2017 Wrap-Up

I am writing this while in the bathroom battling my first UTI in two years, so I want to instead reflect on the good that came from this blog in 2017. It was the year that I found the time to return to blogging regularly and exceeded my reading goals (goal was to read 40 books; I finished 2017 off having read 45). I also explored new genres, found new favourite authors, and went to my first ever book signing with the amazing Maggie Stiefvater for her equally amazing novel All the Crooked Saints. In celebration, I’m sharing with you my top 5 books of 2017, and the books I’m most looking forward to reading in 2018.

All the Crooked Saints

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As I wrote in my review, I realized while reading this book that I was experiencing something special. It was the same feeling I’d had reading Harry Potter or The Fault in Our Stars. At some point I stopped, took a breath, and realized that no other book would be able to compare, and it was true. For the rest of the year, every book fell short of the joy and enrapture that captivated me during this book. It was poignant and eye-opening in a year where I think everyone needed to focus on self-reflection and self-improvement. I will forever recommend this book one hundred times over and believe me when I say that you are missing out on the experience of a lifetime if you haven’t read this yet.

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The Storyteller

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Before reading this book I had sworn against Jodi Picoult. I found her novels to be too formulaic and repetitive, but something made me take a chance on this one. Perhaps the cover, which I was drawn to instantly. But the description on the back also suggested more than her usual troubled and/or sick child and a court case. I’m so glad I took that chance. I was sucked into this novel in such a way that I lived and breathed it even when my nose wasn’t between the pages. A story of the holocaust that I haven’t seen since Schindler’s List. It is heartbreaking and bloody and messes with your head but it is worth every second of torment, sadness, empathy, understanding, and joy. This novel is a wild ride that I would take again and again.

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I Hate Everyone But You

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Not only has this audiobook deepened my love for Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn but it’s given me a better understanding of how amazing audiobooks can be and why people love them so much. Raskin and Dunn’s performance of their novel has definitely set the bar for all future audiobooks that I’ll listen to and it was truly a privilege to experience this one. I would urge anyone interested in this novel to listen to it rather than read it, as I think you get more from the authors’ performances that you might miss reading it and interpreting it on your own. I love, love, love it and plan on listening to it again in 2018.

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There’s Someone Inside Your House

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I believe this novel has introduced a new sub-genre of YA Horror that we haven’t seen before: slasher-horror YA. And as someone who hates horror movies and slasher films because they get too real for me, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It definitely had its faults, as I outlined in my review, but I can’t deny that it kept me hooked right to the very end. It also served the redeem Stephanie Perkins in my eyes after I read (and hated) Lola and the Boy Next Door. The writing of There’s Someone Inside Your House isn’t on par with Anna and the French Kiss or Isla and the Happily Ever After, which I think are her best novels so far, but there is certainly potential for her to develop this slasher voice more and make something truly epic out of it.

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Bad Girls Throughout History

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Hands-down one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read. I borrowed this from the library as an ebook and can’t wait to own a physical copy in full colour! Ann Shen is an amazing artist and in this book she managed to pare down each woman’s history to what was most important and interesting so that I never felt like anything was lacking or biased. I learned things that I never had the opportunity to during my history major at the University of Toronto (hate that school, don’t go there!) and it reignited my love for feminist history and discourse. I can’t wait to read her next book and see more of what she has to offer.

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And in 2018…

Here is a gallery of the books I’m most looking forward to reading in 2018.

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My Life in Books Tag!

my life in books

Hey everybody! I caught this tag over on booksandbakes1’s blog and so thanks to her for nominating, well, everybody. I’ve never done a tag before and this one seemed really fun to me, so I’m excited to get started. Here goes!

  1. Find a book for each of your initials.

Um, this is a hard one, since my first name starts with a V. The first one that comes to mind is The Vampire Diaries series by L.J. Smith, though I have never read them…come to think of it, I’ve never read a single book starting with a V.

v diaries

And for my second initial, L:

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (which I have read).

lion witch wardrobe

  1. Count your age along your bookshelf—which is it?

You guys, when I did this, I was so excited I nearly jumped up and down. It just so happens to be my all-time favourite book, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green! I didn’t even do this on purpose, I swear to god. (I’m 21, turning 22 next week.)

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  1. Pick a book set in your city/state[province]/country.

Being from Canada (ahem), this is a real tough one. I think more books need to be set here (Toronto, specifically). But luckily I can think of at least one book that takes place in the country, and that would be The Truth Commission by Susan Juby.

truth-commission

  1. Pick a book that represents a destination you would love to travel.

Since I was born in 1993 and the Ministry of Magic was undergoing a few, erm, changes at that time, I didn’t get my Hogwarts letter. However, I would love to go there, or to the UK more generally. So, the Harry Potter series it is.

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  1. Pick a book that’s your favourite colour.

My favourite colour is blue, and the only blue book coming to mind is TFiOS, which I already did. So I will go with The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson.

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  1. Which book do you have the fondest memories of?

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. My mom read me these books when I was little.

Anne Of Green Gables

  1. Which book did you have the most difficulty reading?

I’m going to go with one that I finished but struggled with, and that would be The Host by Stephenie Meyer. I really hated it…

the host

  1. Which book in your TBR pile will give you the biggest sense of accomplishment when you finish it?

Daughter of York by Anne Easter Smith. If you love historical fiction, I totally recommend her, but her books are doosies. Five hundred pages long and no chapter breaks. Good luck.

daughter of york

Because I don’t think it’s fair to only nominate some people, I nominate everybody! Have fun. 🙂

-Ember Book Reviews

The Author Today: Celebrities in the Making

I’m a pretty big participator in the Twitter-verse. I’m not posting all the time or anything like that, but I do check it constantly for updates. If you look at my Twitter feed, it mostly consists of book-related or writing-related things: retweets from favourite authors, my own thoughts on reading/writing, updates from the blog, etcetera. As a fan of authors like John Green and Maureen Johnson, it’s started blowing my mind just how much social media (Twitter especially) has contributed to the fandom surrounding books and their authors, and how now, every author has a face, a persona, an online forum of some kind. In this way, I realized that the author is no longer this mysterious entity hiding behind their words on a page, but a face that gives voice to so many things—not just their writing, but their opinions and their interests and lives, in many cases external to their writing, that I believe has created this aura of celebrity around the modern-day author, and I’m not really sure how this sits with me.

As someone who wants to be an author (I’ve mentioned my secret project on here before), I love the idea of people knowing my name. Maybe that’s egotistical of me, but all I’ve ever wanted was to walk into a bookstore and see my book on shelves, hear people talking about it, know that people have read it and enjoyed it. Nothing would make me happier than to share my crazy imagination with the world, and obviously, there’s something very self-centered and attention-seeking about that. I won’t deny it. I want to see my name on New York Times best sellers lists and on potential movie posters. I want people to say that I’m their favourite author.

But I don’t necessarily want people to know what I look like and where I live and what food I like and what my favourite colour is…

Lately, I’ve found myself avoiding—at all costs—seeing the author photo at the back of any book I’m reading. I’ve found that seeing that picture greatly influences how I interpret and experience the book. I’ll admit that if I’m reading a YA novel about a spunky, young girl and I see that the author is middle-aged, it’s off-putting. I think a part of me is disappointed to see that the author is not the same person I pictured voicing that particular narrative. In fact, I think that’s 90% of why it bothers me. There’s something amiss in picturing the main character and then seeing the author as a different person. Even more disturbing to my reading experience is if I read the author’s biography before or in the middle of reading a novel. It’s like reading The Hobbit and finding out halfway through that Tolkien was a brain surgeon who had a pet dog named Roger and was obsessed with technology (I made all these things up), rather than the hairy hobbit named Bilbo trekking across Middle Earth. I mean, obviously the author is not the same person as the narrator I’m trying to imagine while reading a book, but it doesn’t help me to be reminded of it.

There seems to be an obsession these days in putting a face to something. I mean, hello, Facebook. But every site has a space for an avatar, most books have a spot at the back for the author’s photo (which needs to get updated as time goes on or the author ages), and authors are expected to do publicity runs where readers get to meet them. YouTube is also a big thing, which not only puts a face to something, but a voice too, and in a different way than publicity runs because, theoretically, everyone can access a YouTube video without having to leave the comfort of their homes (or hometowns). Now, I don’t have a problem with all of this. For example, I really enjoy the idea of book tours. I think they’re fun and it gives authors the opportunity to receive valuable feedback as well as a little self-esteem boost which they may need in the midst of their next writing adventure. But a part of being an author these days—and something that many agents want to see before they take you on—is that you have the tools to build a successful online platform across a variety of social media outlets.

Now, from the standpoint of an aspiring author, I see the necessity, and I am absolutely, one-hundred percent willing to do whatever it takes to get my name out there. But from the reader’s standpoint, I’m starting to feel like experiencing the author as a celebrity (in this case, I mean someone whose presence is easily accessible online and where a name can easily be put to a face) greatly takes away from experiencing their work as separate from that world.

There are some authors who perform their authorial celebrity very well. I already mentioned Maureen Johnson (the queen of Twitter) and John Green (the archduke of YouTube), who have only made themselves and their work more endearing through their online presence. I think it helps that they both write contemporary novels rather than, say, fantasy or historical fiction, and I also understand that my perception of their online presence is dependent on who I am as a person. Someone else reading this may find either of them incredibly annoying. It’s all relative. But there are other authors who just fail miserably at this online world, and I’m sorry to say that through following them on Twitter, I stopped being a fan.

I won’t state the name of this author, as I don’t want to rub their name in the dirt. But she was my favourite author of all time. I mean, I’d been reading her books since I was twelve, and enjoyed every single one of them. I started following her on Twitter basically as soon as Twitter became a thing and I made my own account. For about a year to two years, I was fine reading her constant posts about the little details of her life. I was thrilled when she retweeted something I sent to her. But as the years went on, I got incredibly annoyed by her constant need to post these little, everyday details, her every worry or concern, and especially the posts where she would beat herself up over something followed by a tweet thanking everyone for their positive words and validation. I tried to ignore it, feeling like I was somehow betraying my favourite author by finding her incredibly annoying.

But something really interesting came of it, and largely inspired this post.

I purchased her most recent book, read it, and…didn’t like it as much as everyone else did. I wasn’t on that particular train anymore, it seemed. It was the first book of hers that I hadn’t felt was a definite five-star, where everyone else was calling it her best work yet. And when I thought about why that was, I noted that her writing style hadn’t really changed, but that I had taken my frustration of her online presence out on my reading experience, and had therefore enjoyed it less.

Yesterday, I unfollowed her. I’m hoping that, by distancing myself from her online platform and returning to the good ol’ days when the author’s published words were enough, I can eventually get back to enjoying her books. But it’s also completely possible that I won’t, that her online celebrity has forever tainted my experience as her reader. In the same way that I don’t want to know what the author looks like while I’m reading their book because it mars my imagining of the narrator, I think knowing who this author is outside of her literary world has completely changed my perceptions of her literary material.

I want to know what you guys think. Clearly, social media in this day and age is huge. I get that. I also get that authors need a platform. But do you ever think, as readers, that enough is enough? Do you ever find yourself put off by an author’s writing because of who they are external to that literary sphere?

-Ember Book Reviews

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten (Five) Characters I’d Like to Check in With

I heard about this post by The Broke and the Bookish through Erika the Bibliophile. I thought it was super neat because, as an avid reader, writer, and daydreamer, book characters are more than just fictional to me: my imagination transforms them into real people—friends—who I am convinced are still out there doing their thing to this day. So OF COURSE I fell in love with the idea of listing all the characters I wonder about on a casual (constant?) basis. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with ten characters that I’m all that worried about. Instead, I picked my top five. I’m also going to tell you all where I hope they’ve taken their lives, or where I think their lives might have gone based on where the book(s) left off. Hopefully you guys will comment and give me your two cents as well! I’d love to hear who your top ten (or five or seven or three-hundred eleventy-one) characters are.

#1. The Harry Potter characters

I know that Erika the Bibliophile also posted this as her number one, but can you blame her? I grew up with this series and was heartbroken when I read the final lines, knowing that I would never read them for the first time again. Like Erika, the epilogue wasn’t enough for me, but rather than wondering about the main gang (Harry, Ron, Hermione, Luna, etc.), I’m more concerned about the next generation and how Hogwarts is carrying on after the final battle.

Here’s what I think: I like to imagine that Harry’s son is a teensy bit evil. I don’t know why. I guess I just think it will thicken the plot a little bit (I felt that the epilogue led into a very boring story and I’d like to spice that up). I imagine him in Slytherin, but I picture him isolating himself from the other children and eventually taking a turn down the dark path. I mean, how crazy would that be? Harry defeats the Dark Lord just to have his son turn around to become Voldermort, the Next Generation.

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#2. Gemma from Libba Bray’s The Gemma Doyle Triology

Kartik was left in a tree. I mean, enough said, right? Not that Gemma can’t go on without Kartik or anything, but she really loved him. I guess I just wonder if that tree still stands, if Gemma eventually moved on but in her old age still thinks about him. I wonder if, like Rose in the Titanic, she spent her life with somebody else but her heart still truly belongs to Kartik. I kind of hope it does, but at the same time I feel sorry for the poor bugger she ended up with. (I mean, the ending of Titanic is great and all—it’s my favourite movie—but when she returns to Jack, IS NOBODY WORRIED ABOUT HOW HER POOR, DEAD HUSBAND IS FEELING LOOKING DOWN ON ALL THAT???)

gemma doyle

#3. Allie from The Vinyl Princess

It’s been a long time since I read this book, and I don’t remember the precise spot that it left off at, but I still wonder about Allie skateboarding through the streets on her way to work at the music store. Basically, Allie was awesome, I wished I could be her, and I think she’d make a freaking cool thirty-year-old, so I’d like to see that.

vinyl princess

#4. Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars

(Yeah, I refuse to call her Hazel Grace. That was Gus’s thing. It wouldn’t feel right for me to get to call her that.) So, if you don’t know how TFiOS ended, you’ve been living under a rock. Basically, I just want to know if Hazel is okay. I want to know if she’s still even ALIVE. But most of all, I want to know that wherever she is or wherever she left off, she still loves Gus with all her heart. What can I say? I’m a romantic. I hope she’s still best friends with Isaac, and I hope that they think of Gus whenever they play video games. I hope that Hazel has a little picture of her and Gus in Amsterdam tucked away somewhere that she pulls out to look at occasionally. I hope she spends lots of time with her parents. I hope that wherever she is, she’s happy.

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#5. Macy and Wes from The Truth About Forever

This one’s a bit trickier for me. The book left off with Macy and Wes jogging down the beach together, and they make a cameo in another of Sarah Dessen’s novel, but it’s not 100% whether or not they stay together. That’s why it’s tricky: I want to know but I don’t. If they’re still together, I want to know. If they’re not, I don’t. I also can’t really picture what their happily ever after would look like. Do they have kids? Do they have a dog? A house or an apartment? Does Bert visit them in his ambulance? Is Macy still best friends with Kristy? So much of the novel was spent with Macy and Wes navigating boundaries and not with them actually together that it leaves me with too many question marks. I’m overwhelmed. I almost don’t even want to start looking for answers.

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-Ember Book Reviews xxoo