It’s January and I hope that your 2019 has got off to a great beginning. It’s been so exciting to see my latest 17 Degrees column in print and share my reviews of these great books. January and February are full of fabulous new books too and it’s definitely going to be so hard to keep my 2019 TBR under control and whittle down my next set of books for my Spring Column in March
Brutally Honest – Melanie Brown (Quadrille £13.99)
If you love a memoir, then this ‘Scary’ new release could be perfect for you. Mel B is certainly not known for keeping things to herself and in her autobiography, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in her dramatic life – and get to the truth behind the headlines. Mel B has spent her entire career flying high, whether being part of the world’s biggest girl band, acting as a judge on X Factor or telling it like it is on America’s Got Talent. Brutally Honest is her no-holds-barred account of the struggles that went on behind the scenes and the tears that lay behind the surface glitter. With rare candour and a slice of her infamous northern humour, the book allows us a real insight into life as a Spice Girl, as well as the trauma and struggle to extricate herself from her most recent marriage and her desire to carve a new future for herself and her family. Mel has a charm all of her own and I know many people will be pleasantly surprised by her honesty, bravery and insight. A really great read with a warm heart and positive message too.
Poverty Safari – Darren McGarvey (Pan Macmillan £6.99)
Whatever your political opinions, Darren McGarvey aka Scottish rapper and social commentator, Loki is determined to make you sit up and take notice with his unflinching look at the people whose lives have fallen through the cracks in our modern social landscape. He really wants to make people think harder about their assumptions about people living alongside us whose lives are so different to ours that they couldn’t even be imagined. Winner of this year’s Orwell Prize for non-fiction, this is part memoir, part social history and will shock even the most streetwise reader by its determination to tell the truth about poverty and hardship in the communities that we live in. The hidden poor are all around us and Loki feels that we don’t see them precisely because so many of us are determined not to. McGarvey wants us to think about the systems which have caused and maintain these inequalities in our society and consider whether we have done enough to ensure that this changes in the future. This is a non preachy, shocking and important read that everyone is talking about. You should definitely join in the conversation this winter!
Becoming – Michelle Obama (Penguin £16.99)
It’s great to start the year with a really inspiring read, and they don’t come much more inspiring than this one. As the first African-American in her role as FLOTUS she and her husband redefined what it meant to serve in the White House. A strong and inspiring advocate for women’s education and opportunities, Michelle made thousands of people believe that they too could achieve their ambitions and the fact that she did it all with such grace, charm and humour meant that she wo n’t fail to win you over in this compelling read. Michelle talks candidly about her upbringing, her struggles and her personal successes as well as her insights into the juggling required to bring up your family as normally as you possibly can with the world watching your every move. Whether busting moves on primetime TV, wowing us with her skills at Carpool Karaoke or touching people with her natural compassion and dignity, Michelle’s book tells us her own story, in her own words and really makes you feel like you’ve met her in person. This is a warm, compelling and inspirational read that I can’t recommend highly enough.
The Choice – Edith Eger (Ebury Publishing £6.99)
Being sent to Auschwitz at only 16 years old was a harrowing and unimaginable experience for 16-year-old Edith Enger. The things that she endured there are brought vividly to life for us in this memoir as we see them through her eyes – including being forced to perform at Auschwitz for the infamous ‘butcher’ Joseph Mengele himself. Edith’s determination to survive, in spite of everything she went through even led to her surviving a brutal death march. When the camp was liberated at last, Edith had to be pulled from a pile of bodies, barely alive after everything that she’d endured. In The Choice, Dr Edith Eger shares her experience of the suffering she endured at Auschwitz with us, as well as telling us all about the people she has worked with and helped since. Today, she uses her skills to support survivors of abuse and soldiers suffering from PTSD, turning the worst of human experiences into something both positive and life-affirming. The Choice is an absolute must-read. It is both a lesson in humanity and a heart-warming insight into the way that the most wonderful things can grow out of adversity and suffering. Read it for a moving and inspiring start to 2019.
The Hunting Party – Lucy Foley( Harper Collins £12.99)
In a remote hunting lodge, deep in the Scottish wilderness, old friends gather for New Year. The beautiful one. The golden couple. The volatile one. The new parents. The quiet one. The city boy. The Outsider. The victim. And then it begins… This was such a fantastic read, I can’t stop talking about it! I love a book with that ‘locked in’ feeling where you are constantly kept guessing as to who might be guilty- as everyone has a motive and nobody can be trusted. It had me hooked from the get-go and it’s a perfect winter read for a chilly afternoon by the fire as you’ll definitely get lost in its pages.. Anyone who has ever had to endure a dreadful reunion with people from their past will find much to relate to here as the remote location adds to the tension and unease of these characters. Their idyllic hideaway is rapidly torn apart by tensions, conflict and division and you’ll be left guessing as everyone’s motives are called into question in such a deft way that it would put Agatha Christie herself to shame. Lucy Foley has crafted an immersive and claustrophobic novel that will have you holding your breath as you race towards the final page. This is definitely one of my reads of the year. Pick yourself up a copy as soon as you can!
Roar – Cecilia Aherne (Harper Collins £10.99)
Have you ever imagined a different life? Have you ever been paralysed by indecision? Have you ever had a moment when you needed to find your voice?
Then I might have found the perfect book for you. Cecilia Ahern is one of those writers. The ones we all turn to when we want a story that will make us laugh, make us cry and make us think about our lives in a different way. My mum is a huge fan of her novels and so I was delighted to be able to review something a little different from her this winter: This is a selection of short stories about women who all discover the inner strength to stand up for something that matters passionately to them. From The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared to The Woman Who Returned and Exchanged her Husband, you’ll discover thirty touching, hilarious stories and meet thirty totally different women. Each one finds a moment that defines them as they realise that they themselves hold the power to make a change. This book is a wonderful and inspiring antidote to the January Blues – treat yourself.
One Day in December – Josie Silver (Penguin £5.99)
I love getting recommendations from other people for the column, and this book came from my very best book-twin in the world – my sister Cara. Like me, Cara loves a read that you can really lose yourself in and we both absolutely loved ‘One Day’ so I was delighted when she told me that she’d found a book that reminded her of it. I’m choosing this as a winter read for all you romantics out there – you’re going to absolutely love it. Laurie is pretty sure love, at first sight, doesn’t exist. After all, life isn’t a scene from the movies, is it? But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there’s a moment of pure magic…and then her bus drives away. Laurie thinks she’ll never see the boy from the bus again. Until her best friend Sarah introduces her to the new love of her life. Who is, of course, the boy from the bus. Laurie’s a good friend so she’s determined to let him go and get on with her life. But what if destiny has other plans? I hope you like this fabulous winter love story as much as we did.
A Keeper – Graham Norton ( Hodder & Stoughton £7.99)
Yes, it absolutely is that Graham Norton – and if you haven’t been introduced to Graham Norton the novelist, then you’re in for a treat. This wonderful Irish novel tells the story of Elizabeth Keane, who has returned to Ireland after her mother’s death, desperate to be done with that miserable episode of her life. There is nothing for her in Ireland now and she wonders if there ever was. The house of her childhood is not filled with happy memories and she’d happily have left it without a backwards glance, if she hadn’t found a stack of old letters.40 years earlier, a lonely young woman rushes through the darkness by the cliffs and the sea. She has idea where she might be headed, only that she has to keep going, and not look backwards. To where and for what reason will be revealed as the novel unfolds. Both of these stories combine to draw you in and find out what will be the fate of both women and how their lives collide in the most unexpected way. If you where a Maeve Binchy fan, you’ll be won over by Graham Norton’s writing style and his evocative picture of both rural Ireland and human nature.
A House of Ghosts W.C. Ryan (Zaffre £9.99)
If you love a gothic read on wintery afternoons, then you’ll be as enchanted as I was by this original, dark and gripping story. It’s Winter 1917. The First World War is entering its most brutal phase and all around the nation, people are trying to find answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives. At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to try and make a connection with his two sons who have been killed in action. The intriguing aspect of this novel is that we gradually realise, as the guests start to arrive, that they are all hiding something important that lurks beneath the surface. The tension increases when a storm descends on the island and the guests find themselves trapped in the Abbey as the darkness becomes even more menacing.The question is, will there be the same number of guests ready to leave at the end of this gathering or will the promise of violence which has mounted throughout the storm lead to one of their unfortunate demise? You will love this unusual and gripping mystery if you like a tale of the unexpected. Curl up with A House of Ghosts for the perfect mystery to absorb you this winter.
Snap – Belinda Bauer (Transworld £6. 99)
I am a real admirer of an original take on a genre – and if you haven’t read Belinda Bauer’s smart and psychological thriller yet, then you don’t just have to take my word for it – this book comes with the stamp of approval from none other than Queen of Crime, Val McDermid! Snap tells the tale of eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters who are stuck in their broken-down car on a roasting hot summer’s day. waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack’s in charge, she told them – I won’t be long. Fatal last words indeed – for she doesn’t come back. Ever. And life as the children know it is has totally been turned on its head in the most traumatic way imaginable. Three years later, Jack is still in charge – of his sisters, working hard to look after them all whilst making sure nobody knows they’re alone in the house. Coping well, until the truth about what happened to his mother emerges in a way that nobody could have anticipated. Jack is a great character and you’ll be drawn in tighter and tighter to this twisty tale as more begins to emerge about their past than you might have anticipated. If you like a book that throws you right into the heart of a story and makes sure that you never quite entirely know where you are then this is the book for you. Watch out for its incredible twists and turns!
The Innocent Wife – Amy LLoyd (Cornerstone £7.99)
If you are a fan of Making a Murderer or Manhunter on Netflix then this twisted and clever thriller might be right up your street. I got this book fjust before going on holiday and I read it from cover to cover in two days! Just imagine the situation – you’re in love with a man on Death Row in Florida, convicted of a brutal murder twenty years ago. You’re convinced he didn’t do it, and you’re determined to prove that he didn’t. You spearhead a vast online army of people also determined to prove his innocence and manage to uncover evidence of police incompetence whilst successfully lobbying for this awful miscarriage of justice to be overturned. Now you’re married to him, and he’s a free man, his conviction thrown out. You are free to spend the rest of your lives together in wedded bliss After all, he’s innocent. Or is it as simple as that…I don’t want to give any spoilers so all I’m going to say is that you should definitely read it for yourself. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about not being able to get to sleep until you’ve finished this rollercoaster of a book!
Changeling – Matt Wesolowski (Orenda £8.99)
Orenda Books are one of my absolute favourites, and I can safely say that Matt Wesolowski’s ‘Six Stories’ series are definitely some of the most original and enjoyable books I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. This series is cleverly based on a podcast and takes on a new ‘case’ for each book. Changeling begins on Christmas Eve 1988, when seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995. Famously reclusive Scott King, whose `Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates Alfie’s disappearance, interviewing six witnesses – hence the ‘six stories’ – to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. He takes the readers deep into the mysterious Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of the shadowy figures who dwell there including a psychic who claims to know where Alfie is…This is such a wintery read – it’s dark, chilling and extremely atmospheric – you’ll be checking what’s behind the couch after you’ve finished reading it. Changeling is an unforgettable read that I cannot recommend highly enough.
I absolutely loved the job of choosing these 12 books and hope that you enjoy reading the ones that appeal to you over these first few months of the year I always try to choose books that will appeal to a wide range of readers – whether you like a true story, an inspiring autobiography, a romantic read or something a bit more spinetingling to get you through these dreich winter months.
Happy New Reading Year to you all and I hope you have a wonderful 2019 in books