15 books to read this year – as recommended by mums

Beyond the kids Books
Best books to read 2019

I’m sure I’m not the only one who made the resolution to read more in 2019. I pledge the same every year with varying degrees of success – it’s not easy to find the time when you’re a busy mum. But I did read several books I loved in 2018 and I’m recommending lots of them here. Plus I also asked my parent blogger friends for their must-reads – you can see their suggestions here too.

I love writing these regular book round-ups – it’s so great to get personal recommendations from other mums. The only problem is my wish list just keeps on growing and growing!

Would you recommend any of these books or what else would you add to the list? I’d love to hear your suggestions either in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or you can tweet me on @cardiffmummysays

See more book recommendations here; here and here plus you can see all my reviews and round ups of books for children and grown-ups on the Books section of Cardiff Mummy Says.

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Here are eight books I loved reading last year

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere

Telling the story of two families and the obsessive hold they have over each other, Little Fires Everywhere examines class, culture, privilege, sibling and parental relationships and bonds, teenagers in trouble and so much more besides in a book that will leave you questioning your moral beliefs.

The story begins with the burning to the ground of the Richardson family home, a lavish house in Shaker Heights, a progressive and ordered (real) city in Ohio. We know instantly that Izzy, the youngest of the four children, is responsible. We uncover why over the next 388 pages as the lives of the seemingly-perfect all-American family intertwine with new residents artist Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl, whose unstructured lives are the complete antithesis to the order and precision of Shaker Heights.

When friends of the Richardsons try to adopt a Chinese-American baby, Mrs Richardson is angry that Mia holds such opposing views to her own and becomes obsessed with uncovering the secrets of Mia’s past. She goes to all kinds of lengths to try to destroy Mia’s life – but ultimately it is her own family who pay the price.

We learn so much about the different characters and their lives as seemingly unconnected plots begin to entwine and lead towards the book’s dramatic conclusion. It’s a book that really makes you think; not everything is neatly resolved at the end. We are left to make our own minds up as to whether wrongs of the past should determine our future.

It’s a compelling read. I devoured it in two days and as soon as I finished, I headed right back to the start to read the opening few chapters again, re-examining them with the knowledge of how the plot develops.




The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd

The Innocent Wife

Cardiff-based Amy Lloyd won the Daily Mail Bestseller competition with The Innocent Wife and featured in Richard and Judy’s book club. It’s easy to see why she’s achieved such acclaim with this intriguing psychological thriller exploring what it’s like to be married to a prisoner on Florida’s Death Row.

Thirty-one-year-old school teacher Samantha weds convicted murdered Dennis after watching a documentary that convinces her of his innocence and striking up a romance by letter. But how will their relationship fare in the real world when Dennis’s conviction is overturned and the pair are thrust into the spotlight? It isn’t long before Samantha begins to wonder whether Dennis is innocent after all…

The ending wasn’t as much of a surprise as the quotes on the book had lead me to believe but it still took a few twists and turns that kept me guessing right until the end. A real page-turner.


One Day In December by Josie Silver

One Day In December

I bought this book because it kept popping up on my social media feeds with people saying how much they loved it. I loved it too, even staying up until 1am one night to finish it. It’s a beautiful story of love and friendship that made me cry at times but ultimately left my heart feeling warm and fuzzy. It’s about Laurie who, through a misted-up bus window, locks eyes with a man she knows instantly is ‘the one.’ They share a moment – but then the bus drives away and Laurie thinks she’ll never see the boy from the bus again. However a year later, her best friend Sarah introduces her to the new love of her life… the boy from the bus.

Written in a diary style format from the viewpoints of Laurie, Sarah and Jack (the boy from the bus) the story unfolds over the course of a decade as relationships and friendships change and grow and are put to the test. Short chapters and simple language make it an easy read, but there’s plenty of depth to the characters too. I really felt like I knew them and was rooting for a happy ending without anyone getting hurt. I particularly liked the portrayal of the girls’ friendship as they grow up from newly graduated housemates who share everything to living their own lives.

A moving and heartwarming story of love and friendship it has all the makings of a film, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this is next Christmas’s big cinematic success.



The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Having loved Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry I was pleased to discover that The Music Shop is just as delightfully charming, quirky and life-affirming. It’s a heartfelt book which finds great beauty in the ordinary and simple, and tenderly depicts friendships and relationships.

The book is set in the late 1980s and is about Frank, who owns a music shop selling only vinyl. He has a magical skill for finding his customers the music they need to hear, like some kind of melodic prescription to remedy whatever difficulties they have in their lives.

And then he meets Ilse Brauchmann, a mysterious woman in a pea-green coat and gloves who asks Frank to teach her about music. We soon realise that Ilse is not what she seems and that Frank is hiding his own deep secrets too. Theirs is a complex relationship that doesn’t progress how you might imagine it would, but is ultimately resolved with a slightly cheesy but wonderfully emotional conclusion.

Music is such an integral part of the story, connecting the characters and situations. On several occasions I found myself heading to Spotify to listen to certain tracks mentioned (and yes I’m fully aware of the irony given Frank’s overwhelming loyalty to vinyl). I also found the portrayal of Frank and his fellow small business owners as they fight against big business quite moving, especially with the benefit of hindsight.


After You by JoJo Moyes

After You by JoJo Moyes

JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You was the book that kept me reading until 3am. I was so enraptured by the unconventional love story of Will Traynor, the former City worker left quadriplegic in an accident, and Louisa Clark, his carer and the story’s protagonist, that I couldn’t put it down. The book didn’t end how I expected it to and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. It seems I wasn’t the only one because while making the film adaptation of the book, JoJo Moyes was inundated with messages and tweets asking what happened next. And so she wrote After You the sequel which wasn’t quite as brilliant as Me Before You but is incredibly compelling nonetheless.

After You sees a grief-stricken Lou struggling to cope. She’s in a job she doesn’t like, living in a flat which after a year still doesn’t feel like home, and her parents refuse to speak to her due to the events of book one. But then two strangers enter her life and change things… and yet again, I found myself reading until the small hours desperate to see Lou’s story unfold. Moyes’s writing is witty, tender and compassionate – she had me laughing, crying and really rooting for the central character.

I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next in Still Me – the third in the trilogy which is already out in hardback and will be published in paperback next month.


The Break by Marian Keyes

The Break

Amy is all kinds of devastated when her husband Hugh announces he’s taking a six-month break from their marriage and family life. Consumed by grief following the death of his father, Hugh says he needs time out to travel the world on his own to fix his mind. When the six months are done, he promises he’ll be back for good. But will Amy want him back? If he’s on a break, then does that mean she is too? As Hugh goes off on his adventures, so too Amy has her own journey of self-discovery.

Although I felt The Break was slightly too long at more than 650 pages, I liked the diary-style format with plenty of short chapters that kept me thinking ‘just one more’.

It made me laugh. It made me cry. It had me racing through the pages as fast as I could desperate to know what would happen next. It left me feeling uneasy – how suddenly you can go from having a seemingly perfect life to everything falling apart. As the story unravels, we question what role Amy played in the downfall of her marriage. Some parts were clichéd and predictable but there were plenty of twists and turns along the way and some great subplots involving Amy and Hugh’s children and extended family.

I’ve seen some reviews saying The Break isn’t as good as other Marian Keyes novels and perhaps it’s not as witty as earlier works. But actually, this made me want to read more. In many ways it’s a light and easy read (I read it while on holiday) but her observations of modern day family life are spot on.


The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas

The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway

I bought this book because it’s written by my friend Rhys, someone I’ve known for more than 20 years, since we met at university. I’m recommending it here because it’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long while. I genuinely mean that and I’m not just saying it because I know the author.

The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway is an exploration of grief, loneliness, friendship and love as seen through the story of Sam, a socially awkward 26-year-old who works for a Japanese electronics components wholesalers by day and who takes to the streets as wannabe superhero the Phantasm to fight crime by night.

Before I picked up the book I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy the superhero element. But the chapters about Sam’s crime-fighting alter ego are cleverly juxtaposed with those about his life and as his experiences are slowly drip fed through the pages, we begin to understand why Sam feels the need to patrol the streets looking for people to help and crimes to solve.

The prose is simple and understated. But it spans the full range of emotions. I cried within the first 40 pages as Sam recounts tales of teenage awkwardness and being ridiculed. I cried several times more as we learn about his past and as he talks about comic books being the one place he can truly escape.

I found his exploits as the Phantasm really emotional. The hapless hero falling over walls and into holes would be funny if it wasn’t so wistfully sad too.

Just like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, this book will make you look differently at people around you. It will give you empathy as to why people act the way they do with the realisation that tragedy can shape everything we do.


Into The Water by Paula Hawkins 

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

The follow-up to the bestseller The Girl on The Train is a deeply mysterious and evocative read that keeps you guessing right until the end.

It’s set in Beckford, a troubled village haunted by a series of deaths in ‘the Drowning Pool’. Once a spot where women suspected of witch craft were put to death, it’s now a suicide spot that has claimed the lives of several local women.

The latest is that of Nel, a single mother to 15 year old Lena. Nel’s death has brought her estranged sister Jules back to the hometown she vowed never to return to. But Jules isn’t convinced her sister took her own life, especially when she discovers that Lena’s best friend Katie died in the same spot a few months earlier and that Nel had been investigating the deaths. The book is full of intrigue as the characters’ lives and connections unfold and secrets emerge.

I found this a hard book to put down. The story is told from the viewpoints of several key characters, which makes you think you know what’s going to happen. But every time you think you have guessed what’s going on twists and turns take you in a different direction entirely.

Naturally it will be compared to The Girl on the Train, a book full of intrigue and suspense. It’s not quite as heart-in-mouth incredible as that book, but it’s a darn good read that will leave you quickly turning the pages desperate to know how the story unfolds.


And here are seven books recommended by other mum bloggers


Three Things About Elsie by Joanne Cannon

Three Things About Elsie

As recommended by Megan, mum of two from South West London. She blogs at Truly Madly Kids 

This story is about a rather irascible old lady, Florence, who is living in sheltered accommodation. In the opening of the book we are told the first two things about Florence’s best friend, Elsie. The third is revealed towards the end of the book, however the story is crafted, so you guess a while before, but this doesn’t distract from the read, it’s almost intentional. The story revolves around Florence having fallen in her flat, and as she awaits help she recounts her past.

What Joanna Cannon does so well is tell the story behind the ordinary person, and how everyone, however ordinary, has extraordinary things happen to them throughout their lives. And indeed Florence has some extraordinary moments in hers. She has early onset dementia, and recently someone has arrived in her accommodation and she recognises him from her past, and she knows there is something untoward about him, she just can’t quite remember what. As she unravels the story, we are treated to a tale of profound thought with some incredibly touching moments. Although there are many different threads in this story, which can sometimes make it a little ‘noisy’, the author manages to pull together a very compassionate novel on how events in life shape us.


This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay

This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay

As recommended by Sarah Convey, mum of two and pregnant with her third child, from Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. She blogs at Mummy’s Whine Club 

I don’t often read non-fiction but this I couldn’t put down. It’s an absolutely fabulous read and an insight into life as a Junior NHS Doctor. Adam’s tales are chuckle out loud funny, if even a little cringe worthy followed by the heartbreaking account of why he is no longer a doctor but a TV Writer. It’s the book I have recommended to everyone since I read it in the summer. I haven’t spoken to anyone who didn’t love it. I laughed and cried the whole way through.


The Reinvention of Martha Ross by Charlene Alcott

The Reinvention of Martha Ross by Charlene Alcott

As recommended by Jenny, mum of two from Grimsby. She blogs at Accidental Hipster Mum

The Reinvention of Martha Ross is about a mother who leaves an unhappy relationship and tries to have a more fulfilling life. As the book description says, “her attempts at reinvention – from writing a definitive, non-negotiable list of everything she’s looking for in a new man, to half-marathons, business plans and meditation retreats – go awry in the most surprising of ways. She soon comes to realise that in order to find lasting love, happiness and fulfilment, she needs to find herself first.”

The book is funny, but also sensitive in the parts where it matters and it’s a really good read, not cheesy at all (some books with a similar plot outline can be). It’s uplifting but really, really relatable and very well written. It’s the first book in ages where I’ve been looking forward to putting the kids to bed so I can read a bit more.


Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People by Sally Rooney

As recommended by Wendy currently pregnant with her third child from Swansea. She blogs at Naptime Natter 

I read Normal People by Sally Rooney last year and it is now my new favourite book. The story is about two central characters, Marianne and Connell, and follows their lives from high school through to their twenties. It’s all about learning about love, figuring out who you are and how to be the person you want to be in a confusing and complicated world. It’s a love story but also so much more than that. I would describe it as a more contemporary version of One Day by David Nichols. I absolutely loved it and would happily read it again tomorrow.



Lost Lives by Lisa Cutts

Lost Lives by Lisa Cutts

As reviewed by Nicola mum of two from Bradford in West Yorkshire. She blogs at Orchard Book Club

This is my first read of a Lisa Cutts book and it certainly won’t be my last, that’s for sure. Lisa is the author of four police procedural novels, based on her 21 years of policing experience which includes more than a decade in the Serious Crime Directorate dealing mostly with murders and other serious investigations. The book is written as two stories that come together: Harry the officer in charge of a shooting investigation; and Anna, a Hungarian woman going to what she believes is a better life… if only she knew! Although I enjoyed Harry’s parts of the story I was more eager to get to Anna. What this poor woman must have felt when her dream bubble was popped is beyond imaginable – beating, hunger and blackmailed at every turn. It’s a real eye opener into what people will do and endure for what they think will be a better life. If you love your books fast paced, gripping and with the shock factor then this is one for you, maybe just don’t read it while you eat.


Strays and Relations by Dizzy Greenfield

Strays and Relations by Dizzy Greenfield

As recommended by Kate mum of three from Yorkshire. She blogs at Kate on Thin Ice. 

Strays and Relations is about an adopted woman tracing her birth family. As an adopted person myself I was interested to read it and finished the whole book in just two sittings.

I enjoyed this book a lot and found it to be a real page-turner partly because there really were so many strays and relations along the way both human and animal. The characters are well-drawn and I found myself particularly attracted to the birth mother and her daughters. I was less impressed with the birth father who I should point out does not stay with the birth mother. I would have liked to know the adoptive mother a little better too as I did not get a firm sense of her.

I have never seen myself as a stray but I can see the analogy drawn with animals in the book and the quirky Tuesday/Merlin dog in particular. There are angels masquerading as human beings out there who take on personalities who may be challenging but who ultimately deserve a second chance. You know some of us strays are quite special in our own right and add loads to the places and people we end up with. Not so long ago I would not have seen this so clearly.

If you are intrigued by adoption or have experience of it, I think you will enjoy this book. In any event, I think it is a jigsaw puzzle of life as many of our stories are and worth a read adopted or not.

You can read Kate’s full review and more of her own experience of adoption here


We Are Called To Rise by Laura McBride

As reviewed by Clare, mum of three from North Notts. She blogs at Wild Mama Wild Tribe

This is the best book I have read in some time (and as an insomniac who reads all night that is saying something). It’s a powerful and very real story about the tough and real side of life in Vegas. It’s not depressing at all – it’s wonderful. In very Donna Tart style – the story brilliantly intertwines the lives of three wildly different families and their powerful stories and whether, despite all the odds, they have the strength of character and will to rise. From the very first page you are gripped by the characters, their emotional stories and the strength of humanity. It is moving, haunting and all-consuming from the first page to the last. I laughed, cried, properly bawled my eyes out then smiled again. I hardly ever read books twice but will make an exception for this one.

Would you recommend any of these books or what else would you add to the list? I’d love to hear your suggestions either in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or you can tweet me on @cardiffmummysays

See more book recommendations here; here and here plus you can see all my reviews and round ups of books for children and grown-ups on the Books section of Cardiff Mummy Says

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