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Aud Thoughts: The Stumbling Book

Reading has become a family business. So while I try to undo the effects of having read The Slap, let my sister Audrey tell you about her own bookish struggles. 

I had been hitting my stride for a while, not going to lie. I had made it to a solid 60 books when the unthinkable happened: I took my first hit. I hit a block. My first not so great book. My stumbling book.

Honestly, I fell flat on my face. Which, as a generally lazy person it takes me quite awhile to recover from. Sure, I limped through; I think in the past month and a little bit I’ve read maybe seven books? SEVEN. As opposed to like, seven a day. Just kidding, at least seven in two days.

I had finally fallen off of my high horse and been left to dwell in the dust. My safe haven, where I read nearly everyday for at least four hours became swarmed with people visiting my fair city. I had to do my job.  Honestly.

Suddenly my books were being left behind at the till. I was forgetting my place; I was losing my involvement in the story to constant interruptions and my biggest regret? I made friends at work. I know. What an absolute travesty.

The past month has been a weird one for me, as I fell off the book track, I fell into the track of superheroes, binge watching Netflix, and actually leaving my room. (That last one was a lie).

binge watching

However, as my mountain of books continues to grow and my newly found aversion to the library is replaced by buying books, I have decided that this slump is finished.

So, as this has happened to me many times before, here are some books I’ve read in the past that helped me leap over my stumbling book and dive right back into the fray.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. So I take it a majority of you have seen – or good lord, should’ve seen – the wonderfully hilarious romantic, badass comedy with Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy. At least, I have about a million times. To me this movie and this book represent a significant part of my childhood. It’s a nice, quick read that yes, probably could be a children’s book – I think it actually may be – but it’s a gem. Especially if you’re having a hard time…performing. Lets keep this short and simple. It’s a comedic book about this girl that a fairy bestows a gift to, the gift of obedience. Ella cannot say no to any command given to her – whether it be eat an apple, do the dishes, or stab her one true love. She has to do it. The story follows her on a journey throughout the kingdom of Frell to find the semi-psychotic fairy and get her to take away her curse. There are ogres and princes, giants and centaurs, a somewhat unsavoury stepfamily and a neglectful father. What more can you want?  I think this is one of my most read books, I read it at least twice a year. It never fails to suck me back into the majestic realm of the written word.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. There is nothing like a Scottish highlander to get me into the mood of reading. Add time travel to the mix? I’m just about ready to sell myself to the circus and travel around pretending to be a monkey. Sign me up. I’m not saying go ahead and settle down for winter by championing all eight of these massive volumes. Honestly, even just reading the first one will enthrall you with enough action, romance, adventure, and men in kilts to keep your engine going. So give it a read. Because I think you owe it to yourself. There is no other love like Claire Beauchamp and Jamie Fraser.

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m the person that falls under the umbrella of fiction. I love some good, ole fashioned fiction. I’m not talking about mixed up family ties, or kids with cancer going to Amsterdam, I’m talking about fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction. So basically anything that has a sprinkling of subject matter that falls under similar categories as unicorns. So when I picked up the Kelley Armstrong Otherworld Series, I didn’t know the kind of deep longing and obsession I would have with the paranormal. I am the biggest Kelley Armstrong fan; I’ve actually even had the chance to meet her at a writing workshop. Anything she’s written, I’ve probably read it and could sing praises to it on command. I also really, really have a soft spot for super sexy male characters. I don’t even mean just physically sexy, if you’ve got a great personality going on? Oh boy. And while Bitten itself definitely has it’s own brand of Abercrombie werewolves, the rest of the books in the series have such a great cast of just great characters. From werewolves to witches to ghosts to necromancers. I am always an advocate for someone to buy the Otherworld Series. Always.

And finally, while this isn’t much of a book suggestion, just read something you love. Whether it is a biography or Winnie the Pooh, pick up an old favourite and take the time to remind yourself why you fell in love with reading in the first place.  That’s why you’re here isn’t it? You picked up a book one day and fell in love. And then that book ended and it left you with a hole in your heart and then you went on to love another book. However you remember your time together fondly and are always willing to return to one another, perhaps not as the great love affair that you once were but as good friends. So, friends, return to your own good friends. Reach out a hand from where you’ve stumbled and ask Harry, Hermione and Ron for help up. Ask Percy Jackson to give you a lift back to camp. Ask Elizabeth Bennett if she wanted to go for a stroll around Pemberley. It’s time to pull yourself away from Netflix and get to your feet and start on running.  I refuse to only be fifteen books ahead of schedule on my reading challenge. I refuse. Kick aside your stumbling book and journey on, my wayward friend.

Good luck and godspeed,

Audrey

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20

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.

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.

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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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Giving Kate Atkinson Another Shot: Human Croquet

I recently read and fell in love with Outlander but wasn’t ready to make the series commitment back to back. I ended up coming across a list of “If you loved Outlander, you will like these” reading list and Kate Atkinson’s Human Croquet was on it.

I added it to my list and the next time I was at the library I found it and decided it was meant to be.

I know, you’re all But Eva, besides Life After Life, you don’t like Kate Atkinson’s work! And you’re not wrong. After loving Life After Life and discovering that she had a bunch more books out there, I made it my mission to read them. And could not handle them. I did not like them at all and decided that I would stop reading her books. (Except the follow up to Life After Life that’s recently been announced. I will for sure be reading that.)

Her crime fiction I can’t handle. But her books with time travel themes? I was willing to give that another go with Human Croquet.

Human Croquet US

Isobel Fairfax wakes up in 1960 on her 16th birthday and suddenly begins to slip through pockets of time, finding herself on her street in 1918 before any of the houses on it are even a thought; in the town square when it’s still a market at least 300 years earlier; getting into a Groundhog Day scenario with Christmas Eve months later.

Her weird time travel is something she can’t control, and it only happens for moments at a time.

And it doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

Isobel’s mom disappeared when she was little and they have no idea what happened. Instead of traveling back to see what happened, we travel without her and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Isobel’s time travel. I liked finding out what happened, I liked going back to when her grandmother was still alive, to when Isobel and her brother Charles were the apple of their mom’s eye, to when their neighbours, the abusive headmaster Mr. Baxter and his family first moved in. But I found myself frustrated by the lack of any semblance of plot continuity. Jumping back to 1918 for a moment has exactly nothing to do with any of the Fairfax family so why are we doing it?

Atkinson’s mettle as a writer is clear in this book – she is able to do with words what so very few are. In the opening pages of the book, we go from a world with nothing, to watching time wreak changes on the landscape of the town that Isobel will come to know and such is her skill that I could actually see the changes as if I was watching a timelapse from the sky. But her skill as a writer has never been in question for me.

When the ending does come, I will admit, it’s a clever one. But I’m wondering if maybe it was too clever, if by hiding it so well Atkinson didn’t spoil some of the fun of reading a time travel novel; the reader should probably be in on the scheme.

That said, I think that writing Human Croquet meant that years later she was able to perfect Life After Life and if that’s the case, then I’m alright with having read it. Because Life After Life is still one of the best books I’ve read recently.

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Late to the Party: Outlander

When it was time to pick the next book I was going to read, it was between Marisha Pessl’s Night Film (it always seems to be a contender, but I haven’t taken the plunge yet – it looks scary) and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. My sister told me I had to read Outlander (it’s her copy I’m reading) and Alena  wisely pointed out that if it’s the same sister that told me to read Fangirl and The Fault in Our Stars then I should probably just read Outlander.

Well Alena, you were right. So I’m in the middle of Outlander. And I’m really unsure about why it took me this long to find my way here.

Scotland had never captured my imagination the way that England had. My fiancé had always wanted to go to Scotland but I’d never felt the pull. Until we went there last year. The trip was a surprise for my birthday and we ended up getting engaged on Calton Hill in Edinburgh under a tartan blanket in the rain. Ever since those 4 incredible days in Edinburgh, Scotland has had a firm grip on my heart. Given the opportunity, both of us would move there in a heartbeat – my fiancé felt like he’d found his spiritual home.

It should come as no surprise then that I’ve been searching out Scottish fiction on the regular. Any excuse to go back. I’ve read Alexander McCall Smith, taken up Ian Rankin, and even tried to get into Kate Atkinson. It was only a matter of time until I found my way to the Outlander series.

I’ve no doubt that I’m the last person on Earth to have read these books so a plot recap is probably not terribly necessary. But just in case there are other Outlander virgins among us, here’s the Cliff Notes version: Claire Beauchamp is second honeymooning in the Highlands with her scholar husband Frank, in 1945. She goes up to collect some wildflowers near a henge in the early morning and is suddenly falling through the Highlands in 1743, nearly raped by an English Dragoon who turns out to be her husband’s six times great grandfather. And then she meets Jamie Fraser, a giant, handsome red-headed Scot who turns out to be the love of her life.

If I had read these books before I met my fiancé, a tall handsome red-headed Jamie, I think I would have passed out when he introduced himself.

I did find the first 200 or so pages kind of hard going – there is so much to set up that it sometimes felt like the story would never get started. But once it did – I have no idea where I am half the time I’m reading. Sometimes I actually look up surprised to find myself here in this time, that’s how absorbing it is. There are battles, a witch hunt, secret marriages, loads of smutty scenes, and so many delicious accents. Gabaldon has created an incredible romance for the ages; Claire and Jamie belong together, despite the separation of time. Jamie Fraser is one of the greatest romantic characters ever. I love him.

The best part about reading Outlander right now of course is that the Starz series is set to start in August and I’m pretty happy that I don’t really have to wait for it.

If you have a minute, watch the actor who plays Jamie Fraser say “sassenach.” It’s awesome.