My Best Books of 2017

I always love sitting down at the end of the year and compiling my favourite reads of the past 12 months. Often I haven’t really noticed whether it’s been a good or bad year (reading-wise) until I do this – and I’d say 2017 has been steadily very good. Only one of the books I read is likely to find its way onto my all-time faves, but there were dozens that I’d have been very happy to see on an end of year list. And it’s been a very good year for mid-century books!

 

My usual rules for myself apply – only one book by each author can feature, and no re-reads. Each title links back to my review. Here they are, from #10 to #1…

 

Rachel and I read this for ‘Tea or Books?‘ back in February, comparing it another novel about the Thompson/Bywaters murder case (E.M. Delafield’s Messalina of the Suburbs). It’s probably the podcast ep I’m proudest of, as I think this comparison is fascinating – and FTJ’s exquisite novel won that podcast decision and tenth place on my list.

 

When I read Howards End is on the Landing, there was never any doubt that it would be my favourite book that year. I’ve eagerly awaited the sort-of-sequel ever since, and I did absolutely love it. The only reasons it isn’t higher are that I wanted more about books, and perhaps slightly fewer bizarre pronouncements from Hill. Still, nobody else could have written quite this book.

 

I’ve read any number of Taylor novels, and read this one for a conference on Undervalued British Women Writers 1930-1960. It’s more dramatic and dark than many of Taylor’s novels, but absorbingly brilliantly brilliant.

 

Look, I’m never going to get over how much I love the title of this book – which looks at the history of the ‘Shakespeare authorship question’ over the years. Shapiro saves his unanswerable reasons for being pro-Shakespeare until the final chapter; before this he is wise, amusing, and thorough.

 

This quirky, brilliant novel is a masterpiece of unusual structuring, and entirely beguiling. It was also given to me by a friend who died this year, which makes it (and her recommendation) all the more special.

 

I’ve yet to write a review of this one, but I’ve linked to the podcast episode where we compared it to Eden’s other novel, The Semi-Attached Couple. This is a very funny, very arch novel in the mould of Austen, elevating itself past imitation into something rather wonderful.

 

Also published as A Stranger With a Bag, I only reviewed this collection of short stories a week or so ago – I’m glad I waited to make my Best Books list, because these observant, calm, insightful stories are a thought-provoking delight.

 

I reviewed this over at Shiny New Books, and it’s a hilarious account of a year in the life of a Scottish bookseller. Bythell is quite cynical and snarky, but if your sense of humour overlaps with his then you’ll laugh and laugh – as well as getting a glimpse into the Promised Land.

 

This was a slow burn, and had to be read gradually, but it was one of the most rewarding reads I’ve had in a while. Timothy Casson is a writer who moves to a small village in wartime and wants boating rights on the river – of such small things are masterpieces made. Rachel and I will be discussing this one in the new year…

 

It truly has been the Year of Beverley. I’ve read quite a lot of books by him this year, but I had to pick the one which kicked off my Beverley love affair – I read Merry Hall for the 1951 Club, and never looked back. This (presumably heightened) account of buying a house and doing up the garden is hilarious, charming, and (praise be!) the beginning of a trilogy. Don’t wait as long as I did to read Beverley – if you haven’t yet, make 2018 the year you read him!

Top Books 2016

It’s that time of year – where bloggers look back over the books they’ve read during the past twelve months to pick their favourites. I always look forward to – reading the lists that other people compile, and choosing my favourites.

top-books-2016

This year, I’ve managed to keep it ten – even though that meant leaving off some books I really liked by notables like Elizabeth von Arnim, Vita Sackville-West, Muriel Spark, Ivy Compton-Burnett, E.H. Young, Elizabeth Bowen… basically, the list could have been much longer. And the top book – well, it’s not the one I’ve been telling everyone it would be, because I hadn’t remembered my favourite book of the year had slipped into the first few days of 2016, rather than the last few of 2015.

My usual self-imposed rules apply – no re-reads and only one book per author. Click on the title to take you to the review!

10. Daisy’s Aunt (1910) by E.F. Benson

A frivolous, funny, and entirely delightful novel that reminds me that there’s so much more to E.F. Benson than the (wonderful) Mapp and Lucia books.

9. Poor Relations (1919) by Compton Mackenzie

This was a lovely surprise – one of the books I took with me to Edinburgh, and an extremely funny and sharp book. Another author to explore more…

8. Over the Footlights and Other Fancies (1923) by Stephen Leacock

A return to one of my favourite authors was a definite success – and makes me glad that I kept off making my list until the end of the year.

7. Greengates (1936) by R.C. Sherriff

I only just finished this one, and haven’t reviewed yet – but the next episode of ‘Tea or Books?’ podcast will cover it. For now, I’ve linked to Rachel’s review of this observant, gentle, rather beautiful tale of a couple entering retirement.

6. Americanah (2013) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I wasn’t sure which Adichie book to choose – I’ve read three of hers in 2016 – but it’s this one which has stayed with me the most. Her novel of Nigerian ex-pats in the UK and US is thoughtful, poignant, and brilliantly told.

5. Terms and Conditions (2016) by Ysenda Maxtone Graham

I’m far from the only person who’s fallen in love with this Slightly Foxed offering – an anecdotal history of girls’ boarding schools 1939-1979.

4. The Museum of Cheats (1947) by Sylvia Townsend Warner

I’ve not read any of Warner’s short stories before, but absolutely loved her touch with these when I read the collection during the #1947Club. (#1951Club to come in the spring!)

3. Cider With Rosie (1959) by Laurie Lee

This was the first book I read especially for ‘Tea or Books?’, and I’m so glad I did! This charming memoir is rightly beloved by many.

2. The Lost Europeans (1958) by Emanuel Litvinoff

The novel I thought would be the top one on my list – a brilliantly written portrait of two men trying to come to terms with Germany and their pasts after the Second World War.

1.The Lark (1922) by E. Nesbit

Once I’d remembered that this was one of my first reads in 2016, how could anything else come top of my list? It’s rare to read a novel this funny, joyful, and charming – about two young women setting up a flower shop, and their witty adventures. Even better – it’s coming back into print from Scott and the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint at Dean Street Press!