Last year was the best reading year, numbers wise, that I’ve had in quite a while. I read 66 books (6 over my goal) and am pretty content with the mix of contemporary novels and classic novels that I completed. A lot of my reading was generated by the two “book buzz” presentations that I gave at my library, one in the summer and one in the fall, where I presented 10 buzzy books of those seasons. I’ve not chosen very many of those books, however, as favorites for the year. Most of them were really good and very enjoyable, but not memorable. Classics and books by favorite contemporary authors (like Hilary Mantel) will still always be my favorites. I was originally only going to have 10 books on my list, but I finished Terms and Conditions by Ysenda Maxtone Graham at the end of December and had to add it to my favorites – it is a little gem. Also, I intended to publish this post around the end of the year, but I had some pesky health issues going on and everything (reading included) fell by the wayside so I am only now sharing my favorites.
Here are my Top Eleven Books of the Year:
Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman – I really enjoyed this well-written, novelistic biography of the quietly passionate author. It is very detailed about her writing life and about the life of the entire Bronte family – definitely a must-read for Bronte fans.
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – I listened to Cranford on my phone and I think it is the perfect classic to enjoy on audio – episodic, funny and heart-warming. It is one of the favorite books that we read in my book club this year.
The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff – This beautiful novel about a family’s vacation to Bognor Regis was a highlight of my summer. It’s a book that’s not really dramatic or plot-driven – it quietly describes the relationships between parents and their children and the traditions of their yearly trip. Simple and lovely.
Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel – Mantel’s childhood is opaquely recounted in this dazzling memoir. I always find Mantel’s writing to say as much in what she doesn’t say then in her devastating observations. The combination is so chillingly good. I hope 2017 is the year her third Thomas Cromwell book is published!
LaRose by Louise Erdrich – LaRose is a marvelous book about redemption and justice set on a Native American reservation in North Dakota. Full of wonderful characters and really sensitive writing it moved me to tears several times and made me think so much about forgiveness. I just loved it.
The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard – This is the first novel in the Cazalet Chronicles, the most perfect family saga series. I devoured this book and am now almost finished with the second in the series, Marking Time. I’m sure I will read the entire chronicles this year.
My Antonia by Willa Cather – My Antonia is another book club book and one that I’ve read before. I also listened to this on my phone and appreciated how beautiful Cather’s writing sounds spoken aloud. I find her books, especially this one, to be achingly nostalgic and gorgeous.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles – This short, adventurous novel is what I would call a “literary Western”. It has lovely writing, suspense, great dialogue, a journey, and a heart-warming relationship. I really enjoyed this and recommend it if you are looking for something gripping yet well written to break you out of a reading slump.
The Past by Tessa Hadley – I read this way back at the beginning of 2016 but it has stayed with me throughout the year. I find Hadley’s writing to be so lyrical and the story of a family deciding whether to sell their grandparents’ home or not is riveting. I hope to read more from Tessa Hadley.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith – Reading Swing Time was my first experience reading anything by Zadie Smith and I was stunned by her writing. It’s so vigorous, intelligent and perceptive. And also very moving. I loved this story of two friends and the different paths they take from their childhood on a housing estate in North London.
Terms and Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham – As I mentioned above, I think this is a gem. It is very funny, fascinating and really engrossing. I want to read more about girls’ boarding schools so I’d love if Maxtone Graham next wrote a book about finishing schools (as she mentions she might). I would be first in line for that book!
I hope you’re all having a great start to the new year!
Last Saturday, my friend and colleague Melissa and I gave our “Fabulous Fall Reads” presentation at my library. We talked about the books we think people would love to read over the next three months. We had another great turnout, similar to our Sizzlin’ Summer Reads attendance, and plan to do it again for spring 2017. Without further ado here are my fall favorites with their US release dates:
The Ballroom by Anna Hope (Sept. 6) – The Ballroom is a bittersweet story of forbidden romance and a fascinating look at how mentally ill people were treated in Edwardian England. If you like well-written, romantic, historical fiction like that written by Sarah Waters, Graham Swift and Sebastian Faulks you will enjoy The Ballroom.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Sept. 6) – Amor Towles writes like no one I can think of today. His sophisticated and elegant writing reminds me of F. Scott Fitzgerald but his stories are straight out of movies of the 1940’s. If you like old-fashioned and heart-warming yet complex stories, you’ll love A Gentleman in Moscow.
The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan (Sept. 6) – This clever and twisty thriller will satisfy fans of domestic suspense novels like The Widow by Fiona Barton, I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh and The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders (Sept. 13) – Mrs. Rodd is a delightful character reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. This is definitely a cozy series but has a darker edge so would appeal to fans of the Maisie Dobbs series or the Amelia Peabody series. I can’t wait for the next book featuring Mrs. Rodd!
Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton (Sept. 20) – This was absolutely riveting and clever — it’s a dark page-turner and a superb thriller that will appeal to fans of Tana French.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles (Oct. 4) – This novel has wonderful fully-developed characters, beautiful spare writing, is adventurous and suspenseful, and has a morally complex plot. I really loved this book and read it in one day. It is definitely a western, but a western that will appeal to anyone who likes good storytelling similar to The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin or Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.
The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky (Oct. 11) – In hazy and dreamy prose Dermansky takes not only the main character Leah, but the reader, on a journey that is humorous, thought-provoking and inspiring. If you like stories about women who take control of their lives, like Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years, you’ll love The Red Car.
The Mistletoe Murder by P.D. James (Oct. 25) – I would recommend this to James fans and to those who appreciate literary British mysteries written by authors such as Elizabeth George, Deborah Crombie ,Ruth Rendell or Minette Walters. Also, if you like to read mysteries set at Christmas (I certainly do) The Mistletoe Murder is a creepily good one to look for this holiday season.
My Lost Poets by Philip Levine (Nov. 8) – If you enjoyed Just Kids by Patti Smith, My Lost Poets will appeal to you. It is a lovely and uplifting artistic memoir.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (Nov. 15) – Swing Time explores the nature of identity, cultural appropriation, happiness, fame and power and ambition and friendship- all in a witty, sharp, layered and compelling story that you’ll think about long after you read the last page. This would be a perfect choice for book clubs and if you like writers like Louise Erdrich or Amy Tan you’ll relish Swing Time.
Have you read or do you plan to read any of these titles?
Hello! How’s your July been? I’ve read a lot this month, but it’s been all galleys so nothing that I can write about here (yet). I finished two books last weekend and will finish two by this weekend’s end as well. I’m well on my way to having read 10 galleys that I can talk about at my “Fabulous Fall Reads” presentation in September. If all goes to plan I won’t be scrambling to read anything in the week leading up to the event and can focus all my efforts on preparing my booktalks and the Powerpoint. Whew!
I’m going to Colorado again mid-August and want to take books with me that I have no obligation to read. Books that I can read just because I want to. So, I’ve been buying books online and at Half-Price books, hoarding them for the trip. I ordered 3 Poirot novels after loving The Murder of Roger Ackroyd a few months ago. Then I found a copy of Night and Day by Virginia Woolf at Half-Price Books (HPB) — not the most attractive copy but I couldn’t pass it up. On the same visit to HPB I decided to buy Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. I read it many years ago when I think I was probably too young to “get” it so I’m curious to see what I’ll think of it now.
A few weeks later I found To Love and Be Wise by Josephine Tey. I know nothing about it, but I do like Tey’s mysteries so I tossed it in my basket. Also in my basket went My American by Stella Gibbons. My local HPB has carried lots of Gibbons’s novels through the years and I always buy them yet haven’t read any of them yet. I want to remedy that this year. On top of the Tey and the Gibson went The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace which I remembered Jane liking years ago when she was at her previous blog.
Lastly, the mailman recently delivered Queen Victoria in her Letters and Journals where it sat in my baking metal mailbox until I rescued it into the air conditioned comfort of my home.
I probably won’t take all of these to Colorado but a few of them will make the trip. I also want to take a few Viragos and Persephones to read since August is All August/All Viirago (with Persephones included). I’ve already started The Fortnight in September for this event and LOVE it. I also want to read a Holtby, Comyns and Laski during the month. I’m giddy just thinking about it!
But I forgot — I do have one book I’m obligated to read in August and that is Silas Marner for book club. I should probably start on that one soon.
What are your August reading plans? Have you bought any books lately that you are super excited about?
Today the August 2016 LibraryReads list was released. I think I’ve written briefly about this list before, but I’ll explain a bit further. Every month this handy list of librarian favorites is shared with public libraries across the US. The titles on the list are read and nominated by library staff across the country and the title with the most nominations makes the top of the list (this month it is A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny).
My library system actively promotes the list – we have it available for patrons to take home, we have a permanent LibraryReads display at each of our branches, we write about it each month on our blog and we tweet about each title throughout the month.
My own personal efforts include reading lots of galleys, nominating titles I think are worthy and writing blurbs for the books I nominate. Four of my blurbs have been included on earlier LibraryReads lists (none this year, though I’m still trying!).
I have only read one title from this month’s list: Arrowood by Laura McHugh (release date is August 9). It is a gothic-tinged mystery set in a small Mississippi River town in Iowa and tells the story of a young woman, Arden, who returns to town after her father dies. She has some pretty bad memories of the town, though – because when she was 8 her 2-year-old twin sisters were kidnapped and have never been seen again. There’s long been a suspect but not enough evidence to arrest him. Arden’s mostly given up hope that her sisters will ever be found, but when strange things start happening in the house she decides to pursue any leads that will help her find out what happened to them – even if it challenges her memories of that day or puts her in danger. And when the truth is discovered it is more bone-chilling than anything she could ever have imagined. This mystery is a haunting story that gradually reveals its secrets – perfect for fans of moody mysteries like Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.
I usually try to read a few more titles from each list as the books are released, but, to be honest, I tried a few already and didn’t like them. I think Arrowood will remain the only one I read from the list this August.
Do any of August’s LibraryReads picks appeal to you?