Tag Archives: Book Talk

End of the year wrap up

Once again, Savidge Reads is inviting people to do something cool…take a look back at your reading for the year.  So, I’m making a new pot of tea and doing just that!

How many books read in 2009?

48…which is not nearly as many as some readers out there…and I am hoping to squeeze one more in before the 31st

How many fiction and non fiction?

I rarely read non-fiction, but this year I read two: The Art of Meaningful Living and Traveling with Pomegranates.

Male/Female author ratio?

20 men and 27 women and I know  the math doesn’t add up…but I read two novels by Thomas H. Cook this year.

Favourite book of 2009?

This wasn’t a stellar reading year, sadly. I had a horrible slump in the late fall where nothing appealed to me at all. Of the books I read, though, Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones was far and away the best. I said about it:

Mister Pip is a fantastic book about the power of reading and imagination. It is also a powerful and startling novel about bravery and sacrifice, love and forgiveness.”

Least favourite?

Lots of potential here:

Love: A User’s Guide by Clare Naylor was god-awful.

At a Loss for Words by Diane Schoemperlen and Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon were hugely disappointing, particularly Dismantled because I had so loved the author’s book Promise Not to Tell.

Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why?

I started several books that I had to put aside. I finished Traveling with Pomegranates last night and I am hoping to finish The Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman before the 31st. I never did get around to finishing The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson…that’s a book I will have to restart. The buzz was crazy about it and I’m not sure why I didn’t finish it at the time I started…there was just something. Other titles I started and the set aside include: The Almond by Nedjma, What Love Means to You People by NancyKay Shapiro, Under My Skin by Alison Jameson and Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

Oldest book read?

Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease, 1940. This is a book I am teaching to my grade nine class.


The Art of Meaningful Living and Traveling with Pomegranates both came out in September and, strangely, are the two non-fiction titles I read this year.

Longest and shortest book titles?

Longest: Charlotte and Claudia Keeping in Touch by Joan Barfoot

Shortest:  Envy by Kathryn Harrison. I had several one word titles, so I chose the one with the fewest letters. *g*

Longest and shortest books?

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski – 576 pages

The Pearl by John Steinbeck – 96 pages

How many books from the library?

None. And I do have a library card!

Any translated books?

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (translated from Norwegian)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (translated from the French)

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author?

Thomas H. Cook, a fabulous writer of literary mysteries. I read two of his novels this year: Places in the Dark and Red Leaves.

Any re-reads?

Yes, I reread The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, a novel I first read 35 years ago. I also re-read Lord of the Flies by William Golding because I was teaching it to a grade ten class.

Favourite character of the year?

There were several interesting characters in the books I read this year. I fell totally in love with Claire Cooper, the narrator in Kelly Simmons’ terrific debut novel Standing Still. Claire is a fully realized character, fragile and brave. I also really loved that Claire is a woman who is trying to reconcile motherhood and marriage with the fact that she was, once, a very successful career woman. I loved her wild past, her ability to fall in love with a man based on a single characteristic, her yearning for that simple pleasure once again.

I also loved Caroline, the protagonist in Amanda Eyre Ward’s fantastic book How To Be Lost. Caroline is self-destructive and selfish and afraid. Her journey to find the woman in the picture (the  younger sister who has been missing for years) is ill-advised and necessary because by making the journey she is making her first real attempt to leave the past behind.

And, of course, I can’t leave out Matilda and Mr. Watts, the central characters in Lloyd Jones’ not-to-be-missed Mister Pip. As Mr. Watts unspools Pip’s story from Great Expectations,  thirteen year old Matilda begins the often painful journey from innocence to experience.

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading?

Greece, France, Turkey – Traveling with Pomegranates

Norway – Out Stealing Horses

Poland, Switzerland – The Silver Sword

Brazil – The Trade Mission

England – Talking to the Dead

France – The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Papua New Guinea, Australia – Mister Pip

West Africa – The Book of Negroes

India – The White Tiger

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?

There are a couple books which might not have made their way onto my reading list so soon except for the fact that they were chosen by members of my book club and therefore I had to read them. For example, I would probably have never read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – certainly not in hard-cover. I might never have given The Elegance of the Hedgehog a second chance; I really didn’t like it the first time I tried to read it, but managed to get through it the second time…and didn’t hate it.

Which author was new to you in 2009 that you now want to read the entire works of?

Lee Martin. I just finished his book The Bright Forever and it was terrific. I’ll definitely be looking for more work by him. I am also anxious to read Kelly Simmons’ new book The Birdhouse which is due out in February.

Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read?

You’re kidding, right? The bookshelf to the right contains about 200 yet-to-be-read books…so it’s not annoyance I feel when I don’t get around to those books…it’s more like panic!

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?

Not really, although several of the titles have been on my tbr list for a while: Out Stealing Horses, The Trade Mission, On Chesil Beach.

I’ll just add that the book I will be beginning 2010 with  is Kathy Hepinstall’s debut novel The House of Gentle Men. This novel is actually my pick for book club in January.  When Book Closeouts was having their massive fiction sale around American Thanksgiving, I bought each member of my group a copy of the book to give them as a gift at Christmas. I paid $1.24 per hard cover book. Score!

If you do this meme, I’d love the link so I can go check your answers out!

Happy New Year.


The Ludic Reader

Last night I went to a local bookstore, InPrint, where three local readers (Bernie Cormier, Lisa Hrabluk and Mark Leger) and moderator, Signe Gurholt, talked about books and reading. It wasn’t particularly well-attended, although this might have been because it’s just days before Christmas and people’s social calendars are already maxed out. No matter – the discussion was lively, the questions thoughtful and the only thing that might have made it better from my point of view is if I were on the panel – because who likes talking about books more than me!

One interesting thing that came up was the idea of ludos which comes from the Latin ‘ludo’ meaning ‘I play’.  The ludic reading experience depends on the reader’s ability, positive expectations and correctful choices. When those three things come together- well, you know what happens, right? Reading transports, but as Dr. Ann Compton (English professor and award-winning poet) exclaimed at the conclusion of the discussion -it’s not about escapism. Reading requires active participation – we don’t turn our brains off to read, we turn them on.

I snooped around a little bit this morning and came across this article: The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure: Needs and Gratification

It’s an interesting read.

Fiction lover’s paradise…

You probably already know this…oh, who am I kidding, I’m talking to myself here…but Book Closeouts is currently running a terrific promotion. All of their fiction is further reduced by 50% and if you spend $35 it’s free shipping in the US and Canada. When I got the e-mail announcing this special I swooned and then started combing through 16,000+ fiction titles…adding things to a shopping cart the contents of which  I was in no position to actually purchase.  In the end I got about 30 titles (some of which I have been unable to find elsewhere) for $50. This sale ends on Dec 2.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

I’ve sort of been on the periphery of the book blogging world since I started a year ago and I’d like to be more involved. This event, Book Blogger Appreciation Week, seems like a wonderful opportunity to meet some new people and perhaps even encourage some people to read my blog. (aka shameless self-promotion). I submitted the names of some of my favourite blogs to the awards and as a first-time participant I was asked to answer these questions.

1)  What has been one of the highlights of blogging for you?

When author Kelly Simmons stopped by to thank me for my favourable review of her novel Standing Still.
2)  What blogger has helped you out with your blog by answering questions, linking to you, or inspiring you?

Matt at A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook mentioned my blog in a post early on, which was nice and SavidgeReads has also been most welcoming at his blog and has linked to mine.
3)  What one question do you have about BBAW that someone who participated last year could answer?

What happens at BBAW the other 51 weeks of the year?

My Reader’s Table…

Savidge Reads, a blog I only discovered today, had a terrific idea. What if you had a Reader’s Table in your home and could give away copies of your 20 favourite books. Think about it sort of like the Hot Fiction table at Indigo…only you’ve chosen the titles (and they wouldn’t necessarily have to be all fiction, either).

Just thinking about the possibilities makes me swoon with delight. What 20 books would I put on my list? What books would you put on yours? If you do a Reader’s Table- I’d love to have a link to it…

So…here’s my top 20- subject to change – of course-  as I continue reading. *g*

the-time-travelers-wife There’s nothing I don’t love about The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. When I did work at the bookstore I recommended that people not try to work out the logistics of the time travel, but to concentrate on the incredible story between Clare and Henry. This book swallowed me whole and appealed to the romantic in me…and I am not ashamed to admit that I sobbed uncontrollably during the book’s final 50 pages.

velocityI bought Kristin McCloy’s debut novel Velocity at The Strand in New York City the summer I was 24 or 25. I have read it every year since. It’s the story of Ellie who returns to her childhood home after the death of her mother. She meets Jesse, the quintessential bad boy,  and their affair is propelled by her grief. I suspect that I initially fell in love with this novel because I was, at the time, in love with a ‘bad boy’ myself…but those days are long gone. So, what makes me re-read this book over and over?  I love the way McCloy writes and this story still speaks to me in ways I find difficult to articulate. billydead

Here’s what I wrote in my review of Lisa Reardon’s novel Billy Dead:

Truthfully, the book probably isn’t for everyone: it’s graphic and violent. But the characters are so compellingly real and their journey is so honest, they’ll make an indelible impression on you. Really.

For whatever reason (okay, okay, it’s V.C. Andrews’ novel Flowers in the Attic) I have a thing for fiction that deals with incest. Billy Dead is a love story, though, despite its subject matter.

fingersmithFingersmith by Sarah Waters was my book club pick a couple years ago and – no surprise- I won best book. This is just a fantastic novel, filled with period details and intrigue and characters it’s impossible not to care about- even when they are doing horrible things for selfish reasons. The BBC did a mini series, which is worth viewing, too…but the book is a fantastic page turner which will have you gasping out loud!

promise I love this book and hand sold a dozen copies when I worked at the book store. Promise Not To Tell by Jennifer McMahon is a ghost story and a love story and a coming of age story and the writing is wonderful. In my review I said: The characters are well-drawn, even minor-characters. More importantly, as the story unravels, you don’t feel cheated by the denouement.

princessFrances Hodgson Burnett’s novel A Little Princess is one of my favourite childhood novels. The heart-wrenching story of Sara Crewe, left at Miss Minchin’s School for Young Ladies, is tragic and magical. I’ve read this book a few times as an adult and it never fails to make me cry, particularly during the part when starving Sara gives her hot buns to a little girl who is clearly more hungry than she is. This book belongs on every young girl’s bookshelf. It’s on my daughter’s.

our town I’ve loved Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town for 30 years  and I even wrote my Honours English thesis on Wilder because of this play. The residents of Grover’s Corners lead a simple life, but even they don’t truly appreciate life’s value until it’s too late. Wilder’s masterpiece still resonates in a world which places far less value on the things which are truly important: family, community, love, faith.

itI’m not ashamed to admit that I am a huge King fan. That said, I haven’t read every single one of his novels…and I haven’t loved every single novel I’ve read. I did, however, love It. There are some things King does better (or at least as well as) than any other popular novelist. For example, he writes childhood friendships beautifully and, ultimately, that’s what It is about. Seven adults who fought a horrible evil as children reunite to fight it again. This novel is scary and surprisingly poignant and the summer it came out I carried it with me everywhere because I could not put it down.

mockingbirdI can’t imagine who would leave Harper Lee’s only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird off a list of favourite books…but I suppose it’s possible. I’ve taught this novel a few times and I know that students struggle a bit with the first 50 pages or so, but after that this novel is the most brilliant story of friendship and parenthood and prejudice and loyalty. It’s sad that Lee never wrote another book, but when you’ve written this book, I guess it hardly matters.


Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre had a huge impact on me the first time I read it. I was about 12 and I loved everything about this book. Jane, an orphan, leaves an unhappy life with her relatives to attend school and then become a governess. I couldn’t actually relate to Jane’s life and yet I adored her character. I really should re-read this novel.

atonement I have mad love for Ian McEwan, even though I often find his prose dense and difficult. There’s always, always a pay-off when you finish one of his novels, though – not the least of which is feeling very literate! I’ve read several of his novels and I have to put Atonement on the top of the pile. I found the first 50 or so pages a tough slog, but then wow-  I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and the novel’s stunning ending just made everything that came before so much more incredibly moving. Love this book.

bridgesOkay, I’m not going to try to make the argument that Robert James Waller’s novel The Bridges of Madison County is great literature. It’s not, I know that. Nevertheless, this book (prior to The Time Traveler’s Wife) made me cry harder than any book ever. I read it when I was living in the UK and as soon as I was finished I sent it to my best friend back home. Waller’s book should speak to anyone who has ever had the opportunity to reconsider the choices they’ve made in life…and will undoubtedly move anyone who is not cynical about love.

thekissI am a huge Kathryn Harrison fan. She’s a fantastic writer and The Kiss, while difficult to read, is a terrific memoir.  In my review I said: it’s a breathtaking and gut-clenching examination of how her seemingly unrequited love for her mother manifested itself into an all consuming and ultimately devastating sexual affair with her estranged father. There’s nothing titillating about this story and yet I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Harrison doesn’t excuse herself or her part in the relationship, but it’s impossible not to feel incredibly sad for her.

standingThis is definitely one of my favourite books of the last few months. Standing Still by Kelly Simmons is just a terrific book: part page-turner (there’s an intriguing mystery at this book’s core) and part meditation on marriage and family and the lives women leave behind in order to have those things. When a kidnapper breaks into Claire Cooper’s house, she begs him to take her instead of her daughter. He does and the novel spins out a story of their relationship…and so much more. I just really, really think this book deserves a huge following.

possession I should really read this book again. A.S. Byatt’s Possession was one of those books I read in my late 20s, which I really loved and which I probably didn’t understand half as well as I thought I did at the time. So how come it ends up on my top twenty table? Seriously, it’s got everything: a love story, poetry, mystery. And then, it’s got Byatt’s incredible prose. For anyone who loves literature – it’s a must-read.

anne frank


The Diary of a Young Girl should really be required reading for everyone. Anne Frank’s diary of life in Nazi Germany is remarkable for several reasons, but mostly because it relates the everyday feelings of a young girl caught in extraordinary circumstances.  When my husband and I visited Holland in the early 90s, we went to Anne Frank’s hiding place and it was such a poignant experience.  This book had a profound impact on me as a young girl and holds a special place in my heart.

brooklyn A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is sitting on my to-be-read shelf, but obviously for it to be included here I’ve already read it. That said, I read it a LONG time ago. And yet I have such wonderful memories about this book and its classic story of a poor American family at the turn of the 20th century.  Once I’ve re-read it, I’m going to hand it over to my daughter. Who knows, maybe someday it’ll end up on her Reader’s Table list!


I have to include three novels on this list, all of which might be difficult to find and all by Carolyn Slaughter. The first one is called The Banquet and tells the story of an architect named, Harold, and a Marks and Spencer shopgirl called Blossom. At first glance this is a love story, but it’s far more compelling than that. The ending- and trust me, you won’t see it coming- is remarkable. Once I’d read The Banquet I raced around to find more work by Slaughter. The next book I’d encourage you to read is called The Story of the Weasel. This novel is also called Relations, I’m not sure why the book is known by two different titles. This is another book which concerns incest, but it’s one of the most beautiful and heart-breaking love stories I’ve ever read. Finally, Magdalene is a fictional account of the love story between Mary Magdalene and Jesus and it’s terrific. All three of these novels have really resonated with me…and are part of the reason that I wrote to Slaughter, something I rarely do. She graciously wrote me back…a handwritten letter which I cherish.

Author: Kate Atkinson’s Reader’s Table

Author: Sebastian Faulks’ Reader’s Table

Author: Philip Pullman’s Reader’s Table

Author: Nick Hornby’s Reader’s Table

Author: Kate Mosse’s Reader’s Table

A show for book lovers…

On May 11th, Open Book TV premiered on Link TV.  Based in New York City, Open Book is dedicated to telling stories about writers, their craft and the way that words inspire and inform other artistic endeavours. Their premiere episode takes a look at various writers living in a particular neighbourhood of Brooklyn including a chat with Ishmael Beah, author of  A Long Way Gone.

Watch an excerpt

 According to their press release  Open Book is “created and hosted by Ina Howard-Parker, an experienced book publicist and editor, and directed by Diane Paragas, an award-winning documentary and commercial filmmaker, Open Book is a new half-hour weekly television program about books and writers focusing on the contemporary and historical literary production in a different spot on the planet each week. ”

Yikes- it’s like crack for book lovers. Don’t we all wonder about the authors behind our favourite books? I know I do. What inspires them? How do they practice their craft? Generally speaking, writers seem like a pretty engaging bunch (okay, maybe not J.D. Salinger!) and so Open Book should make for must-see viewing for bibliophiles.

I have another reason to watch. The show’s Executive Producer, Rod Alleyne is a dear friend (I hesitate to say old, even though I’ve known him for a long time!).  I hope this project has a shelf life at least as long as Dan Brown’s ridiculous fame. Trust me, there’s more substance for sure!

Open Book TV’s Blog


I very rarely get rid of books. Some I keep because I re-read them. Some I keep because I really love them, even though I might never read them again. Mostly, though, I just like the way books look- the aesthetic of them on a shelf or stacked beside my bed.

The school where I teach is having a book swap at the end of the month and so I thought I could pass on a few titles. After much deliberation I am going to give away:

Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger – Although I enjoyed this book, it’s not something I’d re-read because once the mystery is solved, it’s pointless to re-read.

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen – I like Quindlen, but didn’t like this book at all.

Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez – I know, I know. People who love this book love it a lot. I didn’t like it one bit.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards – Another much hyped book that did nothing for me.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – Another book that was, imho, over-praised. Good riddance.

The Slow Moon by Elizabeth Cox – I’d really been looking forward to reading this book and it was a huge disappointment,

A Cold Dark Place by Greg Olsen – A stupid book.

Love: A User’s Guide by Clare Naylor – I really didn’t like this book at all.

Kill Me First by Kate Morgenroth – Another in the one-read thriller/mystery category.

Sleep No More by Greg Iles – Stoo-pid.

The King of Lies by John Hart -Another in the one-read thriller/mystery category.

The Innocent by Harlan Coben -Another in the one-read thriller/mystery category.

How and why do you purge?