Book Events

HCC Frenzy Presents Spring Preview 2019

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend HCC Frenzy’s Spring Preview at HarperCollins in Toronto. Bloggers, booktubers and bookstagrammers were welcomed to HarperCollins to get a sneak peak of their spring line up of books. Being invited to an event like this felt like a dream. In fact, it took me a while to believe this was actually happening. It was only on the day of the event as I made my way through downtown Toronto on an exceptionally windy day that I realized my dream of seeing the inside of a publishing company was about to come true. If you think I’m being dramatic now just you wait!

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HCC Frenzy Presents Spring Preview:

Let me start off by saying that it is a beautiful thing seeing a whole bunch of bookworms in a room together. The energy was infectious. You could find all the attendees with their phones out, adding each other on bookstagram and chatting about their excitement. I was very nervous about going to this event alone but I was overwhelmed by how kind and approachable everyone was from the moment I stepped into the building. It occurred to me how easy it is to connect with people when you share the same passion. I met so many wonderful people and had such fun conversations. The mingling and games were by far my favorite part of this event.

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It has been a dream of mine to step foot inside a place like this just to see where all the magic happens. What did it feel like? Well, it felt like magic of course! (Told you I would be getting more dramatic). The environment felt so calm and welcoming. The stack of books at the entrance me squeal as it displayed some of my favorite books.

HCC Frenzy Spring Lineup:

The Spring Preview was everything. And by everything I mean I wanted all of the books presented pronto/stat. We were given a short presentation on each book and you could feel the collective excitement within the room. Our TBR lists just got bigger! We were each given three ARCS in our swag bags and I was lucky enough to snag these three books:

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“The Wise and Wicked” by Rebecca Podos:
This is a Russian inspired fantasy about a family in which the women possess the magical ability to see when they will die. But what happens when one of these women passes away and the death does not match the predicted time? Does this mean the rest of the women can fight against the death date allotted to them? I mean Russian inspired magical realism with a bit of a mystery? Sign me up!

“With the Fire on High” by Elizabeth Acevedo
This is a novel about a Latina girl facing personal struggles all the while dreaming of her passion, which can be found in the kitchen. As a foodie, I appreciate this storyline already. This author is known for her highly successful book “Poet X”. Fun fact: when people gasp when they find out you haven’t read a certain book, that is a pretty good indicator that you need to get on it. I’m definitely going to read Poet X but this ARC is my priority. Until then, gasp away!

“Nocturna” by Maya Moraine
This story revolves around a face shifter and a Prince coming together to vanquish an ancient power that they unleashed into the world. Let’s be real for a second. You had me at face shifter. Maybe it’s all the Game of Thrones I watch (huge Arya Stark Fan) but I have not read another storyline quite like this one. I’m really intrigued and excited to read all the face shifting action.

Besides the three books I got, every other book presented sounded incredible. Don’t believe me? Have a look for yourself:

See? Told you they look amazing! It astonishes me how much the young adult genre has grown and how many of these books push boundaries and tackle important issues. These beauties will be released in the spring but you can preorder them and find out more about these books at HarperCollins Canada.

Each of us also got a sampler of Gena Showalter’s upcoming book “The Evil Queen”, which is a story told from the perspective of the Evil Queen from Snow White. I read the sampler on my flight home and I’m extremely interested in reading the rest. This may be the most unique retelling I’ve read based on the first two chapters in this sampler.

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The Swag Bag:

Apart from all the excitement from the presentation, we were also spoiled with a swag bag that included the ARCS but also some additional items. I took my swag bag to a corner Starbucks to check out all the other contents. I was quite excited and the fellow coffee drinkers around me felt and saw the excitement. Spotted: a small Montrealer losing her mind in a Toronto Starbucks while unloading contents from a super cool tote bag. I took a proper picture when I got back to my hotel and here it is:

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Angie Thomas Book Signing:

While I did not want to leave HarperCollins because I absolutely loved the vibe, it was time to see Angie Thomas at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Yes folks, I met the Queen. We took a walk together to the AGO (check me out with my Torontonian lingo) and talked all things books until we arrived. Angie is such an eloquent speaker and so effortlessly conveys the global issues regarding black lives. It was a true honor to hear her speak. I’ll just gloss over the fact that I babbled utter gibberish as she signed my book. I was that start stuck.

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Final Thoughts About Frenzy Presents:

I cannot adequately convey how much I enjoyed this event and how much the whole experience meant to me. Along with living my bookish dream, I met so many kind and talented book influencers and staff working at HarperCollins. The entire day exceeded my expectations. I’m beyond grateful for this experience and extremely eager to start reading these beautiful Arcs. Thank you to HCC Frenzy and HarperCollins for including me in this fun filled day. 

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Until next time bookworms!

Shazia.

Bookish Thoughts

Khanlibrary’s Favorite Books

“Hey Shazia, you’re a big reader…Do you have any book recommendations for me?”

I get asked this question a lot and I love it when I do! I usually burst out into a big dorky grin, clasp my hands together and start listing books by genre. I often wish I had an office where I could ask the person to have a seat, pour them some tea and unveil a portfolio of all my favorite books. Sadly, there is no office but I do have a mental portfolio of the recent books that I enjoyed as well as my all-time favorites.

So I would like to invite you into my imaginary office that has a gigantic bookshelf from floor to ceiling and a hot pot of tea with biscuits ready to serve. Please have a seat on the bean bag chair (because comfort is of utmost importance at the office) and let us have a look through the portfolio of my favorite books.

*Side note: my “portfolio” would really be a colourful and highly organized PowerPoint presentation complete with graphs and hilarious memes. But since this is a blog post I will tone it down a notch and just break it down numerically. Enjoy!

1) Favorite fictional book that made me cry:

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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(picture from @khanlibrary)

Alright, let’s just start off by saying nobody makes me cry like Mr. Hosseini. I really hope I get to meet him one day and express how much I love his books. The way he weaves a story together and shows the growth of the characters is truly inspiring. Why do I love this this book so much? It is beautifully written and it makes you feel every emotion. It educates you and opens your mind. It makes you root for the characters, celebrate their victories and cry for their sorrows. While A Thousand Splendid Suns is my favorite book, I also highly recommend any of Khaled Hosseini’s books. Especially “Sea Prayeras the proceeds will benefit UN Refugee Agency and the author’s foundation 

2) Favorite Memoir that read like a novel:

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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This was perhaps one of the best-written and insightful memoirs I have ever read. Jeanette takes us along on her journey through her childhood with her eccentric family and all the hardships they faced as they lived their life like nomads. At times this book felt like a novel. All the characters came to life and I was easily able to envision each scene in my head. It was deeply personal and I loved every bit of it.

 

3) Favorite classic that makes me swoon:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Need I say more? Jane Austen’s classic is well known, as there are many TV specials and retellings of the story out there. The original classic will always be my favorite. I love Mr. Darcy’s awkward ways and Elizabeth’s feisty personality. I loved the entire nutty Bennet family. I have lost count on how many times I’ve read this classic. One thing is for sure; I never get tired of rereading it!

4) Favorite kids series I discovered in my adulthood:

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rich Riordon

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I discovered this series in my mid twenties and I read them faster than Zeus’ lightning bolt. What an incredible adventure for both youngsters and adults alike. I enjoyed every single book in this series. I’m a huge fan of Greek mythology so these books were right up my alley. However, I don’t think you need much knowledge about Greek mythology to enjoy this series. 

5) Favorite young adult fantasy that made me want befriend the characters:

Clockwork Angel: The Infernal Devices Trilogy by Cassandra Clare

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Let me start off by saying I HATE love triangles. I always question how characters have got the time for such nonsense. However, here is a series that handles a love triangle perfectly. I loved Tessa, Will and Jem. To this day, I cannot pick which character I love more. The ending was pure perfection! I’m not a fan of the other Shadowhunter books, but this trilogy has my heart.

6) Favorite inspirational book that made me reflect on life:

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

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This is the kind of book that teaches you a different lesson every time you read it. I have read this book at three different points in my life and each time I uncovered a new message or thought. The writing is poetic and filled with metaphors and big lessons. There is a quote from the novel that has stuck with me from the very first moment I read it: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” It is not only the most memorable quote from the book but my favorite quote in general.

7) Favorite book from my nerdy childhood:

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

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My mom often tells me about my reaction once I finished reading Anne of Green Gables. One of the things I supposedly said at the age of eight years old was that I wished I had a sister like Anne Shirley. I really believe that the first few books you read as a kid really shapes you into the reader you turn out to be. I thank my mom for introducing me to L.M. Montgomery as a kid.

(Special shout out to the Harry Potter series but that was a given. I wanted to include something apart from the obvious).

 

8) Favorite Historical Fiction that held my attention for hours:

The Other Boleyn girl by Philippa Gregory

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Does Henry VIII fascinate anyone else or is it just me? To say this guy had problems is an understatement. He definitely had 99 problems and a Boleyn girl was one of them. I knew a bit about the Boleyn drama before reading the book, but whatever I knew was mainly about Anne Boleyn. I liked that this book focused on her sister and we see things through her perspective.

9) Favorite Self Help book that left me feeling inspired:

Good Vibes, Good Life by Vex King

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I really do feel that some books find you when you need them the most. This was one of those books for me. The author delivers simple, honest advice that seems to hit the mark perfectly. I found myself nodding along with the author’s advice and every so often wanting to shout out “yes! Preach!” but seeing as how I was in public transport at the time I stopped myself.

10) Favorite Middle School book that made me fall in love with reading all over again:

Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease

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I loathed being assigned books to read in elementary school. I always wanted to be in control of what I read. However, in Grade 6 everything changed when our teacher made us read “Cue for Treason”. This book was so good that almost every single kid in my class enjoyed reading it. I remember actually having fun while writing my book report because I had so many thoughts and emotions after finishing it. I lost my copy years ago but I was so happy to have found one just a couple of months back at Chapters. It feels like I got a piece of my childhood back.

There you have it folks. While I do have many more amazing books in my portfolio, these are the ones that hold a special place in my heart.

Fun Fact: I strongly considered adding Game of Thrones in the mix but I’m quite angry at the author right now so he was removed from the list until he decides to finish the books ….seriously George, are you waiting for a white walker apocalypse or what? 

Happy Reading,

Shazia.

Book Review

Tell it to the Trees by Anita Rau Badami

*Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 I have to applaud authors who are able to make their stories feel sinister from the very first page. To the point where you are almost holding your breath expecting something bad to happen. You feel the darkness trying to creep its way to the surface and so you keep reading and waiting for the story to go full dark force on you. I waited, I read and unfortunately this book fell flat for me in the end. Did it go full dark force on me? It sure did. This book is dark, but the wrap up of the story did nothing for me.

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Synopsis

“Truth was a shifting, shy thing, like sunlight changing from moment to moment, unknowable even if you spent your life in the heart of it.” – Anita Rau Badami.

Anu is a forty-something woman looking for a secluded retreat to write her book. She comes across the Dharma family’s “back-house” in the quiet town of Merrit’s Point and decides it will be the perfect place to spend some alone time writing. She gets to know the Dharma family and soon realizes there is something sinister happening in their household.

The Dharma family consists of the Vikram, the head of the household who was once married to a wild and free woman named Helen, who tragically died in a car crash leaving behind a daughter, Varsha. Vikram remarried by arranging a marriage for himself in India. He brings Suman from the warmth of India, to his cold and quiet town. It is not long before Suman has a child of her own and becomes trapped in her new life with her possessive stepdaughter, needy son and violent husband.

With the arrival of Anu as a tenant, Suman finds a friend and confidant. While Vikram is at work and the kids are at school, Anu visits Suman and Vikram’s mother, Akka, as they share stories over tea. With time, Anu starts realizing that there is not only something wrong with Vikram, but with his daughter Varsha as well. Varsha will stop at nothing to keep her family together and protect all of their secrets. When tragedy strikes and questions are asked, secrets start exposing themselves and threatening to break apart a family that was already hanging by a thread.

Characters:

I think the author did a fantastic job painting a picture of what domestic abuse does to children. In my opinion, the only strong, well developed characters in this book are the children.

Varsha is a thirteen-year-old girl with so much darkness in her. She was raised in a violent environment. She observed violence and experienced it herself. Seeing excuses made for her father’s abusive ways somehow embeds the idea in her head that sometimes extreme measures need to be taken to keep a family together. Something you see her do time and time again in the book. I’ll be honest, this girl creeped me out! I kept thinking something is not right with this girl, and I kept reading just to figure her out. She somehow reminded me of those crazy villains in slasher movies who are hiding in closets with a huge knife. Don’t worry she doesn’t do this….or does she? (evil laugh). No, she doesn’t but she gives off that kind of vibe.

Hemant is seven-years-old and your heart will break for him. He grasps onto any form of love given to him and is constantly battling with the secret thoughts he has about how his father and sister are bad people. While at times I felt like I was reading a perspective of a much older person rather than a seven-year-old, I still think that his character came a long way in terms of growth.

My heart did hurt for Suman as I read about what her life was once like and how it is reduced to daily violence. The author does a good job in showing how Suman feels suffocated in a loveless marriage and in an isolated cold town. She misses her culture, her family and the happiness she felt when she was free to live as she wished. The problem with this character is that I saw no growth. I was rooting for her every step of the way but I felt like her storyline did not progress much. Even with the arrival of Anu and their growing friendship, I felt like there really seemed to be no point to her perspective in the story as nothing was happening. While Anu was an interesting addition, I did not feel like I knew her well towards the end of the story. I felt no connection to her despite the fact that she plays a central role in the story.

Akka, the kid’s grandmother, was a very interesting character and had the potential to be so much more. Here is a woman that told stories without sugarcoating them for the youngsters. She spoke openly and freely. The scenes with her in them gave the story some life and I really believe that if she was given more depth and space she would have taken the story further. I felt like her storyline was just left hanging and I was sitting there asking “But where did Akka go? Can Akka come back?”. I’ll admit I mainly wanted her back because she seemed to have her own chilling secret. I guess the author left it open to interpretation for the readers.

Overall thoughts:

While this book did keep me engaged for the most part, I was disappointed in how everything was wrapped up in the end. The story was very bleak and I would have hoped to see some flicker of hope for the characters, but I did not. I felt like after everything I had been through with these characters, we were all left hanging. I finished the book feeling mainly annoyed by the potential the story had to be so much more.

The mystery presented in the very first chapter also added an element of suspense but after a while there was no more urgency for that particular part of the story. Despite all this, I do think the book had some very important take away messages about how a home environment can really shape children’s personalities in ways we could never imagine. Give this book a try if you like books that explore culture and family secrets with a light mystery. 

Happy reading!

Shazia.

p.s. I’m still haunted by that girl in this book. There is a reason why I avoid horror movies with children in them (or all horror movies, period). 

Book Review

Help Me by Marianne Power

*Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

It is truly a great feeling when a book surprises you in the best of ways. “Help Me” by Marianne Power is one of those books for me. This is a true story of one woman’s quest to build the life she desperately wants through self-help books. This book will make you laugh but it will also make you reflect on the big questions asked by the author. It is equally hysterical and thought provoking. In short, it was one hell of a ride that made me laugh out loud in public (I suspect onlookers were confused as to how I was laughing so much while reading a book titled “Help Me”)

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Synopsis:

“There comes a point in every woman’s life when she realizes that things cannot carry on the way they are” – Marianne Power.

On the surface, Marianne’s life seems great. She’s a thirty-six year old freelance journalist living in London. She has supportive group of family and friends. She wears designer clothes and travels often. However, deep down Marianne feels unfulfilled, lost and behind in life. As Marianne is nursing a bad hangover one Sunday morning, she comes to a realization that things need to change. She decides to turn to the world of self-help books to help her become a perfect person, with the perfect weight, living in a perfect home with a perfect life partner. The problem with this plan: there is no such thing as perfect.

Marianne embarks on a twelve-month journey in which she will read one self-help book per month. She decides that she will not only read self-help, she will DO self-help. She will follow the advice given in these books, no matter how scary it is. What follows is a year filled with uncomfortable challenges, facing fears and questioning damaging subconscious thoughts.

Does Self-Help Really Help?

“The dangerous expectation that can be created by self-help books is that if you’re not walking around like a cross between Mary Poppins, Buddha and Jesus every day you’re doing it wrong. You must try harder.” – Marianne Power

Marianne starts her self-help journey with the book “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” by Susan Jeffers. This book inspires her to do things that she is afraid of, and so she writes up a list of scary things she would never imagine doing. She finds herself becoming a nude model for an art class, chatting up a random man on public transport, doing stand up comedy, and skydiving. I loved reading this chapter specifically because you could really feel her fear through her writing. I know there were times when I was cringing and feeling proud of her at the same time.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book was the chapter on rejection therapy, a game created by Jason Comely in which the goal is to seek out rejection in order to overcome the fear of rejection. It was an absolute riot reading the scenes where Marianne asked for free coffee, a discount in store and asked to join strangers at cafes. Her inner dialogue is gold! This chapter was not only funny, but eye opening as well. It turns out that even when Marianne was searching for rejection, she would not always get it. People would surprise her with their kindness and openness, leaving Marianne to realize that she had gone out of her way to avoid rejection her whole life and barely lived as a result.

The Downside to Self-Help:

As her journey progresses, Marianne explores more self-help books like “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey and attended a Tony Robbins seminar called “Unleash the Power Within”. What starts as an inspirational journey becomes overwhelming and Marianne soon becomes burnt out from all the self-helping. She finds herself alone with all the voices of the authors in her head leaving her feeling even more emotionally exhausted. I really think this portion of the book is important as it shows what happens when you go too far with these books. A self-help plan can be equal parts self-growth and alienating if not done right.

As Marianne realizes her friends and family are starting to worry and pulling away, she presses pause and reexamines her commitment to reading self-help. Perhaps this is the most important part of her self-growth as she looks into her own behavior and realizes she does not have do all this on her own. That asking for help from actual people and reconnecting with the people she loves can be just as empowering. It is with this realization that she takes a giant leap forward and continues with reading what turn out to be the three books that leave the biggest impact: “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown and “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay. I believe the reason why these books made the greatest impact was because she realized a journey towards self-development does not have to be taken alone.

My Thoughts:

This book was unlike any other nonfiction book I have read before. It is deeply personal, vulnerable and hilarious. At times, it felt like I was reading a novel, mainly because of the hilarious dialogue between Marianne and her mother. The mother’s advice, skepticism and genuine concern were both hysterical and endearing.

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I found myself laughing, gasping, feeling sad and rooting for the author every step of the way. The chapters are broken down according to the self-help book the author was reading. Marianne manages to capture the biggest lessons from every book she reads. If you enjoy nonfiction books that are funny and inspiring, then this book is for you. In fact, I think this book can be for anyone. You do not have to like or even appreciate self-help books to enjoy this deeply personal story.

Happy reading!

Shazia.