2014 Highlights: Discoveries

Every year there are a couple of authors I discover and then rattle through their back catalogue – in 2013 it was Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books and Ann Granger’s Mitchell and Markby series.  So now we’re at the end of 2014, I had a look back at who my big discoveries have been this year.

Armistead Maupin – I read seven of Maupin’s Tales of the City books this year and only the fact that the others haven’t yet been published in covers that match the ones I already have stopped me buying the rest – my mania for sets and the size of the to-read pile have trumped my need to know what happened next for once!  This is another case of me kicking myself for not reading them sooner.  Several people I work with were so excited when The Days of Anna Madrigal came out in January that I had to go and see what it was that they were so enthusiastic about.  And I’m so glad I did – but equally perplexed that I hadn’t come across them before – this year I’ve seen so many articles about them or references to them in so many places, that I wonder if I was stupid not to have got on this band wagon earlier.  I lent Tales of the City to The Boy – and he rattled through it and loved it too.  Please Transworld, can we have Mary Anne in Autumn and The Days of Anna Madrigal in the same style as the others soon?

Angela Thirkell – I’ve now read all of Angela Thirkell’s books that have been reissued by Virago and am in the tricky position of trying to work out whether to start looking for the rest in second hand editions or wait for more reissues.  They are exactly the sort of book that appeals to me – witty comedies of manners set in a period of history that I love (hence my passion for Golden Age detective stories).  Having read Nancy Mitford’s novels this year as well (finally got around to them!) which are similar in some ways, I think I actually like Thirkell more – her characters are more sympathetic even if the world is a little too soft focus and happily-ever-after at times.

Gail Carriger – I discovered Ms Carriger and her works much later in the year than these other two – and have rattled my way through her back catalogue at breakneck speed.  Since I read a copy of her first Finishing School YA novel through NetGalley in late September I’ve read practically everything she’s published – that is to say two more Finishing School books, four Parasol Protectorate novels and three short stories.  I’m saving the last Parasol Protectorate novel and the novella prequel though – because I don’t want Alexia’s story to be over.  Unless something dreadful and disillusioning happens in Timeless, I suspect Carriger is going to join the list of authors that I pre-order as soon as the titles are announced so that I get their books asap.  She’s also my first venture into the world of Steampunk – and so who knows 2015’s discoveries could feature more authors from this area of fiction.

So thank you 2014 and here’s to 2015 and its discoveries – who knows what I’ll be raving about in twelve months time – it really could be anything!

2014 Highlights: What I’ve been reading

The end of another jam packed year of reading has arrived – the December stats will be out tomorrow – with the final total for the year and all the usual gubbins and you’ve already had my Books of the Year, but it felt like there were a few more things that I needed to mention that didn’t fit into either of those posts.

I’ve had a look back over the years books, made a tally chart and tried to look for patterns.  It was tricky.

My most read author of the year was Charlaine Harris – I finished off the final couple of Sookie Stackhouse novels this year – read all of the Lily Bard series and started the Aurora Teagarden ones.  I find Charlaine Harris’s books very easy to read – particularly at times when I’m tired and can’t concentrate on the heavier stuff.  A lot of her books have been reissued off the back of True Blood being on TV – and have subsequently turned up in the discount book stores, charity shops and second hand retailers at very cheap prices – which accounts for her position as most read (although she was only a couple of books ahead of her nearest rivals for that title)  – because I wouldn’t describe her as one of my favourite authors.

The first book I finished in 2014 was Kerry Greenwood’s Murder and Mendelssohn – the latest book in the Phryne Fisher series – which were one of my discoveries of 2013 – I read all the books in the series in about six months flat (whilst reading other stuff at the same time).  This year I’ve read all them all over again (which doesn’t count towards my book total for the year) – and if anything I like them more than I did the first time.  They are perfect reading for nightshift train journeys – or for recovering from nights afterwards.

It seems apt that I started the year with a murder mystery – as they are very much a theme in this year’s reading.  I’ve read eleven of Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn books this year – and ten Meg Langslow mysteries.  There’s some Josephine Tey, some George Gently and various other bits of series involving detection – like Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series and Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver books.

I’ve also read half a dozen or so Carola Dunn books of various types and a similar number of M C Beaton’s books (in her various guises and from several different series) – some mysteries, some romances.  I have to say that I’ve tired of M C Beaton’s historicals – I find increasingly that they’re very formulaic and not very satisfying.

In 2014 I’ve also expanded my historical romance horizons.  I’ve been a fan of genre giants Eloisa James, Julia Quinn and Sarah MacLean for some years now – but in the last twelve months I’ve expanded my horizons a little with the help of Goodreads, recommendations from authors I like already and a few Facebook reading groups.  Some have been good, some haven’t been at all – but I’ve enjoyed seeing what else is out there and firming up my list of things that I don’t like in historical romances!

What I haven’t done this year is read enough non-fiction.  And I’m blaming my nightshifts for that – typically non-fiction requires more of my concentration than the fiction options waiting on the pile – so when I’m tired it tends to be the easier reads that get picked up.  I need to try and do something about this in 2015.

But the thing that stands out is how many good books I’ve read this year – either I’m getting better at picking books (and giving up on the rubbish ones) or there are a lot of seriously good books out there.  Less than 15 percent of my reading may have got five stars – but more than 100 books got four stars – and another 100 got three.  So the majority of the books that I’ve read, I’ve rated good or better.  Not bad going.

Here’s to a brilliant year of reading in 2015. Maybe it’ll be the year I get the to-read pile down and improve by award winning novel hit rate.  Here’s hoping!

The Week In Books: December 22 – December 28

Turns out working the start of Christmas week – and then being back at work the day after Boxing Day means that I did a surprising amount of reading considering the time of year.

Read:

A Viennese Christmas by Lynn Crain

The Two Gentlemen of Altona by Lisa Henry and JA Rock

These Wonderful Rumours! by May Smith

Death Comes To The Village by Catherine Lloyd

Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith

My Sister’s Song by Gail Carriger

Fairy Debt by Gail Carriger

Marine Biology by Gail Carriger

Started:

The Kennedy Wives by Amber Hunt and David Batcher

Spinsters in Jeopardy by Ngaio Marsh

Still reading:

More Fool Me by Stephen Fry

I bought ONE book this week (!) and three short stories and I only got given two for Christmas – so the to read pile hasn’t expanded the way I was worried it might.  We head towards 2015…

The Books of the Year Post

It’s that time of year again – where I look at the list of books that I’ve read this year and reflect on what my favourites have been.

At time of writing, I’ve given 39 books 5 stars on Goodreads* this year – here are my favourite five.

The Rosie Project – I read this right back at the start of the year on my birthday holiday in Rome.  I’ve since lent it to my sister, my parents and now my best friend from school.  I can’t see how anyone could fail to fall in love with Don – and his quest to find love and help Rosie is truly laugh out loud funny.  Certainly everyone that I’ve lent the book to so far has loved it.  The sequel, The Rosie Effect, doesn’t quite scale the heights of the original, but it is hard to compete with genius.

A Hundred Pieces of Me – I may have been a weeping wreck by the end, but I loved Lucy Dillon’s story about Gina.  I was very careful in my Goodreads review not to give too much of the plot away – because it really would spoil it – but this is well worth your time. In fact, this was one of the very first books I read this year (book 5 to be precise) and it’s stuck with me right until the end. Curl up in front of the fire – with a box of tissues – and a nice hot drink and enjoy.

Unfinished Symphony of You and Me Lucy Robinson’s latest book nearly had me in tears on the train at several points – some tears of laughter and some… not.  Sally’s journey to become an opera singer is unputtdownable – and Barry-the-mad-housemate is a hoot.  Read my ravings about this from August here.  Since reading this, I’ve read one of Lucy Robinson’s other books (also brilliant) and have her other previous book waiting on the shelf.  I’m also really looking forward to reading her next book (The Day We Disappeared) when that comes out in March.

A Place For Us – This was another recipient of my overly emotional/sleep deprived ravings (find them here, here and here), but I seriously did love this book in its serialised form – the whole thing is due out in the New Year (January 15th) – and I really hope that it does fabulously well.  The Winters are a flawed but fascinating family – and Harriet Evans does such a great job of making you care about all of them – even the ones who seem initially less appealing. This beat the final Cazalet book into this list – partly because it felt to me like a sort of modern successor to them.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys – Viv Albertine’s autobiography has really stuck in my mind since I read it.  She is so honest about herself and her motivations – in a way that you often don’t get in memoirs.  I picked it up because I don’t know much about the punk scene – but ended up being more interested in her post-punk life as she tried to work out what she wanted to do next and how she could balance her ideas and ideology with what society expected her to be doing. Women like her opened up so many opportunities for those of us who have followed – but this book wears that very lightly.  Sad and difficult in places, it was fascinating and compelling.

Honourable mentions to Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, What Would Mary Berry Do?, Fanny and Stella, The Grand Duchess of Nowhere and It’s Not Me, It’s You all of whom could so easily have been on this list.

Today’s links are mostly Foyles – because these are books you want to have actual copies of that you can lend – but you can also find my five top picks (and some of my other favourite books, new and old) over on my My Independent Bookshop page where you can buy and support local indies.

* That works out to somewhere around 14 percent of what I’ve read this year getting top rating.

 

Christmas Books

Oh dear.  It’s two days from Christmas and I am no where near the bottom of my Christmas-themed book list – and I promised you a post about Christmas novels.  This is what comes of refusing to read Christmas-themed stuff until November.  Will I never learn?  On the brightside, I did actually manage to post about Christmas Short Stories back at the end of November.  So that’s a positive.

So what have I read since then that’s festive?*

Well I caught up on Jenny Colgan’s Christmas book from last year – Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop – which was fabulous.  I’ve only just managed to restrain myself from going out and buying this year’s dose of Rosie – The Christmas Surprise – by reminding myself a) I’m behind on the Christmas reading and b) I like actual copies of Jenny Colgan’s books – and it’s in hardback and thus Won’t Match.

I also enjoyed Katie Fforde’s Christmas offering – A Christmas Feast – which has a couple of novellas in it that I’ve read before (released at previous Christmases) but also a nice new novella and some other short stories.  The fact that some of the stories have been available as ebooks before may explain the bargain Kindle price (£1.19 at time of writing) and there’s definitely enough new stuff in it to pay that even if you’ve read a couple of the novellas before.  Christmassy but not cloying.

On the novella front, I’ve read and quite enjoyed Fiona Gibson’s How the In-Laws Wrecked Christmas (although I wanted more resolution – it just seemed to stop to me), Lyn Crain’s A Viennese Christmas (very straight up romance, not a lot of anything beyond the romance) and Manda Collins’ Once Upon A Christmas Kiss (a bit melodramatic and with a couple of abrupt character about faces but still readable) – and that’s about as far as I’ve got.

There are several Christmas books still waiting on the Kindle – so you may have to check my Goodreads reviews to see what I think of them – because I appreciate that there’s not a huge market for Christmas stories once the big day is over…

*Because this is so last minute, all my links are to kindle ebooks – so that you can actually get hold of any that take your fancy and get them in time!

The Week In Books: December 15 – December 21

Not a tremendously productive week in reading terms this week – but the it is the week before Christmas and several of the books that I read were really quite long.

Read:

A Christmas Feast by Katie Fforde

Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop by Jenny Colgan

Goodbye Picadilly by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Diary of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King

Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh

Started:

These Wonderful Rumours! by May Smith

Still reading:

More Fool Me by Stephen Fry

 On the brightside no books bought – except for one bought as a Christmas book and re-purposed for me!  Next week however is Christmas week – and I suspect I may well get some books amongst my gifts.  But at least I won’t have bought them for myself!

The Week In Books: December 8 – December 14

Reading schedule derailed by a very busy weekend of work – and an urge to re-read some Phryne Fisher (it happens when I’m tired) – but hey – I still did ok.

Read:

Swing, Brother, Swing by Ngaio Marsh

The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox

Cover Story by Rachel Bailey

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews

Shopaholic on Honeymoon by Sophie Kinsella

Started:

Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh

Still reading:

More Fool Me by Stephen Fry

Goodbye Picadilly by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

 One book bought – the next Meg Langslow.  So better work from me on that front.