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...

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!

book round-ups

Best (new) books of 2019 so far

We’re halfway through the year (or we will be on Monday) and so it’s time for me to take a look at my favourite new releases of the year so far.  A couple of months ago I looked at my top reads of the year Q1 (although they were not necessarily all new releases) so some of these picks will not a surprise to you, but hey, I like to shout about the books that I’ve enjoyed! Sue me.

Contemporary Romance: The Bride Test  by Helen Hoang

Cover of The Bride Test

This one was on my 2019 lookahead after I loved Hoang’s debut last year and which lived up to the buzz it was getting ahead of release.  This is a fabulous way to follow up the success of The Kiss Quotient and would make a brilliant beach read this summer.  It’s an arranged marriage/relationship of convenience romance with a feisty immigrant heroine and an neuro-diverse hero who thinks he can’t – and shouldn’t – love.  Plus it’s mostly set in California and feels super summery and the descriptions of the Vietnamese food will make you hungry. What’s not to love in that. Here’s my review from May.

Honourable Mention: Fumbled by Alexa Martin

Historical Romance: A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian 

Cover of A Duke in Disguise

I went on a big old Cat Sebastian jag while I was in the US last autumn, so I had this on my radar. A Duke in Disguise was billed as her first “traditional” male/female romance – but that’s doing it a disservice. This is a clever subversive romance which doesn’t focus on the world of the ton (although they do appear and the nobility plays a role) with feisty, smart, sexually experienced heroine and a neuro-diverse, virgin hero. And the heroine is called Verity – which makes another for my list. Total catnip right?  The only reason this wasn’t a BotW is because I read it the same wee that I read Intercepted – and that was the first Alexa Martin I’d read.  NB: this has a content warning* for off page domestic violence, off page neglect of child, epileptic seizure

Honourable Mention: An Unconditional Freedom by Alyssa Cole

Non fiction History: The Adventures of Maud West

Cover of The Adventures of Maud West

Yeah, I know, it’s only two weeks since I read this.  But it really is so very, very good.  And it ticks so many of my boxes – early twentieth century, women in history, detective stories, forgotten lives.  If you’re a fan of golden age mysteries, what’s not to love about this investigation into the life of a real life lady detective from the first half of the twentieth century? Here’s my review from earlier this month.

Honourable mention: The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

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

Cover of Daisy Jones & The Six

This is everywhere – on all the lists and getting all the mentions in the mainstream press – even the bits that don’t usually talk about books.  It was on my anticipated books list, I read it and loved it, it was on my Q1 review post and now I’m talking about it again.  By now you may be getting wary of reading it because of the hype.  But trust me, it’s worth it.  I’ve been recommending it all over the place to people for their summer holidays and I think it might be turning into my Swiss Army Knife fiction recommendation – I think it has something for pretty much everyone.  And for once I was sightly ahead of the curve.  Here’s my review from March.

Honourable mention: The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

Mystery Fiction: Death of an Angel by Derek Farrell

Cover of Death of an Angel

I haven’t read a lot of new mystery fiction this year, but what I have read has been cracking.  This is the fourth Danny Bird mystery and as well as giving you all the snark and fun you could want from a detective who calls himself “Sherlock Homo”, it has a healthy dose of social commentary about the state of London today along with solving the murder.  I love Danny and his world and I would recommend them to anyone. You can read my review from February here or my interview with Derek Farrell from last year here.

Honourable mention: Vinyl Detective: Flip Back by Andrew Cartmel

So there you are, my favourite new books of the year so far – each of them a belter.  Here’s hoping the rest of 2019’s new releases live up to the first half.

Let me know what your favourite book of the year so far is in the comments – and let me know what you think I should be looking out for in the rest of 2019.

*I’m going to be trying to give content warnings when books have things that some readers want to avoid and that wouldn’t be obvious from their plot summary or genre.  So I won’t be warning you about murders in detective stories or in a non-fiction book like The Five which has it in the subject matter – but I will try and tell you if there’s something like sexual assault in the back story of a romance (if it’s not mentioned in the blurb).  Does that make sense?

reviews

Books of the Year 2016

Now 2017 is well underway, and I’ve told you about my obsessions, the state of the (enormous) pile, and my #ReadHarder ambitions, it seemed like a good time to finally work out what my favourite books published last year were.  I know.  Everyone else did this weeks ago, but I didn’t want anything really excellent that I might have read at the end of the year to get missed out.  And yes, fractured elbow.  It’s my excuse for everything.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

“Fred!” the nurse said, though they had never met. “How are we today?” Reading the nurse’s name tag, Mr. Bennet replied with fake enthusiasm, “Bernard! We’re mourning the death of manners and the rise of overly familiar discourse. How are you?”

Considering how much I loved this book, I have said remarkably little about it on here.  I recommended it in the Christmas gift post and back in the Summer Reads post, but it wasn’t a Book of the Week – because I was expecting to be reviewing it elsewhere.  And I don’t think that adequately conveys how much I adored it.  But Sittenfeld’s modern reworking of Pride and Prejudice is my favourite book of last year.

If the quote at the top makes you laugh or smile (even if it’s only inside because you’re too cool) then you need to read this book.  I’ve read a lot of Austen retellings, reworkings, sequels and the like and this manages to strike a perfect (for me) balance of retelling the story but modernising it so that it feels relevant to today.  Lizzie (nearly 40 rather than 20) and her sisters are trust fund babies in Cincinatti, but the money is running out, their father has medical problems and their mother has a shopping problem.  Darcy is a surgeon, Bingley a reality TV star (don’t let that put you off) and Lydia and Kitty are obsessed with Crossfit.  I want to read it again – but my copy is still out on loan.   The paperback isn’t out until June, but you could pre-order from Amazon or Waterstones and have a lovely treat in the summer, the Kindle and Kobo versions are £5.99 at time of writing or you could go nuts and buy the hardback from Amazon, Foyles or Waterstones – Waterstones was cheapest when I was writing – doing it on click and collect for £7.50 which is a total bargain for a hardback.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad
As I said in my BotW post last month, this book is going to win all the prizes and will be on English Literature sylabuses in years to come.  Cora’s story is incredibly tough to read – and it’s partly the contrast between the realism of the terrible things that are happening and the magical realism of making the Underground Railroad a real, actual railway with stations, and trains that makes this such an incredible read.  And the writing is beautiful.  As you all know, I don’t read a lot of “literary fiction” – and I don’t have a lot of success with books that have been nominated for awards, but I’m so glad I read it – and I’ve been singing its praises to my literary fiction-reading friends.  Still only in hardback I’m afraid, but bizarrely the paperback comes out the same day as Eligible – even though this was released six months later than the Sittenfeld.  Odd.  Anyway.  In hardback from Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, on Kindle and Kobo or pre-order the paperback on Amazon or Waterstones.

The Barista’s Guide to Espionage by Dave Sinclair

The Barista's guide to Espionage
The Barista’s guide to Espionage
Yes I know.  You’re sick of my Fahrenheit obsession.  Well tough.  Their books made up nearly 20 percent of my 5 star books last year, so they were bound to figure here.  Sorry, not sorry.  Anyway, this story about Eva Destruction – James Bond and Stephanie Plum’s lovechild – was another BotW and I defy anyone not to enjoy Eva’s battle to try to stop her evil supervillain ex-boyfriend from taking over the world.  It’s an action thriller film in book form but with a smart woman doing the saving not a suave bloke in a suit (he tries, but she’s better than him).  Get it on Kindle or in paperback.

Death of a Nobody by Derek Farrell

From Eva Destruction to Poirot on Poppers, the second Danny Bird book is the second Fahrenheit book on this list.  The first book (Death of a Diva) is funny, but this book feels like a series hitting its stride.  It’s got a great, off-beat cast, zingy one-liners, lashings of sarcasm and an up-and-coming gastro pub with a rising body count and a gangster breathing down Danny’s neck.  I’m recommending this to my friends who read cozy crime who want something that’s not cupcakes, bakeries or crafting.  I can’t wait for book three. Get it on Kindle or in paperback.  You can thank me later.

Grunt by Mary Roach

Grunt by Mary Roach
Grunt by Mary Roach
And this is why I’m glad I wrote this post so very late.  This was the last book I finished in 2016 and it was one of the very best – definitely the best non-fiction book I read last year.  It was BotW last week – so there’s no need for me to say anymore about it really because it’s less than a week since I raved about it at you.  I think it’s going to be this year’s go-to pick for a non fiction book to give as a gift.  Buy it (paperback!) from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones or on Kindle.

And there’s your five. If this had been a top ten the other five would probably have been: Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts, Best of Dear Coquette, The Madwoman Upstairs, Carry On (sneaking in because the paperback came out in 2016) and You Can’t Touch My Hair.