This year has been a mixture of more books read than ever before and a lack of noting them down – so compiling my list of my favourite books of 2019 has been a bit difficult.
Each time I think I’ve got the list complete, I remember something else – so my Top 10 this year is a top 11, and it’s been the hardest year to pull it together. And there are definitely many other books I could have put in here.
Read on to find out if you agree with my list!
11 The Long Call by Ann Cleeves
In North Devon, where the rivers Taw and Torridge converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his father’s funeral takes place. The day Matthew turned his back on the strict evangelical community in which he grew up, he lost his family too.
Now he’s back, not just to mourn his father at a distance, but to take charge of his first major case in the Two Rivers region; a complex place not quite as idyllic as tourists suppose. A body has been found on the beach near to Matthew’s new home: a man with the tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death. Finding the killer is Venn’s only focus, and his team’s investigation will take him straight back into the community he left behind, and the deadly secrets that lurk there.
This is exactly the book I’ve been waited a long time for. It’s a well-written traditional crime novel where the lead character just happens to be a gay man.
What’s more, it’s not important to the plot – which might make you wonder why it matters – but that’s exactly why it does. It’s representation in mainstream fiction like this that really matters. But, better than that representation – it’s a great book!
10. The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris
Grace Atherton, a talented cellist, is in love with David. Together in their apartment in Paris, Grace and David are happy until an unexpected event changes everything. Nadia is seventeen and furious.
She knows that love will only let her down: if she is going to succeed it will be on her own terms. At eighty-six Maurice Williams has discovered a lot about love in his long life, and even more about people. And yet he keeps secrets.
When Grace’s life falls apart in the most shocking of ways Maurice and Nadia come to her rescue, helping her to find happiness and hope through the healing power of friendship
Harris has created a very real character in Grace, but it’s her love of music and the cello that really stands out for me in this book.
In Patrick Gale’s most recent novel Take Nothing With You his character Eustace plays the cello and it’s some of his best writing – it’s like a gateway drug for this novel where there is more music playing, so vividly described that you can almost hear it.
9. The Two Lives of Louis and Louise by Julie Cohen
One chance to see the same world differently. Louis and Louise are the same person born in two different lives. One was born female, and one male.
They have the same best friends, the same red hair, the same dream of being a writer, the same excellent whistle. They both suffer one catastrophic night, with life-changing consequences. Thirteen years later, they are both coming home .
This is a brilliant concept and I love the way Julie explores it, allowing the changes in their lives to be brought about because of influences from the outer world.
Just one small physical difference between them has not only an impact on their lives, but the lives of those around them. It’s the ultimate what-if story!
This book was voted Book of the Year by customers of Bert’s Books!
8. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Queenie Jenkins can’t cut a break. Well, apart from the one from her long term boyfriend, Tom.
That’s definitely just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Then there’s her boss who doesn’t seem to see her and her Caribbean family who don’t seem to listen (if it’s not Jesus or water rates, they’re not interested).
She’s trying to fit in two worlds that don’t really understand her. It’s no wonder she’s struggling. She was named to be queen of everything.
So why is she finding it so hard to rule her own life?
Queenie is one of those novels that has stayed with me, long after I finished reading it
It’s funny, but feels heartbreakingly real. Queenie is a young black woman trying to navigate her way through a mini-crisis of self. Who is she? Where does she belong in this world? Does she even like herself?
In short, she’s suffering from all the things we all suffer from, but for me it was the insights into her views on race that really made this book. It’s not the big moments, but the small ones, ones where we, the reader, offended on her behalf but Queenie simply shrugs them off as normal.
It might help you see society in a new way – or it will feel horribly familiar. Either way, it will make Queenie feel so vivid and real – you’ll be rooting for her all the way through.
7. Past Life by Dominic Nolan
Detective Abigail Boone has been missing for four days when she is finally found. Suffering retrograde amnesia, she is a stranger to her despairing husband and bewildered son. Hopelessly lost in her own life, with no leads on her abduction, Boone’s only instinct is to revisit the case she was investigating when she vanished: the baffling disappearance of a young woman, Sarah Still.
Defying her family and the police, Boone obsessively follows a deadly trail to uncover the shocking truth. But even if she finds Sarah, will Boone ever be the same again?
I thought this was a great start to a new crime series, Boone is a compelling but flawed lead character and it featured a good mystery to be solved.
I can’t wait to read the next one in the series. If you feel the same After Dark is published in March 2020, and you can pre-order it now.
6. The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd
Lauren Pailing is born in the sixties, and a child of the seventies. She is thirteen years old the first time she dies. Lauren Pailing is a teenager in the eighties, becomes a Londoner in the nineties.
And each time she dies, new lives begin for the people who loved her – while Lauren enters a brand new life, too. But in each of Lauren’s lives, a man called Peter Stanning disappears. And, in each of her lives, Lauren sets out to find him.
And so it is that every ending is also a beginning. And so it is that, with each new beginning, Peter Stanning inches closer to finally being found…
A bit like Louis & Louise, this is Sliding Doors style concept where we play witness to several different universes concurrently, each of them dealing with grief.
It had the potential to be messy but Rudd’s writing is skilful enough that the reader can stay with the different worlds easily enough. What it results in is a moving exploration of grief that will stay with you long after the final page.
5. The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
Yorkshire, 1845, and dark rumours are spreading across the moors. Everything indicates that Mrs Elizabeth Chester of Chester Grange has been brutally murdered in her home – but nobody can find her body. As the dark murmurs reach Emily, Anne and Charlotte Bronte, the sisters are horrified, yet intrigued.
Before they know it, the siblings become embroiled in the quest to find the vanished bride, sparking their imaginations but placing their lives at great peril . . .
I’ve never read any of the Brontës before, but the three sisters are written completely in period style, as if a classic Victorian writer had written the book themselves. The dialogue and their thoughts immediately take you straight into nineteenth century life, such that you simply cease to notice it’s a historical novel at all.
The plot itself is a satisfying mystery which is resolved without resorting to hiding anything from the audience, and definitely left me wanting more from the sisters – each of whom have distinct personalities.
4. Proximity by Jem Tugwell
You can’t get away with anything. Least of all murder.
DI Clive Lussac has forgotten how to do his job. Ten years of embedded technology – `iMe’ – has led to complete control and the eradication of crime. Then the impossible happens.
A body is found, and the killer is untraceable. With new partner Zoe Jordan, Clive must re-sharpen his detective skills and find the killer without technology, before time runs out for the next victim…
I loved this book – despite its futuristic setting it still felt very grounded in current reality, preferring to show us the seedier side of a world being consumed by its own technology.
Lussac is considered a dinosaur in this story, but it is his humanity that sets him apart from the iMe technology. I can’t wait to explore this world further and find out what other advances have been made and how they have helped or hindered society.
3. Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens
At fifteen, Boady Sanden dreams of being anywhere other than Jessup, Missouri.
Then the Elgins move in across the road. Getting to know his new neighbours – a black family in a community where notions of “us” and “them” still carry weight – Boady is forced to rethink the world he took for granted. Secrets hidden in plain sight begin to unfold.
There’s the mother consumed by loss of her husband, the neighbour who carries the wounds of a mysterious past, the quiet boss fighting a hidden battle. But the biggest secret of all is the disappearance of Lida Poe, the African-American woman who keeps the books at the local factory. Although Boady has never met the missing woman, he discovers that the threads of her life are woven into the deepest fabric of his world.
As the mystery of Lida’s fate plays out, Boady begins to see the stark lines of race and class that both bind and divide this small town – and he will be forced to choose sides.
I really liked the atmosphere of this novel, I felt drawn into Boady’s world, and as a young man he displays an ignorance of racism that we can all be guilty of, maybe not of race, but of other things.
With little exposure to the other side of the story, he doesn’t realise how offensive his words can be – and I think that can be a lesson to all of us. A) to be more considerate of others but also B) to try and educate rather than berate.
2. The Warehouse by Rob Hart
In a world ravaged by bankruptcy and unemployment, Cloud is the only company left worth working for. But what will it cost you?A midst the wreckage of America, Cloud reigns supreme.
Cloud brands itself not just as an online storefront, but as a global saviour. Yet, beneath the sunny exterior, lurks something far more sinister. Paxton never thought he’d be working Security for the company that ruined his life, much less that he’d be moving into one of their sprawling live-work facilities.
But compared to what’s left outside, perhaps Cloud isn’t so bad. Better still, through his work he meets Zinnia, who fills him with hope for their shared future. Except that Zinnia is not what she seems.
And Paxton, with his all-access security credentials, might just be her meal ticket. As Paxton and Zinnia’s agendas place them on a collision course, they’re about to learn just how far the Cloud will go to make the world a better place. To beat the system, you have to be inside it.
The scariest thing about this book is you can totally see it happening. The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions, and no one set out to create an evil corporation, but that seems to be what Cloud has become.
Like Proximity this presents a vision of a sleek future that may not be as good as it all seems. For a while there has been a trend of dystopian novels, but the only way I can describe this is as pre-dystopian. Hart presents a world on the edge of destruction, everything monopolised by one big homogenous organisation.
I’d love to see a sequel to this book to see what happens should The Cloud ever dissipate…
1. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
They were the new icons of rock and roll, fated to burn bright and not fade away. But on 12 July 1979, it all came crashing down. There was Daisy, rock and roll force of nature, brilliant songwriter and unapologetic drug addict, the half-feral child who rose to superstardom.
There was Camila, the frontman’s wife, too strong-willed to let the band implode – and all too aware of the electric connection between her husband and Daisy. There was Karen, ice-cool keyboardist, a ferociously independent woman in a world that wasn’t ready for her. And there were the men surrounding them: the feuding, egotistical Dunne brothers, the angry guitarist chafing on the sidelines, the drummer binge-drinking on his boat, the bassist trying to start a family amid a hedonistic world tour.
They were creative minds striking sparks from each other, ready to go up in flames. It’s never just about the music…
Anyone who’s been paying attention for – ooh, the last 12 months – could have guessed that this would be my favourite book of 2019.
It’s told in transcript form, and at first glance that shouldn’t work, but this does. You instantly have a vision of what these characters look like and it becomes really easy to differentiate them from each other. It’s almost as if the whole thing is playing as a video in your head and you’re just reading subtitles.
The music they talk about becomes as real as the characters and despite never having heard a note of it, I’m willing to put Daisy Jones in my Top 10 artists of all time.