When I was a little girl, I would get lost in books – travelling to other places and meeting exciting characters and living amazing adventures…all within the covers of a good book. That love of books never went away…but sometimes, in some years, that love affair with books would become a lesser priority than other things happening in my life.
In 2021, I wanted to return to my love of reading…I needed to return to this early love. And I wanted to share thoughts and recommendations with others. I added to this list throughout that year, as a reminder to me and hopefully an inspiration to others.
And in 2022, I plan to continue this list, and continue to read as much as I can – journeying through books is what we have at the moment. Let me know your thoughts!
the island (Victoria Hislop): How could I not have known about this book earlier?! This was the author’s first book…back in 2007 and when I picked it up one recent weekend, it had me spellbound; so much so, that I finished it by the Sunday. Travelling from the present to the past, recognizing how bound we are by our history, this trip to the Greek island of Crete and the former neighboring leper colony of Spinalonga, brought forward so much to me as a reader: intolerance, compassion, fear, prejudice, hope, innovation, love and perspective. Family “truths” seen in so many different ways: what is painful and embarrassing to one person, who chooses to run from it, can be seen as hopeful and beautiful to another person, who chooses to run towards it. And at its foundation, as I read this novel, it warmed me to read about lifelong friendships and family relations that can wrap us in the warmth, strength and protection we so often desperately need.
Reverie: take me to a place where it can be just you and me (victoria nicole zachos): “the slightest bit of optimism holds the power to transform her thoughts. and it’s a mindset like hers that can change her everything.” This short book of rich poems is written by a family member I have met briefly as a little girl, who has matured into a young beautifully expressive poet. For me, a “metrophobe” (yes, I discovered, there is a word for those, like me, who fear, or becoming anxious about, poetry), victoria’s book of self-discovery and transformation was a most inviting way to begin to re-explore this genre of writing and expression. Thank you.
What Strange Paradise (Omar El Akkad): Until the pandemic, I would travel to the beautiful Greek island of Chios. In the last few years, a changing reality was the increasing number of refugees who were arriving on the shores of the island (and others around it). And the odd sense that while I viewed this island as a “happy place” for holidaying, for many people this island was a part of an extremely difficult journey from countless tragedies and traumas. The refugees were at times both visible…and invisible…to many of the locals and tourists, myself included. Reading this Scotiabank Giller finalist novel brought me back to these memories, but with a new perspective. A different Greek island, but seen from the eyes of the young refugee boy who survives a harrowing crossing to get to this island, as well as the eyes of a young local girl, determined to help him. Ever so grateful to be reminded to look beyond what we see.
The Paris Apartment (Kelly Bowen): “Make every day count”. Any better way to start off the new year, but with a book I had had on my book pile for a few months? Truly, timing sometimes matters. Whether it was the current state of the global pandemic or the emotions of the holidays; the beautifully told story; or the inspiring messages…I found myself crying as I read the final chapters of my first book of 2022. Another historical fiction novel that I just could not put down (finished it on January 2nd!), travelling between the 1940s and 2000s, in such a tremendous manner. I was moved by the reminder of the courage, determination, resilience, passion and compassion of people, and the way lives may be intertwined, unknowingly, for generations.
My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir (Noelle Hancock): after losing her job, the author comes across a saying by Eleanor Roosevelt that inspires her to spend a year conquering her various fears, thereby reminding herself of her strengths and who she is “Do One Thing Every Day that Scares You.” This was a good way for me to end 2020 and enter 2021, with the hope and reminder of facing, managing and conquering my fears.
A Promised Land (Barack Obama): “…in a single lifetime, accidents and happenstance determine more than we care to admit; and that the best we can do is to try and align ourselves with what we feel is right and construct some meaning out of our confusion, and with grace and nerve play at each moment the hand we’re dealt.” Throughout the book, I felt like I had a front-row seat into the decision-making process on some of the most significant recent historical moments – and it was scary and complex and humane and thoughtful…all at the same time. President Obama’s authentic storytelling of both the events (positive and negative) leading up to and during his first term demonstrates true leadership. He expresses joy and doubt and respect and fear and concern and curiosity and love and enthusiasm. Empowering.
The Skin We’re In: a Year of Black Resistance and Power (Desmond Cole): With the events of last year in the US, it was all too common to hear Canadians suggest that such actions don’t happen in our country. But how very wrong that statement is. Through his lens, the author reminds (or informs) the reader of the many examples of racism within our very own borders. Being at times uncomfortable and difficult to read, because of its complete honesty, is exactly why this book is a must read. For too long we have tended to downplay or even ignore the systemic racism that exists in our society. Change demands an appreciation and acknowledgement of the lived experiences of so many.
The Road To Sparta (Dean Karnazes): I picked up this book because of my love of running (which I confess not having done enough of this year) and my love of Greece (especially the southern Peloponnese, Sparta, where both my parents were born). And the magic I discovered, through the words and beautiful storytelling of ultramarathoner, Dean Karnazes, was both learning about the fuller history of a marathon I hope to one day complete (the original Athens Marathon), as well as rediscovering the strength and joys of my Hellenic roots. Reminding me that Spartan women “were of tough body and tough mind”, with family health issues these last several months, was a much needed boost. Throughout the book, I felt right along side the author’s journeys – physical, spiritual and mental. This book was what I needed, at the time I read it: the reminders to push through self-doubts (always present) to “keep moving forward, to continue putting one foot in front of the other no matter what”. I immersed myself in this book, devouring it over two days in March, filled with inspiration, hope and joy.
Take Charge: The Skills That Drive Professional Success (Norman Bacal): having known of Norm indirectly from a trusted and good friend and colleague, from his role in building and leading one of Canada’s most successful law firms, and having watched him transform since that time into an author, speaker and mentor, I was curious to read his latest book. And I was not disappointed. Norm is a people person, a relationship builder and a storyteller, as well as an honest, good, matter-of-fact, individual. In Take Charge, he lays out some simple, but hard, lessons for lawyers and other professionals to develop and grow in their careers…and to help them transition as needed to other pathways (as he did). Fundamentally, as he states within the first chapter, success is built on an ethos of service and caring about those around you. The book is a wonderful reminder of the stepping stones needed to build from this foundation.
The Curveball: a Story of Grit, Adversity, and Winning the Game of Life (Colby Sharma with Dan Clements): having met Colby at the very last professional gathering I attended in 2020, before the pandemic locked everything down, and being a huge fan of the work of his father, I was curious when Colby contacted me about his new book. At first, I was ambivalent to read a book about baseball…a sport I know very little about. But he said the story was about resilience and bouncing back from adversity…and so given the last year we have all had…I dug in. And I was pleasantly surprised! The story is simple, yet classic, and I was able to follow the baseball journey easily enough. Experiencing professional and personal lows and highs through the eyes and experiences of the main character, Bryce Holloway, helps to better understand and appreciate the suggestions for building resilience. As Bryce reminds us, we can make it through challenging times by taking one base (or small step) at a time; choosing our pitches (or response); remembering and applying the rituals that have worked for us well, in the past; relying on our team and those closest to us to help us through adversity.
The Henna Artist (Alka Joshi): I started this book in early June, and then my mom passed away and I just could not read anything. And then one September weekend, when I was particularly missing my mom…I picked it up again. And I was transported to another place and time, following the hopes and dreams, challenges and successes of Lakshmi, the heroine. The story is beautifully written, and I became immersed in her world for a few days…something I had not been able to do for some time. And at the end, I was particularly moved by the author’s note: “I wrote this novel for my mother”. And I realized that through this novel, over a few days when I was missing my mom, I was thinking of her life and journey travelling alone in her early 20s to Canada, and the life she lived and created. The questions she must have had; the choices she would have had to make; the moments of uncertainty and doubt; and the experiences of joy. I am grateful for this book being my companion these last few days. As the heroine is both a henna artist and a healer…I am grateful for the healing she offered me, too. Thank you.
The Secret Keeper of Jaipur (Alka Joshi): Having read the first book, I quickly went into the second book of this captivating trilogy. Set years later, with a focus on one of the secondary characters of the original book, Malik, we joined him on his journey as he navigated personal and career challenges. The story brought back some of the original characters I loved in the first book…as well as some not so favoured. His persistence and loyalty and strength were strengths throughout, and the constant support and love of Lakshmi as she watched him develop into his own being was wonderful. The suspense and secrets woven throughout the story kept me turning pages until the beautiful ending. And now…I cannot wait for the third novel of this trilogy. All, in due course!
Letters to Amelia (Lindsay Zier-Vogel): What a true delight it was to travel from India (see above two books) to my hometown of Toronto! Reading a book that described streets and venues and experiences I am keenly familiar with was somehow like sitting down for a tea with a dear friend. But that’s where the “comfort” ends…because the author wonderfully transports us into times past and worlds away with her beautifully written book of courage, strength, self-discovery and self-love. Grace’s decisions and actions that flow from heartbreak and lost love, lead her and her readers to new opportunities. The beautiful letters, both of feminist and pilot Amelia Earheart and those of Grace to Amelia, took me back to a gentler and slower time when letter writing truly was an art and a significant way of connecting…to ourselves as well as to others. A true treasure of a novel.