One of the things I wanted to do in 2014 was to read a book every month, and I did! This December, I’m finishing up my final, twelth book, and it’s a big read – more on that soon.
This list only comprises books that I’ve managed to stick through to the end. If you need some inspiration for your reading list in 2015, here are some titles to consider:
1) The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared / Jonas Jonasson
SYNOPSIS: Allan Karlsson is about to celebrate his hundredth birthday, and a birthday party is planned at his retirement home. Allan is alert despite his age, but not so interested in the party. Instead he steps out the window and disappears. He gets hold of a suitcase of drug money and becomes chased by both drug dealers and the police.
Filled with lots of adventures, Allan’s life story is told in parallel to this. He eats dinner with the future President Harry S. Truman, hitchhikes with Winston Churchill, travels on a riverboat with the wife of Mao Zedong and walks across the Himalayas on foot.
THOUGHTS: I got this book at a sale because it had an attractive cover. Story-wise, well, it was entertaining and sort of funny at the start, but got ridiculous and draggy towards the end.
2) The Scarlet Letter / Nathaniel Hawthorne
SYNOPSIS: In the 17th century Massachusetts, a married women, whose husband is missing, has a child with the local pastor. The puritanical residents of her town condemn her to carry the Scarlet Letter of shame. Then the husband shows up.
THOUGHTS: Got to know of this story after watching Emma Stone in Easy A! It had an interesting concept that primarily revolved around morals and the public face, but the language made this book a bumpy read for me.
3) Memoirs of a Geisha / Arthur Golden
SYNOPSIS: In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.
THOUGHTS: This Instagram photo brought back some good memories of a whole morning by a beautiful Bali beach – peace, stillness, great friends, and the perfect book. Memoirs of a Geisha was a smooth read, taking me through the narration like the currents of a stream, and keeping me hooked until the very last page. The ending was quite a downer for me though, but I suppose it was something very real – sometimes life doesn’t pan out with happy, heroic and feel-good endings like stories do.
4) Last Night at the Lobster / Stewart O’Nan
SYNOPSIS: Perched in the far corner of a run-down New England mall, the Red Lobster has’t been making its number and headquarters has pulled the plug. But manager Manny DeLeon still needs to navigate a tricky last shift. With only four shopping days left until Christmas, Manny must convince his near-mutinous staff to hunker down and serve the final onslaught of hungry retirees, lunatics, and holiday office parties. All the while, he’s wondering how to handle the waitress he’s still in love with, his pregnant girlfriend at home, and where to find the present that will make everything better.
Last Night at the Lobster is a poignant yet redemptive look at a what a man does when he discovers that his best might not be good enough.
THOUGHTS: I. LOVED. THIS. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, nothing eventful happens in this book. Heck, it literally is as the title suggests: it’s the Last Night at the Lobster. Taking you from day to night until the final moments of the restaurant, O’Nan builds into the main character a lot of soul and a lot of heart. If you’re looking for something easy to read with nothing too fast paced or heart-wrenching, this is a great read for you.
5) The Restaurant of Love Regained / Ito Ogawa
SYNOPSIS: Returning home from work, Rinko is shocked to find that her flat is totally empty. Gone are her TV set, fridge and furniture, gone are all her kitchen tools. Gone, above all, is her Indian boyfriend, and she has no choice but to go back to her native village and her mother, on which she turned her back ten years ago as a fifteen-year-old girl.
There she decides to open a very special restaurant, one that serves food for only one couple every day, according to their personal tastes and wishes. A concubine rediscovers her love for life, a girl is able to conquer the heart of her lover, a surly man is transformed into a lovable gentleman – all this happens at the The Snail, the magic restaurant whose delicate food can heal any heartache and help its customers find love again.
THOUGHTS: This is a magical book, with the same feel-good factor as the Last Night at the Lobster and became the perfect companion for a few rainy bus rides. Written with great care, the story did well in highlighting all the wonderful smells, sights and sounds of the main character’s world as she strives to prepare (literally) life-changing meals.
6) The Joy Luck Club / Amy Tan
SYNOPSIS: Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who’s “saying” the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. “To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable.” Forty years later the stories and history continue.
THOUGHTS: As always, reading some Amy Tan makes me uncomfortable. It’s not the content, but the way she writes it – with a kind of blatant honesty. But despite this, Amy Tan’s writing style leaves me spellbound everytime, and I can’t stop flipping the pages. Perhaps a part of me is like the characters in this book – searching for their roots and identity in a mass produced modern world.
7) The Daydreamer / Ian McEwan
SYNOPSIS: Peter Fortune is a daydreamer. He’s a quiet ten year old who can’t help himself from dropping out of reality and into the amazing world of his vivid imagination. His daydreams are fantastic and fascinating – only in the bizarre and disturbing world of dreams can he swap bodies with the family cat and his baby cousin, Kenneth, or wipe out his entire family with vanishing cream.
THOUGHTS: Okay, I’m sorry to say but I don’t recall much of this book. All that comes to mind is that it had the characteristics of a children’s bedtime story book, and is otherwise rather forgettable. Not to say the writing is bad, it’s just not my kind of book.
8) Hector and the Search for Happiness / François Lelord
SYNOPSIS: Hector is very good at treating patients in need of his help. But he can’t do much for those who are simply dissatisfied with life, and that is beginning to depress him. When a patient tells him he looks in need of a vacation, Hector takes a trip around the world to learn what makes people happy—and sad. As he travels from Paris to China to Africa to the United States, he lists his observations about the people he meets. Is there a secret to happiness, and will Hector find it?
THOUGHTS: I had high hopes for this after reading Hector and the Secrets of Love, but unfortunately it didn’t measure up as well as I would have liked it to. That aside, Hector and the Search for Happiness is still a lovely and relatively easy read for those who are looking for their own little piece of happiness.
9) Songs for the Missing / Stewart O’Nan
SYNOPSIS: It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow. It was also the summer when, without warning, popular high school student Kim Larsen disappeared from her small midwestern town. Her loving parents, her introverted sister, her friends and boyfriend must now do everything they can to find her. As desperate search parties give way to pleading television appearances, and private investigations yield to personal revelations, we see one town’s intimate struggle to maintain hope and, finally, to live with the unknown.
THOUGHTS: When I saw O’Nan’s name on the book, I just HAD to read it. Unfortunately, Songs for the Missing offered me none of the feel good vibes from Last Night at the Lobster. As mentioned in the synopsis, girl mysteriously vanishes, and the spotlight shines on those involved, dealing with their grief in different ways. Though it initially got me hooked, the book dragged on a little too long for me towards the end, and in a rather unnecessary way.
On a side note, this book accompanied me through my Melbourne trip – ahh the memories.
10) The Devotion of Suspect X / Keigo Higashino
SYNOPSIS: Yasuko Hanaoka is a divorced, single mother who thought she had finally escaped her abusive ex-husband Togashi. When he shows up one day to extort money from her, the situation quickly escalates into violence and Togashi ends up dead on her apartment floor. Overhearing the commotion, Yasuko’s next door neighbor, middle-aged high school mathematics teacher Ishigami, offers his help.When the body turns up and is identified, Detective Kusanagi draws the case and Yasuko comes under suspicion. Kusanagi brings in Dr. Manabu Yukawa, a physicist and college friend who frequently consults with the police. What ensues is a high level battle of wits, as Ishigami tries to protect Yasuko by outmaneuvering and outthinking Yukawa, who faces his most clever and determined opponent yet.
THOUGHTS: All through this, the character Yukawa was a niggling little annoyance. How is it that his theories are on the money everytime – that’s unrealistic and just plain cocky. Well, this was the only blemish for me in an otherwise heartening read, with an ending that literally made me forget to breathe for a moment. In summary, The Devotion of Suspect X is a carefully woven web with an unforeseeable twist.
11) A Moveable Feast / Ernest Hemingway
SYNOPSIS: Published posthumously in 1964, A Moveable Feast remains one of Ernest Hemingway’s most beloved works. It is his classic memoir of Paris in the 1920s, filled with irreverent portraits of other expatriate luminaries such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein; tender memories of his first wife, Hadley; and insightful recollections of his own early experiments with his craft. It is a literary feast, brilliantly evoking the exuberant mood of Paris after World War I and the youthful spirit, unbridled creativity, and unquenchable enthusiasm that Hemingway himself epitomised.
THOUGHTS: One of my favourite movies, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris really made this book come alive for me. Although I’m not a fan of Hemingway’s writing style, A Moveable Feast certainly gave more insight into the lifestyle of those who lived in Paris in the Golden Age – particularly so in the lives of the charismatic Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.