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2022 was a year of not much writing for me (explanation in my previous post.) But I did have lots of time for reading, which I used well! When I looked back over what I’d read, I realised there were too many good ones to list here, so instead I will pick out just a few favourites to recommend. Bear in mind that what I love to read is not necessarily similar to my own writing, either in style or content. The closest would probably be T. Kingfisher – that’s a pseudonym for Ursula Vernon, who writes for younger readers. This author’s adult fantasy books often have fairy tale tropes and threads, but for me their great strength is the engaging, complex characters who feel entirely real.

So here’s the list:

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher. A really engaging, beautifully written fantasy featuring an unlikely group of protagonists. Storytelling with heart – great characterisation.

Paladin series by T. Kingfisher. Three books: Paladin’s Grace, Paladin’s Strength, Paladin’s Hope. Epic fantasy adventure with strong female characters (and excellent male characters too.)

Haven by Emma Donoghue. Historical fiction, based on the imagined first voyage of Christian monks to the inhospitable Skellig islands off the south-east coast of Ireland, with plans to set up a religious foundation. This is a novel of great intensity. Mostly there are just three characters isolated together in very stark surroundings, with the psychological pressure building as things get harder. The author evokes the landscape wonderfully, and the excellent background research helps brings the story to life. Masterful storytelling.

The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn. Historical fiction, based around a family living in a stately home in rural England in the early 20th century. The story follows three central characters from their childhood, which includes home theatrical performances, through to World War II, where the action moves to France under Nazi occupation. I especially liked the way the author showed social change coming with wartime, with some levelling of the relationships between our upstairs and downstairs characters. The story has some wonderful examples of courage and resilience, but does not flinch from the horrors of wartime. This is a long book, but it kept me reading enthusiastically throughout. An amazing debut novel.

Ithaca by Claire North.  I love this talented and versatile author and I think this may be my favourite book of hers. There have been quite a few recent novels based on Greek mythology, and in particular books that focus on the women of the myths, eg Madeline Miller’s brilliant Circe. Ithaca is another outstanding work. It’s a reimagining of the story of Penelope, wife of King Odysseus, giving a voice and a presence both to her and to the women of the island of Ithaca. What do you do when your husband departs on a heroic quest, taking all the men of the island with him, and pretty much disappears for seventeen years? In a culture where women are not given roles as leaders, how do you step up and protect your homeland?

On a lighter note, I really enjoyed the Mirabelle Bevan series by Sara Sheridan. These are crime/thrillers set in England in the aftermath of World War II. The series starts in 1951 with Brighton Belle. Our protagonist,  Mirabelle, was a secret service operative during the war, and is working in an office job in Brighton. But she is trained to notice anything unusual, and the unexpected death of a customer leads her to investigate further. Aided by her fellow worker Vesta Churchill, Mirabelle puts her own safety on the line to get to the bottom of the mystery. I read my way through the whole series. They’re pacy and well written, and the period background is wonderfully evoked. Excellent entertainment.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams.
Another truly engaging novel. This quote is from the publisher’s blurb on Goodreads: ”Set when the women’s suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. It’s a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape the world and our experience of it.”  Central character Esme is a small child at the start of the story. She spends her days sitting under the big table where her father and other lexicographers work on preparing the first edition of the monumental Oxford English Dictionary, a task of many years. When slips of paper offering definitions of words fall within her grasp, Esme muses over the words not chosen for inclusion – often those related to women’s experience – and starts to make her own Dictionary of Lost Words. As the world outside changes, going through turbulent times, Esme’s horizons expand.

Some great new Australian fantasy: The Path of Thorns by A G Slatter and The Branded by Jo Riccioni.

I could go on, but that’s enough for now. I do put some of the books I read up on my Goodreads author page, so you’ll find a few more there as well as those listed above. Generally my rule is that if I dislike something I don’t review it on Goodreads.  This means most books that make it onto my page there will have a 4 or 5 star rating, with possibly some 3s.

Oh, and also …  two outstanding books I read in 2022 were advance review copies sent to me by publishers. Both titles come out in 2023. One is Thornhedge  by T Kingfisher and the other is Silenced by Ann Claycomb, coming in April from Titan Books. I’ll post more about those at some later stage.

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