Sunday, 21 June 2009

Sunday Salon - Some favourite books of the last decade

The Sunday

I've been keeping a list of books read since 2000. I think somewhere I have an older list, but my Reader's Journal that my best friend then gave me, is the one continuously in use since Nov 2000. I thought it would be a fun idea to go back in time, and see what my favourite reads have been over the past 9 years.

Note: in 2000, I moved to England. I can't find my list of books read before July 2000, so the list only starts after I arrived in York. I also forgot to put any stars beside the books, so the criteria I've used for judging a book is: do I find myself occasionally thinking about it? Can I recall what the book is about? Then, of course, is whether I liked the book or not.

2000: Plague Tales - Ann Benson. I still think over this novel. It is a fascinating story about what would happen if a plague victim were unburied today, and the plague was released.
Lincoln's Dreams - Connie Willis - one of her earliest books, which combines dreams, Civil war history, love and heart-break. Sherman's horse makes a memorable appearance here.

2001: Making Tea for Kingsley Amis - Wendy Cope. When I read this book of poetry, I laughed out loud. She is funny, wry, and shows that poetry doesn't have to be mysterious; it describes the human condition, even when it's about the silliness of modern life, and the roles of men and women. The entire eponymous poem is about a dream she has, making tea for Kingley Amis, and that's it! Observations of life. This one goes with me everywhere too.
Dreaming of the Bones - Deborah Crombie. I loved the mystery of the poet at the heart of this story and how Duncan's ex-wife is involved, and how it explores love and the desire to be free.
Death in the Woods - Brigitte Aubert. I give this one to everyone! It's a French translated mystery, very eerie because the narrator is handicapped. A very good mystery, about children disappearing and being found later dead, and the character's race - despite her handicap - to save one little girl from 'Death from the Woods'.
On Writing - Stephen King. One of my favourite writing books, one that goes with me everywhere. He gave me the image that follows me now when I write: writing is digging down into the earth, freeing the bones.

2002: Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks. Oh, how I love this book! I've given it to so many people to read! One of the best ones that illustrates life during the plague, women and herbcraft and how one small town closed itself off in the hopes of surviving the plague.
The Falls - Ian Rankin. One of his very best, starring John Rebus. The dolls that are found throughout the novel are haunting reminders of frailty of the mind, and weave a sense of menace and unease. Simply one of the best mysteries he's written, close to Black and Blue, which is the best of the John Rebus mysteries.
The Bone Doll's Twin - Lynn Flewelling. This is a dark fantasy about a girl who has to be hidden from her family in order to survive. With magic, shape-changing, murder, it's a fantasy unlike any other, and very good.

2003: Shatterglass - Tamora Pierce. A young-adult fantasy. Surprisingly, it's the only one I've read by her still, mostly because I can't find the first ones in many of her series. This one is also part of a series, but is a stand-alone book as well, which is why I read it. I loved it. A young girl sets out on her career, and she works with glass. There is magic, and friendship, and a mystery, but the best thing is how she learns to control her magic to make glass.
The Dwelling - Susie Maloney. A haunted house story, about a real estate agent trying to sell a house that kills people who live in it. Some scenes haunt me to this day. Very frightening in places, and while the ending is not entirely believable (which is why I've never mentioned this book before) the first 3/4 of the book are among the best horror pages in print. She is also a Canadian author.
Isaac's Storm - Erik Larson. I've always wanted to be a meteorologist, and I'm fascinated by severe weather. This book was about the hurricane in 1900 that hit Galveston, Texas, destroying the city and killing thousands. An enthralling historical account about how misreading the weather cost thousands of lives.

2004: Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot - Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. What a delightful fantasy! Written as a series of letters between two cousins, it follows one girl's coming out in society while the other stays at home......romance, enchantment, mystery, old ladies, and a magician, make this one of the most delightful alternate-world fantasies I've read. It's set in England, but an England with magic. Charming, witty, and fun.
Flight - Jan Burke. The first part of this book was wonderful and gripping. I found when the viewpoint switches to another character for the second half, the book didn't have the same edge to it. It's about a pilot who disappears, a police officer who may or may not be crooked, and how not knowing has changed all the people involved. It brought Jan Burke to my attention. Her character Irene Kelly is one of my favourite mystery heroines, and I've now read many of the books in the series.
Jane Austen: A Life - by Claire Tomalin. As soon as this book was in paperback, I bought it. I wanted a recent book about Austen's life, and this book was carefully researched by Tomalin. She brings a novelist's eye to Austen's life, and the relationships Jane has with her family, her few friends, to the places where she lived, and to what her family says about her, so that Jane takes on her own character. This is a book that enriched my reading of her novels, instead of taking away from them as sometimes happens.

2005: Sunshine- Robin McKinley. A novel about vampires, one that doesn't romanticize them, despite the presence of a romance in the book. Their danger and menace is refreshing after all the 'vampires are just humans who drink blood good guys' books that are out there now. The best one that describes how they move (if vampires existed!), and how they watch and kill humans, and how alien they are even though once human. Set in the stunningly prosaic setting of a bakery.
Paladin of Souls - Lois McMaster Bujold. Again, an author I haven't read much of. I found it through Locus recommended reading lists, and it is one of my favourite fantasy books now. It stars an older woman who has already had her children, whose son has taken the throne, and who leaves the castle because of a dream she has. How she follows this dream, and saves her country at the same time, is pure magic. It is so refreshing to read about a mature character! Who thinks her life is over, except the next part is just beginning. It's funny, hilarious in places, because like most of us middle-aged women, she is sarcastic and hates fools, and plenty abound of course in her travels.

2006: Breakup - Dana Stabenow. A Kate Shugak mystery, set in Alaska. This takes place during the annual breakup of the ice, and it is a laugh-out-loud riot of a mystery and craziness that occurs when everyone is waiting for spring, and gone slightly crazy with the long dark winter. Since I feel like this every spring, I could completely relate, and the insane episodes in the town, centered around a bar, had me laughing until I cried.
Smile of A Ghost - Phil Rickman. A Merrily Watkins mystery. She's the modern day Anglican church version of an exorcist, dealing with troubled souls both physical and other-worldly. Her daughter Jane gets a job at a hotel with a reputation for hauntings, and one scene in this books is truly, deeply chilling. Every book features some kind of mystery involving a potential haunting, and the wonderful countryside of The Welsh Borders with the idiosyncratic characters that go with the English countryside. Every book manages to give me chills, but this one outdid the others.
Bones - Jan Burke. The book that I now give to everyone who wants a chilling, gripping mystery. The scene in the field when she is with the serial killer looking for the supposed bones of his victims, is truly terrifying. From beginning to end, a well-written Irene Kelly mystery dealing again with unresolved crimes of the past, and how far can a killer be trusted, and how far should one go in pursuit of the truth. Everyone pays the price for getting close to a killer.

2007: Well of Lost Plots - Jasper Fforde. A Thursday Next science fiction novel set in a world where literary detectives prowl the books of the world, making sure the dialog and characters are what they should be. In this one, Thursday's husband doesn't exist, and she is pregnant, and determined to prove he does exist and bring him back to her. These are utterly delightful excursions into novels that we all know and love, thus giving us glimpses of Charles Dickens, Jane Eyre, mysteries and westerns from the inside. This book in particular is haunting and sad as she loses he memory, until she finds what she needs to keep it.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows - JK ROwling. Where I discover that I was right about Snape after all, and cry at the ending. A thoroughly good ending to the series. I miss new books about Harry, though!
S is for Silence - Sue Grafton. Made me remember what I love about Kinsey Milhone and the mysteries she solves. This one involves a missing woman, and the question of if she did get away, or was she murdered and buried?
Naming of the Dead - Ian Rankin. Siobhan Clarke discovers her parents were present at a rally; this mystery novel shows the slow fall of her from grace, as she learns what she will do to protect those she loves. Brilliant at showing how the police are always on the edge of falling over on the wrong side because of their proximity to those who do evil. This book made me want to know more about Siobhan and what happens to her, especially now that Rebus has retired....It's also about finding out what happened, so that no victim goes nameless. Bittersweet and gripping.

2008: Regular readers will know that I gave a list earlier this year, here. This list still holds true. All of these books are ones that linger in my mind, that I am so happy I read, and that I will revisit again one day.

So what books have you read over the past decade that stay with you? What are your favourites? If you've always kept a books-read list, is there a theme to what you end up liking the most, as in I usually pick fantasy or mystery as my top books of the year? There are so many books I could list that I thoroughly enjoyed in the past decade, and these are the ones that have had an affect on me. They are ones that come back to me, at odd moments of the day and the years, that I turn over in my mind and ruminate on. Books can change lives, and they certainly can affect how we live. When I look over my list, I see I particularly like books that are about the past continuing to shape the present, ghosts and hauntings, magic and terror, with a healthy dose of humour and love.


Bybee said...

Oh very cool idea for a post! I'm off to look for my reading journal.

DesLily said...

hmmm i have not kept a list for very long but I may try this!

I did read the Sorcery and Cecelia trilogy and totally enjoyed it!!

Debi said...

Oh Susan, what a fun post!!! Though I'm not particularly sure I'm thrilled about what you just did to my wish list. ;) So many books I'd never even heard of before. Yes, fun, fun, fun!

It's funny, the two books that immediately jumped to mind in thinking over the last decade of reading are both non-fiction ones. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families and And the Band Played On. Both very powerful. Both excellent. I'm sure I could pick out a dozen more, of course, but those two just stuck right out.

Kailana said...

hm, more books to add to my wish list. Thanks! lol Cool idea for a post, though!

Julia Smith said...

I'm glad you've listed Sunshine here - I hadn't heard of it before, but now I simply must have it.

I'm in the middle of Year of Wonders. My second Geraldine Brooks, and I love it.

Booklogged said...

I knew I should have turned away from this post when I was it was a list of your favorites. I knew I would be adding some more to my TBR list and I did!

My sister recommended Year of Wonders eons ago. It's on my shelf I just need to make it high priority.

I like Jan Burkes' too.

Memory said...

This is a really interesting post! I also find that many of my noteworthy books are fantasy, but I've also got a real soft spot for general fiction that somehow deals with issues of family and/or morality.

Susan said...

Bybee: Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'll come see what you've done now! :-D

DesLily: It's fun to do! I have to read the third one in the Sorcery and Cecilia series. I haven't picked it up. I enjoyed the second one very much too. It is good, isn't it?

Debi: LOL! I'm so glad I suggested books for you to read! :-D FUN!!

I've never read And the Band Played On, though it's been on my radar for years. There are so many good books I haven't read yet, that I'm like you and Booklogged, every time I go to a blog I find more to read! It's funny the books that stick with us, isn't it? And interesting, to see which books move me, that others haven't heard of yet. I hope you enjoy the ones I liked, too!

Kailana: I'm glad you enjoyed it, and that I could return the favour and have you add some to your list! lol

Julia: Some people didn't like it so much, but I did! I hope you do like it!
I can't say enough about Year of Wonders, it's such an amazing book. I have March now to try. Is that the one you read by her?

Booklogged: Oh, I'm so happy I could mention books you haven't read yet!!! I've found enough books on your blog, it's fun to find books you don't know about!

Memory: I hope you do a post about the books you really liked reading over the past years, then! I'd love to see what you loved, especially the fantasy books.

JaneGS said...

I have to ask what you thought of the ending of Year of Wonders. I also loved the book, at least three-quarters of it, and then I felt she botched the ending. I know I'm not alone in this feeling, and am always curious to find out how others felt about it. Particularly those that liked the ending, as I'm sure you must have, since it made your "best of" list.

Emily Barton said...

Boy, you and I really are a lot alike. I'm planning on posting some of the entries from the book diaries I've been keeping over the years soon.

Susan said...

Jane: I really liked the ending. It was a bit surprising, which I liked, and I did like what she ended up doing (her work). I found it a very moving and believable work. I know some people are bothered by the witchcraft accusations, but I found it completely believable as well as heart-breaking. What didn't you like about the ending?

Emily: I'll come read your journal postings, you know I will! please do them soon, I'm very curious now! :-D especially as I love your reviews, and we do enjoy the same kinds of books.

Rhinoa said...

I didn't know Sunshine by Robin McKinley came out so long ago, I thought it was way more recent doh. I loved that book. I have lists going back to 2003 but I know I loved The Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop, Lolita by Nabakov and discovered Charles de Lint, Margaret Atwood and Ali Smith all in the last few year.

Susan said...

Hi Rhinoa! It's funny how that works about when we discover authors, isn't it? It's like they stand on the periphery of our vision waiting for us to let them in. I knew Neverwhere existed, I just didn't pay attention until recently. I love discovering new authors and books, and one good thing about books is they never go out of style. A book written 100 years ago waits until we find it, like me with Middlemarch. I still can't get over how good it is!

I really enjoyed the Black Jewels trilogy when I read it a few years ago, too.

Susan said...

PS I'm glad you enjoyed Sunshine, I've seen a few bloggers who don't particularly like it.

JaneGS said...

Susan - Here's my Amazon review of the Year of Wonders:

I absolutely loved this book until the ending. While reading it, I kept on telling everyone who would listen how good it was-I loved the writing, the subject matter, the characters, the history, the mood, the tone, the title. And then I read the last section and epilogue and cringed as a great story became nothing more than a soap opera.

Survival isn't just staying alive, it's keeping the values of your society intact and passing on the learnings from one generation to the next. With her botched ending, Brooks undercut this theme and destroyed Anna's integrity as a character.

I wish I could rave about this book-and I can, three-quarters of it is outstanding-but Brooks fell down on the last part and shortchanged her readers.

Most haunting image--when Anna described her mother looking through the bars of the branks that her father put on her for cursing him in public. It is for images like this that I can still recommend this flawed book.

It's been awhile since I read it, but my overall impression is that the ending was inconsistent with how I saw Anna and what I thought Brooks was trying to say with her story.