December Summary

I got so caught up in the New Year that I totally forgot to do my monthly summary for December! I’m not sure if I will continue these into 2019 or not, but I wanted to do the last one to finish off for 2018. Here’s what I read:

Books read: 8
Pages read: 2,736
Main genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Favourite book: The Feather Thief

December is always a bit of a slower month because I go home for Christmas to visit my family. But I still managed to read 8 books. I started off with my favourite read of the month, The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson. This was a huge surprise to me seeing as The Feather Thief is about a guy who steals 300 bird carcasses from the Natural History Museum in order to sell the feathers to fly-tiers, but it was strangely compelling. I read it on Audible and I thought the narrator did a great job and I was totally enthralled with this little known heist for the entirety of the novel. Definitely recommend for history buffs.

I finally read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which has been on my TBR for ages. It’s historical fiction about female pilots in WW2 that is widely loved in the YA community. I didn’t love it quite as much as I expected, but I followed it up with the companion novel, Rose Under Fire, which I actually ended up liking a lot more. The second book is about notorious women’s concentration camp, Ravensbruck, and while it’s very upsetting, I thought it was really well written.

I read two mystery novels, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, and Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie. Truly Devious has been lauded all over Booktube and I was totally blown away by how much I DISLIKED it. I’m actually shocked by how many people love this book because I thought it was poorly written, poorly plotted, and extremely juvenille. I really wanted to love it, but it was a huge disappointment. I didn’t have too many thoughts on Murder in Mesopotamia. It wasn’t my favourite Agatha Christie, but still a fun 3-star read.

About a week before I was due to head home for the holidays, I received an early copy of The Wicked King by Holly Black from Hatchette. I was really excited to read this one because I’ve heard a lot of good things about it and as someone who liked, but didn’t love, The Cruel Prince, I was interested to see if the sequel was any better. I still didn’t love it quite as much as everyone else, but I did like it better than the first book and I am now pretty desperate for the final book!

Finally, I read two books while I was home for Christmas. I finally picked up Wildcard by Marie Lu, the sequel to Warcross, and read pretty much the entire book on the plane on the way home. Unfortunately, this was another disappointing book. I LOVED Warcross last year and while I still liked parts of Wildcard, I thought it was overwritten, with the plot being overly complicated and action for the sake of action. I finished off the year with the final book in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy, Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han. I didn’t love the conclusion as much as the first book, but overall I think this is a really strong contemporary series and I can’t wait to watch the sequel on Netflix this year!

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Top 5 Reads of 2018

This is the companion post to my Top 10 Books of 2018, which features my favourite reads of the year that were actually published in 2018. This post will feature my top 5 books of the year that weren’t published in 2018. This works out well for me because its hard to narrow it down to just 10 books and the majority of the books I read are new releases. So here’s my top 5 reads of 2018 in no particular order:

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

You know how sometimes you read a book and you really like it, but then the more time passes, the more unsure you are of whether you actually liked it as much as you thought? This book was the opposite of that for me. I really liked it when I read it, but the further removed I’ve gotten from reading it, the better I think I actually like it. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tells the story of Julia, the teenage daughter of Mexican immigrants, and how she deals with the death of her older sister Olga. I know some people aren’t a fan of this book because honestly, Julia is super unlikable and confrontational in the story, but I thought it was such an accurate portrayal of a raging, rebellious, grieving teenager. Julia is struggling with accepting the death of her sister, who was the perfect daughter in her parents eyes, and she acts out against her parents traditional Mexican values. She struggles to understand her parents and her parents struggle to understand her. It’s ultimately a coming of age story about grief and the struggles of immigrant families. I listened to it as an audiobook and I would highly recommend this format – the narrator was fantastic and the whole reading experience was super enjoyable, despite the heavy topics.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This was probably my most unexpected read of the year. I set an informal goal for myself to start reading more classics. I tried some Jane Austen and wasn’t the biggest fan, but I found Wuthering Heights on audiobook for a really cheap price and decided to give it a go. I’m not sure whether to credit Emily Bronte or Joanne Froggatt (the narrator) for how much I liked this, but together they made me absolutely LOVE this book. I don’t always love classics because they tend to wane on too much about nothing, but I loved the drama of Wuthering Heights. Evidently I have a thing for unlikable characters because NO ONE in this book is very likable. I think most people are familiar with the plot, so I won’t get too into it, I’ll just say that it’s an inter-generational story about the cycle of abuse and the human ability to both love and hate. I’ll still give Bronte most of the props, but Froggatt’s narration definitely played a role in making me love this as she does a fantastic job with all the characters and accents!

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation was one of the first books I read this year and while it was a slow-read novel, I really loved it. This book tells the semi-autobiographical story of 10 year old Kimberly Chan and spans about a decade in scope. Kim and her Ma are sponsored by her Aunt and move to New York from China. It’s based off the author’s experience immigrating to America and I thought it was such a well crafted story about the struggles immigrants face to build a new life and climb their way out of poverty. Kim and her Ma live in a run down apartment and work in her Aunt’s sweat shop sewing clothing. It’s technically Ma that works in the shop, but the workers regularly enlist the help of their children since they work on commission and it’s the only way they can make decent money. Kim attends school during the day and is driven by her desire to learn and get a job that will enable her to lift her family out of poverty. Like I said, it’s a quiet sort of story, but powerful and I really loved Kim’s character and perspective.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

I’m just now realizing that I read 3 of the 5 books on this list as audiobooks (this being the third), which is actually super impressive since I tend to dislike audiobooks a lot more than I love them. But I guess I found some real winners on Audible this year! The Nowhere Girls tells the story of 3 very different high school classmates: Grace, Rosina, and Erin. The biggest thing I can say about this book is: great representation. Grace is a fat, Christian girl; Rosina is a gay, Mexican girl; and Erin has Asperger’s. Grace is new to town and when she learns that the former resident of her bedroom was a high school girl who was essentially driven out of town when she claimed she was raped at a party the year before, she starts a secret club to do something about it. I really liked this book because it was diverse and it addressed relevant social issues that any teen girl can relate to. Plus, it has another great narrator!

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I’ve been raving about this series since I read it back in August. I included the sequel Wundersmith in my Top 10 Books of 2018 post, and I have to include the first book in this list. I can not say enough good things about this series. It is the smart, fun middle grade book that I’ve been looking for since Harry Potter. It tells the story of cursed child, Morrigan Crow, who is whisked off to the magical land of Nevermoor on the eve of her death day by the enigmatic Jupiter North. There she participates in the trials to become a member of the prestigious Wunder Society, all while trying to hide the fact that she’s an illegal immigrant to Nevermoor. This book is so whimsical (it has a giant, talking cat and flying umbrellas), but what I love most about it is that it has depth. It’s so well written and crafted that this magical world pretty much builds itself. It’s obvious that there’s a lot more to the plot than Townsend reveals upfront and I think we’re in for a multi-layered, multi-book series that has the potential to be just as popular as Harry Potter. I really, really loved this and I can’t wait to see what Jessica Townsend publishes next!  

Top 10 Books of 2018

I read over 100 books this year, so it is incredibly hard to narrow the list down to just 10 books! I really like reading new releases and this year almost half of all the books I read were published in 2018, so like last year, I’ve decided to publish two lists. This will be my top 10 favourite books that were published in 2018, and my second follow up post with be my top 5 favourite books that I read in 2018, but were published in other years. Without further ado, here’s my top 10 of 2018, in order this year!

10. Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie has been making waves this year and was my first Courtney Summers book. I started reading it on a 3 day kayak trip and was totally enthralled with it the entire weekend. It’s a powerful read, but one of the things I actually liked most about it was the format. Sadie tells the story of a young woman named Sadie – when her sister turns up dead, Sadie disappears from town and goes on a mission to track down her sister’s killer. What made the format so unique was that half of the book is told in the style of a podcast investigating what happened to Sadie, while the other half is told from Sadie’s point of view as she moves through rural America trying to track down the killer. The podcast reminded me a lot of Serial and I thought it made for a really interesting and dynamic read. Summers doesn’t hold back any punches in this story and it’s really a book about how girls and women disappear and are murdered far too often. I can’t take another dead girl.

9. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

The Astonishing Color of After was a bit of a slower read compared to some of the other books on this list, but is the writing and the story ever beautiful! It tells the story of Taiwanese-American teenager, Leigh, whose mother has committed suicide. In her grief, Leigh believes that her mother has come back as a bird and is trying to communicate with Leigh. In an effort to learn more about her mother, she decides to take a trip to Taiwan for the first time to meet her grandparents. The story is filled with magical realism and is a beautiful coming of age story about grief, mental health, the pains of growing up, and the importance of chasing after the things that you love. I really liked the portrayal of mental health and depression and how anyone can be impacted by them and how there’s often no rhyme or reason to why someone might suffer from depression. I loved the cultural aspects that were woven into this story as well as Leigh’s relationship with her friend Axel and how it evolves throughout the story. Mostly though, I just loved this for the beautiful writing and would definitely recommend to anyone!

8. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage has been featured on pretty much every “must read books of 2018” list I’ve seen on the internet and was featured in Oprah’s book club, so I was intrigued to read it. It’s about a newly married couple, Celestial and Roy, who’s marriage is abruptly cut short when Roy is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and incarcerated for 12 years. They try to maintain their marriage, but 12 years is a long time and Celestial starts to drift away from Roy. However, when Roy gets a surprise early release after 5 years, everyone’s lives are thrown into turmoil. Celestial has moved on and is unsure what to do in the face of her husband’s release. Roy on the other hand, is still hugely invested in Celestial and wants to give their marriage another shot. It’s a thought provoking novel on the justice system and what it means to be black in America. I really liked it because there were no easy choices for the characters and it was a critical look at the impact prison can have on the individual and their greater family and community.

7. Saga, Volume 8 by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples

I’ve been reading Saga for the last two years, but for some reason, Volume 8 hit me a lot harder than any of the other volumes. I also read Volume 9 this year, which I liked, but didn’t love, but something about Volume 8 struck me differently. Saga is a graphic novel series about an intergalactic romance between two soldiers on opposing sides, Alana and Marko. The series starts off with them giving birth to their daughter, Hazel, and the entire series is them gallivanting around the galaxy trying to avoid all the individuals that think their marriage and relationship is an abomination. Volume 8 deals with abortion and I think it’s one of the reason’s why I liked it so much. The whole series is incredibly diverse and examines a number of different relevant social issues, and this issue looks at some of the reasons why women and couples decide to have abortions and why all reasons are valid. Overall, I would highly recommend the series, I’ll just put a disclaimer that the series does include a lot of sex and nudity.

6. The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

To be honest, it’s a bit of a mystery to me why I liked this book as much as I did. Maybe I was just in the mood for a good romance, but I think it was because this was one of the rare New Adult books that I could actually relate to. I find there’s a huge gap in literature between stories about teenagers and stories about adults. There’s not a lot of great books about people in their mid-twenties and this book really that need. The Simple Wild is about 26 year old Calla. She grew up with her mom in Toronto, but she’s been estranged from her father, who is an Alaskan bush pilot, since she was 2. When she finds out her father has cancer, she decides to finally make the trip up to Alaska to meet him. She’s never understood her father’s life or why he would never leave his job to be with her and her mother. She finally has the opportunity to get to know him a little better, but fears it may be too late. At the same time, she meets her father’s best pilot, Jonah, and despite having almost nothing in common, they strike up a friendship that evolves mostly out of the two of them teasing one another. I’m not going to lie, I totally fell in love with Jonah, but this book has so much more going for it than just romance. I’m obsessed with any book set in Alaska and this was a great story about taking risks, getting out of your comfort zone, and walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

5. Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay

Not That Bad is a collection of stories about rape and rape culture that definitely needed to be told. I listened this anthology as an audiobook and I thought every single essay added something valuable to the collection and as a whole, the essays were extremely diverse. The premise of the book is that any story about rape, assault, or rape culture deserves a space and to be heard. People often refrain from sharing the things that have happened to them because they think they are not that bad compared to what has happened to other people they known. Gay wants to break down that idea that there is any kind of scale for breaking down the things that happen to us. Every story is that bad and every pain deserves to be acknowledged. It is only by sharing our stories that it becomes evident just how pervasive and widespread rape culture is. Your voice deserves to be heard – what happened to you is that bad – there is no hierarchy of pain and we acknowledge you.

4. Women Talking by Miriam Toews

This was my first Toews book, but I was totally blown away by it. It’s a short and simple book, but so startling in it’s honesty. Women Talking is based on a Mennonite community in rural Bolivia where the women were continuously subjected to sexual assault in secret by members of the community. They were not believed and were told that they were being punished for their sins. Eventually it came out that several men in the community had been knocking the women out with animal anesthetic and raping them in their sleep and they were arrested. This is the re-imagined conversation that took place between the women in deciding how to move forward from this ordeal. As they see it, they have three options: they can do nothing, stay and fight, or they can leave. It is extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking. Even though these characters are imagined, I was inspired by the women and their ability to forgive, love one another, and use humour to move on with their lives.

3. Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Okay, now we’re into the top 3! It’s hard to organize the lower end of this list because I liked all those books but they’re not the top books that stand out to me and it’s difficult to rank them. But the top of list is easier because they were my favourite books that I read this year, starting with Wundersmith, the sequel to Nevermoor. The Nevermoor series is a new middle grade fantasy series that I am obsessed with. I’ve compared it multiple times to Harry Potter, not because it’s like Harry Potter, but because it reminds me of all the things I loved about Harry Potter and in how it makes me feel. Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, destined to die on the eve of her 11th birthday. But instead, she is whisked away by enigmatic Jupiter North to the land of Nevermoor, which is filled with magic and flying umbrellas and gigantic talking cats. It is such a fun series filled with so much whimsy! The world building is incredible and the plot is clever and has a lot of depth. I am in love with the characters and the world Jessica Townsend has created and I cannot wait to see where she takes this series in the future!

2. Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

Our Homesick Songs took me totally by surprise. It’s historical fiction about Newfoundland’s cod fishery and the moratorium in 1992. It’s about family, community, loneliness, music, and love of place. The Connor family has always lived in the small rural, island town of Big Running and has  always survived off the cod fishery. When the fish disappear, many families are forced to make tough decisions about their future and leave their homes in search of work on the mainland. Aidan and Martha try and avoid that fate for their children, Cora and Finn, and instead decide to share a job at one of the camps in Northern Alberta. But as their community slowly disappears, Cora and Finn struggle with the changes to the life they’ve always known and the hole in their community. As a Newfoundlander, this book spoke to a part of my soul and I absolutely fell in love with Hooper’s writing style. I can see how it might not work for everyone, but her writing evoked such a feeling of homesickness that I felt I’d just moved right into the pages with Cora and Finn and Aidan and Martha. It’s a beautiful story about family and community and the links that tie us together. It’s a heartbreak story that was a reality for many Newfoundland families and I thought Hooper did a wonderful job of transporting her readers back to this time and place. I love the way she tied music into the story and I know this family will stick with me for a long time.

  1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

And the number one spot goes to The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I read this book back in June and nothing has been able to top it since. It was an extremely emotional, but enjoyable, reading experience and even 6 months later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. Setting is everything for me in this novel. The Great Alone is set in Alaska in the 1970’s and focuses on the Albright family: Ernt, Cora, and their daughter Leni. Ernt is a POW from the Vietnam War and suffers from PTSD. He’s worried about the direction the government is going and in an effort to get back to the land, moves the family to the small town on Kaneq in Alaska. They move in the height of summer and Leni is totally enamoured with the landscape and their hand to mouth existence. It’s hard work to survive in Alaska and the sense of purpose and the long summer days keep Ernt’s PTSD at bay. However, when the long winter starts, Ernt’s demons start to get the better of him and Leni begins to wonder if she’s more at risk from the dangers lurking outside her door or from the dangers lurking within. It is a heartbreaking story, but Hannah creates such a sense of place and community that I just totally fell in love with. The writing is beautiful and every character is so well imagined and developed. A wonderful story about family and community, but also about the challenges women faced in the 1970’s and still face today.

Reading Habits Tag

I wanted to try something new on my blog, so I scoured the internet for a fun reading tag and decided on one about reading habits! Here’s some of my preferences, let me know about some of your reading habits in the comments:

1) Do you have a favourite place to read at home?
At home I’m very particular about reading on love seats. I like sitting lengthwise on love seats so that I can tuck my toes into the arm of the couch on the other side and rest the book on my legs. I hate reading on full length couches because I can’t prop up my book. Yes, I’m a little dramatic about it, but I currently only own love seats, so it works out.

2) Do you use bookmarks or just use whatever’s available?
I try and use bookmarks, but sometimes you have to be crafty if you don’t have one nearby!

3) Do you stop reading at any point in the book or do you have to finish the chapter?
I prefer to stop reading at the end of a chapter, but I spend a lot of time reading on public transit, so it rarely works out that way!

4) Do you eat or drink while reading?
Definitely yes. I love having a cup of tea while reading and a snack food like popcorn or goldfish crackers! I also read during a lot of my lunch breaks, so I’ll eat my soup while I read, which takes some coordination not to spill anything!

5) Do you listen to music or TV while reading?
No. I prefer quiet, but my partner likes to listen to music a lot, so I have adapted to listen to his music on low volume in the background. But I think the only reason I can tolerate it is because I don’t know the words to his music. If it was my own music it would be too distracting.

6) Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several?
I used to be a purist about reading only one book at a time. But over the last 6 months I’ve started reading multiple books at a time. I always have 1 audiobook on the go and somewhere between 1 and 3 paperbacks. Depends on the genres, but if it’s an essay book or non-fiction, I like to pair it with something more fast paced.

7) Do you only read at home or everywhere?
I read literally everywhere! My favourite place to read is in my hammock in the park next to my house during the summer and I also really like reading in the bath. But I also read a lot on public transit, walking home from work, during my lunch break, on hiking and camping trips, planes, trains, you name it! Never trust someone who has not brought a book with them!

8) Do you read out loud or silently?
Are there many people that read out loud? The only time I read out loud is when I’m camping because my friend always requests a bedtime story!

9) Do you read ahead or skip pages?
I never skip ahead. I am a bit of a skim reader sometimes in that I don’t necessarily read every word or sentence, but it’s honestly just a speed reading technique and I don’t think I’m missing anything. I hate to skip ahead – on particularly tense chapters, I’ll actually cover the last few lines of the chapter with my hand so that my eyes don’t jump ahead and ruin a chapter cliff-hanger or reveal!

10) Do you break in the spine, or try to keep in like new?
I really try not to break the spine and I put a lot of effort into keeping my books in really good condition. I will always lend out my books to friends because I want to encourage my friends to read and especially to read books that I’ve read and liked so we can talk about them. But it hurts a little because I know they are never going to come back in quite as good condition as they were in before, but books are for reading right?! So I try and get over it!

11) Do you write in your books?
I don’t write in my books, but I usually have some sticky tabs available and I will tab quotes that I really like.

12) Do you prefer reading physical books or ebooks?
A lot of people feel strongly one way or the other, but I actually really like both. If I’m being honest, I prefer reading on my kindle because it’s so lightweight and it has a backlight, so it’s easy to read in bed, in the bath, at night, etc. But I also really like collecting books. So I tend to read multi book series, books with nice covers, and books that I think I’m going to really like in hard copy so that I can add it to my shelf. The rest of the books I will either read on my kindle or borrow from the library.

Well, that’s it for the book tag, let me know about your reading habits and preferences in the comments! Do you agree with me? Do you have particularly strong feelings on any of these habits? I’d love to know!

Top Picks in Historical Fic.

These days I tend to be reading more fantasy than historical fiction, but historical fiction has always been my favourite genre. Here’s some of my all time favourite historical novels:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Germany)
I could never write a post about historical fiction that didn’t feature The Book Thief. It’s been a few years since I’ve re-read this one, but it always sticks out in my mind and is one of my all time favourite books, period. Markus Zusak has such a way with words and this book makes me bawl my eyes out every time. The story is told by a personified version of death and the observations they make about a young girl, Leisel, and her foster family living in a small German town in the 1940’s.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (New York)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is another book that I love to talk about. This is another historical read that is all about the writing. I love Betty Smith’s writing and this is just the most beautiful coming of age story set in Brooklyn at the turn of the century. It’s a family drama about 10 year old Francie Nolan and her family’s struggle to bring themselves out of poverty. It’s a slow burn novel, but the writing just speaks to me.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (Alaska)
The Great Alone is a new discovery for me in 2018, but it is haunting and 5 months later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. I’m like 80% sure this is going to be my favourite read of 2018, unless I stumble on something REALLY good in the next month. The Great Alone is set in Alaska in the 1970’s and is about teenager Leni Albright and her parents trying to make a subsistence living in this hospitable environment. Her father, Ernt, was a POW in Vietnam and suffers from PTSD and Seasonal Affective Disorder, struggling through the long, dark Alaskan winters. This book is all about the setting for me. Hannah creates the most wonderful sense of setting and atmosphere and the story will break your heart.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (France/Germany)
Like The Book Thief, this is an extremely popular novel, and with good reason. All the Light We Cannot See took Anthony Doerr 10 years to write and it absolutely shows in the writing. The story follows a blind French girl and a young German boy as one flees to escape the war and the other is forced into the war. They only meet briefly, but through time and circumstance, they leave a lasting impression on each other. The writing is gorgeous in this book and though I haven’t revisited the story in several years, it still sticks with me.

Girl at War by Sara Novic (Croatia)
When I visited Croatia in 2012, I searched far and wide for a good historical novel to read about the war, but I had to wait for this book to be published in 2015 to finally get it. Girl at War tells a truly haunting story of a young girl, Ana Juric, who is forced to flee to America after the traumatic death of her parents during the Bosnian War. Ana has tried to escape the nightmares of her past for many years, but eventually decides to return to Croatia to put the ghosts of her past to rest. It’s a short book, but it is an incredibly captivating story about a recent and devastating part of Croatia’s history.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Ghana/America)
I read Homegoing a few years ago for book club and in my opinion, it is a masterpiece of historical fiction. The story format is unlike anything I’ve read before and spans a jaw-dropping period of 300 years! Homegoing is about two sisters in 18th century Ghana. One sister is kidnapping and shipped off to America as part of the slave trade and the other sister marries and remains in Ghana. The book has only 14 chapters, but each chapter follows the next generation of each sister (7 generations in total). Homegoing is extremely well written and examines how each generation is shaped by the choices of their ancestors and the circumstances of their time. A fantastic look at the impact of the slave trade on many generations.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (China)
This is a book that I really did not expect to love, but ended up totally surprising me. It tells the story of Li-Yan, a young girl of the indigenous Akha people in rural China. Tea is important part of her village culture and she grows up farming tea. Li-Yan has a huge desire to learn, but though unfortunate circumstances, she becomes pregnant and is forced to leave her baby at an orphanage. Her daughter ends up being adopted and grows up in America and the story follows both mother and daughter. I learned more about tea in this book than I ever wanted to know, but it was fascinating and Lisa See does such a wonderful job sharing the Akha culture and creating complex and interesting characters.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Korea/Japan)
Pachinko is another book that is breaktaking in it’s scope. The story starts off in Korea and focuses on young Sunja’s family and her eventual immigration to Japan. Pachinko tells of Korea and Japan’s fraught history and the mass exodus of Korean’s to Japan and the challenges they faced there as immigrants. The book spans 80 years and 4 generations and explores women’s roles, the lasting impacts of our actions, and the relationships between different family members and generations. It’s a slow burn novel, but a wonderful look at the challenges of immigration in a non American context.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews (Bolivia)
I’m a little unsure what genre to categorize Women Talking under. It has an element of historical fiction to be sure, but it is heavily imagined. The book centres around the real life incident that took place in a mennonite community in Bolivia. For 4 years, the women of the community would wake up in the mornings having been violated and abused in their sleep. The women were told they were being punished by God for their sins, but it later came out that several men in the village were sneaking into their homes, knocking them out with animal anesthetic, and raping them in their sleep. This story sets the premise for the book, which is essentially an imagined conversation between the women of the village as they decide what to do in the aftermath; whether to forgive the men, stay and fight, or to leave. It’s a short book, but it packs a punch. It is a thoughtful discussion about the bounds of human forgiveness, the tenacity and hopefulness of the human spirit, and a call to action to do better. Please note that while the premise of the book is true, the rest of the book is fiction.

These is My Words by Nancy E Turner (America)
I was on the fence whether to include this book or not because it’s been many years since I read it and I’ve read a lot of books since, so I wonder how accurate my memory is. But I have such good memories of this book that I can’t help including it. These is my Words is essentially the diary of a young girl turned pioneer woman. It takes place in the late 1800’s as Sarah Prine travels around the southern states with her family trying to make a life for herself. She suffers many atrocities, but she is driven by her desire to learn and for personal betterment. It is ultimately a love story, but it covers a tumultuous part of American history and is a great look into the hardships of the pioneers.

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston (Newfoundland)
This one is a little self indulgent because it’s about my home. It’s one of those bucket list books I felt required to read at some point since it focuses on about 50 years of Newfoundland history. I was expecting it to be dry, but it was actually a fascinating character study and look at Newfoundland’s history and joining with Canada that I think anyone (and certainly any Canadian) can enjoy. Newfoundland has a very different history than most of Canada and joined Canada under less than ideal circumstances. This book is about Newfoundland’s first premier, Joey Smallwood, and his upbringing, the role he played in NL unions and works rights, his persuasive negotiating skills, and his campaign to join Canada.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Scotland)
Last but not least, I decided to include Outlander on this list. I’ve read the first 3 books in the series and I was following along with the TV show, but I’ve fallen behind on the last season. These books are part trashy romance, part well-researched historical fiction. It’s the only book on the list with a fantastical element because it involves time travelling from the 1940’s to the 1740’s, but the majority of the series takes places in the 1700’s. Gabaldon covers a huge amount of Scottish, English, French, and American history in this series and I think she deserves the kudos. I learned so much about Scotland from this series and let’s face it, they are just a lot of fun.