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.

Motherest – Kristen Iskandrian

MOTHEREST can most definitely act as a cautionary tale and could be an interesting suggested read for everyone graduating high school and heading out to university in the fall. Boys and girls alike.

Though it didn’t start out that way. Agnes’ mom already left her first, so heading out to university did not cause a great teary chaos behind, what with her father numb to the core. She’s got a roommate, who is positive and overall sunny in her behavior. She’s got a crush and classes she’s focusing on.

But then her crush becomes more than a crush and suddenly she’s always at his place. Suddenly she’s fallen for someone. And suddenly… she gets pregnant. She needs her mother more than ever, but the only comfort she can get in that department is secretly writing her mother letters that are never received and never answered.

To her credit, Agnes is pretty strong in all of this. There is so much change in her life, and while she is in denial of her new reality and the new emotions cursing through her for a while, she is still able to make some decisions and accept the support of others, more notably her father.

As scary, unexpected and emotional as Agnes’ new ‘’situation’’ is to her and others in her life, this is regardless a very beautiful, and I dare say lyrical, story. I think everyone’s experience with pregnancy is unique in some ways, and Agnes understands that she has other options, that people expect her to ‘’deal’’ with the baby and continue her studies, but she follows her own path, makes her own choices and handles the both positive and negative consequences that come with that.

I do have an issue with Agnes’ mother (well, there’s a whole club for that, really), because though we are given context around the tragedy Agnes’ family went through, we are still told little about who Agnes’ mother is, meaning that her character remains pretty one-dimensional throughout the book. I know Agnes doesn’t understand her well either, so it is jarring at times to have a character take so much mental space in someone’s life and for neither the reader nor heroine to decipher her.

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

Little Miss Little Compton – Arden Myrin

This is a decent book to read when you have low energy, because Arden Myrin has enough for two. This is an unconventional celebrity memoir, in the sense that, from my experience as a celebrity memoir reader, these works typically focus quite a great deal on the parts that lead to their ascension to the ranks of star. Myrin did not spend many chapters discussing the topic, perhaps because she is not as well-known, but she did discuss her family and childhood quite a bit, as well as the many different appearances she’s made on TV.

This is the type of book whose chapters you can read in no chronological order. Sometimes Myrin repeats herself, so events or pieces of information come back—ensuring you remember or don’t miss anything—and besides, Myrin focuses more on comedic effect than personal reflection. I can tell she’s done some introspection, because of the way she discusses herself—how she’s had trouble seeing her own worth and picking the right guys since her own father was far from a role model—but she is not one to focus entire chapters to thinking and inward-looking. She writes about actions and dialog between people more than anything else.

This can be good, if you want something light and fast. It doesn’t feel edited, seeing that the author uses lots of exclamation marks, all caps, repetition and an overall super casual tone. In order words, it does not seem professional which, for a memoir, is surprising and once again, unconventional. At the same time, it was different and different can be good, especially when you feel a little unconventional and different yourself. I was reading this book before and a little during my participation to a four-day pageant event. Being more reserved and introverted, I felt quite out of place at times at the event, so having this book with me was a source of comfort. Away from home, comfort can be rare and invaluable but Myrin managed to provide me with that through her light humor and positivity.

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

By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead – Julie Anne Peters

I don’t know why we read some authors and not others. I don’t know how our minds process the decision to give one book our time and not another equally interesting novel. Sometimes it’s about hype, popularity, genre, subject-matter, length, age group, familiarity with the author, mood—a lot of different factors come into play. But what I’ve learned is that it’s never too late to embark on a journey to discover a new-old author. New to us, old to the literary world.

I’m saying this because Julie Anne Peters is an established, bestselling and award-winning author who has been writing for decades. And yet, I only ‘‘discovered’’ her last month after getting my hands on Define ‘‘Normal.’’ Discovered is probably not the right word to use, just like Christopher Columbus didn’t actually ‘‘discover’’ America. It was already there and known to its populations. Maybe “coming into contact with’’ is a better way to say it. Coming into contact with Julie Anne Peters’ writing has done me a lot of good.

This particular title deals with very heavy issues, such as depression, bullying, suicide, sexual assault and abuse. The main character, Daelyn Rice, was told again and again by the people she encountered that she wasn’t good enough, skinny enough, valuable enough and that she never would be. She began to internalize those thoughts and now she doesn’t know how to cope, how to go on, how to defend herself and speak up about her struggles. So why bother being on this earth longer? In less than a month, she’ll be gone and, for the first time in who knows how long, she’ll be happy.

This is not the kind of story one should read if one feels down. It is a ‘‘low energy’’ type of story and while I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that, it’s still worth mentioning because if you’re in a bad mood or depressed yourself, this book can be a real trigger. Two months ago, this book would have triggered me for real. But today, I was able to read it and definitely connect with Daelyn, without letting it affect my mood too heavily. If you do not believe you can stomach a book such as this one right now, I recommend picking up Peters’ Define ‘‘Normal’’ instead and leaving this for when the time is right. The right time will come.

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

Interview with Nicolas DiDomizio, Author of ‘Burn It All Down’

Synopsis: Eighteen-year-old aspiring comic Joey Rossi just found out his boyfriend has been cheating on him for the past ten months. But what did he expect? Joey was born with an addiction to toxic jerks—something he inherited from his lovably messy, wisecracking, Italian-American spitfire of a mom (and best friend): 34-year-old Gia Rossi.
 
When Gia’s latest non-relationship goes up in flames only a day later, the pair’s Bayonne, New Jersey apartment can barely contain their rage. In a misguided attempt at revenge, Joey and Gia inadvertently commit a series of crimes and flee the state, running to the only good man either of them has ever known—Gia’s ex, Marco. As they hide out from the law at Marco’s secluded lake house, Joey and Gia must confront all the bad habits and mistakes they’ve made that have led them to this moment—and find a way to take responsibility for what they’ve done.

Read my review here.

Nicolas DiDomizio holds a bachelor’s degree from Western Connecticut State University and a master’s degree from NYU. Prior to his career in fiction, he wrote for the internet for several years while also working in corporate roles at Condé Nast, MTV, and more. He lives in upstate New York with his partner Graig and their adorably grumpy bulldog, Tank. Burn It All Down is his debut novel.
 
Follow him on Twitter at @ctnicolas and Instagram at @nicdidomiziobooks.

Have you ever exacted revenge upon someone who broke your heart, like your characters did? If you haven’t, how do you cope with a broken heart?

My college and grad school years did involve an embarrassing amount of throwing drinks in faces, flipping tables, and so on (basically I was a Real Housewife, lol) — but thankfully I never let myself get as out of control as the characters in my novel do. As I got further into my twenties, I learned how to process heartbreak/anger in a much healthier way. And eventually I stopped going for the types of guys who lie/cheat/manipulate in the first place. It was a journey (which I tried to capture via the story of Joey and Gia)!

Do you and a family member share the same type of relationship as Joey and Gia Rossi, who look more like friends than mother and son?

Joey and Gia were loosely based on my experience growing up with a single mom, as we have always been very close and do have shared histories with toxic men. That said, as I got further into writing the book, the relationship between Joey and Gia became its own entirely unique thing — with more codependency and less boundaries than any real-life family relationship I’ve ever had!

What would you say is the best thing about Joey and his mother Gia’s relationship?

The unconditional love, for sure. It’s a “ride or die” type of situation, and their closeness in age really allows them to understand each other — and grow up together — in a way that most parent/child duos don’t experience.

What would Gia and Joey’s ‘‘trip’’ have been like if Joey’s grandmother had come along?

Nonna would have shut their craziness down real fast! Which was why I knew Joey and Gia had to leave Nonna at home so they could learn their lessons on their own.

Which secondary character do you think deserved more attention in the novel?

I LOVED writing Nonna — the sassy Italian grandmother who won’t hesitate to slap a bitch if needed — and would have had so much fun writing several more scenes with her. I also really enjoyed writing the character of Marco, who was an example of the type of “nice guy” Joey and Gia had rejected in the past in favor of stereotypical bad boys, and would have loved to show more of his perspective. But ultimately both of these characters were indeed secondary to the primary heart of the story, which revolved around Joey and Gia specifically.

Finally, are we going to see these characters again?

I don’t have any immediate plans to revisit them, but you never know! I’d definitely have so much fun writing a sequel if there was ever strong interest in one.

Did you enjoy the interview?

Are you interested in the novel?

Black Widow – Leslie Gray Streeter

I’m starting to really enjoy reading books—oftentimes memoirs—written by journalists or reporters or magazine contributors. That’s probably because, not only are they well-written, but also because I, myself, have started writing for my university’s main magazine and am loving the experience. The process is hard—a lot of editing and researching to be done—but it makes me feel like I’m actually learning to write better and, of course, has made me develop more respect and admiration for professional writers.

Leslie Gray Streeter is such a writer. She writes a column, à la Carrie Bradshaw, fun and quirky, but not really since she is not having sex until marriage. She’s had a couple of bad relationships, so in the love department there is usually little meaningful development. That is, until she reunites with Scott, a former classmate whom she marries and who eventually dies from a heart attack. This is more than a story about grief, though that is, quite certainly, a main aspect. It’s also a love story, as James Patterson so rightly states in his blurb of the book. It’s also about building a modern family and struggling to keep said family. Grit. Determination. Support. Not many older women would want their mothers around, but Leslie knows when she needs help and she’s learning to ask for it and accept it.

Though I have never lost a husband or someone who I had an intimate relationship with, I related tremendously with Leslie’s motherhood experience. Not because I have a kid myself—not yet—but because my father passed away when I was a baby, as is the case for Brooks, Scott and Leslie’s baby. I was very touched by how worried Leslie was about Brooks—how he might grow up feeling a certain way about not having a father—and how she tried to do her best being strong for the both of them. I don’t know how Brooks will feel when he will be old enough to understand what loneliness is and wonder about what his life would have been like if he had had a father to care for him, but I think that with a mother like Leslie he will be just fine.

Beautiful.

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

Just Pretend – Tori Sharp

Writing three reviews in a row is something that I rarely get to do, since I rarely accumulate so many read books at once, but it’s a lot of fun because I am on a roll.

Just Pretend is a graphic memoir and already when I realized that, I was a little in love. I love memoirs, I love graphic novels, so a graphic memoir, to me, is like a special butterfly that landed on my hand instead of that beautiful flower that was next to me. It chose me. It recognized MY beauty.

I probably should not place my self-worth on whether a butterfly lands on me or a flower, but all that say that whenever I do get to hold a graphic memoir in my hands, I feel hella special. I am worthy of this human creation. (Also, if my writing seems a little tangled right now, it’s possibly because I just reviewed Little Weirds by Jenny Slate and that’s just a normal after-effect.)

So Tori Sharp’s graphic memoir explores her middle school friendships and family dynamics. Her parents are separated, and luckily so since they cannot stand each other. Her father is more detached: she’s not very close to him and she’s about to be even less close. She’s good friends with this one girl at her school, and they like to write stories together, then act them out, but her friend is having issues of her own and there are many ups and downs happening in Tori’s life.

This book reminded me of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends, since Shannon and Tori have similar personalities—they are both shy, quiet, love to read and write and struggle sometimes in the friendship department (welcome to the club, sista). But if I was to compare—which of course I will and do—I would say that this truly does not hold a candle to Shannon Hale’s graphic memoir. It is well-enough-executed and I did find the themes the author explored to be meaningful, but it’s very conflict-centered. The author herself even said at the end of the book that she believes stories to be that way, and so she decided to forgo too many happy memories in favour of those tense-filled ones that really affected her the most and added, I guess, the most to the storyline.

Here I have to disagree. I don’t think that stories NEED to revolve around conflict or that they always do. That would be sad, really. What about people who meet and have a wonderful relationship from the get-go? Do they not have a ‘‘story’’ because their moments are filled with joy more than aggression and sadness and tension? I do admit that some conflicts are more internal, so not as obvious, and yes we’re all dealing with our own respective stuff, but I think this memoir would have really benefitted from more beauty and happiness to balance things out.

Overall, it’s a good book, with cute illustrations and a main character we slowly get to know and care about, but it is similar to Shannon Hale’s Real Friends in many ways and if I was to choose between the two, well, you know which one that would be.

(On another note, I think I will refrain from writing three reviews in a row next time as it does jumble my thought process a little – LOT.)

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

Little Weirds – Jenny Slate

This book is weird. I’m sure you saw that coming a little—what with that title and all—but it’s good to repeat because it truly is Weird with a capital w. Not just because Jenny Slate’s writing is uncharacterizable. Something between poetry and prose, making me wonder if this was a memoir or collection of poetry. Or both? But also because of the highly sexual and tremendously unexpected imagery. The kind that makes you wonder if a human being wrote this or a half-human, half-giraffe with an addiction for chocolate poutine and a need to externalize every single one of their half-human, half-giraffe thoughts.

If your instinct tells you—shit, this review is getting really weird and I don’t think I have the stomach for it—please do exit on your left. But if you are intrigued, please proceed, continue, go ahead, have fun, enjoy your moments of imaginary bliss and disconnection from human life, in favour of papery disillusion and a not-drug-induced cheeseburger atmosphere.

You might, at some point, actually wonder what the hell I’m talking about. Who the hell is this Jenny Slate whose writing seems to have completely taken over my brain and destroyed my coherent cells and turned me into an ice cream cone collecting food from the sky. Well, you would be very right in wondering that, and certainly at times I did ask myself the same thing about Jenny Slate herself. But then my infected brain realized that to understand the incomprehensible, one must become incomprehensible in return and let our minds be attacked by the crazy.

In all seriousness, I seriously enjoyed this. It is an experiencefirst and foremost. BUT, and here’s the thing that surprised me the most, Jenny Slate had some actually meaningful and insightful things to say through the vacuum of weird thoughts. And the good thing is that, because they were so unexpected, most of them stood out like a naked Barbie doll on the cover of a book in a room full of horny teenagers (that did happen, everyone was staring, it was a real social experiment). Here is one such quote for you to admire and ponder:

I jumped out of their hands and into their mouths and I yelled EAT ME way before they even had a chance to get horny and notice me and lift me up. – page 41

You might reconsider your subscription to my blog after reading that. Really, that’s what she considers worth admiring and pondering? Okay, chill, I can’t write down the entire mind-shattering context, but really think about it before jumping off your horse. When I read that, I immediately thought of how hard I try in friendships. How desperate I am to have a meaningful connection that I don’t let anyone really miss me or want me, maybe because I’m scared that if I give them too much space, I’m also giving them too much opportunity to completely forget about me. But that’s something I’ll be discussing with my therapist.

Cheers.

(Oh, yes, and please read this book because I loved it.)

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for allowing me to experience Jenny Slate in exchange for what you probably wished was more comprehensible of a review, but I hope you will forgive me.

Negative Review: Chasing Wonder – Ginger Stache

Sometimes I know I have matured through the books that I pick up and enjoy. For instance, two years ago, I started reading a lot of memoirs, and though I would read them before—here and there—I would choose them very carefully and they were mostly from celebrities that I was familiar with. Now, I pretty much crave them, along with fiction novels. I have also started reading more adult fiction, which is a genre I typically stayed away from in favour of Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction.

Chasing Wonder: Small Steps Toward a Life of Big Adventures is not a book I would have held in my hands three years ago. Adventure, who needs adventure? I have a college degree to attend to, and a job on campus, and a hobby that steals my time (not that I mind). It’s easy for me to remember what my life was like three years ago, because nothing really happened, so remembering one specific day was like remembering the entire year.

So I am happy with myself for doing steps toward, yes, chasing wonder so to speak, and one of them includes reading this book. Now, although I think the world does need books like this one, I don’t think this one particular book was needed. That’s harsh, I know, I don’t typically tell readers that a book’s existence has little importance, especially not when I start my reviews in such a positive manner, but that is how I feel right now. Though the author has good intentions—she certainly wants us to enjoy life and face our fears and all that stuff—her execution can only be characterized as superficial.

This book actually reminded me a lot of Admiral William H. McRaven’s latest nonfiction The Hero Code, in the sense that the author discusses one theme and shows some examples to illustrate that. I found great meaning in Admiral McRaven’s publication, but in Stache’s I only found rushing. Though she does give examples from her own personal life that show us she’s overcome obstacles, those examples are typically super short and, sometimes, are simply enumerated, as though an afterthought. Not only that, but the way she speaks about fear-related topics is quite… and here I want to say immature but that’s a strange word to use for a book that means so well so I’ll default to superficial, once again. Predictable, too.

Here is a random quote that illustrates what I’m trying to say. It’s random because there are quite a lot of these. Warning: she uses a LOT of adjectives throughout the book.

I am certainly nothing special, but I remember always believing that God had something wonderful and very specific planned just for me. But here is what you may not know—He has all these things for you too. You weren’t born just to fade into the background. God loves you just as much. And he has amazing adventures for YOU. – page 13

Ugh. I mean thank you for saying those things, that’s very nice, but that’s not very convincing, and throughout the book I felt like there was more telling of obvious, everyone-knows-that things and little actual showing (again, because of the short examples that lacked depth). Overall, this is a self-help that lacks edge or grit or whatever gives something authority and prevents you from cringing. And my reaction is certainly not due to all the God talk. In fact, I adored Bamboozled by Jesus. That shit convinced me and there were lots of Bible references. It had spunk, something this book could have used a lot more of.

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

Define ”Normal” – Julie Anne Peters

I wish I had read this book when it came out. Except, when it came out, in 2000, I was four years old. I’m holding in my hands what I believe to be the fourth edition, which shows just how relevant the story still is today. Actually, I think it’s more relevant now than ever. When it came out, it was probably one of a kind. A YA contemporary story that discusses mental illness, parental neglect, peer counselling and what ‘‘normal’’ means. Nowadays, we can find more stories exploring those themes—thank goodness—and a few ones that go even more into depth, but it was interesting to see how those topics were handled 21 years ago.

There is much less shame now regarding counselling, therapy and the overall idea of needing help figuring things out, controlling our temper, opening ourselves up to others and letting ourselves act our age. But for Antonia and Jazz, peer counselling is foreign, awkward and stilted. They don’t know what it means to be in a ‘‘safe space’’ and how to open up about what they feel on the inside. It’s very difficult in the beginning, since Antonia and Jazz don’t trust one another, but they slowly develop a bond that grows beyond their peer counselling sessions.

I’m writing this review not only because that’s what I do—I’m a book blogger, hey!—and because I genuinely enjoy sharing my thoughts on the stories I read, but also because I want to set the record straight regarding this title. This author is known for writing LGBTQIA+ characters, and I saw this one being shelves as ‘‘LGBT’’ quite a few times on Goodreads, but sexual orientation is not discussed. The main focus is the growing friendship between the two teen girls and how counselling helps them face their own respective issues. There is no romance, and though it’s a meaningful story, it is not a ‘‘fun’’ one. Hopefully, you get into it with better expectations, but by all means do go into it.

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