CBC’s Harbour Lights City Market Show

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Thanks to Patrick MacDonald, HVHS student and CBC intern, for taking this picture.

I was invited to talk about books at this year’s Harbour Lights show held in the Saint John City Market. Five minutes goes super fast, so I thought that I would put links to the full reviews for all the books I spoke about here. Please consider making a donation to the cause. You can do that here

Now that it’s all said and done – I have to say that was a nerve-wracking experience. When you’re in the studio, it’s quiet and there’s just you. Not so much at the City Market. Still, I love talking about books, so it was fun!

FICTION
saturdaynight
dutch
The Dutch Houseby Ann Patchett
NON FICTION
educated
Educated by Tara Westover
velocity of being
YOUNG ADULT
We Were Liars by E Lockhart
They Both Die at The End– Adam Silvera
Long Way Down – Jason Reynolds
UNDER-THE-RADAR
The Current  & Descent  by Tim Johnston
myabsolutedarling
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
What books will you be giving to your loved ones this year?
Instead of telling you that – because what if they’re listening – I think everyone should follow Iceland’s terrific tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve.  This is known as the “Christmas Book Flood” or Jolabokaflod (yo-la-bok-a-flot), and Iceland, if you don’t know, has more writers, more books published and more books read than anywhere else in the world.  I think they’re on to something.
Happy holidays!

Off the shelf – Love stories

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Not all love stories are created equal. Sure, sometimes we want a squishy, feel-good tale of two people who can’t live without each other. But then, other times, we want something less happily-ever-after and more dangerous. So, I thought I’d offer up some Valentine’s Day reading suggestions both sweet and bitter – kind of like chocolate, really.

What makes a good love story? The answers are varied, of course, but there are some classics qualities that turn up over and over. A really skilled writer can steer couples away from the clichés and into the sunset.

PASSION – no one likes a wishy-washy love story. We want to read about characters that are ALL IN. Jane and Rochester from Jane Eyre.

MEANT TO BE – That sense of the inevitable, there’s just no way they can’t be together. It’s written in the stars. Fated. Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

MEANT TO BE, BUT CAN’T BE/ FORBIDDEN LOVE – This is one of my favourites. I love angst. Couples that are meant to be with each other, who are passionate, but – for a variety of reasons, just CAN’T be together. That’s my total jam. Buffy and Angel.

MEET CUTE – some unusual way to throw our lovers together.

Really great – okay, maybe I shouldn’t say ‘great’  – love stories find a way to hook our characters up, tug at their emotions (and hopefully ours) and make us feel all swoony or  – heartbroken, I like that too – at the end.

So here are a handful of LOVE stories, some traditional, some not so much, for your reading pleasure.

YOU – Carolyn Kepnes

EC4364B5-CF87-4ACD-9942-7867FDAC012ARead this book if you like a side of psycho with your roses and chocolates. This first person narrative tells the story of NYC book store manager, Joe, who falls in love with a beautiful wannabe writer, Beck. This is an interesting thriller because Joe isn’t your garden variety psycho. He’s crazy, for sure, but he’s also crazy smart. He’s instantly smitten with Beck and he finds a way to insinuate himself into her life. He wants her and he won’t let anything prevent him from having her. This is a page turner that’s actually really well-written. You can watch the series on Netflix, too. It’s a pretty true-to-the-book adaptation.

 

sadie

Sadie – Courtney Summers

Okay, this is not a romance novel by ANY STRETCH, but I have to include it on this list because I think everyone should read Courtney Summers and this book is getting a ton of buzz.

It’s the story of Sadie, a teen whose younger sister is murdered and the culprit is never caught. Sadie is pretty sure she knows who did it, and so she sets off to find him. Running parallel to her story is a true crime podcast about the crime. This is not a traditional love story, like it’s not boy meets girl, but it is about love…because Sadie puts her own life in jeopardy out of love for her sister.

Starry Eyes – Jenn Bennett

94B71DCC-2A46-44E4-90BF-CABC55A86A33Of all the books on this list, Starry Eyes is likely the most traditional. It concerns 17-year-olds Zorie and Lennon. They’ve been in each other’s lives forever and things were just starting to heat up when it all fell apart. When the story starts, the two are barely speaking to each other. Then they end up on a hiking trip together and things between to thaw between them. As teenage love stories go, this one is well-written, with believable, imperfect characters that it’s almost impossible not the fall in love with…as they fall in love with each other.

 

Simon versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli simon

This novel won lots of awards and praise and it is delightful in every possible way. Simon is 17. He’s amazing in every category: bright, self-aware and gay. He isn’t really out yet, but he has confided in Blue, a guy he’s met online. When another student stumbles upon Simon’s emails to Blue – too complicated to explain how that happens – and starts to blackmail Simon, life gets complicated. Watching Blue and Simon fall in love without meeting is pretty much the best thing ever. All the feels.

 Book Love by Debbie Tung

bookloveThis is an adorable book of comics all about the ways in which bibliophiles love their books. Tung is a writer/illustrator from Birmingham, England, and she has totally captured what it means to be in love with all things bookish. Never mind the candy, give your book-loving sweetheart this as a gift instead. Marie Kondo would definitely not endorse this book about buying/owning more books. That makes Ms. Kondo wrong, imho.

 

Off the shelf – looking ahead to 2018

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I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions because it just makes you feel more miserable when you fail, but I do resolve to be a better reader in 2018. I am outing myself here, but 2017 was not a good reading year for me. If I look back at the titles I read in 2017 – there are really only a handful of memorable books, and I think I sort of got into a reading rut. My expectations were really high, but after a few bad reads I just sort of lost the plot, so to speak. So – as I look ahead to 2018 I am going to make a few changes in my reading life, not only in an effort to read more, but just in an effort to waste less of my precious free time. (Candy Crush – I’m looking at you!)

According to an article by Charles Chu at Better Humans, it is actually possible to read 200 books per year. 200! He did the math and that’s helpful for those of us who are mathematically challenged. Apparently, it would take the average reader about 417 hours to read roughly 10 million words at 400 wpm. And where are these hours coming from? Um – the average American, so let’s just say North American – wastes 608 hours a year on social media and 1642 hours per year on TV. Talk about a time suck. So, if you want to read more – put down your electronic devices and pick up a book

There are all sorts of reading challenges out there – something for book lovers of every stripe –  some that encourage you to Read Harder (as Book Riot’s challenge encourages you to do); or  PopSugar’s 2018 Reading Challenge. These sorts of challenges just give you a list of categories  and your job is to read a book that fits. Categories include things like “A book set at sea” or  “A  book with an ugly cover”. The one challenge I do every year is on GoodReads – which requires  nothing more from me than to decide how many books I am going to read over the course of  the year. I guess that’s 200 this year, right?

I think reading challenges can be good motivators – even just as a way to remind yourself to read (and no, Facebook doesn’t count!) – or as a way to help you decide what to read next if you get stuck. Also – if you tend to  read the same sort of book over and over, a reading challenge might encourage you to read outside of your comfort zone and that’s never a bad thing.

 

Book clubs are another great way to guarantee you’ll read this year. My book club has been at it over 20 years and although we have certainly read our fair share of duds – we’ve read a lot of great books, too. Book clubs are easy to start and can be as simple as meeting at a local coffee shop/ bar to discuss the book to hosting elaborate meals at members’ houses to discuss the book. All you need are a handful of people willing to read and meet on a regular basis and a few ground rules. I think the best way to find a book club is to ask around, but there is also a local chapter of Girly Book Club  – which is an international reading group started in the UK in 2014 and now boasts clubs in 6 countries. Kinda cool.

 

As for my own reading list for 2018? Oh dear. The list she is long.

At the top is John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down.

turtlesI love John Green and I bought this book pretty much as soon as it came out…and it’s been on my bedside table ever since. I know it’s easy to hate on John Green – but I kind of love him and he totally loves teenagers and writes them so well. Turtles all the Way Down is the story of Aza, her best friend Daisy, and Davis, the son of a missing millionaire who has disappeared. Aza is determined to find him to claim the reward.

I am also most anxious to read Celeste Ng’s second novel Little Fires Everywhere.

 You might recall that I was in love with her debut novel Everything I Never Told You alittlefires couple years back. Little Fires is set in the late 1990s in Shaker Heights, Ohio and is a story of  both a literal fire (one of the main characters watches as her house burns down in the novel’s opening pages) and figurative fires: race, rebellion, family tensions. By all accounts it is a literary page-turner. So I am looking forward to that,

I am also really looking forward to reading Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling

myabsolutedarlingThis is Tallent’s debut novel and despite the tricky subject matter – sexual abuse – the reviews have been uniformly fantastic. Stephen King called it a ‘masterpiece’ if you care about that sort of thing. It’s probably helpful to know going in that this is the story of Martin, a survivalist, and his fourteen-year-old daughter, Turtle and that – from the sounds of things – there is plenty to make readers super uncomfortable, but it’s also been called “a devastating and powerful debut.” So I have to read it.

Then of course, I will be adding scads of new titles to my reading queue courtesy of Litsy and the dozens of Best Of and Most Anticipated lists out there. I’m pretty certain my 2018 reading year is all booked.

Off the Shelf – Just in time for Christmas

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Books are an excellent gift to give someone, but it’s actually pretty hard to pick books for other people. I have often had people give me books as gifts and while I certainly appreciate the gesture – I am, after all, addicted to books – those gifts have often languished on my tbr shelf for eons. My brother Mark gave me a book literally five years ago and I still haven’t read it. Sorry, Mark. I am sure it’s a very good book.

So, now it seems ridiculous that I am going to offer some books suggestions for the bibliophile on your list – but there you have it.

i think i love youSo, David Cassidy just died. My poor heart could barely stand it…but the last few years have not been kind to him. If you loved him, though, or you know someone who loved him – I highly recommend Allison Pearson’s novel I Think I Love You. It’s the story of 13-year-old Petra, a Welsh girl in love with David Cassidy during the time when he was the biggest star on the planet. And yes – there was a time when he was just that. It’s also the story of Bill, a young writer who has been hired to work for The Essential David Cassidy Magazine, not just write for it but to be David himself. It’s just a lovely story about being young, being in love…and it will be total nostalgia for women of a certain age. It’s a great little book.

And, hey, while we’re talking about death…Emma Cline’s novel These Girls is a gripping read for anyone interested in Charles Manson. This is a fictional account of a young girl, Edie, who meets a group of older girls and falls under their spell. They take her out to the desert where they have this commune led by the charismatic Russell. And the story unravels and we pretty much know how it turns out. It’s a page-turner, though, and the writing is terrific.

If you’re looking for a meaningful book to give to mature teenagers, I highly recommend hate Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give. This title might be familiar because it’s been on everyone’s radar and for very good reason. It’s the story of Starr, a 16 year old African American girl who loves with her siblings (one older half-brother and a younger brother) and her parents in Garden Heights, an inner city neighbourhood. Starr and her siblings attend a predominantly white school in a better part of town and so Starr straddles two very different worlds. Then tragedy strikes and Starr must face up to the prejudice that she always knew existed. It’s so important that teens be exposed to diverse books and this book was just eye-opening, heartbreaking and  it’s important. I actually think it should be read by everybody…and there’s a movie in the works so I definitely encourage people to read it before that happens.

thornhillFor middle grade readers, I recommend Thornhill by Pam Smy. It’s a hybrid novel – so it’s both pictures and text – and it tells the story of two pre-teen girls separated by 25 years. In text we read Mary’s diary about her time at Thornhill, a sort of half-way house for girls waiting for adoption or fostering. Mary’s an odd, silent child, who spends her time mostly alone making puppets and avoiding one of her housemates who is doing her best to make Mary miserable. In pictures only we meet Ella, who moves into a new house with her dad, and her bedroom happens to look out on the shell of Thornhill. She becomes curious about what happened there and the mysterious girl she sees in the garden. It’s a mystery, it’s sort of spooky and it’s also sort of sad, but very accessible for middle-grade readers…say 11-13.

As for me, there’s a few books I hope Santa puts under the tree.

I am looking forward to reading Celest Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. You may remember me gushing about Everything I Never Told You a few months ago. I loved that book sooo much – if you haven’t read that, definitely put that on your wish list. Little Fires Everywhere is “Both an intricate and captivating portrait of an eerily perfect suburban town with its dark undertones not-quite-hidden from view and a powerful and suspenseful novel about motherhood… Ng explores the complexities of adoption, surrogacy, abortion, privacy, and class, questioning all the while who earns, who claims, and who loses the right to be called a mother.”  – Publishers Weekly

I am also hoping to read Gabriel Tallent’s novel My Absolute Darling which has earned rave reviews and also cautions about its difficult subject matter. There are also a few books about books that I would love to get my hands on: My Life With Bob by Pamela Paul, a memoir from a woman who kept a record of every book she’s ever read…so Bob is not a person, but a book of books. I’d also like to get my hands on Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo, which is about the relationship between the author and a former student who is in jail for murder. As an English teacher, I am fascinated by any books that deal with the notion that reading can change lives…and this one sounds like a winner.

I am hoping for a few quiet hours over the holidays to catch up on some reading.

 

A book club of two

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My son Connor graduates from Harbour View in a couple weeks – and let’s not even talk about how freaky that is since he was only five about a minute ago. Although I don’t understand his taste in music we do have one common interest and it’s – you guessed it – books. A couple weeks ago we were out having dinner and chatting about university – he’s heading off to Mt A in the fall – and reading and we hatched this crazy plan to have a mother-son book club this summer. The rule was, though, that we had to shop from our own shelves.

As we sat there we came up with the rules: five categories (classics, re-reads, contemporary, non-fiction and wild card); we get to pick one book in each category; we have to read all ten over the summer. We also decided to allow ourselves one veto…but neither of us used it during the picking process, although we may decide to use it when we start reading.

When we got home from the restaurant we started shopping our shelves. When it comes to book buying, Con and I are kindred spirits. We’re usually at the book store once a week; the staff at Indigo know us by name. The highlight of our trip to NYC in March was The Strand – you get the idea.

Anyway, over the next couple hours we selected and discarded until we came up with our winners. (I apologize for the quality of the book pile pics – they were taken on my crappy phone.)

CLASSICS

classics_best

The contenders in the classics category included: Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte; The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; The Railway Children by E. Nesbitt and The Years by Virginia Woolf

 

 

Christie’s Pick: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I have always wanted to read it and although it’s been on my shelf for years – I just haven’t gotten around to it. This is the story of 17-year-old Cassandra who lives with her family in a crumbling English castle where she works – over the course of six months – to hone her writing skills. Oh, and she falls in love. I have a feeling the main character and I will have lots in common.

Connor’s Pick: The Years by Virgina Woolf  – because of course it was.

To be fair, though, he did pick Woolf’s most popular novel – the story of a middle-class London family from the 1880’s until the 1930’s – it sounds a bit Downton Abby-ish to me, so maybe I won’t have to pull the veto card.

Connor said, “I’ve always been curious about Virginia Woolf. (Lately I’ve been interested internal focalization and stream of consciousness, which were all technical problems she tackled in her own work). I’d never heard of The Years: it’s the last novel she ever wrote and, I’m quite certain, the longest.”

RE-READS

This was a super hard category for me because there are a handful of books I really want to re-read and, you know, it’s hard to justify re-reading when you have 600 books on your to-be-read shelf.

re-reads best

 

The contenders in the re-reads category included: Magdalene by Carolyn Slaughter; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith; Shadowland by Peter Straub; The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides; Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson; The Secret History by Donna Tartt; Coraline by Neil Gaiman

 

This was a hotly contested category – probably the most difficult to choose –  because revisiting books is one of life’s pleasures. But – we had to make the tough choices anyway.

Christie’s pick: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I had to go back where it all started for me and that’s with this story of poor orphan Jane. I am so afraid to re-read this book because what if it’s not how I remember it?

Connor’s pick: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Connor chose this slightly creepy middle grade book about a girl who steps through a door into another house which is like her own – only better. Or maybe the grass is not always greener, after all. I’ve seen the movie, so I am looking forward to the book.

CONTEMPORARY

In this category we said the books had to be post 19th century.

contemporarybest

The contenders in the contemporary category included: Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien; The Girls by Emma Cline; Dark Matter by Blake Crouch; Split by Libby Creelman; Geek Love by Katherine Dunn; Crying of Lot by Thomas Pynchon; Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

 

Christie’s pick: The Girls by Emma Cline.

This books had tons of buzz when it came out and I actually chose this from Connor’s shelf. We had to go buy it the day it was released – but it’s languished on his shelf ever since. It’s the story Evie, a young girl in 1960’s California who meets and becomes enchanted with an older girl and is soon drawn into the orbit of a cult and its charismatic leader a la Charles Manson. So – just some light reading.

 

Connor’s pick: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

Of course this is a famous book and Jackson is certainly well-known by English teachers everywhere because of her creepy short story, “The Lottery.” So this haunted house tale is one I will certainly look forward to reading.

NON-FIC

nonficbest

The contenders in the non-fic category included: The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath; Hold Still by Sally Mann; Just Kids by Patti Smith; In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; The White Album by Joan Didion; The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy; A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger; The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe; and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

 

 

Christie’s pick: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.

Although I wouldn’t say that I am a Hemingway fan, I am fascinated by the period he lived in Paris and that’s the subject of this memoir which was published after he died.

Connor’s Pick: Just Kids by Patti Smith

The story of Smith and her boyfriend, Robert Mapplethorpe during the turbulent 60s in NYC – I am actually looking forward to reading this one.

“Patti Smith is one of my favourite musicians of all time. On a whim a year or so ago, I threw on a couple tracks from her seminal debut Horses (which is often credited as having invented punk rock) and had my mind blown. Her energy is inimitable, her poetry is incantatory, and the improvisational quality of her instrumentation lends her music an honesty that is unmatched to this day. I’m curious about her life and upbringing, and Just Kids also focuses intently on her relationship with the late and great Robert Mapplethorpe (the two were extremely close from what I gather),” Connor said.

WILD CARD

I could have put a million books into this category. Seriously.

wildcardbest

 

The contenders in the wild card category included: S by Doug Dorst & JJ Abrams; Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase; Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout; Ada or Ardour by Vladimir Nabakov; How to Be Both by Ali Smith; Carpenter’s Gothic by William Gladdis

 

Christie’s pick: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.

I chose this one because it won the Pulitzer in 2009 and that’s when I bought it. I’ll say no more. Except that it’s a series of interconnected stories about a retired school teacher in coastal Maine who attempts to make sense of her changing life. OMG – she could be me.

Connor’s pick: Carpenter’s Gothic by William Gladdis.

I was pretty proud of Connor up until this point. He’s got some whack-a-doodle books on his shelf and he managed to avoid most of them until we got here. First of all, I’ve never heard of Gladdis or this book. I’ll just quote New York Times Critic Cynthia Ozick who called the book “an unholy landmark of a novel.” Yep – I’m saving my veto for this thing because, no quotation marks always freaks me out.

This is what Connor had to say about this pick: “Lately, I’ve been chipping away at David Foster Wallace’s postmodern magnum opus, Infinite Jest, which piqued my interest in the genre. I chose Carpenter’s Gothic  because it is an early incarnation of postmodernism, and I thought it might be a good foundation to leap from in the future.”

So, there you have it – our choices. We’ll read all summer and share our thoughts before Connor heads off to school at the end of August on my blog. Feel free to read along and share your thoughts, too!

 

 

Off the Shelf – Bookish Bits

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I’ve had a very ‘bookish’ few day…my colleagues and I hosted the seventh annual Write Stuff at the Saint John Arts Centre last week. We hosted about 120 students from six different high schools and launched our sixth literary magazine. This is an event that always reaffirms for me the power of the written word and that students want to share their thoughts with others.

I also attended the Eclectic Reading Club’s soiree last Wednesday night as the guest of Dr. Stephen Willis. For those who don’t know, this club is the oldest of its kind in Canada – established in 1870. It’s not a book club per se, it’s more like a throwback to the time when entertainment consisted of gathering in the warmth of someone’s drawing room chatting, and listening to readings, perhaps sipping a cup of tea or a glass of sherry. On the night I attended, the theme was pirates and privateers and those of us gathered listened to some interesting historical true-life accounts of pirates both close to home and in seas far away. It was a lovely evening. Everyone dresses up, there was the promised hot chocolate at the end of the evening and I saw people I haven’t seen in many years and met new friends. Other than that, of course, what happens in the eclectic stays in the eclectic. Top secret.

We’re only about six weeks away from the end of the school year and I am already thinking about the fall. I am very lucky to be offering a new course at Harbour View called Young Adult Literature. Like how could I not be excited about that?

The rationale behind offering a course like this is to give students who love to read an opportunity to read outside of the traditional English class and to, perhaps, make the experience slightly more authentic. I don’t mean to imply that what happens in traditional English classes isn’t authentic learning because it is – but when I‘ve finished reading I don’t write an essay or make a poster. Mostly what I want to do is talk about the book with someone else, maybe write a review so I can try to articulate my thoughts on paper. YAL is really my go at encouraging students to read widely and to share their reading experiences with others and to hopefully set them on the path to becoming life long readers – because truthfully that is what I think is the most important part of my job.

It’s pretty exciting to be thinking about a course devoted to a genre that actually had a fairly rocky beginning. Where does YA start? Think back to your own beginnings as a reader – not the books that were read to you, but the first books you selected on your own. In 1971, librarian Mary Kingsbury commented that librarians were acting like “frightened ostriches” with regards to accepting the notion of books for a young adult audience. By the 80s though, the genre was staring to take hold and names like Robert Cormier and Judy Blume were more familiar.

sehinton

Photo of a young S.E. Hinton from Penguin

It would be impossible to offer a course like this without revisiting where the YA movement – arguably –  began: S.E. Hinton’s classic The Outsiders. Is there a person on the planet who has not read this book?

 

First of all – The Outsiders is 50 years old this year. Like – doesn’t that make you feel ancient? I really do remember reading it as a kid in the 70s. That’s a million years ago – so that’s the mark of a powerful book, a formative book.  S.E. Hinton was just 16 when she wrote The Outsiders because she said “there wasn’t anything realistic being written about teenage lives.”  It was published when she was 17.  Theoutsiders novel tells the story of rival gangs in Oklahoma the greasers and the socs – the socials. It’s a simple story, really, about Ponyboy Curtis and his best friend, Johnny, but something about those characters really resonates with young readers and when I recommend the book to students who haven’t read it – the reviews are unanimously favourable. S.E. Hinton said “Teenagers still feel like I felt when I wrote the book, that adults have no idea what’s really going on. And even today, that concept of the “in crowd” and the “out crowd” is universal. The names of the groups may change, but kids still see their own lives in what happens to Ponyboy and his friends.”

thatwasthenHinton wasn’t a one-trick pony(boy) haha either. Her second novel That Was Then, This is Now, is actually better than The Outsiders, in my humble opinion. If students have read The Outsiders – and a lot of them do in middle school, I always suggest That Was Then as a follow-up. Most of them have never heard of it and again – they always like it. It’s about two childhood friends, Bryon and Mark, whose lives diverge when one chooses to go down a different – more dangerous –  path than the other. I loved this book as a kid. Loved it. And for students who’ve loved The Outsiders, Ponyboy makes an appearance – although this novel is not a sequel.

So, I am going to spend my summer thinking about the course. There will be lots of room for self-selection, of course, the only time someone else chooses what I am going to read is for book club or when I am doing a review for a third party. That said – I have read so many amazing YA novels over the past few years, and btw, by 2014, 55% of YA novels were purchased by adults – and I am looking forward to sharing these titles and talking about them with my students.

Gearing up for another reading year

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So, a new year means a new year of reading and there’s nothing I like more than flipping my calendar over and anticipating all the great new books that might cross my path. A lot of my reading friends sign up for reading challenges and there are lots of them out there if you’re looking to expand your reading horizons.

Pop Sugar offers up a great list of suggestions for its reading challenge – everything from “a book set in a hotel” (The Shining, anyone?) and “a book with pictures” – here’s your opportunity to read a graphic novel. There’s also an advanced challenge which includes “a book over 800 pages” or “a book recommended by a librarian.”

Book Riot offers up the Read Harder Challenge  for people who want to challenge themselves to up their reading game.

Goodreads also offers a reading challenge. If you are already a member of GoodReads, you’ll know this one. There’s no list to follow, you just set a reading goal – I’ll read 50 books this year- and then track them. 50 Book Pledge offers the same sort of thing, if you’re just interested in tracking books read. It’s kind of cool to see them all on a shelf and you can give yourself a part on the back when you reach your reading goal. I didn’t actually set a goal last year – I didn’t want the pressure, but I managed to read 60 books in 2016. Yay me.

If you are at all interested in directing your reading a little bit, or try reading new genres, just Google Reading Challenges 2017 and everything from reading Austen to reading the alphabet will pop up.

Another thing I like about the new year is the buzz around new books…not that I need any new books, mind you, but I still enjoy the potential for new books.

Some particularly intriguing book titles include:

little-heaven-9781501104213_hrCanadian Nick Cutter aka Craig Davidson is the author of the very disturbing novels The Deep and one I read a couple years ago called The Troop. His latest horror novel Little Heaven is getting a lot of buzz. It’s about three hired guns who go to rescue a woman’s nephew from a remote New Mexico settlement called Little Heaven. Stephen King said it scared the hell out of him and that he couldn’t put it down. I almost chose this book for my book club, but I didn’t want to freak my reading friends out. I can definitely vouch for Cutter, though. The Troop is total squicky fun and I will definitely be adding this one to my tbr list.

Fans of Paula Hawkins novel The Girl on the Train will be delighted to know that her second novel Into the Water willintowater be hitting the shelves in May. All I can tell you about it is that it features a single mother and her daughter whose bodies are discovered at the bottom of a lake. I’m not sure that The Girl on the Train was the best of the bunch of thrillers that came out over the past couple years. If I were you, I’d add Claire Macintosh’s killer I Let You Go to my list…but since I’ve already read it, I’m looking forward to her second novel I See You.

Non fiction readers should be on the look-out for Sherman Alexie’s collection of essays and poems about his mother, with whom he had an emotionally fraught relationship. It’s called You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me and it’s due out in June. Before you read that, though, I encourage you to read Alexie’s amazing YA novel The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian. Not only has it win lots of praise, it also has the distinction of being one of the most challenged books. It’s so good.

And most exciting of all, Celeste Ng’s follow up to Everything I Never Told You – my absolute favourite novel of 2016 – will be out at some point this year. There’s very little information about it other than the title, Little Fires Everywhere, but when it comes out it’s going straight to the top of my reading pile.

all-the-bright-places-jktAs for YA – because you know I am always on the lookout for the next YA book I can gush about to my students…I am going to cheat a little and suggest you add a book to your reading list that I have already read. That book is Jennifer Niven’s novel All the Bright Places. It is the story of high school seniors Finch and Violet who meet at the top of the school’s bell tower. They are both at dark places in their lives, but Finch manages to talk Violet down. The thing, though, is that Violet is beautiful and “cheerleader popular” and Finch is, well, kinda odd. Nevertheless, this shared experience and a school project throw them together and they become friends and then more than friends and OMG, this book will give you all. the. feels. It deals with mental health, grief, bullying, family dynamics…and it is so beautifully written. And it’s going to be a movie. So excited.

Niven started out writing general fiction and All the Bright Places was her first YA novel. Her second YA novel Holding Up The Universe also sounds terrific.

Finally, one more YA book you should add to your TBR list: A Step Toward Falling byastep Cammie McGovern. It’s the story of what happens after super smart Emily and a football player called Lucas fail to stop an attack on Belinda – a young adult with developmental delays – at a high school football game. Emily and Belinda take turns telling their story and the voices are pretty awesome. It’s  a ‘message’ novel without being preachy and would certainly be a welcome novel in any classroom library.

Good luck with your reading list. I’d love to hear how you make out.