Sunday, December 31, 2017

Best of the Year, 2017



Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

Already time for the yearly roundup of some of the best reads this year. I always wait until the very last possible moment to post my list; you never know what you'll come across around Christmas! I like to give every book I've read this year a chance to appear on my favourites list, no matter if I read it in the first week of January or the last few days of December. 

I also create a statistical summary each year, mostly for my own geekish pleasure. As I've said before, I don't think of reading as a competition -- I keep track of numbers and various stats for my own interest, not to prove anything or compare myself to anyone. 

Here are my reading stats for 2017:

Total Reading: 157

Authors

Female: 138
Male: 18
Both/Neither: 1

Genre etc.

Fiction: 82
Non Fiction: 53
Poetry: 10
Graphic Novels: 8
Short Stories: 4 

In translation: 11

French (Quebecois):3
French (France): 1
Italian: 2
Norwegian: 1
Dutch: 1
Japanese: 1
Hebrew: 1
Turkish: 1 

My Own Books: 38
Library Books: 105

Review Copies: 14

Rereads: 0
E-reads: 2
E-Audio: 5
Author who I read the most fromMary Burchell (7)

2017's Weird Random Stat - Books with a Proper Name in the Title: 15

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It's interesting to see that the ratio of fiction to nonfiction is quite different this year -- I've read a lot more nonfic than usual, most of it connected to the textile arts which I've been studying for the last half of the year. 

Once again Mary Burchell comes out on top as the author with the most titles read. This could have something to do with the big score of a stack of vintage Burchells I found while thrifting this summer. 

I read fewer books in translation this year, but they were spread over a much wider range of languages. This is an area to keep working on increasing. 

And I'm kind of happy to see that the number of review copies has been halved since last year. I've been trying to take on less 'necessary' reading, and I do think that finishing up with some library committee work has made a difference here. 

How has your reading year looked?

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And now on to some of my favourite titles of the year! I read less fiction this year, and found fewer spectacular reads in those I did read. But there were some standouts which I really enjoyed, either for the style or characters or concepts, and here they are:




Specimen by Irina Kovalyova 
This short story collection was a wonderful discovery; as I said at the time, it felt like a breath of fresh air. The focus on international settings and stories with overt political content, plus the fine writing, made this a hit for me this year.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
A classic that I finally read, it was also a really great book on its own -- compelling story and wonderful characters. Glad I finally read it!

Son of A Trickster by Eden Robinson
A 2017 Canadian novel set in BC, this indigenous, magical, blackly funny/sad novel was a standout! And it is only part one of a projected trilogy which I am really looking forward to now.

Come Away by Anne Hines 
This little novel was quite literally a surprise -- I found it on my shelves with no memory of how it got there. Switching between the distant past in Babylon and current day academia gave it a vibrancy I enjoyed.  

Monoculture by F.S. Michaels 
My only nonfic pick on my final list, this simple read covers the idea that we are operating under a monoculture, a 'master story' if you will, that colours everything our civilization does. It's an economic story, and Michaels lays it all out clearly for those new to this discussion, with many examples. Thoughtful and engaging.

The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
Another classic that I finally got to this year, and another outstanding read. I loved this book about Morag Gunn, her past, her present, and her future as represented by her daughter. So good. 

The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby
A YA novel by a Canadian author I've enjoyed in the past, this one dealt with fashion and two high school students trying to get into an elite school via this route. Great characters, love and lust, high style, family dysfunction, drama and more.


The Purple Swamp Hen by Penelope Lively
One of my very favourite writers, Penelope Lively, released this book of short stories this year. I knew I'd read it, and as it turns out I really enjoyed it, and was surprised by some of the edgier content -- a fun collection.


Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto 
Another favourite writer, I picked this one up for August's Women in Translation month. Such a slow moving, thoughtful, book with lots of heartbreak and hope in it. I like her writing style, and her sense of life passing away before our eyes.

The Bone Mother by David Demchuk 
This was a surprise to me -- a horror novel that I loved? Weird! This collection of connected tales was mysterious, magical, dark, evocative -- all the things I love, without being too gory. 





So there you have it. Some of my faves of the year -- hoping I'll be more on my usual reading track next year and able to find more great reads to share.

Happy Reading in 2018!


Friday, December 29, 2017

Challenges Past, Challenges Ahead

I don't know what happened this year: I read far less than usual and missed participating in some challenges that I've read along with for years. Oh well, things do happen! Here is the roundup of 2017 Challenges


Challenges Done:

I started off the year with a week long Diverse-A-Thon Challenge, as reading more diversely is on my mind as a practice I need to be more consistent with. I read:












and I started Love, Anger, Madness by Marie Vieux-Chauvet (I've read Love but haven't reviewed it yet, and have the other two novellas ahead to read this year)






I also spent the month of August focusing on #WIT, or Women In Translation Month. This is one of my favourite activities, and this year I read and reviewed 5 books during August (3 Italian, 1 Japanese, and 1 Dutch author) You can see all my reviews in my August posts.



I kept reading for my Century of Books Challenge, though admittedly it did get sidelined a bit with all my other reading going on. Although it started as a two year challenge, I am now just reading until I finish it, whenever that may be. 

This year I read my way up to a total of 79 titles with quite a few still needing to be reviewed, so 21 left to read this year! And with that reading I completed my first decade: the 30s.



I also officially signed up for the Classics Club this year but have only read 2/50 possible titles so far! Time to get cracking.

I read The Diviners by Margaret Laurence & A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor. Lots left to read ;)


And of course I kept reading for the 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge, and met my personal goal of 13 Canadian titles read and reviewed each month. Whew! I really slowed down when I took over as host of the 11th Annual Canadian Book Challenge, having read and reviewed only 4 titles since July!



Challenges to Come:

My reading challenge goals for 2018:

Of course I'll continue reading for the 11th Canadian Book Challenge which runs July 1 - July 1 -- and you can still join us! Anyone can sign up anytime, if you think you can read and review 13 Canadian books in the time you have left.  Or sign up for the 12th when it's announced on July 1st this year :)

Reading as many titles for the Century of Books as possible (hopefully finishing this year!)

 Reading more Women in Translation all year long, but especially in August.

 And reading for the Classics Challenge -- aim to get at least 10 read this year.


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And what about you? Do you take on reading challenges or projects? Do you find they inspire more reading or reader's block? Sometimes I do find that I read less when I feel compelled, even by myself! Will try to overcome that tendency this year and read, read, read.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Year in First Lines: 2017 in Review

my annual calendar purchase


As usual at this time of year, I review and share my reading/blogging year with First Lines.

Simply put, we share the first line of the first post of each month and see what that overview tells us about our year. Often it can be an uncannily accurate summary.

If you haven't tried this before, give it a go this year; it's a fun exercise, and often summarizes the year quite efficiently. If you do, please share a link in the comments so we can all enjoy!

Anyhow, without further ado, here is my 2017 in First Lines:


January:
I don't usually make complex resolutions at the New Year; I like to set an intention instead.
[from Imagine


February:
I absolutely loved Warren's Governor-General's Award winning  novel, Cool Water.
[from Liberty Street by Dianne Warren


March:
This book has been getting a lot of buzz, so when it was my turn to take it home from the library I was really excited. 
[from All Our Wrong Todays


April:
This newly released book was a beautiful and bittersweet read.
[from Where I Live Now]
 

May: 
July 1st is coming soon! I'm lucky enough to be taking over the hosting duties for the marvellous Canadian Book Challenge from John at the Book Mine Set
[from 11th Annual Canadian Book Challenge


June:
One more month to think about signing up for the 11th Annual Canadian Book Challenge!
[from 11th Annual Canadian Book Challenge: One Month Countdown


July:
Welcome to the kick-off of the 11th Annual Canadian Book Challenge! We're glad to have you along for the ride.
[from Welcome to the 11th Annual Canadian Book Challenge with Canadian Road Trip Novels


August:
And here it is, August again! I will be reading along with #WomenInTranslation month, created and hosted by Meytal at Biblibio. 
[from August is Women In Translation Month!


September:
If you're wondering why it's been kind of quiet over here for the last few weeks it's because I've been busy getting another reading challenge going... this time a readalong & sewalong at my other, sewing, blog. 
[from The Literary Sewing Circle]


October:
Just in time for Halloween, I finally weigh in with my first book review of the month, a delightfully witchy book by Alice Hoffman. 
[from Hoffman's Rules of Magic


November:
This is a mystery novel that's light on the mystery even though there is a murder; it's more interested in the way the crime changes the life of garden/lifestyle journalist Robin MacFarland. 
[from Flush: A Mystery]


December: 
As my longer-term readers may know, horror is not my first choice for a good read. 
[from The Bone Mother]

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There we have it: a pretty typical year -- lots of talking about books with some reading challenges thrown in there. Especially for those 3 months when I was obviously really enthusiastic about taking over the hosting for the Canadian Book Challenge! I also enjoyed a sewing/reading challenge at my other blog, and fyi for anybody into sewing or textiles, I'll be running another round of the Literary Sewing Circle starting in late January. Keep your eyes peeled! 

Hope your readerly year was just as enjoyable as mine, even if other parts of 2017 were pretty crummy. Let's all hope and work for a better 2018.


Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Book!

Merry Christmas

to all my loyal readers! 
Wishing you a peaceful season
filled with books, love, and good government


Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Nancy Mitford's Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding & Pigeon Pie / Nancy Mitford 
New York: Popular Library, 1976, c1932.
212 p.

I read this book for obvious seasonal reasons -- but having finished it I most likely won't bother with the second title in this compilation edition with the ghastly 70s cover. Reviews say that these two novels are early Mitford, and weaker than her later work, and of the two Christmas Pudding is better.

That's no great recommendation, however.

Christmas Pudding tells the tale of a rich and ennui ridden family, the Bobbins: horsey Lady Bobbin, son Bobby and daughter Philadelphia. Christmas is really incidental in this book, an excuse for the extended family to gather at the ancestral home and create some amusing set pieces. There is crossed love, gambling debts, impersonations, odd children, a tedious ball, and lots of hunting.

There is also the fact that Lady Bobbin and her cousin Lord Leamington Spa are described as loving Christmas as a "merrie olde England" kind of holiday, and striving mightily to make it into that kind of celebration in the face of the cynical, ironic younger members of the family who are so much bright young things they can't possibly stomach sentimental holidays. 

It's very much a novel of the upper classes, from the vantage point of tutor Paul Fotheringay aka Fisher, Bobby's putative tutor over the holidays (whom a previous reader helpfully noted in the margins was strikingly similar to Paul Pennyfeather from Waugh...). The misunderstanding and misapprehensions between classes are played for humour, and there are plenty of dithery women who are helplessly devoted to their male counterpoints, deserved or not.

I found it slightly amusing, vaguely interesting, but overall quite pedestrian. The names were the best part of it -- from Philadelphia and Bobby Bobbin to Lord Leamington Spa to Squibby Almanack, the characters' names and their introduction in a preface was the best part of the tale.

Perhaps I'll try again with one of Mitford more recognizably popular books and see if it takes a little better than this one did.

What is your favourite Christmas read?

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Brief Reviews: a collection

There are a number of books I've read over the  last few months that I've never reviewed here: some because I didn't have enough to say about them, some because I reviewed them for the Library Journal as part of my professional duties & so can't do so here. But I can share some brief thoughts about all these kind of reads, and today is the day!

First off, some Library Journal reads:


Wildwood / Elinor Florence

A Canadian novel of survival in a remote farming community, the heart of the story is in its focus on women's relationships throughout the generations. Really enjoyed it; wholesome writing, great setting. Forthcoming in 2018.


The Other Mother / Carol Goodman 

Haven't reviewed this one yet, just finished it -- it is forthcoming. But as with most of Goodman's books I can recommend it. This tale moves toward the very popular domestic suspense genre but still carries the aura of Goodman's gothic predilections. 

The Marriage Pact / Michelle Richmond

Loved it! A fun, suspenseful read that I like to call "the Da Vinci Code for marriage counsellors". You can see some of my LJ review on the author's website if you scroll down a bit.
 

Modern Lovers / Emma Straub

While I wasn't a huge fan of Straub's novel The Vacationers, I really enjoyed this one. It has heart. See my LJ review here.


And now for a few random reads that I never got around to talking about after I'd finished them.

The Snow Child / Eowyn Ivey
I had this on my tbr for years! I finally got around to it this year and was sadly underwhelmed. Perhaps I wasn't in the right mood but the story seemed too slow paced for me and the ending was a bit of an eyeroll. Sorry to those who've loved it! 

The Clothes on their Backs / Linda Grant
This story of an immigrant family in England faced with the existence of the main character's flashy uncle (involved in things that aren't always just so) was a complex and interesting read. I felt a little disconnected from the narrative though. I was engaged while I was reading but found the ending a bit of a let down. Lots of very tactile description in it, however, which I really liked.

Under Plum Lake / Lionel Davidson
This classic children's book was recommended to me as a vision of true utopia. I read it. I disagree strongly that the vision of a life under the sea with a very masculine focused society and a snotty know-it-all main character who condescendingly references his mother and little sister is a utopian vision. Times change, thankfully.

Mr. Rochester / Sarah Shoemaker
I read this "true story" of Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre fame quickly -- I liked it despite my usual hesitation over either real people or other writer's characters being used in new books. The writing was good and it seemed to stick to possibilities suggested by the original text. But it has quickly faded from memory. I think my own Mr Rochester is stronger in my readerly brain. But the cover is too gorgeous!

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler / E.L. Konigsburg
I would have LOVED this as a kid. I don't know how I missed this story of unappreciated Claudia who runs away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with her little brother when I was the right age for it. I liked it as an adult reader but it just doesn't have the same magic when you don't find it at the right time.


I hope that I've now caught up a bit; this year has been getting away from me! More reviews and a yearly roundup to come, though... 


Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Bone Mother

The Bone Mother / David Demchuk 
Peterborough, ON: ChiZine, c2017.
234 p.

As my longer-term readers may know, horror is not my first choice for a good read. But this one, longlisted for the Giller Prize (a preeminent Canadian literary prize), and set on the borders of Ukraine & Romania, interested me for those very reasons.

It's a set of short stories, all connected in ways, featuring the ancient monsters of peasant folklore, salted with some scary 'night police' tracking them down, in a nod to Soviet style tyranny.

The stories are set in Ukraine, especially three villages near the Thimble Factory, as well as a couple of stories within the Ukrainian community in Canada (the one set in Manitoba was especially good, I thought - probably the most memorable for me). 

They are full of horror; from bloody killings to cannibalism to monsters living among us -- but somehow the overall tone is more dark folklore than gratuitous gore. The stories in which I could identify real folkloric creatures like the rusalka or Baba Yaga were the most fascinating to me. There were a couple of these short tales that I didn't like much (mostly the last one) but as a whole this book was a great read. Creepy, spooky, dark, the stories were so brief (some only a page or two) that it really felt like reading folk tales, like these were stories that had been -- or should have been -- passed down in whispers through the generations. 

As one of the reviews of this book has mentioned, the actual history that this book arises from is terrifying enough on its own: Demchuk mentions the Holodomyr (Stalin's forced famine, which created plenty of real-life horror) and the way the implacable Night Police are threaded through the stories reads as Soviet reality.

Another element that adds to the book is Demchuk's use of old photographs (in the public domain) by Roman photographer Costică Acsinte, taken between 1935 and 1945. They are portraits, with individuals staring out at you from stark backgrounds; the chapters titles are simply names. It's very effective. 

A very unusual Canadian read, but one that I read in one sitting and by the way, didn't even have nightmares after reading it! 


Friday, December 01, 2017

11th Annual CanBook Challenge: December Roundup





Click on the icon above

2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)

3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as Melwyk (Anne of Green Gables)

4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

5. In the comment section below, note whether you've read a book which meets the monthly challenge set via email for participants.