This is a much harder post to write than the Worst Books Round-Up, because 2014 was full of excellent reading, and keeping it down to a mere ten choices is extremely hard to do.
Most (all?) are “vintage”, because I was mainly reading books published between 1900 to 1999 as part of a Century of Books project.
Here are the top tennish, loosely organized countdown style from the merely excellent to the very best.
Books Which Pleased Me Greatly in 2014:
by B.J. Chute ~ 1956.
A charming rural romance about a young man under a curse, the village maid who loves him, and the two preachers who share the church and differing views on the Devil and Eternal Damnation in the idyllic village of Greenwillow, time and country unknown.
by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding ~ 1947
A cleanly written noir novel centered on a devoted mother’s protection of her teenage daughter from a blackmailer after an inconvenient man turns up very dead.
by Gavin Lambert ~ 1963
Fictional tale told via the diary of thirteen year old Daisy Clover as she is discovered by a manipulative film magnate and turned into a Hollywood star.
by Dorothy Whipple ~ 1949
The tale of two families and their unequal relationship, due in large part to a secret wrong perpetrated by the father of one family upon the widowed mother of the other. My very first Whipple, but definitely not my last.
by Elizabeth von Arnim ~ 1925
Women, aging, and societal unfairness. One of von Arnim’s more serious novels, and deeply poignant.
by Robert Graves ~ 1929
Poet and writer Robert Graves’ outspoken memoir of his school days, time in the Great War trenches, and attempt at post-war normalcy. Opinionated and cranky and exceedingly good.
Beyond the Blue Horizon (1986) and Chasing the Monsoon (1990)
by Alexander Frater
A 1980s air-travel epic, and an examination of the meteorological phenomenon of the Indian summer monsoon. I read both of these while road-tripping, and they were mesmerizing. Just the thing to fall into at the end of a long day: journeyings much more exotic than one’s own, written up with polish and grace. Excellent travel writer whom I was unaware of prior to my on-a-hunch acquisition of Beyond the Blue Horizon; I will be looking for more by him in future.
by Howard Spring ~ 1951
Fictional autobiography of a 99-year-old woman, 1848-1948. Melodramatic, funny, poignant.
The Dodie Smith Memoirs:
Look Back with Love ~ 1974
Look Back with Astonishment ~ 1979
Look Back with Gratitude ~ 1985
The novelist and playwright turns her attention to herself, and finds much to say about her personal life and times. Dodie Smith’s magnum opus, and, in my opinion, after spending much of the year tracking down and reading her more obscure novels after being bowled over by the wonderful I Capture the Castle some years ago, the best thing she ever wrote. A huge undertaking, reading these, and worth every effort it took to track these mostly out-of-print autobiographies down.
by Margery Sharp ~ 1965
Portrait of a girl growing into womanhood and on into middle age, from the beginning of the Great War to the end of World War II. Starting off on a Mediterranean island near Malta, and progressing quickly to mist-huddled England, Cathy never loses her desire for the warmth of the sun. An unusual book, gloriously cynical and beautifully styled.
In no particular order – just too good to leave off the list. The first three are not yet reviewed – keep an eye out for posts on these in 2015
- Spring Always Comes by Elizabeth Cambridge ~ 1938 ~ A low-key, thoughtful novel examining the characters of a vicar’s family – mother, father, four children – and the nature of personal fulfillment and one’s larger responsibility to the society one lives in. Started out slowly but drew me in completely. Gorgeous novel.
- Try Anything Twice by Jan Struther ~ 1938 ~ A collection of essays on a multitude of topics by the author of Mrs Miniver.
- Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw ~ 1969 ~ A gorgeous bildungsroman concerning the daughter of celebrities who is given a chance to temporarily reinvent herself as a nobody.
- The Visiting Moon by Celia Furse ~ 1956 ~ Fictionalized memoir of a Victorian childhood Christmas.
- Charlotte by Norah Lofts ~ 1972 ~ Inspired by the real life murder accusation against teenage Constance Kent, this noir suspense novel is chillingly mesmerizing. Did Charlotte kill her young stepbrother? And if not, who did?
- Pomp and Circumstance by Noel Coward ~ 1960 ~ Too silly for belief, but absolutely charming. A sun-drenched fictional island prepares for a Royal Visit.
- Beowulf by Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman) ~ 1948 ~ A London teashop in the Blitz is at the heart of this linked series of vignettes and character portraits.