Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

I read 128 books last year. Want some good ones?

Ahhh, reading. What a mighty fine way to spend time. Even people who say they “don’t like reading” can whip through a book lickety-split if it grabs them.

Up until now, school holidays have really been the only times I was able to read new books. Once a storyline grabs me, I’m a 200-page-a-day girl, which means that during term time, I’d usually re-read books, so that I could actually get things done like raising my kids and marking essays.

But now???? Oooo, babybaby.

I’ve had a wonderful first year of retirement, being able to gallop wild and free through any book that took my fancy. I’ve read some crackers – as well as some dogs.

Here are some of the cracking good reads, in no particular order.

  1. The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman.

This was one of the best books of 2021 for me. It’s so deliciously funny, with that gentle humour the British do so well, and the premise of the plot is wonderfully original. I really don’t want to go into the plot too much. It was given to me by Tom29 as a Christmas present and I went in cold – and within 4 pages knew that this was going to be a good read. I don’t want to be a dirty rotten spoiler for anyone else! When the follow-up to this one came out towards the end of the year, I was so happy to pick up The Man Who Died Twice and join my old friends in their little corner of the world again.

2. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng.

I’ve only read one of Ng’s books before, so in my tired, “it’s the summer holidays and I’m napping all the time” state of mind, I saw her name and thought I might enjoy this. Right from the start, as a house burns and a teenager watches, it grabbed me. The characters are fully fleshed out, the situations were engrossing and it wasn’t predictable at all. Beautifully written.

3. The Queen’s Gambit – Walter Tevis.

I’d heard about the series on Netflix, but before I started watching it Christmas rolled around and Tom29 gave me a copy of the novel. Reading this novel has started me on a Walter Tevis love affair – it’s so wonderfully written. This is the sort of book that I found myself putting down after each chapter and walking away, just wanting the beauty of the language to sit with me for a while.

I know how to play a basic game of chess – my grandfather taught me when I was a child – but my limited understanding of the game didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the novel. After I finished reading, then I watched the series and was pleased to see that they did a good job. All too often that’s not the case!

4. Wife After Wife – Olivia Hayfield.

Now, this one was a novel I was VERY excited to read. I’m a huge Tudor England person, as my friend Scott found when he took me to Hampton Court Palace. In fact, the photo at the top of this blog is of the roofline, taken as we arrived there. Still a pinnacle day of my life.

The premise of this novel is that the story of Henry VIII and his 6 unfortunate wives is now set in the present day. Instead of being a monarch, Henry is now a media mogul, as they are the people with all of the power nowadays. So of course, some things are different, while some things stay the same. The wife I was most curious about being brought into the present-day was Anne of Cleves.

How can two people get married in this day and age on the basis of an all-too-flattering painting, then get divorced because he couldn’t stand the sight of her when he finally clapped eyes on her in real life? Technology/photography has moved on just a tad, after all. The solution Hayfield came up with was really clever, as was the whole novel. I loved seeing how she explored how these people and their marriages would play out in today’s world.

Divorced, beheaded, she died; divorced, beheaded, survived…

Also, yes. The beheadings. It’s not the typical way to rid yourself of a wife in the modern age. How would it be resolved???

She has written a sequel based on Mary I and Elizabeth I, as they fight to take control, not of the throne of England, but of their father’s media empire. Sister to Sister is equally good. I especially loved the Christopher Marlowe character.

5. Find You First – Linwood Barclay.

Stephen King mentioned on Twitter that this book was excellent, so I grabbed it from the library.
Started it at 9 AM and was done by dinner.
Couldn’t put it down! Lots of twists along the way.

6. Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens.

I’d heard the title of this book for ages, but knew absolutely nothing about it. Silly me thought that crawdads must be birds, right? Anyway, you know a book is good when you’re heading back to the library to return it, book in hand, little woofs walking with you, and a total stranger accosts you on the street to say, “Excuse me, I just finished that book. Isn’t it incredible????”

“YES!!!!!!” I replied.

We had a lovely chat, dissecting it all, and then we went our separate ways. Even in the midst of a pandemic, reading brings people together. This is set in a part of the world that is very unfamiliar to me, but the writing brings it all alive.

7. Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell.

My Goodreads note on this novel is “Made me cry at the end” and even though I don’t remember doing that, I have no difficulty believing it because the ending has certainly stayed with me.

The official blurb is:

“Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley Street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.”

Oh, how I enjoyed reading this book! So much has been written about Shakespeare, yet his private life, particularly the story of his marriage, is shrouded in mystery. It was lovely to read a book where he was only on the edges and the focus was firmly on other people, particularly his wife. In this novel she’s called Agnes instead of Anne, as apparently, her father called her Agnes in his will.

When I was in the UK in 2015, Scott and I did the whole Shakespeare Stratford-on-Avon tourist spin in an afternoon. This was the trip where we were walking by the river and I intelligently asked, “What’s this river called?”

Not my best moment.

Going to Anne Hathaway’s house was an absolute treat. It was absolutely fascinating and the garden was amazing. When the novel is set in the Shakespeare family home in the middle of town … I’ VE BEEN THERE!!! I could picture it all.

Another thing that has stayed with me is Agnes’ description of why she married young Will Shakespeare. It’s haunting. (In a wonderful way.)

Well, I’ve been here for an hour and the little woofs are getting hungry, so I’ll sign off for now. I’ll continue with this list another day, but I hope I’ve given people some Thumping Good Reads to track down. I’ve given the links to Amazon Australia, which has both paperback and Kindle options.

I have the free Kindle app on my iPad and it downloads books in a couple of seconds. Love it.

Dad joke of the day:

Have you seen the clown that hides from ugly people?


  1. Susan

    I love the concept of reading your rates worth o books. And thank you for the great list I have now put a couple on hold at my local library. I loved The Thursday Murder Club, and I have placed a hold on the next one.

    • FrogdancerJones

      Reading the next one is like sitting down in a comfy armchair and picking up a conversation with old friends. Enjoy!

      • Susan

        Oh I look forward to that. I’m on the wait list at the library.

  2. Girt

    Thanks so much for these recommendations. I haven’t even heard of any of them so I’m really excited to see which ones I can get from my library.

    • FrogdancerJones

      I’m tipping the library will have all of them.

  3. Nic@fireforlife

    Thanks for this fantastic reading list. I’ve read ‘Crawdads’ and loved it. I’ve put reservations at the library for most of them. I’m a big nut for anything Henry VIII too.
    Just finished All Our Shimmering Stars. Trent Dalton’s 2nd book. Good read. His first one was good too. Margaret Atwood is my favourite author. I’ve read most of her books and short stories. Had the chance to see her speak in Canberra just before the pandemic. Phew! Such an incredibly smart and witty woman.
    Happy reading. ?

    • FrogdancerJones

      Atwood. I prefer her poetry to (most of) her prose. ‘Handmaid’ being the huge exception, of course!

  4. Maureen

    Just what I need. A few titles to put on hold at the library. For now, I’m going to read Andy Weir’s last 2 books to see if he was a one hit wonder, (‘The Martian’) or a fine storyteller. I’m stuck in the house with record cold temps ; 4°F or -15°C so bring on the books and tea.

    • FrogdancerJones

      OMG. I could never live in a climate like that!

  5. Helen

    I, too, have read and enjoyed Richard Osman’s “The Thursday Murder Club”. My sister gave it to me for Christmas, so now I can easily reread it and then read the next one in the series.

    I am currently reading “Noor” by Nnedi Okorafor and liking it!

    (-15C or 4F is pretty warm for this time of year here. A couple of days ago, the HIGH was -23C or about -9F. Warmer today, thank goodness!)

    • FrogdancerJones

      NEGATIVE 23C???????? We whinge if it gets down to 15C!

  6. sandyg61

    I’ve added a few of those to my list for library ordering and I’m looking forward to reading Richard Osman. I’m nowhere near your reading capacity and am making a conscious decision in 2022 to read at least one novel from my own bookshelves and one from my kindle each month as well as the library.

    • FrogdancerJones

      You’re at an advantage to me – I have to read a squillon books from my local library to make my challenge. My pile of ‘to be read’ books by my bed has fallen slightly, but I can’t see it disappearing any time soon.

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