Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

34273236*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celeste Ng

Publisher: Penguin Press

Publication Date: September 12, 2017

ISBN: 9780735224292

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Celeste Ng has quickly become one of my favourite authors who is proving herself as an artist with the written word. In the same way that Everything I Never Told You tugged on heartstrings and confronted difficult topics and truths, Little Fires Everywhere tackles tough topics, deeply hidden secrets, and the reality behind a seemingly picture perfect city.

Shaker Heights is a city of perfection. A planned community, it has little tolerance for anything against the status quo, and the citizens that live there don’t want anything different. There is something to be feared, not admired, in those who seek something different. The Richardsons are the picture perfect family, meeting the status quo in every way. Elena Richardson leads her family to strive for perfection, not tolerating what she sees as rebellion. Her fear of losing her family and her picturesque life drives her need for perfectionism in herself, her husband, her children, and her community. In contrast, Mia and Pearl have skirted all concepts of tradition. Living a wayward life, they’ve spent the years of Pearl’s life on the go, setting down no roots and leaving no connections behind. Their world circulates around Mia’s work as an artist. They find joy in this freedom, but it also comes as a cost; they’ve never had a community to support them and no family to rally around them. They are outsiders everywhere they go, but especially so in Shaker Heights.

There isn’t a ton of action in this book, but it captivates with its complex exploration into the history of the characters as well as into their psyches. In many cases the reader gets a chance to have an intimate look at a character’s motivations, ideas, perceptions, etc. We come to understand why the people of Shaker Heights behave the way they do, even if they themselves don’t understand it. I actually found Elena Richardson to be one of the most interesting characters in the book. She fills more of an antagonist role as the book progresses. On the surface she is demure, collected, professional, and caring, but beneath the surface she is full of fears and anxieties. She is able to absolve herself of any wrongdoing because of her refusal to look introspectively and her denial of her true motives. Some reviewers see this as obliviousness, however I think it runs deeper than that. I think Elena is so talented at perfecting her appearance and and fitting into the flow of her community that she’s mastered the ability to push aside any feelings that are not conducive to her pristine lifestyle. Often times this puts the reader at a distance from her–a distance I think she’s trying to impose–but there are indications of her true motivations when her facade begins to slip as things become more out of her control.

Celeste writes with an ability to sway the reader one way, but over the course of a novel, completely convince the reader of something else. This allows her to introduce intense and complicated plot twists that constantly shift the reader’s perspective. Our feelings about the story and the characters shift throughout as more is revealed and things begin to unravel. This author isn’t looking for the happy ending. Instead she writes with brutal honesty, confronting the reader with tough topics and scenarios where things don’t work out. Her writing is true to life. Despite sometimes heavier themes, this story finishes with strength and a hope that like a phoenix, new life will rise from the ashes. The close-minded world of Shaker Heights is blown open, but with the possibility that things might improve, minds might be opened, and lives might be rebuilt.


Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

29385546*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Warcross

Author: Marie Lu

Publisher: Putnam

Publication Date: September 12, 2017

ISBN: 9780399547966

Synopsis from Goodreads:
For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation. Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire. 

My reaction: AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH! 😀 Marie Lu is consistently producing awesome YA lit with strong plots, fantastic worlds, and cool characters. Warcross does not disappoint. Fans of Marie Lu will be thrilled with the first book in her newest series. This is one of the most exciting YA books that I’ve read in years. I was over the moon to read another book from this amazingly talented author and now I’m completely hooked on this series. I devoured book one in a day. The only bad thing I have to say is that it’s over. Please, please, please read this!

Emika Chen is living a rough life. She works hard and struggles to survive, but everything changes for her when she makes what she thinks is a stupid mistake, but turns out to be the chance of a lifetime for her. She’s thrust into the world of Warcross and comes face to face with the heart-throb, billionaire creator, Hideo. Her talent, previously undiscovered, puts her at the top of the league with world renowned players. She makes a name for herself as a Warcross player while working secretly behind the scenes to uncover the sinister blot of the antagonist, Zero. Placing herself in the way of serious harm, Emika risks everything to fight for what’s right.

There are so many twists and turns in this book, and the characters are fascinating and full of depth. I expect we’ll see even more exploration of characters, including those who had more of a backseat role, move to the forefront as this series progresses. Lu sets up a fast-paced story that has so much room for expansion and exploration. Her world reminds me of Ready, Player One, but instead of just one great book, we have a few more to look forward to with this series.

It’s soooooooo good! YA fans, please read! You’re going to love this one.

Review: Lost in September by Kathleen Winter

33413466*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Lost in September

Author: Kathleen Winter

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: September 12, 2017

ISBN: 9780345810120

Synopsis from Goodreads:
As a young soldier in his twenties, the historical James Wolfe (1727-1759) was granted a short and much longed-for leave to travel to Paris to study poetry, music and dance–three of his passions. But in that very year, 1752, the British Empire abandoned the Julian calendar for the Gregorian, and every citizen of England lost eleven days: September 2 was followed by September 14. These lost eleven days happened to occur during the period that Wolfe had been granted for his leave. Despondent and bitter, he never got the chance to explore his artistic bent, and seven short years later, on the anniversary of this foreshortened leave, he died on the Plains of Abraham. Now, James is getting his eleven days back . . . but instead of the salons of 18th century Paris, he’s wandering the streets of present-day Montreal and Quebec City, not as “the Hero of Quebec” but as a damaged war veteran wracked with anguish. 

Kathleen Winter is a beautiful writer and in her newest story, Lost in September, she takes a look at the history of General James Wolfe and his actions in Quebec and on the Plain of Abraham in contrast with Jimmy, an ex-soldier suffering with PTSD as he roams the streets of modern Quebec. The story moves fluidly between the Eighteenth-Century and present day, confusing and conflating the two as James/Jimmy tries to figure out the missing 11 days that citizens lost when Britian switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. This story breathes life into the neighbourhoods of Quebec, so thoroughly descriptive of so many places, both historically and currently. This story is as much about the place as it is about the history and the characters.

I enjoyed the complicated exploration that Winter achieves in this book. Jimmy believes himself to be General Wolfe for these eleven days, but one can argue that James Wolfe inhabits his doppleganger’s person for these days, tormented by the anguish of losing his days of leave. The perspective often shifts to a historical approach so the reader believes that they are in fact viewing Wolfe himself, but in the next moment, he’ll slip up and we’ll know that we in fact are seeing Jimmy. The two are interwoven. In Jimmy’s lack of knowledge of self, we cannot rely on his story to be the truth, thus we must piece together his and Wolfe’s stories through the eyes of other characters. This lack of reliability really reflects the character’s fragmented state and sucks the reader into his suffering and anxiety, making his experience much more accessible and realistic.

I will say, I did find the story to be lagging at times. There’s not a lot happening in the middle, other than intense characterization which falls a bit flat with not a lot of action taking place. Because of this, I found the middle to be a bit slow going. I can’t say I found it to be a gripping story. More an interesting musing on a moment in history. However, this book is compelling and different than many historical fictionalizations that you’ll read. It takes a refreshing approach to present a story that perhaps is less well known. Myself, I was not familiar with the details surrounding general Wolfe and I found this book to be an excellent prompt to do a little bit of research and learn a little more.


Review: Blood Fable by Oisín Curran

32761969*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Blood Fable

Author: Oisín Curran

Publisher: BookThug

Publication Date: October 3, 2017

ISBN: 9781771662949

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In 1980, New Pond, a utopian Buddhist community on the coast of Maine is on the verge of collapse. New Pond’s charismatic leader demands complete adherence to his authority, and slowly, his followers come to the realization that they’ve been exploited for too long. The eleven-year-old son of one of those adherents is dimly aware of the concerns of the adult world. Yet his imagination provides a refuge both from the difficulties of his parents’ lives–including his mother’s newly discovered cancer–and from the boredom and casual brutality of school. To distract his parents and himself from their collective troubles, the boy claims to remember his own life before birth–an epic tale about the search for a lost city made up of the boy’s own experiences refracted through the lens of the adventure stories he loves. As the world around them falls apart, the boy and his parents find that his strange story often seems to predict the events taking place in the world around them. 

Blood Fable is an excellent work of metafiction which shares two stories: a boy and his parents living in a utopian Buddhist community in the United States whose world is beginning to collapse around the, and the story that he weaves for his parents in the form of visions that they record as the “visions” come to him in bursts. It’s a complex story that speaks to the unravelling of an idealistic community as those with power begin to take advantage of their situation and take advantage of their authority over those of lesser status. It also address the escapist principles of fantasy and epics stories and how they are reflections of our own lives, but also provide opportunities to be free of reality on occasion.

This story is strange, compelling, and unique. The main character is young enough to escape the politics of adult life and to be able to view his situation with an open mind to see things as they really are, but he is old enough to recognize the happiness and reverence that his story brings to his parents. He is also old enough to recognize the many things that are off about his community and to know when his parents are trying to hid something from him. His story is creative and parallels the turmoil and struggles in his own life. The world he invents is absurd and ever changing but if offers the reader a lot of insight into his own inner feelings and his own need to find refuge from the many points of stress in his world.

I loved this book! It’s something a little different and it’s incredibly well-written.

See Blood Fable as one of The Globe and Mail‘s most-anticipated books of the rest of 2017.

Review: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

20910157Title: Yes Please

Author: Amy Poehler

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication Date: October 24

ISBN: 9780062268341

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book full of words to live by.

Amy Poehler has been one of my favourite ladies in the tv biz for a few years now. I got hooked on her through Parks and Rec and subsequently became a fan of her Smart Girls posts on Facebook. When I found her book at a garage sale earlier in the spring of this year, I just had to pick it up (excellent find!). I read this book on a weekend away at the cottage and it was just the perfect thing. It was easy to pick up, hilarious and witty, and the chapters were the perfect length to put the book down after an hour of reading and rest my eyes for a moment or two before picking it back up again.

Poehler is as funny on paper as she is live. The book establishes a sense of camaraderie with the reader. Amy invites you into the book like women invites their girlfriends into their living rooms. Grab a bit glass of wine and settle in with this one! Her stories are personal, observant, and more often then not, are a bit wacky. Amy is straightforward and unafraid to share those nitty gritty details. She’s open and honest and after reading this book, one feels as though one has gained a new friend.

On top of everything, it’s an absolutely gorgeous book, complete with glossy pages (yes the do reflect in the sunlight), full colour pages, and tons of hilarious Amy pictures from all stages of her life. This book is a true testament to her tenacity and her willingness to share her life with her fans. I feel like this book is a little piece of Amy. You can really tell that a lot of hard work went in to putting this book together. It’s not just a book, it’s a collection piece.

Review: The Trick Emanuel Bergmann

32920274*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Trick

Author: Emanuel Bergmann

Publisher: Atria Books

Publication Date: September 17, 2017

ISBN: 9781501155826

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Sweeping between Prague during World War II and modern day Los Angeles, this deeply moving debut follows a young Jewish man in 1934 who falls in love and joins the circus as the country descends into war. Decades later, a young boy seeks out the now cynical, elderly magician in the hopes that his spells might keep his family together. 

The premise of this book is very fascinating: a story in 2 parts, in Europe beneath the big top as the Nazi occupation spreads and in the current day where magic may be the only thing to keep one family together. The story started out strong, building two separate worlds both full of sorrow but also full of possibility, but for me, it went downhill from there. So many of the reviews on Goodreads are good reviews, and perhaps I missed something along the way, but I don’t think this book lives up to the hype. Perhaps something is lost in translation (it is translated from German) or perhaps the translation is not the best, but I found this book didn’t hold my attention and was often aggravating at times.

I have a hard time stopping and giving up on a book midway through. I’m happy I made it all the way through The Trick because I really wanted to find out the resolution, but it felt like one I could have walked away from. I found the characters to be really flat and not at all realistic. The dialogue was weak and lacking throughout and it just made the characters seem a bit stock and empty. A few times, I found myself thinking that no real human would say many of the things in this book. I’m sure many of you readers will know that my favourite thing in a book is complex and realistic characters that I can relate to and believe in, so a lack of such things leaves me very disappointed and unhappy in a book.

I gave this story 2 stars on Goodreads. I liked the premise and I think it had tons of potential, and so many people seemed to really enjoy it. This one just wasn’t for me!

Review: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

31449227.jpgTitle: Ramona Blue

Author: Julie Murphy

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 9780062418357

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever. Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever. The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem. 

A book-loving co-worker gave me this book after seeing it on my Goodreads to-read shelf. She told me that I was going to love it. And I did! Julie Murphy is a strong writer with a story that I think a lot of teens can relate too. Ultimately, this book is about a coming-of-age and finding oneself in the world when there are many things standing against you or holding you back. Ramona is a character who is exploring her sexuality and trying to learn who she is while supporting her family and her sister. She sets aside her own future out of love for her sister. I think there’s also a lack of confidence there as she tries to find her own identity, unsure of what it is she really wants out of life.

The author tackles issues like sexuality, race, class, friendship, loss, divorce, alcohol/drug abuse, and romance. She doesn’t turn away from tough topics, but instead guides the characters through each hurdle, helping them to learn and grow along the way. The characters struggle with these topics, trying to understand themselves and each other, even in the most difficult of times. Murphy paints a picture that life isn’t always easy, but with close friends and family and a good support system, we can be sustained and grow in loving relationships despite difficulties.

This book did receive some negative feedback regarding Ramona’s sexuality, but I think we can take away from this book that she is a young woman who is in a process of self-discovery and exploration, and that’s ok. What this book does well is open up the door for conversation about sexuality and discusses how sexuality is fluid, not fixed. Ramona is not even out of high school yet. Nothing says that she needs to define exactly who she is and what her sexuality is, or even who she is as a person. She’s really just learning about who she is–even she doesn’t understand everything that she’s feeling! She’s driven and loving and kind. She’s learning about the possibilities that her future holds. She’s discovering the things she can do and the paths she can take, and even if she doesn’t know exactly where she’ll end up, she’s learning to make decisions, to move forward, to accept consequences, and to take responsibility.

I think this is a very strong and well-written book. It’s an excellent book to see out there in the YA market and it really stands apart from a lot of the other YA out there. It’s realistic, unyielding, and honest. Murphy builds a world that is very real for many teens out there and creates a space for discussion about issues that many teens–people of any age really–face. I think that it’s a well-executed story, and I hope to see more from Murphy in the future.