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My ten favourite reads of 2012, including new fiction; books commemorating the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death, and the 400th anniversary of the Pendle witch trials; and some previously published books that I’ve just caught up with.

I had never read Kate Grenville’s work before, but Sarah Thornhill (and its predecessor, The Secret River) really evokes the stark beauty of the outback, contrasted with the tumult of the early settlers. 

Elif Shafak’s latest novel, Honour, set in London and Turkey from the 1970s through to the 90s, focuses on broken families and lost traditions,combining a gritty, moving storyline with a deft touch of magic realism.

The House on Paradise Street is the first novel by Sofka Zinovieff. The story veers between past and present Greece, with unsettling imagery culled from everyday speech and classical myth.

Michelle Morgan’s Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed (US subtitle Private and Confidential) is a fully revised, expanded update to her 2007 biography, completing a portrait as complex and appealing as Marilyn herself.

Marilyn accompanies a lavish exhibition, on display at the Ferragamo Museum in Florence, Italy until early 2013. I particularly liked the comparisons between photos of Monroe and the beauties of classical art.

Many novelists have tried to depict Marilyn Monroe in their fiction, often with poor results. Adam Braver’s Misfit avoids the exploitative route and instead creates a sensitive inner life for his heroine. 

This retelling of the Pendle Witches’ story was created for younger readers. Author Livi Michael focuses on nine year-old Jennet Device, who unwittingly betrayed her family. Malkin Child is full of charm and true to events.


Based on the trial of the Samlesbury witches, which collapsed in Lancaster during the same court session where the Pendle witches were condemned to death. The Witch & Her Soul retraces the social divisions and religious tensions at the turn of the 17th century.

Gil Adamson took ten years to write The Outlander, a ‘literary western’ about a young widow on the run from the law. Each line is beautiful and it’s no surprise to discover that Adamson is also a poet. (Published in 2007.)

This is a fantastic read, gripping and scary. Set in the rural Midwest during the 1980s, Dark Places explores adolescence, rebellion and murder from a survivor’s perspective. (Published in 2009.)