Category Archives: books

2011: The year in books

This blog post was originally going to be about how I had failed to be wowed by any books this year in the way that I was in 2010 by, say, Arthur Phillips’ The Song Is You or Colum McCann’s Let The Great World Spin. But then I looked through my list, and I remembered The Grapes of Wrath, The Audacity to Win, the American Future, The Book Thief.

Still, though, I feel disappointed about this year, perhaps because I’ve read a fair few books that weren’t all I had hoped they would be (the subject of a future post, no doubt) and most likely because I will finish without reaching my goal of fifty books. I’ll have got to about 32, which is respectable enough, but that isn’t enough to appease the competitive urge in me.

There are a variety of reasons for this, chief among which has to be the iPad: long gone and almost forgotten are the days when it was too much hassle to turn on my computer for one last play on Twitter before bed. And when in combination with other addictions, like Authonomy, the online writers’ community, it has eaten away many hours.

And iPad or no iPad, Authonomy must shoulder some of the blame. It may well be that I have, in fact, read fifty books’ worth of first chapters: the idea is that you comment on other people’s books in the hope that they will read, comment on, and vote for yours, edging you ever closer to the desk of an editor at Harper Collins. So you read many books that you would ordinarily not go anywhere near. Some of the writing wowed me, like Rena Rossner in her first novel Blown to Smithereens; some, it has be to said, did not.

Then there was NaNoWriMo. I usually read most when travelling; this year, I wrote instead. I take the train less these days, too, and when I do I sometimes use the time for emails, or Authonomy, or – ahem – Boggle. (Yes, the iPad again.) There are many excuses I could offer, some slightly more worthy than others. Perhaps the very fact of having a goal made it seem a little too much like a chore.

I wonder if there’s another reason for it too, one that renders all the excuses almost irrelevant. Louis de Bernieres said that “love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision…” My love for the English language was a little like that. It came out of nowhere and blew me away, and last year’s voracious reading was a symptom of that. The temporary madness might be over now. Maybe that’s why I had to look at a list to remember the books that wowed me, when last year I could have named them without thinking twice, or barely even once. But, he went on to say, “… and when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.”

I suppose that’s the stage I am at with my reading. There are moments of awe, of course, but they are fewer than they used to be. But it is inconceivable that books and I, words and I, the English language and I, should ever part. Even though I don’t yet know what my target for next year will be, or even if if I should have one, I’ll never stop reading.

Women’s Fiction: an insulting term?

I thought I was going to be irritated by the Women’s Hour piece on women’s fiction. I thought it was going to be one of those tired and tiresome discussions about how we don’t use the term “men’s fiction”, and how women’s fiction is what we would call literary fiction if it were written by men.
But I found myself agreeing.
For context: some customers complained to WHSmith about their shelving only fluffly, light, pink novels under “women’s fiction”, which seemed to imply that women only like that kind of writing. WHSmith responded by removing the label. Great customer service?
There is no doubt that a market for those novels exists, and those people, shopping in a hurry, want to be pointed to the kind of books they like. So removing the signpost is not particularly good customer service.
The thing is, though, that we have a label for the kind of book that the customers were referring t0: “chick lit”. Some women like those books, some women don’t.
“Women’s fiction”, however, is much broader than that. I think it’s a useful term. Where would you put The Time Traveler’s Wife if not there? I am a woman, and I like to read books like that. I have no problem with grouping them together so that I can find them.
But The Time Traveler’s Wife doesn’t belong in “chick lit”. Nor, for that matter, does Inevitable, but since Authonomy don’t have a “women’s fiction” section, I had to use the “chick lit” label and couple it, slightly oddly, with “literary fiction”. If it were marketed to be pink and fluffy and placed alongside Sophie Kinsella’s novels, I would be mortified. Or at least as mortified as I could be if my book were actually being published.
My plea is this: call chick lit “chick lit”, or “light romantic reads” if “chick lit” is going to offend some people, but please use “women’s fiction” for something broader than that. The label is useful, but only if applied correctly.

A survey on books and personality types…

I would like to conduct my own little non-scientific survey.

Well, actually, if we’re talking wishes, I’d like to spend three years being funded to study this scientifically, but since that is -sigh – unlikely, I’m going to need you to help me out by answering the following questions:
1. Do you know your Myers Briggs personality type? What is it?
2. What are five books that you really, really like?
3. Do you have a favourite “genre” of books?
4. What do you think of the idea of someone never quite getting over someone, to the point where they are never able to be happy in any other relationship? Is it unrealistic?
I’ll outline my theories in a later post…

On my bookshelf, 2011

So, last year I made it to sort-of 50 books. I’m not sure if I want to set a numeric goal for this year, because if I do I will never get round to reading Anna Karenina, Moby Dick or Gone with the Wind (although my motivation is a little on the low side for all of those anyway).

Who am I kidding? I’m far too competitive, even if it is only myself I am competing with. Full disclosure: this list (and last year’s) includes book I finished this year, even if I started them last year. That said, there will be books I start this year that I don’t finish until later, so it all comes out in the wash, or something.

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer.

– 9/10. Difficult to know how this one can be topped. Oskar, the main character, is so very real and his story is haunting and heartbreaking, and I loved that it was long enough that you could really get into it – great book to take on holiday. It was a bit of a stretch that so much tragedy could have happened in just one family, but the story was so good, and so well-written, that I forgive it. I love how the different elements all tie up. I welled up several times at the end. Can’t wait for J Safran Foer’s next novel, and trying not to feel inferior about the fact that he’s only a year older than me.

2. Cupid and Diana, by Christina Bartolomeo

– 7/10. I was looking for a book set in Washington DC, and this one is infused with its setting, so I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, it’s chick lit, and no, I don’t read much of that particular genre, but it was funny and wry and there were some great observations on the life of an early-thirties woman trying to find love. The ending left me unconvinced, though – she had me rooting for a different one. I recommend this one for a poolside read in the summer.

3. Chapter after Chapter, by Heather Sellers

– 8/10 Inspirational and helpful, and tackles some questions that none of the (many) other books I’ve read about writing have answered. I liked the “nobody tells you” chapter – I feel better prepared for life as a writer now, though I still need to do the exercises!

4. Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart

– 7/10 I enjoyed this, and he writes well. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. It was a good read, though, and a scarily plausible prediction of America in the not too distant future.

5. The very thought of you, by Rosie Aliison

– 6/10. Not the sweet coming-of-age story implied by the title, the cover or the reviews. Still, I couldn’t seem to stop reading, so there must have been something about this book that I liked, and towards the beginning especially I found it quite moving. I love that she structured her book how I plan to structure mine. And gold star for not one but two mentions of Belgium!

6. Catcher in the Rye, by J D Salinger

– 8/10. I found Holden’s voice compelling and readable and I really liked him as a character wtih his wry observations, his recurring pet phrases and yes, even his negative outlook. The ending didn’t feel very satisying, but I think the book was more an insight into a character than a story with a definite beginning and ending as such. I liked it a lot.

7. Dog Days, by Ana Marie Cox

– 6.5/10. Not a book I’d lend to my mum or recommend to my pastor, or even normally read myself, but it was really useful research for my novel: another DC-based book with a great “sense of place”. And despite the mildly ridiculous plot it was a bit of a page-turner. I’m bemused by the title, though.

I was going to give it a lower rating so you could all admire my preference for literary fiction over chick lit, but the truth is, despite its mildly ridiculous yet oddly believable plot and language and erm, things, it was a bit of a page turner!

8. The American Future, by Simon Schama

9/10 I don’t read much non-fiction, and I certainly don’t read much history. I would read more if it was all like this, though it’s a slow burner: you have to be awake and able to concentrate for good bit of a time!

Schama is a master storyteller, weaving together the strands of history, and shedding light on current issues by drawing lessons from past events, but never in an over-obvious way. He assumes an intelligent reader, and I like that. I also particularly liked that he admitted that he finds it hard to square certain very positive aspects of true Christianity with his own worldview.

Oh, and he likes the word pyrrhic.I love words with odd spellings, so that worked well for me.

9. Florence and Giles, by John Harding

7/10. I really only read this because I was doing a book review – but can’t complain, there are worse ways to earn money! Not really my kind of book – it’s Gothic novel, and possibly more of a YA novel too, but it made interesting use of language and that’s always good to keep me reading. “Nothing prepares you for the chillingly ruthless finale,” says one review, and that’s about accurate.

10. Primary Colors, by Anonymous/Joe Klein

-8.5/10. I thoroughly enjoyed this – quality writing, a good story, a romantic subplot, and a genuinely unpredictable ending. I was a little confused by the many characters, though, particularly in the first third of the book.

11. Sammy’s House, by Kristin Gore

– 8/10. I loved this! Sammy’s Hill, which I read last year, was good, but this was a notch up from this. Sammy herself is fun and endearing and has lots of quirks I can identify with. I was really rooting for her and Charlie and I am normally quite scathing of happy endings so she clearly worked her magic. Plus, you know, the whole DC thing.

I think I said this about Sammy’s Hill, but it’s basically Bridget Jones meets the West Wing. These are both very good things.
12. The me I want to be, by John Ortberg

7/10. Eminently readable, though I enjoyed it less (and got less immediate pratical application from it) than his other books. But maybe that says more about where I’m at right now than about his book.

13. The People’s Choice, by Jeff Greenfield

This was, at times, an easy read, and at times I really needed to concentrate to understand the point he is making. And he is making a point: it’s a lesson in the oddities of the American electoral system as much as it is a novel, and there were way too many characters for me to be able to keep with them all, but I enjoyed it, and the ending was more satisfying than I thought it would be. The style is idosyncratic – he is consicously talking to and educating readers. I liked that, though I’m not sure I’d want to read a hundred novels in this style.
14. The Book Thief

haunting, beautiful, enchanting, heartbreaking. 9/10

15. The Privileges

I really enjoyed the first two thirds of this. I hope the ending is deeply meaningful and somehow passed me by, because otherwise it’s just weird.
16. I think I love you

17. Breakfast at Tiffany’s

18. When a Woman Trusts God

19. Living History

20. The Grapes of Wrath

9/10 This book epitomises what I love about literary fiction: lyrical, heart-breaking, deeply understanding of humanity. The only thing I didn’t like was the end – because it wasn’t really an ending.
21. The Finkler Question

6/10 There’s no doubt the man can write, and I enjoyed it at fast, but then it got darker, weirder, and more incomprehensible to those not versed in the intricacies of Judaism and the intellectual arguments for and against Zionism, and he lost me.
22. Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of?

23. Hostage in Hava

24. Know Doubt

25. Becoming George Sand

26. Bird by Bird

27. No Plot No Problem

28. Capitol Offence

29. The Audacity to Win

2010: my five favourite books

1. Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann.

Literary fiction at its best: I read it slowly, not because it didn’t intrigue me and make me want to find out what happened – it did – but because I wanted to take in the beauty of the writing. He had me at the prologue, where even rubbish flying in the wind sounded like poetry.
Set against the backdrop of Philippe Petit’s funambulist act in th 1970s, during which he walked across a wire between the newly built Twin Towers, it tells the story of a few interweaving lives across the spectrum of New York society. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
2. The Song is You, by Arthur Phillips
Every once in while you stumble across a book that you hadn’t heard of, and whose existence you then want to shout from the rooftops. This, for me, was one of those books. The characters were haunting, and it was so refreshing to find a love story that isn’t boy-meets-girl-and-they-defeat-enemies-then-live-happily-ever-after. It was the perfect read for a person who has a tendency to fall in love with people at a distance, and for a writer whose novel is (hopefully) full of the same kind of angst.
This kind of book is exactly what I want to be known for – yes, it’s romance, but there is nothing trite or easy about it, and the writing takes my breath away. He made the clicking of iPod wheels and the opening of emails into poetry. I want to write like this guy.
3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Schaefer
I can’t remember the last time I dreamed about a book and then woke up desperate to find out what happens next. I’m not normally one for jumping on bandwagons, but this book thoroughly deserves the acclaim it’s received. The epistolary form is original, refreshing, and easy to read even when you’re getting on and off tubes, and helps bring characters to life. The tone is light-hearted, generally, but that does not mean it shies away from more difficult aspects of life in and just after the War. I fell in love with this novel a few pages in, when the main character dumps her fiance after he removed her books from her shelves so he could put his sports awards there instead.
4. State by State – a Panoromic Portrait of America
This is a wonderful, wonderful introduction to a country whose diversity is brought to life by fifty different authors who, together, provide what is basically a road trip in book form. Some of the authors recall childhood memories, others talk about the geography, history of politics of their state, or the people who live there. There is a lot of beautiful writing here, too, and I found that it was a great place to start for discovering contemporary American authors, as well as their country itself.
5. The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama
It’s not often that I pick up a book that is basically 100% policy. It’s even less often that I am so inspired by it. Barack Obama writes clearly, eloquently, and convincingly. It’s no coincidence that the heroine in my novel says, referring to this book, that he makes her heart sing. Mine too.
Also worthy of note are One Day, for its page-turner qualities, for Emma, the character I so identified with, and the originality of its structure; American Rust, for its elegant writing; Brooklyn, because you feel like you’re right there with the heroine in her seasickness and homesickness and lovesickness, the Time Traveller’s Wife, for doing romance well, and Plan B: What to do when God doesn’t turn up the way you thought he would – no-nonsense, honest, helpful.

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

An Abundance of Katherines opens with a very ordinary tale of adolescent heartbreak. But Colin is not ordinary, and neither is his predicament: his nineteenth Katherine has just dumped him. Him! Him, who is destined for greatness, if he could just work out how to make that difficult transition from child prodigy to adult genius. Him, who can make a dozen anagrams out of any given set of words. Him, who can speak far more languages than anyone will ever need to.

Enter Hassan, the loyal best friend who cares enough about Colin to tell him when his conversational tangents are Not Interesting. He drags Colin away from home so that he can forget about Katherine XIX, and together they can engage on the American rite of passage par excellence: a road trip. But they never make it past Gutshot, Tennessee – here they meet some new friends, find a job, and Colin works on his Important Project: a mathematical equation that will predict the success of a relationship.

Colin is a collector of useless facts, and shares many of them with us. By the end of this book, you will not only have spent time with some lovable characters and learned more than you ever thought you wanted to about maths, you will also know which President was so fat that he once got stuck in the bath and why the shower curtain always seems drawn towards you.

Think of this book as Adrian Mole meets the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, with a dash of social commentary thrown in.

Warm, witty, and engaging, this is a “Young Adult” novel with an appeal far broader than the genre would suggest. Lovable, self-confessed geeks like Colin and Hassan are particularly likely to enjoy it.

calling other bibliophiles…

Dear people who read a lot,

I was hoping you could help me out.
Writing the end of this novel is turning out to be a lot like passing healthcare reform, only without the publicity. I’ve lost count of the number of levels I’m stuck on…
For inspiration, and help on navigating certain things, I’m looking for:
– books where the heroine sacrifices herself (in whatever way) for her hero…
– books where there is some kind of book club involved as either a main theme or just a sub-plot…
– books where a character is passionate about politics
– books where a character is a piano player and/or loves jazz…
Any recommendations?
Thanks in anticipation
Claire L 🙂

Books that I would like to write…

… or co-write. Or ghost write. Or adapt. Or translate. The list is endless…

Obviously, there is Inevitable, then the Muffin House and then the novel that will be loosely based on my time (hopefully) working for the Obama campaign in 2012.
But non-fiction-wise, I wouldn’t mind working on the following (and leaving aside every variation on Inside the West Wing you can imagine)…
… Janel Moloney’s biography
… the translation into French of Marlee Matlin’s autobiography, “I’ll scream later” (Marlee, if you’re reading – you can check out my credentials on LinkedIn)
So you’re British and you think you can spell? – An adaptation of this great book of “Killer Quizzes for the Incurably Competitive and Overly Confident”
… Bradley Whitford’s autobiography, which he really should write himself* , if the episodes of West Wing he did are anything to go by – but maybe I can proofread it for him, and advise him on which pictures to put in. You know, that kind of thing.
Being Donna Moss: Adventures on the Campaign Trail
to be continued as inspiration strikes…
*For you clever clogs out there, I realise that an autobiography is by definition written by the person concerned. Is it, though? Jason Donovan’s wasn’t. Not that I am putting Jason Donovan in the same league as Bradley Whitford, although one thing they do have in common: my devotion to them. (In my defence, I was 10 when Jason was in his heyday and I was in love with him. There is no defence for my Brad devotion. I like to think that none is needed….)

Books that I would like someone else to write…

… because they’d write them far better than me, or I want to hear their take on it, or the whole point is that it’s stuff I want to know without doing ridiculous amounts of research.

Or in one case, because if such a book existed, and were non-fiction, that would make me an unspeakably happy girl.

Making the horse drink…
How to motivate adult language learners to learn their verb conjugations

and its sequel

Blood from a stone
How to get adult language learners to use their imaginations

The Missing Years
Or my take on seasons 5 to 15 of the West Wing
by Aaron Sorkin
Find Me Valuable
(How an ordinary British girl won the heart of an ageing yet still desperately eligible Hollywood actor)
Destined for Greatness (or a far wittier title)
The autobiography of Bradley Whitford (with lots of photos, and plenty of inside info on the West Wing that we fans don’t already know… and politics… and what it’s really like to be an actor… and all that stuff)
American politics and history from the beginning for not-quite dummies
(aka reasonably intelligent Brits who knew nothing, literally nothing, about the US until they got addicted to the West Wing)

to be continued…

On my bookshelf, 2010

It is a truth universally acknowledged (or at least it ought to be) that you can tell a lot about someone from what is on their bookshelves. Which is possibly why they seem to be what my eye gravitates towards the first time I am in someone’s home. (This, among many other things, is a trait I share with Catherine, the heroine of my book, Inevitable.)

I’m not entirely sure what a person would make of mine, or of the fact that my books, which mostly look unread (as they would when you – ahem – carry them round in an Amazon wrapper to avoid spoiling them) are clearly classified in a definite order according to a precise system, when the rest of my flat bears precisely none of the hallmarks associated with a person with obsessive compulsive disorder or even just the tendency to neatness.
Since I re-acquainted myself with voracious reading a couple of years ago, I’ve been listing all my bookseverything I’ve read thanks to a Facebook application. It occurs to me, though, that this may not be the most efficient way of doing so.
It also occurs to me that recording the books I am reading is as good a way as any of tracking the things that consume me, my passions and obsessions and vague interests, over a year, over a lifetime, even. Perhaps even the basis for a future autobiography, who knows.
So, here is my 2010 list for the benefit of those who would like to get to know me (Bradley Whtiford, are you out there?), and for mine too, because I’m sure one day it will tell me something useful. One day, I may well add reviews (and feel free to ask me about a specific book if you are interested) but for now, I’ll content myself with purely subjective marks as and when I finish each book.
Recommendations, Amazon style (if you hated that, stay away from this, that kind of thing) are also very welcome.
American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld. Six out of ten. Not what I wanted it to be, which was basically a literary version of the West Wing. Only the last 100 of 600 or so pages vaguely scratches that itch. But it did scratch it somewhat effectively.
Reading like a Writer, by Francine Prose. Nine out of ten. Loved it.
Deadlock, by James Scott Bell. Seven and a half out of ten. It’s set in New York and DC, has political and Christian overtones: could there be a more ideal read for me? Did not know such a thing existed. Fab.
Washington Square, by Henry James. Eight out of ten.
Le voyage d’hiver, by Amélie Nothomb. Three out of ten. (I am not, like many wannabe literary critics, a Nothomb snob: I’ve enjoyed a few books by her. But this one, I am convinced, would never have been published had she not already been famous and bound to churn out a book a year. I enjoyed the first third; then it went weird and disjointed and ought to have turned into three separate novels if she could have been bothered, but there you are. At least it’s short.)
Finding your voice, by Les Edgerton. Four and a half out of ten. I keep meaning to blog about this one. It irritated me, but it did also teach me useful principles, and was an easy read.
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
Scene and setting, by Jack M Bingham. Five out of ten. Yawn, but vaguely useful.
The Art of Subtext in Fiction, by Charles Baxter.
Description and Setting, by Ron Rozelle. Eight out of ten. Really useful and inspiring. Second time through, and actually did some of the exercises this time.
The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen. Eight out of ten. Could even ignore other people while reading this. Only occasionally did I start thinking, “erm, get to the point please!”. Which for a book this long is quite an achievement!
(I’ve just discovered another useful thing about this list: eleven books in just over two months is not, after all, that bad. Perhaps I am not wasting quite as much of my time as I thought.)
The Art of Time in Fiction, by Joan Silber. Good stuff. Seven out of ten.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Burrows – 8.5/10 Wonderful stuff. I actually dreamed about it one night and woke up thinking I had to finish it right there and then.
State by State, edited by Sean Wilsey and Matt Weiland. Thoroughly recommended – a great introduction to America.
On Writing, by Stephen King. Probably the only Stephen King book I’ll ever read but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I loved the accounts of his marriage – so heart-warming.
Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin. Great stuff. Fantastic descriptions of sea sickness, the New York cold, homesickness, and re-entry shock. You felt you were there.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. Giving out 4 out of 10, because I’m feeling charitable.
Beginnings, Middles and Ends, by Nancy Kress. Six out of ten.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Seven out of ten. I cried. I never cry at books.
The Writer’s Idea Book, by Jack Heffron. Nine out of ten; just what I have been looking for. Of course reading it is only half the story – it’s really all about the practical exercises.
The World According to Bertie, by Alexander McCall Smith (a 44 Scotland Street novel). Not high literature, but a perfectly pleasant and at times chucklesome read. Six and a half out of ten.
American Rust, by Philipp Meyer. Man, this guy can write. 9 out of ten.
Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney. 8 out of ten. Loved his style. Enjoyed the first half more, but who knows if that was a change in my mood or really a change in the book
The Rehearsal, by Eleanor Catton. I’ll say 7 out of ten, no, 7.5, because she has some great detail and insight into the lives and minds of teenagers. But the post-modernness of it irritated me a little – the whole not knowing what’s really real. Also, it felt like it just stopped, without resolving anything.
Sammy’s Hill, by Kristin Gore. The West Wing meets chick lit. Passed the time very pleasantly… 🙂 7/10
Let the Great World Spin – this is amazing. The writing is practically poetry, the characterisation is deep, the stories touching, the interlocking of lives done beautifully. 9.5 out of ten this one. I think it’s up there on my all-time favourites now..
God is closer than you think, by John Ortberg. Every bit as good as the first 35 times I’ve read it. Nine out of ten. Accessible, practical, inspiring.
The Piano Teacher, by Janice Lee – I hate giving up on books, but by page 130 I was ready to throw things. I didn’t much like her writing or the gory war details. Can only assume that whoever compared it to Atonement has never actually read any Ian McEwan.
One Day, by David Nicholl
Word Painting, by Rebecca McClanahan
An Equal music, by Vikram Seth

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Packer

The Writer’s Ideas Workshop, by Jack Heffron

The Earth hums in B flat, by Mari Strahan

Plan B: What to do when God doesn’t turn up the way you thought He would, by Pete Wilson – recommended if you struggle with a hope deferred. Refreshingly honest and devoid of platitudes. So good that I begged my old Church to let me review it for their magazine. (Well, not begged, exactly. Offered. They said yes. Hooray.)

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger – brilliant.
The Art of War for Writers, by James Scott Bell – full of useful info and inspirational quotes, like “a baboon can write 350 words per day. Don’t be shown up by a baboon.”
Writing your first novel, by Sophie King – Hmm. I don’t want to be negative, and there was useful stuff in here, and maybe if it had been the first book I’d read about writing, I would have enjoyed it more. But I found it a little patronising, and it seemed to assume we all want to write commercial fiction, and most of the examples given were from her own work, which grated a little. It’s possibly just a question of personal preference – I prefer the more academic kinds of books on this topic…
Hearts and Minds, by Amanda Craig. 7 out of 10. Enjoyed it, and at times found it hard to put down. Identified with a few of the characters, too, and it’s always nice to read a book set in a place you know well. The mention of Pimlico made me smile.
Did I kiss marriage goodbye? trusting God with a hope deferred, by Carolyn McCulley. Now I need to go through it all again and actually put this stuff into practice! If I do, my life and those of people around me will be hugely enriched. Recommended, but prepare to be challenged.
The Song Is You, by Arthur Phillip. This is a beautifully written love story – he makes poetry out of clicking iPad wheels and pinging open emails. Deserves to be better known. Nine out of ten. Loved it. One of my favourite books this year.
The Constant Art of Being a Writer, by N M Selby. A really useful overview of and introduction to the life, art, and business of writing – so it does what it says on the tin! 8 out of 10.
84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. Relentlessly charming, to use of its own phrases. Full of pithy observations about Brits and Americans, which you will especially appreciate if you experience of both cultures. If you know London and New York, so much the better. 8 out of 10.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist – as a teenager, this would have blown my innocent little mind, but it’s a good read. The characters feel real and draw you into their world and their relationship.

A Writer’s Book of Days, by Judy Reeves. Her writing prompts are pure magic; her advice and inspiration is invaluable. A must for every writer’s bookshelf!
Nine and Counting – the Women of the Senate – dangerously inspiring
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark. Fun, dark, quirky, old-fashioned. 7.5/10.
Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham. Fun, entertaining, but the ending was a little on the ridiculous side. 7/10
Falling man, by Don DeLillo. I know realise why DeLillo is on all the if-you-want-to-write-you-must-read-this lists. Haunting, beautiful, heart-breaking. 8.5/10, but I may have loved it more if I hadn’t gulped it down so quickly. It’s one of those books that may be best savoured.
Incomparable, by Andrew Wilson. Bite-sized, highly accessible theology about the character of God. 8.5/10.
Extremely loud and incredibly close, by Jonathan Safran Foer. Beautiful. Amazing writing. Again, haunting. 9/10
Okay, that might be cheating, since technically I haven’t finished it, but if you add the half or so of this I’ve read with the little of the Piano Teacher that I read, that might make 50 in total, which brings me to my goal.