Girl Crazy – Russell Smith

Justin, the protagonist of Russell Smith’s novel Girl Crazy, is a 32-year-old community college instructor fresh from a break-up with his long-time girlfriend Genevieve. Justin knows it is “a little weird that they kept making plans to see each other and pretending to be friends so soon after the breakup.”

One day, Justin meets Jenna near a payphone. She’s dressed in yoga gear that leaves little to the imagination and Justin is smitten…or aroused…or something. Jenna, it turns out, is in need of medical attention and Justin has a friend who’s a resident at a local hospital. This chance encounter leads Justin into a life that is totally unfamiliar to him.

Although Justin has a grown-up job, it doesn’t take him long to start behaving like an adolescent. That’s the main thing that stood out to me: Justin is immature. But then, I also acted like a crazy person at around that time in my life, or perhaps just a few short years before then, so I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Perhaps he only seems super young and ridiculous to me because he is half my age.

Once he and Jenna hook up, it’s like a fuse has been lit. Justin is fueled by lust and manipulated into behaving in ways I can’t imagine are in character for him pre-Jenna. I kept wondering why he was doing such crazy things: casually hanging out with criminals, buying drugs via the Internet, seeking out underground card games. But then, I did some stupid things when I was young, usually because there was a boy involved.

It’s interesting to see this world through a guy’s eyes, actually and Justin sees everything through sex. Women are reduced to the sum of their sexiest parts: “a stripe of her belly was visible”, “her lips were so full they looked swollen”, “her thong, rising like a tattoo from between her muscles.” Smith describes sex without romance, but that doesn’t mean it’s not well-written. But it’s also not erotica. But I don’t think this is a love story, either.

Justin is obsessed with Jenna and he wants to save her from herself. Jenna, however, is not interested in being saved. I don’t think she misrepresents herself; I think Justin is thinking with his dick.

I don’t know how I feel about Girl Crazy. I don’t think I am the target audience, but I had zero trouble turning the pages. I would definitely read more by this Canadian writer.

The Project – Courtney Summers

Regular readers of this blog – hmmm, do I even have any of those? – will be familiar with the name Courtney Summers because I have loved every book she has ever written and I have read them all except for her novella Please Remain Calm, which she wrote as a sequel to This is Not a Test, a book which was perfect all on its own. Her other novels include Sadie, (my favourite) Cracked Up to Be, Some Girls Are, Fall For Anything, and All the Rage .

There’s lots to admire about Summers. She’s Canadian. She writes tough, smart, fierce female characters and she puts them (and the reader) through the emotional wringer. Summers herself is delightfully gleeful about the fact that her books are going to emotionally torture you. And as her latest novel, The Project, was nearing its release date, she ramped up her delight at the thought that she was going to wreck us with this new book. Although I didn’t necessarily feel wrecked, I enjoyed The Project , although ‘enjoyed’ might not be the best characterization for a book that is mostly grim.

Bea is six when her little sister Lo is born. She is none-too-pleased about her baby sister’s arrival, but reconsiders her position after her mother tells her that “Having a sister is a promise no one but the two of you can make – and no one but the two of you can break.” That’s the beginning for Lo and Gloria; theirs is an unbreakable bond.

Years later, Lo and her parents are in a terrible car accident. Their parents are killed and Lo lingers on death’s door because “There’s so much wrong […] that what the accident did isn’t going to be what kills her. It’s the infection she’s gotten since.” Bea feels like she will do anything to save her sister and anything turns out to be Lev Warren, leader of The Unity Project.

Flash forward six years. Lo is 19 and working at SVO, a small magazine. Lo’s dream has always been to write, but that’s not what she’s doing at SVO; she’s the editor’s assistant. Bea is gone, sucked into the vortex of The Unity Project, where Lo can’t go. Her dreams of being a writer are stalled. Her life is stalled. And then, waiting for the train, someone who “looks like he hasn’t known sleep in any recent sense of the word” says “You’re Lo.” and then jumps in front of a moving train. His connection to Lo: The Unity Project.

Under Lev Warren’s leadership, The Project is purportedly a “rising social movement” whose “divine mission is to save us from ourselves.”

They have twenty-four/seven drop-in shelters in each city. These shelters also run The Unity Connection, pairing people in need with Project-affiliated services, programs or professional advocates best suited to help them navigate their particular situation – various fresh start programs, youth and adult mentorships, support programs for at-risk youth, domestic violence survivors, addicts, counseling and legal aid, it goes on…not to mention the regular food drives, clothing drives and various fundraising efforts for non-Project charities…people go to that annual sermon at the Garrett Farm and they come out and they want to make the world a better place.

So, yeah, cult. Except no one can prove it and Lev Warren no longer gives interviews.

Lo has always known that’s where Bea is, but she hasn’t been allowed to see her or speak to her in years. When she is suddenly granted the opportunity to interview Warren, she jumps at the chance.

I am fascinated by cults. I watched the whole HBO series about Keith Raniere and NXIVM. You have to wonder how anyone would follow that little tool, but they did. Smart, educated, successful people bought what he was selling. Scientology?! C’mon. You don’t see the problem with worshipping at the altar of a sci-fi writer? Jim Jones? It’s easy to scoff when you’re on the outside, but cult leaders are master manipulators and Lev Warren is no different. I found myself buying into his vision. He had an allure that was undeniable.

The Project is a fascinating look at the bond between sisters, the psychology of cults and the disenfranchised people they prey on and is another solid book by Summers. It didn’t pack the same emotional gut punch as Sadie did, but that is not meant to be a demerit. It will be impossible not to feel worried for Bea and Lo or fascinated by Warren’s thrall.

Forbidden – Tabitha Suzuma

Blame it on V.C. Andrews. If you’re a reader of a certain age, you’ll remember the moment you read that attic scene where brother and sister Cathy and Chris do what no brother and sister should ever do. Flowers in the Attic was published in 1979, which is the year I graduated from high school. I flew through the book and its sequels and prequels, until I lost interest. In the characters, not in the subject matter because while incest is certainly taboo, there is something strangely riveting about relationships that are not meant to be. Ever.

Several of my all-time favourite books including Relations by Carolyn Slaughter (which predates this blog), A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore and Billy Dead by Lisa Reardon are about incestuous sibling relationships. Meg Rosoff’s masterful How I Live Now is about cousins who fall in love. You might well ask how books that tackle this subject could possibly be made palatable, and yet they can be. But I think that the material must be handled by a skillful writer because it’s certainly a fine line to walk between compelling and believable, and just uncomfortable ickiness. For example, none of the books I’ve mentioned here concern abusive relationships (although there is horrible abuse in Billy Dead between the sister and a different family member), or relationships between an authority figure, a father or uncle for example, and a much younger person. Two other books I really loved include these sort of relationships: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent and The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel. Kathryn Harrison’s memoir The Kiss is about the author’s sexual relationship with her father and it has a huge ick factor, but is also so compelling it’s hard to stop reading. I definitely think incest is a kink and I couldn’t tell you why I find it so fascinating, but I do.

I had never heard of Tabitha Suzuma’s 2010 novel Forbidden until a few days ago, when I stumbled across a mention of it on the Internet. I ordered the book and settled down to read it, and I couldn’t stop reading.

Lochan, almost 18, is trying to keep his family together with the help of his younger sister, Maya, almost 17. They have three younger siblings, Kit, 13, Tiffin, 8, and Willa, 5. Their mother is an alcoholic who works as a waitress and spends most of her time across town at her boyfriend Dave’s house or hung over on the couch. Their father left London with his new girlfriend – now wife – and moved to Australia six years ago. The financial support eventually stopped, but so did any contact.

The novel’s narrative alternates between Lochan and Maya, and it is clear that they depend on each other to make it through the craziness of trying to look after three younger children, the house and meals and everything else you might expect a parent to do, and stay on top of their schoolwork, too. Lochan is brilliant and bound for University London College as soon as he finishes his A Levels. What he struggles with is severe anxiety. He is friendless at school, rarely speaks, and spends most of his time sitting in a stairwell, reading. Maya is more outgoing, but her best friend is her brother, and it’s been that way since even before their father left.

Lochan and Maya get each other. With Maya, Lochan can relax. She can make him smile. She can calm his nerves. Lochan realizes his feelings are changing first.

We are still dancing, swaying slightly to the crooning voice, and Maya feels warm and alive in my arms. Just standing there, moving gently from side to side, I realize I don’t want this moment to end.

It’s only when that closeness crosses the line, and it’s revealed that Maya’s feelings are the same, that the brother and sister find themselves in a precarious predicament.

I refuse to let labels from the outside world spoil the happiest day of my life. The day I kissed the boy I had always held in my dreams but never allowed myself to see. The day I finally ceased lying to myself, ceased pretending it was just one kind of love I felt for him when in reality it was every kind of love possible. The day we finally broke free of our restraints and gave way to the feelings we had so long denied just because we happened to be brother and sister.

From that moment, the novel is relentlessly, breathlessly un-put-downable. I kept waiting for some big twist, something that would allow Lochan and Maya to have the life they want, which is a life together. Every stolen moment is fraught with the danger of being found out and being found out would have devastating consequences for their younger siblings, who would surely end up in the foster system, since their mother is rarely around and certainly not fit to care for them.

Suzuma skillfully navigates a story which has the potential to be so problematic, but which ends up being beautiful and devastating. I really loved this book and I keep wondering what it is about these forbidden relationships that keep me coming back for more. Even Maya is self-aware enough to know that her feelings for her brother are unnatural.

Having a physical relationship with one’s brother? Nobody does that; it’s disgusting; it would be like having Kit as my boyfriend. I shudder. I love Kit, but the idea of kissing him is beyond revolting. It would be horrendous; it would be repulsive –

Perhaps it is their circumstances that make the notion of being in love more palatable. “Lochan has never felt like a brother” Maya rationalizes. “He and I have always been equals.” In every instance of incest that I have read, there has been some trauma involved. For Maya and Lochan it is their total sense of abandonment, of having to be adults when they are really still kids; of having no one to turn to but each other. Another quality of this sort of story is the angst. When two people should be together and can’t be together – for whatever reason, not limited to being siblings – I am all in. 100%,

Suzuma does not shy away from any of this story’s minefields and she doesn’t exploit her characters, either. I will definitely be reading more by this author.

Perfect Days – Raphael Montes

Teo Avelar is a twenty-two-year-old med student whose best friend is a cadaver. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the protagonist of Raphael Montes’s novel Perfect Days, you’re not paying attention.

Teo lives with his paraplegic mother, Patricia, in an apartment in Rio de Janeiro. Life used to be better for them, but that was back when Teo’s father was alive. Then, at a party, Teo meets Clarice. She is the exact opposite of Teo, brash and outgoing. She tells him

I drink a lot, eat everything, and I’ve smoked everything too, but now all I smoke are Vogue menthol girlie cigarettes. I fuck every now and then. I’m studying art history at the university. But I’m not sure if it’s what I want to do. I’m really interested in screenwriting.

Teo is smitten. Well, more than smitten. He’s obsessed and before you can say psychopath, he’s kidnapped Clarice and squirreled her away at a resort run by dwarves (his word and I am not joking.) He manages to keep nosey Nelly’s away by telling them that Clarice is working hard on her screenplay, “Perfect Days”, but he can’t keep people away for ever and when Clarice’s on-again-off-again boyfriend Breno shows up, well, things take a decided turn.

As I have said before, I rarely like translations, but I didn’t find this one irksome at all. Perhaps it’s because the whole thing was just sort of ridiculous. I mean, Teo is clearly delusional and the fact that he manages to hoodwink so many people is sort of unbelievable, but I guess we don’t need this sort of story to be realistic, do we? Was it entertaining? Well, I read it pretty much in one sitting. Did I like any of the characters? No. Teo just wants Clarice to like him, love him, but she’s a shadow person. I was never really invested in her and therefore cared little for her fate. Teo is smart, sure, but sort of one-dimensional. The violence is icky and graphic, but I wondered if it wasn’t perhaps a bit gratuitous in an effort to make up for the novel’s lack of psychological insight.

All the Beautiful Lies – Peter Swanson

Harry Ackerson’s father, Bill, is dead. He’s only just found out and he has to leave college (he’s just about to collect his diploma) and head to Kennewick Village, Maine, where his father lives with his second, much younger wife, Alice.

She was a strange kind of beautiful, her eyes set too far apart, her skin so pale that you could make out the blue veins right near the surface. She reminded Harry of one of those hot alien races from Star Trek, a beautiful female who just happened to have green skin, say, or ridges on her forehead. She was otherworldly. Harry found himself in a state of constant, confused sexual turmoil, guiltily obsessing over Alice.

Harry’s arrival in Maine is fraught. Alice is distraught. Their house, known locally as the Grey Lady, has never been home to Harry. It’s filled with his father’s things. His father owned a rare bookstore in the village, and Alice is hoping Harry will stick around and help John, the store’s lone employee, run the place.

Things get complicated with the arrival of Grace, a young woman Harry’s age who seems to have some connection to his father, and the news that Bill’s death might not be an accident after all. This is the general story line in Peter Swanson’s novel All the Beautiful Lies. Of course, things are a lot more twisty than this.

Alice and her mother moved to Kennewick when she was fourteen. Her mother, Edith, had won a settlement from the Saltonstall Mill for a workplace accident which had nearly killed her. The move is supposed to be a fresh start, but there’s no hitting reset on Edith’s drinking. When Edith meets and marries handsome banker Jake, Alice almost can’t believe her good luck.

Swanson’s novel flips between then (Alice’s story) and now (what exactly happened to Bill), and the way that these two stories coil around each other is one of the novel’s pleasures. When someone else turns up dead, Harry finds himself caught in the a maelstrom of lies. (Whether or not they are beautiful will be up to you to decide.)

This is my second book by Peter Swanson (The Kind Worth Killing) and I am solidly a fan now.

Red, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston

Everyone and their dog got really squishy over Casey McQuiston’s frothy romance Red, White & Royal Blue when it came out in 2019. This New Adult debut tells the story of Alex Claremont-Diaz, 21, and Henry Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor, 23. Although they’ve been in each other’s orbit for years, they hate each other; well, at least, Alex hates Henry. It’s problematic because Alex’s mother is the president of the United States, and Henry’s grandmother is the Queen of England. Yes, this is a fantasy. In every category.

When the novel begins, Alex is just wrapping up his final year of university, determined that he is “not going to be the youngest elected congressman in modern history without earning it.” Alex is academically brilliant and politically savvy, but perhaps not quite so clever when it comes to his personal life. He and his older sister, June, spend their free time flipping through the tabloids to see what the world is saying about them, or hanging with their best friend, Nora, the Vice President’s granddaughter. The three of them are known collectively as the White House Trio.

When the Claremont-Diazs are invited to attend the wedding of Henry’s older brother, Philip, it’s clear that there is some rivalry between Alex and Henry.

The tabloids – the world – decided to cast Alex as the American equivalent of Prince Henry from day one, since the White House Trio is the closest thing America has to royalty. It has never seemed fair. Alex’s image is all charisma and genius and smirking wit, thoughtful interviews and the cover of GQ at eighteen. Henry’s is placid smiles and gentle chivalry and generic charity appearances, a perfectly blank Prince Charming canvas.

When that acrimony lands them on top of the eight-tier wedding cake, it causes an international incident that must be squashed with a carefully constructed ruse: Henry and Alex will act like they are best friends instead of mortal enemies. It’s, of course, a trope as old as time. Turns out, though, that these two have a lot more in common than they thought, and that’s when things get interesting.

Although Red, White & Royal Blue takes a little bit to get going, once it picks up steam there’s, well, plenty of it. Henry is disgustingly handsome. thoughtful, intelligent and kind. And a little bit damaged, too. That’s kind of a given in most romance novels, isn’t it? When Henry finally makes a move, it causes a ripple effect, not the least of which is a sexual crisis for Alex. I mean, he’s straight, right? Um, not so much.

I really enjoyed this book. It was sweet, funny, and romantic. Alex and Henry are adorable, truly. I think the book probably caused such a stir because when it was released Trump was still in office and this book imagines a kinder, gentler and much, much saner post-Obama world. It’s kinda hard to find fault with that. It’s fluffy, for sure, but it’s also a book that promotes the idea that we can live in a world that treats people with respect, that acknowledges and supports their choices, that doesn’t care as much about sexual orientation. When Alex’s mom is running for re-election, her competition is a far-right jerk, and the election comes down to Texas (where the Claremont-Diazs are from). I mean, Texas always votes red, right? See, fantasy.

McQuiston’s book is big-hearted, well-written, smart and optimistic. No wonder it’s the perfect antidote for an imperfect world.

White Ivy – Susie Yang

My first book of 2021 is White Ivy which was marketed as a coming-of-age thriller of sorts with plot twists that “will leave readers breathless” (according to Library Journal, at least). It concerns the fate of Ivy Lin, born in China, but left behind when her parents move to America. Then, “when Ivy turned five, Nan and Shen Lin had finally saved enough money to send for the daughter.” She joins her parents and baby brother, Austin, in Massachusetts.

Ivy is “average and nondescript” and grows up dreaming of about looking different.

Ivy’s only source of vanity was her eyes. They were pleasingly round, symmetrically situated, cocoa brown in color, with crescent corners dipped in like the ends of a stuffed dumpling. Her grandmother had trimmed her lashes when she was a baby to “stimulate growth,” and it seemed to have worked, for now she was blessed with a flurry of thick, black lashes

You know what they say about eyes being the windows to the soul, right? I’m not gong to go so far as to say that Ivy is soulless, only that she never seems quite sure about what she wants and even when she is, she seems to think that the only way to get it is through cheating. She’s a narcissist and given her early childhood, it’s no wonder.

Ivy Lin was a thief but you would never know it to look at her. Maybe that was the problem. No one ever suspected – and that made her reckless.

What does Ivy steal? Little things at first, things her strict immigrant parents don’t want her to have: tampons, cassette tapes, a walkman. Then she tries to steal her way into another life, a life inhabited by the object of her teenage desire: Gideon Speyer. For just one moment, when she is invited to Gideon’s birthday party at his “handsome glass and stone manor”, Ivy imagines what it might be like to belong. It’s a short-lived dream because when her parents find out that she lied to them to attend the party, they humiliate her by picking her up, send her to China for the summer and then move to New Jersey. It’s not until many years later that Ivy crosses paths with Gideon once again.

White Ivy is a strange book. I read it in a couple of sittings, but I never really felt as though I understood Ivy’s motivation. Does she lie out of habit? What is it about Gideon that she desires, really? They have zero chemistry. And then there’s Roux, a childhood friend who resurfaces right around the time Ivy’s relationship with Gideon is going to next level (aka meet – or in this case, re-meet – the parents).

Roux is rough around the edges. He cares little what anyone thinks of him. He’s made something of himself, although whether or not his success is strictly legal is up for debate. In many ways, he would make a much better partner for Ivy, but he’s not the waspish dream. He does complicate Ivy’s life, and then he offers an ultimatum which pushes the novel into thriller-esque territory.

I am not really sure how I feel about this book. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. I wouldn’t call it a coming-of-age novel because there is no moment of epiphany for Ivy. It’s not a thriller. It’s definitely character driven and Ivy isn’t necessarily a character you will warm to. Not that that matters. Did I want her to succeed? ::shrugs:: I felt sort of as if there were some missed opportunities in this novel, but it wasn’t a waste of reading time.

My Reading Year in Review 2020

One of my favourite things to do at this time of year is to reflect on the reading year that was, and Jamie aka The Perpetual Page-Turner makes this very easy to do by providing this list of questions.

Number Of Books You Read: 86
Number of Re-Reads: 2 (but I didn’t count them in my 86 as they were for school & I only skim read them.)
Genre You Read The Most From: literary fiction/YA (not really genres, I know – but in those categories I read a lot of thrillers, mysteries, realistic fic)

best-YA-books-2014

1. Best Book You Read In 2020?

(If you have to cheat — you can break it down by genre if you want or 2020 release vs. backlist)

I think I am going to have a hard time picking the best book I read this year because, honestly, I read a lot of them. How about a Top Five list.

  1. Hello Goodbye – Emily Chenoweth
  2. The Roanoke Girls– Amy Engel
  3. Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid
  4. Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout
  5. Where All Light Tends To Go – David Joy

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

I was excited about Verity by Colleen Hoover because everyone was talking about it. It sounded deliciously dark but it was just over-the-top stupid. 

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?  

I was probably most surprised by Olive Kitteridge. That book has been languishing on my TBR shelf pretty much since it came out and I finally got around to it. I was sure I wasn’t going to like it when I started and I was so wrong.

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

I spend a lot of time encouraging people to read books – both in my classroom and just in general. A couple books I recommended a lot were One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus and Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

 5. Best series you started in 2020? Best Sequel? Best Series Ender of 2020?

Well, I am not really a series reader. Probably One of Us is Lying could slide into this slot as I finished the year with its sequel One of Us Is Next.

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2020?

There are a few authors I discovered this year that I will definitely be reading more from including Amy Engel, Roz Nay, Lucie Whitehouse, Gillian French, Tom Ryan, and Emily Chenoweth

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

Yeah – I don’t generally read outside of my genre (so no fantasy or sci fi for me) and nothing is really outside of my comfort zone. I have a pretty high tolerance for ick.

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

I read a LOT of page turners this year, books that had me turning the pages way past my bedtime. I think I might have read Daisy Jones & the Six in one sitting. I was just enchanted by that whole book and really couldn’t put it down.

 9. Book You Read In 2020 That You Would Be MOST Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I am a re-reader, but I am not sure there’s anything on this year’s list that I might re-read with the exception of The Fountains of Silence as it may end up as something students read.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2020?

How pretty is that? Tyler Johnson Was Here

11. Most memorable character of 2020?

Olive Kitteridge and Jacob McNeely from Where All Light Tends To Go are two characters I won’t soon forget.

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2020?

I dunno. Ahhhh. I read some beautifully written books this year. It’s a toss up between Olive Kitteridge (I am starting to see a pattern here) and Hello Goodbye.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2020?

Where All Light Tends To Go was a really visceral experience for me in the same way Our Daily Bread was when I read it in 2013.

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2020 to finally read? 

Olive Kitteridge. I am sorry I waited so long to make her acquaintance; however, what a delight it was to spend time with her. Truthfully, I have so many books on my TBR shelf, there’s always something I’m taking too long to get to.

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2020?

I never think to do this and then I never have anything for this category. I am definitely going to keep it in mind for next year, though!

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2020?

Longest: Stephen King’s The Outsider, 561 pages

Shortest: I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf, 128 pages

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most

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

The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Green had a pretty amazing twist for literary fiction

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!) (OTP = one true pairing if you aren’t familiar)

Bronwyn & Nate 4eva: One of Us Is Lying

Honourable Mentions to: Daisy & Billy: Daisy Jones & The Six; Charlie & Fran: Sweet Sorrow

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

James and Bob in A Street Cat Named Bob. Of course, as a cat lover, I was 100% rooting for these two crazy kids. The movie is a delight if you have not yet seen it.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2020 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

I can always count on Lisa Jewell to deliver a well-written page-turner, and I thoroughly enjoyed both books of hers that I read in 2020, but I am going to have to go with The Family Upstairs. I always have an unread book by Jewell on my shelf, in case of emergencies.

21. Best Book You Read In 2020 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure/Bookstagram, Etc.:

Thanks to Litsy I have added so many books to my TBR shelf, which is I think how My Dark Vanessa ended up in my hands. It was grim, but I enjoyed it. I also read Homegoing because a former student now colleague literally put it in my hands and said it was the best book she’d ever read.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2020?

Some characters I have loved include: Cooper (The Roanoke Girls), Darius (Darius the Great Is Not Okay), and Abby (My Best Friend’s Exorcism)

23. Best 2020 debut you read?

Our Little Secret by Roz Nay had all the things.

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

Both My Best Friend’s Exorcism and We Are Still Tornadoes shot me straight back to the 1980s, a decade I am supremely fond of.

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

Daisy Jones & The Six was a blast to read even though it was angsty (but as I love angst even that made me smile.) You Were Never Here was also a delight to read because it’s set in my home province. (There are other delightful reasons to read this book, but this was especially awesome.)

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2020?

Hello Goodbye by Emily Chenoweth was a heartbreaker

Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy also broke my heart

Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls also made me teary

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

For me, The Roanoke Girls. I bought it in the 3 for $10 section at Indigo and I tore through it in pretty much one sitting. I would read anything this author wrote. There’s nothing better than falling in love with a book and author you’ve never heard of before.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Gotta be Where All Light Tends To Go. I rooted so hard for the main character, Jacob, to find his way out of the hell of his life.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2020?

Daisy Jones & The Six, a story told as an oral history, which was way more fun to read than you might think.

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

I am mad that I wasted money on Verity. I am mad that Delia Owens ruined Where the Crawdads Sing with that crap ending. I am mad that translations don’t figure out how to get dialogue right. (The Hypnotist, I Remember You). I am mad at the tripe that is Blind Kiss for wasting my time.

book-blogging

1. New favorite book blog/Bookstagram/Youtube channel you discovered in 2020?

I don’t know whether I discovered her this year or not, but I love watching Jen Campbell on YouTube. A little closer to home, I enjoy @kittslit on Instagram.

2. Favorite post you wrote in 2020?

I find my scathing review of Verity quite comical. I am not often scathing, but that book was infuriating.

3. Favorite bookish related photo you took in 2020?

I don’t really have a photo game, but here are a couple I like. You’ll notice a theme.

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

I was very happy to talk about dystopian fiction on CBC radio during the lockdown. I also attended a virtual YA panel hosted by The Lorenzo Society which was a lot of fun.

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2020?

It always makes me super happy to interact with authors whose books I have enjoyed.

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

I had a great reading year, actually. Yeah, Covid sucks, but when schools closed on March 13 I suddenly had a lot more free time on my hands because it took the government some time to figure out what the rest of the academic year was going to look like. We couldn’t go anywhere, but I didn’t need to because I have books enough to last me the rest of my life.

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

My blog stats for 2020 are as follows:

  • 7204 views
  • 4858 visitors
  • Normal People got the most love with 156 visits

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

I keep saying this and it’s mostly true: I keep this blog mainly for myself. If I do a radio spot, I get a spike in views. If I tweet about a book I’ve loved and the author retweets, that often pays dividends. Mostly though, I am content in my little spot on the WWW. That said, sometimes I write something that I wish somebody besides myself had read. For example, I wrote a post about abandoning books which I quite liked (I Just Can’t Seem To Quit You) and did another on Shopping my Own Shelves.

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

Oh Reader , a new-to-me (and the world) magazine devoted to all things bookish. ::heart::

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

Yes, indeed. See my year-end wrap up at My Reading Pledge

looking-ahead-books-2015

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2020 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2021?

I am very much looking forward to reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and The Heart’s Invisible Furies two books that have been on my reading radar for a while.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2021 (non-debut)?

Either of those books, plus Red, White and Royal Blue, which I am hoping is as sweet as everyone claims.

3. 2021 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Don’t really keep track.

 4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2021?

Not a series reader, really.

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2021?

I would like to hit 100 books – so less time on social media and more time with a book in my hand. Perhaps make better use of my Instagram.

6. A 2021 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone (if applicable):

n/a

One of Us Is Next – Karen M. McManus

Well, my second YA novel by Karen M. McManus caps off my 2020 reading year, and has the distinction of being my 86th book. I thought when I set my 2020 challenge at 75 I was being optimistic, and then Covid happened.

I read McManus’s book One of Us Is Lying this summer and I really enjoyed it. One of Us Is Next is a sequel of sorts as some of the characters from the first book make an appearance in this one, too. (Bronwyn & Nate!) Eighteen months after Simon’s death (first book), students at Bayview High School find themselves under attack by someone who entices them to play a game of Truth or Dare. It’s clear that whoever this is, they knows some pretty dark secrets and they’re not afraid to share them. As one student says, “Always take the Dare.”

Phoebe, Knox and Maeve narrate this story. Phoebe is the first victim of the game and the secret revealed about her has a damaging ripple effect. Maeve (Bronwyn’s younger sister) refuses to play, and her punishment is to have a secret revealed which damages her friendship with former boyfriend now bestie, Knox. Things take a decided turn for the worst when a students accidently dies.

McManus juggles the different perspectives and all sorts of other teenage drama while moving the mystery along. Alliances are made and broken. There’s some swoon-worthy romance (those Rojas sisters are lucky in love), and there’s also some commentary about slut shaming, bullying and just how clique-y high school can be. It’s clear that McManus cares deeply about these characters and she has a real ear for how teens talk.

This is another fun page-turner by a YA writer worth reading.

Together We Caught Fire – Eva V. Gibson

Eva V. Gibson’s debut YA novel Together We Caught Fire sounded right up my alley when I added it to my TBR list. My son bought it for me for Christmas and I read it in pretty much one sitting. I wish that I could say that the book lived up to its promise, but it wasn’t quite a hit for me.

Lane Jamison’s life was upended when she was five and discovered her mother lying in a pool of blood in their pristine white bathroom. Now 18, she acknowledges that “Blood itself wasn’t the problem. Cuts, now, those were a different story – the parting of skin beneath steel, blood or no blood, never failed to fuck me up.” Lane’s mother’s suicide has left her with deep, unhealed psychic wounds and an inability to sleep properly.

Her life is further unsettled when her father marries Skye, mother to the boy Lane has been in love with since he took over frog dissection duty in eighth grade AP Biology. Suddenly this unattainable boy is sharing her house and, well, that situation is just untenable because Grey McIntyre was the “longtime occupant of my heart’s most vulnerable nook, hopeful and buoyed in the chair next to mine. The only boy I’d ever loved.”

Grey’s girlfriend Sadie is the daughter of the local televangelist. Sadie has her life mapped out, and that life involves getting married and having a truckload of kids. She’s a good person, if perhaps a little judge-y. Her older brother, Connor, is the black sheep, kicked out of the house when he was fourteen and only just now finding his footing as an artist. That’s one of the ways he and Lane bond: she is also an artist, crafting creations from yarn. Connor sees right through Lane and claims he sees right through Grey, too. That his sister is caught between them is problematic, even though Lane assures him that her feelings for Grey predate Sadie and, anyway, she would never act on them. Thus, you know, the angst.

One of the main issues I had with this book is how over-the-top dramatic everything is and I think that drama isn’t helped by Gibson’s prose, which is beyond purple.

My skin simmered; my veins were kerosene, aching for the touch of a match. Everything hung on that word – our lives and family, past and future; the seconds before and after it left his mouth ran together like gooseflesh melting smooth in the sun, and this wasn’t my fault – he’d found me on his own, plunged blind into dark, brackish depths, dredged me from the groundwater so we surfaced together. Never stopped to think if we should breathe in open air.

The odd thing is that I found some the writing in the book quite beautiful; it’s just that it got in the way of the plot’s momentum – and in a book where nothing really happens, that’s a problem.

I loved the idea of this book because I am all for angst, but I think too much is made of the fact that Grey is now Lane’s brother/step-brother; they are both adults and not related by blood, so the taboo is a bit watered down. C’mon, it’s not Flowers in the Attic level wrong. Truthfully, these young people are going through what many teenagers do: heartache, depression, guilt and lust. It just feels like more because of the way the story is written. Strip that away and what’s left? Your enjoyment will depend on your patience for the way the story is told.