Hope Mirrlees - Lud-in-the-Mist: This is such a classic that I'm mildly embarrassed about never having read it before. It turns out it's utterly gorgeous. Plot-wise it's incredibly simple (middle class townspeople threatened by the smuggling into town of fairy fruit - I'm tempted to describe it as a crime thrille) and I wondered when I started reading if it was going to be pretty and insubstantial. It's not, it's gloriously ambiguous and lyrical and full of light and shadow. I'm very tempted now to reread The King of Elfland's Daughter (published a couple of years before Mirrlees' book) and see how it compares.
Sarah MacLean - The Season: I didn't enjoy this one at all. I suspect this is in part because I'm used to reading Regency mystery/romances for grown-ups, who are expected to be familiar with the setting. Having things explained for young readers (and heroines who are modern teenagers in empire line dresses) really put me off.
Kate Hewitt - The Greek Tycoon's Reluctant Bride: Read because someone at work thought my reaction would amuse them. This proved to be the case.
Elif Batuman - The Possessed: I reviewed this for the Indian Express and talked a little more about my reaction to it here.
Tom McCarthy - Tintin and the Secret of Literature: I'm still not sure what the big "secret" turned out to be, unless it was that 'popular' literature is as fruitful a ground for literary criticism as capital L Literature. This was still tremendous fun to read; McCarthy bombards the Tintin books with multiple sorts of theory and in the process succeeds in writing a book whose main point seems to be look, look, theory can give you so much to play with. Which it can, of course, and this is one reason why I like it, but I suspect if you're the sort of person who likes that sort of thing you already know this.
Samit Basu - Terror on the Titanic: Nothing I say about this book could possibly be unbiased - not only is Samit a friend but the book is published by my employers. So you might want to keep that in mind when I claim that this book is funny and smart and utterly silly, and that the Morningstar Agency series looks to be a strange (and hilarious) mixture of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the Bartimaeus trilogy. But also I'm right.
Stephenie Meyer - The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: I'm not a fan of Stephenie Meyer, as this old, desperately trying to be fair, post probably makes clear. Still, I'd read all four Twilight books, and thought that this novella, removed from the main story of the series, might avoid some of its major flaws. Plus someone on Twitter dared me.
I'm sure I came to the book prejudiced against it. Still, it was remarkably bad. Meyer continues to be unable to create a real, flawed, likeable character for her narrator, and if she has gained in self-awareness since writing the first of the books (I'm choosing to believe that certain choices she made were deliberate) her prose is still frequently cringeworthy.
I did giggle at the "Hulk smash!" bit though.
Edmund Crispin - Holy Disorders: This was my first Gervase Fen book, though I've had friends accost me and read out bits of others in the past. It made me accost people and read out bits. I was rather alarmed by the ending (basically, some people are just evil. and it might be genetic.) but it was a fun read.
John Mortimer - The Antisocial Behaviour of Horace Rumpole/Rumpole Misbehaves: I've read only a few of the Rumpole books. I was surprised to see how comparatively recent this one was (2007). I know Mortimer died last year and I think this may have been his last book, but iPods in Rumpole are a bit jarring. Still, it was extremely funny.
Susan Stephens - The Italian Prince's Proposal: Discussed here.
Julia Quinn - To Catch an Heiress and How to Marry a Marquis: Lumped together because they are a duology. I love Quinn. She's utterly reliable; likeable, frivolous romances with plenty of witty banter. These two books, involving aristocratic agents of the Crown and the women who love them, aren't her best, but they're still fun. How to Marry a Marquis is better because it involves Lady Danbury (familiar to readers of other Quinn books) and a woman dressed as a pumpkin.
Julia Quinn - What Happens in London: I said I liked Quinn. This book, though, deserves a seperate entry, because nothing else will demonstrate. It has spies. It has possibly evil Russians. It has couples who bond over reading bad books to each other. This is entirely similar to my own romantic life except for the spies and possibly evil Russians. It is the most delicious piece of froth since Loretta Chase's The Devil's Delilah. Also:
There were really no words to describe it.The sequel-of-sorts, Ten Things I Love About You, was out this month, and I should be getting my copy any day now. The Booksmugglers do not seem to be bowled over, but I can trust Quinn to at least be amusing.
She stood in the doorway, thinking this would be a fine time to create a list titled Things I Do Not Expect To See in My Drawing Room, but she was not sure she could come up with anything that topped what she did see in her drawing room, which was Sebastian Grey, standing atop a table, reading (with great emotion) from Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron. If that weren’t enough—and it really ought to have been enough, since what was Sebastian Grey doing at Rudland House, anyway?—Harry and the prince were sitting side by side on the sofa, and neither appeared to have suffered bodily harm at the hands of the other.
That was when Olivia noticed the three housemaids, perched on a settee in the corner, gazing at Sebastian with utter rapture. One of them might even have had tears in her eyes. And there was Huntley, standing off to the side, openmouthed, clearly overcome with emotion.
“‘Grandmother! Grandmother!’” Sebastian was saying, his voice higher pitched than usual. “‘Don’t go. I beg of you. Please, please don’t leave me here all by myself.’”
One of the housemaids began to quietly weep.
“Priscilla stood in front of the great house for several minutes, a small, lonely figure watching her grandmother’s hired carriage speed down the lane and disappear from view. She had been left on the doorstep at Fitzgerald Place, deposited like an unwanted bundle.”
Another housemaid began to sniffle. All three were holding hands.
“And no one”—Sebastian’s voice dropped to a breathy, dramatic register—“knew she was there. Her grandmother had not even knocked upon the door to alert her cousins of her arrival.”
Huntley was shaking his head, his eyes wide with shock and sorrow. It was the most emotion Olivia had ever seen the butler display.
Sebastian closed his eyes and placed one hand on his heart. “She was but eight years old.”
He closed the book.
Silence. Utter silence. Olivia looked about the room, realizing no one knew she was there.
P.G Wodehouse - Young Men in Spats: Wodehouse. Short stories. Idiotic young men, love, nudity, Tennyson, animals, and that one story where Uncle Fred breaks into a random house and furthers the cause of young love. I've read them all before, but they're still delightful.
Chris Lavers - The Natural History of the Unicorn: Leavers traces the various possible origin stories for the unicorn - not just the physical features of the animal (and how they change over time) but all the other bits that go into making up the myth. And then he looks at all those bits in the contexts of the societies that added them to the myth, and...I tried to explain what this book was to a colleague and baffled her completely. I really enjoyed it - it's clever, frequently very witty, and I like fantastic beasts. Leavers doesn't come to any solid conclusions, only suggesting directions to think along, and I appreciated that. It was excellent, and I think I'll be using it in the future; not for anything specifically unicorn-related, but as a pointer to how myths come into being.
Robert Holdstock - Avilion: Holdstock's last book affected me in much the same way as the first one I read did. It's a more direct sequel to Mythago Wood than Lavondyss was (I have not yet read The Hollowing or Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn). In the past I've always had to read Holdstock books twice - once to feel them (he is an incredibly sensual writer) and once because the being caught up in the feel of the book means that I don't engage with the intellectual aspect that he also brings. On a first read, this is beautiful, though I don't think it quite lives up to Mythago Wood. On a second - we'll see.
* Edit - I'm not sure how Chris Lavers ended up being credited as David. Wtf, brain. Sorry Mr Lavers!