Bookish Thoughts as the Year Ends

Try as I might I can’t distill a year of wonderful reading into lists.

But I can answer a few questions from The Perpetual Page Turner

Best Book of 2011

I have read some wonderful books this year, but if I have to single out just one, the book closest to my heart is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

Worst Book of 2011

Oh dear. It has to be What They do in the Dark by Amanda Coe. It started beautifully, it had so much potential, but good ideas were ruined as things were taken much, much too far.

Most Disappointing Book of 2011

I have loved Susan Hill‘s crime novels in the past but I was disappointed in her most recent, The Betrayal of Trust. The plot and the characters came a very poor second to themes that the author clearly had strong feelings about but pushed much too hard for me.

Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2011

The idea of a novel in verse scared me, but Lettice Delmer by Susan Miles was a Persephone Book, it had appeared in a library sale, and so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. And I found a troubling story quite brilliantly told.

Book Recommended Most in 2011

I found Ten Days of Christmas by Gladys Bronwyn Stern in a bargain bin. It had no dust jacket, no synopsis, and so I did a few searches to try to find out more, but I couldn’t find anyone who had written about it. So I read, I wrote , and I’ve noticed a good few people have ordered copies and a couple more reviews have appeared. I really am thrilled.

Best Series You Discovered in 2011

I read and loved The Return of Captain John Emmett last year, and so I was eager to read Elizabeth Speller‘s second novel, The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton. I was surprised, and delighted to meet Lawrence Bartram again, to see his story progress, and to notice some very interesting hints about where his story might go next.

Favourite New Author in 2011

I’ve found a few new authors I want to keep tabs on, but if I’m going to pick out one I think it must be Rachel Hore. I read The Gathering Storm, I fell in love with her writing, and now I have an intriguing backlist to explore.

Most Hilarious Read in 2011

I am not a great lover of comic writing, but there’s something about Molly Keane, Time After Time was dark, sad, grotesque, and yet very, very funny.

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book of 2011

I was intrigued and confounded by True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies. I just couldn’t work out who this woman was, why she did the things she did.

Book Most Anticipated in 2011

Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple was surely the most eagerly waited reissue of 2011. And it more than lived up to some very high expectations.

Favourite Cover of a Book in 2011

Most Memorable Character in 2011

Oh, Miss Ranskill! I shall never forget you, and I shall never forget The Carpenter. Barbara Euphan Todd told your story so well in Miss Ranskill Comes Home.

Most Beautifully Written Book in 2011

That would be a book I’m still reading. Vanessa Gebbie’s novel, The Coward’s Tale, uses words – their meanings, their sounds, their rhythms – quite brilliantly. I even find myself reading with a Welsh accent …

Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2011

I was intrigued from the first moment I saw No Surrender by Constance Maud. A suffragette novel! I realised how little I really knew, and this book has inspired me to find out more – The Virago Book of Suffragettes is now sitting on the bedside table.

Book You Can’t Believe You Waited until 2011 to Read

I can remember seeing Mary Stewart‘s books on the library shelves years ago, when I moved up from the junior to the adult library, but it wasn’t until this year that I read one. It was Thunder on the Right, and I loved it …

… a wonderful year of reading … and now it’s time to start another …


The Gathering Storm by Rachel Hore

That cover! A story moving between past and present! A big house in Cornwall!

I’d left Rachel Hore’s book on the library shelf before, but this one I couldn’t resist!

The story opens in the present. Lucy’s father has died, and as she goes through his papers she discovers that he has been researching the life of an uncle she knew nothing about. She wonders why this man had been written out of her family history.

And so on a trip to Cornwall she makes a detour so that she can visit Carlyon, her father’s childhood home. She meets Beatrice, an elderly widow who knew her father and his family many years earlier.

Beatrice grew up in the 1930s the only child of middle class parents. She seemed a solitary child, but in time she made friends with the children of the aristocratic Wincanton family who lived at the big house. Carlyon.

Angelina Wincanton was her best friend. She was blonde, pretty, charming, but just a little spoiled. And she was Lucy’s grandmother.

One summer, the year she turned fifteen, Beatrice met Rafe. Lucy’s mysterious uncle. They quickly became friends and, of course, Beatrice would introduce Rafe to the Wincantons. They were charmed by him, and he by them, but something wasn’t quite right.

And as Beatrice and Angelina grow up their friendship remains but the differences between them become apparent. In class, character, character, attitude, outlook…

Beatrice’s father’s health deteriorates.

And then war comes, and it changes everything.

The story moves between Cornwall, London and France as the War changes the lives of Beatrice, Rafe and the Wincantons. Irrevocably.

I knew from the first page that Rachel Hore could write wonderfully. She mixes wonderful descriptions and very real emotions with just the right amount of restraint.

Each every one of a broad cast of characters, and all of their relationships, were beautifully drawn. I didn’t like them all, but I understood and believed in each and every one. I did like the young Beatrice. Very much.  She was brave, intelligent, compassionate … and fallible …

And I must praise the plotting and the storytelling too. Many characters and plot threads were woven together so cleverly. And although I realised how the central mystery must play out while there was still some way to go it really didn’t matter. I didn’t want the journey to end. Because I went through so many emotions, such highs and such lows, with this book.

The one weak link, I felt, was the contemporary story. It lacked the depth of the story of the past and would have been better to either give it more space to grow or to push it back to be simply a framing device. As it was it just felt a little bit forced.

But still I loved The Gathering Storm. It was an engaging story very well told.

And now I have Rachel Hore’s backlist to investigate. It looks very promising …