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December Reads 2017

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I’m really excited to share my favourite book picks of 2017, but first I am going to start off with a December 2017 roundup so I’ll have actually made it through the entire year reviewing every single book I read! But onto that…

I was a bit skeptical about Bonfire by Krysten Ritter since it is a book written by an actress, but the mystery-thriller plot still caught my attention and I decided to give it a try. Bonfire tells the story of Abby Williams, an environmental lawyer who returns to the small town she grew up in to investigate the big company everyone loves, but may be poisoning the water.

The premise behind Bonfire actually didn’t seem that creative–girl returns to small town to face her past and the people there–but I thought the environmental pollution angle was unique. Unfortunately, probably the reason there aren’t a ton of environmental thrillers is because it just isn’t as intense as classic murder plot lines. I did enjoy Ritter’s writing, so the celebrity connection wasn’t an issue, I just felt like the story was slow-moving and relied on a lot of conveniently recalled memories that could have solved the mystery much sooner. My final complaint is the ending of the book is really rushed. That said, I did enjoy the characters and their development, so I would consider reading a future book by Ritter.

Honestly, I never would have read Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust if a surprise copy hadn’t shown up in my mailbox, but once it did I borrowed the audiobook from the library and tried out this fantasy retelling of Snow White. Girls Made of Snow and Glass is told from the perspectives of Mina, who marries the king after her magician father gave her a heart of glass so she could never feel love, and Lynet, the king’s daughter created from snow to look like his dead wife.

One of the interesting elements of Girls Made of Snow and Glass is the fact that despite being a YA novel, one of the narrators is older (although it does return to her time as a teenager as well). The story is filled with magic, but the pace is incredibly slow, and it took over half the book for the action to start. Once it did, I enjoyed the book a lot more, but I was never completely enthralled with the story or the characters. My favourite parts of Bashardoust’s debut were the fantastical elements, but it still wasn’t enough to make this novel a standout for me.

Bluebird by Bob Staake is a picture book (without any text at all) about a young boy, who is bullied and friendless, but develops a friendship with a bird. Staake’s art is beautiful, and the story is very emotional, but it takes a very dark turn and I am not sure this is actually a book I would read with young children. However, it is certainly a memorable and well-told story, despite the lack of words.

As a scientist myself, I really love picture books with a science element because I think the sooner we can introduce science to kids, the better. Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber and Brian Lovelock follows a honey bee, Scout, as she searches for nectar and returns to the hive. Not only is the art in this book beautiful, but it also contains lots of little pieces of science about honey bees. I gave this book to my friend who just had a baby, and I think it would make an excellent addition to a child’s library.

Some of the really excellent picture books are just as memorable for adults as they are for children, and Whimsy’s Heavy Things by Julie Kraulis definitely falls in that category. This is the story of Whimsy, who has a bunch of heavy things that are weighing her down, and what she does to make herself a little lighter, by dealing with each thing one at a time. Not only does the story have some fun elements to it, but the art is beautiful and the overall message is really poignant as well. I think Whimsy’s Heavy Things would be a great book for an adult, or pair well with a discussion about the message behind it if read to a child.

I was immediately hooked on the audiobook of One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus, but I didn’t manage to finish it before it expired, so I went back on the library waiting list and as soon as I picked it up again I finished it within a day. One of Us Is Lying a Breakfast Club style thriller, in which 5 teens go to dentation but only 4 make it out alive.

Although One of Us Is Lying alternates between 4 perspectives, which is 3 more than I prefer, that aspect didn’t bother me too much because from the beginning I had basically accepted that the characters were mostly cutouts without a lot of depth, and it was a plot-driven novel instead. That said, I really enjoyed the pacing of the book, the writing was well-suited to it and there were plenty of reveals–even if some were expected–to go along with the mystery. Overall, I thought this was a fun and easy mystery read.

I had really high expectations for How To Stop Time by Matt Haig, which is the story of Tom, a man who ages incredibly slowly and has been alive for centuries. Despite the fantastical element, this is really a character-driven story, about a man who always has to change his identity, and can never fall in love. Tom has also spent centuries looking for his long-lost daughter, after learning she has the same condition.

How To Stop Time is an emotional story, that is a very interesting blend of contemporary and history, but the result was that I ended up much preferring one storyline (the historical one) to the other. The classroom scenes that took place in the present often seemed just like a way to transition into the next flashback. In addition, while the writing was really beautiful, it somehow kept me at a distance from the characters, although by the end I did feel a stronger connection to Tom despite not liking him very much. Overall, I enjoyed portions of How To Stop Time, and I am sure it will make a fantastic film when it is released, but I just wanted a little more from the book itself.

Easily one fo my favourite books of the year, it did take about 50 pages for me to become engrossed in Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, but once I got into the book, I was so happy I had picked it up. This is a character-driven novel about the Shaker Heights suburb, where Elena Richardson lives with her husband and four children. She also owns a rental house, and when Mia and her daughter Pearl move in, all of their lives are irrevocably changed.

Ng tackles a lot of topics in Little Fires Everywhere including motherhood, suburban life, friendship,and race, but each topic is addressed thoughtfully and with depth. There is a lot going on, but somehow it is never confusing, and Ng’s beautiful prose ties the entire novel, and a lot of characters, together. The characters and their growth and experience are what make Little Fires Everywhere so rich, and there’s definitely something a little magical about this story. I will certainly be picking up Ng’s previous novel, Everything I Never Told You, in 2018.

I was really interested in reading Silence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge when I learned the author had spent 50 days solo walking in Antartica. However, this is really just an essay that, as the title implies, focuses on the meaning and act of silence in a time when noise and distractions are all around. Kagge discusses how to achieve silence, even if you can’t go for a 50 day trek in the arctic. I did wish for more discussion of his experiences, and the book does rely heavily on quotes from other people, but I still thought the writing was thoughtful and impactful.

In my quest to finish as many 2017 releases as I could before the year was over, I picked up Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills during a day of travel and was easily and immediately charmed. Foolish Hearts is the story of Claudia, who overhears a breakup conversation she shouldn’t have and becomes enemies with the most ruthless girl in school, only to have them both participate in the same production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I really loved all the characters in Foolish Hearts as well as their relationships with each other–including friends, siblings, and love interests–which just felt authentic. I especially loved the amazing friendships, both for Claudia as well as her love interest and his best friend. There are also some great funny moments. I didn’t the inciting incident for the book–the conversation that Claudia hears–was nearly as big a deal or as secretive as the story makes it out to be, but once I got over that, I absolutely loved reading the rest of the book. If you are looking for a light, romantic, contemporary young adult novel I definitely recommend checking out Foolish Hearts.

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers is an adorable story with beautiful art about a little boy who finds a lost penguin and decides to take him home to the South pole. It is such a cute story, with a great take-home message. I bought this as a gift for a friend who works with young children and just had a baby, and she also mentioned that she loves sharing Jeffers books with her students. The copy I purchased was a sturdy board book, and I would definitely buy this book, or others by Jeffers, as gifts in the future.

When I was looking into picture books to purchase, one that immediately caught my attention was Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima. I adore unicorns, and the art on the cover of this book also seemed beautiful. In person, it is just as gorgeous, and the story about a unicorn who lives with the narwhals and doesn’t quite fit in, is perfect as well. Honestly, I was really tempted not to gift this book, but if I find it on sale I may purchase a copy for myself in the future. Not Quite Narwhal is a heartwarming and magical story and if I ever have another excuse to purchase children’s books, I would certainly reach for Sima’s work again.

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Phew, that’s a lot of reviews and honestly I don’t even want to admit how long this post took. But it’s done! Those are the last books I read in 2017, and I’ll be back with a short wrap for my favourites soon!

Did you read anything really great in December? I definitely added a few new favourites to my list with December’s reading, and I especially recommend you pick up Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (adult), Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills (young adult) and Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima (children’s), if you’re looking for something good to read!

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