Well, that’s another year completely whizzed past – and a year of huge changes in the Williams’ household. We’ve moved from busy Basingstoke to a rural village in West Wales. I’ve turned 50 (yikes!), my daughter has turned 21 (big yikes), we’ve celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary (big, big, yikes), and both children are at university and living in London. My editing and freelance writing business has gone from strength to strength and I’ve worked with some lovely authors.
It’s been such a busy year that I’ve not read nearly as much as I should have – and getting through my TBR list is definitely a resolution for 2020. But when I have managed to read, I’ve read some absolute crackers. These are my ten best of 2019 – click on the title to read my review.
‘Winter’ by Ali Smith
Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. The shortest days, the longest nights. The trees are bare and shivering. The summer’s leaves? Dead litter.
The world shrinks; the sap sinks.
But winter makes things visible. And if there’s ice, there’ll be fire.
In Ali Smith’s Winter, lifeforce matches up to the toughest of the seasons. In this second novel in her acclaimed Seasonal cycle, the follow-up to her sensational Autumn, Smith’s shape-shifting quartet of novels casts a merry eye over a bleak post-truth era with a story rooted in history, memory and warmth, its taproot deep in the evergreens: art, love, laughter.
It’s the season that teaches us survival.
Here comes Winter.
‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?
‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae’ by Stephanie Butland
Ailsa Rae is learning how to live.
She’s only a few months past the heart transplant that – just in time – saved her life. Life should be a joyful adventure. But . . .
Her relationship with her mother is at breaking point and she wants to find her father.
Have her friends left her behind?
And she’s felt so helpless for so long that she’s let polls on her blog make her decisions for her. She barely knows where to start on her own.
Then there’s Lennox. Her best friend and one time lover. He was sick too. He didn’t make it. And now she’s supposed to face all of this without him.
But her new heart is a bold heart.
She just needs to learn to listen to it . . .
‘The Craftsman’ by Sharon Bolton
Devoted father or merciless killer?
His secrets are buried with him.
Florence Lovelady’s career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago. Like something from our worst nightmares the victims were buried…ALIVE.
Larry confessed to the crimes; it was an open and shut case. But now he’s dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves.
Did she get it wrong all those years ago?
Or is there something much darker at play?
‘The Language of Kindness’ by Christie Watson
Christie Watson was a nurse for twenty years. Taking us from birth to death and from A&E to the mortuary, The Language of Kindness is an astounding account of a profession defined by acts of care, compassion and kindness.
‘An Empty Vessel’ by J J Marsh writing as Vaughan Mason
Today’s the day Nancy Maidstone is going to hang.
In her time, she’s been a wartime evacuee, land-girl, slaughterhouse worker, supermarket assistant, Master Butcher and defendant accused of first degree murder. Now she’s a prisoner condemned to death. A first time for everything.
The case has made all the front pages. Speculation dominates every conversation from bar to barbershop to bakery. Why did she do it? How did she do it? Did she actually do it at all? Her physical appearance and demeanour in court has sparked the British public’s imagination, so everyone has an opinion on Nancy Maidstone.
The story of a life and a death, of a post-war world which never had it so good, of a society intent on a bright, shiny future, and of a woman with blood on her hands.
This is the story of Nancy Maidstone.
‘The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz’ by Jeremy Dronfield
‘Everyone thinks, tomorrow it will be my turn. Daily, hourly, death is before our eyes . . .’
Gustav and Fritz Kleinmann are father and son in an ordinary Austrian Jewish family when the Nazis come for them.
Sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 they survive three years of murderous brutality.
Then Gustav is ordered to Auschwitz.
Fritz, desperate not to lose his beloved father, insists he must go too. And though he is told it means certain death, he won’t back down.
So it is that father and son together board a train bound for the most hellish place on Earth . . .
This is the astonishing true story of horror, love and impossible survival.
‘Lowborn’ by Kerry Hudson
A powerful, personal agenda-changing exploration of poverty in today’s Britain.
‘When every day of your life you have been told you have nothing of value to offer, that you are worth nothing to society, can you ever escape that sense of being ‘lowborn’ no matter how far you’ve come?’
‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’ by Hazel Gaynor
1838: when a terrible storm blows up off the Northumberland coast, Grace Darling, the lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, knows there is little chance of survival for the passengers on the small ship battling the waves. But her actions set in motion an incredible feat of bravery that echoes down the century.
1938: when nineteen-year-old Matilda Emmerson sails across the Atlantic to New England, she faces an uncertain future. Staying with her reclusive relative, Harriet Flaherty, a lighthouse keeper on Rhode Island, Matilda discovers a discarded portrait that opens a window on to a secret that will change her life forever.
‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ by Arundhati Roy
I’ve just finished this completely wonderful, beautiful book – review to follow very soon!
Happy holidays, everyone – and happy reading!
Ah, I’m glad you chose An Empty Vessel – I included it in my top 20, too!
The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae is on my kindle – hope to get to it over the holiday. For some reason I struggled with The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter – can’t quite put my finger on why. Happy Christmas!
Thanks for the recommendations. They all sound really fascinating reads!
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You’re very welcome 🙂