My Top Ten Reads of 2019 @LouiseWriter @deboc77 @adrianmckinty @JoGustawsson @FionaAnnCummins @callytaylor @writer_north @HayleyThough @william1shaw @LauraSRobinson

Oh man, this just gets harder every year. Just when I think I’ve nailed it I remember a particular book or read another great one. But I do have a definite top three. These three have stuck in my memory for different reasons and I’ll explain why later. Before we get to the top ten though, here are some others that were in the running – Red Snow by Will Dean, The Taking of Annie Thorne by C.J. Tudor, Black Summer by M.W. Craven, Violet by SJI Holliday, I Dare You by Sam Carrington and Deep Dirty Truth by Steph Broadribb. You can see now why it was so hard to choose! They’re all fantastic books and well worth adding to your Christmas list. So without any further ado, here are the first seven books in no particular order.


Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

Although this novel came out in the spring, I had an early copy which I read last Christmas. It was a little present to myself. Even now, almost a year on, I can still feel the tension of this book. Told with multiple viewpoints and timelines, it weaves together the  past and the present for Stella with devastating results. It kept me guessing to the end. A beautifully written book. You can read my full review here.

To buy click here.


The Dangerous Kind by Deborah O’Connor

I really connected with Jessamine, the protagonist in this novel. Not least because we’re a similar age and experiencing the same things – someone pass me a fan! But that’s where the similarity stops. Jessamine is an investigative radio DJ looking at Cold Crime cases. Sacked for an on-air rant, she decides she can’t let go of the latest case she’s been given. This is an incredibly moving book dealing with a traumatic crime. You can read my full review here.

To buy click here.


The Chain by Adrian McKinty

I think you’d have to be living at the North Pole not to have heard about this book. And even then there’d probably be someone with a copy in their rucksack. This was a massive and very well-deserved hit for Adrian McKinty. This is the most tense book I’ve read all year, tapping into parents’ fears all over the world. The premise – you get a phone call. Your child has been kidnapped. To get them back you have to pay a ransom and kidnap someone else’s child. Your own child will be returned when your kidnapped child’s parents do the same. And so the chain continues. Don’t break the chain. If you do, your child dies. You can read my full review here.

To buy click here.


Blood Song by Johana Gustwasson

I’ve really enjoyed the Castells and Roy series but there was something extra special about Blood Song. The Spanish Civil War and what happened afterwards is often overlooked because of WW2 and the Cold War. And yet it’s a huge part of Spain’s history and as we saw recently with the removal of Franco’s body, it’s still part of a national shame. Johana has her own personal reasons for telling us about what happened to Republican women and children in the camps after the war. The suffering didn’t finish with the end of the war – it was only just beginning. Teaming it with a current murder case in Sweden makes for an emotive read. You can read my full review here.

To buy click here.


Sleep by CL Taylor

I’ve read a lot of CL Taylor’s books but this one grabbed me from the beginning. After being involved in a terrible car crash, Anna leaves London for the Isle of Rum and a job in a hotel. She hopes that here she can escape her guilt and the person who’s been leaving her sinister messages. Maybe she can finally sleep. This has all the ingredients for an excellent murder mystery – guilt-ridden protagonist, isolated hotel cut of by a storm and a long list of suspects in the form of guests. You can read my full review here.

To buy click here.


Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

Blood & SugarLaura Shepherd-Robinson

This is an outstanding novel and my favourite debut of 2019. I don’t even want to think about how much research Laura had to do for this because the level of detail is incredible. But more than that it’s a cracking story looking at slavery in the 1790s when it was still considered acceptable practice. You can read my full review here.

To buy click here.


Deadland by William Shaw

Well, it’s not a top ten of mine if it doesn’t feature William Shaw! It’s his own fault for writing such fantastic books. DS Alex Cupidi is back and this time investigating a particularly bizarre crime – a severed arm hidden in a piece of art. Really. Add to that the glorious Tap and Sloth (two teenage thugs) and Deadland is truly amazing. You can read my full review here.

To buy click here.


That’s the first seven. Now for my top three. And we start off with a proper Christmas book.

Coming in third…


One Christmas Night by Hayley Webster

Oh my. I’m not too sure where to start with this one. Beautifully written, keen observation and incredible empathy. This is a book that goes to the core of your heart. You’ll even forget that a crime has been committed because you’ll be so wrapped up in the lives of the residents on Newbury Street. It’s simply stunning. If you want a Christmas story to read then make it this one. You won’t regret it. Just make sure you have some tissues nearby. You can read my full review here.

To buy click here.


In second place (keep hold of the tissues) is…


The Whisper Man by Alex North

Why the tissues you may ask? Well, it is creepy. It is tense. Like The Chain, it also taps into parents’ fears about abduction. But moreover it’s a story about fathers and sons and there is one passage towards the end that made me bawl. And Alex North does not apologise for that. It’s also about grief and I thought this was handled particularly well. Although this is Alex North’s debut, we all know that’s a pen name for Steve Mosby. Like Adrian McKinty, Steve has not had the critical acclaim he deserves until now. Hopefully for both authors this is the start of an upward trend. You can read my full review of The Whisper Man here.

To buy click here.


So who’s my top read of 2019? Who was worthy of the word ‘extraordinary’? Like William Shaw, this author has featured a couple of times before. And each time, been so close to being my no.1 read. This year it’s finally happened.

In first place, my top read of the 2019 is…



The Neighbour by Fiona Cummins

I loved Rattle and The Collector and wondered how Fiona could possibly improve. Well she’s managed it in The Neighbour. Full of creepiness, atmosphere, a fantastic cast of characters and twists that just keep coming. It’s a masterclass in Crime writing. After reading this you might never look at your neighbours in quite the same way again. It is extraordinary. You can read my full review here.

To buy click here.


So there you have it – my top ten reads of 2019. It’s been so difficult to choose and 2020 isn’t looking any easier with some amazing novels due. I can’t quite believe that not only is it the end of the year but also the decade. This is me signing off for Christmas and New Year. I’ll be back in 2020 with more blog tours, library events and First Monday Crime. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Blog tour review – I Dare You by @sam_carrington1 @AvonBooksUK @Sabah_K #IDareYou


I-Dare-You-blog-tour-banner-P2I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for I Dare You by Sam Carrington. Thank you to Sabah Khan at Avon for inviting me to take part. Before I tell you about Sam’s latest book, here’s the blurb.

The Blurb


Mapledon, 1989
Two little girls were out playing a game of dares. Only one returned home.
The ten-year-old told police what she saw: village loner Bill ‘Creepy’ Cawley dragged her friend into his truck and disappeared.
No body was found, but her testimony sent Cawley to prison for murder. An open and shut case, the right man behind bars.
The village could sleep safe once again.

Anna thought she had left Mapledon and her nightmares behind but a distraught phone call brings her back to face her past.
30 years ago, someone lied. 30 years ago, the man convicted wasn’t the only guilty party.
Now he’s out of prison and looking for revenge. The question is, who will he start with?

I Dare You

My Review

I’ve long been a fan of Sam Carrington’s books and I think there’s only one I haven’t read even though I’ve got it. I Dare You is a standalone novel and once more is set in the South West of the UK albeit a fictional village. And just as well! The residents of Mapledon are a strange bunch and definitely a bit toxic. You can’t blame Anna for getting out of there as fast as she could. It’s a place full of secrets and shame. But a hysterical phone call from her mother draws her back to her childhood home.

Lizzie, a journalist, has a personal reason for heading to Mapledon. She’s not searching for a scoop but the truth. Anna and Lizzie team up to find out what really happened thirty years before.

I loved this book. It’s told in two timelines with multiple voices. The clever thing with the past timeline set in 1989, is that it starts with the event and works backwards, looking at the lead-up to it. I’ve not seen this done before and it’s very effective. I enjoyed seeing how the motives for the crime came about. In the present timeline, there are very creepy incidents of parts of dolls being hammered to Anna’s mother’s front door. When a copy of the book was sent to me for review, it even came with it’s own doll’s arm. Freaky or what! Of course it’s a clue but who is doing such a thing to a woman close to 70? As much as Anna wants to leave and go home to her own daughter, she has to stay and look after her mother.

Setting the story in a village means it has similar principles to a murder mystery in an old house – cut-off location (black spots for mobile phones), small cast of people and a classic denouement – or so we think. I’m not going to give away anymore than that!

I loved the characters of Anna and Lizzie. Neither of them could fully trust the other so although they work together, there’s this wonderful tension between them that Sam Carrington pushes to the max.

Short chapters and twists and turns aplenty kept me reading late at night. I couldn’t always work out what was going to happen which kept me on my toes and thinking about it when I wasn’t reading. As I wrote earlier, I’ve read almost all of Sam Carrington’s books. For me, this is her best book so far. Bravo Sam!

You can buy I Dare You here.


The Author

Sam Carrington

Sam Carrington lives in Devon with her husband, two border terriers and a cat. She has
three adult children and a new grandson! She worked for the NHS for fifteen years, during which time she qualified as a nurse. Following the completion of a psychology degree she went to work for the prison service as an Offending Behaviour Programme Facilitator. Her experiences within this field inspired her writing. She left the service to spend time with her family and to follow her dream of being a novelist. SAVING SOPHIE, her debut psychological thriller, published in September 2016. It became a Kindle eBook bestseller, with the paperback hitting The Bookseller Heatseeker chart at #8. Sam was named an Amazon Rising Star of 2016. Her second psychological thriller, BAD SISTER, published in 2017 followed by ONE LITTLE LIE in July 2018. THE MISSING WIFE publishes in June 2019 with her fifth, I DARE YOU, due on 12th December.


First Monday Crime Christmas Extravaganza with Simon Brett @ShaminiFlint @samblakebooks @tarquinhall @inkstainsclaire Angela Clarke @JakeKerridge @1stMondayCrime @severnhouse @CorvusBooks

FM Dec 19.2

It was a cold and frosty night in London town and even the train strike didn’t stop us from getting to First Monday Crime. A huge thank you to Severn House for sponsoring the evening and providing drinks and mince pies. We also had great entertainment in the form of our Christmas panel – Simon Brett, Shamini Flint, Sam Blake and Tarquin Hall with Jake Kerridge asking the questions.

Jake started off with finding out a bit more about the authors and their books.

Simon Brett has written loo books (sorry – 100 books! Jake’s joke and too good to miss out) and has an OBE. He’s a former TV producer and has written for TV and radio. His new book Killer in the Choir is the latest in his Feathering series. It’s a fictional village but he’s based it on the villages near where he lives on the South Coast. He likes to write about how villages are now – mainly retired people and women in their fifties. In particular he likes to focus on how women of this age tend to become invisible when they’re anything but. For research, Simon went and sat in on rehearsals with choirs (his wife is a good singer but he’s tone deaf). Simon records his own audio books and towards the end of Killer in the Choir he had to sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’. He apologises now to anyone who listens to that.

Shamini Flint used to be a corporate lawyer but gave it up to be a stay-at-home mum, writer, part-time lecturer and environmental activist to make up for her evil past in the law. She lives in Singapore and writes children’s books as well as Crime novels. She’s best known for her Inspector Singh series. Her latest book is The Beijing Conspiracy and is a standalone combining contemporary China and the events of Tiananmen Square thirty years ago. She didn’t think Inspector Singh was the right character to take on the issues of the new Cold War between China and the US, so she created Jack Ford. Shamini’s a bit embarrassed about her new protagonist. As a white man he’s very underrepresented in literature and she’s aware she’s used cultural appropriation in writing this fifty year old, alcoholic, ex-marine who can kill with his bare hands. Shamini used to kill her characters by a close range gunshot but she’s done this too often now and needed a new method so swapped to beating up. (As you can probably tell, Shamini was very tongue-in-cheek and hilarious.)

Sam Blake lives in Ireland and is the author of the Cathy Connolly series. Her latest, Keep Your Eyes on Me, is a standalone. Two women meet on a flight to New York. They’re both in First Class. They chat and discover that they have men in their lives that need sorting out – perhaps they could help each other out. One has a husband who’s got his mistress pregnant. The other woman is on her way to a job interview in NY but her brother dropped a bombshell just before she left – he’s been swindled out of the family business. A friend of Sam’s went on holiday to New York and helped with research by sending photos and videos of various things. Sam used to be a literary scout but says it’s a very different experience being a writer. Sometimes it’s hard to see what you’ve got on the page. She plots in quite a lot of detail and likes to see where the arc is going with its highs and lows.

Tarquin Hall is a journalist and used to live in Delhi. He’s written five books in his Vish Puri detective series and also a handbook – just in case you want to become an Indian private detective. Tarquin’s wife is originally from India so he’s spent a lot of time there. Some of his ideas have come from family members. One of his wife’s cousins, aged twenty five, still wasn’t married and they were looking through the matrimonial pages in the newspaper to find her a husband. She explained that prospective spouses are normally investigated by private detectives to make sure they’re suitable. Tarquin met some real life detectives who do this. He found they deal with bigger crimes as well such as kidnapping and murder. He originally wrote this as a newspaper article but a few months later decided to turn it into a crime series. Since the detectives dealt with diverse cases, Tarquin knew his detective had to have a big team helping him plus his domineering mother who tries to help as well. In The Case of the Reincarnated Client, Puri’s mother has found a witness to a cold case murder that Puri’s father had investigated and not solved. He’s delighted until he discovers the witness claims to be the reincarnated murder victim. Alongside this plot, there’s the problem of a snoring bridegroom and the bride’s family are holding Puri accountable for not discovering this before the wedding.

Jake then asked the authors – why do you write your books?

For Simon, it’s primarily to entertain – himself as well as others. Boredom is a strong instinct! He sometimes surprises himself when writing and loves it when he gets left-field ideas. He also finds that humour is a good way of sugaring the pill.

Shamini started writing as she thought she could change the world – what a disaster! The world is deteriorating rapidly! She likes to encapsulate entire Asian societies in her books for example, Malaysia or Bali.

Sam started writing when her husband went away for two months. She sent it out to everyone and was rejected. But she loved writing so kept at it until she got the writing book. Writing allows her to escape to different worlds.

Tarquin’s aim was to get rich and buy a super yacht! He has to have humour in his books as he can’t take himself or the world seriously. India is an exciting prospect as anything can happen there. He doesn’t really plot and often writes himself into a corner and then has to find a way out. As well as the humour (snoring bridegroom), he likes to add social commentary into his novels. The latest looks at the Sikh massacre in 1984 after two Sikh bodyguards assassinated Indira Ghandi. He tries to describe the place just as it is and include anything extraordinary. For example, all the diamonds in the world are sent to India to be cut and polished. But they’re not delivered by DHL but by family networks in a somewhat chaotic manner. India functions very well in a way that we in the West can’t grasp.

The authors kept us so entertained that Jake only had time for those two questions! But our evening wasn’t over. After a break to buy books and eat more mince pies and cookies, we had the extra part of our evening – a mash-up of Mr & Mrs and Criminal Mastermind. Angela Clarke and Claire McGowan were our contestants. They had three rounds of questions from Sophie and Katherine (questions by Liz and Katherine) – how well do they know each other’s books, specialist subject (Poirot for Claire and Miss Marple for Angela) and general crime fiction. It was very close and after some adding up, it was a tie. But there could only be one winner and after a tie-break question, Angela Clarke was crowned the Queen of Crime.FM Dec 19.4


And that was the end of our First Monday Crime Christmas Extravaganza. We’ll be back in 2020 with more fantastic authors. In the meantime we wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

If you want to purchase or pre-order any of the authors’ books then please click on their names. Books make fabulous Christmas presents! And if you’re able to buy from an independent bookstore that’s even better.

Sam Blake

Tarquin Hall

Simon Brett

Shamini Flint

Angela Clarke

Claire McGowan