Reading by the numbers

Before January escapes me completely, I thought I’d have a look at last year’s reading list.

I read 87 books in 2014, including 36 novels, 40 young adult or middle-grade books, and three short story collections.

There were only eight non-fiction titles on my list, which I think is an inaccurate reflection of the amount of non-fiction that I actually read. The problem: I often don’t finish non-fiction books. I read a few chapters for research. Or I get distracted in the middle of them and never go back. Both Cooked and Consumed, for example, have been languishing half-read in my bedside table drawer for months now. Which is embarrassing. I am a disgrace to the non-fiction world.

But, onwards…

I read seven books by people I know — a number I think I should improve upon, as a supportive fellow writer!

And, as always, some of my favourite reads were recommended by friends, either real-life friends or virtual. Here are my three top picks (books, not friends), in case you’re looking for something to read this January:

Ellen in Pieces, by Caroline Adderson, was raunchy, heartbreaking, and hilarious. Usually all in one page. Plus, it has the most gorgeous cover of the year.

elleninpieces

Annabel is the story of an intersex baby born in rural Labrador. The journey the father goes through, from denial to acceptance to unconditional love, was wonderfully done, and I found myself thinking about it long after I’d closed the book.

annabel

Derry Collier’s Open Secret is a crime novel that goes beyond clever to be warmly, insightfully smart. Plus, it’s set in my (fictionalized) hometown.

Open-Secret-web

That’s it for 2014! A big thank you to Denise Jaden, who included Anywhere But Here on her list of favourites for the year. I already have my copy of Denise’s Foreign Exchange, waiting to be read!

Open Secret

I may never get over the thrill of reading something set in my home town. Or, in this case, in the fictional town of Kootenay Landing, which bears a striking resemblance to my hometown of Creston. It’s so much fun to picture where a character is walking, or imagine the exact view from a hiking trail.

Deryn Collier’s Open Secret is her second novel featuring Bern Fortin, coroner with swag. The book weaves together the lives of a mismatched batch of Kootenay Landing residents, all connected by a disappearance, a grow-op, and a murder. We begin to understand more of Bern’s history and we get to know an array of unique secondary characters. I would have read an entire book about any member of the supporting cast.

Open-Secret-web

Back to reading about one’s hometown, though. My favourite line of the book is this one:

There was an intake of breath, a barely perceptible pause, when the man walked in, as though the crowd had collectively spotted him, assessed him as an outsider, decided to ignore him, then carried on.

This is a classic small town moment — the micro-pause upon entering a restaurant or bar, while all pre-existing customers check to see whether they know you. It’s generally a benign, even friendly, pause, but it’s noticeable. And if you happen to take your Asian husband to a cafe in Three Mile, Idaho, where apparently no Asian man has gone before, the pause stretches to five or ten seconds and can be rather disconcerting.

Kudos to Deryn Collier for creating a riveting read and capturing the quirks of small-town life.

Can you handle the truth?

Deryn Collier is hosting a series of blog posts about the challenges of writing and parenting. She asked me to contribute, and of course I was thrilled to be a part of the project.

So far, the posts have been lovely and thoughtful.

Let’s be honest, though. Lovely and thoughtful are not my strong points.

I contributed a Cosmo-style quiz on how to tell whether you’re ready for the writer/parent combo life. It probably doesn’t reflect so well on my personal abilities. But hey, the truth isn’t always pretty!

Head over to Deryn’s blog to test yourself, and check out the other posts in this series here.

And let me know how you score on my quiz!

Hangin’ out with the big kids

There was a nice little buzzing crowd around the table when I stopped by to see Deryn Collier at Chapters yesterday. I also got to meet her crime-writing friends, Hilary Davidson, Robin Spano, and Ian Hamilton.

Min took this picture, after getting heartily mocked for his reading habits (Diablo hint books, mainly) by people he’d just met. He’s a good guy to still hold the camera steady, no?

If you want to meet the crime gang in person, they have one more event in the ‘hood this week. It’s called Triple Threat: Chicks Who Solve Crime! and it’s Thursday, 7:00-8:30 p.m., at the Burnaby Public Library, McGill Branch.

A town by any other name…

All of that gardening talk in my last post reminded me… if you happen to be a crime writing fan AND a gardening buff, you absolutely have to read Deryn Collier’s new book, Confined Space.

I read the entire thing in 24 hours, though I did have to take a couple breaks near the end to breath deeply until my heart rate slowed down. (I get scared even in Disney movies. There’s a reason I write children’s books.)

Now, I’m not usually a follower of crime fiction, but my dad is. Since I have what Min calls “Reader-Willi Syndrome” (ie. I read everything in sight), I’ve read quite a few detective tales in my day. And I have to say, Confined Space is one of the best. The characters are so real and so likeable… I’m already waiting for book two.

Besides all this, Confined Space is set in a fictional place called Kootenay Landing which, though smaller and more company-centric, bears a remarkable resemblance to my hometown. Deryn says, “all places and characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” To which I say… right. Of course.

Just as, purely coincidentally, the fictional town of Webster in my young adult novel bears a resemblance to the same small town. And yet… the descriptions are vastly different. When my novel eventually emerges, you’ll have to check them both out and compare. Then you can road trip to Creston and decide for yourself!

Big news!

My friend Deryn Collier (who I know through our mutual friend Brandy, who I know because she went to high school with my sister — did you follow that?) has a new book coming out!

I am what is technically known as a “big chicken” and Deryn writes crime fiction, which I can’t usually read without biting my nails and getting nightmares. But I will be reading Confined Space.

I’ll be reading it the moment it comes out in June, from Simon & Schuster, and I can’t wait!

Check out the publisher’s blurb:

When respected ex–Canadian Forces commander Bern Fortin cuts short his military career to take a job as the coroner for a small mountain town in the heart of BC, he’s hoping to leave the past behind. Bern’s looking forward to a quiet life, but the memories of what he witnessed during his stints in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries haunt him still.

When the body of one of the workers is found floating in the huge bottle-washing tank at the local brewery, Bern is called in for a routine investigation. What first appears to be a tragic accident takes a menacing turn when the body of the worker’s girlfriend is discovered in a nearby field. Bern needs the help of brewery safety investigator Evie Chapelle, who, burdened by tragedies she might have prevented, is more determined than ever to keep her workers, and their tight-knit community, safe. Soon, Bern and Evie find themselves risking their jobs — and their lives — to uncover a killer hiding in a place where it is awfully hard to keep a secret.

Deryn Collier’s debut novel is a taut mystery full of suspense. Confined Space was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished first crime novel by the Crime Writers of Canada.

Hmmm… a small, mountain town with a brewery. A place where you can’t keep a secret. Now, why does that sound so familiar?

Maybe I’ll send Deryn my big-haired grad picture and see if she can make me a character in book two.

The sweet sound of silence

Family vacations are wonderful, of course, and I always look forward to the stretch of unplanned days. But… I am hard-pressed to articulate just how amazing it is to have normal schedules resumed and to enjoy my first two hours of uninterrupted silence.

If a choir of angles appeared right now, I think I’d ask them to hold off singing, just ’til 11.

And I’m not alone. For the best post ever about the intersection of the writing life and child-generated noise, check out Deryn Collier’s blog.

Random birthday thoughts

Yes, it’s my birthday. And a friend is taking me for coffee, so there will be no earth-shattering prose written this morning. (I can hear what you’re thinking about other mornings, and the rather consistent lack of earth-shattering prose. I would thank you to keep those thoughts to yourself. Did I mention it was my birthday?)

I spent the weekend visiting Grandma in Edmonton. (That would be my 86-year-old Grandma, who was husking, blanching, and freezing five dozen cobs of corn. I hope I have her genes.) Edmonton is flat. Disturbingly flat. Whenever I’m in Alberta, I start to worry that my body’s dissipating into the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s this dissipation which leads to such amazing sunsets, even in the suburban wastelands:

While I was there, my mom and sister pitched in to get me a birthday Kindle cover with a built-in book light (which runs off the Kindle battery). It’s completed my Kindle conversion. I can now hold the machine as if it’s a book, and I can read in bed, in the dark, in a hotel room, with my children asleep nearby, which is what I spend my weekend evenings doing.

First, I read Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott, a spine-tingling quasi-mystery suggested by Deryn Collier. It’s inspired by a true story (I always love that) and written in a truly unique style. I can’t even describe it, but I can highly recommend it.

Then I moved on to Mockingjay, the third (and best, in my opinion) of the Hunger Games trilogy. I’m sure I’m the last in the world to have read this book. It was well worth the wait.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have a birthday latté and wonder what other surprises are in store for me today…