The Pain of Remembering

I think I can count on one hand the number of memoirs I’ve read in my entire life, but this year I read two in as many months!

The memoirs I read are Educated by Tara Westover, and War Child by Emmanuel Jal. I was surprised to discover that I could actually relate to one of these memoirs, and as you might expect, it was not the one about child soldiers in Sudan. However, while I also have some tales from north Idaho that defy belief, Emmanuel Jal’s account of his life was even more gripping and horrifying (at times), so I’ll start with that one.

I had the honour and privilege of meeting Mr. Jal in person, and his life story is one I will never forget. He has lived through horrors that people in the West cannot begin to truly understand, and yet he came out of bitterness, death and hatred, to a life devoted to the spread of peace. He found healing when he met God, but also through music, and he has released several albums, topping the charts in Africa, and working with some very big names here in North America and the UK as well. (Check out We Want Peace, More Power, or Baai on YouTube.) Although there are devastating moments in this memoir, it is still quite easy to read, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Wow. What a tragic story. Educated is technically also an easy read, but emotionally speaking, ‘easy’ is not a word anyone would use to describe this book. I like reading while I eat, and there were times when I had to put the book down to finish my meal. So much violence. And plenty of emotional manipulation as well, although that was less stomach-churning. The worst part for me was that so much of the physical injuries (well, mental injuries too, but from head trauma, not emotional trauma – of which there is also plenty!) could have been easily avoided. This book is a real page-turner and also comes very highly recommended. And if it seems like it’s too extreme to be real, let me assure you that it is very likely true.

If there are memoirs out there that you would recommend, could you let me know the titles? I’d love to hear which ones have touches your lives, and get more acquainted with this genre at the same time. Thank you!

Does the weather affect your reading choices?

In all my life, I don’t believe there has ever been this much snow on the ground for such a long time without a thaw! As a snow lover I am thoroughly enjoying every soft, sparkling second. All the cold and snow have kept me indoors more than usual, though, so I have been able to chip away at my never-ending To Be Read pile.

As I was selecting a book to read, I wondered whether the wintry weather had an impact on my choice. Beach reads are obviously meant to be read in the summer, preferably while on vacation. But what about cozy mysteries, are they always read in the winter months, by a fire or with a cup of tea (or both)? Lately I have been conscious of something that makes me choose a gloomy mystery over less atmospheric non-fiction nature writing, but I’m not sure what the cause is. In case anyone is out there thinking I just didn’t want to start reading something ‘dry,’ that is not the situation in this case. I truly love the natural world, and I therefore find nature writing very interesting! It’s just that I was vaguely aware of some underlying instinct that seemed to result in my final selection.

I think we can all agree that the weather affects our mood, and I suppose our mood would have an effect on what we choose to read, so maybe it’s not exactly the weather that causes us to read something light, or something a bit heavier.

What do you think? Have you noticed that the genre of books you read tends to vary with the seasons? Or am I on my own with this one?

Books as Therapy

I think it’s time for another post about bibliotherapy – the practice of using books as tools for improving, promoting or maintaining mental health. Wellness and mental health are extremely important, with our lives getting busier and busier, and stress increasing with every new addition to our calendars.

Reading helps us escape from the pressures of everyday life

Is there anything more satisfying than recommending a book that someone else reads and enjoys? I absolutely love those moments. Readers’ advisory is not bibliotherapy, but if finding someone who likes the same books as we do warms our hearts, imagine the thrill of prescribing a book that helps someone on such a foundational level as their mental wellbeing.

In her Guardian article, Move over Freud: literary fiction is the best therapy, Salley Vickers breaks it down for us, spelling out some social problems (‘chronic loneliness and isolation’) and a therapeutic solution that involves reading: “reading in groups . . . significantly ‘improves self-confidence and self-esteem.'”

The Conversation has a great article about the history of bibliotherapy, which came into its own after World War I. Many returning soldiers were so traumatized from their experiences that they had a difficult time re-adjusting to civilian life; but prescribed reading helped many sufferers to work through their trauma. I know I have written about her before, but one of my heroes is Sadie Peterson Delaney, who pioneered bibliotherapy, and worked very closely with veterans as well as children.

Image courtesy of The Steampunk Home

On the other hand, bibliotherapy is still an imprecise science. A book that one person connects with might not be helpful to someone else. In their article, 5 Books That Will Make You Happier, According to Bibliotherapists Good Housekeeping sites therapists who recommend The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt as a good book to read if you are feeling pessimistic about the future. I found that book very depressing and not at all positive or uplifting, so in my opinion that’s an inappropriate recommendation for someone who is already feeling pessimistic. This article leads me to believe that there could be quite a margin of error in the practice of bibliotherapy, but I suppose that could be said about many things. Overall, I still love the idea and am eager to connect with someone who has been an official participant in bibliotherapy.

Is there anyone out there who would like to share a books-as-therapy experience? I would love to hear your thoughts!

What a year!

Overall, was 2018 a good year for your reading? A good year could mean you reached your goal for the number of books you hoped to read. Or it could mean that generally, you liked the books you read. For me, I wouldn’t say it was a great year. I read fewer books than I hoped to, and there were a lot of books in there that I really did not enjoy. My least favourite 2018 reads are:

  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
  • The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
  • Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee

On the plus side, there were some new titles I discovered last year which I really enjoyed. They are pictured below, and I honestly can’t recommend them highly enough. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a book I will always cherish, because it opened my eyes to the the astonishing intricacies of the little guys we see on the sidewalk every morning in the summer. I will forever appreciate snails now that I’ve read this book.

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock was very unusual, and extremely well written; there’s nothing like a breath of fresh air just when you need it.

As someone with a heart for books (especially old ones), history, mystery, and quaint, ancient English towns, Charlie Lovett’s The Lost Book of the Grail was the literary equivalent of eating a delicious dessert every time I picked it up (which wasn’t often, because I rarely put it down!):

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett

I am happy that I discovered some new gems in 2018, and even though I read a few books I didn’t enjoy, no reading is ever a waste of time. The books we don’t connect with still teach us things – about ourselves or something else. And learning is always a good thing!

To see a list of the books I conquered last year, please click the following link:

Thank you for stopping by. I think last year was my worst for blog posts, but I will try to post more this year. Although truth be told, I do find it difficult to come up with original things to blog about. But please hang in there! I appreciate everyone who pops in to read my thoughts ❤

Is there anything better than summer reading? (of course not!)

Have you been able to work on your To Be Read pile this summer? For the first time in years, I have actually had time to whittle away at my TBR list, and it’s been wonderful.

Last week I read The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol. It’s a sequel to The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles, which I really enjoyed. Yellow Eyes was definitely quirky and original, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Slow Waltz of Turtles was a bit grittier, but I still liked it – not quite as much as its predecessor, though.
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I am an unabashed lover of animals, insects, nature and all things related to our natural world, so I was excited to read The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel. Lewis-Stempel is a renowned nature writer, and wow, it did not disappoint! Throughout the entire book, I was preparing myself for the horrible demise of the creatures I was growing to love (the hares that the author was protecting and indirectly providing for, for instance) but although nature and her carnivorous ways were well depicted, the book ended on a positive note, and my fears were allayed. (I might have also bought it because of the cover.)
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To change things up a bit, I also read an Agatha Christie mystery, The Murder on the Links. As well as being a nature lover, I’m also a cozy mystery enthusiast, and Agatha Christie does cozy mysteries like no one else. What better way to relax and unwind, than going through an exercise of the “little grey cells” with Hercule Poirot?
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So what have you been reading this summer? Have you found new books and added them to your TBR pile? Or have you been diligently ticking off those titles that have been looking at you for months? Maybe both! Whatever this summer brings you, I hope it involves many hours of literary happiness. ❤

Preventive Maintenance for Books

There’s no doubt about it, spring is on its way! Although today it is very cold here, so that might seem hard to believe. Nevertheless, warmer temperatures will be with us soon, and air conditioners will be humming once more.

With a change in the weather in mind, it’s time to do a quick assessment of your book collection’s health.

  1. Make sure your books are not in the basement or attic, where temperatures fluctuate the most, and the air can be very damp.
  2. Check that your books are not on an outside wall, where dampness can settle into them.
  3. Move shelves away from the blast of heating and cooling vents.
  4. Make sure your books aren’t jammed too tightly into their shelves, so they can breathe. Ensuring proper air circulation helps to prevent damage caused by moisture.
  5. Give those treasures some love with a duster. Dust and other particulates that settle onto the tops of books are harmful too, if it is not removed from time to time.
  6. Be sure to keep your collection out of direct sunlight: light damage is cumulative and irreversible.

I’m sure these tips are already in practice for the majority of my readers, but just in case anyone needed a reminder, I hope this short list was helpful.

Happy Spring, and happy reading! xo

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The ups and downs of 2017

Hello, and happy new year! I hope 2017 was full of literary joys and adventures for all of you, and I hope 2018 continues to delight and surprise us.

Throughout the year I read several new books that were not really ‘new,’ in that although I had not read them before, they were from series I enjoy, such as M. L. Longworth installments or Agatha Christie novels. They were not exactly new, but delightful all the same.

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M. L. Longworth books

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My Agatha Christie collection so far…

Others were books I found through rabbit holes that one so easily falls into when looking at Amazon suggestions and reviews. One such gem was The Relic Master. I have mentioned it in a previous blog post, and I can’t recommend it enough. A healthy dose of history, mystery, some action, and a little romance, made for an edition to my collection where I was sorry to reach its end.

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The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley

Another unexpected surprise was Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I didn’t have high hopes for this one, but it far surpassed the ones I had. Murder, devious plots, mistaken identity and a little romance make this another one that was hard to put down.

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Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

And speaking of books from the past, I re-read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. It’s probably been twenty years since I first read it, and I have to say, I really liked it! I am an unabashed Wilkie Collins fan, and this confirmed my high regard of his work. At over 500  pages, it looks like it could be a bit of a slog, but it went very quickly with lots and lots of mystery and intrigue, and of course some romance as well. If you haven’t read it (or The Woman in White, my all-time favourite) I can highly recommend it.

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The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I also read a few books this year that were a little underwhelming, the most notable of which was The Circle by Dave Eggers. It was actually just the end that I disliked. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into detail, but I will say that the protagonist’s final actions were thoroughly unsatisfactory, in my humble opinion. Which leads me to another story I didn’t love, and that was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I am glad I have finally read it, but it wasn’t a story that resonated with me. That’s not to say that it wasn’t well written or engrossing, both of which it was. It just wasn’t my favourite.

I could go on and on, but I try to keep my posts from rambling, so I will sign off for now. If you would like to see all the books I read in 2017 (a whopping 38), please click on the link below.

Books for 2017

A very happy and healthy new year to each and every one of you. May your year be full of love, laughter, and wonderful BOOKS!

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It never ends well

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized that an unhappy or unresolved ending is sort of the point, for dystopian novels. Being somewhat new to the genre, I kept hoping that in the end, Good would rise up and overthrow the evil regime that had oppressed everyone during the story. Alas, happy endings don’t ever seem to happen.

My first foray into dystopia was with The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I read the first book which of course made me want to read the next one in the trilogy, but I also wanted to wait to buy it once it was in paperback so it matched the first volume (I know, I know).
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So while I waited for Catching Fire and Mocking Jay to come out in paperback, I read other books, one of them being 1984, since it has become quite popular in the last few years and I felt bad that I hadn’t yet read it.

As I read that dystopian classic, I realized where Collins had likely gathered many of her ideas, noting a lot of similarities between the two books. As I finished 1984 I was really surprised (in a bad way) by the ending. No overthrow of Big Brother? No victorious uprising with truth and freedom winning the day? I found that a depressing end to the story. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it has only recently dawned on me that a depressing end is the goal here. Or at least, the point.
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Once the second and third Hunger Games books came out in my required format, I read those and was also disappointed by the extremely depressing and not-at-all satisfying end. All my hopes and anticipation of good finally triumphing in the end were dashed.

My most recent (and probably final) foray into the world of dystopia was The Handmaid’s Tale. As with 1984, its revived popularity combined with my mild feelings of guilt over still not having read that portion of Western literary canon, caused me to pick it up and get it over with. As I trudged through it, I kept thinking that sadly, I would not be able to join the multitudes who declare their undying love for this work. But then, as I caught myself thinking this while washing the dishes or getting ready for bed, I admitted that the book was indeed very thought-provoking, and therefore possibly better than I was giving it credit for.
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I am someone who needs, if not exactly a ‘happy ending,’ then certainly an ending that does not provoke feelings of despair or defeat. I put myself in my characters’ shoes, so if things don’t end well for them, they don’t end well for me, and I really prefer it not to be that way. So, as I finished The Handmaid’s Tale, I was glad to find an epilogue that points to the regime’s downfall. That glimmer of hope helped perk me up a bit. But as I was saying to my dear husband, “the thing about dystopian novels is, they never seem to end well.” And so, dear readers, I will be sure to avoid them in my future reading adventures.

Interview with Words and Peace blog

Hello, Readers! A fellow blogger and I wanted to get to know each other a bit better, and also wanted to do a little advertising, so we’ve decided to co-publish an interview we did with each other on our blogs.

Emma from Words and Peace is posting my answers to these questions on her blog, and I hope you will enjoy her responses below, and also stop by her blog and get to know her!

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  1. What made you want to start a blog?

First of all, I would like to thank you Jess for interviewing me. The idea was born during BBAW, I’m glad we finally took the time to do this. Your followers who are interested in your answers can come and read them on my own book blog.

I launched Words And Peace in September 2010.
I have always loved reading and talking about books, to anyone ready to listen.
One day, I discovered evolution had produced a rare species, book bloggens. I was overjoyed to discover other members were not far from me, just a few computer keys away, and that I could communicate with them in a common language. So we started talking, and one day, I decided to join their lively community. I have not regretted it once.
So when I can’t talk books with people around me, I can always go and find other book bloggens members. Through them, I have discovered zillions of books I would never have heard about otherwise.

  1. What is it about books that is special to you?

I devour about 110 books every year, and I practice book polygamy, that is, I always read several books at the same time. I usually have one or more going on in print, one or more in a digital form, and always one in audio form. I am always in the process of reading a religious book, Lent or not, and I try to have another one pertaining to nonfiction as well.

So far, nothing that exceptional for a book blogger. Maybe more special is the fact that as soon as I have a minute when my hands are going to be busy and my brain free, I do not listen to music or podcasts, but to an audiobook: preparing dinner, doing the dishes, dusting, ironing, exercising or painting (I’m also an artist). Also during long road trips.

And I have decided not to have TV at home, so I basically have around 5 hours of leisure time every night to read. I usually do not read before 6pm, too busy with work (tutoring and translating novels), but after that, I can relax with a good book.

  1. What are some of the unexpected rewards that have come to you as a result of your blog?

When I started book blogging, as said above, I was just looking for a place to talk about books with others. In the process, I got familiar with all kinds of events related to book blogging, such as, among many other things, virtual book tours.
Visiting many other book bloggers and participating in blogging events made me become more aware of new releases and discover more closely the world of publishers. Little by little, I realized how many books published every month were set in France. So the idea gradually grew in me that there was a niche for me if I combined these two things.
That’s how book blogging led me to start my own virtual book tour company, in 2013, focused exclusively on books related to France.

For years, I’ve been aware of a heated debate among book bloggers, whether getting a book for free to review is pay enough, or whether you should get remunerated for talking time to read a book and write a review. There seems to be a brand new trend opening right now for book reviewers, where some companies are willing to pay to get some good quality honest reviews –we are not talking about “bribes” by sales platforms here. I have been recently accepted by one of these companies and another invitation is pending, so I have the feeling book blogging is going to morph for me and open onto other things down the line.

  1. Is blogging everything you thought it would be?

Book blogging has opened up wide horizons for me, much wider than I ever imagined, as far as connections with bloggers, authors, and publishers are concerned.

I had never thought either that it would push me to write public pieces on a regular basis in English, which is not my native language. It is quite exhilarating, even though I am aware of the persistent presence of syntax mistakes.
It has also offered to me the unexpected opportunity for more visibility regarding my translation jobs – I translate English novels into French, and I have the feeling this is also going to grow.
Besides, for whenever I have time, I also have a book project of my own. It will be the fruit of both my book blog and my virtual book tour site. I published an anthology a few years ago, so it would be really thrilling to put together a second book.
So book blogging has ended up being so much more than I thought it would be!

Thanks Jess, for your wonderful questions.

Emma at Words And Peace and France Book Tours

Words And Peace is also on FacebookTwitter, Google+Goodreads, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube

And you can see here the novels I have translated so far

*** Thank you for this fun opportunity to spread the word about a fellow book-lover’s blog. All the best to you, Emma, and to those who stopped by to read our interview. ***

Controversial Books

My sincere apologies for not writing much lately. Life has been far too busy and is starting to seriously impair my ability to write an engaging blog. Blogs are meant to be fun and not a source of stress, however, so I continue on and blog when I can, in the hopes that you all understand and don’t hold the infrequency of my posting against me.

Now that it’s well into September and school is in full swing, I wanted to do a post on controversial books. I’ve just begun reading The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, and I still recall the uproar it caused when it was first published in 1988.
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Last year I read Native Son by Richard Wright, which has been ‘challenged’ repeatedly since it was published. The challengers are right – it does have very explicit sexual scenes and violence, but it is an incredible book. I still can’t believe it was written in 1940, with a searing social commentary on race relations in the United States that is still relevant today.
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I’m looking forward to the epic read that Satanic Verses promises to be, and I wonder what controversial books all of you have read. Did you enjoy it (or them)? Did you wish you hadn’t read it, or agree with those who challenged it – that it should not have been published? Or did you like it so much you wish it were required reading for everyone?