year end

The Year in Pages

It's no secret I am a voracious reader.  I read all the time.  I read everything.  I read all genres.  Also no secret is how much I love suggesting good reads to people.  Yes, I'm THAT person.  For the last couple of years I've been posting my Top 10 Favourite Reads of the past year (you can find lists for 2014 here).  Usually I agonize over which books to cut out of the list.  This year, I am seriously struggling to even find 10 worth including.  2015 was NOT my year of the great amazing reading journey.  Every new book I picked up I would hope and pray would be THE ONE (like my "Arcadia" in 2013 or my "Life After Life" of 2014) and it never, ever was.  Not to say that I didn't find a few gems cuz I totally did.  I just didn't find that book to treasure which is difficult for someone like me to accept. 

So all that said, here's a list of 10 books I read in 2015 that I did like and I've also included some books I hoped to love and just didn't (cuz it's also fun to talk about why you DIDN'T love something too right?)


The History of Love -- Nicole Krauss

When forced to pick the book of the year this book is the clear and obvious winner.  The title is unfortunate and yet completely fitting and this book is hugely quotable and poetic from start to finish.  The plot is difficult to condense down but it centres around a character named Leo Gursky who quickly becomes one of those literary characters that you don't soon dismiss -- like an Owen Meany or T.S Garp (Yes, Irving has that gift it seems).  He is old and grouchy and once upon a time had a love for the ages and wrote a book about it.  The book takes on a life and path of its own, affecting generations that come after.  My daughter chose this book for me as a Christmas gift because she liked the way the words looked on the cover and I loved it because the way Krauss seemed to make every word matter and makes you wish Gursky was writing about you.



Yes Please -- Amy Poehler

I know, I know -- Amy was the "It" girl of 2015 (and arguable a couple years before that) with this book and it was everywhere and everyone said she was following up on Tina Fey's success with her "Bossypants" book but hey, you know what? Amy did it better.  Way better.  And there's a reason this book was everywhere -- because it was fantastic.  This was the kind of book you would read on the bus to work and make a spectacle of yourself cuz you'd be laughing so hard.  "Yes Please" is really SO funny, SO charming, SO intelligent.  There are chapters that are also heartbreaking and sad and serious.  As a reader, I identified with this bio in a huge way.  It seemed every feeling she had, I shared.  Pretty much every woman I know read this book last year and despite my attempts, I couldn't get a man to read it and that's a real shame.  There is something in this book for everyone and her take on the world is something worth immersing yourself in.  I want to be Amy Poehler when I grow up.


Fragile Things -- Neil Gaiman

Probably safe to assume there will just BE a Neil Gaiman book on this list every year.  (Remember this little bit of perfection from last year's list?).  Dating way back to 2010, the only flaw in this book is that I didn't read it sooner.  It's a collection of short stories (and you know I love those), each one more fantastic and dreamy than the one before.  They're dark, they're scary, and they leave you with the weirdest dreams as a result.  The best part is the accompanying texts from Gaiman himself about the origin of each story -- gives a very cool glimpse into what must be a strange mind to live with on a daily basis.  The fact that he can write for both adults and children with such skill and ease, with both products being so excellently well-crafted leaves me in awe.  I just think everything he writes is magic.


Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertant Education of a Reluctant Chef -- Gabrielle Hamilton

Another bio I piled on my nightstand (but a book I actually gifted to my husband for Christmas) that turned out to be not only a really excellent story about a super interesting person BUT also a really delicious book in general.   Mainly it's the story of acclaimed chef Gabrielle Hamilton but turns out to be a really engaging story about marrying into a family with a different ethnicity than your own and what really goes on in kitchens everywhere -- restaurant kitchens, farm kitchens, family kitchens.  And it also makes you hungry while you read it.  If you're not nuts about reading biographies don't worry, this one kinda feels like reading fiction.


Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore -- Robin Sloan

This book was a really fun treat to stumble across.  I didn't see it on a list or read a review, it's from back in 2013 and it just kind of fell outta the realm of my Goodreads app newsfeed and into my lap.  It's SO fun!  The Goodreads review I wrote said it's like The DaVinci Code for bibliophiles except well-written and worth reading.  Pick this up if you love dusty old bookstores, secret societies and a bit of the fantastical thrown in for good measure.  Weird stuff happens in this place.


Us Conductors -- Sean Michaels

A novel inspired by the life of Russian scientist and inventor of the theremin Lev Termin?  I know, I'm asleep already right?  But you guys -- this guy was wicked cool.  He not only invented the weirdest instrument we have but was also a spy for the KGB who invented listening devices used during the War and went on to be a Professor of Acoustics at the Moscow Conservatory.  For reals, this guy would've been the coolest guy you knew by a longshot.  It bounces between the Soviet Union and New York City and doesn't lose you for a second of the journey.   For a first novel, this one will be hard to top.  


Better Living Through Plastic Explosives -- Zsuzsi Gartner

Another collection of stories that, admittedly, won't be for everyone.  Gartner writes no-holds barred satire to the point of  border line ridiculousness.  It's funny -- really, really funny.  And also wicked smart and pretty shameless.  This is a great book to pick up if you find yourself in a moment of all-consuming society shaming misanthropic glory.  Grab this and go down the rabbit hole.  


 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer -- Mark Twain

Now this is a bit of a cheat because I have read this before but not since I was a kid so much of its great qualities were lost on me as a young reader.  I picked this up in the middle of a string of disappointing reads and decided (mostly out of necessity) to step away from the snooty book reviews, the book club picks and the latest depressing coming of age tale of the moment.  I needed a "palate cleanser" of sorts and this did just that.  It was incredibly satisfying to step back into this world of adventures and immerse myself into that whirlwind of childhood emotions.   I should try to do this more often.


Grace: A Memoir -- Grace Coddington

This one is also a bit of a cheat because it's really not that good of a book.  It's very simply written, it jumps around a lot and not in a way that always makes sense and, as a memoir, you don't really learn much about the subject that you don't already know.  Confession: I have a bit of a weakness for high fashion couture and all the drama and art that goes along with it.  And a guilty pleasure like that doesn't come without a healthy obsession with Grace Coddington, the woman behind the woman at Vogue.  She looks like a crazy gypsy and is the only person who can tell Anna Wintour where to stuff it.  If you've seen the documentary "The September Issue" (and you should cuz it's great) it's hard not to be taken with her.  I devoured this book despite it being a beast and way longer than it needed to be. 


Girl in a Band: A Memoir -- Kim Gordon

One last biography to round out the list this year.  I think I read more bios this year than I've read in my whole life.  I thought this book was great, despite what everyone said.  Was it AS good as I hoped it would be?  Probably not.  But considering I think Kim Gordon is probably the coolest woman on the planet, it's hard to say if any bio would've made her seem as cool as she already is in my head.  It's chock full of music nerd fodder and equally full of petty gossip about her fellow music industry friends as well as FULL of gossip about her marriage to Thurston Moore (who famously cheated on her for years with his book editor).  But gossip aside, it's also a killer story about New York City and the music scene that they came up in and then ultimately ruled.  


Honourable Mentions

Dorothy Must Die -- Danielle Paige

I try to read at least a couple Young Adult fiction books in a year because I have a pile of young nieces and nephews who read and I love gifting them with books that I think are actually good (like the Wildwood books -- sigh) so I like to cover my bases.  This book is part of a series that tackles the Land of Oz but under the premise that Dorothy took a bit of a nasty turn and turned Oz into a place of bloodshed and fear.  Very fun stuff.  I only read the first book but I would for sure follow this series.  It's a good bit of escapist fun to be sure.


Books I Wanted to Love But Didn't

The Paying Guests -- Sarah Waters

I was SO excited to read this and wanted to read it for about a year before I finally got my hands on it.  It was such a disappointment for a lot of reasons but mostly because for some reason I though this book was about something COMPLETELY different and for that reason I spent most of the book trying to shake that disappointment.  And the book just wasn't compelling enough to help shake that off.  *shakes fist at Heather from Chapters*


The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden - Jonas Jonasson

The first half of this book had me.  100%.  I could not put it down. all just stopped and languished for a couple of hundred pages.  What a letdown.


A God in Ruins -- Kate Atkinson

Considering that "Life After Life" is one of the best books I've ever read, I had VERY high hopes for this companion book.  Granted, this book had huge shoes to fill and loving it as much as LAL was unlikely, I still thought I would love it more than I did.  To be fair, the last few chapters of this book are really, really lovely but they just didn't make up for the rest of the book just being lacklustre.  Also I read so much WWII fiction this past year that it was an uphill battle for this book already.


All the Light we Cannot See -- Anthony Doer

EVERYONE loved this book.  I really wanted to love it too.  I liked it a lot, to be fair.  This book has some really magical moments  and the parts with Marie-Laure hiding in her attic are pure genius. But again, it was yet another WWII book at the end of what felt like 15 WWII books and I just couldn't do it.  In hindsight, I should've left this until next year maybe.  


So that about sums it up for 2015.  I have high hopes that 2016 will bring me THE ONE that it didn't last year.  Maybe it's the one I'm reading right now??






A Year in Pages

Last year around this time I was tasked with my weekly blog post.  As the year end was chasing me down, I found myself thinking of very little else except all the great books I read throughout the year.   So when faced with some wicked writer’s block, I decided “If you can’t beat’em, join’em” and churned out my Top 10 Favourite Reads of the year.  I see a similar situation staring me in the face as we speak so all you non-readers best look away cuz it’s about to get all bookish up in here.

These are my Top 10 Favourite Reads of 2014 (*note not my top books written in 2014, just my top books READ in 2014).

“Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson (2014)

I haven’t read a book this mesmerizing in a really, really long time. And sure lots of folks have tried the “let’s jump around time periods” methods before but Atkinson nails it in such a way that your heart breaks anew with every chapter.   It’s got love, war-time Europe and even Hitler.  If you need something that will break a run of ho-hum books, pick this one.  Then read it again.  And then again. (*Note: if you can score the version with the fox on the cover even better)


 “The Light Between Oceans” by M.L Stedman (2013)

As a parent, this book tore my heart out in a HUGE way.   A baby washes up onshore near a lighthouse into the arms of a grieving and childless couple.  I felt an actual physical pull to these characters and found myself with tears free-flowing late into the night as I read.  You can see the whole story laid out before you, you sense what’s coming and yet “predictable” is the last word you’d pick to describe it.  This book was pure brilliance and heartache and ultimately the biggest love story I read all year.


“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman (2014)

Continuing with the “ocean” themed books,  I tore through this little gem by Gaiman in one wonderful little sitting.  His story is pure magic and fantasy and I can see picking this up on snowy afternoons for years to come.  This would be a great read for pre-teens looking for a story with a bit more meat on its bones too – it’s got weird creepy neighbours, a scary nanny, and things reaching down from the night sky to pluck you straight off the ground.  Sometimes I think he can do no wrong whether he’s writing for kids or adults.  In the end, I doubt the audience really matters at all.  He is magic for all ages.

“Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey (2012)

Besides having the most beautiful name I’ve ever heard, Eowyn Ivey has also created the most beautiful version of a folktale you could ever hope to read.  1920’s Alaskan homesteaders fashion themselves a child from the snow and the result is Faina, a girl born of the ice and trees, travels with a constant fox companion and disappears with the spring.  I mean, honestly, how can you not want to read this book already??  A more perfect winter read I have yet to find.


“The Orenda” by Joseph Boyden (2014)

As confessed in last year’s list, I am a recent Boyden bandwagon joiner and have been devouring one book after another since discovering him last year.  Obviously for me, this one is no different.    For sure, it’s a tough read and there were more than a few parts where some deep-breaths were required for me to get through but for every scene of graphic violence there were also scenes of utter poetry and total silence.  His is the stuff that rattles around in your head for a good long while.

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (2013)

Okay so much like my unjustified snobby-ness for the “Canada Reads” books, I feel equally snobby towards the “Heather’s Picks” at Chapters.   They all seem to begin with the description “A tragic coming of age story about a boy in (insert country name here) struggling to come to terms with (insert personal struggle/injury/overbearing family member/political strife here).”   I can’t even process them anymore.  Anyway, you had to be living under a rock to not have seen this book everywhere last year, and I mean EVERYWHERE.  Heather was hocking in on TV, in every magazine, on every page of the Chapters website and you practically tripped over the giant pyramid of “Goldfinch” books when you walked in the store.  I picked it up for my Mom as a gift – she was going on a long sunny vacation and I thought the sheer size of this book would make it a perfect contender for extended marathon reading sessions on the beach.  Long story short, she forgot to pack it, I was house-sitting and without a book to read so I picked it up and then never put it down.  I admit it.  Heather was right and I was so, so wrong.  This book was OUTstanding.   I guess I can admit that maybe a Pullitzer Prize cancels out my Heather bias?

“The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende (2005)

Remember last year when I said that when one of your favourite people shoves a book at you, you better damn well read it?  Well that happened again.  From the shelf that brought “Arcadia” into my life, came this big giant sweeping epic Latin American opera.  It’s got multiple generations of just wonderful witchy ladies, a dramatic patriarch named Esteban, political intrigue and a giant dog.  It’s a hit on all levels really.  I couldn’t get enough.

 “The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry” by Kathleen Flinn (2008)

A super fun little memoir of a woman who dropped everything, left behind her American life to attend the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris.  Who hasn’t had the fantasy of doing that very thing at least once or twice in their life?  There’s nothing about this book that reinvents the wheel, she doesn’t have any real life-changing advice, but as a straight-up enjoyable lifestyle read, this book had it for me.  Added bonus???  It comes with heaps of amazing recipes from her time in Paris.

 “The Son” by Phillip Meyer (2013)

This book was the book that broke a bad streak of reads for me.  I was in such a funk and seemed to pick up one unsatisfying read after another.  I actually bought this for my husband for Christmas in 2013 but never thought it would end up on my side of the bed (I judged a book by its cover and thought it looked too much like a western.  I hate westerns).  It was out of pure desperation that I picked it up and honestly thought I’d be tossing it onto the pile of aforementioned bad books.  This book had other plans for me though and resurrected my faith in the written word.  It’s epic and sprawling and violent and sad and dusty and beautiful.   My only wish is that I hadn’t read it the same year as “The Orenda” because I think Boyden handled a similar subject and did it better.  Still, an outstanding read all the same.

“The Miniaturist” by Jessie Burton (2014)

It’s the 1600’s, it’s Amsterdam, she’s a new bride in a new house, there’s a strange husband she’s never met, there’s a creepy sister-in-law and there’s a dollhouse that’s mirroring everything happening in her real-life.   I adored this book!!  Loads of mystery and oddities,  loads of betrayal,  loads of desperation – a great read to get lost in.  I’ll be searching out some other material from Burton to be sure. (this book came to me from my new Goodreads app – are any of you on there??  I’d love to snoop your bookshelves…)

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Honourable Mentions

 “A Red Herring Without Mustard” (2011)“I Am Halfsick of Shadows” (2012) by Alan Bradley

I didn’t include these in my Top 10 because really, they are hardly great works of fiction worth being included in a year end list BUT as a series, I cannot say enough about how much I enjoy the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley.  They’re such fun and eccentric in a Wes Anderson kind of way.  I hope he never stops writing them.

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So thanks for humouring my love of books and lists of books and talking about books etc etc.  This is always a hard list to compile and this year was no exception as, despite a few duds, I thumbed my way through some truly beautiful new books and revisited more than a few old favourites.

What did you love this year???  My notepad is ready...