For the last couple of years, the end-of-the-year posts about the best books and the reading year in review have been one of my favorite things about blogging. I've seen some wonderful lists in the last week, which have added to my TBR lists and reminded me of books I already own (too many still unread). Such an amazingly rich variety of books and blogs and readers!
Of course I can't resist adding my own. So here is my list of favorite books for the year, in the order in which I read them:
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas. Dumas' masterpiece, the story of Edmund Dantès' escape from the notorious Chateau d'Ilf, to claim a fortune and seek retribution from those who imprisoned him unjustly and stole more than his freedom.
Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton. A story of dragons, in a setting that evokes Anthony Trollope's novels - who could ask for anything better? I've enjoyed Jo Walton's "Small Change" series, but this is far & away my favorite of her books.
Miss Cayley's Adventures, Grant Allen. A recent graduate of Girton, but with no money and no prospects, Lois Cayley decides on a whim to travel around the world. She shows great skill and determination in making her way, with each successful adventure funding the next. A charming and surprising novel from 1899.
Hot Water, P.G. Wodehouse. I still think this 1932 story, set mainly in a seaside town in Brittany, is the quintessential Wodehouse - without a doubt one of his best.
Life After Life, Kate Atkinson. I am not surprised that this book has shown up on so many people's lists. It's an amazing book, a chronicle of a series of lives - of a single person - that take many different courses, all of which end in death and then a return to the moment of birth, setting in train another life. Hard to describe, impossible to put down.
An Open Book, Monica Dickens. This was the year I discovered her books, thanks to blog reviews. My favorite so far is her autobiography, which has at its heart her loving, eccentric family and their home in Bayswater.
The Clever Woman, Charlotte M. Yonge. This novel addresses the issue of "surplus women" in Victorian society, and while presenting traditional ideas about woman's place, it is surprisingly progressive in other ways, particularly in the inclusion of characters with physical disabilities.
Eighty Days, Matthew Goodman. Bucking traditional ideas about women's place, not to mention their capabilities, two women set out in 1889, in a race to be the first to circumnavigate the globe. Goodman's book is not just an account of their different travels, but also a social history of the America they left, and an overview of the world they rushed through. It inspired me to read Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, and I'm also looking forward to reading the books the travelers themselves published after their race ended.
The Three Miss Kings, Ada Cambridge. Three sisters in 1880, orphaned at their father's death, use their scant inheritance to travel from their small seaside town to Melbourne. There they meet a fairy godmother who brings them into society, and each finds love. I have more of Ada Cambridge's many books lined up for 2014.
Lucy Carmichael, Margaret Kennedy. A young woman left at the altar finds work and solace for her heart-break at an eccentric art institute. There is a loving friendship at the heart of this story, and a happy romance at the end. I also have more of Kennedy's books lined up for the new year.
Raw Material, Dorothy Canfield (Fisher). A series of vignettes, an interesting and entertaining mixture, from her own life and those of friends and family, set mainly in Vermont and France. Canfield Fisher wanted to give her readers "a score of instances out of human life, which have long served me as
pegs on which to hang the meditations of many different moods."
Book of Ages, Jill Lepore. This biography of Jane Franklin Mecom, the sister of the great Benjamin, is also a social history of colonial and revolutionary America, particularly the place and roles of women. And it's an exploration of how fragmentary the historical record - the archives - can be for women, children, people of color, the poor, the uneducated, the marginalized, whose stories are all too easily lost to history.
The Vicar of Bullhampton, Anthony Trollope. In this under-appreciated novel, Trollope takes on the question of "fallen" women, in a typically complicated plot that also involves a murder trial, a clash over a new Methodist chapel, and a woman who doesn't want to marry the man everyone else keeps telling her she should.
Right now I am reading (for approximately the 43rd time) Jane Austen's Emma, which I probably won't finish this year (Frank Churchill has just oozed into Highbury), but I am going to include it as one of my favorite books, not just of 2013 but of all time.
This has been a rich year of reading, and of sharing books here and on the excellent blogs listed over on the right. I wish you a Happy New Year - one filled with wonderful books and friends to share them with.