I’ve had a lovely sociable Christmas with friends and family this year – a welcome relief after the Covid-blighted winters of the last few years. I had a good few books in my stocking too, including the rather wonderful Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. I raced through this fierce and funny book with great enjoyment.
Here’s my annual round-up of books I loved in 2022.
Two short and razor-sharp historical novels
Stephen May: Sell Us The Rope. A vibrant, funny and menacing novel set in May 1907, when a young man from Georgia calling himself Koba arrives in the East End of London for the 5th Congress of the Russian Communist Party. The novel vividly conjures up the grimness of London at the time.
Denise Mina: Rizzio. An account of the historical murder of the advisor of Mary Queen of Scots, re-told by a masterful modern crime writer. The build-up, the murder itself and the perilous aftermath are told with heart-stopping pace. Sharper than a serpent’s tooth and highly recommended.
Three books of illuminating non-fiction:
Merlin Sheldrake: Entangled Life. A mind-altering book on fungi, which kept me gripped through a four-hour airport transfer, and changed my outlook on all things fungi in the process. Beautifully readable.
Steven Nightingale: Granada Light of Andalucia. This lyrical travel/history book made me long to return to the Albaicin and prompted me to start writing a Helen Oddfellow mystery set in this fascinating city.
Francesca Wade: Square Haunting. A fascinating history of five extraordinary women finding freedom in Mecklenburgh Square, Bloomsbury between the wars, from Dorothy L Sayers to Virginia Woolf.
Three novels that took me out of this world
Alan Garner: Treacle Walker. A spare, deceptively-simple and wonderfully evocative book. From its pungent language to its vivid images and otherworldly air, this is a book to escape into – and one I’ll be reading and discovering new time and again.
Amor Towles: A Gentleman in Moscow. I loved this spellbinding historical novel about making the most of life. A perfect flavour of escapism, a sense of style and elegance, and a frisson of derring-do.
Francis Spufford: Light Perpetual. The imaginary lives of five children lost in one rocket attack on south London. The prose is luminous, the stories compelling. The opening chapter, describing the scene in Woolworths a split second before the rocket brings instant destruction, is masterful.
Best of crimes
Dorothy Koomson: My Other Husband. A tense, gripping thriller, a real ‘couldn’t put it down’ book with twists you don’t see coming.
William Shaw: The Trawlerman. Another atmospheric and wonderfully enjoyable crime thriller from William Shaw, set on the south coast of Kent in Folkestone and Dungeness. I love the roundedness of Shaw’s characters – good people do bad things, and vice versa.
Pascal Garnier: How’s The Pain? This slice of noir is hilariously jaundiced. It tells the story of terminally-ill ‘vermin exterminator’ Simon, who has one last job to do – and needs a driver. Lyrical, funny, horrifying and unexpected.
Free books to start the New Year!
Money is often a bit tight right after Christmas – so how about some free e-books to load up your e-reader and get you through those cold January nights?
I’m taking part in two giveaways this month. Firstly, my short novel The Crimson Thread will be available free all month in Bookfunnel’s Happy New Year Giveaway, along with lots of other lovely goodies.
Then the first Helen Oddfellow mystery, Unlawful Things, will be free from 27th to 29th January, via Hello Books! Put the dates in your diary and follow this link from 27th Jan.