Review and GIVEAWAY — Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

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

Scroll down to enter for your chance to win a finished copy of the awesome book from Mary H. K. Choi, Emergency Contact, plus a CUSTOM iPhone case!

35297272Title: Emergency Contact

Author: Mary H. K. Choi

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 9781534408968

Synopsis from Goodreads:
For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind. Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him. When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.


5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads for Mary H. K. Choi’s Emergency ContactI ripped through this book so quickly, I just couldn’t put it down. These characters are unique, honest, and so tangible. Choi writes characters who could so easily step off the page–Sam is a broke-as-hell film student, covered in tattoos and skinnier than he’d like to be, who’s life has been upended into a complicated mess both in terms of his love life and his relationship with his mom. Penny’s a freshman at college and is learning to be away from home for the first time. She’s looking to discover who she is as a writer  and who she’ll be apart from her mother, but her own anxieties and idiosyncrasies may make or break relationship with the woman who raised her. These two form a sort of oddball friendship, one that’s definitely unexpected, and find they have more in common than they thought.

What I enjoyed most about this book is that it explores a “friends-first” relationship that blossoms into love in the form of a whisper and then a great explosion. Penny and Sam connect intellectually, learning who the other person is through witty banter that expands into sharing of intimate hopes and fears, all evolving from a single text message. As Penny says of Sam, he “speaks Penny” and gets her so naturally that it’s a breath of fresh air. They develop a camaraderie and a language that is all their own, understanding and getting to know each other in that effortless and exhilarating way, through texting first and then later in person. They are both amazed at how deeply they are able to connect with one another in a virtual space, but it creates a forum of honesty–a place without pretense. They fall in together. Their relationship is easy in the way that real love is. The story’s focus is on the connection these two have as friends and the excitement leading up to the relationship–the butterflies, the anxiety of not knowing how things will work out.

This story is light, but heart-warming and page-turning simultaneously. Choi’s focus seems to be on character building and development, a skill at which she is extremely talented.  Choi successfully conveys Penny’s awkwardness and her total obliviousness at traditional friendships. Penny is hilarious and so incredibly relate-able. I felt such a deep connection, my own tendency to overthink things sometimes reflected in her, but in a way that is so positive. It’s Penny’s internal monologue that makes her so real and so loveable. Sam, as well, is endearing and heart-breaking in his struggles and fears. He gains strength as his world expands and really begins to take charge of his own life, even if it hurts him. Their story will make you smile, but it will also make you cry. An excellent book, well worth buying!


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The Boat People by Sharon Bala

37798267.jpg*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Boat People

Author: Sharon Bala

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Publication Date: January 2, 2018

ISBN: 9780771024290

Synopsis from Goodreads:
When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees from Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war reaches Canadian shores, the young father believes he and his six-year-old son can finally begin a new life. Instead, the group is thrown into prison, with government officials and news headlines speculating that hidden among the “boat people” are members of a terrorist organization infamous for their suicide attacks. As suspicion swirls and interrogation mounts, Mahindan fears the desperate actions he took to survive and escape Sri Lanka now jeopardize his and his son’s chances for asylum.
Told through the alternating perspectives of Mahindan; his lawyer, Priya, a second-generation Sri Lankan-Canadian who reluctantly represents the refugees; and Grace, a third-generation Japanese-Canadian adjudicator who must decide Mahindan’s fate, 
The Boat People is a spellbinding and timely novel that provokes a deeply compassionate lens through which to view the current refugee crisis. 


A Canada Reads 2018 contender, Sharon Bala’s The Boat People is an emotional and moving story based on the arrival of the Ocean Lady (2009) and the MV Sun Sea (2010) on the coast of British Columbia with over 500 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. Bala’s story weaves together multiple tales: Priya is a law student who’s Tamil family does not talk about their past and distances themselves from Tamil culture in Canada; Grace is the daughter of a Japanese immigrant who spent her young life persecuted and interned by Canadians during WWII; and Mahindan and his Son have arrived in Canada after escaping the horrors of war-ravaged Sri Lanka, torn apart by the feud between the Tigers and the Sinhalese.

The story feels fast paced as each chapter switches perspective, moving from one character to the next. This creates a devastating and exhilarating effect where not a single character feels as though the have an ounce of control. Although some characters hold power over others, they are all enslaved to bureaucracies and situations much larger than themselves. The characters, although vastly different, are revealed to be so truly similar to one another in fundamental and very human ways. Not one is free from stress, fear, responsibility, or loss. They all have families and have things to hide. But they are all, essentially, seeking freedom to live in a world free of pain and suffering, where prejudice does not exist and they can work hard to achieve a life for themselves and their families. Although this is not a world that yet exists, and they are plagued by the judgment of the media and the persecution of the government–on various fronts–each fights to do what is right and to tell the truth.

Bala’s book highlights the fact that most Canadians are immigrants or refugees or are the descendants of immigrants and refugees. So many peoples from a vast variety of backgrounds have faced persecution in this country. It is something that simultaneously unites and divides us. It is a tool of separation when it suits someone’s purpose, but as Bala points out, it binds us together in a common experience. Her novel points to the arbitrary process of a broken immigration system, how judiciary officials are called to make a decision of entry based on a story told through a language barrier, spotty documentation, inaccurate or unavailable information from the country of origin. These decisions are judgement calls, based on one person’s ability to judge the sincerity of another.

Bala’s message is loud and clear and it’s one of understanding and compassion. It offers many sides of a story to offer varying perspectives. The author’s writing asks the reader to pause to contemplate the system, to think not only of themselves, but to put themselves in another’s shoes before making any sort of decision. This is a book to approach with an open heart and open mind. What you’ll find inside is something breath-taking.


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Review: A Long Way from Home by Peter Carey

34950025*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: A Long Way from Home

Author: Peter Carey

Publication Date: October 30, 2017

Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group

ISBN: 9780525520177

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Irene Bobs loves fast driving. Her husband is the best car salesman in south eastern Australia. Together they enter the Redex Trial, a brutal race around the ancient continent, over roads no car will ever quite survive. With them is their lanky fair-haired navigator, Willie Bachhuber, a quiz show champion and failed school teacher who calls the turns and creeks crossings on a map that will remove them, without warning, from the white Australia they all know so well. This is a thrilling high speed story that starts in one way, and then takes you some place else. It is often funny, more so as the world gets stranger, and always a page-turner even as you learn a history these characters never knew themselves.


What I liked about this book was the topic, the characters, and the overall idea. What I didn’t like about this book is that it just plain couldn’t hold my attention. I was bored. That may be harsh, but it’s really true. As much as I wanted to like this book, I really just couldn’t. This is the second book of Peter Carey’s that I read and I think it’s time for me to call it quits. Many people really appreciate and love his writing, but whether it’s a difference of interests or a different sense of humour, I just haven’t been able to get into his books. Where I think Carey’s strength is, is in his characterization–Irene Bobs is a firecracker of a woman and Willie Bachhuber is as interesting as he is complicated–that is to say, very interesting. But sadly, the story was very dry for me. I couldn’t visualize what was happening and really get immersed in the story. I had high hopes for this book and they were dashed. I have nothing really bad to say about this book. I think a great many readers will enjoy it. It wasn’t to my taste.


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Review: Lost Animal Club by Kevin A. Couture

29902528.jpgTitle: Lost Animal Club

Author: Kevin A. Couture

Publisher: NeWest Press

Publication Date: September 2016

ISBN: 9781926455662

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In his debut story collection, Kevin A. Couture creates a world where the veneer of humanness stretches thin and often cracks, while burdened characters take on a variety of beast-like traits. In his desperate survival plan, a pre-teen “rescues” dogs in order to sell them back to their well-off owners. A hare-like marathon pacesetter reflects on the pace she sets, for others and for herself, both on and off the race route. A man confronts his drive for alcohol and the deadly and isolating consequences that leave him to risk his last scrap of control. And two kids, for different reasons, execute their plan to capture a bear cub.


What an intense short story collection from author Kevin A. Couture. As a debit, this collection packs a punch–it’s strong, unexpected, and fiercely moving. The stories are full of emotions of fear, strength, desperation, confusion, survival–those really nitty gritty human emotions that shape and drive us. These emotions are what makes us imperfect and so deeply flawed. Couture faces dark and often disturbing themes head on in a way that is artful and masterful. These are stories to make you think, as well as to question, what it truly means to be human, especially in the context of interacting with others. Who are we as we relate to those around us?

These stories stuck with me, so consuming that they infiltrated my dreams in an unexpected way. Days, or even a week, after reading these stories, I found myself remembering them and sinking into them and questioning if it was something I’d come up with in my own head, before remembering that no, it was a story that is still dancing through my mind. I found Couture to be so startling and so unpredictable. I’m excited to see what else he has to offer.


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Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

30288282*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Immortalists

Author: Chloe Benjamin

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Publication Date: January 9, 2018

ISBN: 9780735213180

Synopsis from Goodreads:
If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present? It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes. Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.


Benjamin’s The Immortalists is quite a captivating tale that combines together topics of family, love, coming of age, crime, loss, and mysticism in to one neat package. It is the story of the Gold children, each told the date of their death by a mysterious fortune teller, and left to lead their lives haunted by this information. Whether or not this information holds any truth or bearing on reality is to be discovered. Benjamin weaves this peculiar tale through the individual perspectives of each child–her structure (one story at a time, decidedly separate from the stories that come before and after) reflecting so vividly the familial relationships throughout the story. Although we, the readers, are privy to the characters’ insights, they themselves are often ignorant to information and emotions held by their own family members. In this way, the story is often frustrating as all the reader wants is for these characters to put differences aside and to open up to one another. If only they could and perhaps much tragedy would be forgotten. As much as it is frustrating, it truly speaks to reality and genuine family dynamics–families often face a dissonance when held to particular standards or expectations, but beneath all layers of hurt and regret, there lies unwavering love and loyalty.

Benjamin’s tale, at its root, speaks of the human experience: of imperfection, mistakes, diverged paths, craving for belonging and truth, need for truth, desire for purpose, etc. The author doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable, bringing these characters and their stories to life in a visceral and tangible way. The characters are so real, I felt as though I could reach out and touch them. Benjamin’s style is full of life, despite dwelling so much on the topic of death. It’s a compelling topic to address, this notion of knowing the date of one’s own death. It’s both a blessing and a curse, as The Immortalists so intimately explores.

My only criticism, and the reason I didn’t give it 5 stars on Goodreads, is that this story didn’t fully immerse me in the consuming emotional experience that I think it has the potential to offer. A book becomes profound and even life-changing for me (one to add to the favourites list) if I really experience that emotional and moving connection with the story and the characters. While this book was beautiful and so vividly real, there was something missing that I can’t quite place my finger on. It made me want to cry, but something stopped me. For a book so consumingly full of loss and love, I wasn’t able to completely lose myself to its story. This is not hugely detrimental, by any means. It is an excellent story, by an incredibly talented author. It’s one that I highly recommend, without a doubt.


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Review: S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett

35248505.jpg*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: S.T.A.G.S.

Author: M.A. Bennett

Publisher: Penguin Teen

Publication Date: January 30, 2018

ISBN: 9780735264144

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Synopsis from Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Greer, a scholarship girl at a prestigious private school, St Aidan the Great School (known as STAGS), soon realizes that the school is full of snobs and spoilt rich brats, many of whom come from aristocratic families who have attended the institute throughout the centuries. She’s immediately ignored by her classmates. All the teachers are referred to as Friars (even the female ones), but the real driving force behind the school is a group of prefects known as the Medievals, whose leader, Henry de Warlencourt, Greer finds both strangely intriguing as well as attractive. The Medievals are all good-looking, clever and everyone wants to be among their circle of friends. Greer is therefore surprised when she receives an invitation from Henry to spend a long weekend with him and his friends at his family house in the Lake District, especially when she learns that two other “outsiders” have also been invited: Shafeen and Chanel. As the weekend unfolds, Greer comes to the chilling realization that she and two other “losers” were invited only because they were chosen to become prey in a mad game of manhunt.


I really do dislike having to give negative reviews, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. I really didn’t enjoy Bennett’s S.T.A.G.S. I’d hoped I would, but the more I got into the book, the more unrealistic and far fetched it seemed. I love when new worlds are built–there are endless possibilities–and authors can really do a lot to suck you into their worlds and to convince you of the setting as reality. The reader can suspend disbelief and accept the world in a  truly well-written tale. Unfortunately, at least for me, that wasn’t the case.

S.T.A.G.S. is meant to be a suspenseful and thrilling story, with an element of horror. The world of privilege that the reader is brought into is tainted by centuries long family secrets of torture, abuse, and even murder. The plot is easy to guess, perhaps simplifies for a younger intended audience. The story so obviously shouts “THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE SINISTER” in a way that takes away from the eeriness of the setting and draws attention to the mystery and impending doom. It left no surprises and left me feeling pretty disconnected from the story as a whole.


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