There's an ever growing pile of books I want to read…
2012 Roundup: Books I Read But Did Not Review
Things have not been going so well for me recently and, as a result, I’ve found myself reading books but not bothering to write the reviews to go with them. I thought that I might try to start the new year by letting go of these in one large post so that I don’t go too far into the year with them dragging them behind me like some terrible reviewing burden.
There are also some books that I read in the earlier part of last year, before I set up this blog, that never got their moment.
When I told my friend Sarah that I was writing this post, she was able to come up immediately with the number of books she read last year as she keeps a list with a running total. I wish now that I were that organised, although the number probably would have been high enough to put me off even starting to write this, so it’s probably for the best.
So here’s a quick round-up of those books that I can remember reading last year and did not review. It is definitely not exhaustive – some things, like Watching the English and The Impossible Life of Mary Benson, have been read and passed on and I wouldn’t be able to do them justice now, others, like Bitterblue, were borrowed and have been returned. I’m sure that there are some books that I just don’t remember so you’ll have to forgive me for any that I miss.
With that in mind, let’s get started:
Books I Enjoyed:
The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
I loved this book. Hesperus Press sent me a copy before it was released and hopefully I paid them back by recommending it to everyone I talked to when it was first released. I want everyone to read it. It’s a story about what happens when an old man decides that he doesn’t want to attend his own birthday party and escapes through the window of his nursing home, leaving an unplanned trail of destruction behind him. It was exactly my kind of dark comedy.
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this from Hot Key books and I loved it. I don’t want to give too much away but it’s set in an alternate version of Soviet Russia, during the space race. Although it’s a kids book, I want all my adult friends to read it so that I can talk about how amazing it is with them.
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Someone recommended this book to me when they found out that I am a fantasy fan and I would recommend it to anyone else who likes fantasy books. It’s a huge book and took a while to read but was definitely worth the effort. It’s not your typical sword and sorcery epic – except in the places where it is – and it has a lot going on but there are two ideas running through it that aren’t your typical fantasy fare: who are you if your cultural identity is stripped from you and that there is guaranteed to something admirable in everyone, even your sworn enemy.
The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb
Okay, yes, this is a picture book. But it’s a really good picture book. I had a lump in my throat by the time I got to the end. What happens at Christmas when one twin is naughty and the other is good? And what if Father Christmas had muddled them up? You could probably find a copy of this in the January sale and save it to read to the kids next Christmas. It’s so lovely that it deserves a place in the box with the Christmas decorations.
Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor
This is the follow up to the excellent Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which you’ll have probably heard me gush about if you follow me on Twitter. I’m incredibly grateful to Hodderesque for sending me an advance reading copy and I thought this book was even better than its predecessor. I’d definitely recommend the series (with the proviso that you should be prepared for some sexual violence) and I can’t wait for the conclusion to the trilogy.
Soulless by Gail Carriger
If you need some comfort reading, this is the book that I’d recommend. Lady Alexia Tarabotti is “soulless”, immune to the more supernatural elements of Victorian Society. In the first of this series, she deals with unexpected vampires, attractive werewolves and even Queen Victoria herself. It’s a great, fun read and guaranteed to improve your day.
What’s Up With Jody Barton? by Hayley Long
We were lucky enough to have Hayley Long visit the store and, once an author has signed a copy of something for you, it’s just rude not to read it. I’m so glad I did. This was such a great, clever, thought-provoking book and I loved how it was laid out with little pictures and different font sizes. I’m not always good with twists because I don’t like feeling as if the author has tricked me – it messes with my suspension of disbelief- but in this case it was particularly well done. Again, this is a book for teenagers that everyone should read.
Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman
Andrew Kaufman writes fairy tales for adults. This is his latest, a story of the Weird family, whose blessings have turned to curses and who have a few days to get together so that they will be lifted. There were parts of the story that I liked more than others and the last section did not seem to fit particularly well with the rest of the story but overall, I enjoyed it. Thanks go to The Harper Insider for sending it out to me.
Adapt by Tim Harford
Tim Harford might be familiar to you as the author of The Undercover Economist. This was a really interesting (but not always particularly focussed) look at what makes ventures successful and unsuccessful and how the ability to adapt to difficulties and failures makes success much more likely. There was also some really interesting information about the banking crisis.
Under the Skin by Michel Faber
This was an excellently written but completely horrifying book. It’s being turned into a film, which should be interesting. I would definitely recommend this but not to the faint hearted.
Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie
Jennifer Crusie is the type of author I’d read even if she announced that she’d written a 100,000 page epic about a pair of chihuahuas falling in love on a space station. She has a way of writing characters that (when I think of it) may not be the most realistic but is definitely compelling and entertaining. This is her take on The Turn of the Screw meets Bringing Up Baby. It’s a bit of a screwball comedy about ghosts, psychics, estranged lovers and creepy children.
Adorkable by Sarra Manning
Sarra Manning is another author who could write a chihuahua epic and have me queuing up to read it. I was exactly the right age to read her Diary of a Crush story when it was serialised in J:17 (back when they were still making J:17!) and I’ve read almost everything she’s written since. She’s never steered me wrong. Adorkable is about a teen blogger and lifestyle brand (a little like Tavi Gevinson or Caitlin Moran) named Jeanne and a boy she doesn’t like but wants to kiss. Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that. I enjoyed reading this but I’m not sure that I’d like Jeanne in real life.
Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts
Jeyn Roberts is another author that I was lucky enough to meet in 2012. Dark Inside is the first in a series of post-apocalyptic teen novels. There is something in the darkness that is making people go crazy with rage and four teenagers must try to work together to stay alive. I liked the way the narratives were connected with the characters starting out separate and gradually coming together. Although I thought it was really good, it was very clearly the “set-up” book for the rest of the series and ended in an annoyingly cliffhanger-y way. I also didn’t like the cover, which put me off picking it up for a while.
The Duff by Kody Keplinger
I was recommended this by Nicole (from http://reluctant-hypersomniac.blogspot.co.uk) and I thought it was really well written. Bianca is at out with her friends when a guy calls her the ‘Designated Ugly Fat Friend’ – the girl that guys have to be nice to so that they can get in with her slimmer, more attractive friends – and she takes it badly (understandably). This is a teen book that talks about self esteem and sex and I thought it was handled really well.
Trust Me on This by Jennifer Crusie
Another Jennifer Crusie book and not one of her best. I could definitely tell while reading it that it was one of her earlier novels. The characters are still solid and some of the set-pieces were very entertaining but it felt a little thin.
The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher
I’ve always been interested in language and its development and I picked this book up secondhand, having read and enjoyed Guy Deutscher’s book ‘Through the Language Glass”. This one was equally interesting, with lots of information about how languages evolved from proto-indo-european and how it is possible to see similar patterns in its development. I’m not sure whether the problem was with me or with the book, but I did find it a little dry and hard to concentrate on even though the actual information contained was interesting.
Books I didn’t really enjoy but didn’t really dislike either:
What’s Left Of Me by Kat Zhang
This is another book for which I have to thank The Harper Insider. In Eva and Addie’s world, everyone is born with their soul split into two different personalities inside one body. Usually, one personality emerges as more dominant and the other fades away. In their case, though, they both stayed and have hidden it. I liked the idea of this story but for some reason, I just didn’t love it. I think part of my problem was that it reminded me of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, which did better with the same concept. Sorry!
Rereadings ed. by Anne Fadiman
I was very excited to find this in a second-hand bookstore in Seattle. I have two collections of Anne Fadiman’s essays, which I really loved. This is other people’s essays on rereading books that they once loved (and, in one case, an album cover). I enjoyed some of the essays very much, but there were others that I had to slog my way through. Judged as a whole, I’m afraid that there were less that I enjoyed than didn’t enjoy.
Books I didn’t enjoy at all:
Jamilia by Chingiz Aïtmatov
I read this because it was a Waterstone’s book of the month and, to be honest, I found it incredibly disappointing. Perhaps if the blurb on the back of the book hadn’t told me every single thing that happened, I would have enjoyed it more. As it was, i spent all 96 pages waiting for something to happen. Perhaps there was something more subtle there that I was missing but I just found it very dull. My copy also fell apart while I was reading it, so it was not in any way worth the money.
High Rising by Angela Thirkell
It’s never a good sign when a book starts with an essay about how it was written in a different time, when social values were not what they are now, and should be forgiven for any flaws based on that. I bought this expecting it to be nice, easy, comforting Christmas read (it looks Christmassy, doesn’t it). Unfortunately, Christmas is over within the first four chapters and then it’s just racism and looking down on people for being secretaries.
Whew! That’s probably enough to be getting on with. Let’s hope 2013 brings some good reading too. I’m about 8 pages away from finishing The Girl Who Would be King by Kelly Thompson so look out for a review of that later on this week.
I have also decided not to buy any new books until my to-read pile is a little more manageable. I’ll still take proofs and books as gifts, but no more buying.
I counted this morning and I have 134 books to read (that I can find, there are probably more hiding on shelves). That’s a year’s reading on its own. Two days into January, I’m already struggling with this but I think it’s going to be interesting and worthwhile. Besides, there are parts of my flat are are now inaccessible because of all the books. It would be nice to be able to get to them again!