Sunday 30 December 2012

December books and 2012 round-up

So here we are, at the end of 2012. Where on earth did the year go? I say that every year but this time I feel like it's particularly true - the year has whizzed by like some kind of speeded up movie. Ridiculous. When you get older you want time to slow down, so what does it do? start running away from you... just when your knees are too creaky to allow you to run and catch up! Just great.

So, another year of reading behind me, but first a quick run-down of the 3 books I read in December.

The Black House by Peter May is set on the Isle of Lewis. I'll pinch Amazon's synopsis:

A brutal killing takes place on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland: a land of harsh beauty and inhabitants of deep-rooted faith. A MURDER. Detective Inspector Fin Macleod is sent from Edinburgh to investigate. For Lewis-born Macleod, the case represents a journey both home and into his past. A SECRET. Something lurks within the close-knit island community. Something sinister. A TRAP. As Fin investigates, old skeletons begin to surface, and soon he, the hunter, becomes the hunted.

For me this book was much more about Fin's journey back to his childhood than it was about the murder of a man who was at school with him. I would call this an incredibly well-rounded book because the murder was woven seamlessly into the story of Fin's childhood, both before his parents were killed in a car crash and then after when he goes to live with his aunt. The island itself plays a huge part in the plot, especially the descriptions of the annual guga hunt where men go and harvest young gannets, which are delicacy in restaurants. I would also add that this is one of the most atmospheric and beautifully written books I've read in a long, long time. Fantastic.

Drood by Dan Simmons is a Victorian gothic sort of a novel. On his way home from France, Charles Dickens is involved in a train crash. In the aftermath, as he tries to help the survivors, he sees a nightmare of an individual going from person to person, sucking the souls out of them. He shares this experience with fellow author, Wilkie Collins, and together they set out to find 'Drood'. Their search takes them underground to the sewers and opium dens, and thus to Undertown where Drood has his lair. But is he real, or is he a figment of the imagination? It will take both Dickens and Collins almost a lifetime to discover the answer.

Well, gosh. It seems that people either love or hate this novel. I had no idea which category I would fall into but Pat at Here There and Everywhere loves it so much I had a suspicion I would too. And so it proved. I understand why it might not appeal to some. It meanders all over the place time-wise, there's a lot of extra material about the books the authors wrote, and possibly the supernatural element combined with two real people is not for some. All I can say is that those were precisely the reasons I loved it so much! The book is almost 800 pages long, which apparently indiciates to some that it should have been shortened. I didn't think it was a single page too long. I loved the seedy, Victorian atmosphere, the historical detail, the speculation about Wilkie Collins' relationship with Charles Dickens, the details about Collins' opium addiction and so on. I found it *all* fascinating and completely absorbing. I know some of the historical details are supposition and can't be verified, but that was part of the fun for me... trying to decide what was real and what wasn't. The book has also had the effect of making me want to read more of Collins' work and also Dickens' biography by Clare Tomalin. Oh and Our Mutual Friend. In my mind, when a book has that kind of effect on you it has to be A Good Thing.

Lynn Schooler, the author of Walking Home: A Journey in the Alaskan Wilderness, lives in the town of Juneau in Alaska. He's been married for a few years and is building his wife and himself a new house. It's a hard slog, a day to day grind that's exhausting. He's starting to question whether it's all worth it as he's in his late fifties and now his marriage is seeming very shaky indeed. In order to clear his mind he decides on a journey by boat, and then on foot, up the inhospitable coast of Alaska. Everyone tells him he's completely mad as it's a perilous trip, but of course he goes anyway. I enjoyed this book immensely. The author is amazingly good at describing the landscapes, the wildlife, his feelings, the perils of the journey. He also treats us to some history of the area, the earthquakes, the tsunamis, the explorers, and it is rivetting. All of it. The reader also finds himself rather tied up in the details of the author's marriage and what went wrong. A sad episode. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this great read about one man's journey in Alaska and will add it to my American challenge list.


So... books for 2012. Sixty three altogether and twenty books less than 2011! Twenty! I thought it might be ten. LOL. But here's the thing: I really don't mind. I think I may have said at the end of last year that I wouldn't mind reading less books this year and thinking more about what I read, rather than *more* and having all of them just be one of a number of books I happened to read. So I'm quite happy with my sixty three books and, looking at Pinterest where I have a board entitled, Good Books - 2012, and where I have listed fifty books, it looks like most of the books I read were worth reading. Of the sixty three books thirteen were non-fiction. I'm not so happy with that... I was rather hoping I'd managed a few more non-fictions than a fifth of the total, although it is slightly up on last year. *Next* year I want to do better than that though.

I'll split my favourite books of the year into fiction and non-fiction. Fiction first and not in any particular order.

1. Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg

2. West of the Moon by Katherine Langrish

3. Living Dangerously by Katie Fforde

4. The Black Angel by John Connolly

5. The Black House by Peter May

6. Drood by Dan Simmons


1. Down Under by Bill Bryson

2. Wait for Me! by Deborah Devonshire

3. Love and War in the Appenines by Eric Newby

4. The Political Animal by Jeremy Paxman

5. Narrow Dog to Carcasonne by Terry Darlington

6. Walking Home by Lynn Schooler

So, should I choose actual favourites? Ummm... okay then. Fiction: Drood by Dan Simmons. Non-fiction: A tie between Down Under by Bill Bryson and The Political Animal by Jeremy Paxman. All three of these were fantastic reads.

It was also the year of the series for me. I devoured the Daisy Dalrymple books by Carola Dunn all through the summer. Then in the autumn I decided to reread Terry Pratchett's wonderful Sam Vimes books. And all year I read my way through about half a dozen of John Connolly's fantastic Charlie Parker series. It's no exaggeration to say that I enjoyed every one of these series books immensely and hope to carry on into 2013.

I think I'll leave my 2013 reading plans for another post as this is long enough. Happy New Year to everyone and here's to an excellent reading year in 2013.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Christmas greetings!

I see I haven't posted here in several weeks. Which was unintentional but due to a bad back and the time of year. I have been reading, in fact I read two of my favourite books of the year this month, The Black House by Peter May and Drood by Dan Simmons. Hopefully I'll have time to post about those after Christmas, as they were - for me - exceptional books.

In the meantime I want to take a moment wish everyone who visits my blog, those who comment and those who don't, a very Merry Christmas indeed.

For some reason I always think of The Wind in the Willows as a Christmassy book and this snowy illustration from it is one of my favourites. A Happy New Year and I hope 2013 is a better year all round.

Monday 3 December 2012

November books

I haven't reviewed the last three books I've read so thought I'd just do a quick rundown of the books I read in November, with quick reviews of those three books. There were five books in all, so a slowish reading month for me. Unusually, of the five books, three were non-fiction. I said somewhere else that I did well with non-fiction for the first few months of the year, badly in the middle months, but had returned to it in the autumn. I'm pleased with that as I really do want to read a lot more. Half and half is likely to be unrealistic given how much I enjoy crime yarns, fantasy, horror etc. but aiming for a third is not and I would very much like to achieve that in 2013. I don't think I have this year but we'll see at the end of this month.

Anyway... the books I read in November:

56. Narrow Dog to Carcassonne by Terry Darlington. I reviewed this here so no need to say anything other than I enjoyed it very much.

57. Ill Wind by Nevada Barr. Again reviewed here. A good read in an excellent series.

58. In Search of England by Roy Hattersley.

For people of a certain age Roy Hattersly was a very well known Labour politician. *Ex*politician now of course, but in his heyday he held various cabinet posts and was even deputy leader of the party. I knew he wrote books, fiction and non-fiction, but not that he was a prolific writer of columns and articles for newspapers, and this is what this book is all about. The book is divided into sections, literature (Roy is a huge Shakespeare fan), churches (he's an athiest who loves churches, an attitude I can well understand), animals, especially dogs, sport and so on. Hattersley's personality shines through with every word and I read the whole book in his voice as I know it so well. Some of the articles interested me more than others but that's to be expected. Anything about football is a huge yawn for me but I enjoyed the book and poetry essays, also the countryside ones and really, there wasn't a lot about this book I didn't like.

Next up, Clarissa's England: A Gamely Gallop Through the English Counties by Clarissa Dickson Wright:

Anyone familiar with a UK cookery programme called Two Fat Ladies will know of Clarissa Dickson Wright. One half of the duo, Jennifer Paterson, sadly passed away in 1999, but thankfully Clarissa is still with us and still making TV shows. Just a couple of weeks ago we watched her three part series, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, and it was absolutely excellent. This book is exactly what it says on the tin: a tour of English counties. Clarissa gives us a history of each county, various food titbits, and plenty of anecdotes about her life if they concern the county or a city within that county. She isn't afriad to speak her mind, and thus be controversial or un-pc... and I like that. Like the Hattersley book I read it in her voice and that made it easier for me to appreciate her very droll sense of humour. I laughed quite a lot. I loved this book and now want to read her autobiography, Spilling the Beans.

Lastly my second fiction book of the month, a fantasy story, Green Rider by Kristen Britain.

Karigan G'ladheon, a girl in her late teens, has been expelled from school for fighting, although it was a legal fight, part of school lessons with swords and so forth. She's decided to run away and is out in the countryside when a rider comes at her out of the forest. He's a Green Rider, a messenger for the king... but he has three black arrows in his back and is dying in front of her. Karigan undertakes to deliver the message to the king and in doing so becomes a Green Rider herself. The problem is, the same people who murdered the unfortunate rider are now after her. She has to deliver the message to a city in the north where the king is. Luckily the horse seems to know the way, but takes her on routes through the forest that she had no idea existed. Her adventures are of course, many, and Karigan nearly loses her life on several occasions. It's a race against time and against the forces of evil.

Loved this book to bits. It's a long time since I've read a fantasy book which was as enjoyable and such a pageturner. I liked the characters, especially Karigan herself who is an excellent female protagonist, but the supporting cast were also excellent. I love books about forests and the one featured in about half of this book was fascinating. There was also court intrigue and skullduggery, an evil pretender to the throne and a much more evil and devious sourcerer behind it all. I think it's been said that it followed The Lord of the Rings a bit too closely and maybe that's so. But in truth, that didn't bother me at all... it was different enough to capture my imagination. I loved it and book two is hopefully now on the way.

And now on to December, always an awkward reading month for me - and others I'm sure - due to Christmas and the weeks leading up to it being busy with preparations. I plan to be casual about reading. I'm about to start The Black House by Peter May and have also downloaded quite a few free bits and pieces of Christmas themed stories and books for my Kindle to have fun with. 'No pressure' is my reading motto this month and I plan to stick to that.