Top 5 books I’ve read in 2010

I love to read. I’m pretty sure I’ve made this clear over the last while, and if you’re regular reader of my blog you’ll see my many book reviews. I tried to read 26 books in 52 weeks, but it appears that may have been too lofty of a goal – it might have something with me reading books that are 800+ pages too.

Anyway, I think I’ve read enough to compile a serious top 5 list of my favourites. This is a list of the top books I’ve read this year; they didn’t necessarily come out this year. I’ve included a link to the previous reviews I’ve given so as not to repeat myself again and again:

5. The Girl Who Played With Fire

This is the second book in the Stieg Larsson trilogy, and I felt the character development of Lisbeth Salander was much better than the first, where she was still a bit of a mystery. Find out more from my review which I posted on July 23.

4. Gratitude

A great World War II novel that takes place in Hungary, which I liked, because anytime I read something, fictional or non-fictional, that happens outside of countries like Germany, England or the United States, I have a better appreciation of what happened during the war. Here’s my review which I posted on February 24.

3. Secret Daughter

An amazing book about the culture clash that occurs between couples coming from very different backgrounds and how that can affect families as the children of those couples grow and want to adapt to one culture or the other. My review of “Secret Daughter” was posted on September 29.

2. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

An amazing story about a father who made the decision to give up his first born daughter because she had Down’s Syndrome. He lied to his wife and told her she was a still born, but for years he held the secret, and his wife went into a deep depression, which affected her love for the boy they later had together. You can read the rest of my review, which I posted on May 5.

1. Through Black Spruce

In 2009, Joseph Boyden’s first novel “Three Day Road” made it to number two on my top five list of fiction books, in 2010, he’s improved on that with “Through Black Spruce”.

To steal from my earlier review of the book (my first review of 2010), “This is story is a universal one of self discovery. The path the characters take aren’t ones they’d want to go through, but because of those experiences they have a  stronger understanding of who they are and what’s important to them, in the end.”

I’m anxiously awaiting the planned third book in this series, and who knows, if it comes out in 2011, it may make the top of the pile again!

What is your top book you read this year? Did any of the books I read make it?

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Through Black Spruce: A novel of self discovery

The first book completed in my “26 in 52 challenge” (#26in52 on Twitter) is Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden. This one is the follow up to Three Day Road (review here) and takes place in contemporary times.

For me this was quite an adjustment from Three Day Road which took place during the First World War. The beginning of the book was slow-going as I got used to the time change, but thankfully Joseph Boyden’s great characters kept me interested and wanting more.

Penguin Books‘ review of the book summarizes it best: When beautiful Suzanne Bird disappears, her sister Annie, a loner and hunter, is compelled to search for her, leaving behind their uncle Will, a man haunted by loss.While Annie travels from Toronto to New York, from modelling studios to A-list parties,Will encounters dire troubles at home.

Will’s storyline spoke to me a lot more than his niece Annie’s. It was likely because his experiences seemed real and right in front of my face, especially as his past was revealed as the book went on. Annie’s story was a little more complex, searching for this sister that appeared to be a phantom at times, always eluding her. The lack of background story for Suzanne probably lead to that disconnect, and the hints and clues to who she was, wasn’t enough for me to feel as Annie felt.

This is story is a universal one of self discovery. The path the characters take aren’t ones they’d want to go through, but because of those experiences they have a  stronger understanding of who they are and what’s important to them, in the end.

Boyden says in an interview at the back of the book that he plans on making a third book in this series. I’m excited to see where he goes with the Bird clan. As with this one I still hold out hope that we get to know the story of Xavier a little more. I’d be interested to see how the character transitioned to life after the war, especially since decades separate this story from his canoe journey with Niska. Here’s to hoping.

Have you read Through Black Spruce? What are your thoughts on it?

***Edit: I forgot to rate it! 3.5/5

My Top 5 fiction books of 2009

If you know me, you know I like to read. I figured it was natural to make a top 5 fiction books of 2009 blog as my next post in the series. Unlike my other reviews, these will be the best books that I’ve read in 2009; not necessarily ones that were published in 2009.

I’ll soon be posting my top non-fiction books of the year, but until then you can tell me what you think of this list, and what your list would look like.

NUMBER FIVE

White Tiger

I only picked The White Tiger up because I had a gift certificate to Chapters; that and it looked interesting of course. I believe this was Aravind Adiga‘s first book, and it was published in 2008, so right off the bat we’re not talking about books from this year. Honestly I had seen a few people reading this on the subway so when I went in to Chapters it caught my attention. Contrary to what the book cover said, White Tiger won the 2008 Man Booker Prize. Recognition for books isn’t a big selling point for me, but seeing others read it is, so I’m sure having the exposure it got from the award went a long way to seeing it on my bookshelf.

On to the story: The protagonist Balram Halwai spends the entire book writing a letter to a Chinese official named Wen Jiabao, who is set to visit India. Balram explains the true side of India, not the one the officials will boast about, and to do so he writes about his past and how he got to where he is today.

My biggest issue was the connection to the Chinese official. I Adiga could’ve come up with something better to tie in Balram’s recollections. Otherwise it was a great book and it shows the extreme class difference in the country, which isn’t something people are generally exposed to.

NUMBER FOUR

Schindler’s List

When I bought Schindler’s List I’d obviously heard of it’s great success as a book and movie (which I have still not seen) and I wanted to join the club. I was a little skeptical about how the book would read. I thought it would be page after page of sad stories and an overall depressing book, given the subject matter. Surprisingly I found it to be extremely engaging and getting to know Oscar Schindler was a great experience. That being said, it wasn’t a book for the feint of heart. It had some pretty graphic situations and it made me appreciate what everyone went through in those exceedingly tough times that probably couldn’t even be put into words.

NUMBER THREE

Any Known Blood

Any Known Blood was the second book by Lawrence Hill that I’ve read, but it was published 10 years before his more recognized book “The Book of Negroes”, in 1997. This book is different from The Book of Negroes, but Hill’s writing style is equally captivating. Set in Toronto/Oakvlle and Baltimore this book follows Langston Cane the fifth on his quest to find his family’s history and write a book about it. The book travels back through 5 generations of Cane’s (all named Langston) and tells their story; each unique to the era they lived in. I really enjoyed the generational jumps and thought that was very unique. The only issue I had with that was since all shared the same name, at times it was a bit hard to differentiate who was who. Overall it was an excellent read and had strong characters, which I always try to look for in books I read.

NUMBER TWO

Three Day Road

I previously blogged about Three Day Road after I read it. It was a late-comer to the top five list, but a fast riser making it to number two. I’ll keep this review short. It’s a great book with amazing character development and a not-often-told perspective on Canadian history. Though the book was fiction, it was based on real events and as a reader, I felt a part of what author Joseph Boyden was trying to convey.

NUMBER ONE

The Book of Negroes

I can’t remember why I picked The Book of Negroes up, but I’m glad I did because it became not only my favourite book of 2009 but one of my favourites of all time; possibly the top spot, but I haven’t decided yet (there are many that are top-spot quality and I’ll eventually blog about this!).  I cant say enough how extremely well written this novel is. It blends fiction with the harsh reality of the time. I really felt like I was reading the life story of Aminata the protagonist as she was ripped from her village in Africa, sold into slavery in America and her many travels from then on back to Africa and the UK. This one book made me a Lawrence Hill fan for as long as he keeps writing.

Three Day Road: A great Canadian novel

I’m happy that “Three Day Road” by Joseph Boyden is the first of my many book reviews on this blog. I’m generally not into the whole ‘Canadian history’ genre, but I was referred to this book on Twitter. It looked relatively interesting and the next time I went to Chapters, I decided I’d pick it up. After reading this one,  I’m ready to explore the genre a little more.

It tells the story of Xavier, a Cree from Moose Factory, and his experiences with his lifelong friend Elijah, in the First World War fighting for Canada against Germany, or ‘Fritz’ as it’s soldiers so often referred to. The book also chronicles the journey of Xavier’s Aunt Niska, an Oji-Cree medicine woman who shunned the residential school life as a child and returned to ‘the bush’ to live the only way she knows how, as a “bush Indian” in Northern Ontario.

I really enjoyed the parallel stories. Each character’s story had left me wanting more whenever they switched. I was eager to know how Xavier was handling the war and his issues with Elijah. The same eagerness followed me while reading Niska’s story, and her issues of living alone and dealing with a world that was far different from that of her childhood.

Boyden was originally going to write the novel chronologically. He explains in the Q&A at the end of the book, his reasoning for the parrallel storyline/jumps in time.

“I thought about what is important to the Cree and Ojibwe. Life evolves around a circle,” he answered. “And so I decided to begin this story near the chronoligical end and then trace through the circle around to where I started.”

Strangely no criticism is coming to me for this book. There’s usually something that gets to me, but not this time.

I give “Three Day Road” a 5/5.

If you’ve read this book please let me know what you thought of it!

I look forward to eventually reading “Through Black Spruce“, Boyden’s followup book and 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner

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