Top 5 Wednesdays: Hidden Gems in Your Favourite Genre

I always have a hard time when topics call for books from a favourite genre, since I don’t necessarily have one consistent favourite. Back in August, I made a post about my top 10 YA hidden gems for a Top 10 Tuesday prompt, so that pretty much ruined my first choice to list some YA books. I decided to broaden it and go with contemporary as a genre since it is broad enough to encompass many of the books I’ve enjoyed, and seems less limiting than narrowing things down to specific age ranges. I know a lot of people purposely avoid contemporary books that are realistic because they read to escape, but I tend to really enjoy character-driven books that are set in the the real world.

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) Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

22716194I think this book got completely overshadowed by the incredible Still Alice, detailing the life of a woman who develops early-onset Alzheimers. This book is in a similar vein, about the family of Joe O’Brien, a police officer who is diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease after experiencing some bizarre symptoms. To be fair, although I rated both books 5 stars, this one did not quite have the same impact on me as Still Alice and occasionally seemed like it was telling virtually the same story. Lisa Genova has a real strength for telling emotionally-driven stories that also give a realistic look at what these unusual disorders may be like. I love how her books also focus on the impact of the disease on other family members, since that is a perspective that often seems to be overlooked. This book is nearly as strong as Still Alice but definitely less well-known, so it deserves a lot more attention.

2) The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

10909Of all of the Jodi Picoult books I’ve read, this seems to be one of a few that is very underrated. This book is about a 14-year-old girl named Trixie who may have been raped by her ex-boyfriend. It also focuses quite heavily on Trixie’s relationship with Daniel, her protective father, struggling with the idea of his little girl growing up, who is considering taking justice into his own hands. Part of the appeal of this book is the use of Daniel’s comics about Dante’s Inferno, which are a unique touch that really add to the story. For some reason, this seems to be one of Jodi Picoult’s most hated books, but I really enjoyed it. Jodi Picoult’s strength has always been her ability to write interesting characters and handle complex issues in a meaningful way, and to me this book was no exception.

3) The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle

17349173I read this book in the middle of 2016 for one of my reading challenges, and it quickly became one of my favourites of the year. It is about a 17-year-old high school student named Morgan whose parents discover that she is having an affair with her married teacher. Morgan refuses to accept her parents’ view that she is being manipulated, and instead is willing to take the stand at her teacher’s trial to testify that their relationship is real. This book was by far one of the best student-teacher relationship stories that I’ve ever read because of the strength of the writing and especially of the character development. This book was my pick for a prompt requiring a book with a beautiful title, and I also loved the cover artwork. Since then, I’ve also read Keepsake by Kristina Riggle which was another great and underrated book that I would recommend.

4) Wrecked by Maria Padian

28110862This was one of my most anticipated books for last year.  It originally came out in October 2016, but it flew under the radar for quite a while before I decided to commit to it for my 2017 reading challenges. Ironically, it ended up being one of the books I kept procrastinating on until close to the end of the year even though it was one of the ones I wanted to read most. This book is about a sexual assault that takes place on a college campus, as told from the perspectives of the victim’s roommate and the accused’s friend. I thought this book did an excellent job of depicting the complexity of the issue and I liked how it came at it from angles outside of the two people who were involved. It was an interesting and unique version of this storyline, and very well-written. I’m surprised this book has received less than 1000 ratings on Goodreads, and under 300 reviews given how popular books on this topic seem to have become recently.

5) Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

30037870I originally felt that this book got completely overshadowed by The Hate U Give, only to realize that it was only officially released last week and the copy I read must have been an ARC. I got it for free from the library and didn’t realize I had it so far in advance. It is about an African-American girl named Mary B. Addison who is now living in a group home after spending several years in jail. Mary and her mother were accused of killing a white baby who was under their care, and Mary is now pregnant with her boyfriend’s child, needing to set the record straight once and for all about what happened so she can keep her own child when it is born. It is a difficult book to read because of the subject matter, which includes abuse, systemic racism, and many other issues. I though this book was very compelling with a shocking ending. I guess it’s too early to know whether this is really a hidden gem since it just came out, but I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

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Top 10 Tuesdays: Books I Can’t Believe I Read

When I first saw this week’s topic, my mind first went to books that I couldn’t believe I’d read because I didn’t like them. Browsing through my Goodreads list, I actually couldn’t find too many books that I really couldn’t believe I’d tried. I’m generally pretty good at picking books that I will like for my reading challenges, but inevitably there are a few every year that are disappointing. I wouldn’t really say I regret those books though, since most of them were books that I really wanted to try and I can at least say I gave them a fair shot.

Instead, I decided to interpret this week’s topic as ten books I can’t believe I read, and more specifically 10 classics. I have always been a fan of classics since I watched the Wishbone series in elementary school, and I’ve enjoyed finally getting the chance to read the real versions of many of these stories. This year, I’ve decided to mostly take a break from classics because I’ve read the majority of the ones that I was most excited for, and the remaining few that I really want to read are pretty long. I thought taking a year away from them might give me the motivation to possibly try them next year instead.

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) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

6185I’ve actually had a copy of this book since about seventh or eighth grade, where I picked it up at a school book fair along with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (which I still haven’t read). In high school, one of my close friends read it and constantly complained about the language style, especially of one character who spoke in a lot of slang. It really put me off giving this book a chance for myself, until I finally decided to include it as part of my first reading challenge in 2015 which called for a classic romance. It was better than I expected it to be, although the story did not quite go in the direction I thought it would. The language was a little difficult to manage in the beginning, and I wouldn’t necessarily consider this a favourite, but I can’t believe I finally read it because I had it for so many years before giving it a chance!

2) A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

162898I’ve mentioned before that this was one of my least favourite books from any of my reading challenges. It is a classic that I’ve always wanted to read because I love Arthurian stories, but it was never at the top of my list. I read it for a prompt requiring a book that was published 100 years before I was born, and almost immediately regretted my choice. I could not get into the story at all. The book is about a man named Hank Morgan who gets transported back to King Arthur’s time, and immediately takes it upon himself to modernize it using ideas from his own time. I usually love social commentary in books and that was the one aspect here that I did enjoy, but I really struggled to get through the book and ended up (for the first time ever) having to switch to an audio version because I was not taking in anything from the pages I was reading. The language was dry and the descriptions were too long and overly descriptive to the point where I lost track of what was actually happening. The book actually is much better in audio format, to be fair. I can’t believe I finished this one because of how much of a struggle it was!

3) The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

12296This was another book that I really struggled with, chosen for a prompt in 2017 requiring a book with a strong female protagonist. All I knew about this book going into it was that Hester Prynne was accused of adultery and forced to wear a scarlet letter A on her chest to publicly shame her. It was a story I was introduced to through the Wishbone series and had always meant to read the original. I actually enjoyed the storyline, but I did not like the writing style, especially the lengthy opening of the book where the narrator describes “finding” the story in an extremely dry chapter that almost made me give up on the book right then and there. Luckily, as it moved into the main story, things picked up although I still had a very hard time connecting with it. I was also surprised that so much of the story focused on Hester’s daughter, since I didn’t remember that character at all. I can’t believe I read this book because it took me much longer than expected to get through it, and I came pretty close to dropping it because of the boring beginning.

4) The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston LeRoux

480204I first tried to read this book around 2004 when the movie version came out, and I could not get into it at all. It was around the same time that I first saw the stage version, and was disappointed to find that the book was very different from both the play and the movie. I finished it but felt like I didn’t understand it at all. I decided to give it a second chance for one of my reading challenges, and it ended up becoming a favourite. Honestly, I still think I prefer the stage version but I liked the book so much better the second time around. The Phantom is such a fascinating anti-hero that you can’t help but root for, even when his behaviour is very disturbing. I think it was nice to give it a chance when I hadn’t seen any other versions in a while since it gave me the distance needed to treat this one on its own, without comparing it to other versions. I can’t believe I read it because it took two chances to get into it, but it was worth it!

5) Great Expectations and 6) Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

262318254For some reason, I had the bright idea to choose to read this book with a time limit. Given the choice of literally any book we wanted for an assignment in high school, I decided to choose this one and make my first attempt at reading Dickens. It was a very silly decision to try to read this without enough time to devote to it properly, and while simultaneously trying to analyze it for an assignment. Given all of that, I actually enjoyed this book more than I thought, and I would love to give it another chance on my own time, especially since I remember so little of it. I decided to try Oliver Twist for one of my reading challenges, and once again found Dickens’ writing style difficult to read so the book felt a little slow. He is brilliant when it comes to writing more psychological scenes (ie. Miss Havisham, or the rooftop scene from Oliver Twist), but the books both were tough for me. I can’t believe I read these two because I was intimidated by the writing style.

7) Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

50398Pride & Prejudice has always been one of my favourite classics, and I was eager to give other Jane Austen books a chance. When I was in university and had many long breaks between classes, I decided it was the perfect chance to read some of the classics I’d been meaning to try for a long time. I remember reading this book, but unfortunately I have no memory whatsoever of the characters or the story. The only thing I remember is that I didn’t like it as much as Pride & Prejudice. Otherwise, all I know about it came from the Wishbone episode that I watched many years ago, which is strange since I usually remember at least a little about each book I read. I will have to give this one another chance  This is one that I can’t believe I read in the literal sense, since I have no memory of it at all.

8) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

17470674This book is in the same boat as Northanger Abbey. I read it because I knew I’d missed out on all three of the big classic dystopians when I was in school, and decided to incorporate all three into my reading challenges over the past couple of years. I really liked 1984, and I thought Brave New World was interesting but weird. I know I really enjoyed the concept of this book, especially with how books kept getting condensed to shorter and shorter versions over time, but I found the writing style choppy and hard to follow, and I was not a huge fan of the storyline as a result of it. Since I had so much trouble with it, I also found it a lot less memorable than the other classic dystopians that I had read, and I actually remember next to nothing about it at all. It is another book that I can’t believe I read in the literal sense of not being able to say anything about what happened in it.

9) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and 10) Dracula by Bram Stoker

1849017245I’m treating these two books together because both were books that I’d wanted to read for many years before I finally gave them a chance. Frankenstein quickly became a favourite, and I ended up putting Dracula off for almost a full year before finally giving it a chance and enjoying it. I’ve never been a huge fan of horror stories, but I knew enough about both of these to be comfortable reading them. Both were very interesting books that were great classics to read. I especially loved the commentary about humanity in Frankenstein, and I thought the characters in Dracula were great. These were both books that I wanted to read for many years, and I can’t believe I finally got around to them!

Monthly Recommendations: Best First Books in a Series

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered the Monthly Recommendations group on Goodreads, which asks bloggers and vloggers to give book recommendations based on a monthly theme. What immediately appealed to me about this group is the flexibility. You can pick as few or as many books as you want, and you are free to make the post whenever you want during the month (although it is recommended to post within the first week of the month).

The first topic for this year caught my attention right away because of how many new series I started over the past two years. Based on how often many of these series were mentioned on multiple vlogs and blogs, I decided to give them a chance and see if they live up to the hype. For me, the first book in a series is critical to whether I’m interested in continuing since reading series can be such a time commitment. Books like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Bad Beginning, and The Hunger Games were instrumental to getting me into some of my favourite series of all time. Over the past couple of years, I’ve discovered so many other great series. I interpreted “best first book in a series” as series with a very strong first book, but not necessarily where the first book is the best in the series. To be fair, many of these are books that I’ve mentioned before, but they definitely fit the theme.

Monthly Recommendations is a Goodreads group created by Kayla Rayne and Trina from Between Chapters. Monthly topics cane be found on the Goodreads page here

1) Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

25526296I just finished this book a couple of days ago, and I just had to mention it first. This novella is about a boarding school for students who have returned from alternate worlds such as Narnia or Wonderland. Students at Eleanor West’s school are seeking to return to the fantasy lands they left, although their parents think they are learning to function normally in the real world again. This book follows a new student named Nancy whose arrival at the school seems to bring forth a tragedy, and it is up to her and her classmates to find out what really happened. I thought this book was very well-written and the characters were fascinating. I loved the way the book tried to classify fantasy worlds on a few different dimensions, and especially how the compelling the characters were. The book reminded me a bit of a mix of Harry Potter and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and I can’t wait to read more!

2) Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

13455782This was another one that came to mind quickly because I just finished Ignite Me last night, after devouring 300 pages of it in one day. This book is about a teenage girl named Juliette whose skin causes immense pain or even death to anyone who touches it. At the start of the series, she has been locked up for murder, and the world is in shambles, with a movement called The Reestablishment who take control and destroy everything and start over. Looking back on many of the Goodreads reviews, I see that most people were not such a fan of this book but I fell in love with it immediately. A lot of complaints were about the use of very metaphoric language, and the frequent use of strikethroughs to cross out Juliette’s thoughts. I guess I’m in the minority, but I loved the writing style and I found the strikethroughs very effective in understanding Juliette’s thought process.  I enjoyed the whole series, and I thought this book was a great start.

3) Cinder by Marissa Meyer

cinderI actively avoided this series for a long time because it seemed so overhyped and I wasn’t sure it was something that I would enjoy, but I’m so glad I gave it a chance! This book is a futuristic retelling of Cinderella set in New Beijing, where the main character is a cyborg and a talented mechanic. This series is set in a world where people are stricken with a plague, and are at risk of war with the Lunars, a powerful race of people living on the Moon. I found the first book in this series a bit predictable but thoroughly entertaining, and it left me very excited to read the rest of the series. Even though I could easily predict the ending, I still enjoyed reading the story and finding out exactly how it would play out, and the characters in this series are amazing! I would highly recommend the entire series.

4) A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

16096824This was another series that I avoided for a long time because for some reason, I thought it would be similar to Twilight. I’ve only read the first book so far, but it was enough to get me hooked. I’ve seen this book advertised as a loose Beauty and the Beast retelling, but I’m not sure if that really does it justice. It is about a girl named Feyre who is taken away to live in a magical kingdom as punishment for accidentally killing a faerie, and is forced to live under the protection of a cursed Lord named Tamlin. I found this book a little slow in the beginning and I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to continue the series, but it really picked up in the second half and became so fascinating! I absolutely loved the introduction of Rhysand and the way the plot took off, leading up to a very compelling ending. I’m very excited to continue the series.

5) The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

17675462This book drew me in from the very first page. It follows a teenage girl named Blue Sargant, who takes part in an annual tradition where she and her clairvoyant family take down the names of people who will soon die as their spirits appear in the churchyard. One year, Blue sees a boy her age and soon learns that he is a student at the nearby Aglionby private school, and on a quest with his friends to find the sleeping King Glendower. I find it so difficult to explain the plot of this book, especially because I found it so confusing myself, but it caught my attention right away. When I read it, I was drawn into the story in a way I haven’t been since Harry Potter, and that is definitely high praise. It was easily one of the best books I read last year.

6) Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

8490112I’ve mentioned this before, but I feel like I don’t give this book the attention in deserves. It was another of my favourites of the year, and so beautifully written. This book is about a girl named Karou who was raised by chimaera in Prague, who have the ability to grant wishes in exchange for teeth. While on an “errand” to help collect teeth, Karou encounters an angel named Akiva, who seems to recognize her even though this  is the first time they’ve met. It’s another series that is pretty difficult to explain concisely and without giving anything away, but it such an amazing start to a series. Laini Taylor’s writing is stunning and really brings the unusual characters to life. It was so easy to get absorbed into the world and it is such a complex and detailed story. It’s another series that I can’t wait to continue.

7) Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

23395680This was another book that was on the fence about reading for a long time before I finally decided to give it a chance. I’m generally not a huge fan of science fiction, but I’d heard so many rave reviews for this one that I decided I had to give it a fair chance. This book is set several centuries in the future, where two megacorporations are fighting over a planet, forcing its people to evacuate onto a ship that is being pursued by the enemy. The main characters are a teenage couple who have very recently split up, and the story is told through a combination of emails, text messages, hacked documents, and more of that nature. I had some trouble getting into the story at first since we are thrown right into the middle of the action with little explanation, but it soon starts to come together. I thought the characters were very interesting, and especially loved the AI that becomes a major player later on in the book. I also loved the unusual format and thought it was a great and unique way to tell the story.

8) This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

23299512This was another easy favourite from last year, set in a world where monsters are created from humans’ sins. The book is told from the alternating perspectives of Kate Harker, the daughter of a ruthless man who forces people to pay for protection from the monsters, and August Flynn, a monster who just wants to be human. The characters were both so well-developed and compelling, and I loved the world that Victoria Schwab created. I loved how the book seemed to explore what makes someone a monster, whether its their actions or in their nature. I thought the book was such a strong and compelling read, and it was the first book in a long time that made me want to immediately go out and buy it and its sequel as soon as I finished it. It’s very rare for me to buy books anymore, but this one was well worth it.

9) Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

22328546I honestly don’t understand why this book has received so much hate. I was so worried going into this one because I saw many complaints about it being generic and a mashup of other dystopians, but that is not the impression I had at all. The book definitely did share some common elements with other dystopian stories, but I don’t think it was any more than what is needed to classify it as part of the genre if that makes sense.  This book is about a girl named Mare who lives in a world divided into the elite Silvers, who are the rulers and have  unusual abilities, and the common Reds who are forced to serve them. Mare soon discovers that although she is a read, she has a strange power of her own and to hide this, the Silvers decide to betroth her to one of their princes. I loved the writing style, and I was surprised to find that the ending genuinely caught me off-guard. I wish more people would give this book a fair chance.

10) The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

the-madmans-daughterI was debating including this one since I’ve recommended it several times before, but it bothered me to have a list end with 9 items! This book is part of a YA series where each book is a loose retelling of a famous horror story, beginning with The Island of Doctor Moreau. I read this book as part of my reading challenge in 2016, and I almost bypassed it because it was one of those books I kept putting off until close to the end of the year. I’m so glad I didn’t skip over it though, because it caught my interest from the very first pages. This first book in the series follows Juliet Moreau, daughter of the infamous Doctor, who is trying to build a life for herself in London and escape the scandal of her father’s experiments. I loved the Gothic atmosphere of this book, and how Juliet seemed like a much stronger lead character than many other YA protagonists. Fair warning — like most YA series, there is still a love triangle, but I thought it was actually handled pretty well. This series does not seem to be as well-known as many of the others listed here, which is a shame because it’s really good!

Top 5 Wednesdays: Books You Disliked but Love to Discuss

This topic was a really tough one for me. I have plenty of books that I love to discuss, but most of those are books that I loved. I’m generally pretty good at picking books that I’m confident I’m going to enjoy, so looking back on my Goodreads lists from the past couple of years, I found very few books that I truly disliked. Most of those that I did dislike are books that I’m not really interested in discussing either. I find it a lot more fun to discuss books that I love, even (especially?) if my opinions on them are unpopular. For example, I love discussing Me Before You, even though I  know most people can’t stand the book. My other challenge with coming up with these books is that several of them seem to be a bit more on the obscure side, so even though I might like to discuss them, I don’t really have anyone to discuss them with!

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) Saving Max by Antoinette van Heugten 

7895937This book was one of my most frustrating reads during my first ever reading challenge! The book is about a lawyer named Danielle Parkman whose son Max is diagnosed with autism and is committed to a psychiatric facility for disturbed behaviour where he is accused of killing another patient. Danielle is convinced that her son could not possibly have attacked the other boy, and takes it upon herself to prove it. The main reason this book frustrated me is because Danielle’s behaviour was so irritating! She was constantly thinking to herself that she should not be doing certain things, and then went ahead and did them anyway, even knowing that it might not be in Max’s best interest. Her suspicions that the psychiatric facility was wrong about Max seemed too sudden for me since we got so little of their relationship before he was committed. I also found the book awkwardly written, and a very poor representation of autism. Max did not seem to have any autistic traits at all except for being skilled with computers. I like to discuss the book because it had so much potential to be a great story, especially with some of the major plot points revealed toward the end. It’s not a very well-known book, and it was a complete disappointment to me, but I still have fun discussing (or ranting about) it.

2) Strange Son by Portia Iversen

227142This book is already a controversial one that has generated quite a bit of discussion on its own. The book is written by Portia Iversen, a mother of a son who has autism, who meets Tito Mukhopadhyay, a boy with severe autism who lives in India and seems to have shown incredible intelligence thanks to his mother’s devotion to teaching him. Portia brings Tito and his mother to the US to help researchers learn her teaching methods to use with other autistic children. I am not unbiased in this subject matter, since I work in a day program for young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities, and I’m fascinated by stories of individuals like Carly Fleischmann who have learned to communicate and show the amazing skills they have. I did not enjoy this book because I found Portia’s attitude toward her son very difficult to read. The methods Tito’s mother used to get him to communicate were also controversial. There was a lot of similarity to the now-discredited facilitated communication, and her methods often seemed quite harsh. I have seen video footage of Tito writing and typing on his own, so it seems at least some of his communication is genuine, but I found the book interesting to discuss because of the unusual methods Soma used and especially the issue of facilitated communication.

3) The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

30555488I had a very hard time reading this book, and I think a big part of that is that I went into it expecting it not to interest me very much. This book is about a slave named Cora who travels along the Underground Railroad, conceptualized in this book as a real railroad, to escape from the plantation she lives on. In a sense, I feel like this is a book I need to give a second chance to because I like the concept, but I just could not get into the writing style at all. I found it very distant which made it hard for me to connect with the characters of the story at all. I found it boring and it took me way too long to make my way through it. It’s the kind of book where afterwards, looking at all the other positive reviews, I was left wondering if I’d read the same book as everyone else. There were some sections I really enjoyed, but considering the book is relatively short, it took me almost a full week to read and I was not interested at all. It didn’t help that I’d studied that period of American history in some detail in school, so not much of the story was particularly shocking to me. I think the biggest issue was the distant writing which made it so hard for me to connect, but I like to discuss this one because it is such a great idea.

4) The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer

41865First of all, I find “saga” a bit of a strong word for this series. I read all four of these books and I am a bit interested in trying them all again, but I definitely do not think they lived up to all the hype. I’m not even sure I would say I disliked this series since I didn’t outright hate it either. More than anything, I found it disappointing but there are definitely some great discussion points, especially about the relationships between Bella, Edward and Jacob. I know there has been quite a bit of talk about Edward’s behaviour bordering on abuse, but I think Jacob had his moments as well. Let’s not even get into the bizarre “imprinting” issue which was both creepy and way too convenient. I found the series as a whole mediocre, and I was especially disappointed by the final “battle” although there were some parts that I really enjoyed. What frustrates me most about this series is that it had so much potential to be a great story, and given all the hype, I was expecting a lot more.

5) The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard

5161This is another book that doesn’t seem to be that well-known, although it was part of Oprah’s book club. I read this book a couple of years ago as part of one of my reading challenges, but it  had one of the most irritating main characters I’ve ever read. It is about a woman named Beth whose 3-year-old son is kidnapped from a hotel lobby while she is there for a class reunion, returning 9 years later to a family he now doesn’t remember at all. This book raised some very interesting ethical questions about what was best for the child, and to see the family’s attempts to cope with the loss after the boy first goes missing. It had such potential to be a fascinating family drama, but unfortunately I couldn’t stand the main character and it made it hard to get into the book at all. I ended up bored and frustrated with it, which is too bad because there are so many great discussion points and it really is an interesting subject.

Top 10 Tuesdays: Top 10 Books You Enjoyed But Don’t Remember Well

One of the disadvantages of my reading challenges sometimes is that I read so many books in a year, it’s hard to remember all of them in detail. I don’t often write reviews, but every time I finish a book, I take some notes on it so I can remember them well enough for monthly and yearly wrap-ups, book tags, etc. I’ve actually switched my process this year to use point-form notes instead of writing full paragraphs, which has been such a time-saver! There are some books that are an immediate 5 stars for me because they are so engaging while I read them, and so memorable after the fact. There are lots of other books that I enjoy at the time but they don’t stand out much, or that I read so long ago now that I can’t remember much about them. I’m definitely due for a re-read on some of these!

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) Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

14866Most of Jodi Picoult’s books are easily 5 star reads and I can remember at least something about the plot of each one, even those that I didn’t like as much. I read Nineteen Minutes several years ago, and I loved it. I remember it was one of my favourites of hers, but I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the plot beyond what the synopsis tells you. This book focuses on a school shooting, told from multiple perspectives including the daughter of the judge in charge of the case. I think I read this one during a phase where I was racing through so many of her books because I loved them all, and probably read it a little too quickly to remember in detail. I’m definitely going to re-read this book sometime within the year to refresh my memory!

2) The Rescue by Nicholas Sparks

3462I used to be absolutely obsessed with Nicholas Sparks’ books and I read them all over and over. Of all his books, this is the one I remember least although I read it several times. I got this book along with A Bend in the Road and The Guardian, and I must have read each of those at least once a year. Even though I’ve probably read those three the same number of times each, it’s the one I remember least. All I remember from it is that the main male character is a firefighter, and he bonds with the woman’s son…information that is all contained within the synopsis. It’s been several years since I’ve read this one (or the others mentioned, for that matter) and it’s probably worth giving another chance.

3) Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman and 4) The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

24137183656Catherine, Called Birdy was one of my all-time favourite books when I was younger. It was one of the first books that I read that reversed the “damsel in distress” trope with a strong, witty female character who stood up for herself, and I loved it! I can’t really remember any details about it by now since it’s been so many years since I last tried it. The Two Princesses of Bamarre is a bit of a weird case since I’m not 100% sure that I even read it, but I’m fairly confident that I did and that it was one of my favourites for a time. It is about a young princess who sets out to save her older sister from a plague by going on an adventure to find the cure. I know that I read a book when I was younger about two princesses which I loved, and I’m fairly confident that this is the one but even looking at the synopsis was not enough to trigger my memory.

5) Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine and 6) The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

659654724396876Another pair that I can discuss together, since these are both middle grade books that I read as part of my reading challenges in 2016. Mockingbird is about an 11-year-old girl named Caitlin who has Asperger’s Syndrome and who has lost her older brother, and The Thing About Jellyfish is about a girl named Suzy who is coping with the death of her best friend. I remember loving both of these books and I thought that they were both very well-written. I especially loved how they both dealt with such complex topics at a level appropriate for a younger reader. These were both books that I loved at the time, but remember very little of by now.

7) A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

128029To be fair, none of Hosseini’s books have lived up to The Kite Runner for me. I read this book in 2015 as part of my first reading challenge, so the time might be a big factor in why I remember so little of it. I thought this book was beautifully written, but I can only remember the very basics of the plot. This book is about Mariam and Laila, two women from Afghanistan who form a close bond with each other that spans several decades. Looking over a plot summary now reminded me of how much I enjoyed the book, but for some reason it is hard for me to actually recall the details of it on my own. I think this one is mostly due to how many years have passed, but I do remember thinking that it was not quite as powerful as The Kite Runner for me.

8) The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

13497818Unpopular opinion time — I actually really enjoyed this book. I was so nervous to read anything outside of the Harry Potter universe by J.K. Rowling, but I ended up liking this book a lot more than I expected to. This book is about the people living in a town called Pagford who are trying to elect a replacement for a council member who has suddenly passed away. This book is definitely slow-paced compared to the Harry Potter series, but J.K. Rowling has a real talent for crafting complex characters, and that is where this book shines. I read it more than 4 years ago already, probably closer to the time that it first debuted in 2011, so I remember very little of it. I just remember being pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it. I know a lot of people have complained about all of the characters being unlikable people, but I think that was part of what kept it interesting for me.

9) Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway and 10) The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout

1313281626721568I don’t think I’ve ever had a Top 10 list where I’ve had 3 separate pairs of books, but this is another set that I think is worth discussing together. Both of these are YA books that had a bit of a unique angle. In Emmy & Oliver, the main characters are best friends whose friendship was altered when Oliver was kidnapped by his own father and returns home after several years. The Problem with Forever focuses on two main characters who grew up together in an abusive foster home, and are separated for about 5 years before finally meeting again in high school. I really enjoyed both of these books, and of the two, I remember a bit more of Emmy & Oliver because the premise was so unique and I liked how it treated the kidnapping and Oliver’s emotions about it so realistically, even though I can’t remember much of the actual plot. I only read The Problem with Forever toward the end of last August, and already I remember very little of it. For a book that’s close to 500 pages and that I finished less than 6 months ago, I would expect to remember a bit more!

The Rapid Fire Book Tag

I don’t why, but I was absolutely convinced that I had already done this tag and posted it here. This tag was created by GirlReading last year, and it consists of a bunch of questions about a variety of reading preferences. I was reminded of it not too long ago, when I saw it on IceBreaker’s blog (here), which is actually what prompted me to finally go back through my own archives and check whether I’d answered these questions before. And since I always forget to tag people — if you haven’t done this tag yet but would like to, consider yourself tagged!

E-Book or Physical Book?

Definitely physical books. I have a lot of trouble reading books off a screen, for some reason. Whenever I read anything on a screen, I have a tendency to skim through it way too fast and not actually read properly.

Paperback or Hardback?

I’m on the fence with this one. Hardbacks are so expensive, but they are usually much more durable. Paperbacks are lighter and easier to take with me when travelling (not that I travel so much), and usually pretty inexpensive but they bother me when the spines crack. In a way, it depends on the book. For most books, I don’t mind paperbacks, but for longer books I prefer hardbacks so they don’t break.

Online or In-Store Book Shopping?

If the question is what I do more often, then definitely online. The nearest bookstore is about half an hour away by bus and the books can be kind of pricey so I don’t shop there very often, although I love to browse! I actually don’t buy books too often in general since I use my library a lot, but when I do I often order them online.

Trilogies or Series?

It is complete dependent on how they are done. I don’t mind longer series if the books are good and there is enough going on to actually justify multiple books in the series. The only drawback I find sometimes with longer series is that I sometimes get bored reading all of the books in a row since it feels like too much of the same world. That’s more down to my reading habits than the books themselves though, since I could just alternate books from the series with something else.

Heroes or Villains?

I love a good complex villain, but there aren’t too many books that I know of that seem to have them. I also like reading about heroes as long as they aren’t the “almost perfect in every way” kind. A lot of hero protagonists can get pretty generic.

A book you want everyone to read?

I always have a hard time with these kinds of questions because it’s impossible to pick something that would be to everyone’s taste. The one that keeps coming to mind is The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult, which is by far the best book set during the Holocaust that I’ve ever read.

Recommend an underrated book?

I’ve mentioned this one before, but Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia. The main character is obnoxious and some people might have trouble with the book because of that, but it is one of the most unique YA stories I’ve read and the synopsis really does not do it  justice.

The last book you finished?

This may be slightly embarrassing, but Rules by Cynthia Lord. I also finished off The Wind in the Willows for the first time yesterday.

The Last Book You Bought?

I bought 18 books through BookOutlet, so I think that’s a bit too much to list although my Instagram photo can be found here. The last book I received was Blood Sisters, which arrived yesterday, that I got for free from a Goodreads giveaway!

Weirdest Thing You’ve Used as a Bookmark?

I usually just use regular bookmarks, but I’ve probably used scraps of paper or a pen before too if I didn’t have a bookmark available.

Used Books: Yes or No?

I prefer to get my books new if at all possible, but in reality I end up getting most of them used. I tend to prioritize buying my favourites brand new if I can, and everything else can be used as long as it is in good condition.

Top Three Favourite Genres?

Contemporary, fantasy and psychological thrillers

Borrow or Buy?

I usually borrow since I have a great public library nearby, but if I read something I really love, I’ll buy a copy.

Characters or Plot?

Both are important, but I’m more likely to get frustrated by poorly developed characters than I am by a mediocre plot. So I’d have to go with character.

Long or Short Books?

Medium, really. I find short books tend not to develop the characters/plot as much as I would like, but long books tend to lose my attention (with some exceptions). If I had to pick, I would pick longer books so it would have more time to develop.

Long or Short Chapters?

Depends how they are done. In general, shorter chapters because it’s easier to find a suitable place to stop if needed.

Name The First Three Books You Think Of…

  • Harry Potter (of course, lol)
  • The Raven Boys
  • Me Before You

Books That Makes You Laugh or Cry?

This might seem a bit weird, but it is much easier for a book to make me cry than it is to make me laugh. I love funny books, but I prefer books that have a strong emotional impact. Those that make me cry tend to be more memorable.

Our World or Fictional Worlds?

Depends on my mood. I’m not always in the mood to read very descriptive chapters about what a world looks like, although I do enjoy reading about their social structure. On the other hand, fictional worlds can be fascinating when they are well done. When the book is set in the real world, the focus can be on the characters and story immediately, which can be good if I just want to jump straight in.

Audiobooks: Yes or No?

I very rarely listen to audiobooks, and when I do it is usually because I’m having trouble getting through the physical book. The one audiobook that I really loved was Jeremy Irons narrating Lolita, but aside from that, I generally prefer physical books.

Do You Ever Judge a Book by its Cover?

I wouldn’t say judge, but I do notice covers. I have been intrigued by books on Goodreads because of the cover art, but I’ll always check if the synopsis is something that interests me before I add it to my TBR. Cover art doesn’t put me off reading something unless it is really scary or disgusting.

Book to Movie or Book to TV Adaptations?

Book to movie, just because I don’t watch a lot of TV and don’t always have the time to devote to series. I think TV adaptations have potential to be more faithful to the book, but because they have to go on for longer, there is also a lot of room for the story to diverge from the books and that can be good or bad depending on how it is done. Book to movie adaptations tend to frustrate me when they skip over or change a lot of the story, but it’s usually a good way to capture the spirit of the story.

A Movie or TV-Show You Preferred to its Book?

Definitely The DUFF! I hated the book, but the movie was great. Also, I wasn’t a fan of The Devil Wears Prada book, but I love the movie.

Series or Standalones?

Up until recently, I would have said standalones hands-down, but I’ve read so many great series over the past year that I may need to change my mind. Series are more of a time commitment though, so I still read predominantly standalones.

Top 5 Wednesdays: Forgettable Books

When I first thought about books that were forgettable, my mind jumped to my reads that I rated 3 stars or lower. As I looked at my Goodreads list of books I read, I realized that in some ways, these books were more memorable although not always in a good way. It was often very easy to remember what exactly I didn’t like about it. I was surprised to realize that some of the most forgettable books were actually books that I really enjoyed. I found that some of the books in the 4 star range were the most forgettable. I remembered enough to know that I enjoyed them, but couldn’t remember to much detail about the story or what I really liked. I’m sure a part of this is because I read so many books in total throughout the year that it’s impossible to have a distinct memory of them all. In fact, what tends to separate a 5 star reading from 4-star books is how likely I am to remember them long-term.

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) Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks

46799I don’t know what it is about this book, but despite reading it multiple times, I have no memory of it whatsoever. When I was a teenager, I went through a phase where I read so many of Beatrice Sparks’ series of “anonymous” diaries of teenagers going through problems such as pregnancy, drug addiction, eating disorders, etc. This book focuses on a teenager named Alice who spirals into drug addiction after having LSD in a drink at a party. I read the book, and a couple of years later, realized I had no memory of it whatsoever and tried it again. It’s now been years since I’ve read it, but even pretty soon afterwards, I couldn’t tell you what happened in it or any details at all about the plot. It’s weird because I do have some memory of a couple of Beatrice Sparks’ other books, so it wasn’t just the format or the writing style that I found unmemorable. It was something specifically with this book that I’ve never been able to figure out.

2) Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

25756328This book was only a 3-star read for me precisely because it was so generic and forgettable. It is about a teenage girl named Lina who is spending the summer in Italy due to her mother’s dying wish for her to know her father. While there, Lina receives the journal that her mother kept while living in Italy herself, and starts to uncover some of her family’s secrets. I’m honestly not 100% sure why I thought I’d enjoy this book because I’m not a big fan of the whole “teenagers grudgingly travel to Europe” nor of travel books in general. I was hoping that the story would be strong enough on the character side to keep my attention, but I found Lina irritating and she seemed so clueless about things that should have been really obvious. It was a quick and fluffy read, but completely forgettable.

3) Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate

26240663I was pretty excited to read this book last year because of the whole “seven deadly sins” concept. The book is told from the perspective of seven high school students who each represent one of the sins, and whose school is faced with the scandal of a student-teacher affair. It was a great concept and I liked how the sin that the characters represented was not always immediately obvious. I also really liked how the author tried to incorporate a range of sexual orientations and especially how the author challenged attitudes toward women and toward sexuality. While I enjoyed the book well enough at the time, and ultimately rated it 4 stars, I can’t remember anything at all about the specifics of the plot. Considering I only read this book in November 2017, I would expect to have at least some memory of what it was about.

4) When We Collided by Emery Lord

25663637This was another case of a book that I enjoyed for the most part while I read it, but pretty quickly forgot about afterwards. The problem with YA contemporary is that they all start to feel pretty similar after a while, especially when you read many close together. This book is about Vivi, who suffers from bipolar disorder, and Jonah, who is attempting to hold his family together after his father’s death and mother’s subsequent depression. I think part of the reason that the book was so forgettable for me is because I had a hard time buying into the relationship between the two main characters. It felt very, very rushed and they did not seem to be very well-suited for each other. It seemed like a very similar story could have been told if the characters were platonic friends, and it might have been that much more believable. Instead, we were expected to just accept that the characters were together and in love, with very little development to back it up. It was a decent book and I’m glad I gave it a chance, but definitely not the most memorable YA contemporary I’ve read (and I’ve read many)!

5) My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

12294652Maybe I just need to be more selective about the YA contemporaries that I read. I was on the fence about whether to include this book or What I Thought Was True which I read this year. I decided to pick this one because I actually really enjoyed it at the time, but can’t remember much of the story. This book is about a teenage girl named Samantha who falls in love with Jase Garrett, the boy next door whose large family is (for some reason) looked down on by others in their community. Samantha’s mom is running for state senator, and I remember her being an absolutely infuriating character but I can’t remember why. I liked the relationship that developed between Samantha and Jase, but I also thought both characters seemed a little on the one-dimensional side. It was another book that I enjoyed at the time, but forgot about pretty much as soon as I finished.