Thursday, January 02, 2014

My Year in Books


Happy New Year, everybody! I wish you all the best for 2014!

As this is not just the time to look forward, but also to look backward, I thought I'd do a review of 2013 in terms of books I've read.

2013 was the very first year I've managed to keep a reading journal (yay me!). While I haven't kept track of all the books I've read (for example, I don't note down the books I read for university), I think very few have actually fallen through the cracks.

Gloms

I went through three four five major gloms last year:
  1. I re-read a lot of Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher books in January (she had a new one out in September: Murder & Mendelssohn - loved it!)
  2. In spring and summer I read and re-read most of Michelle Reid's books. I even bought the M&B Special Edition set (because the books looked so pretty). Reid's books are a bit of a hit or miss with me: either I really, really like them, or they fall into the meh category for me. One of my favourites of hers is The De Santis Marriage, which plays with the conventions of Italian tycoon stories. Here's a very nice example:
    Lifting up her hand, she caught hold of his fingers and pulled them away from her mouth. "That was really good," she commented. "Quite breathtakingly arrogant and rightfully proud of your mighty fine self, in fact, and it should really have put me squarely in my lowly place."
  3. In May and June I read several of Anthony Berkeley's Roger Sheringham mysteries. I thought the first three or so quite delightful - very entertaining, with a clever twist at the end - but eventually I figured that the "clever twist" is one of the characteristic features of those mysteries. (When an author insists on depicting his hero as a bit of an arrogant, know-it-all moron, he shouldn't be suprised when said hero gets on readers' nerves after a while.)
  4. In October I re-read all of Jacqueline Gilbert's books. *happy sigh* They're just so lovely! Old-fashioned, but really, really lovely. With grumpy heroes and all that! *another happy sigh*
  5. I also did a mini-glom / re-read of Dorothy Dunnett's Dolly series once I realised they had become available as e-books. Her prose is - oh my goodness! - so, so wonderful! Take this sentence from Roman Nights:
    Every ruin is packed like a biscuit box.
    Or this:
    In Rome there is a pathological shortage of small coins. For change, the little shops tend to use candy.
    Or this:
    If a Roman junction during one of the four normal rush hours is suicide, a Roman junction while the traffic lights are off resembles nothing so muhc as a her of myopic rhinoceroses meeting eye to eye with a her of dim-witted elephants and attempting to copulate.

 DNFs

I had quite a number of those, alas. Several of the historicals I bought (luckily, I bought most of them cheaply or got them for free) were simply unbelievable: not only was the writing often stilted or the story mind-numbingly boring, no, several books also abounded with historical inaccuracies. As in: a debutante dances the waltz (!) at Almack's in 1806 (!!!). *head desk*

I'm afraid even one of Michelle Reid's books fell into the DNF category: I thought the The Italian's Revenge was truly, truly awful ("thoroughly disgusted" I wrote in my nifty little reading journal). But then this was one of her older books (originally published in 2000), so this might have had something to do with it. Many of her later books have an underlying humour that I simply love!


Discoveries

At some point in September, I thought it would be nice to have a nice reading copy of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South aka one of my favourite classics EVER! So I perused various different editions on Amazon and eventually stumbled across the Penguin Clothbound Classics edition of Cranford. Oh my. I mean.... OH MY! Here's what happened then (Part 2 of my September Book Haul):



Favourite Classic

And speaking of classics, my favourite work of 2013 in that category was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (translation by Simon Armitage). I read it for the class on medieval literature I'm teaching this semesterand was thoroughly enchanted. There's also an audiobook available of that translation, read by the translator himself - which didn't work for me at all, alas. In fact, I had to switch off after a mere five minutes because I felt the desperate urge to throttle the narrator. Ugh. (Why couldn't they have let RICHARD Armitage read the story? He would have done such a great job, I'm sure, and they would have sold oodles of copies. Hmph.)


Favourite Romance

Apart from my re-reads, my favourite romance of 2013 was Courtney Milan's A Kiss for Midwinter, her Christmas novella from 2012. The premise is rather unusual, the hero is rather unusual, and the heroine is all prickly. Nice. :-)


Favourite Books

But two most favourite books this year were Robin Sloan's Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (a book about books and the love for books and really strange bookshops) and Joyce Dennys's Henrietta's War (which I called "Cranford for the 1940s!" in my reading diary). I have to admit I was drawn to both books because of their beautiful covers (well, in Mr Penumbra's case, I had to order the novel from Canada because all other editions sport rather ghastly covers) - I'm shallow like that. But it's such a joy when something that looks so pretty turns out to be wonderfully written as well. I highly recommend both books.

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So, that was my year in reading. Which books and authors did you discover in 2013? Which were your favourites? Which were the books that you re-read? Let me know!

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