Looking Around…..

For my last retrospective post I like to have a look around the blogosphere and see the books which have impressed other bloggers during the last twelve months. I always expect that there is going to be a modicum of consensus and that there would be the odd book which appears on Best Of the Year lists time after time, but this is rarely the case and it certainly is not so for this year when there’s a wide range of books being recommended but not often the same book in more than one list.

I follow around 70 blog sites and one trend I am seeing is that fewer and fewer bloggers seem to want to do this kind of end-of-year retrospective.  Personally, I love it and think it’s important to look back before cracking on with the new year.  So, I am very thankful to those who have reflected and singled out their best reads, despite reluctance to put them into any order.

I would like to think I could find one of my Top 10 books in another blogger’s list but for the second year running I have not been successful in discovering this. (No “Young Mungo”?  I’m staggered!).  In fact, many of the authors I was expecting to see were absent from other lists.  I couldn’t find mentions of these notables who put book out this year- Monica Ali, Hannah Kent, Kamila Shamsie, Ian McEwan, Donal Ryan, Jess Kidd, amazed to see no mentions of Joanna Quinn, whose debut novel “The Whalebone Theatre” felt such a great crowd-pleaser.    

Obviously, with so many books being published each year and bloggers having their own likes, contacts with publishers, different methods of getting the books they reviewed there are just too many great reads out there to provide much overlap.  However, there were three books which I did see cropping up.

One was from an author I did have in my Top 10, so we will start with her, Janice Hallett.  I really loved “The Appeal” but realise I was a bit late out of the blocks with this one and it was her 2022 publication “The Twyford Code” which was getting the nods (although Andrea at Andrea Is Reading did give “The Appeal” an honourable mention.)  Jen at Books on 7.47 did well to sum up the appeal of this author and her “devilishly clever plot that won me over.  A murder mystery that never stops throwing curve balls while giving nostalgic nods throughout.” Fi at Fi’s Bibliofiles says of it; “It manages to hide so many clues in plain sight and is incredibly subtle in its complexity.”  I think both these very well encompass Janice Hallett and I feel that what this author does to her readers is actually quite difficult to put into words.  Like me, Books On 7.47 has the new novel “The Mysterious Case Of The Alperton Angels” on her must read for 2023 list and Fi already had it as one of her favourite books she read in 2022, saving her review until the publication date in January.

Another title which impressed was the winner of the Novel Of The Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards “Trespasses” by Louise Kennedy which conquered over one of my Top 10 Books and previous winner of this award Donal Ryan.  Cathy at 746 Books describes it as being about “a woman caught between allegiance to community and a dangerous passion with an older man.” Karen at Booker Talk describes this debut as “an intense, engrossing tale of how small acts of kindness assume great political significance and put lives at risk.”   The third of these titles which kept popping up I had never heard of.  Australian blogger Kim at Reading Matters singled out “Limberlost” by Robbie Arnott as a tale of “kindness loss, love and family”.  Set in rural Tasmania in World War II, Cathy at 746 Books felt the need to give it a special mention even though she had not finished it at time of writing.  In what seems like an excellent recommendation she said “In a week where I have a lot to do all I wanted to do is read “Limberlost.” That’s good enough for me to put this book on my Want To Read list.  Cathy cannily has three lists of end of year recommendations, one from her To Be Read Pile, one of Irish authors and one of new reads.  Within her new reads picks there is one that I highlighted in my Books I Should Have Read in 2022 post, The Booker shortlisted “The Trees” By Percival Everett, which she feels should have won the Prize as well as “Trust” by Hernan Diaz which was the book that topped the number of US recommendations in Literary Hub’s round up of end of year lists alongside “Tomorrow And Tomorrow And Tomorrow” by  Gabrielle Zevin which was a favourite of Andrea Is Reading. (Andrea also singles out “Happy Go Lucky” by David Sedaris which has a sublimely creepy cover and reminds me yet again that this year should be the year I really crack on with this author’s work.)

I like older titles being incorporated in the lists.  The aforementioned Cathy reminded me of a book I really loved when I read it decades ago- William Trevor’s “Children Of Dynmouth” and I now want to re-read this as well as the copy of his short stories I have on my bookshelves.  There’s also an acknowledgement of the greatness of Larry McMurty’s “Lonesome Dove” which is described as “violent, frightening, funny, heartbreaking and transcends the genre” and which if a certain someone is reading this who has recommended this book to me so many times will no doubt tell me “See, I told you it was good!”

Lynne at Fictionphile picks four titles which all seem highly readable to me – “The Keeper Of Stories”- Sally Pope, “Mrs England”- Stacey Halls, “A Quiet Life” – Ethan Joella and “The Winners” – Frederick Backman.  Matthew at My Mashed Up Life goes for three – the critically acclaimed “Lessons In Chemistry” by Bonnie Garman (I knew I’d find this somewhere), French novel “Heatwave” by Victor Jestin (a tale of tormented adolescence and I do love these) and “How To Kill Your Family” by Bella Mackie, which I have sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read. 

I do love it when people can pick their absolute favourite because their enthusiasm does make me want to read it, even if it wouldn’t normally be on my radar.  Linda at Linda’s Book Bag plumps for “Echoes Of Love” by Jenny Ashcroft which she says “encompasses so many forms of love- and hatred- is authentic in time and place and has such relevance for what is happening in today’s world that I couldn’t fault it” and FictionFan’s Book Reviews ( a site which has given me so much pleasure since before I started reviewsrevues nearly 8 years ago) is so enthusiastic about sixteenth century Scottish set “Rose Nicolson” by Andrew Greig describing it as “one of the outstanding books of my long lifetime of reading” that I don’t know how anyone can avoid putting that onto a must-seek-out-list.

Anyway, I think that’s enough of looking back to 2022 and start to get on with the reading joys 2023 has in store.  Just want to thank these other bloggers for keeping up the good work.  Long may it continue!

What I Should Have Read In 2022

It’s time for the annual namecheck for 10 books which I didn’t get round to reading in 2022 but I think I should.  Perhaps they are books I’ve intended to read since publication or titles that passed me by and which I’ve only found out about recently in end of year lists.  Since publishing last year’s list I’ve got round to reading 30% of them, which is a lot lower than I would have expected.  I do have 5 of them on my bookshelves or on my Kindle so hopefully I will get round to them in 2023.  Here are the ten titles in alphabetical order of author’s surname.

Too Much – Tom Allen  (Hodder Studio)

This is the second time comedian and TV presenter Tom has made this list.  I did read his debut autobiography “No Shame” (2020) early on in 2021 which I described as “well-written, funny, significant”. This second work has his response to the death of his father as the central theme.  Graham Norton’s three words to describe this are “Funny, candid and measured.”  It’s a very British thing to process feelings about grief through humour and it is something which fascinates me.  I look forward to seeing how Tom has achieved this. 

A Tidy Ending – Joanna Cannon (Borough Press)

When am I going to get round to reading this author?  I don’t know how many times I have had “The Trouble With Goats And Sheep” recommended to me and I have had it on my shelves for years.  I’m not sure I fancy “Three Things About Elsie” but this 2022 novel seems up my street and I have bought a Kindle copy.  It’s described as “dark comedy” which is something I approve of.  The Mail On Sunday said “Cannon’s shrewd characterisation, sparky observations and subtly menacing plot makes this a darkly funny and delightfully sinister read.” Whereas I rarely believe what The Mail On Sunday say I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one because reviews are consistently good.  It made the Times Thrillers Of The Year list. Right, next year is going to be the year I catch up with Joanna Cannon.

Without Warning And Only Sometimes – Kit De Waal (Tinder Press)

I haven’t read anything by Kit De Waal’s, although “My Name Is Leon” has been on my radar since publication and there is no reason why I would not get round to this,  especially once I have read this memoir which made it to number 39 on the Telegraph Books Of The Year list.  The only book in her house when growing up was a Bible, the possession of her Irish, Jehovah’s Witness mother.  Of her childhood in 1960’s/70’s Birmingham, Kit has said; “We were the only black children at the Irish Community Centre and the only ones with a white mother at the West Indian Social Club.” Cathy Rentzenbrink has said of it “I loved it and couldn’t put it down.  Both joyous and heart-breaking, it captures an era and is also a beautiful tribute to sibling love, and a completely compelling story of how one girl became a reader.”  This just sounds like the perfect memoir to me. 

Exit Stage Left- Nick Duerden (Headline)

I’m fascinated by the subject of this non-fiction work.  Fame in the entertainment business can be intense and also fleeting.  This book looks at what happens when the adulation disappears.  Nick Duerden interviews a whole range of artist across the music business in a book which featured on Sunday Times, Guardian & Telegraph best books of the year list and according to Surrey Life Magazine “… is a candid and at times, laugh-out-loud look at the curious afterlife of pop stars.”

The Trees – Percival Everett (Influx Press)  

It was only a few years ago that I made a determined effort with the Booker Prize to read as many as the shortlisted titles as possible before the winner was announced.  In order to fit them in I had to actually read from the longlist trying to make an educated guess as to what would stay in the running.  This has dwindled over the last couple of years to just reading the winner.  This year I didn’t even fancy that but this was the title from the shortlist which piqued my interest.  I already have an unread Percival Everett title on my bookshelves “Erasure” from 2001 but this new title promises much.  The Telegraph called it “grotesquely entertaining” and the NY Times applauded its combination of “unspeakable terror and knock out comedy”.  It deals  with racism and police violence and yet it is funny.  I’m fascinated to see how the author pulls this off.  I think it would be a powerful impressive read.

In Perfect Harmony – Will Hodgkinson (Nine Eight Books)  

Another music-based non-fiction title this time examining how in the grimy industrial strife of the 1970s we became awash with sunshiny pop music.  Punk, disco and reggae may have been more cool but it was this more mainstream music which dominated  record sales and radio playlists.  This promises to be both a social and popular cultural history which appeals in the same way that Bob Stanley’s “Let’s Do It” did this year.  It also made a number of best of lists in the British press.  Suzi Quatro describes it as “A colourful picture of the entire 70s in Great Britain” which sounds right up my street. 

Vladimir – Julia May Jonas (Picador)

This American debut fiction title made it to number 40 in the Telegraph Books Of The Year and caused quite a stir on publication.  It’s a tale of obsession and has been talked about as “Lolita” in reverse as a female academic in her 50s falls for a young male novelist.  The Boston Globe described it thus; “Vladimir goes into such outrageous territory that my jaw literally dropped at moments while I was reading it.  There’s a rare blend here of depth of character, mesmerizing prose, and fast-paced action.”  I think this is a book which sounds like it will cause a much greater impact in the UK when the paperback arrives (scheduled for Feb 2023).  It sounds like a page-turning and head-turning debut.

Mercury Pictures Presents – Anthony Marra (John Murray)

This historical novel also attracted plaudits this year and was a Book Of The Year in both the Sunday Times and The Observer.  It’s a tale of a woman who moves from Italy under Mussolini to Hollywood where she becomes an associate producer at a movie studio.  The blurb describes it as “an epic story of love, deceit and reinvention”.  Ann Patchett says it is “full of history, comedy and horror.  It’s a great literary read.” Sounds good enough to me. I don’t know of American author Marra but he has been compared to literary greats such as George Orwell, Nabokov and Kafka, which does seem a very broad comparison but suggests that there’s a bit of a genius at work.

The Guncle- Stephen Rowley (GP Putnam’s)

I’ve got a bit confused by this book as to its availability over the year.  I just wasn’t seeing it around like I had expected to. It looks like it was published in the UK in April but I’m sure I knew about it long before then.  I’m assuming that this was because it was a big American title which gained a lot of attention in the US in 2021, reaching the shortlist in the reader chosen Goodreads awards but took a while to appear over here.  I think when I was looking for it only a US edition was available. It’s a feel-good, funny novel and we can all do with some of those this winter about a once-famous gay sitcom star having to take over the care of his niece and nephew (hence the title).  Author Timothy Schaffert describes it as “Delightful, sharp, and very funny.  The Guncle is the cocktail equivalent of the fourth sip of your martini while you sit poolside at sunset.”  We might have to swap that for a cup of tea and sitting with a blanket over your knees deciding whether to put the heating on but I think you’ll get his point!

Portable Magic – Emma Smith (Penguin)

Subtitled “A History Of Books and their Readers” from the critical appreciation being heaped on this non-fiction work it looks like Emma Smith has done what she set out to do.  Colin Burrow in The Guardian described it as “Thought-provoking …fizzing with jokes…Smith does it all with such a light touch you barely notice how much you’re learning.”  Lynne Truss says “Emma Smith’s terrifically knowledgeable and thoughtful Portable Magic helps us understand every aspect of what our beloved books stand for.  I for one am very grateful.  What a delight this book is.” Books about books, I’m know I’m probably preaching to the converted if you are reading this but I’m sure you will agree with me that this is worth seeking out.