All the Books I Read in 2016 Part 2 (July -December)

I was struck down by the lurgy just after Christmas, looking at various social media sites this seems to have been a common experience. Anyway, I lost two days to it (though by the end of the second I could just about sit up and watch ‘The Lady in the Van’ and feebly welcome in New Year with a malted milk biscuit and a glass of flat-ish Canada Dry). So here, later than I anticipated, is part two…

July
Trigger Warning Neil Gaiman
Short stories are not a thing I read very often, these are excellent of course. My favourites are Click Clack the Rattlebag (spine shivery) and The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, which was read by Bill Paterson on Radio 4 earlier in the year, and is probably how I ended up with this book in my house.

That’s Not English  Erin Moore
A book about the language, and how it’s not the same on each side of the Atlantic, quietly amusing, though I don’t think I learned anything new.

The Running Hare John Lewis-Semple
Again, Radio 4 made me do it! This is a marvellous book about a field, farmed in a non-intensive way for a year. Wouldn’t you know, the birds, animals, insects and wild flowers come back!. I must read Meadowlands too (I have so many books in that particular pile).

August
The Moth Snowstorm Michael McCarthy

Halfway through the Wainwright list, I won this in a Twitter giveaway (I never win anything usually, very exciting!). I did a mini review in my round up of all six shortlisted books here.

Out of Time Miranda Sawyer
Brilliant on the forty something midlife crisis – me and Miranda are, I discover, pretty much the same age. I thought I may be the only one who felt time rushing by at a ridiculously fast pace, or who looks at their child and thinks “when you’re 18, I’ll be the age my grandma was when she died” (I’m all about the happy thoughts here). Sawyer’s book reads like one of those fab friends who can talk you down from any amount of angst. So, if you are feeling discombobulated at being ‘mid-lifey’ I’d definitely recommend this,  you’ll feel better afterwards. If you’re not, then well done!

The Year of Living Danishly Helen Russell
The H word, bacon, pastries, brilliant welfare state, LEGO, Julbryg…it’s all here. You’ll want to move to Denmark.

Grantchester Mysteries: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of DeathSidney Chambers and The Perils of the NightSidney Chambers and The Problem of Evil  James Runcie
Very rarely do I prefer the TV adaptations to the books, this is one of those times. I’m not even sure why I read three of them – easy summer reading possibly, they were entertaining enough (this went into September but I’ve lumped them all in here!).

September
The Fish Ladder Katherine Norbury
A book about so many things; rivers, motherhood, self discovery, poetry and mythology. Unputdownable.

October
Landmarks Robert Macfarlane 
I haven’t finished this yet, it’s probably because it needs concentration. Macfarlane’s writing is brilliant and as such it requires the full attention of the reader. I’m halfway and have enjoyed it thoroughly. This one’s also generating quite a long list of follow up reading. My mission is to to carve out some Proper Reading Time this year. I did manage to whack my way through a lot of books this month though, look…:

The Miniaturist Jessie Burton 
Found in Oxfam, I’d heard a bit of buzz about this (and The Muse, Burton’s next novel) so paid my £1.99 and read it in two days. I do love historical like this, tales with a bit of an edge that make you feel you really are in 17th Century Amsterdam, or wherever. I didn’t feel everything was resolved at the end though, maybe that’s just me.

Exposure Helen Dunmore
Along with Kate Atkinson, Dunmore is one of my favourite writers. This ‘spy’ novel is so clever it manages to weave its own story around that of a very famous 19th Century novel for children. Again, I read this in about two days flat!

Larkrise to Candleford  Flora Thompson
I have tried to read this so many times. It’s hugely interesting, especially to a ‘local’, but not terribly engaging. The old fashioned style I shouldn’t find a problem; Austen, Brontes, Gaskell, bring it on! but I do. It makes me feel like I’m trapped in a hot classroom doing an exam. I know loads of people love it though, we can’t all be the same (thank goodness) .

November
Talk to The Tail Tom Cox

I do love cats, we have an old boy living here, but Cat Books. The very idea makes me feel a bit ill, suggesting sweet tales of little kittens. Tom Cox’s books are nothing like that, Cox has owned many many cats, he is hilarious about them and their various personalities – and about himself – observes them closely and obviously loves them greatly (especially The Bear, who recently passed away). There is <gasp> swearing, which is always entertaining when used as well as it is in these books.

December
Born To Run Bruce Springsteen
Broooooce!!!.  I do wonder if we’ll see his like again. The time when you could live on very little, and have the space to make a career as an amazing musician and performer, like you could in the 60s to early 80s,  seems to be gone. It can’t be good for any of us. We all know he can write – the songs, what a body of work -and this is a great read. It’s like he chatting to you in a bar, late at night, about his amazing life (though if he were I’d be a giggling, shaking, wreck of course).

The Remains of an Altar Phil Rickman
The eighth Merrily Watkins mystery, nowhere near as dark as The Lamp of The Wicked, but still pretty dark. 

Hagseed Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is my favourite writer of all. I see her as a wise elder, guiding me through, her books have spoken to me since I first picked up ‘Life Before Man’ as a 19 year old. Hagseed is a retelling of The Tempest, part of  a series commissioned by Random House for its Hogarth Shakespeare imprint. The tale takes place in a prison, Prospero is re-imagined as a theatre director who’s been kicked out of his own festival by scheming colleagues. It’s brilliant, I read it directly after seeing the current RSC production of The Tempest which added a whole extra layer of experience. I also got to meet Atwood for a nano-second at a book event and signing (again at the RSC) which has fulfilled one of my life’s ambitions.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Maria Semple
Another one found via radio adaptation. I loved this, thought it was equally funny – especially about middle class life, in this case in Seattle – and sad, all the characters are slightly dysfunctional. I am a little worried about how many of Bernadette’s traits I have (not least that I’d quite like an airstream caravan in the back garden to go and hide out in…).

…and finally…

The Devil In The Marshalsea Antonia Houghton
Another historical novel, this time we’re in 18th century London – the one of coffee shops, harlots and cut-purses, not court. It’s a murder mystery at heart, brilliantly set in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Marshalsea debtors prison, which sounds like it was a real hell on earth (for some). Houghton has created a likeable hero, one with faults – the best kind,  in Thomas Hawkins and I’m looking forward to meeting him again (soon, the next book’s on my shelf).

That was 2016. My wish for 2017 is more reading time (and less scary political happenings).

Part one is here.

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