Yes, I know, it is traditional to write your "best of" lists at the end of the year, and not in January. But that didn't happen, and better late than never, right?
I was originally going to make this post just about my favorite books from 2019, but I decided to make it more general and include some other things I enjoyed. Let's start with the books, though.
Of course, there are the three books I published in 2019: The Dodo Knight, a novella by Michelle Rene about the friendship between Lewis Carroll and his muse, Alice Liddell, told from Alice's viewpoint; Arctic Adagio, a mystery/thriller novelette by DJ Cockburn set in an all-too-believable near future when the climate has changed and governments have crumbled and the super-rich have taken to the high seas to evading the remnants of authority in luxury yachts; and The Boy Who Was Mistaken for a Fairy King, a magic-infused novella about a boy (who happens to have antlers on his head) and a girl (who loves the chase) and what happens when they get tangled in magic they don't understand.
I only publish books I really love, and so of course those are three books I enjoyed last year.
Looking more widely, here were some of my favorite books that I read last year:
Rowing to Latitude, by Jill Fredston. The book is about the trips Fredston takes with her husband, paddling in arctic waters, and it definitely works as a travel book. But it is about more than that, too. It is about finding your place in life and then living life on your own terms. It is about taking risks and recognizing the risks we take for granted. This is the book that has embedded itself most firmly in my mind in the last year. I find myself thinking about it often. In fact, I wrote about it in two blog posts, one at Beyond Managing and one at Adjusted Latitude. I just loved this book.
The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai. This is a book about the AIDS crisis, the lives it took, and the lives it changed. I found this to be a very moving and thought-provoking novel. The book's primary concern is its story, but wrapped in with the story are themes of how we respond to disaster, and how we live with what fate has given us for our lives.
Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente. I bought this book because it was billed as a mash-up of Douglas Adams and Eurovision and that sounded like a bunch of fun. It is, but it is more than that. The premise is that the intergalactic sentient beings have decided that instead of fighting wars they will have a song contest. When a new planet is considered for inclusion among the sentient beings, its worthiness is judged in this contest. As long as the newcomers don't come in dead last, they get to live. Earth has come to the notice of the sentient beings in the galaxy and we have been "invited" to compete... and what happens next is as wacky as anything Adams dreamed up. I didn't think Valente quite nailed the balance of ridiculous and mundane as well as Adams, but that is a high bar. I really enjoyed the book, and in the end, I found it had a lot of serious ideas to convey, too. They sneak up on you while you're distracted by the wackiness and the glitter. If the premise sounds at all interesting to you, give it a try. I suspect you'll end up really liking it - I did!
Circe, by Madeline Miller. This book is a delight. It is a retelling of the myth that both honors its source material and makes it feel fresh and relevant. Also, it is just wonderful storytelling.
There were also two books I read to Petunia that I loved, and that I think anyone would enjoy reading, either with a child or on your own:
Cog, by Greg van Eekhout. We'd read and loved this author's earlier book, The Voyage of the Dogs, and so were really looking forward to this book. It did not disappoint. Cog is an android who was built to learn. When he is separated from Gina, his creator, he sets off on a mission to find her, and the result is a really good story.
Summer of a Thousand Pies, by Margaret Dilloway. We got this book because the author appeared at the event van Eekhout did to support Cog. Both authors were signing their books, and it felt wrong not to have both books, so I bought Summer of a Thousand Pies. I'm so glad I did! It is the story of Cady, a young girl who has been living in a van in San Diego with her father. When her father shows up at her school drunk, she is taken from him and ends up with her aunt in Julian (a small town in the mountains outside of San Diego), who owns a pie shop. The book follows her as she finds her footing in her new home... only to discover it might be taken away. The characters in this book are marvelous, and I really looked forward to reading it to Petunia whenever it was my turn to read to her! I don't think I'd read it to a kid much younger than Petunia - there are some serious themes. But they are all handled deftly, and there was nothing I wasn't willing to discuss with Petunia and I think she is old enough to be having those discussions. I don't want to say too much because I don't want to drop a bunch of spoilers, but if you're curious about the book for your kid and want to know more, just email me.
Non-book things I enjoyed in 2019 included:
Seeing Pride and Prejudice, the play by Kate Hamill. This was a birthday gift to me from my sister, and I don't think I've ever had so much fun at a play. This was just a delight.
Eating carne seca enchiladas at El Charro Cafe in Tucson. I am not a foodie, and so it is a bit surprising to me that I feel like a meal belongs on this list... but El Charro's carne seca is really something special, and if you ever get the chance to try it, you should!
Seeing the Maud Lewis exhibit at the Nova Scotia art gallery in Halifax (see more about this visit in my Adjusted Latitudes write up)
Hearing some great Cape Breton fiddle music from Chrissy Crowley at the Red Shoe pub in Mabou, Cape Breton (you can also read more about this part of our vacation at Adjusted Latitudes!)
Prince Edward Island was pretty cool, too.
I'm sure that as soon as I hit "publish" I will think of five other things that should be on this list... but I'm going to hit publish anyway. If you are so inclined, tell me about things you enjoyed last year in the comments!