Beth’s Year in Review – 2023
My colleague asked me, what was my favourite read of the year. There were a couple that sprang immediately to mind, and when I asked them what theirs was, she said they had around seven or eight. Laughingly, I said I wasn’t sure I could remember eight titles I’d read this year… which made me want to go back over them and remind myself of them. I’ve become somewhat disenchanted with Goodreads, and haven’t updated it since January, but I have a bullet journal where I document my reads.
So, what did I read altogether this year? Settle in, as it’s most certainly more than eight…
The Jaguar Path by Anna Stephens
I kicked off the year with Stephens’ much anticipated sequel to her ancient central-American inspired fantasy, The Stone Knife. It was everything I’d been waiting for and more – there was plenty I hadn’t begun to expect. Stephens was annoyingly thrilled at having caught me out so well.
The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty
This was another one I’d been eagerly awaiting, and buddy read it with Nils, which was brilliant. Set in the same world but not the same time as her Daevabad trilogy, this is Chakraborty’s nautical piratical adventure with a middle-aged female protagonist.
Full buddy-read review
Song of Silver, Flame like Night by Amèlie Wen Zhao
Zhao’s Chinese mythology-inspired fantasy was beautiful, but I couldn’t help making comparisons with other Xianxian novels I’d recently read and find similarities between them, so I didn’t fall as much in love with it as it deserved. This has everything you’d love from this kind of book; a quest for ancient artefacts, monastery training, secret forbidden magic, and a critique on colonialism and wiping out culture.
Drift by Caryl Lewis
This was this month’s book club read, and it was absolutely gorgeous. Lewis is predominantly a Welsh language author, this is her first English-language novel, but it was set on the Ceredigion coast and was still utterly awash with her beautiful poetic prose. It’s sickening that someone can be talented enough to write this way in more than just one language. Selkie myths and a great commentary on refugees and the “us vs them” culture.
Rivers of London: Deadly Ever After by Ben Aaronovitch
My first foray into the Rivers of London world, and it was in graphic novel format. I’m still not entirely sure where I stand on graphic novels; this was a fun enough read but all in all, I’m not sure there’s enough meat on the bones to satisfy, I’ll have to pick up the series proper to fill that gap of what I felt was missing.
The Sinister Booksellers of Bath by Garth Nix
Now, this is a series of book I’m annoyed with myself about. I absolutely loved both The Left-Handed Booksellers of London and this sequel, but I haven’t written reviews for either and that’s frankly criminal. They’re full of British mythology and folk lore, and also literary references and jokes. They couldn’t tick my boxes harder if they tried. Guess this just means I’ll have to revisit them next year so I can review them and right this heinous wrong!
Perilous Times by Thomas D. Lee
This book was everything and I loved it. A near-future Britain that’s taken some steps down the worst possible, but from our standpoint feasible, paths; think frakking gone mad, coastal flooding due to the rise in sea levels, a police force sold to the private sector… It’s not a million miles away, is it? Enter into this – Arthur’s knights, cursed by Merlin to forever come back from the dead when called upon for the good of the country. This is a very clever, assured, and properly fun debut.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
This month’s book club read. I loved it. I’d not read anything by Shirley Jackson before, and I hadn’t really been sure what to expect. It divided our book group somewhat, but I found it an evocative and addictive read, flying through it in three days.
The Cleaving by Juliette E. McKenna
My first DNF of the year! I buddy read this with Nils, and I’d been desperately looking forward to it. I love Arthurian legend, and I couldn’t wait to read this one focusing on the women of the legends, but unfortunately I just found it a little heavy-handed. McKenna really captured the historical essence of the time though, so if you love historical-fantasy, things like Giles Christian’s books, then you might enjoy this one!
Dark Fire by C J Sansom
So I don’t always stick to fantasy, I really enjoy historical fiction too, and sometimes crime thrillers… and just regular fiction… anyway, Dark Fire is the second book in C J Sansom’s Shardlake series. Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer operating in Tudor London who manages to find himself dragged into political machinations with each book whilst attempting to solve and prevent murders. I’m gradually making my way through the them!
My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay
A non-fiction! What?! This month’s book club read; generally the only way you’ll ever find me reading non-fiction unfortunately! This, the autobiography of author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay, was eye-opening. It’s a strong indictment of the British care system in the 80s, and what I found particularly upsetting was the level of casualness applied to the neglect and abuse in Sissay’s situation. The affect of red-tape bureaucracy on an actual person’s life. On a child.
A Venom Dark and Sweet by Judy I. Lin
I loved Lin’s first novel of this duology, A Magic Steeped in Poison, I loved the magic system based on tea, and the competition in the palace. It ended on quite the cliff-hanger, so I was eager for the sequel, but I’m not sure it quite lived up to the first, unfortunately.
Games for Dead Girls by Jen Williams
This was hands down my favourite read of the month. A crime thriller with a strong dash of folk horror, it was creepy AF and I burned through it, desperate to work out the mystery! Williams can clearly turn her hand to any genre; if you’re a fan of her fantasy, I’d strongly recommend you give her thrillers a go too.
Sovereign by C J Sansom
Yep, I managed to fit two of these chonks in this month. Looking back, I think this has been my favourite one. Shardlake travels to York for this one, and having been to York the previous summer, I loved being able to really visualise this one in a way I’ve not been able to with the others, being unfamiliar with London. That’s not to say Sansom isn’t an evocative writer, but there’s something very fun in recognising street names and places.
Gods of the Wyrdwood by RJ Barker
I’d loved Barker’s first trilogy, but hadn’t got round to reading his Boneships trilogy, so I was excited to dive back into his writing and it absolutely didn’t disappoint. As ever with Barker, come for the world building, stay for the glorious characters and their animal companions. This was a darker, rambling, more claustrophobic book than The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, but personally I loved it all the more for it.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
So Nils and I wanted to take part in the read-along for Wyrd and Wonder in May, but to be organised and to be able to write the questions etc ahead of time, we got in early and buddy read this together this month. It was a re-read for me, and I loved returning to this world with my best friend, reading all her messages trying to guess what was going to happen next! If you’ve only ever seen the Ghibli movie, you’re missing out big time as it’s simplified quite a lot from the original text.
Read-along Week 1
Revelation by C J Sansom
I finished the month in Tudor London once more, but found myself quite frustrated with this instalment. Someone is murdering people in a manner to re-enact the book of Revelation, to portend the coming of the apocalypse… now, there has to be a lot of murders in order to achieve this effect, so obviously Shardlake, to a certain extent, can’t solve things quick enough or we don’t get this murder-mirror-revelation thing happening. But it was so annoying to read a character who, until now, has been very intelligent, seemingly drop the ball so often. A great concept, but it felt like an injustice was being done to our Shardlake.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
Yes, I finally got round to reading this one; ironic it should be Harrow’s first book but the last one for me to get to. And yes, it was everything I was expecting and knew I’d love, and more. As always with Harrow’s books, I sobbed. She really knows how to cut to your emotional quick, doesn’t she.
The Bone Shard War by Andrea Stewart
This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and I was so excited to buddy read it with Nils, the culmination of a trilogy we’d read together and has meant so much to us. It was a truly glorious end to the series, with one of the most bittersweet and heart-breaking endings. These books definitely have a very special in my heart!
Buddy read review
The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews
This was this months’ book club read and I struggled with it to the point where I didn’t even properly finish it; I was desperately skim reading the last two chapters or so on the day of book club and didn’t quite get the gist of what happened. It’s a historical fiction with elements of fantasy in terms of some kind of possession or witchcraft… seven months later and the details on this one are already quite foggy unfortunately.
Talonsister by Jen Williams
This was a great reading month, and it kicked off with a bang! I was ridiculously excited for Jen Williams’ return to fantasy, and I’ve gushed about this book ever since. An ancient Britain but not as we know it, strong folklore overtures, and magical creatures aplenty. My taste in fantasy has shifted the last couple of years, and Talonsister just hit the mark so perfectly for me.
Chasm by Stacey McEwan
The sequel to McEwan’s debut novel Ledge. The first book ended on a massive cliff-hanger which obviously I won’t spoilt here, but I needed answers dammit. Chasm wasn’t as well-paced as Ledge, which had a lot of action and was quite the page-turner. This time round had something more of a character focus, but was still a highly satisfying sequel.
The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
I’d never read this before nor seen the movie, so I went into this month’s book club read only knowing that it was about some sort of sociopathic fraudster. I was worried by how much I loved it, I hung on every crime he committed, hoping he wouldn’t get caught and then wondering what the hell was wrong with me that I felt this way for a murderer. Highlight for a slight spoiler: It wasn’t until I was in the last couple of pages that a friend pointed out that it’s a part of a series of books, and the sequels were even printed on the back and I’d not noticed – and I was really glad I hadn’t, as I’d have missed that particular thrill.
The Hunters by David Wragg
I ended the month on a fantastic read, and my first Wragg book – and promptly berated myself for not having read this author sooner (The Black Hawks and The Righteous are both sitting patiently on my shelf). The Hunters is set in the same world as Wragg’s previous books, but can be read entirely separately. It’s a high-octane Western-style fantasy that balanced perfectly the action with a heart-warming story about connections. It’s a criminally under-the-radar book.
The Company of the Wolf by David Wragg
So after reading The Hunters, Wragg reached out and asked if I’d be interested at all in sympathy reading its sequel! Although set in a secondary world, he had two characters that were inspired by a Welsh colleague he once had, and he asked if I couldn’t just check if their speech and mannerisms came across as Welsh without being caricature-like. I was so thrilled to have been asked, as it’s a big bug-bear of mine how fantasy authors use Welsh language and myths to make their worlds sound more fantasy; this of course isn’t limited to Welsh, as recently highlighted by Rebecca Yarros’ misuse of Scottish Gaelic in Fourth Wing.
Anyway, I really hope I haven’t done my own people a disservice in my suggestions, and I can’t wait for you all to read this book. Wragg is an incredible character writer, and once again there’s so much action, excitement, drama and humour in this story.
A Market of Dreams and Destiny by Trip Galey
My next read was something completely different! Inspired by Rosetti’s Goblin Market but set in Victorian London with a gay romance, I was highly intrigued by this one and not disappointed. It’s like an Arthur Rackham print come to life.
The Magician’s Daughter by H. G. Parry
This was a good year for getting round to authors I’ve been meaning to for ages; case and point, H. G. Parry. I’ve had The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep on my shelf for quite some time, but picked up this one off the back of just how much Nils had loved it, and I’m so glad I did. Parry is a fantastic storyteller, and again, there was magic and folklore aplenty in this.
Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher
Another new-to-me author, I was expecting to like this novella but I loved it. Sleeping Beauty from a different perspective, but written with the feel of a proper fairy tale rather than a retelling per say. A really beautiful story!
A Power Unbounded by Freya Markse
Rounding off what ended up being a very magic-focused month of reading was Marske’s conclusion to her A Marvellous Light trilogy. What I’ve loved about each of these books is that we get a different pair of protagonists for each, but the core group of characters remains the same. If I’m being completely honest, the ending was a little… odd, but the plot was always secondary for me with these books to the characters.
The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman
Yep, I’m a Thursday Murder Club fan. I love these books intensely and would do anything for Joyce, Elizabeth, Ibrahim, and Ron. I was ridiculously excited to have been sent a proof of this one through work. It’s the fourth in the series, and Osman is now taking a break from these particular stories, but has promised he’ll come back to them in future.
House of Odysseus by Claire North
Another sequel I’d been really excited for, and didn’t disappoint! I’d previously read with Ithaca with Nils, and last month it was our book club read so I listened to the very well-narrated audiobook to refresh myself. Usually I have preferences for particular books in a series, but North does such a brilliant job here, the story is rather seamless between the two.
Buddy read review
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
This month’s book club read, and I’d really been looking forward to finally reading this seminal novel – but couldn’t and DNF’d it quite early on. I wanted so much to love it, and despite being able to see how important a book it still is, I just couldn’t get past the teen narrative voice.
A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid
Another one I DNF’d fairly quickly unfortunately! I was drawn to it for its overtly Welsh references, but I couldn’t separate myself from knowing the source material and this story.
The City of Stardust by Georgia Summers
I was super fortunate to receive a very early proof copy of this one through work, it’s not out ’til 25th January next year. I’m not sure if I wasn’t quite in the right frame of mind, coming off the back of two DNFs, but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would, or it probably deserves. The world is fantastic, and the notion of stepping between worlds using keys was wonderful, the characters are great… but there were one or two moments that just lost me somewhat.
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna
It took me all of four days to fly through this one as I absolutely loved it, and feel awful that I haven’t written up a full review for it. It’s a beautiful story of finding a family, finding your place where you can let yourself be yourself. It’s so cosy, and has utterly lovable characters. It’s a super comforting read!
A Bitter Remedy by Alis Hawkins
This was our Welsh Book of the Month in work, and it’s about a woman from Llangrannog who is given a scholarship to study in Oxford, back in the very early days of the university allowing women in. It’s also a crime thriller. There was a lot I enjoyed about it, but the characters could be on the slightly annoying side at times.
The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly
Again, this was the Thriller Book of the Month, and I was intrigued by the concept; a woman haunted by the fans of her father’s cult-hit treasure hunt book. It’s one of those stories that, whilst not being a great work of literary fiction, is utterly un-putdownable. I was glued to it.
Starling House by Alix E. Harrow
This and Irregular Witches were hands down the highlights of the month for me. Nils and I had been super excited for quite some time for Harrow’s gothic haunted house story, and of course it didn’t disappoint. Harrow never does to be fair.
Buddy read review
Takeaway by Angela Hui
This was our book club read, a non-fiction; Hui’s autobiography of her time growing up in a Chinese takeaway in the Welsh valleys. I didn’t manage to get very far into it unfortunately, as I just couldn’t get on with Hui’s writing style.
The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton
Another one I picked up on Nils’ recommendation, and although I didn’t fall as in love with it as she did, it was still a great magical romp that was an easy read. I love regency fantasy, but I think the narrative tone was just a little too much for me.
The Toll House by Carly Reagon
This was work’s Welsh Book of the Month, and ideal for a spooky read. It’s a historical fiction, haunted house set up with a split narrative. I DNF’d it quite early on, not for any particular reason, just because it didn’t grasp me enough to make time for it when I already had some buddy reads lined up for the month that I needed to make a start on!
The Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie
This month’s book club pick, and I was so excited to read my first Agatha Christie – and it was such a disappointment! Not at all what I was expecting! It was terribly dialogue heavy, and quite repetitive; it wasn’t very popular in the book group either, and the Christie fans assured me it’s not like her other work. Possibly because it was written quite late in her career, by which point apparently she used to dictate her stories to someone else.
A Midwinter’s Tail by Lili Hayward
The first of my buddy reads for the month, and up there as one of my favourite books of the year, Nils and I fell head over heels in love with this one. I’ve raved about it quite a lot; it’s a short read, set in in the Scilly Isles, and packed with Cornish folklore. It’s a beautiful, heart-warming and life affirming kind of story.
Buddy read review
The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch by Malina Taub
Nils and I also read this together, but unfortunately we both DNF’d it fairly quickly, although I think Nils managed to get a little further than myself. We’d both been pretty excited for it, me especially as I’ve always loved Jane Austen’s books and I was excited to see Pride and Prejudice brought into a fantasy world. It just didn’t tick the box for me though.
The Kamogawa Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai
I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting when I started this, perhaps a cosy crime detective thing. I certainly wasn’t expecting a very strictly formulaic series of vignettes of people being reconnected to their past via lost recipes from their childhood. I struggled with just how set each short story was, there was a set template each seemed to follow and I kept saying I was going to put it down and move on. And yet, I couldn’t. I kept coming back to it. Each story had a surprisingly deep and subtle after-taste.
Masters of Death by Olivie Blake
This was the third book I DNF’d this month! I did get pretty far into it before giving up. It started off great; it’s an urban fantasy, we have a woman who is some sort of vampire aswang creature, who is an estate agent. However, she comes a cropper with one particular mansion that she can’t shift, as it’s haunted by a poltergeist. In order to solve the poltergeist’s murder, they enlist the help of Death’s godson. Right, all this so far, I really enjoyed. However, it quite quickly devolved into cut scenes where you weren’t told who was talking or what was going on and it was supposed to be mysterious. And the characters started talking in riddles about what was going on and what needed to be done. And it just completely lost me.
Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree
This book picked me back up and set me straight again on my reading feet. I was pretty late getting to this, deservedly, much-hyped cosy fantasy – but I’m so glad I got here eventually. It’s no wonder everyone who seems to read this book falls in love with it. High fantasy low stakes was exactly what I didn’t know I needed.
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Finally, I also listened to the audiobook of Shades of Grey this month, as I’ve sent the long-awaited sequel, and I wanted to refresh myself. It’s been fourteen years since I first read it! It’s one of those books that is so utterly fantastic, and yet none of my other blogging friends seem to have read it, or much Fforde at all, and it leaves me stumped.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
Well this broke my heart well and truly!! A lot of it is from the perspective of a cat, and he’s extremely sarcastic – so much so it took a little getting used to, but it wasn’t long before I was utterly in love with him.
Bookshops and Bonedust by Travis Baldree
I couldn’t wait to dive into this sequel after loving Legends and Lattes so much last month, and even better, I was buddy reading it with Nils! I think out of the two, I preferred Legends, as this one had higher stakes and more action. Fern was the best thing about the book for me, I absolutely loved her. Not that I’m biased or anything.
Buddy read review
Before the Coffee gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
This month’s book club read, even though I didn’t actually manage to get to book club – I was struck down this month by covid, then a skin infection. But back to the book, apparently it wasn’t very popular in the book group. Honestly my biggest gripe was that there’s a cat on the cover and not a single bloody mention of a cat in the whole book. Otherwise a great concept, I think probably works better as its original stage play, but I’d like to return and read the sequels so it’s done something right, even if I cant quite put my finger on what.
So following on from my illnesses last month, I really struggled with my reading this month. I had such terrible brain fog at the start of the month, although I feel it’s improved a little now. However, I’ve only started two books this month, and I’ve not finished either yet.
Heartstone by C J Sansom
The first is this, the fifth in the Shardlake series. I haven’t got very far into yet, but Matthew has a suspicious suicide on his hands and an orphan who is being taken advantage of for his inheritance. Oh, and a woman who is possibly illegally committed to the Bedlam. It requires a lot of attention, which I’ve been short of.
The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson
I’ve been getting on much better with this one thankfully. I was hoping to have had it read and reviewed ready for me to then read and review its sequel The Bitter Crown before it came out, but that went out the window unfortunately. I first read this for SPFBO, and wasn’t particularly positive about it back then. I’ve enjoyed rediscovering it, especially knowing what I now know. I’ve had a lot of fun looking for the various clues!
And so that’s my whole year of reading, in review!
I DNF’d a great deal more books than I was expecting to, but I read some absolute cracking books that will go down as my all time favourites, so I think that balances out fairly enough.
Did you get round to reading any of these? Let me know what you thought!