Given that I decided to step back somewhat from blogging in 2019, explained here, it seems to have been another busy year even if I have put out almost 400 fewer blog posts and have only read just over 150 books.
On the bookish front I’ve been invited to some magnificent events such as the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Awards, as well as various publisher evenings, author and blogger meet ups and book launches. Sadly, with increased rail fares and some date clashes I wasn’t able to attend them all. I was also thrilled to have been part of the highly successful Deepings Literary Festival in May. After several months of planning, during the festival I interviewed Guinevere Glasfurd and introduced Darren O’Sullivan and Louise Jensen in conversation.
I had a fish and chip supper with Milly Johnson and hosted Lucien Young, before attending one of Milly Johnson’s talks, hosting and interviewing Barbara Copperthwaite, interviewing Elly Griffiths and attending a gala dinner with John Sergeant.
On the final day I interviewed Carol Drinkwater and had apple pie with Julie Stock and Lizzie Lamb. With live music, local venues and many more authors whom I didn’t get chance to be with, this really was a fantastic few days.
Although that event is over, you can see which wonderful authors joined us here. We’re already planning our next events with our main festival happening from 28th April – 2nd May 2021 so put the date in your diary!
The next event that I’ll be involved in is a read dating at the Deepings Community Library on 2nd May from 3.30PM so maybe I’ll see you there.
I was also thrilled to be listed as one of Sarpedia’s Top 25 Book Blogs 2019 and Reedsy’s Best Book Review Blogs 2019 as well as being invited to be one of five UK bloggers on the Sunday Times / University of Warwick Young Writers Award Shadow Panel. You can read more about that experience here.
It was also incredibly thrilling to be given a press pass to Capital Crime where I had a fabulous time, especially meeting Anthony Horowitz as I had written teacher resources for Hodder for his Raven’s Gate years ago. I’m really disappointed that I will be wending my way home from China and Japan as most of the festival takes place next year, but you can find tickets here and I’m hoping to get to the final day, jetlag permitting!
Speaking of going to China and Japan (as well as India) in 2020, I did take regular complete breaks from blogging in 2019 to travel to Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Barcelona, Krakow and Croatia so I can’t complain! Of course, it rained everywhere we went as usual as you can see from the photo taken of the cafe patio at Krakow castle!
Oh, and I finally completed my novel but there’s a long way to go before it sees the light of day. Writing 55,000 words in three weeks means it needs a bit of an edit*!
But now to the main reason for this blog post:
My Favourite Books of 2019
If you’re a regular visitor to Linda’s Book Bag you’ll know I never give star ratings on the blog. I am not a fan of star ratings because they mean different things to different people and in different places.
However, what I have done this year is record a mark out of 100 for every book I’ve read and today I’m sharing those that have scored a massive 95% or above in my scoring system. For me to award 95%+, a book needs to have touched me emotionally or held me so spellbound I had no free will of my own as I read. There’s no rank order here, just the chronology of their appearance on the blog.
If you’d like to see my full reviews, please click on the titles. Some of the covers may well have changed as I will have read proof copies, ARCs, ebooks, hardbacks or paperbacks depending on when the books came my way or I bought them. My apologies to those authors who only scored up to 94% and are not included. This list could have been very much longer
There are quite a few books featured because I only blog about those books I’ve enjoyed. I see no point in sharing negative thoughts. A book I don’t like might well be the favourite for another reader with different tastes. So, here are those books that scored most highly for me in 2019:
A spectacularly funny feast of all things Walliams for super-fans, new fans and anyone who likes laughing out loud a lot. In glorious colour throughout!
Welcome to the World of David Walliams. This spectacularly funny book is bursting with Walliams wonderment!
Insider sneak peeks, brilliant character quizzes, fabulous fun facts, design your own Walliams book cover and meet Raj in a brand new comic book adventure never seen before. You even get exclusive access to behind-the-scenes content from David Walliams himself.
Hours of entertainment for all the family and the perfect companion to David’s novels. Featuring colour illustrations from the iconic Sir Quentin Blake and the artistic genius Tony Ross.
When three women set off on a hike through the wilderness they are anticipating the adventure of a lifetime. Over the next five days, as they face up to the challenging terrain, it soon becomes clear they are not alone.
Lisa, Samantha and Nicole have known each other since school. Lisa is a fighter, Samantha a peacekeeper and Nicole a rule follower. United they bring out the best in one another.
Only once it is too late for them to turn back do they appreciate the danger they are in. Their friendship is tested, and each of them must make a choice that will change their lives forever.
A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless. When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of . . .
Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it.
As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive …
Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise – she’s just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems…
Just one more night. Then I’ll end it.
Alison drinks too much. She’s neglecting her family. And she’s having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries may be more than she can handle.
I did it. I killed him. I should be locked up.
Alison’s client doesn’t deny that she stabbed her husband – she wants to plead guilty. And yet something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.
I’m watching you. I know what you’re doing.
But someone knows Alison’s secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she’s done, and who won’t stop until she’s lost everything….
He had started to remove his clothes as logic had deserted him, and his skin was cracked. Whatever had been going through Cameron’s mind when he was alive, he didn’t look peaceful in death.
Two brothers meet at the remote border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of the outback. In an isolated part of Australia, they are each other’s nearest neighbour, their homes hours apart.
They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old that no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish.
Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he choose to walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…
Growing up in a small country town, Ben and Fab spend their days playing cricket, wanting a pair of Nike Air Maxes and not talking about how Fab’s dad hits him, or how the sudden death of Ben’s next-door neighbour unsettled him. Almost teenagers, they already know some things are better left unsaid.
Then a newcomer arrived. Fab reckoned he was a secret agent and he and Ben staked him out. He looked strong. Maybe even stronger than Fab’s dad. Neither realised the shadow this man would cast over both their lives.
Some friendships are made to be broken
Cornwall, summer of 1986.
The Davenports, with their fast cars and glamorous clothes, living the dream in a breathtaking house overlooking the sea.
If only… thinks sixteen-year-old Tamsyn, her binoculars trained on the perfect family in their perfect home.
If only her life was as perfect as theirs.
If only Edie Davenport would be her friend.
If only she lived at The Cliff House…
Monday, 25 July
The first day of the holidays. I suppose it could’ve been worse. I brightly announced that perhaps it might be a lovely idea to go to a stately home and learn about some history. As soon as we got there I remembered why I don’t use the flipping National Trust membership – because National Trust properties are full of very precious and breakable items, and very precious and breakable items don’t really mix with children, especially not small boys.
Where I had envisaged childish faces glowing with wonder as they took in the treasures of our nation’s illustrious past, we instead had me shouting ‘Don’t touch, DON’T TOUCH, FFS DON’T TOUCH!” while stoutly shod pensioners tutted disapprovingly and drafted angry letters to the Daily Mail in their heads.
How many more days of the holiday are there?
Welcome to Mummy’s world…
The Boy Child Peter is connected to his iPad by an umbilical cord, The Girl Child Jane is desperate to make her fortune as an Instagram lifestyle influencer, while Daddy is constantly off on exotic business trips…
Mummy’s marriage is feeling the strain, her kids are running wild and the house is steadily developing a forest of mould. Only Judgy, the Proud and Noble Terrier, remains loyal as always.
Mummy has also found herself a new challenge, working for a hot new tech start-up. But not only is she worrying if, at forty-two, she could actually get up off a bean bag with dignity, she’s also somehow (accidentally) rebranded herself as a single party girl who works hard, plays hard and doesn’t have to run out when the nanny calls in sick.
Can Mummy keep up the facade while keeping her family afloat? Can she really get away with wearing ‘comfy trousers’ to work? And, more importantly, can she find the time to pour herself a large G+T?
Probably effing not.
Mr Todd’s Reckoning by Iain Maitland available for purchase here. I loved the blurring of morality, of what constitutes a crime, of the impact of nature and nurture and all the themes woven into this sparkling, mesmerising book.
Norman Bates is alive and well… He’s living just next door
Behind the normal door of a normal house, in a normal street, two men are slowly driving each other insane. One of them is a psychopath.
The father: Mr Todd is at his wits end. He’s been robbed of his job as a tax inspector and is now stuck at home… with him. Frustrated. Lonely. Angry. Really angry.
The son: Adrian has no job, no friends. He is at home all day, obsessively chopping vegetables and tap-tap-tapping on his computer. And he’s getting worse, disappearing for hours at a time, sneaking off to who-knows-where?
The unholy spirit: in the safety of suburbia, one man has developed a taste for killing. And he’ll kill again.
Stirring up secrets can be deadly … especially if they’re yours…
Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.
Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.
Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …
What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.
Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…
Call Me Star Girl is a taut, emotive and all-consuming psychological thriller that plays on our deepest fears, providing a stark reminder that stirring up dark secrets from the past can be deadly…
Sometimes going home is just the beginning…
Boskenna, the beautiful, imposing house standing on the Cornish cliffs, means something different to each of the Trewin women.
For Joan, as a glamorous young wife in the 1960s, it was a paradise where she and her husband could entertain and escape a world where no one was quite what they seemed – a world that would ultimately cost their marriage and end in tragedy.
Diana, her daughter, still dreams of her childhood there – the endless blue skies and wide lawns, book-filled rooms and parties, the sound of the sea at the end of the coastal path – even though the family she adored was shattered there.
And for the youngest, broken-hearted Lottie, heading home in the August traffic, returning to Boskenna is a welcome escape from a life gone wrong in London, but will mean facing a past she’d hoped to forget.
As the three women gather in Boskenna for a final time, the secrets hidden within the beautiful old house will be revealed in a summer that will leave them changed for ever.
Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. Only now they’re facing the most important decision of their lives – and they don’t agree.
As the consequences of an impossible choice threaten to devastate them both, nothing will ever be the same again.
But anything can happen after the end . . .
Things haven’t always been straightforward in Poppy’s life but her dreams are finally within her reach.
She’s moving into a cottage in beautiful Nightingale Square, close to the local community garden, where she can indulge her passion for making preserves and pickles. She may not have the best relationship with her family but she is surrounded by loving friends, and feels sure that even her grumpy new neighbour, Jacob, has more to him than his steely exterior belies.
But the unexpected arrival of Poppy’s troubled younger brother soon threatens her new-found happiness and as the garden team works together to win community space of the year, Poppy must decide where her priorities lie and what she is prepared to fight for …
‘In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen. But they did not shut down. Not right away…’
For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works.
Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .
Sarah stands on the brink, arms open wide as if to let the wind carry her away.
She’s come to the high cliffs to be alone, to face the truth about her life, to work out what to do.
Her lover Jack is searching, desperate to find her before it is too late. But Sarah doesn’t want to be found. Not yet. Not by him.
And someone else is seeking answers up here where the seabirds soar – a man known only as the Keeper, living in an old lighthouse right on the cusp of a four-hundred-foot drop. He is all too aware that sometimes love takes you to the edge . . .
Hannah, Cate and Lissa are young, vibrant and inseparable. Living on the edge of a common in East London, their shared world is ablaze with art and activism, romance and revelry – and the promise of everything to come. They are electric. They are the best of friends.
Ten years on, they are not where they hoped to be. Amidst flailing careers and faltering marriages, each hungers for what the others have. And each wrestles with the same question: what does it take to lead a meaningful life?
The most razor-sharp and heartbreaking novel of the year, Expectation is a novel about finding your way: as a mother, a daughter, a wife, a rebel.
‘Witches sail in eggshells,’ I heard Meg say from behind me, and I looked back. She was pounding the shells, hard, with the palm of her hand on the flat of a knife.
Bewitched by ‘the sort of girl who’d batter your heart like a thrush with a snail on a stone’, a woman overlooks the one who really loves her.
A seaside community is overwhelmed when the sea begins to expel its life forms. But the villagers would rather raise the sea wall, whatever the cost, than confront their past mistakes.
A woman’s beloved garden withers as the baby inside her flourishes. When the pregnancy reaches its end, the progeny is not as she expects.
A widower feels like his life might have been a quiet nothing, but he’ll end it with the flight he’s always dreamed of. Even that fails, but instead of indignity, in the attempt he finds peace.
Perceptive, intriguing, and beautifully told, Chloe Turner’s debut collection explores the themes of love, loss, the little ways we let each other down, and how we can find each other again.
Life is made up of countless moments. Moments that make us who we are. But what if they don’t unfold the way they’re supposed to…?
What if you get on the wrong bus, or don’t speak to the right person at a party, or stay in a job that isn’t for you? Will you miss your one chance at happiness? Or will happiness find you eventually, when the moment is right?
Meet Matthew and Myrtle. They have never really felt like they fitted – in life or with anyone else. But they are meant to be together – if only they didn’t keep missing each other.
A heart-breaking and compelling story about family and friendship. A story about love and loss. A story about life.
It’s been seven years since Holly Kennedy’s husband died – six since she read his final letter, urging Holly to find the courage to forge a new life.
She’s proud of all the ways in which she has grown and evolved. But when a group inspired by Gerry’s letters, calling themselves the PS, I Love You Club, approaches Holly asking for help, she finds herself drawn back into a world that she worked so hard to leave behind.
Reluctantly, Holly begins a relationship with the club, even as their friendship threatens to destroy the peace she believes she has achieved. As each of these people calls upon Holly to help them leave something meaningful behind for their loved ones, Holly will embark on a remarkable journey – one that will challenge her to ask whether embracing the future means betraying the past, and what it means to love someone forever…
Creative Writing Skills: Over 70 fun activities for children available for purchase here. It’s absolutely brilliant for aspiring writers of all ages.
Discover the secrets to becoming an amazing author
- Find your creative spark
- Grow your skills and confidence
- Have more fun with your writing
Packed with top tips, this awesome workbook has everything you need to know about creating colourful characters, perfect plots, dynamite dialogue, and lots more …
ONCE YOU’RE IN, THEY’LL NEVER LET YOU LEAVE.
Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.
But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.
Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…
One morning in early summer, a man and woman wait to board a flight to Italy.
Allie has lived a careful, focused existence. But now she has unexpectedly taken leave from her job as an academic research scientist to fly to a place she only recently heard about in a letter. Her father, Joe, doesn’t know the reason for her trip, and Allie can’t bring herself to tell him that she’s flying to Italy to unpick the truth about what her mother did all those years ago.
Beside her is her best friend since schooldays, Ed. He has just shocked everyone with a sudden separation from his wife, Julia. Allie hopes that a break will help him open up.
But the secrets that emerge as the sun beats down on Lake Garda and Liguria don’t merely concern her family’s tangled past. And the two friends are forced to confront questions about their own life-long relationship that are impossible to resolve.
The dazzling new novel from Richard & Judy book club author Catherine Isaac, Messy, Wonderful Us is a story about the transforming power of love, as one woman journeys to uncover the past and reshape her future.
Until she knows her husband’s fate, she cannot decide her own…
An epic novel of forbidden love, loss, and the shattered hearts left behind in the wake of World War I
‘Beautiful, unflinching, elegiac: The Photographer of the Lost is going to be on an awful lot of Best Books of the Year lists, mine included . . . it’s unforgettable’ Iona Grey, bestselling author of The Glittering Hour.
1921. Families are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many survivors of the Great War have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis has not come home. He is considered ‘missing in action’, but when Edie receives a mysterious photograph taken by Francis in the post, hope flares. And so she begins to search.
Harry, Francis’s brother, fought alongside him. He too longs for Francis to be alive, so they can forgive each other for the last things they ever said. Both brothers shared a love of photography and it is that which brings Harry back to the Western Front. Hired by grieving families to photograph gravesites, as he travels through battle-scarred France gathering news for British wives and mothers, Harry also searches for evidence of his brother.
And as Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to a startling truth.
An incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history, The Photographer of the Lost tells the story of the thousands of soldiers who were lost amid the chaos and ruins, and the even greater number of men and women desperate to find them again.
In her brilliantly inventive and haunting debut collection of stories, Julia Armfield explores bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of her characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession, love and revenge.
Teenagers develop ungodly appetites, a city becomes insomniac overnight, and bodies are diligently picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sleepy sea-side towns are invaded and transformed, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to its inhabitants. Blurring the mythic and the gothic with the everyday, Salt Slow considers characters in motion – turning away, turning back or simply turning into something new entirely.
Winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018, Armfield is a writer of sharp, lyrical prose and tilting dark humour – Salt Slow marks the arrival of an ambitious and singular new voice.
Testament by Kim Sherwood available for purchase here. It is a powerful, absorbing and incredibly moving novel that has had a visceral effect on me, making me feel the emotional pain, the fear and the joy of the characters quite physically.
Of everyone in her complicated family, Eva was closest to her grandfather: a charismatic painter – and a keeper of secrets. So when he dies, she’s hit by a greater loss – of the questions he never answered, and the past he never shared.
It’s then she finds the letter from the Jewish Museum in Berlin. They have uncovered the testimony he gave after his forced labour service in Hungary, which took him to the death camps and then to England as a refugee. This is how he survived.
But there is a deeper story that Eva will unravel – of how her grandfather learnt to live afterwards. As she confronts the lies that have haunted her family, their identity shifts and her own takes shape. The testament is in her hands.
Kim Sherwood’s extraordinary first novel is a powerful statement of intent. Beautifully written, moving and hopeful, it crosses the tidemark where the third generation meets the first, finding a new language to express love, legacy and our place within history.
After The Puppet Show, a new storm is coming . . .
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?
And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.
The gripping new thriller in the Washington Poe series from M. W. Craven, winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel of 2019.
Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met
Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.
But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…
So there you have it. My favourite books of 2019. I wonder how many of these you’ve read and enjoyed too?
I cannot thank enough the authors, publishers and publicists who send me books and entrust me to give my honest opinion. I have read some outstanding fiction this year with many more books that scored up to 94/100 not making this blog post, but that are still absolutely wonderful reads. It is both a privilege and a joy to be a book blogger and I appreciate every single word I read – even if it’s in a book that doesn’t suit my reading taste.
I’d also like to thank those of you who take the time to visit the blog, read and share my reviews. It’s very, very much appreciated.
Book(s) of the Year
I’ve thought long and hard about which of the books featured here is my Book of the Year and have come to the conclusion that if the Booker Prize can do it, so can I, so I have a joint winner! It’s not actually an avoidance at making a decision as two books scored the highest mark I awarded and they are:
Witches Sail in Eggshells by Chloe Turner and Messy, Wonderful Us by Catherine Isaac.
Chloe Turner’s writing is so exquisite that I was filled with both envy and admiration as I read and Catherine Isaac managed to wring my heart so fully I don’t think I’ll ever quite recover.
Thank you to Chloe and Catherine and all the authors here for the pleasure they have given me in 2019. I look forward to many hours of losing myself in a book in 2020.