The 2013 Year in Review

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s been another great year of books—I can’t believe I finished the challenge this year, I didn’t expect to. To celebrate, I’ve compiled my Year in Review. I have lists below, but this year I also have an infographic of sorts. Unfortunately I can’t make it embed because Infogr.am, the website I used, is for some reason completely defective that way (and I spent all day trying to create one with Javascript and JQuery, but to say that didn’t go well would be a massive understatement). If you’re interested in seeing the graphic, you can click here. You can scroll over the map to see how many books were based in each country.

On the note of lists, they’re below. As with last year, they’re a backwards countdown from 10 (or 5 on the smaller lists). I’ve also included the full 100 books at the end of the post, under the jump. I won’t include a list of the ones I finished from the Stylist list, because it was really just Anna Karenina.

A final announcement: I think it’s time for me to end my book challenge, at least for a while. The past three years have been fun but also incredibly stressful. By the end of this year specifically I was sick of reading, and I just wanted to stop. So for 2014 I’m not going to set an amount of books to read. However, I’ll probably post book reviews once in a while.

Anyway, enjoy the lists!

Best 10 of 2013:
10. The Dogs Are Eating Them Now — Graeme Smith
9. The Demonologist — Andrew Pyper
8. The Ice Princess — Camilla Läckberg
7. Enemies Within — Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman
6. Nikolski — Nicolas Dickner
5. Starbucked — Taylor Clark
4. Me Before You — Jojo Moyes
3. The Reluctant Fundamentalist — Mohsin Hamid
2. The Imperfectionists — Tom Rachman
1. Sweet Tooth — Ian McEwan

Worst 5 of 2013:
5. The Golden Spruce — John Vaillant
4. Public Secrets — Nora Roberts
3. The First Deadly Sin — Lawrence Sanders
2. Creatures of Light and Darkness — Roger Zelazny
1. Easy Money — Jens Lapidus

Ten Best Fiction:
10. Infidelity — Stacey May Fowles
9. Crazy Rich Asians — Kevin Kwan
8. Green Grass Running Water — Thomas King
7. Spin — Catherine McKenzie
6. Blankets — Craig Thompson
5. Nikolski — Nicolas Dickner
4. The Reluctant Fundamentalist — Mohsin Hamid
3. The Imperfectionists — Tom Rachman
2. Me Before You — Jojo Moyes
1. Sweet Tooth — Ian McEwan

Ten Best Non-Fiction:
10. Mrs. Kennedy and Me — Clint Hill
9. In The City of Bikes — Pete Jordan
8. Lost Girls — Robert Kolker
7. La Seduction — Elaine Sciolino
6. Some Great Idea — Edward Keenan
5. Heads In Beds — Jacob Tomsky
4. Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler — Trudi Kanter
3. Starbucked — Taylor Clark
2. The Dogs Are Eating Them Now — Graeme Smith
1. Enemies Within — Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman

Ten Best Romance:
10. Inner Harbour — Nora Roberts
9. Wallbanger — Alice Clayton
8. Chesapeake Blue — Nora Roberts
7. Born In Fire — Nora Roberts
6. Seducing Ingrid Bergman — Chris Greenhalgh
5. Rising Tides — Nora Roberts
4. Sea Swept — Nora Roberts
3. The Lost Wife — Alyson Richman
2. Me Before You — Jojo Moyes
1. Sweet Tooth — Ian McEwan

Ten Best Crime/Mystery:
10. A Lesson In Secrets — Jacqueline Winspear
9. Paris to Die For — Maxine Kenneth
8. The Black Echo — Michael Connelly
7. The Guilty Plea — Robert Rotenberg
6. Stray Bullets — Robert Rotenberg
5. The Black Ice — Michael Connelly
4. The Concrete Blonde — Michael Connelly
3. The Black Box — Michael Connelly
2. Blue Monday — Nicci French
1. Stranglehold — Robert Rotenberg

Ten Best Horror/Thriller:
10. The Preacher — Camilla Läckberg
9. The Drowning — Camilla Läckberg
8.  Defending Jacob — William Landay
7. The Hidden Child — Camilla Läckberg
6. The Stranger — Camilla Läckberg
5. The Ice Princess — Camilla Läckberg
4. The Reluctant Fundamentalist — Mohsin Hamid
3. The Lost Boy — Camilla Läckberg
2. The Demonologist — Andrew Pyper
1. The Stonecutter — Camilla Läckberg

Five Best Historical (Fiction and Non-Fiction):
5. The Dressmaker — Kate Alcott
4. Seducing Ingrid Bergman — Chris Greenhalgh
3. The Lost Wife — Alyson Richman
2. Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler — Trudi Kanter
1. Sweet Tooth — Ian McEwan

Ten Best Canadian Novels:
10. Stray Bullets — Robert Rotenberg
9. Infidelity — Stacey May Fowles
8. Green Grass, Running Water — Thomas King
7. Spin — Catherine McKenzie
6. Stranglehold — Robert Rotenberg
5. Some Great Idea — Edward Keenan
4. The Dogs Are Eating Them Now — Graeme Smith
3. The Demonologist — Andrew Pyper
2. Nikolski — Nicolas Dickner
1. The Imperfectionists — Tom Rachman

Five Best Short Stories:
5. A Scandal In Bohemia — Arthur Conan Doyle
4. Le Bal — Irene Nemirovsky
3. Benjamin Button — F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Copper Beeches — Arthur Conan Doyle
1. The Speckled Band — Arthur Conan Doyle

For anyone who’s interested in the full 100 books, you can head under the jump and see the final tally for the year.

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Reviews: Books 93-100

Read: 100
To Go: 0

Book List:
91. The Beryl Coronet — Arthur Conan Doyle
92. The Copper Beeches — Arthur Conan Doyle
93. La Seduction — Elaine Sciolino
94. Enemies Within — Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman
95. Public Secrets — Nora Roberts
96. The Hidden Child — Camilla Läckberg
97. 101 Uses for a Pug — Willow Creek Press
98. Feminist Ryan Gosling — Danielle Henderson
99. Holidays on Ice — David Sedaris
100. Defending Jacob — William Landay

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Finished reading: December 18, 2013

In La Seduction, Elaine Sciolino, the longtime Paris bureau chief of the New York Times, explains her theory that, for the French, seduction is a way of life, and crucial to how they relate to each other: not just in romance but in how they elect politicians, conduct business, enjoy food and drink, and have intellectual discussions.

If I don’t say this I’ll regret it: Sciolino’s book utterly seduced me. (And yes, I can hear your loud groaning from here.)  La Seduction provided delightful insight into the uniquely French practice, and how it plays out in almost every facet of their culture. Sciolino points out that for foreigners, the process can seem confusing, and it’s true: as I was reading I kept thinking that in friendships and relationships, and even just in casual conversation, it must be such a complicated practice to seduce but not to make the seduction obvious (that would be in bad taste). I think I might be too flat-footed and blunt for that.

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Finished reading: December 22, 2013

In Enemies Within, two Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press reporters investigate one of the most sensitive post-9/11 national security operations: a rush to prevent a homegrown al Qaeda bomber from executing his attack in New York City. It also delves into the NYPD’s hefty intelligence division, known as the Demographics Unit.

Enemies Within was one of those novels that gets your heart pounding. It kept up an unrelenting pace following in the footsteps of the would-be bomber, with interludes that focused on the major players surrounding the investigation, from the efficient and effective FBI/NYPD joint task force to the rogue NYPD Demographics Unit, which has ridiculous amounts of information and surveillance but nothing that could prevent a terrorist attack and amounted to little more than mass-scale racial profiling. Enemies Within was a fascinating read that kept me glued to the page.

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Finished reading: December 22, 2013

Emma McAvoy has grown up in the limelight, touring the world with her father’s band, Devastation. But despite her very public life, some secrets have stayed buried—like the names of the people who murdered someone close to her in her childhood, a memory she repressed for nearly 20 years. But her past is about to catch up with her.

My mother lent me this book and it was one of her favourites, so I feel truly awful for what I’m about to say. But what a terrible read. My book summary is not entirely reflective of what Public Secrets was about, but I’d need about three more paragraphs to sum it up. This was due to problems with pacing and plot. Pacing is normally something Nora Roberts handles well, but Public Secrets was bizarrely stretched out from Emma’s infancy to her mid-20s, likely to emphasize important moments that would have prominence in the later storyline. However, it would’ve made more sense to highlight those pivotal moments in flashbacks and cut out the frequent waiting time in the narrative. What I mean by that is long passages that were largely filled with platitudes before making an abrupt time shift like “months passed” or “days later.” Aside from a pacing issue, Public Secrets was rife with eyeroll-inducing antagonist caricatures and suffered from extreme plot ambition: there were far too many balls in the air, and quite a few of those plots didn’t deserve even half the prominence they received. With dramatic trimming, this could’ve been a far more digestible novel.

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Finished reading: December 24, 2013

The morning after their wedding, Patrik and Erica make an unusual discovery in their attic: a Nazi war medal, a bloody baby’s shirt, and a set of diaries among Erica’s mother’s former possessions. It prompts Erica to have the war medal analyzed by a WW2 expert in town, and to start reading her mother’s diaries. Elsy Falck was cold and distant while she lived, and Erica always longed to know more about her; these clues offer her a chance to find out exactly who her mother was. As Erica starts to read more about her mother’s life during the second world war, her own investigation dovetails with a murder the Tanum police department is investigating while Patrik is on his paternity leave.

I love Camilla Läckberg’s novels for many reasons. One of those is their insights into Swedish life. Paternity leave is, from what I can tell, a common and highly used perk there, and parents in Sweden get an equal amount of time off, should they chose it (16 months). So after having Erica play full-time caregiver for the last year, Patrik steps in to be a stay-at-home dad. It was a neat role-reversal, seeing Patrik finally begin to understand how frustrating the experience could be—and getting so desperate for grown-up social interaction that he would take his daughter for a walk and within an hour find himself at the police station, assisting his colleagues with their investigation. Aside from that, The Hidden Child presents a particularly sad mystery: Elsy Falck, nee Mostrom, was a sweet, happy girl in her youth. What makes her the withdrawn mother Erica remembered is heartbreaking.

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Finished reading: December 25, 2013

This is literally the cutest book I have ever seen (if you follow my Tumblr, you know I have a well-documented, deep and undying love of pugs), and when I found it in my stocking on Christmas morning I screamed to the high heavens with joy. But the reason I counted it in my challenge this year was because by the time I reached book 97, all I wanted to do was give up on the challenge and die. So I will not be reviewing it, for obvious reasons (but I did give it 5 stars out of 5 on Goodreads, and I plan to keep it forever, if that indicates how much I enjoyed it).

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Finished reading: December 25, 2013

Same as above, I wouldn’t have included Feminist Ryan Gosling in my challenge (okay, maybe I would have) if I hadn’t been so absolutely desperate to be done with reading. But I did derive lots of pleasure from reading it, just as I enjoyed the meme in its Tumblr form. Thanks go to my dear friend Mara for a wonderful Christmas gift!

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Finished reading: December 26, 2013

Holidays on Ice is a collection of holiday-themed short stories by renowned funny-man David Sedaris. It was another Christmas present (thanks, Mara!) and, in the holiday spirit, I read it on Boxing Day. It was amusing and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, and definitely a little disturbing at times. “SantaLand Diaries,” the longest story about taking a job as a Christmas elf at Macy’s, and “Seasons Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!”, written in the style of a family newsletter penned by an irate and racist mother in a faux-exuberant tone (with plenty of exclamations marks) got my biggest laughs. I enjoy almost nothing more than excessive exclamation points. (Except for pugs. Pugs trump all.) Some of the stories were a little too offbeat for my taste, but good fun all around.

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Finished reading: December 28, 2013

Andy Barber, an assistant district attorney for two decades, is well respected at work and happy at home with the two loves of his life, his wife Laurie and his teenage son Jacob. Then Andy’s quiet suburb is stunned by a violent crime: a young boy is stabbed to death a park on his way to school. Another catastrophic shock: the accused is Andy’s shy, mysterious son. Andy believes in his son’s innocence, but as damning evidence turns up his marriage begins to falter, and doubt starts to fester in the Barber household.

The reading process I went through with Defending Jacob was similar to what happened with Sutton: I started reading it, skimmed through, and spoiled the ending for myself, and had to put it down for a while. (More evidence that I should really stop skim-reading, but old habits die hard.) But when I was choosing a book to end the year on, I wanted it to be Defending Jacob…mainly because I’d already read almost 200 pages and it would be time-consuming and counter-productive to ignore a half-finished book in favour of reading a new book. All this is a precursor to saying that despite spoiling the ending for myself, Defending Jacob was a thrill-packed page-turner with plenty of ambiguity to leave you wondering long after you set the book down. Jacob’s guilt or innocence is never really confirmed, and though Andy remains convinced to the end I can’t say I’m so sure. It’s a fascinating book, and Landay is a master of surprises.

That concludes my 100 book challenge, and all the reviews! It’s been a wonderful, thought often stressful and frenetic, year of reading, with an overall great crop of books. Thanks for following along with me as I posted sporadic and much-delayed reviews. Check back in the next couple of days for my 2013 Year in Review, complete with lists, visuals, and a big announcement!

– Kelsey

Reviews: Books 81-92

Read: 92
To Go: 8

Book List:
81. A Scandal In Bohemia — Arthur Conan Doyle
82. The Red Headed League — Arthur Conan Doyle
83. A Case of Identity — Arthur Conan Doyle
84. The Boscombe Valley Mystery — Arthur Conan Doyle
85. The Five Orange Pips — Arthur Conan Doyle
86. The Man With The Twisted Lip — Arthur Conan Doyle
87. The Blue Carbuncle — Arthur Conan Doyle
88. The Speckled Band — Arthur Conan Doyle
89. The Engineer’s Thumb — Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Noble Bachelor — Arthur Conan Doyle
91. The Beryl Coronet — Arthur Conan Doyle
92. The Copper Beeches — Arthur Conan Doyle

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Last year Thunder Bay Press released a series of keepsake versions of old classics, like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. I was perusing the World’s Biggest Bookstore after my birthday in July and came across this keepsake version, and I couldn’t resist buying it. Partially because it’s gorgeous, and partially because I watch Elementary and I wanted to be at least a little familiar with the canon Holmes stories to see if I could catch little references. (They make them regularly and I never do.)

There’s a convoluted explanation as to why I decided to count each ACD short story from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as a separate book, but to make a long story short: as I started reading the book, and went to update my progress on Goodreads, I found that all the stories appeared to have been published individually at one time, so I could count them individually. I’m never one to ignore corner-cutting options, so I took it, and now I’ve saved myself about 12 days. But because the stories are so short, I’m going to review them as one here.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was an amusing little collection, and the stories were quite ingenious. But for someone with very little experience with Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, I was surprised by their characterization. Based on the versions of Watson as played by Jude Law and Lucy Liu (as the gender-bent Joan), I expected him to be of more help to Sherlock, and considerably less subservient. Watson’s narrations are a one-man Sherlock Holmes fan-club, and he’s more a follower than a partner in the true sense of the word. Sherlock was also much more playful and lighthearted (at least in this set of short stories) than he’s been played in the big and small-screen adaptations I’ve seen (with the exception of Robert Downey Junior who, if I recall correctly, plays him quite mischievously). Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the canonical versions of Holmes and Watson—they were just not who I expected to see.

Top five stories (not in any particular order): A Scandal In Bohemia, The Speckled Band, The Red Headed League, The Engineer’s Thumb and The Copper Beeches.

– Kelsey

P.S.: I’m going to do a mega-post of mini reviews for books 93-100 instead of seven individual reviews to save blog followers from getting seven emails in the next few days. And then, of course, I’ll do the year-end review!

Reviews: Books 71-80

Read: 80
To Go: 20

Book List:
71. Infidelity — Stacey May Fowles
72. Nikolski — Nicolas Dickner
73. Palo Alto — James Franco
74. Born in Fire — Nora Roberts
75. Blankets — Craig Thompson
76. The Stonecutter — Camilla Läckberg
77. Rachel’s Secret — Shelly Sanders
78. Sutton — J.R. Moehringer
79. The Harem Midwife — Roberta Rich
80. The Golden Spruce — John Vaillant

In order to try to catch up on my terribly delayed book reviews, I’m going to do mega posts of mini-reviews. Here are the reviews on books 71-80.

cover-infidelity

Finished reading: November 13, 2013

Ronnie is an engaged hairdresser with a history of recklessness, who feels stifled by the unavoidable predictability and comfort her life is taking on. Charlie is an anxiety-ridden, award-winning writer, who feels suffocated by his literary success and familial responsibility to his breadwinning wife and autistic son. The unlikely pair meets at a holiday party catered by Ronnie’s fiance, and set off a torrid affair conducted on office desks and in Toronto hotel rooms. The affair offers them a chance to rebel and find solace in secrets, until it inevitably implodes.

Infidelity was enjoyable in a sad, morbid way. Stacey May Fowles’ joking Chistmas pitch for her novel was to buy it for the people in your life who “hate themselves” and that’s almost accurate: Infidelity is gorgeously written but terribly depressing. It’s also one of those novels that makes me feel a little bit insecure about ever getting married, because married people in literature—like Charlie and his wife Tamara—seem to be, just generally speaking, profoundly unhappy. But Fowles’ enviable prose makes self-destruction, and the destruction of three relationships, seem like a beautiful, poetic thing.

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Finished reading: November 21, 2013

In the spring of 1989, three young people, unknowingly connected, leave their far-flung birth places. They all land in Montreal, each on their own voyage of self-discovery, and begin to wrangle with the branches of their family tree, a clan filled with nomads, pirates, and cartographers.

The summary sounds kind of pretentious, but trust me when I say Nikolski is gold. It was translated from French and went on to win the Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation and won Canada Reads in 2010, among other honors. It deserves them all. Nikolski was another book I had to read for English class and, again, I didn’t expect to enjoy it all that much, but it far surpassed my expectations. Nikolski is filled with lovely, complex characters, like Noah the would-be garbage archaeologist, Joyce the online pirate and Sarah the vehicular nomad, and makes an interesting statement about identity no longer being one thing (i.e. ‘Canadian’ or ‘native’) but a global concept. 

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Finished reading: November 23, 2013

Palo Alto is a collection of harrowing short stories about a group of troubled California teens and misfits as they experiment with vices, struggle with their families, and witness or take part in extreme violence.

Allow me to be brief and honest: I was not a fan of Palo Alto. It was well-written, but every character in every story had some serious issues (yes, I’m aware that it was stated upfront). I’m not someone who needs to feel similar to a character in order to be able to connect with them, but I felt so distant from the characters in Palo Alto that I couldn’t imagine relating to them, ever. It just felt like a bizarre reading experience.

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Finished reading: November 24, 2013

Margaret Mary Concannon is a glass artist with a fierce need for independence and a volatile temper. Hand-blowing glass is a difficult and exacting art, and though Maggie is largely undiscovered she’s one of the best. When a wealthy Dublin gallery owner acquires one of her pieces he sees the soul in her art, and sets out to County Clare to convince her to sign a contract that would build her career with the gallery. When he arrives at her studio, both Rogan and Maggie are shocked by the attraction they feel for each other, despite their wildly different temperaments.

I bought Born In Fire with the intention of giving it to my mother for Christmas, and then read it myself first because I am a terrible human being (but I’m also a broke university student so I’ve already forgiven myself). It was a good start to Nora Roberts’ Born In series, which I’m now excited to read. And aside from Maggie’s mother being a bit of a harpy caricature, the book was pretty enjoyable overall.

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Finished reading: November 26, 2013

Blankets is Craig Thompson’s autobiographical graphic novel about his relationship with his younger brother growing up, and a buddy relationship with a girl he met at church camp. Blankets also explores losing one’s religion, and the origins of faith.

I love graphic novels, and I’d been dying to read Blankets for years, so when I found it in a used bookstore for half the original price, I couldn’t resist buying it. I’m so glad I did: Blankets was a gorgeously illustrated, heartbreaking story, and I can’t imagine what it must’ve cost Thompson to write/draw it. From what I’ve read on the subject, the book’s publication caused a rift between him and his parents, who are deeply religious (which comes across in the story). I thoroughly enjoyed it, and if I were a human and not a robot I would have cried many tears.

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Finished reading: November 29, 2013

Patrik Hedstrom has just become a father. So when he has to investigate the death of a young girl who both he and his partner Erica knew well, it hits a little too close to home. The daughter of a friend is found trapped in a fishing net down at the bay, but a postmortem reveals that it was no accidental death: the girl was drowned deliberately. As Patrik and the Tanum police force dig into the case, they unearth a decades-old secret that reaches far into the small town’s past.

In my last post I was saying that The Lost Boy was Camilla Läckberg’s most disturbing of the series but I actually have to retract that statement: it’s tied with The Stonecutter, which was equally shocking. The connection between the young girl’s murder and one of Fjällbacka’s stonecutter families from over fifty years ago is a grotesque one, and the murderer Patrik is seeking gives new meaning to the word chilling.

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Finished reading: November 30, 2013

Rachel is a Jewish girl living in pre-revolution Kishinev, Russia. At only 14 she knows she wants more from life than being a wife and mother, and has dreams of being a writer. But her plans are put on hold when she witnesses the murder of her friend Mikhail, a Christian boy, and is forced to keep the killer’s identity a secret. Tension mounts in the small town, and the Jewish community is openly accused of Mikhail’s murder. While Rachel keeps the truth to herself, lies and hate-propaganda flood the town’s newspaper and incite Christian riots against the Jews. As Rachel struggles to survive the aftermath of the riots that decimated her community and took the life of a family member, kindness comes from the most unexpected person: another Christian boy, Sergei, who turns against his father, the chief of police, to help Rachel.

It felt like Rachel’s Secret got off to a slow start, and in the first few chapters I didn’t expect to enjoy it. However, when the book got into the meat of the story, it improved dramatically. But to be honest, it didn’t do that much for me (which I always feel guilty about thinking about fiction that deals with really tragic subjects). The book was an okay read, but it didn’t really captivate me.

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Finished reading: December 6, 2013

On Christmas Eve of 1969, Willie Sutton, America’s most successful bank robber (and one who never used violence), was surprisingly pardoned and walked free after a decades-long prison sentence. A New York newspaper secured the rights to an exclusive interview with Sutton the day after his release, but when the paper published the piece there were inexplicable, and multiple, errors. Sutton is J.R. Moehringer’s imagining of what occurred during the day an anonymous newspaper reporter and photographer spent with Willie Sutton, and what motivated Sutton to rob so many banks: love.

It took me roughly four months to finish Sutton, but it was my own doing: I’m one of those terrible people who skims to the end of books, and I accidentally spoiled a big surprise for myself, one that really made me sad. I couldn’t motivate myself to read Sutton for a while, so I put it down and kept reading other books between August and December until I finally put on my grown up pants and started reading again. And it was really good; melancholy and bittersweet, with a neat narrative technique to show how profoundly Willie was living in the past—his memories sparked by the buildings on his tour of New York were the moments he felt truly sure of, but his interactions with Reporter and Photographer showed up in italics, as if what was happening in the present wasn’t nearly as important. Even though I spoiled the book for myself, it was a highly enjoyable read.

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Finished reading: December 8, 2013

The Harem Midwife, the sequel to The Midwife of Venice, follows Hannah and Isaac Levi, Venetians in exile, to Constinople in 1579. They’ve set up a new life for themselves with their young adopted son, and Hannah is working as the midwife to the women in Sultan Murat III’s imperial harem. But one night, Hannah is unexpectedly summoned to the harem and presented with Leah, a young girl whose village was burned to the ground, and was sold into the harem. Leah begs Hannah to help her escape, but doing so would mean a death sentence for Hannah and her family. At the same time, the Levis’ home life is complicated by the surprise arrival of a beautiful stranger.

I read The Harem Midwife for The Afterword Reading Society, put on by the National Post, which is a cool weekly feature they’re doing now: a group of roughly 25 readers get copies of a new book, read it, and report back with their thoughts in a short survey. (If you’re interested, The Harem Midwife post is here.) Though The Harem Midwife is a sequel, it can be read as a stand-alone, which was good for me, because I haven’t read The Midwife of Venice, though I want to now. Especially since Hannah Levi is a really wonderful character, compassionate and loving and courageous, and generally an all-around bad-ass; and she and Isaac are a power couple. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in the Midwife series. 

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Finished reading: December 10, 2013

In the middle of a January night in 1997, Grant Hadwin swam across the freezing cold Yakoun river with a chainsaw, and made his way through the forest on the Queen Charlotte Islands. In utter darkness he expertly sawed into the Golden Spruce, a beloved and abnormal tree with special significance to the Haida, the native population living in the area. The next day, it fell, inciting the rage of the Haida, locals in the surrounding towns, and even the logging companies who mined the island for its trees. The Golden Spruce weaves together the stories of the titular tree and Grant Hadwin, the man who seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth before he could stand trial for his crime.

The Golden Spruce seems to be this almost universally revered piece of long-form journalism, but it didn’t do much for me. I fluctuated between being so bored that I almost fell asleep (multiple times), and being riveted to the page. When the focus was on Grant Hadwin, I was effortlessly sucked into the story: he’s an interesting, mysterious man who I desperately wanted to know more about. But when the narrative veered off into info dumps about trees, logging, B.C. geography—basically anything else that wasn’t Grant Hadwin, I was fighting to stay awake. I know this sounds like a ridiculous exaggeration, but it’s not: my eyes glazed over, I found myself reading for pages and not retaining any of it, and a couple of times I started to nod off. So I guess I know for sure now that books about trees definitely don’t strike my fancy.

– Kelsey

P.S.: I finished my 100th book last night, so the challenge is over! Yay! I’ll be catching up on the last 20 book reviews hopefully in the next couple of days.

Reviews: Books 61-70

Read: 70
To Go: 30

Book List:
61. The Dogs Are Eating Them Now — Graeme Smith
62. Some Great Idea — Edward Keenan
63. Maidenhead — Tamara Faith Bergen
64. The Lost Boy — Camilla Läckberg
65. The Stranger — Camilla Läckberg
66. The Demonologist — Andrew Pyper
67. Chesapeake Blue — Nora Roberts
68. American Ground — William Langewiesche
69. The Bare Plum of Winter Rain — Patrick Lane
70. Green Grass, Running Water — Thomas King

In order to try to catch up on my terribly delayed book reviews, I’m going to do mega posts of mini-reviews. Here are the reviews on books 61-70.

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Finished reading: September 22, 2013

The Dogs Are Eating Them Now is an account of the war in Afghanistan and how it went dangerously wrong. Graeme Smith, the Globe and Mail’s former correspondent in Afghanistan, details his time living in the country and reporting on topics like the corruption of law enforcement agents, the economics of the drug trade, and the mistreatment of prisoners.

The Afghanistan war isn’t exactly my wheelhouse, and I have to admit I probably wouldn’t have picked up The Dogs Are Eating Them Now if I hadn’t been interviewing Graeme Smith for the Ryersonian (you can read the Q&A here, if you’re interested). But I’m glad it wound up in my possession, because it was one of the best books I’ve read this year. (Regular readers of this blog know I say that a lot but I really mean it this time, and the Year In Review will reflect it.) The Dogs is a deeply personal narrative and though it’s at times brutally graphic and unflinching, Smith’s compassion and sensitivity shines through.

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Finished reading: September 28, 2013

Since 2010, Toronto’s headlines have been occupied with the outrageous personal problems and the government-cutting, anti-urbanist policies of Mayor Rob Ford. But the ongoing debates about Ford have obscured a larger narrative of Toronto’s ascending as a mature, global city. Edward Keenan looks at that narrative in relation to the city’s three post-amalgamation mayors (Mel Lastman, David Miller, and Rob Ford), and asks what role a mayor plays in a city’s temperament and self-confidence, and whether a terrible mayor can inadvertently improve the city by forcing its citizens to engage with their government.

Seemingly out of nowhere this year I developed an interest in reading about cities and urban planning, and Some Great Idea looked like the perfect place to start (especially since Edward Keenan is one of my favourite columnists). It lays out Toronto’s recent political history, and also delves into urban planning theory, explaining the policy choices that led to a populace angry and disillusioned enough to elect someone like Rob Ford. Of course, the suburb/downtown proper divide that Ford exploited has been amply chronicled, but Keenan digs into how that divide occurred in relation to the amalgamation of Toronto and the small cities that surrounded it. It’s a great read, and also an inadvertent example of how difficult it must be to write about Rob Ford: Some Great Idea is a pretty new book, but between the point in time it concluded on (November 2012, when Ford had been booted from office because he violated the MCIA) and the time I read it, a larger scandal than the conflict of interest ruling had already erupted: the crack saga. Just when you think nothing can get worse in the Ford mayoralty, it does.

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Finished reading: October 4, 2013

In Maidenhead, Myra, a naive and curious highschooler, takes a vacation to Key West with her fracturing family. There she meets Elijah, a Tanzanian musician twice her age, and he seduces her on a deserted beach. When she returns to meet with him days later, she’s shocked to learn he lives with Gayl, a disturbed and violent woman with an unusual power over him. When Myra returns to Canada her parents divorce and she falls into a crowd of pot-smoking intellectuals. Elijah and Gayl follow her north, and she walks willingly into their world of sex, violence, and mind-games.

I was thoroughly disturbed by Maidenhead, and months after finishing it I continue to feel disturbed. Having said that, though, Maidenhead engages in a really interesting discussion about race and class through the frightening games that Gayl and Elijah play with Myra. It also isn’t afraid to portray Myra’s sexual awakening as being far outside the realm of socially acceptable sexuality, through her obsession with violence in sex and in the porn she watches.

But I’m still deeply disturbed.

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Finished reading: October 12, 2013

On a late summer night Nathalie takes her young son and flees to the island of Gråskär, off the coast of Fjällbacka, with blood slippery on her hands. Meanwhile, Detective Patrik Hedstrom is returning from a lengthy sick leave, and his wife Erica Falck recovering from a car accident. Patrik barely steps foot in the police station before he catches a murder case: Mats Sverin, a man everyone liked but few understood, is found shot in the back of the head. What secrets was he hiding? And is it a coincidence that his childhood sweetheart, Nathalie, recently returned to their hometown?

If you recall, the first Camilla Läckberg book I read was The Drowning, the sixth book in the series and the one immediately preceding The Lost Boy. It left off on a cliffhanger, with Erica and Anna, both heavily pregnant, careening towards a car crash, and The Lost Boy picks up roughly (I’m guessing) a few weeks later at the funeral of Anna’s son, who didn’t survive the accident. It’s a terribly sobering opener, and one of Läckberg’s darkest plot twists, but grimly fitting for a book about three murdered sons. The Fjällbacka series is rarely lighthearted, and the crimes are often disturbing, but The Lost Boy is perhaps the most gruesome yet, with a final reveal that had me almost gagging (I mean this positively). The eighth book in the Fjällbacka series is out in Sweden but hasn’t been translated into English yet. I can’t wait until it is to see what mystery Patrik and Erica will investigate next.

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Finished reading: October 13, 2013

When a local woman is killed in a car accident, it seems particularly strange: her blood contains high levels of alcohol, but she rarely drank at all. The case sticks in Detective Patrik Hedstrom’s mind, marking the end of a quiet winter. At the same time, a popular reality show is being filmed in town, and as cameras follow the stars tempers start to flare. After a drunken party ends with the murder of a popular contestant, all eyes turn to the show’s cast and crew; could there be a murderer among them?

After finishing The Lost Boy over Thanksgiving weekend, I was desperate for more Camilla Läckberg books, and when I found The Stranger (formerly titled The Gallows Bird, the first case I’ve seen of a book’s name being changed post-publication) in a used bookstore I started it immediately. It’s a sharply plotted mystery with a pretty ghastly revelation about the murderers, and a strong focus on the personal lives of some of the characters. Although having just read the newest book in the series I knew Anna got away from her abusive ex-husband and found happiness, it’s nice to see her start to come into her own in The Stranger. The book also sees Patrik and Erica get married, and somehow managed to make me sympathize with a character I thought I would always find detestable.

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Finished reading: October 14, 2013

Professor David Ullman specializes in the literature of the demonic—namely, John Milton’s Paradise Lost—but he’s not a believer. One afternoon he receives a visitor to his campus office, a strikingly thin old woman who offers him an all-expenses-paid trip to Venice, to observe a “phenomenon” and give his professional opinion, in exchange for an extraordinary sum of money. David has his reservations but, needing a change in pace, accepts the trip and takes his daughter, Tess, with him. What he sees in Venice takes David on a journey from skeptic to true believer, and sends him across the country attempting to save Tess from the Unnamed—a demonic entity that has chosen him as its messenger.

The weird eye on the cover of The Demonologist had been catching my attention every time I saw it in Chapters, and on the Thanksgiving weekend I finally caved in and bought it while I was trolling used bookstores with my father. It was a smart choice: The Demonologist is an utterly creepy and compelling thriller, which kept me rooted in my seat, turning the pages all day. I don’t usually find myself susceptible to horror books, but The Demonologist managed to really freak me out. About a month later I lent the book to my friend Sahar, and she had similar thoughts. In the interest of fair warnings, if you plan to read The Demonologist read it in a well-lit room or during the day only; otherwise you may never sleep again. (Also: I rarely give Twitter recommendations, but if you’re on Twitter follow Andrew Pyper. He’s a delightful presence.)

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Finished reading: October 19, 2013

Seth Quinn spent his early years living in fear and squalor with his drug-addicted mother until he was taken into the Quinn household, growing up with his three older brothers who watched over him with love. Now a grown man returning from Europe a successful artist, Seth is settling into his family home on the Maryland Eastern Shore, with a few secrets to keep from the rest of the Quinns. As he gets used to St. Christopher’s slower rhythm, he finds a few things have changed in the small town—namely the presence of Dru Whitcomb Banks, the owner of a flower shop who’s fiercely independent and determined to succeed without her family’s extensive connections.

As much as I enjoyed the first three books in this quartet, Chesapeake Blue fell a little short for me. Mainly because Gloria, the series antagonist, resurfaces to wreak some havoc…or something. She’s a totally unbelievable villain because she’s so impotent and her threats are obviously empty, which makes Seth just seem embarrassingly stupid for allowing her to blackmail him. The Quinn family of course exerts their own form of justice in the end but to me it just seems pointless, because there was no real threat in the first place. But leave the floundering Gloria plot out of it, and Chesapeake Blue was a decent read.

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Finished reading: October 22, 2013

Days after 9/11, American journalist William Langewiesche had secured unrestricted, 24-hour access to the World Trade Centre site. American Ground is a tour of this largely unseen world, and the men and women who improvised the recovery effort day by day.

In the aftermath of 9/11, political rhetoric centred around a unity in the American people that made them strong enough to withstand an attack like the one on the twin towers. But William Langeweische argues that unity is not America’s strength, but its diversity of voices and opinions—which is certainly present at the Ground Zero site, among the unbuilders. Langeweische’s account of the unbuilding is surprisingly unemotional, and doesn’t shy away from the conflicts between the police officers, firemen and construction crews that bubbled up as they worked to find bodies and rid the site of rubble. For precisely this reason, it was a controversial book when it was published. It’s also what made it such a compelling story.

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Finished reading: November 3, 2013

The Bare Plum of Winter Rain is a collection of poetry from the award-winning Canadian poet Patrick Lane.

Let me tell you, it’s humbling to read a book of poetry, find that you really enjoy it, and then go to English class and have your professor and half your class dissect the poems and infer deeper meaning from them that you never would have noticed. That was my experience with Patrick Lane. I’m clearly not a poetry person, but I enjoyed most of the poems in The Bare Plum on the surface level. But I definitely don’t understand them. I’ve decided I’m okay with that.

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Finished reading: November 10, 2013

Green Grass Running Water involves the creation of a creation story, the asylum escape of four ancient Indians, and the comparatively realistic stories of Lionel and Letisha Red Dog, Charlie Looking Bear, Alberta Frank, and Eli Stands Alone.

Green Grass Running Water was another class novel, and I didn’t finish it before our prof lectured on it. So based on what I had heard, about this seemingly bizarre story of unconnected plots, I didn’t expect to like it nearly as much as I did. Green Grass is a super referential, outrageously funny story with complex characters and a damning critique of western treatment of aboriginal people. It’s definitely a little out there, but it should be required reading.

– Kelsey

Reviews: Books 51-60

Read: 60
To Go: 40

Book List:
51. Heads in Beds — Jacob Tomsky
52. Crazy Rich Asians — Kevin Kwan
53. The Spoiler — Annalena McAfee
54. A Lesson in Secrets — Jacqueline Winspear
55. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — F. Scott Fitzgerald
56. Wallbanger — Alice Clayton
57. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison — Piper Kerman
58. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery — Robert Kolker
59. In The City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist — Pete Jordan
60. The Journalist and the Murderer — Janet Malcolm

In order to try to catch up on my terribly delayed book reviews, I’m going to do mega posts of mini-reviews. Here are the reviews on books 51-60.

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Finished reading: August 12, 2013

Jacob Tomsky never planned to go into hospitality. But, armed with a degree in philosophy and lacking career direction, he took a job as a valet parker for a luxury hotel in New Orleans, which started him on the path to a career in hospitality lasting over a decade. In Heads in Beds, he recalls everything from his time managing housekeeping to working the front desk at a large Manhattan hotel, and gives readers a taste of the industry they only thought they knew.

My sister had to read Heads in Beds for one of her hospitality classes, and her teacher apparently called it “terrible” for the industry. It’s likely true: Tomsky’s memoir contains no shortage of shocking stories of the retribution hotel employees have exacted on terrible customers (which are justified and usually hilarious). It also contains some tips to get the most out of your hotel experience, and will probably make you rethink how you interact with hotel staff. Heads in Beds was a consistently brilliant and hilarious read, which had me laughing so hard at times my neighbours could probably hear me.

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Finished reading: August 15, 2013

In Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend Nicholas Young, imagining a humble family home, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. When she arrives, she finds that Nicholas’s house is actually palace-sized, and she’s dating the country’s most eligible bachelor, effectively putting a target on her back. In this world of outrageous splendour, Rachel meets Astrid, Nicholas’s cousin and Singapore’s It Girl; Eddie, another cousin whose family makes frequent appearances in Hong Kong’s socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nicholas’s mother, who has strong opinions about who her son should be marrying—and in her mind, it’s definitely not Rachel.

I’d heard so many good things about Crazy Rich Asians, and it didn’t disappoint when I read it: the book was an absolutely delightful trip into the lives of the obscenely rich and quietly famous. It was also a really sweet love-story of sorts between the easily loveable Rachel and Nicholas. I’ve heard rumours circulating about a possible Crazy Rich Asians movie, and I’d definitely see it.

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Finished reading: August 17, 2013

Tamara Sim, a journalist working at a British tabloid, is thrilled when she’s sent to interview veteran war correspondent Honor Tait for the tabloid’s sister publication. But in her initial interview, Honor proves a difficult subject: she’s cold and evasive, and Tamara wonders if she has something to hide. When Tamara starts digging into Honor’s past—her methods not entirely legal—she unearths a discovery that has devastating consequences for both women.

I didn’t enjoy The Spoiler as much as I thought I would, though I think it has more to do with my views as a journalist than as a reader. The book is set in England, where tabloid-style journalism and phone hacking were/are common and even accepted practices. While Tamara doesn’t go as far as phone hacking, she definitely gets up to no good in her pursuit to find out more about Honor Tait, like going to Honor’s apartment without warning to take part in a gathering she wasn’t invited to. And this is all to compensate for her own idiocy: she blows her initial interview by not reading Honor’s book, and asking terrible questions. I was actually cringing throughout (at Tamara, not the plot), which made it a difficult reading experience, and nearly impossible to sympathize with the main character.

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Finished reading: August 18, 2013

In the summer of 1932 Maisie Dobbs accepts an undercover assignment from Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and the Secret Service. She poses as a junior lecturer at a college in Cambridge to monitor any activities that aren’t in the interest of Her Majesty’s Government. It seems to be a relatively uneventful position, but when the college’s controversial founder is murdered, Maisie connects his death to the suspicious comings and goings of some of the faculty and students under her surveillance.

I have to be completely honest: it’s been a while, and I’ve mostly forgotten the specific details of A Lesson in Secrets. But I do remember that it was eighth in a growing series, and I was able to read it without confusion, which I always appreciate when I accidentally read books out of order. I also remember really enjoying the story, and Maisie as a character, and immediately bookmarking the rest of the series on my Goodreads To-Read list. So. This has been the year’s vaguest review, I’ll bet.

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Finished reading: August 18, 2013

In 1860, Benjamin Button is born an old man and mysteriously starts aging backwards. At the beginning of his life, he’s withered and worn, but as he grows younger he begins to enjoy life, going off to war, falling in love, and having a family. As his mind begins to devolve, he attends kindergarten, and finally falls into the care of his nurse.

I really don’t have much to say about Benjamin Button because it was so short. But it was a nice little story, and I definitely appreciated that I was able to get through it in about an hour. That’s always a plus!

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Finished reading: August 24, 2013

The first night after Caroline moves into her fantastic new San Francisco apartment, she finds she can’t get any sleep; a rhythmic banging from her neighbour’s apartment is keeping her awake, and she’s got a pretty clear picture of what’s happening on the other side of her bedroom wall. After a couple of nights of the same thing, she marches over to confront Simon Parker, the neighbour she’s only heard but never seen, and finds that the sexual tension between them is as thick as the walls are thin.

Well, let’s get this out of the way: Wallbanger was probably what you’d call a naughty book, with a sort of thin plot. But it was also outrageously funny, and a generally enjoyable read. Simon and Caroline had their moments where they devolved into slightly ridiculous caricatures, but at their better moments they were an enjoyable, sweet couple worth rooting for. The insane pile-up of sex scenes at the novel’s conclusion seemed like a bizarre narrative choice, though.

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Finished reading: August 31, 2013

Piper Kerman has a boyfriend, a career, and a loving family, barely resembling the young woman who delivered a suitcase of drugs ten years prior. But when the past catches up with her, she’s sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous correctional facility in Danbury. In Orange is the New Black, Kerman documents the time between her first strip search and her final release, and how she learned to navigate her strange new home, filled with its own rules and codes of behaviour.

In the middle of the summer I was looking for a new television show to watch, and I kept seeing OITNB gifs popping up on my Tumblr dashboard so I decided to watch it. It was a smart decision (the show is amazing), and one that made me interested in reading the source text. Of course Kerman’s memoir and the show differ a fair bit, but her story is no less interesting. Admittedly this is one of the books I’m having a hard time remembering the details of, but I do recall being shocked how mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the U.S. “war on drugs,” even with relatively small offenses, can achieve the opposite of what their intended purpose was: instead of reducing recidivism, it could increase it by sucking people into a system it’s hard to get out of without a support system like Kerman had. 

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Finished reading: September 7, 2013

On a late spring evening in 2010, Shannan Gilbert ran screaming through the quiet oceanfront community of Oak Beach before going missing. Those who heard of her disappearance didn’t think much about it, and the Suffolk County Police seemed to have paid a similar lack of attention to the disappearance of a Craigslist sex worker. Seven months later, an unexpected discovery in a nearby highway-side bramble turned up four bodies, all evenly spaced and wrapped in burlap. None were Shannan. But like her, the four women were petite, in their twenties, came from out of town to work as escorts, and used Craigslist to advertise their services. In Lost Girls, Robert Kolker dives into the world of Internet escorts and the community of Oak Beach, where the body count has risen, the police have failed, and the neighbours are quickly turning on each other.

Wow. While I was reading Lost Girls I was absolutely captivated, first by the narrative and then by the amazing amount of work that would’ve gone into it. Kolker’s accounts of the five missing sex workers, Shannan, Maureen, Melissa, Megan, and Amber, and the Oak Beach community, were so detailed and spoke to an incredible amount of access. It resulted in an incredibly thorough, unputdownable read, which was one of my favourite nonfiction books of the year.

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Finished reading: September 14, 2013

Pete Jordan writes about his love affair with Amsterdam, the city of bikes, all while unfolding the unknown history of the city’s cycling, from the craze of the 1890s to their role in the Nazi occupation, to the bike-centered culture the world knows today.

Every time I think of In The City of Bikes I’m reminded of TIFF lineups, because I read it while waiting for movie screenings. It made the annoyance of one or two-hour waits in the sweltering heat much easier to bear. Jordan’s account of the Amsterdam cyclist was enjoyable from start to finish, and jam-packed with information and the trademark Dutch cyclist sass (yes, that is a thing). Something surprising that Jordan makes note of in his novel is that, for all that’s been written about Amsterdam, there were no books dedicated to the city’s history of cycling; In the City of Bikes fills that void perfectly.

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Finished reading: September 18, 2013

In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm focuses on the lawsuit between Jeffrey MacDonald, a convicted murderer, and Joe McGinniss, the author of Fatal Vision, to talk about the uneasy relationship between journalist and subject.

You never expect to find yourself sympathizing with a murderer, but I did when reading Janet Malcolm’s book. For those of you not familiar with the lawsuit she writes about, Jeffrey MacDonald gave journalist Joe McGinniss full access to his murder trial, even going so far as to make him part of the defense team so that he couldn’t be questioned by the Crown. MacDonald was led to believe by McGinniss, who treated him like a best friend and wrote him passionate letters, that McGinniss believed he was innocent. Instead, McGinniss published a startling book condemning MacDonald and declaring his obvious guilt, and MacDonald sued. The Journalist and the Murderer highlights the inherent challenges involved in the journalist-subject relationship, and also presents an interesting ethical question. Joe McGinniss was of course an extreme example, but in similar cases, how do you handle dealing with a subject that wants you to be on their side? How can you still get the story if you risk compromising the relationship with the subject of it?

– Kelsey

(P.S.: Blog makeover! First one since I started it in 2011.)

Profs out of Context, Round 3

If you’ve followed me on Twitter for a while, you probably noticed that last year I would post tweets that started with “Prof out of context.” They were just little tidbits of what I was hearing in class on a daily basis, minus the context completely. And in or out of context, they’re hilarious, because my professors are very funny people.

The first couple of times I did this, I got a really good response, so I thought I’d continue the tradition with a collection of random statements made by profs, guest lecturers, and even students in class for the Fall 2013 semester. As a guide, anything that was said by a student, or any multi-person dialogues will be labelled “class out of context.” Anything said by a teacher or a guest lecturer will not have a label, it will just be the quote. So enjoy all of the profs and none of the context below the jump!

(P.S.: I know I said I wasn’t going to release this until I got caught up with reviews, but clearly reviews are taking longer than I anticipated. I decided to put this up so there was at least some new content on the blog. )

Names have been withheld to protect the fabulous.

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Reviews: Books 44-50

Read: 50
To Go: 50

Book List:
41. Rising Tides — Nora Roberts
42. Inner Harbour — Nora Roberts
43. Slow Heat in Heaven — Sandra Brown
44. Seducing Ingrid Bergman — Chris Greenhalgh
45. The Bat — Jo Nesbø
46. Paris to Die For — Maxine Kenneth
47. Starbucked — Taylor Clark
48. The Ice Princess — Camilla Läckberg
49. Me Before You — JoJo Moyes
50. The Accident — Linwood Barclay

In order to try to catch up on my terribly delayed book reviews, I’m going to do mega posts of mini-reviews. Here are the reviews on books 44-50.

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Finished reading: July 26, 2013

Seducing Ingrid Bergman is a fictionalized account of the affair between Swedish-born film star Ingrid Bergman and war photographer Robert Capa, during her marriage to Petter Lindström. The novel follows their torrid romantic entanglement from the pair’s first meeting in Paris, post-WWII, until Capa’s death in Vietnam.

Seducing Ingrid Bergman had me reaching for the tissues (well, metaphorically, since I am a robot who does not cry). Greenhalgh’s imagining of the affair between Bergman and Capa was beautiful and heartbreaking, particularly so in its final chapter. (P.S. Did you know Isabella Rossellini is Ingrid Bergman’s daughter? I didn’t!)

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Finished reading: July 28, 2013

In The Bat, the first of the Harry Hole series, the Norwegian detective hops on a plane to Australia to assist with the murder investigation of a young Norwegian transplant, Inger Holter. Though initially sidelined by the local police, Harry becomes integral to the team when they begin to notice Holter’s murder has similarities to other rapes and murders across the country. With no obvious suspect, and two new murders that appear related, Harry and the Australian police have little time to catch the serial killer.

I really enjoy reading mysteries and thrillers based in other countries, and Harry Hole (pronounced hoo-leh) holds a certain appeal for me as a character, but based on The Bat, Jo Nesbø doesn’t really do it for me. This is mainly, as I remember, because Nesbø refused to let his readers into Harry’s head—Harry would come to conclusions or hunches that were impossible to follow, because his thought process would never be made clear to the reader. Also interesting (though not bad) was Nesbø’s choice to introduce his Norwegian-based series by sending his main character to a different country in the first book: usually there’s some familiarity between the character and the reader established before sending said character out of his element.

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Finished reading: July 31, 2013

In Paris to Die For, Jacqueline Bouvier  is desperate for a little adventure—so when a family friend, an agent for the CIA, asks her to take a quick trip to Paris to help a high-ranking Russian defect, she jumps at the chance. But what initially seems like a simple mission becomes much more dangerous when Jacqueline finds the Russian man murdered in a shabby apartment—and she inadvertently becomes his assassin’s next target. Enter Jacques Rivage, a French photographer and freelance CIA agent, who steps in to help her evade the killer—and make her heart skip a beat.

Paris to Die For was a light, fun read, and the fictionalized Jackie Bouvier makes a fantastic spy; she doesn’t have the know-how that her partner, Jacques, does, but she’s able to get herself out of some tough situations anyway. There’s a second book coming out, which features a fictionalized JFK, and I’m pretty excited to read it.

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Finished reading: August 3, 2013

Starbucked is a look at the coffeehouse movement through one of its biggest success stories, Starbucks—the coffee chain that can set up two stores not a block away from each other and have each be successful. Clark also touches on gentrification and fair trade coffee growing, and how Starbucks is able to create an incredibly loyal customer base.

Near the end of the summer I was overcome by this urge to read more books about cultural studies (urban planning, politics, and gender) and started trolling that area of Chapters religiously. The first time I did, I came upon Starbucked, and couldn’t resist buying it—I’m a Starbucks afficionado myself, and I figured if I was going to have an addiction, I should at least understand why. Starbucked was an interesting, intelligent read that’s full of laughs, and is presented quite objectively: Clark doesn’t idolize the coffee behemoth, but he also does present compelling arguments that Starbucks isn’t quite the coffee monolith that critics have made it out to be—somewhat surprisingly, it has done some good for independent coffee shops.

(Side note: I’m disappointed with myself that I couldn’t think of any coffee puns to include in this review.)

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Finished reading: August 6, 2013

In The Ice Princess, acclaimed biographer Erica Falck returns to her hometown of Fjällbacka after her parents’ funeral. Soon after she moves into her old family home, her childhood friend Alex is found dead in her home, her wrists slashed and her body submerged in an ice-cold bath. It appears that she has taken her own life. Erica considers writing a memoir about the beautiful but remote Alex, to answer questions about  their long-ago lost friendship. Meanwhile, Detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own hunch, that there is something off about Alex’s apparent suicide. When they begin to work together, they uncover a deeply disturbing secret from Alex’s childhood.

The Ice Princess is Camilla Läckberg’s first novel in the Fjällbacka series, which I of course read out of order. Having read two other books in the series I was of course familiar with Patrik and Erica, but it was nice to read their “origin story” of sorts. They’re one of my favourite fictional couples, and a fantastic crime-solving duo. And on the mystery front, Läckberg delivered as always with a complex, fascinating crime.

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Finished reading: August 10, 2013

After losing her job at a tea shop in town, Lou Clark gets lucky when she finds a position as a caretaker for Will Traynor, a man who was in a devastating motorcycle accident that rendered him paraplegic and took away his desire to live. Will is surly and bad-tempered, but soon Lou is able to break through the gloom, and their friendship changes both of them for good.

If I were to recommend only one book from this year’s hundred, it would be Me Before You. It’s a beautiful, poignant story that has stuck with me months after I finished it. Will and Lou, and their beautiful relationship, broke my heart in the best way. I find it challenging to write about books I adored, but trust me when I say it was amazing, and a must-read.

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Finished reading: August 11, 2013

When Glen Garber’s wife, Sheila, doesn’t come home on time from her night school business class, he’s concerned and goes out to search for her. His worst fears are confirmed when he comes across a devastating car crash on the side of the road, in which Sheila and two others were killed. To make matters worse, the police claim Sheila, driving intoxicated, was to blame. But something doesn’t add up: Sheila rarely drank, and she never drove drunk. As Glen starts to investigate, he uncovers corruption and illegal activity under the surface of his quiet suburb, and is pursued by mysterious killers.

After I started reading The Accident, on loan from a friend, I couldn’t put it down and finished it within a day. It’s a pretty wild ride, with a conclusion that—to use a cliche—I never could’ve seen coming. If I remember correctly (it’s been a while) The Accident has quite a few separate stories going on at the time, but none of them felt neglected or out of place. Barclay’s a master of suspense, and I’m excited to read more from him. (I have another loaner that I’ll likely be reading in the new year.)

– Kelsey

Note from a long-absent blogger

Hi all!

As you may have noticed, my most recent review was just a little over three months ago, and it was a review of a book I’d read two months before that. So, obviously, I’m very behind. But now that I’m on Christmas break, I plan to catch up. So here’s where everything stands with the book challenge, and with my plans for the blog:

  • I’ve read 93 books this year, working on the 94th. So while I was behind on reading the last time you heard from me—and for the better part of this year—I’m more or less back on track now.
  • If you’re keeping track, the above figure puts me exactly FIFTY (!!) book reviews behind.
  • To deal with the excess of reviews, I’m planning to do mega-posts of mini-reviews. I’ll be putting together a post of books 44-50, and then following that the rest of the reviews will come in tens (51-60, 61-70, 71-80, 81-90). The posts will likely include book summaries and maybe a paragraph of my thoughts on the book. From there, I hope to be able to give the last ten books the typical review treatment.
  • I also have a saved post of Profs out of Context which I’m hoping to put out soon, but I don’t plan to do it until I’ve handled all the backlogged reviews.
  • And of course, I’ll be putting up my Year in Review, hopefully on New Years Eve if I finish reading before then (I probably will).

The first set of reviews should be out sometime later today. So keep your eyes peeled for that!

– Kelsey

Review: Slow Heat in Heaven — Sandra Brown

Read: 43
To Go: 57

Book List:
41. Rising Tides — Nora Roberts
42. Inner Harbour — Nora Roberts
43. Slow Heat in Heaven — Sandra Brown

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Finished reading: July 23, 2013

As I mentioned in other reviews, this summer I decided to read Sandra Brown’s older novels, and in an impulsive shopping spree I picked up three—including Slow Heat In Heaven, her very first novel.

In Slow Heat in Heaven, Schyler (pronounced Skyler) Crandall returns to her hometown of Heaven, Louisiana for the first time in years, when her father falls ill. But she quickly finds that her father’s sickness isn’t the only problem: the family’s logging company is on the brink of financial ruin, caused by her brother-in-law’s mismanagement and a bank loan her father can’t pay back. To complicate matters further, he offered up the family estate, Belle Terre, as collateral. In an effort to save her childhood home and prevent the collapse of Crandall logging, Schyler enlists the help of the enigmatic and untrustworthy Cash Boudreau, who has his own reasons for assisting her.

TW: RAPE

Slow Heat in Heaven cemented my belief that Sandra Brown’s newer work is better—or, at the very least, less disturbing—than her older novels. Unlike the last two SB books I reviewed, Slow Heat didn’t have an idea execution problem. But it did have the book’s romantic interest, the crass and troublesome Cash, utter the words “I should have raped you when I had the chance.”

Forgetting for a minute all the reasons why that statement is deeply offensive on a societal, real-world level, it just seems entirely antithetical to the personality a love interest in a romance novel should have. Comments like “I should have raped you when I had the chance” are generally reserved for villains, not the man who eventually ends up with the main character and lives happily ever after. What reader would be willing to invest in a character who says that? There is no context that can make that comment excusable, and after a snippet of dialogue like that it’s hard to convince me of the central premise of the novel, that Cash is the right man for Schyler. Schyler deserves better than Cash Boudreau. As does every woman, everywhere. But I’m guessing that’s not the way I was supposed to feel at the end of Slow Heat.

Even if you took the rape comment out of the equation, Cash is never, at any point, a sympathetic character: he’s angry and emotionally unavailable, cruel and caustic—and no amount of tragic backstory (and he does have one) can counteract his terrible disposition. In theory, his upbringing makes him worthy of reader empathy, and seeing him get a happy ending should feel rewarding. Instead, seeing Schyler fall in love with him is a little like watching a sheep snuggle up to a lion with its teeth bared.

As far as the actual narrative goes, Slow Heat is an interesting read and Schyler is a character worth caring about. She just deserves a better boyfriend.

Next book: Seducing Ingrid Bergman — Chris Greenhalgh

– Kelsey