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August 25, 2017

Marking the end of summer with Someone Else's Summer by Rachel Bateman

Someone Else's Summer
Someone Else's Summer by Rachel Bateman
Random House Canada, released on May 9th of 2017
For fans of road trips and contemporary novels 

Anna's always idolized her older sister, Storm. So when Storm dies in a tragic car accident on the night of her high school graduation, Anna is completely lost and her family is torn apart. That is, until she finds Storm's summer bucket list and decides to honor her sister by having the best summer ever—which includes taking an epic road trip to the coast from her sleepy Iowa town. Setting out to do everything on Storm's list along with her sisters best friend Cameron—the boy next door—who knew that Storm's dream summer would eventually lead to Anna's own self-discovery?

This was the perfect summer book I was looking for this summer. I sometimes go through phases where I just need a good contemporary that's heartfelt, emotional and has a great slow burning romance. This is exactly that. Someone Else's Life reminded me a lot of Amy and Roger's Epic Detour but it stood on its own.

The main character, Anna was very level headed. She was likeable and someone I would want as a friend. Granted, she was going through a heartbreak because she just lost her sister. Her love for her sister was so powerful, it made me teary eyed just thinking about their lost sisterhood and friendship. I love it when a writer is able to make me connect so much with the characters and Bateman did that. I loved the road trip and it was not boring at all (trust me, I've read some pretty boring road trip books out there). The person keeping her company was her sister's best friend, Cameron. I liked that the romance wasn't from the get go. This was about Anna and Storm, not Anna and Cameron. This was a self healing and discovery book and in the process if love came along, that's totally fine... which it did. It was a slow burn but once they realized their feelings, it got intense quick haha. Definitely a well written romance and book overall. I will be keeping my eyes out for any new books by Rachel, she made me cry for her characters so she's automatically on my "To check out" list from now on. 

June 16, 2017

Blog Tour [Review + Giveaway]: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali

Hello everyone! It's been a little quiet here on the blog this month, but I'm happy to be back with a review and a giveaway of a book I read this year, and immensely enjoyed. I met S. K. Ali (and the team at Simon and Schuster Canada) a few months ago and had the opportunity to hear her talk about the premise of the book and her motivations behind writing it. I read the whole book in one sitting on the bus back home, and now I get to share it with all of you!

Title: Saints and Misfits
Author: S. K. Ali
Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon and Schuster CA
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Genre(s): Contemporary
Source: ARC from publisher
Pages: 352
Add to Goodreads | Chapters Amazon CA | B&N

Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?

Reading Saints and Misfits was a very unique experience for me. Most of my favourite books have characters that I identify with in some way or the other. Over the years, however, I had come to accept that there are parts of my identity I simply will not see in books. I identified with the individuality and spirit of those characters, but not their household routines, not their religious practices, not with the communities that they were part of. I had normalized this experience to such an extent for myself, that it was a struggle to work up the indignation at reading book after book with whitewashed characters, with maybe one person of colour thrown in for comic relief. On the rare occasion that books did feature a Muslim character, it felt off, half-heartedly researched and poorly executed. In some ways, it almost a relief to go back to books with no Muslims, because I’d rather my religion be represented correctly than awkwardly thrown in for diversity.

Something I wish I could tell authors who write Muslim characters unsuccessfully is that Islam is not a collection of rituals. It is a way of life. And to capture that in a book, you have to understand and respect it, not just research and describe it. For this reason, I avoided books featuring Muslim characters written by non-Muslims. Islam is a central part of my identity, and I simply did not want to take the risk of reading a book where it is misrepresented.

Saints and Misfits fixed all of that, and that’s why I think it’s such an important book for both practicing Muslims, and non-Muslims who want to understand Islam. Islam is not just a small part of Janna’s life. It is something that shapes her personality, guides her decisions, and determines her actions. This was something that I identified with a lot. It almost made me self-conscious, reading a book like this. It felt like someone recognized a part of my life that had been overlooked for so long, and shone a spotlight on it. And at first, it felt disorienting. And then, it felt really, really good. I’m incredibly grateful to this book for giving me this experience — one that I’d given up hope of having.

There were some of the book that left me feeling disengaged. I would attribute those to present tense-first person writing style, and the secondary characters (Farooq, Fiza and others) which I felt were a little under developed. However, I really liked the contrast in Sausun’s and Janna’s personalities. Sausun reacts to some key plot elements in a very different way from Janna, and I think it’s important to realize that both reactions are valid. Strength manifests in everyone in different ways. We are not all supposed to be fierce, strong, visceral and combative, as long as we all are respectful.

It wasn’t just the big things—the hijab, the prayers five times a day, the trips to the mosque or the avoidance of alcohol. It was the little things—Janna fussing over the folds of her hijab, the community around a mosque in a neighbourhood, dealing with people who say you’re missing out when they find out you don’t drink alcohol, dealing with people who are indifferent or uninformed about your lifestyle, buying halal marshmallows (I related to that so hard), and having non-Muslim friends that respect your culture. It was those things that made me think, there I am.

The folks at S&S Canada have arranged a giveaway of a signed, finished copy of Saints and Misfits. Enter below to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

May 15, 2017

Mini Reviews: The Dark Days Club and The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

Title: The Dark Days Club
Author: Alison Goodman
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: January 26, 2016
Genre(s): Paranormal, Fantasy
Source: Library
Pages: 482
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London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong  curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?
This book was initially hard to get into. It chafed me to read about how antiquated the norms in the 1800s were. I was so not here for Helen obeying her uncle and brother, her aunt obeying her husband and the general lack of freedom that women had, not to mention how casually people assumed and said that women couldn’t think or act as well as men. NOPE. These practices were all very normal to Helen, and although she wished things were different, she blamed herself for thinking that way and actively tried to squash such ~rebellious thoughts. While I understood that, I couldn’t really relate or sympathize (which makes me sound like a jerk). The way she addressed and thought of Carlston using his title “Lord” brought a level of formality to their interaction that made it incredibly hard for me to ship them or even care about Carlston. Also Selburn was an unfortunate Nice Guy character and I hated him with every bit of my soul. Finally, I had no clue what purpose Margaret or Hammond served and I wish their backstories were explored a little more thoroughly.

But otherwise! I really liked the book. Goodman’s style of writing super worked for me. The book moves really slowly but I was hooked early and fast, and it’s been really hard for me to find a book like that. All my recent five star reads have been quick, fast paced books. While Helen annoyed me a little throughout the book, it was evident that her character was developing bit by bit. The paranormal side of the book is quite simple, which I was okay with. The book is mostly character (specifically Helen’s character) and relationship driven, and the plot has more to do with Helen coming to terms with her identity and new role than it does with Reclaiming. This book was all about setting the stage for book two--getting Helen into the mindset of a Reclaimer, getting Darby to support and help Helen throughout, introducing Helen to the Carlston’s world, and introducing the two of them to one another. Character change is pretty glacial (sometimes to the point of frustration, tbh) in this book, but it in the end, I felt satisfied because it wasn't rushed.

Title: The Dark Days Pact
Author: Alison Goodman
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: January 31st, 2017
Genre(s): Paranormal, Fantasy
Source: Library
Pages: 496
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June 1812. Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club. Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen to spend the summer season in Brighton so that he can train her new Reclaimer powers. However, the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work have taken hold, and his sanity is beginning to slip. At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her. The stakes are even higher for Helen as she struggles to become the warrior that everyone expects her to be. 
The Dark Days Club was the book in which Goodman moved all the pieces into place for the roller coaster that was The Dark Days Pact. Book #1 left me thirsty for some actual Reclaimer-Deceiver action and yay, I got it! The one thing that continued to bring my investment in the book down was how flat the secondary characters were. I was supposed to ship Quinn and Darby I think, which lol wut. Selburn clearly exists to complete this weird quadrilateral that has been set up which I’m fine with because watching Helen put him in his place is joy. The whole point of Lady Margaret was to pit her against Helen for Carlston’s affections and show how Helen was soo much more level headed than her. I literally cannot think of anything else that Margaret did besides fawn over Carlston and disapprove of Helen, smh.

Everything in The Dark Days Pact is amplified--the intricacy of the plot, the speed of character development, the thrill in the action scenes. Reading about Helen navigating them while coming to terms with the fact that she has to lead and has to take on roles she never thought she’d have to AND deal with these weird tingly feelings whenever she looks at Carlston was such a delight. Again, in this book, the intricacy of the plot has more to do with people and character dynamics than Deceiver stuff. Goodman didn’t really delve into what Deceivers are, or their history and I didn’t really care because I was too busy enjoying Hammond and Helen and Carlston.

Goodman does slow, natural character development really well. Helen comes from a society where women defer to men for every major life decision, and she broke out of that mindset very slowly and uncertainly which was a very refreshing take on the “yer a wizard harry” trope (if that isn’t an official trope, I’m making it one). She trains and plans and tries her best, and the plot never works out conveniently for her. She fails some times and succeeds some other times. Yay reality!

Speaking of Helen and Carlston, they don’t interact a lot during the book, but when they do, it makes Helen and Carlston and ME go fluttery. I am going to come collecting for way more alone time than they got, come book 3. THERE IS A GENDERBENDING KISS SCENE WHICH LEGIT UNDID ME. The ending was one, long, bloody, action-packed ordeal (that I actually had to read several times because so much was happening) and the whole fiasco was nicely rounded off with the most gut-wrenching of cliffhangers.

Because, you know, JUSTICE.

May 11, 2017

Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Title: A Court of Wings and Ruin
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens Books
Publication Date: May 2nd 2017
Genre(s): High fantasy, young adult
Source: Bought
Pages: 699
Add to Goodreads | Chapters | Amazon CA | Barnes and Noble

Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin's maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.
As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places. 

In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

This book is the textbook definition of a hot mess. This book is what you get when you try to bake a cake and pie together and you get is a mess that’s sort of well done in some places, raw in some others, and honestly you don’t even know what the middle is, other than a hot sticky mess, but oh well it’s chocolate goo so why not eat it. In plain english, this book might be long, but it drags in places it shouldn’t, and glosses over parts that shouldn’t.

Look, I’ve made it pretty clear in my past reviews that I think that SJM peaked with Heir of Fire. It took me a couple of books after that, but in ACOMAF, I made my peace with the fact that her books were not going to hit me hard in the feels ever again. So I’m not exactly surprised at how I found ACOWAR. In many ways, I feel like ACOTAR as a series is wasted potential, but somehow, it ends up being very readable, so I keep reading, and I keep reviewing, so here we are?

I don’t think these books are bad by any means. What they are, and what ACOWAR especially is, is lazy.

Whether you agree with me depends on what you want out of her books. Do you want a sole focus on character dynamics and romance scenes? Then this book is probably for you. I, for one, enjoyed Nesta’s arc in this book, as well as Azriel’s and Mor’s. Nesta’s and Cassian’s dynamic was so on point because it taught me something new about these characters that felt organic and natural. THAT, kids, is what we call character development. I’ve simply given up on Rhys because he is the definition of predictable and boring. He went from this mysterious what-is-his-deal person in book 1 to this 1000% fluffy bunny who can do no wrong ever. I can’t even call it lack of character development because there is literally no character to work with here here. But overall, I’m not complaining. If I read this book for a reason, it was to see where these characters were going and what they were going to do.

What I wanted, however, was world building and a non-boring plot, and this book most certainly did not deliver. It’s been three books and I literally know nothing about the cultures of any of the seven courts. And no, don’t point out that the book contained descriptions of their palaces and clothes and food and whatnot. That's what we call telling, not showing. The courts are at war against Hybern during pretty much the whole book and we don’t see the effects of war anywhere except during glossed over discussions. Cassian is the general of the Illyrian legions but do we get to see how he commands his armies? Nope. Do we get to see how Azriel operates his network of spies? Nope. Do we get to see how Mor operates and runs Velaris? Nope. Do we get to see Amren actually displaying how powerful and and skilled she is at battle? Nope. Do we get scenes of Rhys when he meets with his governors, addresses his armies as they prepare for battle? Nope. (I mean, why do that when we can read about him going down on Feyre, right)? Do we get the perspective of civilians during the war? Nope.

See what I mean by this book being lazy? And that’s just the characters that have already been established in the first two books. The newer characters? Don’t even ask me what Jurian was doing because he wasn’t on their side and then he was and then he...wasn’t? We got nothing, nothing about his motivations, his character, his personal side of the story. Every time I tried to understand plot, my brain felt it was being poked with a thousand needles so like a normal person, I just stopped trying and went with it.

I don’t even know what to say about the complete shitshow that that ending was. It was like throwing a pot of tropes at the wall and checking to see what stuck. One second there’s a magic mirror, and a Weaver and a Carver and some other creatures who weren’t even spared an explanation in this book (did I mention there were 700 whole pages in this book btw), and the next second we’re confronted with actual characters: Miriam, Drakon, Vassa, Feyre’s dad who barely had ten lines of dialogue before they’re done. Talk about the mother of all deux ex machinas.

I'm on a roll here, so I think it’s worth talking about Sarah J Maas’ prose as well, which I’ve usually had praise for, even if I didn’t like her books. But it’s getting super repetitive and hyperbolic. No matter the severity of, say, an offensive remark thrown at Feyre (which btw is every other chapter), Rhys will respond with maximum righteous stone cold anger and night fury and whatever and I was just SO bored. It’s actually astounding and annoying all at once how little incidents occur all the time and the characters’ response to them remains the exact name. Besides that, the responses are even worded the same way. DEAR? GOD?

And finally, the romance. I’m not making this up, I actually fell asleep while reading about Feyre and Rhys ~making love. That’s how god awfully boring they’ve become. They were at their most interesting when Feyre, as High Lady, acted with the authority and surety of any other High Lord and gave no shits about anyone who had a problem with it, and when Rhys supported and encouraged her. But their relationship underwent zero changes over the course of the whole book. Chapter after chapter, I was fed scenes where they loved each other (quite vigorously, I might add), caressed each other, bantered with each other, and engaged in PDA that was so intense that all the grown adults in the room had to avert their eyes. There is zero struggle in their relationship. No arguments, no growth, nothing. It’s just glowing sex from start to finish.

Did I mention this book was 700 pages long?

(I’m just going to very casually pretend that Amren and Varian never happened because LOL WTF?? As for Elain and Lucien, they are a Titanic-level unship. That’s all.)

I’d like to end with the three things that royally pissed me off the most. More than usual, I mean.

The first is Rhys dying-but-not-really. Listen, I would like to kill this trope with the fucking Cauldron. I’m so mad that this happened, and that he was brought back to life so easily and nonsensically. We are given literally zero explanation as to how he came back to life unless you count MAGIC KERNELS OF LIGHT.

The second is everything Amren-related. I’d grown really fond of Amren in ACOMAF, and while I saw her as part of the ~squad, I respected that she was different from them and had her own goals. I definitely expected her to just do her own thing, even if that meant leaving the group. I really, really hoped that her arc would end in her going home, and the squad helping her get there. But nooope, instead we get High Fae Amren! Gah.

The third is Tamlin. Everything, just everything about him. 90% of the time, I had literally no idea where Tamlin was at, what he was thinking, what his motivations were. That wouldn’t be such a problem, if he wasn’t so freaking integral to the plot. A huge part of ACOMAF was about Feyre dealing with the way Tamlin treated her and nowhere in this gargantuan book is there a follow up to that arc. Like, it just stopped being a problem and went away? There were SO many opportunities for Feyre to face Tamlin (as High Lady), call him out on his behaviour, for a real conversation about what happened, and they were all missed.

I’m a little mad at myself for even reading the whole book, but at the end of the day, it’s about readability, and this book has it and I sure as hell did enjoy myself.