12

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.

frozen

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

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10

Coming Soon: Books I’m Waiting For

Spring is almost here. I can feel it. The days are so much longer, tiny flowers are starting to poke through the ground and the sun is finally up to making more regular appearances. I went for a walk at lunchtime yesterday and it was sunny and warm and so wonderful.

While we all start shedding our winter coats and dreaming about the not-so-distant days of patio lunching and t-shirt weather, can we also take a minute to think about all the great books that are coming out to celebrate the season with us?

I don’t know if you’ve let yourself loose in a bookstore recently (I keep finding myself in them despite trying so hard to stop buying more books!) but they are clearing out a lot of books to make room for the new titles and it’s really becoming a problem. So if you love a good book discount (and who doesn’t?), you need to get in on that.

Aside from the books that are already laid out on tables and set up in window displays, here are some of the ones that I’m most excited about coming out soon.

Buried Angels by Camilla Lackberg. It’s no secret that I love Camilla Lackberg. If I could read Swedish I would have finished reading all her books by now. But I can’t so I must wait for English translations. Her seriously creepy, yet strangely domestic books about all the murders that happen in a small Swedish town are addictive and I can’t get enough. Looks like I won’t have to wait much longer – Buried Angels is set to come out April 15th.

Listen to the Squawking Chicken by Elaine Lui. I’ve already ordered this – as soon as it’s released it will be on it’s way to me. I’ve long hoped that Lainey Gossip would write a book; her blog is full of sharp observations and caustic remarks that always seemed to be begging for a book deal. Her memoir about life with her mother, a huge presence on her blog and in her life, is sure to be crammed full of excellent advice and hilarious anecdotes. I am so looking forward to it’s debut April 8th.

The One and Only by Emily Giffin. It’s been a while since I’ve read any of Giffin’s books. I remember devouring Something Borrowed and Something Blue, and enjoying Baby Proof. There’s something about spring weather that makes me want to read something chick lit-y and I suspect that this new book of Giffin’s will more than fit the bill. I can expect to carry The One and Only home with me on May 27th.

It would appear that Jo Nesbo has really taken off in North America. It seems that every time I turn around, a new Jo Nesbo book has made it to bookshelves. Cockroaches, then The Police and now The Son. Like Lackberg, Jo Nesbo is a master at dark and twisty crime fiction. The difference of course, is that Nesbo’s hero is just as dark and twisty as his cases. It looks like this one doesn’t feature the infamous Harry Hole though which definitely piques my interest. The Son is out on May 13th.

Did you read Room by Emma Donoghue? I did and it stayed with me for weeks. I put off reading it for ages and when I finally gave in, I was completely swept up in it. Emma Donoghue has another book out this spring – Frog Music. This one takes place in 1870s San Francisco and centers around a murder in a saloon. I’m into it. The cover design alone is worth stopping and taking a second look. Frog Music comes out on March 25th.

I can’t wait for these books to come into my life! It’s going to be a pretty alright spring. Any books that you’re waiting to be released?

2

The Post Les Miserables World

After Les Miserables, I wanted something easier to read – not that that’s a slag on the reading choice I made. I’m going to assume you know what I mean and carry on.

After much humming and hawing and asking other people what they thought I should read, I made my own choice. Because even though I ask people, I’m really looking for the answer that I already have in mind.

The winner was The Hidden Child by Camilla Lackberg. For those of you in the know, this is book number 5 in the Fjallbacka books. Or the Patrik Hedstrom books, depending on how you look at things (it’s the Buckshaw Chronicles vs. the Flavia de Luce books all over again).

This one takes a long time to get going but centers on a retired history teacher being bludgeoned to death in his home and being left there for months (so long that there are crunchy dead bugs all over the floor) and a Nazi war medal wrapped in a baby’s shirt that may or may not have blood on it.

You know, that was a pretty succinct description. Pat on the back for me.

This installment ran about 500 pages which is average for Lackberg but this one felt…slow. And also too fast. I felt like getting any actual clues took a really long time but the book was filled up with family details and dynamics so that the mystery’s solution ended up being a bit rushed. We spent a lot of time working through Erika and Patrik’s relationship now that she was trying to go back to work on her book and he was supposed to be home on paternity leave (key phrase: supposed to). We also examined Erika’s relationship with her mother, her mother-in-law, her sister and her sister’s relationship with her new partner and his kids. Oh and the station chief got a lot of book time embarking on a new relationship. And there were a lot of pregnancies. Like a lot. About 4. Within 500 pages. That’s a lot.

I got through it and there was enough that surprised me to be interesting. But overall I felt that this one was a little more obvious than the rest. Usually Lackberg has one really good twist that she throws in when you least expect it and I felt that that was missing in this one. This one felt very domestic, which if I were reading Maeve Binchy would be just what the doctor ordered. But I was reading Camilla Lackberg and I was looking for depravity.

As a general aside, I would like to direct you all to Jennine’s blog. She writes some awesome book loving posts and wrote a really nice post about my blog that I haven’t had a chance to thank her for because every time I try and comment on her blog it won’t let me. But you should go there and leave a comment on my behalf.

5

On The Shelf

For Christmas I got a whack of gift certificates to my book store of choice and despite having several books already awaiting my attention on my bookshelves, I decided not to wait to use them.

It was such a satisfying trip. I could buy pretty much whatever I wanted. The freedom!

OK but actually it was really hard. Anyone that’s ever had a glimpse at my To Read list (I carry a version around with me. It’s ok, you can mock me) will know that this was a lot more difficult than it should have been.

After the initial wave of sheer joy washed over me, I realized that I would never be able to buy all the books that I wanted. But I did my best. I decided to put together a list of some of the books that I bought (a couple I’ve already read: At Home and The Virgin Suicides) as well as some of the other books that are already sitting on my shelf waiting for me to love them. Some of them have waited a long time.

Far From The Tree by Adam Solomon. I am so excited to read this book. I’ve read a few articles about it (like this one) but in a nutshell it’s about parenting the children that aren’t exactly like us. That’s a really terrible nutshell. Let’s just say that I ran across it, read the first line and knew that I needed to read it. I don’t even have kids!

The Hidden Child by Camilla Lackberg. I don’t think I need to explain myself here. This is book 5 in the Fjallbacka trilogy I keep going on about. I think we’re finally going to get more Erika Falck after she was sidelined having a fictional baby! Not that I don’t love Patrik Hedstrom, I totally do. I just missed Erika’s take on things.

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Seems a crime to leave a Dickens sitting on the shelf doesn’t it? But this one has been waiting a while. Very possibly since 2011. I always mean to grab it. And then I don’t. But since reading this I’ve decided that I really do need more classics in my life and if Dickens doesn’t fit that bill, what does?

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. I read The Age of Innocence last year (first Pullitzer won by a woman what!) and I loved it so much (seriously, such a great story) that I thought I should read some more. The House of Mirth is my next choice. It also fits in very nicely with my ‘classics’ reading.

Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire. Are you obsessed by Wicked: The Musical? You are right? Who isn’t! Have you read the book? Such a great twist on a classic. And then there was Son of a Witch (great title), and A Lion Among Men. Now finally: the conclusion. I waited and waited for this to come out in paperback and then it did and I bought it and now it’s been waiting while I got distracted by other shiny reads.

Onwards: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul by Howard Schultz. I am a Starbucks addict. I’ve been trying to cut back. It’s not easy. You know why? Because when I go to ‘my’ Starbucks they are really happy to see me, they know my name and my drink. It’s hard to walk away from that. How did they do that? There’s a book that has the answers!

There you have it. A list of some of the books waiting for me to love them. What do you have waiting on your bookshelf?

3

The 2012 Review

This is the time of year when everyone looks back on the past 12 months and looks at the best and worst of etc.

I’d like to pretend like I’m different, but I’m not.

This was a big reading year for me.

I’m working through my Top 5 or other arbitrary number list in my head, but in the meantime I thought I’d look back at my reading trends and feelings this year.

Up for it? It’s happening, you don’t actually have a choice.

Like I said – big reading year for me. I make a goal for myself each year. In the past it’s been a bit lofty and I’ve handicapped myself by having to choose books that I think will get me to my goal. At the same time if I choose a goal that’s too low, it’s not going to be any kind of a challenge. This year I settled on 50. Left me room to play around with bigger books but also, 50 books is a lot.

I surpassed my goal. By a lot. As of today I’m working on finishing my 81st book. Which is the most I’ve ever read since I started keeping track of the books I read each year. And let’s face it, probably ever.

This year I discovered the delights of Agatha Christie. I never thought I was a murder mystery kind of reader but I am. I really really am. Aside from Agatha Christie, I devoured works by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Camilla Lackberg (The Ice Princess, The Preacher, The Stonecutter, The Stranger). I even read a real life crime book about a serial killer in Paris during World War II. That book was a lot more difficult to read. Like terrifying.

My failure to read Les Miserables in time for the movie’s release notwithstanding, I did seem to be drawn to books about the French Revolution. Charles Dickens and I came to an understanding when I fell in love with A Tale of Two Cities and I gave Michelle Moran a chance to wow me (she did) when I picked up Madame Tussaud despite the awful cover. While I was fascinated by the French, I became enamoured of Russian Royals, learning all about Catherine the Great thanks to the incredible biography by Robert K. Massie. That turned into a bit of an obsession with Nicholas and Alexandra and I just picked up a book about Royal Russian women by Julia P. Gelardi (which I’m really excited about because she wrote one of my very favourite royal biographies about the five granddaughters of Queen Victoria who each became a Queen in her own right).

My book club had a big impact on my reading choices this year. Our selections ranged from so-so to downright scandalous once we started on the Fifty Shades phenomenon. I was also on the hunt for anything that might have something to do with Downton Abbey and I finished off all of the available Song of Ice and Fire books. I caved and read The Hunger Games books (which I loved), and tried my best to read War and Peace, but was ultimately foiled when my copy was missing a sizeable chunk of pages. I still haven’t managed to sort that out – when I took a copy out of the library to read the missing pages, it was a completely different version.

It was a pretty low key year for non-fiction, something I plan to work on in the New Year. I did manage to continue my love affair with Malcolm Gladwell (he kind of changed my life with Outliers this year) and was completely fascinated by the lives of the Kennedy Women (Lawrence Leamer) and members of The President’s Club.

This was also a year when I made a lot of book mistakes, which was kind of a first for me. There were a number of books that I read that I just didn’t care for. A couple that I abandoned altogether (Catch-22, Little Shadows, The Vampire Lestat) and others that I struggled through that I wanted to abandon (The Stranger’s Child, The Prague Cemetery, Bride of New France, The Firefly Cloak).

But in the end, I read almost 81 books. And that’s pretty badass.

2

More Swedish Crime: The Preacher

I recently finished the second of the Fjallbacka trilogy by Camilla Lackberg – The Preacher. It was in insanely absorbing read – I finished it in 2 days (two days of complete bliss) and was left wanting to run out and pick up the third, The Stonecutter.

In The Preacher we once again follow Patrik Hedstrom as he attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding a dead woman they find in woods. This time though it’s not someone they know. And she’s been left, naked, on 2 complete skeletons belonging to women that went missing in the area 20 years ago.

Super creepy right? Patrik is under pressure to solve this case – its the middle of a beautiful summer and these bodies are driving the tourists to pack up and leave. Add to that the fact that Patrick and his partner Erica Falck are expecting their first child any day, you’ll forgive him if he starts to think some seriously crazy thoughts. Everything he learns seems to point back to this one well-known local family.

The Preacher takes you much more into the inner workings of the police station – reintroduces you to that motley cast of characters that include an eager young officer ready to do his due diligence, a couple of old hands that are just as likely to be spending the day at a rest stop with a picnic as they are doing actual police work and a police chief who may or may not have a mail order bride in the wings. It’s a wonder Patrik is able to get anything done really.

I really enjoyed this book as well although this one was more Patrik Hedstrom-centric and I found myself waiting for the bit when Erica Falck would make her presence felt more. Erica just stays home dealing with a bunch of unwelcome houseguests, while Patrik runs all over town trying to figure out this case.

Lackberg is really good about taking you down a path that you think you’ve figured out, only to ensure that it dead ends and you are left wondering how you ever went there in the first place. She rewards her reader and then frustrates you. Round and round we go until the, very satisfying, conclusion that has you wondering how you didn’t see it all coming from the beginning.

That, or I am dumb as a bag of nails. I guess that that’s not completely outside of the realm of possibilities…

I’m anxious to get my hands on the next book which shouldn’t be too hard – all of a sudden Lackberg’s books are popping up everywhere! Great summer reads! And although they are billed as a trilogy, having flipped through a few it seems more like a series at this point. More to read!

2

The Ice Princess

The term “Swedish crime fiction” probably brings images of a certain girl with a tattoo to mind. Stieg Larsson can be considered the ambassador for a new crop of internationally celebrated Swedish authors. These days, Swedish authors are more known for their love of bloodshed and their exploration of seriously twisted relationships than for a redheaded orphan by the name of Pippi Longstocking.

Stieg Larsson is perhaps the best known internationally but he has been joined by Liza Marklund, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Mikael Niemi, and finally, the reason for this post, Camilla Lackberg.

I’m a huge fan of the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson. It always makes me sad that he died before they took off the way that they did. I didn’t think that anyone would come close to the twisted tale of murder and sexual deviousness that Larsson created.

But that was before I read any of Camilla Lackberg’s work. Take a look at her author’s photo and you would never suspect that she is capable of the kind of plots that she comes up with.

The book we’re talking about here is The Ice Princess. Erica Falck returns to the small town of Fjallbacka  (which is a real place and so pretty!) after the death of her parents. She is trying to put her life back together when the body of Alex Wijkner, her childhood friend, is found frozen in her bathtub with her wrists sliced open. Initially the police assume that it was suicide but soon other clues surface that point to a much more sinister occurrence. After speaking with Alex’s parents Erica, a writer, decides to dig a little deeper and tell the story of the real Alex as a sort of tribute.

Even I wasn’t prepared for what she finds! Lackberg is twisted! I don’t know what they put in the water in Sweden but these Swedish authors come up with the most warped and crazy plot twists, usually sexual. I couldn’t stop reading this book. I was thrilled to discover that The Ice Princess was the first in a trilogy – the next bookThe Preacher is currently sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me to crack it.

One thing that I really struggled with in the Millennium series was the tendency to refer to everyone by their (very similar sounding) last names. Lackberg doesn’t do this and it’s such a relief! Both series are wonderfully Swedish though – referring often to Swedish coffee drinking habits, cooking traditions and trips to Swedish neighborhoods and stores. If I’m honest, this is one of my favourite things about the books. They really are a window into another kind of life – even though I’m sure that most Swedish lives do not involve murder and perverse sexual relationships.

I’m telling everyone I know about Camilla Lackberg. I might be obsessed. I saw The Preacher in a bookstore last week and put down an Agatha Christie I had in my hand so that I could purchase it instead. I chose Lackberg over Christie! I’m too far gone.