Top Ten Tuesday – Best books that I read in 2013

December 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

Voila! My ten favourite books from among those I read this year. We’re counting them down from ten to one.

10. On the Jellicoe Road – Marlina Marchetta 

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Since reading Looking for Alibrandi in Year 8 English oh so many years ago, I haven’t touched a Marlina Marchetta novel – I’d forgotten what a good writer she was! On the Jellicoe Road is an emotional mystery about the Taylor Markham, now all grown up and leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She’s come a long way since she was found abandoned on the Jellicoe Road by her mother years earlier. As we get to know Taylor, we’re introduced to five kids, who lived in the area 18 years before. After Hannah, the person Taylor has come to rely on most, disappears without a trace from the unfinished house by the river, Taylor and the most unlikely of allies endeavour to track her down.

9. Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor 

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Initially, I scoffed at this one. The first chapter begins as so many YA novels do, we’re introduced to our heroine; this time it’s Karou, a cool young thing with blue hair heading into art school in Prague. She’s recently broken up with her actor boyfriend, who shadows her down the road. She’s desirable, aloof and completely unrelatable. Thankfully, things do pick up from there; it’s soon revealed that Karou runs errands for an employer of the demonic persuasion.

This is the first book of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. The world Taylor creates is surprisingly detailed, imaginative and rich and more than enough to sustain the story for another two volumes. The love story at its centre is another strong driving force.

8. Animal People – Charlotte Wood

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The events of Animal People take place in the space of one day. This is the day 39-year-old Stephen is going to break things off with his girlfriend. But before that can happen, he must get through his morning at work and a child’s birthday party. Wood brings to light the hilarity that exists in the everyday mundane. She exposes the absurd in our everyday interactions with each other concisely, almost to the point of creating discomfort, and without striking a false note. An insightful and poignant novel, Animal People has definitely secured me as a fan and I’ll be keeping an eye out for Charlotte Wood’s other books in the new year.

7. Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

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Beautiful Ruins
by Jess Walter
is the story of an unknown American actress who unexpectedly appears on the shore of Porto Vergogna, the small sixth village of Cinque Terre that the rest of the region likes to pretend doesn’t exist. The blonde has been filming Cleopatra in Rome and after some devastating news, is sent to The Hotel Adequate View where she meets the idealistic young hotel manager, Pasquale.

Fifty years later, an old Italian man appears on a Hollywood lot looking for a world famous producer. He has a favour to call in.

6. Letters to the End of Love – Yvette Walker

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This debut novel is told in a series of letters written by three different couples, each from a different place and time. There’s a quiet desperation behind each character’s letter writing – they’re writing their way towards closure, understanding and acceptance, but there are a lot of questions that need to be considered first, a lot of backage that needs to be unpacked. Beautifully reflective and celebratory, Walker’s novel was definitely a highlight this year.

You can find a more informative review of Letters to the End of Love from me here

5. The Amber Amulet – Craig Silvey

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I was neck-deep in N-W by Zadie Smith, when I turned to Craig Silvey’s charming novella. It’s no secret that I completely fell in love with Silvey’s writing when reading Jasper Jones last year and sure enough, that love blossomed all over again. The Amber Amulet was just what I needed to lessen the heaviness of Smith’s novel, a breath of fresh air.

Read my review of The Amber Amulet here.

4. The Three Loves of Persimmon – Cassandra Golds

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This is a fairytale about loneliness and curiosity and remaining true to oneself regardless of the consequences. Persimmon Polidori owns a flower shop in an underground railway station sitting beneath the City Gardens. Roots from a majestic tree wind their way down through the ceiling, just missing the counter where she can often be found turning pages for her friend, Rose, the talking cabbage. Also instrumental to the story is Epiphany, the mouse, who lives on the deepest train platform and dreams of “Somewhere Else”.

While it may sound trite, The Three Loves of Persimmon is truly an enchanting and up-lifting novel that shows that life isn’t without its trials, but the act of rising above these allows us to be made in those moments.

3. A Room with a View – E. M. Forster

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While it didn’t make my ‘The Places You’ll Go’ post, A Room with a View was another novel that transported me, this time to Florence. I’m a little embarrassed that I took his long to pick up one of Forster’s books, but I wasn’t disappointed. His writing is witty and his characters, that perfect balance of astute and completely ridiculous.

You can read my full review here.

2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer

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I’ve been an absolute sucker for books written in letters this year it seems, this being my second favourite to use this stylistic approach. Juliet Ashton is the hero of this piece for me – a writer, who made a name for herself writing a regular London newspaper column during WWII. In the midst of her book tour, she receives a letter from a Guernsey man, hoping to track down more titles by his favourite author, Charles Lamb. The two start up a correspondence and soon enough Juliet is receiving letters from several members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Slowly, details of the German occupation of Guernsey begin to emerge, something that I didn’t previously have any knowledge of.

Unfortunately, this is the only novel Shaffer has written (her daughter finished editing it once Shaffer died), but in a way that makes it all the more precious. It’s a sweet story, full of endearing characters, that explores a devastating time with sensitivity and humour.

1. Tender Morsels – Margo Lanagan

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Every so often – once in a blue moon, in fact – I’ll come across a book that floors me. A book that I’ll immediately want to push on anyone who reads. This year, that book was Tender Morsels by Australian author Margo Lanagan because it expresses more acutely than any lecture or impassioned soapbox address ever could, the underlying power difference between men and women in what is essentially a patriarchal society. But, of course, this book is so much more clever than that. A loose adaptation of the lesser known Grimm fairytale Snow-White and Rose-Red, Tender Morsels is the dark tale of two sisters, their young mother and the fragile world she’s created for them all.

We meet Liga when she is 14 years-old and living with her father, who, I think it’s fair to say, is amongst the most despicable and repulsive of all literary characters ever. Pent up in a small cottage at the edge of the woods and completely isolated, Liga is entirely dependent on her father, which makes her situation even more complex when he suddenly dies. What should come as a relief, to finally be free of his sexual and emotional abuse, brings all new horrors to Liga’s doorway.

When Liga is at her very lowest, she is offered an escape, but as we soon learn, this fantasy world is not necessarily the haven it first appears.

What were your favourite books this year?

Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly feature created by The Broke and Bookish.

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Oh, the places you’ll go…

December 30, 2013 § 1 Comment

I have wanderlust – I blame the books I’ve been reading.

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor had me dreaming of a holiday in the ancient city of Prague, a chance to walk the meandering, narrow, labyrinthine alleyways soaked in culture and history. I was so inspired by her descriptions of the city in fact, that I took it upon myself to do some research, convinced it would be an ideal setting for my NaNoWriMo novel this year (which needless to say, wasn’t written). During this research, I learnt about Prague’s rather unusual political tradition, defenestration.

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After Prague, I took off to New York City, staying a brief time in Provincial France with Glenda Adams’ Dancing on Coral (which I found a very bizarre novel).

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Having abandoned Lark Watter in New York, I popped over to Guernsey shortly after World War II.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer was one of my most enjoyable reads this year. The story is told in a series of letters sent between a myriad of characters, begun by the charming writer, Miss Juliet Ashton shortly after the end of WWII. Slowly the horrors of the Guernsey German Occupation are revealed, but the Guernsey people are admiringly resilient and despite the hardships they’ve encountered, kind and welcoming. Life in Guernsey just seems beautifully slow and peaceful.

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“There are rolling fields, but they end suddenly in cliffs, and all around is the moist salt smell of the sea. As we drove, the sun set and the mist rose. You know how sounds become magnified by fog? Well, it was like that- every bird’s cry was weighty and symbolic. Clouds boiled up over the cliffs, and the fields were swathed in grey by the time we reached the manor house.” (p. 158)

It just sounds like absolute bliss.

Most recently, I’ve been in Italy – the beautiful Cinque Terre region in 1962.  Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is the story of an unknown American actress who unexpectedly appears on the shore of Porto Vergogna, the small sixth village of Cinque Terre that the rest of the region likes to pretend doesn’t exist. The blonde actress has been filming Cleopatra in Rome and after some devastating news, is sent to The Hotel Adequate View where she meets the idealistic young hotel manager, Pasquale.

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The novel is beautifully atmospheric. I could feel the sunshine and the gentle lapping of the sea on the pebbled beaches coming off the page. The colours are bright with vivid Technicolor, giving the whole setting a surreal and fantastic quality.

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So while 2013 hasn’t seen me travel per se, I haven’t stayed entirely still. Hopefully, 2014 offers the opportunity to sate my wanderlust physically. In the meantime, the pictures I paint in my mind will have to do.

Is there anywhere you’ve read about in the last year that you’re now itching to see?

Writing it down

December 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

For a while now, I’ve been keeping record of words I come across in my reading and don’t know the meanings of — everything from peregrination to gallimaufry — and making notes about the books I read so that I can later review them, but I so often don’t. So often my scribblings just sit there, little more than wasted ink. Enter Junot Diaz:

For the last three or four years or so, I was trying to read a book every other day and I would write the book down and what I as a reader took away from it — I still have the notebook.

THIS. ^^

While finishing a book every other day is a little beyond me, keeping a record of what I’ve taken from it isn’t and if I never do write that review, at least I can refer back and remind myself why. My capacity to retain information, store lessons and glean meaning is comparable to that of a goldfish (I was a sponge as a child — a sponge — where did that go?).

When reading, I am so in it, so involved and then, when the last page has been turned, I forget everything. I stop reflecting. It’s like a switch has been flicked and nobody’s home. What’s the point if I don’t absorb anything, turn it this way and that — am I just filling the hours?

So much of what I do seems to be passive: I read something, I watch something, I see something and then I leave it. Even my journal is a mess. By no means is it as reflective and revelatory as this guy’s, which I totally want to read by the way. Usually, I just use the space to whinge and then upon reading it back with a clearer head feel compelled to kick my past self in the shins.

At least this is a way of me doing something with the stuff. Yeah, that’s as articulate as it’s going to get, folks.

 

 

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