Skip to content
Answering Your Questions About Reactor: Right here.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter. Everything in one handy email.

Jo Walton’s Reading List: December 2022


Jo Walton’s Reading List: December 2022

Home / Jo Walton’s Reading List: December 2022
Books Jo Walton Reads

Jo Walton’s Reading List: December 2022


Published on January 13, 2023


December began excellently in Rome, then we flew to Chicago for a couple of days, then went by train to Boston for a conference. After that I said goodbye to Ada and headed home to Montreal in time for the holidays. It was a pretty good month in which I read eighteen books, and some of them were outstanding.

The Empty World, D.E. Stevenson (1937)
A cosy catastrophe—and quite possibly the first ever cosy catastrophe!—from a writer of romance and women’s fiction. It has very strange ideas about science and technology but adheres surprisingly closely to the formula that hadn’t yet been formulated. The science sadly makes no sense at all—there isn’t any way of having people and animals die and turn to vapour but their sandwiches remain behind—but we expect our catastrophes to be silly and to move swiftly on to the new possibilities. It’s also interesting to see 1937’s idea of an “air liner” as a lot more like an ocean liner. I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be an airship or what, though the answer seems to be “or what.”

There’s a disaster that wipes out most people, there’s a small group of survivors, there are low-life bad guys, there’s an attempt at a scientific society and an uncomfortable gesture in the direction of eugenics, and there are people wandering around an empty world lamenting the loss of civilization. This is more female- and emotionally focused than most, as one would expect from Stevenson, the emotional resolution is given more stress than whether humanity will survive, all of which makes this an extremely strange reading experience.

Peter and Paul, Susan Scarlett (1940)
Re-read. Another of Noel Streatfeild’s pseudonymous romances about girls working in shops who fall in love—in this case there are twins, and one of them falls in love with the boss and the other is radiantly beautiful and somewhat neurodivergent. Just as in Clothes-Pegs and Babbacombe’s there’s a female villain who is trying to get the hero and get rid of the heroine; this villain is better done and given a more sympathetic point of view. It’s funny to think you can have divorced women find happiness in modern romance, not just be villains… definitely progress. Anyway this book has Streatfeild’s characteristic ability to write characters and sentences that make me want to read more, even when the matter is very slight.

Mars and Her Children, Marge Piercy (1992)
Re-read. Poetry collection, covering Piercy’s usual topics of relationships, landscape, politics, feminism, etc. in her typical clear-sighted and well-encapsulated way. Piercy’s great, she does that thing where she writes about something you’ve noticed yourself but never thought about in that way, and wraps good words around it.

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (2014)
All right, now this was good, and definitely in the same universe as Jacob de Zoet and Utopia Avenue. Multi-stranded many points of view moving forward through time from the Eighties into a slightly-overrun future, which is disappointingly unimaginative but not as terrible as Cloud Atlas. The rest of the book is good enough to make up for it. Mitchell is very good at writing things that are very intense and a little bit weird and edging on horror, but with a great deal of period circumstantial detail, and that’s what he’s mostly doing here. He’s also excellent at getting inside odd people’s heads. He’s much better at setup than resolution, but his setup is so good I’ll read it anyway.

There’s a plot here that reveals in detail things that have been hinted at, and… it’s not what I think about when I think about the book. There’s a pretty good bit that’s reminiscent of Wild Seed. There’s so much here that’s so good, the whole book is almost brilliant. I almost want to say that he should concentrate on what he does well and stop trying to do SF, but then I have to admire him for trying. Also he made Utopia Avenue work, and he wrote that after this. I half want to say that he has immortal conspiracies and this is all he can think to do with them? It truly is a case of being able to make a soufflé while not being able to boil water. Nevertheless, despite all this whining, a very good book.

The Italian Job, Kathryn Freeman (2022)
Romance novel set in Italy about neighbours who pretend to be lovers to get a job looking after a castle in Italy, like anyone would really. Not very good, sadly; the ingredients were all there but it fell a bit flat.

The Essential Peter S. Beagle, Volume 1, Peter S. Beagle (2023)
I really do think Peter Beagle has written some of the best fantasy short stories of the last century, and a lot of them are in this volume and there are more in volume 2. He has such an authentic voice, and he blends the numinous so well into the reality. So there’s one story here where some kids are playing ball in the street, and the ball goes into the witch’s garden, and the kid tries to get it back, and then the witch comes out to play—and it’s all in the way you tell it, when you summarize it then it all falls to shards in your hands, but Peter Beagle knows how to tell it just the way it happened, whether it’s this world or another world. He writes about the numinous with a surprising authenticity. I think his short work is even better than his novels. This will be out this spring, and I recommend it very highly.

Milan Undone: Contested Sovereignties in the Italian Wars, John Gagné (2021)
This was a fascinating detailed view of a city and a period of history just slightly later than the period I’m interested in, which meant it was good but frustrating, as there isn’t a book like this about Milan in the decade before, and that would be really useful. This was great, and well written, and interesting in itself, but not really what I wanted it to be, especially as it’s an expensive academic book. However, having read it, it may come in useful for other things.

A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J. Maas (2015)
Beauty and the Beast retelling. I think I’m fundamentally not the audience for Beauty and the Beast, even when it is very well written and has neat worldbuilding. Also, don’t give me a super obvious plot-important riddle I can guess instantly and then make me spend ages wanting to yell at the character for not getting it when she’s supposed to be intelligent and it’s so obvious. When Tolkien did this he at least reminded me it’s easy enough to guess when you’re safe at home with nothing to be afraid of and it might have been different if I’d been sitting underground in the dark with my life at risk. Perhaps I’m a bit old for this book. Having said all that, this was compellingly written with a great voice and I do very much see why people like it. Are the sequels doing something different, or more of the same?

Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet, Harry Kemelman (1976)
Another mystery solved by Rabbi David Small in his small town in Massachusetts, where the interest is really in the details of the community. This time it’s the more orthodox members trying to take over the synagogue, with the Temple presidents who have opposed the rabbi in previous volumes showing up to help.

Words of Mercury, Patrick Leigh Fermor (2003)
Disappointing, don’t bother. There were a lot of extracts from books of Leigh Fermor’s that I had already read and enjoyed more in context, and a bunch of pieces he had written for magazines and as intros to books which I hadn’t read and mostly didn’t much enjoy. I was thinking this was only for completists, but then it has all the reprinted bits from his other books, so I don’t know who it’s for.

M.O. Crimes of Practice, edited by Martin Edwards (2003)
Crime genre short story collection, of varying quality, with very high highs. The very best story was the last, by Martyn Bedford, which I keep thinking about. Bedford seems to be a writer of YA that’s at least on the edge of SF, which I’ll be checking out.

The Matzah Ball, Jean Meltzer (2021)
Romance novel that billed itself as being about a Jewish girl who loves Christmas being forced to write a Hanukkah romance. It is that, but I wasn’t expecting the disability stuff—she has ME and suffers from chronic pain and chronic fatigue. I think it’s important we have books about people with these conditions, and even romance novels. The author has ME herself. This was pretty good, quite well written, though the Big Misunderstanding was a little overdone, and the disability flares did seem conveniently plot-timed, especially the actual stuff at the ball. Terrific grandmother. This whole book was worth it for the grandmother.

The Rivered Earth, Vikram Seth (2021)
This was so good. It’s the libretto Seth wrote for four years of events at a music festival, with the music being written specially for it. There are discussions of the music and performances, interviews with the composer and solo violin, and then Seth’s beautiful poems and poetic translations. Wonderful. Also, Vikram Seth lives in George Herbert’s house, how cool is that?

Imperium Restored, Walter Jon Williams (2022)
The third in the second Praxis trilogy, winding up another war, and doing a lot of interesting character things. This is essentially book six in a series, with two additional short novels, so maybe book eight. Don’t start here. Start with The Praxis. The series is totally worth reading if you like aliens, military SF, great characters, politics, strategy. I have really enjoyed all of these books and this one was a very good culmination. There could be more, but the arc of Martinez and Sula is complete at this point.

Noel Streatfeild’s Christmas Stories, Noel Streatfeild (2018, but they were written in the ’40s and ’50s)
With perfect timing, for once, I read these over the holidays. They were published in magazines and annuals, and they’re stories of gifts given, packages lost and found, competitions won, and families reunited. They’re a bit sentimental and intended for children, but I’m not too old for these, even though I’d not read most of them before.

Christmas Secrets at the Villa Limoncello, Daisy James (2019)
These two sequels spoiled the resolution of the first book; direct sequels to romance dragging the romance slowly through more misunderstandings while things happen just don’t work. This was also surprisingly unChristmassy for a book with Christmas in the title and which I’d saved until December. It’s not terrible, but it’s not all that good.

Exadelic, Jon Evans (2023)
This book—this book… now this book is truly great, and also really weird and never gets less weird; you think you know what it’s doing and the scope goes out and out and out. I really felt I had to send out for a new barrel of Wows. I couldn’t put it down. It’s science fiction. Jon is a friend, so I know he’s been working in the tech industry for years, and that’s where this starts, with a group of techie friends in San Francisco and a potentially real AI. From there it just gets wilder and wilder, in ways I don’t want to spoil but which you can’t imagine. It has perfect edge-of-seat pacing, and it all makes sense in the end. Brilliant, incredible, pushing the edges of what SF can do. This is what Neal Stephenson is supposed to be like. It’ll be out in Fall 2023, and you should pre-order it right now. I expect this to be one of the big books of the year, the kind everyone will be talking about.

Our Fruiting Bodies, Nisi Shawl (2022)
Another short story collection by the brilliant Nisi Shawl. Imaginative, moving, powerful, compassionate, as good as Filter House, which is high praise, because that’s one of my very favourite single author collections. It’s great to see someone working at the top of their craft like this. I heard that it was out at the World Fantasy opening ceremonies and bought it immediately. There’s an incredible range of kinds of stories here, and they’re all just so great.


I sometimes, as twice in this set of books, am lucky enough to read things ahead of when they’re published, and my new year’s resolution is to try to be better about reminding you when they actually come out. So The Tatami Galaxy, which I read last May, came out in December 2022.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two collections of pieces, three poetry collections, a short story collection and fifteen novels, including the Hugo- and Nebula-winning Among Others. Her novel Lent was published by Tor in May 2019, and her most recent novel, Or What You Will, was released in July 2020. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here irregularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal. She plans to live to be 99 and write a book every year.

About the Author

Jo Walton


Jo Walton is the author of fifteen novels, including the Hugo and Nebula award winning Among Others two essay collections, a collection of short stories, and several poetry collections. She has a new essay collection Trace Elements, with Ada Palmer, coming soon. She has a Patreon ( for her poetry, and the fact that people support it constantly restores her faith in human nature. She lives in Montreal, Canada, and Florence, Italy, reads a lot, and blogs about it here. It sometimes worries her that this is so exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up.
Learn More About Jo
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments