Tag Archives: City Of Circles

My top 5 reads of 2017

10 Jan

It feels like 2017 was a strange year of reading for me. Having set out at the start with the intention of reading more I ended up reading fewer books than I did in 2016. I gave up on more books this year too and I wonder whether this was as a result of an awareness of reading time being more precious. That said, there were still books aplenty to enjoy, and a clutch I got really excited about. There were a couple of real standout titles in 2017 that I knew would be in my top five the moment I’d read them but, as ever, whittling the favourites down to five is not easy. Ned Beauman’s Madness Is Better Than Defeat almost made it (I still can’t see an octopus without remembering…), and Jess Richards’ wonderfully lyrical City of Circles whose opening chapter is like a breath you can’t release. Sarah Day’s Mussolini’s Island was a pleasure, sensitive and melancholy, and opening up a chapter of history that is little known. And then there was The Trouble With Goats And Sheep by Joanna Cannon, which Mrs Van loved as much as I did. I defy anyone not to fall for Tilly!


But down to business: March, the promise of spring and the first of my top five, Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows. One of Mrs Van’s favourites too, you really can’t beat a book that can make you laugh out loud, and Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows will do it over and over. Add to that excellent characters and a storyline that will make you look, and then look again at life and you’ve got a real winner on your hands.


The next of my top five came to me in June. A book that had been on my radar for a while, though I knew little about it beyond the title and the lovely cover, Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun was an unexpected pleasure. Unexpected because I didn’t know before reading that it was a memoir, and also that it was so uplifting, its lyrical beauty a welcome counterpoint to that febrile sense that necessitated the writing of the book in the first place. Little wonder it won the Wainwright Prize in 2016.


From the Orkney Islands in June to South Africa in July and Kopano Matlwa’s Evening Primrose blew me away. It’s not a big book – just 150 pages – but its punch is mighty! It’s interesting for me to realise that I read this the month following The Outrun too as these books feel similar in some ways, visceral and honest, spare and lyrical. There has to be a sense of truth in any book for it to really work but some books bear more truth than others. The truth in Evening Primrose is almost too much to bear. A stunning piece of work.


The international flavour continues in September, and it’s Japan this time for Alison Jean Lester’s Yuki Means Happiness. I can’t help but smile, remembering this book and the extraordinarily vivid rendering of little Yuki. It’s like going back to the adorable photos of the little ones in your own life. It’s that characterisation that really makes this book, connecting like a mainline straight to the heart so you feel everything that happens. This was another one that Mrs Van loved too, our favourites coinciding a lot more than in previous years.


Finally, November brought Laura Carlin’s The Wicked Cometh. I think I would’ve known this would be in my top five even if I’d read it back in January. A lush and pretty proof with its purple velvet and gold lettering, it’s a treat and no mistake. Hands down, this is up there as Mrs Van’s favourite of the year – I started reading this one to Mrs Van and didn’t get a chance to finish it first. We raced through it in a single weekend. It’s absolutely gripping, an assault on the senses that I’d urge you to get your hands on, and you’ve not got long to wait now!


As for 2018, well things are looking pretty good already. After all, you’ve got the absolute delight that is The Wicked Cometh on its way, and there are second books from Fran Cooper (a review of which will follow shortly) and Anthony Trevelyan, both of whom produced stunning debuts (Fran’s excellent These Dividing Walls and Anthony’s sublime The Weightless World, both of which deserve to be very widely read). So here’s wishing you all health and happiness in 2018, and as much joy, heartbreak, adventure, fantasy and truth as you can find between the covers of the books you read.



Van has finished reading… City Of Circles by Jess Richards

28 Aug


A circus troupe, a magical city and a secret in a locket. Really, what more could you want? Jess Richards’ City Of Circles is a glorious tale of otherness, outsiders, connection and belonging. A quiet one (and you know how much I like those!), it’s tense and heart-breaking, deeply emotional. There’s a dark beauty to it, exquisitely echoed in the gorgeous cover design by William Speed (@wrmspeed).


One thing I found refreshing about City Of Circles is that it takes its time. Sometimes fiction seems overly focused on coming into a scene late and getting out early, but Jess Richards lets her story dwell. Yes, it could be shorter, and I think it could be shorter without losing impact but there’s nothing flabby about this book. A treat is what it is, simply a little more of what you fancy, the writing sumptuous and sensual.

  The world of City Of Circles feels more inhabited than imagined with a wise blend of the extraordinary and the quotidian. Its quirkiness is never overstated nor explained, and certainly never excused with such trivialities as odd or archaic spellings. What I’m left with is a sense of something layered, far deeper than mere location, something that doesn’t necessarily carry a meaning but that suggests possibilities. Something I can (and will) think about after that final page.

  The atmosphere Jess Richards invokes, particularly in the first chapter is exceptional. It’s quite breathless. The writing holds you and the sense of proximity is almost claustrophobic – a lesson to anyone who thinks you need a first person narrative to really feel close to a character. As to the cast, it’s surprising to realise just how few main characters the whole thing hangs on. The emotional connection the author invokes with Danu, the protagonist, is exceptional. I simply can’t imagine someone picking up this book and not feeling for her, rooting for her.

  I don’t think I’ve ever been so torn about an ending. Do I love it? Yes, and no. For me, it could have stopped three pages early and it would’ve been perfect. But there’s no mania for tidiness in those last words. There are still questions left hanging, and a life beyond the end to ponder.


Strange, poetic, gripping and emotional, it’s hard not to see Jess Richards’ City Of Circles ending up on prize shortlists, and a good many top tens come the end of the year. There’s a very good chance it’ll be on mine.



City Of Circles was published by Sceptre on 10th august 2017 isbn: 9781473656680


You can find Jess on Twitter @jessgrrl or at her website jessrichards.com


My thanks to Ruby Mitchell for allowing me to review this book