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?

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Reading through July

Can you believe it? Another month has flown by and now it’s August, where does the time go? I hope that for all of you, like me it was a  wonderful month of reading filled with lots of fantastic reads. Firstly I must apologise that my blog has been a little sparse this month which was down to a very big schedule and not much blogging time. Despite a hectic month though I did manage to read some amazing books and this month you can expect my usual influx of posts.

But back to reading, I started off the month reading The God of Small things which I’m yet to review as this is part of a book group that I’m hosting. Were all meeting tonight to dissect and explore this book and I can’t wait to report back to on what’s sure to be a diverse mix of opinions. This book in particular seems to have split the group somewhat and I’m excited to see what everyone else thought of it. Has anyone else read this book, what were your thoughts?

Secondly I read what shaped up to be by far the best book of the month; The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly. If you’ve read my review then you’ll probably see that I was quite bowled over by the book which for me had just the right mix of intrigue and mystery and I was literally glued to this book. I can’t wait to read another book by Kelly. Has anyone read her latest novel, The Sick Rose, and if so would you recommend it?

Next up I read The Reader by Bernhard Schlink which has been on my TBR list for years and yet I’ve never got round to it. The book made a refreshing change from my current reading habits and whilst the story was at times hard to digest it made for a thrilling, real and touching story. Schlink has a style and way of writing that is at once simple and at the same time complex and rich. This is my first book by this author but certainly not the last. My review of this is scheduled to run very soon.

And lastly I tried When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson, which is part of the Jackson Brodie series. The only other book that I’d read by Kate Atkinson is Behind the scenes at the museum and I loved that book. Anyone familiar with the Brodie series will know that this book is slightly different in style, nonetheless it made for an enjoyable and I’ll let you know my thoughts on it soon.

So that was July and what a fun month of reading it was. I had some Post war German literature, a crime thriller, a booker prize winner and well the Poisson Tree which I really don’t feel I can categorize but I must say it was the cherry on the top of a great reading month.

So what about August? Well I have no firm reading plans just yet, although I do have a bedroom overflowing with books that need to be read so I shouldn’t be short of material. I also plan to read Before I go To sleep by S J Watson which has had me intrigued for long enough now.

So what about everyone else? What great reads did you discover this month? Any books you read and would recommend? And what do you have planned for August? As always I would love to hear all your thoughts…happy reading

The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly

One of the most gripping novels I have read this year. Prepare for Kelly to become master of your imagination.

Something about the cover, blurb and title of this book has excited me ever since I saw it appear on the Richard and Judy Summer reading list this year. The offer of scandal and mystery proving all too tempting. In an unprecedented reading spree I flew through the delectable pages of Erin Kelly’s debut novel this weekend, and now I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

When the reticent, straight laced Karen meets the wild, bohemian and instantly fabulous Biba at a college notice board she is immediately captivated and infatuated by the energy and free spiritedness of this young, beautiful aspiring actress. For years Karen has done exactly what is expected of her, got the right grades, gone to the best college, dated the ‘perfect’ boyfriend. And yet something always felt missing. Karen has lived in a state of apathy and the sudden rush of Biba into her life gives her a taste of excitement, rousing her from her dull and structured life.

The excitement that Karen feels upon meeting Biba, and her subsequent need to be a part of her life is contagious and I found myself urging Karen to seek Biba out, to immerse herself in her world. On the cusp of her first exciting, carefree and reckless summer Karen bubbles with anticipation for the long, hedonistic months ahead, and the feeling electrifies the novel. But just how much will this perfect summer cost Karen? Can she really lose her innocence and inhibitions without anyone getting hurt?

From the very first pages Kelly plants a seed of doubt, she nourishes it with mysterious hints to a tragic accident and lost lives. Cryptic clues pile on top of ominous suggestions; prepare to be on the edge of your seat throughout this novel.

I wont give away too much of this novel, I don’t want to spoil it for a first time reader, especially since I felt a deep sadness upon finishing it as I realized I was now robbed of ever reading it with fresh eyes. But needless to say from start to finish it flows with a sense of intrigue, crackles with anticipation and delights with a heightened sense of drama.

After Karen’s first chance encounter with Biba an instantaneous friendship is sparked and soon Karen is leaving her stringent, stuffy home which she shares with her overtly organized flat mates to live in the eccentric, messy but wonderfully captivating home of Biba and her brother Rex. A crumbling town house which defecates the perfectly manicured homes lining the rest of the affluent street in Highgate. But this is exactly what attracts Karen, she craves a life far removed from the order and predictability that she has become accustomed to.

Abandoning her previous home Karen encapsulates the innocence and vulnerability of someone desperate to shake off her shackles, of course this indeed leaves her blind to the dangers around her; the dangers that Kelly slowly and tantalizingly pertains to. Desperate to immerse herself in the abandon of Biba’s world Karen soon finds herself falling into a family whose past is as murky and deeply rooted in obscurity. But all of this must be learnt along the way and Karen moves swiftly in, without ever looking back.

Kelly adds an extra edge of suspension to the novel in the form of her fleeting narrative which switches from past to present. In the past we learn about the events that shaped that tragic summer spent in Highgate, in the present we join Karen as she lives her life ten years on in Surrey. She describes her life as being entirely different in the present, indeed it is clear how deeply that irrevocable summer has shaped the woman she is now. Cagey, protective and always afraid and looking over her shoulder, but what is she afraid of? And even more mysteriously, Karen is now living with Rex, Biba’s older brother; the taciturn and overly protecting man that at first threatened to spoil the reckless fun that she hoped would shape her summer.

The tension of the novel boils as we switch back and forth in time. Questions piling up along the way, why has Rex being in prison, how did he and Karen end up marrying and having a child together. What happened that summer and why is Biba missing from the present day?

As the story wears on the truth begins to reveal itself only for more clandestine secrets to present themselves. One thing is for sure Rex surely seems to know the capabilities of Biba’s wild abandon and he alone fears the consequences of her actions. When Biba brings home Guy an arrogant drug dealer with a murky  background both Rex and Karen find themselves fearing the worst. What will this trouble maker do to the perfect equilibrium that Karen has just so recently found?

When I finished this book I was literally left quite speechless, a book hugging moment might have been a little inappropriate given the dark nature of the novel, but I loved it all the same. Now I’m desperate to try her next novel the Sick Rose. if Kelly can weave the same magic on me as she did in The Poison Tree then I think I will have found a new favourite author.

Have you read either The Poison Tree or The Sick Rose? If so what did you think? Or have you heard of this book but haven’t quite got round to reading it yet, but want to? Either way I would love to hear all of your thoughts.

10/10

Richard and Judy’s Summer Reads – The Eight chosen Gems

I have to say that every year I feel slightly indebted to Richard and Judy for their wonderful summer book club and the brilliant recommendations it throws up. It’s a great source for reading material, my bookshelves have been a little heavier each year since.

So the announcement of this years 8 chosen titles for the summer reads 2011 was greeted with excitement for this blogger, and here they are;

When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman – I feel like I see and hear about this book everywhere at the moment. So it’s arrival on the R&J Summer read list is yet another sign that perhaps I really should read this book. I have to admit that until now I hadn’t even read up on the book so it’s content was a little mysterious to me. Why haven’t I at least read up on it? Well my TBR list is getting higher than me so I’m trying to restrain myself from adding too much. This book is clearly going to become even more topical though so I think it’s time to give it a go.  It certainly promises to be a thrilling read.

 

The Death Instinct by the wonderful Jed Rubenfeld is also on the list. I read his novel The interpretation of murder, also recommended by R&J years ago and loved the masterful plot line; I found it both compelling and ingeniously original. If it’s anything like an interpretation of murder then surely I’m in for a treat?

 

The Confessions of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn. I think this might have to be my first read from the R&J  Summer Reads collection, I can’t tell you how much it sounds like my idea of book perfection. 12-year-old Katherine goes to live in the duchess of Norfolk’s home and sparks fly, drama ensuing. Being a huge fan of books set in the past with grand homes packed full of secrets is my idea of book heaven. Fingers crossed this lives up to my now very high expectations.

The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons – I haven’t read too much about this book yet but reading up on it on Richard and Judy’s site I’m certainly interested. It’s a war book and I’ve read, like I’m sure all avid readers have, many of those. So I hope it’s an original and unique plotline as the synopsis certainly promises to be.

 

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller – Another author new to me, and another book set around the time of the war. Well two years on but still the theme will be there. Reading a very interesting description of this book I must confess to be being highly interested. I think this will have to be my second book choice from this years 8. The book includes suicide, war poets and secrets unravelled; sounds to me like the ingredients for some perfect summer reading.

The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly – The more I read about Richard and Judy’s selected summer reads the more I remember why I always love their recommendations so much. Another book promising secrets, mysteries and complex relationships. These are the elements of books I always devour so The Poison Tree looks like another book sure to enthrall.

The Summer Of The Bear by Bella Pollen – Is it just me or is the title of this book oddly intriguing? It is for me anyway, perhaps that’s because it doesn’t give very much away and sounds so very original? After a little investigative reading on this book I’m still very intrigued. Father Nicky Fleming passes away leaving behind a devastated family who must learn to survive without him. But with Nicky’s promise that he would always return, is he really gone for good? I got goose pimples just reading about it, lets hope the actual book has the same effect.

And lastly Every Last One by Anna Quindlen – I’ll be totally candid with you all and admit that off all the books on this years list this is probably the one I’m least excited about. That’s not to say that the plotline doesn’t intrigue. The book is a about a seemingly perfect family who appear to have it all, but then events occur and things fall apart and secrets promise to come out of the surface.  I’ll certainly be giving it ago but maybe not straight away…maybe I’ll totally kick myself for this later?

So there you go, that’s what Richard and Judy recommend and that’s my thoughts. So what about you? Have you read any of these titles? Do you intend too? Do any really grip you? What do you think of the Richard and Judy Summer reads? I’d love to hear your thoughts.