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.