And the winner is…

Before Christmas, I posted a link to a new poll launched by the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction to find the UK’s favourite historical novel of all time. Today the result has been announced and in first place is…

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I’m not at all surprised to see that this book got the most votes, given all the other accolades it has already won – from the Booker Prize to the Walter Scott Prize itself (in 2010) – and its popularity even with readers who don’t usually choose to read historical fiction.

In second and third place are The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff and The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett. I still haven’t read The Eagle of the Ninth, although I’ve enjoyed other books by Rosemary Sutcliff. The Game of Kings, though, I can highly recommend and would personally have ranked above Wolf Hall. Anyway, you can read more about the poll and the results at the Walter Scott Prize website here.

Have you read any of these? Do you agree with the winner?

My favourite books of 2019

With 2020 almost here, it’s time to look back on my favourite reads of 2019. This is a shorter list than in previous years, because although I’ve read a lot of very good books in 2019, I don’t feel that there have been as many as usual that I’ve really loved. I’ll be exploring the reasons for that and some possible solutions when I post my reading plans and resolutions for 2020 in the New Year, but for now here are some of the books I did enjoy in 2019:

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The Way to the Lantern by Audrey Erskine Lindop (1961)

From my review: “Why it has been allowed to go out of print and fade into obscurity is a mystery to me. I thought it was a wonderful book and I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end…The balance between the historical detail and Roberts’ fictional adventures is perfect; it’s the sort of book where you learn a lot as you go along, while being entertained by a great story at the same time.”

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (1939)

From my review: “This is a beautifully written novel with characters I came to love and care about…At first I thought it was going to be a long, slow read, but as I gradually became more and more engrossed in Huw’s story the pages started to fly by much more quickly than I’d expected.”

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie (1936)

From my review: ” I found this a particularly clever Christie novel and didn’t come close to solving it. I allowed myself to be sent in completely the wrong direction by the red herrings and took everything at face value; in fact, for a long time I thought I was reading a different sort of mystery entirely…I loved this one and I think I did the right thing in reading it before trying to watch the adaptation again.”

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop (2019)

From my review: “As I probably knew even less about 20th century Greek history than Nikos and Popi at the start of the novel, I found that I was learning a lot from the book, as well as being gripped by the personal stories of Themis and her family…Those Who Are Loved is a powerful, emotional story.”

The Devil’s Slave by Tracy Borman (2019)

From my review: “I loved this book; the reservations I had about the first one (mainly the slow pace at the beginning and the story being not quite what I’d expected) were not problems this time and I was engrossed from the first page. This is such a fascinating period of history, yet being sandwiched between the end of Elizabeth I’s reign in 1603 and the Civil Wars of 1642-1651, it often tends to be overlooked. There’s so much going on in this novel…and Frances is right at the heart of it all.”

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer (1956)

From my review: “Georgette Heyer is almost always a delight to read and I found this 1956 novel, Sprig Muslin, particularly enjoyable and entertaining. Set in the Regency period she recreated so convincingly, it has all the humour, adventure and romance I expect from her work.”

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd (2019)

From my review: “What an unusual book! Not having read anything by Jess Kidd before, I didn’t know what to expect from this new Victorian mystery, but I immediately fell in love with the playful writing and imaginative plot. I knew as soon as the ghost of a tattooed boxer arose from a tomb in Highgate Cemetery that this was going to be no ordinary detective novel.”

The King’s Evil by Andrew Taylor (2019)

From my review: “This series is getting better and better. We are moving further away from the time of the Great Fire now, but its effects are still being felt across London as rebuilding takes place and people try to move on with their lives…Andrew Taylor is so good at blending fact and fiction, so that the fictional events of the story feel quite plausible within the context of the period and the murder mystery fits smoothly into the history and politics of the time.”

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie (1937)

From my review: “I really enjoyed this particular Poirot novel; I usually do tend to enjoy the ones narrated by Hastings and I wish there had been a few more of them. The real star of this book, though, has to be Bob the dog!”

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry (2019)

From my review: “This is the second book in a new series of historical mysteries written by Ambrose Parry, a pseudonym used by husband and wife team Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman…My main criticism of The Way of All Flesh was the weakness of the murder mystery, but I found this one much stronger…As with the first book, though, it was the medical aspect of the story that I found most interesting.”

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And I want to give these books a special mention too:

The Butcher’s Daughter by Victoria Glendinning
The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby
Margaret Tudor by Melanie Clegg
A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
The Sun Sister by Lucinda Riley

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Have you read any of these? What are your favourite books of 2019?

My books of the decade

I hope you all had a great Christmas!

This is the time of year when bloggers start posting their ‘books of the year’ lists, but I usually try to leave mine until as late as possible just in case I read something wonderful in the last few days of December. However, as we’re also approaching the end of the decade (unless you consider that it ends in December 2020 rather than December 2019), I’m noticing that a lot of people are also putting together lists of ‘books of the decade’ and I thought I would do the same.

I began by looking at my previous end of year lists and trying to choose one book to represent each year, but quickly decided that would be impossible – in fact, I really couldn’t narrow things down any further than ten books per year. So here they are: ninety of my favourite books read from 2010 to 2018, with 2019’s choices to be added next week. In some cases I have counted a whole series or trilogy as one book, otherwise the list would have been even longer!

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2010

Wild Swans by Jung Chang
The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier
Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman
The Glass of Time by Michael Cox
The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

2011

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
South Riding by Winifred Holtby
Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski
Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
The Children’s Book by AS Byatt
Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears

2012

The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett
The House of Niccolò by Dorothy Dunnett
Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman
Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Master of Verona by David Blixt
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

2013

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
The Iron King by Maurice Druon
King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas

2014

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada
The Moon in the Water by Pamela Belle
The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes
Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald
A History of Loneliness by John Boyne
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

2015

Imperium by Robert Harris
Death in Kashmir by MM Kaye
Temeraire by Naomi Novik
The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini
Beau Geste by PC Wren
The Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh
The Vicomte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas
The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

2016

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger
Dictator by Robert Harris
The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge
Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy
The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy
Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore
The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin

2017

The Red House Mystery by AA Milne
Lost Horizon by James Hilton
Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye
Long Summer Day by RF Delderfield
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Towers in the Mist by Elizabeth Goudge
They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie
Wintercombe by Pamela Belle
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

2018

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
The Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb
Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby
Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce
The Feast by Margaret Kennedy
The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer
The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull
The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

2019

Coming soon…

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Have you read any of these? What are your favourite books of the last ten years?

Classics Club Spin #22: The result

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

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 31st January 2020. The number that has been selected is…

13

And this means the book I need to read is…

In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse

This novel exemplifies historical fiction at its best; the author’s meticulous research and polished style bring the medieval world into vibrant focus. Set during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), the narrative creates believable human beings from the great roll of historical figures. Here are the mad Charles VI, the brilliant Louis d’Orleans, Joan of Arc, Henry V, and, most importantly, Charles d’Orleans, whose loyalty to France brought him decades of captivity in England. A natural poet and scholar, his birth and rank thrust him into the center of intrigue and strife, and through his observant eyes readers enter fully into his colorful, dangerous times. First published in the Netherlands in 1949, this book has never been out of print there and has been reprinted 15 times.

I’m very happy with this result! In a Dark Wood Wandering has been on my TBR for years and I’m not sure why I keep putting off reading it as it definitely sounds like my sort of book. I think it will get 2020 off to a good start!

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

Classics Club Spin #22: My list

I don’t seem to have read as many classics as usual this year, so I was pleased to see the Classics Club announce another of their Spins today. I really enjoyed my last Spin book (Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy) so I’m hoping for another good result this time.

If you’re not sure what a Classics Spin is, here’s a reminder:

The rules for Spin #22:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Sunday 22nd December the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 31st January 2020.

And here is my list:

1. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
2. Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
3. Castle Dor by Daphne du Maurier
4. The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade
5. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
6. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
7. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
8. Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym
9. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
10. I Will Repay by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
11. Sandokan: The Tigers of Mompracem by Emilio Salgari
12. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
13. In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse
14. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
15. La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas
16. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
17. Germinal by Emile Zola
18. High Rising by Angela Thirkell
19. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
20. The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope

Which of these do you think I should be hoping for?

Walter Scott Prize shortlist of ‘favourite historical novels of all time’ revealed!

The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction have revealed their shortlist of ten ‘favourite historical novels of all time’ as nominated by readers throughout the month of November. I’m pleased that one of my nominations (The Game of Kings) has made it onto the list, along with a lot of other books I’ve read, although I’m surprised by some of the titles as they are not necessarily books I would have expected to see shortlisted. Have a look at the list below and see what you think.

You can vote for the winner here on the Walter Scott Prize website. The poll closes on the 16th December and the winner will be announced in January.

Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
Waverley by Walter Scott
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

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Have you read any of these? Which do you think should win? What is your favourite historical novel of all time?

Classics Club Spin #21: The Result

The result of the latest Classics Club Spin has been 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 today (Monday) represents the book I have to read before 31st October 2019. The number that has been selected is…

5

And this means the book I need to read is…

Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy

Lady Constantine, breaks all the rules of decorum when she falls in love with beautiful youth Swithin St Cleeve, her social inferior and ten years her junior. Together, in an ancient monument converted into an astronomical observation tower, they create their own private universe – until the pressures of the outside world threaten to destroy it.

This is not one of the books I was particularly hoping for but I’m still quite happy with this result as I love Thomas Hardy and it’s been a while since I last read anything by him.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?