Last year, I am not ashamed to say, I did not hit my reading goal! It was no surprise because my reading goal is extremely aspirational – 200 books – and I did manage to read a) enough that I feel satisfied with the amount I’ve read and b) I read some really good books!
As I paused regularly vlogging and blogging for 2023, this video and accompanying blog post is quite long, as I wanted to talk about all of the books I loved rather than narrowing it down to a tight top ten.
Warning: the video is more than a little chaotic and this list is quite long! After not reviewing all year, I had a lot I wanted to rave about.
Venetia and The Unknown Ajax, both by Georgette Heyer
I think Venetia is the first book by Georgette Heyer where I really fell in love with the romantic storyline. Previously I’ve found them at best amusing and endearing, at worst creepy (the age gaps, oh boy), but Venetia really captured my heart.
Venetia is a young woman who lives a very isolated life with her brother in the country. She has no expectation of finding love until Lord with-a-terrible-reputation Damerel moves into the estate next door. After a somewhat dodgy start they become friends, he gets on really well with her brother (who is disabled and often patronised by Venetia’s other vistors), and feelings inevitably develop on both sides. But although they are so perfect for each other and have amazing banter, he has such a bad reputation that he thinks that they can’t possibly be together, and pushes her away for what he thinks is her own good. Ultimately, Venetia has to take matters into her own hands to make him understand that all she wants is to be with him.
I loved Venetia as a character because she knows exactly what she wants and takes action to get it. Few realistic Regency era female characters come across with this level of wit and determination.
I was not so charmed by the romance in The Unknown Ajax because they’re cousins (yuck) but the story and characters are highly entertaining. The Unknown Ajax of the title, Hugh, is a bit of a trickster god in human form, an unanticipated heir to the family estate who rocks up and plays with everyone’s expectations. The current lord and master, Lord Darracott, is a forthright and bossy man who expects that Hugh will need a great deal of training up because his mother was of a lower class, and orders his granddaughter Anthea to persuade him to marry her, and his other grandsons to help educate Hugh in proper comportment. The family is full of delightfully vivid characters and I’m sure this novel is one I’ll revel in rereading for years to come.
The Star of Kazan and Magic Flutes, both by Eva Ibbotson
In 2022 one of the most significant things that happened to me was catching Covid. It only took me a week to recover from the actual Covid symptoms, which weren’t that bad, but it triggered a inner-ear reaction that I had once before from a sinus infection, and it took me two months to fully recover from persistent vertigo.
I felt so miserable and sorry for myself that I decided that I would have an Eva Ibbotson marathon and read every unread book by her in my house. She is an author whose books are both comforting and exciting, perfect for when you’re on the sofa, trying not to move your head and unable to look at a screen without feeling sick. Time sped by as I followed plucky orphan Annika and her quirky friends and adoptive family in The Star of Kazan, and discovered runaway princess Tessa and her love of the Viennese opera in Magic Flutes.
Everything about Eva Ibbotson’s writing is perfect – from the pacing, to the characterisation, to the description of the setting. Never too heavy, but just the right amount to really draw you into the worlds she creates.
Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald
I’d wanted to read this for ages and 2022 was the year I finally did! Offshore explores the lives of a collection of people living on riverboats on the Thames. Most of them are living in squalor, having chosen the riverboat life in order to maintain more control over their time and finances than renting a room onshore would allow. It’s really compelling, though more like a collection of character studies than a book with a driving plot.
Mend: A refashioning manual and manifesto by Kate Sekules
I have a bit of a collection now of mending and refashioning books, and have found they get repetitive after a while, so I was not expecting to get as much out of this as I did! But this is probably one of the best books on visible mending out there – it’s full of ideas and inspiration and made me very excited about exploring more colourful and exciting ways to mend clothes. It’s one I will be going back to again and again.
The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
This is a collection of very short personal essays about things that delighted the author. It sounds quite simple but as the book progresses it increasingly explores the complexity of finding delight in the face of adversity. Many of his delights are about the solidarity he finds with other Black people in every day life, and that made it thought provoking as well as lovely.
Real Artists Have Day Jobs by Sara Benincasa
This book had languished on my ‘currently reading’ pile for years until I made it my loo book, but that’s no reflection on the quality of the book, more an indictment of my ability to stick with non-fiction until the end. It’s another book of personal essays, sharing bits of wisdom that the author has gleaned throughout her life. It’s definitely one I will reread, probably by making it my loo book once again – it’s like having a series of chats with your older, wiser friend.
Buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
Make You Mine This Christmas by Lizzie Huxley-Jones
This was one of the last books that I read in 2022 and what a one to almost finish on! It’s about chaotic bisexual Haf, who agrees to be a stranger’s fake girlfriend, which includes going back to his family home for Christmas with him to keep up this charade. That would be tough enough but then she discovers that she actually really fancies his sister! As the drama deepens, the romance blossoms, and the cosy Christmas vibes were A plus. It perfectly captured the magic of abandoning normal life for a couple of weeks and really getting into the Christmas spirit. There’s a Christmas fair, there’s reindeer, there’s present shopping, there’s even a ball – I love that Hux had the nerve to put everybody’s favourite young adult fantasy event trope (/my favourite historical/classic fiction trope) into a contemporary adult romance. I loved it so much I think I’m going to reread it every single Christmas.
Death of a Necromancer by Nick Bryan
Yes Nick is my partner but as I always like to say I checked that he could write before we started dating so I’m not biased at all because I knew in advance that he was a good writer!
Death of a Necromancer is set in a village where a necromancer has recently moved in and set up her business at a chicken shop where she brings back the dead for a price. Things start to go downhill when her revived assistant Ralph decides that he doesn’t feel like the same person he did before and starts to worry about the morality of bringing people back from the dead. At the same time our necromancer Victoria has decided that she wants to use her powers to kill her own death, which will mean that she becomes immortal and won’t die – so they end up with a bit of a clash of values!
As you can imagine the story involves lots of magic and mystery and struggles as Ralph attempts to work out a solution that won’t just entirely destroy the whole community!
The Switch by Beth O’Leary
I loved this so much. Twentysomething Leena swaps places with her 79 year old grandmother and namesake Eileen – Leena goes to live in the countryside while Eileen goes to live in Leena’ s flat in London. It’s a wonderful book about mental health and the importance of building a social support network, both of them kind of try to integrate into their newfound communities in different ways and it’s just so charming!
Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
As this is the second in the Locked Tomb series, I can’t say a lot about it, other than that I enjoy the Locked Tomb series because I spend basically the whole time unable to figure out what is going on, but swept up in the flow of the story anyway. It has its own weird mythology that is slowly developing over the series and you can only work out what’s going on in very tiny pieces, but it’s extremely fun all the same!
Empress and Aniya by Candice Carty-Williams
I really really enjoyed this, it’s a delightful little story about two teenage girls with different backgrounds who become best friends despite the odds, with a touch of magic. Some may not get on with how fairytale-esque it becomes, but I thought that added to its charm.
The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
I’ve never watched Gray’s Anatomy, and this book made me really want to watch Gray’s Anatomy! I listened to the audiobook which is which is read by the author herself and I found it such a interesting and cheering experience to hear somebody so successful describe their insecurities and the process of working their way through them. It’s a really compelling, easy listen.
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
This was an amazing reflection on beauty and privilege and aspiration, following four Korean women and their struggles to make their way in Seoul. At times very dark and quite brutal, at others hopeful and winsome, I admired the distinctiveness of each character’s voice and point of view, the ebb and flow of desperation to overcome their situation.
Frontier #9 by Becca Tobin
This is an adorable horror comic that I read at South London Comic and Zine Fair’s comic library. It’s stuck with me because it was so cute and disturbing at the same time. I’m not really a horror person but the gorgeous watercolour art and incredible attention to detail drew me in – perhaps all I need is more comics that break out of the dark colour aesthetic?
Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King
I read and loved Lily King’s novel Writers and Lovers in March 2020, so I was really excited for this short story collection and it did not disappoint. Compelling characters and varied settings all combined to make me decide that I need to read all her other books, stat!
When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill
This was absolutely wonderful and not what I expected at all. It’s published in the UK by a YA publisher (Hot Key Books) but doesn’t read like YA, it reads like literary fiction that just happens to have a protagonist who is looking back on being a teenager for a large part of the novel.
It also doesn’t read like a typical fantasy novel – much of the book is concerned with everyday life and domesticity. It’s magic and mystery confined to a small community and I loved it.
Alex, the protagonist of the story, lives in an alternate history in which women turn into dragons at various points, but it’s consistently hushed up, society’s shameful secret. She struggles to understand what’s going on around her, what ‘dragoning’ really is, and what it means for her relationship with her mother, aunt and sister. The ending is just gorgeous – I feel like I could read the final few chapters of the book over and over again every week.
It’s Jeff by Kelly Thompson and Gurihiru
It’s Jeff is a Marvel comic about an adorable land shark and his adventures with various superheroes and animal friends. It is one of the cutest things I have seen in my entire life. The comics are almost entirely silent, but the art conveys each character’s mood, reaction and thoughts perfectly. Now I want to go reread it….
Buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
Dog Man by Dav Pilkey
My partner Nick wanted to read more middle grade graphic fiction, somebody recommended Dog Man, and he laughed so much while reading the first one I had to read it immediately after. Dog Man is a cop with the body of a man and the head of a dog, sewn together after a freak accident. It is a silly as it sounds but at the same time, the character development is extremely moving and there are lots of jokes that it’s likely only adults would get. My favourite out of all of the Dog Man books so far is Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls. There’s one scene that honestly I would buy a print of if I could.
I am such a Dog Fan I started listening to the musical soundtrack as I was writing this. Dog Man is go!
Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee
This is the third in the Green Bone saga so all I can say really is that this book emotionally destroyed me. It was incredible.
The Green Bone saga is an alternate-Earth urban fantasy in which jade has bioenergetic powers that can be harnessed by the jade warrior clans of Kekon to give them superpowered fighting abilities. With supplies of jade limited, and other countries wanting to use it for their own purposes, the clans not only have to fight each other for supremacy, but they also have to ward off foreign threats to Kekon’s security. It’s part political drama, part family saga, and part action movie, with incredibly well described, visceral fight scenes.
Someday at Christmas by Lizzie Byron
Like Make You Mine This Christmas, Someday at Christmas met a particular longing for a different kind of Christmas which was missing from my life! It follows makeup counter saleswoman Shell Smith who has worked in department store Duke & Sons since she finished college. When old Mr Duke’s grandson Callum arrives to give the store a makeover, Shell is nervous, but she likes him right away and they get on increasingly well. Meanwhile, her terrible former crush Nick has come back into town and seems to have had a change of heart in regards to Shell. Will she sort out everything that’s going on and help save the store before Christmas? Well, you know the answer. But it’s a lovely journey! What I really loved about this was that it explored both letting go of the past but also keeping hold of the elements of the past that you really treasure I feel like that is such an appropriate and important theme for a Christmas book, and it contributed to this being an absolutely delightful read. I think this book would make a wonderful Christmas movie!
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Like everybody else in the world I was really excited to read One Last Stop, and I’m happy to say I enjoyed it a lot more than Red, White and Royal Blue. I just prefer when at least one of the protagonists is a girl! That’s the way it is. I really enjoyed the story of love and time slipping on a underground train in New York but as with a lot of books it was actually the details and the background characters that really made it for me. I really loved the friends that the main character, August, meets when she first moves to the city, and the setting and all those little details made it a magical reading experience.
The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
This is a graphic novel YA fantasy romance about Morgan, a girl who lives by the sea and one day encounters a selkie, Keltie. Their developing relationship brings Morgan more happiness than she’s ever known before, but threatens all that is comfortable about her life so far. It beautifully captures the tension between the life that the main character already has and a life that’s calling to her and her struggles to be brave enough to tell people who she is and what she wants. The art is beautiful, with character design that has lingered in my head ever since.