Just when I thought I was finished with the Christmas reading, I read two more Christmas books. What am I like?! Keen eyed readers will notice that I’ve already finished one of my anticipated books and have started a second. And I’ve read one and started another from that pesky NetGalley backlog. A couple of Wimsey’s are on here – as audiobooks – as I continue to relisten to them all as I putter around the place. I’m making good progress on Vanderbilt – which is a hardback so not quite as portable as some of the other options, otherwise I think it would be finished already! The end of year/start of year posting frenzy is coming to an end I think, but I do have some ideas for posts coming up to try and keep a bit of the momentum going, even if it’s not quite as much as it has been for the last three-ish weeks!
Bonus photo: This week, as the only place I’ve been that isn’t my house is the park, the corner shop and Aldi, I thought I’d give you a change. Here’s an attempt to be creative – with some flower arranging…
An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley
I’ve already written about my anticipated books and about my reading resolutions, so my last contribution to my New Year posts is a little look at the state of my to-read book shelves – virtual and physical – and what I’ve got waiting to be read.
On the non-fiction front, I’ve already started Anderson Cooper’s book about the Vanderbilt family, which I asked for for Christmas. On the memoir front I have the hardback of Miriam Margolyes’ book and I’ve started the Hayley Mills one on kindle. I’ve got David Attenborough’s new book, which I bought intending to give it to someone, but couldn’t bear to part with because it’s signed. In paperback I’ve got Jason Diamond’s book about the American suburbs, The Sprawl and Come Fly The World, about the women of Pan Am, which I picked up on the way to Gran Canaria because it appeared to my Shirley Flight instincts but didn’t manage to read while I was out there. There’s a lot more on there, but those are the ones I want to get to first.
There’s also plenty of fiction. In terms of series that I read, I’ve got the next in the Lady Sherlock series, Miss Moriarty, I Presume which came out in the autumn, the latest Dandy Gilver and the next Taylor and Rose mystery. Then off the back of the 50 states challenge, I’ve got the next in the Silver Six series and another in the Ministry is Murder series too. I’ve still got a Curtis Sittenfeld that I’ve been saving for a special occasion and a Stacy Halls that I bought off the back of enjoying Mrs England. I’ve got a couple of new crime series to try, and also some old school historical romances that I haven’t been in the mood for yet, but I’m sure I will be at some point.
Now why am I telling you all this? Well a couple of years back, I did a state of the to read pile post and it actually helped me get the motivation to read some of them. So I’m trying the same trick on myself again. If I’ve told you what’s on the shelf, and put some pictures up, I’ll have to have read some of them (at least) before I can do the same thing again. I’m not putting any time scales on it, because we all know that I’m a mood reader and there’s nothing more guaranteed to make me not want to read something than saying that I will or feeling forced to – it’s why I’m so bad with getting the NetGalley List done on time. But hey, I’ll try and get at least some of these read by the middle of the year. I might even check in with you if I do!
Here we are at the end of the first week of 2022, and I thought I should maybe talk about my plans for the year ahead.
Well, although I’ve called this a resolutions post, I’m not really making any. Is that a cop out? Probably. I know that making commitments to things is meant to make you more likely to be able to achieve them. But I find they just make me feel worse about myself when I don’t manage to complete them. And I never do when it comes to reading.
I entered 2022 with a big old backlog on NetGalley – the same as I did last year. I don’t think it’s got any bigger, but it hasn’t got much smaller either. So I’m going to try to be a bit restrained with my requesting finger and work on that. I’ve already been through and identified some that will fit the 50 states challenge, if I do that again this year. But last year I didn’t do very well with the actual bookshelf – as I explained in my retrospective post so who knows whether I’ll veer off onto a reading actual books moment over the ebook backlog.
But mostly my aim for 2022 is to enjoy my reading. I’ve got much better over the last few years about just reading what I want to read and not what I think I ought to be reading, and I want to carry on doing that. Read what I fancy, not think about numbers of books read or what I should read – and just read what I want, when I want. Let’s see how I get on…
We’re a few days in to 2022 now, and after the orgy of posts about the past year, it’s time for me to have a little look ahead to the books we have coming our way in this new year.
So the obvious place to start is with the stuff that I’ve got pre-ordered already. Firstly there’s the follow up to Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian, which I’ve been waiting for for ages. It’s called the Missing Page and coming out in the middle of the month (a little late birthday present for myself). Also before the end of January is the Alexis Hall’s first historical romance called Something Fabulous. Also from Alexis Hall, but not pre-ordered yet, and not out until August is Husband Material, the sequel to the wonderful Boyfriend Material.
Away from the romance-y side of things, there is the fourth in the Isabel Rogers’ Stockwell Park Orchestra series. The Prize Racket is out in January and sees the gang taking part in a TV music competition. I can’t wait to see what havoc they wreak. There’s a bit longer to wait for the the Vinyl Detective series, which is out in May, is called Attack and Decay and the musical genre this time is… Death Metal. I cannot wait.
Then there is the stuff that I haven’t pre-ordered yet because I’m waiting to see who has the best edition of it. So that’s books like Amongst Our Weapons, the ninth Rivers of London book. I’ve managed to get the last couple of those in nice signed editions from author events and I’m hoping to do the same again. Also in this category is Heartbreaker, the second in Sarah MacLean’s Hell’s Belles series – this year I got Bombshell sent over from Word in Brooklyn to get a signed copy of the American edition, but I’m hoping that by this summer we may be at a point where Sarah MacLean can come over again and there will once again be a tea party, although my mania for matching sets means I’m not ruling out buying in the American version again…
On top of all of that there are a few things that I have already waiting for me in the NetGalley pile, for I am a very lucky duck. Included in that is Nina de Gramont’s The Christie Affair, out later in January and which is a fictionalised look at what happened in the 11 days that Agatha Christie disappeared for in 1926. I do love a fictionalised real life person book – see my enduring passion for Gone with the Windsors and also my various posts about other examples over the years. Also on the historical mystery front and on the same day is Tom Hindle’s The Fatal Crossing, which is a murder mystery set on a transatlantic crossing in the 1920s. A Scotland Yard detective happens to be on board and so starts to investigate, but he only has a few days to figure out what has happened. Also out the same day as is the very buzzed about The Maid, which features a murder victim discovered by a chambermaid at a fancy hotel. It’s already been optioned for a movie and the info on NetGalley talks about a lot of elements that I like but it also has a couple of people giving it blurbs that make me wonder if it’s going to be too dark for me. We will see…
I’ve had a bit of a fallow period on the historical romance front – with even a few of my old favourites letting me down – but I have high hopes for Sophie Irwin’s debut A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting, which is set in 1818 and features a young lady who needs to catch a rich husband so the bailiffs don’t move in, but who’s plans could be thwarted by the brother of one of her suitors. Based off the blurb it ticks a lot of my boxes – I’m hoping for it to be a bit of a modern mash up of The Nonesuch and Masqueraders. It’s out in May, so you may have to wait until then to find out if I’ve got the right signals…
I’ve tried to be a bit restrained with my requesting finger on NetGalley, because I still have a lot of books outstandint there – and (once again) one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to deal with that, so just one more to talk about on the advance copy front. Dial A for Aunties made it onto in my best books of the year list for 2022, and I have the sequel Four Aunties and a Wedding via NetGalley already – it’s out in March.
Also on my best books of last year list was Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain. He has a new book out in June – called Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks. The blurb says it’s bringing together some of the best of his writing in the New Yorker – and as I’ve read quite a lot of his New Yorker stuff after I heard Winds of Change (and before my New Yorker subscription expired!), I want to see it in the flesh and have a flick through before I buy it, in case I’ve already read a lot of it, but if you haven’t got a New Yorker subscription, this should definitely be on your list.
You may have noticed that a lot of the books that I’ve talked about so far are for the start of the year. I suspect that’s because the pandemic and the supply chain issues are conspiring to mean that some of the stuff that should already have come out has been pushed back into early 2022 and that some of the stuff that would already have been announced is still waiting on dates and details. So this is where this post gets a bit speculative. The fourth in Jen De Luca’s Well Met series, Well Travelled is due out in September, it’s still long enough away that pre-ordering the Kindle edition isn’t an option in the UK, but as I’m still waiting for my library hold on Well Matched to come in, I can cope!
Over on Facebook Kerry Greenwood has written about the fact that she’s writing a new Phryne Fisher novel called Murder in Williamstown. She’s hoping it will be out in Australia by the end of 2022, but we do often have to wait for the UK edition, so I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much. I’m also hoping there will be something new from Gail Carriger in 2022, but so far she’s not giving any dates for anything in her newsletter so it’s all very up in the air. I’m also hoping the the 2024 date for the next Tessa Dare book gets revised back to 2022, but The Bride Bet is still showing as TBA on her website so anything could happen there too. Despite even less information – it hasn’t even got a title on Amazon or Goodreads yet – I’m more hopeful that the sequel to Battle Royal will be out in 2022 – Lucy Parker usually releases a book a year, so I’m clinging to that.
I promise we’re nearly at the end of the retrospective posts, but before I was finally done with 2021, I wanted to have a look at my Kindle Unlimited Membership last year and how it went. When I first tried KU, I wrote a whole post about it just before the end of my initial free trial period, and promised to check in every now and again and let you all know how it is going, and it’s been 18 months since that initial post and I haven’t. So consider this a check in.
Now obviously the first thing to say, is that I’m still a member and I’m still paying for it. I added the KU column to the monthly stats post last year, and if I’ve been tracking it right with my tags on Goodreads, I read 86 books via KU last year – which sounds like a lot. Now a reasonable number of those were short stories or novellas, mostly ones that are part of the various Amazon originals series. But where it’s been invaluable is supplying me with classic murder mysteries.
The British Library Crime Classics series rotates its titles in and out of KU as do the some of the publishers of George Bellairs and other of the other more forgotten of the Golden Age authors. This is how I’ve managed to work my way through so many Inspector Littlejohn books, but also sample new authors. And that has lead to BotW posts like The Christmas Card Crime, Murder in the Basement, The Secret of High Eldersham and Smallbone, Deceased as well as to entries in the Mini Review posts.
Then there’s the obvious help it gave me to complete my Read the USA challenge. When it came to panic stations to get it finished from November onwards, I was able to source a lot of the missing states using KU titles. Now that’s not to say that they were all good – in fact some of them I actively disliked – but the point was that I wasn’t paying money for them, aside from my KU subscription and otherwise, I would have been!
On the same front, it’s helped me sample a lot of new series – again, without spending any (extra) cash. I quite often get if you like x then try y recommendations that turn out to have books in KU. I run an Amazon wish list that’s just books that are in KU (or have previously been in KU that I’m hoping will come back around again) to help reduce decision fatigue – and also reduce the risk of impulse buying when my defenses are low!
So while I don’t think the membership is helping me reduce the physical to-read pile, I do think that I’m getting the value for the subscription. For me that is mostly coming from the ability to get the really good classic crime novels whenever I want them – so I don’t mind quite as much if some of the other stuff isn’t as good. Now I know the KU pot doesn’t work like that when it’s being distributed to authors, but there’s not a lot I can do about that, so it is what it is! But as it stands, I’m happy with the value I’m getting out of it, so it stays for a while longer at least.
It may be January 5th, but we still have the important matter of the December Mini reviews to deal with. Now quite a lot of the month was taken up with trying to finish the 50 states challenge for the year – the results of which can bee seen in this post from Sunday. However, in the quest to tick states off, sadly some of the books that I read in December were somewhat disappointing. And this leaves me with less than usual to talk about in my mini reviews. Which is sad, but considering how many posts I’ve written recently, I’m hoping you won’t feel short changed.
Board Stiff by Kendel Lynn
Elliot Lisbon works for a charitable foundation based on an island in South Carolina. Her usual jobs include keeping the peace between foundation members and smoothing over potential problems. In her spare time she’s working towards her PI licence – very slowly. Then the chair of the foundation’s board is accused of murder and her bosses as her to try and sort the situation out. Trouble is the new in town detective leading the investigation is her ex-boyfriend and he really doesn’t want her sticking her nose in. Trouble is if she doesn’t Elliot is likely to be out of a job. This one joins Double Whammy in the list of books that are trying to do similar things to the Stephanie Plum series (and I did read the last but one in the Plum series in December too and the less said about that the better). This has a few issues, but it rattles along at a nice pace and there’s plenty of potential here for the series. I have the next one cued up ready on the Kindle.
Oh. What. Fun by Chandler Baker
This is another Christmas-themed short story – I know, I know, I said that last week was the limit, but that was for Books of the Week. Or at least I’m allowed to bend the rules if I want to! Anyway, Tyler, Channing and Sammy have returned home for Christmas. Their mum Claire has always brought the holiday magic in their family – with traditions galore that she just loves doing for them all. Or does she. Maybe they should all have been paying more attention to her because this year is about to go very differently. This is a witty but thought provoking look at Christmas and the people who make it special and whether we should be appreciating them more – or if you are the Claire, whether you should be getting more help!
Dreaming Spies by Laurie R King
Yes, I know, another rule that I’m breaking – with a later book in a mystery series, where you really need to have read the earlier ones to make it all work at it’s best. But it’s been one of those months, so the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series makes another appearance on the blog. As with several times before in this series, the timeline is jumping about somewhat – it opens immediately after the events of Garment of Shadows (the previous book in the series) but a large section of this takes place between the events of The Game and Locked Rooms five books earlier. This fills in what happened when Mary and Sherlock were in Japan – events which have been hinted at before. And it’s a delicious mix of everything you have come to expect from the series – with lashings of early 20th century Japanese culture thrown in. I don’t know enough about the reality to be able to say how accurate it all is, but it certainly makes for a rather delightful reading experience. Do start at the beginning of the series though – with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Just don’t think too hard about the age gap between Mary and Sherlock.
Release the Beast by Bimini Bon Boulash
Bimini was the breakout star of the second series of Drag Race UK – even if they didn’t win – and this is their debut book – all about their views on gender, class, capitalism, the patriarchy and more. If you enjoyed watching them on Drag Race, you’ll probably enjoy reading this too and getting more of a perspective on their life and their art. This the latest addition to my shelf of books about or by drag queens, and although I don’t like it as much as I like Legendary Children, it’s interesting and it’s a good way of throwing some coins the way of a Queen while the pandemic is making times hard for live gigs.
After a string of Christmas-themedrecommendations for BotW, I’m starting the new year with a non-fiction pick, and it’s a title that you may be rather familiar with as it’s been on the ongoing list for quite some time – but don’t hold that against it. Why then has it taken me so long to read? Well firstly because it is long (500+ pages!) and secondly because non-fiction requires proper concentration and for me to be in the right mindset – which has been difficult recently but in 2021 in general – as previously discussed.
Anyway, Paula Byrne’s latest book is a biography of the author Barbara Pym. Pym wrote a series of novels about everyday women in the middle of the twentieth century, was briefly acclaimed, then forgotten and then rediscovered in the years immediately before her death in 1980. If you haven’t read any of them, then you really should – she’s been compared to Jane Austen. She was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1977 for Quartet in Autumn, but I’ve mostly read her earlier books – my favourite of hers Excellent Women, which I have in a rather delightful Virago Designer Hardback edition.
After growing up in Shropshire, Barbara Pym went up to Oxford in the early 1930s. There she threw herself into student life – and into love. She travelled to Germany in the 1930s, was a Wren during the war and then worked for years as an assistant editor for a journal of anthropology. Her novels often feature anthropologists, as well as vicars – whether she’s writing about London’s bedsit land or English country life. In later life, she was friends with Philip Larkin – which in part led to her rediscovery in the late 1970s
Using Pym’s own diaries and papers, Byrne has written a comprehensive re-examination of Pym’s life piecing together her relationships, friendships and love affairs as well as her career in publishing. It’s a fascinating insight into the life behind the writer – and how her personal life bled into her novels. Considering that she never married and that her books focus on unmarried or in some way frustrated women, you may be surprised by what you discover about her. Two of Byrnes other books – Kick (about Kathleen Kennedy) and Mad World (about Evelyn Waugh) are on my keeper shelf of history books already and this would join them, if it wasn’t an ebook! And if I haven’t already won you over with my thoughts, it was on the Times’ list of best books of 2021 too.
As an added bonus for me, given my current Wimsey phase, Pym was an undergraduate at St Hilda’s just a couple of years before Gaudy Night is set. Through her experiences you can get a glimpse of what the students of Shrewsbury College might have been getting up to out of sight of the dons.
My copy of The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym came via NetGalley, but you should be able to get hold of the hardback fairly easily – Foyles have it available as click and collect at a lot of their stores and will even knock a couple of quid off the cover price if you order it via their website. If the hardback price is a bit rich for you, then I’m so behind hand with my NetGalley list that it’s actually out in paperback in April, so you could hang fire for that. Or of course it’s available in Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook.
Well I do hope you have been enjoying the positive orgy of posts over the last two weeks – and we’re not done yet! Obviously there’s a book of the week post tomorrow, but there’s also the Mini-reviews on Wednesday as usual too. But on top of that I’ve been thinking about my Kindle Unlimited reading in 2021 and my anticipated books of 2022. As for this post, because I finished the 50 States challenge just before Christmas, my goal for the week between Christmas and New Year was to try and finish off all the books that have been hanging around on the Still Reading list for weeks. And as I managed that, I threw in a last a last bit of Christmas Reading as well. I’ve also made a start on a couple of my Christmas Books, as well as what seems like my annual attempt to improve my life in some way with some self help/productivity type books. I didn’t manage finish everything I started though, so the Still Reading list may be empty for one week only! And as we were not really going out because we were close contacts of a Covid case, there was plenty of time for reading so this week’s list is a long one – and as we’re in a new calendar year, the re-read count is reset, hence the appearance of Death in a White Tie again – which was my audiobook for most of the week.
If you’ve been paying any attention to this blog over the last month and a half, you’ll know that this turned into a mad rush at the end to get all the states ticked off. And as a result you’ll see a couple of authors are on here twice, and that there’s some repetition of series that were on the list last year. But I am completely unrepentant about it. This year has been another tough one, and I’m being kind to myself – the important thing here is that I finished it. And I did a lot of the final 15 states using Kindle Unlimited so it didn’t cost me a fortune. Will I do it again next year? Well, I do like having a map to colour in and a challenge to do. And I already have books for some of the states on my shelf. But will I manage to pace myself any better and are there actually any books set in Wisconsin, Delaware or South Dakota that I will actually enjoy? Who knows. Watch this space. Links which cover the book title and author mean that I’ve written about that specific book. Links to just the author mean that I’ve written about one of the authors books at some point during the lifetime of the blog.
Audiobooks: 0 (again none that I haven’t already counted this year once!)
Non-fiction books: 3
Favourite book this month: Tricky, because a lot of the month was taken up with finishing the 50 states challenge, and some of the final entrants were… disappointing. Probably the Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym, which I started ages ago, but finally finished in the last week of the year.
Most read author: Tricky to work out because of novellas this month. Probably Dorothy L Sayers in truth because of the audiobooks, but in paper the most pages probably goes to Laurie R King as I think the latest Mary Russell is the longest book I actually read this month, and I started another in the series too.
Books bought: About a dozen, including a few pre orders for 2021 but also a number of Christmas short stories.
Books read in 2021: 390
Books on the Goodreads to-read shelf (I don’t have copies of all of these!): 625
The end of another year. And it’s been a strange one hasn’t it. It’s a sign of the endless nature of the pandemic that I only just realised that I’ve had the wrong year against the total books in this post all year! As a month, December has been a weird one, for reasons that I’ve already been into above and also in my Goodbye 2021 post. I’m already thinking about how I handle the stats posts in 2022, as the block editor on WordPress makes lists a nightmare – unless there’s a hack I haven’t discovered yet, which is always a possibility. Anyway, Happy New Year everyone, and may 2022 be a better one.
Bonus picture: a screen grab from my Goodreads end of year stats. I’m actually fairly pleased with that. And if you want to follow me over on Goodreads, then you can find me here.
*Includes some short stories/novellas/comics/graphic novels (8 this month)