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!

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.