Top 10 Books of 2016

First, some statistics from my year of reading. I read 104 books (71 fiction, 33 non-fiction including 23 audio books, 27 eBooks & 26 rereads). I acquired 200 physical books (mostly bought but some review copies) & probably about 40 eBooks – hard to tell & a lot of them are free which is really neither here or there. All of them are invisible. I read 11 more books than I did in 2015 so I’m pleased with that. I do spend more time every year on the iPad, reading blogs, reviews, magazines, newspapers, Facebook & Twitter, listening to podcasts. I also spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon looking at Simon Savidge & Jen Campbell‘s Youtube channels. Lots of bookish goodies there, end of year roundups, plans for 2017 & Christmas book hauls. It’s interesting that, even though I have completely different tastes in books from Simon & Jen, I enjoy watching them talking about books. However, I enjoy the incidental reading I do & it’s not a competition so I will try to stop worrying about the time I spend on non-book reading although I’ll continue to keep statistics because I’m a librarian & can’t resist a good list!

Here’s my Top 10, in no particular order although Genji was definitely my book of the year.


The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. Life in Imperial Japan. A completely immersive reading experience about a culture I knew little about. I’ve even bought another copy, in the Seidensticker translation, for my next reread.


A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell. The best WWII memoir I’ve read. The devastatingly honest & raw story of the Blitz through the eyes of a compassionate woman. One of the new Furrowed Middlebrow imprint from Dean Street Press.


Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport. A look at Petrograd through the eyes of expatriates in this centenary year of the Revolution.


Tales of Angria by Charlotte Brontë. When you thought you’d read everything the Brontës wrote, these stories written by Charlotte when she was in her 20s, reveal the origins of her later work.


Deep Water by Christine Poulson. An unputdownable thriller about medical fraud & an involving, human story about the families desperate for a breakthrough. The first in a series about medical researcher Katie Flanagan.


Sandlands by Rosy Thornton. Involving short stories linked by place & some characters. Set in the Suffolk fenlands, the stories range across time & history in a very satisfying way.

shuteRuined City by Nevil Shute. A story of England during the Depression & one man’s determination to keep a town from dying. Full of Shute’s usual attention to the detail of work, in this case, ship building, finance & engineering.


Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift. A stunning novella infused with the melancholy of post Great War Britain. The events of this one day will change Jane’s life forever.


The Moon & Sixpence by W Somerset Maugham. The story of a man obsessed with his own destiny & willing to ignore the feelings of anyone who gets in his way. I read several Maugham novels this year but this was my favourite.


The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg. Life in Germany for an Englishwoman during WWII. Written years later only with the knowledge that Bielenberg had at the time, this is a suspenseful story full of the domestic details of surviving war & possible treachery.

Literary Ramblings


I’ve started a ridiculous number of books in the last few days. Usually I have two or maybe three books on the go at once – a hardback at home, a paperback or e-Book for my lunchtime walk & coffee & an audio book. I’m about to begin The Mysteries of Paris by Eugene Sue with my 19th Century Bookgroup. This is a massive tome (almost 1400 pages in the new Penguin translation) that is going to take us two months to read.


Then, my new-found interest in ancient history led me to a reprint of Dilys Powell’s book, The Villa Ariadne, about Crete, the discovery by Arthur Evans of the site of Knossos & the WWII history of the island. Thinking about Crete reminded me of The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart, which I haven’t read for years.


I enjoyed Christine Poulson’s new book, Deep Water, so much that I’ve downloaded the eBook of her first Cassandra James novel, Murder is Academic which I read when it was first published. I’ve only read the first chapter but already I’m surprised by the differences between life then & now. Cassandra discovers the body of colleague Margaret Joplin in her swimming pool with the papers she was marking strewn around the garden & in the water. I was surprised that the college is so horrified by the destruction of the papers as they seem to be the only copies & the students won’t get their degrees if they’re destroyed. Nowadays everything’s on a USB if not in the Cloud. The book was only published in 2002 so hardly decades ago but how life has changed.


I also read a sample of Conclave by Robert Harris, after reading an enthusiastic review by Mrs Miniver’s Daughter. I haven’t read any Robert Harris for years – Enigma was probably the last one – & I was drawn in immediately so I downloaded the eBook as I couldn’t wait to borrow a copy from work.


I’m also reading & enjoying Winifred Peck’s Bewildering Cares, one of the Furrowed Middlebrow titles from Dean Street Press.


I’m between audio books at the moment, having just finished listening to An Autobiography by Agatha Christie, a book I read over 30 years ago & enjoyed again. I was a little unsure about Judith Boyd’s decision to narrate the book in the voice of an old lady. Christie was in her 70s when she wrote the book but I found the choice a little off-putting. However, I got used to it & enjoyed all 28-odd hours of it. Since then, I’ve been listening to podcasts (mostly political ones after the events of last week) but one of the non-political ones was this Book Club program on Kidnapped that inspired me to pick up a Stevenson novel, Weir of Hermiston. I read The Master of Ballantrae a few years ago but I’ve never read this final novel.


Speaking of podcasts, here is a fascinating discussion with Helen Rappaport & Catherine Merridale on their new books about the Russian Revolution.

I was also very excited to discover that the Dorothy L Sayers Society have allowed access to The Lord Peter Wimsey Companion. I’ve just reread the four Harriet Vane novels & it was wonderful to be able to look up all those quotes & obscure references that Sayers took such delight in. The Companion has been out of print for some time so it’s very kind of the Society to make it available to everyone. You do need to register but it’s free. The details are on the Society’s homepage.

A few other bits & pieces I’ve come across in the last couple of weeks. For fans of L M Montgomery, are you an Anne Shirley or an Emily Starr?


An article on cats in bookstores.

A new T-shirt from Out of Print which I just had to have.

Mimi Matthews – a blog I’ve just discovered with the most beautiful images, mostly Victorian fashion & painting.

Finally, Open Road Media are making Rumer Godden’s novels available as eBooks. She’s one of my favourite authors so it’s good to have her books available.