Sunday, January 8, 2023

My Top Ten Books of 2022

2022 has been an out of the ordinary year for me - I got married in June so the first half of the year was taken up with preparing for that, and the second half of the year has been characterised by bereavement, the reality of having aging relatives and all the responsibilities that come with that. Work has also been a challenge - if you follow these things you will know Waterstones has had significant IT problems for the last 6 months, it's been exhausting. 

All of those things have meant that I've read far less than I normally would in a year, there have been a couple of real disappointments amongst the books I did finish, and quite a lot that I enjoyed but which I can't say stuck out in any significant way. This is the list I'm left with, and it's arranged by month starting at the beginning of 2022.

Sheila Gear's 'Foula, Island West of the Sun' is a reprint from Northus, it's both a classic Shetland Memoir and arguably a lost, or maybe potential, classic piece of nature writing. First published in 1983 when Oil money was really beginning to change Shetland the Island life Sheila is describing would have sounded like a throwback to an earlier generation for any mainland Shetlander even then. But Foula is 15 miles off the mainland and they go their own way there. Maybe the most pertinent part of this book is in the moments when Sheila wonders why they choose to love the way they do, and if it's a way of life that can be sustained. 40 years later Foula is still inhabited, still grappling with the same issues and this book feels more relevant than ever. Foula, Island West of the Sun

Susan Stokes-Chapman's Pandora was the first book I couldn't put down in 2022, a fabulous debut that hit all sorts of right notes for me. I loved the way she kept certain plot points ambiguous and how she used smell as a way to set scene and atmosphere. I'm not always a fan of historical fiction, but this book nailed it. Now just out on paperback I highly recommend it for the mix of mystery, atmosphere, and romance. Pandora

Denise Mina's Rizzio (and the next book on my list) is one of Polygon's Darkland series where notable Scottish authors take an episode from history and turn it into a novella. This is a short book that feels like a whole world. It details the murder of Mary Queen of Scott's secretary, the attempted coup against her led by her husband, and her escape - all in the space of 48 hours. It's a literary white knuckle ride which makes the history live. I haven't read any of her other books - I'm not sure anything could live up to this. Rizzio

Straight after Rizzio I read the second Darkland book - Jenni Fagan's Hex, and it was every bit as powerful. This time it looks at the fate of Gellis Duncan, accused of witchcraft. I think the novella format is part of what works so well for both of these books. Jenni Fagan packs a lot of big ideas into a small space. It means everything else is pared right back to basics, but it's done withe exceptional elegance and I suspect that the characters are shapeshifters, taking on something from each reader. Hex

Amy Jeff's Storyland is a book to fall in love with. A quiet hit for us at work that's sold consistently well in hard and paperback and which has led to a lot of enthusiastic conversations. It's a history of Britain through legends that have been more than half forgotten by most of us and it's full of splendidly mad stories. The key thing though is that whilst the stories might not be well remembered, they're buried deep in the national psyche and Jeffs makes a convincing job of showing how they're woven into our sense of Britishness. Thought-provoking and fun - a brilliant combination. Storyland

Holly Black's Book of Night is her first adult title. Her Folk of the Air series has been a tik tok hit, though even before that she had a huge online fanbase. I loved her young adult books which is unusual for me, there's no shortage of excellent authors writing for the 13-18+ age group, but as someone a long way on the + side of 18 there are only so many young people working out their worlds I want to read about. In the Book of Night the tone definitely shifts from teen to adult, and does it without excessive smut. It took me about 50 pages to click with this one, but when I did it left me increasingly interested to see what she writes next and where she goes with her fiction. Book of Night

I read Katy Watson's The Three Dahlias on my honeymoon when I was struck down with Covid. I feel like it deserves more attention than it got, and hope it makes a splash in paperback. I liked this book a lot, it was easy enough to read when ill, has lots of great female characters, celebrates their friendship, would make a brilliant TV adaptation, has tons of fun with Golden Age crime conventions, and generally ticks all the boxes for a rainy day read. The Three Dahlias 

Best Days With Shetland Birds might just be my book of the year, mostly because it's been such an unexpected joy. I'm mildly interested in birdwatching, but this had contributions from a couple of artists whose work I admire, which is why I bought it. The birders involved range from the serious and professional to the amateur, but all of them share a real enthusiasm for Shetland and its possibilities. It's the enthusiasm that is impossible to resist - the shared joy in seeing something good, the camaraderie between the local birding community, and just how good some of those sightings apparently are. Every chapter was a mood lifter, and I keep it handy for when I want something to cheer me up now. Best Days with Shetland Birds

Mark Diacono's books are always good, and Spice: A Cooks Companion is no exception. It's full of delicious things (including a quince mincemeat that was a big hit this festive season) and is generally good kitchen company. I don't like hot spices (can't tolerate them at all, the M&S red pepper hummus with the single chili rating used to be unpleasantly hot to me) but there's still a lot of stuff for me here - and honestly, what better thing could a say about a spice book? Honestly, at least look at this book, and then buy it, and then buy all the earlier ones. Spice

And finally - Alice Lascelles The Cocktail Edit. If you drink alcohol this book is brilliant. A practical guide to home cocktail making that starts with a nicely considered drinks cabinet and then gives you a whole lot of options on what to do with your bottles. The older I get the less I want to drink and the more important a simple but elegant cocktail becomes. When one drink is enough I want it to be a good one and that's exactly what this book provides. The Cocktail Edit


  1. really glad the Gear was so important for you Hayley.

  2. There are lots to note down and continue to greatly enjoy your reviews. I had to read several at once as I seem to have stopped receiving them in my inbox, though I am not sure why! Wishing you a very happy new year x