December 31, 2008

2008 - The Best of The Best

I have managed to read 73 books in total this year - I'm pretty happy with that but admit I would like to do even more reading in 2009 if possible. I find I am having less and less time to read so I will have to look into that!
When going through my list to find my best reads of 2008 I was keeping note of quite a few books but I am going to be brutal and just list my top five reads of this year.

1. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
This book just simply blew my mind when I read it early in the year - I raved about it to everyone I met. In some ways such a simple premise (having 'death' as the narrator of the story) but the setting, characters and storyline combine to make this book incredible and moving. I rarely cry when reading books but this one had me sobbing. That's not to say it is all doom, gloom and tragedy - there is a lot of hope written throughout this story. Easily my best read of 2008.

2. Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
When I read this book in August I claimed that I had found a new favourite author and I'm going to stand by that claim now. I was not a short story reader at all before discovering Lahiri's work but I sure am now. These stories are so simple and yet amazing at the same time. If you haven't read this one I suggest you do!

3. A Room With A View - E.M. Forster
I read this book for the Classics Challenge (which I unfortunately didn't finish in time but that's another story!). I had seen movie versions of the book before but this was my first time actually reading the story - and I absolutely loved it. I am an E.M. Forster convert now and am currently reading Howards End.

4. The Hour I First Believed - Wally Lamb
It had been a long wait for a new Wally Lamb book so, the truth be told, I was probably going to have this on my list no matter what it was like! Having said that though, this book was an epic, fantastic read.

5. Case Histories - Kate Atkinson
The book that brought me back to the crime genre - an area I hadn't really read in since my high school days. Kate Atkinson's writing is so absorbing - I found myself not being able to put this one down until I had reached the end - and then I just wanted more!

So, there it is - my top 5 reads of 2008. I keep looking over my list and seeing so many wonderful books that have missed out - maybe I should have done a top 10...

December 27, 2008

When Will There Be Good News? - Kate Atkinson

I think the discovery of Kate Atkinson has been one of my greatest reading discoveries this year. When Will There Be Good News? was my third book of hers read this year and I loved it just as much as the other 2 books in the Jackson Brodie "series".

The description of the book from the author's website:

In rural Devon, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses an appalling crime. Thirty years later the man convicted of the crime is released from prison. In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie works as a nanny for a G.P. But Dr Hunter has gone missing and Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried.Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling towards her is an old friend -- Jackson Brodie -- himself on a journey that becomes fatally interrupted.

I am not usually a crime reading type of gal - this is an area I am now working in to some degree so I like to take my reading for fun away from this subject - but I am loving Kate Atkinson's novels. Her writing is funny, sharp and sarcastic (all traits I possibly see in myself at times!). For whatever reason I find myself connecting with the characters and the story lines. I'm only hoping there is more Jackson Brodie to come...

December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas everyone!

We had a lovely Christmas day and everyone was extremely spoilt! I actually didn't receive all that many bookish presents apart from the new Anita Shreve book, Testimony, from my parents.

My favourite present came from my boy - a gorgeous Royal Albert collectable tea cup and saucer set (I collect tea cups and love having tea parties and pretending I live in the early 1900's!).

Hope everyone's day was peaceful and happy.

December 20, 2008

Weekend Book Buying

To celebrate my Birthday my partner took me away for a beautiful weekend in Sydney - staying in gorgeous accommodation in the city, partaking in High Tea and a fancy dinner, a trip to the art gallery and of course - book shopping!

I actually didn't spend up too big but did come away with some purchases;

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - ever since I knew this book was available I having been looking forward to reading it. Pride and Prejudice isn't even my favourite Jane Austen but I think it will be interesting to read this version.

I Was Told There'd Be Cake By Sloane Crosley - this is a book I've heard about in the blogging world a bit and it sounds like my type of humour so thought I might appreciate it.

How To Live Like An Italian by Annalisa Coppolaro - in keeping with my love of all things Italian I had to pick this book up. A bit of a cheesy cover but I'm hoping the content will be better!

December 17, 2008

Turning 34

Tomorrow is my 34th Birthday - and I'm not dreading it!

Ever since I was a young age I dreaded the 30's - turning 30 was a big step for me but I do seem to have survived it intact - and now I am even looking forward to being 34 - the almost mid 30's!

I think it is true what many people say about being in your 30's - you do feel (generally) more confidant and sure of who you are and what you want - and that's a pretty nice feeling!

So, I think I will truly celebrate tomorrow - not just the fact that it is my Birthday but also my age. 34 and happy about it!

December 14, 2008

The Tales of Beedle The Bard - J.K. Rowling

There was never any doubt that I was going to be buying The Tales of Beedle The Bard the day it came out. I have been a huge Harry Potter fan since the early days (although love the earlier books a lot more than the later ones in the series).

I was quite surprised when I saw The Tales of Beedle The Bard - it's only a small book, 108 pages in all with large print. I think I had been waiting so long for the book I was expecting more!

The book consists of 5 fairytales or parables about behaviour and what can happen to you if you are selfish, rude and heartless. I finished the book in one sitting last night and when I put the book down my partner asked me if it had been a good book - my answer was that it was "cute" - not sure if that is the effect J.K. Rowling was after but there you go! I can't say that the book rocked my socks off but I did enjoy it as another small piece of the Harry Potter world.

December 11, 2008

After Dark - Haruki Murakami AND Challenge Completed!

After Dark by Haruki Murakami was the last book I needed to read to complete the Orbis Terrarum Challenge - yay me!

My friend over at Thyme for Tea has also read this one and recommended it to me. This book is definitely a different reading choice for me - I tend to stay grounded very firmly in the "real" world - not reading very much fantasy/science fiction type novels and certainly not branching out into surreal worlds such as the one where Murakami takes you in this novel. Having said that, I didn't actually find reading this book such a struggle in the end - the writing is conversational and easy to follow (even if the plot wanders a little).

The main story in After Dark seems to be the relationship between two sisters, Mari and Eri. Mari is spending the night in the city - she claims she is not tired and we find out that she has reasons for not wanting to return home that night. Eri is Mari's older and more beautiful sister, she has been in a deep, sleeping beauty like sleep for two months now and Mari fears that Eri does not want to ever wake up.

Other characters enter the worlds of Mari and Eri throughout the story, probably the most likeable being the musician and budding law student, Takahashi who supports Mari at various stages throughout the long night and encourages her to talk about herself.

This book is surreal - TV's coming on for no particular reason, the narrator being able to swap views seemingly at will - but I actually didn't find it all that far removed from reality at the end - I was able to focus on the human emotion without getting caught up in the surreal elements, or at least not letting them distract me too much. I'm not sure if that is how you are supposed to read a Murakami book but it allowed me to enjoy the novel so I guess it can't be a bad thing!

December 08, 2008

Magazines can be helpful!

As well as my addiction to books I also have a growing addiction to magazines - can't get enough of them! Now that we have a local Borders store my addiction for the latest UK and American magazines can be met.

A recent purchase was the latest edition of the O at Home magazine which contains an article written by the author Ann Patchett titled "One Woman's Work". Ann writes about the battle to sustain your creative endeavours when also required to take on board the role of wife and house cleaner. This is a constant theme for me in my life - not that I'm a wife and nor do I consider myself much of a housecleaner! But I guess I'm really just really focusing on the "chores'' and duties of everyday life and how they can begin to take over - if you let them.

Ann writes;

While I had nothing but respect for homemakers, I knew I was never going to be one. Sure, I aced home ec, but it was Bellow and Roth I had really fallen for. As soon as chores were done, I would throw myself across my neatly made bed and read. I planned to follow in the footsteps of Jane Austen and Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor - no children, no husband.

The article is really inspiring and interesting to read as Ann Patchett seems to have found a way to reconcile the different requirements of her life;

When I was a child, I had a strong idea of what a writer looked like (a lonely garret in Paris, a neatly mended cardigan) and what a housewife looked like (a blur of helpful activity). But seeing as how both images are born of useless cliches, I think it's time I stopped trying to live up to either one of them.

Sounds like good advice to me - although I still rather like the sound of that lonely garret in Paris...

December 07, 2008

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (the winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize) was my second last book for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge which ends on the 20th December.

I was so glad after finishing this book that I decided to read it as my India selection for the challenge - a great book!

The White Tiger tells the story of Indian man, Balram Halwai - well, it is actually Balram who is the narrator of his own story - a conversational technique that makes the book so engaging. Balram becomes known as The White Tiger when, as a school boy, his village school is visited by a local school inspector. The inspector is poorly disappointed in the majority of the students at the school but Balram impresses and the inspector tells him he is like a white tiger - rare and special. Balram takes this message to heart and in an extremely difficult and hostile environment he moves from village resident to driver for a wealthy business man in Delhi.

This book engages the reader in Balram's story and his life - I was acutely aware at times that we were clearly being presented with only one side of the story but I think as opposed to taking away from the story this style only made it stronger.

The White Tiger is a brilliantly narrated and engaging story - looking forward to more from this author.

December 05, 2008

The Fairy Godmother Meme

I saw this meme over at Charlotte's Web and it was first developed by Aphra Behn - looks like a fun thing to think about given the gift giving and receiving season is about to be upon us!

What good gift did your Fairy Godmother actually give you?
I would have to say persistence - I tend to keep going and going until I get what I want (or what I need).
What good gift do you wish she’d given you instead?
I'd like to hold on to the persistence but I wish I also had a little patience.
What bad gift did the wicked Fairy give you?
The gift of procrastination - I have this one in droves so I feel like some others are probably missing out - I've taken their allocation!
What bad gift do you wish she’d given you?
Selfishness - or at the very least the ability to say no more often.
And finally: if you could have one magical item, what would it be?
Definitely a magic wand!

December 04, 2008

A Room With A View - E. M. Forster

I have started A Room With A View several times and have never finished it before but for some reason on this reading of it I didn't even want it to end I was enjoying it so much! I think that says a lot for reading the right book at the right time and in the right circumstances.

A Room With A View was my third book read for the Classics Challenge, I had recently watched a 2007 TV production of the novel and I absolutely loved it - much more than the Merchant Ivory film that came out a while ago - and I think this prompted me to pick up the book again.

The book tells the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a young English woman on her first trip to Italy with her obsessive and suffocating cousin, Charlotte. Whilst staying at a Pensione in Florence Lucy and Charlotte become acquainted with several other tourists, among them a Mr Emerson and his son, George.

The scenes of the book that are set in Italy are just beautiful;

From her feet the ground sloped sharply into the view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blude, eddying round the tree stems, colecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam

And the room with the view itself;

It was pleasant to wake up in Florence, to open the eyes upon a bright bare room, with a floor of red tiles which look clean though they are not; with a painted ceiling whereon pink griffins and blue amorini sport in a forest of yellow violins and bassoons. It was pleasant, too, to fling wide the windows, pinching the fingers in unfamiliar fastenings, to lean out into the sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and, close below, the Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road.

After the trip to Italy Lucy returns home to England and becomes engaged to a man whom everyone approves of but who nobody likes, even though her affections are clearly still with another.

A Room With A View is a beautiful, funny and engaging story - I'm so glad I took the time to get through it this time as it has now become one of my favourite books.

Book Lust

I was browsing through the bookshop this afternoon and found this gorgeous new book by Tessa Kiros - Venezia: Food and Dreams. Given my love of all things Italy I think this might have to be a book I buy as an early birthday present to myself - too gorgeous to resist!

December 02, 2008

Be Near Me - Andrew O'Hagan

Be Near Me was a book I was reading by Scottish author, Andrew O'Hagan, for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge.

I had first heard Andrew O'Hagan speak on one of our national radio stations and apart from being totally mesmerised by his gorgeous Scottish accent I was also drawn in to how passionately he spoke about books and writing.

Be Near Me tells the story of Father David Anderton, an English priest who has moved to a small Scottish town to work in the parish there. The story moves back and forth between the present day and David's early life growing up with his parents, his university days at Oxford and his early life in the priesthood in Rome. In present day David is clearly a lonely and disconnected man which leaves him open to building a tenuous relationship with some local high school children who in their own ways are feeling disconnected from their families and their lives. This growing friendship forms the basis for what happens in the latter parts of the story and the flashback scenes to David's past help inform us in seeing how David got to this stage of his life.

I did not find this an easy book to read in terms of the structure - it did come together at the end and all made sense but I struggled with seeing the author's path at times. Having said that, this writing is beautiful and strong - it is probably not a book that hits you with it's impact straight away (well, not for me anyway) but I know I will be thinking about it's style and content for a while to come. I will also be on the look out for more Andrew O'Hagan novels.

December 01, 2008

Challenge Progress

I have two challenges due to be completed by the end of December and I must admit I am starting to wonder if I am going to make it! I only have myself to blame - I keep getting side tracked by other books!
The first challenge due to finish is the Orbis Terrarum Challenge. This is the first challenge I signed up for after I started writing in the blogging world and I have really enjoyed it. I still have 3 books to finish before the challenge ends on December 20th. I am half way through The Mandarins by Simone De Beauvoir (France) and Be Near Me by Andrew O'Hagan (Scotland). I will probably finish Be Near Me in the next day or so but I have been reading The Mandarins for a while now and although it's really interesting I'm finding it hard going at the same time. The last book on my list for this challenge is A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. This is a book I have had on my shelf and have been meaning to read for a while now but as it is over 1000 pages of quite small print I don't think I have any chance of completing it and doing it justice for this challenge!
I would like to read something from India for my last book for this challenge though - I was thinking maybe The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga - what do people think? Any other suggestions for me?
The other challenge I am participating in that is due to finish this month is The Classics Challenge. I really wanted to participate in this challenge to, ironically, challenge and expand on my reading in this genre. I have read two books so far, Small Island by Andrea Levy and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, which means I still have 4 books to read for this one!
Does anyone have some "quick" classic reads they can recommend? I really want to finish these challenges - I hate the idea of not completing a challenge!