Lilla the Accidental Witch – Eleanor Crewes

It should not be legal for a graphic novel to be so dull. It should not be legal for them to take me such a long time to get through… and eventually discard them. It’s insane how this book has everything I love in fantasy stories: magical coming-of-ages, witches, family secrets, town mysteries and familiars.

And yet, and yet. Somehow, I don’t have the patience for more than 25 pages in one sitting and, somehow, I don’t have the energy it seems to require to finish it. I can probably count on my hand the amount of graphic novels I have DNF’d in all my life—that’s how rarely that happens—so I’m as shocked as you are with the outcome.

It’s possible part of it is me; part of it is probably always us, because I feel very indifferent about the illustrations. They don’t need to WOW me to make them worth looking at, but Eleanor Crewes’ very cartoonish style with soft shadows and lines and bright, unrealistic colours does not appeal to me. I’m not so superficial that the visuals alone could undo a whole entire book for me, but this ‘‘is’’ a graphic novel after all.

And the story is not original enough to add enough ‘‘personality’’ to this work to make it work despite its visual shortcomings. It’s the very usual tale of a young teen who discovers she has powers and tries to learn about them and right some wrongs at the same time. Maybe if it had been Halloween, the atmosphere of the day would have made reading this book more enjoyable, but it’s not and I’m writing this not only because it was sent to me for review, but also because I want to move on from it to another more interesting and engrossing work. Goodbye!

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

We Are Watching Eliza Bright – A. E. Osworth

This is 400 pages of bewilderment.

400 pages of suspense. Of sexism and feminism. Of continuity and contradictions. Of life and death and loss and gain. Of fiction and reality. Of Us.

Eliza Bright is minding her own smart business at work when some of her co-workers decide to play a bad joke that turns into harassment and verbal abuse and a huge load of sexism thrown her way. She doesn’t feel so safe anymore. The person who could change things—her boss—and stop this nonsense doesn’t think it’s a ‘‘big deal.’’ So she betrays her company’s loyalty (not like they haven’t betrayed her first) and speaks about what she is going through to the media. She’s fired and the consequences of her actions—her defending herself—put her safety even more at risk. She is threatened and watched and stalked and she’s about to lose it. Will she make it out alive?

If this seems quite dramatic to you, well keep in mind that I have barely even mentioned 25% of what happens. There is much, much more, but the most unique element included in this story is definitely its narration style. It’s in the 1st person plural—the famous We—and the ‘‘we’’ represents various people. It’s as intriguing as it is confusing. It’s for you to figure out who the author meant to watch Eliza Bright, as referred in the title. Men? Women? Non-gender conforming groups of people? People like me, you or us? It’s strange, unusual, and mysterious even, but it works. It adds to the overall surreal atmosphere of the story. While harassment and sexism are not rare occurrences, in this book they are the cataclysm that sets everything else into motion and nothing to be made light of.

In the end, it’s a powerful story. You can feel from the start that the impact this book will have on you will be great. It’s also an enjoyable reading experience, at times more serious and at other times lighter. The phone and G-chat conversations sure do help the reader advance through this story quicker, and serve as a temporary break from an otherwise more conventional type of storytelling, narration style excluded. If I had to change something about this overall written work it would certainly be the uncertainty created by the ‘‘we’’ pronoun. Because the we does not represent any of the main characters, the we does not know everything and there is one particular chapter that is repeated three or four times with slight alterations, seeing as the narrators couldn’t be sure of how the event unfolded. I could have done without the repetition. Otherwise, chapeau!

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

The Groom Will Keep His Name – Matt Ortile

I think Matt Ortile should meet Nicolas DiDomizio, author of Burn It All Down, or at least read his blog, and this interview I did with him. I’m saying this because I have a feeling he could learn from monsieur DiDomizio, especially in the relationships department, which is something this memoir does focus on, among other things.

Though I, of course, know little about being a Filipino gay adult male, I do know something about dating the wrong people and almost being attracted, at times, to things that wouldn’t work out or don’t seem to work or couldn’t work out. I also know what it’s like to get attached to someone who knows a lot about you, has listened to you open up about yourself—parts of yourself you’ve never shared with anyone before—and does not reject you for all that you are insecure about. It’s hard not to wish for a future with a person like that and it’s hard to let them go. Whatever your age, you can’t help but wonder, ‘‘Is anyone else going to ever care to know as much about me and accept me for who I am, good and bad?’’ I get you, Ortile.

It would be frivolous, and almost insulting, to not discuss the more political and cultural aspects of this book. Matt Ortile writes about struggling with some of his own Filipino customs, growing up among other Filipinos who bullied him for being different, and then coming to America and almost reinventing himself by trying to be the perfect immigrant student and simply not create tension of any kind. He pauses upon his university experience for quite a bit, as it has marked him profoundly and has made him realize some of his shortcomings, especially with regards to speaking out about what matters to him, regardless of whether he makes people uncomfortable or not.

Probably the best aspect of this book is its tone, which screams, ‘‘Here I am, this is who I am, I am imperfect and make mistakes, but I know that I must do better—choose better for myself and others—and while I am not there yet, I am on my way and this memoir is a testament of my promise to grow into the man that I know I can be and wish to be.’’ I think the journey will be long for Matt Ortile, but I don’t doubt that he’ll exact change within himself even further and perhaps beyond himself.

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

The Particulars of Peter – Kelly Conaboy

Everyone thinks their own pet is amazing, or at least cute and worth cuddling with for hours. If you don’t, frankly you should spend more time with your pet and learn what makes them so worth keeping and caring for. So in that regard, Kelly Conaboy is not special. She is just another pet owner who loves her dog dearly and thinks very highly of him (way too highly, if you ask my opinion). She goes to the point of putting him on a pedestal. We shouldn’t put humans pedestals, let alone little creatures who are not beyond doing no wrong and disappointing us.

I don’t have a problem with pet memoirs, though I admit I prefer human memoirs, which are a hundred times more relatable and can teach you far beyond ‘‘how to play the right game with your pet’’ or ‘‘how to make your pet feel like the queen or king that they are.’’ Kelly Conaboy herself mentions at the beginning of this dogoir (dog memoir) that she was paid to write this book and so spend time with her pet to learn his quirks and thus have better content. It does not, in fact, feel like it evolved naturally. If Kelly hadn’t been paid to produce this work, would she have done some of the activities she mentions, would she have bought some of the dog produces she discusses? Maybe not.

In the end, this book’s birth story is not the problem, as I could have stopped reading after the prologue if that had caused too much of a problem for my established literally morals. It doesn’t, even if I prefer when people write books more out of a sense that their written words must be put into the world than in an Eat, Pray, Love sponsorship fashion. In the end, what I disliked the most, was Kelly’s disillusioned love for her dog, which to me had little foundation and came off so exaggerated at times that, combined with her usual sarcasm and arrogant tone, was a little doubtful some of the times. Does she actually believe the high praise she showers her dog with? Her ‘‘love’’ took so much space that, in the end, I felt like it was more about her than her dog.

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

The Liar – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

I hate lying, and I hate people lying to me, but there’s something about seeing other people lie and mess up that feels very cathartic for me. It’s also a way to live vicariously through people who are rebellious, disobedient and have little to no moral compass to know what that’s like and to, for a few hours, be more than the (mostly) well-behaved Young Adult that I am, though perhaps not so well behaved since I refuse to get vaccinated and that sure is causing the upheaval.

All that to say that I was fascinated by Nofar’s behavior and especially her reasons for lying. I don’t have a younger, prettier sister who gets all the attention and can basically do no wrong, so I don’t know what it’s like firsthand to be Nofar, and I’ve never cared too much that my brother was more social than I was, but I’m not the prettiest, sweetest, smartest, anything-est girl on the block, so being pretty average is something I can certainly relate to.

I guess the difference between me and Nofar is that she doesn’t like being that way and one of the reasons she lied about being sexually assaulted by a celebrity is because of all the attention she was suddenly receiving. While I’m used to being an introverted girl with few friends and risks taken, I’m okay the way I am, and if I’m going to change and be more social, more daring, more out there, it’s going to come from within and it’s going to happen when it will feel like the right moment to spread my wings like a butterfly. Sudden change, though it changes Nofar’s life and shakes her a little, does appeal to her, so much so that whenever her moral compass does come to the surface, she buries it again, and again, and again.

It’s a slow-burn type of story—my favourite kind!—that takes time to develop, and whose characters you slowly get to know, but by the end you will truly feel like you’ve known everyone for years, and though you might feel confused or happy or nervous about the outcome, the thinker-philosopher in you will be rewarded with content.

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

‘Frostblood’ by Elly Blake did not get deeper the second time around

Here we go again.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, or you remember me from Goodreads as ‘‘Lola’’ perhaps, you know I love YA Fantasy and you know (maybe, if you’re a die-hard fan) that I have read this book before, its advance reader’s copy to be more precise.

Like about 3.5 billion people in this world, I am in awe of Frozen and its world of magic and let it go-ness. So of course I had to give this a try. I decided to give it a second try because sometimes I simply do not want to admit defeat.

There are books and series out there that I feel myself feeling indifferent about and it leaves me gobsmacked, whereas there are books I am reluctant to try and assume I’ll detest them on first sight that actually end up leaving me breathless.

Why is the world of literature so cruel? Anyways, so in my refusal to admit defeat, I picked this one up again… and history repeated itself. The good thing is that now I know better why this author and series do not work for me and, should I insist on creating a bond between us, I can more easily adjust my expectations for the third round.

Yes, there will be a third round sometime, somewhere, some day. So what’s the problem with Frostblood, besides its dramatic title that means little? Well, pretty much the fact that it’s overly dramatic and has little emotional depth. If you’re a shallow reader who gravitates towards shallow works (no judgement here), please do jump right into the frosty shallow waters of this one. If, like me, you need a deeper connection, you will be quite astounded to realize that even though you’ve finished reading it in something like 5 hours, you remember quite little of its content.

It’s like having a conversation with someone who doesn’t know how to navigate deep waters. You certainly remember that you talked about the weather, how they were doing, whether they slept well last night and how early they joke up to drink their orange juice. You know this – or rather, assume this – because it has happened many times before. But you, somehow, can’t remember if the weather was stormy or not, at what time and why they actually went to bed and what brand of orange juice reached their lips.

Bottom line: you can’t attribute or force depth into anyone or anything, if it’s not there for you to harness its potential or recognize, try as you might. So why, pray tell, do you insist on liking this one, Monica?

Because Frozen.

Because Frozen.

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

‘Seven Days in June’ by Tia Williams does not sit still

As problematic as this love story is, it is pretty damn engaging and, most of the time, at the end of the day that is what most lovers of contemporary romance want. Romance is an escape, isn’t it? If it mimics real life interactions, cute meets and situations, great. If not, at least you were able to escape in a world where love conquers all and sheer determination can bring two people together after over a decade of silence at the other end of the line.

The reason why I think the love story is problematic is because Eva Mercy and Shane bond early in their lives mainly based on their respective traumas. Yes, they do have things in common, especially their love of reading and writing and, yes, they show empathy towards one another, but they certainly do not help one another become a better version of themselves. Instead, they enable each other to pursue their unhealthy habits.

Of course, when they reunite, they are not the same teenagers they used to be. And yet, they have not fully grown either. They are still unstable in their own respective ways, especially Shane. But they are adults now, more responsible, and making better decisions than they used to. So now it’s about setting the record straight about what happened when they were younger and why it did. Making amends. Asking for forgiveness. Neither really thought that their flame would be as strong as it used to be, but somehow time, age and experience did not succeed in watering it down.

This is a story that feels aware of its story status. I felt the author – Tia Williams – who is also the narrator, more than I did the actual characters. This does mean that I was never truly able to forget that I was inside a fictional world, with fictional people going about their fictional lives. On the bright side, Tia Williams has quite an entertaining way of introducing her characters and laying down the scenes. I felt compelled to keep reading and find out how/if/when Eva and Shane would implode. At the end of the day, I took enjoyment from this, but I don’t quite believe that what Eva and Shane have is sustainable in the long run. Assumptions are made quickly and distrust is still present throughout. Like they say, still waters run deep and neither Eva nor Shane is the still water type.

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

‘Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest’ is simply epic

When I think ‘‘fantasy,’’ I think a world on the brink of darkness, serious characters in dire situations, creatures that spring out of nowhere and delight in making the heroes squirm, as well as a great deal of jumping over metaphorical bridges made of illusionary pink sparkly foam that leads toward promised fatal glory. And you know what, I think A. Lee Martinez and I think similarly because he managed to deliver on my most intense ‘‘fantasy’’ fantasies.

Most people think ‘‘just add water’’ but A. Lee Martinez thinks ‘‘just add humor.’’ A God eating a human? That’s fine, just make sure that the God is in the shape of a burger. A female underdog-type love interest to a God-in-the-making? That’s stellar, just make sure the love interest is a rare creature who radiates wit and insecurities that catapult her into turning her side-kick status into a front-kick one. A. Lee Martinez will gladly make your humorous fantasies come true as well as add some unexpected ones of his own.

Helen and Troy don’t have much time. They are on a quest, which sounds all fun and exciting, but if they don’t accomplish it, they die. They might also die while accomplishing it. They might also die just for the hell of it, because the Gods were bored or something. Or because they’re being followed by killer orcs. Regardless, they are on a road trip—pardon, road quest, as per the title—and stumble upon a ton of helpful-malevolent beings that simultaneously want to exterminate them and cheer them on. If you sense that there is a lot of contradiction in this story, don’t let it discourage you. Or let it, if your mind is so weak.

I’m just saying, how often do you get the chance to witness a written scene involving a gladiator-type fight between a respected, professional Cyclops and a Minotaur girl, afraid of her own power? Thank you, A. Lee Martinez, for the honour.

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

I think you should dare read ‘A Touch of Jen’

Don’t you just love creepy endings? I mean, you’re not supposed to, and really, who would choose something strange and improbable to something realistic and wonderful? But in actuality, some stories refuse to sidestep shadows and instead embrace them with all their might. I wouldn’t be surprised if Beth Morgan wrote this book late at night, in the dark, with only visible her eyes and mouth from the light of her computer screen.

I’ve said this before, but I love multi-layered tales. Stories that do not explore solely one genre or theme – though those can be interesting too – but multiple ones instead. See, this isn’t solely a horror tale. It contains humor, eroticism, both realistic and unrealistic elements, themes of existentialism and destiny and a lot of hatred and envious energy that is collected and transformed into shadowy creatures that roam dark corners and spring out in unexpected moments, at unexpected times.

This book is an experience. It is one of those works that will not work for the majority. In fact, based on its reviews on Goodreads, which I had not read prior to reading this book, I am in the minority of people who actually did take enjoyment from it and find it to be quite the temporal stunner. It is a book for the few who dare immerse themselves in the strange, the weird, odd, and creepy without guarantee that they might in any way relate to any of its content. Relatedness, now that I think of it, is not something I looked for in this or even thought of.

There are stories you read because they speak to you, they inspire you, teach you and leave you feeling like a better person, a more knowledgeable and open-minded one. And then there are stories that mess up your logic brain for a little while, and though it’s certainly possible you’ve lost one IQ point at some point, you think, ‘‘oh hell, it’s worth it’’ and embrace it all, fascinated.

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

Beyond the Ruby Veil – Mara Fitzgerald

I love unlikeable female characters. The truth is that, most of the time, they are only unlikeable because they are women, and if a man displayed the same cunningness he would be worshipped, not ostracized. Unfortunately, Emanuela is not all that cunning and bad. She is not the type of heroine you love to hate, because she is actually pretty likeable and human at different moments of the story.

I think that one thing a character needs to be unlikeable or simply villainous, is to be single-minded. To have this one specific goal and try to achieve it in any way possible, regardless of the consequences their actions produce and regardless of who gets in their way. In Emanuela’s case, she cannot become that single-minded character who does as she pleases, to whomever she pleases, to achieve her goals because she cares. She cares about her childhood friend and almost-husband Alessandro and she cares very much about her city and people.

The moment you start caring for something or someone other than yourself, you kind of become human. And Emanuela is pretty human, despite her, at times, careless behaviour. As I read about her, I kept thinking of the main character from Winning by Lara Deloza, because that is one story about a character who has one very specific goal – get the crown! – and is not afraid to be hated and to screw people over to get what she wants, even the ones closest to her.

But that’s okay. It’s okay for a character to not be who you expected them to be. I did not get this book only so that I can enjoy Emanuela’s promised badassery. As always when I pick up a fantasy, I am curious about the world. Unfortunately, again, here the world-building is quite confusing and under-developed. You have these ‘‘veils’’ and these ‘‘watercreas’’ who turn people’s blood into water (euh, seriously) and it’s just so basic, and odd, and 2002.

The good thing about this book – yes, there is one good thing! – is that because it is under-developed and not very complex and doesn’t take itself too seriously, it can be read fast and without investing too much energy into it. Also, when you put it aside, you don’t think about it much so it takes little mental space. Basically, it’s unmemorable. If that’s something you’re looking for right now, because you have trouble concentrating anyways, maybe you’ll enjoy your experience with Emanuela’s journey. Sadly, I was looking for more. I know, how dare I?

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