Books of 2009

As the end of the year draws in I find that I become quite reflective. I have actually had a bit of an issue with reading this week and wonder if that is an end of year thing, more on that at some other point. 2009 has been a big year for this blog; it’s also been a big year for my reading. It seems a delightful coincidence that today as I wrap up my best reads of 2009 it is also my 500th post which I think deserves some fireworks…

My original idea of doing my ‘best of’ like I did last year with The Savidge Dozen just wasn’t working. I have read too many brilliant books and so I thought I would instead do two separate top ten’s. The first being my favourite books published or re-issued in 2009 itself which was hard and actually I got down to a final twelve but I had to cut the delightful books Notwithstanding and ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat’ and be tough to make the ten which are (click on each title for full review)…

10. Legend of a Suicide by David Vann – One of the most emotionally raw novels I have ever read. Fictional accounts of a father’s suicide, the events leading up to it and the effects of this tragedy on his son and others around him, based in parts on the authors own fathers suicide. Moving and masterfully written.  

9. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood – The first of two Atwood novels that truly made my year. This dark (and often darkly funny) tale of the future of humanity starts off sounding like something out of a sci-fi novel yet disturbingly slowly reads as a not too distant possibility.  

8. After The Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld – Without question the debut novel of the year for me. A book many are labelling as being a ‘War book’, I wouldn’t 100% agree with that as its so much more. The author calls it a ‘romantic thriller about men who don’t speak’ I would call it ‘a book about the dark truths behind the faces of those we love’ a compelling and moving read.

7. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill – Some loved it some hated it, I revelled in it. Susan Hill’s thoughts on some of her books and the people she met who wrote them. And she popped by and made a comment or two.

6. The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan – A fictional account of those famous Bronte Sisters which sadly didn’t get the Man Booker notice it should have. This brings the Bronte’s to life and you will think of them slightly differently. Made me want to read every Bronte book I could… as yet I haven’t started but a possible resolution for 2010, that or read all of Morgan’s prior works.

5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – The deserved winner from the Man Booker Shortlist and the one I guessed (though I was hoping a certain other book would win, see below). I thought that there had been Tudor fiction overload, I was wrong just as I was wrong that reading a book about Thomas Cromwell that was huge would bore me to death, I was enthralled and enwrapped.

4. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie – The only way I can think of to describe this book which skips such a huge expanse of time is ‘a war torn epic’. I thought this was marvellous and was thrilled I got to hear her speak about it and even ask her a question; I was a bit in awe.

3. Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran – Definitely the non fiction book of 2009, well published in 2009. Getting a glimpse into the private world of such a marvellous author and how her criminal mastermind brain worked and plotted was utterly fascinating.

2. Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys – Technically not actually released originally in 2009, but thankfully brought back from the past thanks to the wonderful Bloomsbury Group. The tale of Henrietta and the villagers she lives with during the war had me laughing out loud all over the place.

1. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – A book I fell wholly in love with from start to finish. It might not have the biggest plot or be brimming with a huge cast of characters but its simplicity is what makes it so stunning. An interesting look at the life of a woman who is sent to be saved from the poverty in Ireland by being shipped to America, only not everyone wants to be saved. Utterly stunning and quietly intense.


Then I had the ridiculous task of finding the ten ‘best of the rest’ which in a year where I read such delights as The Secret Scripture (which lost a point or two for the ending I won’t lie) and the joy Miss Garnett’s Angel and had a Sensation Season was going to be tough. OK, so it’s not quite ten but it’s as close as I could get. The final ten (cough, eleven) are…

10. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – I wasn’t convinced that a thriller based on a child murderer in the time of Stalinist Russia would work for me. I was utterly wrong as I think for me it’s been the thriller of the year. Also thrilling was getting to go to Tom’s house for coffee and questions.

9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – Proof that sometimes books can be hard work but all that hard work is definitely worth it. Opening with the suicide of the narrator’s sister, this becomes an epic novel of the lives of the Chase sisters and the effects of the Second World War. Also comes with an intriguing novel inside the novel and a sci-fi-ish novel inside that one, are you keeping up?

8. State of Happiness by Stella Duffy – I am a big admirer of Stella and her work and this to me is her best fiction yet (oh but wait for the next one in 2010) despite loving her latest book The Room of Lost Things in 2008. This is a tale about love and ultimately death and it broke my heart and made me cry quite a lot. If you are up for an emotional journey and wonderful writing you simply cannot miss this book.

7. Lady into Fox by David Garnett – Wonderful surreal and touching fable of a husband and how he deals with his wife randomly turning into a fox one day. This is may only be 96 pages long but each page is perfection.

6. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – Most of the planet with have read this novel so I will simply say a modern classic masterpiece about a dystopian future where we are all under the watchful all seeing eye of Big Brother and should ever be fearful of Room 101.  

5. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett – My first year of reading Persephone books and this one just took me on a journey that I wasn’t expecting. A sensational tale of rich American heiresses, one whom meekly marries an Englishman for a title and vanishes, the other a forthright woman who wishes to seek her sister out and solve the mystery of what has befallen her.

4. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – A total surprise hit of 2009 for me. I never thought that a ‘sci-fi’ book about a mentally handicapped man and a genius mouse would grab me let alone move me to tears and yet this frankly marvellous book did exactly that.

3. Small Island by Andrea Levy – Really this is a modern masterpiece. A tale of two completely different women brought together through war and adversity. Also a tale of forbidden love, war, racism and hope, a remarkable book I was glad Granny Savidge Reads recommended so strongly and so often.

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This book is what I may now consider the greatest nonfiction book I have ever read (so far – though unlikely to be beaten). A true tale of the ruthless killing of a family in America, and a thought provoking quite often disturbing study of their murderers. In parts bleak and horrific, it’s also emotional (I cried at this one too) and yet a darkly fascinating insight into the minds of killers.  

1. East Lynne by Ellen Wood/Armadale by Wilkie Collins – Technically I am cheating but I really couldn’t decide between these two. The epic scope, characters and thrilling plots of each of these was utterly remarkable. In a year where I rediscovered my loved of all things sensational I found these two new favourite books. Both of these are genuine gems of sensation novels and couldn’t have more mystery, twists, dramas or thrills if they tried.


I have to say I don’t think that minimal short snappy reviews are my fortes so do visit the full reviews, they are much better. Should you be really tough and ask me which out of this final twenty one would be my favourite of the year I would have to go with… Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I know some people will be surprised after my sensation fiction love in and some of you won’t agree and that’s fine, though don’t push your negative comments below this post (ha, ha, ha), for me it was just wonderful and a true surprise delight in this years Man Booker Longlist read-a-thon. There will be much more Toibin to come in 2010 I promise you. Now I must dash as I have a party to prepare for (attending not hosting) and some resolutions to make… What have been your best books of 2009?


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Levy, Books of 2009, Colm Toibin, Daniel Keyes, David Garnett, David Vann, Ellen Wood, Evie Wyld, Frances Hodgson Burnett, George Orwell, Hilary Mantel, John Curran, Jude Morgan, Kamila Shamsie, Margaret Atwood, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tom Rob Smith, Truman Capote, Wilkie Collins

49 responses to “Books of 2009

  1. Congratulations on your 500th post! That’s really amazing considering your posts are full-on affairs. You have an interesting selection and a number of them have ended up on my wish list. Looking forward to reading more of your reviews in 2010. Happy new year!

  2. Looks like you had a really good year Simon! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog about all of the books a\nd Brooklyn will be one of the first books I read next year (it arrived at the library which is now shut while I was away…)

    • I did have a good year, I think book and blog wise 2009 was just so much more than I dreamed it could be, I was quite sad to say goodbye to it. I have a feeling 2010 will be even better!

  3. What a wonderful post for your 500th! Congratulations – yours is one of the first blogs I check every day.

    I loved your lists – amazingly I’ve only read four of them – but many of the others are either books I will have to find and read (eg Evie Wild), or in the TBR pile ready and waiting.

    • Awww thanks Annabel thats really kind of you to say.

      Evie Wyld is a must read its just stunning and it also different which I liked, I didnt know where it might lead and I enjoyed being lost in it, I hope you do too.

  4. Dot

    Congratulations on your 500th post! H

  5. Dot

    ah dear, I hadn’t finished! Hope that you had a fantastic Christmas and best wishes for 2010!

  6. You have read some brilliant books. Keep up the good work!

  7. Happy 500th! Fireworks indeed deserved. And some great books on those lists, which have yet again made me curious about Flowers for Algernon… the synopsis doesn’t sound ‘me’ at all, but if it won you over….

    • You MUST read Flowers for Algernon. It is a book I expected to utterly not get and dislike and though at first I was a bit unimpressed before I knew it I was hooked, it was finished and I was in tears!

  8. Well, I think your pithy reviews were perfect; I added several books to my tbr list!
    Happy New Year, Simon!

  9. I guess I’m just going to have to read Brooklyn next, after I finish Fingersmith! I can’t stand it anymore! I haven’t read too many of the books you have listed, but the ones I have (Child 44 and In Cold Blood to name two) would indicate that I need to get busy!

    • I hope you enjoy it, some people loved it (most in fact that I have spoken too) but some people were quite disapointed by it. Each to their own though ha, I must read Fingersmith in 2010. Must, must, must!

  10. I’ll be reading more Toibin in 2010, too! Love your lists – several will be included in my 2010 reading. And the ending kept The Secret Scripture off any lists I made…

    • Yeah the ending wasnt awful but it seemed contrived and the rest of the book so didnt. It was a bit of a shame though oddly picky Granny Savidge Reads loved the ending – interesting how we all react to things like that. Heres to 2010 and Toibin.

  11. Congratulations on your 500th post and Happy New Year!
    Great lists! You’ve just made me add more books to my wishlist. I’m really interested in a Taste of Sorrow, the Evie Wyld book and Brooklyn.

    • Thank you Mrs B! Brooklyn is just sublime, well I thought it was. Taste of Sorrow I feel didnt get the notice it deserved last year. Maybe the paperback will be when everyone catches on!

  12. 500 posts is definitely a milestone – congratulations!

    I have many books listed here already on my TBR list (Howard’s End and Brooklyn to name a couple), but I am now adding the Legend of a Suicide to the list as well.

    I hope you have a wonderful New Year’s Eve celebration and I look forward to reading your reviews in 2010.

    • Thank you Molly! Legend of a Suicide is a marvellous book, quite unusual in some ways but utterly brilliant. Quirky in parts, I want to read more quirky books in 2010. Happy New Year to you too!

  13. Congratulations on your 500th post!

    I have a love-hate relationship with your lists (Wolf Hall and Brooklyn might make my worst of 2009 list, while Flowers for Algernon and Legend of a Suicide were close to the top of my list).

    I will ensure I read The Shuttle and East Lynne in 2010 though. Hopefully they’ll be in the ‘love’ list!

    Happy New Year!

    • Thanks Jackie. I quite like the fact mine is a Marmite list for some. I hope it means I read a big diverse amount of books, also means that its not too cliquey as that would be horrid if we all loved the same books in the blogosphere. I didnt think about a worst of list, its not even crossed my mind, interesting.

      Happy New Year to you too.

  14. Very deserving of fireworks – congratulations!

    Brooklyn was such an evocative and poignant read for me and very much a favourite of the year; I enjoyed its gentleness and bought it for my mum for Christmas. Wolf Hall ended up being an enjoyable read but not enjoyable enough to make my favourites. It was a year of quality reading and After the Fire, A Still Small Voice was a wonderful debut, as was The Tin-Kin by Eleanor Thom (review forthcoming) and another one that I am reading…

    The Shuttle is fabulous but was one of my last reads of 2008! I foresee Persephones featuring on your list(s) this time next year!

    Have a fabulous New Year, Simon.

    • Thanks Claire, I was tempted to set some off in the house but thought that might be a bit much… and think of the damage that could be done to the books.

      I am thrilled Brooklyn made your top books and I think you have summed it up marvellously here too. I think if all Toibin books are like that I may have a favourite new author.

      I must look up The Tin-Kin at the library when I make my first trip of 2010 and see if I can find it, look forward to the review. I wonder about Persephone’s as with a book buying ban and only three in the house it could be interesting.

      I hope you have a marvellous 2010, I shall be following it with you of course!

  15. lena

    Happy 500th post. And happy new year! Some of the books you listed as your favorites have been slowly making their way into my TBR list. I’m glad they get the Simon stamp of approval (:

  16. A great reflective post Simon! Your lists are reminding me why I am having such a hard time putting together my lists – so many fantastic books! You have also reminded me of why I love your blog so much – I think our reading tastes are very similar and I always get great recommendations from you – thank you!!

    • Oh I am sure I will get even more reflective Karen, I get a bit funny at this time fo year. Once we hit about the 8th I will be fine and dandy again. Ha!

      Thank you for the very kind words, the feeling is mutual!

  17. I loved Brooklyn too. And I see a few favorites on your ‘the rest’ list as well (must read East Lynne next year I’ve decided!). And I’ve just pre-ordered the paperback of the Jude Morgan novel. Lots of treats next year. Congrats on 500 posts–that’s amazing! Have a Very Happy new Year!

    • Hoorah another Brooklyn! If I can convert as many people as possibly to that Armadale and East Lynne then 2009 will have accomplished even more than I could possibly hope hahaha.

      A Happy New Year to you too.

  18. Hi, Simon! Happy New Year to you, your family, Gran Savidge, and the Converted One! I really have a blast popping over here at Savidge Reads and reading about your wonderful thoughts about the books you’ve finished or are currently reading!

    I wish you more books, more blogging, and more reading in 2010!

    • Awww thank you Peter, I have passed your New Year wishes onto all those concerned haha.

      I hope you have an equally delightful 2010 and look forward to much more reading adventures for the both of us.

  19. novelinsights

    Well done on your 500th post. I’ve got 14 more to reach just my first 100, so I’m hugely impressed by your prolific posting! Wonderful list, I’m very much looking forward to reading The Shuttle and I’d like to get my hands on Lady Into Fox. There are a couple on your list that I wouldn’t probably pick up from the blurb / description but will have to re-think on your recommendation. So glad that Armadale made it to number of your best of the rest as for me it’s been one of my favourite books this year.

    • Thanks petal. Ooh 100 thats a milestone, hopefully by the end of 2010 you will be well on your way to 500 posts!

      Lady into Fox is marvellous. It might have to go on my birthday wish list as though I wont be buying any books in 2010 gifts are very much welcome, so are donations hahaha.

  20. Lu

    There are some really great books in here that I’ve never read before, so onto the TBR they go! Hope you had a fabulous new year and 2010 only brings you more excellent reads!

  21. Congratulations on your 500th post. I just recently discovered your blog, it is a wonder and now I have several more boooks to add to my TBR list. Happy New Year!

  22. Congratulations on your 500th post. You know I’ll print out this list and stick it in my journal for reading ideas.

  23. Congrats on the big 500 and a belated happy new year to you. I like your lists — I’ve read some of the books and noted down the ones I haven’t, not that I need to go buy any more books because I’ve just come back from Australia with 10kgs worth that will see me through for quite a while!

    I didn’t included Brooklyn on my Top 10 for 2009, but I have to say it is the one story that has really stayed with me, helped in part because I really identify with the main character’s dilemma of being caught between two lands and not knowing which path to follow, and because I have often walked the beach at Curracloe, Ireland, where the book is partly set.

  24. Pingback: Savidge Reads Grills… Evie Wyld « Savidge Reads

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