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Twelve books for 2016

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(Two of my titles are missing from the pictured pile, one was read on my kindle, one I borrowed so don’t have a copy of)

It’s always difficult to sum up an entire year in one blog post. I’m going to pointedly ignore all other external things and just talk books.

Of course, 2016 was the year of my #Woolfalong and that turned out to be a thoroughly illuminating reading experience. I was tempted to put three or four of my Virginia Woolf reads on my best of list … but instead I have stuck to my usual rules. No re-reads, and only one title per author. How to judge one book against another? You can’t and I haven’t – my choices are purely based on the what they meant to me, some of my choices are obviously literary – others perhaps less so – but I just loved them. At the end of the day that’s the only way I can judge. All but one of my choices are fiction – though three non-fiction books were in contention, only one made the final list – as fiction is my first love eleven works of fiction seem about right. So here they are: eight novels, three collections of short stories and one superb essay collection. Typically, only two of my choices were published in 2016. (Clicking on the title of each book will take you to my original review).

In alphabetical order.

Death Comes for the Archbishop – Willa Cather (1927)

My favourite Cather novel is A Lost Lady, but I didn’t read that this year, and Death Comes for the Archbishop comes only just behind that beautiful book now. I had had it on my shelf for ages, the premise didn’t particularly appeal – oh how wrong I was. I was captivated by the landscape, the story of a friendship – perhaps unlike any other I have read. It was a book which totally took me over, and I found myself thinking of it a lot after I had finished.

Don’t look now (short stories) – Daphne Du Maurier (1971)

I love short stories, and every story in this collection is brilliant– five long short stories, that are brilliantly fleshed out and satisfying. For sheer readability and tension – this collection is superb – I was sorry to finish it.

How to be a Heroine (essays) – Samantha Ellis (2014)

This is a book about books, it is also a work of feminism, literary criticism and memoir. I enjoyed meeting up with my own literary heroines, and encountering new ones or ones I had forgotten about. This was a book chosen by my very small book group, I loved our discussion of it, I had borrowed my friend’s copy to read, so I will now, certainly be buying my own edition to keep.

My Name is Leon – Kit De Waal (2016)

This was that rare thing – a book that made me cry. Created by Birmingham author Kit de Waal – who I was lucky enough hear speak alongside the brilliant Jackie Kay at the Birmingham literature festival. Leon is one of the most unforgettable child characters I have met in a while. Set in the 1980s – this is a story about love, identity and family, it explores the bond which exists between siblings and reminds us how home may not always be where you expect.

Night and Day – Virginia Woolf (1919)

In a way, this novel stands for all my Woolf reading in 2016. To the Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway were re-reads, and I loved them hugely, but I hadn’t expected much of this one. I don’t think I had ever read a review of it or heard people talk about it much. I loved the fact it was more conventional – for me it is a kind of perfect English novel, and one which has stayed with me.

Princes in the Land – Joanna Cannan (1938)

A title I had been aware of for a long time, yet had overlooked – one review I read of it somewhere made me give it a try. It is now firmly one of my favourite Persephone books. I can’t think why I managed to overlook it so long. An exquisite examination of family life that shows with brilliant honesty and some poignancy that parents can’t live their children’s lives for them. Another of those books that was over too soon.

Sandlands (short stories) – Rosie Thornton (2016) 

Another collection of short stories, and an author that was new to me. Sandlands is a collection of stories very much rooted in the Suffolk countryside, among its people, villages and wildlife. The images these stories evoke will live and linger long in my mind. A white doe, appearing suddenly in the dark woods, blue winged butterflies, a barn owl watching over a decades old Oxo tin of love letters, bell ringers, the spirits which exist within a four-hundred-year old house. Rosy Thornton celebrates the flora and fauna of the county she must dearly love, the stories link subtly by landscape, and by the past and present which weaves in and out of these wonderful stories.

So Long, See you tomorrow – William Maxwell (1980)

Although not published till 1980, Maxwell wrote this beautifully poignant novel in the 1930s – it is utterly perfect. The novel concerns a murder, a suicide, an adulterous relationship, and the loneliness of two boys who come together briefly in the midst of a series of terrible events.

The Door – Magda Szabó – (1987)

I don’t read enough Women in translation, this book showed me that I should read more. Magda Szabo hasn’t published that many books in English, so I am saving the other I have Iza’s Ballad, hoping it is as wonderful as this. The Door is the story of ‘the lady writer’ and the long and stormy relationship with her housekeeper Emerence.

The Little Girls – Elizabeth Bowen – (1964)

Elizabeth Bowen would definitely take one of the top spots in my favourite author list. I loved The Little Girls because it is about the reunion of three friends in their sixties, it is funny, moving and exquisitely written. I could easily imagine it as a film – I really think it should be a film. It isn’t an easy read – but it more than rewards the attention it requires. The Little Girls is a novel about the past, ageing and friendship, it is about those things that we bury and how we carry them with us. There is a wonderful atmosphere to this novel. I read a tatty old paperback copy of this, suffering a very heavy cold while on holiday in my favourite Devon town, a few weeks later I found a much nicer hardback copy and snapped it up.

The Winged Horse – Pamela Frankau (1953)

Pamela Frankau is the author of one of my favourite ever Virago books – The Willow Cabin – The Winged Horse is very nearly as good as that one. Set in both England and America it is a brilliantly compelling novel of power, truth and dishonesty. Pamela Frankau is someone I will be reading much more in the coming year.

The Woman Novelist & other stories (short stories) – Diana Gardner (2006)

My third short story collection, and another offering from Persephone. Diana Gardner lived near to Virginia and Leonard Woolf during the second world war, sadly she published very little, a novel by her that I want very much is almost impossible to find. I need to know if it’s worth spending nearly £20 on. Many of these stories were originally published in the 1940s, but this collection, adapted from that earlier collection, was put together by Persephone, and it is superb. I loved how Diana Gardner sometimes leads us down the garden path – we think we know where we’re going – but in fact we don’t. Her writing is subtle, clever and wonderfully atmospheric.

So, that’s it – twelve books for twelve months. What’s on your list?

 

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(A picture of my happy place)

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Twelve Books for 2015

I always find it hard to know where to begin with this yearly post. I sit down and try to come up with a list of say ten or twelve books to represent my year. Looking back over the year I am reminded of lots of lovely bookish moments. I remember reading happily on my kindle while holiday in my favourite place, sitting peacefully in the park reading a Mary Hocking book – while nearby some children played on the grass. So am I remembering the happy moment? or the book – it gets confusing.

IMG_20151215_204805(1)Before I get down to my final list, there some books which come highly recommended. All belong to two very different by equally brilliant series that I have read this year. The first of those is; The Forsyte Saga Chronicles – nine novels and a few associated interludes, I loved it all. The second series I read all of in 2015 was the Neapolitan series of novels by the much lauded Elena Ferrante. I know hype can be off putting (so can the covers of these novels to be frank) but they are rich, multi-layered novels, beautifully literary, I would urge anyone to give them a try. I find it hard to separate these two series into the individual novels – as I can’t help but think of them as a whole – which is why none made my final list. elenaferrante

For this year’s list – (my reading total between ten and twenty books lower than previous years will come in at just under 120) – I considered both new and old books, non-fiction, poetry and short story collections, the only things I didn’t consider were re-reads.

 

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So I have finally narrowed my entire bookish year to these 12 beauties – and it was very difficult picking. In a change to my usual yearly roundups I give you them in reverse order. In the end all I could do was go for the books that I simply loved – they may not be the most talked about or the most literary – I simply loved them- and they lived long in my mind afterwards. Stealing an idea from Harriet Devine – I have added an extract from my own review of each book on my list.

12 The Evening Chorus – Helen Humphreys (2015)

“James Hunter is a prisoner of war, held with other officers in a German Army camp. The officers are not required to work and so must find other ways of occupying themselves. For as the letters from James’s wife Rose become rarer, James has found something to take his mind far outside the brutal confines of the camp; a family of redstarts are nesting nearby, and James begins to make a daily, detailed study of them. Rose is trying to make a life for herself in the isolation of the English countryside that she loves so much, but more and more she begins to feel it is a life that doesn’t include James, and now a couple of his letters lay unopened and unread – put aside to be forgotten about. The Evening Chorus is a stunning novel of hope and the natural world.”

11 A Time of War – Mary Hocking (1968)

“A Time of War gives a Wren’s eye view of war and the first tastes of freedom that it brings. A group of young women come together in hut 8 of Guillemot; a Fleet Air Arm training station in the West Country. These young women are not very long out of school, away from home for the first time, learning new skills while becoming a part of the services world.”

10 Our Hearts were Young and Gay – Cornelia Otis Skinner (1944)

Cornelia Otis Skinner, an American actress, writer and screenwriter co-wrote Our Hearts were Young and Gay with her good friend Emily Kimbrough, a memoir about their travels in Europe in the 1920’s. This hugely entertaining memoir with its hilarious illustrations is deliciously infectious and has quite definitely whetted my appetite for the two essay collections Nuts in May and Popcorn that I have waiting.

9 The Hopkins Manuscript – R C Sherriff (1939)

The Hopkins Manuscript is a brilliant imagining of the moon’s collision with the earth, and the eventual end of western civilisation. The novel opens with a foreword in which an Abyssinian scientist explains how the Hopkins Manuscript was discovered inside a flask by explorers examining the ruins of Notting Hill; working to understand the last days of that dead western civilisation. The document was written in the days before the death of that civilisation, and hidden away for men of the future to discover.

8 The Small Widow – Janet McNeill (1967)

“When Harold, her husband of thirty two years dies suddenly, new widow Julia is left struggling with her grief and her new role in the world. She isn’t entirely sure she is acting as she is supposed to, she watches people watching her, fussing round her, while getting on with their own lives.”

7 Summer – Edith Wharton (1917)

“In this exquisite novel, small town prejudices meet the sudden awakening of passions in a young woman whose life has been one of lonely, unhappiness in her isolated village home. Charity Royall lives with her hard-drinking adoptive father; a small town lawyer. One day, as Charity sits behind her desk at the library, young architect Lucius Harney appears out of the blue, sophisticated, educated and hailing from far beyond North Dormer. Visiting the area, making a study of some local buildings, Lucius is related to one of the key figures of the community, he is a young man of some standing, and someone a little beyond Charity’s reach.”

6 Vain Shadow – Jane Hervey (1963)

“The story in Vain Shadow is simple enough – a wealthy family gather at their country estate in Derbyshire following the death of the patriarch. Over a period of four days they mourn him, arrange his funeral and read his will. Here Hervey shows how well she understands families; there is black humour and astute observation in her portrayal of a family living in the midst of death.”

5 Nora Webster – Colm Toibin (2014)

Enniscorthy in the late 1960’s; as the novel opens Nora is struggling to cope with the newness of her widowhood – her grief still new. Nora Webster is a delicately nuanced, introspective kind of novel, it’s definitely a character driven narrative, and one which I found took slow, considered reading. It was such a pleasure spending quality time with Nora Webster over several days; I did become totally immersed in her world. Nora Webster is a novel about loss, discovery, friendship and the rebuilding of a life.”

4 The Young Pretenders – Edith Henrietta Fowler (1895)

“The Young Pretenders is the story of two imaginative siblings; five year old Babs and her older brother Teddy, whose parents are away in India, serving the Empire. Teddy and Babs have been sent home to be cared for by their grandmother. With their grandmother dead, it has been left to staff to care for the children until new arrangements can be made.”

3 The Happy Tree – Rosalind Murray (1926)

“The Happy Tree opens with the death of a young man, and told in retrospect by a woman who is slightly astonished to find she is now forty. Our narrator, Helen Woodruffe remembers her childhood with her adored cousins Guy and Hugo in the years before the First World War. We then witness the emotional toll the war takes on Helen, as it necessarily takes or changes the people she loves.”

2 Orlando – Virginia Woolf (1928)

“Orlando is an extraordinary, historical fantasy. Woolf’s prose is glorious, rich and endlessly quotable, the images she leaves us with unforgettably colourful. Frequently studied by scholars of gender, transgender and women’s studies, Orlando is a novel of complex ideas. Certainly there is a great deal of fascinating and often very funny social commentary on the changing roles for men and women throughout the ages.

1 To the North – Elizabeth Bowen (1932)

“Set mainly in London during the 1920’s To the North explores the lives of two young women, related by marriage. Recently widowed Cecilia Summers and her sister in law Emmeline share a house; they each rely on the presence of the other in the house though they live quite independently of each other. To the North is just the kind of novel that is actually very hard to describe to someone else – there isn’t an enormous amount of plot, yet there is so much packed into it, that it seems one can only ever skim the surface. There is a myriad of detail that is so wonderfully telling in this novel, nothing is wasted; everything appears to have some meaning – and weaves together in an effortless piece of artistry. The final line of To the North is utter perfection – resonating as it does in the mind of the reader long after the book is closed.”

So that’s it – my books of 2015 – what were your best books of 2015?

to the north

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My year in books

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For a couple of weeks now I have been seeing lists appear, I confess I love reading them, but soon began to worry about compiling my own list. Something I always enjoy doing, and yet find more and more difficult, it seems unfair somehow to judge one book against another. Still for all that I have attempted to whittle the 131 books I read down to twelve favourites – books which have stayed with me blew me away – or just made for an amazing reading experience. Sometimes it is just about the right book at the right time, but that counts for me just as much.

Before I get to my big dozen, I have also decided to highlight three books actually published in 2014 – I don’t read as many new books as old books – only twenty one books of the 131 read in 2014 were published in 2014, so before I get to my favourite twelve of the year;

Three brilliant books published in 2014

 

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1 Winter by Christopher Nicholson – a novel about the last years of Thomas Hardy, as a big Hardy fan it was a must for me and I loved it.
2 Wake by Anna Hope – a novel exploring the fractured lives of three women in the early 1920’s – women forever affected by that most terrible of all conflicts just a few years before. I could barely put it down.
3 H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald – Which was my penultimate book of the year, and one of just a few non-fiction reads of the year too. An absolutely wonderful blend of biography and nature writing I loved every word.

Then I realised that I also wanted to celebrate a few re-reads – which I don’t usually allow into my top twelve.

 

My top three re-reads – all of them big classics – but classics are classics for a reason, I give you:

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1 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy (1896) ok yes it’s sad – but honestly it is also absolutely brilliant, endlessly readable, my second reading of this novel, it won’t be my last.
2 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert (1857) – I had forgotten so much about this book and was blown away by its sheet brilliance and readability.
3 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins, (1860) utterly unputdownable, multiple narratives keep the plot moving along and the dastardly Count Fosco has to be one of the best villains in literature.

So yes, basically I’m cheating a little bit, because I have just read so many great books this year. In purely numerical terms – my stats are not quite as good as last year, in fact the last two or three years I think have seen a downward trend – hmm – something to do with blogging? I wonder.

Of course 2014 was also all about two big reading challenges; I read all twelve novels of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, and joining in with some friends from the Librarything Virago group spent some time reading books from a list we compiled for The Great War theme read. I haven’t included any of the Powell books to my list – because really it is the entire Dance that is so remarkable and I didn’t feel able to pick out just one individual part of it for special mention.

 

 

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So here – at last are my twelve favourite books I read in 2014.

1 A Willow Cabin – Pamela Frankau – (1949) I carried this novel with me for days after I finished it, and still can’t adequately say why I loved it so much, I just did.
2 Ambrose Holt and Family – Susan Glaspell, (1931) I struggled over which Susan Glaspell novel to add to this list, Brook Evans was my other choice, Ambrose Holt probably isn’t as fine a novel as Brook Evans – but something about it, right book right time, and two characters I really loved, meant I had to include it.
3 All Quiet on the Western Front – Eric Maria Ramarque, (1929) read for the Great War theme read, I was blown away by this beautifully written portrayal of war.
4 Testament of youth – Vera Brittain – (1933) anther non-fiction book again read for the Great War theme read, an unforgettable story of war, loss and friendship.
5 In the mountains – Elizabeth Von Arnim – (1920) a little known Von Arnim, which provided a timely reminder that I must read more by her, probably not her best novel, but I loved every word.
6 Not so Quiet – Helen Zenna Smith – (1930) Another Great War theme read – and a book about the women ambulance drivers of WW1 – a fairly uncompromising portrayal it deserves wider recognition.

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7 Letters from Constance – Mary Hocking (1991) – I love Mary Hocking and read about four of her novels this year, I particularly liked the two women at the centre of this novel, which focuses on two women and their families over many years from girlhood to middle age.
8 A Lost lady – Willa Cather – (1923) Read for Willa Cather reading week, this is probably Cather’s best novel, the writing is sublime.
9 Ruffian on the Stair – Nina Bawden – (2001) I enjoy Nina Bawden, and this novel of which I might not have expected much, took me by surprise, I couldn’t put it down, and the characterisation is excellent.
10 Operation Heartbreak – Duff Cooper (1950) A slim little Persephone book, it is aptly named, and utterly unforgettable, beautiful.
11 Patricia Brent, Spinster –Herbert Jenkins (1918) I first heard about this delightful little book on Stuck in a book’s blog, it is probably in that Miss Pettigrew category of grown up fairy-tale, it’s not faultless but I couldn’t help but love it.
12 The Midwich Cuckoos – John Wyndham (1957) I’ve included this one, because yes I love it, but also because, this book group read took me right outside my comfort zone.

So there it is, phew – it was great bookish year – only a few books really disappointed and they were largely more modern publications – but I won’t talk about them. I have plenty of great looking things to get stuck into in 2015 and I’m looking forward to continuing to share whatever I read with you all.
Happy New Year!

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20131229_195654(  A slightly blurry picture of my tbr today – and yes there are books behind the stacked up ones )

How can I sum up an entire year of reading and blogging succinctly? Well I’m not sure I can easily – but I’ll try. 2013 has been a great year for both reading and blogging – and will particularly be remembered by me for being the centenary year of Barbara Pym’s birth and associated read-a-long. I’ve written about that before so I won’t repeat myself – but it really has been a lovely reading event. I also hosted an Anita Brookner reading month – which I thoroughly enjoyed – and had fully intended to squeeze in more Brookner at the end of the year – but didn’t manage it.

In 2013 I read 133 books – just a couple short of 2012, but I must admit to have read woefully few non-fiction (11)– I will try to do better but no promises, I am famously bad at reading non-fiction. However I think I chose what little non-fiction I did read very well indeed, as two of that small number made it on to my “best of” list, and there were two more in serious contention. I am a lover of fiction however – and there is just no getting away from it. I decided to not allow any re-reads on to my best of list – and I seem to have done a fair bit of re-reading over the year – and so Jane Eyre, The Great Gatsby, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Quartet in Autumn, Emma and The Warden, which all received five stars from me over on Goodreads – are not on my list, but I still had plenty of marvellous first time reads to choose from and here they are in the order in which I read them. (Click titles to go to my reviews)

Peking Picnic  1. Peking Picnic (1932) – Ann Bridge
Following my month of re-reading back in January 2013 this was the first book I took off my tbr – one sent to me by fellow librarything member Dee. Beautifully written, Ann Bridge’s elegant prose gives a magnificent sense of place – that had stayed with me.

 

  2. A Favourite of the Gods (1963) – Sybille Bedford
One of a pafavgodsir of beautiful editions from Daunt books – I loved them both – but this one the first of the two novels tipped the scales slightly. Beautifully written, with a wonderful sense of place – A Favourite of the Gods is the story of a mother and daughter in Europe in the 1920’s and 30’s, a life changing moment and its consequences.

 

 

guarddaughters   3. Guard your Daughters (1953) – Diana Tutton
This book seemed to be all over blogosphere toward the end of 2012 following Stuckinabook’s wonderful review of it. I was therefore delighted to be sent a copy by fellow librarything member Kerry after she had read it – I had struggled to find an affordable copy of it. It is a wonderful novel about unconventional sisters, living within a slight dysfunctional family; the Harvey sisters have been sheltered from the real world to a ridiculous degree. Tutton slowly reveals the darker undercurrents at play within the family. It is a real shame this novel remains out of print.

 

understormswing  4. Under Storm’s Wing (1988) – Helen Thomas

This is a wonderful collection of memoirs by the widow of Great War poet and essayist Edward Thomas. Helen Thomas writes honestly and with quite surprising beauty and poignancy. Helen Thomas’s first volume of memoirs were originally published in 1922 – but this complete collection includes both her books some of her surviving letters – and further material by Robert Frost (friend of Edward Thomas) and Myfanwy Thomas, Helen and Edward Thomas’s daughter. It has made me want to read more by and about Edward Thomas – and I have had two books for Christmas of Edward Thomas’s (non-poetry) writing.

ruby'sspoon  5. Ruby’s Spoon (2010) – Anna Lawrence Pietroni
This novel was a joy of a find. I read it before going to a talk at a local meet up group I attend here in Birmingham, the novel set in the Black Country (just outside of Birmingham) in the 1930’s. Anna Lawrence Pietroni is a local author – and Ruby’s Spoon is her first novel and I was completely blown away and enchanted by it. I went on to buy four copies of it for other people over the course of the year – two of whom I know for certain loved it (the other two I’m sure will too when they read it).

 

heir6. The Heir (1922) – Vita Sackville West
Undoubtedly the shortest book on my best of list, The Heir is a perfectly structured beautifully written novella – by a woman who knew exactly what it was to love a place in an all-consuming way. The Heir tells the story of an inheritance and the unlikely affect it has upon a worn down insurance clerk from Wolverhampton. The Heir is proof – if any were needed – that sometimes less really is more.

 

cousinrachel7.  My Cousin Rachel (1951) – Daphne Du Maurier
In May I decided to read only books written by authors who birthdays fall in May (the same as me) I may do this again actually as I loved it. My Cousin Rachel is a rollercoaster of a read – the kind that makes you want to sit up late to read more. There is also a wonderful ambiguity about the story – in the motivations particularly of Rachel.

 

 

the lost traveller8. The Lost Traveller (1950) – Antonia White
This is the second of a quartet of novels by Antonia White, the first of which Frost in May is probably the most famous. I can’t really say why I loved this so much – I just did – the story of Clara Batchelor’s adolescence, her odd relationship with her parents and her first experience of freedom is memorable and enormously readable.

 

 

theluminaries9.  The Luminaries (2013) – Eleanor Catton
Probably one of the most talked about books of 2013 – the Booker winner is also the longest by some few hundred pages on my list. It seems to be a little predictable to have The Luminaries on my best of list – and yet it has to be here, it has earned its place. I was blown away by it – I read it far quicker than I expected to – and was constantly impressed by it as I read.

 

an interrupted life10. An Interrupted Life: the diaries and letters of Etty Hillesum – 1941-1943
Etty Hillesum died in November 1943 in Auschwitz – these diaries and letters that she left behind her are really quite remarkable. One of the most remarkable things – aside from the wonderful writing – is how Etty’s spirit, intelligence and goodness come shining through so perfectly.

 

 

Dimanche&otherstories11 Dimanche and other stories (2000) Irène Némirovsky

Another from book from the wonderful people at Persephone books – these gorgeous short stories are exquisitely written, wonderfully re-create France during the early years of World war two – just before Irene Nemirovsky’s death in Auschwitz in 1942. They have made me want to read everything by and about Irene Nemirovsky.

 

civiltostrangers12 Civil to Strangers – Barbara Pym
I had to include a Barbara Pym novel in my best of list – the vast majority of my Pym reading this year have been re-reads, but this wasn’t – and Civil to strangers was an utter delight. Real vintage Pym, I loved every word. A short novel, some unfinished pieces – edited by Hazel Holt and some short stories – they rounded off my year of Pym reading superbly.

 

 

So tomorrow is 2014 – and we have yet to know just what it will look like, but I think it will be fairly book filled judging by my shelves. I have a couple of exciting reading projects coming up – which I cannot wait to begin, and I know other people will be joining me. I feel I want to read more of my lovely green Viragos this coming year, and I definitely want to read more Willa Cather, Edith Wharton and Vita Sackville West – they are the authors immediately on my reading horizon as I have several of their books TBR. I will of course be continuing with the Classic Club, which has proven so addictive, and my Hardy reading challenge, undertaken by myself and several friends will finish in June– I will be sad to see the end of it.
So whatever you will be doing or reading in 2014, wherever in the world you are I wish you a very happy New Year, may it bring you everything you could wish for and lots of good books.

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I have found it enormously difficult this year to come up with a top 10 books for 2012. I have I think had an especially good reading year. So stealing an idea from Rachel at Booksnob – I have instead come up with a top 12 for 2012. Looking through my list of the 134 books I read this year I see I have read only 20 non-fiction books. Although there were some good ones among them, I have ended up only including fiction books on my top 12, this wasn’t deliberate – and if I had taken my list to a top 15 there would have been a couple of non-fiction on the list – however it felt right – for the sake of brevity at least – to stop at 12. In order to prevent myself filling up my list with Thomas Hardy and Elizabeth Taylor I have only allowed myself one title for each author. Some of the books on my list are re-reads – I find as I get older I re-read far more books – than I ever thought I would when I was younger. For years I would cry “too many books, too many books” when faced with the possibility of re-reading anything. However as time goes on, I find I envy people their first experience of a book I once loved. That first experience of a book can’t be entirely re-created, but it can be enhanced.
I have also created a separate list of three fabulous reads that were published in 2012. I read so many older books these days, Persephone books, Virago Modern Classics, Penguin Classics are among my favourites. I have only read 14 books published in 2012 – so a top 10 would be over kill – however I have listed 3 books which I absolutely loved – and would like to highly recommend. (I have not included Bring up the Bodies or The Lighthouse – which I loved – because everyone else will be talking about them I am sure)

Highly recommended and published this year:
1. The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng – Short listed for the Man Booker Prize – a beautifully written novel set in Malaysia in the years after the Second World War.
2. Tom-All-Alones – Lynn Shepherd A homage to Dickens it is that marvellous thing; just an absolute page turner! – a book to curl up with late at night and read and read till you are done. Also look out for the next book in this series in February – A Treacherous Likeness it too is fantastic read.
3. The Snow Child – Eowen Ivey – Right outside my comfort zone, or at least I thought it would be – based on the Russian fairy story of the same name; this is an atmospheric and memorable read.

So then on to my top 12 books for 2012.

My favourite reads of 2012  – in no particular order:
1. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton  (1905)- Which I think I may have read many many years ago, but had no memory of at all. This started me off on an Edith Wharton binge – I read 3 other Edith Wharton novels this year, loved them all and added a further five to my TBR.
2. Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy  (1874)– Read for my on-going Thomas Hardy reading project which doesn’t end till April 2014. Another re-read for me, and I loved it far more this second time around. It is a wonderful book, exciting, romantic and still enormously readable.
3. Death of the Heart – Elizabeth Bowen (1938) – Again I think I may have read this many many years ago – before I think I was able to appreciate Elizabeth Bowen’s writing. One of three Elizabeth Bowen novels I read this year, it made me want to read all her novels and I have added another 3 to my TBR.
4. The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng (2012)– the novel I wanted to win this year’s Man Booker Prize, I loved every word. An enormously memorable novel, beautifully written, the images Tan Twan Eng wove into his marvellous narrative have stayed with me.
5. Miss Buncle Married – D E Stevenson (1936)– A Persephone book – and one book I was bereft to finish – I just wanted it to go on. Possibly not as literary as some other works, it is deeply cosy, hugely charming and a book I will read and read again I am sure. It prompted me to order the third “Miss Buncle” from the library – it took six months to come through.
6. A Game of Hide and Seek – Elizabeth Taylor (1951) – Well there had to be an Elizabeth Taylor on the list didn’t there? I have loved so much reading her books this year. A Game of Hide and Seek is now firmly my favourite of her novels.
7. Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862)– A well-known classic – that I had actually never read. I bought it in the new Penguin English Library edition – and gobbled it up while on holiday – could not put it down.
8. The New House – Lettice Cooper  (1936)– A Persephone book, a novel of such beautiful simplicity that it defies description.
9. Manja – Anna Gmeyner –(1938) Yet another Persephone book – a deeply poignant affecting story of five children in Germany in 1930’s during the rise of Nazism. Unforgettable, and unputdownable, a pretty good combination.
10. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott (1868)– Read a couple of days before Christmas, a re-read of course, but I think I enjoyed it far more this time around.
11. Greenbanks – Dorothy Whipple (1932)– I just adore Dorothy Whipple – this was the last of her books published by Persephone that I had left to read. I just loved this story of a family between the wars.
12. Illyrian Spring – Ann Bridge  (1935)– Re-issued this year by Daunt books – I ordered it as soon as I heard it was available. I have never been able to afford to travel outside this country – one of my biggest regrets – this novel transported me 1930’s style to sun drenched European villages, I adored it.

So what will 2013 bring? My TBR is at critical mass – and has some truly wonderful looking books on it. There is my month of re-reading to look forward to next month, and the start of the Librarything Virago group’s readalong of Barbara Pym in celebration of her centenary, I know others will be joining in too. I will also continue with the classics club, which I have only recently joined.

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Total books read in 2010 – 125

Fiction – 102  non-fiction 23

Well I did read fewer books this year than last – and I certainly didn’t read very many non -fiction. My first love is fiction, and will always be, and there will never be a time when I read as many NF as I do fic, but I do plan to try and improve upon my non-fiction total next year. I find that non-fiction does broaden my horizons a little, although I tend to stick to biography and letters or diaries. However looking back over everyhing I read in 2010 I realised I had read some lovely books, and so finding a top ten was tough – my list was at about 15 or 16 for ages and I considered cheating and having a top 20 or something instead. Eventually got it down to ten. I’ve included the publication dates in my list this year, becasue I think it is interesting to see when things first came out. I do read many books that were first published many years ago, and fewer books with more recent publication dates – although funnily many of these more recent one have made it on to the list – but I don’t think that is necessarily saying anything about more modern publications. On the list are 8 fiction works and 2 non-fiction. I chose the books which when I look back over the last year – immediately stand out for me, or were just such thumping good reads they left me breathless and were quite literally unputdownable.

My top ten:

1. The Expendable Man – Dorothy B Hughes (1963) Persephone 2007 – set in US in midst of civil rites movements, a story with a unexpected twist about class, racisim and civil rights.

2. The Mitfords: letters between six sisters – Charlotte Moseley (ed) (2008)  hugely readable book of letters between these amazing and endlessly fascinating sisters.

3 Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie  (2009) a haunting novel about a Japanese survivor of the Hirosama bomb, who travels to India, moving from 1945 to 2001.

4 The weather in the streets – Rosamond Lehmann (1936) sequel to An Invitation to the waltz, I found it beautifully written, and unputdownable.

5 The Help – Kathryn Stockett (2010) such an enormously readable and memorable novel about black maids in the American south and the rich white women who employ them.

6 In other rooms, other wonders – Daanyial Mueenuddin (2009) Pulitzer prize nominated book of linked short stories, beatifully written, that capture the places and people of Pakistan wonderfully.

7 The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins (1868) One of my all time favourites, a re-read of a book I fell in love with about 25 years ago. The first English detective novel, and still so readable.

8 Major Pettigrew’s Last stand – Helen Simonson (2010) marvelous feel good novel about love and grief and standing up for what is right.  Couldn’t put it down.

9 Absent in the Spring – Mary Westmacott (1944) always been a fan of Agatha Christie, but this was my first of the Mary Westmacott’s – loved it – so well written it deals with the crimes of the heart. In this novel a woman is stranded in a desert hotel on her way home, where she is forced to look hard at her life.

10 Kisses on a postcard – Terence Frisby (2009) a wartime memoir which was an impulse buy and turned out to be a little gem, really poignant and heartwarming, unlike the usual evacuation horror stories we get, this one was wonderful.

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I don’t know how interesting this will  be for anyone who likes contempory books, as I realise there is only one recent publication among these. That is: The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt by Rulka Langer, which has only just been published but I was lucky enough to recieve as part of the librarything early reviewers programme.

The Bone people – Keri Hulme  (F)
The Country Girls  – Edna O’Brien  (F)
Someone at a distance – Dorothy Whipple  (F)
A closed eye – Anita Brookner   (F)
The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt – Rulka Langer (NF)
The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street – John Saumerez Smith (NF)
In a summer Season – Elizabeth Taylor (F)
Dr Bradley Remembers – Francis Brett Young (F)
Diana Moseley – Anna De Courcy   (NF)
The red Queen – Margaret Drabble  (F)

oh dear it is hard to pick just 10.

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