What You Have Been Reading – The Top Posts Of 2019.

The results are in!  Let’s begin the countdown of the ten most visited (and hopefully read) posts of 2019.  There are now 665 posts on this site for your delectation and it does seem you enjoy digging around for older posts as only one of my 2019 Top 10 actually appeared this year, the rest were posted before 2019 started and in a couple of cases didn’t cause that much interest at the time and have become slow burners.  There have been 95 new posts this year which is a little down from my peak numbers but I’m still pretty proud of myself thinking this is pretty good going after nearly 5 years as reviewsrevues.com.

The counters were all zeroed last January 1st so these reflect the most read posts since then.  The figures in brackets relate to when I last has a countdown back in April when I was celebrating the 600th post.  To read the original reviews (and bump up their figures even further) just click on the link to the post.

10 (-) 63 Up– This is the only new post from 2019. This seven yearly update of a group of participants began back in 1964 when they were seven years old.  In June this year we had the latest in what is always a five star experience.  Shown as a three parter with director Michael Apted still at the helm this is an experiment which at the time it commenced was revolutionary and now is just fascinating.

9 (3) Atlantic Ballroom – Waldeck   CD review as part of my rather sparse Music Now Thread (although I may have more time to concentrate on this now that the Essential CD rundown is complete).  Originally posted in November 2018.

8 (8) Mary Portas; Secret Shopper.  Posted in January 2016.  This Channel 4 series saw Mary investigating customer service.

7 (7) Once Upon A Time – Donna Summer.  Posted in March 2018.  This 1977 double album which I placed at #85 on my Essential CD list has this year been the most read of my CD reviews

6 (4) The Diary Of Two Nobodies – Giles Wood & Mary Killen.  Posted in Jan 2018. The “Gogglebox” pair still pulling in people interested in finding out more about them away from their TV viewing chairs.

5 (-) Nutshell – Ian McEwan.  Posted in April 2016.  I will hopefully get round to reading and reviewing author McEwan’s 2019 published “Machines Like Me” (as featured on my 2019- What I Should Have Read post).  In the meantime plenty of you still want to know what I thought about this original crime novel.

4 (2) Scott and Bailey – Also posted in April 2016.  The 5th and final series of this obviously much missed TV series seems to have become established as the most read of my television reviews.

3(-) Past Caring – Robert Goddard.  I was exploring Robert Goddard’s back catalogue in January 2018 when I posted a review of his novel from 1986.  I didn’t love this early work and did feel confident that he has written some real gems in the twenty-five or so novels since this.  He is one of those authors who people when returning his library books are very keen to recommend to me.  I should certainly seek out more by him in 2020.

2(-) The Dark Circle – Linda Grant.  Her 2019 published “A Stranger City” just missed out on my end of year Top 10 but you still seem to be seeking out her 2016 novel the review of which I posted in October of that year.  This was her 7th novel and is set largely in a TB sanatorium in post-war Britain.  This has been the most read fiction review this year.

1(1) This Is Going To Hurt – Adam Kay– Came in as a new entry in the 600th post and is now looking established at the top of the pile.  His much awaited “T’Was The Nightshift Before Christmas” was a much slimmer tome than hoped for but no doubt found its way into many stockings over the festive period, but this is the book which Kay fans will return to.  The interest in this review is no surprise, despite the book being published in 2017 and not being picked up by me until November 2018 this is (according to the bestseller.co.uk website) the third biggest selling book in Britain in 2019.

The new entries

In my next couple of posts I’m intending to look ahead to what should be coming up in 2020 book-wise and also scouting around the blogosphere to see what some of the other bloggers have really enjoyed in 2019 before we knuckle down to the real reviewing business in 2020!

2019 – What I Should Have Read

Here’s something that I did last year which I feel is worth revisiting.  My post 2018 – What I Should Have Read  highlighted ten publications that I felt I had missed out on by not reading.  Looking back on these now I see I actually read 5 out of those 10 this year which was a pretty good success rate.  Here are this year’s 10 books which I just haven’t got round to but feel as if I should and which I will hopefully put right in the first few months of 2020.

We Are Made Of Diamond Stuff – Louise Waidner (Dostoevsky Wannabe)

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Completely passed  me by until I saw it placed at number 39 in the Telegraph’s Top 50 Books Of The Year.  I was fascinated by the description of it as ” a garrulous, magical-realist and Brexit-tinged comedy about a pair of trans migrants working at a “no star” hotel on the Isle Of Wight”.  Being an ex-hotel owner on the Isle Of Wight myself this sounded a perfect match (although we had plenty of stars, thank you) so found myself clicking the Buy It Now button on Amazon to get this book from a small publishing company I had also not heard of until now.

Shadow Play – Joseph O’Connor   (Harvill Secker)

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I haven’t read any Joseph O’Connor to date although I’m a little surprised that I have never got round to his most celebrated “Star Of The Sea” but this book has also got a good smattering of critical acclaim this year and has been shortlisted for Best Novel at The Costa Book Awards where the judges have praised it as exploring “the danger and complexity of unconventional love, the restlessness of creativity, and the experiences that led to the creation of the most iconic supernatural tale of all time.”  That tale is “Dracula” as this novel features Bram Stoker alongside actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry.  This kind of rich, historical novel is right up my street and often features on my end of Best of Year lists.  I have a copy out from the library so should get round to finding out if this will be the case.

The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa (Harvill Secker)

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I’ve been reading about this book for some time now, in pieces about translations it gets a mention because it is a big Japanese seller that is making its English language debut this year after 25 years.  Translated by Stephen Snyder, The Guardian describes it as “the story of an island where both objects and memories are “disappeared” by shadowy totalitarian forces” and that “this timeless fable of control and loss feels more timely than ever.”  Not the sort of thing I read often (I have never read a translated Japanese novel) I was  fascinated enough to also pick up a library copy the other day and am waiting to begin this.

The Great Believers – Rebecca Makkai (Fleet)

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Another book I hadn’t heard of until my workmate Louise mentioned that she had bought it for herself for Christmas hoping it was going to be this year’s “The Heart’s Invisible Furies“.  You don’t need to be that regular a visitor to this site to know how much I love that book and after about five seconds perusing her copy I ordered this for myself.  It has made more of a splash so far in the US where it won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Outstanding Adult Fiction beating strong finalists Esi Edugyan’s “Washington Black” (how many times am I going to mention this title before reading it!) and Tommy Orange’s “There There”, it has been a New York Times Top 10 Bestseller and scooped The Stonewall Prize as well as being shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and a US National Book Award.  Although it first appeared in 2018 the paperback came out this summer and it has been picking up 2019 awards so thought I should include this tale set in Chicago and Paris at the time of the first years of the AIDS crisis.  I know I’m going to need tissues for this one.  Can’t tell you more about it as my copy is in my Amazon parcel which I’m not opening until Christmas Day.

Leading Men – Christopher Castellani (W&N)

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Also in that Amazon parcel is this book described by Celeste Ng as “a timeless and heart-breaking love story”, a fictional account of the relationship between Tennesee Williams and his long term partner Frank Merlo, this sounds like it can be 2019’s “Swan Song”.  Reviewers are talking about Castellani’s recreation of the glamour of 1950’s Italy, which sounds ideal for discovering  during the post-New Year slump when short days and short-lived diets feel as if they will go on forever!

Machines Like Me – Ian McEwan 

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I’ve also got a copy of this already sat on my shelves and feel like I should have read it.  I can absolutely love Ian McEwan “Atonement“, his early short story collections, and “Enduring Love” have all embedded themselves in my psyche.  I can also just really enjoy him as in “Innocent” “Saturday” and his most recent pre 2019 publication, the clever “Nutshell“.  He can also leave me unimpressed as in his Booker Prize winning “Amsterdam”.  He put out two books this year and this seems to be the one worth bothering with, but with its themes of Artificial Intelligence I’m not absolutely convinced I am going to love it- but I do hope to get round to finding out.

The Secret Commonwealth – Philip Pullman (David Fickling Books)

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This year I caught up with Lyra’s adventures in “La Belle Sauvage” just as this second in the “Book Of Dust” sequence was published.  I reserved a copy from the library but the reservation list grew too long and I doubted whether I’d be able to finish it within three weeks so I cancelled my reservation until the demand dropped.  But with the TV adaptation of “His Dark Materials” (which I started off loving, then wasn’t sure but am enjoying again now) doing so well I’m sure I’m going to have to wait some time for the demand to drop.  The Guardian in their round up of the year describes it as a “huge, challenging novel (which) asks the reader more questions than it answers”.  Am I ready for this yet?

Me- Elton John (Macmillan)

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I’m not a massive Elton fan but he has been around so long that you just can’t ignore him.  I have seen him perform live (with George Michael) although I think his glory days as a performer are probably now behind him.  This year I watched “Rocketman” which I felt was okay as a film, although did very much admire Taron Egerton’s portrayal (more so than the Oscar winning Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody”) but Elton knows everything about everybody so this autobiography seems like a must.  The Guardian felt that it might very well be the celebrity memoir of the decade and the Telegraph had it at number 8 in their books of the year describing it as “gossipy”, “self-aware” and “as eye-popping as his wardrobe”.  I enjoyed his interview with Graham Norton on TV recently and want to read his revelations before they become common knowledge.

Chinglish – Sue Cheung (Andersen)

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I seem to make this reading resolution every year.  I must read more Young Adult Fiction.  I have missed out this year on this 1980’s Coventry set account of a teen living over her parent’s Chinese takeaway restaurant.  The Guardian feels that “it will resonate with any teenage reader who feels alien or left out.”  Apparently funny and moving in equal measures this is a title I am determined to seek out.

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton)

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One of the big hitters of the year which made headlines when jointly awarded the Booker Prize.  In the furore of the judges not being able to make up their minds between this and Margaret Attwood’s best-selling follow-up to “The Handmaid’s Tale” “The Testaments” it was this title which seemed to be winning the hearts of critics.  Described as “innovative”, “fresh”, “life-affirming”, brimming with “heart and humour”, it’s the title on what felt like an underwhelming shortlist that I would have been most likely to have wanted to read.  I’m a bit put off by it being a verse poem which explains why I’ve not placed it higher on this list but I do very often read the Booker winning titles so feel I should at least give it a go.

Which books did you not get round to reading this year?

 

Enduring Love – Ian McEwan (1998)

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It’s twenty years since this, Ian McEwan’s sixth novel was published.  I read it back in 1998 and loved it and it’s been sitting on my shelves awaiting a re-read since then.  I had considered it his finest work until a re-read of “Atonement” two years ago brought home to me how really good that book is.  That’s the funny thing with re-reads, you can’t always tell whether they will really sparkle more the second time around (as “Atonement” did for me) or whether they will end up being not quite as good as you remember, and this is the case for “Enduring Love”.

It starts superbly, with one of the great opening sections of modern literature.  A hot air balloon gets out of control with a young boy in the basket.  This has seared into my brain and haunted me for the past two decades.  The fear factor of this was probably intensified because the first time I read this I was sat on a plane, which was not really the best idea!

Five men rush to assist the stricken balloon and as possibly a response to the sudden traumatic and tragic event, a young man, Jed Parry, become obsessed with the narrator Joe.  A campaign of letters, phone calls and stalking follow as Jed cannot comprehend that his love is not reciprocal and he believes that he can bring Joe closer to God if he will only succumb to his attentions.  Joe is a scientific journalist who recognises in Jed a form of De Clerambault’s syndrome, a homo-erotic obsession with religious overtones, but is the whole thing in Joe’s mind, his own response to a sudden life-changing traumatic experience?

The novel is at its strongest with its depiction of the dark relationship between the two men but what we have here is far more than a stalking-based thriller.  The scientific bias of the narrator explores rationality as he tries to put the ways his life changes following his actions into perspective.  On re-reading I found this aspect to be drier than I remembered and the whole novel did not seem as tightly plotted as my memory had it.  A number of set pieces, however, throughout the novel ensure that this is a high quality, memorable read although none of these conjure up the suspense of the opening.  As a novel it lacks the scope and greater depth of characterisation of “Atonement” which appeared three years later but it is still a great example of writing from one of our finest living British writers.

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I read the paperback version of “Atonement” which was published by Vintage in 1998.

Nutshell – Ian McEwan (2016) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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I feel that Ian McEwan has been part of my reading life for a long time.  I was 18 and supposedly revising for my A Levels when I discovered his first two collections of short stories, the Somerset Maugham award-winning “First Love, Last Rites” (1975) and “In Between The Sheets” (1978).  I had never read anything like these tales ever before.  I also devoured  his dark debut novel “The Cement Garden” (1978) whilst I should have been listing the reasons for the French Revolution.

His next couple of novels seemed slighter affairs but I was back with him for “The Innocent” (1990) and particularly for his tale of  hot air balloons and obsession “Enduring Love” (1998), a book I am determined to re-read this year to see if it is as good as I remembered.  His 1998 Booker Prize winning “Amsterdam” is less memorable and came before the book which should have picked up every accolade going, his masterwork as far as I am concerned “Atonement” (2001), one of the best novels of this century so far.  I still have the last three before this latest, “Solar” (2010), Sweet Tooth (2012) and “The Children Act” (2014) sitting on my shelves waiting to be read but I couldn’t hold out when I saw “Nutshell” in my local library and had to borrow it and read it, especially as he is the current holder of my  Reviewsrevues Book Of The Year Re-Read Award.

My verdict- it is very good but not classic McEwan.  It lacks the richness and depth of his very best but it is a very involving and memorable read.  Narrated by a foetus in a womb this is certainly a crime novel with a difference.  This very well-informed youngster has picked up significant life experiences from listening to podcasts and the radio as well as a gourmand’s tastes from the rich food and copious amounts of wine his mother imbibes.  He has a vivid sense of the world he has never seen, two factors which make him a fascinating if not totally reliable narrator.  When he hears his mother and her lover, Claude, his father’s brother, plotting to kill his father (obvious shades of “Hamlet” here) he faces the dilemma of being a small part of a “perfect crime” coupled with a need for his biological father backed by an awareness of what repercussions there will be for his young life if things go wrong.

This is very much a character study of the three sides of the love triangle as seen through the (unopened) eyes of the embryo.  There are digressions aplenty as he attempts to make sense of his world before he makes an appearance and an attuned awareness of the developments of the murder plot.  The three adults are brought to life vividly but it is the unborn who the reader will be rooting for.  It’s original and like the best crime novels I did find myself holding my breath towards the end as McEwan’s plot comes to resolution.

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Nutshell was published in hardback by Jonathan Cape in September 2016.  The paperback edition is due in June 2017.

My Top Re-read of 2016

My Top Re-read is a book I first read 14 years ago and it really impressed me then.  I think it worked even better a second time.  This book is……………

Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)

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I read and reviewed this back in January, partly because I had agreed to do a piece for Newbooks magazine comparing the book to the film.  Obviously, when I first read the book the film had not been made but this was one occasion where the images of the film had seared their way into my brain.  I re-read the book before re-watching the film, was blown away by both and wrote a piece for NB 88  which to celebrate the lofty position this book has attained for me this year I’m going to republish here.

Atonement written by Ian McEwan ( Vintage 2001) Vs. Atonement-directed by Joe Wright (2007)

When thinking of a modern novel where the film version is of an equally high quality to the book the first that came to mind was “Atonement”.  To see if my initial reaction was correct I have recently revisited both.  On re-reading, the book was even better than I remembered, the film, watched so soon after completing the book, slightly less so, but both deserve to be considered as modern classics and offer five star experiences.

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Ian McEwan had up to this point, not fared as well as might have been expected with film adaptations.  I had high hopes of 2004’s “Enduring Love” starring Daniel Craig but it didn’t match the intensity of the book.  McEwan’s 2001 masterpiece is written in four sections- a country house in a heatwave in 1935: at Dunkirk in 1940; at a London hospital at around the same time and London in 1999.  The first section translates to film sumptuously, closely follows McEwan’s careful plotting and often dialogue (Christopher Hampton wrote the Screenplay).  It is beautifully performed with James McAvoy and Keira Knightley particularly shining throughout.

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Where we have a deviation with the intensity of the novel is the second section, particularly on the road to Dunkirk, which to an extent, is glossed over.  This is a brutal, visceral section of the book, quite difficult to read and obviously deemed too difficult to watch.  The Dunkirk of the film has been rightly praised for the vividness of the depiction but is a place of far more hope than McEwan’s vision and by taking away some of the bleakness it, to an extent, diffuses the power of some of what comes afterwards.  This had passed me by on first viewing but with McEwan’s words and images so firmly in my mind it became apparent.  I had to keep reminding myself to breathe when I was reading the book, and although, the film was intense, it was less so.  To an extent the viewers have been spared quite a bit of the horrors of war, which probably made sense when marketing the film.

The end section avoids the delightful sense of completion to the story but does make a final twist more definite and more shocking which had me scurrying back for the book for confirmation.  Without doubt the film-makers got it right and made a film which was stunning in both appearance and content.

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