I’m sure like me, that you’re looking forward to 2022 with hope and anticipation. The past couple of years have been a struggle for all of us, not counting the additional personal difficulties that many will have also had to content with. However, I’m happy to say that books have not been a struggle. In the past year, I managed to buy (possibly) too many, and read not enough to justify doing so. That latter is said with the knowledge that unless somebody discovers the elixir of youth, I will expire before my reading pile. Nonetheless, they are my hobby and my passion so I’m not unduly bothered.
Books were not the only thing that were on the up, I also had a much improved ‘blog’ year. As I was still working throughout the pandemic I can’t put that down to having extra time on my hands, so perhaps I have started to get more efficient after all. The amount of time I still waste scrolling on social media though means there’s still room for improvement in that department! So here’s a few stat’s to keep my inner bookkeeper happy.
- Number of Blog Posts 220
- Number of Visitors 19,659
- Number of Views 47,204
- Number of Books Bought 272
- Number of Books Read 95
- Number of Pages Read 30,840
It’s the number of books read, in particular, that I’m delighted with. Since Boris appeared, both real and metaphorical (it was the name I gave my cancerous lump), my reading stats have really dropped. I always used to aim (though didn’t always succeed) to read 100 books a year and a quick look at the figures below reveals how bad things had got.
For 2021 I set myself an ambitious target of 80, so to manage 95 was incredible – over double what I managed last year. Part of that was down to a concerted effort to set more time aside for reading and I’ve tried to have a quiet reading hour after work. I think I also frightened myself by acknowledging how many books I’ve got (of which more later) and I realised I really needed to up my game to make even a small dent in my book mountain.
I’m happy to say that I didn’t read one book this year that I disliked. There are always some books that will resonate than others and we’re all different. On the rare occasion that I do write a review these days I don’t award stars, but of course using Amazon or Goodreads that becomes a given. If nothing else on Goodreads it just confirmed what my stand out reads were.
My Books of the Year
I’ve chosen 10 that I loved and left their mark. I’ve noticed looking back that the majority did quite literally transport me to a different time or place, I think that’s possibly what we were all craving last year. There was one though that invoked particular memories for me and perfectly described the feelings I have for a place. For that reason I’ve made it my book of the year, the remainder are listed in no particular order.
The Hearts Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Cyril Avery is not a real Avery. At least, that’s what his parents make sure to remind him. Adopted as a baby, he feels more and more disconnected with the family that treats him more as a curious pet, rather than a beloved son.
So, as a young adult, Cyril decides to embark on a quest to find his place in the world. Sometimes misguided and often in the wrong place at the wrong time, life has dealt him a difficult hand but Cyril is resolute that he can change things, and find the courage to be himself.
And in doing so, his story will come across that of Catherine Goggin, a young, pregnant woman finding herself alone and isolated at only sixteen. There is a place in the world for both of them, and Cyril is determined to find it.
The Talk of Pram Town by Joanna Nadin
It’s 1981. Eleven-year-old Sadie adores her beautiful and vibrant mother, Connie, whose dreams of making it big as a singer fill their tiny house in Leeds. It’s always been just the two of them. Until the unthinkable happens.
Jean hasn’t seen her good-for-nothing daughter Connie since she ran away from the family home in Harlow – or Pram Town as its inhabitants affectionately call it – aged seventeen and pregnant.
But in the wake of the Royal Wedding, Jean gets a life-changing call: could she please come and collect the granddaughter she’s never met?
We all know how Charles and Diana turned out, and Jean and Sadie are hardly a match made in heaven – but is there hope of a happy ending for them?
Close to Home by Cara Hunter
HOW CAN A CHILD GO MISSING WITHOUT A TRACE?
Last night, eight-year-old Daisy Mason disappeared from a family party. No one in the quiet suburban street saw anything – or at least that’s what they’re saying.
DI Adam Fawley is trying to keep an open mind. But he knows the nine times out of ten, it’s someone the victim knew.
That means someone is lying…
And that Daisy’s time is running out.
Himself by Jess Kidd
When Mahony returns to Mulderrig, a speck of a place on Ireland’s west coast, he brings only his handsome face, a photograph of his too-young, long-lost mother, and a determination to do battle with the village’s lies. Mahony also somehow wakes the dead from their graves, those folk who once lived here, with their foggy memories and hidden stories, floating greyly amongst the unseeing living. No one though – living or dead – will tell what happened to the teenage mother who abandoned him as a baby. Despite Mahony’s certainty that more than one of them knows. Between Mulderrig’s sly priest, an implacable nurse and a caustic elderly actress throwing herself into her final village play, this beautiful and blackly comic debut novel creates in crystal-clear, musical language an unforgettable world of strange kindnesses, bloody violence and buried secrets.
Read my review here
The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman
It was a journey they would always remember . . . for a friend they’d never forget.
Norman and Jax are a legendary comedic duo in waiting, with a five-year plan to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe by the time they’re fifteen. But when Jax dies before they turn twelve, Norman decides a tribute act for his best friend just can’t wait, so he rewrites their plan:
1. Look after mum | 2. Find Dad | 3. Get to the Edinburgh Fringe
Sadie knows she won’t win Mother of the Year and she’s not proud she doesn’t know who her son’s father is. But when she finds Norman’s list, all she wants is to see her son smile again. So, enlisting the help of eccentric friend Leonard – an 84-year-old veteran with superior planning skills and a thirst for adventure! – they set off on a pilgrimage to Edinburgh, making a few stops to find Norman’s dad along the way.
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
1957, the suburbs of South East London. Jean Swinney is a journalist on a local paper, trapped in a life of duty and disappointment from which there is no likelihood of escape.
When a young woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud.
As the investigation turns her quiet life inside out, Jean is suddenly given an unexpected chance at friendship, love and – possibly – happiness.
But there will, inevitably, be a price to pay.
Nobody’s Perfect by Stephanie Butland
Does your past define your future?
When her daughter was born with cystic fibrosis, Kate Micklethwaite vowed that Daisy would never be defined by the illness. Kate is determined that her perfect little girl will be known for her love of butterflies and croissants and nothing else. Kate does all she can to be the perfect mother – whatever that means – and yet, somehow, has started seeing herself the way others see her: single parent, source of small-town scandal, drop-out, former mistress. Half a family.
When Daisy starts school, Kate meets her new teacher, the kind and charming Mr Spencer Swanson. Now, with more time on her hands Kate can start thinking about her own future. With her Open University dissertation deadline looming, Kate needs to decide what she wants next. But as she and Spencer get to know each other, Kate notices that people are whispering behind her back once more . . .
The Frequency of Us by Keith Stuart
In Second World War Bath, young, naïve wireless engineer Will meets Austrian refugee Elsa Klein: she is sophisticated, witty and worldly, and at last his life seems to make sense . . . until, soon after, the newly married couple’s home is bombed, and Will awakes from the wreckage to find himself alone.
No one has heard of Elsa Klein. They say he was never married.
Seventy years later, social worker Laura is battling her way out of depression and off medication. Her new case is a strange, isolated old man whose house hasn’t changed since the war. A man who insists his wife vanished many, many years before. Everyone thinks he’s suffering dementia. But Laura begins to suspect otherwise . . .
A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago
Frances Howard has beauty and a powerful family – and is the most unhappy creature in the world.
Anne Turner has wit and talent – but no stage on which to display them. Little stands between her and the abyss of destitution.
When these two very different women meet in the strangest of circumstances, a powerful friendship is sparked. Frankie sweeps Anne into a world of splendour that exceeds all she imagined: a Court whose foreign king is a stranger to his own subjects; where ancient families fight for power, and where the sovereign’s favourite may rise and rise – so long as he remains in favour.
With the marriage of their talents, Anne and Frankie enter this extravagant, savage hunting ground, seeking a little happiness for themselves. But as they gain notice, they also gain enemies; what began as a search for love and safety leads to desperate acts that could cost them everything.
Based on the true scandal that rocked the court of James I, A Net for Small Fishes is the most gripping novel you’ll read this year: an exhilarating dive into the pitch-dark waters of the Jacobean court.
and drumroll please for my book of 2021 …
All My Mothers by Joanna Glen
MEET EVA MARTÍNEZ-GREEN, AN ONLY CHILD FULL OF QUESTIONS ABOUT HER BEGINNINGS.
Between her emotionally absent mother and her physically absent father, there is nobody to answer them. Eva is convinced that all is not as it seems. Why are there no baby pictures of her? Why do her parents avoid all questions about her early years?
When her parents’ relationship crumbles, Eva begins a journey to find these answers for herself. Her desire to discover where she belongs leads Eva on a journey spanning decades and continents – and, along the way, she meets women who challenge her idea of what a mother should be, and who will change her life forever…
This is a book that is part mystery, part family history. It’s a beautiful book about love in many forms, between families, mothers and offspring, friends and lovers. Please don’t ignore the Postcript. It’s a love letter to the beautiful city that is Cordoba, having visited several times, I agree with every word. It perfectly captures how I felt when I fell in love with Seville, which stole my heart first.
I’ve got several ideas fermenting for possible new blog features, however common sense, for once, says don’t reveal them in case they don’t materialise. I don’t need the pressure of thinking I have to do something because I said I would. A lesson it’s taken many years to learn!
I am however looking at posting the odd review again. I got pretty stung during the year by seeing several posts claiming that you’re not a proper book blogger if you don’t review. I know that the comment was aimed at the growing rise of bloggers on Instagram just posting artfully posed pictures of book covers (I just wish I could!) but I still took it to heart.
I won’t bore you again with why I stopped the reviews, it’s already been covered. But I’d like to give it a go again, just to see whether I still can. I still have difficulty remembering what I had for breakfast some days so doing justice to a book I read several days before could be interesting. Maybe I should christen it – ‘Reviews for the Bewildered – books you’d love if I could remember the plot!’
One thing I am prepared to commit to print is my plan to decrease the number of books I have, either by reducing the number I buy (easier said than done), or by being ruthless with those that I already have. The stark reality is, as I mentioned earlier, I will never read all that own, before I even add any more. Goodreads informs me I have 4062 eBooks and 778 physical books. But that’s not the full picture, they are only the books I’ve catalogued, I’ll hold my hands up to at least another full bookcase that hasn’t had that dubious pleasure yet. So what’s the answer? If I upped my reading to a miraculous 200 a year I’d be the age of 87 before I got through what I have now, ignoring the aforementioned uncatalogued books, or any that I might add going forward. So clearly something has to give.
Looking at the disparity between eBooks and physical copies, I really need to reduce the number of eBooks I buy, It’s too easy when they are so cheap just to get them. Would I be so ready to click if they were £5 each no I wouldn’t, not because I don’t think they’re worth £5 but because I couldn’t afford it. With the number of physical books on my shelves I also admit that my local charity shop went through a phase of selling paperbacks at 10p each so I went a bit mad. I’m also pretty picky re condition when I buy second hand, so these were only the near pristine copies as well. Same rules apply as with eBooks, had they not been 10p would I have bought them, answer probably not. So that seems a good starting point for what we in the library world would call weeding. I appreciate that with a Kindle there isn’t really a problem re storage, but right now with so many I can’t see the wood for the trees. Some I downloaded because they were free, others because they were cheap, what I should have been asking was do I really, really want to read this. So going forward that is the question I’ll be making sure I answer.
When it comes to what I’m actually going to read I feel I have so many titles there’s actually too much choice and I dither. As a result I often do something really stupid like downloading a library book as I can’t make my mind up. That really doesn’t help the problem. What I spotted recently over at Rae Reads Book Blog was an idea for working through the tbr pile and it looks like it might help me make my mind up. I realise that the idea of the challenge is to include all 26 letters in any order, over the course of the year but I’ve decided it will focus the mind if I start with A and work through to Z. I’ll be reading one eBook and one physical book per letter. I’ve already split my Goodreads list down alphabetically by title and by format and those lists will also form the basis for ‘weeding’ my collection as I tackle 2 letters per month. So wish me luck!
As I managed to read 95 books last year I’ve set my reading target this year at my traditional target of 100.
I’m really hoping that things get on a more even keel this year, especially as far as book events go. I was still too wary to risk Harrogate last year and was really looking forward to a couple of events I had booked later in the year. I’d got a literary lunch booked in October as well as a ticket for Perfect Crime in Liverpool in November. Well, with less than perfect timing, my hysterectomy meant I couldn’t attend either, thankfully I was able to get a refund from one at least.
This year I’m being hopeful and at this stage I’ve got accommodation booked for Crime Cymru in Aberystwyth over the May bank holiday weekend 30th April to 2nd May and Harrogate in July. The latter is really dependent on access/tickets being made available outside of the official weekend packages otherwise sadly I think it might be a non starter.
So that’s my look back over 2021 and a glimpse into the future. Thank you all for your friendship and support over the past year, the bookish world really is the best. Wishing you all a peaceful, happy and healthy 2022.