Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Home by Sarah Stovell

The Home CoverWhen the body of pregnant, fifteen-year-old Hope Lacey is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised.

For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away…

As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.

There are some books that you just don’t know quite how to review and, for me, Sarah Stovell’s The Home is definitely one of them.

To say that I ‘enjoyed’ The Home seems…wrong somehow. Don’t get me wrong, the book had me absolutely gripped from page one and I was invested in the characters the whole way through, desperate to reach the final pages and find out the truth about what had happened to Hope, Annie and Lara.

But ‘enjoy’ isn’t quite the right word for a book that deals with such incredibly harrowing topics. Drug abuse, self-harm, child neglect, grooming, prostitution, sexual abuse – Stovell does not shy away from confronting these issues head-on. The result is a devastating portrayal of a teenage emotional drama and a heartbreaking look at the potential consequences for children forced to grow up in the underbelly of society.

The Home opens with the body of a fifteen-year-old being found on a cold Christmas morning. Another girl, still alive but half-mad with grief and despair, sits beside her. Thus we are introduced to Hope and Annie, two teenagers with disturbing shadows in their pasts who, despite everything, find love – and a kind of reconciliation – through and with each other. But now Hope is dead and Annie is in trouble. Who killed Hope? Who was the father of her unborn baby? And what does any of this have to do with Lara, a selective mute who makes up the third in the trio of damaged and difficult girls who live at The Home?

Answering these questions will take the reader on a shocking and emotive journey into the past and present of these three young women. From their childhoods, each fraught with violence in their own way, to their move into care and their relationships with each other, Stovell has crafted a complex and multi-layered narrative that wraps you up in the lives of Hope, Annie, Lara and the staff who have come, in their own ways, to care for the girls.

Told from multiple perspectives, Stovell has done an excellent job of giving each of the girls a voice – from Hope’s angry howl to Annie’s grief-stricken despair and Lara’s quietly devastating resilience, I felt like I knew these girls and could hear them in my head as I read.

Needless to say, given the subject matter, this does not always make for a very comfortable place to be. Indeed, at times The Home made my stomach churn and my skin crawl. Although the narrative is never graphic, Stovell’s writing fully conveys the horror of what these girls have faced and she confronts her emotive subject matter with devastating clarity.

And the emotional turmoil is heartbreaking – I could practically feel the potential stored in Hope, Lara and Annie but could sense how, because of their backgrounds, they were stuck; poised forever between hope and fear, love and despair. The interspersed chapters from Helen, the manager at The Home, provided the perfect counterpoint to this and illustrate the challenges faced by child protective services in a world dominated by ever-increasing challenges and ever-decreasing budgets.

Be under no illusions – The Home is a disturbing and, at times, difficult read so be prepared. But if you can handle the subject matter, you’ll find a gritty, gripping and exquisitely written novel that handles its emotive subject matter with both sensitivity and skill.

As I said at the start of this review, I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ it – much like Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, the subject matter makes The Home a book that the word just doesn’t fully encompass. I would say, however, that The Home is a brilliant, complex and emotionally invested read and that I would urge anyone who can handle the triggering subject matter to pick this one up.

The Home by Sarah Stovell is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers including the Orenda ebookstore, Hive, Book Depository, Waterstones, and Amazon.

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until the end of the month so do check out some of the other stops for more reviews and content! 

The Home BT Poster

 

Reviews · Seasonal Reads

REVIEW!! Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

Once Upon A RiverIt was the longest night of the year, when the strangest of things happened…

In an ancient inn on the Thames, the regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps and injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.

Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle? Is it magic?

And who does the little girl belong to? 

Before I get into the body of this review, can we just take a moment to appreciate the GORGEOUS cover for Once Upon A River? I mean seriously, just LOOK at it! The beautiful illustration (by artist Sarah Whittaker) is even prettier on the physical paperback, with the orange and green really standing out against the black background. I was lucky enough to get an e-proof of this novel from Netgalley UK but I’ve still been out and bought a copy of this – it’s just one of those books that, for me, just begs to be read in physical format.

Right, now that the important matter of showing the cover some love is out of the way, I’ll get on with raving about the book itself. Because I absolutely ADORED Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon A River, a magical and moving novel about family, folklore and the power of stories. Definitely an early contender for the books of the year list!

I’ve loved Diane’s writing ever since picking up her first novel, The Thirteenth Tale, on a whim some years ago. It was a genre-crossing tale that took a family drama and imbued it with a healthy dose of the Gothic, a dash of mystery, and more than a little tragedy. The result was a spellbindingly gripping tale. Once Upon a River, her third (and latest) novel, has the spellbinding quality of The Thirteenth Tale but the book itself is a very different beast. Where her debut was darkly sinister, Once Upon a River, whilst touching on some dark and difficult subject matter, is filled to brimming with warmth and comfort.

Opening in The Swan at Radcot, an inn on the River Thames famed for its storytelling, the novel follows the aftermath of one winter’s night when a injured man and an apparently drowned child arrive at the inn. When it becomes apparent that the little girl is not only alive but also not the child of the man who bought her to the inn, the question of who she belongs to becomes paramount. Mr and Mrs Vaughan, a wealthy couple whose young daughter was kidnapped some years before, believe the girl to be their beloved Amelia. Robin Armstrong, a young man with both tragedy and secrets in his past, claims she is his bonny Alice. And Lily White, the parson’s housekeeper, is convinced that the child is her missing sister Ann. As Henry Daunt, the photographer who bought the child to the inn, and Rita Sunday, the nurse who tended to her, attempt to find who the child really belongs to, the stories of all involved start to twist and turn like the river itself, merging together like tributaries before being carried forwards in the rising tide.

This is a multi-layered novel brimming with characters but meticulous crafting of the tale meant that I never became confused as to who was who or which strand of the story I was following. The opening, although full of drama, is slow to develop as Setterfield takes time to introduce her cast and set her scene. The pay off is a a set of characters that, over the course of the story, become as familiar as friends (or, in the case of a couple of them, old and bitter enemies) and whose trials and tribulations left me racing to the end, desperate to know if the good got their rewards and if the bad faced the justice they deserved.

Filled to brimming with folklore, this is novel that revels in the art of storytelling, weaving stories within stories and ensuring every strand of the tale has real emotional resonance. As well as providing a thickly characterised narrative, Setterfield’s prose is filled with lush descriptions of the river. Victorian Oxford and the surrounding villages lived and breathed on the page and, in her evocative descriptions of the churning water, I could easily imagine myself sat on the deck of Collodion with Henry Daunt, or tying up a punt at the jetty belonging to Buscot Lodge.

Richly atmospheric and with more than a hint of magic, Once Upon a River is the perfect tale to curl up with on a cold winter’s night. As I said at the start of this review, the novel is filled with heart and warmth, and the extremely satisfying ending left me with all the warm fuzzies. A bewitching tale, dazzlingly told, this is a real treat of a book that is perfect for curling up with and devouring over a weekend – a real cure for those January blues!

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield is published by Transworld (Black Swan) and is available in paperback and ebook now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review. 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!! Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Your House Will PayGrace Park and Shawn Matthews share a city, Los Angeles, but seemingly little else, coming from different generations and very different communities.

As Grace battles with confusion over her elder sister’s estrangement from her Korean-immigrant parents, Shawn tries to help his cousin Ray readjust to civilian life after years spent in prison.

But what is it in their past that links these two families? As the city around them threatens to erupt into violence, echoing the worst days of the early 1990s, the lives of Grace and Shawn are set to collide in ways that will change them all for ever. 

It’s rare for a novel to succeed in being both thrilling and thoughtful but Steph Cha’s taut novel Your House Will Paywhich examines both the tensions that arise between black and Korean communities in contemporary Los Angeles and the lingering fallout from the riots that tore the city apart in the early 1990s, manages to walk that fine line.

Focusing on the lives of two families, Cha gradually builds a sensitive and nuanced portrait of race relations in the City of Angels, exposing the fault lines of inequality, injustice, prejudice and tension that threatens attempts to find both reconciliation and redemption.

Shifting between the perspectives of Shawn, a middle-aged black man who feels that he might finally have put his tragic and violent past behind him, and Grace, a young Korean woman who is struggling to reconcile the conservatism of her aging parents with the liberalism of her charismatic elder sister, Your House Will Pay explores issues of gang violence, family, redemption, loyalty, promise and betrayal with sharp-eyed clarity.

Both characters, although flawed in their own way, are sympathetically portrayed. Grace’s confusion over her place in contemporary America, and her initial obliviousness to the fault lines that divide her community will resonate with many readers, as will Shawn’s desperation to create a better life for himself and his family and his fear of falling back into his former life, with its tantilising promise of vengeance and repentance.

Despite both characters coming from very different backgrounds and communities to my own, Your House Will Pay did that thing that all excellent fiction does and made me walk a mile in both Shawn and Grace’s shoes. By the end of the novel I was desperate for them both to find the redemption that they sought and transcend the tragic legacy left by a violent flash point in LA’s history.

The novel also boasts a gripping, suspense-filled plot that will have you racing through the pages. In all honesty, I was worried I’d started this one too late for my blog tour review spot but I raced through the book’s 300 or so pages, desperate to find out what was going to happen to these two families. Blending high-octane drama with sharply-observed humour and a touching portrayal of two sets of everyday family lives, the novel packs one hell of an emotional punch and has a resonance that will linger long after you’ve turned the final page.

Combining the page-turning quality of a crime thriller with the sharp and thoughtful prose of literary fiction, Your House Will Pay is a mesmerising portrait of family life, personal legacies, and race relations. Tackling a subject of huge contemporary relevance with both nuance and sensitivity, this is a novel that will stay with me and that I will be urging friends and family to read – and that I would urge all of you reading this to go and pick up too.

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha is published by Faber & Faber and is available now in trade paperback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

My thanks go to Lauren Nicoll from Faber & Faber for providing a copy of the book and inviting me to take part in this blog tour in return for an honest and unbiased review. The blog tour continues until 23 January 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

Your House Blog Tour

 

 

 

Reviews

REVIEW!! Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

Starve AcreThe worst thing possible has happened. Richard and Juliette Willoughby’s son, Ewan, has died suddenly at the age of five.

Starve Acre, their house by the moors, was to be full of life, but is now a haunted place.

Juliette, convinced Ewan still lives there in some form, seeks the help of the Beacons, a seemingly benevolent group of occultists.

Richard, to try and keep the boy out of his mind, has turned his attention to the field opposite the house, where he patiently digs the barren dirt in search of a legendary oak tree.

Starve Acre is a novel about the way in which grief splits the world in two and how, in searching for hope, we can so easily unearth horror.

Andrew Michael Hurley is a novelist whose work I’ve been meaning to pick up for a long time. The works ‘Gothic’, ‘Folk horror’ and ‘haunting’ are frequently attached to his books and his work has been compared to that of Du Maurier, with his debut, The Loney, winning the Costa First Novel Award.

Hurley’s latest novel, Starve Acre, has been deemed by many as his best yet so I was keen to get reading when the opportunity to read an advanced copy via Netgalley UK came my way.

Starve Acre is a folk-horror novel set amidst the desolate winter landscape of Yorkshire moors. Hurley is adept at describing landscape, rendering the barren countryside in sparse, precise prose. Take, for example, this passage from the book’s opening:

‘Overnight, snow had fallen thickly again in Croftendale and now in the morning the fells on the other side of the valley were pure white against the sky. Further down, where the sun had not yet reached, the wood by the beck was steeped in shadow and would stay cold all day. Nothing would linger there long. The freezing mist that was twined between the leafless beech and birch had already driven a hungry fox to seek food elsewhere. A line of deep paw prints came out of the gloom and into the pearly light that washed over the drifts on this side of the dale.’

Beautiful isn’t it? I could just picture the scene before me and feel the chill in the air.

Hurley’s protagonists, Richard and Juliette, have moved into this bleak and desolate landscape, returning to Richard’s childhood home Starve Acre to raise a family of their own. But, when their young son Ewan dies tragically, the house and surrounding fields end up haunted by the couple’s remembrances – the ghost of Ewan filling the space that should have been alive with the sounds of the family that Richard and Juliette were so desperate to create.

Hurley creates a complex and unsettling portrait of the grieving couple. Juliette, half-mad with loss and anger, turns to a group called The Beacons for solace, much to the annoyance of her pragmatic and practical sister, Harrie. Richard meanwhile, at a loss as to how to reach Juliette in her grief, has begun excavating the bones of a hare from the field across from Starve Acre and, in doing so, begins a fantastical series of events that soon spiral beyond his control.

Blurring the lines between the real and the uncanny, Hurley turns Richard and Juliette’s world on its head, using the hare to invoke not only the spirit of the troubled Ewan but the long-dead horrors of an old village folk-tale and a hanging tree.

And this, for me, is where the novel began to unravel. The first third of the novel, which introduces Richard and Juliette in their grief, describes the finding of the skeletal hare, and the loss of Ewan, is a masterclass in the build-up of tension. Hurley gradually layers up the uncanny, shifting between the everyday and the Gothic with accomplished skill.

Once the Beacons have visited Starve Acre however, the novel takes a more fanciful turn. The lines between reality and fantasy blur further and, for me, the tension that was built in the first third vanished as I became lost in a quagmire of folklore and plot. I couldn’t keep hold of all the strands Hurley was weaving together and, by the end of the book, felt disconnected from Richard and Juliette, their grief for Ewan lost amidst the tale of the long-dead Jack Grey, the occult dabblings of The Beacons, and the fantastical transformation of the hare.

It was if the characters were getting away from me, disappearing into the mist of the story in the same way that Juliette disappears into her grief. For some readers, I’m sure that this will only add to the sense of the uncanny but, for me, the lack of precision about how the various strands of the book connected together left me feeling frustrated. And the ending, which is suitably strange and unsettling, left me with many more questions than it did answers.

Unfortunately, although certainly a thought-provoking and accomplished novel in many respects, Starve Acre didn’t quite gel with me. Whilst the setting is gorgeously rendered and the writing enveloping in its beauty, the characters ultimately failed to resonate, the plot twisted away from me and the ending, appropriately enough given the chilling subject matter, left me feeling rather cold.

I would certainly read more from this author but, for me anyway, Starve Acre didn’t quite fulfil the Gothic promise of its opening third.

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley is published by John Murray and is available now from all good booksellers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review. 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! When The Dead Come Calling by Helen Sedgwick

When the Dead Come Calling CoverIn the first of the Burrowhead Mysteries, an atmospheric murder investigation unearths the brutal history of a village where no one is innocent.

When psychotherapist Alexis Cosse is found murdered in the playground of the sleepy northern village of Burrowhead, DI Strachan and her team of local police investigate, exposing a maelstrom of racism, misogyny, abuse and homophobia that has been simmering beneath the surface of the village.

Shaken by the revelations and beginning to doubt her relationship with her husband, DI Strachan discovers something lurking in the history of Burrowhead, while someone (or something) equally threatening is hiding in the strange and haunted cave beneath the cliffs…

When The Dead Come Calling, Helen Sedgwick’s first foray into crime fiction, blends the atmospheric and haunting writing found in her previous novels with the conventions of the classic police procedural. The result is an unusual but engrossing literary mystery that speaks to contemporary issues of racism, xenophobia and the fear of the unknown.

Set in the sleepy northern village of Burrowhead, the novel opens with the discovery of the body of psychologist Alexis Cosse. Alexis, a Greek national who had recently been given his leave to remain in the UK, had been in a relationship with PC Simon Hunter, one of Burrowhead’s small police force. Tasked with solving the murder, Simon’s boss, DI Georgie Strachen, is struck by the brutality of the apparently motiveless killing. Who would want to harm Alexis enough to kill him? But when a racist note is discovered in Alexis’ flat, and a second body is found, it becomes apparent that a brutal history lies beneath Burrowhead’s apparently calm surface.

Switching perspectives between Georgie, her DS on the case Trish, PC Simon Hunter, Georgie’s amateur archaeologist husband Fergus, and members of the village community, When The Dead Come Calling is a slow-burning novel that takes its time to establish a keen sense of place and people. Gradually layering up each perspective, the novel is initially ambiguous as each character appears to have an ulterior motive or hidden agenda. This nebulousness may grate with readers who prefer their crime fiction hard-hitting and fast-paced but I found the style compelling, as each page revealed just a slither more of the picture Sedgwick so effectively paints.

The novel touches on some very contemporary themes, casting a lens onto an apparently quiet and docile community divided by poverty and simmering with undercurrents of racism, misogyny, and homophobia. Sedgwick does an excellent job of addressing the root causes behind the headlines we so often see in the papers, creating characters and situations that, if not sympathetic, are poignantly and worryingly real. It makes for very uncomfortable reading at times as Sedgwick refuses to tear her gaze away from the faultlines that divide supposedly welcoming communities, and tear neighbours, families, friends, and even lovers, asunder.

I wasn’t quite as engaged with the sub-plot involving Georgie’s personal doubts about her marriage to her husband Fergus. Whilst Georgie’s unease in her previously comfortable marriage mirrors the discomfort she begins to feel amongst the residents of Burrowhead, furthering her sense of otherness, this aspect of the book didn’t quite resonate with me and Fergus’ chapters sometimes felt as if they were jarring me away from the pull of the main plot. This, however, may well be a personal preference. Fergus is a whimsical dreamer of a character – and he was so brilliantly portrayed on the page, that his selfish obliviousness really raised my hackles!

A mention must also go to atmospheric writing. Sedgwick creates a real sense of place, portraying Burrowhead as a desolate and isolated community clinging onto the cliff edge in a ragged post-industrial landscape. The supernatural undercurrents, a series of shifting links to both the village’s Celtic past and recent tragic history, serve to underscore this, creating an powerfully haunting atmosphere that permeates the page.

When The Dead Come Calling isn’t your usual police procedural. If you like to keep your police procedurals pacy, this might not be the book for you. But if you’re open to reading a compelling and atmospheric mystery that unravels at a saunter not a gallop, you’ll find a well plotted contemporary crime novel that rewards patient and considered reading with beautiful writing, well-rounded characters and an twisty, unsettling payoff at the end.

When The Dead Come Calling by Helen Sedgwick is published by Point Blank and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me to take part in this blog tour. The tour continues until 17 January so do check out the other stops along the way for more reviews and content!

When The Dead Come Calling BT Poster

 

 

Discussion Time · Festive

DISCUSSION TIME! My Bookish Plans in 2020

Yes, it’s that time of year again.

Start of a New Year. The Christmas decorations are down, the fridge is (finally) empty, and 2019 has walked itself out of the door whilst 2020 has waltzed on in. Time for a new year, filled with new books and new bookish resolutions.

To be honest, I’m not really setting myself ‘resolutions’ as such. I did away with making New Years Resolutions once I realised that all they did was hit every single one of my anxiety buttons at the same time – never a good way to begin anything, let alone commence a new year.

But I do like to spend a little time at the start of the year thinking about what went well in the last one, and what I would like to get out the one ahead. And that applies to my bookish life as well.

As I mentioned at the top of my Books of the Year 2019 post, I had a pretty good reading year last year. I exceeded my Goodreads goal by some way, took part in some fantastic blog tours, and continued to expand the blog and chat to some lovely bookish folk on Twitter.

And, really, I just want to do more of the same in 2020. I’ve set my Goodreads goal at 52 again (one book a week for the year), and I already have some brilliant blog tours lined up in January and February.

That said, there are some things that I would like to change about my reading life.

Firstly, for example: Buy Less, Read More

I’m definitely feeling a little swamped by my TBR at the moment. Between the books I’ve bought, ebooks requested on Netgalley, books sent by publishers for blog tours, books lent to me by friends, books borrowed from the library, and books I have to read for my PhD, I have more than enough to keep me reading for the entirety of 2020 and beyond. And I really do want to read these books. There are so many great titles sitting neglected on my shelves.

Fortunately, the aforementioned PhD also means finances are officially tight so buying less and reading more will definitely help me on a number of fronts. I can finally get to some of the brilliant titles that you lot have been raving about on Twitter and Goodreads, and there’s less chance I will one day be found buried by the weight of my own TBR pile.

Also, and this brings me neatly to my second change, reading my backlist will allow me to Improve My Netgalley Feedback Ratio.

My Netgalley ratio is currently at a woeful 36%. A requesting spree earlier in 2019 left me with a backlist the size of my arm. Given that I’m really picky about what I read on Kindle (as I hugely prefer reading in hard copy), this was simply poor decision making on my part.

But, again, I requested these books for a reason. And I’m sure there will be Netgalley titles that I want to request in 2020. But in order to do so, I’ll need to get that feedback ratio back to a decent number. I owe those books a read and a review. My Kindle is great for carrying around with me so I’ll be trying to always have a Netgalley book on the go for when I’m out and about.

This also into my third – and final – plan for my reading life in 2020 which is to Be More Selective.

With the best will in the world, my reading time is limited. My PhD is in English Literature so I have a lot of reading to do for that. Add in other work, socialising, family time, and other hobbies, and I really am limited in how much time I can devote to books and reading.

So instead of trying to read all of the things, I want to give myself permission to be more selective. As a book blogger, it can be really easy to get bookish FOMO – to feel left out of the conversation if you aren’t reading the latest title or raving about the newest prize shortlist.

But we cannot read everything. And sometimes trying to read everything takes the enjoyment out of the books we do read. So I want to make sure that, before I request a proof, sign up for a blog tour, or make that impulse purchase in a bookshop, I take a few moments to think about whether I really will read that book. And read it soon, not some unspecified time in the distant future.

Needless to say, permission to DNF is also firmly ensconced in this aim. I’ve never been too bad at putting down books but I am pretty bad at admitting I’ll never go back to them. So this year I want to allow myself to say ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ to a book more often and just move on to the next one.

So those are my bookish plans for 2020! What are you hoping to do in your reading life this year? Are you trying to broaden your horizons by reading new genres? Are you competing in any reading challenges for the year? Do let me know in the comments below or come and say hi over on Twitter!

And, until the next time…

Happy Reading x

 

Books of the Year

Best Books of 2019

Wow. 2019, huh? Certainly quite the year – and definitely one that I would rather celebrate through books.

Because, despite everything, 2019 has been a pretty good year for me reading-wise. Overall, I read 79 books in 2019 – beating my Goodreads Challenge goal of 52 by some way, although not quite making last year’s total of 84 books read.

There were definitely slumpy moments – I hit my traditional summer reading slump right on cue and the commencement of my PhD has definitely impacted on the amount of personal reading time I get to enjoy but, as I prepare to ring in 2020 and look back over my year in books, I got to read some fantastic titles this year.

As always, this round-up is of the books I read in 2019 – so there will be a mix of older and new titles in there. There’s no doubt 2019 has seen some fabulous new books released but you gotta give that backlist some love too, you know?

So, without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you my Best Books of 2019!

The FiveThe Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

Strangely I never got around to writing a full review of this one. This is probably because Hallie Rubenhold’s exceptionally researched and devastatingly heart-breaking biography of Mary Anne Nichols, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, Annie Chapman, Mary Jane Kelly punched me in the gut when I read it back in April.

Hallie keeps her focus entirely on these women, moving the spotlight away from the violence that marked their ends and shining it instead on the tragedy, loss, perseverance, and determination that marked their lives. She gives these five women back their stories and, in doing so, presents a raw and insightful glimpse into the inequality and prejudice at the heart of the traditional Ripper narrative.

A masterful book, powerfully told, this one made me feel sorrow and anger in equal measure – and stayed with me long after I turned the final page.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John CarreyrouBad Blood

Another non-fiction read (or rather listen, as I read this one on audio) that I didn’t get around to writing up a full review for! Which is somewhat unbelievable as this is definitely a contender for most gripping book of the year!

Carryrou’s investigation of Theranos, the multbillion-dollar Silicon Valley biotech startup founded by brilliant young entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes is a compelling and comprehensive account of corporate fraud and accountability.

Combining the thorough research of investigative journalism with the twists of a crime thriller – and with shades of a dystopian novel thrown in at times – this one had me hooked from the moment I began listening. A re-read of the paperback is on my ‘To Do’ list for 2020.

The Lost Man CoverThe Lost Man by Jane Harper

I’ve enjoyed all of Jane Harper’s crime novels to date but, in my humble opinion, The Lost Man is her best yet.

A standalone story that centres of the secrets and lies within a family of remote outback ranchers, The Lost Man is a powerful tale of brotherhood, revenge, recrimination and redemption.

You can read my full review here but, needless to say, this is one crime novel that you should definitely make it a mission to pick up in 2020 if you haven’t already done so!

The Library Book by Susan Orlean43217645

I read a fair bit of non-fiction at the start of the year and The Library Book, Susan Orlean’s account of the 1985 fire that all but destroyed the Los Angeles Public Library, was definitely one of the highlights.

Ranging between providing an account of the fire and its aftermath, complete with some devastating interviews with library workers who were present on the day, Orlean also recounts the history of the library service in Los Angeles in a meditative and powerful reflection upon the power of literature.

In a time when library services continue to be under threat both here in the UK and elsewhere in the world, The Library Book is a reminder of the importance of these well-loved but underappreciated public spaces.

You can read my full review here.

Way of All Flesh CoverThe Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

Anyone who has followed the blog for a while will probably know that I love both historical fiction and crime fiction. Combining the two together, therefore, is a surefire way to get my interest.

Ambrose Parry (the pen name for writer Christopher Brookmyre and his wife Marisa Haetzman) hasn’t necessarily done anything new in The Way of All Flesh, the first in a potential series set in Victorian Edinburgh and centring on medical student Will Raven, housemaid Sarah Fisher, and their employer, the brilliant and pioneering Dr Simpson. But everything that is done is done exceptionally well. The plot is intriguing and well-crafted, the historical setting lives and breathes, and the characters come complete with both flaws and foibles. It all makes for an incredibly deep and satisfying read, which has more than earned its place on this list.

You can read my full review here.

The Red Word by Sarah HenstraThe Red Word Cover

I had never heard of this book until I agreed to take part in the blog tour for it but my gosh was it a revelation when I read it!

An intelligent, open-eyed and disturbing look at rape culture and the extremes of ideology, The Red Word is a campus novel that takes no prisoners in its depiction of sorority and fraternity life, radical feminism, and the terrible price that comes from being made to choose between two competing ideologies.

This is definitely no a novel for the faint-hearted but, in the wake of the Me Too movement, it’s a timely and powerful reminder of the ongoing debates that surround consent in modern-day culture.

You can read my full review here.

TamburlaineTamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh

A masterful historical novella that recounts the fictional last days of the life of Elizabethan playwright and all-round bad boy Christopher Marlowe.

It’s the voice that really got me in this one. Louise Welsh brings Marlowe and his world vividly to life on the page, capturing the sights, sounds, and smells of Elizabethan London with brilliant precision. And, at the heart of it all, is Marlowe. Angry, dissolute, cunning, and brilliant, Marlowe lives within these pages.

You can read my full review here.

Fuck Yeah, Video Games: The Life and Extra Lives of a Professional Nerd by Daniel Fuck Yeah CoverHardcastle

So, this one is pretty niche. I freely admit that if you’re not a fan of video games, you’re unlikely to see the appeal of Daniel Hardman’s love letter to the medium.

But if, like me, you love to curl up and travel through Skyrim’s frozen wastes, relished the day you could beat your cousin’s Pokemon into dust, or spent hours attempting that bloody Water Temple in Ocarina of Time, then let me assure you that you’ll love this book.

Dan speaks the language of nerd with ease and his account of his favourite games and the way in which they have shaped his life are both hilariously funny and extremely relatable. Plus the book contains some brilliant illustrations by Rebecca Maughan – the one for the Animal Crossing entry has me chuckling just thinking about it.

You can read my full review here.

ErebusErebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin

I must be really bad at reviewing non-fiction because this is yet another one that I read, loved, and failed to write up.

Michael Palin has that brilliant way of making anything seem interesting. So the fact that I already find historic polar exploration fascinating made this one an easy sell for me.

Erebus tells the story of the ship Erebus, from its construction to its fatal final voyage as part of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition. Along the way, Palin writes about the men and women whose lives were marked in some way by the ship, telling the tale of great voyages of discovery, scientific innovations, and crushed dreams. It’s a fascinating tale, engagingly told.

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective: Secrets and Lies in the Golden Age of Maud West CoverCrime by Susannah Stapleton

If you want non-fiction that reads like a novel then look no further than Susannah Stapleton’s The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective.

Maud West, a real-life Lady Detective, ran her agency in London for more than thirty years, have begun her sleuthing in 1905. But the real mystery soon becomes Maud’s own life. Because who really was Maud West? And were any of the tall tales she told about her exploits even remotely true?

As always, the truth turns out to be stranger than fiction in this compelling account of a unique life.

You can read my full review here.

BeastBeast by Matt Wesolowski

This one is a late entry as I finished it yesterday – but its no less brilliant for being a recent read!

I’ve read and adored every single one of Matt’s Six Stories novels and the latest, Beast, is no exception. Combining a compulsive podcast-style narrative with a tale of poverty, social media, desperation and modern-day vampires, Beast has the page-turning, edge-of-your-seat quality that made the previous Six Stories books so gripping.

I’ll be writing up a full review of this one shortly but, in the meantime, if you’ve not read any of Matt’s other Six Stories books, you can find me raving about them here, here and here!

Looking back, I have definitely read some fabulous books in 2019. Reviewing the year to write this post, it’s actually been a better one that I remembered. Getting this list down to a reasonable length was really difficult and I definitely want to leave a bit of room for the following honourable mentions (with links to full reviews/features where available):

A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman (author), Rafael Albuquerque (author, illustrator), Rafael Scavone, and Dave Stewart (illustrator)

The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

The Rapture by Claire McGlasson

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Unlawful Things by Anna Sayburn Lane

Many thanks to everyone who has read, liked, shared and supported the blog this year – every single retweet, share, like and comment has been much appreciated and I do love interacting with fellow bookish types on Twitter and here on WordPress.

Thanks also to all of the publicists and tour organisers who have invited me to take part in some fantastic blog tours this year – I really wouldn’t have discovered some of these reads if it weren’t for you.

And finally to the authors, thank you for writing such brilliant books. The pleasure of a good book never grows old but I’m sure that easy reading makes for hard writing. So thank you for your efforts.

Wishing you all a very happy and bookish New Year. I shall leave you with a toast from one of my favourite writers, Neil Gaiman:

OldGods

See you in 2020 and, until the next time, happy reading! x