My top five books of the year

It’s that time of year when everyone starts to look back at the year that’s passed and what happened in that time.

I’ve seen a lot of posts on Twitter of people’s top books for the year so I thought I’d add my thoughts to that list.

JM Hewitt – The Hunger Within

I met JM Hewitt at Harrogate Crime Festival in the summer and she talked about her book Exclusion Zone, set in Chernobyl. This is still on my to-read list but, having an interest in Ireland during The Troubles, I picked up The Hunger Within. I was not disappointed. What struck me about the book was not only the level of research that had gone into it, but the atmosphere. What is conveyed is the feeling of fear and mistrust – you don’t know whether someone is friend or foe, and if they’re a foe then you’re really in trouble. I could write pages on this book, in the style of an A Level English Literature essay, but instead I’ll content myself with repeating the review I posted on Amazon – “This is a fantastic book. Very well researched, gritty and atmospheric. A must read if you like modern political history”.

SJI Holliday – Willow Walk

This book is the second part of a trilogy and again is very atmospheric. The trilogy is set in a small, Scottish town and so it’s a very restricted environment, but the overall feeling is one of menace and being trapped – psychologically rather than just physically. From the first scene, you’re drawn into the world of Banktoun and until the end, you can’t get out. But, despite that cloying atmosphere of everyone knowing everyone else’s business, you don’t want to. You want to know why Marie is so mentally scarred, who is writing the letters, and will she ever be able to escape her past? I read the book in about two days while I was on holiday, so I think that says it all. It’s not often that a book grips me like that, and there was no way I was going to slow down to keep myself from finishing too quickly. I needed to know and nothing was going to get in my way.

CL Taylor – The Missing

CL Taylor set the bar pretty high with The Accident (I was terrified for the whole book), but The Missing is a whole new thing. Again, it’s a hot house environment (I seem to have a liking for those) in a family whose teenage son is missing. It’s a twisty-turny plot, and only unravels when the author unravels it. I stopped trying to second guess what was happening and instead just enjoyed being swept along. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to have someone missing in your family, but the story feels wholly accurate in the way the different members of the family react to each other, and to the situation. The ending is utterly satisfying, and it’s another book that I ripped through in a couple of days while on holiday. Highly recommended.

Jane Isaac – Beneath the Ashes

This one is slightly different to the others – it’s not so much of a hot house environment – but nonetheless it’s wholly engaging. Who is the women who commits suicide in the first page? Who is the body in the barn and why can Nancy not remember how she ended up on the kitchen floor covered in blood? It’s another twisting turning plot that leads DI Jackman a merry dance as he tries to figure out who the victim is in order to work out why he was murdered. There are a number of threads in the book, which wind together skilfully and naturally. Again, the ending was a real eye opener and you can’t possibly solve it, until Jane is ready for you to do it. A very dramatic ending which entirely satisfying.

Roz Morris – Nail Your Novel – Draft, fix and finish with Confidence

I know that these lists usually focus on the fiction that has been read throughout the year, but this book has been so invaluable that it’s got to be in there. It’s not a brand new book, but still deserves its place. Anyone who’s followed me on Twitter knows that this year I’ve been wrestling with my first novel, editing it and editing it to try and achieve that goal of perfection. However, in the back of my mind is what comes next, and so I’ve been resurrecting Book Two. Now bearing in mind that I finished writing that book about four years ago and haven’t looked at it since, this was always going to be a challenge. So I turned to Roz for her expertise. I was not disappointed. Her advice is simple but incredibly effective. Without the card game and the beat sheet I would never have spotted the fact that my hero was a bit placid, being acted on by other forces rather than acting for himself. I haven’t managed to read to the end of Roz’s book yet because every few pages she comes up with something that sparks an idea of what I need to do next. My editing process on Book One has been laborious and frustrating to say the least. Thanks to Roz, this time around it’s not going to be so difficult.

I’m always on the look out for new reads, so if there are any books you’d highly recommend, drop me a line in the comments box below.

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