The Seven Day Switch – Kelly Harms

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler was fantastic, so of course I had to read this book. Who could resist an adult Freaky Friday retelling, with two moms swiping bodies? Wendy and Celeste lead very different lives. One is a full time worker, the head of the household, whereas the other is a full time stay-at-home mom who fully depends on her (luckily devoted) husband for financial support. They each make assumptions about one another, and judge each other’s actions mercilessly, until they experience firsthand what the other is feeling and just how wrong they might be about each other. Not always, but by switching bodies, which proves to be super awkward at first, they find themselves learning from one another and growing into better, stronger, more fulfilled women.

I had fun with this story and these two women. Kelly Harms writes with energy, detail, realism and humor. At times, there was too much description to my liking. I don’t, as a reader, necessarily need to know every single back-story or detail, so I could have done with less of that. The best part is the growing relationship between the two women. They have their ups and downs, their confusions and moments of revelation, their anxieties and bursts of happiness—overall, they slowly realize that maybe this ‘‘experience’’ is happening for a reason. I do believe this story could have benefitted from even more nuance. Of course, Wendy and Celeste are learning that things are not always as they seem and that some people struggle in silence, but there are still many clichés about these two women’s motherhood and wifehood experiences that made me want to roll my eyes at times. Working all the time vs. being a stay-at-home mom? Both come with pros and cons, but neither felt balanced and balance is something that they both need more of us and are not done learning.

In the end, though it wasn’t as fun as Freaky Friday, I really enjoyed the friendship featured and all the learning that occurred. Though it’s shelves as ‘‘magical realism’’ on Goodreads, aside from the body swap it felt believable and the kind of life experience I wouldn’t mind going through. Come on, universe, make this happen!

Thank you Amazon Publishing for the copy in exchange for a review.

The Hero Code – Admiral Willian H. McRaven

Humor is one of the most important qualities for any hero. If you want to show courage, laugh in the face of danger. If you want to show humility, laugh at yourself.

This is exactly the kind of book that I needed right now, a book that would encourage me to be stronger, to be moral and to choose happiness every day. I can be quick to anger, sensitive and sometimes it’s just really hard to choose happiness, to smile, to forgive, especially when the other person never apologized and never asked for me to forgive them. It’s been especially hard during this pandemic. It felt like before there were so many distractions, and if I wasn’t studying or working, then I was reading and so I rarely took the time to think about my actions and wonder if I am who I aim to be and if I do any good in this world.

Admiral William H. McRaven challenges us to be strong, to not give in or give up. He is spot on on a lot of things, especially when he discusses what drives us and motivates us. It’s true that in some cases, anger, resentment and other negative emotions can push us to do something, to act, and the things we accomplish with those emotions can sometimes be good, but these feelings will not do us any good in the long run. Change, action, has to come from a good place, a positive place, and we need to let ourselves be motivated by things like hope, faith, love, kindness. It’s a hard thing to do. I wholly believe that happiness is a choice, as is goodness, as is love and everything else. As the author said, sometimes it’s easier to let ourselves be led by our negative emotions and our impulses but if we follow his established Hero Code, we might just become stronger and lead a more meaningful life. We might become heroes ourselves.

One thing that I really like about this author is that he doesn’t distinguish between heroes. Yes, some people have qualities that allow for greater change, but it doesn’t mean that this person is better than any other or a stronger hero. There needs not be a hierarchy of heroes. Like the Avengers, there are many of them, and individually they can all make quite a lot of noise and turn things around, but they act together for a reason, and the people who do the administrative tasks, in the background, are heroes too. I used to think that to make an impact on this planet I needed to go to the best school, get the highest of degrees and the best of jobs and volunteer at the best of organizations, but maybe I need to rethink all of that and remove some of that pressure I put on myself. The one thing Admiral McRaven mentions that’s probably the hardest to accomplish is the idea of giving without expecting anything in return. Because, truth is, over time, not receiving anything can be frustrating and lead to resentment. But there’s also the chance that we might not receive exactly what we’ve given, but something else entirely. Above all, the truest of heroes acts out of a sense of duty.

Here are the themes he discusses which make The Hero Code:

1. Courage

2. Humility

3. Sacrifice

4. Integrity

5. Compassion

6. Perseverance

7. Duty

8. Hope

9. Humor

10. Forgiveness

Absolutely recommended, unless for some reason you cannot stand war stories.

You Will Know Me – Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott is scary. It’s not usual for me to be scared of a writer—a person—after reading their work, but Abbott has such a way—a natural way—of creating an ominous atmosphere in her novels that I have no idea how it would feel to be in her presence and that’s scary. I’d probably be super nervous and still and captivated… and more.

Abbott is also scary because she doesn’t care about doing what is expected, making her characters feel what would be socially acceptable for them to feel—or say, or do. The good thing about this is that she cannot be predicted, and her stories make you a little obsessed. Not the kind of obsessed that makes you feel like you simply have to read this in one sitting, and cannot let go of it, but the kind of obsessed that, whether you’re reading it or not, you’re thinking about it still.

I have this theory that the best way to create atmosphere in your stories is to try to feel yourself what the characters do and picture in your mind the sort of vibe you want any scene to have and really feel it, conjure it inside of you in some way. So, if I’m happy, I won’t write about unhappy characters, or if I’m self-conscious I’m not going to write about confident heroines. Maybe there’s no correlation between our own mood, personality, demeanour and the characters we write about, but if there is then let’s just say that if I’m ever in the same room as Megan Abbott, I’ll seriously take note of the nearest exit. Just in case.

This is my second book from her – after Dare Me – and I am very excited about reading more. Thank goodness there is more! The good thing about being familiar with someone’s writing style is that you know what to look forward to (and not) and when is the best time for you to pick up their books. For instance, if I’m feeling particularly nervous about something in my life, perhaps I would do best to pick up a light contemporary romance from Kasie West. Megan Abbott’s books are for when you want to feel, when you don’t mind being in a sort of trance and when you’re okay with being aware of your blood crawling inside of you.

I mean, Stephen King blurbed this book, what did you expect? Have fun.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

DNF Review: The Lying Woods – Ashley Elston

I am not with the majority here. Ashley Elston is a beloved author from what I’ve seen, with many praising her. I can too, I’ve certainly enjoyed her This Is Our Story and 10 Blind Dates, both of which I recommend. I also certainly commend Elston for being able to switch between genres, though she does seem to have a preference for mysteries.

But The Lying Woods was just… disappointing. It’s one of those books that has high ratings and praise… but a low readership. On Goodreads, at least, and the blogosphere too. I’ll tell you why I think that is. First of all, the premise is good but not great. Owen’s father commits a felony, and now they’re the enemies of the town. Owen wants to figure out what happened and where his father is, searching for clues inside of his memories and around himself.

It’s exciting in the beginning, and certainly I believe I read close to 80 pages in one shot because things moved pretty fast. The number of pages read is not necessarily an achievement for the bookish girl that I am, but I remember doing so while being in somewhat of a book slump, so that’s good overall. The problem is that the pacing is uneven. While it’s fast at first, it slows down when Owen starts working for this guy who is not unfamiliar with his family. There is back and forth—jumps in time. Usually, I am not a fan of those but sometimes they are done well and can truly be thrilling. Not in this case.

It’s not bad, insomuch as it’s meh. Bland. Not good enough. Maybe if it had been a debut, I would have been slightly more forgiving but it’s Elston’s fourth or fifth book and the truth is that she could have done so much better. I personally did not care for the romantic scenes. Even the cover is kind of… not enough. That summarizes the novel pretty well actually: not enough. Not exciting enough, mysterious enough, thrilling enough. It’s, I guess, decent if you’re new to the YA mystery world and have low expectations to begin with, but I’m not and I don’t. If you think I’m being hard on Elston, then so be it. I just know she can do so much more with her writing skills and creative mind.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

All the Colors Came Out – Kate Fagan

This book has the most beautiful cover I’ve seen this year. It’s more astounding in real life, so if you ever get the chance to get your hands on the hardcover copy, go for it. Having read Kate Fagan’s former book – What Made Maddy Run – I was very interested in this book, particularly because she discusses herself and her family, whereas her first book focuses on another family entirely and one particular tragic event.

Both are good, honestly, but very different. In All the Colors Came Out, Kate Fagan talks mainly about her father who was diagnosed with ALS a couple of years ago, and chronicles everything that happened after the diagnosis until the day he dies from the illness. She also reflects on many childhood memories and tells us what it was like to grow up with a father like hers and what lead to their distancing later in life.

Seeing Kate Fagan try to reconnect with her dying father was very beautiful. Spending time with her family and writing about it also made her understand her own mother and wife better. Her sister is not mentioned as much, but with reason since she is busy raising kids and does not live with her father anymore. Kate, on the other hand, decided to spend half the time with her father and half with her wife, so she can take care of him and make up for all the times she prioritized her career over her family.

Although this is a short nonfiction book, with less than two hundred pages, it is not the type of book you can easily read in an afternoon or one sitting. It may be short, but it is filled with experience, wisdom, regret, hope, love, understanding, lessons and sadness. Normally, a book this size would take me an entire day to read at most, but I’ve spent the last three days reading it little by little. There is no clear ‘‘storyline’’ per se, even if it’s divided in multiple parts. At times it feels random, like Kate wrote all that was on her mind out of order. At times the chapters also feel like blog posts, barely edited, just Kate and what’s cursing through her. Reflection after reflection. But one thing it always is is authentic. I wasn’t always very happy with Kate, because some of the things she says and does are selfish or childish and I expected better from a grown woman, but what softened me was seeing how well Kate tried to understand her own shortcomings and how she maybe didn’t deserve me being so hard on her.

I feel honoured to have had the chance to get to know Kate’s father and Kate herself better. Though I cannot compare this to anything I’ve read before, I think you’ll like Kate’s writing style and personality if you enjoyed Shrill by Lindy West.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Goldilocks Wanted Dead or Alive: A Graphic Novel from the Land of Stories

With The Land of Stories, Chris Colfer has built one of the most intriguing and entertaining fairy tale worlds in literature, a world that can be enjoyed by both children and adults. I’m delighted he expanded that world further with this graphic novel centered on Goldilocks—both her past and present. This is a thrilling story that contains action, adventure, humor, drama and a whole lot of wisdom and love.

After escaping the authorities for a crime she never meant to commit, Goldilocks has been living in the Dwarf Forests, where criminals are free to roam. However, one day, Cinderella’s husband, Prince Charming, decides to conquer the Dwarf Forests by executing everyone in it, planning to offer the land to his future son. There’s no way Goldilocks will ever let that happen, but what can one girl do against a whole army?

The main thing that turned me slightly off about this graphic novel was its visual aspect, the actual graphics. They are very cartoonish and not super detailed—bright colours and little shade. They are pretty perfect for a young audience; children who I’m guessing love these types of illustrations. I personally did not care for them at first, but I’ll admit the lively colours did grow on me and the exaggerated—dramatic—facial expressions added to the story’s atmosphere.

The rest is pretty well executed: the storyline and character arcs. Even the supporting roles fit well into the story and I found myself wanting to see even more of one particular character whose presence is not often seen but rather often felt: Red Riding Hood. I am wholly in favour of a graphic novel featuring her as the main heroine, or anti-heroine, rather. As for the actual heroine, Goldilocks, she is, of course, superb. She’s strong, three-dimensional, smart and, overall, a survivor, which is exactly what you need to be to live in the Dwarf Forests. I can only recommend this book and Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories series. If you haven’t read it already, it’s never too late. While I do recommend getting to it before picking this up, it is not a requirement.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Trinkets – Kristen Smith

I love it. I love when a book that seems not to work for a ton of people ends up being the right fit for me. This book has pretty low ratings on Goodreads, and yet I could not help myself from requesting it. Normally, low ratings would discourage me from doing that, but the premise and TV show tie-in cover gripped my interest. Not to mention that this is a Little, Brown Books for Young Readers publication and in the past very few of those have let me down. Fun fact: I hope to get a book published by them in the future. I don’t know who edits these stories but they are doing a great job.

With this particular title, it’s definitely the original execution that kept me engaged the most. The plot is not necessarily new—though I certainly liked the idea of three girls befriending each other in a Shopaholic Anonymous group. Other than that, it deals with basic high school, boy and friendship drama. It’s not the most self-aware book either, with aggression, bullying and disrespect being made light of at times. I’m still on the fence about Moe’s love interest, who gives her attention when they’re alone but completely disregards her when they’re in public. That’s some shitty behavior right there and not something I felt Moe should have put up with at any point.

At the same time, it’s a very readable book. There are three narrators: Elodie expresses herself through poetry, Tabitha through blog posts-type chapters and Moe through diary entries. It’s a fast-paced story, and as cliché as it can get at times, it does deal with realistic issues that teens may go through in their daily lives. Frankly, I’ve never read a story about teen shoplifters before, and yet they do exist. Similarly, the concept of rehabilitation isn’t given a lot of attention in YA and doesn’t have the best reputation, and yet the author managed to make it seem worthwhile and… exciting. A rehab-centered group can become a place where you not only get to discuss something that others may judge you for in the outside world, but also to make friends and generally connect with people who are going through the same thing you are—thus making you feel less alone in the process.

I was taken by surprise by one of the three girls’ secret, which I absolutely did not see coming. Now it makes me want to watch the Netflix series as well, see how the girls and their addiction translates to the screen. TRINKETS is at times fun, at times dramatic, or sad, but never a bookish regret.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

My Last Summer with Cass – Mark Crilley

I love a story told through good art. I love it even more when the story is as good as the art. Such is the case here. Megan and Cass are two childhood friends who share a passion for making art. They meet every summer, along with their families, at a cottage, where they unleash their creativity in different ways. But Cass’s family falls apart, and those summers are no more. The girls grow apart for a bit, then reunite in New York, the place where dreams come true and every artist can find a home. While Cass seems to have figured out the type of artist she is and where she belongs and with whom, Megan is still unsure of who she is meant to be. Terribly afraid of disappointing her parents, especially her dad, she holds back and plays it safe. Cass can see through her friend, can see her buried need to express her true self, and pushes Megan to dig deeper and be braver. All is well… until she pushes too far, too soon.

I related to this story a lot, especially to Megan’s character. I think we’re all forced to grow up one day or another, but for some of us it takes time. If Cass hadn’t been there to introduce her best friend to new things and show her a side of the world she hadn’t seen before, who knows when Megan would have had the chance to experience these new things. Or maybe she would have, but with the wrong crowd, someone who doesn’t have her back. Cass’ aggressive way of throwing new things at Megan did rub me the wrong way, because I wonder, can you really force growth? Isn’t it supposed to happen naturally, over time? More importantly, should you force it? Too much, too soon can be overwhelming for someone who has lived a fairly sheltered life and has only just recently started voicing her own opinions and standing up for herself. The truth is that, whether you agree with Cass’ actions or not, and Megan’s responses to these actions, you are at least sure to be emotionally affected by them because the author and illustrator draws with intent and meaning. I was glued to this graphic novel until the very end. Con: I finished it in 15 minutes. Pro: Those were some intense 15 minutes that I wouldn’t mind repeating.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

I Tried to Change So You Don’t Have To: True Life Lessons – Loni Love

I can’t believe this was published over a year ago and I only learned of its existence recently! That is such a tragedy. I love Loni Love. It’s very hard not to. I noticed her good heart while watching segments of The Real on YouTube and I absolutely knew I would love reading her words in this memoir. My good feeling about this book was validated immediately as I started the first chapter. While she may not reinvent the wheel—other authors have discussed facing challenges and growing up in a rough kind of environment—her spirit is felt all over the pages and it’s such a positive spirit to be surrounded by.   

Loni Love did not have it easy growing up. She’s had to take care of herself, and while this meant she missed out on being taken care of by a loved one, it did teach her responsibility and independence fairly well. But Loni knows to welcome people and their affections in her life nonetheless, and her good intentions are certainly recognized by the right people. She’s had close people take advantage of her goodness and willingness to give attention and affection, but she’s also learned from negative experiences.

She’s totally right: at any given moment, we have the choice between crying about our own misfortune over and over, or trusting that God (if you believe in Him) has a better plan for us and only asks us to have faith in ourselves and Him. I admit that that’s something I struggle with on an ongoing basis. Even if it’s for a minute, I tend to throw myself different self-pity parties that are at times hard to get out of because no one else is pulling me out and I have to, as I’m drunk to the core, notice my own need to take a breath of fresh air. The good thing is that Loni’s positivity is contagious and her belief that she can make something of herself (which she has!) so strong that it’s hard not to believe her ourselves.

The only downside to this memoir is that it is pretty damn short. At the beginning, she takes it slow, slowly discussing her upbringing and what led her to pursue a degree in engineering. Then, very fast it felt, we were thrown into the period of her life where she was on her way to success. It felt like there were parts missing, but I’m sure we’ll get those parts eventually as this will probably not be her last publication. On the very bright side, I rarely, rarely, if ever, highlight a physical book (because I like to keep them in pristine condition), but I absolutely had to highlight some sentences in this one that made me laugh super hard. Because of its length and the author’s fairly light tone (over the top at times, but hey that’s Loni and I love it), it’s the kind of book that you can breeze through in an afternoon. Again, I cannot believe I didn’t know about it sooner. Thankfully, it’s never too late to hear the words of wisdom of someone you love and respect.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

The Last Beautiful Girl – Nina Laurin

After reading Horrid by Katrina Leno (whom I’ll be interviewing soon on my blog) I was ready for more gothic stories. Unfortunately, Nina Laurin has nothing on Katrina Leno. There certainly are gothic elements in this story, such as a dark, secluded mansion, ghosts, creepy hidden rooms, disappearances and deaths. BUT, one cannot solely rely on elements pertaining to a theme or genre to make the latter come alive. The main reason why, even though there is creepiness in this story, it never truly feels CREEPY to the reader (or to me) is because there is very little atmosphere.

Don’t get me wrong. I was mildly entertained and I was certainly happy to be reading a novel by an author living in Montreal and who went to Concordia (whose Webster Library, by the way, is *chef’s kiss!). I really was looking forward to seeing what Nina Laurin had to offer and went into this book with the best of intentions and attitude. Nina Laurin has a very accessible writing style that I find appropriate for teens and engaging as well. She wrote here a fast-paced story that, despite lacking atmosphere, did include enough mystery content and drama to keep me want to keep reading. If you like super dramatic stories, this one can be for you.

I think one of the main reasons why it lacked atmosphere was because of the characters. They all pretty much seemed to be one-dimensional, and while that’s appropriate in this case when considering the storyline—a girl dying to be someone and have more attention creates an Instagram account with the help of an aspiring photographer and together they take lavish, glamorous, mature, sexy pictures that generate the account lots of followers—I think the author could have gone deeper. Could have made us understand the depth of Isa’s pain and Alexa’s skill better, so that even if they remain selfish and vain, we understand where those weaknesses come from better. I also think that this story could have benefitted from some slowing down. As I mentioned, it is pretty fast-paced and that’s basically always, even during moments that would have impacted me better if they had had more slow-burning intensity.

To recapitulate, I was entertained by this fast-paced novel that did have some engaging elements, but overall it’s a story that I will forget in a few weeks and whose characters have not managed to steal my heart in any way. If everyone had died at the end, I would not have shed any tears.

Thank you Raincoast Books for the copy in exchange for a review. On sale September 2021!