Do you ever have so many books that you want to talk about that you can’t figure out which one to write a post on? Enter the mini-review, my favorite cop-out that I actually find more enjoyable to read and write than full-length reviews!
I was planning to list my favorite books I’d read since January 2019, but I couldn’t narrow it down. So after excluding non-fiction and kid lit because I felt as if I were comparing apples to oranges, I came up with a list of the 5 best novels I’ve stumbled across this year.
5. Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
London, 1930. Mystery novelist Harriet Vane’s lover has just died, and murder is suspected. Unfortunately for Harriet, the evidence suggests that he died of arsenic poisoning in the exact manner described in one of her books. Only one person believes that she is innocent: gentlemen detective Lord Peter Wimsey. Can he win the case and Harriet’s heart?
I read several of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels this year, and I’ve enjoyed them all immensely. This one, however, stood out to me because the characterization is stronger than in her other books. Lord Peter is as magnetic as ever, but we get to meet many other characters, including the clever Harriet, her endearingly angry feminist friends, an indomitable secretary, and a repentant lock-picker. The mysteries are intricately plotted down to the last detail. Sayers is a masterful writer, and rarely have I read a mystery that blends plot and characterization so well! Recommended for Anglophiles and mystery-o-philes.
4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
A father and son walk across the burnt-out husk of a post-apocalyptic America ravaged by gangs of cannibals. A powerful, evocative tale of the horror and love human nature is capable of producing.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t enjoy this book. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t amazing, though. There’s no denying that McCarthy is a brilliant wordsmith and that the story is moving. I also appreciated the lack of cynicism, especially at the end of the novel. However, it’s quite graphic and difficult to get through. I probably won’t read it again, but I’m glad I read it in the first place, especially because I wrote about it on my AP Lit test! Recommended for those with strong stomachs or those who think that cannibalism can ever be justified (it will change your mind.)
3. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Just after the Russian Revolution, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to a life of house arrest in the Metropol Hotel at the heart of Moscow. This book follows the rest of his life as it unfolds–the relationships he develops with those around him despite his narrow confines, the way the Count matures and his nation changes.
I read this book way too fast, so I renewed it at the library and I’m considering reading it again, all 400+ pages. It’s that good. If you like books that follow a single magnetic character as he ages, that track a turbulent historical period, that draw beautiful portraits of varied characters, that pepper the pages with philosophical asides and references to all sorts of classic literature and films, that celebrate the human condition and spirit, that mention tiny details in the early chapters only to weave them all into a heartfelt conclusion: look no further. A Gentleman in Moscow has it all. I know it’s long, but it’s not too heavy, and it’s never boring. Recommended for history buffs, fans of classical literature, music, and films, and people who like people.
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Mrs. Bennet is desperate to marry off her five daughters. Told from the perspective of the witty Elizabeth, the second oldest, this enduring novel narrates the events that lead to three of the daughters’ marriages–one happy, one unfortunate, and one unexpected.
Who doesn’t love Pride and Prejudice? And can you believe that despite having seen the 1995 miniseries twice and the movie twice (three times since I finished the book), I still hadn’t read it? Shame on me. I’m so glad I did, though. I can’t overstate what a brilliant work of literature this is. I think Austen’s characters might be the best-written of all time. Pure genius. Recommended for anyone with a soul.
1. Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin
Laurus tells the story of the life of a medieval healer trying to atone for a terrible sin. Follow him throughout the four different names he assumes, on the journeys he takes from the village of Rukina Quarter to Kiev and even to Jerusalem. Meet the holy fools, pilgrims, monks, and villagers that populate his world. Wide in scope and powerful in emotion, Laurus is sure to become a classic.
I read Laurus during a trip to Italy over spring break, and let me tell you, if a book competes with Italy for your attention, it must be fantastic. This is one of those books that some people dismiss as “weird” but I adore. It’s reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Lord of the Rings, but with some modernist elements about the nature of time and such things. Beautifully researched, written, and translated, it made my sister sob for days on end with its lovable cast of characters, varied settings, and transcendent truths. Spellbinding and glorious. Warning: there is a graphic childbirth scene and some violence, though I wouldn’t call it excessive. Recommended for those who like magical realism, Russia, Dostoevsky, the Middle Ages, Orthodox Christianity, and/or crying.
What do you think? Have you read any of these books, or do you want to? Let me know in comments!
Featured image from WordPress’s free photo library.