The Word is Murder - Anthony Horowitz


In a slightly postmodern twist on the standard murder mystery, the author casts himself in the bumbling Watson or Hastings role to the inscrutable detective. It works well as a mix of autobiography and fiction, and is cleverly plotted enough to provide enough false leads for a satisfying denouement.

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire - John August


John August has produced one of the best structured podcasts I've heard (and I've heard a lot of podcasts) in 'Launch', about the process of writing and publishing this book. He also has a pleasantly engaging and genuine manner. He's so keen and proactive that he may actually read this (unlikely, I know!) which makes it harder than usual to say that this could have been so much better. More focus on the plot, less unnecessary dialogue, more character development, less nostalgic ropecraft. It was just kind of... vague, more like the first third of a longer novel than the self-contained Book 1 in a trilogy. OK, I'm not the target audience so I'll pass it to my daughter and see what she thinks.

Faro's Daughter - Georgette Heyer


Another lovely Georgette Heyer but, while the Regency world was again well created, this isn't a patch on Regency Buck. So much irrational behaviour, and so few empathetic characters. Although I suppose it's hard to create any empathy for an early 19th century lord.

The Children Act - Ian McEwan


Despite having two copies of 'Atonement', I've never read any Ian McEwan books before. I'm not sure I'll read any more in a hurry as this seemed to have little point as a novel. Yes, it raises some questions about the nature of law and the challenges of upholding it, but so does the A-Level textbook I've just edited, and that has pictures.

Once Upon a Time in the North - Philip Pullman


A mini-tale of the wonderful Lee Scoresby and Hester, presumably to give them a little life before their memorable deaths. This being Pullman, it's exquisitely written and produced, but ultimately a little too much is going on in the background to give it a relevant focus.

The Executioner of St Paul's - Susanna Gregory


I wouldn't normally start reading a series on the twelfth book but this seemed intriguing and accessible when I flicked through it at the library. And it was, from a historical point of view, sending me off to find out more about 1665 London. And it didn't matter that I'd not read the books that came before because the main character had no personality, actually a relief after the soapy Elly Griffiths stories. Rather a confusing array of suspects but unusual and diverting, if ultimately forgettable.

The Chalk Pit - Elly Griffiths


The ninth book in the series creaks under the weight of the characters' emotional baggage. Not a great deal happens, except in their heads - the actual crimes seem to be an afterthought. Readable enough, as always, but not a particularly thrilling thriller.

Regency Buck - Georgette Heyer


It seems I love Georgette Heyer's Regency romances as much now as I did when I was 14, when I last read one. The difference is these days I prefer the Regency aspects to the (rather dodgy) romance. So much research, so lightly conveyed. It's not exactly hardcore literature but who cares? It's fabulous escapism.

The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin


It will seem as if I've learned nothing from this self-proclaimed 'stunt non-fiction' classic if I criticise it - and I did pick up a few useful tips - but that is exactly my issue. In general, the recommended path to happiness seems so passive - don't complain, don't steer a situation, don't express an opinion... improve by not improving. I was also put off at times by the general 'look at my perfect family!' sentiments. That said, it was engaging and it's always useful to be reminded of one's good fortune.

The Lunar Cats - Lynne Truss


A nonsensical but surprisingly well-researched romp.

The Pilgrim of Hate - Ellis Peters


Superhero monk? Check. Thwarted lovers? Check. Murder? Check, sort of. Mystery? Check, slightly. Endless descriptions of 12th-century politics? Check, unfortunately.

A Man With One of Those Faces - Caimh McDonnell


This exuberant romp has the potential to be really good - but the fact that it clearly hasn't been edited makes it almost unreadable in places, and I nearly gave up on it. Its engaging Irishness is certainly a selling point and perhaps other readers are willing to overlook its structural, character and grammatical issues but, personally, I cannot.

La Belle Sauvage - Philip Pullman


There's no better way to round off the year with master storyteller Pullman's new novel eclipsing all others, carrying readers away into his vivid world like the engulfing flood in the book. It's not really for children, I think - though kids would do well to absorb the obvious political and social commentary here. My only criticisms would be the surprising upholding of traditional gender roles (compared with Lyra's later heroism) and the open-ended, slightly unfocused nature of the story, setting it up for the two sequels.

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers - Louise Candlish


Now, this is interesting. In many ways, this is quite like 'Exquisite' (the book I read before it) - an overdramatisation of a domestic situation told from two unsympathetic points of view. It's silly and frustrating and unrealistic but, oddly, it's also fun, engaging and highly readable, the sort of story that's perfect for winter nights on a beanbag with a glass of mulled wine.

Exquisite - Sarah Stovell


Unconvincing and overwrought.