Happy New Year everyone! I thought I would take a small step away from craft blogging today to tell you about the books I read and enjoyed in 2013. I’ve included the whole list below, then picked out a few of my favourites and un-favourites to tell you about.
What I read in 2013:
- King’s Dragon, Prince of Dogs, The Burning Stone; Kate Elliott; Fantasy (3/5 stars)
- Ship of Magic, The Mad Ship, Ship of Destiny; Robin Hobb; Fantasy (4/5 stars)
- Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, Dead to the World, Dead as a Doornail, Definitely Dead, All Together Dead, From Dead to Worse, Dead and Gone, Dead in the Family, Dead Reckoning, Deadlocked, Dead Ever After; Charlaine Harris; Urban Fantasy/Romance (2/5 stars)
- The Phantom of the Opera; Gaston Leroux; Classic/Fantasy (4/5 stars)
- The Great Gatsby; F Scott Fitzgerald; Classic (5/5 stars)
- Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue; Marquis de Sade; Classic (1/5 stars)
- The Casual Vacancy; J.K. Rowling; Fiction (5/5 stars)
- What Was She Thinking? (Notes on a Scandal); Zoe Heller; Fiction (4/5 stars)
- The Cuckoo’s Calling; Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling); Crime (5/5 stars)
- Sailing to Sarantium, Lord of Emperors; Guy Gavriel Kay; Fantasy/Historical Fantasy (3/5 stars)
- The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1; Diana Wynne Jones; Fantasy (3/5 stars)
- Tampa; Alissa Nutting; Fiction (3/5 stars)
- Straight Jacket; Adrian Deans; Fiction/Crime (5/5 stars)
- Cocaine Blues, Flying Too High, Murder on the Ballarat Train, Death at Victoria Dock, The Green Mill Murder, Blood and Circuses, Ruddy Gore, Unnatural Habits; Kerry Greenwood; Historical Fiction/Crime (3/5 stars)
- Uncanny!; Paul Jennings; Children (5/5 stars)
- In Cold Blood; Truman Capote; True Crime (5/5 stars)
- Catching Fire, Mockingjay; Suzanne Collins; Young Adult/Fantasy (5/5 stars)
- Perfume: The Story of a Murderer; Patrick Suskind; Crime (3/5 stars)
- The Shape of Water (Inspector Montalbano); Andrea Camilleri; Crime (4/5 stars)
- Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport; Anna Krien; Journalism/True Crime (5/5 stars)
All the reviews below are my own opinions. :)
Best Book(s) of 2013: The Casual Vacancy; J.K. Rowling; Fiction and The Cuckoo’s Calling; Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling); Crime.
The Casual Vacancy: It took me a while to work myself up to reading The Casual Vacancy, partly because I love Harry Potter so much, and partly because I heard such negative things about it. These included that it was terribly depressing and that there was not one single likeable character in the entire book. I couldn’t disagree more. While all of the characters (the story is told from perhaps 10 different view points) are flawed, some very deeply, I felt like I could see elements of myself in all of them – some good, some bad. The underlying message of the story was, in my opinion, that there is good inside everyone, no matter how privileged or how poor, and that we should all be kind to each other. It made me laugh and cry, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for a very long time. It cemented my view that I love everything Rowling has ever, and will ever write.
The Cuckoo’s Calling: As I said above, I love everything Rowling has ever written, and this was no exception. In fact, this book was so good that it has led me to the crime/detective genre, which I had not really read before. The Cuckoo’s Calling had a compelling story, really likeable characters and it was a fast paced and enjoyable read. It felt like a classic detective novel, set in a London that was peopled with all sorts of interesting suspects. I read an interview with Rowling where she mentioned that most of the Harry Potter books were mysteries in themselves, so obviously she has honed her skills. Happily, the sequel is due out this year, and I can’t wait. For anyone who didn’t enjoy The Casual Vacancy, but loved Harry, give The Cuckoo’s Calling a go – it’s much lighter, and although it doesn’t have any magic per se, it does have a magical feel to it.
Best New Book: Straight Jacket; Adrian Deans; Fiction/Crime.
I picked this book up by chance, and really thoroughly enjoyed it. It follows a somewhat sociopathic lawyer who enjoys manipulating other people’s lives in fairly disturbing ways, the reasons for which eventually become clear. The story progresses against the backdrop of a serial killer who is terrorising Sydney, and the two plot lines intermingle in a really gripping way. The author chooses to leave some of the details of the ending (which was an awesome climax) to the reader to figure out, which I enjoyed. I did read the ending about three or four times though, to clarify everything. This book treats the reader as a smart person, I feel. Additional perks are that Deans is Australian (I like an Aussie author), and a sequel (which I didn’t expect, but eagerly anticipate) may be appearing in the future.
Best Children’s/YA Book: Catching Fire, Mockingjay; Suzanne Collins; Young Adult/Fantasy.
Oh. My. God. These were gripping books. I read The Hunger Games last year, but held off on the sequels because I was told that the ending was quite depressing (this is true). I picked the series up again after watching Catching Fire, and got through both books in a few days. I couldn’t put them down. Collins has been criticised for using excessive violence in books that are aimed at teenagers and young adults. I feel, however, like that age group is already exposed to plenty of senseless violence in TV, movies, games and the media, and that this series at least has some really good messages behind the violence. It’s relevant, crafted with care, emotion and empathy, and an entirely chilling vision of what our world could be like. Katniss as the protagonist is imperfect, but, I feel, a great role model.
I also feel like I have to mention Paul Jennings’ Uncanny! in this category. This was a fun throwback to my childhood – I saw it in the library one day. Jennings writes twisted short stories for kids, but honestly they were just as compelling as an adult. His style, in some ways, is quite similar to Roald Dahl, and I think he is a genius. I will be saving these books for my children one day.
Best True Crime: In Cold Blood; Truman Capote; True Crime and Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport; Anna Krien; Journalism/True Crime.
In Cold Blood: Capote is also the author of a more famous work, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which I have not read. In Cold Blood is a true crime story – Capote read of the murder of a family of four in the newspaper, and journeyed to the town where it took place to investigate, talk to the locals, and, ultimately, interview the murderers. It’s hard to believe that this story could be true, but you really feel as though you are in the head of the murderers. Disappointingly, and terrifyingly, you can relate to them, as they are not monsters, but simply flawed humans. The book was fascinating, and I really enjoyed it. It has been turned into several movies, which I would really like to check out now. If you search online, you can actually see the crime scene photos of the murders, which brings home the tragedy of what was, in the end, an entirely senseless murder.
Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport: This fascinating work of gonzo journalism follows the trial of a football player for rape, and delves into the inherent culture of misogyny, violence and chauvinism that haunts many (all?) professional sports. It focusses particularly on Australian Rules Football, and draws on many of the author’s own experiences as well as interviews and incidents involving well known public sporting figures. The book links the culture nurtured in the sporting world to wider incidences of rape and violence against women, and also explores the discrimination perpetrated against indigenous people, especially in sports. It was an absolutely compelling read, I couldn’t put it down. It was incredibly confronting and, for me, induced a lot of anger, but I would highly recommend it. I feel like it should be required reading for many professional athletes. It’s hard to believe that in a “civilised” society, women can still be treated as they are.
Worst Book of 2013: Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue; Marquis de Sade; Classic.
I hated this book. Basically Sade attempts to use reverse psychology to convince you that living a moral and “right” life will get you nothing but misery – you should, instead, ignore all rules, and let society be as it may. The protagonist, Justine, is a “good girl” who literally gets raped, tortured or robbed by every person she meets, all of whom seem kind and generous at first, and reveal their true, evil colours as soon as she becomes indebted to them. I have no problem with a bit of Sadism (excuse the pun), but this book was boring, repetitive and predictable. And depressing. No thanks.
Worst Ending to a Beloved Series: Dead Ever After; Charlaine Harris; Urban Fantasy/Romance.
I loved this series (loved. Not love.). It formed the loose basis for the HBO series True Blood, but it’s very different in tone and content – much lighter, and sweeter, than the TV show. Charlaine Harris has managed to release one book in the series every year, leading me to reread the series so far every March, in happy anticipation of April/May when the latest instalment would hit. This year, however, the series ended, and it all came crashing down.
Now, I had defended this series against its critics for a long time. It is not particularly well written, it is not ground breaking stuff, but I loved it. The stories were fast paced, often with a central mystery to be solved, and the heroine, Sookie, is one tough cookie who never shies away from doing the right thing, but still manages to look great (almost) all the time. I admire her motivation. There was a host of great characters, and some really heart lifting romance.
However, in the last book, Harris clearly was over it, and decided to bring the story to an end in the most abrupt, poorly planned, deus-ex-machina embracing piece of crap I have ever read. I mean, you can sort of sense that she is giving up the ghost from books 10-12, but 13 really knocked it out of the park in terms of bad. I feel like she had personally disrespected me by penning such a lazy ending to a series I loved so much. Safe to say, the ending had literally ruined the series for me.
What’s on your 2014 reading list? If you have any recommendations, or any reviews of your own you’d like to share, please leave a comment below :). I always love to hear other people’s opinions on the books they’ve read, there’s no better ending to a book than discussing it with a friend!