Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
I have put off reading this for so long. It’s been sitting on my shelf staring at me and I have steadfastly ignored it. But I finally took the plunge. And I’m still trying to work out how I feel about it. There was a suggestion that it really wasn’t a sequel at all, it was a first draft of the novel we all know and love so much. I can see that. On that basis, it’s fascinating to consider from a creative writing point of view. But as a novel in its own right? I’m not sure it can hold its own.
A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
The English Civil War looms and a girl yearns to find her long-lost family. She does not heed the warnings her mother gave her before she died. There’s something terrible and rotten in that family. Can she conquer the darkness and walk in the light? A gripping read, an original plot, and some likeable characters. What’s not to like?
Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore
This is Helen Dunmore’s last novel, written even as she knew she was unlikely to survive the cancer she’d been recently diagnosed with. The novel is all about what survives, what remains when we are gone. Set at the time of the French Revolution the novel focuses on a group of characters in the city of Bristol. Historically specific and yet widely pertinent.
The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch
It all started with Rivers of London. Now it’s all about ghosts on the London Underground. I love this series about PC Peter Grant, junior member of the Met’s Special Assessment Unit, taking care of all matters paranormal. Jolly good fun.
The Dry by Jane Harper
Years of drought are taking their toll on a small remote rural community in Australia. The pressure finally gets to a local lad who kills his family and himself. But a friend from the past arrives for the funerals and finds he isn’t so sure it’s as clear cut as it seems. A really good read. But it won’t fill more than a day on the beach because you won’t be able to put it down.
Forces of Nature by Jane Harper
I read this straight after The Dry and perhaps that was a mistake. I felt exactly the same about it for most of the way through, but felt disappointed by the ending. A group of women head into the bush on a team-building exercise. One of them doesn’t come back. Each of the survivors is hiding something. But one of them is hiding a really big something…
In My House by Alex Hourston
Just one word in an airport: help. Maggie’s life will never be the same again after she responds and effectively enables the escape of a young woman from the grip of a trafficker. Later, the young woman contacts Maggie and suddenly becomes part of her life. It’s a difficult book to categorise. It’s not a thriller. It’s all about emotions, opening ourselves to others and dealing with the consequences when it doesn’t work out as we’d hoped.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
A couple embark on a journey to escape an unnamed war-torn city and head west seeking a new life. The fighting and its effects are very real but there are elements of fantasy that create a strange blending of genre that can occasionally cause a jolt. But, on the whole, it’s an enjoyable book with a great insight into some terrible human dilemmas.
Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean
A fantastic novel based on the true story of a group of men from St Kilda in 1727. They are dropped on a remote sea stack to collect seabirds for food. They should be there for several weeks only, but no one comes to collect them. Left to imagine why no one from their community came for them, they conclude that the world must have ended and that they, for some reason, have escaped the destruction. But how to move forwards with, well, life? A fascinating book, tinged with sadness but well worth reading.
The Harrowing by James Aitcheson
The harrowing of the north was a brutal time in our history. James Aitcheson does a fabulous job of allowing us to see, across nearly a thousand years, what it actually means to be subject to an organised harrowing. There’s darkness aplenty, and it’s not a sentimental novel so don’t expect a sudden happy resolution to the situation, but there is a thoughtful and hopeful ending, and the journey towards that ending is certainly worth the taking.
Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott
A fantastic historical fiction/fantasy novel set in a small town which appears on no maps and has been self-governing since the time of Elizabeth I. Why? What is the town hiding? Why is it illegal to study the town's history? Even the best kept secrets find a way out in the end... A great read and I can't wait to read the next instalment, Wyntertide.
Emma is gang raped at a party. Photos are taken and posted on social media. How do you ever leave the house again when everyone from the boy you fancy to your local parish priest, your parents to your teachers, have all seen them? This is a powerful novel. Emma is no angel. She can be a bit of a cow, in fact. But what happens to her is appalling and unjustifiable. And as her life unravels she is faced with a variety of attitudes that we all recognise, from a defence of the ‘lad’ culture to the social isolation of her family. Prepare for a tough read. But do read it. It’s the most important book I’ve read for a long time.
So The Doves won The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Month after publication, and thoroughly deserved it. Beautifully written and thoughtfully constructed, it tells the story of a journalist whose sudden fall from grace leaves him confronting not only his present crises but also the secrets of his past. This novel is about what it means to be innocent or guilty. It’s about our memories and how we construct them. It’s about how we see ourselves and others. It’s the best novel I’ve read for some time and it just goes to show that we readers need to keep an eye on the indie publishers (in this case Bluemoose Books of Hebden Bridge) whose absolute stunners are out there and deserve our attention. I’m very much looking forward to reading more from Heidi James.
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
Ooo, I was hooked on this thriller from the first line and absolutely loved every minute of this book. There’s real tension and the sense of a lurking menace throughout. Also some thoughtful insight into the damage and danger caused by secrets and the denial of the possibility that alternative explanations might exist.
The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter
Sometimes upsetting, although never gratuitously so, this thriller is about appearance and reality. Nothing is quite what it seems. It’s not an unreliable narrator situation, as in The Girl on the Train; more like an unreliable everything else. I could sense something wasn’t right, but I didn’t see the twist coming. And that’s always nice!
Sleep No More by P.D. James
Six short stories published here together for the first time. Revenge and murder work very well together in these satisfying tales. The hardback is a lovely edition for a present, too!
CWA Anthology of Short Stories: Mystery Tour
Contributing authors include Ann Cleeves, C.L. Taylor and Kate Ellis, among many others. There’s a real mix of material in here, too. Every story feels fresh, like it’s the first of its kind. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Cold, Cold Heart by Christine Poulson
I really enjoyed this story of a crew isolated in the Antarctic winter of constant darkness, knowing there is a killer among them. Investigations both on the base and back in England allow a lovely double thread of tension that builds gradually. The descriptions of the icy landscape are fascinating and add to the eeriness. Well worth a read.
The Serpent Pool by Martin Edwards
Set in the Lake District, this fantastic novel comes with some gruesome murders, plenty of suspicious characters, an interesting literary backdrop, and a satisfying conclusion. What’s not to like?
Chase by Linwood Barclay
This is Barclay’s first children’s book. When twelve-year-old Jeff meets Chipper the dog his life will never be the same again. For this is no ordinary dog. And the authorities will stop at nothing to make sure no one finds that out… It’s an intelligent and fast-moving book. Overall, an enjoyable read.
The Unmapped Country by Ann Quin
Quin took her own life in 1973 at the age of thirty-seven. Had she lived and written more she might well have been one of the century’s literary giants. Instead, her work fell into obscurity. But fear not because that mighty publishing house Salt has given us this collection of stories and fragments. And what a read it is. Her work feels … unsettled, open-ended. It questions and probes. I recommend it highly.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is the tale of an elderly British couple living in the time just after the reign of King Arthur, when tensions between the Britons and the Saxons are waxing. It’s an interesting weave of myth, legend and mystery together with matters pertaining to all societies across all times: the nature of memory and how it is influenced by guilt, by the desire to forget and the urge to remember. Haunting.
Christmas Dinner of Souls by Ross Montgomery
Yes, I know it’s not Christmas, but I saw this at the library and thought it looked like a bit of fun. And indeed it was. If you like your Christmas stories warm and fuzzy, this isn’t the book for you! It’s full of murders, ghosts, betrayals and people trapped behind walls. It’s quirky and energetic. I loved it!
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
We love Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea in our house and when I looked into Kerr’s early life I found that she and her family had fled Germany under the Nazis – and only just in time too. This semi-autobiographical book tells the story of that escape and the life of the family afterwards. At the time the family left Germany, they thought it was a temporary move and took only a few essentials. When they realised they couldn’t go back, young Anna pictures Hitler playing with the beloved pink rabbit that she left behind. A fantastic book for children with questions about Hitler’s Germany.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
I’m so sorry, everyone, but I was a little bit disappointed with the first of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. I am only too aware of the high praise for these books, but it’s just one of those things; there isn’t, and never will be, a book that is universally praised and beloved of all because we all have different tastes and enjoy different things – and that’s how it should be. I adore Naples, but I just didn’t feel a strong sense of place until well into the book. I didn’t find the characters, on the whole, instantly engaging, although I grew to find them interesting. I am glad I read it, but I just wish I’d started enjoying it sooner than I did.
Mist Over Pendle by Robert Neill
Possibly the most famous work of fiction on the topic of the Pendle Witches of 1612. It covers the events of the early part of the year and leads up to the trial but stops short of it. Therefore it doesn’t cover the issue of the child, Jennet Device, who testified against her entire family and sent them all to the gallows. Shame, because that’s where it all starts getting very interesting really. But it’s still a really good read with lots of atmospheric writing evoking the creeping sense of evil and foreboding in the ancient Forest of Pendle in 1612.
The Children Act by Ian McEwan
It’s three years since I left the law to become an editor, so I wasn’t sure what I’d make of this short novel set firmly in the legal world. I loved it. McEwan’s genius lies in his ability to make the reader feel the complexity and weight of life-changing decisions made by judges in our courts, and how those decisions impact on the lives of all concerned and yet, at the same time, he keeps the narrative light and compelling. You’ll never look at a judge the same way again!
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
The cover told me it was Agatha Christie meets The Girl on the Train. I didn’t see much Christie in there (except in a very general sense of investigation) but it was certainly The Girl on the Train – just on a boat instead. Don’t let that put you off though. It’s a really good read and it certainly has enough about it to make sure it’s not simply dismissed as an imitation.
Emma by Alexander McCall Smith
A warm, witty, clever and very satisfying retelling and updating of Jane Austen’s classic novel. I can’t recommend this highly enough to anyone. And Austen fans needn’t worry – it’s just wonderful.
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
Perhaps one of Austen’s lesser-known novels, but don’t let this put you off Val McDermid’s retelling. This novel is an absolute bundle of fun with great characters, lots of gothic silliness and a happy ending. I loved it.
Jim Reaper: Son of Grim by Rachel Delahaye
Poor Jim’s world is blown apart one day when he discovers that his dad is not the ‘normal’ accountant he’s been pretending to be all this time. Once Jim starts to notice strange things, he can see that there’s something of the night about his dad, but he just can’t put his finger on it. And then it all slots into place and life – or death – will never be the same again. Witty, clever, pacey. Great.
A Spot of Folly by Ruth Rendell
A collection of short stories, some better than others, but overall a cracking read and something in there to keep almost every reader entertained.
The Path Through the Trees by Christopher Milne
The second of Christopher Milne’s autobiographical books, covering his time as a soldier in World War Two and running his bookshop in Dartmouth. Engaging and poignant.
The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
This intriguing and imaginative book is full of hope and positivity. A good pace, well-drawn plot, believable characters and a satisfying ending. Hargrave’s world-building was entirely unobtrusive. I can’t wait to read more of her work.
Well, living just down the road from the setting of this book clearly I was obliged to read it. Hurley’s debut novel, The Loney, was chilling and often unsettling reading and I wondered whether his second novel would have the same power. Oh yes! It certainly did, if not more so. A small and isolated farming community still has room in their rituals and belief systems for Old Nick. Will he outwit them or can they keep him at bay?
A retelling of King Lear as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Series. Dunbar (King Lear) has lost his international media business to his unscrupulous daughters in a boardroom coup and is wandering around the Lake District, having escaped from the nursing home his daughters banished him to. Everyone is looking for him. But who will find him first? Brilliant. I loved it. Told with razor-sharp wit and great empathy.
I absolutely loved this witty, warm and honest account of Emily Morris’s twenties when she was left, literally, holding the baby. I have to say that although I wasn’t in Emily’s difficult position – which she handles brilliantly, by the way – so much of the book resonated with me and I found it a relief to know that I hadn’t been the only mum who struggled to get out of the house before late afternoon (sometimes at all), who felt out of place next to the other mums at baby groups, who felt judged and was hounded out of cafes by grumpy old people. If Emily has raised her son with even a fraction of the warmth and humanity that emanates from her in waves through the pages of her book, he’ll be a wonderful human being.
A lovely hardback book with a gorgeous cover and just a nice size to slip into your bag and take with you. Having said that, it’s best read on a cold, dark night by the light of a dim lamp – or better still, a candle! Perfect for October, the stories are intriguing and unsettling. The last one left me feeling particularly chilled. Highly recommended for some spooky reading.
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