Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Year-end Top Ten List and Contest … With a Twist!

For the last few years I’ve had a tradition of listing my Top Ten favourite books of the year (usually based on what leaves the most lasting impression on me, looking back over a year’s worth of reading) and having a contest in which readers have the oppoturnity to win one of the books on the list. 

I’m doing that again this year, but with a twist. Instead of posting my list and then a quiz, the quiz IS the list.  I’m going to post clues to what my Top Ten favourite books were this year, and based on your own amazing knowledge of books, or simply looking back through the books I’ve reviewed here, you have to guess what they are.

When you think you have the list assembled, email it to me at (I’ve closed comments on this entry so you won’t  post your list in the comments, which gives it away for others).  In your email, also indicate which one of these books you’d like to have if you’re a winner.

I will select FIVE winners from the correct entries that come in to me before midnight, NST, on January 6, 2010, and each of those five winners will receive the book of their choice.  I may also have some runner-up prizes but I’ll update you on that when I see how many entries I get.

So, without further ado, this year’s list … the top ten best, or at least most memorable, of the 98 books (58  novels; 40 nonfiction) I read and reviewed in 2010:

1. A novel that truly deserves to be called “epic” — this is a whale of a tale in every sense.

2. A memoir by someone whose young-adult wanderings around the world in the mid-80s were far more epic than mine, and included an ill-fated trip to China.

3. A parenting philosophy I can totally get on board with — even though my kids hate the book’s title!

4. It’s billed as a young-adult novel, but it’s definitely not light reading: a serious and moving story about how reading saves a young girl’s sanity in World War Two Germany.

5. A realistic guide to social justice for middle-class evangelical Christians.

6. My favourite Canada Reads selection!

7. A fascinating glimpse into sixteenth-century convent life.

8. Some writers set themselves  a quirky challenge for a year and write a book about it.  This writer did it all in one day — but what a day it was!

9. I wrote a short story about her, but this author wrote a whole book!

10. I could have been annoyed at the author for deceiving his friends for a whole year, but he managed to come off as a pretty nice guy all the same.

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Christianus Sum, by Shawn J. Pollett

If you follow this blog at all, you know that there are certain things that never fail to delight me: one is Christian fiction that’s actually well-written and engaging; another is historical fiction that gives me a glimpse into an era I didn’t know much about before.  Christianus Sum offers both.

This novel takes place in Rome in the third century, as an emperor named Decius ascends the imperial throne and begins persecuting Christians.  Although I’ve done some reading in the last few years about Rome in the time of Julius and Augustus Caesar, I knew almost nothing about third-century Rome, and hadn’t realized what an utterly chaotic period this was in the Empire.  Pollett captures the imperial power struggles of this era very well, while his main focus is on the lives of Christians in this period.

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Filed under Canadian author, Fiction -- historical, Fiction -- inspirational

Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby

Juliet, Naked is the kind of thoroughly enjoyable read I’ve come to count on Nick Hornby for.  He rarely lets me down, and I love that in a writer — when you can open a book and just know you’re going to enjoy what’s inside.

Juliet, Naked explores the murky world of fame and celebrity obsession in the Age of Internet. As most of  us who spend far too much time online know, we live in an era in which a failed musician who hasn’t recorded anything in twenty years can be the subject of intense fascination and minute scrutiny by rabid fans on website who analyze and deconstruct every lyric till they are far more “expert” on the artist’s work than even the artist himself.

And that’s pretty much what has happened to non-practicing American musician Tucker Crowe, a minor musical postscript who has become a cult icon to devoted fans on the internet long after he stopped recording.  One of the most obsessed of those fans is Duncan, a middle-aged British geek who makes his living teaching college classes but whose real claim to fame (in his own mind anyway) is that he’s one of the world’s leading experts on the music of Tucker Crowe.

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Filed under Fiction -- general

The Language of Bees, by Laurie R. King

The Language of Bees is another well-written, gripping, excellent offering in the Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell series (if you’re not familiar with the series, I reviewed the first book a few years ago and have been picking them up when I get a chance ever since).  This one features the son Holmes never knew he had, who reappears in his life to ask for Holmes’ help in solving the disappearance of two missing persons.

Holmes and Russell do a lot of investigating separately in this novel, although every time they do end up together comparing notes it’s a lot of fun. I have no problem with Mary Russell, the narrator, as the main investigator, though, because I find her quite strong enough to carry the story on her own.  I did not understand why, early in the novel, she spent so much time trying to figure out a mundane puzzle about Holmes’ beehives — the bee story didn’t connect to the main plot at all, so I’m assuming there was an important thematic connection that was too subtle for me.  On the other hand, although some aspects of the mystery are resolved in this book, it ends with the words “To Be Continued” and a number of loose ends left untied … so there’s obviously more to be revealed in the next volume of the series. Which I will definitely be reading!!


Filed under Fiction -- mystery

Nikolski, by Nicholas Dickner (Canada Reads #4)

I didn’t have any idea what to expect from this latest of my Canada Reads reads. Nikolski is a French-language novel which won awards both for the original French, and for the English translation (which of course is what I read).  And I can sort of see why it was an award-winner, but at the same time I know it’s never going to be a favourite of mine or a book I’ll want to reread.

Nikolski is very well-written, and not just in that “language is so pretty I can’t pick out the storyline” pretentious literary way.  It’s clear, lucid and sparse — at least in English translation.  It sketches the storylines of three young adults in Montreal in the late 80s and 90s.  These three people have some significant things in common — far more than they know — but they never discover this, because their lives never come in contact except through brief casual contact.

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The Jade Peony, by Wayson Choy (Canada Reads #3)

The third of the Canada Reads books I’m reviewing (the second one I’m actually reading at the moment, since one was a pre-read I didn’t want to re-read) is a novel about three children — a girl, Jook-Liang, and her brothers Jung-Sum and Sek-Lung — growing up in Vancouver’s Chinatown during World War Two.

There were parallels here to two novels I’ve read recently, Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls and Jamie Ford’s Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (both of which were written later than Jade Peony, but I read them first, so in my mind they covered the territory first) — there are similar aspects of the Chinese immigrant experience dealt with in both, and details, such as the “I AM CHINESE” button worn by characters both in this novel and in Bitter and Sweet to distinguish themselves from the hated Japanese during the war years.

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Filed under Canada Reads, Canadian author, Fiction -- historical

Good to a Fault, by Marina Endicott (Canada Reads #2)

Good to a Fault  the first of this year’s Canada Reads nominations that I actually sat down and read right away, and without having touched the others I already have a strong feeling it’s going to be my pick.

Basically, it’s my kind of story.  Quiet, well-written without being show-offy, heavy on character development. 

Good to a Fault is the story of Clara, a quiet, middle-aged divorcee who has spent the last few years of her life caring for her dying parents, and now looks around her to wonder what the rest of her life is going to be about. The answer arrives not with a whimper but a bang, when Clara hits a carful of people at an intersection and becomes entangled — and enmeshed — in their lives. Nobody is seriously injured in the accident, but the resulting hospital visit reveals that the mother of the family, Lorraine, has possibly terminal cancer.  Feeling both guilty, and overwhelmed by the desire to take a positive action for once in her life, Clara offers to let the whole family — three small children, a cranky shoplifting grandmother, and a deadbeat dad who promptly disappears with Clara’s car — into her home.

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Filed under Canada Reads, Canadian author, Fiction -- general