5 Big Books for 2019

I love reading – I am what they call a voracious reader, typically reading thirty-plus books a year. I think I would have read more had it not been for the typical end-of-year malaise.

 

There’s about 2-3 months where I traditionally don’t read very much at all. But then comes the countdown to the end of the year where everyone starts talking about their favourite books.

 

(Shameless plug: In case you missed it, did mine here)

 

Seeing everyone talk so passionately about books, talking about my own favourite books always starts to reignite my own passion. And then I think about all the brilliant books still to come next year.

 

One of the best things about working in the publishing industry is that I get my grubby paws on all the best books a little bit early. I’ve spoken about some of them already, but here are five books to look out for in 2019 – some of them I’ve read, some of them I haven’t:

 

Starting – in alphabetical order – with:

 

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson – published in June by Doubleday

 

You might remember that last January I chose Atkinson’s Transcription as one of my ones to look out for in 2018. It received much critical acclaim when it was published, and while I enjoyed it, there was something missing. The writing was there, the research was clearly there, but for the most part I didn’t connect with it in the same way I have with previous Atkinson novels.

 

However, 2019 brings not just a new Kate Atkinson – but a new Jackson Brodie novel. I love these books, but we haven’t seen a new one since 2010. These are crime novels that I wish I could write. They are more character-led than the traditional police procedural, but that’s not to say they’re gentle.

 

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams – published in in April by Trapeze

 

This is an incredible novel – It’s funny, but feels heartbreakingly real. Queenie is a young black woman trying to navigate her way through a mini-crisis of self. Who is she? Where does she belong in this world? Does she even like herself?

 

In short, she’s suffering from all the things we all suffer from, but for me it was the insights into her views on race that really made this book for me. It’s not the big moments, but the small ones, ones where I’m offended on her behalf but Queenie simply shrugs them off as normal.

 

It helped me see our society in a new way, and helped make Queenie feel so vivid and real that I was rooting for her all the way through.

 

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – published in February by Orion

 

Completely different to the first two selections, this sees Theo Faber trying to treat a patient who hasn’t spoken a word since she shot her husband dead. This is a fast-moving thriller that kept me guessing all the way to the end.

 

It’s due to be turned into a movie, which intrigues me as I’m not sure how they’ll do it, but I can’t say any more. This is a tired old cliché that nobody in books uses any more… but it could be the next Gone Girl

 

Daisy Jones and The Six by Tyler Jenkins Reid – published in March by Hutchinson

 

This book is brilliant. It’s the transcript of a documentary that explores the rise, peak and subsequent fall of rock band The Six. They’re a fictional band but you could be forgiven for googling them to double check. It all feels so real.

 

Its structure is unusual, but it’s so effective and easy to get into that I wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing a lot more stories told in this way. There has got to be a film of this one and I can’t wait to hear the music that comes from it.

 

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce – published in February by Wildfire

 

LOVED this. For me, this felt like the perfect balance of psychological and legal thriller. Alison is a QC on her first case, a murder case where – typically – all is not necessarily as it seems.

 

However, the case merely serves as a backdrop to Alison’s crumbling relationship with her husband and an illicit, destructive affair with a colleague. I know I’ve just said this about Daisy, but this could become one of my favourite books of 2019.

 

 

 

I’m excited for all of these, the ones I’ve read to see them land in everyone else’s hands, and the ones that I’m yet to read. Most of all, though, I’m excited to read all the books I don’t yet know about (I think I said this last year!).

 

Happy reading!

The Widow by Fiona Barton

“The ultimate psychological thriller.”

Ok.

 

“Shortlisted for Richard and Judy Search for a bestseller competition”

Interesting.

 

“If you liked the Girl on the Train, you’ll love The Widow.”

Oh.

 

Oh dear.

 

Before I started reading it, I wanted to like The Widow, there’s a little bit of a buzz about it in the industry, and I love it when a book becomes a huge success, but regular readers will know that likening something to The Girl on the Train is not going to massively enthuse me.

 

On a side note, it’s really irritating when people say things like “2016’s Girl on the Train”

 

For a start Girl on the Train was not 2015’s anything, it stood on it’s own merit.

 

Secondly, nobody remembers what 2014’s Gone Girl was (mostly because Gone Girl was still selling).

 

Thirdly, you’re only setting the readers up for disappointment. Either they hated Girl on the Train and so won’t buy this, or they loved it – and this doesn’t love up to it.

 

I was disappointed by Girl on The Train (she kept getting off the train, for one) and so with some trepidation I sat down to begin The Widow.

 

We’ll start with the positives… mostly because there are some.

 

It was a total page-turner which pushes the reader on, right to the end.

 

Kate, the reporter, is a very well drawn character and the scenes involving her and the photographer are the most realistic of the whole book. Not surprising considering the previous occupation of the author (clue: it rhymes with preporter).

 

Despite being set across several years, and jumping about in time in no discernible pattern, the book actually flows quite well. The time jumps are not jarring as they easily could have been – and often are in other books.

 

There are other positives, but they involve the resolution of the plot and so I’m not going to go into too much detail on those.

 

Onto the negatives, and in truth, it’s not negatives plural, there’s one thing wrong with this book.

 

The writing is lazy.

 

Jean and Glen, the couple at the heart of the story, are written as if they’re in their late fifties, sixties – but the writer for absolutely no reason has insisted on putting them in their thirties. Every time their young age is referenced, it shatters the illusion, the image that has formed in the mind.

 

The writing is spot on… for an older couple. And there is no benefit to pretending they’re young.

 

This is the biggest problem with the writing, but there are various other things that don’t quite work.

 

For example, our police officer gains a new colleague during the book named Zara, she is classed as thirty five, and then the writer suggests she is named such as her parents were probably fans of the Royal Family.

 

That’ll be Zara Phillips they’re referencing who isn’t even thirty five now, let alone in 2008 when that particular scene was set.

 

It took me ten seconds on the internet to work out the maths of that, but once again, it was a moment that took me out of the book, because it didn’t seem quite right.

 

And once again, there was no need for it. She could have just been called Zara with no further reference as to why and the book would have carried on fine.

 

There are lots of little things like this throughout and it’s so disappointing because this could have been a really good book.

 

Ultimately, it’s ok. It’s annoying when you read it, but you do want to read it, and you do want to find out what happened. It’s a great read for passing some time on a plane, or by a pool, and by that measure it will sell really well, but you probably won’t remember it a week later.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

This girl is not on a train, nor is she gone. She is the Luckiest Girl Alive

After reading Girl on the Train and lamenting the death of the domestic noir genre, I immediately started reading another one.

The Luckiest Girl Alive instantly grabs the reader’s attention with the striking cover, and within the first two pages it attacks with a bite that Girl on the Train simply didn’t have.

We are presented with Ani, the main character, choosing her wedding list, and she is contemplating taking the knife she is looking at and sliding it into her husband-to-be’s gut.

Immediately, there is a sense of tension, of danger, that Girl on the Train lacked. A few pages later and it becomes clear that Ani is not a particularly likeable character, but she doesn’t come across as unreliable.

The book alternates between Ani in her late twenties and Ani – then known as TifAni in her – as a fourteen year old and transferring to a new school.

It is clear that something horrific has happened at the school, specifically something horrific happened to Ani at the school, but it is not immediately revealed. What is clear from the beginning is that whatever it was had a big impact on Ani.

Fourteen year old TifAni is not the same as grown-up Ani, and it is finding out exactly what changed her that keeps the pages turning in this thriller.

Ani isn’t a particularly nice person and it is hard to side with her, or relate to her inner conflict about whether to marry Luke or not – I found myself not caring whether she did or not, but the ending is the ending that Ani deserves, and does give some hope that she might become a likeable character.

That is what this genre is seemingly all about – if the benchmark is Gone Girl, a novel which presents us with a host of unlikeable characters, that we are fascinated by, then the writer above all else needs to concentrate on that.

Perhaps that was the problem with Girl on a Train. While I didn’t particularly like the main character, I did pity her, and she was very much the victim. Ani, on the other hand actually IS a victim, but there’s not much time for pitying her.

I still think the domestic noir genre has peaked and will settle down into just another strand of thrillers. Before that happens, though, we will get a whole avalanche of Luckiest Gone Girl Alive on a Train type books. Luckiest Girl Alive deserves to stand out as one of the better examples.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Every now and then a book comes along that sells and sells and sells. The likes of Grey and Go Set A Watchman come along occasionally and sell – to use a technical term – shitloads in a short space of time.

But some books sell and they consistently sell well and they top the charts week after week.

The Da Vinci Code, The Hunger Games, Gone Girl, Fault in Our Stars, all of these are amongst the bestsellers with some of them still going even now, years after their publication.

After the phenomenon that was Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the sequel The Lost Symbol was released to great fanfare in 2009 and spent a record breaking nineteen weeks in the number one slot in the Fiction Hardback chart.

To put that into context, there are SO many books published each week, that the average title stays in the charts for around six to seven weeks.

The Lost Symbol spending that long at the top of the chart is the book-world equivalent of a man living to be 250 years old.

Earlier this month, that record was broken by the book that even the most casual of readers will have noticed hanging around in bookshops – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Since Before I Go To Sleep and Gone Girl first hit the heights of popularity, a new genre has emerged in fiction – domestic noir. Basically tense thrillers involving a married couple – The Girl on the Train is just the latest in a long line of hit titles in the genre – but it may well be the peak.

I finally got round to reading GotT this week and… I struggled. There is nothing wrong with it. There’s a nice twist – literally – at the end, there are some very tense moments, and it’s well written.

But parts of it are predictable – in fact, that’s the nature of domestic noir novels – not always that the husband did it, but they feature a small cast of characters, and so it is often easy to spot the bad guy (or girl).

Where these books succeed is in the character’s motives and the ‘how do they get through this’ factor.

The Girl on the Train is just not worth the hype. There is no discernible reason why it has had the success it has had, when others that are equally good or even better have not fared as well.

It’s a good read, it’s a quick read, but it’s distinctly average. Perhaps as a gateway drug to the genre, it’s a good book, or even for those desperate to read more of this type of title, but I suspect we are now at the point with any resurgent genre where we will see a huge cascade of copy-cat titles.

Besides, she’s not even on the train that much.

Waiting For Doggo

Waiting For Doggo

By Mark Mills

We have a bit of a game in our office. We try and find the most ridiculous X meets Y descriptors for new books.

Publishers will often try to sell a book into us by telling us it’s the next Gone Girl (which was the next Before I Go To Sleep, by the way) – or the next Fifty Shades. If there’s no obvious comparison they’ll tell us it’s the prodigal child of two other blockbusters.

 

Maeve Binchy meets Dan Brown

Harry Potter meets Queer as Folk

Game of Thrones meets Bridget Jones (Bridget Thrones, anyone?)

 

Ok – so, we’ve never actually had any of those (as far as I know!) but these are the kinds of descriptors we get. It’s sort of ridiculous, for example Gone Girl was bigger, better and completely different to BIGTS, but sort of understandable. I’ve used it myself (Memories of a Murder is Agatha Christie meets LOST, in case you were wondering) – it’s a really quick and simple way of explaining what you’re going to get.

Last week I received a proof copy of the new Mark Mills – Waiting for Doggo. Frankly, I was sold on the title alone – but the inside blurb describes it as appealing to ‘readers of Marley and Me and One Day and fans of It’s A Wonderful Life’

I’ve never seen It’s A Wonderful Life (shock!), I adored One Day, and I’ve never been that enticed by Marley & Me, so I had no idea what to expect when I opened this book.

First of all, it’s nothing like One Day, it has nowhere near the same emotional punch – but that doesn’t mean it’s not as good.

It’s a short book, but it’s almost perfectly constructed. It tells the tale of Dan who’s girlfriend of several years one day, just leaves him, leaving only a letter behind. She takes everything that they bought together over the years, including a wooden salad bowl. The only thing she’s left behind is the most recent addition to their family, an ugly, rescue dog temporarily named Doggo.

Doggo and Dan do not get on, but somehow they start to form a bond as Dan starts his new job at an advertising agency. Amazingly, Doggo is the most well-drawn character in the book, despite actually not getting a huge amount of ‘page-time’ (like screen time, but on paper).

That’s not a put down on the other characters, I actually think the reason the books is because he’s not a character, he’s a real person who springs forth right at the beginning of the book – everyone else – including Doggo – are the characters we see develop through his eyes, some of the minor ones not that well defined, to be honest.

The similarities between Doggo and Dan are not subtle, but they’re not clichéd, it’s this link between them, along with a great sense of humour (the Hatchback of Notre Dame particularly made me chuckle) makes for a great book.

There is a small emotional punch – naturally at the conclusion of Doggo’s arc – which almost elicits a tear or two, but at a mere 208 pages, the book can’t afford to dabble in sentimentality and so avoids dragging it out too long.

Waiting for Doggo is it’s own book – it deserves to stand alone on it’s own merit, so whether you’re a fan of Marley and Me, Game of Thrones or midgets wrestling in jelly (that last one’s not a book, I hope) – give it a go, at most you’ll lose an hour or two of your life, but the chances are you’ll find a little gem.

For me, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

If you can get hold of a proof copy, then do it – otherwise you’ll have to wait until it’s officially published in November of this year.