Books of the Year 2022

As ever, I’ve listed below everything I’ve read this year — with the long overdue return to real life, there are fewer books here than in previous locked-down years. Those that surpassed my expectations are marked with *, and those that really disappointed me are marked with !

A Most Wanted Man, John le Carré

Current Intelligence, David Charlwood

The Mission House, Carys Davies

The Shelf, Helly Acton*

The Shack, William P Young

Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkeman

Bitter Orange, Claire Fuller

Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Demain, Guillaume Musso

Magpie, Elizabeth Day

The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, Catherine Gray* (again!)

The Guest of Night, Lucy Underwood-Healy

Fatherland, Robert Harris*

The Party Crasher, Sophie Kinsella

The Instant, Amy Liptrot

Couples, John Updike

A Severed Head, Iris Murdoch

Open Water, Caleb Azumah Nelson

Exciting Times, Naoise Dolan

After I Left You, Alison Mercer

Treachery, S J Parris

The Ramage Hawk, John Pilkington

The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker

Death in the Andes, Mario Vargas Llosa !

When I Hit You, Meena Kandasamy

The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles

The Passion, Jeanette Winterson

The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey

Suez Crisis 1956, David Charlwood

The Woman in the Window, A J Finn

The Silver Thread, Kylie Fitzpatrick

The Yacoubian Building, Alaa Al-Aswany (in translation) !

Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie

The Couple at the Table, Sophie Hannah

Slow Horses, Mick Herron*

On Writing, Stephen King

The Liar’s Dictionary, Eley Williams

A Ruinous Wind, John Pilkington

Shows of the Year 2022

As is tradition, listed below are all the films and TV shows I’ve watched this year.  The ones that surpassed my expectations are marked with *, and any that I thought were overrated with !

Standalone films


KungFu Panda

Four Lions*

Sorry We Missed You


Stuck Together

Still Life*

West Side Story

House of Gucci

The Thirteenth Floor

Death on the Nile

The Most Unknown

TV series

Dead to Me, season 1

Happy Valley, seasons 1 and 2*

Harry & Meghan

Agatha Christie, Lucy Worsley

The Capture, season 2*

We Were Four

Love is Blind

The Crown, season 5

Unsolved Mysteries, season 3


Inside Man

Never Have I Ever, season 3*

Le Bureau, season 1*

Tehran, season 1

Slow Horses, season 1*

Stalking Pete Doherty

Ozark, seasons 1-4*

Three Identical Strangers

The Pursuit of Love*


The Split

7Up: Millennials

House of Maxwell

Prisoners of War, season 1

Our House


Ridley Road

Steps of Freedom

Jeremy Kyle: Death on Daytime

Married at First Sight Australia, season 9

Britain’s Forgotten Wars

Young Wallander, season 2

Carmel: Who Killed Maria Marta?

Caroline: The Murder that Fooled the World

Puppet Master



The Apprentice 2022

The English Game

Alice in Borderland, season 1

The Tinder Swindler

Challenger: The Final Flight*

Trigger Point

The Detectorists, seasons 1, 2, 3

The Pharmacist

The Tourist

House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths


The Lady Vanishes*

Up and Vanished


Shows and films of 2021

I think I can fairly say I spent most of 2021 watching TV shows, with relatively few books and films thrown in. As before, anything particularly outstanding is rated with * and anything particularly woeful with !

Emily in Paris, seasons 1 and 2, 2021, Darren Star

The Girl Before, 2021, J P Delaney

Married at First Sight Australia, Season 8, 2020*

Squid Game, 1 season 2021*

Atypical, seasons 1-4, 2017-2021*

Vigil, one season, 2021

The IT Crowd, all 4 seasons, 2006-2010*

Motherland, seasons 1-3, 2017-2020*

Starstruck, 2021

Unsolved Mysteries, Netflix version, seasons 1 and 2, 2015, 2020*

The Investigator: a British crime story, season 1, 2016 !

Murder among the Mormons, 2021, Jared Hess

The Keepers, 2017, Ryan White*

Sophie: A Murder in West Cork, 2021, John Dover*

The Staircase, 2018, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade*

Never Have I Ever, 2020, Season 2*

This Way Up, 2019-2020, Seasons 1, 2*

Good Trouble, 2020, Season 3*

If I hadn’t met you, 2018 (one season)

10% (Call My Agent), Seasons 1, 2,  3, 4*

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, seasons 1, 2, 3, 4*

Fringe, Season 1

Line of Duty, season 6

El Desorden que Dejas, (The Mess You Leave Behind), 2020, Roger Gual


The Circle UK, season 3*

The Circle UK celebrity

Money Heist/La Casa de Papel, seasons 1-4 of 4,  2017-2020, Jésus Colmenar

The Lost DNA

Lupin, season 1

The Vanishing at the Hotel Cecil

An American Murder*

A Teacher

The Secrets She Keeps

The Circle USA, season 1*

RuPaul’s UK Drag Race, season 1*

Bridgerton, season 1

How to Get Away with Murder, seasons 1 and 2

Surviving Death




The Holiday, 2006, Nancy Meyers !

Don’t Look Up, 2021, Adam McKay

Man Up, 2015, Ben Palmer

Nobody, 2021, Ilya Naishuller

The Tomorrow War, 2021, Chris McKay

The Settlers, 2021, Wyatt Rockefeller

Eli, 2019, Ciaran Foy

Minimalism: Less is Now (2021) !

Casting JonBenet, 2017, Kitty Green

Saint Frances, 2019, Alex Thompson

Fatima, 2020, Marco Pontecorvo

Sixty Six, 2006, Paul Weiland

Belle, 2013, Amma Asante

Exam, 2009, Stuart Hazeldine

The Gentlemen, 2020, Guy Ritchie

Pleasantville, 1998, Gary Ross

Flying Blind, 2012, Katarzyna Klimkiewicz

Circle, 2015 (Aaron Hann, Mario Miscione)

Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga, 2020, Will Ferrell !

Idiocracy, 2006, Mike Judge

Tenet, 2020, Christopher Nolan

The Lobster, 2015, Yorgos Lanthimos*

White Tiger, 2021, Rahmin Bahrani

Vivarium, 2019, Finnegan and Garrett Shanley

7500, 2019, Patrick Vollrath

What Happened to Monday?, 2017, Tommy Wirkola

2067, 2020, Seth Larney

Books of the Year 2021

As ever, I’ve listed below everything I’ve read in reverse chronological order. Those that surpassed my expectations are marked with *, and those that really disappointed me are marked with ! (though there are far fewer of them this year!)

Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris*
Middle England, Jonathan Coe
Capital, John Lanchester
Ordinary People, Diana Evans
The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Christy Lefteri
The List and The Drop, Mick Herron*
Begotten, Not Made, Pat Higgins*
The Blue Castle, L M Montgomery
Property, Valerie Martin
Spook Street, Mick Herron*
Luster, Raven Leilani
The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman
Her, Harriet Lane
I Think I Might Be Autistic, Cynthia Kim
The Woman Next Door, Cass Green
Hold Your Tongue, Deborah Masson
He Said/She Said, Erin Kelly*
Becoming Strangers, Louise Dean*
Written in Blood, Diane Fanning
It’s Not Always Depression, Hilary Jacobs Hendel
The Perfect Marriage, Jeneva Rose!
The Source, Sarah Sultoon
The Shallows, Nicholas Carr*
Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg
The Ikigai Journey, Hector Garcia
Developing Your Intuition: A Guide to Reflective Practice, Talula Cartwright
How Women Rise, Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith*
Love Your Impostor, Rita Clifton
The Sleep Revolution, Arianna Huffington
Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind, Nancy Kline*
Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman
Christmas Days, Jeannette Winterson
Deep Work, Cal Newport*
Grit, Angela Duckworth*
Cultural Misunderstandings, Raymonde Caroll
The Islandman, Tomas O Crohan
Ordinary Men, Christopher Browning
The Lost Man, Jane Harper*

Midwinter Music

The long Christmas break was the ideal time to quietly put together a short album of related songs on a wintry theme. Here is album #11, the last creative project of the unsettling and unprecedented year that was 2020.

Shows of the Year 2020

As is becoming usual, listed below are all the films and TV shows I’ve watched this year.  The ones that surpassed my expectations are marked with *, and any that I thought were overrated with !

Standalone films

  • The Hunt, Craig Zobel
  • Inheritance, Vaughn Stein
  • Serenity, Steven Knight
  • Yesterday, Danny Boyle
  • Contratiempo, Oriol Paulo
  • A Suitable Girl, Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra*
  • First They Killed My Father, Angelina Jolie
  • Birdbox, Susanne Bier
  • The Platform, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
  • The Proposal, Anne Fletcher
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma*
  • Two States, Abhishek Varman
  • The Two Popes, Fernando Meirelles
  • Aurore (I Got Life), Blandine Lenoir*
  • Sir, Rohena Gara*
  • Badla, Sujoy Ghosh
  • Judy, Rupert Goold
  • Contagion, Steven Soderbergh
  • American Woman, Jake Scott
  • Ad Astra, James Gray
  • Knives Out, Rian Johnson !


  • The Queen’s Gambit*
  • Journey with my Daughter
  • Utopia: season 1
  • The Man in the High Castle: seasons 1 and 2
  • Get Organized with The Home Edit
  • The Crown: seasons 1 to 3.5
  • Masaba masaba
  • Good Trouble: seasons 1 and 2*
  • Sex and Love around the World
  • Bandersnatch
  • We Are The Wave
  • A Suitable Boy
  • Normal People
  • Never Have I Ever*
  • Tiger King
  • When the Boat Comes in: seasons 1 and 2
  • The Inventor Out For Blood
  • Fall Cabal
  • Indian Matchmaking
  • I May Destroy You*
  • Line of Duty: seasons 1 to 5*
  • Killing Eve: season 3
  • After Life: season 2
  • Killing Eve: season 2
  • The Island !
  • The Messiah
  • Devs
  • Dr Foster: season 2
  • Dr Foster: season 1*
  • Orange is the New Black: season 1
  • After Life: season 1

Books of the Year 2020

As usual, I’ve listed below all the books I’ve read this year.

I choose books mainly based on recommendations from friends, followed by recommendations from reviews in the papers and on the radio, and then from suggestions on my Kindle and on sites like GoodReads.

Here’s the list in (reverse) chronological order. I’ve marked the ones that surpassed my expectations with *, and any that I thought were overrated with !

  • The Secret Within, AnneMarie Postma
  • The One, John Marrs
  • Love Your Life, Sophie Kinsella
  • House of Correction, Nicci French
  • The Easy Way for Women to Lose Weight, Allen Carr
  • The Casual Vacancy, J K Rowling
  • Fracture, Andrés Neumann
  • The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides
  • My Dark Vanessa, Kate Elizabeth Russell
  • The 5 Love Languages: Singles Edition, Gary Chapman
  • The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas
  • The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron*
  • The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney, Okechukwu Nzeiu
  • Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Burnt Shadows, Kamila Shamsie
  • The Midnight Library, Matt Haig
  • The Guest List, Lucy Foley
  • The Hunting Party, Lucy Foley
  • The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary, Catherine Gray
  • Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, Ayesha Malik*
  • The Unexpected Joy of being Sober, Catherine Gray*
  • The Starless Sea, Erin Morgenstern !
  • Boundaries, Henry Cloud and John Townsend
  • The Panopticon, Jenni Flagan
  • I Choose Elena, Lucia Osborne-Crawley
  • Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn
  • Forbidden, Tabitha Suzuma
  • Plague, Jean Ure
  • Strange Weather in Tokyo, Hirami Kawakami
  • Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo
  • Haven’t They Grown? Sophie Hannah
  • Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver
  • Ask Again Yes, Mary Beth Keane
  • Non-bullshit Innovation, David Rowan

Joanna Rubery: prize-winning writer

Read my prize-winning short stories, travel writing, and articles on language (for the OxfordWords blog). I’m also a songwriter and pianist.

Short stories and microfiction

Right of Way (first prize, 1000 Word Challenge) (“a beautifully-written story, focusing on the relationship between a driving instructor and his pupil. The characters are skilfully built, with genuine ambiguity.”)

Date with a Sociopath (published as a Narrative magazine iStory)

Fallout (finalist, Gotham Writers ‘Be a Hero’ competition)

The Photograph (highly placed, Grindstone Literary Academy) (“you tread that fine line between vagueness and giving just enough away to piece together a backstory. My first reactions were very strong for this piece and I championed it”)

Trapped (shortlisted for Writers Online)

Rewired (shortlisted for the Limnisa Short Short Competition)

Gooseberry (longlisted for the Irish Fish Flash Fiction Prize)

Travel writing


Lost in Translation…so I was: adventures in Irish English (published in New Zealand’s Christchurch Press)

Is Polish the most difficult European language to learn? (published on the OxfordWords blog)

Zucchini Flowers (Greece)

Fallen Angel (Belgium)

Why learn Italian? (published on the OxfordWords blog)

Jèrriais, the language of Jersey (published on the OxfordWords blog)

Paris in the spring? (published on the OxfordWords blog)


Loving Latin (Peru, Chile, Bolivia) (published on the OxfordWords blog)

Peruvian Blues

Niagara Flaws (Canada)


Vis-à-visa (published in Wanderlust magazine) (Cambodia)

Stranded in Sihanoukville (Cambodia)


The First Tomorrow (New Zealand)

Articles on language (for the OxfordWords blog) include:

Foreign languages

Let’s just “call a cat a cat”: cat idioms in foreign languages

Can the Académie française stop the rise of Anglicisms in French?

From pralines to pasteurized milk: everyday things named after French people

From silhouette to leotard: more everyday things named after French people

This blog is a he: gender in foreign languages

TEFL and EFL ((Teaching) English as a Foreign Language)


10 British animal idioms and expressions (Advanced/Proficient)

10 common mistakes with prepositions made by learners of English (Beginner/Elementary)

10 mistakes made by learners of English (for teachers)

Other articles include

Flash fiction: short stories with a long lifespan

From room to zoom: a short history of the camera

Chasing the rainbow connection

The language of leap years

Relational language: the language of cousins


Favourites (Best of 2015-2019)

Latest album: Glass Heart (2020)


[The following short story made the shortlist of the recent Limnisa Short Story Competition 2020:  Although your story couldn’t make it into the top five it was on the short list of twenty five, out of five hundred entries, and was rated highly by some of our judges.”]

There it is. Just one word.

Down in the corner at the bottom of the screen.


I skim the ad, breath held. Catherine, I think. This would be perfect for Catherine.

My phone rings, on cue.

“Catherine?” I try.

There’s a muffled sound. My sister is crying, which isn’t at all like her.

“What’s happened?” I ask in a low voice. “Is it” – what was his name this time?  – “Nick?”

Continue reading “Rewired”

More competition news


[I recently discovered that one of last year’s stories had been shortlisted for the Writers Online 750-word short story competition, so – quite happily – I’m reposting it here!]


We feel sorry for Justine because she has a – I’ll keep my voice down – boyfriend.

Mimi and I have long been Free, but Justine’s still shackled to a man. She’s tied. She’s tangled up. She is – in other words – Trapped.

“She’s late,” says Mimi. “What’s her big news, anyway? Has she seen the light?”

“About time!” I say. I was Trapped once. Last year, I spent several weeks entangled with a green-eyed guy called Sam. He kissed me up against the fridge, but left trails of laundry everywhere. When I found his dirty socks in the sink, I saw sense.

Continue reading “More competition news”

Competition news


[I was very pleasantly surprised to read – in the Galician rain – that my latest microfiction story had been longlisted for the Irish Fish Flash Fiction prize. So here it is:]


The third seat – the window seat – was empty. So was the aisle one. Violet toyed with her book in the middle. A chill was slicing in.

There were a few last-minuters loping down: a red-faced guy with a belly, and a sun-kissed young man. Violet looked straight ahead.

The red-faced guy shuffled into the row opposite with a grunt and a trace of onions.

“Ah,” said the sun-kissed young man, stopping short, and Violet’s heart took a breath. He looked round with a frown. “I thought there were three of us?”

No way, thought Violet, suppressing a grin. There’s no way he’s on this project too.

“I guess they’re running late!” she said, and offered her hand, but he was busy stowing his case.

“Well,” he said, to no-one, “I guess they’re running late!” and he folded his limbs into the aisle seat.

“Violet,” said Violet, after a second.

“Robert,” he said, with a yawn, and started rifling through the magazines. The pilot crackled an announcement. Violet looked sideways, at the shape of his nose, the sweep of his hair.

She opened her book, and closed it again.

“So,” she began, “Is this your first posting abroad?”

“What?” said Robert, and then there was a flurry and a voice, a female voice, calling, “Sorry! Typical me!”

Robert was already on his feet. The red-faced guy was gawping.

“So sorry!” said a young woman. “I’m always late!”

“We’d have held them up,” said Robert, grinning, and she smiled back: “Wouldn’t be a first!”

Violet curled up tight and let their third colleague slide past into the window seat.

“So,” called Robert, leaning over Violet’s lap, and she contorted forward, and then back. “Is this your first posting abroad?”

The chill was beginning to prickle. The flight was thirteen hours.

© Joanna Rubery 2018

More competition news – Fallout

Olive branch

[I’m very happy to say I made the finals of this flash fiction competition with a ’50-word story about a hero’. I wanted to salute the small, kind gestures that transform the ordinary. Here in Japan, acknowledging another person’s humanity seems to be a way of life, even when it means reaching out to (quite possibly) the descendant of someone who was – not so long ago – The Enemy.]

Microfiction in 250 words: The Photograph

[I’m very proud of this one, which came sixth in a recent microfiction competition hosted by Grindstone Literary Services. We were asked to write about a Snapshot in 250 words.]

I step on scarlet toes (“Sorry, love!”) and breathe in sugared scent. The girls are like butterflies, flitting under frangipani blooms.

“Madame?” He’s got a walkie-talkie. “Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for my friend,” I shout, above the bass. Then I see him across the street. A tuk-tuk swerves, and misses me.

“All alone?” I ask. The beer is sharp, cutting through the evening heat.

“I’m in love,” Pete tells me, through a haze of smoke and flowers. “Not with you.”

“Just as well,” I say. “With who?”

He nods across the road. “With Nita.”

I look over – the girls are glowing neon – and back to him.

“Nita from the Good Time Garden??”

“I’m obsessed!” he says.

A boy clatters in the gutter with empty cans of paint.

“Does she know?” I ask him. Pete isn’t young.

He shakes his head. “But I’m going to give her this.”

He smooths a photograph with tar-stained fingers. She’s laughing, he’s drinking something lime.

“I’ve written to her,” he says, draining his glass. “On the back. Dutch courage!”

Then he grins, gets up, and weaves his way across.

The fan above is broken. Something scuttles by my feet.

After a while, I spot him coming back, and then I see her, I think, on the balcony, a sliver of red. She leans out and drops something. It flutters into flowers.

“I think she was surprised,” says Pete, sitting down. “We’ll see. Fancy another?”

I wonder. I wonder what to say.

© Joanna Rubery 2017


1001 Words: Vis-à-visa

Elephants in Siem Reap

[Update: I’m delighted to say that my story below has just been published in the glossy print May 2017 edition of Wanderlust magazine, so I’m bumping it back up the blog!]

“You have wrong visa!” shouted my new boss down the phone.

Jet-lagged, culture-shocked, and helpless in the heat, this was not what I wanted to hear. I’d come to Cambodia to teach, but I was already questioning a country that had a) no pavements and b) frogs for lunch.

“What do I do?” I asked, chasing an unknown creature under my hotel bed.

My employer sighed.

“Leave country and come back in,” she said, and hung up. Then all the lights went out.

Continue reading “1001 Words: Vis-à-visa”

[For the OxfordWords blog:] From room to zoom: a snapshot of the camera

Girl with camera

How many photographs will we take in 2017?

Over a million? Not even close. Over a billion? Way more: conservative estimates are that we’ll take 1.2 trillion pictures this year, with our smartphones snapping the vast majority of them. That’s twice as many as four years ago. We are, some believe, drowning in digital imagery, saturated in snapshots, seemingly captivated by an invention whose rapidly evolving nature reflects our own: the camera.

A Camera with a View

Like taxi, camera is one of very few words that’s understood almost everywhere – except in a couple of places, including (rather ironically) the most photographed country on Instagram. If you ever lose your camera in Italy, explaining “Ho perso la mia camera!” might get you some odd looks. The Italian word camera has retained the sense of its Latin predecessor, and means (bed)room or chamber. (Instead, you can say you’ve lost your – take a deep breath – macchina fotografica.).

But how did we make the etymological leap from a room to a photographic device? To find out, we need to zoom out and take a longer look at history.

Continue reading “[For the OxfordWords blog:] From room to zoom: a snapshot of the camera”

[For the OxfordWords blog:] Flash fiction: short stories with a long lifespan

Nested Russian dolls

Here’s a tongue-twister of a question: just how short should a short story be?

When it comes to word count, the literary short story has always resisted absolute rules. Outside the specifications of individual publishers, there’s no real definitive guide to how long a ‘short’ story should be.

Instead, it could be more useful to think of a short story as a standalone work that can, as Edgar Allen Poe said, be “read at one sitting” – or as a tale that has been whittled down to its essentials in a way that makes it “almost impossible… to summarize”. Or, perhaps, to consider the defining element of a short story as not so much its length, but its effect. It could be argued that the best short stories resonate in the mind for long after the last word has been read, triggering a “complexity of afterthought” in the reader.

In short order

Given the nebulous nature of the short story form, it’s not surprising that several sub-genres have sprung up in recent decades with word counts that are more sharply defined. Since Anton Chekhov is widely considered the original “supreme artist of the short story”, it’s nice to picture these sub-genres as a series of Russian dolls, each one fitting neatly inside the other.

Continue reading “[For the OxfordWords blog:] Flash fiction: short stories with a long lifespan”