I’ll be updating this page throughout the year, hoping to meet my reading challenge of 52 books (eligible books are numbered below) as well as a few other reading goals. You can follow me on Goodreads or read about what I read in 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019 & 2018.
33. The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield ⭐️⭐️⭐️
This an extremely stupid book but in the good way that makes it difficult to put down. What idiotic stuff will happen next? A LOT! I am obviously all in on a thriller set during an additional Apollo Moon mission written by an ex-astronaut and there’s a lot of real life people, places and other stuff woven in that makes this a fun read for any space nerd. Making it a top secret military-funded mission lets him turn it into a spy action thriller with all the cliches and constant twists you’d expect. Where it fails is the endless technical descriptions and the tedious Cold War ‘Evil Commies vs good guy Americans’ plot with paper-thin characters, especially galling from a Canadian who worked so closely with the Russians during his career. I hope he gets to write twenty sequels though and I will absolutely read every one of them.
32. The Edible Atlas: Around the World in Thirty-Nine Cuisines by Mina Holland ⭐️⭐️⭐️
I opened this because it seemed to be half-finished but apparently I just read the Japan chapter! This is a nice idea, to give the reader an introduction to the food of various countries around the world, along with a few recipes to try, and it made me very hungry. Overall though, it ends up being a bit repetitive and the choice of places included is very random. France and Italy each get multiple regions while the USA gets 2 states. The recipes are also not very accessible and I got especially annoyed with the regular mentions of how ingredients can easily be found in speciality shops or markets in London. There’s a monthly market where I live and it sells nothing more exotic than bagels and samosas. Would have been much better as a regular column in a newspaper that could have gone on indefinitely.
The rest of the month I was sick and so tired and I re-read The Lord of the Rings. Still one of the best.
31. Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 5 by Kamome Shirahama ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Manga books are really not designed to be read one volume per year but luckily the plot is not really that important in these – it’s all really just about the four apprentice witches learning how to use their magic, which involves drawing their spells. This volume was pretty exciting and the way they had to work together and realise that all their individual styles of drawing had different strengths nearly broke me. Please make art any way that makes you happy!
30. I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
One of those classic novels that has the style of a children’s book but is more like YA. It’s about a penniless eccentric family who live in a half-ruined castle, written in the style of journals by the middle sibling. It turns into a bit of a Pride & Prejudice homage once the 2 brothers who inherit the neighbouring estate (and the castle) turn up. Anyone would be convinced they knew what would happen next but it doesn’t quite work out that way and there are a lot of fun, surprising and overly melodramatic twists along the way.
29. The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Basically a classic vintage murder mystery on a cruise ship but…it’s in the future, IN SPACE! Which obviously makes it even better. It took me a while to warm to the main characters since one is an incredibly rich tech CEO and her new husband felt suspiciously perfect but they do have a lot more going on too and are great in the amateur detectives role. Fun mystery with lots of cool science and space stuff (all of which she researched to make realistic) and even a themed cocktail recipe between every chapter.
28. Fangirl, Vol. 3: The Manga by Rainbow Rowell ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Still a great adaptation. I forget why I docked a star, probably not enough Simon & Baz.
Our Super Japanese Adventure by Sarah Graley ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Very cute comic book about Sarah & Stef’s first trip to Japan. There’s lots of familiar and funny incidents that made me miss Japan a lot (though probably not as much as they missed their cats!). They do have a very typical first time visitor itinerary so there wasn’t anything much new to me but still glad to have it.
27. Reach for the Stars: 1996–2006: Fame, Fallout and Pop’s Final Party by Michael Cragg ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I’ve been wanting to read this very badly and grabbed it when it went on a 99p deal. I love an oral history and this is such an incredible time for pop music. It starts with the Spice Girls and ends with The X Factor and is just constantly entertaining, as well as extremely depressing. The way pretty much everyone has the same experience is so sad with bands splitting up due to overwork and being sick of each other and then coming back together a few years later. My only complaint is that it’s too short – the Sugababes, Girls Aloud and TV talent contest chapters could have all been full-length books.
26. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is a great book that I just didn’t connect with or really have anything to say about. I could have put it down at any point and not thought about these characters again but I’m also glad I finished it.
25. The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Very slight novel about a group of people who work at a thrift shop in Tokyo (though not in Nakano Broadway as I assumed – Nakano is the owner’s surname). Usually I like a book where nothing much happens, especially if it’s set in Japan, but this was a bit too much nothing with characters that weren’t quite interesting enough and it all just kind of fizzled out at the end.
24. Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I said I wasn’t going to read this one but I gave in on a 99p deal and it was a lot better than I expected. A retired tennis superstar comes back to try and regain her record. There is a lot of tennis in this as Carrie Soto does not care about anything else and almost the entire book is about practice and matches but it’s fun to read and obviously based on lots of real life players.
23. Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Third in the series and every time I start out thinking it’s not as good as the previous book and then end up liking it even more. This one is set on a generation ship from what was Earth and has multiple characters grappling with their place in society and the wider galaxy. They start out with very separate lives but then the stories all come together and it’s just full of big ideas about community and family. Now I’m torn between wanting to read the last book immediately but not wanting it all to be over.
22. Killing Dragons: The Conquest of the Alps by Fergus Fleming ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This has been on my Kindle for years and I’m so glad I opened it as it’s a million times more entertaining than you might expect of a book about the first people to climb the Alps. There’s always plenty of dark comedy to be found in hapless British Victorians bumbling around in places they are not prepared for but the author has an incredible eye for picking out lines from their own writing that show how ridiculous a lot of these (almost entirely) men were, desperately trying to be the first to the top of a mountain. There are so many intriguing characters here and so many petty feuds. Highly recommended.
21. Between Us by Mhairi McFarlane ⭐️⭐️⭐️
These are usually fun but something was off about this one. The ex was just too unlikeable and having literally everyone in the heroine’s life be some kind of comedy genius was very wearing. I’m blessed with a lot of funny friends and family but not every single person I know and work with. Having one character be a writer of Line of Duty/Scandi Noir style TV shows was a goldmine though.
20. The Adventurer’s Son by Roman Dial ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Really heartbreaking memoir by an adventure writer whose son disappeared in the Colombian jungle and his journey to discovering what happened to him and whether he was to blame for introducing and encouraging an interest in wild places to his children. Surprisingly gripping even though the outcome was fairly inevitable from the start.
19. You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry ⭐️⭐️⭐️
I usually enjoy these light romances but this one has way too many cliches and too many situations where people just don’t talk or listen to each other. Still a fun read though.
18. Chased by Pandas: My life in the mysterious world of cycling by Dan Martin ⭐️⭐️⭐️
It’s Tour de France month, leave me alone with my stupid cycling books.
17. Marple: Twelve New Mysteries ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
New short stories by various writers featuring Miss Marple. These all got the vibes down perfectly and were pretty consistent without any real stand outs or duds. Unfortunately I figured out the murderer very quickly in every whodunnit story when normally I am a clueless gullible idiot so that was a bit of a letdown. Luckily there were also a few mystery stories without a murderer where I didn’t figure out what was going on until the reveal. I enjoyed it all anyway.
16. Moby-Dick or, the Whale by Herman Melville ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I DID IT! Only 6 months (with some breaks). This was absolutely nothing like what I had imagined the story of Moby Dick was from general pop culture references, in both good and bad ways. It’s almost 3 different books, swinging chaotically from exciting action to various measurements of whales to musings on friendship to let me rank all the depictions of whales in art. Truly a rollercoaster. Very glad I read it.
Pretty sure I will finish Moby Dick while I’m on holiday as I’m almost at the 90% mark!
15. Hungry by Grace Dent ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The only book I had any interest in borrowing while I had a free month of Prime – a memoir by The Guardian’s restaurant critic that is mainly about food and family. It jumps around a lot and skims over a lot of her career so you don’t really get much idea of what it’s like to be a restaurant critic or eat at so many places but there’s a lot of fun stuff about her media career. Other chapters are essentially just listing foods that British people of a certain age will be nostalgic about and the last part is almost entirely about caring for her parents so it does end up feeling like 2 or 3 different books. I also read later that she is an almost life-long vegan and this literally never comes up even once – in a book about food by someone who eats as a career! – which made me dislike it in retrospect.
Yes, I am STILL reading Moby Dick. I do love it but it makes me fall asleep so it’s going very slowly.
14. Exit Stage Left: The Curious Afterlife of Pop Stars by Nick Duerden ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Generally interesting book of ‘where are they now?’ stories of past pop stars. I was pleasantly surprised at the wide range of people interviewed including boy bands and indie groups to rock legends and mega pop stars. Their tales are mainly quite sad with addiction problems or losing all their money being a regular theme but there’s also some hopeful and joyful ones with people just carrying on making music despite the lack of audience or finding a new purpose. It does get a bit repetitive at times and the way it tries to weave the stories together is often clumsy, but it’s worth a read.
13. The Repair Shop: LIFE IN THE BARN: The Inside Stories from the Experts ⭐️⭐️⭐️
I’m glad I got this as a very reduced price ebook as it was so so short I read it in about an hour. I love The Repair Shop mostly for the experts so it was great to find out more about them all and how they came to join the show. Unsurprisingly, they all have really interesting backgrounds and almost everyone took a very long twisty road to get there. Unfortunately, the interview parts focus way too much on the skills that they explain in every single episode and then there are what are basically novelisations of notable repairs from the show. I was really hoping they would include more behind the scenes stuff as they always skip over so much work on the show.
I have mostly been reading Moby Dick. I started with Whale Weekly but the emails were too long so I downloaded the book instead. I’m enjoying it so far, though I’m 25% in and we only just got on the boat and haven’t even met the captain yet so…yeah, it’s no Dracula.
12. The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I’ve been reading Molly’s blog, books and now Substack for many years now and she’s an incredible writer so I was happy to see her latest memoir on offer. It was clear from her Substack that a lot had changed in her life and this is the extremely honest and personal story of rediscovering herself and her sexuality and the end of her marriage and beginning of creating a new family. It was maybe a bit too personal in that I felt like a lot of this was none of my business really but it’s sure to be helpful to many women going through similar situations.
11. Colditz: Prisoners of the Castle by Ben Macintyre ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Hard to resist this as Macintyre’s books are always very readable and I had a bit of a Colditz interest when younger (after my friend introduced us to the surprisingly fun Colditz board game!) and read all the books. This is a great overview that adds in stories that didn’t fit the ‘jolly British boarding school full of ingenious escapers’ angle of the books/movies. However, it also doesn’t add that much new and has a few too many storylines and main characters to keep it focused.
9 & 10. Red Sauce Brown Sauce: A British Breakfast Odyssey & One More Croissant for the Road by Felicity Cloake ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Guardian food writer cycles around the UK/France to find out more about regional food specialties. I read the UK one on a 99p deal and enjoyed it so much I got the France one for my birthday ebook treat. Best to read them in the correct order though as she does talk about the France trip a lot in the UK book and many of the same friends tag along in both. These are really fun and interesting and she’s always game for trying pretty much any kind of food or drink, plus cycling means she can stop off at unexpected museums and shops along the road. There’s also recipes if you want to try making things yourself.
8. Tarkin by James Luceno ⭐️⭐️⭐️
This has been on my Kindle for years but finishing Rebels recently made me pick it up. For some reason, I thought it was about the Death Star but actually much of it is a team up with Darth Vader, which was way more fun than I expected, seeing them size each other up and become allies. The general plot is kind of boring though and I didn’t really care about the antagonists (who should be the good guys to root for), plus the author loves using big words that feel picked out of a dictionary at random. It also suffers from the problem of most Star Wars novels from the Imperial side in that at some point your average over-privileged power-hungry politician/military character meets the Emperor & Darth Vader, realises they are Sith Lords and just happily chooses to go all in with them? Hard to feel even a shred of sympathy, unlike most SW villains. I mean, he’s not even entertaining.
7. On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta by Jen Lin-Liu ⭐️⭐️⭐️
A Chinese-American food writer travels along the Silk Road to try and discover the origin of noodles and pasta and their connections. This is let down a little by the actual story she found being far more interesting than the original book plan but sticking with it anyway. While it’s interesting to see how the same dishes keep turning up in different ways as she moves between countries, she never finds any kind of answer to her question and the included recipes are kind of repetitive and only for dedicated cooks. What’s really fascinating is all the local women she cooks with and the discussions they have about food and the role of women in their societies. It’s especially great to see such in depth travel writing by a woman in countries like Iran and Turkmenistan.
Ever the contrarian, I got so tired of all the January reading list bragging on social media that I ignored my reading challenge for most of February to indulge in a slow re-read of A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. Even better the second time around, especially after I did a bit of googling and discovered her Camille Desmoulins is not that much of an exaggeration, and seems to have been almost as chaotically amusing in real life. It’s really a crime that his writing isn’t fully available in English as the excerpts are so inspiring and lord knows we still need a revolution on this side of the channel.
6. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Another 5 star book to finish January. This is everything I love in a story – charming clever main character, well-drawn surrounding cast of found family, a setting that’s almost a character in itself, effortlessly intricate plot, real life historical background. An aristocrat in the newly born Soviet Union put into permanent house arrest in a luxury hotel is a brilliant premise in itself, but the way it builds over decades with the backdrop of political events and so subtly builds almost a heist plot without you even noticing is just incredible. Very pleased to note I have another of his books lurking in the depths of my unread folder.
5. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I loved this so much I wanted to turn back to the beginning and read it all again. After that terrible second book, he has wisely returned to formula and this is basically the same premise as The Martian but bigger and better in almost every way. The way the back story fills in the gaps is timed to perfection and everything is just super fun and exciting. There are still a lot of long explanations of maths and physics but nowhere near as much as The Martian (or all that extremely tedious welding stuff in Artemis). I didn’t know anything about the story when I started and I very much recommend going in blind.
4. Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
These books are so delightfully odd. They have the writing style and characters of classic childrens books but the characters do not act as you would expect. The main character has a dress shop in Vienna, surrounded by quirky business owners and neighbours, but she (and her best friend) are both mistresses in a matter of fact way, her shop assistant is a Hungarian anarchist and her neighbour is a refugee child prodigy pianist. General small adventures and misunderstandings occur and it all ties up fairly neatly but with some things left unresolved, as in real life.
3. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A sequel of sorts in her Wayfarers series and just as good. Possibly the first time I have read a book with alternating chapters of past and present stories and been equally absorbed by both. This is all about AI, identity and found family and made me very emotional at times. But there’s also a lot of fun world-building stuff that cares a lot about the details of what it would be like to live in a galaxy full of all kinds of intelligent life. I’m now grumpy that I have book 4 but book 3 is still too expensive (while I have a Kindle full of other books).
2. French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France by Tim Moore (unrated)
I did not plan to read another book about the TdF so soon but I spotted it when renewing my library card – next to no less than THREE Lance Armstrong books (one a training guide ?) – and decided to give it a go, despite my vow never to read another book described as “hilarious”. I really hate the story format of ‘ho ho I am so completely inept and did zero preparation leading to hilarious comedy disasters’* but I get it’s his schtick. Even more tiresome is the schoolboy humour that ranges from blokey nonsense to casual xenophobia. Having said all that, I was able to block that out enough to enjoy the tale, especially once his family turned up and made him feel more like a real human, plus the detours into Tour history and cyclists were great. Unrated because I don’t really want to be considered as recommending it on GR.
*very different to the legendary Eric Newby who seems to just naturally attract a comedy of errors, even despite his best efforts.
1. Good Pop, Bad Pop by Jarvis Cocker ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Entertaining memoir, told through the format of found objects from his loft, complete with photographs and other ephemera. I started out reading it on my Kindle but had to switch to iPad to enjoy all the graphics. It’s easy to forget that Pulp have been going since Jarvis was at school and the stories from those early days are great fun to read. Bit of a shame it stops well before any kind of fame, especially as it felt very short already, but since I got it as a 99p deal I can hardly complain.