Year in review 2017: Books

Total books “read”: 40
– Percentage that were audiobooks: (15/40 = 38%)
– Percentage that were “Asian-American”: (13/40 = 33%)
– Percentage non-fiction: (11/40 = 28%)
– Percentage written by celebrities: (7/40 = 18%)
– Percentage Can Con (11/40 = 28%)



Jessica Alba’s The Honest Life: Living Naturally and True to You (Mar 2013) – I requested this book as a Christmas gift back in 2014 because of the impending arrive of E in 2015 but didn’t start reading it until some time in 2016 (I must have been between books). It’s a friendly guide to the bad ingredients that are found in virtually everything in your home and advice on alternatives. It will be terribly difficult to enact it all – despite what she says – but definitely advice on my mind.

Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (Sep 2015) – I was initially put off by Col. Hadfield’s prose, finding the language seemed to be targeted at a tween or younger age but then I hit my stride in reading and it was really interesting thereafter. Being an astronaut is so complex it would be incomprehensible to the majority of readers so he has to distill to the essence of the job and present universal life lessons that speak to the general public. And, surprisingly, the lessons did translate well.

Rachel Jonat’s The Minimalist Mom: How to Simply Parent Your Baby (Aug 2016) – When I told Brenda that I read Jonat’s first book, Do Less, which felt like a pamphlet, so breezy, she told me how she’s more interested in the follow-up volume that addresses the scenario of being minimalist with a family. So I requested The Minimalist Mom from the library and slogged through it. The principles remain the same and while I was reading it, I felt grateful that we have the space we have albeit we are in a condo. We’re in a palace compared to people with multiple children in a 600-sf condo! And while Jonat was really targeting people preparing for their first child, it gave me confidence about dealing with the arrival of a second child once minimalism is a theme in your life. At the same time, it wasn’t that useful to me because the target reader is preparing for and the first year of life (basically) with one child.

Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist (Nov 2016) – As I sometimes do, I browse the Audible website to get inspiration for audiobooks to request from the library. It’s the usual criteria: a book I wouldn’t want to read but material seems interesting to consume aurally. It was at the site that I learned about Fisher’s last memoir, a cute play on words named The Princess Diarist, and it was not long after Fisher’s sudden passing and that of her mother’s the day after. Since the book description promised to give an inside look at what it was like on the set of the first Star Wars movie, I figured I “owed it to myself” as a sort-of nerd. As I was listening to the novel, I read a little about her earlier memoirs. She can’t escape being Princess Leia and dresses up as Leia on the covers of previous books. It seems she’s covered her life in memoirs several times over with a different focus and Princess Diarist is the first where she admits to her affair with Harrison Ford who was married at the time. That was interesting enough because despite being physically intimate, he was not otherwise available to her and her reaction to that – although she was just 19 – resonates. The memoir was light on other details from Star Wars filming that a SW nerd would want to know. Perhaps it was new material how she explored being Leia, the existential crisis of not appreciating what she had because it came when she was so young, being expected to be Leia still decades on, and times when she doesn’t feel allowed to go beyond the boundaries set by her character. A different narrator read the diary entries but I didn’t enjoy it, preferring the hindsight narration by Fisher herself. Coincidentally, I finished listening to the The Princess Diarist on the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Wars (May 25).

Eleanor Roosevelt’s You Learn by Living (1961) – I heard of this small volume when the book review editors on ItNYTBR podcast discussed what they were currently reading. One of the editors was “pre-reading” the book to see if it was appropriate (useful) for her teenage daughter and she recommended it highly. Roosevelt is a fascinating figure in history and while the book wasn’t framed to provide chronological details of her life, you get a glimpse of the scope of her involvement in different activities. With little detail, she describes overcoming a lot in order to deal with being in the spotlight. It took me a surprisingly long time to get through the little volume because the writing was dense. A lot the material was common advice, but it is bundled together with the authority of Roosevelt. And when you read her descriptions of the concerns of her day, and remove the patriarchal references, it seems like the world doesn’t change a bit. We have the same anxieties as our forebears and those before them.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (2005) Gladwell and especially Blink was wholeheartedly recommended to me as essential reading. It was on my reading list before but fell off as other more contemporary reads came along. With renewed interesting, I requested the audiobook. The format reminds me of Freakonomics – published the same year, it turns out – using case studies to illustrate points but not quite as interesting to me. While Freakonomics covers more diverse topics, I felt like Blink was repeatedly driving home the same thing, that it was overrated and doesn’t fare too well with the passage of time.

Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air (Jan 2016) I did notice this on reading lists but requested it after the recommendation on Karen Cheng’s blog. It’s a beautiful memoir with fascinating recollection of Kalanithi’s medical school days, the race against time he doesn’t have, and letting go of being a doctor and being a patient. The epilogue penned by his wife and narrated by a female reader was simply beautiful.

Solomon Northup’s 12 Years a Slave (1853) So began a habit of mine to search the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) “VPL To Go” section for audiobooks that are immediately available. I was facing a task or commute or exercise and I wanted to have a book to listen to. It’s like the lottery browsing what is immediately available – you never know what you’ll get and the filter results are a surprise. I barely knew that 12 Years was non-fiction and wasn’t it a Canada Reads winner? No, it was a major movie and it’s really old, a memoir actually!

Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody (Nov 2016) I found this audiobook on VPL when filtering for “Available Now”. We (NPY and I) like Anna Kendrick and it was a fun listen even if not overly revealing.

Bob Saget’s Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian (Apr 2014) I found this audiobook also on VPL filtering on “Available Now”. In this case, I have a “connection” with Bob Saget – cf Anna Kendrick – from much further back, from Full House of course. He being much older, has more life stories and it was reasonably entertaining – although a second celebrity memoir – and illuminating to me about his family.


Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Baby: The Diaries (Oct 2016) Oh, why do I do this to myself and read another Bridget Jones novel? Well, I hadn’t read much fiction so far in the year (which is still quite young). The first BJ novel I read was Mad About the Boy in 2014 and while I wanted to like it because it is UK chick lit cf US chick lit, I didn’t and I didn’t know there was a paternity question. Back in late 2014, I deigned to read chick lit that included a child and her child’s antics aggravated me. Turn back the dial five years and Bridget Jones is pregnant and that is also life experience I share, so here I go again. It was yet again painful to read and while I read a review that panned the book, something about how you wouldn’t tell these kind of mature details to your baby, I was kind of appalled at how irresponsibility Bridget still seemed to be about her unborn child, about her job (the unprofessional gabbing over the headset with Miranda), etc. And constantly asking if her friends and family want to touch her belly and feel the baby? No one does that! (I think.)

Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) – I thought I would give this novel another chance, this time as an audiobook. The version I listened to was narrated by Stephen Fry and he was delightful. There are so many nerd references and finally listening to the whole novel, the story is so silly. I did find myself smiling every so often over a nerd joke. But the series confuses me – I think most of the major references are covered in the first novel for there are five volumes in total? Honestly, I lost interest after learning the Answer to Life, the University and Everything (42).

Douglas Coupland’s JPod (May 2006) – This is the first Douglas Coupland novel that I’ve read (the only other Coupland I’ve read is non-fiction, City of Glass) and I sensibly opted to listen to the audiobook. It is so weird. Everything weird that could happen to the protagonist, Ethan, did. I thought I still had three hours left of the novel to listen to but actually it was a blip in the audiobook and it rewound back to earlier in the story. Unless it wasn’t a glitch, but I wasn’t spending time to find out. Omgosh those lists – 26 minutes spent listing all three-letter words accepted in Scrabble. It felt a little dated but surprisingly not so much so and the geek humour still made sense to me.

Jo Baker’s Longbourn (Oct 2013) – You’d think I would have read this novel by now since it is a period novel and about Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (P&P), but I’m a little snobbish because this is a contemporary (published) novel as much as it is written in the style similar to Austen. This story of the servants in Longbourn might have been inspired by the success of Downton Abbey. It is told mostly from the perspective of young Sarah who knows there is more to life than her day-to-day tasks,

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) – On a whim, I requested this audiobook from the library. It is narrated by the author which is nice and authentic but he is not necessarily a narrator. His preface was interesting in how he outlined how he came to the idea of the story and why it about a group of boys and not girls or a mixed set. This is a short novel so when my mind wandered and I missed something, I would skip back and listen to parts over and over. There are many details hidden in his prose that when you pay close attention, make the story even more chilling.

Claire Cameron’s The Last Neanderthal (Apr 2017) – I learned of this novel from one of the lists Chatelaine compiled and it is so promoted because of Cameron’s Canadian connection. I read this novel, starting while waiting for my Vegas-bound flight, in a matter of days – a record for me. The story drew me in from the very beginning and I was sympathetic to the two main characters: Girl and Rose. Neanderthal life was rendered so beautiful and realistically that after I finished the book, I searched for a review that would address how accurate it is.

Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies (July 2014) – Who can escape this novel when it became a successful HBO series? The premise sounds scandalous so it was a good audiobook candidate. It was so good. Soon after “meeting” all of the characters, I looked up the female leads in the show and they seemed to be perfectly cast and I wanted to watch the series. I stopped after one episode because it just wasn’t as exciting after reading the book, rather, after listening to Carol Lee’s excellent reading. Unlike many an audiobook, I listened to every word of this salacious tale.

Terry Fallis’ One Brother Shy (May 2017) – Fallis is a machine, churning out novels every two years or so. One Brother Shy is his sixth novel and, to hear him tell, a turn from his usual in that his protagonist this time was a very broken person. There was much more internal dialogue in this dialogue which was rendered in his reading by making it sound like he was in an empty room with an echoing voice. I did not enjoy that aspect. It was interesting and fun as usual but certain plot points seemed to have been telegraphed a mile away (e.g., Abby as the love interest). In any case, because of consuming just one chapter at a time, I tend to listen carefully to his every word to enjoy the current installment.

Kate Eberlen’s Miss You (Apr 2017) – Since I can’t find any notes for where I first learned of this novel, I’m going to guess I saw it in a bookstore, read the book jacket and snapped a photo of the cover. From what I gathered from the book jacket months ago, the novel is the story of a guy and a girl, destined to be together but the story of their lives until they meet. While I have not watched the Before trilogy of movies, I figured it is similar and I have wanted to watch at least the first movie. There is something so delicious about the idea that if a relationship doesn’t work out earlier – attraction, location and timing aligning – that there could be another chance later. In their last year of high school, Tess and Gus – who are both of the more creative bend – suffer from loss in their family. While Gus manages to create a life that looks wildly successful albeit with a twist, Tess immediately has to change all of her plans of attending uni to be a guardian for her younger sister. I quite enjoyed the twists and turns their lives took – it seemed entirely too realistic even if the people surrounding Gus and Tess (amazing Doll, supportive Shaun, ultra-cool Nash, Charlotte the machine, and perfect Lucy) seem kind of unreal. And then their lives start to converge in a pretty realistic way with the fantastic leap of them ending up at the same retreat in Tuscany. I didn’t like the final part when they came together nearly as much what with Gus’ adoration of her being a bit sentimental and what’s with the notion of white butterflies starting to appear when Tess was around?

Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist (Jan 2014) – I spied this novel quite a while ago and I was reminded of it again when it came up for sale on BookBub (which I no longer subscribe to). A period story in a different setting (the Netherlands), I was intrigued by the mystery Nella becomes entangled in. I didn’t listen fast enough (a nine-day holiday in the middle of my loan period didn’t help) and listen straight through until it expired, with twenty minutes left to the book! It was quite dark but hopeful in the end and the characters were interestingly flawed but strong in each their own way. But I wish I knew more about the miniaturist and her motivations.

J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey (1961) Somewhere in the past year or so, I heard that Franny and Zooey is a Salinger novel worth reading and it really tipped the scales when I also heard that the volume presented some of Salinger’s Buddhist beliefs. So – haha – all along I thought Zooey was a girl, not knowing it is a (uncommon?) nickname for Zachary.  While reading F&Z, truly slogging through it, I wondered what I would think these days of Catcher in the Rye. I truly hated it in high school and I felt like I was back in high school, hating F&Z. The emphasis made by the italics drove me mad and I had no sympathy for the oh-so-smart Glass children, with sympathy only for Bessie – especially when endlessly pontificating Zooey would be insulting.  Funny enough, I did around the same time as reading it, hear in When Breath Becomes Air Kalanithi mentioning attaining wisdom alongside knowledge. But those two youngest Glass children were were as insufferable as the academics they were riled up about and I entirely missed the meaning of the ending but here is the interpretation from SparkNotes – included because it’s an important one:

“The unlikely image that they conjure in their minds shows that everyone, no matter how ugly or stupid or egotistical, deserves to be acknowledged as a worthwhile human being. People may have their faults, which Franny may hate, but she should not hate the people themselves. Human beings, from the “Fat Lady” to Jesus Christ, are all equally deserving of love.”

Lisa Genova’s Still Alice (2009) I started to watch the movie (because Julianne Moore) but as with so many movies these days, I stopped after 10 minutes and never got back to it.  I happened to start this book after finishing gut-wrenching When Breath Becomes Air. The author narrated this book and I wasn’t entirely happy with it – the way she read it, it sounded more like chick lit to me, reminding me of the awful Selection series that I also listened to in audiobook. Oh, but the injustice and the details of a disease like Alzheimer’s. Maybe the movie did an excellent job at rendering what I listened to or maybe I would have missed it. It is terrifying but in the unrealistic happy ending, the family comes together and doesn’t ship her off (yet).

Brit Bennett’s The Mothers (Oct 2016) The cover art and title of this novel that I saw at VPL To Go filtered on “Available Now” caught my attention. It’s my current mindset and in the information blurb, this novel garnered a lot of minor award. After two celebrity memories (Kendrick and Saget), I couldn’t stomach any more non-fiction or memoirs. This  was a simple story of the triangle-shaped relationship between two girls and a boy but it still feels quietly epic, as well when you step back and provide the perspective of The Mothers (not their mothers) and the background scopes back to Nadia and Aubrey’s mothers.

Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl (Feb 2016) I remember seeing this title last year and it was probably in Chatelaine given the author is Canadian. The name grabs your attention, of course. I “accidentally” read some reviews on Amazon or the like and they weren’t good, citing that the main character is not redeeming. But you know what, I hate redeeming characters, they make me feel bad that I have reached the same point. One of the bad ratings was given by someone who suffers from an eating disorder and it hurt her too much to read it – how fair is that? The short stories were so painfully realistic and the main character could be so petty – it was satisfying to see it all lain out there. Moral of the story: you can’t have it all.

Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (July 2012) This was a find on VPL To Go filtering on  “Available Now”. I thought it was a recent or future movie but I was mistaken. In any case, it was a run romp with some zany characters. After a while, I was less interested in Alan’s past as it just seemed like the author would find a way to insert him into all of mid-century history and it was the contemporary story that interested me more.

Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace (1996) It just fell together that I should finally read this Atwood novel because it’s Atwood and it was made into a mini-series (of which I’ve missed the whole first season). It was top Atwood and I felt like I was pulled into a dream like Simon was and the revelation was totally chilling. I was scared out of my skin but I couldn’t stop reading!


Konami Kanata’s The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, 1 (July 2015) – Not quite my speed but I saw this adorable volume in Powell’s in Portland, highlighted as a staff favourite and I figured, “There is a toddler around the house.”  You’d think I’d be able to finish reading a graphic novel faster than it took me but I kept putting it down and I had purchased a hard copy so there was also that. It was really cute but I’m still not so into reading non-English words!

Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir (Jan 2013) – I’ve been watching the show based on his memoir since it started and while I knew about the memoir, I had not been too interested until my friend Bren who read F.O.B. and wanted to read his next work. Then, I felt like it was a gap in my AA lit. A quick read on Wikipedia and I learned the TV show is cleaned up for a family audience and Huang lets loose more curse words and more obscure rap/hip-hop references in his memoir. His writing voice is very casual and the trouble he got into while in school aggravated me so – similar to how I couldn’t stand reading Catcher in the Rye. I stuck it out and was only less aggravated when his passion for food and cooking came to light and he was getting into less trouble. It was a good read, a different generation, but similar diaspora and new approach to it.

Aimee Song’s Capture Your Style: Transform Your Instagram Photos, Showcase Your Life, and Build the Ultimate Platform (Sept 2016) – one of the accounts IG recommended I follow based on my follows was Song of Style – I didn’t realize what an “influencer” she is until I started reading this book that she talked about a lot last year around the time of its release – you don’t get sent around the world to travel if all you do is wear clothes – you have to diversify, have a brand, have a cause. It was an Instagram how-to book that by the way showed her life. For starters, an Instagram account that stands out doesn’t have a prosaic mission statement, “To provide you with X product.” No, it has to be about connecting people and creating a positive feeling. One of my 2017 goals is to post on Instagram (quality posts) at least once a week so it seemed in line with my goal to check out this book, see what she could tell me that I didn’t already know. I learned of the important of straightening out my photos and curating my posts with the “grid” in mind, not just one post at a time.

Pearl S. Buck’s Kinfolk: A Novel of China (1949) – I got this novel in 2015 or 2016 when my browsing took me from Kindred Misfits to Kinfolk (the magazine) to this novel of the same name. But then I didn’t start reading it until this year when I had a gap in e-books and couldn’t bring myself to finish other books I have had on the go for years (looking at you, Airborne Dreams). It was nice to re-enter Buck’s world after so long and from a largely city perspective. I really felt as if some of the plight of the youth of the time (it seems like mid-1940s – after the the Second World War and before full-scale Civil War in China) still exists today and it was a refreshing turn to follow “a year in the life of” the Liang family.

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s Sarong Party Girls: A Novel (July 2016) – I really liked this novel that I spied when it was a new release at Chapters and wrote up my thoughts.

Ian Hamilton’s The Couturier of Milan (Jan 2017) – As soon as I could, I put a hold on his novel, Hamilton’s 10th Ava novel. Since the library didn’t have the e-book, I requested the paperback version and it would be the first of his novels (after reading eight) that I held in paper form! There was a long hold queue for the novel and, as Hamilton writes in the acknowledgements, Ava is getting more and more popular. (But when will the TV series/movie be released??) I accidentally spoiled a part of the novel when I caught a glimpse of the last pages and I don’t quite know how I feel about Ava’s whole life seemingly moving to Asia. But things do have to change and it truly is interesting to follow along with her crazy life.

Lisa See’s The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (Mar 2017) – Finally, another great Lisa See novel. This one really touched me so I wrote it up in a blog post.

Kevin Kwan’s Rich People Problems (May 2017) – Given I listened to the first two novels of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy as audiobooks, this last novel was my first time reading Kwan’s writing. The novel kicked off with a family tree and I had a sinking feeling that I wasn’t going to get a handle on everyone – I didn’t remember many details from one novel to the next which might be the result of consuming them as audiobooks but also my own lousy memory. But Kwan quickly and engagingly immerses you back into the Shang/Leong/Young world and I was captivated. It was a real treat to finish the trilogy by actually reading the book, hearing voices in my head instead of it being piped in. As the finale to a light-hearted novel series, all storylines had to be tied up neatly and they were (isn’t it easy to imagine any conclusion when they have more money than you can imagine??) and I was left feeling quite satisfied.

Weike Wang’s Chemistry (May 2017) – I wanted to love it and then I was reluctant and then I like it a lot. So I wrote it up in a blog post.

Lisa Ko’s The Leavers (May 2017) – Yay me, I got ahold of and finished another recent publication. Further, the social justice issues are terribly timely and this novel won big awards. It left me feeling a bit breathless like Kwok’s Girl in Translation did. And I totally meant to write it up in a blog post. Hopefully I will.

Daniel Kalla’s The Far Side of the Sky (June 2012) Years ago, I heard of another of Kalla’s novels – I believe it was Pandemic – which lead me to learn about this novel and it was on the end of my reading list for so long until I finally read it. It’s an easy ready and the reason for it is it’s kind of formulaic. It’s reveals a community you never know existed but I can see why it was panned by some for not being realistic about challenges. Well, it’s more like fantasy-historical fiction.

Jung Yun’s Shelter (Mar 2016) I think this novel made it on my reading list for a while last year but it also sounded like a brutal read so I was happy to listen to it after seeing it on VPL To Go filtering on “Available Now”.  It is a truly dark tale of a broken family after the most traumatic thing could happen to them (break and enter at the house that included repeated rape). After that set up I wanted to see the family be on the mend but it played out more like real life probably would.

Daniel Kalla’s Rising Sun, Falling Shadow (Sept 2014) This is the second novel of the “Adler trilogy” and I should be able to finish it in 2017. Apparently, after the first installment, I’m committed to this series!

Daniel Kalla’s Nightfall Over Shanghai (Aug 2015) The final instalment of the Alder trilogy to close out the year!

On this day..