Book Review · Bookish Thoughts

The Last Chapter of the Decade

Have you ever wondered how the books you read shape your life?

We are a mere four hours away from the New Year and a new decade, which means I’m in my pyjamas eating biryani and reflecting on the incredible things that I have experienced these past few years. Looking back on the decade, I know that a lot of my time was spent reading books. People often ask me how I can read so much. How do I find the time? Don’t I get sick of reading? The truth is reading is such an integral part of who I am and the person I have become. I make time for it because I need books like I need air. Think I’m exaggerating? Get ready for my monologue.

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A Decade of Reading:

When you read as many books as I do, you tend to see your own life as a book. Your age becomes the current chapter of your book. The cruel people you meet in your life become your villains. Those unexpected surprises in life become your plot twists. Milestones become your happily ever afters. Except your book never really ends does it? It can’t while you’re still alive. So you have sequels, those books that take off right after a cliffhanger or your current happily ever after. Is this metaphor falling apart? Still with me? Good. I relish in book metaphors so let’s keep going with this.

My Life, My Book:

If I can look at the last decade of my life as if it were a book I would say that there have been many surprising plot twists along the way. There have been extraordinary highs and devastating lows. There have been quite a few villains and many secondary characters that became friends. I imagine the book of my life would be a hardcover midnight blue volume with my name written in golden embossing. The pages would be frayed, dog-eared and delicate, because life is never neat and a worn book is always one that had a good shelf life (just look at my childhood copies of Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice).

You Are What You Read (does that make me a serial killer?):

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I really believe that the books I have read helped me make sense of this messy thing called life. Every story, villain and lesson from the books I read in the past ten years helped me put things into perspective and sometimes gave me the courage to be brave with my own life. I slayed my own dragons and took leaps of faith thanks to the inspirational words I read in some truly beautiful novels. Sometimes I would see myself in the characters I was reading about. I would understand their struggles and insecurities. Reading about these fictional characters overcoming their struggles made me feel hopeful about my own. Of course I read the occasional true crime book and that just makes me want to hide under my blanket fort and never speak to a stranger again. The lesson from these books: use criminal profiling to assess for sociopathic tendencies in sketchy individuals. (I can actually see my friends rolling their eyes at this). The moral of this long blog post: there are many life lessons to be found in books. 

Here are some of the lessons I learned from these incredible authors over the years:

Lessons From the Last Decade of Reading:

Lesson from Jane Austen:
Never settle in any area of your life and do not be so quick to jump to conclusions. (Poor Mr. Darcy).

Lesson from J.K. Rowling:
Do not let the muggles get you down and to hold on tight to your patronus during dark times. (Fun fact: my patronus is a squirrel. Shooting those dementors away with rabies).

Lesson from Sarah J. Mass – Author of A Court of Thorn and Roses
Do not let the hard days win and to choose your inner circle wisely.
And find yourself a Rhysand (this may prove to be difficult).

Lesson from Khaled Hosseini – Author of A Thousand Splendid Suns
Wonderful things happen when women support each other and true friendships mean you are there during the tough times and the good times.

Lesson from Frances Hodgson Burnett – Author of A Little Princess
You will meet many villains in your lifetime. Almost all of these villains will be adults.
Stay strong, have faith in yourself and never let their words and actions destroy your inner peace.

Lesson from Paulo Coelho – Author of The Alchemist
You need to go after that thing you want most in your life. Find your passion, pursue it and life will realign itself to help you get there. (This book inspired me to move forward with my writing).

Lesson from Paul Kalanithi – Author of When Breath Becomes Air
This book really was a stepping-stone in helping me become comfortable talking about death. As a pediatric nurse, I have seen death and this author’s story helped me find a way to become comfortable enough to speak with grieving parents and grieve with them.

Lesson from Jeannette Walls – Author of The Glass Castle
Your quirky family is forever and there is a power in owning your story and sharing it.

Lesson from Vex King – Author of Good Vibes, Good Life
Friends and toxic people will leave. Let them go and allow life to fill that free space with wonderful new things. This is probably one of the greatest lessons I learned in 2019 and so grateful for it.

Lesson from Leigh Bardugo – Author of Six of Crows
You may be different and people may not understand your way of life or who you are and that’s ok. They don’t have to understand you for you to be happy with your life. Rock on weirdo!

Lesson from Michelle Obama – Author of Becoming
You should always be evolving. Take chances. Break out of your comfort zone. You will be amazed what doors open for you.

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I really do believe that we are all one book away from changing our lives. Whether you are a parent reading stories to your baby, a new reader looking for the right book or a long-time reader like myself, I hope you find that book you need in your life. My wish for 2020 is to finish writing my story that I hope will find its way into a reader’s heart one day. 

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and may this year bring you the plot twist you are waiting for in your story.

Happy reading bookworms!

Shazia. 

Book Review

Now Entering Addamsville Book Review

Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I don’t know about you guys but the moment Starbucks unleashes the pumpkin spiced latte frenzy is the moment when the Halloween hype begins. Is it just me that drew up this correlation? Maybe I have too much time on my hands. Anyways, with Halloween around the corner I tend to lean towards books with a slight creep factor. I say slight because I’m a big chicken and cannot read anything that will lead me to suffer through nightmares about ghosts haunting me.

“Now Entering Addamsville” is a contemporary young adult book that is described as a mix of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Stranger Things. That description alone was enough for me to squeal once I was given this book at the HCC Frenzy event a couple of weeks ago. I finished this book in two days and it was a nice escape into the supernatural town called Addamsville.

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Synopsis:

Zora Novak is not liked by the people of Addamsville. So when someone murders the high school janitor by burning down his house, people immediately make Zora suspect number one. Zora acts suspicious as it is but that is mainly due to her secret job of hunting the creatures that are responsible for starting the fires. With everyone watching and recording her every move, Zora enlists the help of her historian cousin Artemis to clear her name. The only problem? A well-known ghost hunting show begins filming in Addamsville and interferes with Zora’s investigation. 

Spooky Ghosts and a Creepy Town

I’m not a fan of ghost stories, but I really enjoyed the way the author wrote this book. The supernatural part was not overdone, which allowed the author to explore and build on Zora’s relationships with her family and friends. I liked the idea of how some of these characters could see the ghosts, while others could only feel them. It was different from the ghostbuster stories I have read in the past. 

The ghost stories themselves were not terrifying, but they were quite creepy. The history and description of the small town definitely gave it an creepy feel. I loved the way the author described the eerie woods and and other areas in which the ghosts lingered. It made me feel like I was walking around the streets crowded by ghosts. The whole ghost hunter TV show storyline was also interesting to read. It really showed how the obsession with pursuing the supernatural can get out of hand. The arrival of a media crew also tackled the idea of tourists being drawn to small towns and how that impacts the town and its people.

Female friendships and family:

“When your mom disappears, your dad goes to jail, and the whole town hates you on sight, sometimes you get it in your head to start doing stupid things to ease that anger.
Stupid things like hunting firestarters alone.” – Francesca Zappia

I think the heart of this story is Zora navigating her feelings towards her family and friends. Zora spends a lot of the time feeling alone. Being practically raised by her sister and rejected by most of the town makes her feel lonely and unwanted. Seeing her reconnect with her family and form a friendship with her cousin was a heart-warming part of the book. You could clearly tell that behind all of Zora’s sarcasm and rebellious ways is a young girl who is lonely. I liked seeing her character develop along with all the secondary characters.

Overall, this book will get you in the mood for Halloween. While I know there are many of you out there who are braver than me and enjoy more of the scare factor, this book had a lot of heart and should be given a chance for that alone. It’s not easy to write a story that has supernatural elements, a mystery and focusing on the family dynamic. Somehow, the author managed to weave all of these themes into a fun story with a couple of action packed scenes that got my heart racing. Recommended for this Halloween season!

 

Happy reading bookworms,

 

Shazia.

Book Events · Book Review

Frenzy Presents

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend HCC Frenzy’s Fall Preview at the HarperCollins office in Toronto. Frenzy Presents is a fun and interactive event that allows book bloggers and bookstagrammers the chance to get a sneak peek at some of the most anticipated fall releases. As usual, I was beyond excited and counting down the days till I get to meet my fellow bookworms and the incredibly kind staff at HarperCollins.

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Even though this was my second time attending Frenzy Presents, I was just as excited as the first time. There is something wonderful about being in an environment where everyone genuinely loves books. There was no judgement as I stroked the spines of the books or as I ran like Usain Bolt to stand in line for an ARC. It was all accepted and encouraged by this lovely community.

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Frenzy Fall Releases:

The staff of HCC did a very thorough and fun presentation of twenty-three upcoming books. I was happy to see quite a few books by diverse authors in the mix. That is one of the things I absolutely love about HarperCollins. 

Each of us received three advanced copies of the books presented and I was really happy with the books I got in my swag bag. Each one of them seems quite different from the books I have been reading lately. Here is a quick look at the three books I received:

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Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron:

This book is about a girl named Arrah who is born into a family of witch doctors. Arrah yearns for magic of her own and trades years of her life for a bit of magic. But when children start going missing and a demon king begins stirring, Arrah is faced with the price of magic to set things right. Based on this description, this story almost feels like a Grim Brothers fairy-tale. This book is up next on my TBR. RELEASE DATE: Sept. 3, 2019

Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Waymouth:

This book is an alternate historical fantasy set in reimagined 1800’s London where magic is contained in six houses and controlled by an oppressive king. Spending years in exile after her father was killed for treason, Violet returns to save her house and stop the dark magic’s destruction. I love magical realism and this story seems quite different from the other magical books I have read lately. RELEASE DATE: Sept. 10, 2019

Now Entering Addamsville by Francesca Zappia

This book is described as a contemporary mystery with a Stranger Things vibe. When Zora is framed for a crime she did not commit, she sets on a mission to prove her innocence. This proves to be difficult in a small town that is obsessed with ghost stories and getting people to see the truth begins to feel impossible. As a fan of Stranger Things, I was sold on the description and cannot wait to dive into this one. RELEASE DATE: Oct. 1, 2019.

When You Ask Me Where I’m Going by Jasmin Kaur

One of my favorite parts of Frenzy Presents was meeting Author Jasmin Kaur and hearing her read some of the poetry from her new book. I absolutely love it when an author’s work speaks to me and this is exactly what happened when I was listening to Jasmin read. After hearing her first poem, I knew I needed this book in my life.

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This book is a beautiful collection of poems as well as a short story exploring the life of an undocumented single Punjabi mother living in Canada. Jasmin’s words stay with you long after you close the book. I was really excited to get my hands on an advanced copy and I was so taken in that I finished the book in one day. My full review will be shared closer to the release date, which will be October 1st.

The Frenzy Squad

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When I attended my first Frenzy Presents earlier this year I had no idea that I would make friends with such incredibly kind and fun bookworms. The best part about this event is getting the opportunity to meet and hang out with these wonderful friends of mine. Frenzy may be over, but I love how this event allowed us to come together and stay in touch over bookstagram. I’m really grateful for this community.

A big thank you to HCC Frenzy and the amazing staff at HarperCollins for showing us bookworms a great time. Looking forward to the next event.

Happy Reading Bookworms,

Shazia. 

Writing

Pitchapalooza BookCon 2019

Dumbledore once explained to us that you have a choice when it comes to being placed into a Hogwarts house. I know many people would love to be placed in Gryffindor. I have said this before and I will say it again: Pottermore sorted me into Ravenclaw and I fully accepted that I was not brave enough to be in Gryffindor. Seriously, if the Basilisk was slithering towards me I would probably be shielding my crying eyes and calling on someone from Gryffindor to fight the snake for me. Not even kidding.

However, I’m happy to report that I sometimes have my courageous moments and I displayed some serious Gryffindor vibes over this past weekend at a Bookcon Panel called “Pitchapalooza”. That being said, it was the most terrifying feeling ever. It must be exhausting being a Gryffindor. You guys are welcome to join me in the Ravenclaw library for some meditative reading sessions when you need a break from all that valiant stuff you do.

Pitchapalooza 2019:

I was not planning on attending day two of Bookcon, but I had so much fun on day one that I decided to go. That morning, I looked through the list of panels I could attend and came across one called “Pitchapalooza” and the description is what caught my eye.

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Literary agent Arielle Eckstut and bestselling author David Henry Sterry, known as the Book Doctors, were set to host this panel. Joining them on the judging panel was author Cheryl Willis Hudson. The basic premise of this panel was to give a one-minute pitch of the book you were writing to the panel of publishing experts. They would then critique your pitch in a kind and gentle way and the winner would be introduced to a literary agent or publisher. Twenty participants would be selected at random to pitch their books from everyone who signed up before the panel began. It sounded equally wonderful and terrifying.

Let’s get real for a moment: I hate public speaking. I like to melt into a crowd rather than be placed in front of one. So when I was looking at the bowl containing names for the draw, I heard a voice in my head listing all the reasons why this was a bad idea:

  • My book was far from complete
  • I had not prepared for this in any way
  • What in the world was a book pitch?

I stood there with my name scribbled on the piece of paper that I was clutching for dear life and started listing the reasons why I should do it:

  • What were the odds my name would be picked from the draw?
  • I had my notebook in my bag, which contained a brief summary of my book. It was far from perfect, but it was something if I was chosen as tribute. 
  • I was visiting the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, and according to Alicia Keys and Jay Z, there is nothing I can’t do (let’s hear it for New York!)

I stuffed my name at the very bottom of the bowl and headed towards the panel. I did feel proud of myself for putting my name in the draw but I was also realizing that if I got chosen this would be the first time anyone other than myself would be hearing the story I was writing.

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I sat down with my journal and flipped through the pages of character profiles and scenes until I found the brief one page summary of my book I had written a month ago. It was well written but I knew it did not have the structure of a book pitch. At best I would be given advice on how to improve my book pitch and my story. I sat there with my stomach in knots and kept telling myself I would not be called.

I was the third person to be called on stage to present my book pitch
*Cue the Hunger Games music*
*Cue the Game of Thrones Battle music*
*Call an ambulance and send me back to Canada* 

You know in the movies how some scenes become super dramatic in slow motion? Well that is the only way I could describe the few seconds after I was called on stage. Everything was a blur and my legs went numb. I suddenly wished my parents or my friends were there with me, but in that moment the kind lady sitting next to me gave me a nudge to get up and told me I would do great. I walked up to the stage on shaking legs and stood behind the podium. Looking out at the crowd I saw nothing but smiling faces. It did not occur to me in that moment that the room was filled with fellow aspiring writers. They understood how scary it was to stand behind the podium and maybe it was their energy that made me take a deep breath and started reading. 

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It was over before I knew it and I was so relieved once I heard the applause from the crowd. I did it! It was a proud moment and I was curious as to what feedback the judges would give me. I was ecstatic that Arielle was intrigued by the premise of my story and took mental notes on all the advice they gave me on how to improve my book pitch. They were so kind and honest that I felt motivated to keep working on my story.

I knew I did not win but I still walked back to my seat feeling like I had just won the House Cup for Gryffindor. Getting up there on that podium and sharing my story was my personal win.

Writing can be a lonely activity, especially when you never share your words with anyone. I was always terrified of sharing my stories with people. A part of me thought that if I shared my stories I would be exposed as a fraud who had absolutely no talent. It took me a long time to realize that I have always been a writer, and no form of validation from others would change that. So I started sharing bits and pieces of my previous work with a few friends and my parents. Their praise and supportive words are locked away in my heart forever. This was the first time I shared my new story with anyone and the first time I shared my writing with complete strangers. I felt vulnerable and terrified but I survived and came out of it feeling lighter. That is what happens when you release the words you have hiding within yourself for far too long. 

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I was grateful not only to have been given the chance to present my book pitch but also to listen to those of the other nineteen writers. It was incredible hearing such creative stories and I found myself hoping these writers would be published soon. I really want to read their books. The Book Doctors gave so much helpful advice that you could hear the sound of notes being scribbled onto paper throughout the room. I left the panel feeling inspired and full of hope.

So I guess the moral of this story is that we all have some Gryffindor traits in us and all we have to do is take that first step towards something outside of our comfort zone. That is where all the wizardry magic happens.

Keep on writing!
Shazia.