the dog who crossed a jungle to find a home by Mikael Lindnord
This was an easy to read and heartwarming true story about an adventurer who forms a special bond with a stray injured dog in Ecuador. After traveling miles together through all kinds of challenges, he tries to bring him home to Sweden and get him the urgent medical treatment he needs. If you love dogs, this is a must-read!