What I’m reading

2022

 

June

Mrs Narwhal’s Diary by SJ Norbury. Funny, perceptive and deceptively light reading, with a lot more to discover, lurking beneath the humour.

Beth Chatto’s Garden Notebook, by Beth Chatto. Year round ‘gardener’s view’ of life. 

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller. Powerful, beautiful, sad, and – thankfully – with a hopeful ending. 

Assembly by Natasha Brown. Not an easy read, but a must-read. Written in fragments (flash or micro – perfect) so brilliantly structured. The subject matter is heavy, written from the perspective of a woman of colour succeeding in business in the UK, only all the casual racism and misogyny she has to pretend to ignore is heartbreaking – so many institutional things I’d never considered. Do read it.

The Madness of Grief by Rev Richard Coles. Written shortly after his husband’s unexpected death. Complex, moving and poignant. Well worth reading.

May

Folk by Zoe Gilbert. Thoroughly enjoyed these linked tales of an island community which meander into magical realism. Fabulous storytelling.

To Be Frank by Philippa Hawley. Story of recovering alcoholic Frank, and the connections he makes as he rebuilds his life with family and friends. Very readable. By local writier and friend.

The Pawnbroker’s Pledge by Clare Hawkins. Exciting and entertaining historical fiction, set in a very believable and well-researched Victorian London (look out for cameo appearance by Charles Dickens, no less!) By local writer and friend.

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Beautiful – an exciting fantasy story for children.

A Thermal of my Own. Intimate and intense autobiography through poetry by local Wivenhoe poet and retired architect Bryan Thomas. Beautiful photographs.

The Importance of Music to Girls by Lavinia Greenlaw. Honest, raw and entrancing, a series of tiny almost-flash chapters charting the poet’s difficult adolescence, told through music, clothes and haircuts. A great read (although the music does really take a back seat!).

The Blues I’m Playing by Langston Hughes. The best description of blues music I’ve read – and a great story.(ss)

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty. Superb and understated.

The Reunion by Maya Angelou. Brilliant. So well written. (ss)

With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix. Another ‘Dear Reader’ recommendation, and everyone should read it. How to die well, which of course, is also how to live well.

Ron Carlson Writes a Story by Ron Carlson. A really useful ‘craft’ book, where the author explains the step-by-step creation of his short story The Governor’s Ball and attempts to articulate those ‘cloudier’ areas of writing, where you have the first glimmer of an idea, and are wondering how to mould it. Helpful and a good read!

March Violets by Philip Kerr. First in his pre-war Berlin Noir ‘Bernie Gunther’ detective series. Excellent. One of many from my Cathy Rentzenbrink tbr list!

The Kingdom by the Sea by Robert Westall. Young adult book dealing with dark and challenging themes, set in the Second World War. A great read.

April

Beth Chatto, A Life with Plants by Catherine Horwood. About time I read this, and understood more about Beth’s life and achievements. Fascinating reading.

Any Human Heart by William Boyd. This is a re-read (possibly from 10 years back) which I’ve loved as much second time around – I was surprised how much I hadn’t remembered. Told through the protagonist’s journals, which show (not tell!) how his character ages and develops. Great stuff.

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan. As interesting and unusual as the title suggests, surreal, poignant, but also charting the extinction of species and burning of our earth.

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller. Funny and engaging, though I was less tempted to read his selection than Cathy Rentzenbrink’s…!

This Paradise by Ruby Cowling. A fabulous array of varied short stories, some magical realism and some spec fic.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. Very different from his other books, but beautifully written and poignant.

Snapshots of the Apocalypse by Katy Wimhurst. Short stories of magical realism and speculative fiction by a local writer with recognisable, local settings. Very enjoyable, especially The Wings of Digging.

March

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata. While I didn’t enjoy this story as much as Convenience Store Woman, it was certainly compellingly weird and I couldn’t have put it down!

How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie. Abridged version read on BBC Sounds. Dark and funny.

Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink. Reading this book is a warm hug. And I now have a longer TBR list (and some old favourites I’ve determined to re-read). Recommended.

When Mystical Creatures Attack by Kathleen Founds. A crazy delight – sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but all written with such a light and believable touch. 

The Bookbinder’s Daughter – currently serialised by Clare Hawkins. A compelling must-read! Waiting for the next instalment…

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver. A refreshing read and a great reminder, about both reading and writing (poetry) – and it applies to all kinds of writing. Recommended.

The Manningtree Witches by AK Blakemore. Rich and intense retelling of the tale which is becoming increasingly known to me. No surpirse that the author is also a poet… Superb use of language.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. Again. The great American novel of the Jazz Age. Brilliant. Listened on BBC Sounds (very well read by Kyle Soller) which gave me a totally different insight compared to my previous readings of it. 

February

Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola. My first Zola! Realism in mid 19th C French lit, accompanied by a feeling of doom as things were clearly only going to get worse and worse – but I had to keep on reading.

Treeline by Ben Rawlence. (Radio 4 abridged version) The Northern ‘boreal’ forest is, more so than the tropical rainforests, the ‘lung’ of the world – and the melting icecap (climate change) means it’s heading northwards at an alarmingly fast rate towards the shrinking poles. Bad news for us.

Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind by Anne Charnock. Another worthwhile re-read (from Feb 2020) which I enjoyed even more than last time, and I got even more from the art history-ness of it, and was thrilled with the Shanghai/Suzhou reminiscences. A clever ‘braided’ story with three threads – present day, sci-fi and historical fiction which make an unusual combination and mean it doesn’t fit into any boxes. I love it.

Wintering by Katharine May – the radio (abridgement) of the book I read last Nov – still utterly marvellous, with all the bits I meant to underline read aloud. Am convinced reading this helped me through winter!

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I listened to an abridged radio adaptation a year ago, but reckon the entire book is well worth a read.

Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock. A re-read, and such a good, well-constructed and unusual story. Thoroughly enjoyable. Re-recommendation of the year! (Last read January 2020.)

A Keeper by Graham Norton. Atmospheric, creepy and unexpected!

A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris. Twisty-turny psychological storytelling.

January

Snow Crow Bath Flash Fiction Volume Six. Many stunning and thought-provoking stories, the best of which stay with you after you’ve read them.

Anecdotal Evidence by Wendy Cope. Her first poetry in a while. Excellent.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay. Funny and hard-hitting.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. So poignant, funny – and frequently changing pov put together so well…

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende. Post-Spanish Civil War, exile in Chile thanks to the poet Pablo Neruda who sent a boat to rescue Spaniards interned in French concentration camps, leading up to the 1970s military junta dictatorships there, under Pinochet. Broad sweeping family epic. Wonderful!

Drama Queen by Sara Gibbs. Very funny, yet a painful read at the same time.

Witch Hunt by Syd Moore. Exciting ghost mystery story, with modern and historical threads, Tendring women wrongly accused of witchcraft in the 1600s and a journalist from nowadays. Exciting stuff and such a clever twist which I didn’t see coming!

2021

December

A Venetian Reckoning by Donna Leon. Her fourth novel, which she describes as her ‘angriest’ – it is angry and much darker than others I’ve read. I also discovered that she has requested that none of her novels be translated into Italian, although they are published in many other languages.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. Clever, witty and warm.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Listened to radio adaptation. Excellent.

Home Stretch by Graham Norton. Very well written.

The Electricity of Every Living Thing by Katharine May. Walking as meditation (I knew that) and her autism diagnosis.

Girl A by Abigail Dean. Excellent, well structured, page-turner (so not read slowly at all!).

Meander, Spiral, Explode by Jane Alison. This is all about design and pattern in narrative and is fascinating. Another book reminding me to read slowly, to properly appreciate things!

All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. So wonderful to re-read, such a beautifully written and haunting story.

November

Tales from the Fens by WH Barrett. These date back to Victorian times, and before, and way back before the fens were drained.  Some read like fairytales! Great stories.

Shoot the Moon by Bella Cassidy.

The_Box_of_Delights by John Masefield. Beautiful, dreamlike and well-paced children’s book I’d missed out on when young: when the wolves are running.

At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop. Haunting, tragic, Senegalese soldier fighting for France in WW1 descends into insanity. 

Wintering: the power of rest and retreat in difficult times by Katharine May. Utterly marvellous.

 

October

Subject Twenty One by AE Warren. Brilliant and absorbing!

Breath by James Nestor. Interesting. 

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Strange and compelling – such a good read.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. WONDERFUL! Probably the best book I’ve read this year – hugely recommended.

The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain. An intriguing Parisian mystery. Thoroughly enjoyed this!

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

WriteNight Anthology, ed Sue Dawes and Emma Kittle-Pey (with my piece in!)

The Food of Love by Anthony Capella

 

September

Oligarchy by Scarlett ThomasDark humour.

What are You Like Short Stories by Shelley Day.

Summer Water by Sarah Moss. I love the ‘stream of consciousness’ style and the shift from character to character – intense, beautifully written and with an inevitable ending.

12 Birds to Save your Life by Charlie Corbett. One to reread, and to underline all the good phrases!

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler. Another excellent book by this master of observation.

Skin Deep by Liz Nugent. Wow! Dark escapism, with an unlikeable yet compelling and sometimes even sympathetic protagonist. What a character study…

 

August

Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan. Feelgood holiday reading, lovely story.

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. Absolutely brilliant; loved the earlier two as well.

Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt. Book Club selection number 3. Clever and thought-provoking idea: unusual, humorous  (but not disrespectful) way of dealing with ‘the Black Dog’ of depression.

Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan. In which Miwako Sumido (see later, better book) appears. Very sad this one, with little to lift it to hopefulness. Well-written.

The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths.

Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien, What the Fox Brings in its Jaw by Ian O’Brien and The Impossibility of Wings by Donna L Greenwood – Retreat West novelette in flash anthology, of which I loved the last one most by far, though all were powerful and have stayed with me.

Swifts and Us by Sarah Gibson. Fuelling my obsession with swifts. A wonderful book.

The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths. An excellent one.

 

July

The Eternal Season by Stephen Rutt. The derangement of summer by climate change – yet still positive and hopeful, and through the lens of the 2020 Covid summer season, which made many of us look afresh. Beautifully written. 

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths.

The Assistant by Kjell Ola Dahl (transl. Don Bartlett). Twisty mystery, Scandi-noir, took a bit of getting into, compelling enough to keep going to the end, but found it a bit long-winded (especially after all this superb flash I’ve been reading) and didn’t quite find the premise believable enough. Probably not my preferred kind of book…

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. If you could go back in time – just once, for a very brief time – who would you want to see? Bittersweet story, first novel from Japanese playwright – and it would work onstage very well!

Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Incredible – a section of a life, all in brief impressionistic fragments – novella-in-flash. Fantastic.

The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd. Woman – and her family – sliding through parallel lives.

Bottled Goods by Sophie Llewyn. Fragmented, magical realism, novella in flash. Fantastic!

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths. Love the humour, enjoy the characters, love the marvellous North Norfolk setting – pure escapism. 

The Stranger She Knew by Rosalind Stopps. Excellent and unexpected psychological thriller. Wasn’t entirely sure about the ending…

 

June

Out of this World by Graham Swift. Excellent, powerful.

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths.

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths.

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida by Clarissa Goenawan. Just beautiful, poignant and slightly strange story, my Big Green Book Club selection for June. Fabulous start to my year’s book supply. 

Here We Are by Graham Swift. End of the pier show. Masterful, clear and well-told.

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths. A re-read, but I’m trying to read them in order this time, and they’re an easy, comfortable read for times like this when there’s a lot going on…

Our Beautiful Game by Lou Kuenzler. Teenage girl plays football during the First World War for the Munitions factory where she works – but then the FA ban women’s football for FIFTY years, until 1971! Excellent YA story, based on truth of course.

The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths. Rainy, flooded Norfolk – but as always, there’s so much more to this series!

 

May

Swift as Desire by Laura Esquivel, translated by Stephan Lyttle. As good as her previous book, Like Water For Chocolate – don’t let the title put you off! 

The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths. From the marshes of the North Carolina coast (see below) to the marshes of North Norfolk… Missing children, the most chilling kind of story, and one I couldn’t have faced reading when mine were tiny. Thankfully, you know there’ll be a positive ending in this series!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Great sense of place, lovely nature writing and very likeable protagonist. Thought-provoking, poignant stuff. (I did find the non-sentences irritating at times.) Worth reading, however.

Neither Here nor There by Bill Bryson. Travels in Europe – in these Covid days, I’m enjoying his recollections of European travel.

Radical Acts of Love by Janie Brown. Oncology nurse and cancer counsellor discusses what we should all be prepared to talk about – the ending of our lives.

 

April

The Starlings of Bucharest by Sarah Armstrong. Well worth waiting for – and left me thinking about it for days afterwards.

Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore. So perceptive and achingly sad.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend. Wonderful! Quite apart from still being laugh-out-loud funny, even now, it took me straight back to my 70s childhood with boil in the bag cod and angel delight…!

A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths. Very good pot-boiler.

 

March

Something Like Breathing by Angela Readman. Absolutely brilliant, highly recommended. Just sort of draws you in…

A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths – read in one day, my easy-recovering-from Covid-jab-side-effects novel. 

The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths (who is really Domenica de Rosa and Elly Griffiths is her ‘good‘ crime nom-de-plume, which fits nicely on book covers, as I discovered on an author talk via Suffolk Libraries last week)… Anyone, another of the excellent Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries of which there are many more. She does place – North Norfolk – so incredibly well, with some light humour amongst all the death and a very likeable protagonist.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. Listened to the adaptation on Radio 4 – so very good. Have now ordered a copy and am listening in to an author talk – such a great writer. (My copy of the book has now arrived which I will read attentively!)

According to Yes by Dawn French. Couldn’t have been by anyone else, very strong author voice. 

How to be Wild by Simon Barnes. A great book to be reading in early Spring!

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers. Strong and unexpected – superb read.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré. Absolutely brilliant.

A Summer of Spying by Sarah Armstrong. Fascinating read.

Some of us Glow More than Others by Tania Hershman. Great stories.

 

February

Vanishing Acts by Jodie Picoult. Not a huge fan in the past, but this one has been so well-written and had me barely able to put it down.

A Life Like Other People’s by Alan Bennett. Beautifully written (part of his ‘Untold Stories’ which I’ve read and loved before).

The Little Grey Men by BB. As recommended by John Lewis-Stempel

Alexa – what is there to know about love? By Brian Bilston. Fantastic poetry.

Walk! By Colin Speakman. Something a little frustrating reading a book about the benefits of striding out whilst we’re somewhat restricted in Lockdown 3 from Covid 19… but I haven’t stoped walking all our local routes, even in this week’s current snow, and I can’t wait to reach some more varied places once again!

Essex Girls by Sarah Perry. Put your preconceptions aside and discover abolitionist Anne Knight, Protestant martyr Rose Allin, Harriet Martineau, Emily Hobhouse and other under-recognised high achievers, all representing a strong female agency and in need of celebration.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. My favourite retelling of The Odyssey – I love Penelope’s voice in this version, which is witty and haunting.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. Wise, beautiful, funny, sad, and very sweet.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. Brilliant and very readable.

 

January

The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibín. A beautiful coming-of-age epic.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. A story of childhood told cleverly and believably in a series of short (tiny) stories, each one a gem. Super way to tell a tale.

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Wow! What a beautifully-written, mesmerising, powerful novel. Highly recommended. 

Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel. A year in a meadow on his farm, from diary entries. Much more beautifully-written than my previous sentence shows. I’ll revisit this!

Walking Home by Clare Balding. Written with enthusiasm and in a spirit of sharing and spreading that enthusiasm for walking.

 

2020

December

The Half-Life of Songs by David Gaffney. Often bizarre, comic but recognisable characters and places in these flash and micro-fiction pieces. One of the best of its kind.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. Listened to Radio 4 Book of the week adaptation. Excellent. 

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Good tales for winter!

Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams. I really wanted to like these, I really tried. They are supposed to be excellent. Great title. Well, I assume I wasn’t clever enough to “get them,” because I was disappointed.

The Stories by Jane Gardam. Excellent short stories – well crafted.

The White Road by Tania Hershman. Her first collection of flashes, Microfiction and shorts, often inspired by scientific articles. Some great storytelling – highly recommended.

The White Book by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith. Beautiful, mournful, reflective – to be read slowly.

 

November

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman. Hadn’t read in ages. Super! Televised at the moment on BBC – an excellent adaptation, close to the book.

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter. Excellent, poetic, cleverly written in tiny fragments. Powerful too.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Excellent.

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths. A new direction for Griffiths. I liked the multi-viewpoint and the unexpected twists and turns in this crime novel.

 

October

Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness. Very interesting.

Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh. This was strange, compelling and disturbing. Excellent.

More Than a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Excellent, funny in places and air-punchingly good.

You Let Me In by Lucy Clarke – audio version (unabridged). Good psychological thriller.

 

September

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante – abridged for Radio 4. A good listen, and a good edit of a rather long story…

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. Published in 2014 but very pertinent – events in Canada and the USA before and after “the collapse” of the world as we know it, following a highly -infectious virus which has killed most of the population.  Understated writing, if there is such a thing. Impressively good. Possible contender for my book of the year (although it’s competing with  Anne Charnock!).

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Brilliant, eye-opening and quite incredible.

Last Friends by Jane Gardam. Third in the ‘Old Filth’ trilogy. Beautifully written – lovely.

Vox by Christina Dalcher. Disturbing, compelling – such a clever and worrying idea. 

The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid. Brilliantly written, and fascinating whilst being truly gruesome!

 

August

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. As soon as I started it, I remembered reading this before, but I felt compelled to re-read it. Cleverly constructed and excellent narrative point of view.

The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert. Dark, powerful stuff. Ordinary Germans facing up to Nazi guilt in their past.

Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty. Oh, such a good, gripping read which I found hard to put down!

The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam. Companion piece for ‘Old Filth.’ Bittersweet, clever, funny. A lovely read.

A Novel in a Year by Louise Doughty. Well, obviously I haven’t written one, but its full of good advice with some excellent writing exercises which I am trying out…

The Berlin Shadow: Living with the Ghosts of the Kindertransport by Jonathan Lichtenstein. Tenderly and beautifully-written (brilliantly structured, of course, by the tutor who taught me ‘Dramatic Structure’) and heavy with pain and sorrow, as you would expect. Everyone should read this.

A Day Like Any Other by Isla Dewar. Lovely Edinburgh-based story. Was sent this as  prize by the Scottish Book Trust.

 

July

The Missing Wife by Sheila O’Flanagan. Super upbeat summer read.

Double Fault by Lionel Shriver. Wasn’t quite sure as I didn’t like the protagonist much – but I think that was the point. Cleverly-written and structured, a compelling read.

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende  – magical realism, love, hate, violence, a family epic – and, I’ve just discovered, semi-autobiographical. 1970’s Chile, military coup. Tumultuous.

Unto Us a Son is Given by Donna Leon. A bit of Brunetti/Venice escapism!

Fire on the Mountain by Anita Desai. Beautifully written and the sense of foreboding builds and builds to the climax.

How to be a Heroine (Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading too much) by Samantha Ellis Brilliant and very interesting.

A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M Harris. Lovely escapism, beautifully written.

 

June

Falling Towards England by Clive James. Erudite and funny.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. Got talking about this super book with a student and decided to re-read it (must be something about fairies and midsummer – but fairies like you’ve never met before!). Film out/due out imminently.

Stay where you are and then Leave by John Boyne, writer of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Well-written, thought provoking and covers so many important issues of the day with such a delicate touch. Spot-on.

Trespass by Rose Tremain. Excellent.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. Just brilliant! What a great read 🙂

 

May

The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier. Well written and contrived.

Commonwealth by Anne Patchett. Another excellent read.

Hamnet by the brilliant Maggie O’Farrell. Tremendously good. Read it!

Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith. Interesting, and handy given I got ‘suspense’ in the NYC 24 Microfiction Comp today!

 

April

Secret Pigeon Service: Operation Columba, Resistance and the Struggle to Liberate Europe by Gordon Correa.

And When did you Last See your Father?  By Blake Morrison. Still held up as a brilliant example of life writing, written before ‘life-writing’ got its name.

Thinking on My Feet by Kate Humble. Very good, especially if, like me, you love walking.

Bridge 108 by Anne Charnock. Brilliant. What an amazing writer she is…

Naomi Rose by Kirsten Esden (Twitter: @kesden78). Always excited to read something written by a friend and this novel, with its intriguing and unreliable narrator, was superbly written.

Why Mummy Swears by Gill Sims. Very funny.

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd.

 

March

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell.

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths. Norwich-based, this time. Great!

Fran Kiss Stein by Jeanette Winterson. Brutally funny, thought-provoking and superbly written, all at the same time. Recommended.

This Book will Change your mind about Mental Health by Nathan Filer. Wow – certainly thought provoking.

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths. Excellent crime fiction – I like her Ruth Galloway character, and good to read a story based in Walsingham whilst staying in nearby Wells!

 

February

Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind by Anne Charnock. Female artists/art historians – past, present and future. Superbly well written.

A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock. Sci-Fi with highly intelligent  ‘simulants’ who begin to develop human feelings. Clever and readable.

Homing by Jon Day. All about homing pigeons (and also what we humans think of as ‘home’). Fascinating.

The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham – a modern-day ‘Aurelian’ (butterfly enthusiast).

Birdwatching with Your Eyes Closed – an introduction to birdsong by Simon Barnes. Very readable, as ever.

The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris. A very enjoyable read.

 

January

Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock  Wow! A superb story, highly recommended. I’ve already ordered some of her other books.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (book 2 in The Book of Dust trilogy). Listened to an abridged radio version – excellent. Cliffhanger ending a little frustrating. 

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry. Christmas Eve ‘bookflood’ book – crime fiction set in Victorian Edinburgh, amongst the medical community. Excellent and gripping read.

Rewild Yourself: 23 Spellbinding Ways to Make Nature More Visible by Simon Barnes. Brilliant. Well worth reading if you like spending time outdoors.

 

2019

December

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stroud. Superb.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Marvellous magical realism, based around recipes, month by month. Clever construction and wonderful story.  

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman. So poignant. Almost painful to read, but lovely.

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans. Lovely.

November

Conundrum by Jan Morris. As relevant and interesting now as when it was first published in 1974, beautifully written.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Lucky enough to see this at the Piccadilly Theatre last week.

Diary of a Somebody by Brian Bilston. Excellent and witty!

Wintering – A Season with Geese by Stephen Rutt. Short days, long nights and the arrival of geese from the far north who overwinter here. Beautifully and sensitively written – well worth a read.

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson. A Jackson Brodie novel, but Atkinson moves inside everyone’s head with her usual wit and humour, despite a very bleak subject matter. Compelling, loved it. She’s back on form!

A Little Stranger by Candida McWilliam. Very well-written and an intriguing read, found the structure where the narrator revealed personal information a little frustrating, though I suppose a few hints had been dropped.

Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee. More MND research: ‘Faeries are alien creatures with values and ethics far removed from mankind… they can be enchantingly beautiful or wizened, hairy and grotesquely ugly.’ Yup – that’s exactly how I want to see my MND faeries!

October

When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. Very witty, laugh-out-loud funny.

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths. More adventure with Dr Ruth Galloway, Forensic Archeologist!

The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon. Not her best, thought I did like how Brunetti was brought up to date on current issues by his children!

Platform Seven by Louise Doughty. A gripping and cleverly thought-out read.

September

Sunflowers in February by Phyllida Shrimpton. Another local author to support, and the best (older) YA book I’ve read in quite some time, dealing with life, death and a fair bit of what’s in between.

The Good Body by Eve Ensler. Vagina Monologues writer turns her attention to stomachs – hers, and those of others, and how far women may be prepared to go in order to change themselves. Humorous, but with a powerful and shocking punch too.

The Blue Salt Road by Joanne Harris. Poetic and hauntingly beautiful fairytale for adults about the Scottish selkies – half-seal, half-human…

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore. Exquisitely written and haunting – ominous from the start and building to a horrid, inevitable conclusion. Unputdownable, all the same.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. Imagined life based on factual information. A great read!

Good Omens by Terry Pritchett and Neil Gaiman. Excellent, as funny as I remembered from having read it years ago.

The Poppy Factory by Liz Trenow – local author, doing so well that this book was commissioned! Parallel stories of PTSD now and in WW1. I particularly liked the narrative voice of Rose, the historical protagonist.

August

Happiness by Aminatta Forna. Wow – THIS is my book of the summer. Wonderful writing and beautiful descriptions; an unexpected mix of urban foxes and coyotes and current London life and concerns of today. A must-read. (Thanks Pippa for the recommendation!)

My House In Umbria by William Trevor. The protagonist of this novella, a former Madame going by the name of Mrs Delahunty, is an unreliable narrator, drunk from the mornings onwards, and letting her imagination run away with her – but at the same time, some of her imaginings and dreams seem to contain truths. It’s difficult to work out what is real, and what isn’t. Many-layered, sad, but also an excellent read.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A User’s Guide by Michael Pennington. More research…

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths. A Dr Ruth Galloway mystery – crime. Not my usual sort of reading, but I like the Ruth character who was an archaeologist and academic, and also the location (North Norfolk). Well written, good read.

Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper. Beautiful and lyrical.

Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls. Coming of age story – sensitively written.

The Trick to Time by the wonderful Kit de Waal. Unputdownable, and beautifully-written.

July

Sexuality in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream ed. Gary Wiener. Yep, doing my research…!

Flash Count Diary by Darcey Steinke. ‘A New Story About the Menopause.’ Brilliant. All women ‘of a certain age’ should read it… Post-menopausal whales are esteemed pod-leaders apparently, which is a distinct improvement on human post-menopausal invisibility!

Serenissima by Erica Jong.

The Understudy by David Nichols. I’ve loved his other books (either moving or funny!) and was really looking forward to reading this, but found it predictable and irritating, so I gave up a quarter of the way in. Maybe I was in the wrong mood for it and will try again another time…

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. Not at all what I was expecting, for some reason, and so much better – compelling and absorbing and I didn’t want it to end.

June

Earthly Possessions by Anne Tyler. Funny and observant – Anne Tyler is always worth reading.

Love is Blind by William Boyd.

The Last Wild by Piers Torbay. Excellent, first of children’s trilogy, about animals facing extinction.

Born Liars: Why we Can’t Live Without Deceit by Ian Leslie. ‘It’s not a lie if you believe it’ – psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, religion, placebos, the power of our brains, how we think we’re better at everything than we actually are and think a tiny pill is more effective than a bigger one…! A fascinating read.

May

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Very interesting coming back to this as an adult (and in English this time!). Did Kafka hate his parents, or is the cruelty of his sister the issue? (I really don’t know..)

Hatchet by Gary Paulson. City boy in aeroplane crash lands in the Canadian wilderness. Great YA.

Something of Great Constancy – A Reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Matt Simpson.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. Brilliant, highly recommended.

The Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell. Beautiful – love the structure, too. Read it in a day!

Heartburn by Nora Ephron. Funny and sad, light and entertaining.

April

1606 William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear by James Shapiro. Confession – I didn’t read all of it, just those bits in particular about King James, the Gunpowder Plot, equivocation and Macbeth. Fascinating and worth-knowing – helps to put Macbeth into better context.

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes. Beautiful. All about building things together and then tearing them apart: hot-air ballooning, photography, and his grief on the death of his wife.

The Sciatica Relief Handbook by Chet Cunningham. Because I’m suffering. And because this one doesn’t expect me to chant mantras about how it doesn’t really hurt (it really does hurt!). It details gentle stretches which actually help, gives sensible advice about finding a comfortable position to sleep in and how to carry shopping/do the gardening and generally get on with life. (Even though it’s American and over 20 years old!)

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (transl. Ginny Talley Takemori). Dark, poignant and very funny. Precise and sharp. A great read.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. A crime-writing friend recommended this after I’d been to see – and enjoyed – a performance of Witness for the Prosecution, also by Christie. This was a well-constructed whodunit with a cracker of a twist at the end (no spoilers, however!).

Circe by Madeline Miller. Brilliant – you should read it!

March

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan. Bleak and beautiful – short stories about an Irish rural community around the time of the financial recession 2008 onwards, all linking together, all sensitively told.

The Familiars by Stacey Halls. Historical fiction, not usually my thing, but loved this story about the Pendle Witches set in 1612.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Eccentric YA story with haunting photos – intriguing.

Somebody I Used to Know  by Wendy Mitchell. Author’s enlightening account of living with her own early-onset dementia. Moving and hopeful.

After Rain by William Trevor. Beautifully-written, disturbing, quiet selection of short stories, mainly (but not entirely) set in rural Ireland. Deftly and acutely observed characters, painful to read sometimes.

Envy – 7 Deadly Sins vol. 6 Pure Slush Books. My story, Fred’s Party, is on page 123! An interesting selection of poetry, short fiction and non-fiction with some pieces I absolutely love. Reading an anthology is always instructive!

The Only Story by Julian Barnes. (Wivenhoe Bookshop Bookclub choice, but I’d have read it anyway.) Mostly loved it – the evocation of the narrator’s youth, the love story within, even though I read most of it with a sense of foreboding, knowing it wouldn’t end well… What I didn’t enjoy was the uncomfortable change from first to third person narrator for part 3 – though I’m sure it was deep and meaningful (telling his own story, or something, and the ‘now’ rather than then part of the narrative) – which felt clunky and awkward to me. And then for the last paragraph, for the hauntingly sad last meeting, the narrator reverted to ‘I’, and I wished he’d stayed like it all along. Highly recommended, however!

February

Stories from Rattle Tales: The Brighton Prize 2018 ed Edward Rowe and Erinna Mettler. I was a reader for the first two rounds of this competition, so was excellent to read (and in some cases, reread) the winning short stories and flash fictions.

The Art of the Novel ed Nicholas Royle. Useful selection of essays with suggested reading and writing exercises. One to reread again.

Northern Lights: The Graphic Novel adapted by Stephane Melchior (art by Clement Oubrerie). Not a huge graphic novel fan, but I loved this – really gets the spirit of the novel.

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce. WW2 ‘Agony Aunt’ by accident, with an appealing protagonist and gentle and upbeat humour.

Seize the Day by Saul Bellow. One day in the life of Tommy Wilhelm: failed actor, failed husband, failed businessman, failed son – a day when everything crashes around him, his ‘day of reckoning’. Bellow’s eye for detail is superb, it’s dated, being set in 1950s America.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare (obviously!). Reading and rereading. This is our Wivenhoe Open Air Shakespeare production for June 2019, which I’m co-directing, and we’re auditioning soon. Each time I pick it up, I find new language to love and marvel at. Wonderful.

The Queen of Bloody Everything by Joanna Nadim. Loved the voice, loved the 1970s Essex backdrop. Beautifully told. Great.

Winter by Ali Smith.

Sudden Traveller by Sarah Hall. BBC National Short Story Award 2018, (shortlist). Available as a podcast. I read – and listen to – a lot of flash fiction and short stories and rarely record them here. This one was moving, profound and tightly-written – recommended.

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting (transl. by Paul Russell Garrett). Epic tale of family mystery and self-discovery, ranging from Norway to The Shetland Islands to France. Wivenhoe Bookshop bookclub choice for February – a great read.

January

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami. Beautiful, delicate touch, light and funny, and moving. A Twitter recommendation. Shorter length, too!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. A poignant coming-of-age (American) story, which I enjoyed more than I expected.

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid. A modern-day rewrite, set in Edinburgh at festival time, and in the Scottish Borders, using social media and pretty convincing. An entertaining read, though I think it will date quickly.

Old Filth by Jane Gardam. Beautifully written, bitter-sweet. Excellent.

The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt by Sarah Armstrong. Third novel by Colchester writer (see September 2018) – out in hardback in February, though I couldn’t wait and read it on my kindle. Great story – highly recommended.

The Accidental by Ali Smith. Weird and wonderful!

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. A fascinating read, and very worthwhile, even thought I found myself overwhelmed with more detail than I can remember.

2018

December

The Radleys by Matt Haig. The Radley family, who live in Bishopthorpe just outside York, are vampire abstainers. That is, the parents – who try hard to blend in and live like ordinary people – are knowing abstainers, and the children don’t even know they are vampires… Obviously, that leads to complication after complication. The premise is so clever, so inspired; the black, bleak humour about the family, and fitting in is absolutely spot-on. Great read. Matt Haig never disappoints.

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. Written in the seventies, iconic and round-breaking, I can see why it shocked. And it hasn’t aged brilliantly. Bits were clever and entertaining to read, and bits of navel-gazing were tedious and I skim-read them.

Letter to Sister Benedicta by Rose Tremain. Well-written, a good read, and satisfying in that an aimless, downtrodden woman starts to make decisions for herself.

L’Etranger (The Outsider) by Albert Camus. Haven’t looked at this since A-Level French back in the early ‘80s. I liked it a lot better this time, and suspect that the unfeeling, to-the-point main character Mersault is on the autism spectrum (she says, summing up Camus’ existentialism in a rather naive and narrow way). This translation by Sandra Arnold is particularly readable.

Becoming by Michelle Obama (listened to the edited audio version on Radio 4, read by Michelle herself). Loved it.

November

52 Ways of Looking at a Poem by Ruth Padel. OK, so I havn’t actually read all of this yet (if I take one poem a week, it’ll take me all year), but I’ve read the introductory essays which had me saying, ‘Oh, I see,’ to myself many times. I’m also re-reading the AQA GCSE English ‘Power and Conflict’  poetry pack (which has some real favourites in it), and generally trying to be more open about my poetry reading. And trying to read poetry slowly, appreciatively, without skim reading.

Normal People by Sally Rooney. Took me a while to get started, as I felt the beginning was a little contrived, but then I found I totally cared for the two protagonists and absolutely fell into it and didn’t want it to stop. (Had to keep checking back on the passage of time – note to self – keep it really simple!)

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Wonderful, wonderful novel (which I’ve read many times before). Cassandra is one of my favourite narrators and the opening line: I write this sitting in the kitchen sink is one of the best opening lines. The standard of writing remains this high throughout.

The Possession of Mr Cave by the excellent Matt Haig, though this one was disturbing and chilling, with an increasingly deluded and demented protagonist.

I Remember Nothing by the brilliant, witty, acerbic yet self-deprecating Nora Ephron.

Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher by Alex Toms. Poetry. Beautiful word weaving by very talented local poet.

Lullaby by Leila Sliman (transl. Sam Taylor). Thriller beginning: ‘The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.’ Unpleasant but unputdownable…! Well-written.

Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale – a favourite author, and this one began with the main character taking a dose of RadioActive Iodine for a thryoid cancer, which had personal interest (see my other blog My Big, Fat Thyroid!).

October

I Am, I Am, I Am – 17 Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell – utterly compelling. I’m familiar with a writer hooking their autobiography onto a theme, but to write through having had so many close-encounters with death is quite an extraordinary, but surprisingly successful choice of theme. Hugely readable (I could barely put it down), and worryingly relatable in parts. Best read of this month, so far.

Every Third Thought by Robert McCrum

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

How to be Happy by Eva Woods

Lawn House Blues by Philippa Hawley – her third, recently-released novel. A page-turner and thoroughly entertaining read. I’m partisan because she’s my friend (and if you visit her website, look out for me filming her book-launch speech in one of the photos!).

Transcription by Kate Atkinson – not a read (though I did read the first chapter in a promotional pamphlet form) but a listen on Book at Bedtime (catch it on iplayer). Different from her other stories, but still fascinating.

September

The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer (with an inter linear modern English translation!) Fantastic! Shouldn’t have been so terrified of it…

Autumn by Ali Smith – beautiful, sensory, dreamlike and clever. Warm and funny. Should have read this when it first came out. Going to look out for other books by Ali Smith now.

Outline by Rachel Cusk

The Devil in the Snow by Sarah Armstrong

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

August

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler – Anne Tyler’s writing is gentle, accurate and believable, and the idea of a travel writer who hated travelling ensured this was a humorous and thoughtful story.

The Pebbles on the Beach: A Spotter’s Guide by Clarence Ellis

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey – I loved Elizabeth is Missing and couldn’t wait to read this. It was great! A put-upon mother of teenagers struggles through the aftermath of her daughter’s return after her mysterious and unaccounted for disappearance, and I loved how the story jumped around in supposedly random ‘stream of consciousness’ subheadings, like the workings of the protagonist’s mind. Don’t let that rather weak description put you off – it’s a cracking, well-written story and the unusual structure works brilliantly, and doesn’t interfere. As a reader, I felt huge empathy for Jen, the mother. Innately readable, and enough mystery that I always wanted to read on.

 

July

The Humans by Matt Haig – funny and heartwarming – highly recommended, clever story. Made me laugh out loud while waiting to fly (an experience which always scares me, so this distraction was a good one!)

Fish Anthology 2018 – of course! An excellent read…

March

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata. While I didn’t enjoy this story as much as Convenience Store Woman, it was certainly compellingly weird and I couldn’t have put it down!

How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie. Abridged version read on BBC Sounds. Dark and funny.

Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink. Reading this book is a warm hug. And I now have a longer TBR list (and some old favourites I’ve determined to re-read). Recommended.

When Mystical Creatures Attack by Kathleen Founds. A crazy delight – sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but all written with such a light and believable touch. 

The Bookbinder’s Daughter – currently serialised by Clare Hawkins. A compelling must-read! Waiting for the next instalment…

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver. A refreshing read and a great reminder, about both reading and writing (poetry) – and it applies to all kinds of writing. Recommended.

The Manningtree Witches by AK Blakemore. Rich and intense retelling of the tale which is becoming increasingly known to me. No surpirse that the author is also a poet… Superb use of language.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. Again. The great American novel of the Jazz Age. Brilliant. Listened on BBC Sounds (very well read by Kyle Soller) which gave me a totally different insight compared to my previous readings of it. 

February

Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola. My first Zola! Realism in mid 19th C French lit, accompanied by a feeling of doom as things were clearly only going to get worse and worse – but I had to keep on reading.

Treeline by Ben Rawlence. (Radio 4 abridged version) The Northern ‘boreal’ forest is, more so than the tropical rainforests, the ‘lung’ of the world – and the melting icecap (climate change) means it’s heading northwards at an alarmingly fast rate towards the shrinking poles. Bad news for us.

Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind by Anne Charnock. Another worthwhile re-read (from Feb 2020) which I enjoyed even more than last time, and I got even more from the art history-ness of it, and was thrilled with the Shanghai/Suzhou reminiscences. A clever ‘braided’ story with three threads – present day, sci-fi and historical fiction which make an unusual combination and mean it doesn’t fit into any boxes. I love it.

Wintering by Katharine May – the radio (abridgement) of the book I read last Nov – still utterly marvellous, with all the bits I meant to underline read aloud. Am convinced reading this helped me through winter!

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I listened to an abridged radio adaptation a year ago, but reckon the entire book is well worth a read.

Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock. A re-read, and such a good, well-constructed and unusual story. Thoroughly enjoyable. Re-recommendation of the year! (Last read January 2020.)

A Keeper by Graham Norton. Atmospheric, creepy and unexpected!

A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris. Twisty-turny psychological storytelling.

January

Snow Crow Bath Flash Fiction Volume Six. Many stunning and thought-provoking stories, the best of which stay with you after you’ve read them.

Anecdotal Evidence by Wendy Cope. Her first poetry in a while. Excellent.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay. Funny and hard-hitting.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. So poignant, funny – and frequently changing pov put together so well…

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende. Post-Spanish Civil War, exile in Chile thanks to the poet Pablo Neruda who sent a boat to rescue Spaniards interned in French concentration camps, leading up to the 1970s military junta dictatorships there, under Pinochet. Broad sweeping family epic. Wonderful!

Drama Queen by Sara Gibbs. Very funny, yet a painful read at the same time.

Witch Hunt by Syd Moore. Exciting ghost mystery story, with modern and historical threads, Tendring women wrongly accused of witchcraft in the 1600s and a journalist from nowadays. Exciting stuff and such a clever twist which I didn’t see coming!

2021

December

A Venetian Reckoning by Donna Leon. Her fourth novel, which she describes as her ‘angriest’ – it is angry and much darker than others I’ve read. I also discovered that she has requested that none of her novels be translated into Italian, although they are published in many other languages.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. Clever, witty and warm.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Listened to radio adaptation. Excellent.

Home Stretch by Graham Norton. Very well written.

The Electricity of Every Living Thing by Katharine May. Walking as meditation (I knew that) and her autism diagnosis.

Girl A by Abigail Dean. Excellent, well structured, page-turner (so not read slowly at all!).

Meander, Spiral, Explode by Jane Alison. This is all about design and pattern in narrative and is fascinating. Another book reminding me to read slowly, to properly appreciate things!

All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. So wonderful to re-read, such a beautifully written and haunting story.

November

Tales from the Fens by WH Barrett. These date back to Victorian times, and before, and way back before the fens were drained.  Some read like fairytales! Great stories.

Shoot the Moon by Bella Cassidy.

The_Box_of_Delights by John Masefield. Beautiful, dreamlike and well-paced children’s book I’d missed out on when young: when the wolves are running.

At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop. Haunting, tragic, Senegalese soldier fighting for France in WW1 descends into insanity. 

Wintering: the power of rest and retreat in difficult times by Katharine May. Utterly marvellous.

 

October

Subject Twenty One by AE Warren. Brilliant and absorbing!

Breath by James Nestor. Interesting. 

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Strange and compelling – such a good read.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. WONDERFUL! Probably the best book I’ve read this year – hugely recommended.

The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain. An intriguing Parisian mystery. Thoroughly enjoyed this!

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

WriteNight Anthology, ed Sue Dawes and Emma Kittle-Pey (with my piece in!)

The Food of Love by Anthony Capella

 

September

Oligarchy by Scarlett ThomasDark humour.

What are You Like Short Stories by Shelley Day.

Summer Water by Sarah Moss. I love the ‘stream of consciousness’ style and the shift from character to character – intense, beautifully written and with an inevitable ending.

12 Birds to Save your Life by Charlie Corbett. One to reread, and to underline all the good phrases!

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler. Another excellent book by this master of observation.

Skin Deep by Liz Nugent. Wow! Dark escapism, with an unlikeable yet compelling and sometimes even sympathetic protagonist. What a character study…

 

August

Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan. Feelgood holiday reading, lovely story.

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. Absolutely brilliant; loved the earlier two as well.

Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt. Book Club selection number 3. Clever and thought-provoking idea: unusual, humorous  (but not disrespectful) way of dealing with ‘the Black Dog’ of depression.

Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan. In which Miwako Sumido (see later, better book) appears. Very sad this one, with little to lift it to hopefulness. Well-written.

The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths.

Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien, What the Fox Brings in its Jaw by Ian O’Brien and The Impossibility of Wings by Donna L Greenwood – Retreat West novelette in flash anthology, of which I loved the last one most by far, though all were powerful and have stayed with me.

Swifts and Us by Sarah Gibson. Fuelling my obsession with swifts. A wonderful book.

The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths. An excellent one.

 

July

The Eternal Season by Stephen Rutt. The derangement of summer by climate change – yet still positive and hopeful, and through the lens of the 2020 Covid summer season, which made many of us look afresh. Beautifully written. 

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths.

The Assistant by Kjell Ola Dahl (transl. Don Bartlett). Twisty mystery, Scandi-noir, took a bit of getting into, compelling enough to keep going to the end, but found it a bit long-winded (especially after all this superb flash I’ve been reading) and didn’t quite find the premise believable enough. Probably not my preferred kind of book…

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. If you could go back in time – just once, for a very brief time – who would you want to see? Bittersweet story, first novel from Japanese playwright – and it would work onstage very well!

Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Incredible – a section of a life, all in brief impressionistic fragments – novella-in-flash. Fantastic.

The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd. Woman – and her family – sliding through parallel lives.

Bottled Goods by Sophie Llewyn. Fragmented, magical realism, novella in flash. Fantastic!

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths. Love the humour, enjoy the characters, love the marvellous North Norfolk setting – pure escapism. 

The Stranger She Knew by Rosalind Stopps. Excellent and unexpected psychological thriller. Wasn’t entirely sure about the ending…

 

June

Out of this World by Graham Swift. Excellent, powerful.

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths.

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths.

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida by Clarissa Goenawan. Just beautiful, poignant and slightly strange story, my Big Green Book Club selection for June. Fabulous start to my year’s book supply. 

Here We Are by Graham Swift. End of the pier show. Masterful, clear and well-told.

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths. A re-read, but I’m trying to read them in order this time, and they’re an easy, comfortable read for times like this when there’s a lot going on…

Our Beautiful Game by Lou Kuenzler. Teenage girl plays football during the First World War for the Munitions factory where she works – but then the FA ban women’s football for FIFTY years, until 1971! Excellent YA story, based on truth of course.

The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths. Rainy, flooded Norfolk – but as always, there’s so much more to this series!

 

May

Swift as Desire by Laura Esquivel, translated by Stephan Lyttle. As good as her previous book, Like Water For Chocolate – don’t let the title put you off! 

The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths. From the marshes of the North Carolina coast (see below) to the marshes of North Norfolk… Missing children, the most chilling kind of story, and one I couldn’t have faced reading when mine were tiny. Thankfully, you know there’ll be a positive ending in this series!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Great sense of place, lovely nature writing and very likeable protagonist. Thought-provoking, poignant stuff. (I did find the non-sentences irritating at times.) Worth reading, however.

Neither Here nor There by Bill Bryson. Travels in Europe – in these Covid days, I’m enjoying his recollections of European travel.

Radical Acts of Love by Janie Brown. Oncology nurse and cancer counsellor discusses what we should all be prepared to talk about – the ending of our lives.

 

April

The Starlings of Bucharest by Sarah Armstrong. Well worth waiting for – and left me thinking about it for days afterwards.

Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore. So perceptive and achingly sad.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend. Wonderful! Quite apart from still being laugh-out-loud funny, even now, it took me straight back to my 70s childhood with boil in the bag cod and angel delight…!

A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths. Very good pot-boiler.

 

March

Something Like Breathing by Angela Readman. Absolutely brilliant, highly recommended. Just sort of draws you in…

A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths – read in one day, my easy-recovering-from Covid-jab-side-effects novel. 

The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths (who is really Domenica de Rosa and Elly Griffiths is her ‘good‘ crime nom-de-plume, which fits nicely on book covers, as I discovered on an author talk via Suffolk Libraries last week)… Anyone, another of the excellent Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries of which there are many more. She does place – North Norfolk – so incredibly well, with some light humour amongst all the death and a very likeable protagonist.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. Listened to the adaptation on Radio 4 – so very good. Have now ordered a copy and am listening in to an author talk – such a great writer. (My copy of the book has now arrived which I will read attentively!)

According to Yes by Dawn French. Couldn’t have been by anyone else, very strong author voice. 

How to be Wild by Simon Barnes. A great book to be reading in early Spring!

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers. Strong and unexpected – superb read.

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré. Absolutely brilliant.

A Summer of Spying by Sarah Armstrong. Fascinating read.

Some of us Glow More than Others by Tania Hershman. Great stories.

 

February

Vanishing Acts by Jodie Picoult. Not a huge fan in the past, but this one has been so well-written and had me barely able to put it down.

A Life Like Other People’s by Alan Bennett. Beautifully written (part of his ‘Untold Stories’ which I’ve read and loved before).

The Little Grey Men by BB. As recommended by John Lewis-Stempel

Alexa – what is there to know about love? By Brian Bilston. Fantastic poetry.

Walk! By Colin Speakman. Something a little frustrating reading a book about the benefits of striding out whilst we’re somewhat restricted in Lockdown 3 from Covid 19… but I haven’t stoped walking all our local routes, even in this week’s current snow, and I can’t wait to reach some more varied places once again!

Essex Girls by Sarah Perry. Put your preconceptions aside and discover abolitionist Anne Knight, Protestant martyr Rose Allin, Harriet Martineau, Emily Hobhouse and other under-recognised high achievers, all representing a strong female agency and in need of celebration.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. My favourite retelling of The Odyssey – I love Penelope’s voice in this version, which is witty and haunting.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. Wise, beautiful, funny, sad, and very sweet.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. Brilliant and very readable.

 

January

The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibín. A beautiful coming-of-age epic.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. A story of childhood told cleverly and believably in a series of short (tiny) stories, each one a gem. Super way to tell a tale.

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Wow! What a beautifully-written, mesmerising, powerful novel. Highly recommended. 

Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel. A year in a meadow on his farm, from diary entries. Much more beautifully-written than my previous sentence shows. I’ll revisit this!

Walking Home by Clare Balding. Written with enthusiasm and in a spirit of sharing and spreading that enthusiasm for walking.

 

2020

December

The Half-Life of Songs by David Gaffney. Often bizarre, comic but recognisable characters and places in these flash and micro-fiction pieces. One of the best of its kind.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. Listened to Radio 4 Book of the week adaptation. Excellent. 

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Good tales for winter!

Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams. I really wanted to like these, I really tried. They are supposed to be excellent. Great title. Well, I assume I wasn’t clever enough to “get them,” because I was disappointed.

The Stories by Jane Gardam. Excellent short stories – well crafted.

The White Road by Tania Hershman. Her first collection of flashes, Microfiction and shorts, often inspired by scientific articles. Some great storytelling – highly recommended.

The White Book by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith. Beautiful, mournful, reflective – to be read slowly.

 

November

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman. Hadn’t read in ages. Super! Televised at the moment on BBC – an excellent adaptation, close to the book.

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter. Excellent, poetic, cleverly written in tiny fragments. Powerful too.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Excellent.

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths. A new direction for Griffiths. I liked the multi-viewpoint and the unexpected twists and turns in this crime novel.

 

October

Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness. Very interesting.

Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh. This was strange, compelling and disturbing. Excellent.

More Than a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Excellent, funny in places and air-punchingly good.

You Let Me In by Lucy Clarke – audio version (unabridged). Good psychological thriller.

 

September

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante – abridged for Radio 4. A good listen, and a good edit of a rather long story…

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. Published in 2014 but very pertinent – events in Canada and the USA before and after “the collapse” of the world as we know it, following a highly -infectious virus which has killed most of the population.  Understated writing, if there is such a thing. Impressively good. Possible contender for my book of the year (although it’s competing with  Anne Charnock!).

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Brilliant, eye-opening and quite incredible.

Last Friends by Jane Gardam. Third in the ‘Old Filth’ trilogy. Beautifully written – lovely.

Vox by Christina Dalcher. Disturbing, compelling – such a clever and worrying idea. 

The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid. Brilliantly written, and fascinating whilst being truly gruesome!

 

August

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. As soon as I started it, I remembered reading this before, but I felt compelled to re-read it. Cleverly constructed and excellent narrative point of view.

The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert. Dark, powerful stuff. Ordinary Germans facing up to Nazi guilt in their past.

Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty. Oh, such a good, gripping read which I found hard to put down!

The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam. Companion piece for ‘Old Filth.’ Bittersweet, clever, funny. A lovely read.

A Novel in a Year by Louise Doughty. Well, obviously I haven’t written one, but its full of good advice with some excellent writing exercises which I am trying out…

The Berlin Shadow: Living with the Ghosts of the Kindertransport by Jonathan Lichtenstein. Tenderly and beautifully-written (brilliantly structured, of course, by the tutor who taught me ‘Dramatic Structure’) and heavy with pain and sorrow, as you would expect. Everyone should read this.

A Day Like Any Other by Isla Dewar. Lovely Edinburgh-based story. Was sent this as  prize by the Scottish Book Trust.

 

July

The Missing Wife by Sheila O’Flanagan. Super upbeat summer read.

Double Fault by Lionel Shriver. Wasn’t quite sure as I didn’t like the protagonist much – but I think that was the point. Cleverly-written and structured, a compelling read.

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende  – magical realism, love, hate, violence, a family epic – and, I’ve just discovered, semi-autobiographical. 1970’s Chile, military coup. Tumultuous.

Unto Us a Son is Given by Donna Leon. A bit of Brunetti/Venice escapism!

Fire on the Mountain by Anita Desai. Beautifully written and the sense of foreboding builds and builds to the climax.

How to be a Heroine (Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading too much) by Samantha Ellis Brilliant and very interesting.

A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M Harris. Lovely escapism, beautifully written.

 

June

Falling Towards England by Clive James. Erudite and funny.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. Got talking about this super book with a student and decided to re-read it (must be something about fairies and midsummer – but fairies like you’ve never met before!). Film out/due out imminently.

Stay where you are and then Leave by John Boyne, writer of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Well-written, thought provoking and covers so many important issues of the day with such a delicate touch. Spot-on.

Trespass by Rose Tremain. Excellent.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. Just brilliant! What a great read 🙂

 

May

The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier. Well written and contrived.

Commonwealth by Anne Patchett. Another excellent read.

Hamnet by the brilliant Maggie O’Farrell. Tremendously good. Read it!

Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith. Interesting, and handy given I got ‘suspense’ in the NYC 24 Microfiction Comp today!

 

April

Secret Pigeon Service: Operation Columba, Resistance and the Struggle to Liberate Europe by Gordon Correa.

And When did you Last See your Father?  By Blake Morrison. Still held up as a brilliant example of life writing, written before ‘life-writing’ got its name.

Thinking on My Feet by Kate Humble. Very good, especially if, like me, you love walking.

Bridge 108 by Anne Charnock. Brilliant. What an amazing writer she is…

Naomi Rose by Kirsten Esden (Twitter: @kesden78). Always excited to read something written by a friend and this novel, with its intriguing and unreliable narrator, was superbly written.

Why Mummy Swears by Gill Sims. Very funny.

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd.

 

March

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell.

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths. Norwich-based, this time. Great!

Fran Kiss Stein by Jeanette Winterson. Brutally funny, thought-provoking and superbly written, all at the same time. Recommended.

This Book will Change your mind about Mental Health by Nathan Filer. Wow – certainly thought provoking.

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths. Excellent crime fiction – I like her Ruth Galloway character, and good to read a story based in Walsingham whilst staying in nearby Wells!

 

February

Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind by Anne Charnock. Female artists/art historians – past, present and future. Superbly well written.

A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock. Sci-Fi with highly intelligent  ‘simulants’ who begin to develop human feelings. Clever and readable.

Homing by Jon Day. All about homing pigeons (and also what we humans think of as ‘home’). Fascinating.

The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham – a modern-day ‘Aurelian’ (butterfly enthusiast).

Birdwatching with Your Eyes Closed – an introduction to birdsong by Simon Barnes. Very readable, as ever.

The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris. A very enjoyable read.

 

January

Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock  Wow! A superb story, highly recommended. I’ve already ordered some of her other books.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (book 2 in The Book of Dust trilogy). Listened to an abridged radio version – excellent. Cliffhanger ending a little frustrating. 

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry. Christmas Eve ‘bookflood’ book – crime fiction set in Victorian Edinburgh, amongst the medical community. Excellent and gripping read.

Rewild Yourself: 23 Spellbinding Ways to Make Nature More Visible by Simon Barnes. Brilliant. Well worth reading if you like spending time outdoors.

 

2019

December

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stroud. Superb.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Marvellous magical realism, based around recipes, month by month. Clever construction and wonderful story.  

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman. So poignant. Almost painful to read, but lovely.

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans. Lovely.

November

Conundrum by Jan Morris. As relevant and interesting now as when it was first published in 1974, beautifully written.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Lucky enough to see this at the Piccadilly Theatre last week.

Diary of a Somebody by Brian Bilston. Excellent and witty!

Wintering – A Season with Geese by Stephen Rutt. Short days, long nights and the arrival of geese from the far north who overwinter here. Beautifully and sensitively written – well worth a read.

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson. A Jackson Brodie novel, but Atkinson moves inside everyone’s head with her usual wit and humour, despite a very bleak subject matter. Compelling, loved it. She’s back on form!

A Little Stranger by Candida McWilliam. Very well-written and an intriguing read, found the structure where the narrator revealed personal information a little frustrating, though I suppose a few hints had been dropped.

Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee. More MND research: ‘Faeries are alien creatures with values and ethics far removed from mankind… they can be enchantingly beautiful or wizened, hairy and grotesquely ugly.’ Yup – that’s exactly how I want to see my MND faeries!

October

When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. Very witty, laugh-out-loud funny.

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths. More adventure with Dr Ruth Galloway, Forensic Archeologist!

The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon. Not her best, thought I did like how Brunetti was brought up to date on current issues by his children!

Platform Seven by Louise Doughty. A gripping and cleverly thought-out read.

September

Sunflowers in February by Phyllida Shrimpton. Another local author to support, and the best (older) YA book I’ve read in quite some time, dealing with life, death and a fair bit of what’s in between.

The Good Body by Eve Ensler. Vagina Monologues writer turns her attention to stomachs – hers, and those of others, and how far women may be prepared to go in order to change themselves. Humorous, but with a powerful and shocking punch too.

The Blue Salt Road by Joanne Harris. Poetic and hauntingly beautiful fairytale for adults about the Scottish selkies – half-seal, half-human…

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore. Exquisitely written and haunting – ominous from the start and building to a horrid, inevitable conclusion. Unputdownable, all the same.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. Imagined life based on factual information. A great read!

Good Omens by Terry Pritchett and Neil Gaiman. Excellent, as funny as I remembered from having read it years ago.

The Poppy Factory by Liz Trenow – local author, doing so well that this book was commissioned! Parallel stories of PTSD now and in WW1. I particularly liked the narrative voice of Rose, the historical protagonist.

August

Happiness by Aminatta Forna. Wow – THIS is my book of the summer. Wonderful writing and beautiful descriptions; an unexpected mix of urban foxes and coyotes and current London life and concerns of today. A must-read. (Thanks Pippa for the recommendation!)

My House In Umbria by William Trevor. The protagonist of this novella, a former Madame going by the name of Mrs Delahunty, is an unreliable narrator, drunk from the mornings onwards, and letting her imagination run away with her – but at the same time, some of her imaginings and dreams seem to contain truths. It’s difficult to work out what is real, and what isn’t. Many-layered, sad, but also an excellent read.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A User’s Guide by Michael Pennington. More research…

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths. A Dr Ruth Galloway mystery – crime. Not my usual sort of reading, but I like the Ruth character who was an archaeologist and academic, and also the location (North Norfolk). Well written, good read.

Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper. Beautiful and lyrical.

Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls. Coming of age story – sensitively written.

The Trick to Time by the wonderful Kit de Waal. Unputdownable, and beautifully-written.

July

Sexuality in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream ed. Gary Wiener. Yep, doing my research…!

Flash Count Diary by Darcey Steinke. ‘A New Story About the Menopause.’ Brilliant. All women ‘of a certain age’ should read it… Post-menopausal whales are esteemed pod-leaders apparently, which is a distinct improvement on human post-menopausal invisibility!

Serenissima by Erica Jong.

The Understudy by David Nichols. I’ve loved his other books (either moving or funny!) and was really looking forward to reading this, but found it predictable and irritating, so I gave up a quarter of the way in. Maybe I was in the wrong mood for it and will try again another time…

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. Not at all what I was expecting, for some reason, and so much better – compelling and absorbing and I didn’t want it to end.

June

Earthly Possessions by Anne Tyler. Funny and observant – Anne Tyler is always worth reading.

Love is Blind by William Boyd.

The Last Wild by Piers Torbay. Excellent, first of children’s trilogy, about animals facing extinction.

Born Liars: Why we Can’t Live Without Deceit by Ian Leslie. ‘It’s not a lie if you believe it’ – psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, religion, placebos, the power of our brains, how we think we’re better at everything than we actually are and think a tiny pill is more effective than a bigger one…! A fascinating read.

May

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Very interesting coming back to this as an adult (and in English this time!). Did Kafka hate his parents, or is the cruelty of his sister the issue? (I really don’t know..)

Hatchet by Gary Paulson. City boy in aeroplane crash lands in the Canadian wilderness. Great YA.

Something of Great Constancy – A Reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Matt Simpson.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. Brilliant, highly recommended.

The Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell. Beautiful – love the structure, too. Read it in a day!

Heartburn by Nora Ephron. Funny and sad, light and entertaining.

April

1606 William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear by James Shapiro. Confession – I didn’t read all of it, just those bits in particular about King James, the Gunpowder Plot, equivocation and Macbeth. Fascinating and worth-knowing – helps to put Macbeth into better context.

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes. Beautiful. All about building things together and then tearing them apart: hot-air ballooning, photography, and his grief on the death of his wife.

The Sciatica Relief Handbook by Chet Cunningham. Because I’m suffering. And because this one doesn’t expect me to chant mantras about how it doesn’t really hurt (it really does hurt!). It details gentle stretches which actually help, gives sensible advice about finding a comfortable position to sleep in and how to carry shopping/do the gardening and generally get on with life. (Even though it’s American and over 20 years old!)

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (transl. Ginny Talley Takemori). Dark, poignant and very funny. Precise and sharp. A great read.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. A crime-writing friend recommended this after I’d been to see – and enjoyed – a performance of Witness for the Prosecution, also by Christie. This was a well-constructed whodunit with a cracker of a twist at the end (no spoilers, however!).

Circe by Madeline Miller. Brilliant – you should read it!

March

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan. Bleak and beautiful – short stories about an Irish rural community around the time of the financial recession 2008 onwards, all linking together, all sensitively told.

The Familiars by Stacey Halls. Historical fiction, not usually my thing, but loved this story about the Pendle Witches set in 1612.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Eccentric YA story with haunting photos – intriguing.

Somebody I Used to Know  by Wendy Mitchell. Author’s enlightening account of living with her own early-onset dementia. Moving and hopeful.

After Rain by William Trevor. Beautifully-written, disturbing, quiet selection of short stories, mainly (but not entirely) set in rural Ireland. Deftly and acutely observed characters, painful to read sometimes.

Envy – 7 Deadly Sins vol. 6 Pure Slush Books. My story, Fred’s Party, is on page 123! An interesting selection of poetry, short fiction and non-fiction with some pieces I absolutely love. Reading an anthology is always instructive!

The Only Story by Julian Barnes. (Wivenhoe Bookshop Bookclub choice, but I’d have read it anyway.) Mostly loved it – the evocation of the narrator’s youth, the love story within, even though I read most of it with a sense of foreboding, knowing it wouldn’t end well… What I didn’t enjoy was the uncomfortable change from first to third person narrator for part 3 – though I’m sure it was deep and meaningful (telling his own story, or something, and the ‘now’ rather than then part of the narrative) – which felt clunky and awkward to me. And then for the last paragraph, for the hauntingly sad last meeting, the narrator reverted to ‘I’, and I wished he’d stayed like it all along. Highly recommended, however!

February

Stories from Rattle Tales: The Brighton Prize 2018 ed Edward Rowe and Erinna Mettler. I was a reader for the first two rounds of this competition, so was excellent to read (and in some cases, reread) the winning short stories and flash fictions.

The Art of the Novel ed Nicholas Royle. Useful selection of essays with suggested reading and writing exercises. One to reread again.

Northern Lights: The Graphic Novel adapted by Stephane Melchior (art by Clement Oubrerie). Not a huge graphic novel fan, but I loved this – really gets the spirit of the novel.

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce. WW2 ‘Agony Aunt’ by accident, with an appealing protagonist and gentle and upbeat humour.

Seize the Day by Saul Bellow. One day in the life of Tommy Wilhelm: failed actor, failed husband, failed businessman, failed son – a day when everything crashes around him, his ‘day of reckoning’. Bellow’s eye for detail is superb, it’s dated, being set in 1950s America.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare (obviously!). Reading and rereading. This is our Wivenhoe Open Air Shakespeare production for June 2019, which I’m co-directing, and we’re auditioning soon. Each time I pick it up, I find new language to love and marvel at. Wonderful.

The Queen of Bloody Everything by Joanna Nadim. Loved the voice, loved the 1970s Essex backdrop. Beautifully told. Great.

Winter by Ali Smith.

Sudden Traveller by Sarah Hall. BBC National Short Story Award 2018, (shortlist). Available as a podcast. I read – and listen to – a lot of flash fiction and short stories and rarely record them here. This one was moving, profound and tightly-written – recommended.

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting (transl. by Paul Russell Garrett). Epic tale of family mystery and self-discovery, ranging from Norway to The Shetland Islands to France. Wivenhoe Bookshop bookclub choice for February – a great read.

January

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami. Beautiful, delicate touch, light and funny, and moving. A Twitter recommendation. Shorter length, too!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. A poignant coming-of-age (American) story, which I enjoyed more than I expected.

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid. A modern-day rewrite, set in Edinburgh at festival time, and in the Scottish Borders, using social media and pretty convincing. An entertaining read, though I think it will date quickly.

Old Filth by Jane Gardam. Beautifully written, bitter-sweet. Excellent.

The Wolves of Leninsky Prospekt by Sarah Armstrong. Third novel by Colchester writer (see September 2018) – out in hardback in February, though I couldn’t wait and read it on my kindle. Great story – highly recommended.

The Accidental by Ali Smith. Weird and wonderful!

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. A fascinating read, and very worthwhile, even thought I found myself overwhelmed with more detail than I can remember.

2018

December

The Radleys by Matt Haig. The Radley family, who live in Bishopthorpe just outside York, are vampire abstainers. That is, the parents – who try hard to blend in and live like ordinary people – are knowing abstainers, and the children don’t even know they are vampires… Obviously, that leads to complication after complication. The premise is so clever, so inspired; the black, bleak humour about the family, and fitting in is absolutely spot-on. Great read. Matt Haig never disappoints.

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. Written in the seventies, iconic and round-breaking, I can see why it shocked. And it hasn’t aged brilliantly. Bits were clever and entertaining to read, and bits of navel-gazing were tedious and I skim-read them.

Letter to Sister Benedicta by Rose Tremain. Well-written, a good read, and satisfying in that an aimless, downtrodden woman starts to make decisions for herself.

L’Etranger (The Outsider) by Albert Camus. Haven’t looked at this since A-Level French back in the early ‘80s. I liked it a lot better this time, and suspect that the unfeeling, to-the-point main character Mersault is on the autism spectrum (she says, summing up Camus’ existentialism in a rather naive and narrow way). This translation by Sandra Arnold is particularly readable.

Becoming by Michelle Obama (listened to the edited audio version on Radio 4, read by Michelle herself). Loved it.

November

52 Ways of Looking at a Poem by Ruth Padel. OK, so I havn’t actually read all of this yet (if I take one poem a week, it’ll take me all year), but I’ve read the introductory essays which had me saying, ‘Oh, I see,’ to myself many times. I’m also re-reading the AQA GCSE English ‘Power and Conflict’  poetry pack (which has some real favourites in it), and generally trying to be more open about my poetry reading. And trying to read poetry slowly, appreciatively, without skim reading.

Normal People by Sally Rooney. Took me a while to get started, as I felt the beginning was a little contrived, but then I found I totally cared for the two protagonists and absolutely fell into it and didn’t want it to stop. (Had to keep checking back on the passage of time – note to self – keep it really simple!)

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Wonderful, wonderful novel (which I’ve read many times before). Cassandra is one of my favourite narrators and the opening line: I write this sitting in the kitchen sink is one of the best opening lines. The standard of writing remains this high throughout.

The Possession of Mr Cave by the excellent Matt Haig, though this one was disturbing and chilling, with an increasingly deluded and demented protagonist.

I Remember Nothing by the brilliant, witty, acerbic yet self-deprecating Nora Ephron.

Lessons for an Apprentice Eel Catcher by Alex Toms. Poetry. Beautiful word weaving by very talented local poet.

Lullaby by Leila Sliman (transl. Sam Taylor). Thriller beginning: ‘The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.’ Unpleasant but unputdownable…! Well-written.

Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale – a favourite author, and this one began with the main character taking a dose of RadioActive Iodine for a thryoid cancer, which had personal interest (see my other blog My Big, Fat Thyroid!).

October

I Am, I Am, I Am – 17 Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell – utterly compelling. I’m familiar with a writer hooking their autobiography onto a theme, but to write through having had so many close-encounters with death is quite an extraordinary, but surprisingly successful choice of theme. Hugely readable (I could barely put it down), and worryingly relatable in parts. Best read of this month, so far.

Every Third Thought by Robert McCrum

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

How to be Happy by Eva Woods

Lawn House Blues by Philippa Hawley – her third, recently-released novel. A page-turner and thoroughly entertaining read. I’m partisan because she’s my friend (and if you visit her website, look out for me filming her book-launch speech in one of the photos!).

Transcription by Kate Atkinson – not a read (though I did read the first chapter in a promotional pamphlet form) but a listen on Book at Bedtime (catch it on iplayer). Different from her other stories, but still fascinating.

September

The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer (with an inter linear modern English translation!) Fantastic! Shouldn’t have been so terrified of it…

Autumn by Ali Smith – beautiful, sensory, dreamlike and clever. Warm and funny. Should have read this when it first came out. Going to look out for other books by Ali Smith now.

Outline by Rachel Cusk

The Devil in the Snow by Sarah Armstrong

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

August

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler – Anne Tyler’s writing is gentle, accurate and believable, and the idea of a travel writer who hated travelling ensured this was a humorous and thoughtful story.

The Pebbles on the Beach: A Spotter’s Guide by Clarence Ellis

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey – I loved Elizabeth is Missing and couldn’t wait to read this. It was great! A put-upon mother of teenagers struggles through the aftermath of her daughter’s return after her mysterious and unaccounted for disappearance, and I loved how the story jumped around in supposedly random ‘stream of consciousness’ subheadings, like the workings of the protagonist’s mind. Don’t let that rather weak description put you off – it’s a cracking, well-written story and the unusual structure works brilliantly, and doesn’t interfere. As a reader, I felt huge empathy for Jen, the mother. Innately readable, and enough mystery that I always wanted to read on.

 

July

The Humans by Matt Haig – funny and heartwarming – highly recommended, clever story. Made me laugh out loud while waiting to fly (an experience which always scares me, so this distraction was a good one!)

Fish Anthology 2018 – of course! An excellent read…

Alexa, what is there to know about love? By Brian Bilston. Wonderful – funny and poignant.