Too Much To Read

One half of the TBR stack

Over the many years that I’ve been reading, now and then I get a restless feeling. I wander around the house aimlessly. I try to concentrate on the television. I know what’s wrong but I Hate to spend that money. I know I’ll give in eventually (twist my rubber arm, why don’t you?). I have nothing to read! That means either a bookstore visit where the staff all run outside to greet me warmly or a trip to the library. They know me there, too.

My parents were readers and both of them would trade books with relatives and friends and they read to us all the time as we grew up. Thanks for that. I mean it. I can’t imagine life without reading. In fact, I’ve always been one to have more than one book on the go at any given time, one or two fictions and a non-fiction that I can pick up and put down when I’m in the mood for it. Now that I’ve more or less gone digital, I juggle four books on a regular basis. One of those is often a real paper book which I’ll read in bed at night. Sometimes the stack of paper books by the bed may contain two or three books depending on whether someone has lent me one or I’ve come across one I wanted on sale.

Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve set up my library card to be able to take advantage of borrowing ebooks through the Overdrive app (or the Libby app, just test driving that one now). I browse the virtual stacks for books that have been reccommended via CanadianContent on Goodreads or on best seller lists and place them on a wishlist or put a hold on them. I’ve joined Netgalley where you can also read upcoming releases for free if you are chosen (it’s kind of like a lottery) and you should write a review for the book in exchange. There’s a short window of opportunity to get accepted for the Netgalley, they don’t keep the copies forever. Check out this paragraph. Putting a hold on a book means it will get checked out to me and that could mean multiple books at the same time for the library or Netgalley,with a limited time to read them.

You guessed it. I currently have three books on my ereader or phone app, with at least two others I had started. I hate to drop the books I “won” as much as I hate to *not* finish.

In addition to the ebooks, I got a big, thick Ken Follet for Christmas that I’m picking away at. My Christmas gifts also include $50 gift card which I have used. Twice.

The other half of the TBR stack

I now have too much to read.

I’m going to have to put them into priority order and concentrate on the temporary files, the library and NetGalley books plus the hard back one. The photos for this post are the growing stack of paper books that are on my night table. Normally my ereader is laying across the top with my reading glasses. I confess there is another stack of paperbacks that I borrowed from a cousin who discovered I liked the author and I think there’s at least one more biography floating around that my mother gave me. I’m ignoring the stack of travel magazines for another blog post.

That TBR pile is fairly diverse between semi-classic (20th century), fantasy, historical fiction and modern fiction.

The Ken Follett book is A Column of Fire, his latest in the “Kingsbridge” series that started with Pillars of the Earth. Loved that book, liked the next one and am liking this one quite a lot as well even though it’s based far less in Kingswood than the other two were.

The Beguiled by Thomas Cullinan is in the heap because I really like the Clint Eastwood movie made of it in the 1970s. I didn’t realize it was based on a book. It’s been remade with that little Irish actor with the intense eyebrows…Colin Farrell, that’s him. I haven’t seen it yet, but somehow I have a feeling I will remain faithful to Clint Eastwood.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende was recommended by my Aunt Denise when we were browsing a superb second hand bookstore in Sidney, British Columbia called The Haunted Bookstore. I have heard about Isabel Allende for a long time, with high hopes, I’ve decided to take the leap.

Six of Crows is the first of two fantasy books by Leigh Bardugo. I like a bit of science fiction and fantasy now and then and this looked interesting. It also has a feeling of Guardians of the Galaxy about it. Could be fun.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Sometimes I really enjoy the book behind a movie, they always have more detail about the characters and back-plot.

Muriel Sparks wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which was a wonderful 1960s film starring Maggie Smith as a dotty teacher of young “gels” with her philosophies leaning towards Nazism. I didn’t realize Ms Sparks had written quite a lot of books so I ordered a few off Amazon awhile back and haven’t got to them yet.



Canada Reads 2018 – The Short List

The team at CBC Books picks a long list of defenders from a long, long list of prominent Canadians from all areas (sports, media, arts etc). Once they have a reasonable number of candidates, they sit down and chat with each one about books and reading. They’re looking for a diverse set of challengers for the competition so they don’t want each potential defender to have the same tastes in books and reading habits as each other. They are really looking for five people that are very different from each other in personality, background, age, race, gender, politics, likes and dislikes. The more different each one is, the more interesting the debates will be. That’s the whole point, entertainment!

You can read more about the five defenders here. The only one I’m at all familiar with is Jeanne Becker from back in the early days of MuchMusic in the mid 1980s.

As far as the books go, that’s just as long a process. The choice of books goes further than just having the CBC Books staff decide on a list. The candidates themselves can suggest books that they’ve read and loved, too. In the end, the long list is created and the candidates choose the book they want to defend in the debates. They will also read all of the other books in the short list because it’s easier to defend your own book when you know what the other books are about and how their defenders might likely present their arguments. It’s also a bonus if the five final books are different from each other yet embrace the theme for that year’s competition.

I’ve blogged about the long list here and now we have the short list, the five books that will be up for debate on March 26 – 29th hosted by Ali Hassan. He did a great job last year. There will be a lot of features and interviews between now and the end of March on the CBC Books website to keep up the interest level, too.

2018 Canada Reads Short list.

Of these, I’ve read Precious Cargo and liked it. American War, Forgiveness and possibly The Marrow Thieves are three more I might like. All three are very different from each other. I doubt I’ll get library copies in time and I don’t want to spend the money on them but sometimes Kobo or Amazon puts them on sale before the debates so I shall keep my eye open. (Don’t get me started on the high price of ebooks!)

Iceland Christmas Traditions: Happy Jólabókaflóðið

Apparently, Iceland is a country of writers. Up to 1 in 10 people have published a book which isn’t that strange considering Iceland has a long tradition of storytelling. These traditional stories are called sagas and tell the tales of the original settlers to Iceland. Modern Icelanders are busy writing and publishing books and it makes sense to me. What better way to fill those long, dark, Northern winter nights than writing (unless it’s reading!) The majority of books in Iceland are published this time of year, they call it the Christmas Book Flood (Jólabókaflóðið)  so it’s the best time to find new releases to give as gifts.

There’s an interesting piece on the BBC website here. It’s a few years old now but I have no doubt it’s still relevant. I like the idea of giving books as a special gift, with the subsequent evening snugged up under a warm blanket, hot beverage of choice in hand while savouring that new story!

Summer Reading Challenges Completed

Well, I’ve done it. On Goodreads, in the CanadianContent group (also here on WordPress at A Year of Books), we were challenged to read a book from each province and territory in Canada over the summer. It could be a book based in that province or a book written by an author from that province. My initial list changed over the course of the challenge, as I found other books that I enjoyed or did not finish another and had to find something else to replace it. I discovered some books that I really, really enjoyed and a few authors new to me and I hope to read more by them.

These 13 books are also part of the #20BooksOfSummer challenge at 746Books. You can see my original list of  Cross Canada books here with others that I thought I would read to  make up the 20. The final list is a bit different.  I’ve actually read more than 20 since June. I have added a  list of seven more at the end of this post and call that challenge complete!

Here, then, is the final list with links to the reviews:

British Columbia:
Title: The Jade Peony (Review)
Author: Wayson Choy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Finished: June 19
Have I Visited B.C.?: Yes

Title: Prairie Ostrich (Review)
Author: Tamal Kobayshi
Rating: 5 stars
Finished: July 5
Have I Visited?: No

Title: Alone in the Classroom (Review)
Author: Elizabeth Hay
Rating: 2.5 stars
Finished: July 9
Have I Visited?: No

Title: The Summer of My Amazing Luck (Review)
Author: Miriam Toews
Rating: 3 stars
Finished: July 25
Have I Visited?: No

Title: The Only Cafe (Review)
Author: Linden McIntyre
Rating: 4 stars
Finished: July 17
Have I Visited?: Yes

Title: Barney’s Version (Review)
Author: Mordecai Richler
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finished: June 14
Have I Visited?: Yes

New Brunswick
Title: The Town that Drowned (Review)
Author: Riel Nason
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finished: August 16
Have I Visited?: Yes

Nova Scotia
Title: Ava Comes Home (Review)
Author: Lesley Crewe
Rating: 3.5 stars
Finished: June 11
Have I Visited?: Live here

Prince Edward Island
Title: Chronicles of Avonlea (Review)
Author: L. M. Montgomery
Rating: 4 stars
Finished: August 18
Have I Visited?: Yes

Newfoundland & Labrador
Title: First Snow, Last Light (Review)
Author: Wayne Johnston
Rating: 5 stars
Finished: August 22
Have I Visited?: Yes

Title: Rankin Inlet (Review)
Author: Mara Feeney
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finished: June 26
Have I Visited?: No

Northwest Territories
Title: Late Nights on Air (Review)
Author: Elizabeth Hay
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finished: August 30
Have I Visited?: No

Title: Gold Fever (Review)
Author: Vicki Delany
Rating: 3 stars
Finished: June 9
Have I Visited?: No

To finish, seven more books to make up the 20 Books of Summer Challenge:

Court of Lions – Jane Johnson. 4 stars, Finished June 25
Electric Shadows of Shanghai – Clare Kane. 4.5 stars, Finished
All is Beauty Now – Sarah Faber. 5 stars, Finished July 20
Persuasion – Jane Austen. 4 stars, Finished August 2
Lost in September – Kathleen Winter. 4 stars, Finished August 6
Holding Still for as Long as Possible – Zoe Whittall. 3 stars, Finished August 11
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy. 3.5 stars, Finished June 12

World Book Day

April 23 is World Book Day. It’s been organized by UNESCO to promote literacy and publishing. The date traces back to Spain in 1923, where they wanted to honour author Miguel Cervantes who died on this date. Also, it’s the birth and death date of William Shakespeare. Wikipedia has an odd trivia fact about these two authors who died on the same date in 1616. Cervantes actually died 10 days earlier because Spain did not use the same calendar that England did (Gregorian Vs Julian). Not every country celebrates it on the same date but many countries do mark a date for it.

So today, read a book to or with your kids. Visit a library. Or why not read a classic book? I’ve got Rockbound by Canadian author Frank Parker Day on the go (stay tuned for review when I’m done). That was written in 1928 and takes place in a small fishing village on a tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia, a kind of David vs Goliath story, Goliath being either the antagonist of the story or the force of the sea. Or both. I like to try to read a few classics ever year, either Canadian classics or others.

There is this list from CBC on the 100 Novels that make you proud to be a Canadian. There are a lot of great books on there, both by authors that are Canadian literature royalty and new, exciting authors. My favourites from the list are: Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald which I’m planning to reread this year, Annabel by Kathleen Winter, Galore by Michael Crummey (or anything by him), The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, The Outlander by Gill Adamson, and oh gosh, there really are a lot of good books on that list, and I’ve only read about a third of them.

There really are some great authors producing books of all types and genres. That’s the best thing about reading, there is bound to be something that interests you, be it fiction, non-fiction, graphic novel, audio book, magazines that will cover pretty much every topic under the sun. Reading improves your vocabulary, your imagination, your intelligence. You can learn from any kind of reading and you’ll never be bored if you have something to read.


IWD: Favourite Women Authors

Meeting Diana Gabaldon

Today is International Women’s Day, so I’m told. It may be as good a time as any to write a few notes on some of my favourite female authors. Number one on the list is Diana Gabaldon. She’s been on the top of my list since I discovered her very first book in 1990, Outlander. I love her style of writing and her characters and their stories are well researched, well written and thoroughly enjoyable. Her ongoing saga tells the story of Jamie and Claire Fraser and their family.

Minor spoilers if you’ve never read the books are included in this paragraph: Nurse Claire Randall “fell” through the standing stones in a stone circle in Scotland to find herself in the mid 18th century during the Jacobite Uprising where she met Jamie Fraser. They fell in love and married. Claire’s healing abilities served her well but also, on occasion, got her into trouble where women that could heal were sometimes suspected of being witches in that time period. During the series of books (8 so far), Claire returned to the future just before the battle of Cullodden but when she discovered Jamie didn’t die in the battle, found a way to return to him. Her daughter, Briana, also has the ability to travel through the stones as does Briana’s two children. (I’m covering a lot of ground here!)  Over the years, the Frasers end up in pre-Revolution America in West Virginian mountain country but get tangled up in the War of Independence.

There’s so much more detail, of course, with adventures galore, villains, heroes and everything in between. Diana has also written a few spin off books and stories about a secondary character, Lord John Grey. The books are in the process of being made into a television series on the American network Starz. The first two books have been aired so far with season three following book three coming later this year. Some people find Diana’s books have far too much detail in them but fans of the books wallow in every word! The television series pulls out the best of the books and keeps to the storyline very well with some differences that are inevitable due to the logistics of film/visual storytelling. Her website has excerpts from her books including the one she is currently writing and there is news and appearance schedules when applicable.

As you can see from the photo, I’ve met her (two or three times, actually) when her book signing tours have landed in Halifax. She’s very interesting and a real joy to listen to. She’s intelligent and funny and warm. She really seems to appreciate her fans and all the support they’ve given her over the years.

I could go on and on about Ms. Gabaldon but I was meant to write about other favourite authors as well.

I couldn’t talk about female authors without mentioning Canada’s Margaret Atwood. She really has become the First Lady of CanLit over the past forty years. She writes fiction, poetry, short stories and recently, she’s authored a graphic novel, working with the artist to create Angel Catbird. I own the first volume and I think the second one is due out soon. Her books span a variety of types of fiction though many have a sci-fi Dystopian theme. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of her best known books and has been filmed once already. A new series is due out later this year, debuting at the end of April in a 10 episode series on the American network Hulu. The most outrageous thing is that there is no apparently Canadian debut for this series based on a classic Canadian book. Not that I’ve heard , yet. And they wonder why people continue to download illegally or buy proxy VPN services to circumvent the restrictions between countries.

On the positive side, her novel Alias Grace is going to be a mini-series and will air on CBC in Canada in addition to Netflix in the US. Another recent book, The Heart Goes Last, is going to be filmed as well. It seems like the world at large is finally realizing the gem that we always knew we had here in Canada.

Some years ago, I discovered a series of books about witches in the modern world. The author’s name is Debora Geary. She wrote well over a dozen of these charming little books, filled with a community of strong women who were the hearts of their families and friends. Their abilities varied from fire, water, earth and air, with different witches having different strengths. Not just women, but some of the men and boys were also witches with abilities as well. One small boy will prove to be the most powerful of them all and it’s a challenge to raise a little one like that! It really does take a village! The books are only available on Amazon Kindle and this page on her website gives you more details on the series.

Anyway, I was gutted when she gave up writing about witches a few years ago but she’s still writing under the name of Audrey Faye. I haven’t read any of her newer series but a couple of them seem to be more science fiction and fantasy  and I think I would probably like them just as much. Her books are “clean”, that is, no swearing, no sex (though it’s alluded to among the happy couples). If you were concerned, you would have none were you to give them to your teenagers, though I think they’d appeal more to girls than boys but everyone’s different.

That’s pretty much my top three but I enjoy books but quite a few women. In random order: Anita Burgh, Penny Vincenzi, Miriam Toews, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Fiona Walker, Sharon Kay Penman, Alice Hoffman, Hilary Mantel, Emma Donoghue, Susanna Kearsley, Gillian Flynn, Tana French, Frances Itani, Maeve Binchy, Barbara Erskine, and Val McDermid.

Books to read for Black History Month

February has evolved into Black History Month. We can trace its origins back to 1926 when a man called Dr. Carter G. Woodson originated a Negro History Week to celebrate the anniversaries of the births of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and celebrate the accomplishments of black Americans who never made it to the inside of a history book, or if so, not in any positive way. It is observed in the U. S., Canada and the U.K. The U.S. Government recognized Black History Month in 1976,the Canadian government in 1995  and the British government in 1987.

I live in Nova Scotia and there are two “firsts” that we can claim. The first all-black town was established in Nova Scotia in 1783 near Shelburne, called Birchtown,  and was populated by Loyalist Blacks feeling the American War of Independence. The settlers were recorded in The Book of Negroes which was featured in a very good (fiction) book by Lawrence Hill a few years ago. It’s well worth reading. Also related is Chasing Freedom by Gloria Ann Wesley which is a historical fiction novel about Birchtown.

Rosa Parks was a black woman who refused to sit in the back of a public transport bus in 1955 and it was a catalyst for the civil rights movement but before Rosa Parks, there was Viola Desmond who lived in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. She was a respected businesswoman but in 1946, she challenged the rule at a local cinema and refused to leave the section reserved for whites. She was arrested and charged with a minor tax violation and the publicity kicked off a similar civil rights movement in Canada. In 2015, Nova Scotia inaugurated an annual holiday in February. Each year Nova Scotia Heritage Day will be named in honour of a well known Nova Scotian. The first year, the day was dedicated to Viola Desmond and the new harbour ferry in Halifax is also named for her.

I’ve seen a number of websites and news articles in the past few days that are publishing lists of books by black authors so I thought I’d post a few links and suggestions here.

In addition to The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, I’d recommend any of his other novels. I’ve also read Any Known Blood by LH.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan is another really good book by a Canadian author. It won the Scotiabank Giller prize and a number of other awards as well.

Fifteen Dogs and The Hidden Keys by Andre Alexis are definitely worth a look in . Fifteen Dog also won the Giller Prize. The Hidden Keys is his new book.

Another French Canadian novel also translated to English is the now-classic How to Make Love to a Negro by Dany Laferrière.

The Underground Railroad was a network of people that helped black slaves escape to Canada in the 19th century before slavery was abolished. I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land by Karolyn Smardz Frost is about the Underground Railroad and won a Governor’s General award for non-fiction in 2007. Of course there’s the current best seller, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is quite good. It might be “hyped” but apparently is worth the publicity. It’s on my TBR list.

We may think of Canada as the place that the American slaves ran to for freedom but Canada was a nation that only abolished slavery in 1834 with the rest of the British Empire. Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage  by Marcel Trudel traces the history of slavery in Canada from the mid 17th century French colonies up to the abolishment.

Helen Oyeyemi is a black British author. Her books are listed here. I read Boy, Snow, Bird last year and it was pretty good. Another black British author I really like is Zadie Smith. I’m reading her newest book Swing Time at the moment. I’ve really liked almost all of her books though her first book, White Teeth and her third, On Beauty are my favourites. I think Swing Time is very good, too though I’m only halfway through at the moment.

Here’s a list for this year by the Guardian newspaper in the UK, and one from last year.
A Tumblr List from Penguin Randomhouse for a book a day, and another list from Penguin Randomhouse here.
A list of kids’ books collated by PBS