My Favourite Books This Year (so far)

This has been a good book year. I am a little behind on my goal (14/37), but I’m not feeling too discouraged. Aside from reading lots of good books, I have a bunch of books that I’m excited to read.

In no particular order, here are five of my favourites that I’ve read this year.

You by Caroline Kepnes

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters

I watched the show on Netflix before I read the book, but I really enjoyed both. Joe Goldberg is the character you love to hate (or hate to love). The book is the prefect combination of creepiness and flawed characters. It almost reminded me of Gone Girl.

I look forward to reading the sequel!

Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters

I’m pretty sure I included The Girl in the Tower in last year’s favourite book list, and I could not NOT include Winter of the Witch in this year’s list. Basically the whole series is my favourite. It’s a fantastic final novel in the series. Of course I’m sad it’s over, but it left me perfectly satisfied and ready to see what Katherine Arden is going to do next.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters

I wanted to read this book because Maggie Stiefvater was reading it and if you can’t copy your favourite authors, who can you copy? I’m glad I did, though, because the Changeling is very good. It went in unexpected and deliciously dark directions. It’s one of those books I probably wouldn’t have heard of if it hadn’t been recommended by an outside party. A secret gem!

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

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Okay, I actually haven’t finished this one yet. But, I’m within 100 pages of finishing so I’m going to count it. It’s a funny novel with an interesting premise. It feels like a lot has happened but at the same time not a lot. But I’m very excited to finish it, because it’s taken a turn I wasn’t really expecting.

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters

This book is what it says. Shaun Bythell kept a diary for a year of life as the owner of a used bookstore in Scotland. It was a fun sneak peak into what actually happens in a bookstore, and as someone who dreams of working in a bookstore, it was a delight and a terror at the same time. Nothing is sugar coated, but at the same time it felt like I was actually working in a bookstore. A good read for anyone who loves books and bookstores.


If you want to see all the books I’ve read this year, you can go here to find them!

Book Review: Shadows of Lela

Feeling a presence beside me, I lifted my head saw the white unicorn. My heart softened, my shoulders relaxed. The unicorn was so close, I knew I could touch him. I reached out a tentative hand and placed it on his mud-splattered, white coat. A calm warmth flooded me.”

Sixteen-year-old Princess Cora has a dark past she’d rather forget. She’s found peace living in exile, far from the sorcerer who murdered her family. But her safety is compromised when she discovers a deadly threat. Unicorns are being annihilated. Her kingdom could be next…

To win the affection of his heartless bride-to-be, Prince Teryn must complete a dangerous quest. Instead, he finds himself at the end of Cora’s dagger. But when he learns Cora’s secret, he’s determined to help her, whatever the cost.

Trusting Teryn might be Cora’s only hope. But doing so could risk her heart… and Teryn’s life.

Goodreads | Amazon | Website


Last month was Indie April, a month for supporting independent authors and bookstores. About half-way through I made a promise on Twitter that if I reached 500 followers (I was just above 400) by the end of April, I’d buy an indie book and write a review. Well Twitter came through and then I was left with the daunting task of selecting a book from a slew of WONDERFUL suggestions.

What really drew me to Shadows of Lela was the cover art. Shout out to Merilliza Chan for the beautiful artwork. Sometimes I’d just stop reading and gaze lovingly at the cover! Haha! I also really love unicorns.

Disclaimer: I usually try not to get too spoilery in my reviews, and I don’t want to pick apart the novel, but beware there are some spoilers ahead!

Right off the bat, this book gave me Graceling and Red Queen vibes. It’s a high fantasy novel without the pretentiousness that can sometimes come with it. The book also deals with royal families and the complicated relations between them. Tessonja Odette has created a vast fantastical land full of ancient magic, lost lore, and many kingdoms.

The world building has been done really well. I found the part describing the Ancient Ones quite interesting and I would’ve loved to delve into the lore even more. I also would’ve loved more scenery descriptions. As a reader, I’ve been given this wide new world, and sometimes I felt like I couldn’t see where I was. Cora and Teryn are journeying across the land, but I wanted more descriptions of how the landscape changed as they moved into the different kingdoms. I wanted to be fully immersed.

Also, a map at the beginning of the book would’ve been a huge bonus! They’re always helpful when reading a fantasy with many different locations.

The book is written in first person POV and switches mainly between Cora and Teryn, with the occasional appearance of Teryn’s brother, Larylis, and the princess Mareleau. The characters are well-written and the separations between their points of view are distinct. So no confusion, which is great!

Reading Larylis’ and Mareleau’s POV, at least in the first half of the novel, seemed a little unnecessary, as it didn’t add much to the story. In the second half, I liked Larylis a lot more as a character and seeing his POV was much more important. Mareleau’s probably could’ve been left out completely.

Character motivations also seemed to shift very quickly, especially with Cora and Teryn. We get a first person look into their thoughts, but there isn’t much introspection when the characters are making decisions. Cora suddenly decides to leave her adoptive family of the Forest People to help the unicorns quite suddenly it seems. As well with Teryn, he leaves his quest to win Mareleau’s heart almost instantly to help Cora. These decisions make sense for the characters, but we don’t see the change of motivation in an organic way. A little more inner monologue would’ve been the key in these big moments of motivational change.

In the first half of the novel, the pacing seems a little off. We are rushed through the introduction of Cora as a princess and the introduction of the main villain. For example, we don’t get to see much of what Cora is like before she’s exiled or who the villain is before she’s exiled. And again, just as we start to see Cora’s life with the Forest People, she’s off on her quest to save the unicorns. The plot did need to keep moving, but I would’ve loved more establishment of Cora before and after her exile.

The same happened with the beginning of Teryn’s quest. It felt a little rushed, as we were trying to get to the point where Teryn and Cora meet.

The second half of the novel was better for me, pacing wise. I quite liked when we finally got down to the big conflict between Morkai, the sorcerer, and the royal families. The characters lived up to their potential, though I wanted to see Cora do a little more with her powers, especially against Morkai. But, all in all, the climax was satisfying.

I wanted the ending to be left a little more open for a little more incentive to get into the second book. It felt a little rushed as well into the conclusion that wasn’t as surprising as I was hoping.

But, it was a solid first book, with plenty to offer readers, especially those who liked Graceling and Red Queen. When I get through a few more of the books on my TBR list, I’ll probably pick up the next one.

Book Review: The Changeling

To believe in only the practical, the rational, the realistic was a kind of glamour as well. But he couldn’t enjoy the illusion of order anymore. Monsters aren’t real until you meet one.

When Apollo Kagwa’s father disappeared, he left his son a box of books and strange recurring dreams. Now Apollo is a father himself–and as he and his wife, Emma, settle into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Apollo’s hold dreams return and Emma begins acting odd. At first Emma seems to be exhibiting signs of post-partum depression. But before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act and vanishes. Thus Apollo’s quest to find a wish and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His odyssey takes him to a forgotten island, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever.

Goodreads | Amazon | Chapters

I never would’ve known this book existed if not for Maggie Stiefvater posting on social media about this book. When I saw there was a section of the book titled: “shit, damn, motherfucker” I knew this was a book I’d want to read.

I was gifted the book by my parents for Jolabokaflod (aka the Christmas book flood) on December 24th. If you weren’t aware, Jolabokaflod is an Icelandic tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve to read that day. My family started doing this last year and it’s such a wonderful thing to do.

ANYWAY, onto The Changeling…

Victor LaValle’s novel opens much like a fairy tale, even going so far as saying, “This Fairy Tale begins in 1968…” as the opening line. That sets the tone for the rest of the novel as this winding adventure through magic and mystery.

I was lulled into a false sense of security in the first part of the book when Apollo works as an independent bookseller and falls in love with Emma. But, in a fairy tale, nothing stays happy for long. Slowly the creepiness often found in fairy tales starts seeping into the story, in the form of nightmares.

I find often with books that relate to fairy tales, the magic it sometimes front and centre. But LaValle keeps the magical elements on the fringes of our vision until we’re in too deep to escape. And I LOVE it! The mystery and anticipation created wonderful tension as we marched toward the finale.

I won’t say anything more, because I wholeheartedly believe that everyone should read this book.

The characters were likeable and unlikeable in the most wonderful ways. Everyone feels amazingly real and flawed in relatable ways. *Vague Spoilers* The cast is full of mothers who’ve had to fight for themselves and for their children and I’m here for it!

This was a book full of secrets. Each character holds a secret that needs to be revealed and realized, and the world itself holds deep secrets for the privileged few to know. I feel like even the book itself is a wonderful secret.

The real-life horrors are just as scary (if not scarier than) as the mythological horrors. But everything is woven into a wonderful tapestry of creepy fairy tale goodness. As the layers of the story and its characters are revealed, I felt like there was so much left to explore even when the book ended. It’s definitely worth a reread.

I highly recommend this novel, especially if you like books based on/inspired by fairy tales.

Book Review: The Saturday Night Ghost Club

Reality never changes.  Only our recollections of it do.  Whenever a moment passes, we pass along with it into the realm of memory.  And in that realm, geometries change.  Contours shift, shades lighten, objectivities dissolve.  Memory becomes what we need it to be.

SNGC

When neurosurgeon Jake Breaker operates, he knows he’s handling more than a patient’s delicate brain tissue–he’s altering their seat of consciousness, their golden vault of memory. And memory, Jake knows well, can be a tricky thing.

When growing up in 1980s Niagara Falls, a.k.a. Cataract City–a seedy but magical, slightly haunted place–one of Jake’s closest confidantes was his uncle Calvin, a sweet but eccentric misfit enamored of occult artefacts and outlandish conspiracy theories. The summer Jake turned twelve, Calvin invited him to join the “Saturday Night Ghost Club”–a seemingly light-hearted project to investigate some of Cataract City’s more macabre urban myths. Over the course of that life-altering summer, Jake not only fell in love and began to imagine his future, he slowly, painfully came to realize that his uncle’s preoccupation with chilling legends sprang from something buried so deep in his past that Calvin himself was unaware of it.

It’s that time of year! As soon as the weather starts to cool down all I want to read is Stephen King, Alice Hoffman, The Raven Cycle, Harry Potter, and other spooky magical things. This book definitely falls into that category.

I wanted to read The Saturday Night Ghost Club simply because the cover is so awesome. It was made to look like a vintage library book, how cool is that?

What also intrigued me was the mention of urban myths, which I enjoy learning about. Though I thought it would be interesting to include a cute whimsical anecdote about my hometown’s own urban legends, I can’t recall any off the top of my head. Of course.

One I can think of is from Hamilton (specifically Ancaster), the Hermitage Ruins and the legend of Lover’s Lane. The ruins are the site of an old mansion built by Mr. George Gordon Browne Leith in 1855. But there was an older house, a ways away from the ruins, where an English man named Otto Ives lived with his wife and niece in 1833. The Coachman of the family, William Black, fell in love with Ives’ niece and asked Otto for her hand in marriage. When Otto refused, Black — seeing no other options — took his own life. Since suicide was considered a sin, he could not be buried in a cemetery and was thus laid to rest at the corner of Lover’s Lane and Sulpher Springs Road. It is said Black’s ghost haunts that corner and the grounds of the ruins.

Anyway, back to the book…

The third thing that made me want to read this book is that it’s Canadian! Yay! I find I don’t read as many Canadian books as I should. I’d like to, but it doesn’t seem to happen often. Luckily, I’ve been to Niagara Falls enough that I could imagine most of the geographical locations… maybe just Cliffton Hill.

The book itself is not that long, and I quickly devoured it in a few days. If you’ve been following along on my other book reviews, that’s quite quick for me. I just really enjoyed the atmosphere, writing style, and vaguely spooky content. I felt like I could fully immerse myself in the world of Jake.

While the plot itself was interesting enough, the book explores a number of interesting concepts such as memory, family, friendship, regret, and growing up. I tend to refer to these types of books as thinking AND feeling books… okay, this is the first time. It’s also full of childish fantasies and the (sometimes) dark origins of those fancies. Think “ring around the rosy.”

I can’t say too much more about it without getting too spoiler-y. Please read it and get ready for some spooky adventures and a semi-unexpected twist. Just read it.

I’ll leave you with one last quote:

That magic gets kicked out of you, churched out, shamed out – or worse, you steal it from yourself. It gets embarrassed out of you by the kids who run the same stretch of streets and grown-ups who say it’s time to put away childish things. By degrees, you kill your own magic. Before long your fears become adult ones: crushing debts and responsibilities, sick parents and sick kids, the possibility of dying unremembered or unloved. Fears of not being the person you were so certain you’d grow up to be.

Top 5 Favourite Books This Year (so far)

It’s July, over half-way through 2018 and so far this year I’ve read 20 books (according to my 50 Book Pledge where I track my reading).

I’m terrible at picking one favourite. The question: what’s your favourite book? terrifies me. But, I can easily point to a few that I’ve liked more than others.

Here’s my top five (in no particular order).

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters
The WonderI discovered Emma Donoghue by reading Room, which was amazing as well. The Wonder was on my TBR list for a while and I was excited to find it in a used bookstore.
The Wonder is such an interesting story. The characters are so real and the setting is unlike anything I’d read before.
There’s mystery, intrigue, and just enough of a twist near the end. The book has a happy ending, but not in a cheesy sort of way.

 

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters

the snow childThis was one of those books that got me just from the cover. It also happens to be my exact cup of tea: a fairy tale-esque story with just the right amount of magic sprinkled in, so subtle that it blends with the environment.
Again, the characters were a big draw for me. All I wanted to know was what happened next.
This is the perfect book to read in the winter, to warm your heart and steel yourself for the long cold.

 

 

Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters

31bdysyonpL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This book was recommended by Our Shared Shelf, Emma Watson’s book club. I bought the Kindle edition and devoured it in about two days.
This book is food for the soul with its beautiful poetic prose and thoughtful subject matter. It’s a memoir, so things get heavy, but never in a way that is too much.
Mailhot’s work speaks to me in ways that I can’t put into coherent words.

 

 

 

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters

the little paris bookshopI actually listened to the audiobook version of this before I bought a physical copy. It took me a couple minutes to get into it, but then I was enchanted. Novels about books are some of my sweetest treasures. I’m a big fan of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, and this book is nothing like that, but still very good.
It’s lyrical and warm prose mixed with a heartwarming yet tragic story. The characters were eccentric, funny, and a little sad.
When I finished, I felt like I’d taken a warm bath.

 

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters

the girl in the towerThis is the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale, which I read after I bought the beautiful British edition on a trip. I’d been looking forward to this and it didn’t disappoint one bit. It was like going for coffee with an old friend.
Like The Snow Child, Arden draws inspiration from Russian folktales and weaves them effortlessly into the very real medieval Moscow.
I await the next book eagerly!

 

 

 

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Escapism

I try to maintain a healthy dose of daydreaming to remain sane.

– Florence Welch

I am an escape artist.

Not in the traditional, Harry Houdini sort of way. I cannot escape from a straightjacket while being held upside down in a tank of water. But I do escape. My straightjacket is reality.

Escapism is the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.

My reality has never been overly unpleasant but it is just a regular plain-old life. I used to go to school, do homework, sleep, eat. Now I go to work, write my book, sleep, eat. The repetitiveness is a bit much for me sometimes.

I don’t remember the exact moment when I discovered Harry Potter (maybe in the first grade?), but since I read the first book, I wanted to run away to Hogwarts and be a witch. The world of Harry Potter was my first conscious dip into the world of escape-through-fiction. My own world was suddenly a bit more ordinary because there was no magic.

Since then there have been many books that have acted as a portal out of my reality; included but not limited to Twilight, anything by Maggie StiefvaterThe Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, and Anne of Green Gables. These books help(ed) me have faith that there is more to the world than meets the eye.

Reading is my escape.

Escapism isn’t always about books. I’ve been an avid daydreamer since… ever. The Oxford English Dictionary (online) defines a daydream as, “A series of pleasant thoughts that distract one’s attention from the present.”

From ballerinas to lost princesses, to orphans (thanks Anne Shirley and Annie), to lottery winners, my inner world is full of interesting characters and adventures. As a child, I could play make-believe forever. As an adult, my daydreams often revolve around being an author, paid enough to quit my job, able to buy a quaint cottage by the sea to live in with my cats.

165669-seaside-cottage
So cute!

In high school, my internal worlds started becoming external through my writing. It’s no longer me going on adventures but the characters I create. Worlds I didn’t know were rattling around in my head started coming out onto the page. It’s been fun to explore worlds someone else didn’t already create.

Writing is now my escape.

Between reading and writing, the monotony of life doesn’t feel so… monotonous.

 

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