2015: A year in reading

(*) = a pick for top 10 of 2015


The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Shopaholic to the Stars  by Sophie Kinsella

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

I’m just getting my bearings working at the new library that opens in Halifax. An almost hour-long commute on the bus means plenty of time to read and so I devour novels like light snacks. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night lives up to the Giller-prize hype and I find myself wishing I hadn’t put it off for so long, O’Neill’s first book Lullabies for Little Criminals still echoing in my mind from years ago. From there I pick up another much talked about novel The Paying Guests which is equally as good about a woman who falls in love with her married tenant and the tragedy that results from their affair. There’s something about affair story lines that always intrigue me, keep pulling me back for more, the ultimate question of happiness and fidelity never gets old. Landline was my first taste of Rowell which was surprisingly grounded considering the outlandish premise (a woman finds a way to talk to a past-version of her husband from a rotary phone in her childhood bedroom… I know, right?) and I thoroughly enjoy it the way you might enjoy a jelly-filled doughnut, which if you’re me, is immensely. I’ve already forgotten the newest Shopaholic book and what it was about, ditto the Weiner. Both are just filler, but fun filler, if you know what I mean. The Fever starts out strong but devolves half-way through.



Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

The Mime Order (The Bone Season, #2) by Samantha Shannon

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) by Libba Bray

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter

Paper Towns by John Green

My first non-fiction in I don’t know how long is heavy (430 pages heavy) but like watching Tom Cruise bounce on Oprah’s couch—distasteful but impossible to look away. Going Clear tells you everything you ever were curious to know about Scientology plus a lot more you maybe wish you didn’t. After all that, I need something I know I’ll enjoy so I pick up the new installment in a great fantasy series that I really love—The Mime Order. It’s every bit as exciting as I thought it would be. Which gives me a taste for YA-skewed fantasy so I go for Bray’s book which I’ve seen around for ages but never actually got my hands on. Then it’s just downhill from there. Kidding, Ugly Girls is good (though honestly not that memorable) and Paper Towns… is well, everywhere.



When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

The Appetites of Girls by Pamela Moses

I start with one of CBC Canada Reads recommended books but really can’t enjoy it to be honest, not my cuppa tea. Which makes me want to skew back to familiar territory with Solnit’s book of fantastic essays. I enjoy Everything I Never Told You even with the sad lack of tension in what appears to be a mystery, it doesn’t grab me in the way I need it to. The Appetites of Girls is better, the way friendship through the ages always is but for all its hype I get my first flop of the year in Nobody is Ever Missing. I really dislike the writing style and the story is one long stream of consciousness run-on sentence that I have to force myself to stick with. If I wasn’t going for a reading goal this year I would have ditched this 1/4 through. It feels gimmicky and insincere.



The Walking Dead vols. 16-22 by Robert Kirkman

Outline by Rachel Cusk

In April I remember that I should catch up on The Walking Dead, so I do, furiously. I’ll never understand people who only watch the show or movie and neglect the comic or book—there’s so much more in pages than on screens, and when you put the two together, even how they differ just fills up the empty space. I’ve heard good things about Outline but I end up hating it. If we’re judging books on technicality then yes, it’s well-written but nothing about it catches and holds on to me, it’s like sitting through a lecture for a class you have no interest in passing. Its title feels so spot-on, for me, there is nothing but hollowness in the middle.



The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman

Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum

Mouthful of Forevers by Clementine von Radics (*)

Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth

I write about most of these and some from June in Read my list: books for your next beach trip in The Coast. All around a great month for reading, The Country of Ice Cream Star is a stand-out, and I fall into poetry again. Clementine von Radics is the kind of poet that fans tattoo lines onto their bodies for—she gets under your skin—while Tamblyn proves people still underestimate her.



The Opening Sky by Joan Thomas

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Skin Cleanse: The Simple, All-Natural Program for Clear, Calm, Happy Skin by Adina Grigore

Still No Word by Shannon Webb-Campbell (*)

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

Maybe I have more time in the summer, I’m not sure, but I pound back books like shots. The Opening Sky is another broken family novel (I do so love those) this time following a teenage couple that gets pregnant which just drives their families further apart. The Girl on the Train is a bestseller for good reason, hard to put down but ultimately a bit of a let-down climatically. Still No Word (read my review at The Coast) by a local poet and acquaintance of mine makes it on my year-end list and Mother, Mother is so much better than I thought it would be, more credit due to the fact that it ends up standing up against most of what I read this year, but who would have known that in the summer. It’s about an over-bearing abusive mother and the three children and husband who manage to survive her.



Second Life: A Novel by S.J. Watson

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (*)

The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

The Walking Dead, Vol. 23: Whispers Into Screams by Robert Kirkman

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (*)

I get married at the end of the month, surprisingly these books aren’t a blur. When I’m looking forward to something I’m more focused than usual. Second Life is a decent mystery about a woman whose sister dies and she tries to unravel the reason why—not great, but solid. Eight Hundred Grapes (read my review at The Coast) is light but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have heft. It’s a fun read all the way through about the choices we make, tradition and inheritance. I really loved it, and I guess it’s being turned into a movie so that’s even better. Hopefully they don’t ruin the magic. The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty is so weird. So so weird. But highly enjoyable regardless. A group of artist friends deal with the suicide of one of their own while each also wrestles with their own demons. One character is so beautiful she wears a costume to appear ugly just to live an uninterrupted life while another learns to control emotion with music. Perhaps one of the most original stories I’ve ever read. Love May Fail is OK. Nothing special. In The Unlikely Event (read my review at The Coast) is ambitious and Blume rises to the occasion.



Wake The Stone Man by Carol McDougall

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

Beyond The Pale by Emily Urquhart

His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay (*)

The Bones Below and New Shoes On A Dead Horse by Sierra DeMulder

The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson

Wake The Stone Man (read my review at Atlantic Books Today) is informative and interesting but lacking something to really make me love it. I liked it quite a bit but it didn’t get to the heart of me. Luckiest Girl Alive lives up to the hype, a tense quick read the exposes the underbelly of high school, cliques and things that happen to us that we can’t forget and really shouldn’t. I really enjoyed it. Following up with Sarah Kay’s fantastic book of poems No Matter the Wreckage. She is one of the most talented slam poets I’ve ever heard. I love her and especially this poem “If I Had a Daughter.” I picked up the memoir Beyond the Pale after reading a review somewhere that raved about it. Emily Urquhart talks about her experience raising a daughter with albinism and the different mythical stories she discovered about the condition as well as some horrible tragedies happening the world over to people who have it. Really really good. Sad. Intriguing. His Whole Life (read my review at The Coast) was just fantastic. Perhaps my favourite book of the year. Hard to tell. It definitely made my year-end list. Elizabeth Hay always astounds me. The two books of poetry by Sierra DeMulder were also great, another talented slam poet. My favourite poem of hers is this one “The Unrequited Love Poem.” (“My body is a dead language/and you pronounce each word perfectly”). Check her out, she’s the real deal. I summed up the month with a return to Sci-Fi, I can’t help it, I just adore dystopian futures. The Affinities is one where people can take a personality test that allows them access to clubs of people exactly suited to them. It’s about looking for purpose, belonging, and what happens when you get it. (Not always good things…)



The Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

The First Husband by Laura Dave

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (*)

Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight by M.E. Thomas

I take a break in September and read three light novels in a row that are all mediocre before I settle in for Between the World and Me (read my review at The Coast) it deserves all the accolades it’s getting. A really vital read. Of course then I follow it up with the least vital read, a memoir that is passable at best.



Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (*)

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Back to fiction in the Fall. I’m not sure why this was such a lean month, maybe because I was devoting all my time to creating the perfect Gamora costume for Halloween. Another year-end top fiver, Fates and Furies (read my review at The Coast) is so good I can’t stop talking about it to anyone who will listen. Read this book, you will not regret it. I was so looking forward to reading Mindy Kaling’s newest memoir, I think she’s just the funniest, but it really let me down. Why Not Me? feels hurried, it just doesn’t carry the same spark her first one did.



The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes (*)

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

How to Be a Grown-up by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

I am a huge Margaret Atwood fan, however her newest novel The Heart Goes Last was lacking something special for me, it just didn’t do it… whatever “it” is that she usually does. I think it just fell a little flat, it was supposed to be a mystery but there was very little suspense. I didn’t care about any of the characters either. It was alright, but Atwood carries the weight of her career, no one wants to bother with an average Atwood novel. Barbara the Slut and Other People (read my review at The Coast, and on the blog) more than made up for it though. I could write more about this book of stories but I’ve used up enough time. It’s good. Read it. I had heard good things about Spinster but I ended up suffering through it slowly and painfully, barely made it to the end without clawing my eyes out. I’d rather read a textbook tbh. Big Magic (read my review at The Coast) was so so surprising to me. I have enjoyed Gilbert’s books in the past but who knew she could light such a fire under me. If you’re struggling with writers block or finding your creative purpose read this book, it does something to you, lights a match. How to Start a Fire and How to Be a Grown-Up were both really enjoyable, both sort of about finding your way when you’re in your 30s or 40s and still looking. All three authors are ones I’ve loved for a long while, so no surprise there. Ended the month with Seating Arrangements which got a lot of critical acclaim in 2012 and that I never felt like picking up but ended up really fully enjoying. But again, anything with a dysfunctional family, throw in a wedding, romantic disputes, an aging patriarch going through a mid-life crisis and I’m on board.



Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3) by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) (*)

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida (*)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

It just didn’t feel like the holidays this year. From above average temperatures (it felt like the first day of Fall on Dec 25) to just a general lack of spirit, I escaped to fictional worlds. The newest Cormoran Strike book Career of Evil (read my review at The Coast) really blew me away which was so surprising because while I really liked the first two books, they weren’t something I would rave about really. This one though, hoo boy. The same with The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (read my review at The Coast) which was so great, but in a totally different way. More of a literary mystery, instead of a genre mystery. Both ended up on my year-end list though. Then I fell backwards into Rainbow Rowell’s world and I may never get back up. I had enjoyed Landline back in January so much that I decided to try some of her YA books, and Carry On was just sitting there on the new releases rack waiting for me. At first I thought it was pulling a little too heavily from Harry Potter but about 1/4 of the way in it really won me over. The love story was so unexpected and sweet, although, if I had read things in order it wouldn’t have been nearly as unexpected. Fangirl is about a college student that writes fan fiction about a fictional series like Harry Potter in the novel, Carry On is basically the fan fiction she’s writing in the first book, only Rowell says it’s not, it’s a totally separate thing. Not sure why she would give it the same title if it wasn’t though. Anyway, both really really good, easy, light, happy reads. I ended the year on kind of a low note with The Opposite of Loneliness, a book of stories and essays by an author taken entirely before her time, only 5 days after graduating from Yale with a promising future ahead of her, Marina Keegan died in a car crash. Her last essay, the titular The Opposite of Loneliness that was published in the Yale Daily News went viral and touched a lot of people. This posthumous collection is really very good, obviously reflecting her burgeoning talent and the promise of a long and interesting career that she would have had.


All in, I read 68 books total. Blew past my goal of 52 books in 2015 and there were so many good ones. One of the best years in reading so far.


My Top 12 Books of 2012 (published this year)

Top 12 of 2012 ListI’m not usually a fan of end of year lists as much as people seem to make them, especially since, when it comes to books, there’s almost no way that you (or at least I) can get to every book in my to-read pile, especially considering a lot of the books I want to read aren’t usually published the year I read them, I’m a bit slow to the game with these things. So, it was lucky this year that I started writing book reviews for The Bookshelf as well as The Coast (and here on the blog) because between the three of them I was often knee-deep in new books.

This week was the Critics’ Picks issue of The Coast which means I had to compile my Top 12 of 2012 books of the year list and happily this year (maybe unlike last year, shhhh) I had read so many books (68 and counting) that all the books on my list were both published this year and rated well by me on Goodreads. In the next couple of days I’m going to post a companion list to this one featuring my list of the year just in general, new and old, the best books I’ve read this year. I’m curious to see how different they would be.

My Top 12 of 2012 (books published this year)

The Child Who 12. The Child Who (Penguin)
By Simon Lelic

A somewhat bumbling provincial attorney Leo Curtice is saddled with the task of defending a 12-year-old boy after he molests and murders an 11-year-old girl. Drawn into the boy’s past and seemingly inability to understand the significance of his actions, Leo finds himself not just the only person willing to even consider defending the child but also, maybe, his only friend. It’s disturbing novel, not just for the boy but how he’s perceived in a system that pretends to withhold judgement until proven guilty. It’s horrifying to consider at what point a child stops being a child and turns into a monster—and scarier still what you can lose if you defend that monster. I’m not a huge crime fan, but this one was hard to put down.

1593967211. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Harper Collins)
By Robin Sloan

I wrote about this one just the other day. Sloan’s novel about a life-lost guy who finds himself working at a strange bookstore that turns out to be a kind of front for a secret society’s quest for the secret of immortality is swiftly engaging and fun. Even if it doesn’t turn out how you (or the characters) necessarily want it to, it still manages to share a few life secrets with you, regardless. Maybe I’m biased because a literary-based mystery is just too appealing, but then again I never really fell for The Davinci Code, so I think I’m doing alright.

Dare Me10. Dare Me: A Novel (Reagan Arthur)
By Megan Abbott

After reading The End of Everything and being totally unable to shake it, I had to read Megan Abbott’s newest novel and see if it was just a one-off. Dare Me is focuses again on the tight friendship between two young girls only this time, that bond is far more insidious. Both are cheerleaders who develop an unhealthy obsession with their new coach and how that obsession begins to define their friendship. It’s sort of Mean Girls meets Crush or Election only way darker and just as enthralling as The End of Everything.

More Baths, Less Talking9. More Baths, Less Talking (McSweeney’s/Believer)
By Nick Hornby

I love love love Nick Hornby. I haven’t written about him until now, but he’s one of those writers who I search out and gobble up every word they write (see also: Barbara Kingsolver, John Fowles, Anais Nin, Haruki Murakami, I could probably go on…). He’s equal parts smart and funny, which is nice, and he just, I dunno, writes the kinds of books I never want to stop reading. He also writes a column for The Believer called Stuff I’ve Been Reading which is really, really good. It’s sometimes rambly and oftentimes completely unrelated to books but it’s also probably the best and most realistic description of reading activity that I’ve seen from a book critic (every month there’s a list of the books he’s bought and the ones he’s read, they don’t always overlap) anyway, fan girl squeeing aside, this is a collection of one year’s worth of that column. Totally worth reading, but only if you love books… wait… if you don’t love books why are you even reading this?

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry8. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Bond Street)
By Rachel Joyce

An aging man gets a letter from an old friend that is dying and sets out on a really long walk to reconnect with her. Along the way he gets hurt, famous, considered senile, forgotten and finds peace. It’s such an odd premise that I had to read for myself. Rachel Joyce’s depiction of Harold Fry and his estranged wife is so quietly tragic that you just can’t help falling for them a little, and rooting for their failed marriage. The scene where she is pairing her clothes with his is just, perfect. This book is a slow ambler, kinda paced the way Harold is, so if you don’t have the patience, you might want to skip it.

The Twelve7. The Twelve (Doubleday)
By Justin Cronin

The follow-up to 2010’s The Passage (which I just read this summer) deserves to be on this list solely for the anticipation it garnered while I waited for fall and my advanced copy… it’s a giant blockbuster of a series which is going to be a giant blockbuster of a movie too. You get the feeling that’s what Cronin always planned for in this epic sweeping action series about a military-made virus that ushers in the vampire apocalypse and the world’s human survivors that attempt to make sense of the world they grew up in decades upon decades later. This book wasn’t near as good as the first one but the story is still pretty awesome. Read it before they make it a movie so you can get in on the ground floor.

133810126. The Juliet Stories (House of Anansi)
By Carrie Snyder

They call it a novel-in-stories, but what Carrie Snyder manages in her second book is deeper and more coherent than that. Juliet grows up in Nicaragua (post-revolutionary war) with her two brothers as almost an afterthought for their activist parents, until illness drives them home and into the immediacy of conventional family life. Each early chapter is a glimpse, a hazy portrait of ten year old Juliet that doesn’t fully form until later, as a collection, comes understanding. Back in Canada, the fractured family continues to deal with reverberations from their past, unable to forgive each other, instead clinging to Nicaragua as this place out of time, free from the stamp of grief. It’s only in going back to confront the ghosts that Juliet is able to come to terms with her stories and begin a family of her own. Snyder is phenomenal here, crafting some of the most striking images and beautiful sentences that you will likely read all year. The Juliet Stories is not to be missed. (Re-posted from The Coast)

131524205. Inside (House of Anansi)
By Alix Ohlin

Short-listed for the Giller Prize, I’ve blogged about Inside before—Ohlin’s novel about Grace, a sincere therapist and the people she becomes entwined with will have you diagnosing characters left right and centre, although each one will manage to surprise you—it’s a bit obsessive and maddening but engrossing just the same. Although, most of the characters are unlikeable assholes that you don’t mind watching fall apart, so you definitely have to be into books where you don’t need to relate to or root for the people in it. Let’s just book club and laugh maniacally together as they fail.

132189934. Instruction Manual for Swallowing (ECW)
By Adam Marek

The only thing better than Adam Marek’s book of fantastic short stories is imagining how he possibly came up with them. Absurd, darkly comic and at times head-scratchingly bizarre, Marek’s talent for rending the supernatural or outrageous in real, human terms is mind-boggling. A couple finds out they are pregnant with 37 babies. A man is diagnosed with cancer just before the city he lives in is attacked by a Godzilla-like beast. A pet shop sells animals by volume. A man working in a restaurant for zombies finds out the meat is locally-sourced. Another man travels to the inner workings of his mind only to discover the controls are manned by Busta Rhymes. The premise is always wildly weird, but Marek manages to take the fantasy from unbelievable to relatable in a few short pages, surprising you with emotional insight not usually attributed to the sci-fi section. This is a gem of a collection—no story left behind. (Re-posted from The Coast)

135866183. Sympathy Loophole (Mansfield)

By Jaime Forsythe
In her first book of poetry, Forsythe manages to create a fascinating balance between the oddly witty and beautifully weird that most writers only dream about, or go wildly off the mark while attempting it. It’s a riveting collection that pays tribute to the strangeness in everyday life. I’ve written about it here and here already. That’s just how lovely it is. Plus, she’s from Halifax which makes it even better. (Who doesn’t love to read poetry that’s influenced by places they often frequent?) If you’re going to only read one book of poetry this year, it should be this one.

135031092. This is How You Lose Her (Riverhead)
By Junot Díaz
The follow-up short story collection to the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao sees Yunior’s life set against a backdrop of heartbreak. The women he loves and inevitably loses because of his own short-comings romanticize that special kind of failure in the tender, raw and darkly comedic way that Díaz has long perfected. It’s cut from the same cloth that Oscar Wao was—full of untranslated words and seemingly autobiographically-tinged sexism—so if that rubbed you the wrong way, then this will too. Personally, I’ll probably read everything Díaz throws at us, even that weird sci-fi epic that’s reportedly in the works called Monstro.

108367281. The Rook (Back Bay)
By Daniel O’Malley
One fantasy book to rule them all, The Rook is part Memento-esque amnesia mystery and part political thriller with a dash of Men in Black-level government-weird to keep you guessing, laughing and crossing your fingers for a sequel more than any other genre could. It’s exactly what you didn’t know you were looking for. When Myfanwy Thomas awakes in the rain with dead bodies surrounding her, she knows only what is provided by a letter in her pocket addressed to her from…herself. She learns that she holds a high level position in a secret supernatural government agency—organized like a chess board—and that a traitor from within stole her memories and still wants her dead. In a thrilling page turner that is as funny as it is suspenseful. Rook Thomas, guided by a suitcase of letters from her former meticulous self, needs to solve the mystery before her would-be murderer succeeds while juggling her everyday responsibilities like, oh, running an organization that employs people who type with tentacles, subverting a Frankenstein-esque Belgian invasion, and figuring out how to control her recently discovered superpowers. The Rook melds the best of all genres into a fantastically fun and intensely readable debut novel. (Re-posted from The Coast)

YAY! My top 5 books read this year, period, to follow.