Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ignoring My Fifty Page Rule Actually Paid Off: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I'm a firm believer that life is too short to read books you don't enjoy.  As such, I generally give each book I read about 50 to 100 pages (depending on the length of book) to capture my interest.  If I'm not enjoying a book by this point I have no qualms with setting it aside and turning to something else.  This 50-page rule has served me well in the past, as any book I've not been particularly impressed with by the 50-100 page mark, but kept reading anyway, has almost always turned out to be a less than three star read for me.  You can imagine my surprise when I finished A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman--a book that I wasn't enjoying at page 100--and decided it will likely show up on my list of favourite books for 2015. 

Given that A Man Called Ove is the first selection for a new book club I'm taking part in, I was determined to read it in its entirety even if I wasn't enjoying it by page 100.  And let me tell you, at the 100 page mark I was convinced the book wasn't for me -- I didn't like Ove, not even a teeny tiny little bit, and I wasn't keen on the way his story was being told. I was convinced that my feelings for the book, and the main character, wouldn't change. Turns out they did change, and change for the better.  As I continued to read I slowly found myself starting to care for Ove, and his story finally began to reasonate with me. There is much more to Ove than initially comes across in the first quarter of the novel, and I'm so glad that I didn't give up on the book and fail to learn this. By the novel's end, which left me in tears, I realized that Backman had created a character and story that is going to stay with me for years to come.

Had I followed my 50-100 page rule with A Man Called Ove I would have missed out on a truly wonderful book.  That's not to say that I will continue to ignore my rule, since it rarely fails me, but in this instance I've very glad that I did.

Are there any books out there that you struggled with initially, but found sticking with paid off in the end?  Do you follow the 50-page rule, or do you finish everything you read?

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Review: The Washington Stratagem by Adam LeBor

The Washington Stratagem by Adam LeBor
Publisher: Bourbon Street Books (HarperCollins Publishers) 2015
Source:  Purchased
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Synopsis (from the

In this action-packed, suspenseful sequel to the international thriller The Geneva Option, U.N. covert negotiator Yael Azoulay is drawn into a web of betrayal and intrigue that leads from deep within America’s military-industrial complex to the Middle East and beyond.

Yael Azoulay nearly lost her life while on assignment for the United Nations in the Congo. Though her physical wounds are healed, she still struggles with the psychological trauma. But her safety is jeopardized once again when her job sends her to meet with the CEO of The Prometheus Group, a lobbying and asset management firm with extensive links to the Pentagon and intelligence services.

The U.N. is suspicious about Prometheus’s military and intelligence contract operations and wants Yael to quietly investigate. Working under Prometheus’s radar, she discovers a chilling conspiracy with ties to Iran . . . and to a shocking source very close to her. And the end game is nothing less than a devastating—and very lucrative—new war in the Middle East.

But the closer she comes to the truth, the more Yael begins to expose herself, revealing a complex and intriguing heroine whose life is riddled with secrets. As she confronts the ghosts of her past, the few certainties of her life begin to crumble around her, laying bare a terrifying truth: that she has enormously powerful enemies who neither forgive . . . nor forget.

My Review

The Washington Stratagem, the second novel in Adam LeBor's Yael Azoulay series, is a fast-paced political thriller that is guaranteed to keep you turning the pages.  The novel's protagonist, Yael Azoulay, is a special assistant to the Secretary General of the United Nations, called upon to carry out activities that never make the news. In this novel, Yael is tasked with investigating one of Washington's most powerful lobby groups, a group with direct ties to the highest echelons of power. Yael's investigation uncovers some explosive information, information that her enemies are willing to kill for in order to prevent it from coming to light. While trying to stay one step ahead of her enemies, Yael's past starts to catch up with her, placing her in even further danger. Will Yael be able to stop her enemies before they stop her?

I've always enjoyed thrillers, with political thrillers being my favourite. Nevertheless, I sometimes have a hard time finding books within the genre that contain plausible plots and characters. I admit to being easily put off by thrillers that require a willing suspension of disbelief in order to get through them. When I read Adam LeBor's first Yael Azoulay novel, The Geneva Option (click here for my review) I knew that I'd found a winner (it ended up being one of my favourite books of 2013).  Not only did I find the novel's plot entirely plausible, it was also compelling. I also enjoyed the fact that LeBor chose a female as his principal character. Yael is intelligent, dedicated, and motivated to get the job done. She is also the type of person you'd want on your side in a fight.

I always feel some trepidation when starting a follow-up to a novel I particularly loved, wondering if it will be as good as the first.  The Washington Stratagem doesn't disappoint. LeBor has once again delivered a well-written and engaging thriller, one that is every bit as good as its predecessor.  As I mentioned in my review of The Geneva Option, I love the backrooms view of the United Nations provided by this series.  While the series is a fictional one, it showcases the backstabbing and power tripping that can occur in large political organizations made up of people with competing interests and priorities.  I also like how it illustrates the role of the press in bringing to light stories that others want buried.  The characters in this series continue to be one of its greatest strengths, and I was pleased that so many of the characters featured in the first novel appear in The Washington Stratagem. While Yael continues to be the series' focus, I like that several other characters also receive significant attention, including reporter Sami Boustani and the UN Secretary General Fareed Hussein, as I find them every bit as intriguing as Yael.

Although part of a series, The Washington Stratagem includes enough background information on the events of The Geneva Option that it isn't necessary to read the first book prior to starting this one.  Of course, given how much I enjoyed the first novel I highly recommend starting with it -- I can assure you that you'll want to pick up The Washington Stratagem shortly thereafter.

I can't wait to read book three! 

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Monday, February 23, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 23, 2015)

It's Monday, so you know what that means -- it's time for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?, a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. 

I have a couple of books on the go at the moment, although I'm sad to report that I'm not really enjoying either of least not yet.  The first is Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove.  The book, about a grumpy old man named Ove, has been well received.  Unfortunately, I'm not enjoying it as of yet (I'm about 1/3 of the way through it).  At this point in my reading of the book Ove has yet to do anything to endear himself to me. While it's not necessary for me to like a main character in order to like a novel, A Man Called Ove seems the type of book in which sympathy for the main character is necessary in order to enjoy it.  The book is the first selection of the new book club I'm in, so I hope the story (and Ove) improves.  I normally don't hesitate to set aside books I'm not enjoying, but will read this one to the end so I can discuss it with my fellow book clubbers.  Who knows, maybe I'll end up pleasantly surprised by it.

I'm also working my way through Pilgrim by Timothy Findley.  Honestly, I have no idea what to think of this one.  I read Findley's Not Wanted on the Voyage a few years back and really enjoyed it. Pilgrim, which is about a man who can't die and features psychiatrist Carl Jung as a principal character, is not what I expected (although that's not necessarily a bad thing). At times I'm quite caught up in the story, at other times I'm bored by it.  I'm almost halfway through and am intrigued enough to keep going, although just barely.

Sarah Dunant's Blood and Beauty continues to sit on my reading pile, although I've temporarily set it aside to focus on other books.  I seem to have lost interest in historical fiction again, and don't want to pick up the Dunant book until I'm in the right mood. I really liked what I'd read, and don't want to ruin the book by not being in the right mood for it.

Looking ahead, I hope to start Robert Jordan's Lord of Chaos, the sixth book in the Wheel of Time series, this week. It's been a few years since I read the previous books and I can't wait to revisit Jordan's world.

How about you? What are you currently reading?
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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bookish Thoughts: Too Many Reading Choices Can (Sometimes) Be A Bad Thing

As I was looking over my bookshelves the other day searching for a new book to read I found myself feeling a little overwhelmed by my rather daunting TBR pile (my TBR pile was also the subject of a separate post last week, click here to read it).  While I have tons of unread books to choose from, many of which I'm quite eager to read, it took me a long time before I finally settled on something -- Pilgrim by Timothy Findley, an e-book housed on my Kobo and not sitting on my physical shelves at all.  My issue was not a lack of good reading material to choose from, but rather that I simply have too many books to pick from.

Given that my reading selections and how I feel about them depend, to a large extent, on my mood, I've always liked to maintain a large TBR. This ensures that no matter what my mood I'll always have a book to match it -- yes, I recognize that in this age of e-readers I can now access books not already sitting on my shelves at the touch of a button and so I don't need to stockpile them, but I prefer paper books even though I do love the convenience of my e-readers. But lately, even though I continue to buy books on a regular basis, I've stopped purchasing them simply because they are on sale and I might like to read them someday.  I've stopped buying all or some of the books in a series before I've even read the first one (learned my lesson the hard way with that one), and I no longer buy books simply because other people liked them.  In short, I've come to realize that if I don't start tackling my towering TBR pile and slow down on the book buying, I'm never again going to be able to make a quick decision about what to read next!  I never thought I'd utter these words, but it seems I've finally learned that too many books to choose from can (sometimes )be a bad thing.

How about you my fellow bookworms? Do you sometimes find that maintaining a large TBR pile prevents you from quickly deciding what to read next?

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

The To Be Read Questionnaire

Jennifer over at The Relentless Reader posted this past week about her To Be Read pile, after being tagged to participate in a TBR questionnaire by a fellow blogger. Although Jennifer hasn't specifically tagged anyone in her post, she does encourage other bloggers to answer the questionnaire.  Since my TBR pile is out of control I thought this would be a fun questionnaire to take.  Here are my responses:

1. How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

I track my books on Shelfari, although my To Read list is probably not as up to date as it should be.

2. Is your TBR mostly print or eBook?

It's mostly print, but I do have a number of unread books sitting on my Kindle and my Kobo.  I do most of my reading in print, so I have a tendency to forget about the books on my ereaders.  

3. How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

My reading choices are totally determined by the mood I'm in when I'm looking for my next read.

4. A book that’s been on your TBR list the longest?

Definitely The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye, which I bought when I was in graduate school in the late 1990s.  I have no idea what has kept me from reading it, especially since I love historical epics. 

5. A book you recently added to your TBR?

I added The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah to my TBR just yesterday.

6. A book on your TBR strictly because of it’s beautiful cover.

None. I don't select books based on their covers.  

7. A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading.

At the moment my answer is none - if I don't plan on reading a particular book it won't be on my TBR pile :-)  That said, I have done a purge of my TBR pile recently, so the books I no longer have an interest in reading have already been removed.

8. An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for.

 None. I don't have any unpublished books on my TBR pile. 

9. A book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you.

I'll have to go with Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. 

10. A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you.

I don't have a lot of people recommend books to me, it's usually me recommending books to others :-)

11. A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read.

I'm going to pick First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen. This book was published earlier this year and, given how much I love Addison Allen's books, I'm surprised I have read it yet.

12. How many books are on your Goodreads TBR shelf?

I don't use Goodreads much, so my TBR shelf is probably only a few books long. My Shelfari To Read shelf on the other hand is hundreds of books long. 

What about you? What is the state of your TBR pile?

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Few Thoughts On The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
Publisher: Putnam 2012 (Hardcover) 
Source: Purchased
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars


1845. New York City forms its first police force. The great potato famine hits Ireland. These two seemingly disparate events will change New York City. Forever.

Timothy Wilde tends bar near the Exchange, saving every dollar and shilling in hopes of winning the girl of his dreams. But when his dreams literally incinerate in a fire devastating downtown Manhattan, he finds himself disfigured, unemployed, and homeless. His older brother obtains Timothy a job in the newly minted NYPD, but he is highly skeptical of this untested "police force." And he is less than thrilled that his new beat is the notoriously down-and-out Sixth Ward-at the border of Five Points, the world's most notorious slum.

One night while returning from his rounds, heartsick and defeated, Timothy runs into a little slip of a girl—a girl not more than ten years old—dashing through the dark in her nightshift . . . covered head to toe in blood.

Timothy knows he should take the girl to the House of Refuge, yet he can't bring himself to abandon her. Instead, he takes her home, where she spins wild stories, claiming that dozens of bodies are buried in the forest north of 23rd Street. Timothy isn't sure whether to believe her or not, but, as the truth unfolds, the reluctant copper star finds himself engaged in a battle for justice that nearly costs him his brother, his romantic obsession, and his own life.

My Thoughts

- I purchased The Gods of Gotham back when it was first published in 2012, fully intending to read it shortly thereafter.  That obviously didn't happen, as here it is 2015 and I've only just now read it.  This is one of those books that left me wondering why I waited so long to pick it up, and has left me very happy that the second novel in the series, Seven For A Secret, is already sitting on my shelves. 

- Set in New York City in 1845, the novel's protagonist, Timothy Wilde, is one of NYC's first police officers (aka copper star).  I really enjoyed learning a bit about the formation of the NYPD, and how its creation was met with such resistance by certain groups within the city. 

- A narratives that evokes a strong sense of time and place is important to me when reading historical fiction. Faye excels in this area. In Faye's deft hands, mid-nineteenth century New York City vividly comes to life in all its splendour and its squalor.  As the mystery at the heart of The Gods of Gotham unfolds, Faye also successfully captures and conveys the tensions that existed between Catholics and Protestants, and between the Irish and American-born New Yorkers. 

- The novel's cast of characters is one of its greatest strengths. Timothy Wilde is a smart, resourceful man, one who seems a perfect fit for police work, even if joining the NYPD isn't his preferred career choice.  Timothy's brother, Valentine, is charismatic and somewhat mysterious, making him all the more alluring as a character.   The novel's supporting characters are intriguing, especially Timothy's landlady Mrs. Boehm, his fellow copper star and sometime partner Mr. Piest, and brothel madam Silkie Marsh.  I especially loved Bird Daily and the newsboys. 

- The narrative itself is engaging, and kept me eagerly turning the pages.  While I wasn't overly surprised by the novel's conclusion, Faye successfully kept me guessing as to how everything would turn out until the final few chapters.

- I'm very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

- Recommended to fans of historical fiction set in the United States, as well as to readers who enjoy well plotted and engaging mysteries. 

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Monday, February 9, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 9th, 2015)

It's Monday, so you know what that means -- it's time for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?, a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

My reading mojo was a little off last week, so I didn't read as much as I'd hoped to, but I did manage to finish Tarquin Hall's The Case of the Missing Servant, the first in his Visi Puri mystery series -- which I mistakenly thought was The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing as indicated in my post last week. The novel, which is set in modern day India, was a lot of fun and I definitely plan to continue with the series.  My read of Sarah Dunant's Blood and & Beauty stalled somewhat, although I did pick it back up yesterday and I'm moving through it quickly now.   

In addition to Blood & Beauty, I've also started Adam LeBor's The Washington Stratagem, a fast-paced political thriller featuring a kick-ass heroine who for works for the UN, Yael Azoulay.  I loved LeBor's first Yael Azoulay novel, The Geneva Option (click here to read my review), and so far this latest book is every bit as engaging. Seriously fellow readers, if you enjoy thrillers you simply must give this series a try. I've also picked up Nele Neuhaus' Snow White Must Die, a crime novel set in Germany. It seems promising so far.

While my reading is off to a smashing start this year, I have failed to keep up with the Green Gables Readalong I joined in January so I've decided to opt out of it.  Even though I love the books, I'm just not in an Anne of Green Gables mood at the moment. 

What about you? What are you reading this week?

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

It's Time to Curl Up with a Cozy Mystery

For many of us in the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere, this is the time of year to stay inside curled up with a good book and a big cup of tea.  For me, this includes curling up with a cozy mystery or two.  I have always enjoyed the mystery genre, but sometimes I feel like reading lighter mystery fare. This is where cozy mysteries come in, as they are often a lot more fun and much less graphic than their non-cozy counterparts. In celebration of the cozy mystery, I thought I'd share with you some of my favourites:

Laura Childs' Tea Shop Mysteries

Childs' series, which features a tea shop-owning amateur sleuth named Theodosia Browning as its main protagonist, is probably my favourite cozy mystery series. Set in Charleston, South Carolina -- a place I very badly want to visit thanks to the Tea Shop books - this series is a guaranteed good time.  While I often figured out the resolution of the main mystery before each novel's conclusion, it never diminished my enjoyment of them.  Aside from the series' setting, my favourite aspect of the Tea Shop mysteries are the characters, all of whom are memorable and endearing. Lovers of tea will certainly appreciate the many tea references made throughout each of the novels. If you're not a tea lover reading these books will certainly make you wish you were. 

The Tea Shop series starts with Death by Darjeeling.

Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness Mysteries

Another favourite of mine, Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness series is set in 1930s England, and features as its heroine Lady Georgianna Rannoch, 34th in line to the British Throne. Despite being a member of the British aristocracy, Georgie is flat broke and must work.  But working is not something Georgie is particularly adept at, so hilarity ensues. This cozy mystery series, like the Tea Shop mysteries, features a fabulous cast of characters, many of whom are endearingly quirky.  Georgie herself if easy to cheer for as she attempts to live her own life -- which includes trying to find love -- and solve mysteries in the process.  Appearances by the British Royal Family, as well as Georgie's non-Noble mother and grandfather, are particularly memorable.

The first novel in the Royal Spyness series is appropriately titled Her Royal Spyness

Heather Blake's Magic Potion Mysteries

This series is, so far, only two books long, and to date I've only read the first one, A Potion To Die For.  I loved it!  The main character, Carly Hartwell, owns a potion shop in small town Alabama.  In the series first installment, a man is found dead in Carly's shop holding on to one of her potions. Carly must work to clear her name and prove her potions aren't deadly!  I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series, One Potion in the Grave.  Blake is also the author of the cozy Witchcraft Mysteries, a series I'm eager to try.

Lynn Cahoon's Tourist Trap Mysteries

As with Heather Blake's Magic Potion Mysteries, Lynn Cahoon's Tourist Trap Mystery series is, to date, only a few books long.  I've read the series' first book, Guidebook to Murder, and thought it was very well done.  The main character is Jill Gardner who, after growing tired of her high flying big city career, moves to small town California to open a bookstore and coffee shop.  In the first book Jill finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery, one that threatens all she holds dear.  I'm looking forward to reading the next book!

What about you? Do you enjoy cozy mysteries? If so, what are some of your favourite series?

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Book Talk: Is it Time to Rethink How I Review?

I've noticed a trend on my blog lately, my review posts, by and large, generate the least amount of traffic and the fewest comments (the exception seeming to be those that feature bestsellers such as The Girl on the Train).  Perhaps this is because my reviews aren't linked to a site hosting a meme, or maybe it is simply because I'm reviewing books few others have an interest in.  Whatever the reason, I find it a bit disheartening -- of all my posts, reviews are the ones that take me the longest to prepare and require the most thought. 

Am I the only book blogger that has this issue, or is it a phenomenon that many of you are also experiencing? I love book-related discussion posts, but one of the main reasons I got into blogging in the first place was to discuss those books I've read and want to share with others.  Perhaps I simply need to augment my reviews with discussion posts on subjects related to the book reviewed.

With this in mind, I'm looking for ideas and inspiration from my fellow book bloggers. What do you find works best for you as both a reviewer and as a reader of reviews? What types of review formats do you most like to read? Are there any formats you dislike? What determines whether or not you'll comment on a review? For those of you who have followed this blog for a long time, what do you most like about my reviews? What do you think I should change?

I'm looking forward to hearing your views. 

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Monday, February 2, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (February 2nd, 2015)

It's Monday, so you know what that means -- it's time for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?, a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. 

I managed to finish two of the three books on my reading list from last Monday - The Gods of Gotham (stay tuned for my review later this week) and Caliban's War - so this week I have a couple of new books to share. First is Sarah Dunant's most recent work of historical fiction, Blood & Beauty, which is about the Borgias, and second is Tarquin Hall's The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, which is the first in his series featuring Dehli Detective Vish Puri.  I expect both books to be enjoyable reads.

While I did finish two books last week, unfortunately Anne of Green Gables was not one of them.  I'm still languishing behind, as I was supposed to be finished by the end of January and already moved on to the second book in the series. Oh well, if I put my mind to it I'll be able to catch up really quickly.  I shouldn't be surprised that I've fallen behind, however, because I don't have a great track record when it comes to readalongs LOL.

What are you reading this week? 

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

January In Review

It is hard to believe January is already over, isn't it? It was a very cold and snowy month here so outdoor activities were kept to a minimum -- a trend I hope reverses itself in February because my little dog misses her daily walks -- but I managed to get a lot of reading in because of it.  I also had my biggest blogging month in almost a year, with nine posts. Yay me! Here is a look back at the reading and blogging I accomplished in January:

Total Books Read: Nine (this puts me on pace to read over 100 books in 2015, which will likely not be sustainable). Click on the book titles below to read my reviews.
Of these nine books, six of them had been sitting on my TBR pile as of December 2013. My favourite of the books I read was Daughter of Smoke and Bone, followed closely by The Gods of Gotham.

Blogging-wise, I posted six reviews (most grouped together as mini-reviews), participated in the It's Monday! What Are You Reading? meme on a regular basis, signed up for the Canadian Lit Bingo Reading Challenge, and took part in one Top Ten Tuesday post.  Statistically, my review posts generated both the least amount of traffic and the fewest comments.  As a result, I'm going to re-think my review strategy since, despite this being a book blog, readers don't seem as interested in my reviews as they do in my participation in general discussion posts/memes.  Anyone else find their reviews are the least popular feature on their blog?

Looking ahead to February, my goal is to continue reading books off my TBR pile. I'm going to start by tackling Sarah Dunant's Blood and Beauty

How did your reading go in January?

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