#TopTenTuesday: Best 10 of 2019

Friends, it’s the last #TopTenTuesday of this year and decade! How insane is that?! I just wanted to say that wherever you are and whatever you do to ring in the new year, I hope you have a wonderful 2020. For those who’ve had a particularly trying 2019, I hope that the fresh year will bring more light into your life. And as always, I hope everyone has a very amazingly book-filled year ahead! – 🐼💙

It’s that time of the week again, friends! We’re back with another Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s prompt is: favorite books I read in 2019. Last Friday I already tried to narrow down my list of favorite reads from the 200+ books that I read this year. I broke it down into categories and I managed to narrow it down to five books per category, which left me with a Top 30–it was hard 😅 Lol I think I just feel guilty because in narrowing it down I end up not mentioning the other amazing books I’ve read, and it’s like I’m ignoring them or not acknowledging the hard work the authors did? 🤣 Is that just me? I’m determined to still try and narrow it down to a Top 10 though so here goes nothing. I’m also gonna keep it short and sweet and stick to pictures.

What books made it into your Top 10 reads of 2019?
Did we pick any of the same books as top reads this year?

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – #BookReview

Goodreads: The Great Alone
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

Kristin Hannah is fast becoming an absolute favorite. This was my second book of hers, the first being The Nightingale, and both have been solid five star reads for me. She has a way of making me feel a deep emotional connection and investment in her characters and their lives. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a big crier and in this book, once the tears started at about the 80% mark, they pretty much kept flowing until the end. Hannah paints an enchanting and terrifying portrait of the Alaskan wild, and a family that struggles with the darkness in their lives that mirrors their surrounding environment.

“This state, this place, is like no other. It is beauty and horror; savior and destroyer. Here, where survival is a choice that must be made over and over, in the wildest place in America, on the edge of civilization, where water in all its forms can kill you, you learn who you are. Not who you dreamed of being, not who you imagined you were, not who you were raised to be. All of that will be torn away in the months of icy darkness, when frost on the windows blurs your view and the world gets very small and you stumble into the truth of your existence. You learn what you will do to survive.”

It’s a beautifully written, intensely atmospheric and heartbreaking story of family, love, hope and survival. I thought Hannah’s writing style in this was a lot more descriptive than in The Nightingale, but it isn’t over done and you don’t get bogged down with all the information about a place you almost can’t imagine because of how wild and foreign it is. The writing really helped me immerse myself in the Alaskan setting, which obviously plays a very significant part of the story. I honestly can’t imagine this book being set anywhere else.

“… home was not just a cabin in a deep woods that overlooked a placid cove. Home was a state of mind, the peace that came from being who you were and living an honest life.” 

As much as the setting makes the story, so did the characters and I really loved (almost) all of them. Leni was a beautiful main character. Her growth throughout the story was so wonderful to experience that at times I almost felt like a proud little mama hen. That said, it was also very sad. She deals with so much loneliness and isolation, and endures many trying moments with her father, but she always proves how strong and resilient she is by finding new ways to survive. Leni’s tender and innocent love for Matthew (and his for her) was a bright light amongst the dark tones of the story, even when it set me on edge sometimes because I just knew something bad was going to happen (I was right 90% of the time btw). On the other hand, I found myself growing increasingly frustrated with Cora. I’m sorry if it sounds harsh, but Cora was weak and what made it worse was that she would often be purposefully provocative in public! Why would you not only put yourself in that situation but risk putting your daughter in danger with that kind of destructive behavior? Cora and Ernt’s relationship was so incredibly toxic and felt extremely suffocating at times. They were such selfish and immature characters and my heart really broke for Leni because she was such a good, loving and kind daughter.

Although the Allbright’s take center stage, I thought the other characters were also well developed. Matthew Walker, Large Marge and Tom Walker were such heartwarming characters and I became so attached to all of them. We learn about their ‘before-Alaska’ lives and their family history which really made connecting with them even easier. Though sometimes that made this an even more difficult read to get through because there’s so much emotion involved, and it already isn’t an easy read to begin with. A lot of bad things happen through the majority of this book, but I will say that the heartache, frustration and fear is so incredibly worth it in the end. 

There was so much life in this novel, I know that I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon. Kristin Hannah is a wonderful storyteller and I’m sorry that I don’t have better words to describe what an amazing book this is and all the things it’s made me feel. You just have to read it for yourself, but be prepared for your feelings to get put through a shredder! Content warning: physical abuse, alcoholism, PTSD

Have you read The Great Alone? Loved it? Hated it? Meh about it?
Leave a comment below and let’s chat! 🙂

Book Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Goodreads: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication Date: 29 May 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Panda Rating:

(5 pandas)

Reclusive Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant to write her story, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Determined to use this opportunity to jump-start her career, Monique listens in fascination. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s – and, of course, the seven husbands along the way – Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. But as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

NOTE: I finished this book in March 2019 but for some reason didn’t post my review on my blog. I remember that I was traveling for work when I finished this and felt completely shattered at the airport waiting to board my late night flight. When I finished it, I felt like if I could give it all the stars, I absolutely would and even now, months later, I still feel that way. I believe the immediate words I used when I finished this were: Wow, holy heck, and why did this book have to end?!

One of my new all-time favourites, definitely a Top 2019 read. Fierce, heartbreaking and inspiring. I dare you to not fall in love with Evelyn Hugo!

I honestly don’t know why I waited so long to read Evelyn Hugo, despite all the insane hype. The story really surprised me from the start because it didn’t go at all the way I expected it to. Of course I thought it would be compelling, but maybe a little predictable. I didn’t anticipate that it would have me on the edge of my seat the whole time and greedily flipping through pages to learn more. How wrong I was! This was such a beautiful, sometimes tragic, life and love story—but it’s probably not the love story you’re expecting.

“It’s always been fascinating to me how things can be simultaneously true and false, how people can be good and bad all in one, how someone can love you in a way that is beautifully selfless while serving themselves ruthlessly.

Evelyn Hugo is one of Hollywood’s darlings. Starting in the 50s when she exploded onto the scene with her tanned skin, blonde hair, dark brows, and her busty voluptuous figure. She dazzled Hollywood and the masses with her acting and won them over time and again with her looks and sexuality. She was one of the most complex and compelling characters I’ve had the pleasure to read in a very long time. Her character managed to evoke a range of contradicting emotions simultaneously. I was enamoured and repelled by her. I admired and pitied her. I loved and hated her. She was brilliant and cunning, always working angles to manipulate the people in her life to ensure that the outcome suited her agenda. Her sexuality was a weapon that she honed to perfection and brandished without hesitation when she wanted. As much as I found myself repelled by her blasé attitude towards some of her awful actions and thoughts, I honestly couldn’t stop myself from admiring her and falling in love with her anyway. She was unapologetic for always openly going after what she wanted, especially at a time when it was unheard of for women to do so, and I admired the hell out of her character for that. 

Her story was an endlessly fascinating journey that captivated me from chapter one. From her beginning as a Cuban girl growing up in Hell’s Kitchen, to her making when she moved to Hollywood and decided to become a star. To her career, her marriages, her friendships. To the exploration of love and sexuality throughout her life. To her struggle with her heritage in a society that wouldn’t accept it. All of it kept me hooked and constantly craving more. You not only learn about Evelyn Hugo and her Seven Husbands, you learn just how far a strong willed woman can go when she’s determined to be the biggest, brightest star there is.

“Evelyn looks at me with purpose. ‘Do you understand what I’m telling you? When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The world doesn’t give things, you take things. If you learn one thing from me, it should probably be that.'”

On the other hand, I wasn’t so invested in Monique. I didn’t love or hate her, I was just a little meh about her character. I felt for her at the end–I can’t imagine what learning something like this would do to a person–but otherwise I didn’t connect with her character. She did experience an empowering growth through the novel, but I saw her less as a “main” character and more as a plot device to help the story move along (as the character to hear Evelyn Hugo’s story).

Taylor Jenkins Reid is supremely talented. Her writing flows like water, her descriptions are vivid, and her characters are so full of life. There’s a simplicity to her writing that I love because it lets the story speak for itself and allows the characters to come to life without any need for embellishment. I honestly finished this book feeling as if I had said goodbye to real people, old friends even, whom I’d come to know and love, and my heart was broken over it. Her ability to take even the most morally questionable characters, and make them likeable and relatable is probably one of the main reasons why I love her writing.

This is the second TJR book that I’ve read and I can confidently say she has quickly become one of my favourite authors. I’m very much looking forward to reading more of her work as soon as I can get my hands on all of them! If you haven’t read this yet, I urge you to do it ASAP! 

Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo? Did you love her as much as I did or were you kind of ‘meh’ about her story? Let me know in the comments and let’s have a little chat about one of my all time favourites!