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.

‘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.

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.

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.

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.

Burn It All Down – Nicolas DiDomizio

I knew I would love this, and not just because James Patterson blurbed it, raving about its addictiveness. It is, by the way, super addictive. It’s the type of story that you start and finish deep into the morning. Forget about getting your beauty night sleep, which likely won’t happen when it comes to this book. In my particular case though, I’m simply typically a night owl and prefer to fall asleep when I just can’t keep my eyes open anymore and fall into slumber the moment I close my eyes. This book will make it hard to close your eyes, but hey, I’m not complaining.

I also knew I would love it because after I finished watching the movie French Exit, I was subconsciously dying for another mother-son story. This is very different from the movie mentioned above, but it does feature that strong mother-son connection that I really liked from the movie and touched the part of me that adores seeing strong familial connections. Joey and his mother Gia Rossi certainly have that connection, especially when it comes to men. They both get their hearts broken by jerks and handle the heart breaks together. This time, however, they both got their hearts broken at the same time and they decide to get their revenge on. It’s cathartic for them and entertaining for the reader.

The first 100 or so pages of this book are thrilling, the rest are a bit calmer. I do admit that I prefer when it’s the other way around—when stories start in a chill way and gain energy the more I read—but for Joey and Gia Rossi, the storm never really dies. After completing their revenge plans, exteriorly they might seem okay-ish and certainly the environment they are in is more peaceful, but both mother and son are actively dealing with the aftermath of what they’ve done and how they feel, sometimes together and sometimes on their own. Of course, as interesting as it was to see Joey and Gia interact, more like friends than mother and son, it is not necessarily a very healthy type of dynamic, and both have to grow up in their own ways.

It’s part thriller, part literary, part romance and almost all coming-of-age. There are secrets and revelations, beautiful and dark moments, tears of happiness and despair and a lot, lot, lot of love. I adored it. If you like unconventional stories, this one is for you. Enjoy.

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

The Startup Wife – Tahmima Anam

This is such an interesting story. I love books with characters that readers can follow for years and see how they change and grow (or not) over time. Such is the case here with Asha Ray and cie. When we first meet her, she’s a Ph.D. student, doing research in a field that is meaningful to her. But when she is reunited with her high school crush, Cyrus Jones, her focus shifts. It shifts even more when she doesn’t get the results she hoped for from her research and she starts to think about doing something else with her life, as in create an app whose popularity surpasses everyone’s expectations.

Tahmima Anam writes with a lot of care and intimacy. I felt connected to Asha and interested in her life and thoughts from the very beginning. That does not mean that I agreed with every decision she made, especially the emotionally-driven ones, but it does mean that I was able to see things from her point of view, have sympathy when the moment called for it and not judge her too harshly for her weaknesses. I will admit that Asha Ray is too good for Cyrus though. She’s such a dedicated and smart young woman, whereas he wanders the world not getting too attached too things, too involved, too serious. He is serious about Asha, yes, because she is one of his two anchors, the other being his best friend, but they have such different ways of seeing the world.

This is why, as much as I felt proud of Asha at times for showing growth and strength, when it comes to Cyrus, I simply could not cheer her on. It is as though, where he is concerned, she has to make herself smaller to fit in his world. Things do change when he becomes the focus of the app, but not for the better. For this reason, the cryptic ending did bother me. I do wish the author could write a sequel or novella to let us know what really truly happens, because as comfortable as I am imagining endings for characters I care about, it always feels more real when the actual creator delivers on their characters’ futures with certainty.  

As I said, this is a very interesting story. It feels very realistic. Though I do admit the story would have shared the same quality even if the app created had been less popular, so there wasn’t a need to make it that big a deal. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of the app’s development through Asha’s point of view. I am very proud of her for many reasons. Even during the times I wish she had been stronger, I was proud of her. I am also proud of the author for letting herself be so original and embracing peculiarity through her writing. I did, however, dislike my experience reading the last chapter. Not only was the content disappointing but so was its title. Above everything, I just wish she hadn’t used a specific current event in her story, as I feel it took some of that creativity she developed so well away and simply left me with a bad taste. So as interesting a read as this is, the ending makes me not particularly want to reread it, ever. All of that to say that I have conflicted thoughts on it, but I was thoroughly engrossed so that has to count for something and be reason enough to pick it up if the premise catches your eye.

Thank you Simon & Schuster for the copy in exchange for a review.

Lanny – Max Porter

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Lanny by Max Porter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Received: PRH Canada
Published: May 2019
Publisher: Strange Light
Recommended Age: 14+
Genres & Themes: Adult, Fantasy, Mystery, Magical Realism, Dark, Creepy, Short, Family


REVIEW:

This is an odd little book that I did not want to stop reading one second. It’s perplexing, confusing and creepy at times, but it has a fairytale-esque atmosphere that gives it a mystical quality, as though you’re lost in a forest, trying to find your way out of it, and the only way you can do that is by getting to the end of this story. Continue reading

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing – Hank Green

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An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Received: Penguin Random House Canada
Published: 2018
Publisher: Dutton
Recommended Age: 14+
Genres & Themes: Adult, Science Fiction, Mystery, Social Media, Fame, LGBTQIA+, Friendship


REVIEW:

This book has rekindled my interest in the Science Fiction genre which, after so many past disappointments, was not an easy thing to do. But feeling indifferent about this story was close to impossible, especially with a narrator like April May who enjoys speaking directly to the reader, thus encouraging us to feel involved in whatever happens. I was also rather curious about the ‘‘Carls,’’ these impressive and mysterious sculptures found everywhere around the world that no one can seem to be able to make heads or tails of. Continue reading

My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite

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My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Received: Penguin Random House Canada
Published: November 2018
Publisher: Doubleday
Recommended Age: 14+
Genres & Themes: Adult, Mystery, Thriller, Crime, Siblings, Africa


REVIEW:

This is the story of a woman in love with a man in love with her sister, a serial killer. If that sentence alone doesn’t make you want to go, ”Ooooohhhh… intriguing,” then please do stop reading this review. My heart won’t break. Continue reading