February 2016

Happy leap day everyone! I spent the day at work, which made it more or less a normal day, but I really can’t complain because I love my job and everyone I work with (even when they point out that I came in dead last in our Oscars pool…) That being said, I’m thankful for an extra day of reading! Speaking of reading…

This month, I read:

*The Illegal by Lawrence Hill (My first Canada Reads book this year!)
*The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
*Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
*Birdie by Tracey Lindberg (Canada Reads book #2!)
*A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
*She’s Not There by Joy Fielding
*13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad

I feel like I read a good mixture of books this month: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and She’s Not There were really really great mysteries; The Illegal was a fantastic book that I had meant to finish a long time ago; Birdie was an interesting and tough read; A Little Life left me in pieces; and I hate to say that I was a little underwhelmed by Beautiful Ruins and disappointed by 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl (or, more accurately, by its cover copy).

All things considered, if my reading matches these past few months, I’ll be very very happy.

Have you had a good reading month? Did you read anything that blew you away? Did you read anything that left you underwhelmed?

Monday Musings | In Defense of Spoilers

Book and Tea One More Page Book Blog Karen

Note: Don’t worry, this post will not have any book spoilers in them!

I sometimes wonder about my decision to post spoiler-free reviews.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that there are definitely reasons to keep things spoiler-free (in fact, that’s how I prefer it when reading reviews myself), but as a review writer, I do have times when I’m itching to discuss big events in books.

I think it all comes down to the fact that sometimes, when critically engaging with and discussing a book, big twists and revelations are a big turning point, whether it be regarding a character’s motives, or the “point” that an author is trying to make. When these big events happen in books that I’m planning on reviewing, it can be hard to explore certain things without referencing the spoiler. What ends up happening is a wishy-washy sort of review where I apologize over and over again for being so vague and for not being able to explain my thoughts properly.

At times like these, I wonder: is it worth it to post these sort of reviews?

I guess it depends on what my readers are getting out of my reviews. Do they just want to know whether a book is worth reading or not? (In that case, maybe a “you need to read this” sort of review is enough?) Or are they here for critical analysis (which requires quotes and events to back up my points)? I probably will never have a concrete answer for this, as there’s probably an audience for both types of posts, but sometimes I wonder if going spoiler-free is worth it.

What do you think? Do you appreciate when reviews are spoiler-free? Does reading spoilers affect your enjoyment of a book? If you’re a book blogger, do you grapple with posting spoiler-free vs. spoiler-filled reviews?

(Ps. Because of these thoughts, I’m SUPER glad that The Socratic Salon exists. Everybody’s free to  be spoiler-y! Seriously, check the site out. It’s run by a group of super intelligent readers, and the comment sections are fantastic.)

Monday Musings | Paying Attention to Publishers?

Literature Classics Penguin Classics Oxford Classics One More Page

When I was in university studying English, classics were a staple on my reading lists. Now, I don’t know how you categorize your shelves, but when classics made up most of mine in university, my favourite way to organize my books was by publisher (see above!). Just thinking about my row of black Penguin classics and white Oxford classics makes my heart sing!

However, outside of the classics, I never really paid attention to who was publishing my favourite books until I started blogging. This is kind of interesting, as it makes me wonder whether other readers consider publishers when they pick up a new book. Does a book published by a recognizable publisher give readers more confidence in picking it up if they see it on a table in Chapters? Or do we largely ignore publishers and focus on the book’s content itself?

I have definitely noticed trends in my reading (I read a lot of books by Penguin Random House Canada, which is unsurprising as their one of the biggest global publishers. I also read a lot from HarperCollins Canada, especially now that I’m an intern there!). That being said, I don’t confine myself to my favourite publishers and do rely on book synopses to help me determine whether I want to read a book or not.

Now, I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Do you pay attention to publishers when purchasing books/reading? Do you have a favourite publisher? If so, why do you consider them your favourite?

Monday Musings | Childhood Favourites

Karen Ma Monthly Summary September 2014 One More Page

You know that oft-quoted saying “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel?”

That phrase popped into my mind today as I was reminiscing about my favourite childhood books. I have many childhood favourites that I still remember by name (Charlotte’s Web, I Want to Go Home, Little House on the Prairie, etc) but there are also some “lost favourites” that I can vaguely recall but can’t quite place anymore. For example, at one point, one of my favourite books was about this kid who was trick-or-treating with his friends when he suddenly gets the hiccoughs. His friends all suggest different ways to get rid of the hiccoughs but nothing seems to work… To be honest, I don’t even remember how the book ends (perhaps someone scares him – thus fitting the Hallowe’en theme – and he’s cured?), but I remember the delight that I felt when reading the book, and I often find myself thinking back to that plot when I have the hiccoughs. (It’s kind of weird what kind of thing sticks with a person, eh?)

Anyway, this got me thinking about how important children’s literature is. I mean, it’s probably been around 20 years since I encountered the book I described above, and I’m still thinking about it! I wouldn’t be surprised if I was 80 and still laughing about it while powering through some hiccoughs. That’s some serious staying power. It makes me so thankful that there are so many wonderful and talented children’s writers that create not only educational, but memorable and delightful books that will last with generations and generations of children.

So, I may not remember the title or the author of one of my childhood favourites, but I will always remember how reading it made me feel.

Do you have any book plots that have stuck with you despite not remembering the title/author of the book? Does anyone have any idea which book I’m talking about? (It’s been a while since I’ve tried to find it via Google.)

A #CanLit TBR

Canada Day Canadian Literature Books TBR

Happy Canada Day, everyone!

You may remember how I used to think Canadian literature was “uncool” and how over the past few years I’ve been trying to catch up and keep up on all of the amazing books Canada has to offer. Well, as you may have guessed, there’s a lot that I haven’t read yet, so I thought I’d share with you a portion of my CanLit TBR. (Of course, after I took the picture for this post, I realized I forgot to include Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, which is definitely something I’ve been meaning to check out.) If, after reading this post, you’re looking for even more Canadian reads to add to your list, here are 10 books that I’d recommend! Now, on to my (incomplete) list:

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

One of my favourite books from last year was Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows. It was heart-wrenching, beautifully written, and helped shape my worldview. I’ve heard many great things about A Complicated Kindness, so I’m looking forward to being immersed in Toews’ beautiful words and thoughts again. (Fun fact: I didn’t know how to pronounce “Toews” until last year when I finally heard someone say it out loud. I used to pronounce it as “toes.” It’s pronounced “tay-ves.”)

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Canada has a deep (and dark) history with its Native peoples, and Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian aims to shed some light on the relationship between Natives and non-Native peoples in North America. As someone who would love to be more aware of issues like these, The Inconvenient Indian, which was one of the selections for Canada Reads 2015, has made it to the top of my Can Lit TBR. (Fun fact: Thomas King has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award for both fiction and non-fiction.)

Chez L’Arabe by Mireille Silcoff

This collection of linked short stories centres around a woman in Montreal who is suffering from a chronic illness. I’ve actually read the first story from this collection and it is beautifully written. I can’t wait to read more. (Little known fact: Chez L’Arabe was inspired by Silcoff’s own medical struggles.)

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

I picked this up at Coach House Books‘ spring launch and have been meaning to get to it since. Set in Toronto, this book imagines what it would be like if dogs had human intelligence. Need I say more? (Fun fact: To get into the heads of the dogs he was writing about, Alexis went around Toronto to try to imagine how different neighbourhoods would smell like to a dog. “In some ways that’s disgusting because you have to have shades of urine or shades of merde,” he writes in this article on the CBC website.)

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt

This is actually an upcoming title from House of Anansi Press, but I’m extremely excited to dive in because I’ve heard great things about deWitt’s writing, especially in his previous book The Sisters Brothers. The back of the book describes Undermajordomo Minor as “a triumphant ink-black comedy,” which has me intrigued to say the least. (Fun fact: 2011 was a huge year for deWitt as The Sisters Brothers was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, Scotiabank Giller Prize, Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and Governor General’s Award for English language fiction alongside fellow Canadian writer Esi Edugyan.)

Have you read any of the books on my list? Is there anything that I missed and should read ASAP? If you’re in Canada, how are you spending your Canada Day?

Monday Musings | The Future of Print Books

2015 Reading Bookish New Year Resolutions

I think, for as long as we live, we will always worry about new technology taking over old technology.

Sometimes these worries are valid (cassette tapes, anyone?) but sometimes we’re a little too pessimistic. In publishing (and for avid readers in general), the hot topic has been the rise of e-books. Will there be an e-reading generation that doesn’t value print books? Will the printed word go extinct?

So far, studies have been inconclusive. There is evidence that my generation of readers (as well as older generations) still value physical books, but are open to trying other forms of reading. I have no doubt that I will attempt to pass on my love of print to the next generation, but I also have no idea how receptive they will be to my cajoling. Though I’m sure the print book isn’t going to go extinct anytime soon (in 2013, 17% of books purchased in Canada were ebooks), I still wonder if there’s a future where most people will prefer reading from an e-reader or tablet…

What do you think? Are you a print book purist? Or have you converted to e-reading? Do you think the anxieties over whether print books will go extinct is silly, or something to be worried about? What is the value of a print book over a digital one?

(I personally think it’s a little bit silly to worry about this, but I’d also be devastated if publishers stopped printing books. I’m not a print book purist as I do own an e-reader, but I much prefer reading in print. Take that as you will!)

Monday Musings | Books With Sentimental Value

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews Signed

Hi everyone! I hope you’ve had a great weekend and a nice Monday. It’s Family Day in Ontario, so I was lucky enough to enjoy the day off. It has been excellent.

I just caught up with last night’s episode of Girls (a show I follow religiously) and it has me feeling all melancholy and sentimental. So I thought I would tie it into today’s Monday Musing post!

When it comes to books, I do attach quite a bit of sentiment to them. Whether it be because its message really spoke to me, because I read it at a very specific time in my life, or because it was a gift from a special person, these emotions make it hard for me to part with certain books, and heartbreaking when I do have to let them go.

One specific instance I can think of is a dictionary that I owned. It used to be my mother’s dictionary, and on the title page, under her name, I had signed mine. Unfortunately, when I was packing all of my belongings to move them to Toronto, I had to give it away as it was just too bulky for me to bring to Ontario. Whenever I think about it, I feel like I should have kept it. Similarly, I remember receiving books from my mother as a child and asking her to sign and dedicate them to me. (I guess I’ve always been a sentimental person.) These books are not currently in my possession, but they are ones that I will cherish forever and ever.

Do you have any books that are especially important to you? What’s the story behind it?

#RHCBloggerPreview: 10 Spring/Fall Titles to Put on Your Radar

Random House Canada RHC Blogger Preview

There are many reasons why I love being a book blogger, and one of them is being able to find out about new and exciting titles before they’re published. Last night, the wonderful ladies at Random House Canada (Lindsey, Aliya, and Jessica) hosted a blogger preview at their Toronto offices and it was a wonderful night learning about some of their upcoming books, chatting with fellow book-lovers, and munching on delicious pizza! I definitely left the event feeling super excited about the books they told us about, so I thought I would share my enthusiasm with you all. So, here is a list of 10 books that I think should be on everyone’s radar!

1. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (June 2nd, 2015)

Judy Blume In The Unlikely Event Book Cover

Let’s just dive right in, shall we? I grew up reading (and loving) Judy Blume, so I couldn’t be more excited to hear that she is releasing a brand new adult novel. Based on true events that witnessed a series of passenger airplane crashes within a three-month period, In the Unlikely Event “bring[s] us the lives of three generations of families, friends, and strangers who will be profoundly affected by these events, either directly or indirectly.” Read more on Goodreads here.

2. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (March 3rd, 2015)

Kazuo Ishiguro The Buried Giant Book Cover

It’s been a decade since Never Let Me Go, but Kazuo Ishiguro is back with The Buried Giant! I’m really looking forward to reading this as I thoroughly enjoyed the #RemainsReread with Random House Canada last year where we read (or re-read) The Remains of the Day. (Read part 1 of my re-cap here.) This has been described as “a story of a marriage” as well as a “myth-like.” Aliya made a particularly great point about Ishiguro: (Paraphrased to the best of my ability!) “His books are not always easy, but they are always worth it. He never writes the same book twice.” Yep, I’m in. Read more on Goodreads here.

3. Boo by Neil Smith (May 12th, 2015)

Boo Neil Smith Book Cover

Lindsey introduced this book as “Lord of the Flies meets The Lovely Bones.” Intrigued yet? “In an afterlife exclusively for thirteen-year-olds, an oft-bullied social misfits makes the friends he never had on Earth in this charmingly quirky coming-of-age novel.” In parts a murder mystery, I think this book will have everyone buzzing when it comes out in May. Read more on Goodreads here.

4. We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen (May 12th, 2015)

We Are All Made of Molecules Susin Nielsen Book Cover

I have raved about Susin Nielsen before, but I couldn’t help squealing when We Are All Made of Molecules came on the screen at the conference. I have actually had the privilege of reading this book already, and it is amazing. Seriously, I have never disliked a Susin Nielsen book ever. This book is a “hilarious yet deeply moving story [about] a sweet, awkward boy and a not-so-sweet girl.” It has the perfect balance of laugh-out-loud funny and serious topics. SO. GOOD. Read more on Goodreads here.

5. Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin (March 17th, 2015)

Gretchen Rubin Better Than Before The Happiness Project

You may have heard of Gretchen Rubin before, as she is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project. In Better than Before, Rubin “tackles the question: How do we make good habits that are easy, effortless, and automatic?” I  am definitely a creature of habits (some of them bad), so this seems like just the book for me! Plus, I’m making it a point to read more non-fiction this year, so Better Than Before kills two birds with one stone. Score. Read more on Goodreads here.

6. A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install (August 4th, 2015)

A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install Book Cover

Everyone who has read A Robot in the Garden already seems to be enamored with it, and it’s not hard to see why. Described as “Pixar-esque” and “if Up and Wall-E had a baby” (credits go to Siobhan), this is a “funny, touching, charming, wise, and a bit magical novel that explores what it is to be a man, a sentient being, and even a parent.” It seems like Tang the robot will be one of those characters that we will love long after the book is done. Read more on Goodreads here.

7. His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay (August 11th, 2015)

His Whole Life Elizabeth Hay Book Cover

I have an embarrassing confession to make: I have never read anything by Elizabeth Hay. It’s never too late to start though, right? His Whole Life is sure to be a big Canadian release, and I can’t wait to read this book that “[starts] with something as simple as a boy who wants his dog [and] takes us into a richly intimate world where everything that matters to him is at risk: family, nature, home.” Lindsey called this book “a story of a family” and “really accessible,” so I’m excited to make this my first book by Hay. Read more on Goodreads here.

8. Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella (June 9th, 2015)

Finding Audrey Sophie Kinsella Book Cover

My heart started doing crazy things when this book was introduced. If you know me, you’ll know that I love the Shopaholic series, so it’s no surprise that I’d be excited for Sophie Kinsella’s venture into writing for young adults. I’m especially interested in Finding Audrey as it deals with anxiety disorder and psychological recovery. Plus, how amazing is that cover?? Read more on Goodreads here.

9. Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs by Davide Cali; illustrated by Raphaelle Barbanegre (April 14th, 2015)

Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs Davide Cali Raphaelle Barbanegre Book Cover

What if Snow White didn’t have to entertain 7 dwarfs, but 77? This is a picture book reimagining of the famous Snow White tale “with hilarious results.” It’s “a funny, twisted retelling for fans of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and The Three Pigs by David Weisner.” We were shown a few of the illustrations at the conference, and I thought those alone made the book worthy of picking up. I’m intrigued by this one! Read more on Goodreads here.

10. Good Food, Good Life: 130 Simple Recipes You’ll Love to Make and Eat by Curtis Stone (March 10, 2015)

Good Food, Good Life Curtis Stone Recipe Book Cover

We all agree that Curtis Stone has a “media-friendly” (read: attractive) face, but that’s not the only reason to check Good Food, Good Life out. As someone who always struggles to find recipes that are both easy to make and delicious, this sounds like just the book for me. “Recipes include Butternut Squash with Sage Brown Butter, Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Alabama BBQ Sause and Asparagus, …” I’m drooling just thinking about it. Read more on Goodreads here.

Honourable mentions (Fall titles!):

  • The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. It’s a new Margaret Atwood book. What more do I need to say?
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. Aliya loved “everything, everything” about this book. It’s about a girl who is allergic to everything and has to live a sterile life. What will happen to her when she falls in love with the boy next door? What intrigued me the most about this one is that there is artwork throughout the book. Ooooooh!
  • The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. This sounds similar to The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and is a must-read for book lovers. I think the story speaks for itself. I’m sold.

So there you have it! It was so difficult to choose only 10 books, but somehow I managed. Are you excited about any of these upcoming titles? Are there any other books that should be on my radar?

*Thank you again to Random House Canada for hosting this fun event!

Confessions of a Shopaholic Loving Readaholic

If you’re a fan of Sophie Kinsella’s bestselling Shopaholic series (like me) you may be excited to hear that the NEW installment in the series is coming out on Tuesday!!! I’m not sure about you but I thought the Shopaholic series had ended years ago, so imagine my excitement when I found out about Shopaholic to the Stars! In the spirit of Shopaholic, I’ve decided to share my confessions as a readaholic! (Bookaholic? Mini confession: I generally don’t like made up words that end with -holic.)

1. I love the Shopaholic series.

This is not really a confession as my love for this series is pretty widely known now, but I used to pretend that I didn’t read them because somehow I felt like light, funny reads like the Shopaholic books were somehow less legitimate than heavy-hitting “literary” works. I’ve gotten over that idea and so I’m so happy and proud to say that I will read anything that Sophie Kinsella writes, especially any Shopaholic books she releases.

2. I feel bad rating books on a 5 star system.

Somehow I feel like it’s impossible to rate books accurately with this system. I don’t use an objective scale when I give ratings, so a lot of my books are rated inconsistently. For this reason, I don’t give books ratings on my blog because I would rather just guide the right readers to the book rather than give it a blanket rating.

3. I never used the word “bookish” before becoming a book blogger.

Even though I have always been bookish, for some reason this word hadn’t popped up before I started seeing it around book blogs. Now I use the phrase quite often!

4. Similarly, before becoming a book blogger, I had no idea that ARCs existed.

Call me naive, but I never thought about Advanced Reading Copies before I started blogging. I had no idea that they even existed! (Did I just assume that reviewers just read the newly-released book in a day??)

5. I judge books by their covers.

I feel pretty guilty about this, but beautiful books are just so… beautiful! If I had unlimited funds I would definitely cover buy more often. That being said, if a book’s synopsis is interesting enough, I can overlook the fact that it has a cover that doesn’t grab my attention.

6. I resist the phrases “ALL THE FEELS” and “I can’t even” because I feel like we should articulate our feelings more accurately.

However, there are certain situations that will make me feel like saying those phrases. For example: My reaction after seeing Gone Girl in theatres (“I can’t even”), and Luke and Becky Brandon’s love in the Shopaholic series give me “all the feels”.

7. I’m very competitive with myself.

For example, if I read 5 books last month, I’ll want to outdo myself and read more than 5 books the next month. Sometimes this leads me to read too quickly. I’m working on it.

8. I’m a total scaredy cat.

If there’s anything remotely frightening/not normal in a book it’ll usually make me scared. An example: the wardrobe “scene” in Jane Eyre made me worried about my wardrobe for days… That’s why, even though I think it’s a great idea, I’m not participating in any spooky readathons this month.

9. Brevity is not my strong suit.

Sometimes I think my posts are too long because of this. Again, I’m working on it! (And a quick thank you to those who read my blogs regardless of length!!)

10. I almost never schedule posts even though I mean to!

I think not scheduling posts is a bad habit of mine. I think that I’m going to try to work harder on this, because the few times I have scheduled posts it’s been so great! Plus, giving myself more time to read over what I’ve written is always good… hmmm… I guess weekend blogging sessions are going to become my new thing!

Do you have any confessions as a reader or a book blogger? Are you as excited about Shopaholic to the Stars as I am? Don’t forget to check back for my review of it!

Monday Musings | “Rereadable” Books

This past week I’ve been thinking about re-reading books more than usual. What with the The Remains of the Day reread with Random House Canada (#RemainsReRead), and my insistence that David Mitchell’s new novel The Bone Clocks is a book that begs to be re-read, it seems to have been a theme on my blog lately.

This prompted me to wonder: why do we re-read certain books and not others? For me, whether I re-read a book depends on mainly two things. One, I will re-read a book if absolutely loved the story. Maybe its ideas really resonated with me, or the characters were so wonderful that they feel like old friends (hello, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, Fred, George…you get the picture), or maybe it just has the magical ability to transport me into a different world, space, or time that feels extremely cathartic. If I finish the book feeling sad that I have to say goodbye to it, I will almost always add it to my mental “revisit later” list. Second, I will re-read a book if it holds sentimental value to me. Maybe I read the book at just the right time and it left a strong impression, or maybe I got the book as a graduation gift or a “pick me up” book after a rough time. If I have strong feelings linked to a book, I am more likely to pick it up again and read it for nostalgic purposes. Sometimes a book will combine reasons one and two – those books I am pretty much guaranteed to re-read. What makes a book re-readable to you?

Now, I don’t want to assume that everyone re-reads books because I’ve definitely come across readers that never re-read books, even if they loved a book the first time they read it. One of the main reasons for this, according to what I’ve heard, is time. There are so many new releases coming out each week that the reader doesn’t want to spend extra time on the same book. Being a sentimental person with a long TBR list I can see both sides, but eventually my attachment with some of my “re-readable” books wins out. There’s just something special about revisiting an old story and reconnecting with it. Plus, some books are so layered and intricate that you can always find something new within the pages, whether it be a detail you missed or a new angle you’ve never examined before, so I think that keeps a freshness to it too.

So, let me ask you: Do you re-read books? Why or why not? If you do, how do you determine whether a book is “re-readable” or not? As always, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!