Finishing Christmas week with my festive new arrivals. And people have been paying attention! The three books I was given all came from my list and then the other two were gifts to myself in the Waterstones post-Christmas hardback sale. Lovely stuff.
Month: December 2022
Series of the Year 2022
So this is the point where I look back on the series I’ve read this year and pick out some highlights for you.
Let’s start with a new to me discovery – Her Majesty the Queen Investigates. These were fun cozy Murder mysteries with a royal twist. As I said in my series post about them, I think they work best in slightly closed settings – or at least not London – but I liked the characters and the tone a lot. It’s a shame there’s a year until the next one.
Moving on to Richard Osman. This year we got the third Thursday Murder Club book and they continue to be both clever and witty and fun but occasionally heartbreaking. This is the series that spawned the copycats that are popping up all over the place at the moment – I’m reading my way through some of them so you don’t have to!
I really enjoyed the Nanette Hayes mysteries, but I wish there were more of them. I am still looking for more 90s crime series that I missed out on (too young at the time!) and can catch up on now because they do seem to work for me – see some of the Fahrenheit series I’ve enjoyed. And I have another of the Liz Evans books waiting that I picked up from the charity book stall at the shopping centre. If you have any suggestions please do whack them in the comments please.
I’ve also carried on working my way though some of the other series I’ve been reading for years. I’m up basically up to date on the Kate Shackleton series now, as well as Dandy Gilver. It continues to be tricky to find new historical-set mystery series that I don’t wish to throw across the room, but I’m still trying. I hope Carola Dunn is having a happy retirement but I do miss her and the prospect of a new Daisy Dalrymple. But I’ve basically binged the Mary Russell series over the last two years, which has been good, but that age gap still annoys me. Royal Spyness continues and Kerry Greenwood has written a new Phryne that I’m saving for a special occasion. All hail Kerry.
Roll on 2023!
Books of the Year: New Non-fiction
Following on from Tuesday’s post about new release fiction, today I’m looking back at my favourite new non-fiction of the year, and this is a list that skews somewhat towards the memoir I’m afraid. But hey, there have been some really good ones this year, so sorry not sorry. Oh, and after all the success of my fiction picks matching up with the Goodreads picks, today we’re back to normal…
Stories I Might Regret Telling You by Martha Wainwright
This comes in the brutally honest confessional memoir category – as I said in my BotW review, possibly the most unflinching one I’ve read since Viv Albertine‘s. Martha Wainwright carries the personal revelations you’re used to in her music (Bloody Motherf*cking Asshole for example) into her look at her life so far. I saw her live in London this summer and she read a few excerpts from the book as well as singing songs from through her career and it was great. Anyway, if you haven’t listened to any of her music, but are interested in what it’s like to be an artist/creative type in a whole family of artists, this will still work for you.
A Pocketful of Happiness by Richard E Grant
This is another very raw book- Richard E Grant’s memoir about the loss of his wife and their life together. I read it on holiday and the showbizzy stories helped break up the sad bits and added up to something quite special. He’s very clearly still not over it, and maybe should have waited a little longer to write it, but his love for his wife and their wonderful marriage shines through it all. I hope writing it has helped him – and also that the reaction from readers helps too. You can see more about it in my BotW review.
Mean Baby by Selma Blair
Selma Blair’s memoir is another person looking back at their life fairly unflinchingly, perhaps unexpectedly if you only know about her from her movies. This is another book that featured in my Actor Memoirs post, and was nominated for Best Memoir or Autobiography in the Goodreads Choice awards – but lost out to Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died (which is also on my list). One of the fascinating things about this book is that despite some terrible behaviour at various times, Selma is clearly the sort of person that people want to be friends with because she’s managed to keep so many people in her life despite of the self destructive behaviour and alcoholism.
Get Rich or Lie Trying by Symeon Brown*
Finally something that’s not a memoir- right! Anyway this looks at the influencer economy and social media and provided me with plenty of food for thought. It was a BotW back in March and a lot of it has stuck with me. As I said in that review, I’ve got a long standing fascination with books and podcasts about scams, and this sort of fits into that in a weird way – it’s not one big con like Bad Blood or Bad Bets but it’ll give you a sense of all the sort of scams that the internet has opened up.
And an honourable mentions should go to Harvey Fierstein’s memoir I Was Better Last Night about his amazing life in showbizness. I told you it was a memoir heavy list!
Recommendsday: Not New Books of the Year
So yesterday we had new fiction books of the year, tomorrow I have new non-fiction for you, but today we have my favourite not new books of the year.
Lets start with the newest – and it’s Greg Jenner’s Ask a Historian, which is out now in paperback and answers all sorts of questions that he’s been asked over his years as a public historian. He also has a new book for kids this year called You Are History, which I haven’t read yet but sounds like it’s a middle grade cross between Ask a Historian and his A Million Years in a Day. Anyway, Greg’s writing style is as much fun as he is in his podcasts, and Ask a Historian is a great book for reading in little bits when you get a chance, if you’re trying to get more reading done for example, because the question and answer format makes it easy to pick up and put down.
Moving on to some fiction, and I found it really hard to pick my favourite of the Persephone books I read as part of my gift subscription last Christmas, so I’ve ended up including a few of them here. Jocelyn Playfair’s A House in the Country was written during the war and deals with wartime life at a big country house. If you like books like The Cazalet Chronicles or Dorothy Whipple, then this maybe one for you to read. Then there’s The Young Pretenders by Henrietta Fowler about two young children who move to live with their aunt and uncle while they wait for their parents to return from India. I feel like if you’re the sort of person who liked Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes when you were younger, then this might be a book for you.
I’ve read a lot of classic crime this year – as all the British Library Crime Classics posts I’ve done demonstrate – but it’s been hard to pick favourites. So I’ve gone with a couple that were Books of the Week – Green for Danger by Christianna Brand, the creepy war time murder mystery in a hospital; Fire in the Thatch by E C R Lorac, about an arson attack; John Dickson Carr’s Til Death Do Us Part, with an impossible locked room mystery and Lois Austen-Leigh’s The Incredible Crime about a a murder and a drug gang in Cambridge.
This is already a long list, but two more before I go – for kids, Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais about three girls’ cross country cycle trip in France, and a romance: Jackie Lau’s Donut Fall In Love which features a Hollywood movie star and a baker falling in love and taking part in a baking show. Not necessarily in that order!
Books of the Year: New Fiction
We’re hurtling towards the end of the year, and so it’s time for my annual lookback at what I read this year and for me to try and pick my favourite things. Today we’re looking at the new release fiction that I’ve loved this year. And trust me when I say it’s been tough! And it doesn’t happen often, but for once some of the books that I loved have made it onto a bunch of best books of the year lists. Oh and I should add that this only looks at standalone books and not later instalments in series.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin*
I’ve already recommended Gabrielle Zevin’s novel to a bunch of people – and it’s been named Amazon’s Book of the Year, as well as being voted Fiction book of the year in Goodreads Choice Awards as well as Book of the Month’s favourite of the year in their vote and it’s on The Atlantic’s Most Thought-Provoking Books of the Year too. It’s a hard one to describe – even Zevins says she struggles! – although I did give it a go in my BotW review but it’s a story about friendships and opportunities missed and love all set in the world of computer games development. I think there’s something here for most people, even if they’re not expecting it. It’s being turned into a movie – so read it now and be ahead of the game!
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
And another of my favourites that other people are picking too is Bonnie Garmus’ novel about Elizabeth Zott. It also won a prize at the Goodreads Choice awards – this time best debut, but it’s also on the Good Housekeeping list, and she’s also Waterstones’ Author of the Year. Elizabeth is a chemist turned TV chef who uses her platform to try and improve women’s lives, all while bringing up her daughter alone. I read this the same week that I read The Unsinkable Greta James (see below) – so this ended up in Quick Reviews rather than as a BotW – but it was in my best books of the first half of the year – and I’ve kept recommending it since, but do please bear in mind the warning for sexual violence and death early in the book. This one is also getting an adaptation this time into a series – Brie Larson is starring in it and it’s going to be on Apple TV+ next year apparently.
Book Lovers by Emily Henry*
I’ve actually done quite well in the Goodreads Choice awards this year – because Book Lovers won Best Romance – beating out TikTok favourite Colleen Hoover, even if you add her two nominated books together! This is big city literary agent in a small town for the summer where she discovers a professional enemy is also in residence. It’s a delight – I love enemies to lovers romances as you know and add a twist on the small town trope and it’s just a delight.
The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E Smith
Now this got a whole lot less attention than the picks above, which is a shame because I adored it. I picked it as a BotW over Lessons in Chemistry partly because it was lesser known, and it really annoys me that more people haven’t heard about it. Greta is an indie popstar with a problem – she has writers block after her mother’s death and a meltdown on stage. She finds herself accompanying her father on the Alaskan Cruise that he was meant to be taking with her mum and things happen. It’s wonderful if sad at times, but the ending is perfect.
Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn
Now this was nominated for Best Crime and Thriller in the Goodreads Choice, but lost out to Nita Prose’ The Maid, which I read at the start of the year and enjoyed, but I think this is more fun. It’s about a group of women who have spent their lives working for an elite agency of assassins, but upon retiring find that they are now the targets. If you like Raybourn’s historical mystery series, you’ll like this. And if you’ve read the Richard Osman Thursday Murder Club books and are looking for something sort-of similar (The Bullet that Missed was also nominated in the same category) this might well scratch that itch.
That’s my five fiction picks. Honourable mentions should go to Carrie Soto is Back – which won the Historical fiction prize in Goodreaders choice (beating Lessons in Chemistry) – Thank You for Listening, Mad About You and Something Wilder.
The Week in Books: December 19 – December 25
It’s Boxing Day here at the end of a very emotional Christmas week. Big changes at work just before Christmas mean a longer Christmas break for me than usual, so I’m clinging on to that. And Christmas Day was lovely. I’m still on a Meg Langslow binge though… will I ever finish those long runners?!
To Get to the Other Side by Kelly Ohlert*
The Real Macaw by Donna Andrews
Some Like It Hawk by Donna Andrews
The Many Dates of Indigo by Amber D Samuel*
Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews
Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews
The Charity Shop Detective Agency by Peter Boland*
A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong by Cecilia Grant
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Going With the Boys by Judith Mackrell
The Inverts by Crystal Jeans
The Empire by Michael Ball*
Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd
Rogues by Patrick Radden Keefe
Several books received (watch this space) and the new Rivers of London graphic novel but that’s it…
Bonus photo: what else could it be but a Christmas tree?
*next to a book book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley.
I hope everyone who celebrates has a wonderful day, and that those who don’t have something fun to do as well.
Travelling Home for Christmas
I suspect some of you are on the road today, making your way to wherever you want to be this Christmas. I’ve already given you a fair few Christmas recommendation – including a Christmas road trip in the Holidays with the Wongs series – and I hope if you are on the road you have got a good audiobook to listen to on the way.
There are a lot of books about trips out there – although not always Christmas ones. If you’re looking for one, you could try Jade Chang’s The Wangs vs the World – where a Chinese immigrant family go on a road trip together across America after the father loses all the money from his cosmetics empire. It’s funny and has an interesting cast of characters. Or you could go for a classic murder mystery like Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express. Or there are a fair few fantasy novels with trips in them – like Howl’s Moving Castle or A Wrinkle in Time, or Neil Gaiman’s Stardust or even Wayward Son, the second in what’s now the Simon Snow trilogy from Rainbow Rowell, although you need to have read the first one really to get the best from that. As for me, I’ve got Road Trip by Beth O’Leary on my tbr pile, but our Christmas commute isn’t really long enough for e to read it. Also I get travel sick if I read in the car!
Happy Travels everyone.
Series at Christmas…
So for this Friday post, as it’s the last week day before Christmas, we’re festive again but it’s not a series, but some Christmas instalments of series.
Firstly, a couple of the classic series have Christmas instalments. Poirot has Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding but Miss Marple only has a short story. There’s a Christmas story collection in the Maigret series too.
In series I have talked about, Jodi Taylor does a Chronicles of St Mary’s Christmas story every year that comes out on the 25th. I try and make sure I read them in the right order with the novels, but I think you can get away with winning these out of order. There’s a Christmas Pink Carnation short too – but that’s definitely only one if you’ve read the series! Susan Mallery has full-length and novella fill in stories in her Fools Gold series that are Christmassy and there’s also a Christmas novel in her Happily, Inc series as well as the fact that her new series has a Christmas theme. There’s a Lady Hardcastle short story too Virago also pulled together Angela Thirkell’s Christmas short stories together into Christmas at High Rising if you want some gentle humour from her world this Christmas.
I mentioned Jenny Colgan in the Kindle offer post, but a lot of her series have actual full length Christmas instalments – I really liked Christmas at Rosie Hopkins Sweetshop, but there are several to chose from. And as I said in my O’Neil brothers post, Sarah Morgan also has festive instalments in her Puffin Island and From Manhattan with Love series. There’s a Christmas Agatha Raisin novel from M C Beaton, and a Hamish MacBeth short story.
And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are lots of Christmas books in the Meg Langslow series. As you will have noticed from the reading lists, I’m currently on a binge re-read through the series, and I’ve just started to get to the point where the Christmas-themed books start happening. The series is delightful generally – but the Christmas ones are in particular.
Happy Last Week Day before Christmas everyone.
Christmas bonus post: Festive TV
It’s the final-final run towards the big day and the TV schedules are starting to look awfully festive, so today I’m back with some suggestions about what to watch out for this year.
Obviously the first thing and the programme that I’m most excited about is the return of Detectorists for a Christmas special. We’ve actually started another rewatch ahead of the feature length special on Boxing Day. If you haven’t ever watched the show, go read my post about it and then start at the beginning!
But before we get to Boxing Day there are a few other shows to mention – namely Ghosts. I don’t think I’ve mentioned Ghosts here before, but this is the BBC One comedy about a couple who inherit a dilapidated stately home complete with ghostly residents that only one of them can see. I love it. It’s funny but not mean and I find it so hard to pick who my favourite character is. There’s also a bunch of reruns of various of the Mischief Theatre Christmas offerings – if you’re in the UK and have missed them you can find them on iPlayer. And if Mischief are doing a show anywhere near you next year, do go and see it. I think that The Play That Goes Wrong is one of the funniest nights out you can have.
I’m also recording the repeat of the Sky adaptation of Going Postal, which although it is not as good as the book is still a pretty good go at it, and has Claire Foy (pre the crown) and Richard Coyle as Moist – who is about to read the new version of the audiobook, which I have preordered, even though I love the Steven Briggs version!
If you want more pre-Crown Claire Foy, BBC Four is repeating Wolf Hall at the moment – which is one of the best TV adaptations of a novel I’ve seen in ages. It’s in memory of Hilary Mantel who died earlier this year – and ahead of the first part they had an interview with the director, who revealed that the adaptation of The Mirror and the Light is in the works, although whether I’ll be able to bear watching it I don’t know. If you know your history, you’ve known from the start what is going to happen but that doesn’t make it easier. And they did such a powerful job of Anne Boleyn’s execution, I can’t imagine how they’ll do Cromwell. And Mark Rylance is possibly the best actor I have ever seen live. To the point where I would go and see him in anything.
I’m sure there were more new things I meant to write about, but I’ve got a bit carried away with the repeats! To be fair, the TiVo recording schedule hasn’t made this any easier. Maybe I’ll have to do a part two of the bits I forgot?!