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.

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.

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.

Scavenge the Stars – Tara Sim

I knew I needed to read this series when I noticed that it was written by Tara Sim, who also authored the Timekeeper trilogy and whom I had the chance to interview a few years ago. She’s one of those authors that inspire me to keep writing and keep trying. She got her debut novel published after winning a writing contest and, I for one, love those types of success stories.

Scavenge the Stars is a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, and though I have not read that classic, I do know it deals with revenge, which is something equally present in this story. Amaya, a teenage girl, had her childhood stolen away from her a long time ago when she was basically sold to slavery on a ship. Now that she managed to get away from the debtor’s ship, she seeks revenge—it drives her as much as it consumes her.

What I liked the most about this book were its action scenes. One thing that I noticed early on with this author, from her Timekeeper series, is that she is good at developing a world-building. I really felt like I was in the city of Moray and a part of Amaya’s revenge journey. If I’m being honest, I read this book more for its action/adventure side than its characters. I do prefer when it’s the other way around, so I can’t encourage you to prioritize this dark YA fantasy if it’s on your TBR pile, but I can tell you that its secrets and intensity are worth experiencing.

When it comes to the characters, they did have their own respective personalities, but I never quite felt like I could reach them. It’s like there was always this thin-veiled curtain in front of them that never parted. I knew information about them and how they felt at times, but a huge part of them was still hidden from the reader. I don’t remember feeling this way, to this extent, when reading Tara Sim’s Timekeeper, so it’s unfortunate but not reason enough for me to not wish to see how the story ends.      

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

I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are – Rachel Bloom

I felt similarly reading this memoir—or collection of essays, rather—to reading Ali Wong’s. Both Ali Wong and Rachel Bloom are comedians in their own respective ways. Both of these women are straight-forward and do not censor themselves when discussing sex and other such topics. I like when authors don’t beat around the bush. But somehow neither Rachel Bloom’s nor Ali Wong’s humor is for me. I don’t find bullying or excrement particularly funny. To me, making jokes regarding those—especially the toilet-related ones—seem rather immature. As much as I respect Rachel Bloom’s assertiveness and openness through writing, I have to say I do not find her very mature or amusing. I’m mainly saying the last point because while she entertained me at times, she did not make me laugh the way Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish and Yvonne Orji are able to.

And since this is a collection of supposedly humorous essays and chapters, not laughing or chuckling actually made me feel like an outsider, which is funny because that’s how Rachel Bloom felt growing up and still feels today. There were some chapters that were more serious that resonated with me, for instance when she discusses her experiences at university, the comedy club and with men. My favourite chapter was the one in which she writes about feeling like there is a relationship curse put on her when she was younger. While, not all chapters worked for me, I have to give it to Rachel Bloom: she doesn’t lack originality.

This is a pretty unconventional non-fiction work, because it’s filled with non-traditional stuff. To give you an idea, Rachel Bloom wrote down her LinkedIn profile, built a sort of amusement park for adults and then described it, and even created a short musical for us. While I did not finish Ali Wong’s memoir, I did finish Rachel Bloom’s work and the reason for that is that it reads fast and it’s so diverse in content that even though I didn’t find it particularly funny or meaningful most of the time, I was still curious to know what the next chapter would hold. I do recommend it if you’re a Rachel Bloom fan. I didn’t know who she was prior to picking this up, and clearly she’s not the right comedian for me, but if you feel differently you might love this!

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.

Bunheads – Sophie Flack

As much as I enjoy reading and reviewing new releases, which can be very exciting, especially if there’s hype associated with those releases, I also find pleasure in plunging into older books that most people have completely forgotten about.

This is one of those forgotten releases. Bunheads tells the story of 19-year-old Hannah Ward, who trains to be promoted as a ballerina and have her own solo performances. So far, so good. She works hard: lives and breathes ballet. But when she meets a cute guy at a bar, the world outside of ballet tugs at her and she grows resentful of the limited life of a ballet dancer.

First of all, the cute guy Hannah meets makes her feel guilty for working hard at her goal since she can’t spend much time with him, which I’m really on the fence about. Second of all, I was frustrated with Hannah’s unsettled mind. She’s dating two guys because she can’t decide on one. Also, one week she’s dedicated to ballet, the next one she takes it easy and repeat x 10. Basically, Hannah has a lot of growing to do, which she wasn’t able to do while focusing solely on ballet and now she’s considering what other options are out there that would be more appropriate for the person she wishes to become.

Yes, it’s frustrating at times. Emotional turmoil can be exhausting. And yet, and yet, I finished this one in two sittings. As eye-roll-worthy as it could get, I found it pretty interesting. I recently read a book about a ballet dancer who got injured – The Other Side of Perfect – and really liked it, so I was excited to know more about the world of a ballet dancer, especially a professional one. While part of me wishes Hannah Ward had made different decisions, I understood where she was coming from and I appreciated her openness about her feelings and thoughts with the reader. By the end of this book, I really felt like I knew her, whereas some characters remain strangers until the very end. So, yes, there are elements that should have been worked better – and certainly Hannah could have been less judgmental of others and of herself – but like most coming-of-age stories, there is real development happening and I appreciated being witness to Hannah’s.

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

Not Our Summer – Casie Bazay

I started this book after coming out of a book slump that went on for a long time, and yet I only finished it a couple of minutes ago. It took me about three weeks to read because it’s the type of book that has an adequate amount of good things—things that I like in my reads—but never enough to really keep my attention for a long time or to make me want to pick it up again after I put it down. For example, it has nice writing, family relationships, some mystery, adventure, deep talks, energy, realistic characters and scenes… but none of these elements really stand out.

In other words, it’s a debut novel through and through. I don’t like to say this, because some debut novels are actually pretty spectacular, but there is a lot that this author can improve and I’m sure she has the ability to. I would say that one of the things that kept me from being too intrigued was how planned the story seemed to be. From the beginning, we know which activities the two cousins will be doing. Why not keep those a secret until they have to happen? There is one revelation that I did not see coming, but overall it is not a story that keeps you on your feet.

That does not mean that it doesn’t have value. As mentioned in the first paragraph, it contains various elements that can give meaning to a story or make it enjoyable to read. I do admit that there is quite a lot of teen angst, which makes it hard sometimes to emotionally connect with the heroines, since they are often driven by their own anger, ego, annoyances and hormones to be in touch with their more humane and vulnerable thoughts, emotions and welcome the input of others around them. With that being said, I was touched by their grandfather’s letters to them and their slowly growing connection. We have here an enemy-to-friends type of dynamic, so if you enjoy those this could work for you. On the other hand, if you have no patience for lots of teen angst, you might want to skip it. My last point is that the author managed to wrote a beautiful ending. Everything comes together rather nicely. Well done!

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