Novel Editions – book box subscription

This is not sponsored. I just like Novel Editions.

Book boxes are bookish mail, which is awesome, but they’re also a great way to discover books, genres, and authors you might otherwise disregard. Many book boxes also include a few token gifts related to the books or the box’s theme. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find ones that are Canadian. Doubly so, if you’re looking for general fiction (YA seems to be the most popular book box genre).

There are a number of US and UK based subscriptions boxes, but given the value of our loonie these days, they’re not worth the cost, even before adding shipping. Thankfully, I found a Canadian adult fiction book subscription service: Novel Editions.

Novel Editions, which is run by Alex, has monthly themes, a book or two, and a few small gifts related to the theme or book. Alex also hosts a monthly online book discussion, which is relaxed and casual (you’re not expected to have studied the book – it’s just friendly chit-chat). The book group Facebook page is also open to other bookish chit-chat at any time.

Here are the books (and my thoughts) since I started my subscription:

January

As soon as I read the book summary, I was worried – it didn’t sound like the kind of book that I usually pick up. But, despite a slow start and a lot of unanswered questions (clearly, there’s a sequel coming), it was a fun and interesting female centered adventure. The gifts were very apt: tea, lavender and bubble bath (tea, herbs and potions – all relevant to the novel).

I talk more about it in my book review.

February

  • Theme: Nature
  • Book: The Break by Katherena Vermette and Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

I was a little disappointed with February’s box, but only because I didn’t feel that the books weren’t great choices – one didn’t match the theme very well and the other was by an author with dubious claims to indigenous heritage (someone whose work I’m currently avoiding). That said, they’re both excellent books and I’m glad they were shared with so many readers.

I wrote about The Break twice: in a reading update and in a stand-alone review.

March

This book started out great, but I was really annoyed with it fairly quickly. Despite this, I don’t regret reading it because it’s an interesting concept and quite suspenseful. But, to be honest, the only reasons I didn’t quit the book was because of the book club.

You can read my review to get the full scope of my annoyance.

April

I’m very excited about this book. I discovered Andrew Wyeth by accident last year and I love his paintings (especially his paintings of windows). I coincidentally bought a used book of his art a few weeks ago and the cashier mentioned this book. A couple days later, Alex gave us a hint about April’s book and I was very excited about the possibility that it was the same book. I’ve been eagerly waiting for the box ever since, hoping that my guess was correct. I haven’t started it yet, but it’s on the top of my pile.

This month’s box also had my favourite set of gifts (honey, lavender linen spray and some wooden plant markers).

I’ve only been subscribed for a couple months, but I’m really enjoying the boxes and book club. The variety of books have been really good and, so far, they’ve all been good reads or good fuel for discussion. Also, this has been a great way to expand my reading – half of the books are ones that I would never have picked for myself (much more, if you look back to the month’s prior to when I started my subscription). And, while I didn’t enjoy March’s book, I did go looking for other mysteries or thrillers to read (including a great one by Louise Penny, A Great Reckoning) because it was a good reminder of how much fun it can be to read mysteries and thrillers.

Do you subscribe to a book box? Do you know of any good Canadian ones I should check out? Or, does your local book store provide a similar service? (I wish mine did!)

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Book review – Wildwood Imperium by Colin Meloy

TreesColin Meloy’s writing is delightful. It’s full of imagination and quiet beauty. You’ll find yourself letting out little guffaws now and then, as unexpected bits of humour and sarcasm sneak into the story (particularly when certain characters, like Septimus, are around). He’s also created a world that’s rich and creative while still feeling real (i.e., not completely outlandish – it’s not hard to imagine that this place could really exist).

I utterly adored the first book in the Wildwood trilogy: it had adventure, imagination, and magic; there were several different and interesting villains; the story, place, and people were intriguing; and, there were many likeable and well developed characters..

The second book, Under Wildwood, had a lot of live up to and, while good, I didn’t love it. Because of this, I was hesitant to start the third book, Wildwood Imperium. I knew that I loved the universe Meloy had created and that I enjoyed the characters, but I was worried that this wouldn’t be enough to pull me through if the third book was lacking that je ne said quoi I found in the first book.

Thankfully, the third book was pretty fantastic. It’s fun, adventurous, and full of new and intriguing characters. On the whole, the only problem I had with it was the plot holes and unanswered questions:

  1. What happened to Swindon? Some readers also feel that his motivation was left unanswered, but he was a part of the industrial group wanting control of Wildwood. This was explained in the second book, when we discover Joffrey Unthank’s plot to plunder Wildwood’s resources, though perhaps not re-iterated well-enough in the third book.
  2. The Synod group. They’re goals, the origin of the fungi, how people were set free after the story’s climax, etc. weren’t as well defined as those of many other groups/things. Perhaps this was simply because they weren’t a part of the story until the third book. Unfortunately, I was left feeling like it/they were poorly developed.

Despite the unanswered questions, I thoroughly enjoyed the third book and feel that it complements the first two and wraps things up well enough to leave me satisfied, but wishing there were more Wildwood stories.

Another thing I loved about the book(s) was the lack of romance. I’m not a complete Scrooge when it comes to such things, but I’m so tired of the idea that boys and girls can’t be friends without being smitten with each other or being each other’s “soul mate.” It irks me that people of different genders can’t just be friends. So, I was delighted when I realized that Meloy didn’t fall into the trap of using this over-used plot device. Prue and Curtis were friends. Full-stop.

While this book (and the series overall) weren’t perfect, I can see that Meloy has a great imagination and incredible potential. I’m looking forward to his next book.

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From YouTube: Not A “Proper” Reader?

In her video Not a “Proper” Reader?Ariel Bissett talks about being a “proper” reader. Her comments are specific to public readers (book bloggers, booktubers, reviewers, etc.) and the expectations relating to how much they should read, but they’re valid to everyone. It doesn’t matter how much others read. Just read. It doesn’t matter which books or genres you enjoy. Just read.  It doesn’t matter if you mostly read magazines or comics. Just read.

… if you only manage to read one book this month … nobody cares! It doesn’t matter! Did you enjoy the book? That’s a more important question.

As someone who used to struggle with the label “reader” and with the idea of keeping up with others, this is a really important topic for me. I wrote about it last year in my post On quitting books and I will write about it a hundred thousand times more if I need to – you do not need to conform with what society, media, or anyone tells you. Find what you love and enjoy it.

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Reading project: CBC’s 100 novels

Did you know that CBC is more than just a news site? They have a whole section on books and it’s a good resource for Canadian content (books, authors, bookish news, etc.). They host Canada Reads and they have many lists with a plethora of themes. Several of the lists focus on CanLit (Canadian Literature). For example, the 100 Novels That Make You Proud to be Canadian list. It’s a very interesting collection, including a little bit of everything: Essex County (graphic novel), The Handmaid’s Tale, Monkey Beach, and even Bear (yes, the Bear that got a lot of buzz because of its racy bear-ish content).

I’ve only read 11 off the current list, but I’ve been meaning to read more of them. Not all of them – for example, I still haven’t gotten over how much I hated the last Mordecai  Richler book I read (over 20 years ago!), so I’m unlikely to read another.

If I dedicated myself, I could probably get them all read (or, at least started) within a year or so, but I don’t want to let them get in the way of new books or other reading challenges that I’ve given myself. Instead, I’ve decided to create a Goodreads shelf with all of the current titles which will be a quiet reminder to slowly work on it. Every so often, I’ll check the list again, adding (but never removing) new books anytime CBC updates the list. And, if I’m ever feeling super patriotic, I might even dedicate a whole month to reading a few books off the list.

The goal isn’t to finish them all, but to try most of them. As mentioned on this blog many times, I refuse to force my way through a book.

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Side note: If you took a peak at the list, you’ll notice that Anne of Green Gables is missing. For some, this omission is sacrilege. But, fear not, they included it on their YA list, 100 Young Adult Books That Make You Proud to be Canadian.

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A few thoughts on audiobooks and who narrates them

Audiobooks are a great way to get some “reading” done while commuting, doing chores, or lying in bed, too lazy to hold up a book. I used to have an Audible account and one of the things I loved was that they ask you to rate the story and the narration (performance). Who reads them (or, how they are performed) can make or break an audiobook experience:

The author

Having the author narrate a book can feel like a special treat. First they wrote this lovely book for you, and now they’re reading it to you! The only thing that could improve this scenario would be if they brought you a nice cup of tea.

The author knows the book better than anyone. They know the nuances of emotion and inflection that are needed to convey their story wholly and honestly.

On the other hand, some authors don’t have good voices for audiobooks. Margaret Atwood, for example, is a delight and I would gladly invite her over any day, but her voice is a bit too monotone, even for her own stories. While I enjoy listening to her read excerpts, I’m not sure she would be a good option for reading a whole novel.

Narrators who can distinguish between genders (or ages) without sounding cheesy

Nothing ruins a book like a whinny, high pitched attempt at mimicking a child’s voice. That may be perfect for comedies or cartoons, but it’s like fingernails on chalkboards in audiobooks.

The same can be said for any over-the-top attempt at conveying a person’s gender or age. It just ends up feeling like you’ve stepped into amateur territory. Not all women have high-pitched or sultry voices. Not all men are gruff, baritone wonders.

While it’s true that a story should provide us with enough detail to know a character’s gender (assuming that’s an important factor in the story), a good performer still has to be skilled in finding a way to convey not just the gender, but also the personality – soft-toned men, strong willed woman, wise children, etc.

Narrators who can mimic (or have) the appropriate accents

As I draft this, I’m working on listening to The Bear and the Nightingale, which is set in Russia. While the performer speaks with a familiar-to-me North American accent for the narration, she uses a Russian accent for the dialogue, which helps to make the story feel more authentic. And, an audiobook I listened to last year had a performer that spoke with a French accent, which was perfect because it was set in France.

These little things help to set the stage and to remind us of where the story lives. It can also add a great deal of richness and enjoyment.

Celebrities

For the most part, I don’t really care who reads the story, as long as they are a skilled performer. But, sometimes a celebrity adds an extra layer of enjoyment. When I listened to a couple of the Harry Potter novels, I opted for the versions read by Stephen Fry because I knew that his voice is lovely and that he had the skills to add the right amount of drama, sadness, fear, and other emotions to the narration.

Last year (the year before?), I listened to a John Scalzi book, which was narrated by Wil Wheaton. This annoyed me at first. I was convinced he only got the job because he was a celebrity geek. But, as the story progressed, I found that he was really well suited for Scalzi’s book. There was something about his regular-Joe voice that felt very appropriate for the story.

Group performances (audio plays)

This is when you get multiple performers, sound effects and little (if any) narration. Lots of people adore these. The sound effects make them sound extra exciting,  the use of multiple celebrities makes it seem extra cool, and they can find performers that match the gender, age, and temperament of each character in the book. A good example is the audio play for Neverwhere, which seems to be quite popular.

I’m not a fan group performances. I don’t mind if a second performer is included (ex: to do a different gender), but I find the multitude of voices and sound effects distracting. I’m just not the right type of listener for group performances.

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It’s worth considering all of these options when looking for audiobooks, especially if you’re new to audiobooks. It’s also worth remembering that most audiobooks come in several versions, so if you don’t like one performer, look for a different version (ex: there might be one read by a North American and another read by a British performer). Sometimes, it’s also worth looking for other books read by a narrator who’s performance you especially adored. True, they likely do performances for a lot of different types of books, but this might be a good way to try new things – you know you’ll appreciate the performance, so take a chance on the story, genre, etc.

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Celebrating National Poetry Month, sort of

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April is National Poetry month and I have 8 unread poetry books on my to-be-read (TBR) shelf. Most of these are books that I’ve picked up over the past few months, but one’s been lingering for about 2 years, which is a tiny bit embarrassing.

Given my sometimes-not-great life-long relationship with poetry, I don’t generally do anything to mark or celebrate poetry month. I also don’t usually have more than one or two poetry books on my TBR shelf. Oh, and, my TBR shelf is threatening to breach it’s boundaries, which means that I really need to focus on it for a couple weeks.

These are the poetry books I have:

Also, I’m expecting Stranger, Baby to arrive late in the month and I have an anthology that includes some poetry, The Museum of All Things Awesome and that Go Boom, which I’ll start reading if I finish others read.

It’s going to be a very poetic month for me.

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Book review – Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

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I’ve read so many great books this year, so it feels weird to be posting a review that’s negative.

March’s Novel Editions box included Behind Her Eyes. The one thing I knew about it was that people were raving about the big twist at the end. I love a good twist ending, so I dove in!

At first, I was intrigued. The story centres on Louise, a single mom, and a married couple she meets: David, her new boss, and Adele, his wife. Louise met David at a bar the night before and, not knowing he was married, kissed him. Awkward! Her reaction to this and how she handled things in the first few chapters was honest and almost charming. She was embarrassed around David but held her head high, knowing she wasn’t in the wrong, and she was suitable uncomfortable about Adele’s insistence that they be friends.

I was just starting to like Louise when she decided sleep with David. And, then sleep with him again. Suddenly, we have a drunken cheater and a woman who is trying to be friends with the wife while screwing the husband. Also, the wife was getting to be annoyingly manipulative. An “evil little s**t” is what I called her on Instagram.

Despite the interesting element of magical realism (a skill that Adele taught Louise, which becomes central to the plot), I had a hard time enjoying the book after deciding that I didn’t like any of the characters. It is a page turner and I wanted to get to the big twist ending, so I was intrigued enough to keep going, but I wasn’t invested in the story and no longer cared about the characters.

Worse still, the characters became more and more annoying: David was drunk, angry and secretive; Adele was more and more manipulative; and, Louise was frantic, crying and bemoaning the mess she’d gotten into. There were several pages that I just skimmed through because I was tired of Louise’s whining.

But, there was the big twist. I wanted to know what the big, amazing twist was.

Then I figured it out.

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[POSSIBLE SPOILERS, MAYBE … probably not]

Around the two-thirds mark, something about an itch made me remember something I saw on a documentary and, bam, I knew the twist ending. I even called it on Twitter (see here, but MAJOR SPOILER ALERT – seriously, this tweet will ruin the whole twist ending). After that, I was reading just to finish the damned book. I no longer cared. I knew what the Adele was going to try and what she’d already done. I didn’t know the reasons, but I didn’t like the characters enough to care. The one thing I didn’t know was whether to not Adele or Louise was going to triumph in the end, and I only cared because I felt bad for Louise’s young son.

[SPOILER RISK ENDED]

Knowing the big twist ruined the whole book for me because I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care what happened to the characters, I didn’t care how it was done, and I didn’t care why it was done.

But, I did finish it and it’s an interesting twist. I think that the twist would have redeemed the book for me, had I not already figured it out.

So, I didn’t really enjoy the book, but it wasn’t a bad book. I think most people would enjoy this enough to not be disappointed. And, I’m not mad about having purchased the book. I just wish it had been better. I think that the twist and the magic skill were really interesting ideas and explained a lot of seemingly odd things that I can’t mention without risking spoilers (which is too bad because one of them would be really interesting to discuss!). I think that the book would have been better if the author had made Louise more likeable (ex: being tempted by, but not actually sleeping with David) or made David more compelling (ex: being more than just a drunken shell of himself).

Should you read it? I don’t know. Maybe. The twist is really good. If you think you’ve guessed it, check with someone who’s read the book (like me) to make sure you’re right, then skip to the last chapter.

Have you read this? What did you think? Did you guess the twist? If not, did the twist shock you?

Side note: I’ve liked or loved every other book I’ve gotten from Novel Editions, so far. If you’re looking for a Canadian book box, Novel Editions is a good option.

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Reading update, March 2017

This month has been all about Canada Reads. I wrote a bit about the event and the books after I finished reading the fourth of the five contenders (knowing that I wasn’t going to get to the last one). I didn’t watch the event, but I kept up-to-date online and was surprise to see the fan-favourite, The Break, voted off on the first day. In the end, the winner was Fifteen Dogs. I think that it’s defender, Humble the Poet, did a good job of explaining why it should have won in this CBC article:

“I didn’t pick a book that looks like me, sounds like me, represents any type of minority that I might check off the box,” Humble The Poet said on Day Two of the debates.

“I picked the book that represents me to my core. Everybody in this room has regrets, anxieties. Everybody in this room is struggling with the thoughts in their head, which ones they should believe [and] which ones they should not. Everybody in this room struggles with jealousy, irrespective of their race, their gender, their orientation, their economic background. This is the only book that talks about that over and over again.”

The book in question is a fascinating read and Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2015. It’s an interesting read that has many layers readers can dig into.

In between reading Canada Reads contenders, I hopped on the bandwagon and read Hidden Figures. It’s a bit dry in places, but otherwise an excellent non-fiction book. The author was very careful to include all the nerdy math stuff, while still being open and honest about the lives of women, black people, and, especially, black women. I’m interested to see how the movie pulls together so many characters and social issues.

I also won a book via a giveaway on 49th Shelf, which is a good source for Canadian book recommendations and such. The book was Shot-Blue and I absolutely loved it. The writing was beautiful and made me feel like I was exploring a great Canadian landscape painting. You can read my full review here.

Lastly, I’ll still doing the #getaholdofyourshelf challenge, but I decided to create a separate post for it.

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What I read in March:

  1. We Were Liars (audiobook)
  2. Nostalgia
  3. Messenger (audiobook)
  4. The Gathering: Stones for the Medicine Wheel (poetry)
  5. Company Town
  6. Hidden Figures (audiobook)
  7. Twelve Minutes to Midnight
  8. Rat Queens, Vol. 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’rygoth (graphic novel)
  9. Rat Queens, Vol. 3: Demons (graphic novel)
  10. Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Dragons (graphic novel)
  11. The Trouble With Women (graphic novel)
  12. Shot-Blue
  13. Behind Her Eyes
  14. Trees, Vol. 2: Two Forests (graphic Novel)
  15. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? (audiobook)
  16. A Poem for Every Night of the Year (abandoned)
  17. A Great Reckoning (audiobook)
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Get a hold of my shelf update

I had been including my #getaholdofyourshelf updates in my monthly updates, but I’ve decided to do a separate post so that my reading updates aren’t quite so long.

First, let’s do a recap. I started this to-be-read (TBR) shelf challenge in February. It’s created and hosted by Getting Drunk by My Shelf. I always pick two books. I added a few extras (bonuses, if you will) that require me to listen to an already-own audiobook as well as picking books from my physical TBR shelf.

So far, it has not been entirely successful. In February, I was trying to plow through a bunch of library books before I got started on the Canada Reads books (I’d decided to try to read them all this year). I also started this challenge mid-month. My challenge was prettiest books, which included Defiant Spirits, one of the longest books on my shelf.

In March, I was trying to get through all the Canada Reads books and, of course, picked the worse possible challenge: longest books.

  • Pulled: Defiant Spirits and Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales
  • Read: Neither, but I read enough of Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales to claim that I made an effort, so it’s not going back on the shelf

When I realized I was going to struggle with the longest books, I decided that I needed to make some rules about what counts as read/attempted and when I would have to call it a fail and return it to the shelf. I decided that books didn’t have to go back on the TBR shelf if I made a concerted effort to read the book (ex: read about 10%) and I was committed to keep working at it (ex: finish it before I start the next month’s books or keep picking away at it slowly but surely). That last one may sound like a cop-out, but I’m a slow reader and some books are suited for long term efforts. Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales, for example, is exactly the kind of book that you could linger over for months. You can sit and read it all in one go, if you like, but it’s a large collection of small things that can easily be picked up in-between other things. I only read about 7% of the book by the end of the month, but I’m calling that good enough because I intend to keep working on it until it’s done.

For April, I was really hoping for shortest books, so that I could play catch-up and read at least 50% of Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales. But, that’s not what I picked.

April challenge: The books I was most excited about when I bought them.

This one was surprisingly difficult. I knew one of my picks immediately, but I spent a good 20 minutes debating over my second. In the end, I pulled:

I’m fairly confident that I can get through these two books this month, despite the fact that I’m losing a week to a family visit, which won’t allow for much time to read.

Meanwhile, I just added 6 books to my TBR shelf. Ha ha ha … sigh.

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Book review – Shot-blue by Jesse Ruddock

Shot-Blue, by Jesse Ruddock, is one of the most splendid books I’ve read in the past year. I don’t think I have been as charmed by a book since I read And the Birds Rained Down, last year. It’s one of those books that is quietly beautiful and seeps into you, twisting it’s tendrils around your soul. To be honest, I’m not even sure that I can adequately explain to you how very much I loved this book. Or, why.

He didn’t notice that he was cold until the sun slipped its fingers in between the treeline and sky to split a space open like the gills of a fish, showing the red breathing ribbons.

I won this as part of a giveaway from Coach House Books, hosted on 49th Shelf (an excellent resource of CanLit news, book lists, etc.). I was thrilled when I found out because I was intrigued by the books summary.

The book starts as a story of a single mother and her son, their relationship and their struggles. Bit by bit, things fall apart and we are left with an adolescent who seems lost and who’s somewhat disconnected from everyone else: quiet, unconventional, being used by others. He, Tristan, seems as remote and quiet as the landscape.

One stone at a time, he was throwing the island into the lake, and it was no consolation but it was true he was doing it. The island was disappearing, imperceptibly to everyone but him.

But, in the grand scheme of things, the plot is largely inconsequential. This book is not about the plot – it’s about emotions and imagery. The mood and the prose are what matter in this book. It’s as if Ruddock is actually sharing a painting. Those aren’t words – they’re broad brushstrokes. This isn’t just a book – it’s a great Canadian landscape, dark and moody. The book reflects this in how it’s written. It feels chapter-less and seems to drift quietly from character to character. The story wanders around the island it’s largely confined on.

In October, winds from the north subdued the pines, slowed their sap to a drip. Frost took the knees out of the ground life.

As with many of my favourite books, this book is steeped in poetry, so I wasn’t surprised to read that Ruddock is a poet and songwriter. The writing is beautiful and lyrical. I found myself not only unable to put the book down, but also unable to read it without a pen ready to underline lovely thoughts and imaginative descriptions.

The air snapped its fingers like a smelling salt.

This book requires one thing from the reader: time. It’s the sort of book where you will get lost if you don’t allow yourself to dive in for long times. Reading a few pages here and there will take away from the books mood. You’ll be left so focused on little things that you’ll forget to look at the full picture. You need to see it all to appreciate what it has to offer.

If you decide to read this book, I encourage you to take your time, enjoy the prose, absorb the mood, and give yourself plenty of time each time you pick it up. It’s a beautiful read and feels very Canadian.

 

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