1) Sarah Gristwood, Arbella: England's Lost Queen - non-fiction I'd heard the name Ar(a)bella Stuart before, but I never knew who she was or that she had briefly been in the running to succeed Elizabeth I on the English throne. She doesn't seem to have had much of a life, though.
2) Marion Davies, The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst - non-fiction I picked this up at Hearst Castle - Marion Davies, silent movie star, reminisces about her life at San Simeon (which IMO, was distinctly meh).
3) Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - pensioner Harold Fry sets out to post a letter, then decides to deliver it himself by walking from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed. An utterly moving story of love and loss.
4) Philippa Gregory, The White Princess - #5 in the Cousin's War series, this time centering on Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII. That's the thing with book series: they start off quite interesting and engaging, and then slowly peter out...
5) Peter Høeg, Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow - one of my friends has kept urging me to read this book for the last 20 or so years, as it's her favourite. I can't think why. It's well-written, but...I'm just not much of a fan of whodunnits.
6) Colm Tóibín, The Testament of Mary - at the end of her life Mary, the mother of Jesus, relates her last interactions with her son, and of her life in exile after his death. Quite moving.
7) Géza Vermès, Christian Beginnings: from Nazareth to Nicaea, AD 30-325 non-fiction -
A one-time Catholic priest who -in his own words- "grew out of" Christianity to return to the Jewish faith his ancestors had abandoned in the early 19th century, Géza Vermès, who died last year, was a noted authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and one of the leading scholars in the field of the study of the historical Jesus. Contrary to certain other scholars (such as E. P. Sanders, some of whose works are also to be found in my personal library), Vermès concludes that Jesus did not reach out to non-Jews. For example, he attributes positive references to Samaritans in the gospels not to Jesus himself but to early Christian editing. He suggests that, properly understood, the historical Jesus is a figure that Jews should find familiar and attractive. This historical Jesus, however, is so different from the Christ of faith that Christians, says Vermès, may well want to rethink the fundamentals of their faith.
8) Belinda Alexandra, Golden Earrings - after Franco's death, a young ballet student of Spanish descent's encounter with a flamenco dancer's ghost leads her to discover the truth about her family's roots and flight to France. Gave me, whilst reading, a better understanding of the root causes of the Spanish Civil War.
9) Louis Couperus, Psyche - symbolist fairy-tale first published in 1898, by one of the great names of Dutch 19th-century literature. I vaguely remembered having read it sometime in my early teens (in the original Dutch, of course), so when I came across this English translation, in a bargain basement, I thought "why not?". Glad I did; like all the best fairy-tales, it's charming, with a little gruesome mixed in.
10) Aesop, Aesop's Fables - requires no introduction, I'm sure.
11) Bernard Cornwell, The Pagan Lord - continuing his excellent Warlord Chronicles, this is the seventh instalment in the tale of Saxon warlord Uhtred of Bebbanburg fighting against the Danes in 10th century England.
12) Hiram Bingham, Lost City of the Incas - non-fiction some 40 years after he made the discovery of Machu Picchu, Bingham looks back on his find and the expedition during which it occurred. A century later, some of his interpretations have been disproved (Machu Picchu was not, ever, an Inca capital; but rather, a particular Inca's summer estate and abandoned by its workforce population after a mere 50 years or so), but his chronicle remains eminently readable, an amalgam of history, adventure, and fun facts.
13) S. Ferguson and B. Groseclose (editors) - Literature and the Visual Arts in Contemporary Society - non-fiction a friend gave it me a few weeks ago, saying he thought it would be right up my alley. It wasn't.
14) David Berkeley, 140 Goats and a Guitar - the stories behind the songs on his album 'Some Kind of Cure'; personal and poetic. Very good read.
15) Anchee Min, Pearl of China - fictional biography of the writer Pearl S. Buck as told by her lifelong friend. The first book I read from cover to cover in one day this year; truly unputdownable.
16) Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy - quick summer read, entertaining...but not sure that we really needed this third book in the series.
17) Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century - non-fiction although I appreciate people giving me actual gifts for my birthday instead of vouchers, with books, I think I will have the vouchers, thank you very much. I mean, a book on economics and politics? For me??? You may be one of my oldest and dearest friends, gift-giver, but it's like you don't know me at all.
18) John Green, The Fault in Our Stars -
19) Joanne Harris, The Girl with No Shoes -