Top 10 ‘To Read’ List 2016

Hey folks, how are we all?

Today’s post is basically a little reminder of all the books I want to read/finish reading this year. After I finished uni last year I vowed I’d find the time to actually pick up the books I’d been dying to read for ages, and while that exercise was partially successful, unfortunately as with everything, ‘real-life’ tends to get in the way.

This post is no different, and much like I did last year, I’ve compiled a list of the novels and non-fiction works that I’m planning on reading (and reviewing) when I get a little down time.

So, lets crack on!

1  The Life of Charlotte Bronte – Elizabeth Gaskell

If you have no possibility of ever meeting your idol, it seems natural to want to ask someone who has. Of course, why I never bothered to read this before now is beyond me, it would have been helpful for my dissertation. Still, too little too late!

For those who don’t know, Elizabeth Gaskell was a fellow novelist and friend of Charlotte’s. I believe they met following the success of Jane Eyre, after her (Bronte’s) publisher encouraged her to make a few more frequent trips to London. While Charlotte and Elizabeth weren’t extremely close friends, they did get on well enough for her father, Patrick Bronte, to approach Gaskell to write a biography of his daughters life.

Unfortunately for Gaskell, this work was to turn out her most famous , her own fictional novels were (and still are) sidelined due to the world’s fascination with her quiet, brooding friend.

Lucky for me, I was given this book as a birthday present by a very special friend. I started reading it pretty much straight away and have continued to try reading it as often as I can. It hasn’t been a particularly easy read so far, Gaskell likes to add a lot of somewhat unnecessary detail (particularly when she starts adding her own little stories into the mix), though I suppose for someone who knows barely anything about Charlotte or the area she grew up in, a book like this would be a gift.

For me, it’s nice to learn little details about the way the house was run, or read first-hand accounts of the Bronte children from the parsonage servants. Things you don’t really have access to from a more modern text.

I’m hoping this text will become a bible for me when I go back to University. My intention is to continue focusing on Charlotte’s work, and it’s impossible to do so at post-grad level without having read this book!

2  Charlotte Bronte: A Life – Claire Harman

There’s a theme emerging here…

Once again, two lovely friends bought me this book as a Christmas present. They imageknew how badly I wanted this book and how I couldn’t really afford to be treating myself given I had so much to pay for over Christmas, so they clubbed together and I was so grateful!

To be honest, my reading Gaskell’s biography and then reading another Harman’s biography is basically reading the same thing twice, but I don’t really care. The beauty of reading a modern biography is that the author has the ability to draw upon a wider range of sources than what Gaskell might have had.

I’ll probably end up reading something else to break up the Bronte hype a little bit. You can have too much of a good thing.

3  The Rise of Thomas Cromwell – Michael Everett

I bought this book AGES ago when I’d managed to find the time to do nothing but read, pretty much morning, noon and night.

I’ve been interested in Tudor England since primary school, not just because of Henry and his wives (although Anne Boleyn’s story is quite fascinating) but because of the types of people Henry surrounded himself with in court.

The significance of Cromwell has been focused on more in recent years with the publication of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies (incidentally, I mentioned that novel in my previous ‘to read’ list and needless to say, I haven’t managed it yet), and the recent TV adaptation of Wolf Hall shown in early 2015. From there I’ve noticed a few more books appearing on the shelves that document Cromwell’s life, and this one caught my eye first.

What I find quite fascinating about Cromwell’s life is the multitude of roles he had, from his father’s assistant as a blacksmith, a soldier in wars across Europe and then settling himself as the king’s right hand man. In a society obsessed with money and titles, you could say Cromwell would have been an early poster boy for the Labour party, self-made man and all that…

Anyway, I have a feeling I’ll be separating my Bronte hype with this one!

4  Aussie Grit: My Formula One Journey – Mark Webber

Anyone who knows me well enough will know I love motorsport. I only became interested in the sport about 5 years ago because a friend enjoyed it and I was sort of intrigued. For whatever reason, I became hooked on it and have impressed the same friend with the amount of knowledge I’ve acquired in that short time.

imageWhen I started watching races Mark Webber was still racing for Red Bull, alongside who I like to describe as the Justin Bieber of F1, Sebastian Vettel. If I remember rightly, Webber only drove for another year before retiring from F1, moving to the Porsche Endurance Series instead, largely because Red Bull weren’t giving him the respect he deserved as a damn good driver. Instead they were more interested in keeping their poster boy and spoilt brat, Vettel happy.

Still, Mark released his autobiography from kind-of out of the blue, which was a happy surprise for me as I’d always liked him while he was racing in F1. I think it will be a really great insight into the amount of hard work that goes in to racing and actually being able to get a drive in F1 in the first place.

I think a lot of people imagine these drivers to just show up on a race weekend, drive fast for a few hours and then return to their mansions in L.A or Monaco and continue living the good life until the next week. With drivers releasing autobiography’s like this, it proves people wrong and gives young drivers a good idea of exactly how hard they need to work, and how determined they have to be to reach the top.

Yeah, I’m looking forward to reading this one!

5  Absolute Pandemonium – Brian Blessed

I feel like I should be writing this part out in capital letters…

But I won’t.

Brian came to Chester last year for the ‘Literature Festival’ and I did have tickets to see him with a friend. Sadly work got in the way and instead of hearing Brian talk about his life for way longer than his allotted time (I’m not sure anyone really gave a shit though, who would want to be the guy to say stop in that situation?), I was stuck in a staff meeting about how we were going to manage the Christmas period in store.

Still, my friend went on his own and kindly bought me a copy of Brian’s book, signed by him with my name on the title page. My friend told him I was a fellow Yorkshire-person and upon asking where I was from (Bradford) he said it was ‘very central’, which I thought a very diplomatic answer for such a diverse city.

His achievements constantly amaze me (I’m pretty sure he’s going to space sometime soon – how awesome!) and I’m sure his book will be just as good!

6  Play On – Mick Fleetwood

Not a great deal of fiction on this list is there? Oh well!image

I’ve had this book in my possession since the middle of last year and had planned on reading it after finishing Stephen Fry’s 3rd autobiography. Then I ended up reading another Bronte book instead.

Still, this book remains on my list because who doesn’t want to read about what Fleetwood Mac got up to back in the day?! The band are famous for their relationships with each other (maybe more-so than Abba), so you can guarantee its going to make for good reading.

I realise that makes me sound super shallow, but never mind.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte

Ah finally, some fiction!

I mentioned in my previous ‘to read’ post that I wanted to read this book, because I’d never actually read anything by Anne Bronte. I think she’s the sister everyone tends to forget about, myself included, sitting in the shadow of her sisters’ success.

She wrote two novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and my decision to start with the latter comes down to recommendation from my dissertation tutor.

My tutor recommended I read the novel in order to include it in my dissertation, but I decided against it as I didn’t really have enough time. Instead I figured I’d devote time to reading it after university, where I didn’t have the pressure of assignments on my shoulders.

I started reading it while ‘on holiday’ (I was actually helping my friend navigate his narrowboat from Dewsbury to Chester) but went back to work and couldn’t find the time for whatever reason.

Though I stopped reading it a little while ago, I know I had thoroughly enjoyed all I’d read up to then. So far, I’ve found Anne’s writing the easiest to understand of all the Bronte sister’s work; this novel might be a good one to ease new readers into the Bronte family works. I’ll get back to you on that one later!

8  Gulag Archipelago – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Yet again, I started reading this AGES ago and drifted away from it.

IMG_0971The Gulag Archipelago is basically a collection of accounts from survivors of what was basically a series of enormous concentration camps within Russia to quell any anti-communist-government action.

Solzhenitsyn was a prisoner within these camps for years before he was eventually released. He lived for a few years in exile, in that time he wrote to raise global awareness of the Gulag and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 as a result.

This is by no means an easy read, it’s probably why I’ve only managed to read this book in stages. Solzhenitsyn certainly doesn’t sugar coat anything, expect graphic descriptions of treatment of the dead, the half-dead and the living. I suppose it needed to be brutally honest in order to have maximum impact on the reader.

While I plan to continue reading it, I think I’ll keep dipping in and out of it when I’m feeling brave.

9  Villette – Charlotte Bronte


I’ve read this before, but I’ve decided I want to give this another go. My reason being, I just didn’t enjoy this as much as I had Jane Eyre and The Professor. I hate to say it, but I found the novel very long-winded and lacking in plot movement.

When I think back to reading it the first time, I can only remember forcing myself to get through long passages of Lucy Snowe (the protagonist) sitting somewhere alone thinking about all her problems, in the hope that something interesting will happen. Looking back I think it’s a pretty harsh opinion to have, which is why I’m quite eager to re-read it and give it a fair second chance. I struggle to believe that after writing something like Jane Eyre, she could follow up with a novel so dull.

Critics say Villette, like Jane Eyre is semi-autobiographical, or at least reminiscent of Bronte’s time in Belgium as a school tutor. It’s not difficult to pick out the similarities between the two lives, I suppose that’s why I want to read it again, especially after reading Gaskells biography. Hopefully I’ll thank myself later!

10  The Romanovs: 1613 – 1918 – Simon Sebag Montefiores

This book I spotted while browsing the Waterstones website, newly released at the end of January, so new I don’t actually own a copy yet!

Still, the Romanov family are a fascinating group. Russian history generally is so imageinteresting to read, very gruesome in quite a few places but fascinating to see the difference between the English and the Russians.

I suppose the Romanovs are most famous for their association with the monk Rasputin and their horrific downfall as a result, but their influence on Russia has gone on far longer than that. I mean, it’s worth reading just to see if the rumours about Catherine the Great and her horses are really true *cough cough*.

The last time I read something about Russian history (aside from the afore-mentioned Gulag Archipelago) was a few years ago by Martin Sixsmith, who wrote an account of its history, going back 1,000 years. While the book was great for getting a broad picture, it isn’t good for getting an in depth account of certain periods or aspects of Russia’s culture. I suspect with this book I’ll be immersed in the world of Russian royalty, like real-life War and Peace. 

There we have it, the whole list ready to work through. It seems I have a lot to crack on with!

Do you have a ‘to-read’ list? Are there any titles you’ll be reading yourself?

Comment below and let me know!

Till next time,

love, Leigh 


Like this post? Why not check out Book Review: The Children Act – Ian McEwan or My Top 5 ‘To-Read’ List 

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