The Books I Missed in 2013

I didn’t read a lot of new books in 2013. Not at all. I did buy some but not as many as I had hoped. So to remember the books I really wanted in 2013 and inspired by Kerry at Entomology of a Bookworm, here are some of the books I wish I had bought and/or read.

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  1. Robert Calbraith: The Cuckoo’s Calling. This was of course one of the important books of the year. It was interesting to see how this book got good reviews but didn’t sell – until it was revealed that it was actually written by J.K. Rowling. And then it ended the year on several ‘Best of 2013’ lists. If someone can get me to read crime novels, I think it’s J.K. Rowling. I’m at least willing to give this one a try.
  2. Dan Simmons: The Abominable. Ever since reading Drood, I’ve been wanting to read more by Dan Simmons. It’s about adventurers traveling to the summit of Mount Everest – or possibly running from something on Mount Everest. I’m sure it’s creepy!
  3. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah. I loved Half of a Yellow Sun. Not just because of it’s compelling story, but because it taught me things I didn’t know. I think it will be the same with this one.
  4. Joe Hill: NOS4A2. This book is an example of a book where the title alone sells it! And I’ve heard nothing but good about it so I need to get this one.
  5. Hannah Kent: Burial Rites. This book about the last woman to be sentenced to death in Iceland, sounds amazing. It reminds me a bit about Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and I really want to read this one!
  6. Eleanor Catton: The Luminaries. The 2013 Man Booker Prize winner. It sounds intriguing and fascinating but with the way it’s written, it also runs the risk of being a bit gimmicky – so far, the reviewers seem to agree that it’s absolutely amazing.
  7. Cassandra Rose Clarke: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. Cat’s tutor is a robot who is perfectly happy to just teach her. But then the government grants rights to the robot population and suddenly, Finn has to find his own place in the world. Another great sounding novel!
  8. Amish Tripathi: Immortals of Meluha (Shiva #1). This is the first book in the Shiva trilogy, a fantasy series about hindu gods. How cool does that sound?
  9. Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Watcher in the Shadows. I really liked The Shadow of the Wind and this book about a mysterious toymaker who lives as a recluse in an old mansion surrounded by his magical beings sounds so amazing.
  10. Ma Jian: The Dark Road. The tagline of this novel reads ‘If a panda gets pregnant, the entire nation celebrates. But if a woman gets pregnant she’s treated like a criminal. What kind of country is this?’, how can I resist that?
  11. Matt Bell: In the House Upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods. A young couple is unable to have children so the husband takes it out on every animal living in the lake and the woods. The wife somehow learns to sing objects into being. It sounds like a fascinating book about what happens when you so badly want children but is unable to have them.
  12. Stephen King: Joyland. King has two books coming out this year and this is the first one. It’s about amusement park serial killers and I don’t t need to say more because if you like King, you will get this!
  13. Douglas Lain: Billy Moon: A transcendent Novel reimagining the Life of Christopher Robin Milne. This is one of the books I’m probably the most excited about. I think it’s some kind of twisted look at Christopher Milne’s childhood and on the Winnie the Pooh stories and I can’t wait!
  14. Andrew Pyper: The Demonologist. This sounds like some kind of Da Vinci Codebook but taking Paradise Lost as it’s starting point. And that’s is it’s selling point to me.
  15. Warren Ellis: Gun Machine. A detective finds an apartment filled with guns. Each gun leads to a different, previously unsolved murder. This book sounds just so cool.
  16. Sonali Deraniyagala: Wave. This woman lost her husband and sons in the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. This is a book about grief. I am sure it will be almost unbearable to read but still, I want to.
  17. Helen Wecker: The Golem and the Jinny. This seems to be a very interesting book which combine Jewish and Arab mythology. It’s about two supernatural creatures in New York – and of course they are drawn together.

It’s funny – some of these were on my list of books to watch out for in 2013 but for some reason or another, they have dropped completely from the radar – or at least from my radar. I heard a lot about the Warren Ellis book – but I don’t think I’ve read a single review… I know I’m not even close to listing all the books that I could be interested in reading but still, I think I will print this list and take it with me whenever I happen to be somewhere with a decent bookstore and hope to pick up some of these amazing sounding books!

Top Ten Favorite Books Taking Place in London

toptentuesday-1So this week, The Broke and the Bookish are focusing on settings. Top Ten Favorite Books from one setting. I chose London as my setting because I love London and I enjoy reading books taking place in this wonderful city. Especially because it seems to inspire some great writers too. This city seems to have a life of it’s own so that books taking place here, are always special because the city seems to be a character all on it’s own. So here’s a list of books taking place in London – do you know any other books taking place in London, I should read?

  1. China Miéville: Un Lun Dun. So London is not just London, no, beneath London there’s another city where all the lost and broken things of London end up. UnLondon is very different from London and much more dangerous but it’s still a wonderful place to visit – or, it is when you just have to read about it!
  2. Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere. So as in the previous book, in this book too there’s two Londons. A London Above and a London Below. Gaiman explains a lot of London place names in this one – and this is probably my favorite book on this list. Followed closely by the next two … and the first one … (My review)
  3. Félix J. Palma: The Map of Time. This book features not only one London, but two. Victorian London as well as a future version of London, devastated by war. Or so it seems. The novel also features some of the main persons from London’s history – like H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper. (My review)
  4. Dan Simmons: Drood. Dan Simmons shows us through the London of Dickens and Wilkie Collins, both the posh and poor parts of Victorian London. It’s a wonderful book and again, the book would never have worked in any other city. (My review)
  5. Marie Phillips: Gods Behaving Badly. So where have the Greek gods gone in the 21st century? Well, London of course! Artemis, Apollo, Aphrodite and more all live in Northern London, trying to combine being a god with normal life.
  6. Peter Ackroyd: London The Biography. No one seems to understand the power of London better than Peter Ackroyd – or the city’s ability to be it’s own character. He has written an entire book with the city as it’s main character – a biography of a city. I haven’t read all of it yet but what I have read, is extremely impressive.
  7. J.M. Barrie: Peter Pan. Yes, I know. Peter Pan doesn’t take place in London but for once on this list, London is not important because of all it’s wonders, but as a representative of the stiff society one wishes to escape from.
  8. Michael Bond: The Paddington series. Well, Paddington wouldn’t be Paddington if he hadn’t been named after Paddington station. I guess for many tourists, Paddington station is more important because of it’s significance in this wonderful series than because of it’s connection to the rest of the London Underground. And yes, I have been and seen the statue…
  9. Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes. Everyone knows that Sherlock Holmes resides at 221B Baker Street. Although he also ventures out of London to solve crimes, he does pop around London quite a bit – and Sherlock wouldn’t be Sherlock without London.
  10. Charles Dickens. I haven’t picked any particular book by Dickens because, really, isn’t London a part of almost all of them? When I think of Dickens, one of the main thing that pops into my head is Victorian London – which he knew thoroughly. So of course, Dickens had to be on this list.

There are of course lots of other books featuring London – like Gail Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate seriesHarry Potter and Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell series to name but a few – but I’ve tried to choose the ones where the city is more than just a background for the story and instead takes an explicit part in the book. I think London is an important player in all of these books. And of course, now I want to go back …

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Top Ten Books I Read In 2012

So I read quite a few good books this year, 42 so far and 11 of which I rated 5 stars. Of these, I’ve selected 10 and put together the list below. So it was quite easy to do. They are listed in an order reflecting only on the order I read them in, the last read mentioned first. These are all great books, if you haven’t read them, you should go do so now! As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

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  1. Elie Wiesel: Night. Wiesel’s short book about his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, is almost beyond description. It’s a must read for anyone, simply put.
  2. Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. I haven’t gotten around to writing a review of this book yet but it still seems that I have been talking about it all over the place. Hugo can write about anything and he frequently steers off on a tangent to do just so. Still, this story about Jean Valjean and Colette is a wonderful book, it’s a classic and it’s worth the many pages and the huge amount of time, it takes to take.
  3. Mark Helprin: Winter’s Tale. I really like magical realism. This story of Beverly Penn and Peter Lake and Athansor set in a mythic and fictionalized New York City is written in the most beautiful and lyrical way and I just loved it. So much in fact, that I don’t dare to read another novel by Helprin because I’m afraid that it will not live up to this one.
  4. Koushun Takami: Battle Royale. In some ways, this is the Japanese version of The Hunger Games. A class of kids with weapons are set free on an island to shoot each other down until only one remains. This is much more violent than The Hunger Games and it’s such an exciting book. Pure entertainment.
  5. Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. How does a boy handle loosing his father? How does he handle loosing him in the 9-11 attack? This is a wonderful story of a young boy dealing with this loss and at the same time, it’s an experimental novel using pictures and more to tell this story. Foer is an amazing writer and he writes so well and not only uses pictures to emphasize his story, but also paints pictures with his words. And in this way, he is telling Oscar Schell’s story as well as the story of his grandfather who survived the fire bombing of Dresden during World War II.
  6. Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White. So if everyone knew just how thrilling the classics can be, everyone would be reading them. And to get them doing so, everyone should be handed this one and told to go read it. When I read it, I just sat down and read and read and read, ignored everything around me to finish this novel to figure out what happened to Walter Hartright, Laura Fairlie, Marian Halcombe and the woman in white.
  7. Dan Simmons: Drood. On June 9, 1865, Dickens was in a train disaster that influenced him for the rest of his life. This is Simmons’ account of what happened. And it’s amazing and exhilarating and exciting and even when you’re done, you’re really not sure what happened. It was so good!
  8. Lionel Shriver: We Need To Talk About Kevin. I read this in the beginning of the year and … well, after what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it just became an even more important book. Everyone should read this. It tells the story of a mother whose son guns down several of his school mates. Is it nature or nurture who caused this to happen? If it’s nature, can you do something to prevent it from happening? I don’t want to get political here but really, everyone should read this!
  9. Donna Tartt: The Secret History. Richard Papen starts attenting college and taking Classics studies. The group of kids studying Classics studies consists of 5 other students and are taught by the charismatic Julian. But right from the beginning, you know that this group of friends kill one of their own and you’re eagerly reading on to find out why and how this happened. This is Donna Tartt’s first novel and it’s amazing! Much better than other books with a similar theme like Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
  10. Yiyun Li: The Vagrants. This is one of those novels that hurts you when you read it but which is worth the pain. It’s set in China in 1979 and it’s about the execution of a 28 years old woman and the consequences of this death. I’m fascinated by China and what happened in China after Mao came to power, after the Cultural Revolution and more. This is a debut novel and you should definitely read it now so you can say you were in almost from the beginning!

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Top Ten Favorite New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2012

 So we are getting closer to Christmas and it shows in the Top Ten topics as well. Last week, we listed the books we wished Santa to bring us and this week, we’re looking back on 2012 and listing the best new-to-us authors we’ve read this year. Looking back over the year, I think I’ve read some really excellent  books, I have read some not so good – and I’ve read books by authors, I haven’t read before or even in some cases, haven’t heard of before. So it was relatively easy for me to put together this list. As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

  1. Yiyun Li. The Vagrants was the first book I finished in 2012 and it was amazing. I just looooooved it. It was a wonderful book and it made me feel so sad. Both people and animals are hurt in it but it’s so worth reading. Yiyun Li is definitely an author that I will keep an eye out for.
  2. Lionel Shriver. We Need To Talk About Kevin freaked me out. It’s one of those books where you stay up reading it because you have to know what happens, you have to finish it – even though you have to get up early in the morning. It was such a nasty read but also very much worth reading.
  3. Dan Simmons. After finishing Drood, I knew I wanted to read more books by Simmons – especially The Terror because he mentions the story in Drood, and it sounds so fascinating.
  4. Wilkie Collins. Like Simmons, Collins was part of my Dickens-and-Drood reading this year. I grew to really like both Dickens, Simmons and Collins. The Woman in White is such a good book, I just sat there and read and read and read to finish it and find out what happened and I’m so looking forward to  reading The Moonstone.
  5. Jonathan Carroll. Almost all Carroll’s books sounds amazing. I enjoyed The Ghost in Love so much and I just want to read more, more, more. I think Carroll might end up on my favorite authors list some day in the future!
  6. Jonathan Safran Foer. Before reading it, I was convinced that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close would be good, but I had no idea how good. I already own Everything is Illuminated, which is supposed to be even better, and Eating Animals so I hope to get around to reading these next year.
  7. Mark Helprin. I had never even heard of Mark Helprin before finding Winter’s Tale in a secondhand bookstore. I bought it – and loved it. It’s an incredibly journey you take when you read this novel and the love story and the characters just stay with you afterwards. It’s a huge novel but amazing.
  8. Ken Follett. Of course I had heard of Ken Follett before. Over and over and over. And I really had no desire to read anything by him but a friend had gifted me The Pillars of the Earth years ago so this year, I challenged myself to actually read it. And guess what, I loved it! Despite a weak ending, the novel was so so good and I’m hoping on Santa bringing me World Without End this year.
  9. Iris Murdoch. A friend challenged me to read Murdoch’s The Message to the Planet – and I liked it quite a bit. It’s a novel that makes you think and challenges you and I think some of Murdoch’s other novels will do so even more. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more by her.
  10. Victor Hugo. Les Misérables is one of those classic novels which are rather intimidating. But I had challenged myself to reading it this year and it was an amazing book. It’s huuuuuge but the story of the two lost souls at the center of the book is just beautiful. Hugo can write about sewers in a way that makes you think it the most pretty poetry. Sometimes you feel he has completely lost it but he always manages to bring it all together. And he’s even funny at times.

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February 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up

February has been mostly dedicated to Charles Dickens and Edwin Drood. I’ve read two novels by Dickens and one about him – sort of – as well as watched the new BBC adaption of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and a Doctor Who episode featuring Dickens.

And look how pretty my Reading Challenge Goal looks. 2 books ahead! Yay me!

So again this month I’ve read some pretty awesome books. All 5 were actually really good. Two 5-stars read, 2 4-stars read – and The Mystery of Edwin Drood would have gotten more stars if it had been finished.

  1. Terry Pratchett: The Unseen Academicals. Oh, I loved this. Funny funny read. The Wizards of Unseen University has to play football – of course everything goes wrong in exactly the right way. 5 stars.
  2. Charles Dickens: Hard Times. So good. Dickens completely nails these characters – especially Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby. 4 stars.
  3. Charles Dickens: The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I loved this – but it’s only half a book and the action was just getting started when it ended. Would have loved to read it in it’s entirety. 3 stars.
  4. Dan Simmons: Drood. This was amazing! Simmons has a lot of knowledge about Dickens, Wilkie Collins and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and he manages to create an extremely exiting novel that I absolutely adored. 5 stars.
  5. Joyce Carol Oates: We were the Mulvaneys. How much does it take to break a family? Get the answer in this awesome book by one of my favorite authors. 4 stars.

I’ve read 2068 pages this month as well as a e-book: The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. So a little less than last month but still good. The longest book I’ve read this month was Dan Simmons Drood with it’s 775 pages.

I still think I’m doing good on my challenges. I read three more books for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2012 as well as two for the Chunkster Challenge 2012 (as well as a bonus chunkster). I’m also right on track with the Clarissa read-a-long and I love it! With regard to my own personal challenge, I need to read about 2 books a month from the list and I have – this month it was Terry Pratchett: Unseen Academicals and Joyce Carol Oates: We were the Mulvaneys.

I have a list of books I really want to read in March. In fact, I want to read them all right now – but since I can’t read them all at once, I’ll try to read them as quickly as possible. So these are the books, I really want to read in March:

  1. Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White. After reading Drood, where Wilkie Collins was the narrator, I really wanted to read some of Collins’ own works.
  2. Marisha Pessl: Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I bought this a while ago but recently read a review where it was compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History which I read earlier this year and loved.
  3. Jonathan Carroll: The Ghost in Love. I’ve been wanting to read Carroll for a while and this one sounds so good. It’s about a man who falls and dies – but doesn’t die. There’s a ghost who was supposed to take his soul to the afterlife, but since the man didn’t die, the ghost has to stick around a bit. Of course, the ghost falls in love with the man’s girlfriend – and then things get complicated …
  4. Matthew Pearl: The Last Dickens. Matthew Pearl wrote the introduction to my version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Dickens, and since I’m still on a bit of a Edwin Drood craze, I’m really looking forward to hear what Pearl has to say about Dickens’ last work.

Dan Simmons: Drood (review)

ImageLet me start of by saying that I absolutely loved this book so if there’s an inappropriate amount of gushing in the following, you have been warned.

I’ve had this on my shelves for a couple of years, just waiting for me to get ready to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. I said in my review of that book that I didn’t recommend it except for die hard Dickens fans and the like – but I was wrong. Everyone should read The Mystery of Edwin Drood just to read this one afterwards since this book makes more sense if you have read Dickens’ novel. If you have read Dickens’, you will get the hints in Drood – in fact, Drood then reads as a introduction to how an author gathers inspiration. Simmons have taken parts from The Mystery of Edwin Drood and then used them in this book in the most clever way. One small example is how in the Dickens novel, there’s a girl nicknamed Pussy and a lawyer who thinks Pussy is a cat. Of course, Simmons then has a cat named Pussy. Dickens has one of the main characters be a opium addict – in Drood (at least) one of Dickens’ best friends is a opium addict and suffers terrible consequences because of it. John Jasper’s secret visit to the crypt is here, we have Deputy and so much more. I love this aspect of it – how you can imagine Dickens living his life and seeing inspiration all around him.

But I digress. I haven’t even started talking about what’s the book about yet. This is the story of the last few years of Charles Dickens’ life and what he did after being in a terrible railway accident in 1865 and till his death in 1870. The story is told by his friend, the author Wilkie Collins. Wilkie experienced firsthand much of what Dickens did and experienced in those last years – and Dickens was busy. Not only with his work but also with various investigations and experiences in the less familiar parts of London, the part where the opium addicts frequent, the parts where the lowest classes fight and struggle for survival each and every day.

Dickens was not an opium-user – but at the railway accident, he met a man, a certain personage named Drood. This Drood hunted the rest of Dickens’ life and as a expert mesmerizer, Drood made Dickens do what he bid. Dickens was extremely fascinated by Drood in the beginning but realized later that Drood was a murderer, a man so versed in the ancient Egyptian beliefs that he was able to resurrect himself and was more an apparition than a man.

Because of Dickens’ connection to Drood, Wilkie is slowly dragged into this as well and experiences first hand a nasty Egyptian ritual involving a scarab. Wilkie becomes a sort of spy into Dickens’ life to inform a private detective, working desperately to catch the sinister Drood.

This is what the book is about. This is the extremely exciting story Wilkie Collins relate to us. Only thing is – Wilkie is not only an opium-user, he also self-medicate with laudanum in extremely high doses, several glasses at a time. So the question becomes – is Wilkie a reliable narrator so we can trust what he tells us about Dickens’ last years or is this rather one man’s descend into opium-induced madness? I’m still not sure.

Or maybe, it’s all something that Dickens invented – a kind of joke that got too far and was primarily fueled by Wilkie’s abuse issues and Dickens’ abilities as a master mesmerizer.

This is also a book about jealousy. There’s no doubt that both in their time and in our time, Dickens is the greater novelist. I haven’t read anything by Wilkie Collins yet so I don’t know if it’s fair but both back then and now, Dickens is the best one in the eyes of the public. And we love to read his books. We love to read about his characters. They are almost real. And Wilkie was – at least according to Simmons – very jealous because of this. And – for most of the book – doesn’t think it’s fair. (I do think that this book also would benefit for having read a couple of Wilkie Collins novels…)

There’s no doubt that Simmons is a master writer. The way he handles all these various possible ways to read the book, all the research he has in this without at any point making it boring or like someone is telling us something because we need to know to understand what’s coming. It’s marvelous. And I have a sneaking suspicion that if you look at how Dickens or Collins tell their stories and then compare it to Simmons, you will find similarities that are not just coincidences.

I love this quote about how Dickens’ write: ‘pulling characters out of the air (often based willy-billy on people in his own life) without a thought as to how they might serve the central purpose, mixing in a plethora of random ideas, having his characters wander off into incidental occurrences and unimportant side-plots having nothing to do with the overriding idea, and often beginning his story in mid-flight /…/’. (p. 264)

My favorite quote though, is one that I’m not sure whether to attribute to Dickens or to Simmons. The aging Dickens, after having lost so many of his family and friends, says at one point: ‘/…/ my heart has become a cemetery.’ (p. 578). I find this such a powerful sentence because it’s true. At some point for most of us, our hearts will become cemeteries because the ones we have loved, are dead. And what a tragedy when you reach that moment. And what a beautiful way to express it.

Now, I of course have to mention the way Simmons see the end of The Mystery of Edwin Drood – told from Dickens’ own lips, although not necessarily something you can trust (like so much else in this novel). But according to this, Edwin Drood is dead, murdered by John Jasper – who turns out to be his brother, and who are suffering so much from opium abuse that he has an alternate consciousness, Jasper Drood. And Jasper Drood is a master mesmerizer. As is Helena Landless and to some extent her brother Neville. But someone has mesmerized John Jasper/Jasper Drood to kill his brother – and who this person is, is never revealed by Simmons. So the mystery is intact…

In it’s way, this is a tribute to Charles Dickens. I haven’t done much research into who Dickens actually was as a person, but it seems that Simmons has and that he has worked hard on this novel to create a fair picture of Dickens. Even though Wilkie is the one telling it, and Wilkie hates Dickens for parts of the book, there’s no doubt who comes of as the most sympathetic. Despite the way Dickens treated his wife, despite his ‘secret’ mistress. But then again, we only have Wilkie’s – not necessarily very reliable – words for this, don’t we?

  • Title: Drood
  • Author: Dan Simmons
  • Publisher: Little,  Brown and Company
  • Year: 2009
  • Pages: 775 pages
  • Stars:  5 stars out of 5

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