2015 TBR Challenge – the official one


Well, I have taken a slightly different approach to my reading challenges this year. I simply gathered all the unread books* on my various shelves, and lined them up. I thought I might fill one shelf in the living room. I nearly filled two.

That is challenge number one. Read all of those books. Within that pile, I am selecting 12 (well, 14) for The Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Roofbeam Reader. Since a part of that challenge is to also write and post a review, and excludes books published since January 1, 2014, I have narrowed my selections.

In no particular order, they are:

  1. King Leary by Paul Quarrington
  2. Ava Comes Home by Leslie Crewe
  3. The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
  4. Wonderous Strange by Leslie Livingston
  5. New York by Edward Rutherford
  6. Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
  7. Loch Bras D’or by Margaret MacPhail
  8. The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  9. As Long as the Rivers Flow by James Bartleman
  10. Maddadam by Margaret Atwood
  11. The Strangers’Gallery by Paul Bowdring
  12. The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley
Two alternates, just in case:
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Highland Settler by Charles W. Dunn

I’m interested to see how dedicating my year to reading all the books I have not yet gotten to is going to play out. Why do I keep leaving them on the shelf in exchange for the new and shiny, or the old, worn-out comfort reads. Sometimes, I have a book to read for work or for book club that takes priority, but mostly it comes down to choices.Will I discover new comfort reads? Or discover why my instinct kept skipping these?

And if you are new here, or you’ve all forgotten how this works:

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).


1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2014 or later. Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.

2. To be eligible, you must sign-up on Roofbeam Reader’s blog. Books must be read and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed. Your complete and final list must be posted by January 15th, 2015.

3. Every person who successfully reads his/her 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from Amazon.com or The Book Depository!

You can read the books on your list in any order; they do not need to be read in the order you have them listed. As you complete a book – review it, and go back to your original list and turn that title into a link to the review.

Visit The Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge page for more details on how to enter.

*Did not include D’s books though we share shelving. Thought about it, but may try that next year.


Review: Jackaroo by Cynthia Voight

Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One upon a time (grade 7/8 ish) Cynthia Voight was my favourite author. I stumbled across this book a few days ago by complete accident, and absolutely had to read it. Voight writing alternative-history/fantasy? Amazing.
It was an easy and enjoyable read. Not really fantasy, just a Medieval kingdom not necessary based on any fact – but no magic, dragons, or wizards.
I enjoyed reading about Gwyn. She’s just the kind of heroine I can get behind. She is independent, intelligent and hardworking. She is stubborn and opinionated. She is a dreamer and a bit of an idealist. She is well aware of the world around her and the problems those both more and less fortunate than her must deal with. She has a keen intuition into the personalities and motivations of those around her, for better or for worse. She does have her blind spots though, especially romantic ones – but really, don’t we all?
Gwyn must make a choice. She must marry, soon. Or she must announce that she does not intend to marry at all, a decision that is not reversible, and will leave her reliant on her brother to take care of her, with a lifetime of working at the family Inn ahead of her. She isn’t completely against marrying, but sees few if any attractive local prospects and fears being tied forever to the wrong man.
And of course there is Jackaroo – the title character – a Robin Hood like figure who helps the poor and downtrodden. But who is he? Does he even exist?
Voight has done a good job of presenting the realities of life in the middle ages, the romantic aspects for sure, but also the less galmourous details: the hard work, lack of freedom or spare time, even the walk to the privy in the cold and dark and dealing with menstruation before tampax and advil.
If I have any criticism, it’s that it was perhaps too light, too easy to read. A bit more depth, character development, and relationship development would have strengthened the story, but sometimes you just need a nice light read. I love a book that I can read in a day.

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Review: The Onion Girl

The Onion Girl
The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I read a fantasy novel, I tend to either obsess over it and the whole series love it or dismiss it entirely. I rarely have an in-between reaction.
When this book started, I thought I was having the latter reaction. I just didn’t buy in right away. To me, fantasy should be completely detached from the real world. That’s why I like it. This was different. The characters live in the real world (albeit in a fictional city) but know that a parallel fantasy world exists. Some visit it, some cannot.
That was pushing my acceptance level.
Where de Lint won me over, however, was with his characters. I liked them. I wanted to know more about them. I kept reading about this world I wasn’t sure I believed in so I could be sure they were OK. And before I knew it, I had bought in. So much so that I am already reading the next book.
I wouldn’t rate it as a full-blown obsession yet, but it could happen.

Note: content heavily features reminiscence of childhood sexual abuse.

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2014’s somewhat delayed To-Be-Read List


I must admit: it has not been a great year for reading so far. In the past three months and three days, I have finished reading two books. Only two. I’m the girl who reads a book a week I guess I’ve been busy catching up on important things like The Good Wife and  Doctor Who.

It really is time to get back on the wagon, though. I have once again committed to the 50 Book Challenge. I am way behind. And so, I will finally get serious about this, starting with this years TBR list.

You remember how this works, right? I pledge to read 12 books from my “to be read” pile, within the next 12 months. Each of the 12 books must have been on my bookshelf (or “To Be Read” list, hence the name) for at least one full year. (Two alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.)

Drumroll please… My TBR list for 2014 includes:

  1. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Unknown Author
  2. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  3. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
  4. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  5. The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
  6. The Light Between the Oceans by M. L. Stedman
  7. Lygaya: L’Enfant Esclave par Andree-Paul Mignot
  8. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  9. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  10. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  11. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  12. Ghosts of Medak Pocket by Carol Off

Two Alternates:

  1. Le Petit Prince par Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

So I’m going for less non-fiction, which I rarely read, and more classic books – I tend to buy older editions at thrift stores or yard sales, and they are piling up on the shelves. Oh – and more reading en francais (dammit WordpPess, why aren’t the accents working?).  Last year I started on time and still only managed 7 of my 12 chosen. Who knows how I will fare this year, but the fun is in trying, isn’t it?

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

You know what’s really fun about reviewing books – getting to read them before anyone else. Ami McKay’s The Virgin Cure is officially released today, but I was lucky enough to score a copy a few weeks ago, and read it in advance. I am not generally one to gush, but I really, really liked this book.

Set in the slums of New York City at the turn of the 19th century, The Virgin Cure tells the story of twelve year old Moth, who dreams of riches, mansions and exotic pets, desperate to leave behind her dreary life, only to be sold into servitude by her mother. She escapes the home of her new brutal mistress, and is ‘rescued’ by Miss Emmett and her girls into a life of prostitution. When inspected for cleanliness and virginity at her new brother home, Moth first meets Dr. Sadie, the physician who records and narrates her tale.

Dr. Sadie is based on the life of McKay’s great great grandmother (I think I have the correct number of ‘great’s here), one of the first female physicians in New York City, who dedicated her life to serving the destitute women and children of the slums in and around Chrystie Street.

“I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart.”

Moth and Dr. Sadie are remarkably different but equally intriguing characters. McKay skillfully recreates New York life in the late 1800s, thrilling the reader with unique tidbits of information from the doctor, but yet making the world so alive that you hardly realize you are reading historical fiction. Filled with thieves, gypsies, circus performers, prostitutes and representatives from the highest and lowest edges of society, the Virgin Cure has a little something for everyone. I enjoyed this novel even more than McKay’s first novel, best-selling The Birth House.

McKay will be at Chapters in Bayers Lake tonight at 7pm for a reading and book signing. Get yourself out there if you can. You won’t regret it.

Also, check out her new Tumblr page, Pear Tree Planchette, filled with images which help bring Moth’s world to life.

Hardcover: 368 pages

Publisher: Knopf Canada (Oct 25 2011)

ISBN-10: 0676979564

ISBN-13: 978-0676979565

Note: This review copy was not supplied but the publisher, but purchased in a silent auction at a fundraiser.


Book Review and Giveaway: The Nymph and the Lamp

Author: Thomas H. Raddall
318 pages
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing
ISBN-10: 1551095769
ISBN-13: 978-1551095769

It is only fitting that I follow up my review of Jane Eyre with another longtime favourite, known to some as “Jane Eyre’s conservative Canadian cousin.”

The Nymph and the Lamp was written by Halifax writer T.H. Raddall and originally published in 1950, becoming one of Canada’s most popular novels in its day. The story begins in Halifax, but is set predominantly on Sable Island, known in the novel as Marina.

Isabel Jardine, the heroine of Raddall’s novel is an orphan, in her mid to late twenties, working as a secretary in the Marconi Depot in Halifax. She lives alone in a rundown boarding house at the end of Barrington Street. Not particularly pretty and already viewed as an old maid, Isabel has long ago stopped waiting for romance. She meets Matthew Carney, the Operator in Charge of the Marconi Station on Marina, when he makes a rare shore visit. Overcome with surprise when Carney asks her to dinner, Isabel says yes, despite not being particularly attracted to him, and his reputation as a bit of an oddball.

A little false advertising, but I do love this cover. Yes this is a scene in the book, but a minor one.

Through a bizarre series of events, including being accosted by a drunken neighbour, disgraced and thrown out of her boarding house, Isabel agrees to marry Carney after only three days, and travels with him to begin a new and lonely life on Marina. Enter radio operators Skane and Sergeant, and the other inhabitants of Sable Island in the 1920s: the live-saving station workers and their families. And of course, a love triangle. Two love triangles, to be precise.

Now, I have always been a sucker for historical fiction, and more particularly so when it is a local story. Behind the love story, the novel is full of interesting tidbits about the history of Sable Island, the shipwrecks, the horses, the Marconi wireless system, and Halifax during and just after World War I. There is even an excursion to the fishing outports of Newfoundland. I have read and reread this book many times, and love it more every time.

I don’t want to say much about the outcome of the story, except it does have a few remarkable similarities to the Bronte novel, despite being a very different story overall, and definitely not a feminist tale. But really, I want you to read this one for yourself. And to make that happen, I am making this post into my first giveaway on onebookperweek.ca. Leave a comment below telling me about your favourite historical fiction novel. One lucky reader will be randomly selected to win a copy of the 2006 edition of The Nymph and the Lamp, from Nimbus Publishing. Good luck.

* Contest open to readers in Canada and the USA only, and open until April 30, 2011 at 11:59:59 Atlantic Time.

Jane Eyre: book & film review

Author: Charlotte Brontë

Genre: Gothic Horror

Publisher: Smith, Elder & Co., Cornhill

Publication Date: October 1847

What can be said about Jane Eyre that has not already been said by someone far more clever and better read than myself? I feel foolish even trying to review this classic, but that’s what this space is for, and that is why you are here reading, so here I go.

Jayne Eyre was written by Charlotte Brontë, originally published in 1847 as a five-part serial under the name Currier Bell, because of course, ladies just were not published in those days. (Notably, her sisters also published famous books that year: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë/Ellis Bell, and Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë/Acton Bell – see the pattern here?)

The Brontë’s do dark and brooding better than any author I have read. Honestly, Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester make Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy look like a ray of sunshine. But back to the story:

Jane Eyre is an orphan. The story opens with her being “cared for” by her aunt, who considers her a burden and whose family never accept her. After a chilling scene where Jane is locked in an upper bedroom and nearly frightened to death, her aunt ships her off to Lowood, a boarding school run by a minister who believes the best way to raise proper Christian girls is a combination of a starvation diet and public humiliation. Jane makes her first ever friend, who later dies in her arms (typhus? consumption? I don’t remember).

Things improve somewhat at Lowood over the years as staff changes, and after she finishes schooling, Jane stays on as a teacher before accepting a position as governess at Thornfield. Enter Mr. Rochester: brooding, mysterious, and burdened with secrets. Rochester is accustomed to people being intimidated by his dark moods and outbursts, and is intrigued by Jane who has no fear of him. This being a Victorian novel, they of course fall in love, and plan to marry – but fate and the secrets of Rochester’s past intervene. Rather than stay at Thornfield  to be Rochester’s mistress, Jane leaves, penniless and alone, nearly starves to death but is eventually saved by the Rivers family, who take her in, feed her, and set her up with a job. In a “twist” typical of novels of the period, the Rivers’ turn out to be her cousins, and they all share in an inheritance when a long-lost uncle dies. The stage seems set for a not-unhappy ending, but the tale of Mr. Rochester is not yet over…

Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favourite heroine’s. Often, my favourite books involve people I can’t like (Wuthering Heights, anyone?) but Jane is a character you cannot help but root for. She suffers, yet remains strong. Falls in love, but will not debase herself. She is honest and true to herself always.

This past Saturday, after a long day of packing and cleaning the house, I headed to the Oxford theatre to watch the latest film adaptation of Jane Eyre (starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds)  and directed by Cary Fukunaga). I was skeptical, as always with a book adapted to film, but must say I enjoyed the film and will probably purchase it to watch again (and again). The novel is split into three parts. Almost like acts in a play: her early life, her time at Thornfield , and her time with the Rivers family. The storyline at Thornfield  is by far the most interesting and best written section of the book, and it is naturally what the film focuses on, treating the other aspects of the narrative as mere introductions and conclusions to what is otherwise a love story. (There were many years between my first reading of the story and rereading it last year. I honestly had forgotten all about her aunt and the Rivers family – remembering only a sad childhood, a school, Thornfield  and Rochester… and something that happened after she ran away from Thornfield .)

Jane did not lie. She would not have told this man he was not handsome.

The film captures the dark, gothic aspects of the novel very well. I went to the theatre alone – on a whim, needing a break from work – and sitting in the dark balcony of the Oxford as unknown creatures prowled the halls of Thornfield , I found myself wishing I had brought a friend. Rochester and Jane were well cast – though Rochester was a bit too handsome to be believable. He was not supposed to be a handsome character, but that would just not be acceptable on film. And of course, Dame Judi Dench is splendid as Mrs. Fairfax, the widowed housekeeper at Thornfield  – though almost wasted in such a small role.

If I can say one more thing about Jane Eyre it is this: unlike many novels of its time, it is far more than a romance. It’s classified by Wikipedia as “Gothic Horror” which I love, but I think describing it as horror is a stretch. Thriller, maybe. While the title character may be female, it is not a book written for women as is so often presumed. My husband got a few odd looks while reading it on a military base in the middle of the Balkans a few years back, but he thoroughly enjoyed it, and he’s a harsher book critic than I will ever be (if only because in his mind, nothing will ever be as good as The Lord of the Rings).