17 January 2020

My Top 10 Books of the Decade (2010 - 2019)

This list is my own personal top 10 favourite books of the decade. This list has been drawn from the books I've read during the last ten years, and isn't a list of the best published books of the decade. Each book chosen has stood the test of time in my own personal reading experience. Some were new releases, some were backlist and some were published decades (or in one case more than 100 years) ago.

Here are my Top 10 Books of the Decade (2010 - 2019) in the order I read them:

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton book cover

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

A dual narrative historical fiction novel about a 4yo girl abandoned on a ship bound for Australia in 1913.

Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K Jerome

Published in 1889, this Penguin Classic is about a trip up the Thames river by three men and is an absolute hoot.

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

An historical fiction fairytale retelling of Rapunzel full of passion, love, hardship, revenge and redemption.

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

A uniquely Australian novel about two families. Incredibly memorable and moving.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I don't read much science fiction but this was MacGyver in space with an awesome sense of humour.

Stoner by John Williams

A deeply honest portrait of an average man told with such care and beauty that the ending brought a tear to my eye.

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

The only non fiction book of the list, I learned a lot about myself and others in this book and still think about it every few days.

The Corset by Laura Purcell

A Victorian gothic thriller about secrets, friendship, needlework, gruesome hardship, betrayal, revenge, redemption, hope, poison and mystery with an ending that made me gasp.

The Binding by Bridget Collins book cover

The Binding by Bridget Collins

A combination of fantasy and historical fiction about the art of binding memories into a book.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

A young adult fantasy novel about a boy who grows up in a library and is obsessed by the mysteries surrounding the lost city of Weep.

Thoughts?

Wow, what an eclectic list! What are your thoughts? It was great to see three Australian authors on the list and a good combination of genres represented. 

An honourable mention should go to one of my favourite authors Philippa Gregory. Two of her books were included on my Top 5 books of 2015 and 2016 respectively, but she just missed out on making it onto my Top 10 Books of the Decade. 

Have you read any of the books on my Top 10 list?

Carpe Librum!

15 January 2020

2019 Reading Stats

I love hearing about the reading stats of others and it's been a while since I've shared my own so here we go. 2019 was a record breaking year of reading for me. I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms and I'm sure this was directly responsible for my increased reading results.

I read a new personal best of 75 books in 2019.

Gender

Carpe Librum 2019 Reading Stats Gender
Gender never influences my reading choices but I continued to track my reading by gender in 2019. 69% of the books I read were written by female authors, 26% by male authors and 5% by more than one author. I was surprised to have read predominantly female authors and I will aim to have more balance in 2020. I'd like to make the point that my participation in the Australian Women Writer's Challenge has no influence on my choosing to read more women than men.

Author

I also find it interesting to track whether an author is new to me or not and in 2019, 71% of the authors I read were new to me, meaning the remaining 29% of books I read were by authors I've read before.

Genre
Carpe Librum 2019 Reading Stats Genre

What did I read? Historical fiction formed the greatest portion of my reading at 20%; not surprising given it's my favourite genre. Non fiction formed 12% of my reading for the year which I'm very happy with.

Fiction and crime fiction formed 30% of my reading - 15% each respectively - and next was true crime which formed 7% of my reading.

Source

In 2018, review books from publishers, publicists and authors formed 79% of my reading while books I owned formed 13% and books borrowed from friends or the library constituted the remaining 8% of books. I began 2019 wanting to read more from my own TBR pile, so how did I do? Review books formed 75% of books read in 2019 so I managed to achieve a small reduction which is good. I also managed to increase the owned books I read to 21% and I can see a visual reduction in my physical TBR as a consequence which is fantastic.

In 2020, I aim to read at least one of my own backlist books every month. (E.g. not a new release or review book).
Carpe Librum 2019 Reading Stats Books Per Month

Carpe Librum 2019 Reading Stats Pages Per Month

Monthly stats

You can see a corresponding trend in the two graphs above between books read per month and pages read per month. May was my best reading month of the year in terms of both number of books read and number of pages read with August being the worst.

Reading

On average I read 73 pages per day in 2019 and managed to get through one book every 5 days. I know I could read more if I went to bed earlier, but that's always the challenge isn't it? The average book length for me was 357 pages.

Ratings

In 2019 I gave 12 books a rating of 5 stars. This equates to 16% of my total reading and is considerably lower than 27% in 2018. My average star rating for the year was 3.5 stars and I'm quite happy with that because it means when I give a book a 4 or 5 star rating, it definitely stands out from the rest.

Giveaways

In 2019 I ran 9 giveaways and enjoyed giving away $360 worth of books and prizes. I'm already organising the first giveaway for 2020 and you can keep track of events on my giveaways page.

Tracking

It was my second year recording my data in the stats spreadsheet provided by Portal in the Pages and I look forward to using it again in 2020. Sophie provides the spreadsheet free of charge every year for booklovers to use and personalise and it's a lot of fun to track your reading habits and achievements.

Feel free to check out my Reading Year in Review on GoodReads too, where you'll see everything I read in a snapshot. Otherwise I'm looking forward to another productive year of reading. Do you track your reading stats?

Carpe Librum!


10 January 2020

Review: A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski

A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Women's literature isn't a favourite genre of mine, so when I received A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski for review back in June 2018, I wasn't in any particular hurry to get to it. An intriguing premise and beautiful cover held promise I might enjoy this, but I haven't picked it up until now in a concerted effort in 2020 to try and reduce my unsolicited TBR pile.

Mature female characters Adele, Ros, Simone and Judy have belonged to an online book club for years but have never met face-to-face. When Adele agrees to house-sit a property in the Blue Mountains, she decides on a whim to invite the other three women for a bookclub getaway. All four women are facing different challenges in their lives, and accept the invitation for different reasons.

The trip will be about rest, recreation and reading. Each woman is to bring along a book for bookclub that tells the group something about themselves and enough copies for all participants to read. Taking it in turns, the women will read a book a week and discuss one each Sunday, hence the title, A Month of Sundays.

Once I was able to keep the characters' lives straight in my head, I warmed to the setting and social interaction between the women quite quickly. Their book discussions were my favourite part of the novel - naturally - and their growing friendships were a 'feel good' guilty pleasure.

The problems each of the characters were dealing with were of interest, despite the fact that the women were at least two decades or more older than me. The familiar Australian setting of the Blue Mountains was also a plus.

A Month of Sundays by Australian author Liz Byrski is a novel about ageing, the joy of reading and the importance of deep and meaningful friendships. It was an unexpected delight to read and I can highly recommend it.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

05 January 2020

Top 5 Books of 2019

I read a new personal best of 75 books in 2019, however only 12 books earned a 5 star rating. Having fewer 5 star reads did make the selection of my Top 5 Books of 2019 a little easier, however I'd like to reiterate this list has been drawn from the books I read in 2019; they weren't all published in 2019.

Here are my Top 5 Books of 2019 in the order I read them:

1. The Binding by Bridget Collins

The Binding by Bridget Collins cover
This was one of my most anticipated reads for 2019 and I loved it. In this world, books are forbidden and the profession of bookbinder is akin to that of a witch. A binder has the power to take a traumatic memory - or series of memories - and erase it from a person's mind by binding it into a book. Those suffering grief and trauma often seek the services of a binder, despite being shrouded in superstition and plagued by prejudice.

I enjoyed reading about Emmett's apprenticeship to Seredith and was pleasantly surprised to learn Collins is an amateur bookbinder herself. Her experience in this field clearly shines through.

The Binding is a combination of fantasy and historical fiction or historical fiction meets urban fantasy and I loved that it contained hints of folklore and myth whilst remaining rooted in reality.

2. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor cover
This is a Young Adult fantasy novel and I haven't been this impressed by an author's imagination and world building since reading my first Harry Potter.

Our main character Lazlo Strange is a war orphan raised in a monastery and library by monks. He has an active imagination, grew up fascinated by stories and comes to work at the Great Library of Zosma. Strange is obsessed with the mysteries of the lost city of Weep and is determined to find out what happened there. Perfect premise right?

Full of magic, gods, alchemists, scholars, myths and legends, Strange the Dreamer is overflowing with the most amazing writing that made me feel as though I were immersed inside a fairytale.

3. Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir

Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir cover
Historical fiction author Alison Weir is no stranger to my Top 5 book lists, two years ago she featured in my Top 5 Books of 2017 with Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession and she's done it again. Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets is the fourth in the Six Tudor Queens series and is the story of Anna of Kleve, or Anne of Cleves as most of us know her.

In this historical fiction imagining of her life in the 1500s, Weir has provided an alternate history for Anna of Kleve. It is well known Henry VIII had their arranged marriage annulled and Anna was known from then on as the King's Beloved Sister. However Alison Weir takes us beyond this turning point in her life all the way through until King Henry's death in 1547 and Anna’s own death a decade later in 1557.

Thanks to Hachette Australia for this copy, I eagerly await the next in the series due to be published in 2020, Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen.

4. Snake Island by Ben Hobson

Snake Island by Ben Hobson cover
A bitter dispute between the Cahills and the Moore family drives this fast-paced crime thriller. Set in regional Victoria where I grew up, the feud is fuelled by small town gossip and a sense of family loyalty by both families.

The situation goes from bad to worse, others get caught up in the mess and I was on edge the entire time wanting to know what was going to happen.

Each of the characters is flawed in their own way and each made decisions that either failed to halt the crisis or added fuel to the fire. Each character was memorable and realistic as they explored the often complex relationships between fathers and sons as well as themes of duty, forgiveness, regret, retribution, the cycle of violence, familial love and legacy.

Snake Island by Ben Hobson (courtesy of Allen & Unwin) was a terrific rural thriller and you can read my interview with the author here.

5. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware book cover
This is gothic domestic noir meets creepy psychological thriller and I absolutely loved it. The novel starts with a live-in nanny (Rowan) accused of being responsible for the death of one of the children in her care at Heatherbrae House in a remote area in Scotland. The novel is her account of the events.

Heatherbrae House is a newly renovated smart house and is run via the use of a smart app. Previous nannies haven’t stayed long and things begin to go wrong in the house fairly early on. The writing is perfectly paced with an unexpected juxtaposition of the old and new parts of the house leading to a creepy and unsettling atmosphere.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (thanks to Penguin Random House Australia) had an ending that took my breath away and made it an instant addition to my Top 5 list for the year.
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Have you read any of the books on this list? What were your favourite reads in 2019?

Carpe Librum!

01 January 2020

Review: Fucking Good Manners by Simon Griffin

Fucking Good Manners by Simon Griffin cover
RRP $19.99 AUD
Published November 2019
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

After the demonstrably successful Fucking Apostrophes in 2016, Simon Griffin is back with Fucking Good Manners. December is the perfect time of year for a laugh. Everyone is busy, it's hot and hectic and there's quite a bit of argy bargy when it comes to Christmas shopping and being considerate of others. Griffin acknowledges that we can ALL do better when it comes to our manners and sets out to demonstrate.

Chapter headings like public transport, driving, public toilets, queuing, the workplace and social media give the reader an accurate picture of what will follow.

Griffin quickly identifies many of our pet hates when it comes to dealing with others (family, friends, workmates and strangers) and in doing so, inspires us to do better. The author uses his sense of humour to shed light on every day issues and just like Fucking Apostrophes, he frequently makes me laugh in doing so.

In fact, I was reading this book in a hospital waiting room and cracked up when I got to this part:
"The business world is full of ugly acronyms, obscure abbreviations and bullshitty jargon, generally designed to make people feel more intelligent than they are. It started with thinking outside the box, putting ducks in rows and hitting the ground running, but each workplace has its own unique set of bullshit buzzwords. Forget about running things up the flagpole and touching base and getting the ball rolling and peeling back the fucking onion. Stop wasting people's time with this gibberish and start using some plain fucking English." Pages 135 & 136
It was the classic cliche of laughing while reading in a public space, but this really did happen! A few old people were sitting across from me and were glowering but too bad, their loss.

However, the best part of the book came at the end while reading the Acknowledgements when I recognised my name mentioned in the thanks section. This immediately elevated this to a 5 star reading experience, but I need to stay true to the rating I'd already settled on in my mind before I lost my shit seeing my name printed in another book.

Fucking Good Manners by Simon Griffin is a funny book with instant appeal for readers of all ages. It does contain the 'f' word on every page though, so use your discretion. Highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!


My Rating: