What I’m Reading for the 2018 Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge

2018 Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge

Three years ago, I was determined to get out of my reading rut. Enter: The Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge.

What I love most about the challenge is how simple it is–just read twelve books from twelve different categories in twelve months.

I credit the MMD challenge with helping me to rediscover my love of reading. I am a huge fan of memoirs and for years, that’s all I read. But this challenge expanded my reading horizons and inspired me to give books I wouldn’t normally read a chance. Side note: I will forever be grateful to Anne for introducing me to the wonderful world of translated books! Who knew I would end up loving them as much as I do?

In 2016, my goal was to read 100 books. I sat down with a notebook and jotted down a list of 100 books I wanted to read by the end of the year. I went a step further and shared the list on the blog to keep myself organized and accountable. It worked like a charm! I found the simple act of checking titles off my list deeply satisfying and by December 31st, I had read 82 books!

This year, life is wayyyyy busier than its been in a long time. I am juggling school and work and its been tricky finding time to rest much less read. So for 2018, I am focusing on quality over quantity. I want to devote the precious few hours I have to reading books that are worth my time.

If you’re looking to read more books this year alongside an incredibly supportive community of book lovers, I recommend jumping on board. After all, good books are meant to be shared!

You can sign up for the reading challenge here. You can also connect with fellow challenge participants and share (and get) book recommendations via the 2018 Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge Pinterest board.

After much deliberation, here are the books I’ll be reading for this year’s challenge…

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

A classic you’ve been meaning to read 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

This one has been on my reading list for the past two years and I am soooo excited to finally cross it off my list.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

168 Hours_You Have More Time Than You Think

A book recommended by someone with great taste

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

Recommended by Anne Bogel. Thanks Anne!

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: It’s an unquestioned truth of modern life: we are starved for time. We tell ourselves we’d like to read more, get to the gym regularly, try new hobbies, and accomplish all kinds of goals. But then we give up because there just aren’t enough hours to do it all. Or if we don’t make excuses, we make sacrifices- taking time out from other things in order to fit it all in. There has to be a better way…and Laura Vanderkam has found one.

After interviewing dozens of successful, happy people, she realized that they allocate their time differently than most of us. Instead of letting the daily grind crowd out the important stuff, they start by making sure there’s time for the important stuff. When plans go wrong and they run out of time, only their lesser priorities suffer. Vanderkam shows that with a little examination and prioritizing, you’ll find it is possible to sleep eight hours a night, exercise five days a week, take piano lessons, and write a novel without giving up quality time for work, family, and other things that really matter.

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive

A book in translation

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist, translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch

My love for translated books runs deep and I try and read at least one every year.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House CanadaIn Every Moment We Are Still Alive tells the story of a man whose world has come crashing down overnight: His long-time partner has developed an fatal illness, just as she is about to give birth to their first child … even as his father is diagnosed with cancer.

Reeling in grief, Tom finds himself wrestling with endless paperwork and indecipherable diagnoses, familial misunderstandings and utter exhaustion while trying simply to comfort his loved ones as they begin to recede from him.

But slowly, amidst the pain and fury, arises a story of resilience and hope, particularly when Tom finds himself having to take responsibility for the greatest gift of them all, his newborn daughter.

Written in an unforgettable style that dives deep into the chaos of grief and pain, yet also achieves a poetry that is inspiring, In Every Moment We Are Still Alive is slated to become one of the most stirring novels of the year.

A book nominated for an award in 2018

To be determined

Guidebook to Relative Strangers

A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection

Guidebook to Relative Strangers by Camille T. Dungy

This category gave me the most trouble to fill. After asking for recommendations and engaging in some heavy-duty browsing, I finally decided on this essay collection I spotted on Book Riot. It sounds like a good one!

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: As a working mother whose livelihood as a poet-lecturer depended on travel, Camille Dungy crisscrossed America with her infant, then toddler, intensely aware of how they are seen, not just as mother and child, but as black women. With a poet’s eye, she celebrates her daughter’s acquisition of language and discoveries of the natural and human world around her. At the same time history shadows her steps everywhere she goes: from the San Francisco of settlers’ and investors’ dreams to the slave-trading ports of Ghana; from snow-white Maine to a festive, yet threatening, bonfire in the Virginia pinewoods.

With exceptional candor and grace, Dungy explores our inner and outer worlds—the intimate and vulnerable experiences of raising a child, living with illness, conversing with strangers, and counting on others’ goodwill. Across the nation, she finds fear and trauma, and also mercy, kindness, and community. Penetrating and generous, Guidebook to Relative Strangers is an essential guide for a troubled land.

The Reason I Jump

A book you can read in a day

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida, translated from the Japanese by KA Yoshida & David Mitchell

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Naoki Higashida was only a middle-schooler when he began to write The Reason I Jump. Autistic and with very low verbal fluency, Naoki used an alphabet grid to painstakingly spell out his answers to the questions he imagines others most often wonder about him: why do you talk so loud? Is it true you hate being touched? Would you like to be normal? The result is an inspiring, attitude-transforming book that will be embraced by anyone interested in understanding their fellow human beings, and by parents, caregivers, teachers, and friends of autistic children.

Naoki examines issues as diverse and complex as self-harm, perceptions of time and beauty, and the challenges of communication, and in doing so, discredits the popular belief that autistic people are anti-social loners who lack empathy.

This book is mesmerizing proof that inside an autistic body is a mind as subtle, curious, and caring as anyone else’s.

New York

A book that’s more than 500 pages

New York by Edward Rutherfurd

This sweeping historical novel from the British author was on my 2017 reading list, but I never got around to it. I recently bought a copy and I can’t wait to dive in this winter.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: A blockbuster masterpiece that combines breath-taking scope with narrative immediacy, this grand historical epic traces the history of New York through the lenses of several families: The Van Dycks, a wealthy Dutch trading family; the Masters, scions of an English merchant clan torn apart during the Revolution; the Hudsons, slaves who fight for their freedom over several generations; the Murphys, who escape the Famine in Ireland and land in the chaotic slum of Five Points; the Rewards, robber barons of the Gilded Age; the Florinos, an immigrant Italian clan who work building the great skyscrapers in the 1920s; and the Rabinowitzs, who flee anti-semitism in Europe and build a new life in Brooklyn.

Over time, the lives of these families become intertwined through the most momentous events in the fabric of America: The founding of the colonies; the Revolution; the growth of New York as a major port and trading centre; the Civil War; the Gilded Age; the explosion of immigration and the corruption of Tammany Hall; the rise of New York as a great world city in the early 20th-century; the trials of World War II, the tumult of the 1960s; the near-demise of the city in the 1970s; its roaring rebirth in the 1990s; culminating in the World Trade Center attacks at the beginning of the new century.

Plainsong

A book by a favourite author

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Two years ago I read and loved Haruf’s novel Benediction and fell in love with his beautiful writing. Last January, I picked up Our Souls at Night and read it in an afternoon. I can’t wait to read his debut novel.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they’ve ever known.

From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together—their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition.

The Boat People

A book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

This award-winning new release comes highly recommended by one of my favourite bookstore employees. I trust his taste and I’ve discovered books I would never have picked up on my own thanks to him. (I LOVED his past recommendations like The Door by Magda Szabo and The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola.)

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees reaches the shores of British Columbia, the young father is overcome with relief: he and his six-year-old son can finally put Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war behind them and begin new lives. Instead, the group is thrown into prison, with government officials and news headlines speculating that hidden among the “boat people” are members of a terrorist militia. As suspicion swirls and interrogation mounts, Mahindan fears the desperate actions he took to survive and escape Sri Lanka now jeopardize his and his son’s chances for asylum.

Told through the alternating perspectives of Mahindan; his lawyer Priya, who reluctantly represents the migrants; and Grace, a third-generation Japanese-Canadian adjudicator who must decide Mahindan’s fate, The Boat People is a high-stakes novel that offers a deeply compassionate lens through which to view the current refugee crisis. Inspired by real events, with vivid scenes that move between the eerie beauty of northern Sri Lanka and combative refugee hearings in Vancouver, where life and death decisions are made, Sharon Bala’s stunning debut is an unforgettable and necessary story for our times.

Monkey Beach

A banned book

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

I didn’t want to read any of the popular banned books for this category so I asked a bookstore employee for a recommendation. He didn’t hesitate and raved about the Native Canadian’s first novel. He explained that it was banned in certain communities. This a book I probably would never have discovered on my own.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House CanadaMonkey Beach combines both joy and tragedy in a harrowing yet restrained story of grief and survival, and of a family on the edge of heartbreak. In the first English-language novel to be published by a Haisla writer, Eden Robinson offers a rich celebration of life in the Native settlement of Kitamaat, on the coast of British Columbia.

The story grips the reader from the beginning. It is the morning after the narrator’s brother has gone missing at sea; the mood is tense in the family house, as speculations remain unspoken. Jimmy is a prospective Olympic swimmer, seventeen years old and on the edge of proposing to his beautiful girlfriend Karaoke. As his elder sister, Lisa, faces possible disaster, she chain-smokes and drifts into thoughts of their lives so far. She recalls the time when she and Jimmy saw the sasquatch, or b’gwus – and this sighting introduces the novel’s fascinating undercurrent of characters from the spirit world. These ghostly presences may strike the reader as mysterious or frightening, but they provide Lisa with guidance through a difficult coming of age.

In and out of the emergency room as a child, Lisa is a fighter. Her smart mouth and temper constantly threaten to land her in serious trouble. Those who have the most influence on her are her stubbornly traditional, machete-wielding grandmother, and her wild, passionate, political Uncle Mick, who teaches her to make moose calls. When they empty fishing nets together, she pretends she doesn’t feel the jellyfish stinging her young hands – she’s Uncle Mick’s “little warrior.”

We watch Lisa leave her teenage years behind as she waits for news of her younger brother. She reflects on the many rich episodes of their lives – so many of which take place around the water, reminding us of the news she fears, and revealing the menacing power of nature. But Lisa has a special recourse – a “gift” that enables her to see and hear spirits, and ask for their help.

A Mother's Reckoning

A memoir, biography, or book of creative nonfiction

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

Columbine was one of my favourite reads last year. It was a difficult read, but such an eye-opening and important one. My friend Sarah from Glowing Local said I need to add A Mother’s Reckoning to my list and I always, always enjoy the books she recommends.  I am really looking forward to this one!

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.

For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?

These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.

The Break

A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than your own

The Break by Katherena Vermette

This award-winning first novel from Métis author, Katherena Vermette has been recommended to me more times than I can count. I am starting with this one tonight!

Synopsis from House of Anansi Press: When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.

In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.

Have you ever done a reading challenge? What are your reading goals for 2018? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Summer 2017 Reads

As much as I hate to admit it, the final days of summer are upon us. This summer feels different; I’m juggling work and school and finding time for reading has proved challenging. But I’m making up for lost time this month.

This season’s list includes titles perfect for devouring on long flights, next to the pool, at the beach, or wherever your summer takes you.

Here are the 15 books I’m diving into this season…

Fitness Junkie

Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: When Janey Sweet, CEO of a couture wedding dress company, is photographed in the front row of a fashion show eating a bruffin—the delicious lovechild of a brioche and a muffin—her best friend and business partner, Beau, gives her an ultimatum: Lose thirty pounds or lose your job. Sure, Janey has gained some weight since her divorce, and no, her beautifully cut trousers don’t fit like they used to, so Janey throws herself headlong into the world of the fitness revolution, signing up for a shockingly expensive workout pass, baring it all for Free the Nipple yoga, sweating through boot camp classes run by Sri Lankan militants and spinning to the screams of a Lycra-clad instructor with rage issues.

At a juice shop she meets Jacob, a cute young guy who takes her dumpster-diving outside Whole Foods on their first date. At a shaman’s tea ceremony she meets Hugh, a silver fox who holds her hand through an ayahuasca hallucination And at a secret exercise studio Janey meets Sara Strong, the wildly popular workout guru whose special dance routine has starlets and wealthy women flocking to her for results that seem too good to be true.

As Janey eschews delicious carbs, pays thousands of dollars to charlatans, and is harassed by her very own fitness bracelet, she can’t help but wonder: Did she really need to lose weight in the first place? A hilarious send-up of the health and wellness industry, Fitness Junkie is a glorious romp through the absurd landscape of our weight-obsessed culture.

Love and First Sight

Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a charming, quiet girl named Cecily. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty–in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?

Told with humor and breathtaking poignancy, Love and First Sight is a story about how we relate to each other and the world around us.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a small town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The rape wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

Around the Way Girl

Around the Way Girl by Taraji P. Henson

Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: With a sensibility that recalls her beloved screen characters, including Katherine, the NASA mathematician, Yvette, Queenie, Shug, and the iconic Cookie from Empire, Taraji P. Henson writes of her family, the one she was born into and the one she created. She shares stories of her father, a Vietnam vet who was bowed but never broken by life’s challenges, and of her mother who survived violence both at home and on DC’s volatile streets. Here, too, she opens up about her experiences as a single mother, a journey some saw as a burden but which she saw as a gift.

Around the Way Girl is also a classic actor’s memoir in which Taraji reflects on the world-class instruction she received at Howard University and how she chipped away, with one small role after another, at Hollywood’s resistance to give women, particularly women of color, meaty significant roles.

Fierce Kingdom

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: After school on a late October day, Joan has taken her four-year-old son, Lincoln, to one of his favourite places on earth: the zoo. Just before closing time, as they need to go home, she hears some loud pops like firecrackers. Not thinking much of it, they head for the exit…until Joan realizes the eerie human emptiness means danger, then sees the figure of a lone gunman. Without another thought, she scoops up her son and runs back into the zoo. And for the next three hours–the entire scope of the novel–she does anything she can to keep Lincoln safe.

Both pulse-pounding and emotionally satisfying, Fierce Kingdom is a thrill ride, but also an exploration of the very nature of motherhood itself, from its saving graces to its savage power. At heart it asks how you draw the line between survival and the duty to protect one another? Who would you die for?

The Alice Network

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Synopsis from HarperCollins Canada1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

What to Say Next

What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David.  Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?

Spaceman

Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Mike Massimino

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to find yourself strapped to a giant rocket that’s about to go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour?

Or to look back on Earth from outer space and see the surprisingly precise line between day and night? Or to stand in front of the Hubble Space Telescope, wondering if the emergency repair you’re about to make will inadvertently ruin humankind’s chance to unlock the universe’s secrets? Mike Massimino has been there, and in Spaceman he puts you inside the suit, with all the zip and buoyancy of life in microgravity.

Massimino’s childhood space dreams were born the day Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Growing up in a working-class Long Island family, he catapulted himself to Columbia and then MIT, only to flunk his first doctoral exam and be rejected three times by NASA before making it through the final round of astronaut selection.

Taking us through the surreal wonder and beauty of his first spacewalk, the tragedy of losing friends in the Columbia shuttle accident, and the development of his enduring love for the Hubble Telescope—which he and his fellow astronauts were tasked with saving on his final mission—Massimino has written an ode to never giving up and the power of teamwork to make anything possible.

Spaceman invites us into a rare, wonderful world where science meets the most thrilling adventure, revealing just what having “the right stuff” really means.

Not a Sound

Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: When a tragic accident leaves nurse Amelia Winn deaf, she spirals into a depression that ultimately causes her to lose everything that matters—her job, her husband, David, and her stepdaughter, Nora. Now, two years later and with the help of her hearing dog, Stitch, she is finally getting back on her feet. But when she discovers the body of a fellow nurse in the dense bush by the river, deep in the woods near her cabin, she is plunged into a disturbing mystery that could shatter the carefully reconstructed pieces of her life all over again.

As clues begin to surface, Amelia finds herself swept into an investigation that hits all too close to home. But how much is she willing to risk in order to uncover the truth and bring a killer to justice?

Born a Crime

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

The Identicals

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Identical twin sisters who couldn’t look more alike…or live more differently.

Harper Frost is laid-back, easygoing. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. She likes a beer and a shot and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything fashionable. She’s inherited her father’s rundown house on Martha’s Vineyard, but she can’t hold down a job, and her latest romantic disaster has the entire island talking.

Two beautiful islands only eleven miles apart.

Tabitha Frost is dignified, refined. She prefers a fine wine and has inherited the impeccable taste of her mother, the iconic fashion designer Eleanor Roxie-Frost. She’s also inherited her mother’s questionable parenting skills–Tabitha’s teenage daughter, Ainsley, is in full rebellion mode–and a flailing fashion boutique on Nantucket in desperate need of a cash infusion.

One unforgettable summer that will change their lives forever.

After more than a decade apart, Harper and Tabitha switch islands–and lives–to save what’s left of their splintered family. But the twins quickly discover that the secrets, lies, and gossip they thought they’d outrun can travel between islands just as easily as they can. Will Harper and Tabitha be able to bury the hatchet and end their sibling rivalry once and for all? Before the last beach picnic of the season, there will be enough old resentments, new loves, and cases of mistaken identity to make this the most talked-about summer that Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have experienced in ages.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, and long before his run for president. From the then-senator’s early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders.

But for every historic occasion-meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm-there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren’t nearly enough bathrooms at the Vatican.

Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a “White House official” is supposed to look like. Here Alyssa shares the strategies that made her successful in politics and beyond, including the importance of confidence, the value of not being a jerk, and why ultimately everything comes down to hard work (and always carrying a spare tampon).

The Shark Club

The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: One summer day on the beach in Florida, two extraordinary things happen to Maeve Donnelly. First, she is kissed by Daniel, the boy of her dreams. Then, she is bitten by a blacktip shark.

Eighteen years later, Maeve has thrown herself into her work as a world-traveling marine biologist discovering more about the minds of misunderstood sharks. But when Maeve returns home to the legendarily charming and eccentric Hotel of the Muses where she was raised by her grandmother, she finds more than just the blood orange sunsets and key lime pies she’s missed waiting for her.

While Maeve has always been fearless in the water, on land she is indecisive. A chance meeting on the beach with a plucky, irresistible little girl who is just as fascinated by the ocean as Maeve was growing up leaves her at a crossroads: Should she re-kindle her romance with Daniel, the first love she left behind when she dove into her work? Or indulge in a new romance with her colleague, Nicholas, who turns up in her hometown to investigate an illegal shark-finning operation?

Set against the intoxicating backdrop of palm trees, calypso bands, and perfect ocean views, The Shark Club is a story of the mysterious passions of one woman’s life: her first love and new love; the sea and sharks that inhabit it.

the perfect girl.png

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan

Synopsis from HarperCollins Canada: Zoe Maisey is a seventeen-year-old musical prodigy with a genius IQ. Three years ago, she was involved in a tragic incident that left three classmates dead. She served her time, and now her mother, Maria, is resolved to keep that devastating fact tucked far away from their new beginning, hiding the past even from her new husband and demanding Zoe do the same.

Tonight Zoe is giving a recital that Maria has been planning for months. It needs to be the performance of her life. But instead, by the end of the evening, Maria is dead.

In the aftermath, everyone—police, family, Zoe’s former solicitor, and Zoe herself—tries to piece together what happened. But as Zoe knows all too well, the truth is rarely straightforward, and the closer we are to someone, the less we may see.

The Things We Wish Were True

The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: From the outside, Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, might look like the perfect all-American neighborhood. But behind the white picket fences lies a web of secrets that reach from house to house.

Up and down the streets, neighbors quietly bear the weight of their own pasts—until an accident at the community pool upsets the delicate equilibrium. And when tragic circumstances compel a woman to return to Sycamore Glen after years of self-imposed banishment, the tangle of the neighbors’ intertwined lives begins to unravel.

During the course of a sweltering summer, long-buried secrets are revealed, and the neighbors learn that it’s impossible to really know those closest to us. But is it impossible to love and forgive them?

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this summer? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Spring 2017 Reads

It’s a wet spring day here in Toronto and I’m counting down the days until it’s nice and sunny enough to read outdoors. This season’s list includes a handful of debut novels, big spring releases I’ve been dying to get my hands on, and a couple of juicy memoirs.

Here are the 15 books I can’t wait to dive into this season…

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Last weekend, I picked up Angie Thomas’s debut novel; I read it in 24 hours. This is a story that desperately needed to be told and Thomas tells it with such honesty, intelligence, courage, clarity, passion, and wit. If I had to pick one word to describe this book, that word would be “alive”. While reading, all I could think was: “this feels so real.”

Starr’s voice couldn’t be more authentic and the dialogue leaps right off the page. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking while reading certain parts. I cried, I laughed, I felt sick to my stomach, but I mostly, I felt angry.

Fiction does what news media can’t. It takes us inside the hearts and minds of characters and invites us to walk in their shoes for a couple hundred pages or so. This book goes a step further: breaking our hearts for what matters, teaching empathy and tolerance, and inspiring us to fight with our most valuable weapon—our voice.

This should be required reading for everyone. I won’t soon forget it.

Synopsis from HarperCollins Canada: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

What She Knew by Gilly MAcmillan

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

Synopsis from HarperCollins Canada: Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.

Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.

As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most.

Where is Ben? The clock is ticking. . . .

so-much-love

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: When Catherine Reindeer vanishes from the parking lot outside the restaurant where she works, an entire community is shattered. Moving back and forth from her outer circle of acquaintances to her closest intimates, So Much Love reveals how an unexpected disappearance can overturn the lives of those left behind: Catherine’s fellow waitress now sees danger all around her. Her mother seeks comfort in saying her name over and over again. Her professor finds himself thinking of her constantly. Her husband refuses to give up hope that she will one day return. But at the heart of the novel is Catherine’s own surprising story of resilience and recovery. When, after months of captivity, a final devastating loss forces her to make a bold decision, she is unprepared for everything that follows.

A riveting novel that deftly examines the complexity of love and the power of stories to shape our lives, So Much Love confirms Rebecca Rosenblum’s reputation as one of the most gifted and distinctive writers of her generation.

Juliet's Answer

Juliet’s Answer by Glenn Dixon

Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: When Glenn Dixon is spurned by love, he does something unusual. He travels to Verona, Italy, to become a scribe of Juliet, Shakespeare’s fictional character, all in an attempt to understand his heartbreak. Once there, he volunteers to answer the thousands of letters that arrive addressed to Juliet, letters sent from lovelorn people all over the world who long to understand the mysteries of the human heart.

Glenn’s journey takes him deep into the charming community of Verona, where he learns the traditions of the townspeople and becomes involved in unravelling the truth behind Romeo and Juliet—Did these star-crossed lovers actually exist? Did they live in Verona? Why have they remained at the forefront of hearts and minds for centuries? And what can they teach us about love? At the same time, we learn about Claire, Glenn’s unrequited love, the source of his heartbreak. Was she truly his soul’s match, or was she, like Rosalind in Shakespeare’s classic play, a mere infatuation who pales in comparison the moment his real Juliet enters his life?

When Glenn returns home to Canada and resumes his duties as a Grade 10 English teacher, he undertakes a lively reading of Romeo and Juliet with his students, engaging them in passions past and present. But in an intriguing reversal of fate and fortune, his students—along with an old friend—instruct the teacher on the true meaning of love, loss, and moving on.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son, and to start at a new school where she knows no one.

Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

the-new-jim-crow

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as “brave and bold,” this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.”

Called “stunning” by Pulitzer Prize–winning historian David Levering Lewis, “invaluable” by the Daily Kos, “explosive” by Kirkus, and “profoundly necessary” by the Miami Herald, this updated and revised paperback edition of The New Jim Crow, now with a foreword by Cornel West, is a must-read for all people of conscience.

after-the-bloom

After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara

Synopsis from Dundurn Press: A daughter’s search for her mother reveals her family’s past in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War.

Lily Takemitsu goes missing from her home in Toronto one luminous summer morning in the mid-1980s. Her daughter, Rita, knows her mother has a history of dissociation and memory problems, which have led her to wander off before. But never has she stayed away so long. Unconvinced the police are taking the case seriously, Rita begins to carry out her own investigation. In the course of searching for her mom, she is forced to confront a labyrinth of secrets surrounding the family’s internment at a camp in the California desert during the Second World War, their postwar immigration to Toronto, and the father she has never known.

Epic in scope, intimate in style, After the Bloom blurs between the present and the ever-present past, beautifully depicting one family’s struggle to face the darker side of its history and find some form of redemption.

Behind Her Eyes

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Synopsis from Macmillan Publishers: Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.

David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong—and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

Word by Word by Kory Stamper

Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Many of us take dictionaries for granted, and few may realize that the process of writing dictionaries is, in fact, as lively and dynamic as language itself. With sharp wit and irreverence, Kory Stamper cracks open the complex, obsessive world of lexicography, from the agonizing decisions about what to define and how to do it, to the knotty questions of usage in an ever-changing language. She explains why small words are the most difficult to define, how it can take nine months to define a single word, and how our biases about language and pronunciation can have tremendous social influence. And along the way, she reveals little-known surprises—for example, the fact that “OMG” was first used in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1917.

Word by Word brings to life the hallowed halls (and highly idiosyncratic cubicles) of Merriam-Webster, a startlingly rich world inhabited by quirky and erudite individuals who quietly shape the way we communicate. Certain to be a delight for all lovers of words, Stamper’s debut will make you laugh as much as it makes you appreciate the wonderful complexities and eccentricities of the English language.

the-door

The Door by Magda Szabó, translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: The Door is an unsettling exploration of the relationship between two very different women. Magda is a writer, educated, married to an academic, public-spirited, with an on-again-off-again relationship to Hungary’s Communist authorities. Emerence is a peasant, illiterate, impassive, abrupt, seemingly ageless. She lives alone in a house that no one else may enter, not even her closest relatives. She is Magda’s housekeeper and she has taken control over Magda’s household, becoming indispensable to her. And Emerence, in her way, has come to depend on Magda. They share a kind of love—at least until Magda’s long-sought success as a writer leads to a devastating revelation.

The Year of Living Danishly

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Denmark is officially the happiest nation on Earth. When Helen Russell is forced to move to rural Jutland, can she discover the secrets of their happiness? Or will the long, dark winters and pickled herring take their toll?

A Year of Living Danishly looks at where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong, and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.

A Life in Parts

A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston

Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: Bryan Cranston landed his first role at seven, when his father cast him in a United Way commercial. Acting was clearly the boy’s destiny, until one day his father disappeared. Destiny suddenly took a backseat to survival.

Now, in his riveting memoir, Cranston maps his zigzag journey from abandoned son to beloved star by recalling the many odd parts he’s played in real life—paperboy, farmhand, security guard, dating consultant, murder suspect, dock loader, lover, husband, father. Cranston also chronicles his evolution on camera, from soap opera player trying to master the rules of show business to legendary character actor turning in classic performances as Seinfeld dentist Tim Whatley, “a sadist with newer magazines,” and Malcolm in the Middle dad Hal Wilkerson, a lovable bumbler in tighty-whities. He also gives an inspiring account of how he prepared, physically and mentally, for the challenging role of President Lyndon Johnson, a tour de force that won him a Tony to go along with his four Emmys.

Of course, Cranston dives deep into the grittiest details of his greatest role, explaining how he searched inward for the personal darkness that would help him create one of the most memorable performances ever captured on screen: Walter White, chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin.

Discussing his life as few men do, describing his art as few actors can, Cranston has much to say about creativity, devotion, and craft, as well as innate talent and its challenges and benefits and proper maintenance. But ultimately A Life in Parts is a story about the joy, the necessity, and the transformative power of simple hard work.

What are you most looking forward to reading this spring? I’d love to hear!

What I Read in January

January was a pretty good reading month for me. Here are the 6 books I read and loved this month…

you-will-not-have-my-hate

You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris, translated by Sam Taylor

This short memoir is one of my favourite January reads. I’ve never read anything more beautiful and it had me in tears.

On November 13 2015, Antoine Leiris’s wife, Hélène was killed by terrorists while attending a rock concert at the Bataclan theater in Paris. Leiris was left to care for his seventeen-month-old son. Days after the attacks, he shared an open letter to his wife’s killers on Facebook. Here’s a snippet from his post: “You want me to be scared, to see my fellow citizens through suspicious eyes, to sacrifice my freedom for security. You have failed. I will not change.”

With grace, honesty, and vulnerability, he shares the story of his grief and struggle in the days and weeks after his wife’s murder. A gorgeously written, incredibly moving memoir about love, loss, and our power to choose love over hate.

fractured

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie

Catherine McKenzie is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. Her latest novel is psychological suspense at its finest. Bestselling murder mystery author Julie Prentice and her family move from Tacoma, Washington to a picture-perfect Cincinnati neighbourhood to escape a stalker. Told from the perspectives of Julie and her new neighbour John, the story is brilliantly structured and packed with twist after twist. You know something horrible has happened in the neighbourhood, but you don’t know exactly what or to whom. I read it from cover to cover in one weekend.

fig

Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz

Schantz’s debut novel was my pick for the “book with an unreliable narrator” category for the 2017 MMD Reading Challenge. I don’t usually read young adult novels, but this one came highly recommended by the teen librarian at my local library. Narrated by Fig, from ages six to nineteen, it’s a painfully accurate portrayal of life with mental illness and a mother-daughter relationship. Fig’s voice is so authentic and I can’t stop sharing it with everyone. Highly recommended for both teens and adults.

love-loss-and-what-we-ate

Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi

I love memoirs and I’ve added quite a few to this year’s reading list. I kicked off the year with Lakshmi’s bestselling memoir. In it, Lakshmi opens up about her childhood in India, moving to the U.S. at the age of four, her immigrant experience, and her journey to self-acceptance and feeling comfortable in her own skin. She talks candidly about her family life, marriage, divorce, and of course, her love of cooking and hosting Bravo’s Emmy award-winning Top Chef. Bonus: Lakshmi shares some of her favourite recipes throughout the book. Vivid, beautifully written, bold, and brave.

our-souls-at-night

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

In his final novel, Haruf transports us to the fictional small town of Holt, Colorado. Addie Moore and Louis Waters have lived in Holt for decades. Both their spouses died years ago and they have been living alone in empty houses. One day, Addie unexpectedly shows up on Louis’s doorstep with an invitation to spend the night at her house. After some thought, Louis accepts. As Addie and Louis get to know each other through their nightly conversations, a beautiful and honest relationship blooms.

Told in plain English, it’s a story about love, companionship, grief, and second chances.

suffer-love

Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake

Sam and Hadley meet at high school. Sam falls for Hadley, but then he finds out her last name. I read this in an afternoon. Blake does an excellent job of exploring the impact one choice has on two different families. Written in stunning language, this is an achingly beautiful and realistic love story for our times.

What did you read in January?

The 100 Books I’m Reading in 2017

Last January I shared a list of 100 books I wanted to read by the end of 2016; by December 31st I’d read 82 books. While my list changed as the year progressed, I found the list to be a great starting point. By the end of the year, I knew the exact number and titles of books I’d read.

I enjoyed tracking my reading progress so much that I am doing it again this year. I am sure this list will change as I discover new books along the way. After much editing, here’s my 2017 reading list…

books-for-living

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
The Door by Magda Szabo, translated by Len Rix
New York by Edward Rutherfurd
Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri, translated by Ann Goldstein
Small Island by Andrea Levy
The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola, translated by Mark Kurlansky
Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, translated by KA Yoshida & David Mitchell
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid [February 27, 2017]
City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson [January 24, 2017]

ordinary-light

Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith
Smoke by Catherine McKenzie
Fractured by Catherine McKenzie
Hidden by Catherine McKenzie
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris, translated by Sam Taylor
The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew
By Gaslight by Steven Price
Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan
The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan

better-now

Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians by Dr. Danielle Martin
Transit by Rachel Cusk [January 17, 2017]
Steal Away Home by Karolyn Smardz Frost [January 24, 2017]
Unbound: Finding Myself on Top of the World by Steph Jagger [January 24, 2017]
The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill [February 7, 2017]
The Way of Letting Go: One Woman’s Walk Toward Forgiveness by Wilma Derksen [February 21, 2017]
Men Walking on Water by Emily Schultz [March 7, 2017]
So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum [March 14, 2017]
The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep by Steven Heighton [March 14, 2017]
Mitzi Bytes by Kerry Clare [March 14, 2017]
Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris [April 4, 2017]
Where I Live Now: A Journey through Love and Loss to Healing and Hope by Sharon Butala [April 4, 2017]

life-on-the-ground-floor

Life on the Ground Floor by Dr. James Maskalyk  [April 11, 2017]
The Weekend Effect by Katrina Onstad [April 11, 2017]
After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara [April 15, 2017]
The Slip by Mark Sampson [May 20, 2017]
The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan [June 24, 2017]
Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America by Helen Thorpe
The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller [January 28, 2017]
The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Outline by Rachel Cusk

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas [February 28, 2017]
Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza [July 11, 2017]
The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand [June 13, 2017]
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Battle with PTSD by Romeo Dallaire
Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell
With Malice by Eileen Cook
Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake
If Our Bodies Could Talk: A Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body by James Hamblin
A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston
In the Woods by Tana French

columbine

Columbine by Dave Cullen
A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum
Juliet’s Answer: One Man’s Search for Love and the Elusive Cure for Heartbreak by Glenn Dixon
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Spaceman by Mike Massimino
Around the Way Girl by Taraji P. Henson
Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf
How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell [January 31, 2017]
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

nothing-to-prove

Nothing to Prove: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard by Jennie Allen [January 31, 2017]
The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp
Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst
You Are Free: Be Who You Already Are by Rebekah Lyons [February 21, 2017]
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Night by Elie Wiesel
The Break by Katherena Vermette
How Can I Help?: A Week in My Life as a Psychiatrist by David Goldbloom and Pier Bryden
On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta by Jen Lin-Liu

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng [September 7, 2017]
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Word by Word by Kory Stamper [March 14, 2017]
The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
Endurance: My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly [November 7, 2017]
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti
The Dry by Jane Harper
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough [January 26, 2017]
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

What’s on your reading list for 2017? Have you read any of my picks?

Most Anticipated Canadian Books of 2017

Last year, I was determined to read more books written by Canadian authors and I did. Each year, approximately 10,000 Canadian books are released by publishers and their imprints from coast to coast. Putting together my 2017 reading list just got a wee bit more difficult, but I’m not complaining!

Here are 17 books from Canadian authors I can’t wait to read in 2017. These titles will be hitting shelves between January and June.

better-now

Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians by Dr. Danielle Martin, Publisher: Allen Lane

Publication Date: January 10, 2017

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Dr. Danielle Martin see the challenges in our health care system every day. As a family doctor and a hospital vice president, she observes how those deficiencies adversely affect patients. And as a health policy expert, she knows how to close those gaps. A passionate believer in the value of fairness that underpins the Canadian health care system, Dr. Martin is on a mission to improve medicare. In Better Now, she shows how bold fixes are both achievable and affordable. Her patients’ stories and her own family’s experiences illustrate the evidence she presents about what works best to improve health care for all.

transit

Transit by Rachel Cusk

Publication Date: January 17, 2017

Synopsis from HarperCollins Canada: In the wake of family collapse, a writer moves to London with her two young sons. The process of upheaval is the catalyst for a number of transitions—personal, moral, artistic, practical—as she endeavors to construct a new reality for herself and her children. In the city she is made to confront aspects of living she has, until now, avoided, and to consider questions of vulnerability and power, death and renewal, in what becomes her struggle to reattach herself to, and believe in, life.

Filtered through the impersonal gaze of its keenly intelligent protagonist, Transit sees Rachel Cusk delve deeper into the themes first raised in her critically acclaimed novel Outline, and offers up a penetrating and moving reflection on childhood and fate, the value of suffering, the moral problems of personal responsibility, and the mystery of change. In this precise, short, and yet epic novel, Cusk manages to describe the most elemental experiences, the liminal qualities of life, through a narrative near-silence that draws language toward it. She captures with unsettling restraint and honesty the longing to both inhabit and flee one’s life and the wrenching ambivalence animating our desire to feel real.

steal-away-home

Steal Away Home by Karolyn Smardz Frost

Publication Date: January 24, 2017

Synopsis from HarperCollins Canada: In this compelling work of narrative non-fiction, Governor General’s Award winner Karolyn Smardz Frost brings Cecelia’s story to life. Cecelia was a teenager when she made her dangerous bid for freedom from the United States, across the Niagara River and into Canada. Escape meant that she would never see her mother or brother again. She would be cut off from the young mistress with whom she grew up, but who also owned her as a slave holder owns the body of a slave. This was a time when people could be property, when a beloved father could be separated from his wife while their children were auctioned off to the highest bidder, and the son of a white master and his black housekeeper could become a slave to his own white half-sister and brother-in-law.

Cecelia found a new life in Toronto’s vibrant African American expatriate community. Her rescuer became her husband, a courageous conductor on the Underground Railroad helping other freedom-seekers reach Canada. Widowed, she braved the Fugitive Slave Law to cross back into the United States, where she again found love, and followed her William into the battlefields of the Civil War. Finally, with a wounded husband and young children in tow, she returned to the Kentucky she had known as a child. But her home had changed: hooded Night Riders roamed the countryside with torches and nooses at the ready. When William disappeared, Cecelia relied on the support and affection of her former mistress—the Southern belle who had owned her as a child.

Only five of the letters between Cecelia and her former mistress, Fanny Thruston Ballard, have survived. They are testament to the great love and the lifelong friendship that existed between these two very different women. Reunited after years apart, the two lived within a few blocks of each other for the rest of Fanny’s life.

unbound

Unbound: Finding Myself on Top of the World by Steph Jagger

Publication Date: January 24, 2017

Synopsis from HarperCollins Canada: Steph Jagger had seen the ski-lift sign thousands of times—“Raise Restraining Device,” it read—but one day she took it personally as a rallying cry to shake off the life she had for the life she wanted. She had always been a force of nature, so why was she still holding herself back? Dissatisfied with the passive, limited roles she saw for women when she was growing up, Steph emulated the men in her life—chasing success, climbing the corporate ladder, ticking the boxes, playing by the rules. She was accomplished. She was living “The Dream.” But it wasn’t her dream.

In a moment, the sign on the ski lift became her mantra, and she knew she had to change her life. So Jagger walked away from the success and security she had worked long and hard to obtain. She quit her job, took a second mortgage on her house, sold everything except her ski equipment and her laptop, and bought a plane ticket. For the next year, she followed winter across five continents on a mission to break the world record for most vertical feet skied in a year. What hiking was for Cheryl Strayed, skiing became for Steph: a crucible in which to crack open her life, melt it down to its elements and get to the very centre of herself. An emotional story of courage and self-discovery that will appeal to readers of Wild and Eat, Pray, Love, Unbound will inspire readers to remove their own restraining devices, whatever they may be.

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The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

Synopsis from HarperCollins Canada: Exquisitely imagined and hypnotically told, The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. Set in the early part of the 20th Century, it is an unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose fortune hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to escape one’s origins. It might also take true love.

Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1914. Before long, their true talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing for the rich, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.

Separated as teenagers, both escape into the city’s underworld, where they must use their uncommon gifts to survive without each other. Ruthless and unforgiving, Montreal in the 1930’s is no place for song and dance. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes, the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make those dream come true. After Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls hit the stage and the alleys, the underworld will never look the same.

With extraordinary storytelling, musical language, and an extravagantly realized world, acclaimed author Heather O’Neill enchants us with her best novel yet — one so magical there is no escaping its spell.

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The Way of Letting Go: One Woman’s Walk Toward Forgiveness by Wilma Derksen

Publication Date: February 21, 2017

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Maybe it was the sting of remarks from a relative or friend. Maybe a miscarriage ended your hopes for a family. For all of your heartbreaks, maybe you wished there was someone to help you through. For Wilma Derksen, letting go of the 15 misconceptions about grief led her back to hope. In this book she tells how you can do the same.

Wilma’s world collapsed when her teenage daughter, Candace, was taken hostage and murdered. Wilma now shares her choices to “let go” of heartbreak, which gave her the courage to navigate through the dark waters of sorrow. Like Wilma, maybe your heartbreak forced you to retreat from happy expectations, of believing that life is fair, of finding closure for every circumstance. She encourages patiently: let go of the happy ending, let go of perfect justice, let go of fear, and let go of closure. Wilma’s wisdom will help you overcome your broken heart, and her advice will enable you to break free of pain to live a life of true joy.

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Men Walking on Water by Emily Schultz

Publication Date: March 7, 2017

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Men Walking on Water opens on a bitter winter’s night in 1927, with a motley gang of small-time smugglers huddled on the banks of the Detroit River, peering towards Canada on the opposite side. A catastrophe has just occurred: while driving across the frozen water by moonlight, a decrepit Model T loaded with whisky has broken the ice and gone under–and with it, driver Alfred Moss and a bundle of money. From that defining moment, the novel weaves its startling, enthralling story, with the missing man at its centre, a man who affects all the characters in different ways. In Detroit, a young mother becomes a criminal to pay down the debt her husband, assumed dead, has left behind; a Pentecostal preacher brazenly uses his church to fund his own bootlegging operation even as he lectures against the perils of drink; and across the river, a French-Canadian woman runs her booming brothel business with the permission of the powerful Detroit gangsters who are her patrons.

The looming background to this extraordinary story, as compelling as any character, is the city of Detroit–a place of grand dreams and brutal realities in 1927 as it is today, fuelled by capitalist expansion and by the collapse that follows, sitting on the border between countries, its citizens walking precariously across the river between pleasure and abstinence. This is an absolutely stunning, mature, and compulsively readable novel from one of our most talented and unique writers.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

Publication Date: March 14, 2017

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: When Catherine Reindeer vanishes from the parking lot outside the restaurant where she works, an entire community is shattered. Moving back and forth from her outer circle of acquaintances to her closest intimates, So Much Love reveals how an unexpected disappearance can overturn the lives of those left behind: Catherine’s fellow waitress now sees danger all around her. Her mother seeks comfort in saying her name over and over again. Her professor finds himself thinking of her constantly. Her husband refuses to give up hope that she will one day return. But at the heart of the novel is Catherine’s own surprising story of resilience and recovery. When, after months of captivity, a final devastating loss forces her to make a bold decision, she is unprepared for everything that follows.

A riveting novel that deftly examines the complexity of love and the power of stories to shape our lives, So Much Love confirms Rebecca Rosenblum’s reputation as one of the most gifted and distinctive writers of her generation.

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The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep by Steven Heighton

Publication Date: March 14, 2017

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Elias Trifannis is desperate to belong somewhere. To make his dying ex-cop father happy, he joins the military – but in Afghanistan, by the time he realizes his last-minute bid for connection was a terrible mistake, it’s too late and a tragedy has occurred.

In the aftermath, exhausted by nightmares, Elias is sent to Cyprus to recover, where he attempts to find comfort in the arms of Eylul, a beautiful Turkish journalist. But the lovers’ reprieve ends in a moment of shocking brutality that drives Elias into Varosha, once a popular Greek-Cypriot resort town, abandoned since the Turkish invasion of 1974.

Hidden in the lush, overgrown ruins is a community of exiles and refugees living resourcefully but comfortably. Thanks to the cheerfully corrupt Colonel Kaya, who turns a blind eye, they live under the radar of the Turkish authorities.

As he begins to heal, Elias finds himself drawn to the enigmatic and secretive Kaiti while he learns at last to “simply belong.” But just when it seems he has found sanctuary, events he himself set in motion have already begun to endanger it.

Mitzi Bytes by Kerry Clare

Mitzi Bytes by Kerry Clare

Publication Date: March 14, 2017

Synopsis from HarperCollins Canada: Sarah Lundy has a secret online life, and it might all come crashing down.

Back at the beginning of the new millennium, when the Internet was still unknown territory, Sarah Lundy started an anonymous blog documenting her return to the dating scene after a devastating divorce. The blog was funny, brutally honest and sometimes outrageous. Readers loved it. Through her blog persona, “Mitzi Bytes,” Sarah not only found her feet again, but she found her voice.

Fifteen years later, Sarah is happily remarried with children and she’s still blogging, but nobody IRL—not even her husband or best friends—knows about Mitzi. They don’t know that Sarah’s been documenting all her own exploits, as well as mining the experiences of those around her and sharing these stories with the world. Which means that Sarah is in serious trouble when threatening emails arrive from the mysterious Jane Q. Time’s up, the first one says. You’re officially found out.

As she tries to find out Jane Q’s identity before her secret online self is revealed to everyone, Sarah starts to discover that her loved ones have secrets of their own, and that stronger forces than she imagined are conspiring to turn her world upside down.

A grown-up Harriet the Spy for the digital age, Mitzi Bytes examines the bonds of family and friendship, and the truths we dare tell about ourselves—and others.

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Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris

Publication Date: April 4, 2017

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: The capacity to be alone–properly alone–is one of life’s subtlest skills. Real solitude is a contented and productive state that garners tangible rewards: it allows us to reflect and recharge, improving our relationships with ourselves and, paradoxically, with others. Today, the zeitgeist embraces sharing like never before. Fueled by our dependence on online and social media, we have created an ecosystem of obsessive distraction that dangerously undervalues solitude. Many of us now lead lives of strangely crowded loneliness–we are ever-connected, but only shallowly so.

Award-winning author Michael Harris examines why our experience of solitude has become so impoverished, and how we may grow to love it again in the frenzy of our digital landscape. Solitude is an optimistic and encouraging story about discovering true quiet inside the city, inside the crowd, inside our busy and urbane lives. Harris guides readers away from a life of ceaseless pings toward a state of measured connectivity, one that balances solitude and companionship.

Rich with true stories about the life-changing power of solitude, and interwoven with reporting from the world’s foremost brain researchers, psychologists and tech entrepreneurs, Solitude is a beautiful and prescriptive statement on the benefits of being alone.

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Where I Live Now: A Journey through Love and Loss to Healing and Hope by Sharon Butala

Publication Date: April 4, 2017

Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: When Sharon Butala’s husband, Peter, died unexpectedly, she found herself with no place to call home. Torn by grief and loss, she fled the ranchlands of southwest Saskatchewan and moved to the city, leaving almost everything behind. A lifetime of possessions was reduced to a few boxes of books, clothes, and keepsakes. But a lifetime of experience went with her, and a limitless well of memory—of personal failures, of a marriage that everybody said would not last but did, of the unbreakable bonds of family.

Reinventing herself in an urban landscape was painful, and facing her new life as a widow tested her very being. Yet out of this hard-won new existence comes an astonishingly frank, compassionate and moving memoir that offers not only solace and hope but inspiration to those who endure profound loss.

Often called one of this country’s true visionaries, Sharon Butala shares her insights into the grieving process and reveals the small triumphs and funny moments that kept her going. Where I Live Now is profound in its understanding of the many homes women must build for themselves in a lifetime.

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Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine by Dr. James Maskalyk

Publication Date: April 11, 2017

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: In this deeply personal book, humanitarian doctor and activist James Maskalyk, author of the highly acclaimed Six Months in Sudan, draws upon his experience treating patients in the world’s emergency rooms. From Toronto to Addis Ababa, Cambodia to Bolivia, he discovers that although the cultures, resources and medical challenges of each hospital may differ, they are linked indelibly by the ground floor: the location of their emergency rooms. Here, on the ground floor, is where Dr. Maskalyk witnesses the story of “human aliveness”–our mourning and laughter, tragedies and hopes, the frailty of being and the resilience of the human spirit. And it’s here too that he is swept into the story, confronting his fears and doubts and questioning what it is to be a doctor.

Masterfully written and artfully structured, Life on the Ground Floor is more than just an emergency doctor’s memoir or travelogue–it’s a meditation on health, sickness and the wonder of human life.

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The Weekend Effect by Katrina Onstad

Publication Date: April 11, 2017

Synopsis from HarperCollins: A persuasive, practical, and much needed manifesto that makes the case for reclaiming our weekends to increase joy, creativity, productivity, and success in our lives.

Award-winning journalist Katrina Onstad’s The Weekend Effect asks us to reconsider the role of the weekend in our lives—often lost to overbooked schedules, domestic chores, shopping, pinging devices, and encroaching work demands—debunking the belief that you have to be on 24/7 in a 24/7 economy to be successful, and revealing the extensive benefits of a well-lived weekend.

We’re working more hours that we did a decade ago, and worse, we allow those hours to slide over seven days a week, leaving no space or time to tune out and recharge. We don’t need the research to tell us that this is hurting us. Our health is deteriorating, our social networks (the face-to-face kind) are weak, and our productivity is down. It wasn’t long ago that working less and living more was considered an American virtue. So what happened?

Digging into the history, the positive psychology, and the cultural anthropology of the great, missing weekend, Onstad, herself suffering from Sunday-night letdown, pushes back against the all-work-no-fun ethos, and follows the trail of people, companies and countries who are vigilantly protecting their weekends for joy, adventure, and most importantly, for meaning.

Onstad offers real-world strategies for wrestling back this lost time with how-to practices in making the most of the weekend. Readers of The Happiness Project, All Joy and No Fun, and Thrive will find personal and business inspiration in this well-researched argument to save the weekend, and as a result, save ourselves. A well-lived weekend, filled with face-to-face socializing, idleness, and nature, is the gateway to a well-lived life.

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After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara

Publication Date: April 15, 2017

Synopsis from Dundurn Press: A daughter’s search for her mother reveals her family’s past in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War.

Lily Takemitsu goes missing from her home in Toronto one luminous summer morning in the mid-1980s. Her daughter, Rita, a high-school art teacher, knows her mother has a history of dissociation and memory problems, which have led her to wander off before. But never has she stayed away so long. Unconvinced the police are taking the case seriously, Rita begins to carry out her own investigation. In the course of searching for her mom, she is forced to confront a labyrinth of secrets surrounding the family’s internment at a camp in the California desert during the Second World War, their postwar immigration to Toronto, and the father she has never known.

Epic in scope, intimate in style, After the Bloom blurs between the present and the ever-present past, beautifully depicting one family’s struggle to face the darker side of its history and find some form of redemption.

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The Slip by Mark Sampson

Publication Date: May 20, 2017

Synopsis from Dundurn Press: In this wickedly funny novel, one bad afternoon and two regrettable comments make the inimitable Philip Sharpe go viral for all the worst reasons.

Dr. Philip Sharpe, absentminded professor extraordinaire, teaches philosophy at the University of Toronto and is one of Canada’s most combative public intellectuals. But when a live TV debate with his fiercest rival goes horribly off the rails, an oblivious Philip says some things to her that he really shouldn’t have.

As a clip of Philip’s “slip” goes viral, it soon reveals all the cracks and fissures in his marriage with his young, stay-at-home wife, Grace. And while the two of them try to get on the same side of the situation, things quickly spiral out of control.

Can Philip make amends and save his marriage? Is there any hope of salvaging his reputation? To do so, he’ll need to take a hard look at his on-air comments, and to conscript a band of misfits in a scheme to set things right.

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The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan

Publication Date: June 24, 2017

Synopsis from House of Anansi Press: Warren Botts is a disillusioned Ph.D., taking a break from his lab to teach middle-school science. Gentle, soft-spoken, and lonely, he innocently befriends Amanda, one of his students. But one morning, Amanda is found dead in his backyard, and Warren, shocked, flees the scene.

As the small community slowly turns against him, an anonymous narrator, a person of extreme intelligence and emotional detachment, offers insight into events past and present. As the tension builds, we gain an intimate understanding of the power of secrets, illusions, and memories.

Nicole Lundrigan uses her prodigious talent to deliciously creepy effect, producing a finely crafted page-turner and a chilling look into the mind of a psychopath.

Which books are you dying to read in 2017? I’d love to hear in comments!

Winter 2017 Reads

This morning, we woke up to snow. And when everything is blanketed in snow, there are few things as satisfying as curling up with an engrossing read.

From memoirs to historical novels to psychological thrillers, these are the 15 books I can’t wait to get lost in this winter.

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Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

Schwalbe’s beloved memoir The End of Your Life Book Club was one of my top reads last year; I’ve been recommending it to friends and strangers alike. Last night, I started his latest and it is so delightful. A must-read for book lovers.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Why is it that we read? Is it to pass time? To learn something new? To escape from reality? For Will Schwalbe, reading is a way to entertain himself but also to make sense of the world, to become a better person, and to find the answers to the big (and small) questions about how to live his life. In this delightful celebration of reading, Schwalbe invites us along on his quest for books that speak to the specific challenges of living in our modern world, with all its noise and distractions. In each chapter, he discusses a particular book—what brought him to it (or vice versa), the people in his life he associates with it, and how it became a part of his understanding of himself in the world.  These books span centuries and genres (from classic works of adult and children’s literature to contemporary thrillers and even cookbooks), and each one relates to the questions and concerns we all share. Throughout, Schwalbe focuses on the way certain books can help us honor those we’ve loved and lost, and also figure out how to live each day more fully. Rich with stories and recommendations, Books for Living is a treasure for everyone who loves books and loves to hear the answer to the question: “What are you reading?”

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You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris, translated from French by Sam Taylor

Synopsis from Penguin Random House: On November 13, 2015, Antoine Leiris’s wife, Hélène Muyal-Leiris, was killed by terrorists while attending a rock concert at the Bataclan Theater in Paris, in the deadliest attack on France since World War II. Three days later, Leiris wrote an open letter addressed directly to his wife’s killers, which he posted on Facebook. He refused to be cowed or to let his seventeen-month-old son’s life be defined by Hélène’s murder. He refused to let the killers have their way: “For as long as he lives, this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom.” Instantly, that short Facebook post caught fire, and was reported on by newspapers and television stations all over the world. In his determination to honor the memory of his wife, he became an international hero to everyone searching desperately for a way to deal with the horror of the Paris attacks and the grim shadow cast today by the threat of terrorism.

Now Leiris tells the full story of his grief and struggle. You Will Not Have My Hate is a remarkable, heartbreaking, and, indeed, beautiful memoir of how he and his baby son, Melvil, endured in the days and weeks after Hélène’s murder. With absolute emotional courage and openness, he somehow finds a way to answer that impossible question: how can I go on? He visits Hélène’s body at the morgue, has to tell Melvil that Mommy will not be coming home, and buries the woman he had planned to spend the rest of his life with.

Leiris’s grief is terrible, but his love for his family is indomitable. This is the rare and unforgettable testimony of a survivor, and a universal message of hope and resilience. Leiris confronts an incomprehensible pain with a humbling generosity and grandeur of spirit. He is a guiding star for us all in these perilous times. His message—hate will be vanquished by love—is eternal.

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Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Back in 2015, I read the late author’s moving novel Benediction. I loved it so much that it made my favourite reads of 2015 list. I can’t wait to pick up his final novel which The Washington Post calls “Utterly charming [and] distilled to elemental purity.”

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away, her son even farther, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in empty houses, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with. But maybe that could change? As Addie and Louis come to know each other better–their pleasures and their difficulties–a beautiful story of second chances unfolds, making Our Souls at Night the perfect final installment to this beloved writer’s enduring contribution to American literature.

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Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz

Schantz’s 2015 debut novel comes highly recommended by the teen librarian at my local branch. I’m reading it for the ‘book with an unreliable narrator’ category for the 2017 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. I started it last night and I can’t put it down.

Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: Love and sacrifice intertwine in this brilliant debut of rare beauty about a girl dealing with her mother’s schizophrenia and her own mental illness.

Fig’s world lies somewhere between reality and fantasy.

But as she watches Mama slowly come undone, it becomes hard to tell what is real and what is not, what is fun and what is frightening. To save Mama, Fig begins a fierce battle to bring her back. She knows that her daily sacrifices, like not touching metal one day or avoiding water the next, are the only way to cure Mama.

The problem is that in the process of a daily sacrifice, Fig begins to lose herself as well, increasingly isolating herself from her classmates and engaging in self-destructive behavior that only further sets her apart.

Spanning the course of Fig’s childhood from age six to nineteen, this deeply provocative novel is more than a portrait of a mother, a daughter, and the struggle that comes with all-consuming love. It is an acutely honest and often painful portrayal of life with mental illness and the lengths to which a young woman must go to handle the ordeals—real or imaginary—thrown her way.

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Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians by Dr. Danielle Martin

This important book is getting some serious buzz in Canada right now. Dr. Martin is the Vice President of Medical Affairs and Health System Solutions at Women’s College Hospital (the hospital where I had two surgeries done) as well as an advocate for Canada’s heath-care system. In 2014, she was invited to speak to the United States Senate Sub-committee. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders says, “Dr. Martin offers a timely and insightful perspective on Canada’s commitment to providing health care as a right to all people. The U.S. health care system has a great deal to learn from Canada and from Better Now.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Dr. Danielle Martin see the challenges in our health care system every day. As a family doctor and a hospital vice president, she observes how those deficiencies adversely affect patients. And as a health policy expert, she knows how to close those gaps. A passionate believer in the value of fairness that underpins the Canadian health care system, Dr. Martin is on a mission to improve medicare. In Better Now, she shows how bold fixes are both achievable and affordable. Her patients’ stories and her own family’s experiences illustrate the evidence she presents about what works best to improve health care for all.

Better Now outlines “Six Big Ideas” to bolster Canada’s health care system. Each one is centred on a typical Canadian patient, making it clear how close to home these issues strike.

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Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: In Ordinary Light, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Tracy K. Smith tells her remarkable story, giving us a quietly potent memoir that explores her coming-of-age and the meaning of home against a complex backdrop of race, faith, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter. Here is the story of a young artist struggling to fashion her own understanding of belief, loss, history, and what it means to be black in America.

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The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew

This important and moving memoir comes highly recommended by one of my favourite booksellers; she chose it as her staff pick. It was on last year’s reading list, but because of its popularity, I wasn’t able to borrow a copy from the library. I can’t wait to finally read it.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: When his father was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, Winnipeg broadcaster and musician Wab Kinew decided to spend a year reconnecting with the accomplished but distant aboriginal man who’d raised him. The Reason You Walk spans the year 2012, chronicling painful moments in the past and celebrating renewed hopes and dreams for the future. As Kinew revisits his own childhood in Winnipeg and on a reserve in Northern Ontario, he learns more about his father’s traumatic childhood at residential school.

An intriguing doubleness marks The Reason You Walk, a reference to an Anishinaabe ceremonial song. Born to an Anishinaabe father and a non-native mother, he has a foot in both cultures. He is a Sundancer, an academic, a former rapper, a hereditary chief, and an urban activist. His father, Tobasonakwut, was both a beloved traditional chief and a respected elected leader who engaged directly with Ottawa. Internally divided, his father embraced both traditional native religion and Catholicism, the religion that was inculcated into him at the residential school where he was physically and sexually abused. In a grand gesture of reconciliation, Kinew’s father invited the Roman Catholic bishop of Winnipeg to a Sundance ceremony in which he adopted him as his brother. Kinew writes affectingly of his own struggles in his twenties to find the right path, eventually giving up a self-destructive lifestyle to passionately pursue music and martial arts. From his unique vantage point, he offers an inside view of what it means to be an educated aboriginal living in a country that is just beginning to wake up to its aboriginal history and living presence.

Invoking hope, healing and forgiveness, The Reason You Walk is a poignant story of a towering but damaged father and his son as they embark on a journey to repair their family bond. By turns lighthearted and solemn, Kinew gives us an inspiring vision for family and cross-cultural reconciliation, and a wider conversation about the future of aboriginal peoples.

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Fractured by Catherine McKenzie

I’ve been a huge fan of Canadian author Catherine McKenzie since devouring her debut novel in one afternoon back in 2009. I decided to read her latest book plus two others for the 2017 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Julie Prentice and her family move across the country to the idyllic Mount Adams district of Cincinnati, hoping to evade the stalker who’s been terrorizing them ever since the publication of her bestselling novel, The Murder Game. Since Julie doesn’t know anyone in her new town, when she meets her neighbor John Dunbar, their instant connection brings measured hope for a new beginning. But she never imagines that a simple, benign conversation with him could set her life spinning so far off course.

We know where you live…

After a series of misunderstandings, Julie and her family become the target of increasingly unsettling harassment. Has Julie’s stalker found her, or are her neighbors out to get her, too? As tension in the neighborhood rises, new friends turn into enemies, and the results are deadly.

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By Gaslight by Steven Price

Longlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Canadian author’s second novel sounds like the perfect read for grey, snowy winter days. Publisher’s Weekly raves “With its intricate cat-and-mouse game, array of idiosyncratic characters, and brooding atmosphere, By Gaslight has much to please fans of both classic suspense and Victorian fiction.”

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: London, 1885. In a city of fog and darkness, the notorious thief Edward Shade exists only as a ghost, a fabled con, a thief of other men’s futures — a man of smoke. William Pinkerton is already famous, the son of a brutal detective, when he descends into the underworld of Victorian London in pursuit of a new lead. His father died without ever tracing Shade; William, still reeling from his loss, is determined to drag the thief out of the shadows. Adam Foole is a gentleman without a past, haunted by a love affair ten years gone. When he receives a letter from his lost beloved, he returns to London in search of her; what he learns of her fate, and its connection to the man known as Shade, will force him to confront a grief he thought long-buried. What follows is a fog-enshrouded hunt through sewers, opium dens, drawing rooms, and seance halls. Above all, it is the story of the most unlikely of bonds: between William Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Adam Foole, the one man who may hold the key to finding Edward Shade.

Epic in scope, brilliantly conceived, and stunningly written, Steven Price’s By Gaslight is a riveting, atmospheric portrait of two men on the brink. Moving from the diamond mines of South Africa to the battlefields of the Civil War, the novel is a journey into a cityscape of grief, trust, and its breaking, where what we share can bind us even against our darker selves.

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Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi

I spotted Lakshmi’s bestselling memoir on the “Best for Book Clubs” table at my neighbourhood Indigo. I am currently halfway through and loving it.

Synopsis from HarperCollins Canada: Long before Padma Lakshmi ever stepped onto a television set, she learned that how we eat is an extension of how we love, how we comfort, how we forge a sense of home—and how we taste the world as we navigate our way through it. Shuttling between continents as a child, she lived a life of dislocation that would become habit as an adult, never quite at home in the world. And yet, through all her travels, her favorite food remained the simple rice she first ate sitting on the cool floor of her grandmother’s kitchen in South India.

Poignant and surprising, Love, Loss, and What We Ate is Lakshmi’s extraordinary account of her journey from that humble kitchen, ruled by ferocious and unforgettable women, to the judges’ table of Top Chef and beyond. It chronicles the fierce devotion of the remarkable people who shaped her along the way, from her headstrong mother who flouted conservative Indian convention to make a life in New York, to her Brahmin grandfather—a brilliant engineer with an irrepressible sweet tooth—to the man seemingly wrong for her in every way who proved to be her truest ally. A memoir rich with sensual prose and punctuated with evocative recipes, it is alive with the scents, tastes, and textures of a life that spans complex geographies both internal and external.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate is an intimate and unexpected story of food and family—both the ones we are born to and the ones we create—and their enduring legacies.

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The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

Shortlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Toronto author’s latest novel is the talk of the town. The five-panel jury (who read a staggering 161 books submitted by Canadian publishers) said: “This gripping story challenges how we hear women and girls, and dissects the self-hypnosis and fear that prevent us from speaking disruptive truth.”

Synopsis from House of Anansi Press: What if someone you trusted was accused of the unthinkable?

George Woodbury, an affable teacher and beloved husband and father, is arrested for sexual impropriety at a prestigious prep school. His wife, Joan, vaults between denial and rage as the community she loved turns on her. Their daughter, Sadie, a popular over-achieving high school senior, becomes a social pariah. Their son, Andrew, assists in his father’s defense, while wrestling with his own unhappy memories of his teen years. A local author tries to exploit their story, while an unlikely men’s rights activist attempts to get Sadie onside their cause. With George locked up, how do the members of his family pick up the pieces and keep living their lives? How do they defend someone they love while wrestling with the possibility of his guilt?

With exquisite emotional precision, award-winning author Zoe Whittall explores issues of loyalty, truth, and the meaning of happiness through the lens of an all-American family on the brink of collapse.

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Columbine by Dave Cullen

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: On April 20, 1999, two boys went to their high school with bombs and guns. Their goal was to leave “a lasting impression on the world.” The horror they inflicted left an indelible stamp on the American psyche.

Now in this definitive account, Dave Cullen presents a compelling and utterly human profile of teenage killers. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of police files, FBI psychologists, and the boys’ tapes and diaries. This close-up portrait of violence, a community rendered helpless, and police blunders and cover-ups is an unforgettable cautionary tale for our time.

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The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill (Publication Date: February 7, 2017)

Set in Montreal and New York, the highly-anticipated new novel from Canadian author Heather O’Neill is the story of two orphans who meet in a Montreal orphanage and dream of starting a circus. It sounds like an enchanting winter read.

Synopsis from HarperCollins Canada: Exquisitely imagined and hypnotically told, The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. Set in the early part of the 20th Century, it is an unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose fortune hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to escape one’s origins. It might also take true love.

Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1914. Before long, their true talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing for the rich, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.

Separated as teenagers, both escape into the city’s underworld, where they must use their uncommon gifts to survive without each other. Ruthless and unforgiving, Montreal in the 1930’s is no place for song and dance. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes, the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make those dream come true. After Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls hit the stage and the alleys, the underworld will never look the same.

With extraordinary storytelling, musical language, and an extravagantly realized world, acclaimed author Heather O’Neill enchants us with her best novel yet — one so magical there is no escaping its spell.

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Unbound: Finding Myself on Top of the World by Steph Jagger

Synopsis from HarpersCollins Canada: Steph Jagger had seen the ski-lift sign thousands of times—“Raise Restraining Device,” it read—but one day she took it personally as a rallying cry to shake off the life she had for the life she wanted. She had always been a force of nature, so why was she still holding herself back? Dissatisfied with the passive, limited roles she saw for women when she was growing up, Steph emulated the men in her life—chasing success, climbing the corporate ladder, ticking the boxes, playing by the rules. She was accomplished. She was living “The Dream.” But it wasn’t her dream.

In a moment, the sign on the ski lift became her mantra, and she knew she had to change her life. So Jagger walked away from the success and security she had worked long and hard to obtain. She quit her job, took a second mortgage on her house, sold everything except her ski equipment and her laptop, and bought a plane ticket. For the next year, she followed winter across five continents on a mission to break the world record for most vertical feet skied in a year. What hiking was for Cheryl Strayed, skiing became for Steph: a crucible in which to crack open her life, melt it down to its elements and get to the very centre of herself. An emotional story of courage and self-discovery that will appeal to readers of Wild and Eat, Pray, Love, Unbound will inspire readers to remove their own restraining devices, whatever they may be.

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The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola, translated from French by Mark Kurlansky

Zola’s historical novel was originally published in 1873 and comes highly recommended by one of my favourite booksellers. I’ve LOVED every single book he’s recommended in the past, so I know I’m going to enjoy this one.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Part of Emile Zola’s multigenerational Rougon-Macquart saga, The Belly of Paris is the story of Florent Quenu, a wrongly accused man who escapes imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Returning to his native Paris, Florent finds a city he barely recognizes, with its working classes displaced to make way for broad boulevards and bourgeois flats. Living with his brother’s family in the newly rebuilt Les Halles market, Florent is soon caught up in a dangerous maelstrom of food and politics. Amid intrigue among the market’s sellers–the fishmonger, the charcutière, the fruit girl, and the cheese vendor–and the glorious culinary bounty of their labors, we see the dramatic difference between “fat and thin” (the rich and the poor) and how the widening gulf between them strains a city to the breaking point.

Translated and with an Introduction by the celebrated historian and food writer Mark Kurlansky, The Belly of Paris offers fascinating perspectives on the French capital during the Second Empire–and, of course, tantalizing descriptions of its sumptuous repasts.

What’s on your winter reading list?

What I’m Reading for the 2017 MMD Reading Challenge

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Two years ago, I rediscovered my love of reading thanks in part to the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge. Two weeks ago, I signed up for the 2017 challenge and I couldn’t be more excited. This year, readers have the opportunity to choose their own reading adventure: Reading for Fun or Reading for Growth.

In 2015, I was determined to make the time to read more. In 2016, my reading goal was to read 100 books; I read 82 (the most I’ve ever read in a year). This year, I want to stretch myself and read those books I usually avoid (like a book that’s over 600 pages or an essay collection), so I’m taking the Reading for Growth route.

After two weeks of careful planning (browsing book lists on the Internet and asking the librarian at my local branch for recommendations), I’ve finally settled on the books I’m reading for each challenge category. Today I’m sharing my list with you.

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A Newbery Award winner  A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

The teen librarian at my local branch recommended this historical fiction which won the Newbery Medal in 2002.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: In this Newbery Medal-winning book set in 12th century Korea, Tree-ear, a 13-year-old orphan, lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters’ village famed for delicate celadon ware. He has become fascinated with the potter’s craft; he wants nothing more than to watch master potter Min at work, and he dreams of making a pot of his own someday. When Min takes Tree-ear on as his helper, Tree-ear is elated – until he finds obstacles in his path: the backbreaking labor of digging and hauling clay, Min’s irascible temper, and his own ignorance. But Tree-ear is determined to prove himself – even if it means taking a long, solitary journey on foot to present Min’s work in the hope of a royal commission . . . even if it means arriving at the royal court with nothing to show but a single celadon shard.

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A book in translation The Door by Magda Szabó, translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix

When I asked one of my favourite booksellers for an incredible translated book, he didn’t even pause to think. I’ve enjoyed every single book he’s recommended to me in the past and I can’t wait to dive into this one from the late Hungarian author.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: The Door is an unsettling exploration of the relationship between two very different women. Magda is a writer, educated, married to an academic, public-spirited, with an on-again-off-again relationship to Hungary’s Communist authorities. Emerence is a peasant, illiterate, impassive, abrupt, seemingly ageless. She lives alone in a house that no one else may enter, not even her closest relatives. She is Magda’s housekeeper and she has taken control over Magda’s household, becoming indispensable to her. And Emerence, in her way, has come to depend on Magda. They share a kind of love—at least until Magda’s long-sought success as a writer leads to a devastating revelation.

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A book that’s more than 600 pages  New York by Edward Rutherfurd

This category gave me the most trouble to fill, but I finally decided on British author Edward Rutherfurd’s historical novel, New York.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: A blockbuster masterpiece that combines breath-taking scope with narrative immediacy, this grand historical epic traces the history of New York through the lenses of several families: The Van Dycks, a wealthy Dutch trading family; the Masters, scions of an English merchant clan torn apart during the Revolution; the Hudsons, slaves who fight for their freedom over several generations; the Murphys, who escape the Famine in Ireland and land in the chaotic slum of Five Points; the Rewards, robber barons of the Gilded Age; the Florinos, an immigrant Italian clan who work building the great skyscrapers in the 1920s; and the Rabinowitzs, who flee anti-semitism in Europe and build a new life in Brooklyn.

Over time, the lives of these families become intertwined through the most momentous events in the fabric of America: The founding of the colonies; the Revolution; the growth of New York as a major port and trading centre; the Civil War; the Gilded Age; the explosion of immigration and the corruption of Tammany Hall; the rise of New York as a great world city in the early 20th-century; the trials of World War II, the tumult of the 1960s; the near-demise of the city in the 1970s; its roaring rebirth in the 1990s; culminating in the World Trade Center attacks at the beginning of the new century.

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A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection  Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith

I plan on reading all of Zadie Smith’s books this year, so I’m kicking things off with her essay collection.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House: Split into five sections–Reading, Being, Seeing, Feeling, and Remembering–Changing My Mind finds Zadie Smith casting an acute eye over material both personal and cultural. This engaging collection of essays, some published here for the first time, reveals Smith as a passionate and precise essayist, equally at home in the world of great books and bad movies, family and philosophy, British comedians and Italian divas. Whether writing on Katherine Hepburn, Kafka, Anna Magnani, or Zora Neale Hurston, she brings deft care to the art of criticism with a style both sympathetic and insightful. Changing My Mind is journalism at its most expansive, intelligent, and funny–a gift to readers and writers both.

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A book of any genre that addresses current eventsThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Civil Rights Litigator Michelle Alexander’s book has been on my To Be Read list for three years.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as “brave and bold,” this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.”

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An immigrant storySmall Island by Andrea Levy

One of my favourite booksellers raved about the British author’s 2004 Prize-winning novel calling it “the perfect immigrant novel”.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer’s daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve.

Told in these four voices, “Small Island “is a courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers—in short, an encapsulation of that most American of experiences: the immigrant’s life.

the-belly-of-paris

A book published before you were born  The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola, translated from the French by Mark Kurlansky (Originally published in 1873)

I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this book. When I asked my trustworthy bookseller to recommend a book for this category, he picked this one. He assured me I would LOVE it.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Part of Emile Zola’s multigenerational Rougon-Macquart saga, The Belly of Paris is the story of Florent Quenu, a wrongly accused man who escapes imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Returning to his native Paris, Florent finds a city he barely recognizes, with its working classes displaced to make way for broad boulevards and bourgeois flats. Living with his brother’s family in the newly rebuilt Les Halles market, Florent is soon caught up in a dangerous maelstrom of food and politics. Amid intrigue among the market’s sellers–the fishmonger, the charcutière, the fruit girl, and the cheese vendor–and the glorious culinary bounty of their labors, we see the dramatic difference between “fat and thin” (the rich and the poor) and how the widening gulf between them strains a city to the breaking point.

Translated and with an Introduction by the celebrated historian and food writer Mark Kurlansky, The Belly of Paris offers fascinating perspectives on the French capital during the Second Empire–and, of course, tantalizing descriptions of its sumptuous repasts.

fractured

Three books by the same author  – Catherine McKenzie: Fractured, Smoke, Hidden.

I’ve been a huge fan of Canadian author Catherine McKenzie since I devoured her addictive debut novel, Spin one afternoon in 2009. I also re-read it back in November for the ‘a book you’ve already read’ category of the 2016 Reading Challenge.

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A book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author  The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, translated from the Japanese by KA Yoshida & David Mitchell

This little book has been on my radar for years. I bought a copy yesterday and I can’t wait to get started.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House: You’ve never read a book like The Reason I Jump. Written by Naoki Higashida, a very smart, very self-aware, and very charming thirteen-year-old boy with autism, it is a one-of-a-kind memoir that demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. Parents and family members who never thought they could get inside the head of their autistic loved one at last have a way to break through to the curious, subtle, and complex life within.

Using an alphabet grid to painstakingly construct words, sentences, and thoughts that he is unable to speak out loud, Naoki answers even the most delicate questions that people want to know. Questions such as: “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?” “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” and “What’s the reason you jump?” (Naoki’s answer: “When I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky.”) With disarming honesty and a generous heart, Naoki shares his unique point of view on not only autism but life itself. His insights—into the mystery of words, the wonders of laughter, and the elusiveness of memory—are so startling, so strange, and so powerful that you will never look at the world the same way again.

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A book with an unreliable narratorFig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz

Initially, I planned on reading an adult novel for this category. But when I turned to one of the librarians at my local branch for help, she said she could think of several YA novels that would work. She promptly jotted down her favourites, gave a little synopsis of each, and shared why she loved them. I don’t read much YA, but she sold me on Schantz’s debut novel. I also plan on adding all her other recommendations to my 2017 reading list.

Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: Love and sacrifice intertwine in this brilliant debut of rare beauty about a girl dealing with her mother’s schizophrenia and her own mental illness.

Fig’s world lies somewhere between reality and fantasy.

But as she watches Mama slowly come undone, it becomes hard to tell what is real and what is not, what is fun and what is frightening. To save Mama, Fig begins a fierce battle to bring her back. She knows that her daily sacrifices, like not touching metal one day or avoiding water the next, are the only way to cure Mama.

The problem is that in the process of a daily sacrifice, Fig begins to lose herself as well, increasingly isolating herself from her classmates and engaging in self-destructive behavior that only further sets her apart.

Spanning the course of Fig’s childhood from age six to nineteen, this deeply provocative novel is more than a portrait of a mother, a daughter, and the struggle that comes with all-consuming love. It is an acutely honest and often painful portrayal of life with mental illness and the lengths to which a young woman must go to handle the ordeals—real or imaginary—thrown her way.

A book nominated for an award in 2017  – TBD

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A Pulitzer Prize winner  Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

I’ve never read any of Lahiri’s books and that’s about to change. Her short story collection won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 and it’s been recommended to me more times than I can count, but I never got around to reading it until now.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession.

Have you ever done a reading challenge? What are your reading goals for 2017?

Favourite Fiction Reads in 2016

Last week, I shared my favourite nonfiction reads. I read more fiction than nonfiction titles this year—out of the 82 books I read this year, 58 of them were fiction. It took a whole lot of effort to narrow down my favourites, but I managed.

Today I’m sharing the fiction I absolutely loved, can’t stop thinking about, and know I’ll keep coming back to…

The Language of Flowers cover

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Diffenbaugh’s debut novel has been on my reading list for years. Abandoned at birth, Victoria Jones has spent her childhood bouncing through countless foster and group homes. At eighteen, she is emancipated from the foster-care system and has nowhere to go. She immerses herself in flowers and their meanings; her only connection to the world.

Diffenbaugh skillfully blends her firsthand knowledge of the foster-care system (she’s a foster mother to many children) with her fascination with the language of flowers to create this beautiful and hopeful story. I really connected with Victoria’s journey and couldn’t help but root for her from start to finish. A book about survival, mother-daughter relationships, human connection, love, forgiveness, redemption, and of course, the Victorian language of flowers. While reading, I enjoyed consulting the Dictionary of Flowers included at the back of the book. I read it back in the spring and I know I’ll be returning to it again and again.

I Let You Go

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Mackintosh’s debut is so good, I read it twice. One woman’s world comes crashing down when her son is killed in a hit-and-run; another woman, Jenna Gray, tries to escape the memory of the accident by leaving her life behind. The story shuffles between Jenna trying to make a new life for herself on the Welsh coast and a pair of Bristol police investigators trying to get to the bottom of the hit-and-run. Every time I thought I had the story figured out, Mackintosh threw in another twist. Mackintosh’s British police training makes this one shockingly real. Tightly-woven, gorgeously written, brilliant, tense, pulse-quickening, and addictive.

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Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Genova has written four novels; Inside the O’Briens was the first one I read straight through. At first I thought it would be too scary and too real, but the story of the O’Brien family hooked me from the first page and immediately captured my heart. This beautiful family novel teaches us to keep living in the face of tragedy, never take our health for granted, show compassion, and be present for those around us. A believable, compassionate portrayal of what it’s like to be diagnosed with and live with Huntington’s disease and how it affects our loved ones. I came away from this book with a clear understanding of a disease I previously knew very little about. I read it in three days.

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2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

This is the classic case of picking up a book based on its cover. I’d never heard of Bertino’s debut novel until the beautiful cover caught my eye at the bookstore. The entire story takes place on the eve of Christmas Eve in snowy Philadelphia. Bertino introduces us to Madeleine Altimari, a sassy nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, and Lorca, the owner of a jazz club called The Cat’s Pajamas who discovers that he might have to close its doors for good.

I fell hopelessly in love with each character, especially spunky nine-year-old Madeleine. I found myself slowing down as the end drew near; I just didn’t want this story to end. Beautifully written, utterly charming, witty, moving, delightful, and packed with surprises. A great one to curl up with this winter.

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Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman has written more than thirty books; this was my first and it won’t be my last. I devoured this captivating story in one night. Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is your typical high school senior, until one night a terrible accident changes everything. Her best friend, Helene’s future is destroyed in the accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt. This moving story follows one young woman as she struggles with survivor’s guilt, grief, depression, self-harm, and loneliness, and eventually moves to New York City where she finds herself. In Shelby, Hoffman has given us an astonishingly believable, relatable, lovable character; I couldn’t help but cheer her on. I don’t want to give too much away. But if you’re looking for the perfect read to curl up with, look no further than this beautifully told, vivid, poignant, unforgettable, hopeful story.

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Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Sarah Nickerson is a working mom with a high-powered job and three young children. One morning on her drive to work, she is distracted by her cell phone and ends up in a horrible accident that leaves her with Left Neglect, a brain injury that steals her awareness of everything on her left side. While struggling to recover and yearning for her pre-accident life, Sarah has no choice but to slow down. A compelling story about how life can change in an instant, what we neglect in our lives, and how tragedy forces us to pay attention to what truly matters. Beautifully written, humorous, and unforgettable. I’ve been recommending it to friends, co-workers, and strangers.

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I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

This debut historical novel is inspired by the more than 200 women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War. Newly married Rosetta Wakefield doesn’t want her husband, Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up anyway, hoping to make enough money that they’ll be able to afford their own farm someday. Strong-willed Rosetta decides that her place is by her husband’s side so she cuts off her hair, dresses in shirt and pants, and volunteers as a Union soldier. Told in Rosetta’s powerful voice, this story captured my heart from page one. I laughed, cried, and rooted for Rosetta. McCabe’s prose is absolutely stunning and I hung onto each and every word. Beautiful, lyrical, heart-wrenching, unforgettable, and thoroughly researched; it’s one of the best historical novels I’ve ever read. Highly recommended.

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I See You by Clare Mackintosh

Mackintosh’s new thriller was released here in Canada on November 29 and I wasted no time in grabbing a copy. I read it in 24 hours. Mackintosh transports us to the London Underground. While riding the train home one night, Zoe Walker spots her photo in the classifieds section of the London Gazette. When other women begin appearing in the same ad every day, Zoe realizes they’ve become victims of increasingly violent crimes. With the help of a determined young cop, she uncovers the ad’s twisted purpose. I loved the police procedure details and the rapport between the investigators. A twist-filled plot that kept me guessing right up until the final page (literally). Creepy, thought-provoking, clever, heart-stopping, and scarily believable; I can’t stop thinking about it. This timely thriller has made me more vigilant while riding the subway and walking home alone.

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The Mothers by Brit Bennett

I’ve been dying to read Bennett’s much-talked-about debut novel since it hit shelves in the fall. My sweet blogger friend, Sarah from over at Glowing Local offered to send me a copy and I was overjoyed when it arrived in the mail last Tuesday. It’s an important and timely book about community, secrets, friendship, love, loss, and betrayal. Written in the most breathtakingly beautiful prose, Bennett explores how the choices we make in our youth follow us into adulthood. I read this one in two days. I really hope Bennett has another novel in the works.

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You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott has written eight novels; this was the first one I’ve picked up. In her latest thriller, Abbott propels us into the fascinating and dangerous world of competitive gymnastics. Gymnastics is my favourite Olympic sport so the story immediately drew me in. While I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, I found myself slowing down and re-reading Abbott’s breathtaking sentences. Pulse-pounding, twist-filled, witty, creepy, skillfully plotted, and compulsively readable. It kept me up till 4 a.m.

Notable: Big Little Lies, Descent, The Shell Seekers, Stay Up With Me: Stories, These Things Hidden, My Sunshine Away.

Favourite Non-Fiction Reads in 2016

2016 was an amazing year of reading! I managed to read a whopping 82 books from the list of 100 books I shared back in January. While I strayed from the list (people kept recommending books I just had to read), I found having this list to refer to helped keep me organized and motivated.

I read some great non-fiction books this year and today I’m sharing the ones that left a lasting impression…

The End of Your Life Book Club

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Schwalbe’s beloved memoir has been on my reading list for years and I was determined to read it before the end of 2016. This one is a must-read for all you true book lovers! When Mary Anne Schwalbe is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, she and her son Will spend many hours sitting in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre. One day, over a cup of mocha, Will posed the question: “What are you reading?” and their two-person book club was born. I loved hearing about Mary Anne’s fascinating, full life and her determination to keep on living fully right up until the very end. A beautifully written, inspiring tribute to books and the way they connect us and an important reminder to live well. Bonus: Schwalbe included a list of all books, plays, poems, and stories discussed or mentioned in the memoir.

Food and the City

Food and the City by Ina Yalof

I’m pretty sure this is the book I’ve recommended the most this year. I’m a huge fan of food memoirs and Food and the City is in a class all its own. Yalof interviewed professional chefs, restaurant owners, line cooks, waiters, food vendors, and purveyors who call the city home. I loved getting a tour of New York’s vibrant food scene through the eyes of those who are the very heartbeat of the Big Apple. I loved hearing about how people came to New York, how they ended up in the food industry, and the trials they faced along the way. Packed with moving and inspiring stories and fascinating tidbits, it’s a true learning experience. By the end, I had a long list of New York City restaurants and bakeries to check out on my next visit!

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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Susannah Cahalan’s memoir was my pick for ‘a book I previously abandoned’ for this year’s MMD Reading Challenge. I read this book back in 2010, but I only made it halfway through. The story of a 24-year-old New York Post reporter’s horrifying descent into madness frightened me. But this time around, Cahalan’s story hooked me; I could not stop reading and it didn’t scare me as much. With no recollection of what happened to her, Cahalan depends on video footage from the hospital, the journals her father kept, and interviews with her doctors to piece together that missing month of her life. Incredibly brave and brilliantly-executed, I am happy I gave it a second chance. I can’t wait to watch the film adaptation starring Chloë Grace Moretz.

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Back in March, I read this beautifully-written, moving memoir in under 24 hours. Written after Kalanithi was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer and while he completed his neurosurgery training, it’s an honest examination of his transition from doctor to patient. I was so moved by Kalanithi’s courage, vulnerability, and compassion for his patients, respect for his colleagues, and love for his family. The epilogue written by his wife Lucy moved me to tears. I am still thinking about it after all these months and I will be rereading it in the future.

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Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders

I’ve been telling everyone about this book. Enders does an incredible job of breaking down the science and I have a new-found respect for my gut. Smart, funny, and easy-to-digest. The accompanying illustrations are amazing. I learned so much and jotted down a ton of notes. Who knew the gut could be so fascinating? Everyone needs to read this book at some point.

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Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney

This memoir has been on my reading list for two years and it felt good to finally read it. Moroney, a high school teacher and guidance counsellor married her boyfriend of three years in October 2005. One month into their marriage, her new husband is arrested and charged in the assault and kidnapping of two women. Shannon shares how she dealt with the grief of losing her husband, the stress of the criminal investigation, the rejection and judgment from people in her community, a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder, all while trying to understand what drove her husband to violence. She takes us inside the walls of prisons and courtrooms and I was shocked by the lack of support services available to the loved ones of offenders. It’s an incredibly heart wrenching yet hopeful story of acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, letting go, healing, and moving forward. It would make an excellent book club pick.

Michelle Obama A Life

Michelle Obama: A Life by Peter Slevin

In the wake of the U.S. election, I needed an uplifting read so I picked up Michelle Obama’s biography. A former Washington Post national staffer, Slevin has a decade worth of experience writing about Barack and Michelle Obama and political campaigns. With top-notch reporting and an eye for detail, Slevin tracks Michelle Obama from her humble beginnings on Chicago’s segregated South Side to the halls of Princeton University and Harvard Law School to the corporate law firm where she met Barack to mentoring youth in her South Side neighbourhood to the White House. This beautifully written, engaging, thoughtful, revealing, and hopeful book deserves a spot on your reading list.

Notable: Hard Choices, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, The Glass Castle.