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.

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.

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.

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.