2022 has furnished me with a lot of lovely reading time. I find that often, my book choices connect with the seasons, so this year I thought I’d use that, as I sum up the books I most enjoyed this year. Let me know what you have read, and how the seasons affect your reading!
In early Spring, I like to read books that help me focus and plan, but as the weather warms up and new growth begins, I find myself in the mood for gentler reads, often with a strong presence of nature and the outdoors, adventurous plots and happy, positive outlooks.
This Spring, I enjoyed:
52 Lists for Happiness – For the past few years, I have set out in January with a book from the 52 Lists series by Moorea Seal. These offer a list prompt for each week in the year (such as “what makes you happy right now” and “the best choices you have made in your life so far”). I find it a calming, positive way of journalling.
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame – I’ve been working my way through a lot of children’s classics and this one came to me, at the perfect time, when the daffodils and lambs were out, the sun was warming, our windows were being thrown open, and I was venturing out more and more with my book and cuppa to the bench outside the house. Is there a more Springy piece of writing than the opening chapter of this one? “The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home… Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him…Something up above was calling him imperiously… so he scraped and scratched…until at last pop! his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow…”
Journey to the River Sea, Eva Ibbotsen – A warm book with a brave, likeable heroine. Another classic children’s novel, this follows the story of intrepid orphan Maia, and her journey to the Amazon, where she forms friendships, discovers plants and animals and learns more about her own bold and adventurous spirit.
The Rainbow Garden, Patricia St John – Sorry – it’s another children’s book! Most of this book is set in the Welsh countryside and much of it centres around a secret garden, discovered by a young girl on her arrival from London.
I Capture the Castle, Dodi Smith – Another eccentric, plucky young heroine in another classic. This is a coming of age story, with elements of light social commentary and humour, and young romantics who get in a bit of a muddle.
In summer, I love a really good novel, particularly those with storylines I can get swept up in and excellent writing. I often find a longer book really works for me at this time of year. I read some particularly good ones this year!
Ariadne, Jennifer Saint – This take on Greek mythology is a genre I don’t often dip into. At times, the relentless depiction of women being ruthlessly used and mistreated felt hard to read, but it was also refreshing to read such a passionate female voice. There were gruesome and graphic moments, which were described unflinchingly. The writing was incredibly evocative, transporting me to another time and place where gods and rulers wreaked havoc in the lives of everyone else. I loved the way Saint gives a voice to female characters, how Ariadne’s tender heart is also shown as one of her strengths, and the beautiful, sad ending.
Still Life, Sarah Winman – An Italian setting is ALWAYS a good thing and the writing in this book is just so skilful, the characters so endearing, the story so absorbing. This is one of my favourite books of the year. (I wrote more about this one here.)
Cloud Cuckoo Land, Antony Doerr – A sweeping, ambitious, quirky novel by one of my favourite authors. I wrote about it here.
Other great books I read this summer include Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro (which I wrote about here); The Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter (took a while to get into, but an interesting take on life and success); Recipe for Life, by Nicky Pellegrino (an easy read and another Italian setting); The Hidden Beach, by Karen Swan (far-fetched storyline but excellent escapism); Us Three, by Ruth Jones (a lot of dialogue, as you’d expect from the author, but, once you get used to this, a lovely story of friendship); A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster (back in Italy for a classic I’d not read before) and Driving Over Lemons, by Chris Stewart (Chris and his wife Anna buy a farm in a remote area of Spain and a host of misadventures ensues).
Autumn is a season of change, newness and sometimes loss. It’s a season I really enjoy and there is little better than a cosy Autumn evening with a Chai latte and a good book. I also find it a focused, hard-working time, and I think my book choices often reflect this. Many of the books I read this Autumn feature determined, clever, persevering characters.
Persuasion, Jane Austen – Andrew bought me a beautifully bound edition after I was horrified to find that I had covered my previous copy in notes between my friends and I during my teenage English lessons! I wondered why I couldn’t remember the story! This time, I actually read it, and I think it may even have become my favourite Austen, thanks to its long-suffering heroine, Anne.
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Another of my favourite authors, who is an exquisite, skilful storyteller. Ifemelu moves from Nigeria to America and becomes a successful blogger. It’s an exploration of race, education, culture and immigration and it’s also a painstakingly told love story.
The Spy, Paulo Coelho – Somewhat different to his other books, this biographical fiction follows the rather sad story of Margaretha Zelle, known as Mata Hari, who pushed herself to claim independence after suffering the violence of various men in her life. She was eventually executed under accusations that were probably false.
Woman of Light, Kali Fajardo-Anstine – Historical fiction at its best, this tells the story of Luz and her family, living in Denver in the 1930’s, and previous generations of her family. There is real beauty and sadness in the story of Luz and those close to her.
In winter, I like cosy, easy reads and absorbing page turners. I often find myself returning to book series, which I LOVE to get wrapped up in.
Heidi, Johanna Spyri – I know, ANOTHER children’s classic. I remember reading this when I was young. As an adult, too, I enjoyed the story of Heidi, her grandfather and their friends. The character of Heidi is slightly idyllic, I feel, a child who has been through some traumatic experiences, yet remains ever so “good”, and this perhaps dates the book somewhat. |But if you can put any qualms about that aside, it is a lovely tale of redemption, love and friendship, with a beautiful Alpine setting.
At Bertram’s Hotel, Agatha Christie – I am a big fan of Agatha Christie and find her detective novels excellent winter comfort reads. This Miss Marple story, set in a London hotel, feels rather Christmassy to me.
The Poppy Denby series, Fiona Veitch Smith – I can’t get enough of these stories of journalist-cum-detective, Poppy Denby, set in the 1920’s. The characters are warm, indomitable and just very good fun, the history is well-researched and the storylines are gripping. I fly through each one.
The Rivers of London series, Ben Aaronovitch – Another addictive series, featuring PC Peter Grant, who ends up in the secret magic division of the police. Comparisons with Harry Potter are hard to avoid, what with the magic and all, but there are also similarities in the relationships. For example, Peter’s mentor, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, is a tad Dumbledoreish in his exceptional skill, wisdom and somewhat enigmatic quality. The London setting is described very well, there’s a sense of humour in the writing, and plenty of surprising twists and turns in the plot. These books are compelling reads, but may not be for everyone as there are a few graphic scenes and some swearing.
The No1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Alexander McCall Smith – This is a gentle, warm series, following the kind-hearted Mma Ramotswe and her friends, set in Botswana. The writing is humorous, calming, philosophical and unrushed. I always turn to these books if I am having a fragile day or week.
The Scott-De Quincy mysteries series, Jane Steen – light, historical mystery with strong female characters set in the late 1800’s.
Poetry – a habit for the whole year
It would be remiss of me when writing about my reading in 2022 not to mention poetry, which has been a great source of inspiration and comfort throughout the year. My favourite is still Mary Oliver (“joy is not made to be a crumb…”), but I have also enjoyed dipping into a variety of others, from Salena Godden (“living is all about living alive and lively/and love will conquer hate”) to Imtiaz Dharker (“Outside, in the sun,/such a quiet crowd/of shoes, thrown together/like a thousand prayers”) to a friend of mine, Lucy Hannah (“the cocoon is far less peaceful than it looks”). My brother bought me a Poetry Pharmacy book for Christmas, and these I can also thoroughly recommend.
P.S. Two books I loved, and have neglected to mention here, are I guess I haven’t learned that yet, by Shauna Niequist, which I wrote about here, and Out of Sorts, by Sarah Bessey, which I wrote about here.