Tag Archives: candlewick press

Book Chat – Books That Surprised Me

Sometimes when I read a book, I worry I won’t enjoy it. I look at it, read the synopsis, flip through the first few pages, and debate. Surprises can come in a variety of forms — enjoyment, disappointment, disgust, confusion, there’s a lot of emotions to describe when a book can surprise you. Sometimes it’s a plot element, maybe it’s overall enjoyment, it’s hard to gauge why something works or doesn’t work for you. I thought I’d share with you guys a few books that I’ve read that have surprised me in a variety of ways.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie (2007)

If I’m being honest, I had some reservations going into The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, if only because I am Canadian and I am a Canadian who loves Native American Fiction, but also is depressed by Canada’s past towards indiginious peoples. While this novel isn’t about Canada or written by a Canadian, it offers a very important prespective on “native culture” and what it means to be white-washed.

What surprised me about this novel wasn’t the topic, but it was in how I read it. I listened to this on audiobook with Sherman Alexie as the narrator, and at first I didn’t entirely dig his reading voice. In fact, it out right annoyed me at times… yet then as the story grew, his voice grew on me as well. There is an authenticness to the novel in having him read it, and I could feel Arnold’s emotions and struggles in Alexie’s voice and feel it in a way that felt very different then reading words off the page. This book is clever, it’s funny, and it’s downright sad at times. It took me on a surprising emotional journey, and it totally deserves all the awards that it has won.

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The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4)
by Maggie Stiefvater (2016)

I am going to avoid spoilers for this book given how new it is, but this book was a ball of surprises from start to finish. It’s one of those books where from book one you KNEW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN, but you always kept hoping Maggie Stiefvater wouldn’t actually do it. If you’ve read the series, you know what I am talking about, and the way in which she did left me emotionally spent. However, there were other parts of this novel that just surprised me (Chapter 33 is perfect, you guys), and it made me love the novel, its characters and the series a million times more. Sometimes when you know something is supposed to be predictable, author’s will throw a wrench and still manage to surprise the crap out of it.

Maggie: I want my tears back, dammit.

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The Princess in Black series
by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale (2014-)

You should all not be surprised that a middle grade series is on this list, but let me tell you: The Princess in Black series continues to get better and better with each installment. What surprised me with this series was that I worried I would find it too juvinile at times to enjoy. The child in me loves this series and the adult in me in me keeps wanting to say I shouldn’t enjoy this series, but I do. This is a favourite of mine to recommend to reluctant readers at my the public library I work at, and it’s a fun one to talk up and explain to parents as well. Cheeky and fun, this series is for kids who love adventure, and adults who miss the feeling of being a child again.

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Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
by Jennifer Tseng (2015)

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness was such a mixed bag of a book for me. Meanwhile it focuses on a more taboo subject matter (an adult woman sleeping with a minor), that actually wasn’t the aspect of the book that surprised me, even when it started to get rather heavy. What surprised me was how beautiful the writing was in this book, but how unrealstic and frusrating the plot was for such a beautifully written book. I spent a lot of the novel wanting to scream at Mayumi, and I was certainly annoyed by how literary the boy began to sound despite his distaste for literature. There’s a lot in this book that feels hapharzardly put together and yet I COULDN’T STOP READING IT. This book was such a weird reading experience and it’s one I have a hard time forgetting because I felt so confused and yet so involved in the development of this story.

What are some novels that have surprised you, for better or worse? I’d love to know how others experience “surprising” aspects of a novel and how it affects your reading experience. Let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are on the subject!

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ARC Review – The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

15751398Title:  The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Author: Leslye Walton 

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird. In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration. That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo. First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.

Huge thank you to Candlewick Press and Netgalley for this ARC.

Sam’s Review:

So I want to share something that is misleading about The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender — it’s not actually about Ava Lavender. Yes she’s a young lady with wings, but the story really is more about her family history, particularly, about her grandmother and mother. For those curious, this is also a book made of 95% telling, and 5% showing, and that’s something I know that will not work for everyone.

What I loved about this book is the narration. Ava makes it so easy for the reader to fall into her voice and just take large glimpses of her family’s devastating history. Despise being a history, the book also weaves in fairy tale elements that add a rich layer of mystery to the story, one which isn’t necessarily easy to unravel. This book is dark, is even disturbing at times, and yet you never get the sense that hope doesn’t exist. If anything, Walton argues its there, just not always in the forms in which we look for it. I really appreciate that because I think people are going to read this and compare the level of tragedy to books like Angela’s Ashes, when really, it’s its own beast with a very different emotionally engagement level.

The letters also that Nathaniel sends are so heartbreaking and often were my favourite parts of the book. You get a lot of insight into how his character is treated and his relationship to the family and it just made me sad. Admittedly, the majority of this book is pretty much a downer, and yet it reads so quickly and with such ease that I read it all in one sitting. This is going to be one of those YA novels that doesn’t read like YA for a lot of readers and that too could be something in its favour or be what makes it falter. Truthfully, I loved the maturity and intrigue in this book — it’s how I knew I was enjoying it, turning the pages and not realizing how much I had actually read, it’s a good feeling.

I don’t want to spoil too much else about this book, it’s definitely got the appeal for those who love fairy tales and those who love historical fiction. It’s not a perfect book (I felt like parts of it wrapped up a bit too neatly at the end considering all the doom and gloom) and yet a lot of it still worked for me. This book has gorgeous prose, well defined and imperfect characters and a narrative style that I just jived well with. If you love quirky books that are tough to pin down, definitely check The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender out.