The Truth About White Lies – Olivia A. Cole

The truth is that there’s not much to say about this book, just like its synopsis did not have much to say about its content, nothing concrete at least, just information meant to tease you without actually telling you anything solid about what the story is going to be about.

Reminds me of Gossip Girl. Every character is a stereotype—there’s the happy-go-lucky gorgeous girl, the rich bitch, the innocent girl, the playboy, the nerd, etc. But the ways in which these characters interact with one another make them pretty exciting and addictive to read about (and watch). The drama that their dynamics create propels you to turn page after page. And you know, on a conscious level, that everything is simply ridiculous, so you’re able to enjoy it as a guilty pleasure.

But this is no Gossip Girl. I wasn’t able to enjoy this story on that guilty pleasure level that was the only level it could be enjoyed on for me. It’s not particularly well-written or smart, so that intellectual pleasure never arises. The characters are not particularly likeable or easy to connect with, so that emotional dimension is usually pretty flat. There is a very fast death in the story, of a character quite important to our main one, and yet all I could think was, ‘‘oh well.’’

I’ll be frank, this story really does not have much going for itself. Already if I don’t particularly care for your characters, chances are I will lose interest in your book very quickly—and I did. But since the story also had a blurry storyline that had me go like, ‘‘well, where is this all going?’’, I didn’t particularly feel tempted to devour it too deeply.

So, yes, you guessed it. This is a DNF—did not finish. On to the next one!

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

Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be – Nichole Perkins

I didn’t use to care much for memoirs or autobiographies. I knew they contained people’s experiences, and I delved into them once in a while, especially the more prominent titles, but inside I was craving fantasy. Fiction. Guilty pleasures. Anything to distract me from—real life. I didn’t want to think more about my own present and future, which is the effect memoirs tend to have on me.

But about two years ago, when COVID first hit, and I was homebound—the library I worked at closed, my university closed and publishing houses’ offices closed so they stopped sending me books to review—well, when that happened, I started to reflect quite a bit on my life. Am I doing what I want to be doing? Am I living how I want to be living? And that’s when I started to develop a thirst for people’s stories, especially women’s stories.

Women’s stories help guide me in my life. I also was very lonely, even with some family around, so reading these books helped alleviate that loneliness, because a good memoir writer will open up to us, will share their lives with us and will give us access to some of their rawest and most intimate thoughts. I have started gaining quite a bit of respect for memoirists, a lot of whom started to feel like friends after reading their books.

I wanted to share this preamble to introduce Nichole Perkins because she has reminded me why I read memoirs in the first place. Nichole’s audacity, fierceness and self-reflection spoke to me. She isn’t afraid to discuss topics that women have been thought to keep quiet about or let the man speak about them, namely sex, power, fantasies and more. She also talks about topics deemed more traditionally feminine, like love, relationships and gender. And she certainly isn’t keeping quiet about the abuse she and her family have experienced.

But as intense as those topics are, and as intense as the atmosphere of this memoir can get, Nichole Perkins knows how to balance things out, by throwing a funny story here and there and by writing on pop culture of the early 2000s and before. She’s the reason why I even got the first four seasons of Cheers, after reading her praise for the show, and particularly for its spin-off, Frasier, both of which I intend to watch diligently and commit to memory.

I don’t think there’s anything Nichole wouldn’t talk about today, especially in the context of raising awareness on different issues or teaching women to take less bullshit from men, less responsibility for their actions, less disrespect, less objectification and much, much less guilt. While I was reading about the men that sexually or emotionally assaulted Nichole, betrayed, stalked or otherwise pushed her boundaries, I inevitably thought back to my own experiences with men and how I really did not have to take as much as I did.  There is such great power in being able to walk away, say no and stick by our own values and boundaries. Reading this memoir simultaneously made me feel proud of Nichole’s awareness regarding her power as a woman, and made me want to dig deeper into my own.

Certainly, the fact that I just got the job I was hoping for and working towards for the past year does help in making me feel like I have great strength and determination in me, as well as belief in myself, much more than I usually feel. You know what they see, surround yourself with the kinds of people you want to be. Well I’d go even as far as to say that we as readers should surround ourselves as much as possible with the kinds of characters whose qualities we want to embody. So go ahead, surround yourself with Nichole Perkins as much as you can, because she will help you dip into that strong, confident woman you may sometimes forget you are.

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

The Book of Gothel – Mary McMyne

I usually adore fairytale retellings. I think that there is so much that can be done in that department, a pool of endless creativity, if the author dares enough. And I definitely think Mary McMyne was quite bold to dare tell the story of one very villainous, greedy, selfish woman—Gothel, who kidnaps Rapunzel and keeps her isolates from life – true love, true family, true joy, true magic. The older I grew, the less I bought these one-dimensional characters; the less prone I was to believe that people could really be just one thing, without any redeemable qualities. It’s very, very rare I meet someone who is purely evil, so I was quite excited to see what Mary McMyne had in store regarding Mother Gothel’s past and how she came to become Rapunzel’s kidnapper.

I would say I connected to Haelewise (Mother Gothel) pretty fast. It could be that I was able to quickly relate to someone whose mother was so strong but whose father barely paid attention to her, and when he did, it was usually to demean, dismiss, insult, or otherwise attack Haelewise’s heart and spirit, when all she wanted was to be loved, valued and appreciated. She thought maybe she would find that comfort in her best friend, whom she was in love with and who felt the same way about her, but he couldn’t provide that comfort for very long or in a consistent manner. Haelewise’s story is a sad one, because she is different from other girls her age, not just because of her mother’s tragic death and unique skills, but because of her own rather peculiar abilities that others don’t understand and are afraid of. It’s also a sad tale because there are quite a few people who don’t want her to succeed, to grow into her powers, to be the strong and confident woman that the readers knows she is destined to become.

Though as much as I felt connected to Haelewise, I am not a fan of historical fiction, and there was more of that than magic in this book. There are certainly fantasy elements and some magical scenes, but they are drowned in the large amount of descriptions which are never my favourite parts. For me, the more straight-forward, the better. Or if you’re going to say a lot, at least say something meaningful that adds to the scene rather than something simply to fill up pages, which is how it felt sometimes or how it tends to feel with historical fiction for me most times. As much as I appreciated Haelewise’s openness and having such easy access to her thoughts, at times I felt as though she could have kept some thoughts to herself or focused on the “bigger picture’’ than daydreams, worries or little details.

This book will be worth it to you if, unlike me, you do enjoy historical fiction quite a bit, and you enjoy stories whose strongest element is by far the main character.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review! On sale July 26th!

Nura and the Immortal Palace – M.T. Khan

This is a middle grade tale that is as smart as it is entertaining. It combines magic and the more grounded theme of education in a way that encourages us to take some of the content quite seriously and ponder its meaning, while also allowing us to be enchanted by the elements that belong more to the fantasy world than our everyday one.

Nura is a determined young lady. While most kids at the mine are mining without really thinking they could ever find the great treasure desired by their master, the ‘‘mica,’’ Nura fully believes that she is capable of such a big endeavour. Unfortunately, her ambition caused quite an accident at the mine, and a few of the kids have gone missing. Though her ambition initially led her to cause damage, this time she is hoping it will help her find the missing kids—and her best friend.

Nura’s journey leads her to enter a treacherous world full of jinn, who do not have her best interest at heart. She quickly stumbles too deep into the world, so deep she might never get out of it again. But Nura has a fire in her that just won’t quit. It was really good to be acquainted with someone so goal-oriented and who tries to use her powerful energy for good actions. I feel like there are two types of fire—the one lit from anger (destructive) and the one lit from a desire to see change come about (productive). Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two or they intertwine, but though Nura makes some mistakes along the way, she learns to direct her energy towards the right things and the right people. It can be hard for her to know who to trust, especially after being betrayed badly, but sometimes you have to have faith.

I really enjoyed my experience reading this book. It is fast-paced, with quite a bit of action, as well as full of memorable characters whose personalities I could get a sense of. My only complaint is regarding the solution that Nura finds to her problem, which felt quite predictable. Otherwise, this is quite a smart tale with impactful scenes that I quite recommend!

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review! On sale July 5th.

Nothing Personal – Nancy Jo Sales

It’s been over a month since my last online date. Nothing bad happened per se, certainly nothing close to what Nancy Jo Sales is describing in this book. I wasn’t pressured or forced into doing anything. I wasn’t manhandled or mansplained to the whole time. I wasn’t even ghosted after. And though it was a slight case of he-didn’t-quite-look-like-his-pictures, I had grown used to that by then. But like Nancy explains, these apps don’t really exist for us to find love—our long term partners, even if 80% of Tinder users claim that that’s what they ultimately want. These apps are designed to be used. They’re designed to be addictive, and they are.

That’s why I needed this book. Though I had never enjoyed the process of meeting a stranger I had been talking to – however decent-looking this person could seem – I just couldn’t stop matching and texting until finally it came time to meet and I’d either push through my discomfort or anxiety in the process or… cancel. These apps really are addictive. And no one was asking me out in person, so it felt hard – almost counterintuitive – to delete my account, since I was looking for love and there were no in person prospects.

This book had the kind of effect on me that I was hoping for, meaning that it helped me stay away from those apps. And like the author says, of course there are exceptions. Not every guy is a sexist player and liar and toxic and problematic – duhhhh – but those are the kinds of men that these apps either appeal to the most or help create. On the other hand, if you are a genuinely good catch, then there is an overwhelming amount of girls or guys who throw themselves at you, and it all feels so mechanical, so dissatisfying, so devoid of magic.

As revealing and valuable as this book is, it is also quite depressing. It’s depressing to read about a culture that focuses on short-term and self-satisfying interactions, rather than long-term, mutually-satisfying and above all meaningful interactions. A hook-up culture that confuses (‘‘so what are we really?’’) and makes it hard for people to really connect. I think the saddest part of all – and certainly something I experienced myself – was the ‘‘who could care less’’ game that the author mentioned, in which neither people involved want to be the one to care the most and so, in the end, no one really does and things fizzle out pretty quickly. From a woman’s point of view, caring about my matches – the ones I talked to the most – was quite instinctual or natural for me, but oftentimes, if I let show that I cared, they would either be freaked out or let me do the whole work of trying to connect. Rarely did it feel equal. Rarely did they reciprocate.

But as sad as this book can get, it cannot and should not be ignored. And as often as it made me feel like maybe romance and love are both dead and I would be better off without men in my life, it has thought me a lot about access control (who I should let get close to me and know me), not feeling so responsible for men’s emotions and reactions and knowing what I want and how I want to be treated and stating both of those things instead of letting the other person decide what they want with me and how they want to treat me.

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

Troublemaker – John Cho

This little troublemaker who goes by the name of Jordan is the reason why, at the age of 24, I still read Middle Grade Fiction, and can enjoy every second of my experience.

I used to fear growing up as a bookworm, because when I was a preteen, I loved reading ‘‘up’’ about sixteen and seventeen-year-old characters who woke up one morning to discover that they’re so much more special than they thought. I would lie if I said I didn’t hope to wake up one morning and feel the same way. But the closer I’d get to outgrow these characters, the more I’d worry that I wouldn’t be able to connect.

But that’s before I realized that there are a multitude of connections possible in this universe – physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, to name a few common ones – so it doesn’t take me being Jordan’s age or growing up in his neighbourhood to feel invested in him and the people he cares about. All it takes is me being open to knowing more about him and trying to see things from his point of view.

Because, see, Jordan really is a troublemaker. He’s cheating in school, being disrespectful to family members, lying, hiding, getting into trouble, not listening to adults, and more—way more. But here’s the thing: Jordan is someone who can think for himself, and stand on his own, or at least be brave enough to try. He also may not always do what he is told, but the truth is that the world needs a few rebels. People who dare to think differently and take risks. I’m not even a little bit recommending readers hide a gun inside their backpacks and run around town, trying to deliver that gun to someone, but intentions count a lot in any type of situation, and it’s not realistic to expect someone to stay put when their heart tells them they have to act.

It was a beautiful and thrilling read that I recommend to all ages!

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

Mirror Girls – Kelly McWilliams

This book was my introduction to the concept of ‘‘white passing,’’ when a person of colour with light skin passes as a white person. And what a beautiful, emotional introduction it was! I felt for these girls, these sisters—and I fell with them as they stumbled on their way to trying to connect with one another after being separated their whole lives.

After reading a story containing magical realism (The Chosen One by Echo Brown) that seemed to take away from the story more than it added, it was quite a different experience to read a tale that was ‘‘one’’ with its fantasy elements, more notably the curse that befell one of the two sisters, Magnolia Heathwood, for passing as white for the longest time without even realizing it and shunning her own race.

I’m not typically a fan of Historical Fiction as a general rule, but in Young Adult Fiction I’ve found myself enjoying them more and more over the years. It can be very hard for me to connect with past events that happened while I wasn’t even born, especially if I don’t know anyone who lived through them, but as long as there are strong feelings shown through these events, I will be able to care quite a bit.

And I certainly did care for Charlie Yates and Magnolia Heathwood, the two twins who were never meant to cross paths again. Never meant to realize how much they actually have in common. Not meant to become each other’s family again.

The one thing they were meant for, though, is to be known by you.  

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 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.