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February, March, April, And May 2022 Reading Round Up

I got a fair amount of reading done this late winter and spring, all told. Some absolutely excellent books that kept me from other tasks quite regularly.

The Books
Non-Fiction

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John Bevis: An English Library Journal – Bevis sets out to get a library card from every library authority in England, and some from Wales and Northern Ireland where work-related travel permits. An interesting concept with a certain structure – where a repeat of each interaction would have become, well, repetitive, Bevis interweaves the more interesting anecdotes with slices of library history, both specific to the one he’s visiting and in general.

Natasha Miller (ed.) Jamie Blaine: Relentless – Miller’s teenage years were marked by abuse, and when she gains emancipation early, she starts to chart a course that will lead her to a fantastic career in music and wonderful position as founder of a huge events company. Incredibly compelling and inspiring, a true life story to root for.

Fiction

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Amanda Geard: The Midnight House – After a break-up and problems with her career, Ellie moves back home from Dublin to Kerry; one of the secondhand books she receives from her mum’s friend has an old letter in it that seems related to the mystery of the woman who appeared to have died in the lake at the big house. Great story – a good use of narrative, a good use of the concept of predictability (and unpredictability) and clues, and a hugely satisfying epilogue.

Elizabeth Von Arnim: Elizabeth And Her German Garden – A woman spends as much time as possible in the garden she has created (if not often planted herself, given the time period) and recounts various tales of those she is compelled to socialise with (because it’s apparent she won’t socialise if she could help it, it takes time away from the garden). A book that could easily be mistaken for a memoir, this is an okay book, ‘okay’ mainly due to the main character who could stand to be a little kinder, but there isn’t much going on, nor is there any sort of plot. This is one for a fan of Von Arnim.

Frances Burney: Evelina – A young woman enters society, with some good people and some not so, to various effects, suitors, and lessons. Okay, and better than some books of the same time period (Emmeline, with its similarities) but definitely a first novel.

Grace D Li: Portrait Of A Thief – When Will witnesses the theft of Chinese art from the Sackler Museum, he can’t tell the police much, but what he does leave out is that the thieves slipped him a business card. Do Will and his friends want $10 million in return for 5 heists? The art taken during the looting of the Summer Palace is wanted back and unsuspected students may be the answer. A great story questioning the ownership of looted work, Chinese American identity, which is frankly very fun and completely worth suspending a bit of belief for.

Jennifer Saint: Elektra – So as not to ruin the author’s retelling, I will say that this is Saint’s story of the Trojan War and Elektra’s decisions from the perspective of Elektra, Clytemnestra, and Cassandra. Helen features a fair amount too. Very, very, good – Saint has created a compelling tale whilst sticking to the over all concept of the original myths, keeping all the tragedies and so on.

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Melissa Fu: Peach Blossom Spring – When Changsha is hit during the Second Sino-Japanese War, by friend or foe (it’s not known), Meilin takes her son with the family to safety; this will entail fleeing and becoming refugees in a different land, and we follow Meilin, then Renshu, and then, in turn, daughter Lily. A fantastic if often difficult story, written beautifully, epic in nature.

Oliver Goldsmith: The Vicar Of Wakefield – A well-enough-off vicar’s money is lost and he must take his family to a poorer parish and home resulting in mishaps and, before long, rather Dickensian silly situations well before Dickens’ time. I think there’s a reason it did well in its day. There’s also a reason it’s not so well known now.

Susanna Kearsley – The Winter Sea – Author Carrie travels to Scotland for inspiration and research for her latest book, and once at her destination begins to receive memories of sorts from the Jacobite ancestors she wanted to write about, in particular a young woman whose fate Carrie must find out. A character-driven book with a simple plot in two narratives, the reading ‘journey’ is absolutely wonderful and Kearsley’s writing of the narratives well-balanced – both narratives are just as good.

Yvonne Bailey-Smith: The Day I Fell Off My Island – Erna lives with her grandparents and siblings in Jamaica; one day her siblings are taken by their father to England and Erna will follow in due course. This is giving a fair amount of the book away – half is set in Jamaica, half in England – but it’s necessary to give you an idea of what happens; it’s set in the 1960s.

It’s been a time of variety, which may have been the key. There has been much to love, in fact the only book I took a long time to finish, in relative terms at least, was the Goldsmith. There is some hilarity but there’s also so much everything-and-everyone-is-here and coincidence and so on; if we’re talking comedy, I definitely prefer Horace Walpole. In terms of books I was able to savour (because the ones for podcasts had to be read swiftly!) I loved the Kearsley and the Burney; Evelina was my first Burney, and I’ve moved on to Cecilia though I may need to restart it as I’ve left some months in between readings. I enjoyed Evelina a good amount though I dare say at the moment I do prefer the writer Burney inspired, Austen. One of the books, I think it’s Cecilia, threw me with some random antisemitism – at least for a present-day reader it’s random, I expect at the time of publication it would have been one of those known societal things. I’m generally of the mind that we should view offensive phrases and thoughts in their context but I’m struggling with this one as it is literally ‘person + Jewish = bad’. It’s something historical I want to find out more about.

I have already finished two books in June – Sylvia Mercedes’ Daughter Of Shades, a YA fantasy that was recommended by Intisar Khanani on Twitter (I raced through it and am onto book 2) and Chloe Timms’ The Seawomen which I devoured in two days because I couldn’t do anything else – it is an exceptional novel and out on 14th June. So it’ll be Sylvia Mercedes going forward this month and hopefully another podcast read or two.

What have you been reading?

 
On ‘My Darling from the Lions’, The Title Of Rachel Long’s Poetry Collection

A photograph of Rachel Long's My Darling from the Lions laying on a lawn

I wanted to take a brief moment to appreciate the title of Rachel Long’s collection – her first – that has been on at least five award shortlists1.

When I first saw it, when I got the book, I thought it was… different. Unusual. I had no context in which to critique or consider it. I realise now, having started the book properly and reading it slowly, that I had accidentally ‘seen’, as such, a comma: ‘My Darling, from the Lions’. For whatever reason at the time of acquisition, probably due to the length and uniqueness of the title – a new thing for me where poetry is concerned – and also that fact it was my first encounter with the book in any form, I had read it more like the opening of a letter.

As a letter it makes strange, fantastical sense. It may also work in context, nay, it essentially does give the same basic idea as the ‘true’ one, but it’s less easy to decifer.

In its true form then, without the addition of my rogue comma, we have five words in a single sentence clause. The ‘Darling’ is a part of the group of Lions. The stylisation, though it may fit with normal English language styling anyway, helps us focus on the subjects My, Darling, Lions. And even without the ‘from the’, the title still suggests a similar idea, just that it’s more in the form of a group, ‘My Darling Lions’.

(On a related note, the ‘design’ of the title, in terms of where and how it’s printed on the cover, itself suggests this. It’s only the title page that puts it all on one line.)

To roll back from my pedantry and look at the text itself, the first few poems, which I’ll focus on because the first poems in a collection tend to subtly explain the title and are the ones that tend to stay with me – is that something everyone feels, a sort of ever-so-slight fatigue for close reading once you get past the first few poems in a collection? – the poems of the first section, which is called ‘Open’, suggests different interpretations. (Obviously?)

The section is ‘Open’, then the first poem, a single verse, is called ‘Open’. This is followed by ‘Hotel Art, Barcelona’, and ‘Night Vigil’.

‘Open’ suggests lions by its ‘I sleep with my mouth open’2. Not easy to miss, though the implication, if we see a narrator and see them as Long herself, is that Long is the Lion.

The other two poems say otherwise. ‘Hotel Art, Barcelona’ suggests that the lion is the romantic partner in the situation3, and ‘Night Vigil’ points to the Lion being a priest who shouldn’t be around children – two very different circumstances, but regardless accounting for the plural of Lions. (I’ll note that the idea of ‘MY darling’ works in the context of other poems, too, a darling straight from Long herself.)

I’m sure there is much that could be said about ‘from’, the possibility of possession or travel, the past, changes, but I’ll leave my pedantry to the subject words. I’m really rather into poetry now, having not really ‘got’ it for most of my life – modern poetry has helped a lot – and it continues to thrill me. But Rachel Long’s collection is the first time that thrill has been immediate and before I’ve even opened the book.

Please do share any literary pedantry or close reading you’ve done recently!

Notes

1 The Rathbones Folio Prize, the Costa Poetry Award, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Jhalak Prize, and the Young Writer of the Year Award.
2 Interestingly, understandably, after three uses of the word ‘open’ so far, that one instance is enough for the verse. It’s repeated twice more for the next two instances of an ‘Open’ verse, after which we see changes for the last two.
3 This is an incredibly surface-level comment on the poem, which in fact has a ton of layers and has bowled me over.

 
January 2022 Reading Round Up (And Accounting For August To December 2021)

January saw me read four books, which is better than I could have hoped. They were all for podcasts which wasn’t what I’d planned but what needed to happen; February has been more varied in terms of purpose. I have also accidentally ‘cheated’ my system: I read only the very last chapter of The Reading List in January rather than any substantial amount, so technically it was also/really a December read. It was an enjoyable reading month.

All books are works of fiction.

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Imogen Clark: Impossible To Forget – After Angie’s death, four of her closest friends are brought together to find out her written request that they each pitch in to help her daughter as she becomes a young adult; it’s an odd idea, but they agree to do it, it’s just no one really knows why Hope, a younger friend, is there with them. An easy read of the best sort – quick, short chapters, with a story and characters that keep you reading and wanting it to continue.

Kaia Alderson: Sisters In Arms – Americans Eliza and Grace sign up to the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps during WW2; as black women it will be a difficult road to travel but together with their unit they show how important they are and achieve results no other units had been able to. Based on the real life all-black women 6888th postal battalion, this is a compelling story of triumph in the face of many adversities.

Kate Quinn: The Rose Code – A socialite (whose boyfriend is Prince Philip), a shop girl, and a young woman abused by her parents end up sharing their lives when they join the teams at Bletchley Park to help decode the messages from the Enigma machine. A part factual, part fictional, tale about the code-breaking efforts as well as the war lives of three different women and the Park in general.

Sara Nisha Adams: The Reading List – When Naina dies, Mukesh finds her library copy of The Time Traveller’s Wife, reads it, and starts to wonder if he can improve his relationship with his bookish granddaughter through his new interest in books; meanwhile Aleisha, who Mukesh meets at the library, is struggling at home with a brother who is often out and a mother with a mental illness; the two form an unlikely friendship through the discovery and usage of a reading list no one knows the author of. Perfect book about books, this story uses as its structure the list of books, moving the plot forward as characters and reader alike continue through it.

As said, this was an enjoyable month for books. Alderson’s story introduced me to a slice of history I was unaware of and led to me finding out about the employment of black people in the British army in the same years as well as the general differences (and similarities) between attitudes. I can recommend doing this if you don’t know about it already – both the American and British histories are compelling. (And might, maybe, nowadays be included in school WW2 lessons?…) Quinn’s book taught me more details and introduced the fact that the Queen’s husband had been in a serious relationship prior to their own which led to the palace inviting the former girlfriend, Osla Benning, to meet the later Queen for tea. Quinn changed the timeline a bit but regardless it’s a bonkers and fascinating story to read about. Clark’s book was just pure delight; a great page turner whose author is very aware of what the reader is wondering (and delivers). And Adams’ story is simply the perfect book about books, with libraries, wonderful characters, different ages and cultures brought together… just wonderful.

I’ve been thinking of how to include August to December round ups for last year having not done so at the time. It makes most sense to keep it short as I did account for the books themselves fully in my year round up and there is little point at this stage belaboring things. So here they are:

August: Claire North’s Notes From The Burning Age; Tyler Keevil’s Your Still Beating Heart
September: Hazel Gaynor’s The Bird In The Bamboo Cage; Jennifer Robson’s Our Darkest Night; Rosie Travers’ The Theatre Of Dreams; Wendy Holden’s The Duchess
October: Rebecca F John’s The Haunting Of Henry Twist; Samantha Sotto’s The Beginning Of Always
November: Janie Chang’s The Library Of Legends; Noelle Adams’ Married For Christmas; Patrick Gale’s Take Nothing With You
December: Edward Carey’s B: A Year In Plagues And Pencils

My current reads are mostly classics/older books, and I’m loving it. More on that in the February round up!

 
The 2021 Young Writer Of The Year Award Shortlist

A photograph of the five books in a pile

I’m incredibly happy to be posting this – the winner of the Young Writer of the Year Award (now in its 30th anniversary year) will be announced this Thursday, 24th of February at the London Library. Happy because when I checked late last year at the usual time and noted there was nothing on the website about the 2021 award, I wondered if it had been paused; I’m delighted that it has not been, and happy to hear that the dates have simply been changed. It is one of the best awards out there and the winners are always well-deserved.

This year there are five writers on the shortlist, the same number as last year (previously it has been four). There are three novels, one non-fiction, and one poetry collection. The shortlist is diverse and four of the writers are women. In alphabetical order by surname we have:

A photograph of Anna Beecher A photograph of Cal Flyn A photograph of Rachel Long A photograph of Caleb Azumah Nelson A photograph of Megan Nolan

Anna Beecher for her novel, Here Comes The Miracle:

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It begins with a miracle: a baby born too small and too early, but defiantly alive. This is Joe.

Decades before, another miracle. In a patch of nettle-infested wilderness, a seventeen year old boy falls in love with his best friend, Jack. This is Edward.

Joe gains a sister, Emily. From the outset, her life is framed by his. She watches him grow into a young man who plays the violin magnificently and longs for a boyfriend. A young man who is ready to begin.

Edward, after being separated from Jack, builds a life with Eleanor. They start a family and he finds himself a grandfather to Joe and Emily.

When Joe is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Emily and the rest of the family are left waiting for a miracle. A miracle that won’t come.

Here Comes the Miracle is a profoundly beautiful story about love and loss; and about the beautiful and violent randomness of life.

Cal Flyn for her work of non-fiction, Islands Of Abandonment:

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This is a book about abandoned places: ghost towns and exclusion zones, no man’s lands and fortress islands – and what happens when nature is allowed to reclaim its place.

In Chernobyl, following the nuclear disaster, only a handful of people returned to their dangerously irradiated homes. On an uninhabited Scottish island, feral cattle live entirely wild. In Detroit, once America’s fourth-largest city, entire streets of houses are falling in on themselves, looters slipping through otherwise silent neighbourhoods.

This book explores the extraordinary places where humans no longer live – or survive in tiny, precarious numbers – to give us a possible glimpse of what happens when mankind’s impact on nature is forced to stop. From Tanzanian mountains to the volcanic Caribbean, the forbidden areas of France to the mining regions of Scotland, Flyn brings together some of the most desolate, eerie, ravaged and polluted areas in the world – and shows how, against all odds, they offer our best opportunities for environmental recovery.

By turns haunted and hopeful, this luminously written world study is pinned together with profound insight and new ecological discoveries that together map an answer to the big questions: what happens after we’re gone, and how far can our damage to nature be undone?

Rachel Long for her poetry collection, My Darling From The Lions:

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Rachel Long’s much-anticipated debut collection of poems, My Darling from the Lions, announces the arrival of a thrilling new presence in poetry.

Each poem has a vivid story to tell – of family quirks, the perils of dating, the grip of religion or sexual awakening – stories that are, by turn, emotionally insightful, politically conscious, wise, funny and outrageous.

Long reveals herself as a razor-sharp and original voice on the issues of sexual politics and cultural inheritance that polarize our current moment. But it’s her refreshing commitment to the power of the individual poem that will leave the reader turning each page in eager anticipation: here is an immediate, wide-awake poetry that entertains royally, without sacrificing a note of its urgency or remarkable skill.

Caleb Azumah Nelson for his novel, Open Water:

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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.

Megan Nolan for her novel, Acts Of Desperation:

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Discover this bitingly honest, darkly funny debut novel about a toxic relationship and secret female desire, from an emerging star of Irish literature.

She’s twenty-three and in love with love. He’s older, and the most beautiful man she’s ever seen. The affair is quickly consuming.

But this relationship is unpredictable, and behind his perfect looks is a mean streak. She’s intent on winning him over, but neither is living up to the other’s ideals. He keeps emailing his thin, glamorous ex, and she’s starting to give in to secret, shameful cravings of her own. The search for a fix is frantic, and taking a dangerous turn…

The judges, alongside The Sunday Times Literary Editor, Andrew Holgate, are Sarah Moss, Andrew O’Hagan, Tahmima Anam, Gonzalo C Garcia, and Claire Lowdon.

This year, Waterstones is involved. The bookstore has been celebrating the shortlist (and will be celebrating the winner) with special content on its various social media channels.

In past years I’ve had suspicions of who might win based on reading the work and being more involved; I have no idea this time, but poetry does very well in this award so if Rachel Long’s work is anything like the standard of Sarah Howe, Jay Bernard, and Raymond Antrobus (and it’s likely to be so), I’d say there’s a good chance she will win.

Regardless of who wins, it’s exciting and yes, I do plan to review at least a couple of these!

 
2021 Year Of Reading Round Up

Well, the past year was absolutely bonkers for reasons we all know and various other reasons that are more personal (and I think we’ve all had enough of those, too). I did finish the year on a positive note – we’ve worked out why my rabbit has been chronically ill and are working towards a proper fix. Hopefully. Crossing fingers. I also ended the year an example of the new definition of fully vaccinated; it’s a statistic I’m happy to be a number in.

I’m not sure I noted every book I read this year – I almost missed one when writing this post that was a glaring omission (a very recent read and podcast recording) so it’s very possible I’ve missed others further back in the year. Given everything, and my incredibly low 36 books (though I did finish a book on the 1st of January and am reading Evelina every day), I’m doing things differently today. I didn’t give many of the below their due, skipping lots of round ups and writing few reviews (I may rectify one or both of those soon – what do you think, is it too ‘late’?). There were lots of re-reads and I read mostly for the podcast. I’ve not been keeping up with new releases. Hopefully this new year, that will change.

No best of this year and no personal favourites. Every book on this list helped me in one way or another.

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Catherine Cho: Inferno – A short while after giving birth to her first child, Cho was sent to an involuntary psych ward in the US (she was visiting from the UK) having experienced Post Partum Psychosis; she details the experience, interwoven with the events to the run up. Stunning book; Cho’s story needs reading widely and her handling of the literature side of things is phenomenal.

Christina Courtenay: The Runes Of Destiny – A young woman finds a Viking brooch on a dig site and is transported hundreds of years in the past where she is taken captive; struggling first to believe what’s happened, she must get used to her new life and not be distracted by the leader of the expedition abroad. A good, fun, follow up to Echoes Of The Runes that expands on the general idea and improves on it by leaps and bounds.

Claire North: Notes From The Burning Age – On a post-apocalyptic earth, a man is hired as an agent for the factor on one side of the sociopolitical environmental debate, and works as a double agent for the other side, as arguments about government, further climate change, and the value of the old world (us) continue to rage. A unique style of conversation about our current world in the context of the environment and how we might be viewed in the future, one full of poignant moments and pauses for thought.

Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly In Amber – Back in her own time, and twenty years on from when she spent two years in the Scottish Highlands of the 1700s, Claire Fraser Randall has returned to Scotland to try and find out what happened to Jaime during the Battle of Culloden. She’s brought her daughter, Brianna, who is yet to discover that her father was a man who lived 200 years previously; now Frank has died, Claire is about to change that. Where the first book was pretty much pure fantasy, the second offering builds on the history to deliver something very detailed and historical and, badly-placed sex scenes aside (why tell your daughter all that?), it’s a great piece of escapism. One can only hope that the person who, in the TV series, is told the truth about Claire, also learns it in the book series, too, at some point.

Edward Carey: B: A Year In Plagues And Pencils – As the world started locking down, Carey made an impulsive promise to draw a sketch every day and post it to social media. He did just that for 500 days; this book chronicles 365 of those days: elections, police brutality, climate change, animals running wide, and many artists who created in some form of isolation. A lovely mix of drawings and textual context, stories that will not be easily forgotten.

Elizabeth Baines: Used To Be – A short story collection with the theme of different roads in life. Very, very good.

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Gill Paul: The Second Marriage – First Lady of the United States Jackie Kennedy, and opera singer Maria Callas were connected – both had relationships with the shipping magnate Ari Onassis. Paul looks at the lives, loves, and marriages of both women, the connections between them, and the way context and social values affected them. Called Jackie And Maria in the US, this is a strong, bold, work of fiction that offers possible answers and a well-written story of two famous women.

Hazel Gaynor: The Bird In The Bamboo Cage – The pupils and teachers of a school for western missionary children in China is taken over during the Japanese occupation and life suddenly changes from one of happiness and learning to poverty and danger. Full of information about a part of the War not often considered.

Janie Chang: The Library Of Legends – When the Japanese invade China, the government decrees universities pack up and journey to somewhere safer; we follow a group of teachers and students on the road, in particular Lian and wealthy Shen, whose mysterious servant seems to know more than she lets on, as well as a few politically-minded students, as they travel on foot to the other side of China, taking with them a great literary treasure. A wonderful tale of survival with elements of folklore and a heck of a lot of history rarely discussed in the west.

Jennifer Robson: Our Darkest Night – As the Nazis start to round up Italian Jews, Nina’s father sends her away to the countryside with a friend of a friend. Nico is a Catholic, and Nina is yet to find out is that he’s secretly been helping more people, too. As she starts to get used to the hard work on the farm, an old ‘friend’ comes calling, a Nazi classmate of Nico, and his obsession with being better than Nico changes the relative peace in the family and community at large. A stunning book – from its fairly quiet beginnings it transitions into a harrowing but fantastically-written and important first person narrative of the journey of Jewish people and the splitting of work camp and death.

Kate Forsyth: Bitter Greens – A fictional story of the woman who wrote the popular version of Rapunzel, and how she discovered the tale (it includes a retelling of its own). It made my ‘best of’ list the year I first read it, and it would make my best of list this year if I didn’t have a rule of no repeats.

Kate Forsyth: The Wild Girl – The fictionalised tale of Dortchen Wild who fell in love with one of the Grimm brothers and helped them in their task of collecting fairy tales. Very good, hard to put down.

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Katy Yocom: Three Ways To Disappear – Quinn and Sarah lost their sibling, Sarah’s twin, in childhood; now adults, Quinn tries to get back into her art whilst being a mother to her own set of twins, one with a chronic illness, and Sarah leaves her job as a reporter in dangerous locations to work in tiger conservation in India. Much better than my brief summary can do, this is a super book that explores trauma, conservation, and in the conservation all of the social affects conservation has on humans.

Kimberly Derting: The Body Finder – A girl who can sense the bodies of murdered people aids the discovery of the killer. Very good young adult fiction.

Kimberly Derting: Desires Of The Dead – Violet steps up her act by working with the FBI. It may not be as creepy as expected but it’s a worthy continuation of the series that begun with The Body Finder.

Kimberly Derting: The Last Echo – Violet and her team take on a man who kidnaps girls to be his girlfriend, and this time it’s more personal than ever before. The best book of the series so far.

Kimberly Derting: Dead Silence – Violet now has her own echo playing in her head, and her next assignment involves a young group of people. Still holding onto that strength.

Lillian Li: Number One Chinese Restaurant – Jimmy Han wants to make something of himself, away from his father’s restaurant but things start to go a bit amiss; this all kicks off after Jimmy’s conversion with family friend Uncle Pang, and as Jimmy tries to work around the issues and becomes close to employee/consultant Janine, the cracks in the lives of those who work at the restaurant start to show, and they’ll need work to overcome. A difficult book to summarise without revealing too much, this is a book that studies immigrant parent-child relationships and other familial relationships in the against the backdrop of a busy restaurant.

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Liz Fenwick: The Path To The Sea – The impending death of Joan causes her daughter Diana to wonder what exactly happened to her father, who died when she was young; it causes granddaughter Lottie, whilst happy to return to the home she spent her summers at, to look at her current relationship and where she went wrong with her first love; and meanwhile we learn the story of Joan’s days as a spy in the Cold War. Three very good narratives (I personally most enjoyed Joan’s) that will appeal to many give its scope, use of time, and the different characters.

Louise Douglas: The House By The Sea – When Edie’s ex-mother-in-law dies and leaves the house in Sicily to her and her ex-husband, Anna’s son Joe, Edie is forced to go to inspect it with Joe despite the hatred she feels for the woman – Anna was babysitting young Daniel the day he died. A great book about forgiveness and redemption with a heroine as well written as any of Douglas’ previous.

Louise Douglas: The Scarlet Dress – Alice disappeared at the caravan park when Marnie was a young child and Will a young man rather in love with the holidaymaker. Years later, the park is being dismantled for redevelopment but hits a problem when a body is found in ground beneath a structure. Marnie has to remember the past, Will has to work with what’s gone on (it had a massive impact on him, leading to career as a thriller writer) and the mystery of what happened to Alice must be solved by everyone remaining whose lives were linked with the park. A good, fast-moving, mystery revolving around a close-knit group.

Nicola Cornick: The Forgotten Sister – Dudley’s wife, Amy, has died, and, seen by the media as his likely lover, popstar and presenter, Lizzie, finds herself caught up in a suspected murder case; whilst this is happening, we read about Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley, Elizabeth I’s favourite, who was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs. A thrilling, compelling, tale with time-slip elements and an intriguing, well-thought-out way of offering a solution to the historical mystery. The book will be published late April.

Nicola Cornick: The Last Daughter – When Caitlin’s body is found in a long-sealed coffin, Serena is forced to confront the past that has alluded her for so long to try and work out how her modern-day twin came to be buried in the 1800s. In a second narrative Anne Neville, wife of a close friend of Richard III’s recounts the story of her earlier years and the strange story told to her by a mystical woman about a familial lodestone with a powerful magic. As strong as Cornick’s previous time slips, this looks at a possible answer to the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.

Noelle Adams: Married For Christmas – Jessica proposes a marriage of convenience between her and her friend so that she can have a family and he can become pastor to their childhood church. Re-read, happy and easy-going Christmas-time book very much appreciated.

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Patrick Gale: Take Nothing With You – Eustace undergoes cancer treatment in an isolated facility in hospital and takes with him a disposable music player with his friend’s cello music on it to help him pass the time. As he listens he looks back on his life – his childhood love of the cello, his progression in understanding his sexuality and his parents’ relationship, and what happened to change the academic trajectory he was on. Fantastic book – full of heart and music.

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Ella becomes the long-awaited 10th member of a society that involves the country’s greatest writers – but are they the greatest writers, really? A very good look at ideas and writing in general.

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: Secret Passages In A Hillside Town – Mundane, boring, Ollie, who lives in his own world and doesn’t even seem to know or care what his son’s name is, has a blast from the past when a past lover adds him as a friend on Facebook and Ollie starts to be imbroiled in a present-day version of his fantastical childhood. Fantastic, strange, out and out weird – I still haven’t worked it all out but there’s no question; it’s amazing.

Rachel Hore: A Beautiful Spy – When Minnie is approached by a family acquaintance about potential work and later contacted by MI5, she finds herself a spy, spying on British sympathisers of communist Russia and living two lives that cannot be blended together. Based on a real life spy, this is an interesting work that focuses more on the person than the work, showing the reality of life as well as bringing to the fore a woman who could never be noticed.

Rebecca F John: The Haunting Of Henry Twist – 1920s: When his wife, Ruby, dies in an accident and Henry finds himself a new single father, he starts to notice a man hanging around his flat and comes to believe that Jack is Ruby. A wonderfully written book about love and hope against the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties and the Bright Young Things.

Rosanna Ley: The Orange Grove – When Holly bakes a cake to celebrate her business news, she knows it’s one her mother has never made, but doesn’t know why. Ella is shocked by the news but agrees to Holly’s proposal, that they go to Seville together to research products and meet vendors for her forthcoming orange-based shop. There’s just that trepidation – Ella visited Seville when she and and husband Felix were younger, but Felix left early to look after his mother, and Ella stayed on. She wasn’t entirely alone. A great book that blends interesting business trip with a past holiday spirit and an excellent look at the extraordinary in the ordinary.

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Rosie Travers: The Theatre Of Dreams – A recently-disgraced actress moves to the coast to manage a dance school… or at least that’s what she thought she was doing – in actual fact she’s there to help save a historical pavilion from demolition. Good stuff.

Samantha Sotto: The Beginning Of Always – At a New Year’s Eve party on a boat, Elise is bothered by a man who says he knows her from somewhere; who he is and whether he’ll go away becomes a moot point when Elise falls into the Seine and drowns… but doesn’t. She later finds the man, Thomas, who says he’s dying but the doctor’s can find nothing. Together they work to find out the reason they are seemingly connected. Meanwhile we hear from old Paris, where the morgue is full of bodies including one, a beautiful drowned woman whose face is cast into a mold. Very good – Sotto has taken the story of Resusi Annie and the Drowned Woman and run with it in her awesome magical way.

Susmita Bhattacharya: Table Manners – A collection of stories about human relationships and connections, linked by the theme of food, whether the food is an item, an idea, or a construct. Awesome.

Tyler Keevil: Your Still Beating Heart – Eira’s husband is killed in a senseless attack on a bus and it leaves her completely numb. She decides to go to Prague and, when a man who she suspects is a criminal attempts to discover if she could be a point of contact for trafficking, she agrees to do it. It’s all good until she finds out what she’s been tasked with, and the numbness is replaced with a will to live. An incredibly well told literary thriller told in the second person to great effect.

Wendy Holden: The Duchess – As she prepares for her husband’s funeral, Wallis Simpson looks back at the journey her life has taken, from regular everyday woman to wife of the abdicated King. Told with more credit given to Simpson than most, this fictional account offers a different look at the woman and the history that is rarely questioned.

The stats this year are all over the place, I read very few books for review, and the oldest book on the list is Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly In Amber (1992 – not old at all). I have very much enjoyed what I read, there were some stellar books and none that I wouldn’t recommend. The list may be short but it’s been good.

Hello again, and Happy New Year! Please do tell me what you’ve been reading recently, do include both new and older books, and tell me how your year is going so far!

 

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