Thursday, 20 December 2012

End of Year Book Survey 2012

Over at The Perpetual Page-Turner, Jamie has put together the End of Year Book Survey. As this was my first year of book blogging, I've decided to join in and revisit some of my favourite books from this past year!

1. Best book you read in 2012?
Adult fiction: The Group, by Mary McCarthy, and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.
YA fiction: The Boyfriend List/The Boy Book by E. Lockhart and Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson.
Non-fiction: The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson.

(A little bit of cheating there, maybe... But it's difficult to narrow down!)

2. Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn't?
Queen Camilla, by Sue Townsend. A sequel to one of my all-time favourite books, The Queen and I, but this one just didn't grab me and seemed quite weak in comparison. Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers, was also good but not as good as I'd hoped, and I really didn't enjoy The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, even though I was convinced it'd be just my thing.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?
Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett. I'd never read any Pratchett before, and was certain it wasn't really for me, but I borrowed this from a friend and thought it was excellent.

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?
How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. I lent my own copy to my mum, and after going on about it so much my housemate at the time, and a good friend of mine, both read it too.

5. Best series you discovered in 2012?
The Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart. I still have to read the third and fourth books, but the first two were absolutely brilliant.

6. Favourite new authors you discovered in 2012?
E. Lockhart, Morgan Matson, Brigid Lowry, Mary McCarthy and Chad Harbach.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
Probably Riding the Magic Carpet by Tom Anderson. Although it forms a travelogue of sorts, which is a genre I enjoy, this book was about surfing, a sport of which I have a limited knowledge!

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?
Both Amy & Roger's Epic Detour, and If I Stay by Gayle Forman, were very much 'just one more chapter' reads this year.

9. Book you read in 2012 that you are most likely to re-read next year?
I'm not really a re-reader, bar a few favourite series, although there are plenty of books I read for my thesis (which I don't track or blog about) that I will no doubt have to revisit!

10. Favourite cover of a book you read in 2012?
If anything, there were more dodgy covers that good ones, looking back - but my favourite was Fatherland by Robert Harris. Maybe "favourite" is the wrong word, but it certainly has impact, and not only the cover but the edges of all the pages are red, too, which makes it unusual.

11. Most memorable character in 2012?
Ruby Oliver, from The Boyfriend List series, and Tyrion and Arya from the A Song of Ice and Fire series.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?
Tigers In Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?
The Group, for some wonderful writing and a brilliant examination of women in the 1930s, and Fatherland, for an alternate post-WWII history that was genuinely chilling in places.

14. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?
I started reading Pride and Prejudice, but seeing as I still haven't finished it, I'll have to say either The Group (again) or The Laughing Policeman by Martin Beck, one of the original Scandinavian crime gems.

15. Favourite passage/quote from a book you read in 2012?
I am terrible at remembering quotes from books, so I'll just offer up this passage from Equal Rites:

“At some time in the recent past someone had decided to brighten the ancient corridors of the University by painting them, having some vague notion that Learning Should Be Fun. It hadn’t worked. It’s a fact known throughout the universes that no matter how carefully the colors are chosen, institutional decor ends up as either vomit green, unmentionable brown, nicotine yellow or surgical appliance pink. By some little-understood process of sympathetic resonance, corridors painted in those colors always smell slightly of boiled cabbage—even if no cabbage is ever cooked in the vicinity.”

16. Shortest and longest book you read in 2012?
Longest: A Feast For Crows by George R. R. Martin. Not my favourite of the series, mostly because of all the new characters and plot points that it had to establish. It was worth it in the end, but it was a slog at times!
Shortest: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. There were a few short books I read this year, but I remember this being finished in an afternoon.

17. Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling and dying to talk to somebody about it?
Overall, this probably has to be between A Feast For Crows and the two parts of A Storm of Swords - I read all of these books after my brother had finished with them, and had to pick them apart with him every time I went home.

18. Favourite relationship from a book you read in 2012?
Probably the sibling relationship in Brigid Lowry's Follow The Blue. While most of it occurred in the background of the novel, it was warm and realistic and really enhanced the story.

19. Favourite book you read in 2012 from an author you read previously?
Looking back I read more authors for the first time than authors I'd read previously, but I think this would have to be The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, who wrote Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides.

20. Best book that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else?
Losing It, by Julia Lawrinson, which was recommended by Mandee at VeganYANerds, who then sent me a copy to read. Other than that, Equal Rites.

I have a busy Christmas period on the horizon, including some time with my family, a trip to see some old uni friends, and Christmas with the boy by the sea. Hope everyone has an excellent holiday, and I'll be back on the blog in the New Year!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Review: Heist Society, Ally Carter

Heist Society

Ally Carter

Orchard Books, 2011 (2010)

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her on a trip to the Louvre…to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria…to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own—scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. But now her dad's life is on the line, and Kat must go back to the world she tried so hard to escape...

This book was a lot like being swept up on a wave of improbability and having such a fun time that you forget to look down until the end. This was my second Ally Carter novel - the other being the first Gallagher Girls book - and the two have a lot in common.While the Gallagher Girls books take place in a boarding school for spies, Heist Society opens up with Kat being expelled from her prestigious school for a crime she didn't commit. She finds herself thrust back into a world of robbery, heists, secrecy and ingenuity, a life she has tried to escape only to find she must pull off the most difficult job yet in order to save her father's life.

Carter gets the pacing spot on in this book, and I think this is its outstanding feature. The backstory is only ever glimpsed or mentioned briefly by other characters. It has to be pieced together, rather than stopping for much exposition, and this meant the action started up almost immediately and didn't let up until the end. Kat has a certain number of days in which to steal a number of paintings from the world's most impenetrable gallery, aided by a group of her equally skilled friends. A bit like Ocean's 11 with fifteen year olds.

The plot is vaguely ludicrous and highly improbable, and the reason that Kat must do the theft in the first place is a bit mad, but as a piece of fun action-adventure it works. It would almost work better as a film that as a book, in a way. There's a romantic element that lingers in the background, but I wonder if that is explored over subsequent books in the series - there were a few things in Heist Society (the dead mother, the family business that Kat maintains an uneasy relationship with, her reasons for running away to school) that seemed important but had to remain on the sidelines, that I suspect might be revisited in later installments.

A fun, slightly silly but gripping adventure with a lot of dashing around Europe and plenty of instances of distracting security guards, crawling through air vents, and hacking into the mainframe. This is definitely worth a read if you enjoyed Carter's other series, or if you just fancy a bit of escapism.

Overall rating: 5.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Review: With Lots of Love From Georgia, Brigid Lowry

With Lots of Love From Georgia

Brigid Lowry

Allen & Unwin, 2005

My name is Georgia. I live in a town called Anywhere, that has too many shopping malls and not enough skate parks. I like to think of myself as a brilliant creative person, but sometimes I just feel like a sad lonely girl with a big bum.

Things I want:
A magic bicycle
Two tickets to Natural Affinity
A Vietnamese blue silk eiderdown
To see a ghost
Eva to shift to another planet
A cyborg to clean my room
Purple tulips

If Seinfeld was an Australian YA book about a fifteen year old girl whose main aim in life is to save enough money for tickets to a pop concert, this might be it.

Well, okay, not really, but Seinfeld was famed for being about 'nothing', and in a way this book is about nothing, too. That's not say it's boring, and there's certainly a lot of different threads - but rather than focus on any of these, it's more about Georgia's journey through.

Georgia lives with her mum. Her dad died when she was young, and her mum remains fixated on her dad's memory. She's close to her grandad, but the rest of her family drive her a bit mad - her crazy aunt, her other aunt and uncle, who can't stop fighting, and her cousin Gilda, limp and disappearing under the weight of her parents' constant battles. Georgia's best friend is Mel, a vegan girl with acne who understands Georgia's anguish at not looking like everyone else, except Mel is a) in love and b) going to the beach for the summer, leaving Georgia all alone.

Feeling alone, Georgia starts to make lists. Useful lists and silly lists and wishful lists, all in a yellow journal. Her aim is to save up enough money to see her favourite band, Natural Affinity, in Melbourne, which prompts a string of jobs over her lonely summer. She hangs out with the cool kids but still feels inferior. She and her mum tiptoe around the subject of her dad. And, obviously, there's a boy.

I still couldn't say the book was about any of these things: mostly, it's about all of these things to some extent, but moreover it's a kind of coming of age, as Georgia comes to terms with her family, her friends, and herself. On occasion I found her narrative voice to be annoying, but the more I thought about it the more I think Lowry got it spot on. There's an edge to some of the things she says, a kind of self-righteous defensiveness, that reminded me of someone I knew when I was a teenager. But then a lot of the things that Georgia is dealing with - insecurities about her weight and appearance, growing apart from her best friend, simultaneously wanting and not-wanting to be like everyone else - reminded me of the same person, so although it was a little bit annoying at times it did in fact ring true for me.

That's not to say Georgia is an annoying character - it's easy enough to sympathise with her, and I liked that there wasn't a miracle makeover involved at any point, and that the boy wasn't used simply to fix all of her problems. Her changing relationship with Mel was also interesting, and there were some nice moments between Georgia and her grandad.

My only real issue was that although Georgia's voice rang true, some of the conversations didn't. Some of the conversations between the teenage characters sounded very obviously written by an adult, and rather than have conversations develop a character would just say everything they needed to say in one go, or offer up a handy pseudo-psychological reasoning for their actions, one of those "I'm sorry I yelled but I guess growing up with a violent father means I don't know how to handle my emotions properly" moments that seems unlikely to ever come out of someone's mouth in real life. Georgia and her mother handily resolve an issue that's been simmering for most of the book in less than two pages, going from full-blown yelling and accusations to hugs and forgiveness without the reader ever having to blink.

As a light, realistic coming of age story, this is certainly worth a read, and was perfect for a lazy weekend. Although I didn't enjoy it as much as the other Lowry book I have read (Follow The Blue), it's still a fun slice of contemporary YA.

Overall rating: 6/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

From The Vaults: Review: The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

Black Swan, 2007 (2006)


HERE IS A SMALL FACT - YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION - THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH. It's a small story, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. ANOTHER THING YOU SHOULD KNOW - DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES.

Reviewed February 2010

I have not devoured a book so quickly in a long time as I did The Book Thief. Death as the narrator made perfect sense: who else to oversee the destructiveness of Nazi Germany? As a narrator, Death is upfront, often wry. As a reader, you often know who will die long before they do. For me, this did not ruin the story at all, but rather lent it a sense of foreboding that brought home the indiscriminate nature of war: the good will not always triumph.

Despite the many traumatic moments the book details, The Book Thief is not a bleak novel - it is blackly humorous, and often touching without being saccharine. The main character is compelling: Liesel, who discovers the redemptive power of words amidst the horrors of her young existence. In a world where the words have been stolen by Hitler to exert his power over the people of Germany, Liesel learning to read and write offers her the opportunity to take the words back, to use them to offer comfort to those around her: Max, Frau Hotlzapfel, the mayor's wife, and the residents of the Himmel Street air raid shelter.

The Book Thief touches on a theme common to many novels about the Holocaust: the ability of one person to make a difference, to potentially save another human being. As is often the case, too, there is no happy ending, but nevertheless, Liesel's words are one girl's way of fighting back, however briefly.

Original Goodreads rating: 4/5 stars

Book source: Bookcrossed to me by a friend.

From the Vaults is an attempt to resurrect those book reviews I wrote and published on Goodreads before I started Bibliotekit. They tend to be quite short, but I hope they might highlight some good books I picked up in the last couple of years!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Showcase Sunday

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea.

I've been absent from the blog for a couple of weeks now, mostly due to the looming deadline of my thesis draft, which was finally submitted on Friday. It's been a hazy month of manic typing, frantic footnoting, leaping out of the shower when I think of the exact right way to structure the end of a chapter, and lots of late nights and early mornings. As a result, also, not a whole lot of reading for fun.

I did manage to finish Liza Klaussmann's Tigers In Red Weather, however, which was a brilliant debut novel and highly recommended. (Review here.) At the moment I reading Brigid Lowry's With Lots of Love From Georgia, which is a fun Aussie/NZ YA novel (so far it hasn't been specified and Lowry is from New Zealand but lived in Australia so I'm hedging my bets... ;) ) and nice and summery for my brain!

Only one book to share this week, rescued from a bag of books my brother was donating to charity. In amongst lots of Charlaine Harris I found Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors In Ukrainian, which I've heard some good things about, so I might give it a go at some point.

Have a good weekend!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Review: Tigers in Red Weather, Liza Klaussmann

Tigers In Red Weather

Liza Klaussmann

Picador, 2012

The epitome of East Coast glamour, Tiger House is where the beautiful and the damned have always come to play in summer, scene of martinis and moonlit conspiracies, and newly inherited by the sleek, beguiling Nick. The Second World War is just ending, Nick’s cousin Helena has left her in search of married bliss in Hollywood, and Nick’s husband is coming home. Everything is about to change. Their children will surprise them. A decade later, on the cusp of adolescence, Nick’s daughter and Helena’s son make a sinister discovery that plunges the island’s bright heat into private shadow. Summer seemed to arrive at that moment, with its mysterious mixture of salt, cold flesh and fuel. Magnificently told by each of the five characters in turn, Tigers in Red Weather is a simmering novel of passion, betrayal and secret violence beneath a polished and fragile facade.

Sometimes a line or two in a book just grabs me. There's a line not long into Tigers In Red Weather where one of the principal characters, Nick, is thinking about her relationship with her husband. She muses that it was "meant to be different" for the two of them, different from the rest of the world, different from other relationships, because they were "special". I'm paraphrasing slightly, because the book went back to the library before I could make a note of the exact quote, but it was such a recognisable sentiment, and so well crafted, that I knew I was in for a treat.

I wanted to read Liza Klaussmann's debut novel ever since I saw a sampler of it in Waterstones, and for the most part it didn't disappoint. Nick and Helena are cousins, and the novel starts with them at the end of the Second World War, living together in a small apartment, poor but reasonably happy and muddling along. But this is an end rather than a beginning: Helena, whose first husband has died in the war, is moving to LA, while Nick is moving to Florida to be with her husband Hughes, back from the war and ready to continue their life together. The book passes through five rounds of narration - Nick, her daughter Daisy, Helena, Hughes and Helena's son Ed - as the family move beyond the war and into the 1950s and 60s, the action revolving around the family's summer home (Tiger House) and the tensions and secrets swirling around the family as the years pass.

The writing was wonderfully evocative without being over the top, and the feeling of the book reminded me a lot of Donna Tartt's The Little Friend in many ways - the too-hot summers, the hint of secrets and illicit relationships, the quiet despair, the children who stumble upon something that can't be undone. Plot-wise, it meandered along nicely. There are no big shocks, not even in the final section, which is meant to shed some light on the preceding events. That's not to say that it was predictable, but rather that things happened and were absorbed into the novel, rather than presented as devastating or surprising events. Imagine a slightly drunken summer evening at a glamorous old house, all champagne and lights and whispers and fleeting colourful images, and that's kind of what this novel felt like.

The ending fell a little bit flat for me - I felt that Tigers started out stronger than it finished, which is what led me to a slightly lower rating overall, despite my conviction that it was a five-star read at the start. Somehow it seems to be building up to more, and the opening narrative viewpoints felt more vibrant than some of the later ones. Nevertheless, Tigers In Red Weather is a glorious, immersing novel that oozes betrayal, lust, jealousy and family secrets, all hung on five characters who remain difficult to fathom and not always likable, but ultimately worth the ride.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.