Reading Resolutions for 2023

Happy New Year! I hope your 2023 reading is off to a good start. As I do every January, I have listed below some reading resolutions for the year ahead. I don’t do very well with numerical targets and goals or anything that restricts my reading choices too much, so these are just some loose plans to help shape my year of reading.

* Finish my Classics Club list. There are only sixteen books left on my list and I’ll be reading at least one of them this month (Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell) so I think this is very doable! My deadline for completing the list was actually last November, but I’m not really bothered about that; I would just like to finish the remaining books and have already started to prepare a new list!

* Re-read some old favourites. I say I’m going to do this every year and then hardly ever do it! I used to re-read a lot, but now, with my endless TBR, there always seems to be something else that needs to be read first.

* Resist the temptations of NetGalley. After a lot of hard work I have finally got the number of review copies waiting on my NetGalley shelf down to single figures! NetGalley is a great source of new books, but you can very quickly find yourself requesting more than you can keep up with. While I’m sure I’ll still request some, now that I’m down to a manageable number I want to focus more on books I already own.

* Make some progress with my Reading the Walter Scott Prize project. I did quite well with the 2022 shortlist, reading three out of the four shortlisted titles, as well as some others from the longlist. However, there are still lots of books from previous years’ shortlists that I haven’t read yet, so I’ll try to read some of them this year. I’ve already discovered lots of great new books and authors through this particular prize and am looking forward to discovering more.

* Continue with some of the series and trilogies I’ve started and never finished! There are so many of these I couldn’t even begin to list them all here, but a few I would particularly like to go back to are Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, Ellis Peters’ Cadfael mysteries and Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles. There are many, many more!

* Take part in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and Read Christie 2023 (although I won’t do the Christie challenge every month as it can become too much). Apart from these two year-long challenges, I will be joining in with any shorter reading events and themed weeks/months that appeal to me.

* My final resolution is the same every year – make every book I read a potential book of the year! That means being more ruthless about abandoning books I’m not enjoying (something I find very difficult) and being more selective about which books to pick up in the first place.

~

What about you? Do you have any reading resolutions or plans for 2023?

My favourite books of 2022

With only a few days of 2022 remaining, it’s time to look back on my favourite books of the year. Before I started to put this list together, I thought it would be a very short one; although I enjoyed my reading this year, I didn’t feel that I had read many books that really stood out as exceptionally good. However, I’ve ended up struggling to narrow the list down! It was obviously a much better year than I thought it was.

In no particular order, here are my books of 2022:

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes (1947)

This is the third year in a row Dorothy B. Hughes has won a place on my books of the year list! I loved this dark, atmospheric novel as much as I loved The Expendable Man in 2020 and Ride the Pink Horse in 2021.

From my review: “I had high hopes for this novel and it certainly didn’t disappoint! All three of the books I’ve read by Hughes have been so much more than just straightforward crime novels; she takes us right inside the minds of her characters and although they may be damaged, unhappy and not the most pleasant of people, she makes them feel believable and real, if not exactly sympathetic!”

The Romantic by William Boyd (2022)

This is the first book I’ve read by William Boyd and what a great one I picked to start with! It tells the story of Cashel Greville Ross, following him through his life from birth to death as he befriends the Romantic Poets in Italy, searches for the source of the Nile, joins the army in Sri Lanka and uncovers family secrets in Ireland.

From my review:The Romantic is a long novel, but I read most of it in one weekend because it was so gripping I couldn’t bear to put it down. Although the story never becomes bogged down with historical or geographical detail, it’s still completely immersive and I loved every minute I spent in Cashel’s world.”

That Bonesetter Woman by Frances Quinn (2022)

I loved this novel about a female bonesetter in the 18th century. Our heroine, Durie Proudfoot, is based on the real-life Sally Mapp and is a wonderful character. I never stopped hoping she would find happiness and a way to do the job she loved.

From my review: “This is a fascinating novel, particularly as it’s loosely based on the lives of real people…Poor Durie experiences one setback after another, but her passion for bonesetting and helping those in pain really shines through.”

The Dark by Sharon Bolton (2022)

I don’t read a lot of contemporary crime these days, but I always make an exception for Sharon Bolton. The Dark was the long-awaited fifth book in the Lacey Flint series and I loved it! I also enjoyed Bolton’s other novel published in 2022 – The Buried – but for the purposes of this list I decided to restrict myself to one book per author.

From my review: “She’s back! After an eight year absence – during which time Sharon Bolton has written several excellent standalone crime novels – Lacey Flint has returned in possibly her darkest and most dangerous case yet. It’s the fifth book in the series and after such a long wait, I’m pleased to report that I think it’s as good, maybe even better, than the previous four.”

A Pin to See the Peepshow by F. Tennyson Jesse (1934)

I had wanted to read this book for years and got round to it at last this summer! It’s based on the 1922 Thompson-Bywaters case and is a fascinating novel – not really the crime story I’d expected (not until near the end, anyway), but that didn’t matter at all.

From my review: “I loved this book, although I had expected the crime element to play a bigger part; the section of the novel based on the events of the Thompson-Bywaters case only takes up around 100 pages out of 464. The rest of the book is really a character study of Julia Almond and an exploration of the world in which she lives. Jesse spends a lot of time building this up, but I never felt that a word was wasted – every detail seemed necessary…”

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper (2021)

Ancient Rome is not usually a favourite setting of mine, but I found this novel about a group of prostitutes working in a Pompeii brothel completely absorbing. I need to hurry up and read the second book before the last in the trilogy is published next year.

From my review: “I loved following Amara around the bustling, vibrant city, going into the shops, taverns and bathhouses, taking part in the Vinalia festivities and watching the gladiators in the amphitheatre…Elodie Harper doesn’t shy away from having bad things happen to her characters, but there’s some warmth and humour in the novel too.”

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler (2022)

I loved this fictional biography of the 19th century theatrical family the Booths, which focuses not just on John Wilkes Booth, but also on his parents, brothers and sisters.

From my review: “I enjoyed learning about a group of historical figures I’d previously known almost nothing about – I particularly liked the parts about the colourful theatrical careers of Edwin and Junius Brutus – and every time I picked the book up I looked forward to finding out what would happen to the family next.”

Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper (1977)

I loved all five books in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence and read the final one, Silver on the Tree, early in 2022. I can’t decide which book in the series is my favourite, as they are all so good! This one blends Arthurian legend with Welsh folklore and even some time travel.

From my review: “Although I’m sorry to have come to the end of the series, I enjoyed every minute of it. This particular novel is the perfect finale, bringing together all the characters and storylines from the first four books as we head towards the great, decisive battle between the forces of the Dark and the Light.”

Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes (2022)

I’ve read a few retellings of Greek myths this year, but this is the one I enjoyed most. It’s the story of Medusa, which made a nice change from novels about the Trojan War!

From my review:Stone Blind is subtitled Medusa’s Story but is actually written from the perspectives of many different characters, all coming together to tell the tale of the Gorgon Medusa and Perseus’ quest to capture her head…I can’t really say anything negative about this book.”

The Winter is Past by Noel Streatfeild (1940)

I read this adult novel by a favourite childhood author of mine in early December with snow falling outside – and I couldn’t have chosen a better time of year to read it!

From my review: “I loved this book; it’s very character-driven but with just enough plot to keep the story moving forward. I always find it fascinating to read books set during the war that were actually written before the war was over – it puts a very different perspective on things, when neither the characters nor the author have any idea how long it will last or how bad things are going to get.”

Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead (2022)

I loved this detective novel set in the 1930s that felt as though it could really have been written in the 1930s! I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, coming next year.

From my review:Death and the Conjuror is a homage to the great locked room mysteries of the Golden Age and a clever and entertaining novel in its own right…As with any good mystery novel, there are plenty of suspects, an assortment of clues and lots of red herrings!”

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett (2022)

A book written almost entirely in the form of transcripts of audio files recorded on an iPhone is the sort of book I would usually hate – but not this time! I enjoyed the story and loved the little puzzles, codes and word games incorporated into the plot.

From my review: “It’s always a nice feeling when you start to read a book and can tell after just a few pages that it’s going to be one of your books of the year…I loved this book and on reaching the end, I wanted to go back to the beginning and read it all again to look for all the clues I’d missed the first time.”

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (1954)

Having read several of Rosemary Sutcliff’s adult novels, I finally read the book for which she’s probably most famous. Although this is described as a children’s book, I think it’s one of those novels that can be enjoyed by anyone of any age. It’s also the second book set in the Roman period on my list.

From my review: “I wasn’t sure whether I would love this book the way everyone else seems to have done…Of course, I needn’t have worried; The Eagle of the Ninth is a beautifully written novel with wonderfully vivid and colourful descriptions, a gripping plot inspired by historical fact, a very likeable young hero and even a touch of romance – what’s not to love?”

Blue Water by Leonora Nattrass (2022)

I loved this sequel to last year’s Black Drop. It works as a standalone and is an excellent historical mystery which takes place during a long sea voyage. I often struggle to stay interested in books with a nautical setting, but had no problems with this one!

From my review: “Well, I enjoyed Black Drop but this second book is even better! With almost the entire story taking place at sea and therefore with a limited number of characters, the mystery has a ‘locked room’ feel and kept me guessing until the end.”

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie (1957)

I took part in the Read Christie 2022 challenge this year and read seven Agatha Christie novels. I enjoyed all of them, but this Miss Marple mystery from 1957 was my favourite, I think. Honourable mentions to After the Funeral and The Man in the Brown Suit.

From my review: “I found this a particularly enjoyable Miss Marple novel – probably in my top two or three…We never find out exactly what leads Miss Marple to identify the correct suspect. However, I didn’t have a problem with this. The solution does make sense, even if we don’t know how she arrived at it, and the culprit was actually the person I suspected myself (again, not based on any real evidence – just a hunch!).”

A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting by Sophie Irwin (2022)

I didn’t expect to enjoy this Regency romance so much; I thought it would be very light and frothy and derivative of other authors. But although it is obviously strongly influenced by Heyer and Austen, I found it witty, entertaining and different enough to be a great read in its own right. I’m looking forward to Sophie Irwin’s second Lady’s Guide coming next year.

From my review: “Although I could predict from early in the novel how it was going to end, that didn’t make it any less fun to read. Sophie Irwin throws just about everything into the story that you would expect to find in a Regency romance: balls, dinner parties, trips to the theatre and the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, carriage rides, notorious gambling dens, elopements to Gretna Green and encounters with highwaymen.”

The Clockwork Girl by Anna Mazzola (2022)

Inspired by the scandal of ‘The Vanishing Children of Paris’ in 1750 and the technological advances in the creation of clockwork dolls and automata at that time, this is a fascinating novel set just a few decades before the French Revolution.

From my review:The Clockwork Girl is Anna Mazzola’s third novel and, I think, her best so far. Not only is the cover beautiful, the setting is also wonderfully dark and atmospheric and the story is fascinating…an engaging and unusual novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.”

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon (2007)

This book had been waiting on my shelf for years and I finally got round to reading it this August. Set during the Crimean War, it’s the story of a young woman who travels to the battlefields in search of her cousin who set out to join Florence Nightingale and become a nurse.

From my review: “If I had known I was going to enjoy this book so much I would certainly have made time for it before now…I was impressed by the way McMahon has us thinking we know which characters we’re supposed to like or dislike, then turns everything around and makes us think again.”

~

And that’s my list for this year! What did you enjoy reading in 2022?

Classics Club Spin #32: The Result

The result of the latest Classics Club Spin was revealed today.

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 Classics Club represents the book I have to read before 29th January 2023. The number that has been selected is…

6

And this means the book I need to read is…

Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

Pretty, impecunious Mary Preston, newly arrived as a guest of her Aunt Agnes at the magnificent wooded estate of Rushwater, falls head over heels for handsome playboy David Leslie. Meanwhile, Agnes and her mother, the eccentric matriarch Lady Emily, have hopes of a different, more suitable match for Mary. At the lavish Rushwater dance party, her future happiness hangs in the balance.

~

This is not one I was particularly hoping for, but I’m happy enough with that result. I liked but didn’t love the first book in this series, High Rising, and was assured that some of the later books are better, so I’m looking forward to continuing with them.

Have you read this? What did you think of it? And if you took part in the Spin which book did you get?

Classics Club Spin #32: My List

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin – the last one of 2022. I don’t feel that I’ve made much progress with the Classics Club this year, so I’ve been looking forward to this! If you’re not sure what a CC Spin is, here’s a reminder:

The rules for Spin #32:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Sunday 11th December the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 29th January 2023.

Here’s my list:

1. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
2. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
3. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
4. The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy
5. The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins
6. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
7. Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household
8. Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
9. Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
10. A Laodicean by Thomas Hardy
11. Random Harvest by James Hilton
12. The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins
13. Farewell the Tranquil Mind by RF Delderfield
14. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
15. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
16. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
17. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
18. Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
19. The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy
20. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

~

As I only have 16 books remaining on my Classics Club list, I’ve had to duplicate some of them here. I don’t really mind which one I get but I would be particularly happy with Strangers on a Train, The New Magdalen or one of the Thomas Hardy books.

Which number do you think I should be hoping for on Sunday?

Classics Club Spin #31: The result

The result of the latest Classics Club Spin was revealed today.

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 Classics Club represents the book I have to read before 30th October 2022. The number that has been selected is…

2

And this means the book I need to read is…

The Fortune of the Rougons by Émile Zola

The Fortune of the Rougons is the first in Zola’s famous Rougon-Macquart series of novels. In it we learn how the two branches of the family came about, and the origins of the hereditary weaknesses passed down the generations. Murder, treachery, and greed are the keynotes, and just as the Empire was established through violence, the “fortune” of the Rougons is paid for in blood.

Set in the fictitious Provencal town of Plassans, The Fortune of the Rougons tells the story of Silvere and Miette, two idealistic young supporters of the republican resistance to Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’etat of December 1851. They join the woodcutters and peasants of the Var to seize control of Plassans, and are opposed by the Bonapartist loyalists led by Silvere’s uncle, Pierre Rougon. Meanwhile, the foundations of the Rougon family and its illegitimate Macquart branch are being laid in the brutal beginnings of the Imperial regime.

~

I’m happy with this as I’ve read very little by Zola and would like to read more. I originally had Germinal on my Classics Club list but found it difficult to get into, so decided to replace it with this one. It’s the first in the Rougon-Macquart series and my edition is translated by Brian Nelson.

Have you read this? If you took part in the Spin, are you pleased with your result?

Classics Club Spin #31: My list

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin. This is the 31st – I can’t believe there have been so many! If you’re not sure what a CC Spin is, here’s a reminder:

The rules for Spin #31:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Sunday 18th September the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 30th October 2022.

Here’s my list:

1. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
2. The Fortune of the Rougons by Émile Zola
3. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
4. The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins
5. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
6. Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
7. Random Harvest by James Hilton
8. Farewell the Tranquil Mind by RF Delderfield
9. Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
10. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
11. A Laodicean by Thomas Hardy
12. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
13. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
14. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
15. The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by ETA Hoffmann
16. Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household
17. The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy
18. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
19. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
20. The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins

I only have 18 books left on my Classics Club list so have had to repeat some of them. I don’t really mind which of these I get, but is there any particular number you think I should be hoping for?

A Reader’s Delight – Jigsaw Puzzle

I don’t do jigsaw puzzles very often these days, but I do enjoy them and thought I would share with you one that I completed recently. It’s called A Reader’s Delight and the picture shows vintage children’s books from the Bodleian Library collection.

While I was working on the jigsaw, I found some of the titles of the books quite amusing and others quite sexist (but very much of their time; none of these are modern books).

For the boys we have Every Boy His Own Mechanic by Bernard E. Jones, The Boy’s Handy Book by D.C Beard and The Monster Book for Boys, while the books for girls include An Incorrigible Girl by M.H. Cornwall Legh (published by the Religious Tract Society in 1899 apparently), A Very Naughty Girl by L.T. Meade and A Wilful Girl by Helen Griffith. On the other hand, we do have The Adventure Book for Girls and Eight Girls and their Adventures…and I was particularly intrigued by Things Worth Doing and How to Do Them by L. and A.B. Beard. I’ve discovered that it’s available on Project Gutenberg – a collection of crafts and other activities aimed at girls.

There are lots of school stories here as well – Bunty of Dormitory B, The Jolliest Term on Record, The Abbey Girls Go Back to School. The ones for boys seem to concentrate on sport – Playing the Game: A Public School Story by Kent Carr, Not Cricket: A School Story by Harold Avery, For School and Country by Ralph Simmonds.

Have you read or heard of any of these books? I wonder what children would think of them today!