Browse Tag by reading list
reviews

Mid-Year Reading Recap

2016 has reached its midpoint and I thought I’d pop in and chat about what I’ve been reading lately. I was in a bit of a slow period for reading books in the spring, but summer’s almost here and I’m picking up speed; there’s hope for my reading challenges yet. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

boringgirlsBoring Girls by Sara Taylor

How To Build A Girl meets The Basic Eight in this debut novel about Rachel, an angry teen who forms a metal band with her best friend Fern, and uses their success to take revenge on misogyny in the music industry to violent ends. This book has all the components I love in a book – bloodthirsty teens, mysterious best friends, feminism, murder – but it fell a little flat for me; Rachel was underdeveloped and the characters’ emotions and motivations were not as nuanced as I would have liked. Spectacular cover, though.

In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art by Sue Roemontmartre

I picked up this book as a part of my 2016 Nonfiction Challenge, and it was a lovely change to delve into the mid-century art scene in Paris. Art history becomes accessible in this enjoyable portrait of the birth of modern art in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. I really liked how the author framed the artists’ famous works and stylistic breakthroughs by providing context for the political and cultural developments that influenced the modernist art movement, like telephones, cinemas, and industrialization, while also crafting an emotional narrative centring around the artists in Paris’ famous bohemian neighbourhood. The analyses of the artists’ major works is accessible and ties together the social and emotional influences highlighted by the author. I read this book as prep for a trip to Paris, where I planned to visit friends, eat pastries and see as much art as I could. This book really enhanced my experience of all the modernist art I saw.

modernloversModern Lovers by Emma Straub

I’ve long loved Emma Straub – in fact, her first book was one of the first I ever reviewed for print – and you may remember that I first became aware of her as a merchandiser for The Magnetic Fields. Her new novel is a charming and witty portrait of old friends who are struggling with their marriages, their children, and the shadow of their famous and dead former bandmate. This was a quick and fun read with characters that feel human and smart writing. Straub really knows how to write relatable characters – her teenagers are particularly sharp – and I enjoyed the warmth and humour she uses to tackle old wounds, first love and the stress of long-buried secrets.

IMG_4628
Emma Straub and her Modern Lovers muumuu

I was lucky to see Emma Straub in Toronto just this past week, in conversation with Sue Carter Flynn at the Toronto Reference library. She wore one of her fantastic Modern Lovers-print muumuus and talked about her past as a poet, her family, and how many Magnetic Fields secrets are in this book (none, although she did tell me a few!). She was an utter delight and I wouldn’t mind being her best friend, if she’s taking applications.

Dad Magazine by Jaya Saxena and Matt Lubchansky

dadmagAs one of my favourite columns on The Toast (RIP), I looked forward to a new “issue” of Dad Magazine every month, and the heartwarming dad stories in the comments. The book is a full issue of Dad Magazine, reporting on hard-hitting issues like how every sport has been ruined these days, what’s going on in the neighbour’s yard, and how to talk to your son about growing a beard. My favourite part were all the hilarious dad ads (“(d)ads,” if you will) advertising things like complete sets of state quarters, the local paper shredder emporium, and yarn-spinner’s workshops for dad storytelling – make sure you read the fine print for extra puns. Maybe it’s because I’m not a dad, but the full issue felt like a it was a little too much. I’m hoping for one more column on the Toast as a send-off.

Now Reading: Not Working by Lisa Owennotworking

I’ve only just started it, but so far Not Working has been a fun Bridget-Jones-esque exploration of a young woman’s struggle to find a job as her life comes undone. The writing is funny and sharp, and Claire feels almost a little too familiar as she scrambles to find a place in the world. I’m looking forward to reading more.

That’s what I’ve been reading lately! What’s your favourite book you’ve read in 2016 so far?

blog

7 Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2016

The publishing industry has moved to a two-season model, where Fall books are pegged to be the big (Christmas & prizeable) hits, and where Spring/Summer titles sort of end up being everything else. Over the last couple years, my taste in books has shifted to the “everything else” category, with the result that there’s always a lot of books pubbing in the first half of a year that I can’t wait for. Here’s what’s got me counting down til Tuesdays in 2016:

Grace & Style: The Art of Pretending You Have It by Grace Helbig (Simon & Schuster, February 2 2016). This is cheating a little, because I have already purchased and devoured this book. It came out two weeks ago! Grace is one of my favourite Youtubers, and her first book was refreshingly candid. I thought Grace & Style had fewer sincere moments and useful advice than Grace’s Guide, but I still enjoyed it.

martel

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel (Penguin Random House, February 2, 2016). Ok, I have already read this one too, thanks to an advance copy I received at work before Christmas, but the important thing is that after (what some might call) the misstep of Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel’s new book manages to refigure out the right combination of magic realism + animals to be captivating, if a little heavy-handed on the religious pondering. Favourite part: the comparison of Jesus’s life to an Agatha Christie murder mystery.

oyeyemi

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead Books, March 8 2016). I am cheating a little here, too, because I was again very fortunate to get an ARC from work and am currently devouring it. Boy Snow Bird is one of my favourite books, and Oyeyemi’s writing is simultaneously delicate and sharp. Her new collection of stories is mixed for me, so far: nothing has yet surpassed the first story, “Books and Roses”, in heart. Recurring characters, themes (keys!) and elements of magic realism (guys. I love magic realism) run through the stories, and I have high hopes for the stories that remain.

Dad Magazine by Jaya Saxena and Matt Lubchansky (Quirk Books, April 26 2016). (Finally, you say, a book that she hasn’t read yet and is actually looking forward to). Inspired by one of my favourite columns on The ToastDad Magazine is a satirical look at the modern dad and his interests.If you read any of the Toast articles, be sure to read the comments: that’s where the real heart of the series is, readers’ stories and jokes about their own dads. I can only hope this book is as good as the column. Anecdote: last year at TCAF I met Jaya and Matt and was so excited to meet Toast columnists that I forgot to thank them for the gift that is Dad Magazine. That’s #1 on my list if they’re back this year.

modernlovers

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (Riverhead Books, May 31 2016). My interest in Emma Straub began when she was documenting The Magnetic Fields’ tours and selling merch way back in 2008 or so  (sidenote: my brother is in this tour photo of Emma’s; I am standing hidden beside him. I forgot about this until just now!). Admittedly, it wasn’t a very literary interest, but I liked her previous book and look forward to her new novel – coincidentally also following an aging NYC college band. I’m hoping to spot a few parallels.

Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North (Riverhead Books, June 7 2016). A follow-up to North’s To Be or Not To BeRomeo and/or Juliet is a choose-your-own adventure book with Shakespeare’s most tragic pair, coupled with character designs from my darling Kate Beaton, and illustrations from a host of the best comic artists around, including my favourites Noelle Stevenson and Emily Carroll.

Romeo-and-or-JulietHunger by Roxane Gay (HarperCollins, June 14 2016). After reading her essays on the complicated nature of feminism in Bad Feminist, I’m looking forward to more of Gay’s candour and insight in her new memoir about her relationship with her body. This might be the most important book I read all year.

That does it for books I’m counting down for in the first half of 2016, but I’ve already got my eye out on the second half:

  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child scripts, Parts I & II (Pottermore, July 31 2016). This goes without saying, right?
  • Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (FSG, September 6 2016)
  • Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh (Simon & Schuster, October 25 2016). This title has been delayed by a year already, so my fingers are crossed it makes its pub date this time.
  • The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg (Macmillan, date unknown but I am hoping for Fall 2016). 

It doesn’t escape my notice that many of these titles are second and third books of authors I already like; I tend to play it safe with authors I know and love, but I’m excited to see if there’s any books that come out of left field and steal my heart unexpectedly. I’ll read my way through this list until then. Are there any books you’ve got your eye on this year?

blog

2016 Reading Challenges: Electric Boogaloo

It’s become a bit of a tradition around here at kelsea oconnor dot com to set reading goals for myself at the start of the year. I’ve learned that while my intentions are good, for the most part I lose interest in all but one or two reading goals over the course of the year. So this year I’ve tried to commit myself a little smarter and stick with ones that have worked for me in the past, with only one new addition. Here are the goals I’ve set for 2016:

50 Book Pledge

I enjoy keeping track of what I’ve read, and the 50 Book Pledge makes it easy. My goal again this year is 50 books, and perhaps I’ll meet it this year. One of the benefits of this challenge is that it helps me keep on track with my other reading goals – I can easily see whether I’m reading enough books by women, or if I made a Reading Bingo square without realizing it. I’m currently halfway through book #5 (How  to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran) and keeping pace.


2016 reading bingo cardReading Bingo

My old favourite Reading Bingo is back this year and I’m pretty excited that it’s a bit more general than last year’s CanLit edition (there was just no way I was ever going to read a book by Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and L.M. Montgomery all in one year. Sorry, Canadian canon!). I actually contributed four squares on this year’s card, so hopefully I won’t embarrass myself by failing to fill them in. I’ve already marked in one square. Onward!

Books by Women

Being mindful about the books I was choosing to read helped me stray farther from my usual reading habits, and tbh I really didn’t miss reading more books by men (actually, I started to find the books I did read by men less interesting!). I’m setting the goal again at 75% books by women, and welcome any suggestions you might have.

The Great Tolkien Reread of 2016

This is the year! I’m thinking this will be my February-March reading project. The goal (woefully unstarted from last year): reread the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for the first time since 2003. It’s only been 13 years! To be reasonable, I’m going to skip the attempt to reread The Silmarillion – gotta save some Tolkien for 2017, right?

New: Nonfiction Challenge!The Game by Ken Dryden

This one ties into some of my other New Year’s Resolutions, which is to learn more about topics that interest me (art, hockey, photography, etc.). For each subject, I’m planning to read a nonfiction book and then do some practical aspect of that topic. For example, I have already met my goal in the most basic sense for hockey: I’ve read a book about it (The Game by Ken Dryden) and attended an AHL game (Utica Comets vs Toronto Marlies). Ideally, I will continue learning about each subject beyond meeting the two goals, but let’s achieve those two goals first. I think this will broaden my interests and knowledge, and also lets me look forward to a fun outing or project.

My goal with setting reading challenges is always to make sure I’m reading new and interesting books that I might not have otherwise read (with one side effect of making sure I don’t fall victim to yet another Harry Potter reread) and I think I’ve put myself in a good position this year. What are your reading goals for the year?

blog

2015 Reading Year in Review

The year has come to a close, my top books of 2015 are in, and it’s time to see how I did on the year’s reading challenges. It was another underperforming year in terms of my reading goals, but I read some interesting and exciting books this year so I’m not particularly disappointed. Let’s review:

The 50 Book Pledge

I pledged to read 50 books, but I only read 43. I had a few reading slumps this year, especially during the summer, and I sometimes found it difficult to pick my next read, which contributed to longer periods between books (there are too! many! books! to choose from). I’ve noted before that the Pledge is limited to books, and if all the magazines, comics, and fanfics I read counted towards my goal, I’d have far surpassed it.

Random House Reading BingoReading Bingo 2015 filled card

I was a little more proactive with this challenge this year – I kept the bingo card on my desk at the office and filled it in throughout the year. I definitely sought out more CanLit than I would have otherwise, with a view to marking off more squares. I actually ended up not being able to match quite a few books to squares, but alas, I didn’t even finish a line. It’s surprisingly hard to find a Canadian book with snow on the cover! You can see my completed card and the books I read here.

The Great Tolkien Reread of 2015 2016

I didn’t get there, guys. Going to budget some deep-winter reading time for this, as there are fewer books I’m excited about at this time of year; frigid temperatures mean I’m home more, so I will have more time to read my massive illustrated omnibus without trying to lug it around. This is the year.

The Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge

Another challenge I didn’t follow along with during the year. But I actually only missed 8 of the 24 challenges! You can see what I read here.

Picture of Books I Read in 2015
A selection of the books I read in 2015

Reading More Books by Women

This was a goal that I was very conscious of throughout the year, and I stayed mindful of it when I was choosing my next book to read. I only read 10.5 books written by men this year (the half comes from A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson, cowritten by Jeff Rovin. Sidenote: I’m sorry, Gillian, this book was awful. Let’s place the blame on your coauthor), which works out to just slightly more than 75% female authors. That’s up from 53% last year and exactly meets my goal. I’m very happy with that number.

Did you meet your reading goals for 2015? What was your favourite book?

blog

Redux: 2014 Reading Challenges

blog

Great Books You Probably Haven’t Read

Last week, John Green, the patron saint of authors on social media and online communities, made a video recommending eighteen of his favourite books that aren’t bestsellers. The full list is available in the video description (and here). He was right – I hadn’t read any of them, although I’ve added a number of them to my mountainous to-read list (and some are great for my 2014 reading challenges!). John’s video got me thinking about how everyone probably has a list of favourite, underrated books, and how sharing them could be a fun way of discovering new reading material. So here is a list of my top five beloved books that you probably haven’t read.

thebasiceight-handler

The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler

A fictional true-crime diary, The Basic Eight satirizes the satanic panic of the 1990s in a San Francisco high school, loosely based on Handler’s own high school. Flannery Culp is a pretentious teenager with a pretentious friend group and an unrequited crush on the indifferent Adam State. Features include: three layers of narration (including, hilariously, moralizing vocabulary and study questions inserted by an uptight TV psychologist), croquet, terribly clever writing, absinthe, glamorous best friends named Natasha, unreliable narrators, and murder. This is my actual favourite book. If you choose to read it, report back wisely.

Eight-Days-of-Luke

Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones’ books are wonderful children’s fantasy, and I devoured every one the library had in stock when I was a kid. I had a hard time choosing which DWJ book to include here (a very close second was the Chrestomanci series), but Eight Days of Luke won out because it’s the book that ruined American Gods for me when I read it years later; basically everything I’ve read of Neil Gaiman reads like a pale imitation of a Diana Wynne Jones book. Eight Days of Luke follows David, a neglected boy stuck at home during school holidays with his miserable guardians, and the strange things that happen when a mysterious boy named Luke appears in David’s backyard. Fantasy and reality blend as David realises Luke and his relatives are not what they appear. As a standalone, this book is a great introduction to Jones’ work.

watchyourmouth-handler Watch Your Mouth by Daniel Handler

There is probably a good reason that Watch Your Mouth is on no one’s radar, and that’s because it has questionable content, and a lot of it (namely, all incest all the time). However, this is the best young-adult incest-comedy gothic Jewish porn opera novel that you will ever read. The first half of the narrative is constructed as an opera, with plot events arranged in acts and scenes, accompanied by strings and woodwinds, and the operahouse audience reader is directly addressed; Joseph spends the summer at his girlfriend’s parents’ house and discovers they have a terrible secret, which culminates in the appearance of a life-sized clay Golem and murder. The second half (printed in dark red; symbolism ahoy!) is set up as a twelve-step program, in which Joseph tries to recover from his summer at the Glass’s and figure out this Golem business. Watch Your Mouth is risky in form and content, but witty and satisfying.

51XA2DAVC7L

My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey

I first read this book last year as a part of a course I was teaching, and all my friends and students hated it, but I loved it. Literary editor Sarah is lured to Malaysia by a sleazy family friend, and there discovers Christopher Chubb, a writer who tells her an incredible tale of his fictional character Bob McCorkle coming to life, haunting him, and abducting his daughter. Sarah must choose whether to believe or confront him in order to get her hands on the finest piece of literature she has ever read – a manuscript written by McCorkle (or is it Chubb?). My Life as a Fake is based on the 1943 Ern Malley hoax and questions the intersection of fiction and reality. It’s also an intertext of Frankenstein; I love the reading of Chubb as a mad scientist who stitches together McCorkle out of his own skin. Delightfully confusing and macabre, I change my mind about the truth of McCorkle every time I read it.

m15m-cleolinda

Movies in Fifteen Minutes by Cleolinda Jones

So, Cleolinda is my favourite blogger, and her screenplay-style parodies of popular movies took LiveJournal by storm back in the mid-2000s. They’re still funny, and she posts one or two new ones a year, although these days you can more commonly find her recapping television shows and nailing it, as usual. Her book features Movies in 15 Minutes that never appeared online, including Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Sorcerer’s Philosopher’s Stone, The Matrix, Titanic, and (hilariously) the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is my go-to book for bedtime reading when I need something funny to settle my brain raccoons.

Have you read any of these (or have I convinced you)? Let me know what you thought, and what your favourite under-the-radar books are!

blog

2014 Reading Challenges

So this year I thought I would participate in a few reading challenges in an effort to get through all the unread books on my shelves, and also to boldly go into strange new worlds and seek out new genres and characters. I’m undertaking the following three challenges in 2014:


logo2014_25050 Book Pledge

Put on by HarperCollins Canada, the 50 Book Pledge is a promise to read a certain number of books during the year. The website helps you keep track of the books you’ve read and you can earn badges and prizes. I like the idea of tracking what I read, and it might push me to read new books instead of rereading the same handful of books every year (yes, you, Harry Potter.) Between school and leisure, I estimate I read over 100 books in 2013. For 2014, I’ve set a goal of 75 books. So far I’ve got three under my belt, which means, according to the website, that I am on track for 84 books. So far, so good!

Reading Bingo

Reading-Bingo-YA Reading-Bingo-small

Random House’s Reading Bingo Challenge is pretty straightforward: use the books you’ve read to fill in the book-themed Bingo cards, and find new reads to complete the more challenging spaces. The result: Trying new books, reading more widely, and feeling the satisfaction of crossing off squares on the cards. There’s two card options: “regular” and YA; I think I might try to complete both. I can already see that some of the squares are going to be tough for me: “A book with music” (what is this?) and “A book based on a true story” (I’m not into non-fiction), but that’s the fun of this challenge!


ToB-2013The Tournament of Books

This one’s a bit different: In Tournament of Books, sixteen books published in 2013 are pitted against each other in tournament-style brackets, where each book in a bracket is read and evaluated by an esteemed judge (this year’s notables include John Green and John Darnielle) before advancing to the next round; eventually, one book is named the “Rooster of 2014.” I’m not going to play along. Instead, I’m going to use the list of nominated books as a base for my own reading and follow along with the Tournament. Okay, so I’m not actually doing this reading challenge, but hopefully I’ll discover some great books.

So now that I’ve bitten off more than I can (probably) chew, I better get reading. What are your reading goals for 2014?

blog

8 New Books I’m Excited About This Fall

For me, autumn is usually a time of new school books and an increased reading load. This fall, however, marks the first year I’m not in class, and so to celebrate, I plan to use some of my free time to read for pleasure. Luckily, it seems like all my favourite authors are putting out new books this season. Some of them are out already, and some of them I’ve been waiting for for years. Here’s what’s on my to-buy to-read to-love list, in no particular order:

longbourn-cover-1

1. Longbourn by Jo Baker (Random House; published October 8, 2013)

I actually just finished reading this one, and it was wonderful. Longbourn a below-stairs reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, featuring our favourite Bennets and new characters with mysterious pasts and secret ambitions. Baker creates a more complex household than seen in Austen’s work; if you like Downton Abbey, you will enjoy this novel!

 

hyperb

2. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh (Simon & Schuster; published October 29, 2013)

It’s no secret that Hyperbole and a Half is my favourite blog. One part webcomic, one part hilarious stories, Allie Brosh illustrates the weird and embarrassing things and relatable episodes that happen to her (must-read: This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult). Her posts about depression are honest and accessible. I’ve been excited about this book since Allie first announced it, and don’t expect to be disappointed. Hyperbole and a Half is a mix of posts that appeared on her blog and new content. Counting down the days!

2e0ebecedfba37c72c87acb68d88d712

3. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Random House; published August 28, 2013)

This one is on my shelf, waiting to be read. A historical novel set in New Zealand, it follows a man trying to solve a number of mysterious crimes. The cover is my favourite of the season. The Luminaries has been shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. Read it before it wins!

 

 

15792001

4. Not Quite the Classics by Colin Mochrie (Penguin; published October 22, 2013)

I grew up watching Colin Mochrie’s comedy on TV, so when I found out he was publishing a collection of short stories, I was intrigued. In Not Quite the Classics, Mochrie takes the first and last lines of famous stories, including Dickens, Sherlock Holmes and, I’ve heard, a cameo by Doctor Who, and improvises a new and twisted middle. I’m curious to see whether his written comedy matches his wit on television.

Pessl_Night-Film

5. Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Random House; published August 20, 2013)

Marisha Pessl’s first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics (2006), was, for me, a book with a great first half and a dissatisfying ending. Despite this, I’m eager to read Pessl’s new book, a thriller about a mysterious (dead) cult filmmaker and his mysterious (dead) daughter, and the enigma that surrounds them. Postmodern and noir, Night Film contains website screenshots, news clippings and other pieces of “evidence” that propel the story. Reviews are mixed so far, but I’m hoping that it doesn’t disappoint.

veronica-roth-allegiant

6. Allegiant by Veronica Roth (HarperCollins; published October 22, 2013)

Do I even need to say why I’m excited about this one? It’s the final book in the Divergent trilogy, and I love dystopian YA. In Allegiant, Tris ventures outside the fence with Tobias to try to discover a more peaceful life. This book is told from both Tris and Tobias’s perspective and I’m interested to find out how that affects the reader’s view of Tris and her society. Looking forward to the conclusion of this series!

Snicket

7. When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket (Little, Brown; published October 15, 2013)

My long-standing love affair with Lemony Snicket’s books (and alter ego Daniel Handler’s) extends to his new noir-style series All The Wrong Questions, of which When Did You See Her Last? is the second installment. Following a young Lemony Snicket through his V.F.D. neophyte training, this book finds Lemony searching for the missing Cleo Knight and the runaway Ellington Feint. Full of the usual incompetent adults, mysterious organizations and witty turns of phrase, When Did You See Her Last? promises to be a funny and satisfying read. Read the first two chapters here.

The_goldfinch_by_donna_tart

8. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown; published October 22, 2013)

Donna Tartt publishes one book per decade, so everyone is very excited about The Goldfinch, her first novel since 2002. Her first book, The Secret History, was a massive bestseller and is my actual favourite book (and, as I’m sure you know, it’s hard for a book person to choose). Like all of her novels, The Goldfinch centres around death: this time, a young boy’s mother dies and he attempts to avoid being taken into a New York orphanage; he soon becomes obsessed with a mysterious painting. I’m trying to keep my expectations realistic, but I can’t wait to read Tartt’s beautiful, gothic prose again.

Let me know what you’re looking forward to reading this fall!