- The Casino – Margaret Bonham. And so the reading year is off to a great start with this collection of short stories, first published in 1948. They are my favourite kind, often centred around a small, domestic event with their importance dependent on the interplay of characters (it scarcely needs pointing out that this is a Persephone Book, does it?). Bonham does a good job in drawing out human weakness, as in ‘The River’, in which a father’s loving patience with his young daughter momentarily snaps; or ‘The Professor’s Daughter’, where a precociously imaginative girl runs rings around Miss Jenner, the snobbish spinster in reduced circumstances who has offered to look after her. But these are balanced by Harriet in ‘Inigo’, who much to her surprise and despite being unmarried, finds herself adopting a baby.
- Lanark – Alasdair Gray. Right. I’m a few chapters into Book 3 (the first book) and so far it’s all very odd and allegorical, and I’m not quite sure what’s going on. It might be the beginning of Lanark’s journey to being human. I don’t think I’m enjoying it, but I’m sort of fascinated. Will have to intersperse with stuff I understand.
- Winter Tales – George Mackay Brown. I had put these aside for winter, and now it is. They are perfect lunchtime reading, being mostly very short and always sparely beautifully written. A spark of light on a dark winter’s day.
- Bulldog Drummond – Sapper. On ‘The Final Count’, which for a change is a first person narrative, although sadly not written from Drummond’s perspective.
- The Cherry Tree – Adrian Bell. Because I left Sapper at work last night, so I wouldn’t read instead of doing other things I had to do instead; and picked up vol 3 of Bell to take to bed with me. Slightly dodgy beginning, I think, but seems to be settling down a bit.
- Nightingale Wood – Stella Gibbons. Yes, I know, I only read this last year. It was the perfect antidote to that training course I was on.
- Elegance – Kathleen Tessaro. This started off much better than I thought it was going to be, and then rather lost its way, I think. Unhappily married woman has to figure out who she is, which she does partly with the help of friends, and partly with an old handbook to achieving elegance.
- Detection Unlimited – Georgette Heyer. Nothing better on a cold afternoon than an unread Heyer to go with the tea. This one was a bit laborious, and the romance was only there for the sake of it, but still very satisfactory to see Inspector Grant get his man.
- Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson. Which I liked enormously, although not entirely sure about the ending which seemed suddenly to veer into soap opera territory. Major Pettigrew himself is utterly endearing.
- Treasures of Time – Penelope Lively. So far, so meh. The plot might be all right but the treatment is so heavy handed, and the set up looks very much as though it’s going in a familiar direction. Family secrets are doubtless to be revealed, but the foreshadowing is so unsubtle that by p. 58 I don’t think there are any surprises ahead. Am mostly reading on to find out how Nellie will triumph over ghastly Laura.
- I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith. Which is one of my all time favourites and the perfect comfort read for the end of last week.
- Room – Emma Donoghue. Again with the ‘meh’. It’s an interesting enough story but I absolutely didn’t buy the narrative voice and I don’t think the novel managed to sustain it’s own internal logic.
- Living Dead in Dallas – Charlaine Harris. Absolutely dreadful, much like her first. This one was research, but as there’s about a para in total about the maenad, I shan’t have to touch it again and can concentrate on the TV series instead. Result!
- The Weirdstone of Brisingamen – Alan Garner. Which I haven’t read in a whole lot of years and had largely forgotten. I don’t think there’s anyone else who writes like Garner, is there? Terrific stuff. Oh, but don’t buy the HarperCollins 50th anniversary edition because there are so many typos it really gets in the way of the story. Probably if you get an older version, the publisher will have bothered to pay for proofreading.
- The Passage – Justin Cronin. I got about 100 pages into this last summer, but I was still at the point when I couldn’t concentrate. Picked it up again yesterday and have blasted through most of the rest. Entirely derivative and yet still compulsive junk food reading.
- The Moon of Gomrath – Alan Garner. Even better than Weirdstone, much more complicated plot and not such a straight, linear narrative. And again, just plain wonderful writing. Also, fewer typos. May have to explore Garner’s later stuff.
- Nocturnes – John Connolly. Which is a collection of creepy, scary short stories; and in particular, the first one I read ‘Some Children Wander’. I never liked circuses, or clowns, anyway.
- Thursbitch – Alan Garner. Part of which is written in what I suspect is extremely accurate 18th century dialect, and therefore I am only grasping at the meaning. But is is a treasure of a book.
- The Man Who Sold Death – James Munro. Which opens with an explosion and pretty swiftly goes on to establish that John Craig, for whom the car bomb was intended, is not a nice man. Well paced, well written so far.
- Conceit – Mary Novik. About John Donne’s daughter, and I’ve been a bit pick-up-and-put-down with it so haven’t really developed a flow. Not very drawn in so far.
- The Thirteen Treasures – Michelle Harrison. Which was ok, except for the bits that made no sense at all, and the fact that the title had very little to do with the book. So that a couple of things that seemed relevant turned out to be meaningless. Which is not getawayable with, even if it is a children’s book and even if there is going to be a sequel.
- Admission – Jean Hanff Korelitz. Portia Nathan is an Admissions officer for Princeton. She spends most of her time immersed in the files of the students applying, focusing on them to the detriment of paying attention to her own life. Until, seemingly out of nowhere, it all starts to unravel. No surprising destination here, but the journey was very readable.
- Anglo-Saxon Attitudes – Angus Wilson. This is all the fault of Slightly Foxed, who had an essay on Wilson in the Summer issue. It made him sound much more readable than I had ever supposed.
- The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss. Dear Pat, I do hope you are not going to turn out to be the next George R R Martin, making us wait years for the next book. By the time this one came along (and that was not an unduly long time, mind you), I had pretty much forgotten vol 1. Didn’t matter, though, this one romped along and I soon picked it up. And just as I was thinking ‘Enough of the University, already’, lo! that’s just what happened. Precocious Kvothe, learning all manner of arts and building a myth around himself. Where will it all end? Something has to drag him out of that inn.
- Alone in Berlin – Hans Fallada. For which I will put on my unpopularity hat and say ‘Meh’. For bookclub, skim read it, seemed enough. Translationese and it all seemed terribly familiar from, um, anything else I’ve read about WWII Germany. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it suffers from Stieg Larson syndrome (all hype, no substance) but it’s another one of those Books the Success of Which I Do Not Comprehend.
- Assassin’s Quest – Robin Hobb. Which I got all excited about, having raced through the preceding vols in the trilogy, but am finding a slog. Possibly because the narrator is an IDIOT, who, if given a choice between taking the stupid path and doing something that won’t end in death/pain/severe discomfort, unhesitatingly behaves like a COMPLETE MORON. Update: I have abandoned this within 100pp of the end because the alleged hero is simply too stupid to bear, and it is simply incomprehensible that his companions haven’t clubbed him on the head and left his body in a ditch.
- A Small Death in Lisbon – Robert Wilson.
Meh.Ok, my original rating was unfair and probably had a lot to do with the pick up and put down way I was reading this. On Friday night I glued myself to the sofa and blasted through the remaining 350 pp. I still don’t love the beginning, and I think that set up could have been as effectively achieved in a different way. But when the action switched to contemporary Lisbon, and the detective plot line kicked in, I was hooked. So ultimately, very satisfactory.
- Cotillion – Georgette Heyer. On audio and utterly delightful.
- Fanny Hill – John Cleland. I got bored half way through, just as with reading de Sade. However, I keep getting this confused with Moll Flanders, so at least I won’t be lying any more when I say I’ve read it. Defoe kicks Cleland’s ass, though.
- Bath Tangle – Georgette Heyer. Also on audio.
- The Reluctant Widow – Georgette Heyer. Yes, all right, it’s an addiction. I admit it.
- The Convenient Marriage – Georgette Heyer. As above.
- Good Behaviour – Molly Keane. Liked the writing more than the book; shortage of sympathetic characters, too many horrible ones.
- South Riding – Winifred Holtby. And a lot less depressing than The Crowded Streets, although I could have done without the triumphal ending.
- Hostages to Fortune – Elizabeth Cambridge.
- The Expendable Man – Dorothy B Hughes. Which was ace, a really taut, tense thriller. Mostly, you know how these things are going to go: guy is framed, guy finds out who really did it, guy gets girl. Nothing quite so predictable here.
- Deaf Sentence – David Lodge. Made me laugh a bit but didn’t really come together for me. Wasn’t entirely happy with the switch between first and third person, didn’t like Alex Loom, her disappearance seemed a bit pat. More like a series of vignettes than a novel, although I know deliberately episodic.
- Hyddenworld – William Horwood. Started well, but then, meh. Author interjecting his own anti modern society rants under cover of characters; writing downright wince making in places; everyone seemed to discover how to shift between portals pretty easily for a skill that had been lost for, like, ever. Shan’t bother with the rest of the series as they appear.
- Midsummer Night in the Workhouse – Diana Athill. Terrific stories, relentlessly realistic, skeweringly true.
- The Way to Paradise – Mario Vargos Llosa. Bookclub book about Gauguin. Interested to see how it stacks up against Maugham.
- Lizzie Dripping – Helen Cresswell.
- Instead of a Letter – Diana Athill. Confirming my belief that she is quite a find as an author and that I must read everything.
- In Praise of Savagery – Warwick Cairns.
- Forgetting Zoe – Ray Robinson. So, if you have Room unread, take it back to the store, get a refund, and buy this instead. If you read Room, then I share your pain, boredom and general sense of ‘OMG, this could have been so much better’. Damn right it could, and that’s the book that Ray Robinson wrote. FZ is scary, oppressive, multi-layered, upsetting, insightful, moving and challenging, and in terrific prose too.
- Holy Disorders – Edmund Crispin.
- Out of Africa – Karen Blixen
- The Making of Us – Lisa Jewell.
- Starter for Ten – David Nicholls.
- Tea with Mr Rochester – Frances Towers. I liked these stories a lot, slightly unsettling gems that they are. They are mostly about the dark, dreamy, literary daughters of the house, who keep their secrets to themselves.
- A High-pitched Buzz – Roger Longrigg. Which I wrote about here.
- The Image of a Drawn Sword – Jocelyn Brooke. What he said. My copy is another nasty Faber Finds, but does have the Anthony Powell intro. I found the novel quite unsettling, because of what seemed to me its creeping descent into at best a nightmare, at worst a form of madness.
- Authenticity – Deirdre Madden. Honestly? Disappointing after Molly Fox’s Birthday.
- The Tapestry of Love – Rosy Thornton.
- Mortal Love – Elizabeth Hand.
- Sea Room – Adam Nicolson. A love song to The Shiants, the islands Nicolson owned until he gave them to his son in 2005. A fascinating blend of the personal, historical, religious, geographical, geological and so on. Lots of good stories.
- The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson. Book club book. So far (and I am fewer than 100 pages in), I am entirely uninterested in Julian Treslove. He seems to be something of a maudlin twit.
- Tiny Carteret – Sapper. In which it is revealed that Tiny Carteret is sort of like Bulldog Drummond, except for being rather a chump.
- A Dance with Dragons – G.R.R. Martin. Back on form after the disappointment of book 4 (‘Really? Another chapter about Cersei screwing someone?’) and a lower death count of major characters than I was expecting. Despite having forgotten about some major plot strands (well, maybe. I mean, at this point, who can tell?) I fair romped through this and now I WANT BOOK SIX.
- Tony & Susan – Austin Wright. I liked the structure, I liked the interweaving of the narrative and metanarrative and the beginning kept the tension well ratcheted; and then it all fell apart for me at the end because I simply didn’t believe that Tony was that person. Even in extremis.
- The Tennis Party – Sophie Kinsella. Entirely competent fluff about a mixed group of friends getting together for a weekend of tennis and revelations. Read it in about an hour and a half.
- Some Hope – Edward St Aubyn. I’ve seen lots of good reviews about St Aubyn’s latest At Last; only to find that it’s a follow up to an earlier trilogy but never quite getting round to finding out what the Melrose trilogy actually was. Fortunately, it was kicking around in my local independent bookshop on Friday (the Bookhouse in Summertown), all three books neatly captured in one volume. I had no idea what to expect of Some Hope, but it turned out to be a grim, gritty and bitingly funny read, with definite echoes of Waugh. David Melrose is certainly the most monstrous character I’ve read in some time.
- Phineas Redux – Anthony Trollope. I don’t know why the blurbs for Trollope are always so effectively off-putting but they really are. Of course, now that I’m reading, I’m getting the full benefit of Trollope’s depth, humour and perspicacity into human nature.
- Skeleton Hill – Peter Lovesey. It’s been a while since I read a Peter Diamond, and I think he’s mellowed. Plenty of red herrings and reliably good stuff.
- The Man Who Was Thursday – G. K. Chesterton. What? And also, no. Shut up now, you’re being tiresome.
- Living Proof – John Harvey. For a writer this good, his book are surprisingly difficult to find. The latest DCI Charlie Resnick in crime-ridden 80s Nottingham.
- Conference at Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons. Lacking the frothy brilliance of CCF, and I think a bit indulgent on the part of old Stella. But, it was good to know Flora was happily married, and a nice touch that Seth is going bald.
- Scream – Colin McCreery. Remind me that if this is ever made into a film, I don’t need to see it. I’ve been blanking on McCreery’s name for days but wanting to read another book with DCI Mark Lapslie, who is now being treated for his synaesthesia, and thus less of a loner. There’s a lot of very unpleasant torture in this, so not for the faint hearted but it was a gripping story. Even if I did guess the murderer. Glad I read it on a sunny afternoon.
- Oxford Exit – Veronica Stallwood. My introduction to the Kate Ivory series, and a decent enough mystery. Plus, there’s always the Oxford angle too. In this one, some one is stealing books from the Bodleian (gasp!). Kate’s interesting enough, if rather overplaying the ‘woman must be single to maintain creativity’ angle; but there’s clearly something brewing with her and the chauvinist copper.
- Horns – Joe Hill. Which was weird. I rather liked the premise that this guy wakes up after a rough night to find he has horns that have the effect of making everyone around him tell him the bad things they want to do. Even worse, if he touches anyone he finds out all the bad things they’ve done. So, Ig sets out to find the person who raped and brutally murdered Merrin, his teen sweetheart.
- Freak of Nature – Phil Whitaker. The freak(s) in this case being John and Mick McDonald, conjoined twins. Or are they? There’s a lot here about the nature of identity, the construct of the self, self-perception versus external perceptions, and a lot of interesting questions got raised. Unfortunately, they weren’t well explored or answered, and the central love triangle was weakly handled. By the end, I had the feeling that Whitaker (a doctor by trade) really wanted to write a scientific paper rather than a novel. Also, there was that ‘novel within a novel’ thing, but when the character in the novel about conjoined twins is writing a fictionalised biography about his life as a conjoined twin, it goes beyond meta and into ‘Right, I really can just skip those chapters, then.’
- The Blue Book – A.L. Kennedy. Which I did not read t’other weekend when I was snaffling downs books at a rate of knots, because Kennedy deserves to be savoured. The Blue Book is savoury, sharp, spicy and sweet, and to read it was to be tumbled as a pebble in a torrent of words that are sad and hopeful and true.
- Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting – Penelope Mortimer.
- Miss Buncle’s Book – D E Stevenson.
- Oxford Remains – Veronica Stallwood. So did not work for me. I’m giving up on Stallwood now. It might just be coincidence that I picked the two mysteries where part of the narrative is written from the suspect’s perspective. But in both books, the suspects’ part felt exactly the same, which was slightly more literary than the main narrative but without an independent voice to distinguish them from each other. And I have to come down on the side of Kate Ivory being too annoying.
- Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell. I found this in a lovely bookshop in Bradford-on-Avon, and couldn’t resist the coloured, cross-hatched illustrations. I had no idea what to expect of the book, but it’s utterly charming!
- A Game of Hide-and-Seek – Elizabeth Taylor. For 50p at a National Trust second hand bookshop. Written in 1951, this seems to have more of an edge to it than other Taylors I’ve read. So far, so good, and yet the characters are less sympathetic than I usually find with her, and the chronological jump is a little more jarring. Well written, of course, and beautifully observed, yet somehow lacking warmth.
- The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern. A beautiful object, but it didn’t live up to the hype for me, I found that the slow build up didn’t go anywhere. And the ending felt a bit rushed and unsatisfactory.
- The Tiny Wife – Andrew Kaufman. Fab, fab book, also a beautiful object but despite being a fraction of the size, packing far more magic than The Night Circus. A thief takes an item of sentimental value from a queue of people waiting in a bank, and odd, tragic, funny or oddly tragi-comic events ensue.
- The Canal – Lee Rourke. Go here, and read what John Self said, because he’s right.
- King Crow – Michael Stewart. All the way through this, I couldn’t make up my mind about it. It is, as promised, part birding manual, part crime thriller. Again, I felt it fell apart a bit at the ending, and the twist was less of a twist and more of an ‘Oh, that makes sense’ moment.
- Derby Day – D.J. Taylor. With a great cast of characters, not all of whom got the air time they deserved, if you know what I mean. I think the author could have done more with them. However, a nice story of Victorian Derby Day plottings.
- Mother’s Milk – Edward St Aubyn. The next in the Melrose trilogy has Patrick falling apart again, this time with alcohol rather than drugs to help him.
- At Last – Edward St Aubyn. So, wrapping up the trilogy. I really wasn’t sure about this, because the setting is all at Eleanor Melrose’s funeral (Patrick’s mother), but in fact it’s short and taught enough for that to work. And what I forget is St Aubyn’s humour, there are genuine, perceptively drawn comic moments.
- Persuasion – Jane Austen. This was my birthday book for me, because I suddenly wanted to read it again. One of my favourites.
- The Woman in Black – Susan Hill. I read a good chunk of this sitting in the park in the middle of a beautiful, hot autumn day. And was damn glad to be out in the sunshine. Eery and awful and horrible.
- Westwood – Stella Gibbons. I love the Vintage reissues at the moment, but I’ve been disappointed with everything other than Cold Comfort Farm. So I rather ploughed through this, not loving it but not hating it either.
- A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness. Got it for about 4 quid in Waterstones because I’d already spent whatever you have to spent to qualify for the half price book. I’m a sucker for things set in Oxford, particularly if those things are supernatural. This turned out to be the first part of a trilogy, which I didn’t know until I was a good way in and it was obvious that things weren’t going to be wrapped up in the remaining pages. Vampires, witches, daemons, old feuds, new love affairs, time travel, magic… And quite well put together, or at least, not jarring enough to make me stop.
- Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins. Recommended to me by Raych, Mr W and Zoesmom, so it was inevitable I’d get there. I liked it enough to barrel through the rest of the series. Set in a postwar future America, divided into districts ruled over by a Capitol. Every year, the districts send Tributes to participate in The Hunger Games: live, televised ‘games’ in which the point is for only of them to come out alive. Katniss is a good heroine, likeable but nowhere near perfect and the concept is frighteningly believable.
- Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins.
- Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins.
- Under Heaven – Guy Gavriel Kay. A man receives a gift of such fabulous wealth that in the deeply political court of which he’s part, it can either mean his passage to power or certain death. Politics, poetry, courtesans and fighting.
- A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan. I was totally expecting this to be another of those massively hyped books to which my reaction is ‘meh’. But I loved this, the way the individual narratives looped and linked together, the movement through past, present and future and the snapshots of so many different lives that were all connected in some way. There were so many points when I thought ‘That is such a good description’. Egan seemed to find exactly the right word every time.
- Safe from the Sea – Peter Gedye. Conjured a real sense of geographical and emotional remoteness. One of those ‘son reconnects with distant father’ stories, but well done of its type.
- Millie’s Fling – Jill Mansell. I’d run out of books and jetlag was getting me up early, so I borrowed this from Zoesmom’s shelf. Entirely charming and down to earth heroine with a good voice made this superior chick lit.
- Rumour Has It – Jill Mansell. So I bought another one to read on the ‘plane, and I didn’t like this as much but it was still fun, easy to read and the language didn’t clunk.
- Zone One – Colson Whitehead.
- The Nebuly Coat – John Meade Falkner. Nice bit of suspense, even if one could guess the ending.
- The Midwich Cuckoos – John Wyndham. Not as creepy as I remembered it being from many years ago, when I think I borrowed it from the school library. But, on other hand, interesting questions raised.
- The Impossible Dead – Ian Rankin. And it’s no good, I just don’t care about Malcolm Fox and I don’t find that these books have the same spark as the Rebus novels.
- Florence & Giles – John Harding.
- Tell Me Everything – Sarah Salway.
- Who is Mr Satoshi? – Jonathan Lee. I think I liked the writing more than I liked this particular story, so I’d definitely look for more by Lee.
- The Prime Minister – Anthony Trollope. Book 5 of the Palliser Chronicles, and poor old Planty Pall ends up as PM of a coalition government. Glencora is determined to rule indirectly through her entertaining and turns Gatherum Castle upside down to do so, to the Duke’s charge of ‘Vulgarity’. Meanwhile, silly Emily Wharton makes a huge mistake in marrying horrible Ferdinand Lopez.
- Mistress of the Art of Death – Ariana Franklin. A re-read.
- The Serpent’s Tale – Ariana Franklin. And a follow up re-read.
- A Village Affair – Joanna Trollope. Bought specially for a Friday night read, to be light but not trivial. Did the job well. Alice Jordan, married with 3 children and about to move into the house of her dreams, suddenly wakes up to an undefined something missing in her life.
- Sleepyhead – Mark Billingham. My sister has been recommending Billingham to me for ages, I was exploring Jaffe & Neale in Chippy and lo! the first Billingham I picked up was the start of the series. And it was fine. Interesting to have a murderer who was trying to preserve his victims in a state of living death. Didn’t shoot out any lights for me, but I’ll probably read more. Always good to have a fallback detective series.
- Last Rites – John Harvey.
- The Squire’s Daughter – F.M. Mayor.
- The Man Who Loved Children – Christina Stead. I’m about 100pp in and all the characters are unpleasant. And not in a gawking, car crash kind of way, but more in a ‘I don’t want anything to do with you’ kind of way. Sigh.
- The Sleeping Beauty – Elizabeth Taylor.
- Detection Unlimited – Georgette Heyer
- The Bloodhounds – Peter Lovesey
- The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides. Liked this a lot but have to agree with the comments of various friends who said it was pretty fluffy.
- Pieces of Modesty – Peter O’ Donnell. On which there is little more to be said except that every teenage girl should have Twilight ripped from her hands and be made to read Modesty Blaise instead, so that they could read about a good role model rather than a puling idiot.
- Family Britain – David Kyneston. At least, that’s the theory. I’ve had this ARC kicking round for more than a year. I should probably get on with it, then.
- Detection Unlimited – Georgette Heyer.
- Lazybones – Mark Billingham.
- Sleeping Arrangements – Madeleine Wickham. Trash re-read while ill
- Christmas at Tiffany’s – Karen Swan. Trash read while I’m ill and perfectly acceptable light fare. Amazing how a woman with no real income can flit around the globe so easily, wish I knew how it was done. Have you noticed how the heroines in chick lit novels are getting older? It’s now acceptable to be unmarried at 30. Maybe by the time I’m 50 it’ll be acceptable to be unmarried at 40.
- Frederica – Georgette Heyer.
- A Taste for Death – Peter O’Donnell. And a couple of other Modesty Blaises too.
- Comfort & Joy – India Knight. Comfort read.
- The Various Haunts of Men – Susan Hill. Exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for, and I kind of liked the oblique approach to introducing Simon Serrailler. I guessed the murderer, but still, a real shock at the end.
- The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana – Umberto Eco.
- The Pure at Heart – Susan Hill. Second in the Serrailler series, and while I didn’t like it as much as the first one, I did quite enjoy the fact that the mystery wasn’t all neatly solved, and that there are plot arcs carrying on between the titles. Definitely a series to pursue.