We are so so chuffed that the abso-blimmin-lutely fabulous Chris Whitaker has agreed to be our Spring Guest Editor. His debut Tall Oaks won the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award. The current chair of the CWA Maxim Jakubowski reviewed Tall Oaks for LoveReading back in 2017, stating it: “takes a sometimes hackneyed theme and turns it into a thing of wonder”, he went to proclaim it: “A gem of a story. Stunning”. A couple of books later We Begin at the End stormed into hearts and minds, winning the CWA 2021 Gold Dagger Award, the Ned Kelly Best International Crime Award, and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. I read We Begin at the End before it was published, and knew then just how special it was, awarding it a LoveReading Star Book, Liz Pick of the Month, and LoveReading Book of the Month. One of the characters Duchess took up residence in my thoughts, and still resides there today. I sat on the judges panel for the CWA Gold Dagger in 2021, and all of us felt the same way about We Begin at the End. It is a book that I still urge people to read, while achingly painful, it is also stunningly beautiful.
As Guest Editor, Chris has chosen a cracking theme and as someone who recommends books, I understand the heartwarming pleasure of seeing someone step into a completely new reading experience and come out the other side with their eyes opened to the wonder they found. A very warm welcome to Chris.
Up until recently I worked in my local library, and had the honour of being able to recommend (mostly my own) books to readers. Never is the dizzying breadth of choice more evident than standing before the towering shelves in a library. How do you choose? Of course you can narrow the choice down by genre and author etc, but for many readers literary prizes give them the confidence to try something new. When we created a display of shortlisted Booker Prize titles I spoke with many readers who drifted from their comfort zone and discovered new voices and worlds as a result. From a saga reader swept away by The Year of the Runaways, to a die-hard crime fiction fan whose heart was thoroughly dismantled by Shuggie Bain. So, with that in mind, I’ve chosen some of my favourite prize-winning novels.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – Women’s Prize for Fiction
A tale of love and loyalty, and the spiderweb of repercussions when hard-working, Roy, is wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Though the topics covered are undoubtedly powerful, from racial injustice to the myriad of problems with the judicial system, Tayari Jones expertly shines a light on just what it means to be married, through both the joys and burdens that union brings about. The characters are so deeply drawn that the cull of their future left me shaken. And in Celestial, Roy’s wife, we witness a woman stripped raw and slowly rebuilt. I felt every page.
Bed by David Whitehouse – Betty Trask Prize
I’ve recently read David’s new novel, About A Son, and was totally blown away. I fully expected to be, he’s the most wonderfully gifted writer. His debut, Bed, holds a special place in my heart as back when I had just started writing I was faced with drawing up a list of agents/victims I would submit Tall Oaks (my debut) to. The consensus was that you should try and find an agent whose list you admire, who in turn might enjoy your own work. I was ambitious in submitting to Cathryn Summerhayes, David’s agent, but eight life-changing years later and I know I could not have chosen better. As for Bed, it follows the story of Mal, who on his twenty-fifth birthday takes to his bed and stays there for twenty years. What follows is clever, enchanting, a little weird, and totally wonderful.
The Puppet Show by M.W. Craven – CWA Gold Dagger
One of my all-time favourite series’ began with The Puppet Show, a serial-killer thriller like no other. The story follows the hunt for a killer who is burning people alive in the Lake District’s stone circles. I read much of this one through my fingers, by turns flinching and laughing out loud as Mike Craven has this rare ability to combine the macabre with effortless humour, a frantic pace and, in Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, the kind of odd couple protagonists that see me counting each day until their return. Wildly entertaining and not for the faint of heart.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – Goodreads Choice
It takes a brave author to check their reviews on Goodreads, but E. Lockhart has little to worry about having won the Goodreads Choice award in 2014. If you haven’t met the beautiful Sinclair family yet then I suggest now is the time, ahead of the hotly anticipated prequel, Family of Liars, due out in May. I’m a sucker for a mystery, and am a huge fan of YA fiction, and in We Were Liars we try and pluck the truth from a wash of glossy lies as teen Cadence pieces together the trauma of a summer accident that tore her life apart.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever. My heart was stolen by Marie-Laure, who turned blind at six-years-old. We follow her endearing, and enduring friendship with the wonderful Werner, a German orphan, against the savage backdrop of the second world war. Never is our faith in the innate goodness of people more tested than during the horrors of war, but in these two characters we are reminded that no matter how great the odds against you, hope and kindness will remain long after the final bullets have been fired. One of my all time favourites.