Tuesday 31 December 2013

Favourite books of 2013

I wasn't quite sure how to approach my post about my reading in 2013. I've seen all sorts but several people have gone for just choosing a top ten and after some thought that seemed to be the way to do it. So here we go.

If you look at pure numbers of books read by me this year, which is 91, then it would seem to have been a very successful reading year for me. I tend these days though to look more carefully at what I read rather than how many. I'm still pleased. Of the 91, 22 were non-fiction. It could be better but it's twice the amount I read last year. I'd like it be around 30 and therefore a third of what I read so I shall just have to try harder next year.

Another interesting statistic is the library book versus own books one. It seems I read 48 library books which means 43 were either my own or borrowed from family. I had thought that I'd read fewer of my own books, so that's interesting. I'm doing the Mount TBR challenge next year and was aiming for 48 of my own books. Possibly I should have pitched that slightly higher and gone for 60. I'll have to see how I go and adjust my category if necessary.

Anyway, without further ado these are the books I enjoyed the most this year. I've split them into fiction first and then non-fiction.


1. Rendezvous With Rama - Arthur C. Clarke

2. The Help - Kathryn Stockett

3. The Ship of Magic - Robin Hobb

4. Unseen Academicals - Terry Pratchett

5. In the Bleak Midwinter - Julia Spencer-Fleming

6. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklyn

7. The Last Runaway - Tracy Chevalier

8. The Dead Secret - Wilkie Collins

9. Helliconia Spring - Brian W. Aldiss

10. Dawn - Octavia Butler

Looking at these, half are science fiction and fantasy and the rest either crime or stand-alone stories. I would have expected there to be more crime but thinking about it I have enjoyed rather a lot sci-fi this year. Picking a favourite is very hard... three stand out as being terrific: The Help, The Ship of Magic and Helliconia Spring. I'm not sure I can choose: the problem being that months stretch between reading these books and the impact wears off a bit. If I read them one after the other it would be easier to pick. I think the prize has to go to The Help by Kathryn Stockett for being such a compulsive, thought provoking, brilliant book. I really could not put it down and was always keen to pick it up whenever I sat down to read. That for me is proof of a wonderful book.


1. Serving Victoria - Kate Hubbard

2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou

3. Down the Nile - Rosemary Mahoney

4. A Point of View - Clive James

5. Travels With Macy - Bruce Fogle

6. One Man and His Bike - Mike Carter

7. Turtles in Our Wake - Sandra Clayton

8. Walk the Lines - Mark Mason

9.A Dog Abroad - Bruce Fogle

10. The Happy Isles of Oceania - Paul Theroux (Not reviewed but enjoyed nevertheless.)

Another hard decision on which is my favourite. I seem to have chosen 7 travel books. No surprise there as I'm a comfirmed armchair traveller. The other three are a book of essays (Clive James), a history volume (Serving Victoria) and the first book of Maya Angelou's memoirs. They're *all* fantastic and trying to narrow it down is hard. It comes down to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Down the Nile and One Man and his Bike. Given that One Man and His Bike by Mike Carter made me want to immediately pack my bags and head off to Scotland, I think it will have to be that.

His wonderful descriptions of the British coast and in particular Scotland - and specifically the Hebridean Islands - stayed with me for weeks. It might seem a bit perverse to choose such an obscure book for my favourite non-fiction of the year, but there you go, sometimes an obscure book will hit you right between the eyes and that one did. Loved it.

I'll leave my thoughts on what I would like to read in 2014 for another post. Suffice it to say that next year is going to be The Year of the Reading Challenge for me. LOL

Last but not least I just want to wish everyone who reads this blog, whether they comment or not, a very Happy New Year. I hope 2014 will be a good year for all and a much better year for those who are struggling at the moment... and I know plenty are. A little bit of peace in the world would go down very nicely too. Surely it can't be too much to hope for.


Monday 30 December 2013

Southern Lit wrap-up

One of the challenges I took part in this year and completed is the Southern Literature Reading challenge 2013, which was hosted by The Introverted Reader.

I chose to read four books for this challenge which was the highest level. The books I read are:

1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Arkansas)

2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Mississippi)

3. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (Mississippi)

4. Last Wool and Testament by Molly Macrae. (Tennessee)

Without exception I enjoyed them all and would recommend them as good books to anyone. The first three were real insights into the world of the black person in a couple of the southern American states. At some stage I would really like to read more in this vein. My favourite book of the four is hard to choose but I just loved the simple style in which The Help was written, the intrigue in it, and the way it told you of a way of life without banging you over the head with facts. For that reason it was my favourite. I loved doing this challenge and would very much like to do it again someday. Thanks to The Introverted Reader for hosting.


Saturday 28 December 2013

Books for Christmas

If there's one thing I love to get for Christmas it's books. As this is a book blog I suppose a few people might be forgiven for thinking that a rather obvious statement - along the lines of Mary Berry is good cook or Dawn French likes a bit of chocolate... The thing is, it was only a few years ago I let the guilt thing over-rule my preferances, ie. knowing I owned a lot of books already made me think I shouldn't ask for more. Then I had a huge clear-out of books and the charity shops benefitted hugely. I had gaps on my shelves for the first time in ages. At the same time it occurred to me how nice and easy it was for my family when I made a list of books I wanted as presents. They could just pop over to Amazon, choose which ones they liked the look of and Bob's Your Uncle... I suddenly became the easiest person in the family to buy for at Christmas. So now I've stopped feeling guilty about this and happily ask for books at Christmas and for birthdays.

This year I made a list based partly on a few of the challenges I'm doing next year and partly on books I perhaps couldn't get at the library or just wanted to own.

These four books came from my eldest daughter and her husband. On the top row:

A History of Scotland by Neil Oliver. I'm a big fan of his history documentaries on TV although I don't think we watched this one. But this is perfect for my Read Scotland challenge for 2014.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. I'm slowly collecting the Lord Peter Wimsey series and this title is apparently one of the best in the series. I'll be reading this for the Vintage Crime challenge I'll be doing next year.

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin. This one I just fancied the look of.

A Thousand Miles from Anywhere by Sandra Clayton. I've read the first two books of this sailing travelogue from the library but, annoyingly, the library doesn't have book three. So on the list it went...

The Survivors by Amanda Havard is a paranormal story about the 26 children who were exciled after the Salem witch trials and what happens to them and their descendants. I'd never heard of this book and am so thrilled a dear friend in Scotland sent it to me for Christmas as it sounds like a brilliant read.

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. This is a non-fiction about the dust storms of America's High Plains in the 1930. How the people who stayed survived and so on. I'll read this for my USA states reading project. This was sent to me by a lovely friend from Ohio.

The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Years and years since I read this and I don't own a copy so it will be lovely to read it again next year. This was also sent to me by my friend in Ohio.

Night of the Living Deed by E. J. Copperman. This the first book in the Haunted Guesthouse mystery series. It looks like huge fun and I'll be adding it to my pile for the 'mysteries' challenge that I'll be doing next year. This was also bought for me by my friend in Scotland.

So, all in all, I think I did very well indeed for books this Christmas and am very grateful to family and friends. I'm thrilled to bits with all of them and can't wait to get stuck in in 2014.


Monday 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

I have family staying until Friday so am taking a short break from my blog (definitely not a long one).

Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it, I hope the holidays are all that you wish for... and feature lots of books!


Thursday 19 December 2013

The Postal Reading Challenge

Ok, well I think I probably need saving from myself now. I found yet another challenge I want to do! That makes five of them for next year and that doesn't include Carl's Once Upon a Time or RIP. I must be bonkers but what the hell... in for a penny, in for a pound.

This new one is the Postal Reading Challenge which is being hosted by The Indextrious Reader.

What is the Challenge?

The key is to read and review books with a postal theme. These can be non-fiction on the subject of letter writing, collections of real letters, or epistolary fiction of any era. Be creative! Review each one and link back to the challenge -- there will be quarterly roundup posts for you to link reviews and posts to as you create them.

The challenge runs from January 1st, 2014 to December 31st, 2014. You can sign up ANY TIME throughout the year.

Any books chosen can overlap with any other challenge, and rereads are allowed. Just remember to review them somewhere online in order for them to count toward the challenge. Lists don't have to be made in advance, though feel free to share your choices and inspire other readers if you wish! I always think that making lists is half the fun :)

There are a few ways to participate in this challenge.

Postcard Level: Read and review 4 books with a postal theme.

Snail Mail Level: Read and review 8 books with a postal theme.

Parcel Post Level: Read and review 12 books with a postal theme.

Air Mail Express Level: Read and review 12 books with a postal theme AND commit to sending more old fashioned letters this year. At least 12 pieces of mail (or more!), and you can share numbers or even images of your mail art in the quarterly roundups.

I'm going to have a stab at 'Snail Mail' level... reading and reviewing 8 books with a postal theme. I had a quick look at my tbr shelves and came up with seven books straight off:

The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh edited by Charlotte Mosley
Up the Country by Emily Eden
Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon
Letters From England by Elizabeth Davis Bancroft
Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart
The Turkish Embassy Letters by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Up with the Larks Tessa Hainsworth
Jane Austen: Selected Letters by Jane Austen and Vivien Jones

Books I don't own but would like to read:

Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
The Letters of Noel Coward edited by Barry Day
My Dear Charlotte by Hazel Holt

And no doubt there will be more...


Sunday 15 December 2013


My third book for Carl's Science Fiction Experience is Dawn by Octavia E. Butler.

Lilith Iyapo is 'awakened' on an alien spaceship. It's not the first time she's been awakened but her memories of what happened on previous occasions are a little vague: disembodied voices speaking to her but never answering her questions - where am I? What do you want with me? - strange alien rooms that she has tried to claw her way out of, to no avail. A terrifying nightmare.

She knows and remembers that humanity has destroyed itself in a nuclear war. She was alone anyway, her husband and young son having been killed in a car accident before the nuclear holocaust. Somehow she survived but how she was rescued she doesn't know.

This awakening is different. For the first time she sees one of her alien captors, the Oankali. She finds him grotesque and repellant but knows this is because he is so different. His job is to get her used to his species, speaking to him and touching him without being overwhelmed by her fear. Gradually they establish some kind of relationship and Lilith discovers her fate. It seems that a few humans survived and were saved from the nuclear winter on the planet. Lilith has been on the spaceship for many years, mostly in suspended animation. It seems that she has been deemed suitable to awaken a group of forty humans and is to teach them about the Oankali and lead them back to Earth to begin anew. But why should this alien race go to all this trouble? Is there something in it for them? But, of course...

Goodness me, I seem to have been seeing recommendations for Octavia Butler's work for years. She passed away only a few years ago I think, and if this the quality of writing lost - what a tragedy. I didn't really know what to expect when I started this, my first book by her. I gathered she wrote books from the black female perspective and this is what Dawn is... plus I expected a bit of a feminist slant to the story. Whether that's there or not is open to debate in my opinion. I didn't come away with a great opinion of the men in this novel, but then the women were a mixed bunch too. Lilith is by far and away the most interesting and sympathetic character, closely followed by the Oankali themselves.

Butler, in fact, created a very believable alien race in these books... this is book 1 in the Xenogenisis series... and to be frank I found them more sympathetic than the humans. For one thing this book is, if nothing else, is a study of how groups of people behave in circumstances that are stressful and out of their control... when the experience is prolonged. How they form cliques, create a hierarchy, take sides, find a scapegoat when things are difficult or inexplicable and so on. I found myself getting severely frustrated by the stance adopted by many of the human group, even found myself thinking, 'If they'd ever read any science fiction they might not be behaving in this manner!' Which is silly... which of us has any idea how we would behave in these totally unknown, terrifying and unpredictable circumstances?

Lilith truly did not want this job. She's not hungry for power and is possessed of a great deal of wisdom and tolerance. She can easily see how this could pan out but is frustrated that the alien race are very bad at listening to her. It's a recipe for disaster, but she is still the best person to handle it. It made me consider the kind of people we allow to have power in our various countries and the wisdom of giving it to those who actually *want* it. This is indeed a very thought-provoking book. You can't read it without thinking quite hard about the nature of humanity, power, group-dynamics and so on. The aliens in this book consider humans to have a fatal flaw and if you can read this without at least giving some consideration to the idea that they might be right, you're a better person than me.

Book two in this series is Adulthood Rites. I don't own it yet but believe you me I intend to.


Tuesday 10 December 2013

My Kind of Mystery challenge

Well, here I go again with yet another reading challenge. I'm past caring now, LOL, the more the merrier!

This one is called the My Kind of Mystery challenge and is being hosted by Riedel Fascination.

Mystery needs no murder! Hidden passageways, ancient places, eerie phenomenon… “Dan Brown” meets Nancy Atherton! Gothic greats of the 1960s-1980s, modern releases. I am launching a reading challenge that welcomes the lot: tutorials, mystery author biographies, fiction… Any form of mystery and its authors fit my all-encompassing theme.

The categories are:

Any format.
Any demographic

Non-adult must be published by 1990 or earlier.
Limitless length.
A short story, compilations; bring them to the table!
Reviews wanted.
A link to Goodreads, Book Depository… just to show you finished. One line is fine.

Catch your breath: we launch February 1st, 2014 – February 28th, 2015!

OK, well I've decided to go for the category 'Secret Messages' which is to read 5 to 10 books. A few books I've searched out that fit the challenge:

Touch Not the Cat - Mary Stewart
The Mystery of the Sea - Bram Stoker
The River of Adventure - Enid Blyton (YA)
The Rendezvous and other stories - Daphne du Maurier
Not After Midnight - Daphne du Maurier
Agatha Christie An Autobiography - Agatha Christie
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters
The Riddle of the Sands - Erskine Childers
Aoife's Chariot - Katherine Pathak
The Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer
Whispers in the Sand - Barbara Erskine

Hopefully I will read a few of these... the plan is for this challenge to help me get a few more books off my tbr mountain in fact. But I'm also sure other books will be added to the list as I go along.

Books actually read:

1. The Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer
2. A Moment of Silence - Anna Dean
3. Touch Not the Cat - Mary Stewart


Thursday 5 December 2013

The Warrior's Apprentice

My second read for Carl's 2014 Sci-Fi Experience is The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Miles Vorkosigan is the son of an aristocratic family on the planet of Barrayar. Due to something that happened while he was in his mother's womb he was born disabled - thus he is dwarfish and brittle boned. Despite all this he still wants to be an officer in the Barrayaran Military but, obviously, although he has sailed through the accademic exams he's struggling badly with the physical requirements of the training.

Crashing out, Miles is sent off to the planet Beta to visit his grandmother, along with his bodyguard, Bathari, and Bathari's daughter, Elena. Of course it doesn't work out like that. Miles ends up saving a pilot who has holed himself up in his ship and won't come out, by buying the ship and hiring the man. Another man, in different circumstances, an engineer, is also saved by Miles and suddenly he has the start of his own freight business come mercenary force. Along with Bathari and Elena the five of them end up in a war zone where things really turn interesting, because deciding whose side they're on is really difficult...

I'm not sure whether this can be counted as the first book in the Miles Vorkosigan series or not. This is because there is a book, Shards of Honor, that deals with how Miles's parents met and the reason for his disability. I believe some look upon it as a different series (Fantastic Fiction list it as such) or a prequel, but it was actually written in the same year so possibly they're meant to be read one after the other depending on what the reader wants to do. Personally, I wanted to start the series and Shards of Honor had not yet arrived so I read The Warrior's Apprentice first. I'll be able to judge when I've read both whether it makes any difference whatsoever.

This a hugely popular series and I can see why. This first book is a very enjoyable space opera romp... possibly coming into the 'military science fiction' category too. I'm not sure that would normally be my thing as I'm not hugely into war stories or battle scenarios. But Miles is an excellent character, reminding me at times of Star Trek's Captain Kirk with his charismatic personality, and that saves it completely in my eyes. I love the fact that Lois McMaster Bujold was bold enough to make him disabled. How very much more interesting is he in his thinking when you can share his unbidden thoughts about his disability and how he can cope with physical challenges or the manner in which he is treated differently to everyone else. For me this was probably the best element to this book. That said, I also enjoyed its other-worldliness... I always enjoy this characteristic of sci-fi novels... build me a convincing alien planet with weird customs and I'm always a happy bunny. It's the reason I read this genre if I'm completely honest, and it's very well done here.

Obviously, I'll be continuing on with this new to me series. I have a couple of other sci-fis I want to read first but will definitely be reading Shards of Honor within the confines of The Sci-Fi Experience.


Monday 2 December 2013

Books read in November

Last month was rather a slow reading month for me it seems... though it certainly did not seem like it at the time. I read five books, a little less than my average six to eight, but that's fine, I no longer stress over numbers and prefer to deliberate more over whether I actually enjoyed what I read. And the answer to that is 'Yes, I did'.

Here are those five books:

75. The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux. The author travels from London, right across Europe and Asia to Japan and back again via Siberia. I found this a bit slow at times, at other times it was very interesting particularly when dealing with the people he met. I got an excellent idea of the frozen wastes of Siberia from it and that's mainly what I remember best about this travelogue.

76. The Dragon's Eye by Dugold A. Steer. A YA fantasy, recommended by my grand-daughter and I have to say I enjoyed it rather a lot. Lot's of skullduggery regarding dragons.

77. Last Wool and Testament by Molly MacRae. Crafty crime yarn (sorry...) Very enjoyable.

78. Dolphins Under the Bed by Sandra Clayton. Part one of a trilogy of sailing travel books, of course I read book two first... typical. Enjoyed this one just as much anyway. It charts the couple's first trip down the north coast of France, across the Bay of Biscay, along the Spanish and Portuguese coast to the Med. Very chatty style of writing and nice descriptions of the coastal areas of various countries. Annoyingly the library does not have book three. In my opinion this is a heinous crime and ought to be punishable by something very nasty indeed.

79. Helliconia Spring by Brian W. Aldiss. My first book for Carl's Sci-Fi Experience.

So, five books ranging from good, to very good, to 'amazing'. Which book was amazing and therefore my favourite book of the month? Helliconia Spring. It reminded me why I love classic science fiction SO much and that I really must read a lot more of it next year.

I'm currently reading two books. The first is, Jaguars Ripped my Flesh by Tim Cahill. This is a book of travel 'essays' really. He's had adventures all over the world and written a number of very good books about his travels and experiences. Enjoying this very much. And secondly, The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold. I'm fair galloping through this one as it's a wildly entertaining space opera romp. There are a lot more in this series and I can see me reading quite a few of them next year.

So, here we are in December once again. I say 'once again' because I can't believe how quickly this year has flashed by. It's frightening. Never mind... there are always good books to read and thank goodness for that.

Happy December and 'Christmas' reading for those that do that. I have one or two myself that I might indulge in.