‘Frostblood’ by Elly Blake did not get deeper the second time around

Here we go again.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, or you remember me from Goodreads as ‘‘Lola’’ perhaps, you know I love YA Fantasy and you know (maybe, if you’re a die-hard fan) that I have read this book before, its advance reader’s copy to be more precise.

Like about 3.5 billion people in this world, I am in awe of Frozen and its world of magic and let it go-ness. So of course I had to give this a try. I decided to give it a second try because sometimes I simply do not want to admit defeat.

There are books and series out there that I feel myself feeling indifferent about and it leaves me gobsmacked, whereas there are books I am reluctant to try and assume I’ll detest them on first sight that actually end up leaving me breathless.

Why is the world of literature so cruel? Anyways, so in my refusal to admit defeat, I picked this one up again… and history repeated itself. The good thing is that now I know better why this author and series do not work for me and, should I insist on creating a bond between us, I can more easily adjust my expectations for the third round.

Yes, there will be a third round sometime, somewhere, some day. So what’s the problem with Frostblood, besides its dramatic title that means little? Well, pretty much the fact that it’s overly dramatic and has little emotional depth. If you’re a shallow reader who gravitates towards shallow works (no judgement here), please do jump right into the frosty shallow waters of this one. If, like me, you need a deeper connection, you will be quite astounded to realize that even though you’ve finished reading it in something like 5 hours, you remember quite little of its content.

It’s like having a conversation with someone who doesn’t know how to navigate deep waters. You certainly remember that you talked about the weather, how they were doing, whether they slept well last night and how early they joke up to drink their orange juice. You know this – or rather, assume this – because it has happened many times before. But you, somehow, can’t remember if the weather was stormy or not, at what time and why they actually went to bed and what brand of orange juice reached their lips.

Bottom line: you can’t attribute or force depth into anyone or anything, if it’s not there for you to harness its potential or recognize, try as you might. So why, pray tell, do you insist on liking this one, Monica?

Because Frozen.

Because Frozen.

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.

‘Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest’ is simply epic

When I think ‘‘fantasy,’’ I think a world on the brink of darkness, serious characters in dire situations, creatures that spring out of nowhere and delight in making the heroes squirm, as well as a great deal of jumping over metaphorical bridges made of illusionary pink sparkly foam that leads toward promised fatal glory. And you know what, I think A. Lee Martinez and I think similarly because he managed to deliver on my most intense ‘‘fantasy’’ fantasies.

Most people think ‘‘just add water’’ but A. Lee Martinez thinks ‘‘just add humor.’’ A God eating a human? That’s fine, just make sure that the God is in the shape of a burger. A female underdog-type love interest to a God-in-the-making? That’s stellar, just make sure the love interest is a rare creature who radiates wit and insecurities that catapult her into turning her side-kick status into a front-kick one. A. Lee Martinez will gladly make your humorous fantasies come true as well as add some unexpected ones of his own.

Helen and Troy don’t have much time. They are on a quest, which sounds all fun and exciting, but if they don’t accomplish it, they die. They might also die while accomplishing it. They might also die just for the hell of it, because the Gods were bored or something. Or because they’re being followed by killer orcs. Regardless, they are on a road trip—pardon, road quest, as per the title—and stumble upon a ton of helpful-malevolent beings that simultaneously want to exterminate them and cheer them on. If you sense that there is a lot of contradiction in this story, don’t let it discourage you. Or let it, if your mind is so weak.

I’m just saying, how often do you get the chance to witness a written scene involving a gladiator-type fight between a respected, professional Cyclops and a Minotaur girl, afraid of her own power? Thank you, A. Lee Martinez, for the honour.

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.

Beyond the Ruby Veil – Mara Fitzgerald

I love unlikeable female characters. The truth is that, most of the time, they are only unlikeable because they are women, and if a man displayed the same cunningness he would be worshipped, not ostracized. Unfortunately, Emanuela is not all that cunning and bad. She is not the type of heroine you love to hate, because she is actually pretty likeable and human at different moments of the story.

I think that one thing a character needs to be unlikeable or simply villainous, is to be single-minded. To have this one specific goal and try to achieve it in any way possible, regardless of the consequences their actions produce and regardless of who gets in their way. In Emanuela’s case, she cannot become that single-minded character who does as she pleases, to whomever she pleases, to achieve her goals because she cares. She cares about her childhood friend and almost-husband Alessandro and she cares very much about her city and people.

The moment you start caring for something or someone other than yourself, you kind of become human. And Emanuela is pretty human, despite her, at times, careless behaviour. As I read about her, I kept thinking of the main character from Winning by Lara Deloza, because that is one story about a character who has one very specific goal – get the crown! – and is not afraid to be hated and to screw people over to get what she wants, even the ones closest to her.

But that’s okay. It’s okay for a character to not be who you expected them to be. I did not get this book only so that I can enjoy Emanuela’s promised badassery. As always when I pick up a fantasy, I am curious about the world. Unfortunately, again, here the world-building is quite confusing and under-developed. You have these ‘‘veils’’ and these ‘‘watercreas’’ who turn people’s blood into water (euh, seriously) and it’s just so basic, and odd, and 2002.

The good thing about this book – yes, there is one good thing! – is that because it is under-developed and not very complex and doesn’t take itself too seriously, it can be read fast and without investing too much energy into it. Also, when you put it aside, you don’t think about it much so it takes little mental space. Basically, it’s unmemorable. If that’s something you’re looking for right now, because you have trouble concentrating anyways, maybe you’ll enjoy your experience with Emanuela’s journey. Sadly, I was looking for more. I know, how dare I?

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

Motherest – Kristen Iskandrian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Miss Little Compton – Arden Myrin

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

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

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

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

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.