20 Books of Summer 2023 – the pick

So it’s that time of year again.  Devised by Cathy at 746Books, the aim is to read 10, 15 or 20 books between 1 June and 1 September. I  have taken part for the last six years. I think I’ve only made it twice!

You can read about the challenge on Cathy’s excellent blog here.

Because I’m a mood reader I can virtually guarantee that whatever books I selected would no doubt end up still being unread at the end of the 3 months. If I feel like I have to read a book, even if that deadline has been set by myself, I invariably don’t want to read it at that time. Contrary, me?

So this year I’m reverting back to playing fast and loose with the guidelines. Not that the guidelines are set in stone in any event.

I’ve chosen 10 books I’d ideally like to read. I’ve tried to go for a variety and have stuck so far to review books. If I start to read one and don’t fancy it at that time I’ll stop and swop. This will be the same for my 10 “wildcards”, the books I will choose as the mood takes me.

I’ll be tracking the books I read on here and you can follow everyone who is taking part on Twitter by following #20BooksofSummer.

Here are the 10 I’m hoping to read:

1. Twice Round the Clock by Billie Houston, published by the British Library.

Horace Manning, scientist, recluse and ‘closed book’ even to his friends is found dead in his study at 4am, following a dinner in honour of his daughter’s engagement. An ivory-handled carving knife rests between his shoulder blades as the houseguests gather round to witness the awful crime. The telephone line has been sabotaged – a calculated murder has been committed.

Rewinding twelve hours, the events of the afternoon and evening unfold, revealing a multitude of clues and motives from a closed cast of suspects until the narrative reaches 4am again – then races on to its riveting conclusion at 4pm as the reader is led twice round the clock.

2. The Cassandra Complex by Holly Smale, published by Century.

Cassie has never really fitted in. She remembers everything. Understands nothing. And consistently says the wrong thing.

So when she gets dumped, fired AND her local café runs out of banana muffins – all in one day – it feels like the end of the world.

But then Cassie discovers she has the power to go back and change things.

With endless chances to get it right, can she stop it all from going wrong?

3. It Came From the Closest edited by Joe Vallese, published by Saraband.

The relationship between horror films and the LGBTQ+ community? It’s complicated. Haunted houses, forbidden desires and the monstrous can have striking resonance for those who’ve been marginalised. But the genre’s murky history of an alarmingly heterosexual male gaze, queer-coded villains and sometimes blatant homophobia, is impossible to overlook. There is tension here, and there are as many queer readings of horror films as there are queer people.

Edited by Joe Vallese, and with contributions by writers including Kirsty Logan and Carmen Maria Machado, the essays in It Came from the Closet bring the particulars of the writers’ own experiences, whether in relation to gender, sexuality, or both, to their unique interpretations of horror films from Jaws to Jennifer’s Body.

Exploring a multitude of queer experiences from first kisses and coming out to transition and parenthood, this is a varied and accessible collection that leans into the fun of horror while taking its cultural impact and reciprocal relationship to the LGBTQ+ community seriously.

4. The Farmer’s Wife by Helen Rebanks, published by Faber.

As dawn breaks on the farm, Helen Rebanks makes a mug of tea, relishing the few minutes of quiet before the house stirs. Within the hour the sounds of her husband, James, and their four children will fill the kitchen. There are also six sheepdogs, two ponies, 20 chickens, 50 cattle and 500 sheep to care for. Helen is a farmer’s wife. Hers is a story that is rarely told, despite being one we think we know.

Weaving past and present, Helen shares the days that have shaped her. This is the truth of those days: from steering the family through the Beast from the East and the local authority planning committee, to finding the quiet strength to keep going, when supper is yet to be started, another delivery man has assumed he needs to speak to the ‘man of the house’, and she would rather punch a cushion than plump it.

This beautifully-illustrated memoir, which takes place across one day at the farm, offers a chance to think about where our food comes from and who puts it on the table. Helen’s recipes, lists and gentle wisdom helps us to get through our days, whatever they throw at us.

5. All of Us Are Broken by Fiona Cummins, published by Pan Macmillan.

It’s been a long time since the Hardwicke family has been on holiday. But thirteen-year-old Galen has wanted to see the wild dolphins at Scotland’s Chanonry Point for as long as she can remember, and her mother Christine – a lone parent since her beloved husband left – is determined she gets her wish. But their serene trip is about to be interrupted.

When DC Saul Anguish is called to investigate the shooting of an ex-police officer in Midtown-on-Sea, Essex, he quickly discovers that this is the first in a string of killings by Missy and Fox, a damaged young couple hell-bent on infamy, their love story etched in blood. In pursuit, Saul follows their trail north.

The paths of the Hardwickes’ and the deadly couple are about to collide. When Saul and his forensic linguist partner, Blue, arrive on the scene, they witness the unthinkable: a mother forced to make an impossible choice.

Saul must uncover the truth about the couple. But can he find the strength to lay the ghosts of his past to rest before they break him?

6. Preloved by Lauren Bravo, published by Simon & Schuster.

Gwen is coasting through life. She’s in her mid-thirties, perpetually single, her friends are busy procreating in the countryside and conversations with her parents seem to revolve entirely around the council’s wheelie-bin timetable.
And she’s lonely. But then, isn’t everyone?
When she’s made redundant from a job she hardly cares about, she takes herself out for a fancy dinner. There she has the best sticky toffee pudding of her life and realises she has no one to tell. She vows to begin living her life fully, reconnect with her friends and family, and finally book that dentist’s appointment. 
Gwen decides to start where all things get a second chance: her local charity shop. There, with the help of the weird and wonderful people and donated items bursting with untold stories, Gwen will find a way to move forward with bravery, tenacity, and more regular dental care.

7. The Housekeepers by Alex Hay, published by Headline.



When Mrs King, housekeeper to the most illustrious home in Mayfair, is suddenly dismissed after years of loyal service, she knows just who to recruit to help her take revenge.

A black-market queen out to settle her scores. An actress desperate for a magnificent part. A seamstress dreaming of a better life. And Mrs King’s predecessor, who has been keeping the dark secrets of Park Lane far too long.

Mrs King has an audacious plan in mind, one that will reunite her women in the depths of the house on the night of a magnificent ball – and play out right under the noses of her former employers…


8. Ghost Girl Banana by Wiz Wharton, published by Hodder & Stoughton.

1966: Sook-Yin is exiled from Kowloon to London with orders to restore honour to her family. As she strives to fit into a world that does not understand her, she realizes that survival will mean carving out a destiny of her own.

1997: Sook-Yin’s daughter Lily can barely remember the mother she lost as a small child. But when she is unexpectedly named in the will of a powerful Chinese stranger, she embarks on a secret pilgrimage to Hong Kong to discover the lost side of her identity and claim the reward. But she soon learns that the secrecy around her heritage has deep roots, and good fortune comes at a price.

9. Truly, Darkly, Deeply by Victoria Selman, published by Quercus.

Twelve-year-old Sophie and her mother, Amelia-Rose, move to London from Massachusetts where they meet the charismatic Matty Melgren, who quickly becomes an intrinsic part of their lives. But as the relationship between the two adults fractures, a serial killer begins targeting young women with a striking resemblance to Amelia-Rose.

When Matty is eventually sent down for multiple murder, questions remain as to his guilt — questions which ultimately destroy both women. Nearly twenty years later, Sophie receives a letter from Battlemouth Prison informing her Matty is dying and wants to meet. It looks like Sophie might finally get the answers she craves. But will the truth set her free — or bury her deeper?

10. The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd-Robinson, published by Mantle.

My father had spelt it out to me. Choice was a luxury I couldn’t afford. This is your story, Red. You must tell it well . . .

A girl known only as Red, the daughter of a Cornish fortune-teller, travels with her father making a living predicting fortunes using the ancient method: the Square of Sevens. When her father suddenly dies, Red becomes the ward of a gentleman scholar.

Now raised as a lady amidst the Georgian splendour of Bath, her fortune-telling is a delight to high society. But she cannot ignore the questions that gnaw at her soul: who was her mother? How did she die? And who are the mysterious enemies her father was always terrified would find him?

The pursuit of these mysteries takes her from Cornwall and Bath to London and Devon, from the rough ribaldry of the Bartholomew Fair to the grand houses of two of the most powerful families in England. And while Red’s quest brings her the possibility of great reward, it also leads into her grave danger . . .

Here’s where I’ll be listing my wildcard picks as I read them.

So there we are. A few different genres to try and appease the vagaries of my reading appetite. Are you taking part in the challenge? How many are you hoping to read?

(All links are affiliate links. You can also buy the books from your local independent bookshop.)

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Such a nicely varied bunch, Janet. Happy reading!


  2. Happy reading Janet! I never take part formally although I’m sure I’ll read 20 books over the period!


  3. Play fast/loose and read what suits you at the moment. Preloved sounds like my life at the moment! I’ll see if I can find it. Also, The Farmer’s Wife is just my type book. Thanks!!


  4. Great strategy Janet and nice range of books – enjoy!


  5. Good strategy! I’m a mood reader too, and am picking any 20 books from my TBR that I owned before 2023, prioritising my bedside bookcase. Big cheat? YES! But it works – I finished 20 books from my TBR last summer alongside review copies.


  6. JacquiWine says:

    I hope you enjoyed your summer reading, Janet. I haven’t read any of these, but the BLCC mystery is on the shelf just waiting to be read. A good wind-down read, I suspect!


  7. FictionFan says:

    Interesting list! I’ve only read one – Twice Round the Clock – and thoroughly enjoyed it. Well deserving of its place in the BL series. I have The Square of Sevens and am looking forward to reading it over the summer too. Good luck! I hope all your reads turn out to be great ones!


  8. heavenali says:

    Happy summer reading Janet. You have a good variety there. ☺️


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