{2015 Goals} Reducing the TBR Stash – The Last Five Books

A couple of days ago I shared the first five books I’m going to try and tackle from Mount TBR in 2015. Here are the final five.


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6. Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin

Not that anyone really needs the blurb to this one …

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

I started the series in audio, but then I realized from reading other people’s thoughts there would be a lot of bloody, gory deaths. Much better in print for me, then. I actually bought a boxed set of the first four books, so I have the other three to read as well.

7. The Man on the Balcony, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

The chilling third novel in the Martin Beck mystery series by the internationally renowned crime writing duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, finds Martin Beck investigating a string of child murders.In the once peaceful parks of Stockholm, a killer is stalking young girls and disposing their bodies. The city is on edge, and an undercurrent of fear has gripped its residents. Martin Beck, now a superintendent, has two possible witnesses: a silent, stone-cold mugger and a mute three year old boy. With the likelihood of another murder growing as each day passes, the police force work night and day. But their efforts have offered little insight into the methodology of the killer. Then a distant memory resurfaces in Beck’s mind, and he may just have the break he needs.

I’ve been meaning to read the Martin Beck series for a while. This isn’t the first book in the series, but it’s the one book in the series that I do have.

8. Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay

Ned Marriner is spending springtime with his father in Provence, where the celebrated photographer is shooting images for a glossy coffee table book.

While his father photographs the cathedral of Aix-en-Provence, Ned explores the shadowy interior with Kate Wenger, an American exchange student who has a deep knowledge of the area’s history. They surprise an intruder in a place where he should not be: “I think you ought to go now,” he tells them, drawing a knife. “You have blundered into a corner of a very old story.”

In this sublime and ancient part of the world, where borders between the living and the long-dead are most vulnerable, Ned and those close to him are about to be drawn into a haunted tale, as mythic figures from conflicts of long ago erupt into the present, changing and claiming lives.

I have had Ysabel and Tigana in my TBR stash for a few years now. The only reason Ysabel is in this list and not Tigana is because I couldn’t find Tigana in any of the TBR piles. It’s there somewhere, though, I know!

9. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Another one that doesn’t really need the blurb, but to be consistent, here it is:

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

I haven’t read this one because I don’t really like dystopian novels. And then last year I read Divergent and realized I was, of course, wrong to use such a blanket assumption (as is usually the case with assumptions). I’m pretty sure I’ll like The Hunger Games, once I start reading it.

10. Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

Fat Charlie Nancy’s normal life ended the moment his father dropped dead on a Florida karaoke stage. Charlie didn’t know his dad was a god. And he never knew he had a brother. Now brother Spider’s on his doorstep—about to make Fat Charlie’s life more interesting . . . and a lot more dangerous.

Another Neil Gaiman book in my list. Stardust is the other Gaiman novel I have yet to read (not counting his two recent fairy tale retellings, Hansel and Gretel and The Sleeper and the Spindle), but I don’t have a physical copy of Stardust, so it’s not on this list. But it would be, if it was actually in my TBR stash.

So these five plus these previous five are the ones I intend to read in 2015. It’s only ten books from my TBR, but it’s ten more than I read this year! I thought about doing twelve books, one per month, but when I went through TBR piles, only ten books called to me. Which might lead you to think, maybe I should get rid of the rest of the TBR books, right? But I just couldn’t. I already weeded it out three years ago when we moved. I don’t think I can bear to weed out any more books from it …

A Quiet Grateful Celebration Tonight

I’d intended to blog about the final five books from my TBR stash that I want to read next year, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.

My heart is just so full right now, and I want to let it all spill out. My blog seems like the best place for the words to go.

For the first time in over fifteen years, I don’t have to work through the holidays.

This is something I’ve dreamed of for a long time. As a freelancer, it can often feel like feast or famine, and during the feast times, you acquire the habit of saying “yes” to everything, because after you finish that last project, it may well be famine. Because most of my indexing clients are textbook publishers, traditionally the busy season for me has been from November to February, with the worst of it being in November and December. As a result,  I have had too many years where I was only able to take Christmas Day off work – and I felt thankful that I could.

But this entire year, it’s been different. Partly, it’s because I’m not doing as many indexing projects as I used to. Three years ago, one of my major clients decided to outsource all its editorial overseas, indexes included, and since then, while I still do some of their indexes via the overseas editorial firms (and when they do keep anything in-house, I often get the project), I’m now preparing only a fraction of the indexes for them that I used to. Each year that number has dwindled.

The publishing industry is in a state of flux, and outsourcing overseas is a very real possibility with my other clients too. So with this in mind, I’ve started to focus on freelance writing and social media management.  I started out this year with one client, thanks to my good friend Brette Sember, and then I added another client (thanks again to Brette). I think that’s helped in terms of a steadier workload.

And it’s funny the way life works. Instead of having to deal with a big empty hole in my work schedule because of the dwindling workload from this one major client who’s outsourced all its editorial, my other clients began filling the gap. In fact, two of them in particular have kept me steadily indexing throughout the year, so that this year and last, I never really felt that “famine” part of the freelance life. While I have a little less work, it’s spread out much more evenly through the year.

The best thing is, this is the first year I’ve been able to take so much time off for the holidays. I have one writing assignment due next week, but that’s it. Even better, my time off isn’t at the expense of my bank account, either (if it was, I wouldn’t be feeling so happy!).


Photo 2014-12-19, 2 56 19 PMI even had time to take pictures at the mall!

So I’m really really looking forward to the days leading up to Christmas. Today I took my youngest Christmas shopping, and we had such fun! He’s a great kid to take to the shops, because he really gets into it. In the past, I’d have to scramble to find an hour in my schedule to whisk him to a store to pick a present for his dad, but today we spent the entire afternoon wandering the mall, browsing and having a great time. This year, we had time for him to pick presents for his older brother and sister too, as well as for his dad.

Photo 2014-12-19, 4 14 16 PMHard to see, but shimmery beauty decorates one of the mall windows

And tonight, it’s just the two of us. Christmas music is playing, the tree is lit, and we have wrapping plans. I feel so rich, so abundant, so grateful.  I want to keep pinching myself to make sure this is real.

A steady workload and the ability to take time off, without any guilt or stress. More of the same throughout all of 2015, please!

{2015 Goals} Reducing the TBR Stash – The First Five

Even though I haven’t bought that many new books since we moved from our house into the condo three years ago (I have indulged in the occasional book-buying binge – I admit it – but not many) my physical TBR stash hasn’t reduced in size. My TBR books are double and triple stacked on whatever surfaces I can afford to give over to them (which means closets and the tops of bookshelves).

So I thought I’d motivate myself and see if I can’t do something about the state of the TBR in 2015. As I mentioned in my previous post (A Short Story a Day), I just don’t do well with reading challenges – although I really get tempted. I know there are quite a few reading challenges aimed at helping us bookish types reduce our TBR piles, but knowing me, the moment I sign up for one of them, I’m doomed never to even look at my TBR stacks in the new year, much less take books off of them and – gasp – read them.

But there’s nothing wrong with a little quiet, informal self-challenge. I went through my TBR stash and picked ten books that I really really want to read. Why these books were still hidden away in my TBR stash beats me – it’s not like I was saying to myself, “Oh, I don’t remember buying this!”. Every book I pulled from my stash, I knew full well was there. Because, as I mentioned, these are books I really really want to read.

I think it’s about time I read them, don’t you think? I’ve picked ten books. Here are the first five:

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1. Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completelyaccurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.

And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

What more can I say? It’s about time I read this, that’s for sure. I expect a lot of laugh out loud moments when I do.

2. Odd Thomas, by Dean Koontz

“The dead don’t talk. I don’t know why.” But they do try to communicate, with a short-order cook in a small desert town serving as their reluctant confidant. Meet Odd Thomas, the unassuming young hero of Dean Koontz’s dazzling New York Times bestseller, a gallant sentinel at the crossroads of life and death who offers up his heart in these pages and will forever capture yours.

Sometimes the silent souls who seek out Odd want justice. Occasionally their otherworldly tips help him prevent a crime. But this time it’s different. A stranger comes to Pico Mundo, accompanied by a horde of hyena-like shades who herald an imminent catastrophe. Aided by his soul mate, Stormy Llewellyn, and an unlikely community of allies that includes the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, Odd will race against time to thwart the gathering evil.

I decided I wanted to read Odd Thomas after I read In Odd We Trust, the Odd Thomas graphic novel. The link is to the review I wrote of it – back in 2009. Uh, yeah, I may not have mentioned this, but I apparently have books that have been in my TBR stash for quite a while now. Quite a while.  

3. The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

Breathtakingly suspenseful and beautifully written, The Historian is the story of a young woman plunged into a labyrinth where the secrets of her family’s past connect to an inconceivable evil: the dark fifteenth-century reign of Vlad the Impaler and a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive through the ages. The search for the truth becomes an adventure of monumental proportions, taking us from monasteries and dusty libraries to the capitals of Eastern Europe – in a feat of storytelling so rich, so hypnotic, so exciting that it has enthralled readers around the world.

Another one I’ve been wanting to read for a long while. The blurb absolutely captivates me.

4. Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova

No fictional character is more renowned for his powers of thought and observation than Sherlock Holmes. But is his extraordinary intellect merely a gift of fiction, or can we learn to cultivate these abilities ourselves, to improve our lives at work and at home?

We can, says psychologist and journalist Maria Konnikova, and in Mastermind she shows us how. Beginning with the “brain attic”—Holmes’s metaphor for how we store information and organize knowledge—Konnikova unpacks the mental strategies that lead to clearer thinking and deeper insights. Drawing on twenty-first-century neuroscience and psychology, Mastermind explores Holmes’s unique methods of ever-present mindfulness, astute observation, and logical deduction. In doing so, it shows how each of us, with some self-awareness and a little practice, can employ these same methods to sharpen our perceptions, solve difficult problems, and enhance our creative powers. For Holmes aficionados and casual readers alike, Konnikova reveals how the world’s most keen-eyed detective can serve as an unparalleled guide to upgrading the mind.

I first saw this on Brain Pickings (2013, so aha! This one hasn’t been in the TBR stash that long!). It’s the only non-fiction book in this list – I think it’s because it was with some of my other fiction TBRs. Now that I think about it, I have a lot of non-fiction books I want to get to, too …

5. The Twelve, by Justin Cronin

In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos. Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection that she continues to plan for her child’s arrival even as society dissolves around her. Kittridge, known to the world as “Last Stand in Denver,” has been forced to flee his stronghold and is now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far. April is a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a landscape of death and ruin. These three will learn that they have not been fully abandoned—and that in connection lies hope, even on the darkest of nights.

One hundred years in the future, Amy and the others fight on for humankind’s salvation . . . unaware that the rules have changed. The enemy has evolved, and a dark new order has arisen with a vision of the future infinitely more horrifying than man’s extinction. If the Twelve are to fall, one of those united to vanquish them will have to pay the ultimate price.

I LOVED The Passage  – as you can see from my review, I couldn’t stop raving about it. I was so excited about the sequel. So much so I even bought it in hardcover (I hardly ever do that). And then – I never got around to reading it! Partly it’s because I kept thinking I really should reread The Passage first, to reaquaint myself with the world. And when I start thinking like that, well, you know how it is. Now I have to find the time to read two big books. Big obstacle right there.

But I’m not sabotaging myself this time around. I’ll just plunge into The Twelve, trust that Justin Cronin will bring me up to speed relatively quickly and put me right back into the story.

So these are the first five books from my TBR that I plan on reading in 2015. Next five will show up tomorrow (because, you know, I’m blogging every day now …)

What’s the state of your TBR? Do you have any strategies for reducing your TBR piles in the new year?

{2015 Goals} A Short Story a Day

I am terrible at reading challenges. The few years I succumbed to the temptation and signed up for a few (well, okay, several), I totally failed. As in, big time. In fact, out of the several reading challenges I signed on for in those years, I only ever completed one, because it was an easy one. I did a reread of all the Harry Potter books in audio (and if I’d signed on again for something similar this year, I would have completed it!).

It almost seems to me, if I sign on for a reading challenge, it means I’ve increased my chances of not completing a single book associated with that challenge for that year. I’m serious. That’s how bad I am at them.

At this time of the year, I always find myself so tempted as I see everyone announcing the great reading challenges they’re joining in 2015. I want to join in, but I just don’t trust myself.

When it comes to reading challenges, I’m like the little kid who sits when she’s told to stand, and stands when told to sit.

But I did set myself a kind of mini reading challenge earlier this year, of reading a short story a day. And I did do it for a while – and best of all, it was a lot of fun while I was doing it. And if this 365 days of blogging is any indication so far (well, okay, it’s only been seventeen days, but they’ve been seventeen days of easy, effortless blogging, which rather amazes me), I might have more success with self-challenges.

So in 2015, I’m going to do a short-story a day reading challenge. I have short stories from several more anthologies to add to my short story box, and I’ll continue to use the randomized method of selecting a short story to read, since this random method worked so well for me earlier this year.

Photo 2014-12-17, 4 10 31 PMThe Short Story Box, for Totally Randomized Reading Fun

There are a few reasons why I want to read short stories more regularly:

  1. As a reader, I have a lot of short story anthologies, but for some reason, when I’m wanting something to read, I never reach for any one of them. Even though I know I’ll enjoy them (I mean, good grief, I have a few short story collections by Neil Gaiman that I haven’t read yet!). So I have stacks and stacks of short story collections just sitting around gathering both physical and digital dust..
  2. As a writer, during the period earlier this year when I was reading a short story a day, I just buzzed with both ideas and writing energy. It was really quite an incredible creativity booster, and yes, I’d like more of that in 2015, please.

If you’re interested in joining me, just let me know in the comments.  I’m not going to do anything formal about this challenge. I’ll tweet about it occasionally, maybe using a hashtag like #shortstoryaday (it’s probably being used for another, similar challenge, but I’m sure it will be fine).  I’ll probably also post once a month with a list of the five or ten best short stories I read that month, in order to keep myself accountable (since it is a challenge, after all!).

It’s very likely there’s already a formal short story reading challenge out there (or two or three …). I don’t dare look, because I’d be so tempted to sign up, and that would just jinx my plan to read more short stories in 2015!

Snapshot: 12-16-2014

Wearing: My pajamas and a hoodie, because it’s a bit cool in here.

Feeling: Pretty good. I still have some deadlines before Christmas, but they’re on the lighter side, so I feel like I have some breathing space.

Eating: Just had a bowl of savoury oatmeal, with salmon chunks in it. I prefer my oatmeal to be savoury rather than sweet – kind of like a Western version of congee!

Drinking: Homemade mango kefir and a cup of green tea.

Reading: I started Jackaby by William Ritter last week. It’s been good so far, although I haven’t read enough of it yet to be feeling that “can’t put this down” feeling. I have high hopes for it, though.

Listening: Still listening to 14 by Peter Clines. Just finished a really exciting scene last night – I think I was holding my breath through much of it.  I have about two and a half more hours of the book left.

I also downloaded the Eckhart Tolle bundle onto my iPhone, and have been listening to his talk on Manifestation. As always, the focus is on being and the practice of presence, and it’s always such a good reminder for me, especially around this time of the year. Lately, despite daily meditation (or attempts at it), my mind is usually going a mile a minute, and Eckhart always manages to slow me down to the speed of presence. I just wish I could get there easily when I’m not listening to him!

Writing: Other than blog posts and freelance articles, nothing. I may be able to get back into a regular fiction writing habit before Christmas, but this time of year can get crazy, I’ve decided to be okay if I don’t start until after the holidays.

I’m excited, though, because my writing buddy Memory is currently doing an alpha read (it’s more like pre-alpha, if that’s possible) of my children’s book WAVERLEY, both the new, finished version and my first, incomplete version. The feedback she’s given me so far has been really good, and I’m planning on revising WAVERLEY beginning in the new year.

Working: I have two freelance articles due tomorrow, and I’m also finishing up an index for a very interesting book. I like this, because I rarely index interesting books (most of my projects are university textbooks, with the occasional high school book thrown in). This one is on the cooperative business model and servant leadership, and I found the concepts rather breathtaking.

Creating: Another big zero here. I know this is something I need to make into a daily habit or it will never get done, so it’s probably not going to happen until after the holidays. Things I’m thinking about doing in the new year are more drawing and more sketchnoting. We shall see.

Photo of the week: I took this last night, of Dylan and Creeper:

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I’ve also been having a lot of fun this past week on Instagram with the #SeasonsReading challenge. I think I’ll be doing more Book-a-Day photo challenges in the new year – they really make me think more creatively about the pictures I’m taking.

Discovery: Now that I can comment on blogs from my phone, I’ve developed a new morning routine: blog reading! (I used to read the Toronto Star quickly followed by the New York Times (not as quickly), but I much prefer blog reading). So I’ve been coming across a ton of “Best of the Year” lists. They make me weep sometimes, though, as my TBR now feels even more out of control than ever.  Kristen’s list at We Be Reading has probably done the most amount of damage so far in this regard.

Looking forward to: The holidays! Doing the final bit of gift shopping! Actually having time to have fun wrapping this year (instead of doing it all in a crazed, two-hour, frantic blitz as I’ve done in previous years)! And some nice big blocks of time for reading (fingers crossed about this one).

The rest of today: Dylan and I are headed out to the library, where we each have a large stack of holds to pick up. Plus our library cards need to be renewed. And then work. But I kind of feel like I had the morning off, so it’s not too bad.

On Stage

Dylan had his first performance in the National Ballet’s Nutcracker on Sunday. We have tickets to one of his performances next weekend, but at the last minute Ward and I decided to get standing room seats because it was, after all, Dylan’s first performance!

And we were very glad we did. Last year, Dylan was in three operas – Peter Grimes, The Masked Ball and Don Quichotte – so it’s not his first time on the Four Seasons stage, but this was his first time dancing on that state. Dancing is what he loves to do, and we both had one of those “feelings swelling up within” moments when he first came on stage.

Also, there were the stairs. He has to run up and down some stairs in one of the scenes, and he only got to rehearse on the actual stairs once, last week. He didn’t run down them quickly enough during the rehearsals, so he was a bit late in his timing. He’s a kid who’s more on the cautious side, so has never been one to rush pelmel down stairs. So he’s been practicing – on the condo stairs, the subway stairs, basically anywhere we could find stairs.

And he did wonderfully! His timing was fine, and while there was one minor mishap – he has a chicken, attached to him, that’s “chasing” him and the chicken got caught at the top of the stairs at one point, but the boy behind him managed to loosen it – no-one in the audience was any the wiser that a glitch had occurred.

This video gives a backstage view of the production:

It seems a little chaotic, but Dylan says it’s not. In fact, he says it’s all very organized, same as the operas he performed in last year.

Meanwhile, #UncleJohn, the opera Ward is in right now, also started performances last week, with this week seeing the last of the performances. #UncleJohn is a modern interpretation of Don Giovanni, and everything is sung in English. (Ward doesn’t do any singing – he’s an extra, and plays a cop.)

Coincidentally, Ward will be auditioning tomorrow for an extra’s role in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Don Giovanni! If he gets the part, he’ll be in rehearsals through much of the holidays. Dylan has five more performances, so the next few weeks could be quite hectic for us, not counting the holidays!

As for me, I’m quite content to be in the audience occasionally. I have absolutely no hankering to be on stage – although I certainly wouldn’t mind writing something that gets produced on stage!

[TSS] Bookish Bliss: When a Book Has All the Right Ingredients

I’ve been reading 14, by Peter Clines, in audio and really really enjoying it. It’s got so many of the ingredients that make me pick up a book in the first place, and it’s now carrying out its initial promise of having the right ingredients.


It’s also been making me think about certain “ingredients” in a book that will almost always send me into anticipatory bookish bliss.

Of course, I need the book to be well-written and the author has to have the skill to make the characters come alive. That’s a given, for any book that I read. But there are certain things that really have the “wow factor” for me. It doesn’t necessarily mean a book with some or even all of these elements will be a great read, but these are all things that will make me pick up the book in the first place and read it:

  1. A team. I really really like it when there’s a good supporting team for the protagonist. I tend to stay away from most “lone wolf” books, because the dynamics of working within a team – with all the drama that can go with it, too – help make a story come alive for me. I think the only “lone wolf” books I’ve enjoyed are Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, and that’s mostly because Reacher is more or less invincible and there are times when I really need an invincible hero. And Reacher doesn’t always lone wolf it – my favourite Reacher book is Bad Luck and Trouble, and of course it’s because in this one, Reacher has a team of sorts.
  2. Cinderella/underdog. I am a sucker for the Cinderella or underdog story. This particular taste of mine extends to movies as well. There is nothing I like better than cheering on someone who’s not supposed to be able to do it, someone everyone else says doesn’t have quite the chops for doing what needs to be done.
  3. A mystery. By this I don’t mean the book has to be a mystery, although I do enjoy reading mysteries. But I like there to be an unknown that is slowly revealed to the reader (and the protagonist) as the story moves along. I’m not really a big fan of romances where the romance is the main plot, for example, but throw in a good mystery of some sort and suddenly the book becomes more palatable to me.
  4. Diverse characters. I don’t read nearly enough books which feature non-white characters in larger roles. For me, a novel that’s populated by a more diverse cast of characters feels more real. It better reflects the multicultural world in which I live. And by diverse, I mean more than just bit parts like the Korean storekeeper who gets robbed or the elderly black woman who lives down the hall. Unless, of course, the storekeeper or the elderly woman are a lot more involved in the plot then their stereotypes tend to be.
  5. Strange and unusual maps. I don’t know what it is about maps, but they seem very magical to me. I love books where maps play a central role (although I can’t think of any right now, but I know I’ve read them). When I’m reading a book blurb and there’s clearly a strange  and unusual map involved, chances are good the book’s going on my to-read list.
  6. An ancient book. This is much like my fascination with maps. I really like it when an ancient book shows up in the plot. I just have this feeling, yes, this is going to be a good read, because there’s an ancient book involved. Even more so if it’s a grimoire. Of course, it’s not always (or even usually!) the case that the story will be good, but I forever live in the hope that an ancient book signals a great read.
  7. Numbers. Numbers are another thing that feel magical to me. Numbers in fiction can pop up in a number of guises, and I like them all. Codes, coding, patterns, math, chess, numbers with hidden meanings, equations – I love them all. Remember the TV show Numb3rs? One of my absolute favourite shows of all time.

I’m loving 14 and guess what? It’s got numbers 1, 3, 4 and 7 in it. Not to mention all the Scooby Doo references. (Which, now that I think about it, should probably be on my list too.)

On the flip side, there are certain things which have the power to turn me off a book instantly.

  1. Weak female main characters.  Unfortunately, this usually can’t be determined anymore just by reading a book’s synopsis. You can have a female character who’s, oh, I don’t know, battled malaria in impoverished countries, or graduated with a Ph.D in biology from Harvard, but it’s only  as you’re reading that you discover these are only trappings with which the author is dressing the character, and have absolutely no impact on how the character acts. When I encounter this while I’m reading, it makes it really easy for me to put down the book and never remember to get back to it. The Toronto Star recently published this article about a business school assignment which featured a ditzy female business student who needs her fiancé’s help to determine which compensation package she should accept. The scenario featured in the assignment is almost laughably absurd but sadly, stuff like this doesn’t just appear in the occasional business school assignment, it continues to show up in novels as well. 
  2. Main character is framed. And must clear his or her name. While on the run. From both the cops and the bad guys. I don’t know what it is with me and this scenario, but I really don’t like it. I guess it was well-done in The Fugitive, but whenever I see this type of plot, I put the book down. (I won’t even watch it if it turns up in a favourite television series – I’ll just skip that episode.) I’m not saying I’d never read a book like this, but it would have to have a really original idea driving it first. I know there’ve been lots of great reads centering around this particular story line, but for some reason, I just don’t like it.
  3. Main character, who works on the side of professional law enforcement, always ends up personally targeted by the bad guy. I’m fine with an occasional helping of this – I mean, it does make for more thrills and excitement –  but there are some mystery and suspense series out there where this happens almost all the time. So every single time the protagonist gets a case, blink and before you know what hit you, she’s opening her front door and there’s a dead skunk in a box with a “you are next” message waiting on her front doorstep (and I’m saying “she” and “her” because – have you noticed? – this kind of thing tends to happen more often to female main characters). The problem with this kind of situation, used constantly and injudiciously, is that it really pulls me out of the story. I start thinking, boy, if this happens all the time to real-life female professionals involved in law enforcement, they really need increased danger pay. The ones that manage to survive, that is.

So there you go. These are the kinds of things that will either make me grab a book, or drop it. What about you? Are there any particular story ingredients you really love, or really hate, to see in a book?


So last week I mentioned how surprised I was that I was actually blogging about making kefir. Well, it turns out I’m going to keep surprising myself food-wise, because …

I just made homemade cheese! (Well, I guess if I made it, it would of course be homemade, but it felt absolutely necessary to use that word “homemade” because that’s part of what’s making me feel giddy inside.)

Here it is. Not a beautiful, food-magazine worthy shot, but it looks gorgeous to me:

Photo 2014-12-13, 7 14 31 PM

It’s a spreadable cream cheese type of cheese, and I made it from (did you guess?) kefir! I flavoured this batch with onion and garlic and some salt, and I’m waiting for the flavours to meld together before I use it. I’ve tasted it already and it tastes good, like a slightly more tart version of regular spreadable cream cheese.

I had no clue until a few days ago that I was even going to try something like this. But remember those milk kefir grains I got? Well, they apparently love the condo, because they culture milk into kefir like crazy. I’m now letting it go 24 hours because I’d be awash in milk kefir otherwise, but it really only takes about 12 hours and I have something drinkable.

Now, I like kefir, and I’ve been trying a lot of really delicious flavours (strawberry, blueberry, chocolate – and I’m trying out mango for today’s batch). The stuff is so delicious when you make it yourself, I can easily drink two or three glasses a day. But even with that kind of consumption rate, I do end up with extra kefir.

So I did some poking around online, and discovered it’s really really easy making kefir cheese. I checked out a bunch of “recipes” and they basically all said the same thing. Put your kefir into a square of cotton cloth (I just used one of our cotton table napkins), tie it up into a bundle and stick it in the fridge, where the whey will drip out of it. Most people put it in a strainer hanging over a large container, but I just stuck mine in a mason jar, stuck a chopstick through the knots I’d made to keep the bundle suspended, and 24 hours later … cheese!

Now I’m going to poke around online and see what kind of cheese-making kits might be out there. I need to add stuff to my Christmas wishlist!

I’m linking this post to this week’s Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads. Pop on over to check out more lovely foodie links!

It’s Been One of Those Days

One of the things I’ve decided to do as a result of my 365 days of blogging self-challenge is to share more of my day-to-day here. I’ve never really done this here before, but I’ve been finding that blogging daily has given me a more intimate connection to my blog, if that makes sense, and within this new sort of relationship I’m having with my writing here, the occasional day-to-day type of post seems like a good fit.

Well, okay. What I’m really saying is that I may occasionally express some frustration here. Like right now, in this post.

Because it’s been one of those days.

It was supposed to be a GOOD day. I had a few more freelance blog posts to write for one client, my own daily blog post here, some reading lined up, and a couple of indexing deadlines to work on. A lighter version of my normal day. I was looking forward to it.

But then I woke up, and Ward tells me “that cat” ate my new favourite sweater.

“That cat” is Hobbes. We have two cats (the other one is Creeper), but whenever we say “that cat”, it always means Hobbes.

This is Hobbes, pretending to be a good cat (or rather, being made to pretend to be a good cat – my son is holding him, as it was the only way I could take his picture for this post):

Photo 2014-12-12, 9 22 31 PM


This is my sweater:

Photo 2014-12-12, 9 18 18 PM

I like it so much, I can’t bear to throw it out so I’m telling myself I’m still going to wear it around the house (we’ll see about that, I guess.)

So with that nice big welcome to my day, I sat down at my laptop and checked my email.

Only to find one of my editors had forwarded me an irate email from an author about an index I’d prepared for his book. The author was upset because I had indexed material he hadn’t wanted included in the index. He also appeared to have serious concerns about my skills because he’d found a term that “is nowhere in the text” and he’d like to know “how that could happen?” The entire tone of the email (and the previous emails in the thread which had also been forwarded to me) was quite off-putting.

Now, I don’t  often make mistakes in my work, but when I do, I’m the very first to own up to them. But in this case, there wasn’t anything to own up to. I hadn’t been instructed to leave out the things the author wanted left out. They were things I would normally include. And the term he said wasn’t in the text, which presumably made him concerned about the veracity of the rest of entries in the index? It was in the text. On the actual page referred to in the index (like it should be).

When things like this happen, I get reminded A LOT how I’d much rather be making things up for a living, as Neil Gaiman calls the novelist’s life. After all, I’m good at making stuff up. I like to think I’m even better at making stuff up than I am at indexing (but no, this doesn’t mean I make a practice of putting non-existent entries into the indexes I prepare).

After I revised the index to the new specifications and wrote out a long  and, I hope, professional email carefully addressing in great detail (it was either that or be snarky, and you can’t be snarky and professional at the same time) the author’s concerns, we headed out to the suburbs for my father-in-law’s birthday dinner at a restaurant out there.

And since it was still “one of those days”, we got caught in rush hour traffic. A trip that would normally take under an hour took an hour and a half. Which made us late. Which meant we had to wait for our order while everyone else was already eating.

But the good news? Eventually the cycle does get broken. “One of those days” has to eventually end, become a new day. Luckily for me I didn’t even have to go to sleep in order to wake up to a new day. The dinner was lovely and greatly revived my mood, and the drive home took half an hour less than the drive there.

Now I’m back home, and ready to make good use of a day that’s left “one of those days” behind. I’ve got kefir cheese dripping whey in the fridge, three blog posts to write for a client, an index to mark up, a book I’m in the middle of reading and another one I’m in the middle of listening to.

I’m still on track for my deadlines, so the work stuff can actually wait until tomorrow. And yes, a book beckons. And I can answer its call. Now that’s a GOOD night.

Some Shopping Zen

I discovered today that shopping can actually be a Zen experience.

I know. It surprised me too.

Dylan had a Nutcracker rehearsal at the Four Seasons, which is close to the Eaton Centre, the big mall in downtown Toronto. So I decided I’d go there after dropping him off. My daughter’s birthday is coming up and I had a good idea what I wanted to get her.

But first, I was starving. So I took myself to Santouka Ramen and had a lovely bowl of shoyu ramen. Usually there’s a line-up but (1) it was the first real snowy day of the year and (2) since I was by myself I just took one of the stools at the bar in front of the kitchen.

Photo 2014-12-11, 1 08 54 PMYummy Shoyu Ramen

Other than time spent working in front of a computer, I don’t actually get a lot of time to myself. And one of my favourite things to do when I do have a bit of time to myself is to dine out solo. It’s not that I’m fervently anti-social, it’s just that sometimes, it’s nice to sit down and have dinner with just yourself.

So I had a marvellous time, and, feeling properly nourished, I was ready to attack tackle the crowds at the mall. You’d think it being the middle of a weekday, there wouldn’t be any crowds, but the place was pretty full (I’d hate to see what it must be like on the weekends) – but not so packed that it made you feel like you wouldn’t get anything accomplished.

I went straight to the store where I wanted to get Hayley’s present. Well, not quite “straight to”, as I had to look it up first and then find my way there. But it was nice getting there. There were big wire reindeers wrapped in white lights and a generally happy kind of vibe in the air. People were smiling, probably glad to be inside getting some shopping done rather than outside in the wet snow.

It took me a while to decide on just the right birthday gift, but when I was done, I realized I still had two hours before I had to go pick up Dylan.

Two Whole Hours.

To Myself.


And this is where the Zen kicked in. I kind of got lost in the zone after that. I wandered around looking at things, not feeling any need to buy and being really comfortable with Just Browsing. And then I passed the big Chapters book store. With a Starbucks inside.


I spent most of my time at Chapters in the cookbook section, because reading cookbooks is something I love to do, and for some reason, reading cookbooks usually falls to the very bottom of my priority list. I found some interesting titles, which I jotted down in the Drafts app on my iPhone (which oh so conveniently appends whatever I write onto a list titled “Books” that’s stored in my Dropbox).

We have, more or less, placed a moratorium on buying more cookbooks until we weed through the ones we have, as our apartment is too small for us to squeeze any more shelves in and cookbooks by their nature tend to be much bigger than novels. But! There’s always the library, right?

Cookbooks That Caught My EyeCookbooks that caught my eye

I wandered happily upstairs to where the Starbucks was, but the line-up was long, so I wandered back downstairs, and took this picture for my Christmas wish list, which I then texted to Ward (technology makes things like letting people know what you want for Christmas SO easy).

Photo 2014-12-11, 2 56 02 PM

(Can you tell, my mind’s been on food all day?)

And after all of this lovely shoppingness, I still had time. The luxury of it! After close to two months of constant, consistent deadlines – which kind of worked like this: deadline, deadline, overlapping deadlines, deadline, overlapping deadlines, deadlines – it was so amazing to have all this time to myself.

It didn’t take me long to decide my next move. I headed over to the Timothy’s World Coffee at Atrium on the Bay, ordered an iced decaf Americano (because I was so hot after spending all that time wandering the shops while in my winter coat) and spent the rest of the time leisurely reading and commenting on blogs, adding to my TBR list and writing the beginning of this blog post.

So I spent the day shopping and I felt so present the entire time. I tell you, this was a first for me. And it was really, really lovely.

And hopefully I can get this magical shopping vibe going every time I go shopping from now on.