2019 has been a strange year in books for me.
I haven’t read as much new stuff as I normally do (that’s what happens when you don’t have a holiday away during the year), and a lot of the stuff I have read has either been Work in Progress for acquaintances or proofs of things still to come (to which end I’m confident 2020 is going to be a good year for new releases).
At the same time, it’s been a year where I’ve read a lot of things released prior to 2019 – in part catching up with back catalogues of authors I’ve only recently found, starting to go through some of the 2,500 + books I own but haven’t read yet (moving house will make you realise exactly how many you have as you fill the umpteenth box…), or consuming older titles in different ways – particularly via Audible (Finding Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe in a whole new light).
2019 has also been a slightly disappointing year in some regards: new works from favourite authors that have just been underwhelming for me. No need to name names here, but I’m talking about some of those authors whose books I pre-order religiously, often in established series that just ranged from not enjoying quite as much as I normally do to the ok, I’ve had enough and in one case a well-known author who finally released a new title for the first time in many moons that made me wonder why it had taken so long to produce the final result.
So, a different approach to my usual list: I’ve spent a considerable amount of time writing reviews on Amazon this year, and most of the books that follow are written about in length there so:
There will be links to the reviews I wrote on Amazon rather than lengthy prose here. If you think the book might be of interest to you or want to read my long, rambling thoughts on them, follow the link and read the full review.
You can then do two things
- buy the book in question. (If not buy, then at least try a sample and see what you think.)
- give the review a helpful rating if you find it so…
This isn’t shilling for Amazon. Some of the authors on my list are well known, others less so – giving a helpful rating to a review helps my self-esteem in that my efforts are being seen or are in any way of use but more so, it helps potential readers see that the authors’ work is appreciated and so, ultimately help the author. Of course, I don’t get a million views per post, so feel free to share anything of value to assist in this author promotion…
Because that’s the other thing I’ve discovered (or rather, had confirmed) in 2019 – some of the best work out there is not being produced by the big publishers: I’ve read most of the BIG paperback crime and mystery sellers this year and I don’t think there are any that make my list – some were good, some were not, but none struck me as being particularly memorable. But a lot of the small press, indie or self-published stuff? That too has run the gamut, but when it’s been good, it’s been very good.
The other reason this year’s list is different is that it’s not a Top 10 in any ranking, it’s some categorised choices (some category headings more laboured than others) in no particular order. Anyway, here’s what I liked in 2019…
The New Series:
In a year where I was disappointed by several long-running series and their characters, Neil came out with his first novel in the Tom Novak series (second title already out): nothing more nor less than a good rollicking adventure story that any fan of Jack Higgins or his ilk will lap up.
The Ongoing Series:
The fourth in Gregg Hurwitz’s Evan Smoak series Out of the Dark continues to develop one of the most interesting series characters since Jason Bourne.
The Stand-Alone Away from a Series
I’ve written previously about interviewing Paul Hardisty at Newcastle Noir – the quite brilliant crime festival held in Newcastle each year and while I was ostensibly discussing his Claymore Straker series, it was his new stand-alone Turbulent Wake that really stood out for me this year. Part mystery, part family saga, it was an unexpected pleasure.
The One I Should Have Been Reading Earlier
A new one for me, and my review has not been posted by Amazon yet…but having seen Anderson described as the ‘greatest living crime writer’ by many an esteemed author I thought I had to give it a try, and am so glad I did. Reminiscent of Jim Thompson or James Ellroy at times, but absolutely unique in its overall telling.
The One I Wouldn’t Normally Have Read But Glad I Did
A non-genre, YA work looking at the effects on those around a cancer sufferer, Georgia’s first novel was as thoughtful as it was thought-provoking. While it might have sounded like another Fault in the Stars from a one-line description, it turned out to be something altogether different and all the better for it.
Love, Fame, Death and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont – Shawn Levy
In a year where cinema took a good long look at late 60s Hollywood in Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, Levy’s work is a nicely done history of a place with a revealing but not salacious look at the many stars who passed through it from its conception to modern-day.
The Short Story Collection:
Well, with two new short story collections out myself this year, I had to include at least one anthology. Again, my Amazon review is not up yet, but if I say that this is the third anthology Lawrence Block as put together inviting authors to conjure up shorts inspired by great paintings and that the authors include the likes of Scott Frank and John Sandford, as well as several new to me, but to be investigated further, names, then you can guarantee the quality.
The Old Favourite:
I was disappointed with a lot of the Stephen King output this year – even if it wasn’t from the man himself. A series of lacklustre movie/ TV adaptations, but he came out with two pretty decent books. Elevation may have got some flack for its length (I really enjoyed it), and his full-length novel The Institute. It’s what King does best – kids, authority, physic powers and mayhem.
The ‘Not Stephen King But Don’t Hold That Against It’
I have to admit this one came out of nowhere for me. A sequel to the previous Gwendy’s Button Box which Chizmar co-wrote with King, this has all the feel of the Castle Rock world, but with another author’s touch. At times it felt more Bradburyesque than King in homage (no bad thing, by the way) but remains its own thing.
The One With Pictures…
A lot of pictures. Almost 1,000 pages of them. Is it a cheat to include something collected over the last 20 years? The hell with it – it’s my list. A great chance for those of us not familiar with the series to get pretty much everything in one go…
that was my selection for 2019. Please do click on the links and support the authors – both the well established and the new.
If you don’t want to buy from Amazon, then have a look where they are: I’ve included @ for two of the publishers responsible for this work, and you can get all details from the links…
It would, of course, be remiss of me to say that the reason for not reading quite as much as I have in recent years is that I’ve been doing a fair bit of writing myself.
There will, I am resolute, be a novel on that page in 2020…