Five of the Best!

FIVE 5-STAR READS
FEBRUARY

SMILEYS

Each month this year, I’ll be looking back over my reviews of the past five years and picking out my favourite from each year. Cleo from Cleopatra Loves Books came up with this brilliant idea and kindly agreed to let me borrow it. I was a bit later in starting reviewing than Cleo, really getting properly underway in about April/May of 2011, so for the first few months I might have to be a bit creative in my 2011 selections.

So here are my favourite February reads…click on the covers to go to the full reviews, though it must be said my early reviews were somewhat basic…

 

2011

 

newton and the counterfeiterI only reviewed one book in February 2011, but fortunately it was a good one, though not fiction. In fact, it was reading this book that started me reading the occasional popular science book – a thing I hadn’t done in years. The book tells the story of Newton’s time in charge of the Royal Mint, when he became obsessed with trying to trap the most famous counterfeiter of his time, William Chaloner. But the bits that interested me more were the sections relating to Newton’s scientific career, and particularly how he developed the methods of research that became the foundation of how science is still carried out today.

 

2012

 

the secret diary of adrian moleA special 30th Anniversary edition of Adrian Mole was issued in February 2012, and for a while everyone on Amazon Vine seemed to be discussing it and sharing quotes. This fictional diary of an angst-ridden teenager in love was a sensation when it was first issued, and I was delighted to find it had stood up well to the test of time. Written as a satirical look at suburban life in contemporary ’80s Britain under Thatcher, it now reads almost like a historical novel, and whisked me back to those days of flares, pimples and Lady Di. Still one of the funniest books out there!

 

 

2013

 

The Earthquake BirdSet in Japan, this excellent debut novel tells the story of Lucy, who becomes a suspect when her friend Lily is murdered. Damaged by events in her early life, Lucy has moved from her Yorkshire home to Japan to try to put the past and her family behind her.We meet her while she is being questioned by the police and refusing to answer them. Instead she tells us, the readers, her story.  Susanna Jones’ writing style is spare and well crafted, shot through with shafts of humour and irony, but gradually creating tension that builds throughout the book. But her greatest strength is in creating compelling, enigmatic central characters and Lucy is a fine example of this.

 

 

2014

 

revolutionary-roadSince I gave this book the FF Award for Literary Fiction in 2014, it could hardly not be my top pick for February. The story of failed people in a failed marriage living in a failed American Dream, this is one of the finest books I have ever read. The writing is superb, and the brilliant spotlight Yates shines on his characters leaves them no room to hide. There are moments of quiet beauty in the writing, and an integrity in the characterisation that leads the reader to empathise even when we see them stripped down to their worst flaws and insecurities. I described it as masterpiece in my review – not a term I use lightly – and I still hold to that opinion.

 

2015

 

the way things wereSet in contemporary India, this book is about roots, or about what happens to a person, and by extension a society, when it becomes culturally detached from its roots. When Skanda returns to India to attend the funeral rites for his father, it sets him off on a process of remembering and reassessing the recent history of his family, and through them India itself, from the 1970s to the present day. Beautifully written, this is a deeply political and thought-provoking book that manages the difficult feat of also being enjoyable.  An exceptional book from an author who is emerging as a major voice in literature.

 

* * * * *

If you haven’t already seen Cleo’s selection for February, why not pop on over? Here’s the link…

49 thoughts on “Five of the Best!

  1. Adrian Mole and Revolutionary Road may be at the very opposite ends of the spectrum, but great choices, both equally deserving. You tempt me with your 2013 pick – you know I can’t resist books about Japan!

    • Haha! Yes – they do look a bit odd on the same page, but both great books. I think you might like The Earthquake Bird – I thought it gave quite a good look at the foreigner living in Japan aspect. Some people – LF for one – really find her endings disappointing but in general I like her characterisation so much it carries me past any weakness in the plots.

  2. I must say I do like these Five Of The Best posts! The Newton one looks awesome (not a word I like to over use) and is going on my list. Adrian Mole!! Oh, that takes me back. That book had a huge impact on my as a youngster (secret diaries are rather my thing!) and encouraged my own fledgling attempts at writing. I read it again as an adult and it felt like a completely different (although still brilliant) book and that is really testiment to the quality of the writing, I think. Revolutionary Road is going on the list, too. If you say it is a masterpiece then I simply must read it, FF.

    • I’m enjoying looking back through the old reviews (and cringing at some of them!). The Newton one was hugely popular when it came out and deservedly so I think – I still remember quite a lot of it which is unusual after so long, so it must have really interested me at the time. And I loved re-reading Adrian – I never enjoyed any of the later ones, though. I preferred to think of him stuck as a permanenet adolescent, nursing his hopeless passion for Pandora. Do read Revolutionary Road!! I think it’s arguably the equal of Gatsby, both writing and story – it’s one I’ll read many times.

  3. Newton and the Counterfeiter is one of my all-time favourites. It is such a fascinating story and so completely hidden from mainstream histories of Newton. I recommend it to people all the time.

    • Yes, I had no idea about his ‘other life’ before reading it. And I thought Levenson wrote really accessibly about the science side of things too – definitely one that non-science people can get a lot out of.

  4. I like these posts! I say, Cleo has an exceptional idea.

    But look at the book from 2012. I can’t believe it! It’s about a teenager and love…and you like it?! I think you’re messing with me, FEF. But the humor probably makes it great. Still, bet it’s a girls book!

    The professor should mention, too, that I like the years. They’re very design-y and colorful.

    • She did indeed! And I hope you are impressed by my skills as a thief!

      You wouldn’t like it though – not once does Pandora comment on Adrian’s… er… posterior! Seriously, it is really funny and I don’t think it’s just for girls – I think lots of men were reading it at the same time as us when it was reissued and enjoying it just as much. It’s absolutely not soppy. But… it is very British and based in the culture of the ’80s, so I’m not sure it’s one for you… maybe…

      Thank you! I’m rather proud of them! *preens very proudly*

      • I am! You’re better than I am. You’ll have to teach me, please.

        Well, that’s a reason I would like it! I don’t like…that sort of girly commenting, dadblameit! I’m based in the culture of the 80’s (or earlier) you know. Sounds like it would still be nice. But the next in the Dune series next. That’s next. Next for sure. Sure it’s next.

        I am, too! So, you did design them maybe sorta?

        • I shall! I shall be Fagin and you can be the Artful Dodger!

          Much earlier! Probably the 20s! Definitely! It’s officially on the TBR now… no way out!

          *laughs lots* I did, yes! But it was sorta accidental and I don’t really know what I did – and I wouldn’t be able to do it again!

            • I wonder if he had a blue dressing-gown too…

              I realised the psychology was all wrong. The more books I put on it the more you resisted. So my new policy is to pick one and keep going on about it till you read it just to shut me up. It’s working much better!

              *laughs lots* Aw, thank you! You’re so good for my self-esteem, you know, you know…

    • I’m really enjoying looking back, even though some of my early reviews are pretty awful! But it’s reminding me of loads of books I’ve loved over the years…

  5. FictionFan – I really do like this feature. And your particular choices are really interesting, not least because they’re varied. I’m not telling my TBR about this though as I know I’ll be adding to it.. 😉

    • Me too! I’m glad Cleo thought of it – I’m really enjoying looking back and being reminded of some great reads. Oh, a few more on your TBR won’t matter… 😉

  6. Newton and Mole – what’s not to like? I reread Mole when Sue Townsend died and was glad not to be disappointed. The others sound good too – someday!

    • Yes, I was worried to re-read Mole, but at that time all my Vine buddies were reading it and saying it was still brill, so I risked it, and agreed! I like looking back at ones I’ve already read – makes a change from thinking about the ones still to be read!

  7. Mmm I think its the variety which is so particularly tempting. I had to duck away and look ashamed with Revolutionary Road yet again getting the thumbs up. This has been ‘in real’ TBR for around 3 or 4 years and I really need to dust it off and open it! A powerful clarion call from you on its behalf. Yes, and I got the Mole, at the time, and thoroughly enjoyed reacquaintance. And I remember enjoying The Earthquake Bird……….though not QUITE as much as you did.

    You know, it is tempting to pull a forelock and drop a curtsey to Cleopatra and ask if I can borrow this NEXT year (as I’m doing two book challenges THIS its all A BIT MUCH) but I do like the idea of revisiting my very elderly reviews and seeing what springs out at me.

    I had to laugh at your ‘earlier reviews somewhat basic’ – do you think loquacity is a virtual viral meme for bloggers…..I know we’ve both looked in amazement at the length of our own reviews since entering bloggy world.

    I wrote one (savage) review in 2001 of a book which was one of those hyped to the heavens lit fic ones which in my far-from-humble was unworthy (the author was absolutely part of a trendy and influential circle). And it was a fairly vicious 2 liner, 31 words, with one phrase which I was particularly pleased with (i’ve softened, rather, and tend to avoid spending any more time with books I deeply loathe, unless reviews are obligatory, or the book is factual, and full of errors)

    The vituperative phrase was

    literary and psychological meringue masquerading as coq-au-vin.

    OUCH! But probably much more pertinent than the 750 words I would need now.

    • Yes, we were reading far more of the same stuff back then because we were being offered them through Vine. The selection on NG and elsewhere is so much wider we’ve kind of parted bookie company a bit recently, with just a few crossovers. But I really think you’ll probably love Revolutionary Road – at least, I hope you do!

      I wish you would do it – if not this year, then next. I’d love to read ‘The History of LF’ even if it’s only to reawaken old arguments! I mean – debates!! 😉 My review of Newton was under 200 words, and d’you know, I think it was just about as informative as my recent 1000-word factual epics! And readers probably make it all the way to the end… Must, must, must try to re-learn how to self-edit!

  8. Thanks again FF – I had the Adrian Mole from Vine too and was delighted to read it again, it was an exceptional book! I still haven’t read Revolutionary Road but the more you rave about it… my resistance weakens. Loving your February list which has far more variety than mine, maybe I lean towards similar book genres based on the time of year?

    • I’m really enjoying these posts – yours and mine, so thanks again for the brilliant idea! Yes, I think we were all reading about poor Adrian back then and the Vine Forum was full of it (I don’t think you ever really hung around there, did you? Wise woman!) I reckon you might love Rev Road – are you a Gatsby fan? They’re not really similar, but somehow I feel people who like one would proabbly like the other. Same feel about them, if you know what I mean. Mine would have been a bit more crime orientated except that I’m trying to avoid duplicating your picks – Dead Scared would definitely have appeared.

      • I was mainly just a lurker on the Vine Forum because there were some scary characters around at that time 😉 I do like Gatsby so you’ve now almost compelled me to read it just to see if I agree! In some ways it’s harder with the crime novels to get the ones that really ‘stand out’ but for some reason February has been very crime orientated and luckily full of great examples! I’m enjoying looking at your choices too so I’m thrilled you joined me!

        • Hah! Don’t I know it!! But it took me a while to dig an escape tunnel… 😉 Yes, I find the crime ones harder to remember – they all tend to merge after a while. I wish I could steal some of Margot’s memory!

  9. Your recs just keep getting moved higher and higher on my TBR pile. The trouble is, others need to be moved lower if my world is to comply with the common physical laws of TBR piles. Perhaps I should consult Einstein and Brian Greene. I’m sure particle physics and string theory could change the playing field. To continue with this analogy, let’s consider string theory to be the net and subatomic partlcles to be the tennis balls. What role does Rafa play in my analogy?

    • HahaHA! Maybe if you read the book on Newton that will help! And if not, it will still tell you the story of the time he stuck a needle in his own eye for experimentation purposes! (There’s another little tale to tell your son…) Rafa is obviously the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything…

      • Or perhaps you were in bed for school the next day, FF – after all, it was more than 30 years ago lol! When I was a student, you didn’t really have a TV as they were still pretty expensive, unlike today. And it didn’t bother us! I worked in the Boston Pizza Precinct in Gibson Street nearly every night, anyway, but the rest of the time…I don’t know, we spent time with pals (and I found a dead body in the close next door!)

  10. I have The Earthquake Bird on my kindle so should get around to reading it! I read Glass Geishas about the same time I bought it which is why it fell down the bottom of my TBR pile I guess…

    • Oh, I haven’t read that one! I read two or three of her books in a spate around that time, then decided to have a gap before reading the rest – and of course never got around to going back. Doing these Five of the Best posts is reminding me of loads of authors I meant to look out for – oh, dear! 😉

    • Thanks! 🙂 I reckon The Way Things Were is bound to be one of the books of this year, even though it’s only Feb. I’m tipping it for a Booker nomination… Hope you enjoy it!

  11. I like this idea – hope you don’t mind if I do it too?

    I haven’t come across the Newton book before, but it really interests me, as I found Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton by Philip Kerr fascinating,historical crime fiction, set in 1696 when Newton was the Warden of the Royal Mint. Newton and the Counterfeiter has gone on my wishlist – I don’t know whether to thank you or not 🙂

    • Absolutely! It’s great fun to do actually – I’ve been really enjoying reminding myself of the books I’ve read over the years. It’s actually Cleo’s idea though, but I’m sure she’d be delighted if more people join in!

      Now that does sound interesting and I really haven’t read enough historical crime recently, so thanks for the recommendation. And you added the Margaret Skea book to my list yesterday. Hope you enjoy the Newton book! 🙂

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