But back on blog with the book post! And the answer is:
Yes, I met my goal.
Oh, you didn't know I had one, did you? Well, I did -- and that was to read 52 books this year. The equivalent of one a week, though I knew there would be heavy reading periods and times when I didn't open a book.
And I not only met it -- I topped it, with a total of 60 books covering a broad range of topics.
So, here we go again -- my "picks of the litter" in each category.
Fiction (excluding mystery)
Books in this category ranged from historical topics ("Bring Up the Bodies" and "The Invention of Wings") to contemporary. I'm not a huge fiction fan but when it is cloaked in the history of war or set in Britain, I'm always eager to dig in. My favorites this year were:
"All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. Set during WWII in France and Germany, this wonderful novel follows the life of a young German boy and a blind French girl whose paths eventually cross. Intriguing, inspiring and beautifully written, it was my top fiction pic of the year.
"The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins could equally fall into the mystery category but if the NYTimes calls it fiction, I'll go there, too. Hawkins weaves a fascinating tale told through the voices of three characters -- an unreliable witness, an adulterous young woman and a worried new wife. Did I figure out the end? I wish. Or maybe I'm glad I was surprised.
"The Pursuit of Love" and "Love In a Cold Climate" by Nancy Mitford. Back to the classics and really, does anyone tell a story with more wit and style than Nancy Mitford? You'll feel as though you are back in the days of the house parties, the country estates, London and Paris.
"Suite Francaise" by Irene Nemirovsky -- This book was part of her unfinished collection of stories set in WWII Paris during the German invasion and occupation. Nemirovsky never finished the series as she was taken to a concentration camp where she died. "Suite Francaise" is a worthy legacy.
"Bring Up the Bodies" by Hilary Mantel. Picking up where "Wolf Hall" left off, "Bodies" follows the saga of Thomas Cromwell as he negotiates the tricky political world of the court of Henry VIII.
More fiction -- "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd, "Reflections" by Richard Simkin; "Chasing Cezanne" by Peter Mayle, "The Girl in Hyacinth Blue" by Susan Vreeland, "Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton, and "The List" by Martin Fletcher, which came within a hair of making the top 5 in this category.
Non-Fiction (excluding biography, how-to, travel)
"Wicked Takes the Witness Stand" by Mardi Link. This was one of my favorite books of the year for a couple of reasons. First, it takes place in the town where I spend summers. Second, it is so darned good, so darned scary in its damning true look at a justice system run amok. Link follows the murder of one of the town's residents, the arrest of a suspect (and then several others) and how the trial was rigged to send them all to prison. Only the vigilance and belief of a group of defense attorneys would help reverse wrongful convictions. I couldn't put it down.
"Lost Cat" by Caroline Paul. This was my most delightful book of the year. It is the true story of a couple who decide to track their beloved cat's movements via GPS in New York City. The illustrations for this are worth it alone.
"Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter" by Richard Barrios. This is heavy reading and not for the lighthearted movie musical fan. But if you love them as I do, you'll find Barrios' take on this genre fascinating and filled with wonderful tidbits!
Biography and Memoir
I won't count travel in here, though you might say some of the books I read and include here could be travel memoirs.
"Anne Frank: The Biography" by Melissa Mueller. A remarkable feat of research and writing. Mueller looks at life in pre-WWII Germany and occupied Holland through the well documented lives of Anne Frank and her family, along with those who helped them while they were in hiding. Rich in interviews and photographs, the book covers the lives of Anne's parents and the other residents of her Secret Annex, her time in hiding and her last months in Bergen-Belsen. Brilliant.
"The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion. This is not an easy book. Walking with someone through grief never is easy. But when you have done that, you can relate to Didion's year following the death of her husband. Eloquently stated, she recounts a life of love and a year of challenge.
"Without Reservations" by Alice Steinbach. Maybe this should fall into travel. Yet Steinbach's memoir is so beautifully written, following her search for greater meaning as she travels to England, Venice and France. Some may compare it to "Eat, Pray, Love" and the comparisons are fair -- but this one is so very much better.
"Tender at the Bone" by Ruth Reichl. What's not to love about a good food memoir? What is amazing is that Ruth Reichl ever became the food critic/writer/editor that she did, given her upbringing, which did not have a heavy focus on the culinary arts! Reichl is a delightful writer and weaves a good story.
"A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett" by Ken Mandelbaum. Again, this is a book for theatre geeks but it is a well written look at this beloved musical and the man who created it, along with the other musicals that shaped Bennett's career.
"The Tenth Muse" by Judith Jones. Judith Jones not only edited Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," but the cookbooks of countless other well known authors. She knows how to weave a good story and when the subject is her life -- an early career in Paris, then many years in the kitchen with some of the best chefs in the world -- well, it's a story she tells well and one worth reading.
Other memoirs/biographies I read included a lovely book on Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris; "Daybook" by sculptor Anne Pruitt (another search for self which I didn't enjoy at all), "Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey" by Fiona, Countess of Canarvon (fun!) and "Jacqueline Bouvier," a gushy biography written by her cousin John Davis.
This is my favorite category and this year I continued many series as well as meeting up with a couple of new crimesolvers.
|Mysteries make me smile!|
I recommend starting any series with the first and reading in sequence and many of these are from later within a series, so head's up! My favorites included:
"The Victoria Vanishes" by Christopher Fowler. This wasn't the only one of Fowler's Bryant and May mysteries I read this year (I read four), but I think it was the wittiest and most fun. I love this series with the eccentric 80-something detective team!
The Sarah Caudwell Mysteries -- I read all four mysteries in this author's series, set in the legal world of London. Keep a dictionary at hand and be prepared to be challenged and delighted.
"Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death" by James Runcie. These are the stories upon which the PBS series "Grantchester" was based. Runcie is a fine writer and loving the series, it was fun to read the original stories. I'll definitely be reading more Runcie.
"A Dangerous Place" by Jacqueline Winspear. This is the most recent in the Maisie Dobbs series. Maisie is my favorite detective, this is my favorite series. This one takes her to Gibraltar as the Spanish Civil War is ramping up and does not disappoint.
"A Share in Death" by Deborah Crombie. This was the first of two of Crombie's books with Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, his detective team. I loved both of them and will be reading more of these London-seet mysteries.
Other mysteries and series: I enjoyed more books by Cara Black and her detective Äimee Leduc; "The Prime Minister's Secret Agent," the next Maggie Hope book by Susan Elia Macneal; more by Laurie R. King featuring two detectives -- Mary Robertson (and Sherlock Holmes -- I love these) and Kate Martinelli (contemporary San Francisco -- not so much). I tackled seven mysteries by Patricia Moyes (yes, British, though Henry Tibbett and his wife Emmy travel about) -- all enjoyable and very fast reads. "Hunting Shadows" by Charles Todd had an interesting setting (post WWI England) but I found my interest wandering and Ruth Rendell's "A Sight for Sore Eyes" just distressed me.
How To and Self Help
This is my catch-all category! There was one I loved, one I hated.
"Every Woman's Guide to Foot Pain Relief" by Katy Bowman. If you have crappy feet like I do, read this book. Period.
The book in this category I hated -- to the point of becoming seriously agitated when I speak about it too much -- is Marie Kondo's "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up." You may love it. It may change your life (she says it will). I say it will change my life by making me suicidal if I go her way! Read at your own risk.
|My brain after reading Marie Kondo.|
I suppose I could put "Victoria's 500 Christmas Ideas"by Kimberly Meisner into this cateogry, too. Not much text but fabulous photos and ideas for the holidays.
As usual, I read a lot of books about Paris in my travel selections. "Without Reservations" (mentioned as one of my favorite memoirs) also falls into this category.
"Paris, Paris" by David Downie is a delightful book about the author's experiences living in Paris. He visits various arrondisments and provides a lovely look from the perspective of an ex-pat living in the City of Light.
|One of my favorite sites -- the Seine and the reear-end of Notre Dame.|
"Pleasures and Landscapes" by Sybille Bedford. This series of essays visits a number of European cities and country spots including those in France, Austria and the Balkans. Many of the essays I could take or leave; I just wasn't that interested. But that was my issue, not Bedford's, who is a wonderful writer. (As you might expect, her essay on a wine tasting was my favorite piece!)
"Parisian Cats" is a gorgeous mostly-photo book and it is really more of a cat book than a Paris book. But the photos are lovely and so are the cats! (And I don't have another category to put this one in!)
Less loved was Bryce Corbett's "A Town Like Paris" (Australian ex-pat moves to Paris. Younger readers might enjoy it more than I did. I should hardly count Joel Porter's "Greetings in Paris" because it was mostly photos. But I will anyway!
Short Stories and Essays
"Life In General" by Becca Rowan. I am not giving this my top nod because Becca is a fellow blogger and friend. It's just a lovely book. And yes, you may have already "read it" without knowing it if you follow Becca's blog. The book is a series of (occasionally revised or edited) blog posts about -- as the title indicates -- life in general. Aging parents, raising children, writing, observing the joys of everyday life, being an only child (and having one). All these topics are deftly combined to form a wonderful look at the life of a middle-aged woman.
"The Day I Ate Everything I Wanted" by Elizabeth Berg. I love this funny, witty author. Berg's short stories fly by like magic and they are always fun! I'm not a short story fan but I bought another of her books right away. It's on the pile!
COMING UP -- Right now I am greatly enjoying "The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto" by Mitch Albom. I didn't finish it in 2015 but it may well be at the top of the heap in 2016!