Review of the Year #1 – 2023, A Year of Reading and Blogging

As always, I’m saving my books of the year for the 31st, and you’ll get my book stats (my favourite post) on the 29th, but today I plan to share some other blogging highlights, including all those reading weeks, months and challenges I took part in over the year. You’ll also find a book group summary, DNFs and CGSs, and some brilliant new authors I discovered below too. Alongside my blog posts have been my reviews for Shiny New Books, some of which I’ll mention here too.

Where did 2023 go?

JANUARY saw the return of Nordic FINDS, I managed to read and review six books, one from each country, plus an extra Danish thriller as a group read and one written in English set in Finland. I also made resolutions to read more from my TBR, especially for fulfilling challenges and reading themes. We’ll see how I did in my stats post in a few days time. (I’m not formally running Nordic FINDS this year, but will have a Nordic focus to some of my reading for Jan 2024).

FEBRUARY was the third #ReadIndies month hosted by Kaggsy and Lizzy It also saw the return of my ‘Watchlist’ – a review of the best things I’ve seen rather than read in whichever format (link here to my 2023 Watchlist posts). My book group finished our coverage of the Big Jubilee Read list with The Promise by Damon Galgut from the last decade of QEII’s reign.

MARCH is a big month for national reading challenges: I read two for Ireland (Keegan and Kennedy) and one for Wales, plus I squeezed in a novella by Mishima to beat the end of this year’s Jan-March Japanese Reading Challenge. I also added another post to my ‘Reading the Decades’ series: for 1950 – and it went on to be my most-viewed post of the year.

APRIL had just one reading challenge in the 1940 Club hosted by Simon and Kaggsy – I reviewed an Eric Ambler for it. But it was a busy month with five blog tours. It was also a notable month for re-triggering a fascination with Thelonius Monk, due to the brilliant novel Viper’s Dream by Jake Lamar, which featured the jazzman – and more notably his patron – Nica Rothschild aka The Jazz Baroness whose biography I went on to read. At Shiny, I read Todd McEwen’s book of essays, Cary Grant’s Suit: Nine Movies that Made me the Wreck I am Today from Notting Hill Editions. I love film crit books, and this was bound up in memoir, and humour to boot.

MAY was a quiet month, surprisingly. No themed reading at all, although I did read Charlie Higson’s official Bond book for the coronation On His Majesty’s Secret Service, which was great fun. But, for Shiny, I did get to review the gorgeous Folio Society edition of Roadside Picnic by the Strugatskys, and that led me down the rabbit hole to Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, and Geoff Dyer’s book Zona he wrote about it..

JUNE of course sees the start of 20 Books of Summer, as always hosted by Cathy, which I cheat at mercilessly – but I always start off quite well, reading 6 books from my TBR and reviewing 3 of them. It also marked the first ‘Reading the Meow’ hosted by Mallika of Literary Potpourri, and I read a book with a very different cat in it!

JULY and I only added another 4 to my 20 Books of Summer, leaving me a long way to go in August! I did manage to tie one title – the 2nd in Izzo’s Marseilles trilogy – in with Paris in July, hosted by Emma of Words and Peace blog this year.

AUGUST brings in another big theme – it’s #WITMonth – Women in Translation, and I read 4 books for it: two written in Spanish, two written in French, but from four different author nationalities! I finished my 20 Books of Summer a little short – at 18. Close but no cigar! Meanwhile, at Shiny, I was delighted to review the first in a new Arthurian trilogy Morgan is My Name by Sophie Keetch – so refreshing after too many Greek myths.

SEPTEMBER is a busy month for me – back at school – tired in the evenings, so less reading done. But I still managed 5 blog tours and a little bit of Czech reading (managing only 108 pages from over 750 of The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek) for Czech lit Month hosted by Stu. A Shiny highlight was reviewing Mat Osman’s splendid second novel The Ghost Theatre, an Elizabethan adventure with a Dickensian eye for detail.

OCTOBER was also very busy indeed at school, and a similar smaller amount of reading got done. A particular highlight was reading The IPCRESS File by Len Deighton for the 1962 Club, and I finally got around to reading my Sunday Times Young Writer Award 2017 Shadow Judge, Dane Cobain’s horror novel Meat for RIP XVII. I covered the 1980s in my Reading the Decades series, and also managed to read the novel that would go on to win the Booker – Prophet Song by Paul Lynch.

NOVEMBER is a month with some big month-long themes: notably Nonfiction November, hosted by five different bloggers – I took part in weeks 1, and 3 (hosted by Liz ) with themed posts, plus some other nf reads that just happened to fit into … Novellas in November, hosted by Rebecca and Cathy and most of my reads this month fitted one or other of these tags. Then there was German reading month, hosted by LIzzy and two more novellas squeezed in for that, plus finally – my very own Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week – centred around the late author’s birthday for which I read one of the few of her books I hadn’t read before, The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress, and re-read An Awfully Big Adventure, and we had a lovely guest post from Maureen about meeting Beryl. A Shiny highlight from this month was my review plus Q&A with Nicholas Royle on the publication of his ‘memoirish’ lockdown book, David Bowie, Enid Blyton and the sun machine – he is so thought-provoking.

DECEMBER had time to squeeze in two final blog tours, making a total of 34 throughout the year – and mostly brilliant reads too. The month also provided a great excuse to indulge in the third Elvis Presley Mystery by Daniel Klein for Dean Street December hosted by Liz. After that it was whim reading all the way, including a late discovery that’ll appear in my best of post still to come…

Book Group

My full Book Group page is here with the list of what we’ve read this year. After we finished our Big Jubilee Read, we returned to ‘Word Association’ for pitching titles each month, which brought up some interesting choices in the keywords and themes: going from the sea, to Turkey with Norwegian, bell, doll, soldier, Czech and museum in between. I was a bad book group member this year in terms of actually reading and finishing the texts chosen, but my favourite was my re-read of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre, which I loved just as much as the first time, followed by The Promise by Damon Galgut. I was delighted that we chose four translated titles this year too. It also goes to prove that the most irritating books (The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk) can generate the best discussion!

The DNFs and CGSs.

I’m introducing a new acronym, ‘CGS’, for Couldn’t Get Started. Sadly this applied to Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul, a book group read. I tried several times but never got beyond the first few pages. A real shame as I’ve seen Shafak read from her novels, and her mellifluous voice makes me want to read them, but every one I’ve tried so far has failed for me. I do have The Island of Missing Trees in my TBR though.

My two DNFs were also book group reads. Svejk I’ve already mentioned, but I had problems with Elizabeth Buchan’s The Museum of Broken Promises (although the Prague bits were great). Oh well!

The Biggest Disappointment

I slogged through Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein, begrudging the narrator’s vagueness and navel gazing from the beginning. I acknowledge the beauty of the writing, but I did not enjoy the voice at all. Also the underlying messages were just too subtle. I’ll leave it there.

The Brilliant Discoveries

A few new to me authors to give a shout-out to.

  • Top of the list is Callum McSorley whose debut crime thriller Squeaky Clean was just brilliant and funny to boot.
  • Gwendoline RileyMy Phantoms was such a bleak and cutting yet darkly funny novella, I must read more by her.
  • James Wolff‘s spy thriller The Man in the Corduroy Suit introduced a refreshingly different spy in Leonard Flood. There’s two previous standalones to catch up with.

16 thoughts on “Review of the Year #1 – 2023, A Year of Reading and Blogging

  1. Guy Savage says:

    I’m terrible at blog challenges. I’m currently putting my list together. On the topic of Gwendoline Riley, First Love is a good one. She made my best-of-year list last year (2022).
    I’m going to take a look at Squeaky Clean, so thanks for the tip.

  2. Calmgrove says:

    A busy year – again! – but well done with challenges! Just one response to the many observations you’ve made: I’m so grateful for your FINDS event for pushing me in the direction of Nordic reads, and though you’re not running it this coming year I shall probably keep up the habit of reading at least one or two every January!

    Anyway, looking forward to your review of the year. 🙂

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Thanks Chris. I do have two Nordic novels lined up for January on blog tours, and will try to fit in a third, or more, if I can, but didn’t want to tie myself down to the intense focus of previous years. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed being pushed towards Nordic reads.

  3. Simon T says:

    Fun to see how reading challenges have helped guide you throughout much of the year! My own Beryl reading came slightly too late, but I was glad to read Harriet Said…

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Now I realise I haven’t listened to your latest Tea and Books podcast in which you discuss it! Something to rectify.

  4. BookerTalk says:

    I like your ‘CGS’, (Couldn’t Get Started) category – this applied to three of the Booker contenders I tried this year but which were all returned to the library with barely a few pages read. I also failed last year with The Bastard of Istanbul – glad to know I wasn’t alone in struggling with that one

  5. Rebecca Foster says:

    I like that CGS; Liz calls it DNS for Did Not Start! Elle has also mentioned that she can’t get on with Shafak. I, too, have failed to read any book I’ve borrowed by her (two or three thus far).

  6. Cathy746books says:

    I also struggled with Study for Obedience. I usually love a vague, ambiguous book but this wasn’t for me. You’ve had a great year overall though. Here’s to 2024!

  7. Brona's Books says:

    Gwedoline Riley gets under your skin doesn’t she? I hope she has a new book soon; I’ve loved her last 2 books so far & really should go back and explore her earlier books.

  8. thecontentreader says:

    Wow, quite a lot of blog challenges there. I love them and would like to participate more. However, I feel I can hardly follow them too much, so I have chosen just a few. Unfortunately, three of them are in November so a busy month. Maybe, I will follow one or two other for 2024. I love the exchange of reviews and discussions that these challenges produce. Thank you for hosting Nordic FINDS, I love it.

  9. Liz Dexter says:

    I love the CGS category and thank you for the shout-outs for the two challenges I hosted or co-hosted this year: it was lovely having you along. I am soooo behind on reading blog posts but doing OK with my 2024 reading challenge so far …

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