A look at some of my favourite books of 2019

Overall, I read 203 books in 2019, not as many as 2018 but I’m still really happy with that, particularly as I set a goal of 80. The sad thing is, I have about 200 still on my TBR and 2020 is looking like another good year for publishing…so the lure of adding to my bookshelves will be undeniable and irresistible. Thank you to all the publishers and publicists who have sent me books to read and chat about; I’ve loved being a part of the lovely blogging community this year and look forward to another year of talking books in 2020.

When I talk about books, I am very conscious of the subjectivity of the reader. I strongly believe that each story calls to different people for different reasons. I won’t review a book negatively just because I don’t agree with some subject matter, or how it’s handled, or the meandering pace etc. I think every book has value for someone and every writer has put their heart and soul onto the pages, and that is no easy task. I will always respond to a book that hasn’t worked for me, by highlighting the story, themes, setting and characters, to inform others who might be interested. I see very negative, quite angry reviews that have caused other people not to read that particular book, and I find this sad. It’s like the movies isn’t it, a bad critical review by no means will suggest you won’t like it. Kindness, thoughtfulness and care with our words is always the way forward. For me, particularly as I have gotten older is… I just simply enjoy a good story. I like to jump into my imagination and bring the words on the page to life. A story calls to different people for different reasons, and I don’t care if you’re 50 years old and love YA books… just enjoy and read away! So, let’s chat about some of my favourite stories.

In no particular order, and for no particular reason, other than doing a damn good job of being my escape from reality: my most memorable reads of 2019.

A double whammy from my favourite crime series by Jane Casey. ‘Cruel Acts‘ was published this year and I was incredibly lucky to receive an arc of ‘The Cutting Place‘ before it’s 2020 publication. If you haven’t read any Casey, her Maeve Kerrigan series featuring DI Josh Derwent is a must if you enjoy character driven crime books. I thought ‘Cruel Acts’ was brilliant for plotting and character developments, but ‘The Cutting Place’ topped it! Absolutely loved this one. I’m a great fan of book series with long-term relationship plotting and the central duo of Kerrigan and Derwent is a huge focus in the latest read; I was glued to the pages until the final word. I’m looking forward to the audio book release next year, as the narrator, Caroline Lennon, is brilliant. Highly recommended. Begin with ‘The Burning’ and see the writing go from strength to strength. 5 stars reads.

Laura Purcell’s gothic novels ‘The Silent Companions‘, ‘The Corset‘ and ‘Bone China‘ were all firm favourites. I do enjoy gothic fiction and it’s great to not have to draw from my classic collection.

M.W.Craven’s Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw series, starting with ‘The Puppet Show‘ and following with ‘Black Summer‘. Smartly and intricately plotted crime reads with a cracking crime solving team.

Dark Matter‘ by Michelle Paver – I loved this incredibly well-written ghost story about a man embarking on an Arctic Expedition that soon becomes a nightmare. There’s recently been a BBC Radio 4 reading, which is well worth a listen.

Perfect Kill‘ by Helen Fields – I’ve been reading these books from the beginning, so it’s great to return to loved characters and this is also a great crime read in itself. Highly recommended series.

Broken Souls‘ by Patricia Gibney is the D.I. Lottie Parker series; this is book seven in the series. Always enjoyable crime reads with plenty of family and relationships drama.

Tracy Chevalier’s ‘A Single Thread‘ was a surprise favourite, and I found it an very moving account of Violet Speedwell, and her endurance to find a place for herself as one of the many surplus women left after the war.

Platform Seven‘ by Louise Doughty was another unexpected winner for me. I loved this supernatural mystery read about loss, abuse and redemption.

Jennifer Donnelly’s The Tea Rose Trilogy – my favourite of the three is ‘The Winter Rose‘ featuring Sid and India, two characters pushed to the extreme and are drawn to each other constantly despite terrible hardships. Great historical fiction.

Katie Welsh’s Sarah Gilchrist books, ‘The Wages of Sin‘ and ‘The Unquiet Heart‘ were also firm favourites. I discovered these books by chance and I really loved the historical setting and the ease of the story-telling.

Spin the Dawn‘ by Elizabeth Lim, was one of my favourite YA fantasy reads this year. The first in the Blood of Stars series and a magical fantasy centred around Chinese culture and pulling on the Mulan idea. Fun.

The Museum of Broken Promises‘ by Elizabeth Buchan was a beautiful story of Laure, the owner of a very different museum. We are taken into the past to uncover what happened to her in 1980s Prague, with the awful backdrop of the Cold War.

It was also great to read the final book in the Fawkes and Baxter series by Daniel Cole, ‘Endgame‘. This series began back in 2017 with ‘Ragdoll‘, the gruesome case of a body found stitched together from six different victims. The middle book in the series being ‘Hangman‘.

Ambrose Parry (a writing duo) published their second novel featuring Dr. Will Raven, called ‘The Art of Dying‘. These are great books, set in mid 1800s Edinburgh. Enjoyable, atmospheric historical crime reads.

We Hunt the Flame‘ was another top YA fantasy read by Hafsah Faizal and is the first book in the Sands of Arawiya series. Rich, immersive language and inspired by ancient Arabia, this is an epic adventure read.

Georgina Clarke’s ‘Death and the Harlot‘ and ‘The Corpse Played Dead‘ were great – really good stories, set in 1759 and featuring Lizzie Hardwicke a prostitute who gets drawn into crime solving to save herself.

Pamela Ford’s ‘To Ride a White Horse‘ was another of those books that just tells a great story. Lovely Sunday afternoon read with a cup of tea in hand.

I loved Naomi Novik’s ‘Uprooted‘ a fantasy book about a young girl who joins forces with the Dragon, a Wizard to protect her land from an evil, enchanted forest. Thrilling and magical.

The Murder of Harriet Monckton‘ by Elizabeth Haynes comes highly recommended for those who enjoy piecing together events surrounding the murder of a young woman. The novel is told via potential guilty parties and is based on a real murder.

Daisy Jones and the Six‘ by Taylor Jenkins Reid was great – I loved the interview style of this book and piecing together the actual events and feelings in this story of a rock band and one Daisy Jones!

Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series comes highly recommended if you like witty historical investigative fun, with a dash of slow-burn romance. The series begins with ‘A Curious Beginning‘ and this year I read the recent release ‘A Dangerous Collaboration‘. Pure ‘over the top’ entertainment.

Elly Griffiths is another of my go-to authors and her Ruth Galloway books always are good, solid enjoyable reads, this year the 11th in the series came out, ‘The Stone Circle‘.

I loved ‘Where the Crawdad’s Sing‘ by Delia Owens for its wonderful world of the marshes and for the Marsh Girl that lived there. You also get a crime and a court-room drama, but it’s the natural world of the novel that stars for me.

Katherine Arden’s ‘The Winternight Trilogy‘ was a winner for me, I loved this Russian folklore inspired series of books, beginning with ‘The Bear and the Nightingale‘ – all these books are enchanting adventures and I loved each one. Perfect for a cold winter night by the fire.

Not a physical book, but the ‘West Cork‘ podcast was also a highlight; this is a podcast series that explores the investigation of the actual murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in Ireland, back in 1996. A brutal crime that is still being investigated today. This podcast is a fascinating and additive insight into the events, the investigation and the suspects.

Well that’s it for books that drew me into their worlds for 2019. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2020! Happy New Year! May it be healthy and happy! Leigh X

Blog Tour – BLACK SUMMER by M.W. Craven.

Winner of the 2019 CWA Gold Dagger Award

Blurb

Jared Keaton, chef to the stars. Charming. Charismatic. Psychopath…He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found and Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

My Thoughts

What a deliciously creepy and utterly brilliant opening! Huge applause to M.W. Craven – you hooked me in with style! An utterly grotesque style… but it certainly does the job and creates an extremely tense and repulsive moment for the readers to start to unpick. It was even worse when I googled the Ortolan Bunting and found out the dish is actually true!!! I was truly horrified! To understand what I am referring to it’s best to order the book and read it yourself…so off you go, get it ordered!

There are other reasons to order this book, Craven’s plotting and pace is exceptional. The crime solving duo of Washington Poe (what a name!) and Tilly Bradshaw (you can’t help but adore her), make this book extra special. Oh, and if you don’t already know, this is the second book featuring Poe and Bradshaw; the first book is ‘The Puppet Show’ which I would also highly recommended reading.

The hook and central conundrum in ‘Black Summer’ is how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time. It is soon apparent that Poe and Bradshaw are embroiled in a twisted, dangerous game that might defeat them both and even destroy Poe’s life. Craven is the ‘King of Plotting’ and I love the journey he takes the reader on, inserting inventive clues with great subtly, and dropping dastardly clever red herrings. It’s smart and pulls in all the devices required of this genre and more.

I’m not saying anything else about the actual plot; I don’t want to spoil anything at all, (the book blurb is enough) you really need to pick this book up. It’s inventive, character driven, complex, tense with delightful touches of humour to lighten the darkness of the crimes, and balance the character relationships.

I loved it and am lucky to also have one of the Goldsboro first 250 editions! Thank you to Beth, at Little Brown, for also sending me the paperback, I can re-read the book without fear of spilling my tea on those precious first edition pages. Thank you to Mike for getting in touch so I could be a part of this blog tour and for the most marvellous storytelling!

Inventive, dark, witty and addictive – if you haven’t met Poe and Bradshaw yet… what are you waiting for?

Author

A brand new voice in British crime fiction, M.W.Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle. He joined the army at Sixteen, leaving ten years later to complete a social work degree. Seventeen years after taking up a probation officer role in Cumbria, at the rank of assistant chief officer, he became a full time author.

The first in the Washington Poe series, The Puppet Show, won the 2019 CWA Gold Dagger, has sold in numerous foreign territories and has been optioned for TV by Studio Lambert. M.W.Craven has been shortlisted for the Goldsboro Glass Bell Award, an Amazon Reader Award and a Cumbria Life Award. He is also the author of the Avison Fluke novels, Born in a Burial Ground (shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger) and Body Breaker.

November Mini Reading Wrap-Up

An enjoyable month of reading some of my long awaited TBR books and some new 2020 releases. Favourites from this month are ‘His Bloody Project’, ‘The Silent Companions’, ‘Black Summer’ and ‘The Night Circus’. As always, some brief summaries and ratings below.

In December, I’m anticipating a quiet reading month for a few reasons, including spending more time with family and friends as Christmas approaches, more work to get finished so I can relax over the Christmas break and the main reason… I have a TV. It’s been quite a few years since we’ve had a TV in our front room. I’m enjoying a honeymoon period… so my reading is sure to suffer. But I doubt for long.

I’m back soon with two blog tours next week, looking forward to chatting books again soon!

‘His Bloody Project’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet – five stars. Loved this story of a brutal triple murder in the Scottish Highlands, it’s written as a memoir and searches for the truth. Fascinating.

‘The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell. Loved this gothic thriller – all the creepy period vibes you want from this kind of book, locked rooms, old diaries and the most disturbing painted wooden figures lurking beyond every turn of the page. 5 stars.

‘Vengeful’ by VE Schwab is the sequel to ‘Vicious’. 4 YA stars, this continues the supernatural battle between past friends and now adversaries Victor and Eli – lots more supernatural occurrences and a formidable enemy emerges for them both. Enjoyable dramatic supernatural fun.

‘The Hunting Party’ by Lucy Foley ticks most of the thriller genre requirements. A great premise and collection of characters, for me there were some pacing issues but the final half picked up and I raced towards the ending and my answers. 4 stars.

‘Black Summer’ by M.W. Craven – this is the second in the Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw character series, the first being ‘The Puppet Show’ which I loved. I’m on the blog tour for this book in a week so more then, but for now, I loved it! 5 stars.

‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern – this book has been on my shelf for years, and the publication of Morgenstern’s second novel ‘The Starless Sea’ spurred me on to finally read it. I’ve seen some very mixed reviews for this book, I am definitely on the loved it team. Gorgeous, rich language, an enchanting circus and fascinating group of characters. 5 stars.

‘The Beautiful’ by Renee Adhieh is a YA fantasy novel about a young girl running away from a traumatic experience, who arrives in 1872 New Orleans in an attempt to escape. The city and its inhabitants have other ideas. I quite enjoyed this for the sheer storytelling fun. 3.5 YA stars, nearly 4.

‘The Queen of Nothing’ by Holly Black – this is the final book in the ‘Folk of the Air’ series. Overall, a fun ending to the story (or shall I say a very cheesy ending), it felt shorter and less developed that I think the final book should have been. I would have liked a little more time spent on some developments; there was also an abrupt and dismissive end to one of the important characters and another character seemed to add oddly – I think her overall story arc needed more care. However, for most readers I think the main reason to read and enjoy this series was the relationship between Cardan (I still can’t cope with the tail – lol) and Jude… so just about 4 YA stars for this.

‘The Keeper’ by Jessica Moor is a 2020 thriller release. It centres around a women’s refuge and, what seems to be, a suicide. There’s a police investigation, an insight into the refuge and a journey into the past; this is a disturbing story of male power and control with twists. 4 stars.

‘The Guest List’ by Lucy Foley is another 2020 release from the writer of the successful ‘ The Hunting Party. This book has a very similar style to her first book, and some coincidences too many for me, however there’re lots of positives about it as well. Full review will follow before publication. Just reaches 4 thriller stars.

‘The Forbidden Promise’ by Lorna Cook. This is published in March 2020 and is about two women decades apart, one in 1940 and the other in 2020. Both centre around their experiences at Invermoray House in Scotland. I really enjoyed this, a great way to spend Sunday afternoon. 4 stars.

‘The Widow of Pale Harbour’ by Hester Fox is more romance than thriller and it was okay. You get a isolated and mysterious widow; small town gossip and hatred; a new minister with secrets of his own and a murder. 3 stars.

‘The Memory Wood’ by Sam Lloyd. This is a Feb 2020 release and despite finding this a difficult read (child abuse and abduction themes) it was enjoyable. A book that plays with your perceptions; a clever, challenging thriller read. 4.5 stars.

‘I Will Miss You Tomorrow’ by Heine Bakkeid with thanks to Bloomsbury Raven.

A Thorkild Aske Mystery

I was really happy to be invited on this tour, and to chat about this new book. Thank you Ella! ‘I Will Miss You Tomorrow‘ is written by Heine Bakkeid and translated from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce.

Blurb

The first in a new Norwegian crime series featuring disgraced ex-Chief Inspector Thorkild Aske, a damaged man with a complicated past.

Fresh out of prison and a stint in a psychiatric hospital, disgraced ex-policeman Thorkild Aske only wants to lose himself in drugged dreams of his beloved Frei. Wild, unknowable Frei. The woman he loved. The woman he has lost forever.

Yet when Frei’s young cousin goes missing off the Norwegian coast and Thorkild is called in by the family to help find him, dead or alive, Thorkild cannot refuse. He owes them this.

Tormented by his past, Thorkild soon finds himself deep in treacherous waters. He’s lost his reputation – will he now lose his life?

My thoughts…

I Will Miss You Tomorrow‘ is a Norwegian crime thriller that is the first in a new mystery series named after the story’s lead, Thorkild Aske. Our protagonist is compelling, flawed, complex and troubled. The book is dark, full of apprehension, anxiety and despair. For me, it reads like both a psychological study and an action crime thriller, with a side order of the supernatural. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The setting is bleak; a frozen, unforgiving environment that cages and controls its inhabitants. The landscape is a fabulous character, and I loved the oppressive environment that added constant challenges and barriers. The author puts into this cold coastline an incredibly troubled man: Thorkild Aske, who is an ex-Chief Inspector, and he is currently ostracised, conflicted, addicted to his medication and living ‘like a spectre from the underworld’; he’s also a man being haunted. His immense battle for redemption was the main narrative hook for me.

Over the course of the novel, we find out more about Aske’s past and why he is in this position. The story soon reveals that he isn’t going to find peace anytime soon, as everything starts to spiral out of control for him after agreeing, albeit reluctantly, to help find a young man who has disappeared. The local police are dismissing the disappearance as a diving accident, but the young man’s desperate mother demands help, and the story begins in earnest. I’m not going to reveal any more plot, as I don’t want to spoil any of the author’s timely reveals… but expect a deviously constructed crime, betrayal, hatred, murder and corruption wrapped around a new exciting protagonist on a path of self-destruction but desperately crying out for atonement.

I certainly enjoyed this book, it’s dark and has many layers, moments of the supernatural, and a well plotted central crime. It’s dramatic, pushes the boundaries of the genre for drama’s sake and succeeds. It’s intense, creepy and full of atmospheric descriptions of a bleak, brutal and remote coastline that becomes a threatening character. There’s also the human story of a man pushed to extreme limits and his fight to find justice and battle his grief and personal despair. A fascinating layered new protagonist and I’d happily read the next book in this new exciting Nordic Noir.

Highly recommended. Bleak, dramatic and intense. Thorkild Aske and his troubled soul provide a brilliant new complex lead in a tightly plotted Nordic Noir read.

This book is translated from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce, the below author photograph is by Harriet M. Olsen.

Heine Bakkeid

Have a look at all the other bookish chat about ‘I Will Miss You Tomorrow’ on the below blog tour:

Blog Tour for ‘The Birthday House’ by Jill Treseder #RandomThingsTour

A friendship. A Murder. A life that will never be the same.

I’m really happy to be a part of this blog tour for Jill Treseder’s book with thanks to Anne Cater at #RandomThingsTours and @SilverWoodBooks – do check out the chat about this book from other book bloggers on this tour.

BLURB

The year is 1955, the location picturesque Devon.

In a house by the River Dart, schoolgirl Josephine Kennedy posts invitations to her twelfth birthday party – a party that never takes place.

Horrific violence is committed that night in the family home, leaving all of its occupants dead.

Based on a disturbing real-life crime, this compelling story explores Josephine’s fate through the prism of friends and family – the victims and survivors who unwittingly influenced the events that led up to the tragedy.

Josephine’s best friend, Susan, is haunted by the secrets of the birthday house. Can she ever find a way of making peace with the past?

MY THOUGHTS

‘The Birthday House’ is a novella, and it’s a well put together multi-perspective narrative leading up to tragic events of one day in 1955. Whilst some narratives are stronger than others it does make compelling reading. Our retrospective narrator Susan looks back from 2018 to these traumatic events from her childhood. What follows is a series of first-person voices leading up to terrible events surrounding the loss of her childhood friend and family; this is an attempt to explore how life and relationships can lead to awful circumstances that need to be explored, to be able to grieve and comprehend the shocking events.

I enjoyed the piecing together of events of 1954/5 from the voices of those involved; this is at its heart a very sad story, but it also serves as an attempt to put to rest the deep loss during this time for Susan, whose loss of her friend at such a young age has deeply affected her and the rest of her life.

You know the events right from the start, the brutal murder of a family by the father, and his suicide; they are made more thought-provoking when you find out the author is exploring these events from her own personal experience and loss of her childhood friend.

This is a decent novella that has many points for discussion, it also highlights the need for honesty and communication to minimise years of grief clouding your life. It explores a tragic event in an open way; the deaths are awful and hard to read, so be aware of this when reading. This also highlights mental illness and the importance of recognition and seeking help.

A novella of a shocking family murder-suicide, written with a sensitive touch, exploring why such terrible events occur and the effects on those left behind. A poignant and tragic tale.

Check out the bloggers above to find out more…

https://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/product/9781781328798/the-birthday-house – to purchase from the publishers and support independents X