Wow! 2019 has been a corker of a year for great reads! I’ve been lucky enough to read some absolutely incredible books this year, so whittling them down to a ‘best of the year’ list has been tough but I’ve managed to keep it to a Top, um, 11…by cheating a little. Some of my favourites were debuts, some by established authors who to me feel they are raising their already incredibly high bar even higher, and others are books that have been out for a while and I’m kicking myself for not reading them a lot earlier. As for my cheating…well, I’ve included a couple that are actually an entire series and made them count as one! So, here they are, in no particular order:
BLOOD ORANGE, Harriet Tyce
Uncomfortable, dark and addictive reading, crammed with complex, messed-up characters. This book holds a mirror up to real life, but a house of horrors mirror, where nothing in the reflection is as it seems. A must read.
CALL ME STAR GIRL, Louise Beech
I couldn’t put this book down. I was obsessed with the wonderful, complex, realistic characters, intrigued by the twisting storyline, and in love with beautiful writing. This psychological thriller is definitely character-led, so it goes at a slower pace than many in this genre; but I enjoyed being pulled along by wanting to know what happens to the people rather than simply by a speeding plot. The story stayed with me for a long time, and that’s why it’s on my list.
THE LOST MAN, Jane Harper
What an opening scene. A circle in the sand is described and I wondered what on earth was going on – then I realised and felt so chilled I almost shivered. From those very first lines I knew this was going to be another stunning book from Jane Harper. Throughout, the scene-setting is so descriptive you’ll be transported to the stifling heat of the Australian outback, which is so dangerous that one tiny mistake can be fatal. I totally lost myself in this world.
SIX STORIES, HYDRA, and CHANGELING, Matt Wesolowski
This is my first ‘cheat’ and I’m including all three of these books as one because they’re too good to choose between. Once I’d started Six Stories I was so addicted I raced through them all. Although they feature the same fictional podcast and citizen journalist, it’s not necessary to read them in order, and they absolutely work as stand-alones.
The way the stories are told is really fresh and interesting. They are presented as though you are reading the transcript of a podcast where the presenter revisits fascinating events from recent past. The author really captures the individual voices of the characters being interviewed while all the time weaving intrigue, information and misinformation that kept me always slightly off balance, not quite sure what was going to happen next. I found it addictive reading and definitely recommend.
DAISY JONES AND THE SIX, Taylor Jenkins Reid
Essentially about the rise and fall of a 70s rock band, this book uses the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll backdrop to explore love, rejection, temptation, and human nature. It’s so cleverly and subtly done, and instead of racing through it I found myself dipping in and out of it and savouring it. The writing style won’t be for everyone – it’s written in script form, as though a transcript of a documentary, with each of the band members and their crew chipping in with their views and versions of events – but if you’re looking for something a little different then try this book.
THE PUPPET SHOW and BLACK SUMMER, M.W. Craven
I was so incredibly late to the party with The Puppet Show, the first in a new detective series featuring the uniquely-named Washington Poe. From the first page, I knew it was going to be a winner, and it’s turned into one of those books I recommend to everyone. Every time I thought the story was wrapping up it took another turn. The characters are brilliant, and perfectly balance one another out in a way only total opposites can: Poe, the no-nonsense detective, is perfectly foiled and complemented in equal measure by desk-bound, socially awkward, tech-savvy wunderkind Tilly. This storyline rockets along, and I loved it so much that I leapt straight from it into the next in the series, Black Summer.
Black Summer features a totally different storyline from the previous book, but is no less clever, complex, expertly-plotted, characterised, and the pace…! Oh, the pace is absolutely perfect, and once again I was second-guessing, crowing that I’d got it right, only to discover I was completely wrong and being forced to make another guess, and another, and another. Absolutely brilliant. I’m sure I’m one of a legion of readers who can’t wait for the next instalment. I should add that although the stories do work as a standalone I’d recommend you read them, in order, because, well, frankly I don’t want you to miss out!
WORST CASE SCENARIO, Helen Fitzgerald
Acerbic. Incisive. Intelligent. Wicked. It’s hard to convey exactly what this book is, as it wasn’t so much written with a pen but slashed into being with a scalpel. Are the characters likeable? Hell, no. Are they relatable? Yes, yes, yes. Think of it as Fleabag, older, no wiser, still screwing up, and with crime thrown in.
Honestly, I’m not sure what to say about this book. It’s chaotic, sweary, disturbing, honest, laugh-out-loud and gasp-in-horror brilliance. Even the ending made me laugh out loud at it’s low-key audacity. Can you tell how much I loved it? Read it, experience it, and then get talking to everyone you know about it, because it’s a must-read.
THE RUMOUR, Lesley Kara
Oooh, this is a clever book that is so misleading. It initially seems like a pleasant paddle in a clear stream but soon the waters turn murky muddy, and before you know it you’re out of your depth and all out at sea with no idea of which direction land is and that haunting, uncomfortable feeling of wondering how the hell you ended up there. Deftly plotted with a writing style that flows so well, I flew through this book. You may think you know what’s going on but I’d be really surprised if you do. I think I pointed my finger at every single character at some point! But the real masterstroke is how very human the story is.
BITTER, Francesca Jakobi
Selfish, bitter and a little unhinged, the main character becomes obsessed with her past, where it all went wrong…and why she couldn’t have been loved like her daughter-in-law is. A beautifully-written character study, the story was unexpected and heartbreaking; I shed a tear at the end.
WAKENHYRST, Michelle Paver
This author never fails to deliver a spine-tingling atmosphere in her ghost stories, but this time she also created a main character that I absolutely adored. Maud is a young girl not only fighting the supernatural but also her misogynistic father, and her spirit stayed with me for a long time after I’d finished reading. As for the setting, the author has outdone herself by choosing the marshes of the fens before they were drained. This is one of those stories I shall revisit – that’s how much I loved it.
THE WHISPER MAN, Alex North
Every time someone mentions this book I find myself leaping in to say: ‘Oooh, I loved this; it’s brilliant!’ That about says it all really! This is a tale of fathers, of trying to come to terms with the past, of fighting for the future. Skilfully plotted, with characters who step from the page and into your imagination, you can feel their creeping fear. Who is the Whisper Man? Is he real or is he some kind of phantom come to haunt Tom and Jake in their new home? The truth is so much more complex than you can imagine. This is a story to not only give you goose bumps but to tug at your heart. If you like your psychological thrillers to have a pinch of the supernatural then this is absolutely not to be missed.