I just can’t seem to quit you

Since March 13th, which is when life as we knew it came to a halt in these parts, I have read 18 books, and I have started and abandoned many others. That got me thinking about why some books haven’t captured my interest during this crazy period in time. I hesitate just to toss them in the “give away” pile because perhaps under different circumstances, I might actually be able to read and enjoy them. This was something I thought about when I considered adding them to my Book Graveyard. When I think about the books that I have flown through, they all seem to have something in common: fast-paced, with great writing. These are books I just couldn’t put down and were totally diverting, which is what I needed so that I didn’t stress about other things, mainly my job.

Of the novels I have read since the beginning of quarantine, The Roanoke Girls has beenRoanoke my favourite. Even if I had read it during a different period in my life, I would have loved this story about a girl who discovers a dark secret about her family’s history. It had all the things I love in a book.

I also loved Lisa Jewell’s novel The Family Upstairs. In my experience, Jewell has always been a dependable writer. She’s someone I turn to when I am having a bit of a slump because I know I will enjoy her clever plots and excellent writing. This novel, about the impact one family has on another, delivered on all counts.

Then, there are the books that I’ve started, but just abandoned. Before I consign them to the Book Graveyard, though, I do a little research to see if I should give them another crack. I mean, there has to be a reason I bought them in the first place, right?

Here’s a look at some of the titles I have started and abandoned since the beginning of quarantine. I am not quite ready to break up with them just yet.

tutorFirst up is Peter Abraham’s novel The Tutor.

From the jacket: Master of psychological suspense Peter Abrahams returns with an ingenious take of an ordinary family that unknowingly invites the agent of their destruction into their own home.

Goodreads rating: almost 4 stars.

Review says: “An insidious tutor affects the lives of a dysfunctional family, in this sharply written psychological suspense.” – from Kirkus 

My thoughts: Although I have read a couple other books by Abrahams, (Reality Check, End of Story ), I just couldn’t settle into this novel about a family with every problem under the sun (professional disappointments, failed academic aspirations, troubled teen) and the tutor they hire to help them out. I think I got about 50 or so pages in, but then I just put it to the side. The reason I keep hesitating about tossing it is that I have enjoyed Abrahams in the past, and it is generally well-reviewed by readers.

Strange Fits of Passion – Anita Shreve

From the jacket: Set in the early 1970s, this powerful portrait of truth and deception strangecenters around two New Tork City journalists, Maureen and Harold English. Everyone believes the couple has a happy, stable marriage, and despite strange events, no one suspects domestic abuse could plague their seemingly perfect life together.

Goodreads rating: almost four stars

Review says: “As in her acclaimed Eden Close (1989), Shreve here picks up the loose threads of long-ago murder to weave a gripping and articulate story that has much to say about love and spite and domestic tragedy.” – from Kirkus

My thoughts: I am a big fan of Anita Shreve (Body Surfing, Testimony ) and I think the reason that I didn’t immediately groove to this novel (I only got as far as page 17) is because I knew that it was going to require some effort on my part. Some books need your undivided attention, and I expect that this is going to be one of them. I wasn’t prepared to buckle down at the time, so I put it aside. I will get to again it eventually.

longingThe Longings of Wayward Girls – Karen Brown

From the jacket: It’s an idyllic New England summer, and Sadie is a precocious only child on the edge of adolescence. It seems like July and August will pass lazily by, just as they have every year before. But one day, Sadie and her best friend play a seemingly harmless prank on a neighbourhood girl. Soon after, that same little girl disappears from a backyard barbecue – and she is never seen again.

Goodreads rating: three and a half stars

Review says: “Even with flaws, Brown’s complex and haunting piece is better than average.” – from Kirkus

My thoughts: This is actually my second attempt to read this book and I am not quite certain why I have never managed to get very far in either time. It sounds like a book that would totally be my jam, but for some reason I just never get far enough in to be invested. Perhaps third time’s the charm because I am not ready to give it away just yet.

Broken As Things Are – Martha Witt broken

From the jacket: From the day that Morgan-Lee is born, her extraordinarily beautiful and withdrawn older brother, Ginx, is obsessed by her. […] Morgan-Lee is the only person who is able to understand and engage Ginx. Sharing a secret language, they escape together into a make-believe world.

Goodreads rating: three and a half stars

Review say: “Follows old trails, yet everything you come upon seems absolutely new. A real wonder.” – from Kirkus

My thoughts: I got to page 39 before I set this book aside. It wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it, although it was definitely an odd book. Sometimes, because of its rhythms,  I think you need to read a book straight through. For whatever reason, I didn’t do that with this one and I sort of lost momentum. I will definitely give this one another go at some point.

fatesThe Fates Will Find Their Way – Hannah Pittard

From the jacket: Sixteen-year-old Nora Lindell is missing. And the neighborhood boys she’s left behind are caught forever in the heady current of her absence.

Goodreads rating: three and a half stars

Review says: “A melancholy coming-of-age debut novel in the spirit of The Virgin Suicides.” – from Kirkus

My thoughts: I got 70 pages into this one, and that’s generally the point of no return for me, so I can only assume that I was just having a hard time staying focused. It’s definitely well-written, and it’s definitely a book I will return to.

What reasons do you have for abandoning a book? I’d love to hear what books you’ve set aside, but intend to get to at some point.

Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders – Julianna Baggott (although my copy is called The Seventh Book of Wonders)

seventh

From the jacket: A tale of long-lost love, motherhood, and family secrets that spans an entire century, this is Baggott’s most enchanting novel yet.

Goodreads rating: almost four stars

Review says: “Moments of heartbreak balance moments of hilarity in Baggott’s ambitious portrait of a family created from equal parts secrecy and love.” – from Kirkus

My thoughts: I made it to page 44, but I just couldn’t seem to fall into the book’s rhythms. The NY Times named it one of 2015’s Notable Books, and while I am not normally swayed by these sorts of accolades, I do think it will be worth getting back to at some point.

risenThe Risen – Ron Rash

From the jacket: While swimming in a secluded creek on a hot Sunday in 1969, sixteen-year-old Eugene and his older brother, Bill, meet Ligeia, a free-spirited redhead from Daytona Beach banished to their small North Carolina town. {…} But when Ligeia vanishes as suddenly as she appeared, the growing rift between the two brothers becomes immutable.

Goodreads rating: almost four stars

Review says: “The novel hits its share of false or clumsy notes, but it’s not ruined by them thanks to Rash’s sure evocation of the time and place and the complexity and poignancy of his portrait of his protagonist.” -from Kirkus

My thoughts: I actually almost hit the 100 page mark and could probably easily finish it – except it’s been a few weeks and in order to give the book its due, I would probably have to start again. I think this book would totally be my jam, if I could just commit to it.

 

 

Shopping My Shelves

We’ve been sheltering in place since March 16, which means I have not been to a book store since…March 16. Typically, my son Connor and I hit Indigo about once a week. Occasionally, we simply browse – neither of us need to add anything to our TBR shelves, to be honest. More often than not, though, we simply can’t resist buying something. Since Covid 19 has made it impossible to hit the book store, I have been shopping my own shelves.

My TBR shelf is ridiculous. Some people buy shoes; I buy books. Marie Kondo would not approve.  I love them. They are objects of beauty, which is why eReaders do not appeal to me.  They are, as Stephen King says, “uniquely portable magic.” I love knowing that when I finish a book, I have dozens (okay, hundreds) more to choose from.

Recently, Connor volunteered to colour block my TBR shelf. Although my read shelves are alphabetized so I can find books easily, and another shelf is organized by genre, colour blocking my TBR shelf kept both of us busy for a handful of hours. Browsing my TBR shelf isn’t anymore difficult this way, because I don’t really know what’s on it anyway. (That’s the problem of having a book-buying addiction, although it’s a good problem to have.)

bookshelves

I enjoy shopping my shelves. It’s kinda cool, when I stumble upon a book I’d forgotten that I owned, or something that’s been on my shelf forever. Or, when I come across a book that I don’t remember buying, read it and it turns out to be spectacularly good, which is the case with a book I recently read called The Roanoke Girls.

Today, I thought I would take you on a tour of some of the books on my TBR shelf.

First of all – let’s take a look at some of the books with buzz. I don’t automatically buy every single book that wins a prize or garners lots of praise or makes the NY Times best seller list. But I do buy some. These books are on my TBR shelf.

Of the books pictured, Olive Kitteridge has been on my shelf the longest. I don’t know why I haven’t read it because I have heard nothing about good things about it.

My TBR shelf also consists of books that I’ve started and, for some reason, stopped reading. I don’t want to call them DNFs just yet, so I stick them back on the shelf in the hopes that I will pick them up and enjoy them in the future. At one point in my reading life, I finished every book I started. That served me well in university, when I was often called upon to read something I didn’t necessarily want to read. Nowadays, I am easier on myself; if a book doesn’t float my boat, I give it 50-75 pages and then move on. These books, for whatever reason, I just can’t break up with.

So, a little about some of the books pictured above:

The JJ Abrams book  (middle right) was a birthday gift from Connor a few years ago. It’s a book that requires real focus because it’s a book filled with documents (see picture top right) and footnotes etc. I want to read it, but I know I need to read it straight through without distractions.

Hollywood Savage (top left) is by the author of one of my all-time, most-read novels Velocity I read another of her novels, Some Girls, and while I enjoyed it, I  don’t think anything McCloy ever writes will usurp Velocity‘s place in my heart. I gave Hollywood Savage a go a while back, and I don’t think it’s going to be my cup of tea…but since I love McCloy, I am not going to give up on this one.

Shelter (bottom right) has the distinction of being on my TBR shelf since 1994. I have tried to read this book on more than one occasion. I am not sure why I keep trying other than I seem to recall there was some controversy surrounding the book, and I can’t resist a good book scandal. I can’t seem to give up on it.

The other books will remain on my TBR shelf because they are by local authors (Finding Woods), are by authors I have enjoyed before (The Secret Keeper), or have been approved by readers I respect (Foxlowe, Cruel Beautiful World).

shoppingrereadOccasionally, a book that I have read before ends up on my TBR shelf. Usually, it’s a book  that I read a long time ago, and that I remember really fondly and want to revisit. That happened with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which I reread last summer. Carolyn Slaughter’s novel Magdalene is another one of those novels I hope to reread one day. Actually, I wouldn’t mind re-reading several of Slaughter’s books as I LOVE her.  This is my second copy of this book; I lent my original and never got it back. 😦 It’s very difficult to get any of Slaughter’s novels, but I have had pretty good luck with Abe Books or The Book Depository. I highly recommend The Banquet and The Story of the Weasel (also known as Relations).

Another book I would love to re-read is Peter Straub’s novel Shadowlands. I have been ashoppingreread1 long-time fan of Straub, although I don’t read him much anymore (even though I have several books on this shelf: see below.) I think the last book I read by him was Lost Boy, Lost Girl, which I recall not liking very much. His earlier stuff, though, is fantastic. Check out Ghost Story or If You Could See Me Now, both of which probably deserve a re-read.

I also tend to hoard books by authors I like, y’know, so I always have something dependable to grab. Some of those authors include Helen Dunmore (who sadly died in 2017), Andrew Pyper, Lisa Jewell, Thomas H. Cook, Stephen King to name but a few.

Finally, there are some books on my TBR shelf that are kind of embarrassing. These are books that I probably should have read way before now, for a variety of reasons: everyone and their dog has already read (and loved it), it’s been on my shelf a stupidly long time and I have no excuse or I was really excited to read it, but then didn’t and now it languishes with all the others. Le sigh. Here are but a handful in this category.

And just in case you think the books on my colour blocked TBR shelf are the only TBR books I own, you’d be wrong. In my world, you can never have too many books.

shoppingtoomany

 

 

A reflection on my 2019 reading year…

Happy New Year!

For the past several years I’ve completed a little reading survey, a sort of look back at the reading year that was. I normally spend a few hours reflecting on my year, choosing most favourite and least favourite books and talking about other bookish things that happened to me, but I usually do that in advance of January 1st. This year I had to return my daughter to university and then I spent a couple days with my best friend and her family out of the city…so no time to get that post ready in advance. I do like to think about my reading year, though, so here are some random thoughts.

Goodreads provides a handy overview of your reading year at the end of their challenge. This is mine. I think I had a pretty good year. I read nine more books than I did in 2018, and I hope to up that number again this year by spending WAY less time on the Internet. My reading goal for 2020 is 70 books, but I would love to surpass that.

myabsolutedarlingOf the books I read in 2019, a couple really stand out.  Gabriel Tallent’s debut novel My Absolute Darling was a difficult book to read, but the protagonist, Turtle, has stayed with me. As I said in my review, this book will not be everyone’s cup of tea; however, if you can stomach the subject matter (sexual abuse, violence), it is so worth the read because of the incredible beauty of Tallent’s writing and the novel’s stunning main character.

I also really enjoyed Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House , Tara Westover’s Educated , Iain Reid’s Foe, Tim Johnston’s The Current, Joanna Briscoe’s You (not to be confused with the thriller by Caroline Kepnes),  and Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere

I read a lot of terrific YA this year. It’s relatively rare to read a total YA dud these days – and to be honest, if the book really sucks I just move on – but I read some stellar YA titles in 2019.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds –  a novel in verse about the aftermath of gun violence. A quick but powerful read that belongs on every school library bookshelf

A List of Cages by Robin Roe  – a tremendous novel about two boys who meet again at high school, and how that chance encounter and one boys innate kindness saves the other boy’s life. Literally.

A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck – I cried real tears when I read this book. It is YA perfection.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera – smart, thoughtful, heartbreaking and – not a spoiler – they do both die at the end. LOVED it.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – twisty, gothic, beautifully written… a page-turner with a beating heart

I read some mediocre books this year, too…and many of them were really popular books. These are books that were just okay for me – certainly not, imho, worth the hype.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane landed me in a little mini Twitter shitstorm. First time EVER I had an author and her minions come at me, even though I didn’t think (and still don’t think) my review of her book was all that critical. The book just didn’t do it for me.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides is a serviceable thriller and I had no trouble reading it, but I just didn’t think it was worthy of all the fuss. For me.

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer was one of  last year’s book club picks and it just didn’t float my boat because I didn’t really care too much for the main female characters, which is a problem in a book about women.

The Perfect Nanny  by Leila Slimani – was it the translation? I dunno. I just found this book about a nanny who kills the children she is charged to care for S-L-O-W

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – I felt as trapped as the novel’s main character, Count Rostov

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James – this was my book club pick last year and it just had too much going on

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel – captures the zeitgeist of gender identity and, overall, does it well, but I still had some issues and couldn’t give it a hearty thumbs up

Other bookish things that were exciting this year:

fitch1 - CopyI stumbled upon, purely by chance, Sherree Fitch’s magical bookstore, Mable Murple’sBook Shoppe and Dreamery in River John, Nova Scotia.

Fitch’s children’s books were on permanent rotation in my house when my kids were little, so it was pretty exciting to find the store and then find the author herself chatting to patrons.

I purchased my copy of A Velocity of Being here and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you love books, this is a MUST read.

I also had the opportunity to meet Lauren B. Davis, author of one of my favourite books, Our Daily Bread, when she read from her newest novel, The Grimoire of Kensington Market. Davis and I have interacted a little lauren davisbit on social media, and in fact back when my book club read Our Daily Bread, she graciously offered to answer any questions we had in real time via Twitter.

I intend to make going to author readings more of a regular habit in 2020, as I do love to see them in person. I am so sorry I missed my opportunity to hear Craig Davidson read from his book The Saturday Night Ghost Club, which I read in 2019 and really liked a lot.

One other thing I did in 2019 that I have never done before was to make a vlog. I had a crazy busy few weeks and let my read books pile up and knew I would never get around to writing reviews about them, so I thought, what the heck, I’ll talk about them instead. Not that easy, people. If you want to waste 20 minutes, you can watch that here.

Overall, it’s been a great reading year and I look forward to discovering new favourites in 2020. I hope you’ll visit often and stay a while.

 

 

CBC’s Harbour Lights City Market Show

hdr
Thanks to Patrick MacDonald, HVHS student and CBC intern, for taking this picture.

I was invited to talk about books at this year’s Harbour Lights show held in the Saint John City Market. Five minutes goes super fast, so I thought that I would put links to the full reviews for all the books I spoke about here. Please consider making a donation to the cause. You can do that here

Now that it’s all said and done – I have to say that was a nerve-wracking experience. When you’re in the studio, it’s quiet and there’s just you. Not so much at the City Market. Still, I love talking about books, so it was fun!

FICTION
saturdaynight
dutch
The Dutch Houseby Ann Patchett
NON FICTION
educated
Educated by Tara Westover
velocity of being
YOUNG ADULT
We Were Liars by E Lockhart
They Both Die at The End– Adam Silvera
Long Way Down – Jason Reynolds
UNDER-THE-RADAR
The Current  & Descent  by Tim Johnston
myabsolutedarling
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
What books will you be giving to your loved ones this year?
Instead of telling you that – because what if they’re listening – I think everyone should follow Iceland’s terrific tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve.  This is known as the “Christmas Book Flood” or Jolabokaflod (yo-la-bok-a-flot), and Iceland, if you don’t know, has more writers, more books published and more books read than anywhere else in the world.  I think they’re on to something.
Happy holidays!

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line & Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

I have a confession to make. I am a fangirl.

DavidCassidy-shaghaircutAt first it was just me and my Tigerbeat magazines. Posters on my bedroom wall. The usual suspects – given my age: David Cassidy. Robby Benson. Richard Gere. Around the time my son was born, I discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer and that was a game changer. I just happened to catch the end of season three, that moment when Buffy and Angel stare at each other across the smoking ruins of Sunnydale High and I was all Who is that?  This was before PVRs. I rented the previous seasons of Buffy at Blockbuster and when the new season started I was ready. Then I discovered fanfiction. Well, fandom in general. I met amazing people. I attended conventions in Las Vegas and Atlanta. For about a decade I was all-in. Then, of course, life gets busier and the shows ended and I sort of drifted away from fandom.

veronica mars1Flash forward a decade or so and at the encouragement of one of my friends from the Buffy fandom, I started watching Veronica Mars. Veronica Mars (2004 – 2007) is of roughly the same vintage as Buffy (1997- 2004) and in fact several Buffy actors appear on Veronica Mars including Allison Hannigan, Charisma Carpenter and Buffy creator Joss Whedon. I watched the first three seasons of Veronica Mars in about ten days. Then I rented the movie, which I watched three times. I knew season 4 was due to be released tomorrow, and my intention was to watch the series straight through again before then, but the new series dropped a week early. I am two episodes away from finishing season 4 and managed to remain spoiler free until I inadvertently saw something which literally made me feel ill. I am sick with anticipation. (I have now seen the entire eight episodes and I am shaking my fist at you Rob Thomas!)

So, what’s a fangirl to do? First stop Archive of Our Own. That’s really the premiere site for all your fanfiction needs. It used to be Fanfiction. net before they got all uptight about smut. I’ve been out of the fic game for so long and so in order to expedite the process (aka avoid reading junk) I asked my Buffy friends for some names. Someone recommended giving the Veronica Mars books a go. Wait? There are books? And sure enough, there are.

Veronica Mars, when the series opens, is a seventeen-year-old high school student who lives with her dad, Keith, in Neptune, California, a sort of seedy beach town near San Diego. The town is divided by wealth. There’s the very, very rich, those who live in the ’09 zip code (known as 09ers) and then there’s everyone else. When the series opens, Veronica is on the outside looking in. Once, she’d been part of the rich crowd because she was dating Duncan Kane, son of the richest guy in Neptune. Veronica’s best friend was Lilly Kane, Duncan’s sister. She had a little extra cache because her father was the town sheriff. When the series begins, though, Lilly has been murdered. Keith, for accusing Mr. Kane of playing a part in his daughter’s death, has been run out of office, and no one is speaking to Veronica.  The series is populated with fantastic characters. There’s Eli ‘Weevil’ Navarro, leader of Neptune’s notorious PCH  bike gang; Wallace Fennel, a new kid who becomes Veronica’s bestie; Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie, a computer whiz, Dick Casablancas, a rich, entitled surf rat and Logan Echolls, son of movie star Aaron Echolls and Lilly’s boyfriend.

Over the course of three seasons, friendships are tested, alliances made and broken, and mysteries solved because that’s what Veronica does. Like her vampire-slaying contemporary, Buffy, Veronica is smart and fearless and tenacious. Like Buffy, she has to juggle her own personal life with her driving need to get to the truth of things, even if the truth often puts her in harm’s way. Like Buffy, she’s just a girl.

The show was created by Rob Thomas (not Matchbox 20‘s Rob Thomas) and it is whip-smart, filled with witty writing, heartache, laugh-out-loud zingers and clever mysteries. The acting is stellar, particularly Kristen Bell as Veronica. I loved the show. Well, loved might be an understatement.

The movie, funded by a kickstarter project  came out in 2014 and takes place about nine years after the series ended. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s a must-watch if you are going to watch season 4.

veronica marsThe two Veronica Mars novels take place after the end of the movie and so while they probably aren’t necessary I loved them. Rob Thomas considers them 98% canon and as he wrote them, along with Jennifer Graham, I think they are really must-reads for any fan of the show.

The first, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, is the story of a girl who goes missing during Neptune’s notorious spring break. Veronica is called upon to investigate and she is soon plunged into a dangerous world of drug cartels and organized crime. When a second girl goes missing, things become even more complicated because it brings someone from Veronica’s past back into her life.

The second book, Mr. Kiss and Tell, is the story of a girl, the younger sister of one of Veronica’s high school classmates, who is found badly beaten in a field. She identifies someone who worked at the Neptune Grand as the assailant, but that man has fled the country because he was in the US illegally. The victim is trying to sue the hotel for damages and Veronica has been hired by the hotel to disprove the victim’s claims. Of course, like with every single Mars investigation, things are not as they seem.

If you had no prior knowledge of the show, I think you could still enjoy these two books as straight up mysteries. There are the requisite red herrings, clues, action – all the stuff mystery fans would like. But for fans of the show there’s going to be a little extra something something.

And really, if you haven’t watched Veronica Mars you are in for a real treat. I haven’t fangirl squee’d like this in years. (But I am still shaking my fist, Rob!)

Mabel Murple – Sheree Fitch

“What if there was a purple planet with purple people on it…?

mabelHow many times did I read those lines, the opening words of Sheree Fitch‘s children’s book Mabel Murple to my kids? About a billion. Fitch ranked right up there with Dr. Seuss when my kids were little. They loved her clever rhymes and I loved reading them aloud. (For me, Mabel might have just been edged out by There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen. That book uses the word Gorgonzola, so come on. ) We could happily read Toes in My Nose every night before bed. I’d like to think that Fitch is a staple in Canadian households, but if you haven’t heard of her I can highly recommend her books. They are classics!

On Sunday July 7, my son Connor and I were heading home from visiting my daughter Mallory in Halifax. It’s a straight shot on a twinned highway between Halifax and Saint John and on a good day you can do it in under four hours. But it’s a journey I have made several times since my daughter moved to Halifax to attend NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) a year ago. It’s quick and it’s boring. Connor and I both love to drive and we both love to get off the beaten path. We had music (my choices excellent; his not so much) and it was a perfect day. My brother had mentioned the Sunshine Coastal drive to me before we’d headed to Halifax and so we decided to check it out on our way home. When we hit Truro we headed towards New Glasgow instead of Amherst. We picked up Hwy #6 in Pictou and it was so worth the detour.

So, we’re cruising along, windows down, ocean to our right, green as far as the eye could see and right before River John I see the sign (had I blinked I would have missed it) for Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery

Truthfully, I was as excited about this discovery as I was about entering Shakespeare and Co. in Paris last summer. I knew about this little oasis and it has been on my book bucket list, but I didn’t know that our spontaneous detour was going to take as right past it. Yet, there it was. I think my shriek of delight scared Connor half to death.

fitch2 - Copy

If there is a more idyllic spot, I don’t know where it is.  It is literally down a dirt road, a burst of colour on a gorgeous plot of land. I can only imagine how little fans of Mabel Murple must feel upon arrival because I was practically giddy.

After peering into Mabel‘s adorable house, and wandering the grounds visiting horses, a donkey, a couple goats and some chickens, we made our way into the book shoppe. It’s a delightful place. I am – no surprise – of the opinion that all book shops are delightful places, but this one is extra special. Mabel Murple‘s is geared towards children and carries a lot of Atlantic Canadian literature and I wanted to buy all the books. Of course I did.

fitch10As if that weren’t  enough, Ms. Fitch was there! She happily read (well, recited more like) Mabel Murple to a delighted child  (and all the adults who happened to be standing there, too) who seemed to know the words almost as well as she did. 

After making my purchase (a copy of Mabel Murple, of course and A Velocity of  Being, which has been on my tbr list for a while), I asked Ms. Fitch if I could get a picture. She graciously agreed. We stood outside her shop and chatted for a few minutes before Connor snapped the photo.

fitch1 - Copy

A perfect day! Thanks, Sheree!

P.S. Sheree will be reading in Saint John as part of the Lorenzo Society‘s reading series in November. Watch this space.

Easter ‘Book’ Hunt

So, before I begin preparing Easter dinner for the family, I thought I’d participate in The Savvy Reader’s Bookish Easter Egg Hunt. I can’t think of a nicer way to spend this rainy Sunday morning, and so with tea in hand I present my own book eggs.

1. Roses are red, violets are blue… Nope, I can’t rhyme. Instead, find your favourite book about love!

This is too hard because I love me a great love story, especially if it comes with a heaping helping of angst.

timetraveler

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

Henry and Clare and time travel and so many tears I couldn’t see the pages. Skip the crap movie and read this amazing book.

2. Dystopian novels are so 1984… Find a great dystopian novel!

knife-of-never-letting-go

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

Although I didn’t groove to this book the first time I picked it up, I did give it a second chance and I am so glad I did. I am not really a fan of dystopian novels, but this series has it all: sympathetic protagonists, cool premise (everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts), a relentless bad guy…and don’t even get me started on Manchee, the main character’s dog. The next two books in the series are The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men.

3. Book it to the library for a book that has aged like fine wine. Find a book you’ve read more than once and gets better every time you read it.

velocity

Velocity – Kristin McCloy

Velocity and I go wayyyyyy back. I bought the book at The Strand in the late-eighties and have re-read it many times. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I continue to love this book.

4. This book blue us away. What blue book can you find?

blue eyed

Your Blue-Eyed Boy – Helen Dunmore

I am a bug fan of Helen Dunmore, a British writer who, sadly, passed away in 2017. If you haven’t read her yet, I can highly recommend her work. Her novels have elements of psychological suspense, complicated family relationships, and beautiful writing always.

5. Past, Present and Future walk into a bar. It was tense. Find a book that plays with time in an interesting way.

 

life-after-life-

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson’s brilliant novel plays with the narrative form, skip-hopping readers through the main character’s life (lives), though it is not as confusing as it sounds. And very much worth the effort.

6. Check your shelf before you wreck your shelf. Find a great self-improvement book.

selp helf

Selp-Helf – Miranda Sings

I didn’t review this book back when I bought it, but I chose it for this category because I don’t really read self help books…plus, I love Miranda.

7. I like big books and I cannot lie! Look for a book that’s more than 500 pages.

fingersmith

Fingersmith – Sarah Waters

This book clocks in at 548 pages and won me best book at my book club the year I chose it (2010). It’s a fantastic novel set in Victorian England and, trust me, you won’t be able to put it down once you start reading.

8. I was in a relationship with an apostrophe, but we broke up… It was too possessive! Find a book with a complicated romantic relationship.

 

one-day

One Day – David Nicholls

This was actually a hard category for me because I LOVE me some complicated relationships…especially if the lovers are really damaged people, but in the end, I chose One Day because it’s awesome.

9. Take my advice… I don’t use it anyway. Find a book that you would recommend to everyone.

 

I am constantly recommending books – here, in my classroom, on the radio.  I could have chosen a million books, but I stopped at five:

Sadie  – Courtney Summers is one of my favourite YA writers and this book, her latest, is soooo good. Everyone should read it, not just teens.

A Short History of the Girl Next Door – Jared Reck is a teacher and this is his debut novel. I cried at the end of this book. LOVED it and recced it hard in my classroom.

My Sunshine Away – M.O. Walsh’s coming-of-age novel is beautifully written, suspenseful and heart-breaking and everyone should read it.

Everything I Never Told You – Celest Ng’s novel is just perfect and has stayed with me for a long time.

Descent – Tim Johnston has written a page-turner and  family drama in language that is beautiful without bogging the story down. And, trust me, this is one helluva story.

10. 4 out of 5 dentists recommend hockey. Find a good sports book.

now is thetime

Now is the Time for Running – Michael Williams

Although there is soccer in this book, it’s mostly about what happens when two brothers are forced to leave their African village.

I don’t read that many sports-related books. 😦

11. Bonus Question! Find a book cover with your name on it.

christie

The Christie part.

Happy Easter!

Off the shelf – Love stories

Listen here

Not all love stories are created equal. Sure, sometimes we want a squishy, feel-good tale of two people who can’t live without each other. But then, other times, we want something less happily-ever-after and more dangerous. So, I thought I’d offer up some Valentine’s Day reading suggestions both sweet and bitter – kind of like chocolate, really.

What makes a good love story? The answers are varied, of course, but there are some classics qualities that turn up over and over. A really skilled writer can steer couples away from the clichés and into the sunset.

PASSION – no one likes a wishy-washy love story. We want to read about characters that are ALL IN. Jane and Rochester from Jane Eyre.

MEANT TO BE – That sense of the inevitable, there’s just no way they can’t be together. It’s written in the stars. Fated. Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

MEANT TO BE, BUT CAN’T BE/ FORBIDDEN LOVE – This is one of my favourites. I love angst. Couples that are meant to be with each other, who are passionate, but – for a variety of reasons, just CAN’T be together. That’s my total jam. Buffy and Angel.

MEET CUTE – some unusual way to throw our lovers together.

Really great – okay, maybe I shouldn’t say ‘great’  – love stories find a way to hook our characters up, tug at their emotions (and hopefully ours) and make us feel all swoony or  – heartbroken, I like that too – at the end.

So here are a handful of LOVE stories, some traditional, some not so much, for your reading pleasure.

YOU – Carolyn Kepnes

EC4364B5-CF87-4ACD-9942-7867FDAC012ARead this book if you like a side of psycho with your roses and chocolates. This first person narrative tells the story of NYC book store manager, Joe, who falls in love with a beautiful wannabe writer, Beck. This is an interesting thriller because Joe isn’t your garden variety psycho. He’s crazy, for sure, but he’s also crazy smart. He’s instantly smitten with Beck and he finds a way to insinuate himself into her life. He wants her and he won’t let anything prevent him from having her. This is a page turner that’s actually really well-written. You can watch the series on Netflix, too. It’s a pretty true-to-the-book adaptation.

 

sadie

Sadie – Courtney Summers

Okay, this is not a romance novel by ANY STRETCH, but I have to include it on this list because I think everyone should read Courtney Summers and this book is getting a ton of buzz.

It’s the story of Sadie, a teen whose younger sister is murdered and the culprit is never caught. Sadie is pretty sure she knows who did it, and so she sets off to find him. Running parallel to her story is a true crime podcast about the crime. This is not a traditional love story, like it’s not boy meets girl, but it is about love…because Sadie puts her own life in jeopardy out of love for her sister.

Starry Eyes – Jenn Bennett

94B71DCC-2A46-44E4-90BF-CABC55A86A33Of all the books on this list, Starry Eyes is likely the most traditional. It concerns 17-year-olds Zorie and Lennon. They’ve been in each other’s lives forever and things were just starting to heat up when it all fell apart. When the story starts, the two are barely speaking to each other. Then they end up on a hiking trip together and things between to thaw between them. As teenage love stories go, this one is well-written, with believable, imperfect characters that it’s almost impossible not the fall in love with…as they fall in love with each other.

 

Simon versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli simon

This novel won lots of awards and praise and it is delightful in every possible way. Simon is 17. He’s amazing in every category: bright, self-aware and gay. He isn’t really out yet, but he has confided in Blue, a guy he’s met online. When another student stumbles upon Simon’s emails to Blue – too complicated to explain how that happens – and starts to blackmail Simon, life gets complicated. Watching Blue and Simon fall in love without meeting is pretty much the best thing ever. All the feels.

 Book Love by Debbie Tung

bookloveThis is an adorable book of comics all about the ways in which bibliophiles love their books. Tung is a writer/illustrator from Birmingham, England, and she has totally captured what it means to be in love with all things bookish. Never mind the candy, give your book-loving sweetheart this as a gift instead. Marie Kondo would definitely not endorse this book about buying/owning more books. That makes Ms. Kondo wrong, imho.

 

Off the shelf – looking ahead to 2018

Listen here.

I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions because it just makes you feel more miserable when you fail, but I do resolve to be a better reader in 2018. I am outing myself here, but 2017 was not a good reading year for me. If I look back at the titles I read in 2017 – there are really only a handful of memorable books, and I think I sort of got into a reading rut. My expectations were really high, but after a few bad reads I just sort of lost the plot, so to speak. So – as I look ahead to 2018 I am going to make a few changes in my reading life, not only in an effort to read more, but just in an effort to waste less of my precious free time. (Candy Crush – I’m looking at you!)

According to an article by Charles Chu at Better Humans, it is actually possible to read 200 books per year. 200! He did the math and that’s helpful for those of us who are mathematically challenged. Apparently, it would take the average reader about 417 hours to read roughly 10 million words at 400 wpm. And where are these hours coming from? Um – the average American, so let’s just say North American – wastes 608 hours a year on social media and 1642 hours per year on TV. Talk about a time suck. So, if you want to read more – put down your electronic devices and pick up a book

There are all sorts of reading challenges out there – something for book lovers of every stripe –  some that encourage you to Read Harder (as Book Riot’s challenge encourages you to do); or  PopSugar’s 2018 Reading Challenge. These sorts of challenges just give you a list of categories  and your job is to read a book that fits. Categories include things like “A book set at sea” or  “A  book with an ugly cover”. The one challenge I do every year is on GoodReads – which requires  nothing more from me than to decide how many books I am going to read over the course of  the year. I guess that’s 200 this year, right?

I think reading challenges can be good motivators – even just as a way to remind yourself to read (and no, Facebook doesn’t count!) – or as a way to help you decide what to read next if you get stuck. Also – if you tend to  read the same sort of book over and over, a reading challenge might encourage you to read outside of your comfort zone and that’s never a bad thing.

 

Book clubs are another great way to guarantee you’ll read this year. My book club has been at it over 20 years and although we have certainly read our fair share of duds – we’ve read a lot of great books, too. Book clubs are easy to start and can be as simple as meeting at a local coffee shop/ bar to discuss the book to hosting elaborate meals at members’ houses to discuss the book. All you need are a handful of people willing to read and meet on a regular basis and a few ground rules. I think the best way to find a book club is to ask around, but there is also a local chapter of Girly Book Club  – which is an international reading group started in the UK in 2014 and now boasts clubs in 6 countries. Kinda cool.

 

As for my own reading list for 2018? Oh dear. The list she is long.

At the top is John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down.

turtlesI love John Green and I bought this book pretty much as soon as it came out…and it’s been on my bedside table ever since. I know it’s easy to hate on John Green – but I kind of love him and he totally loves teenagers and writes them so well. Turtles all the Way Down is the story of Aza, her best friend Daisy, and Davis, the son of a missing millionaire who has disappeared. Aza is determined to find him to claim the reward.

I am also most anxious to read Celeste Ng’s second novel Little Fires Everywhere.

 You might recall that I was in love with her debut novel Everything I Never Told You alittlefires couple years back. Little Fires is set in the late 1990s in Shaker Heights, Ohio and is a story of  both a literal fire (one of the main characters watches as her house burns down in the novel’s opening pages) and figurative fires: race, rebellion, family tensions. By all accounts it is a literary page-turner. So I am looking forward to that,

I am also really looking forward to reading Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling

myabsolutedarlingThis is Tallent’s debut novel and despite the tricky subject matter – sexual abuse – the reviews have been uniformly fantastic. Stephen King called it a ‘masterpiece’ if you care about that sort of thing. It’s probably helpful to know going in that this is the story of Martin, a survivalist, and his fourteen-year-old daughter, Turtle and that – from the sounds of things – there is plenty to make readers super uncomfortable, but it’s also been called “a devastating and powerful debut.” So I have to read it.

Then of course, I will be adding scads of new titles to my reading queue courtesy of Litsy and the dozens of Best Of and Most Anticipated lists out there. I’m pretty certain my 2018 reading year is all booked.

Reflections on a year in reading, 2015 edition

I gave a little sneak peek of this list on Information Morning on December 7. Listen here.

It’s that time of year, top ten lists are popping up in all the usual places. I set a reading goal for myself every year…for no other reason than it helps me choose reading over Netflix. Sometimes reading loses, sadly. I keep a bookshelf over at 50Book Pledge. ca, which is a fabulous, easy-to-use virtual bookshelf site for anyone who likes that sort of thing.

Anyway, there are always bookish questionnaires floating around the Internet at this time of year that allow you to pause and take stock of your reading year. I am using The Perpetual Page-Turner’s awesome questions. I’ve done her questionnaire for the last few years and I really love looking back on the year.

Number of Books You Read: at this point 54, my goal was 60 but I didn’t make it.

Number of Re-Reads: 2

Genre You Read The Most From: YA (27 – I read a lot of YA because I teach high school English, but I do try to balance it out with other stuff.)

Non Fiction: 2

Fiction: 23

best-YA-books-2014

1.Best Book You Read In 2015?

Best YA: That’s a tie between Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz and Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Best Other: Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

hausfrauHausfrau – Jill Alexander Essbaum

I was pretty excited when this book was chosen for my book club. It was on a lot of top ten lists, but I hated it.
3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

I am always surprised by books that have a lot of buzz that turn out to be just mediocre on so many levels. I’m thinking of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.

4.Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)? IF-YOU-FIND-ME

I am always recommending books – although I generally try to find ‘best fit’ books in the classroom because what is right for one student might not be right for another. That said, of the books I’ve read this year I’ve recently been recommending Emily Murdoch’s If You Find Me.

5. Best series you started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015? Best Series Ender of 2015?

I loved Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne, and I loved its sequel Sky on Fire…then I got series fatigue, so I haven’t finished the series.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?

YA – Stephanie Kuehn. I’ve read two books by her this year and I’ve loved them both.

Other – Big fan of Penny Hancock’s Kept in the Dark. I would definitely read more by her

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Can’t really answer this one because I typically don’t read outside of my comfort zone. For example, I am not a fan of straight-up sci fi, so I don’t have any on my tbr shelf and I probably wouldn’t be purchasing any.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

In the total page-turner department I read If You Find Me in pretty much one sitting. I was totally invested in those characters. I also loved This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

9. Book You Read In 2015 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Not likely going to be re-reading anything. You might remember I talked about re-reading this summer and I had high hopes to tackle Jane Eyre, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Velocity and of the three I only managed to get to Velocity.

10.  Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015?

ruinsCome on, you know you can’t judge a book by its cover…but my favourite cover was probably Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter because Italy is my happy place and much of the book takes place there and the cover is so pretty, although I suspect it’s been photo shopped. I also loved the cover of Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod, a Canadian who gave up a good job to live and paint in Paris.

11. Most memorable character of 2015?

Oh, I met a lot of memorable characters this year – people I’ve thought about long after the final page was turned. I’m not sure I could pick just one.

12.Most beautifully written book read in 2015?

I think I will have to say Beautiful Ruins, although The History of Love by Nicole Krauss is pretty amazing, too. Both of those books manage to offer the reader style and substance.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2015?

Okay, well it has to be Donna Tartt’s massive The Goldfinch. I mean, Tartt just gives the reader so much to gnaw on…some of it frustrating, some of it extraneous and some of it absolutely, stunningly, remarkable. That was a book that made me laugh, made me cry and made me want to tear my hair out – sometimes on the same page.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read? 

I am going to interpret this question a little differently. Andrew Davidson’s novel The Gargoyle has been sitting on my TBR shelf for at least five years, but I only got around to reading it this year when it was chosen for book club. Sadly, it didn’t live up to all its hype.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2015?

“Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of despair. But the painting has also taught me that we can speak to each other across time. And I feel I have something very serious and urgent to say to you, my non-existent reader, and I feel I should say it as urgently  as if I were standing in the room with you. That life – whatever else it is – is short. “ – The Goldfinch

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2015?

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was the longest at 784 pages

This Is What I Did by Ann Dee Ellis was the shortest at 176 pages

17. Book That Shocked You The Most

(Because of a plot twist, character death, left you hanging with your mouth wide open, etc.)

Hmmm…maybe Kept in the Dark. 

OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

(OTP = one true pairing if you aren’t familiar)

Aristotle and Dante….so much love for these boys – they were so richly drawn.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Elizabeth and Lauren from Roomies. I loved both those girls and the friendship they forged via e-mail.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2015 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers I read her novel Some Girls Are last year and loved it, and this one – a zombie novel – I didn’t actually expect to like as much as I did, but it was excellent. Summers is Canadian and she is a kick ass writer.

21. Best Book You Read In 2015 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure: Kindness

Kindness for Weakness by Shawn Goodman was recommended to me by a girl in my grade eleven class. She loved it so much that she asked her parents for a copy for Christmas. So, when a student is that passionate, I feel obliged to move that book to the head of the queue. Sadie was right; this is a great book.

22. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

I think Josh Malerman did a pretty good job of creating a vivid setting in his horror novel Bird Box. It was pretty dang creepy.

23. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Oh dear – I’m not sure I could pick a book that I would consider the most “fun” to read. I read books that I enjoyed, but not because they were “fun.” Geesh, perhaps I need to read less gloomy books.

24. Book That Made You Cry or Nearly Cry in 2015?

The Goldfinch made me cry. Yep, not gonna lie. And this time – for the first time ever – I cried when I re-read Velocity. I’ve read that book 20 times, but I cried for the first time ever this summer.

25.  Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Amazing Grace by Lesley Crewe. I was mad that I wasted time reading it…and I wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been chosen for book club. I know people who have really enjoyed it and I even understand why they loved it – but for me…a world of no.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Kept in the Dark. I don’t know how many people know about this book, but it was really, seriously good – although perhaps the subject matter will squick some people out.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Ahhh, who doesn’t like a little soul-crushing? If You Find Me was heart-wrenching. The Goldfinch packed a wallop, for sure.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2015?

Hmmm. Not sure. Paris Letters, maybe. The House had the potential to be unique, but it was mostly silly.

 

book-blogging

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2015?

Sadly, I don’t follow any blogs regularly. I need to carve out more time for this because there’s so much great conent out there. 2015 was really a busy year for me. I am hoping things settle down some in 2016.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2015?

I thought I did a decent job of capturing my conflicted feelings about The Goldfinch. I also liked my review of Velocity, which is one of my all-time favourite books.

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

My blog doesn’t actually get a lot of traffic – so not too much “discussion” happening. Something I should try to rectify, although I have always said that The Ludic Reader is mostly a place for me to gather my own thoughts about the books I read.

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

Again – this is something I need to get to make more time for. The only bookish thing I get involved with is The Write Stuff, a one day workshop/reading I help organize for students in Southern New Brunswick. We do have an amazing literary festival here called FogLit. It would be so easy to get on board…gah!

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2015?

The absolute very best bookish thing that happened to me this year was having an email correspondence with Kristin McCloy, author of Velocity and Some Girls. It started with a brief exchange on Good Reads and morphed into a full-blown friendly chat via email which made my fangirl heart almost explode with bookish happiness. I LOVE Velocity. Imagine having the opportunity to actually tell the author what a book has meant to you and …insert head explosion here.

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

It’s always being distracted by other things, I guess. I also think that setting a reading target worked against me a little. I felt, towards the end, I was whipping through books in an effort to meet the goal I’d set and so because I know I can do 50 I’m going to leave it at that and take the pressure off myself. I just want to read…

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

With 123 views, a thing I wrote about classics for The Nerdy Book Club got the most love.

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

I think everyone should read the interview I did with my amazing son, Connor. He’s the only 16-year-old I know who read Madame Bovary of his own volition.

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

Word Porn on FB.

10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

Nope. Six books shy of my goal.

looking-ahead-books-2015

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2015 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2016?

Ha. As if. Actually, Brooklyn by ColmToibin is my first priority. It needs to be read by the 7th for our first book club of 2016. I started it last night.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2016 (non-debut)?IMG_8859

All the books on my TRB shelf need some love. I am anticipating all of them.

3. 2016 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

I honestly don’t follow what’s coming out in a rigorous way. I have so many backlisted books on my shelves; I am not a “I have to have that book as soon as it comes out” reader.

 4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2016?

I got nothing. Series drive me crazy.

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2016?

I would like to find a way to be a more regular blogger. I am actually a fairly organized person, but in some ways I bite off a little more than I can chew in real life, and this blog often takes a back seat. I would like to change that.

6. A 2016 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

Nada.

Thanks again to The Perpetual Page-Turner for providing these questions and an opportunity to reflect on my reading year.

I hope 2016 brings you many happy hours curled up with a good book!