2012 The Year in Reading and Other Bookish Things


 “I am in fact, a hobbit in all but size” J.R.R Tolkien

I have been enjoying a rather Hobbity holiday. This is usually the time of the year I start reading Lord of the Rings, and watching the movies (my new Blu Ray boxed set this year) but I don’t always read The Hobbit before I start LOTR, in fact I will usually read it later. Having read it directly before I started Fellowship of the Ring I was able to enjoy it more as a prequel, more than usual in any case. I sometimes forget the references to Dale and the Mountain during Bilbo’s birthday party, the last chapter in The Lord of the Rings in which we are still allowed to be children.

Of course we had been looking forward to The Hobbit movie all year, and it did not fail to disappoint. Our traditional Boxing Day cinema day was at Imax this year, which was very nearly a disaster. As a rule I don’t usually go to first sessions in 3D (from a past experience where they couldn’t get the 3D working) so I booked the early afternoon session for us. When we got to the absolutely packed Imax cinema we went downstairs to wait in line. 30 minutes past the start of the session time we were still waiting and rumours were floating around that the projector had broken. This caused everything from tears to outrage to people looking extremely ill. We were fortunate they fixed it (we got in about 45 minutes later) as when we got home we discovered the people in the first session had been ejected after the projector broke.

Also,  not cleaning the lens,  leaving fibres magnified to enormous proportions on the screen through the whole film was distracting and not acceptable.

Also I couldn’t use my new Oakley 3D glasses Craig got me for Christmas, and every time I tilted my head the screen blurred.

Needless to say, Imax is now on my mortal enemy list.

Our second viewing was in 48 frames the following Sunday. It certainly is impressive, it’s outstanding in a CGI-heavy film, but it took me much longer to get used to than I thought it would. I thought I’d be good after ten minutes but it took me most of the film to “not notice” it. I have planned one last viewing, and I’ll probably see it in regular 24 fps 3D. No distractions.

The movie itself? Just perfect. Everything I wanted and more. And better than LOTR, as I was expecting it to be. I read an interesting article today which was talking about the critics panning it. I was surprised, of course, until I started reading the sort of comments the critics were making. My favourite stupid remark was any reference to the “necromancer”-cum-Sauron in The Hobbit is merely “Jackson cross-promoting his earlier films,”

Really? If you’re not familiar with the vast world of Middle Earth and are wondering why Jackson chose to make three films I suggest you read the following article

Dislike Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit? Then You Don’t Know Tolkien

And behold,  my Tolkien reading pile. Fear it.



Back to last years reading, I read far too many…

History Books

I haven’t checked exactly how many I read on my Goodreads list but it was a many-month quest until my brain started screaming in protest. Tudor history to be exact, many good, and a few very bad.

Favourite history book this year goes to Julia Fox’s Sister Queens and she’s on my favourite historian list again. Julia Fox has taken a much-maligned woman in history and turned history on its head, again.

Worst history book I read last year was The Boleyns by David Loades. Loades is usually a lauded historian so I was expecting far better, and at least accurate information, and I got little.

This brings me to my beef with Amberley Publishing (who published Loades’ last book and will be publishing his next one). Currently cashing in on the Tudor craze, Amberley are releasing Tudor History books at an alarming rate. Historians don’t usually release one book a year, they’re not writing fiction, and I suspect most of the stuff they are publishing is flimsy, and forced. I bought three of their books last year and only found one of them mildly satisfying.

Also,  re-releasing the truly appalling “biography” of Anne Boleyn by Norah Lofts is going too far.

And an excellent birthday present from Craig…


Nugæ Antiquæ by Sir John Harington, from the library of Thomas Philip de Grey, 2nd Earl de Grey of Wrest Park and where I suspect Volume II may still reside. This one came from Ireland, where he was Lord Lieutenant from 1841 to 1844

Now onto…

Historical Fiction

Which I did tell myself I wouldn’t read too much of this year, but I did. A lot when I was sick in bed with the flu, but I did discover one gem.

Susan Higginbotham’s, Her Highness, The Traitor hands down, the best Tudor historical fiction I have read to date. While I don’t think complete historical accuracy is absolutely necessary, it is really wonderful to read a book that is historically accurate with excellent storytelling.

I should also mention Philippa Gregory’s The Kingmaker’s Daughter , the latest instalment in the Cousins War series. This book focused on Anne Neville, and the series is starting to come together beautifully. The crossover of the events from The White Queen from a different character’s point-of-view was superb. Philippa also released an interesting YA novel this year, Changeling. Don’t let the publisher’s blurb fool you, this isn’t the usual paranormal fare. It’s historical with a nice throwback to older children’s mystery books, and I loved it.

I think I am the only person in the world who hated  Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel. Truly.

And onto…

Fantasy Books

I did not read nearly enough new fantasy books this year, I only read half-a-dozen and mostly young adult. I read my first Garth Nix (and was lucky enough to meet him at an author talk this year) A Confusion of Princes and am planning on reading a lot more of his books soon.

I also really enjoyed Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, although I didn’t quite buy her  protagonist as a cold-blooded assassin (always difficult in YA books when there’s the inevitable love-triangle) I enjoyed the story-telling, and I enjoyed Celaena. And the candy.

Worst fantasy book, Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. Jorgy-Porgy hardly made my blood run cold, I spent most of the book scoffing at him.

Also people please check the actual definition of sociopath, a much over-used word. I know it sounds really cool to say aloud , but it doesn’t apply to everyone who behaves badly.

We certainly did get a lot of visitors to the blog after that review. Thanks Mark.

I bought a couple of  Tolkien-related books, The Art of the Hobbit with Tolkien’s complete artwork for The Hobbit and a stunning signed and numbered deluxe edition of Cor Blok’s Tolkien artwork, A Tolkien Tapestry: Pictures to Accompany The Lord of the Rings. Cor Blok ‘s illustrations appeared on the covers of the Dutch editions and Tolkien himself owned two of his paintings. This is one of my favourites, Riddles in the Dark



On Children’s Books

I didn’t start reading many until later in the year, some time after I had finished a whole lot of history books, but I read steadily until my traditional pre-Christmas Chronicles of Narnia re-read.

Note to self: change reading order of Narnia from publisher’s recommended chronological order to C.S Lewis’s published order. Or I will spend Christmas morning sobbing over the turkey again as Narnia falls.

I started off with a few Noel Streatfeild, who is, in a word, gorgeous. Favourite so far is Thursday’s Child.

I managed to get the rest of the sequels to Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C O’Brien, his daughter Jane Leslie Conly, who did a wonderful job on them.

Much earlier in the year I read the Wind in the Willows for the first time since having it read to me more than 25 years ago. I then discovered the sequels by William Horwood. You can read about my Wanders in the Willows here. I think Horwood wrote flawless sequels to these books, and they are probably the best continuation of a classic I have ever read. They also led to much weeping.

The Song of Pentecost by W.J Corbett was a real find. It follows the quest of a tribe of harvest mice leaving their home which is being overrun by humans and pollution. There are two sequels which I also read, but the first book was my favourite.

“And ever the stars in their millions shone down
on the world, and it’s folk
for they shall
we all shall, have stars”

(From the Ballad of Fox of Furrowfield)

But the best for last…


I think the greatest treasures I came across this year was Nicholas Stuart Gray. Nicholas Stuart Gray’s books have not been reprinted, and are really rather difficult to get hold of. I discovered them a few years ago as a bookseller, but had never read them. Cassandra Golds (one of my favourite authors) is a big fan of his books and I had seen her mention him often enough to rouse my curiosity.  Earlier in the year I started putting a few aside for myself, a small collection of six books so far. Then early in December I read one, then another three in rapid succession. I really could not put them down, they are weird and wonderful, both humorous and grave, and they have an amazing and surprising depth to them.


And now, Farewell…


Maurice Sendak










Margaret Mahy










Jan Berenstain











Nina Bawden











Ray Bradbury











Bryce Courtenay











Professor Eric Ives