I know we’re already fairly well into January so these wishes are a little on the late side. I decided to take a long break from working and blogging over Christmas. Now that the children are mostly away from home, and both were back for Christmas, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with them with no distractions. We were also away for New Year as New Year’s Eve was my brother-in-law’s sixtieth birthday. We spent a lovely few days in the New Forest, eating, drinking, walking, and feeling a bit old! We had a fabulous time, but now the children are both back at uni, and it’s back to work!
I’ll start 2023 by looking back at 2022 and resharing some of the wonderful books I read. I must admit that my reading was a bit lax in 2022, what with new dogs and decorating and moving children into new flats, but I am determined to be better in 2023 – less Twitter, more Kindle!
So, here are my best books of 2022.
‘The Hemlock Cure’ by Joanne Burn
It is 1665 and the women of Eyam keep many secrets.
Isabel Frith, the village midwife, walks a dangerous line with her herbs and remedies. There are men in the village who speak of witchcraft, and Isabel has a past to hide. So she tells nobody her fears about Wulfric, the pious, reclusive apothecary.
Mae, Wulfric’s youngest daughter, dreads her father’s rage if he discovers what she keeps from him. Like her feelings for Rafe, Isabel’s ward, or that she studies from Wulfric’s forbidden books at night.
But others have secrets too. Secrets darker than any of them could have imagined.
This is wonderful story-telling, drawing you in, making you believe in the characters and the world in which they live, one of those rare books you can get lost in.
‘Inge’s War’ by Svenja O’Donnell
What does it mean to be on the wrong side of history?
Svenja O’Donnell’s beautiful, aloof grandmother Inge never spoke about the past. All her family knew was that she had grown up in a city that no longer exists on any map: Königsberg in East Prussia, a footnote in history, a place that almost no one has heard of today. But when Svenja impulsively visits this windswept Baltic city, something unlocks in Inge and, finally, she begins to tell her story.
It begins in the secret jazz bars of Hitler’s Berlin. It is a story of passionate first love, betrayal, terror, flight, starvation and violence. As Svenja teases out the threads of her grandmother’s life, retracing her steps all over Europe, she realises that there is suffering here on a scale that she had never dreamt of. And finally, she uncovers a desperately tragic secret that her grandmother has been keeping for sixty years.
Accessible without dumbing down, thoughtful, respectful, and, unsurprisingly given the author’s relationship to Inge, completely genuine and authentic. This is, without doubt, an important book.
‘Here Is the Beehive’ by Sarah Crossan
For three years, Ana has been consumed by an affair with Connor, a client at her law firm. Their love has been consigned to hotel rooms and dark corners of pubs, their relationship kept hidden from the world. So the morning that Ana’s company receives a call to say that Connor is dead, her secret grief has nowhere to go. Desperate for an outlet, Ana seeks out the shadowy figure who has always stood just beyond her reach – Connor’s wife Rebecca…
The narrative is packed full of emotion – love, hate, jealousy, guilt, but it never feels overdone, just realistic, considering the characters and the situation.
‘Open Water’ by Caleb Azumah
Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.
At once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it. With gorgeous, soulful intensity, Caleb Azumah Nelson has written the most essential British debut of recent years.
I can’t fully understand the complex issues that this book raises – I have never had the experiences that are written about here, but this novel, as well as being utterly compelling and a joy to read for the beauty of the writing, goes a long way to show these experiences. It is written in second person – which does really take some getting used to – but it is so worth persevering, because the writing is so good. Not many authors could have done this so successfully, and it is a testament to the author’s talent that this is such a beautiful novel.
‘Last One at the Party’ by Bethany Clift
December 2023. The human race has fought a deadly virus and lost. The only things left from the world before are burning cities and rotting corpses.
But in London, one woman is still alive.
Although she may be completely unprepared for her new existence, as someone who has spent her life trying to fit in, being alone is surprisingly liberating.
Determined to discover if she really is the last survivor on earth, she sets off on an extraordinary adventure, with only an abandoned golden retriever named Lucky for company.
Maybe she’ll find a better life or maybe she’ll die along the way. But whatever happens, the end of everything will be her new beginning.
That this is a debut is really impressive.
Compelling, funny, sad, honest and skillfully crafted.
‘Mirrorland’ by Carole Johnstone
One twin ran. The other vanished. Neither escaped…
DON’T TRUST ANYONE
Cat’s twin sister El has disappeared. But there’s one thing Cat is sure of: her sister isn’t dead. She would have felt it. She would have known.
DON’T TRUST YOUR MEMORIES
To find her sister, Cat must return to their dark, crumbling childhood home and confront the horrors that wait there. Because it’s all coming back to Cat now: all the things she has buried, all the secrets she’s been running from.
DON’T TRUST THIS STORY…
The closer Cat comes to the truth, the closer to danger she is. Some things are better left in the past…
The most dangerous stories are the ones we tell ourselves…
No. 36 Westeryk Road: an imposing flat-stone house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A place of curving shadows and crumbling grandeur. But it’s what lies under the house that is extraordinary – Mirrorland. A vivid make-believe world that twin sisters Cat and El created as children. A place of escape, but from what?
Now in her thirties, Cat has turned her back on her past. But when she receives news that one sunny morning, El left harbour in her sailboat and never came back, she is forced to return to Westeryk Road; to re-enter a forgotten world of lies, betrayal and danger.
Because El had a plan. She’s left behind a treasure hunt that will unearth long-buried secrets. And to discover the truth, Cat must first confront the reality of her childhood – a childhood that wasn’t nearly as idyllic as she remembers…
As the past is slowly revealed, the tension really grows, and the reader is pulled along by the narrative, as almost every page seems to reveal another piece of the puzzle. It’s expertly done, absolutely gripping.
A very impressive debut. Very much looking forward to her next book.
‘Ash Tuesday’ by Ariadne Blayde
In New Orleans, the dead talk and the living listen.
Giving ghost tours on the decaying streets of the French Quarter isn’t exactly a high-profile career, but the guides at Spirits of Yore Haunted Tours are too strange and troubled to do anything else. They call themselves Quarter Rats, a group of outcasts and dreamers and goths who gather in hole-in-the-wall bars to bicker, spin yarns, and search for belonging in the wee hours of the night after the tourists have staggered home.
Through the ghost stories they tell, their own haunted lives come into focus. Like the city they call home, these tour guides are messy with contradiction: they suffer joyfully, live morbidly, and sin to find salvation.
Weaving together real New Orleans folklore with the lives of eleven unforgettably vibrant characters, Ash Tuesday is a love letter to America’s last true bohemia and the people, both dead and living, who keep its heart beating. With her debut, Blayde has carved out a deep and uber-readable interpretation of what it means to live, love, and grieve in New Orleans.
“There’s something about New Orleans. Maybe you can trace it to Latin America or the Caribbean or maybe not, maybe you can’t define it at all. The divine? The diabolical? I don’t know what to call it. But there’s magic, here.”
This is a book that will appeal not just to those who enjoy a good ghost story (although there are plenty of those), or those who are interested in history or in New Orleans. Because this is a novel that is fundamentally about people, their faults and their flaws, their mistakes and their victories, their love (and sometimes their hatred) for each other, and the ways in which we can let the past, and the people in the past, break us, or we can find our own ways forward, with people who love us for who we are.
A wonderful book.
I hope that you’ll be tempted to read a few of these – they really are all highly recommended.
A very happy and healthy 2023 to all my book blogging friends, readers, followers, to all the lovely authors who have been kind enough to share their books with me, and, of course, to all my fabulous clients who really make going back to work in a cold, wet and dark January an absolute pleasure!