Review: Folded Notes from High School by Matt Boren

34671577*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Folded Notes from High School

Author: Matt Boren

Publisher: Razorbill

Publication Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 9780451478221

Synopsis from Goodreads:
It’s 1991, and Tara Maureen Murphy is finally on top. A frightening cross between Regina George and Tracy Flick, Tara Maureen Murphy is any high school’s worst nightmare, bringing single-minded ambition, narcissism, manipulation, and jealousy to new extremes. She’s got a hot jock boyfriend in Christopher Patrick Caparelli, her best friend Stef Campbell by her side, and she’s a SENIOR, poised to star as Sandy in South High’s production of Grease. Cinching the role is just one teensy step in Tara’s plot to get out of her hometown and become the Broadway starlet she was born to be. She’s grasping distance from the finish line–graduation and college are right around the corner–but she has to remain vigilant. It gets trickier with the arrival of freshman Matthew Bloom, whose dazzling audition for the role of Danny Zuko turns Tara’s world upside down. Freshmen belong in the chorus, not the spotlight! But Tara’s outrage is tinged with an unfamiliar emotion, at least to her: adoration. And what starts as a conniving ploy to “mentor” young Matt quickly turns into a romantic obsession that threatens to topple Tara’s hard-won status at South High….

Folded Notes from High School was the light, quick, entertaining read that you’d expect it to be. It’s got that nostalgia factor for anyone who remembers anything about the 90s. Boren kicks things off right at the begging by defining a folded note in a humorous opening that acknowledges how much things have changed from the pre-technology era until now. I did really love the 90s vibe. It was a nice throwback to my childhood. Boren draws a stark line, defining the exact era that this novel takes place and setting the tone for the story. This whole book, written epistolary style, is a nod to anyone who grew up in the time before the Internet and text messages, when notes were passed in class and in the hallways. Perhaps they still are, but Boren takes the stance that this is a thing of the past.

Beyond enjoying the nostalgia throughout–the “4eva”s, the crazy silly acronyms, the rambling silly notes on college-ruled paper–I can’t say that I was much of a fan of the protagonist. Tara Maureen Murphy is incredibly immature for a senior in high school. She’s vapid, self-absorbed, and has no redeeming qualities. She’s the focal point of the story so other characters who show a lot more potential and who are much more interesting get lost in the whirlwind of her narrative. I was intrigued by secondary characters like Tara’s friend Stef who for Tara is little more than a soundboard to bounce her own ideas off of, or Stacey who resides in the background but has strong morals and a level of maturity not seen in any other character in the story. I wanted more of Tara’s freshman friend, Matt, who is thriving in theatre and who knows who he is and what he wants. There were so many great secondary characters who take a backseat to Tara’s theatrics, leaving me a bit disappointed in this story as a whole.

The epistolary, “folded note” structure means that so much is lost in the characterization of Tara. We learn bits and pieces, like her family life is not all that great, but she experiences little to no growth throughout, and we don’t really get to understand what makes her the way she is. It’s very unsatisfying. In the end, we’re left with no resolution which leads me to believe that this story ends on a tumultuous note. It suggest that the drama never ends and that things may or may not get better. I was a bit displeased with this decision as it left me wishing for a more resolute conclusion.

I can’t say if readers will really like this one or not. I won’t discourage you from trying. The target audience for reading level and concept is definitely a younger group, however the content, drawing deeply on that nostalgia factor, is aimed at an older audience. Let me know if your opinion differs from mine!


Review: Shadow Child by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

36204876*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Shadow Child

Author: Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 9781538711453

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A haunting and suspenseful literary tale set in 1970s New York City and World War II-era Japan, about three strong women, the dangerous ties of family and identity, and the long shadow our histories can cast. Twin sisters Hana and Kei grew up in a tiny Hawaiian town in the 1950s and 1960s, so close they shared the same nickname. Raised in dreamlike isolation by their loving but unstable mother, they were fatherless, mixed-race, and utterly inseparable, devoted to one another. But when their cherished threesome with Mama is broken, and then further shattered by a violent, nearly fatal betrayal that neither young woman can forgive, it seems their bond may be severed forever–until, six years later, Kei arrives on Hana’s lonely Manhattan doorstep with a secret that will change everything.

I really enjoyed reading Rizzuto’s Shadow Child. It was a great blend of mystery, literary, and historical fiction, bringing together a story of family, loss, tragedy, heart-break. The story of Lillie is a devastating recollection of the Japanese work camps in America and the incredible struggle and loss brought on in World War II. In contrast is the story of twin sisters, Hana and Kei, who grow up so close to one another that they often go by the same nickname, or are easily confused as they slip into one another’s identity.  This story is a discovery of truth, of secrets long kept or suppressed that are life changing.

There is an undercurrent of mental illness running throughout the story. Lillie struggles with crippling depression in the wake of the trauma of Hiroshima–something she struggles with until the end of her life. Mental illness trickles down to her daughter Hana, whom we come to know very well, as she fails to heal in the aftermath of a traumatic event that leaves her with paralyzing anxiety and an inescapable and altered sense of reality. Through their stories, Rizzuto explores memory and how perception and memory can change with time, or with how one experienced an event. Hana’s thoughts are swirling and often confused. Lillie’s memories seem more straightforward, but she tells them as fictional stories, as if the memories do not belong to her.

This is a mystery story  that draws a lot on altered perception and self-discovery through time and healing. It doesn’t neatly fit into one genre or another, but blends time, place, and genre artfully to create something engaging and interesting. It questions how we form our identities and how we determine who we are as people and as individuals.

Happy reading!


Review: The Amateurs by Liz Harmer

30850835.jpg*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Amateurs

Author: Liz Harmer

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: March 21, 2018

ISBN: 9780345811240

Synopsis from Goodreads:
PINA, the largest tech company in the world, introduces a product called port. These ports offer space-time travel powered by nostalgia and desire. Step inside the port with a destination in mind, and you will be transported. But there is a catch: it’s possible that you cannot come back. And the ports are incredibly seductive, drawing in those with weaker wills…In this world we follow a motley crew camped out in the abandoned mansions and stately church of a former steel-town that has seen its own share of collapse and growth. The group of about thirty adults and children are looting and surviving on what food they can find. But the harsh winter is fast approaching–do they make the choice to head south as a group, or wait to see if their loved ones will return through the ports?

The Amateurs is right up my alley with it’s post-apocalyptic vibe. In this book, the end of human life as we know it doesn’t come about by a disease or by an environmental catastrophe. No, the downfall of humanity in Harmer’s book lies with the world’s pursuit of technology and it’s desire to find something out there that is better than what exists right now. It’s a downfall brought on by arrogance and hubris that leads to the near extinction of the human race. And what’s left behind? A few survivors that we, the readers, get to see, who are struggling to find some sort of normalcy in this newly abandoned world, all while the ports haunt them in ways they couldn’t even imagine.

It’s certainly an interesting story–a fascinating new take on end-of-the-world fiction. It’s imaginative in the development of technology and imagining where are own world might go from here. It parallels our own universe with a tech-savvy wonder who closely resembles Steve Jobs or Elon Musk in the race to produce newer better tech and achieve greater heights in technological development. This really grabbed my attention and makes this story more thoughtful. What I really enjoyed about this book was the author’s ability to weave a mystery surrounding the technology and what is really going on in the world she’s created. Because I’d never read this type of apocalypse story before, I couldn’t predict where Harmer was going to take the story next. That need to know really drives the story.

On the other hand, the story fell flat for me, unfortunately. As much as I was captivated by the idea of this book, the plot was slow to develop. The neato burrito tech does balance a slow story with intriguing content. Time moves slowly in the book and I found myself itching to get through each section in the hope that the next would move a bit quicker. I was hoping to be swept up by one character in particular, but no one really stood out to me. I did like Marie who is part of the group of survivors introduced in the novel’s first section, but there was nothing about her or her story that made me want to root for her. She simply existed.

Further, the ending was rushed and provided little to no resolution. I definitely don’t think this book will have a sequel, so there’s little hope of finding a more concrete conclusion at a later date. I do like this book makes you stop and think about technology in our own world, and to perhaps contemplate when we’ll draw the line. This book raises a lot of good topics and ethical questions. But it just didn’t live up to what I’ve come to hope for and expect in post-apocalyptic fiction.


Review: The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker

33160796Title: The End of the World Running Club

Author: Adrian J. Walker

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Publication Date: September 5, 2017

ISBN: 9781492656029

Synopsis from Goodreads:
This powerful post-apocalyptic thriller pits reluctant father Edgar Hill in a race against time to get back to his wife and children. When the sky begins to fall and he finds himself alone, his best hope is to run – or risk losing what he loves forever. When the world ends and you find yourself forsaken, every second counts. No one knows this more than Edgar Hill. Stranded on the other side of the country from his wife and children, Ed must push himself across a devastated wasteland to get back to them. With the clock ticking and hundreds of miles between them, his best hope is to run — or risk losing what he loves forever.

I’ve been super into post-apocalyptic fiction the past few years, an interest that keeps growing as more and more books in this genre are written. I read about The End of the World Running Club in a book e-newsletter and immediately added it to my to-read list. I couldn’t wait to read it and so I put a hold on the audiobook at the library. I began listening to is as soon as my hold came available and I was HOOKED! This book was so intense and so good. As an audiobook, it was completely riveting. It shows a world completely destroyed–cities demolished, human life decimated, and families torn apart, but through all this negativity, the beauty of human essence emerges like a Spring flower from beneath a blanket of dirt and snow.

Ed is a bit of a garbage human being and what’s worse, he’s been a bit blind to it for far too long. When the end of the world comes and his life of complacency is ripped away from him. Although his families survives, when his wife and children jump at the chance for a brighter future, they leave him alone to rot in the desolate and cruel wasteland of their former life. Against all odds, Ed pulls himself together and fights not only to survive, but to also better his life and to find the true meaning of being a compassionate, driven, and caring human being. When anarchy descends on what remains of this world, will he be able to rise from the ashes and show that love can triumph even in terrible darkness?

This world is not beautiful and it is not kind, but this story will leave you with a sense of hope that even when all seems lost, there is something to strive for. There is an uplifting message between these pages. There is always room to start over, to begin anew.

Happy reading!


Review: The Way the Light Bends

35628592*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Way the Light Bends

Author: Cordelia Jensen

Publisher: Philomel Books

Publication Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 9780399547447

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Virtual twins Linc and Holly were once extremely close. But while artistic, creative Linc is her parents’ daughter biologically, it’s smart, popular Holly, adopted from Ghana as a baby, who exemplifies the family’s high-achieving model of academic success. Linc is desperate to pursue photography, to find a place of belonging, and for her family to accept her for who she is, despite her surgeon mother’s constant disapproval and her growing distance from Holly. So when she comes up with a plan to use her photography interests and skills to do better in school–via a project based on Seneca Village, a long-gone village in the space that now holds Central Park, where all inhabitants, regardless of race, lived together harmoniously–Linc is excited and determined to prove that her differences are assets, that she has what it takes to make her mother proud. But when a long-buried family secret comes to light, Linc must decide whether her mother’s love is worth obtaining.

I should start of by prefacing this review with a fact: I don’t enjoy poetry and I actively avoid it. BUT I really LOVED Jensen’s free-verse poems that tell the story of a teen girl, her family, and the life she desperately wants to live. I didn’t realize this book was entirely written in free-verse when I picked it up, and then when I did it took me days to work up the oomph to actually open it. However, Jensen’s story that she weaves through the brief lines of each poem is so charged with emotion that you can’t help but get caught along in the story’s grip. This is a coming-of-age story of self-discovery and exploration.

The speaker, Linc, seems to pale in the shadow of her adopted sister, Holly. Or at least, that’s how she feels. She’s not as smart or as athletic. She’s not as popular and it seems like she can never do anything right. But she finds herself in her art, something that isn’t understood by anyone except for a few of her closest friends. Linc knows deep down that she needs to pursue this passion, but she faces road blocks at every turn. Linc is this amazing character who I really deeply related to. I felt a kinship with her as well as this immense amount of sympathy and desire for her to succeed.

Poetry really was the perfect platform to share Linc’s story. Like her love of photography, each poem is a snapshot of a moment in time in her life. Poetry also allows for the tumultuous feelings of teenage-hood to emerge. It’s such a charged time in everyone’s life and these poems so eloquently express these feelings in an elegant way.

What I didn’t like about this story is the incredibly drastic and unaccepting stance that Linc’s parents take throughout the book. It was completely unfathomable to me that her parents continually tried to pressure her into fitting into this idea they had of the best way to succeed when she is so clearly struggling to meet their expectations while vocalizing her own desires as best she can. I am fortunate to have grown up in a home with a mother who encouraged me to do whatever I chose to do and who lifted me up to succeed where I felt I was talented. So, it was difficult to connect with the overall story in this book when I couldn’t fathom such extremely stubborn parents.

Overall though, it is a beautful book and I’d highly recommend. It’s quick and enjoyable.

Happy reading!


Review: My True and Complete Adventure as a Wannabe Voyageur

34696504*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: My True and Complete Adventure as a Wannabe Voyageur

Author: Phyllis Rudin

Publisher: NeWest Press

Publication Date: October 15, 2017

ISBN: 9781988732121

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In this coming-of-age story, Benjie Gabai is convinced he’s been the victim of a terrible cosmic hoax. Instead of being born in the 18th century as a French-Canadian voyageur, God has plunked him down in present-day Montreal, into a family that views his fur trade obsession as proof that their Benjie, once so bursting with promise, has well and truly lost it. Benjie serves out his days as caretaker of The Bay’s poky in-store fur trade museum, dusting and polishing the artifacts that fuel his imagination. When he learns his museum is about to be closed down, scattering his precious collection to the four winds, he hatches a plan that risks bringing his voyageur illusions lapping dangerously up against reality.

Calling all Canadian fiction lovers, if you’re looking for a light-hearted and very endearing book full of Canadiana and absurd storylines, then this book will tickle your fancy. It’s such a silly and warm story, you can’t help but love it. Benjie Gabai is a Jewish Canadian living in Montreal who becomes the caretakers of The Bay’s in-store museum where he becomes a self-taught expert on the Canadian fur trade and meets possibly the only other human who shares such an impassioned affinity for all thing voyageur.

Benjie, who has really lost his direction and his passion, is rooted in his new job as the world of Canadian history unfolds before him. The museum becomes his life. It’s absolutely adorable to watch his knowledge blossom and his love of Canadian history grow. He wants nothing more than to share it with others, although he is so often alone in the museum. He unexpectedly meets a friend here who shares his love and helps him take it to the next level. This is not only a story of Canadian history, it is a coming of age tale about family and true friendships. It’s about finding and pursuing happiness and learning to make tough choices when sacrifices need to be made.

My one criticism is that while the main characters are really in depth and tangible characters, Benjie has a few friends with recurring roles throughout the book who are extremely flat. Their names are mentioned a few times and they are regular kayaking partners for him. They truly support him in his pursuit as a modern day voyageur, however they have no personalities and no real contribution to the story beyond their names added in a line or two. It really makes them totally nonessential to the story as a whole, but I think adding more detail to these characters could have really added an additional layer of depth to Benjie and the story as a whole.

Overall however, My True and Complete Adventure as a Wannabe Voyageur, is an entertaining piece of CanLit that I’m happy to share with you. It’s one of those books that I envision being a staple at the family cottage, perfect to pull out on a rainy day.

Happy reading!


Review: Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

Chaotic Good Comps14.indd*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Chaotic Good

Author: Whitney Gardner

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 9781524720803

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Cameron’s cosplay–dressing like a fictional character–is finally starting to earn her attention–attention she hopes to use to get into the CalTech costume department for college. But when she wins a major competition, she inadvertently sets off a firestorm of angry comments from male fans. When Cameron’s family moves the summer before her senior year, she hopes to complete her costume portfolio in peace and quiet away from the abuse. Unfortunately, the only comic shop in town–her main destination for character reference–is staffed by a dudebro owner who challenges every woman who comes into the shop. At her twin brother’s suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she’s shocked at how easily she’s accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Soon, Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the jerky shop-owner Brody, friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk Wyatt, handsome Lincoln, and her bro Cooper, dragged along for good measure. But as her “secret identity” gets more and more entrenched, Cameron’s portfolio falls by the wayside–and her feelings for Lincoln threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious.

This book was an excellent read with a feisty and talented protagonist who experiences a sort of coming of age over the course of the story as she learns more about who she is and what she wants. Cameron lives and breaths for clothing design, especially costume design. She loves to nerd out and make costumes of her favourite characters and her friends’ favourite characters. Things go awry on her sewing blog around the same time that her family moves to a new town. Cameron faces overwhelming sexist harassment through cyberbullying on her blog. At the same time, in person, she faces sexism from the guy down at the new local comic bookstore. To make things a bit easier for herself, she decides to conduct a social experiment and borrow her brothers clothes. This opens her up to a whole new world as she really experiences first hand how differently that men and women are treated, especially in the realm of fandoms.

The best thing about this book is that so many of the characters were NORMAL diverse people and not some fantasy or ideal of what teens should be. They vary in race, gender, and sexual orientation. Cam’s love interest is an “average” guy with a bit of extra weight and it’s absolutely endearing that she refers to him as “soft.” Cam herself is so vibrant and really finds comfort as both a dressy girly girl, in more typically male clothing, and especially dressed in cosplay.

As a lover of many things geek myself, as well as a budding D&D player, so many things in this book spoke to me on a level of personal interest. Although I have never come up against the same gender walls that Cameron does within my love of nerdy things and geek culture, I don’t doubt that it exists and is often a huge deterrent for many women. Gardner is ready to drop so many truth bombs with her novel. This book blows the conversations surrounding sexism and cyber bullying wide open. It’s incredibly awful knowing that this kind of stuff happens on the Internet everyday, but it’s so eye-opening and honest about the negative and potentially life-altering effect that Internet Trolls can have as they hide behind the safety of anonymity before tearing down others for no good reason beyond entertainment. Gardner also dives into sexual identity, romance, family, and friendships. She starkly contrasts male and female friendships and bases her story’s commentary about gender expectations and the subversion of gender norms.

What I didn’t like about this story was that the central drama is focused on Cam’s deception in dressing as a guy. The suggestion is brought up by her brother, but he is also the one who seems to take the most offence to it when it lasts too long, yet he does nothing to really help her out her secret. And really, all of this drama could have been avoided if Cameron just told the truth sooner rather than later. A lot of books these days seem to be relying on this trop and really if everyone just TOLD THE TRUTH, then all would be ok. Despite this though, my only qualm with this book, I really enjoyed this story. I think it needs to be getting more attention and I hope people will give it a chance.

Happy reading!