My Favourite Reads: 2009

Thanks to recommendations from book bloggers I have read a higher quality of books than ever before. I’ve already posted my list of favourite books published in 2009, but here are the ones I enjoyed reading most, whenever thay happened to be published.


Blindness – José Saramago

Out – Natsuo Kirino

Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes






Stone’s Fall – Iain Pears 

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Generation A – Douglas Coupland


The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey

Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith (Audio Book)

The Other Hand – Chris Cleave

2666 – Roberto Bolaño

If you are interested in seeing how I rated other books I’ve read, then please look at my new reviews by rating page. 

I have also created a page which shows all my reviews by title, or author surname. You can also find these pages by clicking on the Books Reviewed tab in the top right-hand corner of my blog.

Do you like my new pages?

Have you read any of my favourite books?

Have a fantastic New Year!

I look forward to sharing many more book recommendations with you in 2010!

Other Recommended books

Recommendations from a non-blogger #2

You may remember the wonderful guest post in which Heidi recommended her favourite books. I loved it so much, that I would like to make this a regular (monthly?) feature on my blog.

This month I’m featuring Susan, another regular reader of my blog. Susan has lived in Texas all her life. She is a retired teacher sharing an apartment with 2500 books.  She spends much of her time reading — about 80 to 100 books year.

Here are her favourite books: 


Regeneration by Pat Barker  

Dr. W. H. R. Rivers is one of my favorite fictional/historical characters.   I love the other two books in the trilogy as well, but my interest in the poetry of that period always brings me back to this one.


Annie Dunne by Sebastian Barry   

The contrasts are startling . . . light and dark, young and old, the ancient ways and the hints of modern times, the deformed old hag of a woman and Sebastian Barry’s graceful, lyrical prose.   My favorite thing about the book is that the mysteries involving the children are never solved — there is no sentimentality here, no false happy ending.   Who but Barry could tell this story?   The older I get, the more the story means to me, the closer I feel to Annie, the more grateful I am to Sebastian Barry for giving us this beautiful story.


The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Didion’s writing — her distinctive literary voice — has been part of my world since I read Play It As It Lays in 1971.   I was just out of college and that book, together with Didion’s essays, had a profound influence on my literary taste and outlook.   Now, all these years later — as I face the death of my parents and my own problems with aging — there is Didion again with this gift of a book to light my way.


The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

Levi the chemist and Levi the master storyteller and Levi the Holocaust survivor combine to give us twenty-one tales — each named for a chemical element — that weave memoir and imagination and humor and terror and science and remembrances of friends long departed.  These stories aren’t easy — you have to work at them sometimes — but the rewards are beyond measure.


So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

This is a book about the hold that the past has over us, the way the fragments of childhood memories and dreams haunt us long after we are grown and life has taken us — or so we thought anyway — far from home and the child we used to be.


The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

The main character is Sepha Stephanos, an Ethiopian immigrant to the United States.  He has come to that place where all immigrants must come — that threshold where he is neither Ethiopian nor American.   The neighborhood he lives in, like the young man, is caught between cultures  — an old, rather poor part of Washington, D. C., that has been discovered by the developers who are evicting the poor and creating lofts and houses for a wealthier clientele.   Sepha’s relationships — with the customers in his small grocery store, with a wealthy woman who has moved into one of the new houses, with the woman’s biracial daughter, and perhaps best of all, with other young immigrants from Africa — reveal so much about him, and about all the people who struggle to find a home, to make a place for themselves.   The young author has taken on so much in this first novel and the result is a brave book, a work of incredible beauty.  


The Habit of Being by Flannery O’Connor

I owned this book for many years before I found the nerve to begin.  I feared that the collected letters of a writer whose work I barely knew would be tedious and full of references I wouldn’t understand.   Eventually I set myself the task of reading a few of the letters each day.   Rather quickly it came to be my favorite part of the day and though there were times I wanted to go ahead and read them all in one weekend, I realized how lost I’d be without her letters to inspire and delight and illuminate, so I continued to ration them, five or six a day.   In a way, I think Flannery became my best friend for awhile and I missed her terribly when the letters came to an end.   She died in 1964 at age 39.  


The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

This is a story about memory and family and numbers and — please don’t let this put you off — baseball.   The numbers and baseball are important but not in the way you might think.    What matters here are the characters and the bond they develop despite an enormous challenge they must overcome every 80 minutes. A beautiful book. 


Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

It’s just what it sounds like: the local Red Lobster is closing and the manager and his staff are dealing with their regular duties, customers, a snowstorm, the Christmas holidays and their feelings about being unemployed or demoted or having to change jobs.   Not much of a story really and yet I admire this book so much.  I think Stewart O’Nan captures the reality of such a place and of the people who work there.   There’s no condescension in this book, just quiet empathy.  


One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty

This is a lovely remembrance of the early influences on the career of a great American storyteller, her own account of how she developed as a writer.   The three parts of the book are:  Listening, Learning to See, Finding a Voice.   The passage in part one about Eudora as a little girl, sitting on the stairs buttoning her shoes, listening to her parents — one upstairs, one down — whistling to one another, is amazing,  something I go back to again and again.

This is a fantastic list, but although many are buried in my TBR pile, I haven’t read any of them yet. I will make the effort to seek out as many as I can and make reading them a priority.

Thank you so much Susan!

Have you read any of the books on this list?

Are any in your top ten list?

Orange Prize Recommended books Richard and Judy Book Club

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Read-along Complete!

Winner of the Orange Prize 2007





The second half of this book was very different from the first. I actually found it quite difficult to read in places, as it was so emotional. The suffering of the Biafran people, as they were murdered, abused and starved was heart breaking to read. This book really highlights the horror of war, the way people abuse their power, and the depths they will stoop to in order to survive.

Sometimes it was the simplest of quotes which conveyed the strongest message:

“How have you been, my brother?”
“We did not die,” he said.

If any further explanation had been given, it would have in some way belittled the events they experienced. If the only good thing you can say is that you did not die then, the magnitude of the devastation is enforced.

In my first post, many of you said that you thought my high opinion of Ugwu would change when I read the final section of the book. I don’t want to give anything away, as I realise that there are still lots of you out there who haven’t read this yet, but Ugwu remains my favourite character. I know he did a terrible thing, but I can understand how peer pressure and war can make people do things they would never normally do. Ugwu felt immense guilt and remorse afterwards, and because of this I will forgive him. It actually makes me feel more compassion for him, as I think he will suffer from the guilt of his actions for the rest of his life.

In my first post I also stated that the female characters didn’t come across very strongly. I have to say that in the second half of the book they came into their own. Each and every one of them showed an inner strength that I admire. By the end of the book I loved every single character in some way. Perhaps it is just that everyone who has had to endure the horrors that they did gains sympathy in my eyes, and are stronger because of the things they have gone through. Is this wrong? Or do you think that war can turn everyone into better people?

The one thing I didn’t like was the way they referred to the six-year-old girl as Baby. For a long time I assumed she was a baby, and it really threw me when I first realised how old she was. This is probably some symbolism I just don’t understand – so please bear with me!

I can’t say that I ever really enjoyed reading this book. I am really pleased that I read it, but the subject matter was so distressing that I don’t feel I can recommend it to everyone. The fear oozes from every word:

The first explosion sounded distant. Others followed, closer, louder, and the earth shook. Voices around her were shouting, ‘Lord Jesus! Lord Jesus!’ Her bladder felt painfully, solidly full, as though it would burst and release not urine but the garbled prayers she was muttering.

This really is an incredible book though, the writing is powerful, the characters realistic and multi-layered – the only thing this book is lacking is happiness.

It will become a classic. Highly recommended.




What did you think of this book?

Will it still be read 50 years from now?

Did you find it distressing to read?

2009 Recommended books Short Story

The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is the best selection of short stories I have ever read! Chimamanda’s ability to draw you into each of the characters in such a small space of time is phenomenal. The short stories are focused upon Nigerian life, but many of them are based in the west. The balance between tragedy and happiness is perfect, leading to a book which does not dwell on hardship, but shows vivid glimpses of it, making the messages come across far more powerfully than continual horrific scenes.

Each story is unique, and although they all contain Nigerian characters, none have the same atmosphere or feel like repetitions of the same idea. The book is very easy to read, and is the perfect introduction to her writing style, as Half of a Yellow Sun, although I’m sure it will be amazing, is very long. 

The only flaw in this book is that I was left yearning to know more about each character. I could easily have read whole novels based on each short story, in fact I’d be happy to read a book written by her once a month for the rest of my life! She gets my vote for a Nobel Prize – how many books do you have to have written to qualify as a ‘body of work?’  Sorry for gushing, but talent like this needs to be read by everyone!

Highly recommended to everyone!!


I’m really looking forward to reading Half of a Yellow Sun next week, and hope it will have the character depth and plot complexity to become my third, five star read of the year.

Is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie one of your favourite authors?

Which of her books do you like the best?

Will you be rushing out to buy a copy of this one as soon as  it is released?

If you can’t wait until June then you could order a copy from the UK – just click on the book cover above!

Have you ever ordered a copy of a book from another country, just to get it a few weeks earlier?

I’ve ordered a copy of Sarah Water’s new book, The Little Stranger from America, just so I can read it a few weeks before it is released here in the UK!!

I look forward to hearing all your thoughts!

Booker Prize Recommended books

The Secret River – Kate Grenville

Winner of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize 2006
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2006




William Thornhill is born into poverty, in 19th century London; to survive he turns to crime. One night he is caught stealing from his employer, and sentenced to death.  He pleads for mercy, and manages to escape the rope by agreeing to be sent, with his family, to Australia. Once they arrive in this strange, hot country they find that they face new battles for survival, against the mysterious native black people.

This book is really easy to read, the simplicity of the prose was reminiscent of Mudbound, by Hilary Jordan, which although written about a different continent, contains many of the same powerful messages about the humanity of different cultures. 

The Secret River is a fascinating insight into what life was like for the first settlers of New South Wales.  William Thornhill is one of the first white people to cultivate the land, fencing in his crops. This quickly leads to animosity, and ultimately tragedy, as the nomadic society, who gather food wherever they can, object to their land being taken from them. Kate Grenville’s portrayal of the aboriginal people is touching; she shows them as a proud people, at one with nature. She beautifully describes the conflict between the two cultures; showing how each is affected by the others actions, and giving no prejudice to either side.

I really enjoyed reading this book, the characters were well developed, and I didn’t envy the difficult descisions they had to make.  The plot was fast moving, and the end rounded everything off well. I was pleased that it was tinged with hope, as I was expecting it to be very bleak.

Highly recommended to all fans of historical fiction.

This is the first book by Kate Grenville that I have read, but I will be keeping an eye out for all of her other books, as I enjoyed this one so much.

Have you read any books written by Kate Grenville? If so, which one did you enjoy the most?

Recommended books Thriller

Little Face – Sophie Hannah

Little Face is the best thriller I have read in a very long time. It begins with Alice returning from her first anxious trip away from her newborn baby. She returns home to discover the front door of her house open, and her husband asleep. When she rushes to greet her baby in the nursery, she is shocked to discover that it doesn’t look like the one she left just a short time ago. No-one believes that her baby has disappeared, assuming she is just a paranoid new mother. It is only when further unexplained events start to occur, that they wonder what the truth really is….

The writing was incredibly easy to read. I flew through the pages, as I was so keen to discover what was really happening. There were many points when I thought I’d worked in out, but as with all great thrillers I didn’t get close!

This is more than just a straight crime novel, there are many elements of psychology in here. The almost obsessive behaviour of a new mother is well observed, and I empathized immensely with the central character, Alice, as she struggles with the thought that her husband may have swapped her baby. The relationships between the members of the dysfunctional family were very credible, and the interfering mother-in-law reminded me of many stories I have heard from new mothers recently.

Unlike much of the crime fiction I have read recently this contained no unlikely coincidences. The plot was as realistic as it is possible to get, while retaining many clever twists.

Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys well written thrillers, or has an interest in the psychology of new mothers.

I’d like to thank Simon for recommending Sophie Hannah to me. I will be reading all her books as soon as I get my hands on them!