13

That Time Three Kids Totally Schooled Me

Last week was a rough one. Yes, there was the promise of a long weekend looming and Canada Reads was on, a passionate, intelligent and wonderful debate about books, but there was also Brussels and the outcome of the Jian Ghomeshi trial and the mourning of a public figure who by all accounts was not actually a decent man but in death he was anointed a man of the people.

I hope you will forgive then, my state of mind climbing on the bus after a busy day at work and seeing a group of young people and rolling my eyes at them. There were three of them, siblings clearly, the youngest no more than 11, the eldest probably 14. Two sisters and a brother in the middle, the younger two still in the throes of orthodontic work, the eldest had green streaks in her hair. They got onto the bus with me and I shuddered a little when I realized how close we’d be sitting. I hoped that their ride would be a short one (I ride the line end to end).

They settled in and I assumed they’d either spend the ride harassing each other, not caring about their decibel levels, or heads down on their phones. Obviously the phones would be the preference here, as much as I was ready to lament the state of youth that can’t see past their phones.

When did I become such a jaded a-hole adult?

These kids rode the bus home the whole way with me. And they managed to shrug off my nasty mood and make me smile.

How?

These three kids spend the entire bus ride, an hour, passionately discussing, debating and questioning Harry Potter. It was amazing. They were so smart, had such thoughtful questions, and debated with each other respectfully, listening before responding. They were so good, I wanted to join them.

They mostly spent their time discussing the various houses and what it meant to be sorted into them. Things really took off when one of them said that if you were sent to Slytherin, it meant you were going to be bad. The eldest took exception to this (obviously considers herself a Slytherin), saying that it didn’t mean that you were evil, it meant that you were ambitious which isn’t a bad thing. It’s what you do with that. That everyone has choices and you can choose to be good just as you can choose to be bad.

They were talking about Harry Potter but they made me hopeful about the world again. It can’t all be bad, despite what’s on the news. And even if we’ve totally made a mess of things, at least there are people like these kids coming up who should obviously already be in charge.

So if you are feeling like I was, like the world is a garbage hole and we’re all screwed, don’t despair. There’s hope and Harry Potter and the good will always win.

And to those kids, thanks. I needed that. I hope you guys get to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter soon.

Read on.

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20

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!

belle

19

2015 TBR Pile Challenge Fail

Last year when I made my list to join the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge, as hosted by Roof Beam Reader, I was thrilled to get to add some titles that had been haunting me for years. The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman was one of those books. I think that I first heard about this on one of Jen Lancaster’s blog posts about books that she loved that other people should read. She hadn’t steered me wrong yet so this one went on my list, where it was promptly ignored for the next three years.

The Teleportation Accident is a debut novel that was long listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2012. Beauman wasn’t even thirty when he wrote it and it was supposed to be wickedly funny and irreverent and great.

Well I tried to read it and after slogging through 30 pages, I decided to stop reading it.

In terms of the challenge, I guess this means that one of my alternates is going to have to step up and be counted. In terms of my reading life, making the decision to DNF The Teleportation Accident feels like the right one.

Finishing every book that I started used to be a point of pride with me. How could I know how I felt about a book if I didn’t finish it? What if it got really good and I didn’t finish it so I never knew that?

No.

I’m finally at the point where I say that life is too short to force yourself to read. When I had The Teleportation Accident on deck, I did almost everything I could to avoid reading (my apartment is clean, the laundry was done and I even made dinner – I’m not the cook in the family). And I’m someone who LOVES to read. I read all the time – on the bus, on the couch, during sports, in the sun, before bed, at lunch, at the lake, on the road etc. Avoiding reading is not my forte. The Teleportation Accident was supposed to be funny and irreverent – I found it stuffy and self-indulgent. As far as I could tell, the main character just wants to get laid, doesn’t really give a shit about his work and has horrible friends. The book starts out in 1931 in Germany and the significance of the time probably does become something but there were no hints as to what that something would be and I wasn’t invested enough in anything else to take the time to find out.

No, The Teleportation Accident will be returned to the library unread and I will find another book to help me complete the TBR Pile Challenge.

Anyone else have trouble getting through self-prescribed reading?

9

I Moustache You Some Questions

If you follow me on instagram you probably saw that I’m having a hard time with my reading right now. I’m not worried – talking to some of you it seems like we’re all suffering from the same malady. But being in a reading slump does have some repercussions when you blog about books. So when I saw that Jennine from My Life in Books had tagged me in this little quiz, well it could not have come at a better time! This should buy me some time to get excited about something I read right?

mustache

Here’s the deal. I’m going to answer some questions and then if you’re in a similar reading slump and you need to play for time on your blog, then feel free to take it and play too!

Four names people call me other than my real name:
Ev/Ef
Evil
Wondergem
That’s it. I’ve never been cool enough to have more nicknames.

Four jobs I’ve had:
An au pair
Bank teller
A fairy at children’s birthday parties
Paper route

Four movies I would/have watched more than once:
About Time (have you watched this yet? Watch it now. It’s the best. It always makes me smile)
Love Actually
I Love You, Man
Stepbrothers

Four books I’d recommend:
A Man Called Ove
The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow
All the Light We Cannot See
Night Film

Four places I have lived:
North Vancouver, Canada
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Culemborg, the Netherlands
Burnaby, Canada

Four places I have been:
Vienna, Austria
London, England
Marrakech, Morocco
Brussels, Belgium

Four places I’d rather be:
At my in-laws’ log cabin
Wandering the streets of some romantic city
At the library
In my corner of the couch snuggled with my dog, reading

Four things I don’t eat:
Mushrooms
Shark fin soup
Chips
Popcorn

Four of my favorite foods:
Chocolate
Pizza
Any kind of pasta
Strawberries

Four TV shows that I watch:
American Horror Story
The Good Wife
Broadchurch
Downton Abbey

Four things I am looking forward to this year (2015):
Going on my honeymoon!
Going to Barcelona to watch good friends get married!
Did I mention I’m finally going on my honeymoon! That counts for all the things!

Four things I’m always saying:
“Who’s a good boy?” – to my darling fur baby, Henrik
“What colour should I paint my nails?” – to my husband who could not care less
“F*@% off” – to denote surprise/delight/any other emotion (I have a filthy mouth)
“I hate people.”
If you want to play, I just tagged you.

18

2014 Wrap Up

Here we are guys. The last day of 2014. This year has flown by for me. I can’t believe that Christmas is over already, that we’re staring 2015 in the face. 2014 will probably go down as a not great year in terms of the world, but personally, it was pretty alright.  I feel like this was the year that this little blog of mine finally figured some things out – I’ve connected with more of you book lovers this year than before and it’s just been the best.

And you know, I got married, some great friends got married. Finally went to Portland.

We’re here for the books though right? I got greedy this year – after reading 115 books in 2013, I wanted to read 116 this year. As of writing, I’m working on 112 but I don’t know if I will make it. That said, I read an incredible amount of fantastic books this year. It was not a non-fiction heavy year for me. A lot of the non-fiction I did read this year was written by funny women (Lena Dunham, Elaine Lui, Amy Poehler, Caitlin Moran) so it didn’t feel like non-fiction. I have quite a few non-fiction reads on my shelves right now so I’m hoping that 2015 will see me reading them.

I also did not read a lot of classics, despite saying that 2014 would be the year that I would. The Count of Monte Cristo is sitting on my bedside table, about half finished. I think I may have abandoned it. I can’t say for sure but I’m definitely not invested in it like I thought I would be. I slogged through Shirley and it left me cold. I did re-read Emma, and LOVED North and South, but mostly this year I read newer fiction.

I flexed my YA fiction muscles this year. I devoured the Divergent books, not even a little bit ashamed. Then I read The Fault in Our Stars, Fangirl, and Eleanor & Park. I saw Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars too. I was extremely resistant to this style of fiction but when I finally gave in, I fully surrendered.

And now, here’s a list of my favourite books I read this year (not necessarily published this year):

1. The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski. This tale of a little boy born in the midst of his mother’s grief is beautiful and heart breaking and wonderful. Leganski spent three years carefully crafting this most perfect novel and it shows in every page.

2. Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. Ever since Gone Girl we’ve all been looking for a novel that evokes that same kind of heart pounding feeling. Many books claim it, this one has it. The story of a mother trying to piece together the last days of her dead daughter’s life is like a cross between Gone Girl and Gossip Girl and it is fantastic.

3. How to Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. For good or for bad, 2014 was the year of feminists. For many reasons, feminism and what it actually means came back into the spotlight this year and Moran’s book helped me to figure out where I stand in the whole thing. (For the record, I am a complete and total feminist and my husband is too.)

4. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith. The Cuckoo’s Calling made it onto my top list of books before, The Silkworm is better. Despite the fact that JK Rowling had been unmasked as the book’s true author, something I feared might have stymied her in some way, the next chapter in Cormoran Strike’s professional career was stronger. The characters were more fully developed and the mystery at the middle of this one is terrific. I’m looking forward to the next one even more.

5. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I think if you read this book this year, you have it on your Best of 2014 list. This book is perfect. It took Rita Leganski three years to write The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow – Doerr took 10 to craft this one. If you didn’t get to it in 2014, just make sure you read it in 2015.

6. The Humans by Matt Haig. I was originally put off by the premise of this book: a math teacher’s body is taken over by aliens. Math and aliens? Not usually what I look for in my reading material. But The Humans isn’t about aliens or math. It’s about how to be human; all the foibles, eccentricities and lies that make up the human race. And it’s about love and how that’s ultimately what makes us human. People that loved The Rosie Project or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time will love this one. Also? Matt Haig is wonderful on twitter. 

7. The Sandman by Lars Keplar. I love crime fiction and the Scandinavians are writing some of the best currently. The Sandman is a whole other level of depravity and heart stoppage. I could not read this book in the dark. I didn’t want to read it when I was alone. Definitely not alone and in the dark. A master class in dark and twisted crime fiction.

8. First Impressions by Charlie Lovett. I realized this year that while I don’t like books that seek to “complete” the story of beloved classics like Pride & Prejudice, I quite like those books that put a new spin on some aspect of that story. First Impressions was just that. This book is a mystery surrounding the origins of Jane Austen’s most famous work. We meet and spend time with the author herself and jump back to the present day as a Jane Austen lover tries to unravel it all. With a healthy (but not sickening) dose of romance.

9. A Man Called Ove by Frederik Bachman. This book came out of nowhere to lay firm claim to my heart. If you are a sucker for crusty old men learning how to live and love again, this book is for you. It is full of wonderful characters and storylines that are definitely rooted in reality but still manage to be completely heartwarming.

10. Punishment by Linden MacIntyre. I think this cements it: CanLit has made it onto my list of favourite books this year so clearly I don’t hate it anymore. Punishment is the story of a small town rocked by a crime that makes all their baser instincts come to life. It’s a story of values and what happens when those values are challenged. It is fantastic.

And a list wouldn’t be a list without some honourable mentions:

  • The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson for being totally dysfunctional in the best possible way.
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler for not being a rushed, thrown together memoir of material we were already familiar with. It made me feel like Amy and I could be friends – I think she makes everyone feel like that which is part of her charm.
  • Nora Webster by Colm Toibin for being a flawless portrait of life as a widow in a certain time and place.
  • Friendship: A Novel by Emily Gould for capturing a certain kind of friendship that is very current and relatable.
  • The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe for being about women of a certain age and the complications that arise from growing up and away from your childhood best friend.

That was a long post! If you are still reading, well done!

In all seriousness, thank you all for a great blogging year. I’ve loved talking about, crying over, and railing at books with you all. I hope that 2015 will be even better.

Happy New Year book lovers!

23

Take the Stairs: The Reading Version

Twice in the past week, people have told me that they haven’t read one book this year.

Quite frankly this astounds me. What are people even doing with their time?

But also, we all know that reading is good for us. Science tells us so. Reading can protect your brain against Alzheimers disease, combat stress levels, make you a more empathetic person and more likely to vote.

Why then doesn’t everyone make more of an effort to read? We know that exercising regularly makes our bodies healthier so we make an effort to take the stairs, to park further away, to walk at lunch time, lift weights while we watch TV – all these little things that hopefully add up to big changes. I know that I make an effort to drink 75oz of water in a work day and it makes me feel physically so much better.

But making reading a priority doesn’t seem to carry the same weight.

Maybe it’s because sitting down and reading a book seems time consuming and not doable when the rest of our crazy lives are factored in. So here I offer you the “take the stairs” version of squeezing reading time in.

This could be you reading.

This could be you reading.

  1. Read things that you like. You don’t have to pretend to like Dickens if he’s not your jam. Reading is a personal thing – you only have to read Dickens when he’s assigned in school. Read comics. Graphic novels are totally legit reading material. If you only like Harlequin romance novels, have at ‘er. Read them all. Reading is reading.
  2. Bring your books/comics/magazines with you. If you have it with you, you will read it when you’re spending your time waiting. And you’d be amazed how much of your day is spent waiting. I’m early for everything (I hate being late but I’m also really bad at estimating how long it takes me to get somewhere. Result: at least 15 minutes early for everything) but it never bothers me because I always have a book with me. Spending 15 minutes reading is much better than spending 15 minutes looking at my phone, annoyed that I’m waiting.
  3. Read how you like. There are people that swear by e-readers and there are the purists that prefer paper and ink. It doesn’t actually matter how you read. Just read. E-reader, paperbacks, napkins, on your phone; just read.
  4. Take more baths. Who doesn’t like taking a bath? So relaxing. What’s better than a relaxing bath? Reading a great story in a relaxing bath.
  5. Join a book club. This may seem like a hardcore reader thing to do but it’s not. Rare are the book clubs that don’t devolve into a friendly group of peeps getting together to talk about all things. A book will be discussed and the pressure not to be the one that didn’t read the book will get you to start and finish at least one book. But there’s usually wine.

 

See? Not hard.

What are the little things that you do that make sure you get reading?

13

Where does the time go?

I’ve been embarrassingly quiet on the blog front over the past week or so. Let’s all take a moment to blame Shirley for that because that book took way too long to get through! Trying to slog my way through Shirley during the day and attempting to finish Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix under the watchful (read: impatient) eye of my significant other who, despite years of dismissing these books as childish, had finally actually read them and wanted to get started on book 5 as soon as possible.

But I’m happy to report that I finished the fifth Harry Potter *and* Shirley and am now free to pursue other literary treats.

While I was bemoaning the stall in my reading life, a blogging milestone of sorts snuck up on me: you are reading my 200th post.

carltondance

In the grand scheme of things, 200 posts isn’t that many. But it feels big. Since I haven’t read anything that’s grabbed me in what feels like a while, I thought that I would use this milestone to run down some of the things I’ve learned since I started this book blogging thing.

Canada loves to read. I can’t tell you how many of the book bloggers that I’ve connected with are Canadian. Hint: it’s almost all of them. It’s not just the online book bloggers though – since I started this blog I’ve become hyper aware of readers in the real world and on the West Coast, there are a lot. Canada just can’t get enough of the written word.

YA Fiction doesn’t suck. This is a more recent development but I think that posting here and connecting with other readers online has made me more open minded about what I will read. Eventually this meant opening my heart to YA fiction and I kind of dig it.

I will never make a dent in my TBR list. No really – I will never make any progress. It feels great to cross a book off my list but if I take another look I will see that one crossed off book makes no difference if when I do it I simultaneously add 5 more to the bottom.  This is probably the number one book nerd problem to have and I don’t think we’d have it any other way. If I finished my TBR list what would I even do with my time?

Reading is a group sport. I know – I’m surprised that I’m good at a sport too. Before I started blogging, reading felt like a solitary activity, like I was constantly being anti-social. I’ve since discovered that reading is a conversation starter, a commonality, the beginning of a friendship. And then I come here and spew my opinions all over the internet and find people that agree enough with me to comment.

People are always looking for a good book. It doesn’t matter if they are hardcore book nerds (me), casual readers or those people that claim they don’t like to read – we’re all looking for that next book that makes us fall in love. It’s especially important for those that believe they don’t like reading; as soon as they find that book, reading love is born.

If you’re a casual Paperback Princess reader, a regular commenter, a devotee (Thanks Mom) – I thank you all. You’ve all bumped my love of reading up a level I didn’t know existed.  And I promise to get some proper reading done soon so I can give you the posts that you deserve.