- although it started off well, I soon found myself paralysed with not caring about any of it...the main characters seem to me to lack any kind of depth and the plot relies on too many improbable coincidences, and the whole is steeped in far too much of the Victorian bathos for my liking.
02) Jean Auel, The Land of Painted Caves
- the concluding part of her Earth's Children-series, and one that she would have done better not to publish. A sad disappointment for the conclusion to a story I'd been following for three decades.
03) Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey - Austen spoofs the gothic novel while exposing the Bath season as a meat market. Light-hearted in tone and funny in places, this is probably her fluffiest book.
04) J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
05) David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
- I spent three days utterly engrossed in this historical novel set in early 19th century Nagasaki. Slow-paced, beautifully written, well-researched.
06) Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto
- a fine example of the gothic novel lampooned by Jane Austen in her Northanger Abbey, it is not without its charm...and mercifully, short.
07) J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
08) Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
- exquisite story written in the form of a memoir, of the deep friendship between two girls growing up in 19th-century rural China, their shared experiences and divergent fates. Wholly absorbing, I couldn't put it down until the very last sentence had been read.
09) J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
10) J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
11) J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
12) J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
13) J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
- I decided, at the start of the year, that I'd put off reading the Harry Potter-books long enough. I'm not sorry I finally succumbed to their lure. I've rarely enjoyed a week's reading more.
14) Alice Albinia, Empires of the Indus. The History of a River non-fiction
- a woman travel writer follows the Indus upstream from its delta to its source, commenting on its rich history and its present-day deplorable state as she goes. Interesting, if somewhat long-winded.
15) Jules Verne, The Castle of the Carpathians
- another gothic novel, set in Transylvania, where the inhabitants of a backward 19th-century village live in superstitious terror of the castle up the road. There is however a simple explanation for the strange phenomena witnessed by the villagers, and a 21st-century reader will hit upon the answer before they're halfway through the novel.
16) Louis de Bernières, Red Dog
- anecdotes about an Australian kelpie that roamed the Pilbara in north-western Australia in the 70s. Very cute.
17) Bernard Cornwell, Death of Kings
- the sixth novel in the series about England's beginning under Alfred the Great and Edward the Elder, and as riveting a read as the others.
18) Roger Moorhouse, Killing Hitler non-fiction
- an interesting read on the 42 assassination plots Hitler survived or narrowly avoided. I had no idea!
19) Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda. Tales from Norse Mythology.
- what it says on the cover: tales from Norse mythology. Interesting, to go back to the source material for these stories I have been familiar with since childhood.
20) A.S. Byatt, The Children's Book
- a somewhat rambling narrative of a group of children growing up in a bohemian milieu in late-Victorian/Edwardian England. About 600 pages, that failed to spark any real interest in me.
21) Margaret Drabble, The Millstone
- an absolutely unputdownable book about a young unmarried woman who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant in 1960s London before it was swinging. Beautifully written, it sucks you right in.
22) Willem Nijholt, Met bonzend hart. Brieven aan Hella S. Haasse non-fiction
- letters from a well-known stage actor born and raised in the Dutch East Indies in 1934 to a well-known novelist born and raised in the Dutch East Indies in 1918, in which he writes about literature and the theatre, his family and their experiences in the Japanese internment camps during WWII. Very poignant and personal.
23) Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome
- tells the story of a taciturn New England farmer, who struggles to make a living. Disillusioned in his marriage to the hypochondriac Zeena, he becomes more than a little fond of her cousin Mattie who lives with them. Things come to a tragic head when Zeena decides to send Mattie away, to make room for a "hired girl". A good story.
24) Bill Bryson, At Home. A Short History of Private Life non-fiction
- I always enjoy Bill Bryson's books, and this one was no exception.
25) David Nicholls, One Day
- loved it.
26) Kimberly Cutter, The Maid. A Novel of Joan of Arc
- what it says on the cover: a (well-written) novel of Joan of Arc.
27) James Wilde, Hereward
- the first in a projected trilogy, this book is an easy and enjoyable read, as long as you're willing to overlook the fact that the plot is clichéd and somewhat ramshackle, and the protagonist a Gary Stu. I don't think I'll bother with the next two books in the series, when they come out.
28) Philippa Gregory, Lady of the Rivers
- about Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Edward IV's mother-in-law. Enjoyable, but not up to Ms. Gregory's usual standard.
29) Donald Spoto, Laurence Olivier. A Biography non-fiction
- got bored with it very soon.
30) Louis de Bernières, Birds Without Wings.
- utterly captivating. LdB is fast becoming my favourite storyteller. About the upheaval in the lives of ordinary people in a small Anatolian town caused by the Great War and its aftermath.
31) Henri & Barbara van der Zee, William and Mary non-fiction
- interesting biography of William III, the King-Stadholder, and his wife Mary Stuart.
32) Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass
- a surprisingly accessible, as well as an eminently enjoyable, read for a book written in the 2nd century AD, fast-paced and funny.
33) Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes. A memoir. non-fiction
- the author's experience of growing up in poverty-stricken Limerick between the wars told in anecdotal form. A sad story entertainingly told.
34) Otto Neubert, Tutankhamun and the Valley of the Kings non-fiction
- a short history of Egypt and Egyptology and the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun written in 1954 by someone who claims to have been present at the opening in 1922. A curio, reflecting how much Egyptology has progressed in the last 50-60 years: most of the chronology and almost all of the assumptions made by the author have since been disproved.
35) anonymous, The Nibelungenlied
- just wanted to remind myself of the story again, that I first read when I was 8. Still pretty much as I remembered it: epic, tragic, beautiful.
36) Kaye Gibbons, On The Occasion of My Last Afternoon
- it's 1900, and a plantation owner's daughter reminisces over her life, family and the American Civil War on what she feels sure will be her last day. A good read.
37) Russell Shorto, The Island at the Center of the World non-fiction
- an interesting spotlight on the early history of NYC and the colony of New Netherland, as it emerges through the gradual translation work on the archives of the Dutch West India Company that for centuries have lain dormant in Albany.
38) Kathleen Rowntree, A Prize for Sister Catherine
- the prioress of a religious community must decide between two candidates, who to appoint as her successor. A nasty powerplay ensues. I liked it.
39) Kent Weeks, The Lost Tomb. The Greatest Discovery at the Valley of the Kings since Tutankhamun non-fiction
- account of the excavation of KV5, the tomb of Ramesses II's sons, by the director of this and the Theban Mapping Project. Weeks’ narrative style, combined with journal excerpts and maps, makes for a fascinating read. He immerses the reader in the culture and history of the dig, while expanding on the history and significance of the Valley itself. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Egyptology.
40) Hilary Mantel, Bring Up The Bodies
- the sequel to her award-winning Wolf Hall, it still deals with the career of Thomas Cromwell, now centred on the fall of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Jane Seymour at the court of Henry VIII.
41) Amy Tan, Saving Fish from Drowning
- a luckless group of American tourists disappears into the Burmese jungle. Amy Tan describes their personalities and adventures in a humorous way, while providing lots of background information on Burmese history, politics & propaganda.
42) Alison Weir, The Captive Queen
- a novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Somehow, she fails to come alive in this.
43) Louis de Bernières, The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts
- actually, the first installment in a trilogy of which I've already read the last book. Luckily, they both work as stand-alone narratives, too. It describes the bizarre, yet not entirely implausible, goings-on in a fictional Latin American country.
44) Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery
- another great book by the author of The Name of the Rose, this time dealing with 19th century plots and conspiracies, secret agents and terrorists.
45) Gideon Defoe, The Pirates! in an Adventure with Napoleon
- just a bit of silliness, a quick and easy read.
46) Louis de Bernières, A Partisan's Daughter
- a 40-something travelling salesman in a shit-brown Allegro meets a 20-something illegal immigrant who tells him stories about her experiences in her native Yugoslavia and her adopted country, England. Not De Bernières' best, but still okay.
47) Vanora Bennett, Blood Royal
- romantic historical novel centering on the relationship between Cathérine de Valois, widow of Henry V of England, and the Welshman commoner who became her second husband, Owen Tudor. Finished all 500+ pages of it in one sitting ;-)
48) Edith Hamilton, Mythology
- a simple, straightforward retelling of the most well-known ancient Greek myths; and incongruously, a few Nordic ones tacked onto the back as well.
49) Glyn Iliffe, The Armour of Achilles
- another retelling of the story of the Trojan War, from Odysseus's perspective. I love this sand-and-sandals stuff ;-)
50) Syrie James, Dracula, My Love
- Mina Harker's secret journal reveals the depth of her attachment to Dracula. Although different in the details, it very much reminded me of Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, so much so that I kept picturing the protagonists as having Winona Ryder's and Gary Oldman's faces.
51) Michael Paterniti, Driving Mr. Albert. A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain non-fiction
- In 1955, pathologist Thomas Stoltz Harvey removed Einstein's brain from his corpse without the family's consent, ostensibly to preserve it for science; and kept it in a Tupperware container in his basement for 40-odd years. When journalist Michael Paterniti learns of this fact, he is intrigued and after making Dr. Harvey's acquaintance, accompanies him on a trip from New Jersey to California, with the brain sloshing in its container in the boot of the car.
52) Stephen Fry, Paperweight short stories & essays
- an anthology of Mr. Fry's newspaper columns and essays of the late 80s/early 90s, which he warns (in his introduction) that it would be madness to attempt to read from cover to cover in one sitting as if it were a gripping detective novel - and which I've found to be true. From now on, I will dip into it from time to time.
53) Kate Mosse, Labyrinth
- bland, clichéd time-slip thriller full of pantomime villains pitched against an insipid heroine.
54) Martin Meredith, Born in Africa non-fiction
- very readable, concise history of palaeoanthropology and its leading lights since Darwin.
Also, Sunday's Word (Year C) and Living Liturgy: the books I need to prepare for my role as lectrix in Sunday Mass.