2017 has been not the best of years, out in the world with the various heading-rapidly towards-disaster-and-foolishness events which certainly seem to be alive and well on both sides of the Atlantic.
It may or may not be coincidental that not only has it been a very bad year for my reviewing, but also for the memorable excellence of my reading (see next paragraph). I had a complete reviewing break for two months where I was working far too hard. I have been reading, reading, but seem unable to get my reviewing backlog down – currently just shy of 20 titles.
It has also been an unusually poor reading year in that a fair proportion of my reading did not make the ‘clear 4 star minimum. without rounding up’ for reviewing here – I only review what I am recommending. And some books were not good enough to stay with, and got abandoned, unfinished, unreviewed at all, anywhere. Punishment enough to read as far as I did, to spend further time thinking about such turkeys in order to write a review…life is far too short.
So, to that Bingo. I have tried where possible, to give preference to what is already reviewed here – but there are titles which are still part of my backlog of what WILL be recommended reads, but are waiting to be reviewed.
There are links to all the original reviews on book titles within text, (as long as I HAVE reviewed them) not the pictures……and also, links to other blogs in places where thanks are due……. If the chosen book is recommended by me but the review will be for future writing and posting, the link will be to that South American river site, where hopefully you can do a look inside.
More than 500 pages…..A good deal more, at 768 pages will be Mackinlay Kantor’s monumental American Civil War Pulitzer Prizewinning Andersonville This is not available on Kindle though, and is something of a ‘forgotten classic’, winning its Pulitzer in 1956. More readily available at reasonable price Stateside, I read it as a small group ‘Buddy Read’ in my on-line book group, The Buddies each chose an American classic. I could easily have slotted this one into the next category, but as this was the only over 500 page novel I read which I can recommend………….(Other over 500s were abandoned turkeys. And I am vegetarian.)
A Forgotten Classic…..The Buddy group within the group again came up trumps (oh dear, that word has lost its original meaning, which I intended here), for our next lit-fic foray, ‘European (including UK)’ We gave one person two choices, as hers were short stories/novellas to attract more of the group to old classics (I think those of us in the Buddy might indeed ourselves be the old classics of the group !) So, not Flaubert’s most well-known novel, but the short, beautiful story of a faithful servant A Simple Heart
A Book That Became A Movie…….there might have been several choices here, but the dark, perhaps horribly prescient, The Road seems almost too obvious a choice in the year where a dangerous and terrifyingly, elected man is escalating the despoiling of our planet
A Book Published this Year……has me staying Stateside with Jennifer Egan’s absorbing Manhattan Beach . 3 stories, interlinking, and a setting largely as America enters the Second World War, and women are moving into areas of the workforce not previously available to them.
A Book with A Number In the Title….Well I read a few, but the only one which I’m champing at the bit to recommend is one which is a scheduled post for next month, Joanna Cannon’s second book, to hit the stores on 11th Jan Three Things About Elsie There are reviews up (as positive, for the most part, as mine will be) but these are from Amazon Vine. Those of us who read and reviewed this from NetGalley are not allowed to post ours on Amazon till publication day
A Book Written by Someone Under 30…..Anne Brontë was only 28 when her second novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was published, and the following year, she was dead of consumption. Anne’s writing is being re-appraised, re-appreciated. She rather stands outside the Romantic Tradition of her sisters, and is being seen now in the light of being a feminist writer, a realist, someone with views which sit her beside politicised sisters. This one was my own choice for our Buddy foray into ‘Europe’ (as opposed to American), and old classics. How I finally came to read it, for the first time, will be the byline for another choice (non-fiction)
A Book With Non-Human Characters.…The weird and wonderful Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Cat’s Cradle Book was so happily brought to my attention by Jane from Beyond Eden Rock. Otherwise, this slot would have been filled by something which did not get reviewed on here. Unfortunately though, this delightful collection of folk tales told to kittens by their mothers is out of print, and I may have snaffled the last easily available, modestly priced on the internet copy. Keep your eyes peeled, habitués of second-hand shops for any chance found copies. It is lovely and features all sorts of talking animals
A Funny Book’s… place goes to a book which I so happily re-read, and is, indeed funny, but, oh so very much more than just a funny book. Gerald Durrell’s book about his childhood on Corfu My Family and Other Animals is a stunning delight for lovers of beautiful writing, of autobiography, and of close and loving observation of the natural world. This could also have won a place as a book which scares me….young Gerald loved all creatures……even including praying mantids, creatures which belong in my nightmares, mainly due to the detailed descriptions which terrified me, and which I read here as a child. Sadly, it was these which put paid to the fantasy that perhaps I could be a naturalist………
A Book by a Female Author… (sighs that this category might even be deemed to be necessary at all) but I am going to fill it with a book which is still waiting to have its 5 star, more if I could, review written. That glorious writer Rebecca Solnit, whose book Wanderlust: A History of Walking was one of the first load of reviews from my prior reviewing which I posted on here when I first started blogging. This year I read her book which probably fits this ‘by a woman’ category with nice irony and disdain Men Explain Things to Me and Other Essays
My book with a mystery….. almost turned out to be a double mystery. It is Elizabeth Kostova’s The Shadow Land I had adored her first novel The Historian, a historical/vampire story. I do not normally willingly read the vampire genre, but this was far more than an excuse for lots of gore, wooden stakes and the macabre. So even though the cover, and the setting (Romania) suggests the mystery will involve the pointy toothed ones, there are far more mysteries, and some, far deadlier and more chilling, which come along with twentieth century totalitarian politics
A book with a one-word title…….this must go to a wonderful writer on perfume, particularly natural perfumes. Mandy Aftel is a bespoke perfumer, teacher of perfume making, and, equally as important, a wonderful writer. She was in a prior life a psychotherapist, so her book is full of science, and of mystery and poetry. He description of natural perfume ingredients, and the potency of perfume, and its initial linking to the sacred, through the ages, is sheer delight. And don’t even get me started on the line drawings….Fragrant DOES have a sub-title, but I’m choosing to ignore that, as it is in tiny letters!
For my Book of Short Stories...I was very impressed with most of the stories in Jen Campbell’s The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night This is Campbell’s first foray into fiction …and a fine one it is too. She has a dark and vivid imagination, and I look forward to reading more of her imaginative writing. She may be known to those who love books about books, books about bookshops. As a bookseller in independent bookshops she has compiled a couple of books about the weird things customers say in bookshops, and also, a celebration of the world-wide quirkiness and style of independent booksellers
For my free space choice……There were so many I wanted to include here but I decided it must be Colm Toibin’s House of Names which explores the Oresteia story. I do particularly love Toibin’s explorations of myth and history. This left me feeling half here, half millenia ago. It was a hard choice, though, between this one and a couple of other books by less well established writers,; Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fires, and Sara Taylor’s second novel The Lauras were both singing a siren song. As was Richard Flanagan’s First Person, still stuck in my to be reviewed backlog
A book set on a Different Continent… yields that written by a favourite children’s author of mine, Marcus Sedgwick. Another book which seems a particularly pertinent one this year. Sedgwick has written a book for older teens set on the Mexican side of that proposed wall – so Central America. The cover of Saint Death is clearly designed to bring in YAs who like action and the macabre. It was the author (I have read many of his books) which drew me – I knew it would be a very different sort of book – and it is.
A book of Non-Fiction…. has to be Samantha Ellis’ Take Courage This is a kind of hybrid of biography, literary criticism and autobiography. The subject matter is Anne Bronte, her life and her writing, an analysis and review of how her writing was seen over the last 150 odd years, and also the influence of her writing on feminist writers. Ellis herself is one such. It was this book which made me, long, long after I should have done, pick up A Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I had fallen into the trap of not exploring her writing because of the way she had been dismissed by literary critics.
The First Book By A Favourite Author….must involve Ngaio Marsh, regarded as ‘The Empress’ of Golden Age crime. I am working my way sequentially through her canon (I think it is Book 10 which is waiting for its review before I am allowing myself to read the next. So, with a marvellous classic country house setting setting is the very first outing with wonderful Roderick Alleyn, A Man Lay Dead. Now the link is to a portmanteau review as my copy was a book containing the first 3 books, each of which gets its own review in the one post
A Book You Heard About On-Line might be another redundant category these days, given that so many of us discover books through bloggers, NetGalley, Goodreads, Amazon reviews etc. I am going to pick – because I really want to flag it up again ‘Samer’s’ The Raqqa Diaries, which I got as a digital ARC. This might also have been my ‘author under 30’ ‘Samer’ (anonymity essential, as his family are still in Syria) was part of a resistance group struggling both against the Assad Regime and against Daesh, who took Raqqa. Grim, humbling, heartbreaking and inspiring all at once
A Best Selling Book…. had me eventually surrendering to Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent which reminded me so much of the vitality and exuberance of writing to be found in Sarah Waters Victorian set writing. A similarly twisty turny delight in the Victorian period, the conventions of its literature, and the telling of a wonderful yarn. Assuredly, this was not just a book with an utterly gorgeous cover. I had feared it might only be a hyped book, and I ended up one of the many who fell under Perry’s spell
A book based on a true story…. was a marvellous crime and detective re-read, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time published in 1951. And that I came to read it again, for possibly the 4th, but at least the 3rd time, was because its 1951 publication meant it was my choice for Karen of Kaggsy’sBookish Ramblings co-hosted The 1951 Club. Co host of this was Simon of Stuck In A Book The true story, of course, that the book is based on, is the mystery of ‘What Happened to the Princes In The Tower’ and the whole complexity of the end of the Wars of The Roses, and the Tudor Succession. Richard IIIrd, in other words, wintry discontent, glorious summer of the sun/son of York and all
A book right at the bottom of my TBR… had to be a book I kicked myself for avoiding for so very very long. The estimable Fiction Fan had recommended this to me back in 2015. I bought it, and it languished on the bedside table, hidden by newer purchases. It almost became a running joke – was i ever going to read it? It seemed a good idea to make it MY Buddy Read Choice for our ‘American classics’ And I completely fell under the spell of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral I must be honest though and say the rest of the buddies really did not like it and I think we all wondered if we had been reading the same book as each other. I remain so moved by it, and so glad I read it, finally
A Book Your Friend Loves….One of the buddies (can you tell there are a lot of plugs for this group who are wanting to recruit members….more later) strongly recommended John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies to me. And how right she was. Reminding me not a little of William Boyd’s spanning-the-history-of-the-century books, this is a beautiful, warm narrative of an Irish boy, from 1945 to 2015. Fact and fiction wonderfully woven together with ‘real’ characters occasionally drifting through the margins
A Book That Scares You….Well Fiction Fan scores tangentially here, pushing me towards Algernon Blackwood’s extremely scary The Willows – the link is to HER review, though I have also read and reviewed it on here. It would indeed have been MY scary one, except that a commenter on that review suggested I should check out Blackwood’s The Wendigo. I have to admit that the shivery chilly scale of terror did indeed get even higher. Be afraid….be very very afraid
A book that is more than 10 years old.. is going to be another marvellous Buddy read, or, in fact, another re-read, from the American book project. This was the choice of the person who recommended the Boyne, and was one we all thought terrific. Published in 1966 Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is the story of a crime which happened in 1959 and shocked America – just that, a murder which took place ‘In Cold Blood’ and seemed to be a reflection of a changing society, losing its sense of apple-pie security
The second book of a series…. is sometimes the category I fall down on, as I am not a big ‘series’ follower. Well, not this year! Once again my online group, but this time, the group as a whole introduced me to a new author, when we chose, from the 3 books offered by the co-hosts, Mick Herron’s first in his series about the Z listers of Intelligence, dark, terrifying, and very funny. So I read Slow Horses and was instantly hooked, up-ended surprised, shocked, delighted……and have gone roaring through all 4. Book 5 comes out next year – I can’t wait – but, yes, I also read the second book in the Slough House/Jackson Lamb series Dead Lions
So to a book purely on the colour of its cover – Blue..Well I feared I might have used blues up in other categories, but, actually the blue was a hard choice between several worthy contenders. I decided, in this remarkably dystopian year, to go for Jennie Melamed’s Gather the Daughters It is a horrific, beautifully written dystopia, which seems rather less ‘speculative fiction’ at this point, than one would like. It could easily have filled the ‘a book that scares you’ category, but for far less pleasant reasons. We read ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night for a kind of pleasure that we aren’t in a haunted house at this point – but, dystopias when we might be there, in some ways……….
So……..despite in some ways a disappointing reading year, due to the larger number of abandoned reads/so so, okay only reads, I’m delighted with the books on my ‘card’
And for those who might be interested in an online book club – we are a small group, choosing a book a month to do an online discussion of, which happens on a Sunday early evening. Those who can’t make the ‘live’ tend to post answers to discussion questions later. I have been very pleased with the more informal ‘join if you want’ Buddies this year, with those of us taking part reading something like a chapter a day and perhaps posting or offering a discussion point at some point during the week, and carefully avoiding any reading ahead reveals. Although UK based we currently have a Canada based member and have also had a Statesider Here is an email to contact one of the co-hosts if you want to find out more firstname.lastname@example.org
And it only remains, this being my last post of 2017, to wish for all of us that our 2018s might be a year in which we see our extraordinary species embracing more of its amazing, inspiring side, treasuring our planet and our interconnectedness.