creative, Writing

A Year of Reading

2020, more than any year, has afforded me the time to focus on reading. Thus, my review of the books I’ve read in the past year follows. Maybe you’ll find something to spark your interest for 2021.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love my crime novels. I’m also a hoarder so I had a stack of books to get through, with quite a few being crime, and so it was that One Bad Turn by Sinead Crowley was picked up first.

Typically a book that I picked up by front cover alone. I’m a fan of lighthouses but don’t remember seeing one in the story.

It’s a thriller and what I hadn’t realised, part of a series. The characters were believable and dialogue good and I do think it was well written, but for me, I struggle with books that flit between time zones, which this does. I find it can make for a confusing read. Sadly, this did it for me and I found myself not enjoying it as much as I would have liked to.

It was quite pacey though and if you can keep up with the time shifts from childhood to adult characters and their developing lives, it’s a good book. 3/5

I then revisited Ian Rankin, who I’ve read several times. Let It Bleed is one of his Rebus novels, which was made into a successful TV series starring Ken Stott as the titular character.

I can take or leave Rankin (usually take!). It seems to depend partly on my mood. I do think with Rebus, it’s best if they’re read in order, and I’ve never done this. This was a good one though.

Rankin is a master of large casts with many interweaving stories and again, this one does not disappoint here, although at times, it was difficult to keep track. I like the complexity but also the simplicity and familiarity of some settings. It has a strong start but seems to slow towards the end. Nevertheless, enjoyable. 4/5

Oh my. Where to start? I would never in a million years have picked this book up myself, but it was gifted to me so spent a week in April racing through this.

It is a lovely story about five school friends who go their separate ways and meet again through the pilgrimage of Tsukuru in his attempt to find out why they stopped wanting to see him.

For me, this was some of the most beautiful writing I have encountered. It was lovely, as lockdown came into effect, to be able to escape to a variety of countries, learn about traditions, but also relish in new writing. There’s a lot of sex in it and it seems to end a little abruptly (the book, not the sex), however, it was a cosy and enjoyable read that I would pick up again. 5/5

As time’s gone on, I’ve grown to love Sandi Toksvig more and more. Her sense of humour coupled with her thirst for knowledge makes her a refreshing person to have in the world.

I’m not a major autobiography person as I find they can be droll – I know it’s all me, me, me, but that can get too much. Toksvig had me gripped from the time the bus left the depot. Along her journey we are not only introduced to her life but the developing scene of London’s streets through humour and heartbreak. I couldn’t put this down and loved the quirky take on an autobiography. 5/5

Another book that was chosen for it’s cover picture. There’s a lot to be said for that! I remember picking this up in a Tesco whilst on holiday. Spur of the moment job and it sat on the shelf for about a year.

This is one of the best books I have ever read. Hands down. I love the small cast, love the fact it was set largely in one location, and was enthralled by the clever writing. It’s very much a thriller and I was drawn in immediately. The description of the hotel was so clear, as was the surrounding scenery, I was instantly there, and I did not guess the ‘whodunnit’ which was refreshing.

The last chapter was a bit of a surprise too. 5/5

Probably most shocking is I’m one of those people who has never read or seen Harry Potter despite my friends being complete Potterheads. That changed this year as I ploughed through the series. It took the year as I alternated between my other books but as an overall review, I felt it started steady, peaked around book four and five, and left something to be desired at the end.

The writing is good, the characters were clear and not merely all copies of the same person – they each stood out – and there’s a real sense of this world problems in another world. For me, I found the final instalment too heavy. There was lots of walking around the countryside and I got confused a lot. The ending redeemed itself to some extent though.

Will I become a Potterhead because of this? I’ve found out I’m a Hufflepuff, but that’s about as far as it goes, I expect. Overall rating of the series: 4/5

The Roy Grace series is a large one and I’ve not read them all but enough to get a feel for them. I found this story a bit average. It started well.

I liked the set up and the general descriptiveness of locations are good, however, as soon as the plot moved to New York, I started to switch off. I got confused at times with what was happening and it felt a bit far-fetched. It was hard-going.

3/5

Agatha Christie may be one of the greatest writers of our time, but this didn’t cut the mustard for me. I saw the 2017 film first in the cinema and when I purchased the DVD it came with the book. Maybe due to the fact I’d seen the film first, but I found the book very slow and I plodded through it, not really enjoying it.

There’s a handy map of the train in the copy I had and I had to constantly refer to it to understand who was stood where. I would have thought, having seen the film, it would have been clear what was happening, but the book has turned me off picking up another Christie sadly. It seems to lack emotion in the characters and that’s a real turn-off. 2/5

Peter Robinson is one of my go-to crime authors. His writing is excellent. This again did not disappoint.

I like that he seamlessly weaves police procedural with the personal lives of the characters but this one has a major focus on his brother in London. I know I mentioned above about not being impressed by a change in location, this worked well, maybe because both locations are known to me.

It wasn’t as good as some of his other works, but it certainly wasn’t awful and won’t put me off reading more of his. A little slow in the middle maybe, but one of the better reads of the year. 4.5/5

I picked up a set of these cheaply from The Works as a ‘lockdown read’. They’re straightforward and transport us back to a bygone era but at times I find them dull. It’s easy enough to get through them in a day or two but particularly as the books progress it’s beyond belief that the children would be able to overthrow adults in some of the scenarios they are flung into. I feel they’re getting worse as I go through. Only a couple left in the series. Nevertheless, if you want some escapism to a time forgotten, you could probably do worse. Overall rating: 4/5

Another gift from about two years ago. This is a hefty read. Enjoyable, but a heavy book that feels it will go on forever, and it isn’t until you get to the end of the 528 pages you realise that you’ve only heard half of ALW’s life and there’s potentially another 528 pages waiting in the pipeline. Having said that, as it was lockdown and I had all the time in the world, I managed to read it in two weeks.

As a fan of his and musicals in general it was interesting, humorous, but at times laborious. I got confused when I thought mention of Sarah was Sarah Brightman. Turns out he had another wife called Sarah. Early life information and some of the detail about shows was good but lots of information on production negotiations with a lot of name dropping for good measure which brought it down. 3.5

Another book cover choice. I was heading out to a holiday in the Lake District and saw this one thinking it would be the right sort of tone to read whilst I was away. It wasn’t and was one of my least favourite reads this year.

I liked the characters and the setting was generally good but it just didn’t hit the mark and I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I’ve become too used to reading police procedurals more but elements of this felt too far-fetched. Maybe I don’t understand the undertaking business but everything the amateur sleuth did seemed way out there. 2/5

Yet another Tesco pickup based on the cover. Originally written many years ago and dismissed by publishers for being too far-fetched, they thought to roll it out mid-pandemic.

As you would expect, it’s about the country being in lockdown. It was very close to the mark and realistic – for the most part, however, part way through a big event occurs and then it starts to feel a bit farcical, and then we’re left on a cliff hanger and it feels as though someone forgot to include the last few pages in the book. A good read nonetheless. 4.5/5

A Christmas present and a very welcome one. In a world of chaos, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse was a welcome relief to end the year. It is a simple book with beautiful illustrations, and a deep meaning.

It’s the sort of book one can dip into at any point, although reading cover to cover is a great way to digest it. There’s nothing more I can say. 5/5

So there we go. A year of reading. I’ve managed 25 books and picked up some I would never have even considered. If I were to recommend a top three for you to read, I would plump for Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki for an intriguing and quite simple read, Sleep by CL Taylor for that suspense and thriller aspect, and for a factual read and some good humour Sandi Toksvig’s autobiography, Between the Stops. Of course, if you just need to reset and be reminded how great people can be, you may find solace in The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy.

2021 already has a reading pile waiting for me, so let’s see how these go. They include the last couple of The Famous Five, a few more CL Taylor’s, and about £80 of book tokens. I’m not intending on settling down with a series this year either so hopefully a bit more variety.

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