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02.  Book List 2021

03.  Favourite books

04.  Favourite authors

05.  Tour of the United States

06.  Classic fiction:  Dickens, Zola

07.  Fiction:  O'Brian, Sansom, Leon, Simenon

08.  Some stats

09.  Big Reads

10.  spare

11.  spare

12.  spare

13.  spare

14.  2020 review, 2021 preview

15.  Accolades for 2020


Edited by willoyd

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Book List 2021

Previous book lists: 2009, 2010-2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020


01.  Wake by Anna Hope G ****

02.  Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe G **

03.  Body Surfing by Anita Shreve G *

04.  Au Bonheur des Dames by Emile Zola G *****

05.  Watling Street by John Higgs ***

06.  Spoon Fed by Tim Spector ****

07.  Bringing Back the Beaver by Derek Gow *****

08.  George I, The Lucky King by Tim Blanning ****



09.  The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman ****

10.  The Motion of a Body through Space by Lionel Shriver G *

11.  A Short History of Europe by Simon Jenkins ****

12.  Hillaby's London by John Hillaby ***

13.  The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain ***

14.  The Second Sleep by Robert Harris G ****

15.  The Mermaid of the Black Conch by Monique Roffey G ******



16.  The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste GX **

17.  The Ash Tree by Oliver Rackham ****

18.  The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle R *****

19.  Birdsong in a Time of Silence by Steven Lovatt *****

20.  Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear by Lev Pariakin ****

21.  The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike ***

22.  Touche by Agnes Poirier **

22.  Gilbert White by Richard Mabey *****

XX. Tidelands by Philippa Gregory GX **

24.  The Stubborn Light of Things by Melissa Harrison ******

25.  Seven Kinds of People You Find In Bookshops by Sean Bythell ***



26.  Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison GU *****

27.  Blood and Iron by Katya Hoyer ****

28.  Travels in Scottish Islands - The Hebrides by Kirstie Jareg ****

29.  Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver ***

30.  Skylarks with Rosie by Stephen Moss ****



* Positively disliked this (probably a lot), likely to be unfinished.
** Not really for me: didn't really engage with or like this, may be unfinished or skimmed.
*** OK: decent enough read, but not unputdownable.
**** Good: into the realms of not wanting to put it down.
***** Excellent: outstanding, even if not quite a favourite.
****** A favourite: something makes this special, even if only personal to me.

A=audiobook, G=Reading group read, R=reread, U=USA States Challenge read,  X=unfinished

Edited by willoyd

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Favourite Books
A record of the 126 books and series to which I've given my top rating.  These aren't necessarily the best literature I've read, but the books that are personal favourites, that, for whatever reason, struck a special chord in my reading. Individual books within a series are likely to have scored less, but the rating is for the series as a whole. The lists are divided into

  • Fiction
  • Non-fiction
  • Children's Fiction

Fiction (77)
Ackroyd, Peter: Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem
Ackroyd, Peter: Hawksmoor
Austen, Jane: Sense and Sensibility
Austen, Jane: Pride and Prejudice
Austen, Jane: Emma
Buchan, John: John Macnab
Carr JL: A Month in the Country
Carr JL: The Harpole Report
Chaucer, Geoffrey: The Canterbury Tales
Chevalier, Tracey: Falling Angels
Childers, Erskine: The Riddle of the Sands
Collins, Norman: London Belongs To Me
Cooper, Susan: The Dark is Rising
Cunningham, Michael: The Hours
Davies, Martin: The Conjuror's Bird
Dickens, Charles: A Christmas Carol
Dickens, Charles: Bleak House
Dickens, Charles: David Copperfield

Dunant, Sarah: In the Company of the Courtesan

Eco, Umberto: The Name of the Rose
Eliot, George: Middlemarch
Elphinstone, Margaret: The Sea Road
Elphinstone, Margaret: Voyageurs
Fforde, Jasper: The Eyre Affair
Goscinny, Rene: Asterix in Britain
Greig, Andrew: The Return of John Macnab

Guareschi, Giovanni: The Don Camillo series
Haddon, Mark: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Hardy, Thomas: Far From The Madding Crowd
Herbert, Frank: Dune
Heyer, Georgette: The Grand Sophy

Holtby, Winifred: South Riding

Horwood, William: Stonor Eagles, The

Horwood, William: Skallagrig
Hulme, Keri: The Bone People

Ivey, Eowyn: To the Bright Edge of the World
Japrisot, Sebastian: A Very Long Engagement

Le Carre, John: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Lee, Harper: To Kill A Mockingbird

Leon, Donna: The Brunetti series

Mantel, Hilary: Wolf Hall

McMurtry, Larry: Lonesome Dove
Melville, Herman: Moby Dick
Miller, Andrew: Pure

Miller, Andrew: Now We Shall Be Entirely Free
Mitchell, David: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Monsarrat, Nicholas: The Cruel Sea
Moorcock, Michael: Mother London
O'Brian, Patrick: The Aubrey-Maturin series

O'Farrell, Maggie: Hamnet
Pears, Ian: An Instance of the Fingerpost
Penney, Stef: The Tenderness of Wolves
Perry, Sarah: The Essex Serpent
Proulx, Annie: The Shipping News

Roffey, Monique: The Mermaid of Black Conch
Rushdie, Salman: Midnight's Children
Seth, Vikram: A Suitable Boy
Simenon, Georges: The Maigret series
Smiley, Jane: A Thousand Acres
Smith, Dodie: I Capture the Castle
Steinbeck, John: Of Mice and Men
Stephenson, Neal: Cryptonomicon
Stevenson, Robert Louis: Kidnapped
Swift, Graeme: Waterland

Taylor, Elizabeth: A View of the Harbour
Thomas, Dylan: Under Milk Wood
Thompson, Harry: This Thing of Darkness
Tolkien JRR: The Lord of the Rings
Tolstoy, Leo: War and Peace

Waugh, Evelyn: Brideshead Revisited
Willis, Connie: To Say Nothing of the Dog
Woolf, Virginia: Mrs Dalloway
Woolf, Virginia: The Years
Woolf, Virginia: To The Lighthouse
Woolf, Virginia: Between the Acts
Woolfenden, Ben: The Ruins of Time
Zafon, Carlos Ruiz: The Shadow of the Wind

Non-fiction (41)
Blanning, Tim: The Pursuit of Glory
Brown, Hamish: Hamish's Mountain Walk
Clayton, Tim: Waterloo
Cocker, Mark: Crow Country
Fadiman, Anne: Ex Libris
Frater, Alexander: Chasing the Monsoon

Gogarty, Paul: The Water Road
Hanff, Helen: 84 Charing Cross Road
Harding, Thomas: The House By The Lake

Harrison, Melissa: The Stubborn Light of Things
Hastings, Max: All Hell Let Loose
Holland, James: Dam Busters
Hoskins, WG: The Making of the English Landscape

Howell, Georgina: Daughter of the Desert
Huntford, Roland: Shackleton
Jamie, Kathleen: Findings
Junger, Sebastian: The Perfect Storm
Lee, Hermione: Virginia Woolf

Lewis-Stempel, John: The Running Hare
Liptrot, Amy: The Outrun
Longford, Elizabeth: Wellington, The Years of the Sword
MacGregor, Neil: Germany, Memories of a Nation
Moore, Richard: In Search of Robert Millar
Nichols, Peter: A Voyage for Madmen

Nicolson, Adam: The Seabird's Cry
Pennac, Daniel: The Rights of the Reader
Pinker, Stephen: The Language Instinct
Rackham, Oliver: The History of the Countryside
de Saint-Exupery, Antoine: Wind, Sand and Stars
Salisbury, Laney and Gay: The Cruellest Miles

Sands, Philippe: East-West Street

Schumacher, EF: Small is Beautiful
Simpson, Joe: Touching the Void
Taylor, Stephen: Storm and Conquest
Tomalin, Claire: Pepys, The Unequalled Self

Tree, Isabella: Wilding
Uglow, Jenny: The Pinecone
Unsworth, Walt: Everest
Weldon, Fay: Letters to Alice on first reading Jane Austen
Wheeler, Sara: Terra Incognita

Young, Gavin: Slow Boats to China

Children's Fiction (8)
Berna, Paul: Flood Warning

Bond, Michael: The Paddington Bear series
Kipling, Rudyard: Puck of Pook's Hill/Rewards and Fairies
Milne, AA: Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner
Pullman, Philip: Northern Lights
Ransome, Arthur: The Swallows and Amazons series
Sutcliff, Rosemary: The Eagle of the Ninth
White, TH: Mistress Masham's Repose

Edited by willoyd

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Favourite authors
To qualify for this list, I have to have read at least three books by that author (amazing how many where I've just read two, especially non-fiction!), so no one-book wonders (it's the book then, not the author!). None of the books themselves need to have reached a six star rating, but they do need to have been rated consistently highly. Authors may be listed under both fiction and non-fiction.  I've only included authors of adult books - for favourite children's authors, see favourite book list, as the two lists are pretty much the same.

Jane Austen
JL Carr

Willa Cather

Charles Dickens
Sarah Dunant
Margaret Elphinstone

Thomas Hardy
Donna Leon
Patrick O'Brian
Georges Simenon

Virginia Woolf


Tim Clayton
Lisa Jardine
Jan Morris
Simon Schama
Claire Tomalin
Jenny Uglow

Edited by willoyd

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A Tour of the States
My experience of American literature being much narrower than I would like, I decided to take a tour of the states in a similar way to our own English Counties challenge: 51 books, one set in each of the American states (including Washington DC).  In fact, the English Counties was modelled on an American States challenge here, but in the spirit of broadening that experience, I have amended it using these rules: a. it must be fiction; b. an author can only appear once; c. published after 1900 (what I've read has been predominantly 19th century); d. adult books; e. no rereads. Inevitably some great books and authors will have been left off, but the process itself has already helped identify those holes, and I aim to fill them in as additional reading!  Blue means read, bold blue means read this year.


The Keepers of the House - Shirley Ann Grau (Alabama) *****
To The Bright Edge of the World - Eowyn Ivey (Alaska) ******
The Andromeda Strain - Michael Crichton (Arizona)
The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks - Donald Harington (Arkansas)
East of Eden - John Steinbeck (California)
Plainsong - Kent Haruf (Colorado) ****
Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates (Connecticut)
The Saint of Lost Things - Christopher Castellani (Delaware)
A Land Remembered - Patrick Smith (Florida)
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers (Georgia)
The Descendants - Kaui Hart Hemmings (Hawaii)
Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson (Idaho) ****
The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow (Illinois)
The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields (Indiana)
The Bridges of Madison County - Robert Waller (Iowa) ****
Not Without Laughter - Langston Hughes (Kansas)
Nathan Coultar - Wendell Berry (Kentucky) *****
All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren (Louisiana)
Empire Falls - Richard Russo (Maine)
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant - Anne Tyler (Maryland) ***
Ethan Frome- Edith Wharton (Massachusetts) ***

Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison (Michigan)
Main Street - Sinclair Lewis (Minnesota)
As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner (Mississippi)
Stoner - John Williams (Missouri) ***
A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean (Montana)
My Antonia - Willa Cather (Nebraska) *****
The Ox-Bow Incident - Walter van Tilburg Clark (Nevada)
Peyton Place - Grace Metallious (New Hampshire)
The Sportswriter - Richard Ford (New Jersey) ****
The Crossing - Cormac McCarthy (New Mexico)
Underworld - Don DeLillo (New York)
Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier (North Carolina) *****
The Plague of Doves - Louise Erdrich (North Dakota) *****

Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson (Ohio) ***
True Grit- Charles Portis (Oklahoma) ****
Trask - Don Berry (Oregon)
The Killer Angels - Michael Shaara (Pennsylvania)
The Witches of Eastwick - John Updike (Rhode Island) ***
The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd (South Carolina) ***
Welcome to Hard Times - EL Doctorow (South Dakota)
A Death in the Family - James Agee (Tennessee)
Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry (Texas) ******
The Nineteenth Wife - David Ebershoff (Utah)
The Secret History - Donna Tartt (Vermont)
Prodigal Summer - Barbara Kingsolver (Virginia)
Snow Falling on Cedars- David Guterson (Washington) ***
Advise and Consent - Allen Drury (Washington DC) *****

Storming Heaven - Denise Giardina (West Virginia)
The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach (Wisconsin)
The Virginian - Owen Wister (Wyoming)

Edited by willoyd

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Classics fiction

Two authors whose books I want to focus more on:

  • Charles Dickens
  • Emile Zola's Rougon-Macquart series



Charles Dickens
01. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1837) ****
02. The Adventures of Oliver Twist (1839) *****
03. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1839) *****
04. The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) ***

05. Barnaby Rudge (1841)
06. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1844)
07. Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son (1848)
08. The Personal History of David Copperfield (1850) ******
09. Bleak House (1853) ******
10. Hard Times (1854)
11. Little Dorrit (1857)
12. A Tale of Two Cities (1859) *****
13. Great Expectations (1861) ****

14. Our Mutual Friend (1865)
15. The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870)

The Christmas Books
16. A Christmas Carol (1843) ******
17. The Chimes (1844) ***
18. The Cricket on the Hearth (1845)
19. The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain (1846)

Emile Zola's Rougon-Macquart Series
01. La Fortune des Rougon ****
02. Son Excellence Eugene Rougon
03. La Curee
04. L'Argent
05. Le Reve
06. La Conquete de Plassans
07. Pot-Bouille
08. Au Bonheur des Dames *****
09. La Faute de L'Abbe Mouret
10. Une Page d'amour
11. Le Ventre de Paris
12. La Joie de vivre
13. L'Assommoir
14. L'Oeuvre
15. La Bete humaine
16. Germinal
17. Nana
18. La Terre
19. La Debacle
20. Le Docteur Pascal

Edited by willoyd

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Fiction focus

  • Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series
  • CJ Sansom's Shardlake series
  • Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series
  • Georges Simenon's Maigret books

Books in standard blue are those read in previous years; 2020 books are in bold.


Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series
01. Master and Commander
02. Post Captain
03. HMS Surprise
04. The Mauritius Command
05. Desolation Island
06. The Fortune of War
07. The Surgeon's Mate
08. The Ionian Mission

09. Treason's Harbour
10. The Far Side of the World
11. The Reverse of the Medal
12. The Letter of Marque
13. The Thirteen Gun Salute
14. The Nutmeg of Consolation
15. Clarissa Oakes
16. The Wine-Dark Sea
17. The Commodore
18. The Yellow Admiral
19. The Hundred Days
20. Blue at the Mizzen


CJ Sansom's Shardlake series

01. Dissolution (2003) 

02. Dark Fire (2004)

03. Sovereign (2006)

04. Revelation (2008)

05. Heartstone (2010)

06. Lamentation (2014)

07. Tombland (2018)


Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series

01. Death at La Fenice (1992) ****

02. Death in a Strange Country (1993) ****

03. The Anonymous Venetian (1994) ****

04. A Venetian Reckoning (1995) ****

05. Acqua Alta (1996) ****

06. The Death of Faith (1997) ****

07. A Noble Radiance (1997) ****

08. Fatal Remedies (1999) *****

09. Friends in High Places (2000) ****

10. A Sea of Troubles (2001)

11. Wilful Behaviour (2002)

12. Uniform Justice (2003)

13. Doctored Evidence (2004)

14. Blood from a Stone (2005)

15. Through a Glass, Darkly (2006)

16. Suffer the Little Children (2007)

17. The Girl of His Dreams (2008)

18. About Face (2009)

19. A Question of Belief (2010)

20. Drawing Conclusions (2011)

21. Beastly Things (2012)

22. The Golden Egg (2013)

23. By Its Cover (2014)

24. Falling in Love (2015)

25. The Waters of Eternal Youth (2016)

26. Earthly Remains (2017)

27. The Temptation of Forgiveness (2018)

28. Unto Us A Son Is Given (2019)


Georges Simenon's Maigret novels

1-27 read prior to 2021

28. Maigret's Holiday

29. Maigret's Dead Man

30. Maigret's First Case

31. My Friend Maigret

32. Maigret at the Coroner's

33. Maigret and the Old Lady

34. Madame Maigret's Friend

35. Maigret's Memoirs *****

36. Maigret at Picratt's ****

37. Maigret Takes a Room

38. Maigret and the Tall Woman

39. Maigret, Lognon and the Gangsters

40. Maigret's Revolver

41. Maigret and the Man on the Bench

42. Maigret is Afraid

43. Maigret's Mistake

44. Maigret Goes to School

45. Maigret and the Dead Girl

46. Maigret and the Minister

47. Maigret and the Headless Corpse

48. Maigret Sets a Trap

49. Maigret's Failure

50. Maigret Enjoys Himself

51. Maigret Travels

52. Maigret's Doubts

53. Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses

54. Maigret's Secret

55. Maigret in Court

56. Maigret and the Old People

57. Maigret and the Lazy Burglar

58. Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse

59. Maigret and the Saturday Caller

60. Maigret and the Tramp

61. Maigret's Anger

62. Maigret and the Ghost

63. Maigret Defends Himself

Edited by willoyd

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Some Stats


The Last 10 Years (to end 2020)

Books read - 683 (384 in the past 5 years)

Most books in a year - 84 (2020)

Fewest books in a year - 50 (2011)

Most pages in a year - 23626 (2018)

Most books in a month - 19 (Dec 2011)

Highest average month - 13.7 (December)

Lowest average month - 3.5 (February)

% Fiction / Non-Fiction  - 65 / 35

% Male / Female author - 58 / 42


Star ratings

1 - 27 (3.9%, including 0 rereads)

2 - 56 (8.1%, 0 rereads)

3 - 184 (26.6%, 12 rereads)

4 - 225 (32.3%, 9 rereads)

5 - 133 (19.4%, 15 rereads)

6 - 67 (9.7%, 30 rereads)


2020 figures

Books read - 84 (2019-75)

Most books in a month - 12 (April and December)

Fewest books in a month - 2 (February)

Pages in the year - 22192 (264 average per book)

Most pages - 832 (The Luminaries)

Fewest pages - 66 (Wing)

% Fiction / Non-Fiction  - 51 / 49

% Male / Female author - 63 / 37

% Paper / Electronic - 81 / 18 (1 audiobook this year)

% Owned / Borrowed (inc Library) - 81/ 19


Star ratings

1 - 2 (2.4%, 0 rereads)

2 - 4 (4.7%, 0 rereads)

3 - 17 (20.0%, 0 rereads)

4 - 29 (38.8%, 1 reread)

5 - 26 (25.9%, 1 reread)

6 - 7 (8.2%, 3 rereads)


TBR list

End of...

2017 - 1472

2018 - 1378

2019 - 1331

2020 - 1351

Edited by willoyd

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Big Reads

I've got a long list of books I want to read, many of them pretty chunky, but there are a few which are particularly big, humungous even, usually multi-volumed and thus tend to get put off and put off; generally, they will have a minimum of 800 pages. So a list to keep prodding me.  Will any get read this year??!


Ackroyd, Peter: Dickens and London The Biography

Barker, Juliet: The Brontes

Barzun, Jacques: From Dawn to Decadence

Braudel, Fernand: The Identify of France (2v) and The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World (3v)

Campbell, John: Margaret Thatcher (2v)

Cervantes, Miguel de: Don Quixote

Gibbon, Edward: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (6v)

Evans. Richard: The Third Reich trilogy

Fisher, HAL: A History of Europe (3v)

Foote, Shelby: The American Civil War (3v)

Grossman, Vassily: Stalingrad and Life and Fate

Herodotus: The Histories

Hugo, Victor: Les Miserables

Inwood, Stephen: A History of London

Johnson, Paul: Birth of the Modern

Kershaw, Ian Hitler

Lawrence, TE: The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Macauley, Thomas Babington: The History of England (5v)

MacCulloch, Diarmid: A History of Christianity

Mantel, Hilary: Thomas Cromwell trilogy 

Morris, Jan: Pax Britannica trilogy

Muir, Rory: Wellington (2v)

Pepys, Samuel: The Diaries (9v!)

Powell, Anthony: A Dance to the Music of Time (12 books in 4v)

Richie, Alexandra: Faust's Metropolis

Roberts, Andrew: Salisbury, Napoleon the Great and Churchill

Roberts, JM: The History of the World and Twentieth Century

Sassoon, Donald: The Culture of the Europeans

Sugden, John: Nelson (2v)

Sumption, Jonathan:The Hundred Years' War (4v)

Watson, Peter: Ideas A History and A Terrible Beauty

Woolf, Virginia: The Essays, The Letters and The Diaries (6v each)



Edited by willoyd

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Review of 2020, Preview of 2021

I started off my 2019 review with the words 'It was a funny old year'. Little did I know!  If 2019 was a funny old year, then 2020 was completely bonkers - which is probably a fair summary!  It's funny to look back and think that at the time I was writing, things were already brewing in China....


Certainly, my reading was massively affected by the advent of the coronavirus, although not in quite the way that I thought it would.  I read more because of it - that much was to be expected.  Having got the year off to one of my slowest starts in years (just 8 books and 2700 pages in the first 3 months), 2020 landed up with my highest calendar year book total ever (84), and a respectable 22200 pages, on a par with most recent years.  Perhaps rather less expected was that I found myself shying away from the bigger, chunkier tomes that I thought I would enjoy most in lockdown conditions, and wanting to stick to a succession of relatively short, sharp reads.  Whilst in previous years my average page per book count was in the high 200s, even just over 300 on one occasion, this year it dropped to a smidgen under 265. The bulk of the longer books that I did read in the second half of the year were book group reads - and a few of those were skim read just to get through them.


Other trends or features of the year included an almost exact repeat of 2019 in both the quantitative and qualitative balance between fiction and non-fiction: about half-and-half in numbers, but the ongoing 'comeback' of fiction when it came to the accolades.  Comfortable favourite read of the year was Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet, the only new 6-star read of the year.  What on earth afflicted the Booker judges' minds to leave it of even the long list I have no idea - it beggars belief, and left me disinclined to take any note of what they did go for - we were obviously on a completely different wavelength.  Female writers continued to represent around 40% of my reading, e-books around 20%. What surprised me was that library books dropped from a quarter to a fifth of my reading - I really expected for them to rise. Lockdown didn't prevent me from having a large stack available, but it seems that my own library simply appealed more. That may also tie in with the fact that one in five books since the start of the first lockdown have been rereads, an unusually high proportion.


In terms of my various challenges, last year's words 'some progress was made on most fronts, but in all cases it would be good to have done more' apply again. The pace picked up slightly on my Tour of the USA, with 5 more books read (one more than last year, which was double the previous year), putting me now on 20 of the 51 read.  What the tour is achieving is in finding some great new (at least to me!) writers to read more of: Wendell Berry and Louise Erdrich in particular are two whose writing I want to explore further, just as I have started to do with (for instance) Willa Cather from last year. I also read at least one book from each of my other lists.


Part of the reason for this slowness is probably because of book group commitments.  I joined yet another book group this year, bringing the total to three.  It has proved to be one of the most enjoyable, with a range of books that I've found especially stimulating, even if I haven't necessarily 'enjoyed' specific books - a group of people from whom I have learned much in discussion.  Zoom has been a godsend, with all three groups managing to meet regularly as a result, although one has been touch and go.  Although this may seem like overload, I do really enjoy the opportunity to discuss books I've read with other people, especially given the lack of other social/cultural activities available, and love the variety of viewpoints - meetings where we're all in agreement are the most boring! I also like the variety of reading it encourages me to do, and with 3 books at most per month that usually still leaves time for my own choice of reading.


One other trend this year for me: an increased interest in podcasts. I've been exploring a number of literary podcasts, but have really only come up with one I found particularly satisfying: Slightly Foxed's monthly edition.  Most others are too focused on contemporary fiction for my taste. The one exception has been 'Backlisted', which on paper looks great, but it is at the same time, and rather paradoxically, too laddish and too intense about the books involved, many of which are of absolutely no interest.  I can't find a podcast about nonfiction reading anywhere, yet that represents half of my reading.  I continue to work on that, but thank goodness for Slightly Foxed!


So, what of next year?  In recent years, I've been a bit whiffly about goals, and to some extent it's going to be the same again this year.  Given that I didn't get close to achieving what I set out to do last year, they will almost inevitably echo those I set last year, which in turn echoed previous years!  Maybe I might manage them better this year?  Anyway, here goes:


+ To read more of the books I really want to read to include:

           + To complete my reading of the Dickens novels and to read at least a quarter of the Rougon-Macquart sequence.

           + To make significant inroads into the Tour of the USA

           + To read more natural history

+ To increase the proportion of library books read, aiming for at least 25% (hoping to reduce buying!).


The first sounds a bit vague, but it's actually not - there's an increasing list of books that I've found I really want to read, but never seem to get around to because of other distractions. Most are fairly big reads requiring concentration and time. I need to give both to them, particularly to those on my 'Big Reads' list.  It will also mean that the total number of books will almost inevitably come down so a final challenge:


+ To average more than 300 pages per book, and read at least 24000 pages.


I've tended to avoid putting numbers on goals before, but maybe a change is in order?


Edited by willoyd

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Accolades for 2020


Book of the Year

1.  Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

2.  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

3.  Island Stories by David Reynolds


Fiction Book of the Year

Winner: Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

Runner-up: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens  



The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton


Non-fiction Book of the Year

Winner: Island Stories by David Reynolds

Runner-up:  Home by Julie Myerson



Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by Jan Morris

A Game of Birds and Wolves by Simon Parkin

The Summer Isles by Philip Marsden


Duffer of the Year

Winner:  Gold by Chris Cleave



The House by Simon Lelic

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who... by Jonas Jonasson


Discovery of the Year

Wendell Berry


Most Disappointing of the Year

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson


Reread of the Year

Mrs Dalloway / The Hours by Virginia Woolf / Michael Cunningham

(the combination is what made it the reread of the year - fascinating)


Edited by willoyd

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Welcome to my reading blog for 2021. This thread is now open!

Edited by willoyd

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I loved seeing your reading statistics and reading your review of 2020, preview of 2021! Happy reading in 2021 :). I hope you'll be able to read some of those big reads requiring a lot of time and concentration.

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I really enjoyed reading your review of 2020 and I wish you a great 2021.

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The First 3 Weeks

Gradings out of 6


Wake by Anna Hope ****

A multi-stranded story set in the aftermath of World War One: 3 women are, in various ways, struggling to cpie with its impact and the loss of loved ones. Their stories are interwoven with the parallel story of the process of selection and burial of the Unknown Soldier, which provides a focus for the 'action' in the latter stages.  I found this enthralling, though provoking, and even moving.  Having not come to this book with any expectations, in fact rather the reverse (it was a fairly randome book group selection, and the blurb was not encouraging), I was very pleasurably surprised.  A great start to the year.


Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe **

I knew as soon as this was chosen as a 'lighter, funny, read for Christmas' by one of my book groups, that this could be a struggle, and sadly, I wasn't mistaken.  Apparently written before her bestseller Love Nina, this had all the hallmarks of a first book that hadn't really been edited properly. Others in my group did find it as described (and were easy on the faults), but I found it repetitive, not particularly credible, and all too cliched and predictable; will give it a little bit of credit and say that it was 'disappointing' rather than actually full out disliking it.  I didn't enjoy Love Nina either, so I don't think I'll bother again.


Body Surfing by Anita Shreve *

And then it really plumbed the depths.  If I though the previous book wasn't great, this was awful.  Waxwork characters about whom I didn't care one jot, shallow, obsessed with the minutiiae of clothes and colours (constantly repeated, so, for instance, we're told every time an item is mentioned what colour it is, even when we already know), everything told rather than shown, this, my first experience of this author, left me totally bemused how on earth she is so popular.  An early contender for duffer of the year.


Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies' Paradise) by Emile Zola *****

Thank goodness! After two duds, an absolute cracker!  One of the Rougon-Macquart sequence, the narrative is based around the explosion onto the Parisian, and subsequently world, scene of the department store, examining its impact on the lives of staff, clientele and locale.  Massively topical, paralleling the present day development of online retail.  I particularly loved the intensity of Zola's descriptions, bringing the contrasting worlds of the characters and the department storie itself to vividly vibrant life (now Zola could use colour!).  A genuine classic


Watling Street by John Higgs ***

Interesting journey along the famous Roman route from Dover to Anglesey, stopping off at one point in each chapter, and reflecting on different aspects of English life and history.  Not earth shattering, sometimes prejudiced - he certainly wears his political heart on his sleeve, and none the worse for that - occasionally illuminating. An easy read.


Spoon-Fed by Tim Spector ****

Tim Spector is the man leading the team behind the well-known Covid-19 ZOE app (the one that works), being Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London. He was previously better known as author of The Diet Myth, focusing on the importance of gut bacteria to our nutritional well-being.  This, his second effort, is essentially a debunking of a number (quite a lot!) of myths surrounding diet and nutrition, based on the science as it is at present.  Much of it I was already familiar with from reading I did last year when I found I was prediabetic, but it was good to review the material, and there were a few gentle nudges I needed to take on board!  His last chapter on the level of nutritional training expertise amongst GPs closely reflects my own experience with my doctors!  There were a few places where I'd have appreciated a bit more depth, but he covers a lot of ground very succinctly, and earns the fourth star because of the fundmental interest I have in the subject!


Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

I'm not going to grade this, as I only managed to read 30 or so pages. Having struggled through a number of Atkinson's books in recent years, most recently A God In Ruins, I didn't approach this book group choice with much joy, and have to admit that very rapidly i was having all my preconceptions confirmed.  I just have to recognise that she and I, at least reading-wise, don't get on any more.  I've just found the last few books I've tried utterly boring, and this was already turning out the same.  There's no point in persisting, so I'll just give this a miss - I've already had a fight with two book groups choices this year, and there are simply too many others that I really do want to read!!


Edited by willoyd

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A bit of a catch-up on reviews

I've let reviews slip behind probably worse than I've done since I joined this forum, so, almost two months after the last post, I'll try and start to catch up.  My excuse is that I've been too busy reading!  This is actually the strongest start to a year' reading since I started keeping records - something to do with lockdown I suspect!  I've really not managed to keep up with so many other things either, like physical exercise!  Anyway, here are the next five reviews, starting with the last 2 books read in January, and bringing me back to within a month of writing!


Bringing Back The Beaver by Derek Gow *****

An account of the efforts to re-introduce the beaver into the British landscape, the author being one of the leading experts and promoters. This was a brilliant read: insightful, no-nonsense, full of experience and knowledge, and in places really funny - well it made me laugh, and books don't often do that.  It also left me in despair at times - not with Gow or his subject, but with the machinations of our bureacracy and the whole way this country is run, particularly the way land is managed and owned, but then I've despaired on that front already, so it's not the books fault!


George I, The Lucky King by Tim Blanning ****

Part of the Penguin Monarchs series, these little books are proving to be a minor hit with me, proving a set of really interesting overviews ot monarch's lives from some of the top historians around.  I've previously enjoyed a couple of Blannings bigger tomes, and he's an engaging writer even in these more formal works. Here he sounds more relaxed, and the book benefits from that.  These early Georges often get skimmed over in our history, but these early years of the 18th century saw so much of modern day Britain laid down, and I came away feeling I'd learned a lot both easily and quickly.  Thoroughly recommended!


The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman ****

For once in a while, a 'popular' book that lived up to its hype.  We're not talking great literature, but that was neither the aim or the point.  Osman has a nicely balanced style - sufficiently light and gently humourous enough to fit neatly into the mould of 'cosy crime', but with sufficient bite and respect to not descend into whimsy.  I say respect, because he treats all his characters as humans, with both strengths and weaknesses, whether 'baddy' or 'goody' (or in between!). And his writing flows very nicely too - this was a positive gallop of a read.  Good plot too - it really did keep me guessing to the end.  I'll definitely read more of his as they come out.


The Motion of the Body through Space by Lionel Shriver *

So, after a string of thoroughly likeable reads, we come to this one, an examination of extreme sport addiction. Sereneta has been a lifelong exerciser, committed to her daily routine. Her husband, Remington, is levered out of his job and, with time on his hands and self-esteem to rebuild, decides first of all to run a marathon, and then attempt the MettleMan triathlon (an obvious take on the Ironman).  In the process, he becomes utterly addicted, endangering his marriage.  It's been described as 'scabrously funny', and members of my book group (for which I read it) really enjoyed the satire.  Me, I found it heavy handed and very one-sided: we definitely got Shriver's strong views on exercise, ultra sport and diversity in spades.  And no, I didn't find it funny, not once, but I did find it very inaccurate in places.  By the end, I was rather tired of the preachiness too.  I ummed and aaghed over my grading, fluctuating between one and three stars initially, but in the end, I decided that I do actually actively dislike this, so 1-star it is.


A Short History of Europe by Simon Jenkins ****

The author attempts the impossible!  It's certainly a heck of a gallop, and there's inevitably plenty missing, but I enjoyed his style, and appreciated the overview it provided.  It certainly enabled me to put a lot of my 'bits and pieces' knowledge of European history into a stronger framework, and enable me to link things together more effectively.  A good read, that I'll almost certainly return to (my memory is getting worse by the day when it comes to retaining book content!).

Edited by willoyd

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Great reviews and a good run of enjoyable books! (A shame about The Motion of the Body Through Space, that doesn’t sound good at all).

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On 1/25/2021 at 10:38 PM, willoyd said:


Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe *(*)


Apparently written before her bestseller Love Nina... 



Ah, well; at least at least she improves...


On 1/25/2021 at 10:38 PM, willoyd said:


I didn't enjoy Love Nina either...



Ah, well; perhaps not...


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On 16/03/2021 at 11:01 PM, Raven said:


Ah, well; perhaps not...



Of the two, Love, Nina is definitely better, of that the whole group were agreed!  Definitely smacked of the editor of a successful book asking the author if they've got anything else ready to ride on the back of previous success.  I decided to finally plump on giving Man at the Helm two rather than one star, so not hopelessly disliked (unlike Body Surfing!)

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Even further behind, so a fistful now - really need to make an effort to catch up!


Hillaby's London by John Hillaby ***

It's a while since i read any of John Hillaby's work, but I slotted back in fairly rapidly, enjoying his thoughtful, reflective take on the city, and his focus on a series of walking routes.  The book inevitably does feel dated in places, but that's no real issue, it being an historical 'record' anyway. What was more of an issue was that the last quarter felt awfully waffly - almost as if he had lost sight of what the book had been about up till then.  I certainly found myself switching off and picking up speed to move tot the end faster - a pity. Would have been a 4-star read otherwise.


The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain ***

At the time I said this felt thought provoking, but writing this review up a few weeks later, I realise that the book had made very little impact on me longer term.  It was well written, but ultimately felt rather inconsequential with an ending that rather petered out for me after a very promising start.


The Second Sleep by Robert Harris G ****

As with most Robert Harris books I've read, the bulk of this book is a cracking read, with great, thought-provoking ideas and a cracking narrative, although on this occasion there were a few points where the background chronology didn't seem to hold in place for me. But then we reach the end, and it's thoroughly anti-climatic - they never live up to the rest of the book. Same again unfortunately.


The Mermaid of the Black Conch by Monique Roffey G ******

Excltingly alive, I found this winner of the Costa almost unputdownable.  Given so much of this story deals with quite heavy issues, this was a remarkably easy, upbeat, read, written in thoroughly refreshing, almost technicolour, language,.  Loved every second of this.


The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste GX **

Unrelentingly grim, I found this a tough read - indeed so tough I didn't finish it. Not a book to tackle in the midst of lockdown, at least for me.  I also found the writing unrelentingly 'poetic', the author seemingly always preferring the complex and figurative to the simply and literal. Way too over the top for me.


The Ash Tree by Oliver Rackham ****

Oliver Rackham is always an engrossing read, and this is no exception.  A fascinating monograph on a dangerously threatened species.


The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle R *****

I remember reading the Sherlock Holmes novels and rating them distinctly lower down the scale than the short stories - completely opposite to my normal way of thinking.  However, returning to this to compare an old silent movie I had just watched with the original, I was struck as to how well THOTB works as a full novel.  Easy to see why it's the most popular of the longer stories. I hadn't realised how much I'd forgotten either, and thoroughly enjoyed the author's cantering pace.  The film was more accurate to the original than I had remembered too, although still with some distinctly idiosyncratic elements introduced - not sure why directors think they always know better than the author!



Edited by willoyd

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