For one, I'd suggest beginning with some Dorothy Whipple. As 2010 began, I had a nice little stack of books on my nightstand, each of which was making me happy. They Were Sisterswas pleasing me most of all. This is the story of, yes, three sisters, and their relationships with one another and with their own families. One sister became caregiver to the others quite early on so she remains a bit of an authority figure to them. These three sisters are married, one to a somewhat dull but very solid presence, one to a loving husband whom she does not respect, and one to an abusive and degrading man. It is worth mentioning that Whipple creates a sense of fear surrounding this abusive man, and yet there is no physical violence, he abuses with his words and attitude.
How very difficult it is to describe what is so wonderful about Dorothy Whipple, why her books are just so readable, for that is what they are. Characters are fully and honestly drawn, and the drama all happens at home or in the minds of the characters. Whipple's books are not the sort that would be termed cozy; there is a great amount of discord and unrest here, and one hopes that there will be a happy ending for someone, at least. All in all, totally satisfying for me and it is all I can do to stop myself from plowing through my other Whipples right now.
Another book that started off my year right was John Harwood's The Seance. I had wanted to read this ever since I first heard about it, despite my slight disappointment in the ending of his previous novel, The Ghost Writer. The Seance has many elements that I enjoy; a Victorian setting, a mystery, somewhat of a story within a story. In a nutshell, Constance Langton has had a disappointing childhood, and as a young woman finds that she has inherited an old country mansion Wraxford Hall. But this is no ordinary mansion, as Constance is advised, amongst other strange occurrences, people have vanished into thin air. The middle part of the book is told from several perspectives, detailing the mysteries surrounding Wraxford, then for the ending we go back to Constance for a final adventure. I liked this book a good deal, but something occurred to me; I think I like John Harwood's writing better than his plotting. Sometimes things get a bit far-fetched, or complicated, but it's all beautifully told. Another book to recommend, and an author to watch, for sure.