Saturday 31 December 2022

My Top Reads for 2022

I read 105 books in 2022 and it was so hard to choose just 10 favourites that I gave up and selected 12! Like last year, my favourite genre to read seems to be fantasy (escapism!), particularly books that have a nod to fairy stories or myths. I also love romantic comedy and historical fiction. There are some new-to-me authors this year, such as Vanessa Len, Rachel Gillig and A.G. Slatter, as well as old favourites Harlan Coben, Sarah Morgan and Karen Swan.

The list is in the order I read them. If you'd like to see what other books I've enjoyed this year, you can find them on Goodreads



Only a Monster by Vanessa Len

Sent to stay with her late mother's eccentric family in London, sixteen-year-old Joan is determined to enjoy herself. She loves her job at the historical Holland House, and when her co-worker Nick asks her on a date, it feels like everything is falling into place. Then a Good Samaritan attempt gone wrong sends Joan spinning through time, and her life begins to quickly unravel. Her family aren't eccentric, they're monsters with terrifying hidden powers. And Nick isn't just a cute boy: he's a legendary monster-slayer who will do anything to bring them down. Because in this story, Joan is not the hero... Full review here.

The Match by Harlan Coben

Wilde tries to locate his real family via a family history website - one of those that uses DNA samples to match relatives. When one of his contacts disappears under mysterious circumstances, Wilde feels obliged to investigate. The trail leads to a secret online group who expose online trolls. When people connected with this group begin to die, one by one, it becomes clear a killer is out for revenge - and the next person on their list could be Wilde. Full review here.


The Birdcage by Eve Chase

Twenty years after their last visit, half-sisters Lauren, Kat and Flora are summoned to Rock Point: the beautiful and windswept Cornish cliff house where they sat for their father's most famous painting, 
Girls and Birdcage. The last time they were all together, in 1999 for the Eclipse, something terrible happened. Now they're back, no one mentions it - which Lauren finds unsettling and confusing, because there's a bit of a gap in her memory... Full review here.


Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Nora is a literary agent often compared to a shark. Charlie is an editor with a publishing house and is Nora's Nemesis after he turned down one of Nora's authors who went on to become a bestseller. The bestselling book in question was a feel-good story set in a small town called Sunshine Falls. For a treat, Nora's sister suggests they take a holiday there but it soon becomes apparent that the Sunshine Falls in real life is not remotely like the one in the book. To make matters worse, everywhere Nora goes she bumps into Charlie. What on earth is HE doing in Sunshine Falls? And is Nora's sister being 
entirely honest about the reason that they're here too...? Full review here.

The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley by Sean Lusk

In 1754, renowned maker of clocks and automata Abel Cloudesley must raise his new-born son Zachary when his wife dies in childbirth. When an accident leaves six-year-old Zachary nearly blinded, Abel is convinced that the safest place for his son is in the care of eccentric Aunt Frances, who owns a menagerie of weird and wonderful animals. Offered a job by a politician with dubious intentions, Abel leaves his son, his workshop and London behind. This decision will change the course of all their lives forever. Full review here.

This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede

At the beginning of time, the goddess Dea created mankind but Crollo insisted humans were too flawed to survive. So the two of them made a wager. Crollo could send his demons to kill the humans but Dea would would bless the humans with gifts: 'Fontes', who are born with magic to defeat the demons, and one 'Finestra' to enhance that magic when the time came to do battle.

Three years ago Alessa was chosen to be her island's Finestra but so far she has accidentally killed each of the three Fontes she chose to be her partner. Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find another partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island's only hope, even her own soldiers are tempted to assassinate her! Full review here.

The Path of Thorns by A.G. Slatter

Asher Todd goes to live with the eccentric Morwood family as governess to their three young children. Asher knows little about being a governess, but she is skilled in botany and herb-craft - and perhaps a little bit more. Morwood Grange might be a creepy old house, chock-full of dark family secrets, but Asher has a few of her own - not least the 
real reason why she is there! And exactly what did happen to the governess before her...? Full review here.


Book of Night by Holly Black

Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn't pick, a book she couldn't steal, or a bad decision she wouldn't make. She's spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie...



Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Carrie Soto has been coached by her father from her childhood to be a winner at tennis, partly because she has a natural talent, inherited from him, but also to help them both cope with the unexpected death of her mother. By the time she retires from the sport she holds several sporting records, including that of most Slam wins, and is considered a sporting legend. When another tennis player looks set to break that record, years later, Carrie announces her comeback. But in risking everything, is she making a terrible mistake? Full review here.

One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig

Centuries ago, when the townsfolk of Blunder wanted help, they would seek blessings and gifts from the Spirit of the Wood. One day, the Spirit granted the King powerful magic of his own. He wanted to share this with his people so he created the twelve Providence Cards. 

Twelve blessings, twelve, curses...

Now the townsfolk had magic of their own, they forgot about worshipping the Spirit, who began using mist to lure people back to the wood in revenge. Children caught in this mist grew sick. Few survived, but those that did were 'infected' with magic that caused them to degenerate. So the King went back to the wood to barter with the Spirit, who told him the way to cure the children was to reunite the Cards - then she tricked him into handing over the last Card before he could do so. Full review here.

Snowed in for Christmas by Sarah Morgan

Lucy works for an advertising agency, which feels more like family than work, especially since her only relative, her grandmother, died at Christmas a couple of years back. Now the agency is in trouble, she doesn't hesitate to head off to Scotland to try to win over Ross Miller, the CEO of a famous gym/sportswear company. She even has the perfect way to get his attention. Wrap her proposal to look like a present and hand-deliver it to his house. What could possibly go wrong?  Full review here.


The Christmas Postcards by Karen Swan

Natasha is staying in an Airbnb in Vienna with her husband and young daughter Mabel, when they oversleep and nearly miss their plane. Too late they realise Mabel's precious toy cow, Moolah, has been left behind. Even when they return to their home in the Cotswolds, Mabel is distraught and refuses to sleep without it. Unable to find a substitute, Natasha puts out a request on social media that goes viral. It turns out Moolah was found by a climber named Duffy, who has now adopted it as a lucky mascot because it reminded him of a toy his sister had. Now hiking through the Himalayas, Duffy can occasionally get an Internet connection, but there are no post offices, so he can't send Moolah back. Instead, he sends electronic postcards to Mabel detailing all Moolah's adventures. Full review here.

Thursday 8 December 2022

Review: The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Two of my favourite genres are fantasy fiction and historical fiction, so I was delighted to receive an early copy of The Witch and the Tsar. This story takes the real-life Ivan-the-Terrible and pits him against the legendary Baba Yaga, a fearsome witch!

The story covers a twenty-two-year period starting from 1560. Yaga is the immortal daughter of a goddess and a human; centuries-old, but with the appearance of a young, attractive woman. She lives in Little Hen (a hut on chicken legs) with her owl and wolf in the northern woods, surrounded by the skulls of dead animals, beside the passageway to the Land of the Dead. She mistrusts people, as they mistrust her, but always offers help and healing as  needed.

One day, Anastasia, the tsaritsa and wife of Tsar Ivan IV of Russia, requests help with a mysterious illness - it turns out she is being poisoned. Yaga travels with her to Moscow to keep her safe, but Anastasia's enemy is far more powerful than either of them realise...

The Witch and the Tsar is a clever, well-written story that weaves traditional folklore through a violent period of Russia's history. As I'm not familiar with the folklore, I found this part hard to follow at times and would have loved more detail about the different supernatural worlds and 'kingdoms'. There is a lot happening in this book (wars, uprisings, massacres) and it could have been split into two, to do full justice to the story. I was not as interested in the politics and battle scenes as I was in the magic realism of Yaga's world, her spells, rituals and potions, and her relationships with Konstantin and Vasily.

The Witch and the Tsar didn't quite work for me, but I can see that it might appeal to fans of Katherine Arden's Winternight trilogy and Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver.


Thank you to Olesya Salnikova Giomore and HarperVoyager for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily. 

Wednesday 12 October 2022

The Christmas Postcards by Karen Swan

Natasha is staying in an Airbnb in Vienna with her husband and young daughter Mabel, when they oversleep and nearly miss their plane. Too late they realise Mabel's precious toy cow, Moolah, has been left behind. Even when they return to their home in the Cotswolds, Mabel is distraught and refuses to sleep without it. Unable to find a substitute, Natasha puts out a request on social media that goes viral. It turns out Moolah was found by a climber named Duffy, who has now adopted it as a lucky mascot because it reminded him of a toy his sister had. Now hiking through the Himalayas, Duffy can occasionally get an Internet connection, but there are no post offices, so he can't send Moolah back. Instead, he sends electronic postcards to Mabel detailing all Moolah's adventures.

This story has Sleepless in Seattle vibes in that it is told from the point of view of two unhappy people in two very different countries. Natasha is desperately miserable in the Cotswolds, despite her supposedly prefect marriage to the handsome Rob, and Duffy is suffering his own demons, from a broken relationship in his past and his poor relationship with his father - hence his pilgrimage to the Himalayas. (I do love a 'tortured' hero!)

The story is set in the run-up to Christmas, but is not overly 'Christmassy'. It's a sweet story about facing your mistakes, grabbing second chances, and learning to live rather than just exist. Perfect escapism! One of my favourite reads this year! 

Thank you to Karen Swan and Pan for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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Sunday 9 October 2022

Review: The Ghost Woods by C.J. Cooke

C.J. Cooke writes fabulously creepy gothic thrillers which usually have a legend or some kind of folklore at their heart. This is her third book and my favourite so far!

In the middle of the woods stands a house named Lichen Hall, where unmarried young women go to have their babies before handing them over for adoption. Pearl Gorham arrives in 1965 and soon realises things are not quite as they seem. Who is the mysterious little boy who roams the house, who everyone denies exists? What's with all the toadstools and the fires in the forest? And is there really something evil lurking in the woods?

First of all, there are no ghosts in this story but there is a definite evil 'something' that gives this superbly written gothic historical that extra chill factor. Clever and very original, I loved the growing relationships between the women and how they learnt to stop being so suspicious of each other and work together to solve the mystery of what was really happening at Lichen Hall. There are lots of surprising twists and the background information about toadstools was fascinating! 

One of my favourite books this year. Would suit any reader looking for an original twist on the gothic historical genre and fans of authors such as Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Mexican Gothic).

Thank you to C.J. Cooke and HarperCollins for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.


Monday 3 October 2022

Review: The House at Phantom Park by Graham Masterton

The House at Phantom Park has a fabulous, eye-catching cover and I do love traditional haunted house mysteries. This is a 'haunted house' with a difference, though, as the building was originally a military hospital, now left abandoned.

Lilian Chesterfield is in charge of developing St Philomena's Military Hospital into a luxury housing complex, but as soon as work begins on the Jacobean-style mansion, she hears screaming and doors slamming, and sees faces peering through windows. Lilian doesn't believe in ghosts - but what if St Philomena's is haunted by something worse than spirits?

Although The House at Phantom Park had all the chills I usually love in a ghost story, some scenes were a little too graphically gory for me! While the cause of the haunting was original, I found the telling a little repetitive in places and I didn't like the ending. But if you're the kind of reader who doesn't mind a bit of gore with your jump-shocks, add another star!

Trigger warnings: graphic descriptions of war and associated injuries - and it doesn't end well for the animals!

Thank you to Graham Masterton and Aries/Head of Zeus for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Friday 30 September 2022

Review: Snowed in for Christmas by Sarah Morgan


Lucy works for an advertising agency, which feels more like family than work, especially since her only relative, her grandmother, died at Christmas a couple of years back. Now the agency is in trouble, she doesn't hesitate to head off to Scotland to try to win over Ross Miller, the CEO of a famous gym/sportswear company. She even has the perfect way to get his attention. Wrap her proposal to look like a present and hand-deliver it to his house. What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, Ross and his sisters Alice and Clemmie meet up before their annual family Christmas get together to discuss tactics to deal with their parents, particularly their mother and Nanna Jean, who are just dying to see them all happily married. Alice has commitment issues and her boyfriend has just proposed, sending her into a panic. She suggests that Ross could take the heat off her if he pretends to have a girlfriend. Ross goes along with the joke and they randomly chooses the name Lucy for his fake girlfriend, after the girl on the cover of a magazine. So that when the real Lucy arrives at the Miller house, complete with her 'present' for Ross, his family get completely the wrong idea and invite her in. By the time Ross has turned up and the mistake is explained, it is snowing heavily and all trains back to London have been cancelled. And Lucy is stuck facing Christmas with a family of strangers...

Snowed in for Christmas is not a story about one couple's romance, but an ensemble cast who have multiple problems, exacerbated by being thrown together for Christmas with no prospect of escape! We have Lucy, who hates Christmas due to her sad memories; Alice, who knows she's no one's idea of a perfect wife yet terrified of losing Nico if she turns down his proposal; Clemmie, who moved to London to escape her childhood sweetheart, only to run into him again; and Glenda, the matriarch, desperate to see her family settled, but equally aware she has to step back and not interfere with their lives. Meanwhile, the hilarious but completely adorable Nanna Jean has no compunction about interfering in all their lives as often as possible! (As you can tell, Nanna Jean was my favourite character!)

If you love warm-hearted, feel-good romantic comedies, this is the book for you. Highly original and very funny (and deserving of being a Christmas classic), Snowed in for Christmas was one of my favourite reads this year. Would suit fans of authors such as Jill Shalvis and classic movies like While You Were Sleeping.


Thank you to Sarah Morgan and HQ for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Sunday 18 September 2022

Review: One Dark Window (The Shepherd King #1) by Rachel Gillig

One Dark Window is a YA historical fantasy with elements of magic realism, gothic horror and romance, so it was the perfect read for me! It even has highwaymen!

Centuries ago, when the townsfolk of Blunder wanted help, they would seek blessings and gifts from the Spirit of the Wood. One day, the Spirit granted the King powerful magic of his own. He wanted to share this with his people so he created the twelve Providence Cards. 

Twelve blessings, twelve, curses...

Now the townsfolk had magic of their own, they forgot about worshipping the Spirit, who began using mist to lure people back to the wood in revenge. Children caught in this mist grew sick. Few survived, but those that did were 'infected' with magic that caused them to degenerate. So the King went back to the wood to barter with the Spirit, who told him the way to cure the children was to reunite the Cards - then she tricked him into handing over the last Card before he could do so. Five hundred years later, some are happy to keep things the way they are, others seek to reunite the Cards and break the curse.

After touching a Providence Card as a child, Elspeth was possessed by a supernatural being she nicknamed The Nightmare. She can hear his voice in his head and he can take over her body if she is in mortal peril or calls for his help. But every time this happens the more control he takes from her and the weaker she becomes. If Elspeth reunites the cards will she be cured? Yet the more she's exposed to danger, the more powerful The Nightmare becomes...

One Dark Window is a fabulously dark fairy story, stunningly imaginative, with lots of twists, shifting allegiances and nail-biting life-or-death moments. It's a story-within-a-story containing rhyming extracts from The Book of Alders, which was a lovely touch. I fell completely in love with the characters, especially Elspeth, Ravyn and the cynical wise-cracking Elm, and was entirely sucked into their world. I loved every minute and didn't want the story to end. The only problem is that it ended on a massive cliff-hanger! Argh!!! I really, really can't wait for the next book!

One of my favourite reads this year, One Dark Window would suit fans of dark fairy tales and authors such as Naomi Novik (Uprooted), Holly Black (The Folk of the Air series) and Brigid Kemmerer (The Cursebreaker series).


Thank you to Rachel Gillig and Orbit (Little, Brown Group UK) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily. 

Wednesday 14 September 2022

Review: Marple: Twelve New Stories

I love Agatha Christie and have read all her books, so I was excited to see this anthology, which has twelve new Miss Marple stories written by bestselling crime authors.

It has been a while since I last read a Miss Marple story, however, and I suspect my memory has been muddled by the various TV and film adaptations! Which is why I had Joan Hickson in my head throughout this book, along with Joanna Lumley every time Dolly Bantry made an appearance. I can't really judge if the authors have correctly captured Christie's 'voice' but they have certainly captured the flavour of her Miss Marple stories and they are all of an exceptional standard.

The stories are as follows:

Evil in Small Places by Lucy Foley
The Second Murder at the Vicarage by Val McDermid
Miss Marple Takes Manhattan by Alyssa Cole
The Unravelling by Natalie Haynes
Miss Marple's Christmas by Ruth Ware
The Open Mind by Naomi Adlerman
The Jade Empress by Jean Kwok
A Deadly Wedding Day by Dreda Say Mitchell
Murder at the Villa Rosa by Elly Griffiths
The Murdering Sort by Karen M. McManus
The Mystery of the Acid Soil by Kate Mosse
The Disappearance by Leigh Bardugo

My favourites (in no particular order) were: The Second Murder at the Vicarage, A Deadly Wedding Day, Murder at the Villa Rosa, The Murdering Sort, The Mystery of the Acid Soil and The Disappearance, but they were all very good! I think my only complaint is that no original Miss Marple story was included.

This anthology was a clever idea and a lot of fun. Even with my rusty knowledge I recognised reoccurring characters (Raymond West, Dolly Bantry and Sir Henry Clithering) and references to other stories (The Murder at the Vicarage and A Caribbean Mystery). Marple would make the perfect present for any fan of cosy crime, 'golden age' mysteries - and of Agatha Christie, obviously!


Thank you to the authors and Harper Collins UK for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Friday 9 September 2022

Review: The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly

I've not read any books by Erin Kelly before but the beautiful cover and intriguing blurb caught my eye. In her foreword, the author explains that the inspiration for this story was one of her favourite childhood books: Masquerade by Kit Williams, which contained clues for a treasure hunt - the prize being a jewelled hare. In this book the prize is the tiny gold skeleton of a woman, broken into pieces and buried at locations around the UK. 

Fifty years ago, Frank Churcher had the idea to write and illustrate a folk tale about a poor farmer who has to find and reunite the bones of his lost love, Elinore. To accompany the story, Frank created a tiny gold skeleton, which he broke up, burying the various bones around the country, with the clues to their location hidden in the text of the book. This book, The Golden Bones, became a huge bestseller and made both his fortune and his name as an artist, but it ruined the life of his daughter Nell. For years she's been stalked by the fans of the book (who call themselves 'Bonehunters') who believe the story is real and that her father hid the last missing piece of the skeleton inside her body. She refuses to accept any of her father's money and now lives incognito on a narrow boat with her unofficially adopted daughter, Billie.

To celebrate the book's 50th anniversary, Frank is relaunching The Golden Bones with an app and a documentary, and is planning on finally revealing where that last piece is hidden. All his family will be there at his house, including Nell and Billie, along with a film crew. Meanwhile, outside the house (and in online forums) the Bonehunters are circling...

The Skeleton Key is a beautifully written psychological suspense/domestic thriller with larger-than-life characters, gothic overtones and a jaw-dropping finish. As well as Frank and his wife Cora, there is Frank's friend, the alcoholic but talented Lal (with whom he always seems to be in competition), plus Lal's wife Bridget, and their children and grandchildren. The story moves back and forth between 1971 and the present day, until we're all caught up with every family secret and every betrayal. You soon appreciate that Nell did exactly the right thing by distancing herself from these horrible people!

The past and present timelines are knitted seamlessly together, the treasure hunt was great fun, and the parts with the skeleton were inspired! And I shall never look at detergent in quite the same way again! Including the legend of Elinore at the end of the book was  a nice touch.

The Skeleton Key is a fabulous story, recommended for fans of Lisa Jewell and Alice Feeney.


Thank you to Erin Kelly and Hodder and Stoughton for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

Thursday 25 August 2022

Review: Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I adored Taylor's last novel, Malibu Rising, so I was intrigued to learn that one of the minor characters is given the starring role in this story.

Carrie Soto has been coached by her father from her childhood to be a winner at tennis, partly because she has a natural talent, inherited from him, but also to help them both cope with the unexpected death of her mother. By the time she retires from the sport she holds several sporting records, including that of most Slam wins, and is considered a sporting legend. When another tennis player looks set to break that record, years later, Carrie announces her comeback. But in risking everything, is she making a terrible mistake?

Carrie Soto is Back is an immersive, gripping story, showing how brutal professional tennis can be, especially when you're no longer young and fit, and reveals the kind of person you need to be, psychologically, to win. (I love how Bowe tries to explain it as 'Self One' vs 'Self Two'.) The story follows Carrie's progress through each slam event: The Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and, finally, the US Open. Has she been arrogant to believe she can just swan in at the same level of fitness, with everyone waiting for her to fail?

Carrie has a consuming need to be the best; failure is not an option - something her friend Bowe can't understand. He's kept going through alcoholism and injury, why did Carrie retire in the first place? She lost a couple of matches? Big deal. Her father believes tennis is a beautiful game and that she should concentrate on enjoying herself - win or lose - but is he being na├»ve?

Carrie Soto is Back has some very wise words to say on the business of winning and losing (and of taking part!) that can be applied to all areas of life. Like Daisy Jones and the Six this is a very immersive novel, with lots of tennis! Would suit fans of the film King Richard and sport-themed novels like Midnight in the Snow (Karen Swan). I loved it! One of my favourite reads this year.


Thank you to Taylor Jenkins Reid and Cornerstone/Random House/Penguin for my copy of this book, which I requested via NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.

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