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Recommended Reading from 2023

I have always admired those who are able to read three or even four books every month. I only ever manage one or two. I am an avid reader but life and work often eat into reading time and I end up only reading a chapter before falling asleep.


In 2023, I read fifteen books (excluding editorial projects) so am feeling somewhat proud of this achievement. I enjoyed all of them in one way or another, though there were some standouts. As I do every year, I’ve written this blog to share my thoughts on 2023’s reading list.



January


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee | 5*


Spanning four generations of a Korean family living in Japan, this novel is a true epic. Starting in the early 1900s, it follows the story of Sunja, the daughter of a crippled fisherman, and the consequences of her brief affair with a wealthy stranger she meets on a beach. After discovering she is pregnant, and that her lover is already married, she is forced to make a tough choice. With limited prospects, she marries a sickly minister and moves with him to Japan. Throughout the novel, Min Jin Lee masterfully weaves together the personal and the political, telling of love, sacrifice and hardship in a time of colonization and political warfare.


River of Ink by Paul Cooper | 5*


Paul Cooper’s second novel, All Our Broken Idols, is one of my all-time favourites. Having read this first, I had high expectations for his first novel, River of Ink. Though still brilliant, the story didn’t grip me as much as I’d expected. The novel follows Asanka, a humble village boy who rises ‘through the ranks’ to become court poet. His luxurious life is changed forever with the arrival of the ruthless Kalinga Magha on Lanka’s shores. Blending elements of history with the fantastical, Cooper explores the themes of fate and fortune, love and friendship, courage and survival. His wonderfully evocative storytelling brings his settings and characters to life on the page.  



February


Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak | 5*


A beautifully written tale exploring the powerful themes of love, identity, division and renewal. Safak deftly interweaves the stories of her characters and the different worlds they exist within. In a taverna in Turkish Cypriot, during the 1970s, two young lovers meet. In London, in the early 2010s, their daughter Ada begins to uncover the secrets of her parents’ past. Binding their histories together is a fig tree, once rooted in Cyprus and now growing in Ada’s back garden. The fig tree becomes a narrator, in both past and present, witnessing war and peace, joy and tragedy, love and loss.


March


Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain | 5*


I tend to choose fiction above non-fiction as a rule but this book took me by surprise. Vera Brittain’s account of life during the First World War is as profound as it is heartbreaking. Abandoning her studies at Oxford in 1915, Brittain enlisted as a nurse in the armed services. She served in London, Malta and the Western Front, witnessing death wherever she went. By the end of the war in 1918, she had lost nearly everyone she loved too. The book serves as a historical record, used by many historians today, as well as an account of personal tragedy and life irrevocably changed by war.



April


Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier | 4*


I loved reading Chevalier’s best-known work, Girl With a Pearl Earring, but Falling Angels felt somewhat flat for me. I thought the use of multiple viewpoints confused the narrative and left the characters without much depth. Though well-written and packed with intriguing details surrounding the women’s suffrage movement, the story was not as compelling as its precursor.


May


A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher | 4*


A beautiful re-telling of Eponine’s story from ‘Les Miserables’. As a child, Eponine knows little kindness except that offered to her by the kitchen servant, Cossette. At sixteen, their lives cross again but their love for the same boy puts their already fragile friendship to the test. Marketed for young adults, this book tells of trial and hardship but also of friendship and young love. I was actually gifted this book following my work experience when I was seventeen and it has taken me almost ten years to read it. Despite not giving it five stars, I did enjoy the story and found myself immersed in Eponine’s world.



June


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr | 5*


All the Light We Cannot See is a wonderful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy, whose duel narratives are brought together during the devastation wrought by World War Two. Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Natural History Museum, but when the war strikes, she and her father flee to Saint-Malo to live with her great-uncle by the sea. Meanwhile, in a German mining town, Werner Pfennig is enlisted to join the war effort. His life and Mari-Laure’s gradually become entwined. Doerr’s exquisite lyricism and his ability to heighten his readers’ senses is truly remarkable.


July/August


Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery | 5*


Anne of Green Gables is one of those series that remains with readers for a lifetime. The first book follows the adventures of Anne Shirley, an eleven-year-old orphan mistakenly sent to live with middle-aged siblings Mathew and Marilla Cuthbert on Saint Edward Island. Prone to making mistakes and getting herself into trouble, Anne is not perfect, but her well-meaning attitude and loveable spirit endear her to almost everyone she meets. As the series continues, the feisty, red-headed schoolgirl begins to grow up, starting work as a teacher at the local school while navigating the trials and tribulations of growing up. Despite having read these books many times before, I loved them just as much as the first time I ever picked them up.



September


The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey | 4*


In 1976, fisherman David stumbles across a mermaid off the coast of Black Conch island. Named Aycayia, this curious creature of legend is unlike anything David has seen before. Once, she was a beautiful woman, until a curse sent her into the sea to live there as a mermaid. The story beautifully captures Aycayia’s transformation from fish to woman again as she learns to eat human food, understand human language and become accustomed to her human flesh and feelings. Though I didn’t strictly speaking enjoy this book –some parts of the book were a little raw – I was able to appreciate the story’s concept and its mysterious telling.


Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery | 5*


Anne sets of for college, leaving her home at Green Gables behind. Here she witnesses the joys of independence and friendship and early seeds of romance begin to blossom in unexpected ways.



October/November


Tell and You Die by Teresa Bassett | 5*


This gripping standalone mystery is a must-read for young adults. Sixteen-year-old Rose’s world has been shattered by her brother’s tragic death. Her family has moved to a new area to get a fresh start but it seems that darkness exists here too. Desperate to find out what secrets her sister Lily is hiding, Rose traces her steps to a dark and dangerous place. Bassett’s ability to bring her characters to life and weave suspense into her tale is superb and I look forward to reading more of her works.


December


Anne of Windy Willows, Anne’s House of Dreams and Anne of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery | 5*


As the series continues, Anne moves away from home to begin work as a teacher. Combining straightforward prose with an epistolary format, this book departs a little from the rest of the series. Anne however is as charming as ever and her irresistible charm continues to make her friends (and the occasional envious enemy) everywhere she goes. In the final two novels, Anne steps into womanhood, becoming a wife and a mother with six children of her own. Though older and wiser, she never quite loses her sense of imagination and that fiery spark that readers have come to know and love.

 

 

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