Best of..., book round-ups

Recommendsday: My favourite books of 2020

Well, it’s the first Wednesday of 2021, so I’m popping up with my favourite books of 2020. And for the first time (I think) they’re all books that were new in 2020. Which is a surprise to me. But hey, there were some really good new books out last year – and as I mentioned in my post on Sunday, one of the big casualties of 2020 in my bookish life has been the chance to wander around bookshops and happen across books. My bookshop discoveries were often backlist books rather than new releases – and it’s been harder to find that sort of book in the Quarantimes. Hopefully in 2021 I’ll actually be able to wander a bookshop again, and next year I can go back to doing favourite new releases and favourite backlist again. Pretty please.

Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

This was Book of the Week back in September and not only is it my favourite murder mystery of the year, I’ve been recommending it all over the place – and everyone who has told me they have read it has loved it. And it’s sold like gangbusters – if you only got one book for Christmas this year, it may well have been this because it has sold a whole tonne of copies – including being the number one book for Christmas. But don’t be put off by that – and think it’s over hyped. It is just so much fun. The mystery is twisty, it’s got a wonderful cast of characters and why wouldn’t you want to read a murder mystery solved by a group of scheming residents of a retirement village. Just lovely. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

 

I talked about Brit Bennett’s second novel back in June and the story of the Vignes sisters has really stuck with me. Stella and Desiree are identical twins, but after they run away from their small town home at the age of 16 their lives take radically different directions. Stella passes as white as she tries to build herself a better future – and spends her life looking over her shoulder – and Desiree escapes an abusive relationship only to find herself back where she started, but with a child in tow. But somehow the sisters lives always end up being intertwined. As you read it the language and the clever structure enthralls you and once it’s over it leaves you with a lot to think about. 

Legendary Children by Tom and Lorenzo

I read a lot of non-fiction last year, and I was having a hard time picking my favourite, but then the new series of Drag Race started, and my choice became obvious. Tom and Lorenzo’s book uses Drag Race as a framing device to look at queer life and how the show turns that into addictive TV. It’s well researched, incredibly readable with a really fun snarky tone – like their blog. This came out in March last year, and as I said in my BotW review back then I learnt so much from it. It’s enhanced my enjoyment of the show – and it’s meant that I can look super knowledgable. A total win. My only regret is lending my copy out – and not getting it back before everything started to lock down again!

V for Victory by Lissa Evans*

Cover of V for Victory

In the dying days of the Second World War, Vee Sedge and her “ward” Noel are just about making ends meet in their house on Hampstead Heath thanks to a strange assortment of lodgers and a more than a bit of good luck. When having to attend court threatens to bring their life crashing down, they need all of their skills and cunning to keep the show on the road. V for Victory is the third book featuring Noel and his eccentric extended family and carries on from after Crooked Heart (Old Baggage was set before Crooked Heart) and I don’t know what more I can say about how much I love them. The books have a wonderful spirit and a real sense of the shades of grey and contradictions in people and of wartime. And it’s funny and will also make you cry. Lovely stuff. I’ve got the paperback preordered so that I can lend it around.

Take a Hint Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Cover of Take a Hint Dani Brown

The sequel to Get a Life Chloe Brown, is a fake relationship with a social media twist. I loved #DrRugbae – Zaf is a sweetie and Dani is total competence porn and watching the two of them rub each others hard edges off (ooo-er) is a delight. Talia Hibbert writes wonderful British-set contemporary romances – something I’ve really struggled to find and enjoy this year. This did everything I wanted it to and narrowly beat out it’s predecessor for BotW when I read them both in the same week in June. The third book is out in March – and I’ve got it preordered.

And there you have it. Five of my favourite books from 2020. Honourable mentions go to Bad Blood, Love Lettering, Her Last Flight, and the latest books in the Veronica Speedwell, Rivers of London and Vinyl Detective series’ – all of which I’ve already written about ad nauseum over the years.

 

 

Best of..., The pile

My 2019 Obsessions: Revisited

Well. Here we are again. And obviously 2020 has been a year like no other. When I came to try and write the end of year obsession posts, I realised that I  have no new obsessions – 2020 in my reading life has been fairly similar to last year – whether that’s because everything has been in a sort of stasis since March or because I haven’t been able to go into bookshops and find something new to be obsessed with, I don’t know. So only one obsessions post this year and this is it!

The Year of the Library 2

Collage of covers: Sex and Vanity, Killings at Kingfisher Hill, Vanderbeekes lost and found and The Gravity of Us

Like last year, I’ve read a huuuuuge number of ebooks from the library this year. It helped me finish the Read across the USA challenge, as well as enabling my binge-reading habits and keeping me from the worst excesses of book buying. I’ve also used it to try a lot of new books at a lower risk. And when I’ve liked them, I’ve often gone out and bought the next books in the series. And so the combination of always having library holds coming in – and buying sequels, it meas that as with last year, the TBR shelf is as full as it’s ever been. On top of that I think the library book situation has contributed to my enormous NetGalley backlog, because there’s always something due in a few days that I “should” be reading!  Tackling the NetGalley mountain is one of my priorities this year…

Another Year of Non-Fiction

Collage of the covers of Here for it, Money, Bad Blood and The Radium Girls

Some of my favourite books of the year have been non-fiction ones – I’ve been recommending Bad Blood to all and sundry, and I’m looking out for more books with a similar feeling to them. I also had another bumper year of American politics books – perhaps unsurprisingly given that it was the presidential election year – but I haven’t read as much history. That’s something I want to change in 2021 – I’ve missed it. I’ve got a stack of interesting group biographies and similar waiting on the to-read bookshelf, so hopefully I’ll get to them soon…

The Year of Contemporary Romance again

Collage of covvers of Spoiler Alert, Well Met, Real Men Knit and Snapped

I’m finding it hard to tell whether I read more contemporaries than I did last year, but I certainly carried on the trend. As I hoped this time last year, I’ve got better at figuring out what I’m likely to like though – so I’ve had less flops and got better at finding new-to-me authors who are writing the sort of books that I want to read.  This year I’ve been happy to read books set in The BeforeTimes (even if the authors didn’t know that’s what they were when they were writing them)  but mostly ones set in America because that always feels like it’s one step away from Real Life for me anyway. I’ve got no idea how things will go in 2021 though – because I can’t work out if I want to read books about people finding love in the Quarantimes – or if I just want the genre to completely ignore that anything is happening! I do think that when we can all go out and about again, it will be to a different sort of normal – and I don’t know how that’s going to work out in books.

Last year turned out very differently from what we had all hoped, so here’s hoping 2021 doesn’t throw quite so many curveballs at us all, and that at the end of the year I’ll have some different things to tell you about!

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Best (new) books of 2019

You may remember my halfway point round up from back in June.  Well here we are at the end of the year and it’s time to decide what my favourite, favourite picks are from the whole year. There are a few things that haven’t changed though as you’ll see.

Mystery Fiction: Death of an Angel by Derek Farrell

No change here, because I haven’t read a new crime novel in the second half of the year that I liked more than Death of an Angel. I continue to love Derek Farrell’s creation – this is not the first time he’s appeared in a best books of the year post – and I’ve got a Danny Bird short story waiting for me to read because Fahrenheit Press have got Death of a Sinner in a special edition with Jo Perry’s Everything Happens and I have been saving it for a Christmas treat.

Honourable mention (also no change!): Vinyl Detective: Flip Back by Andrew Cartmel

Contemporary romance: Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

The first change from the half year list. Evvie Drake Starts Over was just perfect for me.  I could have spent hours longer with Evvie and Dean, just watching them go about their lives.  I’ve spoken a lot about the fact that I miss the romantic fiction of the early 00s – where people fix themselves at get love as a bonus, and this is the best example of that that I’ve read this year. The the characters are great – their lives are messy and imperfect just like real people – and the romance is wonderful.  I have the paperback pre-ordered, so that I can read it again, lend it out and keep it on the bookshelf.

Honourable mention: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (my pick at the halfway point)

Historical Romance: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean

Another change. And I thought about it a lot because I do love A Duke in Disguise, but Hattie from Brazen and the Beast, was the heroine I needed this year. She knows exactly what she wants from her life, she’s got a plan for how she’s going to get it – and she doesn’t want it it if she’s only getting it as a gift from someone else. My kind of girl.  Also a bit of a theme in my reading.  As I mentioned in my 2019 obsessions post, I’ve had trouble with historical romance this year.  There are a lot less of them on the list than usual and some authors who have dependably put out novels that I love have let me down.  But Sarah MacLean didn’t let me down – this was exactly what I wanted at this point in time.

Honourable mention: A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian

Literary Fiction: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

No change from the halfway point mostly because this easily my most recommended book of the year.  Daisy is a force of nature, the story is so clever and not a manic pixie dream girl in sight. Daisy is smart and clever and not afraid of saying that she had a plan and she did the work – it wasn’t just handed to her.  There have been other books that I’ve liked a lot – including The Starless Sea just a week or two back but I have found myself coming back to this all year: I read it in March, I’ve listened to it on audiobook as well now and I still think it’s brilliant.  I’m a bit nervous about the TV adaptation, because I don’t know how you can make it work – how do you create the music and make it feel believable?  The paperback is out in the UK on January 9 – I haven’t pre-ordered it, because I already have a (signed) hardback. So all I can do is hope that there won’t be too long a wait for the next novel from Jenkins Reid.

Honourable mention: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (Bonus: Foyles and Waterstones have the hardback half price in their sale at the moment)

Non-fiction: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

At the halfway point, this was called non-fiction history – but now I’ve read a stack of other nonfiction too and so we’ve added a subdivision because they both deserve a mention and this is the not-history pick. It’s only a few weeks since this was a Book of the Week, but I’ve been recommending this to everyone.  It’s just that good.  It’s meticulously researched, but wears it lightly.  It reads like a thriller but it’s real life.  I’d read a lot of articles about the Harvey Weinstein story before I read this, but I still felt that I learned a lot of new information from it.  It’s now got a tie in podcast – and I’m still learning more from that.  And with a trial coming up in te new year, this is not a bad time to read this either – before it needs an epilogue on the next edition to explain what happened next.

Honourable mention: The Great Successor by Anna Fifield

Non-fiction History: Maud West Lady Detective by Susanna Stapleton

This survives as my favourite history book of the year. Maud West is such a Venn Diagram of my interests – early twentieth century, women in history, detective stories, forgotten lives and Golden Age Crime.  Maud is a fascinating woman – very hard to pin down because she really didn’t want you to be able to – and Stapleton’s details about her search are fascinating too.  No date for a paperback release yet – but hopefully it will get one.  And if anyone wants to write a fiction series about a lady detective like Maud, then I am totally here for it.  But it is also worth noting that the honourable mention in this category (in June and now)- The Five by Hallie Rubenhold – has been picking up prizes all over the place.

Honourable mentions: The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Coming up next: A look ahead to some of the books I can’t wait to read in 2020!

Best of..., The pile

My 2019 Obsessions

After yesterday’s look back at my 2018 obsessions, here is the lowdown on how my reading life has evolved this year.  I thought this was going to be really hard to put together, but then when I actually looked at my stats and the goodreads lists for the year, it actually was fairly obvious…

The Year of the Library

The biggest change this year has been the sheer number of library books I’ve read. What’s changed? Well ebook borrowing.  I’ve maybe only borrowed a couple of physical books – but I’ve read so many ebooks.  It’s been amazing.  I’ve glommed on series, read new authors, and been able to do it on my kindle.  It’s also cut my book-buying expenses massively.  I’m so much less likely to buy odd e-books here and there – because I can check in with the library and borrow them that way or get in the hold line.  It means that I can spend the money I put aside for books more wisely – pre-ordering favourite authors (it helps them with their publishers don’t you know), buying nice editions of books that I like etc – without feeling guilty about the money I spent on an ebook I bought as a kindle daily deal and hated after a couple of pages. The downside of all this is that the to-read bookshelf is as full as it was at the start of the year – because I have had so many good ebooks on tap at all times!

The Year of Non-Fiction

I think I’ve read more non-fiction books this year than ever before and this ties in to obsession number one because I think this is mostly down to the availability of them as e-books from my library. In the past, I’ve had loads that I want to read, but various factors have been holding me back – price, availability and the fact that they’re so big they’re unwieldy to take in my handbag to work.  But also sometimes you can only read a little bit of non-fiction before you need to go and read something lighter and if they’re on your kindle, you can just dip in and out alongside your romance novel…

The Year of Contemporary Romance

After having spent years saying that I don’t really like contemporary, it turns out that I do! I’ve had much more success with contemporaries this year than I have had with historicals – which is totally bucking every other year in my reading life since I’ve been keeping track.  And it has even included sports romances like Intercepted and The Bromance Book Club as well as sort-of sports romances like The Right Swipe and Evvie Drake Starts Over (the heroes are both retired sportsmen). I’ve read angsty stuff (Alisha Rai‘s Forbidden Love series) and funny stuff (The Unhoneymooners) and stuff that I hated so much I wanted to throw it across the room (no I’m not telling you what) but even they helped me refine and workout what I really like in contemporary romances. So maybe next year I’ll be good enough at reading between the blurb lines that I will only pick up stuff that I like?!  We can but hope.

And so onward into 2020. Who knows where it will lead.  I mean this time last year, I had no idea that we would move house this year and yet, we did (and the books were only packed away for a few weeks while we did it!) I’ve got some reading resolutions made – mostly to do with reducing the reading backlog, but the lure of new releases usually proves too much for me…

I hope you’re having a good festive season – and aren’t working too hard!

Authors I love, Best of..., book round-ups

Best books of 2018

It’s nearly the end of the year and I promised you some extra posts looking back at the year didn’t I?  Well, here’s my look at five of my favourite books of the year.  Looking back on my Goodreads stats to write this, I realise that I’ve been very stingy with the 5 stars this year – which has made this very tricky to write because there are a lot of 4 star ratings and I’ve had to workout which ones were my real favourites.  And because of the way this blog works, you’ve heard about most of these before – either as Books of the Week or in other roundup posts – because when I like stuff this much, I tell you about it!

A Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge

Copy of Another Day in the Death of America

This was part of my pre-Washington reading and although I read a lot of good books in that particular reading jag, this one has really stuck with me.  A snapshot of all the children and teens killed by guns on just one day in America, it is meticulously researched and will break your heart.  If you are in any doubt about the scale of gun deaths in the US, this will put it all into perspective -this is just a normal day – no mass shootings, just ten dead young people ranging in age from 9 to 19.

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

Paperback copy of Five Children on the Western Front

Lets get all the sad books out of the way to start with.  This is a middle grade continuation/follow on to E Nesbit’s The Five Children and It book.  I think I read the 5 children (maybe even more than one of them) after the 1990s BBC TV series was shown and it had never occurred to me that these were the children who would be the young men and women of the Great War – and of course when Nesbit was writing the books, she had no idea what was in their future either.  This is really, really good, but also quietly devastating. There are a lot of Second World War middle grade books, but not so many (or at least not that I’ve come across) Great War ones – this is a very good addition to the genre.  It came out a couple of years ago, but reading it this year with the centenary of the Armistice, felt very timely.  It wasn’t my BotW at the time -I was in a historical crime groove back in at the start of the year, but I’ve recommended it a few times since and it’s quietly crept up my list of best reads of the year.

The Victory Disc by Andrew Cartmel

Copy of Victory Disc

The third in the Vinyl Dectective series is right up there as one of my favourite detective stories of the year.  This time our unnamed hero is on the hunt for records by a wartime swing band.  The Flarepath Orchestra were contemporaries of Glenn Miller, but their recordings are incredibly rare.  After one pops up unexpectedly, the Detective and his gang are asked to track down the rest.  But there are still secrets and lies at the heart of the band and soon a great deal of danger is threatening the gang.  This wasn’t a Book of the Week at the time – because it’s the third in the series and you’ll get the most from them by reading them in order.  The first in the series, Written in Dead Wax was a BotW last summer though – and I thoroughly recommend starting with that.  My Dad has read these and practically snaps my hand off to get the next one from me!  Good reads doesn’t have any details for a fourth yet, but I’m hoping that we’ll get more adventures in vinyl in 2019.

Anyone for Seconds by Laurie Graham

Regular readers know how much I love Laurie Graham (and if you don’t, here are the posts to prove it) but I remember saying to a friend before this came out that if she was going to write a sequel to one of her novels, this wasn’t the one that I would have picked.  How wrong I was, because this is my favourite of her contemporary novels in ages.  It snuck out a bit under the radar in August and I nearly missed it. We rejoin Lizzie Partridge, the heroine of Perfect Meringues, some twenty years after we last met her.  Lizzie was a TV-chef on the regional news, but after The Incident she has mostly worked in print.  But when her last paying gig is pulled, Lizzie decides to run away in the hope that it’ll get her some attention.  But no-one notices.  It does however, set in train a series of changes in Lizzie’s life.  It was a BotW and it’s still one of my favourites this year.

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

It was a long wait for a new book by Jasper Fforde – my big Fforde discovery and binge actually happpened before I started this blog, but Early Riser was worth it and it was a BotW.  Set in a world where humans hibernate for four months every winter, this follows the adventures of one man in his first year as a Winter Consul – one of the people who watch over the sleeping masses.  This is completely standalone from his other books, but if you’ve read other Fforde novels you’ll spot that this world has some elements in common with Thursday Nexts.  It’s fantasy and sci-fi but at the end of that spectrum that I like.

The Birth of South Korean Cool by Euny Hong

Copy of the Birth of Korean Cool

And another non-fiction book to round out this list.  Euny Hong’s family moved back to South Korea in the 1980s when she was at school so she is ideally placed to take a look at how South Korea turned itself into a big name on the world stage through the course of twenty years. This is a really, really interesting and readable guide to the Korean pop-culture phenomenon and the policy behind it. Although some of the section dealing with North Korea is now slightly dated that doesn’t detract from the overall impact of the book. I would happily have read another 100 pages.   It had been on my to-read list for ages – but I finally got around to getting hold of a copy after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics at the start of the year (although it took me another few months to get around to reading it!). I’ve recommended it a number of times – and used knowledge I learned from it to look smart when talking about K-pop with younger colleagues.  A winner all around!

Let me know what your favourite books of the year have been in the comments – and coming up over the next few days we’ve also got my reading obsessions of the year – and how 2017’s obsessions have lasted as well as the books that I’m looking forward to in 2019.So here you are, six of my favourite reads of 2018.  There were a few five star reads this year that aren’t on the list – but they are very much from favourite authors – new installments in the Wells and Wong series and from Gail Carriger and the Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang that I’ve already talked about so much already over the years that I’d be boring you to tell you about them again.

Happy Reading!