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!

The Familiars – Stacey Halls (Zaffre 2019)

familiars
This is a good quality debut historical novel rich in detail and with a good air of authenticity. Set in 1612 around what is now Lancashire and Cumbria this takes the case of the Pendle witches as its inspiration. Using the names of real life residents of Gawthorpe Hall and those accused of witchcraft at the Lancaster Assizes the author effectively conveys the paranoia and suspicion towards those who associated themselves with traditional remedies, paranoia which led to the accused naming names of others they believed were following witchcraft.

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is in her teens and has been married for a number of years already to Richard, Master of Gawthorpe Hall. She has endured miscarriages and while desperate to give her husband an heir is well aware of the precariousness of childbirth and fears for her own life. She encounters Alice whilst on a walk in their wood and Alice’s keen understanding of the properties of herbs leads Fleetwood to appoint her as her midwife. Meanwhile a local landowner has been accusing women of crimes associated with witchcraft, possibly in an attempt to curry favour with King James I, who is encouraging a national purge against “Daemonologie”. Is Alice a witch? Does she associate with those who follow witchcraft, who reputedly have animal familiars, and will she even be around by the time Fleetwood is due to give birth?

Narrated in first-person by the Mistress of Gawthorpe so we know that she survives her childbirth ordeal but nothing else is assured as suspicion, injustice and prejudice begins to sweep the locality. Stacey Halls gets this over very well, making you care for the main character and weaves a convincing tale. I will certainly be looking out for her next novel “The Foundling” due in February 2020.

fourstars

The Familiars was published in 2019. I read the Zaffre paperback.