Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year in Review

Another year comes to a close. I say it every year that it feels like the year just flew by but this year seemed to go faster than most.  Maybe it was because it was such a fantastic year in books for me!  A personal highlight from 2015 was getting a job in a bookstore, because isn't that the dream?  Now let's see how my year in reading went:

Trends

This year, I kept detailed track of the books I read so that I could see what my reading habits are like. Here are some interesting stats from that:

96 Books Read, 27384 Pages Read
Average Rating: 4

31% of the books I read were Canadian.  The next most-read genre was Chick Lit at 19%.

69% of the books were written by female authors.
38% of the books I read were diverse books.

Popular Posts

Daydreams of Angels by Heather O'Neill
All Inclusive by Farzana Doctor
The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew
Villa America by Liza Klaussman
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Life or Something Like It by Annie Lyons
The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen
The Gallery of Lost Species by Nina Berkhout
She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not by Zeenat Mahal
Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz
Cover Before Striking by Priscila Uppal
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Challenges

105 Books Read - Not Completed
Diversity on the Shelf - COMPLETED
Canadian Book Challenge - COMPLETED
Classics Club - Very Little Progress Made
Around the World in 80 Books - Fair Amount of Progress Made

Best Books of the Year

FICTION


With a few months still to go in the year, I declared this book my best book of 2015.  This book blew me away.  A rich cast of characters, a sweeping plot, history, reggae music, there is so much to this book and it is incredible.  A story of an island characterized by poverty and political violence but sustained by determined and strong people.  And as the winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize (the first winner from Jamaica) how can it not be an incredible novel?

NON FICTION
The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew

A story of a father and son, residential school survivors, reconciliation, and activism, this is an incredible book that gives to readers a comprehensive understanding of the experiences of Aboriginal people in Canada.  A journalist, media personality, academic, musician, chief, activist, sundancer, Wab Kinew does it all and this book is another incredible accomplishment.  This is required reading and I hope that it will inspire conversations across the country.  Kinew’s hopes and dreams for his people are moving and inspiring.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Month In Review

December was a great month for reading for me.  I thought I would get very little reading done as I started working, however I guess since I'm working in a bookstore, it inspired me to read even more! I also chose some really good books this month that I just couldn't put down so that helped as well.

Here is what I read in December with my GoodReads ratings:

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng *****
Always the Bridesmaid by Lindsey Kelk *****
The Widow by Fiona Barton ****
Number Two by Jay Onrait ****
How to Speak Brit by Christopher J. Moore ****
Bella's Christmas Bake Off by Sue Watson ****
The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance by Kirsty Greenwood ****
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik ****
The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes ****
Mistletoe Mansion by Samantha Tonge ***
Yes My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar ***

Challenges

Diversity on the Shelf (4), Canadian Book Challenge (1)

What I'm Looking Forward to in January

A whole new year of books!!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Number Two: More Short Tales from a Very Tall Man" by Jay Onrait

Everyone’s favourite Canadian (but left us for America) sportscaster is back with more hilarious stories from the worlds of sports, Canadian media, and now (because he left us for America) Hollywood.  

Number Two: More Short Tales from a Very Tall Man, by Jay Onrait, picks up where his first book, Anchorboy, left off and gives us more hilarious stories that will have you laughing out loud and completely grossed out, probably at the same time.

One has to wonder about Jay Onrait.  He is most certainly a hilarious guy, but how one earth is this his life?  Does he go out looking for crazy things to happen or do they just find him?  In this book Jay shares about hilarious circumstances in his life like trying to get a medical marijuana license, not giving up his table at a restaurant for Jay-Z even though it was Jay-Z’s table, getting bumped off of television appearances because of Rob Ford’s crack confession, and the madness that was the 2014 Sochi Olympics.  Oh, and the time they watched videos of people having sex in the Speakers Corner box at a CityTV holiday party.  That’s just the start of the wild stories that Jay shares from his life.

As I mentioned in my review of Anchorboy, I find Jay to be hilarious even without having watched much of him on television.  I spent a sleep-deprived two weeks watching him during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and ever since then, I’ve felt a connection to him.  I thought his first book was hilarious and was so happy to see that he had even more stories to share.  And this was a quick, funny read that I enjoyed very much.

However, Number Two is an appropriate title for this book as there is a lot of talk in this book about his need to use the bathroom.  Which honestly took this book from an absolutely hilarious must-read to a piece of juvenile writing.  I could have done without those stories, or at least much less detail.  The book would have been just as funny without those stories.  I could handle them in the first book but now it just seems a little crass.


That being said, Jay redeems himself for me when he acknowledges leaving us for America and tells Canadians not to worry, that he will be back.  It’s in print, so we’ll hold him to it.  Because watching the Olympic coverage at 5am just isn’t the same without him there to make me laugh.

Monday, December 28, 2015

"The Widow" by Fiona Barton

Canadian Publication Date: 16 February 2016

Jean Taylor’s husband died last week and while it is expected she would be mourning, she is actually quite relieved.  Because for years, she kept quiet about her husband- from her family, friends, the media, and the police.  But she doesn’t have to keep quiet anymore.

Years ago, Jean’s husband Glen was accused in the disappearance of a young girl but the police were never actually able to prove that it was him.  Jean remained the perfect wife and insisted to the police that her husband couldn’t have committed the crime.  Throughout all of the accusations and harassment, she stood by Glen.  

But now that Glen is gone, she can tell the truth.  It’s what everyone has been waiting to hear, and the police and the media are ready to listen.  But if Jean has been covering up for so long, will it be easy for her to finally tell the truth?

The Widow is a stunning debut psychological thriller by former journalist Fiona Barton.  Poised to be the mystery of the year, it is already being compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

The premise of this book had me hooked right from the beginning as I often wonder when I hear stories like this in the news just how much the families of the accused actually knew.  And that is what inspired Barton to write this novel.  I think it is such a unique perspective for a book and it worked really well.

The entire story was well-rounded and well thought out. In addition to Jean’s story, there is her husband Glen, the police detective investigating the murder, and the reporter who is trying to get Jean’s story.  It is definitely a mystery novel, but there is more to it thanks to Jean’s story.  I had such a hard time figuring her out - does she know more than we think or was she really just a naive young woman who couldn’t see her husband for what he was?

Now, this story isn’t completely what I expect when I hear the term “thriller” as I expect lots of twists, turns, and jaw dropping moments.  I didn’t even find it very suspenseful, nor was I shocked by the ending.  However, it is a fascinating read.  How I feel is, that it is a crime novel that focuses more on the relationships and personalities than on the crime.  And for people who don’t read much crime or mystery books like I do, it’s a great place to jump into the genre.  That is what I felt like The Girl on the Train was and that is why I compare the two books to each other.


I’m telling everyone I know to watch out for this book because I do think that this will be one of the books that everyone is talking about in 2016.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Friday, December 25, 2015

"Bella's Christmas Bake Off" by Sue Watson

Amy Lane is about to have the worst Christmas ever. Her husband of twenty years has just left her for a younger woman with a stripper pole in her bedroom.  Her university age children have called to tell her that they won’t be coming home Christmas day.  And as usual, her year ten students are capturing her lowest moments on video and uploading them to the internet.

Bella Bradley will once again be having the Christmas of everyone’s dreams.  The queen of television cooking, her Christmas specials are always the highest rated shows.  She’s married to the ‘Silver Fox,” a war correspondent loved by all.  Her life is just one big Hello magazine spread.

When Amy’s and Bella’s Christmases collide, it can only result in one thing - the best bake off the country has ever seen.  

Bella’s Christmas Bake Off, by Sue Watson, is a fun novel that includes all of the essentials of Christmas - friendship, baking, helping each other out, and of course, a little magic.

The premise of this novel makes it a very cute Christmas read.  Once upon a time, Amy and Bella were best friends.  But Amy did something that betrayed her friendship with Bella and for over two decades, they never saw or spoke to each other again.  Even though they lived two very different lives, Amy always held on to her connection with Bella through her Christmas cooking specials.  But then she realizes that all of the recipes Bella has been using belonged to Amy’s mother.  In order to confront Bella, Amy enters, and of course wins, a competition to be on Bella’s tv show.  Before they know it, the past is confronted and Amy and Bella find themselves in the middle of a television bake off.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  It’s a nice, light read and perfect for reading in between all of the busy moments of the holidays.  I like that it wasn’t just a story set at Christmas time (as many holiday novels often are.)  This story is also about the preparations for Christmas but most importantly it’s about friendships and caring for each other.


If you want a book that will give you some Christmas spirit, this is it.  But be warned, it will make you very, very hungry!

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

" A Proper Family Christmas" by Chrissie Manby

Annabel Buchanan has lived a life that many dream of.  Like the generations of her family before her, she is beautiful, wealthy, and has impeccable manners.  Or so she likes everyone to think.  A tragedy is about to show the cracks in her perfect image.

Annabel’s teenage daughter Izzy is in need of a kidney transplant.  They are desperate to find a donor and Annabel must turn to her family - her real family.  It turns out that Annabel was given up for adoption by her teenage parents.

When Annabel first meets the Bensons, she is embarrassed and put off by who she discovers.  The Bensons are, well, let’s just say not as well put together as Annabel is.  And the Bensons aren’t exactly impressed by Annabel’s pedigree.  

As Christmas approaches, Izzy’s situation becomes more dire and the Bensons and Buchanans soon find themselves growing close as they race to find a donor.  Maybe this holiday season, Annabel will discover that you really can’t choose your family.

A Proper Family Christmas is the second book in the Benson Family series by Chrissie Manby.  Humorous and tons of fun, it is a great holiday romp.

I absolutely loved the first book in this series, A Proper Family Holiday.  The Bensons are the perfect chick lit family and I absolutely enjoyed their hijinks while on vacation.  Chrissie Manby is one of my favourite chick lit authors and that book was the best I have read by her.  Which is why I was thrilled to find out that the Bensons were a series.

And once again, I was absolutely thrilled by them. I really enjoyed how this novel kept the hilarity of the first while introducing new characters and a bit more seriousness to the situation.  It was very moving to see the way two very different families came together in a time of need.  In fact, this novel got pretty deep into the themes of adoption, illness, family, and perceptions which made it more than a light holiday read.  It is a moving story about relationships and what really makes up a family.


But there is still lots of Christmas cheer, fun, and laughter in this book.  Chrissie Manby has a knack for writing loveable characters that find themselves in all sorts of crazy circumstances.  There is one more book in the Benson family series and I really look forward to reading it.

Monday, December 21, 2015

"Mistletoe Mansion" by Samantha Tonge

Kimmy Jones dreams of two things - seeing her name in the headlines of the gossip pages she loves to read and owning her own cupcake company.  While she may only ever read the gossip magazines, she can definitely get her company up and running.  But when her boyfriend tells her that owning her own company isn’t sensible and that she should get a job sorting potatoes with him, she realizes that her relationship has come to an end.

Finding herself homeless just before Christmas, Kimmy pretends to be a professional house sitter along with her best friend Jess and her first job is at the incredible Mistletoe Mansion.  Before she knows it, she’s living the glamorous life she always dreamed of.  She becomes fast friends with Melissa, the golf WAG next door who has the paparazzi staking out her home.  And her cupcake business is off and running thanks to Melissa and her rich friends.  

But Mistletoe Mansion isn’t all it seems.  Some very strange things are happening. Mysterious music is being played, rooms are filling up with smoke, and someone - or something - is trashing the house right before buyers come to see it.   The house handyman Luke is there to protect Kimmy and Jess but he isn’t what they would call friendly.  And yet, Kimmy finds herself falling the handsome hero.  This Christmas may turn out to be more than she bargained for.

Mistletoe Mansion, by Samantha Tonge, is a cute Christmas story full of mystery, glamour, and sweet treats.

I picked up this book because every year I like to read a few Christmas chick lit novels at the holiday time.  I’ve seen Samantha Tonge’s books around and read some good reviews so I thought I would get a copy of this one to start with.

I really enjoyed the added twist of the “spooky and mysterious” things happening at the mansion.  It could have just been a novel about a celebrity obsessed woman all of a sudden living amongst them, but it had this added storyline to it, which I haven’t seen very often in chick lit.  That made the book a very enjoyable read for me and is probably why I found myself reading it pretty much straight through.

However, there were a few things about the book that kept it from being a stand-out for me.  I didn’t like the way Kimmy imagined magazine headlines or Facebook statuses for things she was doing in her life.  I don’t think that was at all necessary for the story and for me it actually broke up the flow.  I didn’t feel like there was enough given to us to understand what Kimmy’s attraction to Luke was.  And it was actually pretty easy to figure out what all was going on very early in the book.  


But, if you’re looking for some light holiday reading, I would include this in my recommendations.  It is a quick, fun read and a good choice for curling up with on a cold day.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

"Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng

Lydia is the favourite daughter of Marilyn and James Lee, a mixed race couple raising their three children in 1970’s Ohio.  Studious, beautiful, and obedient, her parents see in her everything they were unable to achieve.  

But Lydia is dead now.  And the family cannot understand what happened.  At first she was just missing but when her body is found at the bottom of the local lake, the family dissolves into chaos.  As they deal with the fallout from her death, they must confront the long-kept secrets and hidden emotions that threaten to tear the family apart for good.

Everything I Never Told You is the debut novel from Celeste Ng.  It is a story of family and identity, of finding yourself and living up to expectations.  Haunting and moving, it is an incredible and poignant novel.

When I first picked up this book, I thought that it was a mystery - Lydia is dead, what happened and who killed her?  But it is actually much less about her death and more about the drama surrounding her family.  It is the story of a family that was, without them really knowing it, struggling to hold it together before Lydia’s disappearance.  And it is the story of how that family deals with the aftermath as they confront what they long kept hidden.

In what feels like a very short book there is so much for readers to sink into.  The Lee family is biracial - James is first generation Chinese American and Marilyn is White.  Their relationship was accepted by few, and race and belonging is a thread throughout the whole book.  In addition to this, acceptance is a theme that each character has to deal with.  James was always an outsider, different from everyone else around him and his biggest wish for Lydia was that she would be accepted and popular in ways that he wasn’t.  Marilyn gave up her dream of being a doctor, the only female in her class, to care for her family and always struggled with accepting the new life she chose.  The eldest and youngest children, Nath and Hannah, have always had to deal with the pressure from their parents but also dealing with the knowledge that Lydia is the favourite of their parents.

I absolutely loved the way this story unfolds.  It begins with the disappearance of Lydia and then goes back and unfolds the entire story.  Going back and forth between past and present, we understand the motivations of the characters.  Many people will recognize the trait that parents have, the wanting of more for their children than they had.  How those parents handle that has a profound effect on the children.


This is a quiet little book that packs a big punch. When you consider that this is a debut novel, it is even more stunning.  I haven’t been hit this hard emotionally by a book in a long time.  A must-read.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House of Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.

Monday, December 7, 2015

"Chinkstar" by Jon Chan Simpson

In Red Deer Alberta, Chinksta rap is the all the rage.  And the biggest star of the scene is rapper King Kwong.  But not everyone is a fan of Kwong - his younger brother Run doesn’t like his music or his personality.  He wishes he could have nothing to do with him.  

But Kwong has gone missing, days before the biggest performance of his life.  Run doesn’t really want to get involved, but when his mother is wounded by a bullet fired into their home, he has no choice.  Before he knows it Run, along with his best friend Ali, finds himself in the middle of a battle between Red Deer’s rival gangs.  

Chinkstar is a raw and fascinating novel by debut Canadian author Jon Chan Simpson.  A story of music, family, and culture, it takes readers on an adventure into a crazy world.

I decided to read this book after hearing Jon talk at the Word on the Street festival this past summer.  Speaking on a panel about diversity in the publishing world, he was hilarious and insightful and I knew I had to read his book.  But I must admit, this book was not what I was expecting at all!

The Red Deer in this book is a fictional small town that is ruled by an underground world of Asian gangs.  This is the world that Run finds himself in, trying to make his way through while he searches for his brother who has been kidnapped.  Meanwhile he is trying to outrun the scary older brother of his crush Ros, who won’t let any guy near his sister, and whoever it was that fired the bullet that hit his mother.

There is a whole lot that goes on in this novel, it definitely takes you on a ride that never lets up.  It is a whirlwind of a read and I enjoyed that about the book.  The story never lost my interest.  However, I found it to be a tough read.  The book is written completely in the slang that characterizes the rap scene that Run is immersed in and at times I found it distracting.  I don’t mind at all when characters speak in a slang or dialect that I’m unfamiliar with but here the slang is used even for the narration.  I found myself having to re-read paragraphs to understand what was going on.  I often felt like I was missing parts and would have to go back a few pages.


This is a unique story though and it makes Simpson a writer to watch in the Canadian literary scene.  Yes, I found it difficult to read, and I’m sure many will feel the same way, but the talent that Simpson has is evident and undeniable.  I look forward to what comes next.

Friday, December 4, 2015

"Shopaholic to the Rescue" by Sophie Kinsella

Becky Bloomwood is on her biggest mission yet…and it has nothing to do with shopping.

The last time we saw Becky, her father Graham had disappeared with her best friend’s husband, Tarquin.  All she knows is that they left Los Angeles because Graham was hoping to set right a relationship from the past.  But Becky’s mom, and her best friend Suze, are convinced there is something more sinister happening and that the men are in danger.  Now it’s up to them to track the men down.

And so, an RV carrying Becky, her husband Luke, her daughter Minnie, her mom Jane, her mom’s best friend Janice, Suze, and Becky’s archenemy Alicia is headed to Las Vegas and time is of the essence.

Shopaholic to the Rescue is the 8th novel in the always popular Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella.  It is a fun and witty story of adventure and hijinks that only Becky can get herself into.

So let’s start with the obvious, what everyone is saying when it comes to this series.  It does feel like it has been going on a little long.  And the last few books have, dare I say, brought down the series.  What started off as fantastic through the first three novels started to lose its lustre with the next few.  I felt that the last novel, Shopaholic to the Stars, picked up a bit for me.  It had hints of the first novels in it, though I wasn’t impressed with the storyline involving her father….which is what this book is about.  Either way, I felt like I was locked into this series and no matter what I would continue to read the new novels.

For me, this book was the best we’ve seen in the series for a while.  It was a fun read that made me laugh and was even pretty touching at some points.  There were parts of the story that I felt were dragging out a bit (mostly when they went to meet various people from her fathers past) and could have been condensed.  But it was still a quick read, one that can be enjoyed in one sitting.


And I truly felt that with this novel, Becky had finally become a mature, responsible woman.  And for me, that is a good way to end the series.  Is it the end?  No one knows for sure but it should be. If it ended here, I would be so happy with this series and I personally have a feeling that is what may happen. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Christmas Gift Guide

It's December 1st and before we know it Christmas will be here.  It's time to get out and buy those gifts. And I always say that you can't go wrong with a book.  But the bookstore can be very overwhelming and it's very tempting to pick anything off the bestseller wall and be done with it.  But if you're looking to get something with a bit more thought put into it, here are my suggestions of books that you can't go wrong with.

For the Teen in your life:

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

The story of a teenage girl who has a disease that keeps her from being able to go outside.  She's content in the world she lives with, until she falls in love with the boy next door.  An absolutely sweet and moving story.







For the person who is well-read:

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

A young Swedish woman arrives in a small-town in the United States to find that her vacation isn't going to go as planned. So what does one do when they are feeling lost? They open a bookstore.  Lots of references to great books.







For the current events follower:

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

A young marathon runner escapes the brutal government of his own country by remaining in a neighbouring country after a race. He now must live as an illegal in a country that doesn't want the refugees.  No book is more timely in 2015 than this one.






Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Written as a letter to his teenage son, Coates explores what it means to be Black in America in our current time. Inspired by James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, this book explores how one lives in a country that belongs to them but doesn't treat them as such.  Powerful reading for people of all races.






For the Young Woman starting out in life:

Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling

Not only is Mindy Kaling's book hilarious but it is full of inspiration and life lessons.  Mindy shares her experiences as a young woman in university and in Hollywood and shares how we all deserve to strive for and achieve whatever we want.







For the Chick Lit lover:

The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

When a forty-something woman is forced back to work with a bunch of young twenty-somethings, she gets a crash course in social media, tech, and all things pop culture.  A fun and hilarious read.







For the history buff:
March Book One by John Lewis

The story of the life Congressman John Lewis, one of the key figures of the Civil Rights Movement.  Book One starts with his early life in rural Alabama and what inspired him to become a part of the movement.  You can also purchase Book Two, which continues on the story of marches, sit-ins, and freedom rides.  What is great about these books is that they are graphic novels.






For the person that is always on the go:

The Fringe Hours  by Jessica N. Turner

This book is all about learning how you can carve time out of your busy day that you can commit just to taking care of yourself.  Our current world has us on the go at all times but this book shows that even the busiest person can find a little bit of time for some self-care.






For the mystery fan:

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Since this is one of the big books of 2016 you'll have to do a little sleuthing of your own to find out if they've already read it.  But if they haven't, buy this one.  Described as "this year's Gone Girl," it is the story of a woman who observes a couple each day during her commute until one day the woman in the couple goes missing.






Happy Shopping Everyone!