I like to keep track of what I read, and I’ve been taking part in the 52 book challenge since 2009.
You can keep track of my book challenge here. This page will be updated with links new reviews and as they are posted, along with summaries and star ratings. Click here to see what I read in 2009, 2010, 2011, & 2012.
Books Read in 2013:
76. Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives edited by Sarah Weinman
★★★★★ – This fantastic collection of short stories from female crime authors is one of the best anthologies I’ve read. Favourites included Shirley Jackson’s run-away teen (Louisa, Please Come Home) and Margaret Millar’s The People Across the Canyon – but almost all capture the creepy suspense and sickly satisfying conclusions that I love in a short story. Ideal for fans of Roald Dahl’s stories for adults; especially if you loved the likes of Lamb for the Slaughter and The Landlady. This one is as good as it sounds.
75. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
★★★★★ – I feel as though I’m spitting on hallowed Internet ground, but here goes. This collection of blog posts and other personal picture essays from Allie Brosh is very much in keeping with the Hyperbole and a Half blog. Some favourites re-appear, including her classic take on depression and the uphill struggle to maintain a feeling of adulthood (and cleaning ALL the things). I enjoyed revisiting these, and some of her stories about childhood quirks, like the desperation to eat a piece of forbidden cake. Other essays meander off into her life as a dog owner, which failed to grab my interest, or feel like more forced attempts to dredge up inner truths. Don’t get me wrong, she’s great, but my personal enjoyment doesn’t extend to meet the hype.
74. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
★★★★★ – David Sedaris is never bad, but the way his work is thrown together sometimes can be. This collection doesn’t quite deliver on the title, with a few appearances of edited down versions of work from other collections and a couple of creepy short stories which felt distinctly more Hallowe’eny. However his ribald wit and gentle prodding at individuals’ hypocrisies still entertain, and the addition of his diary of a 33-year-old Macy’s elf is perfect reading for the holiday season.
73. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
★★★★★ – One of the few sincere literary fiction choices of the year, I read this with a friend for our new fiction book club. Following a group of precocious teens through to adulthood, it uncovers a lot of truths about the nature of lifelong friendships, those you lose along the way and dealing with secrets, jealousy, and the inevitable gap between expectations and reality. It’s slow, often sad, and frequently swims against the tide of conventional narrative expectations – and for all of that, it’s a book that, as a reader, you can absolutely live in for the duration.
72. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
★★★★★ – Predictably, I picked this up shortly after enjoying the TV series, which I enjoyed but found a tad predictable. The show has deviated a lot from the original story, the latter of which has more moments of happiness, methods of coping and, naturally, a lot less drama. Kerman’s a decent enough writer, if a little nauseating upon describing her panacean pre-prison life. The real take-away from this book is not the personal story but the people and social issues encountered and the commentary ont hes tate of the US prisons and corrections system. For that, it’s worth a read.
71. The Days of Abandonment by Ella Ferrante
★★★★★ – This was a book club pick and I can’t say I’d have chosen it myself otherwise. It’s a dark domestic horror, laying on vulgarity and insipidness pretty thick, and was an interesting take on the descent-to-madness trope. At points I felt like the translation might be lacking, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Interesting, but not one I’d revisit or an author I’d seek out again.
70. Parnassus On Wheels by Christopher Morley
★★★★★ – This is a fantastic wee novella. Since I was writing hard all month I picked this up and gave it a flip through on the Oyster app in 5-15 minute chunks. It’s been released as part of Melville House’s Art of the Novella series and was such a charming find. It follows a middle-aged sister of a farmer-cum-author who, when offered a horse-drawn caravan-slash-travelling bookshop, takes a revenge adventure to keep her brother from doing the same. Loved it.
69. The Many Faces of Katniss Everdeen by Valerie Estelle Frankel
Ok, this was a research read, so I don’t feel it’s fair to rate it. As far as academic writing on pop culture goes, though, this is your girl. This includes some great insights on gender and sexuality in The Hunger Games and its genesis in literature and broader historical culture.
68. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
★★★★★ – Well-written with nice quotes and illustrations and good insights. I appreciate how finely curated and succinctly put it is, but plenty of the advice can be found elsewhere and it didn’t get me fired up. This was also my first read using the Oyster app, which was pretty cool.
67. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
★★★★★ – This is one of those books that always leaves you begging for more. It makes the unrealistic tantalisingly real, a fairly obvious reveal a surprise, and some really important and painful points about human empathy. I was pretty baffled by this one throughout, which makes for a pretty unique reading experience, and I imagine in years to come I’ll remember the feeling of reading it more than the plot itself.
66. The Last Girlfriend on Earth and Other Stories by Simon Rich
★★★★★ – I’d heard so much about this short story collection that my expectations were probably a little too high. The stories here are short and fun with some creative premises. I especially liked one first person account of the life of a condom. While some of them were quite funny, others rehashed the ideas ad nauseum and some of the more high concept ideas didn’t quite hit the mark. I’ll still give his other stories a go, though.
65. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
★★★★★ – It’s true what they say: this book is bloody brilliant. What more do I have to add to the discussion?
64. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
– Err, I wilfully completely forgot about this one. Which says it all, really.
63. Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
★★★★★ – My first foray into both the Discworld and the considerable bibliography of Terry Pratchett. What took me so long?! This features the most wonderful/disgustingly named Moist von Lipwig, tasked to save the neglected postal system. (I actually read this during the week the Post Office was privatised from under us, boo.) If you’re like me and have no references for Terry Pratchett, it has humour in the same ballpark as Douglas Adams and settings and creatures reminiscent of those found at Hogwarts. Jolly good, though I did lose steam around the final chase.
62. Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
★★★★★ – This is one of those literary novels that reeks of the novelisation of autobiographical experience. The main character was okay, but I never felt I learned enough to get a proper read on him. There wasn’t a great sense of place, (in part because he’s so distanced from it, but still) and the love interests were completely interchangeable (which I put down to bad writing, much as I’d like it to have been intentional). It’s delightfully brief, and there were some interesting points of sympathy for the character in the face of dismay, but overall there were too many problems with it and issues left unsolved.
61. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
★★★★★ – This took me ELEVEN MONTHS to read. Originally I’d planned for it to provide context when I reviewed the latest film adaptation, but it didn’t work out that way. The film pretty much sucked, with the exception of the performances (particularly Jason Flemyng as Joe Gargery – HEARTBREAKING). It took forever to read, and the plot is painstakingly slow, but fuck it – it’s great.
60. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
★★★★★ – When he’s good, he’s very very good. When the story doesn’t strike your fancy… not so much. This started as a 4.5, ended as a – so I’d rate it somewhere in-between. Sacks presents some fascinating and sometimes scary stories here, with his signature charm and literary reverence (I love his high brow quotes, even if I’m totally lost). I was way more into the crazy sudden brain fart kinds of stories; the low-IQ autism tales, not so much; but your mileage may vary.
59. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
★★★★★ – I suffered from an enormous lack of care while reading this novel. I get that the characters are supposed to be frivolous and vacuous and careless – but worse than that, I found them utterly boring and had no desire to find out what would become of them. Things perked up a bit around the car race scene, but not nearly enough. If you think I missed something I’d love to know.
58. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
★★★★★ – I’m not very familiar with Mindy Kaling, and I’ve only seen about 3 episodes of The Office, so I’m really not sure why I started reading this. It was ok, a light read, and the most interesting parts were probably her postgrad exploits. It’s cool to read about someone who is earlier in their success than, say, Tina Fey, but the cultural touchstone age gap between a 25 and a 32 year-old is surprisingly large. An ok distraction but not hugely entertaining.
57. Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
★★★★★ – A good, digestible guide to common business practices like creativity and productivity. Debunks the myth of the hero, hard work defined by hours, and all the usual entanglements that come along with running your own small business. Really helpful for me as a freelancer with tons of useful tidbits to remind yourself about once in awhile.
56. Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Scott Pilgrim, #6) by Bryan Lee O’Malley
★★★★★– This didn’t wrap things up as neatly as the movie does, but with good reason since the characters are a lot more autonomous and the focus isn’t solely on Scott. Not my favourite of the series but still, see above.
55. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
★★★★★– Funny lead character, great descriptions, ridiculous antics. Although I haven’t seen it yet, I can see how this would make a great movie. Great read for writers and fans of crime capers.
54. NW by Zadie Smith
★★★★★– This was my first experience with Zadie Smith and I wasn’t disappointed. I enjoyed her turns of phrase and wry observations. The structure was really engrossing – at least until she decided to bin the lot of it around three-quarters of the way in. Although many would claim that literary fiction borrows form the real world rather than building its own, I’d say that this is an exception to that “rule”.
53. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe (Scott Pilgrim, #5)
★★★★★ – Just, read this series. Promise?
52. More Than This by Patrick Ness
51. How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
★★★★★ – I both liked and hated this and there is most definitely something psychosomatic going on with that. One minute relatable, boring the next, I’m still not sure what I got out of this. So probably not much. Give this one a miss.
50. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
★★★★★ – An accomplished first novel. Set in Iceland and based on true events, the author is perhaps a little bit too careful in presenting this alternate view of a murderer, but acquits herself well. This features some interesting narration techniques along with great suspense and drama and characters that dragged me in. Well worth a read.
49. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
★★★★★ – Simply put, this is one of those novels that sticks with you. A stellar narrator equalled by an engaging story, razor-sharp prose, and plenty of mystery with a few genre-mashing threads thrown in for good measure. Read it.
48. The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry
★★★★★ – This is an impressive read. A 90-page, virtually stream of consciousness monologue tackling the complexities of the Dewey Decimal System, French history, patriarchy, and loneliness. Full review here.
47. Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
★★★★★ – I must admit I struggled with these somewhat. They’re great stories as part of the oral tradition, but reading them alone on the subway didn’t really capture that mood. I did love The Cat That Walked By Himself, though. It’s worth the price of admission alone.
46. Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together (Scott Piglrim #4)
★★★★★ – This was my favourite in the series so far. It’s just so vibrant: great illustrations, funny dialogue, fun characters. What more do you want from a graphic novel series?
45. Gem Squash Tokoloshe by Rachel Zadok
★★★★★ – This was a messy one. A nice premise but poorly executed. The prose actually got worse as the book went along. Some real cheesy lines in here. I wouldn’t have reached for this, never mind finished it, if it wasn’t a book club pick.
44. The Crash of Hennington by Patrick Ness
★★★★★ – A debut novel, and Ness’ only adult novel before The Crane Wife. I enjoyed the rawness of his style, the dirtier elements like sex and drugs, and the setting that was very North American yet utterly invented. It’s about a town called Hennington in which there lives a roving crash of rhinoceros, a town crazy, a Mayor, a jilted lover, a man of God, a businessman-pimp, some of his workers, and so on. Each chapter shifts to a different character’s point of view – and a few too many at that – inspiring some nice cross-cutting as events escalate. An entertaining read with Ness’ signature dialogue and some snippy satire.
43. The Wild Things by Dave Eggers
★★★★★ – I was pretty disappointed by this one, sadly. It began with promise; a rambunctious kid with emotional issues, sense of adventure and fun. Where it went from there was dark and violent but without the emotional depth to make it stand up on its own. A couple of the plot movements seemed forced and really quite vague, even for a kids book, and it just felt like a series of scenes in which nothing changes. Give this one a miss.
42. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
★★★★★ – I like this book less the more I think about it. It’s well written and argued, and will inevitably be read by mostly women even though men need it just as much. Sandberg identifies a huge number of problems, cultural and societal inconsistencies, and expectations for women – and men. The problem for me is that, while interesting and relevant subject matter, it’s very much couched in terms of the type of high power, ultra corporate lifestyle that 90% of women neither have nor necessarily aspire to. There are examples of women making a difference in other ways, and a lot about expectations about mothers (which again wasn’t particularly my speed), but ultimately it came back to corporate, office-based leadership. I’d love to see someone take these leanings and apply them to something more universal.
39-41. Scott Pilgrim vs The World #1, #2, #3 by Bryan Lee O’Malley
★★★★★ – I’ve loaned these from a friend and am really enjoying them so far. Inventive, original, colourful (despite being black and white), with great characters and a brilliant story. I was a fan of the film and am finding still more to enjoy in the depths of O’Malley’s characters and slowly unravelling storyline.
38. Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
★★★★★ – 3.5 and swithering on marking it as a 3 or a 4. It’s a good fun read, written with verve, and perfect for people in that forgotten demographic of late teens and early twenties. I enjoyed the themes of old vs new knowledge, books vs computers, and the mystery element. I didn’t really buy into the puzzles as everything was resolved very conveniently: quick fail, quick turnaround, quick solution – which rather killed the tension. Overall it’s a good summer read, upbeat and irreverent yet largely unpretentious.
37. Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos
★★★★★ – An astonishing wee novella from the mind of the precocious son of a Mexican drug baron. It’s been done before, but when the character’s quest is in the form of the hunt for a Liberian Pygmy Hippopotamus the author totally gets away with it. Hilarious prose, brilliant characters, nice wordplay and a good, fun story.
36. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
★★★★★ – As an adventure, quite a fun, enjoyable and easy read. However it relies a little too heavily on simple characters, grandstanding speeches and imagery which exists only in the protagonist’s mind throughout. For a first person narration I felt quite distant from events. Good drama yet quite dry at points – but it definitely must’ve been ahead of its time.
35. Why I Write by George Orwell
★★★★★ – It’s about time, right? I picked this up to read ‘Why I Write’ and ‘Politics and the English Language’. Both seminal essays, both by this legendary author with whom I haven’t always got along. These were great, but the other long essay in this book, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’, was pretty dry and of its time. Still, I’m glad I revisited it.
34. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
★★★★★ – I love a good, short, short story. These are of that type – but why is it that collections of stories about love have to be so depressing? Great stuff, and I loved the simple prose and repetitive style, but at times this was kind of a slog.
33. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
★★★★★ – A cute, quick read – but not quite one of those children’s cross-over novels. People I know have a lot of love for Neil Gaiman, but it might be time to admit that, when it comes to his style and stories, it just isn’t for me.
32. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
★★★★★ – Part diary, part rumination on writing and running, Murakami tracks his course to the 2005 New York City Marathon. Fantastic stuff and a great read for any aspiring readers and runners.
31. The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
★★★★★ – A fantastic debut novel. Very well written, great 1930s setting for all you Gatsby fans. One of the most unreliable narrators I’ve ever read – and all of it expertly drawn. Cutting remarks, observant prose, and plenty of mystery make this a compelling read. It does lull at points, but they’re made up with an insane ending.
30. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
★★★★★ – I don’t know. I just couldn’t get into it. It picked up considerably for me towards the end, so I was very late to the party in more ways than one. Maybe I’ll read it again someday.
29. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
★★★★★ – Brilliant storytelling in second-person narration. World-wise and affecting. Full review here.
28. For the Relief of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander
★★★★★ – For the relief of finishing a discarded short story collection, more like. Good stuff from Englander, if a little one-note subject-wise. I much preferred What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, but I’ll definitely pick up his novel soon.
27. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
★★★★★ – A novel in two parts, the first of which outshines the second. Great characters, fantastic dialogue. I really enjoyed the voices here, despite having reservations about the narrative style. At times it wanders into the technical, and the ending wraps up a little too neatly. Nonetheless a well-constructed first novel.
26. The Reader by Bernard Schlink
★★★★★ – An accomplished novel – a tad predictable but makes great use of undercut tension, understanding characters actions and emotions and actions that follow. What it lacks in plot it makes up for in fantastic use of metaphor and in raising ethical questions on a personal level. Despite a few reservations, it’s a great, short read.
25. Let’s Discuss Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
★★★★★ – Perhaps my favourite collection of Sedaris’ personal essays yet. Language, travel, and family are the key topics here in an array of hilarious and at times visceral “real life” stories. A brilliant read.
24. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
★★★★★ – Excellent, award-winning middle-grade fiction. Lovely characters, good storytelling, but a bit saccharine for my taste. I appreciated this one more than I enjoyed it.
23. The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness
★★★★★ – A retelling of the Japanese fable, set in modern-day England. Many of Ness’ strengths are on display here: his great ear for dialogue, good characters and character development, and a lively tone. However as the story wore on on this began to wane.
22. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani
★★★★★ – Although it’s set in the 1930s, this probably fits into the New Adult genre. I was expecting a boarding school novel and got an undercooked, naval-gazing family drama that’s part romance novel. Full review here.
21. Wallflower at the Orgy by Nora Ephron
★★★★★ – A selection of Nora Ephron’s articles from 1968-9. While the subject matter of a few didn’t interest me, overall this is another great collection of her work. Mush, a seething piece on bestselling romances of the time was a joy, along with a take-down of Ayn Rand and a somewhat uppity article on the ubiquity of the Frommer’s guide. Fantastic.
20. The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
★★★★★ – Not for me. Full review(s) – video and podcast – here.
19. The Humans by Matt Haig
★★★★★ – An alien comes to Earth and learns to live like a human. As a concept, it sounds trite. In execution, it was a hugely entertaining and uplifting read. As tongue in cheek as Hitchhiker’s Guide and inspiring to boot.
18. Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
★★★★★ – The main question this book asks is, “What if black and white were reversed?” It’s a simple allegory based around the Civil Rights Movement with a touch of the Northern Irish “troubles” – a valuable read for teens to introduce them to the concepts of race equality and empathy, but not one for me.
17. A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
★★★★★ – For a novel in which nothing really happens, I rather enjoyed this one. Alan is a washed up businessman who, with his former successes behind him, ships out to Saudi Arabia in order to present hologram technology to the Sheik. A long wait leads to physical anxieties, an unlikely friendship with a local driver, and a lot of drunken evenings in a solitary hotel room. A very good read.
16. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
★★★★★ – I loved this book. Flawed but fabulous, it’s a collection of correspondence compiled by a teenaged girl after her mother, Bernadette, disappears. Many great voices, exceptional rants, and subtle developments make this a hugely entertaining read. I highly recommend it.
15. After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh
★★★★★ – Short stories from after a (hopefully) fictional, near-future apocalypse. A bit of a mixed bag, really: some of these really stuck with me while others completely passed me by. As is common in the sci-fi realm, these are definitely stories of ideas over style, but also brought me out of my comfort zone.
14. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
★★★★★ – A great read about a lost diary and the hands into which it falls. This has a hook that will keep you guessing: is it entirely fiction, or only in part? There are 3 or 4 ways to slice it, and I enjoyed everything about getting there. Read my full review here, or watch my review on YouTube here.
13. The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
★★★★★ – A nice wee story from the author of The English Patient (which I haven’t, but know I need to, read). It’s the story of a 10 year-old boy’s 21-day journey by ship narrated by his older self. As a memoir of a journey and the characters he travelled with, it was lovely. As it became the philosophical thoughts and fears of a middle-aged man, I was less enchanted.
12. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (re-read)
★★★★★ – Part three of The Hunger Games trilogy. I hated this the first time around. Upon re-reading and knowing what to expect I got more out of it. If you’ve ever been intrigued by this series, I recommend that you read it.
11. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (re-read)
★★★★★ – This book didn’t quite match up with my memory of it. I remembered this as my favourite book in the series. On reflection, what I’d thought was a few chapters of homecoming was in fact almost half of the book. I’d revise my favourite to book 1 now. The second half of this one isn’t as exciting when you know what’s coming, but it’s a fun read nonetheless.
10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (re-read)
★★★★★ – I’m in the midst of a big project based around The Hunger Games – notably its fandom. This is the third time I’ve read The Hunger Games (book 1) and it’s as fresh and exciting as ever. Worth a read if you haven’t caught up with it yet.
9. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
★★★★★ – One of the more exciting YA dystopias I’ve read. Great world-buidling, drops you into the action via a very curious lead character. For me the pacing was a little off and I got a bit fed up with every chapter ending on a cliff-hanger, so the high tension all the damn time thing ended up meaning that it took me longer to get through this. Misgivings aside, definitely one of the good ones.
8. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
★★★★★ – A literary coming-of-age debut that’s a cut above other young adult fiction. Full review here. (Originally written for The List magazine.)
7. The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps by Michel Faber
★★★★★ – This is a novella – and a quick one at that. Following an archaeologist at a small-town English dig, her inner torments, and a friendship with a recently bereaved Londoner and his dog, there isn’t a whole lot to get into. I enjoyed the prose style but thought the more spiritual elements fell flat. It’s a commissioned piece and, unfortunately, it reads like one.
6. The Giver by Lois Lowry
★★★★★ – Middle-grade dystopia and, with its intended audience in mind, a good one at that. More of a slow and creepy pace, but still climaxes into something of a chase – which is becoming a personal bugbear with this genre. Gentle, clever, and not too demanding.
5. The Pearl by John Steinbeck
★★★★★ – Sometimes a girl needs a little Steinbeck. You know how it is. This wasn’t my favourite of his books I’ve read so far, but it’s great to see an American author tackling the immigrant experience and demonstrating that it isn’t so alien after all.
4. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
★★★★★ – Tumbling deeper into the rabbit hole of YA post-apocalyptic literature, I knew I’d be remiss if I passed this one over. Inasmuch as there can be a classic of the genre, this is one. Well liked as it is, I wasn’t crazy about this one. It relies a little to heavily on ah-ha moments and convenient plot resolutions. Generally, though, it held my attention well enough and well-paced action sequences kept this one ticking over.
3. The Panem Companion by V. Arrow
– More research, and what luck! This is a goldmine of Hunger Games trivia, including fandom theory, story deconstruction, and lexicography. I imagine this one has a very specific audience, but V. Arrow has catered to it incredibly well.
2. Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli
– I’m currently working on a volume which will be part of the Fan Phenomena series by Intellect Books. Anelli’s book on the Harry Potter phenomenon is heralded by fans and seemed like the perfect place to begin my research. This is part journalism, part memoir, which suited my purposes but at times wandered into nostalgia and extraneous detail. That being said, it is a must for those fans of JK Rowling’s series who want their story to be told.
1. Double On-Call and Other Stories by John Green
★★★★★ – This ebook was released as a reward for donating to the Project For Awesome. I imagine John Green wouldn’t be happy to see a rating applied to this book, especially since it’s so unusual for an author to share early work, and work that is unfinished. This was a great insight into his writing process and growth as an author.