I always look forward to posting my Best Books List every year and they are some of my most favourite posts to peruse on other blogs too.
2019 was a year of comfort reading. I always find my mood for the year reflected in the books I choose. There was a Chalet School book every month, along with a Miss Read book – and although many of these will not feature in my best books list – they certainly did their job of providing comfort. For this I am very grateful.
It was also a great year for acquiring many old paperback puffin and penguin editions. This was due to the 2 second hand book sales that I was lucky enough to visit and where I bought books by the box load (all that you can fit into a box at a flat price).
I hosted a few readalongs on Instagram this year. Memorable were the DE Stevenson readalong of Katherine Wentworth and Mrs Tim’s wartime diaries. Also of course, Miss Read’s Fairacre series culminating in the reading of the supremely cozy Christmas book- Village Christmas in December.
I read 44 books in total in 2019.
So, without much further ado :
Here are my top 10 books of 2019
1. Greengates by RC Sherriff
Written in the slow, delicious and detailed style of RC Sherriff, this was a wonderful novel tracing the life of an old couple who are adjusting to life after retirement. The small recalibrations of daily life that are needed to restore equilibrium to the couple are exquisitely described. The novel is highly domestic, the trials and tribulations might seem petty but the feelings are very real and instantly identifiable. Hats off to Sherriff for dealing with a non-glorified and lesser described stage of life – but one, nonetheless, that is very important.
2. Mrs Tim of the Regiment by DE Stevenson
In the introduction to the book published by Bloomsbury there is an author’s original note. Stevenson mentions that Mrs Tim was the result of her own personal diaries being read by a friend who wanted to learn some insights about the reality of living in a Highland Regiment. The friend was so amused with the diary that Stevenson was encouraged to send her notes to a publisher. The results were the highly popular Mrs Tim books.
I’m a big fan of the epistolary novel – although personally I need to read these kind of books in little bites. They are the perfect kind of book to sneak in a few pages before bedtime or during breakfast or a lunch break.
What makes this novel particularly delightful is the excellent writing, amusing anecdotes and the glimpses of life lived in Scotland.
There are a few interesting relationships and characters in the book too.
Hester reminds me of the Provincial Lady (EM Delafield) – slightly clueless about what is going on around her- in her own dreamworld.
She is happily married to Tim- a major in the Regiment- but she still has a bevy of admirers who are perhaps struck by Hester’s endearing personality.
The latter half of the novel is set in Scotland and I think for me, is the better part of the novel. There are many lovely outings to beaches, local fairs, Scotch cities. The writing is a lilting ode to Scotland.
In my mind the book ends a little abruptly – so I’m eager to follow along with the further adventures of Hester in ‘Mrs Tim Carries On’.
3. The Call by Edith Ayrton Zangwill
I finished reading ‘The Call’ this week – review copy gifted to me by @persephonebooks) . ’The Call’ by Edith Ayrton Zangwill follows the personal story of a young woman scientist, through the course of historical events that dominated the women’s suffrage movement in England, leading up to the outbreak and onset of the First World War.
Although the story is one of fiction, the series of events that pervade the novel, come across as remarkably real, no doubt drawing from the personal experience of Edith Ayrton Zangwill – a member of the WSPU herself.
The ‘Call’ refers to the call to action experienced by Ursula Winfield. A call to shun and relinquish everything she held dear, in order to enable the progress of the women’s suffrage movement.
However, as the novel progresses, we discover that this call to action is experienced by other people and for other causes- be they women’s suffrage, the call to do one’s duty in the war, or the call of a more personal nature- that of all-consuming love.
I gave this book a 5 star. I think it’s such an important book to read, dealing about an important chapter in women’s history.
4. Katherine Wentworth by DE Stevenson
Katherine Wentworth’ was such a dreamy, lovely book- filled with the gentle romance of yesteryear. Some of my favourite things about the book were the settings – in Edinburgh, England and the Scottish Highlands. In particular, the last third of the book was set in a little cottage, skirting the shores of a Scottish loch. I enjoyed ‘Katherine Wentworth’ so much that I was eager to read more about Katherine’s future. I’m sorry to say that the sequel didn’t enthral me as much- but that is alright…
I’ve been trying to analyse what endeared me to ‘Katherine Wentworth’. I find I’m particularly drawn to books that capture realism – the kind of realism that is part of mundane, everyday life. For within the tapestry of quotidian everyday events, there emerge moments filled with little sparks of joy- if we have the eyes and the receptiveness to appreciate them. DE Stevenson writes with incredible sensitivity – rendering the dull, less than perfect life of a widowed Mother of three – to interesting heights. There are little moments of delight and I love writers who make ordinary people and their cares and concerns – more than ordinary.
5. We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet
We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet tells the story of a small child called Pamela, who has been mistakenly placed on a bus that is heading out of bomb torn Southampton during the Second World War. When the bus arrives with the evacuees in the quiet village of Upton, Pamela is discovered by a village resident – newly married Ellen Parr.
Nobody knows anything about little Pamela’s precedents – who might be her parents, where she came from and why she was separated from her mother.
Childless Ellen takes the small girl into her heart and her home but when the time comes for the two to separate – we learn about Ellen’s past and the heart wrenching grief she feels to let go of Pamela.
This book was just beautifully written and there were many times when I thought I might break down and cry. At the heart of ‘We Must Be Brave’ is Ellen’s poignant history. The history of her childhood deprivations, how it feels to have your world crumble around you and feel truly alone. We Must Be Brave is a story set in War times. Though the backdrop of the story is the war and the bravery of the men and women fighting in the war, the bravery referred to in the title is one of personal bravery. Bravery of the spirit and soul. Bravery at times when life surrenders to all encompassing loneliness.
6. Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson
Jill was one of my most delightful discoveries in 2019. I had read and greatly admired Ruby Ferguson’s ‘Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary’, published by Persephone Books. It hadn’t struck me that I would find her children’s books so engaging. I’m not particularly taken by pony books either. However, Jill’s story was so well written and so inspiring that I recommend that you all find these books and read them! Ferguson’s voice in these books reminded me of E Nesbit and Frances Hodgson Burnett. There were some economic hardships that Jill’s family faced in the book – but it was wonderfully inspiring to read how Jill managed to realize her dream of keeping her own pony and participating in a gymkhana. Jills’s voice is particularly candid and endearing. Read this if you enjoyed ‘The Railway Children’ or ‘A Little Princess’.
7. The New House by Lettice Cooper
The first book I read by Lettice Cooper and already I am looking forward to reading her ‘National Provincial’. Another very slow book, drawn out over the course of a single day. A day in which a family undertake a move to a new house. A house that is much smaller than the family are used to. A house that fits in with the changing fortunes of a once rich family who have fallen on harder times. We see familial tensions stretched out on the wire under the straitened circumstances. The petulance of a spoilt widow and mother, the hardship of the unmarried, elder daughter under the burden of heightened economy and the responsibility of her mother. An interesting novel that deals with changeable social circumstance.
8. The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard
I started reading the sweeping saga of the Cazalet family with a group of friends on Instagram. The novels require you to dedicate a large chunk of your time to their reading but are well worth the effort. A compelling drama that encompasses many interesting characters whose lives are deeply affected by the onset of World War 2. Whether you read the books for the family drama, the social history of the crumbling fortunes of the aristocratic class, or because you are a history enthusiast, ‘The Light Years’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard makes for compelling reading.
9. The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read
The perfect book to put your feet up with a pot of tea and a mince pie during the Christmas break. The story has all the lovely details of Christmas preparation and a moral to the story too. As usual, Miss Read provides all the comfort needed and much more. Already on my list of annual Christmas re-reads along with ‘Village Christmas’.
10. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Although I strongly disliked the protagonist, Emma Bovary, with a passion that slowed down my reading of the novel, Flaubert’s beautuful, rich, prose, bordered on the lyrical. An exceptional story that makes me eager to read more by the author. One can only imagine what it would be like to read the writing in the author’s native French.
I received We Must Be Brave from Harper Collins India and The Call from Persephone Books, as review copies. However, as always, all opinions are my own.