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My bookish highlights of 2023


I’ve listened to audiobooks while walking, vacuuming and cooking this year and they’ve improved each of these activities immensely. They make waiting in the car for the school pickup enjoyable, and help me get through the commute to work.

I’m so reliant on audiobooks now that I can barely hang up the washing or visit the supermarket without an audiobook on the go.

My kids aren’t as happy when I drown out their questions or arguments with a Vera Stanhope novel …

Ann Cleeves

A perfect segue to my favourite books when listening – somehow Vera Stanhope, Inspector Ramsay and DI Matthew Venn series all lend themselves perfectly to the audiobook format. And if I wasn’t already married, I’d be chasing down the narrators with their gorgeous British accents.

I attended a talk by Ann Cleeves when she miraculously visited my regional town a year or two ago, and since then I’ve been a seriously addicted fan. I’m not sure what I’ll do when Bolinda (the audiobook library) runs out of Cleeves books.

Holiday reading

Is there anything better than lying on a beach with a book? This year, I’ve been lucky enough to have had several opportunities to do this during a long overseas holiday. With the kids old enough that they lead a little less hands on supervision, it has provided me with the chance to indulge in this, one of my favourite passtimes. Bliss!

I also have happy memories of walking around Kensington in London while listening to the husky-voiced narrators of Daisy Jones and the Six when I woke up far too early.

My memories of those walks through beautiful gardens and past gorgeous rows of houses on crisp summer mornings – will now always be intertwined.

Harry Potter … again

My third child has started reading Harry Potter and I’m enjoying re-reading the series with her. It never ceases to amaze me how these books engage young readers and I feel that they have made an extraordinary impact on literacy, and creativity, for these young people.

I’m excited to see what my youngest thinks of them.

Special mention: my Kindle

I have got no idea how I used to travel without a Kindle, but I expect lugging a suitcase or backpack full of holiday reads is the reason behind my dodgy back.

It has been a revelation to travel so lightly now, with all my books contained in the one device.

My kids have also enjoyed having a world of books at their disposal. Whenever they finished one, they would check out the Daily Deals to find their next purchase (does anyone buy full-priced ebooks?).

Favourite reads/listens

Wild Abandon by Emily Bitto – gosh I loved this novel about a Melbourne boy who is escaping heartbreak by travelling in the US. I enjoyed the New York and more rural sections equally, and had no idea where the book would lead me. I particularly liked Bitto’s descriptions of the animals at the heart of the novel. The ending was heartbreaking and I was amazed to discover that it was inspired by a true story.

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott – I loved reading In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but didn’t realise what an extraordinary life the author, Truman Capote had lived. The author, Greenberg-Jephcott, manages to convey both the glamour and the devastation of Capote’s life in New York.

Anything by Ann Cleeves – I’m not sure who I like best, between Vera, Inspector Ramsay and Matthew Venn. They are all irresistible, and just as irresistible are the small, windswept towns where they are set. Pure reading pleasure.

You Be Mother by Meg Mason – after enjoying Sorrow and Bliss, I felt pretty confident picking up You Be Mother, especially after it was recommended by my sister-in-law who has great taste in books, and I wasn’t disappointed. Covering very different ground to Sorrow and Bliss, this novel centred on the relationship between a young and older woman, and I loved the representations of both. My only gripe was that I wasn’t sure the boyfriend deserved another chance …

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver – this book really made me question some of my preconceptions about poverty in rural America, where communities are described as ‘hillbillies’ and ‘white trash’. The novel centres on a boy nicknamed Demon Copperhead who is trying to find a life in one such community, but meets obstacles in every direction. One is the foster care system that professes to care for children like him, while another is the scourge of opioids that decimate the young people living in the area. It was another heartbreaking, but also heartwarming read.

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart – not entirely dissimilar to Shuggie Bain, Stuart’s previous novel, Young Mungo followed a boy living in poverty and neglect, whose mother decides to send him on a fishing trip to make him ‘man up’. The sense of dread throughout the book is hard to take, but like Shuggie, the novel is not without beauty and hope. It’s a difficult but rewarding read.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – I’ve heard about this book for a long time, and it did not disappoint. I loved the characters and the complicated relationships between them. But it was also a book of the time – set in the rock and roll era of the sixties. I particularly enjoyed listening to the narrators of the audiobook, whose voices seemed to perfectly match their characters.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton – this book was a re-read and I think I liked it even better this time around. I just love entering this world of manners and scandal, and seeing how the characters navigate the restrictions they face, sometimes to their downfall. Now I’m looking forward to rewatching the movie adaptation.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – I’m not sure whether I just like this book because I’m so proud of myself for finally finishing this brick-like tome, or for the book itself. Don’t tell anyone but there were definitely times when I was a bit bored by it all, but ultimately, the story of a great escape and even greater vengeance is irresistible.

The Bookbinder of Jericho by Pip Williams – this was a folllow up novel to the excellent The Dictionary of Lost Words that certainly didn’t disappoint. Once again, I relished the descriptions of a past Oxford, including the soldiers stationed there in World War I. I’ve already bought tickets to the stage show of The Dictionary of Lost Words and can’t wait to again immerse myself in Williams’ world.

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