I don't know if anyone cares what I've read this year but I made my list last year on here and I feel a sense of satisfaction in recording it again. Please don't feel obliged to read through this post. Or if you want to, get inspired to make your own reading list if you're that way inclined like me. One of my kids has decided to take this up this year too :)
My reading lists comprise of me piling up all the books that I own but haven't read yet, or that I feel inspired to reread when I see it on my shelf or in a second-hand book shop, or that I buy on impulse in a bookshop, or that get lent to me by someone else - you get the idea - onto my bedside cabinet. I pick them up at random depending on my mood at the time and end up with a "to read" and "read it" pile that sit there all year so I can track my progress. Then there's just room in front of the pile for my phone charger and a cup of tea.
* = fiction
(r) = read before
*The Associate by John Grisham: Oh John. His first few books totally gripped me (A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Pelican Brief) and he became one of my favourite authors. But then I either got too familiar with his writing or he lost his touch, because he hasn't gripped me since. I keep reading his stuff though in case it happens again, but this one totally didn't do it. Maybe I need to go back to the earlier ones and find out which one of us changed.
*Five Go Adventuring Again (r)
*Five Run Away Together (r)
*Five Go to Smuggler's Top (r) by Enid Blyton: I think I covered this last time, but there is so much value in going back to the familiar and the comfortable in times of stress. I didn't even use my kids as an excuse to read these books - I just love them, the rhythm and simplicity of the story and the two-dimensional characters.
*Vanishing Act by Jodi Picoult: Not a stand-out one of hers, but as it's by one of the best writers around, it's still great.
*The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (r) by Anne Bronte: Read on a lovely holiday at a farm in the Eden Valley. Fantastic. Suspense, genuine character development, clues that need to be joined together to connect the past with the present, and a strong message about how the choices we make change our world. Much more Jane Eyre than Wuthering Heights.
Beyond Toddlerdom by Dr Christopher Green: His book on Toddler Taming was fantastic - reading it was like switching on a lightbulb that really helped me understand my small children's behaviour at the time. He has a really funny way of identifying with the everyday realities of parenting. This one didn't do much for me, but I wonder whether I read it too late as I'd already figured out a lot of the stuff written in here. Still, it's nice to have reassurance from an expert!
A Short History of England by Simon Jenkins: This one will always be associated with hospital waiting rooms. Brilliantly written. A really compelling fly-by across the story of this country, mainly focused on the monarchy as much of our history seems to be shaped by it. I'm sure the style of history books have vastly changed in the last decade because they are so much more readable. Or maybe it's me that's changing...
*The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory: Absolutely brilliant. Gregory is amazing at exploring history from different viewpoints and she manages to do it with three characters here at once; Anne of Cleves, Katharine Howard and Jane Parker - all intriguing by themselves, but to see them intertwined is brilliant. I love her empathy and intuition that makes her dig deep into how each of them may have been feeling.
*The Harry Potter series (r) by J. K. Rowling: Smushing them into one description and only including a few of them in the photograph makes me sound slightly less psychotic about them. But I have to be honest here - I read them all back to back in about three and a half weeks. These were during the worst weeks, when everything changed and hope was being lost. I spent every hour I could at the hospital with Richard, and then looking after the kids, and any time outside of that I used in total escapism, wrapped up in a world where disaster and death still happened, but hope and goodness and love and friendship smashed it. I LOVE J. K. Rowling's work. I don't think she realises that she writes the gospel, but she does. The trails she leaves all over her work that you miss the first time round are even more captivating when you go back and look again. There was always a plan, despite the failures and the losses and the darkness that seem overwhelming at times. Everything was always going to work out, and evil was always going to be defeated, even if the price was high and the pain was real. Stuff like this keeps me looking up to the big picture when life seems to have lost its way.
*The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: I threw myself from one teen fiction series into the next. Again, a confusing, seemingly futile ride through painful experiences designed to break the human spirit, but which is turned around through people are who are passionate about not letting go of hope. I am a sucker for good-against-evil stories. They remind me to keep going and that my situation could always be worse, even if they take place in non-existent worlds. Really well written and not easy to predict where the twists are going to take you.
Choose Joy by Kay Warren: I have a personal connection to this one as Choose Joy is one of our twelve values at Home Church, so a book that later came out with the same name was intriguing to us. She puts together, using her own story and biblical material, the reasons we are able to choose how we react to what is happening around us, rather than letting circumstances dictate our feelings.
*The Murder at the Vicarage (r) by Agatha Christie: Purely used to try and occupy my mind while life was unravelling. Systematic, cliched and dated, but it did the job.
*Rebecca (r) by Daphne Du Maurier: I love this book, and the play based on it that I used in A level Drama, and the old Hitchcock movie. Gentle but deep, with mysterious undertones that draw you into her world that just doesn't sit right (so the twists surprise you as if they were actually happening to you). This was the final book I got to read at the hospice and it just fit with my feelings: a time where nothing made sense and everything seemed darker.
Then I entered a really odd few weeks where I lost the ability to read. When Richard died, I couldn't focus any longer on the words in front of me. It was scary that the thing I usually relied on to whisk me out of my situation failed me at that time. I would try to read words on a page over and over but they just didn't work in my head. My mind was mush. But what did work was puzzles: word searches and logic puzzles and crosswords. So I watched mind numbing TV series and filled in pages and pages of puzzle books, wondering what on earth I was doing and hoping I was going to come out of that phase at some point. And eventually....
My Memories of Six Reigns by H.H. Princess Marie Louise: This cute little volume was discovered in a second hand bookshop in Carnforth. It's written by one of Queen Victoria's granddaughters, and its exactly like sitting down for a cup of tea with a lady in her 80s who just wants to chat about all the things she remembers from her life. It has a lovely simple meandering rhythm with little anecdotes and gems from history. I'd tried so many of the books from my pile and was so pleased when this was the one to break the reading silence.
*The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks: So I tried this one next, thinking it was short and simple to read and sentimental, so therefore good to draw out the tears on those days when you just can't get them out, but...meh. It should've worked, but somehow it didn't. It lacked authenticity for me. I haven't read any of his others though so I probably need to give him a second chance.
No Flowers... Just Lots of Joy
Living Simply by Fiona Castle: I had the privilege of meeting Fiona Castle twice this year, so I ordered a couple of her books beforehand to remind myself of her story. So easy to read and full of humour, despite the subject matter being the cancer journey and death of her husband. I identify with her and her attitude so much, and she was a breath of fresh air after all the morbid, self-contradictory books on loss that I had tried to read in the hope they would help (notice there aren't any others on this list - I couldn't get through the second chapter of most of them). She is brilliant and has set a fantastic example of how loving and losing someone brings you closer to God.
*Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks: I'm sure I'm not the only one to pick this one up this year. The details of World War One fascinate me - particularly the futility of how it all came about, and the massive social changes it facilitated. This novel takes you right to the trenches. It isn't a comfortable read, but it's a good one for facing the realities of what happened.
A Broken World by Sebastian Faulks & Hope Wolf: I know I read loads more about World War One this year, but I'm struggling to remember where I got it from. A lot of it was online in the form of articles, others were the kids' history books (I love the way Usbourne explains things!) and some of it came from all the documentaries and dramas that were on TV during the year. This book is a compilation of letters and accounts from people who experienced the war and its effects first hand.
Raising Girls by Steve Biddulph: His book on Raising Boys had been another one that was invaluable to me, and this one is so recent that it speaks into our current society really well. These kind of parenting books are fantastic to keep coming back to as your child goes through different phases, because they remind you of what actually matters and what doesn't, and to adapt to each stage as it comes at you. I know I'll come back to it again.
Wild Things by Stephen James & David Thomas: And this one is a case in point - it's been about four years since I last read this Christian book on parenting boys, and I was amazed at reading the descriptions of the new stages my boys are at now. I could recognise each one of them and there were plenty of "Aha!" moments. In the toughest career on earth, when it's easy to doubt yourself every day, it's brilliant to have experts like this on hand who may as well be looking you in the eye and saying "Just keep going. Your child is normal. Stay on track. Things will work out." Richard really enjoyed reading this book too as it is very straight down the line for the male perspective.
*The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult: This one knocked me off my feet. Just great. It's another account from war, this time World War Two, and particularly the Holocaust. The fiction is based on several real life accounts merged together, and like all Picoult books, throws up clues and mysteries that keep you hooked.
From Age to Age: A Living Witness by Leslie Ray Marston: I really wanted to read this book about the history of the Free Methodist Church. It was published in the 1960s, before the denomination came to the UK when my family were involved. It was pretty hard going though so it's taken me most of the year to read it and as it goes into so much detail it was actually hard to follow the basics of the story. I'd be interested to see if there's any other FM histories out there.
*Atonement by Ian McEwan: One of the rare examples where I'm glad I watched the movie before reading the book. It's a good read but I as I'm usually an impatient reader, it meant I could just relax into the prose of this one without wondering where it was going. And it's another book that includes historical and war accounts.
Faith in the Fog by Jeff Lucas: We met Jeff this summer at a conference and it was actually my twelve year old who wanted to buy this book, so he obviously made a good impression. It's a real and down to earth exploration of keeping faith through depression and disappointment, but with so much humour that it's easy to read and identify with.
*The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton: I love love love Kate Morton. History, suspense, intrigue, clues to fit together and unexpected twists: they are all my favourite book ingredients and she weaves them together brilliantly. I've really enjoyed every one of her books so far.
Wasteland? (r) by Mike Pilavachi: I read this maybe nine years ago and it is such a small simple book that I couldn't have anticipated the impact it would have on me. It takes the biblical references to the desert and gets you asking questions about why so many people end up in there. The conclusion: God does extraordinary things in the desert. While we're looking for the highs of the mountain tops or the fruit of the valley, God is at work in every situation, even when we feel spiritually dry and like nothing is happening. I've used principles from this book many times when preaching and we are now going through a three month series at church all about going through the desert.
The Women of the Cousins' War by Philippa Gregory: My favourite history writer uses a different format than her usual novels here and teams up with other historians to explain the actual records that exist about the main characters in her Cousins' War series. As well as delving into the probable motivations of each person, it also delves into the way in which history is recorded and recounted, so it's fascinating in more ways than one.
*Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons: I haven't read the original Cold Comfort book so this was my first encounter with the characters. It's a compilation of short stories, so they were only in it a little bit meaning I didn't have much time to get my head round them but it's made me intrigued to read more about them. The others stories were good to dip into over the Christmas season without getting myself too wrapped up in a plot.
And the books of the bible I studied this year were Exodus, Hebrews, Hosea, Genesis, Galatians, Habakkuk & Mark.
I think that's all of them - they are what were still on my bedside cabinet or my iBooks library. If I remember there were more then I'll add them too. You know, because this is a really important life-changing list for you all...