My Canada Reads Pick: Company Town

Company Town by Madeline Ashby on Whats inside that nut

Company Town by Madeline Ashby on Whats inside that nutCompany Town by Madeline Ashby




It might be a bit early to declare a winner, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should probably mention that I’ve only read two of the five Canada Reads books, but while I really enjoyed Fifteen Dogs, so far Company Town is the winner.

Sci-fi and futuristic; kick-ass female protagonist and megalomaniacal villain; serial killer thriller, mystery, and romance; sex and violence… Need I say more?

New Arcadia is a family-owned town on an oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland. Hwa is hired as bodyguard to protect Joel, the teenage son of the CEO and patriarch of the Lynch family. Because Hwa is the only inhabitant of New Arcadia who is organic, that is, non-enhanced and therefore cannot be hacked, she is ideal for the job.

Hwa’s previous job was as a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers of Canada. When Daniel, a highly enhanced member of the Lynch organization sees Hwa in action, he offers her a job on the spot. Too poor to afford enhancements, and suffering from a disorder that has left her disfigured and prone to seizures, the job offer comes with perks that are hard to resist.

The 1984-esque overtones make this futuristic book a perfect read for the present times. Cameras everywhere and an all-seeing AI computer interface called Prefect allow access to everyone’s every move, and yet still, a killer is on the loose.

Highly recommended!

The Canada Reads debates start on March 27. Next on my TBR list is Nostalgia. What’s your Canada Reads pick?

It wouldn’t be New Year’s without a ‘Best Of’ List

top ten for 2016 on what's inside that nut

Lists upon lists upon lists

Last year I listed my top 15 books for 2015. As I was considering my top 16 picks for this year, it occurred to me that if this blog continues for many more years, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to come up with enough list-worthy reads. (Top 25 of 2025? Setting realistic goals should be my New Year’s resolution.)

This year I’ve opted for the more traditional Top Ten Reads of 2016, with some Honourable Mentions thrown in for good luck and links to previous posts for more info.

My Top Ten Reads of 2016:

commonwealth by ann patchett on whats inside that nut?Commonwealth by Ann Patchett because it was the best book I read this year.


agatha christie an autobiogrphy on whats inside that nut?Agatha Christie: An Autobiography for the humour and the history.


The Illegal on what's inside that nut?The Illegal by Lawrence Hill for the tension, excitement, and a great story well-told.


children of earth and sky guy gavriel kay on what's inside that nut?Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay for the historical fiction with the hint of fantasy.


furiously happy jenny lawson on what's inside that nut?Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson for all the laughs.


Me And Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews on what's inside that nut?Me And Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews for the quirky characters and witty dialogue.


Wonder by RJ Palacio on What's inside that nutWonder by R. J. Palacio for the satisfyingly heart-breaking story. An excellent book for all ages, despite the fact that it is on the 9-12 shelf.


half a kng by joe abercrombie on whats inside that nut?Half a King trilogy (with Half the World and Half a War) by Joe Abercrombie for the political intrigue and Viking-like setting. Might be cheating on the ‘top ten’ by listing a trilogy, but you have to read all three.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown on What's inside that nutRed Rising by Pierce Brown. For Mars, social hierarchy, and class struggle, with some Hunger Games-esque action.


A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab on what's inside that nut?A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab for the multiple Londons in parallel universes and the kick-ass characters.


My Honourable Mentions:

The Girl with all the gift by M R Carey on What's inside that nutThe Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey for the mysterious beginning, the action-packed middle, and the end. Ahh. the end.


We are still tornadoes by Kun and Mullen on What's inside that nutWe Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun and Susan Mullen for the 80s setting and the great musical references.


The bear and the nightingale by katherine Arden on What's inside that nutThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden for the historical time period and the interweaving of Russian fairy tales.


Books I’m looking forward to reading in 2017:

(Stay tuned for future reviews…)

do not say we have nothing on what's inside that nutDo Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien for obvious prize-winning reasons.


the witches of new york by ami mckayThe Witches of New York by Ami McKay because this cover is beautiful.


golden-son-by-pierce-brownGolden Son and Morning Star by Pierce Brown because I have to find out what happens next (see Red Rising, above).


the table of less valued nights by maire phillips on what's inside that nutThe Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips because Gods Behaving Badly was excellent and this one is about King Arthur’s knights.


the fate of the tearling by erika johansen on what's inside that nutThe Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen but first I have to re-read the first two so I remember what is going on.


The Doors of Stone by Patrick Rothfuss (the third Kingkiller Chronicles book) if it is released in 2017…

The Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch (the fourth Gentleman Bastard book) if it is released in 2017…

What’s on your best of list for 2016? And what are you reading next year?

Happy New Year!

Christmas anxiety relief: Books for everyone on your list

Snow is on the ground: cue the Christmas panic!

This year, it’s books for all! (Oops, sorry family: Spoiler Alert!)

Since I work in a candy bookstore, it’s hard to resist bringing my work home with me. The hubby says a little willpower is a good thing. I say: I have tremendous willpower! I rarely bring home more than three books at a time. (Except that day last week when I somehow came home with eight… shh!)

According to my beloved, overflowing bookcases are “messy.” He asks the question ‘how many books does one person need?’ and thinks the answer is a finite number. Preferably a low one.

The true answer is: all of them.

However, putting “All the books” at the top of my Christmas list seems to make some people anxious and a tiny bit annoyed, so here is my handy Christmas shopping trick: buy books for everyone you know, but buy them the books you want to read yourself. Then borrow, borrow, borrow!

Wondering what books to get your lucky family members this year? Here’s my list of xmas recs:

For the Fiction Aficionados:

commonwealth by ann patchett on whats inside that nut?Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. Because it’s Ann Patchett. And because it is so good. Why wasn’t this book on all the award short lists? And why didn’t it win? Life is a mystery. And this book is about life, and the people in our lives, and how they affect us, and the things we share and the things we don’t. Not to get ahead of myself in terms of blog posts, but Commonwealth is definitely on my list of Top 16 Books of 2016…

hagseed by margaret atwood on whats inside that nut?vinegar girl by anne tyler on whats inside that nut?Hagseed by Margaret Atwood and Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. Both reimagined Shakespeare, both part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series. Loved them both. Hagseed is a retelling of The Tempest and is Atwood at her clever and comical best. Vinegar Girl is The Taming of the Shrew and is classic Anne Tyler: a seemingly simple story told compellingly well.

For your Nothing but Non-Fiction Lovers:

Seems like every celebrity worth his weight in hardcovers jumped on the bio wagon this year. Wayne and Don and Wendell and Darryl have cornered the hockey market, but there’s also Rowdy Roddy for the Wrestlemaniac in your life, Shoe Dog and Elon Musk, for the behind-the-scenes peek at the movers and shakers of major corporations (Nike and Tesla/Space X), and Brian Wilson, Phil Collins, and, of course, Bruce, for the music fans.

born to run by bruce springsten on whats inside that nut?If you need to narrow it down to say, one, I suggest Bruce. You can’t go wrong with Bruce.



For those in your posse who prefer their prose to be poetic:

wigford rememberies by kyp harness on whats inside that nut?Wigford Rememberies by Kyp Harness. His way with words and ear for dialogue put you smack dab in the middle of a small town Canadian farmhouse kitchen. Written by a Canadian singer and songwriter, the characters will continue to haunt you long after you’ve think you’ve left them behind.


For those who like some history with their mystery:

agatha christie an autobiogrphy on whats inside that nut?Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. If a certain member of my family is still reading this post, (and you know who you are) she is herewith forewarned not to purchase this book for herself prior to December 25. No reason. Just saying.

For everyone else, this is probably my most highly recommended book of the year. Really! First published in 1977, it is well-written, humourous, and engaging. The fact that Agatha Christie wrote close to 100 books is almost beside the point compared to the life she led when she wasn’t writing.

 For those who just can’t get enough of Game of Thrones:

half a kng by joe abercrombie on whats inside that nut?Half a King; Half the World; Half a War; by Joe Abercrombie. The Shattered Seas trilogy. Three books, and nowhere near as long as the Song of Ice and Fire saga. Viking-esque, with palace coups and displaced royalty, intrigue and hardship, heartbreak and romance. No dragons though…

blood song by anthony ryan on whats inside that nut?Blood Song; Tower Lord; Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan. The Raven’s Shadow trilogy. Three books, Medieval-esque political intrigue, still no dragons, but hints of magical powers…



And for the age-groupers on your list:

For toddlers and their tamers:

boss baby by marla frazee on whats inside that nut?Boss Baby by Marla Frazee. Because the baby is the de facto CEO of the family.



we found a hat by jon klassen on whats inside that nut?We found a hat by Jon Klassen (also, I want my hat back and This is not my hat). Because the illustrations are genius.



the day the crayons quit by drew daywalt on whats inside that nut?The day the crayons quit by Drew Daywalt. Because who doesn’t love a story about complaining crayons?



For those who like their books with pics:

rollergirl by victoria jamieson on whats inside that nut?If the nine-to-twelves on your list have already read the Raina Telgemeier books (Smile, Sisters, Drama, Ghosts) check out Rollergirl by Victoria Jamieson. Because it combines a great story with roller derby.


timmy failure by stephan pastis on whats inside that nut?And if you’ve exhausted Diary of a Wimpy Kid, then I highly recommend Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis. A detective, a polar bear, and a Segway. And that’s only the first three chapters. It gets even better.


For your voracious teen readers:

Teen lit seems to come in two flavours these days: sci-fi/fantasy and the rest. Stay tuned for a longer post on teen reads that everyone should read, but in the meantime, here is a teaser of some of my current favourites:

throne of glassa by sarah j maas on whats inside that nut?Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. Strong female protagonist puts the ‘kicks ass’ in ‘assassin’.



the raven boys by maggie stiefvater on whats inside that nut?The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. Witches, clairvoyants, bad boys, ley lines, and a curse. The first in a four-part series. Must. Keep. Reading.



rebel of the sands by alwyn hamilton on whats inside that nut?Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton. Djinn, Nightmares, Skinwalkers, a runaway girl and a mysterious boy. This is another one of my top picks of the year.



the female of the species by mindy mcginnis on whats inside that nut?The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis. Heart-breaking and raw. Two words that generally send me running far, far away, but I’m glad I stayed for this one. A book about murder, vengeance and love.


finding audrey by sophie kinsella on whats inside that nut?Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella. Snappy, sad, funny and fast. A shout-out to shut-ins and a great read about overcoming inner obstacles.



I could go on, but some of us like to get our Christmas shopping done early, so I’ll stop here. Let me know if there’s anything I’ve forgotten to put on my list!

Your next great read: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

before the fall by noah hawley on what's inside that nut?
Tragedy and mystery, the insidiousness of the media, and the unreliability of memory.

A small private plane crashes into the ocean on a nighttime flight between Martha’s Vineyard and New York; there are two survivors. This much you know before you open the book, and even before the start of the first chapter you’re already involved in the characters’ lives. The rest of the story follows what happens after the crash by tracing the lives of the passengers and their actions in the days and weeks leading up to that fateful night.

But lives and actions are rarely straightforward. Fact and truth are dependent upon time, memory, and interpretation, and complicating the search for answers is the media’s agenda and the need to sell news regardless of its basis in reality.

Noah Hawley wrote for both Bones and the FX series Fargo and this book plays out like a tv show you can’t stop binge watching. From the initial crash to the immediate aftermath to the unfolding of the characters lives past and present, the mystery of why and how the plane went down will keep you turning pages long after your bedtime.

The weird, the wonderful, and the WTF?

the weird the wonderful and the wtf on what's inside that nut?
Of all the books I read over the summer, the following stand out for being either weirdly engrossing, wonderfully written, or what-the-hell-is-going-on?-ly head-shaking.

The weird:

angle catbird margaret atwood on what's inside that nut?Angel Catbird. Margaret Atwood’s graphic novel. Is it a comic book? Is it a public service announcement about keeping your cats from killing birds? Is it meant to be funny? My favourite line is when Angel Catbird doesn’t eat the baby bird and the other cats call out: “Predator Fail!” The book is a throwback to old time superhero comics, so if you can get past the hokey dialogue then you’ll find it weirdly enjoyable. I’m looking forward to Volume Two: will Strig Feleedus and Cate Leone find love? Will Dr. Muroid and his rat army take over? What will happen at Count Catula’s Castle? I can hardly wait to find out. I just hope they change Angel Catbird’s shorts/undies. I can’t take him seriously in that outfit.


The Wonderful:

i'll give you the sun by jandy nelson on what's inside that nut?I’ll give you the sun by Jandy Nelson. One of the best books I read all summer. A coming of age story of twins Noah and Jude, told by each twin in turn, several years apart. It’s about love and hate, life and death, jealousy, passion, belief, art, and fate. The voices are unique and the descriptive writing is wacky and wonderful.

jonathan unleashed by meg rosoff on what's inside that nut?Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff. A fun rom-com read about life going off the rails, about figuring out what you want to be when you grow up, regardless of how old you are, and about whether your dogs know more than you do and are secretly conspiring to run your life.


The WTF:

the hike by drew magary on what's inside that nut?The Hike by Drew Magary. Reading The Hike was like hearing about someone’s endless, crazy nightmare. It’s just one bizarre thing after another, and while you kind of want to know how it’s all going to turn out, you mostly just want it to end already. While I was immediately hooked when the protagonist Ben encounters two murderous men wearing the faces of Rottweilers, his interminable journey along The Path admittedly had me rooting for the dog-faced men from time to time. The book has been compared to a video game, and if I was a gamer, I could definitely see the appeal, as Ben encounters all sorts of crazy creatures that either help him or hinder him in his quest to find the end of The Path and go home. A good read if you’re you looking for something off the beaten track.

Is Gwyneth really wrong about everything?

Is Gwyneth Paltrow wrong about everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash by Timothy Caulfield on what's inside that nut?

Poor Gwyneth Paltrow. Turns out she is wrong about just about everything, and so is every other celebrity out there hawking a beauty treatment or health regimen.

Is Gwyneth Paltrow wrong about everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash by Timothy Caulfield on what's inside that nut?

But Gwyneth is only part of the problem! Apparently our proximity to celebrities (through both traditional and newer social media channels) is giving us an unhealthy fixation on fame, causing us to think that we, too, can be big-time stars.


Think you can dance, sing, or get drafted by the NHL? Timothy Caulfield says it ain’t gonna happen. And he’s got the stats to back it up.

Caulfield is a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. While writing Is Gwyneth Paltrow wrong about everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash, he researched widely, from well-regarded medical journals to an in-depth study of People magazine, and has distilled his research into an interesting and humourous look at celebrity culture, our fascination with it, our devotion to it, and its dangers both to our bodies and our psyches.

First thing you learn is to stop all those cleanses. They’re doing nothing for you and may be detrimental. Ditto the extreme diets, breast implants, and bird poop facials. Next comes the distressing and ultimately depressing news that you’re never going make it to the big time. Not in this town, and not in any town, not any time soon. This is followed by a final section wherein Caulfield assures me that even if I do make it to big time celebrity status, (which, he insists, will never happen so stop even thinking it will) I will not be happy.

Is Gwyneth Paltrow wrong about everything? is really two books in one.

The first discusses the way in which celebrities urge us to remake ourselves in their image by following their colon cleansing rituals and adhering to their beauty regimes. Wittingly or not, celebrities prey on our desire to look svelte and spectacular while endorsing products that have no proven scientific basis in reality.

The second part of the book looks at how living in a celebrity-infused culture encourages us to strive to be celebrities ourselves. American Idol success stories and overnight YouTube sensations only fuel the flames of our ambitions.

Caulfield throws an ice cold barrel of water on any such notions or ambitions. Following Gwyneth’s Clean Cleanse will do you no good, and not only that, you’ll never get that recording contract, and your kid is never going to make into the NHL.

Taken as a whole, this book might better be called “abandon all hope ye who enter here” not only because the statistics prove that you’ll never be celebrity-famous, but also because living the celebrity life sounds like the lowest circle of hell.

Caulfield is a bit of a parade-rainer, but he does it in a compelling, engaging, and completely readable manner. His self-deprecating wit and well-chosen celebrity quotes kept me entertained even as he crushed my dreams of celebrity fame and wealth.

Not that I wish to be a celebrity, you understand. Living the lifestyle of the rich and famous is not at the top of my to-do list. That said, I wouldn’t say no to a few of the perks. Is it wrong to dream of someday having a personal chef, say, or a closet full of clothes that aren’t older than my children? But the realities of pursuing the celebrity dream sound too soul-destroying to contemplate.

I highly recommend this book. If you like reading Malcolm Gladwell or Steven Levitt, this book will appeal to your interest in facts, stats and humour.

Light summer romances for hot summer nights

romances for summer reading on whats inside that nut

It’s too hot and steamy out there to do anything more vigourous than read, but you don’t want to be sweating your way through anything too heavy when the humidex is hitting 40. To the rescue: three light, fun books to take your mind off the external temperature.

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

nine women one dress by jane rosen on whats inside that nutA quirky book about a little black dress and the people who come in contact with it. Written from the perspective of a dressmaker, a salesgirl, a model, an actor, a private detective, an unemployed graduate, and an emergency room doctor, the stories are woven together through their connection to the dress, some more tightly than others. A fun frolicky rom-com.

Monsters: A Love Story by Liz Kay

monsters a love story by lix kay on whats inside that nutRecently widowed mother of two, Stacy is trying to keep her shit together. Hollywood bad-boy Tommy is a player with issues of his own. She’s a poet, whose novel-in-verse is a feminist take on Frankenstein, and he wants to make a movie of the book. Sounds cheesy, and this book could go the way of fromage, but it doesn’t. It’s a book about relationships and mistakes, but there’s humour too, and while it teeters close to the edge of cliché at times, the writing and dialogue keep it from toppling.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

city bakers guide to country living by louise miller on whats inside that nutThis book is coming out in August, just in time for the apple harvest, which is handy because you’ll be wanting to bake apple pies after reading it (there’s even a recipe at the back of the book to assist you). Pastry chef Olivia has to leave town in a hurry, and ends up in a small Vermont town where she gets a job at a country inn. Banjos and fiddles, square dancing and fairs, gossip and mystery all figure prominently, as does pie. Lots of pie. This one falls more firmly in the typical romance genre than the two books above; it’s a fun summer read, especially if you find lavish descriptions of desserts to be your aphrodisiac of choice.

Stay cool and read romance, my friends.