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.

Top 10 Books Of The Year 2022 – Part Two – The Top 5

Here are my five favourite books that I read in 2022:

5. Once Upon A River – Diane Setterfield (Black Swan 2018)

(Read and reviewed in October)

This is the third novel from a British author I had not read before and what story-telling!  I found this tale of a drowned girl who comes back to life in the 1880s and its setting of a stretch of the Thames between Cricklade and Oxford absolutely captivating.  I said; “It is beautifully rich, imaginative, involving and operates on the thin line between myth and dark reality.  I was spellbound by this book.”  Looking forward to reading more by this author in 2023.

4. The Appeal – Janice Hallett (Viper Books 2021)

(Read and reviewed in January)

I knew I had missed out on something good when I put this book in my “What I Should Have Read in 2021” post.  I had felt it calling me from a table of new titles at Waterstones.  I liked the look of this book, even though it’s not the kind of book I read regularly.  At that time I decided not to merely judge it by its cover but when I saw it in the library in January this year I snapped it up.  It’s clever, funny, and so well structured.  In my review I said “If we are considering this debut in the “Cosy Crime” genre then this is the best “Cosy Crime” book I have ever read.” Her follow-up “The Twyford Code” appeared this year and was good but did not blow me away like this did.  Her new novel “The Mysterious Case Of The Alperton Angels” is out in January.

3. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens (1861)

(Read and reviewed in December)

A re-read but I had left it probably over 40 years.  The plot of this novel feels like it has been with me for the whole of my life, both from the book and film adaptations (apart from the ending which I always have trouble remembering).  In sections this is the best book I have ever read in my life but then there are sections that fall flat making it an uneven gem, but it is still a gem.  Perhaps it is a casualty of the way in which Dickens’ novels first appeared with a certain amount of padding mid-way through to keep the issues coming.  I feel that it should be Dickens’ best work- but it isn’t, but it is up there amongst his very best.  Pip, Miss Havisham, Estella, Joe, Magwitch – what characters!

2. Let’s Do It – Bob Stanley (Faber 2022)

(Read and reviewed in August)

Two books with the same title in my Top 10.  What are the chances?  Luckily, both have subtitles and this one explores “The Birth Of Pop” and it is my non-fiction pick for this year (I think I have to go back to 2010 and Vince Aletti’s “The Disco Files” to find a non-fiction work I have enjoyed as much).  This is a real labour of love and involved so much research for music journalist, founding member of Saint Etienne and DJ Bob Stanley.  Thousands of books have been published about the music industry post-Beatles (the author published a very thorough, critically acclaimed one “Yeah Yeah Yeah” himself about decade earlier – which I am currently reading) but this charts the development of popular music from its very origins to the point where Beatlemania came in.  Pop music is seen as transient and temporary but these developments inform everything that has come afterwards and so is a very important, totally fascinating history.  Beginning with Ragtime and Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” the first million selling sheet music from 1899 he explores the major musical shifts and the major players with insight, humour and with love.  This book had me seeking out all sorts of artists on Spotify.  I felt Bob really knew what he was writing about and was able to convey his views so well and this for me was a real treat.  The Telegraph had this book at number 8 in their Books Of The Year list.

1. Young Mungo – Douglas Stuart (Picador 2022)

(Read and reviewed in April)

Well, this is unprecedented. I’ve never given my Book Of The Year to the same author before and here is Scottish writer Douglas Stuart doing it two years in a row with his first two novels.  “Shuggie Bain” – a Booker Prizewinner (and this would be a serious contender for best ever  Booker winner ever in my view) blew away all the competition for me last year and I do believe that “Young Mungo” is even better. It’s the best book I have read for 5 years.  It wasn’t Booker shortlisted and it didn’t get as much critical approval because some saw it as more of the same, but I really don’t understand that this is a criticism.  Some did get it- It is appearing in a healthy selection of Books Of The Year list – The Telegraph had it at number 34.  Emily Temple at Literary Hub produces an Ultimate Best Books list which counts the number of times books make the end of year lists in American publications and this makes it onto six lists, which earns it an Ultimate nod (the highest 14 was achieved by two novels Hernan Diaz’s “Trust” and Gabrielle Zevin’s ubiquitous “Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow”).  I said “I never thought I’d feel more sympathy towards a character than Shuggie, but Mungo, with his facial tics, unsuitable attire and devotion to a mother whose actions are consistently poorly-judged tops it.” I also felt “I did finish this feeling emotionally purged finding moments that I did not really want to read on from but ultimately being totally unable to take my eyes off the book.”  That for me represents an ultimate reading experience. Congratulations to Picador for publishing my ultimate favourite two years in a row. Over at Bookshop.org you can find Douglas Stuart’s list of the books which inspired him during the writing of this novel

So, Douglas Stuart makes it onto my Hall of Fame for the second time.  Just for some context here are my other top titles going back to 2008

2022- Young Mungo – Douglas Stuart (2022) (UK)

2021- Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart (2020) (UK)

2020 – The Great Believers – Rebecca Makkai (2018) (USA)

2019 – Swan Song – Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (2018) (USA)

2018- The Count Of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (1845) (France)

2017 – The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne (2017) (Ireland)

2016- Joe Speedboat – Tommy Wieringa (2016) (Netherlands)

2015- Alone In Berlin- Hans Fallada (2009 translation of a 1947 novel) (Germany)

2014- The Wanderers – Richard Price (1974) (USA)

2013- The Secrets Of The Chess Machine – Robert Lohr (2007) (Germany)

2012 – The Book Of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric (2010) (UK)

2011 – The Help- Kathryn Stockett (2009) (USA)

2010- The Disco Files 1973-78 – Vince Aletti (1998) (USA)

2009- Tokyo – Mo Hayder (2004) (UK)

2008- The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (2007) (Australia)

Special mentions for the five 5* reads which did not make it into the Top 10. In any other year these would have been assured Top 10 places: The Manningtree Witches – A K Blakemore (2021); The Governor’s Lady – Norman Collins (1968) – narrowly missing out on a 3rd successive Top 10 title; Rainbow Milk – Paul Mendez (2020); Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker (1939); Fire Island – Jack Parlett (2022)

Here’s to some great reading in 2023.

If you missed out on the other books on my Top 10 you can read about them here.

Books I Should Have Read In 2021

It’s time for the annual namecheck for 10 books which I didn’t get round to reading in 2021 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.  If a title makes this list it stands a fair chance of being read in the following year.  Since publishing What I Should Have Read in 2020 I’ve got round to reading 60% and do have the other 4 on my bookshelves ready to be discovered, hopefully, in 2022.  I must admit this list isn’t filling me with quite the same sense of excitement as last year’s did which may be seen as a negative but could also be because I’ve got round to reading more books that I really wanted to read during the year so I’m not having the same sense of having missed out.  Here are the ten titles in alphabetical order of author’s surname.

Will She Do?- Eileen Atkins (Virago)

This has proved to be the celebrity autobiography of the year.  While many celebrities churn out writing having barely lived much life, esteemed actor and Dame of the Realm Eileen Atkins has waited 87 years to produce “Act One Of A Life On The Stage” and what stories she will have to tell!  It has been described as being  “Characterised by an eye for the absurd, a terrific knack for storytelling and an insistence on honesty, Will She Do? is a wonderful raconteur’s tale about family, about class, about youthful ambition and big dreams and what really goes on behind the scenes”. This is what an autobiography should be.  I can’t wait to read it. 

Manningtree Witches – A K Blakemore (Granta)


A novel from a poet, this has appeared on a lot of best of the year lists and the subject of seventeenth century witch trials certainly appeals to me.  This book won the Desmond Elliott Prize for the best debut novel and I’m quite fascinated that it is being highlighted as a real sensory experience.  The trial follows closely the original transcripts which feels for me reminiscent of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s really impressive “His Bloody Project” which was gritty and combined history and fiction in this way infusing his account with poetic vibrant language. I may be barking up the wrong tree and A K Blakemore’s novel might not resemble this at all. A quick look at Amazon reviews suggests some readers have not really got it which might make it a bit of a Marmite novel.  I will have to read it to find out.  

The Heron’s Cry – Ann Cleeves (Macmillan)

I read and really enjoyed “The Long Call” this year, which was my introduction to Ann Cleeves’ writing and the first of her new Two Rivers series to go alongside her “Vera” and “Shetland” works.  The TV adaptation also had its plus points but did seem to deviate a little unnecessarily away from the feel of the book.  I’m kicking myself because after months of this being in high demand in the libraries where I work there was a copy sitting on the shelf,  I dithered because I have quite a bit lined up to read at the moment and he who hesitates truly does miss the boat (I’m strangling proverbs here to delay the inevitable) as when I went back for it the book was no longer there.  I think it might very well have been the perfect read for the gap between Christmas and the New Year but I won’t know!  I will seek it out in 2022.

Last Call – Elon Green (Celadon)

A True Crime title which I am really interested in reading.  It passed me by totally when it was published in March this year.  I saw a recommendation on an American site and thought it was only available over there but a quick look at Amazon shows it’s available in the UK from Celadon Books.  Subtitled A True Story Of Love, Lust And Murder In Queer New York this is another book with a great critical buzz including from Good Housekeeping Magazine who gave it a Best True Crime Of All Time nod.  It’s an examination of an elusive  serial killer in the 1990’s who targeted gay men.   It is a reclaiming of the victims, hopefully in much the same way as Halle Rubenhold reclaimed the victims of Jack The Ripper in “The Five“.  Looking at this book again I don’t know whether to just go ahead and buy it now or wait until the paperback is published at the end of May 2022.  It may feel like a long wait!

The Appeal – Janice Hallett (Viper)

Quite a bit of “the appeal” of this book is in the cover which called to me on a table of recently published titles in Waterstones earlier this year and that must have been the case for a lot of people as this debut clambered up the best-seller lists and ended 2021 as the Sunday Times Crime Book Of The Year.  We all need a bit of cosy crime and this is what I feel this book offers. It has the look and feel of a bit of classic sleuthing but with uses modern technology to unfold the narrative (through e-mails, text messages, even post-it notes) which offers a fresh twist.  It’s been called Agatha Christie for the 21st Century and I’ve certainly read a good share of the original this year with the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge and am looking forward to discovering this classic/modern combination. 

The Corfe Castle Murders- Rachel McLean (Ackroyd Publishing)


This feels a little of an odd choice for me, the start of a series of which the first four books seemed to have appeared already this year, which could be a case of the author churning them out but is more likely because of the difficulties involved in getting work published.  The author believes she is straddling the genres of the thriller and literary fiction giving us a crime series which will make us think.  DCI Lesley Clarke is transferred to rural Dorset, so a great geographical location.  Corfe Castle is such an evocative place to set a novel and is underused in fiction so this will provide a great starting point for the series.  The fact that, hopefully, the whole reviewsrevues shebang is upping sticks and relocating to Dorset in 2022 gives this an added appeal for me.

Mayflies – Andrew O’ Hagan (Faber & Faber)

I’ve read Andrew O’Hagan before and really enjoyed him (his 2004 echoing of the child star Lena Zavaroni in “Personality”) and since then his reputation has grown.  Although classed as fiction there must be enough of O’Hagan here for it to be classified as “autobiographical prose” which led it being awarded this year’s Christopher Isherwood Prize for books of this category.  Set in Scotland of the mid 80’s and present day this focuses on a group of teenage lads who form a strong bond. Its depiction of male friendship, rarer in fiction than you might think, has been applauded and is described as both “joyful” and “heart-breaking” which is not an easy combination to pull off and I am fascinated to see how well Andrew O’Hagan does this.

Final Revival Of Opal & Nev- Dawnie Walton (Quercus)

A book which made it onto Barack Obama’s Books of the Year list and has received fulsome praise from Kiley Reid, Ta-Nehesi Coates and Sara Collins, all whose books I have enjoyed.  I find the idea of music based fiction appealing even if, in reality, it does not always come up with the goods. Here we have a reunion between black punk artist Opal and British singer/songwriter Nev who team up in New York City in the 70’s and consider a 2016 comeback.  Presented as a fictional oral history by a journalist this was described by the NY Times as “A packed time capsule that doubles as a stick of dynamite.” 

 Burning Man – Frances Wilson (Bloomsbury Publishing)


D H Lawrence is an author who seemed to be going increasingly out of fashion and feeling irrelevant to our modern world.  Frances Wilson’s biography seems to be going some way to stop the rot and reclaim Lawrence for the modern reader.  Subtitled “The Ascent Of D H Lawrence” it has appeared on a significant number of Best of the year lists.  Richard Holmes described it as “a brilliantly unconventional biography, passionately researched and written with a wild, playful energy ” which makes it sound like a must.  As a teenager studying for A Levels and in the first year of my degree course I was a little bit obsessed with D H Lawrence whilst finding myself being challenged, frustrated and bored at times by his work. This felt like a new relationship with fiction at the time, that I did not always have to see eye to eye with the author. As an adult I have revisited him only periodically and I have been thinking of reading more of him to see what I think about his often strange arguments and beliefs with the hindsight of life experiences.  I think Wilson’s biography could be an excellent way to get back into his work.

Still Life – Sarah Winman (Fourth Estate)

I already have two unread Sara Winman’s on my shelves, “When God Was A Rabbit” and “Tin Man”, both of which have been recommended to me a number of times but seeing this book as the choice on BBC2’s “Between The Covers” makes me think I should get reading this author pretty sharpish.  The Australian booksellers Dymocks has named it as their book of the year.  A sweeping saga located in Florence and London, Helen Cullen from The Irish Times describes the author as “the great narrator of hope“, we could all benefit from a bit of that after this year!