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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Lost Man Cover“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…

Having read and greatly enjoyed Jane Harper’s two previous novels, The Dry and Force of Nature, I jumped at the chance to be part of the blog tour for her third book, The Lost Man!

Whilst still set amidst the sun-bleached landscapes of Australia, The Lost Man is slightly different from her previous two books in that it doesn’t feature protagonist Aaron Falk (although there is a very cleverly hidden reference to him in the book for keen-eyed readers to spot!). Whilst you certainly didn’t need to have read The Dry to appreciate Force of Nature, this makes The Lost Man a complete standalone and has given Harper scope to experiment with a slightly darker tone to produce, in my humble opinion, her best book yet.

The Lost Man centres on the Bright family, cattle farmers in the remote Australian outback. Nathan, eldest of the Bright brothers and ostracised from both his family and his community as a result of a terrible decision made years before, is reluctantly pulled from his isolated existence when his brother, Cameron, is found dead. Dying of heat exhaustion and exposure in the middle of the Australian summer is not in itself surprising – this is a landscape that kills the unwary without mercy.  But when Cameron’s car is found several kilometres away from his body, filled with plenty of water and several days worth of supplies, Nathan begins to question why his brother would have walked into the wilderness – and whether he had help.

Thus begins a gradual unravelling of family secrets, spiralling into the past and causing troubled memories to resurface that send ripples through Nathan’s remote outback community.

I really took to Nathan as a narrator. His gruff, awkward outward demeanour belies a contemplative and considerate nature and, even when the awful truth of his past mistakes are revealed, you can’t help but empathise with him. One of the main strengths of the book is the gradual revealing and development of Nathan’s character, as he begins to step out from the shadows of his past and look towards future possibilities. As Nathan begins to unravel the truth behind Cameron’s death, he has to explore long-neglected relationships and decide who he can trust amidst the small list of suspects. And, as the reader, you’re right there alongside him, putting together seemingly incidental pieces of information and pulling them into a cohesive narrative that eventually leads to the real reason Cameron Bright ended up dying so slowly and painfully out at the stockman’s grave.

The supporting cast are equally well realised and, as the novel progresses, you get a real sense of the shifting family dynamics and divided loyalties at play within the Bright family. Harper is fantastic at developing rounded characters and all of her characters feel like real people, with strengths and flaws. Good guys and bad guys are in short supply in The Lost Man. Instead you have people making choices; some good, some bad and some terrible.

The final character worthy of note is the outback itself. Harper has utterly captured the harsh yet beautiful landscape in which her story is set. From the searing dust of an outback morning to the cool balm of nighttime air, you can practically feel the heat rising from each page. The thin line between life and death in this beautiful but deadly landscape is bought fully to life in the book, and getting a glimpse into the struggle to maintain life amidst such a harsh climate was a fascinating aspect of the book.

As you can probably guess from the emphasis on character and setting, this is a slow burn of a book. The first third takes its time to set up the characters and the place, drip-feeding information gradually. The plot picks up pace about halfway in and I devoured the last third late at night, determined not to finish until I’d reached the end. So there’s a definite compulsion to the narrative but I wouldn’t necessarily call The Lost Man a page-turner. It’s a book that rewards considered reading and will be most appreciated by readers who want a well-written, compelling narrative with added depth. Fans of The Dry and Force of Nature will not be disappointed with The Lost Man and, with its mesmeric setting, entrancing narrative twists and absorbing characters, I very much hope that the book will bring a host of new readers to her work.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper is published by Little, Brown and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers, including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free eARC of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to the publisher for inviting me onto this tour. The blog tour continues until 13 February so please do check out the other stops along the way! 

The Lost Man Tour Poster