Looking Back….Looking Forward….

This is my end of year report, looking back at the 10 titles I had eagerly anticipated last year and seeing how many of them I actually got around to reading as well as picking ten more choices for 2023. In 2021 I got round to reading eight out of the ten titles.  Let’s see if I can top that in 2022 and whether they turned out to be the big-hitters of the year . 

The Heretic – Liam McIllvanney (Harper Collins)

Read and rated it four stars in January.  Second in the series which began with the Scottish Crime Book Of The Year “The Quaker“.  Time moved six years on from the previous book giving it a mid 70’s Glasgow setting and this was more quality writing.  At over 500 pages it was quite a lengthy crime novel which allowed richness of detail in its depiction of two warring gangs, one Protestant, one Catholic. Good characterisation of a Serious Crime Squad, all of whom are outsiders which brought interesting dynamics into play.

Devotion – Hannah Kent (Picador)

Another four star read for me in January which was certainly on a par with her first two novels.  I thought this very much a book of three parts with distinct tonal shifts between them.  This turns into a nineteenth century love story which I described as “touching, often heart-breaking and effectively conveyed throughout.”

Love Marriage – Monica Ali (Virago)

I read this in February and this is a book which made it onto a number of “Best Of” round-ups.  I rated it four stars. Her 5th novel, I thought characterisation was especially strong within the supporting cast with a delicious lightness of touch.  I don’t think many readers would place this over Monica Ali’s 2004 “Brick Lane” but it provided a highly satisfactory reading experience. 

Flicker In The Dark – Stacy Willingham (Harper Collins)

Debut thriller which livened up January for me when I read and rated it four stars.  I said of it “It reads well, the Louisiana setting effectively makes its presence known and I am not surprised that options for a TV adaptation have reputedly been picked up.”  It created enough impression on me to have made her next book one of my highlights for the coming year. 

A Good Day To Die – Amen Alonge (Quercus Books)

A big-buzz debut which I read in February and ranked three stars which I found a little underwhelming.  I think that might have been because the publishers were keen to compare this to the superbly written and crafted US TV series “The Wire”.  The odd cartoonish violent scene jarred and I wasn’t convinced by the first person/third person narrative switches.  It did feel fresh and vibrant but perhaps did not live up to the expectations I had for it when I highlighted it as a title I wanted to read last year

Mother’s Boy – Patrick Gale (Tinder Press)

Haven’t read this yet, but I do have a copy sitting waiting on my Kindle.  I’m not sure it made the impression so far some of his titles have on the book-publishing world, but I would imagine that the paperback which is published in February will be a strong seller.

Mouth To Mouth- Antoine Wilson (Atlantic Books)

An American debut with a lot of pre-publication fanfare which did get me seeking it out in February but once again I think maybe I was taken in by the hype.  I thought it had a brave narrative style, as it is a recounting of a tale told second hand.  I said of it “I can see why some readers would really like this book and I can see also why it might leave some unconvinced.  Unusually for me, I’m somewhat stuck in the middle.” That will explain the three star rating then. 

Memphis – Tara M Stringfellow (John Murray)

A debut I read in March and a four star read.  I said of the author; “There’s a voluptuousness to her words, a richness in description, an over-ripeness which beautifully conveys Memphis, Tennessee.”  Tara M Stringfellow certainly left me wanting more with this strong contemporary saga.

Young Mungo – Douglas Stuart (Picador)

I was itching to read this book and when I finished it in April I was so taken aback that I loved it even more than the Booker Prize winning debut which was my 2021 Book Of The Year and by the end of 2022 I still hadn’t read anything to top it and so Douglas Stuart was the author of my favourite book for two years running.  Don’t know why it wasn’t Booker shortlisted but The Guardian, Telegraph, Time Magazine showed much taste in having it on their end of year highlights list.  Outstanding. 

Theatre Of Marvels – Lianne Dillsworth (Penguin)

This proved to be another four star debut and one which could also generate some very healthy sales when the paperback arrives in March.  Set in 1840s London with Crillick’s Variety Theatre as a central location.  It felt very commercial, an ideal reading group choice which would generate much discussion about the issues involved and appreciation for the author’s story-telling skills. 

That’s 9 out of 10 of this read which is my best score ever.  Here are ten more titles which have attracted my attention pre-publication which I hope to be getting around to in 2023.  I wonder, as last year, whether my ultimate Book Of The Year is lurking amongst these books.  

Devil’s Way- Robert Bryndza (Raven Street Publishing) (Due out on 12th January)

Book number 4 in what has so far been a very strong crime series featuring Devon based Private Detective Kate Marshall.  There has been a different feel to each book from the really quite harrowing series opener “Nine Elms” to the much gentler whodunnit feel of “Darkness Falls”.  Who knows what direction Robert Bryndza will take with this but I am expecting high quality writing and further developments in the working relationship between his very effective lead characters – Kate and her younger gay male partner Tristan.

The Mysterious Case Of The Alperton Angels – Janice Hallett (Viper Books) (due out on 19th January)

Third book for the author who made #4 in my current Books Of The Year list with her so impressive debut.  Second novel not quite as good but did not disappoint so I’m fascinated to see where she goes with this.  The Sunday Times described her as “The Queen Of Tricksy Crime” which seems appropriate for her cleverly structured misdirecting fiction.  We’ve had e-mails and phone communications in the debut, audio files in “The Twyford Code”.  Here it seems to be research for a true crime work found in a safe which forms the basis for the plot.

My Father’s House – Joseph O’Connor (Vintage Books) (due out on 26th January)

The one Joseph O’Connor novel I have read 2019’s “Shadowplay” ended up at number 4 in that year’s Books Of The Year list.  This is a historical thriller based on a true story and set in Nazi occupied Rome of 1943.  Last time around I praised the quality of the writing.  I said “O’Connor is good with multi-sensory lists which build such evocative pictures of the time.”  I will be looking forward to more of this.

All The Dangerous Things – Stacy Willingham (Harper Collins)  (due out on 2nd February)

I rated Stacy Willingham’s debut four stars and this is the second year in a row she has appeared in my anticipated list.  The cover has me interested with its “What if the past is best left unburied” teaser.  It’s been heralded a one-sitting read, but I actually can’t remember when I last did that.  I will prefer to take my time to let what Karin Slaughter calls its “palpable tension” to really get its grip.    

Hungry Ghosts- Kevin Jared Hosein (Bloomsbury Publishing) (due out on 16th February)

A debut with a big pre-publication buzz.  The BBC news website described is as “One of the most talked about forthcoming books in literary circles.”  Well, add me to that circle as I’m telling you about it here.  Bernardine Evaristo has described it as “astonishing” and the late Hilary Mantel found it “deeply impressive” so I would imagine it has great depth.  It is a saga of two families in 1940s Trinidad which promises violence, religion, family and class.

Fire Rush – Jacqueline Crooks (Vintage Books) (due out on 2nd March)

This is another debut novel from a young author, who, her publishers say, escaped involvement with a gang underworld through writing and music.  Her short stories have received critical acclaim and here we have something which is being heralded as “about dub reggae, love, loss and freedom.  Fire Rush is an electrifying state-of-the-nation novel and an unforgettable portrait of Black Womanhood.”

The Sun Walks Down -Fiona McFarlane (Sceptre) (Due out on 9th March)

Here’s an epic tale, this time, according to the publishers,  featuring “unsettlement, history, myth, love and art.”.  Set in the late nineteenth century Australian outback and featuring a child who goes missing. Anne Patchett has already described it as “marvellous”.  I haven’t read this Australian author’s previous work which includes an award-winning novel and short-story collection.  This seems a good place to start.

Death Under A Little Sky – Stig Abell (Harper Collins) (due out on 13th April)

Stig Abell has been editor of The Times Literary Supplement and managing editor of The Sun.  He currently co- hosts the breakfast show on Times Radio.  He has been a member of the Press Complaints Commission and has already written two fascinating sounding non-fiction works one of which examines “How Britain Really Works” and one a study on reading “Things I Learned On The 6.28”.  What has been missing from his CV so far is fiction, and here he is with a debut crime novel – a British countryside set whodunnit. Expect high quality literary writing.

Arthur And Teddy Are Coming Out – Ryan Love (HQ Books)  (due out on 13th April)

The publishers are calling this the feel-good read of 2023 and by April we might all be needing some light relief.  This is the tale of a 79 year old grandfather and his grandson who are simultaneously coming to terms with their sexuality.  The cover claims “It’s never too late to be you”. This is another debut which is promising much from a Northern Ireland born writer who has worked in public relations in the music industry, is a former Showbiz editor for Digital Spy and an advocate for mental health.

The Making Of Another Motion Picture Masterpiece – Tom Hanks (Penguin Random House) (due out on 9th May)

Yes, it’s that Tom Hanks and this is his first full-length novel and I’m not normally a sucker for Hollywood A-lister celebrity authors but this certainly sounds ambitious as it spans 80 years of American history and is about the production of a superhero movie. I’m getting John Irving/Michael Chabon vibes.  This will get a lot of publicity and could very well be one of the big titles of the year.

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