Patricia’s 2017 Fall Picks

Fall sunsetFall for me is a time of spectacular sunsets – when the days get a little darker and the evenings have a little more bite to them.  I like my fall reading to take that darkness and run with it.  The contrast between what I’m reading and my cozy surroundings, well, that’s what fall reading is all about.  Here’s are the new releases I’m drawn to this fall:


sleeping beautiesSleeping Beauties by Stephen & Owen King

You can’t get much darker than an epic new novel by the master of horror (and his son).  “In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep: they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent.”* Yes, please.

ngLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told Youwas a quietly thrilling look at the ways in which we fail to understand each other.  Her follow up, Little Fires Everywhere, deals in family secrets and centres around a custody battle that divides a town. “It explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.”*

solar bonesSolar Bones by Mike McCormack

I often imagine what it would feel like to write something utterly fresh and technically masterful – like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.  And while such innovation is not in all of us, it certainly seems to have found a home in Mike McCormack.  In Solar Bones McCormack writes “a three-part harmony of experiment, comedy and metaphysics” within a single novel-length sentence.  

lostLost in September by Kathleen Winter

Kathleen Winter wrote Annabel one of those rare books whose writing made my stomach ache it was so good.  And it wasn’t just the writing — the characters, the story line, the evocation of place — Annabel had it all.  And thus I eagerly await Lost in September, a story about a damaged war veteran transplanted in time.


dunbarDunbar by Edward St. Aubyn

King Lear is recast with Henry Dunbar, “the once all-powerful head of a global media corporation” in the lead.  “Imprisoned in a care home in the Lake District with only a demented alcoholic comedian as company, Dunbar starts planning his escape. As he flees into the hills, his family is hot on his heels. But who will find him first, his beloved youngest daughter, Florence, or the tigresses Abby and Megan, so keen to divest him of his estate?”*

powerThe Power by Naomi Alderman

I couldn’t wait for this Bailey’s Prize winner to be released in Canada, so bought a copy online from the UK.  Alderman’s novel explores the metaphor of power by making it literal.  Women are capable of electrocuting others and therefore have power over men.  How do an abused foster child, an rising politician, and a crime boss’ daughter choose to wield what they’ve been given?  It’s rare to find a novel this dark that’s got a sense of humour too.  Easily one of the year’s best.

manhattanbeachManhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad is one of those books that makes me excited about the future of fiction.  It was so playful and connected and experimental that almost the only way you could follow something like that up is to do exactly what Egan has done and revisit traditional storytelling.  “With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world.”*

hiddenseeHiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire

Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann’s mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier– the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale ballet– who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.”*

turtlesTurtles All the Way Down by John Green

Okay. Okay.  This one might not qualify as dark.  But to be fair, I’ll read anything Green writes.  Until recently, the plot of his latest had been a closely guarded secret.  We now know it’s about a 16-year old girl named Aza, her BFF, and their quest to solve the mystery of a “fugitive billionaire” and claim “a hundred-thousand-dollar reward. […] In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.”*

This Thanksgiving let’s all be thankful for the time we get to read.  (To my children, yes, that IS a hint.)  Happy Thanksgiving!  Happy Reading!


*Descriptions provided by the publisher






Patricia’s Top 10 Reads of 2016

2016 is well-acknowledged to have been a pretty terrible year.  You know why.  On the plus side, 2016 has been a very very good year for books.  Here are my ten favourites:

hatchingBest Horror – The Hatching
I cannot imagine anything more terrifying than alien spiders that do what the spiders in this novel can do (and I’ve had six month’s worth of delicious fun trying.)  Let me say it again:  alien spiders.  (Also, they chew.) I pride myself on liking epically violent horror and yet could only read this book — the first in a series — with the lights on in the daytime when other people were around.  Warning: You will want to read the sequel immediately after finishing this book.  Also: alien spiders.


Best Fiction for Art Lovers – The Weeping Woman
I feel deeply in love with this novel about a Cuban woman living in Paris and writing a biography of Picasso’s one-time lover Dora Maar, and have been mulling it over in my mind for the better part of this year.  Its release was timed near perfectly with the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibition Picasso: The Artist and his Muses.  I’m very much looking forward to a re-read in 2017.

exitBest Teen Read – Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Hermione Winters is a high school head cheerleader who gets raped at cheerleading camp.  The way that she copes and heals in the aftermath makes for compelling reading.  Hermione’s powerful relationship with her best friend Polly and the strength she draws from her make this book my favourite YA read of the year.

blizzardBest Post-Apocalyptic Red – The Blizzard
In nineteenth-century Russia. Garin, a district doctor, is desperately trying to reach the village of Dolgoye, where a mysterious epidemic is turning people into zombies. He carries with him a vaccine that will prevent the spread of this terrible disease but is stymied in his travels by an all-consuming snowstorm.*

prettyfastBest Quick Read – Life Moves Pretty Fast:  The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (And Why We Don’t Learn Them From Movies Anymore)
It’s okay to be authentically awkward in 80s films, and to dress badly, and to grapple with difficult problems.  Hadley Freeman celebrates many of our favourite 1980s films while examining them with a critical (often feminist) eye.  This book would make a perfect Christmas present for anyone nostalgic for the 1980s, or for those interested in feminist takes on pop culture.  Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

paxBest Book to Share with the Family – Pax
Pax is the story of a boy and his pet fox, Pax.  Peter’s father forces him to abandon his beloved companion in the woods.  Unable to be apart Pax and Peter each go on journeys to get back to one another.  The story is told alternates between Pax and Peter’s perceptions.  Pennypacker does a marvellous job of writing a page-turning adventure that still leaves room for quiet beautiful moments. (And Jon Klassen should illustrate everything.)

preciousBest Memoir – Precious Cargo: My Year Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077
Craig Davidson is now a well-known writer of Canadian literary fiction.  He’s also a successful writer of horror under the pseudonym Nick Cutter.  And he used to be a bus driver. “For readers of Kristine Barnett’s The Spark , Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree and Ian Brown’s The Boy in the Moon, here is a heartfelt, funny and surprising memoir about one year spent driving a bus full of children with special needs.”*

breathBest Tearjerker – When Breath Becomes Air

Confession: Even the title makes me teary.  I cried so much reading this book that my eyes hurt for a whole day.  After nearly a decade of training to be a neurosurgeon, 36-year old Paul is on the cusp of the career of his dreams when he learns that he has an aggressive form of cancer.  I cannot highly recommend this memoir enough: it’s questioning, moving, and wise.  Nor can I warn you enough against reading it in public.  It should come with a warning: for home use only.

everyheartBest Fantasy – Every Heart a Doorway
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been one of those people who still half believes in magical lands like Narnia or Fillory.  I can clearly imagine how privileged I would feel to belong in a place so precious that few people know it’s really real.  I can imagine how desperate I would be to get back ‘home’ to such a place if I left.  This book tells of children who have found their ‘home’ in magical places and are desperate to get back there.  It feels raw and true and beautiful.

homegoingBest Book of 2016 – Homegoing

The concept of Homegoing is simple and rich: it traces the lives of the descendants of two half-sisters born in 18th century Ghana.  One sister marries an Englishman an lives in a castle; the other is captured into slavery.  Each chapter jumps forward one generation.  There is longlasting evidence of the damage done by colonization and slavery in these very personal feeling stories.  Best of all, the ending is note perfect.

I’m super keen to know what other people’s favourite reads of 2016 are — Please share in the comments!


*Description from Bibliocommons

Patricia’s 2016 Summer Picks

wantallthebooksThis summer I want to read all the books, don’t you?  ‘Spoiled for choice’ doesn’t even begin to describe the new releases out this season (…which is how a list of 6 titles turned blossomed into the 8 10 12-strong list you see before you). Whether you are looking for something heart warming or spine chilling, summer 2016 has you covered.  Here’s a small fraction of the books I’ll be devouring:

Cuddled Up With the Kids

harrypotterAt the risk of stating the obvious the book of summer 2016 is a script for a play: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and IIPicking up nineteen years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the play focuses on Harry’s son, Albus.  I know the risk of disappointment is always great when expectations run this high, but it’s Harry Potter, so it’s bound to be lifechanging, right? (July)

furthermoreAlice in Wonderland fans will want to check out Tahereh Mafi’s Furthermore.  In this re-vision of the Alice narrative, Alice is a 12-year old girl whose father has mysteriously disappeared.  She enlists the help of her frenemy Oliver to venture into the land of Furthermore and bring her father home. (August)

With a Flashlight Under the Covers

watchYou’re never too old to stay up too late eagerly turning pages to find out how the story ends.  For years Stephen King has been my go to late night reading buddy.  This summer he offers us End of Watch, the conclusion to the Bill Hodges trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes.  Hodges once again faces off against Brady Hartsfield who has developed unforeseen powers thanks to an experimental drug.  (June)

devilsrockI was so blown away by Paul Tremblay’s Stoker award-winning A Head Full of Ghosts that I can’t wait to get my hands on his latest, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock*Ghosts did a marvellous job of walking the line between realistic drama and supernatural thriller partly because Tremblay revels in his characters’ unreliability.  Devil’s Rock promises more of the same with the missing of a teenage boy Tommy, and the promise of finding him relying on the lies and half-truths told by the friends he was with before he disappeared. (June)

With a Box of Tissues

lilyHere’s one that’s perfect for fans of Garth Stein’s heartwarming The Art of Racing in the Rain.  And perfect for dog lovers.  And fans of quirky fiction like The Storied Life of AJ Fikry or The Elegance of the Hedgehog.  Lily and the Octopus* by Steven Rowley tells the story of singleton Ted Flask, and his furbaby Lily.  As for the octopus, you’ll have to read it to find out more…   (June)

With a Highlighter

homegoingThese days my Litsy account is non-stop quotes from Yaa Gyasi’s  Homegoing*, a sprawling family story that starts in 18th century Ghana with two sisters: one who marries a British governor and lives in a castle, and one who is forced into slavery.  It’s the kind of book you put down every few pages just to savour the writing properly.  My favourite quote so far: “Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you.  Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.” Literary tattoo anyone? (June)

With a Fruity Drink in the Sun

nineSooner or later we all need something frivolous and fun.  I’m looking forward to dipping into Nine Women, One Dress*a novel about an LBD in NYC and the women who buy, return, and borrow it from Bloomingdale’s (July)– and Hadley Freeman’s Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies* — because I quite simply am still not over Molly Ringwald, Baby, or Buttercup (June).  If I’m blessed enough to need a third fruity drink book, I choose Danika Stone’s All The Feels, a YA title that celebrates geek fandom. (June)

 With a Fan (When It’s Just Too Hot)

sunlightWhen it’s too hot to move, I recommend reading about the cold.  This summer I’ll be heading to Clachan Falls, November 2020.  Jenni Fagan’s post-apocalyptic The Sunlight Pilgrims* tells the story of an Earth with three suns, melting polar ice caps, and a temperature of -40C (in England!?!).  Trust me, when it’s scorching out, this one will hit the spot.  It’s a joyful novel about how we adapt and survive.  (July)

Wherever, Whenever

spellsMy final two picks are books I’m so excited to read that I’ll dive right in wherever, whenever.  Emma Cline’s debut The Girls* is a coming-of-age story that will get under your skin with its examination of the intensity of female friendships framed by a Manson-like cult.

Toronto! Witches! Russian folklore!  Family relationships!  Shapeshifters!  Claire Humphrey’s debut The Spells of Blood and Kin has it all, and I want in. Now, please.

What are you planning to read this summer?


*Thanks to NetGalley and Edelweiss for ARCs of the starred titles — much appreciated!




Recent Award Winners

Oh how my TBR pile grows!  Every time it seems like I have a nearly manageable pile of books by my bedside table, I find two or three more I have to read.  This problem gets worse around this time of year thanks in part to the many fantastic literary awards out there.  Here are some recent winners that are simply begging to be read:

vegetarianThe Man Booker International Prize Winner

The Vegetarian* by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

Yeong-hye is an ordinary woman plagued by extraordinary dreams that inspire her to stop eating meat.  This small change sets a bizarre chain of events in motion in this Kafka-esque novel.

uprootedThe Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A wizard named Dragon takes Agnieszka away from her Polish village to serve him for a period of ten years.  During that time, she learns she has a rare gift for magic, and finds herself on a deadly quest.

HeadFullThe Bram Stoker Award Winner for Superior Achievement in a Novel

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Did 14-year old Marjorie have schizophrenia or is she the victim of demonic possession?  And was the reality show filming Marjorie representing the truth? Her sister Merry is determined to find out…

inventionThe Orwell Prize Winner

The Invention of Russia by Arkady Ostrovsky

The Orwell Prize is awarded annually to a non-fiction title that “makes political writing into an art.”  This year’s winner examines the social, political, and economic changes that have happened in Russia over the past three decades.


*As always, thanks to NetGalley and Edelweiss for digital ARCs of these titles.

Patricia’s Highly Anticipated Reads 2016

I have been counting down to 2016 for three long years.  In April I will finally graduate from grad school and be free to read more often and more widely (FYI, I’ve been showing great reading restraint these past three years.)  Here are the books I’m most looking forward to by some of my favourite authors:


firemanThe Fireman by Joe Hill (April 2016)

I do love a well done fictional pandemic.  In Hill’s version the new plague causes people to spontaneously combust.  When a pregnant nurse becomes infected she becomes determined to live long enough to see her baby born.

Little Heaven by Nick Cutter (release TBA)

I first discovered Cutter (aka successful litfic author Craig Davidson) this month with The Deep, and fell for his old school horror vibe.  He describes his upcoming work as “the story of three mercenaries—gunfighters, almost—who take a job rescuing a boy from a backwoods religious settlement in the woods of New Mexico”


eligibleEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (April 2016) &  Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (June 2016)

Literary heavyweights take on the classics:  Sittenfeld tackles perennial fav Pride and Prejudice, while Tyler takes on Shakespeare with her telling of Taming of the Shrew.


romanovsThe Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore (May 2016)

There can simply never be enough books about the Romanovs.  Now preeminent Russian historian Montefiore gives us an examination of the over 300 years the Romanovs ruled Russia.

backtomoscowBack to Moscow by Guillermo Erades (May 2016)

A Russian literature major from America comes of age in 2000s Moscow.  For fans of “the whiskey sour satire of Bret Easton Ellis” and “the neurotic openness of Ben Lerner.”

Debut Fiction

translationThe Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake (April 2016)

I remember reading Obasan in high school and being shocked that internment camps were part of Canadian history.  Aya Shimamura lost her mother in the camps before being repatriated to Japan with her mourning father.  Her classmate Fumi wants Aya to use her English language skills to help find her missing sister.

Books By Writers Who Excite Me Whatever The Topic

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel (February 2016)portugal

The Life of Pi remains one of my favourite books of all time.  While there are no tigers in this novel, which intertwines three narratives, I can promise you a chimpanzee… and a lot of heart.

forgivenEveryone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (May 2016)

The story of a love triangle in WWII London

End of Watch by Stephen King (June 2016)

The concluding volume in the Mr. Mercedes detective trilogy

mandiblesThe Mandibles by Lionel Shriver (June 2016)

An ultra rich American family struggles with newfound poverty in 2029.

What 2016 releases are you most looking forward to? Sound off in the comments below. Happy Holidays!


Patricia’s Top Ten Reads of 2015

Sigh. I love pouring over the end of year book lists and seeing the full range of what’s out there for us to read and savour. Without further ado, here’s my humble offering of the year’s best reads:

crookedheartCrooked Heart* by Lissa Evans

Best for fans of: Quirky characters, dark comedy, fiction set in WWII

What’s the appeal? Evans draws wonderfully full characters.  I loved Noel and Vee and Mattie and didn’t want their story to end.

George by Alex Ginogeorge

Best for: Reading aloud with your middle-grader, exploring new viewpoints

What’s the appeal? George is a girl who was born a boy and is determined not to let her sex get in the way of her dream of playing the lead role in the class production of Charlotte’s Web.

watchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Best for: Fans of To Kill a Mockingbird who can stand to have their ideas shattered

What’s the appeal?  I found Watchman a very tough book to read because it forced me to question how I could ever have been utterly convinced that a young girl be a completely reliable narrator.

nestThe Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Best for:  Staying up all night reading, fans of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline

What’s the appeal?  It’s rare to find a horror novel that’s suitable for children and adults, but Oppel strikes a fine balance, creating a fine-tuned sense of anxiety and absurdity.

outlineOutline by Rachel Cusk

Best for:  Fans of literary fiction, readers who appreciate when authors play with narrative form

What’s the appeal?  The novel is told in ten conversations each of which help us sketch out the narrator’s story.  If the concept doesn’t grab you, it’s worth reading for the writing alone.

PurityPurity by Jonathan Franzen

Best for:  Someone in the mood for a sprawling read, readers of Thomas Pynchon

What’s the appeal?  The Sunday Morning Herald said it best, “Franzen’s greatest strength remains his old-fashioned dedication to the slow time of the artform: its patiently constructed psychology, its slow accrual of event and subsequent resonance.”

rednoticeRed Notice by Bill Browder

Best for:  Those who like to read about lone individuals taking on political corruption and conspiracy

What’s the appeal?  I read this book because I didn’t know much about Sergei Magnitsky beyond the name. While Browder is difficult to relate to at first, how he has dealt with Magnitsky’s murder is exceptionally powerful. What a transformation to undergo.

shadowshaperShadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Best for: Fans of YA urban fantasy

What’s the appeal? The blurb promised a cross between The Mortal Instruments and Caribbean folklore, and that’s pretty much exactly what Older delivers. 

shamedSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Best for: Someone looking for a quick, but informative read

What’s the appeal?  Ronson frames our modern day obsession with public shaming via social media in terms of the history of public shaming.  His writing is witty, yet not glib — Ronson fully admits his own complicity. 

symphonySymphony for the City of The Dead: Dmitry Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson

Best for fans of: Narrative non-fiction, music history, Russian history

What’s the appeal?  It’s a brilliantly told tale of the survival and triumph of artistry amid political turmoil

What was your favourite read of 2015?  Sound off in the comments below.



Patricia’s Picks for Halloween Horror

I almost couldn’t write this post today.  One of the things that is so wonderful about horror is the catharsis and that accompanying rush of joy you get when a beloved fictional character has lived despite the odds.  The flip side of that is the punched-in-the-gut feeling you get when that character doesn’t make it.  Walking Dead fans you know what I’m talking about.  While the Internet debates whether he lived or did not live (please let him survive this!), please enjoy my 2015 Halloween Horror Picks:

The Border by Robert McCammon

First Line: The boy who was running ran into the rain.

Setting: Earth — in the midst of a war between two alien factions.

Nature of Evil: Gray Men – cannibalistic mutants

For fans of: Stephen King’s The Stand and The Walking Dead

Red Winter by Dan Smith

First Line: The village cowered with doors closed and windows shuttered.

Setting: 1920s Russia

Nature of Evil: Koschei the Deathless

For fans of: Russian folk and fairytales, Catherynne Valente’s Deathless

Cauchemar by Alexandra Grigorescu

First Line: Hannah waited exactly seven minutes before touching Mae’s cold body.

Setting: Louisiana swamp

Nature of Evil: supernatural forces

For fans of: Southern gothic horror like Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil All The Time

The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

First Line: As if by a dream Catherine came to the Red House.

Setting: The Red House, the former house of “Britain’s greatest taxidermist” [Because, why not?]

Nature of Evil: The aforementioned Red House

For fans of: The Woman in Black, Joe Hill

Happy Halloween all! May Glenn be safely returned to us before my next post.