Unicorn Power (Lumberjanes #1), by Mariko Tamaki & Brooke Allen

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What the junk?! There’s a new Lumberjanes NOVEL for middle-grade readers hitting stores this October! Even if you’re not a hardcore lady type, this book will have readers in stitches as they follow Ripley, Molly, Jo, Mal and April on an all new adventure as they  attempt to scale a massive mountain. As usual, things don’t go quite as planned and lots of weird stuff happens. My inner X-Files nerd loves this series for that reason.

Written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Brooke Allen (one of the series’ original creators), there are plenty of zany adventures, wicked-awesome catch phrases and hilarious moments that keep the plot humming along. I read an advanced reader copy earlier this summer and couldn’t put it down.

What in the Joan, Jett? There’s Unicorns?!

Did I not mention that? Apart from the always charming girl-power heroines, adding unicorns into the mix of supernatural creatures that the girls encounter was lots of fun. The storyline felt whimsical, just like the graphic novels, which I appreciated since I am such a huge fan of the series. There were all sorts of hilarious details, like beautiful unicorns that smell terrible and bizarre camper badges too.

Friendship to the Max!

One detail that I loved about this book was the ability to learn more about each character through the detailed backstory. In the graphic novels, there are lots of fascinating reveals too, but I found that in this medium, there was an even greater opportunity to reveal more through changing point of view and narration. Through the varying narrative voices, this new instalment of Lumberjanes has a lot of cool moments that add a whole new level of enjoyment to the reading experience.

Fantastic Illustrations!

Have I mentioned yet how much I love the illustrations? Scattered throughout the prose, there are lots of illustrations that could have come right from the graphic novels themselves. It was fun to read a scene and then see an imagining of what it might look like, since I’d already read the graphic novels. Truthfully, I’m a sucker for sketches or other elements that give a text greater depth, because it makes the whole reading experience feel richer.

Should you read this book? Um, yeah. If you like girl-power narratives, high-stakes adventures or just stories about lots of weird things happening, this book is for you!

 

The Witches of New York, by Ami Mckay

Book Review

 

Normally, I don’t like to choose big historical tomes for a plane ride regardless of how long the flight might be, but on a recent trip to Norway, this book caught my attention. And since today is my birthday, I thought I’d take a minute to talk about one of my favourite books I’ve read this year. …Maybe it was because it had a supernatural element woven into the plot that made me take the risk, but I’m certainly glad that I did. The Witches of New York is not only beautifully written, but it is also a wild historical adventure.  One that, admittedly, made me wish for an extra hour on that plane!

The Supernatural Sisterhood

IMG_6400Forget about The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants,* The Witches of New York features (mainly) three witches living in New York City and it is at least in part a story of their lives as they try to make an honest living in their tea shop, Tea and Sympathy. There are plenty of seances, ghostly encounters and other strange sprightly occurrences to keep the reader turning pages. What I loved though, is the narrative about women’s rights that also gets woven into the storyline, whether it is through the mention of the Suffragette movement or the more immediate struggles that Eleanor, Adelaide and Beatrice face as they strive to provide certain banned services to the women who frequent their shop looking for more than tea and gossip.

A Hair-Raising Mystery

As if fantastic girl-power narratives aren’t enough, on another level, The Witches of New York features an intricately designed mystery that unfolds as the characters are brought together. At first, I was daunted by the number of characters that are introduced at the beginning of the book. If they hadn’t each been distinct and interesting, it might have counted against my enjoyment, but as I watched the characters gravitating towards one another and learned of their interconnectedness, I couldn’t help but feel a surge of excitement.

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Verisimilitude in the City

Amidst the exciting setting and plot, the elements of verisimilitude were an added level of intrigue. Embedding bits of “newspaper” and pages from spell books or want ads created a thoroughly fascinating, multilayered world. This, paired with a whole cast of loveable characters makes The Witches of New York a totally engrossing read. Even if you don’t like historical fiction, this book is too magical not to read.

 

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*Actually, don’t forget about The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. I love that series too, for its’ fun, girl-power awesomeness.

 

 

Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas

When you’re on the road as much as I’ve been in the last few weeks, a good audiobook is pretty much key to not going totally insane. I’m happy to say that Court of Thorns and Roses proved to be the perfect antidote to road-craziness. Borrowing from classic fairy lore, this story follows Feyre, a tough huntress who refuses to let the tough circumstances of her family’s life crush her. When Feyre is forced to go and live in the faerie lands after she mistakenly kills a fae, Court of Thorns and Roses is equal parts romance, fantasy and mystery.

Fabulous Fantasy Elements

There are certain rules of writing fairy stories that I’ve read several times – the heroine is usually met by a dashing Fae lord who she DEFINITELY doesn’t like (but will later fall in love with), there are some bargains made (always always a raw deal) and usually an evil fae queen is involved. In many ways Court of Thorns and Roses doesn’t stray from these elements at all, but Sarah J. Maas adds in lots of original details that kept the story feeling unique.

A Steamy Retelling

When I first realized that this was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I wasn’t sure what to think. I’ve studied a lot of other retellings during my Master’s year, and not all of them were all that scintillating. However, the slow-blooming romance between Feyre and Tamlin was definitely a wild ride:

“We moved together, unending and wild and burning, and when I went over the edge the next time, he roared and went with me.”

What kept me listening was also the mystery of the blight and Feyre’s adventures in the woods with Lucian as she learned about her new surroundings. Plus, I love that Maas has mixed the world of the fae with a fairy tale classic and added in that element of steamy romance that isn’t always present in fairy stories.

An Overall Good Time…

…Not just because of the “steamy bits,” but because the characters were lovable and the plot was so fast-paced that I wanted to just keep on driving around the block to hear more of the story. If you’re a fan of fairy tales or just like a good YA/NA romance, check out Court of Thorns and Roses, because I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

What is your favourite New Adult book?

 

 

 

Persuading Austen, by Brigid Coady

A book Review

As a Jane Austen fan, I knew that for this week’s Waiting On Wednesday, I had to read Persuading Austen, which is a modern retelling of Persuasion. Luckily, I was given an Advanced Reading Copy in exchange for an honest review!

In this version, the Elliots are a family of actors, except for Anne who must take care of her frivolous father and sisters. Just like in the original, Anne was in love with Wentworth, but persuaded to leave him by her Aunt. When Austen Wentworth, now a sizzling hot movie star comes back to star in a new production of Pride and Prejudice, will Anne set aside her pride and win him back?

Literary Geeks Will Love This

Apart from the story keeping relatively close to the original Persuasion (for the first part of the book), there were so many fun references to other Jane Austen novels. I loved this nod towards the originals, because it added an extra layer of depth to the reading experience for fans of Jane Austen’s work. In particular, Anne works for The Northanger Agency, there’s a new production of Pride and Prejudice and Wentworth’s first name is even Austen.  That being said, if you aren’t a lover of the classics, there is plenty to keep you turning the pages (quickly).

A Plot that Sizzles

Perhaps my most favourite element of this story was watching Annie crawl out from under the dominating shadow of her family and become her own person. I felt that Brigid Coady did an excellent job of providing Annie opportunities to achieve her goal only to pull them just slightly out of reach each time.  Even better, the tension between Anne and Austen keeps the plot sizzling along. It made for an exciting and fun read that I could not put down.

If you like remakes of the classics, or even just a witty, fun romance then pick up a copy of Persuading Austen when it comes on sale July 18th!

 

 

History is All You Left Me, by Adam Silvera

A Book Review

 

Make no mistake. This book will break your heart, but also, it’s completely worth it. Narrated by Griffin, who is grieving his ex-boyfriend Theo, History is All You Left Me is a smart and thoroughly satisfying examination of love and grief. As Griffin tries to navigate his feelings about Theo’s death, the reader is taken on a journey between Griffin’s past with Theo and the present without him. Is it a “feel-good” sort of book? Not really. But it will make you feel *all* the feelings.

No Villains Here

What I loved the most about this book, apart from the jealousy-inducing prose was the fact that there weren’t any “villains” in this story. Although Griffin might see Jackson (Theo’s boyfriend) as a nemesis of sorts, as readers we get to know him in such a way that he is likeable. Further complicating the narrative is the fact that Griffin begins to learn that in some ways he and Jackson are similar.

A Unique Narrative Angle

The book begins with Griffin declaring, “You’re alive in alternate universes, Theo, but I live in the real world, where this morning you’re having an open-casket funeral,” making it clear from the get-go that this story is more confessional than anything else. What I like about this narrative frame is the semi-epistolary feel that Griffin’s asides to Theo bring to the story.

On one level, we have a story that follows Griffin as he grudgingly befriends Jackson while we are also exposed to the deeper (one-sided) dialogue between Griffin and Theo. This is a clever way to look at grief, because it feels like Silvera is trying to capture that feeling of losing someone, but not wanting to let go of them fully by keeping Theo’s presence within the narrative.

Heartbroken, in a Good Way

Is there a good way to feel heartbroken? I’m not sure, but if there is, History is All You Left Me has most definitely accomplished that. There are plenty of light moments that break the tension, of course, but also even though the ending is still somewhat sad it feels honest.

Without writing any spoilers, the reveals that come at the end of Griffin’s journey through his own grief and struggles with mental illness felt intense and heartbreaking, but also deeply real. I spent most of the book wishing that Theo would somehow come back to life and even though Griffin does find some closure, I was still left feeling heartbroken for him.

Read This Book (And Weep)

Prior to discovering History is All You Left Me, I didn’t think I would ever want to read a book about grief. But now, I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone. Silvera’s language is beautiful; his message is unforgettable.

What are your favourite books about grief?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss You, by Kate Eberlen

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I’m not going to lie. I chose this book because the cover was so pretty. But what I discovered was a heartfelt and deeply engrossing story of two people making a slow journey towards one another. Sure, Miss You  is a love story, but Eberlen’s intricately woven tale is also about so much more.

Stunning Settings

Perhaps my favourite element of this book were the descriptions of Italy and London, which were so detailed that I felt like I was right there along with Tess as she slurped fresh pasta with her BFF Doll. Sometimes, I think that travel scenes in novels can come across as inauthentic, but in this case, it felt like Eberlen got the details down so perfectly that the narrative felt like a true escape.

A Thought-Provoking Narrative

Apart from Miss You exploring the ideas of “true love” and the notion that there is someone out there for everyone, there is also a narrative thread that explores the idea of illness. Particularly, we learn quite early in the story that Tess’s mother has breast cancer. This becomes a deep struggle for Tess as she grows older and fears for her own health too. Paired with the will-they-won’t-they romance, this idea of fearing for one’s life in relation to illness resonated with me as a reader. It begs the question: even if we are going to die tomorrow, isn’t it still worth it to meet the potential love of our life?

That Ending!

Being that the majority of the book is a series of moments where Tess and Gus might have come across one another but didn’t, I found the build up to their final meeting to be well-drawn out. I love that there are several times when they might have met, but circumstances prevent this from happening. My one quibble was with the final chapter. While their eventual meeting was just as glorious as I’d hoped, there are a few reveals in the final pages that left me reeling. Perhaps it was because I didn’t want the book to end, but those final words left me…wanting.

Despite wanting just a little bit more, I would absolutely recommend this book. Not only is it beautifully written, but it explores some thought-provoking themes in a clever way. Now that I’ve given this book to a friend, I’m kind of already missing it.

 

If you’ve read Miss You what did you think of it? Would you recommend it to a friend?

Going Home Again, Or An Odyssey of the Mind

eating between the lines

Going Home Again is equal parts a journey across the world—from Spain to Toronto—as it is an odyssey of Charlie Bellerose’s memories.  What starts out as a murder quickly dissolves into a trip through the attic of Charlie’s mind, where he dredges up ghosts and old lovers past. If it weren’t for Dennis’ Bock’s well-developed prose or his ability to draw me in through an easy, conversational narrative tone I might have set the book down.  Going Home Again evokes the question: can we ever go home? Perhaps.  The real question is this: is this a place that readers will want to go?

going home againIn many ways Going Home Again has the feeling of a stream of conscious journal, with the added benefit of clean, polished prose.  The story follows Charlie, who is recently divorced, to Toronto and spans across a year as he tries to rebuild his life across the world from his lovable daughter Ava and his ex-wife Isabel.  When Charlie delves into his past love affair with Holly, there is the sense that the original vein of the narrative has slipped away and entirely new story is beginning.  Luckily, this jarring departure from a linear narrative only serves to deepen curiosity, as the pacing is quick and lively.

Despite the sometimes-meandering plot, I was captivated by Bock’s attention to detail in his scenes.  Describing the sun in Madrid as “orange sherbet,” or the way he establishes so clearly the changing seasons in Toronto make it easy to step into the setting of the story.  Charlie’s characterization is comprehensive and though we don’t learn much about the supporting characters, Charlie’s love of his daughter and brother as well as the struggles that he faces makes him relatable—and readable.

“Instead of stepping back into the safety of the past, I stepped out onto he streets…” says Charlie in an early scene.  I’m not sure that I believe him, given that the journey we take with Charlie is not only back home to Canada, but also into the realm of memory.  For some readers—notably those who get frustrated with an overload of exposition—this book will be a challenge.  If you are like me, and stubbornly read through the frustration, Going Home Again does prove itself to be humorous, endearing and a journey worth taking.

…Since Charlie goes home to Canada, I thought my favourite butter tart recipe might be in order (since butter tarts are a pretty Canadian dessert).

Photo by Stephanie Spencer

Photo by Stephanie Spencer

What you need:

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 pinch of salt

1/2 cup corn syrup

1 egg (whisked)

1/2 tsp vanilla

How to make them:

1. If you have already made pie crust or bought pre-packaged pastry, roll your pastry out and fit it into muffin tins.  (If you don’t have a recipe for pastry, see below for my favourite pie crust recipe.

2. Mix together butter, brown sugar, salt and corn syrup in a small bowl.  (Note: if your butter is still cold, it is best to let it sit on the counter for a few minutes to let it soften).

3. Add egg and vanilla to brown sugar mixture.

4. Pour yummy butter tart mixture into tart shells equally.

5. Bake at 400 F for 15-20 minutes or until the filling is browned and bubbling.  If you are like me and enjoy runny butter tarts, be sure to take them out right at 15 minutes.