Pass it on

Listen here.

Pass it on.

One of the questions that we often ask at book club is “would you pass this book on?” That got me thinking about my own personal criteria for recommending a book. I know that that’s what I do here with you…but who am I, really, to be making recommendations to anyone, right? Book love is so subjective.

I read a lot of books, but not many of them would fall into the “here – you gotta read this” category. So I started to think about my own litmus test for books…what books have I read that I would definitely press into the hands of someone else?

I think a book has to be well written. But that doesn’t mean that every single book I’ve loved has to be Shakespearean. Sometimes a book can be just super fun to read without all the literary bells and whistles, I am thinking about a book like …oh, who am I kidding? I took a look through the highly recommended section of my blog and really, all the books I’ve really loved have had that beautiful combination of story and character and writing. That is not to say that I haven’t read my share of books that have been fun to read, but would I insistently pass them into the hands of other readers? Do I think about them long after I’ve closed the pages? Probably not – so maybe that’s actually the test for me. Do I think about these books when I’m finished? Do I want other people to read them so we can share our thoughts? That’s the book I want to pass on. So – I’ve got three for you today, two adult and one YA read that I would heartily recommend to readers of all stripes.

Let’s start with the book I just finished and which I mentioned the last time I was here as a book that I hoped would be a page-turner and man, was it ever.

Descent by Tim Johnston descent_thumb

So, this is the story about the Courtland family, mom and dad, Grant and Angela, their 18 year old daughter, Caitlin and their 15 year old son. Sean. They are in the Rocky Mountains on a little family getaway before Caitlin heads off to college on a track scholarship. Early in the morning, Caitlin and Sean head out so Caitlin can run up the mountain with Sean following on his bike. Then, Sean gets hit by a jeep – strange first of all because they are literally in the middle of nowhere. He’s really badly hurt and when his parents get the call from the hospital they are also informed that Caitlin is missing. Fast forward a year and the Courtlands are still fractured. Dad has moved to the town where Caitlin disappeared; Sean is driving around the country aimlessly; Angela is back on the east coast living with her sister. They are all damaged. Johnston’s novel is the perfect combination of style and substance. The writing is sharp and lyrical, but it never slows the action down and – trust me – this novel has some pulse-pounding action sequences that were just so good. I would definitely hand this one over…like, not to keep, of course!

Our Daily Bread – Lauren B. Davis ourdailybread

This one I actually touched on a while back when I talked about starting a book club. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book for days and days after I read it. Despite the controversial subject matter, Davis’s book is so compelling, the writing so good and the characters so broken…it’s impossible not to read this book without feeling something.

Our Daily Bread concerns the fortunes of two families: the Erskines who live up on North Mountain and the Evanses who live down in Gideon. Albert Erskine is different from the crack-smoking/dealing relatives with whom he lives on a sort of compound. He’s smart and he wants more from his life, but life has dealt him a particularly rough hand. Bobby Evans has it tough in another way – as he watches helplessly as his parents’ marriage deteriorates he looks for a place to belong and, strangely, he and Albert become friends. The intersection of these two young lives makes for some compelling reading, I’ll tell you that. This book is, at turns, horrific and heartbreaking, but you will fall in love with these characters – I promise.

Our Daily Bread was long-listed for the Giller in 2012.

jumpstartFinally, a YA novel that I would definitely pass on is Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Jumpstart the World, which I just finished last week. It’s the story of Elle, a fifteen-year-old girl whose mother sets her up in an apartment across town because her new boyfriend doesn’t get along with her. Yep – mom chooses the guy over her daughter. So, here’s Elle living on her own, starting a new school. She meets her next door neighbours Frank and Molly and is immediately taken with Frank, who seems really kind and nurturing…clearly traits her mother doesn’t possess. She also makes some friends at school – outsiders all…

Then she discovers that Frank is transgender and it forces Elle to really examine herself as a human being. What I liked about Jumpstart the World is that it never preaches. It will offer young people an opportunity to examine their own prejudices, for sure, but it also has a lot of really amazing things to say about love and family and accepting who you are. It’s really a lovely book and I would certainly press it into the hands of my students.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is probably best known for her novel Pay It Forward, a book I haven’t read – but I did read her YA novel The Day I Killed James and it was also excellent.

 

Descent – Tim Johnston

descent_thumbI love it when a book lives up to its hype…and if you believed the accolades plastering the back cover and the first three pages of Tim Johnston’s novel Descent, you’d certainly be expecting great things. The Washington Post said “Read this astonishing novel. The magic of his prose equals the horror of Johnston’s story.” Esquire called it “Outstanding” adding that “the days when you had to choose between a great story and a great piece of writing” are “gone.”

I don’t even know how this book came to be on my radar – I just know that I had a picture of it on my phone and a couple weekends ago I was pleased to discover that Indigo had topped up my Plum Points and I had $100 to spend…but only that weekend to spend it. So, I flipped through the pictures of covers and chose five, Descent being one of them. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the book on Information Morning and decided that since I had, I should probably read it. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

The Courtlands are spending a little family time in the Rocky Mountains – a holiday before Caitlin, 18, heads off for her first semester of college. Her mom and dad, Angela and Grant, are clearly in crisis and then there’s Sean, Caitlin’s 15-year-old brother.

Caitlin is a runner and on the morning the story opens, she and her brother are heading up a mountain trail – Caitlin on her feet, Sean on his bike. Johnston meanders up the mountain with the pair as they bicker and share confidences. Then the unthinkable happens: Sean is hit by a jeep

…it came, monstering through the trees at an incredible speed, crushing deadfall, the whip and scream of branches dragged on sheet metal and then the suddenly unobstructed roar that made her wrap her head in her arms, the sound of tires locking and skidding and the thing slamming into what sounded like the sad tin post of a stop sign and then the meaty whump and the woof of air which was in fact the boy’s airborne body coming to a stop against the trunk of a tree.

When Grant and Angela get a call from the local police, they learn Sean’s been badly injured;  Caitlin is missing.

Fast forward a year or so. Grant has moved to the area and is living on the property owned by the local sheriff’s father, Emmet. Sean is on the road, driving from place to place picking up odd jobs. Angela is living with her sister when she isn’t hospitalized for depression/mental health issues. Caitlin’s disappearance has fractured the Courtland family.  It’s mostly the men that Johnston spends time with, allowing the reader a glimpse into their own personal hells: the father who can’t and won’t give up hope that Caitlin will be found and the son who can’t forget what happened that morning on the mountain.

The characters in Descent are trying to get on with it, but their personal pain is palpable. Grant works around Emmet’s property, sometimes pausing to “stare into the hills beyond the ranch, up into the climbing green mountains.” He hears his daughter’s voice and  “take[s] his skull in his hands and clench[es] his teeth until he [feels] the roots giving way.”

As for Sean, he is closed off from the world. In one particularly horrific scene, he puts himself in harm’s way in an effort to save a young girl – perhaps in an effort to atone for the ultimate crime of not being able to save his sister. It’s not the only time he does something selfless, albeit, foolish.  I just wanted to hug him.

We do spend less time with Angela, but that doesn’t mean that we know less about her. She moves through her much diminished world like a whisper. Only a parent who has suffered the loss of a child could truly understand Angela’s debilitating sadness.

The girls’ heartbeat still played in her arms. In her chest. She remembered the hour, the minute, she was born: precious small head, the known, perfect-formed weight of it. All her fears of motherhood – of unreadiness, of unfitness– vanishing at the sight of that plum-colored face mewling in outrage. My child, my life.

Secondary characters, Emmet’s  black-sheep son, Billy, for example, are equally well-drawn. Billy arrives back in town, much to the chagrin of his father and older brother, and swaggers his way into everyone’s bad graces. But even Billy is allowed his shades of gray – there are no stock characters here.

Into these complicated interior lives, Johnston deftly weaves the mystery of Caitlin’s disappearance. She is not a footnote, trust me. The story of her disappearance is unraveled with excruciating care and her story is definitely one of the things that will speed your journey through this book.

Descent is fantastic on every level and I highly recommend it.

 

 

Jumpstart the World – Catherine Ryan Hyde

When Elle’s mother’s boyfriend decides he doesn’t like her, Elle’s mother sets her up in an apartment across town. The town happens to be New York and Elle is just 16.  Catherine Ryan Hyde takes an almost unbelievable premise (like, what mother turns her kid out because she wants to placate her boyfriend?) and spins it into the beautiful and moving coming-of-age story Jumpstart the World.

jumpstartOn moving-in day, Elle meets Frank Killborne, her next door neighbour.

He had a big, friendly smile and there was something cute about him, but in a soft sort of way. Hard to explain what I mean by soft. Gentle, I guess I mean. He made you try not to find fault with him for some reason. The kind of guy it’s hard not to like.

Frank lives with his girlfriend, Molly, and it doesn’t take long for them to become Elle’s de facto family. It also doesn’t take long for Elle to develop more complicated feelings about Frank.

Jumpstart the World is populated with other interesting and sympathetic characters, too, particularly the group of friends Elle makes at her new school. There’s Shane aka Larissa, blue-haired and gay; the Two Bobs – a gay couple; there’s Wilbur, a quiet guy who wears make-up.  These friends have varying degrees of influence on Elle’s life and are also responsible for the novel’s conflict. When they meet Frank,  they point out what is not obvious to Elle: Frank is transgender.

It’s pretty remarkable that there’s a book like this available for teens. It’s the first book I’ve ever read featuring a transgender character, but the fact that Frank is doesn’t mean that Ryan Hyde starts to get all preachy. We might expect that since this story takes place in NYC, the world is filled with individuals ready to embrace everyone’s differences, but – of course – the world isn’t quite so open-minded and, as it turns out, Elle has some reconciling of her own to do.

Jumpstart the World actually tackles the questions of trust and family and what it means to give your friendship and love to another human being, regardless of their sexual orientation. There aren’t any easy answers in life and it might be a bit much to expect a teenager to figure them out, but each of the characters in this book have had their own life-altering experiences. And interestingly, Elle’s journey – painful as it is – also helps her to make a kind of peace with her mother.

I enjoyed this book. I liked spending time with Elle. I appreciated that her journey was a little left of center, but that she discovered – as she does with her cat, Toto, that sometimes “you just have to take a deep breath and let somebody love you.”

Highly recommended.

 

The Grownup – Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is best known for her smash hit Gone Girl , but her two other novels Dark Places and Sharp Objects are also excellent. Flynn is a masterful writer and her protagonists are generally prickly women with dark pasts.

The Grownup is Flynn’s latest literary offering, a slender little story you could polish off over a cup of tea and a biscuit. (Literally – it’s 62 pages long.) She thanks George R.R. Martin (author of Game of Thrones) for asking her to “write him a story.” This particular story actually won an Edgar, a prestigious award given by the Mystery Writers of America.grownup“I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it,” says our narrator. Now she has painful carpal tunnel syndrome and needs to find another way to make money. She’s been a grafter her entire life, learning at her now-absent mother’s hem.

“I came to my occupation honestly,” she tells us. Raised by her mother “the laziest bitch I ever met”, the narrator now guarantees satisfaction at Spiritual Palms: tarot readings in the front, hand jobs in the back.

One day Spiritual Palms’ owner, Viveca asks the narrator if she’s clairvoyant and before she can say poltergeist, the narrator is giving readings to the public. That’s where she meets Susan Burke, a harried woman who proclaims “my life is falling apart.”

Wanting to help, imagining a life where she does, the narrator goes to Susan’s home, Carterhook Manor, and there things take a decidedly creepy turn.

I can’t say much more than that, really. After all, in the time it would take you to read this review, you could be half way through The Grownup. What are you waiting for? Go on.

 

Pulse Pounding Thrillers

There’s nothing I like better than a thriller; it’s my go-to genre when I want to jumpstart my reading. I love a good mystery, a page-turning, heart-pounding, protagonist in peril book that I can’t put down. I know I am not the only one who likes suspense, just look at how popular books like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl are. I love it when you find a book with the perfect combination of creepy thrills and stellar writing, so I thought I would share five books for any readers out there who are looking for something to curl up with while the weather is crappy.

 Intensity – Dean Koontz

So, I rintensityead this book about twenty years ago. Koontz is a very prolific writer of supernatural fiction. I’ve read a few of his book, but this one was totally propulsive. It’s about a Chyna Shephard, a young woman who is visiting a with her best friend’s family when really bad luck arrives in the form of serial killer Edgler Forman Vess. What follows is a thrill ride that will have you turning the pages super fast.
Instruments of Night – Thomas H. Cook instruments

You might have to order books by American mystery writer Thomas H. Cook online because it’s rare to find him on the shelves of our local book stores-which I don’t get because he’s fabulous. The first book I ever read by Cook was called Breakheart Hill and it had a killer opening line: “This is the darkest story I ever heard and all my life I have labored not to tell it.” I had to buy it…and I’ve probably read seven or eight books by him now. One of my favourites by Cook is Instruments of Night.

It’s the story of writer Paul Graves, a man who has spent his career writing about the horrible dance between serial killer and sadist Kessler (and his accomplice, Sykes) and the man who has spent his career chasing him, Detective Slovak. Instruments of Night operates on more than one level, though. Graves has almost completed the 14th installment of his series when he is invited to upstate New York to meet with Allison Davies, mistress of an estate known as Riverwood. Fifty years ago, Allison’s best friend, Faye, was murdered on the grounds and now Allison wants Paul to “imagine what happened to Faye. And why.” Couldn’t put it down

If you like literary mysteries- you’d be hard pressed to find anyone better than Cook.
dark-places-book-coverDark Places – Gillian Flynn

So everyone knows Flynn for her novel Gone Girl, but I actually read her book Dark Places first. It’s her second novel, her first is Sharp Objects…also really good, but Dark Places is – I think – her best. It’s about Libby Day, this rather unlikeable woman who has – no question – survived a lot of hardship. Her mother and two older sisters were murdered when she was a kid and her testimony helped convict her older brother Ben – who was fifteen at the time – for the crime. Flynn weaves the past and present together as Libby finds herself confronted with the truth of the crime that changed her life. Fantastic book.
End of Story – Peter Abrahams endofstory

You could polish off End of Story in an afternoon – because once you get going you won’t be able to put it down. It’s the story of tells the compelling tale of Ivy Siedel, an aspiring writer, who takes a job teaching writing to a small group of inmates at Dannemora Prison, in Upstate New York. When one of her students, Vance Harrow, turns out to be a talented writer, Ivy decides to take a closer look at his history and discovers something about him that both shocks and excites her…and changes her life forever.
descent_thumbAnd my last pick is a book I just purchased this weekend and I haven’t read it, but I am expecting great things because it’s been given copious praise by everyone and their dog. It’s called Descent and it’s by a new-to-me author, Tim Johnston. A family is on vacation. The college age daughter and her brother go out for a run and only the brother returns.

I’ll let you know how that one turns out.

 

Have you read any good thrillers? I’d love to hear about them.

Brooklyn – Colm Tóibín

colmbrooklynMy fabulous book club kicked off 2016 by discussing Colm Tóibín‘s award winning novel Brooklyn. After our Christmas hiatus, we all enjoy getting back together for some yummy food, wine and great conversation.

Tóibín‘s novel, the story of Eilis Lacey’s coming-of-age in 1950’s Ireland and Brooklyn, NY, was a lovely way to start our new reading year, even if we didn’t all agree about the book’s merits.

Eilis is (I think – it’s never explicitly stated) a young woman in her early twenties who lives with her widowed mother and thirty-year-old sister, Rose. Rose is glamorous and independent. Times are tough in Eilis’s little town and so when an old friend of the family, Father Flood, arrives home for a visit from America and suggests he could help Eilis find work there, and perhaps further opportunities to improve her life, it’s decided that she make the journey across the Atlantic to settle in Brooklyn. Eilis’s story is actually quite common for the time period; however, one has to venture a little further back to fully understand the Irish immigration to America.

At Time.com, “Irish-American historian and novelist Peter Quinn explains, “The country wasn’t in the Second World War, it had been kind of cut off from the rest of the world, and it wasn’t part of the Marshall Plan. So it was still a very rural country.” The economy was at a standstill, while the U.S. was booming. Some 50,000 immigrants left Ireland for America in the ’50s, about a quarter of them settling in New York.

Women played an important role in that immigration process. Quinn explains “during the 19th century, the wave of Irish was “the only immigration where there were a majority of women.” And, thanks to a culture that supported nuns and teachers, those women were often able to delay marriage and look for jobs. By the mid 20th century, many Irish women—who also benefited from the ability to speak English—were working in supermarkets, utility companies, restaurants and, like Eilis, department stores. The fact that Eilis finds her job through her priest is also typical. “[The Catholic Church] was an employment agency. It was the great transatlantic organization,” Quinn says. “If you came from Ireland, everything seemed different, but the church didn’t. It was a comfort that way, and it was a connection.””

So here is Eilis, alone in the big city. Whether you like her or not (I’m sort of in the “indifferent” camp), Eilis’s story is certainly compelling. She begins a job at Bartocci’s, a department story run by Italians. Her goal is to make her way through the ranks and end up, hopefully, as a bookkeeper in the office, rather than a shop girl. Father Flood arranges for her to take a bookkeeping course at Brooklyn College. She’s a diligent and conscientious worker.

She lives in a boarding house run by an Irish lady called Mrs. Kehoe. She shares living space with a variety of other young women, some Irish, some American. We learn very little about any of them; Eilis tends to keep to herself.

And there you have it – Eilis in Brooklyn. Oh…then she meets Tony.

Eilis slowly became aware of a young man looking at her. He was smiling warmly, amused at her efforts to learn the dance steps. He was not much taller than she was, but looked strong, with blonde hair and clear blue eyes. He seemed to think there was something funny happening as he swayed to the music.

It’s almost impossible not to like Tony and his family. He courts her and they fall in love, but then personal tragedy strikes and Eilis has to return to Ireland.

Brooklyn does have something to say about the choices we make in life and why we make them – sometimes, it seems, we aren’t really sure; we’re just swept along by the tide. Some readers might be put off with the way ideas/characters/themes are introduced and then dropped without resolution. While it’s true that life often happens in this manner, I might have enjoyed just a teensy more follow-through.

Tóibín‘s prose is straight-forward, unembellished and allows his reader to fill in the gaps. Many readers will likely take issue with the novel’s conclusion, but I liked it – even if I didn’t particularly like Eilis.

 

Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys

between-shades-of-grayWe all know about the atrocities of the Holocaust, but until I decided to read Ruta Sepetys’ novel Between Shades of Gray with my grade nine class I knew nothing (shamefully) about what happened in Lithuania during the same time period. During that time Stalin’s Soviet Union invaded the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. They rounded up doctors, teachers, musicians, artists and government officials and their families – anyone whom they considered a threat – and shipped them off to work camps. Sepetys’ father was the son of a Lithuanian military officer. He and his family managed to escape to a German refugee camp (the irony is not lost on me). It is the author’s personal connection to this devastating blot on human history that inspired her to tackle telling the story. And what a story it is!

Lina is just fifteen when the NKVD (Russian Secret Police) burst into her home and demand that she, her ten-year-old brother, Jonas, and their mother, pack a suitcase and come with them. It is June 14, 1941 and the world Lina has known – one of art and intellect, of safety and family – is forever shattered. Their father is not home.

The first question I asked my students when we started the book was what they would take if they only had twenty minutes to decide. Lina was getting ready for bed and she remarks “They took me in my nightgown.” What is important when you have no time to think?

I put on my sandals and grabbed two books, hair ribbons and my hairbrush. Where was my sketchbook? I took the writing tablet, the case of pens and pencils and the bundle of rubles off my desk and placed them amongst the heap of items we had thrown into my case.

From the minute Between Shades of Gray starts until the final pages, the reader is living in a world that is almost impossible to comprehend. My students have no frame of reference. Even those who do not live privileged lives have never had to face this kind of terror. As I read the book out loud to my rapt students, I often found myself on the verge of tears imagining the fear, pain and plight of these people who were forced from their homes for no reason. What would I be capable of if I had to protect my family?

Lina’s mother, Elena, is a remarkable character. She is an educated woman who speaks Russian, a handy skill in these circumstances. She does whatever she has to do in an effort to keep her family together, trading items she has sewn into her coat in advance (foreshadowing  the events to come) for food, favour and, in one particularly poignant trade, for the life of her son. Her strength of character, her resiliency (which is mirrored in her children) sustains them all through the long, hard days ahead.

Eventually Lina and her family find themselves at a labour camp in Siberia. I can remember joking about Siberian labour camps as a kid. I didn’t know anything about them; I would have just made a throwaway comment about sending someone to Siberia. Sheer ignorance on my part because the conditions are unimaginable.

It was completely uninhabited, not a single bush or tree, just barren dirt to a shore of endless water. We were surrounded by nothing but polar tundra and the Laptev Sea. The wind whipped. Sand blew into my mouth and stung my eyes.

Worse – they have nowhere to live. The only two buildings are for the Soviets. It’s cold and soon it will be dark 24 hours a day.

I can say this about the book: my students loved it. Although I had promised to read it out loud to them, many read on their own, racing to finish. That’s high praise, especially since many of students would identify themselves as reluctant readers. I had several boys finish way before we did.

Sepetys talks about her novel here and it’s worth watching the video before you read the book. Sepetys talked to survivors and some of their stories find their way into this novel. I wish that the ending hadn’t seemed quite so rushed, but that’s a small niggle and may have something to do with the fact that I wasn’t quite ready to say good bye to these remarkable characters. Overall, Between Shades of Gray is a miracle of a book, a life-affirming novel of resiliency and love and a sober reminder of the terrible things we do to each other.

Highly recommended.

Bystander – James Preller

bystanderJames Preller’s middle grade novel Bystander does a good job of illustrating the school-yard bully.  Wikipedia describes that bystander effect, or bystander apathy, as “a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present.”

When thirteen-year-old Eric moves to a new town with his mother and younger brother Rudy, he meets Griffin, a boy with “soft features … thick lips and long eyelashes…pretty.”  Griffin travels with a pack and when the boys arrive at the basketball court where Eric is practicing foul shots, Eric wonders “if something bad was about to happen.” It doesn’t take him long to figure out that despite Griffin’s alluring charisma, there is something off about him, a fact reinforced when Griffin tells Eric “I’m a good guy to be friends with…but I’m a lousy enemy.”

Truer words. When Eric starts his new school he wants nothing more than to get along. He’s a decent kid, a little sheltered, perhaps (he doesn’t have a cell phone and his mother won’t let him use Instant Messenger). I’ve been the new kid and I know what it’s like to start a new school, so I felt for Eric as he surveyed the cafeteria that first day, wondering where to sit.

In a month, he assured himself, everything would be fine. He’d make new friends, sit with them, eat, joke, laugh. But right now, today, the first day of school, it all kind of sucked. But on another level, none of it really mattered. Eric could smell his meatball sub and he felt hungry. He wanted to eat.

When Griffin stops at his table, chagrined that Eric is alone and invites Eric to eat with him and his friends, Eric accepts. In some ways, it’s a bit like making a date with the devil and we all know what they say about the devil you know, right. It doesn’t take long for Eric, who is a smart kid, to figure out that Griffin just isn’t the kind of friend he wants to have, even if it means that he’s going to suffer for it.

Bystander is a straightforward novel about making choices. Bullying is a hot topic these days and something we talk about even at the high school level. Published in 2009, Bystander doesn’t really address the problem of cyber bullying; Griffin is a garden-variety thug (if you can actually be a thug at 13.) The thing about Griff, though,  is that he’s sort of sympathetic; Preller doesn’t paint him with a simple black stroke.

Despite the fact that the book is intended for a younger audience, I think I have some grade nine students who would enjoy this story. They are not so far removed from middle school that they won’t remember characters just like Griff and his ilk.

Reflections on a year in reading, 2015 edition

I gave a little sneak peek of this list on Information Morning on December 7. Listen here.

It’s that time of year, top ten lists are popping up in all the usual places. I set a reading goal for myself every year…for no other reason than it helps me choose reading over Netflix. Sometimes reading loses, sadly. I keep a bookshelf over at 50Book Pledge. ca, which is a fabulous, easy-to-use virtual bookshelf site for anyone who likes that sort of thing.

Anyway, there are always bookish questionnaires floating around the Internet at this time of year that allow you to pause and take stock of your reading year. I am using The Perpetual Page-Turner’s awesome questions. I’ve done her questionnaire for the last few years and I really love looking back on the year.

Number of Books You Read: at this point 54, my goal was 60 but I didn’t make it.

Number of Re-Reads: 2

Genre You Read The Most From: YA (27 – I read a lot of YA because I teach high school English, but I do try to balance it out with other stuff.)

Non Fiction: 2

Fiction: 23

best-YA-books-2014

1.Best Book You Read In 2015?

Best YA: That’s a tie between Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz and Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Best Other: Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

hausfrauHausfrau – Jill Alexander Essbaum

I was pretty excited when this book was chosen for my book club. It was on a lot of top ten lists, but I hated it.
3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

I am always surprised by books that have a lot of buzz that turn out to be just mediocre on so many levels. I’m thinking of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.

4.Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)? IF-YOU-FIND-ME

I am always recommending books – although I generally try to find ‘best fit’ books in the classroom because what is right for one student might not be right for another. That said, of the books I’ve read this year I’ve recently been recommending Emily Murdoch’s If You Find Me.

5. Best series you started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015? Best Series Ender of 2015?

I loved Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne, and I loved its sequel Sky on Fire…then I got series fatigue, so I haven’t finished the series.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?

YA – Stephanie Kuehn. I’ve read two books by her this year and I’ve loved them both.

Other – Big fan of Penny Hancock’s Kept in the Dark. I would definitely read more by her

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Can’t really answer this one because I typically don’t read outside of my comfort zone. For example, I am not a fan of straight-up sci fi, so I don’t have any on my tbr shelf and I probably wouldn’t be purchasing any.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

In the total page-turner department I read If You Find Me in pretty much one sitting. I was totally invested in those characters. I also loved This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

9. Book You Read In 2015 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Not likely going to be re-reading anything. You might remember I talked about re-reading this summer and I had high hopes to tackle Jane Eyre, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Velocity and of the three I only managed to get to Velocity.

10.  Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015?

ruinsCome on, you know you can’t judge a book by its cover…but my favourite cover was probably Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter because Italy is my happy place and much of the book takes place there and the cover is so pretty, although I suspect it’s been photo shopped. I also loved the cover of Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod, a Canadian who gave up a good job to live and paint in Paris.

11. Most memorable character of 2015?

Oh, I met a lot of memorable characters this year – people I’ve thought about long after the final page was turned. I’m not sure I could pick just one.

12.Most beautifully written book read in 2015?

I think I will have to say Beautiful Ruins, although The History of Love by Nicole Krauss is pretty amazing, too. Both of those books manage to offer the reader style and substance.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2015?

Okay, well it has to be Donna Tartt’s massive The Goldfinch. I mean, Tartt just gives the reader so much to gnaw on…some of it frustrating, some of it extraneous and some of it absolutely, stunningly, remarkable. That was a book that made me laugh, made me cry and made me want to tear my hair out – sometimes on the same page.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read? 

I am going to interpret this question a little differently. Andrew Davidson’s novel The Gargoyle has been sitting on my TBR shelf for at least five years, but I only got around to reading it this year when it was chosen for book club. Sadly, it didn’t live up to all its hype.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2015?

“Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of despair. But the painting has also taught me that we can speak to each other across time. And I feel I have something very serious and urgent to say to you, my non-existent reader, and I feel I should say it as urgently  as if I were standing in the room with you. That life – whatever else it is – is short. “ – The Goldfinch

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2015?

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was the longest at 784 pages

This Is What I Did by Ann Dee Ellis was the shortest at 176 pages

17. Book That Shocked You The Most

(Because of a plot twist, character death, left you hanging with your mouth wide open, etc.)

Hmmm…maybe Kept in the Dark. 

OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

(OTP = one true pairing if you aren’t familiar)

Aristotle and Dante….so much love for these boys – they were so richly drawn.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Elizabeth and Lauren from Roomies. I loved both those girls and the friendship they forged via e-mail.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2015 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers I read her novel Some Girls Are last year and loved it, and this one – a zombie novel – I didn’t actually expect to like as much as I did, but it was excellent. Summers is Canadian and she is a kick ass writer.

21. Best Book You Read In 2015 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure: Kindness

Kindness for Weakness by Shawn Goodman was recommended to me by a girl in my grade eleven class. She loved it so much that she asked her parents for a copy for Christmas. So, when a student is that passionate, I feel obliged to move that book to the head of the queue. Sadie was right; this is a great book.

22. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

I think Josh Malerman did a pretty good job of creating a vivid setting in his horror novel Bird Box. It was pretty dang creepy.

23. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Oh dear – I’m not sure I could pick a book that I would consider the most “fun” to read. I read books that I enjoyed, but not because they were “fun.” Geesh, perhaps I need to read less gloomy books.

24. Book That Made You Cry or Nearly Cry in 2015?

The Goldfinch made me cry. Yep, not gonna lie. And this time – for the first time ever – I cried when I re-read Velocity. I’ve read that book 20 times, but I cried for the first time ever this summer.

25.  Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Amazing Grace by Lesley Crewe. I was mad that I wasted time reading it…and I wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been chosen for book club. I know people who have really enjoyed it and I even understand why they loved it – but for me…a world of no.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

Kept in the Dark. I don’t know how many people know about this book, but it was really, seriously good – although perhaps the subject matter will squick some people out.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Ahhh, who doesn’t like a little soul-crushing? If You Find Me was heart-wrenching. The Goldfinch packed a wallop, for sure.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2015?

Hmmm. Not sure. Paris Letters, maybe. The House had the potential to be unique, but it was mostly silly.

 

book-blogging

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2015?

Sadly, I don’t follow any blogs regularly. I need to carve out more time for this because there’s so much great conent out there. 2015 was really a busy year for me. I am hoping things settle down some in 2016.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2015?

I thought I did a decent job of capturing my conflicted feelings about The Goldfinch. I also liked my review of Velocity, which is one of my all-time favourite books.

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

My blog doesn’t actually get a lot of traffic – so not too much “discussion” happening. Something I should try to rectify, although I have always said that The Ludic Reader is mostly a place for me to gather my own thoughts about the books I read.

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

Again – this is something I need to get to make more time for. The only bookish thing I get involved with is The Write Stuff, a one day workshop/reading I help organize for students in Southern New Brunswick. We do have an amazing literary festival here called FogLit. It would be so easy to get on board…gah!

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2015?

The absolute very best bookish thing that happened to me this year was having an email correspondence with Kristin McCloy, author of Velocity and Some Girls. It started with a brief exchange on Good Reads and morphed into a full-blown friendly chat via email which made my fangirl heart almost explode with bookish happiness. I LOVE Velocity. Imagine having the opportunity to actually tell the author what a book has meant to you and …insert head explosion here.

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

It’s always being distracted by other things, I guess. I also think that setting a reading target worked against me a little. I felt, towards the end, I was whipping through books in an effort to meet the goal I’d set and so because I know I can do 50 I’m going to leave it at that and take the pressure off myself. I just want to read…

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

With 123 views, a thing I wrote about classics for The Nerdy Book Club got the most love.

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

I think everyone should read the interview I did with my amazing son, Connor. He’s the only 16-year-old I know who read Madame Bovary of his own volition.

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

Word Porn on FB.

10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

Nope. Six books shy of my goal.

looking-ahead-books-2015

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2015 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2016?

Ha. As if. Actually, Brooklyn by ColmToibin is my first priority. It needs to be read by the 7th for our first book club of 2016. I started it last night.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2016 (non-debut)?IMG_8859

All the books on my TRB shelf need some love. I am anticipating all of them.

3. 2016 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

I honestly don’t follow what’s coming out in a rigorous way. I have so many backlisted books on my shelves; I am not a “I have to have that book as soon as it comes out” reader.

 4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2016?

I got nothing. Series drive me crazy.

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2016?

I would like to find a way to be a more regular blogger. I am actually a fairly organized person, but in some ways I bite off a little more than I can chew in real life, and this blog often takes a back seat. I would like to change that.

6. A 2016 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

Nada.

Thanks again to The Perpetual Page-Turner for providing these questions and an opportunity to reflect on my reading year.

I hope 2016 brings you many happy hours curled up with a good book!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What We Lost – Sara Zarr

whatwelost“The whole world is wilting,” says fifteen-year-old Samara (Sam), the protagonist of Sara Zarr’s YA novel What We Lost.

She means the comment literally because it’s so hot that she wakes up every couple of hours “in a puddle of sweat,” but the observation is also figurative. Sam’s life is full of conflict and chaos. Her father, Charlie,  a pastor at the local church, is distracted and every day Sam wakes up to something “ruined or broken or falling apart.”

Part of the problem is that Sam’s mother is currently residing at the New Beginnings Recovery Center in an effort to get sober. Without her mother there, Sam feels adrift. There’s not enough money and Sam is tired of having to pretend that her mom just isn’t feeling well enough to attend church or other social functions. Things get even more complicated when Jody, a thirteen-year-old member of Sam’s church, goes missing  and Sam’s small town suddenly becomes a lens through which she is able to see all the world’s flaws, including her own.

I’ve read Zarr’s fantastic book Story of a Girl and her novel Roomies, which she co-wrote with Tara Altebrando, and which I also loved. Zarr has a real gift when it comes to creating empathetic characters and Samara is no different. Her fifteenth summer is a perfect storm of angst and confusion, suspicion and alienation.

I wish I understood what happened between then and now. I wish there was a way to put your finger on the map of life and trace backwards, to figure out exactly when things had changed so much…

As the town searches for Jody, Sam’s dad spends time with her family, acting as a sort of spokesperson. During this time, Sam grows closer to Jody’s older brother, Nick. He “could probably be a model” Sam observes, studying him the way “every girl who has ever known Nick has studied him.”

The problem with their blossoming friendship is that Nick is a suspect in the disappearance of his sister and Charlie doesn’t want Sam to hang out with him. Charlie also doesn’t want Sam to be alone; the town no longer feels safe. Sam is shuttled back and forth between her house and her best friend Vanessa’s. Sam has suspicions of her own; she wonders why her dad is spending so much time with Erin, the church’s youth group leader.

Zarr manages all these threads beautifully, allowing Sam her questions  about her faith in God,  suspicions about her dad, loneliness for her mom and feelings for Nick to percolate under the hot summer sun.

Great read.