Sunday, 3 January 2016

2015 Reading List

In 2014, for the first time, I kept a record of every book I read throughout the year, mostly as an interesting exercise for myself, to see how many books I read and what types of books they were. By the end however, I found that all I had was a list, with no real recollection of which ones I'd loved or which ones I'd hated. So in 2015, I had a go at making a few notes about each books. And this is the result. My 2015 Reading List.

In addition to the official list,  which follows, I have to put in an honourable mention to a graphic novel published in 5 parts: "Surface Tension" by Jay Gunn, who I am delighted to say is a friend of mine. I wasn't sure which month it belonged in, as it was read over such a wide time period. It is a genuine work of art - beautifully drawn and with a gripping and engaging plot. It revealed a (slightly embarrassing) weakness of mine - my visual mind appears to switch off when it perceives I have entered "reading mode" and its services are no longer required. I kept finding myself gazing at panels in the novel thinking, "wait, hang on, have I seen this character before? Which one is it? What's happening?" Because my "reading" mind had taken over and was doing its damnedest to read the words alone and ignore the pictures. Which really, really, doesn't work with a graphic novel. I had to actively re-train myself to read in a different way to be able to follow, understand and appreciate the story. Sorry Jay!

The second honourable mention has to go to the countless (and I mean that in it's literal sense - I genuinely cannot count them) dinosaur books that I have read to LittleBear. Very, very large, very, very long, very, very detailed dinosaur books. We were assembling a model velociraptor skeleton yesterday and examined the pelvic bones. LittleBear announced "it's a lizard-hipped dinosaur Mummy, a saurischian, not an ornithischian. The saurischians split into theropods and sauropods, and this is a theropod." Which told me. I clearly should have been paying more attention to the books I was reading to LittleBear. I think I paid more attention to the books I chose to read than I paid to all those dinosaur books...


The Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
Gentle, witty and manages to leave a lot unsaid and unexplained without being irritating whilst doing so. No sense of “what? wait? what happened?” and yet a pleasant sense of “hmm, I wonder…”
The Mystery at 31 New Inn - R Austin Freeman
A proper Holmesian whodunnit, of its time and outrageous in its attitude towards women, but still romps along. Thorndyke’s assistant/narrator is just a bit too slow on the uptake and I found myself harumphing at Jervis a few times “oh for goodness sake, it’s obvious!” when once again he couldn’t piece together the blindingly obvious. Still leaves me wanting to read some more, if only to see if Jervis manages to learn a bit under Thorndyke’s tutelage!
Whispers Underground - Ben Aaranovitch
Fun, silly, fast-paced adventure. Not exactly high-art, but I can't resist a murder mystery with some magic thrown in. Really enjoying this series.
I Will Repay - Baroness Orczy
Aaagggghhh! I've enjoyed the daft romps of the other Scarlet Pimpernel books, but this was just cloying, overblown, romantic twaddle with weak, pathetic women with mysterious, complex, unfathomable hearts and strong, noble, devoted men who could merely worship their beloved's perfection. Bleugh.
Winnie the Pooh - A A Milne
OK so I read it aloud to LittleBear, but it's still a proper book, and I love it. Making myself do all the voices and reading it slowly made me enjoy it all the more.
The House at Pooh Corner - A A Milne
The final chapter still makes me weep, and is the only one I haven't read aloud to LittleBear. I took into a corner to be private with it.
The Story of My Life - Helen Keller
A really extraordinary insight into learning, language and life. A genuinely inspirational woman and book.
Sweet Danger - Margery Allingham
Exciting, funny, fun, sweet. What's no to like?


Medusa - Michael Dibdin
Fantastic writing and gripping plot. I'm always in two minds about how I feel about Zen, as he's such a morally ambiguous character. I can't help feel I'd get more from the books if I knew more Italian history and more of the way life is there. Still brilliant books though.
Flowers for the Judge - Margery Allingham
More Campion. Another good 'un.
The Truce - Primo Levi
Hard to know what to say about this. Beautifully written and immensely moving.


The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler
No pastiche or impersonation quite gets close to the genuine Philip Marlowe. Great.
The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling
Bought to read to LittleBear, but gobbled it up myself first. Quite surprised how much I don't remember from my childhood.
Sir Percy Leads the Band - Baroness Orczy
An early one and a proper rollicking adventure again
Broken Homes - Ben Aaronovitch
Great fun, but let down by assuming you remember the details of the plots in the previous books. A bit more recap would help.
The Big Short - Michael Lewis
As gripping as a thriller and yet it's a book charting the course of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco. Brilliant and depressing at the same time.


The Hour of the Donkey - Anthony Price
Brilliant, as always. Why these books are out of print is a mystery.
The Dead in their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley
I've been waiting over a year for this to come out, and it was as fantastic as I hoped. Read it in one day, and wanted it to last so much longer.
Every Day is Mother's Day - Hilary Mantel
Beautifully written. But. But. But. A dank, depressing, miserable book about grubby, dank, miserable lives. I won't be reading the sequel. There's only so much murder, adultery and child abuse I can handle.
The Envoy - Edward Wilson
I read this on a friend's recommendation and was sorely disappointed. The blurb quoted a reviewer as saying "the thinking man's le Carre" which should have warned me. Le Carre is the thinking man's le Carre. The writing was almost Dan Brown-esque, the plot lurched from twist to twist with no justification or plausibility and the details of "local colour" were laughably bad (6 inches depth of hail in June in Suffolk?) Miss.
The Long Goodbye - Raymond Chandler
Beautiful writing, the best use of simile I think I've read, great plot, and utterly timeless. Fabulous.


Christine Falls - Benjamin Black
First time I’ve read a Benjamin Black, and it was almost enough to make me give up writing anything myself. Such beautiful writing. But then, he is actually John Banville, so what did I expect? A depressing story though, despite the amazing writing.
The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel - Baroness Orczy
Short stories and very, very silly
The Case of the Late Pig - Margery Allingham
I still love reading these, and this one was as much like a warm bath with a cup of tea and a hobnob as all the others I’ve read.
The Bleeding Heart - Christopher Fowler
Another outing for Bryant and May. Funny, warm and interesting. I always find these a reliable and rewarding read.
The Night of Wenceslas - Lionel Davidson
A slow start, and not terribly likeable protagonist, but gripping in the end, once I got going. Not as good as Kolymsky Heights.
A Long way to Verona - Jane Gardam
One of my new favourite authors. This one had a lovely protagonist in a thirteen year-old girl who rather reminded me of myself.


Farewell My Lovely - Raymond Chandler
Still such fabulous writing. Another corker.
Ghostwritten - David Mitchell
Lovely writing and some interesting ideas, but in many ways a deeply unsatisfactory book. Too much left untold such that it came across as the author not actually knowing the rest of the story, but trying to be deliberately enigmatic to hide his own poor plotting.
Soldier No More - Anthony Price
Another viewpoint onto David Audley, and another convoluted and intriguing plot. Still thinking about it and trying to work out exactly what happened and why...
The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
Not at all what I was expecting, and a cast of largely unlikeable people. Meh.


Back to Bologna - Michael Dibdin
Zen is still ambiguous, but I still enjoy reading him.
The Fashion in Shrouds - Margery Allingham
Very silly, with some quite shocking ideas expressed. Campion tells his sister what she really needs is to be raped. Really?
The High Window - Raymond Chandler
Convoluted plot but fantastic writing again
Traitor's Purse - Margery Allingham
Another silly one, falling back on the old “hit on the head and lost his memory” trick, but quite moving as well.
The Silver Swan - Benjamin Black
Dark, a bit depressing, but writing that makes me want to give up writing because it’s so good.


Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke
Very, very, very long. A good read with some great ideas though. I did stop and wonder quite often what drove the decision to keep it as one book when it had a structure that could have easily given itself to being more than one. Couldn’t help feeling she may have lost readers by creating such a dauntingly long work.
The Lady in the Lake - Raymond Chandler
Still love them.


The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flanagan
Lovely writing, depressing, and at the end I felt a bit cheated by the emotional manipulation introduced by the absurd coincidences I was expected to accept. If your subject is the POW camps of the Burma “death” railway you’ve got enough heart-rending material to work with without adding in cliched romantic junk.
Salt is Leaving - J B Priestley
Fun, but the dialogue felt very much of its time. Perhaps because he captured the dialogue of the time so well?
Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel - Baroness Orczy
Daft. Again.


End Games - Michael Dibdin
Still the nagging feeling that a better grasp of Italian politics would help
The Weeping Girl - Hakan Nesser
I sort of saw where this was going, but only sort of.
Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson
It’s now longer since BB wrote this than the period of time over which he was looking back and reminiscing, so there were two layers or reminiscences. Still plenty of chuckles.
Coroner’s Pidgin - Margery Allingham
I seem to have not written down what I thought of this, but it's a fair bet that I enjoyed it. Have I mentioned I like Campion?


More Work for the Undertaker - Margery Allingham
Campion. Excellent.
The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
I absolutely loved this. Gripping plot, interesting characters that it was possible to empathise with, very funny and engaging, makes me remember why I used to read fantasy novels. Really, really good. Am now incredibly angry that it’s the first part in a trilogy of which the third part hasn’t been written/published yet.
The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
More Campion. Still excellent.
A Clubbable Woman - Reginald Hill
When unsure what to read, Dalziel and Pascoe are always a good choice.


An Advancement of Learning - Reginald Hill
Still unsure what to read, Dalziel and Pascoe still don’t let me down.
The Wise Man’s Fear - Patrick Rothfuss
Part two of the incomplete trilogy. More brilliance, more rage that I can’t finish the story.
Ruling Passion - Reginald Hill
I’m not buying any more books before Christmas, so Dalziel and Pascoe to the rescue again
Foxglove Summer - Ben Aaronovitch
Christmas brings new books! Same problem as the last one - it relies on you remembering rather too many details from the previous novel. And thus I was a bit confused at times. Too many police acronyms as well. Funny and engaging though. I’m a sucker for magic.
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley
I adore the Flavia de Luce books, but this one headed dangerously into jumping the shark. With a change of scene, a lot of the brilliant interactions between characters was lost, and therefore some of the fun and charm went too. Good but not as good as the others.

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