August 29, 2022 - #booklover | Book recommendations | Book reviews | Esther's Children | Favourite reads 2022 | General

The year in books so far!

With September only a few days away I thought I had better hurry up with my blog of the most notable books of 2022 so far! It has been a fantastic year of reading with so many outstanding new releases and here are nine particularly notable ones that I can highly recommend. I don’t know about you but the only way I have managed to stay on top of my reading pile is by listening to more audiobooks while out walking and there are three included here. Laurel Lefkow narrated Miranda Cowley Heller’s The Paper Palace and brought this searing family drama to life, making the world so vivid and the difficulties the characters face so much more corporeal. It’s a novel about many things; family, love, abuse and inter-generational trauma, as well as about longing and loyalty and is a disturbing and tender read. I also listened to Great Circle, Maggie’s Shipstead’s epic novel inspired by New Zealand female aviator, Jean Batten. It’s dual storyline and tells the brilliant story of golden age aviatrix, Marian Graves, and present day actress, Hadley Baxter, as they chart their own thrilling course through tumultuous lives, loves and adventures. The sense of drama and destiny, of their shared courage and self-determination reach a satisfying conclusion and sense of lives lived to the full. The novel was short-listed for the 2021 Booker Prize and the audiobook is narrated by Cassandra Campbell and Alex McKenna. Karen Joy Fowler’s Booth was long-listed for the 2022 Booker Prize and tells the story of John Wilkes Booth and his family illuminating the spectacle of their lives behind the theatrics and the scandals. There were a couple of points where the pace slows as it takes time to get to know the different characters through their multiple points of view but the reward is in the detailed settings and sense of time and place.



My first book of 2022 was Anita Heiss’s Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray, a powerful story of love, bravery, and belonging. It’s a story of dispossession but also an intimate portrait of female friendship and loyalty. The Bradleys are white settlers in Gundagai in 1852 and Wagadhaany is a young Gundagai woman enslaved to the family who her father helped rescue from a flood. The story centres around the relationship between well-intentioned Quaker, Louisa Bradley and Wagadhaany, and the tensions of a friendship built on inequality and choreographed by the imbalance of that power. It’s a thought provoking book that asks many questions of the reader, including whether a relationship based on such inequality can ever succeed. One of the joys is that there is the sense of a real connection between the women and a resulting sadness that this might not ever be realised, even though, for a brief period of time they are a solace to each other.

There are two stand-out debuts on my list too, firstly Lizzie Pook’s novel, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter. It’s an incredibly atmospheric novel with vivid descriptions of the fictional town of Bannin Bay in Western Australia. As a long time visitor to Broome I recognised the landscapes and skies so vividly brought to life, and really appreciated how the detailed prose, with its original metaphors and imagery gave a palpable sense of time and place. It’s not just the settings that are so well depicted; the Brightwell family and the cast of characters that inhabit Bannin are drawn with realism and layered history. In the same way that Where The Crawdads Sing has been enjoyed as eco-escapism, this is part of the appeal of this debut and so it was no surprise to learn that Lizzie is a travel writer.

Lizzie Pook’s debut novel

The other debut novel is The Whalebone Theatre by Julia Quinn, a book described by Sarah Winman as ‘Actually, a tour de force. It has all the makings of a classic.’ Who am I to disagree with Sarah Winman! Or Francis Spufford, whose blurb I particularly loved: ‘A book that will be loved unreasonably and life-long.’  The Whalebone Theatre sweeps you along with its sense of adventure and fun and makes you wish you could join the cast of irresistible characters on one of their esoteric outings or any number of unconventional gatherings or amateur theatre productions. There are parts of the book that are heart-breaking but for the most part there is such an original charm to the story of the Seagrave family and their relationship with a whale that washes up on a nearby beach, setting of a series of events. There is a particular warmth to the Seagrave children; Cristabel, Digby and The Veg that runs through from the early chapters and their transformation into adulthood and the fate that World War II chooses for them. If you enjoyed Pip Williams The Dictionary of Lost Words, Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, or Bridget Collins The Binding, this is definitely one to add to your book pile!

Kate Quinn never disappoints with her books inspired by female heroines and The Diamond Eye is no exception with a story based on a real World War II deadly female sniper. The story is set in snowbound Russia and Ukraine as student and mother, Mila Pavlichenko, gains a reputation for her lethal skill, then is sent to America on a propaganda tour after she becomes a national heroine. There are compelling early chapters on the eastern front where Mila displays her humanity and resolve, and a love story that segues into those set in America, in a satisfying story of heroism, of self-sacrifice, and of a mother doing what is best for her child.

Meg Waite Clayton’s The Postmistress of Paris and Julie Orringer’s The Flight Portfolio were both memorable historical fiction based on the true story of the rescue of artists form France during the Second World War. Orringer’s is inspired by the American journalist Varian Fry who attempted to save the lives and work of Jewish artists and intellectuals fleeing the Holocaust, while Waite Clayton’s novel centres around the character of Nanee, inspired by the adventurous American heiress, Mary Jayne Gold, who worked with Varian Fry smuggling artists and intellectuals out of France. They are both set largely in Marseille, France, encompassing sweeping romances and high-stakes danger with rescues that include daring schemes under the guise of legitimate relief operations. Beautifully crafted novels with gripping plots, complex characters and involving platonic relationships as passionate as the romantic ones, each novel resurrects the bravery of these individuals who fought for the freedom of refugees. If you’ve read my new novel, Esther’s Children, you might see why I devoured these two books!

I’m not sure there are too many avid readers who haven’t come across The Paris Bookseller, based on the life and love of Sylvia Beach who battled the odds to open her Paris bookshop and publish James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s a celebration of love, the triumph of friendship, the influence of literature and books and the struggles of artists and those passionate about their endeavours. Kerri Maher’s novel was a revelation for me as I had no idea about this true story and it inspired me to visit the bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, in April, along with hundreds of other tourists!

I hope this has given you some ideas or a useful insight on a possible next read. What have you read so far this year that you haven’t been able to put down? I would love to hear your recommendations so please send me a note in the comments below…

Thanks for reading!

Caroline x

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray | book lovers | book pile | book recommendations | Booker prize | books of 2022 | Booth | debut novels | Delia Owens | Esther’s Children | Favourite reads of 2022 | fiction | Francis Spufford | historical fiction | Joanna Quinn | Julie Orringer | Karen Joy Fowler | Kate Quinn | Kerri Maher | Lizzie Pook | Maggie Shipstead | Meg Waite Clayton | Miranda Cowley Heller | Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter | new fiction | next reads | novels | pioneering women | Pip Williams | Sarah Winman | TBR | The Binding | The Diamond Eye | The Dictionary of Lost Words | The Essex Serpent | The Flight Portfolio | The Great Circle | The Paper Palace | The Paris Bookseller | The Postmistress of Paris | The Whalebone Theatre | Where the Crawdads Sing

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