A reflection on my 2019 reading year…

Happy New Year!

For the past several years I’ve completed a little reading survey, a sort of look back at the reading year that was. I normally spend a few hours reflecting on my year, choosing most favourite and least favourite books and talking about other bookish things that happened to me, but I usually do that in advance of January 1st. This year I had to return my daughter to university and then I spent a couple days with my best friend and her family out of the city…so no time to get that post ready in advance. I do like to think about my reading year, though, so here are some random thoughts.

Goodreads provides a handy overview of your reading year at the end of their challenge. This is mine. I think I had a pretty good year. I read nine more books than I did in 2018, and I hope to up that number again this year by spending WAY less time on the Internet. My reading goal for 2020 is 70 books, but I would love to surpass that.

myabsolutedarlingOf the books I read in 2019, a couple really stand out.  Gabriel Tallent’s debut novel My Absolute Darling was a difficult book to read, but the protagonist, Turtle, has stayed with me. As I said in my review, this book will not be everyone’s cup of tea; however, if you can stomach the subject matter (sexual abuse, violence), it is so worth the read because of the incredible beauty of Tallent’s writing and the novel’s stunning main character.

I also really enjoyed Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House , Tara Westover’s Educated , Iain Reid’s Foe, Tim Johnston’s The Current, Joanna Briscoe’s You (not to be confused with the thriller by Caroline Kepnes),  and Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere

I read a lot of terrific YA this year. It’s relatively rare to read a total YA dud these days – and to be honest, if the book really sucks I just move on – but I read some stellar YA titles in 2019.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds –  a novel in verse about the aftermath of gun violence. A quick but powerful read that belongs on every school library bookshelf

A List of Cages by Robin Roe  – a tremendous novel about two boys who meet again at high school, and how that chance encounter and one boys innate kindness saves the other boy’s life. Literally.

A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck – I cried real tears when I read this book. It is YA perfection.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera – smart, thoughtful, heartbreaking and – not a spoiler – they do both die at the end. LOVED it.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – twisty, gothic, beautifully written… a page-turner with a beating heart

I read some mediocre books this year, too…and many of them were really popular books. These are books that were just okay for me – certainly not, imho, worth the hype.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane landed me in a little mini Twitter shitstorm. First time EVER I had an author and her minions come at me, even though I didn’t think (and still don’t think) my review of her book was all that critical. The book just didn’t do it for me.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides is a serviceable thriller and I had no trouble reading it, but I just didn’t think it was worthy of all the fuss. For me.

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer was one of  last year’s book club picks and it just didn’t float my boat because I didn’t really care too much for the main female characters, which is a problem in a book about women.

The Perfect Nanny  by Leila Slimani – was it the translation? I dunno. I just found this book about a nanny who kills the children she is charged to care for S-L-O-W

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – I felt as trapped as the novel’s main character, Count Rostov

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James – this was my book club pick last year and it just had too much going on

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel – captures the zeitgeist of gender identity and, overall, does it well, but I still had some issues and couldn’t give it a hearty thumbs up

Other bookish things that were exciting this year:

fitch1 - CopyI stumbled upon, purely by chance, Sherree Fitch’s magical bookstore, Mable Murple’sBook Shoppe and Dreamery in River John, Nova Scotia.

Fitch’s children’s books were on permanent rotation in my house when my kids were little, so it was pretty exciting to find the store and then find the author herself chatting to patrons.

I purchased my copy of A Velocity of Being here and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you love books, this is a MUST read.

I also had the opportunity to meet Lauren B. Davis, author of one of my favourite books, Our Daily Bread, when she read from her newest novel, The Grimoire of Kensington Market. Davis and I have interacted a little lauren davisbit on social media, and in fact back when my book club read Our Daily Bread, she graciously offered to answer any questions we had in real time via Twitter.

I intend to make going to author readings more of a regular habit in 2020, as I do love to see them in person. I am so sorry I missed my opportunity to hear Craig Davidson read from his book The Saturday Night Ghost Club, which I read in 2019 and really liked a lot.

One other thing I did in 2019 that I have never done before was to make a vlog. I had a crazy busy few weeks and let my read books pile up and knew I would never get around to writing reviews about them, so I thought, what the heck, I’ll talk about them instead. Not that easy, people. If you want to waste 20 minutes, you can watch that here.

Overall, it’s been a great reading year and I look forward to discovering new favourites in 2020. I hope you’ll visit often and stay a while.

 

 

CBC’s Harbour Lights City Market Show

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

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

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

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

A Velocity of Being – M. Popova & C. Bedrick

Marie Kondo says that your possessions should spark joy.  She also says that about 30 books is the magic number. She and I would not get along. At all. Books are talismans and touchstones and time machines. I wish that I still had every book I ever owned, but we moved a lot when I was growing up and I’ve moved a lot as an adult and it’s just not possible to save everything. Still, like Stephen King, I believe in the “portable magic”of books.

So do the people in Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s beautiful book A Velocity ofvelocity of being Being. They’ve gathered letters from a variety of well-known (and less well-known) artists, writers, thinkers, scientists, musicians and philosophers. These letters are addressed to young readers and each letter is accompanied by bookish art. It’s a win-win book for me.

Popova begins the book’s introduction this way

When asked in a famous questionnaire devised by the great French writer Marcel Proust about his idea of perfect happiness, David Bowie answered simple: “Reading.”

I couldn’t agree more. I have whiled away many wonderful hours with books. My love affair began early. Both my parents were readers and there were always books in my house. My mother read to my brothers and me from the time we were babies and I have very specific memories of her not being able to get through O. Henry’s story  “The Ransom of Red Chief” without breaking down in uncontrollable giggles. She loved Uncle Wiggly, too and Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse.

When I started reading on my own, I fell in love with the Bobbsey Twins and Trixie Beldon and Cherry Aames. I was really an equal opportunity reader. So reading A Velocity of Being is like being with my tribe. These are people who, like me, understand the particular joys of words words on a page. Their stories and recollections made me smile, laugh, tear up and nod my ahead in agreement.

For example, poet, essayist and naturalist Diane Ackerman writes “No matter where life takes you, you’re never alone with a book, which becomes a tutor, a wit, a mind-sharpener, a soulmate, a performer, a sage, a verbal bouquet for a loved one. Books are borrowed minds, and because they capture the soul of a people, they explore and celebrate all it means to be human. Long live their indelible magic.”

Rebecca Solnit, writer, historian and activist, reminds us that although “Nearly every book has the same architecture – cover, spine, pages – […] you open them onto worlds and gifts far beyond what paper and ink are, and on the inside they are every shape and power.”

And Helen Fagin, born in 1918, reminds us that “To read a book and surrender to a story is to keep our very humanity alive.”

All proceeds from the sale of A Velocity of Being will benefit the New York public library system. Really, everyone should have a copy. I can’t wait to share some of these letters with my students in the fall…and perhaps even have them write their own odes to reading.

 

He Said/She Said – Erin Kelly

It seems as though everyone is writing thrillers these days, but as someone who loves a hesaidgood page-turner, I know that they are not all created equal. This is the third book I’ve read by British writer Erin Kelly and although The Dark Rose is still my favourite,  and I have also read The Burning Air,  He Said/She Said is a terrific read.

Kit is an eclipse chaser. I know, it’s weird, but whatever. At an eclipse festival in Cornwall, his relatively new girlfriend, Laura, stumbles upon what looks like a sexual assault. The man, handsome and charming Jamie, denies it. The woman, Beth, insists that the crime has taken place. This chance meeting inserts Beth into their lives, binding the three of them together in a way that proves to be problematic for all parties.

The novel moves seamlessly between past and present. In the past, Kit and Laura are called as witnesses to the crime. In the future, they are married and appear to be in hiding. They’ve changed their names; they don’t have social media; they live quiet lives as they await the arrival of their twins.

Although Kit and Laura are clearly in love, it is also obvious that whatever happened in the past has taken a toll on their marriage and their day-to-day lives. Kit is about to head off to the Faroe Islands for another eclipse, and it is causing a great deal of anxiety because while “It seems unlikely that Beth will be on my ship [it is] not impossible that she will be somewhere on the Faroes.”

The reader, at least in the early part of the book, is left to wonder just why Kit and Laura are avoiding Beth. (More than avoiding really. Laura seems to be experiencing some serious PTSD and Kit has his own share of nerves.)  It’s only one of the reasons to turn the pages.

I think that what separates the wheat from the chaff in thrillers like this is character development and twists that you really can’t see coming. I thought I’d figured things out on more than one occasion, but I really hadn’t. When things really started to ramp up – and they did, by about the midway point – I just couldn’t stop reading. I was wholly invested in these characters, even though I wasn’t sure whom to trust. He said/ She Said for sure, and that’s one of the great things about this book, but there are other dynamics at play here. New relationships are tricky at the best of time, but what if at the root of things are secrets you just don’t know how to share?

If you haven’t yet discovered Erin Kelly, I can highly recommend her. Her novels are smart, well-written and definitely have a few surprises up their sleeves.

Book Love – Debbie Tung

bookloveI discovered Debbie Tung’s Book Love while looking for something else…and so, of course, I had to buy it. Tung is a writer-illustrator based out of Birmingham, England, and Book Love captures, in black and white, her love for all things bookish which includes books, book stores, libraries, cozy places to curl up and tea.

As any true book nerd knows, you can never have too many books. And there’s nothing worse than being delayed or stranded somewhere with nothing to read. We all appreciate an uninterrupted afternoon in a bookstore or library. We fall in love with fictional characters and settings, people and places that will stay with us for our entire lives. Tung knows these things, too, and she captures the magic of books in her simple drawings, which are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny or sweet, but 100% relatable for anyone who loves the portable magic of books.

booklove2

If you love books…and all things bookish…Book Love is a delight. You’ll certainly recognize yourself in its pages.

You can visit Tung at Where’s My Bubble. And check out her book Quiet Girl in a Noisy World (which is actually on the shelf in my classroom library, although I haven’t read it yet.)

You – Caroline Kepnes

EC4364B5-CF87-4ACD-9942-7867FDAC012AJoe Goldberg is crazy smart. Hmm, let me rephrase. Joe Goldberg is crazy. He works at a rare book store in New York City’s East Village and when Guinevere Beck aka Beck walks into the store one day, Joe is instantly smitten.

You didn’t walk in there for books, Beck. You didn’t have to say my name. You didn’t have to smile or listen or take me in. But you did.

Caroline Kepnes’ debut novel You has won copious praise and has also been turned into a series on Lifetime.  Is it deserving of all the accolades? Let’s break it down.

1. Joe isn’t your garden variety psycho. He’s well-read and funny and often times he’s more sympathetic than Beck is. After their chance meeting, Joe sets out to learn everything he can about Beck, an easy enough task since millennials put the minutiae of their daily lives online for everyone to see. It’s pretty easy for Joe to infiltrate Beck’s life.

What do we know about Joe? Not too much. He lives in a shitty apartment, doesn’t seem to have any friends and has clearly earned the trust (and the keys to the kingdom) of his employer, Mr. Mooney.

2. Beck is an MFA student who seems to enjoy (rough) sex and is pining for a guy called Benji when Joe first meets her. Truthfully, she’s not that interesting, but I guess that’s not really the point. She’s just a vessel for Joe to pour all of his psychopathy into. Whether any of the attraction Beck feels for Joe is real, or whether the appeal of Joe’s total devotion to winning her affections is just part of her own narcissism, it’s hard to say.

3. The plot actually moves along relatively slowly for a novel that is meant to be a thriller. That’s because it’s over-written…sometimes it seemed to take forever for anything to happen. Joe imagines all the times he is going to have sex with Beck before he actually has sex with her, and when they finally do the deed, it’s a horrible disappointment to them both. Talk about your performance anxiety. Other sub-plots bog down the main action of the story…the will he won’t he get the girl and from there, what’s going to happen?

That said, the writing is terrific. Kepnes does an amazing job of making Joe seem both believable, creepy and, on some level at least, likeable. He is patient and volatile in equal measure. Ultimately, it’s his obsession with all things Beck that is his undoing, and the end of his relationship with Beck, when it comes, unravels in record time.

And it’s over . You begin to yelp and spring at me and I don’t like you right now. You make me do terrible things like hold you down and clap my hand over your mouth. You make me twist your arms and bear down on you, and this is our bed.

Look, You doesn’t tread any new water, but that doesn’t mean that, of its type, it isn’t worth a look if you enjoy crazy stalkers.

My year in review, 2017

I am almost afraid to review my reading year because I really didn’t feel as though I had an especially good one. Usually I have no trouble getting upwards of 50 books in a year – an average of about one book per week. I know there are scads of people who read a lot more than that – like a hundred books and more. I am not sure how they accomplish that unless they read for a living. In any case, I didn’t get nearly as much reading done during the summer as I would have liked and I think I spent wayyyy too much time on my phone. My kids gave me an iPad for Christmas this year and I am going to have to be super careful not to fall into a technology hole. Truthfully, I’d rather be reading, but sometimes at the end of a long day at school it’s just easier to turn on the TV or troll through Facebook. But 2018 is a new year. (And  good riddance, 2017. You sucked.)

Every year for the past few years, I have participated in The Perpetual Reader’s year-end survey. It’s a fun way to take a look back at the reading year that was. Here’s my 2017 edition.

 

Number Of Books You Read: 46
Number of Re-Reads: 2
Genre You Read The Most From: YA

 

best-YA-books-2014

1. Best Book You Read In 2017?

hate

The Hate You Give – Angie Thomas

Everyone was talking about this book, and for good reason. I fell in love with the characters in this book and appreciated a glimpse into a world of which I know nothing.

Runner- Up (for book that was the most fun to read)

kindworth

The Kind Worth Killing – Peter Swanson

A total page-turner by a new-to-me author.

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

Behind Her Eyes – Sarah Pinborough

I know I am in the minority here, but I HATED the ending of this book with a fiery passion.

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

I started my 2017 reading year off with Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight, which I was sure was going to be a great beginning because I thoroughly enjoyed her book Reconstructing Amelia. Not so much for this one.

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

I didn’t really push any of the books I read this year other than The Hate U Give. I intend to encourage a lot of people to read that one in my YA Lit class next semester.

 5. Best series you started in 2017? Best Sequel of 2017? Best Series Ender of 2017?

Series. Blech.

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2017?

Peter Swanson. I will definitely be adding more of his books to my tbr shelf.

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

I don’t tend to read outside of my comfort zone. Is that bad? Occasionally I read some YA dystopian  or fantasy stuff…just so I can talk about those books with students…but I’m not really a fan. (Unless it’s Patrick Ness. I will always read him.)

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

Ohhh. The Kind Worth Killing was pretty thrilling. I also recently finished The American Girl by Kate Horsley and it was pretty un-put-down-able.

 9. Book You Read In 2017 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Nada.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2017?

thornhillIn its simplicity, Thornhill. It is a beautiful book all around.

11. Most memorable character of 2017?

No question: Starr Carter from The Hate U Give.

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2017?

Probably Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2017?

The Hate U Give. Do you see a theme emerging? I also really got a lot from Jen Waite’s memoir A Beautiful, Terrible Thing. It wasn’t life-changing because in some ways it merely reflected back to me a life I had already sort of lived; however, I did find it thought-provoking.

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2017 to finally read? 

20th century

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill. I read Heart-Shaped Box pretty much when it first came out and loved it. I bought 20th Century Ghosts not long after, but it has languished on my tbr shelf for ages…like years. Finally got around to it.

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2017?

Nothing stands out…and half of the books on my list are at school. So, I got nothing.

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2017?

Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You – Todd Hasak-Lowy (656 pages)

Nutshell – Ian MacEwan & This Gorgeous Game – Donna Freitas (tied with 208 pages)

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most

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

Sandra Brown’s Seeing Red shocked me with how BAD it was.

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

Can’t say I have one this year.

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

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

100% the Carter family in The Hate U Give.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2017 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Of the books I read in 2017, several were from previously read authors:

 

Of those titles, I probably enjoyed I Found You the most enjoyable.

21. Best Book You Read In 2017 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

I never feel pressure to read any recommendations – except for book club picks, I read what I want.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2017?

I got  nothing.

23. Best 2017 debut you read?

The Hate U Give.

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

Probably Salt to the Sea.

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

Geesh, looking over the books I read this year – most of them were pretty grim. Maybe that’s why I had such a hard time reading this year. Chopsticks was fun to read because it was a story mostly told with pictures.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2017?

Not even a lump in the throat this year.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

truth

The Truth Commission – Susan Juby

Quirky, funny and Canadian.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Nope.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2017?

askthedark

Ask the Dark – Henry Turner

The narrator’s voice was super unique and memorable. Creepy story, too.

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

Behind Her Eyes pissed me off. A lot. Even as I kept turning the pages.

book-blogging

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2017?

Didn’t spend too much time reading blogs this year. I keep saying that that’s something I am going to change. Yeah. I’m going to get on that.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2017?

billy_idol_dancing_with_myself_final_cover-1

I like the review I wrote for Billy Idol’s memoir Dancing With Myself.

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

I don’t think I posted anything that wasn’t a review this year.

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

Still really enjoy my occasional chats on CBC’s Information Morning. Here’s one I did in May 2017.

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2017?

Meeting Fantasy Chick from Litsy. I participated in a #secretsantagoespostal event and I got matched up with someone who lives about 15 minutes away from where my son attends university. Instead of mailing her gift, I was able to arrange to meet her and hand it over in person. That was cool.

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

I felt sort of lethargic this year – in all aspects of my life. I wonder if it was the political climate…or too much work…or I dunno. I am hoping 2018 will be better.

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

Other than a visit to my home page, my page “What is a ludic reader?” got the most love.

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

I don’t really keep this blog for the ‘love’ although it’s always nice when people interact with the posts.

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

I enjoy Litsy. I love Book Outlet just a teensy bit too much.

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

I always say I am going to read x amount of books…but I think I will give myself a pass this year. I’m just going to read.

looking-ahead-books-2015

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2017 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2018?

Too many to name but top of the list: John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. It’s been on my bedside table for six weeks.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2018 (non-debut)?

Don’t follow this stuff, really.

3. 2018 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

See above.

 4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2018?

Nothing. I have an aversion to series.

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2018?

I would like to try vlogging.