Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Book List: 2015

Enid Blyton

In the spirit of yearly holiday tradition, here is the list of books I loved most last year including my choices for Yvette's Book of the Year and the Runner-Up. Vintage is rampant you'll note, so obviously I'm not paying any attention to whether the books were published in 2015 - per usual. If I read it for the first time last year then that's new enough for me.


SECONDHAND SOULS (2015) by Christopher Moore 

Why? Because this book made me laugh so hard and was so damn preposterous yet still managed to hit the charm alarm every now and then even when it was being ribald and rude. Moore is a treasure and one of the very few authors of wicked imagination who knows how to fashion horror and delight into a palatable duo -  you laugh hard enough you don't have time to recoil. Of course it doesn't hurt that Moore is brilliant at what he does.

This is the sequel to the one of my all time favorites, A DIRTY JOB, but you don't really need to have read it, to get going with this one. Each book stands alone (though the main characters are shared). Yet SECONDHAND SOULS is, somehow, even more loony and memorable. There are scenes in this book that are impossible to forget - unfortunately. HA!!

Here's the Washington Post's review of SECONDHAND SOULS which has some nice detail and may convince you to give this book a try - if you dare.

Charlie tag line: NEED A CHEEZ!!!

5 Stars


HUNTINGTOWER (1922) by John Buchan 

A marvelous adventure in the Scottish Highlands on the trail of a princess in a tower (literally) with a band of ill-assorted heroes to the rescue.

This is a Buchan 'romance' in the great tradition of romantic adventures so favored by writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson or Sir Walter Scott though it takes place in the 'modern day' of 1922 or so. But it is also a tale with a dark undertow of unregenerate villainy, outreach of the revolutionary scourge rampant in Russia in the early part of the 20th century.

Our hero is Dickson McCunn, a nice, middle-aged Scottish grocer who has sold his very successful Glasgow emporium (and its two branch stores) to a big chain and is able thereon to lead a life of leisure - a life he finds less than satisfactory. So off he goes looking for adventure: a walking tour of the Scottish Highalnds, and before you can say, 'be careful what you wish for,' dazzling adventure is what he gets.

Just a lovely, lovely book for those of us who have never quite grown up or grown away from the satisfying delights of this sort of thing.

5 Stars

My Review

And now for the rest: 2015 was a wonderful reading year during which I managed to read 116 books. (Not counting those I began and didn't finish, of course.)

1) WARRANT FOR X (1938) by Philip MacDonald

The book on which the film, 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET starring Van Johnson was based. The book is a million times better, more thrilling, inventive and faster-paced. Written in the stylistically vivid prose of the Golden Era of detecting greats which I enjoy.

The story: An American playwright in London overhears a dastardly plot, he gets super-sleuth Anthony Gethryn involved and then watch out, even with the chanciest of clues, it's full speed ahead. A book to ingest in one exciting gigantic gulp. I loved it.

5 Stars

My Review

2) PRIVATE ENTERPRISE (1947) by Angela Thirkell

My very first Angela Thirkell book and then, of course, I went on a Thirkell reading binge. This author wrote (among other things) an endearing (occasionally bittersweet) series of books set in the fictional county of Barsetshire (a name out of Trollope), a place full of mostly upper class Brits, the sort I wistfully enjoy reading about. (Probably because I don't have to meet them in real life.) These are the sorts of people Austen wrote about, though Thirkell's sense of humor, I think, is more pronounced, easier to decipher, and she has a wicked sense of whimsy which Austen never had. But you have to be inclined to 'get' what Thirkell's doing or else the books will slip right by you. Nothing much happens except the minutiae of day to day village life before, during and after WWII. And (horror of horrors) we often get happy endings - but oh, the wonderful language and charm of a way of life long gone.

Thirkell is in the style of E.F. Benson,  D.E. Stevenson and a couple of others whose names escape me at the moment. But Benson is more caustic in his wit and on the reverse side, D.E. Stevenson is gentler.

5 Stars

3) AUGUST FOLLY (1936) by Angela Thirkell

Another in the this entertaining series set in Barsetshire. This one has a delightfully wordy and subtly snide beginning which made me instantly drop everything else and sit down to read. You may not have the same reaction and if so, pass Thirkell by. You either appreciate the quiet wit and rapier sharp understanding of a certain social milieu or you don't. But if you're an Anglophile, like me, you'll be in heaven.

If you do, you're in for a treat: here we have a yearly amateur theatrical (a Greek tragedy staged for the village's delight) with a cast of local 'volunteers'. Of course this event will spawn complications, amusement, angst, social observation, romance, witty exclamations and plenty of gin and tonic to soothe the overwrought.

Not to mention, a donkey named Modestine but mostly called Neddy.

5 Stars

My Review

4) BROKEN HOMES by Ben Aaronovich - a 'Rivers of London' suspense novel.

Who knew that 'urban fantasy' was a thing? But you know as well as I, that these days, everything must have a specific niche or else. Sigh. Oh well, if it bothers you, pretend otherwise.

I'm not the most enthusiastic fantasy reader, but these inventive books have won me over to the dark side. (Ha!) They feature a likable hero and his mysterious mentor and are full of pointed satirical humor and (be warned) crime of the gruesome kind but (like me) you can easily look away and move on to the next page. The stories take place in an alternate universe London (and its environs) where magic is real and Scotland Yard, grudgingly, must have a department (though small and disregarded) whose specialty is crime of the fantastical sort.

There is a Harry Potter-like notion to the series, but on the whole, Aaronivich's Britain is grittier and perhaps, in an odd way, realer. And sex happens.

Of the four novels I've read so far, BROKEN HOMES is my favorite, though I enjoyed and recommend all four.

My Review

5) THE CASE OF THE JOURNEYING BOY (1949) by Michael Innes

Not an Appleby book, but oh so wonderful in its own right. Young Humphrey Paxton, a plucky, precocious and suspicious boy (rightly as it turns out), is the son of an English scientist. So it stands to reason that he will be plunged into a cloak and dagger affair while on his way to Scotland with his disbelieving tutor. (Are there any other sorts of British youth in books from this era? No, thank goodness.)

Lots of razzmatazz and terrific hold on to your seat plot machinations by Innes at his best and most enthusiastic.

Nick Fuller's Review

6) OPERATION PAX (1939) by Michael Innes

An entry in the series in which a much younger Appleby doesn't appear until late and in which his sister plays a prominent part AND in which we spend much of the last third (or so) of the story in and around Oxford, best of all adventuring inside the fabled dark corridors (approached by a chancy secret entrance) of the famed Bodleian Library.

And since it's Innes, we must have a bit of absurdity woven into the plot. This time it's a secluded estate, a secret scientific laboratory masquerading as a rest home for people with various psychiatric problems, a place in which bad people are up to no good.. There is also a tame lion which strolls about the grounds.

Begins slowly, but picks up speed soon enough. I read this in two nights and would have stretched it into three, but I couldn't help wanting to know - sooner rather than later - what happened next.

7) CAREER OF EVIL by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

Is there anything Rowling can't do? Well, obviously not. In her admittedly ghoulish series of crime novels which is only just three books along, she has created a fascinating hero and heroine (he more than she) and a world very different from that of Harry Potter. Though good vs. evil are still her main themes, her setting is contemporary London and her hero is Cormoran Strike, detective. He is a large, disheveled, psychically and physically wounded war vet with a knack for getting involved in difficult and occasionally gruesome murder cases. Her heroine is Robin Ellacott, a quirky young woman on the brink of marriage to the wrong man.

I am on pins and needles waiting for the fourth book.

 8) A FOOL FOR A CLIENT by Parnell Hall

A hilarious entry in the long-running and very entertaining Stanley Hastings series. I laughed so hard I almost fell off the bed - it doesn't get any  better than that.

Set in NYC, Stanley is a nebbish of a detective, a failed actor content to work for his ambulance chasing shark of a boss, lawyer Richard Rosenberg. I've read almost everything in this series and as with any long-running literary enterprise, there are the occasional one or two duds, but I'm happy to say that on the whole, life is better with Stanley than without. And in the first Stanley book, DETECTIVE, you get one of the more memorable opening paragraphs (or two) in the entire history of detective fiction. (Look for it and read it, you'll see.)

In A FOOL FOR A CLIENT, the brash Richard Rosenberg, Stanley's boss, becomes a murder suspect after his girlfriend is found murdered in her apartment. Rosenberg, here to fore, the scourge of the Manhattan courts (with plenty of enemies now laughing at his predicament) but a mighty fine lawyer of the take no prisoners variety, is determined to defend himself, hence the title of the book.

Stanley to the rescue.

9) THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion

Everyone was recommending this book and so of course, I decided not to read it. When push comes to shove I'm definitely not a 'go with the flow' reader. This book sounded too much like something contrived for a book club. You know what I mean.

Well, I was wrong.

A good friend recommended I get over myself and read it. So I did.

This story is simple enough, a young man with no idea he has Asperger's Syndrome - just thinks himself withdrawn from the minutiae of emotions - goes about acquiring a mate. But so charmingly written - it never hurts to have a likable and unsuspecting main character - plus no sentimentality and a minimum of 'cuteness'. I didn't expect to be drawn in, but I was.

Turns out THE ROSIE PROJECT is a delight. Sometimes the hype is deserved.


To my mind, this darkly emotional duo counts as one book divided into two parts. First, THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY which takes place in the eerily secluded monastery of Saint Gilbert (where no outsiders are ever permitted), a sanctuary only approachable by boat or plane. The setting is one of Louise Penny's most intriguing creations and the monks concerned in the murder of one of their own, are just as intriguing in their desperation to remain inviolate.

The heart-wrenching ending sets you up for the next book: HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN:

Chief Inspector Gamache is back in Quebec and near the end of his tether, seemingly the only honorable man left in the Quebec Surete.  Most of his agents have left the Homicide Division and daily he faces hostile replacements who have no respect for Gamache or his way of doing things. Forced into a corner, Gamache must make a final decision.

But when a murder case in the village of Three Pines once more draws him into the fray, the final decision may be taken out of Gamache's hands as his many enemies close in.

Two staggeringly good installments in a series which can often be termed brilliant. A series, by the way, which should probably be read in the order it was published. Though possibly you could begin somewhere in the middle and then play catch-up.

A prize-winning, beautifully written series which remains one of the very best.


  1. Fascinating list. Off to the library!
    (and congrats on your impending move)

    1. Thanks, tinpot. I'm surprised I was able to cull the list to these few books. 2015 was very good reading year.

  2. Yvette, you read some lovely books in 2015. I like the variety in your reading. Ben Aaronovich is on my wish-list.

    1. Thanks, Prashant. I really like Ben Aaronovich's series. Try to find it if you can.

  3. As Prashant says, a lot of variety here. I do want to try those Christopher Moore books. I haven't gotten to Broken Homes yet. My husband is a fan of the Stanley Hastings books by Parnell Hall. He recently started from the beginning and has read the first four of them.

    1. I hope you get a chance to try Moore. He is one of a kind. As for your husband, well, obviously he has good taste. We love Stanley around these parts. So far, BROKEN HOMES is my favorite of the Aaronivich books.

  4. 116 books! I'm impressed by that number. You must read quickly.
    Of these, I've read Career of Evil, good, and The Rosie Project, which I loved. There is a sequel, entitled The Rosie Effect; Rosie gets pregnant in New York City.

    Some other interesting books here which I must check on.

    1. That's not every year, Kathy. But 2015 was a great reading year for sure. I do read quickly, though not as quickly as I used to. I have THE ROSIE EFFECT lined up for this year. After the move.

      Kathy I think you'd like Louise Penny's books.

  5. I read two of Louise Penny's books and got tired of the Three Pines population, although I like Gamache's character and his spouse.

    I have so much to read I don't know where to start.

  6. Sorry to say I've only read a couple of those (the Macdonald and the Aaronovich). great cluster - and (belatedly), happy new year Yvette.


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