2015 wasn't a spectacular reading year for me but I've still managed to pick ten books from the forty-five that I read. It's still a varied list with two non-fiction novels, two fantasy books, three modern classics and one thriller. I'm writing this post right now on my phone whilst at a beach resort with a crappy internet connection so please forgive the brief descriptions of each book. Here's my top ten of 2015 in no particular order.
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
The final novel in the Neapolitan series. It's as brilliant as the previous ones.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The last book I read this year and exactly what I needed after the longest book slump. Light, fantastic, intriguing and magical.
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
Funny, bizarre and so interesting.
Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo
I'm not a big fan of short stories but these ones were truly haunting and unforgettable. My favorite one was The Imposter.
The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares
A fugitive hides out at a deserted island where nothing is as it seems. Sublime.
Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng
A lovely book about a very taboo love affair.
Silence by Shusaku Endo
A truly profound novel about Portugese missionary priests in 16th century Japan.
Mr Mercedes by Stephen King
This cat and mouse thriller was the best crime novel I've read all year. It's the first of a trilogy. The second one, Finders Keepers, was just as good.
The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi
Loved this highly original, weird and whimsical novel that reads like a fairy tale. Two friends, one beautiful and one not, and their quest to find true love.
Love is a Mixed Time - Love and Loss One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield
I chose this for my book club and although only one other person enjoyed it, I still loved this heartbreaking memoir about Rolling Stones' writer, Rob Sheffield, and his wife Renee.
I know I haven't been blogging much during the past few years but I always make it a point to post a year end list. If you are still reading my blog then thank you. If you are on instagram and still interested to see what I'm reading then please do check out @theliterarystew. I seem to be posting more there these days. Happy New Year everyone!
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Sunday, December 27, 2015
Books Read in 2015
1. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay ***
2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins ****
3. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (reread) *****
4. Just Kids by Patti Smith ****
5. Silence by Shusaku Endo *****
6. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson *****
7. The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson ***
8. A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison ***
9. And the Sea Will Tell by Vincent Bugliosi **
10. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum ***
11. Matilda by Roald Dahl ****
12. This Can't be Happening at McDonald Hall by Gordon Korman (reread) *****
13. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson *****
14. So You've Been Shamed by Jon Ronson ****
15. The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly ***
16. Go Jump in the Pool! by Gordon Korman (reread) *****
17. The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares *****
18. Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb **
19. Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker ***
20. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr **
21. Disclaimer by Renee Knight **
22. Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng *****
23. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter ****
24. Chocky by John Wyndham ****
25. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper ***
26. Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield *****
27. The Stranger by Albert Camus ***
28. Talking to Girls about Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield *****
29. Turn Around Bright Eyes by Rob Sheffield ***
30. Little Girl Blue, The Life of Karen Carpenter ***
31. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky ****
32. The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante ****
33. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee ***
34. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes ****
35. The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen by Lindsay Ashford **
36. The Vanishing by Tim Krabbe ***
37. The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi *****
38. Emma Vol.1 by Kaoru Mori ***
39. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King *****
40. Finders Keepers by Stephen King *****
41. The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford ****
42. The Elementals by Mchael McDowell **
42. The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez ***
43. In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware ***
44. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs *****
45. Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
I got immense reading pleasure in discovering new writers particularly a married Argentinian couple I'd never heard of before, Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo. They are my current literary crushes. Both were friends and contemporaries of Jose Luis Borges and are published by NYRB. The Invention of Morel by Casares was brilliant and I'm still reading the haunting short stories Thus Were Their Faces by Ocampo. These books have nothing in common at all with Ferrante's novels other than being translated fiction. But this is what I mean when I say that Elena Ferrante led me to them somehow and they in turn will lead me to others. Ferrante, through her publisher, Europa Editions, also led me to Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng which I reviewed in my previous post. I had never heard of the author but I simply had to read it. Its risqué plot didn't turn me off because Elena Ferrante has taught me that yes, we might not always agree with the protagonists in the books we read but we also can't judge their choices. Everyone is fighting their own battles after all.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Monday, February 2, 2015
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
My 2014 reading year didn't start out very well so by June I thought I wouldn't have enough books to make a top ten list. Everything changed after I read Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. For a while almost every book I read after that was just wonderful.
I read many 2014 releases and some of them were good but then again not quite good enough to make the cut. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was a sometimes compelling read but it inevitably pales when I compare it to Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. And though they've received glowing reviews, I honestly didn't enjoy Us by David Nicholls and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart was just ok. Meanwhile, Colorless Tsukuro by Haruki Murakami, Malice by Keigo Higashino and Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi were all interesting reads and if I could list more than ten they would surely have made this list. One classic that almost made it was The Collector by John Fowles, a creepy and well-written psychological crime novel.
However, I want to limit myself to only ten books. Three of them are by the same author, Elena Ferrante who I cannot rave about enough. Six of the books on this list were released in 2014. There's one non-fiction book, one YA, one Victorian vampire novel, two thrillers and one horror/fantasy graphic novel. Surprisingly nine of the books were written by women. It's certainly a mixed bag of books so here's my list in order (drum roll please)...my favorite books of 2014.
1. to 3. The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay) - Words can't describe how I was completely swept away by these novels of two friends growing up in Naples, Italy. I'm still suffering from Ferrante Fever and quite happily at that. I loved all three books and I can't wait to reread all three again just before book four will be released in late 2015. These three novels not only made it to the top of this list but they now have a permanent place in my My Reader's Table, my favorite books of all time.
4. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters - Sarah Waters does it again this time with a crime story set in London in the 1920s. The pacing was excellent, the characters were well drawn and the writing was brilliant as always. This was a fabulous read from start to finish.
5. The Quick by Lauren Owen - I loved reading this stylish debut novel about vampires and vampire hunters in Victorian England. Pure escapism. I'm hoping there'll be a sequel.
6. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer - This is the last book I read this year and it's also the only YA novel on the list. Read this if you love Sylvia Plath, The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Looking for Alaska by John Green. A wonderful book about fragile teenagers at a boarding school and their very special teacher who helps them deal with grief and loss by reading The Bell Jar and writing in their own journals.
7. The Secret Place by Tana French - I will read anything that Tana French produces and though this wasn't her best, I still enjoyed it very much. The Dublin murder squad is back and this time they are trying to solve a murder at a girls' boarding school.
8. Locke & Key by Joe Hill - This graphic novel written by Stephen King's son is completely addictive and immersive. Kids, a strange house, magic keys, an unsolved mystery and an evil being - all the elements for a thrilling read.
9. Tiny Beautiful Things, Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed - I don't think I'll ever forget some of the letters I read in this anthology. I highlighted so many lines so I know I'll be dipping into this again and again in the future. She's certainly a wise one, Ms. Strayed.
10. Euphoria by Lily King - This novel is loosely based on anthropologist Margaret Mead. It covers just a short span of time in her life and in fact my only complaint is that at 256 pages it was too short! Just when I was beginning to get into the characters, the love triangle and the setting, the story ended. This was a fascinating read not just for the story but for the close look at the work of anthropologists in the 1930s.
So that's it. My 2014 list. I'm looking forward to more reading in 2015 and hopefully (cross my fingers) more blogging. I've been using Twitter and Instagram more than my blog but would love to know if there are still any of you out there who read The Literary Stew. Happy New Year to all of you and happy reading in 2015!
Monday, December 29, 2014
1. Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
2. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
3. Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft (Locke & Key #1) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
4. Locke & Key, Volume 2: Head Games (Locke & Key #2) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
5. Locke & Key, Volume 3: Crown of Shadows (Locke & Key #3) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
4. Locke & Key, Volume 4: Keys to the Kingdom (Locke & Key #4) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
5. Locke & Key, Volume 5: Clockworks (Locke & Key #5) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
6. The Signature of All Things by
7. Locke & Key, Volume 6: Alpha & Omega (Locke & Key #6) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
8. The Giver by Lois Lowry
9. Six Years by Harlan Coben
10. He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond
11. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
12. Donners of the Dead by Karina Halle
13. The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
14. The Collector by John Fowles
15. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
16. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
17. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
18. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
19. Serena by Ron Rash
20. The Humans by Matt Haig
21. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
22. Guilt by Association by Susan R. Sloan
23. Love Life by Rob Lowe
24. Joyland by Stephen King
25. Everything I never Told You by Celeste Ng
26. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
27. The Quick by Lauren Owen
28. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
29. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
30. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (reread)
31. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
32. Dwellers by Eliza Victoria
33. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
34. The Secret Place by Tana French
35. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
36. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
37. Us by David Nicholls
38. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
39. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
40. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
41. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
42. Malice by Keigo Higashino
43. The Julian Chapter by RJ Palacio
44. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
45. Eyes that Watch You by Cornell Woolrich
46. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Monday, November 3, 2014
A new Murakami is always a reason to celebrate. Its been over fifteen years since I read my first one, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. My gosh, fifteen years. I wonder if your first Murakami always remains your favorite. It would be interesting to hear what other fans have to say about this. There are scenes from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle that I'll just never forget.
I enjoyed the journey of reading his new novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. It was truly a journey in every sense of the word. Thirty-six year old Tsukuro, who has always felt a bit lost in the world, seeks to find out why his close knit group of high school friends suddenly abandoned him with no explanations sixteen years ago. This leads him back to his old home town, Nagoya, and even as far away as Finland. I loved reading this book but the ending did disappoint me at first. There were too many open-ended questions left unanswered. However, once I had time to digest it more and read what other readers thought, I realized that it was a perfect ending. Tsukuro who had always been safe and lived in the fringes of life, found the courage to love. He takes that leap into the unknown not knowing whether he'd end up getting the girl or not. We never find out what happens but the point is Tsukuro finally had the spirit to live and let live.
Loved this quote from the book. It's so true.
Monday, September 1, 2014
I could summarize her story here but it's all over the internet and many writers have done a thorough job. One of the best articles I've read, was the New Yorker one, link here. If you're still interested after that then do check out the two documentaries about her, Finding Vivian Maier and the BBC's "Imagine" Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Picture? Both are very different yet absorbing and ultimately sad. She died alone in Chicago never knowing that she would soon be hailed as the greatest street photographer of the 20th century.
Friday, August 22, 2014
I loved reading this one. As I mentioned in my Instagram account - "This book is like a box of chocolates, I just can't stop reading another Dear Sugar letter." In hindsight, maybe I should have spaced them more. One or two a day would have allowed me to assimilate Sugar's responses and give me time to think about the wise things she wrote. And readers, wise she is considering she's not really old. Strayed is in her mid-forties, married with two young kids. In fact she's just a bit older than me but she is so much wiser and maybe it's because she went through so much as a young woman. She lost her mother at the tender age of 22. She was married and divorced by the time she was 25 and she had tons of different odd and not so fun jobs. One of the best ones was an unpaid gig as Sugar for The Rumpus website. It's curious how she debated whether to take the job or not considering she was down and out and it was unpaid.Thankfully for us she took the leap.
I don't think I'll ever forget some of the letters I read in this anthology. There's the one from Dead Dad, who lost his 22 year-old-son to a drunk driver; the one from the disfigured but wonderful young man looking for love; the one from the healthy young woman who is terrified she's going to get cancer one day; the one about the man who overheard his best friends talking negatively about him and his girlfriend; and so many other letters from ordinary people. Sugar's responses and reflections on her own life are also memorable. This is definitely a keeper. I highlighted so many lines and I know I'll be dipping into this again and again in the future. I do hope she writes a Volume 2.
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
I know, I know, I haven't been blogging at all lately but when I look back on my reading year, I've only read maybe three books that I'll include in my best of 2014 list. However, there are tons of fantastic books coming out soon - books by Sarah Waters, Ian McEwan, Michel Faber, Tana French and Haruki Murakami just to name a few. Things are looking up.
One book I read that stands out this year is Euphoria by Lily King. It's a novel loosely based on anthropologist Margaret Mead. It covers just a short span of time and in fact my only complaint is that at 256 pages it was too short! Just when I was beginning to get into the characters and the setting, the story ended. Mead was a controversial character in real life, writing books about sex in primitive societies. In Euphoria she is Nell Stone, an anthropologist who together with her husband studies native tribes in Papua, New Guinea. Enter another anthropologist, broodingly handsome Andrew Bankson and sparks fly. A love triangle ensues but not for long. The last scene was completely heartbreaking. This was a fascinating read not just for the story but for the close look at the work of anthropologists in the 1930s.
“It’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the place. Suddenly it feels within your grasp. It’s a delusion – you’ve only been there eight weeks – and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at the moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.”
Friday, June 27, 2014
#21 Summer Read
My fave read this summer was Euphoria by Lily King. Three anthropologists caught in a love triangle in 1930s New Guinea.
#22 Out of print.
I loved Nancy Drew but I was also fond of the Dana Girls especially the older editions. This series is now sadly out of print.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
It may have been written in 1861 but East Lynne by Ellen Wood is a page-turner!
#17 Future classic.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.
#18 Bought on a recommendation.
A friend recommended these two at a bookshop in Kowloon circa 2000. I've been a Paul Auster fan ever since.
#19 Still can't stop talking about it.
It's tough to choose one for this category but I'll have to go with this Pulitzer Prize winner just because of the story behind how the book got published and because there's never been a character in literature like Ignatius Reilly.
#20 Favorite cover.
The Go-Between by LP Hartley. The cover looks like a stack of love letters wrapped with a ribbon. It's a perfect cover because it's about a young boy who delivers messages between two secret lovers leading to a terrible conculsion. Gorgeous and heartbreaking book!
Friday, June 20, 2014
#11 Second hand bookshop gem.
I found this at a second hand book shop in Holland. Link to my review .
#12 I pretend to have read it.
The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott. I loved the mini-series set in the British Raj but could never get into the book for some reason.
#13 Makes me laugh.
Wodehouse is fantastic! This hilarious madcap shipboard comedy of misunderstandings is really a gem.
#14 An old favorite.
It's been about 20 years since I first read The Secret History by Donna Tartt but I still consider it one of my favorite books. Strangely enough, I didn't really care for her other two novels, The Little Friend and The Goldfinch.
#15 Favorite fictional father.
Mr.Bennett of course from Pride and Prejudice!