Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Year of Reviews in Review - 2013

At the start of 2013, inspired by author Joe Hill (@joe_hill) and Harper Collins’ #50BookPledge, I decided to start keeping a list of the books that I was reading to see how many I really read throughout the year.  My final count of books for 2013 was 115!  I might have read more this year, inspired by the fact that I was keeping count, but there’s really no point in keeping a list if I don’t go back and do some sort of review/summary as well.  So, here’s some thoughts on the books that I read this year.

To start off with, I didn’t blog about all the books that I read.  When I really need to decompress, I read a lot of romance novels.  I don’t blog about these, because they’re pretty much the same story told over and over again, with enough variations to make them palatable.  

But of the books that I did read and blog about, I’d say there are a few distinct categories: popular fiction, fiction, non-fiction, series, and classics.  I consider ‘popular fiction’ to be the books that have gotten a lot of attention either in the media or the blogosphere and that have a big following.  Here are my thoughts about some of the best (and worst) reads in each category.

Popular Fiction
I’d have to say that my favourites in this category were Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker, and Seven for a Secret, by Lyndsay Faye.  While I was a little late to the party on it, I would also include Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan.  I think what each of these books have in common are engaging characters, a unique perspective on story telling, and authors with an incredibly readable writing style.  If you’re looking for a good read, I’d highly recommend these works.

The one book that really fell flat for me, however, was The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion.  Regardless of all the positive hype around it, I found I didn’t enjoy it, and would only recommend it if rom-com films are your be-all, end-all go-to entertainment.

While these works of popular fiction are eye catching at the bookstores, there were a whole host of other works of fiction that I read this year that are worth mentioning.  Some of the best include Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, and Longbourn, by Jo Baker.  Again, these are all books that I would highly recommend for their plots, characters and readability.

By far, I think the best non-fiction book that I read this year was John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, which is his account of one of the busiest and deadliest climbing seasons on Mount Everest.  The topic, coupled with Krakauer’s writing style, created an amazingly compelling account of life and death, and the hubris that human fall victim to.

Other non-fiction that I enjoyed reading this year were Antonia Fraser’s Love and Louis XIV, Alison Weir’s Children of England, Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, and Trudy Duienvoorden Mitic and J.P. LeBlanc’s account of Halifax’s role as an entry-point for immigration into Canada, Pier 21.  Each author managed to address their topic material with a humanity and accessibility that made learning about different aspects of history enjoyable to me.

There were also some non-fiction works that were more fun to read than necessarily educational, and I would highly recommend anything by A.J. Jacobs, such as Drop Dead Healthy, and any of the essay collections by David Sedaris, such as Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

In reviewing my list, I see that I got through a lot of book series this year!  I think the ones that I enjoyed most were the Thursday Next Series by Jasper Fforde and the Lilly Bard Mysteries Series by Charlaine Harris.  Honourable mention also goes out to Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer Series.

Like all series that I read, these were ones that inspired me to rush out and buy up all the books in the run, so that I could stay immersed in the works of the authors.  I think it’s the best praise a reader can give an author when they’re will to spend more time and money on them!

I generally have to remind myself to read literary classics that have withstood the test of time and fickle publishers.  This year, I added Roxana, by Daniel Defoe, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, and Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell to my ‘read’ column.  Truth to tell, I didn’t really enjoy them as much as some of my other reads, but I’ll keep pushing forward on this quest of mine to be well-versed in the classics if for no other reason than to say that I am…

News about Eight Bookcases
This year was a busy year for my blog too!  I introduced a new look over the summer to celebrate the blog’s second anniversary, and I started a new feather called Choose Your Own Adventure Interview, where authors are sent a series of questions about their creative background and habits; a big thank you to Lyndsay Faye, Robin Sloan, A.J. Jacobs, and Eva Stachniack for humouring me and participating!

Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit to having added two extra bookcases to my collection.  There’s no way I’m re-branding though, so the name stays!

Well, that’s my year in review!  I hope you enjoyed reading about my own reads as much as I enjoyed them and writing about them!  I’d encourage everyone to check out some of the books mentioned above, and to tell me about your favourite reads of the year in the comments below.  Now, go curl up with a good book!

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