Books 2008

When did Amazon become the enemy? When they started telling publishers who they could publish on demand with; and turning off one-click ordering for the companies who don’t agree with their policies. Strong arm tactics I can’t condone from a company that’s already strong enough.

And then they went and bought Abebooks, so they own the used book market too (not to mention a small stake in Librarything). I just don’t like monopolies, I guess.

The last few links on this list are to Powells and Blackwells instead. Gradually, I’ll change all of them.

  1. The Undomestic Goddess – Sophie Kinsella. Unrealistic nonsense, as advertised.
  2. Poltergeist – Kat Richardson. The second in the series and I think that’s enough.
  3. A Question of Blood – Ian Rankin. Another Rebus novel. I like Rebus; he has a disturbingly flexible moral compass, which meant that I really wasn’t sure if he or hadn’t committed the crime.
  4. Artists in Crime – Ngaio Marsh. Eh. Might give Marsh another go since she’s supposed to be the Grande Dame of crime, but this was not a good start.
  5. Speak, Memory – Vladimir Nabokov. I simply don’t know how reliable this is. In a way, it’s too literary for me to really trust the narrator and I felt I was reading another novel. Will have to be revisited.
  6. Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wife – Sigrid Undset (started at book 2, read the first vol last year). I’m really enjoying this trilogy, although at sea in the history and politics of vol 2.
  7. The Following Story – Cees Nooteboom. I liked this very short, almost dreamlike book. It opens with a man who went to bed the previous night in Amsterdam but wakes up in the morning in a hotel room in Portugal. And not just any hotel room, but one where he slept with the wife of one of his colleagues many years ago. He may or may not be dead, he doesn’t know. And then the story circles round, a simple one of love, jealousy and revenge.
  8. Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross – Sigrid Undset. I think vol 1 was my favourite of the trilogy, when Kristin was young and passionate and reached out for the man she wanted. It seemed inevitable that such bright, hard happiness wouldn’t endure, and it doesn’t. Still, at the end of this volume, it seems that Kristin has found peace in her choices.
  9. In a Summer Season – Elizabeth Taylor. Perceptive and note-perfect in observation.
  10. Charity Girl – Georgette Heyer. Ok, so a bit predictable and with characters who had wandered in from other Heyers, bearing only a thin disguise. But still, it was charming.
  11. Hester – Margaret Oliphant
  12. Christ Stopped at Eboli – Carlo Levi. Great writing about Levi’s year of exile in southern Italy, seeing first hand how little politics can mean to the disenfranchised. Whether under the Romans or Mussolini, the life of the peasants barely changed.
  13. Firefly Lane – Kristin Hannah. A disposable ARC, made for a light evening’s read.
  14. Inkheart – Cornelia Funke. A man reads accidentally reads characters out of a book and is then left dealing with the aftermath. Books and bookishness abound.
  15. The Man in the Queue – Josephine Tey. I’ve read Brat Farrar, The Franchise Affair and Miss Pym Disposes, but this is my first (and the first) Inspector Grant novel. Now I must read all of them.
  16. Death at La Fenice – Donna Leon. Hooked. I’m hooked. As if it’s not enough that this was a good mystery, the setting is spot on.
  17. Murder Must Advertise – Dorothy L Sayers.
  18. The Mists of Avalon – Sigh. Chick lit wrapped in gynae-mysticism. I’m not sure how long I can bear it. Very disappointing. Update: I finished it, although there was a certain amount of skim reading involved. I’m still baffled – it’s not good fantasy, it’s certainly not a good historical novel, so why? Why?
  19. The Country of the Pointed Firs – Sarah Orne Jewett
  20. Inkspell – Cornelia Funke. Ok, now I’m fed up with the way that none of the characters ever learn from mistakes. Ever. And they, mostly, not very likeable.
  21. Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe (audio) – I am loving this. Moll is such a strong female character but so amoral that I am amazed the book was published at the time. Her moral compass shifts so entirely that she is able to justify or excuse all of her actions – her harlotry, bigamous marriages, continued incest, abandonment of children, thievery, deceit. Even when she professes sincerity, the reader (or listener) cannot trust her.
  22. Dracula – Bram Stoker (audio) – I listened to this earlier in the year and it was romping good fun. The reader was excellent at distinguishing between characters, although I did feel that ‘friend John’ was perhaps a bit gloomy. But then, the man lives in an asylum so I suppose I can cut him some slack. Poor Jonathan Harker – robbed of his own bit of unearthly delights, then cuckolded by Dracula while he is still in the room. No wonder his hair went white.
  23. Mrs Craddock – W. Somerset Maugham – so far, so good. I do like Maugham’s late introductions to his early works. They are somewhat disingenuous but he seems genuinely upset at the callowness of his own work. When he wrote this, he was clearly not too far from the version of himself who appears as Philip Carew in ‘Of Human Bondage’.
  24. The Glass Key – Dashiell Hammett – the very definition of elliptical writing.
  25. A Great and Terrible Beauty – Libba Bray (audio) – I am drawn to YA stuff, particularly when it has a fantastic element to it. And then the heroines turn out to be downright annoying. Must remember to read these books rather than listen to them, so that I can skim the teenage whining.
  26. The Palace Walk – Naguib Mahfouz – just started but I was drawn in immediately. Sadly, this is on hold while I finish copyediting. Found this completely enthralling, and have bought next two in trilogy for train reading. Mostly, I think how awful and circumscribed the women’s lives were. I did cheer when Yasin’s wife left him (and his father).
  27. Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier (audio) – marvellous sense of atmosphere.
  28. Undertones of War – Edmund Blunden – this needs concentration, but I’m finding Blunden’s deliberate lyrical, pastoral archaising very effective in portraying the horror of WWI.
  29. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson – How many times have I read this now? But it is so satisfying. A really lovely Cinderella story, charming, endearing and funny.
  30. The Tenderness of Wolves – Stef Penney – I raced through this and found that, for once, the reviews were right. The location was fascinating and incredibly real, I liked the multiple perspectives and although I guessed one of the twists, I found the conclusion quite satisfying. It’s a murder-detective-adventure-romance-historical novel.
  31. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett – This is Emily’s fault. She mentioned it and then I had to go and buy it. I remember how much I disliked both Mary and Colin when I was a child, and yet kept reading anyway. Puffin Classics have done a handsome new edition, too.
  32. Blue Remembered Hills – Rosemary Sutcliff (Slightly Foxed Editions) – This was such a pleasing memoir, in which Sutcliff recounts her life up until she was about 20. Despite a lonely childhood spent suffering from children’s arthritis and attendant operations, which left her crippled for life and tied to a demanding, depressive mother, there is not a trace of self-pity. Instead, she reveals the quiet joys that she found. I would like to have known her.
  33. False Colours – Georgette Heyer – ah, so satisfying a read. As light as one of Lady Fancot’s disgraceful gauzy nightgowns.
  34. Busman’s Honeymoon – Dorothy L Sayers – This was the first book to give me hope about marriage.
  35. Mistress of the Art of Death – Ariana Franklin – I loved this, couldn’t put it down and even though I guessed the murderer and accomplice (which I rarely do, so it must be screamingly obvious) the ending was great. Had I been on my own in the house I would have been pleasantly spooked. I may have to buy the next one in hb.
  36. Justine – Lawrence Durrell – I am on the fence about this. On the one hand, it would be so easy to parody, because it is so borderline (?) pretentious. On the other, there is some wonderful writing. I will have to proceed with the rest of the Quartet before I can make a decision.
  37. The Jewel in the Crown – Paul Scott – Really enjoying this, far more than I thought I would. It has unexpected touches of humour. Better than Forster.
  38. The Black Book – Ian Rankin. Early Rebus, but all are good. This one with more humour than most.
  39. Leonard Woolf: A biography – Victoria Glendinning – fascinating, and very readable. I think I am more interested in Leonard than Virginia. I had no idea that he was such a political thinker and writer, and so involved with the Labour party.
  40. Virginia Woolf: A biography – Hermione Lee. Fantastic biog,absolutely riveting and rescues VW from just being a depressed mad woman to being an author who was plagued by mental illness.
  41. A Game of Thrones – George R R Martin. Curses – the beginning of a new fantasy obsession. Vast scope, teeming with characters, some of whom are brilliantly nasty, and bad things happen to good people.
  42. The Village in the Jungle – Leonard Woolf. Sad, bleak and probably true. Depicts the presence of the British as simply another natural hardship in the villagers’ lives.
  43. Sweet Danger – Margery Allingham. Either you are along for the ride, or you aren’t, and I definitely am. Love the humour, Amanda Fitton is a great character and Campion has grown up a bit by now.
  44. The Riddle of the Third Mile – Colin Dexter. Grumpy, miserable, dipsomaniac, tight-fisted Morse. Why is he such a good character?
  45. The Secret of Annexe 3 – Colin Dexter
  46. A Clash of Kings – George R R Martin. The plot thickens. The country collapses into civil war. A stupid girl sees her dreams trampled; another learns to fight; and dragons are reborn out of fire and death.
  47. Lonely Werewolf Girl – Martin Millar. So, werewolves are alive and well and living in Scotland, except for one rogue girl who’s in London, being tracked down. Fortunately she makes friends with some humans and a fire elemental with a shoe obsession.
  48. Last Bus to Woodstock – Colin Dexter
  49. Death is Now My Neighbour – Colin Dexter
  50. Threshold – Caitlin Kiernan- Not sure what I was expecting of Kiernan but this was great in a southern gothic, urban fantasy kind of way. I wasn’t entirely happy with the ending but I liked the characters and the forboding atmosphere.
  51. We Need to Talk about Kevin – Lionel Shriver – This gave me much to think about. Eva got on my nerves, but so did her husband. Was she an unreliable narrator, or was Kevin really so awful? Was she remembering events from the past and then fitting them into the story to make a coherent narrative that would explain Kevin’s actions, or was she remembering accurately? Disturbing reading, and (I think) a bit of a cop out ending.
  52. Smoke and Mirrors – Neil Gaiman – This author can do no wrong. I particularly liked the story about the cat defending the family from the devil. I love Gaiman’s whimsicality; not a twee, cutesy whimsicality, but a disturbing, mischievous sort.
  53. A Storm of Swords – George R R Martin – Yet more unexpected plot twists as characters die off all over the place. Tyrion is still alive, though, and is fast becoming one of my favourites. I really like that I have literally no idea what will happen next.
  54. Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner – So, after 20 years of good service and dutiful behaviour as a maiden aunt who can always be relied on, Lolly moves to the country and makes a pact with the devil so that she can be left alone by her family. There are biting words here underneath a gentle level of humour.
  55. Period Piece – Gwen Raverat – Entirely charming, just as promised by Slightly Foxed. This is Raverat’s recollections of her childhood in Cambridge and is funny and sharp.
  56. Hangman’s Holiday – Dorothy L Sayers – good old reliable Peter. Am not a fan of Montague Egg, though.
  57. Sailing Alone around the World – Joshua Slocum – In the mid 1890s someone gave Slocum, a retired sailor, a sailing boat that was high and dry in a field in Massachusetts. He rebuilt it, by hand, and then over the next 4 years sailed around the world, with only a spider and the ghost of a sailor from the Pinta for company. An utterly charming tale. (My edition is a new hardcover from Shambala Press, and they have done a lovely job: end bands, ribbon marker, brown paper endpapers, and not a typo. Very satisfactory.)
  58. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower – Marcel Proust. The usual entrancingly dreamlike writing. It’s just that Marcel himself is such a twerp. Of course Albertine isn’t going to kiss you, freak boy!
  59. Beat not the Drums – Charlotte Jay. Bits of the writing were good, bits were terrible. The characters were all unpleasant, and the heroine was annoying. This story (of a man who may or may not have committed suicide, and what led up to his death), set in Papua New Guinea, should have been stronger than it was.
  60. The Silver Swan – Benjamin Black (audio). Narrated by Timothy Dalton who is doing a fine job. Again, as with Christine Falls, I am mesmerised by the detail and precision of the writing, the layering of minutiae that makes every scene, thought, emotion and action seem so true.
  61. The Day of the Scorpion – Paul Scott (vol 3 of the Raj Quartet). The more I read of Scott, the more I am convinced that he is a shamefully neglected author. Of course, he’s writing about India from the perspective of the ruling class there, but he’s doing it with sympathy and what seems genuine understanding of a multi-dimensional problem that extended far beyond the need for England just to leave India. He can be a pitiless writer. This quartet is like Forster compounded.
  62. Chalice – Robin McKinley. I picked up an ARC of this YA novel at ALA (enough acronyms yet?) It was a fast, charming read although slightly repetitive but if there was a sequel I would pick it up. The Chalice in question is a young woman, the chalice-bearer and potion-maker to a troubled kingdom whose previous Master died in a violent event. Since the lands are imbued with awareness, the trouble is almost literally ripping them apart: sudden chasms open, walls fall down, barns collapse as the land itself is restless and pained. As the new Master (called back from the Fire priesthood that has burnt away a significant portion of his human-ness) adjusts to his role, the Chalice struggles to bring the land back to peace, simultaneously coming to terms with her own new role and the politics she must deal with.
  63. The Lemur (audio) – Benjamin Black. This is his first standalone detective type story, and I must say I found it very disappointing. It moved from being unbelievable, to being predictable. I really didn’t believe in the main character, John Glass, who seemed terribly adrift in the world for someone who had been a war reporter. Allowing for the unpredictability of human character, he still didn’t ring true. Black’s writing was as good as ever, but somehow this one felt hollow.
  64. The Brief Wondrous LIfe of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz. Actually I only half read this and I have put it aside with no qualms at all. The fact that I started it, forgot I was reading it, bought two new books, read them both, and only remembered the existence of this one when I saw it lying on the bench tells me that I wasn’t in any way gripped by the story. And all the Spanish got on my nerves (although I concede that the fault is mine in not knowing any Spanish.)
  65. The Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill. A last minute purchase because it was by the till in Borders and only $7.99. I only mean to flick through it, but no, there went my Sunday. I was immediately gripped by the story, and suspect I’d have been quite spooked if it hadn’t been the middle of the afternoon.
  66. Wicked Lovely – Melissa Marr. Another quite satisfactory YA novel. The heroine is chased by the king of the faeries, who believes she may be the summer queen who will join with him so that they can defeat the winter queen. Trouble is, he’s believed this before: the girls who love him enough to take the test are fated to become winter girls, who must stay until their replacement comes along; the girls who avoid the test become summer girls, a careless, beautiful harem. Fortunately Aislinn has enough tricks up er sleeve to avoid either fate. Caveat: the ‘Hey girls, don’t get drunk and sleep with someone without knowing it’ message was a bit heavy-handed for my liking.
  67. Uniform Justice (audio) – Donna Leon. This is the second Commissario Guido Brunetti novel I’ve read, and it has confirmed my previous good opinion. Brunetti is surely alone among detectives in being a happily married family man without a drinking problem? He is also a wryly cynical, humorous, thoughtful, honest (in Italy!), good guy. And makes very pleasant company.
  68. Out of Africa (audio) – Karen Blixen. I love this book anyway, but Julie Christie’s reading is really bringing home how elegiac it is.
  69. My Grandmothers and I – Diana Holman-Hunt. The latest Slightly Foxed book, an entertaining memoir of a rather ghastly childhood being shuttled between two grandmothers who were both bonkers in their own way.
  70. The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly – after recommendations from Emily and Hobgoblin, how could I refuse? I gulped this down on the train, and at lunchtime and was properly spooked by the Crooked Man.
  71. The Sun over Breda – Arturo Perez-Reverte. A little more Alatriste, a little less self-indulgence, please.
  72. Up High in the Trees – Kiara Brinkman. I think this was really well done, but I didn’t particularly like it. Enough of tales of dysfunctional families narrated from the child’s perspective. Is it a genre that really needs adding too? I don’t think so.
  73. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – David Wroblewski. Terrific, mesmerizing, funny, sad, lovely writing. Buy it, now, don’t bother waiting around for the pb.
  74. Marrying the Mistress – Joanna Trollope. Takes the story of the older man deciding to marry the younger woman who has been his mistress for 7 years and stretches it into a story about family dynamics. I always think Trollope does dialogue well, her characters say things that real people would say.
  75. Dressed for Death – Donna Leon. Another Guido Brunetti mystery, very well done. This time a man is found dead with his face bashed in, dressed in a cheap red dress and expensive red satin heels. So clearly he was a transvestite prostitute. Or was he? What I also like is that I feel as though I’m getting an insight into real Italian life, culture, politics and above all, corruption.
  76. Deja Dead – Kathy Reichs. So, these get great reviews and I thought I’d give the series a go. It was utterly predictable from page one, and not in a comfortably playing with the genre way either. Stock characters in stock scenarios having stock reactions.
  77. Vince & Joy – Lisa Jewell. Ah, a bit of London life. Chick lit at its finest, and not pretending to be anything else. Liked Vince, liked Joy, liked that they had completely ordinary lives that got screwed up just because shit happens. These characters are like some of my mates.
  78. The Post-Birthday World – Lionel Shriver. Not as good as it’s cracked up to be, IMHO. I mean, I enjoyed it, liked the narrative structure, the idea of alternate lives, that you can change your destiny with one minor decision. I’ve felt that opening of paths ahead of me. But I think I got a bit bored with Irina-who-marries-Ramsey being so entirely sex obsessed; and I’d liked to have known more about Laurence and his relationship with Bethany.
  79. Death of a Ghost – Margery Allingham. Hurrah for Felony & Mayhem Press reissuing Campion. I haven’t read this one before, and it was a bit odd. Albert Campion not as manic, and not much mystery involved since he susses the murderer fairly early on. But how to prove it?
  80. Death in a White Tie – Ngaio Marsh. This is the second Marsh that I’ve read and now I don’t think I’ll read any more. To me, it’s all a bit of a pale imitation of Sayers and Alleyn’s (fake Peter Wimsey) love scenes with Agatha Troy (fake Harriet Vane) are really painful to read. The middle of this book was fairly dry too, just lots of witness interviews. And I guessed the murderer. Sigh.
  81. Palace of Desire – Nahgib Mahfouz – second vol in Cairo Trilogy. Much of this centers around the youngest son’s infatuation with the friend of a sister, so there are long passages extolling her virtues and beauty and the sensation of being in love in general. But it also continues the family saga, the difference between private and public life, and the hypocrisy.
  82. The Demon Princes – Jack Vance. Well, blimey. This was recommended to me by a usually reliable source, and I really don’t know what to make of it. The writing wasn’t great. The over-arching plot of the trilogy is that Kirth Gersen is travelling from planet to planet in search of the five demon princes who destroyed his world and his family. In familiar fashion, Kirth has spent his life so far working and studying to be the ultimate assassin. The first book recounts how he finds and kills the Star King. The story just gets going, which I kind of like, but each chapter is headed by fake excerpt from various histories or records of this set of worlds. (a) I hate this and (b) they were typeset very badly in the copy I have, so it was difficult to tell where the chapter actually started.
  83. The Quincunx – Charles Palliser. What a marvellous, rollicking read this was, if you like Victorian inheritance mysteries where no one can be trusted. Over 700 pages, no event fails to have later significance, and no words spoken can be disregarded. Is John Huffam paranoid or is there really a surprising pattern to his life? I must admit to not being able to keep straight the relation between Houghams, Mompessons, Maliphants, Clothiers and Palphramond but it didn’t really matter.
  84. Novel about my Wife – Emily Perkins. This was a good, fast read in which screenwriter is trying to write a novel about his wife but which turn more into his account of the events that led to her death. Was she really being followed, or did she go mad?  (And a nod to Bookslut for the recommendation)
  85. An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England – Brock Clarke. Sort of the usual dysfunctional family story but pushed to an extreme that to my mind just about works (man kicked out by wife for hiding the fact that he was in prison for burning down a house, while a couple were still inside it; alcoholic parents with family secret that is about to be revealed). I particularly like books in which the conversations and thoughts are those that real people might actually have, complete with the halts and dead ends. It’s hard to pull off but Clarke managed it. Sam Pulsifer is a floundering hero who piles mistake on mistake, but while you watch him take the wrong path yet again, it’s all too easy to understand why.
  86. A Division of the Spoils – Paul Scott. Final volume in the Raj quartet. The title refers both to a painting of Queen Victoria that is mentioned throughout the set, and also to the handing over and partition of India itself. With the ending, the series comes full circle, starting and ending with an Indian man being killed by mutineers. While Scott is certainly not all ‘up the Empire’, he doesn’t shy away from the fact that a large part of the Indian question was the internal struggles between Hindus and Muslims that were only being kept in check by the British presence.
  87. A Feast for Crows – George R R Martin – Vol 4. So, this was good as far as it went but disappointing in that half the characters didn’t make an appearance at all. And there was too much of Cersei. So, where is vol 5, I ask.
  88. Four and Twenty Blackbirds – Cherie Priest. Great southern Gothic. A child who sees ghosts, family secrets to be unravelled, and a final battle with a remnant of the past in the Florida swamps.
  89. Carbonel, King of the Cats – Barbara Sleigh. I had the other two books when I was a kid but I didn’t think I had read this one. But then it did seem familiar. I like the blend of magic and reality, and the way adults are so accepting of some of the odd happenings around them. Carbonel is more annoying than I remember, but I suppose that is royalty’s prerogative.
  90. Low Red Moon – Caitlin Kiernan. See my review here: https://musingsfromthesofa.wordpress.com/2008/09/10/southern-gothic-weekend/
  91. The Gone-Away World – Nick Harkaway. Loved this, absolutely loved it. It made me laugh out loud on the train. Jam-packed full of ideas, it’s a love, adventure, mystery, friendship, war, coming-of-age story, with mimes and ninjas, narrated by an unnamed hero. Hoping for more soon from Nick Harkaway.
  92. Deerbrook – Harriet Martineau. https://musingsfromthesofa.wordpress.com/2008/09/24/deerbrook-by-harriet-martineau/
  93. Small Island – Andrea Levy. I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of this, then found that the ending felt a bit rushed. It covers what I find to be an embarassing part of British history, focusing on the immigration of West Indians to England in the years after WWII, and the resentment and fear with which they were mostly treated. The characters were lively and entertaining, and their stories seemed real.
  94. Autobiography of a Wardrobe – Elizabeth Kendall. Liked the idea of this but think if fell down a bit in the execution. I’d have liked much more detail about the clothes themselves and the changing fashions through time and what influenced those changes. And more depth about what the particular items she wore meant for B, how she chose to represent herself.
  95. Black & White and Dead All Over – John Darnton. The exact point when this book wandered irredeemably into the realms of Scooby Doo was p. 132. At which point, all the other irritations that I had been letting lie (the ridiculously named characters; the dodgy opening from the perspective of a character who then disappeared; the heavy foreshadowing; the heavy handed set up of blindingly obvious red herrings; and the general air of smugness that lay over the whole damn thing like a mouldy blanket) got to me too.
  96. Doctor Thorne – Anthony Trollope. Vol 3 of the Barsetshire chronicles, introducing a whole new cast of characters. I was forewarned that this wasn’t one of Trollope’s best, and although it was enjoyable enough, the plot did seem somewhat circular in the middle, probably because the central event (the possible engagement of heir Frank Gresham, to illegitimate and dowryless Mary Thorne) wasn’t much of a fulcrum. Especially as it was obvious from the beginning that everything would turn out ok.
  97. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman. This had about the scariest beginning I’ve ever read in a children’s book. As usual, a great story, sad, funny, beautifully written. I’ll have to pick up the UK version because the few changes made to Americanise the book were both pointless and wince-making – the book in no way talks down to its intended audience, which rather makes me wonder why the publishers then think that kids can’t cope with the word ‘nappy’ instead of ‘diaper’. Anway, Bod grows up in a graveyard, raised by the ghosts and his undead guardian, Silas, who instil in him most of the virtues as well as teaching him useful tricks like being able to Fade and cause Fear (or, when he gets a bit more advanced, Terror). I particularly liked the scene of the Danse Macabre; and also the way in which the names and epitaphs on tombstones were used.
  98. The House Sitter – Peter Lovesey. So, a few weeks ago I was in Posen’s on the way home from work, looking for something to read on the train home. And I found a few books by Peter Lovesey, published in the US by Soho Crime. I picked up Bloodhounds, and thoroughly enjoyed it. DI Diamond is a detective of the grumpy type. Bit of a loner, doesn’t deal well with authority, but gets results. A good character, good story and a good plot, plus I really liked the English setting and straightforward language. A bit of vernacular is sometimes a relief to the eyes. I’ve got The House Sitter on audiobook and so far it’s living up to the expectations raised by Bloodhounds. An unknown woman has been found strangled on a beach, so the first mystery to solve is who she is, followed by and who killed her.
  99. Framley Parsonage – Anthony Trollope. I have to say, this one got off to a bit of a slow start. I didn’t much care for Mark Robarts, so it was hard to feel too sorry for him when he fell into the clutches of Sowerby. The heroine, Lucy, seemed a little two-dimensional, and the hero, Ludovic Lufton, was a bit of a wimp (despite having a fab name). But somewhere around p. 250 it all picked up and romped home. Plus, I was very pleased that Miss Dunstable found someone who was absolutely not interested in her ‘oil of Lebanon’ millions. Now, where’s book 5?
  100. Ink Exchange – Melissa Marr. Another YA book on audio and why do I do that to myself? And why are some of the faeries, who are hundreds of years old, still acting like lovelorn teens? This book could have been a fraction of the length if the author hadn’t borrowed the old ‘cut and paste and extend the franchise’ trick from Stephanie Meyers.
  101. Dr Who and the Feast of the Drowned – Stephen Cole (audio) All right, all right, I was idly looking to see if David Tennant had recorded any audiobooks, and he has but only Dr Who. But, this one was written by my friend’s husband; I was at their wedding. So, a double reason for interest. I think Stephen did a great job in capturing the feel of current Dr Who, particularly in its humour and in the Dr– Rose relationship.
  102. Diamond Dust – Peter Lovesey (audio).
  103. Miss Pym Disposes – Josephine Tey. I have read this before and remember a much more all-pervading sense of malice that I found lacking this time. But still, a good, strong story and perhaps unusual because technically, the amateur detective fails, and the murderer gets away with it.
  104. Fleshmarket Alley – Ian Rankin. A nice, solid Rebus to wash the nasty taste of miserable John Darnton away. This one deals with the murder of an illegal immigrant, the problems in the Detention Centre, racism in Edinburgh, with a sub-plot of a missing girl. As ever, Rebus finds his way through it with a good helping of whisky and cynicism.
  105. Strip Jack – Ian Rankin
  106. The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett. Oh, this was lovely. I wrote about it here.
  107. The Falls – Ian Rankin
  108. A Glass of Blessings – Barbara Pym. I read this and a couple of other Pyms close together and was intending to write about them all together. I will get round to that, but in brief, this was great. At first seeming so light, and then unravelling to provide more and more depth and complexity to what had seemed an easy domestic tale.
  109. Resurrection Men – Ian Rankin
  110. The Haunting – Shirley Jackson. All right, all right. Damn good I thought, very creepy. I would not have wanted to be on my own in the house reading this, even though my house is friendly and welcoming and not leprous and evil like Hill House.  So: horrible and clearly haunted house – check; unreliable and possibly nutso to start with narrator – check; mixed bag of other characters who all seem untrustworthy in their own way – check; creeping sense that something will go horribly wrong but you can’t stop reading anyway – check. Need I go on?
  111. Crampton Hodnett – Barbara Pym. What a marvellous title! I’m sure that if I had grown up in a literary family, one of the expressions for a fib would have been to accuse someone of ‘telling a Crampton Hodnett story’.
  112. No Fond Return of Love – Barbara Pym.
  113. In the Woods – Tana French. So, stupidly, I started listening to The Likeness before I had read this book, which meant I had to stop listening one day and run to the bookshop at lunchtime, in the rain, to buy In the Woods. Which I really, really liked for the creepiness and humanness and vernacular writing and great sense of place and good characters, not to mention the fuckedupness and the astute acceptance that shit happens and you can’t always have all the answers.
  114. The Likeness – Tana French. (Audio) From the outset I was worried that this was going to go all ‘The Secret History’ on me, and it did, a bit. And she did go on a bit about how glorious and beautiful and perfect the four students were, but it did make the falling apart rather sad. And also the whole eery likeness was a bit too hard to take. But still, I was willing to do so, for the much the same reasons as all the positives of ‘In the Woods’. I don’t know where this possible series is going, and I kind of hope that Cassie gets some better cases soon.
  115. The Good Fairies of New York – Martin Millar. I have run alongside the Millar bandwagon, reaching up for that helping hand, but it’s no good. I’ve given it my best shot and I cannot leap aboard, and now I am standing in the road, watching the bus hove out of sight. The fairies were exactly like the werewolves in Lonely Werewolf Girl, except less violent.
  116. The Small House at Allington – Anthony Trollope. Utterly and completely charming. Crosbie such an unpleasant but ordinary man. I think I have worked for Sir Raffle Buffle. And poor, bravely tragic Lily. Plus I got this in a delightful old OUP World’s Classics hardback, which is almost pocket sized.
  117. The Razor’s Edge – W Somerset Maugham. I didn’t like the way the author inserted himself into the story as one to whom vast tracts of it were then recounted. I just don’t find it convincing that anyone narrates word perfect conversations from the history of their life for the past x years, and thus its an annoying device. And again, objectionable female characters.
  118. The Last Chronicle of Barset – Anthony Trollope. A very satisfactory conclusion to the series. Cheer for Mr Crawley; hiss for Madalina; sigh for Lily and John; drop a surreptitious tear for Septimus Harding; and applaud for Grace and Major Grantly.
  119. Don’t Look Now – Daphne du Maurier. Always the unusual, off kilter, spiralling out of control, nature gone astray type stuff. Very disturbing.
  120. Happy All the Time – Laurie Colwin
  121. Collected Short Stories vol 1 – W Somerset Maugham. Is provoking much thought on Maugham’s themes, which he returns to repeatedly in his novels and short stories. Also his (a)morality. Need time to frame all this.
  122. Grief Lessons – Anne Carson
  123. Master and Commander – Patrick O’Brian. Watched the film (blah), and of course had to pick up the book again. Now I fear that the whole series will come upon me once more, because I went straight on to…
  124. Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian
  125. Up at the Villa – W Somerset Maugham – disappointing; I’m not sure if this is an early work but it reads like one. I found it unbelievable and more like a play than a novel. Somehow very static.
  126. HMS Surprise – Patrick O’Brian
  127. The Unburied – Charles Palliser – Also disappointing, compared to The Quincunx. I thought quite clumsily complicated and the mystery of the death of Mr Stonex was no mystery at all.
  128. Emma – Jane Austen (audio)
  129. The Mauritius Command – Patrick O’Brian
  130. The Dangerous Edge of Things – Candida Lycett Green. Not very well written, and chiefly interesting for the historical portrait of a village in the late 40s. No electricity!
  131. Interworld – Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves. Fab fab fab, adventuresome stuff.
  132. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont – Elizabeth Taylor. Very, very sad.
  133. An Infamous Army – Georgette Heyer. I did enjoy meeting old characters again, but they were rather cardboard cut outs of their first fictional selves. Let’s face it, Heyer wanted to write her Waterloo novel and so forced a love story around it. I am sure she is accurate and her battle descriptions are horribly vivid, but the Barbara-Charles device doesn’t work, and in no way matches the standard of
  134. The Coroner’s Lunch – Colin Cotterill
  135. The Mauritius Command – Patrick O’Brian
  136. The Ministry of Special Cases – Nathan Englander
  137. Gods Behaving Badly – Marie Philips
  138. The Fortunes of War – Patrick O’Brian

6 thoughts on “Books 2008

  1. Susan

    Wow. You have books on here I’m just about to read – Into the Woods, Mistress of the Art of Death, Uncommon Reader; books I’ve just read – Lonely Werewolf Girl, ; and books I adore – The Haunting of HIll House (yaay! you liked it!), *Ian Rankin* one of my favourite mystery writers, George RR Martin series (I’m struggling with A feast of Crows though), Paul Scott I read years ago when the BBC series came out which I also adored, and you agree with me on Inkspell series (characters don’t seem to learn anything) and Mists of Avalon, which I’ve never been able to get through!! Great list!

  2. Becky

    Hi Susan

    I really liked all those you said you were about to read, so I hope you enjoy them. Ian Rankin is great; I’ve come to terms with the fact that Martin is never going to finish his series; and Jewel in the Crown was one of my year’s highlights, I think.

    For 2009 I think less genre fiction is on the cards, but I’ll just see what happens!

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