Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 Reading List

Ta-Da! Only the 2nd of the year, and I've published my 2018 Reading List! Not only is that a record for promptness, but I think this is my longest list yet -- and includes the most entries for which I've only managed to say a few words here rather than more extended commentary in a separate post. About twenty of those entries were written in the last few days, and the haste is manifest, I'm afraid, but at least you can glean some new possible titles here, and it's pretty clear whether I recommend or not. Plus, as usual, I hope that the list overall and the individual entries might spark a conversation -- and that you might share your own recommendations from your last year's reading.

A note before you read through the list -- I've decided on a different approach for sharing my reading on social media in 2019. I'm going to keep this blog open, but I'm going to post my reading on Instagram as I read each book -- either through a photo of the cover or screen-shots of favourite passages or a photo of a handwritten entry in my daily journal. I'll try to say a few words on that Instagram post, and if I can manage it, I hope occasionally to write longer posts here when the book warrants--or demands--it.

And because not all of you are on Instagram, nor want to add another social media platform to your life, I'll add the links here as regularly as I can manage--at the very least, I'm hoping to post a monthly round-up of my reading -- and I think I'm going to try doing that on my main blog as well.  Not sure how these changes will work, but I need to streamline my social media efforts, and I really do not want to lose this community -- you've all come to mean so much to me and although our conversations are not frequent, they've contributed considerably to my reading life. So thank you, truly, and I wish you a Very Happy 2019, Full of Books!

1. Sara Blaedel, Only One Life (trans. Erik J. Macki and Tara F. Chace
2. Jacqueline Park, The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi
3. Elly Griffiths, The House at Sea's End
4. Aurélie Valognes, Mémé dans les Orties
5. Donato Carrisi, The Whisperer (trans. Shaun Whiteside)
6. Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins
7. Isabel Vincent, Dinner with Edward Oh, why did I never manage to say a few words about this sweet, sweet memoir. It's a delightful book about an unexpected friendship that develops between a recently widowed octogenarian and a 40-something reporter whose marriage is dissolving. The friendship is nurtured over dinners prepared by the widower--who is committed to sharing with the journalist what he knows about love and life, as learned in his long and passionate marriage. That he does this through food -- he's a culinary master, never following a recipe but nonetheless precise and clear such that Vincent is able to capture recipes for us and offer them here -- Roast Chicken and Vegetables in a Bag, anyone? Mmmm. . .
8. Peter Robinson, Sleeping in the Ground
9. Lee Child, The Midnight Line
10. Edward St. Aubyn, Never Mind
11. Edward St. Aubyn, Bad News
12. Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere
13. Val McDermid, Insidious Intent
14. Edward St. Aubyn, Some Hope
15. Edward St. Aubyn, Mother's Milk
16. Peter May, Extraordinary People
17. George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo
18. Keigo Higashino, The Devotion of Suspect X (translator, Alexander O. Smith)
19. Ali Smith, Winter
20. Sara Baume, A Line Made by Walking
21. Gary Paul Nabhan, Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves: An American Naturalist in Italy
22. Bernard McLaverty, A Midwinter Break
23. Thomas Perry, A String of Beads
24. Liane Moriarty, Truly Madly Guilty
25. Georges Simenon, Maigret et la Vielle Dame
26. Carol Matthews, Minerva's Owl: The Bereavement Phase of My Marriage
27. Elly Griffiths, A Room Full of Bones, I'm working my way through the very enjoyable Ruth Galloway series. . .
28. Edward St. Aubyn, At Last
29. Roz Chast, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant
30. Elizabeth George, The Punishment She Deserves
31. Leila Slimane, Chanson Douce
32. Michael Connelly, Two Kinds of Truth (a Harry Bosch mystery)
33. Susan Hill, From the Heart
34. Anna Quindlen, Miller's Valley
35. Danielle Postel-Vinay, Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Home
36. Andrew Battershill, Pillow
37. Elly Griffiths,  A Dying Fall
38. Edna O'Brien, The Little Red Chairs
39. Elly Griffiths, The Outcast Dead
40. Elizabeth Berg, Talk Before Sleep
41. Elly Griffiths, The Ghost Fields
42. Elly Griffiths, The Woman in Blue
43. Elly Griffiths, The Chalk Pit
44. Liam Callanan, Paris by the Book
45. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific (a few words here also)
46. Ann-Marie MacDonald, Adult Onset
47. Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road
48. Kate Harris, Lands of Lost Borders: Journey on the Silk Road
49. Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
50. Ruth Ware, In a Dark, Dark Wood
51. Rebecca Scherm, Unbecoming
52. Ruth Ware, The Woman in Cabin 10
53. Jeffrey Deaver, The Cutting Edge If you don't like grap violence in your mystery novels,  don't bother. And to be honest, there are always at least two twists too many in a Deaver novel, but I still pick up a new Lincoln Rhyme, despite my reservations. . .
54. Ursula LeGuin, No Time to Spare This book of essays is one I would have liked to linger over, but had to rush through before it was due back at the library. Before I did, I commented very briefly in my journal, as transcribed here.
55. Donna Leon, The Girl of His Dreams -- you'll note that besides catching up on Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway mysteries, I'm also working my way through Donna Leon's Venetian detective series with Commisario Brunetti.  . .
56. Elly Griffiths, Dark Angel
57. Ruth Ware, The Lying Game
58. Georges Simenon, L'Affaire Saint-Fiacre (a Commissaire Maigret novel)
59. Philippe Sands, East West Street: On the Origins of "Genocide" and "Crimes against Humanity"
60. Joanna Cannon, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep --a charming novel that combines the satisfactions of a social study, a novel of manners, really, with the intrigue of a mystery, and the added delight of a story that trods the ground between innocence and experience through the eyes of two just-pubescent young girls. Their friendship is delicate, based as it is on their shared exclusion or marginalisation from their supposed peers, and the bond is alternately strengthened and then challenged through their search to find out what happened to a woman missing from their neighbourhood. Suburban England is exposed in its hypocrisies and petty snobberies and surprising loyalties and its kindnesses and vulnerabilities in a very hot mid-1970s summer . .
61. Susie Steiner, Missing, Presumed
62. Sonia Choquette, Waking up in Paris: Overcoming Darkness in the City of Light
63. Susie Steiner, Persons Unknown
64. Ann Mah, The Lost Vintage
65. Guillaume Musso, Un Appartement à Paris -- As you might remember, reading French mystery novels is one of my favourite ways to practice my French, and this book is great fun. Set in the world of contemporary art that draws heavily from the street, it moves between Paris and New York when a misanthropic writer finds himself unwillingly interrupting his annual hunkering-down in Paris to track down the whereabouts of a missing painting. Pairing up -- again, unwillingly -- with another escapee from the New York scene, a woman with a painful past, with tender but tentative hopes for a future, he becomes caught up in a mystery with a horrible tragedy at its centre. The ending is surprising and rather satisfying, unless you lean heavily to the skeptic side of life. . . (My Instagram post featuring the book's striking cover)
66. Michael Ondaatje, Warlight -- Highly recommended, this beautifully lyrical novel is set in London in the strange ménage where two children have been left by their parents. They've been told a story about their parents' travels that they begin to suspect is untrue. Decades later, the now-adult son of those parents is trying to sort through layers of memories and of facts he's subsequently unearthed to understand his mother's role in the war. The pastoral England we associate with fairy tales, with Enid Blyton children's adventures, with Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, distorts itself weirdly to accommodate espionage and murder, the (Second World) war casting its light forward and backwards across lives. Elegiac thriller, then, but so much more. Ondaatje's focus on the orphaned or abandoned or exiled child continues here, complicated thoughtfully with a meditation on the demands of motherhood on women who may be pulled urgently in other directions.
67. Miriam Toews, Women Talking -- Marvellous book. Difficult subject -- rape and religion and patriarchy -- made possibly more difficult for being based on a case of mass/serial rape within a Mennonite community in Bolivia. Marvellous because Toews brings to the novel her own complicated relationship with a Mennonite community to give voice to the women left behind while the men in that Bolivian Mennonite community--both the accused and their peers-- are in the city dealing with the justice system. The women are using the three days they have free of surveillance to decide what to do, and the ensuing discussion is rich and humane and funny and wise. I don't know many other writers who can bring humour and sorrow and the bizarre/grotesque together as can Toews -- and beauty. Surprising beauty.
68. Patrick DeWitt, French Exit --  So very different from his The Sisters Brothers, which I loved (no, haven't seen the movie yet, not sure if I want to). Again, though, brilliantly individual, quirky characters and perhaps similarly in the strangely quixotic trajectory of a mother and son's move to Paris from New York via an Atlantic crossing. Unexpected plot twists, cleverly-paced revelations, Paris setting, and always DeWitt's fresh -- generally wry -- descriptions. If I weren't writing this on the last day of the year, with another 20+ titles to get through, I'd find a few to show you what I mean
69. C.S. Richardson, The End of the Alphabet -- as sweet and magical as you'd expect from the author of The Emperor of Paris (which, in fact, was written five years after Alphabet). A husband learns that he has about a month left to live and embarks, with his wife, on a pilgrimage, alphabetically following a lifetime's desires. . . .
70. Tom Rachman, The Italian Teacher Ah, the patriarchy. . . From a son's perspective, a son whose philandering artist father has always been loved and admired -- worshipped? -- from the distance of abandonment excepting those magical weeks spent with son and mother in Rome. As did his mother, the son abandons his own artistic potential in service of The Greater Artist his father supposedly is. The veil takes a shockingly long time to fall from his eyes, but there's an intriguing, and lovely, twist,  finally. And the novel also offers the treat of its various settings -- Rome and London prime among those.
71. Donna Leon, Drawing Conclusions 
72. Kamin Mohammadi, Bella Figura: How to Live, Love, and Eat the Italian Way
A very enjoyable memoir about a woman who retreats temporarily from a stressful life in London to a friend's unoccupied flat in Florence -- and is seduced into changing her life. Reminiscent, yes, of Eat, Pray, Love,  but more sustainable and more focused, more practical. There is a love story -- two, in fact. Wonderful food, lovingly described. A panoply of entertaining neighbourhood characters. And a recommendation or two -- can you believe I've been swallowing a teaspoon or two of olive oil daily since reading this? What? It's good for me! ;-)
73. Sara Midda, South of France: A Sketchbook -- Just charming. A classic, apparently, of a travel journal, which I'd missed. . .
74. Keigo Higashino, Salvation of a Saint --  As did Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X, this mystery is elegant and complex and fascinating at every single turn. Highly recommend these Detective Galileo mysteries.
75. Guillaume Musso, Parce Que Je T'Aime Another Musso novel, this one has an intriguing twist at its heart -- actually, twist isn't quite adequate. The dénouement is, franchement, bouleversant.  It will absolutely upend you, and I'm not sure it's at all credible, but the ride was fun, and I practiced my French. . . .
76. Patrick Modiano, Pour Que Tu Ne Perds Pas Dans Le Quartier I practiced my French here as well, but this is a very different sort of novel. I said a few words about it in an Instagram post, where I commented on the austerity of the cover (typical of so many French books) and called it "seductive. . . Although in a muted and melancholy, elegiac and somewhat labyrinthine manner, as I've come to expect from the few other Modiano novels I've read."
77. Donna Leon, A Question of Belief
78. Francine Prose, Goldengrove -- Mentioned this on Instagram -- provocative and interesting response to Gerard Manley Hopkins' eponymous poem. Honestly, I wouldn't go out of my way to read this, nor buy a copy, but I was happy enough to spend time with it, borrowed from Vancouver Public Library.
79. Michael Robotham, The Suspect. I'm smitten by Joe O'Loughlin (a clinical--and sometimes forensic--psychologist contending with the limitations imposed by  Parkinson's) and will be working my way through this series with gratitude to Instagram's @a.conteuse for recommending it.
80. Frances Mayes, Women in Sunlight
So much fun, this story of three American women, who meet while considering the retirement communities deemed sensible by their families. Instead, the women jointly rent an Italian villa and commit to spending a year there together. Their story is told by an American poet who has lived in the adjoining rural Italian home for much of her adult life, and who tells it through the lens of the loss of a friend and erstwhile mentor, a rather severe older female writer. Again, a whiff of Eat, Pray, Love here, if in fictional form, but while the novel is light enough to qualify for beach (or fireside armchair) reading, it's very well written. As well, the many pertinent literary references and the meditations on art (writing, painting, architecture, horticulture, interior design--even cooking and winemaking) are worth lingering over and the exploration of possibilities for women over 55 inspiring, if daydreamingly (and ever so inescapably "white bourgeoisie") so. . .
81. Esi Edugyan, Washington Black You don't need me to tell you about this one -- winner of the Giller prize and shortlisted for the Booker, it's been reviewed everywhere and has landed on all the Top 10 Fiction lists that matter. An epic imagining of the life of a young slave who escapes likely execution on a Caribbean plantation by . . . . well, I won't tell you all that, but I will say that young Wash ends up in Canada and then in the Arctic, London, England, and even makes it to Morocco. . .And all the while, Edugyan not only exposes the human cost of slavery on its victims but she also explores the cost to those who benefit from it, even those who claim to favour Abolition.  Recommended without reservation, and pleased to have the world getting to know another great Canadian writer.
82. Andrew Sean Greer, Less I read this because of my friend Sue's review -- and I wasn't disappointed. Such a droll, clever novel. . .
83. Michael Connelly, Dark Sacred Night. I've long been a Harry Bosch fan, but the series has faltered the past five or so years (the Lincoln Lawyer never captured me either). The introduction, with this title, of Detective Renée Ballard, might be just what's needed as a foil to Bosch's chcaracter -- worked for me, at least. . .
84. Eden Robinson, Trickster Drift Robinson brings the young First Nations protagonist of Son of a Trickster to the city, where he's going to attend college, hoping to leave the supernatural behind him. . . But things quickly get complicated as he meets more of his extended family. A lively and engaging -- and funny! story, right up until the end, which I found less than satisfying. Still would recommend this, although I'd point you first to Monkey Beach, and then to Son of a Trickster. I'm hoping she has one more book in this Trickster series. . .
85. Donna Leon, Beastly Things 
86. Deborah Levy, Things I Don't Want to Know: A Living Autobiography Both volumes of this "living autobiography" (86 and 87 here) are good enough that I wish I owned copies rather than having borrowed them from the library. The texture of them makes me want to analyse how she manages so much space, lightness, air . . . there are such weighted, dense anecdotes that convey so much, but they're somehow suspended in a prose that's fairly spare. Or something. I obviously haven't figured it out yet. But she chooses the representative moments and images so well that she conveys significant stretches of a life in relatively few pages -- neither memoir is more than 200 pages, yet she covers (white) childhood in apartheid South Africa, exile/expat life, marriage, divorce, motherhood, bereavement. . . .
87. Deborah Levy, The Cost of Living: A Living Autobiography
88. Madeline Miller, Circe This is great fun, this imagined narration of her life story by one of the characters from the Odyssey, a daughter of Helios (the sun god) and Perse (a nymph).
89. Tana French, The Witch Elm -- I'm a big fan of Tana French's mysteries, especially those featuring the Dublin Murder Squad, so I had to read this one, despite the somewhat mixed reviews it's getting.  And I enjoyed it despite some impatience -- I think it could have been edited more severely for length and even perhaps for likelihood. Won't say more than that for fear of spoiling it, but I did, by the end, feel satisfied after some surprising (and almost credible) twists and turns.
90. Michael Robotham, Lost. My second Joe O'Louqhlin mystery -- and how interesting that Joe is brought in partway into the novel by the protagonist, a police detective suffering from amnesia after sustaining serious injuries and nearly drowning. More interesting is that this detective is one who harassed O'Loughlin as a potential suspect in the first book of the series (aptly named Suspect). I'm so delighted to have discovered this series -- highly recommended.
91. Lee Child, Past Tense. Yes, I am piling up the mysteries at year end. Obviously some cocooning going on (and why cocooning should involve murder mysteries, I cannot explain). This Jack Reacher novel kept me turning pages to see how its two separate narratives would converge. Yes, there's at least one action-packed chapter that calls for Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief," but overall I found the plotting quite elegant and ingenious. (and interesting to note that Reacher plays a bit of a matchmaker here but is not managing the romantic/sexual connections of his earlier novels with anywhere near the same frequency these days. . . )


  1. Now that I was successful commenting on your other blog, I'll try here again! Third time lucky, I guess. I have no idea I did wrong except that I was in Safari rather than Chrome??? In any case, I'm looking forward to exploring many of the new authors I have discovered on your blog. "Women Talking" was a Christmas gift and I'm anticipating its pleasures. I gave "Washington Black to a friend for Christmas, knowing full well she'll pass it on to me eventually. I downloaded the latest Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin books and was again struck by how similar they are.
    Your comment about cocooning with a mystery novel struck a chord; that would be my choice too. And not necessarily a "cosy village mystery" either - just well written with strong characters. I'm particularly grateful for your French language recommendations. If I were going to make a resolution, it wold be to read more in French!
    Thanks for your list
    Frances in Sidney

    1. Not only are you successful here (as well as on my other blog), but you're the first to post. Interesting that Chrome worked while Safari didn't -- Blogger is a Google platform, so perhaps that makes sense, and I'll remember to suggest is as a fix for others.
      I'm the same way with my mysteries -- mine needn't be cosy to make for good cocooning, but I do like a good character with some interesting and credible psychology. Setting. Good writing. Some thoughtful observations about humanity or life or whatever, but only if clever, trenchant. . .
      I have tended to read a novel or two a year in French for perhaps 30 years now (a decade without in my 20s, but I did a French Literature course at university before that, so I had a decent level to pick up at). It was a bit cumbersome at first, and I would use my dictionary often, but after a while you get the rhythm, and the sense becomes clear more quickly so that you don't need to look words up anymore than we used to when reading English novels in our teens.
      I know you've got a lot going on right now, but if you find time and can get the Comments machine to cooperate, I'd love to know what you think of Women Talking and Washington Black. Finally, thanks for reminding me about the new Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson -- more cocooning ahead! ;-)

    2. Have you ever postponed reading a book just to prolong the anticipation?(or perhaps to avoid disappointment?) That's how I feel about "Women Talking." I find I'm reading everything but. However, I'm fast running out of books on hand, so its turn will come soon enough.
      Frances in Sidney

    3. I don't know that I do that kind of prolonged anticipation of a book, but I hope you aren't disappointed when you get to Women Talking. I don't expect you will be.

  2. Some similarities in our reading pattern, though I will admit I am not one who reads many (violent) mysteries/crime books: too vivid an imagination that ends up with me reliving the tale in my sleep as a nightmare. I did read a number of memoirs last year--or the like: Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler; When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi; Almost Everything by Ann Lamott; Essays after Eight by Donald Hall; Reporter: A Memoir by Seymour Hersh and No Time to Spare by Ursula Le Guin (same problem as you--got it from the library so not enough time to ruminate on the essays as I would have liked). Some other reads: enjoyed Commonwealth by Ann Patchett and just finished Meet Me at the Museum by Ann Youngson. Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo was a different kind of read, but interesting; Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan-which I had mixed feelings about; Everyman by Philip Roth; and Train to Nowhere by Anita Leslie...another memoir originally written in 1948 but reissued last year, based on her experiences in WWII.

    1. What a good list, and thank you for sharing it (especially the memoirs -- and those essays by Donald Hall. And I didn't know Kate Davies had written a book, which I'm off straightaway to search out in the library's online catalogue.

  3. Forgot--but since you just finished making one of her sweater patterns, thought I would mention Kate Davies' Handywoman. An excellent read.

  4. Yay,The Reading List!
    I've read 25 titles (yes,I was counting!) from your list- (and some more....)some picked incidentally and the others were recommendations from all the "Women Who Read".
    Dinner With Edward was wonderful and a lot of others,in their own rights,too
    I'll have to explore more of Elly Gryffits,too-I've read only two
    The end of the year, for me, was in a very interesting,accidental circle,starting with M. Obama's Becoming through D.Owen's When the Crowdads Sing to A. Thomas The Hate U Give
    Bravissima for your new Instagram

    1. 25!! That's a good overlap, isn't it?! We'll have lots to chat about whenever we next manage "špica" together -- or lunch at Fotić ;-)
      I'm making a note of this "circle" of yours -- I haven't read Becoming yet, nor the other two titles. I'll have to look them up and see how they constitute a circle.

  5. As usual your list is as close as I'll get to reading any of the novels on it, but I love it for keeping me informed about current fiction. But I WILL read Lands of Lost Borders, as following the Silk Road is one of my probably unrealisable dreams (tho NoHatNoGloves and I have a plan to do it one day!). This fascination was sparked by the postcards my international businessman uncle sent to family during the 1960s as he sought new markets for the company's products. Imagine receiving a postcard from Samarkand, in rural northern Scotland, in 1965! And I will read No Time To Spare.
    I did have a look through one of the 'expat living in France' books that you listed in a previous year - can't remember the title now - but couldn't get on with it at all. I seem to have a very narrow band of tolerance where expats in France accounts are concerned. Do you find that your view of the genre is changing the more you get to know France? I find most of them rub me up the wrong way.
    Sara Midda - now that was a surprise coincidence! Midda illustrated a sought-after expression of The Macallan single malt whisky (Archival series Folio 2, currently going for around £1700) and I currently work at the distillery. So I'm familiar with her lovely watercolour illustrations of Speyside.

    1. Ooooh, I want to know what you will think of Lands of Lost Borders when you read it. How magical your uncle's travels must have seemed in the mid-1960s. I imagine you lingering over those stamps, the postmark. . .
      I'm curious about which expat book you might mean. I rarely read them anymore but did very much enjoy Lauren Collins' When in French. She's a good writer -- has been writing for the New Yorker for years -- and her focus was on language and culture. Very well-researched with the added fun (and credibility, for me at least) of her personal experience falling in love with a Frenchman and his family. . . I know what you mean about the genre in general though, and yes, so many rub me the wrong way.
      Fun coincidence re Midda -- have you looked at her illustrated memoir of living in France -- doubt you'd be irritated by that one! ;-)

    2. I may well be persuaded after all by Lauren Collins' book. When I dipped in previously on Amazon I wasn't grabbed by what I read, but re-dipping after your comment I I had a very different impression from the pages I was able to access.

  6. FYI - Just saw that Le Quin's book No Time to Spare is on sale today (Jan 8) on Amazon kindle for $2.99US. Not pushing them (just canceled my Prime yesterday), but since a couple of folks mentioned this book, thought I would pass it on.

    1. I don't "do" Amazon if I can help it (although considering Prime just because of Mrs. Maisel) but that's a treat of a price if anyone's looking . . .

  7. Just finished Dinner with Edward, what a joy. Thanks for putting it on the list.

    1. I'm glad to read this, KPD -- it's a sweet little book, isn't it?!