This is what I've read so far this year. Another real mixture of material, but that just makes it more fun!
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Oh, this is just a wonderful book. Set in the depths of the harsh Russian countryside, it is poetic, evocative and compelling. If you like legends and fairy stories (not the sugary Disney-type ones) this may well be for you. Beware the evil in the woods...
Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier
I love Daphne du Maurier and have read almost every work of fiction she wrote. This one is uncannily topical in its subject matter, given that it was written decades before the word Brexit was coined. We’ve pulled out of Europe and so we need a new economic and political ally … the US. Ringing any bells yet? Du Maurier explores what happens when two countries so unbalanced in their respective powers seek to forge an alliance. It’s quite chilling reading.
Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson
This fabulous book is quirky and delightful beyond measure. I absolutely fell in love with it. It is both dark and light, filled with humour and sorrow. It’s lyrical and mystical. And yes, lighthousekeeping plays quite a big part in it. If you’ve ever wondered where a story really begins, this is the book for you!
Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal
One of my favourite books is Shakespeare’s Words, a marvellous and accessible compilation of the words Shakespeare used, with a staggering amount of fascinating information about usage and context. It was invaluable to me during my postgraduate Shakespearean studies. It helped bring the Bard to life in a way that very few ‘literary companions’ can. It was written by the celebrated linguist David Crystal and his son, Ben. Ben is, among other things, an actor and Shakespeare on Toast is a short guide to making Shakespeare jump off the page and engage an audience. There’s nothing dry and academic about this book. If you’d like to know more about the Bard – in practice, not theory – then give this book a go.
Six Years by Harlan Coben
Jake Fisher attends the funeral of the husband of Natalie, the love of his life. Six years previously he’d seen Natalie marry Todd and he resolved to leave her alone. There's just one problem: the wife at Todd’s funeral is not Natalie. So where is she? If you want a quick and easy read with a reasonably intriguing and fast-moving plot, you could do worse than this. But don’t take it on holiday thinking it’ll last you the week because it won’t!
The Many by Wyl Menmuir
A slip of a book, yet mighty in its ability to instil a creeping sense of unease, this book covers the side of small coastal communities that you won’t get from TripAdvisor. Published by the marvellous independent publisher, Salt.
The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
‘This is Lancashire. This is Pendle. This is witch country.’
Gosh, right … what to say about this horrifying tale of the men and woman convicted of witchcraft in Lancashire in 1612? First, I should declare a particular interest here: I live almost in the shadow of the infamous Pendle Hill, and I went to school with a descendant of one of the women convicted. So perhaps the appalling events of this period feel all the more real to me. And they are appalling, of course, because these ‘witches’ were ordinary men and women with desperate, empty lives. Following the Gunpowder Plot, Lancashire, a last bastion of the Catholic faith, was targeted by the authorities, who were equally zealous in their pursuit of those practising the old faith and those practising witchcraft. James I saw both as treasonable and, at times, the two offences were almost indistinguishable. Jeanette Winterson’s tale is grounded in the facts of the trial and some of the events which led up to it, but it is also a reimagining, a tale of what might have been. It’s compelling reading and wonderfully crafted. But, readers, be warned: some parts are deeply unpleasant and quite upsetting.
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
If you’ve never read any Shirley Jackson – and you may not have; she’s nothing like as well known as she ought to be – this short story is a good place to start. In a small American town, the annual lottery is the big event. But it’s a lottery no one wants to win. Jackson creates a chilling atmosphere as the horror begins to unfold. The story was first published in a newspaper and readers wrote in to ask where they could go to watch the lottery. I’m still trying to fathom what this says about us humans! If you enjoy this, try The Haunting of Hill House for further chills and tingles down the spine.
Five Go Parenting by ‘Enid Blyton’
Part of the ‘Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups’ series and not, of course, written by Enid Blyton at all, but by Bruno Vincent. It’s a bit of fun, a light-hearted read, and doesn’t feel too much like a betrayal of my childhood memories of the wonderful Famous Five books. I would say that unless you were a big fan of the Five and unless you have experience of the trials of nappy-changing and pram-buying, the humour probably won’t appeal. But there are others in the series…
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
This book was a joy to read. With dry wit and plenty of quirk, I found myself completely absorbed in the activities of the Met’s secret unit, dealing with crimes of a supernatural nature. Oh, and you’ll never think of the Royal Opera House in the same way again. Ever.
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James
A Christmas gift, and my first read of 2017. I haven’t read any P.D. James before, but I loved it and will be exploring more of her work. This book consists of four short stories, all revolving around a murder and all extremely readable. It’s a small hardback with a pleasing cover and I can already think of several people who’ll be getting this for Christmas in 2017!
Do these posts represent an eclectic list? A strange mixture of fiction and non-fiction, older books and current ones, literary fiction and genre fiction? Good; that’s exactly what it should look like.
Why? Because as an editor I try to read a wide range of books, including some to which I don’t feel naturally drawn (and it’s so interesting how many of those I enjoy!).
I read for pleasure, of course; I was a reader long before I became an editor. But I also choose my books with this in mind: I am a better editor for a wider range of clients if I have a wider reading spectrum.
So, I’d like to share my thoughts on what I’m reading, but in brief. Hence short & sweet book reviews. There are lots of good-quality, lengthier book reviews out there (The Guardian reviews are especially good), but it’s not always easy to find the time to plough through them all. I hope my lightly annotated reading list will give you some ideas for your own list!