Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2013 favourites

Now I'm back from my beach holiday, back at work, and 2014 is officially underway, it's finally time to write about some of my favourite books and authors from last year. And I'll try to keep it brief!


Authors

Graham Greene
I read Greene's The End of the Affair in 2012, and I liked it but wasn't sure whether I loved it or not.  But I read Our Man in Havana this year pretty much fell in love with it (thanks for the recommendation litlove!). This inspired me to read more Greene, so I read The Quiet American next. Despite this being a more serious book, they both have certain similarities- not least that they both touch on espionage, politics, love and Catholicism. Really enjoyed both of them, will look out for more in future!

Robin McKinley
Having heard recommendations for Robin McKinley (particularly Sunshine and Beauty) for years, but only got around to reading them last year, after another recommendation for Sunshine. And it was worth it! I really enjoyed it, though I don't know that I can explain why- except that the characters are great, it's vampires are suitably menacing and its romance somewhat unconventional. I went on to read Rose Daughter and then Beauty (both retellings of Beauty and the Beast) which I enjoyed, though I liked Rose Daughter best. I think Beauty suffered a bit from being read too soon after Rose Daughter, since they are quite similar, but I also really liked the sisters in and their relationship in Rose Daughter.


Fantasy

Unspoken - Sarah Rees Brennan
I wrote about this earlier- but I just wanted to reiterate how much I enjoyed it! It's one of those books that just taps into certain tropes that I love- mainly angsty Gothic heroes. But it's also written with a lightness and sense of humour, and the heroine and her friends are great (strange how hard it is to find books, especially fantasy books, with a good set of friends! Sometimes you get sick of lone wolves). I'm just sad I still haven't managed to read the sequel...

Among Others - Jo Walton

Again, I wrote about this when I read it, but writing out this list reminded me of it again. It plays with the fantasy genre in an interesting way, and it's sure to induce some nostalgia in anyone who grew up reading fantasy or sci-fi (especially sci-fi, as it's a massive roll-call of sci-fi classics). Occasionally the main character grated on me a little, but that might just be a function of the diary format (and maybe I was jealous of the number of sci-fi classics she had read) but her story was really interesting and I really liked this book all up.


Literary fiction

In the Skin of a Lion - Michael Ondaatje
I've read other books by Ondaatje before, but I wasn't prepared to love this as much as I did. The language was just gorgeous, I liked the way the book moved forward in fragments and the picture it created of life in early 20th Century Canada.

Beloved - Toni Morrison
Another book I've heard of, and heard recommended, forever, but I have always been scared to read it. I picked it up from a library shelf one day because I was looking for something to read, and I'm glad I did. Yes, there are definitely some traumatic events in this book, but it is well worth it. Some great characters and great writing, the way that people speak, the way that the text skirts around memories for so long before addressing them head-on... And another reminder of the trauma and inhumanity of slavery.

Clear Light of Day - Anita Desai
An understated story about family and Partition in India. Maybe not so much of a rave review as the others, but I just thought this was a really good book.


Crossing to Safety - Wallace Stegner
I had to read this after reading Book Snob's rave review, and it was indeed a lovely book. The story of two couples and their friendships from the 1930s onwards, it just has a sort of honesty and gentleness. It also feels like quite an American book to me, but a part of America that  I often forget exists.


The Sisters Brothers - Patrick DeWitt
Just a rollicking good read- a Western with a little bit of sadness and a large sense of humour.


Non-fiction

I actually read some good non-fiction this year, too much to list almost! The Beast and the Blonde was fascinating and thought-provoking, Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic biographer was a fun read that introduced me to some Romantic figures and non-fiction writing methods I didn't know, Victorian Honeymoons was just a great topic which delved into speculation in a satisfyingly human way, and Carnet de Voyage was a very personal and beautifully drawn graphic non-fiction work about travel and writing. But maybe top for me was Blue Nights by Joan Didion- a memoir which could be rambling and self-serving perhaps but always took me along with it and was just lovely writing.

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