Recommendations for Getting into the Halloween Spirit

Halloween has always been one of my favourite holidays. I continued trick-or-treating as many years as I could possibly get away with it. Good thing I’ve always looked a bit younger than I am! While I liked wearing a costume, I never really cared much what costume I had. I use the same robe for years and alternated between being a witch and a vampire. I’m a huge coward when it comes to reading or watching scary stories, although the plots often intrigue me. I chalk it up to watching The Sixth Sense when I was way too young for it — there are scenes from that movie that I still haven’t quite gotten over! I wanted to recommend a few books for people like me who want to get into the Halloween spirit, but without scaring ourselves too much! Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
missperegrinecover

When I first read this book, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It is about a teenage boy named Jacob whose grandfather has always told him stories about his past at a special school for unusual children. After his grandfather’s death under strange circumstances, Jacob travels to Wales to find out more about his grandfather’s life. What makes this book such a great one for Halloween is the creepy atmosphere, and especially the old-fashioned photos that are included throughout. It is not really a horror book, but it has its creepy moments.

2. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol 

anyasghostcoverbrosgolThis was the first graphic novel that I read by choice (the other being required reading in a course I took at university). The story is about a young girl named Anya who falls down a well, where she meets and befriends the ghost of another young girl. The ghost attempts to help Anya survive high school. I definitely didn’t expect this book to be scary at all, so I was surprised to find that it had some moments that were genuinely creepy! However, it is still perfectly safe for people like me who don’t enjoy horror. At it’s heart, it is a great story about coming into your own in high school, and taking pride in your family’s background.

3. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

For 91aufmu8jtlthose of us who are not a fan of ghost stories, there are plenty of other scary options. I often find psychological thrillers a lot creepier than stories about ghosts or monsters since the fear seems a lot more real. We Need To Talk About Kevin is definitely one of the creepiest stories I’d ever read. It mostly focuses on Eva as she talks about her life with her son, Kevin, the child she never wanted and immediately struggles to bond with. This book was a fascinating story that really highlighted the classic psychological debate of “nature vs. nurture” — was Kevin naturally evil, or was his behaviour a result of the way his mother treated him? It was a very chilling book, and easily one of the scariest I’ve ever read.

4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurierrebecca

I don’t think this list would be complete without at least one of the Gothic classics. While it is usually viewed as more of a mystery than a horror book, the Gothic atmosphere is what truly makes it so perfect for Halloween. The book focuses on an unnamed young woman who marries Maxim de Winter, a man whose estate is still heavily influenced by his late wife, Rebecca. This is a beautifully written book that creates such a powerful presence for a character who technically does not appear in the story. It is a classic for good reason, and it is certainly a great read to get in the Halloween spirit!

5. Little Girls by Ronald Malfi

little_girlsThis is the kind of book that I never would have chosen if it weren’t for my reading challenge, which called for a book that scares me. The plot summary immediately caught my attention: a woman returns to her childhood home with her husband and daughter to help close off her late father’s estate. She soon encounters the child next door, who bears a strong resemblance to a childhood companion of hers who died when they were both children. This is the one book on this list that I would say is only for fans of genuinely scary stories. Surprisingly, I actually really enjoyed it, but I was also very scared!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

The Reading Habits and Readabits Book Tags

I first discovered Book Tags while watching some YouTube channels featuring book recommendations and reviews. I’ve always thought they seemed like a lot of fun, and have since participated in a few in one of my GoodReads groups. They are often a lot harder than they look!

Since my blog is still pretty new, I thought it would be good to start with the Reading Habits Tag to tell everyone a little more about myself. The tag was created by BookJazz, and the original video can be  found here. As I’ve seen done on a few other blogs, I’m also going to include the Readabits tag. The original video seems to be unavailable, but as far as I can tell, it was created by Turning the Pages, whose channel can be found here.

The Reading Habits Tag

1. Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

I mostly read in my room, either on my bed or sitting at my desk in front of the computer so I can control the music. I find the computer a bit distracting sometimes, but sitting on my bed can be too comfortable and make me sleepy!

2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Definitely a proper bookmark if I have one available.

3. Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter/ a certain amount of pages?

If at all possible, I prefer to stop at the end of a chapter or at least at a natural break in the text. I hate stopping in the middle of the page since I can never find my place again, and end up re-reading the whole page anyway. In terms of number of pages, I tend to have an idea in mind of how much I would like to read in a day, but I always overestimate!

4. Do you eat or drink while reading?

Never. Ever since I smudged chocolate on the edge of my copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I’ve never eaten or drank anything while reading except maybe having a water bottle on hand.

5. Multitasking: Music or TV while reading?

I can’t watch TV and read at the same time. Sometimes I can listen to music, and sometimes I find it too distracting. It really depends on my mood, how tired I am, and how difficult the book is.

6. One book at a time or several at once?

Just one. I don’t see any advantage to reading multiple books at once. Even if they are very different, I think I’d get confused and it would just take me longer to read each of them.

7. Reading at home or everywhere?

Right now, the only place I can really read is at home. I don’t have time at work since I only get half an hour for lunch and there are always people around. When I was in university, I brought books to read between classes and I could read just about anywhere as long as I had a comfortable place to sit.

8. Reading out loud or silently in your head?

Silently in my head. Why would I read out loud when I read to myself? I actually really don’t like reading out loud to a group, but I do it anyway at work.

9. Do you read ahead or even skip pages?

I try not to read ahead, although I sometimes have a tendency to skim ahead when the book is getting very exciting. I hate doing it because it spoils what’s happening next, but it’s hard to resist sometimes. I never skip pages.

10. Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?

Inevitably they end up breaking, but given the choice I would try to keep it looking as new as possible. I know that a broken spine at least shows that the book has been read and enjoyed, but it still bothers me when it looks cracked.

11. Do you write in your books?

Never! I hate when there is writing in the margins of my books. I was very upset the one time I ended up with a second-hand textbook for one of my classes, and it was already highlighted and had some notes in the margins. I find it so distracting.

The Readabits Tag

1. When do you find yourself reading? Morning, afternoon, evening, whenever you get the chance or all the time?

Currently I only have time to read in the evenings and on weekends, but I read every day. I work 8:30 – 4:30 every day, so I only have a few hours in the evening to read. On weekends, I read as much as I can after I’ve woken up enough to properly pay attention to what I’m reading.

2. What is your best setting to read in?

My room.

3. What do you do first – Read or Watch?

It’s hard to say. Watching the movie first spoils the ending of the book for me, but when I read the book first, I spend the enter movie frustrated about what they’ve changed. However, I still generally choose to read the book first, which seems a bit counter-productive since I’m more likely to enjoy a book, even if the end’s been spoiled, than I would enjoy a movie that got everything from the book “wrong.” Hopefully that made sense.

4. What form do you prefer? Audiobook, E-book or physical book?

Definitely physical books. I have trouble paying attention to audiobooks because I need to be doing something else while listening, but my mind tends to wander. I also have trouble reading for extended periods off a screen and tend to just scroll/skim and not read properly.

5. Do you have a unique habit when you read?

I don’t think so. I’m not really sure what would qualify as a unique habit.

6. Do book series have to match?

It annoys me if all of the copies I own don’t match, but it wouldn’t prevent me buying them. I’d rather have the content than not have it at all.

Is a Predictable Book a Bad Book?

In the course of my reading challenges, I’ve come across quite the variety of books. With about 150 books under my belt so far over the past two years, I’ve had plenty of time to really start thinking in more depth about what really makes a good book (at least in my opinion).

So Where Is This All Coming From?

Lately I’ve read a few books in a row that had one key issue in common: predictability. By “predictability,” I mean that key plot points were easy to determine early on in the book. It got me thinking about a Children’s Literature course I took back in university which centered on a very interesting idea that by now, there are no truly “unique” stories anymore. The stories that we know and love today are all variations on the same few themes, and all have the central theme of losing and regaining identity.

I think if we boil any story down to its most basic elements, there is definitely some truth to this. At its base, nearly every story needs the same elements: a main character who is soon confronted with some kind of problem, and must overcome obstacles to resolve it.

Even beyond this level, the specifics of how the story looks may have a lot in common. For example, if you strip away the details of the story, Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) seems quite similar to Tris Pryor (Divergent), and may even bear some similarities to Harry Potter, if only on a basic level. Note that the point is not for the characters to be exactly the same, but rather that they follow a similar template.

The stories that we tell or read are based on real or imagined experiences, so it makes sense that there are limits to how many unique stories we can come up with. Newer literature draws inspiration from our lives as well as from stories we’ve heard in the past.

Creativity vs. Predictability
cinder

The familiarity of the elements is not, or at least should not, be the sole defining feature of what makes a book enjoyable. I think many avid readers have faced the disappointment of coming to the end of a book that they’ve really enjoyed, only to find the ending fall a bit flat since they saw it coming from the first pages of the novel. This was the case for me recently when I read Cinder. While I really enjoyed the book, the author dropped anvil-sized hints early on about what should have been the “big revelation” toward the end. My initial reaction was disappointment, making a final rating a tough call. As a retelling, a very trendy kind of story recently, it’s natural to expect some level of predictability. After all, the book is intended to be yet another Cinderella story. However, despite the heavy-handed hinting, I realized that I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book because of it’s unique take on the story, and the interesting characters and world that were developed.

25881836As a result, I was left to wonder how a book can be so predictable, and yet still so enjoyable. Another recent book I read, See Me by Nicholas Sparks was predictable in a different way. Unlike Cinder, this book had almost the opposite pattern. Like most Nicholas Sparks books, the romance plot line was pretty predictable, however the book differed from his usual stories because there was also a plot about a stalker who was tormenting one of the main characters. Without giving any spoilers, I will just say that I was able to predict who the stalker was relatively early on, but I think that had more to do with how familiar I am with Sparks’ style. The hints where there, but they were definitely not glaring. A less predictable ending does not necessarily guarantee that the rest of the book is any better.

Based on these two books, among the many others that I’ve read with varying degrees of predictability, the best conclusion I could come up with is that a predictable book is not necessarily a boring or bad book. Since most stories consist of familiar elements anyway, the difference primarily comes down to how well the author crafts their story in a way that is still unique, or at least very well-written. Harry Potter, for instance, is a fantastic series because of how well J.K. Rowling developed the characters and the details of the wizarding world, not because Harry’s story is all that different from other fantasy heroes.

The Benefits of Predictability

Although it can definitely be very boring to continually feel that you are re-reading the exact same book over and over, predictability actually has some benefits:

  • There can be something very comforting about knowing what to expect. When you pick up a Cinderella story, you know upfront how it is (most likely) going to end
  • Using familiar patterns and motifs makes stories easier to understand (for younger readers), or easier to compare to other similar books
  • It can be easy to find a book that you are certain you’re going to enjoy
  • Depending on your mood, books that are more predictable can sometimes be easier to read in the sense that they don’t require as thorough attention as, say, a mystery or a thriller
  • You get to see just how creative authors can be when it comes to re-working familiar stories in new and unique ways

Welcome to my Library!

Hello everyone. I would like to welcome everyone to my “library” of books. Over the past two years, I’ve taken on reading challenges that I’ve found online to motivate myself to start reading more again and to branch out a bit more with my reading choices.

I actually started my first reading challenge completely on a whim after seeing it on a Facebook post. When I first saw the checklist and read through it, I was interested but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to commit to actually doing it. Over the next few days, the idea of the challenge started to really nag me. It seemed like a lot of fun, and I decided to give it a try. After all, it’s not like there were “challenge police” checking up on my progress and making sure I stuck to the list.

I decided to start out with something really easy. The first item on the list was “A book over 500 pages,” so I decided to go with a favourite book that I already knew that I would love just to get into the habit of reading in my spare time (instead of watching random Youtube videos or scrolling endlessly through Facebook). Once I finished the first book, it was easy to pick up the second, and from there to work my way through the whole challenge!

I enjoyed the experience so much that I developed a slight obsession with reading challenges and started looking out to see if another one would come up for 2016. I soon discovered that there were two: a new one by PopSugar, the creators of the original challenge that I completed, and one created by GoodReads users which is called the Around the Year Challenge (https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/174195-around-the-year-in-52-books). I quickly decided to take on the GoodReads challenge, and after some hesitation I took on the PopSugar challenge as well. About halfway through the year, I saw that I had progressed much further than I thought I’d be in both, so I decided to add two additional challenges: the Book Riot’s Read Harder challenges for 2015 and 2016. Coming up to the end of the year, I seem to be almost on track to complete them all although it will be tight!

My main reason for starting this blog is a bit of an off-shoot from the Around the Year Challenge. The 52 topics for the year are chosen by a very well-organized process of nominations and voting by group members. Each year, there are about 180 or so topics that don’t make it onto the final challenge which some people choose to take on as a “Rejects Challenge.” After spending most of this year going back and forth about whether I wanted to take on these two massive lists (one from 2015 and one from 2016), I finally decided to go for it, but with no time limit. I normally post about the books I read for my challenges on Facebook and Goodreads, but I didn’t want to overwhelm my Facebook friends with upwards of 300 books (although my GoodReads friends may be a little more tolerant)!

And so, here we are. I’m still new to the whole blogging thing, so it’s definitely a learning experience for me. I thought it would be a fun way to combine two of my main loves: reading and writing/reviewing. Feedback is definitely welcome!