My favourite books of 2017

With only two days left of 2017, I think it should be safe to post my books of the year list now. I always enjoy putting this post together, looking back over my reading year and picking out favourites. As usual, the list I’ve come up with is a long one, though not as long as some from previous years! I’ve also given a special mention to some books which didn’t quite win a place on the list – and re-reads have their own separate section this year too.

Here they are, in the order that I read them:

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The Red Sphinx by Alexandre Dumas (1865)

From my review: “Well, it may be only January but I think I already know one book which will be appearing on my books of the year list this December! Bearing in mind that this is a later Dumas novel, written towards the end of his career on the urging of his publishers, I was pleased to find, almost as soon as I started reading, that it was living up to my expectations!”

The Red House Mystery by AA Milne (1922)

From my review: “I had always thought of A.A. Milne solely as the author of the Winnie the Pooh stories and it had never occurred to me to wonder what else he had written. It turns out that The Red House Mystery, originally published in 1922, was his first and only detective novel – which is a shame, because it’s excellent.”

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (2015)

From my review: “I loved His Bloody Project; although it’s not a traditional crime novel and there’s never any mystery surrounding the identity of the murderer, it’s the sort of book that leaves you with more questions at the end than you had at the beginning.”

Lost Horizon by James Hilton (1933)

From my review: “I’m very happy with the way my reading is going so far this year. I’ve read some great books already and this is another one…It’s a fascinating story and very absorbing – I started it on a Saturday and was finished by Sunday; at just over 200 pages it’s a quick read but also the sort of book that leaves the reader with a lot to think about after the final page is turned.”

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)

From my review: “I found East of Eden a surprisingly compelling read; I honestly hadn’t expected to love it as much as I did or to find myself wanting to turn the pages so quickly. I now feel much more enthusiastic about reading more Steinbeck…”

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (2016)

From my review: “I would like to tell you more about the plot of Golden Hill, but I’m limited as to how much I can say without spoiling things for future readers. I think it’s enough to say that it’s a hugely entertaining story involving duels, card games, imprisonments and a chase across the rooftops of New York…There’s so much to love about this unusual, imaginative novel.”

Wintercombe by Pamela Belle (1988)

From my review: “Although I was looking forward to reading it, I have to admit that after being so captivated by the adventures of the Heron family, I doubted whether I could possibly enjoy this book as much. Of course, I was wrong. What I found was another beautifully depicted setting, another moving story to become absorbed in and another set of characters to fall in love with (or to hate, as the case may be).”

I also loved the second book in the Wintercombe series, Herald of Joy.

They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie (1951)

From my review: “This book is not one of Christie’s Poirot or Miss Marple mysteries – it’s a standalone and actually much more of a spy novel or thriller than a mystery. With an exciting plot involving kidnappings, conspiracies, impersonations, disguises and secret messages, I found it a lot of fun to read – one of those books I genuinely didn’t want to have to put down until I was finished!”

The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull (2017)

From my review: “This wonderful story of a young woman with a passion for aviation is the first book I’ve read by Rebecca Mascull, but I enjoyed it so much I will certainly be going back to read her previous two novels. Set in the Lincolnshire town of Cleethorpes in the first two decades of the 20th century, The Wild Air is both fascinating and inspirational, with a heroine I loved and connected with immediately.”

Towers in the Mist by Elizabeth Goudge (1937)

From my review: “Not all of Goudge’s novels are historical, but it’s the historical ones that I’ve been drawn to first. Towers in the Mist is set in Oxford in the Elizabethan period and, like the other two I’ve read, it’s a truly beautiful novel.”

Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull (2015)

From my review: “Song of the Sea Maid is a wonderful exploration of what it was like to be a woman trying to forge a career in science in a period when it was not considered normal or socially acceptable to do so…There’s really nothing negative I can say about Song of the Sea Maid; even the use of first person present tense, which I often dislike, didn’t bother me – in fact, I barely noticed it because I found Dawnay’s voice so strong and real.”

The Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb (Ship of Magic; The Mad Ship; Ship of Destiny)

From my review: “Having become quite attached to the characters and swept away by the story over the course of the three novels, I’m sorry to have come to the end..I loved the world Robin Hobb created here and I was impressed by her ability to handle multiple storylines and keep track of who knows what! Also, as someone who doesn’t read a lot of fantasy, I found the dragon element fascinating.”

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (2016)

From my review: “This is a fascinating exploration of the harm that can be done, often unintentionally, by superstition and a lack of understanding and the basic knowledge we take for granted today. I thought The Wonder was…well, wonderful. Highly recommended!”

Long Summer Day by RF Delderfield (1966)

From my review: “Long Summer Day is one of my books of the year so far, without a doubt. It’s written in the sort of warm, comforting, old-fashioned style that I love, and despite its length I felt that the pages were going by very quickly because I was so absorbed in the lives of Paul and his friends – it’s one of those books where you truly feel as though you’ve escaped into another world for a little while!”

Soot by Andrew Martin (2017)

From my review: “You know when you can tell as soon as you start reading that you’re going to enjoy a book? That’s how I felt about Soot, Andrew Martin’s new historical mystery set in 18th century York. The plot, the characters, the atmosphere, the writing style…I loved them all!”

Shadow of the Moon by M.M. Kaye (1957)

From my review: “Whether or not the romance captures your imagination, though, I think there should be something in this novel to interest most readers…the fascinating historical background, the colourful portrait of another time and place or maybe the adventure (plenty of daring escapes, disguises, ambushes and secret meetings by moonlight). I loved it.”

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Three of my reads this year were re-reads…and I loved all three:

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)

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And these books deserve a special mention too:

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (2017)
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)
Under the Hog by Patrick Carleton (1937)
Conclave by Robert Harris (2016)
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (2016)
Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton (2017)
Chocky by John Wyndham (1968)
Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes (1938)
Voice of the Falconer by David Blixt (2010)

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Have you read any of these books? Which books have you enjoyed reading in 2017?

The Classics Spin Number is…

4!

The result of the latest Classics Spin has been revealed today – and I’m happy with the book I’ll be reading!

The idea of the Spin was to list twenty books from my Classics Club list, number them 1 to 20, and the number announced by the club today (Friday) represents the book I have to read before 31st December 2017. The number that has been selected is 4, which means the book I need to read is…

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

I’m pleased with this as I’ve only read two books by Willa Cather so far and have been wanting to read more.

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Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Classics Club List #2 – and another Classics Spin!

I mentioned last week that I had finished my current Classics Club list and would probably be posting a second one…and here it is! I have decided to list 50 books this time rather than 100 as that will give me more flexibility and more time to read other books as well. We have five years to complete our lists, so as I’m starting from today that means my finish date will be 14th November 2022 – how far away that seems! I’ve included a mixture of books that I’m hoping will be fun to read, books that sound much more challenging and books that I know very little about but are by authors I’ve wanted to try for a while.

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1. The Black Sheep by Honoré de Balzac
2. The Long Ships by Frans G Bengtsson
3. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
4. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
5. Jezebel’s Daughter by Wilkie Collins
6. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
7. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
8. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
9. La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas
10. Chicot the Jester by Alexandre Dumas
11. Castle Dor by Daphne du Maurier
12. Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
13. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
14. Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
15. The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson
16. The Fifth Queen by Ford Madox Ford
17. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
18. Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
19. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
20. Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy
21. Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy
22. In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse
23. The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby
24. Goodbye Mr Chips by James Hilton
25. The Galliard by Margaret Irwin
26. The Europeans by Henry James
27. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
28. The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni
29. Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Maugham
30. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
31. That Lady by Kate O’Brien
32. The World is Not Enough by Zoe Oldenbourg
33. I Will Repay by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
34. The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter
35. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
36. The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade
37. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
38. Bardelys the Magnificent by Rafael Sabatini
39. Sandokan: The Tigers of Mompracem by Emilio Salgari
40. The Pirate by Sir Walter Scott
41. The Turquoise by Anya Seton
42. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
43. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
44. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
45. High Rising by Angela Thirkell
46. The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope
47. The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope
48. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
49. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
50. Germinal by Emile Zola

What do you think? Have you read any of these?

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I am just in time to take part in the latest Classics Club Spin! The idea of the spin is to choose twenty unread books from your Classics Club list and number them from 1-20. On Friday 17th November, the Classics Club will choose a number and that is the book you need to read before the end of the year.

As I haven’t read any of the books on my new list yet, I’m just going to use the first twenty books above as my Spin list. If I get #10 I will probably read #9 instead as they are part of a series, but otherwise I don’t mind which number comes up. Now I just need to wait until Friday to find out what I’ll be reading!

The Classics Club: Looking back

I joined the Classics Club in March 2012 with the aim of reading sixty classics in five years. Over time, my list changed and grew, I removed books I no longer felt like reading, added other books and ended up with a list of one hundred. A few weeks ago I finished the last of those hundred classics (a re-read of my favourite Dumas novel, The Count of Monte Cristo) – seven months past my deadline, which would have been March of this year, but I really enjoyed working through my list, which I think is all that matters! Taking part in the Classics Club has definitely been a rewarding experience: I have participated in monthly memes, had fun with Classics Spins, joined in with the Women’s Classic Literature Event and, most importantly, discovered lots of new books, authors, blogs and bloggers.

You can see my complete Classics Club list here, with links to my reviews, but here are some of my highlights from the last five years (and seven months):

* Finishing Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire and starting his other series, the Pallisers.

* Discovering that Louisa May Alcott wrote sensation novels.

* Tackling some very long books: Don Quixote, Kristin Lavransdatter, War and Peace and Clarissa!

* Enjoying Alexandre Dumas’ complete series of D’Artagnan novels.

* Revisiting Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Emma and Rebecca.

* Moving out of my comfort zone and reading some plays.

* Being pleasantly surprised by John Steinbeck, John Wyndham and Somerset Maugham, three authors I hadn’t expected to like.

* Deciding that A Tale of Two Cities is my favourite Dickens novel.

* Loving all four Rafael Sabatini books on my list!

A few of you have asked whether I will be putting another Classics Club list together. I think the answer is probably yes, although I haven’t decided what form my second list will take, how many books will be on it or which books and authors will be included. I’ll let you know if and when the list is ready!

Lymond is back!

Today sees the reissue in the UK and Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand of The Lymond Chronicles, Dorothy Dunnett’s wonderful six-volume series following the 16th century adventures of Francis Crawford of Lymond. As Dunnett is one of my favourite authors, I couldn’t let this day pass unmarked on my blog!

Originally published in 1961, The Game of Kings is the first of the Lymond novels, and little did I know, when I picked it up for the first time in 2012 and read that opening line “Lymond is back”, that I was about to embark on the most enjoyable – and emotional – reading experience of my life.

What do you think of the new Penguin covers?

Dunnett’s standalone novel set in 11th century Orkney and Scotland, King Hereafter, has also been reissued today, although we will have to wait until 2018 for her other series, The House of Niccolò, to be given the same treatment.

You can find more information on the reissues here and you may also find the Dorothy Dunnett Society website of interest. There’s an article about Lymond in today’s Guardian too.

Finally, if you prefer your books in ebook format, Amazon UK currently have the Kindle version of The Game of Kings available for £0.99.

Happy reading!

Winner of the 2017 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

Following the revelation of the shortlist for this year’s Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in March, the winner was announced at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose on Saturday. As some of you will know, I am currently attempting to work my way through all of the shortlisted titles since 2010, so I have a particular interest in following this particular prize.

The seven titles on the 2017 shortlist were:

A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
The Vanishing Futurist by Charlotte Hobson
The Good People by Hannah Kent
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

And the winner is…

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry!

This is the second time Sebastian Barry has won this prize (On Canaan’s Side in 2012 was the first). I haven’t yet managed to read all of the titles on this year’s shortlist, but Days Without End is one of the four that I have read and although it wasn’t my personal favourite, I did predict that it would probably win. I think it has a lot of the elements judges look for in a prize winner and, like all of Barry’s novels, it is beautifully written. In the words of the judging panel, “Eventually, Days Without End took the lead, for the glorious and unusual story; the seamlessly interwoven period research; and above all for the unfaltering power and authenticity of the narrative voice, a voice no reader is likely to forget.”

Have you read Days Without End? What did you think of it?

2017 Walter Scott Prize Shortlist

Following last month’s revelation of the 2017 longlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, the shortlist has been announced today. As you probably know by now, I am currently working my way through all of the shortlisted titles for this prize since it began in 2010 (you can see my progress here). There are seven books on this year’s list and for once I’m off to a good start as I’ve already read three of them!

Here are the seven:

A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

The Vanishing Futurist by Charlotte Hobson

The Good People by Hannah Kent

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

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Of the three books that I’ve read, I loved Golden Hill and The Good People, and although I wasn’t a fan of Days Without End, Sebastian Barry’s writing is beautiful and I would say it has a good chance of winning. Of the four that I haven’t read, I already have a copy of The Gustav Sonata which I’m hoping to read soon, but I don’t know anything about the others. Have you read any of them? What do you think of this year’s shortlist?

The winner will be announced in June!