2015 Book List

booksThis year, I only made four resolutions, but I should really add a fifth: read more. While I still prioritize getting lost in a good book, I noticed that over the course of 2014, I didn’t read as much as I’d like for a variety of reasons (coughSherlock, Downton Abbey, Call the Midwifecough). B isn’t much of a reader, so lots of times I’ll choose to watch a movie with him instead and I’m afraid this is becoming a bad habit.

So! Because reading is one of my favorite things and to get me going again, here’s the top (first) novels I want to read this year:

Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson: I first discovered Kate Atkinson in grad school and fell even deeper in love last spring while reading the brilliant Life After Life. Human Croquet is one of her earlier novels and follows the course of siblings Isobel and Charles. I don’t know anymore about the plot than that, but don’t need to. Atkinson’s writing is as evocative, lyrical and sharp as it gets.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert: This is one of the classics that, for me, has always slipped between the cracks. This is probably the first book I’m going to get my hands on and, while I’m happily married, I already feel like I relate to Emma Bovary. Sometimes life feels so routine; who doesn’t dream about an escape?

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant: I recently joined a book club and Anita Diamant’s newest novel (an Amazon Best Book of 2014) is this month’s read. B and I were recently in Boston, so I’m looking forward to exploring the city through the eyes of a young immigrant woman at the turn of the century.

Anything by Ian McEwan: Every once in a while you come across a writer who thrills you, so when it comes to Ian McEwan, I can’t choose which of his novels to read first—I want to read them all. I’ll let you know what I end up choosing, but Sweet Tooth (since I didn’t get around to it last year) and Saturday top the list.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I’ve read nothing but beautiful reviews regarding this New York Times bestseller set in occupied France during the second world war, and have already been waiting weeks to get my hands on it (all copies are checked out at the library). I’ve become fascinated by the countless faucets of WWII, but hardly know a thing about the occupation of France. Trusting in this novel to educate and delight me.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: Was there ever a more glamorous time in literary history than 1920s Paris? Accepting this might be the closest I ever get to this magical decade, A Moveable Feast is a must.

The Mermaid’s Daughter by Jo Baker: Longbourn was easily among the best books I read in 2014, and Baker’s newest novel, to be released in March, sounds even more strange and wonderful. I rarely read fantasy novels, but trust Baker to create a world in which I don’t want to leave.

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster: Until I have the chance to explore this breathtaking place for myself, I’ve been getting my fix of India through great novels. (I’d highly recommend Behind the Beautiful Forevers and The Space Between Us). I find the intersection of Indian and British culture and identity especially interesting, making Forster’s novel an essential read.

What great books did you read last year? I’d love your recommendations!
Em
P.S.  I finished A Farewell to Arms last night and I’m still making up my mind about it (love the writing, digesting the plot). At times like this I miss being a student for the rich discussion opportunities! And I’m a geek.

P.S. S. There’s still a couple novels from last year’s list I still need to read, but plans got derailed when I decided to finally sink into The Harry Potter series. See! I told you I’m a geek.
Picture courtesy of littlegreennotebook.blogspot.com

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On the Shelf: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life

lifeKate Atkinson is as precious to me as my first author-love Charlotte Brontë. Atkinson’s novels, like Brontë‘s, tremble with wit, comfort, and significance. She writes the words at the tip of your tongue with clarity and logic, achieving that incalculable balance of beauty and blood in the process.You become dizzy with the loveliness of her shapely scenes but aren’t allowed to be oblivious to the strong undercurrents of disaster.

I first discovered Kate Atkinson in Bristol–in a “Space and Place” class taught by Professor Ralph Pite. We read Behind the Scenes at the Museum and I was utterly absorbed by the feisty narrator and the novel’s hurtfully honest portrayal of family. Next I discovered Jackson Brodie and the magical combination of Atkinson’s prose in mystery form. Yet none of this reading prepared me for the force of her newest novel.

 Life After Life is spun with gold. If you read anything this year, Life After Life must be it. The story-or stories- of Ursula Todd is utterly compelling and lingers with depth and spirit long after you close the cover. The Todd family is as real as your own flesh and blood and you can’t help but absorb their joy, their loss and their tremendous fragility.

In a nutshell, it’s Ursula’s brother who expresses the hope (purpose/beauty/tragedy) of the novel:

“What if we had a chance to do it again and again until we finally got it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

The wholly lovable Ursula Todd is given the chance to do just this. As she dies and returns to us throughout the novel-set before and after the second world war-we become intimately aware of the infinite value of a single life. Not only is the novel a powerful encapsulation of English identity  in the midst of ‘the war to end all wars,’ but it answers the question we so often ask ourselves–“What If?”

If you pay any attention to book awards and bestsellers, you’ve heard about Life After Life, and I don’t need to say much more. But this is, hands down, the sweetest novel I’ve read in years and one which I know will bring you joy.

Back from Mexico

Always so sweet coming home to Audrey

Always so sweet coming home to Audrey

Good morning, everyone! So sorry for not posting yesterday. Our flight didn’t get in until after midnight on Sunday and it was all I could do to get through the day yesterday. All of my photos are still on my camera, but I will be posting them this week. We had a wonderful week in San Jose (my first ever time in Mexico!) and I even turned a little golden. The last time B and I went anywhere for a full week was our honeymoon, so it was such a treat to have seven days of ocean-side views, warmth and good food.

It also struck me how healthy it is to truly get away. I didn’t even turn my phone on until we were home and a technology-free week in and of itself was a vacation. Exploring artsy San Jose also got me and B talking about our next trip…travel is wholly addictive. We’ve decided to really start saving and make a fall 2015 trip to Europe happen (!!). Take two weeks off from work to see as much as we can (so far Scotland and Switzerland are at the top of our itinerary).

I absolutely indulged in a few good novels while away (Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Z by Theresa Anne Fowler and an Agatha Christie (!)), so I’m also looking forward to sharing reviews this week and next.

It’s good  to be home, though, and I’m thankful for that. X

The Secret Paris: David Downie’s Paris, Paris

parisMy wanderlust had reached an all time high and needing a long-overdue escape, I neatly packed a weekend bag with the intention of catching the earliest flight out. The destination would, preferably, be Europe, but just about anywhere would do.  At least that was the plan. In reality, student loans and rent were coming due, so I settled on the next best thing: reading David Downie’s Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light.

I had read memoirs and novels about Paris before—most of which followed the predictable plot of a woman finding love or her life calling against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tour—but had heard that Downie’s take was marvelously different. Authentic and even comic. My interest was immediately piqued and I was curious to read the American observations of a man who had called the City of Light home for 25 years.

Part travelogue, part history, part candid personal anecdotes, Downie’s book was almost as good as a free ticket to Paris itself. A satisfying course of thirty-one vignettes of Parisian life, people and places, Downie gives readers a true insider perspective of Paris. In fact, I reached the last pages feeling much more familiar with Paris and its delights and oddities than I ever did during my five days there last spring.

David Downie is the ideal travel writer and his ability to dissect and disclose the color and character of his experiences fascinates me. Whether describing Les Bouquinistes, Parisian booksellers lining the Seine with green boxes, or explaining just why otherwise aloof Parisians so adore their dogs, Downie’s accounts are rich in insight and charm.

Every chapter seamlessly blends Paris’ eclectic history with its current state of affairs, and in the process, the reader gains a unique understanding of both the tension and allure of Paris’ need to maintain the past yet embrace the present. In short, Downie’s Paris, Paris educates as it delights and is a must read for any Francophile, dreamer or anyone with a case of wanderlust.

On the Shelf: Crusoe’s Daughter

bookThis novel isn’t new, but a reprint of British writer Jane Gardam’s “favorite novel” originally published in 1985. My sister lent this novel to me a few months back, and I’m very grateful for it. Missing Bristol and my English friends very much, this novel was the perfect Anglophile fix, and an engrossing read. Set throughout the course of twentieth century England, we meet Polly Flint, our candid, often comical narrator, at the age of six. An orphan, little Polly is sent to live with her two odd aunts in the ‘Yellow House’ in moody Northern England. From this early age and on wards, Polly relies on the novel Robinson Crusoe and depends deeply on Crusoe’s practical stoicism and independence as a compass to navigate the highs and lows of her own life.

Perhaps the subject matter is outwardly simple, but Gardam’s writing and her flesh and blood Polly Flint is alive, dazzling, and immediately lovable. Polly’s impressions on relationships, love and family are humorously sad and despite the eccentric individuals she befriends, and loves, Polly stays rooted to the Yellow House all her life. Even as World War I and II strikes England, Polly watches the world through the windows of the Yellow House, a passive existence until she finds unexpected purpose in middle-age.

Readers will fall in love with Polly as they did with Jane Eyre and Anne Shirley. You will stay surprised by the hand of fate at work in the novel, yet reach the last chapter satisfied—despite the evocative ‘what-ifs’ filling the pages. I loved every bit of this book.