Stacking the Shelves (#33)

I was shocked to realize that another month had gone by! I think I spent half of the month still thinking that it was June, only to realize that it was nearly August. I didn’t feel like I had added very many books to my TBR, and a handful of them were upcoming releases by authors that I tried for the first time, that don’t even have a title or a cover yet. In total, I added 56 books to my Goodreads TBR in July, which was a lot more than I expected. The majority of the books that I added were thrillers that came up on my Goodreads feed, adding to my ever-expanding list of thrillers that I mean to try but haven’t picked up. To be honest, I don’t even remember finding the majority of these books and was a bit surprised to realize that I’d added so many to my list, even though it is far from the highest number I’ve ever added in a single month.

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme all about the books we are adding to our shelves each week. It is hosted by TyngaReviewsand ReadingReality.

1) House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

51007140. sy475 I added this one to my TBR because I recognized the author’s name as someone I’ve been meaning to try. Krystal Sutherland has previously written two YA contemporary books, both of which have been on my TBR for way too long. This one is described as a modern, dark fairytale, and it focuses on Iris Hollow and her two older sisters, Grey and Vivi, who disappeared for a month, only to return with no memory of what happened to them. Since their return, strange things seem to follow them, and they have been slowly changing physically. Ten years later, Iris is doing all she can to fit in during her senior year of high school, but when one of her sisters goes missing again, Iris and Vivi are left with only a bizarre trail of clues to find out what happened to her. In the course of their search, they realize that the story they’d been told about what happened to them may not have been the whole story, and the world that they visited then might be calling them to come back now. This book sounds really creepy, but also so fascinating! I love any kind of dark fairy tale-inspired story so this sounds like something I’d really enjoy.

2) Sorry I Missed You by Suzy Krause

51962319. sx318 sy475 I have no idea where I originally saw this one, but I would guess it was on a list of new and upcoming 2020 releases since it just came out at the beginning of June. This book is about three strangers, Mackenzie, Sunna, and Maude who move into a converted rental house together. The only thing they have in common is that each of them has an important person in their lives who have “ghosted” them. When a strange letter appears in their mailbox hinting at an explanation, each of the women assumes it is for them, and they decide to stake out the coffee shop mentioned in the letter to find out who it was from. The more the women learn about each other, the more questions they begin to have. At the same time, creepy things start happening around their house, which suggests that they may have a ghost for real. I have no memory of finding this book at all, but it seems like it will be such an interesting one!

3) Wench by Maxine Kaplan

42732645. sy475 This one immediately caught my attention because of the title. There have been a few books lately that have to do with this kind of Medieval or Medieval-themed setting, but this one seems a bit different since it is actually a fantasy setting. It is about a girl named Tanya who has worked at the tavern since she was young, but she is at risk of losing it all when her guardian dies. Tanya sets out on a quest to petition the queen to help her keep the tavern, facing a variety of obstacles in the process. I think I initially thought this was more along the lines of Well Met or The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly, although I haven’t read either of those yet. This book is not out until next January, so there is not too much detail about it yet, but the early reviews seem quite mixed. I’m definitely curious to find out more about it closer to the release date, and I’m especially interested in seeing more reviews. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy book that has been based on this kind of premise, and it sounds so intriguing.

4) The Guest by Cathryn Grant

53331126This is one of the many thrillers that I added to my TBR, and I think I discovered it because it came up on my Goodreads feed. This one is about a woman named Ellie, who owns a successful art gallery, and is happily married to Seth, with whom she has two children, Brandon and Simone. Ellie starts to notice that Seth seems distracted and distant lately, and it doesn’t help when he invites a mysterious stranger named Ace to stay with them. Ellie soon finds herself attracted to Ace, while also suspecting he has some kind of strange agenda. When a student at her son’s school is murdered, Ellie is devastated to learn that the police think Brandon may have been involved, and decides to search for the truth and clear her son’s name. I tend to love thrillers that have this kind of storyline, involving a parent trying to come to terms with the idea that their child may have done something horrible. Some of my favourite thrillers (Defending Jacob, for example) have followed this premise, and I’m curious to see how this one will play out. This one is a little on the shorter side, at only 270 pages, so I’m a little worried that it will not be enough time for the plot to really develop.

5) The Dream Job by Kiersten Modglin

53069226. sy475 I’ve been really interested in reading books that deal with office politics, and I think it is such a fascinating backdrop for a thriller. It is about a woman named Autumn, who has changed her name to Lark to distance herself from her former life. Desperate for a job, she interviews at a mysterious company and jumps at the chance to work for them when she is offered an excellent salary. Lark soon learns that this company has a bizarre hiring process, where she must be locked in a luxury cabin with five strangers, known only by codenames, and led by a cryptic figure called Mr. X. Lark has to compete with the others for the job through a series of challenges, and none of them are allowed to keep their phones. When Lark sees something that she shouldn’t, she begins to ask questions that may put her in grave danger, if she decides to continue pursuing the truth. I have a few thrillers by this author on my TBR already, but I have not tried any of them yet. This one sounds particularly intriguing because I tend to love this kind of locked-door setting for a mystery/thriller. I guess this isn’t quite the “office politics” story that I originally thought, but it sounds just as interesting.

6) 4 Riverside Close by Diana Wilkinson

52763308This one, predictably, caught my attention because of the creepy-looking houses on the cover. I still don’t know why these covers always draw me in! The Goodreads synopsis was pretty vague, so I ended up garnering a bit more information from some of the reviewers instead. The book focuses on the residents of a North London neighbourhood who have signed up to be part of a social network called Join Me, which is run by a couple named Caroline and Jason. The aim of the network is to match people of the opposite sex and offer opportunities for them to meet in-person and visit tourist attractions around London together. When Jason’s body is discovered in a house, everyone in the neighbourhood becomes a suspect, as does his wife. It is a bit of a difficult one to describe because I found the descriptions a bit confusing, but I’m very interested in trying it because I love thrillers that focus on social media. I’m hoping this will make more sense when I actually pick it up, but I’m sure it will!

7) A Million Reasons Why by Jessica Strawser

53137899I may need to add Jessica Strawser to my list of priority authors to try next year, since I have all of her books on my TBR already! This one is her upcoming 2021 release, due out in March, so it may be a little early to add this one, but I wanted to keep it in mind. This book is about a woman named Caroline who is living a happy life with her husband and children, but soon finds it turned upside down when she is contacted by Sela, who claims to be her half-sister who found her due to a DNA test for an ancestry site. Sela needs a kidney transplant and, with the rest of her life crumbling, she worries about what will happen to her young son if she cannot find a donor in time. If Caroline really is her blood relative, she might be her best option to find a match, but it is also a big thing to ask someone she has never met, and Sela is hesitant to even bring it up. As her health begins to deteriorate, she is left with little choice, but at the same time, Caroline begins to uncover hidden secrets about her parents and her newfound sister. This is the first of Jessica Strawser’s books that is not tagged as a thriller, but it brings up the same kind of ethical dilemma kind of plotline that I love in Jodi Picoult’s books, so I’m very intrigued to try it.

8) The Long Shadow by Anne Buist

52730936. sy475 This is another one that drew me in because of the cover art, and especially once I saw that the main character was a psychologist. It is about a woman named Isabel who has come to a town called Riley because her husband is assessing the hospital, which might close down. Isabel, a mother to a toddler herself, is running a mother-baby therapy group, but on her first day, she finds an anonymous note from one of the mothers warning her that “the baby killer” will soon strike again. A child had been murdered in this town once before, and Isabel wonders whether the note is a serious threat or if it is an attempt to scare her husband off of closing down the hospital. As Isabel begins to learn more about the women in her group, she starts to believe that the murder that took place in the past might be the key to preventing any further harm. This sounds like such an intriguing premise, and I love the group therapy setting! As someone who studied psychology myself, I love seeing characters who are in that field. It’s not a thriller that I’d heard much about, possibly because it is from Australia, but it sounds very good. Also, another fun fact that I just discovered is that the author is married to Graeme Simsion, who wrote The Rosie Project!

9) The Mothers by Sarah J. Naughton

48691787. sy475 I added this one to my TBR because it has been compared to Big Little Lies, which I loved, and several other thrillers that are pretty high on my list. It’s another case where the Goodreads synopsis was so vague, so I had to dig a bit to find out more. It is about a group of women who met at a group for expecting mothers, and their friendship endures. When Bella’s husband Ewan goes missing, the police begin to ask questions, and soon realize that the stories they are getting from Bella and from her friends don’t quite add up. The story is told in dual timeline, focusing on the present-day investigations of Ewan’s disappearance, and flashbacks to the past where we find out more about Bella and the other women. I found it a little frustrating that I couldn’t get a clearer idea of what the book was really about. I didn’t want to delve too far into the reviews because I’ve had a lot of bad luck lately with accidentally spoiling myself for books by doing that, and it’s especially irritating when it is a thriller. Given the comparisons to Big Little Lies, I’m expecting to really enjoy this one too.

10) The Code for Love and Heartbreak by Jillian Cantor

48713839Aside from thrillers, I also added a handful of YA and contemporary romances to my TBR. I can’t remember exactly where I saw this one either, but it looks so cute! This book is about a math genius named Emma, who is tasked with creating a matchmaking app with George, her Coding Club co-president. Emma aims to use algorithms to calculate people’s compatibility, but George hates the idea of meddling in other people’s lives. At first, the app seems to be a huge success but when the couples who are supposed to be perfectly matched start breaking up, Emma is at a loss and can’t figure out why her math has failed, especially when her own feelings defy any calculations. This book has been pitched as a modernized version of Jane Austen’s Emma, which I haven’t read, but I feel like I’m going to have to pick up sometime soon. I keep seeing so many books compared to Emma, and it would probably help to have some familiarity with the original, although it doesn’t seem necessary. This book reminds me a bit of The Rosie Project in terms of its concept, which is one of my favourite books, and I’m looking forward to giving this one a try.

11) Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle

54660653I added this one to my TBR immediately upon seeing it, even though I haven’t read Sarah Hogle’s debut yet! I keep hearing great things about it though, but I’m pretty confident I’m going to like it. This book is due out next April, and it is about a woman named Maybell, who inherits an old manor from her eccentric Great Aunt Violet, and decides that it is the perfect chance to get a fresh start. When she arrives at her new home, she is surprised to see that the building is falling apart, and the groundskeeper Wesley seems to want nothing to do with her. Great Aunt Violet has also left Maybell with a list of tasks that she must complete within six months if she wants to keep control of the estate, and she needs Wesley’s help to accomplish them all. The more she gets to know Wesley, the more Maybell begins to realize that his avoidance may be the result of anxiety even worse than her own panic attacks, and she starts to think they have more in common than they realized. I’m not the most interested in “bucket list” kind of plots, but this one just sounds too good to pass up! I may need to add both of Sarah Hogle’s books to my TBR for next year.

12) Thoughts & Prayers by Bryan Bliss

50212105I only discovered this one within the past couple of days, and the title immediately caught my attention. This one is about Claire, Eleanor and Brezzen (or possibly Brendan? The synopsis says Brezzen, but the reviews all say Brendan), who have little in common except for the fact that they all hid together during a school shooting that took the lives of several classmates. Each of them copes with the trauma as best as they can as the world keeps moving on around them. I was especially intrigued by this one because the synopsis referred to it as a “the story of what happens after the reporters leave and the news cycle moves on to the next tragedy.” That sounds like such an intriguing perspective, and one that I really have not seen before. I have read a few books that deal with school shootings, usually from the perspective of a survivor in the immediate aftermath, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a story that follows the long-term impact. It sounds like such an interesting and unique book, and I’m very interested in trying it.

Top 5 Wednesdays: Air & Rail Transportation

Normally at this time of year, I’d be just coming back from a vacation but that is obviously not happening in 2020. At work, the first two weeks of July are usually devoted to staff training and planning for the next program year, before the participants come back for a summer camp-type program. Ironically, I tend to find those staff-only weeks more stressful than actually working with our participants so I like to take my vacation time just after that period. Plus, we usually have very few participants toward the beginning of the summer since many of them go to overnight camps, so it makes a convenient time to get away. Most of the time, I take the train to other cities but occasionally I’ll fly somewhere further away. I have a ton of anxiety about flying, especially after the year that several planes malfunctioned and went down not too long ago. I found it interesting to see this week’s prompt had to do with books involving air and rail transport, since it seemed a bit random at first, but I think it actually is good fit for the “summer vacation” period.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

853510. sy475 This iconic book was the first thing that immediately jumped to mind when I thought of books that involved trains or planes. I read this one back in 2017, and it was the second Agatha Christie book that I had ever read, after absolutely loving And Then There Were None. That one is still my favourite, but I really enjoyed this one too. This book features Detective Hercule Poirot, who is investigating the case of a passenger on the Orient Express train who was murdered while the train got stuck during a snowstorm. It’s been so long since I read this one that I really don’t remember much detail about it by now, but I remember thinking that it had an interesting cast of characters, and I had no idea what the final twist would be! I thought the investigations and interviews with the suspects were very well-done, and left me just as confused as the investigators about what had happened. I love these kind of locked-door mysteries where everything takes place in one confined setting, and this was such an interesting one.

2) This Train is Being Held by Ismee Amiel Williams

41074675I have not read this one yet, but I’m hoping to pick it up before the end of the year! This book is about a private school student named Isabelle who meets Alex on the train downtown. Over the course of several encounters over the next three years, the two of them get to know each other, including the issues each of them are having with their parents. Isabelle and Alex are from different economic classes, and different cultural backgrounds, and from what I have heard about it, the book tackles a variety of topics including mental illness, racism/prejudice, privilege and more. I’m intrigued to pick this one up because it seems like such a slow-burn romance, which is quite rare in YA, and I’m very intrigued to see a YA romance that stretches over such a long period. I actually had this book on my list to read last year for my reading challenge, only to learn that it had been pushed back to February 2020. I’m hoping to be able to get a copy soon so I can finally read it.

3) The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

31113934. sy475 I first heard of this book a few years ago when it came up as a recommendation in my local newspaper’s book section. It is about a woman named Juliette who is obsessed with her ex-boyfriend Nate, and is hoping to win him back. Juliette decides to become a flight attendant for his airline so she can keep watch over him, and ensure that no one else gets in her way. I’m pretty sure that I initially thought that this book primarily took place on the plane, but I’m not actually sure if that’s the case. Given that Nate is a pilot and Juliette becomes a flight attendant, I would assume that at least some of the book revolves around planes or the airport at least. I’ve also seen comparisons of this one to You by Caroline Kepnes, which I really enjoyed. As creepy as You was, I can only imagine how much worse it would be if they characters were stuck together on a flight, if that’s how the story plays out. This is another book that I’ve been meaning to try for way too long, and I’ll have to make sure to actually pick it up at some point.

4) The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

22557272It took me an embarrassingly long time to think of this book, even though it is such a clear fit for this week’s theme. I know there has been a lot of mixed reviews for this one, but I absolutely loved it! It is about a woman named Rachel who takes the same commuter train to work every day, and she begins to feel attached to a couple she sees through the window each day. She names them Jess and Jason, and imagines that they have the perfect life until one day, when she sees something shocking happen in the brief moments before her train moves on. When “Jess” goes missing shortly afterwards, Rachel takes it upon herself to investigate and find out what really happened to her. I read this one right at the height of its hype when it came out 5 years ago, and although I don’t remember too much of it by now, I remember that I devoured it very quickly! I think it was one of a few books I read that year that really got me hooked on reading thrillers.

5) The Never War by D.J. MacHale

833709This might be a bit of a random choice, but I specifically wanted to mention one more book that involved planes, and this is one that I remembered that I had read. This book is the third in the Pendragon series, about a boy named Bobby who is a Traveler, responsible for visiting different worlds during their “Turning Point” and helping to push things in the right direction. In this book, Bobby and some of his friends travel back in time to New York in 1937, where they discover that the infamous Hindenburg disaster is the turning point that they are supposed to deal with, forcing them to make the difficult decision of whether to stop the crash or allow history to play out to prevent further disaster in the future. In general, the Pendragon series is an incredibly underrated YA fantasy series, and I’m so glad my school librarian recommended it to me. It came out around the same time as Harry Potter really became popular here, so it got lost in the shuffle a bit. I especially enjoyed this one, even though I really have no interest in planes and knew nothing about the Hindenburg before going into, and I think the whole series is worth picking up.

Top 10 Tuesday: Freebie – Best Books I Read in the First Half of 2020

I remember feeling a little surprised last year to realize that last year, I had not made a “Best Books I’ve Read So Far” list around the halfway point of the year! It had been a Top 10 Tuesday topic in previous years, and I think I just naturally expected it to come up sometime around June or July. It’s possible that I assumed my Mid-Year Freak Out Tag and my Second Quarter Wrap-Up together covered the topic enough? It left me with the difficult task toward the end of the year to pick just a handful of favourites from the entire year, as well as a few books that really took me by surprise (here). In any case, when I saw that this week was a freebie topic, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make my life a little easier this year, and wrap-up some of my favourite books of the year so far, and I will likely make a similar list for the second half of the year sometime around December or even January. By the end of the first half of the year, I had rated a total of 43 books 5 stars, which was nearly half of all my books read so far, but it was still relatively easy to pick out a few key favourites! These books are listed in chronological order by when I read them, not in order of preference.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

1) Strange the Dreamer & Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

28449207. sy475 25446343I purposely made a point of reading these books very early on in the year because I was so intimidated by the idea of picking them up! I’d meant to read this duology for a couple of years now, and I kept putting them off. Part of the reason I was hesitant is because I had very little understanding of what the books were actually about, and partly because they were longer books and Laini Taylor’s writing tends to be quite dense. I am so glad that I finally picked these up because they were incredible! The only downside of reading them so early in the year is that by now, it’s become a bit harder to remember the specifics of them. This duology is about a man named Lazlo Strange, who is fascinated with a mythic lost city known as Weep, and he gets an opportunity to join a delegation set to visit this city, which is now overrun by a mysterious citadel, which secretly houses the last remaining survivors of a slaughter. This duology was absolutely incredible. The writing was a little dense, but I thought it was beautifully written. I also thought all of the characters were amazing, including the side characters, and I immediately connected with Lazlo specifically. It is definitely a series that you need to pay attention while reading, but it is well worth it!

2) The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

43822820I was very excited to receive this book as my Secret Santa gift from my coworker over the holidays, because it was one of my most anticipated books to pick up this year! It was the first book that I ever read by this author, and it was such a great place to start. This book is about a woman named Libby Jones who returns home to a letter telling her that she is the sole inheritor of her birth parents’ mansion, which was the site of a disturbing scene from which she was rescued as an infant. It’s a tough book to summarize without risking any spoilers, but it is definitely one of the stronger thrillers I’ve read in quite a while. I was immediately drawn in by the writing style and I flew through the majority of it in just one day. I especially loved that this one involved a cult, which is a topic I always find fascinating and rarely see in thrillers. I thought the entire premise was so intriguing, and I loved the use of multiple perspectives from Libby as well as several other characters. It’s another case where I don’t remember as much detail because I read it so early on in the year, but I do remember that I loved it.

3) The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

41150287. sy475 I picked up this book in the first place because I saw a lot of online hype around it, and it got me very excited to try it. This book is about a woman named Tiffy, who takes an opportunity to share a flat with Leon, a nurse who only works nights. Tiffy will have the apartment during the evenings/overnight and on weekends while Leon is at work, and Leon occupies it during the day while Tiffy works. Although they rarely, if ever, are in the apartment at the same time, they quickly connect through the notes they leave each other around the apartment. I absolutely loved the entire concept of this book, and thought it was so fun to see Tiffy and Leon learning to live “together” without actually living together. I was also surprised to realize that this book had a lot more depth to it than I expected, especially with the storyline about Tiffy’s emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend. I loved both Tiffy and Leon and especially enjoyed their interactions with each other. I also especially loved the development of their relationship, which seemed believable and realistic. It was by far one of the best contemporary romances that I’ve read, and I’m so glad that I listened to the hype.

4) The Renegades trilogy by Marissa Meyer

28421168Marissa Meyer has become one of my favourite YA fantasy authors, thanks to the Lunar Chronicles. I was very excited to pick up her next series, especially when I saw that it was about superheroes and villains, which is something I always tend to love. This series is set in a world where some people, known as prodigies, have developed superpowers. After a period of chaos, the Renegades stepped in to re-restablish order and stop the Anarchists. The series focuses on Nova, an Anarchist who blames the Renegades for the death of her family and decides to infiltrate their organization to seek revenge, and Adrian, the son of prominent Renegades, who is investigating a mysterious Anarchist who he believes has connections to his mother’s death. I absolutely loved the characters in this series, and especially loved the dynamic between Nova and Adrian. I also loved the way the series addressed superhero politics and what it means to be a hero, particularly how the presence of heroes may make other people lazy and complacent. I also loved the side characters, and how much development many of them got throughout the series. This is a series that I can easily see myself rereading.

5) Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

43263680I think if I had to pick just one favourite book of everything that I read in the first half of the year, it would be this one. This was one of my most anticipated books to pick up this year, and I was very excited to try something by Leigh Bardugo outside of the Grisha-verse. This book is the start of a new series about a young woman named Alex Stern who gets an unexpected opportunity to attend Yale on a full-ride scholarship, but she must take on a role within Lethe, an organization that monitors the activities of Yale’s secret societies and their occult activities. The book follows Alex as she begins to investigate the death of a local girl named Tara, who appeared to have connections to multiple of these secret societies. I was immediately drawn into the book from the first pages because of the writing style, and I loved the backstory that was given between chapters about each of the societies. I was actually surprised to see so many reviews that commented that the book was “slow” or had too many “info-dumps” since I found it all so fascinating. I loved how the book is told in alternating perspectives between Alex in the present, and Daniel Arlington in the recent past. The book also gave me some pretty strong Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibes, which was great since that is one of my favourite shows. I found this book so engrossing and I can’t wait for the next one.

6) The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

43575115. sy475 This was another book that I was so intimidated to pick up at all, because, much like Strange the Dreamer, I had very little understanding of what it was about, and I knew that the writing would be on the denser side. I actually found that this book was comparable to Strange the Dreamer in a lot of ways, and I mean that as a great thing! This book is about a man named Zachary Ezra Rawlins who discovers a book that mentions a specific event from his own childhood, and he decides to investigate where the book came from. I have never related to a character more strongly than I did with Zachary, from the very first pages where he was introduced because of his introversion, and his strong interests in reading and gaming. I was immediately drawn into the story and especially loved Zachary’s investigations about the book, and the literary-themed party that he attended was a huge highlight. I also thought it was interesting to see the other fairy tale-like stories interspersed throughout, and seeing how they all tied together although it did get a little confusing at times. The book reminded me of a combination of a long-form version of the Wayward Children series and Alice in Wonderland. I thought this book was so beautifully written and I’m so glad that I gave it a chance!

7) The Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab

22055262This is a series that I’ve been meaning to try for such a long time, and I’m so glad I finally picked it up! This series is about a man named Kell who is one of the last remaining magicians, and has the ability to travel between parallel versions of London. He is also a smuggler who finds himself in trouble after a deal goes wrong, leaving him in possession of a dangerous item that he must return to Black London, with the help of a young woman named Lila who is searching for adventure. I really loved the world-building in this series and thought that the parallel Londons were so interesting. I also especially loved all of the major characters in the series, and was surprised to find that I even genuinely cared about several of the side characters, including Calla, Master Tieren, and Hastra. I also really enjoyed how we got more backstory for several of the main characters as the series progressed, and especially enjoyed the two main romances. I also was surprised to find that this series was a lot more “accessible” than I expected, by which I mean that  the world-building and the plot were both very rich without being too complicated or difficult to understand. I was very late to the party with this series, but I’m so glad that I finally read it.

8) House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

44778083I was on the fence about whether I was going to pick up this book at all this year, because it is a massive tome!  I decided to make use of all the spare time I had during the pandemic to really focus on this one, and I was so glad that I did. I think it comes in a very close second to Ninth House as my favourite book of the year so far. This book is about a young woman named Bryce, who is enjoying her life until one horrible night where her best friends are murdered by a demon. Bryce soon finds herself in the middle of the investigation, and must team up with Hunt Athalar, a Fallen angel who has been enslaved and forced to work as an assassin. Hunt has been offered the chance at freedom if he helps Bryce find the killer, and the two of them soon begin to dig deeper into their city’s darker side. For such a long book, I was very surprised by how quickly I progressed through it and I was very easily invested into the story. I especially loved the amazing, complex characters, including a very well-developed cast of side characters, and I adored the dynamic between Bryce and Hunt. I thought the world-building was very interesting, and I loved that a book of this size was very well-paced.

9) The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

36337550This was another of my most anticipated books to pick up this year, and it was such an intriguing mystery. This book is about a man named Aiden who is trapped in a place called Blackheath until he can identify the person responsible for murdering Evelyn Hardcastle, the daughter of the family who owns the estate. The day will repeat itself until he solves it, and each day, he will embody a different person. I thought this was such a fascinating concept for a mystery, and a great use of this kind of time travel/Groundhog Day kind of trope. I thought it was so interesting to see how Aiden was able to piece together the information that he gathered as each new character. This book really kept me guessing all the way utnil the end, and I also loved how Aiden had to learn to work with (or against) the traits of the person he embodied each time to keep gathering information. I absolutely loved the setting and the older-fashioned style of the writing and the characters. It was such an amazing mystery, and I can’t wait for this author’s next book this year!

10) Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

35965482. sx318 This was another book that I was a little intimidated to pick up because I didn’t fully understand what it would be about, and I had originally planned on picking it up quite a bit later in the year. I decided to pick it up so soon after seeing a flood of hype for it on Twitter, and decided that it was best to read it before going back to work so I could give it the proper attention. This book is about twins Roger and Dodger who were created as part of an alchemical experiment to create a living incarnation of the Doctrine of Ethos, using their abilities to help the man who created them gain power. Roger has a talent for languages and Dodger has a talent for numbers. I absolutely loved both Roger and Dodger as characters, and especially the way the connection between them was first introduced and then evolved over the years. I found the overall plot about James Reed’s plans to embody the Doctrine using Roger and Dodger a little confusing, but also really liked the chapters devoted to his work because it gave such a dark undertone to the rest of the plot. I also thought the time jumps throughout the story were very interesting. Like always with Seanan McGuire’s books, I loved the writing style and the humour. This was such a fascinating, character-driven book and I absolutely loved it.

Honourable Mentions:

These are just a few more of my favourite books from the first half of the year, that very narrowly missed out on my Top 10:

Call Down the Hawk
Love from A-Z
Young Jane Young
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (I also re-read the entire Hunger Games trilogy, but I’m excluding those as favourite since they were re-reads)

Recent Reads #6

It looks like we are finally starting to come out of the quarantine! Within the past two weeks, my workplace has started to very slowly open up. We are only allowed one small group at a time, two half days per week each, but it’s a start. Knowing that this was coming up, I really tried to take advantage of the time before work restarted to read some of the longer books or books that I thought might take a bit more of my attention than I’d be able to give during a normal workweek (although that still seems a long way off). To be fair, I am still essentially working 5 days a week doing online programming in addition to my in-person shifts, so a lot of the time, it does feel like a relatively normal workload, just mostly from home. In the past couple of months, especially knowing that quarantine might be lifting, there were a handful of books that I really wanted to prioritize and I was glad to have the time to get to them all.

35965482. sx318 Back at the beginning of June, I read Middlegame, which was one of my most anticipated books to try this year! I was a bit intimidated to pick it up because it was on the longer side (around 500 pages), and I didn’t fully understand what it would be about before I picked it up. I just knew that I loved Seanan McGuire’s writing, and the little that I did know about the plot, it sounded very interesting. To be honest, I’d intended to pick this book up toward the fall, but I started to see a ton of praise for it on Twitter which got me excited to pick it up that much sooner. I was so glad that I did, because I ended up loving it! I thought both Roger and Dodger were such interesting characters and I loved the bond that developed between them over the years. I did find the overall plot about the purpose of the twins’ creation a bit confusing at times, but it didn’t take too much for me to figure out what was going on. I also loved the time jumps, and the way Roger and Dodger’s abilities both expanded as the book went on. I thought it was a completely fascinating character-driven book, and I adored the writing style and the humour. I also recently saw that there was a sequel due out next year, so I’m very excited to try that too!

50794839. sx318 sy475 One of my goals for this year was to re-read The Hunger Games series, since it had been about 8 years since I first read it. I actually saw the first movie before I’d even read any of the books, and immediately was interested in picking up the series! It worked out nicely that this was my goal since I later learned that The Ballads of Songbirds and Snakes, the prequel following President Snow. When this book was first announced, there was a ton of hype around it until people learned that it was following Snow, which seemed to immediately put a lot of people off. I love a good villain origin story so I was curious to see what angle Suzanne Collins would take with this. To be fair, I didn’t have very strong opinions about President Snow when I first read the series, nor did that really change when I re-read the series this year. This book focuses on Snow’s final years of school, where he has the opportunity to be a mentor to a competitor in the 10th Annual Hunger Games. I tend to love books with this kind of school setting, and I was very interested in how so many of Snow’s classes and assignments were used to explore some of the issues and ideas involved in the Games and their purpose. It was interesting to see how the Games evolved over the years and I was surprised to see how different the earliest versions were. I was also surprised to find how invested I was in Snow’s backstory given that he wasn’t a character that I really had strong feelings about either way. I was so nervous to pick this one up because I’d seen a lot of complaints about it, but I ended up loving it.

36307634. sy475 Another goal of mine was to make sure I picked up King of Scars! I meant to read this book last year but somehow ran out of time before I could get to it. Leigh Bardugo has quickly become one of my favourite authors, and I was really looking forward to reading this one. I was especially excited that this one would follow Nikolai, my favourite character from the Grisha trilogy, and Nina, one of my favourite characters from the Six of Crows duology. It also features Zoya, who was a popular character from both of the series. To be honest, I didn’t remember that much about Zoya by the time that I read it, and needed a bit of a refresher on her backstory before I started. She has quickly become another favourite character! I absolutely loved the introduction of new characters in this one, especially Hanne and Isaak. I especially enjoyed Nina’s chapters, although they did seem a bit disconnected from the rest of the story so far, and also loved Isaak’s few chapters. I especially loved that this book gave a lot of backstory for several characters, including Nikolai, Zoya and even the Darkling. I was a bit surprised to see that Zoya’s part of the story seemed to take the most precedence, given that the series is called the Nikolai duology, but I loved the way their stories intersected. I’m very excited to find out what happens next, whenever the sequel is released!

Top 5 Wednesdays: Unanswered Questions

I guess this was a week of very difficult prompts! Yesterday’s Top 10 Tuesday was one of the toughest for me to answer, and today’s Top 5 Wednesday is not much better. It was a tough one because although I’m sure I’ve read many books that have unanswered questions, it’s not too often that the questions bother me enough to really stick with me. In fact, there are some cases where the fact that the ending is a little ambiguous or some things are left open to interpretation are what make them so good! I love when a book, especially thrillers, keep you guessing. In other cases, the ambiguity is so frustrating!  It was hard for me to think of specific examples of books where there were unanswered questions that still bother me. Most of the books I picked are books that I read several years ago, so at the very least, they are questions I’ve had in mind for a while. Please keep in mind that some of these questions might be considered spoilers, if you have not yet read these books!

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling — What actually happened to Sirius Black behind the veil?

Technically, this one is partially answered because we know that Sirius somehow died when he fell through. It’s always bothered me to not know what exactly was beyond this veil or how he died. Sirius was my favourite character and his death was one of the few moments in a book that genuinely made me cry, so it always bugged me that it happened so suddenly and for no apparent reason.

2) A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket — What was in the sugar bowl?

This was a series that was full of unanswered questions! I think at least some of them have been answered in some of the adaptations. The infamous Sugar Bowl, for example, is finally given an explanation in the Netflix series, but the books leave the contents of it very vague. All we know is that it’s an important, much sought-after item. The answer in the Netflix series does make a lot of sense, but it was a question that really bugged me for years whenever I re-read the series!

3) Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro — How did the metal detectors malfunction so badly (and so unusually)?

I’m obviously not an expert on metal detectors and how they work, but a key chapter in this book that involved metal detectors badly malfunctioning didn’t really make much sense to me. In it, a character who has metal in his knee somehow gets stuck to the detectors, which have become powerfully magnetized and it leaves him seriously injured. Apparently, this book was originally supposed to have sci-fi elements so I guess that’s why the metal detectors didn’t work realistically, but it ruined my immersion a bit to try and figure out what happened.

4) The Pact by Jodi Picoult — Was that note always blank, and if not, what did it say?

I am long overdue for a re-read of this book! Toward the end, we learn that Chris had found a piece of paper that seemed like a note from Emily using their can system to communicate between their houses. By the time he finds it, there is nothing left on the paper, and it leaves the question open of whether that paper had always been blank, or if the words had wiped away over time? If they did, what did the note originally say? To be fair, I find it a much more powerful chapter to have the note left blank, but it was definitely a question that bugged me at the time.

5) Defending Jacob by William Landay — Did Jacob actually kill his classmate?

I both want an answer to this one, and don’t want an answer. I think the fact that it was ultimately left ambiguous (much like We Need to Talk About Kevin) is one of the things that made this book so impactful, and having a definitive answer would only ruin it. Throughout this book, I was left wondering whether Jacob could really have been as dangerous as some people believed, or if his father was right that he had been falsely accused. Just when I thought I’d made up my mind, something else would happen that would make me question it all over again. One of the reasons the book has stuck in my mind for so many years is because there is that tiny bit of doubt remaining over whether I’d guessed right.

Top 10 Tuesdays: Book Festivals/Events I’d Love to Go To

I think this week’s topic was the single most difficult TTT I’ve ever done! Even pre-COVID, I had very little interest in going to book events. I don’t like huge crowds or being stuck in line for hours just to do something. I don’t particularly care about meeting authors or getting my books signed. If I was to go to a book festival, it would be to listen to the panel discussions or to get copies of upcoming books. Many of the vloggers I watch have talked quite a bit about their experiences at BookExpo and other similar festivals, but to be honest, a lot of them sound basically the same to me. I’m also not very familiar with what’s even available, so it was a huge challenge to try and pick some events I’d like to try. It’s also a bit difficult to research them during COVID since many of the websites only show what they are doing this year to keep the events going from home, which is not really an accurate picture of what they are usually like!

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

1) BookExpo (USA)

BookExpo is one of the main book events I’ve heard of, and it was one of the few that immediately came to mind. It is the largest annual book trade fair in the US, and it usually takes place in the spring. From the little I know about it, various publishers have booths where they can show off upcoming book and sell current releases. As far as I can tell, this event is for people in the publishing industry, not the general public, so I wouldn’t be able to get in, but it would be great to see it!

2) BookCon (USA)

BookCon is another one that I’ve heard about frequently. It is an annual fan convention that takes place in NYC, along the lines of Comic-Con. It gives fans the chance to interact with authors, publishers, and also various celebrities. It includes events such as Q&A, autographs, and panels as well as writing workshops and trivia games. It’s one of the ones that I’ve seen in vlogs most often, and it always looks like a lot of fun.

3) YALLWest/YALLFest (USA)

This is the third (and I think the last?) book event that I hear about very often, and it always sounds like so much fun. YALLWest and YALLFest are all about Young Adult books, and gives fans the chance to meet the authors, buy some books, and attend panel discussions. I read quite a bit of YA, so I think this one would be especially fun for me to go to. It also has a Book Swap event, where people can bring a gift-wrapped book to trade with other people.

4) Word on the Street (Canada)

This is one that is actually somewhat feasible for me to go to since I live not too far from it, but I’ve never had a strong enough interest to actually go. It is a national celebration for Canadian authors and books. It consists of a network of festivals across the country, which feature book and magazine exhibits that include small presses and independent authors as well. It also offers a lot of activities and books for kids

5) The Strand (USA – New York)

This isn’t really an event, but visiting The Strand could easily be a whole day event for me! I’ve only been to New York once about 10 years ago, and didn’t visit The Strand because it was too far from where we were staying (and my mom and I also knew we’d end up buying way too many books to bring home with us!). The Strand is a humongous book store, and it looks absolutely incredible to visit. If I ever visit New York again, I’d love to go!

6) Comic-Con International (USA – San Diego)

I’m a little more on the fence about this one because I’m not as into comics as I am into books, but a lot of my favourite authors tend to be there! Just this morning I saw Seanan McGuire post a picture from a previous year, and last year’s schedule mentions both Erin Morgenstern and Leigh Bardugo. I think it would be interesting to see the panel discussions about comics and movies. Just looking back at the schedules for the past few years, I see so many panels I would have loved to see.

7) The Jane Austen Festival (Bath, UK)

I never knew this existed until I started researching what book events there were around the world! I’ve only read two of Jane Austen’s books so far, but I still think it would be a lot of fun to go to this festival! It is a 10-day event that features a ton of Jane Austen-related activities, including costumed events, dancing, themed meals & tea, and performances. I really need to read more Jane Austen, just in general, but this event sounds like so much fun!

8) The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Florida) and/or the Warner Bros. Studio Tour (London, UK)

I know this is a bit of a controversial choice at the moment, but I’ve been wanting to go to one or both of these places for years! Come to think of it, I’m not sure if these two attractions are the same thing in different locations, or if there are parts that are exclusive to each one. As far as I can tell, the London version gives a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie, while the Orlando one is set up like Diagon Alley, letting you get an immersive experience of being in the world itself. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong!

9) Edinburgh Intertional Book Festival (Scotland)

Scotland is one of the few countries that I’d really love to visit, and this is an event that looks like a lot of fun. It is an annual 2-week long event that is one of the biggest international book festivals in the world. To be honest, this one mostly made my list because of the setting because the pictures all looked so beautiful! The festival includes a variety of events including panels, performances, crafts, and bookshops to visit.

10) Library Book Sales!

I’m drawing a blank on any other book events I’d be interested in visiting around the world, but I’d love to be able to go back to my local library’s book sales! I live near a fairly big branch of our library system, which has only recently started to re-open and they usually have one or two huge book sales every year. You usually pay by the bag, so you can grab as many books as you want for just a few cents each. It’s very hit-or-miss in terms of what they actually have available, but I’d just love the opportunity to be able to do that again (when it is safe to do so).

 

Familiar, Yet Still Fresh – The Baby-sitters Club (Season 1) Netflix Review

The Baby-Sitter’s Club was one of my biggest obsessions when I was younger. Not only did I hoard all the books and re-read them constantly, but I also bought a lot of their merchandise that came through the Scholastic catalogs. Every time we went to the video store, I’d rent the same few Baby-Sitters Club videos from the the 1990 TV series (which, by the way, I’d love to re-watch if anyone knows how to find it!). The 1995 movie version was also one of my favourite movies at the time. I always identified quite strongly with both Mary Anne, who was shy like me, and Mallory, because of her passion for reading and writing. Needless to say, I was very excited to see that a new version of the show was coming to Netflix this year!

Please note that the Plot section does contain some episode details, so if you do not want any spoilers at all, you may want to skip ahead.

Plot & Plot Changes

The first season of the Netflix series consists of 10 episodes that cover the first 8 books of the series, as well as one of the Super Special books. I’m sure many of us who are watching this series are long-time fans of the BSC, but for anyone who is not familiar with the series, it is about a group of 13-year-old girls who decide to form a babysitting business. After watching her mother struggle with phone call after phone call to find an available sitter for her younger brother, Kristy comes up with the idea to have a group of sitters available at one phone number, which families can call to book someone. Each of the books in the series follows one of the babysitters through a specific event or issue, with chapters interspersed from many of the others detailing their babysitting jobs.

In the Netflix series, the episodes loosely follow the original storylines, which touch on a variety of topics, including struggles in school, family issues, friendship, and Stacey’s diabetes. While I knew that the show was going to be modernized a bit for the new audience, I was surprised to see how much had changed! I think the most jarring change for me was in Claudia and the Phantom Caller. I was especially looking forward to that episode because the book had always freaked me out a bit as a kid, but I was a bit underwhelmed. In the book, both Claudia and Kristy receive mysterious silent phone calls while babysitting, which they assume is the burglar known as the “Phantom Caller.” In the series, only Kristy gets phone calls and the ultimate explanation was completely different from what it had been in the series.

On the other hand, some of the plot changes were handled very well. I think Mary Anne Saves the Day is the best example of this. In the original book, Mary Anne is babysitting for a young girl who gets sick with a bad fever, but has to step up and take charge herself after a huge fight with her friends leaves her with no one to turn to for help. The show mostly stuck to that premise, however the child that she was babysitting was a new character named Bailey, who is transgender. I absolutely loved the way that the show handled this character in such a sensitive way and without making Bailey’s gender such a huge deal. It leads to a very impactful scene where Mary Anne, who is normally afraid to speak up at all, has to speak up for Bailey. Claudia and Mean Janine is another example where I think there had been some plot changes, which, to be fair, I mostly remember because I’d recently read the graphic novel version. In the book, Claudia’s grandmother Mimi has a stroke and Claudia takes it upon herself to step up and help take care of her, ultimately leading to an argument with her sister, Janine, whom Claudia perceives as not caring enough to help. That element of Claudia trying to do it all by herself was not really present in the show.

I was also very interested to see how the show would manage Stacey’s diabetes, because I was always a bit confused about why they were made into such a huge deal in the books. It never really made sense to me that Stacey would be so secretive about her diabetes. I really liked that the show managed to fix this storyline a bit, by adding a social media element. A rival babysitting club decides to spread an online video of Stacey having a seizure when she lived in New York to their clients, raising justifiable concerns from the parents about whether she was safe to watch their children alone. I thought this was a smart way to handle the topic and actually inject a real reason why she might have wanted to keep it a secret.

One of the things that I did notice throughout the series, which felt a little strange, is that I felt like the babysitting jobs mostly took a backseat to the characters’ own lives. In Boy-Crazy Stacey and Kristy’s Big Day, for example, a huge babysitting job was a central part of both stories. In both episodes, the babysitting subplots were downplayed and even non-existent. Kristy’s Big Day, understandably, focused more on Kristy’s relationship with her mother and her feelings about the wedding. While this change made sense and it was still a great episode, I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see the club trying to manage all of the children of the wedding guests, which had been a huge part of the book. In Boy-Crazy Stacey, on of the central conflicts of the book was Stacey sticking Mary Anne with all the work on their week-long babysitting gig helping the Pikes on vacation while she was busy flirting with a lifeguard. While that was present in the episode, I also felt like it was glossed over a bit. ‘

The Camp Moosehead episode is the only one that I had really no familiarity with. I’m sure I read many of the Super Specials, but I didn’t read them nearly as many times as the main series. In this 2-part episode, the girls go to a sleepover camp for the summer, where they are surprised to find that they have been separated into different cabins. Mary Anne takes the lead in putting on a play with Laine, a new girl she meets in her cabin, and casts Stacey as her star without realizing that she and Laine have a difficult history. Dawn and Claudia get upset that the kids are expected to pay extra for art activities, and decide to organize a protest to show that it is unfair. Meanwhile, Kristy repeatedly tries to overstep and take charge of the younger kids and is having trouble being able to relax and enjoy being a camper herself. The episode was fun to watch, but I couldn’t help feeling that some elements ruined my immersion a bit. I kept noticing that there didn’t seem to be any staff around the campers, nor any organized activities aside from art. While that played into Kristy’s fixation on stepping in to help the camp director, it didn’t exactly feel realistic to me.

Characters & Casting

This was the first iteration of the BSC that I’d ever seen where the actors they chose actually looked like they were the right age for the characters. The babysitters are all supposed to be 13, and in previous versions of the show and the movie, they’d always looked much older. To be fair, I never really questioned it at the time. When I first read the series, the babysitters all seemed so mature that I never really questioned that the actresses playing them looked like older teenagers (at least). When I first saw the cast photos for this one, it was a bit of a shock to see just how young the girls really were, but I was also glad to see age-appropriate actresses in the role! I always tend to picture characters the first way that I saw them, so for me, the go-to image I tend to have is the cast of the original TV series.

On a similar note, some of the casting choices threw me off initially because they did not look the way I expected, to the point where I didn’t immediately recognize the character on screen. I think the main examples of that were Dawn and Mallory. Xochitl Gomez, playing Dawn, did a fantastic job with the character, but when I first saw her in the promo photo, I had no idea who she was. I assumed that they had introduced a new character! I always tend to picture characters as the first version of them that I see, so for me, Dawn was a combination of the cover artwork of the books, and Melissa Chasse, who played her in the original TV series. In the books, Dawn had always been described as tall, with long, white-blonde hair, and having grown up reading the books, that was the image I had ingrained in mind. It may have thrown me a bit to not immediately recognize her on-screen, but Xochitl Gomez captured Dawn’s personality so well! It was the same, to a lesser extent, for Vivian Watson, who played Mallory Pike. I did not recognize the character at all when she first showed up on screen because she didn’t have the bright-red, big curly hair and glasses that I was used to. Mallory was one of my favourite characters in the series, and I’m hoping to see more of her if we get another season. Monona Tamada as Claudia was another one who was a bit of a shock to me because I’m not used to Claudia looking so young!

On the other hand, Sophie Grace as Kristy immediately struck me as a perfect casting choice. She did such a great job of capturing Kristy’s bossiness as well as her softer side, and I really loved what she did with the character. Every version of The Baby-sitters Club tends to focus quite a bit on Kristy, which I’ve always found a little strange since I thought all the girls were meant to be the main characters. In this case, I think the focus on Kristy really worked. Similarly, Shay Rudolph was a perfect choice for Stacey. In most versions of the series, Stacey ends up looking much older than her age, so it was great to see a Stacey who actually looked 13 for once. Finally, Malia Baker as Mary Anne Spier did a great job at capturing the awkward shyness of the character. I especially loved how they managed Mary Anne’s relationship with her overprotective father.

I also have to mention some of the side characters as well, especially the brilliant choice of Aya Furukawa to play Claudia’s older sister Janine. She was exactly how I had always pictured the character, and it’s too bad that Janine does not have a bigger role in the stories so we could see more of her. I also can’t avoid giving a special mention to Sophia Reid-Gantzert, who did a brilliant job playing Karen Brewer, Kristy’s younger stepsister. This actress literally stole the show every time she was on-screen! In terms of the adults, I think my favourite casting choice must be Marc Evan Jackson, as Mary Anne’s father Richard. He managed to really humanize the character, who is quite strict and controlling, and I especially loved his interactions with Jessica Elaina Eason, as Dawn’s mother Sharon, who was also Richard’s high school sweetheart. To be honest, I didn’t even recognize Alicia Silverstone at first, who was cast as Kristy’s mother, but I thought the brief reference to Clueless was a fun easter egg.

Visuals/Music

As usual, I don’t remember the music that well, except for the end credits of each episode, which each had their own song. Visually, I really liked how the show managed to both modernize the series, while still having enough throwbacks to the original. The iconic phone, for example, was the perfect way to acknowledge the series’ history while still fitting into the updated setting. I actually didn’t know going into it that the show was going to be set in present day. For some reason, I had assumed it was going to continue the tradition of being a straightforward retelling of the books, so it was a lot of fun to see all the ways they had updated it. Something as simple as giving the girls cellphones, for example, or having Dawn speak to her father in California via Skype were great ways to show the contemporary setting.

Overall Impressions

This is one of those shows that is both very familiar but also feels new and fresh at the same time. For a long-time fan of the series like me, some of the changes do feel a bit jarring. If you’re going into the series expecting a version that is completely true to the books, then you will likely be disappointed. However, the strength of the show is the way that it managed to capture the overall spirit of the series while still keeping it up-to-date. It is very nice to see that this is a series that can easily be adapted to keep it relevant, and introduce the characters to a new generation. I really hope this show gets another season, because I’d love to see more of Jessi and Mallory and some of the other books in the series adapted to the screen. Overall, it was a fun way to bring back this series and definitely a great show to watch for anyone who was a fan of the books.

Plot – 8/10
Characters – 8/10
Visuals/Music – 8/10
Overall – 8/10

Top 5 Wednesdays: Books That Remind You of Songs

This was probably one of the most difficult prompts for me! I love to listen to music, but I’m not very good at remembering song lyrics so it was tough to think of something that might fit. I also find I get a bit too literal with it, and want the majority of the song to match the plot of the book, and if that didn’t happen, it didn’t feel like a close enough match for me. I used to watch a ton of fan videos on Youtube where people would use clips from shows and put them to a song, although I’ve never had the skill to do that myself. What was also a bit weird is that I found I had a couple of key songs in mind that I really wanted to match with books, but somehow couldn’t come up with a book. For example, I kept getting the song I Hate U, I Love U by Gnash ft. Olivia O’Brien in my head, and it really seemed like something that would be easy to pair with a book, but I just couldn’t find a book that felt like a strong enough match. It ended up being a huge challenge to come up with any!

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Creep by Radiohead — You by Caroline Kepnes

I don’t care if it hurts/I wanna have control/I want a perfect body/I want a perfect soul 

This was the first song and book pair that came to mind, and it’s probably a very obvious one. I don’t know why, but this song has been stuck in my head a lot lately. I chose it because it’s all about a man trying to get the attention of a woman that he thinks is so special and perfect, just like Joe Goldberg in You. Anyone who has read the book (or watched the show) would know that Joe himself is very much a creep, so it seemed like a good fit. Even lines like “I wish I was special” and “What the hell am I doing here?” could be a fit for Joe. The book really centered on him trying to be a “good boyfriend,” although his version of what that meant was quite twisted. To me, questioning what he’s doing here could be a realization that what he’s doing might not be so normal, although I don’t know if Joe ever made it that far.

2) Who Knew by Pink — History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

If someone said three years from now/You’d be long gone/I’d stand up and punch them out/Cause they’re all wrong/I know better/Cause you said forever

This is one of my all-time favourite songs, and it probably would be a good match for just about any book that has to deal with grief. I thought of this book specifically because of the “stand up and punch them out” line because I remember Griffin having a lot of anger and pain. This book is about Griffin struggling with the loss of his ex-boyfriend Theo, who drowned, and finds that the only person who understands him is Jackson, the guy Theo was dating at the time that he died. For me, this song matches the book so well because it seemed to capture Griffin’s shock that Theo was really gone, and that it was forever, especially since he’d always assumed they would get back together.

3) Where’d You Go by Fort Minor — Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Where’d you go?/I miss you so/Seems like it’s been forever/That you’ve been gone/Please come back home

It’s mostly the lines quoted above that made me think of this song, since the lyrics are actually about being on the road for their career. This book is about a girl named Claudia whose best friend Monday has gone missing, and she is the only person who seems to really care. Actually, looking again at the lyrics, many of them could easily apply. For example, at one point they say “Tired of sittin’ and hatin’ and makin’ these excuses, for why you’re not around, and feeling so useless” which I think captures Claudia’s frustration about not knowing what happened to her friend. She knows that Monday wouldn’t just ditch her without saying anything, and tries to justify it to herself (ie. “making these excuses”).

4) Lose Yourself by Eminem — On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

You better lose yourself in the music/The moment, you own it, you better never let it go/You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow/This opportunity comes once in a lifetime

It took me a surprisingly long time to make the connection between these two, but once I thought of it, it seemed so obvious. Aside from the direct connection of the focus on rap, the song is all about stepping up to take your chance to become famous, which is exactly what Bri was trying to do. I remember her describing her passion for rap in a pretty similar way to how it is mentioned in the song. It was also important for her to take her shot at becoming famous for it because she wanted to help her family with their financial struggle. Many times, the lyrics come back to the idea of not missing your once-in-a-lifetime chance, because “success is the only (censored) option, failure’s not.”

5) Monster by Paramore — This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

I’ll stop the whole world, I’ll stop the whole world/From turning into a monster and eating us alive/Don’t you ever wonder how we survive?

To be honest, I really struggled to come up with a fifth option and I’m not sure if this one is a particularly strong match. The line quoted above is the one that specifically made me think of this book. This book is set in a world where there are monsters, which are manifestations of violence and evil in the world. One of the main characters, August, is a monster who does not want to be one nor does he want anyone to know that he is, and it was him that I specifically had in mind with the above lyrics. I am long overdue for a reread of this duology!

Top 10 Tuesdays: Books That Make Me Smile

For some reason, I had a really hard time thinking of books that would fit this week’s prompt at first! I read a lot of thrillers and hard-hitting contemporaries, and it can be a little tough to consider those books that make me smile. When I think of a book that would make me smile, I usually think of something cute and fluffy or books that are very funny.  When I started looking back on some of the books I’ve read in the past few years, I realized that many of the books that made me smile were adorable romances or, surprisingly, graphic novels. I definitely wasn’t expecting to have so many graphic novels on the list, but thinking back, it makes sense because these were so much fun to read!

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

1) Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

45045129I had to start with this book because I just finished it this week, and it was easily one of the most adorable YA romances I’ve ever read! This book is about Pepper and Jack, two teeangers who are in charge of their rival family restaurants’ Twitter pages, and end up in a Tweet war with each other over accusations of a stolen recipe. At the same time, the two of them have also bonded with each other on an anonymous chat app, without knowing who they are speaking to. This book has so many of my favourite elements — academic pressure, social media, hate-to-love romance, and delicious desserts! I picked up this book in the first place because I saw a lot of online hype for it, and it’s immediately become one of my favourite books of the year so far. I absolutely loved all of the interactions between Pepper and Jack, and their friendship/relationship was absolutely adorable! This book made me so happy.

2) Love from A-Z by S.K. Ali

40148146. sy475 I read this book early on this year, and feel like I haven’t talked about it nearly enough given how much I loved it. This book is about a teenage girl named Zayneb, who is sent to stay with relatives in Qatar after a confronting a teacher for Islamophobic comments. While there, she crosses paths with Adam, who was recently diagnosed with MS and is intent on keeping his diagnosis secret from his family. Both Adam and Zayneb also keep a “marvels and oddities” journal to document their lives, inspired by a Muslim artist’s work. First of all, I loved the unique angle of this story, both in terms of the characters and the setting. Adam was one of the most engaging male protagonists that I’ve read in a while (aside from Jack in Tweet Cute). I loved the romance that developed between Zayneb and Adam, who were both Muslim, and really enjoyed that it was a little different from the typical YA dynamic. I was very surprised by how much I loved this one, and it was definitely a book that made me smile.

3) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

16068905This was a book that I connected with immediately because I saw a lot of myself in Cath. I’m sure most people are familiar with this book by now, but for those who don’t know, it is about a college freshmen named Cath, who has social anxiety and who is trying to navigate her first year at college, without the help of her twin sister, Wren, who wants some space. Cath is also the author of a popular fanfiction webseries for the Simon Snow books, which is this world’s version of Harry Potter. I related so strongly to Cath and there were so many moments that I easily could have seen happening for myself if I had gone away to college, such as Cath’s anxiety about eating in the cafeteria because she didn’t know exactly how it works. This book made me so happy because I loved Cath’s friendship with her roommate and her romance with Levi, which was absolutely adorable! I also loved the whole fanfiction element. This was another of my favourite YA books over the past few years.

4) Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

19547856I am long overdue for a re-read of this one! It was another book that I picked up initially because of the online hype, and I ended up loving it. This book is about a 16-year-old boy named Simon who is gay, but has not come out yet at school. Simon has been chatting online with another guy who calls himself Blue, and the two of them have become very close. When his e-mail falls into the wrong hands, Simon finds himself blackmailed into becoming a classmate’s wingman, or else he will be publicly out-ed. This book made me so happy because Simon was such a fun character to follow! I loved his conversations with Blue, as well as his interactions with his best friends and family. I loved that the characters all felt so realistic and it was great to see such positive bonds between Simon and the people around him. I love Becky Albertalli’s writing style, and it was a huge part in why I loved the book so much. This was another YA romance that was just so cute!

5) Bloom by Kevin Panetta

39073387This another book that I read very recently, and it made me so happy. This one is a graphic novel about a boy named Ari, who is looking for someone to replace him at his family’s bakery so he can pursue his dream of making it with his band in the big city. He soon meets Hector, a guy who seems to genuinely love baking, and the two of them bond as Ari starts to train Hector to take his place. I am so glad that I picked this book up because it was another one that I ended up loving. I was immediately drawn into both of the characters’ stories, and I loved the montages we got throughout of Hector and Ari baking together. I also loved that Hector was not afraid to stand up for himself and call Ari out on his hurtful behaviour. I was also impressed with how well many of the side characters were developed, given their limited roles. This book did touch on some more serious topics, but the overall story was so fluffy and sweet.

6) There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

35583527. sy475 I really enjoyed When Dimple Met Rishi, so I was looking forward to reading the next book in this “series.” This one follows Rishi’s younger brother, Ashish, who challenges his parents to set him up with someone after his previous relationship failed. His parents want to set him up with Sweetie, a plus-size Indian-American girl who is frustrated by the amount of focus others, especially her mother, put on her weight. When Sweetie’s mother refuses to let her date Ashish due to concerns that people might make fun of Sweetie for her weight, Sweetie decides to take it upon herself to reach out to Ashish and secretly date him anyway. One of the things I loved most about this book was Sweetie’s attitude about her size, and her commentary about the way others view plus-sized women. As a plus-sized woman myself, I could definitely relate and appreciated her comments. I thought the relationship that developed between the two of them was so cute, and I loved the added twist of Ashish’s parents involvement in choosing their dates to make sure the relationship would still be appropriate by the time it would be revealed to Sweetie’s parents. This was such a fun book to read, and definitely made me smile.

7) Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

19351043. sx318 sy475 At the time that I first read this, I wasn’t a huge fan of graphic novels in general, but this one really changed my mind. Nimona is a shapeshifter who teams up with Lord Ballister Blackheart to prove to the kingdom that the heroes aren’t really as heroic as everyone thinks they are, especially Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. I think the main reason this book made me smile was because of the incredible humour in it. Nimona herself was just so funny, and I loved her dynamic with Blackheart. She was absolutely hilarious, and I especially loved one particular scene where Blackheart and Nimona watch a scary movie together. I had to send a photo of that page to my boyfriend at the time because it sounded exactly like a conversation we would have! I really wish this had been turned into a series since I’d love to see more of these characters. This book was so much fun to read, and it’s one of the few graphic novels that I actually decided to buy so I could have my own copy because I loved it so much.

8) Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell

40864790I’m just realizing now that including this book means I have two books by the same author on this list, but it’s worth it because they made me smile for such different reasons. I read Pumpkinheads late last year and ended up loving it a lot more than I expected! This one is about two friends, Deja and Josiah, who work together in the pumpkin patch every fall. Now that they are high school seniors, this year is supposed to be their last season and Halloween will be their last shift together. Deja plans to taste all of the snacks available at the pumpkin patch, while also helping Josiah finally speak to the girl he’s had a crush on for years. To be honest, I went into this book not expecting very much, and I ended up absolutely loving it! Both Deja and Josiah were such great characters and I loved the many montages of their running around the pumpkin patch to find Josiah’s crush (and stop for snacks). I thought the artwork was the perfect fit for this story, and especially loved the very realistic way Josiah’s first real interaction with his crush was handled. This book was absolutely adorable, and it’s another graphic novel that I’d love to have a copy to keep.

9) The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

16181775Technically, any of the books in this series would fit but I think the first one is still my favourite of the three. This book is about a man named Don Tillman, who decides to take on a project the “Wife Project,” in an attempt to find an ideal partner using science and statistics. In the process, he meets a woman named Rosie who is looking for her biological father, and wants Don’s help because he is a genetics expert. Even though Rosie is technically none of the things that Don is looking for, they soon develop a surprisingly strong connection. I absolutely loved the “opposites attract” relationship between them, and their dynamic was so much fun to read. This is a series that I definitely need to re-read in the near future. Don reminds me so strongly of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, and I loved trying to follow his logic of his Wife Project. It actually made a lot of sense in theory even though it’s no surprise that it didn’t really work the way he expected. I know a lot of people didn’t really care for the other two books in the series, but I really enjoyed them both as well.

10) The Sarah’s Scribbles series by Sarah Andersen and the Fowl Language series by Brian Gordon

25855506. sx318 28111692. sx318 I’m grouping these two together because I chose both series for similar reasons. These are both books that I picked up because I found these comic series through Facebook. I absolutely loved them both because the cartoons were so cute and so much fun to read. Sarah’s Scribbles covers a variety of topics, including anxiety and social awkwardness, the struggles of adult responsibilities, self-image, and much more. The Fowl Language series is a collection of comics about parenting, with the entire family illustrated as adorable ducks. I’m not a parent, but I’ve worked with kids and heard enough stories from co-workers who are parents to see how relatable these are! These books are so quick and fun to read, and they always make me smile.

Second Quarter Challenge Check-In (2020)

It’s still so weird to me to think that this year is already half over. I’ve spent the entirety of the last quarter in lockdown, which is only just starting to ease up now. I’m finally going back to work in person as of next week! It’s only for two half-days at a time right now and with a very small group, but at least it’s something. I’ve been taking advantage of the fact that I’ve been stuck at home since the middle of March to really focus on some of my reading goals, and especially to read some of the bigger books or series that were on my list. This year, my goal was to finish at total of 220 books by the end of December, which would be 75% of all the books in the 5 reading challenges I’ve taken on. The rest would be carried forward into next year.

So far, I think I’ve made great progress although it does feel a tiny bit slower than I expected. I naturally assumed that being home for months would mean a huge increase in my reading, but I’ve still been working full days from home 5 days a week, and there have been a few periods where even though I wanted to read, I just couldn’t focus very well. As of the end of June, I had read a total of 86 books (39% of my yearly goal), which means that this quarter alone, I read 51 books! This was quite a big jump compared to the first quarter, where I’d read 35 books. Even though I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t that close to the half-way point of my challenges by the half-way point of the year, I definitely made some great progress! The vast majority of these books were also 4 and 5 star reads, with only 3 books falling below that to a 3-star rating. Of the books I read this quarter, 21 were rated 5 stars, and 26 were rated 4 stars. Compared to the first quarter, I had about the same number of 5-star books, and exactly double the number of 4 star books!

Series Goals and Standalone Goals

As mentioned last quarter, I set myself a goal to read 13 series before the end of the year. It’s starting to get a little more complicated right now since I have only one series remaining on this list that I actually own, and I’m not sure yet how easily I’ll be able to access the rest. The library is just starting to open but still has quite a few limits on it. By the end of the first quarter, I had finished 4 of the series on my list. In the past three months, I also read the Shades of Magic trilogy, the Saga series, and I re-read The Hunger Games trilogy, including the new prequel. That brings me to a total of 7 out of the 13 series on my list, so it’s just over half! It definitely seems to help that I prioritize one series per month, as much as possible, and I’m hoping to be able to continue with my list for the rest of the year. I realized after the fact that I probably also should have added the Lifelike series to my list since the last book recently came out, and I can read that complete trilogy too. I guess I can consider that a bonus series to my priority list.

I also set myself a list of Top 20 Books to Read in 2020, and as with the first quarter, I’m regretting the structure a bit since some of the books I thought I’d included on there ended up in my 5-star predictions instead. At the end of the first quarter, I had read only 2 books from this list. This quarter, I finished 3 more: We Are Totally Normal, The Starless Sea, and Middlegame. I’d been a bit worried at first that this goal would be difficult to complete because many of them were books I would need to get from the library, but I ended up purchasing many of them instead! Of the remaining books on my list, I already own 9 and I plan on buying the rest when I can find them for a good price. I’m a lot less worried about this goal now that I actually have the majority of the books already available.

Priority Authors

I think this is the goal I’ve somehow been struggling with the most, and I’m not even sure why! At the beginning of the year, I chose 10 YA authors and 10 non-YA authors that I’ve been meaning to try. My goal was to read at least one book by each of them by the end of the year. By the end of the first quarter, I had only read books by one author off each list, and this quarter, I ended up reading a second book by each of them (Lisa Jewell and Maurene Goo). I also read (actually, listened to) one book by Kasie West, so that’s one more author off my list. This is definitely a goal that I need to actively put more effort into! Part of the challenge with it originally is that I did not have books by many of these authors, but I’ve since bought quite a few, so there is really no excuse not to pick them up now. I think the main reason I haven’t picked up any of their books yet is because I’ve been actively trying to read some of the books I meant to pick up last year but didn’t get to, and most of these authors were not on that list.

Read Books That I Own

On the other hand, this has by far been the easiest goal to accomplish. I’d originally set myself a goal of an “Own Books Only Winter,” so in the first quarter of the year I was focused on reading my own books anyway. With the lockdown happening, I didn’t have much choice but to stick with that goal. I started branching out a bit to borrowing some more books from my library system in the past few months. Of the 51 books that I read,  28 of them were books that I owned, and the rest were audiobooks or ebooks from the library. That means that just over half (55%) of the books I read this quarter were still books that I owned. I’m expecting that this year in general, the vast majority of the books I read will end up being books I own. I’ve been buying a ton of them, and I’m not sure how easily I’ll be able to use the library even as the year goes on. Including the books that I read in the first quarter, which were all books that I owned, I’ve read a total of 63 books that I own out of the 86 I’ve read overall this year (so 73% were my own books).

Backlist Vs. New Releases

This is always a bit of a tricky one since it is not something that I actively keep track of while I’m reading. This year, I defined “backlist” as books that had been on my TBR since 2017 or earlier. I’ve been on Goodreads since 2015 and there were many books that have been sitting there for way too long. By the end of the first quarter, I’d read a total of 8 backlist books. This quarter, I read 26 more books that had been on my TBR since 2017 or earlier! I knew I’d read quite a few, but I didn’t realize that the number was so high. It means that around half of the books that I read were books that had been on my list for 3 years or more.

At the same time, I also wanted to prioritize  some newer releases, which I defined as books published in 2019 or 2020. It didn’t matter how long they had been on my list, as long as the publication date was within those two years. This quarter, I read 12 books that had been published in the past 2 years, which means just under 25% of all the books that I read this quarter. That seems about right considering I’d been prioritizing some of the books I meant to read last year, and I definitely expect that number to go up a bit given all the newer releases I’ve been buying. I also read 7 books that were published in 2018, which is still pretty new. I’m not that surprised that I’ve been reading more backlist than new releases so far, but I’m sure the balance will start shifting a bit more in the next couple of months.

Reader’s Choice Awards

As always, I’d like to end off with a “Reader’s Choice Awards” for the quarter, especially now that the Around the Year in 52 Books group does not seem to be running it anymore. It’s a bit similar to the Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag, but not quite the same since this one only includes books I read this quarter, while the tag included any books I read in the first half of the year.

Breakout Read: A book that was surprisingly good or exceeded expectations

I would have to say The Starless Sea. I was so nervous to even pick this one up in the first place because it seemed so long and so dense, but it drew me in right away! I connected immediately with Zachary Ezra Rawlins and even though I did get a tiny bit confused toward the end, I loved this book so much more than I expected. Actually, I’d also have to say the same for Middlegame, and for similar reasons. I went into it knowing very little of what it was actually about, and ended up absolutely adoring it.

Biggest Let Down: A book you thought would be brilliant but was a total disappointment

I think I would have to go with The Bookseller, which was one of three books that I gave only 3 stars. To be fair, this one wasn’t even my lowest rated since I’d actually given it 3.5 stars and actively considered rounding it up to 4 for a while. Of my three lowest rated books this quarter though, this was the one that I’d really expected to love and I was disappointed when I didn’t. I didn’t really like the writing style and found that it actually ruined my immersion in the story at times. It’s too bad since there was such potential for a very interesting plot here.

Best Dressed: The book with the most attractive cover

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Best Characters: A book with characters you couldn’t get enough of

I think I’d have to give this one to House of Earth and Blood, but there were some other very strong contenders. This one gets the slight edge because of how Sarah J. Maas got me genuinely invested even in the side characters, and I loved both Bryce and Hunt. I’m really looking forward to reading more of this series.

Best Place: A book that was set in an interesting place (fictional or not)

I loved the parallel Londons in the Shades of Magic trilogy (which, to be honest, was also a strong contender for Best Characters too). I loved the whole concept of the parallel Londons and how different they all were.

Best Story: A book with a great storyline

I could very easily give this one to any of the books mentioned above (except The Bookseller), but I think I’d have to give it to The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. I love a good mystery, and this one had such an intriguing concept. I loved how all of the parts of the story eventually tied together.

Best Feelings: A book that made you really emotional

I think the book that comes closest for this one is House of Earth and Blood, because there are a few key emotional moments that really stood out to me. This book really got me attached to the characters and genuinely invested in what was happening to them. It’s a bit of a weird choice since I usually pick a hard-hitting contemporary for this kind of category, but it was the first book that came to mind.

Best Love: A book with a romance worth swooning for (does not have to be a romance book)

I really loved both of the main romances in the Shades of Magic trilogy. Those were some of the relationships that were most memorable to me (aside from Bryce and Hunt in House of Earth and Blood, and Katniss and Peeta, whom I’m excluding because that was a re-read).

Best Shock: A book that made your jaw drop in surprise

This was a surprisingly tough question to answer. I think I would have to go with The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. I had several ideas about what direction the story would take, and none of them were right!

There was also one moment in Saga that was quite shocking, but I’d accidentally spoiled it for myself for it before reading that volume, so it wasn’t quite as impactful as it probably should have been.

Best Author: An author whose writing you really clicked with

If I limited myself to only new-to-me authors, I’d have to go with either Stuart Turton or Sara Barnard.

Best Series: A book from a series you either can’t get enough of or can’t wait to indulge in more

Definitely House of Earth and Blood but I’d also love to see more of the Shades of Magic world too! I’ve heard that V.E. Schwab might write a new series that involves this world, but I’m not sure if or when that is happening. I also really enjoyed Call Down the Hawk and I’m looking forward to continuing that series too!

Best Read: The book you read in April, May and June that topped all the others

I think if I had to pick just one book, it would probably be House of Earth and Blood, which was a huge surprise to me! I was very intimidated to pick up a book that size (and might not have picked it up yet, if it weren’t for the lockdown), and I ended up loving it.