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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Top Ten Tuesday: Character Names I Love or Unusual Character Names

October 22, 2013 § 2 Comments

1. Jasper Jones of Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

I’m mad for alliteration.

2. Pippi Longstocking or Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade “Pippi” Longstocking of the Pippi Longstocking series by Astrid Lindgren

Need I say more?

3. Buttercup of The Princess Bride by William Goldman

William Goldman chose this name usually associated with bovine for the most beautiful woman in the world. An unusual choice.

4. Mr. Watzisname of The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton

Despite us finding out his real name in the Land of Secrets, he’ll always be Watzisname to me.

5. Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

It wasn’t until Hermione gave Krum the lesson on how to pronounce her name in the Goblet of Fire that I stopped reading it as Hermy-own.

6. Sissy Jupe of Hard Times by Charles Dickens

The circus girl who serves as the antithesis to Gradgrind’s (another great name!) regimental education system.

7. Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

He may be an abominable character, but he has a great name.

8. Persimmon Polidori of The Three Loves of Persimmon by Cassandra Golds

9. Angel Clare of Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Not the most masculine of names and I am yet to read the book, but I fell in love with Eddie Redmayne’s Angel in a bad way.

10. Ivorie Hammer of The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer by Edwina Preston

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Most Intimidating Books

July 2, 2013 § 4 Comments

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1. The Children’s Book – A.S. Byatt

Of Byatt’s novels, Possession is usually the one that features most on ‘read before you die’ lists, but The Children’s Book has been on my TBR list for a while now, and I wish I knew how it got there! I attempted The Children’s Book about a year ago, got one or two chapters in and then, just couldn’t do it anymore. I felt like it had already taken up too much of my energy and I had barely made a dent in the brick. I may one day pick The Children’s Book up again, but not anytime soon.

 

2. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

Have you seen the size of this monster?! While I did enjoy Anna Karenina (except for the parts about Lenin’s devotion to agriculture, but if we’re to be homest, did anyone like those bits?), War and Peace just seems a little beyond me. I want to give the novel considered “one of the most important works of world literature” a good go, but I don’t know if I have the maturity for that yet.

 

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3. The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien

It’s no secret that Tolkien loves detail – even The Hobbit, his children’s book, isn’t exempt from pages of description – so the idea of tackling the dense Lord of the Rings is pretty intimidating. I don’t want to spend ages wading through superfluous description to get to the action, but know this is pretty likely what will have to happen.

 

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4. The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger

I’m worried that I might have missed the boat on this one. Nearly in my mid-twenties, I’m concerned that if I read The Catcher in the Rye now, it won’t have the same impact it might have had had I read it in my teens. I’ll be having only half the experience…

 

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5. Trainspotting – Irvine Walsh

I’m intimidated by both the writing style and subject matter, and yet it’s on my TBR list. Again, no idea why!

 

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6. A Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling

I’m really worried that I won’t like it, and I so desperately want to love everything J. K. writes.

 

7. The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

I attempted it once and it got the better of me, I only hope that the next time I try I’ll be up to the challenge.

 

8. Mateship with Birds – Carrie Tiffany

Generally, I don’t tend to like books set in the Australian countryside, but this book has been so celebrated that I can’t not attempt it. It doesn’t have chapters, which is something I usually struggle with, and was described by Michelle of Book to the Future as “delightfully slow“, which has me worrying I won’t have the patience.

 

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9.  The Song of Ice and Fire series – George R. R. Martin

Like everyone else, I have completely fallen in love with the television show. Martin’s world is dense, and the characters and relationships complex, so the idea of reading the books the series is based on is more than a little daunting. I’m not altogether convinced I do want to read the books as the show is ticking all the boxes for me. I’m not in any way unsatisfied with it, thus I’m not convinced that there’s much to gain from reading the source material. Plus I’m a little put off by how much more blood, betrayal and emotional trauma the books inevitably have.

 

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10. Ulysses – James Joyce

I remember my Year 11 literature teacher telling us about Ulysses and its significance within modern literature. She also mentioned its length. The problem with Ulysses, is that it’s not really enough to read the novel. To get the most from it you need prior knowledge; you should be familiar with Homer’s Odyssey, which is apparently quite epic in itself.

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Favorite Covers Of Books I’ve Read

May 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

The literary gods have looked down on me and smiled this week. Why, you ask? Because I’ve been given a second chance to post My Top Ten Favourite Book Covers response; this week’s list is Top Ten Tuesday Freebie (Anything you want!).

So let’s begin:

1. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This cover is creepy; the girl is levitating for chrissake! Add to that the fact that she has the face of a 100 year-old woman and you’ve got yourself one eye-catching cover.

2. Eating the Cheshire Cat by Helen Ellis

I love the over saturation of this one. I love the image of a goldfish obliviously swimming in a blender, not knowing how perilously close to death it is. I can’t remember if this has anything to do with the content of the book, the story wasn’t particularly memorable, but does it matter?

3. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Strong shapes, a limited colour palette, two images in one. Winner.

4. Thank You For Not Reading by Dubravka Ugresic

I love the inference that reading can be just as indulgent and bad for you as smoking. That reading is something of another time; a time of elaborate gilt frames, leisure and women escaping into their weaknesses.

5. Darkmans by Nicola Barker

Once again, a cover that’s eye-grabbing because of its intelligent use of colour. The skeletal figure doesn’t hurt either.

6. The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The monochromatic colour scheme, the fact that the mysterious man in black is the subject of this cover, rather than this “princess bride”. Who is she? Where does she fit into this story about fencing and masked figures? I want to know.

7. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

Death is being pushed around in a pram. She wears a pink bow. She’s an infant. Is she a ‘she’ at all or is this an elaborate disguise? Who has Death suckered into ferrying him/her around? Does the pram pusher know what he’s doing, who his passenger is? So many questions = book snatched from shelf.

8. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

It glitters. Need I say more?

9. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Strong, block colours make this a striking cover. Unfortunately when I read this book, I didn’t read this edition, but it needed to be celebrated anyway.

10. Donna Parker in Hollywood

Donna Parker is a seven-volume book series written in the 1950s and 1960s, and isn’t its cover wonderfully of that time? I half expect Elvis to wander in from left of frame and start serenading young Donna with a song about the Hawaiian moonlight, and then they’d break for cheese fondue.

I love the use of colour here, the line art, Donna’s relaxed position and the random pineapple. More book covers need pineapples.

11. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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I know I’m technically cheating here; this list isn’t the top eleven, but given that Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gastby is out in Australian cinemas this week, indulge me. Gatsby’s martini glass is the Y in Gatsby, he’s sitting on a couch that is simultaneously the background, there are only three colours and Gatsby himself is shrouded in shadow. This is a hot cover.

Top Ten Tuesday – Words/Topics That Instantly Make Me Buy/Pick Up a Book

April 30, 2013 § 3 Comments

This week’s list was a toughie. Apologies for the hiatus from Top Ten Tuesday and the blog in general, but things have been pretty mad lately. I suddenly have a lot less time to commit to projects like this and I haven’t quite established how best to juggle it all yet, but do bear with me.

Now, words and topics that inspire me to pick up a book! As I said, this one wasn’t as straight forward as I’d imagined. So few of the books I read nowadays are picked up on a whim. Generally they come recommended or I’ve read the synopsis beforehand. That said, there are a few topics and words that pull me in more often than not.

1. Classics. Imagine classics were in themselves a genre. In an effort to build up my reading cred (what? It’s a thing), I’ve been slowly making my way through the literary classics. I can justify buying a classic, so when I come across one that piques my interest (usually this just means that I’ve heard of it), it’s on. Most recently, it was Wuthering Heights. Next up is probably The Old Man and the Sea.

2. Coming of age novels. Any book that has growing up as its central focus will inspire me to pick it up.

3. Female friendships and/or strong female characters.

4. Fairytale retellings or fairytale-inspired stories. I have read my fair share, believe me – Ella Enchanted, Spindle’s End, Fairest, The Looking Glass Wars, The Lost Girls, Dancing on Knives, Beauty, The Book of Lost Things, Tender Morsels, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, The Princess Bride and the list goes on. I love the subversion of the familiar.

5. Anything with an allusion to reading or books in the title. It’s why I picked out Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

6. I’m attracted to books with imaginative and unusual titles: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Pricksongs and Descants, When God was a Rabbit, The Sisters Brothers, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, The Blind Assassin, Death with Interruptions.

7.  Curses — I love a good curse, or a haunting. Hauntings are good too. Anything that features a haunted house and mysterious passageways is right up my alley.

8. I’m also a fan of the child genius.

9. Period mysteries. I especially love the Victorian era.

10. Anything that mentions school leaving, moving away or first jobs – any book that reflects my current situation, really, and the uncertainty of being twenty-something and having to join the big, bad world.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Tuesday – Characters I Would Crush On If I Were Also a Fictional Character

April 2, 2013 § 4 Comments

Please keep in mind that I’m often attracted to the fictional good-for-nothings. And I really couldn’t manage ten book crushes, so I give you seven. What is wrong with me?!

1. Westley from The Princess Bride

Westley as played by Cary Elwes in the 1987 film.

Westley’s a babe. No doubt about it. Death cannot stop him and “if your love were a grain of sand, [his] would be a universe of beaches”. He does everything he can to keep his “true love” safe: beating a fencing master, bettering a giant and outsmarting a genius in a battle of wits. He is the embodiment of perfection: witty, resourceful, driven, handsome and clever. Exceedingly clever.

Look at that face! So self-assured. So wonderful.

2. The mysterious storyteller in The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin in Atwood’s prize-winning novel is a story penned by the protagonist Iris Chase’s sister, Laura. In it, a man who remains unnamed tells a story to the girl he’s in love with.

What will it be, then? he says. Dinner jackets and romance, or shipwrecks on a barren coast? You can have your pick: jungles, tropical islands, mountains. Or another dimension of space — that’s what I’m best at.

The storyteller manages to weave an intricate and highly imaginative tale featuring sacrificial virgins, blind assassins and tombs set on the far off planet of Zycron. The girl is completely entranced by the fascinating world he conjures, and so was I. His imagination and presence are completely intoxicating.

3. Mr James Harthouse in Hard Times

We read Hard Times in my Year 12 English class and I remember having an impossible time convincing my teacher that Harthouse was not the good-for-nothing, selfish scoundrel she took him for. He is the catalyst for Louisa’s emotional undoing, bringing to light how ill-equipped she is as a the result of her urilitarian upbringing. And yet, I do not blame Harthouse for this; if it wasn’t him, it would have been another man. He’s charismatic and bored, clever and privileged, with a mind that allows him the freedom to ‘go in’ for anything. I know that his seduction of Louisa is merely an attempt to sate his boredom, but I love him anyway.

A standing Harthouse listens to Louisa’s rather detestable brother, Tom ‘the whelp’.

4. John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility

Another unreliable sort. John Willoughby is, again, a charismatic man, who seems the perfect match for young Marianne Dashwood. She is completely besotted by him and it’s clear why. Though, it is revealed that he’s done some pretty crummy things in the past, he does eventually regret his poor treatment of Marianne, admitting his feelings for her were genuine. I never forgave Elinor for interfering.

John Willoughby as played by Greg Wise in the 1995 film.

5. Robert Frobisher in Cloud Atlas

Why is it that I always fall for the dandies? Robert Frobisher is a young English musician in 1931, kicked out of uni and essentially hiding out at the estate of a composer. Frobisher reveals himself to be the perfect mixture of cynicism, wit and passion in the letters he writes to his dear friend (and lover), Sixsmith. The fact that he’s played by Ben Whishaw in the recent feature film doesn’t hurt either.

Ben Whishaw as Frobisher in Cloud Atlas (2012).

6. Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby

Jay is a pretty messed-up sort, but he’s magnetic. While his plans to win back Daisy aren’t entirely well thought out, I couldn’t help but admire his efforts. The lifestyle he leads ain’t bad either.

Jay Gatsby as played by Robert Redford in the 1974 film.

7. Sirius Black from Harry Potter

Just the right amount of bad ass mixed with unnerving loyalty and kindness. I wept like a baby when he passed through that damn curtain.

Gary Oldham as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter films.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books I Recommend The Most

March 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

‘The most’ in this context is a little ambiguous, but I’m taking it to mean the most frequently. So let’s commence with a list of the top ten books I recommend most often.

1. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Three (or is it four?) stories unfurl simultaneously in this novel that was my introduction to Margaret Atwood. Now in her old age, Iris Chase reflects on her life and the tragedy of her younger sister Laura’s death. Told through newspaper articles, and excerpts of Laura’s novel The Blind Assassin, which is a story within a story on its own, Atwood’s bestseller is a completely submersive read and one I wholly and absolutely recommend.


2. The Princess Bride by William Goldman

“Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles”, what’s not to love? The film based on the book and written by Goldman is a cult classic and the book is just as wonderful. Different enough from the film to ensure it’s captivating from the outset, The Princess Bride is witty, wonderful and completely recommendable.


3. Wait by Frank Partnoy

Procrastinating is something we all do, but it’s nice to know that if done consciously and in the right way, it serves a useful purpose. Wait is an informative and well-written collection of research from a broad range of academic fields that investigate time’s effect on decision making. (Read my review here.)

4. The Raven’s Gift by Don Rearden

For a post-apocalyptic novel, this one ticks all the boxes. Unexplainable disease; barren, tempestuous environment; imminent danger and dwindling supplies, but it’s so much more than the sum of its parts. Aided by its unique structure, The Raven’s Gift is a well-paced, moody novel that’s definitely worth a read even if doomsday isn’t really your thing. It’s not usually mine either. (Read my review here.)

Don Rearden

5. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

For anyone suffering a bit of a quarter-life crisis, I recommend this book. Philip Carey travels, falls in love, pursues art and then becomes a doctor. I truly empathised with Philip’s confusion about the future of his life, and the fact that he could still have a worthwhile career after everything else he did was particularly comforting.

6. Letters to the End of Love by Yvette Walker

Not out until 11 April, I was lucky enough to get a review copy of Yvette Walker’s debut novel. It’s beautiful. Do try and get your hands on a copy. Stay tuned for my review.

7. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

14-year-old town outcast Jasper Jones risks a murder charge if young Charlie Bucktin can’t unearth the truth. Set in 1965 in the small mining town of Corrigan, Jasper Jones is a very powerful story about growing up in a narrow-minded world.

8. Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens is one of my favourite storytellers and Hard Times is without a doubt my favourite of his stories. Blatantly anti-utilitarian, Hard Times explores the emotional impact of growing up, and working during the Industrial Age. A must-read.

9. Thank You for Not Reading by Dubravka Ugrešić

A series of essays about contemporary literary culture, Thank You for Not Reading is unlike any other book I’ve read.  Ugrešić’s dry wit and compelling backstory make this book an absolute must-read. (This review says it so much better than I can.)


10. Snobs by Julian Fellowes

For anyone that has fallen in love with Downton Abbey, Snobs offers a more contemporary take on British high society with the same wit and humour we’ve come to expect from Julian Fellowes.

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