What Books Did You Read in 2019?

What Books Did You Read in 2019?

I can’t believe it’s time for another one of these already. The year flew by so fast it nearly gave me whiplash, and it looks like this year may be more of the same. One blink and look, it’s mid-January!

In an effort to counteract the effects of too much TV, one of the things I set out to do in 2019 was to read more than I had the year beforeI like to think I did marginally better, even if I think I watched too much TV anyway. 

Still, reading is not everyone’s cup of tea; The Atlantic has an excellent article on why it affects some and not others. For me, reading is and always has been a form of escape, more so than TV, and a gift bestowed to me by both parents. My mother taught me how to read, and my father taught me how to enjoy it.  Because they had me very young, none of their peers had children I could grow up and play with. Whenever they would go out and socialize, it was up to me to find ways to amuse myself.  My favourite of their friends to visit were always the ones who had little libraries, because then I could just pick something, get lost in it and wait for my parents to finish having fun. It sort of turned me into an introvert (some may dispute this, but I really am quite shy) but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

And so, on to the list! As always, my choice of reading material doesn’t follow rhyme or reason but the following may hopefully give you ideas for what to read next. About 95% were all read and available from Overdrive, the digital arm of the Toronto Public Library. I also list my top five books unforgettable books of the year. They may not have been published in 2019, but they are ones I discovered and would definitely recommend. That’s the beauty of a great book, the really good ones never age! To get to them, scroll down to the standouts section.

Cosmos – Carl Sagan
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (and Three Other Stories) / In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis
Meaning and History: The Rizal Lectures – Ambeth R. Ocampo
Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant- Joel Golby
The Faraway Nearby – Rebecca Solnit
Best. Movie. Year. Ever. (How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen) – Brian Raftery

All Our Wrong Todays – Elan Mastai
The Gown – Jennifer Robson
Son of a Trickster – Eden Robinson
The Hungry Ghosts – Shyam Selvadurai

Historical Fiction
The Secret History – Stephanie Thornton
The Only Woman in the Room – Marie Benedict
Muse – Mary Novik
The Viscount Who Loved Me – Julia Quinn
The Lost Season of Love and Snow – Jennifer Laam

America’s Boy: The Marcoses and the Philippines – James Hamilton-Paterson
1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half – Stephen R. Bown
Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain
The Lost City of the Monkey God – Douglas Preston
SPQR – Mary Beard
Imperial Woman – Pearl S. Buck
Girl, Interrupted – Susanna Kaysen
The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family – Mary S. Lovell
Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty – Diane Keaton
Jackie, Janet and Lee – J. Randy Taraborelli
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
Three Women – Lisa Taddeo

Now Lush TV Shows (and one Major Motion Picture)
The Mountain Between Us – Charles Martin
Codename Villanelle – Luke Jennings
Good Omens – Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
A Discovery of Witches / Shadow of Night / The Book of Life – Deborah Harkness

I Don’t Care What You Say, Re-reads Count:
A Game of Thrones – George RR Martin
The Constant Princess – Philippa Gregory
The Hobbit / The Fellowship of the Ring / The Two Towers / The Return of the King – JRR Tolkien

Everything Else
The Light Between Worlds – Laura E. Weymouth
Aug 9 – Fog – Kathryn Scanlan
Gods Behaving Badly / The Table of Less Valued Knights – Marie Phillips


The 2019 Standouts
Educated – Tara Westover
What a whopper of a story this is. Tara Westover’s chronicle of a childhood spent homeschooled, raised on a farm with parents who felt the apocalypse could come any time is a hell of a memoir, and a great way to gain perspective – if you felt your childhood was horrible, you haven’t met Tara. It’s also a story of hope, and of how the love of learning can never really be stifled, a powerful reminder that dreams do come true if you want something badly enough and work hard enough to get it.

The Jaguar’s Children – John Vaillant
Although fictional, its protagonist finds himself in a very familiar, heart-wrenching position  – trapped inside an abandoned water tanker that is used to transport illegal immigrants over the Mexican border into the land of the free and the home of the brave, with a dying cellphone as his lifeline and only one number with an American country code. Told in stream of consciousness first-person, interspersed with a series of increasingly agitated text messages, The Jaguar’s Children is claustrophobic, terrifying and very difficult to put down and walk away from.

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
Like The Graveyard Book on drugs,  Lincoln in the Bardo reads as if DJ Earworm suddenly got literary and decided to do a mash-up of books, newspaper articles and quotable quotes. A re-imagination of events after death of Abraham Lincoln’s youngest son Willie, it’s an unusual book, and an acquired taste.  Reading the first few paragraphs may seem a bit strange, but the story comes to life as you settle into the rhythm and flow of George Saunders’ unique, award-winning experiment in prose.

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe – Laurence Bergreen
As a Filipino, Magellan is a byword for the discovery of the Philippines, and its subsequent conversion to Christianity. To some of us, Magellan is an interfering, unscrupulous intruder who got what was coming to him. To the Spanish, he was a fearless crusader and adventurer. To the world, he was the one who braved the unknown in search of riches and glory. Magellan’s legacy may be a polarizing one, but Laurence Bergreen’s story of how he conquered unknown seas to prove that the world was truly round is arresting, and an educational insight into the social and economic mores of the time.

On Writing – Stephen King
Part autobiography, part how-to, with zero pretensions, On Writing has earned its status as the unofficial go-to for aspiring writers.  I’d always read about it mentioned by writers I admired, and finally decided to take the plunge and read it myself. It’s accessible and non-patronizing, and incredibly humanizing, especially when one is confronted with the true body of Stephen King’s work, definitely something that should be re-read at least once a year, if only for the kick in the butt it administers. My 2018 takeaway? Adverbs are anathema!

Online Travel Tools for Obsessively Compulsive, Anally-Retentive You

Online Travel Tools for Obsessively Compulsive, Anally-Retentive You

I am chronically incapable of being footloose and fancy free without doing any due diligence, of visiting a place I’ve never been to and just seeing where the wind will take me.  If the good lord wanted me to go where the wind blows, he would’ve made me a dandelion instead of an obsessive, anally-retentive girl scout. I know, I know. I sound like a pill. I’m only a pill in the beginning, though.  I promise. *hand on heart* Once I’ve gotten everything under control and can tell myself I’ve done all I need to do to be prepared, I can be as cool as a cucumber.

But first, I need control. I need a sense of knowing. I need security. I need to know what I’m going to do, where I’m going to go, what I’m going to eat, and how I’m going to get to where I want to go before I do it, especially when it comes to travel. (You can take a girl out of a travel agency, but you really can’t take a travel agency out of a girl!) 

Google has a suite of travel tools that I use a lot.  Flights is great when you’re shopping for airfare, and I particularly love their “flexible dates” option and the way prices and locations change automatically depending on where in the world you happen to be hovering over. Hotels is a very well thought out, intuitive way to look for possible places to stay -it’s easy to read reviews, check out photos and compare prices. Maps is one of my favourite and most trusted travel tools. It gives a sense of security in an otherwise alien place, because you’ll always know where you are and how to get where you want to go, especially if you’ve downloaded a map of the area in advance.

I don’t feel constrained to book travel directly on Google’s website though. Neither should you – if you can get points booking travel on a certain site or with a certain type of credit card, by all means do so. I like to book directly with the airline when it comes to airfare, but with hotels I can be a little more flexible. I tend to go with Expedia for sentimental reasons, and also because they have very competitive prices and an excellent points program. 

The following sites are what I use when I go in-depth. Other than the usual go-tos like Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, I’ve found some really interesting information off of these sites, and you may already know some if not all of them. I hope they help you as you prepare for your own trips too! 

Wiki Voyage

WikiVoyage provides a condensed, Lonely Planet-esque overview of your destination. I use it particularly when I want information about districts and modes of transportation but don’t want to feel overwhelmed or pressured to book anything. Like Wikipedia, it’s less about the bells and whistles and more about the actual information but don’t let the wall of text intimidate ya. There’s a lot more information to digest than just districts and transportation, although that is primarily what I use WikiVoyage for.

Atlas Obscura

Yes, attractions are famous for a reason, and they should definitely be seen, it’s just that sometimes being able to enjoy what you see becomes impossible when there are too many people also wanting to do the same thing. If, like me you like to avoid touristic mosh pits, Atlas Obscura is great for the weird, the quirky, the secret little things that not a lot of people may be into. It also welcomes suggestions from fellow travelers, and is filled with unusual, off-the-beaten-path suggestions (hence the name!).

Taste Atlas

When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and sampling the local cuisine is the best way to feel like a local. I like to try and not eat anything other than local staples wherever I get to go, to get a really well-rounded experience of what living in a certain country must feel like, and Taste Atlas is an invaluable resource. Is food a big part of how you travel? It should be! 


Lastly (but not leastly), never underestimate the power of Reddit. There’s no better advertising than word of mouth, and Reddit is invaluable for checking out what the locals say. Think about it as a place to go for insider information, because locals can (and do) say a lot!

Do you have any travel sites that you’d recommend? Feel free to share, and happy travels!


Image from Jumpic

What Books Did You Read in 2018?

What Books Did You Read in 2018?

Some people set goals for themselves, like reading fifty books a year. I don’t have a set number, but I would like to average more than three a month, which,  based off of my Overdrive history, was what 2018 was for me book-wise. This year, I want to read things more than I watch things –  a resolution that may be easier to say than to actually do, so crossing my fingers, knocking on at least two different types of wood and throwing a little salt over my left shoulder.

Anyway, here are all the books I finished last year. Because I have the same maxim for reading as well as eating – i.e. finish everything you put on your plate – I still feel guilty about not being able to finish a book. I am incapable of reading multiple books at any given time, preferring to finish one before picking up another. I’ve learned that life is too short, and if something fails to hold you in its grip a third of the way in, it’s best to just put it down very gently and move along.

As you will soon see, my choice of reading material doesn’t follow rhyme or reason, although I do have a weakness for books about historical figures, particularly royal ones. The following may hopefully give you ideas for what to read next, and I read them all through Overdrive, the digital arm of the Toronto Public Library. I do list three books that are an absolute punch to the gut – books I liked so much, I want the real thing on my bookshelf! To get to the  ones I would definitely recommend, skip to the standouts section.

Royal Pains
That Woman – Anne Sebba
Nicholas and Alexandra – Robert K. Massie
Catherine the Great – Robert K. Massie
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch – Sally Bedell Smith
The Hollow Crown – Dan Jones
The Shadow Queen – Rebecca Dean
Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart – John Guy

Guilty Pleasures
Upon a Wicked Time – Karren Ranney
The Bride and the Beast – Teresa Medeiros
Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann
Rich People Problems – Kevin Kwan
Queen of the North – Anne O’Brien

Now Major Motion Pictures (and one lush TV show)
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – Fannie Flagg
Molly’s Game – Molly Bloom

I don’t care what you say, I’ll still read kid things
The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge
Library of Souls – Ransom Riggs
The Trials of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

Mythic Proportions
Norse Mythology– Neil Gaiman
The Song of Achilles – Madeleine Miller
The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks
Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones (A Targaryen History) – George R. R. Martin

Autobiographically Yours
Sick in the Head – Judd Apatow
Wishful Drinking – Carrie Fisher
Meaty – Samantha Irby

Everything Else
We Were Eight Years in Power – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Mrs. Fletcher – Tom Perrotta
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Dutch Wife – Ellen Keith
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules – Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother – Danielle Teller

Maybe I’ll try again someday
Fear of Flying – Erica Jong
I couldn’t finish Fear of Flying, that seminal female-centric novel of the late 70’s.  There are moments when we as humans start flailing, but this one’s been in therapy since she was a teen, and is now conducting a flagrant affair right under her second husband’s (also a therapist) nose. Her paramour – who doesn’t bathe, calls her a c*nt, walks around in some weird Jesus-y man-dress and treats her like shit (which she kind of likes) is also a therapist. That’s as far as I got. Fear of Flying is erudite and intelligently written, but I found its heroine self-indulgent and tiresome.

2018 Standouts
Circe – Madeleine Miller
This had been floating around the edges of my social media feed as a hot read, and for good reason; Madeleine Miller is a Greek scholar who plucks a relatively obscure mythical figure from the background of the great Greek myths and gives her beautiful life. Read this if you need a little magic.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life – Samantha Irby
Oh the joys of finding a new favourite author in a used book store! I would normally never pick up a book featuring a bedraggled kitten on the cover, but something about this book just made me pick it up and boy am I glad I did. Samantha Irby is a descriptively hilarious tour-de-force, who lays her own life on an operating slab, vivisects herself and exposes all her gnarly insides to the world, tongue fully in cheek. Read this if you need a little humour.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup – John Carreyrou
If you think a story about Silicon Valley maneuvers is a boring premise, John Carreyrou is going to prove you oh so wrong. A book about former Silicon Valley darling Theranos and the people, events and broken promises behind the startup that imploded so spectacularly, this one was un-putdownable for me. Never mind why you need to read this, just do!

Everything Must Go

Everything Must Go

Toronto’s flagship HMV closed its doors today with the fire sale to end all fire sales. I went, I saw, I learned so much.

One – they can mark down all the DVDs and Blu-rays in the world,  6 for $9 still isn’t enough incentive to make people want to buy all the Twilight movies that miraculously escaped the incinerator that should’ve been set up to rid the world of that infamy. It did make me stop and think maybe my Dad… nope. I already wasted enough time and energy reading the books (cringe) and watching the first two movies (cringe) in theatres (cringe). Enabling my father will not be another sin I need to take with me to confession.

Two – the same can be said about Glee. The combined allure of singing adolescents and bargain basement pricing just isn’t  good enough.

Three – I am apparently unable to ignore a 90% discount on Star Wars bobbleheads, even if it’s a two-fer on characters I didn’t and still don’t give a crap about, but hey it’s $3.49, Christmas is inevitable, maybe I can fob Finn and Kylo Ren off on someone who isn’t my husband  – who is likely to  judge me thirty ways to Sunday for giving in to the Force of this discount.

Four – the last Funko Pop! figures to go at a fire sale wil be: Castiel from Supernatural, Jamie Lannister from Game of Thrones and Killer Croc from Suicide Squad. In other words, “Um, who?”, “Oh alright, fine”, and “I already have a Chewbacca bathrobe from HMV that the hubs is never going to wear, let me walk away with what’s left of my dignity.”

Five – does anyone want a Chewbacca bathrobe? Never used. Let’s talk.