So it’s that wonderful time of the year again when my bookclub meets and votes on what books to read over the next 10 months. We all come with a plethora of suggestions, all of them so wonderful we often have to go for a second round of voting just to narrow it down to 10. Here they are:
The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah
Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guin
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio
Lamplighters by Emma Stonex
Little Eve by Catriona Ward
Joan by Katherine J Chen
Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
Ducks by Kate Beaton
Magpie by Elizabeth Day
For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I love novels set in museums, libraries and universities. Is “Dark Academia” a genre? A sub-genre? This novel is set in New York, more specifically, The Cloisters. Google it; it looks absolutely beautiful. Our protagonist Ann Stillwell is brilliant. She has mastered several languages (several of them dead) and is gifted at translating. These skills have taken her to New York, where she, by sheer coincidence (or is it?), gets a job researching and acquiring rare tarot cards. At first, Ann begins to notice strange events and behaviour happening around her, but when a dead body is found in the library, she realizes that the job she has so gratefully been offered isn’t everything that it seems. The novel had me invested enough that I quickly devoted an entire day to finishing it. The characters were interesting (especially Ann and her backstory). Still, it was the various settings that I found particularly intriguing, and I found myself wanting to visit New York to find rare book stores and antique shops. The Cloisters is Kay Hays’s debut novel, which is a good one. I will keep my eye out for more of her writing in the future!
Thank you to Netgalley and Simon and Shuster, and Atria Books for the free copy. You’ll be able to find The Cloisters on the shelf on November 1st.
What if Captain Hook wasn’t the worst villain in Peter Pan? What if Peter Pan was a spoiled adolescent who forces people into acting in roles that serve his play? What if Pan forced James Hook into reliving his death by drowning over and over again so that he could play his game of make-believe over and over and over again?
Hooked is a reimagined tale of Peter Pan. The Darling children are now adults living in a world where they now perceive their time in Neverland as a time that wasn’t always fun and carefree.
A string of murders have been committed in England, and James Hook, who has somehow escaped Neverland, feels Peter Pan is somehow responsible. After a chance encounter with Wendy, the two of them, with the help of Wendy’s daughter, take it upon themselves to try to stop “the Boy Who Would Never Grow Up” from doing any more harm.
This book was a great read. Dark and fast-paced it is more than a retelling of an old fairy tale but also a story of the repercussions of war and familial love.
Ever read a book that was so enthralling it was difficult to start another because nothing reads as good? This is the problem I’m having after reading Catriona Ward’s LittleEve. Dark, atmospheric and filled with the most fascinating of characters.
Ward weaves together a plot about psychological manipulation and survival. Evelyn or “little Eve”, is an adolescent girl who lives at Altnahara, a castle on an island a small distance from the coast of Scotland. Evelyn’s family is an unusual one. Two women and three other children. The head of the family is a man referred to as “uncle”, or at times, he is terrifyingly referred to as The Adder. When a man from the mainland arrives to deliver meat, he discovers the dead bodies of several inhabitants, each wrapped in white shrouds and missing an eye. All are dead except for 16-year-old Dinah, who accuses the missing Eve of the murders.
The author writes alternating chapters in the voices of both Dinah and Eve. Hence, we, the readers, get a telling of events and consequences that is satisfying at the end.
This is my first encounter with Catriona Ward’s writing, and I am so excited to have found a new favourite author.
Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Nightfire for the free copy.
Beatrice is a brilliant 16-year-old who has already been accepted into the university of her dreams; Oxford. The only problem is that Beatrice suffers extreme social anxiety, so much so she has been homeschooled for most of her life. Beatrice has never been to a party. She’s never had a friend; she has never even deviated from a specific weekly dinner menu. Needless to say, her parents aren’t thrilled with her acceptance, so they decide that Beatrice will have to prove to her parents that she is emotionally and mentally ready before they allow her to go. and boy do her parents have the perfect challenge for her, she will have to successfully a program, well actually a summer camp that is completely out of her comfort zone; camp where she will have to interact with others, speak in public, and share personal space…a Shakespearian Theatre camp! And while she is there, she’ll have to fulfil a list of accomplishments her parents create for her:
Make a friend.
Share a secret.
Walk up to someone and make small talk.
Accept an invite she doesn’t want to.
Do an outdoor activity.
Pull a prank.
Execute a dare.
Hug three people.
The dream of attending Oxford is enough to get Beatrice out the door and onto the bus that will take her to camp; however, she soon faces embarrassment and rejection when she tries to cross a task off her list and talk to a stranger who just happens to be the most popular girl at camp; the “Ice Queen”. I found this novel charming and a wonderful break from popular teenage angst-riddled dystopian literature. It is very well written with endearing characters (I absolutely LOVE Mia and Nolan!) It is a sweet, light-hearted novel that will be the perfect light summer reading fare.
Thank you Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the free copy
This was the perfect book to start off my summer. The novel starts with our narrator Alex, who is on their way to visit their dear friends Madeline and Rockrick Usher. Before they even arrive, Alex is mesmerized by the woods in which he travels. Although the lake and trees seem to possess a threatening and ominous air, the mushrooms and all things “fungal” seem to enthral Alex the most. The mushrooms “ grew out of the gaps in the stones of the tarn like a tumour growing from diseased skin [Alex] had the strong urge to step back from them and an even stronger urge to poke them with a stick.” Before they get the opportunity to do so, an older woman Eugenia Potter stops them. Eugenia is one of my favourite characters; eccentric and bold; she paints the various fungus she finds with the ambition of having her own name in the books recognized by the “Mycology Society”. Second, only to Eugenia Potter, Alex is in themselves a fascinating character. As “Sworn Soldier”, Alex carries the courage they possessed on the battlefield in t the horror that awaits at the Usher’s estate. Alex discovers that their friends Madeline and Roderick have wasted (rotted?) away both physically and mentally.
Can Alex determine the cause of this decline before they too succumb to the madness and death surrounding them? What moves the Dead, a gothic tale inspired by Edgar Alan Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher”, is well crafted with viscerally vivid detail even though it moves at a rapid pace. It is the perfect novel to add to your summer tbr pile.
Thank you NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor for the free copy.
Mad Woman is a psychological drama based on the intriguing life of feminist heroine Nellie Bly. Nellie, as you know, is the courageous newspaper woman who, in 1817, posed as a madwoman to expose the atrocities taking place in the “insane” asylum on Blackwell’s Island, New York. Treger begins her novel in Nellie’s childhood where Nellie, a precocious, brave young girl, wants to be a lawyer just like her father. Sadly, due to various tragic events in her life, Nellie soon becomes consumed by the plight of the poor, especially the plight of women in society. Nellie soon changes her ambition from law to journalism and eventually finds herself in New York. Desperate for work, Nellie forces her way into the offices of the World and finds herself talking to the managing editor John Cockerill and millionaire Joseph Pulitzer where she presents her ‘insane’ idea of a story. Without giving away any more plot, I can say that the portion of the novel that takes place at Blackwell’s is incredibly riveting. In fact, after I had read the novel, I fell down a rabbit hole of Googling more information on Bly just to discover more about her incredible life. Mad Woman is a novel that is a fast-paced, incredibly compelling story of a real-life heroine.
You will be able to read Mad Woman August 23,
Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for the free copy.
Megan Goldin is one of my new favourite mystery writers. My introduction to her was the novel Night Swim and I absolutely loved it. I was privileged enough to receive, through NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press, a copy of her newest novel Awake. Goldin does not disappoint.
This novel is in the vein of the movie Memento and the book Before I go to Sleep where sleep is the enemy.
Our protagonist Liv suffers a trauma so severe she cannot remember it. Every time she wakes up she suffers short term memory loss. When we first meet Liv (present day) she finds herself in a cab with no ID and in possession of a bloody knife. Liv doesn’t remember the last two years of her life let alone how she got into that cab. The only clues to help her are written on her hands and arms. “ Stay awake” and “trust no one” are two such ominous clues.
The story moves effortlessly between two time periods; present day and a time set two years in the past.
For most of the novel we live in media res with an unreliable narrator. Alternate chapters do give us some sense of logic because we meet Darcy Halliday, a homicide detective who is trying to take her place in a department where women are few and far between. Darcy is first on the scene of a murder where “stay awake” is written on the window of the crime scene with the victims blood. This phrase will obviously thrust the two women together to seek the truth.
Stay Awake forces the reader to literally stay awake themselves with its rapid plot and overpowering suspense until the end of the novel is reached.
Father Artt had a dream. A dream of an island far off the coast of Ireland where he and two other men will build a monastery. Artt recruits old Cormac and young Train to come with him. Each monk possess skills that will be important for the successful manifestation of Artt’s dream.
Using Skellig Michael as the setting for most of the story, Donoghue weaves a tale filled with external and internal conflict. On top of fighting the elements, tension also arises between the men. But what I found particularly interesting is the inner conflict each man experiences with a crisis of faith towards God and humanity.
This novel isn’t heavy on plot. Instead, it serves as more of a character study. Each of the three main characters are incredibly intriguing however, Donoghue only gives us glimmers of their backstories making Haven a fascinating read. (I especially love Cormac, I want to know more about his life before his holy vows).
Haven would make for a compelling novel study. Students could learn more about: Elements of allegory, characterization, beautiful detail, and a variety of themes (blind faith, disillusionment, adversity, resiliency, conformity, guilt, environmentalism, just to name a few).
This novel is both sophisticated yet accessible and rich enough to serve as a class novel study and/or a mentor text.
Haven will be published August 23. Thank you to NetGalley and Little Brown and Company for the advanced copy.
The Woman in the Library is a twisted tale of a murder that occurs in no better place than a library. Winifred Kincaid (Freddie), is a writer looking for inspiration in the wonderful setting of the Boston Library. There, she sits at a table in the Reading Room looking for inspiration. She finds said inspiration in the various individuals sitting at her table whom she dubs “Freud Girl” ‘Heroic Chin” and “Handsome Man”. Suddenly, all are startled when a bloodcurdling scream slices through the silence.
After a quick scan of the library by security and no source of the scream is found, library patrons are allowed to leave. Freddie and those and her table having quickly bonded over the startling experience,, leave the reading room and go for coffee.
That evening the evening news declares that that the scream belonged to a murdered woman whose body had been discoverd by the night cleaning crew.
Soon, through a series of weirdly coincidental events, Freddie begins to suspect it may be one of her new found friends.
Freddie’s storyline alone makes for an intriguing mystery, but the author also embeds another story. Each chapter ends with a letter to “Hannah” signed by “Leo”. In these letters, Leo critiques the plot of the chapter that precedes it. Leo’s correspondence is both helpful and condescending and soon becomes creepily familiar.
This novel is a well written, intriguing mystery with twists and turns that make it anything but predictable.
Thank you to Netgalley and Poisoned Pen Press for the advanced copy.
This book is a fascinating collection of stories about individuals who live with incredibly complex and unique neurological disorders. One account is of a young woman who sees colours whenever she hears music where the colours change as the style of music changes. A second is about a young man learning to live with Asymbolia, never experiencing physical pain but having to live with the repercussions of having broken every bone in his body. We also read about the Riddoch phenomenon, Ciguatera Toxicity, Synaesthesia, Aphantasia, and the terrifying Carles Bonnet syndrome. Leschziner makes the biology behind the various diagnosis very approachable for those of us who are in no way schooled in science.
The stories of each of his patients are written with empathy and compassion and truly humanizes each person’s experience. I love the way the author leads us to each story with an anecdote from his childhood or from medical school thus personalizing the material rather than presenting it as a textbook.
Admiringly, the author honours the idea that we are all intricately unique and that “essentially our brains work as guessing machines, interpreting what’s coming in through our senses in the context of our model of the world. What we perceive relates to our existing beliefs about the world…”
This is a fascinating book for everyone to read, not for the science behind neurology but also for the inspiring strength portrayed in each of the patients whose stories fill the pages.
Thank you to Netgalley for the free ARC. This book will be published on February 22, 2022.
I’m finding it difficult to put into words how much I loved this novel. I don’t often gravitate to novels written in verse but honestly, the cover of this one was breathtaking so I had to take a look inside. For the entirety of my reading, I had to sit still for fear of breaking the magic in which I found myself, magic that kept me transfixed upon the spiritually intimate relationship between Moth and Sani.
It’s been two years since Moth lost her family in a car crash. Although she lives with her aunt, she feels guilty to have survived and has felt displaced and lonely ever since. Moth drifts through school friendless and alone until she meets Sani, a beautiful young man who draws, sings, and plays music. But there is something amiss with Sani, he is loving and creative one minute, and then withdrawn and isolating the next. Moth suspects it has something to do with the medication he sporadically takes.
Moth and Sani form a bond that grows beyond friendship. He too feels displaced living with his mother and abusive stepfather and soon decides to travel to Window Rock on the Navajo Nation to be with his father. Moth, having fallen in love with Sani, goes with him. On this journey, they both discover truths about themselves truths that are both disturbing yet freeing.
After reading Me(Moth) I can say it’s one of the best YA books I have ever read. I found myself consistently writing down beautiful lyrical lines such as “ why do I feel like the dust of your name is buried in my bones (71) and “ I don’t know how to be whole anymore/whatever you need you can borrow from me. ( 134.) Aren’t they beautiful?!
I read it quickly the first time quickly because I needed to see a resolution of a multitude of thematic strings that had started to weave together, and then I needed to read again so I could pause and savour McBride’s beautiful use of language and imagery.
If I were still teaching High school I would use this novel or portions of this novel in a literature study. Foreshadowing, imagery, voice, atmosphere, figurative language are just a few curricular links you can make using this text as support; a text that most young adults would find enchanting.
When I read I often read from the point of view of a teacher. I envision how can I use an engaging book or portions of this book in class to teach figurative language, literary devices, or Author Style. If I was still in the classroom, Me(Moth) would be a mainstay for instruction on author style. More importantly, it is SUCH an engaging read it will definitely inspire a love of reading novels, especially novels in verse.
The novel deals with themes of identity, grief, mental illness, physical abuse, loneliness, culture, the importance of ancestors.
An interesting addition is Moth and Sani’s playlist. The lyrics of a few songs are scattered throughout a section of the text where Moth and Sani go on a road trip. McBride kindly includes this playlist at the back of the novel so if we so choose, we can listen to the same songs as the characters while the story is unfolding before us.
Amber McBride offers her book as “a gift, an iron/to smooth the wrinkles of [our] spirit”
“His shirt was freshly laundered, a sharp crease ran down the sleeve, and Mungo took that as a sign that some woman cared for him, that he was worth something to someone.” (Douglas Stuart).
This novel sucks you in, rips your heart out, and leaves you sobbing on the floor. Seriously. I haven’t been this emotionally impacted by a novel since A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara…and it took me a summer of reading fluffy books to heal my heart.
Young Mungo is about Mungo, the youngest child of three raised (if you can call it that) by a single mother whose presence is sporadic and, more often than not, fueled by alcohol. Mungo’s life consists of: spending time with his older sister Jodie who serves as a surrogate mother when she is not working, alone, or reluctantly vandalizing, stealing, and fighting in his brother Hamish’s gang.
Mungo is a gentle soul who seeks out friendship and affection from whomever he can. Sadly he is often abused and taken advantage of because of this. Besides the love of his sister and the mother-like attention he gets from his next-door neighbour, Mungo finds friendship and love in his neighbour James. The fact that James is both male and Catholic makes their affection for each other dangerous.
With this second book, Douglas Stuart has become one of my favourite authors. His gift at storytelling is vivid and visceral. The reader quickly becomes immersed in the life of Mungo Hamilton, and at times we are left breathless with emotion.
Young Mungo will be published April 5 2022
Trigger warning: physical, emotional, and sexual assault.
Thank you to Netgalley for my copy.
You’ll find my review of Stuart’s first novel Shuggie Bainhere