2021. Well, I think the less said about this year the better don’t you? So let’s not dwell on the utterly horrible state of the world and move onto the books. Perhaps in keeping with the aforementioned, my reading has been sporadic, patchy and, on occasion, quite unsatisfying this year. I have had more DNFs over the last 12 months- over 40- and have generally read less overall. I have also been a bit slack with my reviewing too. Must do better! But that’s not to say there has been some highlights along the way, including the Petrona Award 2021 going to the amazing Mikael Niemi’s To Cook A Bear. It was a strong year for entrants and I’m anticipating a similar level of quality for this year’s award too. I also contributed to the brilliant Decades Library curated by the most excellent Grab This Book, which looking at the choices from all the other contributors has swelled my bookish wish list considerably! On the subject of adding books to my own library, I will be joining in with #BeatThe Backlog this year, the brainchild of Owl Be Sat Reading. Interspersed with any upcoming books by my favourite authors (you know who you are) I will trying to make a dent in the 2000+ books that lurk within the Raven’s nest, and am hoping to uncover some undiscovered and overlooked treasures. I hope you all enjoy a new year filled with reading delights too!
As always with this round up click on the links or jacket images to see the full reviews.
DEBUTS: Before I share my 10 favourites of the year- narrowing it down a gargantuan task as always- there’s a few others I’d like to mention first. There have been some brilliant debuts this year and I’d like to single out Tim Glister, John Barlow, Christina Sweeney-Baird, Nadine Matheson and Ajay Chowdhury. I have very recently read Neil Lancaster’s Dead Man’s Grave ( this is why I can’t compile my final yearly round up until the very end of December!) and I would highly recommend this one as a strong start to a new Scottish crime series. It will be so good to see what these writers produce next, being so impressed with their first books. Excited already!
As I can’t choose between two of the books by the same author this year, I have created the inaugural Twisted Genius Of The Year Award, and it’s first recipient is Mr Will Carver for The Beresford and Psychopaths Anonymous. His writing is always darkly funny, strident and bold and I love the way he perceives the absurdity of the world, using his writing as a platform for exploring big issues, but never failing to entertain and shock his readers. Bravo.
And so to the final countdown. The books that have moved, entertained, thrilled and opened a new window on to the world for me. Thank you!
Raven’s Top 10 of the Year
10.“For my money, and having read every Flynn to date, I can honestly say this is Cavanagh’s best yet. I raced through this one with it’s intensely sultry and atmospheric Alabama backdrop, which added so much to this tense and nerve shredding legal thriller. Still grappling with the overhanging grief of the events of the last book, Flynn is at his most vulnerable point that we have observed, but surely that tenacity and sass can’t desert him now? Enjoy finding out in this brilliant addition, to hands down one of my favourite series ever…”
“One of the major things that impresses me about Wood’s writing both here, and in the previous book, is the way he captures and depicts the underclass that exists just beneath the surface of society, and the unfairness and prejudice with which they are labelled and treated. Delighted that this book is such a sharp and insightful follow up to his debut, Man On The Street last year.”
“Once again Andrew Cotto proves his innate skill at character building and scene setting, infusing this book with atmosphere, flowing dialogue, a perceptive look at human frailty and strength, layering in big themes, but also hanging it all on a compelling central storyline amongst the criminal seedy underbelly of this most vibrant and dangerous neighbourhood. I love the soulful edge that he consistently injects into his writing, and the emotional connections of friendship and family that he explores.”
“There is always the danger when you keep reviewing an established series that you will run out of ways to get across how good the series is. Yep. Think I’m now rapidly approaching that point. But seriously, Parks once again immerses us completely in the environs of grim 1970s Glasgow with a bombing campaign beginning, McCoy being again tied up in the nefarious activities of his criminal pal, Stevie Cooper, whilst trying to apply himself to finding the bombers and embarking on a search for an AWOL American sailor, all of which culminates in a couple of truly nail biting cliff-hangers. Phew. It’s all going on in this one.”
“I was completely blown away by not only the way that Morrison so assuredly immerses us in this turbulent era of Glasgow’s history, but also the affecting blend of raw masculine emotion and violence, with moments of extreme poignancy that permeate the book. Several times I re-read certain passages, as Morrison’s use of beautifully expressive language and images is captivating, working perfectly in tandem with the rough hewn speech of some of his characters, and moments of extreme and bloody violence.”
“As always there are serious themes addressed throughout the book of death, grief and betrayal, all underscored by his consistent theme of how fragile is the cord that allows us all to connect with each other and our insignificant place in a sprawling cosmos, perfectly summed up towards the close of the book. “We don’t ever die…we just convert our energy from one form to another, from chemical energy in our bodies to thermal in the crem furnace, to potential energy, molecular, kinetic, subjected to forces from all sides, strong, weak, electromagnetic and gravitational, pulling us apart and together, dancing endlessly through the swirl of creation until the end of time.” Prior to writing my review, I tweeted that I would struggle to write a review, and could I just say it was feckin’ awesome. It is.”
“In these troubled times, reading is the ultimate balm to soothe the soul, and allows your mind to be transported to other countries, other lives and different worlds. This series is a constant delight, and one of the few where I genuinely wait in anticipation for the next instalment. Set in 1920s India before the end of British empirical rule, and featuring Captain Sam Wyndham and his trusty Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee, Mukherjee once again immerses us in a vivid and captivating tale of murder, social unrest and derring-do, and this one has more than a few additional surprises in store…”
“Persis Wadia is a fantastic character, being an intelligent, astute and utterly focussed female police officer, grappling with the natural misogyny that arises from her position, but also for the layers of personal tribulation that Khan builds into her character. Coupled with this, Khan has constructed a mystery that is blindingly clever and intricate that will appeal to all bibliophiles, centred on the theft of a literary treasure. Khan also demonstrates his trademark precision in his rendering of the historical detail of the period, giving the reader a real sense of India emerging from the suffocation of British rule, and finding its feet in a new era, not wholly untroubled by violence and division.”
“So where to begin, as each book in this series thrums with a dark energy and an astutely vivid sense of time and place, not only referencing the sights and sounds of each particular era of Ellington’s life, but placing the reader firmly in the feel of the time. What is clever about this book in particular is the way it seamlessly taps into the zeitgeist of the present time, in the light of the BLM movement, the toppling of statues inextricably linked with the slave trade, and the continuing reductive perceptions of the black community and black culture that permeates our society still. Extremely tight plotting, compounded by a rhythmic and vivid use of language, both vernacular and descriptive, and the unerringly precise and believable characterisation, only confirms further the strength and quality of Wright’s writing. A pitch perfect addition to this superb series, and boy, what a brilliant journey it has been. As always incredibly highly recommended.”
So I’m going to cheat- my blog, my rules and nominate two books for the number one spot, as not only are they completely inseparable in the strength and quality of the writing, but also because both were so incredibly emotive and powerful in their portrayal of two distinctly different aspects of American society. I sat down numerous times to try and review them, and I’m sure like other reviewers have experienced, fell way short of finding the words to describe the effect that both books had on me, such was the visceral impact of both. Step forward S. A. Cosby with Razorblade Tears and David Heska Wanbli Weiden with Winter Counts, two books that opened my eyes to new perspectives on the world with sublime characterisation, and powerful themes encompassing race, division, sexuality, oppression, hope, heartbreak and redemption. Both books were simply remarkable and incredibly insightful, and I’ve recommended both throughout the year more times than I count. If you get the chance to watch both authors talk about their writing, and the influences on them, I would strongly suggest you do so too. I also listened to the audiobook version of Razorblade Tears, read by Adam Lazarre-White, which was pretty special too. Two utterly amazing books which were a privilege to read…