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2023 Year Of Reading Round Up + Update

For the first time in a long time, there is some stability to my life. It probably goes without saying that my rabbits continued to be ill (this February had 3 emergencies and a complaint raised before we finally got a diagnosis for a second condition). I also unfortunately lost one rabbit at Christmas due to an abscess or tumour (it wasn’t worth the heartache finding out which). It was a very sudden happening and it’s difficult finding time to grieve when you’ve also now suddenly got a single rabbit who needs you a lot more because she’s lost her pal – or brother, in this case. She has, however, found some happiness in the fact that she can now leave food half-finished, knowing she can go back to it later and it’ll still be there (she loved him, but he was a food vacuum) and in the fact that when she asks me for cuddles there’s a high likelihood she’ll get them. He always asked her for cuddles but never gave her cuddles in return and of course, him being another rabbit meant that she asked him more than she asked me. She has become 1) more affectionate, 2) more cheeky than ever. A) I love her to bits, B) her anger when I’m in her way could move mountains.

All this going on as it has with the pandemic and some health-related issues of my own takes its toll on you massively and my life was just a ball of constant stress and I felt the years piling on to me. I can say that rabbits are absolutely incredible in themselves, best pets I’ve ever had. Intelligent, able to learn their names and follow gestures, and just incredibly cute and loving. The species, however, is awful, evolution choosing to make them breed tons rather than fix their health means you’re far too likely to have a sickly rabbit, and that is hell.

Anyway, I knew at the start of it all that something would have to be put aside and at that time it had to be blogging, no matter how much I love it. I *think*, hope, cross my fingers, etcetera, that I might now have more space to start writing again because I really miss it. I love doing the podcast but it’s not the same and I ought to be able to do both!

I’m going to say the same here that I’ve said before – I’m going to go slowly. I’m totally out of the routine that I’d built, and I’m going to prioritise reviews as my ‘bookish discussions’ self is still in start-up mode. And if it ends up being that I only post once a week as opposed to my original three times, that’s far better than not posting at all.

So, that all said, I’ve looked back at my round ups for 2023; somehow the only one missing is December and… well, I think I’ve explained that one. I only finished one book in December anyway so for once I’m not going to do a round up just for completion purposes – which it sometimes felt like I was doing when I posted a December round up and then a year round up, even if I liked the process (you don’t want to see the level of detail I can go to when I track my reading). The book I read and finished in December was Kristy Woodson Harvey’s The Wedding Veil, which I loved.

Onto the year round up then, because I do feel the need to write this to help me get properly back in the zone. Here we go. No ratings, just the books.

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Alex Hay: The Housekeepers – Mrs King, housekeeper of the de Vries mansion, has been fired from her post and is now planning to rob the place of the entirety of its contents along with other disgruntled parties during the time the new mistress of the house will be hosting a ball. Thrilling and hilarious from start to finish, perfectly plotted, perfectly everything.

Amanda Geard: The Moon Gate – In the 2000s, Libby travels from Tasmania to London to find out more about the research her father, Ben, was doing into her mother’s birth family when he was killed in the Moorgate Tube Crash; in the 1970s Ben seeks to find out who has given his wife and himself a house on the Tasmanian coast; in the 1940s Grace is sent to Tasmania along with her hateful companion to see out the war at her uncle’s home and, away from her awful mother, starts to blossom and find her people. A three-timeline historical novel with a strong set of mysteries behind it, this superb book looks at grief, WWII in Tasmania, and Australian poetry, and is worth every word of its almost 500 pages (in hardback).

Amita Parikh: The Circus Train – Following the travels through WWII Europe of an international circus, this book looks closely at the lives of Lena (who has Polio), her illusionist father, and a stowaway Jewish boy, as they try to remain out of the Nazis’ interests, and continue their trade, whilst growing as people. There’s an interesting controversy here where Parikh looks at a Polio-free life for Lena that is in fact supported by mid-1900s medical treatment.

Celina Baljeet Basra: Happy – Happy, of Jalandhar, in a spot that used to be his parents’ land but was sold to a theme park, is looking to move to Europe; he writes his thoughts in various different voices and looks forward to a hopeful film career. But to reader things may seem a bit different. This is an intriguingly told story of migration and poor environments – the narrative takes some getting used to but once you’re there the story opens to you completely, and there is a poignant ending involved.

Eleanor Shearer: River Sing Me Home – When the plantation owner announces that everyone is free but that they must carry on working for no money for several more years, Rachel escapes. She has children to look for, young people who were sold on elsewhere. This book looks at what the concept of freedom means through a number of lens, looks at motherhood, and of course slavery in the Caribbean. It’s done wonderfully.

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Elissa Soave: Ginger And Me – Wendy’s mum has died and she’s struggling to cope; she doesn’t have any friends or people to turn to and no one really seems to like her. But then Ginger steps onto her bus and the two teenagers begin a friendship. However for some reason the reader doesn’t yet know, Wendy is recounting this from prison and Ginger is no longer alive. The writer Wendy was Twitter friends with may not be alive either. A stunning story of how people who don’t fit the proscribed norms fall off the radar, and the catastrophic things that can result from that; there is also a lot about friendship.

Elizabeth Fremantle: Disobedient – Artemisia Gentileschi is growing up under the art tutelage of her father, Orazio; they are loosing money and have to move but Artemisia’s talent is eclipsing her father’s and the family is okay. But in the 1600s women are owned and not at all independent and when her father starts bringing around another painter, trying to ingratiate himself into a bigger project, the man takes a liking to her. A richly detailed historical tale, Fremantle brings her story of survival to life.

Gill Paul: A Beautiful Rival – The (fictionalised) story of cosmetics industry rivals, Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, Gill Paul starts her tale as the women are already pretty successful, as Rubinstein expands to the US where Arden is already established. The pair were both self-made women in a time when that was not at all the done thing but always ‘had’ to one up each other, starting with products and going so far as their romantic lives. Paul has kept to the history where she can but makes a few compelling deviations. The book in general is compelling and offers a lot about the women, the period, the amount of anti-Semitism during a time when people were fighting against Hitler, and, of course, advertising and product creation.

Jenni Keer: The Legacy Of Halesham Hall – Phoebe wants revenge; her father’s younger brother took the family estate from him in a wretched game led by her grandfather and with her father now dead, she will have the place herself thank you very much. Deciding to be honest with her effective uncle, Sidney (her father is not her blood relative), about her relation to him, Sidney lets her stay on below stairs, and Phoebe gets to work finding out the very last piece of the puzzle her grandfather set which Sidney never actually discovered. A good historical mystery with a fresh concept of board games and puzzles running through it, boasting a bit of cosy mystery and a very satisfying epilogue.

Jennifer Saint: Atalanta – saved as a baby by a mother bear and later taken in by the goddess Artemis, lives in Artemis’ forest with nymphs. She’s sworn to Artemis a life away from men and is quite happy with this but there will come a day when, as the best archer and runner in the land, Artemis will want her to join the Argonauts, the famed band of heroes sent to gain the Golden Fleece. This is a stunning retelling and detailing of the ancient myth, Saint’s careful choosing of what to take from the various original stories excellent.

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Karen Hamilton: The Contest – Blackmore Vintage Travel take their Very-Very Important Guests on annual contests where they are split into two teams. The employees of both teams vie for winning status – with it comes more money. But these are not the easiest holidays and there have been accidents, in particular the last trip which left one employee in a critical condition. Now, Florence and Jacob are vying for the crown – Jacob wants to impress his father, who owns the company, and Florence wants a bit of retribution. They’re to take their teams up Mt Kilimanjaro, impressing them with VIP flourishes. But there may be a killer among them. This book has a particularly good ending that is not at all obvious for at least a good while.

Kate Thompson: The Little Wartime Library – When Bethnal Green Library was bombed during the Blitz, the remaining stock is moved to the unfinished Bethnal Green Underground Station which is being used to house East Enders safely away from the streets of London; we follow children’s librarian Clara and her friend Ruby as they help keep up the borough’s morale through the wonders of reading. This is a book big on community and looking at the small pockets of goodness that happened during the war, focusing of course on the value of reading, and while the reading may be important, the community is the best bit. Thompson’s use of language is also great – very British, very right for its time and location.

Kristina McMorris: Sold On A Monday – Ellis takes a posed photograph of two children with a sign beside them that states they are for sale; the family is poor but doing okay, however the photograph leads to the sign being taken literally. A book full of the ways 1930s newspapers worked, this is a delight to read (perhaps so long as you go in knowing it’ll focus on things from the angle of the newsroom rather than the children themselves).

Kristy Woodson Harvey: The Wedding Veil – In the present day, Julia is getting married but she’s understandably got cold feet as her fiancé is… not the best, at all. With the help of her grandmother, she becomes a runaway bride and goes off on her honeymoon alone to work out what she wants. We hear from Julia’s grandmother, Babs, as she gets used to the idea of moving to a retirement community and meets an old flame. And, also, in 1914 we meet Edith Vanderbilt on her wedding day and then, later, her daughter Cornelia; we see both womens’ lives and the slow breakdown of the wealthy lifestyle they lived. This is a fantastic book that grabs you from the first page and has a lot of different locations and atmospheres that keep it fresh throughout. I think I loved Julia’s story the most for its sun, sea, and romance, but the other two narratives are right up there.

Kristy Woodson Harvey: The Summer Of Songbirds – June’s owned her girls’ summer camp for decades but the pandemic lockdowns have reduced the income to problematic levels and she may have to sell out to a house building company who’ll turn the camp into homes for the wealthy. When she lets her niece, Daphne, and friends Lainier and Mary Stuart know – they met at camp in their single digit years and have been friends ever since – the four begin a plan to get donations and funding to save the camp. It’ll be another summer they’ll never forget – Lainier is soon to be married but Daphne has good reason to hope it doesn’t happen, and the love of Daphne’s life, Lainier’s brother, is back in town. A fantastic read with a very special narrative voice; more about friendship than the camp but wonderful all the same.

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Lisa See: Lady Tan’s Circle Of Women – A fictionalisation of the life of a woman doctor in 1400s China (fictional because we know so little of her apart from the medicine). Absolutely superb.

Lucy Barker: The Other Side Of Mrs Wood – Victorian medium, Mrs Wood, looks to keep her reputation intact as others fail and looks to stay popular whilst she ages away from being, essentially, new and shiny. When she finds a young woman watching her house, she catches her and the result is that Mrs Wood has a new trainee – great for keeping society’s focus on Mrs Wood herself. But perhaps all is not quite as it seems with Miss Finch – beyond the literal tricks of the trade, of course – and Eliza the maid might have good reason for her distaste. Incredibly witty, well plotted and set, this is a wonderfully immersive and enjoyable book.

Maggie Brookes: Acts Of Love And War – British brothers Tom and Jamie decide to go to Spain during the civil war, each of them supporting a different side; Lucy, loving both of them, finds herself seeking to travel also, to try and get them to come home, but when a fellow teacher introduces her to the work Quaker volunteers are doing in Spain, Lucy adopts a second purpose – she will find the men but in the process help the lives of a great many refugee children. A good look at the Spanish Civil War from a perspective not well known, with a different romantic thread and arguably great ending.

Natasha Solomons: Fair Rosaline – Where was Rosaline in those days when Romeo and Juliet were together? In this tale, Solomons shows us the time of the play through the eyes of the forgotten cousin, matching many of the scenes with her own and creating others that fit until a point where she changes it to suit. This is a wonderful, wonderful book that shows the original story in the light the author feels is Shakespeare’s purpose – and given the new things we’ve learned about Shakespeare it’s very possible. Romeo is not a good guy, Juliet is the young teenager she is, and things are fair from peachy.

Nicolai Houm: The Gradual Disappearance Of Jane Ashland – A woman wakes up in a tent in a Norwegian National Park, knowing how she got there; scenes from the past couple of months show how she came to be in such a place. This is a novel about grief rather than a thriller – though it has an element of that – and a very good one at that.

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Orlando Ortega-Medina: The Fitful Sleep Of Immigrants – Marc takes on a couple of cases that are the antithesis of the cases his company usually works on and finds himself with an obsessed client. Meanwhile his partner, Issac, receives letters to attend court for deportation over his earlier arrival in the US as an undocumented asylum seeker. A very satisfying thriller and book in general.

Paula Cocozza: Speak To Me – Our narrator is feeling lonely and neglected in her relationship and life in general, and she very much misses the previous house her family lived in which, they moved away from to please her husband. Her husband, Kurt, is too involved with someone else – his mobile phone. Our narrator tells us all about this, while reminiscing over a past relationship and wishing to find her briefcase which is filled with letters.

Rachel Abbott: Don’t Look Away – The third book in the Stephanie King series, Nancy has moved temporarily to Cornwall after the death of her aunt to look at the cottage she’s been left and sell it. There are no good memories here – when she came her last, her mother had died and then her sister disappeared and her father died in an accident. But her plans to sell up and go back to London are paused when she finds her sister’s filled rucksack in the garden shed where the police didn’t bother to look, and there’s a van that seems to follow her wherever she goes. Meanwhile, a kid has found a skeleton in a cave that matches the year Nancy’s sister ran off but may not be the girl herself. A great thriller that starts off with a simple one-thread story and starts to expand quite a bit.

Radhika Sanghani: I Wish We Weren’t Related – Reeva and her sisters have to go and spend two weeks mourning their father with his relatives… except that their father died many years ago… didn’t he? And it’s not great – Reeva’s sister is engaged to her, Reeva’s, ex, and she doesn’t have a good relationship with her other sister, Sita, either. A well-done comedy that has a lot of heart and reality amongst its bonkers going on.

Ronali Collings: Love & Other Dramas – Tania is newly divorced and looking to find herself, Priya did not receive a much hoped for promotion after giving her all to her long-standing employer, and Helen is discovering herself after years as an unhappy wife (unhappy is an understatement). The book covers their transitions to new milestones. One of the best books I’ve read this year – simple in premise but just so well done.

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Sarah Marsh: A Sign Of Her Own – Ellen is preparing to marry Harman in London, but a letter suddenly changes her world; can she please help Alexander Bell and give evidence towards his getting a patent for the telephone? She was a student under his tutelage – Bell continued the work of his father, Visible Speech, aiming to help deaf children to speak, and Ellen was at the forefront of this. She has to make a choice, and as she does so she takes us back to Boston and her experience as a deaf child in the late 1800s, a woman pushed to be in hearing society rather than deaf society and the effects this had on her. This is a wonderful novel about forgotten history and wonderfully written; Marsh’s prose is so well done and her use of different ways of speaking and different languages is superb.

Stacey Thomas: The Revels – When Nicholas’ brother dies, his father summons him home; he’s to journey with Judge Percival, looking into witch trials. But what no one knows is that Nicholas meets the criteria for being a witch; the dead sing of the manner of their death, and Nicholas hears it. He must work with this knowledge, all the while knowing the many women put to death are innocent. But when he meets Althamia, he starts to wonder about his gift, and when he meets her cousin, this gift starts to become very insistent. A beautifully told tale – good storytelling and incredibly fitting prose, that looks at the witch trials of Britain from both a different point of view, person-wise, and different angles, concept-wise. It’s difficult to explain without giving too much away – read it!

Sylvia Mercedes: Bride Of The Shadow King – The Trolde king, Vor, needs a bride and the humans on the overworld swore their princess to him. That princess should be Ilsevel if the King has anything to do with it, and he sends her off to wed a king she does not particularly like. But when Vor came to meet the family, there was the oldest princess, Faraine, and it was love at first sight for both of them. When Faraine has to take Ilsevel’s place she’s not comfortable with the idea – it involves magic and deception – but she has to go ahead. Hopefully Vor will be happy, albeit that the humans are deceiving him. This book has a great fantasy romance premise and held much promise, until two plot twists that turned it into too much angst. The first was okay if upsetting – the reason Faraine goes instead of Ilsevel (because of course she will) – but the way Vor handles it all is too much.

Sylvia Mercedes: Vow Of The Shadow King – The continuing story of no communication, no reason for there not to be happiness, and a scene that needs a trigger warning. I’d already bought the book. I will look for another series by Mercedes that can rival my favourite (the Venatrix Chronicles – it’s one of my favourite series full stop), but it is definitely not this one.

Tasneem Abdur-Rashid: Finding Mr Perfectly Fine – Zara’s mum has told her to find a husband pronto because if she’s not married in a year, by her 30th birthday, she’s off to Bangladesh. Zara joins a Muslim marriage app, and goes to a meet-up but then there’s also Adam from work. Adam’s only nominally a Muslim so it won’t work, but Zara’s drawn to him. At the same time, Hamza, from the singles event, offers a lot more of the things she’s looking for, she just isn’t particularly attracted to him. She’s got some decisions to make. Absolutely loved this one. Worth the lost sleep.

I’m going to forget that I didn’t read as many books as I might have in another year and be happy that in general I very much enjoyed what I read. I am glad, in this way, that I haven’t done a ‘best of the best’ here because that list would be over-run. What I do hope to do, memory depending, is write more reviews of the year’s books than I have already.

So far this year I’ve been able to read more. If that keeps going, great, if it doesn’t, I’ll work with it. And I’ll leave it there – it’s high time I properly moved on to 2024!


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