Tag Archive | books

Reflections on a year in reading, 2015 edition

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

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

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

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

Number of Re-Reads: 2

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

Non Fiction: 2

Fiction: 23

best-YA-books-2014

1.Best Book You Read In 2015?

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

Best Other: Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

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

hausfrauHausfrau – Jill Alexander Essbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Most memorable character of 2015?

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

12.Most beautifully written book read in 2015?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2015?

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was the longest at 784 pages

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

17. Book That Shocked You The Most

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

Hmmm…maybe Kept in the Dark. 

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

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

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

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

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

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

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

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2015?

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

 

book-blogging

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2015?

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

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2015?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

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

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

Word Porn on FB.

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

Nope. Six books shy of my goal.

looking-ahead-books-2015

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

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

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

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

3. 2016 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

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

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

I got nothing. Series drive me crazy.

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

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

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

Nada.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s talk about books – on CBC radio!

I had an opportunity to share my thoughts about young adult fiction on CBC radio’s show, Information Morning. I hope it will be a regular gig because it was SO MUCH FUN. I had a whole big thing prepared – but eight minutes goes so fast and I didn’t have a chance to say everything that I wanted to say. You can listen to the segment here.

For the hell of it, I’ll include my prepared notes below:

**

Want to make an English teacher cringe? Talk about the declining number of teens who read for pleasure.

Sadly the number of young people who read for pleasure has been on the decline and as far as I can tell it’s because they’re reading Tumblr and Facebook and texts – or not reading anything at all. I also think that in school we often expect them to read things they just aren’t interested in. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I do have anecdotal evidence about the lack of interest in books. I sometimes feel like I am on a mission to connect students to books they’ll love. I’m not alone – lots of Language Arts teachers are trying to turn kids on to the love of reading.

The National Reading campaign identifies several benefits of reading including the fact that it is essential to the well-being of society and to our functioning as a democracy; it empowers critical thinking skills, lays the foundation of future learning; it increases individuals’ health and well-being. And those are all awesome reasons to read – but I tell my students that I read to know that I am not alone, to understand what it means to be human, to learn how to be more empathetic. Most importantly I read for pleasure (which is also on the list, by the way).

I’ve been a life-long reader. I’m going to date myself here, but I’m old enough to talk about The Bobbsey Twins…I value reading, partly because my parents valued it. My kids are readers because I am. They’ve been surrounded by books their entire lives. My home is filled with books and so is my classroom and I think one of the most important things I can do as a teacher is to connect students to books because I really believe that all it takes is one good reading experience to reignite that fire that has gone out in so many kids. That sounds totally evangelical, I know.

Okay – so I am going to get off my soapbox.

One of the best parts of my job is talking about books with my students. I LOVE it. I love pulling a book off the shelf and physically putting it in someone’s hand and saying “Read this.” I’ve got about 1000 books in my classroom, so it’s a very immediate thing. I read A LOT of (though not exclusively) YA/teen fic and there’s some great stuff out there…but there’s also some junk…it’s like comparing Stephanie Meyer to Joss Whedon (pop culture reference my students will get!) A quick survey always shows that most kids read when they were younger…and then it starts to drop off as they get older. I just have to remind them of why they used to love it. And I have to find them the right book.

What makes a great teen book? The same thing that makes a good adult novel. (And, by the way, I don’t subscribe to the notion that adults shouldn’t read YA fiction. There are some amazing YA writers that adults should check out and I’m going to talk about just three.)

Character – that’s true for any book, of course, but I think young readers want to see themselves reflected back to them; they want characters to care about and root for

Plot – not overly convoluted – although subplots are great, keep turning those pages; worlds they recognize and worlds they do not

Writing – obviously, although this is subjective…which is why some people love Twilight and others do not. To each his or her own.

A conversation with the student is always the way I start – what’s the last book you read? (Often times they haven’t read anything, but I have built in reading time in my class and so I insist they get back on the reading saddle.) What are you interested in? Are you a confident reader?

So today I thought I’d just talk about three books that invariably come back to me with a student stamp of approval. These aren’t necessarily new releases, but over the past few years they’ve been books that have been borrowed a lot so they’re definitely keepers.

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak, 2005

He’s an Australian writer and this book was originally intended – I believe – for adult audiences. It’s mostly touted as YA here – and I think teens would enjoy it, although they may find it a little slow to start. So it’s the story of Liesel Meminger.  Liesel is almost ten when she ends up in Molching with Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her new foster parents. It is 1939. In Nazi Germany. Death is personified and he’s the book’s narrator. Sometimes events are reported without comment – you forget Death’s there – other times Death weighs in on events. It might take some readers a bit to get used to. John Green – and voracious teen readers will know exactly who this guy is, called The Book Thief “brilliant and hugely ambitious.” Liesel is just a beautiful character; it is impossible not to fall in love with her. She literally steals books, the first one: The Grave Digger’s Handbook is stolen at her brother’s funeral. She doesn’t even know how to read. The Book Thief is about hope and sacrifice and love and family – all big ticket items. It’s also about the power of words and so of course I love it.

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness, 2009 (part of the Chaos Walking trilogy, which also includes The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men); American writer who lives in Britain; also author of A Monster Calls and More Than This, both of which I highly recommend

It’s about a kid named Todd who is just about to turn 13 and when he does he’ll be a man. He lives in this place called Prentisstown, which strangely sounds like some town ripped out of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western…but it’s remarkable for a couple other reasons: there are no women and everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts. It’s dystopian. Then one day, Todd’s out with his dog Manchee (he can hear the dog’s thoughts, too – which is often pretty comical) and he suddenly hears…nothing. When he reveals that to the men who have been looking after him they tell him to run…and keep on running and, literally, all hell breaks loose. The second and third books are every bit as fantastic as the first and, in fact, I had a grade ten student burn through all three in about a week…and the fact that he loved them and talked about them encouraged a couple more kids to start and one girl to actually go out and purchase the first book. Yay!

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green- sold 6,000,000 worldwide – movie came out a few months ago

There’s probably not a teen out there who hasn’t read this book, but I am going to talk about it because I think all the moms and dads should read it, too. Kelley Armstrong was recently at Harbour View to talk to students. In case you don’t know who she is, she’s a Canadian writer of both adult and teen fiction – a best-selling writer. She was talking about trying to sell her first book, Bitten, which is about werewolves…and it was just sort of by way of explaining how publishing changes. She said that what publishers are looking for now is the next John Green. I love the guy. He’s super smart and super nerdy and The Fault in Our Stars is just one of those books that – yes, it’s a “disease of the month” book, but it not. Hazel Grace is seventeen and she has lung cancer which is being controlled by some drug (not real). She’s addicted to America’s Next Top Model – which tells you the state of her life. Her parents insist that she attend a cancer support group and so she does, reluctantly, and that’s where she meets Augustus. This book is driven by the magic that is Hazel and Augustus and it will make you laugh and cry and curl up in a ball sobbing hysterically at 3 a.m. Possibly all at once. My favourite book in 2012. Not just my favourite teen book…my favourite book.

The Long Walk Home – Will North

long walk

Okay, The Long Walk Home is a book that I thought would be right up my alley. You know – because I am a single woman of a certain age who still kinda hopes that  the possibility of romance still exists out there, although perhaps a little closer than a mountain in Wales.

Handsome Alec Hudson has walked all the way from Heathrow to Dolgellau, which is located in North West Wales. Why didn’t he just rent a car and drive? Well, he’s on a bit of a mission. His ex-wife (and dearest friend) Gwynne has died and her final wish was that her ashes be scattered from the summit of Cadair Idis, a nearby mountain. He arrives at Tan y Gadair, a B & B run by Fiona, a petite, forty-three-year-old who “still had her looks.” Yes, people, we are going there.

Fiona is married, but her husband David lives in a converted hay barn on the property because several years previously  he’d been poisoned by the sheep dip ( a pesticide used to cure scab mite) and then suffered a heart attack. He never really recovered and his environmental sensitivities and mood swings, coupled with his penchant for whiskey make him difficult to live with. Fiona brings his food, but they no longer live as man and wife. And really, although David was a decent a guy back in the day, theirs was not a fairy tale marriage. That’s what makes Alec so immediately appealing: he’s good looking, he knows his way around the kitchen and he’s a great conversationalist. He’s the perfect man.

No surprise here – they fall in love.  It seems like I am mocking them, but I’m not really. They’re decent people. Alec pitches in around the old B & B, which is also a working sheep farm. By day two, he’s helping Owen, the farm’s hired hand, deliver lambs. By day three Fiona is crying in his arms after a particularly nasty visit with her husband. By day four Alec is confessing: “I am afraid I am very much in love with you…and I don’t know what to do about it.”

I can’t quite figure out why I didn’t like this book all that much. There are no bad guys. Everyone is witty and  kind and  good. They all make selfless decisions.  The only asshat in the book is Fiona’s daughter Meaghan’s boyfriend , Gerald, who is summarily turfed by Owen. And, yes, okay, technically Fiona shouldn’t be having sex with another man – but she hasn’t slept with her husband in years. When that big event transpires it was so treacly, my teeth ached.

So, at the end of the day…I didn’t send The Long Walk Home to the Book Graveyard and while that’s not a ringing endorsement by any stretch,  it at least lets you know that I read the whole thing. If you are interested in lambing, climbing, cooking, and listening to a middle aged woman say things like,”Yes, darling man, please,” then by all means, read Will North’s book.

A picture of Cadair Idis.

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The World More Full of Weeping – Robert J. Wiersema

worldCanadian writer Robert J. Wiersema packs a punch with his novella, The World More Full of Weeping. On the day before going to spend a week with his mother in the city, eleven-year-old Brian disappears in the woods behind his father’s house. Wiersema manages to capture both the frantic search, and Brian’s journey in the forest in 77 short pages.

Part of the novella’s success can be attributed to Wiersema’s split narrative. Beginning in present day, Brian shares breakfast with his father who explains to him that his mother will be picking him up at four. Brian clearly doesn’t want to go, but lacks the ability, it seems, to articulate his feelings. Instead, he tells his father, Jeff, that “Carly said you wouldn’t understand.”

Carly’s true identity is just one of the mysteries of The World More Full of Weeping. Who is  Carly? At first she just seems like a girl Brian meets in the woods. But after Brian goes missing  and Jeff calls over to his neighbour John’s to see if he’s seen him, the mention of her name causes John to encourage Jeff to call “Chuck Minette at the Search and Recuse…call him right now.”

Many years ago, Jeff also went missing in the woods only to turn up the next day. When men from the community come to help look for Brian, it’s clear everyone thinks his disappearance might be a case of “like father, like son,” with the same happy outcome.

While the search for Brian continues, we see him in the woods with Carly, who is always in the same thin dress despite the uncertain March weather, her cheeks “pink and rosy.” Carly knows secret places in the woods, places Brian has not ever seen.  She asks him if he wants to “see more hidden things” and promises she can show him “a whole hidden world in the forest.”

There are no concrete answers in The World More Full of Weeping. The only certainty is that when given the opportunity Jeff and Brian made different choices. Perhaps some readers will take comfort in Brian’s decision, but for me I can’t quite get the picture of Jeff on his knees, crying for what is lost,  out of my head.

A magical and profoundly moving story.