The Books 2015 : I did it!

Book pile 2015Having failed my self-imposed challenge to read 50 books in 2014, I paced myself more steadily this year – and I did it! 50 books in a year.

I’ve figured out a couple of things on the way. Firstly, working my way through a book a week was not going to happen by accident; I really had to commit to the task and prioritise reading over other things occasionally. To anyone I have ignored because my nose has been stuck in a book, I apologise!

The other discovery I made is that whilst the Kindle App on my IPad hosts an impressive collection of books (review copies are usually downloads), digital reading doesn’t really do it for me. Maybe its because my IPad doesn’t have that distinctive new-paper-and-ink smell, but I just don’t absorb books in the same way on a device as from real pages in a real book. No doubt someone eminent and learned has researched this phenomenon and can find as many readers whose experience is the exact opposite of mine, but my preference is still for a paperback than a gadget.

There have been some high highs and some low lows during my literary year and I have had a bit of fun organising my 2015 books into a list. I rather like lists and this one is self-explanatory; everything I’ve read, from what I liked best to what I liked least!

In my top 3 books were Bella Pollen’s ‘The Summer of the Bear‘ and ‘Song of the Sea Maid‘ by Rebecca Mascull. Both gave me a great deal of reading pleasure and I wholeheartedly recommend them. The latter is due out in paperback in 2016 and I’m planning to read Mascull’s first novel ‘The Visitors‘ next year. Emma Kennedy’s ‘The Tent, the Bucket and Me‘ is probably the funniest book I have ever read in my whole life (although Bill Bryson and Stephen Fry have given me plenty of laugh out loud moments) and I defy anyone not to be cheered by it.

I hope my reviews have given my followers some ideas about what to read, and maybe what to avoid.

1 Summer of the Bear (The) by Bella Pollen
2 Tent, the Bucket and Me (The) by Emma Kennedy
3 Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull
4 Paying Guests (The) by Sarah Waters
5 Valentine Grey by Sandi Toksvig
6 Sea Legs by Guy Grieve
7 You by Joanna Briscoe
8 Narrow Road to the Deep North (The) by Richard Flanagan
9 More Lives than One by Libby Purves
10 Light Behind the Window (The) by Lucinda Riley
11 Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
12 Invention of Wings (The) by Sue Monk Kidd
13 H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
14 A to Z of You and Me (The) by James Hannah
15 Shoes for Anthony by Emma Kennedy
16 Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
17 Lives of Stella Bain (The) by Anita Shreve
18 Children Act (The) by Ian McEwan
19 Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blackman
20 Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
21 Girl Who Wasn’t There (The) by Ferdinand von Schirach
22 I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
23 Sea Sisters (The) by Lucy Clarke
24 Secret History (The) by Donna Tartt
25 Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham
26 Something to Hide by Deborah Moggach
27 Taxidermist’s Daughter (The) by Kate Mosse
28 The Blue by Lucy Clarke
29 We were Liars by E Lockhart
31 Harvest by Jim Crace
30 Other Side of the World (The) by Stephanie Bishop
32 Last Pier (The) by Roma Burke
33 Daughter’s Secret (The) by Eva Holland
36 Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty
35 Girl On The Train (The) by Paula Hawkins
34 Miniaturist (The) by Jessie Burton
37 Secrets of the Lighthouse by Santa Montefiore
38 Versions of Us (The) by Laura Barnett
39 Waiting for Doggo by Mark B Mills
40 Best of Times (The) by Penny Vincenzi
41 Cuckoo’s Calling (The) by Robert Galbraith
42 Night Guest (The) by Fiona McFarlane
43 Senator’s Wife (The) by Sue Miller
44 Artificial Anatomy of Parks (The) by Kat Gordon
45 Bad Blood by Arne Dahl
46 Dolly by Susan Hill
47 Find Me by Laura van den Berg
48 Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester
49 All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
50 Girl on the Ferryboat (The) by Angus Peter Campbell 

And what about 2016? Well my Christmas stocking included Guy Grieve’s ‘The Call of the Wild‘, Paul Heiney’s ‘One Wild Song‘ and ‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair‘ by Joel Dicker, so my TBR pile is already stacking up. I’m also looking forward to reading Clare Fuller’s ‘Our Endless Numbered Days‘ and ‘A Year of Marvellous Ways‘ by Sarah Winman. Reading is as essential to my wellbeing as oxygen so I’ll be reading on. I will continue with the blog, but am undecided about whether to repeat the 50/50 challenge – watch this space!

Book No 41 (2015) : The Summer of the Bear

summr of the bearJamie’s Dad, Nicky Fleming, was a diplomat based in Bonn and he died when he suffered a fall. The family members he left behind – wife, Letty, and teenage daughters Georgie and Alba, as well as Jamie, are trying to re-shape their lives to accommodate the gaping hole that Nicky has left. He wrote what might be a suicide note but Letty is sure that he would not have deserted his family. An investigation ensues and gradually a version of the truth begins to emerge.

When I was 7 years old, I lost my Dad. He was only 29. Only ‘lost’ is a euphemism of course, because actually he died. My Mum told me that he had had an accident and was dead. But although I thought I understood, I really didn’t. My memories of waiting for him to come back from Canada (the farthest away place my 7-year old mind could imagine) are very vivid. What I had failed to grasp is that dead was for ever. It is obvious to grown-ups, but it wasn’t obvious to me. My desperation when the truth hit, many months after my father’s death, was as crushing as the original news.

My own experiences came flooding back to me as I read Bella Pollen’s stunning novelThe Summer of the Bear’. Jamie’s mother tells him that his Dada has gone for a long, long time. Jamie knows that as Dada is lost, he will be searching for his family, even as far as the remote Hebridean  island where Jamie now lives with his Mum and 2 sisters. So Jamie throws lots of messages in bottles into the sea, each one containing a hand-drawn map with the location of the family’s house clearly marked. This image moved me to tears; in their efforts to protect Jamie, whose mind works in mysterious ways, the adults had blurred the edges of reality to such an extent, that the little boy comes to believe that his father has been re-incarnated into the body of a grizzly bear which has escaped on the island and so far evaded capture.

The narrative moves from Bonn to East Berlin, Ballanish in the Outer Hebrides to London, taking in the experiences of not only Letty and her children, but also the escaped bear, the Cold War and a suspected radiological contamination. Only an exceptional talent could weave together such disparate threads as these, to produce a tender, compelling and imaginative novel. I found it completely captivating, such was the power of Pollen’s characters; the islanders with their fears and fairytales, the commandeering Ambassadress, Nicky’s faithful friend Tom, and Ballanish itself.

Such is the scope and sweep of ‘The Summer of the Bear‘ that even if you have never been bereaved, or set foot on a Scottish island, or read the (true) story of Hercules the bear, there will be something in this book to seduce you. I will definitely be hunting out Bella Pollen’s other work.