Top 5 Wednesdays: Dystopian Books (Still on My TBR)

What better way to sum up this disaster of a year, than with a look at some dystopians? To be honest, I’m kind of glad the dystopian trend has died down a bit in YA. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy many of the series that did come out at that time, but I was definitely starting to look for a bit more variety. I was actually a bit late to the trend overall. I read The Hunger Games shortly after the first movie came out in 2012, and read Divergent a couple of years later. At the height of the YA dystopian trend, I wasn’t reading a ton because I was still in school. Once I started doing reading challenges in 2015, I decided to read some of the well-known series over the span of a few years, including Matched, Shatter Me (the first three books), Delirium, Red Queen, and probably a few more. I still have quite a few on my TBR, although I burnt myself out a bit on the genre for a while. I actually really wanted to reread the and finish the Shatter Me series this year, but I ran out of time for that. The books listed below are all dystopians that are still on my TBR. I don’t have any active plans to pick them up right now, but I’d love to try them all eventually.

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) Unwind by Neal Shusterman

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This book has been vaguely on my radar for a few years now, but I haven’t had too much motivation to pick it up. I recently read the Scythe series by the same author and really enjoyed that, so it has kind of reignited my interest in this one. This book is set in a world where a Civil War had been fought over reproductive rights, resulting in a new policy which gives parents the right to choose for their teenagers to be “unwound,” a process by which their organs are all transplanted into different donors. The main characters are all teenagers who are all at risk of being unwound, but together they may have a chance to escape and survive. Like the Scythe series, this one has such an interesting and unusual premise, and it raises some very intriguing philosophical questions about the value of life and possibly even about the roles of parents and even of children in a society. The whole premise of this one seems so creepy! I think part of the reason I haven’t picked it up yet is because I’ve seen some very mixed reviews for it, although the Goodreads ratings seem to be quite high overall. I’ve left it on my TBR since I’d still like to give it a try at some point, but it’s not something I find myself gravitating toward very often.

2) The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

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I keep meaning to read more of Patrick Ness’s books, but somehow never end up picking them up. I even have a copy of the first book in this series and had tentatively planned to prioritize it next year, but decided against it since I had too many other series that I wanted to read more. This series is about a boy named Todd who lives in a town that has been infected by the Noise germ which killed all women and gave all living creatures the ability to hear each other’s thoughts. Todd is just a month away from being considered an adult when he discovers an area of his town that is free of the endless Noise, the name given to the constant stream of images, words and sounds that come with being able to read others’ minds. Deciding that the town must be hiding something, Todd decides to flee with just his dog, and soon discover a girl who seems to be the only female to survive the germ. I think part of the reason I haven’t read this yet, aside from the fact that the books are quite lengthy, is because I found the synopsis a little confusing, but I love Patrick Ness’s writing and I would love to give this a chance at some point.

3) Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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I’ve had this series on my TBR since 2016, but can’t remember exactly where I first heard of it. Even though I had it on my list first, it really came to my attention around the time I read Red Queen since I’d heard that the the two series were quite similar. It is about a man named Darrow who is a Red, part of the lowest caste in his society where he is forced to work to make the surface of Mars habitable, but believes his work is important for securing a good future for the next generations. However, when Darrow discovers that everything he has been told by the ruling Gold caste has been a lie, and sets out to infiltrate their ranks and overthrow them. To be fair, the only resemblance I really see to Red Queen is the colour-based system for the castes. I’m still very interested in reading this one, but at this point I think I may as well wait until the last book in the second trilogy is published, which is supposed to be due for some time in 2021. I may end up prioritizing this series for 2022, although it’s still much to early to really commit to that.

4) The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

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This is another series that has been on my TBR since 2017, and I’m pretty sure I added it at the time mostly because of the hype, considering I know so little about the plot. This series is about a girl named Ruby, whose parents sent her to a government “rehabilitation camp” called Thurmond when she was only 10, after she develops strange and uncontrollable abilities as the result of surviving a mysterious disease that killed most children. At age 16, Ruby escapes from Thurmond and finds herself on the run to find a safe heaven for people like her, joining a group of other children who escaped from another camp. Upon their arrival at the safe haven, Ruby and her new friends soon find that it may not offer the freedom they expected. I had completely forgotten what this was about, but now that I’ve seen the synopsis again, it sounds so interesting! It reminds me a bit of the X-Men, which is one of my favourite superhero movies. I feel like I haven’t heard very much about the rest of this series, but it’s another one that seems to have great ratings on Goodreads so it’s another one that I may have to prioritize eventually.

5) The Young Elites by Marie Lu

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I keep adding Marie Lu’s series to my TBR, but rarely end up picking them up. Just this week, I strongly considered adding her latest book Skyhunter to my list too. The only books of hers that I have read so far are the Warcross duology. I loved the first book, but didn’t like the second quite as much. The Young Elites series is about a girl named Adelina who is the survivor of a blood fever that killed many, and left strange markings on the children who survived. As a result, her father now considers her an abomination, but the survivors are also known as the Young Elites due to the rumours of the mysterious gifts they are thought to have developed. Adelina soon meets Teren, the Leader of the Inquisition whose goal is to destroy the Elites before they can destroy the nation, and Enzo, a member of a secret society who seems to find the Young Elites before the Inquisition can get to them. Adelina soon finds herself questioning which of them she can really trust. I feel like I haven’t heard as much about this series as I have about Warcross or Legend, but it also sounds very good. I’ve always been a bit worried that Marie Lu’s series might skew a bit too young for me by now, but the more I read about it, the more I think I’d like to try it.

Top 10 Tuesdays: Best Books I Read In the Second Half 2020

Technically, this week’s post was supposed to be about my favourite books of 2020, but given that I’ve already made a list of my favourite books in the first half of the year, it only seemed fair to make a similar list for the second half. For some reason, I had a strangely hard time picking out books that I would really strongly consider my favourites. It was even a much more difficult time than I had in the first half of the year! I have rated well over 40 books 5 stars in this half of the year, yet somehow not too many of them really jumped out at me. I was especially surprised to realize just how many of my favourites in this half of the year were YA books, although I guess it’s not unexpected considering I read so many YA books overall. 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) King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

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This is my second Leigh Bardugo book to make it to my list of favourites this year, after Ninth House made my list for the first half. To be fair, I think Ninth House may be in the running for a favourite of the whole year overall. I was very excited to pick this book up and revisit several of my favourite characters from the Grishaverse, especially Nikolai and Nina. I was a bit nervous going into it because I didn’t remember too much detail of the original Grisha trilogy, especially when it came to Zoya’s storyline, so I had to reread a quick summary before I picked this one up. I absolutely loved this book because of the amazing character dynamics, including the introduction of new characters like Hanne and Isaak. I also loved how this book offered a bit more backstory for both Nikolai and Zoya and even the Darkling. I was a bit surprised to see that Zoya’s story seemed to take a bit more precedence than Nikolai’s considering the series is named after him, but I loved the friendship that has developed between them. It took a little time for me to get into this one, probably because it had been so long since I’d read the previous books in the series, but it didn’t take too much to catch back up and I ended up loving the overall direction and especially the fast-paced ending.

2) Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

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I’m sure it’s no surprise that this book made it to my favourites list since I’ve been raving about it all year! I picked this one up mostly because of all the hype surrounding it, and I’m so glad that I gave it a chance. This book is about teenagers Pepper and Jack who are each in charge of the Twitter account for their family’s restaurants, and get involved in a tweet war after Pepper’s family seems to have stolen Jack’s grandma’s secret grilled cheese recipe to sell as their own. I was immediately drawn in by the writing and I loved both characters and thought they were so well-developed, both as individuals and in their relationships with their friends and families. I also loved the unexpected subplot about academic pressure for Pepper, since this is a topic I’d love to see addressed more often in books, and Jack’s development of the anonymous Weazel app, which allowed students to chat with each other. I also loved how the author addressed the topic of future plans for both Pepper and Jack, with both feeling pressured to stay on a specific path, and loved the focus on how college may not be right for everyone. I also loved the dessert blog that Pepper ran with her sister, which was a really fun addition to the story. This book easily had some of the best character dynamics of any YA book I read recently, and I’m so glad I bought into the hype!

3) Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

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I think this is the only other book I read this year that could rival Tweet Cute in terms of it’s adorable character dynamics, not to mention its desserts! I’m not a huge fan of reading books with a focus on politics, but it’s been such a common backdrop lately, and I really love the way these authors handled it. This book is about two teenagers, Jamie and Maya, who bond while spending the summer canvassing in their neighbourhood for a local politician. I absolutely loved the friendship and eventual relationship that developed between the two of them, and especially appreciated that it wasn’t as immediate as the romances in many other similar YA books. I loved that this book had so many great references to popular culture, including current favourites like Angie Thomas’s books as well as older video games like Mario. I also loved how both main characters felt so realistic and so relatable, and the emphasis that was given to their relationships with friends and family as well as with each other. This book was so much fun to read, and also brought up some very relevant and important topics.

4) Beach Read by Emily Henry

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This was another book that I picked up mostly because of the hype, and I might not have been too motivated to try it so soon otherwise, especially after I read another book by this author earlier in the year and didn’t love it. Luckily for me, this one was a completely different experience and I am so glad I gave it a fair chance! This book is about January and Augustus, two authors who are spending the summer in neighbouring beach houses. They are each dealing with writers block, and decide to challenge each other to write a book in each other’s genre as an attempt to break out of it, including giving each other a crash course in their respective research processes. I was immediately engaged by the writing style of this one, and I loved the dynamics between January and Gus. I thought their chemistry leapt off the page, and they both felt so realistic and fleshed out. I especially loved how the two of them would write and hold up notes for each other at the window while the were working, and the “dates” they took each other on to research for their books. I also loved how the author incorporated some deeper topics for both characters as well, and was surprised by how much I also enjoyed the side characters. I also really loved the small amount of commentary about the writing process and publishing. I thoroughly enjoyed this book right from the first pages, and loved the relationship that developed between the characters.

5) Clap When You Land and With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo

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I wasn’t too surprised that these books made it to my favourites, since The Poet X was also on my list for 2019. I was originally going to just include Clap When You Land and leave With the Fire On High as an honourable mention, but I realized I couldn’t really choose between them. Clap When You Land is about two sisters who discover that their father had been living a double life after he dies in a plane crash, and With the Fire On High is about a teenage single mother named Emoni who dreams of becoming a chef, and gets the chance to try out her skills with her school’s new culinary arts program which includes a trip to Spain. Even though the two books are so different, I loved them both for very similar reasons. Both are beautifully written, and both had very compelling and memorable characters. I loved how both tackled topics that are so different from the typical YA contemporary books, and both are books I can easily see myself rereading many times, along with The Poet X. I can’t wait to see what Elizabeth Acevedo comes out with next.

6) The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black

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I just had to include this entire series because I was blown away by how much I ended up enjoying it. This was another case where I was apprehensive to even pick it up because I didn’t love the previous book I read by this author (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown). This one is about a teenage girl named Jude who is taken to live in Faerie with her sisters and the murder of their parents. Jude desperately wants to fit into this world despite the fae’s hatred of mortals, and also wants to earn a place for herself in the High Court. I went into the series with such low expectations, so I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly I was drawn into the series and that it kept my attention so easily throughout. I loved the way the world was brought to life, and especially enjoyed the incorporation of both the fae and mortal worlds. I especially enjoyed Jude’s relationships with her sisters, and all the court intrigue throughout the series. I loved the way the story unfolded across all three of the books. My only small disappointment was learning that there was a Barnes & Noble exclusive version of the third book that included copies of the letters Cardan wrote to Jude, which were not in my copy! I hate when there are version exclusive things like this, especially when they add so much to the story, but luckily I was able to find photos of the letters pretty easily online. I also loved the focus throughout the series on the fae’s inability to lie and the need for carefully worded bargains to get around it. I’m so happy I gave this one a chance!

7) Slay by Brittney Morris

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I was so excited to read this book because it had such a unique and interesting premise, and I was very glad to see that I loved it as much as I expected. This book is about a teenage girl named Kiera who is secretly the creator of a popular online video game, SLAY, which is designed for Black people only. When a teen is murdered over a conflict involving the game, SLAY comes to mainstream attention and questions arise over whether it is racist. I thought this book opened up so many very interesting discussions about racism, discrimination, and safe spaces. I loved Kiera as a main character and especially loved the way she talked about her game and the way it was designed to celebrate Black culture and offer a sense of community, while dealing with some of the challenges of gaming while Black. I was also very interested by Kiera’s boyfriend Malcolm’s views on what is needed for Black people to be successful, and loved the way the differences between their views played into their relationship and Kiera’s processing of her feelings for Malcolm when she does not agree with him. I found the entire concept of the game so interesting and loved the way Kiera created the cards that were used for in-game powers. I also loved the chapters interspersed throughout the book about other players and the impact the game had on their lives. This was by far one of my favourite YA books this year, and definitely one of the most memorable.

8) Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

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Considering how obsessed I was with this book ever since I saw the synopsis last fall, I am so glad that it lived up to all my expectations! This book is about a woman named Maggie who does not believe the story her father published about her childhood home, which claimed it was haunted, and she sets out to discover the truth while renovating the house to prepare it for sale. I was a little hesitant to pick this one up because I’m a huge coward when it comes to ghost stories, but I ended up loving it. I especially loved the way the author alternated between Maggie’s investigation in the present and chapters from her father’s book telling the story of their three weeks in the house, and I thought it was very interesting to see where and how the two stories overlap. I was especially interested to see how Maggie searched for direct evidence to confirm or refute the events her father wrote about, and I loved how Riley Sager kept a great balance of both, which kept me guessing what was really happening. I also loved the creepy atmosphere that was built throughout, and all the twists that were introduced. I especially loved the fast-paced ending and the ultimate explanations offered for everything. I absolutely loved this book, and it was definitely one of the best thrillers that I read all year.

9) Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman

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This is another book that I wasn’t too surprised to see make my favourites list, since her debut Starfish made my list for 2018, and Summer Bird Blue very narrowly missed my list for 2019 although it was a 5 star read too! This book is her most recent release, about a teenage girl named Harley who dreams of becoming an aerialist, and decides to run away to a rival circus after a big fight with her parents, who are circus owners themselves, due to their insistence on her going to university instead. I was immediately drawn in by the writing and loved Harley’s passion for the circus and the way she described the way being part of a troupe and performing made her feel. I did not expect this book to have such a focus on mental health, but ended up loving the attention given to Harley’s mood disorder and the impact her behaviour had on the people around her. I also loved the emphasis on the relationship between Harley and her parents, as well as the very sweet romance that develops between her and another performer. Like Elizabeth Acevedo, I tend to love Akemi Dawn Bowman’s books because they are a bit different from the typical YA plotlines, and because of the beautiful writing and amazing characters, and this book was no exception.

10) Loveless by Alice Oseman

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I was excited to try this one because of how much I loved Radio Silence last year, and was glad to see that this book had so many of the same elements that I loved. This book is about an 18-year-old university freshmen named Georgia who has never been in love nor even had a crush, and decides that her first year of university will be her opportunity to change that. Georgia soon starts to question why falling in love seems so difficult for her when it is so easy for everyone else, and begins to come to terms with the possibility that she might be asexual and/or aromantic. I love how Alice Oseman’s books, at least the two I’ve read so far apart from the first volume of Heartstopper, have such a focus on friendship and on post-secondary students, rather than high school. I found Georgia so relatable and especially loved the dynamics between her and her best friends, including her new roommate. I also loved how Georgia questioned and explored her identity throughout the course of the book, and the support she found from the Pride Society as well as her friends. This was one of the first books I’ve read that put such a focus on asexuality and a character recognizing that it might fit her, and I thought it handled the topic so well.

Honourable Mentions:
These are a few of the other books that I absolutely loved this year, and that I’d strongly considered adding to this list:

Bloom
Saving Meghan
Eight Perfect Murders
Whisper Network

2020 5-Star Predictions Wrap-Up (Part 2)

Check out yesterday’s post here for Part 1!

ATY Top Picks & Leftovers Challenge (Part 2)

3) Aurora Rising by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

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Prediction: I absolutely love the Illuminae Files series by these two authors, and have been really looking forward to trying this one too! This book has so many of the tropes that I tend to love, so it seemed pretty likely that I would love this one too.

What I Actually Rated It: Nothing yet! I was very disappointed not to get to this one like I expected this year, but ultimately decided it made more sense to wait for the third book to come out in 2021 so I could read all three books in the series together. I definitely need to make sure to prioritize this series next year because I’ve been waiting so long to read it now!

Would I Still Predict 5 Stars?: Definitely! Even though sci-fi is not a genre that I read too often, if Illuminae is anything to go on, I’m going to love this. I love ensemble casts, especially when it’s a band of misfits/found family, and I also love when a character is a “fish out of water” who wakes up in a different time and has to learn to adapt. I really hope I love this one as much as I expect!

4) The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica

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Prediction: Mary Kubica was another author who was very high on my list to try this year, and this was another book that I kept coming back to when I was making my challenge plans. It sounded like exactly the kind of creepy thriller that I usually love, so I was really expecting to enjoy it.

What I Actually Rated It: Nothing yet! Despite making a point of buying a copy around the middle of the year and this book being one that I really wanted to pick up, I somehow kept putting it off until it was too late. I decided to save it for early next year instead so I don’t rush to squeeze it in, since I find that usually makes me like a book less.

Would I Still Predict 5 Stars?: Tentatively, yes. I was a bit disappointed to find that the only other Mary Kubica book that I tried this year wasn’t quite as engaging as I expected. I still really liked it, but nowhere near as much as I thought given how much I’ve heard about this author. Luckily, this one seems like a much more intriguing premise and definitely more like the kind of thriller I love.

Mommy Mannegren 2020 Challenge

1) Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

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Prediction: I was very intrigued by the premise of this one because it sounded a lot like the kind of book Jodi Picoult might write. I love a good courtroom drama, and had seen so many amazing reviews for this one. I love books that focus on such complex topics and offer such a variety of perspectives, and it was a book that I knew I wanted to pick up this year.

What I Actually Rated It: 4.5 stars rounded up to 5 on Goodreads!

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars: This one was incredibly close to being a full 5 stars, and I think the only thing that held it back was the fact that I predicted who was responsible for the fire fairly early on, although I was still very interested in the explanations for how and why it happened. I also loved the exploration of all the different characters and their potential motives, and especially how even small actions by different people all played a role. I thought the court case was so interesting and I loved all the commentary that the book offered on such a variety of topics. It was definitely close enough to 5 stars that I essentially consider it a 5-star read anyway.

2) Yes, No, Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

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Prediction: Becky Albertalli is a must-read YA author for me, and I always look forward to her new books. I always relate so well to her characters and love her writing style. I haven’t read anything by Aisha Saeed yet, but have been meaning to try her books for a long time. I also liked that this one had a bit of a different angle on the romance, with the focus on politics.

What I Actually Rated It: 5 Stars!

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars: As expected, I absolutely loved the characters and found both of them so relatable. I enjoyed the religion representation for both of them (Jewish and Muslim), and really enjoyed the slower-burn relationship that developed between Jamie and Maya, which was a welcome change from the insta-love of most YA books. I have very little interest in politics, so I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed the focus on it, and especially the realistic approach of showing how activism does not always work in your favour. I also loved the pop culture references (especially the Koopa Troopa metaphor) and the focus on social media, and also loved both characters’ relationships with their families and friends. This book was easily one of the best YA books I read all year!

3) The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

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Prediction: This book has been on my TBR for such a long time, and it was so high on my list to try this year. Peter Swanson was another of my top priority authors to try this year, and this book seemed like the best place to start. My mom has also read this one and highly recommended it, and we tend to have the same taste in thrillers.

What I Actually Rated It: Nothing yet! I think of all the books that I didn’t get to this year, this was the one I was most frustrated about. I had a lot of trouble finding an affordable copy of this one (at least the hardcover version that I wanted), and didn’t end up getting it until mid-November. By the time I got it, I had too many other books that I was prioritizing for other challenge goals, and didn’t want to rush this one. I was hoping to be able to squeeze it in before the end of the year, but decided it would be better to save it for next year when I can enjoy it properly.

Would I Still Predict 5 Stars?: Absolutely! This book is now at the top of my list for next year, and I’m still expecting to love it. I did read one other book by Peter Swanson this year and loved that one, so that only solidified my interest in reading this one. I’m so happy to have my own copy now so I have no excuse not to get to it early next year!

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

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Prediction: I’d heard so many amazing reviews for this one, but I avoided it for a while because I thought it seemed overhyped and that always tends to put me off. I was a bit hesitant about this one because I sometimes find books that involve characters repeating a day very repetitive, but the more I looked at the synopsis, the more interested I became!

What I Actually Rated It: 5 Stars!

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars: Ironically enough, I think what I loved most about this book was the way the repeated day element was handled. I loved how the main character repeated the day from a different body, and especially loved how he needed to figure out how to work with (or against) the traits of that person to solve the mystery, and also how it affected his ability to interact with others or get information from them. It was occasionally a little confusing to keep track of everyone, but it was in a way that kept in intrigued rather than annoyed, and I absolutely loved the ending and the way the explanation was ultimately presented. I also loved the setting and the old-fashioned style of the writing and the characters. I’m so glad I gave this one a chance!

Flourish & Blotts Wizarding World Tour Challenge

1) Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

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Prediction: I’d been hearing about this book absolutely everywhere, and it sounded so good! I love books that involve witches, and especially found the forced marriage aspect so interesting. I was especially intrigued to see the dynamics between the two main characters, since I’d heard that was a highlight.

What I Actually Rated It: Nothing yet! I was a bit upset not to get to this one this year, but ultimately decided it was better because it means I can read the entire series together next year instead. I already bought Blood & Honey, and I’m planning to get the next book too, so hopefully I love it as much as I expect.

Would I Still Predict 5 Stars?: Yes, even though I’ve since heard some very mixed reviews for the series in general and especially for the sequel. The premise still sounds just as intriguing to me and I’m very excited to finally be able to pick it up next year. I’m not quite as convinced that I’ll give Blood & Honey 5 stars, but I’m hoping to enjoy the entirety of the series.

2) Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

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Prediction: I think of all my predictions, this was the one I was most unsure of. I love fairy tale retellings in general and I had heard such great things about this one, but it wasn’t necessarily at the top of my list. I ended up choosing it because I’d seen it highly recommended by many of my favourite vloggers, so I decided it was about time to pick it up.

What I Actually Rated It: 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 stars on Goodreads!

Why It Was/Wasn’t 5 Stars: I thought this book was a unique and interesting take on a Snow White story, and I loved how it used several of the classic elements in such a new way. It took a bit of time for me to really get into the writing and figure out what the story was really about, but once I got into it, I was hooked. I especially enjoyed the complex relationship between Mina and Lynet, and thought it felt very realistic, and I loved the perspectives of both characters. Ultimately, I gave it 4.5 stars because I found it a little too slow in places, but thought the overall story was unique and creative, and I loved the characters.

3) Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman

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Prediction: Akemi Dawn Bowman is one of my favourite YA authors and someone whose books are automatically added to my TBR, regardless of what they are about. I’ve already given her previous two books 5 stars because of the writing and the strong characters, so it didn’t take much to expect the same for this one.

What I Actually Rated It: 5 Stars!

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars: As expected, I absolutely loved this one! I was immediately drawn in by the writing and especially the characters. I knew very little about the plot of this one before I picked it up, but I was pleasantly surprised by the mental health subplot for Harley and thought it was very well-done. I also loved that Harley got a bit of a wake-up call when she first joined the circus and realized it was not what she expected, which felt so realistic and led to her really having to reflect on what she wants and why. I also loved the focus on Harley’s relationships with her family and her best friend, as well as the absolutely adorable romance. I thought this book was so beautifully written and I was thoroughly engrossed the entire time.

4) A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

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Prediction: While I didn’t love the previous YA book I’ve read by this author, I’ve been really looking forward to this one because it seems like something I’d absolutely love. This book is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, which is one of my favourite fairy tales. Even though I didn’t love Letters to the Lost, I did enjoy the author’s writing style and would love to see it in a fantasy setting.

What I Actually Rated It: Nothing yet! This was another one that I was upset not to get to, but once I realized that the third book was due out very early next year, I decided it made more sense to wait and read all three together.

Would I Still Predict 5 Stars?: Yes! I am so excited for this series, and really hope that I will love it as much as I expect. One of the things I’m most interested in for this series is that the main character has cerebral palsy, which is something I have never seen before in this kind of book. I’ve heard such great things about the series overall, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’m hoping to read it fairly early on in the year, if I can get the third book soon.

Overall:

Overall, I was a little disappointed to see how many of the books I didn’t get to from my list! Of the 20 books that I picked, I read a total of 14 of them. On the other hand, I was very happy to realize that my predictions were pretty accurate! Of the 14 books that I read, 10 of them were 5 star reads for me. Three more were 4.5 stars that I rounded up to 5, so still very close, and even my least favourite of the bunch was still 4 stars! It definitely suggests that I was right to think that I’m pretty good at predicting which books I’ll enjoy. I’m actively planning to prioritize all of the books from this list that I didn’t get to next year instead, and I’m really looking forward to making some more 5-star predictions for 2021! I think the only thing I would change for next year is to put a bit more of a focus on picking up the books I predict I’ll love, to make sure I can get to them all. Both years that I’ve tried these predictions so far, they have been pretty accurate so I’m hoping to keep that streak going next year too.

2020 5-Star Predictions Wrap-Up (Part 1)

One of my favourite new experiments that I tried last year was making 5-star predictions, and I was really looking forward to doing it again this year. I’ve become pretty good at predicting which books I’m going to enjoy, which I think is a side effect of doing so many years of reading challenges by now. This year, I decided to go for a 2020 theme and pick 20 books that I expected to give 5 stars! Since I had 5 challenges, I gave myself the structure of choosing 4 books per challenge for a total of 20. In fact, I actually had a few additional 5-star predictions that were part of a Top 10 Tuesday topic earlier this year. I was not planning on a formal wrap-up for those, but I’m definitely open to doing one if people are interested. Unfortunately, just like last year, I didn’t end up getting to all of the books that I’d planned, and I’ve decided to shift those that I didn’t get to into next year’s challenges instead. Since I know I’m unlikely to read any of the rest of the list in the last few days of this month, this seemed like the perfect time for this wrap-up. Given the number of books I had to separate my initial predictions into two posts (here and here), and will be doing the same for the wrap-up as well. Please check back tomorrow for Part 2!

Goodreads Around the Year Challenge

1) Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

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Prediction: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo was easily one of my favourite books that I read last year, and I was really looking forward to reading more of her books. Both this book and With the Fire On High (which made it to my list of extra 5-star predictions) were high on my list to read this year, and I was sure I would love both.

What I Actually Rated It: 5 Stars!

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars: I absolutely loved the concept of this book, which was about two sisters who discover that their father was living a double-life after he dies in a plane crash. I loved how Elizabeth Acevedo captured the complexity of both sisters’ feelings for their father, and especially how they could both love and grieve him while also being very angry. Similarly, I also loved the recognition that he could be a good father to them both, while also being a bad husband. I’m not usually that interested in novels told in verse, but I thought the medium was very effective in this case for capturing both girls’ perspectives and I loved the way the author drew parallels between both sisters’ lives, despite their very different circumstances. I thought this book was beautifully written, and captured such a complex topic so well.

2) Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

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Prediction: I read Girl In Translation a few years ago and I loved it a lot more than I expected, so I was looking forward to reading something else by this author. The premise also reminded me quite strongly of Everything I Never Told You, which was another book that I really loved, so it sounded like exactly the kind of book that I would love.

What I Actually Rated It: 4 Stars

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars: Even though I enjoyed this one overall, I couldn’t help feeling like it was one of my biggest disappointments of the year. I’d expected it to be a very easy 5 stars, but I found myself very put off by the characters. I loved the first third or so of the book as the story was initially set up, but got thrown off relatively early on by a certain romance plotline. I don’t want to say too much since it might be too spoiler-y, but I’d picked up on some romantic subtext between two characters that I’d hoped I’d either misinterpreted or that it would at least be a minor subplot since it was quite uncomfortable to read. Unfortunately, that aspect took on a much more significant role in the story than I thought, and I just couldn’t get into it. I found both main characters very frustrating toward the middle, but luckily it picked back up again toward the end. I just couldn’t get past my irritation with the characters enough to really get into the story as much as I expected.

3) Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

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Prediction: I saw this book in passing at a bookstore in 2019 and knew right away that I wanted to read it. It was one of the first books I added to my challenge plans this year. I assumed I would like it because it reminded me of Big Little Lies, which is a definite favourite, and I’ve also been looking for more books that have an office setting.

What I Actually Rated It: 5 Stars!

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars: There is definitely a strong resemblance to Big Little Lies, both in terms of the format and the style, and I mean that in a very good way. I loved how the author handled the complex topic of sexual harassment, and especially how she incorporated the discussion of the impact unsubstantiated accusations can have for men and for the women who made the claim. I especially loved the Greek chorus style of narration that opened many chapters, and thought there were so many impactful quotes throughout. I also loved the focus on the women supporting and helping each other, as well as the exploration of how each of them had a different relationship with the man in question. I was a bit disappointed that the mystery/thriller element was not quite as strong as I expected, but I loved the overall concept and execution of the plot and especially loved the characters.

4) Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

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Prediction: I was a bit apprehensive about this one because I didn’t love the last Anna-Marie McLemore book that I read as much as I expected, but I was obsessed with this cover and also thought the plot of this one seemed a lot more up my alley. I’ve really wanted to give this author another chance, and I kept getting drawn back to this book when I was making my challenge plans, so it seemed right to expect to love it.

What I Actually Rated It: 5 Stars!

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars?: I found this book so beautifully written, as expected for this author, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easily I was drawn into the story, given that I had found When The Moon Was ours a bit confusing. I loved how the author alternated between the perspectives of all three characters, and enjoyed how the short chapters kept me wanting to keep reading and see what happened next. I especially enjoyed the parallels drawn between the past and present storylines, and also loved the focus on knowing your family’s history and how it many have a long-lasting influence across generations. I also loved the historical context given toward accusations of witchcraft and how queer people were treated in this time period. I also really loved the fairy tale-like quality of the story and thought it handled the topics of self-acceptance and prejudice so well.

PopSugar 2020 Challenge

1) Saving Meghan by D.J. Palmer

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Prediction: I find books about Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy so fascinating, so that’s always a bit of a buzzword for me. I was very interested by the premise of this one, and was very curious to see which direction it would go. It also came highly recommended by my mom, who had read it sometime last year and loved it.

What I Actually Rated It: 5 Stars!

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars: I thought all of the main characters were so compelling, and I loved the way the author alternated between their perspectives. The book reminded me quite a bit of Jodi Picoult, my all-time favourite author, both in terms of the premise and the style. I hadn’t expected to have the perspective of one of the doctors working on Meghan’s case, but I thought it was very intriguing and a great way to see some of the medical side and even some of the office politics in a hospital. I loved that the author kept me guessing throughout about what was really happening to Meghan, and found the ending unexpected but very interesting as more detail was revealed. It was definitely one of the most unique and interesting thrillers I’ve read this year.

2) Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

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Prediction: Leigh Bardugo has quickly become one of my favourite authors, and I was really looking forward to trying something outside of the Grishaverse from her. I loved the dark academia focus, and got strong Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibes from the premise. It seemed so different from her previous books, and I was so excited to try it.

What I Actually Rated It: 5 Stars!

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars: I think it’s safe to say that this is one of my favourite books that I read all year. I was definitely right about the Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibes, both in terms of the humour and overall plot, although it was quite a bit darker than Buffy. I absolutely loved the characters and I was drawn into the writing immediately. I loved the backstory given about all the secret societies, and about both Alex and Darlington as the story unfolded. I especially loved Alex’s interactions with the other characters, and also loved how her ability to see ghosts was woven in throughout. I found this book so engrossing and immediately wanted the next one as soon as I finished, so I was disappointed to find that there is no release date yet!

3) Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

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Prediction: The Raven Cycle became one of my favourite series when I finally decided to pick it up, and I was really looking forward to reading this one since it is the start of a spin-off series about Ronan. I love Maggie Stiefvater’s writing style and given that this book is set in the same world and features some of the same characters, I expected to love it just as much as The Raven Cycle.

What I Actually Rated It: 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 on Goodreads

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars: To be honest, I think I picked this book up at the wrong time this year. I decided to read it in the middle of the lockdown since I assumed I’d have the time to focus on it, but it was at a time where I was having trouble getting into any book at all. As a result, I found the book very confusing at first and it took me longer than expected to get into it, but once I did, I really loved it. I especially loved the snippets we got of Ronan’s relationship with Adam, and loved the focus on Ronan’s brothers, Declan and Matthew. I fully expect that I will love this book even more the next time I read it, but it was still a great read and really not that far off 5 stars at all!

4) Loveless by Alice Oseman

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Prediction: I loved Radio Silence, which immediately became one of my favourite books that I read in 2019 because of Alice Oseman’s writing style, and I thought this one would hit a lot of the things I really look for: a university setting, and a focus on friendship. It was one of my most anticipated books to read this year.

What I Actually Rated It: 5 Stars!

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars: As expected, I was immediately drawn in by the writing and the characters. I found Georgia surprisingly relatable, and loved her relationships with her friends Pip and Jason, as well as with her new roommate, Rooney. I loved the banter and dynamics between them all and thought it felt so realistic. I also absolutely loved the exploration of what it means to be aro-ace, and Georgia’s process of figuring out her identity and what that means for her. I occasionally found the book a tiny bit repetitive toward the end, but it also made sense for Georgia to keep reflecting on the same ideas or discussing them with different people. I absolutely loved the focus on friendship and the importance of these relationships, and adored all of the characters.

ATY Top Picks & Leftovers Challenge (Part 1)

1) The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

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Prediction: I had absolutely no idea that this book was even happening, so I was very surprised to see it online. It was great timing too, since I’d already been planning to re-read The Hunger Games this year anyway. Although I wasn’t convinced that this prequel was really necessary, I assumed I would love it just because of Suzanne Collins’ writing and how much I loved the series in general.

What I Actually Rated It: 5 Stars!

Why It Was/Was Not 5 Stars: I know a lot of people were disappointed with this one so I was a little apprehensive when I finally picked it up, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it! I loved the school setting and how so many of Snow’s classes and assignments were used to explore some of the issues and ideas surrounding the Hunger Games, their purpose, and their politics behind them. I loved the focus on the evolution of the Games, and especially how different the earlier ones were. I enjoyed the bond Snow formed with Lucy Gray, the girl he was mentoring, but also had some difficulty buying into the romance. I found this book slower than the original series, especially toward the end, but also not surprised given that the book was quite a bit longer than the others too. While I’m still not sure how necessary this book was, I thought it was a great addition to the series and I found the backstory so intriguing.

2) All the Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle

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Prediction: This author was very high on my list to try this year, since I’ve had her books on my TBR for such a long time. This book was one of the reasons she shot to the top of my priority list because it sounded like exactly the kind of story that I tend to love, and I was very intrigued by the idea of the curse and how it affected the way women were treated over the years.

What I Actually Rated It: Nothing yet! I expected to get this book from the library, but the pandemic prevented me from using it this year. I did end up purchasing a copy and had hoped to read it around Halloween, but I didn’t get it in time for that. Given that it was for a lower-priority challenge, I decided to put it off and plan to read it next year instead (although I probably won’t wait for Halloween).

Would I Still Predict 5 Stars?: Yes, although I rated the other book I read by this author 4 stars. I’m expecting to like this one even more since the plot is a bit more intriguing to me, and hope that I enjoy the writing style and atmosphere as much as I did in Spellbook of the Lost & Found.

Check back tomorrow for the second half of this year’s 5-star predictions wrap-up!

Top 5 Wednesdays: Most Disappointing Books of 2020

I think this is the first time I’ve ever decided to completely skip the “assigned” topic for the week and pick one of my own. There were two main reasons for this. The first, and biggest, reason was that I was surprised that none of my groups had included a prompt for the worst most disappointing books of the year, which seems like a fairly standard topic to come up toward the end of the year. The second reason is that the assigned topic felt a bit repetitive to me. This week, the prompt was called Masterchef and it was meant to talk about food mentioned in books. Not only is that a topic that I tend to really struggle with since I don’t find most food in books particularly memorable, but it’s also one that I felt like I had done several times in the past few months already.

Instead, I decided to pick my own prompt and mention some of my most disappointing books this year. For me, there is a big difference between “most disappointing” and “worst.” A disappointing book is not necessarily one that I hated, but it is one that I had expected to really love, and ended up struggling to get into. To be fair, there can be some overlap with books I’d consider the worst, but to be fair, I also haven’t read anything that I’ve outright hated this year. Many of the books I’ve chosen were books that I had been meaning to read for such a long time, so it was especially disappointing not to love them as much as I’d expected.

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) The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

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I’ve had this book on my TBR since 2016, and it was among the first batches of books I ever bought from Book Outlet because I wanted to give myself an extra push to read it. I was excited to try this one because I’d seen it compared to The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is one of my favourites. It is about a teenage girl named Natalie who receives a visit from a figure she refers to as Grandmother who warns her that she has “three months to save him.” Shortly afterwards, Natalie meets a boy named Beau and quickly bonds with him, and discovers he may have a connection to all the flashes of “wrong things” she sees around her town. I liked both of the main characters, but found the relationship between them happened much too quickly for me to really get invested in. I was also very disappointed to find that the time travel element was not as prominent as I expected, and I found the pacing a bit too slow. I enjoyed the inclusion of various stories and creation myths and the connections made to Natalie’s Native American heritage, but struggled to really get into the book overall. I ultimately rated it 3.5 and rounded it up to 4 because I really liked the writing style, but I’ve been debating ever since whether to lower it to a 3 instead, which I think is a pretty good indication that it disappointed me.

2) The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

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This was a book I bought completely on a whim from Book Outlet a couple of years ago because I’d remembered that it had been on my TBR for a while. I think I had the vague idea that it was going to be similar to The Thirteenth Tale, but it is nothing like that one, nor is it advertised as such. It is about a woman named Kitty who works in a struggling bookstore, but at night, she dreams of an alternate life one year in the future, where she is married with children, and she begins to question which life she really wants. I loved the overall concept of the book but I didn’t like the author’s writing style, which was a lot of “tell” and not enough “show.” I also found some parts incredibly awkward to read, including Kitty’s inner monologue while at a party about how “the help” is treated, and the heavy-handed references to the 1960s setting in the beginning. I also wasn’t a fan of the autism representation for Kitty’s song, which seemed to be thrown in just to give her some kind of challenge in her otherwise ideal life. I liked the ultimate explanation for why the time travel element was happening to her and also enjoyed the relationship between Kitty and her husband. The one thing I did really appreciate was the brief storyline about Kitty trying to find age-appropriate and interesting reading material for a young neighbour, since this is a huge gap in teaching resources! This was another book that I gave 3.5 stars and ultimately rounded down to 3 because as much as I enjoyed the premise, I found the writing off-putting.

3) Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

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I was so disappointed not to love this one, especially because Mary Kubica was one of my top priority authors to try this year! It is about a woman named Heidi who decides to take in a homeless girl, Willow, whom she sees out in the rain with her baby. I thought it was very interesting to see a main character in a thriller who was so focused on charitable work and thought it was a great motivation for her, and definitely set her apart from many other thrillers that I’ve read. I especially enjoyed the chapters narrated by Heidi’s husband Chris, and his skepticism about Willow’s motives, and also loved that the book did not go in the usual direction with him. I also found Willow’s backstory very interesting and I enjoyed finding out what brought her to Heidi with the baby, and also liked how her story touched on so many of the gaps in the foster system. I thought Heidi’s actions toward the end of the book made sense given her background, but also happened a little too suddenly to really make sense. I also would have loved a bit more development of Willow’s foster brothers, although there was one particular plot point involving them that I didn’t really care for. I thought this book was a solid 4-star read, but I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed given how much hype I had seen around the author.

4) Creepy & Maud by Dianne Touchell

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I think this book was my biggest disappointment of all, especially because this was the book that had been on my TBR the longest. I’ve had this one on my TBR since July 2015, after discovering it while browsing Goodreads not too long after joining the site. I was drawn to this book immediately because it seemed so different from other YA books, and hadn’t been able to read it until now because I had a lot of trouble finding a copy. It is about two teenage neighbours, known only as Creepy and Maud, who eventually bond through notes shared through their windows. I liked many of the observations that both characters made throughout the book and how both of them had such a unique perspective on their lives and other people around them, and I love the premise of the two of them connecting through notes. Unfortunately, there was not too much else that I really enjoyed. I found it odd that Creepy would insist he was in love with Maud when he didn’t really know her or make much of an effort to really get to know her. I really liked the writing style in the beginning but soon got bored of the story since there wasn’t really much plot, and I also hadn’t connected strongly enough with either character to really care. I was so disappointed that I didn’t love this one after waiting so long to give it a try!

5) Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

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I strongly debated saving this one for next week when I do my 5 Star Prediction Wrap-Up, since it will be on that list as well, but it didn’t quite feel right to make a post about disappointments without mentioning this book. To be clear, I did not hate this one by any means, but it exemplifies what I mentioned above about a book being disappointing because it did not live up to my expectations. I loved Girl in Translation and assumed this would be another easy 5 stars. It got off to a great start, and I absolutely loved the first third or so of the book and the set up the Amy searching for her sister Sylvie, but there was one key storyline that threw me off immediately and I just couldn’t get past it. I can’t really go into detail since it could be considered a spoiler, but there was something that I caught initially as subtext, and hoped I was wrong or that it would at least be a minor part. Unfortunately for me, it ended up being a huge plot point and drew me completely out of the story. I didn’t really care for the middle of the book, but thought it picked back up again toward the end. I especially enjoyed the brief segments of texts, e-mails or phone calls between characters that were scattered throughout, and would have loved a bit more of that. I also loved the commentary throughout about racism and sexism, although it sometimes felt a little shoehorned in. Ultimately, I think what was most frustrating about the book was that I might have really loved it if there had been a very minor change made to that one plot point that I didn’t like, which would have essentially had the same function and removed the off-putting side to it. I’m hoping to enjoy this author’s next book more given how much I loved the previous one.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton – This one may be my fault because I think I rushed it a bit since I’d wanted to read it around Halloween. I found the characters and especially the relationship between them a bit underdeveloped, and had a lot more trouble getting into the story than I expected.
  • Natalie Tan’s Book of Love & Fortunes by Roselle Lim – I didn’t expect too much from this one, since it was for a prompt I was dreading and it was a book I had only mild interest in. I liked the overall idea behind the story and Natalie’s use of food to help her neighbours, but I found it very repetitive and also didn’t really care for the romance or the main character
  • The German House by Annette Hess – I suspect it was the translation that I didn’t really like, but I expected this book to be an easy 5 star read, and I found it a bit disjointed and harder to connect with than I expected, especially given the focus on multiple subplots for other characters that drew me out of the main story
  • Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney – May be a bit of a stretch to call it a disappointment since I didn’t expect much, but I didn’t love the writing style and thought this book was way too long (at around 600 pages!) for what it was

Top 10 Tuesdays: Books I Hope to Receive As a Gift

I think this is the first year that I’ve really been actively keeping up a wishlist on both Amazon and Indigo, to help myself keep track of the books that I want to buy. I’ve especially found it helpful for keeping track of upcoming releases that I might want to preorder, and to look out for good deals on them. It definitely made it much easier when it was my birthday to give my family and friends a list of books that I wanted so they knew what to get me. I’m not really expecting to receive any more gifts this year, but there are definitely a lot of books that I would ask for if I could! Technically, I already kind of addressed this topic with a recent Top 5 Wednesday post, but I have so many books currently on my wishlist that it wasn’t too hard to pick some more that I would love to get. For some reason, my first instinct was to pick books that are coming out in early 2021 even though it doesn’t really make sense to ask for those as a gift before they are even out!

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) An Ember in the Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir

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I have never read any of the books in this series, despite hearing so many great things about them over the past few years. Now that the last book is out, I decided it was about time to try it. I’m strongly considering adding this series as a priority to my reading challenges next year, but I don’t have any of the books and they are currently a bit on the expensive side for books that I’m not sure if I’ll like. If I have access to my library during the year, these will be a priority for sure, but to be honest, I’m pretty likely to end up buying them anyway. The series is about a young woman named Laia who is risking her life to spy for the rebels, in exchange for their help freeing her brother. While at the Martial Academy, she meets Elias, a soldier who wants to be free of the empire that he is being forced to maintain. Given how popular this series is, I’m actually a bit surprised by how little I really know about it, which is also part of why I’m a bit hesitant to pick it up. I tend to love YA fantasy series along these lines, but for some reason, I’ve always put this one off. If I received it as a gift, I’d have no excuse anymore to avoid it!

2) Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer

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Marissa Meyer is one of my favourite authors, and I’m excited to try a book in a new genre for her. This book is about an overachiever named Prudence, who wakes up one day with the ability to cast instant karma on the people around her. Prudence is excited to test out these new powers, but soon discovers that they don’t work on her lab partner Quint, whom she sees as an enemy. Over the course of the summer, Prudence begins to learn to put herself in others’ shoes, and learns more about Quint, herself and her classmates. I’ve loved every book I’ve read so far by this author, and I’m especially excited to try this one because it is so different from everything else she has written so far. I’d originally planned to ask for this one for my birthday only to realize that it wouldn’t quite be out in time. I guess I could have asked my family to preorder it for me, but I wanted to be able to have gifts to open on my birthday itself since the pandemic prevented me from doing anything else to celebrate. I did receive a gift card for my birthday though, and this book is very high on my list to buy soon, so it might end up being a kind of gift after all.

3) Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy

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I felt like I’d mentioned this book so often, so I was very surprised to see that it’s hardly come up so far in my posts. Aimee Molloy’s debut The Perfect Mother was one of my favourite books the year that I read it, and I’ve been really looking forward to her next release. This one was on my birthday wishlist but it was not one that I received, so it’s another that I’m strongly considering grabbing with my gift card, once the price is a bit more reasonable. It is currently $35 for the hardcover, which is a lot more than I’m willing to pay, especially given that this book is only around 300 pages! This book is about a newlywed couple, Sam and Annie, who are excited to start their life together in New York. Annie soon finds herself spending most of her time alone while Sam works as a therapist in his office downstairs, not realizing that Annie is able to hear everything through the vents. Everything is fine until one night, when Sam leaves his officer and never returns. I am so excited to try this one given how much I loved The Perfect Mother, and I’m hoping to get a copy of this one very soon!

4) Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

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I feel like there was a ton of hype around this book earlier in the year, but for some reason that all seems to have died out. I’d actually mostly forgotten about this book until I’d actively started planning for next year’s reading challenges, when I remembered how much I wanted to try it. This book is set in a world where teenage girls are required to attend an Annual Ball where men can choose them as wives. Girls who are not chosen disappear and are never heard from again. It focuses on Sophia, a girl who would rather marry her childhood best friend Erin than find a husband, and she decides to run away to Cinderella’s mausoleum to escape the entire process. While there, she meets a girl named Constance, the last known descendent of Cinderella, and together they set out to take down the king and get rid of the traditional Annual Ball. I love fairy tales and their retellings, and this one seems like quite a unique spin on Cinderella. I have no idea why the hype for this one died out so quickly, but I’m very excited to give it a try and I’d love to get a copy. I completely forgot to put it on my birthday list, but I would definitely include it on my next gift wishlist!

5) The Shadows by Alex North

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I’ve been kicking myself for not grabbing this one when it came up on Book Outlet earlier this year. I can’t remember if I missed it because there was only one or two copies, or if there had been more and I’d waited a bit too long to order, but I’ve been looking out for it ever since! I hope it either comes up there again, or drops in price from Amazon or Indigo (currently around $30 hardcover). To be fair, I’ve also been kicking myself for not getting to The Whisper Man this year like I expected! This book is Alex North’s second thriller, about a man named Paul Adams whose friends were victim to a shocking murder committed 25-years-ago by Charlie Crabtree. Ever since, Paul has been putting his life back together, but when his elderly mother needs him, he decides he must return home and soon finds that another copycat killer has struck. His mother insists that someone is inside their house, and Paul also begins to think he is being followed, a fact that particularly bothers him since Charlie Crabtree has not been seen since the murder all those years ago. Like The Whisper Man, this book sounds so creepy and I can’t wait to give it a try! They are both very high on my list to pick up next year, and I would love to get a copy of this one as a gift (or at least by it myself) to make sure I get to it.

6) Lock Every Door and/or The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

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I read my first two books by Riley Sager this year, and I really enjoyed them both, especially Home Before Dark. Lock Every Door was also very high on my list to read this year, but it was another book that I didn’t get to because it was much too expensive, at least if I want the hardcover. Considering I own the other two books by this author in hardcover, I’d love for them all to be the same format. Unfortunately for me, hardcover copies of these two books are strangely difficult to find, and very expensive when they do exist. Given how much I enjoyed both of his other books, I’m expecting I would love these two as well. I did put them both on my birthday reading list, but they were both completely out of stock at the time. I might have to settle for just getting the softcover versions instead, but I’m hoping I’ll be lucky enough to find the hardcovers somewhere and for a reasonable price. I would love to put both of these books on my list to read next year, but only if I can get copies.

7) My Lovely Wife or He Started It by Samantha Downing

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Samantha Downing is one of several thriller authors who I really should have tried by now, although it somehow feels like her books had been out for longer than just a year. Her debut, My Lovely Wife, only came out in early 2019 but it seems much longer ago. I guess that’s because the pandemic has made this year feel endless. Either way, her name is right at the top of my list of priority authors to try next year, and I’d love to fit in all of her books, especially her upcoming 2021 release which won’t be out until the end of July! I have heard such great things about My Lovely Wife and I’m actually a bit surprised I haven’t prioritized it until now. I suspect it was one of those cases where I thought it was a bit too overhyped, so my instinct was to avoid it. I haven’t heard quite as much about He Started It, but both books sound so good. I don’t own either of them yet, so I’d love to get them both as a gift so I can make sure to get to them next year.

8) Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

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Technically, I’d love to get any Fredrik Backman book as a gift since I don’t own any of them. I’ve only read the two Beartown books, but all the rest of his are on my list to read soon. Anxious People is his most recent release which just came out in September, and it is about a hostage situation where a failed bank robber locks himself in with a group of very different people at an apartment open house. When the police storm the apartment, they find it empty and are left to figure out how the robber managed to escape. It is told in a series of testimonies from the hostages, with each telling their versions of what happened. This book seems so different from Fredrik Backman’s other books so far, and I’m very curious to see how it will all play out. It reminds me so much of recent books by both Jodi Picoult and Liane Moriarty. I’m especially excited for this one because Fredrik Backman writes such strong and complex characters, and this book seems like a great character study. I put Fredrik Backman’s name as a favourite author on my wishlist for my Secret Santa at work, so there’s a slim chance I’ll get this one next week when we exchange our gifts.

9) The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

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This is another one that was very briefly available to me on Book Outlet, and I wish I had grabbed it when I’d had the chance. I read The Escape Room earlier this year and really enjoyed it, although not quite as much as I’d expected, but I’m expecting to love this one even more. This one is about a woman named Rachel who runs a true crime podcast that has made her famous. When she receives a mysterious note on her windshield asking her to help with an unsolved case of the town’s golden boy facing accusations of raping the police chief’s granddaughter. Under pressure to make the next season of her show just as successful, Rachel decides to take the case, but soon realizes that someone is following her, and they also want her to uncover what happened to a woman who died in an apparent drowning accident 25 years before, a case which seems to have unexpected connections to the current investigations. This one sounds so interesting and I can’t wait to get a copy so I can finally try it!

10) An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

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Just like the Riley Sager books, this is another one that was high on my list to read this year, but I didn’t get to it because I couldn’t get a copy. I’m trying to decide if I want to just grab the softcover version or if I’d rather hold out for the hardcover. I have one book by these authors in each format, so in this case, matching editions isn’t even as much of a factor. This book is about a young woman named Jessica who signs up for a psychology study, thinking it will be an easy way to make some extra money. As the study becomes more invasive and the therapist in charge becomes more controlling, Jessica begins to question whether she can really trust what is real and what is part of the experiment. As someone who studied psychology and had a requirement to participate in some studies (although mine were generally just a brief survey or computer activity), the entire premise of this book seems absolutely fascinating. I also loved The Wife Between Us, and I’ve been looking forward to reading more by these authors. I had both this book and You Are Not Alone on my list to read last year, and I was very disappointed not to get to either of them. I’m hoping to read both in 2021 instead!

10 Things I Learned in 2020 (From Doing My Sixth Year of Reading Challenges)

I have to say, this title doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as it has in previous years. I guess I could have gone all the way and picked “20 Things I Learned in 2020,” but that seemed like a bit much. Over the past three years, I liked taking the opportunity at the end of the year to reflect on my reading challenges and see what I could learn about my own reading habits from them. I first started making note of what I had learned from the reading challenge process back in 2017, with updates in both 2018 and 2019, with some more of my reading habits or approaches to my challenges. This year was definitely quite the learning process since my reading was affected by the pandemic. I normally get the majority of my books from the library, but with my local branch closed through most of the year, I had to make my challenges work with just the books I owned or was able to buy. More than anything, that affected if or when I got a copy of specific books which meant that there are some books I really wanted to read that I couldn’t get or that I got too late to be able to squeeze in.

This is now my sixth year of doing reading challenges, and it was another year where I experimented a bit more with my goals. This was the second year that I set myself a list of priority books and priority series that I wanted to pick up before the end of the year. It was also the first time that I set myself a list of priority authors that I’ve been meaning to try. It was also the first year that I intentionally planned my challenges with the idea of it being a 2-year process to complete all the books on my list, only to realize that I didn’t quite think through all the logistics of how that would work. I think this was actually the hardest time I’ve ever had compiling my list of things I learned from my reading challenges this year, which is not such a surprise considering this year has been such a mess in general.

1) I like making seasonal TBRs, but I need to view them as a list of options instead of a “must read” list

I’ve always known that I’m not great at sticking to TBR lists, at least if the idea is to complete everything on them. This year, I found it a lot of fun to loosely organize my books by season or sometimes around holiday themes. For example, in February I tried to read mostly romances or thrillers that were focused on relationships, or in October, I tried (and failed) to prioritize creepy books or anything paranormal. It was fun to make these lists and I liked that it gave me a bit of direction about what to pick up next, but I also found myself frustrated that I had too many books to realistically read. For example, for October I had about 30 books in total that would fit my theme, and of course couldn’t finish them all. I learned that if I shift my focus a bit and view these as lists of options to choose from instead, I can have fun with it without getting as annoyed when I don’t finish everything I wanted to pick up. If I decide to use a seasonal approach next year, I’ll do by best to view it as options and not a definitive list.

2) I’m much more likely to pick up a series when all the books are already available

I used to purposely space out reading books from a series because I had the misguided idea that I didn’t want to “waste” too many challenge prompts on the same author or series. For the first few years that I did challenges, I’d only read 1 book per series in a year, even when the entire series was out. I pretty quickly learned this was a bad idea since I could never remember what happened in the previous one. Since then, I’ve switched to mostly binge-reading series, with some exceptions. The downside to this is that I keep picking books from incomplete series because I’m very excited to read them, and then end up putting them off until the following year when the final book comes out so I can read them all together. I made a couple of exceptions this year for books I was very highly anticipating, like Ninth House or House of Earth & Blood, only to immediately want the next one and be a bit frustrated that I’d have to wait at least a year. I’ve definitely become a lot more interested in reading full series together when I can.

3) Sometimes I need to give authors more than one chance to decide if I really like them, especially if that author is writing in a different genre

To be fair, I don’t know that I’ve ever fully written off an author after trying just one of their books, so it might be a tiny bit of a stretch to really consider this something that I’ve learned. At the very least, I can definitely say that I get very apprehensive to pick up another book by an author if I found my first one disappointing. I think the best example of this is Emily Henry. I read The Love That Split the World very early in the year and although I ultimately gave it a 4 (really a 3.5 rounded up), I didn’t love it like I expected. I found myself very nervous to pick up Beach Read as a result, and that ended up becoming a favourite of the year! I think the same could be said for Holly Black. I read The Coldest Girl in Coldtown last year and was a bit disappointed, so I was nervous to pick up the Cruel Prince series. In that case, I think the apprehension is a little more justified since the books are at least in the same genre, but I’ve learned to give at least 2 chances before giving up on an author.

4) I have a lot of trouble deciding which book to read next when none of them are books from the library

I think this is the one thing that where I saw the biggest impact of the pandemic on my reading. I’d set myself a goal to read only books that I own for the winter before switching back to reading both library books and my own, but without library access for the majority of the year, I ended up reading almost entirely my own books. Strangely enough, I found myself having a really hard time deciding what to read next. It was almost like I had too many options available, and without the pressure of having a library due date putting a time limit on how long I have a book, it was really easy to keep putting things off. This was where I found the seasonal TBR lists very helpful, but often found myself really having a hard time deciding what to read next. I usually found myself with a massive list of books that I really wanted to pick up next and had a hard time choosing between them. It was a strange and very much unexpected side effect of not having library access, since I would have assumed having the books easily available would make it easier to choose, not harder.

5) I’m more open to audiobooks (but still don’t process them quite the same way)

The one thing I did use from the library this year was their selection of online ebooks and especially audiobooks. I’ve always been a bit resistant to listening to audiobooks because I find that I don’t process them nearly as well as I do a physical book. I need to be doing something else with my hands while listening to an audiobook, but also can’t do anything that takes my attention too far from the book either. I started listening to audiobooks mostly because I have one day on the weekend every other week where I have some work to do at home, and I was frustrated with feeling like I was losing so much reading time. I started picking audiobooks that would take around the same amount of time as my work, and mainly ones that I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t necessarily process 100% and I’ve started to really enjoy having them to listen to. I like feeling like I’m being doubly productive by doing my work while still making progress on my challenges, and I’m starting to get a bit better at paying attention to the books and actually absorbing them properly.

6) I’ve missed out on many great authors over the years, and need to actively try to pick up their books more often!

As mentioned above, this was the first year where I set myself a goal to read books by several different authors that I felt like I had missed. I picked authors who I’d heard of multiple times over the years but never bothered to pick up, and I was happy to find that I really enjoyed them all! Of course, there were some that I liked more than others, but it was definitely a great addition to my goals. I structured it fairly loosely, so I had to read only one book per author in order to count them as read, although I purposely worked several books by nearly all of them into my challenge plans to give myself some wiggle room in case I couldn’t access one of their books, and also to motivate myself to try them more than once. This is definitely a goal I’d like to try again, and I’m already working on my list of who to choose for next year too.

7) I’m still not great at figuring out how long it will take me to read a book

Back in 2017, when I first made my list of things I’d learned from doing my reading challenges, I’d commented that I was a terrible judge of how long it will take me to read a book. 3 years down the line, and I don’t think I’ve improved very much in my judgement. In theory, I know how long a book should take. I can read about 100 pages on average per day during the week and more on weekends, but there are often unpredictable factors that come up that change things. At the beginning of the pandemic, I assumed I’d end up reading a ton more than usual with all my extra time, but my brain somehow got locked into a pattern of putting off reading until late in the evening and then being hyperfocused on the book between midnight at 1 am. It was a bit frustrating to feel like I had wasted so much of that “extra” time, even though it was completely unexpected and unusual circumstances. Even now that my schedule is mostly back to normal, I still find that I often think I’ll be able to read more in an evening than I actually can. I would have expected with so many years of reading challenges behind me, I’d have a better sense of how long things would take, but I guess that skill hasn’t quite developed yet.

8) I need a bit more structure to accomplish some of my reading goals, even when they involve books that I really want to read

I am very good at setting myself goals and I’m always convinced that it will be no problem to accomplish them all, but somehow, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I still have a bad habit of putting off some of the books I’m most anticipating for too long, usually because I don’t want to rush and read all the “best” ones too soon. I always like to get rid of some of the books or prompts I’m dreading early on in the year, which naturally pushes some of the books back for a while. One thing I discovered this year is having even a very loose structure really helps keep me on track to making sure I keep my goals in mind and actively prioritize them. I found that the goals I had semi-structured were more successful, in general, than the goals that I’d left unstructured. I don’t want to go too far and impose too much structure to the point where the challenges feel like a chore, but I’m definitely looking at some ways to implement some loose guidelines to keep me on track.

9) I *still* haven’t figured out how to prioritize my challenges properly!!

This is by far the most frustrating of all the items on this list! For the past three years now, I’ve found myself with way too many books from my highest priority challenges (Goodreads Around the Year and PopSugar) by the end of the year! It’s getting to the point where it’s just ridiculous that I’m getting to November or even December with 20+ books remaining on each of these challenges. Last year, I blamed it on getting bogged down with library books, but this year there really was no excuse. I don’t even know what happened to justify why I had so many prompts remaining for these challenges, aside from maybe an attempt to balance my reading across all of my challenges. This is the one thing that I most actively want to fix for next year because I hate that it has become such a pattern. I need to either actively prioritize these challenges more, or else stop classifying them as my top priorities and treat all my challenges the same.

10) It is not a big deal to fail my reading challenges, even though it can be frustrating

This is the first year where I can safely say that failed my reading challenges, at least to the extent that I’m nowhere near finishing either ATY or PopSugar. To be fair, I’d structured this year’s set of challenges as a 2-year process, but I’d intended to finish those two at least by the end of December. On the other hand, I could also potentially say that I did complete all (or at least most) of the remaining prompts, if I re-assigned some of the books I already read. It would be a logistical nightmare to change them on my social media posts, but I’ve made note of which books could be counted elsewhere, and it seems that nearly all of the prompts would be covered with books I’ve already read. As frustrating as it is to feel like I’ve failed the challenge for the first time, I also started to come to terms with the idea that it really does not matter. The only actual consequence of it is that I still have a ton of books remaining to carry over into next year, but these are books that I wanted to read anyway so it’s not a big deal. It’s more the fact that I felt like I had so much “extra” time this year so it feels like if there was any year where I should have succeeded, it should be this one. I’ll just blame this one on the pandemic, somehow!

Top 5 Wednesdays: Best Villains

I don’t know why I always struggle with villains prompts, since I love a good villain story! I especially love to read about morally grey characters or antiheroes, but I find villains so fascinating. It may be because I studied psychology, but I tend to find it so interesting to really delve into the villain’s story and figure out why they behave the way they do. I love reading about villains’ motivations, especially when there is some complexity to them. I find villains a lot more compelling when there are layers to their actions or choices, even when I don’t like or agree with what they are doing. As much as I love reading about villains, I always seem to struggle to remember them after I finish reading the book or series. Aside from particularly memorable characters like Professor Umbridge, I don’t often remember too much detail about the character or their actions. Even looking back on the books and series I read this year, it was a bit of a struggle to find villains that really jumped out at me (or that wouldn’t be a spoiler to reveal). I’m pretty sure none of my choices below are spoilers, but some are series that I read much earlier in the year so I can’t remember for sure.

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) Scythe Goddard from the Scythe series by Neal Shusterman – This is the series I read most recently of everything listed here, and Goddard immediately jumped out as a very interesting character. From the moment he was first introduced, I found so many of his scenes very chilling to read (especially the plane, for example). Aside from his penchant for violence, I was especially intrigued by Goddard’s intelligence and manipulative nature, but also the contrast with his temper. He was definitely one of the most memorable villains I read this year.

2) President Snow from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins – To be honest, I didn’t have particularly strong memories of President Snow as a villain, but that may have been because I’d read the series so long ago. This year, I reread the series and also the new prequel, and it definitely reinforced him as an interesting villain. I know a lot of people didn’t love Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes but I found it so interesting to see the development of the Hunger Games over time and all the suggestions Snow put forward over time to “improve” them.

3) Nova from the Renegades series by Marissa Meyer – Nova definitely is not the same kind of villain as the others on this list, but Renegades has exactly the kind of morally grey characters that I love! Nova is not the “main” villain of the series, but I think it would be too spoiler-y to reveal who it was. Nova is technically a villain because she is part of the Anarchists, a group that is challenging the authority of the heroes who have taken over the city to “fix” things. One of the things I love most about this series is that it plays around with the idea of what it means to be a hero or a villain.

4) Athos and Astrid Dane from the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab – I was a bit surprised to find that these two characters were not quite as prominent in the series as I originally expected, but they were very interesting villains from White London. These two were ruthless twin rulers and one of my favourite parts of the first book in this series. These two were by far some of the cruelest villains I remember reading in a long time. You could also make a strong case for Holland as an interesting villain or at least anti-hero.

5) Madoc from The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black – This was another series that I picked up this year, mostly because of the hype, and I’m so glad I did. It’s another series that I think really plays on the idea of heroes vs. villains, and I absolutely loved all the characters. Madoc was a very interesting character, and I loved the way he used the politics of the world to his advantage. I love books that involve characters who try to work within the system to gain power, and this one was so well-done.

Top 10 Tuesdays: Books On My Winter 2020/2021 TBR

Even though I’ve been having a lot of fun planning my 2021 reading challenges over the past few weeks, I can’t help feeling a bit scattered about my plans. It’s still a tiny bit too early in the month to have a very set plan in mind, especially this year when I’m not sure whether I’ll have access to my library. So far, I’ve been operating under the assumption that I’ll only be reading books I already have, but there are also a bunch that I’m hoping to buy in the first quarter of the year too. This year, I started very loosely planning seasonal TBRs for myself, by which I mean I tend to group books that seem to fit a particular season to read in that season as much as possible. In winter, I tend to go for books that are set in winter or sometimes books that have a creepy atmosphere, which I find are perfect to pick up when I’m stuck indoors because of the snow. For my winter TBR this year, I also purposely included a few of the books that I’d really wanted to read this year but won’t be able to get to. I like to prioritize reading those as close to the beginning of the year as possible usually, to avoid putting them off for prolonged periods again!

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) The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

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I have two Megan Miranda books still on my list from this year, and I’d love to read at least one (although preferably both) before the end of December! Of the two, I think this is the one I’ve mentioned less often overall. It is about a failed journalist named Leah who is looking for a fresh start when she runs into an old friend, Emmy, who is just getting out of a bad relationship. Emmy suggests that the two of them move to rural Pennsylvania together to start over, but their new life is threatened when a woman who looks a lot like Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears a few days later. Leah decides to team up with a police officer named Kyle Donovan to find her friend, but begins to wonder how well she really new her, and is forced to confront her own past if she wants to find the truth about what happened to Emmy. Nothing about this book particularly screams winter, but I know that it is one that I’m aiming to read before the end of the month so I will definitely be reading it in the winter anyway. Megan Miranda is on my priority authors to try this year list, so I’m really hoping I can get to this one soon.

2) One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

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This is another leftover from the fall. I’d originally planned to read this around September, since it is set in a school and I thought it might make a good “back-to-school” season read, but I didn’t get a copy of it until later. This book is about five very different students who are sent to detention, where one of them ends up dead. Investigators believe that his death couldn’t have been an accident, especially since he was the creator of a gossip app that threatened to reveal secrets of the other four who were in detention with him. I’ve heard so much about this book over the years that I decided it was finally time to give it a chance. Luckily, I’ve been able to completely avoid spoilers so far somehow, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. I do tend to find YA mystery-thrillers a bit hit-or-miss sometimes, but this one seems intriguing. Within the past year, I’ve bought copies of all of Karen M. McManus’s books so far, including The Cousins which just came out, so I’m hoping to love them as much as I expect.

3) Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

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This is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for so long that it’s just become ridiculous at this point that I haven’t picked it up yet. It’s been in my reading challenge plans for at least 2 years already, and I’ve even added Sarah Pinborough to my priority authors list for the year, yet somehow I still ended up waiting until the last minute. This book is about a single mother named Louise, who is thrilled to have finally connected with someone she meets at the bar. When she shows up to work the next week, she is shocked to discover that David, the man she kissed that night, is her new boss and he is already married. Louise soon meets his wife Adele and begins to wonder why she seems so afraid. As Louise spends more time with her, she begins to realize that something in David and Adele’s marriage seems very wrong. Although I’ve managed to avoid being spoiled for the ending of this one, I have heard that the end is very much a “hate it or love it” kind of thing, and it has me a bit worried. Given how many years I’ve been meaning to read this one, I definitely have to make a point of getting to it soon, and preferably before the end of 2020.

4) Winterwood by Shea Earnshaw

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This book is an obvious choice for winter, although I’m a little frustrated that I didn’t get to The Wicked Deep this fall like I’d planned. I wanted to read that one first, although they are both standalones so it probably does not matter much. This book is about Nora Walker, who comes from a family where the women have always shared a special connection with the woods around her town. The woods soon lead her to Oliver, a boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys several weeks ago during a snowstorm, and was presumed dead. When she finds Oliver alive but with no memory of what happened to him, Nora begins to feel a shift in the woods and soon realizes she must find out the truth about how he managed to survive, trying to uncover secrets that Oliver would do anything to keep hidden. I definitely haven’t heard as much about this one as I have about The Wicked Deep, but I’m very excited to try it. It is definitely a book that seems like the perfect fit for the winter months, and something that I’ll very likely be picking up early in 2021.

5) One By One by Ruth Ware

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I feel like I’ve been mentioning this book a lot lately, but it is one that definitely screams winter to me since it is set during an avalanche. This book is about a group of coworkers who are stuck together at a mountain chalet during a company mindfulness retreat. When one of the employees is found dead in their room, everyone is left to wonder whether there is a killer among them and if so, who it could be. This one reminds me quite heavily of An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena, which I read this year in January, and really enjoyed. To be honest, I was a little put off at first since the plots seemed so incredibly similar, but I enjoy both authors and I’m still very interested in giving this one a try. I love mysteries and thrillers where characters are trapped together and have to figure out what is really happening. I’ve seen some very mixed reviews for this one, although that is not unexpected for a thriller, but I am curious to try it for myself and see. Given that it is premised around being snowed in, it seems like a perfect winter book.

6) Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario

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I picked this book as a winter read mostly because of the mention of ice in the title. I have a copy on its way from Book Outlet so it will be very easy to pick this one up soon. It is a novel in verse about a teenage girl named Rowena, whose relationship with her sister Ariana hasn’t been the same since their mother died a few years ago. When Ariana disappears one night during a snowstorm, Rowena is left to piece together where she went and why, only to discover that she might be part of the reason herself. I really enjoyed 500 Words or Less by this author and I’ve been looking forward to trying her next book, so I was excited to see it come up recently on Book Outlet. I struggle a bit sometimes with novels in verse, but I tend to find a lot of books that deal with grief and loss very impactful, so I’m hoping that will be the case with this one too. I’ve also seen this one compared to Elizabeth Acevedo, who is one of my favourite YA authors (and definitely an exception to my struggle with novels in verse), so that alone is enough to make me want to try this one.

7) The Dark Artifices series by Cassandra Clare

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I had this series on my priority list to read this year, but ran out of time before I could get to it. I had been expecting to borrow these from the library, since the hardcover versions were about $32 each. Lucky for me, the boxset of all three came up on Book Outlet a couple of months ago, so I was able to grab it that way! Unfortunately, by the time I got the set, it was quite late in the year, and I generally find myself much less motivated to pick up books of this size by the end of the year. I decided to proactively shift this series to be a top priority goal to next year, and it will very likely be the first thing I read in January! I like to make sure to get to the books or series that I missed the previous year right away as much as possible, and especially given the size of these books. I also tend to find that I do much better with longer books earlier in the year, probably because I feel less pressured about finishing challenges. I’m still really looking forward to reading these, and I’m glad I have my own copies now to make it even easier to prioritize them.

8) The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

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As much as I would love to read this book before the end of the year, I’m not sure if I’m going to have enough time to squeeze it in. If not, it will definitely be at the top of my list to pick up next year so I will still very likely read it in the winter. This book is about a man named Ted who meets a woman named Lily while on a flight. When Ted jokes about wanting to kill his wife, Lily surprises him by offering to help. Upon their return to Boston, their bond continues to grow as they plot his wife’s death, and Lily is hiding secrets of her own. This was one of my highest priority books to read this year, but I had such a hard time finding a copy (mostly because I specifically wanted the hardcover version). Luckily, I recently received a copy for my birthday so I’m hoping to be able to pick it up in the next couple of weeks. It’s a bit frustrating to have so many books that I really wanted to try but ran out of time or couldn’t access so easily without my library! I’m hoping that all the waiting will pay off when I finally get to try this one.

9) The Whisper Man by Alex North

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I specifically had this book earmarked to read around Halloween, but like many of the other book I had in mind for that time period, it somehow didn’t end up happening. I decided that instead of waiting until next fall, this book would be a great winter read instead because it’s so creepy! It is about a man named Tom who moves to a new town with his son after the sudden death of his wife. Twenty years before, the town was victim to a serial killer known as The Whisper Man, who kidnapped and killed five people after luring them out by whispering at their windows at night. Just as Tom and his son settle into their new home, another boy vanishes and his disappearance bears a shocking resemblance to the Whisper Man crimes, even though a man had already been caught for those crimes many years before. This new case reignites the idea that he may have had an accomplice, leading detectives to start investigating the case all over again, especially when Tom’s son starts hearing whispers at his window too. I still think this book would have been perfect for Halloween, but I can also very easily see reading it (and creeping myself out with it) during a snow day, if my work ever has one of those!

10) One Day in December by Josie Silver

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This is the only book on this list that I don’t currently own, so I plan to read it in the first couple of months if I get it, or else I will likely save it until December. I know there’s technically no reason not to read it at any other time, but it seems like such a winter book that I think it would feel a bit weird otherwise. This book is about a woman named Laurie who sees a man through the bus window one day in December, but the bus drives away before she can meet him. Laurie spends the next year searching every bus stop and cafe to find him, sure that they are destined to meet again, but with no luck. Just when she’s given up, Laurie ends up meeting him at a Christmas party where this man, Jack, is introduced as her best friend’s new boyfriend. The book follows the three of them over the next ten years as their paths keep crossing. I’ve heard such great things about this book, including from some of the channels that I watch who don’t often care for romance, so I’m definitely interested in picking it up. I was hesitant at first because I don’t care about all about Christmas stories and I thought that was a much more central element than it actually seems to be. I’m hoping to get a copy of this and The Two Lives of Lydia Bird and read both within the next year!

7 on Sunday: Most Surprising Books of 2020

I was surprised (no pun intended) to realize how much of a struggle it was to find books that really surprised me this year! I don’t know if it’s because this year has been so weird overall, or if I’ve just become much better at picking books that I’d like, but I had a really hard time finding books that impressed me more than I expected. I have a lot of books that I read and loved this year, but those were mostly books that I was already expecting to love. I wonder if a part of the reason is because I had made myself a list of priority authors to try, in addition to my priority books, priority series and 5 star predictions. That was a lot of set-up to picking books that I was expecting to like. To be fair, there is no guarantee that I’m going to love any of the books on any of those lists, but I think it’s a reasonable expectation that if I’m prioritizing them, I have a strong enough interest and reason to believe I will enjoy them. Another factor is that several of the books that surprised me most ended up on my Favourites of the Year list either from the first half of the year (here) or for the second half, in a post coming later this month. I was especially surprised to look back at last year’s books that surprised me most and realize those were all books I considered favourites, whereas the books I chose this year might not quite get that distinction.

7 on Sunday is a new weekly project that was started by Grace of G-Swizzel Books, with a weekly topic for videos and/or blog posts! The official Goodreads group with topics can be found here.

1) Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

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I strongly considered adding this book to my favourites of the first half of the year, and it only very narrowly didn’t make the list. I’d previously read Saints & Misfits by this author and I really liked it but not quite as much as I’d expected, so I thought this one would be another solid four-star read. This one is about a Muslim girl named Zayneb who is sent Qatar after being suspended for a fight with a racist teacher, and while there, she meets Adam, who was recently diagnosed with MS and is hiding his diagnosis from his family. I was immediately invested in both characters and thought Adam was one of the most unique male protagonists I’d seen in a long time. I especially loved the family relationships, and also the way both characters used a “marvels and oddities” journal. My one very minor complaint was that I was very interested in the storyline about Zayneb’s teacher and the investigations into his discriminatory behaviour, and I would have loved a tiny bit more about that. I especially loved seeing the romance develop between the two main characters, and especially how their religion played such a role in what they were allowed to do, which also helped to take away some of the more typical YA tropes. I also loved the emphasis on anger and how to productively channel it instead of lashing out. I definitely loved this book a lot more than I expected!

2) Goodbye Perfect by Sara Barnard

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I was very excited to read this one, but also went in with relatively low expectations given how YA books usually handle the subject matter. It is about a teenage girl named Eden, whose best friend Bonnie has run off with their teacher, and only Eden knows where they are. I absolutely loved how the author handled the complex topic of the student-teacher relationship, including commentary on grooming, power dynamics, and choice. I also loved how Eden’s views of Bonnie running away evolved over the course of the book, even reflecting on whether it was such a big deal since they were almost of age. I was pleasantly surprised to find a very interesting subplot about academic pressure, which is a huge buzzword for me in books, and also loved the incorporation of conversations between Eden and Bonnie that took on a new meaning after she left. I also enjoyed the relationship Eden had with her adoptive family as well as the fact that she had an already established and very strong relationship with a boyfriend. I thought this book was by far one of the strongest that I’ve read dealing with a student-teacher relationship and I was very surprised that I loved it as much as I did.

3) Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

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I was a little apprehensive going into this one. Jenn Bennett was one of the authors who made my priority list to try, and I started with Alex, Approximately since it was the book I’d been waiting to read the longest. Unfortunately, I didn’t love that one mostly because I found the main character very annoying! It definitely made me lower my expectations a bit for this one, but luckily, I ended up loving it! This book is about two former best friends, Zorie and Lennon, who are both stranded on a camping trip, and have no choice but to work together to get home. I have no interest at all in camping and don’t usually care for books that deal a lot with survival and wilderness, so this one definitely came as a surprise. I loved the way camping was presented and liked that it was a hobby of Lennon’s so it left a very natural way for it to be woven into the story. I loved the dynamics between Zorie and Lennon right from the start, and their relationship felt like such a natural progression from a strong friendship. I also enjoyed the relationships both characters had with their families. I also really enjoyed how sex-positive the book was, although I could have done without the characters inventing the term “sexlaxation” and using it repeatedly. I ultimately rated this one 4.5 and rounded it down on Goodreads to a 4, although I strongly considered giving it 5!

4) The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

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I picked this book up mostly because of the hype, and went into it with very low expectations. I ended up listening to it as an audiobook while doing some work at home, and I absolutely loved it! This book is about a baseball player named Gavin whose wife has recently asked for a divorce, and he wants to win her back. To help him, Gavin’s friends invite him to their book club where they read historical romance books and try to use those as a guide for how to treat women. I think what I loved most about this book was that it was so different from the majority of other romances that I’ve read. Aside from Nicholas Sparks’ books, I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance with a male lead, and I also really liked that the main relationship in this one was an already-established marriage, instead of two people getting together for the first time. I especially loved how the book handled the idea of the way men are viewed in society, including commentary about how they are mocked for reading certain kinds of books or drinking certain drinks. I thought the friendships between the men were so much fun to read, and also Gavin’s relationship with his wife, Thea. I especially loved the focus on the importance of communication in all areas of the relationship. This book was so much fun, and I’d love to read the rest of the series!

5) Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

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I picked this one up, also as an audiobook, mostly on a whim because it was one of the few options I found for a particularly tricky challenge prompt. It is about a 6-year-old boy named Zack who survives a school shooting, during which his older brother is killed. The story is narrated entirely from Zack’s perspective as he tries to come to terms with his brother’s death and watches his parents struggle with it. I loved that this book presented such a unique perspective on the topic of school shootings. I had read quite a few books that deal with the perspective of teachers, the shooter, or teenage survivors, but never from the perspective of such a young child. I loved the way the author captured the complexities of Zack’s feelings about his brother’s death and captured the experience of grief so accurately and so realistically for such a young character. I also really liked Zack’s interest in art and the way he used drawings to manage his feelings and communicate them to his parents. I also loved the references to the Magic Treehouse series, which was a childhood favourite of mine too. I thought this book was so powerful, and although I expected to like it, the impact of it was definitely a surprise.

6) The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

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It may be a bit of a stretch to call this one a surprise since I did expect to enjoy it, but I was a bit surprised by how much I loved it! I’d previously read Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating earlier in the year and I liked it but I was a bit disappointed by the ending, so I think that lowered my expectations for this one too. This book very easily could have made it onto my favourite books in the second half of the year list! It is about a woman named Olive who ends up going on her twin sister’s honeymoon to Maui with her brother-in-law’s brother Ethan, whom she hates, after everyone else at the wedding gets food poisoning. I loved reading the comedy of errors of the first half of the book, and especially loved the immediate chemistry and banter between Olive and Ethan. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the “hate” element of their hate-to-love story felt believable and that it persisted for quite a bit longer than in most similar romances, where the hate part is dropped pretty quickly. I also loved the emphasis on communication and how they both actively encouraged each other to talk about things. I also loved the focus on the role of luck vs. choice in Olive’s life. I especially loved her confidence to stand up for herself when she knew she was right, even when it put her in conflict with those closest to her. The ending was incredible, and only further cemented this as one of my favourite romances that I read this year.

7) The Stalking Jack the Ripper series by Kerri Maniscalco

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I was a bit hesitant to add this series to my list too, because I went into it with a reasonable expectation of liking it. I just wasn’t sure how much I’d be invested, since I’d had only a mild interest in picking them up until recently, when I finally gave into all the hype. This series is about a young woman in Victorian England named Audrey Rose, who secretly apprentices with her uncle to learn forensics. I had been hesitant to pick this series up because I’d seen very mixed reviews and was worried that I’d already outgrown the series, so I surprised by how quickly I was drawn in! I love the dark tone of the series, which reminded me quite a bit of The Madman’s Daughter. I also loved the dynamics throughout the series between Audrey Rose and her rival and later partner, Thomas Cresswell. There was a bit less banter between them in the beginning than I’d expected, but I love the way their relationship developed throughout the series. I binge-read all four books in October, and ended up rating them all 4.5 stars (rounded up to 5 stars on Goodreads) because I loved the characters and the mysteries that they were investigating. I had a lot more fun reading this series than I expected, and picked up Kerri Maniscalco’s next book very soon after finishing these (although I haven’t read it yet)!