366 books wrap up or how I will never ever ever again set a daily book reading target

It’s a few days into 2013 and I have finally looked at my 2012 reading. At the beginning of the year I stupidly set myself a target of 366 books in 366 days. Yes STUPIDLY. I had been doing challenges for several years but I decided to up the ante in the National Year of Reading. My definition of book was any publication with an ISBN. It did not need to be long narrative, it could be picture books, photo essays, interior decorating and cooking along with novels of any sort. By September I was ready to declare reading bankruptcy. I was setting aside nights for reading as well as spending a few hours a fortnight at a library. I found my casual reading had become a chore that was to be added to my many other tasks. This of course was ontop of all my journal reading and news reading and twitter reading and blog reading and work reading and report reading and all the other peripheral reading that comes with life. It was tiring. And all I can say is thank god for picture books and rereading for they were the only way I was going to meet my ridiculous target. And in particular, my rereading of old favourite romances that I had stowed away or found at op shops made me feel enlightened as I was viewing them with middle aged eyes when previously I had viewed them as a teenager. For some books, such as Charlotte Lamb’s Desire and Sara Craven’s Sup with the Devil I retained my love for them but others had not aged well over three decades such as Jo Calloway’s A Classic Love that I thought was totally romantic as a 15 year old but as a 43 year old I was horrified by the psychotic, stalker behaviour.

Oddly enough, I had 2 months where I was ill with severe asthma and I read less in that time than the rest of the year and I still met my target. It wasn’t all grumpy reader though. I did discover some amazing authors that I have added to my “must read” list.

Another thing that happened this year is that after 6 years of being on WeReads I transferred all my books over to GoodReads which has a social interaction that I never felt over at WeReads. This has proven to be both good and limiting for reasons that I won’t go into on this post. My actual reading is much broader than is represented on GoodReads and certainly I can’t list my favourite blogs so I am interested in keeping a list of my blog reading somehow and I am open to suggestions.

Here is a link to all my 2012 books: http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4452547-shallowreader-vaveros?read_at=2012

As for some of my 2012 stats and my favourite reads of the year:

366 books:

137 novels (including graphic novels, junior and young adult novels)

160 picture books with 42 library storytime recommendations.

29 non-fiction narrative books and 44 non-fiction pictorial books (cookbooks, interior decorating, humour etc).

My first (It’s Always Been You) and last (Close Enough to Touch) books were by Victoria Dahl and I also read one other book (Real Men Will) by her during the year. All three were enjoyable reads (2 got five stars and 1 got 4 stars).

Most read author: Charlotte Lamb (10 books) followed closely by Sara Craven (8 books).

Gender:

Female  266 (49 Australian Women Writers)

Male 130

This number is a misrepresentation as I only counted the first author listed for each book which means some wonderful illustrators were not counted in the male/female divide. I am surprised at the high number of male authors though I think that the picture books I read may have skewed this number.

My favourite books

I read 77 five star books (and only 16 one star books) so I have chosen the wonderful titles that stand out for me. I have also chosen to list first time reads only and not to list any favourite rereads.

 Novels:

A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant filled me with wonder. Beautiful language, awkward sex and land economics. Wonderful!

Temptation by Charlotte Lamb. A retro romance read that with a lyrical first half and a vicious, bitter second half that tore the hero to bits. This book blew me away!

Easy by Tammara Webber. A book that had me anxious throughout. Beautifully written characters. Loved it.

The Devil and the Deep by Amy Andrews. I grinned throughout this book. A story within a story, contemporary romance with glimpses of a historical romance that the author character had written. A childhood crush, great dialogue and hot hot hotness. I nearly didn’t add this book as I wasn’t sure if I was influenced by the fact the author sent me a copy of the book but a week after I finished it I can’t wait to reread it.

What I Did For a Duke by Julie Anne Long. I loved the private discussions in this book. They were cheeky and made me anticipate each page.

Ride With Me by Ruthie Knox. The trans-American bike ride as the setting for this fab romance carried the story for me. I used google maps to follow the relationship.

Picture Book romances:

Lilli-Pilli: the Frog Princess by Vashti Farrer is gorgeous. It is a picture book historical regency romance with a ball and a handsome prince and overall awesomesauce.

The Fierce Little Woman and the Wicked Pirate by Joy Cowley is a pirate romance. A feisty heroine sparring with the pirate hero and sparks do fly. Spectacular!

Picture Books:

The Dreadful Fluff by Aaron Blabey. A book about killer belly button fluff being hunted down by a kickass heroine. Fan-bloody-tastic! Blabey is brilliant!

Hunting for Dragons by Bruce Whatley. I love Whatley’s books. Cool, ambling, fun!

King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bentley. Ever so sweet a story of kids playing castles in their back yard. Gorgeous illustrations, heroic and fun with a touch of young child angst.

The Aunties Three by Nick Bland. Snarky fun. Auntie humour. This book may thrill me purely because I have 3 sisters and all our kids will relate to this fab book.

The Singing Mermaid by Julia Donaldson. As usual, the rhythm and rhymes of Donaldson’s books are perfect with a wonderful storytelling of a captive mermaid.

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I can read a book a day but I can’t blog a book a day

At the beginning of the year I said I would read a book a day. I am mostly up to date with this aim (thank you very much Picture Book obsession). However, I’m a crappy blogger and have given up posting individual items.

So today, in a phenomenal show of catch-up, I’m listing the books I’ve read with minimal commentary.

Books 26-30:

Fancy Nancy books are awesome. Pretty, colourful and all about a fancy girl discussing her daily life. She lurrrves fancy words and this is where author Jane O’Connor brilliantly entices kids into broadening their vocabulary without being preachy. This set was a quintet (a fancy word for 5) of readers – a perfect reader set! My favourite amongst this lost was The Boy from Paris.

Fancy Nancy at the museum – car sick
Fancy Nancy & the dazzling book report
Fancy Nancy poison ivy expert
Fancy Nancy sees stars
Fancy Nancy & the boy from paris

Books 31-36

Sandra Boynton is very amusing. My staple purchase for friends’ kids, she seems to be one of the few authors who can get side-splitting laughter from toddlers. Red Hat, Green Hat seems to tickle the funny bone of an 18 month old like no other book. Bravo, Ms Boynton and thank you.

Titles I read to my nephew last week:

Doggies
Red hat, Green Hat
Hippos go beserk
But not the hippopotamus
Moo, baa, lalala
15 Animals

37-38
Faces (board book) fascinating (for a toddler) illustrated expression.
The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey is an abecedarium that is macabre and delicious. Having read a review of this old children’s book at Love2Read (thanks Amy) I read it online and relished it.

39-44

Sara Craven: I’ve been on a mini-glom of Sara Craven’s books. Dark and sad they are classic Mills & Boon. But I won’t go into detail here as I mean to write a post on her, soon.

One Night with his virgin mistress (brill but such an awful, untrue title)
Innocent on her wedding night (meh)
The Santangeli Marriage (torrid, objectionable, full of melodrama)
Dark Paradise (TSTL heroine)
Escape Me Never (autocratic, controlling alpha brute. Horrid story)
Sup With the devil (one of teh best evah M&B)

45-46

Miranda Lee – Beth and the Barbarian weird weird weird. Imagine a romance on a set from The King and I and throw in a feisty (read grating) female protagonist with the alpah male dressing weirdly. I will write about this book at a later date.

Lucy Ellis – Innocent in the Ivory Tower is a brilliant debut. Dark but simply divine book.

47

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

So I’m pretty late to the Harry Potter party. I read the first instalment to my son and we finished it in a week. An easy page turner read, I am now a fan. And I get the Harry fan sqee.

I still have read more books that I ended up listing. But at least I have now made a kink in my bloggi g backlist.

Fugly Built Environment: Reading Photo Essays – Books 15-20

Tim Winton and Mick Mischkulnig’s Smalltown is a photo essay of the ugly characterisitcs of far flung Australian towns.

There is nothing so bleak and forbidding in country Australia as the places humans have built here.

Reading through Tim Winton’s essay in Smalltown I was struck by his insight on Australian’s militant unfusiness and I’m in some way annoyed with myself for not having come across this essay before my home renovation. We had nice builders. They weren’t patronising, they listened to our needs – though they didn’t necessarily deliver what we asked for. But it is this quote about Australian tradespeople that stood out for me:

Tradespeople are not immune to this spirit of untouchable carelessness, for when it comes to a service rendered to others, rough enough is often still good enough. Robin Boyd died before ‘she’ll do, mate” made way for ‘fuck you, mate’ and worse. Militant unfussiness can seem amusing or even charming at a distance, but when you’re on the receiving end, paying for rubbish, getting it late and having to say thank you for the privelege, it’s ugly and deeply unfunny, a form of moronic bullying. Sometimes only the bravest amongst us dare to be fussy.

It was when our builders were putting up out ceilings and walls that I asked them why they had only bothered pulling out half the electricals. They laughed and said “Can’t make the electricians life to easy”. Well that was a big “fuck you” to me. Not only did they make the electrician’s work harder, therefore making his work longer therefore helping him earn more but under more stressful conditions but it also left me with disgust for a group of builders who I had started out thinking were lovely people. In future, I will keep Winton’s essay in mind when I am choosing tradespeople. Getting back to the book, Mischkulnig’s photography perfectly illustrates the sparseness, the impermanence of construction that Winton discusses.

Having completed Smalltown I went to my bookshelves to revisit old favourite books Meat, Metal and Fire and Blokes and sheds both by Mark Thomson. I wanted to look at them, not in the joyful celebration of man spaces that they were intended and in which I have always regarded them but as a reflection of Winton’s essay of celebrating this “good enough” culture. Instead of seeing the ingenuity of creating sheds, barbeques and the like, I chose to see them from the eyes of not needing to build things to last, denying permanance because this was not a space to stay in. This lends a tinge of unexpected sadness to these favourite books.

To add to this list, I also read Shack: in praise of an Australian icon By Simon Griffiths (yes, all these books in the same day. It helped that they were all pictorial essays). Shack celebrates the rough and tumble shack. Some as holiday homes, others as workplaces and others as permanent homes. And though beautifully appointed, I couldn’t help but reflect back to Winton’s stark essay. It is not that Winton’s essay changed any of my perceptions. I would say he validated opinions that I have held for a very long time.

Late at night, I decided to cap off my fugly built environment reading day with a touch of irony by reading Dorothea McKellar’s poem My Country. As it is not this brown, plague-ridden, drought-stricken, flooded land that is at fault. Our land is wonderous. It is what we build on it that needs to be rethought.

Jesse Blackadder and The Raven’s Heart: Book 14

I read The Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder as she will be talking at the NSW Readers Advisory History Seminar and I wanted to be familiar with her book before she presented it.

I struggle when I am reading historical fiction. Although I love reading history, it’s fiction counterpart has me running to my reference shelves, cross-checking events and details in the book and rarely do I find myself being lost in the story. After cross checking with several history references during the first few chapters of this book I found myself relax and lose myself into this story of an androgyne in the court of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The story of Robert/Alison Blackadder and his/her deep abiding love for his father, the need to please him and his/her love and service to Queen Mary and Alison’s own erotic affairs with both women and men drive this complex story about the struggle for inheritances. I loved that the story was so rich, yet the language was not florid at all. A wonderful, touching tale.

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Retro Romance Reading: Books 10, 11, 12 ,13

I became an obsessive fan of Mills and Boon and other category romance lines during the 1980’s when I was a young teen. So I decided to read some older titles. I also decided to combine this with the Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge. So here I have 4 Mills and Boon written by Australian Women Authors.

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Of the four listed below, my only reread was Lynsey Stevens’ Ryan’s Return. I recall reading this as a teen and finding it – not romantic – but saddened by the actions of the adults around the two protagonists. Perhaps still a sign of the category fiction range at the time, but having a 23 year old sleep with a nearly 17 year old (both of whom were besotted with each other) feels very uncomfortable, though real, to me. For their parents then to insist on a shotgun wedding after which said 23 year old leaves without a word to anyone just worsens the feeling. To add to the mix our nearly 17 year old heroine falls pregnant and has twins. She is lucky enough to have the support of both her father and her in-laws. The main story takes place 8 years later when the hero finally returns to “claim” his wife and children. The strength of the story is that the author does not gloss over the long time the hero is gone. When it comes time to explain his absence to his children (and wife) he talks about how even adults can make mistakes, how having his hand forced made him lash out. How his behaviour during the first two years was abominable and though not excusing himself, it certainly explained some of his actions. As per most Mills and Boon, there is a redemptive Happily Ever After and one that, as a reader, I felt comfortable with. I also liked the sex scenes which, though they were signature torrid, they were not graphic nor did they use eyebrow raising allusions. For a category romance published over 30 years ago, I certainly felt it had aged well and was still readable and I can certainly understand why I have held onto my copy for all these years.

My other 3 choices I found in a second-hand bookshop. 2 titles were by Emma Darcy and one by Valerie Parv.

A Very Stylish Affair by Emma Darcy was perhaps my least favourite of the 4 books though readable enough that I finished it in a day. The out of the bottle red headed feisty heroine grated on my nerves as did the less than professional alpha lawyer hero. Of course, there was the stunning other woman also on the scene with the obligatory lack of communication and misunderstandings between the leading protagonists. I am still not sure why I read this book to completion…perhaps because I really liked the Lindfield/Sydney setting.

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On a completely different note, Emma Darcy’s The Shining of Love was compelling. Part of a series of books around a family of fostered siblings, this Mills and Boon has the out of the ordinary set up of the female protagonist being married (to a man she loved and respected) and turning down the male protagonist who fell in love with her at first sight and begs her to leave her husband (which she doesn’t). The book spans 18 months, there are parallel missing child storylines, the obligatory “other woman” and a series of coincidences that could have been trite but were handled very well by the author. Though I didn’t feel convinced by the protagonists as a couple, I did however, love the rest of the story.

Last of the pick was Valerie Parv’s Tasmanian Devil. Here is another book that I really enjoyed. A twist on the “alone on a desert island heiress learning to fend for herself” storyline, this is a classic Mills and Boon in that there was an alpha man saving his womAn, jealousies, misunderstandings and many other over the top, melodramatic scenes which make for a thoroughly enjoyable story. I particularly loved the sex scenes which were not at all graphic but filled with swoony allusions. My favourite line was:

Having read these four titles, I will continue on my journey for more Mills and Boon Australian publications throughout this year.

Let’s Do It, Spicy Pop-ups and the Wonder Book of Sex: Books 7, 8, 9

Book 7: Let’s Do It  by Cole Porter with illustrations by Ward Schumker.

Porter’s Let’s Do It is a favourite, so when I saw this picture book version, I felt the need to own  it. With delightful illustrations, joyous couplings and bright primary colours this book lends itself well for storytime with young kids. For “Let’s Do It, let’s fall in love!”

Book 8: The Roaring Twenties: A Spicy Pop-Up Book for Adults Only illustrated by Pete Seymour, Borje Svensson and paper engineering by Rodger Smith & Dick Dudley.

I love pop-up books. They are clever and cool. This is the first Adults Only pop-up book I have read. And, unlike the misleading title, its cheeky and suggestive text and pop-ups are tame. Tabs allow peek-a-boo situations to be illustrated in a typical 20’s fashion.

Book 9: Wonder Book of Sex by Glen Baxter.

This book is filled with odd, peculiar illustrations of absurd (and mostly non-sexual) situations. I always have a laugh at the inanities illustrated in this book. Perhaps one of my favourite wedding presents from a librarian friend.