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Read in 2014

These are all the books I read during my honours year, 2014.

  • Amb ulls de nena – Encarnació Martorell i Gil (12 Oct 2013–4 Jan 2014)
    The diary of a Catalan girl who lived through the Spanish Civil War, sometimes dubbed “l’Anna Frank catalana”. I wrote my honours thesis primarily about this book, so you’d best believe I got intimately acquainted with it over the course of 2014 😅 Full review (in Catalan) »

  • Hija de la fortuna – Isabel Allende (24 Dec 2013–12 Jan 2014)
    Eliza Sommers has grown up in the British colony in Valparaíso, Chile. She falls in love with some dude and moves to California during the Gold Rush in pursuit of him; she doesn’t find him, but goes on to have her own adventure. Full review (in Spanish) »

  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (12–15 Jan 2014)
    ★★★ A delightful skewering of the upper classes of the 1920s United States. Full review »

  • We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo (14–20 Jan 2014)
    ★★ A frustratingly inconsistent book which attempts to touch on seemingly every social issue in America and every social issue in Zimbabwe. Full review »

  • Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (20–29 Jan 2014)
    ★★★ Every time Ursula Todd dies, she’s reset back to some point in her life so she can try to live it out again. Her challenge is to live a happy life… and also thwart Hitler. Full review »

  • The Island of Eternal Love – Daína Chaviano (29 Jan–4 Feb 2014)
    ★ A surprisingly and painfully right-wing novel in which everyone who ever lived in Cuba was a successful small business owner, apparently, so they all had to move to Miami. Full review »

  • Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates (4–10 Feb 2014)
    ★★★★ A book that asks, “Why do we ever abandon our dreams of glamorous, cultured inner-city lifestyles, move to the suburbs and then have children?” Set in 1950s New York. Full review »

  • Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe (10–12 Feb 2014)
    ★★★★ A landmark work of English-language African literature, about Igbo society before colonisation and the reasons it began to succumb. Full review »

  • Loaded – Christos Tsiolkas (12–18 Feb 2014)
    ★★½ A 1995 novel about a Greek-Australian 19yo guy who takes drugs and has unhealthy, anonymous, vicious sex as a way of life. Full review »

  • Retrato en sepia – Isabel Allende (18 Feb–13 Mar 2014)
    ★★ A sequel to Daughter of Fortune (following Aurora Del Valle) and prequel to House of the Spirits, which attempts to juggle too many disparate things and thus falls short. Full review »

  • Class, Culture and Conflict in Barcelona, 1898-1937 – Chris Ealham (21 Feb–15 Mar 2014)
    Non-fiction book investigating urban conflict, popular protest and social control in Barcelona during the period 1898-1937.

  • The Body Hunter – Najat El Hachmi (16–20 Mar 2014)
    ★★★½ A story all about sex and alienation in contemporary Catalonia. Full review »

  • Republic of Egos: A Social History of the Spanish Civil War – Michael Seidman (21–25 Mar 2014)
    The content chapters, where he actually talks about history, are mostly good, but the political statements of the introduction and conclusion are frustrating (mostly for being wrong). In one breath he’ll whinge about “social history” not being adequately individualist, and in the next he’ll say that he himself is taking a social-historical approach. He complains that Marxists', feminists' and the aforementioned social historians' focus on social groups denies that “individual dissidence” is a thing – that is, he seems to believe Marxists, feminists and social historians argue that workers, women, whatever group it may be are all monoliths, and who on earth would argue that?! He can’t tell the difference between bourgeois and workers' revolutions, and therefore argues that the “Spanish Revolution” may have had more success if only they’d managed to convince the bourgeoisie that they were committed to defending private property. He doesn’t think the Nationalists were actually fascists, either. So, I don’t know. He takes a good, “history-from-below” perspective to history but his politics are quite messed up and annoying. Skip the introduction/conclusion if you can, maybe.

  • Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (23–27 Mar 2014)
    ★★★ A satirical novel about global armageddon.

  • El túnel – Ernesto Sabato (8–13 Apr 2014)
    ★★★ An uncomfortable novella in which the narrator tells the story of his relationship with the woman he killed. Full review (in Spanish) »

  • Crónica de una muerte anunciada – Gabriel García Márquez (10–15 Apr 2014)
    ★★★ A story about a murder in which the killers are known from the very first line of the book, so the pleasure is in seeing all the pieces of this story fall together in their places. Full review (in Spanish) »

  • The Lady from Tel Aviv – Rabai Al-Madhoun (17–23 Apr 2014)
    ★★★★ Walid, a sixty-something-year-old writer, returns to Palestine for the first time in 38 years, after the Israeli occupation forcibly separated him from his family, and observes the ways in which his homeland, his family and his friends have changed, mostly for the worse. Full review »

  • Beneath the Lion’s Gaze – Maaza Mengiste (24 Apr–1 May 2014)
    ★★★½ A gruesome but gripping book set during the brutal dictatorship of 1970s Ethiopia. Full review »

  • Embassytown – China Miéville (1–15 May 2014)
    ★★ In the far future, humans have colonised a distant planet home to the Ariekei, whose language has never developed the symbolic nature of the sign. Political turmoil erupts. Full review »

  • Soldiers of Salamis – Javier Cercas (19–26 May 2014)
    ★★★★ Set at the end of and after the Spanish Civil War, this is a moving novel about historical memory, and how those who fought in that war were remembered. Full review »

  • Play It As It Lays – Joan Didion (2–3 Jun 2014)
    ★★★ A novel about ultra-wealthy Americans in the late 1960s feeling filled with ennui and divorced from the reality of all the actual important things happening at that time. Full review »

  • Bonjour Tristesse (26 May–7 Jun 2014)
    ★★ Cécile is a 17yo upper-class French schoolgirl with a womanising, playboy dad who pretty much lets her do whatever she wants. However, one day Playboy Dad decides to marry someone he only just met who doesn’t seem like she’ll be that easygoing, so Cécile must scheme to rid her from her dad’s life. Full review »

  • Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis (3–12 Jun 2014)
    ★★ An enormously influential satire of the British upper-class, unfortunately marred for modern-day readers by some really sexist characterisation. Full review »

  • Skinjob – Bruce McCabe (21 Jun 2014)
    ★★★★ A fast-paced neo-noir thriller with a serious point to make about the misogyny that lies at the heart of the sex industry. Full review »

  • Absolution – Patrick Flanery (23–30 Jun 2014)
    ★★★ Kind of a mystery novel, featuring white South Africans, examining history, truth, memory… also describable as basically Atonement in South Africa. Full review »

  • Bury Me Deep – Megan Abbott (2–7 Jul 2014)
    ★★★½ A young woman, abandoned by her husband, is swept up in the fast-paced, hard-partying lifestyle of her roommates, through which she meets a charismatic womaniser. Some time later, bodies are discovered stuffed into suitcases in a 1930s Los Angeles train station. Full review »

  • China Dolls – Lisa See (7–22 Jul 2014)
    ★★★★ Follows three young women of East Asian background and their tumultuous friendships in late 30s/early 40s San Francisco. Full review »

  • Mother Night – Kurt Vonnegut (22–28 Jul 2014)
    ★★★★ American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy during World War II, is now on trial in Israel as a Nazi war criminal. But is he really guilty?

  • The Devil’s Mixtape – Mary Borsellino (29 Jul–4 Aug 2014)
    ★★ An ambitious book dealing with Christianity, evil, murder, etc. but it fell flat for me. Full review »

  • Holes – Louis Sachar (5–6 Aug 2014)
    ★★★½ Stanley Yelnats is unjustly sent to a juvenile detention centre, where he must dig a lot of holes. Full review »

  • Where Earth Meets Water – Pia Padukone (11–13 Aug 2014)
    ★★★★ Karom has survived two disasters he shouldn’t have – 9/11 and the devastating 2004 tsunami – and struggles with guilt. He flies back from NYC to India, hoping to find some peace.

  • Barracuda – Christos Tsiolkas (25 Aug–3 Sep 2014)
    ★★★ The sad story of a good kid who goes to private school and becomes an asshole.

  • The Sound of Things Falling – Juan Gabriel Vásquez (4–15 Sep 2014)
    ★★★ A novel set in Colombia during the 1990s, with an infuriating protagonist. Full review »

  • Safe House – Chris Ewan (15–23 Sep 2014)
    ★★ This has been marketed as a thriller, but it really lacks the compelling, page-turning quality that “thriller” implies. It has, however, also been marketed as a mystery, which I think is the accurate label.

    It’s an alright book. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but I have to admit I probably wouldn’t have bought it if it hadn’t been cheap in the Kindle Store!

  • Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut (14–27 Oct 2014)
    ★★ There’s usually a comforting kind of consistency with Kurt Vonnegut’s books – they’re never my favourites, with the characterisation being too shallow for that – but they’re witty, left-wing, and usually just kinda fun.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t find this one as fun. I kept getting the characters mixed up and then it all got a bit silly at the end.

  • Blood Of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War – Ronald Fraser (22 Apr–31 Oct 2014)
    This oral history was, like, the secondary source that I used to guide my honours thesis-writing.

  • The Unexpected Vacation of George Thring – Alastair Puddick (29 Oct–3 Nov 2014)
    ★★★★★ A hilarious romp that speaks to the alienation of the average office worker. Full review »

  • The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike #1) – Robert Galbraith (25 Sep–12 Nov 2014)
    ★★★½ It was an intriguing mystery, but a little slow and I seriously hate this author’s habit of writing “phonetically” the dialogue of characters who are lower-class. It’s just so patronising, even though I’m sure that’s not the intent.

  • Secret Son – Laila Lalami (12–14 Nov 2014)
    ★★★★ A young man living in a poor suburb of Casablanca finds out his father is not in fact dead, but wealthy and eager to get to know him. So begins a story about identity and Morocco’s class divisions in the aftermath of colonialism.

  • Out of It – Selma Dabbagh (14–18 Nov 2014)
    ★★ A novel following three siblings in Gaza during an Israeli bombing campaign. Full review »

  • Broken Bulbs – Eddie Wright (20 Nov 2014)
    ★ I think I’ve actually read this novella before, because parts of it gave me some strong déjà vu. Evidently I forgot I’d read it, probably because I didn’t think it was very good. It reminded me a bit of “Donnie Darko”, although I don’t remember that very well so take that comparison with a grain of salt.

    Mostly I didn’t get what the point of this book was. It didn’t tell an interesting story, but it didn’t seem to have any other point. Let’s hope I don’t inadvertently start reading it a third time!

  • Pink Carbide – E.S. Wynn (24 Nov 2014)
    ★★ A cyberpunk novel set in 22nd-century Los Angeles. Full review »

  • The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) – Robert Galbraith (3–15 Dec 2014)
    ★★★★ A detective novel about a missing novelist, by the same author as the Harry Potter series.

  • The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri (16–18 Dec 2014)
    ★★★★★ Probably the best novel I’ve read all year.

  • A Land Without Jasmine – Wajdi Al-Ahdal (19 Dec 2014)
    ★★★ A Yemeni novella about the disappearance of a young woman, and also a critique of Yemeni society. Full review »

  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler (21–24 Dec 2014)
    ★★★★★ The light-hearted, cheerful tone of this book belies the content, which is (in many parts) very dark. It deals with the serious issue of how our society treats animals; it also has a lot of comic relief that prevents this book becoming simply depressing. Overall, I thought it was brilliant, although if you don’t care about animals then the entire point of the book will be lost on you.

  • Touch – Adania Shibli (28 Dec 2014)
    ★★ A novella about a Palestinian girl.