Dec 2013 TBRReally, these two books can only be linked by the fact that they’re both novels. But that’s OK – every review I post here doesn’t have to have some amazing link! I have, by the way, enjoyed writing these longer-form reviews, with only two books reviewed and a bit more expansively than the previous three quick notes format. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them, too. I don’t intend to change this format for 2014.

So, here we have two novels, and the first up is the reason that I never write up my Books of the Year post until 1 January the following year, because it’s a prime candidate for the list!

Patrick Hamilton – “The Slaves of Solitude”

(11 July 2013 – Fopp in Manchester)

Bought on a very warm, sunny day in Manchester with our friends Paul and Jeremy on our “Northern Odyssey” holiday and read in a cosy house in the chilly winter with Matthew and I spending some time seeing friends and family and lots of relaxation time. I’ve had a nice work lull, so I’ve been gulping great globs of books down in the early mornings, rather than engaging on the commute up the stairs …

Anyway, opening with a description of London as a ravenous beast, consuming and belching out commuters as its daily sustenance, and set mainly in an oppressive and depressing wartime boarding house in Henley-on-Thames, with bullying residents and much simmering hatred and resentment, one could fear that this is going to be as bleak as the TV adaptation of the also-rather-wonderful “Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky” trilogy by the same author. But it’s actually more akin to a Virago or Persephone, with its 39 year old spinster heroine working in her job in publishing and wryly observing the habits of her fellow residents and negotiating the rivalries and allegiances of boarding house life, always a slave to her lonely life, although keeping her teeth gritted and her integrity intact.

Into this somnambulant and restricted life crash an American Lieutenant who seems rather keen on the ladies (or just one lady? Or all of them?) and a new German woman friend who might just be a bitter enemy in disguise, who add to the wartime privations, concerns and sudden reversals of fortune to conspire to bring matters to a head that requires escape, for the brave …

A beautifully observed interior monologue, very funny in places, and a real candidate for book of the year. Why, when I’ve known “Twenty Thousand Streets” for so long, had I not read this one before?

Debbie Macomber – “1225 Christmas Tree Lane”

(28 December 2013 – BookCrossing meetup from Sorcha)

Now, I had a good old rant about popular and genre fiction while reading a Macomber the other week and then promptly gave up on the other two books in that series, because they concentrated on just a couple of characters and their romance, and what I really like in my light fiction is a sense of community, of different people living and existing together, different ages, genders, viewpoints, etc. The Cedar Cove novels have always given this to me, with their multi-generational families, mixed fortunes and interesting, intertwined plots, so I was pleased to read this, the last in the series (I checked, and I seem to have read all of them now), and at almost the right time of year, too! Thanks to Sorcha for passing it to me, and Gill for giving it to Sorcha for her Not So Secret Santa earlier in the month!

This one ties up most of the loose ends in the series, but not too tidily, carefully reminding us of the previous main plots the characters were involved with and showing us their on-going lives. This is achieved through the clever plot device of a box of puppies, dumped on the doorstep of kind Beth Morehouse just before Christmas (although I want to mention here that I do not approve of the practice of giving pets for Christmas if it is not part of a planned and sensible arrangement – some of the adoptions here are planned, but some are a bit too off-the-cuff for my liking). Beth is the centre of this book, living on her Christmas tree farm and welcoming her daughters, home from college, oh, and her ex-husband, with a bit of manipulation from said daughters.

I don’t think that this book would work so well if you hadn’t read the others in the series, but it’s a satisfying ending to a lovely set of books. There’s a charming short story at the back, too, with another Christmas theme.

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I’m currently reading one book that I won’t finish this year, a substantial book on popular music, and I’m going to start Thomas Hardy’s “Life’s Little Ironies” later with the aim of having a good old curl up and read and finish it before the year is out. Then, and only then, will I publish my Best of 2013 list – so watch out for that tomorrow!

I hope you’ve had a good reading year in 2013. I’ve read 148 books this year (with one to go) and I think that’s more than last year, although I’ll have to check. One of my few resolutions for the year was to make more room for reading in my life, and I think I’ve achieved that. Until tomorrow, dear readers …