Books I read in 2019

January 1st, 2020Posted by Nancy

Through the miracle of modern technology (otherwise known as the history feature of the Toronto Public Library website), I actually have a record of which ebooks I borrowed. If I add the physical books and ebooks I either purchased or downloaded from Gutenberg, I come up with roughly 130 books read this year. I will admit that, in reviewing the history, there were a few I could not recall at all until prompted, but the less said on that front the better. Roughly 30% of what I read was non-fiction, reflecting both my goal to do that and the fact that I listen to Lewis Lapham’s podcast, The World In Time.

Here, in no particular order, are the books I liked best of this year’s tally.


The Monster Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson. Having survived the grim twists of the first book in the series, I had a better idea what I was getting into, but he still managed to surprise me unpleasantly just the same.

A Conspiracy of Kings, Thick as Thieves, Megan Whalen Turner. The next two books in the Attolia series delivered the beautiful writing, wit, political machinations, and compelling characters that set this series apart from the mass of YA fantasy.

The First Time Laura Pailing Died, Alyson Rudd. This was actually a book my husband had borrowed and we were both very impressed. Don’t be fooled by the sappy subhead in the description.

The Overstory, Richard Powers. I’ve been a Powers fan for a long time and this one featured trees, of which I am also a fan. Beautiful, strange, and hopeful.

Fake Like Me, Barbara Bourland. I was primed to like this because a) I’m interested in contemporary art, b) I like twisty, psychological mysteries, and c) I’m working on a story about artists. Sadly, I suspect mine will not be nearly as good as this.

Honorable mentions: Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss. Mouthful of Birds, Samata Schweblin. Still Life with Tornado, A.S. King. The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker.


Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology, Lisa Margonelli. This is an absolutely fascinating and often funny read. It makes you realize how complex our world is and how little we really know about it. Termites – way weirder than you think.

The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy, Paige Williams. Dinosaur bones, theft, smuggling, digs, Mongolia, and a guest appearance by Nicolas Cage. Sort of.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabelle Wilkerson. Tells the story of the migration of Southern African-Americans to the North, through the lens of three different and compelling people, whose lives took them to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Ghosts of Spain, Giles Tremblett. I’m going to Spain this year and, of course, must do the recommended reading. Vivid odyssey through the legacy of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime.

Under the Big Black Sun, More Fun in the New World, John Doe and Tom DeSavia. These companion books capture the memories of dozens of the musicians who were the L.A. punk music scene (members of X, the Go-Gos, The Blasters and many more. The first book covers the early years of music, drugs, squats, and crazy belief in making art that mattered and, in the second, the vultures of drugs, success, and violence come home to roost. But art still gets made.

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. Anand Giridharadas. Timely, depressing, and source of one of my favorite paraphrased quotes of the year “We ask them to give more, but never to take less.”

Honorable Mentions: Another Planet, Tracy Thorn. The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wells. The Incomplete Book of Running, Peter Sagal. Notes to Self, Emilie Pine. How Fascism Works, Jason Stanley

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Target achieved (almost)

December 23rd, 2019Posted by Nancy

I’m 475 words away from hitting 30,000 this year and, at the risk of invoking the displeasure of the gods, I’m relatively certain that I can manage that before midnight on December 31st.

Roughly half of them will be for the Witch Novel, bringing me to almost 62,000 for that project. I had some breakthroughs on plot this year, though there are still many murky bits on the path ahead. What do nuns have to do with this, you ask? Ah, but that would be telling…

The rest of the output was on the Not the Witch Novel, which began as a way to write something fun, fluffy, romantic, and contemporary, as a contrast to the much more ornate, Tanith Lee-influenced (Leethian? Leeish?) language in the Witch novel. Sadly, this quickly morphed into something neither fluffy or particularly romantic, though it is contemporary. I blame listening the podcast About Buildings and Cities and their episodes about Bruno Taut, Paul Scheerbart (see above), and Glass Architecture for that. Or perhaps fluffy and romantic are just not in my repertoire. The path is much murkier on this one, as evidenced by the number of question marks in my notes.

Still, I’ve had much worse years in this regard, so I will take what I can get. On to 2020!

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And Some Writing Was Done

December 1st, 2019Posted by Nancy

Made it to 5,020 words, which was half of my target but better than expected. A great deal of vamping was done, some of which led to the realization that it really would be so much more dramatic if character A AND character B went to see character C but that would certainly put a crimp in character A’s plan to murder character C.

But still, drama. Possible longing glances. Confrontation.

Happy to say goodbye the November, hello to December, despite the freezing rain and snow currently rattling on the windows.

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November is the cruelest month

November 16th, 2019Posted by Nancy

Never mind that stuff about April. Not true. November is the worst. It’s grey, it’s cold, and, for heaven’s sake, it actually snowed this week.

I’m supposed to be doing Nanowrimo and after a successful start it too went all to hell. I’m going to vaguebook this one (as they say) but it’s shitty and demoralizing and makes a girl doubt her faith in humanity.

All one can do is try to be good, swear as required, and have a martini when it gets really bad.

Perhaps December will be better. Or maybe 2020.

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Nanowrimo again

November 2nd, 2019Posted by Nancy

October is done and it’s National Novel Writing Month again.  Not that I’m planning to write a novel in November – heaven’s forbid!  But 10,000 words is a do-able goal and I try to use this time to force myself to override my pesky internal editor and get shit done.  If I make my goal this year, that’ll put me at the a minimum of 33,000 words for 2019, which is the most I’ve done in a long, long, long, long time.

They’re not all good words and some of them are basically me vamping madly to make the word count but hey, I take what I can get.

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Get yourself a Hallowe’en present

October 23rd, 2019Posted by Nancy

A Terrible Beauty is on sale for a short time for just $2.99 (ebook edition) at and Kobo (US sites only). Treat yourself for Hallowe’en this year.

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Hallowe’en Book Sale!

October 18th, 2019Posted by Nancy

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… tra la la. I mean Hallowe’en, of course.

To make sure you never run out of appropriately scary things to read during this best of seasons, the good folks at Storybundle asked the amazing Sandra Kasturi to curate a special package of spooky stories. For just $15, you get 13 books to keep you up at night.

You’ll get vampires of various inclinations (from the lonely Sidonie of my book A Terrible Beauty to the ferocious creature of Michael Rowe’s Enter, Night to the teenager facing a devastating legacy in Victoria Dalpe’s Parasite Life), a brutal journey across rural Ontario with evil in Stephen Michel’s Only the Devil is Here, and the fatal folk traditions of David Demchuk’s The Bone Mother.

Plus 8 more books that are, as Sandra says, “scary on the inside”. (Which is true, because their covers are singularly lovely).

Go on now. You like to be scared, don’t you?

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Process, process, process. Or what to think about when you can’t write.

October 5th, 2019Posted by Nancy

I have many writing avoidance behaviours, honed over the long years of my block and my continuing struggles to keep up any level of productivity. One of my favourites is finding out about other people’s process, in the hopes that somewhere there is a magic bullet that will fix mine. So far, I haven’t found it.

My first few exploratory novels were written out of order. Which really means that I tended to write all the “good bits” first and then later add the connective tissue between them. Even the first half of The Night Inside was done that way. Once I got a good chunk of it under my belt and knew where it was going, I switched over to basically writing it in order. Of course, I had to rewrite the last quarter of the book because my editor felt that my desire for realism was draining a good amount of the tension out of the story. She was right, but that didn’t make the rewrite much easier.

From then on, my process was basically “start at the beginning and keep on until you get to the end.” Even Cold Hillside, with it’s alternating narrators, worked like that, though I later changed the placement of some of the Lilit chapters.

I’m currently working on two different projects. The first one (the “real” one) is referred to as The Witch Novel. It exists in three files of varying lengths, each being the story of one of the three main POV characters. One is third person past tense, one is third person present tense, and one is second person. Those were chosen simply to keep my imagination engaged but I’ve gotten used to them. At some point, I’m going to have to start interweaving the various voices to create a single narrative that takes place over roughly 80 years. Well, once I figure out exactly what the plot is, of course.

For the second project, referred to as Not The Witch Novel or The Art Colony Thing, I’ve gone back to the “start at the beginning” process. Since it was supposed to be cute, fluffy, and romantic, I figured I’d eventually switch to writing the “good parts”. Unfortunately, the story is currently neither cute nor fluffy nor particularly romantic, so who knows what the ultimate process will be.

If anyone has a magic bullet, please shoot it my way.

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What I read at the cottage, 2019 edition

September 18th, 2019Posted by Nancy

This year, I managed to read 16 books during our annual two weeks in Haliburton.  The seven physical books are shown above and the additional nine ebooks, sadly, exist only in the ether.

Topics ranged from a biography of Gertrude Bell (Desert Queen), a book about birds (The Thing with Feathers), a romance novel chosen after reading Beyond Heaving Bosoms (My Sweet Folly), a book about Barcelona by Robert Hughes because I’m going to Spain next year, a ghost story (Naomi’s Room), and a reread of Erica Jong’s Serenissima, because I love Venice.

Other recommendations include the very lovely Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord, The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson, and Salt to the Sea by Ruth Emprys.

Oh, and Fright into Flight, because not only are there great stories by Gemma Files and Nadia Bulkin, but my story “Consent” is also featured.

Next up: The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson.

On my “to read” list: roughly 225 books.  Sigh.

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Books on sale! Books on sale!

August 11th, 2019Posted by Nancy

Because books on sale is always good news.  CZP is having a sale on ebook only editions this month, which means that my first three novels are available via Amazon for $2.99 each (links at the CZP site linked above). And there are two incredible short stories from the brilliant, award-winning Gemma Files plus books by Caitlin Sweet and Michael Marano as well.

What are you waiting for?

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