So who made the rule that Books of the Year lists had to be published before New Year's Eve? I've been meaning to do this for weeks and thought it was too late to bother - but what the heck. I wouldn't say that 2014 was a vintage reading year; but that's not to say that there weren't days or weeks when I had my head stuck in a book and didn't want to surface. I still get through a book a week, although I used to read twice as much as I do now, up until a couple of years ago ... so what am I doing instead? Don't ask me! Maybe I'm reading fatter books. Or frittering reading time by blogging and making lists!
Anyway, here's my round-up, in no particular order.
Rather to my surprise, two of my strongest contenders for Book of the Year were actually published last year. In fact, I'll get off the fence and say that my 2014 award for contemporary fiction goes to Ann Weisgarber for The Promise. Runner-up is Sarah Waters for The Paying Guests.
Looks like it's going to be 2016 before we get the third instalment of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall trilogy, which is in a league of its own. But in the meantime, I was completely gripped by Robert Harris's novel about the Dreyfus affair, An Officer and a Spy - which gets my double award for best historical fiction and best thriller.
Shall we award Mrs Miniver's Rosebowl for best vintage fiction? What a difficult category in which to select an outright winner because these are my long, enjoyable wallow books. First up is EH Young for Chatterton Square and William. Could I possibly choose between them? Between delightful William and disagreeable Mr Blackett? (There are plenty of copies of Chatterton Square for 1p on Amazon.)
I didn't get round to posting about The Three Sisters by May Sinclair but this novel from 1914 was definitely another contender for the Rosebowl, a heartbreaking story of repressed women. I'm Not Complaining by Ruth Adam was a novel that I'd really love to adapt for TV and I was casting it in my mind as I was reading.
It didn't quite make Mrs Miniver's Rosebowl, but I'll give an honourable mention to Madame Solario, originally published anonymously (in the 1950s, but you'd think it was from another, earlier era). Again, this was one I didn't get round to posting about - sorry. But Madame Solario lingered in my mind as such an entrancing, mysterious character and there's an excellent review here. This was 1p well spent on Amazon, too. For some reason, I thought it was a forthcoming Persephone title; but maybe I'm wrong.
Oh, and another honourable mention to Betty Miller for On the Side of the Angels as it reminded me of Elizabeth Taylor and At Mrs Lippincote's.
Shall I round it off with an award for non-fiction? I thoroughly enjoyed Lynn Barber's A Curious Career. I seem to have had a midsummer blogging slump and again, I can't find a post for the gripping, but very gruelling Journey Into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg, now republished by Persephone. I found it a compelling read about Stalinist Russia (but I chose it for our bookgroup and none of the other members would agree with me!) A much easier read was Mollie Panter-Downes' London War Notes, fascinating and quirky, and coming soon as a Persephone title.
Most disappointing read of the year? Hilary Mantel's book of short stories was a big letdown. I wish she'd cracked on with Wolf Hall III instead of rattling the cage of Daily Mail columnists. I didn't care about it being tasteless, it was just a bit ... boring.