The 2011 home stretch

Leading up to this, the final day of 2011 it seemed like I wouldn’t finish any of the five books I was reading and my final tally for the year would be 40, the smallest number i’ve achieved in the past few years!

I was a bit disappointed with this especially because I set myself a goal of 45 (which I thought was quite conservative considering I read 50 last year) on Shelfari.

But then I found myself quite bored over the last few days what with Christmas being well and truly over, no work scheduled until January, homebound because my dog has had half her teeth removed and I had to look after her, and bad holiday TV, so I have been reading A LOT! 🙂

First I was hooked on V for Vendetta

which I finished on the 29th, then I turned my attention to Remarkable Creatures

which I finished devouring yesterday, and then I polished off The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle last night and some of today!

Because of my zealous reading habits not only have I bumped my tally up to 43 (nothing on last year but not too bad considering all the study and work I’ve been doing :)) but I was able to choose two new books to start in 2012:

Adultery by Richard B Wright that came from my Library Book pileand Charlaine Harris’ Grave Sight that was the winning book out of 17 in my Books I Own But Have Yet To Read leaning tower of Pisa 🙂I will also be taking two books into the new year with me – Books of Blood vol. 1-3 by Clive Baker which I have been reading over 30 weeks (and counting O.o) because if I read more than a couple of stories in one sitting I can feel myself going a tad madand The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson, which I am yet to fully get in tobut there’s bound to be stragglers when one reads multiple books at once 🙂

For now I wish you all a great New Years Eve (I will be keeping my gummy dog company and watching DVDs like the premature nana that I am :)) and I will see you all in 2012 with a special version of my Top 10s: my Top 10 Reads of 2011! and the 2011 Book Polygamist Awards! where I will give awards to books that took me the least and most time to read, the author that I read the most and other little tidbits.

Cya next year and as always, Happy Reading!

Top 10 Books I Think Everyone Should Read

This was on one hand a really fun list to make as I had to think of the books that I thought were must-read material and on the other hand a really hard one to compile as I have read a lot of really great books!

Eventually I went with ones that I felt added to the reading experience in some way or were important life experiences for me.

Hopefully you guys will enjoy my choices and feel free to share your own must-reads in the comments 🙂

1. Watership Down by Richard Adams 

It won’t be a surprise to regular readers that I think everyone should read this book, because I’ve certainly raved about it enough! The reason this is the first book I think everyone should read at least once isn’t just because Its one of my favourites, the story is classic or I have read it 4 or 5 times already (although those are all good reasons to recommend it!). The reason its a must-read is that although it is a seemingly simple children’s tale about rabbits, it actually is quite a complex examination of society in general. It explores family and community bonds; societal structure from its starting point to more complex societies and even fascism; and important issues that arise in society such as power, security, organisation of a vast number of individuals, governing, language and even war. It even introduces such concepts as immigration, mental illness and the cycle of life and death to children. And since I have read it as an adult and as a child I can vouch for it as a satisfying read at any age 🙂

More than just fluffy bunnies

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry 

This is another one I read as a child and then again as an adult (there is a few of those on this list!) and although I did understand some of its significant themes as a 12 year-old I understood the deeper layers of meaning when I was older. The Giver is a classic children’s book that I think should still be in primary school curriculum as it gives kids some real perspective on the freedom they take for granted. Especially in this age of technology where it is so easy for kids to find out info on almost any subject at the strike of a keyboard, the press of a button and the swipe of a finger, a book like this where the characters are so sheltered and controlled and one boy learns all the world have to offer, is such a gift. When I reread this book not that long ago the themes hit me a lot harder and I felt quite ill in certain parts. It really is like 1984 for kids and just like 1984 it is a chilling look at what society could become and so in my opinion is a must-read.

A touching little book that stays with you long after the last page

3. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell 

This wonderful book was the inspiration for reality TV, in particular the Big Brother concept that has incarnations all over the globe, but in this case the imitation doesn’t do the original justice. If Big Brother had been true to Orwell’s bleak and claustrophobic vision of the future it would not have been legal or ethical for it to be televised – I’m shocked at what they get away with on reality TV as it is! Even ‘tho Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty Four over sixty years ago (in 1948) and the year it was meant to be set in is now over twenty years past, it is still a scary glimpse into where society is heading, and to some extent where we are now. The world has become a much more monitored place in those sixty odd years, what with CCTV in virtually all public places; telephones being taped for illegal activity; and personal details being freely accessible online. This book is a huge eye-opener, especially to young-adults and is a fantastically gripping read.

Big Brother IS watching

4. Mister God This is Anna by Fynn

This will not come as a surprise to regular readers as I’m a bit of a cheerleader for this beautiful little novel (as seen in ALL these posts :P) The reason this is a must-read in my opinion is it is filled to the brim with philosophical tidbits that will really exercise your mind and make you think beyond your sphere of understanding. And the philosophies aren’t purely religious or spiritual but are a blend of religion/spirituality and science/mathematics which examine huge ideas such as the meaning of life; why the world works like it does and other mysteries that only a child would question. But the main reason I would recommend it is that it ignites that childlike curiosity in you and makes you ask that big question: why? Which I think people are afraid to do after a certain age.

Why? Because. But why? Because I say so 😛

5. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

This is a book I would mainly recommend to women, or men who aren’t too squeamish about menstruation (Period/”That time of the month”/Aunt Irma :P) as with a title like The Red Tent you can probably gather that it will be mentioned a fair bit. For those that can get beyond the fact of biblical age women congregating in a tent for a few days every month, as well as some fairly graphic ancient midwifery, this book is a really interesting look at the background of key bible characters such as Jacob, but also highlights lesser characters such as his daughter Dinah and the traditions of the time. It is also a fine example of possible alternative endings to bible stories, which pop up in literature a lot. While having a knowledge of bible stories or actually reading the Bible would help with understanding what is behind this story and many other allusions in literature I personally can’t tell you all to read The Bible as I have never gotten through the whole thing, and I’m Pagan so quite a bit of it makes me uncomfortable, but as a book it is the biggest influence to modern literature (followed closely by the works of Shakespeare, which I have also left out as I haven’t read all of his plays, just a selection of ones that I came across :)).

Don’t let the image deter you – its worth it!

6. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss 

This one may be a surprise to you all as it is not a grand piece of literature, but it is one of the most inspirational books that I’ve ever read and a perfect send-off gift to kids/young adults/adults entering a new phase of their lives such as a graduation. It promotes a “The World is Your Oyster!” mentality for any individual who has started a new path in life with Dr Seuss’ catchy whimsical rhymes enthusiastically announcing all the wonders the world can offer while not hiding the darker times in life.

And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

7. The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

I was given this by a friend of the family who insisted I had to read it and without her and this book (as well as other contributing factors) I wouldn’t have struggled through a difficult time in my life as quickly as I did. The book explores a few key spiritual and philosophical ideas that have been ingrained in the religious and mythological ideals of many civilisations for generations. While it is obvious that the book was written to illustrate these key ideals and so the plot isn’t that strong on its own (kind of like Dan Browns books but in a different way) It is a much more palatable format to learn about these ideas then in a classic New Age or Self Help book. While I didn’t agree with every aspect of the ideals, there is some sound concepts there that make a lot of philosophical, spiritual, psychological and even scientific sense. I wouldn’t recommend it to strict sceptics (except those rare ones that really want to open their minds to new things) but I would to anyone that has even the slightest interest in ancient beliefs and self-improvement. The book has been expanded into a series with two sequels published a while back ( The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision (1996) and The Secret of Shambhala: In Search of the Eleventh Insight (1999)) and a third (The Twelfth Insight: The Hour of Decision) released this year, but I haven’t read any of those as I was quite content with the general idea I received in the original (especially as I was already somewhat aware of the ideas from my love of mythology and world religions).

Not gospel but definitely worth a look-see

8. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

I have talked about this wonderful book in the past and I will probably talk about it again in the future as It has made an impact on me both times I’ve read it (at school and a couple of years ago). I think this is a must-read especially for intelligent literary types who may take basic abilities such as being able to read, write and understand the world around them for granted, or may act superior because of their intelligence. The protagonist of Flowers for Algernon, Charlie Gorden puts a lot of this in perspective as we follow him from blissful ignorance through frustration, elation and finally depression at the world at large and helplessness as he reverts back to his original IQ. It is a heartbreaking and insightful book that is timeless and also warns us against the ramifications of “playing God” with scientific developments. Overall a pivotal read that I would recommend to anyone.

9. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

This is another influential childhood read of mine that won’t come as a surprise to regular readers (past posts mentioning it can be found here). This is a great little book that makes you think about what you would do in survival situation, no matter what your age, but I think it’s a must-read especially for pre-teens that are wrapped up in all the conveniences of the modern world. Theres no use for an iPod, a Smartphone, Facebook or video games when you’re stuck in the Canadian wilderness with no food or shelter and I think kids these days need to get some perspective on what life use to be like before technology and learn about the basic skills people need to survive. I know that makes me sound like a nana (kids these days with their rock and roll music!) but it is important and in this book (and the sequels to a lesser extent) the message is hidden in a really entertaining adventure story so kids won’t feel like its being forced down their throats. I’ve read it at several points over my 25 years and I can say it still is the same great read (if a little quicker :P) at 20-odd as it was at 12 🙂

10. Mythology/Fables/Fairy Tales by Various

(namely Greek Mythology, Aesop’s Fables, Brothers Grimm)

This is not so much a book as a general recommendation of mine to read mythology, fables and fairy tales from all over the world as they are the basis of so many literary ideas. Every story is a retelling of an old one (at least in part) and the oldest archetypal stories and plot devices come from ancient Mythology, fables and fairy stories from the basics of good vs evil to ideas on creation and the underworld to morals and thinly veiled life lessons. I have loved Mythology, fables and fairy tales as long as I can remember and I am instantly drawn to any book that is a re-imagining of a classic tale. To narrow it down I have highlighted Greek Mythology, Aesop’s Fables and fairy tales by the Brother’s Grimm as these are the ones I have seen referenced the most.

Greek Mythology has always fascinated me because the Gods were described as flawed and often cruel characters with a complicated and convoluted family hierarchy and an endless stream of fantastical beasts and events. Other Mythology that I think is really interesting and has been referenced in literature is Norse, Celtic, Native American, Eastern (especially from Japan and India) and Eastern European but I would encourage anyone to look into Mythology from all over the world as it is an insight into another culture and the similarities between different Gods and creation myths really shows how a culture is affected by many others and the parallels that occur between very different races.

One example of the plethora of books on Greek Mythology in print

I love a good fable because they are the essence of a good story: clear, simple characters and settings that are usually symbols for more thorough concepts; a clear beginning, middle and end; and a moral to tie it all together. My mum introduced me to Aesop’s fables and other fables from the Middle Ages very early on, integrated with classic fairy tales and I loved them so much that I use to come up with my own that mum dutifully transcribed while I provided the scribbled illustrations. Fables along with mythological stories perfectly illustrate how storytelling began: simple tales that people used to explain the world around them and why things were they way they were, that could easily be passed down from generation to generation and I think us modern readers need to be reminded of the origins of stories sometimes.

A beautiful old volume of Aesop’s Fables

Fairy tales are the next progression of Mythology and fables, and in turn they have created some of the most recognizable archetypal characters and plot devices in the literary landscape. The Grimm Brothers (Jacob and Wilheim) were the creative minds behind classic fairy tales such as Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin (one of my personal favourites) and were responsible for taking them from folklore and popularising them all over the world. There is a immense collection of other fantastic fairy tales out there, but the Brother’s Grimm collected some of the greatest (and often the scariest and downright distressing) folklore stories out there that are now a huge part of popular culture.

One of countless Grimm’s Fairy Tales books out there in Bookworld 🙂

So there you go Bookbaggers – a nice full list of recommendations from me to you 🙂 Hopefully there’s something in there for everyone for a bit of holiday reading.

In the new year I will take a break from themed Top 10s to do my top reads of 2011 as well as some book awards that I always do so that should be fun, and then the next one will be Top 10 “Classics” and Top 10 Classics I Want to Read as that received the next highest number of votes 🙂

Happy Reading and I hope you all had a wonderful festive season and have an excellent 2012 to come!

From Flowers to Fossils

Hello my beloved Bookbaggers!

I know I have been MIA lately and I apologise. Since I finished my term/semester/year of studies I expected I would able to relax and do things I enjoy (such as blogging) much more but as soon as I was on holidays I was inundated with calls to work at the City of Joondalup libraries (where I am on the casual pool). I loved getting some more library experience but It meant that I had no time to write the second half of my last Top 10 list or to do any long overdue reviews.

So this is just a little check-in to let you know that I’m still living, breathing and reading and I hope to at least do the other Top 10 and a review or two before the end of 2011, and to fill you in on my recent reading adventures 🙂

I little over a week ago I finished The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Niffenbaugh, which was a beautiful story that will definitely be a late addition to my top reads of the year 🙂

I then was faced with a monumental task: picking a new book from the frighteningly tall pile of books I have bought but have yet to read. The pile has been growing in height for a while because the shelf that usually houses all my book buys is pushed to its limit and of course I still keep purchasing books or receiving them as gifts! So when I laid them out on my bed there was a grand total of 17 books to choose from, way too many for my usual process to work. I still did my eeny meeny miny moe (as I am a freak of habit) but instead of just eliminating a single book at each stage I eliminated two and it worked quite well.

Once I was down to two I couldn’t be bothered trying to invent a new step so I just choose the book which has been on the pile the longest: Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. Remarkable Creatures is the only Tracy Chevalier novel that I have not read yet and as soon as I saw she had released a new book I bought it. That was in 2009 so it is about time I finally started it and so far I have loved it just as much as previous Chevalier gems – it even looks like it will be in my top reads of 2011 (if I finish it in time O.o)

That’s it for now, but stay tuned for action before and after Christmas as I have no more work lined up til January.

Top 10 Books I’ve Read That No One Seems to Have Heard of

Hiya Bookbaggers and welcome to the second Top 10 theme voted by you!
I agonised over this list because I have read some strange titles in my time, but I wanted to include the ones that people are least likely to have heard of and/or read so that I can offer something new and unusual to my readers out there 🙂

You get a point for each book you’ve heard of (outside of this blog of course!) and two points for every book you’ve read so feel free to share your score in the comments or tell me bout your own bizarre reads that none of your friends have heard of!

1. Dim by Carolin Window

This book was a random find, most likely from an op-shop, book sale or a hand-me-down from my mum who often is involved with clothes swap parties and the like. I received it and read it when I was about 11 or 12 (which in hindsight was way too young an age to read a book that contains very adult themes such as sexual and physical abuse) and since then I have not found a single person who has heard of the book or the author. About 10 years ago Dim disappeared from my possession, possibly when a friend of the family borrowed it for holiday-in-Italy-reading (‘tho she claims she never borrowed it) and so for a while I wondered whether I had just dreamt the whole thing up, especially because It was such a bizarre book. So, understandably this was the first book that sprung to mind when I first thought of this theme. While researching for this post I did find a vague Dim fingerprint on the ‘net, so I knew I had not been a crazy tween (especially because that buzz word did not exist when a was a pre-teen in the late 90’s) who imagined a disturbing book out of thin air, ‘tho it was hard to research when I couldn’t remember the author’s name and I no longer have a copy to consult. Dim‘s entries in GoodReads, LibraryThing and Shelfari are sparse at best, with a maximum of 4 people vouching for its existence BUT! It does exist on Amazon.com and other online bookshops so perhaps I will replace my lost copy, read the craziness again and share with you all 🙂

Fabulous but also possibly the strangest book I've ever read....and I have read some strange ones!

2. April Witch by  Majgull Axelsson

This book certainly isn’t as unknown as Dim (125 members have in on their Shelfari shelves) and I’m sure it is somewhat known in Sweden where the author is from, but it gets a mention in this list because I had never heard or it and when I was reading it and mentioned it to friends or family I received a clear “huh?” expression. I found the book at my local library when I decided to try a new tack of choosing new books – working my way from A to Z picking books that interested me. At AXE this strange little tale of a girl who is imprisoned in her own body but has an amazing intellectual mind and clairvoyant/omniscient abilities, really stood out to me and it was certainly an interesting and unique read.

An interesting blend of psychological thriller, supernatural fiction and family epic

3 The Island at the End of the World by Sam Taylor

This book was one of my reading highlights of last year and also one of the most distressing and earth-shattering reads of the last few. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale that may or may not actually occur after an apocalypse but certainly highlights some destructive human traits – religious extremism, rebellion against consumerism (as well as the consumerism itself) and an obsession with control – which could theoretically lead to apocalypse. As it was published in 2009 I wasn’t expecting many people to have read it but I was surprised by only 40 Shelfari members having it, and I certainly received some odd and curious looks from fellow students or commuters while I was reading it.

Very creepy but absolutly riviting

4. The Secrets of the Chess Machine by Robert Löhr

Regular readers of the blog will know that this is a quite recent read (in fact it was the last review I did as I have been super slack with my reviewing duties) but it was an unusual and fabulous read with a title and subject matter that confused and intrigued many a person. A mere 20 individuals on Shelfari have The Secrets of the Chess Machine which is a shame as it was a riot! I am sometimes blessed to have a judge-a-book-by-its-cover attitude because it was the cover of this little gem that drew me to it in the first place out of the sea of book spines at the library. If you enjoy clockwork machinery, the seedy underbelly of aristocrats and some tasty murder mystery-ness thrown in for spice then track this one down 🙂

Chess and Dandys and Automaton oh my! 🙂

5. The Travelling Death and Resurrection Show by Ariel Gore

This was another fairly recent unique read, but it just missed out on being immortalised on these hallowed (ha!) pages as I finished it just before it was founded. I was drawn to the strangeness of the title (I love long and confusing titles :)) and the book certainly delivered as it was about a travelling Catholic-themed circus whose headliner can do the Stigmata on command. Only 64 members on Shelfari have it, and the author is not on Fantastic Fiction, my usual fountain of book-based knowledge so it certainly qualifies for this list, as just like several of the others it has received its fair share of confuzzled looks.

I'm a sucker for bizarro Catholic hijinks 🙂

6. The Sensualist by Barbara Hodgson

My mum brought this book home from a school fĂȘte at my little bro’s primary school that she was volunteering at, but I promptly pilfered it when I flicked through and saw that it was a multi sensory novel filled with old-fashioned anatomy diagrams, some multi-layered and one which included braille. I can barely remember the plot besides that it was a sort of mystery that spanned a couple of european countries, but I do remember that it was a great read and the accompanying elements elevated the story to a new level. Only 73 Shelfari have this book and I am proud to be one of them 🙂

I love a book with hidden surprises in the form of eyeball diagrams 🙂

7. Shadowsbite by Stephen Dedman

I wasn’t completely surprised that when I first went to add this book to my shelf on Shelfari it was absent and since I added it only one person (besides myself) has contributed to its record, as the author is a relatively unknown sci-fi/horror writer from Perth (my hometown and the most isolated capital city in Australia). I was however kind of disappointed as it’s a great Vampire novel that explores the mythology behind vamps better than any I’ve read. I got the book at Swancon, an annual Science Fiction and writers convention held in Perth, and I was lucky enough to hear Stephen Dedman read an excerpt and meet him. The friend that I went with also loved the book as did our other close friend (the third musketeer :D) so they at least have heard of it, as have the other people who attended his reading but in the grand scheme of things it is pretty unknown and hopefully I’ve done my part to rectify that 🙂

In this current time of Twihards an honest, gory, mythologically accurate vamp tale like this is a wonderful antidote!

8.  The Cats by Joan Phipson

To readers that grew up in the 60s or 70s this book or this author may not be that unknown as Joan Phipson wrote a string of novels for kids from 1953-1988 with The Cats being published in 76. However, as a proud 90’s kid I had never heard of it when I picked it up at another school fĂȘte and bought it purely because I wanted to know why a book about cats had such a sinister cover! It turns out lovable fluffy kitty cats can be terrifying, especially with the right setting and some suspense, and that if there are Baby Boomers out there who loved this odd thriller in their youth, they certainly aren’t on Shelfari where my shelf is the only one it rests on.

Here sinister kitty!

9.  The Floating Island by Anna Ralph

This novel came into my hand when a family friend (ironically the same one who may or may not have lost Dim) dropped off a stack of proof copy paperbacks to me, her friends book-crazed daughter, that came from a friend of hers in publishing (somewhat naughty I know but I did nothing to encourage her I promise!). The book was a touching tale of a teenage boy’s psychological and physical recovery from a tragic accident that left him seemingly paralysed and killed his younger brother, as well as an interweaving of character relationships. A grand total of 3 people including myself have The Floating Island on their Shelfari shelf – not exactly overwhelming but better than zero 🙂

I love getting free books 🙂

10. Harlequin Vintage Collection

(Kiss Your Elbow by Alan Handley; Virgin with Butterflies by Tom Powers; Pardon My Body by Dale Bogard; You Never Know with Women by James Hadley Chase)

This is cheating a bit, but I couldn’t decide which of these obscure retro paperbacks to choose as collectively not many Shelfari members have them (the most is 26 for You Never Know with Women which I’m guessing is highest because James Hadley Chase is the most well-known author of the four) and they were all wonderfully pulpy and odd. The set also includes No Nice Girl by Perry Lindsay and I’ll Bury my Dead also by James Hadley Chase, but I am yet to read those two.

Gotta love some genuine vintage pulp fiction filled to the brim with dames and guns 🙂

Stay tuned in the near future (hopefully) for the other half of this Top 10 – Top 10 Books I Think Everyone Should Read – and then I will not be posting the new poll as the Top 10s for December will be on my best 2011 reads 🙂 I also hope to get all the lost reviews done before the year’s end – cross your collective fingers for me?

Cheers and Happy Reading!