Books :: 2018

I've never started my book page so early in the year! Hoping it's a sign of more productive reading in 2018. Books have always been my retreat from the realities of the day-to-day, I need me some more of that therapy this year.

Stonemouth - Iain Banks
A good one to start with, old favourite author - Iain Banks - I've never been able to get into his sci-fi (written as Ian Banks), but his novels, always set in brooding northern European landscapes, are always enjoyable. Lush characters, measured brooding drama, fast-paced dramatic endings. A great holiday read.

Nineveh - Henriette Rose-Innes
I'm embarrassed that I've not read Nineveh before. Henrietta is a friend and I've loved the other novels of hers I've read. But I had this suspicion, in my toad-fearing years, that toads featured in this novel, and I was too shy to ask anyone outright, and definitely too nervous to try and read it without confirmation.
Now that I'm over that (thank you psycho-therapy) I finally read, and enjoyed, it.

Wait for Me! - Deborah Mitford
My first of the Mitfords! How odd right? I could totally see how someone could hate this memoir - on and on about her deeply privileged life, but I read it with a different eye: what an interesting woman. She ran all those houses, oversaw large-scale renovations and refurbishments, ran farms and country fairs and cottage industries - continually reinventing and modernising. A true entrepreneur, conveniently with the backing of an empire ... 
She reminded me a bit of my Granny Molly.

This Must be the Place - Maggie O'Farrell
One of my favourite Maggie O'Farrell's to date. Her characterisation is always great, but I really loved this flawed hero - Daniel - and the children in this novel are wonderful. 
So FULL - lives, events, heartbreaks, houses - a great read.

Born a Crime - Trevor Noah
South Africa's darling. As a friend said, reading this one realises Trevor Noah is much more gangster than we'd given him credit for. He had to be, he grew up under apartheid, in rough parts of town, and always grappling with his colour identity. Culturally he identifies as black, Xhosa, but he was never 'black enough' for the townships or 'white enough' for the suburbs.
Fast, racy read - some of the stories of events from his childhood would be unbelievable were it not for the fact that you can't bullshit your history in South Africa once you're a celebrity - the country is too small!

South - Frank Owen
TOTALLY not my genre - post-apocalyptic, desperate, verging on zombies, I usually run a mile from this type of book. I can't watch Walking Dead, I couldn't finish The Road. The looming anticipation of nasty shit happening and the bleakness is usually too much for me. But I was curious about this as it's co-authored by two writers I know, working together under the name Frank Owen.
I enjoyed it. I thought the plot line original (altho as husband pointed out, not being my genre it could've been lifted from 100 such books I wouldn't know any better!) and the characters were great. A quick read.

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry
I chose this because I enjoyed Remarkable Creatures so much last year and it struck me as similar. It was, but still original and packed with interesting characters and lovely landscapes. Some perfectly feminist corset-busting, tortured heroes, creepy 'monsters' - I loved it.

One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson
Sinus, grief - this was perfect for a difficult week. I flew through it in a few days and then put it straight on the charity book shop pile. Nowhere near the complexity and intrigue of God in Ruins but the perfect read for the moment.

The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters
I discovered Sarah Waters late last year and have been on the lookout for more. Really boring that the cover of this is so very similar to Night Watch but it was a great, if dense, read. The story unwinds slowly, building up the tension, and if I was to have a criticism it would be that once the denouement has unfolded it keeps up for a bit too long, causing the story to lose tension before it really resolves. A pity, but I still enjoyed reading it and will look out for more.

Yes Please - Amy Poehler
A gift from a friend in a magnificent care package when I was feeling very low. I'm not a fan of Amy's comedy - I find SNL and most of her other work so ... obvious, a bit slapstick ... but parts of this book were profound and I raced through it.

Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Adichie
This next. Ow. I would really love to read more African authors. I've found such wonderful South African writers over the years but I still really struggle to get into work from the rest of the continent. This was lovely in places, and it brought Lagos alive for me in many ways, but it was heavy going. And I'm feeling so irreligious at the moment as it is ... this might not have been the best book for me right now.

Man in the Dark - Paul Auster
Some habits die hard. Like Paul Auster. I will always try an Auster novel when I come across one. Some of his books have been the best I've read in my life.
This one not so much. Win some, lose some, but always worth taking the chance.

Nutshell - Ian McEwan
Another author of some of my best reads ever - and some of my most disappointing. Not this one though - I raced through Nutshell in a couple of days. So cleverly written, kind of a Hamlet in reverse.
I found in my head the story unfolded in the same house I imagined for 'Paying Guests' which I read a couple of books back - the house shabbier while the rooms slightly modernised. It worked well there, with enough similarities in the plot line to keep this funny twist of imagination in tact.

Bel Canto - Ann Patchett
Hmmm. I don't finish novels if I'm not enjoying them anymore. I used to suffer along but as I've gotten older I'm more ruthless with my time and I don't. So the fact that I finished this means it has merit ... I did enjoy the conflict in pace as a group of people get taken hostage (urgent, adrenaline-fueled, tense), and then settle into the long haul of their captivity (tedious, slow - yet still engaging). She writes well, this just wasn't my favourite if her novels.

In the Midst of Winter - Isabel Allende
I started and rejected a few books before this, and was worried I was losing my reading mojo, but In the Midst of Winter kicked me back into reading. I've never loved Allende as much as I did when I first read her House of Spirits series, and her non-fiction Paula is the work I love the most, but this was a good read. The characters, the layers to their lives - it wasn't magic realism like the old days, but it kept me there.

Blackbird House - Alice Hoffman
And then, unexpected magic realism. Or sort of. This was a delicious read - harrowing and achingly beautiful. I read most of it while away for the weekend - being in a strange place almost allowed me to immerse myself in Blackbird House maybe more than I would have at home.
The Guardian review is wonderful (and full of spoilers ...)

Making It Up as I Go Along - Maria T Lennon
This was a downgrade after the previous read. But pretty good chick lit none-the-less. I think I'm officially far enough out of the 'baby zone' (about 6 years) to be able to read about it without flinching, it did go straight on to the second hand book store pile as soon as I finished it though.

Moranthology - Caitlin Moran
And then another long book drought - starting and discarding all kinds, including a Zadie Smith. God knows I've tried with her, I really have, but 100+ pages into On Beauty I just decided fuckit, life is too short to try that hard and I chucked it in.
Moranthology is currently lulling (and lol'ing) me off to sleep at night, one or two essays at a time. I need a good novel in my life but this will do for now ...

LukeLove - Sheila Scott
Oof, this was a hard one. I spoke about this here, a cousin's son OD'ing out of the blue in October 2016.
This is her self-published journal from that first year, and I had to read it twice. The first time was almost in one sitting - a visceral immersion in her grief, so honestly written that it was hard to read, and also hard to keep a grasp on. In places it felt like fiction, the personal glimpses of her which only someone who'd met her would understand suddenly reminding me that it was her, Sheila, who lived this. The second time slower and more measured, so many relate-able things about grief, so many parental fears confirmed, so much sadness. Incredibly brave. 

All My Puny Sorrows - Miriam Toews
It's my read of the year. I loved her A Complicated Kindness, read many years ago, and this novel was astounding. So well written, so dry and yet so, so rich.
I was really shaken to discover a lot of it was based on her family's true story. After her sister died Miriam Toews thought she'd never write again, instead she says this novel came pouring out of her - writing as therapy.

The Comet Seekers - Helen Sedgwick
Interesting. Nice. Not as compelling. Another to add to my list of 'slightly meh' reads for 2018. I'm still not sure how much of it is me really ...

Patagonia - Maya Fowler
This was good. South African, about the Boer families who emigrated to South America after the Boer War, seeking new farming land and an escape from the horrors of their experiences at home.
It was a bit too long tbh, I think it could've been edited down, but I really enjoyed it.

Missing books ...?

An Image in the Mirror - Ijangolet Ogwang
Tiny little unexpected gem. I bought this book in Joburg, it's published by Jacana and has an interesting format, kind of long and thin.
A first novel, so beautifully written and tightly edited - a really enjoyed it.

The Woman in the Window - AJ Finn
Jumping on the Gone Girl, Girl on Train wagon - this was fun. Well-paced with just the right amount of unexpected developments and twists. I liked the character too, she wasn't just the vehicle for all the suspense to play out around, but intriguing in her own right.

Whistle in the Dark - Emma Healey
I was so looking forward to this. Elizabeth is Missing was one of my favourite reads ever, but it sadly wasn't as great. I enjoyed it but didn't LOVE it. It must really be so hard to follow up on a wildly successful novel...

My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout
Why did I love this? It's almost my favourite kind of novel. No real 'storyline', no linear pace, but moments of deep emotion and insight placed at just the right intervals along a moving but quiet plot line. I'm excited to read more by this author.

The Man Who Ate the 747 - Ben Sherwood
A weird one. It really is about a man who eats a 747. But mainly about the man from the Global Book of Records (obvs Guinness without actually saying so) who travels the world clocking the records.
Strange but sweet.

Hoot - Carl Hiaasen
I was thrilled to find Hiaasen writes some YA literature. I know my Frieda would love his writing and content but his adult books are still a little too wild for her. She, husband and I read Hoot and all loved it.
Classic Hiaasen - very funny, strong ecological message - but with really interesting solid teen characters. I hope he writes more for this audience.

The Children Act - Ian McEwan
Second McEwan of the year. And THIRTIETH book of the year! I haven't done this well since 2014. Books have been such a retreat this year, and I'm so glad I've found time to retreat into them.
I wanted to read this before seeing the movie so I was really glad to find a 2nd-hand copy. I still read it with Emma Thompson's voice as the Judge (which didn't detract from it at all I think - I love Emma - have I mentioned I met her once?). I think this is the best of McEwan's female characters. Looking forward to watching the film now!

And the Mountains Echoed - Khaleed Hosseini
Still traumatised from The Kite Runner, I've not gone near Hosseini for years. But a friend assured me it wasn't as gut-wrenching and I gave this one a try. Glad I did.

Americanah - Chimamanda Adichie
After Purple Hibiscus earlier this year I was doubtful, but I actually enjoyed this a lot. Maybe that's a cop out as so much of it is based in the States, or has characters making sense of Nigeria for an American audience, maybe that's why I found it easier?
It's a long story and I read it over a long 2 months of intense work with very little time for reading, and it was kind of perfect for that. I felt by the end that the characters and I had walked a long way together.

Falling Angels - Tracy Chevalier
I like Tracy Chevalier. I liked Remarkable Creatures and I liked this one. Intelligent historical drama for the thinking woman on holiday.
Perfect read for a hammock in the shade. This one saw out the year with me.

32 books! Best record since 2013. That makes me happy. 
I am so grateful for the solace of books throughout this tumultuous year, I needed their comfort and they gave it so graciously.
See, books are always there for you, even if you've neglected them for a while. 

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