Reflections On The Best Books Of 2011

As 2011 comes to an end I’m finding myself stuck in a reflective and thoughtful mood. It’s the time of year for tinsel and turkey but also the time of year to think of what we’ve achieved, what we’re disappointed we haven’t achieved and what we hope to get from the coming new year. As an avid reader who surrounds myself with books I have invariably ended up musing on the books that made 2011 for me. So I thought I would jot down my thoughts here and share them all with you. 

The first book that really blew me away this year was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, I was given the book for valentine’s day and the story of fated love set to the back drop of a speculative version of England made for an interesting and emotional parody to the traditional love story. I certainly had a book hugging moment when reading Never Let Me Go, how could I not?

The next book to really grip me was Room by Emma Donoghue. The hype of this book seemed to escape me and when I was handed a copy it was with little appreciation that I began reading it. But Donoghue’s magic didn’t fail me for long and I was soon exchanging sleep for stolen hours reading this book late into the night (that sounds almost like a love affair doesn’t it?). But I really did love this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it.

One Day is another book that really made my 2011 reading experience. The story is simple enough but it’s told with such a frank and honest approach that I found the novel and it’s messages deeply moving and engaging; for me the perfect reading experience.

Another book to captivate my attention and stick with me this year turned out to be Grace Williams Says It loud by Emma Henderson. How could I not be blown away by this book? Henderson shines a light on a subject that is rarely explored and does this in such a candid manner that the book is a shocking but emotional page turner that’s hard to forget.

Carrying on with the Orange Prize theme I also read and loved the debut novel Annabel. Although I will admit that my interest in the book waned towards the end overall I loved this book, I found her voice powerful and inspiring; this book is simply one of the most pleasurable books I’ve read this year.

One of my favorite books this year and one I’m not likely to forget (or shut about anytime soon) is The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly. This novel epitomizes my ideal book, secrecy, scandal, mystery and complex relations; this book ticks all the boxes and had me gripped from day one. If you haven’t read this book I’d highly recommend you do.

Colette is a writer I discovered in 2011 and her novella Gigi is a book that really stands out for me and was a pleasure to read. The glimpse of life as a society girl for Gigi in late Paris was delectable and really made a sunny day spent in Spain an extra treat.

And lastly a book I had low expectations for but loved was The Girls by Lori Lansen. It’s a story about Conjoined Twins and it’s one of those rare novels that in one breath has you crying in sorrow and in another smiling and filled with joy at the beautiful outlook on life that Lansen possesses.

So there the books that I’m most thankful to have read this year and the one’s that I wont forget. I may at some point decide to reflect on the books that really didn’t do it for me and the one’s that let me down. But what about everyone else? What books did you love this year, what would you recommend, what can you not stop talking about?

Drum Roll Please….A Winner is annoucned

After much excitement, anticipation, and a lot of second guessing at last a winner has been announced for this years Orange Prize for fiction. And the winner is Tea Obreht for her debut novel The Tigers Wife.

The winner was announced last night at London’s Royal festival Hall, Southbank Centre. Can you even imagine how thrilled and elated Tea Obreht must still be feeling right now?

I haven’t read The Tigers Wife yet which is a bit frustrating as I would love to be able to give a more informed response to this years winner. This books been firmly on my TBR list since it made the short list but so have a lot of other books and for some reason I kept choosing something else.

I have to say I was a little surprised, going by other people’s preferences and opinions, I was sure either Annabel, Grace Williams Says it Loud or Room would win. Having read the last two I was happy to see either scoop the prize. I’ve also read mixed reviews of this book so was quite taken a back to see it be crowned the winner.

That said you can never tell which way the judges are going to go for can you?And I’ve also read some amazing things about this book, it definitely sounds like an original and cleverly written piece of work so maybe I shouldnt be so surprised.

Will I be reading this book? Definitely. Although I don’t like to read a book solely on the basis that it’s won an award, even one that I admire as much as the Orange Prize, I think your always primed for disappointment if you read something solely on this basis. However this book was already resting in my TBR pile and after reading the first chapter which is available to read for free here, thanks to the lovely people of Orange, I’m now a lot more curious than before.

Have you read this book? Was it the book you wanted to win? Or the one you thought would win? Or are you surprised to see it scoop this years prize? Perhaps you wanted the award to go to someone else? Do tell me your thoughts.

On a slightly seperate note I was also very shocked when I found out that not only was The Tigers Wife Tea Obreht’s debut novel she is also only twenty-five years old! and now she’s won this prestigious award.

Perhaps because were the same age I was even more taken a back, what an amazing achievement for someone so young. Obreht has also produced a number of short stories which I think I’ll have a go at reading so hopefully I will be as bowled over by this up and coming writer as the Orang judges seem to have been.

Will you be reading The Tigers Wife or any of her short stories? Or are you already a fan?

Grace William’s says it Loud by Emma Henderson

A stunning debut written with real heart and incredible originality.

This is the book I’ve been most keen to read so far in 2011…in fact it’s probably one of the books I’ve been most excited to read in a long time. When I first read the synopsis I was instantly intrigued, it sounded so original and appealing, I wasn’t wrong.

The story opens in 1947 when Grace is only 8 months old. She’s in a country garden with her mother, father, sister, and brother. The setting of the scene may seem idyllic but without any hesitation Emma Henderson throws the reader into Grace’s world and her life as a physically handicapped young girl. Only a few paragraphs in and Grace is telling her audience about a recent medial experiment where her lolling, problematic tongue is clipped. Grace tells us this in the same frank tone that is used throughout the book and the effects of this style never failed to tug at my emotions.

In 1951 the family move to London and Grace begins telling us more about her beloved mother for whom she shares a richly complex and heartbreaking relationship. She tells us about the trips her and mother take into town together when mother is feeling ‘brave’. It’s here that we start to learn in more the depth the physical deformities Grace suffers. These are touching scenes full of tenderness but also tinged with sadness.

We learn that Grace can’t talk very well; she has been diagnosed mentally defective  and after suffering from polio she loses the use of one arm and one leg grows longer than the other.

Skip forward a little and Grace’s health takes a turn for the worse after a worrying fit, she’s taken to hospital and thus the decision is made that Grace must now reside at the Briar, a hospital for disabled and mentally ‘deficent’ individuals.

And so begins Grace’s life at the Briar. A place sometimes filled with happy memories, like hiding in the apple shed with her best friend Daniel or having afternoon tea with the lovely but eccentric Miss Lilly. And holiday’s to beach towns with volunteers like Major Simpson. These are touching and meaningful moments that keep the novel buoyant with glimpses of joy and save  it from becoming murky with too much gloom.

However there are also moments of extreme suffering and pain for Grace at the Briar and these were some of the most daring and devastating moments of the book. Henderson touches on themes that I’ve never found portrayed in any book before and I found myself blown away by the content. The book was also highly thought provoking and I know that’s a phrase often banded around but really I began to question everything I’d ever though about mental and physical health problems.

Grace is treated with animosity and often disgust by some of the Dr’s and nurses of the hospital. These moments are often heart rendering and even at times a little hard to digest. But these are frank, honest moments and if the reader feels uncomfortable one can only imagine how Grace must feel.

I don’t want to give too much away about all that happens at the Briar but I will say a little of the heart warming relationship between Daniel and Grace. Daniel is an epileptic and has no arms after an accident. He is intelligent, charming and above enthralled like the reader by Grace. Daniel idolises his ‘debonair’ father, almost mimicking him through his own behaviour.

Between them they overcome their physical and mental short comings. Learning to cuddle and caress with Grace’s one good arm and without the aid of either of Daniels. Perhaps because of this their relationship seems all the more intimate. Both Grace and Daniel look out for each other and their relationship grows and strengthens. But the question is always there, can they, with their very vague futures, every have a happy ever after?

The relationship between Grace and her family is probably one of the most compelling and complex, throwing many questions into the equation. Grace’s mother is tender and caring, clearly a wonderful mother but how should she act now that she has a child with aliments that such little is known about? Nobody has the right answers and everyone is trying to make the right decision.

As a reader we are left wondering what is right. What is the best for Grace? Emma Henderson never imposes heavy opinions or chastises the way in which Grace is treated. Her writing seems to understand that in a time when so little was known about such problems it was never as simple as pointing the blame. There are characters that show extreme kindness and some awful cruelty, but nothing is black and white in Grace’s world.

I won’t say too much about how it all pans out least I should ruin it for you. I will say this though; Grace William’s is throughout charming and extraordinary. Her imagination and prose are beautiful and original, her take on life fresh and innovative. She perceives the world around her with empathy, understanding and a depth that no one thinks her capable of.

Despite struggling with speech Grace Williams certainly does say it loud.

Have you read this book? Or are you interested in reading it? What do you think about it making the short list for the Orange Prize?

9/10

April Rounded Up and May’s Mission

Coming back to work this morning I suddenly realised that it was the 3rd of May!! Where does the time go? Another month has passed and with it some great reading too. So I thought it only right to share with you the books I’ve read and loved this month and to tell you about some of the incoming books that I endeavour to read in the month of May.

I started off April reading the wonderful Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, a book which I’m sure you can tell I absolutely adored. Never Let Me Go was the perfect way to kick start my April reading spree and to set my expectations high for the rest of the books I intended to read. Looking back now I think it was possibly my most enjoyable read of April and certainly one of the most moving.

The next book I chose was Sleeping With Mozart by Anthea Church, a book rather different in style, genre and effect to what I usually pick. It was however a wonderful book to read, without a doubt it shook up my reading habits in April, adding I think a little more diversity to the mix. Which on another thought got me thinking that I really need to mix up my reading choices more often. I was so pleasantly surprised to enjoy Sleeping With Mozart that I have endeavoured in the up and coming months to try previously ignored genres. Is there anything that you would recommend? I’ve being thinking of trying more crime fiction and recently this year I did come across Linwood Barclay’s No Time for Goodbye and loved it, perhaps you have read other books by Barclay that you would recommend? or maybe you can suggest some other great crime fiction books?

However I digress. My third book of April was Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson, a book that I was highly anticipating and one that I will be posting a review of very soon so please stay tuned for that. It certainly blew me away and was very thought provoking so I look forward to telling you more about it soon.

Sadly from here my reading levels seemed to decrease a little and despite, or maybe in spite of the bank holidays I only fully read these three books. I did however start The Eyre Affair by Fforde for a book group I’m in and I’m just about finished that so please check in for a review very shortly. So far, given how much I am enjoying it, it looks set to be a positive review.

Now onto my reading mission for May which is quite a large list so fingers crossed I’ll get through it all. The books range from recently acquired charity shop steals to books kindly handed to me by friends. First up I will of course endeavour to finish the Eyre Affair by Ffordes. The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory is also high up on my list of books to read in May. I’m a huge Philippa Gregory so this is a book I have fairly high hopes for. Are you a Gregory fan? have you read The Red Queen and would you recommend it?

I have also kindly being loaned a copy of The Report by Jessica Francis Kane, this was loaned to me by the lovely Simon at Savidge Reads. This book has been on my TBR list for a while so I’m thrilled to have my hands on a copy and can’t wait to read it.

I was also sent a coy of Tresspass by Rose Tremain by my lovely mother in Newcastle and while it wasn’t a book I’d heard off it was recommended by Richard and Judy and I nearly always seem to enjoy the books they recommend so I can’t wait to get stuck into it.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter is high at the top of my reading list for May with a mix of great reviews I’ve read of it and its short listing for the Orange Prize boosting it to the top of my TBR list. It’s the same with The Tigers Wife by Tea Obreht a book that I have also read some high praising reviews for and which is another nominee for the Orange Short list this year. Having read the synopsis I think this book could be a real treat.

So that’s a round-up of the books I read in April and the ones I intend to read in May. Which of the books from both categories have you read? Is there anything from either that you really loved, or hated? Or is there anything you would recommend from my May mission list? Perhaps there’s another book entirely that you think I should read? I’d love to hear your thoughts as always.

Orange Prize for Fiction – Shortlist unveiled

It seems like only five minutes ago that the long list was announced for the 2011 Orange award, where did the time go? So you can imagine my surprise this morning when an email dropped into my inbox announcing this years short list. Off course I was also extremely excited as this is an award I love and almost all of the books on the list have really grabbed my attention. So who’s made the cut?

 Annabel – Kathleen Winter (1st novel)

Grace Williams says it Loud – Emma Henderson (1st novel)

Great House – Nicole Krauss (3rd novel)

Room – Emma Donoghue (7th novel)

The Memory of Love Aminatta Forna (2nd novel)

Tea Obreht – The Tiger’s Wife (Ist Novel) 

Despite my excitement over the event I must confess I’ve still only read Room by Emma Donoghue. Usually I would have devoured a lot more but my list of books to read this year seems to be higher than ever. However I do have whatever you love by Louise Doughty, Grace Williams say it loud by Emma Henderson and also Annabel by Kathleen Winter on my bookshelf at home crying out to be read.  The long list was full of eye-catching gems that I desperately wanted to read but these are the three that really stuck out for me. I was a little disappointed to see that Whatever you love hadn’t made the short list as it was one of my highly anticipated reads, however I will still be reading it soon. I wonder if I will still be disappointed that it didn’t make the short list? Or if I will think that the decision was the right one?

I’m also desperate to start Grace Williams say it loud. After reading the synopsis for it my first thought was I have to read this book! So I am really pleased to see it on the list, I hope it lives up to my expectations as it’s a book I’m extremely excited to read. I’ve heard great things about it so to see it on the short list is further fuelling my anticipation. Has anyone else read it yet? would you recommend it?

I’ve also heard a lot of great things about Annabel, although I must confess that I slightly judged the book by the cover the first time I saw it, (a cardinal sin, I know) I found the cover quite foreboding and dark however from the buzz of winning praise surrounding this book at the moment, I clearly shouldn’t be perturbed by a cover, shame on me perhaps? Seeing it on the short list has sealed my interest so this is another book for the TBR list, wow it’s getting longer still.

As previously mentioned I have already read Room and this ia book I just loved. The story gripped me from start to finish and it still lingers with me now so I’ am thrilled to see it on the list.

The shortlist is as diverse as ever with three debut novels making the list and a variety of writers from around the world. Off course this is what is so good about the Orange award; the way in which it sheds light on such a broad scope of talent and celebrates the ability of both first time writers as well as long serving writers.

I think it’s time to start getting stuck into the rest of the books, both the short list and the long list (I still want to read everything on there…all in good time). I wonder out of the three books I’ve mentioned on my TBR list, and indeed the whole of the short and long list is there anything you would strongly recommend? Anything that I just have to read?

What do you think about the short list? Are you pleased with the finalists or is there a writer you really wanted to see but regrettably didn’t? I’d love to hear your thoughts.