Here’s my list of the best books I read in 2012. No rereads & I’ve cheated a little by including two series & lumping two books by the one author together. There is no order to the list & it’s a mixture of Fiction & Non Fiction. Follow the links to my reviews.
In the year of the Bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, it was inevitable that I would read something by the great man. I read the last two of his novels that I had never read before, Barnaby Rudge & Martin Chuzzlewit. Put off by the stodgy names & reputation for unreadability, I was surprised at how much I loved both books. Knowing very little about the plots was also an advantage. I was eager to find out what happened to everyone. I also reread Great Expectations, The Mystery of Edwin Drood & A Christmas Carol.
Staying with Dickens, Michael Slater’s The Great Charles Dickens Scandal was much-anticipated & didn’t disappoint. A drily witty, succinct account of the lengths that Dickens went to to hide his relationship with Nelly Ternan & the efforts everyone else has gone to ever since to find out what really happened.
The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard was the most harrowing book I’ve ever read. The story of Scott’s last expedition to find the South Pole, this is a beautifully-written account of hardship & determination by one who was there.
Almost as harrowing was Germinal by Emile Zola. Like all Zola’s novels, this is an absorbing journey into the lives of the working people of 19th century France. The scenes in the mines are unforgettable & chilling in their horror.
I’m including a couple of series in my Top 10 because I can’t choose just one book & I read them as a whole so it’s easier to just nominate all of them. Bloomsbury have re-released many of Ann Bridge’s novels as POD paperbacks & e-books. I loved the Julia Probyn series which I started last year & finished reading in August with Julia in Ireland. Julia is a female James Bond – beautiful, intelligent, well-connected & resourceful. I loved her adventures, set in exotic locations in Europe such as Emergency in the Pyrenees.
Martin Edwards has also benefited from the e-book revolution. After being out of print for some years, his Harry Devlin series is now available in paperback or as e-books. I’ve read the first two books, All the Lonely People & Suspicious Minds, & I have the third downloaded & ready to go. Harry is a lawyer in 1990s Liverpool & the atmosphere of the city & Harry’s dogged pursuit of justice make the series compelling reading. Harry’s adventures will keep me happy while I wait for the next Lake District mystery, The Frozen Shroud, to be published next year.
Catherine Aird’s standalone novel, A Most Contagious Game, was a delight with its echoes of Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time. I loved the way that research was still done in libraries & newspaper archives (it was first published in 1967) & the historical aspect to the modern-day mystery was fascinating.
More history in Linda Gillard’s The Glass Guardian. The legacy of WWI combined with a romantic ghost story set in wintry modern-day Skye was the most all-consuming reading experience I had this year. I read it virtually in one sitting, just wonderful.
I read very little historical fiction these days but Hilary Mantel is the exception. Bring Up The Bodies continues the story of Thomas Cromwell begun in Wolf Hall & brilliantly retells the story of the fall of Anne Boleyn. We all know how the story ends but this novel read like a thriller. An amazing achievement.
Queen Victoria’s Letters to her daughter Vicky, Empress of Germany are touching, opinionated, gossipy & compelling. Vicky left England when she was only 17 & the letters selected here cover history, politics & family matters. The Folio Society edition is also beautifully produced with some gorgeous plates as well.
Well, that’s it for 2012. I’m looking forward to plenty of good reading in 2013 & will be back in a couple of days with some thoughts about reading plans for the year. Happy New Year!