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Friday 15 December 2023

End of Year Book Report


Dear friends.  We're nearly at the end of 2023 so I thought it a good time to assess my book blogging year and favourite reads, plus a preview of what's coming in 2024.

But first, let's look at what I read in December.  Not many books come out in December, so although I've read several this month, I'll be talking about them next year. Asterisk indicates books I bought myself. Others were given to me by NetGalley and publishers in return for an honest review.


The Cold Case by Will Shindler: 4 out of 5 stars

The abduction of three teenagers, 15 years ago, is a solved crime - or is it? 

DI Alex Finn and newly promoted DS Mattie Paulsen are forced to reconsider after one of the victims is murdered, swiftly followed by other linked crimes.

Finn, we discover, found the original crime scene and stayed in touch with the victims and their families.

A real masterclass in crime thriller writing. Shindler creates very believable characters, giving detail on their home lives which helps enrich our understanding of them. Paulsen comes across as gruff and unsupportive of her gregarious new starter Vanessa Wade, but in the background she's worried about her father's reaction to being sent to a home for those with dementia.

The crime itself is wonderfully complex with links to the dark web.

The pacing is masterful as is the final reveal: I honestly had no idea what the final outcome was going to be.

Bones of Contention by Candy Denman  (4 out of 5)

I wasn't sure what a police doctor does, so I was intrigued to find out more with this, my first book in the Dr Callie Hughes series. 

The book starts with Callie inspecting bones which have been unearthed in a garden by builders. She has to assess if they are very old. She doesn't think they are, and police must now deal with a potential murder investigation until more forensic evidence is uncovered.

Callie is a fully rounded character, living in a different part of the UK than her boyfriend and wondering if she should uproot herself to join him. I felt concerned for her when she started to be singled out by someone with a grudge. Her friends were very supportive but I was alarmed she didn't get much help from the police, until matters escalated.

I was wondering what Callie's trope or quirk is. Every detective, doctor or pathologist in a novel has one. It was revealed as her determination to follow up on leads and clues, most of which should have been police work. Remember, she's a doctor. It transpired she is impulsive and often does this.

The book tied up the loose ends around the criminal matters but ended on a cliffhanger around Callie's personal life. A suitable incentive to encourage me to read the next instalment!

The Race To Be Myself* by Caster Semenya

Athlete Caster Semenya was brought up as a girl in a remote community,  a tomboy who played football. She was always determined to be famous and found her calling in running. She trained alone for a long time before her talent was spotted. When she started winning major races, the IAAF took notice and Caster was subjected to humiliating tests, sometimes without having been told what was being done. She had never had a diagnosis of a DSD  (differences in sex development) so being told this during a race meet was a terrible shock, and as she argued later, an abuse of her human rights. 

She agreed reluctantly to go on the pill to reduce her testosterone levels after the IAAF made up some random criteria that wasn't based on scrutinised research. Caster still won many races, in spite of the drug having adverse effects on her health.  She also lost races against the athletes who criticise her, and has had to deal with accusations that she "holds back" her performance. 

Semenya's career was cut short but she now crusades on behalf of female athletes who have DSD. She has taken the IAAF to court. Semenya was a true champion and this is a frank and shocking account of how she and other women with a DSD have been treated.

Comfort Eating* by Grace Dent 

A hug in a book. Grace Dent writes dazzlingly about the comfort foods of her life, plus those of some of the celebrities in her podcast. It's a paean to lost times, when children went out to play all day, and school dinners nationwide seemed to feature chocolate slab with "mint sauce" (blancmange), among other things. It's reassuring that the food critic for a national newspaper can still enjoy white sliced bread and Dairylea triangles. So evocative, so nostalgic.


My target for the year was to read 100 books, and I actually overshot it by 8, finishing at 108. It transpired that I hadn't given a "finished" date for 8 books, which was a bonus.

Goodreads gave me some interesting facts.  My longest book read was Henry VIII, the Heart and the Crown, at 724 pages.  The shortest book was NetGalley's Book Advocate Toolkit, at 31 pages.  The  average rating I awarded was 4.2. 

One of the books I read,  Yellowface by R.F. Kuang, was also winner of the Fiction category in the Goodreads' books of the year, and features in my best books of 2023.

My Favourite Books This Year  (in no particular order)

Literary Fiction

Lessons by Ian McEwan

Water by John Boyne

Uncle Paul by Celia Fremlin  (Waterstones Thriller of the Month; Recommended on BBC Radio 4's Open Book)

Devotion by Hannah Kent  (The Women's Prize for Fiction Shortlist, The Guardian First Book Award Shortlist,  The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards Shortlist)

Psychological Thrillers

Geneva by Richard Armitage

The Last Passenger by Will Dean

The Confession Room by Lia Middleton

Psychological Fiction

Becoming Liz Taylor by Elizabeth Delo

Historical Fiction

73 Dove Street by Julie Owen Moylan

Crime Thrillers

Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent  (Selected for BBC 2 Between the Covers 2023;  winner Crime Novel of the Year, Irish Book Awards 2023) 

Espionage Thrillers

The Traitor by Ava Glass 

Satire Fiction

Yellowface by R F Kuang   (Foyles Fiction Book of the Year, Amazon Book of the Year, Shortlisted for Waterstones Book of the Year,  Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick)

The Dog of the North by Elizabeth McKenzie (long listed for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2023)


Henry VIII: The Heart and the Crown by Alison Weir 

Looking Ahead to 2024 

Next year I won't take a book target as such, but I want to challenge myself to read more genres. When I voted in the Books of the Year, there were several categories where I hadn't read any of the contenders.  I tend to favour crime and psychological thrillers, literary fiction and occasional non fiction (mostly about diets and history!).  

So I will try to find books that appeal in historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, humour and memoirs. I can't promise to read any full blown romances. I am too cynical for those! 

Look Out for These

One of the Good Guys by Araminta Hall  (4 Jan)

The Secret Pianist by Andie Newton (12 Jan)

The Actor by Chris MacDonald (18 Jan) 

The Wartime Book Club by Kate Thompson (15 Feb)

The Secret Beach by Veronica Henry (29 Feb)

My Favourite Mistake by Marian Keyes  (11 April)

Earth by John Boyne (2 May)

Inside Out The Extraordinary Legacy of April Ashley by Douglas Thompson (9 May)

How Can I Help You by Laura Sims   (25 Jul) 

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1 comment

  1. I seem to favour the same genres as you do, I too am going to widen
    my horizons


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