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Book Review, Books, Listings

Books People Love 2019

Normally I’m the one recommending books here but once a year we switch roles. The latest Literary Lunch competition attracted a record number of entries and the fascinating and eclectic list of book recommendations below.  Entrants have to name the book they’d most enjoyed this year regardless of genre or publication date and every time it’s been a mix of some I’ve read, some I know of and many I have never heard of, so that’s how I’ve sorted them.  You may need to look up a proper blurb elsewhere because the entrants’ comments were very brief (if any) but some sound very enticing nonetheless.

The idea is that in this post I pick out the book which most appeals but I got a bit ahead of myself as soon as the competition closed having heard such good reports about Leonard and Hungry Paul by Irish writer Rónán Hession, published by Yorkshire independent Bluemoose Books and currently shortlisted for the Books are my Bag Readers’ Award 2019.  In all honesty ‘up-lit’ isn’t my thing and the dialogue wasn’t one of its strong points, but I did appreciate the flashes of humour, tenderness and poignancy in this intrinsically quiet story of two unconventional 30-something bachelors.  There’s an important message here about kindness, valuing difference and pausing to reflect on the choices we make – I highlighted many passages and immediately plunged into a regime of uncharacteristic wholesomeness (enjoying it while it lasts).  Respect to the author for writing a book which has elicited such a heartfelt emotional response from readers in these troubled times, and to Bluemoose for spotting its potential and getting it out there.  And that is why I voted for this book over another on the shortlist which is one of my Books of 2019 and has already enjoyed huge exposure and recognition.  Logical, almost?  Who cares if it’s not…


An American Marriage – Tayari Jones (Harri Angell)

Milkman – Anna Burns (Fiona McLeod)

Educated – Tara Westover (One night I couldn’t sleep, worrying about my mum who was so very ill, but that night between midnight and 7am, I forgot to worry about mum and worried about the protagonist instead – Julianne Corrigan. Also nominated by Jo Griffiths.)

Adèle – Leila Slimani (Madame Bovary for our times. Just stunning – Cath Barton)

The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov (how did its presence evade me for so long ? M A Ross)

The Humans – Matt Haig (Laura Sweeney)

On Chapel Sands – Laura Cummings (Bernard O’Keefe)

Days without End – Sebastian Barry (I heard this read beautifully on radio 4. I then had to read it. Very moving. It has haunted me ever since – Elle Gilbert. Also chosen by Jennifer Grigg)


TITLES I KNOW OF (additions to my TBR in bold)

Idaho – Emily Ruskovich (Beautiful, horrific and haunting – Clare Lemay)

The Ghost Wall – Sarah Moss (just spectacularly good, and one of few books that you wish were longer – Anna Maria Tuckett)

Three Women – Lisa Taddeo (Eleni Kyriacou)

The Porpoise – Mark Haddon (Adrienne Rich’s selected poems and Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise both really knocked me out – Eleanor Franzen)

Ducks, Newburyport – Lucy Ellman (hilarious and political and humane and innovative – Chris Oleson)

On earth we’re briefly gorgeous – Ocean Vuong (Ah! It’s breathtaking – Andrew Wille)

The Shepherd’s Hut – Tim Winton (Beautifully written, gritty and moving coming of age story and immersive psychological landscape – Eden Endfield)

The Hunting Party – Lucy Foley (Hemmie Martin)

The Offing – Ben Myers (beautiful, lush, lyrical writing. The story of an unlikely friendship between 16-year-old Robert, and Dulcie, an older woman. Set in Robin Hood’s Bay just after WWII – Amanda Huggins)

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman (Alana Thompson)

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty (Tense, with great characters. I couldn’t put it down! Helen Yendall)

Circe – Madeleine Miller (Powerful, beautiful and compelling writing Catherine. Also chosen by Paul Warnes.)

The Sealwoman’s Gift – Sally Magnusson (A beautiful story exploring love and faith in two very different communities, Iceland and Algeria – Cathy De Freitas)

Bold as Brass – Isabel Rogers (Very entertaining – Jacqueline Pye)


Notes to Self – Emilie Pine (Dawn Mannay)

The Salt Path – Raynor Winn (We miss the West Country. Exhilarating to be taken out onto the cliff tops again – Suzanne Fagence Cooper)

A Modern Family – Helga Flatland (the story of sibling rivalry in the wake of an unexpected parental divorce, it’s so perceptive and clever; and funny in parts too – Cath Holland)

Auē – Becky Manawatu  (a stunning debut capturing the Māori and Kiwi character in a harrowing story of two brothers and their journey to overcome their sorrowful history – competition winner Shannon Savvas)

The Life to Come – Michele de Kretser (Barry Walsh)

An Unnecessary Woman – Rabih Alameddine (Goosebumps – Keruin)

The Good Priest – Tina Beattie (it is so hard to write about a ‘good’ character and still make that protagonist interesting – Jude Hayland)

The Cactus – Sarah Haywood (Benedicta Norrell)

When All is Said – Anne Griffin (the story of Maurice Hannigan, an 84-year-old Irish man who tells his life story one evening through the five toasts he raises while sitting in the bar of an Irish hotel – Lucille Grant)

I Looked Away – Jane Corry (I could not put it down Bettina Hunt)

Trinity – Louisa Hall (a beautifully written meditation on bombs and betrayal, patriotism and paranoia around the development, deployment and aftermath of the original weapon of mass destruction – Anne Goodwin)

The Levels – Helen Pendry (a beautifully written, atmospheric mystery set in the heart of Wales – Alison Layland)

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill – Abi Waxxman (Rachel Hawes)

Ladders to Heaven – Mike Shanahan (It’s the story of fig trees but it’s got everything – religion, history, myth, adventure, human culture. It’s utterly spellbinding! V Clarke)

The Break – Marian Keyes (had me laughing out loud, crying my eyes out and every emotion in between – Sandra Pearson)

Surfacing – Kathleen Jamie (Alison)

Their Brilliant Careers: The Fantastic Lives of Sixteen Extraordinary Australian Writers – Ryan O’Neill (Sylvia Petter)

Red Bird – Mary Oliver (Jax Blunt)

Thanks again to everyone who entered for the great recommendations.  Which of these would you pick?


Due to various personal and work commitments, my next post will be on Monday 4 November but I promise the Autumn Sofa Spotlight will be worth the wait.

About Isabel Costello

Writer (novels: Paris Mon Amour 2017; Scent 2021).Host of the Literary Sofa blog. Co-founder of Resilience for Writers with Voula Tsoflias. Perfume lover and Francophile.


3 thoughts on “Books People Love 2019

  1. I read Notes to Self. It reminded me a little of a non-fiction Sally Rooney — the author is from a similar background and the themes are broadly similar. There do seem to be many more memoir type books finding favour in the market.

    Posted by Michael Clarke | October 17, 2019, 00:23
  2. Hi there; yes I know the comp’s ended and I’m sooooooo late to contribute, even if I get there past way the end. I’d just like to lob in my own fave which astonished me: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
    I knew the story from the film (who doesn’t?) but the writing riveted me. Such strong characterisation in so few words, cracking, authentic dialogue, understated atrocity – gripped me from start to finish; no dull bits, and left me deeply thoughtful for weeks after I closed it. I’m breathless with admiration.
    As you were 😀

    Posted by Whisks | October 20, 2019, 14:13


  1. Pingback: Literary Lunch Competition 2019 – now ended | The Literary Sofa - October 15, 2019

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