My GoodReads Challenge 2022

My GoodReads Challenge 2022

Books I am Reading in 2022

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In 2022 I was so busy with work and getting the second book in my Benaghar series ready for publishing that I only managed a handful of books. This year, however, I am going to make an extra special effort to read a lot more books. In fact, I’ve set my GoodReads Challange 2022 to 50 books, and as and when I finish one of them, you’ll be able to read my thoughts and reviews here – so, let’s get started with this year’s reading challenge:

1 | She is Not Your Rehab by Matt Brown with Sarah Brown


If I’m honest, I was sceptical about reading this book, thinking that it would be a ‘feel sorry for me because I abuse my wife’ story but it is far from that. I thought I would give it a go and then stop a couple of listens in, however …

Mataio (Matt) Faafetai Malietoa Brown is incredibly honest about his and other men’s behaviour and poor treatment of others – mainly loved ones around them. Learning through his own journey to be able to deal with his own traumatic childhood, and through his barbershop in Aotearoa, Matt listens to his customers and offers his advice to the troubled souls that come for a haircut and so much more.

I cried at the heartbreak, nodded in agreement and laughed out loud at his and Sarah’s (his wife’s) frank and honest advice.

She is Not Your Rehab is hard-hitting but heartfelt. Although this book is aimed at men that are abusive to their loved ones – violent and non-violent – I think women should definitely read or listen to Matt and Sarah’s words of wisdom, whether you are in or have experienced an abusive relationship, or indeed if you are the abuser or have witnessed the abuse being done. This book is very much about anti-violence and our negative behaviour, so we can all learn from it.

I listened to the audiobook version – great narration from Matt and his wife. If you read one book this year – make sure it’s this one. So good!

2 | The Girl in The Tower (The Winternight Trilogy, Book 2) by Katherine Arden


The magic continues in the second instalment of The Winternight Trilogy. Arden’s writing is beautiful – a true storyteller. I couldn’t wait to find out what Vasya would get up to in this book – what adventures she would have and who would dare try and stand in her way.

Once again I listened to the audiobook and was hooked by the continuation of this dark trilogy, its complex web of history and folklore mixed into a tundra of chaos at the court of The Grand Prince of Moscow.

Vasya is still very much headstrong – even more so – leading her into more trouble as every chapter passes. I was horrified when she was caught out, and genuinely couldn’t stop listening to see how she would recover from the deception. But true to her character, only facing the darkness, challenging it, sets her on the right path. I just can’t wait to see what happens to her relationship with Morozco in the third book (which I have now listened to and reviewed below).

3 | Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear


“Can one tiny change transform your life? It is unlikely that you would say so. But what if you made another, and another, and another? At some point, you will have to admit that your life was changed by one small change.”

Typically, I am not one for ‘self-help’ books, but I was recommended this book by my better half after I complained, for the millionth time, that I find it really hard to stick to diets and workout regimes.

I liked the idea of a Habit Tracker, but I have failed at those in the past. However, the paperclip trick and reward account sound like ideas I could jump on board with, especially when it comes to the boredom of workout routines. So if I can create a new habit and carry on, then I’ll definitely use this to reward myself at a later date.

Atomic Habits is a book that makes you recognise your bad habits and create new ones to achieve your goals in the long run – no shortcuts. I nodded a few times and laughed when I recognised some of my flaws in his words. I shall see how building better systems will shape my future habits.

Overall, this book was okay – I listened to the audiobook version, and even though I did wonder where he was going with all the baseball stuff in the first chapter, it was easy to follow and understand. It was also short and sweet for an audiobook (5h 35m) which I got through quickly whilst working out on my trainer.

4 | The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante


The line “Two years before leaving home, my father said to my mother that I was very ugly” made me foray into my first Ferrante novel.

The Lying Life of Adults follows Giovanna, as a young girl trying to navigate her transition from childhood to adulthood in two sides of Naples – a little too quickly. I think Ferrante captures the spirit of teenage girls grappling with their identity, sexuality, finding their voice, obsession and the desperation to be taken seriously and be admired – but with a lot of humour.

Giovanna is smart but ‘ugly’ in temperament like her vulgar aunt Vittoria (who I loved), the adults around her are petty, more so than Giovanna and her friends, and she soon learns adulthood is full of trials and tribulations she had not noticed before.

I was not sure I would be able to cope with Ferrante’s style – but the quick sentences and short chapters matched the progression of the story well. Once I got into it, it was quick to finish, and I am looking forward to reading more of her works. 

5 | Three Japanese Short Stories by Akutagawa and Others


No. 5 in Penguin’s Modern Classic Mini series, Three Japanese Short Stories is the translated works of “Three beguiling, strange, funny and hair-raising tales of imprisonment, memory and atrocity from early twentieth-century Japan.

As intriguing as that blurb sounds, these short stories are more confusing than beguiling:

Behind the Prison by Nagai Kafu
It is hard to feel sympathy for this character – a young man who has returned from 6 years of travel abroad and finds that he has nothing to show for his adventures. He is full of contradictions – one minute reminiscing about his travels and western culture, what he should do next in life – the next, he is struggling to cope with a Japan that is both traditional and becoming influenced by western culture. There is a bitterness to his complaints – written in correspondence to his ‘Excellency’ – and disdain for his fellow man (and woman), yet he remains unemployed, unoccupied except for the relentless musings of the landscape about him, and lonely – unsurprising, in a prison which he has created for himself. Beautifully written, shame about the over self-centred nature of this privileged young man.

Closet LLB by Uno Koji
I found some humour injected into this story of yet another young, spoiled man who slowly starts to shun others, including his own family that have supported him through his studies and his mother, who he is glad he no longer has to keep. Again, with Behind the Prison, this semi-hermit inhabits the closet of his flat, where he chooses to watch passersby on the street instead of engaging with them directly. This story seems like a real-life foreshadowing of the lonely epidemic Japan started to face in the 1980s, a sort of self-enforced Kodokushi.

General Kim by Akutagawa Ryunosuke
This story is very different from the first two. Here a young boy is targeted by two Japanese soldiers, carrying out a recce of Korea before their invasion. Decades later, this young man – a.k.a. General Kim, hunts down the Wa General, brutally lopping off his head before killing his pregnant concubine and her unborn child. Nice. This story is an embellishment of war and the atrocities committed by empires; lies the administration tells its people and continues to do so by leaving out wrongdoing by their own hand from history – something all the old empires are guilty of—pretty dark story but with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon flying scene elements.

Overall, 3 stars – glad they were all short stories; I think I would have put all of them down if they continued – especially Behind the Prison Wall.

6 | A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble


“Arthur Grimble was sent to the Gilbert and Ellice islands as a colonial administrator in the twilight of the Edwardian era. He lived there for the next twenty-five years and developed a rare passion for the language, life and landscape of the place. Fortunately, his island neighbours, a fascinating cast of fishermen, sorcerers, poets and fighters, began to trust this charming, happy and energetic young man, and shared with him their treasury of stories from the days when warfare was endemic and magic an essential part of everyday life.

A Pattern of Islands is a rich and complex cultural history of the dances and legends, rituals, spells and way of life of the islands. It is also a rip-roaring adventure story. Grimble learns to spear hungry sharks, to negotiate fearsome reefs and, on one terrifying day, is used as human bait to catch a giant squid”

Read my full review to find out what I thought.

7 | The Secret by Rhonda Byrne


I tried not to laugh when I first started listening to The Secret because the narration is more like listening to your gym instructor putting on a spiritual voice during the 5-minute relaxation warm down.

I was hoping it would shed some light on how affirmations, the law of attraction and gratitude work but to be honest the order of this book is incohesive and there are too many narrators making it a bit of a jumbled up mess to listen to.

I am quite a sceptic at heart so maybe this is one of the reasons why I did not fully grasp the whole concept or get on well with the book as a whole. However, I do believe in the power of positive thinking and I enjoyed some of the chapters – this book was just not clear enough for my liking. 

8 | The Dark Lady by Akala


At first, I thought the narrative of the story was definitely aimed at younger readers, and I was slightly disappointed at the lack of Akala’s renowned wordsmith skills within the story – even with some Elizabethan slang thrown in there. I also think Henry comes across as a lot younger than his early teenage years.

Having said that, once you get used to a mix of ye old England and present-day English, the plot is easy to follow, if even a litter predicable. The protagonist of Henry has the magic that lends him the ability to read and translate any language a book is written in – this also made me smile because, although a very unique and as far as I am aware, none-trope, in fiction, it’s also a book written by Akala so of course Henry would be gifted with this type of magic.

The three main characters and their backstories are established very early on and so the plot is rapid – I read the book in three nights. I do like how Akala does not shy away from the historical aspects, mainly racism, that was evident then and is probably more so, unfortunately, now but this is also very much a fantasy fiction narrative that keeps to the adventurous storyline. And – no spoilers – by the way The Dark Lady ends, it tells me Akala will be writing more of Henry’s story and I for one will be reading it if he does. 

9 | Happy Sexy Millionaire by Steven Bartlett


I wanted to read this after watching a review by Ali Abdul and then his interview with Steven on A Diary of A CEO. Bartlett comes across as very chilled out even though he is extremely successful and I wanted to find out how he balances his life with the demands of his business.

In terms of help for myself business-wise, I didn’t gain a lot of information from Happy Sexy Millionaire that I was not already aware of but it’s extremely reassuring that you don’t have to work as a mentalist and sacrifice everyone and everything in your life for success. I found myself smiling and laughing along at areas of Steven’s journey that resonated with me – especially the part about anything that wastes my time I’m not interested in, especially when you can find a pro to do it for you; if only I had read this before I came to that decision by myself towards the end of 2021 – LOL.

4 stars and good insight into SB’s business mind, narration by him was frank and to the point but maybe a little fast (and yes, I do know you can slow the audio reading down) plus a quick listen (again, time is the key point for me) but a lot of the points in the book I was already aware of. However, I would highly recommend it to anyone who lacks direction in their business ventures as this will give you a good base of knowledge to start from.

10 | Uprooted by Naomi Novik


Amazon’s algorithm did a good job when it recommended Uprooted to me to listen to after I had finished the second book in The Winternight Trilogy.

Although the plot was pretty predictable from the start – Agnieszka gets picked by the Dragon, Sarken, over her beautiful friend Kasia – it was a really easy book to listen to. I particularly liked the dynamic between these two characters and it was obvious they were going to fall for each other. At the start, Sarken is collected and in control with Agnieszka being awkward, clumsy and unsure of herself – by the end, the roles seem to reverse, and I did laugh when at the end of the book he can’t help but blush like a schoolgirl even though he’s one hundred years old or so.

I’m also not really into romance stories or the obvious romance tropes, but this was bearable and there are at least two chapters when it gets a little saucy so definitely for young adults above to read. I did love how Novik went into a lot of detail about the battles in the forest and against the tower which I feel is not a done thing nowadays – it reminded me of the long battles in LOTR – which I appreciated a lot and did not expect from this book.

And even though the age difference between Sarken and Agnieszka is a bit irksome, and this book is stand alone, I would quite happily read more books with these two characters in – in particular, to see how Agnieszka develops her powers.

11 | The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss


This book is a very sweet and very different Rothfuss book from his main Kingkiller Chronicles, and it’s meant to be. Even the way he has written the prose is very much stylised to provide insight into Auri, her thoughts, mannerisms, and her life as it is in the Underthing.

There is no plot to this novella, instead, it follows Auri over 7 days in her world below the University of the main books, through its mysterious rooms and tunnels – some she is actually aware of, others she gets to discover throughout the pages of this book. By herself, she navigates the Underthing to find a gift to give to Kovthe by the time of the 7th day and that is pretty much the storyline.

However, it does lend some insight into her character – she is both content in her own company, but also very lonely; fragile in build but strong in determination; scared and brave. The book is also accompanied by beautiful illustrations that I kept going back to observe. However, as different and lovely as The Slow Regard of Silent Things is, Rothfuss does not explain to the reader why Auri lives in the Underthing in the first place, and at the end, Auri is still shrouded in mystery, indeed why this character exists and to what purpose her character is in the Kingkiller Chronicles – hopefully, we will find out more about her in the next book … or maybe not?

12 | The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern


After reading Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, I had high expectations for The Starless Sea – I was not disappointed but I was totally baffled by the end of it.

As with The Night Circus, I listened to the audiobook version, and just like The Night Circus, Morgenstern is a master storyteller; it’s mysterious as it is confounding, bewildering yet all-engrossing – I could not stop listening to it.

I adored the characters of The Fortuneteller’s son, Zachary, and Dorian and wished their love story was given more time on the page, the many doors that lead to the ancient library hidden beneath the surface of the earth, its many rooms and tunnels, of its Keeper and the honey-soaked shores.

Then there are the stories within the story that eventually play their own roles within the main storyline – Zachary’s past, the Ballad of Eleanor & Simon – which could have been a stand-alone book in itself – and the Innkeeper and the Moon which was strange and intriguing.

And as much as I hate a cast of narrators on an audiobook, the main voices worked well. Morgenstern and her team have a talent for picking the best storytellers out, putting a lot of audiobook narrators to shame because they are just that good – each one taking on a different story within the book, which was also useful to keep track of everything that was going on because there is a lot going on.

But don’t let that put you off! Yes, I felt like at times I was having what must feel like to some a psychotic trip, and when I had finished it I still did not fully understand why The Starless Sea was made of honey, its many harbours, those Owls, and the symbols of the acolytes – a bee, a key and a sword. You come to realise that this book is full of myth, but mythology created by Morgenstern – and not based on any western mythology you know. It makes no sense, but mythology never does, not really. This book is crazy and it is beautiful – just read it or listen to it, and you’ll see what I mean.

13 | The Winter of The Witch by Katherine Arden


Ah, the final instalment of Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy … I listened to it, loved it and now I am thinking that at some point I will go back and either relisten to all three or read the paperbacks.

I’ve said it before with the first two books in this series and I will say it again – it’s enchanting and you really feel like you have entered a fairytale world. Arden continues to develop the character of Vasya and the world around her in this fictional fairy tale that seems utterly real – it helps that is all done against the backdrop of Russian history.

I love how this finale incorporated historical battles, real people and a mix of pagan and Christian beliefs – a constant battle between Vasya’s old world and the newer Russia surrounding her. Spoiler – I was happy that Konstantine finally got his comeuppance, Morozko and his brother returned to do battle, and Lady Midnight and her many Midnights and Vasya’s family as a whole were just beautifully written.

I would truly love to see this made into a film, and I wish Morozko was real – or is he? All I can say to those of you who have not read it is READ IT NOW!

14 | Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi


“Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful, moving story explores the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time? More importantly, who would you want to meet, maybe for one last time.”

This is a very sweet novel that explores time travel in a very unique way – in a basement cafe, somewhere in Tokyo, that when you sit in that chair, you may visit the past. But time travel in this coffee shop comes with some peculiar rules … in particular, you must return to the present Before the Coffee Gets Cold.

The book is split into four parts and they read like short stories by themselves, but Kawaguchi connects them together through the handful of characters in each one. It’s simply written – this was originally a play – the plot and characters are uncomplicated in Kawaguchi’s telling of them. But there are moments in a couple of the stories where the author has dropped more of a little bomb than an easter egg for the characters.

Spoiler: apart from the first story – The Lovers (I found the character of Fumiko irritating and therefore didn’t really care too much for her feelings) – the other three stories are heartbreaking. In fact, this whole book explores the idea of love: love lost through miscommunication, the passage of time and illness, between a mother and daughter and between sisters, and how the characters that choose to go back in time just want to speak to their loved ones before it all started to change.

It’s a lovely read and I think very well done, with no literary airs and graces which, in my opinion, is a breath of fresh air. I will definitely read the next book about this cafe.

15 | The Mad Women’s Ball By Victoria Mas

“Truth be told, whether free or incarcerated, women were not safe anywhere. Since the dawn of time, they had been victims of decisions that were taken without their consent.”

The Mad Women’s Ball is a gothic historical tale about the women of The Salpêtrière asylum in Paris in 1885. A place that, not so far in the distant past, incarcerated women who did not conform to the societal norms; from those with mental illnesses to being former sex workers who stood up for themselves, to the women who were sexually abused and spoke out.

And if they have not suffered enough already, the loved ones in their lives, mainly male; fathers, brothers and uncles, hand them over to the asylum where they are then subjected to the examinations of the famous Professor Charcot and his team of Doctors and Nurses.

Mas sums up this further injustice with: “… when a woman enters a consulting room. When she offers up her body to be examined. A body simultaneously desired and misunderstood by the man conducting the examination. A doctor invariably believes he knows better than the patient, and a man invariably believes he knows better than a woman: it is the prospect of this scrutiny that make the young women nervous as they wait to be examined.”

The stories of the patients of Thérèse, Louise and Eugénie are horrifying – and although fictional characters, Mas has used them to highlight all the wrongs that were done to the women of the asylum at that point in time. However, reading this book, you cannot help but draw parallels from the strong, feminist, statements with modern-day society as well – no matter what country you live in today, women are still up against the prejudices, violence, and misogyny and injustices from the male patriarchy.

As the character of Thérèse puts it: “I’ve never felt as peaceful as I do here surrounded by madwomen. Men bruised and beat me … Here I feel protected. There are just us women … Long as men have pricks, all the evil in this world will go on existing.”

Yet although this gothic novel covers and uncovers the darkness of the world these women lived in and the horrors they went through, the story is fascinating, Mas’ writing is brilliant, and it is a real page-turner – I read this in two sittings!

Unfortunately for us women, it all just rings too true. Maybe not one for the male patriarchy, because god forbid anyone criticizes you!

16 | The Dry Heart by Natalia Ginzburg


Got Ferrante vibes from reading this short novel by Natalia Ginzburg, but in fact, as Ginzburg was the earlier writer, it’s evident where Ferrante’s style developed from.

Bar the comparisons between the two, Ginzburg’s style is slightly rawer. The Dry Heart starts with the protagonist shooting her husband in the face and then heading out for a coffee while contemplating what brought her to this fatal end.

The story is a frank reality of a relationship and marriage born of boredom, only for the teacher living in a boarding house to find she has married a much older man who is in love with another married woman. He is not violent but he constantly lies to her, he lies to his married lover and his friend Augusto who turns out to be also in love with the married woman. All three are stuck in this cycle of loneliness; all stuck in a stale, unhappy reality.

Put like that, the book sounds like a dreadful read, however, you read on knowing the physiological effects the marriage is having on the character have brought her to the point of murder. It is the steady burn of the constant lies from her husband, his unfaithfulness, the character making herself fall in love, without finding out anything about this man before they marry, that build into the frustration at the end – his unfeeling manner towards her, his boredom of her and their life together, his spinelessness – that she takes out the gun and shoots him.

I enjoyed the book because I enjoyed Ginzburg’s style, and I also enjoyed how she took a seemly normal relationship and ended it in bloodshed. I came away from this book thinking about how you never really know what goes on between two people in another relationship, what events are happening behind closed doors and that it’s not always the big problems that lead to violence but many micro-events that build and build until there is no turning back.

I was quite happy she shot him, I think I would too – mainly because he has no spine.

Another short read – read it in a couple of hours!

17 | Investigations of a Dog by Franz Kafka


Um … what to say? I thought this book would be a funny take on life from the perspective of a dog, it is the latter but it’s not funny. Instead, this short book (50 odd pages or so) is extremely tedious – I’m surprised I got through it all. Obviously, Kafka was trying to be clever with this story of a philosophical dog as the narrator – unfortunately, it just does not come across as believable. Sorry to all the dog lovers out there but no dog is this clever … and if it was a cat? Well, it would be much smarter, and would not waste its time on such bizarre musings. 1 star, I wouldn’t waste your £1.80 on Investigations Of A Dog – put that towards another book, or for the dog owners out there, buy them a dog treat with it.

18 | Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Wow – another book I struggled with this year. Don’t get me wrong, Rooney can write and I was actually looking forward to some more broken hearts with that extra dash of Irish misery thrown in there, but this book was just not up to the same standards as her previous works. I know the characters in Conversations with Friends and Normal People are incredibly similar, including the love interests, but the differences between the two books made them stand out. But Beautiful World, Where Are You is a frustrating listen, and I just didn’t care about the characters – Felix is just downright awful. Another 1 star and here is to hoping that Rooney’s next book is the quality of her other books.

19 | American Asylee by Grace James


“Routinely entering the U.S. after visiting relatives abroad, Grace James was arrested on 29th July 2016 by American immigration authorities and imprisoned for over a year while waiting for her asylum hearing in the country of her dreams.

A native of the small Pacific Island Nation of Kiribati, Grace adopted the Christian faith during high school and devoted herself to missionary work after two years of University in Fiji. Faith and self-determination guided her through so many things, including an abusive marriage, which ultimately led her to seek asylum in the United States.

Facing isolation, fear, and uncertainty in detainment, she discovered purpose through dedication to fellow asylum seekers wanting to learn English and with their cases. A daily journal, the basis for this memoir, was her constant companion.

A riveting personal account of the asylum seeker’s experience reveals the interwoven humanity found throughout each entry. The immigrant experience is so universally misunderstood.

American Asylee is a story everyone needs to hear. Set free, her dedication to fellow detainees, inspired the Dearyous initiative – a letter-writing project for confined asylum seekers. Her story was featured in the Pacific Women’s Network, and currently, she heads Thrive, an international women’s group promoting healthy living and gratitude.”

Read my full review of American Asylee.

20 | The Distance of The Moon by Italo Calvino


The Distance of The Moon is my first book/writings by Italo Calvino and I just loved how magical and bizarre they were, especially Distance of The Moon:

Science and fiction interweave delightfully in these playful Cosmicomic short stories. Because I loved the main story but the others featured were okay but not as good, I give this book 3 stars.

21 | My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite


Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favourite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead. 

Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her ‘missing’ boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit. 

A kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where Korede works is the bright spot in her life. She dreams of the day when he will realise they’re perfect for each other. But one day Ayoola shows up to the hospital uninvited and he takes notice. When he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and what she will do about it. Sharp as nails and full of deadpan wit, Oyinkan Braithwaite has written a deliciously deadly debut that’s as fun as it is frightening.

My Sister, The Serial Killer, narrated by Weruche Opia, made me laugh out loud and at 4hrs 30 minutes is a very quick listen. I gave this 5 stars!

22 | The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett


The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, Southern black community and running away at age 16, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. 

Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same Southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passingLooking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires and expectations and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

I was so happy when I won this book at the KTA 2021 Raffle, and there is a reason this book has been nominated for awards and is a bestseller. The story is fascinating and heartbreaking. I read this book VERY quickly and was yet another 5-star book for me.

23 | The Guest List by Lucy Foley


On an island off the windswept Irish coast, guests gather for the wedding of the year – the marriage of Jules Keegan and Will Slater. Old friends.

Past grudges. Happy families.Hidden jealousies. Thirteen guests.One body. The wedding cake has barely been cut when one of the guests is found dead. And as a storm unleashes its fury on the island, everyone is trapped.

All have a secret. All have a motive. One guest won’t leave this wedding alive….

From a few chapters into The Guest List, it was obvious to me who the murderer was but still read on to see if I was mistaken – I wasn’t. Having said that though, it was a quick and fun read, I love a ‘who dunnit’ and reading about all the flawed characters. A 4-star read.

24 | The Patient Assassin by Anita Anand


Anita Anand tells the remarkable story of one Indian’s 20-year quest for revenge, taking him around the world in search of those he held responsible for the Amritsar massacre of 1919, which cost the lives of hundreds.

When Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the lieutenant governor of Punjab, ordered brigadier general Reginald Dyer to Amritsar, he wanted him to bring the troublesome city to heel. Sir Michael had become increasingly alarmed at the effect Gandhi was having on his province as well as recent demonstrations, strikes and shows of Hindu-Muslim unity. All these things, in Sir Michael’s mind at least, were a precursor to a second Indian Mutiny. What happened next shocked the world. An unauthorised political gathering in the Jallianwallah Bagh in Amritsar in April 1919 became the focal point for Sir Michael’s law enforcers. Dyer marched his soldiers into the walled garden, filled with over a thousand unarmed men, women and children, blocking the only exit. Then, without issuing any order to disperse,  he instructed his men to open fire, turning their guns on the thickest parts of the crowd. For 10 minutes they continued firing, stopping only when they ran out of ammunition. 

According to legend, Udham Singh was injured in the attack and remained in the Bagh, surrounded by the dead and dying, until he was able to move the next morning. Then, he supposedly picked up a handful of blood-soaked earth, smeared it across his forehead and vowed to kill the men responsible. 

The truth, as the author has discovered, is more complex but no less dramatic. She traced Singh’s journey through Africa and the United States and across Europe before, in March 1940, he finally arrived in front of O’Dwyer in a London hall ready to shoot him down. The Patient Assassin shines a devastating light on one of the Raj’s most horrific events but reads like a taut thriller and reveals some astonishing new insights into what really happened. 

I am so glad I finally got around to reading Anand’s book, having first heard her talk about this story in The History Extra Podcast. I would say I am quite anti-colonial and even though the story is confronting and horrifying, I am always eager to find out the truth about the British Empire and the crimes it continues to keep hidden (or clearly doesn’t want to talk about) from the public. A history book that really does read like fiction is down to Anand’s fantastic style of writing – just like Frankopan, I believe we need more historians like her to bring history to life (not bore us). Another 5-star book.

25 | The Maid by Nita Prose


Molly the maid is all alone in the world. A nobody. She’s used to being invisible in her job at the Regency Grand Hotel, plumping pillows and wiping away the grime, dust and secrets of the guests passing through. She’s just a maid—why should anyone take notice?

But Molly is thrown into the spotlight when she discovers an infamous guest, Mr Black, very dead in his bed. This isn’t a mess that can be easily cleaned up. And as Molly becomes embroiled in the hunt for the truth, following the clues whispering in the hallways of the Regency Grand, she discovers a power she never knew was there. She’s just a maid—but what can she see that others overlook?

Escapist, charming and introducing a truly original heroine, The Maid is a story about how everyone deserves to be seen. And how the truth isn’t always black and white—it’s found in the dirtier, grey areas in between…

Molly’s character is very different to any protagonist I have come across – naive and clearly autistic when it comes to viewing the world and the people in it – and this makes her an easy target for others to manipulate to their own advantage. I couldn’t stop listening in horror as she continued to trust those around her and I just wanted to know how she was going to get out of trouble. Great book – 4-stars.

26 | Pua’s Kiss by Lehua Parker


When you’re dating a Niuhi shark in human form, there’s no such thing as a casual Hawaiian fling.

The last thing Justin wants is complications. Jilted at the altar, he’s spending his pre-paid Hawaiian honeymoon alone—sort of. Sasha, his ex, won’t get out of his head. Frustrated, he takes a walk at sunset and discovers a beautiful woman asleep on the sand.

But Pua’s not really a woman.

A shape-shifting Niuhi shark, Pua feels compelled to visit the beach at Lauele. She doesn’t care that it’s forbidden by her father, the ocean god Kanaloa, or that breaking kapu can only end in blood, tears, and teeth. Justin’s a tourist. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Nobody’d even miss him.

What starts out as a casual flirtation soon turns into a high-stakes cat and mouse courtship as neither Justin nor Pua are who—or what—they seem.

Inspired by The Little Mermaid, Pua’s Kiss is Book 1 in Lauele Fractured Folktales, reimagined stories inspired by the world’s oldest tales retold with a Hawaiian twist.

I adored this short novel – the tension between the Huntress and the hunted is palpable from the moment the two characters meet. I would not want to be Pua’s love interest! My first book by Parker and I’ve already ordered the second book in her Lauele Fractured Folktales, Rell’s Kiss. 5 stars from me!

27 | The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James


In 1977, Claire Lake, Oregon, was shaken by the Lady Killer Murders: Two men, seemingly randomly, were murdered with the same gun, with strange notes left behind. Beth Greer was the perfect suspect – a rich, eccentric 23-year-old woman, seen fleeing one of the crimes. But she was acquitted, and she retreated to the isolation of her mansion.

Oregon, 2017Shea Collins is a receptionist, but by night, she runs a true-crime website, the Book of Cold Cases – a passion fueled by the attempted abduction she escaped as a child. When she meets Beth by chance, Shea asks her for an interview. To Shea’s surprise, Beth says yes.

They meet regularly at Beth’s mansion, though Shea is never comfortable there. Items move when she’s not looking, and she could swear she’s seen a girl outside the window. The allure of learning the truth about the case from the smart, charming Beth is too much to resist, but even as they grow closer, Shea senses something isn’t right. Is she making friends with a manipulative murderer, or are there other dangers lurking in the darkness of the Greer house?

I really enjoyed listening to the audiobook version of this story, the narration really set the tone and I did, for the most part, really enjoy the plot. The only thing that lost me, and which I could not buy into, was the paranormal activity at the Greer House – I felt like it wasn’t necessary and would have been better if it was not included, but that’s just my opinion. 3 and a half stars from me.

28 | Bloody Woman by Lana Lopesi


Bloody Woman gives voice to my lived experience, to the overlooked, to the underrepresented and to the exceptionally complex, multifaceted and contradictory experience of being a woman.’

This wayfinding set of essays explores the overlap of being Sāmoan and a woman, as experienced ‘from diaspora’, by acclaimed writer and critic Lana Lopesi. Writing on ancestral ideas of womanhood appears alongside contemporary reflections on women’s experiences and the Pacific. These often deeply personal essays amount to a complex, rich and multi-layered book.

Playful, speculative and far-sighted, these essays are written to support ‘the narratives not yet written’ and the new generations to come. As Lopesi writes, ‘I hope that in the simple act of articulating something, I will both open space and leave room for others to tell their stories in their way.’ With the world confronting fresh questions of gender, race and identity, Bloody Woman opens up new horizons for thinking and writing in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific.

I’ll admit it, I wasn’t sure how I was going to take to Bloody Woman, mainly due to the fact this is the first book of essays I have ever read. But I was really surprised at how much I loved this genre; the honesty of Lopesi is refreshing and I can see why and how it could be challenging to lay bare one thoughts without offending people – but sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and go for it. Lopesi sheds light on being Samoan and female in the Aotearoa community – and the conflict between being true to your heritage but also being part of another culture, being split down the middle- something I felt keenly being mixed heritage. Another 5-star book and will definitely buy the paperback version once it becomes available in the UK!

29 | Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus


Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing.

But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant Nobel-prize-nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later, Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (‘combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride’) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Meet the unconventional, uncompromising Elizabeth Zott.

Lessons in Chemistry is a brilliant read – or listen in this instance. Loved its strong feminist theme and Zott’s character, although sometimes too headstrong, is a great protagonist. 5-star performance all around.

30 | The Sea Raiders by H. G. Wells


A disgusting account of a school of giant squid attacking a seaside resort, and two other examples of Wells’ extraordinary imagination at work – ‘The Magic Shop’ and ‘The Land Ironclads’

One of 46 new books in the bestselling Little Black Classics series, to celebrate the first ever Penguin Classic in 1946. Each book gives readers a taste of the Classics’ huge range and diversity, with works from around the world and across the centuries – including fables, decadence, heartbreak, tall tales, satire, ghosts, battles and elephants.

I do love the Little Black Classic books, but unfortunately, No. 84 is not the best I have read so far from the collection. I enjoyed the disturbing narrative of The Sea Raiders, but The Land Ironclads was extremely dull and The Magic Shop was okay but not as good as the first story. I’m afraid this only gets 2-stars from me.

31 | Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath

Lips the colour of blood, the sun an unprecedented orange, train wheels that sound like ‘guilt, and guilt, and guilt’: these are just some of the things Mary Ventura begins to notice on her journey to the ninth kingdom.

‘But what is the ninth kingdom?’ she asks a kind-seeming lady in her carriage. ‘It is the kingdom of the frozen will,’ comes the reply. ‘There is no going back.’

Sylvia Plath’s strange, dark tale of independence over infanticide, written not long after she herself left home, grapples with mortality in motion.

When I ordered this book I completely ignored who the author was, drawn as I was by the cover and the title – if I checked to see it was by Sylvia Plath I confess I might have seriously considered deleting it from my basket. When I hear her name all I can think of is misery – she is after all renowned for her depression and suicide, and though I am not completely heartless, I don’t enjoy reading depressive stories. Yet, I should also not judge since I have actively avoided her works and I did in fact enjoy Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom. It’s dark and yet a little pompous in its narrative, but still, I enjoyed it enough to want to start reading more of Plath – something I thought I would never want to do. 4-star story for me.

32 | The Promise by Damon Galgut


On a farm outside Pretoria, the Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for – not least their treatment of the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. Salome was to be given her own house, her own land…yet somehow, that vow is carefully ignored.

As each decade passes, and the family assemble again, one question hovers over them. Can you ever escape the repercussions of a broken promise?

I’m so happy I was drawn to pick up this book by the intensity of the cover. It’s my first Galgut book and also my first book by a South African author. I enjoyed Galgut’s style of writing and his story of how the repercussions of a promise. made by the children’s mother to Salome, remains unfulfilled through the scheming and racisim of family members and acquaintances was awful but filled with black humour. And the way in which the author brought the estranged siblings back together was, I thought, very clever – through the inescapable gatherings that are family funerals.

The Promise grapples with the ghosts of apartheid and there is a constant feeling of loss as you read it. 5 stars from me!

33 | Anecdotes of the Cynics by Robert Dobbin


What makes us happy? For over 800 years the Cynic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome argued that the answer lay in a simple, self-sufficient life.

One of 46 new books in the bestselling Little Black Classics series, to celebrate the first ever Penguin Classic in 1946. Each book gives readers a taste of the Classics’ huge range and diversity, with works from around the world and across the centuries – including fables, decadence, heartbreak, tall tales, satire, ghosts, battles and elephants

This Penguin Little Black Books Classics No 124 is very funny and quick to read – definitely one to add to your Goodreads Challenge.

34 | How to Loiter in a Turf War by Coco Solid


Like nothing you’ve read before, How to Loiter in a Turf War is a lucid, genre-bending, cinematic work of fiction from one of Aotearoa’s most versatile artists.

It’s a day in the life of three friends beefing with their own city, Tamaki Makaurau. With gentrification closing in and racial tensions sweltering, the girls must cling to their friendship like a life raft, determined not to let their neighbourhood drift out to sea.

Fast, ferociously brilliant, crack-up funny and unforgettably true.

It’s true – this is laugh-out-loud funny and at only 2hrs 24 mins it is very quick to listen to. I loved this so much that I have not returned this book to the Audiobook library as I want to listen to this again and again.

35 | My Mum’s a Twat by Anoushka Warden


“Have you ever tried to sustain a relationship with a tw*t? It’s hard work and you need to be completely not a tw*t yourself if you want any success in this. Which is really hard when you’ve just started being a teenager.”

One girl’s funny, frank account of losing her Mum to a cult.

My Mum’s a Twat is another short and funny book – I listened to the audiobook and if you want a giggle then listen to this one.

36 | Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata


At school and university, people find Keiko odd, and her family worries she will never fit in. To make them happy, Keiko takes a job at a newly opened convenience store where she finds peace and purpose in simple daily tasks.

But in Keiko’s circle it just won’t do for an unmarried woman to spend her time stacking shelves and ordering green tea. As the pressure to find a new job – or worse, a husband – increases, Keiko is forced to take desperate action… A cult hit around the world, Convenience Store Woman is both feminist rallying cry and must-read oddball comedy.

All I can say is that Keiko is definitely odd, on the same wavelength as the character of Molly in The Maid, but less helpless. Weird, wonderful and funny – give it a go.

37 | The House of Fortune by Jessie Burton


In the golden city of Amsterdam, in 1705, Thea Brandt is turning eighteen, and she is ready to welcome adulthood with open arms. At the city’s theatre, Walter, the love of her life, awaits her, but at home in the house on the Herengracht, all is not well – her father Otto and Aunt Nella argue endlessly, and the Brandt family are selling their furniture in order to eat. On Thea’s birthday, also the day that her mother Marin died, the secrets from the past begin to overwhelm the present.

Nella is desperate to save the family and maintain appearances, to find Thea a husband who will guarantee her future, and when they receive an invitation to Amsterdam’s most exclusive ball, she is overjoyed – perhaps this will set their fortunes straight.

And indeed, the ball does set things spinning: new figures enter their life, promising new futures. But their fates are still unclear, and when Nella feels a strange prickling sensation on the back of her neck, she remembers the miniaturist who entered her life and toyed with her fortunes eighteen years ago. Perhaps, now, she has returned for her . . .

The House of Fortune is a glorious, sweeping story of fate and ambition, secrets and dreams, and one young woman’s determination to rule her own destiny.

The beautiful and gripping sequel to The Miniaturist and I just love Burton’s writing – 5 stars!

38 | Anatomy of A Killing (Life and Death on a Divided Island) by Ian Cobain


On the morning of Saturday 22nd April 1978, members of an Active Service Unit of the IRA hijacked a car and crossed the countryside to the town of Lisburn. Within an hour, they had killed an off-duty policeman in front of his young son. In Anatomy of a Killing, award-winning journalist Ian Cobain documents the hours leading up to the killing, and the months and years of violence, attrition and rebellion surrounding it. Drawing on interviews with those most closely involved, as well as court files, police notes, military intelligence reports, IRA strategy papers, memoirs and government records, this is a unique perspective on The Troubles, and a revelatory work of investigative journalism.

A history book that reads like fiction and although I thought I knew most things about The Troubles I didn’t know about this specific killing. Do read Anatomy of A Killing if you want to start delving into the history of Northern Ireland, a must-read.

39 | The Survivors by Jane Harper


Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on a single day when a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that haunts him still resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home.

Kieran’s parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them, all is his absent brother Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge in the murder investigation that follows. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away…

The Survivors is another great book by Jane Harper – can’t wait until the next one is out in 2023.

40, 41, 42 & 43 | Sam Shephard Series by Vanda Symons

Once I read Overkill I had to read the rest of Vanda Symon’s Sam Shephard detective series. If you are after a new crime series then definitely pick these books up.

My GoodReads Challenge 2021

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Author of The Benaghar Series, and wannabe crime writer.

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