My favourite books of 2010

 

This was so difficult to narrow down – SOOOOO difficult! But narrow it down I have and here are the top 10 books I read in 2010:

 

East Lynne by Ellen Wood

“For about three weeks I felt like I was living in the middle of a Victorian soap-opera. There was murder, betrayal, divorce, disguises and death and all this set among a backdrop of stately homes and horse-and-carriages. What’s not to love?”

 

 

Corrag by Susan Fletcher

“It is truly one of the most beautiful and lyrical books I have ever read.”

 

 

Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

“The story is alternately shocking, pitiful, heartbreaking, tender, joyful and fascinating. I fell in love, smiled, cried and hoped. To live with this group of animals for a few days was a privelidge and one I won’t forget easily.”

 

 

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

“Although this book is only 330 pages long, it felt like an epic to me. I have spent 60 years with this family, watching them love, loose, fight, cry. I’m going to miss them. I cried at the end – not just because of their story but because of all the other thousands of peoples story – real people.”

 

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

“This book has it all: class conflict, politics, religion, women’s rights and passion! It makes you think, it makes you reflect on what was and it makes you ponder how we got from there to where we are now. We smile with them, we cry with them.”

 

The Likeness by Tana French

“I just loved this book, I found that I couldn’t and put it down, nor did I want to. Despite the size of the book, I never once felt like it was too long; on the contrary I could have gone on reading for several hundred more.”

 

 

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

“The whole book, for me, pacey and gritty and just not wanting to put the damn thing down. If you enjoy crime / thrillers / whodunnits then you will LOVE this!”

 

 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

“I feel like I have lost friends now I have finished this book.”

 

 

 

Room by Emma Donoghue

“Room is both brilliantly written but also gripping: it took hold of me from the first page and never let me go until the end.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crossing Places  & The Janus Stone  by Elly Griffiths

“So what do you do when you’re busy, busy, busy and you’re brain is crying out for a book that will allow you to slip inbetween the pages from one life into another with complete ease?”

(OK, so I’m cheating here but I had to include them both as I read the first two books in a new series this year and fell in love with it – roll on the next books!)

 

Have you read any of these? What do you think to my 2010 favourites?

 

  

 

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How many have you read?

I think this is a pretty old list but someone sent to to me yesterday and I was surprised by the results. A BBC report reckons that people have only read, on average, six of the following 100 books:

It turns out that I have only actually read 37 of them which surprised me as I thought I would have read so many more. Mind you if you include all the one I have abandoned then the total shoots up somewhat!

The ones that I have read are highlighted in green. The ones that I have started and given up on are in grey.

 

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

 2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien 

 3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

 4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling (all) 

 5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

 6 The Bible

 7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

 8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

 9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

 10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

 11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

 12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

 13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

 14 Complete Works of Shakespeare – William Shakespeare

  15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

  16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

 17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

 18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

 19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

  20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

 21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

 22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

 23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens

 24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

 25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

 26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

 27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

 29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

 30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

 31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

 32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

 33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

 34 Emma – Jane Austen 

 35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

 36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis

 37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

 38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere

  39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

 40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

 41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

  42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

 43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving

 45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

 46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

 47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

 48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

 50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

 51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

 52 Dune – Frank Herbert

 53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

 54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

 55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

 56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

 57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

 58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

 59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

 60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

 62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

 63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

 64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

 65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

 66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

 67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy 

 68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

 69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

 70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

 71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

 72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

 73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

 74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

 75 Ulysses – James Joyce

 76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

 77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

 78 Germinal – Emile Zola

 79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

 80 Possession – AS Byatt

 81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

 82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

 83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

 84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

 85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

 86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

 87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White

 88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

 89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

 91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

 92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

 93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

 94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

 95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

 96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

 97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

 98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

 99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

 100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

How many have you read?

The Best 11 Book Club Reads EVER!!!

Yes, that’s right – 11! For two reasons: 1) I couln’t narrow it down to ten 2) I thought 11 was an interesing enough number that would get your attention (it worked, didn’t it?) 😉

Now that’s out of the way, I will explain that these 11 books are the best book club reads in my opinion. Over the years I have been a member of a few bookclubs – both online and face-to-face and I have tried to include books that got the most stimulation discussions. Some were so fantastic for debate that we were discussing them for weeks or even months afterward, some of them were loved by some and hated by others but all provided lively chat and food for thought.

Here I am sharing some of my favourites with you.

 

The Big 13

1) First up is We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. This is the book that made our book club run well over time and was still being rased and talked about and compared for months after we read it. It is an utterly fantastic book. I found Shrivers style took me a while to get into the flow of the book at first, but once I found my rythem I couldn’t put it down. The book is about a teenage boy called Kevin who kills a number of his class-mates in a shool killing. The story is narrated by Kevin’s mother who writes a series of letters to her husband who is no longer with her and she talks of before Kevin was born and how she felt when she got pregnant and when Kevin was born through to the aftermath of the killings.

What makes this such an interesting book is the nature vs nurture debate. Kevin’s mum admits that she wasn’t especially maternal and never quite bonded with Kevin as a baby. There was a clear divide in our group that we didn’t realise towards the end of the discussion: most of the members who were parents blamed the mum, and most of those who were not parents thought Kevin had been born that way (me included). There is no clear answer to this question and one of the most interesting things is deciding what you believe based on the evidence.

A seriously great book for a book club and a twist at the end that will have you gasp out loud (I guarantee it!). Please, please let me know what you think if you read this – I’d love to know your take on it.

 

 

2) The Book Thief by Markus Zusac is next up. I have read this book with both online and face-to-face book clubs and it got the same reaction at both – most people loved it!

This book is narrated by Death and follows the story of a young girl, Liesl, who growing up in Germany in WW2 . She is orphaned and sent to live with a family on Himmel Street. The book brilliantly captures living during such a difficult time, with a family who aren’t hers, through hiding a Jew in the cellar, through watching people she loves die. She also steals books wherever she can (as they are so scarce). The relationships in this book are so brilliantly drawn that most people (even grown men) admitted to shedding a tear or two at the end (me? I bawled my head off!).

Makes a great discussion and again was one that lingered through subsequent months.

 

3) The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. OK, I confess that I haven’t actually read this as part of a group but there were quite a few people reading it at the same time as me on various blogs and there were some fantastic discussions going on in the blogosphere about this book.

Set in the 1940’s, on the eve of the NHS in rural England, a Doctor visits an old stately manor to see a maid who was complaing of stomach pains. When Dr Farrady digged a little further it turned out that the maid wasn’t ill at all but trying to get sent home as she was afraid of things “going bump in the night” (and day!) in the house. Farrady strikes up a friendship with the house members (of whom there are only 3 left) and becomes embroiled in some very strange goings on.

The real taking point is at the end of the book. It appears that Waters has left her readers to make up their own minds about what was really going on in the house but there are some great theories flying around that makes this a good read for debate.

4) Blindness by Jose Saramago is in at #4. I first read this is the Goodreads group The Next Best Book (which has over 5000 members and is run by my lovely friend Lori). I picked it up to read as there was so much discussion and enthusiasm around this book at the time. What a read! I was umprepared to love it so much but I honestly couldn’t put it down.

This book is amazing, incredible, breathtaking. It was recommended to me and once I started it  I was barely able to put it down. This book earned a place in my top 5  books of all time and deservedly so.

The story starts with a man in his car at traffic lights who goes suddenly blind. He is helped home by a stranger, who a few hours later also goes blind. Within a few days the blindness has spread round half the city and also those afflicted are herded up by the government into a disused mental assylum and left alone. The wards quickly become overrun with filth and chaos ensues. In the middle of this, though, we get to know a handful of characters very well and it is really their story that we follow through the neverending days, lack of food and riots. The whole story is told through long paragraphs of uunbroken text. There are no quotation marks, hardly any punctuation and none of the characters are given names. But it works!

This book has so much to discuss and I also read it with my face-to-face group and it sparked real mixed reviews which made a great talking point. One of my favourite books!

 

5) All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I read this with my group many years ago but it still sticks in my mind. The whole group, without exception, loved it and was very moved by it.

It is set in WW1 and written from the German point of view. The difference is – there is no difference. Those soldiers had the same fears that our soldiers did, the same hopes and dreams. There is no them and us; only frightened boys on the front line doing as they are told and not really knowing why.

Tender, shocking, tragic and sad but ultimately one of the best books I have read.

 

 

6) Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I read this before discussing it at a face-to-face group but was really eager to join in with the discussion. This book had two camps – the lovers and the haters. I was a lover! This book is one of my favourites ever.

Wharton has the most amazing talent to pull me right into her stories as though I am there right with the characters. Starkfield (where the book was set) – brilliant name for such a place; it was just that – freezing, barron, snow-covered, lonely. But this is quite possibly one of the most romantic love-stories I have ever read: it’s so real you can almost touch it. It’s tangible and it’s tragic. This book, despite the fact that it’s only 100 pages long, took me a couple of days to read. I just had to savour every word and re-read passages over again.

It’s clearly not a book for everyone based on the fact that it split the group but it certainly got us talking and debating as to why. Some people found it too bleak, I found it just beautiful.

6) Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind is in at six. This is one of the weirdest books I have ever read but also one of the best.

Survivor, genius, perfumer, killer: this is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. He is abandoned on the filthy streets of 17th century Paris as a child, but grows up to discover he has an extraordinary gift: a sense of smell more powerful than any other human’s. Soon, he is creating the most sublime fragrances in all the city. Yet there is one odor he cannot capture. It is exquisite, magical: the scent of a young virgin. And to get it he must kill. And kill. And kill.

This book went down really well in our book group (although not everybody liked it). The strangeness of the book was its genius for me. It got a great conversation going – especially the ending (which you will NOT see coming!).

 

7) The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This is another one that I first read for The Next Best Book Club on Goodreads. This one, however, got a completely split reaction: lovers and haters. I LOVED it!

I read this book in a day – I just found it impossible to put down. Although it’s bleak I found it to be written in a gentle, almost dream-like way which I loved. The story is of a man and his son (whose names we never learn) who are travelling south during the harsh, post-apocolyptic winter. They set off along the road with their cart and all their worldly belongings in it. We never find out the reason that the road and the fields and whole cities are burnt and abandoned; we are left the imagine for ourselves if it is due to war, asteroid etc.

It is a fabulous book and whether you love it or hate it I can guarantee that it will spark plenty of discussion – there’s so much to talk about with this book.

8) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Another dystopia novel – they really do generate some great banter though. This is another one that went down really well with out book group; in fact it won “book of the year” the year we read it.

The really interesting thing about this book is that although it is meant to be set in the America of the future (Gilead) it really could be so many countries today (think Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq to name a few). When I first read it back it the early 90’s I took it at face value – I saw a world in the future that I thought was possible. When I read it again 15 years later (and having been exposed to the aftermath of 9/11 and the war in the middle east) I was able to draw so many parallels with the world today.

Thumbs up for this group read!

9) Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I nominated this book for our book group back in 2004 because I was about to go to China on holiday and wanted to read some more of the history. Some people were dubious about reading it as it is such a thick book and it’s non-fiction but it ended up one of the most popluar books were read as a group.

This book is written by Jung Chang and she recounts her life and that of her mother and grandmother before her during some of the most turbulant times in China’s history. Her grandmother was a warlord’s concubine, her mother was in a prominet position in Mao’s communist party before being denounced and Jung herself marched and worked for Mao until the doubts crept in. What these three generations of women lived through is so beyond belief at times that you think that it could only be fiction.

All agreed that this book was well worth the time and it is one that you won’t forget in a hurry either.

 

10) The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. Another one from the face-to-face book group that was enjoyed by pretty much everyone.

This is the story 2 young girls, Kitty and Esme, growing up in the 20’s and 30’s in first colonial India and then in Edinbugh when their parents move back home. They are sisters who share everything and love each other very much yet one is the dutiful, polite, home-maker type and the the other is the slightly rebellious younger sister who wants to stay on at shcool rather than marry a nice boy. After a series of events (which include trying on her Mothers clothes of all things!) and a shocking incident that happens to her, Esme (the younger sister) is sent to a lunatic assylum and dissowned by her own family and where she remains for the next 61 years.

What a discussion this provoked! The rights of women (or lack of them), the things that could get you locked up back then (over half of us agreed that we wouldn’t have stood a chance in those days) and the shame that surrounds supposed mental illness. All that wrapped inside a brilliantly told story.

 

 

11) The bonus book! And I’m cheating with this one as I have never actually read it with a group despite my many pleas over the years. This book is BRILLIANT! It is one of my favourites of all time (in my top 3) – why oh why don’t people want to read this? (I know at least 2 readers of this blog who will back me up on this – Virginie and Lua, help me out with this!)

In The Magus by John Fowles young Englishman, Nicholas Urfe, accepts a teaching position on a Greek island where his friendship with the owner of the islands most magnificent estate leads him into a nightmare. As reality and fantasy are deliberately confused by staged deaths, erotic encounters, and terrifying violence, Urfe becomes a desperate man fighting for his sanity and his life. The Magus is a book that really messes with your head –  filled with shocks and chilling surprises and so many twists that every time you think you have it sussed you are thrown way off course again, this book is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining.

I demand that you all read this book! It is pure brilliance and would make such a fantastic group discussion – the only problem would be where to start!


Some truly great books there for you to check out. I have chosen them as being the ones that created the liveliest debate and discussion as well as being great reads.

Have you read any of the above? Will you share with us all what you thought about them? Do you agree or not agree? And of course, if you do go away and read any of them (in a group or on your own) please do pop back and tell us what you thought – I can’t wait to hear 🙂

My Top 10 Reads of 2009

So here we are, the end of another year. I have read exactly 100 books this year (well, I will have when I race through #100 today!). I’ve read some truly fantastic books and some real humdingers too! So here is my Top 10 of 2009:

This book is just awesome! I can’t believe that I have never read it before this year. I fell in love with the Bronte’s from reading this and went on to read several more of theirs this year. I also live in Yorkshire and my Mum bought me membership to the Bronte Society for my birthday this year (so excited!). The village of Hawarth is stunning – it’s no wonder that those sisters were so inspired to write such wonderful books.

You can read my review of Jane Eyre here. I also highly recommend Villette which only just missed out on a Top 10 spot.

Wolf Totem is quite possibly my favourite book of all time! I devour books about China as I am fascinated with the country (I even went there on holiday in 2004 to feed my fascination). I picked this up one night just to flick through the pages (as I was already in the middle of another book) and before I knew it I had read about 20 pages and could not put it down. Wolf Totem is not only beautifually written (I don’t know what the Chinese version is like but the translation is stunning) but I really felt like I was right there in the pages. It also made me fall head over heals in love with wolves (which has started another book buying craze!). I cannot recommed this book highly enough – it really is a gem. You can read my review here.

I started reading this book on the plane to New York a few weeks ago and I was gripped! This is one of the best written, on-the-edge-of-your-seat books that I have ever read. The plot is amazing: dystopia novels always frighten me because I can see something like this so easily happening  just as I did with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (another awesome book). This is a YA book but really is one for the adults too; in fact I didn’t notice that I was reading something aimed at teenagers, I was so engrossed in it.

You can read my review here. Read this and then read the second in the series, Catching Fire. The third is out in August and I cannot wait!

I am a massive Joanne Harris fan. If you have read Chocolat and loved it, then you will love Five Quarters of the Orange even more. I love the way Harris can make you fall in love with a place and want to be there among the village and the characters, despite the fact that it’s set in the middle of a war. All her books are wonderful but I think that this is my favourite of them all.

I will be uploading my review of this book shortly so watch this space.

I just love books with really bleak settings which is exactly what Ethan Frome is. I think it’s because I crave peace and quiet and solitude so to me a tiny village that regularly gets cut off by the snow sounds like heaven to me! This book really is bleak, the characters have hard lives and there is little to look forward to. Yet in the middle of that is one of the most beautiful love stories that I have ever read. I know that this book is not a favourite among a lot of people (I think it was a set read in some American schools and seems to have really turned people off it) but seriously, it is such a treat to read. I highly recommend.

You can read my review of Ethan Frome here.

Tracy Chevalier is another author that I am a massive fan of. She writes historical fiction but often based on true stories (of people that aren’t well known historical figures). Remarkable Creatures is one of those. It is based on a fossil hunter called Mary Anning who lived on the English coast in the early 19th century. This book really was a joy to read; I felt like I knew Mary and her friends and that I was there in the pages with them. I love it when a book can do that to you. It’s such a gentle read yet the pace never slackens and I found myself not able to put it down.

You can read my review here.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first in a trilogy of books. It is written by a Swedish journalis (which also stars a Swedish journalist) who died just after completing the trilogy (I wonder if he had any idea just how big this series would become). The girl in question is a computer hacker who ends up helping the journalist to solve a “locked room” mystery. It’s such a fabulous page-turner of a book, just as the second in the series The Girl who Played with Fire is. I have the third book at home which has stopped whispering to me and is now yelling at me from the bookshelf! I must read that really soon.

You can read my review here.

This book is a real eye-opener into Indian society. White Tiger is about a young boy whom we watch grow up and try to carve out an existance for himself in India. It is shocking, heartbreaking and funny all at once. There are no real heros in this book; there is no-one to root for as they all make bad choices but ultimately you have to ask yourself what would you do in their situation? They are trying to survive in a corupt world. Fantastic narrative, witty, sharp and ultimately a real page-turner.

You can read my review here.

No list is complete without some chicklit on it. And this is the best of them for 2009. I am a huge Sophie Kinsella fan and have read all her books, but out of the 4 standalone this is my favourite. I read it while curled up on a sun lounger in Kefalonia this summer and it was perfect summer reading. In Twenties Girl, yes there is the usual shopping and shoes and boys (what’s not to love?) but this time there is a ghost who wants to relive her glory years in the roaring 20’s and boy does she make sure she has fun.

You can read my review here.

Who knew that science fiction could be so much fun? I just loved this book! The Midwich Cuckoos is about a little English village that suddenly freezes in time for a few hours and all the residents collapse. Nobody can get in and nobody can get out. When they wake up they have no idea what happened but in the following weeks all the women and girls over about 15 find themselves pregnant. When their children are born they all have the same white blonde hair and don’t communicate with anyone but themselves. It’s creepy and brilliant! Don’t miss it.

I will upload my review soon so watch this space.

So that’s my Top 10 of 2009. You can see the full list of 100 books that I read here.