My favourite books of 2014

Has it been a year already? Must be time for one of those rare treats… A blog post! I’ve spent the year tweeting photos of the books I’ve read, with a short comment each time, but I’ve found it a bit frustrating to limit my views to the characters allowed by Twitter. I don’t have the time to blog regularly but I would have liked to have had the space and time to explain comments that may have seemed dismissive or flippant; it’s rare that I really hate a book, that I don’t see any value in it at all, but it may seem that way from my tweets.

But now’s not the time to dwell on those books I haven’t enjoyed. Let’s focus on the good stuff.

My 2014 reading stats before we start:

  • I’ve read a total of 40 books (that’s ten more than last year, in case you weren’t concentrating at the back) but still Not Enough
  • Of these, two were audiobooks – this rather enhanced one book for me (Bernadine Evaristo’s delicious Mr Loverman) thanks to wonderful casting
  • Over half (22 books and two aforementioned audiobooks) were borrowed from my beloved local library
  • Precisely 75% of the books I read were written by women
  • I read seven books on my Kindle
  • I finished all of them, even when I wasn’t really enjoying it. I know this is a problem.

Like last year, these are books I’ve read and enjoyed in 2014, not necessarily books that were published in 2014 (I’ve got too much of a TBR pile backlog for that). Unlike last year, you’re getting pictures in this blog post because some of the book covers were glorious.

Here are the five books I most enjoyed in 2014:

evie_wyld2All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

Jake lives alone (but for her dog, Dog) on a remote sheep farm on an unnamed British island. She’s hiding a secret – one that led to the deep scarring on her back – and, as someone or something starts to kill off her sheep, Jake fears that her past is catching up with her. Jake’s secret is revealed in reverse chronology and it’s a genuinely shocking. Dark and beautiful, thrilling and disturbing, ultimately a story of redemption, this was probably my favourite book of 2014.

hawthorn-and-childHawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway

This novel opens with two London detectives – Hawthorn and Child – investigating a shooting that may or may not be linked to an unusual vintage car that was seen in the vicinity. What follows is not a standard police procedural. In fact, no crimes are solved and there is no plot, as such. But who needs a plot when you have a whole chapter that really rather effectively switches back and forth between a character policing a riot and partaking in a gay orgy? Another chapter – Marching Songs – was so good, with such a strong voice, I kept going back and reading it again and again.

1.Jim Crace-HarvestHarvest by Jim Crace

If you’d told me at the beginning of the year that I’d particularly enjoy a book about the impact of the Inclosure Acts (that enforced legal ownership of land previously considered common land) on a 16th century English village, I’d have laughed in your face. It just isn’t my thing. But Harvest gets under your skin. It is so wonderfully written that the villagers’ fear of the strangers that appear nearby is palpable and the actions they take to defend themselves is both terrible and inevitable.

51N9Q7S021L.jpgMan at the Helm by Nina Stibbe

This novel made me laugh more than any other this year. (It made me laugh more than most novels ever have, to be honest). Lizzie and her brother and sister move to a Leicestershire village after the breakdown of their parents’ marriage but village life doesn’t really suit them and it certainly doesn’t suit their mother: “a menace and a drunk and a playwright”. The siblings decide to rectify the situation by finding an appropriate man for their mother from the village’s selection of mostly inappropriate men, with mostly disastrous consequences. Brilliantly funny and sharply sad.

panopticonThe Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

If Man at the Helm was the funniest book I read this year, The Panopticon was the bleakest. 15 year old Anais is in care, having been abandoned, abused and exploited throughout her short life and having – possibly – put a police officer in a coma. What could be a story too bleak to bear is made just about bearable by an intelligent, compelling, tough and vulnerable protagonist with a voice that keeps driving the reader through this debut novel.

2014’s runners up were:
Resistance by Owen Sheers
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
There But For The by Ali Smith
Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo
He Wants by Alison Moore

Wishlist

Thanks to the generosity and kindness of friends, family and colleagues, I find myself thoroughly spoilt and in receipt of a total of £135 of Amazon vouchers, given as leaving and Christmas gifts. My plan was to treat myself to some online shopping during the few, relaxed days after Christmas but they weren’t as relaxed as I’d hoped and so I have still only spent a few pounds on a couple of e-books, ordered directly from my Kindle.

I must admit that, because I hadn’t expected so much, I’ve been a bit stuck as to what to buy. I have no need or desire for any ‘larger’ purchases, e.g. electronic goods or technology – I have all the technology I want; there are things I know I don’t want, e.g. sat nav; household appliances don’t count because they’re boring (though I would quite like a slow cooker and a new iron); and I wouldn’t buy a smartphone from Amazon. (Granted, my beloved six-year-old 30GB white iPod video could and probably will die at any moment and is likely to need replacing but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.)

So I get the rather exciting opportunity but to buy lots and lots of smaller things… Today, I set about the task of bolstering my wish list and thought I’d share some of the items:

Scott Pilgrim on BluRay and volumes 3-6 of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel – I can’t wait to watch the film again and, having been given volumes 1 and 2 of the graphic novel for Christmas, I’m eager to keep reading. I may also get Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Lost At Sea, which looks lovely.

Le Creuset Mug – I adore the traditional Volcano colour of Le Creuset products and have wanted one of these mugs since I saw them in my favourite kitchen shop in Worcester (which, as an aside, is almost identical to a kitchen shop my mum would take me to as a child, each year, to buy a new cake tin in the shape of my age). I am still debating whether or not to take this in as my office mug.

Baking Made Easy – added to my list on the strength of one episode of the new BBC cookery programme. Because a girl can never have too many baking books and because it really does look easy.

Poach Pods – I got a pair of these for Christmas and they are a revelation. Getting two more so that I can poach more eggs at once.

Once Soundtrack – I finally watched Once last night and it was lovely (all the best love stories are unconsummated. See also: Lost in Translation, Brief Encounter). I only recently discovered The Frames thanks to a twitter recommendation but didn’t make the connection. I’m glad I finally did. I really love Glen Hansard’s voice, particularly in this scene:

Elbow’s new album – I guess it’s not cool to like Elbow since they won the Mercury Prize. Well, I still like them. They’re responsible for my all-time favourite song (Powder Blue, but you knew that already) and I walked down the aisle to an Elbow track (the opening bars of Mirrorball).

Natasha Walter’s The New Feminism – I read this as a student specialising in feminism and queer theory, when I was full of optimism about women’s place in the world, and recently enjoyed her follow-up, Living Dolls: The New Sexism. I’m looking forward to re-reading The New Feminism with the benefit of hindsight.

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts – I own too many coffee table books but this one looks interesting…

A range of ebooks, including those I’ve already bought – Jonathan Powell’s The New Machiavelli, Ali Shaw’s The Girl With Glass Feet (started but not finished before I had to give the book back), Sebastian Faulks’s A Week in December, David Nicholls’s One Day, Chris Mullin’s A View From The Foothills (which has been on my wish list for a long time but has suffered from my disinterest in big books – thank goodness for the Kindle), Clare Morrall’s Natural Flights of the Human Mind, and many more…

I haven’t added all of that up but I think I’m up to roughly £100. And hours and hours and hours of pleasure. Can’t quite believe my luck.

 

All change!

So, the cat’s out of the bag and those who needed to know first now know (I think, I hope, I’m sorry if you didn’t). In January, I’ll be starting a new job and Chris and I will be moving to Gloucester (possibly Cheltenham but, seriously, HOW MUCH?!) before Christmas.

Having known about the move for a few weeks now, whilst I’ve waited for the contract to come through, a few blog posts have been floating around my head. (Yes, I’m staggered I haven’t let it slip on Twitter too.)

The first was to be an overview of the many things Chris and I need to sort out in relation to the new job, our house move and much more besides – purchasing a new car man enough to get up Birdlip Hill everyday, finding a new yoga class and running club, getting to grips with my new job role, streamlining our many belongings, figuring out our current rental contract, weighing up a removals company vs. hiring a van, endless house viewings, etc…

Cathartic for me, less interesting for you.

Another theme is related to my sense of belonging. I may well expand on this at some future date. We’ve lived in Worcester for six years now and, though it took us a long time to feel this way, I think it’s fair to say that we now feel at home. Gloucester is not so new or unfamiliar – Chris grew up there and we still have family and friends in the area, we know our way around – but I’m still nervous about moving and settling again. To this end, I have been keeping a list of things to look forward to in Gloucester, which currently runs to:

  • Gloucester Guildhall – good gigs, nice cinema
  • Blue Thai Kitchen, Ruddy’s Fish & Chips, Over Farm
  • Being closer to the Taylors
  • Better cinemas in the vicinity (see above + Vue in Cheltenham)
  • Cheltenham in general – shopping, restaurants, bars, cultural stuff
  • Gloucester’s suburban libraries (so many more than Worcester!)
  • Being half an hour closer to my hometown, family and friends
  • Being half an hour away from Bristol

(Please feel free to contribute!)

Finally, and most recently, some thoughts on people’s responses to my move. Ever the diplomat, I’m still mulling it over but the current climate in the public sector certainly puts an interesting spin on that one…

(Much as I’ve never told you what my current job is on this blog, I will not be telling you what my new job is. But it’s no state secret so feel free to DM, text, email or even speak to me if you’d like to know.)

What I did do on Friday

  • Quite a lot of laundry
  • A couple of hours on the phone to my dad in NZ
  • Grocery shopping (well, grocery and Heavy Rain)
  • Hot smoked salmon salad and Blue Roses on Spotify
  • Brief Encounter and some crying (at the film, not just generally)
  • Ironing and more ironing
  • About half an hour of Heavy Rain and some origami
  • Thai with the original Gin Lovelies and the Husbands & Boyfriends
  • More grocery shopping, this time tipsy

What to do?

I have Friday off (getting rid of some overtime). A whole day to myself with very little planned. I do need to call my dad in the morning and I do need to go to Tesco and I do need to do some tidying and probably make the bed in the spare room for my parents’ visit this weekend.

Other options:

  • Buy Heavy Rain. Play Heavy Rain
  • Watch the rest of Brief Encounter that I recorded last weekend
  • Take myself out for lunch – or arrange to meet someone for lunch…
  • Read a whole book
  • Go to the cinema, see a film and get popcorn (salty mixed with sweet, please)
  • Bake something nice
  • Get a massage / facial

What to do?

Grumpy

I’ll be honest, I’m pretty grumpy tonight. For the following reasons:

1. Mainly, because I have to go back to work tomorrow after five days off and I’ve been having a lovely time and I don’t want to go back. I really need to do something about that.
2. Renting sucks.
3. Letting agents suck.
4. Our landlord sucks.
5. I’ve been putting off ironing all day but now I really have to do it or I won’t have anything to wear to work tomorrow.
6. I’ve been ranting about my general feeling of injustice in relation to the widespread concern about bankers leaving the country if they don’t get their bonuses that doesn’t appear to extend to our incredibly valuable public sector workers.
7. Today, we spent over £200 on brake discs and pads and over £100 on a dehumidifier.

Reasons to be cheerful:
1. Only a two day week!
2. Omar’s visiting at the weekend. And we’re going to see Where The Wild Things Are. Really looking forward to it 🙂
3. We’ve got banoffee pie.
4. I have dinner and Seth Lakeman with Leigh and Katy to look forward to tomorrow night.
5. And my team Christmas dinner at Chesters on Friday. Mmmm…burritos…
6. And Leigh’s festive open house on Saturday. Mmmm…mulled wine and mince pies…
7. After some serious trawling of the shops, I found the perfect Christmas gift for my mum this morning.

Will write about my long weekend soon (maybe).

Oh, my teenage years…

Ally texted me last night with a list that I wrote 10 years ago, at the age of 17, of my top ten favourite songs. There are some “what the bloody hell was I thinking?” numbers in there (you know I’m just saying that, don’t you?), as well as some rediscoveries and some enduring favourites.

I was going to make a spotify playlist to share with you but because I was a somewhat pretentious teenager, partial to a bit of musical snobbery, there are a few obscure B-sides in there so I can’t find them all. So you’ve got some youtube links:

‘Queen of the Troubled Teens’ by Idlewild (I genuinely believed this should be my anthem. I was such a loser.)

‘Tame’ by Pixies (the first Pixies song I ever heard. And so began a lifelong obsession…)

‘Silence’ by Delirium (no link because it was the radio edit that I loved but a VERY SPECIFIC mix, which I can’t remember and subsequently can’t find)

‘Nights in White Satin’ by The Moody Blues (this isn’t even the one I’m ashamed of)

‘Blackpool’ by Delgados (still awesome  – but no proper video sadly. Would encourage you to seek it out)

‘You Just Have To Be Who You Are’ by Idlewild (I liked Idlewild, ok? Still do, in fact)

‘Blue Flashing Light’ by Travis (I’d just like to point out that the first two Travis albums were actually very good and perfectly acceptable listening material)

‘Genie in a Bottle’ by Christina Aguilera
(what the bloody hell was I thinking?!) (I still have a soft spot for really well written pop music and yes I do happen to love ‘Beat Again’ by JLS)

‘Everlong’ by Foo Fighters (this won’t ever stop being one of my favourite songs)

‘S.O.F.T.’ by Elastica (see above)

Some observations: I was not only a pretentious teenager, but also a noisy one. I’m not sure that I’ve changed a great deal. I’m still noisy but I suppose I’m more inclined towards some quieter moments this days. And my husband has had some influence over my musical taste too, which is only natural.

I am so spending the weekend coming up with my top 10 favourite songs…