Inspired by Sheridan Voysey and Amy Boucher Pye, last January I started keeping a list of every book I read in 2015. The results are almost too embarrassing to share, mainly because it looks to me as though I have done hardly any reading over the last twelve months. If you’ve just glanced down at the list and decided that I must be attempting some kind of humble-brag, you need to understand that before I had children, I used to read books more than most people eat. Reading was me. It was what I did. I couldn’t help it. And then I went to university, where it was quite a normal week’s workload to read two novels, and all the criticism that had been written about them, and another novel by the same author to get some context, and a couple of books that inspired or influenced the two novels, and then write an essay comparing them. So noticing that there were some months in 2015 in which I only read one short book shows me that me reading has a long way to go before it’s fully recovered from the impact of children! At least there are no blank months; and I seem to have mostly got over my bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived days of reading nothing but Asterix comics and Christian chick-lit intended for teenagers. Anyway, for anyone interested, here’s what I thought of what I read in 2015.
The Labyrinth Year, Mari Howard: (Written by an ACW friend. Here’s my review written at the time:) I’ve been waiting eagerly for this sequel to ‘Baby, Baby’, and enjoyed meeting all the characters again. The central theme of the labyrinth (and, crucially, how it is different to a maze) is woven cleverly through the whole, reflecting the twists and turns of the plot and leading to a particularly satisfying and thought-provoking ending.
Mari Howard’s skill as a storyteller is evident, for me, through the fact that the plot and the characters kept me turning the pages and hooked into the story, despite the fact that the writing style would not have been my personal choice: it’s dense writing, switching between characters, some told in first person and others in third, with lots of half-finished sentences and unconventional punctuation. There were also a few continuity errors due to the late 90s dating of the story - I’m fairly sure that nobody said ‘OMG’ before the turn of the millenium, and a film is mentioned that didn’t appear until 2002 - but again, these were small hiccups in a good story that was grippingly crafted to keep me on the edge of my seat.
The Giver, Lois Lowry - Lois Lowry was my favourite author as a pre-teen, and I read most of her books repeatedly until I had them nearly memorised. This one came out after I had ‘grown out of’ Lois Lowry, but it won lots of prizes and caused lots of controversy so I thought I’d give it a go. It was superb. I must read the rest of the trilogy.
Chasing Francis, Ian Morgan Cron: I really enjoyed this scenic novel about a pastor encountering the life of St Francis. Both gripping and fascinating. It’s on my re-read list.
Losing Face, Annie Try: Written by a fellow member of ACW, this was a great teen novel about the recovery, spiritual and physical, of a girl who is disfigured in an accident. It was written using formats such as texts and e-mails, giving it a very contemporary voice. Apparently a sequel is planned, which I will be looking out for.
The Cactus Stabbers, Jeff Lucas: In 2014 I read Jeff Lucas’s Faith in the Fog, which I thought was great, but I was rather disappointed by his writing in The Cactus Stabbers: it seemed unpolished and all a bit obvious. It was an OK light read for our boating holiday, though.
Faith, Hope and Poetry, Malcolm Guite (started): This is going to take a while to finish, because I have to be awake to read it properly, and have my journal nearby to take copious notes! It is so good to be reading something properly academic, though, and so very inspiring. Like sitting down to a proper meal after years of living on crisps and coke.
The Innocence of Father Brown, G K Chesterton - I now have an ambition to read everything Chesterton ever wrote, starting with more of these.
Never Mind the Reversing Ducks, Adrian Plass (re-reading) This can’t really have been my first re-read of the year, can it? I probably didn’t count them unless I actually re-read the whole book cover to cover; but I generally have at least one Adrian Plass on the go, and I’ve read all them before.
Unseen Footprints, Sheridan Voysey (Finished. Started sometime around Christmas and has been on hold!)
On This Day, Melody Carlson (re-read) Ahhh, summer, the time for re-reading very light and undemanding books.
Adrian Plass: Cabbages for the King, Sacred Diary (several from the series) all re-reads!
M is for Autism: a surprisingly short story (I bought it on Kindle and expected a novel) but very well-written, from the perspective of a teen girl newly diagnosed with autism. It was put together by the girls from a school featured on a documentary I watched, but now can’t remember what it was called.
The Life You Never Expected, Andrew and Rachel Wilson: I was really torn about this book, and may have to write more about it later. On the one hand it offered a good and helpful, gospel-centred perspective from parents of autistic children; and I thought that their central image of the orange was an excellent metaphor for having children with special needs, much better than the ‘Holland’ one which is shared around so much. On the other hand, they kept using the phrase “There will be no autism in heaven”, which I found very difficult from an autistic advocate point of view. Yes, I definitely need to write a longer post about this one at some stage.
The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, Sue Townsend: this was a super, entertaining, just-the-right-amount-of-thought-provoking, perfect summer read.
CS Lewis: Broadcast Talks: Always good to read a bit of CS Lewis. Should do it much more often.
(Most of) God Knows, Joseph Heller: a really fascinating novel, using storytelling to explore the life of King David. It made me go back and check the original frequently! We were looking at the story of David in church at the time as well, so this offered a useful perspective. I didn’t read it all the way through, though; I ended up dipping in to look for certain episodes, which I’m sure spoiled the effect of the novel.
The Elements of Eloquence, Mark Forsyth: Brilliant. I took writing tips from it. I should have written them down.
The Unknown Unknown, Mark Forsyth: An essay, really, but if it calls itself a book on Kindle then it counts, right?
Storytelling booklets for Abimbola Gbemi Alao - We really enjoyed meeting this great storyteller at the Buckfast Abbey storytelling festival, so I was pleased to be asked to read her booklets and write some recommendations for them. I bought her novel, too (see September)
Twelve Curious Deaths in France, John Goldsmith: A very enjoyable book of short stories, ranging from amusing to horrifying, which does exactly what it says in the title. The quasi-factual nature of some of the stories meant that I spent about half an hour Googling after each chapter, trying to tease out fact from fiction. I suspect the author of having created a Wikipedia page. Highly recommended.
Minding Frankie, Maeve Binchy: Having mainly enjoyed short stories by Maeve Binchy, I hadn’t realised how tired her writing style gets after a while. It was a good story, but about half way through I stopped focusing on the plot and started counting the number of times she wrote that a character “took no prisoners” just before they started talking.
The Legendary Weaver, Abimbola Gbemi Alao: An interesting coming-of-age novel, combining a culture of storytelling and its stories with the experience of a young girl struck deaf through illness.
Finding Myself in Britain, Amy Boucher Pye: I loved this book, and have already reviewed it here.
Resilient, Sheridan Voysey: It was exciting to be part of Sheridan’s ‘launch team’, and gave me plenty of ideas about launching my own books! I started reading this in early September, so it took me a while, mainly because I had to be properly awake to digest it. My review is here.
Girl Alone, Cathy Glass: I used to read lots of Cathy Glass’s tales of fostering children, so I automatically bought this one when I saw it on offer. It reminded me that I wanted to read the one about the daughter she eventually adopted, so I bought Will You Love Me on Kindle and read that one, too. They are very quick reads, partly because they are written in a fairly simple and formulaic way, and partly because you don’t want to put them down before getting to the happy ending.
All Questions Great and Small, Adrian Plass and Jeff Lucas: eagerly awaited NEW Adrian Plass! I zoomed through it in an hour like a child opening all their Christmas presents at once, and now need to re-read it more slowly to discover what it actually said.
Fit to burst, Rachel Jankovic: (For the tenth or so time) I ought to read this once a month, really, not once a year. Best book for Christian mothers - I started highlighting memorable passages in my Kindle copy, but I was effectively just turning the whole thing yellow.
Waiting on the Word, Malcolm Guite: These were devotionals that went on until Epiphany, so I really finished it in January, but I’m letting it squeeze in since it was an Advent book. It was wonderful. It did me so much good to read a poem every day. I need to find ways to carry it on, and I can’t wait for Lent so that I can start Word in the Wilderness.
Various Christmas books: I tend to spend December re-reading things from our Christmas books box: collections of stories, treasuries, Maeve Binchy’s This Year Will Be Different and Adrian Plass’s And Jesus Will Be Born.
And now I need to find something more serious to get my teeth into before the January 2016 entry ends up with no books listed in it.