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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Top Ten Favorite Kick-Ass Heroines

Favorite kick-ass heroines? Wow. When I read that topic, I was just lost. Don’t they belong in YA novels or in urban fantasy or something like that? I suddenly couldn’t remember having read a single book with kick-ass heroines in it. Or do I? Maybe a kick-ass heroine doesn’t have to be someone who kicks down bad guys and fight for her life day in and day out. Maybe kick-ass can mean something else – or someone else. I don’t know. I don’t think that I need to read certain genres to read books with kick-ass heroines in them – it is just that impression the term ‘kick-ass heroines’ gives me. Anyway, my list tries to incorporate some more unusual kick-ass heroines… I don’t know if I succeeded or not – we’ll see.

As usual, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

  1. Ronja from Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren. Yes, Ronja, the girl from the children’s book. Her father is strong and a leader of men. But he has no chance against Ronja. When he doesn’t want her to hang out with the son of his worst enemy, she packs up and leaves his castle and goes to live in a cave. She trains horses, she heals horses, she teaches her father about friendship. She’s tough and loving and she’s the literary character, I named my first child after.
  2. Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Offred is a woman living in a dystopic world where women who can have babies, are valuable and are kept as a kind of breeding cows for wealthy men in power. Offred still remembers her life before, her life with her husband and daughter – and she does what she has to do to live.
  3. The mother from Room by Emma Donoghue. This mother has been kidnapped, kept in a single room for years, raped over and over. She has a son by her rapist – and she manages to bring her and her child away from the kidnapper and to safety. Even though things get complicated in the outside world, she’s still pretty amazing for doing what she had to to rescue her child.
  4. The mother, Eva, from We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Eva fights the worst kind of demons – her own self-doubts, her failure as a mother. And she really has some huge doubts to fight after her son turned out to be a high school killer. We get to know her through the letters she writes her husband, detailing her life and her thoughts as her son was born and grew up.
  5. Alexia Tarabotti from The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger. Alexia is special – she has an ability to turn werewolves and vampires human just by touching her. She has an even bigger ability to get into trouble. But whatever happens, she always comes out on top – although not always with her dignity intact. But give her a parasol and she’s ready for everything.
  6. Hermione Granger from The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. Hermione. Oh, nerdy geeky Hermione. She’s just a book nerd as first but she sure shows every desired kick-ass heroine ability in the later books.
  7. Lauralanthalasa (Laurana) from The DragonLance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman and others. Yes, I know I said I would avoid this kind of kick-ass heroines but I just couldn’t. I could have chosen a lot of different female characters from this shared world series – Tika or Goldmoon just to mention a few – but I chose Laurana, the Golden General. This beautiful and very spoiled princess who falls in love with a  half-elf and has to work extremely hard to make it through various challenges and hardships to win the man she loves. She goes on to fight as a general for what she believes in and to stand by the side of her son when he needs her the most – playing a huge part in several resistances, always fighting for her beloved Elven people.
  8. Katniss Everden from The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. How could I not mention Katniss? She fights against unbeatable odds and comes out on top. She’s tough, she’s taking care of her family and the people she loves. She’s both clever and sneaky – and lucky! She fulfills every part of the kick-ass heroine job description!

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January 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up

So January is over and it’s been a good month. Especially with regard to reading. My goal for this year was to read 52 books and in January, I’ve read 5 books which means that I’m not only on track – but ahead of the game.

Allmost all of last year, each day I logged into Goodreads I was greeted by a sign telling me how many books I was behind so to actually be ahead, is really nice.

The year started really well with 3 5-stars reads – then a very solid 4-stars read and then a book, that was a bit of a disappointment.

  1. Yiyun Li: The Vagrants. A wonderful book with a very gripping rendering of life in China in 1979. Heart-breaking. 5 stars.
  2. Donna Tartt: The Secret History. A very intelligent book about a group of very intelligent Classics students who re-enact a Bacchanal with – in their view – troubling consequences. 5 stars.
  3. Lionel Shriver: We Need to Talk About Kevin. A very disturbing read where a mother in letters try to come to terms with her son being a high-school killer. Definitely not a book for new mothers! 5 stars.
  4. Stephen King: 11.22.63. King’s take on the JFK assassination. A really great time-travelling book where King explores the America of the late 50s-early 60s. Very compelling read. 4 stars.
  5. Chan Koonchung: The Fat Years. A book that could have been so much but failed to live up to it’s potential. Still inspiring a lot of thoughts though. 3 stars.

I’ve read 2200 pages – the longest book this month was Stephen King’s 11.22.63 checking in at 740 pages. On top of that I’ve read one e-book: The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung.

I’m also on track with challenges, I think. I’ve read 4 books for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge where I’ve signed up for 25.  And I’m doing even better on the Chunkster Reading Challenge. I am committed to read 6 chunksters and I’ve already read 3.

See more on my challenge page.

For February, I first of all want to finish Terry Pratchett: Unseen Academicals. But then I really want to spend some time reading Charles Dickens since on February 7th, it’s the 200 years anniversary for his birth as well as watching some Dickens related movies and TV. But more on that later.

Lionel Shriver: We Need to Talk About Kevin (Review)

We were so happy. Why, then, did we take the stake of all we had and place it all on this outrageous gamble of having a child? (p.14)

Before reading this book, I would have said that there are things you just don’t get until you have kids of your own. Apparently, I was wrong. Lionel Shriver doesn’t have children but still she gets it. She gets all those emotion that a mother goes through. The highs and lows.

After I had kids, I’ve been asked several times if I could understand when parents shook their kids so hard that the child were damaged by it. And I always say ‘yes’. I know that your kids can drive your crazy and maybe you suffer from lack of sleep and then suddenly, you snap. I have never done anything to my kids – but I did break the glass in our wood burning stove once while being really sick and still having to take care of a very demanding kid. Things happen. So I understand that you can get the urge to do something to your kids but I still think there’s a long way from getting the urge to actually doing it.

This is the story of a mother, a reluctant mother. She never really wanted to have children but she did want to give her husband a child. They had a boy – and right from his birth, there was no connection between mother and the infant boy, Kevin. Kevin grows up and well, he’s a troubled kid. He’s bored by everything, he doesn’t care about anything. Until the day he kills 7 of his fellow students, a teacher and a cafeteria worker.

Since the entire novel is written as a series of letters from the mother to the father, from Eva to Franklin, we get Eva’s side of the story. And since Eva never really liked Kevin, she might not be the most reliable narrator. Franklin, on the other hand, doesn’t want to see what Eva sees. Or – again – that’s what Eva says.

What we do know is, that there are some serious incidents where Kevin is involved in some way or another. A part of a wheel being loosened on another boy’s bike, a girl who suddenly scratches all over in her sores, he destroys Eva’s carefully wallpapered room – and it just goes on and on.

Eva always blames Kevin for everything. She has no real contact with him – except when she gets so exasperated by him that she throws him across his room and breaks his arm. In some ways, he respects her for that and respects her for not trying to hard – which is his issue with his dad. I’m not sure how I feel about the father. He really wanted to be a father and I think he deep down know that there’s something off about his son. But he doesn’t want to admit it, he sticks up for his son always and that makes him seem a bit naive or at least blinded by his love. As Eva sees it, standing on the outside looking in, Kevin’s enthusiasm towards his dad is fake all the way but Franklin doesn’t see it and I think Kevin hates him for that.

Kevin is an amazing character. He is so well-written that he almost jumps out of the pages. You almost worry that because you are reading this book, he might be in your house, doing something to your kids. He is so real. Shriver has done her homework. She knows about all the school shootings and she has Kevin take a stand and make sure that his claim to fame is special.

This is a very tough read. It’s hard to read about a mother having such trouble bonding with her child. I think there is a misconception that you automatically love your kid from the second it’s born. And not only love it but love it more than life itself. I didn’t feel that way immediately and I’ve talked to many others mothers who didn’t get that feeling immediately either. I think some mothers feel a failure because they don’t get that rush. Eva being one of them.

For me, maybe because I’m the mother of two girls, the hardest parts to read was about Eva and Franklin’s second child, Celia. And especially Celia’s relationship with Kevin. Celia is very different from Kevin. She’s a curious child, a careful child who scares easily. A soft and sweet little girl who needs her parents a lot – and especially her mother. There are some heart crushing incidents in the story of Celia. There were parts of this story that I could hardly bear to read. But in the end, I just had to know what happened and read the last 100 pages or so in one sitting. I had to know. And it blew me away.

This is a book that asks whether nature or nurture is most important. Can a child be bad from birth or is this caused by the upbringing? The book doesn’t give any answer to this. Instead, it does one of the most important things a book can do. It makes you think.

  • Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin
  • Author: Lionel Shriver
  • Publisher: Serpent’s Tail
  • Year: 2011 (originally 2005)
  • Pages: 482 pages
  • Stars: 5 out of 5 stars

Book shopping in Paris (part 2)

On this our first whole day in Paris, we made it to three book stores. The first of these was Village Voice. I had really looked forward to this store and knew it was one of the stores I wanted to go to. And it really is a good store. So many great fiction novels – especially contemporary.

I really think this is a great store and if you happened to live in Paris for a while, this would probably be the go-to store. Not only does it have all the new books and also a bit more of literary fiction than some stores, it also has a lot of great events happening. At least they look great on the website. Still, I only bought two books here  – although they have some books that I kind of wish I had bought too now … as well as I wish I had bought the Granta (Theme: 10 years after 9-11).

Lionel Shriver: We Need to Talk About Kevin

I’ve been wanting to read this book for so so long so when I saw it, I picked it up immediately. This is a book about a high school shooting with the main focus on the mother who never really wanted to be a mother and now have to come to terms with what role she played in his act. At least that’s what I think it’s about – we’ll see when I get to read it what it’s really about.

Amy Waldman: The Submission

I heard about this on the New York Times Book Review podcast and it sounded very interesting. It’s about 9-11 but not really. After a terrorist attack, a jury have to decide what memorial to build. After choosing the best one, they open the envelope and realize the architect is an American Muslim – and that kicks off a heated debate. I can’t wait to read this – I hope it will have a lot of insights into the America of today.

If you think you’ve read about these books before, it’s because I made a mistake and thought I had bought these two at Shakespeare & Co. So I’ve corrected the first Book Shopping in Paris post with the 4 books I bought at Shakesspeare & Co. so please check it out as well.