My Life in Books

I’ve enjoyed reading other book bloggers’ posts in The Time and Place Book Tag. Bloggers write vignettes explaining the memories and places associated with reading particular books. In Chelsea’s post, she explains, “My life can be told in books, and it is one of the most special things about them.” So friends, here’s my life in books.

The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon StoneGrover

My favorite book as a teeny, bespectacled girl featured Grover from Sesame Street. Although I was quite young, I remember my mother reading the story to me. A growing tension builds as Grover pleads with the reader not to turn the pages. There’s a “scary” monster at the end of the book, after all. My mother would pretend she was terrified of the page-turning, just like Grover, and I would laugh and turn each page defiantly. I still own a worn, cherished copy of the Monster book.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

OwenMeanyCoverThe first book I read by John Irving was A Prayer for Owen Meany. When I was in high school, I went on my first out-of-town day trip with my boyfriend. We left our tiny town, and we drove nearly two hours to reach a “much bigger” town with double-lane roads, a multi-screen cinema, and a chain bookstore. It rained during the ride. We listening to the single cassette of “Wish I Was Your Lover” over and over. I felt grown-up, so clearly I had to buy an “adult” book to mark the occasion. In the clearance bin at the Coles bookstore, I found a book with an armadillo on its cover. The inside flap revealed it was by the guy who also wrote The World According to Garp. I had seen and loved that weird R-Rated movie and figured this book would be just as strange and as adult-themed as Garp. Little did I know that I’d spend the following weekend tucked in my sister Joe’s basement bedroom (she was attending University at the time) and get lost in this story. I remember reading the ending so vividly. I was sprawled on Joe’s bed. I bawled for what felt like forever. I felt both overwhelmed and uplifted. It was the best thing I had read in all my 17 years. (It might still be the best novel I’ve read in all my 40 years. It’s in a tie at the top of my list with Jane Eyre).

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

MeTalkCoverMy husband Brian gave me this collection of essays to read when we flew off to Prague to (secretly) get hitched. He had introduced me to Sedaris (and to This American Life). We listened to podcasts featuring the humourist reading to live audiences. I must admit I was too excited to read when we left Canada. So, I read the whole book during our return flight. I laughed out loud a few times. I cried a bit, too. These stories will forever be associated with Brian smiling at my side, fluffy white clouds, and my left hand sporting a new, sparkling ring.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

HarryPotterPhoenixMy sister, who taught grade 7 for over a decade, introduced me to the Harry Potter series. She lent me the first three books, and I read them over the span of a couple of weeks shortly before the fourth one was published. I couldn’t wait to read the fifth book, but I would have to wait a while for it to get published. Two years later, and a few days before it hit the bookstores, I had a pregnancy scare. I was four months pregnant and was put on strict bedrest for two weeks. This Harry Potter book helped me remain calm and entertained. I remember being thankful it was over 800 pages long. I spent much of my time reading it while sitting on my old plaid couch near the living room picture window. I didn’t lift a finger during this time. I read, read, and read while my baby got stronger. That December, my healthy daughter weighed 8.14 lbs at birth.

The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

TheWorldBeforeUsCoverI read this gorgeous novel last year. I’d read it early in September during the early morning hours. I was determined to take advantage of the last days of summer by hanging out on the new, cedar deck my husband and father had built together. Reading. Drinking coffee. It was bliss. On one of these mornings, I looked up to see a dozen or more hot air balloons floating above me. I’d forgotten it was The Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival that weekend. The balloons often land all over our neighbourhood in parks and farmland. The sky dance was as TheWorldBeforeUsBalloonspectacular as the book. The World Before Us became one of my two favorite reads of 2014 (the other being Sweetland by Michael Crummey).

If you participated in the Place and Time Tag, please share the link with me. I’d love to read your bookish stories. Happy reading!

BBT’s Top 5 Novels of 2014

Although there are still several novels published in 2014 on my TBR list (I blame it on my heavy college workload, tee hee.), I did manage to read and enjoy several awesome books this year. Below are excerpts from BBT reviews. They are my top five books of 2014 (in no particular order). Click on the link to read the full reviews.

 

Sweetland_CoverSweetland by Michael Crummey
Random House of Canada
Available August 19, 2014
320 pages, $32.00

Michael Crummey brings an isolated, austere landscape and its unforgettable inhabitants to life in his latest novel Sweetland. He paints the harsh life of the East Coast with frank simplicity. Never over-the-top.

 

MuseumCover2The Museum of Extraordinary Things
By Alice Hoffman
Scribner, 2014.
384 pages, $32,00.

It’s an enchanting story with a pace as steady and stirring as the Hudson River snaking its way into the plot. I was swept full-force into the story. Hoffman’s choice of narrators, her weaving of past and present narratives, and her colourful language drew me in. So did her captivating setting —New York City in the early 1900s.

 

TheWorldBeforeUsColourThe World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter
Random House of Canada Limited

September 9, 2014

432 pages, $29.95

I was enchanted by Aislinn Hunter’s novel, a gorgeous, complex story pulsing with life. The novel explores how time, memory, and imaginings can shape a person’s narrative and identity. The reader flutters in and out of the past alongside a whirlwind of characters —most of them spirits who have lost their selfhood.

 

TheBees_PhotoThe Bees by Laline Paull
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2014
340 pages, $21.99

In Paull’s riveting, epic tale, bees put their lives on the line to protect the Queen and the beehive. The author creates an entire world revolving around these fascinating insects to mirror societal hierarchies and environmental crises. Still, there is a significant difference between Laline Paull’s novel with those of Richard Adams and G. R. R. Martin: her story evokes the divine feminine. The undercurrents of maternal love, sisterhood, and a Mother God heighten the flow of the story at every moment.

 

MonsterWifeThe Monster’s Wife by Kate Horsley
Barbican Press, 266 pages.
25.00$, August 28, 2014

In The Monster’s Wife, first-time novelist Kate Horsley honours the gothic tradition of Mary Shelley while maintaining a fresh, unique voice. Some describe this book as a sequel to Shelley’s classic Frankenstein. I view this new book as an ingenious spin-off revamping a short period of the classic tale. It takes place after Victor Frankenstein makes a pact with his ‘creature’ to play God once again —to make a wife for the creature. Victor settles in the Orkney Islands for a bout of manic, promised work. Its dark, moody atmosphere lends well to the harsh landscape of the islands and the unravelling plot. With its vibrant imagery and meticulous details, The Monster’s Wife will have a firm grip on you from the start.

 

What were your top five reads of 2014? I hope you crack open the books on my list if you haven’t already. I’m certain you will love them just as much as I did.

Thank you for reading my book reviews, blogger friends. Happy Holidays!

Top Five Books You Should Read Fall 2014

I’m a lucky book nerd. In exchange for honest reviews, I get ARCs of books from publishers on NetGalley and Goodreads. This summer, I read over 25 books. Many of these titles hit the bookshelves in late August, others in September.

Check out the top five book you should read this fall:

 

F_NOVEL5)  F: a Novel by Daniel Kehlmann

“But there is a sense that no sentence means merely what it says, that the story is observing its own progress, and that in truth the protagonist is not the central figure: the central figure in the reader, who is all too complicit in the unfolding of events.”

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
August 26, 2014
272 pages, $30.00

 

MathewThomasBookCover4)   We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

“She knew it wouldn’t be like this forever, soon she’d make demands on him, expect the world of him. She was going to enjoy this part. She was going to fill her heart with it enough for years.”

 

 

Simon & Schuster
August 19, 2014
640 pages, $32.00

MonsterWife3)   The Monster’s Wife by Kate Horsley

“Ever since the doctor came, people were saying the year would be thin. No rain, poor seed. The moment he landed, oats and barley soured in the ground and the shoots looked mean.”

Barbican Press, 266 pages.
Kindle ($13.01) and Kobo ($13.55) editions now available
Paperback ($25.00) edition available on August 28, 2014

 

Sweetland_Cover2)   Sweetland  by Michael Crummey

“The ferry sailed by the breakwater through a blear of rain. The ocean beyond in an uproar. The deckhands hunched in neon-yellow slickers as they threw down the hawsers and winched the gangplank to the government wharf.”

Random House of Canada
August 19, 2014, 320 pages, $32.00

 

TheWorldBeforeUsColour1)   The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter 

“It doesn’t matter that memories can sometimes be misshapen, that there are a hundred ways to fix or lose a sense of self.” 

Random House of Canada 
September 9, 2014
432 pages, $29.95

 

Click on the link for the full version of my reviews. If you read one of these, give me a shout! I’d love to hear your take on these novels. Happy reading!

SHAPING MEMORIES AND IMAGININGS: The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

“It doesn’t matter that memories can sometimes be misshapen, that there are a hundred ways to fix or lose a sense of self.” —The World Before Us, Aislinn Hunter

TheWorldBeforeUsColour

 

 

The World Before Us
by Aislinn Hunter

Random House of Canada Limited
September 9, 2014

432 pages, $29.95

 

 

 

I was enchanted by Aislinn Hunter’s The World Before Us, a gorgeous, complex story pulsing with life. The novel explores how time, memory, and imaginings can shape a person’s narrative and identityTheWorldBeforeUsCover. The reader flutters in and out of the past alongside a whirlwind of characters —most of them spirits who have lost their selfhood.

Hunter’s greatest triumph when writing this book: her haunting, hypnotic first-person-plural point of view. At first, the reader is uncertain who the ‘we’ represents. The indeterminate gathering of narrating voices shadow 34-year-old Jane Standen. They follow her to work at the Chester Museum and gather round when she reads the archival files —clues to their pasts. The spirits know her thoughts, feel her emotions, and pervade her dreams. It takes but a heartbeat for them to travel through time and space. Still, they remain unknowing:

“We do not know how to recover our histories, to identify what or whom we loved. We cannot see ourselves except as loose human forms—like those caught moving down the street in the museum’s early Victorian photographs, figures whose blurred shapes become clearer the longer you look at them. We only know that we are drawn to certain objects, places and people, and that we are bound to Jane like the Thale butterflies in the natural history hall—pinned to the boards in their long glass cases.”

A Victorian era mystery haunts Jane. In August of 1877, three escapees fled the Whitmore Hospital for Convalescent Lunatics. A broad-shouldered farmer, a warmhearted solicitor, and a young woman in a brown dress (known only as N-) traipsed together, for hours, in the forest. During their escape, N- disappeared. Jane cannot rest until she finds out what happened to the dark-haired woman on that late summer day.

The reader soon learns what drives Jane’s research: guilt. The story of N- parallels that of 5-year-old Lily, the charge Jane lost as a teenager in the same stretch of woods. Her own traumatic experience compels Jane to make things right —because “some poor girl from a Victorian asylum goes missing and makes a hole in a page just big enough for all of Lily to fit into.” As Jane’s sleuthing intensifies, so does the “we’s” awareness.

TheWorldBeforeUsBalloon

While I was reading this book, a dozen hot air balloons floated overhead. Magical.

Hunter’s unconventional point of view may alienate some readers. Others will be entranced by it. Consumed by it. An intricate plot; poetic language; numerous characters: the book demands your full attention. Still, how rewarding it is to join the “we” as a remembrancer —“a human being who knows that to be a human being is to carry within yourself a responsibility, not only to your own present but to the past from which you have come.”

*I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*