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.

Blame - Simon Mayo


Yes, the (DJ) Simon Mayo, or at least his ghostwriter - it was edited well enough for me to suspect extensive rewrites but be still my cynical heart. An intriguing concept, unusually executed, even if it all seemed a little loose plotwise. I only read it because my nine-year-old asked me to vet it but I'd say the violence and complex politics would put it in the 12+ (YA) category.

Fat for Fuel - Dr Joseph Mercola


I'm starting to know quite a bit about this subject - enough to be critical of this book, anyway. While Mercola offers much good advice, he also made me laugh out loud with his suggestions of moving to Florida for the Vitamin D, adding ground eggshells and earth to smoothies, and walking on dewy grass for direct medical benefits. Oh, and constant promotion of a particular website he sponsors. It's that kind of thing that undermines the good science.

Sweet Little Lies - Caz Frear


Downloaded to my Kindle on a whim, this was entertaining enough, even if a police procedural starring a subversive police officer is nothing new. The resolution was unguessable - not sure whether that's a good or bad thing.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep - Joanna Cannon


I found the first half in particular distractingly overwritten and a little slow. The 10-year-old narrator was unconvincing as a child, yet the narrative might have worked better if it had only been from her point of view. Otherwise, readable enough and gained some momentum towards the end.