As ever, my reading year was partly devoted to pleasure, partly work-related — though the two often overlapped. Below is my annual round up of what I most loved in 2016, and since I posted last year’s list on 28th November, it begins with December of 2015’s titles. It’s not a list of all the books I read this year.
Some of my best reads were proofs of books due out next year. I’ll sit on my enthusiasm until they are available in 2017. In the interests of full disclosure, when the book was written by a friend, I’ll say so.
I’ll include links to my past book reviews where relevant. If you’re compiling a wish list for Santa (or whomever), you might like to scroll through all my blog reviews, because my rule is that I only review what I’ve enjoyed here and keep shtum about the rest.
I’m sure I’ve missed something/someone out of this — that’s inevitable.
I hope this inspires you to head to a bookshop or library, and that you’ll enjoy these books as much as I did.
Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis. Wonderful young adult novel set in Montana, following a dual narrative in the present and the past. Romantic and atmospheric, just like her equally enjoyable book City of Halves. Crow Mountain won the 2016 Romantic Novel of the Year Award (YA category) Lucy and I are friends.
The Live and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr, and the other two books in this triple header: https://randallwrites.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/book-reviews-three-for-january/ Tracy and I became Twitter friends after my review appeared.
The Sleeping Beauty by Elizabeth Taylor. Sly, satirical, and gorgeously written, this is a fresh spin on the fairy tale by one of my favourite authors.
Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill. As good as everyone says. Like eating your way through a box of chocolates that never quite contain the filling you’re expecting.
The Semi-Detached House and The Semi-Attached Couple, by Emily Eden. Guilty pleasure, this. Light, frothy, funny as hell portrait of aristo life in the England that only ever existed for a privileged few, but which a certain strain of right wingers keeps foolishly evoking as a future possibility. Available to read here, due to its age: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/eden/house/house.html
The Burgess Boys and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. It may be heresy to say, but I preferred the boys to Lucy, though I did like that enormously. https://randallwrites.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/book-review-elizabeth-strout/
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift. Lovely. https://randallwrites.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/book-review-mothering-sunday/
Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon. Informative, stirring, and pacy double biography (told in alternating chapters) of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley.
The Typewriter’s Tale by Michiel Heyns. https://randallwrites.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/book-reviews-2/
At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell. Fantastic cultural history of the existentialist movement told from the human perspective, via the stories of its wild and wacky proponents. The philosophical analysis is first rate, and the biographical details mesmerising. NB: Sarah and I are friends.
All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani. Wonderful take on the love affair between Loretta Young and Clark Gable, by a writer who knows how to invest every paragraph with rich emotional depth. Adriana and I are friends.
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing. (See also, Eileen, included here) https://randallwrites.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/book-review-isolation-x-2/
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. If you follow me on Twitter — where Sarah and I engage with one another — then you are sick of hearing me praise this marvellous novel. I loved it. https://randallwrites.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/book-review-the-essex-serpent/
Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe. Funny, heartwarming, and written by a friend. I love Nina’s writing, both fiction and non.
The Bird’s Child by Sandra Leigh Price. I had been following Sandra on Twitter and agreed, with trepidation, to get a copy of her novel sent to me. I’m very glad I did. It’s fantastic! https://randallwrites.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/book-review-the-birds-child/
M Train by Patti Smith. Surely I don’t need to explain why I adored this?
Some of my favourite playmates are crime writers, and I enjoyed the hell out of their books this year. They include Val McDermid (I devoured all the Karen Pirie books in a beautiful binge), Ian Rankin, Christopher Brookmyre, E.S. Thomson, and new friend, Eva Dolan, a young writer (fourth book out in January) who has the chops to go the distance.
I also mini-binged on Dorothy L Sayers. Start anywhere. Keep reading.
Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum. Absolutely fabulous. Easy to see why it’s a classic. https://randallwrites.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/new-book-reviews/
Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazis, by Anne Sebba. Sweeping social history that shows how women kept Paris going throughout WWII — and at what personal cost. An absorbing read. Anne and I are friends.
Dadland by Keggie Carew. The true story of an eccentric spy and the daughter who loved him. Laughs galore, tears, and moments of wartime suspense that’ll have you catching your breath. Truly one of the best finds of my year. I “had” to read it for the Wigtown Book Festival, and loved it so much that I’ve made friends with Keggie. I’ve also been found hand-selling it in shops — stopping strangers to say: read this one!
The House of Birds by Morgan McCarthy. Enjoyed it so much it’s still resonating within me. https://randallwrites.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/book-review-house-of-birds-2/ I did well with “bird” books this year! (Morgan and I talk on Twitter now — post review.)
The Singing Sands, The Franchise Affair, The Man in the Queue all by Josephine Tey. I’m on a tear with her and admire the hell out of her writing. What. A. Talent.
Another new friend is Shelley Day, whose The Confession of Stella Moon will pin you to your chair. And it goes without saying that Graeme Macrae Burnett’s His Bloody Project deserves your attention. I know him now, too. Both published by Sara Hunt, under Saraband’s Contraband imprint.
The Long Weekend by Adrian Tinniswood is an illustrated exploration of Life in English country houses between the wars. Yes, I DO love reading about rich British people. And buildings. This satisfies on both counts.