Archive for the ‘CJ Sansom’ Tag

Best Books of 2018

(Cross posted on the WriteClub blog)

Once more it’s time for me to review the books I read in the previous year and blog about the ones I liked the best. My criteria for this is quite simple. I log all the books I read on Goodreads, and those I give a 5-star rating make my ‘best books’ list.

In 2018 I set a goal of reading 70 books. I fell a bit short of that, managing to complete 68 books before the year ended. However, there was an unusually high number of books I gave a 5-star rating to last year. Seven have made the list. In the order in which I read them, they are:

Ready Player One: Ernest Kline
Everything is Lies: Helen Callaghan
Y is for Yesterday: Sue Grafton
Cross Her Heart: Sarah Pinborough
The Roanoke Girls: Amy Engle
If She Did It: Jessica Treadway
Tombland: CJ Sansom

This list includes one science fiction book, two crime novels (both sort of historical, but one decidedly so), and four psychological thrillers. Further details on each book can be found below.

Ready Player One

The only science fiction book on my list, this is a novel that was recommended to me and when I went to buy it on Kindle I discovered my husband had already bought the Kindle version – we have linked our accounts, so we can each access books bought by the other. Someone else had recommended it to him, completely independently. We both read the book, loved it, recommended it to our D&D group and then when the film came out a couple of months later we all went to see it together.

Set in a dystopian near-future, where everyone escapes their appalling reality by spending all of their time in an idyllic Virtual Reality universe, part of what makes ‘Ready Player One’ so enjoyable are all the references to 80s pop culture. Anyone who grew up watching films, playing video games and playing D&D in the 1980s will recognise all the references.

The film is quite different from the book, but equally enjoyable. If you saw and loved the film, do yourself a favour and read the book as well.

Everything is Lies

In my review of ‘Everything is Lies’ I described it as ‘a near-perfect psychological thriller’. Helen Callaghan is a member of my writing group, and it’s so lovely to be able to watch an author grow and develop in their craft, and eventually produce something of this calibre.

This the first of several psychological thrillers in my list. It’s a genre that is in danger of being overexploited. To be able to do one this well, in such a crowded market, is exceptional.

Y is For Yesterday

I was given this book for Christmas in 2017, and I had no idea then that it would prove to be the last Sue Grafton book ever. She sadly passed away not long after, and her family announced they would not be finishing the series on her behalf.

I’ve been reading the Kinsey Millhone series for decades, and I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. Because I had this one in hardback, therefore making it difficult to carry around with me, I read it when I was confined at home recuperating from surgery in February 2018. The fact that it was Kinsey Milhone’s last case added extra poignancy, but it was an outstanding story. I have a great deal of admiration for a writer who had 25 books in the same series published, and there was never any drop in quality. Ms Grafton left us too soon, and she is greatly missed.

Cross Her Heart

Sarah Pinborough made my list last year with ‘Behind Her Eyes’. This year I read the next psychological thriller she brought out, and while the twist ending is perhaps not as legendary as BHE, this is still an excellently written novel that had me gripped to the end.

The Roanoke Girls

Everyone had been raving about this book, so I thought it was about time I got around to reading it. It’s a psychological thriller about a family that produces extraordinarily beautiful young women, but there’s a dark secret running through it.

It’s not exactly a happy read, but it stayed with me for a long time after I read it, and it’s rare for books to do that. You can read my review on Goodreads here.

If she Did It

Yet another psychological thriller, this is a story told from the point of view of Hanna, mother of two daughters. Three years on from a brutal attack that killed her husband and left her disfigured, Hanna is still trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Her youngest daughter’s boyfriend was arrested and found guilty of the attack. Hanna can’t remember exactly what happened the night of the attack, but is fixated with finding out. Because she finds herself entertaining the unthinkable suspicion that her daughter was somehow involved.

Again, this is a somewhat disturbing read, but it had me gripped. Find my full review here.

Tombland

The latest book in the Matthew Shardlake series is the most epic yet – spanning 850 pages and dealing with the peasants’ revolt in Norwich in 1549.

I really hope that this isn’t the last Shardlake book, but I understand that CJ Sansom has cancer. This illness has taken far too many fine writers from us in recent years.

This concludes my list of recommended reads for 2018 – those books that I thought stood out above all the rest I read throughout the year. This year, I’ve once again set the bar at reading 70 books. I have high hopes that I will make my target this year.

Best Books of 2014

As always, I have been using Goodreads to keep track of the books I read throughout the year. I set myself a goal to read 65 books in 2014. I actually managed to read 71.

The number of books I have been reading since I started keeping track on Goodreads has been steadily increasing year on year. Just look at the stats:

2011 – 55 books read
2012 – 60 books read
2013 – 63 books read
2014 – 71 books read

I am not sure why this number is increasing. I have started reading books on the journey in to work, whereas I used to read the newspaper, so that’s a difference. I used to take the underground from London Bridge to Holborn every morning, which required changing trains and a great deal of walking to get from one platform to another, which would interrupt my reading time. This year I’ve started taking the bus instead, which is a straight 20 minutes of uninterrupted reading time before I have to get off. So I think that’s made a difference too.

Another noticeable change in reading habits in this past year is the increasing number of books I have read on the Kindle, as opposed to paper books. In fact the only paper books I read were those that I was sent by Shots e-zine to review for them, those that I picked up as freebies from conventions and those that had been given to me as gifts or were already on my shelves (for instance the Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky books). Every new book that I purchased myself, I bought as a Kindle version. The convenience of the Kindle is making a significant impact on my reading habits, and now that I have a plastic waterproof cover for it, I can even read it in the bath (which is another place I like to get some quiet reading time).

I started the year re-reading the Sara Paretsky books, who as I have mentioned many times is and always will be one of my all-time favourite authors. I enjoy all of her books, and many of the five-star rated books of 2014 are hers. I read many excellent books in 2014. However, since there were all of 16 books I gave five stars to, this already makes for a long list of ‘Best books read in 2014’. So although there are many deserving four-star books that should be on the list, the final cut contains only the ones I rated five stars. Some of them I have reviewed on Goodreads, and the link is included. Others I have included a few words about below the title.

Lamentation – CJ Sansom

This is the sixth book in the excellent crime series about Matthew Shardlake, hunchback lawyer in the time of Henry VIII, and it just as good as the previous in the series. The series is not only excellently researched, but each one has featured one of Henry’s six Queens, in chronological order. In this latest book, Henry is dying and his last Queen, Catherine Parr, has written a book called ‘Lamentation of a Sinner’ that has been stolen. Shardlake is hired to find out who stole the book and retrieve it, for if it gets out into the public domain it could prove the Queen guilty of treason.

The religious and political instability of this era is effectively portrayed. My only worry was that with the death of Henry VIII there would be no more Shardlake books. Without giving away too much, however, the end of this book sets the stage for a potential new era of Shardlake adventures.

Before I Go Sleep – SJ Watson

A film starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth was released of this book last year. It’s the sort of plot where you either read the book or see the film because once you know the ending, it’s a fairly major spoiler.

The premise of the plot is that Christine Lucas has suffered an accident that affects her long-term memory. Every day she wakes up with no memory of the last twenty years, and the man she wakes up next to, who tells her he is her husband, is a stranger to her. It’s a frightening concept, but as Christine tries to explore her surroundings she discovers she has secrets she has not been telling her husband. Who can she trust?

This book is a very exciting and gripping thriller, and I was hooked from the first chapter.

V is for Vengeance – Sue Grafton
W is for Wasted – Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton is another of my all-time favourite authors, and I love her feminist, kick-ass heroine Kinsey Millhone. The books are all set in the 1980s, when Grafton started the series, and she says she is going to stop at Z. So there will only be three more, which makes me sad. However, this is another series I shall enjoy re-reading, since it’s been some time since I read the early books and I can’t remember much about them.

The Secret Place – Tana French

This is book five of the Dublin Murder Squad series, and I haven’t read the other four, but found this book in my pile of free booty from the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. It involves the murder of a teenage boy on the grounds of an expensive boarding school for girls. The investigating officers whittle the list of suspects down to eight girls – two groups of four, close-knit clusters of friends. But who killed Chris Harper? I really wanted to find out. And this book about adults moving around in the world of adolescent girls made me feel really glad I am long past that stage of life – been there, done that, no wish to go back thank you very much.

Breakdown – Sara Paretsky
Hardball – Sara Paretsky
Blacklist – Sara Paretsky
Hard Time – Sara Paretsky
Tunnel Vision – Sara Paretsky
Guardian Angel – Sara Paretsky
Burn Marks – Sara Paretsky
Body Work – Sara Paretsky

I worship the ground Ms Paretsky walks on. I’ve re-read every VI Warshawski book, and in doing so came across a couple that were new to me (‘Hardball’, which somehow I missed the first time around, and the latest book ‘Breakdown’). I now eagerly await the next book, out later this year. VI Warshawski is now in her fifties, though, and I wonder how much longer she can run around scaling walls and getting shot at.

Stone Bruises – Simon Beckett

Merivel: A Man of His Time – Rose Tremain

The Accident – CL Taylor

Sometimes I browse the Kindle specials store, and end up finding something really good for 99p. This was one of those occasions. The premise involves a teenage girl who ends up in a coma after deliberating stepping in front of a bus. Her mother, desperate to find out why her daughter tried to kill herself, starts to investigate and discovers some murky secrets in her daughter’s life that she knew nothing about. It’s another suspenseful page-turner.

And so this is my review of the best books I read in 2014. I have set myself a goal to read 70 books in 2015. Could be a challenge, but the Kindle is charged and loaded with plenty of unread books, all ready for my return to the day job and the London commute tomorrow. I suppose that’s one good thing about the days the train service is appalling. The longer it takes me get home, the more reading time I have.