2017 Reading Year in Review

What a wonderfully diverse and gratifying reading year 2017 turned out to be!The Outrun

There seemed to be an unintended theme running through my book choices, namely the two World Wars from a British perspective, ranging from Pat Barker’s superb Noonday (the last volume in her most recent trilogy) and Gerard Woodward’s black-humoured Nourishment, to the late Helen Dunmore’s Zennor in Darkness and the extraordinary Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

I tackled several classics and universally treasured works, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Arthur Conan-Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Robert Graves’ Good-bye to All That (back, yet again, to the First World War) and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (the bombing of Dresden from a US point of view, would you believe).

My favourite new releases were the bookish mystery novel Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan, and The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – a story of the Holocaust based on true events (although not strictly due for publication until January 2018).

I opted at the start of the year to read 40 books in Goodreads’ 2017 Reading Challenge – having managed a rather paltry 32 in 2016 – and surpassed the former by 35, which was quite an achievement for one whose perusal engine is snail-powered.

Here is a brief breakdown of noteworthy reads in 2017:

BEST-LOVED:

My overall non-fiction pick of the year has to be The Outrun by the brilliant new author, Amy Liptrot. In fiction it is Cat’s Eye by my favourite living literary hero, Margaret Atwood.

BIGGEST DISAPOINTMENTS:

Bizarre Books – Russell Ash (not that funny) ⭐️

OUTSTANDING READS BY GENRE:

Autobiography/Memoir: The Outrun – Amy Liptrot ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Biography: Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words: The Authorised Biography – Boel Westin ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Children’s Book: Hortense and the Shadow – Natalia O’Hara ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Historical Fiction: Burial Rites – Hannah Kent ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

History: If This Is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck – Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women – Sarah Helm ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

LGBT: The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Literary Fiction: Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Pleasant Surprise: Quarantine – Jim Crace ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Romance: Written on the Body – Jeanette Winterson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Science Fiction: The Power – Naomi Alderman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Short Story: The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Translation: The Vegetarian – Han Kang ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

2017 Reading Challenge

2017 Reading Challenge
Paula has
completed her goal of reading
40 books in
2017!
hide

 

May I take this opportunity to wish all my friends and followers a very happy New Year!

Advertisements

Short Fiction Review: The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere

by John Chu

waterfall

Every so often I like to read a stand-alone short story; one that isn’t necessarily part of a writer’s collection or taken from a multi-author anthology. A case in point is a 6,655-word composition I chanced upon while skimming Goodreads recently. It piqued my interest sufficiently for me to take time out from the novel I was then reading.

The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu first appeared on Tor.com in 2013 – a “publisher neutral” website aimed at sci-fi and fantasy readers – before going on to win the Hugo Award for Best Short Story the following year.

Almost as soon as I started reading, I realised it would be difficult to accurately fit this tale into a single genre because it was equally at home under the lgbtq+ fiction heading. Indeed, this very issue had caused (and continues to cause) consternation amongst the purists who felt it should never have won a competition voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Convention. Nevertheless, as a piece of imaginative writing, it seems to have proved enduringly popular with short story lovers.

John Chu is a writer, translator and podcast narrator who earns his living as a microprocessor architect. In his story we enter a future world where a deluge of freezing cold water plummets from the sky on to the head of any person telling a lie (evasiveness merely turns the air muggy). The downpour, however, serves only as a backdrop to the main narrative, which is about a loving relationship between two young men and the problems one of them has coming-out to his traditional Chinese parents.

I won’t give away any more of the plot, but I found it heart-warming and original. The ideal mini, literary interlude.

The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere was also published in Some of the Best From Tor.com, 2013 Edition (Tor.com Anthologies).

This story is freely available to read at Tor.com.

Christmas Book Bonanza 2017

My 2017 Book Booty

christmas17

Father Christmas left these beauties under my tree. Did you receive any long-coveted titles in your stocking today? I would love to hear all about your book-related gifts!

Book Review: The Reservoir Tapes

By Jon McGregor

reservoir13

First there was Reservoir 13, Jon McGregor’s highly acclaimed 2017 novel in which a teenage girl on holiday with her family goes missing. Eight months later we have The Reservoir Tapes, a companion piece, offering insights into the events leading up to Becky Shaw’s perplexing disappearance.

Set in a rural village in England’s Peak District – an upland area at the southern end of the Pennines – The Reservoir Tapes was first aired on BBC Radio 4 as a specially commissioned short fiction series (read by Neil Dudgeon), and has now been published as a volume of fifteen ‘prequel’ stories.

McGregor is a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham, where he also edits the in-house literary journal, The Letters Page. Born in Bermuda in 1976, he grew up in Norfolk before moving to Nottingham, where, in 2002, he wrote the first of his four novels, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, while living on a narrowboat. Since then he has won the IMPAC Dublin Literature Prize, Betty Trask Prize, and Somerset Maugham Award, and has twice been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

He now gives us the opportunity to scrutinize the thoughts and actions of individual villagers associated with the Reservoir 13 investigation, looking back at events in their lives and focusing on their precise memories of the girl. He is a perspicacious observer of ordinary folk – in this case an old quarry worker, a cleaner, a young wife, park rangers, the local butcher, a newspaper delivery lad, an adolescent boy, a journalist, a prostitute and several others – giving us a tantalizing coup d’œil of a community with its own tale to tell.

McGregor is equally attentive of the surrounding wildlife and writes with exactitude of a deep, unstable quarry reclaimed by the natural world. A quarry at the very centre of this mystery. He leaves us wanting more.

Many thanks to 4th Estate for supplying an advance review copy of this title.

Book Review: Stories: The Collected Short Fiction

by Helen Garner

HelenGarner

Helen Garner is a versatile wordsmith. Should she ever require a curriculum vitae (unlikely as that seems), her résumé would include: novelist, short fiction writer, journalist, critic, translator and screenwriter among her superabundance of literary skills.

Born in the port city of Geelong, Australia, in 1942, Garner (neè Ford) worked as a high-school teacher from 1966 until she was sacked for “giving an unscheduled sex education lesson to her 13-year-old students” in 1972. She published her first novel, Monkey Grip, in that same year, since when it has become an important, though fiercely disagreed upon, part of the Australian canon. She is now widely regarded as one of the foremost Antipodean writers of her time.

Stories: The Collected Short Fiction – released to coincide with Garner’s 75th birthday – is a selection of neoteric tales from a hugely accomplished storyteller. Her characters are finely portrayed and believable, because flawed, and the narrative is wholly absorbing, often intense, although never to the point of seeming contrived.

Her protagonists tend to be lonely or desperate people who have Freudian-type dreams and bouts of anxiety, but an undercurrent of humour is detectable in each piece. Her stories never lack wit. Garner reaches her zenith in La Chance Existe and Dark Little Tales, but there are no weak parts to this collection – it is simply that some stories are more brilliant than others.

I started reading this book as a Helen Garner greenhorn. Appetite now whetted, I am keen to explore her substantial back catalogue, starting with The Children’s Bach, which is held by many to be one of the greatest short novels ever written by an Australian.

A truly bonzer discovery!

Many thanks to Text Publishing for supplying an advance review copy of this title.

 

Festive Fun: Let’s Go to The Book Hop

Do the Book Blogger Hop: 15th-21st December 2017bloghop

It’s very nearly Chrimbo, so I thought I would amuse myself by taking part in the Book Blogger Hop – run by Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. Every week, ‘the hop’ starts on a Friday and ends on a Thursday, when participants can access a fresh prompt highlighting a single book-related question. The hop’s objective is to “give bloggers the opportunity to follow other blogs, learn about new books, befriend other bloggers, and receive new followers to [their] own blog”.

This week’s question was submitted by Maria @ A Night’s Dream of Books.

The Question: Which book(s) would you like Santa to bring you this year?

My Answer: Whenever I’m asked what I would like for my birthday or for Christmas, I invariably produce a lengthy list of books itemizing the titles I would dearly love to possess and display on my shelves (as opposed to my Kindle). In the mad frenzy leading up to Christmas, my family and friends are usually grateful to be relieved of the: “Oh God! What shall I give her this year?” worry – plus I’m not left sitting amongst umpteen pairs penguin socks (everyone knows I have a soft spot for penguins), sundry tins of biscuits and a crateload of bubble bath.

I have a wildly varied taste in books and loathe to be asked: “And what is your favourite genre?” With that in mind, I proffer a meagre selection from my ‘most wanted’ list:

Christmas Bibliowants 2017

I will stop before the list becomes unwieldy. There are various journals, pens, organizers and notebooks I would also like to find in my Christmas stocking – but regrettably they don’t belong here.

May I take this opportunity to wish everyone a very bookish Christmas and shelf-packed New Year!

 

Book Review: Ru

by Kim Thúy, Sheila Fischman (Translation)

“In French, ru means a small stream and, figuratively, a flow, a discharge—of tears, of blood, of money. In Vietnamese, ru means a lullaby, to lull.”

It was over forty years ago, but I still have vivid memories of seeing the Vietnamese ‘boat people’ on the evening news, dazed faces staring into the camera, packed tightly into small crafts, fleeing their country in terror following the war. They risked much to escape torture, repression, disease, starvation and the notorious re-education camps where they were forced into hard labour. Many didn’t survive the perilous journey.

Kim Thúy, the author of Ru – a multi-award winning, fictional memoir – was born in Saigon in 1968. She fled the Communist regime via boat with her parents and two brothers, arriving in Canada (via Malaysia) in 1979. For a time she worked as a seamstress and cashier, before opening a Vietnamese restaurant in Montréal, and at the same time obtaining degrees in linguistics and translation, followed by law. Only when her restaurant closed did she fulfil her dream of becoming an author.

Ru is a brilliant yet unsentimental piece of writing about a woman called An Tinh who, like Kim, escapes from her country’s tyrannical regime to Québec, in search of the ‘American dream’. The prose is immediate and impressionistic, and whether she is describing maggots crawling in their thousands from a cesspit or detailing various members of her protagonist’s family, the writing is rich, mesmeric and subtle.

At 162 pages, Ru is a short but intense potpourri of vignettes – powerful, superbly realized and well worth reading.