Sunday, December 7, 2014

Holiday Novels: Do You Read Them?

With the holidays fast approaching I've been trying to decide whether or not to read something set during the Christmas season. Of the novels already sitting on my shelves the obvious choice would be Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, which I've never read but think I should. But there is also Lauren Willig's The Mischief of the Mistletoe (part of her Pink Carnation series) to consider, especially given that it has been sitting on my shelf unread since it was first published four years ago! I also have a Deanna Raybourn novella, Silent Night, which is a holiday companion to her Lady Julia Grey historical mystery series.

While I love the holidays, I've never been one to specifically read Christmas-related books at this time of year, but I've noticed that many of my fellow readers do.  So, I'd like to know if any of you make a point of reading Christmas/holiday-related fiction at this time of year? If so, what are some of your favourites?

Happy Reading!

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

November Reading Wrap-Up

It's hard to believe that November will be over at the end of today, and that we are heading into the busy holiday season!  I've already managed to get most of my Christmas shopping completed, and have spent much of this weekend decorating the house.

Reading-wise, I've been in a bit of a slump lately. As discussed in my recent post Genre Fatigue: Historical Fiction Edition, I'm in a major rut when it comes to historical fiction right now and, as indicated by my November reading list below, I'm reading only non-historical fiction books these days. I think my genre fatigue will likely carry-over into the new year. 

Books Read in November 2014:
  • The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg (Fiction - Contemporary Mystery)
  • Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest's Most Controversial Season by Nick Heil  (Non-Fiction - Adventure/Mountaineering)
  • The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick (Fiction - Modern-day Pride & Prejudice re-telling)
  • The Grey Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima (Fiction - YA Fantasy)
  • Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden (Non-Fiction)
  • The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (Fiction - Contemporary/Humour)
  • Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg (Fictional)
When I look over my reading list I realize that, other than The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet (click on title to read my mini-review), none of the books stand out as outstanding reads. In fact, a couple of the books on my list were a disappointment:

The Rosie Effect: I really enjoyed Graeme Simsion's first novel featuring Professor Don Tillman, The Rosie Project, but this follow-up didn't have the same effect on me. While the book did have a few laugh out loud moments, and I continue to adore Don, I felt the overall story to be a little over the top.  In addition, I didn't find Rosie anywhere near as likeable in this one.  While The Rosie Effect is by no means a bad book, I didn't have the same connection with it that I did with The Rosie Project, and for this reason it was a disappointment.

Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg: Based on reviews and blogger feedback I expected Texts from Jane Eyre would produce non-stop giggles. The book features series of text messages sent by famous literary characters, including Jane Eyre. While I found a few of these messages to be quite funny--the texts between Ron and Hermione from Harry Potter, and Catherine and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights stand out--the vast majority left me wondering what I'd missed. Granted, many of the characters featured in the book come from novels I've never read, but even those featuring characters I'm quite familiar with, such as Lizzie Bennet from Pride & Prejudice and Scarlet O'Hara from Gone with the Wind, failed to elicit from me any humorous response. While I found this book disappointing, others might find it appealing.

Have you read any of the books on my November reading list? If so, what did you think?

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Genre Fatigue: Historical Fiction Edition

After a short hiatus, I decided to return to blogging a couple of months back. Unfortunately, despite my good intentions, I'm still not writing many posts. One of the principal reasons for this is that I'm suffering from severe genre fatigue when it comes to historical fiction, the genre I read and review most widely in. During 2013 and the first half of 2014, the vast majority of the books I read were historical novels. Now, I don't want to go anywhere near the genre. I have a (very) large number of unread historical works on my shelves, yet I've been reading mainly mystery/thriller, fantasy and contemporary novels, as well as some non-fiction, since mid-summer.  I keep waiting for this fatigue to come to an end, and my love of historical fiction to re-assert itself, but this has yet to happen. 

What about you, do you ever suffer from genre fatigue? If so, how do you overcome it? Are there any particular genres you tend to get tired of more than others?

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mini Review: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick
Touchstone Books, June 2014
400 pages

My Review

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, which is based on the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, was an absolute delight to read.  The novel is a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen's beloved Pride & Prejudice, one which I think does justice to Austen's original characters and story. The star of the book is communications graduate student Lizzie Bennet, whose thesis project involves making video diary entries chronicling her life and that of her family, and posting them on the web with the help of her best friend, Charlotte Lu.  Lizzie's path soon crosses with that of William D'Arcy, an arrogant and standoffish businessman who arrives in town when his friend, Bing Lee, rents a home near that of the Bennet's.  What follows is a tale familiar to any fan of Pride and Prejudice, albeit one told from a 21st century perspective.

I've read a few great retellings of Jane Austen's novels, but The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet has to be my favourite.  I love how faithful the authors are to Austen's original story, and how they develop each of the characters to be representative of Austen's yet unique and memorable on their own.  I had not watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries prior to reading this book, but I definitely plan to do so now.

Highly recommended to Jane Austen fans.  

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Source: Purchased

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Review: The Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine


Love is as uncertain and as untameable as war... 

In the summer of 1940, most eyes are focussed on the skies above the South of England. The battle for Britain has just begun. But young Evie Lucas has eyes for no-one but a dashing young pilot called Tony. Evie has a glittering career as an artist ahead of her but seems to be wasting her time sketching endless portraits of Tony. She wants his parents to have something to remember him by in case it all goes wrong in the war... 

Seventy years later, and recently widowed art historian Lucy is trying to put the pieces of her life back together. And in order to do that, Lucy needs to uncover the mystery surrounding a painting in her home. But as she accidentally ends up stirring up a hornet's nest of history which has been deliberately obliterated, Lucy finds herself in danger from people past and present who have no intention of letting an untold truth ever surface.

HarperCollins Publishers | July 2014 | 400 pages | ISBN: 9780007513130

My Review

I've been a fan of Barbara Erskine since reading her wonderful historical novel Child of the Phoenix many years ago.  As such, I always look forward to the release of a new Barbara Erskine book.  Like many of her earlier novels, Erskine's latest release, The Darkest Hour, is a dual-time narrative. The present day storyline concerns Lucy Standish, an art historian who recently lost her husband, as she attempts to write a biography of a prominent World War II artist about whom little is known.  The historical narrative focuses on Evie Lucas, a young woman looking to make her mark as an artist as the Battle of Britain commences. When Evie's path crosses with that of handsome pilot Tony Anderson, she turns her attention to him and the hopes that they can build a life together. But not everyone is happy about Evie's blossoming relationship with Tony, including one person who will stop at nothing to keep them apart forever.  As Lucy begins to dig deeper into Evie's life and slowly starts to uncover some it its secrets, it soon becomes apparent that the past is reaching out into the present to prevent the truth of Evie's life from ever being known.

The Darkest Hour is a relatively quick-moving tale that, at times, I didn't want to put down. Both Evie and Lucy are engaging, as are many of the novel's secondary characters, especially those in Lucy's portion of the narrative.  A key component to the success of dual-time narratives is ensuring that the reader is never jolted out of the story when it transitions between the modern-day and historical narratives.  As one of the masters of the dual-time narrative, Erskine's transitions are always smooth.  As is the case with most of Erskine's other dual-time narratives, there is an element of the paranormal that is weaved throughout the book.  I liked this element for the most part, and found it kept me eagerly turning the pages, but did find it to be a little much at times, leaving me with the impression that certain parts of the narrative had become too fantastic for a non-fantasy novel. 

While several of my favourite books are dual-time narratives, I usually have a distinct preference for one storyline over the other, and it's usually the historical narrative I'm most drawn to.  In the case of The Darkest Hour, however, I preferred the modern-day storyline. While I liked both Lucy and Evie as characters, it was Lucy's quest to uncover the truth about Evie's life that I found most intriguing.   My only real criticism of the novel is that the ending felt too rushed. While the novel concluded as I expected (and wanted), I was ultimately left unsatisfied by how quickly everything was resolved and wish the ending had not wrapped up quite so quickly. 

While I don't think The Darkest Hour is Erskine's best book, fans of her previous novels (as well as those interested in dual-time narratives in general) should still find much to like in this book.     

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: Purchased

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: New(ish) Series I Want to Start

It's time for Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's list is:

Top Ten New Series I Want to Start Reading 
(new is defined as first published within the last one to two years)

(1) The Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes (YA Fantasy). The first novel is Falling Kingdoms (2012).

(2) The Throne of Glass series by Sarah Maas (YA Fantasy). The first novel is Throne of Glass (2012).

(3) The His Fair Assassin trilogy by Robin LaFevers (YA Fantasy). The first novel is Grave Mercy (2012).

(4)Rick Yancy's 5th Wave series (YA Fantasy). The first novel is The 5th Wave (2013).

(5) Conn Iggulden's Wars of the Roses series (Historical Fiction). The first novel is War of the Roses: Stormbird (2013).

(6) Lindsay Faye's Timothy Wilde series (Historical Mystery). The first novel is Gods of Gotham (2012).

(7) Emma Newman's The Split Worlds novels (Fantasy). The first book is Between Two Thorns (2013).

(8) Django Wexler's Shadow Campaign series (Fantasy). The first novel is The Thousand Names (2013).

(9) Saladin Ahmed's Crescent Moon Kingdoms series (Fantasy). The first novel is Throne of the Crescent Moon (2012).

(10) Sylvia Izzo Hunter's Noctis Magicae series (Fantasy).  The first book is The Midnight Queen (2014). 

Are there any series on this list you'd like to start reading?  Are there any you have started?

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dewey's 24-Hour Read-A-Thon: October 18, 2014

Today's the day to get your reading on with Dewey's 24-hour Read-A-Thon!

I'll use this post to provide updates on my progress throughout the day.   To start, here are my responses to the opening meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I'm reading from Ottawa, Canada's Capital City.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Probably The Martian by Andy Weir.  This is the book I intend to read first.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

I actually haven't any specific snacks lined up.  I'll just grab stuff out of my cupboards or fridge as the mood strikes me.  I do, however, have lots of tea lined up -- my flavours of choice are Pure Chai and Maple Sugar.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

Well, I love to read obviously, but I also love to travel.  My favourite place to visit is England, and no visit there is complete without a trip to Foyles Bookstore in London!   I'm a huge baseball fan, with the Toronto Blue Jays being my favourite team. 
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I'm a first timer, so I'm looking forward to the whole experience :-)

Happy Reading!


Well, we are now through three hours of the Read-A-Thon, and I've only managed to get 85 pages read. I'm not off to as great of a start as I'd hoped, but I am enjoyed the book I selected to start with (The Martian by Andy Weir).

I have participated in one of the mini-challenges: Coffee or Tea?  As a tea addict I'm clearly TeamCSLewis on this one. I hope to take part in more mini-challenges as the day progress. 

I will be taking some time off this afternoon to take my daughter to see Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (at least it's based on a book), and to buy some groceries (turns out I should have planned some snacks in advance after all). 

Once my afternoon activities are completed I'll plant myself firmly back in my reading chair and get back to it.

How is your Read-A-Thon going?


I did it!  I finally finished a book!  It was The Martian by Andy Weir and it took me longer to read than I expected it would.  But that's okay, it was totally worth it since it was a great read.  

My next book will definitely be shorter :-)  This one wasn't included on my Read-A-Thon stack, but I'm going to give The Giver by Lois Lowry a try since it really should be quick read.

On another note, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a really cute movie, and since it's based on a book, I think going to see it was a great way to take a break from the Read-A-Thon. 

I hope the Read-A-Thon is still going well for everyone!


It's hard to believe the Read-A-Thon is already over!  I fell asleep around hour eighteen, intending to get back up and read for the final few hours, but it turns out I slept right through hour twenty-four and then some :-)   So, I'm a little late with my answers to the end of event meme, but here they are:

1.    Which hour was most daunting for you? 

Hour 18, as that is when I determined I needed a bit of sleep or I wouldn't be able to function the next day.  

2.    Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

I think George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series would work well as Read-A-Thon novels.  I found them hard to put down.  Each book in the series is about 1000 pages long though.

3.    Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

None.  This was my first time participating and I thought it was well run and fun!

4.    What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I enjoyed the fact that people shared their progress on social mediums other than just their blogs, which I admit I had a hard time visiting since I was concentrating on reading.  With Twitter and Instragram I could stay connected without the need to put my book down.

5.    How many books did you read?

Two.  My goal was to finish three, but in retrospect I miscalculated how long it would actually take me to read each book.  

6.    What were the names of the books you read?

The Martian by Andy Weir and The Giver by Lois Lowry.  

7.    Which book did you enjoy most?

Definitely The Martian by Andy Weir.  It was suspenseful, had great characters and surprisingly funny.  

8.    Which did you enjoy least?

The Giver by Lois Lowry.  I recognize this is an award-winning novel, and that lots of people love it, but it didn't work for me.  It was entertaining enough that I could easily finish it, but it left me with a lot of unanswered questions.

9.    How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

So long as future Read-A-Thon's don't fall on holiday weekends, I definitely plan to participate again -- and hopefully make it longer than hour 18 before falling asleep :-)

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