My Year in Books 2019

Every year I swear I'm going to narrow down my choices for my end of year list then every year I'm foiled by the authors who will keep on writing books that I love! This year has been no exception and I've been fortunate to read some fabulous novels again. Eventually I've decided that I'll start by listing some of the books I'd highly recommend, grouped by category (although some could fit under more than one heading, of course) and in the order I reviewed them, before coming to those books which were my personal favourites of the year. Click on the links if you would like to read my reviews for any of the titles I've included.

Historical Fiction

These books all perfectly evoke the period in which they're set, whether still in living memory or many centuries in the past.

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola
On a Turning Tide by Ellie Dean
Arthur, Dux Bellorum by Tim Walker
The Saxon Wolves by Penny Ingham
The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl (tr. by Don Bartlett)
The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe (tr. by Lilit Zekulin)
A Dangerous Act of Kindness by LP Fergusson
Girls on the Home Front by Annie Clarke
Ungentlemanly Warfare by Howard Linskey
With Hope and Love by Ellie Dean
Christmas with the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell
Hemlock Jones & The Underground Orphans by Justin Carroll
Entertaining Mr Pepys by Deborah Swift

Contemporary Fiction

If historical fiction shines a light on our past, then contemporary fiction does the same for the present and these fantastic books all did that so very well.

The Space Between Time by Charlie Laidlaw
The Journey by Conrad Jones
Something To Live For by Richard Roper

Dystopian Fiction

With the current state of the world, it's perhaps no wonder that some authors are inspired to write dystopian fiction. These disturbing novels could all be seen as prescient warnings as to how much worse things could yet become...

Cull by Tanvir Bush
The Last by Hanna Jameson
Thicker Than Water by Rachel McLean
Sea of Lies by Rachel McLean
One Of Us by Rachel McLean
The Passengers by John Marrs

Chilling Reads

I do enjoy a spine-tingling read and these brilliant books all fitted the bill perfectly this year.

Changeling by Matt Wesolowski
The Whisper Man by Alex North
A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan
Magpie by Sophie Draper

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Probably the most varied of my categories; I love reading SFF and and although haven't read as much as I'd have liked this year, I have enjoyed some fabulous books.

The Spider by Leo Carew
The Stranger's Guide to Talliston by John Tarrow
The Man in the Dark by Jonathan Whitelaw
Hunted by Steve McHugh

Previously Published

These books were all published before 2019 but I only read them this year and felt it would be a crying shame not to include them.

Dark Pines by Will Dean
The Puppet Show by M.W. Craven
Sour Fruit by Eli Allison
The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner
Blue Gold by David Barker

Crime and Thrillers

My favourite genre and so unsurprisingly also the longest of my 'shortlists'. I've read some wonderful crime fiction this year and highly recommend each of these books as sterling examples as to why the genre is just so compelling.

Red Snow by Will Dean
Deep Dirty Truth by Steph Broadribb
The Reach of Shadows by Tony J. Forder
Among The Ruins by Ausma Zehanat Khan
Flowers Over The Inferno by Ilaria Tuti (tr. by Erin Oklap)

You Belong to Me by Mark Tilbury
Stalker by Lars Kepler (tr. by Neil Smith)
Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce
Beton Rouge by Simone Buchholz (tr. by Rachel Ward)
Poetic Justice by R.C. Bridgestock

She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge
Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech
One More Lie by Amy Lloyd
Him by Clare Empson
The Island by Ragnar Jónasson (tr. by Victoria Cribb)

Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr
Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald
Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly
Dead Inside by Noelle Holten
Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry

Now You See Me by Chris McGeorge
Wolves at the Door by Gunnar Staalesen (tr. by Don Bartlett)
The Body Lies by Jo Baker
The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter
Sister of Mine by Laurie Petrou

The Last Stage by Louise Voss
The Reunion by Guillaume Musso (tr. by Frank Wynne)
The Closer I Get by Paul Burston
The Kompromat Kill by Michael Jenkins
The July Girls by Phoebe Locke

Someone We Know by Shari Lapena
Take It Back by Kia Abdullah
Nothing to Hide by James Oswald
Unseen Evil by Liz Mistry
Bad Turn by Zoë Sharp

The Birthday House by Jill Treseder
Last Request by Liz Mistry
The Dinner Party by R.J. Parker
Cage by Lilja Sigurdardóttir (tr. by Quentin Bates)
Lock Me In by Kate Simants
Violet by SJI Holliday

At last (and thank you for still reading!), we come to my favourite books of the year. These are the novels which all particularly resonated with me for one reason or another.

The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup (tr. by Caroline Waight)

This is a plot-driven novel where not a word is wasted but the pertinent descriptions of the Danish autumn create an oppressively gloomy atmosphere. Søren Sveistrup's scriptwriting skills are put to good use here, with an almost rollercoaster episodic feeling to parts of the book where he builds the tension to almost unbearable levels before allowing the reader some respite and a few quieter moments before the next suspense-filled scene. There came a point about halfway through the book where I realised I was holding my breath as that intense sense of creeping dread that somebody else is there is utilised with great effect. With plenty of equally nailbiting moments still to come, this is most definitely not the novel for those of a more nervous disposition!

Inborn by Thomas Enger (tr. by Kari Dickson)

Inborn is an engaging, intelligent literary thriller but it's so much more than that; it's also a moving, intricate and introspective character study of a small town in turmoil. There's almost a cinematic sense to Inborn with Even's account in the dock providing a window to peer through to create an intimate, truly immersive reading experience  There are certain authors whose writing resonates with me, Thomas Enger is one of them and Inborn is everything I love about his books - I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Welcome to the Heady Heights by David F. Ross

Welcome to the Heady Heights is dark and outrageous storytelling which is an angry commentary on the failings of a society which consigns men in their fifties to the scrap heap; destined almost to a man to an early grave, beaten down by poverty as much of hope as from penury. It rails against the misogyny in the police force - the mistreatment the empathetic Barbara receives from her colleagues is sickening  - but most of its fury is directed at the upper echelons of power who participated in the vilest forms of systemic abuse of minors then conspired to cover up their crimes. It's never a bleak read however, and from the audacious and risky plot to commit blackmail to the perceptive look at manufactured fame, David F. Ross underscores the drama with riotously funny scenes which are a love letter to the wit and pride of Glasgow - Archie's journey to London with The High Five (and the spectacularly terrible Manky Marvin, who surely deserves a book of his own) was a particular highlight for me.

Breakers by Doug Johnstone

Doug Johnstone's latest is one of those novels which really got under my skin; the characters are uncompromising and vivid representations of those who are forced to make their own choices in the violent, unforgiving world in which they have been born. Breakers is a brilliant book, it is a painfully honest, complex and urgent social commentary which should remind us all that every person has their own story to tell. Highly recommended.

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

Each of their stories is allowed to form and develop, each person given life until they become more than characters on a page. I loved them, hated them, feared for them and wept with them. We see some of their stories through to the end - wherever and however that may be but others leave and just as with life, we are left wondering what happened to them and hoping for the best. And through it all are the issues facing us today - politics, climate change, faith, terrorism, racism, homophobia, artificial intelligence, the spread of fake news and real diseases. For just as some people are driven to help, some are motivated by fear or anger, or by a desire to further their own agendas.

The Death of Justice by Tony J. Forder

The combination of a compelling, nail-biting investigation and exceptional character development is absolutely top-notch and the pacy, tense plotting ensures The Death of Justice is an addictive, heart-pounding read with some shocking and deeply emotional scenes which are beautifully written. This series has been a must-read for me since the first book and it's been a real privilege to see an author hone his writing skills until he has reached this point where he has produced what is one of the very best police procedurals I've had the pleasure of reading. For anybody who enjoys high quality crime fiction, this series should be essential reading, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Little Siberia by Antti Tuomainen (tr. by David Hackston)

At its heart, Little Siberia is actually a poignant look at a man's search for faith, love and hope and his need to understand that the source is actually within himself. This is a very different book to his previous two black comedies in that the humour here is slightly more understated but what Antti Tuomainen always does so well is to recognise that life is often absurd, even during the hardest moments. The humour in the novel never detracts from the tension or the emotion but instead ensures that these flawed, complicated people always feel so very real.

Sorcery Reborn by Steve McHugh

I've come to expect a real rollercoaster of a read from Steve McHugh's books and Sorcery Reborn exceeded my expectations. The exciting action and ferocious violence keeps the thrills coming but as always, the wise-cracking exchanges and pop culture references (I especially enjoyed the long overdue mention of a certain classic Disney film...) meant I read the whole novel with a broad smile on my face. This is a brilliant start to the new series and really reinforces just how well-crafted this world that Steve McHugh has created is; the relationships between characters, the intriguing twists and the introduction of new storylines which complement the existing series arc so well underlines why I'm completely hooked on these books and why this is one of my favourite reads of the year.

Black Summer by M.W. Craven

This is an incredibly complex case but despite the singular nature of it; is Elizabeth Keaton the human equivalent of Schrödinger's Cat - both dead and alive? - the whole novel feels grounded in reality thanks to M.W.Craven's ability to capture the very essence of a person, place or scene. The first chapter of the book is actually set towards the end of the investigation and features a gourmet dining scene which is described with the same gruesome attention to detail as if it were a sickening crime. Just this small moment gives a real insight into the two men involved and although the actual consumption of the dish is inconsequential to the case, it is repulsive and absolutely chilling.

What She Saw Last Night by M.J. Cross

From the claustrophobic, locked-room train to the frantic city streets and the remote, exposed Highlands, it seems that nowhere is safe from their malevolent, relentless foe. The constant threat of capture is present throughout and there are some genuinely shocking scenes which completely wrong-footed me, leading up to a terrifically intense finale. Gripping, emotional and devastating; this is a superbly crafted thriller and it gives me enormous pleasure to wholeheartedly recommend it.

And finally, here are my six favourite reads, including my book(s) of the year. These wonderful novels are all very different yet each explores difficult and often harrowing subjects with courage and insight.

Despite the emotive subjects explored throughout the novel, it's actually often a very witty read and never becomes overly dispiriting or sentimental. Baxter's Requiem is an exquisitely beautiful story which has been crafted with love and an authentic, honest perceptiveness making it a life-affirming reminder of the importance of kindness, friendship and hope. I speak from experience when I say that books such as this will become a beacon of light to those who most need it. It acknowledges the shattering pain of loss but also accepts that such agony can only exist for those who have experienced the joys of a lasting love, whether romantic, familial or platonic. The best tribute to those who have gone is to, as Baxter says, " Live your life, live it bravely and beautifully." I cannot recommend this wise, emotional and unforgettable novel highly enough and feel immensely privileged to have read it, I urge you to do the same.

This is a novel which doesn't flinch from tackling the most difficult, frequently taboo subjects but Michael J. Malone's beautifully lyrical writing ensures it never feels exploitative and even the most shocking moments are written about with a sensitive honesty which brought tears to my eyes. He explores complicated family dynamics, betrayal, guilt and the possibility of some sort of resolution and acceptance with perceptiveness and deep compassion. In The Absence Of Miracles is a breathtakingly good book; powerful yet tender and an emotional masterclass in how to write about harrowing and difficult issues. An absolute must-read.

Ausma Zehanat Khan understands that there are no easy solutions and she doesn't avoid the more difficult issues, recognising that anywhere that sees a mass of humanity -  perhaps especially in places where hope and desperation are equally as prevalent - will see the best and worst of people. Throughout the book, she explores the distressing reasons why people are forced to leave their homes and the dangers they face on their journeys - whether from the harsh environment or from unscrupulous opportunistic smugglers and depraved traffickers with an honest and penetrating clarity. I defy anybody to read certain scenes here without being moved to tears as the barbaric atrocities inflicted on Syria's citizens are laid bare.

Blood Song is a stunning achievement; Johana Gustawsson has written an unforgettable novel which intertwines the complex, frequently disturbing contemporary investigation with a compelling, important reminder of a terrible time in history and she explores difficult social issues without flinching yet with real heart. Johana Gustawsson's beautiful writing is gifted to those of us who read in English thanks to David Warriner's superb translation which ensures the prose flows naturally throughout. The Roy and Castells series goes from strength to strength and Blood Song is one of those books which will remain with me for the longest time. Highly recommended.

Now for my book of the year and in the spirit of the Booker Prize, I've actually picked two books! Both are published by Orenda Books - as are a number of my other choices on this list. It was a huge privilege to read and review these outstanding novels in 2019.

Turbulent Wake by Paul E. Hardisty

Paul E. Hardisty draws heavily on his own experiences and it's clear that he has poured his soul into this novel, with his intense descriptions creating a richly evocative, deeply moving and thought-provoking reading experience. There are some scenes which are particularly difficult to read but although this is a book which never flinches from exploring the darker recesses of humanity, the lyricism of his writing means there is also a poetic beauty to the prose throughout.
This supremely talented author continues to soar and his latest book is his best yet. It is an intelligent, sublimely compelling novel which recognises that each of us will leave our own turbulent wake behind us and is an urgent call not to tread lightly through life but to do so mindfully and to consider that ultimately what matters most, is love. If you like literary fiction with heart then you MUST read the stunning Turbulent Wake – powerful, evocative, profound; I savoured every word.

Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver

I have to admit I was a little nervous about reading Nothing Important Happened Today as my brother died by suicide in 2012. However, I believe Will Carver is one of the most exciting and talented authors around; both Dead Set and Good Samaritans were on my list of top reads of the year in which they were published. I love it when authors take risks and push boundaries and although I was prepared to stop reading should it prove too upsetting, I knew that this was a book that deserved my attention. I made the right decision because although there was one scene where I had to put it down for a little while, I would have missed out on one of the most startlingly original and exceptional novels I have ever had the privilege to read.
Nothing Important Happened Today is a phenomenal book in which nothing really makes sense until the breathtaking moment when everything does. It is different from anything I have ever read and I can only thank Will Carver and Orenda Books for having the courage to write and publish this twisted literary thriller which so starkly and provocatively explores the twisted contradictions of life in the 21st Century. Disturbing, extraordinary, unforgettable.

All that remains is to thank all the authors whose books have featured on Hair Past A Freckle in 2019; without your words, this blog wouldn't exist. Huge thanks also to the publishers, publicists and blog tour organisers who continue to invite me to read such fantastic books and of course, thank you to my fellow bloggers, as always your support and friendship means a great deal to me and it's been wonderful to meet many of you this year. Finally, thanks to everybody who has taken the time to read, comment on and share my blog posts, I truly appreciate it.
I wish you all a very Happy New Year and look forward to sharing more book love with you in 2020!