28 December 2016 Susannah

Top Reads of 2016

Susannah Fullerton's top reads 2016

It’s fun looking back over a year of reading to see what stands out from the record in my Book Notebook. These are my top 5 reads from 2016 (in alphabetical title order):

Bitch in a Bonnet by Robert Rodi. A book of literary criticism about Jane Austen’s novels that was fun and thought-provoking (please take it for granted that my 6 top reads every year are invariably Jane Austen’s books)

Images and Shadows by Iris Origo, a memoir by a fabulous Anglo / Italian writer showing how she came to be a writer. Gorgeous!

The Book of Ebenezer le Page by G.B. Edwards (which I wrote about in my June Notes). Such a moving and memorable book – I’m still thinking about it months later.

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. I hadn’t read it for many years and it was a delight to re-visit. I’d forgotten how funny much of it is.

The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane, (which featured in my March Notes) was beautifully written and made me want to rush straight off to England for a long walk there.

I’m a great fan of detective fiction and this year have enjoyed books by murder mystery writers Rory Clements, Donna Leon, Deborah Crombie, Peter Robinson, Camilla Lackberg, Nicci French, Felicity Young, Catherine Lloyd, and others.

Can you make a list of your Top 5 books of the year? I’d love to hear your recommendations. Please list them by leaving a comment. What about my list of authors? Do you enjoy reading murder mysteries?

 

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Comments (46)

  1. Margaret Debenham

    Dear Susannah
    Thank you so much for your fascinating and stimulating Notes.

    I haven’t done a Top 5 – I’m not sure I could, my reading list has been so eclectic and has contained so many pleasures (and I have particularly loved re-reading the Barchester novels following your wonderful Trollope lecture). As I have been given a bookshop gift card for Christmas I’m keen to spend it in the New Year, and your Top 5 has given me some ideas. However the purpose of this comment is to say how much I also enjoyed The Old Ways. There have been a few similar books published recently, and I love reading about the English countryside. A couple I have particularly enjoyed are “Rain. Four Walks in the English Weather” by Melissa Harrison (especially the Wicken Fen walk) and James Reebanks’ “The Shepherd’s Life” – surprisingly fascinating given that a large part of the shepherd’s life in the Lake District seems to be chasing sheep in really bad weather.

    Very much looking forward to the 2017 Notes.

    Best wishes

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am delighted you also enjoyed ‘The Old Ways’ and thanks for recommending more in the same vein. I had to laugh about your comment on the Lake District. Every time I have visited that gorgeous area with tour groups it has rained! So glad you enjoy my Notes. I do have fun writing them.

  2. I always enjoy reading people’s top reads at the end of the year. We are all so different. I will be posting mine in the next couple of days, though probably not as a list, more as a ramble across the variety of books I’ve read this year. My favourite reads tend to be mostly, though not exclusively, Australian as I like to support Aussie writers.

    I do like the sound of Bitch in a bonnet. But no, I don’t actively read detective fiction though i do read the odd one that comes my way, mostly Australian.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it fascinating that one person can love a book and another person be left totally cold by it. As Jane Austen says, “one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other”. I’ll look forward to your recommendations, Sue, and should try and read more Australian authors myself.

  3. Marisa

    Dear Susannah:

    First and foremost,Happy New Year! What a pleasure to find your first newsletter for 2017 on the last day of 2016! And thank you sharing with us your top reads.

    Mine for this year are:
    1- The Paying Guests – by Sarah Waters, an author that has never yet disappointed me
    2- My Cousin Rachel – by Daphne Du Maurier, which I read following your recommendation, and was mesmerised by it!
    3- Indian Passion – by Javier Moro; I read it in the original Spanish and I hope it’s been translated, as it’s the fascinating true story of a young, poor Spanish girl in the 1930s who married a Maharajah! The marriage didn’t end well, but the story and the style its written in are just lovely.
    4- The Black Widow – by Daniel Silva, a nail-biting thriller that I couldn’t put down.
    5- A Passionate Sisterhood – by Kathleen Jones, about the Wordsworths and the Coledriges: full of historical and literary detail, and at the same ti warm and endearing.

    I hope other readers find something worth trying from my list – and Happy New Year to them!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for a fabulous list. I am so glad I encouraged you to read ‘My Cousin Rachel’. I really loved the Kathleen Jones book – it made me feel so sorry for all the women in the Wordsworth / Coleridge circle. I will add your other recommendations to my rapidly expanding list of books to fit into this year. I wish I could read the Javier Moro book in Spanish – it sounds wonderful, but books always lose something in translation. Happy New Year.

  4. Catherine Knapman

    Hi Susannah, here are my top picks for 2016:
    A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara
    Barkskins by Annie Proulx
    A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD by Anne Tyler
    My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

    Many thanks for sending me your newsletter!
    HAPPY NEW YEAR!
    Catherine xx

    • Susannah Fullerton

      My walking friend is currently reading ‘A Little Life’ and is loving it, so I will add that to my list, and I have read none of the others you listed so thanks for the recommendations. Oh I do need more reading time!

    • Marisa

      “My Name is Lucy Barton” is on my list for 2017 – good to know that you enjoyed it so much, Catherine.
      Marisa

  5. Janice Gentle

    I only started to read detective stories in my 70s, but i thoroughly enjoy them now. I love Donna Leon, and will have a look at the other crime authors you list. My favourites are Bernhard Schlink, Henning Mankell, and Benjamin Black (John Banville). These four all discuss social problems, as well as being very readable. In fact i have been re-reading the Quirke novels by Benjamin Black, and am thoroughly enjoying them a second time.

    ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ is a book i thought was fine. I was somewhat put off by its setting in Germany in WWII (i’m not as keen on ‘grim’ as i used to be) but our book club chose it, and i very much enjoyed it, as well as thinking it’s a great book. I’m currently reading Helen Garner’s book ‘Everywhere I Look’ and i can’t put it down! In case you haven’t read it, it’s listed as essays, but i suggest that it is more fragments of memoir.

    Thank you so much for the pleasure i get from your book series at the Art Gallery.

    Janice

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am so glad you also enjoy crime novels. I’ve just read the first Benjamin Black recently in preparation for my Irish literary tour this year, and I loved it, so will definitely read more. I also enjoy Henning Mankell and Donna Leon. Have you read the fabulous C.J. Sansom novels set in the time of Henry VIII? He is my absolute favourite! I am also enjoying Cora Harrison’s novel set in the Burren in Ireland in the 16thC. The first one is ‘My Lady Judge’. So glad you enjoy my Gallery lectures – hopefully I will soon have dates for talks there this year. Happy New Year.

  6. Veronica Scutaro

    My number 1 pick for 2016 is My Antonia by Willa Cather. I read it right after Hemingway’s book of short stories, In Our Time. The lush richness of Cather’s prose following the bleak hopelessness of the Hemingway stories was startling. I don’t remember feeling so transported to another place and time by My Antonia before. It was breathtaking. I am a cozy reader and love a good historical mystery. Is anyone going to Malice Domestic in April 2017? It’s a great time for mystery fans.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Now that’s a book I’ve long been meaning to read, so thanks for so strongly encouraging me to do so. And what is Malice Domestic??? It sounds fascinating. I love historical mysteries.

  7. Janice Gentle

    PS. I would like to also mention Louise Penny, who writes a detective series set in French Canada, and Martin Walker, whose policeman is in the Perigord area of France; both also discuss food.

    Janice Gentle

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Food and crime are always a good combination. I’ve read a couple of Louise Penny’s and enjoyed them, and will look out for Martin Walker – love books set in France!

  8. Sharon S

    Thank you, Susannah, for all the work you out into everything and every product you produce.

    We love your book lectures at the art gallery and the recommendations for other reading.

    The newsletter is always full of interesting tidbits and views and yet more reading recommendations.

    I used to read a lot more mass market but am now incorporating more literary and other non-fiction reading, to match my friend Lisa, so thanks for broadening my horizons.

    I hope 2017 is a bright, shining year for you and yours (and that the wedding of your daughter went well). S

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am so delighted that my talks and newsletter have broadened your literary horizons. Thanks so much for your lovely comments. I hope I will be back at the Gallery this year with more talks – we are trying to sort out dates now. Happy New Year, and may it be full of good books.

  9. Denise Stephenson

    Like you, I enjoy crime fiction and love peter Robinson books but my favourite author has to be Louise Penny. Her novels are set in Quebec and a sleepy village called Three Pines. I would advise you to read them in order. I love all of the characters in the books who live in this sleepy village which is not even on the map!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I’ve read and loved all of Peter Robinson, but have only read one Louise Penny. I think you are right that it is best to read these crime series in the right order – then you can follow the various romances and tribulations of the detective. I should start Louise Penny from the beginning. Thanks for the recommendation.

  10. Donald Nairn

    Dear Suzanne

    I too enjoy your lecture series at the AGNSW. Thank you so much for providing
    such an enjoyable celebration of literature each year.
    I make a list of the books I read each year. I am a fan of the the books of Anne de Courcy
    a biographe/historian. I particularly enjoyed Margot at War, about Margot Asquith
    the wife of Herbert Asquith, Britains Prime Minister for the first part of World War 1.
    It is a story about how Asquith in the midst of the drama of the war becomes obsessed with
    Venetia Stanley, one of his 20 year old daughters friends.
    I also read her biography of Dianne Mosely. A dark reflection on the British ruling class during
    the 1930s.
    Those interested inAustralian History might like The Art of Time Travel by Prof Tom Griffiths,
    of the ANU, a survey of books and ideas about Australian history starting with the novel A Timeless Land
    by Eleanor Dark. I also love the novels of Robert Harris set in republican Rome Imperium,
    Lustrum and The Dictator.
    Best wishes
    Donald nairn
    .

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Anne de Courcy’s books are fabulous. I found her ‘Daughters of the Viceroy’ quite riveting and have enjoyed many of her other books, but haven’t read the one on Margot at War that you mention. Thanks for the recommendation.
      I am currently reading Robert Harris’s Çonclave’ and would actually like to spend the day on the sofa finishing it, but have people coming for dinner. I also loved his Án Officer and a Spy’ about the Dreyfus case. Have you read that one? I will add the Imperium books to my ever-lengthening list of To Read books.
      So glad you enjoy my lectures at the Gallery. Happy New Year.

  11. Keith A Symonds

    My favourite for 2016 was “All the Light I Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer. Beautifully written, very evocative and empathetic.I bought it at Sydney Airport and finished it in France. Was going to Mont St Michel so did a 60km detour to St Malo where much of the book is set. The inner city is much as described in the book. Lots of delightful skinny six storey house, paved walkways and plazas. Walked around the walls beach and harbour. Found a great cafe also!!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Both St Malo and Mont St Michel are amazing places. I took a tour group there last year and felt ashamed that I had not read ‘All the Light I Cannot See’ and promised myself that I would read it before doing that tour again. Thanks toy our comments, Keith, it has moved higher up my reading list.

  12. Pam Blackwell

    Oh dear to only list 5, no I have to break the rules. Favourites this year (aside from reading Harry Potters along with grandson) were:
    – Lamentation by C.J. Sansom. He is my very favourite crime novelist as the history in the stories is so vividly drawn.
    – Fatal Pursuit by Martin Walker. My other favourite crime novelist. Love his stories as they always deal with an issue that France is currently facing.
    – Mothering Sunday by Grahame Swift. Wonderful sensual portrayal about love and class in post war Britain. Had no idea of where it was going to end.
    – Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Charming venture of a special bookseller as he journeys down the Seine to find himself.
    – Boy of China by Richard Loseby. Fascinating as I know little of China and this took me again on a geographic and historical journey to find the ‘lost son of Mao’.
    And after your talks:
    – Travels with a Donkey & An Inland Voyage by R.L. Steveson. Loved reading about his experiences in a France of old.
    – Kidnapped by R.L.Stevenson. Wow. Am now looking to see if there is a walk along their trail.
    Some years ago I read the Old Ways and this year read Thames Path in the Country by David Sharp and Tony Gowers as I did the last stages of the Thames Path Walk. Both fabulous, full of history at all levels and with the joy of walking.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am so glad to see the fabulous C J Sansom novel on your list. I am going to be in London for a few days in late May and I have booked to go on a Shardlake Guided walk – can’t wait! I do hope Sansom writes another book in the series soon.
      And of course it gives me a great thrill that you loved the R L Stevenson books. There is a Kidnapped Walking Trail you can follow in Scotland – stunning scenery, and you could hope for better weather than Alan and David had.
      Yes, it is terribly hard to limit yourself to a list of Top 5. Happy reading for the rest of the year.

      • Pam Blackwell

        I didn’t know there was a Shardlake Guided walk in London, you have just sent me the most fabulous news. It will be a definite when I hopefully go this September. Last year I went to Portsmouth to see the Mary Rose because C J and it was marvellous. Having read all of the books in the series I too hope he will write another very soon as feel like one of the family and am missing them all.
        Thank you also for the note about the Kidnapped trail.

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Several guides now seem to offer Shardlake walks in London. When I have done one in May I’ll let you know if the guide was good.

  13. Pam Blackwell

    Only 5, oh dear now I am going to have to break the rules.
    Lamentation by C.J. Sansom. My favourite crime writer as his historical descriptions are amazingly vivid.
    Fatal Pursuit by Martin Walker. Second favourite crime writer as he always has a back story of a current issue France is dealing with.
    Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Charming gentle book about a special bookseller as he travels down the Seine to find himself.
    Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift. Sensual story about love and the class system in post war England.
    A Boy of China by Richard Loseby. I know little about China and this is a true story. It’s a geographical and historical journey through an area of China in the search for a ‘lost son of Mao’.
    Best of all this year was Thames Path in the Country by D. Sharp & T. Gowers. Full of history and information. This and its companion Thames Path in London by P. Clapham have been my faithful companions off and on over several years as I walked the Thames Path from source to mouth.
    And after your talk: Travels with a Donkey and An Inland Voyage by R.L. Stevenson. Left me wanting to time travel and go with him. And Kidnapped. Wow, a rollicking yarn.
    Read the Old Ways some years ago and like you loved it.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Have you read Graham Swift’s ‘Last Orders’? I remember loving that, and there was also a good film version.

      • Didn’t realise I had posted this twice, still a bit of a novice with this kind of conversation. Think I saw the movie some years back and really enjoyed it. Based on your recommendation I’ll now search it out.

  14. Margi Abraham

    My favourite reads of 2016 were Jane Eyre related, to celebrate 200 years since Charlotte Bronte’s birth.
    The biggest thrill was listening to Jane Eyre in the car and reading Claire Harman’s wonderful biography (when stationary), over the same weeks.
    Later in the year I reread one of my favourite novels, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (a masterpiece)and then a recently released “continuation”- Wild Island by Jennifer Livett – set in the early days of Hobart and Port Arthur and also tracing the fate of “the mad woman in the attic”. A very interesting novel and mostly successful, if a little too packed with historical characters and information.
    To finish the year, I read the very funny, light, literary detective novel, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.
    It will be back to Jane Austen in 2017 in honour of 200 years since she died. Bitch in a Bonnet sounds like a great start!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Very timely reading, Margi, with the Charlotte Bronte anniversary. I also loved the Claire Harman biography, and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ is such an intriguing look at poor Mrs Rochester. Jennifer Livett’s book is on my reading list. She will be speaking at the Australian Bronte Association meeting in early Feb. I cannot make it, but you should think of going? And for your JA reading, can I recommend ‘JA: The Secret Radical’ which I am currently reading. I want to have someone to discuss it with!!!!!

  15. Margi Abraham

    Having already read John Mullan’s review in The Guardian, I had decided not to read this book! I’d be very interested in your review of his review so I may reconsider. I do acknowledge, however, that sometimes it is good to form one’s own opinion!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also read John Mullan’s review and, like you, was put off. However, I did find the book interesting. I agreed with parts of it, and violently disagreed with other parts, but I did learn some new things from it and it made me think. Isn’t it wonderful that people are still producing interesting and controversial new books about our favourite author!

  16. Karen Booth

    I love to read mysteries and some of my favourite authors are:

    Josephine Tey – her novel The Daughter of Time is I think the best mystery ever written (make a fabulous lecture
    Anne Perry – historical series Inspector Monk and Thomas Pitt (aka Juliet Hulme) would also make a wonderful lecture.
    Jacqueline Winspear -Maisie Dobbs – private detective during the interwar years
    Charles Todd – Ian Rutledge mysteries set just after WW1 and Bess Crawford set during WW1
    Marcia Muller – coolest private detective ever Sharon McCone
    and also a Japanese writer Kanae Minato who has written many mysteries but sadly only one has been translated into English thus far. It is called Confessions and is easily in my top ten ever – great book.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also love Josephine Tey and have read all of hers. Have you read the Nicola Upson novels which feature Josephine as a character? And I love Maisie Dobbs and have read all of them too. I’ve only read one Anne Perry and wasn’t so keen, so should give her another try, and I don’t know Marcia Muller at all, so will look for her books. I also really like Charles Todd – with both his characters. Many thanks for the recommendations. Mystery novels are such fun!

      • Karen Booth

        Thank you Susannah for the heads up about Nicola Upson – I will look them up. If you are going to try Anne Perry again let me recommend ‘Breach of Promise’ one of her best – sad but also uplifting. Marcia Muller’s books are modern crime (only stocked by Abbey’s I think) but I’m sure you would like them – its by no means the first but ‘Locked In’ I think is one of the best.

        I look forward to your next lecture series at the Art Gallery – my mother and I never miss them – always fabulous. maybe a series on the mystery novel?

        • Susannah Fullerton

          So glad you enjoy my talks at the Gallery. ‘Mystery Novels’ is certainly an idea worth considering for a series there – thanks!

  17. Judith Smith

    Happy New Year Suzanne and thankyou for your newslatters. Thanks also for recommendations by others. Looks like 2017 will be another where I struggle to read all I’d like to.

    So difficult to name the top 5 books I read in 2016. I was looking through my list and started marking those I really enjoyed and ended up with far too many. I enjoy a variety of books from non fiction through to historical novels, fiction and the classics.
    My top 5 are in no particular order.

    “Big little Lies” – Liane Moriarty
    “Waterline” – Ross Raisin
    “The Light Between the Oceans” – M L Steadman ( movie recently released)
    “The Deepest Secret” – Carla Buckley
    “Without You” – Saskia Sarginson
    ‘In the Month of the Midnight Sun” – Cecilia Eleback

    Oops! That’s 6.
    I have also enjoyed novels by Lucinda Riley and Barbara Kingsolver

    Wondering Suzanne if you have any more info re the movie about Emily Dickinson that you mentioned in a previous newsletter. Has it been and gone and I’ve missed it?

    Kind Regards
    Judith Smith

    • Susannah Fullerton

      The Emily Dickinson film was ‘A Quiet Passion’ and it came and went incredibly quickly. I was on tour and when I got home it had finished. Friends tell me it was excellent, but it looks like we might have to wait for the DVD. Thanks for your list of 6. Yes, the problem is finding the time in which to read all the books we want to read.

  18. Diane Riddell

    Hi Susannah
    Really enjoy your blog. My co- ed book group recently reread Pride and Prejudice. A very lively discussion ensued. Most of the group are a American and therefore not so au fait with Jane Austen and the Englishness of the novel. Also the men – predictably- were less enamoured of her story. However I loved it rereading it.
    My favorite reads for 2016 were:

    The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
    The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
    The Fishermen by Chigoze Obiama
    Sweet Caress by Willam Boyd
    Fever City by Tim Baker. Tim is an Australian writer and the book is a very cleverly conceived murder/ thriller.
    Interested to hear comments.
    Regards
    Diane

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I’m so glad you enjoy my ‘Notes from a Book Addict’. And of course I was most interested in your book group’s re-reading of ‘P & P’. It is a very English novel, and yet it is also so universal which is why it is loved around the world, from China to Argentina to Pakistan etc. It does make me sad that there is a sense that men will not love the novel as much as women. That has only been a recent view. Until the film versions started to come out, Jane Austen probably had more ardent male admirers than female.
      Thanks so much for your list of top reads. I will add Tim Baker to my list. I have to admit I hadn’t even heard of the first three authors you list, so I clearly have some learning and exploring to do. Happy reading for 2017!

  19. Dear Susannah,
    It is good to subscribe to your mails.

    Recently I have read

    The Bailey Chronicles series by Catherine Cookson. I like her gripping style of write about real people of New castle area.
    Recent thrillers I have read are: Lee Child’s – The hard way and Never go back. Paula Hawkins – Girl on a traiin.
    s a child I used to read School girls, Parry Mason, James Bond and Agatha Christie’s novels. My favourite detective was Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am so pleased you enjoy my newsletter, Hannah.
      It is many years since I read any Catherine Cookson – that was during my teens, so I can hardly remember them except for a sense of how hard life was in the North of England.
      Agatha Christie is such a comfort read – you know exactly what you are getting, there is no emotional disturbance, and such clever plotting. I prefer Poirot to Miss Marple – do you?
      I also enjoyed The Girl on the Train, but managed to miss the movie version so must try and get hold of that.

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