End-of-Year Survey

(questions from The Perpetual Page-Turner – everyone can join in the fun!)

1. Best Book You Read In 2012? 

I can’t choose just one, here are my top ten – I didn’t review everything I read this year, that’s why only some titles have links.

84 Charring Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
Molly Make-Believe by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott
Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons – I know that loads of bloggers are fans of Gibbons’ writing and even the saleswoman in the store I bought it from said the book was hilarious and her favorite, but I couldn’t even finish it… One of the problems, I think, is that I don’t like books written in dialect, it takes me too long to figure out what’s being said. Ah well, you can’t love them all. And maybe there is another book by Stella Gibbons that’s worth reading?

I was also disappointed by The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, Bossypants by Tina Fey, Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisa Peshl and Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. Wow, that’s a whole lot of disappointing books!

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – a classic, but I thought I’d find it long and boring since I’m not much of a classics person. I loved it though, it’s one of my favorites of the year.

Molly Make Believe by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott – I was wary of it for the same reason, I’m not that into classics, but I thought this book was absolutely charming. Seriously, read it!

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz because it’s so much fun and White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, because it’s so different to anything else I’ve read for a long time.

5. Best series you discovered in 2012?

The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness – I finally read The Knife of Never Letting Go and am looking forward to the next books.

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?

Marisa de los Santos, Maggie O’Farrell, Eva Ibbotson, Wilkie Collins

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi – I don’t read much by African-born authors and don’t read many books as strange as this one was. Definitely out of my comfort zone, but definitely worth reading!

Also, How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran – I didn’t think this would be my kind of thing but I ended up loving it. It touched on some important issues and really made me think. I didn’t get most of the British cultural references but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?

All the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris are pretty unputdownable. And I remember losing sleep while reading Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson too.

9. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year:

84 Charring Cross Road by Helene Hanff – it was so beautiful. I still think about the book often.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?

I didn’t really pay attention to the covers this year and don’t have time right now to look online. Something to rectify next year?

11. Most memorable character in 2012?

Helene Hanff in 84, Charring Cross Road. I would have loved to meet her.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. I didn’t get around to reviewing the book, but I remember thinking that the writing was incredible. And White is for Witchingby Helen Oyeyemi should also be mentioned here, the use of language there was so original.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran because it really got me thinking about being a woman, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I’m still thinking about the injustice of it all.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – it took me so long to try it, I didn’t think I’d like it that much, but I loved it!

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012?

Oh so many! Here are some of the passages I noted down:

Sitting upright in her living room, in a hundred-year-old chair, Clare trembled in the face of this truth she’d discovered all on her own, and she felt ancient and part of life.” (from Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos)

I wanted to hug her, but I held back. I know when a moment doesn’t belong to me.” (from Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos)

His face was smooth; he was old enough to shave but young enough to still be excited about shaving and thus meticulous.” (from White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi)

The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.” (from The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness)

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012?

The shortest was A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (also a book I surprisingly loved) and the longest was The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

I kept wanting to call my best girlfriends as I read How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, to talk about girl stuff!

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

The relationships between all the characters in A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks. Their lives were so intertwined, each affecting the others, yet most of them felt so lonely.

And the Dash/Lily relationship in Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

And also the relationship between blogger Julie and chef Julia Child in Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. As a blogger I can totally relate to how real that relationship was to Julie.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously

Crossed by Ally Condie, Murder Runs in the Family by Anne George, Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella, The Likeness by Tana French

20. Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Iris sent it to me and i’ll be forever grateful!

21. My fun stats:

Total books read: 48

6 of them were audiobooks, 3 were read on my kindle, I didn’t finish 4 of them.

36  were written by women… no gender equality here!

YA: 10
Contemporary Fiction: 13
Historical Fiction: 2
Classics: 4
Fantasy: 7
Children’s: 1
Mystery/Crime: 4
Graphic novels: 1
Non-Fiction: 6

Lessons learned: I should read more classics, I was surprised by how good the ones I read this year were! And I need to read more historical fiction and graphic novels. A separate post about goals for 2013 will come in January.

Happy New Year everyone!

This year’s challenges

I didn’t sign up for many challenges this year, but had trouble even with the few that I did try to complete.

I wanted to concentrate on read-a-alongs and on events and also wanted to read the books that Alex and Larissa thought I would love, but I didn’t get around to do much of any of these. 2012 ended up being a strange transitional year for me and I just didn’t think much of reading goals. I think I see challenges in my future again.

Of the books that Alex recommended, I read – and loved – 84, Charring Cross Road by Helene Hanff and I started but had to abandon Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. The latter just wasn’t for me. But I did get King Leopold’s Ghost by Alan Hochschild for Christmas and I am about halfway through The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley so that only leaves Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier completely untouched. I’m sure I can finish the list in 2013.

Of the books that Larissa recommended, I read a grand total of zero. But I ambitiously bought The Lovers by Alice Ferney in the original French and hopefully I’ll have the courage to read it soon!

WIN5The only challenge I attempted was the What’s In a a Name Challenge 5; hosted by Beth Fish Reads, and I finished! This is what I read:

A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title: Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani (didn’t finish…)

A book with something you’d see in the sky in the title: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (loved!)

A book with a creepy crawly in the title: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (loved!)

A book with a type of house in the title: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (did not finish…)

A book with something you’d carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title: The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson (liked)

A book with a something you’d find on a calendar in the title: One Last Summer by Catrin Collier

I’ll definitely take part again!

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

I listened to this title on audio and think that if you have the opportunity then you should listen to it too. Hearing the author read it must be so much better than just hearing the words in your head. She’s a really great narrator and made the words funny and engaging and real. Highly recommended.

I know several people who did not like the book so I guess it won’t appeal to everyone, but I certainly identified with what Moran talked about. I saw myself in the girl she described herself to be and I saw myself in the self-conscious woman she was in her 20s. I hope that I am well on my way to becoming as confident and true-to-myself as she is.

So many topics discussed in the book are so important to think about. The main idea that has stayed in my head is how difficult it is to be a girl and woman in today’s world. So much is expected of girls and women, yet so much about being a girl is considered wrong in some way. Girls are expected to be nice and sweet when they’re little, being a tomboy is not a positive thing. They’re supposed to be pretty and smart and entertaining but also more like boys, in the sense of being strong and knowing their own mind. Which is of course already a skewed way of viewing the world. Then, as we grow up, things become more and more confusing. There are circumstances when being a girl is a good thing, like when you let a man do the pursuing or dress up for an evening out. But it’s not a good thing when you cry at work. How are you supposed to figure it all out?

I was also really affected by the section on teens discovering their sexuality. Young people these days learn about sex from movies and porn available on the Internet. But these images are usually not joyful and they don’t look like what the real thing should look like. Thy affect a whole load of things, including body image. It saddened me to think about this, but also made me think about my own experience, in which what I thought of sex was more related to power than to love. Surely how we educate young people about this can change?

Moran talked a lot about sexism, which is rampant, though sometimes understated or so ingrained in our culture that it’s no longer considered negative, and about feminism, which has a very bad reputation. I liked the whole section on feminism, because I remember when I was younger and considered myself a feminist I thought about myself as quite militant about these things and when I stopped describing myself as a feminist I considered myself more normal. I also went through a phase when I obejcted to feminism. Moran asks which part of feminism do the women who are against it object to – maybe he right to vote or the right not to be owned by the man we marry? We throw the word around without stopping to think about its true meaning. Moran says something like that without feminism we wouldn’t even be having these discussions as women would be too busy giving birth on the kitchen floor, biting down on a kitchen spoon to keep quiet so as not to disturb the men’s card game. What an image.

Listening to this book made me think about so many things. Including about why it is mostly women who struggle with being themselves, with allowing themselves to follow their own path without judgement or guilt, to accept and love the person they are no matter what they like, dislike or look like. Why is it more acceptable for men to be whatever they want to be?

There is so much to say about this but I will stop here. Suffice it to say that if any of these issues interest you then How to be a Woman is a book you’d enjoy. And it’ll make you laugh out loud in places too!

My little boy in December

20121219-190840.jpg

Shane has been completely spoiled this month and we haven’t even reached the main event yet! Between all our Christmases and my birthday, it’s really a month of celebrating and he has of course been at the centre of it all. He is almost three years old.

He thinks that presents, especially birthday presents, should contain cake. When Joe took him shopping for my birthday present, Shane vetoed numerous suggestions on the grounds that they weren’t cake. He really has my best interests at heart, doesn’t he?

Sometimes he drives me crazy and I tell him so. He reciprocated the other day when I wasn’t doing what he wanted me to do in some game and he took it away and said “No more! You make me crazy!” I laughed and laughed but it’s not always funny to see yourself that close up.

20121220-141820.jpgOther times he surprises me in how well-behaved he can be. Like when I had people over for my birthday and there was no problem with him going to bed, even though there were loads of people around. Or when we opened presents during our first Christmas celebration and he completely understood that everyone gets presents, they’re not all for him. Or when he gave bits of party food to my brother and sister-in-law before he had any himself. He has a good heart, he amazes me.

He thinks that being funny is an important trait to have. One evening, I told him that he won’t have any books at bed time because he wasn’t being good and he protested: “I IS good…. And I is funny!” He mastered the ‘I am’ concept now but it’s funnier in the original.

shane1shane2The photo is of Shane and Joe at Joe’s office. Doesn’t he look bored? Our friends had lots of fun coming up with possible captions. He loves going to work with Daddy, like any kid I guess.

We’re in Poland now, thus all the snow, and it’s incredible how he understands that his grandparents speak Polish and easily switches languages when we spend time with them. I’m often amazed at his Polish vocabulary, since I don’t speak it with him, he only gets it from TV and from my family.

This will seem like total bragging, of course, but I don’t care. He is extremely smart. He knows all his letters and is starting to out them together into words, both reading and writing short words. He can also count way past 20 and can conceptualise what a certain number of items looks like. His teachers say that he is academically gifted. I’m a proud Mommy!

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Reading this book was a pretty huge task for a person who finds classic literature daunting. Plus, at over 600 pages, it’s on the chunkster side. But I haven’t been doing very well with reading gifted books and I received this one from Iris as part of the All Hallow’s Eve book swap, so I decided to dive right in.

First a bit of background – The Moonstone is the precursor of the modern mystery novel and is set in 19th century England. It also introduces the character of an English detective for (I believe) the first time. The story deals with the theft of a precious Indian diamond and is narrated by various characters. Although the number of suspects is limited, the story is never boring. There is so much more to it than simply finding out ‘who did it’.

The first part of the book is narrated by Gabriel Betteridge, the house steward. For me this was the best possible start to the story, as Betteridge was my favourite character. How could I not love a man who seeks guidance in the pages of a battered copy of Robinson Crusoe? He also comes out with some hilarious observations, especially about women. Like this one:

“You make my flesh creep. Nota bene: women like these little compliments.” (p. 28)

Or

“When you want to comfort a woman by he shortest way, take her on your knee.” (p. 36)

Despite these views, he really is a loveable character with a great voice. And he truly cares for his mistress, Rachel, who is the one the diamond is stolen from. He never believes anything bad about her and always remains on her side.

I loved Rachel too and found her as witty as a Jane Austen character. She says of her upcoming marriage:

“I am marrying in despair, Mr Bruff – on the chance of dropping into some sort of stagnant happiness which may reconcile me to my life.” (p. 349)

I don’t know what it is about this statement, but it makes Rachel incredibly believable, rather than a two-dimensional outdated character. I can understand her. It’s writing like this that makes a novel a classic.

I also loved the common sense statements, like this one:

“Persons and things do turn up so vexaciously in this life, and will in a manner insist in being noticed.” (p. 32)

Persons and things do that now too!

So much in this story is funny. Not in itself, really, just in the way in which it is phrased. Like this:

It is not every day that we can meet an eminent person at dinner and feel that there is a reasonable prospect of the news of his murder being the news that we hear of him next.” (p. 362)

Honestly, this entire story was a joy to read, with a good story and witty use of language. I don’t know why Wilkie Collins isn’t more well-known, at least as famous as his friend Charles Dickens. In fact, their friendship makes me want to know more about Dickens. Well, that and also the fact that Joss Whedon likes him!

Virtual Advent Tour: Can there be too much Christmas?

xmas tree 2012NO WAY! 🙂 There can never be too much Christmas! I should know, since Christmas traditions in our family have grown over the years and now incorporate three cultures and span all of December. This means lots and lots of Christmas celebrating.

I’m sure I’ve already blogged about some of our Christmas traditions, but I can’t find the post so I might be repeating myself. Sorry about that.

Our first Christmas celebration is either the first or the second week of December, when my husband’s grown-up daughter Helen comes over from Wales. We started doing this a few years ago because we never get to spend actual Christmas together and it was so much fun that it stuck. Basically, we choose a day and designate it Christmas Day. We do the whole thing, the tree, the presents, the traditional dinner. This year, Helen and Shane even baked reindeer muffins the day before and left one for Santa, as well as a carrot for Rudolph. And vodka for Santa – did you know that kids in Ireland leave alcohol for Santa instead of milk? Too funny!

xmas muffins 2012

We spent they day itself opening presents, playing with new games and eating a lot. We even had us a little finger-painting party.

xmas art 2012

This year’s first Christmas Day already happened and it was wonderful. It always amazes me that we all really believe it’s Christmas. I found myself thinking that stores were all closed because it’s Christmas or wondering why no one else was posting Christmas photos on Facebook. It was so hard to return to the real non-holiday world and go back to work on the next day!

xmas_presents_2012_part1The photo is of my presents so far. Pretty good, eh?

(I’ll permit myself to shamelessly slip in the fact that today is my 36th birthday. I expect my present pile is growing as you read.) 🙂

We live in Belgium so we also celebrated St. Nicolas on the 6th of December. It is more important than Christmas Day in this part of the world, but we stuck to the Polish tradition and Shane just got a couple of small things. St. Nicolas left them in his slippers, which had to be nicely arranged by his bed the night before, otherwise the magic wouoldn’t work.

Our next Christmas event will be Polish Christmas Eve. We will be in Warsaw with my parents for this one and it will involve lots of traditional food and enormous quantities of presents, no doubt.

Since my husband is Irish, we also do Christmas morning on the 25th, with even more presents. Then Joe makes a traditional Irish Christmas dinner. We wanted to make sure that his traditions aren’t ignored just because he spends the holiday in a different culture.

This year is especially important to me because I’m thinking about what Christmas traditions I want Shane to grow up with. We’re making more out of our celebrations so that December is a blur of magic for him. We added advent too, so he gets some chocolate each morning as well as a book (on most days, when he’s being relatively good!).

So can there be too much of Christmas? I don’t think so. Can there be too much silliness and joy? I don’t think so.

I look forward to December and all our over-the-top celebrating a long time and I’m so happy that I’m in the midst of it right now.

Have a lovely and magical Holiday Season!

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virtual-advent-tour-03This post is part of the Virtual Advent Tour organised by Kailana and Marg. Make sure you visit the other participants!