02) Christian Cameron, Alexander God of War - much more to my liking: Alexander's career and campaigns, as Ptolemy (I Soter) might have told them. Riveting stuff, if you like novels based on military history of the ancient world -- which I do.
03) W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil - first published in 1925, it is a bit dated. About an empty-headed young woman, who marries for convenience, has an affair and when her husband finds out, is obliged to follow him into a cholera infested area of China. Although not one of his best books, it is a quick and easy read.
04) Sebastian Faulks, The Girl at the Lion d'Or - a slender novella, nevertheless it took me weeks to finish...probably because, despite its being well-written, the slow-paced story really didn't grab me that much. During the Interbellum in France, a young waitress embarks on a love affair with a married man.
05) Graham Swift, Waterland - enchanting. Set against the backdrop of the Fens, the narrator (a middle-aged history teacher whose wife has just been arrested on baby-snatching charges) relates some of his own and his family history in a style and language that ebbs and flows like water.
06) Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles - I did ask myself, fleetingly, as I handed my money over the counter, whether I needed yet another retelling of the story of the Trojan War and its heroes? After having read this one, I'm glad I didn't let my stingier side persuade me. In focusing her story on the figure of Patroclus, the author has found a new in; and delivered a tender love story as well as a touching view on loyalty and changing priorities against the backdrop of a brutal war.
07) Fiona Mountain, Cavalier Queen - The past is a different country, of which this author does not seem sufficiently informed in some ways. For instance, she has Henrietta Maria enjoy her stay at Blenheim, describing the palace and its grounds to a T...regardless of the fact that it was not built until early the next century. Also, a queen or princess in those days was never without her retinue, so some of the scenes taking place between HM and her love interest and the ease with which they find each other alone all the time are highly improbable. Trite and a little dull; a pity, as so much more could have been done with the subject and material (IMO).
08) Jane Harris, Gillespie and I - a very good read. Set in late 19th-century Glasgow, it tells the story of an Englishwoman of independent means who befriends an artist and his family...but is she the kind benefactress they take her for, or a deeply disturbed individual?
09) Chris Bohjalian, Skeletons at the Feast - excellent read. At the end of the Second World War, a German family has to flee their farm in Poland, and join the stream of refugees heading west to escape the wrath of the Russian army. They are accompanied by a British POW and a Jew masquerading as a German soldier, and while on the road, come to reassess their core beliefs.
10) Jack Whyte, Rebel - I hadn't realised that it was the first novel in a projected series on William Wallace...Now I'm going to have to keep an eye out for the next installment.
11) John Julius Norwich, The Popes - non-fiction - excellent, concise history of the papacy from the days of St. Peter right through to those of Benedict XVI.
12) Leah Fleming, The Captain's Daughter - when May Smith gets pulled from the icy waters into a lifeboat after the Titanic disaster and minutes later is handed a baby, everyone assumes it's hers...and so does she, until at first light she sees its eyes. A promising start to a narrative, I thought, but unfortunately the story which unfolds over the next 50 years following the lives of May, her friends and the baby fails to ignite even the merest glimmer of interest. The characters are wooden, the writing stilted and trite.
13) Evan Mandery, Q - shortly before his wedding to the love of his life, a New York lecturer gets a visit from his older self exhorting him to leave her. Over the next few years, a succession of future selves keeps coming back to disrupt the lives he builds at their behest. I quite like it, even though I think the main character could have saved himself a lot of bother if he'd just ignored his futures selves' advice.
14) Tom Holland, In the Shadow of the Sword. The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World - non-fiction - Holland puts the birth of Islam into the historical context of late antiquity and weaves together the histories of Rome, Persia, and the sundry people of the Middle East into a whole captivating story.
15) Yann Martel, Life of Pi - I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading this bestseller, but I'm glad that I finally did. Wonderful story, beautifully and expertly told - though why it should make me believe in God, as one of the characters in it claims, remains unclear to me ;-)
16) Hella S. Haasse, The Tea Lords - Heren van de thee chronicles the life and business dealings of a Dutch East Indian family of planters in tea, coffee and quinine in the Preanger during the mid to late 1800s. With my own family history on my mother's side very similar, it made for fascinating reading.
17) Mary Renault, The Persian Boy - a book I read in my early teens, and never forgot. It may even have been the first Alexander novel I ever read...I picked it up from a bargain basement the other day, and was pleased to find, when I curled up on the couch with it, that it was just as good as I remembered.
18) Joseph J. Ellis, First Family. Abigail and John Adams - non-fiction A portrait of the marriage of lawyer/diplomat/2nd US predident and his "saucy" (his appraisal) wife Abigail, based on the 1,200 letters they wrote one another during several long(ish) separations. Interesting, as a lot of it actually touches on the emergence of the USA as a nation state.
19) Anne Michaels, The Winter Vault - very intense: a novel of loss. A young woman and her engineer husband working on the salvage operation of the temples of Abu Simbel in 1964 are expecting their first child together, when the baby dies shortly before birth. Their grief then splits them up. Slow-paced, and very beautifully, almost poetically, written; in the end, the story just depressed me, and I skipped the last 50 pages to the ending. I might read them some other time, but for now, I just wanted to finish with this book.
20) Angus Donald, King's Man - #3 in a series I began a year or two ago; a reworking of the legend of Robin Hood, and quite enjoyable.
21) Susan Vreeland, Clara and Mr. Tiffany - a novel based on the letters of Clara Driscoll, head of the Women's Department of Tiffany Studios and designer of the famous leaded-glass lampshades. Affords a fascinating glimpse into the conditions in and under which women had to work in fin de siècle society.
22) Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists - a retired judge remembers the war and the Malayan Emergency when she goes back to the Cameron Highlands at the end of her career. It was an OK read.
23) Richard Harvell, The Bells - a story about a young boy and his unique affinity with sound as he grows up in a brutal environment in 18th century Switzerland. Totally engrossing.
24) Sandi Tan, The Black Isle - a Chinese ghost story, set predominantly against the backdrop of the Japanese occupation of Malaysia during WWII. Another OK read.
25) Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve. How the Renaissance began - non-fiction Concentrates on Poggio Bracciolini's lucky find of T. Lucretius Carus's De rerum natura, which is our most comprehensive explanation of Epicurean philosophy. I lost interest halfway through, and have yet to finish the final chapter...
26) A.S. Byatt, Ragnarok. The End of the Gods - superb retelling of the Norse myth of the demise of the Aesir, interspersed with the author's childhood memories of life during WWII.
27) Conn Iggulden, Emperor: The Blood of Gods - Despite Conn Iggulden's work coming highly recommended by one of my favourite writers of historical fiction in the blurb, I couldn't really warm to his style. Perhaps it's just that I'm too well-informed about the period to overlook such glaring anachronisms as the Liberatores referring to Caesar (adoptive father and son) as 'emperor' in their dialogues...or his changing the names of historical characters (e.g. Iulus into 'Paulus') for no good reason. Apart from these niggles, it was a competent retelling of Octavian's rise to power. Not bad, but I don't think I'll bother with Iggulden again.
28) Kevin Nelson, The God Impulse - non-fiction The author, a neuroscientist, makes a study of near death experiences to answer the question (also the subtitle to his book) is religion hardwired into the brain?. Having come to the end of 260-odd pages, I have to admit I'm none the wiser on the subject; but I have learned a few more facts about the human brain which are interesting enough in and of themselves.
29) C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed - non-fiction - 'No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.' This is how C. S. Lewis's reflections on the experience of bereavement following the death of his wife from cancer in 1960 begin. And with that poignant and recognizable observation, I was hooked...Only 64 pages in all, but what an impact!
30) Steven Saylor, Roma - panoramic historical saga, weaving history, legend and archaeological discovery into a compelling narrative by following the fortunes of two of Rome's oldest patrician families, that of the Potitii and the Pinarii, from ca. 1000 BCE to the death of the Republic in the aftermath of the murder of G. Julius Caesar. Very much my cup of tea!
31) Steven Saylor, Empire - the sequel to Roma: the family saga continues under the emperors, from the reign of Augustus to that of Hadrian.
32) Mira Bartók, The Memory Palace. A memoir - the author's personal account of what it was like to grow up with a schizophrenic mother. Interesting.
33) Laura Moriarty, The Chaperone - a Wichita housewife accompanies a young Louise Brooks to New York, for her to try out for the Denishaw dance troupe, and in the process comes to re-evaluate her life and future. Good read!