My Books of the Year, 2015 – favourites from a year of reading

For me, 2015 was another year filled with great reading. I read around 90 books in 2015 (mostly older books), and only a handful turned out to be disappointing in some way. Once again I found it very difficult to finalise a shortlist for this post, but I’ve managed to whittle it down to a final thirteen: a baker’s dozen of excellent books, plus a few honourable mentions along the way! These are the books I love, the books that have stayed with me, the ones I’m most likely to revisit one day. I’ve summarised each ‘winner’ in this post, but you can click on the links should you wish to read the full reviews.

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First up, five category winners:

Reread of the Year: The Easter Parade by Richard Yates

Considered by some to be Yates’ best, this novel follows two sisters who take very different paths in life. Their story taps into a familiar theme in this author’s work: the search for happiness and fulfilment that always seems to elude his characters. Despite the deep sense of sadness running through the novel, this was my favourite reread of the year. A superb book (I doubt whether it gets much better than Richard Yates).

Honourable Mentions (All of these are winners in their own right): After Leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys; A Heart So White by Javier Marías; The Long Good-Bye by Raymond Chandler.

Crime Novel of the Year: The Secret in Their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri (tr. John Cullen)

Set against the backdrop of Argentina’s Dirty War, the story focuses on the bond that develops between a clerk in the Buenos Aires investigative court and the husband of a murder victim. This is a first-rate novel—part psychological mystery, part exploration of corruption in the Argentine criminal justice system, but always engrossing.

Honourable Mentions: Vertigo by Boileau-Narcejac; Topkapi – The Light of Day by Eric Ambler

Autobiographical Novel of the Year: Nothing Holds Back the Night by Delphine de Vigan (tr. George Miller)

To be honest, I’ve only read a couple of autobiographical books this year, but the de Vigan was so good that I had to find a slot for it somewhere! Virtually impossible to summarise in a couple of sentences, this remarkable story focuses on a woman’s quest to gain a deeper understanding of her mother following the latter’s death by suicide. A genuinely absorbing book, beautifully written – de Vigan’s prose is luminous. 

Novella of the Year: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

Poor Florence Green is up against it at every turn as she tries to open a bookshop in the (fictional) Suffolk town of Hardborough. The town is the kind of microcosm where everybody knows everybody else’s business, a place where gossip, hierarchies and class systems all play an important role. Fitzgerald writes with great insight about life’s failings and disappointments, but she is a humorous writer too – every scene is so finely observed. Of the three Fitzgerald novels I’ve read to date, this is my favourite.

Honourable Mentions: Tristana by Benito Pérez Galdós; Madame de___ by Louise de Vilmorin; Agostino by Alberto Moravia.

Short Story Collection of the Year: Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo (tr. Daniel Balderston)

I love the stories in this edition of forty-two pieces drawn from a lifetime of Ocampo’s writing, the way they often start in the realms of normality and then tip into darker, slightly surreal territory. Several of her stories point to a devilish sense of magic in the everyday. An unusual and poetic collection of stories that blur the margins between reality and the imaginary world. Highly recommended, especially if you’re looking for something different.

Honourable Mentions: Things Look Different in the Light by Medardo Fraile; Subtly Worded by Teffi.

And now for the novels, eight favourites from a year of reading:

Run River by Joan Didion

It was a tough call between this book and Didion’s iconic Play It As It Lays; in the end, Run River was the one that stood out for me. I love the melancholy tone of this novel which explores the disintegration of the relationship between a husband and wife living in California. There is a sense of things dying here: Lily and Everett’s relationship; the traditional rancher’s way of life; people die too. I can’t imagine it being set anywhere other than California. In some ways, it’s a lament for a time that has all but disappeared. One for fans of Richard Yates – there are similarities with The Easter Parade.

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

This novel follows a recently widowed elderly lady, Mrs Palfrey, as she moves into the Claremont Hotel where she joins a group of residents in similar positions – each one is likely to remain there until a move to a nursing home or hospital can no longer be avoided. This is a beautiful, bittersweet, thought-provoking novel, one that prompts the reader to consider the emotional and physical challenges of old age: the need to participate in life, the importance of small acts of kindness, the desire to feel valued. Taylor’s observations of social situations are spot-on (there are some very funny moments). A real gem.

A Way of Life, Like Any Other by Darcy O’Brien

Part compassionate satire, part touching coming-of-age story, this semi-autobiographical novel was inspired by O’Brien’s experiences of growing up in Los Angeles in the 1940s and ‘50s. The boy’s father used to be a famous actor, but his career has faded over the years. By the time he is twelve, the boy is living with his melodramatic, alcoholic mother, acting as her confidante and helping her through the bad times. This is a wonderful book – funny, sad, ironic and sympathetic. In many ways, it reminds me of early-to-mid-period Woody Allen (you know, the good ones before things went astray).

Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker

Dorothy Baker makes my reading highlights for the second year running, this time with Young Man with a Horn, a novel inspired by the music of jazz legend, Bix Beiderbecke. The story focuses on the life of a fictional character named Rick Martin, a jazz musician whose passion for music is so great that he struggles to keep pace with his own ability. This is good old-fashioned storytelling strong on mood, atmosphere and the rhythm of the music. Baker’s writing is top-notch.

Of Love and Hunger by Julian Maclaren-Ross

Set in the 1940s, this novel is narrated by Richard Fanshawe, a young man who finds himself in the unenviable position of trying to eke out a living by selling vacuum cleaners to sceptical housewives. The story is shot through with dark humour, much of which stems from Maclaren-Ross’ wonderfully sharp observations on Fanshawe’s experiences as a salesman and life at the boarding house where he rents a room. Probably my favourite read of the year – a must for Patrick Hamilton fans.

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

Set in New York in the late 1960s, this short novel follows a weekend in the lives of Sophie and Otto Bentwood, a childless upper-middle-class couple living in Brooklyn. When Sophie is bitten by a cat, the incident is the first of a number of disturbing events that threaten to destabilise the Bentwoods’ seemingly harmonious existence. This is a subtle and very effective character study; slowly but surely Fox peels away the layers to expose Sophie’s vulnerability and Otto’s failings. A novel that has grown in my mind over time.

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

Set in Enniscorthy (the author’s birthplace), a small town in the south-east of Ireland in the late 1960s, Tóibín’s latest novel is the touching story of a woman who has to find a new way to live following the death of her husband. This is a novel that speaks to me on a personal level; so much of Nora’s story reminds me of my own mother’s experiences following the loss of my father. A subtle character study of a woman’s inner life. As one might expect with Tóibín, the sense of place is wonderful, too.

Carol / The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith’s ‘underground’ novel centres on the development of a relationship between Therese, a young aspiring designer and Carol, an older woman in the midst of a divorce and custody battle for her child. I really love this book; it is beautiful, insightful and involving. The central characters are so well drawn – the longing Therese feels for Carol is portrayed with great subtlety. While Carol is quite different to the other Highsmith novels I’ve read, it contains moments of real tension, both sexual tension and flashes of fear and anxiety. Familiar Highsmith themes such as obsession, desire and morally complex scenarios are here, albeit in a different context. This is the source novel for Todd Haynes’ recent film, Carol – both the novel and the movie come with a high recommendation from me.

Thank you to everyone who has read, shared or commented on my posts over the last year, I really do appreciate it. Wishing you all the best for the festive season and the year ahead, may they be filled with many wonderful books!

88 thoughts on “My Books of the Year, 2015 – favourites from a year of reading

  1. Lady Fancifull

    What a fascinating collection Jacqui. Your inclusion of several I know and also strongly rate makes the ones I don’t know very alluring!

    And I was amused that you’ve managed to recommend many Moore than your maker’s, due to the honourable mentions!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thank you – that’s good to hear! Perhaps I can tempt you to try one or two of the others listed here. I couldn’t resist shoehorning a few others into this post by way of the honourable mentions. ;)

      Reply
      1. Lady Fancifull

        I’m sure, having started to follow you, you are going to prove to be yet another tempting devil for that TBR. There are 3 of you, recently started following, yourself, kaggsy, shoshi who are making lots of helpful gestures towards charity shops third party sellers, digi downloads and the like

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Haha! That is one of the main upsides/downsides of following a range of book bloggers as there’s so much temptation across the board. I know just what you mean about Kaggsy’s and Shoshi’s posts – they always seem to feature such unusual books!

          Reply
          1. Lady Fancifull

            And so do you…(unusual books, and a mainly lit ficcy focus, which suits me fine, particularly lit fiction from the twentieth century rather than what is being published or has current buzz status. I think I’ve definitely become a grouchy forget, as it seems there is a fair amount of stuff being oversold as brilliant, which may just be that it is immediately bright and shiny and on a trend, whereas time passing may show it was all just not a lot of substance. I do think that a lot of the older ‘ minor classics’ are extraordinarily well written. A sense of a writer honing their craft rather than perhaps more focused on the pursuit of fame.

            Reply
            1. JacquiWine Post author

              Thank you. I think we’re on the same wavelength here! This is why I’m now homing in on some of the 20th-century classics I’ve managed to miss over the years, filling the gaps in my reading of favourite writers like Richard Yates and trying more by relatively recent discoveries such as Elizabeth Taylor and Penelope Fitzgerald. And I couldn’t agree with you more when it comes to your final comments. One gets a sense of these writers honing their skills, continuing to focus on their strengths rather than worrying about the latest trends or fashions. It’s such a joy to read these books. I often find them so much more rewarding than contemporary fiction. Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster turned out to be one of the few exceptions on that front – I really loved that book.

              Reply
              1. Lady Fancifull

                Having a second look at your list and there are LOTS to try. Almost all of the ones I haven’t already read, going by my appreciation of the ones I HAVE read and you are recommending. Of Love and Hunger sneaks around my consciousness from several directions, just because I love Patrick Hamilton, and I’m also strongly pulled by Young Man With A Horn. Not to mention the Yates.

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                1. JacquiWine Post author

                  Oh, excellent! Of Love and Hunger would be a good bet for you, especially given your fondness for Patrick Hamilton. I really want to read another of his novels next year, probably Hangover Square as it’s on my Classics Club list.

                  Young Man with a Horn is just wonderful. Dorothy Baker has been a real discovery for me in recent years; it’s just a shame that she didn’t write more. I’m fairly sure you would enjoy The Easter Parade as well – it’s very sad, one of those books that will linger in the imagination for several weeks.

                  In the meantime, I think I need to add The Expendable Man to my wishlist. I have her ‘In a Lonely Place’ in my ‘to read’ pile, so I’ll probably get to that one first. That said, it’s good to have another recommendation lined up for the future. :)

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Nano! I think you would love The Easter Parade, The Bookshop and Carol. Didion’s Run River and the Delphine de Vigan would likely suit you as well.

      Plenty of food for thought for the book group here. (I’m so glad you enjoyed Mrs Palfrey, great discussion last week.)

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thank you – I must admit to finding it quite difficult to summarise some of these books in two or three sentences, the Delphine de Vigan in particular! I don’t know if you’ve ever read anything by her, but if not she’s definitely worth checking out.

      Are you planning to put together your own 2015 round-up post? I hope so as I would be very curious to see your ‘best of’ list. And yes, here’s to another year of chatting about books!

      Reply
      1. gertloveday

        We did actually rv Delphine de Vigan, perhaps before you started reading our blog. Our take on it is different from yours.
        No, we decided not to do a best of. Don’t quite know why, it just turned out that way. But some of my favourites for the year are End of Days, A View From The Harbour, Only The Animals, The Golden Age and The Beginning of Spring.

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Oh, how interesting. It’s always good to see an alternative view – I’ll head over to yours in a bit to read your take on it!

          Delighted to hear that you enjoyed The Beginning of Spring. I read it last year and feel a little sorry that I didn’t place it in my 2014 highlights (it ended up with an honourable mention of sorts). Taylor’s A View from the Harbour is in my TBR (and my 20th-century ‘classics’ reading list), so I hope to read it next year. It made Guy’s 2015 highlights, too. I really must try something from New Vessel Press next year – I know you liked those books by Dominique Fabre and J-P Blondel, both of which are sitting on my wishlist.

          Reply
                1. JacquiWine Post author

                  Excellent. So glad you liked Sarah Hall’s collection – she writes beautifully about the natural world. I suspect Lucy Wood is in a similar vein.

  2. susanosborne55

    Such an interesting selection, Jacqui. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never read a Highsmith – I’ve always associated her with crime fiction – but feel I must having seen Carol.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Susan. Carol would be a good Highsmith for you to try as it’s somewhat different to her Ripley novels (primarily as a result of the focus on Therese and Carol). Also, I think her novels are much more than just pure crime fiction. She really delves into the psychology of her central characters – The Talented Mr Ripley blew me away when I read it many years ago!

      Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Malkovich very good when it comes to that type of character! I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Rene Clement’s film Plein Soleil, but if not it’s worth seeking out. Alain Delon is my favourite of all the actors who have Tom Ripley – he’s very convincing in the role.

          Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Claire – my reading choices are nothing if not eclectic! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed Nora Webster as well as I was beginning to wonder if it appealed to me simply because I recognised so much of my own mother’s experience in Nora’s story. Tóibín is so good when it comes to portraying the inner lives of his female characters, both in this one and in Brooklyn.

      I think it’s definitely worth reading Carol before you see the film. Todd Haynes and Phyllis Nagy have done a great job with the adaptation, but it’s always good to experience the novel first. :)

      Reply
  3. hastanton

    Great list ! The de Vigan was one of my books of 2014 ….I can’t wait for you to read her new one ….which is a very clever follow on / riff on the success of Nothing Holds Back The Night !

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Helen. I am really looking forward to the new de Vigan. If it’s anything like as good as Nothing Holds Back the Night, then I’ve got a treat in store. It sounds like an essential companion piece to that book.

      Reply
  4. heavenali

    Some fabulous books there Jacqui. I read Nora Webster recently and loved it. The Bookshop, Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont and The Easter Parade I’ve read in the past so know exactly why you’ve chosen them. Also I have Young Man with a Horn and Desperate Characters sitting on my shelves waiting to be read wholly because of your wonderful reviews of them.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Ali. I recall your review of Nora – so glad you liked it, too. You have a couple of treats in store with the Dorothy Baker and Desperate Characters…in fact the Paula Fox reminded me a little of Dorothy Baker’s other novel, Cassandra at the Wedding. Looking forward to seeing what you make of them!

      As for Elizabeth Taylor, your reviews and efforts in championing her were pivotal in encouraging me to start reading her work. (My mother loved Taylor, but I’d only dabbled in her short stories until you and Caroline started to write about some of her novels.) I’ve recently finished another Taylor, A Game of Hide and Seek, which I’ll be reviewing in the New Year. :)

      Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          I really liked it very much! It’s a little different from Mrs Palfrey, more nuanced some respects. Taylor is a wonderful writer; I can see exactly why my mother loved her so.

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  5. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Some wonderful reads there Jacqui. I definitely agree about Maclaren-Ross – what a great book! Have a wonderful Christmas!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Karen. LOVED the Maclaren-Ross! I really must track down some of his other work – there’s a nice collection from Black Spring Press, which includes a mix of his fiction, journalism and commentary pieces. One for the future, I think.

      Merry Christmas to you, too – I’m sure we’ll be in touch over the festive period. :)

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thank you. I do feel as though I’ve gained quite a lot from my reading this year. I’ve opted for a mix of ‘new-to-me’ writers alongside tried-and-trusted favourites, plus I’ve tried to make time for a few rereads too.

      Carol is a good novel to try, especially if you’re interested in the premise underlying the film. I loved the subtlety in Highsmith’s portrayal of the central relationship between these two women…the story was inspired by an incident from her own life.

      Reply
  6. Scott W

    What a terrific year of reading you had, Jacqui – and a terrific year for your readers, too. I have quite a few of your picks already on the TBR pile and am looking forward to exploring them. Best wishes for the holidays and for a spectacular year of reading in 2016; I can’t wait to see what you’ll choose this coming year!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thank you, Scott! Well, your reviews of Tristana and the Fraile helped to push them onto my reading list for 2015, and I’m sure you had a hand in Agostino as well. Looking forward to hearing what you make of the other ones in your TBR, do let me know.

      As for 2016, keep an eye out for my review of the first novel in Miklós Bánffy’s The Writing on the Wall trilogy, which will be coming at the beginning of January. What a wonderful story packed with days at the races and nights at the casino, a very absorbing read!

      I hope you’ll put together your own summary of 2015 reading highlights, too – I still have a copy of your 2014 ‘aftercast’ post for reference.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Brian. Yes, it’s been a good year of reading for me. I do feel as though I’m making better choices in my reading these days. I guess that’s one of the benefits of following a range of bloggers and readers – more ‘hits’ and fewer disappointments.

      All the best for the festive season to you and your family too – enjoy the holidays!

      Reply
  7. BookerTalk

    I’m a fan of Nora Webster too. I listened to it as an audio book but loved it so much I got the physical book straight after. Its going to be one that I go back to in future years for sure. Mrs Palfrey is wonderful too – Id never heard of Elizabeth Taylor until I started following blogs and delved in with Wreath of Roses only to be severely disappointed. Mrs Palfrey got me back on track …

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I’m glad to see another fan of Nora Webster! The central characterisation is superb, but I was starting to wonder if I’d oversold that novel simply because so much of Nora’s story reminded me of my own mother’s experience in dealing with grief. Sometimes it’s hard to be objective about a book that cuts so close to home.

      Taylor is a favourite amongst bloggers, isn’t she? It was Ali’s and Caroline’s posts that prompted me to make a start with her novels…and Guy likes her too, which is always a good sign. I’m not familiar with a Wreath of Roses…maybe it’s not one of her best novels? Delighted to hear you enjoyed Mrs Palfrey, though – it’s a real gem.

      Reply
  8. Naomi

    Thanks for introducing me to some great new books to try out this year, Jacqui! Many of these have been added (or were already added after reading your original reviews) to my lists.
    Happy Holidays !

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      A pleasure, Naomi! It’s been good to get yo know you through books this year. I do hope you enjoy any that you decide to try. Have a lovely break over Christmas.

      Reply
  9. Guy Savage

    There are many I’ve read here and I remember them with fondness. Rounding up the best of the year is a good idea I think. For me, it forces a focus on what I didn’t read, or what I didn’t read enough of.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Your review of Sacheri’s novels definitely prompted me to try The Secret in Their Eyes, so thank you for that recommendation. I’m pretty sure you put Tristana and Agostino on my radar too…and then when Scott recommended them I knew I couldn’t go wrong there.

      I’m completely with you on the value of doing an end-of-year round-up. It really prompted me to reflect on the books I enjoyed the most and the reasons for those choices. I feel it’s given me a much clearer direction for my future reading. For instance, it was a huge help in finalising that list of modern/20th-century classics I’d to read over the next few years. I think this year has also confirmed my love for NYRB Classics and Pushkin Press – if you include the honourable mentions, then several of their titles made it onto my list of highlights.

      Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          They’ve got some interesting stuff coming through next year: a couple each by Teffi and Modiano, some Mavis Gallant (I have a collection of her short stories in my TBR), plus another by Sybille Bedford. Lots in the way of translations too, many of which are completely new to me. I’ve also very tempted by the Elliott Chaze, Black Wings Has my Angel – it sounds superb.

          Reply
  10. litlove

    I love the way you’ve organised this list, Jacqui! Full of fascinating titles, too. I have Nothing Holds Back The Night, which I will definitely be reading in 2016, as well as Nora Webster. Funnily enough, I also have Of Love and Hunger, which I was sent several years ago and never bothered to read because I wasn’t sure it looked interesting. I will have to revise that opinion now! Which is a very good thing. I love it when a book suddenly acquires a whole ton of potential. Here’s to another splendid reading year for you in 2016!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Victoria. I just found it easier to ‘place’ all my favourites once I’d grouped the books into various categories – otherwise, I would have ended up with around two dozen books all vying for positions in my final list!

      Ooh, you have the de Vigan, that’s great. Well, I’ll be fascinated to see what you make of it. I think it’s such an interesting book from a number of different perspectives, not just the mother’s story and family history but also de Vigan’s approach to the whole process of ‘writing’ Lucile. It must have had a huge impact on her family, and she’s quite open about the issues she wrestled with during the course of her research.

      Love and Hunger is superb – I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially if you’re a fan of Patrick Hamilton. (I can’t recall if you’ve read his Slaves of Solitude, but there are some similarities between the two.)

      As you say, here’s to another year of wonderful books – I’m looking forward to discovering what else you’ll be reading in 2016!

      Reply
  11. poppypeacockpens

    What a fabulous round up Jacqui… I have to say your posts have contributed significantly to broadening my book buying choices and reading this past year! Looking forward to seeing what you read in 2016😊

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Poppy. That’s good to hear – I hope you like the books I’ve encouraged you to buy. I know you enjoyed Madame de___, so that’s a promising sign!

      Wishing you all the best for 2016…fingers crossed that all goes well for you in January. I’ll be looking forward to following your posts once you’re back in the game. Your novella event was good fun, so I hope you’re planning something similar for next year. J x

      Reply
      1. poppypeacockpens

        Aww, thanks Jacqui☺ Yes… Definitely doing NovellaNov again & pondering a few other reading projects to keep me focused… doing #Woolfalong with Ali & Irish month in March with Cathy… WITranslation in August and there’s a reading classic women I like the look of too… AND I’ve got the stirrings for more shot stories and fancy a month in Paris too… as well as supporting Dan & Naomi’s #ReadDiverse2016 Ah! SO many books… working on my ‘taking stock’ TBR post for next week should help formulate a plan of attack – and keep me from wallowing😆

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Oh, my – that’s quite a plan for 2016! Glad to hear you’re thinking of hosting another celebration of novellas next November – I’ll try to put a few aside for then. I’m planning to read some Virginia Woolf next year as well – Ali’s event sounds like the perfect opportunity. Lots to look forward to. :)

          Reply
  12. Caroline

    I’ve got quite a few of the books on your list, so there’s a lot to look forward to.
    I’m just reading my first Richard Yates – Revolutionary Road. Hmmm. So far, I find it tiresome. I find the characters so average. I’ve heard great things of Easter Parade though.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, that’s great. I hope you like the ones you’ve got lined up.

      That’s interesting about Revolutionary Road. I must admit to falling for Yates in a big way when I read that novel back in 2008, but The Easter Parade remains my favourite of the two. It reminded me of Joan Didion’s Run River, which I read for the first time in January (following Emma’s review from last year). I’ll be very interested to read your review of Rev Road once you’ve reached the end and gathered your thoughts on it. I suspect Yates isn’t for everyone, so it will be fascinating to see your overall response.

      Reply
  13. roughghosts

    Whew, I finally got back here. From your pile I have my eye on Thus Were their Faces and The Bookshop, should be able to manage that. I look forward to seeing what treasures you uncover next year.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Excellent choices! I’ll be very curious to see what you think of the Ocampo. Many of the reviews I’ve read have focused on the cruelty in her stories — they are rather sinister and devilish — but I think she’s much more interesting than that. Her imagination is quite breathtaking at times.

      The Bookshop is great, too. Fitzgerald has become one of my favourite writers over the last couple of years, and I hope to read another of her novels in 2016. And likewise, I look forward to seeing what catches your eye next year – you write so beautifully about the books you read, it’s always a pleasure to peruse your posts!

      Reply
  14. Bellezza

    You have summarized your reading so elegantly; love the honorable mentions for each category, too! You bring me to books as yet unknown and widen my horizons, Jacqui. You write about what you’ve read so tantalizingly, your readers can’t help but feel they must partake in the feast.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Bellezza. I found it quite difficult to summarise some of these books in just a few sentences, especially something as rich and varied as Silvina Ocampo’s collection of stories. The honourable mentions were a good of shoehorning a few other favourites into my round-up!

      Wishing you all the best for the festive season – I hope you have a restful time with your family.

      Reply
  15. Emma

    You that with lists like this, you’ll be responsible for my next #TBR20 challenge. :-) Almost all the books I haven’t read are tempting.
    Delphine de Vigan made quite an impression on her readers. I loved this book as well.
    Thanks for this blogging year and for reading Didion along with me. I should read Yates now.

    I can’t wait to see what you’ll be up to in 2016. Merry Christmas, Jacqui.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Haha! Yes, there’s plenty of temptation here – enough for a #TBR20 in its own right if you include the honourable mentions! :-)

      I do hope you enjoy Agostino and Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop when you read them with your book group — they must be coming up fairly soon? Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (or another by Elizabeth Taylor) might be a good one to consider about for the future. It went down very well with my book group when I picked it for our December read, and as I’d already read it earlier in the year, I knew it would be suitable for discussion.

      Will you read de Vigan’s latest? Based on Helen’s comments above, it sounds like a companion piece to Nothing Holds Back the Night. I don’t think it’s available in translation yet, but I’m hoping it might appear at some point next year.

      It was a pleasure to read the Didion with you earlier this year. Do let me know if you’d like to join me for one of the 20th-century classics on that reading list I posted last week. I thought we had a couple of excellent discussions about Play It As It Lays and The Good Soldier, and it would be great to do something similar again in the future. I’m not so keen on big readalongs, but it was nice to do a joint read with you (and with Max for the Ford Madox Ford).

      I’d love to hear what you think of Richard Yates. The Easter Parade is well worth considering, particularly because of the parallels with Joan Didion’s Run River. Or there’s Revolutionary Road, of course. I thought both were superb.

      Joyeux Noel, Emma. I’m looking forward to seeing what takes your fancy in 2016, too. :)

      Reply
  16. MarinaSofia

    What a wonderful selection of books – some of which I’ve read, others I’ve heard of but not read yet and still others who are new to me. I’ve just finished another Yates novel, probably not as good as Easter Parade or Revolutionary Road, but still full of those subtle, sad and yet funny observations: Young Hearts Crying. Delphine de Vigan was a top read for me too last year. I have to read more short stories, so thank you for introducing me to a few good collections. Have a lovely reading year 2016!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Marina. I’m delighted you decided to give Marias a try – I can’t wait to read your review of A Heart So White (once you’ve had a chance to put it together, of course!).

      Funnily enough, I think I might be getting Yates’ Young Hearts Crying for Christmas, so that’s another of your reviews I’m eagerly anticipating. I’ve put one of his collections of short stories (Eleven Kinds of Loneliness) on my ‘Classics’ reading list, so that will be my next by him, especially seeing as I’ve had it on the shelf for a few years.

      All three of the short-story collections highlighted here are excellent. I think you would really like Teffi’s Subtly Worded. It’s a fascinating collection, all the more so for its diversity. She seems to have lived many different lives.

      Wishing you all the best for 2016, Marina – I’m looking forward to seeing what you dig up next year. :)

      Reply
  17. lonesomereadereric

    Interesting choices and excellent summaries, Jacqui. I love how you’ve made categories to highlight. Yates and Fitzgerald are longtime favourites and you make me want to go back and reread them. I’m really intrigued to read Dorothy Baker. Also, Desperate Characters sounds excellent – it’s always such a good sign when a book lingers and grows in your mind over time.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Eric. I tried to add a little more structure to my highlights post this year. And to be honest, once I’d allocated certain books to those categories, it became so much easier to find places for the rest of my favorites!

      I’m really want to work my way through the remainder of Fitzgerald’s and Yates’ fiction over the next five years or so. They’ve become two of my favourite writers, along with Joan Didion and Elizabeth Taylor. I don’t know if you read any Taylor, but if not she’s definitely worth trying. I’ve recently finished another of her novels — A Game of Hide and Seek — which confirms her place in my personal canon of sorts. You must give Dorothy Baker a try. Cassandra at the Wedding is unmissable – funnily enough, I was reminded of it while reading Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters.

      I hope you’ll post your own end-of-year round-up, too. I’ve read very little in the way of contemporary fiction this year, but I would be curious to see which books stood out for you in 2015.

      Reply
  18. Tom Cunliffe

    A very interesting seletction Jacqui! i confess to having read almost none of those, despite so many of them sounding very interesting. A list to come back to I think

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      2015 was a very good reading year for me. I think this is a fair snapshot of where my reading is heading these days: mostly modern/20th-century classics, plus a few contemporary novels for good measure.

      Reply
  19. Richard

    How exciting to see the two Argentineans on your best of the year list, Jacqui! Of your eight favorite novels, do you have one that you might most recommend to me? Didion and Highsmith are the only authors from that part of your list that I’ve read before. Thanks and continued happy reading to you in 2016!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I know! Well, I have you to thank for providing me with the perfect opportunity to read Sacheri’s novel as part of your Doom fest. Plus Ocampo’s collection of stories managed to sneak in there too on the back on Biblibio’s WIT Month event. Either way, they were two of my top reads for 2015, so thank you for the nudge.

      Of the books on my list, I think you would appreciate Ocampo’s imaginative approach to storytelling – she’s right up your street. But if we’re focusing on the novels, then I would recommend either Desperate Characters or Young Man With a Horn. One of those two might suit you best – I’d say it’s a case of whichever takes your fancy. Dorothy Baker has become one of my favourite writers — loved her Cassandra at the Wedding, one of my highlights in 2014 — and Paula Fox has the potential to join her. So, take your pick. :)

      Wishing you all the best for 2016, Richard. I hope you’ve been taking it easy over the last month or so. Looking forwarding to seeing what you’ll be reading this year.

      Reply
  20. Pingback: A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor | JacquiWine's Journal

  21. thesepeoplehere

    90 Books!!! That is P-H-E-N-O-M-E-N-A-L! And it is such a wonderful goal to set. But, the more I think of it, the more it scares me. How am I going to come even close? Truth is, I want to. Worse, I haven’t read a single title from your shortlist. Makes me feel like an ignoramus. Your archives look like a treasure trove and I know I’m going to spend my time touring them. Wonderful reviews, great finds. What more does one need

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Haha! Well, I have to admit to reading quite a few novellas in 2015 as many of the books I own are fairly short. I might try to read one two longer ones this year to redress the balance.

      No need to feel bad about not having read any of the books on my list of highlights. There are so many books out there, and it’s impossible to read everything. Have fun browsing my archives – hopefully you’ll find something to take your fancy.

      Reply
  22. Lisa Hill

    How did I miss this at the time? I have A Heart So White by Javier Marías on my TBR (actually, *blush* I had two, I probably bought one when Stu reviewed it and the other when you did!), and I loved Nora Webster too. (I really like stories of strong Irish women!)
    I like the way you categorised your choices:)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, it’s so easy to miss things in the run-up to Christmas! I have such fond memories of reading Nora – so much of her story reminded me of times in my own mother’s life, her home in Ireland and the people she knew there. I’ll be interested to see how you take to A Heart So White. It’s my favourite of the three Marias novels I’ve read to date, so you’ve picked a good one there.

      Reply
      1. Lisa Hill

        And sometimes, it’s nicer to find the ones you miss later on when you have time to cherry-pick the ones you like the sound of, and add them to the Goodreads wishlist!

        Reply
  23. Max Cairnduff

    Delighted to see the Ocampo there, and interested to see the Fitzgerald. That Yates must be good if it beat Rhys and Chandler.

    I picked up Run River recently, it was bizarrely reduced on Amazon so a must-buy. I loved Play It As It Lays so if this is potentially better than that…

    The Taylor I now own, thanks to you and Guy. The O’Brien of course made my list in the year I read it, and Guy’s when he did. It’s an easy novel to love a great deal.

    My blog was very nearly named Of Love and Hunger, so I’m again delighted to see that make the cut. A superb novel. Maclaren-Ross crops up, very thinly disguised, in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time by the way.

    I have the Paula Fox on a wishlist, and oddly enough was wondering today where I’d heard about it from. I suspect now I know. The Tóibín you liked more than me, it’s excellent but I lack that personal connection and I think he’s occasionally weak on his internal chronology – I often find it hard in his books to tell exactly when I am as he relies so much on then-contemporary Irish politics of which I know very little.

    Carol I plan to check out, though not sure when. Still, it does sound very good.

    Well, what a great year Jacqui! And a great end of year list too. I’d expect no less. Now I’m off to read all your comments – you do get a lot of them (he said, jealously :-))

    If you have a smiley inside a closing bracket it turns out, it looks a bit like a smiley from a man with a double chin.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Max. Well, I put a fair bit of effort into choosing which books to read last year which meant very few disappointments in the end! You are directly responsible for a few of these, most notably Of Love and Hunger and the Darcy O’Brien – I picked them up off the back of your recommendations, so thank you for suggesting them. Also, I’m pretty sure it was your posts on some of Jean Rhys other books that prompted me to get hold of Mr Mackenzie, a novel that could have easily taken my ‘reread of the year’ slot on any other day. The Easter Parade is tremendous, and I’m fairly sure you like it very much indeed.

      Ocampo’s stories are beguiling – what a vivid imagination that woman must have had. A stunning collection. As for Fitzgerald, I think you’d like The Bookshop – it’s more ‘direct’ than Offshore, but the writing is just as good.

      I’ll be interested to see what you think of Run River. Play is probably the stronger of the two novels, certainly on a technical basis, but somehow I preferred Run. It’s the one I’m more likely to pick up again at some point. I’m really glad I read Play, though, and it was good to compare responses with you and Emma.

      Elizabeth Taylor. I could get evangelical about her, you know. Even though I’ve only read two of her novels, she’s fast becoming a favourite. I can’t wait to see what you make of Mrs Palfrey!
      Desperate Characters feels like a book that will yield even more on a second reading. I just know there was a whole other more subtle layer that I didn’t fully appreciate the first time around. It’s a little like Cassandra at the Wedding in that respect.

      Yes, the Tóibín was a very personal read for me. As you know, so much of it reminded me of my own mother’s experience when she lost my father. I hear what you’re saying on the timeline and chronology, though, that’s a good point. Oddly enough, I caught an audio interview with him in which he talked about using those external events as a way of signalling the time period. That’s fine if it’s something widely known, like the first moon landing, but less so if the developments are quite specific to Ireland. As you say, the politics are somewhat niche. I think he’s much stronger on characterisation and sense of place.

      Carol is definitely worth a look. Have you seen the film, or might you wait for a bit in case you decide to read the book first? I’m not very keen on those film tie-in covers either, although it could be a lot worse than Cate B and Rooney M!

      Have fun reading the comments. I’m always surprised and delighted by the various contributions here. Your posts always seem to generate an interesting debate, it’s the quality that counts! :-)

      Thanks so much for all your comments, recommendations and suggestions, Max. It’s always a pleasure to discuss books with you.

      Reply
      1. Max Cairnduff

        I hope to read the book so I probably won’t see the film yet. A good film version can shape your reading if you see it first, whereas the book doesn’t tend to interfere with the film in the same way.

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Yes, I’m completely with you on that. I’ll be interested to see how you take to Carol. On the surface, it’s very different to the other Highsmiths I’ve read, but dig a little deeper and some of her familiar themes are there.

          Reply

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