It has become something of a New Year tradition for me to make up a list of all the books I’ve read in the past year. This year I managed to rack up 72 titles, which may sound impressive but most of these were light reading in the way of mysteries and whodunnits (who can resist a good murder). My favourite book this year was probably North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell. I loved the BBC series, and was so pleased to find the book just as enjoyable.
Here is the full list of everything I read in 2012, with a short summing up of each in case you’d like to put any on your own reading lists (or avoid the stinkers). Happy reading for 2013!
‘Mrs Bradley’ mysteries by Gladys Mitchell – The Saltmarsh Murders , Death at the Opera, Watson’s Choice, Twenty Third Man, The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop. If you love murder mysteries, you might find the Mrs Bradley mysteries frustrating. Because frankly, they don’t make any sense. She seems to get very confused with the plot, red herrings are never explained, and the final unveiling of the murderer is very often nonsensical. Some of them also contain shocking racism. For all that I read a whole stack of them, because I enjoy the cosy scene-setting – an imaginary world where people always have tea at 4, go for rambles in the woods, and play tennis with the vicar’s daughter. It is nice to have a bit of mystery tangled up in it, but if you were relying on the mystery alone you would be disappointed.
‘Commissario Brunetti’ mysteries by Donna Leon – Doctored Evidence , Blood from a Stone, Uniform Justice, Wilful Behaviour, A Sea of Troubles, Fatal Remedies, Friends in High Places, A Noble Radiance, Death in a Strange Country, Death at La Fenice. I hadn’t read any Brunetti novels prior to this year, and very much enjoyed them. Brunetti is an extremely sympathetic inspector, with a strong sense of justice, and even stronger love for good food and his family. There are some atmospheric descriptions of Venice and the amazing Italian food Brunetti ploughs his way through, but the corruption of the State often means that justice isn’t served out as much as I’d like it at the end.
‘Lily Bard’ mysteries by Charlaine Harris – Shakespeare’s Counselor, Shakespeare’s Trollop, Shakespeare’s Christmas, Shakespeare’s Champion, Shakespeare’s Landlord. Lily Bard is a reluctant crime-solver, a survivor of a horrific attack who now works as a cleaner in small town America. She wants a quiet life but keeps running into mysteries. There is something of Janet Evanovitch about these novels, but without the slapstick.
‘Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood’ novels by Charlaine Harris – A Touch of Dead, Dead and Gone, From Dead to Worse, All Together Dead, Definitely Dead, Dead as a Doornail, Dead to the World, Club Dead, Living Dead in Dallas, Dead Until Dark. Oh my, who would have thought it. 2012 was the year I became addicted to vampire novels. THE SHAME. I had a set of ten Sookie Stackhouse books I’d bought on a whim and read them all in a fortnight. The theme is becoming laboured by the later books, but the first ones in the series are sparkling and fun and brilliant.
‘Inspector Alleyn’ mysteries by Ngaio Marsh – Colour Scheme, Singing In The Shrouds, Overture To Death, Opening Night, Scales Of Justice. I think I’ve mentioned before my love for Ngaio Marsh – if you’ve run the full gamut of Agatha Christie, she is second in command, and pretty much never goes wrong.
‘Inspector Rebus’ mysteries by Ian Rankin – Tooth and Nail, Hide and Seek, Knots and Crosses. These are the earliest Rebus novels, and though good solid mysteries, you can see how Rebus as a character has become more real over time.
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter – This book made me sad, and wasn’t what I was expecting from the title. Well written, but grim.
The Full Montezuma by Peter Moore – Peter Moore is one of my favourite travel writers; here he travels around Central and South America with his girlfriend. Made me want to get straight on a plane and go to Mexico, which is just what a good travel book should do.
Father Cafael mysteries by Ellis Peters - Monk’s Hood and A Morbid Taste for Bones. I had thought medieval murder might be a bit dull, but Father Cadfael is a great character and the mysteries get you hooked.
Death in the Stocks and The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer – Heyer is better known for her wonderful Regency romances, but she also wrote a small number of murder mysteries set in the 30s. Also quite wonderful.
Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayer
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayer
Never Can Say Goodbye by Christina Jones – I reviewed this book in March. Disappointing.
Style Me Vintage: Clothes by Naomi Thompson – Reviewed in March. And extremely useful guide for both beginners and experts in vintage, with lots of pretty pictures and handy hints.
Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford – a WWII spy spoof, this was finished just as the war got serious and the light-hearted tone was completely inappropriate, therefore the book didn’t do very well and faded into obscurity. A shame, as it is really very funny and has some superb characters.
Vintage Weddings by Marnie Fogg – lush. Gorgeous pictures and some interesting facts about weddings through the decades.
Victorian London: The Tale of a City 1840-1870 by Liza Picard – Hugely interesting and very easy to read. It is split into sections on, for example, the river, food, the middle class and so on, and gives a neat potted history of each.
The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark – Set during the war in a girl’s boarding hostel. Quite good.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – I know it is a classic, but oh I hated this. Tom’s shenanigan’s are just plain BORING.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – favourite book of the year.
Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon – another favourite, this is a wonderful rambling Victorian story with a good strong mystery at it’s heart.
Nurse On Call: The True Story Of A 1950s District Nurse by Edith Cotterill – badly written and a little dull, but there were a few nice stories in here.
Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart – a new favourite author (I’ll be reading more of her this year). Mary Stewart tends to write stories with intrepid females falling into adventures by accident – this one is a little like To Catch a Thief, with a brave heroine ensconced in a mystery on the French Riviera, with lots of car chases and romantic intrigue. Fabulous.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – Extremely interesting, but also extremely loooooong. Much as I enjoyed this, I don’t know if I can bear to commit myself to her next one, but if you want to know more about the times and politics of Henry VIII this is certainly an agreeable way to find out.
Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North by Stuart Maconie – I really hoped this would be a good travel and culture/history book about the North of England, but the author wasted half his time spent moaning about London and Southerners and I didn’t really get to learn anything new. Disappointing.
Lark Rise by Flora Thompson – less twee than the television series, this describes a poor farming community in the Victorian age. Interesting to read something which describes both the good and bad parts of such a life honestly.
Psmith in the City by PG Wodehouse – Not one of Wodehouse’s best, but serviceable.
Bombproof by Michael Robotham – Rotten. Clichéd and tired depictions of gangsters and helpless females and a poor sucker in the middle of it all. Possibly my least favourite book of the year, and as my first Robotham, I doubt I’ll be reading any more.
Love And War In London: The Mass Observation Wartime Diary Of Olivia Crockett – Fab. A lovely little diary of day to day life of a young woman in wartime, her job, her lover (married, gasp!), her family and her dreams. And all true.
The Peppered Moth by Margaret Drabble – This book was just fabulous, and I will definitely read more Drabble. This covers the story of three women in a family, starting with the grandmother in a poor mining village, interspersed with the hippy mother and career-minded daughter. Great characters and the story just rolled along.
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman – a book of short stories from the fantasy writer, most of which I didn’t like.
The 1940s: Images of the 20th Century – a bit of a cheat this one as it is mostly pictures, but good pictures at that. This is where I found the Pig Called Hitler.
Racing Pigs and Giant Marrows: Travels Around the North Country Fairs by Harry Pearson – ok, but not terribly thrilling.
The Bible (the Old Testament) According to Spike Milligan – snort-worthy (yes, this did actually make me snort with laughter)
Nation by Terry Pratchett – It is Pratchett so it is good, but not as much fun as the Discoworld novels.
Lisa and Co by Jilly Cooper – awful
Bulldog Drummond by Sapper – a very silly but extremely fun adventure novel in the same vein as the 39 Steps, with an ex-army officer in search of excitement after the war and setting up as a private detective.
The Incredulity of Father Brown by GK Chesterton – I found Father Brown a bit dreary, and doubt I’ll bother with any more of his mysteries.