Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Top Ten Books of 2015

Rather a late top ten this time (normally I do this in late November), and I had thought about skipping it altogether this time. 2015 had its good moments, but on the whole I'm glad to see the back of it, it's a year where everything got on top of me and I didn't always handle it very well. I didn't read as much as I would have liked either so I wasn't sure how good a top ten I could come up with.

Looking back through a years worth of blog posts though I see some really got d books - I may not have read so many but at least the ones I did manage had lots to recommend them, so here we go (in no particular order).

Ruth Ball's 'Rebellious Spirits' is a terrific book. It gets the mix between entertainment and information spot on and gave me a whole new interest in something I work with everyday (booze). There are quite a few not great books about spirits out there, so finding a good one, and one with good jokes too, is something to celebrate. My copy has been borrowed (I should get it back before it's gone forever).

And whilst I'm on the subject of booze - a new edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine is guaranteed a place on any years top ten. It's an indispensable book for anyone with an interest in wine. It's authorititive - as you would expect, but also full of articles that pull me in, and lead into unexpected corners. It's just great.

Rumer Godden's The Battle of the Villa Fiorita is an emotional roller coaster of a book (at least it was for me). Apparently it got Godden into a bit of trouble in Hollywood circles for bearing more than a passing resemblance to a certain scandal. It's the story of three children who won't accept their parents divorce, and choices for a new life. Instead they persue their mother to Italy, insert themselves into that new life and, without altogether understanding what the consequences might be, rip it apart. Godden is superb at this sort of thing, and this one is a masterpiece.

2015 was the year that I finally took the plunge and bought some Greyladies titles. The real discovery was Susan Pleydell, I really liked The Glenvarroch Gathering (I like 'The Road To The Harbour' even more, but I've only just read it, it'll probably be on this years list) partly because it's good to find a mystery that doesn't have a murder attached, but also because in a quiet (and quintessentially middlebrow) way she's really compelling.

2015 was also the year I finally managed to read a Daphne Du Maurier all the way through. My form with this writer has previously been poor- the new cover on the Virago edition helped (it certainly helped me open the book, I loved the cover) and this year I'm ready to try her again. Jamaica Inn is so well known I really don't need to say anything about it, but for anyone else who has struggled with Du Maurier I will say - persevere. It was worth the wait.

Mellisa Harrison's At Hawthorn Time is one of the few contemporary books I read last year, and in the process she's become one of the relatively few contemporary authors I'm really interested in following. For me it was particularly the way she writes about nature, weaving it into her narrative, me making a book that felt like much more than the sum of its parts in the process.

I've had a soft spot for Sir Walter Scott for a while now, and consider it a great shame he's not better loved. I quite understand why people aren't initially overly keen to tackle him - it was a visit to his house at Abbotsford that finally gave me the push. There are so many reasons to read Scott (he's important, and endlessly inventive) but the best one is that he's entertaining. I liked Waverley so much I posted about it 4 times, something no other book has ever yet got me to do. There's so much in it, and it's exciting. Give Scott a go!

Gin and Murder is another Greyladies title, this time by Josaphine Pullien-Thompson better known for horsey children's books (terrible summery, I'm sorry). 'Gin and Murder' deserves a prize for best title of the year (ever - it's a fabulous title) but it's much more than that. It's a brilliant portrait of a hard drinking hunting set in the 1950's. The murder is tragic - sometimes the victim doesn't get much compassion, but this one does, and it underlines other tragedies in the victims life. It's also an unflinching look at alcoholism and the effect that has on a marriage and a family - but maybe more fun than I've made it sound.

I read a lot of the British Library's Crime Classics last year and thoroughly enjoyed all of them, I'm choosing Captital Crimes, the short story collection with London as its unifying theme, because I really love a good collection of short stories (which this is) and because it sums up the joy of this series of books for me.

Finally it's got to be L M Montgomery's A Tangled Web. Rediscovering her, and exploring beyond Anne of Green Gables has been a revelation (she really makes me want to visit Prince Edward Island specifically, and Canada generally). It's a light book, mostly funny, but with bitter moments. Montgomery does such a good job of describing the life of large families and small communities that I really feel I'm there, finishing one of her books is a sadly disorientating experience- I don't want to leave them. She's a wonderful comfort read, but there's more to her than that. Ignore the awful cover.


  1. Nice choices -- glad to see several of them originated in Shiny! I love Rumer Godden but have never read that one -- I think it's on the shelves so must seek it out. I too loved A Tangled Web -- never read these as a child.

    1. I read some great books last year thanks to Shiny, there were more I could have put on this list too.

  2. Lovely choices. Interesting remark about Villa Fiorita, I'd never heard of the connection with a "real" scandal before. Must read "Tangled web".

    1. Apparently it was thought to be a bit close to the Ingrid Bergman/Roberto Rossolini story for comfort. This at least is what Godden says in her introduction. It's hard to imagine the fuss it made at the time now, but I can just about imagine the book causing some trouble for her on that front. Just.

    2. Oh gosh, yes, now you mention it, I can see that. I don't remember the original scandal, but I do remember Ingrid Bergman talking about it in the '70s, and what ructions it caused. It is difficult now though, looking back on that era. Scandal? What scandal??

  3. You've pushed me to start reading one of the Pleydells on my tbr shelves instead of just collecting them! I'm halfway through Road to the Harbour & enjoying it very much. Reminds me a little of Catherine Gaskin - solitary heroine with secrets etc. Fgfvg. (That was Phoebe walking over the iPad). Thanks for the push.

  4. I must look up Catherine Gaskin now :)