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.


Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I really want to read Drood, but more so after reading your thoughts on it, it sounds so good.

Happy New Year!

Val said...

Wishing you and your family a Lovely New Year Cath!!!!

Anonymous said...

Cath, I just finished THE BLACK HOUSE this morning. I loved it. I have the next in the trilogy, THE LEWIS MAN, sitting by my reading chair and I've already ordered the third book from your side of the pond. Wasn't this a good one?

I want to wish you and your family a Happy New Year and hope your holidays have been delightful. Look forward to talking more in upcoming days. :-)

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

You had a good reading year!

I really want to read the Lewis Trilogy - it sounds so good.

I thought Drood was too long (and I like long books!), too wordy, too full of facts described in great length, and too full of hallucinatory nightmares, involving in particular a black beetle scarab. That may sound as though I hated it, but I didn't because I thought the descriptions of London and the fantastical “Undertown” were excellent - very vivid. And it made me want to read Wilkie Collins's and Dickens's books! which I did this year.

Happy New Year, Cath, to you and your family!

Susan said...

What a lovely list, Cath! I really like how you say it's the quality of the books and the experience you have reading them - letting them get into your mind - that matters. I think you are right.

I loved The Black House too - it was a riveting read! I've seen the second book around but haven't got it yet. One day left, then have to wait until April! *gulp*

I am still at the beginning of Drood, and am going to read it during January for Ana's challenge. I know I told you earlier that I am enjoying what I've read so far so much. I'll let you know how as it goes.

You read some really good books, and that's what matters the most. I'll be posting my list tomorrow. Company is coming shortly.....

I also read much less than usual, so I'm a bit sad, but I read so many good books like you that that is cheering me up as well! lol

Happy 2013, Cath, to you and Peter, and hope you have many many good books ahead of you in 2013!

chrisa511 said...

I so need to read Drood!! Or at least SOMETHING by Dan Simmons!! Great reading year Cath :D Hope next year is just as good and even better :D

Cath said...

Sam: I was actually shocked at how much I loved Drood. Happy New Year to you too. :-)

Val: Thanks! Happy New Year to you and yours too.

Kay: I thought The Black House was a fantastic book. When it became apparent that the murder was taking 2nd. place to the story of Fin's childhood I wondered if I would continue to like it. But I did and actually ended up liking it more I think.

Happy New Year to you too, Kay. It's lovely to see you around and I hope you'll continue to pop in in 2013.

Margaret: Certainly the first book in the Lewis trilogy was fantastic. I have book 2 on my Kindle as it was available for 20p.

Yes, the scarab thing in Drood was about the only part that I did think was possibly a bit OTT. Looks like I might be having a Collins and Dickens year in 2013 too.

Happy New Year to you and your family.

Susan: I struggle hard with numbers of books. Perhaps I'm a natural 'counter', I don't know, but the temptation to try and read more and more just for the sake of it is hard to overcome for me. For several years I've tried to overcome this silliness and this year I almost succeeded! I'm happy with 63 books rather than 83. I also know it would be very hard for me to read more than 83 so I've tried to tell myself that I've reach the pinnacle, so to speak, now I should just enjoy the books I read rather than *counting*. LOL.

I'm so intrigued to know what you think of Drood.

Happy New Year to you and your family. I'm pretty excited about next year's reading although I have no idea why! LOL.

Chris: Yes, you must read Drood. Your 'mom' and her sis say so. LOL I also have DS's 'Hyperion' on my Amazon wishlist. It's a sci fi book and sounds fantastic. You might like that...

Danielle said...

Happy New Year, Cath! It is definitely better to read fewer books you really enjoy than squeezing in books you feel meh about. I loved The Blackhouse, too--it was one of my faves! I really need to get back to Daisy Dalrymple--isn't she marvelous? Every time I would see a post where you mentioned her I would go grab the next book--but then decide to wait as I always have far too many books started! Best wishes for 2013 and to another great reading year!

Jo said...

Happy New Year. You read a wide range of genres I hope you enjoy your 2013 reading.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

The saying goes that, 'the older you get, the faster time passes by' and I can now officially vouch for this as being the truth .... what happened to 2012? ... did I sleep through it all?

We have spent a relaxing and enjoyable New Year's day with family and friends in Swindon and hope that your day has been just as good!

Have a safe and happy 2013.


Cath said...

Danielle: The Daisy books are one of my fondest reading memories of 2012, and I'm so pleased I still have seven more to read. I gather they get better and better. And her husband, Alec, is a real favourite male fictional character for me. I'm possibly a bit too romantic by nature. LOL.

Jo: Thank you. I think possibly I'm too much of an electic reader because it tends to mean that I want to read everything and that's just not possible.

Yvonne: It really is quite frightening the way the years are just slipping by. It's a sad fact of the aging process.

I'm glad you had such a nice New Year's Day. We spent a lovely Christmas with the whole family and New Year's Day with our younger daughter and little boy... Skyping with American friends in the evening. The whole holiday period was very nice for Peter and I. I'm well aware that we're very fortunate.

I hope you too have a safe and happy 2013.

DesLily said...

geez I am late to diner again! lol

well you beat me by a lot of books that's for sure! But my only "goal" anymore (if there even is one) is to just beat 1 book a week. I am a slow reader and some books take be forever to get thru.

sooooo glad you liked Drood! I didn't mind the scarab thing as for me it was telling me what the opium was doing to him... but the book surely sent me into reading more Wilkie and Dickens and I've enjoyed it very much..(reading Wilkie right now!)

ok so I put the black house on the wish list *sigh* but but.. then I find out it's a trilogy? argh!!!

I think I will thin out my tbr pile (knowing I have some smaller paperbacks that I will most likely never read) just to get the pile down!

I think I will try to read some of my biographies this year.. I have way more than usual!

I hope this year is another enjoyable book year for us all!!

Peggy Ann said...

Sounds like you had a great reading year! I have to read the Peter May book! Happy New Year Cath!

Cath said...

Pat: I honestly think one book a week is quite reasonable, apart from these 800 page books. Drood took me 2 weeks to read. LOL.

Yeah, The Black House is the start of a series, but the book stands alone, it doesn't end on a cliff-hanger or anything.

I want to read more biographies this year too. Like you I have some...

Peggy Ann: The Peter May book is well worth seeking out. One of the best books I've read in a long time.