2014 End of Year Book Survey

For the last few years, readers have jumped on Jamie’s End of year Book Survey bandwagon (or perhaps I should say ‘bookwagon’) and I am nothing if not a lemming.


Number of Books You Read: 27 “adult” novels, 21 YA, 3 graphic, 2 memoirs, 1 non-fiction for a total of 55, well short of my goal of 65 books

See my shelf here

Number of Books You Re-Read: 0

Genre You Read The Most From: Contemporary


Best Book You Read In 2014?

(If you have to cheat — you can break it down by genre if you want or 2014 release vs. backlist)

Best YA: More Than This – Patrick Ness

Best Other: Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

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

Heading Out to Wonderful – Robert Goolrick

Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2014?  I read a lot of duds this year, more than normal: Creep, Firefly Rain, The Birthing House , Kiss Crush Collide

Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did) In 2014?


More Than This – Patrick Ness



Best series you started in 2014? Best Sequel of 2014? Best Series Ender of 2014?

Not a series starter, generally, although I have started a couple  that I really need to finish – none of them in 2014, though.

Favorite new author you discovered in 2014?

I discovered a few new authors this year that I will definitely be looking to read more from: Megan Abbott, Tammara Webber, Erin Kelly

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

Nada – I’m up for just about anything with the exception of sci fi/fantasy…and since I’m not really into it, I don’t read it.

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

The Lantern – Deborah Lawrenson Certainly not action-packed, but this was a real page-turner and a lot of fun to read.

Book You Read In 2014 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I really wish I had more time for re-reading. I would like to re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in 2015. It’s probably been 40 years since I read that book and I just remember loving it.

Favourite cover of a book you read in 2014?

myidealbookshelf1_grandeMy Ideal Bookshelf – Thessaly La Force and Jane Mount

I loved everything about this book.


Most memorable character of 2014?

Addy Hanlon from Megan Abbott’s Dare Me. Caustic and compelling.

Lucas from Tammara Webber’s Easy. Hot. Hot. Hot.

Most beautifully written book read in 2014?

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2014?

The Children Act – Ian McEwan. McEwan always gives you something to think about.

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read? 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

My own kids were always after me to read this book when it first came out, but it wasn’t until the teachers in my department suggested this book for a teachers’ book club that I got around to reading it. Loved it.

Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2014?

““What if we had the chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful.” Teddy from Life After Life  I’m not in the habit of writing down passages that I like, but this quote – which is central to Atkinson’s novel – also  resonates with me for other reasons.

Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq, 32 pages

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson, 544 pages

Book That Shocked You The Most (Because of a plot twist, character death, left you hanging with your mouth wide open, etc.)

The Raft – S.A. Bodeen. Didn’t see that coming!

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

Hands down: Jacqueline and Lucas from Tammara Webber’s Easy

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

Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship of The Year

Seth, Regine and Thomasz of Patrick Ness’s More Than This

Favorite Book You Read in 2014 From an Author You’ve Read Previously

More Than This – Patrick Ness

Best Book You Read In 2014 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

None – it’s not the way I generally choose books

totally joeNewest fictional crush from a book you read in 2014?

I have to admit that I fell in love with Joe Bunch, the 13-year-old protagonist of Totally Joe. He is a great character.



Best 2014 debut you read? throughwoods

Through the Woods – Emily Carrol

Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Tie between The Coldest Girl in Cold Town – Holly Black


More Than This – Patrick Ness

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

My Ideal Bookshelf – Thessaly La Force and Jane Moun

Book That Made You Cry or Nearly Cry in 2014?

There were lots of lump in the throat moments in Life After Life

Hidden Gem Of The Year?

icecreamThe Ice Cream Girls – Dorothy Koomson Maybe this book got a lot of love when it came out, but I’d never heard of it nor the author. It is well-written and a real page-turner, too

Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Living Dead Girl – Elizabeth Scott

It was so bleak

Most Unique Book You Read In 2014?

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

It maximized quirky photos and a unique story. I really enjoyed it

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

Birthing_HouseThe Birthing House – Christopher Ransom

Utter Crap! And a frustrating waste of time. I can’t believe I actually read the whole thing.


New favorite book blog you discovered in 2014? 

Electric Lit – although I guess it’s not strictly a book blog.

Favorite review that you wrote in 2014?

 The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black

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

I loved that I got to share how I used My Ideal Bookshelf in the classroom.

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

I was very lucky to welcome best-selling Canadian novelist Kelly Armstrong intokelly my classroom in October. She was in town to participate in FogLit, a literary festival, and came to my school to speak with about 70 students and then work with about 20 in a small group setting. There were sooo many excited students at school that day!

Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2014?

Another cool, bookish thing that happened in 2014 was that I started doing book columns on CBC Radio’s Information Morning in October 2014. I love talking about books and this is a really fun gig. You can listen to past columns by clicking on the links in the sidebar.

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

This post got the most views all year I credit Ryan Gosling. 6fa389c166845d58b0b214b55af9eccd

Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

I’d love to have a little more interaction overall on my blog, but I do it because I love to do it – not for site stats…so it’s all good. That said, I loved sharing this activity I did with some grade ten students and wish it had received a little more attention.

Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?     I am looking forward to diving into this post from the Guardian: Top Ten Best Book Bloggers – all YA.

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

I intended to read 65 books this year – just up from the total of 62 I read last year, but I didn’t make it – for a variety of reasons.

looking-ahead-books-2015-1024x278One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2014 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2015? Oh, please.

Bookship of theseus You Are Most Anticipating for 2015 (non-debut)?

My son gave me J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst’s novel Ship of Theseus for Christmas. We’ve long been intrigued by this books, so I am looking forward to reading it.

2015 Debut You Are Most Anticipating

No idea.

Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2015?

I would like to make it a priority to finish Ilsa J. Bick’s Ashes trilogy, Kelley Creagh’s Nevermore Trilogy and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. There. I said it. Of course, none of these are new series.

One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2015

Setting goals for myself in this regard is just asking for trouble

A 2015 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend to Everyone. Nope.

Interested in reading more End of Year surveys? Go here.

The Children Act – Ian McEwan

children's actYou can always count on Ian McEwan to bring on the controversy. This is the fourth of the prolific British novelist’s books we’ve read in my book club and it prompted a loud and lively discussion.

The main character in The Children Act is Fiona Maye, a High Court judge in London. She’s about to turn 60 when her husband, Jack, a professor, announces that he wants to have an affair (this is not a spoiler, really; the revelation comes pretty much on page one). She’s been married for thirty years and until the moment her husband tells her that he needs this because it is his “last shot” and he’s “yet to hear evidence of an afterlife” she’s been pretty smug about her life. While it is true that they don’t have children, they have had a good life together: enough money, a nice home, friendship and, Fiona admits ” she had always loved him.”  To say that Jack’s confession throws Fiona for a loop is an understatement, but she does not intend to “manage the rest of her life alone.”

Into Fiona’s fractured world comes the Henry family. Adam Henry is seventeen and he and his family are refusing the blood transfusion that may save his life because they are Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to their beliefs, “Mixing your own blood with the blood of an animal or another human being is pollution, contamination. It’s a rejection of the Creator’s wonderful gift. That’s why God specifically forbids it in Genesis and Leviticus and Acts.”

Fiona’s actually quite adept at sorting through these complicated and potentially incendiary cases, but even she is not quite sure what compels her to reserve judgment so she can visit Adam in the hospital. She calls the decision “a sentimental error,” but she goes anyway and discovers that seventeen – year – old Adam is , despite his illness, “beautiful.” It’ll be obvious to careful readers that Fiona is smitten. In fact, during the first few moments of their meeting she “caught nothing.” The visit that follows is charged – not sexually, really, although there is an element of that, too – with the kind of energy that happens when two people discover a shared passion. For Adam and Fiona it is music and poetry. Ultimately, Fiona’s decision sets Adam on a path that has profound consequences for them both.

I really liked The Children Act. McEwan is a smart writer and he’s adept at spinning a narrative that is tightly focused. Fiona isn’t a particularly likeable character, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to relate to her. This is a great book to get people talking.




Long Lankin – Lindsey Barraclough

longlankin When I was a kid, they used to air these British films about kids on TV. They all would have been set in the 60s (it was probably the early 1970s when I watched them) and although I don’t really remember what any of them were about, I do remember that I wanted a British accent more than anything. I was also a fan of Enid Blyton’s books – especially the ones set in boarding schools.

Lindsey Barraclough’s debut novel Long Lankin doesn’t take place in a boarding school, but it did make me think of those movies. The language, in particular, was reminiscent of that particular time. Things in Barraclough’s novel are “smashing” and words like  “blimey,” “cheerio” and “crikey”  pepper the novel. The whole novel unspooled in my head like one of those movies. I loved it!

Long Lankin is inspired by the English ballad “Lamkin” which tells the story of a woman and her infant son who are murdered by a mason who seeks revenge for not having been paid. The original ballad can be found here.

Said my lord to my lady as he rode away:/ Beware of Long Lankin who lives in the hay.

In Barraclough’s intelligent and creepy re-telling, Long Lankin is a sinister, slithering man who steals children in the small English town of Bryers Guerdon. When Cora and her little sister Mimi go to  Guerdon Hall to live with their great-aunt Ida, Cora soon discovers that her aunt’s crumbling home is full of secrets and her aunt doesn’t seem all that pleased about their arrival. It’s 1958 and Cora and Mimi’s father has sent his children to Ida as a last resort. Their mother is ‘away.’

The story is told from the perspectives of Cora, Aunt Ida and Roger, a local boy. Cora is smart and inquisitive and soon becomes interested in what she knows her aunt is not telling her. Something strange is going on in the isolated little town and it has to do with the church which Aunt Ida tells her she is “absolutely not – under any circumstances…it was completely forbidden” to visit. Of course, that makes it the first place Cora wants to go.

Long Lankin is atmospheric and smart. It’s filled with Latin warnings, menacing shadows, whispers and more secrets than you can shake a stick at. Readers will have to work a little to keep the characters and the story straight, but it’s totally worth the effort.  As with the best ghost stories, this one has a beating heart at its centre and it takes Cora and Roger quite a while to uncover the town’s secret. It’s worth the wait. The novel’s conclusion is terrific, too.

Highly recommended.

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

shininggirlsFull disclosure: I like Criminal Minds. And no, it’s not just because FBI profiler Derek Morgan is sometimes shirtless and also often kicks down doors or flies through the air to take down the perps. I have to admit that I have a sick fascination with serial killers and their creepy-crawly minds. So Lauren Beukes novel The Shining Girls  seemed like it might totally be up my dark alley (with the crazy person waiting at the end in the shadows.) This book was a recent purchase, never a guarantee that I am going to read it imminently, but  – as it turns out – I did read it in short order. Was it a wholly satisfying experience? Um, no. However, I was still turning the pages way past my bedtime last night, so that’s saying something.

Harper Curtis is a nondescript sort of guy, remarkable only for his limp. Oh, plus he’s a time-traveling serial killer. Why he is able to skip through time is never really explained, but how is a different story. There’s this House (yes, with a capital ‘H’) and Harper has the key.

Kirby Mazrachi is almost seven when she meets Harper. Harper doesn’t like the “unpredictability of children” but he assures Kirby that he will be back for her. He tells her:

I’ll see you when you’re all grown up. Look out for me, okay, sweetheart? I’ll come back for you.

Harper does come back for Kirby; he comes back for all his “shining girls.” Beukes gives us just enough of their stories to make us care about their awful, violent deaths. One by one, he picks them off, leaving mementos of another time with their ruined bodies.

Harper doesn’t count on Kirby surviving, but she does. Now,  years after her attempted murder, she’s determined to find the man who almost did her in. The thing is, since he’s able to move through time, he’s almost impossible to catch.

The Shining Girls might be the sort of book that readers give up on because it’s too confusing or they don’t buy the time travel element of it. I was happy to go along for the ride, especially for the first three-quarters of the book or so. Harper wasn’t especially scary – we don’t really learn anything about him until about two-thirds of the way through the book – he’s pretty much a garden variety psychopath with a penchant for knives and intestines. What really kept me turning the pages was Kirby. She’s smart and resilient and determined. I liked her and I wanted her to be safe.

Something happened, though, near the end of the book. The carefully sustained tension was somehow deflated. Kirby became that girl. You know, the one who chases after the killer all on her own and then goes into the House all on her own…without a weapon. It was more than that, though. (Seriously, I knew she had to chase after Harper and go into the house – what kind of ending would we have had if she hadn’t?)  I think it was just that when all the pieces of Beukus’ intricate jigsaw puzzle were exposed it somehow seemed silly.

Time heals all wounds. Wounds clot, eventually. The seams knit together.

You had me, Ms. Beukes, until the very end. But even still – I’d highly recommend this book as  genre-bending, well-written, page-turning fun. (If serial killers are your thing, that is.)


Off the Shelf – CBC November 10, 2014

This morning on Information Morning I talked about books…about other books.

Here’s what I prepared in advance.

I am a tsundoku. That’s the Japanese word for a person who buys books and leaves them unread. Some women buy shoes, I wear my Birks and buy books. Apparently it’s hereditary because when I tell my 15-year-old son, Connor, that there’s no point in him buying any more books when he has at least a half dozen that he hasn’t read yet, he just shoots me this incredulous look, You’re kidding, right? I have over 500 books on my ‘to- be- read’ shelf at home, to say nothing of the books on my shelves at school.

Think I’m kidding? This is my TBR shelf at home:


I’m a life-long bibliophile and I do a lot of thinking about what it is about books that I love so much. So today I thought I’d talk about some books that are also about the love of books. These are books in which people talk about their own reading lives.

bookchanged The Book That Changed My Life – Roxanne J. Cody and Joy Johannessen, editors

This books consists of 71 essays by writers who share with readers the story of the book that cracked open the world of reading for them. For example, Wally Lamb’s (author of She’s Come Undone and I Know this Much is True) wrote about To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been a staple in high school English classes for ever. (I am, in fact, currently sharing it with my grade ten class). Mr. Lamb says that “Until Mockingbird, I’d had no idea literature could exert so stong a power.”


shelfsiscoverylittler_thumb[2]Shelf Discovery – Lizzie Skurnick

This is a reading memoir, where Skurnick, who’s been a columnist for the New York Times and NPR and several other publications, revisits the books that shaped her growing up. Skurnick describes herself as “ravenous toward each book, like a vampire”. Voracious readers will know that exact feeling – like you can’t put the book down and carry it everywhere in case you find yourself with five idle minutes. For some people, Skurnick’s book will be a trip down memory lane; for teens, especially girls, this would be a great primer for all that fiction produced from 1960 on. It also answers that question: why do we re-read a book? Who has time for that? This a great memoir for people who have been profoundly influenced by their adolescent reading lists.


the-ultimate-teen-book-guideThe Ultimate Teen Book Guide – Daniel Hahn & Leonie Flynn, editors

This is a fantastic primer listing over 700 books – there’s something for everyone in this one. Authors and young readers offer up their picks for most amazing books. It offers, among other things, Top Ten lists in a variety of categories, a list of what to read next, so for example if you loved To Kill a Mockingbird it suggests you try John Knowles’ A Separate Peace or In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Capote was reportedly the inspiration for the character if Dill in Lee’s book.) Terrific resource and really user-friendly.


readingpromiseThe Reading Promise – Alice Ozma

I love books where people talk about their own relationship with reading and Ozma’s memoir is very YA friendly. It’s the story of an agreement that she made with her dad that he would read to her every single night for 1000 nights. So that’s a lot of reading. When they hit that goal they decided to extend it – and in the end Alice’s dad read to her every single night for nine years – until she finally went off to college. Clearly books mattered to both of them, her dad was a teacher/librarian, and this book has a lot to say about the power that stories have to create conversation, develop empathy…all that good stuff.
myidealbookshelf1_grandeFinally, I want to talk about a book that Connor gave me for my birthday last year: My Ideal Bookshelf by Thessaly LaForce and Jane Mount

This is a beauty of a book and totally appealed to that part of me who makes a beeline for bookshelves no matter where I am – the houses of friends and strangers, no bookshelf is safe from me. These guys asked 100 people (writers, actors, poets, designers, artists) to think back over their reading lives and come up with their ideal bookshelf. What would be on it? Mount then did an artistic interpretation of the books. The paintings are accompanied by conversations in which the bookshelf owner talks about their personal relationship with the books – they might focus in on one or just talk about their reading life in general. It’s fascinating reading – even if you don’t know the people doing the telling.

I actually did this with some grade ten students and it was a terrific activity. It forced the students to think back to books that have made a real difference in their lives. There’s a template at the back of the book (and online) for students to recreate their own ideal bookshelf – although if you’re not at all artistic (which I am not) you could take a picture, too.

Here’s a sample from one of my strudents – her bookshelf and an excerpt of what she had to say about books:



“In the fourth grade I was stuck in a Geronimo Stilton phase and I had a cousin who was bound and determined to see me break out of the 100-page cycle. She began sending me “adult” books. The first was The Giver by Lois Lowry. My mother read it first and then advised me to put it away for a few years until I could better handle it. I read it anyway, mainly out of sheer curiosity. And although it kept me up at night thinking about it, maybe that’s what I liked about it. I’ve read it every year since, and it always feels like I’m reading it for the first time.”

Come on – that’s like hitting the literature lottery for an English teacher.

To see some of my students’ bookshelves and read what they had to say about their reading lives,  check out this post



Love Remains – Glen Duncan

loveremains Despite the fact that Glen Duncan’s novel Love Remains is only 277 pages long, it took me about a month to finish because I could never read any more than a few pages at a time before my head started to swim. But I mean that as a compliment rather than a criticism.  Duncan is a well-known and much-praised British author who was new to me when I purchased the book. Love Remains, Duncan’s second novel, is almost relentlessly grim. Again – it’s a compliment, honest. There’s no way you could tackle the topic Duncan does in this book without being a skillful craftsman, and Duncan really is an amazing writer.

Nick and Chloe meet in university.

The possibility of love revealed itself to Chloe immediately, in a shock. When they sat opposite each other that first Wednesday, with rain streaking the steamed windows and the delicious reek of frying bacon in the air, she felt (thinking, stunned, of the billions who had felt it, down the long bloodied canvas of history) the first murderous utterance of romance: It’s him.

Nick’s feelings for Chloe are slightly more ambivalent, although he does concede that “he was so curious about what was going on inside her that lust only followed along afterwards, like an obligatory bit of luggage.”

The trajectory of Chloe and Nick’s love story is mostly straightforward. They get married, start jobs,  eventually move into “their first proper home” in Clapham and then, as with many marriages, the romantic impetus drains from their lives as they deal with life’s mundane and often inane decisions: “Do you think we should get a futon, Nick.”  As their marriage closes in around them, “They suffered, periodically, the ache of familiarity.” Chloe feels “suffocated by the sound of his breath escaping through his nostrils” and Nick “hated her for having finished the shape of him.”

Duncan masterfully builds a marriage from the ground up and then, just as masterfully, wrenches it apart in the most violent way possible.  In some ways, it’s almost as though Duncan has written two different, but equally compelling, novels.

When the novel opens, Nick has already left London because that’s what you do “when the future ended.” He is on a journey, it seems, of self-destruction comprised of smoking, drinking and having sadomasochistic sex. None of it makes sense until we learn what has happened to Chloe and, even then, it’d difficult to wrap your head around. Is Nick reprehensible for having abandoned his wife? That’s just one of the moral questions Duncan asks you to consider in this book.

Chloe is on a journey of her own. It is equally compelling, although perhaps more heartbreaking. The random and horrific experience she has endured has sharpened her: “Her face in the mirror, barely recognizable, rewritten.”

What was once a path traveled together, has now been cleaved. I commend Duncan for resisting the urge to offer a tidy ending, but the ending, nonetheless, is remarkable.

Highly recommended.


Living Dead Girl – Elizabeth Scott


Elizabeth Scott’s 2008 YA novel Living Dead Girl garnered a lot of praise when it was published. Voted Best Book by the American Library Association, Voya Editor’s Choice and Teen Reads Best book in 2008, among others, Living Dead Girl seemed to be on everyone’s radar when it came out. In 2008 I was just returning to teaching after many years doing other stuff. I wasn’t reading a lot of teen fiction and I’d never heard of the book. Now that I am back in the classroom I spend a lot of time researching YA fiction in an effort to stock my classroom library with books that will appeal to my students. At just 170 pages, this riveting novel will certainly appeal to mature readers.

Alice was abducted by Ray just before her tenth birthday. For five years he has held her captive, physically, sexually and mentally abusing her.

Once upon a time, I did not live in Shady Pines.

Once upon a time, my name was not Alice. Once upon a time, I did not know how lucky I was.

Alice is fifteen now. She has been Ray’s prisoner for so long she no longer even dreams of escape even though she is left alone all day while Ray goes to work. She has been taught from a young age that if she does run away, Ray will return to Alice’s home and kill her parents. Even though Alice can barely remember the girl she was before, she know that she has no choice but to protect her parents. She knows what happened to the Alice before her.

…I keep waiting for Ray to tire of me. I am no longer short with dimpled knees and frightened eyes…I am 15 and stretched out, no more than 100 pounds. I can never weigh more than that. It keeps my breasts tiny, my hips narrow, my thighs the size Ray likes.

Half starved (she seems to live on yogurt), Alice’s days consist cleaning and watching soap operas as she waits for Ray to get home. Although the abuse is not described in detail, enough is alluded that readers will be left feeling very uncomfortable.

The thing is, you can get used to anything. You think you can’t, you want to die, but you don’t. You won’t. You just are.

Living Dead Girl is almost relentlessly grim, but it’s the kind of book that you just can’t put down. I doubt I will forget Alice anytime soon.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black

Thank goodness for Holly Black – she’s put the bite back into vampire fiction.coldest  If you’ve been playing the home game, you’ll know that Stephenie Meyer pretty much took fangs and sex out of the vampire equation with her hugely popular Twilight series.  I didn’t hate the first book, but it went downhill fast afterwards. I loved The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. The prose sparkles, but the vampires don’t, so it’s win-win for lovers of vampire fiction.

Tana woke lying in a bathtub.

It doesn’t take very long for Tana and the reader to realize that something just isn’t right. Tana had been attending a sundown party and had locked herself in the bathroom to avoid her ex boyfriend, Aidan. Exiting the bathroom the morning after, Tana is aware of the quiet.

She’d been to plenty [of sundown parties], and the mornings were always full of shouting and showers, boiling coffee and trying to hack together breakfast from a couple of eggs and scraps of toast.

What Tana finds instead, as she moves through the house which smells of spilled beer and “something metallic and charnel-sweet,” are the bodies of her classmates “their bodies pale and cold, their eyes staring like rows of dolls in a shop window.”  And we’re only on page five, people!

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown takes the best parts of standard vampire mythology and ups the ante. The vampires in this book are rock stars, revered and coveted.  Black builds a mythology that is believable. Patient zero in Black’s world is Caspar Morales, a vampire who decided that he wouldn’t kill his victims, he’d infect them instead. Essentially, you’re bitten by a vampire, you’re infected, or Cold.

If one of the people who’d gone Cold drank human blood, the infection mutated. It killed the host and then raised them back up again, Colder than before. Cold through and through, forever and ever.

Pretty soon, the government has no choice but to barricade the infected people (and the wannabes) in places called Coldtowns. People who suspect that they are infected must,  by law, turn themselves in. And once you’re in a Coldtown, there’s no getting out.

As Tana comes to terms with the fact that her friends are dead, she discovers that Aidan is, in fact, not. He’s been bungee corded to a bed and chained beside him is a vampire boy, a boy who “must have been handsome when he was alive and was handsome still, although made monstrous by his pallor and her awareness of what he was.”

This is Gavriel. He is everything a vampire should be: dangerous, cunning, tortured and impossible to resist. (Okay, maybe I am just a little bit fixated on my personal notion of a vampire here, but Gavriel ticks all the vampire ticky boxes for me. )

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is so good. Tana is smart and resourceful and brave. The book builds a world that is believable and terrifying. It is a world that just is. The book isn’t scary, but it is definitely a page-turner. The descriptions of vampirism are bloody and sensual (without being over-the-top, so there’s nothing sexually graphic).

I raced to the end, concerned for all the characters and their fates.  Should there be a sequel?  Black had this to say on her website:

Coldest Girl in Coldtown was written as a stand-alone. That said, I know what happens next, and maybe someday you will too. Right now, as with Curse Workers, I’m happy with where I left everyone. I’m sure they’ll be fine. Right?

I’m good with that.

Highly recommended.

Off the Shelf – CBC Radio

So I did my second book column on CBC Radio this morning.

Listen to it here.

Here’s what I prepared for the talk about scary books.

Literary historian J. A. Cuddon defines the horror story as “a piece of fiction which creates an eerie and frightening atmosphere. Horror is usually supernatural, though it can be non-supernatural. Often the central menace of a work of horror fiction can be interpreted as a metaphor for the larger fears of a society.” One of the first horror novels was The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, 1764 – probably not going to get too many young people reading that one today.

R.L. Stine is probably the best known writer of horror novels for the middle grader. He’s the author of all the Goosebumps books and then went on to write Fear Street, a series of over 150 titles for older teens. To date he’s sold over 400 million books, so I guess the proof is in the gloopy pudding.

Teenagers love to be scared. No one knows that better than Stephen King, who’s made a career out of scaring us. King said: “horror stories allow us to safely vent our “uncivilized emotions…lifting a trap door in the civilized forebrain and throwing a basket of raw meat to the hungry alligators swimming around in that subterranean river beneath. In addition, for some young people, reading a scary story can be a rite of passage, a way of earning bragging rights: “That didn’t scare me!”

Heart-pounding, palms-sweating, doors locked, lights on – who doesn’t love a good scare? It’s like riding a rollercoaster, thrilling, scary, but ultimately safe. A really good book can creep you out way more than a movie – where the scary stuff is often in your face and you become desensitized. A good scary book can be way more unsettling.

So – in honour of Halloween, here’s a list of my favourite scary books.

I’m going to talk about some of the books in the genre geared for Young Adults – plus one.

First off – here’s a quick guide:

If you want to read a book about vampires – definitely check out Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Cold Town.

If you want to read a book about werewolves, check out NB writer Kathleen Peacock’s novel Hemlock.

If you want to read a book about zombies, I highly recommend Ilsa J Bick’s series, Ashes.

If you want to read a book about a ghost hunter, check out Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Now for a closer look at some of my recent scary reads.

Nevermore – Kelly Creagh

It sounds like your typical good girl, bad boy set up…but this book is awesome and super creepy. Isobel is a popular cheerleader who gets partnered up with Varen the goth kid (of course he’s a goth kid with a name like that!) to work on a project about Edgar Allan Poe. There’s your clue right there that things are going to take a seriously gothic turn and they do. I mean Poe’s the granddaddy of creepy and Creagh makes good use of his personal story. Fans of Poe will eat this book up, but even if you’re not a fan or know very much about him, you’ll get gooseflesh reading about the truly nightmarish world and Pinfeathers, the character who inhabits it. There’s a sequel, too, called Enshadowed.

Through the Woods – Emily Carroll

I just read this one last week. It’s a collection of short stories written by Canadian author and illustrator, Emily Carroll. I don’t know anything about art, but I can say that the art in this book is really striking, the colours are kind of menacing. Can you say that about a colour? Anyway – these are stories about dark places and strangers and people who are not whom they seem. The first story is about three girls who live with their father in the woods and one day he leaves them to go hunting and tells them, if I’m not back in three days, head to the neighbours. Of course he doesn’t come back, and then the narrator’s two sisters disappear and the ending will just give you goose bumps. You could certainly read the five stories contained in this volume in one sitting, but I think it’s the sort of book you’ll want to revisit again and again – especially at this time of year.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

Fifteen-year-old Jake Portman has a special relationship with his grandfather, who has always been a teller of tales. Thing is, his tales are pretty fantastic and concern children who could fly or make themselves invisible. When his grandfather is killed, Jake goes to Wales to visit the orphanage that his grandfather was sent to during the war and finds out the stories might actually be true. The book is full of pretty dang creepy pictures culled from private collections, but the story itself is magical with a side of monsters.

Plus one.

I had a student a couple of years ago who insisted he’d never been frightened by a book. I promised him that I could remedy that and gave him Stephen King’s novel, It. Okay, anyone around in the 1970s will remember the miniseries starring Richard Thomas aka John Boy Walton and that clown, Pennywise. “They all float down here.” Stephen King is the king (pun intended) of making everyday things scary. He’s also really excellent at tapping into childhood fears – something all great horror fiction does – and nobody captures adolescence quite like he does. I don’t love everything King has written, but I loved It and so did my student.

Read something scary for Halloween. With the lights on, of course!



Through the Woods – Emily Carroll

throughwoodsJust in time for Hallowe’en comes Canadian author Emily Carroll’s book, Through the Woods, a collection of chilling short stories. The stories would be quite enough on their own, but Carroll ups the ante with amazing art work. As far as graphic literature goes, Through the Woods goes to eleven. (Yes, yes I did just use a Spinal Tap reference.)

There are five stories in Carroll’s collection and each one of the stories feels vaguely old-fashioned. The monsters that live on these pages have been around for a very long time.

In the first story “Our Neighbor’s House,” Mary is left in charge of her two younger sisters, Beth and Hannah, while her father goes off to hunt. Their father tells them “I’ll be gone for three days…but if I’m not back by sunset on the third day, pack some food, dress up warm, and travel to our neighbor’s house.” When their father fails to return, things go from bad to worse in short order.

In the final story, “The Nesting Place, ” Bell, short for Mabel,  spends her school holidays with her older brother, Clarence, and his wife, Rebecca, at their isolated country house. Bell is a solitary child and she takes little interest in socializing with her brother. The only other person at the house is the housekeeper who warns Bell not to venture into the woods because she could easily become lost as Rebecca once had, “found three days later at the bottom of a cave…three days all alone in the dark drinking water out of a fetid pool to stay alive.” Rebecca, as Bell is soon to find out, has been deeply changed by that experience. And not in a good way.


The stories between the first and last are every bit as unsettling. Dreams and teeth and blood and beasts loom large in this collection.Carroll’s illustrations are saturated with primary colours: blood-red moons and sapphire blue rivers. I don’t know much about art, but Through the Woods is a beautiful book to look at – if slightly macabre.

See more of Carroll’s work at her website.