Book Review

Undercover Bromance Book Review

“Who are we?” Mack said, standing all. “We’re the Bromance-Fucking-Book-Club.”

I received this highly anticipated book at 5pm yesterday and finished it that same night. It was that kind of book…you know the kind that pulls you into this vortex where nothing else but you and the book exist.

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(Picture from @khanlibrary)

Synopsis:
Liv is a sous chef at one of Nashville’s top restaurants. But when she witnesses her boss taking advantage of a coworker she is both fired and blacklisted from the culinary world. She vows to expose her boss by herself, but Braden Mack has other plans. Mack, the founder of the Bromance Bookclub, jumps on board to help Liv whether she likes it or not.

This book brings to light the importance of the #metoo moment with the heart wrenching moments with the survivors. It also has many laugh out loud moments including a particular scene involving a rooster attack that had me howling with laughter. It’s the perfect balance!

“Whatever was broken in that person, it was their wound. You don’t have to carry the scar of it for them anymore. You’re allowed to let it go, Liv. All of it. Let yourself be loved and let it go” – Lyssa Kay Adams

I did not like Liv in the first book so I was worried about reading her book. I was surprised when I started liking her by page 50. The character growth is impeccable. Here we have a character who sees the world in black and white, but slowly learns to see the shades of grey. Her anger bubbles to the surface when she sees social injustice and privileged men taking advantage of women and getting away with it. Her anger blinds her into seeing things as simply as exposing the predator no matter what the cost. The real growth is when she puts herself in the victim’s shoes and understands what it is like to go up against someone with power. Liv wants to do things her way, mainly due to her trust issues, and I loved seeing her realize that it takes a village and watching her shed her armour and accept the help. I realize a lot of people may still find Liv irritating, but I’m here to remind you that in real life people are often just as complex if not more.

“You shouldn’t have to care about a woman to recognize that the sexual degradation of all women is a problem. You should recognize that it’s wrong simply because they’re humans” – Lyssa Kay Adams.

Braden Freaking Mack.
This guy….
Where do I begin?
When you read about good-looking rich athletes what comes to mind?
I imagine you would think of a macho hero with a touch of arrogance, a lot of charm and a bad boy image. Well, this might be a part of who Mack is but it is not the whole story. Mack is the founder of the Bromance Bookclub and loves romance thrillers. He is the guy who is not ashamed of his love for romance books and openly discusses how those books became his love manuals. He is a walking textbook on the dangers of toxic masculinity. While I really liked the development of his relationship with Liv, I think I enjoyed his friendship with the bromance bookclub bros even more. I love how those bookclub meetings are their safe space where they can talk and be vulnerable without any judgement.

This book was so much fun to read. The banter, message and character development was very well done. I’m excited for the third book of this bromance club!

Happy Reading!

Book Review

The Authenticity Project

“Everyone lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth instead? The one thing that defines you, that makes everything else about you fall into place? Not on the internet, but with those real people around you?”-Clare Pooley

I love it when a random book catches my attention and surprises me in the most unexpected ways. The Authenticity Project completely surprised me and left me feeling all kinds of emotions. I absolutely love character driven stories, and this book introduces us to a whole group of characters that I became deeply invested in towards the end. The themes of mental health and authenticity were really well explored through these characters.

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This is a story about a green notebook that brings a group of six strangers together. A word that kept coming to my mind when I was reading this story was serendipity. There were so many cute moments that took place all thanks to a notebook that asked readers to be brave and put their real self forward. It is not hard to imagine that such serendipitous moments could actually happen in real life if we all shared our authentic selves with the world.

I have to say that I absolutely loved each one of these flawed characters. I must also confess that every time I read Monica’s chapter I could not help but imagine the Monica from Friends. Did that happen to anyone else? The author really created an interesting character with Monica. The story she wrote in the green notebook about wishing for her own happily ever after lead to such an incredible chain reaction of events. Through Alice’s story we see the flip side of how the grass may not always be greener on the other side and sometimes happily ever after can look very different from what we imagine.

Hazard was such a complex and interesting character to read about. I’ll admit that I did not much like him in the beginning of the book but he really grew on me by the end. The same could be said about sweet old Julian. His story particularly gutted me and left me wanting to know more. A special shout out to Mrs. Wu and Lizzie. Those two characters were just the cherry on top of this sundae.

My only complaint about this book is that it had to end. I was so invested in all these character’s stories that I just wanted to know more about what happened to them down the line. I was hoping the ending could have given us a sneak peak into the future, but that is just my curiosity and inability to let this story end. I’m really impressed by the overall delivery of the story. It takes a talented writer to pull off having so many characters introduced in the story and making them all memorable. 

Happy Reading!

Book Review

Little Women Book and Movie Review

Whenever someone asks me which author I would love to have a conversation with, my mind always drifts to the authors that are no longer with us but who were well beyond their times. One of these authors is Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women. In a time when marriage and domestic life was perceived as a woman’s main role, Louisa May Alcott created a female character with big dreams to write and to make her own way in the world.

I remember two things from when I read Little Women twenty years ago:
1) I am Jo March.
2) How fun it would be to become a writer.

Here are my thoughts after rereading Little Women twenty years later:
1) I am Jo March.
2) I must keep writing even when it’s hard.

You do not have to be a writer or even a woman to appreciate this story. It is a timeless classic that is sure to appeal to people from all walks of life. I’m so happy that this was the first book I read at the very start of the new year and decade.

The March Sisters:

Little Women revolves around the four March sisters as they navigate through the years of their youth and the struggles of being poor and having their father away at war. Each sister is very different in their own way with dreams they wish to accomplish and hardships they learn to overcome.

20200112_141015.jpgJo March:
“You are the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone.”

Beth March:
“There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping..”

Meg March:
“Meg is like a turtledove, which represents love”

Amy March:
“Amy is like the lark she writes about, trying to get up among the clouds, but always dropping down into its nest again”

Meg dreams of what life could be were she rich and did not have to work. Jo longs to be a writer and struggles to control her temper. Beth is the grateful little dove that does not take any moment for granted and enjoys playing the piano. Amy is the little artist who learns to look beyond the superficial. The bond between the sisters is truly heart warming. Despite all their quarrels and moving on to different stages in their lives, they always find a way back home to each other.

Jo March Book vs. Movie:

“I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.” ― Louisa May Alcott,

I love that feeling when you are reading a book and one of the characters becomes more and more relatable to you. Then as you close the book and put it aside you realize “I am that character”. This is what I felt when I was reading about Jo March. While I must admit that Jo is much more adventurous and brave, I feel like we have aligned over the years with our love for writing. The scenes with Jo dealing with the crippling self-doubt as well as being protective of her writing were really raw. You can tell that the author was writing from personal experience that only a writer would know.

BOOK AND MOVIE SPOILERS AHEAD:

I know there are many people who wish Jo and Laurie ended up together. I remember wishing for the same thing as a teenager. Maybe there was a small part of me that still wished it would happen as I reread the book. I never really understood why Jo ended up with the professor in the end. It just seemed unlike her, despite the deep connection she felt for the person who was supportive of her literary career. He felt more like a mentor than a love interest. I felt that there could have been a better ending for Jo, but I never knew what it was until I watched the most recent movie of Little Women.

The Ending of the Movie:

If you have not watched the Little Women movie yet STOP READING!
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I had finished my reread of Little Women and went to see the movie the very next day. I loved everything about it and felt the characters were well cast. But it was the ending that stole my heart. Before I discuss the ending, let us take a step back and explore the vision Louisa May Alcott had for her beloved Jo.

In the many articles I read, it was revealed that Louisa may have felt pressured into giving Jo a more traditional “happily ever after” at the request of her readers and publisher. Her original vision for Jo was one that reflected her own life. Louisa decided to please her readers by giving Jo a happily ever after involving marriage and children.

“Women Have Minds And Souls As Well As Just Hearts, And They’ve Got Ambition And Talent As Well As Just Beauty. And I’m Sick Of People Saying That Love Is All A Woman Is Fit For” – Jo March from the movie version of Little Women.

The movie did something absolutely remarkable that left me smiling and thinking, “yes, this feels like something Jo March would have done”. In the movie we see Jo negotiating the terms of her book “Little Women” that is the story of the March Sisters. She reveals to the publisher that she turned down both men in her life, as chronicled in her book. The publisher encourages her to change the ending for her character by accepting the professor’s hand in marriage. The movie ends with Jo, single, watching her book getting printed and bound.

“I’d Rather Be A Free Spinster And Paddle My Own Canoe.” – Jo March from the movie Little Women.

I absolutely loved this little twist in the end because in many ways it honoured Louisa May Alcott’s vision for Jo March decades after the release of the book. Critics have called this version of Little Women perfect for this generation, and I cannot agree more. At the end of the day, Jo lives her dream of becoming an author and remains independent like she always wanted. It also leaves it open to the interpretation that this young girl realized her dream and there could always be a possibility of love in her future, either with someone coming into her life or from the words she writes on the pages. Either way, it is her choice to make.

I also love how Meg reminds Jo that women can have different dreams that are equally important. Jo dreams of being independent and Meg dreams of getting married and staring a family of her own. I loved this exchange between them because it shows the way things should be: marriage as a choice and dream rather than a social obligation.

“Just Because My Dreams Are Different Than Yours, It Doesn’t Mean They’re Unimportant.” – Meg March from the movie Little Women.

This classic will always have a special place on my bookshelf and in my heart. The movie is my favorite version for all the heart and soul that went into creating the world of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and staying true to her vision.

Happy Reading Bookworms,

Shazia.

Book Review

Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams

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

I never truly believe stories about meet cutes in the subway because of how much I despise being confined in a small, moving space with other humans. How is it possible to meet your soulmate when you are trying to master the art of staying balanced while summoning all the power not to karate chop the teenager whose schoolbag is lodged in your kidney? And don’t even get me started on the unpleasant odours. So I was pretty hesitant when I heard about this romance that starts off in a subway. However, this one line from the excerpt of “Our Stop” made me laugh and decide to read it:

To the cute girl with the coffee stains on her dress. I’m the guy who’s always standing near the doors… Drink sometime?

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Our Stop is a romantic comedy about an early morning commuter named Daniel who develops a crush on fellow commuter Nadia. The ever so shy Daniel keeps seeing Nadia on the 7:30 am subway and gathers the courage to leave her a message in the London newspaper section called “Missed Connections”. Nadia is curious about this mystery Train Guy and answers back creating a whole chain of events that neither of them saw coming.

Coincidence or Fate:

I am finding that rom coms are spending more time with the idea of fate bringing people together. This was especially true for “Our Stop” as it seemed the entire universe and its inhabitants were working together to have Nadia and Daniel meet. It was as if the universe was pointing big flashy arrows that the characters were not noticing.

Maybe it is my pessimism or cynical ways, but I found some of these coincidences to be a bit far fetched. I kept saying to myself “but really? This wouldn’t happen in real life”. I’m not complaining though. This was a feel good novel and such happy coincidences or serendipitous moments were fun to read. And lets be honest, who doesn’t love the whole stars aligning aspect of rom coms?

Vulnerability:

I think one of my most favorite aspects of this book was the fact that Daniel was not perceived as this macho man who was charming 90% of the time and had his way with the ladies. I loved that he was emotional, grieving and insecure. Many rom coms that I have read tend to paint a picture of the female lead being a hot mess but in a cute way. On the other hand, the male lead is portrayed as having it all together and finding the awkward ways of the female lead to be cute. In time you find out that the male lead does in fact have some insecurities, but they are still depicted as being stereotypically “manly”.

In “Our Stop”, Daniel is a man who is not afraid to admit that he wants to find his soulmate. He grieves for the loss of his father and struggles with panic attacks. He fears putting himself out there and worries his crush will reject him. It was such a breath of fresh air to read about a male character who is not afraid to get in touch with his emotional side and being unapologetic in his quest for love. The world of romance needs more Daniels.

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Overall, this was such a cute and refreshing summer read. I have to say that this book was great for a day of reading under the sun. I miss summer already!

Happy reading bookworms,

Shazia.

 

Book Review

Daisy Jones and The Six Review

No matter how many times Google tells me that Daisy Jones and The Six are not a real band, I will go down with this ship believing they are real. Try to convince me otherwise. It boggles my mind that these incredibly flawed and talented characters are fictional. It just can’t be possible. Author Taylor Jenkins Reid does some kind of magic with her words because this is the second book I have read of hers that makes me turn to the internet to find proof of these characters existence in our world.

Daisy Jones and The Six was one hell of a ride. I did not know what to expect when I realized that this book was written entirely in an interview style narrative, but I was pleasantly surprised right off the bat. This book takes us into the glamorous and destructive world of a “fictional” 70’s rock and roll band (I swear I’m still in denial about this being a made up band). Read on for my spoiler free ramblings about this epic musical reading journey.

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Synopsis:

Daisy is a neglected and lonely girl sneaking into clubs, doing drugs and dreaming of becoming a singer/song writer. She has the look and the voice, so it is only a matter of time before she gets noticed by the right people and enters the music industry. The Six is a band lead by the talented and tortured Billy Dunne. The band is starting to make a name for themselves when Billy gets lost in the world of drugs and booze right after he finds out his wife is pregnant. History is made when Daisy and The Six come together and make an album that rocks the world. But nobody knows what happened behind the scenes of their success, until now.

This book is a chronicle of their time together in a band as each member and people close to them sit down for an interview revealing all the devastating and wonderful moments they shared under the spotlight.

I Really Love that Rock n’ Roll:

“Dancing Barefoot in the snow,
Cold can’t touch her, high or low
She’s blues dressed up like rock ‘n’ roll
Untouchable, she’ll never fold – Taylor Jenkins Reid. 

The way the characters described that rock and roll lifestyle felt so believable and real. I really enjoyed how each character was portrayed as being deeply passionate about their craft and how they described what the music meant to them. Everyone from the guitarist to the lead singer was connected to the music in a way that seemed so vulnerable. The act of writing a song based on past mistakes or hopes for a better future were really well described. There was also a lot of drama between the band members, as expected, but it was really well written and explored. You get to see the experiences through multiple perspectives and that is what makes for a great big picture.

“And, baby, when you think of me
I hope it ruins rock ‘n’ roll
Regret me, regretfully” – Taylor Jenkins Reid 

It blew my mind that the author actually wrote original songs for this book and how each song was like reading the personal diary of the characters. I’m convinced the author had to be some kind of rockstar before becoming a best-selling author. How else can you write such deeply moving songs? How? I have too many questions. There was so much emotion in the songs that I began wondering what it would actually sound like with the drums, guitar and keyboard. I also found myself wondering what Daisy and Billy would sound like together.

Major Themes and Characters:

“It’s very vulnerable, being an artist, telling the truth like that, like we’re doing now. When you’re living your life, you’re so inside your head, you’re swirling around in your own pain, that it’s hard to see how obvious it is to the people around you. These songs I was writing felt coded and secret, but I suspect they weren’t coded and secret at all” – Taylor Jenkin Reid.

You really get a sense of how high and low fame can take a person. Billy and Daisy’s struggle with addiction was a major theme of this book. While Billy goes wild and then works his way towards sobriety, Daisy falls deeper into the world of addiction. The interactions between Billy and Daisy were full of tension and I live for that kind of character relationship. Through that tension, these two come together to write and perform brilliant songs. They are both deeply flawed characters that make many mistakes, but I still found myself rooting for them to come to terms with their feelings and fears.

I also loved the relationships between the women in this book. Often times you come across female characters that compete and try to sabotage one another. I actually expected this in a book about musicians and fame. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised with female characters that support one another instead of tearing each other down. Besides Daisy, Karen and Camilla were two other female characters that shined in their own way. These three characters were strong, confident and unapologetic about the way they wanted to live their lives. The comradely between them was really refreshing.

My Thoughts:

I never imagined that a book written in interview style could make me feel all the emotions and keep me glued to the pages. I know readers like the whole “show instead of telling” type of narrative but in this case the telling really worked. I think its because I felt each character had a distinct voice in the transcript. When Daisy was interviewed, her answers were always heavy and filled with pain. When Billy was interviewed, there was something so apologetic in his answers. Like he just felt sorry for everything he was and did. I felt the same with the other band members. They all felt real to the point where I could almost picture them being interviewed. I cannot recommend this book enough and I really do hope that Daisy Jones and The Six reunite and put on a show (just let me continue believing they are real ok? Please let me have this).

I picked up this book while attending the Penguin Random House Ice Cream Social event at Bookcon earlier this summer and would like to send out a big thank you to them for bringing this book into my life. What an exciting ride!

Happy reading bookworms,

Shazia.

 

 

Book Review

Where the Crawdads Sing Book Review

Let me just start off this post by confessing something: I actually Googled whether crawdads can sing. I also Googled what a crawdad is but that’s beside the point. All this to say “Where The Crawdad’s Sing” is a book that had me looking up all the wonderful and weird things you can find in the marsh. It also had me feeling all kinds of emotions and rooting for the main character. It is a story about prejudice, loss, loneliness and self-resilience.

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Synopsis:

The locals call Kya Clark “Marsh girl”. At a young age, Kya watched as her family walked out on her, leaving her to survive on her own in the marsh. While the marsh is her home and all the creatures become her friends, Kya yearns for human connection. Everything changes when two young men from town fall for her and she opens her heart to the possibility of love and all the pain that comes with it. When one of the men is found dead in the marsh, all eyes and suspicion turn to the mysterious Marsh girl.

All The Feelings:

“She knew the years of isolation had altered her behavior until she was different from others, but it wasn’t her fault she’d been alone. Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would.” 
― 
Delia Owens

 It takes a truly gifted author to make you feel the emotions that the character is feeling. Kya’s loneliness leapt off the pages. The author describes both the beauty and the isolation of the marsh, with Kya right in the center of it. You are taken through Kya’s childhood when she watches her mother walk away, followed by her siblings and finally her abusive father. You follow her as she quietly watches throngs of friends on the beach from behind the bushes, wondering what it would feel like to be part of a group like that. You read along her internal dialogue as she hopes her mother will come back to her. It is heartbreaking. So when a boy by the name of Tate rows his way into the marsh, your heart leaps with joy that Kya might finally get the connection she wants so badly. It is both beautiful and sad reading about Kya’s first experience with love.

Unique Reading Experience:

This book is very poetic. The way the author uses metaphors to describe the environment makes you feel like you’re in the marsh seeing the dragonflies and feeling the wet earth under your feet. There is so much interesting information woven into the story about the life on the marsh from the creatures to the land itself. I learned a lot about the feathers of different birds, the mating patterns of several animals and all the channels of the lagoon.

All this comes from Kya’s perspective as she navigates the land from her early years well into her twenties. It is such a fun way to learn as you see the character discovering and learning things for herself. The book also includes beautiful poetry that Kya collects. All I will say is pay close attention to these poems as they play an important role in the end. I was quite surprised and it just tied everything together in a way I did not expect. The murder mystery was just the cherry on top of this beautiful sundae of a book. I love a good mystery, and the author managed to develop Kya’s character so wonderfully while keeping the suspense of the ongoing murder investigation alive. I was completely surprised by the turn the book took, and I loved it. It was one of those books where I finished it and felt complete peace over how it was all wrapped up.

Overall Thoughts:

Very rarely do you come across a book that has poetry, a murder mystery, a love story and lots of science. I read this book in two days and immediately wanted to read another book by this author. What really stood out for me was Kya’s loneliness and self-resilience. It is truly a story worth reading and one you will not soon forget. I read some rumours about a possible movie deal happening with this book? I can’t confirm this but if it is true all I can say is I’ll be there on opening night ready to share my googled knowledge about crawdads with whoever comes along with me (I feel for that person already).

Happy reading bookworms,

Shazia.

Book Review

Star-Crossed Book Review

Thank you to Crown Publishing for giving me this book in exchange for an honest review. I thank my lucky stars I got the opportunity to read this story.

Some books deserve a spot amongst the stars.

This book is one of them.

“Star Crossed” by Minnie Darke is one of those books that surprises you, makes you break out into a goofy grin and allows you to ponder on questions related to destiny. On the surface, this book is about a woman who plays astrologer by changing the horoscope of the person she loves in an attempt to get him to see her. At its core, this book is about fate, the choices we make and how ultimately everything around us is happening for a reason.

I’m a Taurus but I don’t believe in horoscopes. I always smile politely when people tell me how surprising it is that I’m a Taurus since my personality does not match this sign. The only thing I know from Astrology is that Mercury tends to be in retrograde quite often or maybe not often enough. Is that a bad thing? Feel free to educate me folks!

I truly enjoyed this novel as it did not push the reader to believe in astrology, rather it showed us how life will unfold the way it is meant to no matter how hard you try to control the outcome.

This book can be described in many ways:
A love story
A comedy
Exploring friendship
Following ones passion
Belief in Astrology
Fate vs. free will
Tons of Shakespeare references

It is all these things sprinkled with stardust.

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(Picture from @khanlibrary)

Synopsis:

Justine is an aspiring journalist who bumps into Nick, her childhood sweetheart. When she keeps crossing paths with him, she wonders if this is just a coincidence or if it has a bigger meaning. Nick believes in Astrology and takes the advice of an Astrologer who writes for a magazine. The same magazine, as it turns out Justine works for. So what does Justine do knowing that she already missed out on being with Nick years ago? She decides to take fate into her own hands. Justine changes Nick’s horoscope readings in an attempt to guide him back to her. However, Justine fails to take into account how her altered readings will affect not only Nick’s future, but also the other readers out there who look to the stars for guidance.

Sagittarius and Aquarius:

“Did it necessarily follow that if you set your course by a false guide, you would end up at the wrong destination? Or, did fate have complicated ways of making sure that you ended up where you were supposed to be, anyway?” – Minnie Darke

Justine (Sagittarius/nonbeliever) and Nick (Aquarius/believer) are a hilarious duo. What made me laugh was how Justine firmly believed that horoscopes were hogwash but then attempted to play astrologer for Aquarians. It was both funny and nerve wrecking to read Justine sneak around her office to revamp the horoscope. Their friendship was endearing but there were times I wanted to be their mother and clunk their heads together to knock some sense into them. You realize early on how easy things would be if they were just honest about what they were feeling, but Justine was too scared and Nick was too confused and focused on advice from the horoscope.

While I could not relate to Nick’s firm belief in Astrology, I could relate to the struggle of following his passion and looking for signs telling him what step to take. He came across as a person who did not trust his own ability to make decisions. You could also feel Justine’s agony as she watches Nick drift further away from her and his talent. She came across as a person who is impulsive but so deeply in love that she could not see the wrong she was doing.

The Orbit:

“There are choices within choices within chances. It’s all so complicated and tangled. How does anything ever go the way it’s supposed to? – Minnie Darke

What I loved about this book is that it follows not only Nick and Justine, but also others in their orbit. Justine’s readings not only affected Nick but many other readers who find themselves in situations where they look to the stars for signs as to what to do next. The book jumps to these other characters and how collectively they either cross paths or play some kind of part in setting off a chain of events. They all get an amusing bio along with their sign, occupation and hobbies. It’s such a fun way to be introduced to these other characters.

All this makes you think about how things happen the way they do and how sometimes it is the smallest detail that sets off a sequence of events. I like how we get to explore the lives of others and how we get to connect the dots to see how they all fit into the story. Even though there are many secondary characters that are introduced, I never found it confusing. I would go as far as to say those parts were the most enjoyable. There is nothing I love more than starting small and putting together the big picture.

Overall Thoughts:

I was all starry eyed as I came to the end of this story. There is no doubt that I started this book knowing things will definitely be going wrong for home girl Justine. I was anticipating disaster but I still enjoyed the way it all unraveled. Minnie Darke is such a gifted writer as she makes the characters come alive on the pages through their funny bios and antics. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Happy reading bookworms,

Shazia (Taurus): Reader of books, writer of stories and nurse of babies. 

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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