2018 Reading List

Titles link to reviews 


Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. Not as good as Rebecca, but I did enjoy it. I knew the surprise twist quite early, and of course because of the time in which this book is written, despite Mary Yellan being a very brave, tough woman, at the end of the day she is saved by a man, and gives up her dream to follow his.

The Universe vs. Alex Woods by Gavin Extence. I have had this book on my to read pile for several years. I really enjoyed the first few chapters, and I was really touched by the ending (I confess I even cried a bit). But, I do think the middle plodded a bit. There is A LOT of detail that didn’t, in my opinion, serve the overall narrative. I found myself skimming through many paragraphs to get back to the story. But the characters were very alive and I’m sure will remain vivid for a long time to come.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. (light spoilers ahead) I really enjoyed this book. Perhaps because I read it in one day I was really immersed in the world, and was even very frightened at times. On the surface it’s about magic, monsters and old souls, but underneath is a tale of going from the innocence of childhood into the awareness of the far less innocent larger world. As the world around our seven-year-old protagonist shifts (a loved pet dies, he sees a dead man, the family has financial trouble, his mother is less available to him, his father is unfaithful to his mother), like most children, he believes he is responsible for the changes, that he brought the badness to his world.  As an adult he has only rare moments of memory for the monsters he faced, which I think is true for many of us. We all sprang from innocence into awareness, we were let down by people, circumstances and ourselves, but most of those moments are gone for us too. The oceans of our childhood have receded into ponds, but the echoes of those ocean waves live within us and have shaped who we are.

The Witches Of New York by Ami McKay (Canadian) I enjoyed this book as I enjoyed both of McKay’s other novels, (The Birth House, The Virgin Cure). She is gifted at writing rich stories about magical women. This book also comes with a wonderful afterword by the author that I suggest you read before reading the story. Not only will it add dimension to your pleasure in the novel, it may make you wish to explore your own powers in the wake of #Metoo and #Timesup.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Great story, beautiful insight into life, love and the passing of time. It made me cry and it made me happy. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this book. Apparently it’s being made into a movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

Slade House by David Mitchell. Creepy and fun. I love Mitchell’s writing. My only dislike was the level of explanatory conversations, that sometimes seemed a bit contrived. But I still really enjoyed this book.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. I found I didn’t want to put this book down, even though it could hardly be called a page turner. It was like sitting with a wonderful storyteller and I was entranced. The main character is an everyman coming to terms with his past (who he was compared to who he thought he was) and with the fact that we often fill in the gaps in stories through our own lens on life and we may be very wrong. This has been made into a movie, but apparently is quite different than the novel.

What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan. This book was boring. Very cliche. Told in two viewpoints, should have had a third, the person who did the abduction. It’s people who are capable of this that are “interesting.” The mother’s reaction is normal, the cop reaction is too over the top. The red herring side story was silly. It was easy to guess who did it (the person who showed a sign through her hostility to the mother, but wasn’t on the cops radar) we’ve all read enough of these books to know the obvious looking person didn’t do it and the mysterious possible person (silly side story about the sister) didn’t do it. It will always be a twist that was planted, but not seen. Which it was, but the author backs away from exploring that character with just comments that she was infertile, and a known liar. And adds that she has stayed silent, so they may never know what made her do it. Well, we as readers certainly will never know, and that’s a big cheat.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimiline.  Canadian. I enjoyed this book, although enjoy seems an odd word choice since it is a sad story. It’s a YA novel, so it’s not something I normally choose read, but it was part of Canada Reads so I was interested. Although it’s a book that I think deserves all the attention it’s getting, I was expecting perhaps a more complex storyline.

The Only Child by Andrew Pyper. Canadian. I didn’t overly enjoy this book, but it’s not Mr. Pyper’s fault. I’m not really a fan of “frankenstein stories.” But the fact that I read the whole book speaks to the writer’s ability to keep me going even on a book that I’m not crazy about content wise. The older I get, the less interest I have in stories not grounded in reality.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstoreby Robin Sloan. A nice story. Strong beginning, a bit saggy in the middle and has a happy ending that lets you know how everyone is a ways into the future. It’s a mystery of sorts, but it’s the warmth of the characters that makes it lovely. If you love books as much as you love the stories in them, you will probably enjoy it. From the cover: “The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, but after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything; instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends, but when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.
Origin by Dan Brown. I remember how much I liked the Da Vinci Code. It was fresh and intricate. The movie had to leave things out as is usually the case, and why we say the book is better than the movie. But I feel that the most recent Dan Brown novels have been the equivalent of reading the screenplay. He over explains at times, but he can always be relied on to tell a good yarn full of cliffhangers to keep you flipping pages. His books follow a formula, like any action film, but that said, he is very good at what he does. You don’t read Dan Brown for the individual sentences, but for the overall fun ride. It was exactly the book I needed at the moment. I always need to be reading, but life has been such that I didn’t have the mental energy to sit with something layered and nuanced. I think the best part of this novel is the epilogue. I don’t mean that snarkily, he makes a lovely case for the coexistence of science and religion. The book had many bad reviews, but I think the one I chose to link to is a fair assessment.
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison Canadian. I read this book for a book club. If I was reading it just for me I don’t think I would have made it past the first few chapters. I didn’t like or sympathize with any of the characters. But I have to say, once I passed the halfway point, I did want to know how it would all resolve. But I was let down. (spoilers ahead) I thought her traumatic past was tacked on as a motive for her willingness to be a doormat. I felt like it was too glossed over, yet at the same time overly complicated, for a story that is only hinted at till the last chapters. And the fact that she gets away with murder so easily, and quickly, there is little suspense at that point. And what was the point of all his health issues?? They amounted to nothing in the story. Definitely a subplot that should have been killed off in editing. (I found out after I wrote this review, while looking for a link, that the author died in 2013. That made me feel bad about not liking her book, but I decided I would stick with my honest feelings).
The Shoe on the Roof by Will Ferguson. Canadian. This was an odd book. The best thing about this novel is the writing, not the story. I love his writing, his descriptions are fresh and lovely. “New England in autumn. Blue skies. Air as crisp as a celery stalk snapped in two.” or “…the sharpened spire of Our Lady of Constant Sorrow, marking the spot as cleanly as a pin on a map.”
It failed me on story because it seemed to go in too many directions. It appears to be about him winning back his girlfriend by helping her brother, but that story, while it is the motivation for his experimental therapy trial, gets lost in the story of the three men who believe they are Christ. And then that story gets lost in the story of Thomas’s strange upbringing and clinical relationship with his father. Add to that, a tacked on mysterious murderer. When the murderer is revealed I was like what?? Why?
And it’s not that a book can’t be rich in subplots, it’s just that they all felt like subplots. But again, Ferguson’s talent makes it all very readable and enjoyable to a point. 
Women Talking by Miriam Toews Canadian. A very riveting book. It is literally two days of conversation between a group of women (I don’t want to give any spoilers). It would seem on the surface that they have a simple, or obvious choice to make, but life is never simple and culture and belief can make things much more complicated. It’s sad and touching, and has many similarities to decisions faced by women everywhere as we stand up to say what we will and will not accept.
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. I really wanted to like this book, but it was all over the map, so many subplots that took over. It didn’t hold together in a satisfying way for me. The main character was portrayed inconsistently in all the different subplots. The only constant was that I didn’t like her. The ending was too pat, and odd.
Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe by Stuart McLean, Canadian. I love this book. I love all his books. I was driving when I heard he died, I had to pull over for a cry. He is a Canadian treasure. I will read this collection every year.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I read it every year.

Writing and Story

Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight. A good overview of the craft of writing a short story. I can see myself referring back to this resource when writing.

Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins. A practical book full of examples of people, past and present, making a living with art. The chapter that spoke most to me was the one about not working for free. That was always a hurdle for me, it took me getting older to start valuing my skills.

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. A little gem. A must for creatives. Pink Title links to his TED talk.

How to Write Non-fiction by Joanna Penn. This book has excellent chapters on developing your idea, finding the right structure and organization for your material, and for creating space in your life to sit in that chair. But Penn also has lots of great advice around mindset; in other words, she takes aim at all the excuses, and fears, that finish the sentence: I’d like to write non-fiction but ___. There is also mindset advice to help you keep writing such as avoiding shiny object syndrome and letting go of perfection and pursuing personal excellence instead. I have read other books by this author and I always enjoy how down to earth she is, she doesn’t preach at you, she shares with you. And she’s credible, because she has done what she suggests we do. This new offering doesn’t stop at helping you plan and write your book, she also lays out all the options for publishing, and if you choose the indie route, the book offers ideas and resource links to do it well. She then continues with lots of marketing advice that feels doable even to a marketing resistant person like me. The last chapter goes deeper into her own story, and I must say it’s inspiring to see how she built her author business one step at a time, (starting before all the opportunity and exposure available through social media!). I highly recommend Joanna Penn’s books, blog and podcast to anyone interested in an indie author career.


Theft by Finding by David Sedaris. LOVED this book. It’s a collection of his journal entries from 1997 to 2002. It’s funny and a great look into what Sedaris notices, and his journey as an author. I kept looking at the entry dates and remembering what would have been going on in my life at the time. I can’t wait for him to publish a second volume.

The Destiny Thief by Richard Russo. It was OK. Some essays were better than others.

Creative Quest by Questlove. This is an interesting book about creativity. While most examples are about music, the ideas about collaboration and building on the work that came before you, crosses all creative disciplines. I found this book more informative than inspiring, but I believe the disconnect is personal, I didn’t know, or sometimes understand, a lot of the musical references.

The Traveling Feast by Rick Bass. When I heard about this book it sounded wonderful. After I read the prologue I was in love with Bass’s writing and couldn’t wait to get into the stories. The idea is that he would visit many of his writing mentors and make them a meal and chat. He would bring along a younger writer who he was mentoring. But although I did enjoy everything in the book, I wanted so much more. I wanted to be there as the mentee. Instead I felt a bit like kitchen staff. I loved the descriptions of transporting the foods, the preparation, the travel to get to each writer’s home. There were warm greetings and sad departures at each stop, but I felt left in the kitchen when all the good stuff was going on. He even describes David Sedaris laughing and talking in the next room. I wanted to be in that room! I wanted to share in what was so funny. There are “words of wisdom” imparted from time to time, for eager writer/readers, but not enough for me to consider it a feast. Yet I can’t deny there is some really beautiful writing in this book. For example, when he is visiting the The Zendo ( a tranquil compound ) of writer Gary Snyder, a place that is very significant in Snyder’s life, Bass writes: “The three of us pass from room to room as if through the chambers of a heart.” Sentences like that make me forgive spending most of this book in the kitchen. I learned more about Bass than the writers he took me to visit, but since I ended up liking him and learning from him, I suppose I was ultimately served a good meal.

Self Development

You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero She says a lot of things I’ve heard before, but has a good take on them. But I really have to break my addiction to advice. It feeds my interest in thinking, even changes my thinking at times, but doesn’t always have lasting impact on my actions.

The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles. This was an audiobook. I kept drifting off. It was an odd book. Not really sure what I think of the advice. But it did make me realize audiobooks aren’t my thing.

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.I really do have to stop indulging in these books because the advice is so often the same at the core. This book explains a bit about why women tend to question themselves and not be as confident as they would like to be. Even women who appear on the surface to have it all together often suffer from underconfidence. Some of it is a genetic lottery, but we can all grow our confidence, no matter how much or how little it comes naturally. How? Plain and simple; by taking action, possibly failing (the faster the better), but always learning and gaining in confidence with every action. So ultimately, if I’m not confident at something, I have to overcome that feeling and be willing to fail, and then I will grow confident. I think I already knew that. Reading these books is my fake attempt at action. I know that, but I really love reading them.

Finish by Jon Acuff. This is THE book. I read and read these self development books. I’ve been reading them for decades. I have realized that they all say pretty much the same things. But I keep reading them. And then this book. This book is a game changer. It addresses something that the others didn’t or at least not as exclusively and as thoroughly. I’m sure there has been stuff about finishing in most of what I have read before. But I never really absorbed that, because I thought my problem had to do with starting, or committing; that I had to overcome those things before I had to worry about finishing. Nope. I don’t start as a way to avoid finishing. I think another reason this book is so effective it that he is so very funny. Good advice (amazing advice!) delivered when you’re happy and laughing (not white knuckling the edges of the book willing yourself to change), just gets in your head in a different way. If you find yourself drawn to self development books, if you are trying to figure out why you know what you want but constantly get in your own way, start with this book. It may save you a lot of time and money with all the others in the genre.

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin. I really liked this book. It reads well and has a lot of great advice. It isn’t about getting rich or even about being “successful.” It’s about being ready for all the stuff that life will toss your way. If you don’t read the book, at least write down the list of 13 things from the table of contents and keep it somewhere, you won’t go wrong living by that list. You can also read a condensed version of the book by clicking the pink title above.


The Clean Money Revolution- Reinventing Power, Purpose, and Capitalism by Joel Solomon. Canadian. This book is about a future where money is aligned with a purpose that makes the world a better place and isn’t just about the bottom line. Part memoir, part history of a grassroots movement, part call-to-action on how we spend and invest. It’s a hopeful book, especially in today’s angry world.