Top Ten Tuesday: Instant Want to Reads

Not much progress to report on the Mel vs Shelf front; we had beautiful almost-spring weather this week, so I emerged like a bear from a long hibernation and stumbled around outside while it lasted, doing very little reading but quite a lot of yard work. Now it’s raining buckets and I’m back in my cave the office.

Instead, here’s a prompt from The Broke and the Bookish and their Top Ten Tuesday feature. This week’s prompt was Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book.

1. Atmospheric/psychological horror. I’m not a fan of gore or jump scares, but a creepy setting? I’m there. The dawning sense that something is off in an otherwise normal place? So there. Is it real or a reflection of the narrator’s mental state? I’m definitely going to read and find out.

2. Ridiculously terrible covers. Beautiful covers naturally draw the eye, but on the flip side, there’s something compelling about a book whose cover is so bad and inexplicable that you have to pick it up and find out more. Like this cover for Dave Duncan’s West of January. Why is there a naked man riding an orca? The summary seems at odds with the cover? Isn’t this supposed to be science fiction? Obviously this approach backfires – a lot – but it has led me to pick up books I otherwise wouldn’t have considered.

3. Authors with a background in fandom. I’ve followed several authors from fanfiction to original and published fiction with good results. Fanfiction is a taste of what to expect from their writing style and interests, and an established fan presence can make it easier to share new works with an interested audience.

4. Based on mythology, folklore, urban legends, etc. Retellings and deconstructions are always an easy sell.

5. Unreliable narrator. Especially an unreliable narrator who believably sells their own worldview, so that you, as the reader, have to take a step back and reevaluate everything you’re told. I also love narratives where a small piece of new information, or an outside perspective, can change your perception of events entirely.

6. Recommended by a friend. I have a few friends with overlapping interests; we read a lot of the same books, but I can also count on their recommendations from genres we don’t share.

7. Written by a trusted author. I will follow Kurt Vonnegut into the weird world of humans evolving into happy seal people*, trusting all the while that the writing will be great and the story will stick with me in some way. There are a few authors whose new books – or the rest of their works – are instant reads, full stop.

8. Time loops. Think Groundhog Day, where events or time periods repeat until something changes – a conflict revisited, two characters meet properly, a discovery made, a grim fate avoided – before time goes forward as usual.

9. Diverse ensemble cast. I love ensemble casts where every character brings a different perspective and their own mix of insights and biases. I love love love ensemble casts where this causes tension and disagreements, but everyone works through their differences and appreciates their companions, making the group stronger overall.

10. Positive and realistic depictions of mental illness. To end this list on a personal note, I make grabby hands at depictions of characters who struggle with mental illness, who do extraordinary things despite their illness, and autobiographies that are honest about the reality of living with mental illness. It was so much easier to find depictions that were negative, bleak, or downright horrific when I was younger, which really affected my self-perception.

Bonus. Someone I love loved the book. There are several books that belonged to my mom and grandma that have a place of honour on my shelves. I’ve also read books that my husband (who is not much of a reader) has enjoyed solely because he enjoyed them and I wanted to share that enjoyment.

* Galápagos isn’t even his strangest novel, but it sounds bonkers in summary

Mel vs Shelf: A New Project

Words evaporate when I try to write about the last few weeks. Touché, brain, we’ll move on to another subject.

So. I own a lot of books. Five shelves of varying sizes in my office. Two shelves in the hall and Olivia’s bedroom. Several boxes in storage. Some were bought new but I’m also eternally weak to those “fill a box for $5” deals at auctions and yard sales. I have a bad habit of accumulating books that sound interesting or came highly recommended just so they can look pretty and collect dust.

This seems to be typical behaviour – never-ending TBR stacks are something my book-loving friends all have in common – but two decades of collecting, several large boxes of donations in the past year alone, and there are still several hundred books in my office that I’ve never read. Space is the main problem, as well as abundance of choice; I waste a lot of valuable reading time wandering around figuring out what to read, because there are so many options.

The plan: divide and conquer. Prioritize unread books from one shelf at a time, review, decide whether to keep or donate. If anything really doesn’t grab me it can go straight to the donate pile. Move on to the next shelf once that’s finished. Ideally I’ll check in weekly with progress?

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Up to Speed: A “Where Have You Been?” Post

“Where did the time go” is one of the most common phrases out of my mouth these days. We’re two months shy of having a two-year-old. The weather has shifted into almost-spring mode; in typical Canadian fashion this means we’re in for another month or two of flip-flopping and ice storms. I’ll be 29 later this year and The Husband will be 30. I’ve been a work-from-home parent for almost a year.


On the whole, life has been good. Days tend to blur together when you spend most of them with a toddler: we’re always busy, but by the end of the day I look back and wonder what we did to fill the time, moving from one thing to the next without much structure. It’s a big lifestyle adjustment for someone who lived a very structured life up to this point, but our days are happy enough, if difficult to capture in words.

Getting words onto a page still feels like pulling teeth. Thanks, brain chemistry. My mental health remains a day-to-day struggle, but I’m looking forward to nicer weather to take the edge off, as it usually does. Drawing has helped immensely: Olivia and I pass hours together with a colouring book, my sketchpad, and craft supplies. It feels amazing to create again – and to want to create again instead of forcing it – after a long dry spell.

That’s probably enough, before this post passes from “general update” to “word vomit”. 2017 promises to be a busy year for us… Plenty of material to blog about!

Letter to my Girl: Canada Day Weekend


I’m a couple of weeks late with this post, so just assume I was timely and and posted this two weeks ago, haha.

This time a year ago we took you on your first camping trip. Your dad and I have spent Canada Day weekend at our campsite since we started dating and were determined that this year wouldn’t be different, though in hindsight everything was different! We were a reduced crew without many of the usual campers – no more wild parties and drop-ins from casual acquaintances, no tent villages housing anywhere from ten to twenty campers, just a few close friends and family. I only stayed for one night and spent most of that time sick with worry about our six-week-old baby. It rained – poured – the entire weekend so we slept in your grandparents’ trailer instead of our tent.

I had never been so glad to leave; it’s one thing to look forward to a shower and your own bed after four days in the woods, but returning to the warm cocoon of our home after a night away was in another league of relief with you in tow. You were so tiny and fragile and I was so miserable.

6 weeks old. Can't believe you were ever this small!

Your first camping trip. Can’t believe you were ever this small!

2016 brought beautiful weather and more change to our ritual getaway. Your nanny and grandpa spent the full weekend with us. Others visited: most of our friends had prior obligations, or life had kicked them down. Your dad and I slept in a tent with you in between us; you haven’t slept that well in months and I haven’t slept so poorly, listening for animals*, boats carrying drunk partiers up the river, hurting all over because our breastfeeding journey had come to an abrupt end earlier in the week thanks to all your new teeth and your incurable habit of testing them out on me.

You had an absolute blast – in the water, in the dirt, crawling as far as you could get away with without fear, joining daddy on the sea-doo, practicing your new standing up skills but not quite walking, chasing your few-months-older cousin who wanted nothing to do with you. You were a handful but so much fun – and unlike last year I was only the usual amount of glad to return home, because three nights and four days in the woods is about all my standards of personal hygiene can withstand.

So here’s to next year and even more changes: the new challenges of camping with a two-year-old, all of the new and fun and stressful things you’ll be able to do, the hopeful return of some of the friends we missed this year. Bring on the changes and looking back to how things were; I’m sure we’ll continue to find balance as you get older.

Hanging out with nanny and grandpa

Hanging out with nanny and grandpa on the dock.

* A story you’ll appreciate when you’re older: we heard what was probably a disagreement between a porcupine and a raccoon while playing cards the first night. Your dad saw a porcupine loafing around the weekend before our trip, and I don’t think we’ve gone a year without seeing a raccoon or two. Anyway, raccoons make terrible barking noises when they feel threatened, and porcupines have a distinctive squeaking growl, so for five minutes we sat frozen, listening to a racket that sounded like hell-hounds mauling a squeaky toy. I barely slept that first night but you weren’t bothered in the least. Already tougher than your mom at 14 months old, haha.