ON THE SHELF: MAY 2021 READING

In April, I read:

  • Vox by Christina Dalcher
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The House of Killers by Samantha Lee Howe
  • The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

The first two books really made me think. Vox is a dystopian book in which women are only allowed to speak 100 words a day. It reminded me of A Handmaid’s Tale which I have just started watching on Amazon Prime.

At the heart of An American Marriage is a cruel injustice which has ramifications for all the characters. It was a very emotional and thought-provoking read. After reading it, I bought another of her books, Silver Sparrow.

The House of Killers is the first in a series about a female assassin and an MI5 investigator. This was fast-paced, fun and I really didn’t see the twist coming. I also enjoyed the simmering tension between family members depicted in The Mother-in-Law.

In May, I hope to read:

  • The Dinner Guest by B P Walter
  • Midnight at Malabar House by Vaseem Khan
  • The Other People by C J Tudor
  • Kingdom by Jo Nesbo

I am about half-way through Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield and I am also hoping to read The Familiars by Stacey Halls. These were both on my reading list for April, but I was a bit over-ambitious!

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

On the shelf: April 2021 reads

In March, I read:

  • The Chain by Adrian McKinty
  • How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister
  • The Hit List by Holly Seddon
  • Someone We Know by Shari Lapena
  • The Last Snow by Stina Jackson
  • The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean
  • Playing Nice by J P Delaney
  • Mr Nobody by Catherine Steadman

My favourite of these was The Last Snow by Stina Jackson. Set in Sweden, I loved the atmosphere of the creepy forest, the claustrophobic community where everyone knows everyone, and the idiosyncratic characters. I immediately bought a copy for my mum for Mother’s Day.

I also really enjoyed The Hit List by Holly Seddon and How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister. Both books left me thinking about their plots for a long time afterwards, particularly what it might be like to enter witness protection. They’re both ‘what would you do if…’ books and highly recommended.

Incidentally, if you are a writer, check out The Honest Authors podcast which is hosted by Gillian McAllister and Holly Seddon. It lifts the lid on the publishing industry and writing in general and is incredibly helpful and entertaining.  

In April I am going to read

  • Vox by Christina Dalcher
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The Familiars by Stacey Halls
  • Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

In my mission to read the Hercule Poirot books in order, I’ve skipped The Mystery of the Blue Train (I did manage to catch the TV adaptation on ITV Player though) and have moved on to Peril at End House.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? What’s your favourite book of the year so far?

On the shelf: March 2021 reads

In February 2021 I read:

  • Somewhere Close to Happy by Lia Louis
  • If I Can’t Have You by Charlotte Levin
  • The 24-hour Café by Libby Page
  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
  • Girl at Christmas by Rhoda Baxter
  • Money: A User’s Guide by Laura Whateley (non-fiction)
  • The Big Four (Hercule Poirot #5) by Agatha Christie
  • The Choice by Alex Lake
  • All my Lies by Sophie Flynn (proof – to be published in April 2021)
  • The Success Code by Amanda Dewinter (non-fiction)

The stand-out title for me was A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, one of my favourite writers. Chevalier can make just about any subject fascinating, so although bell ringing and embroidery are by no means my favourite things, I found myself drawn into this world. The novel is set in 1932 and I really enjoyed reading about that period and the expectations of women and their roles in society between the two world wars.

All My Lies was a proof, kindly sent out in advance of the publication date of April 2021. A psychological suspense, set in Oxford and Cornwall, I really enjoyed this debut novel. Great characters, evocative writing, interesting locations and a page-turning plot with plenty of twists and turns.

The Agatha Christie was not for me. I found the premise completely ridiculous to be honest!

The other stand-out title for me was The Success Code by Amanda Dewinter. I found it quite inspiring and a practical approach to defining your goals and working towards them. I particularly liked the emphasis on self-care and looking after yourself so that you don’t burn out.

In March, I am planning to read:

  • The Last Snow by Stina Jackson
  • The Chain by Adrian McKinty
  • How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister
  • The Hit List by Holly Seddon
  • Someone We Know by Shari Lapena

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

On the shelf: February 2021 reads

In January, I went on a crime spree and read:

  • The Holiday by T M Logan
  • The Catch by T M Logan
  • One by One by Ruth Ware
  • Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear
  • Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot #4) by Agatha Christie
  • Shed No Tears by Caz Frear

I really enjoyed The Holiday and loved the setting of the South of France. I have read all of T M Logan’s books now and they are fast-paced and very enjoyable psychological thrillers. I thought the relationships between the friends and their children was very well done and the way the different story strands came together at the end was perfect. I was less keen on The Catch, mostly because I didn’t quite ‘buy’ the premise – an overprotective dad who pretty much stalks his daughter’s boyfriend.

Ruth Ware is one of my favourite writers and the comparisons with Agatha Christie are justified. This was a ‘closed-door mystery’ about a group of colleagues trapped in a luxurious ski chalet by an avalanche. This wasn’t my favourite Ruth Ware but enjoyable none the less.

I had read Sweet Little Lies a few years ago when it first came out but thought I would re-read it in preparation for the next two by Caz Frear. It is the detective in this series – DC Cat Kinsella – that really holds your attention, rather than the individual storylines, but I really enjoyed all three police procedurals, particularly Shed No Tears.

SPOILER ALERT!

I already knew the killer in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd because it is often used as an example of the unreliable narrator and the ‘shock twist’. Even when I was reading it, I was doubting myself though as it is so well done. As always, Christie delivers a masterclass in red herrings and intricate plotting.  

In February, I am moving away from thrillers and planning to read:

  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
  • The 24-hour Café by Libby Page
  • If I Can’t Have You by Charlotte Levin
  • Somewhere Close to Happy by Lia Louis

Sadly, lockdown has cut off my Agatha Christie supplier (AKA my mum) so I may have to wait until I see her before I continue my Hercule Poirot marathon with The Big Four.

What are you reading? Is lockdown making you read more or less than usual?

On the shelf: January 2021 reads

In December, I read:

  • Expectation by Anna Hope
  • The Confession by Jessie Burton
  • The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot #2)
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
  • The End of Her by Shari Lapena
  • Daemon Voices by Philip Pullman

I really enjoyed Expectation – a story that follows three women as they grow up from their student days into their 40s. I could really relate to the characters as they were the same age as me and it gave me lots to think about.

A Little Life is certainly not a little book. Nor is it a particularly cheerful one and I did struggle with it for that reason. It was really well-written, and I am glad I finished it, but I’m not sure I would read it again! Warning – some of the themes in this book are very dark.

I would recommend Daemon Voices to any writers out there – it is a very inspiring examination of art, literature, religion and Pullman’s own work. I didn’t always agree with him, but I thought it was a very thought-provoking and enjoyable read.

In January 2021, I am planning to read:

  • The Holiday by T M Logan
  • The Catch by T M Logan
  • One by One by Ruth Ware
  • Shed No Tears by Caz Frear
  • Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear

What are your reading plans for 2021?

On the shelf: December 2020

In November, I read:

  • One Way Out by A A Dhand
  • Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton
  • The Babysitter by Phoebe Morgan
  • Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough
  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Poirot #1)

The stand-out title for me was Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton which is the story of a high school siege in the UK. At first, I wasn’t sure how realistic this was, but I found myself drawn into the narrative and couldn’t put it down. The story of the two refugee brothers from Syria was very compelling and sensitively done.

Also recommended was One Way Out by A A Dhand. His plots are always so fast-paced, and this was no exception. Another story about a terrorist attack, although quite different from Three Hours. I work in Bradford, so I like the way he uses places and buildings I know very well in his books. I also like the way he weaves big issues into a thrilling plot.  

After signing up to Sophie Hannah’s email newsletter and getting a free guide to the Poirot novels, I decided to revisit the Queen of Crime Fiction and start reading the Poirot novels in order. I must admit I got a bit lost with The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Christie clearly knew her stuff when it comes to poison, but I found that aspect a little over-complicated. She had me going down completely the wrong path when it came to ‘whodunnit’ though!  

If I have time in December I am going to read the next Poirot novel, The Murder on the Links.

In December I plan to read:

  • Expectation by Anna Hope
  • The Confession by Jessie Burton
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

On the shelf: November 2020

Last month, I took a break from psychological thrillers and read:

  • The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
  • The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea
  • The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
  • Still Me by JoJo Moyes

My favourite of these was The Clockmaker’s Daughter. It’s been on my ‘to be read’ list since I received a copy for Christmas and I don’t know what took me so long, as I always enjoy Kate Morton’s novels.

The novel follows different households who occupy a grand manor house over 200 years. It includes elements of the supernatural which I really enjoyed. The characters were all quite unexpected and fascinating, particularly the eponymous Clockmaker’s Daughter, who goes from pickpocketing on the streets of Victorian London to becoming an artist’s muse.

The Glass Woman took me a while to get into as it is set in 17th century Iceland. Once I got into it, I was hooked, and I loved all the detail of daily life in such a harsh environment. It has elements of Jane Eyre and Rebecca in it that I loved.  

The Giver of Stars was another book I struggled to get into. It’s beautifully written but I didn’t engage with it as much as I thought I would. Having said that, I have recommended it to quite a few other people. I haven’t finished reading Still Me yet so I will save my thoughts until December.  

I also read a proof of a debut novel called The Chalet by Catherine Cooper. I enjoyed this fast-paced psychological thriller set in the French Alps.  

This month, I am going back to crime and planning to read:

  • One Way Out by A A Dhand
  • Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough
  • The Babysitter by Phoebe Morgan
  • Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

On the shelf: October 2020

In September, I read:

  • Black River by Will Dean
  • We Know You Know by Erin Kelly
  • The Taking of Annie Thorne by C J Tudor
  • The Lost Man by Jane Harper

All these books had evocative settings. Black River is set in a Swedish forest around midsummer and there are some really graphic descriptions of the bugs. We Know You Know, originally published as Stone Mothers, is set in a disused asylum which plays a key role in the action. The Taking of Annie Thorne is set in a small Nottinghamshire village and a disused mine. The Lost Man is set in the Australian outback in an incredibly barren terrain.

My favourite of these was The Taking of Annie Thorne by C J Tudor and I have just downloaded her next book, The Other People. They’re thrillers but with a touch of horror and I liked the 80s nostalgia in this book and the creepy setting.

I also read a couple of books by writer friends. All Our Squandered Beauty by Amanda Huggins is a coming-of-age novella set in the 1970s. It will be published by Victorina Press in January 2021.

All Our Squandered Beauty is a beautifully told coming-of-age tale. Kara is 18 and has her whole life ahead of her but will she choose the bright lights of London or the familiar call of the sea?

With exquisite prose, Huggins perfectly captures that transition to womanhood as Kara moves from her parochial seaside town to spend the summer in Greece with her art tutor and his bohemian friends.  

The novella is full of evocative descriptions which transport the reader to a different time and place. The poignant ending is perfectly pitched.

Reminiscent of Bonjour Tristesse, this is a story which will capture your heart and deserves to be a classic.  

You can pre-order All Our Squandered Beauty here.

I also read a great collection of short stories by Bradford crown court reporter Jenifer Loweth called Crook Who’s Talking!

Based on real-life cases, and with a nod to the Canterbury Tales, these stories are written from the point-of-view of those in the dock (apart from one who is the defendant’s brother). Loweth takes us behind the headlines into the minds of the criminals, who are mostly justifying their misdemeanours.

Some are comical, some are tragic, and one is particularly chilling, but you are left with the feeling that justice has been served.

And finally, I was lucky enough to be sent a proof of The Chalet by Catherine Cooper which has another evocative setting – a ski chalet in France. I haven’t finished it yet but will post a review when I do.

I’m going to move away from psychological thrillers in October. After I finish The Chalet, I am planning to read:

  • Still Me by JoJo Moyes
  • The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes – recommended by my friend
  • The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – a Christmas present
  • The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea – borrowed from my mum

What are you reading? Any recommendations?