One of my very unoriginal 2018 ambitions is to read more books. I’ve always loved reading, but when I first started publishing books with HarperCollins, my reading took a nose-dive because those lazy Sundays where I’d lounge around and inhale a whole book were taken up with writing, editing or proofing to meet deadlines. Last year, when writing became my Official Job (yay), I had more time to read again. And, after all, reading is an important part of being a writer; working out what you like and don’t like, why and how a particular technique works, learning from other authors to improve your own writing.
In 2017 I read 79 books, a record for me, and with a constantly growing TBR pile I’ve vowed that the number will be even higher this year. I also want to share more of my top reads on here, rather than just review them on Goodreads and Amazon, and generally do more to spread the joy of books.
It’s only the 16th of January and I’ve already discovered two books that I think are outstanding, so I’m going to gush about them a little bit.
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
I love ghosts. Have I ever mentioned that? Quite possibly . . .
I’m always looking for properly scary ghost stories, tales that chill me to the bone and stay with me long after I’ve turned the lights off, but on the whole I find ghostly novels disappointing. Either they’re too subtle and slow to get my heart racing, or they start well, scare the pants off me and then have a ridiculous, unconvincing ending that blows any faith I had in the story out of the water.
The Silent Companions, however, is neither too slow, nor too ridiculous. It is atmospheric and compelling, beautifully written and truly, spine-chillingly terrifying. The concept is ingenious, and it held my attention from page one through to the outstanding, lump-in-your-throat ending. Here is the blurb:
Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.
With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. For inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself…
Gawd. Even that gives me the shivers, and I know what’s coming! If you love your books mesmerising and terrifying – not to mention beautifully packaged, the hardback is stunning – then this is one you’ll enjoy.
This Could Change Everything by Jill Mansell
This is out on the 25th of January and is, quite simply, romantic fiction perfection. I first fell for Jill’s books when I discovered Rumour Has It many years ago. I was just starting to think that I might like to write a book of my own, and it was hugely inspiring. I’ve read lots of her other books since, but Rumour Has It stayed a firm favourite, and I didn’t think Tilly and Jack’s story could be beaten. This Could Change Everything, however, has . . . well, changed everything.
The story is set in Bath, and specifically Percival Square, which is gorgeous and idyllic and my new home. Why doesn’t it exist? Dammit! The heroine, Essie, is wonderful. She’s feisty and determined, but suffering some of the insecurities and modern-day pitfalls that so many of us face in today’s fast-paced, social-media driven world. As with all Jill’s books, there is a cast of loveable, imperfect characters whose stories intertwine, and I found myself rooting for each one of them.
There is also a thread running through the book about living and celebrating life that I found incredibly moving, and which had me in tears on more than one occasion. It has made a huge impression on me, and I’m sure it will have the same effect on many readers.
Oh – and the hero? I defy anyone not to fall for him.
It’s a beautiful, memorable story that will have you reaching for the tissues, crying with laughter and then doing a little happy dance on your sofa – if you’re as much of a sucker for a love story as me, anyway. It is as uplifting as a hot air balloon ride, but far less scary. It might be in my top five books of 2018, and there’s still most of the year to go! Here is the blurb:
On the one hand, if Essie hadn’t written that letter – the one that only her best friend was meant to see – then she’d still be living like an actual proper grown-up, tucked up with Paul in his picture-perfect cottage, maybe even planning their wedding…
On the other hand (if her true feelings hadn’t accidentally taken the internet by storm, that is) she wouldn’t have moved into the attic flat on the square. She would never have met Conor. Or got to know Lucas…
And she wouldn’t have found herself falling in love with someone she really, really shouldn’t fall in love with…
I’m very jealous of everyone who gets to read this for the first time, though I’m already looking forward to my first reread, and the next, and the next . . .
So there you have it. My first outpouring of book-love for this year. I expect there will be a lot more. If you do read either of these books then I’d love to know what you think – if you’re as touched by Jill’s story as I am, or if reading The Silent Companions means you now have to turn all the lights on and sing Taylor Swift songs loudly when you need a wee in the middle of the night, which is definitely, definitely not something I’ve been doing . . .