Saturday 31 December 2011

2011 Round Up

Achievements: This year has been my best reading year to date. I managed a grand total of 132 books. I thought 2010 was a good year when I reached 101 books. I don't expect to ever beat that or get near it any time soon. My days of being able to do little else but read are now few and far between. Still I enjoyed it whilst it lasted and I got a lot of good books in there. It wasn't just quantity.

About half way through the year I decided on a few challenges of my own. The first was to read one classic a month. I had realised that whilst I love classics I very rarely pick them up. After deciding on this challenge I managed 21 for the entire year. That's probably not for from the number I had read altogether up until then. I also decided to give graphic novels a try and spent one month reading them in between other books. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that I enjoyed them. Although I still prefer an actual book and I do find them difficult to review. I have a few graphic novels still sitting there so I may do this again.

This year my blogging has taken off. Whilst I started up my blog in August 2010 my posts were few and far between. It was this year that I really took to it after coming across so many fantastic blogs and taking part in a lot of meme's. It's been fun and I hope to keep it up next year although there will be short periods when I won't be able to post quite as much. Thanks to my blog I took part in my first read-a-thon. When I came across Dewey's Read-a-Thon I couldn't help but take part. Unfortunately I couldn't take part again in October but I hope to join again in April and hopefully raise some money for charity.

Thank's to Gabe of Gabriel Reads, I took part in my first online challenge. The challenge was to read some of those books that had been sitting on my shelf for a while. At the start of the year I had 130+ (I stopped counting at 130) books lying around. I signed up for the voracious reader which meant 3 books a month with a break in December. Unfortunately I didn't complete it. I was so busy that I didn't want these books to be the only books I read that month. Having said that I managed to read a few of those books on my list after I had gave up on the challenge. Of my list of 18 books (which you can see here) only three of them are still sitting on my shelf. I think that's something I should be proud of regardless. Dawkins, Coben and Reynolds will have to wait for 2012. My tbr pile is now down to a respectable 45. Still a lot but good for me. I have to confess that two days ago I had a massive book clear out. Mainly books I had read and knew I wouldn't read again (was painful parting with them). This year hasn't been a good YA year for me so I gave away the ones I knew I didn't want to read. I kept a few but the others I felt it was better that a charity shop got something out of them rather than wasting away on my shelves. I am sure someone else will enjoy them better. The rest of my tbr shelf was read over the last year thanks to my strict book buying ban which I broke only in August. I am sure I could have been stricter but considering I have no will power when it comes to books I think I did well.

Anyways, enough of what I felt I achieved. Here are some of my book lists:

Favourite book; This is quite difficult to choose. I found it hard just picking out my top ten (and unbelievably I missed out the latest Thursday Next from that list). However, I think I am going to go with The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins. I loved every second I spent with that book. Whilst a lot of books stood out this one sticks in my mind for sheer enjoyment.

Favourite Non Fiction; This one is easy despite having read more non-fiction this year than usual. It has to be She-Wolves by Helen Castor. It's not often that I can become completely lost in a factual book but I did with this. The author told the history of these women so well that I can't help but want to know more. I am sure to do further reading on these eras just because I enjoyed this book so much.

Favourite Classic; I kind of covered this already with favourite book but I am going to go with the runner up here. Or in the case runners up. First of is The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I've discovered another author I can't wait to read more of. Her wit was more subtle than Austen's but still put me in mind of her. The second book is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. After my disappointment of Hard Times this one restored my faith in Dickens. Plus one of the best endings I have ever read.

Favourite Sci Fi/ Fantasy; My science fiction and fantasy reads this year is probably in the smallest minority. Shocking considering how much I once loved these genres. However, I did still read a few and my favourite fantasy is without a doubt "A Game of Thrones" by George R. R. Martin. The first book in the series was a re-read but I still loved it for it's intricate story which only increased in the following books. I have the last paperback in my tbr pile which I will no doubt read early in 2012. As for sci fi, I read fewer of those and so it's easier to chose. Has to be Ilium by Dan Simmons. I love it when a book takes classics into their plot and does it well. Ilium did that and it had me reading the Iliad not long after.

Favourite Crime; This was my year for crime. I read a total of 24. That might not seem a lot but for someone who once said she hated crime it's a fair number. I have to say I have enjoyed my foray into this genre and I plan to continue with it. Hopefully I will try some of the more classics too. It's hard to decide which was my favourite but I think I am going to go with the one classic crime I did read, A Study In Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle. I was surprise by how much I enjoyed it and by the little detour it did into the background of one of the characters. I am going to be reading more of these next year.

Favourite Graphic Novel; I find these difficult to review because I am not sure how I should review the art work. I am far from being an expert and this makes me a little nervous. Having said that I did very much enjoy The Watchmen by Alan Moore. I loved the film but the book was so much more intricate. I can see the appeal of the graphic novel format for this alone.

Favourite Re-Read; I don't usually re-read that many books. I have too many sitting on my tbr pile that I feel guilty if I even think about it. I did manage a couple though. Whilst A Game of Thrones may have been my favourite fantasy my favourite re-read was Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. The reason being was that I didn't particularly like the book (nor did I hate it) the first time round. Reading it for the second time I was amazed by how little of it I remembered and how much I enjoyed it. I can see me reading it for a third time at some point.

Most Anticipated Book; I bet I don't really need to list the book I looked forward to most this year. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami is a book that anyone who reads my blog will know has been greatly anticipated by me for two years. Thankfully it was well worth the wait. I think the author outdid himself with this one and I look forward to reading book 3.

Book that surprised; There are a few books that probably come under this. Slaughterhouse 5 and A Clockwork Orange are two that spring to mind basically because I didn't think I would enjoy them but did. However, I am going to go with The Iliad by Homer. I was surprised by not only how much I enjoyed it but by how easy I found it to read. I was expecting to struggle with that one. I loved the poetry format too which was another surprise.

Book I wanted to toss; This last one is the easiest. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. I am actually sorry that I gave it such a high rating on good reads. I gave it three based solely on it's writing. The truth is it annoys me even months after reading it. It was one of the most miserable books I have ever read. It showed everything that was wrong with the world and yet these people somehow manage to get away with it. Even the main character in his own way. It almost celebrated greed. I know a lot of people would say that it wasn't celebrating it but to me it did. Sure some of these horrible people got what they deserved but others were rewarded for it. The book sucked me in though. Every time I would become interested in a character they would then find a way to disgust me.

On that negative note I am going to leave it here. I have rambled on long enough. My last book read this year was Notes On A Scandal by Zoe Heller. A great book but I won't get the chance to review it for a couple of days. I'll also post my plans for the New Year in a few days.

I hope you have all had a fantastic reading year and I can't wait to go round and see how everyone has reviewed their reading year. For now though I am off to spend the New Year with my sister. Hope you all have a good one everyone.

Friday 30 December 2011

Skin Privilege - Karin Slaughter

Police Chief Jeffrey Tolliver has been called in to a nearby county to try to get one of police officers to talk. Lena Adams was found watching a burning car with a body inside and she's refusing to talk. The local police can only assume that she somehow has something to do with it. Tolliver and his wife are unable to get her to talk. Instead she becomes hysterical with fear and manages to escape so she can do her own investigating. Tolliver isn't scared off easily and he stays on to find out just what happened to his officer. The town though has other plans as they don't want someone else getting involved in their affairs.

This is the first book I have read by this author. Probably not the best book to have started with since it turns out this is the last book featuring these particular characters. It was obvious early on that this wasn't the first as the characters had so much history and there was a lot of references to things that had clearly happened in previous books. That didn't put me off in the slightest however. There was enough explanation that I knew what had happened before and it's relevance to the main story. Instead of being irritating it has me curious to read the others.

As I said the characters have a lot of history and so are well developed. It didn't feel like I was expected to know them and I managed to develop a connection the characters regardless of having only read this one. A good sign I think. Tolliver's wife, Sara, was the only one I couldn't take to. She seemed a little too cold for me. Still she had been through a lot in previous books and perhaps I will feel differently when I go back and read them. Lena seemed like one of those unpredictable characters. Always causing trouble despite good intentions. I can't wait to read more on her. As for Tolliver he just seemed like your typical role model. He's made his own mistakes but is a steady rock for his team and his wife. A good combination of characters.

I liked the story itself. A small town in Southern America with problems of bigotry and meth habits. It's told from each of these characters points of view (not in first person though) and this makes for a lot of cliffhangers. I was kept on edge quite a lot through out the book. I liked that for the most part. I think though that the book was a little too long. Whilst there was lots going on I was starting to get a little bored before it set up for the ending. Only a little though and it's my only real criticism of the book. I also had a hard time believing who was behind it all in the end. The character didn't seem anywhere near intelligent enough to have organised it all even with help. Still I wasn't expecting either that character or another's involvement. I was kept guessing right to the end.

What an ending too. The very end was completely unexpected and if you have read this book you will know exactly what I mean. I can't say with out spoiling it. What I will say is that the ending made me glad I had read this book first. I would have been seriously annoyed had I read this series from the start for it to end there. Instead I could appreciate it and I can't wait to go back and start at the beginning. A gutsy ending by the author I think.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

December Mini Reviews!

Yep, I am going to be lazy and do some mini reviews for Decembers books. If I don't they won't get posted at all. I had said that December was going to be my classic month. Well that didn't happen. When busy I need light reads. I knew this and yet I was still determined to have a classic month. Lesson learned. I managed one classic and it took me over three weeks to read (with a few light ones in between).

 Set during WWI and then during the Russian Revolution. The families of both Doctor Zhivago and Lara face hard times much like everyone else in Russia. Their paths cross several times and despite being married they fall in love. I quite enjoyed this book. I think that it just wasn't the right time for me to be reading it. For that reason it dragged quite a bit. If I had more time to devote to it I think this would have been a firm favourite and I would have devoured it. Found the historical side of the book to be just as interesting as the main story itself. Russian history is a subject I have long wanted to learn more about although this was set in the one era I know something about.
 Caroline Stewart has finally found safety for herself and her son. She is working towards a law degree and the horrors of her abusive husband are far behind her. She then meets new boss Max and decides to learn to trust again. Unfortunately her past may be coming back to haunt her as husband is on the hunt for his presumed dead wife and son. This is the first book by Karen Rose. Was interesting as a lot of the characters featured in the last book I had reviewed not that long ago. Different from the others so far as we know who is behind the murders. Just what I needed when I had so much on I had no time to think.
 Steven Thatcher is investing the abduction and murders of young teenage girls. At home he is raising three boys on his own. His oldest is acting out and his youngest is still recovering from a previous trauma. Then teacher Jenna Marshall walks into his life concerned about his eldest. She bares a remarkable resemblance to the dead girls. Not only is he falling for her but he may have to protect her too. This is the second book by the author. Like the others there is some character cross over. Thatcher has a small part to play in the first book and it's in that one his youngest son is kidnapped. Back to the 'who done it' style which, if I am honest, I prefer. Aspects of it seemed similar to one of her other books though.
 Mrs Fry is the long suffering wife of Stephen Fry. Unaware of her husbands other life she believes him to be a lay about window cleaner who has a thing for the woman next door. Meanwhile she brings up their six or seven children. Like a lot of people I came across Mrs Fry on twitter. It wasn't long after that this book came out. I have always loved Stephen Fry and the tweets of the supposed Mrs Fry amused me. Was a little disappointed with this though. It wasn't as funny as I was expecting it to be. The tweets are definitely funnier. A pleasant distraction though.
Temperance Brennan is preparing for a long awaited beach holiday when she comes across some human remains thanks to her dog. Somehow these remains and those of a small baby are linked to a plane crash. Brennan's investigating gets her in trouble but she is determined to find out who is behind those deaths. I am pretty sure I have read this one out of order. There were some things mentioned that I know I haven't read before. That didn't much matter though as I could still follow what was going on. Another good read from Kathy Reichs although I think I preferred the first few in the series.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Best of 2011

This is a book meme over at The Broke and The Bookish. This weeks top ten features our favourite reads of 2011.

It has been some months since I have taken part and I thought the end of the year would be the perfect time to jump back in. Mainly because I can now briefly relax and I want to share my favourite top ten books this year. I am sure I am not the only one but I did have difficulty in narrowing my choices down to just 10. As a result I have given a shout out to a few at the end.

1. The Iliad by Homer. This famous poem has cropped up in a large number of books I have enjoyed in the past. I felt it was about time I read it and when a readalong was organised I decided it was now or never. Glad I did. I loved it. It's not intimidating to read as I initially thought it would be. I preferred it to the Odyssey too which I hear is unusual.

2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Okay, I have only read the volume with books 1 and 2 so far but this is without a doubt one of my favourites this year. I waited two years for Murakami to bring out a new book (two impatient years) and he made the wait worth while. If you like surreal you will like this.

3. The Passage by Justin Cronin. This book had been collecting dust on my shelf for over a year before I got round to reading it. This in spite of all the excitement surrounding it. If you like a good vampire story then this is for you. It is on the large side and there are two more parts to be published. Not once did it feel like a slog to read. Also has a touch of post-apocalypse to it.

4. Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. Okay this one is a bit of a cheat since it was a re-read. However, I did not enjoy it the first time round. A lot of it is based on the authors own experiences of war (well, not the spaceships and aliens). Fantastic book.

5. White Teeth by Zadie Smith. A story of two families in London who face prejudice. A serious story and yet it had me laughing hysterically so many times. I loved the characters. I am sure I will be reading this again in the future.

6. She-Wolves by Helen Castor. A history book about the lives of four women who paved the way for Mary and Elizabeth. Without these four women a woman may never have sat on the throne of England. A fantastic history book which had me riveted from page one. Learnt a lot from it and I have made note of a few more people I want to read more on.

7. Room by Emma Donoghue. This is one of those books that stays with you. I read it earlier in the year and I still find myself thinking about it. Disturbing in many ways and a good read.

8. Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. This is one of the few books I set out to dislike. It never appealed to me and any film clips I saw put me off it further. I set out to dislike it and in a few pages I couldn't put it down. I love a dystopian and this is now one of my firm favourites. If like me you have been put off by the film give it a chance.

9. The Long Road by Stephen King. Another cheat as this was actually a short story/novella within a collection. I had to have it on here though. This is proof that there is more to King than horror. I would love to see him have another go at dystopian.

10. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. The last spot on my list goes to two of my favourite classics read this year. Both are very different and yet I loved them both. Collins for his mystery story and Wharton for her wit. Another cheat as I couldn't decide between them.

Oh and my shout out list; The Railway Children, The Help, When God Was A Rabbit, Into the Darkest Corner, The Kite Runner, A Game of Thrones, The Odyssey, A Tale of Two Cities, Ilium, Revolutionary Road, Shantaram.

Do you have a top ten for 2011?

Friday 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Apologies as this pic may cause some offence. Being a Scot I couldn't resist posting it after I saw it. I know a lot of international people may not get it as I have had to explain it to a few people already. So, apologies for that too.

Just want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. I have a few reviews to post and I have some pre-New Year posts planned too. My placement is finished and I am at this moment recovering my sleep and just enjoying Christmas. Hope you all are too and I look forward to going round everyone's blogs.

Saturday 3 December 2011

3 Week Time Out

Until Christmas I am taking a wee break from blogging. Not because I want to but because I seriously am not going to have the time. I hit the wards next week full time. I also have exams and course work due in over those three weeks. As my shifts are all 12 hours my time is going to be spent working, studying and sleeping.

I will be back though and I will still be reading. Just not quite as much. The plan was originally to pick up one of those huge monster-sized books I have sitting there but I have decided against it. Going to be carrying enough about with me. So instead, up until Christmas, this is going to be classics month. Not sure how many I will manage to read but I have a few sitting there that I am dying to get to. Since the copy I have has such a festive cover I am starting with Doctor Zhivago.

As I said I will be back around Christmas, hopefully with some reviews and I will get round all your blogs then too. Have fun everyone and hope the festive season isn't stressing anyone out too much.

Friday 2 December 2011

Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino

Marco Polo sits in discussion with Kublai Khan. Between each discussion he describes some strange and wonderful cities. Each one very different. However, Khan is aware that whilst each city may be different they are also the same. For Marco Polo is really describing his home city of Venice.

A short description, I know, but that's really what the book is about. It's broke into several sections. Each one starts and ends with a discussion between Polo and Khan and all of these discussions are linked together. They are broken up, however, by Polo's descriptions of all the cities he has supposedly visited. Some border on the strange and wonderful. An example is the city on stilts where the people never come down to the earth. Others ring bells with our own society. Such as the city in which the population likes new things and constantly get rid of their old things to make way for them. As a result land fills are growing faster than the city.

I loved reading all these city descriptions. It's makes the book a little difficult to describe though. There is no real plot to it other than the conversation between Polo and Khan. Neither speak the same language and yet they somehow understand each other. Khan is aware that Polo is describing Venice and even calls him on it for which a vague answer is given. Gore Vidal is quoted on the back of the book as saying that describing a book is difficult and in this case it certainly is. All I can say as that the book was beautifully written. Someone else even mentioned it was poetic and I have to agree.

There is honestly not much more I can say about it. I have read one other book by this author, "If On A Winter's Night A Traveler" and whilst it is very different it's beautiful in it's writing style. The fact that both were written by the same author is really no surprise. I honestly expected no less when I picked this one up.

This didn't take me long at all to read. However, it is one that will stay with me. I can see myself picking it up every now and then and flicking through some of those descriptions. Oh, and if you haven't already read "If On A Winter's Night A Traveler" I highly recommend that too.