Our Best Books of 2016


My goal this year was 100 books, and I’m one book away from my goal! I may be ringing in the New year with a book in hand.

My top five books I read this year:

Best Overall – Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz

I picked up Bone and Bread after it was nominated for Canada Reads and it was a compelling story that I could not put down. I want to read more stories like this that are so unlike my own experience of the world. My goal next year is too seek out as many authors as I can that don’t look or sound like me.

Best Children’s Book – The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Ivan is based on a true story of a gorilla who lived in a mall. It is told entirely from the perspective of Ivan, touching on other animal and human characters who surround him. It is poignant, touching and brought me to tears by the end, yet is still age-appropriate.

Best Book I Re-Read – Silence by Shusako Endo

I first read Silence for a university class and I wish I could go back and re-write an essay on it. It tells the story of a priest in 17th Century Japan who is running from persecution, only to come face-to-face with what Jesus is truly asking of him. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read and it is on the list of a select few books that have truly shaped my faith.

Best YA – Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell continues to be one of my favourite authors, and Carry On did not disappoint. It is unlike her previous works, as it is more speculative, but it still retains her spot-on ability to craft characters.

Best Graphic Novel – Plutona by Jeff Lemire and Emi Lenox

Jeff Lemire is amazing. Everything he writes/illustrates is beautiful and tragic and reads like the meatiest of literature. I read Plutona as it came out this year in 5 issues, and every part built perfectly on the last.

Honourable Mention – To Be and/or Not to Be by Ryan North

How do you even categorize a choose-your-own-adventure Shakespeare play? I give it an honourable mention simply because it was the most fun I had reading a book. Ryan North is one of the funniest writers out there and his deconstruction/reconstruction/retelling of Hamlet had me in stitches.


Annemarie’s top five:

Best Overall: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This book devastated me. I cried harder than I have ever cried in a book, and it has changed the way I parent. I recommend it strongly but also with reservations: it is not an easy read. I will never forget it.

Best Graphic Novel: Persepholis by Marjane Satrapi

I learned a lot from this book. It was so interesting and sad.

Best Nonfiction: Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski

This book is about sex, but I got so much more out of it than the (fascinating) science behind women’s sexual health. The way it explains how stress and attachment influence behaviours was so succinct and practical that it literally changed my life.

Best Fantasy: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The world in this book is so magical and stunning that I broke my book buying ban to snatch up the first copy I found. I had to own it so I can reread it over and over and over again.

Best YA: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

It’s about horses and I kind of don’t need to say any more. I hear this book is going to be a movie, and I really hope they do it justice. It has the potential to be a really excellent one.

Honourable Mention: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This is a gorgeous meditation on life and death. His writing is beautiful.


Steph’s top five:

Best Overall: Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

So much more than the title essay, although that one is A+ too. “Woolf’s Darkness; Embracing the Inexplicable” blew my mind and her argument for marriage equality is the best and most humanly refreshing that I have heard.

Best Mystery: Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

I love me some Gamache, and I really loved the setting in old Quebec city. The central mystery of the novel is woven together with the mystery surrounding the founding of Quebec in a lovely way.

Best Literary Fiction: The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

By the end I was flipping pages so fast I felt a light breeze. Ferrante is a gem and this portrayal of a friendship is stunning.

Best Sci-Fi: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The characters in this book are really well written, and the story is gripping. A bonus is the exploration of the highs and lows of faith.

Best YA: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I read a lot of Rainbow Rowell this year, and I had a hard time picking out my fave, but Fangirl edged out Eleanor and Park by just a tad! The Jane Austen parallels did it for me.

Honourable Mention: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

The combination of science, spirituality, and great writing in this book made it stand out.

Evergreen, Everblue



I’m outside

K coming

Evelyn quickly put her phone back in her purse and put her mittens back on. The van was still cold and no matter what technology they put into the thumbs, texting was clumsy at best with mittens on. The air was frigid, and the bare trees sparkled with frost.

“I am FREEZING,” said Sally from the back seat. Evelyn glanced at her in the mirror and barely kept from rolling her eyes.

“It is minus twenty and you’re not wearing your parka,” she said. “Or mittens. Or hat. Or anything.”

“Mom. I won’t need them at the mall, and carrying them around is literally the worst.”

“Sally, how many times to I have to tell you…”

“Yes, fine, not literally and not the worst, but it is very hot to carry a parka around the mall and I do not regret my decision except that right now I am as cold as polar bear tits.”

“Sally.” But Evelyn couldn’t stop herself from smirking a little, and Sally saw it in the mirror.

The passenger door opened and Lotta threw herself and a bulging backpack into the van.

“I am EXHAUSTED,” she declared.

“Are you now,” said Evelyn. “Are you literally the most tired anyone has ever been, including me when you breastfed for an entire night without ceasing?”

“You are so dramatic, Mom,” said Lotta.

“Yes, of course, I am the dramatic person in this vehicle. No one has ever been more dramatic. Dear God, when will I ever learn to just chill.”

Lotta didn’t even respond to the sarcasm. She turned in her seat to face Sally, and the two girls launched into a gossip rundown that Evelyn couldn’t hope to understand.


When they got to the mall, the parking lot was already crowded.

“Are you girls sure you want to do this?”

“This was your idea, Mom.”

“Right, yes, okay. Let’s get it over with.”

Within five minutes Evelyn was sweating in her parka but didn’t want to have to carry it. The girls were in Anthropologie, squealing over something tiny and sequined. Evelyn looked over the hideously expensive tree ornaments and wondered where her festive spirit had gone. She knew the answer, but wished for a different one. The year had been devastating, both for their family and for the people in their circles. Christmas Eve marked the anniversary of the death of her best friend Crystal’s mother. Lotta and Sally had both had tragedy in their social circles. And Evelyn and Mark had spent months in triage counselling, trying to save their marriage. Evelyn still wasn’t sure they had done enough, but at least they were still working on it. She wondered if this was the true marker of middle age – all the joyful events of her younger years, the graduations and weddings and births and exciting promotions, slowly being replaced by heartbreaking losses and events. You’re being dramatic again, she told herself. She might roll her eyes at her daughters’ hyperbole, but they came by it honestly.

“Mom, snap out of it!” said Lotta. “We’re done.”

Sally was holding a sparkly paper bag and was beaming. “I can’t wait to wear it!”

Evelyn didn’t ask what it was, or how much it had cost. “Where next?”

“Coffee?” Lotta asked.

“Yes, our treat, Mom.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Evelyn protested. “I can buy it.”

They sandwiched their mother in a hug.

“You need it. And we appreciate that you’re doing this for us.”

Evelyn blinked back tears she didn’t want them to see, and asked for the hundredth time what she’d done to get such loving daughters.




“It’s almost Christmas, it’s almost Christmas!”

Lotta and Sally were dancing around the living room, home from their last day of school before the holidays. Lotta was wearing a Santa hat and Sally had found a bright red onesie with a butt flap. They looked ridiculous.

“You girls are too old for this!” snapped Mark, sitting in his armchair and looking at the newspaper on his iPad. “Go text somebody.”

“Daddy is a Scroo-ooge, Daddy is a Scroo-ooge,” they sang, linking arms and skipping upstairs. Mark sighed loudly.

“iPads are not nearly as satisfying as newspapers because you can’t rustle them to show your annoyance,” he said to Evelyn.

“Hmm,” she said, holding an untouched glass of wine and looking at the reflection of the Christmas tree in the window. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve, their family’s traditional celebration day. Mark was an EMT supervisor and had volunteered to work on Christmas Day for their entire twenty-seven year marriage, because that guaranteed him Christmas Eve off. It was the best possible scenario, given his line of work, but some years Evelyn found it hard. It had never bothered the girls, but when they had been small, Christmas Day was often the worst day of the year for her. This year, everything was prepared; the girls had done most of the work. Even so, a cloud of dread hovered over Evelyn, and she wished it was any other time of year. The thought of faking cheer made her want to lie down on the floor and never get up.

“Mom wants to confirm that we’re going to her place on Boxing Day,” said Mark.

“Of course we are. We do every year. I thought I had confirmed with her already last week,” said Evelyn, snappier than she had intended.

“She’s just making sure,” said Mark, frowning. “What’s with you tonight?”

“Nothing,” she said, finally sipping her wine.

“Come on, Ev. You’ve never been like that.”

“Like what?”

“Expecting me to guess what’s wrong with you. Come on, talk.”

“I…” She looked over at him, this man who had proven time and again that he would climb mountains for her. Their near-divorce had been all her fault, she knew, no matter how much the counsellor and Mark himself had said otherwise. She was the one who had retreated, stopped reaching out, let herself drift away from closeness. Mark was saving lives every day, dealing with bullet wounds and car crashes and brain injuries. How was he supposed to understand the ice shards in Evelyn’s heart that even she hadn’t noticed for years?

Mark was still waiting for her to speak. She saw him shift position, glance down at his iPad, twist his wedding ring. Signs of impatience. She tried to form a sentence that would explain how she felt, but the words evaporated when she tried to hold them.

“I’m sorry. I can’t right now. It’s not… I’m just tired.”

His face fell momentarily, then he transformed it into sympathy. “It’s been a rough year.”

She nodded.

“Let’s go out tonight,” he suggested, trying to bridge the gulf. “See a movie, go for coffee. Take a little break from Christmas.”

She wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed, but she said “Sure, that sounds nice.”

Mark smiled, relieved, and turned back to his electronic newspaper. Evelyn drank her wine and commanded herself to do better.




It began to snow while Evelyn was putting the traditional Christmas Eve meatballs on the table. Her first thought was The girls will love this. It was the first thing all day to shake her out of her melancholy, and she was grateful. She lit the four advent candles on the table, then the tea lights on the plate rail around the room so that the dining room was filled with a dim, warm glow. She called the family to the table, and as they each entered, the warmth filled their faces. She pointed silently to the window, the curtains left open, and her daughters’ faces lit with joy. She was reminded of their early years, when snowflakes and Christmas and their mother were magical to them. Again, she was grateful.

They all ate quietly, transfixed by the mood. The snowflakes were falling thick and fast, the fluffy kind that piled up quickly, and by the time they were finished, the back yard was tucked right in.

Evelyn watched her daughters get up and clear the table, rinse the plates, load the dishwasher. She remembered all the times she’d reminded, bribed, cajoled, and fought with them over doing the most basic of tasks, and appreciated how far things had come.

“You coming, Mom?” Lotta called from the living room. Evelyn shook herself. She was alone in the candlelight. She got up and joined her family, feeling as though she was two people in one body. One saw the way her daughters and husband were alive, vibrant, filled with love and happiness. But the other part of her wasn’t able to shake the physical ache in her chest, the jolts of pain when she remembered the too-fresh-to-be-trusted peace with Mark, the never-shifting dread that something else was bound to happen.

It was only a couple of hours until they would go to church, to hear the Christmas story and light the candles and sing Silent Night. Every other year, this had been Evelyn’s favourite part. It centred her, filled her with peace, reminded her of her tiny place in the universe. She had been holding on to hope that this was what she needed to restore her equilibrium, but as the minutes ticked past, the gloom rose until it choked her.

She could tell that Mark, Sally, and Lotta were concerned. She knew they wanted to fix everything for her, to bring her into their joy. She wanted it too.

She excused herself and went upstairs to her room. They would have a whispered conversation about what to do, she was sure. She allowed herself to cry, briefly, muffling her sobs with a hand towel and splashing water on her face to make herself stop. Her phone buzzed in her pocket.

I wasn’t going to say anything, but I’m really not doing well tonight. I don’t know what I’m asking for, but I think I’m asking for help.

Oh, Crystal. Sadness enshrouded her, her heart cracked. She knew, she had been to counselling, she knew that her own feelings were valid, that she was allowed to feel sad this Christmas, that the things that had happened in her life were hard things. But Crystal, losing her mother after her that jerk, that asshole, that dickhead left her for their daughter’s friend, and then her daughter blamed her for it, and cut her off, and now she had to live alone in an apartment, Crystal who was the bravest, most courageous person Evelyn had ever known, Crystal who came to help her when Mark left her overnight, when Lotta and Sally had drenched the house in icy silence, who sent flowers just because, Crystal was asking for help.

Evelyn stood up. She looked at herself in the mirror and saw an ordinary middle-aged mom, a financial advisor, doing her best but never quite good enough. She saw lines of joy and pain. She saw the residue of her tears. She saw a set to her shoulders and jaw that had been earned, chosen, and fought for.

She went downstairs. Sally, Lotta, and Mark sat up quickly and guiltily.

“I’m not coming to church,” she said, and felt the relief in her body as she said it. “Crystal texted me, so I’m going to her place. I’ll be back before you have to go to work, Mark, but don’t wait up.”

They nodded at her, and Lotta dashed into the kitchen. She came out just as Evelyn was heading out the door and handed her a grocery bag filled with leftovers from their Christmas party – cheese, crackers, chocolate, and wine. Evelyn embraced her trying to communicate with her body what she could not with her words, did the same with Sally and Mark, and left.

The world was muffled and quiet apart from someone a few streets over trying to get their car unstuck. Evelyn swept the snow off the van and drove to Crystal’s at a snail’s pace. She buzzed herself in.

Crystal opened the door, heartbreak etched into her face. “I was going to try to keep busy,” she said, her voice choking and hoarse, “but it turned out to be impossible. I just miss them all so much, and I can’t stop…”

Evelyn steered her to the couch, and together they sat, weeping into the dark.


Mary Walks

On each of the four Sundays before Christmas, the advent season, Widdershire will be posting four reflections from the point of view of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

click image for source
click image for source

Mary walks. One foot in front of another, steady and slow.

The pace of her feet and the pace of a donkey are the only speeds she has ever traveled; she has seen horses thunder past, but she has never ridden at the pace of the wind.

Walking slows her racing thoughts and calms the blood pounding in her ears. Too many thoughts of things past and things to come seem to untether her from the present and cause her to drift through time, unable to hold onto the current moment. The steady pace of her feet brings her back to where she is, living in ordinary time, unraveling her days without Joseph, without Jesus, and without her angel.

It feels going to be doing something, to be moving.

The path begins to incline, and Mary walks uphill, towards the tree at the top. This hill and this tree are special for her; she makes the hike to the top at dawn every year close to Jesus’ birthday. It feels as though the movement upwards through space also moves her into a different time. Certainly the time she spends up here has that magical fast-yet-slow quality that she associates with God’s time.

Many times she needs to stop and rest, and she wonders for how many more years she can continue her tradition. But each time she stops, she notices something new. This time, she watches the town below her stir and awaken. Next time, it’s a pair of birds dancing in the wind. Then it is simply the pattern of the pebbles at her feet, and how the blades of grass grow around them.

It has taken her longer than usual, but she is not too late. She pauses to catch her breath, then settles into her usual place. She looks up, and sees the sight she has come for. Every year at this time, from this spot, she can see her Jesus’s star, shining on the horizon. Waiting, longing, remembering, and walking all come together in this place. She is Mary, the mother of Jesus, and she knows God’s time.

Originally published on tallisfabulous.com

November Book Reviews

What was the best book you read in November, and why?

What book are you excited about in December?



As predicted, Kindred was the winner in November. Octavia Butler’s prose is spare, and every word is there for a reason. It took a bit to get used to, especially in the dialogue, but I really appreciated it once I was a few pages in! This book is really pertinent to the times we are living in now (depressingly, since it was published in 1976). Dana, the main character, keeps getting pulled back into the ante bellum south, and has to learn how to survive there as a black woman. Butler does an amazing job of portraying the past and drawing parallels between the past and the present. I would recommend this highly, and I will definitely be seeking out more Butler, Read more

Mary Remembers

On each of the four Sundays before Christmas, the advent season, Widdershire will be posting four reflections from the point of view of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

click image for source
click image for source

Mary remembers.

She remembers the angel, the radiance, the spirit of the Lord coming upon her. She remembers the shining moment when she was given the gift of radiant joy, of the peace of God, of a glimpse from God’s perspective. She remembers knowing that she was a part of the Lord’s work in history, bringing forth a mighty transformation.

She remembers the moment when everything fell away and she was outside of ordinary time and space with the glorious being of light, sent directly from the Lord to give her the message that she was blessed. It was awesome and awe-filled and she had been so afraid, and then the angel said “fear not,” and she found that she could move past fear into peace and acceptance of what the Lord was asking of her. She had seen in an instant that it was no small thing she was agreeing to. She knew that she was being asked, not demanded or coerced.

She remembers the birth, her first birth. The birth that transformed her into a mother. She was again outside of normal time, the seconds stretching into hours but the hours passing in a moment. She remembers, after it was over, feeling an amazing rush of joy and pride in bringing this baby, her baby, the Lord’s baby into the world.

Both of those moments define her. They are the times that she felt the most whole, the most complete. To her, they exist in God’s time.

She looks up to see fingers of dawn tickling the edges of the world. Going back in time through memory has restored her to hope.

Originally published on tallisfabulous.com

Mary Longs

On each of the four Sundays before Christmas, the advent season, Widdershire will be posting four reflections from the point of view of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

persian mary and jesus

Mary comes in soaked, cold, and exhausted.

She wants things to be made right, because they are so wrong. It feels wrong to be alive, and alone, with no sense of when that will change. She doesn’t understand how she is supposed to keep on living day after day. She doesn’t understand God’s time, how everything can be transformed in an instant and yet continue along in ordinary time.
She has been ruined for ordinary time.

Jesus understood how to marry God’s time and ordinary time, how to work in this world but keep a connection to God’s sacred time. But Jesus is gone, whisked back into that sacred time. He said he would return, but she has been waiting for a long time. She longs for the wait to end.

Stop this, she tells herself. You have been down this path before. It’s the path into despair and bitterness, and just because Mary means bitter does not mean that you must become bitter.

But the longing, longing for Jesus, for the angel, for understanding, for the end of hurt and confusion and doubt and so much tiredness, is overwhelming. More than anything, she wants to see the big picture like she did once before, when she knew that the Lord’s mercy lasts from generation to generation. She longs for that mercy.

The words burst out. Lord, you came into this world and promised to turn it around. You showed me that there is no one too insignificant or overlooked or unimportant to be a part of your plan. You embodied love. You transformed me entirely, body, mind, and spirit, and now I don’t know what to do! I have lost so much and in this long silence, I feel that I have lost you too. Show me that I am wrong, Lord.

Mary pours out the deepest desires of her heart until the rain on her face made salty by her tears has dried, and the storm in her heart has settled once more. She can carry on in ordinary time for now.

Originally published on tallisfabulous.com.