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Best of January’s Reads

I had a bit of a reading slump towards the end of last year so over the festive season, I came up with a plan. I would look at the proofs on my shelf and kindle, and read the first fifty pages. The ones that grabbed me, I’d continue with and the rest would be recycled. It’s not the authors’ fault, it’s mine, but I did need to get my mojo back. The results were a revelation and I enjoyed some really great books in January.

I’m a huge fan of Eric Rickstad’s writing and was looking forward to reading his new novel, I Am Not Who You Think I Am. In a Vermont town, Wayland witnesses his father’s suicide. Next to his body is a note with the words, I am not who you think I am. Confused by his mother’s reaction to his father’s death, the incident is never spoken of again until Wayland reaches sixteen in 1984. Plagued by nightmares, he begins to dig deeper into the suicide by seeking out his father’s friend and newspaper clippings about the death. He’s confronted by uncomfortable truths about his parents and secrets the town is trying to bury. Fast paced and written with a clear-eyed view of human frailties, this is a cracker of a book from Rickstad. What a writer.

Oxford makes a great setting for a crime novel but I suspect doing something new with the city can be quite difficult. Simon Mason, in A Killing in November, however, has written a fresh, innovative police procedural with two great protagonists. DI Ryan Wilkins is grew up in a trailer park and is not enamoured of the world of Oxford colleges. His colleague, DI Raymond Wilkins is a young Oxford educated black detective, one of the force’s high flyers. The two don’t get on. When a woman is strangled at Barnabas Hall college, the pair are forced to work together to unravel the crime. The book is great fun and the author clearly loves playing with names from the closely related monikers of the detectives to the porter, Leonard Gamp. This is the start of a new series and I can’t wait to read more.

I was recently given a proof of The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C Richards and was drawn to its dark cover. Set in present day Milwaukee, a woman digs deeper into the disappearance of her sister nearly thirty tears earlier. Dee McBride disappeared in 1991 while the crimes of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer were in the headlines. With the case overlooked by the police and media’s obsession with Dahmer, Dee’s sister, Peg, confronts her own memories of the time to unravel events. I’m always looking for innovative forms for the crime novel and although fiction, it reads like a true crime memoir. I’m definitely looking forward to more from this author.

Land of Snow and Ashes by Petra Rautiainen is a fascinating story set around Nazi crimes against the Sami people in Finland. In 1944, a Finnish soldier works as an interpreter at a Nazi concentration camp. After the war, journalist Inkeri travels to Lapland ostensibly to write about economic changes in the region. On the search for her missing husband, she begins to discover the truth about the camp and locals attitude towards it. This compelling story is translated by David Hackston who has written a fascinating overview of the Finnish war experience at the beginning of the novel.

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Books you’ll want to read in 2022

Happy New Year. I hope you had a relaxing and healthy festive season. One of my resolutions is to tackle some of the unread books on my shelves of which there are many. They include proofs I’m yet to read but I did have a push before Christmas to get a flavour of what’s coming in 2022. Here are my recommendations of books you’ll really want to read this year. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash
Cash is an excellent writer and this is an interesting tale on the impact of a crashed plane on an island community in North Carolina. Beautifully written, the characters stay with you long after the book’s finished. Out on 3rd Feb.

The Book of Sand by Theo Clare
Clare is pseudonym of the late Mo Hayder. Two storylines – a girl in modern day US and a group of friends in a dystopian future – come together in an engrossing tale. Possibly the longest book I’ve read in a long time, the pace was brilliantly maintained. Published on 6 January.

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett
After the success of The Appeal. Hallett is back with a story written featuring audio transcripts. Equally innovative, it has an interesting plot featuring a possible code put in books by a Enid Blyton type author. As much fun as her last book. Out on 13 January.

The Marsh House by Zoe Somerville
In 1962, Malorie rents a house over Christmas with her daughter. She finds the notebooks of teenage Rosemary from 1931 and finds herself drawn into a story of family secrets which impacts on her own place in the world. I loved the sixties setting and the genuine creepiness of this novel. Published on 13 March.

Begars Abbey by V L Valentine
An American girl discovers her penniless mother was from a wealthy but dysfunctional English family. Once she arrives at Begar’s Abbey, she begins to peel away the layers of a family secret. A brilliant high gothic read with an compelling protagonist. Out on 28 April.