Best of 2015

29 January, 2016

So we’re well into January and I’m a little late but I wanted to let you all know my favourite books of 2015. And before you go on about my sparse list of reviews last year, I did read a lot more than I wrote about and I’m hoping to recapture my lost blogging enthusiasm. Like many of my book blogging friends, I think it’s hard to balance a fulltime job, a social life and personal projects of which book blogging is one and my balance went a little askew as I had it pretty much full on last year. I also had my first reading slump since I started this blog in 2009 which I drowned with a lot of Korean dramas that left my brain in a happy but slightly lobotomised state although it did spur me on to learn Hangul and dip my toes in Korean literature (I just finished reading Han Kang’s astounding The Vegetarian and Tony has a brilliant list of suggestions). Hopefully things will be a little bit calmer this year, although every year seems to get busier and busier or am I just losing the plot and my organisational skills are becoming redundant? Who knows but as long as there are books to read and discuss, I’ll be here, maybe just not as often or on schedule.

But, even though there may have been a paucity of reviews, 2015 turned out to be a fine year for well-crafted and sublime books. I allowed myself to read titles one after another in a series which kept me immersed in the stories but also made it harder to review without giving away spoilers. I also loved many of my book group choices which can often be hit and miss as we all have very different tastes which is what makes our book group so great.

Here’s my list of twelve in alphabetical order with links to reviews. I’m hoping to review the others soon.

Blackout

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis – I can’t tell you how much I admire and love Willis’ work. They are all clever, substantial, thrilling and with a perfect balance of darkness and humour. If you haven’t read her novels, you are missing out.

Bastard Out of Carolina
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison – devastating and brutal but brilliant.

Bonjour Tristesse
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan – my first re-read after 20 plus years and still as shocking. Takes me back to my teenage years.

Child 44
Child 44 by Tim Robb Smith – clever, fast-paced and brought back my interest in the eternally complex and hypocritical construct that is the USSR.

Everything I Never Told You
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – beautifully written, melancholic and dream-like.

Grass is Singing
The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing – powerful and stark debut novel from a master writer.

Hotel
Hotel by Joanna Walsh – what can I say, I’m a huge fan of Walsh’s, from her illustrations to her short stories. And Hotel, as I have come to expect, simultaneously surprised and delighted me with its astute observations and wry humour. I’ve already bought an extra copy for a friend and will be buying more as gifts for other discernable readers.

My Brilliant Friend
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante – probably the truest depiction I’ve read of female friendship in all its complexity. I’m still in the middle of the third book of this incredible quartet as I don’t want it to end.

Raven Boys
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – first book in an absorbing quartet. Beautifully written and reminded me a lot of The Secret History. I read all three books that are out one after the other and cannot wait for the final volume.

Spring Snow
Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima – gorgeous, tortured and just exquisite. I need to read the rest of books in his Sea of Fertility tetralogy.

Station Eleven
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – this was a surprise hit for me. I didn’t enjoy it all that much when I was reading it but the story refused to leave my mind and I am still haunted by it.

True Grit
True Grit by Charles Portis – incredibly tightly written and absorbing for a genre I wouldn’t normally touch with a barge pole. And with a kick-ass protagonist too.

What about you? What were your favourite books of 2015?

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R.I.P. IX is here!

5 September, 2014

lavinia-portraitRIP350

The only thing that makes the end of summer OK, is Carl’s wonderful R(eaders). I(imbibing). P(eril) Challenge which is celebrating it’s 9th year. It’s one of the first reading challenges in which I participated and I look forward to it every year. And although I may not post a wrap-up post each year, I love every minute of choosing and reading my list of books which are mainly from my shelves as well as seeing what others are dipping into. And how gorgeous is the artwork for this year’s challenge?

As usual, I’m hoping to read at least four books in the following categories: mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror and supernatural which, to be honest, are my favourite genres. So bring it on!

My pool of books from which I plan to read four (or more!) are:

The Fire by Katherine Neville – I loved The Eight which I read years ago.
The Abomination by Jonathan Holt – murder in Venice.
Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard – completely blown away by her short stories so I need more – an Aztec mystery!
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – just because it’s JKR!
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray – the nights are drawing in and I’m in need of something spookay.
Faithful Place by Tana French – I really need to get back into French’s writing.
The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin – it’s just been shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger!
She Lover of Death by Boris Akunin – Erast Fandorin in the house!
A Vengeful Longing by R.N. Morris – the third mystery in a series featuring Porfiry Petrovich from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis – time travel and the Black Death!

Of course I’ll be adding and subtracting from this list, but who’s counting, right?

So will you be joining us? And, more importantly, what will YOU be reading?

ripnineperilfirst

chasing bawa’s 2013 picks

31 December, 2013

I’ve been rather lax this year. I’ve participated in some challenges but forgot the wrap-ups, I have a lot of reviews I still need to write about books I really loved – why are they the hardest to write? And I still have a lot of books I was planning to read this year which remain untouched. But, I did have a fabulous reading year filled with so many really good books and I can’t wait to share my thoughts even if it means I may post my reviews next year. Life, eh?

So my eleven picks of the year in alphabetical order are:

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
Bellman & Black

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Bring Up the Bodies

China Star by Bartle Bull
China Star

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Goldfinch

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser
Questions of Travel

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
The Rook

Silence by Shusaku Endo
Silence

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Snow Child

Under The Skin by Michel Faber
Under the Skin

The Valley of Unknowing by Philip Sington
Valley of Unknowing

Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler
Wild Seed

I’ll be writing about some of these in the next few months but do hope you’ll give them a try!

2013 was also a strong year for sequels. I really enjoyed Danielle Trussoni’s Angelopolis and Laini Taylor’s Days of Blood and Starlight, two very original and compelling takes on angel lore and I can’t wait to read more.

And a special mention goes to Xu Xi’s History’s Fiction: Stories from the City of Hong Kong which was an unexpected find for me – a collection of beautiful, finely-tuned short stories.

So have you read any of these books? And what was your favourite read of the year?

Slightly Peckish Tuesday

20 August, 2013

Umami Mart

It’s been a while hasn’t it? But it doesn’t mean I haven’t been eating! On a recent trip to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, I ate a lot of things in an incredibly short space of time. Check out the first in a series of posts on KL for Umami Mart: Slightly Peckish starting with Bah Kut Teh. Don’t know what it is? Then go and check me out!

In bookish news, I read quite a few books on holiday, mostly mysteries which was exactly what I needed. I finally finished the 5th book in the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, Dark Road to Darjeeling. I also began reading Ben Aaronovich’s urban mysteries featuring PC Peter Grant, Rivers of London, which lived up to all the hype and I went straight on to the second and third volumes once I got home. And I took my hardback copy of Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of Time all the way to Sri Lanka and Malaysia only to finish it once I got back to London. Don’t get me wrong, it’s exquisite but not one you want to read when you are in a hurry. And because de Kretser is such a fine writer, I dug out my copy of her first novel, The Rose Grower, and have just started it.

I only brought back a few books this time.

SL 2013 books

Island of a Thousand Mirrors
by Nayomi Munaweera which I actually got last November but didn’t manage to write about. This first novel has been garnering a lot of attention.

Doomsday by Mahasara Gunaratne, a whodunnit featuring Uncle Arthur set in early 20th century Ceylon. I’m thinking a Sri Lankan Agatha Christie, perhaps? Apparently it’s a series but I was unable to find the first volume. Can’t wait to tuck in.

And Shyam Selvadurai’s new novel, The Hungry Ghosts which I cannot wait to start.

Jap Lit 7

has started already. Go and check out Bellezza‘s wonderful review site with lots of reading suggestions.

This year I’m going to keep it simple. I’m aiming to finish Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 which I rushed out to buy when it first came out in hardback way back in 2010 and from which I quickly got distracted when carrying the behemoth tome around on my commute got painful. Should have really waited until the paperbacks were out but hey, you know me, no self control when it comes to new books.

I also purchased a copy of Jacob Ritari’s Taroko Gorge when I visited New York’s Strand Bookstore in spring and although Ritari is American, it’s all about Japanese high school kids on a school trip to Taiwan. Bellezza’s reading it too so I’m going to jump on the wagon.

I’m also tempted to try Ryu Murakami’s From the Fatherland, With Love about Japan in a dystopian present under attack from North Korea. Sounds fascinating, no?

And I might throw in another Shusaku Endo, possibly Scandal, a Yasunari Kawabata and a Yukio Mishima if I can stay focused. Fingers crossed, eh?

What about you? Will you be joining us during the next 6 months in reading some Japanese literature books?

chasing bawa’s 2012 picks

14 December, 2012

So this year I read about 60 books, much less than last year, but a girl’s got to have a social life, right?

This year it’s been especially hard to choose my top ten because I’ve read some incredibly sublime, engaging and enjoyable books so I’ve added a few extra. They’re listed in alphabetical order by title and covers a range of genres, and I do hope you’ll try some of them.

Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka – I don’t think I’ve read anything like this before and wasn’t sure whether it would work. But it does. Amazing.

Chinaman

Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka – a very polished debut. Incredibly funny, punchy story narrated by an old soak. A cricket book that’s more than just about cricket.

Forge of Darkness

Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson – new Malazan series. ‘Nuff said.

The Garden of Evening Mists

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng – sublime, finely balanced tale of WWII, Malaysia and the Japanese.

The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – imagination explosion. I need the Night Circus to come to me.

Penelopiad

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood – Atwood is genius.

The Possessed

The Possessed by Elif Batuman – if you love and want to read Russian literature but can’t take the next step. Will make you want to pick up Tolstoy fo sho.

The Secret History

The Secret History by Donna Tartt – still amazing second time around. And still my favourite book ever.

Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness – a brilliant sequel.

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – possibly my favourite book of the year. Achingly beautiful tale of Achilles and Patroclus which took me completely by surprise, even though I knew how it would all end.

Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – spicier than Jane Eyre. Didn’t make me hate Rochester though.

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – Thomas Cromwell is certainly a man to watch. Who would’ve possibly thought that his financial and political shenanigans could be so sexy?

There are still a number of reviews I haven’t posted yet because I’m always a bit behind and you really want to do justice to the books you love (yes, I’m talking about The Secret History here).

In the meantime, why don’t you go and have a gander at what others have chosen?

My Day in Books

6 December, 2012

The Secret History

I’m not sure whether I’ve done this before but having seen Simon T‘s effort via Cornflower, I thought I’d give it a try and see what I can come up with. Although I’m not sure if it makes much sense, I like a challenge.

I began the day by Twelve

before breakfasting on Snuff

and admiring the Wide Sargasso Sea.

On my way to work I saw The Crippled God

and walked by The Forge of Darkness

to avoid The Possessed,

but I made sure to stop at Bangkok 8.

In the office, my boss said, You Came Back,

and sent me to research The Shadows in the Street.

At lunch with The Last Werewolf

I noticed the Chinaman

in The Night Circus

greatly enjoying The Curfew.

Then on the journey home, I contemplated God’s Own Country

because I have The Secret History

and am drawn to the Weight.

Settling down for the evening in Wolf Hall,

I studied the Song of Achilles

by The Garden of Evening Mists

before saying goodnight to The Thief.

So, what did you think? And why don’t you have a go too? Just complete the sentences with the titles of the books you’ve read this year. Go on!