My first read of the new year  was a dazzling novel, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty – Vendela Vida. I’ve already listed it as an entrant on my new 2023 Books of the Year List.

It’s a contemporary novel about a youngish American woman who constantly has to re-invent herself, in order to survive. The beginning of the story sees our unnamed  narrator flying to Morocco, to escape the drama of a nasty divorce. But she encounters bizarre travel disasters upon arrival, that multiply daily.. The middle of the story see her tossed into the cast of a movie being filmed in Morocco, but this episode changes again. The last section of the book finally explains the backstory,  which is shocking and heart breaking, the words betrayal and perfidy are insufficient. And then we see her yet again, in another persona, continuing on her journey. To what, and where, we don’t know. The finale is open ended.

A cleverly crafted story, that is unpredictable. A wonderful read.

All my January reads were good, but one more  book needs an individual highlight: The Perfect Golden Circle – Benjamin Myers. The cover is striking,  with its central golden circle, against a stippled corn-yellow background. The theme is quirky: two social misfits, in Britain, secretly creating crop circles of  dazzling complexity. Why, how, where and when they do  this, is revealed, but in oblique fragments. A thought provoking read, that is highly original.


The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty – Vendela Vida. Contemporaryfiction,  a murky mystery unfolds in a glamorous setting. A female runaway who survives against all odds. An adventure story, and the exploration of identity, that is personally liberating. Excellent!

The Perfect Golden Circle – Benjamin Myers. Two oddballs create crop circles in Britain. Calvert is a scarred Falklands SAS veteran, Redbone is an ex punk-rocker. He’s the visionary circle designer,  Calvert is the Ops guy. It’s an unlikely friendship, that has great depth. The novel celebrates the search for perfection, and male friendship.  An outstanding read.  I guarantee this novel will rank amongst the 2023 highlights, for quirky originality.

Shrines of Gaiety – Kate Atkinson. Soho, London 1926, The Great War is over, and people just want to have fun, drink dance, flirt, do drugs,  have fun. Which is where the redoubtable Nellie Coker and her 5 nightclubs come into the story. She’s an indomitable character, a force of nature. The book is worth reading just to make her acquaintance. But there are other strong women, young Freda from York, a provincial with stars in her eyes; Gwendolen, who nursed during the war, living life on her own terms. Beneath the gaiety lies the seedy underbelly of crime, exploitation of girls, murders. Soho deserved its notorious reputation. Kate Atkinson does not disappoint – a cracking good read. Recommended

Sea of Tranquility – Emily St John Mandel.Speculative fiction/SF. The theme is time travel and deliberate disruptions to historical timelines. The tone is calm, measured; the prose is simple and factual.  It’s a novel best read in one go, in order to grasp and appreciate the swirling complexities . Fortunately the book is not a dense readI made the mistake of reading halfway, allowing a week to elapse, before finishing the story, whereupon I had to skim read the first half in order to appreciate the second half. An intriguing story.

Nothing Ventured – Jeffrey Archer.  More art theft, fraud and crime on all levels, including police forces. The beginning of young William Warwick’s stellar career in the Scotland Yard Fraud Squad. A well plotted and written  story, with good court room scenes as well. The book is worth reading for the  outrageously cheeky final line – I gasped and then laughed. But you need to read the entire novel in order to grasp the joke.  A good read.

Hidden in Plain Sight – Jeffrey Archer. William Warwick continues his Scotland Yard career, this time  helping to bust a drug empire, but as a dual plot line, Miles Faulkner is up to his old tricks with art fraud  and  defeating the machinations of his vengeful, soon-to-be Ex-Wife. Again, episodes in the court room; Justice triumphs at the end, but there’s a nasty sting in the tail. Entertaining read.


The Mandibles – Lionel Shriver. Fan though I am of Lionel Shriver, this novel defeated me. It’s a dystopian story about the collapse of a wealthy American family due to the vagaries of the stock/bond/and world currency markets. The financial background was too arcane, and the characters did not appeal to me. Splat! Out it went.



To my relief, the Cape Town Libraries re-opened earlier in the year, as the Covid Pandemic started to wane.  I really  missed the Public Library during the lockdowns, and my bank balance suffered accordingly, because I was buying books online as a substitute. My best buy in 2022 was These Precious Days by Ann Patchett. Essay collections hospitably  provide for return visits over the years.  As do comic novels: I’ve re-read several of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld fantasy novels and  chortled happily, all over again.

Another excellent investment was the 2022 Collins Scrabble Dictionary. My existing copy was published in 2010. And we all know how many new words creep into the compendious English language annually. Over 200  in 2022.  How the compilers keep up is an enduring mystery.

I remained steadfast to my two main Bookish Vows i.e. not to enter reading challenges, and to firmly close books that I’m not enjoying. The acronym DNF  does not bother me one smidgeon!

This was the year I abandoned Goodreads. It’s time consuming, I don’t like their restrictive star system and their year-end stats never coincide with mine.  But, in fairness, I must admit GR helped me find followers when I launched my book blog, The Booksmith.

I’ve re-read some old favourites on my shelves – otherwise, why am I keeping them? “Fiction was invented the day Jonah arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale,” opined   Gabriel García Márquez,  which reminds me, I want to re-read One Hundred Years of Solitude; I read the book when it first debuted, which is a long time ago.   I frequently see the title on lists, you know, 100 Best Books Ever, and the like.

I keep eyeing two very battered collections of W S Somerset Maugham’s stories and perhaps they should feature top of my 2023 Targets list. This year I’ve read very few short story collections. I’ve read Essays,  but few shorts  or novellas.

 I didn’t keep track of my book buying this year,  but inspired by Bookish Beck’s  meticulous record keeping,  I did keep track of other stats. For example: up to mid-December 2022,  I read 85 Books, 33 of which were written by men and the remaining 52  by women .  Not that I was hellbent on reading female writers, it just turned out that way.  Let it be noted that women wrote outstanding non-fiction as well as entertaining fiction.

I’ve always seen myself as an intrepid explorer of the Backlist Territories, but to my surprise, scanning my primitive stats, I see that 32 of this year’s reads were published during the two year period 2020 / 2022.  Just under a third, so it seems  I  didn’t spend all my time in the Backlist undergrowth this year.  

Fellow Book Bloggers have provided pleasure, entertainment and introductions to marvelous books, for which I thank you. A special thanks  to Book Jotter, who provides a comprehensive weekly review over the bookish world.

All things being equal, I intend to continue reading and book blogging in 2023, and I wish you heaps of gift wrapped books over the Festive Season, plus a peaceful, healthy New Year.

Rebecca Foster


Paula Bardell-Hedley, Book Jotter



The Bullet that Missed – Richard Osman  cheered me enormously. Finally some cheer! Not Festive, seasonal cheer given that its crime genre, but hey! After the year we’ve been through, I’ll take it.

This is #3 in his Thursday Murder Club Series, and he is writing #4, which I cannot wait to read.

His splendid cast of geriatric sleuths finally unravel the ten year old mystery of Bethany Waites’ death. En route they tangle with  an ex-KGB officer, the world of local TV, crypto-currency, money launderers – you really get your money’s worth with this one. The novel is hugely entertaining,  despite the general murder and mayhem.

If you need cheering up, either buy a copy yourself or  firmly inform  Family & Friends that its top of your Xmas Wish List. Enjoy. I did. Every page.


The Bullet that Missed – Richard Osman. Four geriatric friends team up to solve a murder mystery … ‘Mystery fans are going to be enthralled’ says Harlan Coben; and ‘So smart and funny. Deplorably good” says Ian Rankin. Highly Recommended.

Impossible – Sarah Lotz. It’s difficult to review the book without revealing spoilers, but: what do two people do when they find their soulmates but will never be able to meet? The story  offers ingenious solutions, surprising twists and turns delivered with warmth,  charm and humour. The contemporary setting and tone are spot on. A lovely, engaging read. Recommended.

Less is Lost – Andrew Sean Greer. The charming, bumbling Less and a mid-life crisis send him running away from his problems, via the Mid West, the South and to his mid-Atlantic birthplace; mistaken identities and situations abound, providing  tragically funny episodes and characters. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

We shall Sing a Song into the Deep –  Andrew Kelly  Stewart. A dystopian story; the novella’s ‘protagonist struggles through coming of age whilst a press-ganged  member of a fanatical community of monks, manning an ageing nuclear submarine that has a sacred mission, namely to trigger the Second Coming by launching a nuclear missile  attack against the ungodly surface-dwellers. Grim, paranoid,  and haunting; not a light or easy read, but gripping and original. Squeamish readers should avoid.  

False Impressions- Jeffrey Archer. A Family Visit Read, scrounged off son-in-law’s bookshelf. Art Theft, ruthless tycoon outwitted by female art expert. A global setting, London, Tokyo, stately home.  A satisfying ending: Villain got his just desserts.

Boundary  Born – Melissa F Olson. A Holiday bargain from a Charity Shop. YA Paranormal thriller. Not my usual genre, but its good to read beyond one’s comfort zone periodically. Witches, vampires, ghosts – the whole nine yards. If this is run-of-the-mill reading territory for the Millenials, I have some serious concerns! But hey, I’m probably just a fuddy duddy wrinkly old bookworm. That said,  I quite enjoyed it, I have to confess.


Light Rains Sometimes Fall – Lev Parikian. This wonderful book has been my early morning  companion throughout the year. Lev took the traditional  Japanese  72 micro-seasons, and applied the dates to his own calendar, in North London, England, for one year, recording his outdoor experiences during daily walks around his neighbourhood.  He walks through streets, parks, a wild cemetery and his own garden,  enjoying the flora and fauna (mostly birds, though there’s a fox, living in the cemetery.) We experience the  gradual progression of the seasons through his eyes, via his  attention to detail, laced with humour, and his  ability to deliver great prose. I’ve loved every page. Finally: extending gratitude to my generous friend C for the gift – one of the lovliest books you’ve ever sent me. Thank you!