Top 17 Books of 2017

2017 was a great year for reading, and there were so many great books this year that it was a challenge narrowing down this list to just 17!

  1. Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan – a pair of Jesuit priests investigate the deaths of street children in this book touted as the first contemporary Filipino serial killer mystery. A movie version was shown in Philippine cinemas this December, and I’m crossing my fingers for a North American distributor. (Blog review)
  2. El Deafo by Cece Bell – adorable graphic memoir for children about a young bunny who is self-conscious about her giant hearing aid and so invents a superhero persona. (Blog review)
  3. Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne – Beautifully written and quietly epic. It’s almost 600 pages long and I couldn’t put it down. (Blog review)
  4. As If!: The Oral History of Clueless as told by Amy Heckerling and the Cast and Crew by Jen Chaney – this is a full-on nostalgia pick, as Clueless was one of my favourite movies growing up, and it was such a pleasure to get a glimpse behind the scenes.
  5. New Boy by Tracy Chevalier – part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, this re-tells Othello from the perspective of children befriending each other and fighting for control over a playground. It’s brilliantly understated. (Blog review)
  6. Sputnik’s Children by Terry Favro – cult comic book creator Debbie Biondi finally agrees to write the origin story of her famous superhero Sputnik Chick. It turns out Sputnik Chick’s origins as a superhero has its roots in Debbie’s own childhood during the Cold War, when she was approached by a time traveler to save the world from nuclear annihilation by transporting into an alternate timeline.
  7. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon – I savoured this over a week-long vacation, and it’s the perfect book to lose yourself in.
  8. If the Dress Fits by Carla de Guzman – I rarely see plus-size heroines in romance novels, so this novel was a welcome find. The heroine is a size 24 which, in the Philippines, means she often has to have clothes modified to fit, and the hero is her sweet, bookish, animal-loving best friend. The ending fell short (too rushed, too neat), but otherwise, the book was great.
  9. Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez – This is a moving, multi-voiced story of a community. The characters pulse from the page, and we share in their joy at each minor triumph. The writing is beautiful. Also, I have a soft spot for the character of Bing and his mother Edna, who are Filipino, and I love the references to “Filipino kisses” (lips curled in) and Catholic masses and Filipino pork dishes.
  10. The Borrowed by Chan Ho-Kei, translated by Jeremy Tiang – a compelling collection of mysteries spanning a talented detective’s career, The Borrowed is particularly resonant because of how each of the mysteries links to a larger event in Hong Kong history. (Blog review)
  11. A Brother’s Honor by Brenda Jackson – Sexy romance, compelling characters and intriguing mystery. I downloaded the entire Grangers series from the library and am eager to read more of Brenda Jackson’s books.
  12. Falling into Right by Sharon Kay – the chemistry is hot, but the reason this story shines is the strong emotional connection formed by the hero and the heroine, who are both dealing with emotional scars. The hero also has an adorably vicious K-9 German shepherd, which just made it even more perfect. (Blog review)
  13. Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan – I’m a huge fan of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, and the final book is by far the best. A fitting sendoff to the Shang-Young family. (Blog review)
  14. Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos and Me by Lorina Mapa – This graphic memoir of a young girl’s life during the height and decline of Martial Law is beautiful and bittersweet.
  15. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – small town politics and the friendship between three women culminate in a mysterious death at a party. This was such a fun book to read and the HBO adaptation was just as much fun to watch.
  16. Star Trek Cats by Jenny Parks – feline versions of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of their crew enact classic Star Trek episodes. How amazing is that? And for all you Picard fans, Star Trek: The Next Generation Cats is due out in March 2018!
  17. Animal Attraction by Jill Shalvis – a handsome, soft-hearted veterinarian hero. His tough, troubled receptionist. And a kitten named Beans. How could I resist?! This was recommended to me when I was looking for a romance with a doctor hero, cute pets and no children, and Shalvis’ Animal Magnetism series more than delivers.

Many thanks to:

  • Family and friends who give me such wonderful bookish gifts,
  • Publishers who are so generous with review copies of this year’s hottest titles,
  • The library for having such an extensive collection of ebooks, and
  • Fellow book bloggers and online book friends who give such great recommendations!

Virtual Advent Tour 2011 | Twelve Books of Christmas, Part 2

I love giving and receiving books for Christmas! I’ve discovered quite a few new favourite writers from gifts (mostly from my sister, who gives awesome book recommendations!), and I love the thrill of receiving a book I may not necessarily have chosen for myself.

Part 1 of this list, posted this morning, is here.

Books featured in Part 1 are as follows:
(Note: Feel free to click on the thumbnail to be taken directly to that book.)

Scroll down or click on the cover image to go to that specific write up.

7. Look I Made a Hat, Stephen Sondheim

The sequel to the equally fantastic Finishing the Hat, Look I Made a Hat features lyrics from Stephen Sondheim’s musicals from 1981 – 2011. We also get materials from his TV and film career and (probably coolest for any Sondheim fan) never before seen material from unproduced projects.

As with Finishing, I love the intimate nature of this book, with anecdotes and commentary by Sondheim, production photos and copies of his hand-written notes and drafts. We get both a celebration of his public work and a peek into his private, creative process. Fantastic gift for Sondheim fans, and heck, musical theatre fans in general.

Even better, Knopf is coming out with the Hat Box this December! Both Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat in a pretty gold box. I wish the boxed set offered a bit more extra features than just the box (say, a bonus CD of Sondheim’s personally selected favourites?), just to give us more of an incentive to buy the box set instead of the individual books.

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8. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Alan Bradley

All I want for Christmas is Flavia! I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is the fourth book is Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series, and my personal favourite so far. It combines Christmas, Flavia and film — three of my favourite things! Bradley even adds a dash of Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet is far from my favourite Shakespeare, but the story behind the de Luce copy of the play is heartwarming. I also love the sly nods to Agatha Christie — the country home cozy mystery plot, the inspector’s dry remark “Just like an Agatha Christie,” and the book’s title, from Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot,” surely a nod to the Miss Marple mystery The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, which also owes its title to that poem.

Shadows is a light hearted, enjoyable mystery with a fascinating cast of characters. Even Flavia’s usually mean, sometimes cruel, sisters feel the holiday glow, and we see a bit more of the de Luce as a family here than in previous books. Bradley has created a world, idyllic yet sinister, and you just want to lose yourself in it.

My full, gushing review is here.

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9. Up Up Up, Julie Booker

Back in the spring, I gushed about how much I love Julie Booker’s short story collection Up Up Up. The stories are funny because they’re true, and tragic because they’re so true all you can do is laugh. Each one packs a little punch, and if you’ve ever spoken to Julie Booker on Twitter, you probably already have an idea of her quick, razor sharp punchlines.

Her stories talk about speed dating (it has “lots in common” with a mall food court: “quick turnover, a story at every table…and some who always leave a trail of garbage”), female friendship (“two fat ladies in a kayak! In skintight wetsuits. Eek!”), and careers (e.g. a woman from “Bumfuck-Nowhere, Ontario” insisting on teaching only in French). I recognized myself in her stories, and chances are, so will lots of other women.

Great choice to stimulate feminine bonding. For more details, my full review here.

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10. Before I Go to Sleep, S.J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep literally kept me up all night. Imagine losing your memory every time you went to sleep. That’s what Christine has to face every morning. Unable to trust even herself, she can only trust her husband, whom she recognizes only because of Post-it notes on the bathroom mirror saying “this is your husband.” Then she receives a phone call from a doctor she can’t remember, who tells her to meet him and not let her husband know.

Christine’s life is my idea of a nightmare, and S.J. Watson crafts his tale masterfully. Each new revelation makes you want to keep turning the page. No matter how spooked you are by what you find out, you can only imagine how terrified Christine must feel — she’s finding things out right along with you, and while you can close the book (a near impossible feat, once you begin, but it must be possible, right?), this is her life you’re reading about.

Fiction, but certainly feels like it could be real. Before I Go to Sleep won a CWA Dagger for “new blood,” and I can definitely see why.

Harper Collins Canada blog Savvy Reader was kind enough to post my review of this book, if you want to read more.

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11. Stroll, Shawn Micallef

Whenever I travel, I love setting aside at least a few hours just to wander. Package tours and tourist destinations are great, but there’s a charm as well in exploring the city like a local, just absorbing the place. Shawn Micallef offers us this experience in Stroll, and invites us to discover Toronto with him, at the pace of a stroll.

Micallef is a flaneur, which, as I’ve actually just discovered from this book, is, “someone who wanders the city with the sole purpose of paying attention to it.” More than just a guidebook or a history book, Stroll is a walking tour of Toronto, in a small, easy to carry volume. Micallef’s descriptions are detailed, coupled with convenient map illustrations by Marlena Zuber, and each section begins with handy tips, like “day trip,” or “off spring friendly,” or my personal favourite, “dress to impress.”

Great book to give someone who’s just moved to Toronto or who is or will be visiting Toronto. Also great for longtime residents who, like me, still have so many areas left to explore.

In his Flaneur Manifesto, Micallef writes:

Over and over, we’re told that Toronto is not Paris, New York, London or Tokyo. We’ve been trained to be underwhelmed.

[…] Any Toronto flaneur knows that exploring this city makes the burden of civic self-depracation disappear. And anybody can be a Toronto flaneur.

Sounds like fun.

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12. Vanity Fair: The Portraits, Graydon Carter

I love the portraits in Vanity Fair magazines. Vanity Fair: The Portraits collects 300 of its iconic portraits in a beautiful coffee table book. Photographers include such talented names as Cecil Beaton, Annie Leibovitz and Edward Steichen. Subjects include such 20th century legends as Pablo Picasso, Katharine Hepburn and Amelia Earhart.

It’s a beautiful book, and it showcases some of the most influential figures in the past century.

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Lots of fantastic books out there! What book are you giving this holiday season? What book do you have on your wish list?

Happy holidays!

Virtual Advent Tour 2011 | Twelve Books for Christmas, Part 1

Someone recently told me that when he doesn’t like giving books as presents, because he feels “books are so personal.” He’d much rather give someone a gift certificate, and let them choose their own books. Now, I’m personally not a big fan of gift certificates (unless it’s a gift card to a coffee shop, which in my case will be very useful!), but I can understand the reluctance to give someone a book they may not necessarily enjoy, or that they may already have.

My sister told me once that she finds it hard to buy me books. For several birthdays and Christmases, she’d stand in the mystery section of a bookstore, trying to find authors I might enjoy but have not read. Result: she’s introduced me to the books of Robert B. Parker, Ian Rankin, Donna Leon and C.J. Sansom, all of whom I now count among my absolute favourite writers.

That is what I love about receiving books as gifts. Books are indeed personal things, and for some, they may well prefer to get a gift certificate and choose the books themselves. But personally, I love being introduced to books I may not necessarily have picked up on my own and yet may end up devouring. I also love the feeling that my sister, or whoever gives me that book as a gift, knows me so well they can guess what writer I’d like to read next.

So, for anyone who may be thinking of surprising someone on their list with a book, I do have a few, humble suggestions.

Scroll down, or click on the images below to go straight to that book’s write-up:

1. Harry Potter Page to Screen, Bob McCabe

Harry Potter Page to Screen is at the top of my wish list this year. I firmly believe the Harry Potter series is the Lord of the Rings of our generation — a sweeping epic about the battle between good and evil, a series that not just captivates a generation, but defines it. The books are pure magic, and I especially love the progression towards darker stories that mimics so well the way our understanding of the world changes as we grow older. These books grow with us, and the movies have captured this magic wonderfully. What better way to relive that magic over and over than with a book that chronicles that journey from books to movies?

Then of course, there’s this book trailer:

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2. The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, Chris Van Allsburg et al

Chronicles of Harris Burdick is one of my favourite books of the year. Click on the cover photo to enlarge it, and check out the amazing list of authors who contributed to this book. Stephen King, Lois Lowry and Cory Doctorow all in one book? I want!

Then add the wonderful imaginative nature inspired by Harris Burdick: here are fourteen illustrations, paired with intriguing captions. What stories do these images tell? This book contains the stories created by professional authors, but I personally would love to know what stories readers can come up with.

This book is written for children, but I’d recommend it for people of all ages. All it takes is imagination. For more details, you can read my full, glowing review here.

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3. The Giver (gift edition), Lois Lowry and Bagram Ibattouline (illustrator)

We all have that one book from childhood that completely changed how we view the world. For me, that book is Lois Lowry’s The Giver. I first read it when I was about 14. The story of a society where choice and emotion have been taken away scared me; like Giver protagonist Jonas, I want to live, with all the passion and wonder the italics imply.

I’m 28 now, and every time I read it, it’s a completely different experience. This book is a classic, and I just love this beautiful, illustrated edition. Whatever your One Childhood Book was, I hope you too get to see it so beautifully reissued. If, like me, it was The Giver, it’s a wonderful story to share with the young people in your life.

For more details about The Giver and this edition, my full review is here.

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4. Perfect People, Peter James

I made the mistake of reading Perfect People in a mall. Every few pages, I’d gasp or shake my head or I’d stop reading and stare into space to absorb what I’d just read. The people walking past probably thought I was nuts. But really, that’s how good this book is.

What if you had the chance to free your unborn child from all genetic imperfections? Would you be able to face yourself if you turned it down? There are no easy answers, especially for John and Naomi Klaesson, who’d already lost a child to a rare genetic disease. Add a fanatic religious cult determined to destroy all “unnatural” children, and you’ve got a gripping, emotional, amazing thriller that just never lets up.

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5. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

Confession: I’ve had Invention of Hugo Cabret on my reading list for a while now, but it was the movie Hugo that made me buy the book. The movie was sheer magic. It featured amazing use of 3D (I could almost feel the snow flakes blowing past) and a sweet, innocent story about an orphaned boy, a girl and a mysterious mechanical man. The plot is all about the magic of cinema, which makes it such a wonderful story to turn into a movie.

The book conveys this same magic through beautiful pictures. I love how Selznick integrated art and story — the images don’t just illustrate the story; they actually move the story forward.

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6. Hark! A Vagrant, by Kate Beaton

I was fortunate enough to have seen Kate Beaton speak at the recent International Festival of Authors. She is as funny and entertaining in person as her comics promise. She even drew Jane Eyre in love with a burned, disfigured Rochester on my copy of Hark! A Vagrant! We agreed that it’s great Jane Eyre is a love story between two unattractive people, but also that Rochester is a jerk. “Here,” Kate says, brandishing her pen after we chatted about how horribly Rochester treated Jane (quite a big secret to keep from your fiancee, Rochester!). “Let’s make him look even more disgusting.” Love it!

I especially love her send ups of literary figures like Tiny Hermione, the Bronte sisters and Holmes and Watson. She also pokes fun at history (can you guess the historical figure on the cover?) and Canadian stereotypes. Hark! A Vagrant collects a lot of her cheeky, witty and oh-so-true comics in a single, fun volume I’d recommend for just about anyone with a sense of humour.

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Part 2 here, featuring the following books:

(Note: You may also click on the thumbnail to be taken directly to that book’s write-up.)