I spent the first three months of 2022 entertaining myself by mining my TBR pile and browsing free books offered to me from Amazon and Audible. I had a good time catching up with books that have been sitting on my shelves unread for much longer than I’d intended. With a few exceptions, they were all good reads.
In this post I’ve picked out the five books that I enjoyed the most as my Best Reads, added five Honourable Mentions and listed five books that I decided not to finish because Life’s Too Short to read books that aren’t doing anything for me.
All five of my Best Reads were audiobooks this time. Two of them were Audible Originals, made specifically to be listened to. ‘Winter Dark’ was released as an audiobook first and only moved to text after the series took off. ‘Impact Winter’ is a remarkable creation, like a radio play with high quality 3D sound and a wonderful cast. Three of the books ‘Winter Dark’, ‘Talking To The Dead’ and ‘She Who Became The Sun’ are the first book in a series that I’ll now be following.
I’ve posted a brief review and a link to a full review which also includes a sample of each audiobook.
I read ‘These Silent Woods’ on my wife’s recommendation and found myself captivated from beginning to end, not just by the story but by the richness of the prose and the quality of the narration. I spent the first three quarters of the book falling in love with Finch, the young girl being raised alone in the woods with her father.
‘Winter Dark’ is a high-octane, fast-paced thriller filled with sex, violence, death and betrayal, played out across Europe. It introduces Winter, a female field agent for GCHQ who, like the powerful criminal she is tracking, is a very bright, very dangerous, sociopath hooked on risk and adrenaline and willing to do anything to win. How fun is that?
‘Talking To The Dead’ was a strong and slightly unconventional start to a police series set in South Wales. The prose is a delight without being a distraction. The main detective is more than a little off but is still easy to empathise with. The plot is as gritty as it is twisty. I finished the book eager to see more of this not-quite-right detective and the people around her.
‘Impact Winter’ was one of the highlights of the quarter. I picked it up with fairly low expectations as I’m not normally a fan of full-cast productions. Still, it was free, short and was being heavily pushed, so I gave it a try. I was hooked from the first episode. It was like a radio play on steroids. I was intrigued by the plot, stunned by the sound and pulled in by the performances of the cast. I limited myself to one episode a night to stretch out the experience. Kudos to Audible for making this. I hope that it will be the first of many productions like this.
‘She Who Became The Sun’ is an alternative history epic that swept me along with the breadth of its story, the strength and originality of the two main opposing characters and the use of details from a period of Chinese history that I knew nothing about. It was great page-turning fun without being light and fluffy.
Each of these books has something special about them that increased my enjoyment and made them memorable.
I’m very late getting to the party with this series. I was embarrassed to see that ‘Dissolution’ had been on my shelves unread for nine years.
Anyway, I’m now a fan. Sansom combines a great grasp of the details of everyday Sixteenth Century life and the social and political climate, builds engaging credible characters and wraps it all up in a decent murder mystery.
Ann Cleeves has done it again. In ‘The Long Call’ she has created another interesting detective (this time a gay man raised in a Christian fundamentalist sect that abhors homosexuality) in another rural community (this time North Devon) and braided her creations into a twisty murder plot designed to show them off.
‘Saving Missy’ is a beautifully written feel-good book that made me smile. It has some great insights into being old, some well-drawn characters, and a way of telling Missy’s story that creates suspense about what will happen next and deepens understanding with every revelation about Missy’s past.
It’s full of closely observed details of what it is like to be old and lonely and set in your ways. It shows how small your life can become and how hard that is to change. It understands that your past is important, it has shaped who you are, but it can’t sustain you forever.
Its view of humanity seemed a little optimistic to me but I let myself bathe in the rosy glow of optimism about the kindness of strangers.
‘Damocles’ is a fresh, original, ultimately hopeful First Contact novel that casts the Earth team as the aliens.
S. G. Redling has produced an exciting, emotionally engaging story about the challenges of finding a way to understand each other. This is a fine example of how Science Fiction can be thought-provoking without being emotionally distant.
‘Severance’ is not your typical post-apocalyptic thriller. If you’re after a plague-based version of ‘The Walking Dead’, this isn’t the book you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a book that explores being rootless, severed from your past, barely invested in your present and unable to imagine a future more satisfying than the habits and routines of your daily life, then ‘Severance’ will resonate with you.
‘Severance’ is a first-person account of the life of Candace Chen, who immigrated to America from China with her parents when she was a child and who, when the virus that changes everything hits the world, is in her twenties, working for a publishing firm in NYC, managing the logistics of outsourcing the printing of specialist Bibles to China.
‘Severance’ is not an exciting book. The pace is gentle. The tone is passive. There is no escapism, only an unflinching look at how things are. I found the combination to be chilling and compelling.
Life’s Too Short
I’ve reached a point where I know I probably don’t have enough years left to read the huge number of books already in my TBR, never mind all those new and exciting must-read books that come out every year and the long-running series I want to read so, when I find a book that isn’t working for me, I set it aside and move on to something I’m more likely to enjoy.
Here are the books I set aside this quarter and how I felt about them
‘Death In The Clouds’ by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie writes some great Poirot stories. This isn’t one of them. It’s a bare-bones puzzle-box mystery that Poirot works at on his own without the usual humour brought by the presence of Hastings. There wasn’t enough there to hold my attention.
‘These Toxic things’ by Rachel Howzell Hall
I made it halfway through this before giving up. I’d expected a thriller and got a slow-moving, tension-free story full of Hallmark Moments and a deeply sentimental view of memories. I never got to meet the Toxic Things of the title.
‘The Little Sister’ by Raymond Chandler:
I’d thought this was a sure thing. I remember enjoying it when I read it forty or so years ago. This time around, I couldn’t stomach it. Philip Marlowe is an ass. Raymond Chandler’s women are blow-up dolls. Chandler’s writing was good but not enough to make me want to spend any more time with Marlowe.
‘The Winter People’ by Jennifer McMahon
This was a ‘love it or lose it’ read of a book that has loitered on my shelves for six years. By 10% in I knew it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t the horror book that I’d expected. It was too ‘Anne of Green Gables Talks To Dead People’ for me.
‘Death In The Sunshine‘ by Steph Broadribb
It was free. It had a good premise. It sounded like an American version of Richard Osman’s ‘The Thursday Murder Club’. I got 35% through and realised I didn’t care about any of the people or about who had killed whom or why. Maybe it will make good TV.