Gearing up for another reading year

Listen here.

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.

The Best Kind of People – Zoe Whittall

I have never returned a book to the bookstore before. In the past, if I read a book and the-best-kind-of-people_jpg_size_custom_crop_427x650didn’t like  it, I would normally just donate it to goodwill. Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People comes with Heather Reisman’s money back guarantee, though. Reisman is the CEO of Indigo, Canada’s largest book retailer. If she endorses a book with her Heather’s Pick sticker and you don’t like it, you can return the book – no questions asked – for a full refund. So, that’s where The Best Kind of People is going.

Although I was intrigued by the premise of Whittall’s novel, there were some negative reviews on Litsy and so I didn’t purchase it. Then it was chosen as our book club book and I had no choice but to read it.

George Woodbury is a local hero in Avalon Hills, a sleepy bedroom community in Connecticut.

George could be recognized by his trademark brown tweed jackets with the corduroy elbow pads, and his perpetual armload of books and papers. Everybody knew him, from school or from the many boards and committees he sat on. He was a fixture in town. He remained the man from Woodbury Lake who saved the children.

Ten years ago, George stopped a lone gunman who entered a school to kill his girlfriend. Now George is a beloved and respected teacher at the local private school. George has the added privilege of being extremely wealthy because of his father’s business acumen: doctor turned real estate tycoon. His two children, adult lawyer Andrew, who lives in New York City with his partner, Jared, and seventeen-year-old, Sadie, are used to being part of the inner circle. Joan, George’s wife, is a nurse who dotes on George and loves him without question. Until there’s something to question.

And there is. In present day, the police come to the Woodbury estate to arrest George for “sexual misconduct with four minors, attempted rape of a minor.” Of course, everyone believes it’s a huge misunderstanding. George assures his wife that “it’s just an error.” But it’s an error that throws everything Joan has ever believed about her marriage and her life into question. It also throws Andrew and Sadie’s life into turmoil.

It’s a pretty good hook for a book. And it might have been a pretty good book, too, if Whittall had written characters that were even remotely believable.  There’s the “stand by your man” wife who is so overwhelmed she lets her daughter move in with her boyfriend, Jimmy, and his mother. There’s Andrew, the angry gay son who races to his mother’s side but who hates the small-minded town he grew up in. (The town, by the way, where he came of age in a relationship with one of his teachers.) There’s Clara, Joan’s shrill sister who used to be a “staple on the 1990s New York City party scene.” There’s Kevin, the parasitic writer who lives with Jimmy’s mother. There’s Amanda, Sadie’s supposed best friend who and whose younger sister is one of the complainants. Her comment to Sadie: “I know your dad is a fuckin’ perv and all, but you don’t have to act like I’m dead.”

The dialogue is one of the things that irked me the most about Whittall’s narrative. I read whole sections out loud to my son because it was just so…unrealistic. For example, when Kevin moves out of the house, Elaine, Jimmy’s mother explains his absence by saying: “Right now he’s staying at the Hilton while we work through some…grown-up issues.” It’s a ridiculous comment to make to the son for whom she is providing condoms and looking the other way while he sleeps with Sadie.

The Best Kind of People offered a good opportunity to raise all sorts of questions…without being didactic (which the book often is). Instead, wooden people moved through a series of hoops towards a conclusion which is neither satisfying or brave.

Don’t waste your time.

Where They Found Her – Kimberly McCreight

9200000033245456I’ve had a slow start to the 2017 reading year. Usually I power though a handful of books over the Christmas break, but this year I tended to binge-watch Netflix (The Fall – check it out if you haven’t already seen it) and sleep. I have about a half-dozen novels started, but none of them really grabbed me. Although it rarely happens to me, I’ve been in the book doldrums. I needed something to grab me by the throat and swing me back into reading gear. I chose what I was sure was going to be a winner, but I was disappointed. I did finish though.

Where They Found Her is the second book by Brooklyn-based novelist Kimberly McCreight. I read her debut novel, Reconstructing Amelia last year and loved it. It was one of those books that you just couldn’t put down and was well-written to boot. A literary win-win. Where They Found Her didn’t work for me at all.

When the body of an infant is found floating in the creek at Essex Bridge, Molly Anderson gets the call to check it out. She’s the Lifestyles reporter for the Ridgedale Reader and crime wouldn’t normally be her beat, but she’s the only one available to cover the story.

Molly’s at a fragile point in her life. She and her husband, Justin, are new in Ridgedale, a bedroom community in New Jersey. Justin teaches English at the local college and their daughter, Ella, is in kindergarten. Life is just starting to settle down after the death of Molly’s unborn baby, so the discovery that the body at the creek is also an infant is almost more than Molly can handle. She’s plucky, though.

On the other -shittier – side of town lives sixteen-year-old Sandy and her floozy of a mother, Jenna. Sandy is the adult in that relationship. She loves her mother, but she’s also tired of being the adult.

Barbara is the Stepford-wife of Steve, the town’s police chief. Her daughter, Hannah, is tutoring Sandy so that Sandy can graduate. Her young son, Cole, has been sucking all the oxygen from the room with his odd behavior.

Although it won’t be immediately obvious how the lives of these women intersect, their paths will cross and that’s when the gears started to grind for me. (It took me about 100 pages just to keep all the names straight – and that’s only a slight exaggeration.)

In all the ways that Reconstructing Amelia was a tightly focused story about a mother and daughter who are close, but still keep secrets from each other, Where They Found Her borders on melodrama. As Molly starts to unravel the identity of the baby and what happened to her, the reader will, too. There’s a fair share of red herrings, but everything gets tidied up in the end.

I turned the pages (once I got going), but I can’t say that I cared very much about any of the players and, for me, that’s one of the failings of McCreight’s novel. Where They Found Her just didn’t resonate on any level with me. I’m definitely in the minority, though. Critics loved it.

So – decent mystery (red herrings and tidy-ending aside). McCreight can certainly write and I would definitely read her again. But Where They Found Her was only so-so for me.

All the books – 2016 edition

I am not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but I do enjoy a little bit of reflection. I like to think back on the year and contemplate what changes I might make to make my life, and the lives of those around me, better. The world seems to be moving faster and I think we could all benefit from taking a breath. Reading is one of the ways that I do that. I also think we need a lot more kindness in the world. I have a wonderful opportunity to model kindness every day in my classroom and I think showing tolerance, compassion and empathy is the only way forward. It’s the direction I am taking at any rate.

Once again, thanks to Jamie over at The Perpetual Page-Turner for starting this survey seven years ago and for sharing her questions and graphics. If you’d like to take a peek at her survey and see what loads of other readers read this year, you can do that here.

2016-end-of-year-book-survey-1024x984-1024x984

 

reading-stats-2016-1024x278-1024x278

Number Of Books You Read: 60
Number of Re-Reads: 1
Genre You Read The Most From: Fiction

 

best-ya-books-2014-1024x278

1. Best Book You Read In 2016?

Hands down: Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

I can’t even begin to describe how moving I found this book.

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

A Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay 23019294

I was really looking forward to this book. Stephen King loved it and I trust his taste. It just didn’t do it for me. Maybe I missed the point because although the writing was good (and I would certainly read Tremblay again), I just felt like the book was trying to be too many things and I never really settled in to the narrative.

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

GOOD

17235026

The Girl With All The Gifts The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey

I was actually quite surprised with how much I enjoyed this book. I didn’t know it was a zombie book when I purchased it and had I known I might have left it on the shelf. That would have been  too bad because I really like it.

 

BAD

winterThe Winter People – Jennifer McMahon

This is the second post Promise Not To Tell book I’ve read by McMahon. I loved  Promise Not To Tell, but haven’t liked anything else I’ve read by her. The Winter People was a hot mess.

 

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

I urged a lot of people to read Tim Johnston’s fine novel Descent. I really liked this book a lot and the people I suggested it to also enjoyed it. Of course I encouraged everyone to read Everything I Never Told You and I also suggested I Let You Go by Clare McIntosh to a lot of readers who like a page-turner.

 5. Best series you started in 2016? Best Sequel of 2016? Best Series Ender of 2016?

This is always a hard question for me to answer. I kinda hate series, to be honest. That said, I did promise my daughter that I would start Harry Potter this year and I did, but I only made it through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and half way through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban before I got sidetracked by other books. I did read the first of C. J. Daugherty’s Night School series and I really liked it. I would have read more, but they are almost impossible to find. I also read Tammara Webber’s novel Breakable, which is a companion to her novel Easy.

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2016?

I think I would read anything by Celeste Ng. I’ll definitely read more of Jennifer Niven.

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

The Girl With All the Gifts – M. C. Carey

Vampires – yes. Zombies – no. But this was terrific in every way.

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

I actually read several thrillers this year of the can’t-put-it-down variety. Top of the heap goes to I Let You Go by Clare McIntosh. That book had an early twist that had me scrambling back to the beginning and then racing like a demon to the end. Tim Johnston’s Descent was also a pulse-racing, page-tuner. I also had a hard time putting down The Book of You by Claire Kendall

 9. Book You Read In 2016 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Hahahahahaha. I often re-read books that I teach, but other than that I have too many books on my tbr pile to make a plan to re-read anything.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016?

th9H5NVHJNI was attracted to the cover of In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware.  I’m sure there are prettier or more dramatic covers than that, but I liked the black and white. That said, I also loved the cover of Martin Short’s memoir, I Must Say, probably because Short is on the cover and just seeing his face makes20604377 me smile. As soon as I see him I start thinking about all the characters he’s played over the years: Ed Grimley, Jiminy Glick, Franck from Father of the Bride and then I have to go watch some clips on YouTube. Be right back.

 

11. Most memorable character of 2016?

Gosh – this is tough because I have encountered some truly memorable characters during this reading year.

Honourable mention goes to Ryan Dean West from Andrew Smith’s terrific YA book Winger.

Another character that deserves a mention is Melanie from The Girl With All the Gifts. She was a beautifully complex character.

Tied for the win: Finch and Violet from All the Bright Places. I just fell madly in love with these two damaged, smart and beautiful characters.

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016?

Egads – another tough category. Or maybe it’s just that I read a lot of terrific books this year. Gotta be Everything I Never Told You, though. The writing wasn’t overwrought or ornate, but so much of that book felt like a punch to the gut. Simple and beautiful.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2016?

Im+Thinking+of+Ending+ThingsPerhaps I would slot Iain Reid’s mind-bending novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things in this spot. It wasn’t a life-changing read, but it sure was thought-provoking and one of those novels that you really had to puzzle your way through. It was also the kind of book that you wanted to pass on, so you could have a conversation with another reader about the book’s wtf qualities.

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read? 

If I have to choose a book for this category, it’d have to be Harry Potter just because I probably should have read them (or started to read them) way before now.

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2016?

“You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.” – Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2016?

The Grown-Up by Gillian Flynn, 64 pages

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter, 688 pages

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most

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

I Let You Go had a jaw-dropping twist. I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Descent both had some shocking moments, too.

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

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

Finch and Violet from All the Bright Places. Hands down.

Runner up: Ryan Dean West and Annie from Winger.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Melanie and Helen Justineau from The Girl With All the Gifts

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2016 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

That would have to be All the Rage by Courtney Summers courtney-summers-all-the-rageThis was my third book by this Canadian author and once again Summers proved herself to be a fearless writer. Not an easy book to read, but certainly an important book.

21. Best Book You Read In 2016 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

I don’t really have a book for this category. I don’t generally run out and buy books other people recommend because my tbr pile is too big. I do, however, add them to my tbr list and I might get to them sooner than other books. That said, I was pressured into getting on the Harry Potter series. I told my daughter I’d read the whole thing in the summer, and only got one and a half books finished before I got distracted by other books.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?

Well, it’s not a new crush but I continue to be enamored with Lucas from Tammara Webber’s books Easy & Breakable.

23. Best 2016 debut you read?

Everything I Never Told You. C’mon, whose debut is as good as that!?

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

7507908The Girl With All the Gifts did an excellent job of putting the reader right into a post-apocalyptic future. I also thought Breanna Yovanoff created a super creepy world in her novel The Replacement.

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

I Must Say by Martin Short. I could hear all his characters in my head when I read the book. Love him.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2016?

I love a book that makes me cry. Everything I Never Told You and All the Bright Places both made me cry. Tom McNeal’s underwaterTo Be Sung Underwater definitely put a lump in my throat on more than one occasion.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

I wonder if many people read Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. rielI really liked that book a lot. New Brunswick writer Riel Nason’s second novel All the Things We Leave Behind also fits into this category because she certainly deserves to be read.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Everything I Never Told You. Absolutely wrecked me. So did All the Bright Places.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2016?

The Dead House by  Dawn Kurtagich was pretty unique as it incorporated journal entries, police and psychiatric reports, transcribed found video footage, etc.

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

Maybe I would stick really hyped books that just fell short in this category: The Husband’s Secret & Pretty Girls spring to mind.

book-blogging

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2016?

Fictionophile She’s a prolific reader and she’s from my neck of the woods. What’s not to love?

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2016?

Looking back over the reviews I wrote last year…I’m pretty happy with the majority of paristhem, but I’ll mention The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, just because I haven’t included the book anywhere else and it’s worth a look.

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

I celebrated eight years of blogging back in September and I invited readers to tell me about their eight favourite things about my blog or list their eight favourite books. I got some awesome comments.

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

litsy_logo_horizI joined Litsy this year. The downside is that it’s an app so I have to do everything on my phone, but the upside is that it’s all books all the time. One of the Littens, BookishMarginalia, organized a #secretsantagoespostal event. We were all sent the name of someone else and we had to send a bookish gift. Then, on December 21, we all opened our presents and found out who our Secret Santa was. Fun!

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2016?

My book club read Nina de Gramont’s novel The Last September. At our gathering tolastsept discuss the novel, one of our group suggested something about the murder of the narrator’s husband (not a spoiler – we know he’s been killed on page one) that launched a huge debate. The next day, I tracked the author down on the Internet and put the question to her. She sent a lovely reply. That was cool. In fact, any interaction I have with an author is cool. Also – read The Last September. It’s terrific.

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

I actually think I did a pretty good job keeping up with my blog this year. I also didn’t set a reading goal for myself, but still managed to read 60 books in 2016.

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

I always get a lot of hits the morning that I do my book column on CBC’s Information Morning. That’s generally the day with the heaviest traffic. You can listen to all the columns I’ve done over the past couple years  by visiting the links provided on the right side of my blog under the heading Off the Shelf.

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

Well, I always wish I had a little more interaction with people, but that isn’t what drives my blog. Mostly, it’s a record of what I read.

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

Litsy. You should all join. I am @TheLudicReader

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

I always do the 50 Book Pledge. Anything after 50 always feels like a bonus.

looking-ahead-books-2015

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2016 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2017?

Nope. Not gonna say. Because I don’t know. It’s not the way I read, to be honest. That said, I will try to read some more Harry Potter to appease my daughter.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2017 (non-debut)?

I am looking forward to reading Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien. It won the 2016 Giller and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and it was shortlisted for the Man Booker and longlisted for the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal.  I am not usually dazzled by prizes, but this book appeals to me and I got a hardcover for $15 on Boxing Day!

3. 2017 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

No clue. Haven’t even looked to see what’s coming out.

 4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2017?

Nada

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2017?

I am pretty happy with my reading life.

6. A 2017 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

Can’t help you. But I am looking forward to seeing what everyone else suggests.

Check out my reading year as an infographic here.

I wish you all a wonderful 2017 filled with good company and good books.

All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

Not all YA books are created equal. When I was a teen in the 70s YA was barely a thing. Basically I went from reading The Bobbsey Twins and Trixie Beldon to reading Jane Eyre and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The Scholastic flyer at school offered some options and I can all-the-bright-places-jktspecifically remember reading and falling in love with S.E. Hinton’s That Was Then, This is Now (a book I loved way more than I loved The Outsiders), and Judy Blume’s Forever, but the reading choices certainly weren’t as varied as they are for teens today.  I read a lot of YA now because I teach teens. Lots of it is mediocre. Lots of it is good. Then, every so often, you read a book you just want to tell all your students about. You want every single teen you know on the planet to read it. Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places is one of those books.

Theodore Finch is seventeen. He begins his story by asking “Is today a good day to die?” He’s considering this question from “a narrow ledge six floors above the ground.” That’s when he sees the girl, Violet Markey. “She stands a few feet away on the other side of the tower, also out on the ledge…”

This is how Niven begins to tell the story of Finch and Violet. Finch ‘rescues’ Violet, but because he has a reputation as being a freak, a loser, and unstable, the rumour around school is that Violet saved him. From this unlikely scenario, a beautiful friendship springs.

After Finch talks Violet off the ledge he asks her: “Do you think there’s such a thing as a perfect day?…A perfect day. Start to finish. Where nothing terrible or sad or ordinary happens. Do you think it’s possible?”  Just typing that now makes me feel as though I want to cry.

Violet doesn’t seem like a likely match for Finch. She’s “cheerleader popular” and dates Ryan Cross, a movie star handsome baseball star. Still, when the two are paired to participate in a “Wander Indiana” project (part of a course in U.S. Geography), they discover a kinship neither expected. As they travel to various points of interest, they start to trust each other. Violet begins the painful process of shedding the grief of a tragic accident and Finch finds more and more reason to stay “awake.”

One of the things that makes a YA novel great for me is characterization. I want the teens to feel authentic, not like stereotypes. Finch and Violet are beautifully crafted creations, and the people who circle their lives (parents and siblings and friends) are also well-drawn and nuanced. Finch’s mom is broken from her failed marriage; Violet’s parents are over-protective. As a mom of teens myself, I like to see parents in YA portrayed as real people – flawed and messy and trying to do the best they can even when can’t fix anything at all.

The other element of the novel that Niven handles so well is the issue of mental illness. All the Bright Places is not a “sick lit” book. Finch’s struggles are authentic and nuanced and painfully rendered in prose that is a joy to read. I can’t remember the last time a character has broken my heart, but Finch most certainly did.

I can’t recommend All the Bright Places highly enough. Buy it for every teen you know. Buy it for yourself.

 

 

All the Things We Leave Behind – Riel Nason

towndrownedA few years back, my bookclub read Riel Nason’s debut novel The Town That Drowned and we all fell in love with Ruby and her younger brother, Percy, inhabitants of a little town called Haventon. Nason’s story drew from actual events: the area was flooded after a dam was built. Anyone who lives in New Brunswick, Canada, where Nason’s story is set, will be familiar with the landscape and many of the place names, even if they don’t quite remember the flood that drowned the town.

All The Things We Leave Behind revisits the Saint John River Valley, this time a fictional town called Riverbend, circa 1977. On this occasion, our narrator, seventeen-year-old Violet, is taking care of the family business while her parents are on a road trip looking for her older brother, Bliss, who disappeared just after his graduation from high school.

The book starts ominously enough as Violet recalls the “boneyard deep in the woods.” She and Bliss discovered the place when they were kids even though “the boneyard’s location is supposed to be secret.  This is the final resting place for the moose and deer that have killed up and down the Trans Canada rielHighway.   When Violet recalls the time she and Bliss had stumbled upon the boneyard, aged nine, she also recalls how Bliss had tried to protect her from the gruesome sight. He assures her they’re never going back, but he also tells her “we can’t let it wreck the whole forest for us.”

Nason weaves Violet’s recollections of her brother into a narrative which is mostly concerned with Violet’s summer-time responsibilities, tending The Purple Barn, her family’s roadside antique store, literally  “an enormous rectangle, a hundred-foot-long-barn, painted purple.”  Violet isn’t too young for the gig

I know what I’m doing and I’m almost an expert on antiques from hanging around the store and listening to my father my whole life. I can rattle off statements like, “It’s a late Victorian, Eastlake period piece, factory made, ash not oak, but excellent quality.”

Violet takes her job seriously, but she is also prone to melancholy and introspection. She is not exactly a typical teenager; she is certainly not partying her way through the summer despite the fact the she is sharing a cabin at Seven Birches Campground and Cabins with her best friend, Jill,  and despite the fact that she promised Jill she’d try to have a fun summer.

All the Things We Leave Behind is a quiet novel of growing up and letting go – even when you don’t really want to do either. Nason adeptly evokes a specific time and place, but the novel’s themes are universal in scope. Even though I didn’t quite settle into the book’s rhythms in quite the same way as I settled into The Town That Drowned and even though I wasn’t totally satisfied with some of the denouement’s machinations, I would still recommend All The Things We Leave Behind because Nason’s prose is consistently good and the novel has many charms.

Ten – Gretchen McNeil

There are enough diversions and red herrings in Gretchen McNeil’s YA mystery Ten to tenkeep attentive readers on their toes. The straight-forward narrative and familiar characters (the mean girl, the jock, the good girl) will certainly be appealing to readers of a certain age, but there isn’t much on offer here for anyone else.

Meg and her best friend, Minnie, have been invited to a weekend party on Henry Island, one of the islands off the coast of Washington State. Meg’s not really the party type and she’s already anxious about the fact that they’ve “lied to [their] parents and gone to a house party in the middle of nowhere.”

The party comes on the heels of a gruesome discovery at a rival high school – “the charred remains of a body found in the locker room.”

When the girls arrive (by ferry), they find the rest of the party guests: T.J. Fletcher, hunky football player and Meg’s not-so-secret-crush; Ben, the new boyfriend of their hostess, Jessica (who never shows us); Gunner, surfer dude; Kumiko, Gunner’s new girlfriend (Minnie was his former girlfriend); Vivian, seemingly sensible; Lori, random girl; Nathan and Kenny; token Neanderthals.

The festivities start with a few beers and then things start to go whacky. First of all, Ben almost dies from anaphylactic shock. Then, the group watches a strange and disturbing video that claims : “Vengeance is Mine.”  Someone tosses the room Meg and Minnie are sharing. Meg finds a strange diary. And then, one by one, people start to die.

Alliances and nerves start to fray as the teens realize they are cut off from civilization (no cell service or Internet) and that no one knows where they are. The most they can hope for is that Jessica arrives, as planned, on the next ferry.

McNeil keeps the action ticking along. The third person narrative is focused pretty tightly on Meg – but who hasn’t heard of an unreliable narrator before? There’s not a lot of opportunity for character development, not that it really matters. I think most teens will enjoy the straight ahead action, the creepy deaths and Meg’s valiant attempt to figure out who the killer is before it’s too late.

For the record: I didn’t get it right.