5 Books I Can’t Stop Recommending

This year has been an amazing reading year for me. I always have two or three books on the go. I’m trying to read 100 books by the end of 2016; I’ve read 60 books so far. Lately, I’ve found myself recommending the same books over and over to friends and strangers who quickly become friends.

When asked for recommendations, here are the 5 books that I keep coming back to…

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. Now, I’m counting down the days till the North American release of her new thriller, I See You in November.

The End of Your Life Book Club

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Schwalbe’s memoir has been on my reading list for ages and I finally read it back in the spring. When Mary Ann 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. They decide to read the same books and discuss them while Mary Ann waits for her chemo treatments. As a result, we learn just how important these books are to the bond between mother and son. I loved hearing about Mary Ann’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.

Inside the O'Briens cover

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Genova has written four novels; Inside the O’Briens is the first one I’ve 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.

Food and the City

Food and the City by Ina Yalof

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. I especially enjoyed the section on crowd feeding. 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!

Before the Fall

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

My Saturday plans took a backseat to finishing the newest thriller from the creator and writer of the hit TV series Fargo. On a foggy summer night, a New York-bound private jet carrying eleven passengers takes off from Martha’s Vineyard. Sixteen minutes later, the plane crashes into the ocean. Two passengers survive: a washed-up painter and a four-year-old boy. What follows is a twist-filled story of survival, the race to uncover the truth in the aftermath of the crash, the insatiable appetite of the public for information, and the lengths the news media will go to get the story. Hawley’s screenwriting prowess really shines through. A vivid, beautifully written, adrenaline rush of a read.

Which books would you highly recommend? I’d love to hear in comments!

Spring 2016 Reads

Spring is finally here! I’m excited about warmer, longer days and reading next to the lake or under a tree in the park.

This year’s spring reads were plucked from my list of 100 books I’m reading in 2016. I’ll be picking up books I’ve been meaning to read for years, books that come highly recommended by fellow book lovers, and a new spring release.

Here’s a look at the 15 books I can’t wait to get into this spring…

The Language of Flowers cover

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Diffenbaugh’s New York Times bestselling novel is way up there on my to-be-read list.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

The End of Your Life Book Club

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Schwalbe’s memoir has been on my reading list for a long time. After my cancer diagnosis a few years ago, I avoided all cancer books (fiction and non-fiction). I’ve recently gotten over my fear of reading cancer books after racing through Paul Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air. I’ve discovered that reading about cancer doesn’t affect me in the way I thought it would; it doesn’t leave me paralyzed with fear or keep me up at night. That’s a small victory.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Mary Anne Schwalbe was a renowned educator who filled such august positions as Director of Admissions at Harvard and Director of College Counseling at New York’s prestigious Dalton School. She also felt it incumbent upon herself to educate the less fortunate and spent the last 10 years of her life building libraries in Afghanistan. But her story here begins with a mocha, dispensed from a machine in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Over coffee, Will casually asks his mom what she’s been reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they mutually agree to read the same books and share them together as Mary Anne waits for her chemotherapy treatments. Their discussions reveal how books become increasingly important to the connection between a remarkable woman whose life is coming to a close, and a man becoming closer to his mom than ever before.

Love in Lowercase

Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles, translated by Julie Wark

In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, I spotted this romantic novel all over Instagram. Since reading my first book published in another language for the MMD 2015 Reading Challenge, I developed a deep love of translated books. Love in Lowercase is translated from Spanish and it looks like an utterly charming read.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: When Samuel, a lonely linguistics lecturer, wakes up on New Year’s Day, he is convinced that the year ahead will bring nothing more than passive verbs and un-italicized moments—until an unexpected visitor slips into his Barcelona apartment and refuses to leave. The appearance of Mishima, a stray, brindle-furred cat, becomes the catalyst that leads Samuel from the comforts of his favorite books, foreign films, and classical music to places he’s never been (next door) and to people he might never have met (a neighbor with whom he’s never exchanged a word). Even better, the Catalan cat leads him back to the mysterious Gabriela, whom he thought he’d lost long before, and shows him, in this international bestseller for fans of The Rosie Project, The Solitude of Prime Numbers, and The Guest Cat, that sometimes love is hiding in the smallest characters.

The House We Grew Up In cover

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Jewell’s New York Times bestselling novel has sat on my to-be-read list for about two years. This story of family and secrets strikes me as the perfect spring read.

Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: Meet the picture-perfect Bird family: pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and towheaded twins Rory and Rhys, one an adventurous troublemaker, the other his slighter, more sensitive counterpart. Their father is a sweet, gangly man, but it’s their beautiful, free-spirited mother Lorelei who spins at the center. In those early years, Lorelei tries to freeze time by filling their simple brick house with precious mementos. Easter egg foils are her favorite. Craft supplies, too. She hangs all of the children’s art, to her husband’s chagrin.

Then one Easter weekend, a tragedy so devastating occurs that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass and the children have become adults, while Lorelei has become the county’s worst hoarder. She has alienated her husband and children and has been living as a recluse. But then something happens that beckons the Bird family back to the house they grew up in—to finally understand the events of that long-ago Easter weekend and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

I started reading Ronson’s book last summer, but the timing just wasn’t right. Shaming on social media is something I’m pretty sure we can all relate to in some form or another. I think I’m in a better place to pick it up again.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: For the past three years, Jon Ronson has travelled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us – people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they’re being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job.

A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people’s faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.

Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws – and the very scary part we all play in it.

Lucky Us

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

I’ve never read any of Bloom’s novels and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Lucky Us. It sounds like the perfect book to read outdoors.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.

Blood, Bones and Butter cover

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

Gabrielle Hamilton’s beloved memoir has been sitting on my shelf for months and I’m feeling the urge to dive right in.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House: Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a prickly marriage that nonetheless yields lasting dividends. By turns epic and intimate, Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

This one came highly recommended by my local librarian.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife Maureen to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie–who is 600 miles away–because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die. So without hiking boots, rain gear, map or cell phone, one of the most endearing characters in current fiction begins his unlikely pilgrimage across the English countryside. Along the way, strangers stir up memories–flashbacks, often painful, from when his marriage was filled with promise and then not, of his inadequacy as a father, and of his shortcomings as a husband. Ironically, his wife Maureen, shocked by her husband’s sudden absence, begins to long for his presence. Is it possible for Harold and Maureen to bridge the distance between them? And will Queenie be alive to see Harold arrive at her door?

The Mountain Story cover

The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens

One of my 2016 reading goals is to read more Canadian authors. Lansens’ fast-paced thriller came highly recommended by one of my local librarians so I know it’s gonna be good!

Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: Four lost hikers are about to discover they’re capable of something extraordinary.

Nola has gone up the mountain to commemorate her wedding anniversary, the first since her beloved husband passed. Blonde, stick-thin Bridget is training for a triathalon. Vonn is working out her teenage rebellion at eight thousand feet, driven by family obligation and the urge to escape her mistakes. Still reeling from the tragic accident that robbed him of his best friend, Wolf Truly is the only experienced hiker among them, but he has come to the cliffs on his eighteenth birthday without food or supplies because he plans to take his own life.

When a series of missteps strands this unusual group together in the wilderness, they soon realize that their only defense against the brutality of nature is one another. As one day without rescue spirals dramatically into the next, and misadventure turns to nightmare, these four broken souls begin to form an inextricable bond, pushing themselves and one another further than they ever could have dreamed possible. The three who make it home alive will be forever changed by their harrowing days on the mountain.

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Girls, The Mountain Story is a fast-paced, suspenseful adventure and a gorgeous tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. Braving a landscape both unforgivingly harsh and breathtakingly beautiful, Nola, Bridget, Vonn, and Wolf find themselves faced with an impossible question: How much will they sacrifice for a stranger?

Tiny Little Thing

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams

Williams’ The Secret Life of Violet Grant was one of my absolute favourite reads in 2015 so I’m working my way through all her other books.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: In the summer of 1966, Christina “Tiny” Hardcastle stands on the brink of a breathtaking future. Unlike her spirited sisters, Tiny was the consummate well-behaved debutant, poised and picture-perfect, raised to serve as a consort to a great man. Now, as her handsome husband, Frank, runs for a Massachusetts seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, that long-sought destiny lies nearly within reach.

But behind her glamorous facade, Tiny’s flawless life is cracking. She and Frank both have secrets in their pasts that could shatter their political ambitions and the intricate truce of their marriage. So when two unwelcome visitors arrive at the Hardcastle family’s Cape Cod estate—Frank’s cousin Caspian, a Vietnam war hero who knows a thing or two about Tiny’s hidden past, and an envelope containing incriminating photographs—Tiny is forced into a reckless gamble against a house that always, always wins…

The Accident

The Accident by Chris Pavone

I became a huge Pavone fan after reading his debut thriller, The Expats last summer. I’ve been meaning to read his second novel for some time now.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House: As dawn approaches in New York, literary agent Isabel Reed is turning the final pages of a mysterious, anonymous manuscript, racing through the explosive revelations about powerful people, as well as long-hidden secrets about her own past. In Copenhagen, veteran CIA operative Hayden Gray, determined that this sweeping story be buried, is suddenly staring down the barrel of an unexpected gun. And in Zurich, the author himself is hiding in a shadowy expat life, trying to atone for a lifetime’s worth of lies and betrayals with publication of The Accident, while always looking over his shoulder.

Over the course of one long, desperate, increasingly perilous day, these lives collide as the book begins its dangerous march toward publication, toward saving or ruining careers and companies, placing everything at risk—and everyone in mortal peril.  The rich cast of characters—in publishing and film, politics and espionage—are all forced to confront the consequences of their ambitions, the schisms between their ideal selves and the people they actually became.

The action rockets around Europe and across America, with an intricate web of duplicities stretching back a quarter-century to a dark winding road in upstate New York, where the shocking truth about the accident itself is buried.

Saint Mazie

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg

This novel has been on my radar since before its release last summer. I had every intention of getting to it before the year ended, but it just never happened. I added it to the list of 100 books I’ll be reading in 2016 to keep myself accountable.

Synopsis from Hachette Book Group: Meet Mazie Phillips: big-hearted and bawdy, she’s the truth-telling proprietress of The Venice, the famed New York City movie theater. It’s the Jazz Age, with romance and booze aplenty–even when Prohibition kicks in–and Mazie never turns down a night on the town. But her high spirits mask a childhood rooted in poverty, and her diary, always close at hand, holds her dearest secrets.

When the Great Depression hits, Mazie’s life is on the brink of transformation. Addicts and bums roam the Bowery; homelessness is rampant. If Mazie won’t help them, then who? When she opens the doors of The Venice to those in need, this ticket taking, fun-time girl becomes the beating heart of the Lower East Side, and in defining one neighborhood helps define the city.

Then, more than ninety years after Mazie began her diary, it’s discovered by a documentarian in search of a good story. Who was Mazie Phillips, really? A chorus of voices from the past and present fill in some of the mysterious blanks of her adventurous life.

Inspired by the life of a woman who was profiled in Joseph Mitchell’s classic Up in the Old Hotel, SAINT MAZIE is infused with Jami Attenberg’s signature wit, bravery, and heart. Mazie’s rise to “sainthood”–and her irrepressible spirit–is unforgettable.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

This New York Times Notable Book is one of those books I can’t believe I haven’t read yet. It’s been recommended by so many people over the years and I’m glad I’ll finally be able to cross it off my list.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House: In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd, swept up by the tides of the Great Migration, flees Georgia and heads north. Full of hope, she settles in Philadelphia to build a better life. Instead she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment, and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins are lost to an illness that a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children, whom she raises with grit, mettle, and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them to meet a world that will not be kind. Their lives, captured here in twelve luminous threads, tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage—and a nation’s tumultuous journey.

Nightfall Over Shanghai

Nightfall Over Shanghai by Daniel Kalla

This winter, I raced through The Far Side of The Sky and Rising Sun, Falling Shadow. I can’t wait to dig into the third book in Kalla’s Shanghai series.

Synopsis from Macmillan Publishers: It’s 1944 and the Japanese are losing the war, but Shanghai is more dangerous than ever, particularly for the Adler family. After fleeing Nazi Europe, Dr. Franz Adler and his daughter, Hannah, have adjusted to life in their strange adopted city, but they are now imprisoned in the Shanghai Ghetto for refugee Jews.

Franz is compelled to work as a surgeon for the hated Japanese military, while his beloved Eurasian wife, Sunny, is recruited into a spy ring, providing crucial information to the Allies about the city’s port. Inadvertently, Hannah is drawn into the perilous operation, just as she also becomes drawn to the controversial Zionism movement.

After the Japanese launch a major new offensive against the Chinese, Franz is forced into the unthinkable: he is sent inland to work as a field doctor on the frontlines. There, he must contend with his tangled loyalties, aerial bombings overhead, and his uncertain feelings for a vulnerable Canadian nurse.

In 1945, American B-52s bomb Shanghai in strategic raids. While the war seems to be winding down in the Far East, many questions remain unanswered for the Adlers. As the bombers circle ominously overhead, they must now struggle for more than simple safety. For the first time in many war-riven years, they face the challenge of re-envisioning their lives, and the prospect of forging a hopeful path forward for the future-if they can first survive.

Alice & Oliver

Alice & Oliver by Charles Bock

While hunting for books coming out in 2016, I came across this spring release from the award-winner author.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: New York, 1993. Alice Culvert is a caring wife, a doting new mother, a loyal friend, and a soulful artist—a fashion designer who wears a baby carrier and haute couture with equal aplomb. In their loft in Manhattan’s gritty Meatpacking District, Alice and her husband, Oliver, are raising their infant daughter, Doe, delighting in the wonders of early parenthood.

Their life together feels so vital and full of promise, which makes Alice’s sudden cancer diagnosis especially staggering. In the span of a single day, the couple’s focus narrows to the basic question of her survival. Though they do their best to remain brave, each faces enormous pressure: Oliver tries to navigate a labyrinthine healthcare system and handle their mounting medical bills; Alice tries to be hopeful as her body turns against her. Bracing themselves for the unthinkable, they must confront the new realities of their marriage, their strengths as partners and flaws as people, how to nourish love against all odds, and what it means to truly care for another person.

What’s on your reading list this spring? I’d love to hear in the comments!

7 Canadian Authors I’m Reading in 2016

Canadian authors

Canada is known for its award-winning authors.

Last year, I set out to read more books written by Canadians and I am so happy I did. A bunch of Canadian-authored books landed on my list of favourites in 2015: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan, Still Life by Louise Penny, Room by Emma Donoghue, and They Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson.

Here’s a look at the 7 Canadian authors I’ll be reading for the first time this year…

The Plum Tree cover

The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Born and raised in Northern New York, Ellen Marie Wiseman now lives on the shores of Lake Ontario. I’ve been meaning to read her debut historical novel, The Plum Tree for over a year and I can’t wait to get started on it this weekend.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: “Bloom where you’re planted,” is the advice Christine Bölz receives from her beloved Oma. But seventeen-year-old domestic Christine knows there is a whole world waiting beyond her small German village. It’s a world she’s begun to glimpse through music, books–and through Isaac Bauerman, the cultured son of the wealthy Jewish family she works for.

Yet the future she and Isaac dream of sharing faces greater challenges than their difference in stations. In the fall of 1938, Germany is changing rapidly under Hitler’s regime. Anti-Jewish posters are everywhere, dissenting talk is silenced, and a new law forbids Christine from returning to her job–and from having any relationship with Isaac. In the months and years that follow, Christine will confront the Gestapo’s wrath and the horrors of Dachau, desperate to be with the man she loves, to survive–and finally, to speak out.

Set against the backdrop of the German homefront, this is an unforgettable novel of courage and resolve, of the inhumanity of war, and the heartbreak and hope left in its wake.

Other books: What She Left Behind, Coal River.

The Far Side of the Sky cover

The Far Side of the Sky: A Novel of Love and Death in Shanghai by Daniel Kalla

Emergency room doctor Daniel Kalla lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. I’ve heard nothing but good things about his wartime trilogy and I can’t wait to pick up the first book this winter.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: On November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht—the Nazis carry out a shocking attack upon the Jewish citizens of Germany and Austria. Franz Adler, a secular Austrian Jew and surgeon, is desperate to find safety for himself and his family, but, like others seeking to escape the Nazi threat, finds only closed doors at the embassies and consulates.

When Franz learns that European Jews are able to travel without a visa to Shanghai, the cosmopolitan “Paris of the East,” he and his family set off on a risky journey that will take them to an unknown future halfway around the world.

Weaving together political intrigue, romance and medical drama, The Far Side of the Sky brings to life an extraordinary chapter of Second World War history, when the cultures of Europe and Asia converged and heroic sacrifices were part of the everyday quest for survival. This sweeping account of a world in tumult is a moving, ultimately hopeful story about the value of family and courage in the darkest of times.

Other books: Rising Sun, Falling Shadow, Nightfall Over Shanghai, Pandemic, Rage Therapy.

The Mountain Story cover

The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens

I’m pretty excited to pick up this thriller from screenwriter-turned-novelist Lori Lansens. Born and raised in Chatham, Ontario and Toronto for twenty-five years, Lansens now lives in Santa Monica, California with her family.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: On his 18th birthday, Wolf Truly takes the tramway to the top of the mountain that looms over Palm Springs, intending to jump to his death. Instead he encounters strangers wandering in the mountain wilderness, three women who will change the course of his life. Through a series of missteps he and the women wind up stranded, in view of the city below, but without a way down. They endure five days in freezing temperatures without food or water or shelter, and somehow find the courage to carry on.

Wolf, now a grown man, has never told his son, or anyone, what happened on the mountain during those five days, but he can’t put it off any longer. And in telling the story to his only child, Daniel, he at last explores the nature of the ties that bind and the sacrifices people will make for love. The mountain still has a hold on Wolf, composed of equal parts beauty and terror.

Other books: Rush Home Road, The Wife’s Tale.

No Relation cover

No Relation by Terry Fallis

After my favourite bookstore employee declared his love for the bestselling author of five novels, I decided to give him a try. Born and raised in Toronto, Fallis is a writer and public relations consultant with a background in politics.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: This is the story of a young copywriter in New York City. He’s worked at the same agency for fifteen years, and with a recent promotion under his belt, life is good. Then, one morning this copywriter finds himself unceremoniously fired from his job, and after he catches his live-in girlfriend moving out of their apartment a couple hours later, he’s also single. Believe it or not, these aren’t the biggest problems in this copywriter’s life. There’s something bigger, something that has been haunting him his whole life, something that he’ll never be able to shake. Meet Earnest Hemmingway.

What’s in a name? Well, if you share your moniker with the likes of some of the most revered, infamous, and sometimes dreaded names in history, plenty. This is Earnest’s lifelong plight, but something more recent is on his plate: His father is pressuring him to come home and play an active role in running the family clothing business. And as a complex familial battle plays out, Earnest’s inherited name leads him in unexpected directions. Wry, clever, and utterly engaging, No Relation is Terry Fallis at the top of his form.

Other books: The Best Laid Plans, The High Road, Up and Down, Poles Apart.

Water for Elephants cover

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Gruen was born in Vancouver and currently lives in North Carolina.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Orphaned and penniless at the height of the Depression, Jacob Jankowski escapes everything he knows by jumping on a passing train―and inadvertently runs away with the circus. So begins Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen’s darkly beautiful tale about the characters who inhabit the less-than-greatest show on earth.

Jacob finds a place tending the circus animals, including a seemingly untrainable elephant named Rosie. He also comes to know Marlena, the star of the equestrian act―and wife of August, a charismatic but cruel animal trainer. Caught between his love for Marlena and his need to belong in the crazy family of travelling performers, Jacob is freed only by a murderous secret that will bring the big top down.

Other books: Riding Lessons, Flying Changes, Ape House, At the Water’s Edge.

Punishment cover

Punishment by Linden MacIntyre

Award-winning Canadian journalist and co-host of the CBC’s The Fifth Estate Linden MacIntyre was born in St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, grew up in Port Hastings, Cape Breton and now calls Toronto home.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Forced to retire early from his job as a corrections officer in Kingston Penitentiary, Tony Breau has limped back to the village where he grew up to lick his wounds, only to find that Dwayne Strickland, a young con he’d had dealings with in prison is back there too–and once again in trouble. Strickland has just been arrested following the suspicious death of a teenage girl, the granddaughter of Caddy Stewart, Tony’s first love.

Tony is soon caught in a fierce emotional struggle between the outcast Strickland and the still alluring Caddy. And then another figure from Tony’s past, the forceful Neil Archie MacDonald–just retired in murky circumstances from the Boston police force–stokes the community’s anger and suspicion and an irresistible demand for punishment. As Tony struggles to resist the vortex of vigilante action, Punishment builds into a total page-turner that blindsides you with twists and betrayals.

Other books: The Long Stretch, The Bishop’s Man, Why Men Lie.

The Reason You Walk cover

The Reason You Walk: A Memoir by Wab Kinew

First Nations broadcaster, musician, and activist Wab Kinew lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I can’t wait to read this moving and important memoir for the ‘a book recommended by your local bookseller’ category of this year’s MMD Reading Challenge.

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.

Have you read any of my picks? Who’s your favourite Canadian author?

The 100 Books I’m Reading in 2016

2016 reading list

For 2016, my goal is to read more good books.

On a daily basis, I discover so many books that spark my curiosity. I spot them on the MMD 2016 Reading Challenge board or the Best Bets section at the library. So when it came time to put together my list of 100 books, I found it unbelievably challenging. I kept changing my mind, but I’m finally satisfied with my picks. I’ll be crossing books off the list as I go along. Here’s my 2016 reading list…

Tales from the Back Row cover

Tales from the Back Row by Amy Odell
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Descent by Tim Johnston
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla
Stay Up With Me: Stories by Tom Barbash
Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede & Jessica Posner
Punishment by Linden MacIntyre
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

When Breath Becomes Air cover

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre
The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
The Scapegoat by Sophia Nikolaidou, translated by Karen Emmerich
Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova
Spin by Catherine McKenzie

What Alice Forgot cover

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty [Release Date: July 26, 2016]
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand [Release Date: June 14, 2016]
Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm
If I Forget You by Thomas Christopher Greene [Release Date: June 14, 2016]
Rising Sun, Falling Shadow by Daniel Kalla
Nightfall Over Shanghai by Daniel Kalla

Homegoing

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi [Release Date: June 7, 2016]
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Find Her by Lisa Gardner [Release: February 9, 2016]
The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner
When in French by Lauren Collins [Release Date: September 13, 2016]
The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst [Release Date: August 9, 2016]
The Shell Collector: Stories by Anthony Doerr
The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
Alice & Oliver by Charles Bock [Release Date: April 5, 2016]
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

the-mothers

The Mothers by Brit Bennett [Release Date: October 11, 2016]
Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles, translated by Julie Wark [Release date: January 26, 2016]
No One Knows by J. T. Ellison [Release Date: March 22, 2016]
Michelle Obama: A Life by Peter Slevin
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America by Michael Ruhlman
My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Good as Gone by Amy Gentry [Release Date: July 26, 2016]
Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams
A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

I Let You Go

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
I See You by Clare Mackintosh
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders

Faithful by Alice Hoffman
In the Woods by Tana French
Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney
Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes
Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice by Todd Henry
Dear Carolina by Kristy Woodson Harvey
The Accident by Chris Pavone
The Travelers by Chris Pavone

Before the Fall

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley [Release Date: May 31, 2016]
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
Gold by Chris Cleave
Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down by Anne Valente [Release Date: October 4, 2016]

I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Internal Medicine: A Doctor’s Stories by Terrence Holt
Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
Lydia’s Party by Margaret Hawkins
Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney
All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker [Release Date: July 12, 2016]
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Food and the City

Food and the City by Ina Yalof [Release Date: May 31, 2016]
The House We Grew Up in by Lisa Jewell
The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell [Release Date: June 7, 2016]
Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah & Skye Chatham
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena [Release Date: August 23, 2016]
Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy
The Nix by Nathan Hill [Release Date: August 30, 2016]
These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf
The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf
One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta by Jen Lin-Liu

Which books are you most excited to read in 2016? I’d love to hear in comments.

Happy Weekend + Links I Love

En route to the airport

Happy weekend, friends. How was your first week of 2016? I made a short list of doable goals and I’m already taking steps to achieve them. I hope to read 100 books this year so I joined the 2016 MMD Reading Challenge for motivation and inspiration. I’ve got 3 books on the go at the moment. I’m also making good on my promise to stay active, so tomorrow I’m going to my first ballet class of the year. I am really looking forward to it.

It’s a rainy weekend here in Toronto. Seriously, where is the snow? Tonight, I’ve got a date with my couch and I’ll be catching up on season 3 of Homeland. Which TV shows are you watching lately? I hope you have a wonderful weekend! Here’s a roundup of my favourite links this week…

+ This NY Times Op-Ed piece had me sniffling: My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow. Do not read in public.

+ Also, I added the moving memoir: When Breath Becomes Air to my reading list this week. It’s out on Tuesday, January 12. Here’s the New York Times review.

+ Exploring New Zealand: A photographer’s journey across 15, 500 miles. Johan Lolos on how his photographer friends inspired him to work harder to get the best shots: “They taught me to chase the soft light, to seek for contrasts, to actually hike a few hours to get a perfect shot from the top of a mountain.”

+ Bookmarking The Tig’s great insider’s guide to Reykjavik.

+ The search for the perfect bone broth recipe has ended. Bone broth 101.

+ Last year, one of my goals was to finally learn French. It didn’t happen. But Victoria’s post on how to learn a language (when you’re an adult) inspired me to just. do. it. in 2016!

+ Spreading kindness: I found out about the Bystander Revolution thanks to the very informative piece, Stop the Social Savagery in this month’s issue of Glamour magazine. Have you heard of it?

+ This week’s favourites from my Instagram feed: the frozen custard sign from @jjbegonia and this breathtaking shot from @george_byrne.

+ In case you missed it, I narrowed down my MMD 2016 Reading Challenge picks and shared them in a post this week. I’m starting with my ‘book you can read in a day’ pick, Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan.

Winter reading update:

This week, I finished my first read of 2016: 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino and I can’t stop talking about it. The story is set in Philadelphia on a snowy Christmas Eve Eve. I fell in love with each character, especially spunky nine-year-old Madeleine Altimari. An utterly charming, witty, moving, surprised-filled read that belongs on your list.

Still making my way through Tales from the Back Row by Amy Odell.

On Wednesday, I started The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith and I am loving every minute of it.

After much deliberation, I finally picked up What Alice Forgot and I am really enjoying it. I can’t believe it took me this long to read it.

What do you hope to accomplish in 2016?

(Photo snapped en route to LaGuardia. Missing New York.)

My Picks: 2016 MMD Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge

Last January, I promised myself I’d read 50 books by the end of 2015.

The MMD reading challenge motivated me to reach that goal. Recommendations from fellow book lovers on Pinterest helped me find incredible books to read and clever challenge categories like ‘a book originally written in a different language’ inspired me to pick up books I wouldn’t usually read. By New Year’s Eve, I’d read 57 books!

This year, I’m aiming for 100 books. One of my goals this year is to read more good books. Given the success with last year’s challenge, I joined the 2016 MMD reading challenge and I’m super excited about the new challenge categories. (pictured above)

If you’re looking to read more in 2016, I highly recommend jumping on board. It’s simple, a ton of fun, and totally worth your while—just read 12 books from 12 different categories in 12 months. I spent a few days pinning books that fit into each category for me and narrowing down my list (a challenge in itself given the number of books in circulation and my extremely long TBR list). Without further adieu, here are my challenge picks…

When Breath Becomes Air cover

A book published this year

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This memoir comes out next Tuesday, January 12th. I’m pretty sure it’s incredibly moving and beautifully written like his NY Times Op-Ed piece, How Long Have I Got Left?

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Last Night at the Lobster cover

A book you can finish in a day

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

I’ve been meaning to read O’Nan for years and this little book sounds like the perfect place to start.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: The Red Lobster perched in the far corner of a run-down New England mall hasn’t been making its numbers and headquarters has pulled the plug. But manager Manny DeLeon still needs to navigate a tricky last shift with a near-mutinous staff. All the while, he’s wondering how to handle the waitress he’s still in love with, what to do about his pregnant girlfriend, and where to find the present that will make everything better.

A Spy Among Friends cover

A book you’ve been meaning to read

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Master storyteller Ben Macintyre’s thrillingly ambitious A Spy Among Friends tackles the greatest spy story of all: the rise and fall of Kim Philby, MI6’s Cambridge-bred golden boy who used his perch high in the intelligence world to betray friend and country to the Soviet Union for over two decades.

In Macintyre’s telling, Philby’s story is not a tale of one spy, but of three: the story of his complex friendships with fellow Englishman operative Nicholas Elliott and with the American James Jesus Angleton, who became one of the most powerful men in the CIA. These men came up together, shared the same background, went to the same schools and clubs, and served the same cause–or so Elliott and Angleton thought. In reality, Philby was channeling all of their confidences directly to his Soviet handlers, sinking almost every great Anglo-American spy operation for twenty years. Even as the web of suspicion closed around him, and Philby was driven to greater lies and obfuscations to protect his secret, Angleton and Elliott never abandoned him. When Philby’s true master was finally revealed with his defection to Moscow in 1963, it would have profound and devastating consequences on these men who thought they knew him best, and the intelligence services they helped to build.

The Reason You Walk cover

A book recommended by your local bookseller

The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew

I always get such great recommendations from my local bookseller. Last summer, I read (and loved) The Expats by Chris Pavone thanks to a recommendation from my favourite bookstore employee. I also added Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich to this year’s winter reading list after a bookstore employee raved about it. So when I asked my favourite bookstore employee for her latest favourite read and she raved about this one, I trusted I was in good hands.

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: A moving father-son reconciliation told by a charismatic First Nations broadcaster, musician and activist.

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.

Jane Eyre cover

A book you should have read in school

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Charlotte Brontë’s first published novel, Jane Eyre was immediately recognized as a work of genius when it appeared in 1847. Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. How she takes up the post of governess at Thornfield Hall, meets and loves Mr Rochester and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage are elements in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than that traditionally accorded to her sex in Victorian society.

Love in the Time of Cholera cover

A book chosen for you by your BFF

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

One of my closest friends recommended this one from the late Colombian novelist many, many years ago. For some reason, I keep putting off reading it.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs–yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.

The Great Gatsby cover

A book published before you were born

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I can’t believe I haven’t read this beloved classic before. This category gave me the push to finally add it to my list! It was published on April 10, 1925.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

Their Eyes Were Watching God cover

A book that was banned at some point

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.

Brain on Fire cover

A book you previously abandoned

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

I just realized how many books I’ve abandoned over the years! But Cahalan’s memoir stood out to me as the one that really deserves to be read in its entirety this year. This book really gripped me and I remember reaching three-quarters of the way through before my fear took over. Books on medical conditions scare me and keep me up at night.

Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity.

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.

The Scapegoat cover

A book you own but have never read

The Scapegoat by Sophia Nikolaidou, translated by Karen Emmerich

Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: In 1948, the body of an American journalist is found floating in the bay off Thessaloniki. A small-time Greek journalist is tried and convicted for the murder…but when he’s released twelve years later, he claims his confession was the result of torture.

Flash forward to contemporary Greece, where a rebellious young high school student is given an assignment for a school project: find the truth. And as he begrudgingly takes it on, he begins to make a startling series of gripping discoveries–about history, love, and even his own family’s involvement.

Based on the real story of famed CBS reporter George Polk—journalism’s prestigious Polk Awards were named after him—The Scapegoat is a sweeping saga that brings together the Greece of the post-World War II era with the Greece of today, a country facing dangerous times once again.

Inside the O'Briens cover

A book that intimidates you

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

I tend to stay away from books dealing with medical conditions. But so many people have recommended this one to me since it came out that I figured it’s worth a try.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.

Spin cover

A book you’ve already read at least once

Spin by Catherine McKenzie

I read Catherine McKenzie’s debut novel years ago. It’s a laugh-out-loud funny page-turner and I finished it in less than 48 hours. A fun read with substance. Definitely one of my favourites over the years.

Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Katie Sandford has just gotten an interview at her favourite music magazine, The Line. It’s the chance of a lifetime. So what does she do? Goes out to celebrate — and shows up still drunk at the interview. No surprise, she doesn’t get the job, but the folks at The Line think she might be perfect for another assignment for their sister gossip rag. All Katie has to do is follow It Girl Amber Sheppard into rehab. If she can get the inside scoop (and complete the 30-day program without getting kicked out), they’ll reconsider her for the job at The Line.

Katie takes the job. But things get complicated when real friendships develop, a cute celebrity handler named Henry gets involved, and Katie begins to realize she may be in rehab for a reason. Katie has to make a decision — is publishing the article worth everything she has to lose?

What are your reading goals this year? Have you ever done a reading challenge? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

My Favourite Reads of 2015

Favourite 2015 Reads

For me, this year was the year of reading. It was the year I quit saying, “I don’t have time to read” and found myself saying, “I just can’t read enough”.

Back in January, I joined the MMD 2015 reading challenge and it gave me the push I needed to step out of my comfort zone. I am a hardcore reader of memoirs, so it was refreshing to try out genres I wouldn’t normally pick up (short story collections, science fiction, and translated books). I also crossed a bunch of books I’ve been meaning to read for years off my list. That was an incredible feeling.

At the beginning of each season, I shared my reading lists here on the blog which helped keep me accountable. I am currently reading my 57th book of the year!

While I read a ton of really good books, I thought I’d share the ones I can’t stop recommending to everyone. Without further adieu, my favourites of 2015…

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

I picked up Kimberly McCreight’s debut novel on the recommendation of my favourite bookstore employee. I raced through this sublimely crafted thriller in just a few days. The story: Successful lawyer and single mom, Kate receives a shocking phone call from her daughter’s private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Amelia, an overachiever and all-around good girl has been suspended for cheating. Kate rushes to the school and upon arrival, learns that Amelia is dead. The police rule Amelia’s death a suicide, but Kate refuses to believe it. When Kate receives an anonymous text saying: Amelia didn’t jump, she sets out to learn the truth by piecing together the final days of her daughter’s life. A perfectly paced and brilliantly written debut from my new favourite author.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Doerr won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his stunning second novel and it was well deserved. I read this beautifully-written historical novel back in February. I am a pretty fast reader, but this one begged me to slow down and savour the exquisitely drawn images of the walled port city of Saint-Malo. Doerr quickly became one of my favourite authors and I’ve made it my mission to read everything he’s written. Back in the spring, I picked up his memoir, Four Seasons in Rome and highly recommend checking it out! His debut novel, About Grace is next on my list.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

I picked up Rachman’s debut novel thanks to its gorgeous cover and glowing reviews. I just couldn’t turn the pages quick enough; I read it in two days. The story follows a struggling small English-language newspaper in Rome and the private lives of its reporters, editors, and executives. While each chapter reads like a short story that could stand on its own, I appreciated the way in which Rachman seamlessly intertwined each character’s story. A smartly-executed, beautifully written book that you will keep coming back to.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

I read Shipstead’s Astonish Me in the spring and fell in love with her beautiful writing. The story centres around Joan, a wife and mother trying to forget her past and settle into suburban life. Her past involves a career as a ballerina in Paris and a passionate romance with Soviet dance superstar Arslan Rusakov. When her son turns out to be a ballet prodigy, Joan is thrust back into the world she thought she’d left behind. A well-told, meticulously researched look behind the curtains at the demanding, and sometimes dark world of professional ballet.

They Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson

This memoir came highly recommended by Jim at my neighbourhood bookstore. At first, I was concerned it would be too much of a heavy read for me, but I found myself laughing throughout. While this is a well-told story about family, grief, and letting go, the main character is the house itself. Johnson does an incredible job of bringing the 23-room house to life. As I read, I couldn’t help but view the house as a living, breathing thing. A funny, heartwarming family memoir that’s not to be missed.

Keep it Shut: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Say Nothing at All by Karen Ehman

This book found me just when I needed it most. In her bestselling book, Ehman explores speech, the power of the tongue, gossip (what it is and what it isn’t), and how to be a better listener. She shares personal anecdotes about how her tongue has gotten her into trouble over the years and draws attention to Bible verses—specifically from the Book of Proverbs—on speech and watching our words. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and with each turn of the page, I felt convicted in ways I never thought possible. I made a ton of notes on each topic in my journal and I return to them often. I’ve been passing this one along to friends all year long. A no-nonsense, relatable, and life-changing read that I keep recommending.

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

I read Toibin’s bestselling novel for the ‘a book I chose because of the cover’ category in the MMD reading challenge and fell hopelessly in love. It’s the gorgeously-told coming-of-age story of Eilis Lacey, a young woman from the small Irish town of Enniscorthy who lands a job in Brooklyn, New York and leaves her family and everything she has ever known behind. Upon arrival in the unfamiliar city, Eilis is greeted by a nosy landlord and jealous roommates. An absorbing read about longing for home, learning to navigate the unknown, and falling in love.

The Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis

I read this hot summer 2015 release back in August and it’s not your typical beach read. Every summer, the Heringtons gather at their summer house in Cape Cod. And this summer is no different. The Herington girls, their husbands, kids, and divorced mother and father are all eager to leave their personal problems behind and enjoy the sun, sea, and salt air. But what they’re running away from only ends up catching up with them that much sooner. An incredibly well-written, very relatable, poignant, and funny book about the bond between three sisters and the messiness of family relationships.

The Other Language by Francesca Marciano

One of my reading goals for 2015 was to give short stories a chance. I picked this collection because of all the praise it received from fellow authors and I was not disappointed. Reading this collection was like taking a trip around the world minus the busy airports, long wait times, and overstuffed luggage. In no particular order, my favourite stories are “Quantum Theory”, “Chanel”, “Presence of Men”, and “Roman Romance”. I’m so happy I took the leap. If you’re thinking about giving short stories a try, Marciano’s collection would be a good jumping off point.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

I picked this novel for the ‘book I’ve been meaning to read’ category of the reading challenge. I finally read it over the summer after so many people raved about it. I absolutely loved Valentine’s retelling of the fairytale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Set in Prohibition-era New York, it’s the tale of a father who desperately wants a male heir, but his wife keeps having girls—12 in all. He keeps them hidden away from the world in the upper rooms of his Manhattan townhouse. But as they grow older, the house can’t contain them any longer. Under the leadership of the eldest sister Jo, the girls sneak out late at night to go dancing at Manhattan speakeasies. I read this one in less than a week.

Small Mercies by Eddie Joyce

Joyce’s debut was my pick for the ‘a book published this year’ category of the MMD Reading Challenge. The story takes place over a week, ten years after the 9/11 attacks. It zeroes in on an Italian-Irish American family living on Staten Island and how each family member struggles to come to grips with the loss of the youngest son, Bobby—a firefighter. A moving portrait of grief, holding on and letting go, and the complexities of familial relationships. I am so glad I read this beautiful book and I shared my love on Twitter and Joyce made my week when he replied to my tweet! I can’t wait to see what he comes with next.

Room by Emma Donoghue

I picked up Donoghue’s bestselling novel when it first came out in 2010, but I only made it halfway through back then. The adaptation premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and won the highly coveted 2015 Grolsch People’s Choice Award. I vowed to pick up the book again before going to see the movie. This time around the unforgettable story of five-year-old Jack and his Ma and every minute they spend locked up in a backyard shed stirred up so many emotions. I laughed, I felt sad, I felt angry, I felt hopeful. Donoghue’s decision to tell the story through Jack’s eyes worked brilliantly. While she grapples with tough issues like kidnapping and rape, at its heart, this is a gripping novel about a mother’s resourcefulness and fierce love for her son, the power of imagination, and surviving against all odds. One of the best books I’ve read in years.

Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin

Jess Dunne is third generation Hollywood trying to make her mark in Tinseltown while juggling her job as a personal assistant, her estranged mother who shows up uninvited on her doorstep, and her actress best friend. While this one made me laugh a lot, it has its touching moments. A glaring look at life in Tinseltown—those on the inside and those on the outside doing everything they can to get in. I appreciated all the spot-on Hollywood references. Friendly warning: this one contains a smattering of colourful language.

Benediction by Kent Haruf

Benediction is the first novel I’ve read by the late author. Haruf weaves an incredibly moving story about death, life, compassion, family, neighbours, and friendship in a small town. Set out on the high plains of Holt, Colorado the story centres on Dad Lewis who is recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. His wife, Mary and daughter Lorraine lovingly care for him at home. The gorgeous setting and stunning writing makes this read a great one to curl up with. I’ve added his debut novel, Plain Song to my must-read list.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams

I read a ton of historical fiction this year and this novel was one of my favourites. Williams skillfully whisks us between 1964 Manhattan and 1914 Berlin. When twenty-something Vivian Schuyler receives a battered suitcase in the mail, its contents shuttle her back into her family’s past, and the crime of passion of an aunt she never knew. Violet Schuyler Grant endures her marriage to her cheating husband, the brilliant and older scientist Dr. Walter Grant. But when Dr. Grant’s former student, Lionel Grant enters the picture, he challenges her to leave her husband. As Vivian delves deeper into her aunt’s past and unravels the mystery of her ultimate fate, Violet’s incredible story teaches Vivian to fight for her future and what she desires most. This stunningly executed novel is filled with secrets, ambition, romance, intrigue, and an incredibly surprising ending.

Notable reads: The Knockoff, My Salinger Year, The Painted Girls, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, Me Before You, Delicious!, Queen Sugar.

Which books did you love in 2015? I’d love to hear in comments.

Summer Reads 2015

Summer is made for reading.

And with a mountain of books at our disposal, deciding what to pick up next can prove daunting at times. Back in May, I finally got a library card and in preparation for this season’s reading list, I checked out tons of books and gave them a test run. Generally, one chapter in, I know whether a book is worth my time or not.

To welcome summer with a splash, I’m sharing the books I can’t wait to dive into — books by popular authors I’ve never read before, titles that have sat on my to-be-read list for ages as well as a couple of hot new summer releases.

the other language

The Other Language by Francesca Marciano (2014)

Hailed by critics as “moving”, “suspenseful”, “astonishing” and “sublimely crafted”, the Rome-born author’s collection of nine short stories transports us around the world – from a summer holiday escape in a Greek village to the film festival in Venice to the tiny southern Italian village of Andrano to a dance community in India. Marciano’s stories centre on characters stepping outside their comfort zones and finding new passions.

Review: “This outstanding book has a quality I find only in the best collections: that after each chapter I cannot immediately flip to the next but need time to absorb what has just unfolded so memorably before me.” — Tom Rachman, bestselling author of The Imperfectionists

the new yorkers

The New Yorkers by Cathleen Schine (2007)

I’ve never read anything by the bestselling author, so I decided to start with her seventh novel. Inspired by her account in The New Yorker of adopting a troubled dog named Buster, this novel is a story of neighbours overcoming shyness, making unexpected connections, and falling in and out of love. Schine introduces us to five lonely New Yorkers living on the same Manhattan block whose paths intersect thanks to their four-legged friends.

Review: ‘There’s plenty of unexpected romance, but it would be a mistake to think that this is merely a love story about dogs or their people. It’s really about Schine’s love for the city that contains them – a Manhattan of the not-so-distant past… A rich snapshot of urban life.” — Time Out (New York)

daring greatly

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (2012)

Dr. Brené Brown has spent the last thirteen years studying human connection; with a focus on vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. After watching, loving and sharing her popular TED talks on the power of vulnerability and listening to shame, I decided there is no better time than now to pick up Daring Greatly. In her widely popular book, Brown challenges us to embrace vulnerability and imperfection, to be brave and to engage with our whole hearts.

Review: “Will draw readers in and have them considering what steps they would dare to take if shame and fear were not present.” — Publishers Weekly

It's What I Do

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario (2015)

Lynsey Addario’s work has appeared in National Geographic, Time Magazine and The New York Times (her photo of a Syrian child bride who left an abusive marriage has never left my mind). She has covered conflicts from Afghanistan to the Congo. In her memoir, the award-winning photojournalist conveys the role of gender, how she set out to prove herself in a male-dominated profession and how motherhood has helped her on the job.

Review: “Addario has written a page-turner of a memoir describing her war coverage and why and how she fell into—and stayed in—such a dangerous job.” — Booklist

the expats

The Expats by Chris Pavone (2012)

I picked up Pavone’s debut spy thriller last week and it’s been my constant travel companion. Meet Kate Moore: a woman bent on forgetting her past. So when her husband Dexter gets offered a contract from a private overseas bank, they move their family from Washington, D.C. to Luxembourg. Wife, mother and now, expat; Kate’s schedule is filled with coffee mornings and playdates. But she is also hiding a life-defining secret—one that’s become so unbearable that it begins to unravel her newly established expat life.

Review: “Expertly and intricately plotted, with a story spiraling into disaster and a satisfyingly huge amount of double-crossing, The Expats certainly doesn’t feel like a first novel.” — Guardian (London)

The Knockoff

The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza (2015)

When Imogen Tate, 42-year-old editor in chief of Glossy magazine walks into her office after a six-month hiatus, she barely recognizes her own magazine. She discovers that her ambitious 26-year-old former assistant Eve Morton is back – armed with an MBA from Harvard and a business plan to reduce her magazine to an app! The Knockoff turns the spotlight on the ever-changing world of fashion in the digital age.

Review: “Jo Piazza and Lucy Sykes’ compulsively readable corner office drama, The Knockoff, [is] summer’s juiciest beach read.” — Elle.com

eight hundred grapes

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (2015)

In her brand new summer release, Dave explores the messy realities of familial and romantic relationships. A week before her wedding, thirty-year-old Georgia Ford finds out her fiancé has been keeping secrets. As she’s always done: Georgia escapes to her family’s gorgeous Sonoma County vineyard, expecting the comfort of her long-married parents and her brothers. But to her surprise, her fiancé isn’t the only one who’s been keeping her in the dark.

Review: “Laura Dave paints Sonoma County and its inhabitants with both warmth and smarts in this delicious novel. Eight Hundred Grapes is fun and thought-provoking, and is guaranteed to make you deeply thirsty for some Pinot Noir.” — Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author of The Vacationers

the painted girls

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan (2012)

Buchanan’s novel, set in late-19th century Paris, tells the heart-wrenching tale of two young sisters struggling to escape the slums through the magic of ballet. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their world flipped upside down. Without his wages and their mother squandering the small amount she earns, the girls have no choice but to find work. Marie is sent to the Paris Opera where she will be trained to enter the famous ballet while her older sister, Antoinette lands a part as a laundress in Emile Zola’s naturalist play L’Assommoir.

Review: “The ethereal ballerina from Degas’s famed sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen comes to life in this richly imagined novel. Amid the glamour of tutus and art emerges a surprisingly gritty story of survival in the gutters of Belle Epoque Paris.” — Entertainment Weekly

my salinger year

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff (2014)

With dreams of becoming a poet, Rakoff moves to New York City and lands a job as assistant to J.D. Salinger’s literary agent. She paints a vivid portrait of literary New York in the late nineties, a world where Dictaphones and typewriters rule. Faced with the task of answering Salinger’s fan mail, Rakoff finds herself sucked into the emotional world of Salinger’s fans. She abandons the agency’s decades-old form response, starts writing back, and finds her own voice by acting as Salinger’s.

Review: “Here is the story of a reader becoming a writer, of a young woman deciding who she will be, of the power of books.” — Maggie Shipstead, author of Seating Arrangements

The girls at the kingfisher club

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine (2014)

“By 1927 there were twelve girls who danced all night and never gave names, but by then the men had given up asking and called them all Princess.” And so begins Valentine’s retelling of the fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses. In jazz-era New York City, Joseph Hamilton, bitter over not having a male heir (his wife produced girls; twelve in all) keeps his daughters locked away in the upper rooms of his Fifth Avenue townhouse. Jo, the oldest of the twelve, mothers them, teaches them how to dance and gives the signal each night as they sneak out and escape to Manhattan’s underground speakeasies. Together, the girls elude their distant and controlling father, until he announces his plans to marry them all off.

Review: “But even more than the characters, their voices or the sharp, quiet slicing of the understated prose, what I loved about this book was its own tense dance with its source materials.” — NPR

the oyster catcher

The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas (2013)

In her award-winning debut novel (a runaway bestseller in ebook), Thomas introduces us to Fiona Clutterbuck. On her wedding night, Fiona finds herself alone in the Irish coastal town of Dooleybridge. After abandoning her new husband right after saying “I do”, Fi realizes she can’t go back. So she seizes the opportunity to work for Sean Thornton, the local oyster farmer. A romantic, feel-good adventure on the Irish coast.

Review: “A world you long to live in with characters you love.” — Katie Fforde

the summer of good intentions

The Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis (2015)

At the heart of Wendy Francis’ latest novel lies the love that brings family together and the secrets that tear them apart. The Herington girls — Maggie, Jess and Virgie, along with their newly-divorced parents,  husbands and kids meet up at the family’s house in Cape Cod for their annual summer getaway. The sisters are counting on this seaside vacation to wash away their personal problems. But an accident reveals a new secret that brings the family together in heartbreak and healing.

I’d love to hear what you’re reading this summer in the comments.

3 Great Reads for a Winter Getaway

I’ve long since strayed from my winter reading list. It was bound to happen given all the exciting new-to-me books I discover every day thanks to the MMD Reading Challenge and frequent trips to the bookstore. Here are 3 reads I’ve picked up recently that would make the perfect companion on a winter getaway…The ImperfectionistsThe Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

I came across Rachman’s debut novel while browsing the used bookstore in my neighbourhood. Filled with beautiful and imaginative writing, this debut centers on a struggling English-language newspaper in Rome. Each chapter focuses on a different staffer; each swept away by his or her own personal drama. As the story unfolds, we learn more about the founding of the paper by millionaire Cyrus Ott and how the paper has fared while being passed down from generation to generation.

I breezed through it in two days. Three-quarters of the way through the book, I purposely slowed down in an effort to keep the story going longer. Unforgettable characters, gorgeous prose and a story that will never leave me. I’ll be re-reading this one for years to come.

eat pray loveEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

In her gorgeously written, hilarious and heartbreaking memoir, Gilbert embarks on a year-long journey of self-discovery following the breakdown of her marriage. She explores the art of pleasure in Italy, moves into an ashram and learns the art of prayer in India and seeks to balance the two in Bali.

If you love to travel, love reading about travel or love reading about finding love while traveling, then this one’s for you.

Defending JacobDefending Jacob by William Landay

I discovered this one thanks to The MMD Reading Challenge. Defending Jacob is more than just a legal thriller, it’s the story of an ordinary couple faced with the possibility that the child they raised might not be who they think he is. Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber lives with his wife Laurie and teenaged son Jacob in the small town of Newton. One spring morning, their suburb is rocked by a shocking crime: a fourteen-year-old boy stabbed to death in a local park. Even more shocking: the accused is Andy’s son Jacob.

Landay treats us to a compelling plot, convincing dialogue, non-stop suspense, and perfectly crafted and memorable characters. He kept me guessing from the opening chapter right up until the skillfully executed, “I never saw that coming” finale.

What have you been reading lately?