Reading – looking back / looking forward


In amongst all the end of year book lists I and others were compiling as 2022 drew to a close was a request from Bookmunch. Peter, the head honcho over on that esteemed site, invited his roster of contributors to provide details of their best read of the year or the one book not yet read but for which reviews have moved it up our ‘that’s a book I need to read’ list.

I provided this as my ‘best read’ (maybe I should have limited myself to one choice…)

The book that had the most impact in 2022 was Where I End by Sophie White (Tramp Press) – a masterclass in creating a darkly disturbing character and sense of place, just brilliant. Anyone out there considering attending a writers retreat should be reading The Retreat by Alison Moore (Salt Publishing) –  a spicy yet insightful take on tribal behaviour, artistic endeavours, and the effects of aspiration, judgement and rejection. For readers who enjoy not just stories but what is behind them, The Other Jack by Charles Boyle (CB Editions) offers thoughts on: books, publishing, readers, writers, class, prejudice, rivalries – all written with elan and repartee. After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz (Galley Beggar Press) is a read that has lingered –  serious issues explored with an entertainingly ironic wit and verve. Finally, The Bygones by Jim Gibson (Tangerine Press) – a short story collection in which the author’s imagination and willingness to test boundaries make for vivid and engaging reading.

As you may have noticed, I didn’t provide the ‘one book not yet read’. Bookmunch published an excellent series, put out in the run up to Christmas, of the Books We’re Looking Forward to in 2023. This following is the one I would have suggested be included had I responded to Peter’s request (I probably would have had to use fewer words).

Close To Home by Michael Magee is due to be published in April by Hamish Hamilton. Described by the publisher as ‘Luminous and devastating, a portrait of modern masculinity as shaped by class, by trauma, and by silence, but also by the courage to love and to survive’, there is a suggestion the story has elements of autofiction.

I have been following Michael Magee (formerly known as Michael Nolan) since 2014 when I interviewed him around the publication, by Salt, of his intriguing sounding novella The Blame – in digital format only so I didn’t read it. After so many years I was delighted when The Bookseller reported that ‘Hamish Hamilton has scooped two “remarkable and devastating novels” by debut author Michael Nolan in an eight-way auction.’ I have since been watching as the proofs for this long awaited book have been received by early readers. I am still hoping one may find its way to me.

There are, of course, other books I am eager to read this year but, having cheered this author from afar for so long, his debut is my ‘that’s the book I need to read’.


Annual Roundup: My Books of 2022


2022 may not yet have ended but I choose to review my reading year around Christmas as advocacy may provide inspiration to readers looking to make purchases – for themselves or others. Since I posted last year’s annual roundup, I have read a mixed bag of well over 100 books. I was actually quite pleased by that count as it has felt at times that my rate of reading has become unusually slow compared to previously. What is also pleasing is how hard I found it to narrow this roundup to a manageable number of recommendations. As I have said in previous years, this is not a ‘best of’ list as such but rather a collection of books I believe readers who choose to follow my blog would also enjoy reading. They have been chosen because their impact has lingered.

Let’s start with some older works. I wasn’t familiar with either of these authors but was pleased to be introduced to them.

Amongst Women  The Gamekeeper
Amongst Women by John McGahern, published by Faber & Faber
The Gamekeeper by Barry Hines, published by And Other Stories

Naturally, I also read books by authors previously enjoyed, finding further treasure that left me eager to read more of their work. If you have ever considered going on a writer’s retreat, do pick up the Alison Moore.

foster the retreat
Foster by Claire Keegan, published by Faber & Faber
The Retreat by Alison Moore, published by Salt

still life  Where I End
Still Life by Sarah Winman, published by 4th Estate
Where I End by Sophie White, published by Tramp Press

Of new (to me) contemporary authors discovered, these following books had particular impact. This was down to both innovative storytelling and trusting the reader to unpeel layers that, while not always obvious, are there to reward those paying attention. It may take a little time to engage with some of the narrative styles but all are well worth pursuing.  

mischief acts  none of this serious
Mischief Acts by Zoe Gilbert, published by Bloomsbury
None of This Is Serious by Catherine Prasifka, published by Canongate

Seven Steeples after sappho
Seven Steeples by Sara Baume, published by Tramp Press
After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz, published by Galley Beggar

A couple of short story collections make it onto my list. This is a form I enjoy reading when well done, as here.

the bygones  Lunate vol 1
The Bygones by Jim Gibson, published by Tangerine Press
Lunate Vol. 1, published by Lunate Journal

Another short story collection slipped in as translated fiction, a category that regularly provides me with literary gems.

wilder winds  Of-Saints-and-Miracles
Wilder Winds by Bel Olid (translated by Laura McGloughlin), published by Fum d’Estampa
Of Saints and Miracles by Manuel Astur (translated by Claire Wadie), published by Peirene

For a memoir to grab me it has to provide something a little different, as both of these books do. There is no self-aggrandising here but rather windows into worlds that proved interesting, presented in taut, engaging prose.

the other jack  never mind comrade
The Other Jack by Charles Boyle, published by CB Editions
Never Mind, Comrade by Claudia Bierschenk, published by Tangerine Press

Poetry is a form I often feel unqualified to review in depth but which I enjoy reading when, as in this work, entries are both entertaining and accessible.

Mathematics for ladiesMathematics for Ladies by Jessy Randall, published by Goldsmiths Press

And finally, a few honourable mentions. I am always eager to read anything written by Jan Carson as I adore her playful writing style and how she so skilfully captures her characters. Louise Kennedy, a new author to me, also proved skilled at presenting those living in Northern Ireland, flaws and all, with honesty and compassion. I know less about South Africa than Ireland personally but, having visited friends there in the 1980s, staying in various homes and observing how they regarded and treated the ‘help’ who lived at the bottom of their gardens, Dawn Promislow’s writing resonated.

Trespasses   the raptures 
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy, published by Bloomsbury
The Raptures by Jan Carson, published by Doubleday

wanWan by Dawn Promislow, published by Freehand Books

So there we have a top 20 of sorts from my year of reading. I do hope this will provide some inspiration. I wish you all a happy and peaceful festive season with some time to curl up and relax with your choice of fine literature.


Robyn’s Reads of 2021

As you all might have noticed, I’ve taken a bit of a step back from the blog in the past couple of months. Now that I’m working full time, I barely have enough time to read – let alone to write about what I’m reading in any coherent way. Moving into 2022, I’m hoping to continue to contribute occasional reviews and perhaps other posts such as book recommendations, but I won’t take any regular review slots. Despite the chaos, I’ve read some truly brilliant books in 2021, so here are some of the best ones. In no particular order, the books I’d recommend are:


The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

If you’re looking for a well-developed epic fantasy with intricate worldbuilding, complex characters, and lingering tension, this is the book for you. The start of a new series inspired by Indian history, it’s everything I love about the fantasy genre. The sequel, The Oleander Sword, is due for publication next August so there’s plenty of time to get stuck in!

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

The sequel to A Deadly Education, Novik’s foray into the ‘magic school’ subgenre, this is a funny, entertaining, and surprisingly insightful novel perfect for fans of excessive sarcasm, antiheroes, and anthropomorphic settings. This is miles better than the already enjoyable first book and the ending sets up a tantalising finale in The Golden Enclaves, slated for a September release.

The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin

This quiet, atmospheric fantasy novel has crossover appeal to fans of both YA and adult fantasy, and is at its heart a character study about what its actually like being the sort of all-powerful hero foretold in prophecies. Its a beautiful read that packs an emotional punch, and as a standalone there’s no waiting around for any loose ends.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

The only criticism I have about this book is that it’s too short. The start of a new epic fantasy series inspired by the pre-Colombian Americas, its packed with fascinating characters, intriguing worldbuilding, and knife-edge tension. The sequel, Fevered Star, is due for publication in April, and with such a good platform to stand on should take the series to new heights.

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson is one of my favourite authors, and The Stormlight Archive is his magnum opus – an immense epic fantasy series with unparalleled worldbuilding and characters who couldn’t feel more real. Rhythm of War, the fourth book, takes the series in intriguing new directions, and the ending is so gut wrenching I can’t believe it’ll be a several year wait to find out what happens next. If you haven’t discovered Sanderson yet, now is the perfect time to start.

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

This dark fairytale is perfect for fans of Uprooted, enchanted forests, and lingering atmosphere. The first in a planned duology, the tale will conclude in For the Throne in June.

Science Fiction:

The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

The Wayfarers series is like a comforting hug – beautiful, character-driven science fiction that gives you hope for humanity and beyond. Unlike most series, the books are only loosely interconnected and can be read out of order. Chambers has confirmed that this will be the last book, and whilst its sad to come to the end of a tale that cemented my love for the sci-fi genre, this book is a lovely note to end on.

The Second Rebel by Linden A Lewis

The first book in this series, The First Sister, was a solid space opera in the vein of Star Wars – The Second Rebel elevates the potential to new heights, with an intriguing world, complex political dynamics, and fascinating characters. If you’re looking for an intergalactic sci-fi with all the technology, family drama, and witty one-liners of the original Star Wars trilogy, this is the series for you.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

The man who wrote the best-selling The Martian is back with another humorous, science-packed, and clever novel. If you’re looking for a novel that details what it might really be like living in space, with plenty of funny moments thrown in, this could be the book for you.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Dystopia has gone a little out of fashion since the days of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner, but if you’re looking for a quieter dystopia and don’t mind a book that makes your head hurt with its complexity, this is a vastly rewarding read.

Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta

A quiet, atmospheric dystopia highly reminiscent of poetry in its writing style, this is a crossover between science fiction and literary fiction with all the best of both worlds. A surprise discovery that’s been on my to-read list for years, this is a gorgeous feat of wordcraft.


My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

A challenging novel about childhood sexual assault, this is a powerful and gripping read about an immensely important and timely issue.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

A light, fun piece of escapism, this contemporary sapphic romance is the perfect read when you’re having a bad day.

Young Adult:

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

A powerful coming-of-age novel about a teenager with HIV, this is both a highly enjoyable read and an important, educational one. With HIV still so highly stigmatised, this digs deep into the real-life impact without ever losing its accessibility or appeal to a teenage audience.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

An engaging contemporary fantasy about a transgender teen in a conservative Latinx community, this combines fun paranormal elements with serious interrogations of issues including gender, immigration, and class.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callendar

A coming of age story about identity, art, and purpose, this has some of the most realistic depictions of teenagers I’ve ever seen in fiction. The characters aren’t necessarily likeable, but they’re delightfully real, and highly relatable for any teenager just figuring out growing up.

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

A young adult fantasy set on a series of islands, this is a brilliantly entertaining and exceptionally crafted novel about the power of stories, surviving toxic friendships, and the mysteries of the sea.


The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

Last but certainly not least, this delightful story about the friendship between a girl and a polar bear is both a rallying call against climate change and a heartwarming tale for both children and adults alike.

I hope you can find something here that intrigues you! Wishing you all a wonderful 2022 filled with great reads.

Annual Roundup: My Books of 2021


Christmas once again approaches and with it the excuse, should one be needed, to buy books for family and others we care for, including ourselves. The titles selected here represent just some of my personal recommendations from my reading over the past year. I posted reviews for well over one hundred books in 2021 so choosing just a few from the many enjoyed wasn’t easy. I hope those who share my literary tastes will find this post useful, or at least of some interest.

As with my monthly roundups, click on the title below to read my review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

We start with fiction likely to appeal to a wide variety of readers.

stone diaries case study
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, published by World Editions
Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet, published by Saraband

Beautifully told stories dealing with just one of the shameful periods in Irish history.

emmet-and-me  small things
Emmet and Me by Sara Gethin, published by Honno
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, published by Faber & Faber

Short stories that capture the Irish mindset with aplomb.

the last resort   intimacies
The Last Resort by Jan Carson, published by Doubleday
Intimacies by Lucy Caldwell, published by Faber & Faber

An academic study of contemporary Northern Irish writing that is fascinating and written to be accessible to all.

northern irish writingNorthern Irish Writing After The Troubles by Caroline Magennis, published by Bloomsbury

Exploring areas of Great Britain – fine non fiction.

coasting  where
Coasting by Jonathan Raban, published by Eland
Where? by Simon Moreton, published by Little Toller

Non fiction with bite.

chauvo feminismChauvo Feminism by Sam Mills, published by The Indigo Press

Fiction with a darker edge.

beasts turned away  fox fires
The Beasts They Turned Away by Ryan Dennis, published by époque press
Fox Fires
by Wyl Menmuir, published by Salt

Fiction that shines a light on our less than admirable behaviours, beautifully told in imaginative ways.

the high house  Pupa
The High House by Jessie Greengrass, published by Swift Press
Pupa by J.O. Morgan, published by Henningham Family Press

Poetry that powerfully explores our present situation, living through a time of plague.

SpringJournal  the heeding
Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs, published by CB editions
The Heeding by Rob Cowen, published by Elliott & Thompson

Should have, at least, made the Booker shortlist if not gone all the way.

an islandAn Island by Karen Jennings, published by Holland House Books

Deliciously dark short stories.

dead relativesDead Relatives by Lucie McKnight Hardy, published by Dead Ink

Reminders that I should read more translated fiction.

ramifications  winter flowers
Ramifications by Daniel Saldaña París (translated by Christina MacSweeney), published by Charco Press
Winter Flowers by Angélique Villeneuve (translated by Adriana Hunter), published by Peirene Press

For when we need a laugh, within damn fine storytelling.

domestic bliss
Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters by Jane Ions, published by Bluemoose

Encourage children to pick up books by giving them compelling reads.

sunny wicked lady  last bear
Sunny and the Wicked Lady by Alison Moore, published by Salt
The Last Bear by Hannah Gold, published by Harper Collins

So there we have it, 23 books that particularly impressed me, many published by our wonderful small, independent presses – do please support them when you can. Whatever your choice of literature over the festive season and coming year, I wish you many hours of satisfying reading.

Robyn’s Roundup: 20 Highlights of 2020

2020 is almost over! It’s been a strange year in many ways, but perhaps as a form of escapism I’ve read more books this year than I have in the past two years combined. I’m grateful to all of the fantastic authors, editors, publicists, translators, illustrators, and others responsible for creating so many brilliant portals into other worlds for me to escape into – I don’t know what I’d do without them.

As Jackie said in her round-up post last weekend, curating an end-of-year recommendations list is a tough job – every book is special in its own way. This ‘highlights’ list contains books that especially resonated with me and that I’ve found myself thinking about long after I’ve finished reading them. Click on the book title to go to my review or the author’s name to go to the publisher’s website.


Challenger DeepNeal Shusterman – a contemporary with excellent mental health representation

Sorcery of ThornsMargaret Rogerson – fantasy with a strong female protagonist, bisexual representation, and a very interesting cat

Queen of VoltsAmanda Foody – the final book in the ‘Shadow Game’ trilogy packed with LGBT representation and a fascinating magic system


Harrow the NinthTamsyn Muir – the second book in the ‘Locked Tomb’ trilogy, filled with more lesbian necromancers in space, utter chaos, and complete hilarity. No sense to be found here

The First SisterLinden A Lewis – Linden’s debut novel, a space opera with own-voices non-binary representation and a central sapphic relationship


The Empire of GoldSA Chakraborty – the final book in the Daevabad trilogy, a fascinating Islamic/Middle Eastern inspired epic fantasy

The Midnight LibraryMatt Haig – contemporary fantasy by the well known self help book author

The Ten Thousand Doors of JanuaryAlix E Harrow – Alix’s debut novel, a historical portal fantasy with gorgeous prose and a mixed-race protagonist

There Will Come A DarknessKaty Rose Pool – Katy’s debut novel, traditional epic fantasy with LGBT representation and fascinating Roman empire inspired worldbuilding

The Bone Shard DaughterAndrea Stewart – Andrea’s debut novel, East Asian-inspired epic fantasy with a central sapphic relationship and one of the best animal companions of all time

Ninth HouseLeigh Bardugo – dark fantasy, ghosts and secret societies in the heart of Yale

CirceMadeline Miller – a retelling of the Greek myths surrounding the goddess Circe, beautifully written and compelling


Anxious PeopleFredrik Backman – a closed-room mystery by the renowned Swedish contemporary author of Beartown and A Man Called Ove

A Girl Made of AirNydia Hetherington – Nydia’s debut novel, a spellbinding tale of a circus entwined with Manx legends


The Sin EaterMegan Campisi – sin eaters atone for the sins of others by taking them on themselves, and are thus shunned from society and banned from communicating – so what happens when a sin eater is the only witness to a crime?

The BetrayalsBridget Collins – blurring the border between historical fiction and fantasy, Collins’ sophomore novel is as gorgeously written as it is packaged


Mexican GothicSilvia Moreno Garcia – a classic gothic mansion story set in rural 1950s Mexico

The Year of the WitchingAlexis Henderson – Alexis’s debut novel, the delightfully creepy tale of a Judeo-Christian cult


The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueVE Schwab – the beautifully written story of a girl who makes a deal with the devil to live forever – but in turn is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets

The Once and Future WitchesAlix E Harrow – an alternate history in which the US suffragette movement turns to witchcraft, packed with gorgeous prose and evocative imagery

I hope you’ve discovered lots of brilliant books in 2020 and that there’s something here that interests you! Here’s to a great 2021.

Annual Roundup: My Books of 2020

2020 may not yet be over but, as in previous years, I’ve chosen to put out my annual roundup before Christmas. Books make the perfect gifts, especially as they are easy to wrap and mostly not too pricey. These are my personal recommendations from the titles I’ve reviewed over the past 12 months. It’s not a ‘best of’ list – who am I to judge what is best when so many titles exist and I have only managed to read a few? Rather, this selection highlights some of my favourites – books that I enjoyed reading and that continue to resonate. I hope those who share my literary tastes may find it useful, or at least of some interest.

I posted reviews for just over 100 books on my blog in 2020. Since Robyn took on the role of my intern in June, she has contributed many more. Robyn’s recommendations will be listed in a separate post to be published next weekend.

As with my monthly roundups, click on the title below to read my review and on the cover to learn more about the book.


Let’s start with fiction. These first two books tell compelling stories that bite.

The Mating Habits of Stags by Roy Robinson, published by Lightning Books
The Nacullians by Craig Jordan-Baker, published by époque press


The next two selected are, on the surface, more everyday tales but contain pleasing depth.

Cat Step by Alison Irvine, published by Dead Ink
The Blackbird by Claire Allen, published by Henningham Family Press


Two that hold a darkness within their pages but not one that overshadows the fine storytelling.

The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes, published by oneworld
How Pale the Winter Has Made Us by Adam Scovell, published by Influx


For those who want straightforward but still fully rounded stories that are both engaging and entertaining (also proof that I do not only read books from my beloved independent presses!)

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, published by Doubleday
V for Victory by Lissa Evans, published by Doubleday


More challenging to read but well worth considering.

Lake of Urine by Guillermo Stitch, published by Sagging Meniscus
Beastings by Benjamin Myers, originally released by Bluemoose Books, now published by Bloomsbury


I also enjoy short stories and these two collections delivered plenty of food to satisfy a variety of literary appetites.

London Gothic by Nicholas Royle, published by Cōnfingō
She-Clown and Other Stories by Hannah Vincent, published by Myriad Editions


Micro story collections offering short tales that are cleverly complete – they also contain a generous dollop of humour.

Postcard Stories 2 by Jan Carson, published by The Emma Press
You Ruin It When You Talk by Sarah Manvel, published by Open Pen


Single story chapbooks that pack a punch – so much conveyed in just a few pages.

A Stone Statue in the Future by Benjamin Myers, jointly published by Bluemoose and Little Toller
Signal by Michael Walters, published by Nightjar


Poetry with the potential to appeal to all readers.

Vertigo to Go by Brendon Booth-Jones, published by The Hedgehog Press
London Undercurrents by Joolz Sparks and Hilaire, published by Holland Park Press


On then to non fiction. Two books that encourage the reader to look at our world anew.

The Secret Life of Fungi by Aliya Whiteley, published by Elliott & Thompson
Unofficial Britain by Gareth E. Rees, published by Elliott & Thompson


Proving that non fiction prose can be piercing yet written with poetic beauty.

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa, published by Tramp Press
My Second Home by Dave Haslam, published by Cōnfingō


This illustrated book has been widely publicised with captions quoted as offering help in adversity – something that can put me off a title – but was exactly what I needed in this difficult year.

The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, published by Ebury Press


23 books that particularly impressed me – all but 3 published by small, independent presses. Whatever your choice of literature over the festive season and coming year, I wish you many hours of satisfying reading.

Robyn’s Cosmere Christmas

It’s nearly December! Are you all excited for Christmas? I can’t wait – it’s the last big break I have before Medical School Finals (how did this happen?), and I really need the time to relax. In the same vein, I’ve decided that rather than focusing on reviews of new and upcoming books, this month I’ll focus on one of my favourite collections of books – Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere. I hope you’ll join me in this adventure into one of the best and most ambitious works of epic fantasy of all time! For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Cosmere, here’s a quick introduction.

What is the Cosmere?

The Cosmere is a fictional universe. Many, but not all, of Sanderson’s series’ take place within this universe. Each series can be read individually without requiring any knowledge of the wider Cosmere, but there are elements of crossover and a whole wider mythos for those who want to investigate them. Every world within the Cosmere shares underlying rules for their magic systems and a unifying creation mythos, but each world, their occupants, religions, cultures, and magics remain unique. Sanderson has stated that he plans for at least 36 books within the Cosmere, which is a hugely impressive undertaking! More information can be found on the official Wiki here, but please be aware of spoilers.

Which books are set within the Cosmere?

The main current works within the Cosmere are:

  • Elantris
  • Mistborn Era 1 – The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages
  • Mistborn Era 2 – The Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, The Bands of Mourning
  • The Stormlight Archive – The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, Edgedancer (novella), Oathbringer, Dawnshard (novella), Rhythm of War
  • Warbreaker
  • The Emperor’s Soul (novella)
  • The White Sand graphic novel series

In the future, there are plans for two sequels to Elantris, a sequel to Warbreaker, a third Mistborn Era, and six more novels in the Stormlight Archive. I can’t imagine writing that many epic fantasy books…

You’ve persuaded me! Where should I start?

The short answer is wherever you want! Each series can be read alone, and they all appeal to slightly different audiences. The longer answer is that some books do improve the reading of others – Warbreaker improves the later books in the Stormlight Archive, for example – so are good to read first. Personally, I would recommend starting with The Final Empire or Elantris, and reading The Stormlight Archive – Sanderson’s Magnum Opus – last. But there are no rules, so if you want to start with The Way of Kings, go for it! Check out my reviews over the coming month and see which series – if any – appeals to you.

I didn’t like <insert Cosmere book here>. Should I try another one?

I’m a bit biased, but I’d definitely say yes. All the books are written in Sanderson’s signature style, but they’re very different – The Final Empire is a fantasy heist novel, Elantris is political fantasy, and The Way of Kings is a classic fantasy war novel. If you’re not a big fan of a certain genre of fantasy, you can absolutely skip that series. Personally, I’m not a big graphic novel reader so I’ve never read beyond White Sand volume 1 (I live in hope that a novel version will be published one day…)

Will your reviews have spoilers?

No – this month will be a completely spoiler-free zone! If you want to discuss the Cosmere with me, including spoilers, I’m quite happy to be contacted on Twitter. Please leave the comments spoiler-free for those who’ve never read a Cosmere book before.

Which is your favourite Cosmere book?

Read my reviews to find out!

I hope this brief introduction was useful and that you’ll join me on my tour of the Cosmere this month. Merry Christmas!

Books2Door: Box sets for kids, whatever their age

As an always avid reader I was keen to encourage my children to discover for themselves the joy to be found within books. I read stories to them from an early age, filling the shelves in their nursery bedrooms with beautiful picture books. Favourites were revisited so often I could recite the words.

Once they had mastered reading for themselves, this habit I had nurtured proved expensive to feed. Living in a rural village, visits to a public library required yet another car journey, and time fitted in around their already packed schedule of organised activities. Bookshops were visited only rarely; the choices made there too often not satisfying their still developing preferences.

Discovering The Book People catalogue (browsed in paper form, back in the day) enabled me to purchase numerous box sets of both fiction and non-fiction at a price that could be managed regularly. My children’s updated shelves soon filled with: Horrible Histories and Geographies; dinosaur and science books; fictional adventures featuring Alex Rider, Percy Jackson and many more favourites. I also purchased sets of Booker prize shortlists, or classic author collections, for myself.

Although by last year I hadn’t ordered from The Book People in quite some time, when I read that the company had filed for administration I felt a sadness for the loss to current parents of young children with voracious reading habits.

It was therefore pleasing when Levi from Books2Door contacted me last month asking if I would be interested in a collaboration. They would send me a box set of my choice from their online site in exchange for me writing about the product and their service. On visiting Books2Door I discovered a wealth of box sets and other tempting offerings – just the sort of books my children enjoyed throughout their formative years. After consulting with them – now in their twenties but still, thankfully, reading – we decided that The Witcher series was most likely to be of interest. I agreed to take it for inspection.


The box set arrived – cellophane wrapped and packed in a sturdy box for posting – within a couple of days of ordering. The slip case in which the books are temptingly placed is strong and has attractive artwork.

The books themselves are quality paperbacks – the same paper and font as available from other retailers (we compared them to another copy of the first book in the series that my daughter already has on her shelves). My children were pleased that the cover art is the original and not the TV show versions.


While I am aware that discounted books take business from high street bookshops and cut the revenue authors receive per sale, they do enable parents to provide their children with complete book collections that may not otherwise be affordable, or indeed matching (a bane when series are purchased individually over months or years).

My grown children still reread the books they most enjoyed as young adults, time and again – their boxsets have proved excellent value.  

Books2Door is a company I can happily recommend. Thank you, Levi, for sending me The Witcher series gratis.


The Witcher boxset: click here

Annual Roundup: My Books of 2019

Before anyone points it out, I know there are still a couple of weeks left in the year. Plenty of time to read a few more books and maybe find a gem that could have made it into my annual list of recommendations. However, with January fast approaching I need to make a start on my 2020 TBR pile. Also, I like to get this list out before Christmas in case it tempts anyone to buy another easy to wrap present, or to treat themselves.

A quick count suggests I have read around 135 books so far this year. Unlike Lucy Ellmann (author of the critically acclaimed tome, Ducks, Newburyportand seemingly fond of making sweeping, controversial statements when interviewed), I enjoy reading contemporary fiction including quality crime fiction. Many of the titles selected below were published this year. Not all though. Let’s start with the books I read in 2019 that were not new releases and that I am happy to recommend.

Click on the title to read my review. Click on the cover to find out more about the book.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, published by Corsair
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, published by Picador

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges, published by Fox, Finch and Tepper
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, published by Salt

On Silbury Hill by Adam Thorpe, published by Little Toller


It is fair to say that I enjoy translated fiction from around the world. Books selected for translation will generally have been well received in their original language before being published in English – many are award winners. These are just a few read this year that I particularly recommend.

Katalin Street by Magda Szabó (translated by Len Rix), published by MacLehose Press
Resistance by Julián Fuks (translated by Daniel Hahn), Published by Charco Press

A Devil Comes to Town by Paolo Maurensig (translated by Anne Milano Appel), published by World Editions
The German House by Annette Hess (translated by Elisabeth Lauffer), published by Harper Via


Short Story collections are, apparently, more difficult to sell than novels. Given modern man’s allegedly shortening attention span this seems strange to me. If tempted to dip in then these two books are worth considering – quality writing telling succinct, captivating tales.

Witches Sail in Eggshells by Chloe Turner, published by Reflex Press
This Way to Departures by Linda Mannheim, published by Influx Press


Most non fiction is chosen by readers because the subject matter is of interest. Sometimes, however, a book is just so original, well written and entertaining that it is worth reading however much (or little) the headline topic may appeal. I believe every reader would find the following two titles both interesting and engaging.

Car Park Life by Gareth E. Rees, published by Influx Press
The White Heron Beneath The Reactor by Gary Budden, with artwork by Maxim Griffin


Children’s fiction is a genre I would like to read more of. Treat the young readers in your life to this, the second in a series that I am enjoying immensely.

Sunny and the Hotel Splendid by Alison Moore (illustrated by Ross Collins), published by Salt


My next recommendation is a recent read so hasn’t yet had time to prove it will linger. Nevertheless, I’m including it because it was so compelling and hard hitting – YA Fiction to open eyes to the challenges faced by troubled teens.

The Raven Wheel by AF Stone, published by The Book Guild


Crime fiction is a popular but crowded genre so authors have to offer something special to be noticed. The Marnie Rome series, which I believe finished with this next recommendation (I have read and enjoyed all six books in the series), does so with ease.

Never Be Broken by Sarah Hilary, published by Headline


On then to new releases in general, sometimes described as literary, fiction. This includes titles with greater or lesser elements of fantasy – isn’t all fiction an imaginative creation? My longest list of recommendations as it is the type of book I read most often.

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession, published by Bluemoose Books
Mothlight by Adam Scovell, published by Influx

The Fire Starters by Jan Carson, published by Doubleday
Flotsam by Meike Ziervogel, published by Salt

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, published by Granta Books
The Offing by Benjamin Myers, published by Bloomsbury

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay, published by Atlantic Books
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, published by Harvill Secker


Twenty-four books is more than I would usually include in my annual roundup but I decided not to cull my choices further as all of the above deserve consideration. I hope that each of you will find something of interest in my recommendations. I wish you many hours of satisfying reading.


Random Musings: The TLS didn’t ask but I’m answering anyway – Twenty Questions

I enjoy reading the Times Literary Supplement’s Twenty Questions, in which Writers and thinkers take on twenty questions from the TLS, revealing their favourite books, writing habits and best advice. Many of those featured are playful with their answers. Some come across as generous and unassuming. Others appear a tad pretentious, or perhaps that is the nature of the questions. They encourage a particular shade of cleverness be revealed.

I read a great deal and have done for many years yet it is unlikely I would be regarded, by those who consider themselves the literary elite at least, to be well read. There are too many tomes I have not chosen to pick up, or readily admit to not enjoying. I sometimes ponder who decides on the intellectual worth of a book and why they value their personal opinion so highly.

As a little exercise I decided I would answer the TLS questions. I am a writer and a thinker, although not, perhaps, the sort the TLS had in mind.

I’m doing this for fun, because I want to, and it’s my blog so I can.


What is your favourite book published in the past twelve months?

Choosing favourites is hard. Also, what will be enjoyed and appreciated changes with circumstances. In my Books of 2018 post I narrowed my recommendations down to 15 books from around 160 read in that year. Since then, from 90 or so books finished, I would add: a short story collection, Witches Sail In Eggshells by Chloe Turner; a poetry collection, Vertigo and Ghost by Fiona Benson; a couple of translated novels, Resistance by Julián Fuks (translated by Daniel Hahn), A Devil Comes to Town by Paolo Maurensig (translated by Anne Milano Appel); and half a dozen other works of fiction – The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay, Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas, by Daniel James, The Fire Starters by Jan Carson, Leonard and Hungry Paul by by Rónán Hession, The Offing by Benjamin Myers.

What subject have you found it most challenging to write about?

Men and how so many of them think about and treat women. Their apparent inability to interact with us as they would each other continually perplexes me and I find this disconnect difficult to articulate in any meaningful way. We are all human, with differences and similarities that cross the lines of gender.

Which author (living or dead) do you think is most underrated?

Have you heard of the authors listed in my favourite books list above? They each deserve your attention. The small, independent publishers are discovering many writers deserving wider acclaim – spread the word and read their work.

Which author (living or dead) do you think is most overrated?

Dickens. I’ve read many of his novels in an effort to discover why he continues to be highly regarded and widely read.

I am, however, a strong advocate for readers choosing books they enjoy over books they think they should read because some self-appointed arbiter of literary taste tells them it is necessary if they are to be admitted to the high table of literary conversation.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Be yourself (it is incredibly stressful trying to be anything else).

This feeds into the best advice on writing I have been given – to find my own style rather than try to copy someone else. We can all improve by reading others’ work but if it already exists seek out the original.

To what extent, in your view, is writing a political act?

Politics is about a person’s beliefs and actions. Writers wish to be read, to have their voices heard. Stories enable them to disseminate their views and thereby influence readers’ thinking. So yes, writing is political, although often in a subtle, cloaked manner.

Do you have any writing tics?

I expect so but until someone points them out to me I will remain unaware of them.

What is the first thing you wrote?

The letter A.

As a teenager I wrote poetry. In a little black book. Thankfully this was destroyed, along with my extensive collection of personal letters and souvenirs from my first 23 years of life, before I moved from Belfast to Wiltshire.

For reasons I can no longer remember I let my sister read one of those poems, one I was particularly pleased with at the time. She told me it would hurt my parents’ feelings. I still struggle finding the balance between expressing myself honestly, as I need to, and being mindful of the potential impact.

How, in your opinion, should we measure a book’s success?

Reader reaction, especially over the longer term. I dislike when new books are rated based on how they sell in the first few months after publication. Continuing reader recommendation over time is a more valuable measure.

What do you read on holiday?

I tend to take short breaks and cram as much activity into those few days away as I have energy for. Most of my holiday reading is therefore done on the journey. I choose books I expect to hold my attention but also be easy to set down without losing the thread. I may choose a thriller, or a story by an author whose work I have previously enjoyed – something to entertain.

I regularly seek out literature that challenges convention but not while on holiday.

Quick questions:

Toni Morrison or Philip Roth? Haven’t read anything by either.

Ursula K. Le Guin or Philip K. Dick? Haven’t read anything by either.

King Lear or The Tempest? Lear. I haven’t seem The Tempest played and don’t enjoy reading Shakespeare.

Jack Kerouac or James Baldwin? Didn’t enjoy Kerouac and haven’t read anything by Baldwin.

Virginia Woolf or Emily Dickinson? Woolf. Only know Dickinson from quotes – which should actually have encouraged me to read some of her work.

Hamilton or West Side Story? Are these based on books? I’ve no desire to see either played.

Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones? I’ve only read the first Game of Thrones book, which I enjoyed. I read everything I could get my hands on by Tolkien as a teenager but haven’t picked him up since. I seem to remember the plot of Lord of the Rings included numerous journeys – all that effort to get to the gates of Mordor the first time and then they decide to go elsewhere! I enjoyed both screen adaptations.

Gabriel García Márquez or Angela Carter? Haven’t read anything by either.

Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle? Haven’t read any Christie. Adored Conan Doyle.

Beyoncé or Bob Dylan? Bob Dylan, despite his terrible singing, although I still don’t understand why he was awarded the Nobel.