Living Up To Bookish Expectations

Last week I wrote a post about a book that I really enjoyed and how I was glad that I hadn’t let previous negative experience reading this author’s work, prevent me from reading her follow up effort. The author shared the post on her Facebook page whereby I was called out by a fan for being crass for having expectations of this book and then not liking the book because it hadn’t lived up to my expectations. (Full disclosure: being called crass was a particularly effective way of riling me up. I am a lady thankyouverymuch.)

Aside from the fact that I was delighted to cause such a strong reaction in someone reading my words, it did get me thinking:

The idea that one should start reading a book without any expectations is insane.


OK fine, you probably don’t want to go into reading all books thinking they should all measure up to your idea of that one perfect book (which is obviously Pride & Prejudice right?), because then you’re going to be disappointed. Again and again and again. And then probably again.

But we all have some expectations of the books we read. They are not one size fits all expectations across the board. But you wouldn’t pick up a book to read in the first place if you had no expectations for it.

You might want it to make you laugh or cry. Maybe you’re in the mood to take a break from this world and spend some time at Hogwarts, in Middle Earth, or Panem. Maybe you want to read something comforting and familiar or you want to read something uplifting.

Maybe the book you’re reading is supposed to teach you something new or challenge a belief system. Maybe it’s supposed to inspire you or spark a discussion. Maybe everyone has been talking about this one book and you want to know what the fuss is about. Maybe it’s being turned into a movie and the movie trailer made you want to read the book.

All of these are expectations, good or bad. The idea that I’m not allowed to say that I was disappointed by a book because it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be is, again, insane. That’s not saying that an author is not a good writer or the story is garbage and no one should read it. I’m saying that I thought it was going to be a certain way and when it wasn’t, I was disappointed. That’s totally allowed.

There are times when a book wasn’t what I was expecting but it was so much better than what I was expecting. Outlander, The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, and anything by Maeve Binchy were all not what I expected (at all) but I still went in with expectations.

If you’re not going into reading with any expectations, I’m not sure you’re reading properly.


A Book Buying Binge

Books are slowly taking over my apartment.

It’s not like this is a new problem. I’ve written about it before here. And probably here. Here too?

But this seems like the first time that I’m looking at my shelves thinking seriously about donating some of my less-loved titles. And I did that twice last year. My husband also moved a bunch of DVDs to free up shelf space for me, all of which is now crammed full of books. There are books all along the floor of the bookshelves, on the coffee table, my bedside table, the table beside my couch. Everywhere.

So I’m not exactly sure what I was doing in a bookstore in the first place.

And yet, in one week I went to the bookstore three times. I think. There might have been more times and I just blocked those memories. All I know is that I now have a lot more books that also need reading and since Chelsea asked for a book haul post, here are the books that I recently brought home:


Murder After Hours and 13 at Dinner by Agatha Christie. There’s this second hand bookstore near a friend’s house and it’s awesome. The books are stacked all the way to the ceiling, alphabetical by author, grouped by genre. The crime fiction authors have drawers. Most have to share. Agatha Christie gets her own drawer filled with the best vintage covers. I took home two of them because Agatha Christie you guys.

Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin. I grabbed this one at the same bookstore (in a shared drawer) because it’s the third book in the Inspector Rebus series and it’s a hard one to find.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. This is the only book of Gladwell’s’ that I haven’t read so when I saw it at the second hand bookstore, I took it. It’s also on my TBR Pile Challenge list so I have to read it soonish. See? I needed it.

The Duchess of Aquitaine: A Novel of Eleanor by Margaret Ball. I’ve been looking for some good historical fiction that doesn’t deal with Yorks or Tudors, wives of famous writers or the French Revolution. I’m hopeful that this fits the bill.

How to Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman. Definitely not a how-to guide. Rather one of those domestic thrillers we’re all into right now from a debut author.

Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy. I was in the middle of a reading slump and I always find that Maeve Binchy is the perfect author with which to reset my reading mojo. I didn’t need it though – Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken did the trick. I’m sure Maeve will come in handy sooner or later though – she’s always good to have on hand.

Ru by Kim Thuy. The Canada Reads list had just been released and for the first time ever, I was interested in maybe reading some of the books. Ru was the first one I found when I was in that mindset and so I took it home with me.

The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi by Jacqueline Park. Iv’e been on the lookout for books about Italy since we’re going in the Spring and I don’t know that much about the country. OK so this is fiction but Heather picked it so it can’t be terrible. I promise to read some non-fiction about Italy soon.

I also picked up Persuasion because I’m going to re-read that soon and the first three Anne of Green Gables books to restart the collection because I’m doing the Green Gables Readalong with Reeder Reads and I didn’t have the books anymore which made me sad.

So yeah. Good thing today is a day off. I have a lot of reading to do. What am I even doing here??

Have you gone on any book buying binges lately?


Portrait of a Life: Nora Webster

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I kind of love books about nothing. Not nothing like Seinfeld nothing. More like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn nothing. I love the kinds of stories that follow a family or a town over a period of time and just kind of report out matter-of-factly on what’s going on. Each incident alone may not be particularly interesting but taken as a whole, they become a portrait of a life or lives lived.

Such is the case with Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster. Arguably the defining moment, the death of Nora’s husband Maurice, has already happened by the time we get to reading, but Maurice’s death colours and informs everything that happens in the book.

nora webster

Maurice’s death leaves Nora Webster a young widow in a small Irish town with four children to look after in the late 1960s. Two of the children, Fiona and Aine are already living from home, pursuing their teachers’ certification and it’s just the younger boys, Conor and Donal that are at home and need her direct care still. Early in the book, Nora makes the decision to sell their vacation home in beach side town to have a little extra money to live on until she can figure out what a young widow can do. The widow’s pension is a lot smaller than anyone thought it would be and she has a household to run.

We follow Nora and her family as she tries to put the pieces of their lives back together with the help of the community they live in, the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Nora comes to grips with the idea that she may have to go back to work at the office where she worked before her marriage, at the mercy of Francie Kavanagh, who she worked with before and didn’t like. Nora worries constantly about her children: Aine who seems to get more politically active as the novel goes on; Fiona who never seems to share anything personal with her mother but has a good rapport with Nora’s sister; Conor who seems to worry constantly about money; and Donal who spent the most time with his father, a teacher, and is at a loose end now that all his school days remind him of the man who isn’t here any longer.

As time passes, Nora becomes more used to the idea that she can be who she wants to be and do what she wants to do, that there isn’t anyone around to stop her. The 1960s are a time of great change, even in a small town in Ireland and she starts dying her hair, buying new clothes, and even attempts to paint over wallpaper herself. When she rediscovers music and how much she loves it, she finally finds something that is just for herself.

I’m not sure if Mr. Toibin would take this as a compliment, but reading Nora Webster reminded me very much of a Maeve Binchy book. Like those novels, Nora Webster is about something bad happening and making the most of it with a little hard work and the right attitude. Nora Webster was maybe more introspective but it had a lot of the same elements: a community only too willing to help share the burdens; problematic relatives and long held grudges; elements of the Church that are both good and not so good; and the idea that any situation can be remedied with some hard work and a good attitude.

I basically read this book in one sitting – it was completely absorbing and uplifting despite the serious subject matter. Toibin made me care about all the characters and what happens to them – even Nora’s sisters who were basically the least nice ever. This was the first of Toibin’s work that I’ve read but if his other stuff is like this, then I’m definitely looking out for more of it.


Wishful Reading: Cold Weather Edition

We’ve been pretty smug out here on the West Coast this winter. What with our beautiful sunny mild days. Strolling in the sunshine, I have definitely seen some guys walking around in shorts. Seems like while the rest of North America was barricading themselves in the house with piles of blankets and warm beverages, we’ve been sipping our lattes beachside.

But that all changed this week when we were hit with our own version of extreme cold weather. Last night it hit -8.3 degrees, a record breaking cold. And I know, believe me, I know that this isn’t cold the way everyone else experiences it blah blah blah. We’re from the West Coast OK? This is madness and I’m not totally sure we’ll survive it. Also? Everywhere else it’s a dry cold, it’s a wet cold here and that gets into your bones.

Despite the fact that I have to work, which seriously cuts into my reading time, cold weather does make rather excellent reading weather. I mean, what are you going to do instead? Go outside!?

So here, a list of books I’d rather be curled up with, fireside, covered in a blanket with my dog next to me and a cup of tea within arms’ reach:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Bronte books are always super moody anyway so why not curl up with one taking place in swirling winds? You’ll burrow deeper in your blankets and be so toasty and warm. Plus, the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester? That’ll keep you warm.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. You’re not going anywhere are you? Might as well stay home and make some headway through this beast of a book. Think about how accomplished you will be when you rejoin civilization all “When I was snowed in? Oh I just finished off War and Peace” like it’s no big deal. The same could be said for Les Miserables really. Or The Goldfinch if you prefer your books more modern.

Anything by Agatha Christie. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more satisfying than reading about a murder in some charming English locale on a cold, cold day. Seriously, try it. Tell me I’m wrong (I’m not).

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy. The cover of the copy I own has a fireplace on it – it’s basically meant to be read in cold weather. Plus anytime you read anything by Maeve Binchy it’s like putting on an old, warm sweater or giving yourself a literary hug. You basically owe it to yourself to read Maeve Binchy when the weather is cold.

From Splendor to Revolution: The Romanov Women from 1847-1928 by Julia P. Gelardi because I think that cold weather would be conducive to reading about Russian royals. You can marvel at the fact that everyone was cold all the time while you turn up the heat or source another blanket. Plus, mammoth non-fiction is always better when you have the time to really sink your teeth into it.

How about you? What’s your go-to cold weather read?



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.


Dear Maeve Binchy,

I’m sorry that I never read your books while you were still alive. I committed the book crime of judging books based on covers, dismissing yours as the love of old women, confident that I had all the time in the world to enjoy them in my golden years.

I didn’t know that your books were filled with characters at all stages of life, trying to make the best of what life threw at them. I didn’t know that your stories were such a delight, showing me that anything is possible with a little hard work and the right attitude.

I didn’t know that I would come to view Circle of Friends as one of my favourite books of all time, that I would become personally invested in the lives of Benny and Eve and all of their friends in Dublin and Knockglen. I had no idea that Heart and Soul would provide me with an early glimpse of some my friends on St. Jarlath’s Crescent that I so adored in Minding Frankie. Whitethorn Woods is sitting on my desk right now, waiting for my attention because I know that it will allow me to get to know a character that was passing through in Heart and Soul.

I love that your books make those kinds of connections.

I never knew that your books were like a cozy fire on a grey day. Or that your books would have the power to make me completely forget about my commute, being in very great danger of missing my stop altogether if I didn’t ride the line end to end. I can’t even classify your books as a guilty pleasure because I don’t hide them from anyone. And if anyone asks me about your books now, I make an effort to convert them to my way of thinking, now I know that people that don’t read your books are missing out on one of the great pleasures of reading life.

And I’m sad that I didn’t find all of these things out until you were gone. It was because of your passing that my ignorance of your brilliance was first revealed and in order to please my friends I went to the library to introduce myself to your work.

All the books you will ever write are out there now so I will have to pace myself. I know it was a lovely surprise when your posthumous novel A Week in Winter was released but there will be no more new Maeve Binchys. I know I would have been among the first to buy your new books, even if they were in hardcover.

So I’m sorry that I didn’t know until now. But I swear I’m making up for it.


The Paperback Princess



Libraries for the Win

I’m a book buyer. I have been for a long time. I take pride in my library, offering my favourites to friends, encouraging people to take a wander through the shelves in awe of my exquisite literary taste.

Before my first bout of funemployment in 2010 it had been a long time since I’d been to the library for pleasure. Let’s be honest here – I barely needed to go to the library for school either. Online subscription services meant that I could get all the ‘real’ source material I needed for papers without ever leaving my house.

But when I wasn’t working, the library was suddenly my only option for new books. All of a sudden, I was a library regular. I was surprised by how many awesome books they had at my disposal. And all of them were free! And I could take out as many as I wanted!

The months that I was looking for work were not nearly as bad as I thought they’d be because I never once was deprived of fresh reading material, a criteria in my world for happiness. I devoured biographies, discovered a love for Agatha Christie, PG Wodehouse and Maeve Binchy and delighted in finding books I’d never heard of.

But then I went back to working. And my library visits dropped off in favour of new book buying expeditions.

I’m still working (knock on wood) but I went to the library on my lunch break the other day. See, I’m getting married and it turns out weddings aren’t cheap so book buying at this point seems kind of extravagant. My office is right around the corner from a library and it would be wrong not to take advantage of that kind of proximity.

The library around the corner is magic. I’d never been to this branch but as soon as I walked in, I felt like I was at home. I meant to grab one or two titles but walked out with five (A Pocket Full of Rye, Sister Queens, Wives and Daughters, Heart & Soul, and Valley of the Dolls). A little overzealous on my part; I had a hard time getting them home!

If these titles turn out to be my new very favourites, I will be sad to give them back. But there’s also something so satisfying about knowing that someone else is going to come after me and discover their same magic

Libraries for the win.


Circle of Friends

After I finish slogging through a book I didn’t love, I always try and find something that I know I will love. Just to get my book mojo back, so to speak. Sometimes that means reading an old favourite and other times it means trusting in the genius of a particular author that hasn’t disappointed me yet.

This time, I went with the latter.

My go to? Maeve Binchy.

I have to thank the ladies in my book club for my newfound love of Maeve Binchy. I’d seen her books everywhere for as long as I could remember but I’d always dismissed them as romances. Not my thing. After Ms. Binchy passed away last year, there was a lot of twitter talk about her. And 2 of my friends in book club were a part of that. They were astounded when I told them that I’d never read any of her work and recommended some titles to get me started.

Their first recommendation was Circle of Friends, which I could never find at the library. So I read Minding Frankie and Tara Road to get started on Maeve Binchy love. I ended up buying Circle of Friends recently.

There is something so satisfying about choosing a book you know you will love and then loving it even more. I loved Minding Frankie (so much crying) but I’m pretty sure that Circle of Friends just usurped it as my favourite Binchy book.

Maeve Binchy was an incredibly talented story teller. She had a gift of taking an entire village or community and making you care about all of them in different ways.

Circle of Friends starts off as the story of Benny Hogan and Eve Mahon, who are raised in tiny Knockglen and dream of going to university in Dublin. Benny’s parents’ lives revolve around Benny who is overprotected to the max while Eve’s parents died when she was a baby and she was raised in the convent by nuns. On their first day in Dublin when they are 18, a car accident throws them into a new group of friends and we follow them through their first year in university.

And it’s SO GOOD. I never wanted to stop reading it – I ignored a hockey game and stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it and then I was sad because it was over.

You know what I’ve noticed about Binchy’s books? Her heroines never need a man to complete their happiness. Seriously. They might have boyfriends or husbands or they might not, but ultimately their happiness never depends on being part of a couple. Their marriage might collapse or their husbands might die and they will still have a life afterwards. Or a guy will just decide it’s not for him and the girl will at first be devastated but eventually she will be totally ok with it. It’s very refreshing actually.

I still have A Week in Winter sitting on my shelf for me to read, but if you’re familiar with Binchy’s work, which one do I still have to read?