For a change, I decided to post my most anticipated books in January instead of last month because honestly, I just had so many things I wanted to talk about, that this post kept getting pushed. And literally every week I find new books to add to it, so as usual it’s just very hard to choose when to post this because I feel like this post becomes incomplete the moment I post it.
The Daughters of Izdihar by Hadeer Elsbai – January 10, 2023
OKAY LISTEN UP we’re starting with a banger. This is one of my most anticipated titles of the year and I HAVE AN ARC FOR IT, so this will definitely be on a priority on my reading list for me this year. This is a fantasy set in an Egypt-inspired world, it is about characters from different backgrounds fighting for women’s rights, and it sounds incredible. I also bought a copy! Full disclosure: I know the author, she’s a wonderful, smart, lovely person and we are in a group chat in Twitter, and so my review may be biased because I really like her, even if I try my hardest to stay neutral.
As a waterweaver, Nehal can move and shape any water to her will, but she’s limited by her lack of formal education. She desires nothing more than to attend the newly opened Weaving Academy, take complete control of her powers, and pursue a glorious future on the battlefield with the first all-female military regiment. But her family cannot afford to let her go–crushed under her father’s gambling debt, Nehal is forcibly married into a wealthy merchant family. Her new spouse, Nico, is indifferent and distant and in love with another woman, a bookseller named Giorgina.
Giorgina has her own secret, however: she is an earthweaver with dangerously uncontrollable powers. She has no money and no prospects. Her only solace comes from her activities with the Daughters of Izdihar, a radical women’s rights group at the forefront of a movement with a simple goal: to attain recognition for women to have a say in their own lives. They live very different lives and come from very different means, yet Nehal and Giorgina have more in common than they think. The cause–and Nico–brings them into each other’s orbit, drawn in by the group’s enigmatic leader, Malak Mamdouh, and the urge to do what is right.
But their problems may seem small in the broader context of their world, as tensions are rising with a neighboring nation that desires an end to weaving and weavers. As Nehal and Giorgina fight for their rights, the threat of war looms in the background, and the two women find themselves struggling to earn–and keep–a lasting freedom.
I love recommending Brazilian literature. In my litfic circles I tend to read loads and loads of American and British books, and not nearly enough Brazilian ones, so from time to time I like to write these posts dedicated to highlighting the books from my homeland. I usually will have a post talking about the books that make it to my end-of-the-year lists – like this one: The Best Books I Read in 2021 – Part 1: Brazilian Books – but today I wanted to talk about every single book I read this year because my taste in literature is so specific that I thought it’s worth talking about books I didn’t like as well, because for sure they’ll appeal to some readers.
I’ll be doing it chronologically just because it’s nice to look back and see what interested me in January and how that’s different from what interested me now in December. Also! A lot of these aren’t available in translation but I wanted to talk about them to my English-speaking audience as well – I’ll let you know for each title when there are translations available.
De silêncios e demoras by Cristiano de Sales
This was the year that I read the most Brazilian poetry, and I really enjoyed it. This one is an indie published collection from a poet living in Curitiba and I thought this was very good. I find it super hard to talk about poetry but – this was good. If you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten path, this is a nice option. Not available in translation.
I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been actually quite depressed these past months, and I find a lot of solace in books that reflect that state of mind. Especially during Winter, I find the cold and darkness harder to deal with, and so inevitably get a bit down or downright depressed during these months. So I created this list thinking that maybe some people might also find comfort in reading about other people being sad during the colder months – I’ve also added a few books that don’t necessarily take place in winter but gave me a winter vibe in some sort of way (I’ll explain for each book below what my reasoning was).
Also this post is the result of a poll on Twitter:
Without further ado, here are my book recommendations for a proper sad (or S.A.D) girl winter!
The Shutter of Snow by Emily Holmes Coleman
The Shutter of Snow is the fictitious account of Mrs Marthe Gail’s time at a mental institute in the 1930s, when she had a breakdown after having her child and beleives she is God. The story, although fiction, is heavily based upon the writer’s real life experience. of being committed to an insane asylum after suffering from puerperal fever and a nervous breakdown after giving birth. The writing is both haunting and disconcerting, especially in the beginning as Marthe is less lucid and experiences things in a very confusing, but often poetic way. The novel takes place during winter and has several allusions to the weather outside, so I think it’s a perfect Winter read.
2022 is almost over. There were so many incredible releases this year and I wanted to read literally hundreds of books – obviously there isn’t time for that, but I did read most of the books I was most anticipating and curious about. I like to get to as many books as possible in the year they get published because usually that’s when they get hype and people pick them up – so if I review them or generally talk about them in that time, there’s a bigger chance that my readers will know the book and be interested, or will have just read the book and we can chat about it. Also, who doesn’t love a shiny new book?
Here are the books I wanted to read this year, and I own some (most) of these, so I’ll probably pick them up at some point!
Ithaca by Claire North
Okay, so Greek myths retellings are getting a bit overdone by now, but I’m not quite over them yet. I was not initially going to read this until I realized it was a retelling of Penelope’s story! And as all my fans know, my cat is named after Penelope, the mythological figure. So, my cat made me request this ARC (?) but I haven’t read yet – I hope to get to it pretty soon.
Seventeen years ago, King Odysseus sailed to war with Troy, taking with him every man of fighting age from the island of Ithaca. None of them has returned, and the women of Ithaca have been left behind to run the kingdom.
Penelope was barely into womanhood when she wed Odysseus. While he lived, her position was secure. But now, years on, speculation is mounting that her husband is dead, and suitors are beginning to knock at her door.
No one man is strong enough to claim Odysseus’ empty throne—not yet. But everyone waits for the balance of power to tip, and Penelope knows that any choice she makes could plunge Ithaca into bloody civil war. Only through cunning, wit, and her trusted circle of maids, can she maintain the tenuous peace needed for the kingdom to survive.
This is the story of Penelope of Ithaca, famed wife of Odysseus, as it has never been told before. Beyond Ithaca’s shores, the whims of gods dictate the wars of men. But on the isle, it is the choices of the abandoned women—and their goddesses— that will change the course of the world.
After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz
I picked this up after it was highly recommended by Willow at Books and Bao, and I’m so excited for this! I’M planning to pick it up during my Christmas vacation so I can read it peacefully instead of in snippets during my commute and lunch breaks.
IT’S 1895. Amid laundry and bruises, Rina Pierangeli Faccio gives birth to the child of the man who raped her – and who she has also been forced to marry. Unbroken, she determines to change her name; and her life, alongside it.
1902. Romaine Brooks sails for Capri. She has barely enough money for the ferry, nothing for lunch; her paintbrushes are bald and clotted… But she is sure she can sell a painting – and is fervent in her belief that the island is detached from all fates she has previously suffered.
… In 1923, Virginia Woolf writes: I want to make life fuller – and fuller.
Told in a series of cascading vignettes, featuring a multitude of voices, After Sappho is Selby Wynn Schwartz’s joyous reimagining of the lives of a brilliant group of feminists, sapphists, artists and writers in the late 19th and early 20th century as they battle for control over their lives; for liberation and for justice.
Sarah Bernhard – Colette – Eleanora Duse – Lina Poletti – Josephine Baker – Virginia Woolf… these are just a few of the women (some famous, others hitherto unsung) sharing the pages of a novel as fierce as it is luminous. Lush and poetic; furious and funny; in After Sappho, Selby Wynn Schwartz has created a novel that celebrates the women and trailblazers of the past – and also offers hope for our present, and our futures.
Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors
This is another one that I’m not sure what the plot is and I want to go into it a little bit blind. All I know is that it’s a story about relationships (romantic ones, I think?), and it seems to be that kind of sad litfic that I enjoy, in the vain of My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Luster.
Twenty-four-year-old British painter Cleo has escaped from England to New York and is still finding her place in the sleepless city when, a few months before her student visa ends, she meets Frank. Twenty years older and a self-made success, Frank’s life is full of all the excesses Cleo’s lacks. He offers her the chance to be happy, the freedom to paint, and the opportunity to apply for a Green Card. But their impulsive marriage irreversibly changes both their lives, and the lives of those close to them, in ways they never could’ve predicted.
Each compulsively readable chapter explores the lives of Cleo, Frank, and an unforgettable cast of their closest friends and family as they grow up and grow older. Whether it’s Cleo’s best friend struggling to embrace his gender queerness in the wake of Cleo’s marriage, or Frank’s financially dependent sister arranging sugar daddy dates to support herself after being cut off, or Cleo and Frank themselves as they discover the trials of marriage and mental illness, each character is as absorbing, and painfully relatable, as the last.
As hilarious as it is heartbreaking, entertaining as it is deeply moving, Cleopatra and Frankenstein marks the entry of a brilliant and bold new talent.
Nettleblack by Nat Reeve
I also picked this up after recommendation from Willow, it just sounds incredible. It’s set in Victorian era, it has mysteries and murders in a small town, plus it’s told through letters and journal entries (which I love), it sounds incredible. This is another that I want to read when I have some time off, because it’s hefty and it sounds so atmospheric, I just want to take my time reading this in peace. My 2 weeks of vacation will have to do lots of work to fit all the books I want to read!
The year is 1893. Having run away from her family home to escape an arranged marriage, Welsh heiress Henry Nettleblack finds herself ambushed, robbed, and then saved by the mysterious Dallyangle Division – part detective agency, part neighbourhood watch. Desperate to hide from her older sisters, Henry disguises herself and enlists. But the Division soon finds itself under siege from a spate of crimes and must fight for its very survival. Assailed by strange feelings for her new colleague – the tomboyish, moody Septimus – Henry quickly sees that she’s lost in a small rural town with surprisingly big problems. And to make things worse, sinister forces threaten to expose her as the missing Nettleblack sister. As the net starts to close around Henry, the new people in her life seem to offer her a way out, and a way forward. Is the world she’s lost in also a place she can find herself?
Told through journal entries and letters, Nettleblack is a picaresque ride through the perils and joys of finding your place in the world, challenging myths about queerness – particularly transness – as a modern phenomenon, while exploring the practicalities of articulating queer perspectives when you’re struggling for words.
Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley
I want to go into this one knowing little to nothing, I’ve heard it’s amazing and if you want to know more about it, I’ve copied the synopsis below! I think it will be a dark, heartbreaking litfic and it looks great.
Kiara and her brother, Marcus, are scraping by in an East Oakland apartment complex optimistically called the Regal-Hi. Both have dropped out of high school, their family fractured by death and prison. But while Marcus clings to his dream of rap stardom, Kiara hunts for work to pay their rent–which has more than doubled–and to keep the nine-year-old boy next door, abandoned by his mother, safe and fed.
One night, what begins as a drunken misunderstanding with a stranger turns into the job Kiara never imagined wanting but now desperately needs: nightcrawling. Her world breaks open even further when her name surfaces in an investigation that exposes her as a key witness in a massive scandal within the Oakland Police Department.
Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough
Sarah Pinborough’s books are not for everyone – they’re really out there, completely bonkers and a lot of them are supernatural. I had mixed feeligs about Behind Her Eyes, but had such fun reading it that I really want to pick this up. I’m not super intent on reading this, which is why I wanted to read it before the end of the year, before it starts falling behind on my radar. I don’t currently have any plans to read this, but do hope to get to it at some point.
In this twisty, mind-bending thriller from the bestselling author of Behind Her Eyes, Emma Averell worries that her crippling insomnia is a sign that she’s slowly going insane—like the mother she’s worked so hard to leave in her past.
Emma Averell loves her life—her high-powered legal career, her two beautiful children, and her wonderful stay-at-home husband—but it wasn’t always so perfect. When she was just five years old, Emma and her older sister went into foster care because of a horrific incident with their mother. Her sister can remember a time when their mother was loving and “normal,” but Emma can only remember her as one thing—a monster. And that monster emerged right around their mother’s fortieth birthday, the same age Emma is approaching now.
Emma desperately wants to keep her successful life separate from her past, so she has always hidden her childhood trauma. But then she’s unable to sleep, and now losing time during the day, also one of the first symptoms her mother showed. Is the madness in her blood, just as her mother predicted? Could she end up hurting her family in her foggy, frenetic state? Or is she truly beginning to lose her mind?
The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd
I loved The Book of M, so this was initially very high on my radar, but ended up falling behind because I forgot about it entirely. Since I got rejected an ARC and don’t buy books all that often (I mostly listen to books on Scribd), this kind of just fell of my radar. Also, I haven’t heard anything about it, so no idea if it’s any good? I read a couple of the reviews in Goodreads but that’s usually not the best way for me to assess whether this is a book I will like or not…
Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.
But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable and exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence… because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one—along with anyone who gets in the way.
To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret and discovers the true power that lies in maps…
Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James
Okay, so I have a reason to not have read this yet. This is the second installment of Marlin James’ fantasy series and I LOVED the first book, then received an ARC for the second book and – it got archived before I could read it. As I don’t buy physical books very often at all plus I can’t say for sure that a series I loved a couple of years ago is still my cup of tea, I’ve been delaying and delaying getting a copy of this, and by now I doubt I’ll get to it before next year.
In Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Sogolon the Moon Witch proved a worthy adversary to Tracker as they clashed across a mythical African landscape in search of a mysterious boy who disappeared. In Moon Witch, Spider King, Sogolon takes center stage and gives her own account of what happened to the boy, and how she plotted and fought, triumphed and failed as she looked for him. It’s also the story of a century-long feud—seen through the eyes of a 177-year-old witch—that Sogolon had with the Aesi, chancellor to the king. It is said that Aesi works so closely with the king that together they are like the eight limbs of one spider. Aesi’s power is considerable—and deadly. It takes brains and courage to challenge him, which Sogolon does for reasons of her own.
Both a brilliant narrative device—seeing the story told in Black Leopard, Red Wolf from the perspective of an adversary and a woman—as well as a fascinating battle between different versions of empire, Moon Witch, Spider King delves into Sogolon’s world as she fights to tell her own story. Part adventure tale, part chronicle of an indomitable woman who bows to no man, it is a fascinating novel that explores power, personality, and the places where they overlap.
Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire
Another one that is a second installment of series whose first book I loved. This isn’t focusing on the characters of the first book, so it just kind of fell of my radar after a while, I’m wondering it to pick it up next year for Fall? It just looks like such a perfect Fall read.
Melanie has a destiny, though it isn’t the one everyone assumes it to be. She’s delicate; she’s fragile; she’s dying. Now, truly, is the winter of her soul.
Harry doesn’t want to believe in destiny, because that means accepting the loss of the one person who gives his life meaning, who brings summer to his world.
So, when a new road is laid out in front of them—a road that will lead through untold dangers toward a possible lifetime together—walking down it seems to be the only option.
But others are following behind, with violence in their hearts.
It looks like Destiny has a plan for them, after all….
Self-Portrait with Ghost: Short Stories by Meng Jin
This is a classic “the problem is me, not you!. I loved Meng Jin’s Little Gods SO much, but I don’t really gravitate towards short stories, so this gorgeous-looking collection (that I’m sure is a banger) has been metaphorically collecting dust in my eReader.
Meng Jin’s critically acclaimed debut novel, Little Gods, was praised as “spectacular and emotionally polyphonic (Omar El-Akkad, BookPage), “powerful” (Washington Post), and “meticulously observed, daringly imagined” (Claire Messud). Now Jin turns her considerable talents to short fiction, in ten thematically linked stories.
Written during the turbulent years of the Trump administration and the first year of the pandemic, these stories explore intimacy and isolation, coming-of-age and coming to terms with the repercussions of past mistakes, fraying relationships and surprising moments of connection. Moving between San Francisco and China, and from unsparing realism to genre-bending delight, Self-Portrait with Ghost considers what it means to live in an age of heightened self-consciousness, seemingly endless access to knowledge, and little actual power.
Page-turning, thought-provoking, and wholly unique, Self-Portrait with Ghost further establishes Meng Jin as a writer who “reminds us that possible explanations in our universe are as varied as the beings who populate it” (Paris Review).
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
I loved Elsewhere and Young Jane Young, but I feel like both books kind of flew under the radar (comparatively, that is, to other books that I heard a lot more buzz about when these two came out). I’m a bit suspicious about this one blowing up, although I can’t say why. In my mind, if I loved two books that a lot of people didn’t care much for, then maybe I won’t care much about this book that’s getting so much buzz? The logic makes no sense and I know I should just read this, and maybe I will!
In this exhilarating novel by the best-selling author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry two friends–often in love, but never lovers–come together as creative partners in the world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality.
On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.
Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.
Rogues by Patrick Radden Keefe
It says “Patrick Radden Keefe”, so obviously I will end up reading this (I loved both Say Nothing and Empire of Pain). But as said I’m not a huge fan of collections of stories (even true ones), so I am dawdling instead of reading this. But I will!
Patrick Radden Keefe has garnered prizes ranging from the National Magazine Award to the Orwell Prize to the National Book Critics Circle Award for his meticulously reported, hypnotically engaging work on the many ways people behave badly. Rogues brings together a dozen of his most celebrated articles from The New Yorker. As Keefe says in his preface, “They reflect on some of my abiding preoccupations: crime and corruption, secrets and lies, the permeable membrane separating licit and illicit worlds, the bonds of family, the power of denial.”
Keefe brilliantly explores the intricacies of forging $150,000 vintage wines, examines whether a whistleblower who dared to expose money laundering at a Swiss bank is a hero or a fabulist, spends time in Vietnam with Anthony Bourdain, chronicles the quest to bring down a cheerful international black market arms merchant, and profiles a passionate death penalty attorney who represents the “worst of the worst,” among other bravura works of literary journalism.
The appearance of his byline in The New Yorker is always an event, and collected here for the first time readers can see his work forms an always enthralling but deeply human portrait of criminals and rascals, as well as those who stand up against them.
Bliss Montage by Ling Ma
Oh, same thing really – I adored Severance, it will always have a special place in my heart, as I found it strangely soothing to read during the beginning of the pandemic (don’t ask) – but as a short story collection, I don’t find myself too drawn to it. That cover is so stunning though, I’m thinking of reading it during Summer next year.
What happens when fantasy tears through the screen of the everyday to wake us up? Could that waking be our end?
In Bliss Montage, Ling Ma brings us eight wildly different tales of people making their way through the madness and reality of our collective delusions: love and loneliness, connection and possession, friendship, motherhood, the idea of home. From a woman who lives in a house with all of her ex-boyfriends, to a toxic friendship built around a drug that makes you invisible, to an ancient ritual that might heal you of anything if you bury yourself alive, these and other scenarios reveal that the outlandish and the everyday are shockingly, deceptively, heartbreakingly similar.
I’ve been on a bit of a ruthless mood this year. Usually if I am reading a book, I’m able to push through and finish it, since I read quite fast and it won’t take me more than a few days, anyway. But after reading so many books I didn’t enjoy and entering a bit of a slump this fall (which is my favorite time of the year to read, so I resent that), I decided to DNF a book unless I truly, wholeheartedly thought it would get better. I think Cherish Farrah was the only book I DNF-ed on the first half of this year, so all the other books I’ve DNF-ed from Fall on – yeah, I may have snapped a bit, after one too many disappointing reads.
Cherish Farrah by Bethany C. Morrow
I’ve already talked about this book in The 10 Most Disappointing Mysteries & Thrillers of 2022 but I just could not stand the voice of the narrator. I loved the concept of this book, with a manipulative main character trying to weasel into another family’s life to improve her station, just to be caught up in something darker than she expected. Very, very cool. But the narrator herself was so obnoxious and self-centered and all talk and no doing anything really. I got pretty deep into the story, like 60% through or so, but just couldn’t do it anymore to myself, and so this was the first book I DNF-ed this year.
2022 has been a weird year. I love, love a good mystery, and must have picked up about 30 thrillers & mysteries – and that’s only the 2022 releases (the total number included backlisted titles goes easily into the 70s). So I’ve rounded up my top 10, which got posted a couple days ago, so go check that out if this post is a little too negative for you.
But for today’s post – we’re talking my 10 least favorite mysteries and thrillers released this year.
I was astonished by the amount of mysteries I was disappointed by for one reason or another, and although I picked up a bunch backlisted titles too, it was always the 2022 releases that I didn’t like. It was just. SO MANY. At some point I must have read three thrillers in a row that were so bad they put me in a bit of slump, which is when I decided to at least use my wasted time and turn it into a post.
I don’t think I’m too picky with mysteries – so if you enjoyed any of these, I’d LOVE to now what you liked about them, because I picked them all up thinking I’d love them and so it was very upsetting to spend hours reading only to be let down. I’ve talked about a few of these on My Least Favorite Releases of 2022 So Far post, so if the ranting sounds familiar, that’s why.
I’ve decided to mix things up a bit this year, and instead of writing a giant post with my favorites per category, I’m writing a bunch of posts with some of my favorite and least favorite reads. I usually read pretty broadly, from historical fiction to thrillers and literary fiction, dabbling a bit in romance, lots of translated books, and I end up loving SO many books that I find it super hard to come up with a favorites of the year list.
For the past couple of years I chose 3 books of each category and then created a bunch of categories so that I could go through the books I loved and covered ALL bases, but it’s a very, very long post to write, so I’d usually start it in January and update throughout the year. So I’m going to try and write a few different posts and cover my favorites while also giving them the time and attention they deserve! It’s almost more interesting, I think, to read “10 best new mystery and thrillers” short post than looking for the “mystery and thrillers” category on a long post.
Because I love covering new releases, this post will focus on the 2022 mystery and thriller releases I really enjoyed!
Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney
I am NOT a fan of retellings in thrillers. I basically didn’t like any of the other And Then There Were None retellings I’ve read this year (or the previous years) – Nine Lives for example certainly didn’t work for me. But this one – five stars all around. It is a paranormal retelling that has just enough heart, suspense and shocking twists (Alice Feeney is the queen of shocking twists in my opinion) to make it an addictive read. If you were disappointed by The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James this year and still crave a ghost mystery, pick this up!
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley
A very predictable entry to this list, honestly! I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Lucy Foley so far – I think this is not her strongest book, but I still had a great time reading it. It’s the story of a girl who finds herself jobless and homeless, so she goes to Paris to live with her brother. She arrives at this very fancy (and surely out of her brother’s budget??) apartment, only to find her brother gone and the creepy neighbors won’t tell her anything.
Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka
This book! I can’t yell about it enough. Like a lot of other readers, I didn’t like Girl in Snow a lot, but this blew me out of the park. Notes of an Execution tells the story of a serial killer awaiting his execution and planning his escape, and we get a lot of flashbacks on how he became this way, what his life was like as a child and so on. Except all of this is told through the eyes of women in his life: the police woman trying to catch him, his wife’s sister, his mother. This was not only a very good mystery but an incredible discussion on the death penalty and on forgiveness and punishment. Fantastic, nuanced, page-turning, this book was just so good!
The It Girl by Ruth Ware
If you love dark academia, this might just be a perfect pick for you. In the It Girl (which I keep calling the IT girl lol I’m sorry) tells the story of a woman whose best friend was murdered several years ago in their dorm at Oxford. The murderer was caught thanks to her witnessing him leaving the crime scene – but he insisted upon his innocence up until his death, and now a journalist is investigating the case and wondering if they caught the wrong person after all. I don’t know how to explain, this just hit all the notes I love in a mystery and I devoured it. Such a good book, I can’t recommend it enough!
Reputation by Sarah Vaughan
This deserves so much more hype than I’ve seen it get so far! This is about a politician who is pro-abortion and because of that she has to take extreme measures to protect herself from death threats and works hard to maintain her reputation pristine. One day, a dead man is found in her house and her life is quickly torn apart. This was such a great read, it had a bit of a slow-burn start but it really picks up once the case goes to court. Highly recommend if you life court drama!
The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda
I hadn’t read anything my Megan Miranda up to now and this was such a great introduction to her work. This is a story about a small town where people have been disappearing mysteriously for a long time and the locals clearly know something, but nobody is talking. I really liked this and I didn’t see all of the plot twists coming – so now I’m looking forward to getting to her backlisted titles.
The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill
This is getting a bit mixed reviews, but I really enjoyed it! It’s about a writer writing a book about four people who one day form a very fast friendship after hearing a scream in a library… except that was not just a scream but a murder, and one of them must have done it. The writer is also sending her first draft to friend, who becomes ever more unhinged… it was a fun time, a simple and predictable but charming mystery, plus the other storyline going on in the correspondence between the writer and her friend, it was just a very solid story to read in a couple sittings!
The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
I always enjoy the thrillers by the Greer Hendriks and Sarah Pekkanen, and this was another fun one! If you’re still into the whole “golden couple who isn’t perfect, actually” but want something a bit more out of that trope, I can recommend this one! The therapist who starts working with this couple has a very, very unorthodox method and the trio is heading towards an explosive collision. The audiobook for this was very, very good!
Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister
If you’re a bit tired of the usual format of thrillers and mysteries and want something a little bit different, a little bit out there – Wrong Place Wrong Time was a really fun one! It’s about a woman who one day witnesses her son commit a murder, and it’s so utterly shocking to her – she doesn’t know the victim, doesn’t know why her son attacks him, why her husband is acting so strange about it. Then, the next day, she wakes up… in the past. Every day she wakes up a little bit further in the past, trying to gather clues as to why the murder happened and also how to stop it. It reminded me a little bit of the concept for The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but this one focuses a lot on the main characters feelings about her parenting, which I think can be a turn off for some readers. I’d say if you really don’t like reading motherhood plotlines, skip this one. I had mixed feelings in the beginning, but was completely hooked by the mystery by the end.
Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier
Okay, so this was very good! I usually figure out some of the twists on a thriller pretty early on, but this kept me guessing for a good while. I listened to the interview with the author in the end, and she wasn’t sure for a while who would be guilty, if anyone at all (you have to read to understand), and I think it really worked, I never felt very sure of my theories. This was a very dark one Also, very satisfying ending, highly recommend.
So those were my favorites!
Would you also like to see a list of backlisted favorites? Have you read any of these, and did you agree/disagree with my choices? Let me know in the comments!
Because I read SO many thrillers & mysteries that I actually enjoyed but didn’t love, I’ll add a few bonus recommendations in case you’re like me and always looking for recommendations.
Bonus recommendations that didn’t make the top 10:
The Bachelorette Party by Carissa Ann Lynch
Another very simple, comfortably predictable thriller that delivers. I had a great time reading about these six women going to a fancy bachelorette party and one of them getting murdered. I thought its plot would be gone from my memory the moment I finished this book but it’s been a couple of months now and I still remember fondly the experience of reading this!
Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy
Okay so this was one of my favorite books of the entire year, easily. It’s about a woman named Mary, who goes back to her hometown to take care of her (frankly, awful) aunt, but as she returns, mysterious deaths and disappearances start occurring and it might just be that a serial killer who died 50 years ago in her small, religious town is inhabiting her body and seeking to complete his work. I didn’t add it to the top 10 in this list because this is basically pure horror, so no strictly a thriller, but also kind of? Mystery & Thriller is such a broad genre and as said I would classify Mary as mostly horror, but I’m adding it here in case some of you would also like to pick up horror-thrillers.
Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free by Sarah Weinman
If you’re looking for some true crime to add to your TBR, I really enjoy Sarah Weinman’s books. This was quite good, if not exactly what I hoped it would be – it’s the story of Edgar Smith and how he got away with murder for several years by being, spoiler alert, so white and handsome he couldn’t possibly have committed the crime (lol). I’m oversimplifying it, but this was an interesting book about a case I had no idea about and a bleak reminder that the justice system is made of people – flawed, prejudiced people.
More Than You’ll Ever Know by Katie Gutierrez
This is a very good one for fans of historical mysteries! It’s the story of a woman who was married to two men, and one kills the other and is now in jail for the past two decades. A true crime writer picks up the story explores how she met her second husband and fell in love with him, married him and is trying to solve the mystery everyone has been wondering: did she kill her second husband and frame the first? This is more a historical mystery read than a thriller and it felt quite slow-paced to me, but very enjoyable to read.
Hide by Kiersten White
For some reason this is getting mixed reviews – personally, I loved it. I love this kind of horror that deals with social topics and turn them into literary horror tropes. In Hide, a group of people signed up for a reality TV show, but they have no idea what they actually signed up for. All they know is that they have to hide all day and are allowed to go back to the house at night, and the last person to be found wins a huge prize. But when strange things start happening while they hide, they start to suspect things are not what they seem, and something really dark is going on. I loved this! 5 stars all around. I almost put it on this list’s top 10 but again it’s more of a horror than a thriller.
A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham
This is a very classic kind of thriller, if you’re looking for those familiar beats and a solid mystery. It’s the story of a woman whose father was convicted of killing teenage girls many years before. She thinks she has finally moved on, and she’s getting ready to get married to the love of her life, when a girl disappear, and she thinks her father has something to do with it. Now she must confront her past and find out who is behind these disappearances. This is very good but to be honest I found it a bit forgettable!
Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn
Oh this was FUN. Silly? Yes, and also the kind of book that you already know how it’s going to end but I loved the relationship between the women and had a great time reading this.
The Book of the Most Precious Substance by Sara Gran
A dark mystery about a woman who wants to acquire a book about sex magic that promises to fulfill any wish. This was a fun book and I enjoyed the extravagant travelling, the steamy scenes, the interesting characters, so full of life. Just a warning: there is a partner who suffers from a degenerative disease, which got me quite down for a while, so I highly recommend caution.
for this year’s joint post, Clio and I have joined forces again and be writing a gift guide! If you don’t know Clio’s Boardgames, you’ll be in for a treat: board games, history, engaging writing, fantastic research and just generally a good egg all around, Clio’s blog is a gem in the boardgaming community, which I have been lightly dabbling on in the past few years and I am sure some of my readers enjoy as well. In case you didn’t know, this is not the first time we collaborate, with me guest-posting sometimes (like If you liked this board game, try this book! by @natysbookshelf) and Clio blessing my blog with some high-quality content (like Non-Fiction Recommendations by @cliosboardgames). Every year we come up with something to write together or on each other’s blogs because our interests intersect a lot, and because it’s always such fun to work together.
For today’s post Clio will be recommending three board games which will appeal also to non-hardcore gamers, the kind of games that are easy to get to and start playing immediately, with interesting themes and lots of fun!
From my part, I will be giving three book recommendations for different kinds of readers – I kept my recommendations to 2022 releases so that the chances are higher that the person you’re gifting hasn’t read any of these books yet, but maybe heard the buzz around them. I’ve also tried to keep them on the short side, so as to keep them not very intimidating to more casual readers.
Clio: Ever gifted someone a board game? Great idea. And then this person excitedly opened it and wanted to play it there and then? Still a great idea – in principle. But then somebody had to punch out all the four hundred cardboard bits and make sense of the 20-page rulebook for an hour while everybody else’s attention slowly drifted back to the snacks and drinks? Yeah, that wasn’t that great an idea.
So here are three games that you can gift and start playing right away – including (with) people who don’t play board games very often. They’re accessible, they’re fun, and they leave you wanting more.
Pro tip: When you gift one of them, it might still be a good idea to watch a short YouTube video before on how they’re played.
Lovecraft Letter (Seiji Kanai, Alderac): 2-6 players, 5-15 minutes
It’s still mid-November but honestly Winter always feels to me like it starts mid-to-end November and lasts until basically end of April (I’m a bit dramatique about being cold). So it seems appropriate for me to publish a Winter TBR at this point – I’m using my cat as a shawl as we speak (difficult to type). I love this time of the year to pick up thicker books, epic fantasies, classics, stuff like that.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Oh god, this is definitely my priority 1 book! I started this ages ago, but then other books took priority over it and I really want to pick it up now because I loved what I read so far! I adore reading a good mystery during the colder months, so this will be perfect.
Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: an Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang
Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.
1812. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel.
Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.
Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?
I have such mixed feelings about this book. The premise is absolutely incredible, the cover blew me away, and R. F. Kuang had my heart after The Poppy War, so I had really high expectations for it. I buddy-read this with my husband, and since we both speak multiple languages and are constantly translating our thoughts plus I’m from a colonialized country, we had very interesting discussions about it and honestly, I enjoyed our discussions far more than the book itself.
To me, there are two ways that you can look at this book: first, how it works as an instrument of education on anticolonialism, racism, xenophobia and misogyny in academia, and as the title so nicely puts it, the necessity of violence. Secondly, as a story. The first is where this book truly shines – I had so much to think about, so much to discuss, and so many points where I wanted to learn more and pick up more literature on. This book is so rich in research and R. F. Kuang’s passion for the topics she discusses truly shines through!
As a story, though, this didn’t really work for me. The characters were so straightforward, written in a way that felt so predictable and lacking nuance, the plot itself was so predictable I was legitimately bored most of the time. It picks up at around 75% through, but by then you’ve read more than 400 pages and I just don’t have the patience to wait that long.
I read this during a very long train trip with a broken phone, so there was nothing else to entertain me but this book – it was such a strange experience, because I was at times fascinated and at others, just so bored by the plot and characters, by the strange pacing and weird interactions and dialogue. I get that all the characters are insufferable academics, and I can respect the need to geek about the things you love, but if you’re planning a life-or-death situation with huge stakes, maaaybe you don’t need to add witty remarks about the origin of a particular word every single page. It was a cute quirk in the beginning but by the end I wanted to skip entire paragraphs and just get to the point.
Another huge problem for me was that world-building. I will not go too much into detail because I think this might be spoiling some things that are relevant for the ending, but the magic in this world was so weird. I have no problem with the way the silver magic itself works, but I could not really buy into how this would work economically. I just don’t understand the limitation of knowledge to Babel when it looked to me like not much was stopping every other country in the world from using it, or why the silver-working team was so incredibly small. Like, you have the same people teaching silver magic, doing the silver work, doing maintenance everywhere in the country (mostly Oxford, but still), plus other stuff I won’t talk about in this review, and I just don’t see how that is a sustainable model in any way, shape or form. Who has the time for all this? It doesn’t make sense. Prioritize your time and resources, people. Get some technicians. And, while I’m complaining about practicalities – please get an accountant! Or at least a person who can do basic book-keeping. Really, I beg you.
I almost put “spoiler-free” on the title of this review because the plot is so predictable that anything I say could possibly be considered non-spoiler-y. But I am not sure what people would consider spoilers for this particular book, since the synopsis already gives most of it away anyway.
Generally, I just hoped for more. I know I just said this book was a drag and at nearly 600 pages it was quite painful to go through at times, but I think Babel would have worked better as a duology: giving it enough time for the characters to grow and develop their contradictory feelings about Oxford in a more organic way, showing a bit more of the revolution, maybe what’s going on overseas – I wanted to know so much more about that! I would have loved a second POV in which someone inside the resistance group was scheming or bringing the technology of silver work abroad.
Also – maybe that’s petty, but I didn’t like the footnotes, they annoyed me and brought me out of the story very often.
I think this story will resonate with people’s feelings on anticolonialism, xenophobia etc very strongly and a lot of readers will fall in love with this. Clearly Babel found its audience if I look at its rating on Goodreads, and I am really happy to see it! It was sadly not for me but I’m still happy for having read it and to see anti-colonial books get into the mainstream.