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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion Time · Random Bookish Things · Reviews

Graphic Novel Recommendations

Graphic NovelsEvery so often I like to take a break from novels and hefty non-fiction tomes and settle down with something a bit different. Short stories aren’t generally my bag but I LOVE a good graphic novel.

Graphic novels provide a completely different reading experience. The best graphic novels, for me anyway, use a combination of text and art to lead the reader through the pages.

They’re a reading experience that is both fast and slow. Quite often, they can be read relatively speedily if you just read through the text start to finish. But often I find I’m drawn to savour them, the lavish art inviting me to return to examine each frame and search for additional details that provide texture to the narrative.

In today’s post, I wanted to share a few of my favourite graphic novels with you. I’m by no means a graphic novel expert – I wasn’t one of those kids who devoured Marvel and DC throughout my childhood- but these titles have all earned a place on my shelves and I’ve re-read the majority of them more than once. Many of them are also standalone titles, making them great for anyone who is new to the genre.

NimonaNimona, Noelle Stevenson

Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is, technically, a YA graphic novel but don’t let that put you off because it’s a fabulously funny romp featuring an impulsive young shapeshifter with anger management issues, a dastardly supervillain who definitely doesn’t have a heart of gold, and a set of good guys with more than a few dark secrets up their sleeves.

Stephenson’s art is simple and colourful but wonderfully effective, and the narrative combines some laugh out loud humour with a touching story about friendship, love, and finding your place in the world.

Bloodlust&BonnetsBloodlust & Bonnets, Emily McGovern

Emily McGovern’s webcomic My Life as a Background Slytherin has been making me laugh for quite some time now so I was delighted when she released her first full-length graphic novel earlier this year.

In a hilarious pastiche of Romantic literature, Bloodlust & Bonnets sees bored debutante Lucy team up with exuberant poet Lord Byron and dashing ‘definitelystayinginthefriendzone’ bounty hunter Shem in pursuit of notorious vampire Lady Violet Travesty.

Poking fun at the tropes of the gothic novel, vampire literature, and romance, Emily’s clean and simple art style perfectly complements the joyous, action-packed romp. The novel has also been beautifully coloured by Rebekah Rarely.

A Study in EmeraldA Study in Emerald, Neil Gaiman

Sherlock Holmes meets Cthulu. Where do I sign?

I adore Neil Gaiman’s writing and this short story, which follows a famous consulting detective and his partner as they attempt to solve a horrific murder within the murky darkness of Lovecraftian London, has that perfect Gaiman blend of the fantastical and the dangerous.

Brilliantly adapted into a graphic novel format with stunning art by Rafael Alburquerque, script by Rafael Scavone and colours by Dave Stewart, A Study in Emerald is a dark, creepy tale that has a fantastic twist in its tale.

Shoutout also to Gaiman’s gloriously feminist take on the Sleeping Beauty myth, The Sleeper and the Spindle, which is accompanied by stunning black and white art by Chris Riddell.

GiganticBeardThe Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, Stephen Collins

Collins’ wonderfully shaded monochrome art sets off a poignant story of belonging and acceptance in this quirky tale which sees Dave, one of the many residents on the buttoned-down island of Here, suddenly assailed by a terrifying monster: a giant, unstoppable beard.

As Dave gradually begins to embrace his new facial fur, he also starts to relish difference, stepping outside of the familiarities of Here. But what will the other residents do when Dave risks bringing the unknown terrors of There into their safe and closeted world?

Seemingly simple, there is surprising depth in this fantastical tale that has all too many parallels to the world we live in today.

QuietGirlQuiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story, Debbie Tung

I genuinely think Debbie Tung might have rooted around in my head to write this.

Sweet, funny, and poignant, the comic sequences collected here reveal the many ups and downs of introvert life.

From the emotional drain that accompanies even the best of social events, to the sheer joy that can be found in curling up with a book, a cat, and a cup of tea, Tung’s sharp observations and delicate sketches capture the enchantment and awkwardness of introversion.

Honorable Mentions

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, Isabel Greenberg: A fascinating alternative history of the world that embraces a number of creation myths and weaves them into a magical story of enlightenment and true love.

Mooncop, Tom Gauld: A short, stark and wonderfully droll tale of everyday life on a lunar colony. Gauld’s brilliantly simple art style is an absolute joy.

Rat QueensKurtis J Wiebe: The first couple of volumes of this series are a raucous delight of booze, death, and sex that follow an all-female team of death-dealers for hire. Sadly the series has, in my opinion, tailed off in terms of quality as it’s developed, but the first couple of volumes are well worth checking out if you don’t mind reading a graphic series that’s most definitely NSFW.

Bitch Planet, Kelly Sue Deconnick & Valentine De Landro: Another NSFW series focusing on kick-ass ladies. Based on the titular Bitch Planet, a prison planet for non-conforming women, this comic unapologetically embraces the feminist agenda in a raw, captivating, and brutal exploration of exploitation and resistance.

So, those were some of my favourite graphic novels! I hope this post will encourage you to pick up a few of my recommended titles – if you do, then please do let me know what you think in the comments.

I’m also open to suggestions for some more graphic novels to read so please do let me know your own favourites.

And, until next time, Happy Reading!