F G Cottam

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I’ve already done a bit of a look back at 2014 aka the biggest year of my life but every year (2013 here, 2014 here) I write some resolutions which I inevitably don’t stick to but really help me look back over my year and structure a bit of a misty mulled brain review of what I’ve been up to. This time last year I hadn’t updated this blog since September as I had been busily seeing the world and tapping away on Twentysomething Burnouts but as we holed up in a hotel in Panama City and recovered from our most traumatic travel moment I snuck down to the “business office” and did a sole post from Latin America. I’m in a different (way comfier) place this year as I sit writing this in my PJs, with a giant mug of tea, a fiance curled up next to me and in my own little treehouse flat; full and content from a week of port, fondue, friends, family and wintry walks.

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2014 Resolution Recap

01. Read 52 books I think a hefty combination of events has conspired to make this the year that I will read the most books in my ENTIRE life! This year I didn’t just read a book a week as I aimed, I read 74 books in total! Crikey. You can see the full list here – thanks GoodReads for the lovely layout! Travelling for the first 3 months of the year spiked the number I could rattle through, with long journeys and endless need for distraction whilst waiting around sketchy bus stations and without pesky things like full-time work getting in the way. Then when pesky full-time work did come along… It was in publishing! Which means that not only do I now read for fun, but I read for work, and luckily most of the time I enjoy both kinds. There have been some incredible releases this year, plus I have discovered new authors and books that have been floating around for years but only surfaced into my brain this year and this led to some classic Bee-book behaviour where I then buy or download every single thing by that person and devour it as if they might vanish from my life again. Here are some of my 5*/top reads.

Dublin Murder Squad Series – Tana French
Somehow Tana French had passed me by; despite the fact that the first book in this Dublin Murder Squad series (Into The Woods) came out embarrassingly in 2007. Since then, there have been five books in the series and each one is told from the perspective of a different detective from within the Murder Squad, working on a different case. After reading Into The Woods at the start of November and really enjoying it, within moments of finishing the last paragraph I downloaded the rest to my kindle and Tana French was basically the ONLY thing I read in November! I am actually so happy that I read the books in this binging-fashion however because the same characters crop up and there are lots of bold, then more subtle, links between each novel and knowing my inability to retain tiny details; these would have been absolutely lost on me if I’d read the books as and when they were released.

It’s hard to choose, but I think I most enjoyed The Likeness where Detective Cassie Maddox is contacted after the body of a woman is found murdered and whose identity is none other than… Lexie Madison, a former alias that Cassie herself created when she was working as an undercover agent. In a slightly paranormal twist; the body also looks identical to Cassie. Attempting to discover more about this mystery unknown and now dead twin; Cassie goes undercover again and lives with Lexie’s university housemates to try to discover what on earth happened and who killed her (but not her). There was just a hint of Secret History about the dynamic between the students and their outsider cliquey life. All the other books are told via male narrators, and despite the characters all being layered and different, they can slide into slightly blokey territory. With The Likeness I enjoyed the female slant and perspective; Cassie’s behaviour and responses felt the most authentic to me of all the Detectives. That said, I really warmed to Detective Frank Mackey in Faithful Place, and my favourite storyline by far was Broken Harbour.

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How To Be Both – Ali Smith 
I strongly believe that the less you know about this book in advance, the better, so no spoilers here… or much information at all. I’ve been a lifelong Ali Smith fan and feel that her writing has grown up with me, and been such a comfort at various points in my life. With that in mind I was frothing at the mouth with excitement at a new release, and wasn’t at all disappointed. The book is printed in two entirely different ways; so that the reader will be met with the story Eyes first, followed by Camera OR Camera followed by Eyes. One story is slightly harder to get into but more rewarding. One is contemporary, one set in the past. That said, there are so many themes that thread between them, that at no point does it feel like two individual books. There are really only two things to say -1. Read it! and 2. No one describes falling in love better than Ali. “Cause all I could think of all that week was flowers for breath and flowers for eyes and mouths full of flowers, armpits of them, the back of knees, laps, groins overflowing with flowers and all I could draw was leaves and flowers, the whorls of roses, the foliage dark.”

The Lazarus Prophecy – F G Cottam
F G Cottam features in every reading round-up I’ve ever done. He’s one of my must-read authors. Previously I would have said must-read “horror/spooky” authors but with his latest release (and recent branching out into Young Adult/Super-Natural) I think it’s clear he is so much more than that. The Lazarus Prophecy is an ambitious new take on the Jack The Ripper mystery; set between a Victorian and contemporary London. The book opens with London left in the wake of a string of murders of women in the space of a few weeks. The killer seems to be targeting high profile victims who exist in the public eye and leaving behind clues in long dead languages. DCI Jane Sullivan leads the investigation supported by an ensemble cast of experts spanning religion, history and crime… but it quickly becomes unclear who can she really trust as she faces a race against time to avoid becoming a victim herself. This is by far my favourite Cottam novel and so ambitious, yet executed with precision and intricacies that make re-reading (and re-reading again) as enjoyable as the first time. I sound like a broken record (see Tana French above) but it was so refreshing to read a strong female lead; especially as the story revolves around horrific violence and violation of women. The strength and intelligence of the majority of women featured really offset that becoming an uncomfortable read; which I feel it might have if the protagonist was male. Cottam really captures the enchantment of old and new London and how they sit side by side; something that as a London dweller I am in awe of on a daily basis. I learnt some really fascinating London facts about places like Bedlam as an aside to it being a great read! I say this was an ambitious project because not only is a thrilling page-turner, it touches on some very relevant current issues such as religion, race, the vulnerability of the UK and the state of confusion around politics and beliefs. I am now extra keen to ensure that this year I take a trip to the Royal London Hospital Museum to see the famous “From Hell” letter in person.

I also really enjoyed Hawthorn & Child, The Rental Heart and The Broken (reviews here) and The Goldfinch, Hangover Square, The Shock of The Fall, Burial Rights, The Gospel of Loki, Disgrace and Apple Tree Yard.

My biggest WTF was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Clearly I am the only person in the world to feel this way, given its rave reviews, but I just couldn’t abide it. I actually resented the time of my life spent reading it, and wish I could claim it back!

Finally, and I know it’s not a book, but like 99% of the world this year I got massively into SERIAL. I can’t remember the last time I felt the infectious addiction around the next instalment for anything; not TV, film or books. I love This American Life, but Serial really tapped into that event feeling of a shared experience and I found myself seeking out fellow listeners wherever I could (including once on the tube!) and picking over the facts and story over and over and never getting bored. It really served as a gateway into re-kindling my love for audio and listening; that seems to have been buried for a few years. I REALLY should have re-kindled the audiobook love before I did a ton of 20/30 hour coach journeys, rather than after, hey? Now I am armed with an Audible subscription and the Librivox app; ready to keep me company on my long walks to work.

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02. Re-learn to drive. FAIL! To re-cap on this, I passed my test first time when I was 17, then enjoyed a few years of driving around Yorkshire like a maniac, often dinking the car then attempting to blame my dad (sorry dad). I adored driving but then I moved to London and now I have been here nearly 9 years and not driven once. I had grand plans that 2014 would be my year to re-learn but then Nick went and popped the question, and money that might have been spent on something boring like a car is now being squirrelled away for way more fun things like Wedding! Party! Honeymoon! I think this is more likely to be a 2016 resolution, when I actually live somewhere that doesn’t have an amazing public transport system (and doesn’t have eye watering parking space costs)

03. Stay in touch with travel buddies: Could do better. We met some amazing friends from all over the world during our trip to Latin America, and due to the intensity and other-worldyness of the experiences you go through together; the bonds you make feel unlike anything else. When I was travelling, I felt like my barriers and boundaries were at an all-time low. There is no small talk because everyone you meet is already a kindred spirit in the fact that they happen to be in say… Ecuador at the exact same moment as you. Rather than than talking about careers or small talk, it felt like conversations with travel pals were always much deeper and honest because a) they have no preconceptions of “old me” from my “old life” and b) there was that sense that you may never see the person again so could risk a lot more soul searching. As with so many big thoughts and plots and plans I had whilst travelling; they had to be modified once I was back in the daily grind and day to day living that didn’t just involve hammocks and bug-spotting. Whilst we have stayed closely in touch with the people we made the deepest connections with such as Jordan and Skyler in Galapagos, Beau in Bolivia and Ike in Big Corn – it will be a special year when we see any of these people again face to face to reminisce about the days on the road! We did have one great twist of fate though; Tom the micro brewer from Minnesota that we met in Guatemala popped up over Christmas. My eldest sibling Meg went to Minnesota to visit friends this year so I encouraged them to pop into Tom’s brewery bar and say hey. Unfortunately he was off travelling again (jealous) but Meg did pick me up an amazing Indeed Brewery tee that was presented to me on Christmas Day.

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04. Move to BrightonObviously this didn’t happen, and I think I am on a much better path because of it. Although now “live by the seaside” remains on my bucket list for the foreseeable future.

05. Eat more veggies: Yes and yes; and the purchase of a spirazlier and the discovery of courgetti has meant that I am no longer permanently on the brink of scurvy.

06. Finish knitting my scarf: This is a running blog joke. This will never, ever actually happen.

07. Start a project with Meg: This didn’t happen, but there are plans afoot…

08. See more of my friends and family: Yeah! It has helped being back in the same country as them and not just relying on pixelated Skype calls. The Christmas period was special for catching up with heaps of family, then New Years Eve I hosted a party with some of my absolute dearest friends for whom the stars had aligned to make them all be in London on this one night. We drank prosecco and danced to 90s music, and it was the best start to a year I have ever had.

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09. Get Outdoorsy: Off to a good start with trips to Exmoor and Sweden hiking about the place; we are currently trying to pick somewhere to sneak off to in February for more outdoorsing as we both got new adventure gear over Christmas that we want to put to the test.

09. Apply all the lessons I have learnt travelling to my life back home: I could write a million things here, but for the sake of being short and sweet I wouldn’t say I have managed this, at all. But that isn’t to say I wont.

10. Keep trying new things and pushing myself: Definitely, it’s been a crazy waltzer year with a ton of adapting and being flexible and taking on new challenges. I am certainly barely ever in my comfort zone.

11. Get back in music: Oh so much. This year has been soundtracked by Future Islands, Haim, Boy, Dry The River, Jenny Lewis, Half Moon Run, War On Drugs and I even went to THREE whole gigs – a 300% improvement on 2013.

12. STOP saying “Oh my God”: I think I finally did it. My chat is now peppered with a lot more crikeys and blimeys.

13. Daily Records: This year I turned 30 and I documented it on Instagram with a photo a day, and my own cheesy hashtag #beeing30. Check out the serious side eye this giant tortoise is giving me!

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2015 Resolutions

01. Deal with my anxiety. I might write a longer blog about this at some point (if that sounds interesting?) but… Worry wart, highly strung, nervous disposition. Call it what you will, I am constantly battling to reign my anxiety in, and it’s exhausting. When I quit my job and travelled to some of the worlds most remote and dangerous countries, you would think I’d have been at my PEAK anxiety right? Wrong! It was such a joy to have day after day after day of clear headed cool as a cucumber living. I think it was almost a flooding effect, where there was so much to potentially worry about (and trust me I did before we left – what if the coach crashes? what if I get bitten by a poisonous spider? what if our tiny plane crashes? what if we get kidnapped? etc etc etc) that I actually just shut down that side of my brain and didn’t worry about any of it. I think most people would be surprised to hear I’m anxious, because I put on quite a good efficient front and in a warped kind of way I think I only am so efficient because I worry and angst and get things fixed. I definitely go through phases of being better than others; but the standard pattern is that I am a) either worrying about something legit such as friend/family problems, work issues or big life stuff or in the absence of these I b) worry about things like yknow, my illness, death, why the hell we are stuck on this planet in the middle of space… It’s ridiculous! I have conversations in my head I know I’ll never dare translate to real life, I get paranoid, I lay awake churning over the same things again and again. So! It’s definitely time to take control and do the things I know alleviate my worrying. Sadly, heading to Latin America again isn’t on the cards so it’s more mindfullness focussed; such as doing meditation at least twice a week (head space app ilu) sticking to regular pilates and basically being kind and admitting that some days I just need to not do everything, perfectly, right now. If any other fellow anxious-types reading this have any hints or tips that work for them please hit me with it!

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02. Sort out my organisational approach I initially wrote “be organised” here, but I am ridiculously organised so that’s not the right way to phrase it. My problem is that I am organised in different ways and places for different areas of my life. For example I use my phone calender and notes sections for some things, paper diaries for others, Evernote for work and I have a nifty anti-bride planner for wedding stuff. But! A colleague at work recently introduced me to ToDoist which I think is finally the solution. I have spent the Christmas break transferring all of my life lists and chores onto it (hello Monica from Friends style fun); with colour coding, different folders and tags for work/home stuff and it’s already making me feel so zen. Planning a wedding (especially a pretty budget DIY one where we are stubbornly doing most of it ourselves) has the potential to become stressful and I really don’t want anything about my wedding to feel stressful; so I think delegation (haha, thanks already to people like Craig aka our Creative Director and Cindy our shout-at-people-and-get-them-to-move-around-er) and organisation is key to stop is becoming a last minute panic. Every day my shiny new To Doist delivers me a synced to-do list on my laptop, Outlook, iPad and phone and I work my way through them. Sometime I put things like take a bath and drink tea just to make sure I tick a decent amount off.

03. Get married. Just a little one. Sometimes I just feel like everything starts and ends with Nick, I’m so in awe of him every single day. I cannot wait to legally stick myself to him forEVERRRR (and of course throw a massive party and wear a nice frock)

04. Read 52 books. I think it might be optimistic to attempt one a week now that I am busier and not on the road; but I’ll give it a try and may just chuck in a few thinner books here and there, as I tend to go for total whoppers.

05. Keep blogging! It’s hard being a greedy guts with two different blogs. I’d like to think most people follow both, but when I’m active on Twentysomething Burnouts I am aware that this blog suffers with periods of radio silence. I actually (shhhh) enjoy writing here as it’s more personal and cathartic, so for the sake of getting ~feelings~ off my chest I need to make sure I still touch in here regularly.

06. Get back into the blogging community. I still read my favourite blogs regularly, but as I am mostly reading them on my phone when sat about somewhere I am dreadful at commenting and sharing the love. I need to set aside a bit more time to do this!

07. Get in shape! What a cliche. Don’t worry, I’m not talking fad diets or anything that involves me buying a ton of January shred type books… but I have eaten so much over Christmas that I didn’t fit into the PJ bottoms that I wore at the start of the holidays! I can’t even look at another crisp, peanut or chocolate. I also have a gym subscription and didn’t enter the gym ONCE in December; oh no actually I went in once to use the vending machine and then left, which says it ALL. I know I’m happier when I’m exercising regularly and when my clothes aren’t on the tighter side, plus I want to feel my most confident on my wedding day (I know, I know) so I’ll be trying to eat more spinach, less cake for 2015. That said, as if I’d EVER give up cheeseburgers, so it won’t all be rabbit food.

08. Drink more water. Why do I hate water? I need to sort this out! I have a pint of the stuff evil eye-ing me right now and I a just thinking WHY ARE YOU NOT AS FUN AS DRINKING A BELLINI.

09. Keep up daily records. I am doing my photo a day thing on Instagram, this year under the even cheesier tag #beeinghorton as it’s the year I become Mrs Horton (how weird is that!) because I enjoyed it so much last year. I also have my Q&A book which I fill out every night, and now that it’s in its 3rd year it’s so interesting to read my answers from previous years and how much my perspectives alter and shift.

10. Go snorkelling again! This was something I never expected to fall in love with but absolutely did. The most peaceful I’ve ever felt in my life was swimming under water with a giant sea turtle brushing against my belly and a giant ray circling over the top of me. I think I might have been a mermaid in a former life (which explains why I am never happier than when I am in the bath. Today I propped the iPad up against the taps and watched 2 hours of The Good Wife whilst my skin went prune-y) Hopefully we will decide on a honeymoon destination that has snorkelling as a potential activity, alongside a lot of chilling out.

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11. Visit my friend in Berlin. My oldest school friend Sarah lives in Berlin and has for 4 years or something ridiculous. Every year I say I’ll visit, every year I fail, and it’s crummy behaviour. So this spring I will put my money where my mouth is and actually make it over there and learn all about what has made the city capture her from me for so long.

12. Send more snail mail. Some of my best friends are scattered all over the world now; and I love nothing more than sending out care packages of british bits and tidbits of news, but am so bad at getting organised enough to do it. Maybe I need a new To Do-ist folder…

13. Climb a mountain. I’m about to join a mountaineering club which is very exciting and feels like something out of Victorian times, attending socials and heading off on some expeditions. I have some great walking boots now and I quite fancy making Snowdon actually happen this summer. Any excuse to eat Kendal Mint Cake!

14. Be kind. To myself and everyone else. Sometimes it’s easy to forget this, even though I try my best. I need to remember to smile at people when I buy my coffee, and when I get into a meeting at work, and remember things people tell me and check in at important times etc.

15. GET A PET! Ok this is more likely to be 2016 but I wanted to make 15 resolutions for 2015 and you never know… it might sneak in as a Christmas present to myself or Nick. Preferably the feline kind.

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As was the case last year, I think what I am most excited about is that I have NO idea what my life will look like this time next year. I’ll be married! ME! Who is this grown up person? We’ll be trying to make a home somewhere for the forever after, build a menagerie of animals and hopefully use our honeymoon(s!!) to see more of the world.

& That’s it. Have you got a resolution? Have you seen any other good bloggers list theirs? I’ve seen a few but I’d love to see more. Roll on 2015, I have a really good feeling about you being sparkly and shiny and super.

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I haven’t been sure what to post in here lately, because although life has been true to my busy-bee name, I have mostly been busy lying like a starfish on any patch of grass I can find in London, soaking up the sun and nattering to colleagues and friends. My freckles have moved in for summer and I love the fact I haven’t even thought about wearing a jacket for weeks on end. A lot of people seem to be complaining about the heat at night but I LOVE it! I sleep deeply and dozily and wake up looking like a mole who’s just seen daylight for the first time. I hope the heat is here to stay a little longer.

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On Wednesday I visited Opium in Chinatown for the third time in three weeks, which I think makes it an official obsession and therefore something I need to share with the world. Opium is a Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour; what better combination is there than that? It’s the sort of place you hear about via word of mouth, whispered tip-offs and drunken loose lips, and that’s because there is no sign – speakeasy style! I know the “secret” thing is getting a bit overdone, but I have to say I still get a little rush of excitement when you walk up to an anonymous door and have no idea what you will find lurking behind. The door in question here is the “Jade Door”, 15-16 Gerrard Street (the main Chinatown strip) which is nestled between bustling restaurants and Chinese supermarkets. On arrival, a poe-faced security man will phone up to the “hosts” and you will then be sent up a dark, winding staircase to your table. Out of the gloom you are welcomed into an oasis of calm and tranquility, it’s almost impossible to believe you’re still in the heart of chaotic Chinatown.

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The main thing that’s captured my heart about Opium is the atmosphere. The decor is stylish and simple, with huge comfy seats and low set mahogany lattice tables. It’s always the exact right side of busy; buzzy but you aren’t sat on any strangers laps or squidged into shared tables. The staff couldn’t be more attentive, and the music is a treat in itself (where else can you hear a folk version of No Diggity?) The setting feels exclusive and you are made to feel like your custom is really valued, something I’ve found desperately lacking in a lot of of my London nightlife experiences lately.

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And of course the best part, is that the prices are totally reasonable. Cocktails are all around a tenner (I can’t believe I’m saying this so flippantly as I’m sure my friends back up north are recoiling in horror, but that’s pretty standard for London cocktail clubs) and they are worth every penny. The Crafted Fancy Drinks are all exclusively created by the Opium mixologists and a menu for the more adventurous drinker like me, there basically isn’t a spirit or flavour I DONT like! Which makes choosing a really tough experience, and explains why I keep going back. Not only are the drinks delicious, but they are also smashing it with the presentation. Syrups come in “Chinese Medicine” bottles, the Opium No 3 cocktail arrived in a dramatic smoking cauldron with griddled nectarine slices on the side and shorts are served in traditional tea cups. My favourite tipple is the Lady of Yue which comes with the description “while strengthening the spirit, one should remain outwardly calm”; a quote that is about to become very relevant to my life. It’s a tasty combination of remy martini, aporel, homemade almond syrup and fresh strawberries. If weird and wacky doesn’t do it for you, there’s an extensive list of old fashioned classics too including things I’ve never heard of such as cobbler, pisco sour and a bronx.

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Of course you need something to soak up those spirits, so the dim sum is a very necessary side addition. It’s a short, simple menu featuring favourite such as siu mai and char siu buns but also some extremly addictive items such as sesame-poppy prawn-lobster toast and salt and pepper aubergine which is by far the highlight of the menu. Order it even if you don’t think you like aubergines, because you will now!

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And there you have it. My latest London secret find, which I can’t recommend enough. Something else that I keep noticing lately is a new breed of trees… the painty variety. I’m pleased to see some of the grey-er corners of North London getting a colourful smattering of nature, and I wonder if it’s the same person planting the seeds or if it’s just coincidence?

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Now that I have lived in London seven years I’ve finally found “my spot”. Everyone needs that hideaway nook that they can go to think, read, write, ponder (or phone their mum, like me!) but in London it can be hard to find a place that isn’t already bustling with people or claimed by others. Over the last two years I’ve returned to this spot over and over again, in every season. I don’t know why the tree is dead, and perhaps it’s a bit morbid that it’s the place I’m attracted to, but I love it’s spindly branches and the way it dominates it’s surroundings. It’s set in wild long meadow grass which I like to sprawl out in and breathe in the fact that no one passing would even know I’m lurking there. Well, until I start wriggling around to scare off the insect & creature invasion. I’m already excited to get a little bit of me-time there tomorrow, and finish the last chapter of my book appropriately called The Memory of Trees by F G Cottam.

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This is the final bit of looking back over my 2012 shoulder and is a run-down of one of my favourite things: books. I’m sure tons of people, like me, got amazon vouchers or spending money (or a kindle/e-reader) for Christmas so hopefully a few book recommendations will be useful to someone. I wrote about my top 5 reads in 2010 and all of these still stand as recommendations too! For the past seven years my new years resolution has been “read 50 books this year” and the closest I have ever stacked up is 38. It’s a lot harder than you expect to plow through so many hunks of fiction, especially as I am very strict and still read the books I would pick even if I wasn’t doing a reading challenge (so I can’t just pick 50 thin-massive-printed choices!) and I never, ever give up on a book which is why this year I read 50 Shades of Grey despite it being horror of horrors awful.

I’m so proud to have finally read 50 books in a year, although wish there had been some type of Gladiators style paper-burst to jump through upon completing my last one as it felt like a bit of an anticlimax to just start my next book (51 books to read in 2013..!) Anyway, here are the 50 books I consumed in 2012 and my top 7 recommendations. Please note these aren’t all necessarily books that were published in 2012, I just happened upon them for the first time this year. Also, all of the books below are well worth a read, E L James aside. I couldn’t write about them all as this post would have taken a year in itself to read! But of the 50 below, none are below 3-star efforts so it was a great year for my book-worming.

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1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke

This was the first book I read this year and an instant 5-star smash that left me worried that I might have peaked too early.  I have no idea how, but the existence of this book had entirely passed me by until Nick recommended it to me. This is a massively ambitious work of fiction covering a plethora of genres; fantasy, magic, fairy tale, history, war, romance… but over and above any standard pigeon-hole this book could fall into, it’s basically a whole new genre of its own. It’s certainly one of the best books I have ever read. This isn’t a book to be rushed.

You need to set aside quality time and a nice pot of tea for this type of master piece, as the vast ensemble of characters are all so layered, the world you immerse yourself in so intricate and that isn’t even mentioning the footnotes… most of which contain incredibly detailed tales and add-ons that last page upon page in themself. I have since bought this book for my mum and two friends, and can’t wait to be the one to introduce it to new people. If you read ONE book this year, make it this one. There is a BBC TV series rumoured for later this year, so one to get in before that.

 

2. Dark Matter – Michelle Paver

My 50 reads weight heavily into my favourite genre of spooky (old houses, haunted boats, creepy dolls etc. I’m just a sucker for it all!) and this was another 5* read that kept me in the sweaty scared limbo between desperation to continue reading as the writing is so AMAZING but absolute terror at what will happen next. The story itself is set around a group of four young men taking part in a polar expedition. The narrative is told via their journal that slowly reveals the unravelling of their expedition, and their minds, as the isolation sets in…  I recommend this book even for those who aren’t strictly ‘horror fans’ as it is quite simply a master piece and sublime story telling. In fact, just writing this review has made me tempted to re-read it less than 6 months after finishing it!

 

3. Tell The Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt

Unbelievably this is a debut novel, which makes me extremely excited for anything Carol Rifka Brunt might write in the future. Tell the Wolves I’m Home takes place in a heart-tuggingly realistic 80s setting. Complex and poignant, it tells the story of June and her unusual friendship with Finn. I wouldn’t want to detail anymore about what makes their dynamic so precious and readable, as it really has to be read to be believed. This isn’t a ‘fun’ read, but it is a story and a world that will stick with you for weeks afterward. I always find the sign of a truly phenomenal reading experience when it evokes real emotions (there were tears, lots of tears) and when it makes you re-aseess your own life and family relationships, which this definitely did.

 

4. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon

I LOVE comics and comic book heroes and the world of inky thumbs and storyboarding. Joe Kavalier, is a young Jewish artist who smuggles himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague to seek refuge with his cousin Sammy Clay in New York. Working together, Kavalier and Clay create a comic book featuring the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth (inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who attracts both the cousins attentions in different ways). Kavalier and Clay definitely took me a good three chapters to get my head round and really absorb into their world, but as soon as I did it quickly became one of those books that you cannot bear to think will eventually be over. My heart ACHED when I finished it, as I was so desperate to back amongst the characters that I had fallen in love with and felt were almost my friends.

 

5. When Nights Were Cold – Susanna Jones

Grace Farringdon is a young woman fighting against her family and her Edwardian destiny to marry or stay at home caring for her strict parents. Grace harbours an obsession with the prospect of becoming a female mountaineer and so alongside 3 unlikely friends from university, she sets up the Arctic Exploration Society. We learn from the outset of the book that Grace is the only ‘surviving’ member of the society and what follows is an incredibly well written and believable account of single-white-level level female relationships, competitiveness and a chilling lesson in the lengths women had to go to in order to break social barriers we take so much for granted these days. This read started a Susanne Jones flurry with me (I read three more instantly afterwards) but sadly although they were enjoyable enough, I didn’t  find they compared anywhere near to this incredible work.

 

6. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

The writing style make jar when you first pick up The Book Thief. It’s unique and swirling and very enigmatic which can mean you struggle to retain the characters and information (it’s probably best read in one sitting!). However this is another absolutely 5* read and a book that I instantly wanted everyone I know to devour so I could discuss it with them. Like Kavalier & Clay it’s set in a historical period so sensitive and loaded with emotion that it’s an incredible feat to still set realistic fictional characters in this world and for them to appear so genuine. The dynamics between everyone in the book are so tender and like with K & C, you find yourself slowly becoming part of the world and having to wrench yourself out of it at the end.

 

7. The Colony – F G Cottam

Since discovering this author in 2007, my yearly dose of the highest quality spook/paranormal writing, is always a massive bookworm highlight. If there was an Olympic record for Amazon one-click purchasing, I would have definitely bagged gold for the miliseconds passing between my reading the phrase “available to kindle users now…” and reading the first line of “The Colony”. All other books and social activities fell by the wayside for the past week, as F G Cottam’s writing is reliably addictive, all-consuming and gripping. The Colony tells the legend of New Hope; a remote Scottish Island that housed a colony in the 19th century who then appeared to vanish into this air. A ‘Mary Celeste’ style unsolved mystery, it is later investigated by a 21st century media mogul. He packs off a team of experts in various fields (paranormal, virology, little green men…) in an attempt solve the mystery once and for all, and in turn lift flailing circulation figures of his newspaper.

The most striking aspect of this ambitious novel, is the epic ensemble cast. With no single protagonist, the story is told through various characters. All of whom, however fleetingly involved, are rounded and realistic. Cottam has a phenomenal talent at drilling straight down to relatable, recognisable traits meaning that, particularly in The Colony, I regularly found myself rolling my eyes and thinking ‘they remind me SO much of x…’ (particularly the less likeable males!). As with all of Cottam’s novels, this book has creep, spook and sinister in bucketloads. I’m talking endless physical reactions; real life goosebump, spine tingle, hair on the back of the neck moments that barely any other author manages to weedle out of me. I found myself in cold sweats on a packed tube and breathless with fear in a busy cafe (during the great coal mine expedition particularly!) I enjoyed the very necessary moments of light relief provided by the complex dynamics between the cast of characters and experts, moments you cling to before the next fright hits. There were also a large dose of twists I wouldn’t have predicted, and in such a saturated genre I really respect an author who can truly still shock and surprise.

 

8. Honourable Mentions:

  • Gone Girl  – Gillian Flynn : I spent the MOST time talking to people about this book (including a feverish live-whatsapp conversation with my best friend Lol as we both reached various stages!) and in fact despite claiming not to like the (shocker) of an ending, it has stayed buried in my head for the rest of the year and definitely needs to be read for WTF moments alone.
  • Lamb – Bonnie Nadzam : An extremely skin crawling, uncomfortable read but fantastically written
  • The Believers – Zoe Heller : It’s no ‘Notes on a Scandal’ but was an enjoyable plane-journey read charting the dynamics of a larger New York family
  • Snowdrops – A. D. Miller : Perfect for a quick, satisyfing immersion into the Russain culture and a modern murder mystery.
  • The Snow Child – Eowen Ivey : A captivating, haunting modern fairy tale.
  • Eleven Kinds of Loneliness – Richard Yates : One of my all-time favourite authors
  • Beginners – Raymond Carver : Short stories that leave you gasping for breath

If, even after this, you want more bookworm suggestions – I eagerly await every GoodReads review and book pick by Blair. Here is her 2012 run-down with surprisingly few cross-overs given I instantly snap up anything she rates highly!

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