A bookish retrospective

Hello, and happy new year! I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you are also amazed by how quickly 2016 went by. It happens every year, so I don’t know why it is such a surprise each time, but…I can’t believe it!

Every year people write about all the books they’ve read, and I was always left wondering how I would fit in on the spectrum of volumes read per year. So in 2016 I kept a list, and I managed to get 26 books read this year! That number has made me especially skeptical of those who read over 100 books a year. Unless their job is to read and review books, of course. But for anyone with a full-time job to read over 100 books a year, I have to wonder.

2016 Reading Highlights

  • I discovered a new series this year: A Victorian Bookshop Mystery series by Kate Parker. They are obviously fluffy reads, but I love that they are set in Victorian England; the protagonist is the proprietor of a bookstore; there’s a cat, murder, intrigue and romance. What’s not to love?! A wonderfully entertaining escape from reality.

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  • The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell. I enjoyed this novel about a descendant of the Brontë family, and I was especially impressed by the author’s insightful comments about the Brontë girls and how events in the lives of the other sisters seem to have ended up in Charlotte’s best-selling work, Jane Eyre.

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  • As some of my posts this year indicated, I re-read some books that I haven’t looked at in years. Re-reading books is always enjoyable, because it’s like visiting with old friends. I read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which is one of my all-time favourites, and I think I will try to tackle The Moonstone this year, which I haven’t cracked open in close to 20 years.
  • I renewed my acquaintance with Agatha Christie. I read lots of her books in high school, but hadn’t picked one up in years! So after following @agathachristie on Twitter and reading about The Bibulous Bibliobiuli‘s challenge to read all of Christie’s works last year, I thought I would re-visit those classics, and have thoroughly enjoyed them. I try to pay equal attention to M. Poirot and Miss Marple.

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Who knows what this new year will hold? If I could make a wish, it would be for the space to build some shelves that can hold all the books in my home. Aside from that, I can’t wait to read more M. L. Longworth books, find out what happens in the newest Birder Murder installation (being released in May), and meet more new books, as well as re-visit some old familiar ones. Oh, and let’s not forget the next illustrated Harry Potter book, due out in October!

On that note, I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year! All the very best in 2017 – may your tea always be hot and your bookshelves always full.  🙂

You gotta read this!

Hi everyone! I am so sorry I have been such an infrequent blogger this year. Interesting, original blog posts have been hard to come up with, and life has been so busy that I haven’t had many opportunities to read. But I hope I will be able to create more posts as we move into the second half of 2016.

This year, my goals is to re-read some of my favourite books, as well as to read some of the classics that I still haven’t read yet. Future posts will bring you up to date on my progress in those areas, but this post is about some new, interesting, and entertaining books I’ve read lately that I highly recommend.

  • The Case of the Secretive Sister by Nilanjan P. Choudhury

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I first heard of this absolutely delightful book from another blogger, The Bibulous Bibliobiuli. His review here is definitely worth reading to get more of a sense of this witty, engaging read. It’s published in India, and I have not read much contemporary Indian fiction, but this was a quick read that was fun from cover to cover. Perfect summer reading, or just to get away from everything for a while, I know you’ll be glad you read it.

  • Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

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This is the second book I’ve read by Amy Stewart, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both. Girl Waits With Gun takes place in pre-WWI America, and is based on true events. The author brings the past vividly to life in this story about a thug and his gang of hoodlums who hit a horse-drawn buggy while they are driving in their car. The three Kopp sisters were in the buggy at the time of the accident, and the story unfolds as they try to get the driver to pay up for the damages. A very satisfying story with a dose of history as well!

  • The Great Pearl Heist by Molly Caldwell Crosby

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The Great Pearl Heist falls into the true crime category. It’s a well-researched tale of the amazing theft of the world’s most expensive necklace. It happened in London in 1913, and as well as full details on the theft itself, we also learn a lot about policing and the art of detection at that time. For a synopsis, click here – but I have to warn you, if you don’t already, you will want to read the book after you learn more about it!

Graphic Novels?

In my December 18, 2014 posting, Intriguing!, I got to thinking about graphic novels a bit. I realized that I don’t own any, and if I want to build a well-rounded collection, I should have some in it. The problem for me is, most graphic novels are dark, both literally and figuratively. The subject matter is often less than uplifting, and the images are frequently very graphic. Go figure. So I decided that I would make it my mission to find at least one graphic novel that I like: one with pleasing illustrations, and an uplifting or at least interesting story line. And guess what? I found some.

Shaun Tan’s book, The Arrival (2007) is stunning. The illustrations reminded me right away of Chris Van Allsburg’s style, and the creativity displayed as Tan marries the age-old tale of a newcomer in a foreign land with futuristic cityscapes and animals provided a new delight on every page. At 128 pages, it’s really more of an illustrated story (there are no words), than a graphic novel, but it’s still a worthy addition to anyone’s collection and will be enjoyed by adults and children alike. For more information, check it out on Amazon.com.
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Here, by Richard McGuire (2014), is also a really neat book. As I mentioned in December, it is the story of one little piece of land  told over many centuries, with glimpses into different years together on the same page. This is definitely a novel, at 304 pages, and also worth adding to your collection. For more information, check it out on Amazon.com.
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WWW Wednesdays

Should Be Reading hosts a weekly event called WWW Wednesdays (or at least it was hosted through 2014. I hope it’s still a thing..) where you share (1) What you’re currently reading, (2) What you recently finished reading, and (3) What you think you’ll read next. This is the first time I’ve contributed to a WWW Wednesday, but since there are a few minutes of Wednesday left, I thought I’d try it out and see how it feels.

(1) I’m currently reading Native Son by Richard Wright, first published in 1940.

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(2) I just finished reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013);

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(3) and next I plan to read The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (2014).

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(3)(i) Or maybe The English Girl by Daniel Silva (2013). I’m not sure yet.

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So there you have it: my first WWW Wednesday installment. Feel free to comment with your own WWW Wednesday titles, or put a link to your WWW post in the comments, or go straight to the source and comment at Should be Reading.

Favourite Christmas Books

For our neighbours to the south, the day after Thanksgiving marks the official start of the Christmas season. So in honour of our American friends, I thought I would do a post about Christmas memories. And since this blog focuses on books… You know where this is going.

One book that makes me pause and leaf through it every time I see it, is The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. I’m always a little sad at the end, but can’t help but get lost in the story again and again.

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Another one that recalls my earliest Christmas memories is The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden. This book is so heart-warming, that I guarantee you will enjoy it if you haven’t read it. And if you have already read it, I know you will agree.

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And so, with that nod to the start of the Christmas Season, once again I put the question to you, my readers. What are your favorite Christmas books? They don’t have to be children’s books, like the ones I just listed, but please do share whatever they are!

Fiction Titles – A Shoutout to the 1990s (approximately)

Landscape of Lies by Peter Watson

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  • This is a page-turning thriller based on an enigmatic message from a medieval painting. Set in 1989, it’s also a entertaining trip down memory lane. Check out more reviews on Amazon.com, but beware, this link is to a new edition from 2005, so I don’t know how much editing has occurred in it.

The Eight by Katherine Neville

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  • The Eight is truly epic, spanning centuries and the entire globe. Also set around 1990, this book is a page-turner thriller. Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

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  • I read this book in my early twenties and found it a very intense read, but I was proud of myself when I finished it.  Another work that falls firmly into the ‘epic’ category, it is a fascinating account of seventeenth-century science and a riveting mystery with a very unexpected ending. Highly recommended! Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

More Non-Fiction Titles

The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart

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  • I know this is not the most gripping-sounding book, but I really enjoyed it. However, I have a soft spot in my heart for worms, so if you don’t, I have to admit this may not be as enjoyable as all my other recommendations. (I was being ironic about my recommendations.) But if you also stop to save worms that are drowning in puddles after it rains, this is most definitely the book for you! It’s full of facts that will change your understanding of the world around you. For more reviews, check it out on Amazon.com.

Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King

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  •  Amazingly, this book tells a gripping story, despite being comprised of research about 16th century politics, Michelangelo’s odd habits, and fairly detailed information about the actual painting of the Sistine ceiling. I was given this book as a gift, because speaking frankly, I would not have picked up a non-fiction book about a work of art unless there were some fantastic scandal associated with it. However, I could not put it down, and then read more by Ross King, including Bruneslleschi’s Dome. Intrigue, political scandal, and really cool facts about how the ceiling was done, this book was a really good read and is very highly recommended. For more reviews, check it out on Amazon.com.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

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  • Again, not a book that screams “action!” or “suspense!” but undeniably fascinating and horrifying. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. For real information on what organic means today and for anyone interested in sustainable foods, this book is for you. And for people who eat food from the grocery store and think you know what you’re eating: Read this book! For more reviews, check it out on Amazon.com.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A story of violent faith by Jon Krakauer

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  • When I read this, it was the last thing I thought about before falling asleep and the first thing that entered my mind when I woke up. Fascinating is an understatement. Meticulously researched and entwined with a murder trial from the 1980s, this book was also a gripping page-turner and impossible to put down. For more reviews, check it out on Amazon.com.

Non-Fiction Titles You Might Enjoy

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

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  • Okay, yes. There is a little fiction thrown in here to make the story really come alive, but it’s a true crime read that will not disappoint. I originally read this for a book club and was reluctant to read it. Wow, was I in for a shock. This is a gripping page turner that educates at the same time. Highly recommended! Check out more reviews at Amazon.com.

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray

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  • Toronto, 1915. A bit dry at times, but a very interesting look at how Toronto (and Canada) were a century ago. Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

Midnight in Peking by Paul French

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  • A fascinatingly educational, gripping page-turner. Written about an event that took place in 1937, this book provides a glimpse into a bygone Peking as well as a satisfying solution to a grisly unsolved murder. Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell

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  • A very convincing case, I really believe Cornwell solved this one. Thoroughly researched with lots of photos, this is highly recommended! Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine’s Nuclear Strike Attempt on the US by Kenneth Sewell

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  • This book was amazing. Very well written and thoroughly researched, you won’t believe it’s true – but it is! Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife by Irene Spencer

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  • Absolutely fascinating! The title pretty much says the rest. Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

Some Quirky, Unusual Titles to Enjoy

The 100-year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

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  • This book was a treat from cover to cover (just a few moments that dragged). I  love how bizarre all the characters are, and the epic scope of the tale within a tale made it all the more interesting. Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was by Barry Hughart

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  • This novel’s main characters were very endearing, and the story itself was therapy for an active imagination. I loved every page. Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

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  • Honestly, the style of writing was an adjustment for me, but once I got going, Audrey’s memories of her childhood warmed my heart. An out-of-the-ordinary, refreshing and quirky read. Check out more reviews on Amazon.ca.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

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  • This book gives those of us who aren’t Asian and/or filthy rich a fascinating glimpse into the world of the Asian mega-rich, with lots of comedy thrown in. Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

Dewey the Library Cat: A True Story by Vickie Myron

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  • When I saw that this is a true story about a tiny kitten who shouldn’t have survived, I was instantly intrigued. A quick read, this book was wonderfully uplifting. Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

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  • Set in post-WWI New York, this book was thoroughly heart-warming. Very interesting to those who enjoy reading about how things used to be, with murder and espionage to boot! Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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  • Books like Landscape of Lies and Rule of Four come to mind with this one, although the humor and very currant setting makes it even better. The protagonist’s wry humor and the swirling mystery place this book firmly into the quirky category on my list of fun books to read. Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (YA fiction, but don’t let that keep you from a truly delightful read)

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  • Besides reviving memories of first hearing this read to me by my father sometime before my tenth birthday, this book was interesting in its wonderful characters and epic scope. Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (and other Flavia de Luce mysteries) by Alan Bradley

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  • This quirky little detective is absolutely adorable, and she’s a very smart girl. Also set in times past, this is another thoroughly delightful read from beginning to end. Check out more reviews on Amazon.com.