Our top picks of 2022 so far, a list we will add to as we read the good ones!
The Queen of Dirt Island – Donal Ryan
The Aylward women are mad about each other, but you wouldn’t always think it. You’d have to know them to know – in spite of what the neighbours might say about raised voices and dramatic scenes – that their house is a place of peace, filled with love, a refuge from the sadness and cruelty of the world. Their story begins at an end and ends at a beginning. It’s a story of terrible betrayals and fierce loyalties, of isolation and togetherness, of transgression, forgiveness, desire, and love. About all the things family can be and all the things it sometimes isn’t.
Hilary says: I adored this book! It is just beautiful from start to finish
Mother’s Boy – Patrick Gale
Laura, an impoverished Cornish girl, meets her husband when they are both in service in Teignmouth in 1916. They have a baby, Charles, but Laura’s husband returns home from the trenches a damaged man, already ill with the tuberculosis that will soon leave her a widow. In a small, class-obsessed town she raises her boy alone, working as a laundress, and gradually becomes aware that he is some kind of genius.
As an intensely private young man, Charles signs up for the navy with the new rank of coder. His escape from the tight, gossipy confines of Launceston to the colour and violence of war sees him blossom as he experiences not only the possibility of death, but the constant danger of a love that is as clandestine as his work.
Hilary’s top read of 2022, Gale’s best yet
Lessons in Chemistry – Bonnie Garmus
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 take 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. 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.
The funniest book I’ve read in ages. Funny, heartwarming and clever. Young, old, every one will love it.
French Braid – Anne Tyler
When the kids are grown and Mercy Garrett gradually moves herself out of the family home, everyone is determined not to notice.
Over at her studio, she wants space and silence. She won’t allow any family clutter, not even their cat, Desmond. Yet it is a clutter of untidy moments that forms the Garretts’ family life over the decades, whether that’s a painstaking Easter lunch or giving a child a ride, a fateful train journey or an unexpected homecoming…and it all begins in 1959, with a family holiday to a cabin by a lake. It’s the only one the Garretts will ever take, but its effects will ripple through the generations.
Hilary says – nothing much happens but this is a great story. If you like/liked Anne Tyler, you’ll love this; she is back to her best.
To Paradise – Hanya Yanagihara
In an alternate version of 1893 America, New York is part of the Free States, where people may live and love whomever they please (or so it seems).
The fragile young scion of a distinguished family resists betrothal to a worthy suitor, drawn to a charming music teacher of no means. In a 1993 Manhattan besieged by the AIDS epidemic, a young Hawaiian man lives with his much older, wealthier partner, hiding his troubled childhood and the fate of his father. And in 2093, in a world riven by plagues and governed by totalitarian rule, a powerful scientist’s damaged granddaughter tries to navigate life without him and solve the mystery of her husbands disappearances.
Hilary finished this over Christmas. A Little Life is one of her favourite novels of all time, this one is good, very good, but not AS good! Definitely worth a read though.
Devotion – Hannah Kent
1836, Prussia. Hanne is nearly fifteen and the domestic world of womanhood is quickly closing in on her. A child of nature, she yearns instead for the rush of the river, the wind dancing around her.
Hanne finds little comfort in the local girls and friendship doesn’t come easily, until she meets Thea and she finds in her a kindred spirit. Hannes family are Old Lutherans, and in her small village hushed worship is done secretly – this is a community under threat. But when they are granted safe passage to Australia, the community rejoices: at last a place they can pray without fear, a permanent home. Freedom.
Its a promise of freedom that will have devastating consequences for Hanne and Thea, but, on that long and brutal journey, their bond proves too strong for even nature to break.
From the author of Burial Rites and The Good People, this is Hannah Kent’s first attempt at true fiction and so good. Her writing is beautiful, easy to read and so descriptive
Love Marriage – Monica Ali
Yasmin Ghorami has a lot to be grateful for: a loving family, a fledgling career in medicine, and a charming, handsome fiancee, fellow doctor Joe Sangster. But as the wedding day draws closer and Yasmin’s parents get to know Joe’s firebrand feminist mother, both families must confront the unravelling of long-held secrets, lies and betrayals. As Yasmin dismantles her own assumptions about the people she holds most dear, she’s also forced to ask herself what she really wants in a relationship and what a ‘love marriage’ actually means.
Monica Ali at her very best, Hilary loved it
Young Mungo – Douglas Stuart
Protestant Mungo and Catholic James live in a hyper-masculine world. They are caught between two of Glasgows housing estates where young working-class men divide themselves along sectarian lines, and fight territorial battles for the sake of reputation. They should be sworn enemies if they’re to be seen as men at all, and yet they become best friends as they find a sanctuary in the doocot that James has built for his prize racing pigeons.
As they begin to fall in love, they dream of escaping the grey city, and Mungo must work hard to hide his true self from all those around him, especially from his elder brother Hamish, a local gang leader with a brutal reputation to uphold…
Great book for a book club; good storyline with believable characters and questions left unanswered
The Colony – Audrey Magee
Mr Lloyd has decided to travel to the island by boat without engine – the authentic experience. Unbeknownst to him, Mr Masson will also soon be arriving for the summer.
Both will strive to encapsulate the truth of this place – one in his paintings, the other by capturing its speech, the language he hopes to preserve. But the people who live on this rock – three miles long and half-a-mile wide – have their own views on what is being recorded, what is being taken and what is given in return. Soft summer days pass, and the islanders are forced to question what they value and what they desire.
Beautifully written and very engaging
We Begin at the End – Chris Whitaker
Thirty years ago, Vincent King became a killer. Now, he’s been released from prison and is back in his hometown of Cape Haven, California. Not everyone is pleased to see him. Like Star Radley, his ex-girlfriend, and sister of the girl he killed.
Duchess Radley, Star’s thirteen-year-old daughter, is part-carer, part-protector to her younger brother, Robin – and to her deeply troubled mother. But in trying to protect Star, Duchess inadvertently sets off a chain of events that will have tragic consequences not only for her family, but also the whole town.
Super! Along the lines of Jane Harper and Chris Hammer, this will keep you reading until the very last page. With really good depth of story and character, it is not for a lover of really fast paced thrillers, but an epic read for someone who loves a thriller with lots going on
Booth – Karen Joy Fowler
From the author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
This is a novel about the infamous, ill-fated Booth family. A family of six brothers and sisters.
Junius is the patriarch, a celebrated Shakespearean actor who fled bigamy charges in England, both a mesmerising talent and a man of terrifying instability. As his children grow up in a remote farmstead in 1830s rural Baltimore, the country draws ever closer to the boiling point of secession and civil war.
Of the six Booth siblings who survive to adulthood, each has their own dreams they must fight to realise – but it is Johnny who makes the terrible decision that will change the course of history – the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Booth is a riveting novel focused on the very things that bind, and break, a family.
This is the story of the Booth family, told by 4 of the children. The author’s note at the end explains how she didn’t want to focus on John Booth, that he had had enough attention, so it is more about the family and the history, the events leading up to Lincoln’s assassination. It is slow, but interesting and worth reading
These Days – Lucy Caldwell
April, 1941. Belfast has escaped the worst of the war – so far.
Over the next two months, it’s going to be destroyed from above, so that people will say, in horror, My God, Belfast is finished. Many won’t make it through, and no one who does will remain unchanged. Following the lives of sisters Emma and Audrey – one engaged to be married, the other in a secret relationship with another woman – as they try to survive the horrors of the four nights of bombing which were the Belfast Blitz.
Boys Don’t Cry – Fiona Scarlett
They say boys don’t cry. But Finn’s seen his Da do it when he thinks no one’s looking, so that’s not true. And isn’t it OK to be sad, when bad things happen? They say boys don’t cry, but you might.
One of the most moving books Hilary read last year, is now out in paperback. Quite ‘Shuggie Bain’, this is a powerful story of 2 boys in Dublin, trying to make life better for themselves.
Detransition Baby – Torrey Peters
Madeleine MillerReese nearly had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York, a job she didn’t hate. She’d scraped together a life previous generations of trans women could only dream of; the only thing missing was a child. Then everything fell apart and three years on Reese is still in self-destruct mode, avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men.
When her ex calls to ask if she wants to be a mother, Reese finds herself intrigued. After being attacked in the street, Amy de-transitioned to become Ames, changed jobs and, thinking he was infertile, started an affair with his boss Katrina. Now Katrina’s pregnant. Could the three of them form an unconventional family – and raise the baby together?
Modern and educational, this makes for very interesting reading
Opal Country – Chris Hammer
In the desolate outback town of Finnigans Gap, police struggle to maintain law and order; thieves pillage opal mines, religious fanatics recruit vulnerable youngsters and billionaires do as they please. Then an opal miner is found crucified and left to rot down his mine.
Nothing about the miner’s death is straight-forward, not even who found the body. Homicide detective Ivan Lucic is sent to investigate, assisted by inexperienced young investigator Nell Buchanan. But Finnigan’s Gap has already ended one police career and damaged others, and soon both officers face damning allegations and internal investigations. Have Ivan and Nell been set up, and if so, by whom?
As time runs out, their only chance at redemption is to find the killer. But the more they uncover, the more harrowing the mystery becomes, and a past long forgotten is thrown into scorching sunlight – because in Finnigan’s Gap, nothing stays buried for ever.
Great crime fiction, as good as Jane Harper
Bullet Train – Kotaro Isaka
Satoshi looks like an innocent schoolboy but he is really a viciously cunning psychopath. Kimura’s young son is in a coma thanks to him, and Kimura has tracked him onto the bullet train heading from Tokyo to Morioka to exact his revenge. But Kimura soon discovers that they are not the only dangerous passengers onboard.
Nanao, the self-proclaimed ‘unluckiest assassin in the world’, and the deadly partnership of Tangerine and Lemon are also travelling to Morioka. A suitcase full of money leads others to show their hands. Why are they all on the same train, and who will get off alive at the last station?
A clever new thriller, which twists and keeps you reading. Some of the tension is lost in translation, but the idea is good and you really do want to know what happens at the end!