I'm a big believer that a good writer is a good reader. Here's what I've been turning the pages of recently.

 

2017 

 

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (Canongate, £14.99)

Ayobami Adebayo is a first time novelist who comes with some fantastic credentials: first handpicked by Chimamanda Adichie to take part in her annual writing workshop; then taught by Margaret Atwood, who read the start of this novel and recommended the book to her agent.

Set in 1980s Nigeria, the story of Stay With Me itself centres around Yejide, desperate for a child to keep her husband Akin and his family happy. When she has struggles conceiving, Akin takes a second wife to give him what Yejide cannot – leading her to try a mix of pilgrimages and prophets to become pregnant before her rival.

Adebayo has a sharp eye for characterisation and depicts a relationship riven with both fragility and, ultimately, failure. Into the mix, she also interweaves the politics and values of the time, bringing the era brilliantly to life. But above all, it’s the voice and vibrancy of the writing that really stand out here and mark the author out as someone to watch.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99)

Exit West is one of those slim books – almost as much as a novella as a novel – whose brevity somehow makes the big themes discussed boom out all that bit louder. At its heart, this is a love story between Nadia and Saeed, two individuals who come together in an unnamed city, one rife with bombs, violence and curfews. But as life becomes intolerable they make the difficult decision to leave – via one of the mysterious black doors that are appearing in the city, allowing people to disappear abroad and begin a new life in a different country.

Mohsin Hamid is the author of several books, most famously his debut novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Here again, his desire to explore contemporary issues and the humanity with which he discusses them are again much in evidence. This is a migration story with a magical twist, Hamid bringing both a lightness of touch and a captivating fable-like quality to one of the biggest issues of the day. 

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller (Fig Tree, £14.99)

Right from its arresting opening sentence, Swimming Lessons, starts as it means to go on: ‘Gil Coleman looked down from the first-floor window of the bookshop and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below…’ The mystery of what happened to Gil’s wife, Ingrid, and her possible reappearance is a compelling central hook, but the pull of the book is about much more than that. At its heart is the unpeeling and unravelling of a relationship between husband and wife.

Fuller is a writer who eschews immediate comparisons. At times, the combination of empathy and mystery reminded me of Emma Healey; at others, the delicate dissection of a marriage, meanwhile, brought to mind Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. Fuller pulls these elements together with a touch and subtlety and readability of her own: there is a strong, visual style to her writing, such as the plastic bag on the breeze that bookends the story, or the shoal of mackerel that rains down on Flora’s car in a freak storm. This is one of those books that makes you pause and think when you finish it; that magical moment of silence that allows everything you’ve just read to really sink in.

The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer (Faber and Faber, £12.99)

Another follow-up to a bestselling debut, Kate Hamer’s second novel has the tricky task of satisfying the many readers who read The Girl in the Red Coat. In The Doll Funeral, the story focuses on Ruby, coat colour unknown, who on her thirteenth birthday discovers that she is adopted. It’s the latest revelation in a childhood of secrets: the ghosts that she claims to see around her home in the Forest of Dean; the aggression of her foster father that no-one talks about. Ruby vows to discover who her real parents are, whatever the consequences.

Readers of The Girl in the Red Coat will recognise echoes of that first book here: the alternating stories, the mother-daughter protagonists, the pull of the central mystery. But this is a story told on a wider canvas and Hamer is a novelist flexing her muscles as she grows and develops. Certainly, the writing here is exquisite in its detail and bodes well for the future: while Hamer’s debut was packaged for the thriller market, this second novel finds her heading towards more interesting, Kate Atkinson-type territory.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan (Two Roads, £14.99)

A heart-warming story, twice over. When Ruth Hogan had a car accident in her early thirties that left her unable to work full-time, she decided to follow her dream of writing seriously. Then, when a few years later she was diagnosed with cancer, Hogan found herself unable to sleep because of the chemo, and spent her nights working on what would become this debut novel.

The Keeper of Lost Things is writer Anthony Peardew, who has spent several decades collecting objects that have been left behind or forgotten. When he dies, he leaves his house to his assistant Laura, on the condition that she attempts to return these various items to their rightful owners. It would be a hard-hearted reader who didn’t warm to this sparky and quirky debut novel. Yes, there’s scope for the writing to be more firmly edited in places, but this fizzes with imagination in a Rachel Joyce sort of a way, and there’s a brio to proceedings that bowls the reader along. Even found a bit of dust in my eye when I got to the ending.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (Doubleday, £16.99)

The Heart’s Invisible Furies begins in 1945 with teenager Catherine Goggin being denounced by her local priest as a whore for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Fleeing her rural home for Dublin, she gives birth and gives away her son, adopted as Cyril Avery. It is Cyril’s story the novel follows through the decades – a lifelong struggle with both his sexuality and who he is as Ireland slowly changes and modernises.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is sweeping where John Boyne’s bestselling The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas is short (seventy years spread over 600-plus pages). Emotionally, too, the palate is much more mixed. Yes, it is sad and poignant in places, but the kicker is that’s it also very funny in others, too: a dash of Roddy Doyle, as much as Anne Enright, to proceedings. What lingers afterwards is the warmth and humour and belief in the human spirit that underpins the novel. 

The Girl Before by JP Delaney (Quercus, £12.99)

One feels at time for the 'girl'. Over the last few years, she's had a dragon tattoo, been on the train, got a red coat, been in the ice, gone. Now she's The Girl Before, in this 'debut' thriller by JP Delaney - one of those debuts that, like Paula Hawkins, is in a fact an established author switching genres.

Here, the premise is about premises - One Folgate Street, an arresting and minimalist London property designed by enigmatic architect Edward Monkford. While the rent itself is extremely reasonable, the conditions attached are not: tenants have to pass a strict application process to be allowed to live there, abide by strict rules, and complete regular psychometric tests for the house to fully function.

When new tenant Jane moves in, she feels as though she has both landed on her feet and had the rug pulled out from under her at the same time. For while her new landlord is extremely attractive, it also becomes apparent that All Is Not What It Seems. The house has a mysterious past, with her experiences echoing those of a previous tenant, Emma, the eponymous girl of the title…

The Girl Before draws on many of the central tropes of recent mega-sellers that readers will recognize - there's the dual character narrative of Gone Girl, the unreliable narrator of The Girl on the Train, and in the Jane-Edward relationship, even a dash of Anastasia Steele-Christian Grey for good measure. Which in lesser hands might leave this feeling a little derivative, but here, the quality of the writing pulls it through and keeps the reader turning the pages. Just as the architecture of the house is minimalist, so the prose here is crisp, clean and pared back. The plotting, too, is tight and compulsive: the short, moreish chapters giving it that same 'just one more' feel as the box set you end up watching until three in the morning.

Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan (Doubleday, £9.99)

Hold Back The Stars is an intriguing and captivating combination of Gravity meets One Day. Carys, a shuttle pilot, and Max, originally a chef by trade, meet each other in a futuristic Europe called Europia (Nigel Farage should be probably look away now): a place where its inhabitants live on rotation, moving every few years, and where settling down is not allowed until you are 'established' in your mid-thirties. All of which is fine, unless you're young and have fallen in love ... a scenario that leaves our heroes heading for the stars and finding their lives in the balance.

If that all sounds heavy, that's my summary rather than Katie Khan's writing, which delivers all of this with a marshmallow lightness of touch and sets up what she wants to write about: a good old-fashioned love story, just one set up in space. The back and forth between Carys and Max is one that rom-com readers will recognize, but Khan does it extremely well, and in a narrative that you think you know where it is going to go, she manages to pull some romantic rabbits out of the metaphorical hat, which is no mean achievement.

Like Laura Barnett's The Versions of Us or James Hannah's The A-Z of You and Me, Hold Back the Stars is firmly in that modern school of romantic writing that mixes high concept storylines and clever structures with compelling writing. If you liked those, then you'll rocket through this as well.

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr (Penguin, £7.99)

Flora Banks is seventeen and can't remember anything. She has had a condition called anterograde amnesia, which forces her to live her life through a series of notes and words scribbled on her hands and arms to remind her of who she is, where she lives, and everything else besides. Then one night at a party, she ends up kissing Drake, the ex-boyfriend of her soon-to-be ex-best friend Paige. The following morning, to her amazement and surprise, she can still remember that kiss.

Flora's life is about to change. She wants to see Drake again, but the party was his leaving party - he is departing for Svalbard in the Arctic Circle. When her parents have to travel to France to visit her ill brother, Flora is left to fend for herself. 'Be brave' says one of the notes on her arm, and so despite being barely able to get to the end of the street and back again, she books a ticket to the frozen north…

The One Memory of Flora Banks is Emily Barr's first foray into writing Young Adult. It's a winning mix of a John Green/ Rainbow Rowell-style sharpness and sensitivity but underlined with a darker edge, belying the author's previous experience as a thriller writer. My summary may make this sound like a love story, but as the plot smartly unfolds, this is more of a coming-of-age, finding-yourself type novel that is in turns unsettling and uplifting. 

Little Deaths by Emma Flint (Picador, £12.99)

New York, 1965. In the middle of a heatwave, single mother Ruth Malone wakes up to find the window of her apartment open and her two young children missing. But as their bodies are discovered, brutally murdered, her nightmare is only just beginning, with the local police convinced that she is responsible for their deaths.

With her drinking, affairs, impeccable make-up and provocative clothing, Ruth is an enigmatic individual with many secrets. But does that make her a murderer? As the police trawl her life for proof of her guilt, so a local tabloid reporter, Pete Wonicke, does the same but for evidence of her innocence. He becomes obsessed by the case, but his obsession might be the only way that Ruth escapes jail…

Drawing on a real-life case as her starting point, Emma Flint has developed this very much into a story all of her own. I know it's only January, but already I'd say this is one of the crime debuts of the year, if not one of the crime books of the year full stop. The quality of the writing and how the author captures her settings and characters is just exquisite: it's page-turning, too, but it's the richness of the little details that really impresses here. A book to soak up and lose yourself in.   

 2016 

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (Hodder) -- Literary thriller around a plane crash. Literary thrillers are difficult to pull off, but this one just about manages it, though perhaps more successful on the literary than thriller side. Weak end. 

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz (Michael Joseph) -- Slick thriller. Possibly a bit too slick for my liking, though extremely good action set pieces.  

All That Man Is by David Szalay (Jonathan Cape) -- Not quite a novel, more nine stories on the same overarching theme. The sweep comes from showing the different ages of manhood. Interesting idea and some of the stories are great. Strong European flavour, though a slightly bleak outlook.

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O'Farrell (Tinder) -- Slightly disappointed by this, tbh. Bigger and more ambitious than her usual books and didn't quite come off for me. Found the plot and structure a bit sprawling, rather than her normal tight-knit style. Writing and characterisation impeccable as always.

Blood Wedding by Pierre Lematire (MacLehose) -- Fantastic French crime writer and master of the twisty-turny plot. This up to his usual moreish standard. 

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift (Scribner) -- Short but sweet. Graham Swift is increasingly one of my favourite writers and so much in here in so few pages. One of my favourite books of the year. 

Vanishing Games by Roger Hobbs (Corgi) -- Follow up to Ghostman. That was an amazing thriller. This was not quite as good, but still very good indeed.

The Crime Writer by Jill Dawson (Sceptre) -- novel set around Patricia Highsmith's time living in Suffolk. Great if you're a fan of Patricia Highsmith. Actually, pretty great anyway. One of my favourite books of the year.

If I Should Die by Matthew Frank (Penguin) -- Debut crime thriller about a soldier turned detective. Bit overlong for me, but some great moments and buckets of authenticity.

The Detainee by Peter Liney (Jo Fletcher) -- Razor-sharp dystopian thriller with a touch of John Wyndham style sci-fi feel to it. Soon to be a film. 

The Ninth Step by Mark Dawson (Unputdownable) -- Bestselling self-published author. That aside, very well crafted thriller from author who knows his writing onions.

Thin Ice by Quentin Bates (Constable) -- Icelandic thriller by British author who obviously knows the setting well. Sharply plotted.

Tenacity by J S Law (Headline) -- Sub based thriller. Good and gripping with really good use of its setting to create a claustrophobic feel.

The Killing of Bobbi Lomax by Cal Moriarty (Faber) -- Fantastic debut thriller, dripping in Americana and religious undertones. Clever, thoughtful sophisticated crime writing.

The Fallen by Tarn Richardson (Duckworth) -- sequel to The Damned and for my money the better book of the two. Tauter, tighter and more of a thriller feel than book one. The setting of the Italian front more distinctive and different than the Western front too.

Five Rivers Met on A Wooded Plain by Barney Norris (Transworld) -- Debut novel set in and around Salisbury. Great characterisation: slight possible play feel to the structure (author is playwright) but lovely writing.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (OneWorld) -- Bits of this are brilliant. Huge chunks of it, in fact. But at times a bit unwieldy and a bit unedited for me, and after a tight opening 250-odd pages, lost its way a little before coming back later on. And I'm personally not a huge fan of the Faulkner As I Lay Dying structure, which the author uses here, as did Graham Swift for Last Orders, another Booker winner. But that said, some of the writing and characterisation is undoubtedly fantastic. 

Penguin and the Lane Brothers by Stuart Kells (Black Inc) -- Bit Australian heavy but good insight into the early years of Penguin and growth of a publishing house.

The Yellow Jersey by Ralph Hurne (W&N) -- Early 1970s cycling novel. The cycling detail is great; the social attitudes very early 1970s. Can't remember the last time a read a book where the women are referred to as 'it'. 

Six Four by Hideo Yokohama (Quercus) -- Doorstop bestselling Japanese crime thriller. A bit too much internal police politics, perhaps, but a real page turner: 600 pages and devoured in a couple of days. Good fun.

Cold Calling by Russell Mardell (Matador) -- Well observed four-hander I would say rom com, except the 'rom' is sharper on relationships than the term suggests. Some good publishing satire into the mix for good measure.

Living A Fan's Adventure Tale by Greg Lansdowne (Wymer) -- Possibly slightly specialist, but book about fans of the band a-ha. Good insight into fandom and pop culture generally. 

Wide-Eyed and Legless by Jeff Connor (Mainstream) -- Classic cycling book about  British team in 1987 Tour de France. Great reportage stuff.

The Bees by Laline Paull (Fourth Estate) -- Novel set in a hive which makes it sound like a stripy Watership Down, but actually has a bit of sci-fi feel to it with a an environmental undertow. Interesting read.

Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary (Headline) -- third Marnie Rome book. Great pacy storytelling, but what I particularly liked here was the use of setting and location. Battersea and its estates brilliantly brought to life.

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle (Viking) -- Quote on the front compared to Mr Ripley, which is high praise and I wasn't sure justified. It's good and moreish at the start, but the way the plot unfurls was a bit contrived for me, and didn't care enough about the main characters for it to really satisfy. 

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (William Heinemann) -- Book of two halves. First very well written, lovely use of language, but lacking narrative drive. Second half, which builds on/undercuts the first is brilliant, but a lot of set-up to wade through to get there.

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe (Viking) -- sort of sequel to What a Carve Up! Some fantastic moments and as always, he's a fantastically funny writer, but lacked a bit of the bite and brio of the original book for me. 

2015 

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo (Harvill) --  Another great Nesbo novella. Preferred to Blood on Snow. Short, taut and atmospheric. 

The Fishermen by Chigozi Obioma (ONE) -- Really enjoyed this. Fresh, simple, affecting writing. Natural storyteller. 

The Martian by Andy Weir (Del Rey) -- Not a big sci-fi reader but this was brilliant. Space Age Robinson Crusoe stuff.

The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (Penguin) -- Fantastic classic spy thriller

Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews (Penguin) -- Excellent modern spy thriller. Great detail, especially the Russian setting. 

The Green Road by Anne Enright (Cape) -- Best book I've read this year. Beautifully written. 

King Solomon's Mines by M Rider Haggard (Penguin Classics) - Beautifully constructed classic adventure thriller. Dated in detail, but the action writing exceedingly well done.

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary (Headline) - Second novel in DI Marnie Rome crime series. For my money, better than the first

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (Orion) - Tangential to the films, or rather, the films take the basic idea and dip in and out of this. But brilliantly relentless from the beginning.

The Night of Wenceslas by Lionel Davidson (Faber) - Debut novel by author of Kolymsky Heights. A little dated, but the chase sequences expertly done. 

The Great Bike Race by Geoff Nicholson (Magnum) - Classic bike book from the late 1970s. Still a great read.

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall (Mariner) - Really interesting subject. Really disappointing book, barely scratching the surface.

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale (Tinder Press) - Beautifully written, elegiac, in need of a touch more story maybe but always engrossing.

The Lion's Mouth by Anne Holt (Corvus) - Great Scandi-crime writer. Not as good as 1222 for me. Disappointed with the denouement.

A Book For Her by Bridget Christie (Century) - I thought this was disappointing. Extremely funny in parts - laugh out loud stuff - but quite rambling and in need of a good edit in others.

The Damned by Tarn Richardson (Duckworth) - Werewolves meets WW1 history horror mash-up. Great brooding protagonist and razor-sharp historical detail

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Penguin) - First read years ago. Brilliant first line, a much bigger book than its length suggest. 

Reckless: The Life and Times of Luis Ocana by Alasdair Fotheringham (Bloomsbury) -- quality cycling biography from Fotheringham, A as usual.

Bernard Hinault and the Rise and Fall of French Cycling by William Fotheringham (Yellow Jersey) -- quality cycling biography from Fotheringham, W as usual. 

Adventures in Stationery by James Ward (Profile) -- Non-fiction history of, yes, stationery. Great if you like that sort of thing. Which I do.

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon (Borough Press) -- delightful debut novel by former student. Lovely and evocative. Enjoyed immensely.

Someone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary (Headline) -- Debut thriller by Sarah Hilary. Very good commercial crime novel. Particularly strong characterisation and a couple of very well-worked plot twists. 

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (Penguin) -- Moreish. Intriguing mixture of combining mystery and dementia. Worked very well.

After the Crash by Michel Bussi  (W&N) -- Don't quite get the Larsson comparisons (apart from it's a thriller and, well, European), but an extremely good and thoughtful French crime book. Pacy, intriguing, twisty, turny. 

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah (Doubleday) -- Slightly disappointing debut novel (for me) given the reviews and hype. In a funny way, thought it might have worked better as a play than a novel. Something like 'The Fault in Our Stars' in a different league. 

What She Left by TR Richmond (Michael Joseph) -- Epistolary crime whodunnit written entirely in emails, diaries, web chats, tweets, etc. Clever -- nice to read a thriller that makes you work a little bit harder.

A Colder War by Charles Cumming (Harper) -- Very good piece of Spooks-esque modern spy writing. A little sluggish to get going, but good pace thereafter.

Kolymsky Heights by Lionel Davidson (Faber) -- Really excellent thriller, recently back in print. Great 'Voyage and Return' plot.

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall (Faber) -- Brilliant in parts: writing wonderful and descriptions, particularly of nature and place fantastic. Not quite enough plot as there needed to be for me but a fabulous writer.

Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo (Random House) In Oslo. Seemed rude not to. Slight but delightfully done. Love his standalones (e.g. Headhunters) and thought this was great, too.

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles (Vintage). On holiday in Lyme Regis. Never read. Seemed rude not to. Not 100% on the postmodern stuff, but a great sweeping story with wonderful sense of place that sucked me right in. 

Through the Language Glass by Guy Deustcher (Arrow) -- Fascinating non-fic book about the development of language, particularly regarding colour and perception. 

In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch (Silman-James) -- Book on film editing, but fascinating read for thoughts on editing in general and on shaping narratives. 

Camille by Pierre Lamaitre (MacLehose) -- Third novel featuring French detective Camille Verhoeven. A bit Quantum of Solace to the Casino Royale of Alex, but one of my favourite crime writers and wonderfully written. 

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson (Faber) -- A bit Strangers on a Plane, perhaps, but nicely written and a step up from his debut novel. Good fun. 

Toxic by Jamie Doward (Constable) -- Read as Observer Thriller of the Month. However, if the author wasn't a writer for the Observer, I don't think it would have been given this accolade. Writing and characters fairly stock, and not great value at £20 for a 344pp book with a lot of blank pages and large font size. Disappointing. 

Glass by Alex Christofi (Serpent's Tail) -- not quite 'one of Britain's most exciting new writers' but a nice, punchy, Joshua Ferris type debut. Almost forgive his gentle dissing of my home town.

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth (Hutchinson) -- As with the Buchan, haven't read for about twenty years. Fascinating to see how it holds up in terms of plotting and tension, and in particular the accumulation of detail.

The 39 Steps by John Buchan (Penguin) -- Haven't read for twenty years but what a great book: plotting, pace, action. Love his description of this kind of book as a 'shocker' rather than a thriller, which he defines as a story where 'the incidents defy the probabilities and march just inside the borders of the possible'. 

A Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith (VMC) -- Slow burner of a crime thriller from one of my favourite authors. But once it got going, it really got going. 

Amnesia by Peter Carey (Faber) -- Intriguing read -- part tech thriller but really more about history of relationship between Australia and the US. Not my favourite of his, but extremely good nonetheless.

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming (Vintage) -- Haven't read Fleming for about twenty-five years. Fantastic story and action -- shockingly dated in other ways. 

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby (Penguin) -- Lovely writing as always. For my money, Nick Hornby is extremely good at characterisation, at empathy and at dialogue, but less so on story. I thought this was too dialogue heavy and a little unbalanced. But the pop culture stuff as pitch perfect as always.

The Eagle of Toledo by Alasdair Fotheringham (Aurum) -- Biography of Spanish cycling legend. Great detail, interesting on relationship between sport and politics.  

The Room by Jonas Karlsson (Hogarth) -- Quirky office based novel: easy to say Kafka-esque but a bit more Magnus Mills for me. Very clean, precise prose. Best book I've read this year so far.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Doubleday) -- This year's Gone Girl, or least that's what the publishers would like. That book was flawed, but so superior to this. Problem with all these books is that when the protagonist isn't likeable, it makes it that bit harder to read on. Which is fine if you're desperate to turn the pages, but this was a bit of a wade. 

A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre (Sceptre) -- Good, if not great, Le Carre. A real slow burner, but with all the action on the last few pages.

For Valour by Andy McNab (Transworld) -- Not great, frankly. Writing aside, there was an overfussy division into chapters and parts that was meant to give the book momentum, but ended up adding to its thinness. Though at least the characters drank Yorkshire Tea.

Us by David Nicholls (Hodder) -- Booker longlisted follow-up to One Day. A deeper, more thoughtful and perhaps less satisfying follow-up. Short chapter structure reminded me of Alain de Botton's Essays in Love and as with One Day, an interesting twist at the end. But perhaps the structure a little too clever and intricate, and the protagonist quite irritating company. For me, the book only really got going properly about halfway through, but picked up considerably from that point on.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Blackfriars) -- Marketed as a murder story but quieter and subtler than that. Some lovely writing, in a Jonathan Franzen family-dissection sort of a way, but disappointing narrative-wise: expected a twist which never came. 

 2014

The Girl With All the Gifts by MR Carey (Orbit) -- Slightly misleadingly packaged as 'thriller of the year'. A sort of Young Adults for Adults, in a near future ravaged by a deadly virus. Good, but not worth the rave reviews, IMHO.

Jaws by Peter Benchley (Macmillan) -- Original book that the film was based on. Dated in parts but great thriller writing. Interesting to compare difference with the screenplay.

We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (Serpents Tail) -- Delightful. Possibly the best book I've read this year. Wonderful twist if you manage to read it without knowing.

How to be Both by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton) -- Book of two halves, to be read in either order. Interesting exploration in terms of structure, though perhaps more for the head than the heart. Preferred her previous book, There But For The

The Deep Road to the True North by Richard Flanagan (Chatto) -- Should have put money on it winning the Booker. Not my favourite book on the list, but a stately (overwritten?) emotional  (overwrought?) read -- devoured slowly, in short chunks, which isn't how I normally read.  

J by Howard Jacobsen (Cape) -- Didn't finish Zoo Time and wouldn't have read this stab at dystopia if not on the Booker shortlist. This likewise left me a little cold. Not Orwell. 

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (Penguin) --  More accomplished than his debut book, Then We Came to the End, but not as fun. 

I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (Transworld) -- doorstop of a thriller that has potential film written all over it. Very short chapters, which I'm never a fan of, but once it got going, had a real momentum to it. 

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukerjee (Chatto) -- Didn't get into this at the first attempt, to be honest. Will try again in the new year.

The Abominable Man by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (Harper Collins) -- Another cracking Martin Beck book. Love this series.

Murder in the Savoy by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (Harper Collins) -- see above.

The Humans by Matt Haig (Canongate) -- nominally sci-fi, but much, much more profound and humane than that might suggest. One of my favourite books of the year. 

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (Picador) -- Quality historical thriller, set around a doll's house that appears to predict the future. Frustrating end, and lack of resolution, which let it down badly for me.

Etape by Richard Moore (Harper Collins) -- untold stories of the Tour de France. Best bits brilliant but a bit of a mixed bag.  

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell (Tinder) -- Husband goes missing during long hot summer of 1976. Bit disappointed with the end, but evocative, wonderful writing.

The Broken Shore by Peter Temple (Quercus) -- Australian crime writer gives it small town Australia in spades. Wonderful dialogue. 

Slaying the Badger by Richard Moore (Yellow Jersey) -- Riveting account of 1985 Tour de France battle between Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond. Riveting if you're into cycling, anyway.

The Rider by Tim Krabbe (Bloomsbury) -- classic cycling novel. Very much about capturing the feel of being in a race. Short but great.

The Dog by Joseph O'Neill (4th Estate) -- Dubai and ex-pat life carefully skewered. I thought was great and surprised didn't end up on the Booker shortlist. 

Sex, Lies and Handlerbar Tape by Paul Howard (Mainstream) -- Biography of cycling legend Jacques Antequil. Fascinating subject. Okayish book. 

Irene by Pierre Lamaitre (Maclehose Press) -- Debut novel by author of Alex. Similarly twist-type plot, which again superbly well executed. Plot focuses on a killer recreating the murder scenes from his favourite crime books. Not quite as good as Alex, but quality stuff. 

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (Macmillan) -- Good quality YA romance, based around Harry Potter style fan fiction. If I was a fifteen year old girl, I'd think it was great.

Season to Taste by Natalie Young (Tinder) -- Wife kills husband. Sets about eating him, as one does. Nice idea, but didn't really go anywhere. More an extended short story than a novel.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Penguin) -- Corking. YA book maybe, but enough humour and poignancy to take it out of the genre. Best book I've read this year so far.

The Girl With A Clock For A Heart by Peter Swanson (Faber) -- Misleading title in a Larsson grabbing sort of way (Salander did have a dragon tattoo), but a fresh-ish thriller. Devoured in about three hours. 

The Hunger Games by Stephanie Meyer (Scholastic) -- Never read. Thought I should. Not the target audience but an enjoyable read, in a Lord of the Flies meets Big Brother sort of a way.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (Atom) -- Never read. Thought I should. Good bit of menace right at the end, but otherwise pretty bog standard romance fare, just with vampires. 

Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse (Bloomsbury) -- Gone Girl type thriller. Well plotted and readable enough, but lacking a little bite. 

Secrecy by Rupert Thomson (Granta) -- One of my favourite writers has a dabble at historical fiction. Writing as sharp as ever, though story lost a little of its tension once the main secrets had been revealed.

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood (Canongate) -- recommended to me as Perfume but with taste. It's not as good as that (though not many books are) but still a really good romp through pre-revolutionary France. 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown) -- It's long, probably too long, but I really enjoyed nonetheless. Completely caught up in huge chunks of it and the themes and ideas are well-worked and tie the whole thing together. Surprised at the amount of adverbs, but when you're as big as her, you don't get edited like that. 

2013

The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (Harper Collins) -- Huge fan of Sjowall and Wahloo: where Scandinavian crime fiction all started. A corker.

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender (Windmill) -- short story collection by author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Really enjoyed -- darker and more suprising than I was expecting.

The Man of My Life by Manuel Vazquez Montalban (Serpent's Tail) -- Barcelona based crime thriller. Slightly disconcerting the detective had the same name as a former Chelsea defender (Carvalho) but a good read. Fascinating political undercurrent.

Pentatonic by Jonathan Coe (Penguin) -- ebook short (or short ebook?). Nice to read one of my favourite writers experimenting with the form.

Lasting Damage by Sophie Hannah (Hodder) -- recommended by one of my students on my Faber writing course. Very well-worked plot, though I was a little less sure of the lead character. Should probably have liked her more than I did.

I Am The Secret Footballer by Anonymous (Guardian Books) -- fascinating insight into the world of a Premier League footballer.

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave (Sceptre) -- slightly too clever start, and probably a bit too clever plotwise, but let it go because of the humanity of the writing. very powerful.

London Bridge in America by Travis Elborough (Jonathan Cape) -- quality quirky non-fiction, about the history of London Bridge and its journey to the US.

Alex by Pierre Lamaitre (Quercus) -- Well known French crime writer, first time in English. Bloody brilliant, both ways. Superb the way the plot switches direction, not once but twice.

Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson (Bloomsbury) -- corking writer, this time have a crack at a Dystopia novel, with a touch of medieval humorism. Very well realised.

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson (Doubleday) -- Smart thriller. Neat concept and only just worked out what was going on before the reveal. Devoured in a day.

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino (Little, Brown) -- Clever, crossword style Japanese thriller. Howdunnit, rather than whodunnit.

Petite Mort by Beatrice Hitchman (Serpent's Tail) -- Murder(ish) novel set in world of early French cinema. Enjoyed, though a bit bitty and too much switching around with viewpoint.

The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (Harper Collins) -- Weakest of the Martin Beck books I've read. Still good (they're all good) but this felt more dated than some of the others.

A Delicate Truth by John Le Carre (Penguin) -- A fantastic book and a great piece of spy/political thriller writing. Couple of clunking factual errors which surprised me (a character reading a book that hadn't been published when the novel was set, another watching a TV programme on a day it isn't on) and the end a little bit too derivative of Defence of the Realm. But otherwise, a real quality page turner. 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Phoenix) -- A moreish read and a superb opening section. For me, however, it lost its way a little as the book went on, and the ending was disappointing. Writing a little clunky at times for me. Structurally similar, with its female protagonist and plot twists, to Pierre Lamaitre's Alex (see above). That, though, did them better.

First Novel by Nicholas Royle (Cape) -- Read several of Nick's books over the years, but probably enjoyed this the most: partly because of the creative writing setting, and partly because of the more personal flourishes. Wonderful opening scene describing the dismantling of a kindle.

5 Days in May by Andrew Adonis (Biteback) -- Fascinating insider account of the aftermath of the 2010 General Election and the negotiations between Labour and the Lib Dems to form a coalition.

On the Map by Simon Garfield (Profile) -- Quirky history of the map and mapping from ancient Greece to Googlemaps. Lots of wonderful 'did you know' nuggets.

The Body Economic by David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu (Allen Lane) -- one of those rare, readable books about economics. The book lays bare the effects of austerity on human health: staggering, and quite frightening stuff.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo (Vintage) -- Loved Head Hunters, which I thought fantastic. This one more conventional in the police procedural sense but still extremely good: dark, moody stuff. 

The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain (Gallic Books) -- delightful amuse bouche of a novel about a missing president's hat with magical properties.

Domestique by Charly Wegelius (Ebury) -- Autobiography of cycling pro, describing life as a regular member of the peloton. Eye-opening and very good piece of sports writing.

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (Faber and Faber) -- Page-turning courtroom thriller. Great court detail, and the small observations brilliantly done. Enjoyed it, though I think it thought it was more sophisticated than it actually was.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Harper Collins) -- much trumpeted serial killer slash time travel thriller. For me, first half of book rather bitty, with too much interchanging between viewpoints, but once settled down fair rattled along.

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin (Penguin) -- Short but beautifully written account of the Virgin Mary. Reminded me a little of Jim Crace's Quarantine, which had the edge for me.

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (Little, Brown) -- JK Rowling does crime. As with the Harry Potter books (or at least the two I've read) the plotting and narrative superbly done, the writing full of things I'd edit out (adverbs?). The George Lucas of literature?

Mercx by William Fotheringham (Yellow Jersey) -- wonderful biography of one the great cyclists, Eddy Merckx

Fallen Angel by William Fotheringham (Yellow Jersey) -- and another wonderful cycling biography, this time of legendary Italian rider Fausto Coppi. 

Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe (Penguin Viking) -- latest book by one of my favourite writers, a decidedly comic novel set at the 1958 Expo Fair in Brussels. National identity and a plot involving Salt and Shake crisps: what's not to like?

It's All About the Bike by Sean Yates (Bantam) -- more cycling, though present day autobiography this time. Disappointing for me -- interesting guy and a good story, but poorly told.

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith (Vintage) -- Highsmith's debut novel and an absolute corker. Tightly and tautly written and ahead of its time in terms of unpleasant protagonists.

Power Trip by Damian McBride (Biteback) -- Autobiography of former spin doctor to Gordon Brown. Not a nice guy, but interesting insights in Brown's inner circle and spin doctoring.

Miss Smillia's Feelings For Snow by Peter Hoeg (Vintage) -- the book that launched a thousand Scandinavian crime stories: murder, cold weather, interesting female protagonist, etc. Subtler and better written than that might suggest -- some of the descriptions of snow and ice just beautiful. Often imitated...

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Granta) -- confession time. I've started this but haven'f finished. It's very accomplished, clearly, but the structure feels a bit too clever by half, and there's a bit too much of people sitting round and telling stories, rather than doing things for my liking. But intend to return and finish. At some point. Probably.

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs (Transworld) -- this, by contrast, couldn't be more action packed if it tried. Follows attempt by 'ghostman' of the title to clean up after a casino heist gone wrong. Very Hollywood, but very very good as well. A ball.

The Circle by Dave Eggers (Hamish Hamilton) -- never finished 'A Staggering Work...' because the writing annoyed me. Came back to him after being promised a sort of Silicon Valley 1984. The clunky prose is still there, for me, but the dystopian narrative carries it through. Interesting, thoughtful stuff.