Welcome to Smugglivus 2011! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2011, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2012.
Who: Elle, one half of the awesome team that runs The Book Memoirs. With her blog partner Kate, Elle writes awesomely in-depth reviews of everything from YA to speculative fiction to classic and contemporary fiction, and all the goodness in between. We are huge fans.
Please give it up for Elle, folks!
When I first sat down to write this Smugglivus post, it was with a heavy heart and the sense that a year of wonderful reading was drawing to a close in an oddly anticlimactic way. You see, fellow frequenters of Book Smuggling heaven, I read Ana and Thea’s reviews as religiously as each and every one of you: every day I see a new book, and every day I wonder if I will ever get the time to read as many of them as they do. November and December have been months utterly bereft of book-loving in the world of Elle and the holiday season has so far heralded nothing but a mildly smoggy depression over my teetering bookshelves.
And then I looked back over our blog (for dearest Katie-poo, who co-blogs with me, has had a bit of book deprivation this holiday season, too) and this wonderful, unexpected thing happened: I was forced to concede that this year has been one of the most amazing book years I have had in a very long time. I have lots of people to thank for it – particularly Ana and Thea of The Book Smugglers, Angie of Angieville, Daphne of Loving Books and Rosy of The Review Diaries for their pimping and their shameless book-hussying – but no matter how it came to be, it was a year to celebrate and I have absolutely no right to complain.
So, without further ado, on with the show!
You were so unexpected and yet you’re still here with me…
Mackie Doyle from Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement
I was drawn to this book as the result of an epically shallow, shallow cover-swoon (no, not the one with the socially awkward 15 year old boy-band wannabe from the UK cover, I’m talking about the US edition’s creepy cradle and deadly open dress-shears suspended menacingly from a barren tree-limb – get with it, people). I was expecting a samey romp through a singularly creepy and slightly deadly fairyland but instead was presented a portrait of the most delicately damaged, expertly drawn teenaged mess of an adoptee whose life has spiralled out of control. Mackie Doyle was adopted into a perfect family and feels like he’s living on the fringes of his own life but can’t seem to think straight for longer than five minutes at a time to sort out the tangled web of lies that have been his childhood. The supernatural plot left something to be desired and I still feel like there’s something missing to the supporting cast as a whole, but despite the absence of anything substantial about the fae-world to get your teeth into, nothing can top the amazing snapshot of adolescent trauma that was the illness with which Yovanoff “gifted” Mackie. She used it in the most wonderful way: to illustrate what happens when a kid who otherwise fits in suddenly finds his body physically unable to keep up with the world he wants to live in. Mackie, his broken family and his relationship with his best friend, Roswell, made my world a slightly better place and I still think about them in some fairly constant way that I can’t just can’t seem to shake.
Recommended if: you like light plots reminiscent of Lemony Snicket but you want emotional punch equal to John Green or Simone Elkeles.
Look out for: the most unexpectedly honest female teenager I’ve read in young adult fiction in ages. Cheerio to Manic Pixie Girls, hello justified anger at the world.
Favourite quote: All of us got very still. The dropped books shifted and slid over each other, coming to rest on the carpet. My mom looked like she wanted to cover her mouth with her hands, take it back before she went too far.
Suddenly, I was sure this was it. We were going to talk about all the nasty, screwed-up things in Gentry, like how nice, normal babies got switched out for freaks. Maybe even how I wasn’t really her son and a kid named Malcolm Doyle was dead because a bunch of people who lived underground got off on collecting blood.
It’s the One, the Only, the New Favourite…
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
Saving Francesca was one of the first young adult books that I read this year. I spent months amassing this huge teetering pile of pages that I just about kept getting around to when I had to give in to the siren call that was this scraggly little book at the bottom of the stack. You see, I could only get a battered, beaten-up and horribly used second-hand copy of Saving Francesca at the time that I heard about it as (by some cruel twist of fate) it was out of print in the UK at the time (seriously, try to get a decent copy, tell me how you get on). Yet somehow, despite my loathing of used books and their more typical biologically-related deposits, I couldn’t seem to shake the lure of the scant synopsis or the curiously 90’s image of the girl in her shapeless skirt. There is something untouchable and curiously undefinable about Australian books for me; I’ve never visited the country and never had the urge to investigate its heritage but books set in Australia always have a feel to them. After reading the book (and completely in spite of my loathing of falling-apart pages) the tattered corners and the bent spine somehow seemed to transform from a lifetime of ill-treatment to a short but violently passionate love-affair. There’s something about Francesca. There’s just something about the tiny, slim volume and its barely 250 pages that, even now, makes me want to pay through the nose for a brand new sparkly copy every single day so that I can press it into the hands of someone new. I don’t want you to look it up. I don’t want you to squint at the synopsis. I don’t want you to look at anything else Melina Marchetta has ever been near. I just want you to read it because Saving Francesca is so honest that it has seared a sad face across my heart and then kissed it better with truth.
Recommended for: fans of Lisa Schroeder, Stephanie Perkins, Courtney Summers and Jennifer Brown. ‘Nuff said.
Favourite quote: Tara Finke nudges me. ‘Facism at its best here. They train them young.’
I ignore her. My theory is to lay low, and my reluctance to get involved has nothing to do with fear or shyness, contrary to popular perception. I have this belief that people hate change and, more than anything else, they hate those who try to change things. I might not be interested in being in the most popular group in school, but I’m interested in not being an outcast. Anyway, my being political would make Mia happy and I wouldn’t want that. She thinks she knows who I am because she thinks who I am is who she tells me I am.
If I’d only known you before…
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I read Rebecca as part of my modernist literature module (which I’m still slogging my way through, oh the joys of being a mature student). I had always planned to get around to Rebecca but somehow it just didn’t make it to the top of my pile. I now feel, having poured over its pages, that Daphne du Maurier and her characters have been the victims of a drastic disservice with the marketing of this novel. It is a love story, of that there is no doubt, but it is also a story of betrayal, of mental illness, of obsession and of the consequences of never finding your true self. It is the story of an utterly nameless, completely faceless narrator who has spent her entire life being drummed into a box and told what she was and who she would be. She is someone who seems to have no chance of a reprieve in life… and yet she is someone who conquers despite herself but completely without smoke and mirrors and violence and drama. In her own, quiet, carefully considered way, the narrator of Rebecca holds on to the very last.
She has some of the silent determination that I wish Katniss of The Hunger Games would have learnt to adopt instead of letting every outburst of emotion take her over. She has the quiet, naïve composure of Jane Bennet and the mental tenacity of Jane Eyre.
I so wish I had read this book years ago so that I could fit more re-reads into my life.
Recommended for: fans of Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Deanna Raybourn and anyone who can’t hope but fall helplessly, madly and deeply in love with a character who is a cross between Peeta, Rochester and John Wayne (no, seriously).
Favourite quote: “I do love you,” I said. “I love you dreadfully and I’ve been crying all night because I thought I should never see you again.”
When I said this, I remember he laughed and stretched his hand across the breakfast table. “Bless you for that,” he said; “one day, when you reach that exhalted age of thirty-six which you told me was your ambition, I’ll remind you of this moment. And you won’t believe me. It’s a pity you have to grow up.”
I wish I had been your marketing manager.
When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
I’ve saved the best for last.
Oh, how I wish I could pick this book up, rip the cover off of it and completely repackage it. When God Was a Rabbit is one of those novels that take up a special place on my shelf for books that I absolutely and unequivocally know would not be there had it not been for word of mouth. Books like Affinity by Sarah Waters and Eve Green by Sarah Fletcher, books that hardly anyone in the blogosphere has ever heard of and yet books which have genuinely changed my life.
When God Was a Rabbit was one of those books that came along at just the right time for me. I was in a place in my life where I felt like I was sinking and I hadn’t a single way to claw myself back to the surface. I had asked for recommendations on Twitter and one of my lovely friends immediately demanded that I buy this book. No, right now. Now, sooner, this very minute. Pick it up. I read When God Was a Rabbit over the course of a week, alternatively speeding through its pages and crawling at the pace of a snail because I was terrified about what would happen when it ended.
I don’t often praise lyrical prose – I hate prose that’s so flowery that it fails to hit quite that emotional mark – but Sarah Winman has a gift. She might write another ten books as wonderful, or When God Was a Rabbit might be the only one – it won’t matter. She’ll still be one of my favourite authors in the entire world. Like some of my other favourite novels, this book defies synopsis or explanation, it defies dissection of its characters or prodding of its plot-holes (because it doesn’t bloody have any). It’s just a little slice of perfection wrapped between two ill-fitting pieces of cardboard.
I’m going to buy this book for everyone I know this Christmas. I beg you to do the same.
Recommended for: anyone who loves heroines who are real, life stories like Water for Elephants, prose like Charlotte Brontë and plot twists like George R. R. Martin.
Favourite quote: Only once did I see a boyfriend. I’d gone upstairs to use the toilet and, being alone and inquisitive, I crept into Mrs Penny’s room, which was warm and musty with a large mirror at the foot of the bed. I saw his back only. A naked lump of a back that was as uncouth in sleep as it probably was in wakefulness. Even the mirror didn’t reveal his face, it only revealed mine as I stood hypnotised by the wall to my left, where Mrs Penny had written in lipstick ‘I am me’ over and over again, until the multicoloured cursive shapes merged into a tangled mess of expression that hauntingly said, ‘Am I me’.
Most honourable of mentions…
White Cat by Holly Black
It’s like Leverage meets True Blood meets Paper Towns. It’s a re-read for me and a must-read for you. No, seriously. You want to know about the creepy grandad with the dead fingers and why Cassel (how cool is that name?) is hanging off a roof while he’s asleep. You really do.
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
Hrm, let’s see. Latino gang-kids, forbidden love, bad-boy-who’s-really-a-good-boy, violence, sex, romance… and it’s still young adult. Don’t let the cover fool you, don’t let the staggered, bare prose put you off. Missy Simone is the mistress of dialogue and you’ll fall in and find yourself tied to your reading chair with a red bandana and desperate to pee while you read just one more page.
The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder
For a moment
the air is pretty,
and full of wonder
But in a breath,
He flicks off the light,
leaving us in darkness.
“Was it as thrilling as you thought?”
“It was over too soon,” I whisper.
That is all.
Lucy in the Sky by Paige Toon
I haven’t touched chick-lit in such a long time. There’s a good reason for that: it’s all turned into Cecilia Ahern’s magical realism mumbo-jumbo and all of the honest narratives ala Marian Keyes have died a small and horrifying little death. Lucy in the Sky was recommendation from a friend that I started half-heartedly and finished 12 hours later with hair like Albert Einstein and sweaty fingermarks on the pages. This one is for those of you who would like a return to a heroine who acts like the rest of us and whose hook isn’t how emotionally vulnerable she is.
All things by George R. R. Martin.
For those of you who: 1) are sane people 2) are sane people 3) why are you still reading this and not A Game of Thrones 4) stop staring at Sean Bean in furs 5) sigh 6) READITFIRST.COM
And that’s all, folks! I’ve loved being a guest on Ana and Thea’s blog. Smugglivus is one of my favourite times of year. Be safe for Christmas, those of you who know of weather like my own bonnie Scottish-land’s and have a very merry non-denominational festive season no matter where you are.
I wish you all shiny books and happy reading!
Thank you Elle!