Event Recap: Jeff Zentner, Susin Nielsen, and Danielle Younge-Ullman

I haven’t wanted to go to a book-related event in a while. (Kind of been enjoying the break from having to be “book blogger Michelle” all the time). But I told myself there were a handful of authors I’d 100% go see if given the chance. People I could not miss. So when Jeff Zentner was announced to come to Brampton, I marked off my calendar and started counting the days.

I arrived at my personal favourite bookstore, ordered a green tea frap, sat down near the Starbucks fireplace and cracked open Zentner’s new novel, Goodbye Days, to get ready. As people started to show up, I grabbed a seat in front of the panel table and got ready to see three amazing authors. Some context: I’ve read Susin Nielsen’s We Are All Made of Molecules and loved it. 5 stars. I’ve read Jeff Zentner’s Serpent King and it is one of my favourite books of all time. I’ve never read any of Danielle Younge-Ullman’s work, but I was very excited to purchase Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined. The three authors took the stage after greeting some familiar faces, and the panel began.

Each of the authors took their turn in front of the mic to talk a bit about their new books, and then read a small excerpt. As each author took centre stage, I could immediately feel their personality all the way from the second row. Susin, Danielle, and Jeff were all incredibly down-to-earth and were having just as much fun at the event as the people who came to see them, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Then it was time for audience questions, where each author took their turn discussing fan-prompted topics such as their writing process, how they come up with their characters, and why they all chose to write novels dealing with grief and coping with loss. It was very clear that Susin, Danielle and Jeff were answering the questions and discussing their writing as sincerely as possible. I’m not a fan of listening to authors who very obviously have answered questions so many times that they just recite answers from memory, and I was very captivated listening to this group.

Once there were no more audience questions, it was time for the book signing! When it was my turn, I first approached Susin, who asked if I was an optimist or a pessimist (a la her newest protagonist), and said that I must be an optimist if I was a blogger. (I am definitely not). (I’m an anxious little bean). (Optimists die first). Anyway! It was such a delight to talk to her.

Next I met Danielle. At the beginning of the event, she was introduced as having dabbled in the Toronto theatre scene, and for the rest of the afternoon I was trying to figure out why she looked familiar. (Some of you may recall my obsession with theatre). I’m very excited to be able to read Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined, and hopefully report back to all of you how amazing it is!

And finally, I got my chance to talk to Jeff. This was his first signing outside of the States (!!) which made it all the more exciting. He signed my books and told me he liked my “no day but today” tattoo, and I got to tell him how much I loved The Serpent King. So you can imagine, I left the bookstore feeling quite dazed.

This Chapters is the one I grew up with. It’s the bookstore my friends and I have visited regularly since I was 11 years old, going for coffee dates and browsing the shelves as wee little book addicts. And now it’s the Chapters where I got to meet three fantastic authors and have my day made. It’s an afternoon I don’t think a book event will live up to for a while.

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The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo: Book Review

The Fall of Lisa Bellow

Obtained: Simon & Schuster Canada, ARC
Pages: 352
Publish date: March 14, 2017
Rating: ★★★★★

SUMMARY

When eighth grader, Meredith Oliver, walks into a local sandwich shop to grab a root beer, she has no idea the next person through the door is going to be a masked man with a gun. Meredith and her nemesis, Lisa Bellow, end up face to face on the ground as the man robs the joint. Next thing Meredith knows, the man has taken Lisa and leaves her to cower on the floor alone.

The majority of the novel focuses on the reactions to this event. Lisa’s friends creating bracelets for awareness of her abduction. Lisa’s mother dealing with the loss of her daughter. Meredith being the girl that was lucky enough to get away – but not really. And Meredith’s mother, who can’t deal with the fact that her daughter isn’t as unscathed as she appears.

WHAT I LIKED

Honestly, I was not in the mood to read when I picked up this book. But I needed to read something, and Lisa Bellow was the thing I decided to read. I literally started the book on Friday morning and didn’t put it down until I was finished Sunday morning. It was so captivating.

I loved reading about Meredith and the incident that she was witness to, and how it affected her so deeply and personally. I felt like I was there with her. The characters – every single one of them – were so three-dimensional and realistic, I didn’t find myself hating any of them. I particularly liked the fact that Meredith’s mother was so flawed, and yet she wasn’t a “Terrible Mother” character. I don’t see that a lot in media, honestly, and it was sort of heart-warming to be reading about a mother who had a lot of issues but was ultimately sympathetic.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

The chapters alternated between the perspective of Meredith and her mother, Claire, giving us a wide perspective of their family dynamic and how everyone was affected by Lisa’s abduction. I liked getting this immensely detailed portrait of the Oliver family, but I didn’t particularly like reading Claire’s chapters. I just wanted to rush through those and learn more about Meredith and what she was going through.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Sort of spoilers. But okay, you’ve been warned. I love when books have open endings, especially in situations such as this one. The whole, “you’ll never know because no one would ever know. People could guess what happened, or reasons why it happened, but it’ll always be a mystery”. That kind of stuff hooks me right in. But I wish there were a few more answers at the end of this novel. I had too many questions and wish that some of them had gotten resolved. But again, I guess that was the point.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You enjoy books about characters who have undergone a trauma;
  • You like reading about young people but you want something more mature than a “young adult” book;
  • You have a large chunk of time to be reading – because you won’t want to put this one down.

The Fall of Lisa Bellow is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Waiting Room by Diane Flacks: Play Review

Waiting Room

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 128
Publish date: March 14, 2017
Rating: ★★★

SUMMARY

Chrissie and Jeremy have spent a great deal of time waiting—for news of their baby daughter’s post-operation recovery, for weekly scans to show that her tumor is gone, for forty-five-second updates from Dr. Malloy, their brilliant but arrogant pediatric neuro-oncologist. The hospital waiting room has become a second home where they constantly struggle with a series of difficult decisions.

-From Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

Oh, how I have missed reading plays. I love that I can imagine this being acted on a stage; in a lot of ways, that makes the story even more real to me. Waiting Room is dramatic and makes me feel like I’m reading an episode of House, honestly. The play similarly addresses issues about the philosophy of medicine and how the doctors look at a patient, vs. the concerns of the patient’s loved ones.

The play sort of hit home for me, because I’ve been through a sort of similar experience recently. Sitting in a waiting room, hoping someone I loved would be okay. As much as you want to stay logical and follow the issue from the doctor’s standpoint, you’re being emotionally tortured as you sit and wait tirelessly for an answer to the nagging question. Will they be okay? Will they be okay? Will they be okay? The medical jargon doesn’t make it easier to deal with. And Flacks really captured the struggle with this family.

As a side note, I love reading Canadian content, because it feels even closer to home for me. I love being able to read about a character saying something like, “Going to Tims – do you want anything?” just because I’m pretty sure it’s a thing every Canadian has said at least once in their lives and it adds to that realism, for me.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

I feel like it would have been better to watch this play rather than to read it. There was a lot of medical jargon and there were parts I was just sort of pushing through to get to the more emotional stuff. But I guess that’s the situation with most plays – they’re meant to be watched.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You like watching medical dramas (like House);
  • You want to support Canadian playwrights .

Waiting Room is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Confessions of a High School Disaster by Emma Chastain: Book Review

Confessions of a High School Disaster: Chloe Snow's Diary

Obtained: Simon & Schuster Canada, ARC
Pages: 352
Publish date: March 7, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

SUMMARY

Chloe Snow is just starting her freshman year of high school, and is still a kissing virgin. On top of joining extracurriculars, dealing with her drifting bestie, and the fact that her mom has gone to Mexico for 4 months to “work”, Chloe has a list of boys she’d like to kiss and has made it her personal mission to do so by New Year’s Eve. Because she gets so caught up with the idea of getting kissed, Chloe starts to lose sight of the other things that are going on around her.

WHAT I LIKED

Confession of a High School Disaster was one of the best young readers books I’ve read in a while on the topic of high school dating. The plot originally sounded fairly typical, but what I loved about this book was the fact that it’s so accurate. Chloe is fourteen. When a girl is just becoming a teenager, she is naive and selfish. And the way Chastain wrote from Chloe’s perspective was perfect – everything was about Chloe getting her kiss, or winning the guy, or getting a part in the school musical, that she just didn’t see anything else that was happening in her life.

I also loved the characters. There are only a handful of books where I finish and actually get sad because I feel like I can’t hang out with my friends anymore – the characters are so relatable and real to me. I feel that connection with Confessions. Not so much towards Chloe, honestly, but Tristan was my favourite, and I really loved Chloe’s dad. (I guess I relate more to the adults now, don’t I?)

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

There honestly wasn’t anything that really turned me off about this book. If there was one criticism, I’d say I felt like the antagonists could have been more dynamic, but again, the book was written from the perspective of a girl who would have thought these people to be evil, and not given them a second thought. Girls like Sienna and Bernadette do get their moments to flourish subtextually, but I wish I’d gotten to know them a little better.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You like stories about growing up.
  • You want an easy, fun read that is also captivating.
  • You enjoy teen books about romance where the characters aren’t ridiculously mature for their age. (Pet peeve of mine – I hate when 14-year-olds talk like they’re 25).

Confessions of a High School Disaster is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Split

We were perfect,
But we weren’t.

We didn’t want the same things,
But I wanted you.

I loved you far more than you could reciprocate,
But I loved you.

Our lives weren’t even entangled,
But you were my life.

We were happy,
But we weren’t.

Running by Cara Hoffman: Book Review

Running

Obtained: Simon & Schuster Canada, ARC
Pages: 288
Publish date: February 21, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

Summary

Running brings together an ensemble of outsiders who get by as “runners”—hustlers who sell tourists on low-end accommodations for a small commission and a place to stay.

Bridey Sullivan, a young American woman who has fled a peculiar and traumatic upbringing in Washington State, takes up with a queer British couple, the poet Milo Rollack and Eton drop-out Jasper Lethe. Slipping in and out of homelessness, addiction, and under-the-table jobs, they create their own kind of family as they struggle to survive.

Goodreads

What I Liked

If you know me, you know that I read the summary of this book and jumped at the chance to read it. A cast of anti-hero characters in 1980s Athens? This book had me at ‘hello’! The story was so well-crafted and the poetic writing brought me directly into the setting. And honestly, I feel like the realism of the characters and the setting were my favourite things about reading this book.

As I began reading, I found it sort of hard to get into the book (because of my own reading slump, not because the writing was bad in any way), but once I started reading the dialogue written in Milo’s accent, or got a description of where the characters were, I got pulled right in. I think I read most of this book in one sitting – it was just very captivating.

And What I Didn’t

Like I said earlier, it took me a little bit of time to get into the book, so once I was finally drawn in, it took me some time to catch up. Otherwise, I didn’t really have anything I didn’t like about this book!

Recommend if…

  • You read the summary and went “this sounds right up my alley!”;
  • You enjoyed books like Trainspotting;
  • You want to read about anti-heroes and LGBT characters living in a place that isn’t North America (for once) (what, who said that).

Running is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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February: Currently Reading

Guys, I am actually so excited to share with you the books I’m reading right now. Obviously not all of them at once, but I have quite the TBR pile building up, and for the first time in a long time, I’m not intimidated by the number of books sitting on my shelf (or on my “to-buy-ASAP” list). I’m actually so excited to read everything!

So here are books you can expect me to post reviews for in the next couple of months:

Running  Optimists Die First  Confessions of a High School Disaster: Chloe Snow's Diary  The Fall of Lisa Bellow: A Novel

The Gauntlet  When Dimple Met Rishi   One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter   Goodbye Days

  1. Running – Cara Hoffman
  2. Optimists Die First – Susin Nielsen
  3. Confessions of a High School Disaster – Emma Chastain
  4. The Fall of Lisa Bellow – Susan Perabo
  5. The Gauntlet – Karuna Riazi
  6. When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon
  7. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter – Scaachi Koul
  8. Goodbye Days – Jeff Zentner

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The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak: Book Review

The Impossible Fortress

Obtained: Simon & Schuster Canada, ARC
Pages: 304
Publish date: February 7, 2017
Rating: ★★★

Summary

The Impossible Fortress is about Billy Marvin, a 14-year-old boy growing up in the 1980s who is addicted to his Commodore 64. This game-coding kid and his friends discover that Playboy has released some scandalous photos of Wheel of Fortune‘s Vanna White, and they need to get their hands on a copy. The mission to buy a Playboy ends up getting a little bit out of hand, and in order to impress the guys, Billy has to steal a security code from the girl at the corner store by flirting with her. But when he learns about Mary’s mad game-coding skills and the two of them begin creating their own game, he starts to actually care about her.

What I Liked

I thought it was great how Rekulak was able to capture being a teenager in 1987 so perfectly. Billy and his friends were crude, made disgusting comments, casually bullied each other – and despite how uncomfortable it made me sometimes, it is very accurate to what it was like growing up at that time. Billy’s character felt very real to me.

I also really enjoyed reading about gaming and coding, because they’re two things I find really interesting. And while I may not be the best at either of them, I know enough to appreciate these hobbies, and it definitely kept me interested in the book.

and What I Didn’t

I honestly had a hard time staying interested in this book. If it weren’t for the plot involving Mary and the video game coding, I honestly would have put the book down. The main plot involving the group of boys trying to break into a store to steal and sell Playboys just wasn’t interesting to me – maybe because I couldn’t relate.

I was also sort of offended that this book was compared to Ready Player One when I was given a summary. That set my expectations pretty high and honestly, let me down a lot.

Recommend if…

  • You enjoy young adult books set in the 80s
  • You like reading about characters who love video games
  • You are looking for a new, light read

The Impossible Fortress is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins: Book Review

The You I've Never Known

Obtained: Simon & Schuster Canada, ARC
Pages: 608
Publish date: January 24, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

I am a huge Ellen Hopkins fan. I loved the Crank series, and Identical is probably one of my favourite books ever. So when I heard she had a new book coming out, of course I had to read it. As soon as I opened it, I fell straight into Hopkins’s wonderful writing style and found it hard to put the book down.

The You I’ve Never Known tells two stories: The first is about Ariel, a girl who has grown up jumping home to home with her fairly abusive dad, staying with whichever of his latest women will keep them for a few months. When they finally settle in with a woman who looks like she could be something special, Ariel allows herself to make new friends, and falls for her best friend, Monica. The second story is about a girl named Maya who got pregnant when she was sixteen and got kicked out of her house by her Scientologist mother. Luckily, her soldier boyfriend proposed to her and they started a life  together.

As I will say again and again in Hopkins reviews, I love her writing style. It is very literally poetic. Not only is it a unique way to write a novel, but it also makes me as a reader feel better about reading 600 pages when I can fly through 150 of them easily in an hour. I also really enjoyed how the theme of the book really wrapped into the title, “The You I’ve Never Known” being a side to people you never expected to see – a large part in the case of Ariel, as she questions her sexual identity as bi and the validity of liking different things about different people at the same time. I really liked the way Hopkins portrayed Ariel and this internal struggle, because it felt very real, as something I have gone through before.

But this book didn’t get a perfect 5 stars from me, and here’s why: every Ellen Hopkins book that I’ve loved has a great twist. I love spending the entire book trying to figure out what it’s going to be. But the summary on the back of the book sort of gives it away. Luckily I didn’t read that far into it and just jumped into the book knowing nothing, but I read it afterwards and could see how that would ruin the story a little bit. Also, once I figured out the twist ending and it was revealed to me, there was another 200 pages to sift through. I understand it was important to not just end at the twist and have that development of the aftermath, but it could have been condensed a lot.

Overall, the book still earned 4/5 stars from me, and if you’re a fan of Hopkins or want to read a YA book that’s a little twisted, I highly recommend you don’t miss out on The You I’ve Never Known.

The You I’ve Never Known is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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