Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 – What a varied reading year you’ve been!

Like an icy cold margarita slushie on a hot summer's day, so refreshing has been my year of reading for me.  No reading for reviewing, just pure unadulterated reading for pleasure.  And I have clearly loved it - I finish with the career best figure of 87.5 not out. (The 0.5 is for Save Me by Lisa Scottoline which started great but quickly left me wishing someone would save me from the author's continual (over)use of the phrase "she hit the gas." Honestly, it's got to the point where it set my teeth on edge each time she does it...which was every 3-4 pages.) 

So here are my personal highs and lows...

The book I think about the most: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.

Voy! Amy Chua isn’t a mum to be messed with.  The measures she goes to in an effort to have her two daughters achieve at the highest level totally blew this Kiwi kid’s mind…and also weirdly, left me a little jealous.  Sophia and Lulu excel academically and musically to heights I can only imagine. Of course the flip side to this success was the hundreds of pain filled hours of homework and practise, tears and tantrums from both the children and their mum. 

My animal-lit choice of the year: I’m a sucker for a good animal story and you’d be hard pressed to find one better than Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods. 

My interest in Bonobos was started by the fiction novel Ape House by Sara Gruen (she of Water for Elephants fame).   These clever, extremely promiscuous creatures on the verge of extinction are our closest relatives and yet we hear very little about them.   I defy you to read Vanessa’s hilarious, moving and informative account  of her time working at Lola La Bonobo Sanctuary in the Congo and not fall a little bit in love with these fascinating, frisky apes.

Surprise of the year: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell.

I’ve kinda given up on chick lit – along with thousands of other women it would seem as sales of this genre have plummeted in the last year.  But Attachments was a glorious, unabashedly feel good story for women to fall a little bit in love with.

Maybe some of it was the nostalgia factor it evoked (if 12 years ago can qualify as nostalgia inducing) when we were all just getting to grips with this fancy fandangled thing called the internet.  Or the simple but sweet forbidden love story which sees online security geek Lincoln fall for unlucky in love Beth – even though he only knows her through reading the emails she shares with her besty Jennifer that come up on his security alert list.  Or even the sparklingly funny dialogue, cringe worthy (and very real) situations they all found themselves in. 

Whatever it was, I loved this book far more than I expected to and it has become my go-to recommendation for anyone wanting a return to the glory days of chick lit writing.

Disappointment of the year: "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" - Aimee Bender

Fantastic, evocative title with an exciting and fresh premise.  Really disappointing book.    Made me realise I don’t really do magical realism as a genre though so not all bad. 

Honourable mention: "When God Was A Rabbit" - Sarah Winman – some beautiful turns of phrase but way too many huge coincidences and no real emotional connections.  Just didn’t do it for me. *Shrug*

Great story ruined by a saccharine sweet/unbelievable ending: "The Story of Beautiful Girl" - Rachel Simon.  On the proverbial dark and stormy night in the late 1960s, two runaways turn up on the doorstep of an old woman’s home.  Homan is Black and deaf, Lynnie is white and mute.  They carry with them a secret – their forbidden love in the institution they live in has produced a baby.  When the authorise catch them, Lynnie speaks just two soft but important words: “hide her.” And so retired schoolteacher and widow Martha does just that, taking baby Julia and raising her as her own. 

As the ending approached, having already forgiven some fairly large coincidences, I started to get nervous.  It was clear the author had two paths open to her to conclude her story and as I read along, I started to get a sickening sense she was going to go for the happily ever after ending.  I stopped reading, tweeted about it, hoped really hard and then ploughed back in…and got the very thing I dreaded. 

Note to authors: it’s okay to not give your characters Hollywood endings.  In fact sometimes we readers really really like it when you don’t.  Just saying.

Why did it take me so long to get round to reading it: "The Tenderness of Wolves" - Stef Penney

This book has been languishing on Mount TBR for years. It was the winner of the 2006 Costa Award and came with rave reviews…and maybe that is the very reason I left it for so long. More fool me.  A beautiful, intriguing, slow burning novel with evocative descriptions of the bleak Canadian winter wilderness amid the murder mystery. 

A novel I just plain loved: "Delirium" - Lauren Oliver 

“They say that the cure will make me happy and safe forever. And I’ve always believed them. Until now. Now everything has changed. Now, I’d rather be infected […] for the tiniest sliver of a second than live a hundred years smothered by a lie.”

Amor Deliria Nervosa, the disease of love.  Residents of Portland, USA fear it, can’t wait to turn 18 and receive “the cure,” Lena included.  That is, until she meets Alex, an “invalid” from The Wilds…

An awesome YA novel which I was delighted to learn was the first of a trilogy because it ends on a gasping-for-breath cliff hanger.

This is the novel that also got me out of my comfort zone and enjoying books set in dystopian societies… The Hunger Games, Never Let Me Go, I am Number Four…

Happy New Year everyone!


Café Chick said...

Once again, thanks for your reading recommendations - there are several of your suggestions on my (growing) TBR list! I am part-way through Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother by Xinran and really enjoying it. One of my goals for 2012 is to read more for pleasure. I'm looking forward to hearing about what you're reading, too. :-)

Jacki said...

Great summary! I'm interested that chicklit sales have declined. The genre does seem overwhelmingly silly. I wonder if chicklit readers have segued into deeper reads or if they've given up on reading as much?

wellreadkitty said...

Hey Jacki,

You might be interested in this article from The Independent which was kinda the start of the press coverage about the decline in chick lit sales.

It makes interesting reading and gives some reasons as to why this genre has experienced such a dramatic slump in sales.

Kay said...

Sounds like you will have good contributions to "animal books" topic on #Spbkchat on Thursday 12 Jan :-)

wellreadkitty said...

Oooo *excited* - what an awesome topic and yes, one very close to my heart.