Best Reads of 2019: My top 25 – and the winner is … #reading #books

Photo by Alice Hampson on Unsplash

My Top 25 Reads of 2019

Yes, it’s that time of year again. In common with many newspapers, magazines and book bloggers I’ve been looking back over the books I’ve read this year and trying to decide on my top 10, five-star reads. It quickly became my top 20 and in the end I forced myself to stop at 25! Otherwise we’d still be here this time next year. And most of the ones which didn’t make it were 4 or 4.5 star rated as opposed to 5.

I’ve read over 50 books this year and the best ones have kept me up reading way too late – always a good sign as to the enjoyment level – if not so good for being wide awake the following day.

My list is a personal one – there are few of the big literary names beloved by the newspaper reviewers. While many of these are media favourites are commendable and a couple do make it onto my list, they don’t really need further publicity from me. It’s also true that I’ve found most of these favourite books/authors via book bloggers and Facebook groups made up of readers who like similar books to me.

Several of the authors whose books are on this list took part in the Virtual Book Festival that I hosted here in July and August which without doubt was my personal blogging highlight of this year.

Not surprisingly for a writer of romances, the first 21 out of the 25 are in the romantic fiction genre, but the final four aren’t – 22 does have a compelling romantic element but this alternative history novel has so much more going on too, 23 and 24 are crime fiction and the last one is domestic noir.

So here it is – my top 25 books (in no particular order) of 2019:

Winter Beneath the Stars by Jo Thomas*

Brahminy Sunrise by Maggie Christensen *

The Summer of Chasing Dreams by Holly Martin

Summer at the Art Café by Sue McDonagh*

Happiness for Beginners by Carole Matthews

Crikey a Bodyguard by Kathryn Freeman*

Edie Browne’s Cottage by the Sea by Jane Linfoot

Poppy’s Recipe for Life by Heidi Swain

The Things I Know by Amanda Prowse

One Summer in Little Penhaven by Angela Britnell

The Little Pink Taxi by Marie Laval*

A Summer to Remember by Sue Moorcroft

All Summer with You by Beth Good

The Man I Fell in Love With by Kate Field

A Cornish Affair by Jo Lambert

The Beekeepers Cottage by Emma Davies

The Day We Meet Again by Miranda Dickinson

Tropic Storm by Stella Quinn

Autumn at Blaxland Falls by Eliza Bennets*

The Bistro at Watersmeet Bridge by Julie Stock

Pieces of You and Me by Rachel Burton

Inceptio by Alison Morton*

Time for the Dead by Lin Anderson

Wildfire by Ann Cleeves

In the Absence of Miracles by Michael J Malone

*indicates I’ve read other standalone or subsequent books in a series by this author in 2019 and can recommend them too.

Availability  

The books are all available on Amazon where you can find out more about them. Most are paperbacks as well as ebooks and can therefore also be purchased from bookshops and borrowed from libraries.

Why These 25 – in short

The romances all have depth, emotion aplenty and are deeply satisfying reads. Inceptio is the first in a fabulous, highly original series and has romantic, thriller and historical elements.  The two crime novels live up to Ann Cleeves and Lin Anderson’s usual amazing high standards. And Michael J Malone’s is ‘shocking, chilling and heartbreakingly emotive’ to quote from the book’s back cover.

Number One

 

And if I absolutely had to pick just one as my single top read – Oh, so hard, but it would have to be Inceptio by Alison Morton for sheer originality and for it being the first in a stunning series. I reviewed it here  earlier this year if you want to know more.

Over to you

What have been some of your favourite reads this year and if you had to pick one – what would it be?

See You in 2020

This will be my final post for this year. I’ll be back in January with more news of my new novel Fulfilment due out early in 2020.

In the meantime thank you to everyone who has visited, read and commented on this year’s posts. I appreciate all your support of me as a writer here on the blog and as readers of my books. You rock! Happy festive season, to all of you who celebrate it. And a Good New Year when it comes. See you on the other side.

 

 

Change of Life – an award-winning novel for thinking women…

I’ve not done this for a while and I felt the time was about right for a wee bit of self-promotion. I apologise to those who have either read my novel already or who are sick of hearing about it. This post is not for you.

For those readers still here and who would like to know more about the book – here goes…

‘Change of Life’ is my first novel. I guess the target readership is women – and mainly those in the 40 plus post-chicklit age range. It’s contemporary, romantic fiction for intelligent women – a tale of love, life and loss.

It’s available on Amazon in paperback at £7.99 and for Kindle on special offer at 86p. Click on the book cover in the sidebar to buy.

You can read the first chapter here http://wp.me/PLpGB-3c

Reviews so far have been very pleasing – see them on Amazon. And if you do/have read it and liked it please do click the like button on the Amazon page – and consider doing a review of your own – especially if you enjoyed it 🙂

Want to write a novel – Just Do It (3). Hatch that plot.

mindmap [RE]Design
Image by Denkbeeldhouwer via Flickr

So here’s part 3 in my series of posts for beginner writers…

Plotting

Right, where were we? We’d got started on the novel –
overcome the self-doubt and procrastination. We’d fallen in love with our
characters and breathed life into them.

So what now? What are you going to have these characters do?
What is going to happen to them? How will you introduce them to your readers? What
will their journey be?

First of all – the thing about plotting is that there is no
one correct way to do it. It’s like cooking – everyone has their own take on
methods – even where the ingredients and the outcome are similar. My mother and
my mother-in-law were both superb bakers – meringues to die for – but they used
two quite different procedures to create them. One baked them in an oven – the
French way – and the other plopped the beaten egg whites into boiling water –
the Italian way. And that’s how it is with plotting – you do what works for
you. Below are just three of the ways – you might only ever use one of them, or
you may change method depending on the novel, or you may mix and match – or you
may do none of them in any conscious way and simply write, improvising as you
go. But if cooking without a recipe scares you, you may find what follows
useful.

First up – you might like a linear layout when planning – one
scene heading, followed by the next, and the next and so on. This will work
well if you already have a clear idea of how your story is to develop. You
might follow the heading with notes on the action within the scene. It will all
run down the page – in portrait layout – beginning, middle and end all sorted.

Or you may do the above – but with only a definite start and
end point already planned – and fill in the scenes in between as you think it
all through.

However, it may be that you don’t have scenes as such. It
could be that you have fragments – an assortment of images – of experiences and
occurrences for your characters. Perhaps then you can storyboard. That is write
and/or draw out these images on cards. Then lay them out, swap them round, see
where the gaps are, do cards to fill the gaps. As you ponder the gaps you will
probably find you begin to ask yourself, and answer, all the why questions
about your plot, about what is driving it. You must be able to answer the
question as to why a particular scene is there.
If you can’t, then discard it. It’s superfluous. You’ll also start to
resolve the ‘how’ questions as you move from card to card. Perhaps new
characters and ideas will emerge as you work. Perhaps a timeline or natural
order may start to emerge.  You may well
see a sort of clustering, or coming together,  of scenes at certain points – these will
provide your ‘jumpcuts’ and chapter breaks – and you may well discard some
in-between scenes altogether.

And then there’s a third way. That is the mind-map, spider
diagram or cluster plotting method. Here think landscape rather than portrait.
Take a sheet of A4, or even, A3 paper and write your novel’s working title in
the middle and draw a box or cloud shape around what you’ve written. Now do
several short lines coming off this central box or blob. At the end of these
lines write, or indeed, draw the key scenes, images or events you already have
in your head. Draw a box around each of these. Then see if you can extend any
of these scene/event boxes with blobs of their own. You can continue branching
off as much as you like. It should become obvious which are the meatier scenes,
which ones are sparking off possible subplots. The more substantial plot blobs
or boxes will be the ones you’ll probably allocate most words to. You may well
also see how the scenes should link up and perhaps begin to see an order of
events. And as with the other methods you will probably find scenes that are so
insubstantial they can be dropped altogether.

Whatever plotting method you use you will need to peg your
scenes to a story arc. Your plot must serve as a roadmap for the characters’
actions. It must bring your characters together at just the right moment. You
need to decide on your opening scene, on where your telling will begin. The
plot will almost certainly begin long before your story does. You will weave in
any relevant pre-details as you tell the story. Your start point should be
where the characters’ backstories become nowstories. So looking at your plan –
linear, storyboard or mind-map, you will need to move those scenes around –
number them, arrow them, or change their order in the pile.

It doesn’t matter if you open your story at the end and tell
it as flashback or if you begin at the middle and flashback and move forward –
or if you simply drive forward. However there is a classic set of ingredients
that the story arc should probably contain and that is:

1.Stasis – once upon a time

2.Trigger – the unpredictable event

3.Quest – the protagonist(s) begins to seek

4.Surprise – discovers the unexpected

5.Critical choice – difficult decision

6.Climax – the consequence of 5

7.Reversal – change of status

8.Resolution – acceptance of new state.

But the most important thing of all about the plotting stage
is to just go for it. Don’t pause or censor or edit – that will come when you
have all your scenes before you. Enjoy this very creative phase of pre-writing
– rule nothing in or out.

Have Fun!

N.B. There is an excellent post and youtube video on cluster
plotting at http://johannaharness.com/2010/10/21/clusterplotting.
If you’re a writer who uses twitter, you will almost certainly have heard of
Johanna. She is the person behind the #amwriting hashtag and won last year’s
inaugural Chris Al-Aswad prize awarded by Eight Cuts.

A Family Fairytale – fine fiction

LONG TIME WALK ON WATER by Joan Barbara Simon

I have previously reviewed Joan Barbara Simon’s novel ‘Mut@Tus’. That novel was written after the one reviewed here.

I enjoyed this ‘Family Fairytale’ every bit as much – although it was quite different in subject matter.

This is a collection of stories – not a short story anthology – all the stories form a novel -but it’s a novel of episodes. In that respect it’s similar to the structure of
‘Mut@Tus’.

When I first began reading I got confused trying to follow a conventional novel timelinestructure. It took me a while to realise I didn’t have to worry about that. So
I restarted and just ‘went with the flow’ – definitely the approach to take.

It is a beautifully written book and the readers’ ‘ear’ soon becomes attuned to the passages that are written in dialect.

There is a large cast of characters – Jamaican and English. Some of the book is fact, and some of it fiction, and the author is meticulous in separating the two. The characters, who are all vividly drawn, tell their own stories. And it is the female characters who are the most affecting especially Emily, and the child, Mandy. This is a history of women – specifically of women in London’s
Jamaican immigrant community and of those they left behind when they came t0 England, and those they met and gave birth to once here. The various narrators are all connected. Love – especially maternal love – adequate or not – is a thread that runs all the way through.

The themes include dislocation, alienation, racism, belonging and family bonds.

The book is at times funny, poignant, erotic, unbearably sad, excruciatingly painful – but overall, it’s life affirming.

It’s rich, complex and cleverly put together.

In its subject matter and its structure, it is something unlike anything I’ve read before – and yet it’s recognisable and resonant – because all of life is in it.

It is an absorbing and affecting read and, it struck me, it would be excellent for a book group.
‘Long Time Walk on Water’ is published by Step Out
Creatives and is available on Amazon for £7.99.