1 January 2020 Susannah

My 2019 Favourites

Books to read

Each January I give you my list of Top Ten books of the year just ended. It’s always terribly hard deciding which books to include. Looking back through the little notebook in which I record each year’s books, I find that in 2019 the books that really stood out for me were all non-fiction, so I’m going to give you a non-fiction list first.

In alphabetical order according to the surname of the author, these are the works I’ve loved this year:

The Lost Books of Jane Austen – Janine Barchas
The Chocolate Wars – Deborah Cadbury
Saving Mona Lisa – Gerri Chanel
The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605 – Antonia Fraser
Father and Son – Edmund Gosse
The Making of Poetry: Coleridge, the Wordsworths and their Year of Marvels – Adam Nicolson
The Library Book – Susan Orlean
Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it still Matters – Anne Boyd Rioux
Britain by the Book – Oliver Tearle
Educated – Tara Westover

However, in between these and other non-fiction works, I’ve also had huge pleasure in 2019 from some truly fabulous crime writers. A good crime novel is so wonderfully satisfying – a beginning, middle and end, a story that takes you to frozen Scandinavian landscapes or the Yorkshire Dales, a bit of brain-testing as you try to work out who committed the crime, and some memorable characters along the way. So this year I’d like to add a list of the crime writers I’ve loved this year (again in alphabetical order):

Julia Chapman has a really nice series set in the Yorkshire Dales with a woman who runs a matchmaking agency and a ‘retired’ policeman. I love this part of England so it’s fun to read novels set there.
Sulari Gentill’s crime series is set in 1930s Sydney with a nice hero, Rowland Sinclair. It’s fun reading mysteries set closer to home, but also to learn about Sydney in that rather tumultuous era.
Cora Harrison has set her “Burren Mysteries’ in 16thC Ireland, well before the time when technology could help solve a crime. I like her main character, Mara, who is a ‘Brehon’ or legal judge.
C.S. Harris’s series is set in Regency London (the Regency is my favourite era in English history) with the gorgeous Sebastian St Cyr as the hero.
Jorn Lier Horst is a Norwegian crime writer (a retired policeman himself) and his Inspector William Wisting series is fantastic. I got my Dad reading and loving them too.
M.L. Longworth sets her novels in Aix-en-Provence, a city I love, and she has lots of gorgeous food in her books, as well as good mysteries.
Torquil Macleod is Scottish, but his crime novels are set in Malmo in Sweden, with a very nice women detective named Anita.
• I have read all of Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series, set in Yorkshire. He is wonderfully consistent and his books are always an excellent read.
Gunnar Staalesen’s Varg Veum series is soooo good. I’ve had the immense privilege of meeting Gunnar, quite the loveliest man in all of Norway. His novels are set in the gorgeous city of Bergen.
Martin Walker’s ‘Inspector Bruno’ series set in the Dordogne is rich with food, French customs, and many contemporary issues of French society. I have listened to the books on audio and adore them!

I continue to read and enjoy Donna Leon, Håkan Nesser, Jacqueline Winspear, Patricia Wentworth, Quintin Jardine, Tony Parsons, M.C. Beaton, and Alison Bruce.

So my resolution for 2020 is to read more literary fiction as that has been a gap on my list for 2019. Oh, I need more reading time!

Have you read any of these books? Can you recommend another wonderful crime writer? Let me know in a comment.

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Comments (14)

  1. Susan Warmbath

    Sadly I have finished The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. Not that I wanted to finish it as I wanted to know what happened but that I was so sad because I had enjoyed it so much.
    The book immediately captured the style of Jane Austin never once lapsing into the current genre of today. Pages turned without notice and the characters came and went seamlessly, it was a joy to read. I recommend it to you if you haven’t already gobbled it up.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That’s not a sequel I’ve read, so I was interested in your comments. I
      ‘m generally not that keen on sequels and continuations – I prefer just to read Jane Austen’s wonderful novels, as no other author can come close to her, in my view. However, I’ll look out for this one since you recommend it so highly.

  2. Kate DeMayo

    Hi, Susannah, I read with interest your piece about your favourite books of 2019, your comments on non-fiction and your interest in crime novels.
    I am also a fan of crime fiction, so here are a few that I’ve enjoyed:
    Jo Nesbo (Norwegian), some of the later ones are too gratuitously violent for my liking, however
    Liza Marklund and Camilla Lackberg (both Swedish)
    Yrsa Sigguroadottir and Arnaldur Indradison (both Icelandic).

    I also enjoy Donna Leon, whom you mentioned.

    I made a commitment a couple of years ago to read a bit more non-fiction. My father was an avid reader, and had lots of non-fiction books on his shelves that I meant to read. While I love fiction, I felt I neglected non-fiction. In new books, I read Dopesick by Beth Macy (about the opioid crisis, not cheerful reading but fascinating) and Nine Pints by Rose George (everything you wanted to know about blood, and some things you probably didn’t, from leeches to the science behind transfusions and how it unfolded to menstrual taboos). A couple of years ago, I got Heart: a History for Christmas, which I found fascinating also, especially as my family does have a history of (treatable) heart disease.

    I haven’t yet read them, but my father was a fan of Antony Beevor, a prolific historian whose Stanlingrad is considered a classic – but I’m not sure I will stay the distance. Apparently Beevor is now persona non grata in Russia and cannot even transit there because a recent book he wrote (I think it was Ardennes) reconsidered the relative importance of the Eastern and Western Fronts, and the Russians didn’t like his conclusions.

    Thanks for the great notes and newsletter. Your guide to Kidnapped was a gem, and I have just started the book.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks so much for the recommendations. I read several of Jo Nesbo’s but then went off him when he killed off a character I really liked. I love Camilla Lackberg – she’s really good, and will try the Icelandic ones you mentioned.
      I love Anthony Beevor – he is a fabulous historian.
      So glad you liked the notes on Kidnapped and hope you enjoy the book. I love it!

  3. Suzi Chosid

    Thank you for your list of favourite books, Susannah. I too read and loved Educated this year. Such a remarkable story from a remarkably resilient woman. I also finally read The Goldfinch, which was fabulous. Also really enjoyed Boy Swallows Universe and A Gentleman in Moscow. It was a year that I read more books in such a long time and my resolution for next year is to read even more. I’m so glad that my friend started a book club two years ago. I’m fascinated by Martin Walker’s books as I too love French food and French society.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      So glad you share many of my reading tastes. Good luck with your resolution to read more this year!

  4. Elisabeth Neales

    I really enjoyed Jane Harper’s third novel “The Lost Man”, greatly preferable to her second. Although I thought “Educated” was beautifully written, am I alone in saying that the religious aspects made me angry?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      The religious aspects of ‘Educated’ made me seethe with rage. How can anyone be so blinded by religion as to turn away medical help, or refuse to register their child’s birth?? I felt like that family were living in the Middle Ages.

  5. Suzanne Williams

    Thank you Susannah for all the book recommendations….some I have never heard about.I agree Educated was excellent.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I can lend you some of them if you want. Lots of good reading ahead in 2020.

  6. Carol Hayes

    I really enjoyed reading Jane Harper and Chris Hammer…Austalian crime writers who have set the crime in Australian rural landscapes.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I have enjoyed the first two Jane Harper novels, but have yet to read Chris Hammer – will add him to my list – thanks.

  7. Anne Harbers

    Thank you Susannah for this marvelous new list from 2019 and onward to 2020. I await your 1st January list as it always introduces me to some new ‘ favourite’ authors and a sense of reading excitement for the year to come.

    Happy New Year to all,


    • Susannah Fullerton

      So glad you enjoy my list, Anne. What a lot of wonderful literary experiences we have to look forward to this year! Happy New Year.

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