Friday, April 5, 2013

Snapshot from 2012

To get this blog up and running, I thought I would start with a snapshot of the books I read in 2012 (since March anyway, when I made my resolution to start reading for fun again). This will also give a bit of an idea of the kinds of books I read and the ones I like and dislike, so you can get a feel for whether you have a similar taste in books as me (and whether it's worth following this blog) or not. Feel free to leave comments if you have read or are interested in reading any of these books, I'm always happy to hear other people's opinions and recommendations of books.

1. "Armageddon's Children" by Terry Brooks. 8/10
Terry Brooks is one of my all time favourite fantasy authors, I always enjoy his books.

2.  "The Zookeeper's War" by Steven Conte. 7/10
Interesting historical novel, but fairly depressing, especially the ending.

3. "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave. 10/10
This is an awesome book. Definitely one of the standouts for me in 2012. It was a book I had not heard of before, and chose it randomly at an airport bookstore without expectations, and was totally gripped by it.

4. "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd. 9/10
I bought this book second hand in New York from the Housing Works Used Book Cafe in Soho.
Read on flights from Los Angeles to Australia. Several people had recommended it to me before I read it, and it was a great read with characters you could really feel for.

5. "Ant Egg Soup" - Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos by Natacha Du Pont De Bie. 7/10
Another second-hand shop purchase. Interesting reading (especially as I read it in preparation for an upcoming trip to Laos!). The descriptions of the food and locations and people make it come to life. I wasn't sure whether to be excited or scared by some of the menu items described in the book though!!!

6.  "Fishing for Stars" by Bryce Courtenay. 7-8/10
(Australian author)
I actually listened to this in audio book format while doing craft stuff, rather than actually reading it.
I found it very interesting. I like all Bryce Courtenay books I've read. This one covers a wide range of topics/themes, from World War II in the Pacific, politics and Greenie movements in Tasmania, big business in the Pacific Islands, and the relationships of the main character with 2 very different but strong female characters.

7.  "Songs of the Humpback Whale" By Jodi Picoult. 1/10
I was very disappointed with this book. So many people had recommended Jodi Picoult books to me over the years, and this was the first one I tried to read. I couldnt even finish this book (and I almost never give up on a book once I start it), and could not empathise with the main characters...

However, a couple of people who are Picoult fans have since told me this was the one book by her that they disliked.

8. "Flash and Bones" By Kathy Reichs. 6.5/10
This was the first book I downloaded onto my kindle that I received for my birthday.
I do like Kathy Reichs books - the science is pretty accurate and the stories are usually pretty good. This one was set in the NASCAR heartland of USA. I found it interesting to compare to the things I've seen while volunteering at the Bathurst V8 supercar races. The actual story line wasn't as strong/good as previous Kathy Reichs books though.
9. "Brother Fish" by Bryce Courtenay. 8/10
(Australian author)
Despite it taking me about 2 months to read this book, I did really enjoy reading it. It's set partially in a small island fishing community off the Tasmanian coast, partially in the Korean war (which I had not previously known anything about), and in mainland China and Hong Kong. As with all Bryce Courtenay books the characters are so real you feel like you know them, and the locations and experiences are very well described.
10.  "Fifty Shades of Grey" by E.L. James. 5/10
Not the sort of book I normally choose to read, but after all the hype and so many people talking about it I had to read it. I downloaded it on my kindle. It's definitely not the most well-written book, but it sure is a bit of a sexy page-turner! :-P Not sure if it was exciting enough to read the other 2 books in the trilogy though...

11. "Gold" By Chris Cleave. 7.5/10
This book was pretty good but not as good as his previous book "Little Bee" (that i gave 10/10). It is about 3 Olympic cyclists and all the emotional turmoil they go through to compete at that elite level. However the star of the book really is the daughter Sophie who has Leukaemia.
12.  "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. 8.5/10
This book is set deep in southern America during the 1950s. The characters are so well described with different writing styles to match, and the storyline is also very good, dealing with the fight for equal rights for black American maids with their white employers. The movie based on this book is also very good (I saw the movie before I read the book, which is unusual for me, I normally like to read a book before I see the movie version).
13. "Bones are forever" by Kathy Reichs. 7/10
A pretty depressing storyline with infant/baby deaths. However it was interesting from the setting point of view, dealing with Alaska and native Americans and wilderness protection vs mining in the Arctic.

14. "Flaunting, Extravagant Queen" by Jean Plaidy. 6.5/10
An historical novel about the life of Marie Antoinette, from when she left her family in Austria as a child bride to the young Dauphin of France (to be Louis the 16th) up until she was executed during the French Revolution. 

15. "Puberty Blues" By Gabrielle Carey & Kathy Lette. 6/10
This was currently on TV in Australia as a series at the time I read the book. A few people recommended the book to me, however in my opinion it's one of the rare cases where the TV series appears better than the book (slightly - neither were wonderful).
This book is set in Sydney (Cronulla) in the 1970s, following a group of teenagers in their quest to be cool. The book was fairly easy and short/quick to read but depressing with how young the girls were and the drugs etc they were involved in. And the final chapter of the book revealed pretty much all the kids in the group either died of drug overdoses before the age of 20 or ended up in jail/rehab except for the authors who skipped school to write the book. Despite all this, it was still fun to read and see all the colloquealisms (if that's a word) and the lifestyle of the 70s on the Sydney beaches. Not hugely removed from some people's lives at my high school in the 90s I would think.
16. "The Riders" by Tim Winton. 7/10
(Australian author) I found this book quite gripping/haunting, but was left a bit disappointed at the ending...not sure if I just confused myself and didn't understand the significance of the ending or not. But I keep thinking back through it and get the feeling parts of the story and the characters will stick in my mind for some time.
17. "What looks like crazy on an ordinary day" by Pearl Cleage. 6.5-7/10
This was a very quick read, easy to keep turning the pages. I liked the main characters and their positive vibe throughout the story despite some pretty depressing issues being dealt with (and one pretty traumatic scene to read).
The book is about a woman who finds herself HIV-positive and how she takes this pretty devastating news and gets on with her life. While this might not sound like a fun topic to read a novel about, it also involves a really good love story, very positive family and friendship themes and a bit of an insight into how we all can make bad decisions in life but sometimes we learn from them in a positive way (and sometimes we don't). I read this review of the book which is what prompted me to read the book in the first place:
18. "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" By Rebecca Skloot. 8/10
I would guess that most of my sciency friends will have heard of HeLa cells (and many will have grown them in the lab at some stage). This book is about Henrietta Lacks, the woman whose cervical cancer cells (taken without ethics consent in the 1950s) became the first immortal human cells grown in culture, and all the amazing discoveries, drug/therapy development and knowledge that have resulted from growing and experimenting with "HeLa" cells in laboratories around the world.
I found this book to be very interesting, although the life of Henrietta and her family is pretty tragic. Very interesting and sometimes disturbing all the things HeLa cells have been used for over the years. 

19. "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making" 
By Catherynne M. Valente. 8.5/10
Great fantasy fairytale adventure - it's a kids book but full of imagination and I loved it. Some aspects were kind of like Alice in Wonderland meets Harry Potter.
20. "Let's Pretend this Never Happened" By Jenny Lawson. 6/10
Really hilarious in parts making me laugh out loud at inappropriately funny moments....but other parts were just cringingly bad drama queen scenes. A lot of the language and stories come across as if they were mainly written for shock value. However I did really get a good laugh out of a few of the early chapters :-)

21. "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult. 8/10
After my first disappointing attempt at a Picoult book (Songs of a Humpback Whale), I decided I should give the author another shot, since so many of my friends kept raving about her books. This time I chose one she is famous for, and this time I did enjoy the book. It is about a family who have a daughter with an aggressive form of Leukaemia, and decide to have another baby that will be able to become a bone marrow/blood/organ donor in order to save the first child's life. It brings up lots of issues involving ethics and 'designer' babies. I also found it interesting from the medical point of view.
22. "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed. 3/10
I bought this book with my last Thai bahts while waiting at Bangkok airport, and it had a sticker on it saying that was recommended on the Oprah's bookclub list.
What I liked about this book: reading about the scenery of the Pacific Crest Trail, the camaraderie of the various hikers met along the way, and the theme that you can do anything you set you're mind to achieve.
What I didn't like: I found the author/main character extremely immature/short-sighted and was unprepared for almost every situation she encountered on her hike, even those that anyone who knows nothing about backpacking might forsee. E.g. not packing her hiking pack until the night before she set out on her hike and then discovering she couldn't even lift it off the ground, wearing hiking boots too small for her feet and she hadn't bothered to break them in or even wear them once before she set out on her 1000+mile hike...but despite countless examples of this sort of behaviour throughout the book she did manage to hike the trail and achieve her goal.

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