Friday, November 26, 2021

21 Book Ideas for Holiday Gifts in 2021



Books make terrific presents! Here are 21 ideas for the people on your list: fiction, nonfiction, history, mystery, cookery, gardening, memoir, house books, pictures books, even a sticker book -- a little something for everyone!

These are my personal picks for book gift ideas. Links go to my Rose City Reader shop. You can find my other bookshop lists there too, like 15 Favorite Campus Novels, Winners of the Women's Prize, and others. Feel free to poke around!


In alphabetical order by author name:

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton. A smart, sexy rom-com perfect for holiday reading. Came out August 2021 and was shortlisted for the Wodehouse prize for best comic novel.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara. On the edges of a sprawling Indian city, a boy and his two friends set out to solve the mysterious disappearances of several children. This spellbinding mystery deserves the international praise heaped on it. It came out in 2020 and won the 2021 Edgar Award for best mystery novel.

Flavours of Greece by Rosemary Barron. Rosemary Barron started a cooking school in Greece in the 1980s and has been championing Greek food ever since. This redo of her best selling cookbook is a must-have for any lover of Greek food who wants to cook at home. Out June 2021 from Grub Street Cookery.

Dragons & Pagodas: A Celebration of Chinoiserie by Aldous Bertram. For the chinoiserie lover on your list, this one is a show stopper. Complete with Bertram's own chinoiserie–inspired watercolors and collages, Dragons & Pagodas is an irresistible confection. This coffee table gem came out September 2021.

Shoot the Moonlight Out by William Boyle. A neo-noir crime story set in pre-9/11 Brooklyn. Fans of Dennis Lehane or Michael Connelly will like this new rich, complex thriller. Out November 2021 from Pegasus Crime.

John Derian Picture Book by John Derian. This oversized coffee table book (11" x 14") came out in 2016 but is so gorgeous it deserves a spot on a gift list. Dreamy! 

John Derian Sticker Book by John Derian. For anyone who loves the world of John Derian -- or just loves really cool stickers! Came out November 2021.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. Lawrence Ellsworth is in the middle of the first new translation of Dumas' "Musketeer Cycle" in over 100 years. His take is is fresh and lively, without the Victorian fustiness of earlier versions. If you thought the Musketeers were fun before, wait until you see how they swashbuckle now! The Three Musketeers is the first book in the series and came out in 2018. It's nice to start at the beginning. Four other books in the series are now available.

The Beauty of Home: Redefining Traditional Interiors by Marie Flanigan. New in 2021, this design book showcases Marie Flanigan's timeless, livable style. She also explains the elements needed to recreate her signature look. Can you tell I like pretty coffee table books? There's probably someone on your list who does too.

The Accidental Collector: An Artworld Caper by Guy Kennaway. This frolic through the world of art dealing and English villages is a freewheeling farce that will bring a smile with every page. It won the 2021 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction. 

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson. Erik Larson writes nonfiction history books that read like the most exciting thriller novels, like The Devil in the White City and Dead Wake. This one came out in 2020 but there are probably people on your list who missed it, just like I did.

Island of Gold by Amy Maroney. Amy Maroney launched a new series with this rollicking adventure story set in 1454 on the Greek island of Rhodes and featuring a strong female protagonist. Great pick for teen readers and any fan of exciting historical fiction.

The Garden in Every Sense and Season: A Year of Insights and Inspiration from My Garden by Tovah Martin. These 100 essays are like spending a year in a garden with a good friend. This reissued edition of Martin's garden classic came out in March 2021 from Timber Press.

Murder at the Castle: An Iris Gray Mystery by M. B. Shaw. Portrait painter Iris Grey arrives at Pitfeldy Castle in the Scottish Highlands to paint a portrait ahead of a New Year's wedding. But she must solve a murder instead. This Christmas-themed cozy mystery is PERFECT for the holidays. It comes out December 7, 2021.

Double Blind by Edward St. Aubyn. As you would expect from the author of the Patrick Melrose novels, Double Blind is rich literary fiction reminiscent of Iris Murdoch or Kingsley Amis. Came out June 2021.

The Florentines: From Dante to Galileo: The Transformation of Western Civilization by Paul Strathern. This masterful examination of the history of Florence is a nice choice for the history buff or Italian lover on your list. Out July 2021 from Pegasus Books.

Hill House Living: The Art of Creating a Joyful Life by Paula Sutton. Paula Sutton is a stylist, writer, and creator of the popular blog, Hill House Vintage. She's like a British, Black, 21st Century Martha Stewart and this is my favorite coffee table book of 2021. Get it for anyone with a sense of vintage style and dreams of living in a Stately Home of England. Came out October 2021.

Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking: A Cookbook by Toni Tipton-Martin. Fresh and modern recipes with deep roots in African American culinary history. This award winning cookbook hit the shelves in November 2019 but is still getting attention. A solid building block for a cookbook library.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. The new book from the author of A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility. This came out in October 2021. Given the almost universal popularity of his earlier books, you probably can't go wrong with this one!

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci. Who doesn't like Stanley Tucci? For the foodie on your list, this one fits the bill. It came out in October and is getting all the buzz.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. Literary noir set in 1959 Harlem. This page turner of a caper shows Whitehead at his storytelling best. Came out September 2021.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

The French Chef in America: Julia Child's Second Act by Alex Prud'homme



What is something you are thankful for? 

It’s Thanksgiving week here in the USA, traditionally a time for reflection and gratitude. I'm grateful for my fellow book bloggers and all the bookish chats and connections we've had over the years!

One of my favorite things about book blogging is this weekly event, Book Beginnings on Fridays, where you can share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week. It doesn't have to be the book you are reading -- you can share a book that caught your fancy.


The sun shone brightly as three flags – the American, Japanese, and District of Columbia – riffled in a breeze.
-- from Chapter 1, "Dinner and Diplomacy," Part 1, "White House, Red Carpet."

Alex Prud'homme is the nephew of Julia Child's husband Paul. He co-wrote her autobiography, My Life in France, one of my favorite books. 

I wanted to Read The French Chef in America this week because it seemed like a good book for Thanksgiving week, a week filled with cooking, entertaining, and family time. And because I wanted to get another book in for Nonfiction November.  


Please add the link to your Book Beginnings post to the linky box below. If you post on social media, please use the #bookbeginnings hashtag so we can find each other. 

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Another fun Friday event is The Friday 56. Share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of your book, or 56% of the way through your e-book or audiobook, on this weekly event hosted by Freda at Freda's Voice.

The counters were raised to thirty-nine inches from the floor, to accommodate Julia’s height. One lasting regret for Julia was that she did not specify that the counters have a two-inch overhang, which makes it easy to scrape crumbs or chopped vegetables into a bowl held below the work surface.
I'm not six feet, two inches tall like Julia Child, but I'm five nine and Hubby is six three. We understand what Julia was thinking! We raised all our counters when we remodeled our kitchen and love them. I wish I had thought about the extra overhang for scraping bowls -- that's a great idea!  

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Edgar Award for Best Novel -- LIST



2021 was the 75th anniversary of the Edgar Awards, the prestigious award for mystery writing from the  Mystery Writers of America. I'm working my way through the list of winners of the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

The Edgar Award is named in honor of Edgar Allen Poe, 19th Century American author of spooky stories. Watchful at Night by Julius Fast won the first Edgar Award, then in the category of "Best First Novel by an American Author." The "Best Novel" category has been around since 1954.

I am not going to keep updating the winners after 2022. My enthusiasm for prize-winners is waning with the 2020s. I plan to focus my efforts on reading the winners up to 2020 then declare victory and move on to other bookish projects.

So far, I've read 33 of the Best Novel winners, roughly half. Those I've read or are on my TBR shelf are noted in the list below.

2022 Five Decembers by James Kestrel

2021 Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara ON OVERDRIVE

2020 The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths ON OVERDRIVE

2019 Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley ON OVERDRIVE

2018 Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke FINISHED

2017 Before the Fall by Noah Hawley FINISHED

2016 Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy FINISHED

2015 Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King FINISHED

2014 Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger ON OVERDRIVE

2013 Live by Night by Dennis Lehane FINISHED

2012 Gone by Mo Hayder ON OVERDRIVE

2011 The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

2010 The Last Child by John Hart ON OVERDRIVE

2009 Blue Heaven by C. J. Box FINISHED

2008 Down River by John Hart FINISHED

2007 The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin FINISHED

2006 Citizen Vince by Jess Walter (reviewed hereFINISHED

2005 California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker FINISHED

2004 Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin FINISHED

2003 Winter and Night by S.J. Rozan FINISHED

2002 Silent Joe by T. Jefferson Parker FINISHED

2001 The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale

2000 Bones by Jan Burke

1999 Mr. White's Confession by Robert Clark FINISHED

1998 Cimarron Rose by James Lee Burke TBR SHELF

1997 The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook (reviewed hereFINISHED

1996 Come to Grief by Dick Francis FINISHED

1995 The Red Scream by Mary Willis Walker TBR SHELF

1994 The Sculptress by Minette Walters

1993 Bootlegger's Daughter by Margaret Maron FINISHED

1992 A Dance at the Slaughterhouse by Lawrence Block FINISHED

1991 New Orleans Mourning by Julie Smith FINISHED

1990 Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke FINISHED

1989 A Cold Red Sunrise by Stuart M. Kaminsky

1988 Old Bones by Aaron Elkins TBR SHELF

1987 A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine TBR SHELF

1986 The Suspect by L.R. Wright

1985 Briar Patch by Ross Thomas

1984 La Brava by Elmore Leonard FINISHED

1983 Billingsgate Shoal by Rick Boyer FINISHED

1982 Peregrine by William Bayer TBR SHELF

1981 Whip Hand by Dick Francis FINISHED

1980 The Rheingold Route by Arthur Maling

1979 The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett FINISHED

1978 Catch Me: Kill Me by William H. Hallahan TBR SHELF

1977 Promised Land by Robert B. Parker FINISHED

1976 Hopscotch by Brian Garfield

1975 Peter's Pence by Jon Cleary

1974 Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman FINISHED

1973 The Lingala Code by Warren Kiefer

1972 The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth TBR SHELF

1971 The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall, Per Wahloo FINISHED

1970 Forfeit by Dick Francis FINISHED

1969 A Case of Need by Micheal Crichton (as Jeffery Hudson) FINISHED

1968 God Save the Mark by Donald E. Westlake FINISHED

1967 The King of the Rainy Country by Nicolas Freeling TBR SHELF

1966 The Quiller Memorandum by Adam Hall FINISHED

1965 The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre FINISHED

1964 The Light of Day by Eric Ambler TBR SHELF

1963 Death and the Joyful Woman by Ellis Peters FINISHED

1962 Gideon's Fire by J.J. Marric

1961 The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons

1960 The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin TBR SHELF

1959 The Eighth Circle by Stanley Ellin

1958 Room to Swing by Ed Lacy

1957 A Dram of Poison by Charlotte Armstrong TBR SHELF

1956 Beast in View by Margaret Millar FINISHED

1955 The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler FINISHED

1954 Beat Not the Bones by Charlotte Jay TBR SHELF


Updated March 20, 2024. This is an updated and refreshed version of the list I first posted in 2009. 


If you are also reading Edgar winners, please leave comments with related posts like your lists and reviews and I will list them here. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Past Tense by Lee Child -- BOOK BEGINNINGS



Does it feel like Thanksgiving snuck up on us this year? Hubby just texted me to say he got a turkey and left it in the fridge to thaw because it is frozen solid and I though, "What the heck? Thanksgiving is weeks away!" Then I remembered it's next week! Yikes!

I love Thanksgiving. There are only four of us this year, not a huge crowd like in years past. But I still love it. We will have way too much food, but that's OK because we all love leftovers. 

What's your favorite Thanksgiving dish? Mine's mashed potatoes, even if that is really boring! And pie, of course! 

For those of you who don't live in the US, I'm sorry you don't celebrate Thanksgiving because it is such a cozy holiday and it is the gateway to Christmas! 

But we still have a week to go, which means we have a week to share opening sentences here on Book Beginnings on Fridays. What are you reading in this week? Pease share the first sentence (or so) with all of us.


I'm reading something fun. I'm reading only entertaining books during the holidays. Nothing serious between now and 2022. 

Jack Reacher caught the last of the summer sun in a small town on the coast of Maine, and then, like the birds in the sky above him, he began his long migration south.

-- Past Tense by Lee Child. Are you a Lee Child fan? A Reacher Creature?

Past Tense is the 23rd novel in Lee Child's Jack Reacher series. I read the first book in the series, Killing Floor, back in 2004, when I was prepping for a mystery writers' conference where Child was the keynote speaker. Like many a lawyer, I harbored fantasies about writing mystery novels. My fantasies didn't last longer than that one conference. But Killing Floor blew my socks off. It was excellent. It is still my favorite Reacher book. 

My enthusiasm for the series has waned. The plots have become thin as the violence has increased. It looks like Child has gotten bored with them too. He wrote one more book after Past Tense called Blue Moon and then teamed up with his brother to tag team on two more. But he announced that he is turning over the series to his brother. I'll read Blue Moon and call it good. 


Add a link to your Book Beginnings on Fridays post in the Linky box below. If you post on social media, please use the hashtag #bookbeginnings. 

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Another weekly teaser event is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda's Voice where you can find details and add a link to your post. The idea is to share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of the book you are featuring. You can also find a teaser from 56% of the way through your ebook or audiobook.


From Past Tense:
Again Mark went quiet.

“He doesn’t mean it,” Patty said. “He’s upset, is all.”
It might get a bit creepy for my taste, but I'm determined to finish it. I'm reading it with my ears, so if things get too gruesome I'll concentrate on my pretty Thanksgiving dishes!


Monday, November 15, 2021

Brooklyn Neo-Noir, Burgundy Boats, and Big Sur -- MAILBOX MONDAY



So many books have come into my house since I last put up a Mailbox Monday post that I can't begin to catch up. Work and life got in the way of book blogging, which happens. Now when there is a short, perhaps illusory, lull between work insanity and the holidays, I'll try posting more often.

The three books that came into my home last week all look wonderful. I want to read them immediately! I will settle for as soon as reasonably possible. 

What books have come your way lately?


Shoot the Moonlight Out by William Boyle, brand new from Pegasus Books. At first glance, this new crime novel reminds me of a Brooklyn-themed Dennis Lehane book and looks amazing! It starts in 1996 with a run in with criminals that ends in tragedy then the main story takes place in the summer of 2001, right before 9/11. I like the slightly vintage vibe, the Brooklyn setting, and the whole neo-noir feeling. 

Hubby just read Lehane's blockbuster, Mystic River, so I gave Shoot the Moonlight Out to him to see how it stands up. Stand by for his report. 

To Live and Die in the Floating World by Stephen Holgate. This one came out last month from Blank Slate Press. It looks great! An American working on a tourist barge in France has an affair with a gangster's girlfriend. 

At first glance, that reminds me of a Burgundy-themed Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone. But since I may be the latest person to read that 1975 National Book Award winner, I may be the only one who can make the comparison.  

Read my review of Stephen Holgate about his earlier novel Tangier, here

On the Edge by Edward St. Aubyn, author of the Patrick Melrose novels. This is a reprint of his 1998 novel satirizing New Age goofiness, set in Big Sur. It's the first American edition of the book. 

I was excited to find this in a Little Free Library on my walk to work the other day. I read Lost for Words, his satirical novel about book awards that won the Wodehouse Award for best comic novel, which he wrote after Mother's Milk, the penultimate Patrick Melrose novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize but didn't win. Lost for Words was brilliant and got me to binge the five Melrose novels, which were excellent, but so sad. 

Join other book lovers on Mailbox Monday to share the books that came into your house last week. Visit the Mailbox Monday website to find links to all the participants' posts and read more about Books that Caught our Eye.

Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit, Martha of Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf, and Velvet of vvb32reads graciously host Mailbox Monday.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Costa Book of the Year Award -- LIST


The Costa Book Awards "celebrates the most enjoyable books of the year by writers resident in the UK and Ireland." The awards were formerly known as the the Whitbread Literary Awards from 1971 until 1985 when the name changed to the Whitbread Book Awards. Costa Coffee took over over in 2006, changing the name, but not the purpose, of the awards.

There are five categories of Costa Book Awards: First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry, and Children's Book. The Book of the Year Award debuted in 1985 and is chosen from any of the five categories.

I am not going to keep updating the winners after 2021. My enthusiasm for prize-winners is waning with the 2020s. I plan to focus my efforts on reading the winners up to 2020 then declare victory and move on to other bookish projects.

I'm working my way through the Costa "BOTY" list, but because I'm not much of a poetry reader and I'm no fan of sci-fi, I don't know know if I will ever get through all the books on this list. On the other hand, if they really were "most enjoyable," then maybe reading these prize winners would be the easiest way to expand my reading horizons.

If I've read a book or it is on my TBR shelf, it is noted in the list below. So far, I've read 13 of the winners. 

2021: The Kids by Hannah Lowe

2020: The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story by Monique Roffey ON OVERDRIVE

2018: The Cut Out Girl: A Story of War and Family, Lost and Found by Bart van Es ON OVERDRIVE

2017: Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore 

2016: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry FINISHED

2015: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge 

2014: H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald FINISHED

2013: The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer FINISHED

2012: Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel FINISHED

2011: Pure by Andrew Miller TBR SHELF

2010: Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott

2009: A Scattering by Christopher Reid 

2008: The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (reviewed hereFINISHED

2007: Day by A.L. Kennedy 

2006: The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (reviewed hereFINISHED

2005: Matisse the Master by Hilary Spurling 

2004: Small Island by Andrea Levy (reviewed hereFINISHED

2003: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon FINISHED

2002: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin

2001: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman ON OVERDRIVE

2000: English Passengers by Matthew Kneale TBR SHELF

1999: Beowulf by Seamus Heaney FINISHED

1998: Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes TBR SHELF

1997: Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes

1996: The Spirit Level by Seamus Heaney FINISHED

1995: Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson  (reviewed hereFINISHED

1994: Felicia's Journey by William Trevor FINISHED

1993: Theory of War by Joan Brady TBR SHELF

1992: Swing Hammer Swing! by Jeff Torrington TBR SHELF

1991: A Life of Picasso by John Richardson 

1990: Hopeful Monsters by Nicholas Mosley TBR SHELF

1989: Coleridge: Early Visions by Richard Holmes TBR SHELF

1988: The Comforts of Madness by Paul Sayer 

1987: Under the Eye of the Clock by Christopher Nolan 

1986: An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro FINISHED

1985: Elegies by Douglas Dunn 


This post is a redo of the original Cota BOTY list I posted in 2009. Updated December 28, 2022. 


If you are working through the books on this list, please leave links to your progress reports or reviews of these books in the comments and I will list them here.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Walden by Henry David Thoreau - BOOK BEGINNINGS



I think of Halloween as the gateway to the holidays, how about you? As soon as the jack-o-lanterns are gone, I'm planning Thanksgiving and thinking about Christmas. I love these last two months of the year!

My holiday mood makes me just want to stay home and be cozy, visit with friends, and focus on happy things. I'm never in the mood to read anything scary, super serious, or depressing. I like reading classics, including vintage mysteries like Agatha Christie, modern cozy mysteries, a little chick lit, and light nonfiction. 

What do you like to read during the holidays? I look forward to seeing your choices here on Book Beginnings on Fridays when we share some of our opening sentences!


I’m reading Walden for Nonfiction November:
When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only.
-- Walden by Henry David Thoreau. This classic was published in 1854 and recounts Thoreau's experiences and musings while living in a cabin he built on land owned by his friend and fellow transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Please share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week -- or just a book you want to share. Please use the #bookbeginnings hashtag if you share on social media. 

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Another fun Friday event is The Friday 56. Share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of your book, or 56% of the way through your e-book or audiobook, on this weekly event hosted by Freda at Freda's Voice.


From Walden:
Kings and queens who wear a suit but once, though made by some tailor or dressmaker to their majesties, cannot know the comfort of wearing a suit that fits. They are no better than wooden horses to hang the clean clothes on.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Booker Prize -- LIST


The Booker Prize is awarded each year for a full-length novel, written English and published in the UK. The Booker was traditionally awarded for novels by British, Irish, and Commonwealth authors published in the UK. In 2014, the award was opened to any novel originally written in English, mostly meaning Americans became eligible. The winner is awarded £50,000. The winner and the shortlisted authors see a significant increase in sales.

The Booker winners is one of my favorite books lists. That said, I am not going to keep updating the winners after 2021. My enthusiasm for prize-winners is waning with the 2020s. I plan to focus my efforts on reading the winners up to 2020 then declare victory and move on to other bookish projects.

If anyone else working on this list would like me to post a link to reviews or your progress report(s), please leave a comment with a link and I will add it below.

So far, I have read 45 of the winners. Here is the list, with notes about whether I've finished a book or if it is on my TBR shelf:

2021: Damon Galgut: The Promise

2020: Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain FINISHED

2019: Margaret Atwood, The Testaments ON OVERDRIVE; Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other ON OVERDRIVE

2018: Anna Burns, Milkman FINISHED

2017: George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo FINISHED

2016: Paul Beatty, The Sellout FINISHED

2015: Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings FINISHED

2014: Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North FINISHED

2013: Elinor Catton, The Luminaries FINISHED

2012: Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies FINISHED

2011: Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (reviewed hereFINISHED

2010: Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question (reviewed hereFINISHED

2009: Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (reviewed hereFINISHED

2008: Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger FINISHED

2007: Anne Enright, The Gathering (reviewed hereFINISHED

2006: Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss FINISHED

2005: John Banville, The Sea (reviewed hereFINISHED

2004: Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty TBR SHELF

2003: DBC Pierre, Vernon God Little FINISHED

2002: Yann Martel, Life of Pi FINISHED

2001: Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang FINISHED
2000: Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin FINISHED

1999: J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace FINISHED

1998: Ian McEwan, Amsterdam FINISHED (twice)

1997: Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things FINISHED

1996: Graham Swift, Last Orders FINISHED

1995: Pat Barker, The Ghost Road TBR SHELF

1994: James Kelman, How Late it Was, How Late TBR SHELF

1993: Roddy Doyle, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha FINISHED

1992: Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient TBR SHELF, and Barry Unsworth, Sacred Hunger (reviewed hereFINISHED

1991: Ben Okri, The Famished Road

1990: A.S. Byatt, Possession FINISHED

1989: Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day FINISHED

1988: Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda (reviewed hereFINISHED

1987: Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger FINISHED

1986: Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils FINISHED

1985: Keri Hulme, The Bone People (reviewed here) FINISHED

1984: Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac FINISHED (twice)

1983: J. M. Coetzee, The Life and Times of Michael K (reviewed hereFINISHED

1982: Thomas Keneally, Schindler's List FINISHED

1981: Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children (reviewed hereFINISHED 

1980: William Golding, Rites of Passage FINISHED

1979: Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore FINISHED

1978: Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea (reviewed hereFINISHED

1977: Paul Scott, Staying On FINISHED

1976: David Storey, Saville TBR SHELF

1975: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Heat and Dust FINISHED

1974: Nadine Gordimer, The Conservationist FINISHED, and Stanley Middleton, Holiday FINISHED

1973: J. G. Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur TBR SHELF

1972: John Berger, G (reviewed hereFINISHED

1971: V.S. Naipaul, In a Free State FINISHED

1970, The Lost Booker: J. G. Farrell, Troubles TBR SHELF

1970: Bernice Rubens, The Elected Member TBR SHELF

1969: Percy Howard Newby, Something to Answer For FINISHED


Updated October 26, 2023. This is a redo of the Booker list I originally created in 2014. 


The Complete Booker: This group blog is no longer actively administered, but there is a treasure trove of Booker-related material.

If you would like to be listed, please leave a comment with links to your progress reports or reviews and I will add them here.

Monday, November 8, 2021

October Wrap Up -- My October Books


Better late than never! Here’s my October wrap up. October is a particularly fun reading month ever since I discovered Victober on Instagram a few years back. Victober is when people read Victorian literature in October. Victorian novels seem well-suited to chilly, blustery October days.

I read a couple of other chunksters in addition to the two Victorian doorstops I read for Victober, so only got through eight books last month. They are listed below in the order I read them, not as they are stacked up in the picture.


The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins was one of my Victober reads. I loved this Victorian adventure story! ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates has been on my TBR shelf for a long time. I loved it all the more for reading while in upstate New York last month. Those granite hills and small towns with their mix of rural Yankee charm and diminished rust belt prosperity could be right from the pages of Oates’s 1996 novel. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

May We be Forgiven by A. M. Holmes knocked it out of the park for me. This was definitely my October standout. I read it because it won the Women's Prize and had no idea what to expect – certainly not the wild, hilarious, audacious gallop it took me on. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

The Theban Mysteries is a “Silver Age” (1960-1989) vintage mystery featuring English literature professor Kate Fansler. I’m a fan of the series. ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน1/2

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle was excellent. I highly recommend it. It will make you put down your phone and start talking to everyone, including yourself, especially the children in your life, and even the grocery clerk.  ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot was my other Victober read. I loved it when I wasn’t rolling my eyes. The main plot of Maggie and her love triangle (quadrangle?) was tedious, but the "filler" was thoroughly entertaining. Then the ending all but ruined it for me. It's like Eliot got as got tired as the rest of us with all the hand wringing but had no idea what to do with Maggie so took the Victorian way out. Good grief!  ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

BUtterfield 8 by John O’Hara, which I read with my ears so isn't in the picture. The U is capitalized because it is an old phone number. BUtterfield 8 was a bestseller when first published in 1935. I can see why! It's all sex, scandal, and day drinking. Again with the melodramatic ending!  ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Building Beauty: The Alchemy of Design by Michael S. Smith is a gorgeous coffee table book from Rizzoli Books. I got when I heard Smith talk a couple of years back.  ๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Now it’s on to Nonfiction November! Do you plan to read nonfiction books this month? I made it a goal to clear some space on my nonfiction TBR shelves this year, so have been reading more nonfiction than I usually do in 2021. I'll continue to read nonfiction in November, but no more than I have been.



Saturday, November 6, 2021

Laura Thompson, author of Life in a Cold Climate: Nancy Mitford; The Biography -- AUTHOR INTERVIEW


Laura Thompson studied acting and dance before turning to nonfiction writing as a career. She has written books about greyhound and horse racing, historical true crimes, a memoir about her publican grandmother, and biographies of Agatha Christie and the Mitford sisters. Her biography of Nancy Mitford, Life in a Cold Climate, was reissued by Pegasus Books in 2019. Incredibly talented, Laura also made a tv movie about her return to ballet as an adult, has filmed several documentaries about Agatha Christie, and writes for Town & Country, Harpers Bazaar, and other publications. 

Laura talked with Rose City Reader about the Mitford sisters, her biography of Nancy Mitford, what makes a good biography, and more:

There are plenty of Mitford fans, but please give us a thumbnail introduction of Nancy and her family for new readers.

As a child I learned a little refrain by which to remember Henry VIII’s wives – divorced, beheaded, died, etc. – and one can, rather flippantly, do something similar with the six Mitford sisters: writer (Nancy); countrywoman (Pamela); Fascist (Diana); Nazi (Unity); Communist (Jessica); duchess (Deborah). Reductive, but accurate. 

They were born between 1904 and 1920 in the heart of England into the minor aristocracy, the daughters of Lord and Lady Redesdale, who also had one son – Tom, who was killed in the Second World War. Their early lives are documented, pretty much accurately, in Nancy’s classic novel The Pursuit of Love, which describes their posh-feral upbringing on their father’s land and their rebellions against convention, although the novel softens the reality about the form that these took. In fact, as depression and division took possession of the world in the lead-up to the war, three of the sisters became intensely politically engaged – two to the Right, one to the Left – and the consequences for their lives, and for the rest of their family, were incalculable.  Diana was imprisoned as the wife of Britain’s Fascist leader, Unity shot herself in despair at the outbreak of war between England and her adored Hitler (it took eight years for the bullet lodged in her brain to kill her), and Jessica, who lived in proud poverty in London and lost a baby there to measles, cut herself off from her family by moving to the US, where for some time she was in the sights of the FBI.

What is so remarkable about the Mitfords, however, is that despite all this they have retained – really thanks to Nancy’s writing – a fascination that is not wholly about their notoriety, but also about their style, funniness, aura of blithe confidence and, above all, their very English and self-aware brand of charm. Their story is astonishing – six bright individualists, coming to adulthood at a time when the world went up in flames – and often desperately sad. Yet in some way they rose above it all and lived by Nancy’s creed that "there is always something to laugh at."

 What is your background and how did it lead you to write a biography of Nancy Mitford?

I grew up in the English countryside and went to a performing arts school – hoped to be a dancer, then to act, wasn’t good enough – then got into Oxford where I read English. I sort of fell into writing, whereupon I realized that this was actually the thing that I should be doing.

The original edition of Nancy, published in 2003, was my first biography – I had adored her, like so many of us, from a teenager and desperately wanted to express my praise for her writing, which at the time was not always highly regarded. Lots of people dismissed her as a snob, who dealt only in superficialities, and I thought that was ridiculous – her authorial voice and style are remarkable, influential – I really wanted to say all this. So in a way the book is less a biography and more a love letter. One of her nephews wrote to me and said, you have taken her seriously, which would have amused her but also pleased her very much. I thought that was lovely. And her reputation has now risen to the place where in my view it belongs to be – I hope my biog played a small part in that.

How did you research Mitford’s life? Did you have access to primary source materials? Did you interview people who knew her?

I was extraordinarily lucky – Nancy’s sister Diana Mosley agreed to speak to me, and I visited her in Paris the year before she died. A remarkable experience, as you may imagine. She was extraordinarily kind to me, terribly funny, and clearly still enraged by the fact that back in 1940 Nancy had suggested to the authorities that Diana should be jailed on account of her dangerous pro-Fascist views. "Nancy was the most disloyal person I ever knew," she said to me. Later she reviewed my book very favorably, and invited me to lunch with her again in Paris. She died before I could go – a great regret. Diana encouraged Deborah to meet me, so I went to Chatsworth to talk to her – wonderful. These were the two surviving sisters, and to experience the Mitford charm first-hand was probably more useful to me than anything else.

There was also a cache of letters at Oxford that hadn’t been written about, between Nancy and Theodore Besterman, who was planning a book about Voltaire at the time that she wrote her biography of him. These were fascinating – so revealing about Nancy’s writing philosophy. She was constantly urging Besterman (who also edited Voltaire’s letters) to say more with fewer words – she said: "you mustn’t confound the letters, which tell all, & the book which tells the essential." He didn’t take the advice but I did!!!!

There are other biographies of Nancy Mitford, alone or with her sisters. What distinguishes yours from the others?

The Mitfords are one of the best subjects – there is almost too much material – so inevitably lots of people are drawn to them. What I tried to do was catch Nancy’s essence. I wanted to analyze from the outside what we find so appealing about her (because many people, women in particular, find her irresistible) - her style, her humor, her deployment of the faรงade, her blithe self-assurance. But I also wanted to understand, as far as possible, what she herself felt about her life. The accepted view was that she was a desperately sad woman, smiling madly in the face of griefs, somebody who made jokes all the time because she was disappointed in love and didn’t have any children. This may have been partly true, but in no way was it the whole truth. To be honest I found it rather unsisterly and, more importantly, not really relevant to Nancy. It seemed to me to measure her against conventional standards, against other people’s standards in fact, whereas what matters is how she herself viewed her life. She believed in the importance of happiness, and in her own happiness – that’s the kind of thing that a biographer has to penetrate, I feel.

But the main difference between my biog and those of Harold Acton and Selina Hastings (both marvelous) is that I concentrate very much on Nancy’s writing – the nature of her artistry – and how her imagination worked both in her books and upon her life.

What did you learn from writing your biography that most surprised you, either about Nancy or the Mitford family?

Not that much about Nancy, if I’m honest. I had instincts about her that I think were generally proved to be correct. With regard to the other Mitfords, however, I was truly fascinated to learn how much they diverged from their image (as created by Nancy, really, in The Pursuit of Love). For instance her father was rather a weak man, who suffered terribly over his daughters’ behavior and never got over having supported – however briefly – the Nazi regime. His wife was the strongest member of the family, and although I didn’t much like her I found her hugely admirable – for instance how she coped with Unity in between visiting Diana in prison, then with her son’s death - she had astonishing resilience. Today she would probably be a CEO, she was so incredibly capable. I was also surprised to find how much I disliked Pam, supposedly the "nice" and mild sister, whom I suspect of being a bit of a resentful bitch – as when she said to Diana that Nancy, who finally succumbed in 1973 after prolonged agonies with cancer, had wasted years of their lives while they waited for her to die.

So the family dynamic was not quite what I had thought, in fact it was even more complex and multi-layered. The letters (edited by Charlotte Mosley) are so revealing about all this. They left me very glad not to have any sisters, I must say.

What is your favorite Nancy Mitford book?

Probably The Pursuit of Love, which I find intensely moving, but that’s such an obvious answer that I’ll put in a word for The Blessing. The portrait of a marriage between a highly romantic Englishwoman and a charming, adulterous Frenchman, it is intensely adult, brutally sophisticated and spectacularly non-woke (as Nancy often can be, but seems to get away with it). Nancy herself is known for her long affair with a French politician who was similarly incapable of fidelity – the novel often reads as if she is giving herself a bracing lecture on how to handle him – it is certainly not how I would want to conduct my own life, but I find it replete with very feminine wisdom and disconcertingly honest. And hugely funny. My favorite character is the grand old French aristocrat, oozing sex appeal in her 70s and dressed in the latest haute couture, who comes to London and extols the delights of wandering "in the Woolworth."

I think Love in a Cold Climate is the funniest of all the books, however, and Lady Montdore her finest comic creation. "Whoever invented love ought to be shot" (as said by Lady M) is my favorite of all Nancy’s lines.

For readers new to Nancy Mitford, which book do you suggest they read first?

Definitely The Pursuit of Love. It’s the perfect introduction to her glorious authorial voice – light but not trivial, poised exquisitely between art and artlessness – and it contains one of the most beautifully realized love affairs in fiction. Its description of her upbringing is the origin of what one might call the Mitford mythology – without this novel, which gave the family a new life by purging it of darkness and celebrating its bright vital spirit, I think we would see them quite differently. We would certainly not be as bedazzled by (in Evelyn Waugh’s famous phrase) their "creamy English charm."

For you, what makes a biography worth reading?

When it observes the same principles as good fiction. Proper story-telling; selecting the salient facts and details that bring the whole to life; paying attention to the emotional dynamics – and of course when the biographer clearly yearned to write about that particular person. Sometimes one has the sense that a writer has been looking for somebody who hasn’t been "done," whether or not they themselves want to "do" them. I have every sympathy incidentally, it’s very hard to find good subjects!!!!

What are some of your favorite biographies or biography writers?

The best biography I’ve ever read is Meredith Daneman’s 2004 life of Margot Fonteyn. The author was a dancer so could understand Fonteyn’s achievements from within, as it were – and she conveyed a powerful, stunningly perceptive sense of both the star and the woman. I can’t recommend that book highly enough.

But I actually mostly read fiction, so I tend to prefer biographies written by novelists – such as E. F. Benson’s biog of Charlotte Bronte, which I suppose is old-fashioned but has so much atmosphere and intelligence. And I love Nancy’s historical biographies (unsurprisingly). Her book on Madame de Pompadour is rightly revered, it has all her characteristic astuteness about motives – she cuts to the heart of political machinations like a tremendously clever child – "the only time I’ve ever understood the Seven Years War," as her nephew said to me. And it has one of the best last lines of any book I’ve ever read – it hits one like a dark thud.

What's next for you? What are you working on now?

I have a book published in the US next February – Heiresses – about women who inherited vast sums of money and whose lives, perversely, were often destroyed by it: starting with Mary Grosvenor, born in 1665, whose marshy fields were developed into London’s most expensive residential areas, while she herself was a victim of date rape and ended her life described as a "lunatick"; all the way through to Winnaretta Singer, Natalie Barney, and Romaine Brooks, then to Barbara Hutton, Patty Hearst and many in between.

Right now, however, I’m working on a labor of love tentatively entitled Reading Women, about the 20th century female novelists who have shaped our view of life and literature – chief among them Jean Rhys and Elizabeth Taylor, whose worth, I feel, cannot be overstated.




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