Friday, 30 December 2011

Books of 2011

This year I set myself a challenge of reading 50 book throughout 2011 and to keep record of all of them. Unfortunately I have only managed about 50% of my target! But I did keep note of all reads and have written a short review of each below. I have given the following ratings based below:
* - Bad
** - Okay
*** - Enjoyable
**** - Good
***** - Excellent

The Cat Who Came For Christmas - Cleveland Amory ****A lovely Christmas gift for a cat lover like me! One of the original feline true-life
accounts from the eighties is an affectionate tale of the first year in the life of Polar Bear, a stray kitten taken in by the author. Full of stories all cat owners will relate to!

Casper the Commuting Cat - Susan Finden ***Another true story about an adventurous moggie who would find an adventure each day, eventually settling in Plymouth and getting the bus to town and back each day. He became a local hero, a worldwide news story and was even used in transport advertising campaigns. A lovely heart-warming story.

Winter Ghosts - Kate Mosse ****
A short story to keep fans of her epic novels Sephulchre and Labrynth happy. Includes her usual mix of travel and history with a supernatural edge. It tells the story of Freddie, who is suffering from the shock of his brother's death in World War I. He travels to the French Pyrenees and comes across a small village community. During his first night he meets a young woman, also grieving who has her own mysterious story. Ideal to curl up with on a cold Winter's day.

The Distant Hours - Kate Morton *****I am a huge fan of Kate Morton's books and was so excited to read this one, her third after The House of Riverton and The Forgotten Garden. Telling the mysterious story of the Sisters Blythe, this is a tragic and at times spooky tale. I love the way Kate Morton includes writing in her stories as such an important part of life, whether its a stray letter or in this case the story of the Mud Man, written by the sister's father. I highly recommend this book.

The 13 and 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear - Walter Moers *****The works of German author Walter Moers were recommended to me with this book as the first one to discover the world of Zamonia. None of the imagination and humour have been lost in the translation to English and the accompanying images are delightful to look at. A tale of adventure and a hint of romance plus a cast of interesting characters and creatures, this book is ideal for all ages.

The Lazurus Vault - Tom Harper ***
A young graduate is given a job at a small, secretive bank, with something hidden in its medieval vault. This is very much in the style of a Dan Brown novel. While not the best book you will read all year, this is nonetheless an enjoyable read with some thrilling set pieces and likeable characters.

Rumo - Walter Moers *****The epic adventure of a young wolperting (similar to a dog!) who becomes the greatest hero of all time in Zamonia. Armed with his talking sword, Dandelion, this book is split into two parts - his adventures in Overworld and the terrifying Netherworld. Exciting, scary and romantic, I defy you not to fall in love with Rumo! This book is non-stop excitement full of grisly gore that will thrill fans of Roald Dahl.

If Only It Were True - Marc Levy ***A friend of mine has been trying to make me read this book for ages. A woman in a coma appears to a young man as her life-support machine is soon to be turned off. He must try
to save her life and goes to extreme measures, much to his friends' concerns. A short book
with an interesting ending.

The Eight - Katherine Neville *Unfortunately this is the most ridiculous book I have ever read. Billed as the original
Da Vinci Code, this makes Dan Brown's books look serious and high-brow. Full of complex chess information, cameos from historical figures, cringey dialogue and the author's favourite line of 'if only I had known...' Too many characters, too much information and some terrible stereotypes, I can only recommend this if you want a good laugh or a masterclass in how not to write a book!

City of Dreaming Books - Walter Moers ****The perfect story for all book lovers! Optimus Yarnspinner is left part of a manuscript so perfect and intriguing, he travels to the the City of Dreaming Books to find out more and embarks on a deadly adventure of a lifetime deep in to the catacombs where he encounters booklings and the legendary Shadow King.

The Roots of Betrayal - James Forrester ***Set in 1564, William Harley is in possession of a dangerous document. When it is stolen, he lives in fear, secrecy and deception, teaming up with a notorious pirate, Raw Carew. Obviously well researched, this is a fast-paced and gripping read with lots of double-crossing characters and some well-known Historical figures (characterisation not to be taken too seriously!) The character of Raw Carew is an intriguing one and there are some very thrilling set pieces. Although be warned - the graphic violence and gore is not for the faint hearted!

Tess of The D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy *****Re-read for book group for what feels like millionth time. This is one of my favourite books although nobody else in the group felt the same way! The tale of poor Tess Durberyfield, who's whole life is shaped by the mistakes of men. Everytime I read it, I still hope for a different outcome, but Hardy's descriptions of the Dorset landscape are beautiful and emotive.This is a real classic which everyone should read.

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe - Jenny Colgan ***My holiday reading as my dream is to open my own cupcake cafe / book shop / art gallery! Although this book makes it seem so easy! Loved the recipes at the start of the chapters and the insight into running a cafe, but ultimately it is a romance, when I would have preferred a story just about cakes!

The Queen's Fool - Philippa Gregory ****I love Philippa Gregory's books. Although they are widely criticised I find them fascinating.
I was engrossed in this story of Hannah, fool to Queen Mary, who is  caught up in the family and religious conflict between Mary and her sister Elizabeth. Becoming close to both, she must decide who to betray as well as hiding her own secret. A great insight in the characters of these two famous women with a very likeable character in Hannah.  

The Tiger's Wife - Tea Obreht ***I'm still not sure whether I liked this book or not. I think this would have worked better
as a set of short stories, as the folk stories are very interesting, but I found the
central characters a little pointless. At times difficult to read, it felt like a text I used to
have to read at school. Full of metaphors and analogy's, this is the perfect book for
literature students.

The Alchemaster's Apprentice - Walter Moers ****A book by one of my new favourite authors about a crat (cat) called Echo! Surely a perfect read for me! After his owner's death, Echo is homeless and starving. He is taken in by the Ghoolian the Alchemaster and makes a deal to be fed in return for his fat to be rendered down for Goolian's spell. But after regaining his strength, Echo realises that there is still much to live for and with help of his new friends in the castle, tries to defeat Ghoolian. A great cast of characters including a one eyed owl and some vampire bats.

Sister - Rosamund Lupton ****A dark, scary and poignant book about a woman who goes missing and her sister who will go to any lengths to find out the truth. Told in a very different style and with a conclusion that will make you gasp out loud, this is a book you will remember for a very long time.

The Beach House - Jane Green ****I find Jane Green's books either very enjoyable or incredibly predictable. Fortunately this
is her best book in my opinion. The perfect seaside read with a great variation of characters
this is chick-lit at its best.

Prawn and Prejudice - Belinda Roberts ****Another seaside read for me, Jane Austen's classic is transported to the Devon holiday resort of
Salcombe with some very modern additions (Pemberley is now a yacht!) Very amusing, with
all the characters captured perfectly, this will make you want to book a holiday and re-read
Austen's classic.

The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Euginedes ****My first Jeffrey Eugenides book and I must admit I did struggle with it at first (mainly to do with long intellectual debates which went over my head!), but I stuck with it and did find it a rather satisfying read. There is not much action, just a study of three graduates, linked together in some kind of love triangle, who are trying to find their place in the world, something most people can identify with. Madeleine is a ‘Victorianist’, a fan of English authors such as Jane Austen with a romanticised view of love. She is in a complex relationship with Leonard a scientist struggling with manic depression. Meanwhile travelling the world is Mitchell, studying religion and thinking non-stop about Madeleine who he is in love with.The main characters are all flawed, self-indulgent and a little bit annoying, but you can’t help but care about them. They are described so intimately, you feel like you know them well and although set in the 80’s, the novel’s themes are still so close to issues today, that it feels like a very contemporary story. Well worth reading!

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy - John Le Carre ***I can see why this is a classic and why so many people love this book, but for me it was
full of too much dialogue and information to keep up with and I worked out who the 'mole'
was pretty early on in the book. I did quite enjoy the character of George Smiley though and would happily read further novels in the series.

One Day - David Nicholls ***Didn't really 'get' this book, like with so many raved about reads. I found the character of
Dexter so annoying, I just wanted Emma to tell him where to go! Very well written, with the
periods of time caught perfectly, I just found this book a little depressing.

Company of Liars - Karen Maitland *****A hugely enjoyable read. Told from the viewpoint of 'Camelot' an old relic seller, an
unlikely group of travellers including a healer, a deformed storyteller, a pregnant woman, two musicians, a magician and a strange young girl are on the run from the plague and their secrets. One by one their pasts are revealed with tragic consequences. A very dark, spine-chilling tale written very well and with a final jaw-dropping revelation, I highly recommend this book.

Raining Cats and Donkeys - Doreen Tovey ****A heart-warming and humorous tale of Doreen's trouble-making cats and stubborn donkeyand the scrapes they all get in to causing all sorts of responses from their nosey villagers. I look forward to reading more books in the series.

The Owl Killers - Karen Maitland *****A fascinating look at the lives of 13th Century villagers and their fears and superstitions when a group of strange women settle on the outskirts. Told from five different viewpoints from the settlement and within the village,
this book may seem confusing at first, but it is well worth sticking with. Horrific and thrilling, this is one of my favourite reads of the year.

Lady of Hay - Barbara Erskine ***The eighties best-seller was re-released this year with a short story to update readers
on the main characters. This book is a little too long and the supernatural side of the
story does get quite ridiculous towards the end. I found the story of Matilda, much more
interesting than the present day Jo. Some scenes I found quite disturbing and the behaviour of the modern day characters were all so confusing.

Secrets of the Tides - Hannah Richell ****This book is due out in April and is full of family secrets and guilt. Told from different
family members viewpoints in the past and present, this is a very sad and poignant story, about how little mistakes can cause a tragedy. Not the kind of book I expected it to be, but I could not put this down. Hannah Richell's style of writing is very easy to read and she expertly captures the voice of each character. Only criticism is the the ending is too saccharine for a book full of so much drama.

In 2012, I aim to write a more detailed review for each book I read in a separate entry on my blog. I am off to Paperchase tomorrow to invest in some notebooks to keep a record of my thoughts on each book and I would love to hear what you are reading to, or your thoughts on any of the books above or my future reads.

Happy New Year!!

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