Book Review

The Chai Factor Book Review

Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me a copy of The Chai Factor in exchange for an honest review.

There were three factors that made me pick up and read “The Chai Factor” by Farah Heron:

  • It was advertised as a multicultural rom-com.
  • I’m a chai enthusiast and addict.
  • I never read a rom-com involving a barbershop quartet. I also had no idea what that was and relied on Google to educate me.

While this book did not feel like a romantic comedy to me, it still did focus on many important issues such as Islamophobia, sexism, prejudice and homophobia. If you were to read the excerpt of this book you would not know that the book covers these topics. In fact, I was surprised every time the author introduced us to situations revolving around those themes. I personally enjoyed reading about the bigger themes of this book more than the actual romance.

Synopsis:
Amira Khan is a thirty-year-old grad student in the male dominated field of engineering. She leaves her campus and returns to her family home for some much needed quiet time to work on her final project. But when she arrives home she finds out her grandmother has rented their basement to a barbershop quartet. While Amira is annoyed by their distracting presence, she has a hard time denying her attraction to one of the men in the quartet, Duncan. Amira becomes overwhelmed with her project deadline, her feelings for Duncan and the growing injustice she is witnessing in her world.

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It is interesting reading a book that not only focuses on the prejudice from the outside world, but from within the character’s own world as well. On top of dealing with the ignorance and hate from others, Amira has to confront the prejudice and hate within her community. This is especially the case when she becomes friends with a gay couple and sees the homophobia from her own grandmother. 

The Characters:

Amira has gone through a lot as a brown, Muslim woman. A lifetime of discrimination and feeling like people were making her a Muslim ambassador to educate the ignorant ones can be exhausting. It is enough to build a wall around yourself to protect against all the hate. Amira is a character that is not afraid to educate and put ignorant people in their place. While this may be a quality that I admire and aim to practice myself, I found Amira sometimes found problems when there were none and pounced without thinking things through.

This is especially true with many of her interactions with Duncan. She constantly berated him when he tried to help and was just plain rude to him for a good chunk of the book. I understand having experiences of being discriminated due to the color of your skin and your religion can leave you feeling a bit defensive. Trust me, I sometimes have to tell myself calm down and get more information before laying it on people when I’m included in a discussion about Islam that is going a bit wayward. However, I don’t think it excuses being so rude and treating her love interest so poorly. I understand that she built a wall to protect herself but the rudeness made me wince many times. That is not to say that Duncan is perfect. He walks around with a lot of guilt over how Amira is treated and somehow tries to play victim or make excuses for others.

“She’d grown weary of dealing with the preconceptions people had about her when they saw her or learned her religion.” – Farah Heron.

The times that I did enjoy seeing her anger bubble to the surface was when she told off a bigot, put a sexist co-worker in his place and confronted closed minded people from her own community. These scenes were great and I was cheering her on. I felt that this level of anger was enough for the book and the love/hate relationship between Amria and Duncan may not have been necessary. 

I enjoyed the friendships she forged with the barbershop quartet and how she inadvertently got pulled into their complicated lives. The relationship between Sameer and Travis was endearing and I liked seeing Amira’s softer side while she interacted with them and stood up for them.

Overall review:

I started out with a lot of hope for this book and while I did not lose interest while reading it, I still had a hard time getting past the main character’s antics. It was definitely one of the bigger downsides to a book that would have otherwise been a great read. Nevertheless, this book does focus on important issues that I feel many readers would relate to and learn from. Diverse books are so important and I applaud the author for bringing forward diversity in the cast and opening the door to different people’s struggles. Take a peak in and learn something new. 

Happy reading bookworms,

Shazia.

 

 

Book Events · Book Review

Montreal YA Book Festival 2019

Montreal: The city of festivals. Our city is known for the jazz, comedy and food festivals that take over the city during our lively summers. There seemed to be something special for everyone to enjoy, except for bookworms. In fact, the city was once a lonely place for people who loved books with a passion. This was the case until the Jewish Public Library hosted Montreal’s very first young adult (YA) book festival last year. This event was a game changer as bookworms came from around the city and beyond to celebrate their love of books. We were lucky enough to have the festival back for it’s second successful year on May 26th 2019.

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There is something truly special about being around people who share the same passion for books. Everywhere I turned I saw people of all ages hauling around their books to be signed, taking notes on advice authors were giving and flailing their hands around theatrically as they described their favorite scenes from books (yes, that was me). A conversation was easy to strike up with practically everyone since we were all awake early on a Sunday morning to talk about books and meet authors. However, what is truly wonderful is how behind the stories we read are the authors that were inspired to create these masterpieces from their experiences, something they were able to share with us. The author panels were the highlight of the festival for me and I feel like I walked out of each panel with more knowledge and insight into the world of storytelling.

Teen Tearjerkers Panel

Kagiso Lesego Molope – This Book Betrays My Brother

Shenaaz Nanji – Ghost Boys

Jeff Zentner – Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee

S.K. Ali – Love From A to Z

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Books that make me cry and really feel my emotions so deeply are the ones that stay with me long after I have closed the book and put it away. So I was very interested in understanding the process behind writing stories that evoke that kind of sadness. What I found interesting was how some of the authors on this panel revealed that they had not set out to write tearjerkers, but how in following and listening to their characters, the story took a life of its own. I loved the idea of how treating these characters like actual people, listening to them and letting them come to life on paper is what lead the story in the direction of becoming a tearjerker.

Coming of Age Panel:

Kagiso Lesego Molope – This Book Betrays My Brother

Natalie Blitt – The Truth About Leaving

Sabina Khan – The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali

Jeff Zentner – Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee

S.K. Ali – Love from A to Z

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It is incredible when authors become vulnerable and share their struggles and difficult memories with readers. This is something I truly admire because I know it cannot be easy to revisit painful memories. I felt a pang in my heart as S.K. Ali shared a scary story from her teen years of when she encountered an Islamophobic person in the subway. Sharing this experience from her teen years gave us more insight into the character from her book and how something so terrible could be used as fuel to educate the world on Islamophobia. I also loved hearing Sabina Khan talk about her teen years and the struggles of living with two cultures and Kagiso discussing her school years in a predominantly white school and black neighbourhood. All these different perspectives and experiences made for a very interesting talk.

Path to Publishing Panel:

Kim Turrisi – Carmilla

Monique Polak – I am a Feminist: Claiming the F-Word in Turbulent Times

Jeff Zentner – Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee

Tim Wynne-Jones – The Starlight Claim

Sabina Khan – The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali

JF Dubeau – A God in the Shed

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I think many people tend to reduce teenagers to self-obsessed social media addicts. However, this stereotype can quickly be diminished when you attend a book festival and see all the teenagers sitting eagerly in the “Path to Publishing” panel as they take notes and ask serious questions about the publishing process. It was so wonderful to see the teens jotting down advice from the authors. Jeff Zentner gave a very helpful rundown on the step-to-step process on how to move forward towards publishing. JF Dubeau hit the mark when he discussed the challenges of giving advice about publishing. He described the world of publishing to be a maze, and you make your way through it but when you try to show someone else the way through the maze you will realize the walls have moved (I’m paraphrasing but it was along those lines). I never really thought about it this way but it did make all of us pause and collectively nod our heads.

Why YA? Panel:

Ben Philippe – The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

JF Dubeau – A God in the Shed

Nicki Pau Preto – Crown of Feathers

Laura Sebastian – Ash Princess

Maurene Goo – Somewhere Only We Know

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There is this stereotype that YA books are meant for teen girls and that the content ranges from high school drama to boy problems. In short, teen girls are not taken so seriously and many believe you have to be a teenager to read these books. We can clearly prove this to be untrue by the amount of adults that were present during this panel. These authors discussed this myth and revealed how much YA books have evolved over the years to explore boundary pushing topics as well as dark content. I absolutely loved how the authors discussed their love for YA books and what made them fall into this genre. It’s always fun to backtrack and see how the authors entered into this world of YA and what made them stick around.

Author Signings:

Meeting Ria Voros:

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“The Center of the Universe” by Ria Voros was a book that I devoured in two days. My love for astronomy and family centered stories made this book so memorable that I was beyond excited to meet Ria and ask what inspired her to incorporate the stars and planets so beautifully in this book. It is always fun to meet someone who shares the same interests as you and discussing the cosmos with Ria was one of my favorite parts of this event.

Meeting S.K. Ali:

61467764_365210244137010_2254960402808963072_n“Love from A to Z” was a book that simply took my breath away. I was excited to meet the author to thank her for writing a book that I wish existed when I was a teen who was trying to make sense of the hate in the world. When I was a teen, there were barely any books with Muslim characters. I never opened a book and saw someone with a name similar to mine during my teenage years. It is thanks to authors like S.K. Ali that teenagers nowadays get to see the perspective of a Muslim character. My heart is full from the conversation I had with this incredible author.

Key Note Speech by Tim Wynne – Jones

“It is truly great to be with so many literary dreamers and doers” – Tim Wynne Jones

Hearing Tim Wynne Jones talk about storytelling was a truly beautiful experience. The way he talked about a story that starts out as a dream and becomes a story that is shared with the world was really inspiring. The room was completely still as he talked about the art of storytelling and the dreamers who create them. I think we all left that keynote speech feeling inspired to continue dreaming about the stories we have within us.

Inuit Throat Singing:

One of the truly great things about the Montreal Ya Fest was how there was a panel dedicated to Indigenous voices. While I sadly missed out on this panel, I got a chance to hear Nina Segalowitz put on a performance of Inuit Throat Singing. I had never heard throat singing before and I was amazed that there was a rich history behind it. How amazing is it to be immersed in cultural tunes and learning something new.

Final Thoughts: 

The Montreal YA Festival was everything we could have hoped for and much more. Being able to interact with the authors and hear them speak over a variety of panels was an incredible experience. The games, food and overall vibe of the environment made for a happy place for all bookworms.

I would like to thank the director of the Children’s Department of the Jewish Public Library and the founder of the Montreal YA Festival Talya Pardo for putting together such an incredible event with her dedicated committee. Montreal bookworms are truly grateful for this new community.

Until next year bookworms!

Shazia.

 

Book Review

The One by John Marrs Book Review

Hands up if you have recently sacrificed sleep to finish reading a book! For those of you raising your hands right now, welcome to my sleepless, book hangover club. I have been hearing a lot of buzz about this book called “The One” by John Marrs. I heard it being referred to as a dark thriller and compared to the Netflix series “Black Mirror”. That caught my attention right off the bat. I have been keeping my distance from thrillers these days because I feel like I’m seeing a common pattern amongst them (girl on a train/girl by a window/girl in a cabin/girl always somewhere doing something). I was looking for a unique thriller, and boy did I find the one, literally.

This book was the definition of a thriller. It had nail-biting suspense, twists at the end of almost every chapter, and an exhilarating plot. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was one of the best thrillers I have read in a long time. For that reason, there will not be any spoilers in this review. I really want all of you to read it and experience it the way I did. 

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Synopsis

Imagine if there was a DNA test that could determine who you should spend the rest of your life with? Imagine if you could find out with absolute certainty who is genetically made for you. Match Your DNA is a company that promises to help people find their soulmate and since then millions of people have been matched. So what can possibly go wrong? Well, pretty much everything as it turns out. The story follows five people who meet their genetic matches. Some characters are hiding massive secrets while others are being lured into something they did not sign up for.

Themes

The book explores the whole concept of the grass being greener on the other side. What if you were living a great life with the person you love, only to find out you are not genetically matched, and that your soulmate is still out there? What if you are matched with someone who lives across the globe? What if you are matched with someone carrying a dark secret? The author explores what happens when people take a peak behind the curtain of what could be and the consequences that follow. At times, this book did not seem like a far-fetched reality due to the abundance of dating websites and apps in our technologically advanced world.

The idea of perfection is another theme that stood out for me. Humans are always in search for perfection in some form or another. So what happens if a company uses science to prove that one single person is your perfect match? Will the idea of a perfect person cloud their vision and make them see only the things that fit with the illusion of perfection? Do they desperately cling onto the idea that this person is their only shot at happiness? I think the author did a fantastic job in showing how the idea of perfection can lead people to make radical decisions.

The Characters

I will not introduce you to the characters because I feel you need to meet them yourself. You may think it can get tiring to read the perspectives of five different people, but it was so integral to the storyline. It was easy to keep up with the characters while curveball after curveball was thrown their way. The characters are flawed, insecure and carrying some big secrets. Each character is thrown into an unexpected situation, when all they really wanted was to find their perfect half. While some may argue that there was not much character development for all of the characters, I really think the author was trying to give us a look into human behavior through these different perspectives. Some characters do have a lot of growth and others are shown experiencing what happens through a series of bad decisions. I think it worked well considering the context of the story.

Creep Factor:

There were times when I paused and thought, “How did the author come up with this twist?” Some of the surprises were downright creepy sending a chill down my spine. Sometimes the character’s motives left me on edge and new revelations of the characters added that extra creep factor. Almost all of the shocking scenes caught me off guard and had me pull some interesting facial expressions while I was reading on my lunch break and on the bus. I would think the author of a thriller did a great job when you are left gasping at the end of pretty much every chapter.

Overall, The One by John Marrs surprised me. There is no other way to put it. I’m very excited to watch this book come to life on Netflix as I feel the creep factor, the themes and the characters will all translate so well on screen. If you want to read a dark thriller that is a complete page-turner with unexpected twists, this is THE ONE!

Happy Reading!

Shazia.

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Book Review

Nocturna Book Review

Are you ready for a faceless thief and a grieving prince to make their way into your heart? You better be ready, because these two characters will find their way in and stay there. Trust me, they are currently renting a small corner of my heart. Nocturna was a book that was not on my radar. I’m extremely grateful to HCC Frenzy and HarperCollins Canada for giving me opportunity to read Nocturna and get lost in the incredible world the author created. This book was an insane ride filled with magic and tons of emotions. It made me sit at the edge of my seat, laugh at the witty dialogue and feel all the emotions the characters were feeling.

Synopsis:

Alfie is a prince, and next in line for the throne after his older brother is murdered in front of him. Unable to move on from his death and doubting his own future as king, Alfie goes on a hunt to find out about forbidden magic that may bring his brother back.

Fin Voy is a thief and a faceshifter. She has spent years running away from a dark past, wearing different faces as she sees fit and thieving her days away. When she is caught by a powerful mobster, she has two choices: steal a treasure from the royal palace or lose her face shifting magic forever.

Fin and Alfie’s lives are intertwined when they accidentally unlock an evil power while they are both trying to fulfill their missions. The dark magic is the strongest of its kind and threatens to extinguish all the light in the world as it seeks for bodies to spread the evil. Fin and Alfie must put their differences aside and work together to get rid of this magic once and for all.
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(picture from @khanlibrary this is the ARC I received. For the actual cover scroll down)

“Magic was free. It flowed through all living things and wasn’t something to be caged. Yet he could feel something holding back this black magic.”- Maya Motayne

You know the world building is good when you pause to reflect on how the author created all of it. It is definitely something I would love to ask this author because I found the setting, magic system and history so interesting and complex at the same time. The legends of the land were intriguing and the rules of magic were well explained. I also liked that the magic paid homage to the author’s Latin culture. The author used Spanish words for the magic spells, which I found was such a nice and unique touch. The writing was poetic, although there were times when I felt the dialogue could have been cut a bit short. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style and how the storyline progressed.

I think one of my favorite aspects of the book was the whole face shifting ability of the main character. I absolutely loved the idea behind it and why she had chosen to abandon her real face and constantly put on new ones. It gave me a real Arya Stark vibe from Game of Thrones, who happens to be my favorite character from the series so it really added an extra twist that I loved.

Only in her absence did he realize how part of him yearned for the sound of her voice curving with the punch of a joke – a sound that made her face bright in his mind’s eye even when she was hidden by the cloak” – Maya Motayne

I was so taken away but the magic and turmoil that I was really hoping a romance would not take over the storyline. I’m actually very pleased with the way the author handled the feelings the main characters had for each other. It was well developed and it did not take away from the plot. It was a very endearing connection between two characters afraid of vulnerability and facing other emotions. They brought out the best in each other and the sarcastic dialogue made me laugh numerous times. I was left with feeling that there was more in store for both of these characters.

If you are looking for a unique fantasy with tons of magic and a sprinkle of culture, then look no further! Nocturna was a fun ride and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author. Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me a copy of this book to review. I am grateful to have discovered a new author and all the magic within the book.

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(Picture from Goodreads)

Happy reading!

Shazia.

 

 

Book Review

With the Fire on High Book Review

Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for giving me the advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

            You know that feeling when you get shamed for never having read a certain author’s work? Someone asks you if you read a book and you say no. The person gasps, there is a lot of eyebrow rising followed by a series of “are you serious?” and “you of all people have not read it?” You feel yourself blush, mumble excuses and annoyingly reply that you will add it to your TBR. Well this was my life whenever someone asked me if I read “Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo and I said no.

            So you can imagine my excitement when I got Elizabeth’s newest book thanks to the HCC Frenzy. I was ready to see what all the fuss was about. All it took was reading the very first page for me to realize I deserved all the shame for never reading her previous book. I instantly knew that this book was going to be special. Spoiler alert: special does not even come close to describing this book. It was phenomenal.

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“Trust okay? Trust. Yourself, mainly, but the world, too. There is magic working in your favor” – Elizabeth Acevedo

Synopsis:

Emoni Santiago is a high school senior being cared for by her Abuela. While she goes through the flows of high school life, she also has the added responsibilities of being a teenage mother. She works part time at a burger joint, struggles to keep up with her schoolwork, and tries to push away the confusing feelings she has about the new boy at school, Malachi. Her priority is her Baby Girl, Emma. Her passion is the magic she creates in the kitchen. When Emoni takes a culinary arts class at school, it becomes impossible to hide the talent she has and the heights she can raise to one day. When her culinary teacher informs her that there will be a class trip to Spain where she will be able to cook alongside chefs, Emoni cannot deny how much she wants this experience for herself. However, she also cannot deny the financial stress and the responsibility she has towards Emma. What happens when your talent is bursting out of you, ready to break free but there are many obstacles in your path?

Culture and Flavor

For me, this book is a vibrant tapestry of culture and a love note to food lovers around the world. The way the author mixes culture, values, family and food together really made me feel like I was standing right there in the kitchen by Emoni and Abuela as they chatted about life while chopping up vegetables and sprinkling spices onto their dishes. It felt like home.

Emoni is such a vibrant character who is part Puerto Rican and part black. The dynamic between her and Abuela is so endearing and the fierce love they have for Emma is heart warming. Is here anything more powerful than the love for a daughter and granddaughter? Combined, it has the power to light up a whole city. That is how it felt while reading the scenes between Emoni, Abuela and Emma.

I absolutely love how readers are given the sense of just how good Emoni is with cooking. How she can find that hidden ingredient by tasting it. How her gut tells her to add a certain ingredient that nobody else would think of for that particular dish. You especially get the sense of her talent by the emotions her food evokes from those who taste it. Personally, my favorite parts were when Emoni was in the kitchen, thinking to herself as she was in her creative space and how liberated it made her feel. At times it was like I could almost taste the dishes Emoni was making and I absolutely loved the little recipes included in the book.

Hardships and Responsibilities:

“If there was one thing I learned once my belly started showing is that you can’t control how people look at you, but you can control how far back you pull your shoulders and how high you lift your chin” – Elizabeth Acevedo

The book really explored what it is like to walk in the shoes of a teenage mother who is also a girl of color. It felt like I was walking alongside her as she experienced the stereotypes that she had to live with and the assumptions people had of her. Boys thought she was a certain way because she got pregnant, certain elderly white woman threw their own stereotypes her way and others just gave her pitiful looks. She even had to deal with people from her own community and their judgements. It is no wonder that Emoni developed trust issues, especially towards boys or anyone who offered her an opportunity. In many ways, she had to learn to trust herself, which can be just as hard.

The secondary characters were incredibly developed and gave a sense of how supportive friends can be that added cinnamon dust on your sweet dish (wow, I’m talking like Emoni now). The love story was very well written and seemed important to her progression throughout the novel. Emoni’s backstory with her family is also explored, and I think that gives an even clearer picture of where her trust issues stem from even before her pregnancy. Each character is flawed in one way or another or just hungry for a new chapter in their life. A special shout out to Emoni’s best friend in the novel. That friendship made me smile. How wonderful is it reading about friendships that build you up rather than tear you down?

Overall Thoughts:

I’m not exaggerating when I say this was a magical read. What made it magical was the author’s writing. The chapters were so short that I kept telling myself I’ll read just one more and before I knew it I had reached the end. To be honest, I was not ready to say goodbye to this rich cast of characters or the food. I was left hungry, literally, for more.

I am that person who will always be talking about how we need diversity in books and “With the Fire on High” is a perfect example of the richness that comes with diversity and how much we can all learn from these books. I love that we got to see the world through Emoni’s perspective both inside and outside of the kitchen.

 

Happy reading bookworms!

 

Shazia.

Book Review

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters Book Review

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

How great is it when you fully trust an author to take you on a journey with their words. That’s right, I’m calling it a journey. I love that feeling when you see a certain author has released a book and you don’t even have to read the excerpt. You just pick it up and trust that it will be all kinds of wonderful. Balli Kaur Jaswal is that author for me. I remember picking up her first book “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” and laughing over the title in the bookstore. Fast-forward to a few days later and that very book ended up becoming my favorite novel from last year. I enjoyed her writing style and storytelling so much that I did not even try to find out what her new book was about before picking it up.

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sistersis Balli Kaur Jaswal’s newest novel and it is like a breath of fresh air. At it’s core, this book is about sisterhood, but it is also so much more. It is about culture, first versus second generation, misogyny and family dynamics. The author weaves such a beautiful tapestry of love, loss and acceptance. I was enthralled from start to finish.

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Synopsis:

Rajni, Jezmeen and Shirina are British-born sisters raised by their Punjabi mother. On her deathbed, the Shergill sister’s mother tells them her last wish: to make a pilgrimage together to India in order to carry out her final rights. Saddened by the loss of their mother and discouraged by the unpleasant circumstances of their own lives, the sisters arrive in India full of secrets and guilt. Rajni, a schoolteacher in her forties, is haunted by a secret she has kept for years about her last visit to India with her mother. Jezmeen, a celebrity TV host, is fresh off the heels of a public controversy and is trying to escape the nasty things written about her on social media. Shirina, a dutiful housewife, appears to be living the perfect life but feels pressured by her in-laws into making a decision that could affect her marriage and life. Together, they embark on an adventure filled with highs and lows but one that will strengthen their broken bonds and give them insight into each other’s messy lives.

The Sisters:

The Shergill sisters were the heart of this novel. Finding their way back to each other was truly the most beautiful part of this story. Each sister was dealing with a personal crisis and carrying the weight of it on their shoulders alone. The distance between the sisters was heartbreaking. We often read stories that highlight the close relationship of sisters, but this story focuses on finding their way back to one another. We get insight from the sisters about their personal struggles and how their childhood shaped them into the people they became.

I enjoyed reading their own perspectives of their childhood and what made them drift away from each other. The best part for me was how the sisters came to each other’s rescue despite their conflicting emotions about each other. I do believe the author’s strength lies in characterization as she made each of the sisters so believable and complex. It is truly wonderful when the author masters character development and the backstory. For me, it made the story richer.

Overall Thoughts:

If you pick up this book, not only will you be diving into the chaotic lives of the Shergill sisters but you will also be taken on an adventure in India. I loved the itinerary that the mother left for them as it outlined the important sites the sisters needed to visit and what made these places special. I felt like I was walking along with them in the packed bazaars of India. Even the culture and traditions are explored as they visit historical and religious sites. Everything is so beautifully descriptive that you feel like you are actually there living it all.

The author perfectly captures the sister’s impressions of visiting India after growing up abroad. She explores the odd feeling of being part of a community but still feeling as “other”. The sisters struggle with this as they find their bearings in a country that is suppose to be their home but does not quite feel like it. I think it is a very natural feeling for people to have a culture shock despite said culture being their own. I enjoyed reading this part, as it was very relatable to me as well.

Overall, this book exceeded my expectations in the best of ways. The story was very engaging and heart warming. I found myself rooting for the sisters, not just for overcoming their personal struggles, but also to find their connection with each other again. Their journey was long, full of turmoil but it gave a sense of what it takes to find your way back to those you love unconditionally. The author has outdone herself again with yet another incredible read.

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters releases tomorrow April 30th.

Happy reading bookworms!

Shazia.

Book Review

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined: A Book Review

Let me tell you a little story about how a book found it’s way to me. I usually go into a bookstore with a plan. Even on the days when I casually decide to stroll into a bookstore, the wheels in my head begin turning as I shuffle through the file labeled “To Be Read” in my brain.  On this particular day, I was visiting the books I wanted as they sat pretty on the bookshelves when I noticed a book placed in the wrong section. Of course my OCD got the better of me and I picked it up to return it to its proper place (maybe I should start working in Indigo). I never made it to where it should be placed, because I decided it belonged with me.

At first it was the title that drew me in: “Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined”. I don’t know why but that title made me think and question the the story behind it. Then it was the beautiful cover that caught my attention. The star studded sky and a girl stargazing truly deserves cover appreciation. Finally, reading the excerpt is what made me decide to bring it home. I’m really grateful this book found me because it seems to be one of those underrated gems.

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Synopsis:

“My demon is you. My best and worst is about you: how I need you and fear for you, how I fear for myself if I lose you, how I have let myself be defined by you.” – Danielle Younge-Ullman.

This story is about a teenage girl name Ingrid and her mother. When she was younger, Ingrid travelled the world with her Opera singing mother, as she put on dazzling performances and received acclaim. When Ingrid’s mother loses her voice and career, their glamorous life comes to an end as they settle for a normal life filled with ghosts from their past. After a childhood with life altering moments and becoming an adult at a young age, Ingrid decides she wants to pursue her dream of becoming a singer.

The catch: Ingrid is challenged to complete a wilderness survival program in order to gain her mother’s approval for her career path. The other catch: The wilderness program is for a group of at risk teens consisting of runaways, ex-convicts and shady personalities. Ingrid spends her days in this gruelling program with a group of teens that make her feel uncomfortable, all the while trying to understand what she is doing there and working through years worth of pent up emotions and memories.

The Characters:

Ingrid put me through one hell of an emotional roller coaster. This book gives us flashbacks to Ingrid’s childhood, which helps us understand why she turned out the way she did. It is also written in the form of letters to her mother while she is at the wilderness camp. I truly enjoyed these parts because the writing was so sarcastic and really indicative of a teenage girl having an awful time at camp and life in general. Besides that, the most powerful thing about the letters is how her emotions completely boil to the surface. There is no sugar-coating how she feels about her past or present, and I do believe you get to know her character better with these scenes.

The Mother is an important character that we learn about through Ingrid’s flashbacks and letters. This is a difficult character to read about as you feel her pain jumping out of the pages as she describes losing her life’s passion. You feel angry about the way she treats Ingrid and how she tries to crush her dreams. Mainly, you just want her to pull through during her dark times.  

Andreas is a secondary character who begins dating Ingrid’s mother in the book. Andreas definitely became one of my favorite characters due to his endearing actions towards Ingrid and her mother. I loved reading the dynamic between him and Ingrid. Of course, the author did a great job in not making him appear too perfect but showing how sometimes your greatest flaw is how relentless you can be to help those who do not want to be “fixed”.

I especially enjoyed getting to know the group of misfit teens at the wilderness camp. Reading about their backstories and why they were doing this program was one of the most interesting parts of the book. The ex-convict Tavik ended up becoming one of my favorite characters from the camp. I’m not really sure when I started liking him, but suddenly I was on board with his character and wished we got more of him.

My Thoughts:

This has to be one of the most profound books with a theme of mental illness explored through the characters. Not only is mental illness viewed from the perspective of the person living with it, but it also explores how those around the person are affected. The symptoms, the challenges, the triggers and road to recovery are all explored and incredibly depicted in this story. There is a bit of a love story, but I did not care much for this part of the book. However, I do think that the backstory between Ingrid and this boy was essential and really well written. The way the story unfolds is also very fluid and easy to follow. Even though I saw that twist coming in the end, it was remarkably written for me to still feel it.

Let me just end this by saying that Goodreads compared this book to The Breakfast Club, which is my favorite movie of all time. I only read this comment after I was done with the book and I can tell you that “Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined” definitely has some Breakfast Club vibes. Besides that, it explores depression, pursuing your dreams, young love, bullying and family. This is a young adult fiction but I truly believe it is a book anyone can read and enjoy. I highly recommend this book and I hope it snuggles its way into your heart.

Happy reading bookworms!

Shazia.

 

 

Book Review

Book Review: Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis

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

Let me start off by saying that the title of this book is what really caught my attention at first. I have heard of Rachel Hollis before, but I did not read her first book nor did I follow her on social media. Being a polite Canadian who apologizes when other people bump into me is the reason why I was drawn to the book because of the title. Girl, I really do need to stop apologizing. After reading the excerpt, I realized this book is meant for women to go after their goals and stop apologizing for their ambition. I decided to read it because I have a set of goals that I hope to achieve and thought I could use a dose of motivation.

“Girl, Stop Apologizing” is about embracing who you are and what you are meant to do without apologizing. This book tells you to stop waiting for permission and let go of excuses that stop you from moving forward. I completely agree with the main message and I fully support empowering women and going after your dreams. This book is set up into three parts: excuses to let go of, behaviors to adopt and skills to acquire. Each section draws upon the author’s personal experiences from her business, family and love life.

Unpopular book opinion time:

“Girl, Stop Apologizing” fell flat for me for a number of reasons, which I will get into shortly. The concept of the book is what I can stand behind, but it was the content that was troubling. However, I’m well aware that this book has been well received and considered helpful for many women. Did I feel more inspired and motivated when I finished this book? No, I did not. Should you read it and see for yourself? Yes, you should. 

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“By embracing your calling and refusing to hide your glow, you wouldn’t just make your world brighter, you’d light the way for the women who come behind you.” – Rachel Hollis

The Positives:

            I tried my best to dig for the positives and I did find a few points that are important and helpful. When it comes down to it, Rachel is a business woman. She has adopted a discipline to getting work done effectively and in a timely fashion. I did enjoy the parts where she discusses procrastination, distractions and making time for your goals despite your already hectic schedule. She does provide some helpful advice on how to go all in for your goals. One of the things that resonated with me the most was how she discusses “work environment”. Setting up a workspace is great but the reality is life becomes chaotic at times. Rachel suggests getting work done whenever you have a moment, even if it is in a cramped up space at an airport as you are waiting for your flight. While this is logical, I do think many of us believe that we will be the most productive when we are seated at our desks surrounded by motivational quotes or in a quiet café with Sam Smith playing in the background (that is what a productive workspace looks like to me at least).

I do believe that working mothers will relate to the section in which Rachel discusses the guilt of going back to work. She uses her personal experience and the emotions she felt during the time she was building her business. I found this portion of the book showed her vulnerability and it was particularly well written. Even though I am not a mother, I was able to see the world through a working mom’s eyes.

The Negatives:

I absolutely love books that focus on self-growth and development, however this book seemed to focus more on external factors. There were many pages filled with references to celebrities, weight loss, plastic surgery and appearance. I would have rather read about the internal factors that become barriers to success. While Rachel did discuss internal factors like self-confidence and self-doubt, I felt that the majority of the book brought attention to the external. The author’s wealth was another thing that stood out of the pages for me. I know the author worked hard to build her business and I’m not holding it against her for becoming a wealthy woman. It just becomes hard to relate to someone when they speak of aiming for expensive vacations and first class flights.

Rachel used personal examples to help drive her point home, but I felt like she missed the target by doing this a few times. I had a hard time relating to her experiences and her goals. One of Rachel’s goals was to make it on the New York Times bestseller list. I agree that this is an ambitious goal and good for you for reaching for the stars! Would I call it a failure that she did not end up on the NYT bestseller list right off the bat? No, I would not. However, a good portion of the chapter is dedicated to how she failed in front of eight hundred and fifty thousand people when she did not make it on the list. I had trouble seeing this as a failure; in fact I was thinking to myself how lucky she is to have been published in the first place. Discussions about the number of social media followers and bestseller lists felt like materialistic goals to me. I am also aware that all of us have our own goals that are materialistic, but when I read a self-development book I would rather be reading about goals that help you grow.

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Overall, “Girl, Stop Apologizing” did have some positive points that could help motivate women to stop being ashamed of their ambition and take the step towards their dreams. There were definitely some pieces of advice that could help improve productivity. However, there were quite a few ideas that were problematic for me. I think this is one of those books that either works for you or it does not. If any of you are thinking of reading this book I hope that you will have a different experience than me. That is the beauty of books: it is all in the reader’s interpretation.

Happy reading!

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).