Book stats and best books of 2022


I have finished two books today and will be reading blog posts for the rest of the day/year, so here are my 2022 stats and my 2022 books of the year. Yes, there are 26 out of 187 read – no apologies for that!

Reading stats for 2022

I kept a spreadsheet recording various aspects of my reading again this year, and here are the salient points …

In 2022 I read 187 (185 in 2021, 159 in 2020) books, of which 109 (86, 83) were fiction and 78 (99, 76) non-fiction. 121 (116, 94) were by women, 54 (62, 56) by men, 8 (5, 8) by both (multiple authors) and 4 (2, 1) by a mix of male, female and non-gender-binary people.

Where did my books come from?

NetGalley 65 (47 in 2021) – Bookshop online new (mainly and Hive nowadays) 23 and second hand 3 (41 in total 2021) – Gift 38 (27) – Publisher 22 (24) – Own 14 (20) – Charity shop 9 (9) – Bookshop physical 2 (4) – Author 2 (4) – Bookcrossing 0 (2) – Bookshop independent 0 (2) – Bought from publisher 1 (2) – Subscribed 5 (1) – Lent 3 (1) – Bought from author 1

Still fewer from charity shops, which was down to the pandemic plus a lot of NetGalley and slightly fewer Shiny New Books reads (thank you, publishers!). And the effect of the new The Heath Bookshop and my shelf of purchases will be felt in my reading this coming year!

Where were they set and written?

Most books by far were set in the UK at 86 (94 in 2021, 99 in 2020) with the US second at 30 (44, 24) and then 33 (24, 12) other countries (some a combination of a few) plus fantasy worlds and the whole world.

111 (112, 121) authors were British and 34 (54, 26) American, the others from 26 (13, 9) other countries or a mix.

Who published them?

I read books by 80 (87, 76) different publishers, the most common being Dean Street Press (they would have been second without Dean Street December), then Vintage and Penguin tied.

When were they published?

I read most books published in 2022 at 74 (60 from 2021 in 2021, 39 from 2020 in 2020), which is down to Shiny and NetGalley. I read books from 51 different years, with all decades in the 20th and 21st centuries apart from the 1910s represented and the oldest from 1877.

How diverse was my reading?

Onto diversity of authors and themes. 67.4% (73% in 2021, 79.25% in 2020) of the authors I read were White (as far as I could tell), with 28.9% (26.5%, 19.5%) People of Colour and 3.75% (0.5% 1.26%) multiple authors in a mix of White and POC authors. The UK is apparently 81.7% / 18.3% so I was pleased to increase my diversity count once again this year. Out of the 187 (185, 159) books I read, I assigned a diversity theme to 82 of them (74/185 in 2021, 43/159 in 2020), so 45 (50, 21) about race, 6 (17, 8) LGBTQI+ issues and 17 (3, 10) covering both, 1 (2, 3) disability and 2 (1) race, LGBTQI+ and disability, 2 (1, none) about class and 2 (1, none) race, LGBTQI+, disability and class. This doesn’t meant such themes didn’t come up in other books, just that they weren’t the main theme. And I think it means I read more intersectionally this year, which is all to the good.

Best books of 2022

I read 187 books, and when I went through them, I couldn’t winnow out any of the 13 fiction and 13 non-fiction I wrote down. So here are my highlights (in order of reading). They are all books which took me out of my own world into another or have stayed with me through the year. And they weren’t necessarily published in 2022.

Best fiction

Lizzie Damilola Blackburn – Yinka, Where is your Huzband?

Eely Williams – The Liar’s Dictionary

Candice Carty-Williams – People Person

Sara Novic – True Biz

Claire Pooley – The People on Platform 5

LarryMcMurtry – The Desert Rose

Maud Cairns – Strange Journey

Angie Thomas – On the Come Up

Susan Scarlett – Clothes-Pegs

Mohsin Hamid – The Last White Man

Huda Fahmy – Huda F Are You?

Mariama Ba – So Long a Letter

Jonathan Coe – Bournville

Honourable mentions once again to the publishers Dean Street Press and British Library Women Writers, who produced consistently very enjoyable and absorbing books that as a whole brightened my year considerably. Molly Clavering and D.E. Stevenson continued to charm from the former, and I have also started accumulating Susan Scarlett novels. I also thoroughly enjoyed my Larry McMurtry re-reading and look forward to doing my last two early next year.

Best non-fiction

Kari Gislason – The Promise of Iceland

Cat Jarman – River Kings

Richard King – Brittle with Relics

Jude Rogers – The Sound of Being Human (Shiny New Books review)

Catherine Munro – The Ponies at the Edge of the World

Jeffrey Boakye – Black, Listed

Elton John – Me

Ibram X. Kendi – How to Raise an Antiracist

Sue Anstiss – Game On Diya Abdo – American Refuge

Francesca Wade – Square Haunting

Anita Heiss (ed.) – Growing up Aboriginal in Australia

Jimi Famurewa – Settlers: Journeys through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London

A great year of reading again and I’m working my way through everyone else’s best-ofs! Hope you all have an excellent 2023 of books!

Book reviews – Dayo Forster – “Reading the Ceiling”


Squishing in one more read for my Dean Street December challenge, taking the total to I believe sixty, which feels amazing!

*** Important update: participants have until the end (UK time) of Monday 2 January to submit their review links to me – I will do a round-up post once I’ve added the last few ***

The main post for the challenge is here. This was the one Kindle book I included (I do have a couple of Elizabeth Fairs on there I was hoping to get to but in fact I’ve “only” managed to read eight out of the ten here) and is the only modern DSP book I’ve read so far, published in 2007, by an author from The Gambia and set mainly there, so quite different from the other books I and others have read for the challenge – but REALLY GOOD still! You can find a link to the book here.

Dayo Forster – “Reading the Ceiling”

(03 October 2022, bought online, ebook)

Six months hasn’t been long enough to get me used to the inconsistency of English weather. It’s been long enough to help me shed the disappointment of Reuben – who I chose on a whim only to find myself in a muddy pool of self-pity. Sometimes, when I think of what he would have expected of me – I shudder. Me, to declare him as my boyfriend and allow him to claw my body. And to drift towards marriage with thorough approval from both families, having achieved the rare magic: “Krio titi marraid Krio boy”. Thank goodness I could leave.

As Ayodele turns 18, kept in check by her mum and, along with her younger twin sisters, exhorted to be a good, chaste girl, she determines to lose her virginity and start her adult life. But who should be the man who does the deed? She makes a list, then goes off to a disco with her best friends … and from here the narrative splits, so, like Theodora Benson’s “Which Way”, we return to the disco three times and, as she chooses a different man each time, follow Ayodele’s life as it turns out based on her choice.

Three times, she receives a letter about a university scholarship, and goes to England to study twice, each time she follows a different path through love and her career, twice losing a friend, once more close than the other time, and once staying in The Gambia and becoming a second wife, with all the potential strife that involves. Each time, her mother dies, and the descriptions become more detailed, until the third section feels almost mainly about that, very moving and detailed.

Pleasingly, to me, it lacks clumsy explanations of specific cultural terms and items, with only text in a different language being casually translated. This was a first novel which was shortlisted for a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2007 and republished by Dean Street Press in 2015: it’s astoundingly self-assured and technically well done for a first novel, especially with such a strong and complex concept. For example, we’re not told the timeline, but the clothes and music set the beginning of the novel in its context.

I would read more by this author, although it doesn’t look like she’s written any more novels since this one; she writes about this book interestingly here, however.

This was Book 8 in my Dean Street December challenge.

Book reviews – Molly Clavering – “Susan Settles Down” and “Touch not the Nettle”


Two more reads for my Dean Street December challenge, as the total read by everyone gets near sixty! The main post for the challenge is here. These two were more lovely Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books, given to me for my birthday this year by my best friend Emma: my birthday pile is here and it was recent in terms of my TBR, so not surprising that I’ve only read one book of Maya Angelou essays, these two and “Anna and her Daughters” so far. These are a pair of books so I can’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but they’re very good ones and I recommend reading both for maximum enjoyment! These two get me up to seven read for my own Dean Street December and I have one last, maybe surprising, one on the go …

Molly Clavering – “Susan Settles Down”

(21 January 2022, from Emma)

When, in a fury of revolt against the domestic cares with which she, an unwilling Martha, was cumbered, Susan rushed out of doors, or even thrust her head out of a wide-flung window, a deep peace instantly fell on her, and she returned soothed and refreshed. (p. 38)

We are introduced first to Peggy, daughter of the Manse in a small town in the Scottish borders, but the narrative centres on her and the people who come to live in a neighbouring house with farmland, Oliver, invalided out of the Navy, and his sister Susan, aged 33 but having given up on love and excitement after a sad mistake in earlier life, who is housekeeping for them. Taciturn Jed, a neighbouring farmer, completes the positive characters, and then there are the awful Pringle sisters, who spread nasty gossip wherever they go, as well as being figures of fun.

We see Susan settle in to country life and realise it’s much nicer than town life, and Clavering’s descriptions of the local area and its seasons are as usual beautifully done. There are misunderstandings aplenty, but all sorted through, and dear Peggy does her very best to make things better for people. Susan is also, pleasingly, a novelist, but is a bit of a nightmare when she’s writing – I imagine a bit of a self-portrait of the author there!

Molly Clavering – “Touch Not the Nettle”

(21 January 2022, from Emma)

In the sequel to “Susan Settles Down” we find ourselves in the same community about three years later, the established couples fully established and Amanda, a fairly young relative of one of them being thrust upon them after her aviator husband has gone missing. But Amanda’s marriage wasn’t what it might have seemed, and her early disillusionment on matters of the heart makes her realise a kindred spirit when she meets one in a lonely, angry man who lives locally with his peculiar sister. Although they are drawn together, it seems there will be no future in it, so a vein of upset runs through the book.

Again, though, we have local events – fairs and races – local characters (the dreadful Miss Pringles and their parrot) and the lovely descriptions of the Borders through the seasons that Clavering should be better known for. An excellent pair of reads.

These were Books 6 and 7 in my Dean Street December challenge.

Christmas book pile!


I’ll have a lot to get through in my books of the year / state of the TBR post on Saturday and/or Sunday, and although I’ve read two books since I last posted, they are two out of the five “The Dark is Rising” novels by Susan Cooper and I want to review all of them together, so I thought I could share my lovely Christmas book pile today.

First off, I have three very on-Liz-brand books from my Birmingham BookCrossing Not So Secret Santa, Catherine: June Sarpong – “Diversify”, which is about all forms of (also intersectional) diversity and why it’s good for businesses and society, Angie Cruz – “Let It Rain Coffee”, a novel about people from the Dominican Republic living in New York, and Paul Theroux – “On the Plain of Snakes”, his most recent travel book, this one on Mexico.

Then on Christmas Day I opened John Grindrod’s “Concretopia: A Journey Around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain” from Gill, all about Brutalist and other post-war architecture; Dan Rhodes’ satire on the modern literary industry, “Sour Grapes” and “Sally-Ann” by Susan Scarlett aka Noel Streatfeild (published by Dean Street Press) from Emma; and Dorothy Whipple’s memoir, “The Other Day” and John Moore’s novel, “The Waters Under the Earth”, both Persephone books, from Ali.

I also, naturally, have many book tokens and a The Heath Bookshop voucher from lovely Jen, Sian, Laura, Gill and Meg, which I will be spending at the Bookshop in February (giving them and me a boost). I hope all my booky blog friends had lovely book piles to open and will look at all your posts as soon as I can.

Book review – Various – “Stories for Christmas and the Festive Season”


When I realised I wasn’t going to get this book read and reviewed in time to tempt people to buy it for Christmas (do buy it for NEXT Christmas, instead, of course!), I decided to read it on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – which I did, finishing the last little bit this morning. A super collection of stories by women writers, it has much to recommend it and no damp squibs of crackers or unwanted socks!

Various – “Stories for Christmas and the Festive Season”

(13 November 2022, from the publisher)

With an introduction by series consultant Simon Thomas which runs us through non-spoilery details about each story and its author, we’re then into a chronological (by time of year) series taking us through the festive season from Christmas preparations and plays to the New Year.

It’s impossible to do all the stories, some of which are appearing here for the first time since being published in magazines decades ago, justice, so I’ll just pull out a few of my favourites. Some I had theoretically read already – Maeve Binchy’s “This Year It Will Be Different” from her collection of the same name, and Stella Gibbons’ “The Little Christmas Tree” from the “Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm” collection that only had one CCF story – but realistically I didn’t remember them and came to this tale with a twist about a housewife’s rebellion and story about a woman rebelling away from houswifery and then taking in some creative waifs and strays as if they were new. I loved Richmal Crompton’s “The Christmas Present”, so witty and wry and feminist, and have to mention Kate Nivison’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” with its mouse watching the family preparations.

Muriel Spark’s piece about flying on Christmas Day is appropriately odd and unsettling, but also positive and heart-warming, and elsewhere we have family reunions and snowy romance, with one non-fiction piece by Simon Favourite Cornelia Otis Skinner making us all laugh ruefully about learning to skate. There’s something for everyone in this super collection, which I heartily enjoyed.

Thank you so much to the British Library for sending me this book and others in the series in return for an honest review. You can buy all the British Library Women Writers books (and more) at the British Library Shop (

Book review – Julie Caplin – “The Christmas Castle in Scotland”


I leapt at the chance to read this one when I was offered it by the publisher’s PR, as I’d previously enjoyed the author’s “The Cosy Cottage in Ireland“, which was about a cookery school and various attendees. I knew Izzy had featured in that one and was keen to read a fun Christmas-themed book by an author I could trust. It’s the perfect book for this season, so I’m squeezing this review in now in case anyone fancies picking up the e-book (and it covers post-Christmas, too, so you could buy the book, too).

Julie Caplin – “The Christmas Castle in Scotland”

(30 August 2022, NetGalley)

Izzy comes home to the castle in the Highlands she’s inherited from her great-uncle, only to find a strange man making himself at home in the – her – kitchen. She discovers her scatty, loud mum has already started renting out rooms (they know they will need to run the castle as a hotel to keep it going) and is in fact doing a lovely job doing up the place. And that’s because she’s also booked in guests over Christmas – for huge amounts of money. But Izzy only did the cookery course to be able to make hearty food for jolly guests, not cordon bleu fancy business, and they need to patch the roof more than they need expensive wallpaper.

What follows is a heart-warming novel of community and pulling together. Izzy is kind to some wild campers and has her kindness returned many times over, the mysterious man turns out helpful, too, and Izzy also gets some strength back after a failed relationship with a man who could never quite commit, her best scenes coming when she realises that. I also liked that she’s a tall and curvy women with no one trying to force her to diet or change.

It’s a nice cosy romance rather than a raunchy one, and the reader is let into hints that make them feel clever when various plot twists come along; although it doesn’t have the diversity of the light novel reads I like best, it’s really nicely done, a kind book with plenty of details on how they do everything – and some fabulous Christmas food descriptions.

Thank you to One More Chapter for offering me this book to read in return for an honest review. “The Christmas Castle in Scotland” was published on 31 October 2022, which means you can read it right now!

Book review – Margery Sharp – “Fanfare for Tin Trumpets”


Yes, another read for my Dean Street December challenge, as the total read by everyone climbs past forty (I’m amazed and thrilled!). The main post for the challenge is here. We’re on to the second row of my picture (although I’m taking a short break for two Christmas-themed books now), this is another lovely Furrowed Middlebrow imprint book, and again from Ali for Christmas, and so now I have read seven of the books in this pile! The next ones come from my birthday pile. Margery Sharp is a writer I’ve been reading for a good while, back to when my friend Jane used to run a Margery Sharp week and she started to be reissued.

Margery Sharp – “Fanfare for Tin Trumpets”

(25 December 2021, from Ali)

“I’ve put myself down as a playwright,” he told Henry that evening. (It was seven o’clock, the meeting did not begin till eight-thirty, but he had already changed his collar.) “I don’t know whether I mentioned it, but I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s my real line.”

It was quite true: almost immediately after their arrival in Bloom Street, Alistair had come to the conclusion that he would stop writing novels and write plays. Plays, as he now pointed out to his friend, admitted of a more direct attack on the emotions, satisfied eye and ear as well as intellect, and were altogether far more suitable vehicles for his art.

“They’re much shorter to write, too,” added Henry.

Alistair looked at him sharply. It was either the first or the last thing on earth one would expect from Henry, but he had no means of ascertaining which. (p. 35)

Alistair French, an unwilling teacher, throws up his job and moves into lodgings for a year with his best friend, having inherited £100 from his distant and peculiar father. Off he goes and we get all the colour and excitement of the “setting up home” theme I love in mid-century novels, here furnishing a Room and all the business that goes around washing and having a woman “in” and meeting the other inhabitants of a somewhat chaotic house in West London (they’ve moved to these excitements from Norbury). Winnie Parker is the chief inhabitant of the house, living with her frowsty mother/grandmother, taking in lame ducks, surrounded by a cloud of young men but with a central tenet never to be unpleasant to anybody which is very sweet.

Now, Alistair has, for some reason, decided to Write for his year, while his friend Henry is at teacher training college, and we see his struggles as he moves from novels (if he writes all day, he can write two novels and forty short stories in his year: as it is, he produces half a play script) to short stories, to plays. He has one moment of amazing luck and is whirled half into the land of showbiz, but fatally, he meets the fragrant Cressida, falls for her, and spends all the rest of his time (and meagre resources) on her rather than his writing.

Meanwhile, we see parts of the book from Winnie’s point of view, and there’s a very interesting passage where she realises her own guiding principle, that her body is more fastidious than her mind, when touching the alternate satisfying wooden counter and greasy metal edge in a shop. Sharp is never run of the mill, that’s for sure.

I should mention there are a couple of pages at a boxing match which are overtly antisemitic; unfortunately the setting is important for the scene so I’m not sure how they could have been excised; knowing they are at the only boxing match in the book means the reader who has read this review can skim them. “Of its time” (this book was originally published in 1932) but not nice now.

Alistair not getting far with either of his aims and having to admit the reality of the situation could make for a depressing book, but the lovely characters and his final realisations leave it positive, with the set pieces (two English people mistaking each other for French people in the park; a literary meeting) and heartwarming friendship of Winnie the most important takeaways. Did I mention it’s also very funny? I chuckled out loud a number of times when reading it; Sharp has a quietly acerbic way of pricking pretensions and showing us the truth underneath the facade, and is a writer I heartily recommend.

This was Book 5 in my Dean Street December challenge.

I got another Bookish Beck Serendipity moment out of this one: as in “The Swiss Summer“, though that book had more of it, there’s a sudden flash forward so we know what will happen in two years’ time, just the once. A somewhat startling sentence that stood out from the run of the narrative, though.

Book review – Stella Gibbons – “The Swiss Summer”


I’m getting on nicely with my own Dean Street December challenge – and I’m so pleased that so many people are taking part and submitting their reviews! You can find the main post here where we’re building up a nice number of reviews during the month and you can see this post for all the detail. Finishing off the top row of my picture, this is another lovely Furrowed Middlebrow imprint book, again arriving from Ali for Christmas, and so of course I’ve now read six of the books in this pile, and have started the last one so will get Christmas 2021 nearly finished by Christmas 2022!). Stella Gibbons is very much more than just the writer of “Cold Comfort Farm”, but her books are often just slightly peculiar, this not being an exception.

Stella Gibbons – “The Swiss Summer”

(25 December 2021, from Ali)

Yes, the situation was more promising than she had at first thought; two romantic boys staying in a chalet miles from anywhere with a charming middle-aged woman – it must lead to trouble. Freda would be too busy cataloguing and making inventories to spend much time with the trio, and drama would develop unchecked by a fourth person’s presence. (p. 66)

In this engaging and substantial novel (249 pages but much smaller print than many of them), first published in 1951, Gibbons turns her beady eye on the middle classes and their travelling habits. Rather surprisingly, Lucy Cottrell, having visited an elderly woman and met her unpromising companion and Lady Dalgleish having taken a fancy to her, finds herself staying at Lady D’s Swiss chalet for the summer, with the aforementioned Freda Blandish, with the aim of cataloguing the contents and preparing it for sale or inheritance. Once there, looked after by the uncompromising Utta, who regards the chalet and the Dalgleishes as her personal property and is quick to take offence, they have very different guests to visit (Freda her unpromising daughter and several paying guests, Lucy simply two young men, one her godson, who she’d like to see) and different attitudes to the Swiss scenery (Freda isn’t bothered, Lucy we feel will be sustained by it through her life from now on.

Lucy harbours the secret sorrow of her childless state and while Freda is cutting about it, Asta, her daughter, is taken in hand by kind, careful Lucy, given some tips and hints and claims a sort of daughterhood which is quite moving. There are the usual battles among paying guests (especially the last, unrelated one), satire of a bright young girl with ambitions for her marriage and a careful delineation of how people can influence one another for good or for not.

Chapters move between different viewpoints, which is done technically well and rounds out the story: I felt very sympathetic towards Utta, for example. Of course there’s a climax and a nicely rounded-off story; as I said, being Gibbons, it’s just a bit odd here and there: there are tiny flashes forward which act as a guide to how Lucy and Asta’s lives will turn out suddenly inserted into the text; the shallow Kay only gets the imaginings of Lucy for her future.

An absorbing and engaging read with a lovely setting beautifully described.

This was Book 4 in my Dean Street December challenge.

Another Bookish Beck Serendipity moment occurred in this one: both Molly Clavering’s “Dear Hugo” and this novel feature the issue of only being able to take a certain amount of currency out of the UK, thus constraining holidays.

Book review – Daniel Gray – “The Silence of the Stands”


The question remains: whose blog did I see this on in the first place? Because I remember seeing it on someone’s blog, seeing it was a NetGalley book and then searching for and requesting it. Please let me know if it was you so I can link to your review!

Daniel Gray – “The Silence of the Stands: Finding The Joy in Football’s Lost Season”

(22 November 2022, NetGalley).

The Durham City midfielder wore the resigned look of a man trying to find a jar of harissa in Farmfoods.

When football closed down in the March 2020 Covid-19 lockdown, hundreds and thousands of fans were bereft. Gray was one of them, and he decided, once fans were allowed back in to an extent, to attend all the games he could and record the little details, the oddness, the things that remained the same. A man with a marvellous turn of phrase, he has created a poignant and elegaic, although ultimately positive book which records an important aspect of the coronavirus pandemic for history.

How we had missed this spontaneous, ill-tuned serenading of our team, this caterwauled expression of devotion. Here we were, singing in church again.

It turned out that really he was going to have to watch only Northern English and Scottish games, thanks to travel restrictions and the like. And we’re talking non-league football, but at some of the oldest and longest-established teams and stadiums in the UK. Places where you can hear the goalie swearing and the manager giving out his gnomic utterances with the silence engendered by very small crowds.

We get potted histories of teams and their rivalries, of his own football life (playing in a youth team then supporting two teams) and of seminal figures in English and Scottish football, and we see the socially distanced fans (including at least two on ladders looking over walls), arrangements for using on-site shops and facilities, nostalgia for foods and sounds and vignettes of players, managers, coaches and supporters.

The sense of place is palpable and Gray celebrates the architecture of the different stands, the hand-made signs and abandoned turnstiles. At one point, he has to take to the press box and feels a bit guilty about his way in; told in the Epilogue, the last game, when he’s able to attend with a crowd, is an emotional experience indeed.

Thank you to Bloomsbury Sport for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “The Silence of the Stands” was published on 30 November 2022.

A Bookish Beck Serendipity moment came when we encountered the brutalist, listed stand of Fairydean Rovers’ stadium, Netherdale; I read that passage having come back from a book talk about brutalist architecture in Birmingham!

Book review – D. E. Stevenson – “Smouldering Fire”


I’ve finished my third read for Dean Street December! I am reading them in order of acquisition, so it’s the third book along in the top row of the picture. You can find the main post here where we’re building up a nice number of reviews during the month and you can see this post for all the detail. This is yet another Furrowed Middlebrow imprint book, this time from Ali, and so of course I’ve now read five of the books in this pile, and should get another two done this month). I’ve read a good few D. E. Stevenson books so far, ranging from Mrs Tim’s military adventures to family sagas set in Scotland, but this one was set in the Highlands and with an almost timeless, and darker, feel to it. Very absorbing and a cracking good story, still!

D. E. Stevenson – “Smouldering Fire”

(25 December 2021, from Ali)

He had a careless, almost regal, grace of manner combined with a boyish joy of living. It was the kind of charm that had conquered Scotland in the person of Prince Charlie – the Stuart charm of manner – but in Iain MacAslan it was allied to a sense of responsibility, to an unselfish desire for the welfare and happiness of others, and especially for the welfare and happiness of his own people. Iain was a king in his own domain. His power was absolute within the boundaries of his small kingdom. His word was law in a literal sense. He ruled by right of his ancestry, but right of possession, and by right of the affection which he inspired in the hearts of his people. In the old days the chiefs of Ardfalloch ruled by the first two rights, but conditions were changing now, and, without the affection of his people, Iain would not have found his kingdom so easy to rule. (p. 14)

When we meet Iain MacAslan, he is distraught, because he’s had to rent out his Highland estate for the summer to a Londoner – what kind of Londoner he doesn’t know – and feels he’s let everyone down. But however much his neighbour, Mr Finlay, thinks business will save everything, somehow keeping to the traditional ways feels better for him (near the end of the book, he might have come around to considering one of Mr Finlay’s stock exchange tips).

Meanwhile, we meet Mrs Hetherington-Smith, wife of the Londoner, or Mary Smith as she prefers to think of herself. She’s been up and down in her fortunes with her financier husband and has, on balance, preferred the downs, when she’s lived happily cheek-by-jowl in mutually supportive poverty in tenements. This happily means that when she meets a kindred spirit, she is vastly more understanding and accepting than a true society woman would be. All she really wants is friends, to help people, and to be close to her husband, and she’s just a lovely character.

Into the middle of all this comes Linda Medworth. She’s just about to be divorced and has a dear little son who is terrified of his father, who wants to “mould” him and make a man of the sensitive, artistic boy. Now he’s after retaining his son so he can do just that. How is Linda important? Because five years ago, in London, Iain MacAslan laid eyes on a woman, helped her in a moment of need and fell hard for her – so hard that he can’t bring himself to propose to lovely Margaret Finlay, rich and a good friend, who would be the perfect wife for him. And now …

The background of the novel is the Highlanders and their deep loyalty to their chief. Donald, his keeper and manservant, would do anything for him. Janet from the Lowlands looks after his poor mother assiduously, Donald’s wife Morag keeps an eye on things when Iain insists on staying on the estate through the summer, and all of them and the village are deeply possessive and careful of him, presenting a masked, uncomprehending face to the visitors.

“It takes a Highlander to deal with peat,” Iain replied. “There’s a special knack – we’re rather like peat-fires ourselves, I always think, not easily understood by the Sasunnach. We smoulder away and look as if we were half dead, but it only needs a touch and a little draught to set us ablaze.” (p. 106)

This background is timeless, as I said, but also running up against modern times (between the wars) as things can’t always be done as they were (see the quotation at the top). It makes things get a bit gothic, as do some big storms and the flickering candle- and gaslight of a place without electricity (Mr Finlay has electricity from his own hydropower). As timeless passions and modern types of people collide, what will happen and who will support whom? Who are the odd people staying at the village inn and will all the estate folk stick together?

What a lovely, engaging book with a belief in true love and tradition but a steady eye and a dark undercurrent.

This was Book 3 in my Dean Street December challenge.

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