First a bit of an apology that this blog has been silent for the last 3 months. The end of 2022 had a lot going on for me and I wasn’t really in the mood to read or watch much, let alone write about it. So here’s a catch up on the books I’ve read since September, all ready to go into the review of 2022.
Naomi Novik – The Golden Enclaves
A pretty solid ending to this trilogy, but I wasn’t as blown away as I had been with the previous novels. The first two books were set entirely in the school, and while there was a lot of complicated history and rules to learn for the magical world, they were constrained. The third book however throws us out to the wider world and everything suddenly needed a lot of exposition. I didn’t feel the elements blended together – you either had feeling, exposition, or action, and the exposition element far far outweighed the others. It was still really compelling and hard to put down, I just didn’t feel as lost in the book as I had the previous ones.
Natalie Haynes – Stone Blind
I’m a big fan of Natalie Haynes’ Radio 4 show Stand Up for the Classics, which mixes her skills as a stand up comedian with her academic skills as a Classicist. I also really enjoyed her non-fiction book Pandora’s Jar which looks at how the portrayal of women in Greek myths has been changed over time. I therefore had big hopes for this entry into the fiction genre of feminist retelling of myths… and I was sadly disappointed. The plot and characters are all solid enough, but the writing is a bit erratic, it can’t quite seem to decide whether it’s adopting a modern, self-knowing, funny tone, or a more ‘classic’ style with more artistic descriptions and metaphors. Different characters seem to live in different styles and even if that was intentional, it didn’t really work for me unfortunately.
T Kingfisher – Illuminations
This could easily be called A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Painting and pairs nicely with the previous book on Baking. It’s very suitable for younger audiences, following a fairly traditional structure that would be a perfect fit for a Disney movie, all the way through to sarcastic talking animal sidekick and the eccentric family members. It’s a lot of fun and very sweet, but maybe it’s just because I’m a baker not an artist, it didn’t have quite the same impact.
Richard Osman – The Bullet that Missed
Another very enjoyable installment from Richard Osman’s series. On one hand it’s quite an easy going murder mystery, with a charming group of inhabitants of a retirement village teaming up with a couple of local police officers. But there are a couple of threads running through that have more substance to them. Talking to the freedoms and constraints that come with getting older that leave a bit of sadness if you dwell on them. But you could just ignore that, and enjoy the mystery and the surface of the vibrant characters.
Victoria Glendinning – Family Business: An Intimate History of John Lewis and the Partnership
Given that I work for John Lewis, I couldn’t resist this book. It’s a slightly misnamed book because it’s actually a biography of the Lewis family rather than the business they founded, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. John Lewis started as an orphan in Somerset and ended as a rich department store owner, his sons were raised to continue his legacy, but neither quite followed the plan and although Spedan Lewis did take over the business, he had radically different ideas for how shops, business and the world should operate and launched the ‘experiment’ of co-ownership that is still running today. The book is a fascinating look at an utterly bizarre family, and also gives an insight into the world that they and their shop staff were living in for the 2nd half of the 19th century, through the war years and post war years of the 20th.
Tom Hindle – A Fatal Crossing
A fairly bog standard period murder mystery. Set in 1924 aboard an Atlantic crossing, an elderly gentleman is found dead. A police detective coincidentally travelling on board is determined to investigate and is assisted by one of the ship’s officers who narrates the tale. The story unfurls fairly predictably with many of the usual tropes. The only really original thing about the book is the ending and I’m not 100% certain that it really earned it. It’s not terrible, but it’s very disposable.
Sandi Toksvig – Between the Stops
This book is like being inside of Sandi Toksvig’s brain, which you’ll either find delightful or utterly bizarre. A sort of autobiography in that it’s mostly about her life and experiences, but between the meandering of topics and timelines and frequent diversions into utterly random bits of history it’s a long way from a traditional autobiography. I love Sandi, and her voice absolutely sings through from these pages so I really enjoyed it and learnt a lot of stuff that I have absolutely no use for.
RE-READ: Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club
This is a lovely little murder mystery novel. Set in and around a retirement village, a group of residents regularly review cold cases supplied for a retired police officer and then find themselves involved in a present day murder. It’s a lovely idea and all the characters are vibrant and large, usually just the right side of credibility. It’s on the lighter side of crime fiction, but also has some real emotion in it and doesn’t gloss over the wide ranging effects. I think if I had picked this book up randomly I would have nothing but praise for it, but with the name Richard Osman on it I was expecting a little more. There were occasional flashes of his wit, and there were some lovely bits of observation, but they were a bit few and far between when I was hoping for more. Still, an excellent first novel and I look forward to reading more.