Binging on US politics: the good, the bad, and the sad

Why binge on books about US politics when you can just open up your Twitter feed and let the horror wash over you? Because throwing books across the room in frustration is more satisfying and considerably less expensive than throwing your phone.

I recently read What Happened, Unbelievable, and Al Franken: Giant of the Senate. I recommend them all, with reservations…

What Happened by HIllary Rodham Clinton on What's inside that nut?What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton is a well written, honest (as far as I can tell (!)), sometimes raw, but not too bitter account of the 2016 election. Hillary lays the blame where it deserves to be laid (Comey, what were you thinking??) but doesn’t wallow in puddles of self-pity or anger. She might get her feet wet occasionally, but definitely no wallowing. The book gives an excellent overview of Hillary’s campaign and the events leading up to the November 2016 schmozzle that was the US election.

Unbelievable by Katy Tur on What's inside that nut?Unbelievable by Katy Tur is exactly that. Tur is the NBC political correspondent who followed Trump’s presidential campaign from the very beginning. Warning: reading this book may induce feelings of anger, frustration, and hopelessness, but you should read it nonetheless, if only to see the Trump campaign laid out in all its this-can’t-be-happening-in-real-life absurdity. And apart from the utter craziness of Trump, the book is also a fascinating look at the chaotic lives of the correspondents on the campaign trail.

Al Franken Giant of the Senate by Al Franken on What's inside that nut?Finally, and this one is tricky, there is Al Franken Giant of the Senate by Al Franken. I picked this one up because I remember Al Franken from Saturday Night Live and I thought his book might be humorous. And it is, but it’s also an interesting account both of his very close, highly contested Senate race in 2008, and of the inner workings of the US Senate. I really liked this book. I really like(d) Al Franken… and then… Nooo. Not you too?? Seriously, Al? How can I recommend a book after the author has been called out for sexual harassment?

Screw it. (Obviously not literally. Keep your hands to yourself, Al.) No more books on politics for me. I’m crawling back into my safe cocoon constructed entirely of books about teenage angst and interplanetary warfare sprinkled with Dragon Tattooed violence and a smattering of romantic mystery. More on these to come.

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Wading in the genre pool

Remember summer? Flooding and forest fires and trigger-happy nut jobs and unfortunately-coiffed world leaders? Sometimes the only way to deal with chaos and confusion is to immerse yourself in comfort books.

This summer somehow disappeared in the hubbub and hullaballoo of dealing with bats (not you, mum!), putting out fires (literally!), and packing first borns off to centres of higher learning (sob, sob!). In these eventful and uncertain times, the only reading that will soothe the soul and calm the nerves is a good foray into the realms of romance, mystery, and thriller.

The best man by Kristan Higgins on what's inside that nutRomance gets poo-poohed too often: scorned and shafted and wrapped in brown paper by the literary high-minded types who don’t want their friends to know they secretly read it. But when half the world is burning and the other half is drowning and we live with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of whack-jobs half-way across the world, some light boy-meets-girl-and-you-can-be-sure-they-end-up-together-in-the-end reading is exactly what you need. Not a fan? Skip to the end – there’s some lit-tritt-toor waiting for you there. However, if this sounds like the perfect balm to your wounded summer psyche, then you can do no better than to dip into Kristan Higgins’ Port Heron series. Small town romance, wine country setting, handsome heroes, humour and heartache… start with The Best Man and take it from there.

Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie on what's inside that nutWhen the real world gets to be too much to bear, one of the best places to hide is inside the covers of an old school detective mystery: guaranteed to give you that cozy rainy-day-at-the-cottage vibe regardless of where you are. Agatha Christie’s Mystery of the Blue Train was particularly satisfying primarily because it contained the following lines:

“It is I, Hercule Poirot!”

“Not… not… the Hercule Poirot??”

Top that literary snobs!

The real stars of my genre reading this summer, however, were the thrillers! And I don’t mean anything with a girl on a train or a boat or in the water or with a goat. No, I mean world on the brink of disaster thrillers. (Because nothing takes your mind off the world’s impending doom like reading about the world’s impending doom in a fictional setting.)

The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone on what's inside that nutThe Hatching by Ezekiel Boone. It’s the spider-pocalypse! Man-eating spiders from deepest, darkest Peru! And they’re coming for you! Warning: this book ends on a cliff-hanger, which is extremely aggravating if you finish it on a plane 30,000 feet above the nearest bookstore. Luckily, the sequel, Skitter, is readily available. Warning: this too ends on a cliff-hanger, and the third doesn’t come out until next March… aargh! I could be devoured by arachnids by the time March rolls around.

the mountain story by lori lansens on what's inside that nutIt wasn’t all boy meets Hercule meets spiders this summer. I also read The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens, which is an excellent book to read with the world in its present state because it helps put your life in perspective: at least you’re not lost on a mountaintop with no food or drink.

Although I didn’t feel that this book was as good as The Girls, The Mountain Story is still a compelling read, judging from the fact that I was parched the entire time I was reading it. Granted I was already dehydrated from the sobbing after dropping the first born off at uni, but you should probably keeps some snacks and bevvies handy while you’re reading this one.

Thankfully, September is here and we can all get back into our regular routines and tackle the To Be Read pile that we ignored all summer. I’ve got Andre Alexis’ The Hidden Keys on deck.

Stay dry and safe people. Stay inside with a good book.

Best Book of the Summer!

Sorry, but I am compelled to interrupt your previously scheduled programming for a brief public service announcement: go and read Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory.

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory on What's inside that nut?

I’m calling it: best book of the summer.

I know, summer’s only half over, and I know, I called the Canada Reads winner prematurely and look what happened. (Although I still think I was right on that count, no disrespect to Fifteen Dogs.) But trust me on this.

About a family of psychics, Spoonbenders follows The Amazing Telemachus Family from Teddy and Maureen’s courtship and the CIA’s interest in their abilities, to their grandson Matty’s discovery of his own powers, culminating in a spot of trouble with the mob. It’s funny and engaging, and you will love every single character.

You won’t want  it to end.

You might even acquire some psychic powers of your own after reading it. I know I did: I see Spoonbenders in your future…

Recent reads to recommend

Usually, I read thematically, or generically, or whatever the correct terminology would be for “by genre.” I read one mystery and the next thing I know, May has turned into Mystery Month. Same for romance or sci-fi or thrillers or spy novels.

(By the by, if you’re looking for an excellent spy/special ops/Bourne type series, look no further than Orphan X, followed by the Nowhere Man, by Gregg Hurwitz.)

Lately, however, my reading has been all over the place: past, present and future. The following three recommendations have nothing in common with each other, apart from the fact that I enjoyed them all.

Yiddish for Pirates by Gary Barwin on What's inside that nut

Yiddish for Pirates by Gary Barwin

One of my fave books so far this year, Yiddish for Pirates is a treasure trove of linguistic gymnastics for word nerds. Shortlisted for this year’s Giller Prize and nominated for the GG, the book is written in mish mash of English and Yiddish and pirate slang, with some of the best insults this side of Shakespeare.

Moishe leaves his home in the shtetl for a life of adventure, taking only some food and an illegible book belonging to his father. Setting out to sea, he acquires a parrot (or rather, the parrot acquires Moishe). Shipwrecked, he encounters Columbus and adventures ensue: the Spanish Inquisition, true love, piracy, the Fountain of Youth…

Where do you start describing a book like this: it’s Shakespearean, it’s  Biblical, it’s narrated by a parrot! And it’s hilarious.

 

Theft by Finding by David Sedaris on What's inside that nut

Theft by Finding by David Sedaris

Speaking of hilarious, I giggled (Snickered? Chuckled? Lolled? Whatever. Trust me. It’s funny.) throughout Theft by Finding. Diary excerpts would be astonishingly boring in any other hands, but David Sedaris could make a grocery list enthralling.

If you’ve read all his other books, you of course have a sense of Sedaris’ life and family, but this book is a different kind of memoir, giving the reader a sense of what was happening before those books were written (hint: lots of drugs, questionable working conditions, hunger), and Sedaris’ reaction to the early years as a published author. Both funny and fascinating, I wouldn’t recommend this for a first time David Sedaris reader, but it’s a definite must-read if you’re a fan.

 

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A Flynn on What's inside that nut?The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn

I wish I’d read this book before taking the recent Austen quiz in the New York Times. I would have scored so much higher. Spruce beer! Who knew? Not me, obviously.

I went into this book with high hopes: Jane Austen and time travel; two of my favourite things. Had there been a dragon in there, I would’ve rated it five stars, but I guess the author was going for authenticity. As it is, I give it a solid four.

Two members of the Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics travel back to 1815 with the mission to find and befriend Jane Austen through her brother Henry, and acquire Austen’s manuscript for The Watson’s, along with letters from Jane to her sister. The only caveat: engage as little as possible. Avoid changing the past; even little changes can affect the future in unforeseeable ways.

The story has two distinct parts, although they aren’t labelled as such. For most of the book, Liam and Rachel live in 1815, dealing with the customs, hygiene, language, and food of the time, and working towards completing their mission for the Institute. The author does an excellent job of invoking the past and imagining a present day person’s reaction to the living conditions.

Then there’s the aftermath, in the present (the book’s present, which is our future, or one iteration of it. Time travel. So straightforward…) Since I hate spoilers, I won’t even attempt to summarize the ending. At first I was unsure whether I liked it, but on further reflection, I’ve decided I do. I’d love to hear your reaction, if you’ve read this one.

What have you been reading lately? My dance card of summer TBR books is filling up fast (August is shaping up to be Fantasy Month, with Anthony Ryan’s The Legion of Flame and The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland on deck), but there’s always room for one or two more.

Best books (so far!) of 2017

I was going to call this my Quarterly Round-Up of great reads, but it turns out that we’re more than a third of the way through the year already (not sure how that happened…) and ‘Thirdly Round-Up’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Although I didn’t set out to read thematically, the best books I’ve read so far this year all have an element of magic to them. Some have a subtle nature-weaving-its-mystery magical feel to them, and some are more outright magicians-waving-their-wands types of stories. All are highly recommended.

Himself by Jess Kidd on what's inside that nutHimself by Jess Kidd

This is the best book I’ve read so far this year. The story takes place in a small town in Ireland: orphaned Mahoney, now in his twenties returns to the village of his birth to discover what happened to his mother. The cast of characters, both living and dead, are hilarious and sinister, sweet and sad. I loved the dialogue, the humour, and the inherent mystery that drives the story, so much so that I had to put the book down as I reached the conclusion because I didn’t want it to end.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill on what's inside that nutThe Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill comes a close second in the best book ranking. Another magical book about orphans. (Hmm… completely unintentional, really!) The magic is less overt in this book. Rose and Pierrot meet in an orphanage, come of age in Montreal in the 30s, and eventually create a fantastical circus that travels to New York. Beautifully written, it’s a gritty tale filled with sex and drugs, prostitution and poverty, danger, destitution, and the Depression, but mostly it’s about love.

A conjuring of light by v e schwab on what's inside that nutA Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab

I mentioned A Darker Shade of Magic in my New Year’s Best Of list. A Conjuring of Light is the third and final installment in the trilogy. (The second book is A Gathering of Shadows.) This is one of the best series I’ve ever read. Three Londons in three parallel worlds: our London, a magical London, and a dying London, and certain characters who can travel between them. It’s a classic tale of good vs. evil and a must-read if you’re a fan of fantasy, and even if you’re not.

Traitor to the throne by Alwyn Hamilton on what's inside that nutTraitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

In other trilogy news, Traitor to the Throne follows Rebel of the Sands, which I’ve mentioned before. Another fantasy must-read, this series takes place in an Ottoman Empire-like  desert world, populated by djinnis and their offspring, and features rebellion and political intrigue. Looking forward to number three which, sadly, will not come out for another year or so.

What made your Best-Of list for the first third of 2017?

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!