Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Top Ten Books of 2014

How has Christmas been and gone?! I adore Christmas and all of its sparkly, gift-giving fabulousness and the last few days have been a run of family, friends, too much food, plenty of prosecco and, perhaps most importantly, no work.  I hope you all had the most wonderful of wonderful Christmas times and received enough books to sink a ship.

There'll be a Christmas goodies post over the next few days but for now I'm feeling ponderous so I'm rolling out my Top Ten Books of 2014!  Although I actually have read more new releases this year than I normally read, this will still just be a list of the books that I've read this year.  And they won't be in any particular order because if I try to rank them, I'll be here all night.

1)  NOS4R2 by Joe Hill

There's no bad time to read this book - it might actually be the perfect antidote to all of the turkey dozes and hangovers that seem prevalent at this time of year.  I expected to like this but I don't think I expected to love it.  Shows how wrong I can be!

2)  Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

I ran a really well-supported half marathon in September and it was such an uplifting and exhilarating event.  This book keyed me up and kept me at my training programme even when it was cold/wet/I ached.  It even made me want to run a marathon just once, just for the experience.  (Hopefully by the time I'm 30 because that seems like an appropriately arbitrary milestone.  I'm not sure if it'll be 2015 because I know that the first quarter will be insanely busy at work but maybe by August 2016).  If you want to achieve anything, this is the book for you.

3)  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

This book is the epitome of heart-warming.  It manages to be warm and comforting while being painfully sad by weaving in anecdotes from the society members' experience of the Second World War. I listened to the Books on Tape audio version and it was perfection.  Every single one of the actors sounded completely right and I felt genuinely sad when I'd finished it.

4)   Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

I, along with the rest of the world, adore Rainbow Rowell.  She does bitter-sweet like no author I can think of and her books just make me want to stop the world and read.  This one captures everything that is first love and had me sobbing all over the pages.  It scored extra points for not having a completely predictable ending.  I have Fangirl to read and Landline still to acquire and read and I'm sure that both of them will live up to my lofty expectations.

5)  The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

I may be cheating by lumping three books into one but I can't distinguish from them so cheat I shall.  I love everything about this series.  I love that it has romance threads that I care about it.  That it has a main character who doesn't always do what you expect.  That it has a tangent of a storyline that had me rooting for a runt of a wyvern and a blood-thirsty witch.  It has everything that you could possibly want from a YA fantasy series and if you haven't already read it, you're crazy.  I am unbelievably glad that it isn't just a trilogy.

6)  Wake by Anna Hope

This was my first five star rating of the year.  It's quieter than a lot of World War I novels but is just as impactive.  More so, actually.  I read it way back in January and it remains one of the best books of the year so I guess that says enough.

7)  The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

I started reading this as part of the RIP read-along but by that time I was so far behind on posts and so busy at work that I never got round to praising it properly.  It's a short book but it's clever and the writing is stellar.  It's probably the best haunted house novel that I've read.  The fact that the horrendous adaptation featuring Catherine Zeta Jones exists is a travesty.

8)  Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I had an excellent run in January, it would seem!  I loved the idea of getting to try again and again but it's the execution that makes this a great book.  It also manages to look at both World War I and World War II without being clumsy or heavy-handed.  

9)  The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I'm going to try to squeeze a review of this in over the next week or so but in the meantime - this book was the most surprising of the year for me.  I kind of expected a coming of age type historical fiction story but The Miniaturist was a lot darker.  It might not be for everybody and it isn't perfect but it's distinctive and great if you want something different (and gloomy) to kick off 2015.

10)  Villette by Charlotte Bronte

I've read more classics this year than in previous years but this one was my favourite, edging out The Count of Monte Cristo.  Lucy Snowe is among the most unreliable of unreliable narrators.  I enjoyed it at the time but I don't think I thought it would make my top books for 2014 but the more I've reflected on it, the more I've realised how brilliant it is.  It's not quite Jane Eyre but it's bloody good.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Pickwick Papers: It's not me, it's you

Before I get into this post, there are a few things that I think are relevant facts that we should all put to the front of our minds before we gear up to the rotten fruit throwing:

1.  At this precise moment in time, I own 256 books that I haven't read.  256.  That might not be as many some of you but it's a lot.

2.  I usually read about a book a week, which I know isn't many but is about all I can fit in around the long hours that I work, the house that needs keeping clean and generally pleasant to be in and the boyfriend that I like to spend time with.  Not including audiobooks, I haven't finished reading a book since 18 November.

3.  A couple of years ago, I saw fit to remind myself that reading is supposed to be about love and that life is too short for it to be about anything less and, heaven forbid, for it to become a chore.

4.  In the time since I started this blog in July 2010, I've only given up and put aside one book.  I wrote a whole post about just how hard I find putting aside books that I've started in June 2011.  I hate it.  I don't feel like a failure or anything overly stressful like that but I do worry that I'm going to miss something great later on that would have made the earlier tedium worthwhile.

And so it is with no small amount of disappointment but with a feeling overall of...lightness that I make this confession:  I'm no longer reading The Pickwick Papers.

The most important factor in me making this bold move is that reading The Pickwick Papers was making me not want to read at all.  I didn't want to read about the Pickwickians' antics but couldn't settle with anything else because I felt as though I should be reading about them.  So I just avoided reading altogether.  I've been incredibly busy at work too which obviously hasn't helped but I've spent much more time in the past few weeks playing games on my phone and watching TV than I ordinarily would do.  Normally I read a couple of chapters before I go to sleep.  For the past few weeks, I've been just reading a page or two before falling asleep.

It's hard to say quite why I find the damn book so bloody awful.  Before this, I'd have said that I don't need a strong plot to enjoy a book.  That I like a character-focussed novel just as much as I like action-packed ones.  Maybe I love a good plot more than I thought. Or maybe the Pickwickians aren't enough to entertain me without an overarching story to get into.  Whatever it is, I find The Pickwick Papers completely and utterly painful.  When I was messing with my Kindle while pretending to read it a little while ago, its estimate of the amount of time that would drag by before I'd finished the whole terrible experience was 20 hours.  20 hours.  The thought made me want to cry.  It was looking devastatingly likely that I would get nothing else at all read before Christmas.  And that was when I really broke.  Not reading any of the other potentially fabulous books that I own and am excited about before the end of the year?  Inconceivable. Even before Christmas, I have upward of 250 books that I'm excited about.  That's far too many for me to spend any longer on one that I paid 38p for and can't bear.

So I'm sorry to my fellow read-alongers (although, really, all I've managed to contribute is one rather negative post and the occasional negative tweet), particularly Hanna, with whom I have exchanged many a distress-filled text, and Bex, who organised this read-along and is a super person that does not deserve to have readers dropping out of her lovely events.  I'm grateful to her for making me realise that this is one Dickens that is just not for me.  

I'm ridiculously not sorry, however, to Dickens.  This is one stinker of a book.  Its characters are sanctimonious.  Its plot is non-existent.  Its witticisms are funny for a little while but rapidly become less and less so.  I have absolutely no interest in where the book is going because I'm fairly confident that the answer is nowhere.  

Onward and upward.