12 Best Books of 2012

So the 2012 reading year was interesting because I think this is the most I’ve explored different genres. I blame my book club for this, especially with our monthly discussions and their book recommendations. As a result, I didn’t reach the 150-ish book goal. However, I did enjoy exploring these other books that I wouldn’t normally read, so it’s still a pretty good year reading year.

I’ll talk about my reading stats more on another post. First, let’s get the best list out. 12 Best Books for 2012. Let’s get at it, shall we?

  1. Angelfall by Susan EeGruesome, creepy and scary but absolutely fun. I read this book because of all the good reviews I read from my Goodreads friends, and I devoured it in several days. I loved Penryn the kick-ass heroine and the equally bad-ass angels who caused the apocalypse. When is the sequel coming out again? Please make it soon?
    Angelfall by Susan Ee Continue Reading →

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Publisher: The Dial Press
Number of pages: 274
My copy: hardbound, bought from Book Sale

“ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

* * *

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was another one of those books where I had no idea what it was about, except that some of the bloggers I followed loved this book. I am easily swayed like that, and it helped that I got my copy from a secondhand bookstore, so splurging on the hardcover version isn’t that painful. After my fantasy filled June and a few more books in between, I needed something new to read, something that I don’t normally read. So I picked this from my shelf and dove into it without really knowing what it was about.

Juliet Ashton is a writer and she’s looking for ideas for her next book. She’s in a rut, and she doesn’t know what to write until she receives a curious letter from a man she’s never met who found her address in a book by Charles Lamb that somehow landed in the island of Guernsey. This starts a correspondence between her and several people in the island who form The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a spur-of-the-moment book club that used to be an excuse from German soldiers for several people who were caught outside after curfew and then became a genuine group of literature lovers. Julie learns about the island and the people through their letters, until she finally sets off to Guernsey to meet them for herself, not knowing that this journey will changer her life forever.

I was just 8 pages into the book when I fell in love with Julie’s character — she’s a smart and charming woman with little quirks that make her not like anyone else. I like her voice, and it was a pleasure reading her letters to her friends and the people she “met” in Guernsey. I particularly like the background check done about her, and how contrasting these two letters were! Julie was such a darling that I wanted to receive a letter from her after I was done with the book. The other characters were lovely, too, although they may seem a bit too sweet and nice sometimes, but by the time I realized that, I was too invested in the book to really think that people this nice and charming couldn’t possibly exist.

Speaking of the letters, they were so engrossing that I often forget that this book was set shortly after WWII, and they were correspondences that takes days before it gets delivered. It reminded me of those days when my childhood friend and I would send letters to each other — it often takes 2 weeks before the letters get delivered, and it was enough to gather enough stories to fill the next letter, on top of the reply from the last one I received. I remember being very excited to receive my letters, and how I would read and reread them when I need comfort, or simply when I just feel bored. Who still takes the time to write letters nowadays? Long emails are lovely in their own right, but it’s just not the same.

The best part of the book, I think, is the idea of how books drew people together. I loved reading about how the little group in Guernsey was formed, and how they all became friends even if they don’t read the same books at all. It was just timely that I was reading this book right before our book club’s 7th face to face discussion, which proved to be a very sentimental one for all of us, with the production of our club’s very own collection of stories. Our July discussion was also my 2nd year anniversary of being with the book club, which made the event a bit more special for me. I was assigned to give the opening remarks for the event, and I was glad that I was reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society because it had that one quote that summed up most of what I feel towards the people I have become good friends with in our book club:

None of us had any experience with literary societies, so we made our own rules: we took turns speaking about the books we’d read. At the start, we tried to be calm and objective, but that soon fell away, and the purpose of the speakers was to goad the listeners into wanting to read the book themselves. Once two members had read the same book, they could argue, which was our great delight. We read books, talked books, argued over books, and became dearer and dearer to one another…our evenings together became bright, lively times – we could almost forget, now and then, the darkness outside.

No doubt about it — there’s a certain magic when books bring people together. I think anyone who’s ever been a part of a book club, or have had bookish friends can relate to that. :) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is a lovely, lovely book about books and reading and how it brings people together from wherever they are in the world. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Angieville
Book Harbinger
The Book Smugglers

The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo IshiguroThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Vintage Books
Number of pages:
245

My copy: secondhand from our book club’s book swap — apparently, the original owner was Aldrin. Thank you, and thanks to Monique for passing the book to me. :)

The Remains of the Day is a profoundly compelling portrait of the perfect English butler and of his fading, insular world postwar England. At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving “a great gentleman.” But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s “greatness” and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he served.

* * *

It’s a rare occurrence nowadays when I actually review a book I just finished reading. Usually it takes me a few days weeks to write one, but since this is up for discussion for our book club this weekend, I thought I’d try something new and actually write a review soon after I finished the book.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is the story about a butler. Stevens has been a butler for Darlington Hall for almost all his life, working for the “great” Lord Darlington and later for an American gentleman, Mr. Farraday, who bought the big house soon after Lord Darlington passed away. When his American employer told him to go take a vacation while he is away, Stevens sets off on a motoring trip to meet an old colleague, Miss Kenton, with the pretense of asking her to work for them again to correct some certain staffing errors in Darlington Hall. As with every road motoring trip done in solitude, Stevens thinks of his experiences and subtly questions the things he knew about his old employer and his own affections for a certain co-worker.

Hindsight is 20/20. That’s a popular quote that I never really understood until I started thinking about things more often than usual, and I wish it wasn’t always the case — the thinking and how hindsight can be 20/20, I mean. Sometimes I wish we could make better decisions when we need to, and not regret things in the end when we realize how we could have done better and we should have done this. That’s one of the things I remembered while reading The Remains of the Day. Stevens is an interesting character, not quite like Kathy H from Never Let Me Go, but also the same in how they reminisce the past. Of course, Stevens is older, so he has more experience so to speak, but can I be honest? Sometimes I have to admit that the experience he shares can be quite…boring. Maybe it’s because I can’t exactly relate to him. Or maybe because we have a kind of generation gap. It was interesting to see what he thinks of dignity and what he thinks of his employer, and how he tells of tales from when he served him. He didn’t question it back then, and even as he related his stories he never questioned it either — but there was that subtle doubt that made me wonder if he thought if he could do anything about it, or if he should do anything, given that he was just a butler. Does he have the power to do it? Can he even say anything about it, especially since he believes that his employer is a good man? To put it in a better and more personal context: I’m an employee of a multinational company, one of thousands in this country. Do my decisions count? Can my voice be heard amongst all the executives? Do I have a right to say something if I notice something is amiss? Or will I even notice that? And finally, if I do that, will I even matter?

I don’t want to be a fool wondering what might have been. Trivia: in college, I used to like that song. :P As with Never Let Me Go, there’s a certain romantic aspect in The Remains of the Day, too. Miss Kenton was one of the characters that Stevens kept on talking about, and I found his interactions with her both annoying and hilarious. To say more would be spoilery, but I had to laugh at their interactions because they seem to be beating around the bush and making excuses about their conversations. It goes to show that even someone as “dignified” and knowledgeable (in his own right) as Mr. Stevens can know nothing about how women are — but maybe it’s because it was his choice. I can’t blame him too much, though. He made his choice, even if he didn’t know it, which forced Miss Kenton to make her own, leading them to where they both ended up in the end.

There’s no time for my regrets. One of our pre-work for the book discussion this weekend is to write a piece that talks about love, loss, hope, and/or regret. When I was writing my piece, I realized one thing: it was easy to remember tales of love and hope, but not of loss and regret. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have any tales of loss and regret (thank God for that). I figure that is true for loss, but for regret, I’d like to think it’s because I’ve long told myself that I choose not to regret over anything. Maybe that’s me being positive, but I have always believed that mistakes are made for learning and there’s always a higher purpose to why things happened, and regrets will just bog you down. I guess what matters is how we should be aware of our choices so we won’t have to think of regrets in the future.Yes, hindsight is 20/20, and we won’t really know if we chose the right thing later on. But like I said, maybe all we need to do is to trust that things will be okay, eventually, and that despite making wrong choices, we always have a choice on how we shall see our life after that.

The Remains of the Day is my second Ishiguro, and I’m glad that it still has that quiet, calm writing, one that I really needed after reading several high-action zombie books. I really loved my first Ishiguro, so I had high expectations for this one which I am glad was met. It’s not quite as amazing as Never Let Me Go, IMO, but it’s a good book that makes you think about life, just as how I did in this review, I think! :) This will definitely not be my last Ishiguro book.

Also, you know what, maybe I will reread this a few years later, to see if I still think of the book the same way as I do now.

Rating:

Required Reading: July

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
Bookish Little Me (reread)
reading is the ultimate aphrodisiac

The Color Purple

The Color Purple by Alice WalkerThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Number of pages: 288
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.

* * *

Normally, I wouldn’t read a book like The Color Purple, because it’s not my usual genre. Not that I don’t read literary fiction books, but the themes of abuse and rape and all those things kind of make me squirm and feel general discomfort. I treat books as an escape from real life, so reading a book with several injustices isn’t really my priority.

But don’t get me wrong — every now and then, I read these kinds of books, too. When I do read them, I have to admit that I try to find an excuse to do so. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was included in the list of books that we were voting for our July book discussion, and it was the one I voted for only because of the title and the other cover with the huge sunflower on it (which I really wanted for my copy, but I couldn’t find one). The book didn’t win, but we had a book buddy discussion on this (which I totally sucked at because I hardly left a comment on the thread). I ended up reading this book while I was at the beach — it felt totally inappropriate, but in a way, it’s also not. I’ll explain that in a bit.

The Color Purple is a collection of letters from a black woman named Celie to God and eventually to her sister, Nettie, covering 20 years of her life from 14 when she was being sexually and physically abused by her father, and eventually marrying an equally abusive husband she calls “Mister”. We learn of her new family, of her missing her sister and her friendship with a singer named Shug, who reveals to Celie that Mister is keeping her sister’s letters to her in an attempt to keep here where she is. The Color Purple is the story of Celie’s journey from being a victim to a survivor, from hate to love, and of family and friends and faith.

So, reading The Color Purple while I was in Boracay was interesting. Being surrounded by so much beauty and pleasure and luxury makes it hard to concentrate on what Celie was experiencing, but it was also eye-opening because somehow, reading this while on vacation kept me a bit grounded in the fact that life for other people isn’t a vacation. There’s so much pain and suffering in the first few pages of this book that it almost feels like it’s going to be a hard book to read, but Celie’s resilient personality shone through. Her letters were heartfelt and honest, and I felt myself rooting for her as the letters came.

I read in one of my friend’s reviews that it was implied in this novel that God was Celie’s most attentive listener — and I realized that I can relate to that! Every morning (or whatever time I wake up when I am on night shift), one of the first things I do is go to my room, open my Bible and pray. I used to pray only in my mind but I always end up falling asleep when I do just that, so I learned to write my prayers down in my journals. Ever since then I have filled so many journals with my prayers, and thinking back, I never felt that God had been inattentive to me in any of my entries. Though Celie somehow lost hold of her faith somewhere in the middle of the novel, there was still that lingering faith there, about how God listens and how the God she knows answered her prayer in the end. Looking back at all my entries, I realized the same was true for me — and if I read some of them there, I find that the God I know has answered my prayers. It’s not always the same way I expected, but they were answered in the best way and they were for my good.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a pretty powerful novel, if you don’t let the coarseness of the language and the format get to you. It had the same feel as A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly and The Nickel Plated Beauty by Patricia Beatty, only it’s more adult and possibly more touching. While it’s not the perfect beach read, it was a pretty good reminder that there is a life outside beaches and iPhones that take an unexpected bath in saltwater.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody

Required Reading: July

Hello, July! Hello second half of the year! :)

I owe several reviews on this blog but I’m sort of pressed for time with work and other things recently, so reviewing has kind of taken a back seat. I figure a post should suffice now so you know I’m still alive, and I’m not off doing some funeral planning checklist or you know, not reading. I am, I’m just terribly slow! But right now I just happened to be caught in the rain and waiting for it to stop so I can go to work, so I had the time to squeeze in a quick blog entry. Then I remembered that I haven’t made a Required Reading post yet and it’s already the 3rd day of the new month. So here we go!

From the quite dismal reading month that is May, I had a pretty good reading month for June! And I’m particularly proud of this June accomplishment because the two books from my list aren’t exactly the easiest books to read. So yay, recap!

  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (4/5)
  • Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (5/5)
  • The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May and June by Robin Benway (3/5)

Plus, I managed to quit being lazy and interviewed Maria for my What I Read post. So even if I didn’t really have an active reviewing month, I think had a pretty good reading and blogging month. :)

Required Reading: July

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