Best Books To Gift For the Holidays

The holidays are quickly approaching, and I’m sure there are a lot of people like me who tend to leave gift shopping until the last minute. If money is tight and you have limited time, books are a wonderful way to show your loved ones you appreciate them. Obviously not everyone is a book person or reading fanatic, but I can say with near certainty that there is a book for everyone.

In a few days I’ll be sharing a list of book-related gifts for the real book fanatics in your life, but today I wanted to share a general list of books that will appeal to both intense readers and those who rarely pick up a book. Without further ado, here are the most giftable books of the year:


For political junkies and activists: American War by Omar El Akkad or The Red Word by Sarah Henstra. While these books are wildly different, they both centre around politics and divisiveness. One does it in the form of portraying a near-future America that has been divided by a civil war, the other by taking the reader back in time to a college campus in the 1990s.

Both novels have won awards and been celebrated for their unflinching depictions of the problems in society. Read my review of American War here and of The Red Word here.


For nature lovers: The Honey Farm by Harriet Alida Lye. In her stunning debut novel, Harriet Alida Lye takes us on a journey to a remote honey farm in Northern Ontario. Her main character, a young aspiring writer, works on the farm in exchange for room and board, and over the course of a summer begins to realize that something sinister is going on around her. Read my review here.


For science and business lovers: Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. Journalist John Carreyrou uncovers the secrets behind one of Silicon Valley’s most promising biotech startup companies, and the lengths it’s CEO went to to protect herself and her business partners. A nonfiction story that reads like a thriller, Bad Blood is an inside look at the bad side of business. Read my review here.


For the romantics: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones or The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle. Praised by Oprah Winfrey herself, An American Marriage tells the story of a newlywed couple torn apart by the American criminal justice system. It’s heart-wrenching, devastating and absolutely beautiful. Read my review here.

The Dinner List tells the story of a young woman who shows up to her birthday dinner only to find Audrey Hepburn, her deceased father, her college philosophy professor, her best friend, and her ex-boyfriend waiting for her. It’s funny, heart-warming and nostalgic. Read my review here.


For anyone who needs a bit of motivation: Educated by Tara Westover. In the standout memoir of the year, Tara Westover describes her childhood in the mountains of Idaho where she was raised by Mormon survivalist parents who wouldn’t allow her to attend school. Despite her start in life, Westover managed to earn a Ph.D. from Cambridge and forged a life for herself completely different from the one her family had envisioned for her. Read my review here.


For true crime addicts: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara. Michelle McNamara never got to see the payoff from her deep investigation into the identity of the elusive Golden State Killer. Published after McNamara tragically passed away, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark is a comprehensive look at a serial killer who terrorized California for years. Only weeks after this book was released the killer was finally caught. Read my review here.


For the outdoors-man: The Line That Held Us by David Joy. In this Appalachian noir thriller, a man becomes intricately involved in a revenge plot when he helps his best friend cover up an accidental crime. This novel is about familial love, revenge, poverty and human judgment. Read my review here.


For the comedians: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh or Transcription by Kate Atkinson. In My Year of Rest and Relaxation literary star Ottessa Moshfegh introduces us to a 24-year-old New York City woman who hates the world so much that she decides to sleep for a year. It a hilarious, vulgar novel about apathy, mental illness, and human nature. Read my review here.

Transcription is about an 18-year-old woman in London who is recruited into the MI-5 during the Second World War. What unfolds next is a series of bizarre, funny, and exciting events that shape the lives of everyone involves for years afterwards. Read my review here.


For thrill-seekers: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. I kind of thought we were done with the Gone Girl spinoffs. How many novels can be written about unreliable female narrators? Then I picked up The Woman In The Window, which tells the story of an agoraphobic woman who witnesses something she shouldn’t, and suddenly I remembered why this genre is so successful. Read my review here.


For anyone who likes the paranormal: Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink. This quirky, spooky, and emotional adaptation of Joseph Fink’s hit podcast will offer readers the best kind of escape: one that drags them into an all-consuming mystery. Alice Isn’t Dead follows Keisha, whose wife went missing months before, as she drives a truck across the country in search of her wife. What she discovers is a massive conspiracy that will totally change her life. Read my review here.

10 Books To Treat Your Wanderlust

As the colder months approach, I’ve taken to using books as my escape. Since I can’t book a flight to a tropical destination, I read novels and non-fiction about adventure, travel, and self-discovery.

Read More

My First Audiobook Experience

Over the past few years I’ve had several people suggest that I start listening to audiobooks. In all honesty, I wasn’t a big fan of the idea. For me, the pleasure of reading comes from holding a book in my hands and flipping the pages. I enjoy the way a physical book can distract me from other things going on around me. I figured that audiobooks wouldn’t entertain me in the same way or feel as satisfying to complete. 

But when I was listening to my favourite podcast My Favorite Murder a few weeks ago and heard an ad for the Amazon audiobook app Audible, I figured I’d give it a try. Besides, who am I to pass up a free trial on anything? 

So, using my MFM code, I downloaded the app and two free audiobooks. I chose two books that I already had hard copies of from the local library (just in case I hated the audiobook versions) and I got started right away. 

I listened to Coffin Road by Peter May first. You can see my review for that book here. It’s a very enjoyable book with a great plot and interesting, unexpected twists and turns. 

During my first hour or so of listening, I had a hard time staying focused on the voice telling me the story through my headphones. Tiny little things would distract me and I would have to rewind and start over. I gave up on that first listening session pretty quickly. 

The next day I decided to try listening again as I walked to work, and I found it easier to follow along. This became my routine. I would walk and listen every day. Eventually I got through the entire book. 

Here are a few things that I learned along the way:

-          Audiobooks are probably fantastic for people who commute to work or spend a lot of time in cars. Since I don’t have a car, I can’t say this for sure. But listening made my walks to and from work more enjoyable, so I can imagine it would make car rides more bearable as well. 

-          Audiobooks are not ideal for people who are easily distracted. I’m so used to listening to pre-made playlists and not really paying attention to the music or lyrics. Having to constantly remind myself to listen and pay attention was a little frustrating at times. 

-          The kind of book you pick to listen to REALLY matters. The reason I stuck it out and listened to the whole book was because I wanted to know the ending. I was engaged enough in the story that I didn’t want to give up. 

-          Audiobooks (at least to me) aren’t as satisfying as reading a physical book. I didn’t feel the sense of accomplishment when I finished listening to Coffin Road that I normally do when I finish reading a book. 

-          Audible is a worthwhile investment for anyone with a busy life who wants to stay engaged in the literary world. Being able to fit your book consumption into everyday life while you walk, drive, or exercise is great. Audible offers that opportunity to you. While I may prefer reading hard copies, I also have to admit that I am blessed with the time to do that. I don’t have a family to look after when I’m done work and on weekends, so I’m able to budget in time for reading. For anyone who can’t do that, give Audible a try. It may just get you back into books! 

I’m currently in the middle of listening to my second audiobook (Give Me The Child by Mel McGrath) and I can already say I’m better adjusted to listening and paying attention now. I’m finding it a lot easier to follow and I haven’t had to rewind as often. Stay tuned for a review of that book soon! 

Overall, I’m happy I gave audiobooks a try, and I would definitely recommend them to anyone who doesn’t have the time for reading hard copies.

Mother's Day Gifts for Book Loving Moms

Mother’s day is quickly approaching, and I’m here to help. Don’t let this be another year of last minute gift-shopping and flower ordering. Take a look at the list of creative, book-related gifts that I’ve put together. 

Individual Books: 

A great book is always a good gift. It’s a nice way for your mom to sit back and relax and immerse herself in a story. Here are a couple of current, interesting suggestions: 

1.       The Honey Farm by Harriet Alida Lye. You can check out my review of this psychological thriller and drama here. It’s the kind of story that you really lose yourself in, and it’s a perfect spring read. It’s beautiful, strange, and unique.

2.       Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman. If your mom enjoyed Big Little Lies as much as mine did, than this is the perfect gift for her. It’s upbeat, it’s genuinely funny, and it’s just dramatic enough to be very entertaining. Check out my review here.

3.       It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario. This book is all about love, dedication, motherhood, and the hard choices working women have to make. It is inspiring and powerful and will make you feel strong. I’ve already recommending it to my mom. Read my review here.

4.       One Day Closer by Lorinda Stewart. Full disclosure, I haven’t read this book yet. It’s on my list for this month, and it’s sitting patiently on my desk waiting for me to finish everything else in the queue. BUT this book is about a mother who goes through something no mother should ever have to experience: her child is kidnapped. It’s about belief, love, and an incredible woman who would stop at nothing to have her child returned safely. 

5.        Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. This book is absolutely beautiful. It is a sweeping, epic family drama set over the course of decades in Korea and Japan. It is about family, motherhood, and the choices parents have to make to protect their children. See my review here.

Book Subscription Boxes: 

We've all seen pictures of Instagram models opening their fitness and beauty subscription boxes, showing off the face masks and dietary supplements that come inside. They even have subscription boxes for dog-owners that come stocked with toys and treats. It only makes sense that several smart entrepreneurs have created book subscription boxes. 

How it works: You choose how long you want to subscribe for, pay the monthly fee, and each month you get a newly released book and other goodies in the mail. You can sign up for gift subscriptions and have them sent to family and friends as well, making it a great Mother’s Day gift! 

Accoridng to my research, some of the most popular Canadian book subscription boxes are: 

-          The Bookish Box - You can choose from several different varieties of boxes. Some boxes come stocked with book-inspired gifts like mugs, tote bags, and t-shirts, as well as a book. Most prices are between $30-40 for one month. 

-          Fresh Fiction - This book subscription box gives you a lot of bang for your buck. They currently have a one time box deal that's $27.95 for a beautiful box filled with 5 to 7 print books and e-books. It's a great gift! 

And, because my parents are in the U.S., I’ll add that my recommendation for American subscription boxes would be Book of the Month. BoTM currently only ships within the United States (although I've been checking the site regularly to see if they're going to start shipping internationally any time soon). For a three-month gift subscription you pay $44.99 and your mom will get a list of books available for the month and gets to choose which she wants. The books are brand new to market, and the packaging of the boxes is beautiful. 

Audiobooks: 

My final gift suggestion is an Audible gift subscription. Audiobooks are great for busy moms. They’re portable, accessible, and entertaining. If your mom spend a lot of time traveling or commuting, or just wants something new to listen to when she exercises, this could be the perfect thing for her.

How to read more

Reading has always been my favourite hobby. It’s entertaining, it’s portable, and, when you’re reading a really good book, you can escape your life for a little while and become absorbed in something completely different. As technology has changed and e-books have become popular, it has become even easier to read constantly.

When I was eighteen and went away to university for the first time, I almost completely stopped reading for pleasure. Most of the reading I did was for school, and I was distracted by Netflix and my social life. For the next three years I struggled to get back into my old hobby. Every time I started a book I found myself not really focusing on the story or forgetting about it altogether. Holiday breaks were the only time I really felt like I had a chance to read.

It wasn’t until a semester spent abroad in my third year of university that I realized time wasn’t actually the problem. Even at my busiest I had short amounts of time that I just wasn’t using wisely. I was lucky enough to travel around Europe during that semester, and I realized that if I took all of my spare moments – the ones sitting in bus stations or waiting for a plane – reading, I could actually accomplish a lot. That was the year that I finally got back into reading.

Since then I have been making note of things I can do to improve my reading goals. Even this semester while I am busy with school and my job I'll be able to read often, and here are the tricks that make it possible: 

1.     Always have a book (or an e-book) with you. You never know when a few moments could arise that you could spend reading. I always take books to appointments and on transportation, and I always pack one in my backpack for school. Even five minutes of free time can be useful.

2.     Read things that you care about. I used to try to force myself to finish reading every book I started, even if I didn’t feel absorbed in it by the time I was a few chapters in. This slowed me down because I would struggle to finish a book that I couldn’t really care about and wouldn’t start something new, and I would go for a few weeks without reading. Now I make more of an effort to seek out books on subjects that I am interested in to lower the chances that I wouldn’t enjoy the book. I have also stopped forcing myself to try to finish things that I really, really don’t enjoy. I would rather focus on what I do enjoy.

3.     Try to take advantage of books you are reading for school or work. This one REALLY helped me. I always resented having to read for school. It annoyed me that I couldn’t choose what I was reading. Once I finally accepted it as a chance to read and learn about something new, I found that I actually enjoyed a lot of the books I was assigned for classes.

4.     Find a reading space. I currently have a chair in the corner of my bedroom surrounded by candles, my favourite photos, and a pretty wall hanging. This is a place that I 100% dedicate to reading. When I sit in my chair I don’t let myself watch television or scroll through my phone, I just read.

5.     Make it fun. Read a book at the same time as a friend so you can talk about it together. Read a book that you’ve heard is being turned into a movie or a series so that when it comes out you can be even more excited for it. Reading doesn’t have to be academic or scholarly, it can be genuinely entertaining.

6.     Set a goal. This one really helped me. When I started using Goodreads and tracking what I was reading and working towards a goal every year, I found that I was much more committed to it.

7.     Make it a habit. I had always seen people suggesting this as a way to become more physically active. The idea is that if you dedicate part of your day every single day to something, it will become normal for you. I read every night before I go to sleep (unless I am pulling an all-nighter writing a paper or having a night out with friends). It’s a good way to wind down the day and now it’s a routine. 

2017: My Year in Books

There may only be one thing that everyone agrees on about 2017: it was a crazy year. Nothing was untouched by the whirlwind of the past twelve months. Politics, conflict, and natural disasters stole many of the headlines in the past twelve months, and it doesn’t seem like any of it is going to let up as 2018 begins.

This year was also pretty intense for me personally. I finished my undergraduate degree in history and political science and moved to Jasper, Alberta for the summer. I found out I had been accepted to a Master’s program in journalism part way through the summer, and in August I packed up my things and headed out to Canada’s east coast to start school in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Working full time or attending school full time can mean giving up hobbies and activities that you enjoy. The past year I have struggled to keep up with my reading goals. I initially planned to try to read 50 books in 2017, but decided I would settle for 30 when I realized how busy work and school were going to keep me. I will also admit that television shows like Shameless, Game of Thrones, and Big Little Lies really cut into my reading time this past year.

I finished 2017 having read 33 books (a list of which can be found here https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/7902089), a number I am pretty happy with considering everything that was going on. I read some incredible books in the past 12 months, and I am happy that I focused on reading non-fiction – something that I have gotten more into in the past couple of years. I read about religion, war, crime, and a wide range of other topics, and I found that each book actually contributed to what I was learning about in school.

So, as 2018 begins and I start my new reading challenge here are some of the highlights of 2017 in terms of books! Keep in mind that these are not books that were published in 2017, but rather books that I read in 2017.

 

My 2017 Favourites:

 

Non-Fiction: Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden.

I am pretty late to the party on this one, and I’m sure plenty of people have already heard all about this book, or seen the movie that was made from it. Black Hawk Down is the story of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu when the U.S. military intervened in Somalia. The book has all of the potential to be overwhelming – there are so many characters and so much history and politics involved that at first it seems like the story may lose you. But Bowden is a master at his craft. He gives each person involved such vivid description that they are easy to keep clear and distinct in your mind. Bowden also beautifully and eloquently pierces through the fog of war and gives a clear, linear description of the battle. My personal favourite thing about Black Hawk Down was the true journalistic commitment to impartiality. Bowden explains why the U.S. was in Somalia and the motivations of the soldiers fighting there, but he also dives into the complex history that created the conditions present in 1993. Black Hawk Down doesn’t read like American propaganda, it reads like a combination of military history and horror. I was devastated when I finished this book because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find anything to follow it with.

 

Fiction: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.

Emma Donoghue is one of my favourite authors. Her previous books Room and Frog Music are some of my favourites. Room, which was adapted into a film starring Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson, managed to turn some very disturbing subject matter into a beautiful story about love and family and recovery. What I really admire about Emma Donoghue is that she doesn’t shy away from tough subjects. The Wonder follows the same tradition as Donoghue’s other books. It is the story of an English nurse who travels to a small village in Ireland to meet a young girl who claims to be performing a miracle: surviving for months without eating. The novel incorporates the incredible history of Florence Nightingale and her pioneering efforts to train nurses, and also studies the impact of religion and faith on a small community. There is a real sense of mystery to the book – you want to keep reading to find out what is going to happen – but the real draw for me was the relationship between the nurse and her patient and how determined the nurse, Lib Wright, was to be great to her job.

 

Hardest read: Shake Hands With The Devil by Romeo Dallaire.

In many of my political science courses in university we talked about the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. It was a subject that I admittedly didn’t know much about. I started to do a bit of research and realized how tragic and horrify the whole ordeal was. Canadian military General Romeo Dallaire was in Kigali throughout the genocide, and his experience has stayed with him ever since. Shake Hands With The Devil is Dallaire’s personal account of the genocide and the regrets he lives with now. This book wasn’t easy to read. I had to renew my loan from the library a few times to finish it. It was heartbreaking and detailed and complicated in a way that not many other books I’ve read are. As a lover of military history and international relations, this book is very important to me, and it has made me open my eyes to the realities of military intervention and human rights.  

 

Most enjoyable read: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

The Kind Worth Killing is a suspenseful, exciting novel. It is about two people who meet, seemingly by chance, and decide to help each other get away with murder. This is the perfect book for anyone who, like me, is waiting for Gillian Flynn to release a new novel. Peter Swanson created the kinds of characters that hopeful writers like myself hope to be able to create one day. They are complex and multi-dimension, at one moment terrifying and at another relatable. This book was fun to read. I couldn’t put it down.

 

Here are 10 other books that I read in 2017 that I would recommend:  

1.     Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer.

If you like: true crime, law, women’s rights, politics.

The hook: Jon Krakauer explores the issue of campus rape culture and how hard it is for women to seek justice after an assault.

2.     Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer

If you like: American history, war/military studies, adventure, sports.

The hook: An NFL player turns down a multi-million-dollar deal to enlist in the American military and fight in the War on Terror. After he dies the American government goes to great lengths to hide the circumstances of his death.

3.     The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

If you like: science, medicine, nature.

The hook: An exciting and horrifying true story about a devastating virus that wreaks havoc on the human body and how it almost caused a tragedy in Reston, Virginia.

4.     The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston

If you like: science, medicine, nature.

The hook: The true story of the incredible scientists and doctors who eradicated one of the deadliest diseases in human history: smallpox.

5.     13 Hours in Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff

If you like: war/military studies, American history, adventure, action.

The hook: A recounting of the 2012 attack on an American CIA compound and diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. The story is told from the perspective of the security contractors who defended the compound and outpost over a thirteen-hour period against hundreds of attackers.

6.     Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger

If you like: sports, politics, religion, family stories.

The hook: A high school football team in Odessa, Texas spends a season training and working to become state champions. Bissinger explores the racial, political, and economic circumstances in Odessa and how they relate to football.

7.     The Lion, The Fox, and the Eagle by Carol Off

If you like: politics, war/military studies, journalism.

The hook: The stories of three powerful Canadians and the roles they played in the Rwandan genocide, as well as the conflicts in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

8.     Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

If you like: thrillers, family stories, crime, mystery.

The hook: Two people have died in a river that runs through town. One is a teenager girl, another a single mother. The sister of the latest victim arrives in town to deal with the aftermath and becomes involved in solving the mystery of her sisters’ death.

9.     Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

If you like: family stories, adventure, strong female characters.

The hook: The author of The Glass Castle wrote this true-life novel about her grandmother’s wild, exciting life.

10.  Generation Kill by Evan Wright

If you like: journalism, action, adventure, war/military studies, American history.

The hook: A Rolling Stone journalist is sent to join up with a unit of American Marines who are some of the first soldiers to invade Iraq in 2003. Evan Wright witnesses modern war from the front lines of battle, and learns about the soldiers who are representing America in one of the most controversial wars in history.