Tag Archives: Life After Life

Literary Blog Hop: And the Winner is…

9781447212201

I am so pleased to announce the winner of my giveaway for The Literary Blog Hop!

Diana S. won a copy of Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman. Congratulations! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I had such an amazing response to the giveaway with over 80 entrants and lots of lovely comments – thank you to everyone who took part. Life After Life was definitely the most popular choice (with almost 50 entries), but I was pleased to see so much interest in The Panopticon as well.

And one last thank you to Judith over at Leeswammes Blog for all of her hard work making the blog hop happen!

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13 Best Books of 2013

You know it’s that time of year when all of the ‘Best of’ lists start appearing… I love browsing the lists, getting ideas on what to read next, ideas for gifts and just generally having a nosy to see if some of my favourite books of the year feature. I thought it would be lovely to do my own as I haven’t done one before – since I’ve read 53 books so far this year, a bit of a record for me, I’m having trouble narrowing down my list of favourites… So, with this in mind, I’ve gone for my 13 favourite books read in 2013 (in no particular order). I’m hopeful that next year I read as many wonderful books!

Top 13 of 2013

Click on the links to see my original review

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

How could this not make my list? I absolutely loved it, and found it equally gripping and infuriating with all of its twists and turns! I read along with my book group, and have since lent my copy to many people, all of whom have really enjoyed it. It’s an intelligent thriller – hopefully I’ll find something as good to kick off next year with as big a bang as this felt like in 2013.

LIfe After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson

I absolutely loved this book as well, the way Atkinson had structured her novel, giving main character Ursula repeated attempts at life, events repeating and changing thanks to the tiniest details and circumstances. I love the way it highlights how changeable life can be, and how each small moment can have a great effect on later events. It’s on a lot of the ‘Best of’ lists I’ve seen so far and I certainly think it deserves its place.

Burial_Rites_HBD_FCBurial Rites by Hannah Kent

This book was part of a very good run of audiobooks I listened to in the autumn, a début novel set in Iceland in the 1800s. It describes the last few days of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. I thought it was really evocative, and I loved listening to it as I think the narrator did a wonderful job capturing the tone of each of the characters and the pronunciation of all of the Icelandic names and places. I look forward to reading her next book!

The-Presidents-HatThe President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain (Paperback)

This was such a charming book, all about former French president Mitterand’s hat, and how it was found by a stranger and started to have a magical positive influence on his life. The hat flits on to other holders and casts its same spell on each of them – it’s such a lovely evocative story of France in the ’80s – I’ve passed this on to several family members and each one of them has been as charmed as I was!

9781447212201Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman (Paperback)

I adored this book, it was one of our book club choices and I think everyone really enjoyed it. It was part family saga, part murder mystery and I thought it’s sense of time and place was so evocative – I really felt as if I was back in the ’50s, sipping cocktails on a moon-drenched lawn. Another great Book Club read from 2013 – I’m not sure what 2014 has in store for the Book Club next year yet but I’m hoping there’ll be some more gems.

humansThe Humans by Matt Haig

The Humans tells the story of an alien sent to earth to assassinate a mathematics professor who has just discovered the secret of prime numbers, by an alien species who don’t think humans are quite ready to handle that information. What follows is a series of hilarious events as the alien tries to understand human culture; a love letter to what it means to be human and observations on just how ridiculous we really are. It’s warm and funny and intelligent and I would recommend it to all fellow humans.

vile bodiesVile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

I read this as part of my Evelyn Waugh Month, as a way to get to know the work of a particular author I hadn’t read much by before. This book was everything I wanted it to be and more – it’s a comical, light-hearted satire of the young and beautiful of London in the ’30s. I think it’s my favourite of Waugh’s books and it had me giggling away to myself. I’m thinking of doing the same again for next year with a different author – I haven’t decided who that will be yet so please watch this space!

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Yes, it took me years to get round to reading this, and no, it did not disappoint. Most people know the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy but Jane Austen’s prose is the best way to discover it. It’s a witty classic, and one that deserves its place on best read lists. A book I imagine I will read again and again throughout my life and never tire of.

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is all about Death, and his grip on people as the events of World War II unfolds. It’s such an original way to tell the story and I became quite attached to the characters, even though I knew all could not end well. This book had me wailing, one of just a handful of books to affect me so. The film adaptation is coming out at the end of January next year so I will be looking forward to seeing it!

pereiramaintainsPereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi

Set in Lisbon in the late ’30s, this novella demonstrates how even the most unassuming of people can have the courage to disagree with what is going on around them. There is an undercurrent of menace in the novel, as the effects of the Spanish Civil War and the onslaught of World War II make their presence known, that Tabucchi builds and builds into a tense and devastating moment. One of those books that stays with you long after reading.

panopticonThe Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

I have praised this book to practically everyone who has asked what my favourite book of the year was. It’s a sharp, intelligent and warm account of young offender and foster child Anais, who is moved into a home for troubled teens, known as The Panopticon. The language in this book rings out and Anais is such a compelling character, who has experienced far too much already in her 15 years, leaving her jaded and cynical. I can’t wait to see what Fagan writes next.

just kidsJust Kids by Patti Smith

This was one of the first audiobooks I listened to this year and it was the perfect introduction. An autobiography of Patti Smith’s younger years in New York with lover and struggling photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, this was narrated by Smith herself and it was so moving. You could hear the emotion in her voice as she read certain passages – if you are planning to read this at some point, I would highly recommend the audiobook.

crimson petalThe Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

I remember watching the BBC adaptation of this book a couple of years ago and being blown away by a new take on Victorian fiction, with its gritty detail. The book is even better, leading you through the London streets as you follow Sugar from brothel to ale house to higher places. You can practically smell what is being described. Sugar is an unforgettable character and I loved diving into her world. I have just finished reading Michel Faber’s début novel Under the Skin which was also brilliant – hopefully a review of that to follow soon.

For a full list of all of the books I’ve read this year, have a peek at my Books 2013 page.

We Love This Book have been asking book bloggers for their pick of 2013 books – read all of their recommendations here! What are your favourite books read in 2013? Anything you’re looking forward to in 2014? I’ve still to read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Aside from that, I will be sweeping my bookshelves and reading what I already own as well as getting stuck into my Non-Fiction Reading Challenge, to expand my horizons a little and read one non-fiction book a month. Does anyone else have big plans for their reading next year?

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Audio Review Round-Up

Up next on my reviews is an audio round-up. It’s been a while since I listened to some of these books and I find that if I haven’t written anything down about the books then I am likely to forget things… But here goes!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
whered-you-go-bernadetteThis has been on my radar for a while, after being shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and I thought it sounded like a fun read. At first I wasn’t sure about how the format would transfer to audio as the book is made up of a series of emails, letters, articles and messages and I thought it may get a little confusing. Happily, this wasn’t the case and I did get drawn in to the story. Semple captures perfectly the annoying superior voices of ‘soccer moms’, interfering in school life and judging other mothers. I thought it was a really fun book, and different too. It worked well in audio for the most part, although anyone who’s listened to the audiobook will struggle to remove the memory of the narrator screeching Oh holy night into their ears (in my case at 8 o’clock on an August morning. Not entertaining.) I loved Bernadette and her attitude to the know-it-all nosy mums at her daughter’s school, but was infuriated by her naïveté at times. I found her daughter Bee’s voice and attitude a bit immature to be 15, but this may be partly due to the fact that I had just read Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon! This is a fun book and I have already recommended it to a few friends, and the format works really well with the story.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
LIfe After LifeI loved this book, and I am slightly disappointed that I didn’t read a physical copy as I think I may have enjoyed it even more. Ursula is born on a snowy winter’s night, and as the cord is wrapped around her neck she draws what will be the first of her last breaths. This is a story of multiple chances at life and explores that notion of ‘What if?’ which I find fascinating – how she gets 2, 3, 4 chances at getting things right, and the different consequences that seemingly inconsequential actions will have. The nature of the narrative being that it jumps back and forth meant I could sometimes miss things and find it hard to skip back to work out what had happened. Aside from that one bug-bear I did enjoy Fenella Woolgar’s narration, her voice seemed to work perfectly with the story (I loved her in the Stephen Fry adaptation of Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, Bright Young Things). I think I will be reading this book again at some point! This is nominated for the 2013 Costa Novel Award – given that it has missed out on Man Booker and Women’s Prize for fiction accolades I think it would be a very worthy winner.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Burial_Rites_HBD_FCI thought this book was wonderful as well, one of the most affecting books I’ve read this year. It’s a début from Hannah Kent, telling the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. The narrative focuses around the family charged with keeping Agnes as their prisoner before her execution, and involves Agnes’s recollections herself and those of the young priest trying to help her achieve some kind of absolution for the murder she has been accused of. Agnes is haunted by her past and memories of her lover Natan Ketilsson, who was brutally murdered in his own home. The story is compelling, all the more so as it is based on real events and that you already know how it must end. What I enjoyed in particular about listening to this book was hearing the correct pronunciation of Icelandic names and places – if I had been reading this myself I would have had some hashed guess in my head which can’t do justice to the music of the words. It’s a beautiful and moving book, and an interesting imagining of the last days of Agnes Magnúsdóttir.

Death Comes to Pemberley
by P.D. James
death comes to pemberley bookI chose this book as I thought it would be a light-hearted, Agatha Christie-esque foray into murder mystery, set at Pemberley with all of the characters of Pride and Prejudice. I can hardly begin to tell you how disappointed I was by this book. I found the first part tedious with its summing-up of everything that had happened in Pride and Prejudice and introducing the characters. Given that this book will appeal mostly to Austen fans, it all seemed a bit unnecessary and almost a way of filling out the book and it’s weak storyline. I didn’t even manage to finish it, abandoning it about 3/4s of the way through after enduring the tedious (again!) ramblings of the doctor, and the local constabulary. It completely lacked the sparkle and wit of Austen’s novel and seems like a weak spin-off. Lizzie Bennet featured far too little for my liking and everything seemed to be left to the men to sort out. I was sorely disappointed and wouldn’t recommend this at all…as you can tell from my other reviews, I’m not usually so vehement in my negative comments but this just didn’t work at all for me!
(This Digested Read from The Guardian pretty much sums up how I feel about the book. As does the cartoon.)

I still have 5 credits left to go on my Audible gold subscription (which I won in a competition run by Granta Mag) and I want to choose wisely – I want books that will keep me entertained without being too heavy, with engaging stories. I like to have some room for my mind to wander as I mainly listen to them whilst walking to work and my brain is not always completely switched on and able to appreciate lyrical prose first thing in the morning! And so, onto the next audiobook… I am once again considering The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (of J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym fame). I enjoyed listening to a crime story (Natural Causes by James Oswald) but having just abandoned a murder mystery I might need to have a rethink! Any suggestions?

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Wish List Update

It’s been a little while since I have added anything to my Wish List so I thought it was about time I added a book I have been eagerly anticipating. I was first introduced to Donna Tartt by my aunt, who gave me a copy of The Secret History for my 18th birthday, as I was about to embark on a month-long stay working and living in France before I headed off to university. I absolutely loved the book and several years later I got around to reading her second novel The Little Friend which I wasn’t as keen on but still found the characters and scenes very impressionable.

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.clsSo next on my Wish List is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I’m sure many of you will have seen in bookshops and everywhere across the media. Synopsis is below:

‘Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph – a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.’

I think it sounds very intriguing – and it has also been getting great reviews from the blogging community so I can’t wait to get reading it!

I’ve made a few updates on the Wish List as well to add reviews for books I’ve read from it. So far, I have reviews to The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan and May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. I’ve also read Life After Life and will be reviewing that shortly. What’s on your wish list at the moment?

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Autumn Reading Round-Up, part 1.

Jeezo, is it November already?! I’m quite behind on my reviewing and didn’t seem to notice the time flying by. I’ve read some great books over the past couple of months and even though I don’t plan to write a full review of them, I still wanted to write down some thoughts. Here’s the first batch…

colm-toibin-the-testament-of-maryThe Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
I love Colm Tóibín. I loved his book Brooklyn and listened to a brilliant interview on the Guardian Books podcast which really brought the novel alive. The Testament of Mary was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year (which was won, in the end, by The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton). It’s a novella, a short little book that is more a monologue than a story as such. Everyone knows the story of the Crucifixion, but no one has really given Mary a voice before. I thought this book was very evocative, and perhaps it deserved more time than I gave it (I hurried through it all in one go one Saturday morning). The time and the place felt real and you really got a sense of the pain and miscomprehension Mary felt watching her son grow from boy to man to Son of God, into someone she could barely recognise. Part of me thinks this book went over my head a little bit, as so many people I’ve spoken to have thought it was wonderful. One to revisit and spend more time savouring, I think.

the-shining-girls-book-cover-2The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
I bought this book as I thought the idea of a time-travelling serial murderer being hunted down by the one victim who managed to get away sounded great. It was such an interesting idea and there were parts of it that I really enjoyed, the murderer Harper was intensely creepy, the house he lived in shifted and changed and spurred him on to kill more ‘Shining Girls’, and the stories of the murders were quite harrowing. The story was clearly well-researched and the Boston setting from the Depression era to the nineties changed and evolved. There was an intricacy to the plot, with clues and symbols dotted throughout the text, linking the women and the different times and places. Despite that, I was overall pretty disappointed by the novel as I found the main character Kirby (the one who got away) a little irritating and I found the love interest to be utterly pointless – it just didn’t serve the plot at all. This could have been a great book but the narrative featuring Kirby wasn’t as strong as the narrative with Harper and that really let it down as about half of the book was dedicated to each of them.

may we be forgivenMay We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes
This book won the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year (also up were Life After Life by Kate Atkinson which I loved and will talk about in my audio round-up still to come). The action of May We Be Forgiven centres around one man, Harold, who is thrown in at the deep end when his brother is involved in an accident, his marriage breaks down and he has to look after his brother’s family. I don’t want to say too much more and give the story away, as the story was pretty crazy. It keeps you on your toes and the storyline goes down unexpected routes, involving family betrayals, adoption of an orphan and an elderly senile couple, trips to Disneyland, a gay love affair between a teacher and pupil, and a covert criminal rehabilitation scheme. It sounds mad when you write it down like this, but it works. There is something uplifting about the novel, in the way that Harold manages to pull together a family of sorts after his own have come undone, and the characters begin to find peace after some pretty traumatic events. I’ve heard that A.M, Homes earlier novel This Book Will Save Your Life is even better so I will look forward to reading that at some point soon.

crimson petalThe Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
I have been meaning to read this book for soooo long. Ever since I saw the BBC TV adaptation and loved it, and then I started working at Canongate this still gleamed down at me from my bookshelf. I absolutely loved it, and it was just the type of thing I was looking for, a long weighty Victorian novel to get stuck into as winter starts to set in. I knew the story already but very much enjoyed the novel, it is the way the story is told that makes it so special, the way the narrator invites you in, whispering lasciviously in your ear and letting you peek through the keyholes into the underbelly of Victorian life that society tried so hard to keep hidden. The world that Faber creates is wonderful, bringing to life all of the sights and smells of all parts of London. The wordly-wise and smart Sugar (the prostitute at the centre of the novel) is an unforgettable character, and the innocent and dreamy Agnes (the wife of the man who hires Sugar as his live-in concubine) equally so. I’d also highly reccommend the BBC TV adaptation as it was wonderful too, and quite true to the novel.

the appleThe Apple by Michel Faber
I rattled through this the couple of days after I finished The Crimson Petal and the White, as I wanted to know more about what had become of the characters. There aren’t any huge revelations, just a few little teasers and these short stories are a pleasing way to dip back into the Crimson Petal world if you’ve been missing it. I’m looking forward to reading Faber’s first novel Under the Skin very soon – there’s a film coming out of it next year starring Scarlett Johansson which has been getting very good reviews!

I’ll have the next lot up tomorrow. What have you all been reading this autumn?

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March Reading Round-Up & April Preview

March Books

March wasn’t a particularly busy reading month but I did read some really good books and ones that were quite different from each other too. I think my favourite book this month has been The Search by Geoff Dyer as I got really drawn into it.

Books from March are:
The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Search by Geoff Dyer
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I also published a review of The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins which I read back in November last year.

I’m really happy with my blogging this month as I feel like I am finally getting the hang of it and being a little more consistent in putting up reviews soon after I’ve read a book. It’s taken me a while to get to this stage and I find that I am enjoying it more and more. I started a new Wish List page where I aim to put links to reviews that have inspired me to read something that I hadn’t heard of or just hadn’t fancied before. So far I have Life After Life by Kate Atkinson on there which I will hopefully get my hands on soon!

April Books

I’m really looking forward to what’s in store in April as I have embarked upon something a little different by reading several books by Evelyn Waugh all in one month. I started reading Scoop yesterday which I’m already finding very funny, and after that I’ll be reading Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust. Another of Waugh’s books, The Loved One was recommended to me by Fleur Fisher of the Fleur Fisher in her world books blog – I don’t have a copy but I’m planning to borrow one from my local library and add it to my list. If I have time, I may even re-read Brideshead Revisited! I might try and catch up on a few Waugh films too – I’ve seen the 2008 film version of Brideshead Revisited but didn’t rate it highly and I’ve heard the TV series with Jeremy Irons from the ’80s is far superior so I’ll see if I can find that. The film version of A Handful of Dust has also been recommended to me so I’ll try and track that down, as well as watching Bright Young Things after I have read Vile Bodies (the book on which the film was based).

Finally, I have also looked out Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck to re-read as I was reminded of it so much when reading The Cone-Gatherers and fancied reading it again. So I have a busy month ahead of me and potentially 6 books to get through – looking forward to it!

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A Wish List begins…

It seems like almost every other day that I come across another book that I want to read. I usually end up adding them to my ‘to-read’ list on Goodreads but I’d like to do this a little better and have a page on my blog where I keep a Wish List. I’ll try to include my sources too, as a little tip of the hat to the blog, or tweet, or article, or friend who brought the book to my attention.

You can have a look at the beginnings of it here.

At the moment, I am mostly coveting Life After Life by Kate Atkinson which I think sounds just wonderful, like a literary Groundhog Day.

LIfe After Life

This was mostly inspired by these reviews I saw on Bibliomouse and Lucybird’s Book Blog.

I have also been browsing through the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist which has some titles on it I’d love to read.

Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist 2013

Most notably, there is NW by Zadie Smith, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (which I first discovered through Book Riot’s Best Books of 2012 post), Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver and of course Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (after I have read Wolf Hall of course!).

I actually do have a Book Journal that was given to me by my Grannie for my 18th birthday. I used to update it all the time but have now found that all of my bookish thoughts and whims have gone digital. I’m going to dig that out and update it too I think – such a lovely thing to keep!

How do you keep track of what you have read, or what you’d like to read? Is it solely through your blog or online reading sites like Goodreads, or *gasp* the Wish List feature on Amazon? Or do you have a journal that you keep? Would love to hear your thoughts – and if you have any suggestions for the Wish List, do let me know!

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