Embracing the Cold: Books to Keep You Warm

The festive season is upon us. I live in Canada so we did the Thanksgiving thing a while ago, which was just as well since I was sick last week. I’m still recovering and I would like to report that I devoured a bunch of books during my illness but I was way too tired to even read very much.

You know a book lover is really sick when…

Anyway, I hope those of you that did just celebrate Thanksgiving had a lovely holiday!

In Vancouver we’re in the middle of a cold spell. Cold for the West Coast anyway; it was -4 (Celsius) this morning. Earlier this year when everyone was suffering from super cold temperatures, I put together a list of books that I thought would make for good cold weather reading. While I try and sort myself out and put together some proper reviews for you, here’s a list of books you should read when the weather is cold to tide you over.

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett. I’m not quite finished with this one but having read it during a cold spell, I know it will make for excellent cold weather reading for everyone else. The book takes place mainly during the summer but the writing is such that you can almost feel the warm summer sunshine on your skin. No bad thing if you’re suffering from some Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder. There’s a nice little romance, Jane Austen and some bookish sleuthing. What’s not to love?

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. Have you read this yet? This is possibly one of the most important books to read for human kind – I don’t think I’m overstating it. But it’s a big one. If you’re going to hang out inside avoiding the cold weather, you might as well make your way through a book like this. I promise you, it’s worth the time. I read it almost two years ago and it’s still one of the books I recommend all over the place; I’m hoping that sneaking it onto a bookish list will make someone else run out and read it.

Anything by Camilla Lackberg. I do think that cold weather is conducive to mystery reading and Camilla Lackberg is probably my favourite contemporary crime fiction writer. If you liked Stieg Larsson, you will love Camilla Lackberg. All of her stories take place in the small Swedish vacation town of Fjallbacka and they are all totally messed up as only the Swedes can be. Start with the Ice Princess and work your way through the eight translated books available. I just finished Buried Angels and it was fantastic.

Get a start on that series you’ve been meaning to read. I think days spent with Claire and Jamie Fraser wouldn’t be terrible and there are so many books in the Outlander series that you could binge on them all winter. If you haven’t read Harry Potter yet, I don’t know what you’ve been doing with your time but I’d say this time of year would be a good time to go to Hogwarts for the first time. Maybe now that Mockingjay Part 1 is out, you think it’s time you finally read the books (it is). I know I’ve been told that I need to read the Pink Carnation books at least twice so that’s something I’m going to actually look into! (Those covers though.)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This was one of the most exquisite books I read this year and I can’t think of a better way to read about Marie-Laure and Werner than under a pile of blankets, near a fire, with a cup of tea close at hand. (Incidentally this is my favourite way to read anything.) Bonus points if you have an animal companion to keep you company as you go.

Read up on the royals. Royals make for great reading, fiction or non-fiction. Anne Easter Smith has a great set of books devoted to the York Women; Philippa Gregory has great love for the Tudors. Julia P. Gelardi has some incredible biographies covering royal women in Russia, England, Spain, Romania and Greece; Antonia Fraser put together the biography that served as the inspiration for Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette; Amanda Foreman was responsible for the biography that saw Keira Knightley portray Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. Cold weather is a great excuse for getting to know any one of these extraordinary women.


Are you experiencing cold weather? What’s your go-to read for this time of year?


Royal Mistress: In Defence of Richard III

Anne Easter Smith really does not think that Richard III killed the princes in the tower.

Having read her latest book, Royal Mistress, I think I’m starting to agree with her.


Royal Mistress takes us back to the reign of Edward IV. Jane Lambert is a mercer’s 22 year old, unmarried, ridiculously good looking daughter. In order to get her out of his house, he marries her to another mercer, William Shore. But Master Shore proves impotent and since all Jane wants is to have a child, she is incredibly frustrated in this fruitless marriage.

Then she catches the eye of: Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, William, Baron Hastings and finally, King Edward IV himself. With the help of some well placed friends, Jane gets an annulment from Master Shore and is free to pursue a relationship with the King. He is delighted with her because she just lets him be a man, free from all of the pressures of ruling (which he never did particularly like anyway, preferring the battlefield). When she does ask for favours, they are to benefit her friends and neighbours: a pardon for a guild member; pawning a piece of jewellery he gave her to pay for a new roof for her friend. Her good deeds earned her the nickname, the Rose of London (which would have also been an excellent title for this book).

But Edward IV lived a gluttonous life and died in 1483, leaving Jane at the mercy of the Queen, who hated her, and the newly named Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, intent on cleaning up the immoral court of his brother.

I enjoyed spending time in the company of Jane Shore. She wasn’t a conniving, scheming, ambitious courtesan. She was a woman looking to have her own household, knowing that a woman needed a man to look after her. She didn’t set out to become the King’s whore, but he looked after her and she wasn’t in a position to throw that away. Instead she used her influence to better the lives of the people around her.

Once Edward dies, this story has no qualms about coming back to Richard III. Easter Smith also invokes the name of her heroine, Kate Haute (from A Rose for the Crown) to show us that Richard isn’t a bad person, he’s just always trying to do the best by following the rules. She also attempts to clear up the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, placing the blame squarely on one man’s shoulders.

Reading the Afterword, I discovered that Anne Easter Smith is part of the Richard III society. If you have read any of her books, especially the one featuring Kate Haute (who is so clearly Easter Smith’s favourite character), this comes as no surprise. The skill of Easter Smith’s story telling is that even those of us that were convinced Richard III did away with his nephews, come away thinking that maybe he didn’t do it after all.

The frustrating thing is that we will probably never know for sure.


Why I’m Not Allowed in Bookstores for a While or I Have No Willpower

Do you remember a few short weeks ago when I was banning myself from going to the library until I had made a more sizeable dent in the piles of books I already had at home?

Well I have managed to stay away from the library. But the bookstore? Less successful.

I guess going to the library was preventing me from losing all self control in the bookstore. I should have thought the library ban through a little more.

Honestly, I think reading one book for an extended period of time (The Goldfinch) and then following it up with a book of equal length (Firefly Summer, a Maeve Binchy but still hefty) might have caused me to go a little stir crazy. I visited book stores to remind myself of all the other reading treasures out there as a way to encourage me to read faster and harder, and ended up bringing more of them home with me.

It started with an innocent weekday excursion to battle some restlessness my fiancé had been feeling due to our penchant for binge watching series on Netflix. He suggested the bookstore, I went with it. And came home with Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster, The Secret Mistress by Anne Easter Smith  and Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield.

And a mug covered in hearts because it was adorable.



In the long run, three extra books isn’t the end of the world. But that was before I went to a second hand bookshop over the weekend. This extraordinarily well stocked and laid out shop meant that I kept falling over book treasure. At first my willpower was strong. But I was soon overpowered by bookish desire and books kept falling into my arms.

That run saw me cart off the following: The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy that I’ve been meaning to read for eons and which will no doubt lead me to watching the Damien Lewis led mini-series shortly thereafter; Quentins by Maeve Binchy because I love Maeve Binchy and her books are always good to have on hand to reset your book mojo; The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie with a wicked vintage cover because Agatha Christie; and a book about sports for the fiancé because I’m a giver.

To sum up, I have zero bookish willpower, I will never get my Tsundoku problem under control and I really need to find a way to work less so that I can actually read all these books.


Richard III

By now, we’re all well versed in the announcement this week that the skeletal remains found under a parking lot in Leicester, England, were those of Richard III, who died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

This is pretty amazing news. A monarch, whose remains were lost for over 500 years, turns up buried under a parking lot! So there’s been a lot written about it this week here and here and even on Lainey Gossip, my very favourite gossip site.

But when I read this article on The Daily Beast, I started thinking about the books I’d read that featured Richard III. Richard III’s fanclub (I know!), the ‘Ricardians’, seem to think that Richard III’s reputation has been maligned for no good reason. I think for most people, the whole ‘Princes in the Tower’ thing really sets Richard III up for a loss. If you’ve ever been to the Tower of London you will know that visitors there can actually vote on whether or not they think Richard III was responsible for the disappearance of the two boys. I don’t know where the tallies stand now, but when I visited in 2008, most people thought Richard III did it.

But I’ve read a bunch of historical fiction (which is basically the same thing as doing proper academic research) and Richard III isn’t always the villain.

I’m thinking in particular of Anne Easter Smith’s York books. While that other scion of English historical fiction, Philippa Gregory seems to favour the Tudors, Easter Smith focuses much of her attention on the Yorks.

I love Anne Easter Smith’s books. A lot. Although each is a stand alone book, if you haven’t already read them, I encourage you to read them in “order”: A Rose for the Crown, Daughter of York, The King’s Grace and Queen by Right.

In an effort not to bog this post down in a whole bunch of historical details, I want to focus our attention on A Rose for the Crown. This is the one that Richard III features in most sympathetically and I don’t mind telling you that in the end, when he dies (that’s not a spoiler, we already covered that) I was crying my eyes out. Easter Smith portrays her Richard III as a really good person that is faced with having to make really difficult choices. Even when he was a little kid, Easter Smith’s Richard III was always the smaller, more serious of the brothers, a very religious young man who always wanted to do the right thing. As he grows and eventually becomes King, those characteristics remain unchanged. But then there’s his love interest and…

…oh my god I might have to read this again!


Happily for us, Anne Easter Smith has a new book coming out in May! The Royal Mistress.  And guess what? Richard III is in it!