1) The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst - I saw the miniseries which was beautiful and I'm looking forward to reading the book. I'm expecting modernist style of writing, just like Proust's or (from what I've heard) Henry James'. I hope I won't be disappointed.
Set in the United Kingdom in the early to mid-1980s, the story surrounds the post-Oxford life of the protagonist, Nick Guest. As the novel begins, Nick moves into the household of the Fedden family, comprising his friend, crush, and fellow Oxford graduate Toby; Toby's eccentric sister Catherine; their wealthy and aristocratic mother, Rachel; and their Thatcher-obsessed father, Gerald, a newly-elected MP for the Conservative Party. Nick has his first romance with a black council worker, Leo, but a later relationship with Wani, the son of a rich Lebanese businessman, illuminates the ruthlessness of 1980s Thatcherite Britain. The book explores the tension between Nick's intimate relationship with the Feddens, in whose parties and holidays he participates, and the realities of his sexuality and gay life, which the Feddens accept only to the extent of never mentioning it. It explores themes of hypocrisy, homosexuality, madness and wealth, with the emerging AIDS crisis forming a backdrop to the book's conclusion.
2) The Observations - Jane Harris - Compared to Sarah Waters, one of my favourites, and the summary looks good and original for once (set in the victorian era, the diary of a feisty servant), the reviews are excellent. A beheaded woman on the cover - it's getting old, really and it's especially ironic since really Harris' point was to give a voice to the subaltern. Never mind.
When she runs away from Glasgow in the early 1860s, departing so precipitously that she leaves her overcoat behind, teenage Bessy Buckley knows all too well the sordid, ugly life she is leaving behind. However, not even her own powerful imagination can prepare her for the strange new life that awaits her. Through Bessy’s narrative, which she relates with both gritty humor and heartrending pathos, the reader enters the world and mind of a Victorian working-class girl and shares in her none-too-gentle passage toward self-knowledge and independence.
3) The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson - It was cheap and I can't find a cheap copy of A Company of Swans. Ibbotson is a favourite of Jo Rowling's. So far all her favourites have become mine as well (Jessica Mitford, Jane Austen, Dodie Smith) so I'm looking forward to reading it. Philip Pullman blurbed it, it's always a plus in my book.
Under Platform 13 in one of London's busiest trains stations is an old, forgotten doorway covered with peeling posters. Little do the Londoners know that behind that door is the entrance to a magical kingdom - an island where humans live in harmony and happiness with mermaids, ogres, hags, mistmakers.
4) Me and Orson Welles by Robert Kaplow - Good summary, want to read it before seeing the movie starring Claire Danes and gorgeous Patrick Kennedy in a minor role.
In November, 1937, Richard Samuels, 17, a high school senior drifting relatively painlessly through school and relationships, feels there might be more to life.
5) Debs at War by Anne de Courcy - Non-fiction about débutantes during the Second World War, subject matter sounded interesting.
Pre-war debutantes were members of the most protected, not to say isolated, stratum of 20th-century society: the young (17-20) unmarried daughters of the British upper classes. For most of them, the war changed all that for ever. It meant independence and the shock of the new, and daily exposure to customs and attitudes that must have seemed completely alien to them. This book will record, in their own voices where possible, the extraordinary diversity of challenges, shocks and responsibilities they faced - as chauffeurs, couriers, ambulance-drivers, nurses, pilots, spies, decoders, factory workers, farmers, land girls, as well as in the Women's Services. How much did class barriers really come down? Did they stick with their own sort? And what about fun and love in wartime - did love cross the class barriers?
6) A Rambling Fancy: In the Footsteps of Jane Austen by Caroline Sanderson - Published before it was fashionable to write a book about Jane.
Following in Jane Austen's footsteps, Sanderson tramps the muddy fields around Austen's childhood home in rural Hampshire, walks the elegant streets of Bath, and strolls along the breezy promenades of south coast resort.
7) The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy - Warmly recommended by, among others, Kristin Cashore, and I was so happy to find one of her books was still in print, they're hard to find.
While gathered together for the Christmas holiday, a large New Zealand family and their various guests and hangers-on find their lives suddenly invaded by three fascinating but rather sinister brothers and by New Year nothing is the same again.
8) February House by Sherill Tippins - Non fiction, one of those biographies of a group of artists during WWII, sounded interesting.
From 1940 to 1941, WH Auden and Benjamin Britten shared a house in Brooklyn with Paul and Jane Bowles, Carson McCullers and Gypsy Rose Lee, among others. The house was established as an artistic and intellectual community, and Tippins brings to life the rise and fall of the group, exploring the role of art in the first years of World War II as these creative geniuses struggled with the conflict of what to do with so much creativity when the world was so close to chaos.
9) Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb - Warmly recommended, looks good for my fantasy/sf challenge this year. The summary is frightening if you're aware of my history with high fantasy, but it never hurts to try again.
A glorious classic fantasy combining the magic of Ursula Le Guin's The Wizard of Earthsea with the epic Mastery of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Now reissued in gorgeous new livery. Fitz is a royal bastard, cast out into the world with only his magical link with animals for solace and companionship. But When Fitz is adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and learn a new life; weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly. Meanwhile, raiders ravage the coasts, leaving people soulless. As Fitz grows towards manhood, he will have to face his first terrifying mission, a task that poses as much risk to himself as it does to his target: for Fitz is a threat to the throne ! but he may also be the key to the future of the kingdom.
10) Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland - I first heard about it on Bas Bleu's website. I love impressionism, and I want to read books on the subject, fiction or non-fiction.
Imagining the banks of the Seine in the thick of la vie moderne, Vreeland (Girl in Hyacinth Blue) tracks Auguste Renoir as he conceives, plans and paints the 1880 masterpiece that gives her vivid fourth novel its title. Vreeland achieves a detailed and surprising group portrait, individualized and immediate.
11) Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip - Lyrical prose apparently, a fantasy author I'd like to discover. I read it was a good place to start.
As an infant, Nepenthe was abandoned by her mother on the edge of a cliff so high no one can hear the sea below. Nepenthe was raised by the librarians of the Royal Library of Raine, and knows little of the outside world beyond what she reads. She has a gift for translation, and she alone has a chance of translating a newly arrived book, a mysterious tome written in an alien alphabet that resembles thorns. But Nepenthe has fallen in love with the high-born student-mage who brings her the book. And the thorns are exerting a strange power over her--a magic that may destroy not only Nepenthe, but the kingdom of Raine and the entire world.
I gave in when I read this magnificent review by Publishers Weekly :
"Best of all, the strong female leads neither rail against nor submit to patriarchy. In this magical world blissfully free of bias, people are simply themselves, equally intelligent and witty and thoroughly capable while prone to the occasional error, in a manner that transcends feminism and becomes a celebration of essential humanity."
That's all, folks!
That's all, folks!