Better Late Than Never: 2015 in Review

You may have noticed that it’s 2016 now and therefore a post about 2015 probably should have already gone up. But I was away (with very limited internet access) and then I was lazy and so focused on reading X number of books to get to 150 that the review post, an obligatory part of blogging, was forgotten.

Until now.

Personally, 2015 was great. Until I got back from my dream honeymoon and then it was all rather challenging. Nothing that a fresh perspective in a new year can’t fix though right?

Reading wise, 2015 was decent. I discovered that I love John Steinbeck, that I am capable of enjoying science fiction (thanks to The Martian and Armada), and Chelsey @ Chels and a Book was totally right about Nick Hornby and I must read more. And thanks to Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson, I managed to read 150 books this year.

That’s a lot of reading and a lot of books that could make it on my list of favourites. I don’t think that I’m going to do a numbered list. But here are some of the books that got me thinking, left me heartbroken, or made me want to tell everyone I know about it.

(Caveat: these are books I read this year, not necessarily books that were published this year. And they are in the order that I read them because I’m looking at my 50 Book Pledge list as I go.)

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. As the year went by I feel like people started to judge this one a little harshly, perhaps unwilling to be persuaded by the reaction of the masses that this was an addictive, roller coaster read. Comparisons to Gone Girl were so unfair – both are equally able to stand on their own. I loved this one and loved it even harder when I got to see Paula Hawkins in conversation with Elaine Lui, aka Lainey Gossip, at the VanWriter’s Fest. If you haven’t already read this, please give it a chance.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl. This book was unlike anything I’d ever read before. Totally creepy, completely spell-binding. You should totally read it but do yourself a favour and get the paperback. That hardcover is heavy.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne. Should possibly be required reading. This book made me so, so angry and left me devastated in it’s wake.

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan. Those of you that have been around for a while know of my absolute devotion to Crazy Rich Asians. I had high hopes for the sequel and Kwan more than delivered. China Rich Girlfriend is funnier and more over-the-top and you all need to get on this bandwagon already.

Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Not sure Larson will ever write something that I don’t completely love. His novelistic non-fiction is just what the doctor ordered for those of you that think non-fiction isn’t for you.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. I think this is the book most capable of dividing your book club into warring factions; people either loved or hated this book. I was in the former camp. Essbaum’s lyrical prose was a delight to read and the story of an expat wife and mother struggling in her new reality was really so good.

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport. Beautiful, clever and ultimately doomed, the daughters of Nicholas II never had a chance.

When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid. I read it thanks to Canada Reads and now I want the whole world to read it. Have tissues on hand.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Probably one of the books I recommended the most this year. It’s perfect for beach reading, reading palate cleansing, and for when you just want something delicious. I ended up reading a lot of Moriarty this year because of this one. Don’t let the chick-lit style covers dissuade you – Moriarty has a lot to say.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Glad I finally read this. Sad it took me this long – I could have already embarked on a re-read by now!

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. OMG just read this already!

Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adiche. I was blown away by the force of her prose. Everything about this book was perfection. I also read and loved We Are All Feminists this year and am seriously considering gifting it to every woman I know and love.

The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory. I thought that I would have to give up on Gregory after a few of her efforts fell short for me. But The King’s Curse was everything that I’ve come to love and expect from her. And then some. This one stands alone – if you haven’t read any of her work before, you could totally read this one first.

Unfinished Business: Men, Women, Work and Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter. I had two copies of this book and have since leant them out because this is such an important book. Talking about the importance of care, whether for our parents or our children, and how it needs to not only be shared by men and women equally but also needs to be taken into account by workplaces so that people don’t have to choose between work and family.

The Martian by Andy Weir. I put off reading this book forever. My husband finally forced me to because he wanted to see the movie. I hate science fiction. I loved this book. Well played Andy Weir, well played.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. The weirdest, most violent, greatest book. It’s seriously bizarre. But so, so good.

A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead. Books like this, about the sacrifices and the fight of the men and women during WWII, are so important for us to read. To keep their stories in our minds so that we don’t allow the same things to happen. Well-written, meticulously researched, totally devastating, if you come across it, read it.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. You’ve heard it all before. Join us. Don’t be put off by Lotto’s half. The pay-off comes when you read about Mathilde.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella. A story about a teenaged girl struggling with mental illness but refusing to allow it to define who she is? Incredibly important to read and handled with aplomb by the genius of Kinsella.

The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie. I plan to put up a little review soon but this one is so good! It’s the first in a planned trilogy about the mistresses of Louis XV. Books 2 and 3 are set to be released in 2016!

When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning. At just 194 pages, this is the perfect non-fiction book for the reader that loves books and thinks they dislike non-fiction!

Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Billed as Iceland’s answer to Stieg Larsson, this book more than lived up to the hype. Exploring ideas of ability and society’s role in caring for those who can’t always care for themselves, this was more than just a run-of-the-mill murder mystery.

Did you stick it out? Good for you. That was seriously so indulgent of me. Twenty-two books for the year. If I was the kind of blogger that was on top of sh*t, I could have got a few posts out of that and not overwhelmed you, dear reader.

Goal for 2016?

Here’s to more great books this year!



Book Club Pick: The Lowland

We selected The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri as our next book club book. I’d read some not so great reviews after the fact and then over the weekend I was out with one of the girls in my book club and she mentioned that she had been trying to read it and was just not getting into it. Five nights got her 5 pages in because it was just not gripping her.

I was nervous to start The Lowland. I thought that I would be caught in a position where I had to read this book but I wasn’t motivated to get through it because it wasn’t doing it for me.

I will admit that the opening pages did not grip me but that could have had everything to do with the fact that I was suffering from a ridiculous all-day hangover.

the lowland

Subhash and Udayan are brothers, growing up in Calcutta during the years after India’s Independence. Only 15 months separate them and they do everything together. They are a pair in all that they do – they study and play together, they sit their exams together, they excel in school together. By the time the boys reach university, it is time to separate. They go to different universities, make different friends. But they both leave together every morning.

Udayan becomes politically active, aligning his beliefs with the Communism he feels is working so well in Mao’s China. He marries a fellow student, Gauri, without permission, and gets ever more deeply involved in illegal activities to try and change the world.

Subhash goes to America to complete his graduate studies. He always plans to come home but doesn’t return home until a family tragedy forces him to. There he is confronted with the decisions that Udayan has made and the course of Udayan’s life forever changes Subhash’s.

This book reminded me of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot. Or even Middlesex. It is the complete story of a family, grappling with the decisions they make, the consequences spun out over generations. It moves between India and Rhode Island and California, following the story back and forwards through time to provide a clearer picture of what actually happened.

I think the trouble with this book for people is that there is no one character that is truly likeable. Udayan is selfish and outspoken, blind to the merit of a quieter way of life; Subhash is content to let things happen to him, never standing up for himself; Gauri closes herself off, fobbing her choices onto someone else to deal with; Bela is angry and shiftless.

But I think this is one of those novels that doesn’t shy away from the truth of the human condition, that is content to let its characters be their full selves even if they aren’t particularly pleasant. Life is messy: people get angry, they hurt each other, they don’t always take responsibility for themselves. The Lowland shows us how those behaviours can play out. I think this is one of those books that make people better humans. If you were to recognize yourself in these characters, I would think it would make you want to change that part of yourself, to live without those burdens.

And my whole book club gets points for not reading about more white people.


Sunday, Reading Sunday

I haven’t been around here very much lately and now I’m just going to waltz in here with a new post like nothing’s happened. How about them apples?

One Sunday not too long ago, I had one of those magical days where I got up early (thanks to a 75lb German Shepherd jumping on the bed), ran a bunch of errands and got home with plenty of the day left to do nothing with.

It was a pretty typical windy, rainy, dark November day so there really was nothing to do about that except read (such a hardship).

It turned out to be an exceptionally productive day.

My read-a-thon began with the second half of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. This is one of Jane Austen’s books that I hadn’t read more than once (now only Mansfield Park fits that bill) but I recently watched The Jane Austen Book Club and they were all over Persuasion and second chances and I thought that I’d better give it another go too. A lot happens in Persuasion! Lost love, dead fiancees, a very serious head injury, and a little boy is almost paralyzed! Not your typical Austen. I mean, usually there is a serious illness of two but this one was almost gratuitous.

Persuasion is the tale of Anne Eliot, eight years after she is persuaded not to marry the love of her life. He comes back to town after years of making his fortune on the seas, only to appear to fall in love with a friend of hers. When her father sells their house and moves to Bath, Anne follows without any idea of its giving her any joy (because her father and sister are jerks). Well it does. A lifetime’s worth in fact. The first time I read Persuasion I was probably 15 or 16 and Anne seemed OLD. She’s 27. Honestly, the first time I felt like Anne was all but dead. Naturally this time around, Anne didn’t seem old at all. In fact she’s right about the perfect age (until I turn 28 in the Spring and then she will be really young).

When I finished Persuasion, I thought that I’d better get started on the book club selection since we were meeting on the following Friday. The selection was The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I didn’t think that I would enjoy this book (seems to be a theme this year). I don’t normally like books that are written in diary style (I hated Bridget Jones’ Diary for example [the book, the movie is one of my all-time favourites]). But I loved it. It’s not a long book – just over 200 pages. I read it in a couple of hours – I couldn’t stop. I was so attached to Charlie and needed to find out what happened to Sam and Patrick, even Mary Elizabeth. It’s one of those brilliant coming-of-age stories that’s just non-descript enough to resonate with everyone, no matter when they grew up. It is tragic and heart breaking and completely relevant, touching on bullying, teen pregnancy and mental illness.

Finally, I had time to jump into another P.G. Wodehouse adventure, Ring For Jeeves. Sadly no Bertie Wooster this time (you may remember that I declared him to be one of my new favourite characters) but Wodehouse made up for it by the introduction of the equally absurd William, 9th Early of Rowcester. Jeeves has been leant out while Bertie goes to some school where they teach the aristocracy how to take care of themselves (he gets kicked out for employing an old lady to darn his socks), and ends up at Rowcester Abbey. Here the 9th Earl finds himself completely impoverished and after getting engaged, decides he needs to make some money. Instead of getting a job, he impersonates a bookie and runs off with the winnings. Jeeves is a completely willing accomplice and they’d been getting away with it until one Captain Biggar reads the license plate of the getaway car and finds himself at Rowcester Abbey. There are all sorts of other insane connections and complications that make this another masterpiece of absurd hilarity but I don’t want to ruin all the fun for you. Suffice it to say I’m eagerly anticipating which Jeeves book I’m going to get my hands on next.

What did I tell you? Productive Sunday right?


The Hour I First Believed

About half way through this book I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to make it to the end. It was so depressing and I almost wasn’t able to handle it. There didn’t seem to be any redeeming qualities about a book that made me feel so sad.

I have a friend that adores depressing books. One of her absolute favourites is Wally Lamb‘s I Know This Much Is True and her book club selection for us was A Fine Balance. But even she found The Hour I First Believed tough going.

But clearly this book had gotten under my skin because I read all 730 pages of it in 2 days. Twelve hours later I still can’t stop thinking about it. It struck me that this is what a book club book should be because there is so much about this book that I want to talk about with someone!

I thought this book was about the Columbine school shooting and the aftermath. I think I avoided it for a long time for this reason – not sure that I wanted to go down that path, thinking it might be along the same lines as We Need To Talk About Kevin, one of the most disturbing books I’ve probably ever read.

But while the catalyst for the majority of the book is the Columbine shooting, eventually you kind of forget about it (in terms of the book) because so much else happens as a result. Caelum, a teacher, and his wife Maureen, a nurse, move to Colorado from Connecticut to start over after infidelity almost tore their marriage apart. He takes a job teaching at Columbine and Maureen becomes the school nurse. When Caelum’s elderly aunt suffers a stroke in Connecticut, he goes back to be with her. Maureen spends one more day at the school before flying to join him. That last day happens to be April 20 1999. She ends up trapped in a cabinet in the library while the shooting spree happens and is completely devastated by it afterwards.


But she can’t snap out of it. She ends up suffering from a pretty severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and can barely handle every day life. They decide to move back to Connecticut, into the farmhouse that Caelum has been left upon the death of his aunt, try to put some distance between Maureen and what happened. My friend of the depressing reads said to me that she felt like the book was two different stories and they didn’t necessarily converge in any way. At first, I kind of agreed with her. All of a sudden we’re back with a 10 year old Caelum telling us about life on the farm, reading articles about the women’s prison that his great grandmother started running on the property, and delving more deeply into the traumatic alcoholism of Caelum’s father.

But there are so many themes running through this book that do make the two stories come together: idea of the quest of personal journey, the fallen woman motif, infidelity, a praying mantis keeps showing up at key moments in the book, faith runs through it all the time, and the idea that knowing one’s history can help one to connect the dots in the present.

See what I mean about book club potential? I took this book out from the library and now I’m sad that I have to return it.

Bottom line: I loved this book and will probably try and force lots of other people to read it too.