The Fiction Fox
Year in Review: Underrated Releases of 2019
Updated: Dec 27, 2019
It sometimes feels to me like every year, more books are released and get major coverage than the year before, yet the truly phenomenal books sometimes get lost in the sheer multitude of things discussed. On today’s list I have 10 2019 releases, that didn’t get the love they deserved in my opinion. All of these books were fantastic (the vast majority were 5-star reads, with the exception of two 4-star ones) and I truly think the small number of ratings does a disservice to the incredible work and skill of the authors. In order of smallest-to-largest amount of ratings: here are my best 2019 releases, that I wished more people would know about.
1. Halibut on the Moon by David Vann 200 ratings on Goodreads
I read an early copy of Halibut on the Moon as one of the first book this year, and it remains one that evokes a lot of feelings in me to this day. My first thoughts upon reading this book were: I don’t like this. Like all of Vann’s previous novels, Halibut on the Moon presents extremely bleak and grim outlook on the world, that can be almost disturbing to the reader, and will push many a reader away. After I sat with this book for a while however, I started to love it more and more for what it did to me. Halibut on the Moon is an exploration of manic depression from the inside out, and it’s one of the best portrayal of that I’ve come across. Although I don’t speak from personal experience on the manic part, I have experienced severe depression myself, and command Vann for capturing a sliver of that experience on the page. It’s not a pleasant experience to read this novel, but neither is depression. A full review is up on my blog here.
2. August Isle by Ali Standish 200 ratings
The first and only middlegrade novel on this list is one that completely blew me out of the water. I had no expectations of this one, and picked it up as an in-between-read to clear my mind during the summer. Little did I know; I had just picked up one of my favourites of the year. I often talk about middle-grade being this magical genre to me, that can sometimes transcend its age-category and touch me in a way that little (young) adult novels can... There is something about the coming-of-age story of a young child that is relatable and relevant to all of us and provides a window to discuss harder topics in a disarming way. This is one of those stories. We follow twelve-year-old Miranda, who is forced to spend her summer vacation with her aunt on the same island her mother used to. She’s always wanted to go there, but never without her mother. Over the summer we see her navigate her feelings of loneliness and resent towards her mother, find one of the purest friendships with two of the local children, and discover the family history that is riddled all over the island. I adored seeing Miranda grow in many ways, but especially in her confidence and bravery, and was utterly destroyed by some of the revelations near the end. This is an empowering story for all ages, that desperately deserves more people to love it.
3. Follow me to Ground by Sue Rainsford 200 ratings
I’m not completely sure if this book belongs on this list, as it technically has 3 different releasedates, in 3 different years listed on Goodreads. I believe a kindle-version was released in summer of 2018, the American releasedate is set in January of 2020, but the UK version that I read was released in august of 2019, so I’m going with that one. Follow me to Ground is one of the weirdest, and slightly unsettling pieces of magical realism that I read this year, and still had me thinking about it for weeks after I finished it. We follow a father and daughter on the edge of a remote town where they use something between witchcraft, magic and medicine to heal the sick village people. The story is utterly unique and takes some unexpected turns as we see their interactions with each other, as well as the towns people, who treat them with a combination of awe and disgust. I recommend you go in blind and let the story surprise you, but if you want to read a little more of my thoughts, I have a short review of this book on Goodreads.
4. Deeplight by Frances Hardinge 300 ratings
Deeplight was released only recently, and perhaps for that reason hasn’t gotten the chance to catch on yet. That being said; this is a unique and original marine YA-fantasy with worldbuilding as lush and stunning as its cover suggests. Deeplight is set in archipelago The Myriad, where Gods and monsters used to rule, and men lived in fear of the sea. Now the Gods have died, leaving only body parts infused with their power in the depth of the Undersea. Parts that are worth a lot of money to the right person. Fourteen-year-old impoverished Hark and Jelt, have set their sights on just that kind of money. However, as they embark on an adventure to find and sell these deepsea artefacts, they discover they might be in way over their heads.
5. Lanny by Max Porter 1200 ratings
Max Porter is most well-known as an English editor and the author of Grief is the Thing With Feathers. It was quite a surprise to me to see that his sophomore novel got a lot less attention that his previous one did, despite being equally as deserving of it. Based on the themes alone, Lanny couldn’t surpass Grief is the Thing with Feathers for me, although objectively it is at least as extraordinary. This short novel is a combination of story, fairytale and experiment with language. If you’ve read Grief is The Thing With Feathers, you might understand what I mean by that latter. If you want a literary experience that is utterly unique and different from what you’re used to, this is one for you. I have a full review up on what I loved about this novel, which you can find here.
6. Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
900 ratings Similar to Follow me to Ground, Things in Jars hasn’t been released all around the world yet, so it might gain some more traction in 2020. Here’s to hoping that it does, because this is a historical fiction with some possible supernatural elements that is on par with the works of Sarah Perry. In nineteenth century London, a female detective gets wrapped up in the mysterious case of a kidnapped child, rumoured to be a little less than human. What follows is a journey involving obsessive anatomists, creatures in jars, melancholic ghosts and the lurking shadow of our detectives own past. A full review is still in the making.
7. The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea 1100 ratings The same praise I gave to Things in Jars can be directed towards The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea. This historical fiction novel takes place against the barren backdrop of 17th century Iceland, where young Rósa is send off to be married to a man she’s never met from a village far from her own. Not only does she struggle to adjust to the work on the farm and the unwelcoming community of her new hometown, she soon finds out that her new husband has some dark secrets of his own. What happened to his previous wife? Was she truly a witch as some of the whispers around town mention? This book combined the stunning writing of literary fiction with the suspense of a thriller and kept me hooked until the end. My full review can be found here.
8. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange Worlds by Elif Shafak 5200 ratings Number eight on my list is a novel I’ve heard nobody talk about in the book community. One moment it wasn’t there, and the next it was, without so much as a shout out from a single reviewer I follow. Clearly, that made my surprise even bigger when I picked this novel up from the cover and premise alone, and absolutely loved it. Without spoiling that list too much: this book made it onto my favourites of 2019, based on the fantastic premise, the stunning writing and the sheer amount it made me feel. I don’t often get too emotional whilst reading, but this book evoked so many different feelings in me: I deeply cared for the characters, and felt a range of emotions from nostalgia, to grief to a deep connection to the people surrounding me. More about this novel in my favourites of 2019 list.
9. The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi 12,000 ratings
Although not underrated when it comes to the amount of coverage, The Gilded Wolves got a lot more hate than I think it deserved. This was one of my most anticipated releases at the start of 2019, and I was very surprised to hear many people call it unoriginal, confusing and a rip-off of other YA-novels. Although I have to admit, I can see the similarities to The Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo, I have to disagree with these comments. This book was a fun, entertaining and well-written story that really gave it’s own spin to the concept of a heist in a (highly original) fantasy world. I loved the cast of characters and the worldbuilding, and truly think it was much more distinct that many of other YA-releases of recent years. By including this book on my list, I hope that more people will give it a shot, despite some of the negative reviews you might have heard. With many books I can get behind the reason why people dislike them, yet in this case I just plainly disagree… You can find me full review here.
10. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong 23,000 ratings
Last but not least, this novel might seem the odd one out, with a total number of ratings far exceeding any of the others. Regardless, I still want more readers to be exposed to this novel, as I found it one of the best written books of recent years, if only from a technical perspective. Ocean Vuong is a poet by trade and it shows in this novel: every page is like a small poem in itself, and I think I went through an entire pack of stickynotes, trying to tab all the wonderful phrases I wanted to remember. This is the story of family, identity and the ripple of past trauma through generations. It wasn’t just that story that touched me, but the writing in itself: the craft through which Vuong creates subtle metaphors and connects both his storythreads and words in a way that created a symphony in my mind. If you were to ever doubt that literature can be a form of art, I can only implore you to read this book to change your mind.
In due time I plan to write an in depth review for this book, yet I doubt my words can do his beautiful ones any justice.
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