My favourite books of 2012

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Every year I set myself a target of reading 52 books – one a week – and every year I’ve fallen short of the mark …. until now. Out of the 52 books I read in 2012 there were some classics, some stinkers, some that made me cry and some that have stayed with me. Here, in no particular order (actually, in the order I read them), are the ten books that made the biggest impact on me last year, along with some extracts from the reviews I gave them on Goodreads.

The Top Ten

1. Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes


Excellent book on a very tough subject, domestic violence. Having survived a violent relationship myself I found it difficult to read at times but thought it was very well observed. The format of the story kept the tension running high and I thought it worked really well. The characters were really well developed … “Lee” made my flesh crawl – so charming, so clever, so brutal, so clinical, such a bastard. The ending was quite shocking too, I certainly didn’t see it coming.

Reading the author’s notes at the end, I was really surprised to learn that this was a NaNoWriMo story – and even more surprised when I discovered that I had actually “known” the author through an online comminity for years! I can also recommend Haynes’ second novel, Revenge of the Tide, which is equally as good.

2. Me Before You – Jojo Moyes


Me Before You revolves around Lou, a small town girl who starts working as a caret for Will, a quadriplegic guy. Though Will is frosty to her at the beginning, over time he thaws out a little and a beautiful friendship develops. However, the relationship is tinged with sadness, for Will has decided to take his own life at Dignitas, and Lou’s employment is his parents’ last chance to get him to change his mind.

The characters in this book are incredibly strong and real and I found myself caught up in the relationship and willing things to turn out okay. All in all this is an amazing book, a love story on the surface but one that deals with some really serious issues and has you questioning your own beliefs and thinking about what you would do if you were in the shoes of Will or his parents.

3. In Search of Adam – Caroline Smailes

This is an extraordinary book, even more so when you realise it is the author’s debut novel. In Search of Adam isn’t an easy read – it deals with child abuse, paedophilia, mental health issues and much more. However, the characters are incredibly strong and though this is (presumably) fictional, you just know that all over the country/world there are kids going through exactly the same experiences. There were scenes in this book that truly shocked me and it left me feeling upset and deeply unsettled.If you’re looking for something light and fluffy this definitely isn’t for you – but if you’re prepared to jolted back to reality with a sickening thud give this a go.

4. Every Last One – Anne Quindlen

I picked this up as a Kindle freebie solely because I needed an author beginning with Q for my 101 things in 1001 days challenge and I knew little about it before I began reading it, other than it was about an American family and an event. Looking back I’m glad I didnt know and I’d strongly recommend you learn as little as you can about this book before you read it.

The first half of the book is languorously slow, beautifully detailed and gradually builds up a portrait of a family who are perfect in their imperfection. They are just an ordinary family – they could be yours. They could be mine. Then something happens – and it’s a really big, life-changing something. The remainder of the novel looks at how the family deal with the event, and once again it’s almost luxuriously detailed – this is an author who uses ten words where many would use two, but not a single word is wasted.

This book wasn’t perfect, but overall it was a tremendous read and I would recommend it to others – though if you like action you’ll probably be disappointed.

5. Ten Years On – Alice Peterson

I thought this was going to be your average chick lit novel but was pleasantly surprised – this is more about grief than romance and its an intelligent, emotional read. Rebecca and Ollie have been together since university and have a perfect life – until Ollie dies in a motorbike accident and Rebecca discovers she’s pregnant. Grieving for her husband, she returns to her childhood home and encounters Joe, another university friend who disappeared suddenly ten years ago. As the story unfolds we find out what happened to make Joe leave and what can happen to help Rebecca move on. It’s a sensitively told story which, while holding no major surprises, is written tenderly.

6. The Glass Guardian – Linda Gillard

I’ve been a fan of Linda Gillard for a long time, and this, her latest book, didn’t disappoint.

Following the sudden deaths of her partner, father and beloved aunt in the space of nine months, Ruth moves to the house she inherits on Skye to grieve. However, given the way death seems to follow her around it’s hardly a surprise when things start to go bump in the night … What starts off feeling like a traditional ghost story develops into something much deeper as Ruth comes face to face with two very different friends from her childhood and starts to explore her aunt’s musical career and family history, following an interesting email from a musicologist in Canada.

It’s difficult to say more about this beautiful book without giving things away so all I will say is read it – it combines Scottish scenery, history, war, love, music and the paranormal in interesting ways that will make you a huge fan of Linda Gillard if you’re not already!

I know Linda has had a tough year dealing with cancer but is back writing again … I wish her all the best and am looking forward to the next book!

7. The Missing – Karl Vadaszffy

Another Kindle freebie picked up to fulfill one of the trickier letters of the alphabet for 101 in 1001. As ever with freebies I didn’t know what to expect from this. I was pleasantly surprised as this is a really well written, tight thriller that hooked me in very quickly. The story progresses at a fast pace, but the author also manages to portray the characters in a very effective way, so you get a real feel for who they are and how they will react to situations. This is a real page turner with lots of twists and a few unpleasant moments. I felt the ending was a bit rushed – the explanation seemed to be almost an afterthought – but overall this was a thrilling read and I’ll definitely look out for this author again.

8. Lighter Shades of Grey – Cassandra Parkin

I have resisted the urge to experience the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon – if I want to read porn I know a good website 😉 – but I did find Cassandra Parkin’s “Lighter Shades of Grey” very entertaining because Parkin basically rips apart EL James’ writing style, proving that (a) it is a really badly written book (b) her characters are about as unrealistic as they could possibly be and (c) she’s doing a great job of pushing feminism back 50 years! Some of the extracts from the original book, accompanied by Parkin’s dry commentary, made me laugh out loud and I would recommend everyone reads this, whether you’re a fan of the original book or not. My only criticism is it was too short … I was left wanting more!

9. The Curiosity Cabinet – Catherine Czerkawska

My first encounter with this author and I hope it won’t be my last. I thoroughly enjoyed The Curiosity Cabinet which combined two love stories set 300 years apart with some mild intrigue and beautifully described scenery. In the present, Alys has travelled to a Hebridean island where she spent some holidays in her childhood. She is fascinated by the “curiosity cabinet” in the lobby of her hotel, and its owner, who turns out to be her childhood friend. In the past Henrietta has been kidnapped by the domineering Manus, laird of the island, and separated from her young son.  I loved all the characters and enjoyed the way the two stories weave together and the synchronicity between the present day story and the past.

10. Sky Burial – Xinran

This is the fantastical – yet apparently true – tale of Shuwen, a Chinese doctor whose husband is killed in mysterious circumstances while serving with the army in Tibet. Determined to find ot what happen, ShuWen joins the army herself and arranges to be posted to Tibet to search for her husband. Shortly after arriving in this strange country Shuwen becomes separated from her unit and, close to death, she is rescued by a Tibetan princess. Together they search for refuge, eventually finding a farming family who look after them for many years. During this time Shuwen learns about the Tibetan culture and way of life, becomes a Buddhist and eventually discovers her husband’s fate.

While this is only a short book it is one that touched me deeply. I know nothing of Tibet and was fascinated by the culture, traditions and religion, and the scenery was painted in such a way that I could imagine I was there. One of the criticisms of the book is that Shuwen tells her story without emotion, and I can imagine that, given she had only just arrived back in China after thirty uears in Tibet when she spoke to Xinran, she probably hadn’t had time to process everything that had happened. However, the fact that she does just narrate the tale gives me the chance to examine my own emotions and wonder how I would have felt and what I would have done in her circumstances – which makes the telling of her tale really powerful and a story that will remain with me for a long time.

Classic literature

I wasnt sure whether to incude the following books in the list because they are classics and I want my list to reflect more modern authors (and perhaps some you’ve not encountered before) but these three all deserve recognition, not least because I claim not to like “the classics” but loved these!

The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

Other recommendations

I’d also like to mention a few other authors. One of the joys of the Kindle is that there are so many free books out there. Many of them are dross, some could be good if the authors had employed a good proofreader (!) but I have found a few hidden gems along the way. Three authors in particular have become favourites of mine – Scott Mariani, Terry Tyler and Nick Alexander. While their books just missed out on making the top ten, in each case the downloading of a free book has resulted in me buying three or more other books because they made that much of an impression on me!

 

So there you go – my literary round up of 2012. Have you read any of these? What was your own personal favourite for the year? What would you recommend I read in 2013? Do leave comments!

 

My 2012 review part two

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JULY

July was a busy month on the work front, with not much time for anything else. In July I attended my first Aquafit class and really enjoyed it. Steve and I spent a damp day at Fairford for the air show and the month ended with a very last minute decision to attend Truck Festival – a good decision, as it turned out, as we had a great time and discovered the amazing Man Like Me. Dan’s annual presentation assembly made a proud mum of me, and we all celebrated my niece Abigail’s fifth birthday at her party.

AUGUST

Holiday!! Following a brief visit a couple of years ago we decided to spend a week in New Quay, Wales and despite the dreadful weather forecast we had a fab time. The weather was pretty good, with only one partially wet day and two or three very hot days. We enjoyed lazy days on the beach, evenings in the pub, a long and exhausting (but rewarding) walk round a waterfall, a boat trip to (not) see the dolphins and seals, an hour’s sea kayaking and an early morning walk along the cliffs (where we saw both seals and dolphins!) After the holiday I spent a day on an art journalling workshop, which was the start of a whole new hobby; the kids and I had a marvellous time at Thorpe Park, where Katie and I managed to get Dan on ALL the rides; I went up in a helicopter, thanks to the team at the Uffington White Horse Show; and we all went to cousin Jonny and Kirsty’s wedding party. We also watched plenty of Olympic action and revelled in Team GB’s brilliance!

SEPTEMBER

September began with yet another unforgettable experience – a day at the Paralympics! Katie, Dan and I saw 7 aside football in the Riverside Arena, goalball in the Copperbox and ended the day with a memorable evening in the Olympic Stadium cheering on everyone, including Oscar Pistorius! It was a truly amazing day, made even more special by the volunteer Gamesmakers. I will never forget high fiving them all on the way back to the station at the end of a wonderful day! Other events this month included a family meal for for my dad’s 70th birthday; Katie, Mum and I went to Bath Thermae Spa for some relaxation the rooftop pool and did some pre-uni Ikea shopping; and I also took Katie and her friend to the Harry Potter Studios, which was another memorable day – we all cried when we turned a corner and found ourselves in Diagon Alley! Our final weekend as a family was spent in Oxford watching Alphabet Backwards – that was a good night. The month was tinged with sadness too as I drove Katie down to Brighton to begin a psychology degree at the University of Sussex – I’m immensely proud of her but the house is very quiet without her!

OCTOBER

Fortunately I had a lot of work on in October, which took my mind off missing Katie a bit. She came home for a weekend, which was lovely but made me miss her more! On the home front we went to the rather disappointing Wantage Apple Festival, watched Torquay play Wycome Wanderers, Dan celebrated his birthday with a meal at Chiquitos and I went for a curry with an old friend. Dan spent a few days in Brighton visiting Katie, and Steve and I spent a day in London visiting the V&A and Science Museum and eating a delicious Argentinian steak dinner in South Kensington! We also went to our first (and only) British Touring Car event of the year, at Silverstone.

NOVEMBER

The highlight of November was a three day trip to Brighton mainly to start writing my first book (Living with a child with ADHD) but also to visit Katie. We had a good evening in the student union bar, ate at Fatboy Slim’s Japanese restaurant, drank coffee on the Bedouin seating in Naked and spent a happy couple of hours exploring the Laines. I also got over 12,000 words written! The rest of the month was pretty quiet, apart from my other niece’s 3rd birthday party, an auction, a couple of visits to a new Faringdon women’s group,  a blood doning session and the spoiling of my ballot paper at the first ever police commissioner elections.

DECEMBER

And so to December. It started with another trip to Kent for a 40s themed 40th birthday party, which was a fun night, and a trip round Canterbury Cathedral, which was awe inspiring. I picked Katie up from Brighton for the holidays and did some Xmas shopping. There was a small but select meeting and Xmas lunch for a networking group I attend, a panto in Aylesbury and a rather raucous pub quiz night. Steve and I spent a very civilised Sunday drinking beer and watching Sightseers at the Phoenix Picture House in Oxford. And finally Xmas was spent with family both up here and in Devon, and was very enjoyable.

During the year I’ve kept a “trophy board” where all the evidence of my life is on display. it5’s been a fantastic way of looking abck on the months and realising that life is good. The photo below is my completed 2012 trophy board … impressive, huh! And if you want to know more about trophy boards you really need to read How to Do Everything and Be Happy by Peter Jones :)

And that’s about it for 2012! It’s been a busy, exciting year, full of changes and fun. What will 2013 hold? We’ve already got a couple of things booked – a painting workshop in January and a holiday in Cromer in the summer. We’ll have to see what else comes along ….

Happy New Year!

 

My 2012 review part one

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So it’s nearly New Year’s Eve, a time to look back and reflect on the year gone by and look forward to the next one. I know some people have had a tough time – and I hope next year is much better for them – but for me personally it’s been pretty good, with lots of new experiences and fun along the way. Here’s what I got up to in 2012.

JANUARY

January was all about moving house. Steve and I decided to rent a place together so we spent many hours sorting, decluttering and packing our respective homes before finally moving in together at the end of the month. And I have to say it seems to have been the right move for us all! Before the move we did celebrate my birthday with a trip to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea beat Portsmouth in the FA Cup 3rd round, followed by a very good Thai meal.

FEBRUARY

Following the house move we all felt we’d earned a holiday – so in February the four of us flew off to Egypt for some sea, sun, snorkelling and scuba diving. It was fab showing the kids round “our” Dahab and as well as doing plenty of water sports and a lot of relaxing, we also took some quad bikes up into the mountains, which is an experience we won’t forget! We also did some very grown up furniture shopping …

 

MARCH

March was all about getting down to business, with new client meetings, a trip to London for the Business 2012 show and a new home office. There was time for fun too – family over for lunch and to test out our new dining table and chairs, a Los Campesinos! gig in Oxford, an exhilarating RIB boat trip on the Solent (Steve’s Xmas present), football (Swindon vs Torquay) and an amazing firewalk, where I really did face my fears and walk on burning coals 😀

APRIL

April was a quieter month as we were gearing up for the event of the year – Katie’s 18th birthday party! She and a friend had a joint Harry Potter themed party and it was a resounding success. We also managed a gig – John Bramwell from I Am Kloot, saw Oxford Utd vs Torquay, watched the Hunger Games and I gave blood.

MAY

May began with Katie’s birthday, a trip to Chiquitos and her first legal alcoholic drink! Steve’s family visited the same weekend and we had a very wild and drunken night at home, definitely making it a birthday to remember. This was also the month when Chelsea won the Champions League and we watched the match in a pub in Oxford, before catching the end of an Admiral Fallow gig. There was more football fun as Steve and I went to Cheltenham to see them play the mighty Gulls.The month ended with a fun Eurovision party down in Kent. There was also plenty of work going on, including a 4Networking team training event, an interview to  on Faringdon Radio to talk about my (now defunct) Jelly group and a marketing workshop. And (much to my mum’s horror!) I got a tattoo…

JUNE

In June I successfully failed to organise a Canons High School 25 year reunion, with lots of people saying they’d come but only a handful actually turning up! It was fun, even though I didn’t actually remember half the people there … We also spent a weekend in Sheffield visiting Steve’s family, which included a walk round the Botanical Gardens in the rain; Steve and I went to our first ever auction; I was thrilled to attend the launch party for Lisa Cherry’s first book Soul Journey, which I both edited and was a contributor too; Steve and I spent a day in London visiting the Damian Hirst exhibition at Tate Modern; and I delivered my first ever workshop as part of a Social Media Insight Day.

So that was the first half of 2012 … Pretty busy! The remaining six months will follow tomorrow.