Every year, I do a post about the books that stood out to me, that touched me emotionally in some way. I usually keep the list down to ten books, but this year I decided to do things a little differently. I went over ten books. There were just too many good books with characters that became friends and stories that touched my heart in some way that I couldn’t narrow it down to just ten. There are thirteen books on the list this year! I’ve read so many books this year, but these were the ones that I fell in love with, that I felt at home within and that I didn’t want to leave. Here they are in no particular order. I hope my list helps you to discover your new favourite read or favourite author.
Moon Witch Spider King by Marlon James
This book is flat out incredible. It’s the second in the Dark Moon Trilogy and I wasn’t sure how the follow up to Black Leopard Red Wolf would be. That seemed an impossible book to follow up because it was so captivating. Thankfully, I enjoyed Moon Witch Spider King even more. It’s the tale of Sogolon who was the nemesis in the first book but this time we get to see her side of things and find out how she got her power. I don’t think you would have to read the first book to enjoy this book, but seeing as it’s a trilogy, you would want to go back to read Black Leopard Red Wolf to get the meat of the story and to see how wonderfully Marlon James told Moon Witch Spider King. What an amazing book. I read it in hardcover and listened to the audiobook which was performed by Bahni Turpin who did an incredible job bringing such an epic tale to life.
A Postcard from Capri by Alex Brown
Any book by Alex Brown helps me to fall in love with love. There is just something so real about the characters she creates that make them live off of the page and A Postcard from Capri is no exception. When Maddie Williams finds photographs and memorabilia a young woman, she finds herself wondering who she could be. She receives a job in Italy, and she uses the trip to try and solve the mystery of who the woman from those pictures could be. Along the way, she learns a lot about herself and what she is capable of. Ultimately, she allows herself to heal, and the act of healing takes her on a journey within herself. What an amazing journey it is. Alex Brown always manages to tell a story that blurs the lines between women’s literature and so many other genres and this is her best one yet. Every time I finish a novel by Alex Brown, I’m left feeling happier and in love with the world again. Her books always come at a time when I need to heal a bit of myself, so Maddie’s journey was a very personal one for me.
Love That Story by Jonathan Van Ness
I love Jonathan Van Ness and his memoir Over the Top is a personal favourite of mine. When I heard he had written a book of essays, I was looking forward to reading it so much. It didn’t disappoint and this was another book where I read the hardcover and listened to the audiobook. Even when reading the hardcover, I could hear Jonathan’s voice and he took me on a journey in each of his essays. As I read the essays on style, sexuality, gender, queer history imposter syndrome, I found myself nodding along with the words. Jonathan’s words resonated with me, but it was the essay about overcoming body issues that brought me to tears. A lot of Van Ness feels about himself mirrors how I feel about my own body and the issues that I have with it. There were several essays that made me wonder if the author was able to look inside my head and see my thoughts. This is a heartfelt book that left me changed and I can’t wait to read it all over again.
Mastering Magick: A Course in Spellcasting for the Psychic Witch by Mat Auryn
I didn’t think it was possible to bottle magic within the pages of a book, but thankfully I was mistaken. Mastering Magic was an amazing read from start to finish. I’ve been a Pagan for over twenty years of my life and I learned more about magic and myself reading this book than I have after twenty something years of delving into spell books, writing spells and lighting candles. Auryn talks about magic so organically and so openly that I couldn’t help but be pulled right in. I finished this book in three days and then went back for a second read and then the third time around, I started marking the book up and making notes on my favourite spells and practices. Even more amazing, Auryn has spells written by a variety of other magick makers and spell casters so that I felt like I was being taught by a whole community of Witches. His first book Psychic Witch was so good and I expected more of the same int his book; what I got was so much more. I learned about myself and how to form my own magic, weave my own spells, that magic feels like home to me now when it felt like I was merely dabbling before. This book helped me to find my own magical voice and I’m so grateful for Mastering Magick and for Mat Auryn.
Gallant by V. E. Schwab
I read this book on a five-hour train trip and what a journey it took me on. Olivia Prior’s journey to the dark and back again held me captive from the first page. You could draw parallels between Coraline by Neil Gaiman, but you’d be so far off. What I love about V. E. Schwab’s writing is that nothing is ever what it seems, even if it’s being presented to you at face value. There is always something deeper that is revealed eventually. This is a dark tale about a young woman, a house, the secrets that it whispers between the walls and the power that she holds within herself. This book asked me to consider the demons that are locked behind closed doors and what happens when someone lets them out. A genuinely thrilling and creepy little book and a fast favourite of mine. It’s a stand alone read and my only wish is that the house within this book was real. I loved the journey that Oliva took me on and by the end of it, I loved Olivia Prior. A dark gem of a book.
Less Is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer
I loved Less by Andrew Sean Greer and was overjoyed when a sequel was announced. I was worried that some of the magic would be lost, that Arthur Less would somehow be different than the first book, not the same character that I fell in love with, that after so long apart, he would have lost his charm. Greer is a master storyteller and Arthur Less is just as much of a mess, just as clueless and just as endearing as before. He goes on an adventure to raise money to save his home, but the trip he goes on is also to save his home and his relationship and himself, though Less doesn’t know that. It takes a very talented author to make such a hapless person so likeable and I was rooting for Less from page one. He may not be very good at being gay, but Less is very good at making me laugh out loud and make the world seem less frightening and more amazing when seen through his eyes. Less Is Lost was so much better than the first novel and I was fell even more in love with Arthur Less this time around. A truly fabulous book.
Felix Navidad by ‘Nathan Burgoine
I wait every year for Burgoine’s holiday novella set in the village. It’s how I know that the holiday season has really begun. Burgoine manages to make all of his characters shine so brightly, whether they are the main or secondary character. In Felix Navidad, we’re given the tale of Felix and Keven and in alternating chapters, we’re shown how the two men come together and everyone that they meet along the way. Throughout the book, I fell in love with the world of the Village all over again as I do with each novella set there. He creates characters that you know completely by the time the book is done and you consider them among your friends. At least I do. ‘Nathan’s makes the magic happen, pure and simple. As the storylines flip back and forth, as Felix and Kevin’s lives intertwine, I was filled with hope. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The light of hope that can fill the world and our hearts. ‘Nathan Burgoine brings that light to life in Felix Navidad and my life is richer for it.
Heat Wave by TJ Klune
This is the third in a trilogy of novels featuring Nick, Seth, Gibby, and Jazz and its oh so wonderful. I loved Nick and Seth’s relationship and the fact that they are both superheroes trying to save Nova City. I love Nick and Seth’s relationship and the fact that they’ve both grown so much throughout the trilogy. Heat Wave was everything I could have hoped for. This is quite the finale, taking the story to new levels of emotion and awesomeness. Nothing is what it seems in this book except for the love that is so real between Nick and Seth. I love Gibby and Jazz too and Nicks father is so wonderful. What I love so much about this book is the relationships between the characters and the fact that nothing is perfect, not even with superheroes. It’s also laugh out loud funny. There were several moments where I had to put the book down because I was snorting so much. I finished this book so uplifted and so darn hopeful. I love when a book can do that and I can’t wait to read the whole trilogy all over again. This book was the perfect ending!
The Shapes of Wrath by Melissa Yi
I’ve read almost all of the books that Melissa Yi has written, and she knows how to spin a tale filled to the brim with intrigue, mystery, amazing characters and there is humour thrown into the mix which gives a different twist the mystery. It gives it more depth. The Shapes of Wrath by Melissa Yi. It was a nonstop thrill ride from start to finish and Yi’s best book yet. There is no humour here. Instead, as Hope Sze Terrifying and thrilling with incredible characters, romance, and the supernatural, The Shapes of Wrath is the perfect book. It held my hands as if they were almost glued to the page and I didn’t know where it was going to go, or how things were going to unravel. There was an undercurrent of dread that filled the whole novel, and it left me spellbound and anxious to find out how it all ended. This book shows that Yi is a master of the mystery thriller and the added element of the paranormal just took things to a whole new level. A novel filled with depth and urgency, I can’t wait to read the second book in the series!
Juniper Wiles and the Ghost Girls by Charles de Lint
I was thrilled when Charles de Lint returned to Newford in his last novel, Juniper Wiles. I was so happy to hear that there was a sequel and that we would get to know more of what happened to Juniper. Even better, that I would see Jilly Coppercorn and friends again. While I was thrilled to see Jilly once more, I was pulled into Juniper’s story and her continuing journey into the other realms of the faerie. Reading about Juniper learn about herself and about the powers she possesses took me on quite the journey. As Juniper got to know more about herself, I was on my own journey of knowing; I had such a personal reaction to this book because of that. It felt like Juniper and I were travelling to other world together and in a way, we were. When I wasn’t reading the book, I was thinking of her story, pulled so deeply into the world that Charles de Lint had created. Charles de Lint convinced me years ago that magic did exist. Now he made me a believer once more and gave me magic when I needed it most. I finished this book in two days and I can’t wait for the next journey that I take with Juniper Wiles and Jilly Coppercorn.
Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen
I tried to make this one last, I truly did. I’ve been waiting so long for a novel from Sarah Addison Allen. Her last book, First Frost, was published in 2015. After her mother passed away, things became quiet and though I searched for a new novel by Allen, her pen remained still. I supposed it’s only natural then that grief is a theme that runs throughout Other Birds. Each of the characters is grieving in a different way, some for the family they never had, others for the family that they’ve lost. Though this book deals with death, grief, loss and every emotion that those entail, the book never feels heavy. Allen moves you through the different lives that fill this book and tells their stories with a deft and knowing hand. Other Birds is magical realism at its finest. In this book you will ghosts, invisible birds, visits from the afterlife and ghosts. You will also find real people, multiple storylines that somehow all intertwine together (yes, even those from the afterlife) and so much heart. There is a little bit of mystery involved as well and the whole concoction was just so captivating.
Assassins! Accidental Matchmakers (The Gates of Westmeath Book 1) by Jen Desmarais and Éric Desmarais
I loved everything about this book. I’ve been a long-time fan of Éric Desmarais’ work and the world building he does and knew that Assassins! Accidental Matchmakers would be good, and I was pretty sure what I was in for. I was wrong, though. It was spectacular! Assassins! Accidental Matchmakers is not just a book you read. It’s a book you want to live in. The book pulled me in from the first page and I love the character of Kennedy. Jen and Éric excel at creating characters that you end up caring for. By the end of the book, the characters of this book weren’t just people on the page; they were friends. I’ve been with them through so much, after all. The plot is amazing, and it just rolls along at a breakneck speed. It’s one of those books where you think that you know where it’s going and then Jen and Éric take you down a whole other path you never even considered. Even more amazing, none of it ever feels forced. The whole plot and the world building are top notch. Though Westmeath Ontario is a real place, I want to live in the one that the authors have created. After reading this book, I feel like I know the people that live there, and I know the streets well. What an amazing and incredible read and I can’t wait for more!!!
Nothing Without Us Too Edited by Cait Gordon and Talia Johnson
Nothing Without Us Too is an anthology of short stories featuring protagonists that are disabled, d/Deaf, Blind or visually impaired, neurodivergent, Spoonie, and/or who manage mental illness. Reading Nothing Without Us Too was like looking into a large diamond, filled with all kinds of different facets. This incredible collection contains stories about disabled people written by those who have actually lived experience. When reading this collection, I recognized pieces of myself and learned about the true power of the human spirit. Each story can stand on its own, but together, this collection is a diamond that shines so brilliantly. It was wonderful to read a collection of stories where disabled people weren’t the sidekicks or the comic relief. Living with cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, it was a joy to read a collection of stories where I felt seen. More than that, each story was fantastic. Each of the stories shone on its own but together? This book just shines. It will be a long time until I have such a fantastic experience reading a book of short stories again.
Thank you to all the authors of the books that I’ve read this year. You’ve brought me joy when I was down, comfort when I needed reassurance, direction when I felt lost and love when the world was at its darkest. That is the power of words, and I am so thankful to all of you.
I can’t wait to see what 2023 will bring and the worlds that I will journey to inside of the books that I find along the way.
My new years resolution for 2022 was to be kinder to myself. I took a roundabout way of getting there in the end.
In October of 2021, I did my first round of mavenclad to combat my multiple sclerosis. It’s a chemo treatment usually used to treat different types of cancer, but my neurologist prescribed it so that my immune system would be wiped out. When it would regrow, it would hopefully be without the lesions. I was at my weakest during January and February, so this meant that I started the year unable to really go out and engage with it.
I have difficulty slowing down. After the chemo treatment, all I did for a couple of months was take it slowly. I resented it, however. My creative output is so high that all I could think of was when I could be back up to full speed. It took time, but I got there in the end. I viewed the mavenclad treatment as one more thing that I had to fight against, and I was determined to win.
It felt like my husband and I struggled a lot with our health this year. I tried to fill up my days with writing and painting, taking care of him, working out and working full time. It was easier to ignore the negativity that seemed to follow me for the first half of the year. I did realize a few things about being positive all the time. Sometimes, positivity can turn from being a superpower to being toxic.
I had a few talks with my therapist about this and the need to be positive all the time, to pretend like there was nothing wrong. I came to realize that it stemmed from my childhood and was a long-term habit of trying to keep everyone else happy. It was always easier that way. I was surprised to find that it had seeped into my own habits, that if I wasn’t happy all the time, or at least didn’t view the world as positive, there was something wrong with me. I came to realize that no one can be positive all the time…and that was okay.
Midway through the year, I learned to paint with a pallet knife. It was something I had always wanted to try so I started taking weekly lessons with a very talented teacher. The techniques she taught me breathed new life into my paintings and I was reminded of how much fun painting was again. I learned that I could do partial abstract painting, and my teacher helped me to think outside of the box. Later in the year, I had my first art show with my teacher and her other students. I ended up selling three pieces and it was such a neat experience talking about my art as an artist and having people react in some way to what I had painted.
I also learned about grind culture. My husband and I caught Covid later in the year. During the time that we were in the worst of it, I ended up having a dizzy spell when I got up during the night and fell. I sustained a compression fracture in one of my vertebrae. I was in an incredible amount of pain and for me, that’s saying a lot. I live with spastic cerebral palsy and relapse and remitting multiple sclerosis; pain is a constant for me, but I had never felt pain like this.
Slowing down is not something I had tried to do before. I was always writing, always painting. Having to stop all of that and just focus on resting was very difficult for me to do. I started seeing a chiropractor who told me to take time off of work and I ended up being off work for six weeks. Part of me wondered how much writing, painting, baking I could do in my rest time. After trying to bake a loaf of banana bread and attempting to paint a canvas, and causing myself a lot of pain, I realized that I would have to listen to my doctor and take it easy. All I had to do was rest and relax, sit and be still in order to help along the healing.
Truth was, I felt guilty not doing anything. That, by taking the time to let myself heal, I was somehow less of a person because I had stopped my creative output, or had it stopped for me. I was so concerned with how other people would view my rest period that I didn’t take the time to stop and wonder where this need to be active all the time was coming from.
It was a comment from a friend of mine that made me stop. I had posted about my feelings on social media, and she commented that guilt culture is an abuse that we do to ourselves. That made me stop for a moment. I was abusing myself? I talked about this with my therapist and she helped me to realize that I had held on to one thing from my father, the belief that if I was not producing, I was not a valued member of society. If I didn’t contribute in some way to the world around me, I was not worth anything.
That opened my eyes a lot and I was finally able to slow down and honour my bodies need to rest. It changed a lot of my habits and as I got better, I started doing something. I would time myself for half an hour. I would paint for half an hour a day or write for half an hour a day. I would never do both on the same day. I started actively listening to my body so that I could honour it. I got to know and understand what the pain was saying to me. It was wonderful to finally take my time painting. I was able to see how the painting was going to shape itself, spend time on areas and add more depth and life to the painting. My teacher had been trying to get me to slow down and I finally achieved it, in a roundabout way.
I had been so used to pushing through the pain that I had tried to push past this new pain, but finally had to listen to what my body needed. That was a new thing for me, even though it took me a couple of weeks to get to that point. I also started posting less on social media and gave into the joy of relaxing. I started reading more again and no longer felt the urge to write, or the anger that came when I was not creative in some way. The words and the brush strokes would always be there, but I learned to leave them be when I needed to and pick up the keyboard or brush when I felt the urge, not because I felt I had to.
Between my mavenclad treatment, having covid and sustaining a compression fracture, I really had to learn to slow down this year. As I was preparing to write this, I took a moment to reflect on why and what this year meant to me. It was only then that I realized that my tarot card for 2022 was The Hermit. That card is all about taking time away, withdrawing a little bit from the world around you so that you can withdraw into yourself and learn more about yourself so that you can make your light shine more brightly into the shadows.
Wasn’t that what this year has been all about for me? Resting and reflection and giving myself the time to heal. By giving myself the time I needed to heal and taking the time to learn to listen to my body, I was allowing myself the kindness that I deserved. Before 2022, being kind to myself had been difficult and I was too hard on myself. I’m still hard on myself, but at least now, I can recognize it and stop myself most of the time. I also learned that it’s not a sign of weakness to give myself time to rest, it’s a sign of strength.
I learned that taking my time with things can have fantastic results. I learned that I don’t have to rush everything, that the words and the paints will always be there. I learned that I’m worthy of kindness and self kindness. I learned what true strength was, the ability to love myself when everything in my mind is telling me not to.
I learned so much about myself this year and as I head towards 2023, I know that great things are possible. My card for 2023 is the Wheel of Fortune. I look forward to learning more about myself, to luck, expansion and the magic that 2023 will bring.
This year has left me changed.
I feel like I’ve lost my way
and I’m no longer sure of my direction.
The shadows have tried to claim me,
yet I have found moments that shine
despite the dark or even because of it.
The days have shortened, the sun
shining for mere moments,
until it lets itself be taken by the dark,
sliding into the sky as if in an embrace.
The night is made of velvet
covered in stars, small galaxies
holding the wishes that I have made.
Though this year has seemed bleak,
I know that the tide is about to shift,
the star filled sea promising change.
There is hope to be found tonight.
A brightness growing within,
one that begs me to celebrate
all that I have overcome.
I can hear a drum beating under my skin,
one that urges me onward within the dark.
When I follow the beat of the drum,
I am not afraid. I know that I am becoming.
In the darkness of Yule,
we will light our own candles
so that when the light returns,
it will know where to find us.
Felix Gagnon is tired of being alone.
Working as a home care nurse, Felix has known a lot of people, but none of them are quite like Danya Marunchak. A queen from the old days, he is a font of knowledge about what it was like to grow up gay in his time. He’s feisty but in a loveable sort of way. Danya lost his husband Hans several years ago, but still wants to live life to the fullest, even if he isn’t physically able to do so.
Felix is reminded of the fact that he’s been alone too long. He has no one to miss him, no one to miss. To make matters worse, he’s been invited to the wedding of his friends Ru and Michael, just another reminder of the fact that he’s single. Felix tries to tell himself that it doesn’t matter, that he doesn’t mind, but the truth is that he does.
With the wisdom that comes from living a long life, Danya tells him to try and be impulsive, something that Felix is completely unfamiliar with. When he spots a gorgeous man with hazel eyes named Kevin at Ru and Michael’s wedding, he decides to be impulsive and ask Keven to dance. There is attraction there and Felix thinks it mutual, but someone else asks Kevin to dance and the moment is gone.
Taking Danya’s advice to heart, Felix books a trip to Hawaii over the Christmas holidays. While trying to get to his connecting flight, a snowstorm hits and he’s not able to fly out of Toronto. He spots Kevin and in another spurt of impulsivity, invites him to ride along as he drives to Toronto to catch his flight. Keven agrees and they are only part way to Toronto when they realize that the snowstorm is too much.
They stop and rent a log cabin to try and wait out the storm. Now Felix is stuck with Kevin and the sight of Kevin’s perfect chest in a tight t-shirt. Felix tells himself that it will be okay. He’s alone with a man that he’s attracted to in a log cabin. That’s pretty impulsive, right?
What could possibly go wrong?
My meagre plot summary doesn’t do this novella justice. It doesn’t capture the heart that beats within the words, the characters that live off the page, the storylines that pluck at the heart and evoke emotion. I wait every year for Burgoine’s holiday novella set in the village. It’s how I know that the holiday season has really begun.
Told in present and past storylines, we learn so much about Felix and his relationship with Danya. Though you’re rooting for Felix and Kevin to end up together and the other misfits make appearances, it’s the relationship between nurse and patient that’s really the backbone of this book. Burgoine shows how a relationship can become a friendship, no matter how many years there are between people. Indeed, Danya is like the wise old sense, albeit with a salty mouth and the gorgeous flair of an aged drag queen. Danya is fabulous, there’s no other word for him.
Burgoine manages to make all of his characters shine so brightly, whether they are the main or secondary character. He creates characters that you know completely by the time the book is done and you consider them among your friends. At least I do.
‘Nathan’s makes the magic happen, pure and simple. As the storylines flip back and forth, as Felix and Kevin’s lives intertwine, I was filled with hope. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The light of hope that can fill the world and our hearts. ‘Nathan Burgoine brings that light to life in Felix Navidad and my life is richer for it.
Now, my Christmas season can begin…
I just finished listening to the audiobook of Love That Story by Jonathan Van Ness. I absolutely loved this book. I got a copy in ebook, an autographed hardcover and listened to the audiobook.
The book is a collection of personal essays on everything from sexuality and addiction to imposter syndrome and overcoming body shaming. I was excited to read his new book as I had loved his last book, Over the Top, so much. I did wonder how much he would have left to say. Thankfully, he had a lot to say.
I learned so much about Jonathan Van Ness, but even more importantly, I learned a lot about myself. I learned to confront my own issues that I have with my body, steps that I could take to help with the grief that I carry, contemplate why I feel like an imposter when I do anything creative and to wonder what my own history was.
By bringing me into his life, Jonathan Van Ness helped me to look at my own. He taught me about his values and the life lessons that he has learned, and I found myself nodding yes to so much of his book. I saw so much of myself in the essays, and I learned so much about Jonathan and myself along the way.
I love reading the hardcover or ebook, but there’s something about hearing the words told in the authors own voice that just helped bring me further into the stories that he relates. Listening to Jonathan Van Ness read Love That Story out loud to me just brought me further into the book, giving me a much more personal reaction to it. I had the same thing happen when I listened to the audiobook of Over the Top: Observations from a Gorgeously Queer Life.
When I finished listening to the book, I found that something within me felt different, as if a small seed of light had been planted within. I have to take the time to see how this seed will help me grow and change as a person. This is the power of Jonathan Van Ness’ words.
I adore Love That Story. I laughed, I got emotional, I learned history and fell in love with myself again. Read this book and fall in love, too! I can’t wait to experience it all over again.