Best Books of 2012

Booking Through Thursday

In my last post I listed my favorite reads of the year. Here’s why I liked them and why I’m still thinking about them.

  1. Moloka’i, Alan Brennert: This book was a bit of a departure for me. I had never read anything set in Hawaii, and I knew next to nothing about the leper colony on Moloka’i. I absolutely loved this story of Rachel. I think the part I liked best was that she was able to leave and reunite with her sister before the end, and that she was able to connect with her daughter. I was truly swept up into the story. In fact, it might have been my absolute favorite book of the year, and it was also the first one I finished.
  2. Divergent, Veronica Roth: Roth manages to capture her futuristic Chicago in clear detail, and the world she describes is so different. I read on, unable to stop turning pages, so I could find out what would happen to Tris and Four.
  3. The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey: I didn’t give this book five stars, but it’s one that I continued to think about long after I read it. One of my new colleagues was reading it earlier this year, and we talked about it a little bit. I thought it was a great modern retelling of Jane Eyre that made sense. I loved the settings in the book: Scotland’s Orkneys and Iceland. So exotic!
  4. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi: I haven’t read a lot of graphic novels, but this one made me want to read more. It’s an interesting memoir, and I enjoyed both the artwork and the story.
  5. A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway: Actually this may also be the best book I read this year. I love Hemingway’s writing, and this book felt like reading gossip about other writers. He captures that time and place, Paris in the 1920’s, so well that he made me long to go. I created a Paris board on Pinterest after reading it.
  6. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, William Joyce: This book really opened my eyes to the direction that books can go in the future. If you haven’t seen this book, check it out on the iPad. It’s a completely interactive storybook. The story itself is charming—it’s about a man who discovers the joy of caring for books, a monument to librarians. This book isn’t read—it’s experienced.
  7. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green: I am convinced after this book that John Green is the Judy Blume for this generation. This book was excellent. I enjoyed the plucky protagonist Hazel. The book doesn’t flinch in its portrayal of teens with cancer, but it is surprisingly uplifting. In the end, I felt it was much more about living than dying.
  8. Smart Soapmaking and Milk Soapmaking, Anne L. Watson: My new soapmaking hobby has taken over my life! I enjoy it a great deal, and almost all the nonfiction I read this year was about soapmaking. These two books were, by far, the best books I read about the craft of making handmade soap.

 

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Year in Review 2013

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As I have for the past few years, I have spent the last few days reflecting on my reading year. This year wasn’t great. I didn’t meet any of my reading goals.

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Dana has read 27 books toward her goal of 52 books.
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  • Total number of books read: 27.
  • Fiction books: 19.
  • Nonfiction books: 6.
  • Memoirs: 2.
  • YA books: 7.
  • Audio books: 2.
  • Digital books: 10.
  • DailyLit books: 0.
  • Books reread: 5.

Favorite Reads of the Year (in no particular order):

  1. Moloka’i, Alan Brennert
  2. Divergent, Veronica Roth
  3. The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey
  4. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  5. A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
  6. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, William Joyce
  7. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
  8. Smart Soapmaking and Milk Soapmaking, Anne L. Watson

Least Favorite Books (although this is relative because I didn’t have any less than 3-star books):

  1. Making Soaps & Scents, Catherine Bardey
  2. Delirium, Lauren Oliver

Favorite Book Meme of the Year: Top Ten Tuesdays.

Favorite Reading Challenge: The Mixing it Up Challenge (for at least making me thinking about going outside my usual reading comfort zones).

Favorite Blog Posts (again, in no particular order):

Here is my Where Are Your Reading 2012 Challenge map:


View 2012 Where Are You Reading Challenge in a larger map

I finished a re-read of Wuthering Heights recently, bringing my total to 27 books for the year. I don’t think I’ll finish anything else before the end of the year, so I’m calling it at 27. I have some hopes that if I buckle down, I can finish A Great and Terrible Beauty, but not high hopes.

In addition to not meeting my goal of reading 52 books, I also did not complete any of the challenges I set for myself. I think I over-committed myself on the challenges for sure, but I really did think I could meet the challenges. They didn’t seem onerous. I have decided to limit myself a bit more this year and just try to read things that look interesting.

I am also not going to host any challenges this year, as I find I am a terrible challenge host. I don’t think I peeked in after January, mainly because folks didn’t seem too interested in the challenge. I think I’d rather just participate in other challenges than host them.

There are good reasons for my failure to meet my reading goals. This year I moved and started a new job. I am not being too hard on myself because it was a huge adjustment. I moved 1000 miles from Roswell, GA (suburb of Atlanta) to Worcester, MA in central Massachusetts. We are all very happy in our new digs, and I love my new job.

In my previous job, I rode the bus to work, and my commute was typically 30 minutes each morning on the bus. I was able to get in a lot of reading that way, and I think my lack of commute now is a considerable factor in the number of books I was able to read. We moved here in June, and from that time onward, my commute was typically five minutes. The only way I could stretch it would be to walk, which I have done when the weather is nice, but it’s not conducive to reading. I actually can read and walk at the same time, but it’s better to have your wits about you. Even riding the bus, I only took about five minutes to get to work, but now that I’m carpooling with a coworker, it’s downright rude to think about. Essentially, one hour of reading time I used to have has been taken away. What I need to do is dedicate that reading time each day at home, even if I have to set a timer. I have often said that if something is important to you, you will make time for it. Well, reading is obviously important to me, but I have not been making as much time for it as I previously have done.

I’m looking forward to trying again to read a book a week this coming year.

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Top Ten Books for People Who Like X

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

Oooh, I haven’t participated in Top Ten Tuesday in a while, and even though it’s technically Thursday, this one looks like too much fun to pass up. This week’s theme is Top Ten Books for People Who like ______. I’ve been unpacking my books, and I’ve been thinking about the connections among my different reads. My husband made the remark today that we have a lot of good books, and we really shouldn’t need to go to the bookstore in a while given how many great books we have. He’s right.

  1. If you like the Harry Potter books, you should try Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series: The Eyre AffairLost in a Good BookThe Well of Lost PlotsSomething RottenThursday Next: First Among SequelsOne of Our Thursdays is Missing, and joining the ranks in October, The Woman Who Died A Lot. Jasper Fforde’s series is hilarious bookish fun, and even has a few references to the Harry Potter series.
  2. If you like Emily Brontë’s classic Wuthering Heights, you will enjoy Sharyn McCrumb’s historical fiction retelling of the infamous Tom Dooley case, The Ballad of Tom Dooley. McCrumb herself has described the novel as Wuthering Heights in the Appalachians, and it’s true. The story’s characters greatly resemble their counterparts in Wuthering Heights in many ways. I loved it.
  3. If you liked A Moveable Feast or The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, try Paula McLain’s excellent novel The Paris Wife for Hadley’s side of the story. One of the best books I read last year. Highly recommended.
  4. If you liked Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, you will enjoy an updated retelling of the story, The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey. I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would.
  5. If you liked Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, try Jennifer Donnelly’s Tea Rose series, beginning with The Tea RoseThe Winter Rose and The Wild Rose round out the series, but the first one is the best one.
  6. If you liked Moby Dick, or even if you only sort of liked it because it got bogged down in cetology, but you liked the good parts, you will love Ahab’s Wife. Oh.My.Gosh. One of my favorite books ever. Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel introduces the amazing persona of Una, wife of Captain Ahab, from one line in which Ahab mentions her in Moby Dick, and she’s one of the most incredible fictional people you’ll ever meet. I love her. She is one of my fictional best friends.
  7. If you liked Twilight, but you wished you could read about grown-ups, and you wanted less purple prose and better writing, try Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches, the first book in the All Souls Trilogy. The second book, Shadow of Night, comes out in about a week. You will like Matthew much better than Edward. Trust me.
  8. If you liked Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion by Jane Austen, and you are a little unsure of all those Austen sequels, try out Syrie James’s fictionalized what-if? novel The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen that wonders aloud whether or not Aunt Jane had a real romance that inspired her great books.
  9. If you liked Suzanne Collins’s thrilling Hunger Games series, you will enjoy Veronica Roth’s Divergent and its sequel Insurgent. Not sure when the next book in the trilogy comes out, but I can’t wait. Her books are amazing. They will remind you of The Hunger Games without feeling anything at all like a ripoff.
  10. If you liked Great Expectations and The Turn of the Screw, you will love John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer. The book makes several allusions to both novels, but it also contains four complete short stories within the text of the novel (written by the protagonist’s grandmother), and it’s set in a creepy house with a secret.

Bonus: If you like Victorian novels period, and you want to read a love letter to the Victorian novel, or if you like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, try Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale.

Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments. Just because my husband says we have a load of good books doesn’t mean I’m not always looking for more.

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Sunday Salon: Where I’ve Been

France, Sunflowers Missing the Sun at BeynacI haven’t been posting much lately. I haven’t been able to read as much as I’d like. I know only a few people who read this blog also read my education blog, so you might not be aware I’m currently engaged in a job search. It’s taking up quite a bit of my time, not just physically, but mentally (meaning, that’s where my mind is focused). The search is going well so far, but it’s not without its stress. A colleague likened searching for a job in the education field (and perhaps this is true of any field) to Victorian courtship. Neither party wants to appear too eager, lest the other party not feel the same way, so there is this delicate dance we do in which we try to convey interest but not desperation (on both sides, I think!). It’s maddening, truth be told, and I can’t wait until it’s over.

Meanwhile, I already have Downton Abbey withdrawal, and I can’t believe I have to wait until next January to find out if Matthew and Lady Mary are really going to get married this time, or if Bates is going to go free. I’m going to have to pick up something similar to Downton to read. Diana Gabaldon has a methadone list for fans to read while they’re waiting for the next book in the Outlander series. I love her sense of humor, but I wish Julian Fellowes had a methadone list, too! Actually, I’ve encountered a few of these lists, but you know. Speaking of which, does anyone know of any good Titanic books? I have already read A Night to Remember. I’m thinking more of fiction set on the Titanic. It seems appropriate now that we’re facing the 100th anniversary of the ship’s virgin voyage and sinking. I’ve been fascinated by that ship ever since they found her on the ocean floor in 1985. It’s been a dream of mine to cross the Atlantic in a cruise ship for about ten years.

Two last things, gentle readers: 1)what is the etiquette, fellow book reviewers, of bowing out of a review gracefully if you aren’t sure you can finish the book? and 2) Forever Young Adult regularly casts book characters in their reviews. I admit it’s a feature I like. I kept picturing Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith Crawley from Downton Abbey) as Gemma in The Flight of Gemma Hardy.

Would you enjoy seeing casting for my book reviews?

  • Yes (86%, 6 Votes)
  • No (14%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 7

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The Sunday Salon

Creative Commons License photo credit: Vincent van der Pas

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The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey

Margot Livesey’s novel The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Like Jane, Gemma is taken in by her uncle and his family after the deaths of her parents, and once her uncle also passes away, she is abused and neglected by her aunt, who ships her off to a boarding school as a “working girl,” where she pays for her tuition and board through menial labor for the school and is treated like a second-class citizen. When the school closes, Gemma must shift for herself, so she answers an ad for an au pair position in the Orkneys. She moves into Blackbird Hall and quickly subdues her wild charge, Nell. Hugh Sinclair, Nell’s uncle and guardian, returns to Blackbird Hall and soon finds himself entranced by Gemma.

While the story closely follows the plot of Jane Eyre, Livesey has added details that make the story Gemma’s own. Gemma, born in Scotland to a Scottish mother and Icelandic father, wonders about her Icelandic family and yearns to travel to Iceland to see if she can uncover her past. The story is set mostly in Scotland in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Gemma has opportunities that Jane couldn’t have imagined; for instance, Gemma is able to sit for exams and go to college.

The danger in writing updated versions of classic novels is that they will seem too derivative to be their own story, but I didn’t find this to be the case with The Flight of Gemma Hardy. Because I had read Jane Eyre, I could guess the general directions in which various plot points would turn, but Livesey threw in enough unique details and changes that I felt the novel was much more of an homage to Jane Eyre than an imitation. Another challenge Livesey successfully navigates is making the story of Jane’s sad childhood and subsequent removal to Thornfield Hall believable in the twentieth century. Not only does Livesey answer this challenge, but in my opinion, she tempers a bit of the horrific improbability present in Jane Eyre. I know, I know—Charlotte experienced some of the horrible events she describes in Jane Eyre at the Clergy Daughters’ School. Tragedy ran rampant through the Brontë family, and I don’t mean to make light of it. However, it reminds me that sometimes true stories sound over the top when rendered in fiction. Young Jane’s early experiences, the goodness of Helen Burns, the evil of Aunt Reed and Mr. Brocklehurst—all these rang slightly too awful to believe when I read them, which isn’t to say I didn’t love Jane Eyre. Gemma’s experiences, while uniquely horrible in their way, read as more realistic, and Helen’s counterpart Miriam is a more believable and less “Mary Sue” type of character (and yes, I know that Charlotte based Helen on her sister Maria, and that Charlotte claims Maria really was that good).

I liked Gemma. She is smart and spunky, particularly as a child. The supporting cast are all enjoyable, too, particularly Gemma’s charges Nell and Robin. I loved the Rivers sisters’ counterparts Hannah and Pauline. St. John Rivers’s counterpart Archie was more likable than St. John himself. The relocation to Scotland and Iceland made for an intriguing setting that rendered events in the story more believable, I think, than they might have been had Livesey set her novel in England. I do think fans of Jane Eyre will enjoy this book, but I think it stands on its own as a fine novel without its connection to its literary ancestor.

Rating: ★★★★½

You can find Margot Livesey online at her website, her Facebook page, and her Twitter account.

I read this novel for the TLC Book Tour. You can visit the other stops below on the dates listed to read other reviews of this novel.

*Also reading Jane Eyre

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Teaser Tuesdays: The Flight of Gemma Hardy

Teaser TuesdaysTeaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser:

“In the shelves, among the linens, something moved. A figure stood there, tall and gaunt. It stepped toward me.”

The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey, p. 14

Sorry. That was three sentences.

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Saturday Reads: January 21, 2012

Young Woman Reading by Hermann Jean Joseph RichirSaturday Reads is a weekly feature sharing bookish links from news, blogs, and Twitter that made up my Saturday reading.

I spent a lot of time at my two favorite newspapers’ book sections on my iPhone this morning. The Guardian has a great article by Margaret Atwood reflecting on The Handmaid’s Tale some 26 years after it was published. A commenter quoted Rick Santorum, underscoring just why Atwood’s book is as important as ever. Here’s my review of The Handmaid’s Tale from my archives, if you’re interested.

The New York Times has a great review of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which I will soon be reading for TLC Book Tours (very excited!).

New Books

The publishers also sent me a pretty copy of Jane Eyre, which Margot Livesy’s book is based on. I can’t wait to reread that one. It’s got deckle-edged pages and the paper cover is textured. I am very much in favor of this new trend in making classics look cool with bold, creative covers. As much as I love old paintings, I think they’re becoming a little played as book covers (she said, knowing she used one on the cover of her own book—in my defense, I don’t have the budget to pay a graphic artist to design one). I think winter is a good time to read gothic classics.

The New York Times also has good reviews of new nonfiction, including Ian Donaldson’s new biography Ben Jonson: A Life, John Matteson’s new biography The Lives of Margaret Fuller, and Richard W. Bailey‘s new book Speaking American.

I also really liked this feature on Edith Wharton as New York will celebrate her 150th birthday on Tuesday. Nice link to Downton Abbey and discussion of Wharton’s own novel The Buccaneers.

Of course, Charles Dickens also celebrates a big (200th) birthday this year, and The New York Times has a fun feature on Dickens. Favorite quote? “The fact is that Charles Dickens was as Dickensian as the most outrageous of his characters, and he was happy to think so, too.”

I’m think anyone interested in New York might find the new book New York Diaries: 1609-2000 intriguing. It sounds like the book has a variety of entries, from the “famous, the infamous, and the unknown in New York.” The Times reviewed this one, too, of course.

Flavorwire had some interesting posts, too. I particularly enjoyed “The Fascinating Inspirations Behind Beloved Children’s Books” and “10 Cult Literary Traditions for Truly Die-Hard Fans.”

Finally, I enjoyed this reflection on A Wrinkle in Time at Forever Young AdultA Wrinkle in Time will be 50 this year. Can you believe it?

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