Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

First, I feel like I need to defend even reading this book. I found it on my eReader because my husband had gotten it for our son. Unknowingly, one late night I started reading it and was kind of captivated by the bad writing, but the interesting idea. I really liked the 12-year-old character, Trevor, and how he thought of this way to try to make the world a better place. That’s all I liked. I found the writing at the beginning very staggered and it needlessly took too long to get to the point. And at times the points were just too subtle, especially for a Young Adult audience. Overall the writing was schlocky, but guess that could have been expected.

Gwenamon says: Ugh

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton

This story is told from Sunny’s, a journalist’s, point of view about a 1970’s (made-up) band, Opal and Nev, that broke up after a NYC performance became violent. They’re now (about 2016) set on getting back together for a revival tour. Although the characters are interesting and feel life-like at times, I couldn’t get past often thinking that Opal’s behaviour in the 1970s felt very influenced by today’s culture and mindsets.

Gwenamon says: An easy read, but the older storyline felt anachronistic

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

This book is written so skillfully and has so many interesting ideas that I was impressed to learn it is Nagamatsu’s debut. He weaves a believable, gripping tale about the Arctic Plague through interconnected characters over hundreds of years. The plague transforms human life. The funerary skyscrapers and the amusement park to euthanize the terminally ill struck me as so macabre, but also pragmatic. I also thought his sharp focus on certain parts of each character’s life was poignant. This novel, about resilience, offers a startling vision.

Gwenamon says: Yes!

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This is the tale of two magicians’ apprentices, Cecilia and Marco, who are pledged to battle against each other, with Le Cirque des Rêves as their stadium. This isn’t just a unique love story, but a fantastical journey. I will always remember images that Morgenstern’s writing conjured up.

Gwenamon says: Loved it

Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Ekwuyasi’s beautiful, lyrical writing makes for effortless reading. She tells a tale about Kambirinachi and her twin daughters, Kehinde and Taiye. Kambirinachi thinks she is an Ogbanje – a spirit that brings misfortune. But she chooses to stay in human form to love her family. Love isn’t enough to keep them together after Kehinde experiences trauma as a child. This novel is about both familial and romantic love, and reconciliation.

Gwenamon says: Great

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh

Claudia works as a counsellor at the Mercy Street abortion clinic and spends much of her downtime at her friendly pot dealer’s, Timmy’s, place. I really liked their stories and how they intersected. But the rest of the novel I found too black and white, even about a polarizing topic like abortion. I felt the story got heavy-handed and missed subtleties that were best expressed through Claudia’s story.

Gwenamon says: Disliked a lot of it

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

As a parent, I particularly appreciated this book because it’s unique: it tells a daughter’s and father’s love story. On the eve of her 40th birthday, Alice travels back in time to her sixteenth birthday. She keeps re-living it, wondering what she can maybe change given all she knows about the future. This book is about regret, relationships, wisdom, and quadruple chances.

Gwenamon says: Yes!

The Magician by Colm Tóibín

I chose this novel for book club and came to regret it. Although it tells the interesting story of Thomas Mann’s life, it never gets below the surface and adds any emotional component. I’m guessing that’s because Tóibín wanted to stay accurate to Mann’s life and not add any embellishment in case it was conjecture. But the characters and the story just held me at arm’s length. I never got absorbed. It feels like there was so much more to add than formulating Mann’s diaries into a story. But the accolades for this book say otherwise. Maybe I’m missing something.

Gwenamon says: Meh

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

On a small island, teenage Vanna helps the only survivor from a sunken, dilapidated ship carrying immigrants: a nine-year-old, Syrian boy, named Amir. Each chapter leads up to how they came to meet and then details how they try to find safety. This is a tightly written, powerful tale about empathy, disdain, and the meaning of home.

Gwenamon says: Well done

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

Beah, at twenty-five-years old, writes of the war that broke out in Sierra Leone when he was twelve-years-old. He escaped the rebels and avoided horrific violence before he was taken into the government army. Fuelled by readily supplied drugs and armed with AK-47s, he and other boy soldiers committed terrible acts to survive. It’s amazing that Beah came out the other side of violence to become such an educated, articulate advocate of human rights. My only criticism of his shocking story is that the perspective becomes somewhat quick and awkward at the end to describe his most-deserving, happy ending.

Gwenamon says: Yes!