Robyn Reviews: The Final Strife

‘The Final Strife’ is Saara El-Arifi’s debut, a sweeping epic fantasy inspired by her Ghanaian and Sudanese heritage. The premise is excellent, but it takes a long time to grow into itself, and the initially unlikeable characters make the start especially slow. By the end this is an engaging and enjoyable read, with a solid ending that makes you want to read on – but the work it takes to get there prevents this from hitting its potential heights.

In this world, social status is determined by blood. Red blood equals the elite – Embers, the ruling class, with access to blood magic and control. Blue blood means the workers – Dustings – a poor faction with dreams of resistance. Clear is the blood of the invisible – Ghostings – slaves with no rights, constantly overlooked and oppressed. However, eighteen years ago, a group of Dustings exchanged twelve of their children with Ember children – and now one of those children has come of age. A pity, then, that rather than becoming the fated Chosen One, Sylah has been broken by the death of her family and drifts along, surviving only with the help of drugs, alcohol, and an illegal fighting ring. However, with the return of someone unexpected from her past, Sylah finds herself thrust back into the world of resistance. Can she overcome everything to be what she was intended to be – a saviour?

There are four characters granted a perspective in this book – Sylah, Anoor, Hassa, and Jond – but Sylah is clearly the protagonist. Bitter, worn-down, and deeply addicted to Joba seeds, she’s an extremely difficult character to like. She weilds anger not just as a weapon but as a survival mechanism, leaving her short-sighted and rash. She longs to be more than she is but the thought of putting in the work to get there is anathema. Sylah cares strongly about certain others, and about the rights of the oppressed – but it’s initially difficult to parse out how much of that is true empathy and how much is self-interest. It’s easy to feel sorry for Sylah, but much harder to connect with her. As the story develops, she starts to think more before she acts and allows herself to start to care for others, although she remains a caustic personality. El-Arifi makes a brave narrative choice choosing Sylah for her protagonist, and I’m not entirely convinced it was the best one.

Anoor gets the most page time after Sylah and is very different – although in another life the two characters could have taken each others place. One of the Dusting children left with an Ember family, Anoor has been raised in a life of luxury and privilege – but her family have never allowed her to forget that she is not truly one of them. Caring but self-indulgent, Anoor enjoys good food, fashion, and reading her zines – she’s a dreamer rather than a doer. However, when pushed, Anoor is determined, creative, and incredibly strong. Anoor has the strongest character arc, and despite the initial impression of the pampered princess she’s much easier to connect to than Sylah, providing a welcome addition to the narrative.

Hassa and Jond are given far less page time, although arguably Hassa has the most interesting perspective. A Ghosting, she has led a hard life – but also a fairly invisible one, allowing her to see things hidden from her contemporaries. The relationship between Hassa and Sylah is intriguing, and I hope more time is given to her in the sequel. Jond is never given the time to fully develop, so its difficult to have any opinion on him – I suspect he will play a larger part in later books.

The representation in this book is excellent. Sylah’s sexuality is never labelled but she has sexual relationships with multiple genders. The society has three accepted genders and individuals can identify however they please – Hassa is a trans woman taking hormones, which never impacts on her role in the story at all. Hassa, like all Ghostings, is also disabled and uses sign language. Everything is crafted to be part of the story but not key to it, and its nice seeing such effortless diversity in fantasy.

The plot is strong, using the trope of a training plotline and a competition to elect the new leaders. The first 100-150 pages are exposition, but once the training gets underway this becomes well paced and engaging, with a good balance between trilogy-furthering subplots and the main competition plot of the novel. There’s less fighting than might be expected in a novel about vengeance, but the fight scenes that do feature are well written. The writing in general is gritty and dark in places but suits the story well.

The worldbuilding leaves plenty of unanswered questions for future books, but works. The magic system, again, isn’t utilised as much as might be expected, but has plenty of potential for exploration going forward. There’s a great deal of incentive to read on to get some answers – a key element when writing a trilogy.

Personally, I would have liked a different distribution of character perspectives. The start is too slow and too much time is spent with Sylah, the most challenging character to connect to. This would be an easier and likely more enjoyable read if more early page time was given to Hassa and Anoor. For an epic fantasy, this is on the short side at under 500 pages, so using an extra 50-100 to get that greater reader connection wouldn’t make it too unwieldy. However, other readers will likely appreciate the shorter length and may find the plot engaging enough not to need a likeable protagonist. Those who enjoyed books like ‘The Rage of Dragons‘ should find plenty to love here.

Overall, this is a solid debut with an excellent premise just let down by a slow start. Future installments in the trilogy have plenty to build on to be excellent novels. Recommended for fans of epic fantasy who are happy to wait for the story to unfold.

Published by HarperVoyager
Hardback: 23rd June 2022
Paperback: 2nd March 2023


Robyn Reviews: The Drowned Woods

‘The Drowned Woods’ is part heist novel, part an exploration of Welsh mythology, and fully an immersive and entertaining read. Set in the same world as Lloyd-Jones’ previous novel ‘The Bone Houses‘, it draws on the strengths of the previous novel and adds to them, producing a more layered book. No knowledge of the previous novel is required to read and enjoy this, but the epilogue hits hard to those with knowledge of its predecessor.

Eighteen year old Mer is the last living Water Diviner. Having escaped a life of servitude under the Prince, where she was forced to murder hundreds on his command, she’s living hidden in a small village – until her old handler returns with a proposition. He wants to end the prince’s power once and for all. Together with a crew of hesitant allies including a man cursed by the Fae, the lady of thieves, and a corgi, they set off to track down a magical well – the source of the kingdom’s riches. But it’s not easy to topple the most powerful person in the land – and surrounded by ulterior motives, it’s unclear who Mer can trust.

Mer makes a solid and relatable protagonist. Like ‘The Bone Houses’, ‘The Drowned Woods’ chooses to use established YA tropes rather than breaking the mould – meaning that Mer is a powerful Chosen One who has been wronged by those in power and is out for revenge. She’s strong, creative, but with serious trust issues and a habit of lashing out before thinking. She has elements of Vin from ‘Mistborn‘ and Lola from the ‘Shadow Game‘ trilogy, and fans of strong female characters in general will appreciate her.

The supporting cast is excellent, with the relationships between characters expertly written. Fane, a man cursed by the Fae to cause the death of seven others, is the highlight – he’s a kindhearted man with a keen eye for justice, and always accompanied by his faithful corgi. He complements Mer perfectly – where she rushes into things, he stops to ponder; where she starts with violence, this is always his last resort. Despite this, they develop a deep understanding – they’re both pure of heart in a group where sincerity is a forgotten concept.

Ifanna, Mer’s ex-girlfriend and the heir to a family of thieves, is another highlight. A girl with a point to prove, she’s showy and extravagant and an exceptional thief – but she’s made mistakes, and doesn’t always come at things with the right perspective. Her character arc is very strong, and the dynamic between her, Mer, and Fane is fascinating to observe.

Mer is never referred to on-page as bisexual or pansexual, but her attraction to both men and women is well-written without fuss or over-emphasis. Its nice seeing more YA where this is simply fact and doesn’t have to be a plot point.

The plot is the main area where this book is stronger than ‘The Bone Houses’. It’s tauter, faster-paced, avoids exposition, and has more unpredictable twists and turns. Lloyd-Jones still follows well-trodden paths in many of her narrative choices, but she also takes a few risks and they pay off in a more entertaining novel. The Welsh mythology is also allowed to play a slightly stronger role with more explicit references to origins of magic and the role of the Fae.

Overall, this is an excellent YA fantasy with solid characters and well-written character relationships, an entertaining and well-paced plot, and an excellent atmosphere. A recommended read.

Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 16th August 2022

Robyn Reviews: The Bone Houses

‘The Bone Houses’ by Emily Lloyd-Jones is an enjoyable, if conventional, YA fantasy novel, set against the intriguing backdrop of Welsh mythology. The writing flows, the characters are engaging, and whilst this doesn’t win many points for originality, it executes the staples of the genre with aplomb.

Seventeen-year-old Ryn is desperaely trying to hold together her family, and her family’s prized business: gravedigging for her remote village’s graveyard. Both are in dire straits. Since the disappearance of her father and uncle, Ryn has been the sole breadwinner – but her uncle left debts, and there aren’t enough deaths to make a living gravedigging. There’s also the small matter of the dead in Colbren refusing to stay dead.

Enter Ellis: an apprentice mapmaker with a mysterious past. Claiming to want to more accurately map Colbren, his arrival coincides with an uptick in the risen dead, or Bone Houses – forcing Ryn into a difficult position. What will she risk to save her family and town – and perhaps stop the Bone Houses for good?

The story alernates between Ryn and Ellis’s perspectives, although Ryn feels like the primary protagonist. Strong-willed, impulsive, and with a huge heart, Ryn closely resembles many other YA protagonists – but that doesn’t make her any less easy to connect to. She’s frustrated – at her situation, her age, the politics of the village, and even her family – but she cares deeply, and everything comes from a good place.

Ellis is kept more of a mystery. A mapmaker raised in luxury as part of the Prince’s household, he’s treated with suspicion by Ryn and the residents of Colbren, who don’t believe he’s there simply to make maps. He’s too well dressed and spoken to blend in – but even the local aristocrat sees an intruder rather than a kindred spirit. Ellis is inquisitive but quiet, and his connection to the reader is slower, his story taking time to unfold. However, his softness works as a contrast to Ryn’s obvious strength – and it becomes increasingly clear he’s strong in his own way.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is its depiction of chronic pain, a condition Ellis lives with. There’s no use of magic to minimise it and no attempt to define him by it – it is simply there, always in the background and regularly affecting how much he can do. It’s unusual to see pain as something which limits characters in fantasy rather than something they fight through, and the difference is refreshing.

The plot is traditional: once the characters and incentives are introduced, it proceeds to a quest-type story with various hurdles along the way. Naturally, there’s a romantic subplot woven in, and this is slow-burn and well handled, complimenting rather than distracting from the main arc. There’s also an animal companion, a goat, which is always a fun addition to a fantasy. The plot springs up few surprises but is enjoyable, easy to follow, and creates a slightly sinister but never unduly scary atmosphere. Whilst this is a YA novel with a seventeen year old protagonist, this could easily be read by younger readers, including middle-grade aged readers advanced for their age.

The Welsh mythology inspiration is one of the few unique elements, and this is intriguing. I’m not familiar with the source material so can’t speak to its accuracy, but it makes a pleasing change from the more common Greek or Nordic origins. The tales are woven into the narrative well, with each of Ryn and Ellis having heard slightly different versions, highlighting the discrepancies intrinsic to oral storytelling tradition.

Overall, ‘The Bone Houses’ deviates little from the standard tropes of the YA fantasy genre, but it executes them well, and wins extra points for its positive disability representation and unusual source material. A recommended read for all YA fantasy fans.

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Paperback: 15th October 2020
Hardback: 31st October 2019

Monthly Roundup – February 2023


Thank you to all who sent good wishes after last month’s roundup. Husband spent a week in hospital, finally released to recuperate at home as his lung infection was so rampant he was too unwell to receive any treatment for his heart issues. After two courses of antibiotics the pneumonia eventually cleared. He still has a cough – a feature since all this kicked off in late October – but, as an outpatient, he is now at the mercy of waiting lists. I have huge respect for the efforts put in by front line NHS staff to look after and treat patients despite the systems under which they work being so obviously overstretched and flawed. With husband’s heartrate still erratic we are considering all options.

It felt strange to attend Parkrun on my own but running helps me cope with anxious thoughts. I managed to get my time under 30 minutes at two events – something that used to be standard before my own fitness took an unexplained hit in the autumn. I also ran my first half marathon distance in many months, before an irritating cold left me feeling wrung out and in need of rest. I took a full week off, also enabling a recurring hamstring injury to be given healing time. It was not sufficient and a longer rest period has been recommended – something I submit to reluctantly.

So, it has been a month of ups and downs. Not knowing what ongoing treatment husband may need, or when this may be made available, we cannot plan ahead. There are worse things, of course, than living what is still a comfortable life, in the grand scheme of things, day to day.

My teddy bear, Edward, has offered stalwart support but mostly quietly, in the background. He too understands this is not a time for adventures away.

I posted reviews for 6 books in February. Robyn made a welcome return to the blog with a further 3 reviews.

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


Three Gifts  katherine parr
Three Gifts by Mark A Radcliffe, published by époque press
Katherine Parr, The Sixth Wife by Alison Weir, published by Headline


Imperfect Beginnings
Imperfect Beginnings by Viv Fogel, published by Fly on the Wall Press

Translated Fiction

leave your land  the fawn
You Shall Leave Your Land by Renato Cisneros (translated by Fionn Petch), published by Charco Press
The Fawn by Magda Szabó (translated by Len Rix), published by Maclehose Press

Translated Non Fiction

Pharmakon by Almudena Sánchez (translated by Katie Whittemore), published by Fum d’Estampa

Robyn Reviews

thewhis  legen
The Whispering Dark by Kelly Andrew, published by Gollancz
Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree, published by Tor

Mio’s Kingdom by Astrid Lindgren (translated by Jill Morgan), published by Oxford University Press

Sourcing the books

Robyn received a couple of pre-ordered special editions and also accepted her first proof copies of forthcoming releases in many months. Having passed her recent exam (yay!), she now has more time and brain space for leisure reading.

Robyn books february 23

I was very happy with my monthly book post. You may notice I have accepted my first graphic novel and look forward to seeing what I make of that.

Jackie books February 23

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms – your support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health – something we so often take for granted until issues must be faced. Here’s hoping our personal experiences improve with the weather and the year proceeds better than it has started for us all.

Robyn Reviews: Mio’s Kingdom

Mio’s Kingdom, translated by Jill Morgan and first published in 1954, is a Swedish children’s classic. A light and optimistic tale of good versus evil, its a straightforward story with much to appeal to both the child and adult reader.

Karl Anders Nilsson is living with foster parents in Stockholm when he finds a bottle with something moving inside. Knowing immediately from ‘A Thousand And One Nights’ that this is a genie, he frees it – and finds himself taken away to Farawayland. Here, he discovers that his true name is Mio, and he is the lost son of the King. He befriends another boy named Pompoo, and together they explore Farawayland with his horse, Miramis. As they explore, Mio comes to know of his father’s enemy, the evil Sir Kato of the Outer Land. Mio discovers that he is prophesised to battle the evil Sir Kato, and travels on a quest to the Outer Land to face this foe.

This is escapist fantasy, a chance for children to dream of a life where they are the hero. Most of the quests are fun and lighthearted, with a core theme of love saving the day. Be good and kindhearted, this book says, and you will always triumph over evil.

Mio is easy to relate to. At the start of the book, he is sad because he feels unwanted by his foster parents who would really have preferred a girl. Compared to his friend Ben, who has loving parents, his life feels very cold. It’s impossible not to be drawn to this child who just wants to be loved – to want his dreams to come true.

As an adult reader, there must of course be a suspension of disbelief – but it’s freeing to spend an hour in Mio’s fairytale new life. Even his trials against Sir Kato avoid being too dark. This is a hopeful book, one that brings a smile to the reader.

Some children’s classics do not age well into adulthood – this is not one of them. A recommended read both for the young and the young at heart.

Published by Oxford University Press
Paperback: January 1954

Jackie reviews Mio’s Kingdom here.

Robyn Reviews: Legends and Lattes

‘Legends and Lattes’ is a slice-of-life fantasy about an orc who, tired of a life as a mercenary, decides to retire to the city of Thune and open a coffee shop. The catch? The inhabitants of the city have never heard of coffee. A tale of found family and persistence in the face of adversity, this is a heartwarming read – although one that takes time to get going.

Viv is a solid main character – quite literally. As a recently retired orc barbarian, she’s used to getting her way through physical intimidation – the practicalities of opening a coffee shop and persuading residents who’ve never heard of coffee are a mystery to her. Determined, strong, and with a good heart inside her gruff exterior, she makes a likeable if not standout protagonist. She can be somewhat blind to interpersonal relationships, but despite that she always manages to surround herself with good people.

Cal, Tandri, and Thimble make up the main supporting cast. Each have intriguing backgrounds that are only minimally explored, bringing up plenty of potential for spinoff or prequel novels (a prequel surrounding Viv is already in the works). Tandri, a succubus, is especially interesting, but the interplay between all the characters is excellent. Baldree is better at weaving relationships than the individual characters, and the way these evolve is neatly done.

The worldbuilding is minimal – Thune is a generic fantasy city with the standard repertoire of high fantasy races such as dwarves, orcs, and gnomes. In many ways, this is a contemporary novel that happens to feature fantasy characters and a low-tech setting. The simplicity works, allowing a focus on character relationships and the central plot.

The writing is conventional, with a central plot of the day-to-day travails of running a coffee shop and starting your life anew, and subplots involving local politics and an old enemy from Viv’s barbarian days. The subplots serve dual purposes of rounding out details of Viv’s old life and raising the stakes of an otherwise very quiet novel. Overall, the subplots enhance rather than distract, although don’t expect duels or great bloodshed.

The main issue with this novel is the pacing. The first half is focused on establishing the coffe shop, and this is very slow, not offering the reader much chance to connect with Viv or the storyline. Things improve in the second half, but it isn’t until the last 20% that the reader could be called fully invested. With stronger character work, some of these issues might have been ironed out – but this is a debut, and Baldree certainly succeeds in persuading the reader to read something a bit different.

Overall, ‘Legends and Lattes’ is a solid debut and a nice change of pace from the typical high fantasy. Recommended to fans of TJ Klune’s ‘The House In the Cerulean Sea’ and ‘Under the Whispering Door‘.

Published by Tor (Pan Macmillan)
Hardback: 10th November 2022
(Previously self-published by the author)

Robyn Reviews: The Whispering Dark

‘The Whispering Dark’ is an atmospheric debut with shades of Ninth House, Gallant, and The Raven Boys. A blend of fantasy, dark academia, mystery, and romance, it draws the reader in and keeps them in a sense of unease and tension until the end. The romance is beautifully crafted and the central mystery clever, if not the most original. This is a book for fans of ambiance rather than plot – but if you let it suck you in you’ll have a wonderful time.

Delaney Meyers-Petrov is tired of being treated like she’s made of glass just because she’s Deaf. When she’s accepted into a prestigious, if controversial, programme at Godbole university, she sees her chance to finally prove herself. However, her new start is stymied by professors who won’t accept her disability – and a stand-offish upperclassman she can’t stop bumping into.

Colton Price died when he was nine years old – then impossibly resurrected several years later at the feet of a green-eyed girl. Twelve years later, that girl has stumbled back into his life. Ordered to stay away from her, he can’t help falling into her orbit – and forming a tenuous alliance as students start turning up dead. But Colton has secrets, and the more Delaney discovers (and hears whispered from the shadows), the more it threatens to tear their forbidden partnership – and the world – apart.

Delaney, otherwise known as Lane, is a fantastic protagonist. Used to being overlooked because of her disability, she’s inquisitive, determined, and desperate to prove herself. She’s also haunted by voices in the shadows, terrified of the dark, and paralyzed by impostor syndrome in an environment where she isn’t quite sure she belongs. Lane draws the reader’s empathy immediately, carrying the novel through sections of mystery where it’s unclear what everything means.

Colton, on the other hand, is arrogant, cold, and deliberately opaque. He has a connection to Lane, and an instinct to help her, but he’s also tied up in secrets upon secrets and it’s clear nothing with him is how it seems. Where Lane is clearly the hero, Colton is harder to place – yet Kelly Andrew manages to draw a connection to the reader. One action leaves a sour taste and slightly spoils Colton’s character, but overall he’s well written in a morally grey role.

The writing is repetitive, heavy on metaphors and atmosphere and light on answers. Fans of books like The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and The Starless Sea will likely get on with it. Those who found these books pretentious are unlikely to find any enjoyment here. It can be a little grating in places – Andrew overdoes the use of glass to describe Lane as delicate – but mostly works well, adding to the gothic nature of the story. This isn’t a book with an intricate magic system or carefully crafted fantasy world – it requires the reader to go with the flow, accepting the supernatural elements for what they are and not questioning the whys.

The romance is one of the highlights. Whilst Colton has an instant fascination with Lane, it’s a slow burn, with a building sense of tension right alongside the central mystery. It’s exquisitely written, palpable long before anything concrete is written on page.

Like most books with a college setting, this straddles the border of YA and adult fantasy. There are strong themes of violence and death, but nothing inappropriate for a YA reader. This is an ideal book for such a reader starting to branch out into adult fantasy.

Overall, this isn’t a book that will work for everyone, but for fans of atmospheric reads, well-crafted romance, and dark academia in all its overwritten glory, this is a recommended read.

Published by Gollancz
Hardback: 20th October 2022

Monthly Roundup – January 2023


It has been a bit of a month. All started well with a New Year’s Day Parkrun. My little family then enjoyed the remaining few days of the festive holiday, polishing off indulgent goodies in preparation for a healthier rest of January. I even set myself some goals which I wrote about here. The gym was visited and weights were upped for pleasing strength sessions. Although my pacing was still slow, I was increasing my running distances to build stamina. The cold weather put me off cycling so I walked more frequently, including with a friend I hadn’t had a proper catchup with in well over a year. I gathered together final thoughts on my 2022 reading by looking back at and looking forward to favoured books.

On the blog my teddy bear, Edward, opened the month with an introduction to the new friends Santa brought him – New Year New FriendsI then split the month’s reviews between new releases and choices from my vast TBR pile. In the calendar was a literary event in London – the launch of Seraphina Madsen’s Aurora. Sadly, in the end, we couldn’t attend.

While participating in the nearest Parkrun during our autumn trip to North Devon husband pulled a hamstring, not running again until we were in Dartmoor several weeks later. This was the first indication that he was suffering more than a simple, physical injury. Over the summer he had been creeping closer to achieving that elusive sub-20 minute Parkrun time, having clocked it in 5k training. Now he was struggling to get below 28 mins. More worrying was his heart rate. Despite the much slower pacing this was spiking unpredictably during both efforts and recovery.

A lingering cough and frustrating lack of energy – despite rest weeks – dragged on until 10 days ago when he started to feel particularly unwell, eventually agreeing to seek medical advice. Diagnosed with a nasty case of pneumonia he ended up in hospital where continuing erratic heartrate and painful lungs could be monitored. Results of tests proved worrying. It seems likely he suffered a heart attack back in late October and carried on regardless. Having been blessed with good health, enabling an active lifestyle, we have now embarked on a challenging and unanticipated journey with, as yet, no map or signposts.

I have had to get used to driving again as hospital visits are now daily events. I have had to get used to a great many things I would prefer not to have to face. We do not know when husband will return home and can only pray treatment will be effective. If there is a deity out there I hope they are paying attention.

Thus this month has not been one for writing. I posted six reviews, scheduled before the various curve balls were thrown and other priorities took precedence.

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


Face the Rising Sun  Boundless as the Sky
That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern, published by Faber & Faber
Boundless As The Sky by Dawn Raffel, published by Sagging Meniscus Press

Aurora  Piranesi
Aurora by Seraphina Madsen, published by Dodo Ink
Piranesi by Susannah Clarke, published by Bloomsbury

Translated Fiction

mios kingdom
Mio’s Kingdom by Astrid Lindgren (translated by Jill Morgan), published by Oxford University Press


Bunny Girls
Bunny Girls by Angela Readman, published by Nine Arches Press

Sourcing the Books

Robyn has been trying to cut down on the number of books she buys as she is reading little due to work related pressures. These four somehow slipped through the door.

robyn books january 23

My book post has been very pleasing and I am looking forward to reading all of these as soon as I have free time again.

Jackie books january 23

As ever I wish to thank the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms – your support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health – something we so often take for granted until issues must be faced. Here’s hoping February proves a better one for us all.

Monthly Roundup – December 2022


Another month ends, another year ends. I hope that those of you who celebrate the various events that fall during December enjoyed the festivities, and those who find this time of year more difficult are managing to hold it together. With the passing of the winter solstice, lighter days are coming. I send many virtual hugs and hopes for some joyous days to all.

Although I and my little family mark both Christmas and the New Year, we choose to do so in a fairly low key way with few outings or visitors. December is generally a busy month at hotels and restaurants so we mostly stay home to hibernate. I did agree to attend husband’s work Christmas ‘do’, an evening of good company and good food that I was nevertheless glad to have over for another year – I find making small talk with strangers exhausting.

The heavy snowfall mid month led to our local Parkrun being cancelled. Unwilling to miss our Saturday morning fix we drove to Cirencester, enjoying the wintery sunrise over crystal fields, and went dashing through the snow for real – this was even more fun than expected. We also enjoyed a bonus Parkrun to start our Christmas Day. Assuming I am able to attend today, I will have completed every Parkrun available in 2022 – a total of 54 events.

Today, being the last day of the month, is also Outrun The Dark day – a chance to take part in a virtual 5k run with a global community. My Parkrun will count towards this, meaning I will have Outrun every month this year. Outrun The Dark is all about running as therapy, to improve mental health. My running is neither fast nor pretty but has proven hugely beneficial in this area.

I received some excellent presents for Christmas including: new running shoes and beanies, chalk and small weights to aid my strength training, a robotic vacuum cleaner, and two teddies! (naturally, Edward was delighted to welcome his new friends). What I rarely receive these days is books. My family seem to think I have enough already. When I next get to a bookshop I will be selecting purchases from a long list.

I was pleased, when I checked, to find I read well over 100 books in 2022. My Annual Roundup post highlights those that particularly lingered. As well as this, I posted reviews for 11 books in December. Robyn has been frustrated by a bit of a reading slump but did manage to add one review.

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


Sound of It  stop time
The Sound Of It by Alison Jean Lester, published by Bench Press
How To Stop Time by Matt Haig, published by Canongate

Long Long Way  spill simmer
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry, published by Faber & Faber
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume, published by Tramp Press and Windmill Books

Water Shall Refuse  Monogamy
Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy, published by Dead Ink
Monogamy by Sue Miller, published by Bloomsbury

Short Stories

Night time stories  thie is the afterlife
Night-time Stories, published by The Emma Press
This Is The Afterlife by Jeff Chon, published by Sagging Meniscus

IMG_20221221_094234078Solesearcher1 by Sara Baume

Children’s Fiction

Archie's AppleArchie’s Apple by Hannah Shuckburgh (illustrated by Octavia MacKenzie), published by Little Toller

Non Fiction

Life of Crime
My Life Of Crime by Tyler C. Gore, published by Sagging Meniscus

Robyn Reviews

bookeatersThe Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean, published by Harper Voyager

Sourcing the books

Robyn received a fine stack of special editions through her various subscriptions. She was also delighted by a box of festive goodies that included two books, sent by a buddy in Sweden.

Robyn books december 22

My haul may be smaller but I welcomed each title received.

Jackie books december 22

As ever I wish to thank all the publishers who send me their books to review – the arrival of a book parcel remains a cheering event in my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms – your support is always appreciated.

And to everyone reading this, I wish you and yours good health and a new year filled with fine literature and many moments of happiness. Whatever your plans and aims for 2023, may we strive, at all times, to be kind  xx

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.