Fat Girl on a Plane, by Kelly de Vos

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Any sort of narrative that centres around the fashion world instantly has me hooked, so naturally, I had to pick up a copy of Fat Girl on a Plane by Kelly de Vos. It’s a fun, flirty narrative full of great moments and de Vos’ heroine, Cookie is bold, beautiful and genuinely lovable.

Not Another Cinderella Story

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Right from the beginning, it’s clear to the reader that Fat Girl on a Plane is not going to be a typical “Cinderella” narrative. There’s even a letter from de Vos at the start of the book explaining this! I liked that quite a bit, because it set the tone for what might otherwise have come across as yet another “makeover” story where the already-pretty-girl-gets-prettier and gets the guy. But that is not Cookie’s story and I loved that. In many ways, the narrative does surround Cookie’s weight-loss and rise to fashion awesomeness, but I felt like it was handled in a clever, non-glorified way that still satisfied the reader.

A Clever Structure

A big part of how this narrative succeeds is the clever back and forth structure that jumps in time between Cookie before she loses weight and after she has lost the weight. While it might seem like a “before and after” narrative, I liked that de Vos articulates the pains and struggles of Cookie’s story in both the before and after sections–there is no magical fairy godmother to come and save her and in the end, Cookie’s story isn’t about getting the boy. It’s about Cookie discovering herself as a person and growing into her own ambitions.

Overall, Fat Girl on a Plane is fresh and compulsively readable. I carried this book around with me in my purse, because I just couldn’t bear to set it down. If you love smart, ambitious teenage heroines, this book will absolutely satisfy your cravings!

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My Plain Jane, by The Lady Janies

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If you’ve already read My Lady Jane, then you know the kind of tongue-in-cheek humour that you’re in for when you pick up My Plain Jane, the newest instalment in the “Jane” series written by The Lady Janies, or Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows and Brodi Ashton. To be sure, this is another win for this trio of YA writers, who re-write historical or literary narratives in creative ways. Full of literary jokes, ghosts and plenty of excitement, My Plain Jane is another fun ride through a literary classic.

Let’s Hear it for the Girls

What I liked most about My Plain Jane was the characterization of Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre as strong, smart heroines. Charlotte is clever and always finds inventive ways out of the well-executed situations that the characters find themselves in. I appreciated the meta-fictional nature of having a writer in the narrative and one who was so endearing. She was probably my favourite character. Jane Eyre was another good character, although I felt that for the majority of the book her character was tied up in a feminist critique of the original Jane Eyre that has been written about quite a lot in academic publications (i.e. here, here and here.) My favourite is Kate Beaton’s take on the brooding Bronte suitors, though. Some arguments have even been made that the original Jane Eyre is actually a feminist narrative… so these critiques fell a bit flat.

Lit Crit 101

I love a good meta narrative, especially when it interrogates the original story in a new and exciting way. There were some neat, original additions to this iteration of Jane Eyre, such as the ghost hunting aspect. However, I felt that My Lady Jane was a bit more inventive, while My Plain Jane focused on the common criticism that yes, Jane Eyre is way too young for Rochester and that is bizarre that she falls in love pretty immediately with some dark, brooding guy who isn’t all that nice to her. That, in a nutshell, is a lot of the Bronte literature. (I mean, hello, Heathcliff anyone? That guy is a piece of work).

Love Boat

Speaking of all the “dreamy” love connections that are commented on, there was some light romance between Charlotte Bronte and one other character that I won’t name to avoid spoilers. I liked this aspect of the narrative and thought that it added some good intrigue when the story departed from the Jane Eyre plot. While Jane Eyre’s love connection was mostly the but of some literary jokes, it was enjoyable to also get absorbed in a romance that I felt like I could root for.

If you fell in love with the original Rochester and feel like Heathcliff is super dreamy, stick to the classic. But if you love reading about quirky heroines and ghostly adventures, check out My Plain Jane. 

 

Ruthless Magic, by Megan Crewe

 

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When I heard that the upcoming YA fantasy Ruthless Magic, by Megan Crewe was a cross between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter I was pretty darn excited to get an advanced reader’s copy. I have to admit that there were some fascinating aspects of this new magical YA story, although I didn’t feel like the connection between Suzanne Collin’s page-turning thriller and J.K. Rowling’s classic series entirely did Ruthless Magic any great lip service.

Let me explain.

The Skullduggery Effect

Ten years ago, a series came out called Skullduggery Pleasant. In our local bookstore, the marketing copy read “Pick up the new Harry Potter today!” I was initially intrigued, but what I would later discover was a fantastic series in its own rite just… didn’t “do it” for me, because the truth was that Skullduggery Pleasant is not Harry Potter. It’s true that book marketing teams frequently use “comp titles” to help place their new books in the market, sometimes I think that choosing the wrong title to compare a fledgling book to can ruin what might otherwise be a great reading experience. I call this “The Skullduggery Effect.”

Okay, now back to Ruthless Magic. 

A New Magical World

I liked it. I did. The beginning set up a unique, magical world set in New York City. I thought that it was interesting to read about the hierarchy of magicians and the need for the main characters to fight for a spot at the prestigious magical school. Along with some beautiful prose and tantalizing intrigue in the first few chapters, the characters were likeable and felt genuinely “real.” This is a well-written book on many accounts.

But Where’s the Tension?

While the narrative does create a similar feeling of competition between young individuals like in The Hunger Games, the narrative urgency that had been building for such a good, long time at the start of Ruthless Magic is broken when the characters just decide to work together. (You could argue that some characters work together in The Hunger Games too–especially in later instalments of the series–but there was also other intrigue building that tempered this release of tension between previously “warring” characters. As in, my all-time-favourite will-Katniss-and-Peeta-get-together already storyline). While there was some light romance building, the white-hot tension wasn’t quite there. Or maybe, it just didn’t feel the same…

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Is Ruthless Magic a victim of The Skullduggery Effect? I’m not entirely sure. It’s a well-written narrative with some solid moments that were fun to read, but do yourself a favour and ignore the comp titles for a more enjoyable reading experience.

 

 

My Favourite Bookish Blogs/Websites

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Today for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, it’s all about the bookish internet. Where do you go on the web to find great reading and writing resources? Although I’m partial to reading books on writing, there are a few sites or apps that I frequent when I’m looking for a good book review or some much needed advice:

  1. Sarah Selecky – For the writerly folk out there, this is my favourite place to go when I’m looking for great resources, well-written posts and excellent advice. (As a bonus, Sarah Selecky’s online writing school is excellent).
  2. Litsy – I’m a fan of bite-sized book reviews, so I like to check Litsy when I want new book recommendations. The community is also extremely friendly, with book swaps and buddy reads an ongoing event. It’s a fun way to meet other book nerds!
  3. Book Fight – While not a website, this literary podcast is equal parts hilarious and informative. Not only do the hosts have interesting conversations about books, but I love all of their weird and wonderful segments, like “raccoon watch” and “fan fiction corner.”
  4. Literary Hub – This site has everything from publishing news, to fascinating essays. There’s always some new perspective to consider!
  5. Book Riot – I’m a fan of Book Riot for their short, interesting bookish articles. In particular, I like that they cover several different sub-sections of book related topics, such as “gifts for book lovers” or “book lover travel destinations” as well as reviews and listicles.
  6. Netgalley – If you are a voracious reader and also like to write reviews, Netgalley is a great place to request galleys!
  7. Off the Shelf – This is a great place to find any sort of curated book list to satisfy any of your literary cravings.
  8. The Rumpus – While this site isn’t just about books, there are fun comics, essays and all sorts of good reading to be had.
  9. McSweeney’s – I love this site! It’s hilarious. Seriously, though, if you want to laugh so hard that you pee yourself, this is the place to go.
  10. Publisher’s Weekly – This one is more from a publisher’s standpoint, but it can also be useful for aspiring writers and other bookish folk who might be looking to get an inside scoop on upcoming releases.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix

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I can remember watching The Exorcist with my dad one afternoon when I was nine. It scared the living freak out of me, even though I played it cool (while hiding in the crook of his massive arm). But even though it terrified me, that story has always stuck with me. While it is not the same as the original 1973 Exorcist, starring Linda Blair, Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism is one of those books that transfixes readers. It grabs hold of them (perhaps like the demon who takes over Gretchen’s body?) and refuses to let you set it down until you are finished. (Or is it finished with you?) Full of fun, 80’s nostalgia and a compelling narrative about female relationships, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is the perfect summer read for those who want to laugh and scream at the same time.

Campy, 80’s Awesomeness

Reading My Best Friend’s Exoricism felt a little bit like watching Cabin in the Woods, which is a campy, self-aware narrative that pokes fun at the horror genre in many delightful ways. What I loved about this book, was that not only was it fast-paced, but it also set a light-hearted tone for readers with 80’s song titles as chapter titles. Setting the story in the 80’s made it seem like one of those old, slightly goofy 80’s horror movies, which I loved. And can we just talk about that gorgeous, VHS reminiscent cover that Quirk Books has going on? It’s delightful.

A Clever Framework

I’m always a sucker for anything that harkens back to the 80’s, but what really possessed me to keep on reading was the compelling narrative about female relationships that Hendrix situates within his campy, 80’s horror story. On the outside, it’s a story about a girl who gets possessed by a demon and does a lot of very gross, disturbing stuff to her best friends and her family. On another level, Hendrix touches on issues of sexual assault and male aggression without ever dropping a (delightful 80’s beat). I loved that the plot hinged on girlfriends standing up for each other despite the horrific events that happen. Even though demonic possession is (hopefully?!?) in the realm of fiction, the heartbeat of this narrative felt authentic.

Whether or not you love to be freaked out, this spooky book has good bones and a terrifically fast-paced plot. Read this book; you won’t regret it the way Gretchen regrets running off into the woods…

 

 

Writerly Wednesday: The Hike

 

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We stared up at the steep, chain-linked climb that began the six-hour trek to the top, at Kjerag, Norway.

Were we really doing this? 

A sick feeling settled in my stomach. I’d read about people getting stuck or lost on the trails at the plateau, which are sparsely marked with stones, and the chains, which aren’t always still attached to the rock faces we’d be climbing up. Or… the ever-present edge of the trail, which was a long way down to the fjord. What if we got lost and couldn’t find our way back before dark? 

“We don’t have to do the hike,” said Matt.

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I shook my head. For some reason, I had to get to that boulder. The hike was long and beautiful in places. After a while, we got used to hefting ourselves up steep inclines by the chains. We rested in green valleys with sheep grazing in them and swore our way up the last crazy-steep set of rock faces until we reached the plateau, which was cold, silent, stunning.

I lined up to stand on the boulder. I got out of line. I lined up three times before I forced myself to step out on the narrow rock ledge, 3,228 feet above Lysefjorden anyway. The chain that used to help hikers leverage themselves out on the rock was broken, so I had to feel my way along the smooth ledge. Standing on the boulder with the wind whipping around me was intensely powerful, but not as much as what happened next.

 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As I turned to leave, I wobbled. My legs were unaccustomed to so much physical exertion. I looked down. And then I panicked.

I was stuck on the boulder. 

I had envisioned myself doing yoga poses like all of the people on Pinterest and Instagram, waving flippantly at the camera as if standing so high and vulnerable was no big deal. Instead, I felt the hot shame of tears streaming down my cheeks.

“Hey! It’s okay–grab my hand!” shouted a voice.

I looked and saw that the other hikers had formed a sort-of make-shift chain with their arms. With the help of a group of strangers that I will probably never see again, I was back on solid ground. We hugged.

It’s not About the Climb

At first, I felt embarrassed, but on the way down I saw hikers helping each other all along the way. Somehow, in my frenzy to make it to the top, I had missed this camaraderie of fellow travellers.

Writing takes you places within yourself. If a good writing process means making yourself vulnerable to get to those authentic places, it is equal parts about reaching out and asking for help when you get stuck.

 

Have you ever been stuck somewhere terrifying before?

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’ve Read in 2018 (So Far)

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This week for Top Ten Tuesday, it’s all about my favourite books that I’ve read so far this year. Tough choice! There were a lot that I thought about listing, but in the end, these books stuck with me:

  1. My Best Friend’s Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix – I blew through this one in a day while floating in an inner tube at the cottage. My husband had to bring me food periodically, because I refused to put the book down. Seriously, it was that good. (Stay tuned for a full review of this book on Friday).
  2. The Girl with All of the Gifts, by M.R. Carey – This is another deeply creepy narrative, but told from the fascinating perspective of a zombie girl who is discovering what it means to be “alive.” I liked it because it felt in places like a twisted coming of age story.
  3. The Favorite Sister, by Jessica Knoll – Not only is this book a great thriller from the first page, but there is an interesting discussion around female success and cattiness. Also: it’s all about reality TV. If you’re like me and you like tuning in to The Bachelor, then this book will keep you reading.
  4. Educated, by Tara Westover – Heartfelt, disturbing and powerful, this memoir had me captivated. It reads like a cult – escape narrative in some ways, which kept the momentum quick, but what struck me as the most fascinating were the family dynamics that Westover describes.
  5. Strong Female Protagonist, by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag – I loved this graphic novel because it was campy and quick-paced and the artwork was excellent, but I also appreciated the original perspective on the super hero narrative.
  6. The Witches of New York, by Ami McKay – I know that I talk about this book a lot, but to be fair, it is really fantastic. I loved the atmosphere that McKay creates and the beautiful prose, among other things. Read more about it here.
  7. The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak – I picked this book up because it described 80’s nostalgia, and I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. What I ended up loving was the quirky romance and the hilarious heist narrative that piggy-backs on the larger story about a boy who loves to code video games. I would compare it to Ready Player One, but for me, it was better.
  8. Love and Gelato, by Jenna Evans Welch – Fun, flirty and set in Italy? Who wouldn’t want to read this book?
  9. The Last Black Unicorn, by Tiffany Haddish – I’m not normally interested in reading celebrity autobiographies, but this one was hard to put down simply because of all the crazy stuff that Haddish had to go through in her life. It was enlightening and at times quite funny.
  10. Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero – If you loved Welcome to Night Vale and Scooby Doo, then this book will have you riveted. I loved all of the nods towards the classic TV show and found the plot to be captivating.

 

What are some of your favourite books that you’ve read (so far) this year?