Thank you so much for all your Best Reads of 2017 yesterday. My Book of Books is overflowing with all your great recommendations and time for one last post before the year’s end and I need your help again.
Reflecting on my 2017 reading year I glanced at the shelf above my desk...
This is where I put all the books I have read to await a moment to write up my thoughts for here and really there is no excuse given the number of accumulated notebooks to refer back to...
For the stationery-aware among you, this year I swapped allegiance from Moleskine Cahiers to the smaller Muji (smoother, less porous paper and cheaper).
Out of sight on the shelf are about six books that I will write about (dreckly) but these ten have been staring at me for months, some even carried over from 2016, good reads all of them, books I wouldn’t want to miss sharing on here, but somehow the write-up hasn’t happened. Suddenly I can’t possibly begin a New Reading Year without sorting this out and clearing the shelf, so the plan is a list, a few words from my notes and all in the hope that some of you will have read the book too and have something to contribute.
This is called cheating giving you all something to do on New Year's Eve.
Commonwealth ~ Ann Patchett (read Oct 2016)
Themes - blended families, sounds so smooth and tranquil, like a well-pureed soup...reality = mashed, lumpy, bumpy and full of surprises.
Commonwealth - a collection of nations, shared assets, in this case a family.
Home - Where is it? What makes it? Is it the place of the people?
Inch Levels ~ Neil Hegarty (read May 2017)
Derry, N.Ireland 1986. Patrick, in his 30s lays dying in hospital. Cynicism prevails but why? Secrets and mysteries are hinted at to a backdrop of the Irish troubles, sectarian violence and deeply entrenched grievances. Classic themes of the past encroaching on the present and entrapment by loyalty and place. This didn't seem to garner review column inches beyond Ireland which is a pity.
The Golden Age ~ Joan London (read October 2016)
Setting 1953 Leederville, W. Australia, post war and The Golden Age a polio hospital. Every patient has on 'onset' story and inner lives are gently exposed to the light. Many have been refugees in occupied Europe. After the horrors of war they are now experiencing kindness, love and care but lost childhood too. Astute on the details often overlooked and added nicely to my growing list of Disease Reads.
Greenery Street ~ Denis Mackail (read October 2016)
Felicity and Ian are engaged and seeking a home and 16 Greenery Street proves so 'frightfully get-aboutable from'. Ditzy Felicity and besotted pragmatic Ian embark on marriage. The laws of household economics seem to have passed Felicity by and what exactly does she 'do' all day? No hint of the Great War just ended, if the men have been involved we don't know it, no hint, no shadow. For all its light-heartedness the book says interesting things about marriage.
Vain Shadow ~ Jane Hervey (read December 2016)
My impressions of the Winthorpe family of stolid and time-worn Otterley Hall are cemented by page twelve. Not much love, disciplinarian, someone has died alone, inheritance, there is a pink bathroom, fearful marriages, coercive control, affairs and I have a clear picture emerging of a dysfunctional family at odds with themselves and each other. Social class prevails and change is on the horizon. The Rob-Helen abuse was all building to a crescendo on The Archers as I read this book and this astonishing and perceptive quote from Jane Hervey somehow encapsulated it all.
'a man who had caught a wild bird, blinding it so that it would sing for him better in the dark.'
Swamp Angel ~ Ethel Wilson (read March 2017)
Swamp Angel is actually a 200lb gun mounted in the swamps by Federal forces at the siege of Charleston and small revolvers of same name were issued. Maggie regains her identity when she walks out on her husband carrying a knapsack and a fishing rod. Her organisational skills and growing confidence in her own ability come to the rescue of the Gunnerson family and their run-down fishing lodges at Three Loons Lake in Canada, but Vera Gunnerson's jealousy needs careful handling. I liked this one as much as Hetty Dorval but had a hard task finding a copy which I eventually ordered from Canada.
Mothering Sunday ~ Graham Swift ( read April 2017)
Post-war 1920's England and neighbouring homes in Berkshire, Beechwood and Upleigh where the Nivens and the Sheringhams have both lost sons in the war. Latent grief buried deep in the book. Jane Fairchild, a maid at Beechwood, has become a writer in later life witholding the best story of her own life from her novels, but here it is being written by someone else. We become privy to the secret that her readers do not. Subtle dissection of writer's art .
Train Dreams ~ Denis Johnson (read March 2017)
No notes, just a blank page. I was clearly stunned into silence by the hidden punch of his slim book. More cheating...this from You Know Where...
'Robert Grainer is a day labourer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century-an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Shipped by train in 1893 unto the woods of the Idaho panhandle, he grows up, works on logging gangs, falls in love, and loses his wife and baby daughter to a particularly pernicious wildfire. Derailed by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime. Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West Train Dreams captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life.'
Assassin's Apprentice ~ Robin Hobb (read January 2017)
No notes that I can find, but this wasn't a book to stop-write-start I just needed to disappear into the complete fantasy and emerge blinking at the other end. My introduction to the world of Robin Hobb and I will read more in 2018. More help enlisted from You Know Where...
'The kingdom of the Six Duchies is on the brink of civil war when news breaks that the crown prince has fathered a bastard son and is shamed into abdication. The child’s name is Fitz, and his is despised.
Raised in the castle stables, only the company of the king’s fool, the ragged children of the lower city and his unusual affinity with animals provide Fitz with any comfort.
To be useful to the crown, Fitz is trained as an assassin; and to use the traditional magic of the Farseer family. But his tutor, allied to another political faction, is determined to discredit, even kill him. Fitz must survive: for he may be destined to save the kingdom.'
Long Love Great Bardfield ~ Tirzah Garwood (read November 2016)
I mentioned this all over the place but never actually did a proper write-up. No worries, it is superb and not to be missed. Life with Eric Ravilious but restoring Mrs Ravilious to her place as a woman and an artist in her own right, and through her own words.
I should also mention some excellent audio books...
Conclave ~ Robert Harris. I’ve done a lot of quilting this year for projects various and the shenanigans surrounding the election of a new Pope are all stitched into countless things now hanging on unsuspecting walls. What is the audio book equivalent of ‘unputdownable’... ‘unstanduppable’ will have to do.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine ~ Gail Honeyman. Loved it and judging by your comments yesterday so did plenty of you. This one works really well as an audio book.
My Name is Leon ~ Kit de Waal. The book came highly recommended at an Endsleigh Salon evening so I opted for the audio version read by Lenny Henry. Superb and half the time I’m almost in tears with the emotion of it all. Having been a social worker Kit de Waal knows her stuff so I am really looking forward to a new book from her in 2018.
The Cazalets ~ This BBC dramatisation of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s novels saw me through fifty-six hours of long haul flying, off and on through my lovely headphones, me drifting in and out of sleep. Every so often I’d wake up to Penelope Wilton’s dulcet tones and be right back in the action whilst noting we were at 36,000 ft over somewhere and it was time for more food or a walkabout.
Please do leave a comment if you have read any of these, or if any take your 2018 reading fancy. And of course any more audio book recommends always welcome.