As well as blogging here, I also review books in 17o Magazine, a Scottish lifestyle magazine. You can read the archives here
So that my blog links up with my column, I’m also posting my print reviews here on my blog so that all the posts are available both online and in print…
There’s certainly no shortage of amazing books out this year. Autumn is one of my favourite seasons as it’s such a great time to curl up and read a book. I’m already thinking about cosy jumpers, wood burning stoves and buying new long boots. If you’re one of life’s super organised people – like my friend Alison – you might already be buying Christmas presents too.
I have written about these books in my column this Autumn and had lots of great feedback about how many people loved these autumn picks. Have you enjoyed any of these fantastic autumn reads? Which ones did you enjoy most?
A right good story…
The Break – Marian Keyes
When I got the advance copy of the latest Marian Keyes, I was so excited. Ever since I read Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married I’ve been a huge fan and her 13th novel (yes, really) The Break is one of her very best. Amy is happily married, crazily busy at work and enjoying her life. You could literally knock her over with a feather when husband of 17 years, Hugh announces that he wants a six-month ‘break’ from being married to go off and ‘find himself’ after the death of his father. We follow Amy as she begins to rediscover herself after years of being Hugh’s wife with the help of a gallery of lovable characters in typical Marian Keyes style. This is a fantastic read that asks the reader to think about happiness and how we can sometimes find it in the most unexpected of places. By the end of The Break, the O’Connell family feel like your own extended family and I’d love it if she returned to them in one of her next novels. The Break is for fans of light-hearted family drama with a thoughtful and warm-hearted centre. It’s sure to please her army of fans and win her some new ones into the bargain. Go on, treat yourself!
The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan
If you love a feel-good read then they don’t come much better than The Keeper of Lost Things. This is the story of Laura who gets lost in a haze of alcohol and sadness after the end of her marriage and her gradual
transformation after landing a job with Anthony the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’ Soon after her appointment, he dies – leaving her with a house full of strange and wonderful objects and a mission to reunite them with their rightful owners. This dual narrative mingles Laura’s present-day story with Eunice’s adventures working for the eccentric and dashing ‘Bomber’ in the 1970s and I loved the way their stories collide. This, together with the curious collection of lost objects and their weird and wonderful stories will definitely keep you turning the pages. If you love an old-fashioned cosy tale with strong characters to lose yourself in whilst sitting by the fire with a massive cup of tea and a scone, this is absolutely your book. I can see this being a huge seller this Christmas and I’m going to be wrapping it for quite a few people that I know will love Laura’s story and fall under The Keeper of Lost Things’ magical spell.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
I loved this book. It’s one of those books that absolutely everyone I’ve given it to has loved as much as I did and I really hope that you do too. Eleanor Oliphant is a bit of an oddball. She finds it hard to fit in and struggles to cope with the seemingly random social niceties, incomprehensible fashions and bizarre dating landscape of the modern world. Her orderly routine is managed through regular visits to the off-licence for ‘medicinal’ vodka and insidious telephone calls to Mummy, who- we later discover -seems to be in prison. Set in Glasgow, Eleanor’s unusual perspective on life means that she is stuck in the role of the perpetual loner until she collides with nice-guy Raymond, whose patience and good humour begin to penetrate her protective outer shell and allow her to blossom – in a completely Eleanor way, of course. This book is laugh-out-loud funny. I tried to explain it to someone as being like Bridget Jones meets Rain Man but even that doesn’t do it justice. Reece Witherspoon obviously agrees that it’s a fantastic story as she’s optioning it as a movie next year. I literally can’t wait to see Eleanor on the big screen. A brilliant first novel from a fantastic new voice. I’m definitely looking forward to reading another Gail Honeyman book soon. A five-star read because, as far as I’m concerned, Eleanor Oliphant was completely awesome.
The People At Number 9– Felicity Everett
I couldn’t put this book down and its characters have stayed with me ever since I finished it. Sometimes characters do that because you really fall in love with them; in this book, they’ve stayed with me because the characters are so infuriating. Sara becomes intrigued by her new neighbours Lou and Gav – the ‘People at Number 9’. They are definitely the kind of neighbours we’d all be curious about: Lou is a film director and Gavin an artist so their boho lifestyle seems impossibly glamorous and desirable to Sara. She becomes caught up in the web of their seemingly ‘golden’ world as she tries to gain access to their exclusive social circle. Competitive parenting, couples’ extra-curricular flirtations and the overwhelming desire to be ‘in’ with the ‘in crowd’ all build up in a claustrophobic pressure cooker that you just know is going to end in tears. Sara and Neil seem blinded by the apparent ‘dazzle’ of their neighbours and end up learning the hard way that all that glitters is definitely not gold. For anyone who’s been annoyed by their pretentious colleague, been made to feel inadequate boring or dull because their life doesn’t seem as exciting or dramatic as their neighbours or who’s ended up regretting a moment of trying to keep up with the Joneses – you’ll definitely identify with Sara’s journey. If you’re looking for lovable characters you’re in the wrong place but if you like memorable and credible characters you love to hate you’ll absolutely love The People at Number 9.
Non-Fiction Page Turners
The Passion Of Harry Bingo - Peter Ross
I always like to include something local in my column and this edition is no exception. I was delighted to turn the pages of Harry Bingo and find a chapter on The Bo’ness Fair and The Linlithgow Marches where I least expected it. Peter Ross definitely hits the right note here, treating these traditions respectfully whilst definitely allowing outsiders a ‘keek’ into these local rituals in all their glory. I also loved the tale that gives this collection its title and was very sad to read that Harry Calderhead AKA Harry Bingo – Partick Thistle’s number one fan – died this week aged 97 so I wanted other people to meet and love him as much as I did. This collection of 42 short pieces is ideal to pick up and enjoy, like a pick and mix – and would make the perfect stocking filler for brothers, dads or anyone who loves a quirky read. From the Clavie fire rituals to the Naked Rambler, there’s definitely something here for everyone and I’m dedicating this review to my favourite: RIP Harry Bingo; truly one of Scottish football’s absolute legends.
This Is Going to Hurt– Adam Kay
Adam Kay’s autobiography is subtitled: ‘The Secret Diary of a Junior Doctor’ and this diary, scribbled in secret during his 97-hour-weeks on the front line of the NHS is brutal, funny and brutally funny in equal measure. This is definitely a no-holds-barred account of what it’s really like to work your fingers to the bone whilst earning less than the hospital parking meter and he pulls no punches in letting us know exactly what goes on behind closed doors. Adam Kay is also a stand-up comedian and some parts of this are genuinely hysterical, but there is a lot of heart here too and you’ll definitely be touched and respectful of the hell that many of these young doctors go through by the end of this painfully honest account of his years in A and E. I’d prescribe this for anyone who loves an autobiography with a difference and I guarantee that you’ll end up wanting to read some of these stories out loud to someone so they can share the joke. My sides are still sore from laughing but be careful, some of these are definitely not for the Christmas dinner table
Cheer Up Love – Susan Calman
It’s great to see Mental Health moving away from being a taboo subject at long last and I’m delighted to see more Scottish writers being brave enough to share their stories without fear of stigma. Susan Calman’s journey on ‘Strictly’ this autumn is sure to make her a household name and this book can only add to her recognition. Cheer Up Love is part memoir, part self-help book and this mixture really works well. From hilarious stories about her lost Wham scarf to frank and honest pointers about what to do when the blackness feels overwhelming; this book is a great read that will hopefully provide a light at the end of the tunnel for those that might need it. It is also a fascinating insight into the way that Calman’s managed to cope so well with her own mental health issues. Winter can be a difficult time for people who struggle with depression and this could be – quite literally – a life saver for someone. If you really love Susan’s delivery, this book is also available on audiobook so you can hear her for yourself. This was a book I liked a lot more than I expected to and I’d definitely recommend it to people who might find her unusual take on depression a refreshing and useful change from other memoirs dealing with mental health problems. A compassionate and very positive read that will convince you that it is possible to have depression and still find hope in the darkness. Hopefully, this will increase society’s understanding of these struggles and help those that want to support their loved ones too. Well done to Susan for being brave enough to speak up about this difficult issue
Damaged – Paul Stewart
As a young lad growing up on a rough Manchester estate, Paul Stewart dreamed of becoming a professional footballer. Sadly, this dream led him helplessly into the clutches of a predatory football coach as – aged only 11- his dreams turned into a nightmare of hidden secrets, physical and sexual abuse and self-loathing. This topical and shocking read exposes the dark truth behind his successful career, playing alongside legends like Gazza and Lineker, and achieving FA Cup success for Spurs at Wembley. Stewart buried his secrets deeply, turning to drugs and alcohol to mask his feelings and hiding the full truth from even his closest family. It was only when the first football coach abuse story broke that Stewart courageously decided to waive anonymity and break his silence so that others too might find the strength to come forward. This is a brave and harrowing read that will shock many readers. The extent of the abuse perpetrated by these men, entrusted with young people desperate to chase their dream is truly incomprehensible and I could not put this book down. You definitely don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy this autobiography but be prepared to be shocked at what was going on in plain sight for far too many young people for far too long. One of my non-fiction reads of the year.
Crime & Thrillers
All The Wicked Girls – Chris Whitaker
Summer and Raine Ryan are 15-year-old twins, living in small town Grace, Alabama. Summer is as sunny as her name: a model student who wants to work her way out of her small-town life and become a success – desperate to cast off her reputation as the daughter of small-time crook Joe Ryan. Her sister, Raine has gone in entirely the opposite direction and seems to have decided that if she’s going to get the Ryan reputation anyway, she might as well live up to it with all she’s got. Despite their differences, the sisters are extremely close and Raine is devastated when Summer suddenly goes missing – especially given that she’s the sixth young girl to disappear in as many years. Raine is battling her reputation, her family name and the way that the inhabitants of Grace, have decided who deserves their help and who doesn’t in the pursuit of her sister’s disappearance. This is a tightly woven tale of small-town prejudices with a fantastic cast and a skilfully constructed plot. You’ll need to pay close attention if you want to second-guess this writer and the ending definitely had me turning the pages backwards looking for all the hints that I’d missed. If you love a mystery that keeps you guessing and a fantastic character-driven novel then look no further. All the Wicked Girls is a wickedly good read and I’m definitely addicted to Chris Whitaker – a British writer who’s beating the American thriller writers at their own game
Anything You Do say – Gillian McAllister
Gillian McAllister is definitely one to watch. After devouring her debut novel in one afternoon, I was desperate to read Anything You Do Say and I can promise you right now that I wasn’t disappointed. I love a book with a good moral dilemma at the heart of it and the situation Joanna ends up in is one that kept me up at night until I’d finished it – it’s seriously good. Joanna is one of life’s true avoiders: if she can get out of having to deal with a problem, she’ll definitely try. From hiding her bank statements to filing difficult life decisions under ‘later’ she’s determined to take as little responsibility for her life as is humanly possible. One night she hears footsteps behind her as she is walking home and, terrified that it’s the man who’d been pestering her in the bar earlier, she turns around at his approach and pushes him. Hard. Once she sees his motionless body at the bottom of a flight of steep steps, Joanna is faced with a terrible decision: will she face up to her actions or bury her head in the sand and flee the scene? This book emphasises the fact that the world is very rarely black and white and the right thing to do is often harder to face than you’d like to think. A satisfying and engrossing read that you’ll lose yourself in, perfect for a winter Sunday afternoon on the sofa. I think this would make a fab series on TV. If you love Dr Foster, Broadchurch or Apple Tree Yard you should definitely give this a try. You won’t regret it
Good Me, Bad Me – Ali Land
15 year-old Annie is the daughter of the notorious ‘Peter Pan’ serial killer and we first meet her wrestling with her inner demons after a lifetime of exposure to her mother’s depraved acts. As Good Me Bad Me progresses, it dawns on us that it’s actually even worse than we initially thought: Annie was also forced to participate in her mother’s sick and perverse games during years of horrendous psychological abuse. Annie is sent to live with a foster family after her mother’s arrest and her gradual rebirth as ‘Milly’ is fascinating to witness. A ‘shiny new me’ is what Annie/ Milly promises herself, but this reinvention is definitely far more complex than she – or the reader – realises. The internal struggle between the Good and Bad Milly provides us with a fast-paced and frequently harrowing read that takes us right inside Milly’s mind and exposes the long-term damage that her traumatic childhood has caused. Ali Land’s novel is a stunner, taking a difficult subject matter and weaving an addictive narrative that will make you think twice about the nature: nurture debate. Milly’s vivid first-person voice plunges you headfirst into the mind of a very complex character that will definitely make you question your own moral judgement. Totally engrossing and set to be one of this year’s contenders for the Girl On The Train’s crown. Read it now.
Perfect Death – A D.I Callanach Thriller – Helen Fields
I like to recommend books set in Scotland whenever I can and when I discover a series as gripping as this one, I make sure I don’t keep it to myself. If you haven’t read any of Helen Fields’ DI Callanach novels, set in Edinburgh, then you’re definitely missing a trick. This is the third one and I’d definitely recommend starting at the beginning with Perfect Remains. Perfect Death, book number III in the series, opens with Luc Callanach and newly appointed DCI Ava Turner investigating a serial poisoner roaming the streets of Edinburgh, whose cold-hearted modus operandi causes his victims to only realise the extent of their affliction once it is too late to save them. This is as gripping and fast-paced as Fields’ first two novels – with the added bonus, which readers of writers like Karin Slaughter and Tana French will recognise, that your relationship with the main characters deepens as the time you’ve invested in them really pays off. You really start to care what happens to these characters as the pace intensifies and the ending itself is truly nail-biting. I love introducing readers to new writers – and if you haven’t met Luc Callanach already, then you’re definitely in for a winter treat as you can binge on all three in one go just like a box-set. Happy reading…
Again, it was so hard to choose just a dozen out of all of the fantastic books being published over the next few months.
My trip to the Edinburgh Book Festival to search out the best books for 17 Degrees readers made it even harder as I was quite literally spoiled for choice.
I hope that I’ve managed to find something you like and if you have enjoyed one of my picks, please tweet me at @OnTheShelfBooks and let me know. This edition we are getting right into the festive spirit and hosting a fantastic Winter Giveaway.
Look out on the 17o Facebook page for our 12 Books Of Christmas promotion. Every day – from the 1st December to the 12th – we will be posting a feature on one of these books, asking you to tell us whose stocking you’d like to pop it into.
All you then to do is tell us and then like and share the posts and the winner each day will receive a copy of that book fresh from Santa’s workshop