Skin Flick by Norm Foster: Book Review

Skin Flick

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 112
Publish date: March 13, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

SUMMARY

Middle-aged couple Daphne and Rollie and their friend Alex are out of work and out of luck when they get the idea to make their own porno film for some quick cash. The only problem is none of them want to star in it. As if on cue, a birthday telegram messenger arrives on their doorstep…

Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

I wasn’t sure what the tone of this play was going to be when I picked it up, but as soon as I started reading, I could not stop chuckling to myself. Rollie narrates the story to the audience directly, telling the story of how their idea to make a porn film came to be, and these narration often influence the characters acting out the story. Rollie decides to censor their language, and the characters become aware of the fact that their “F-words” get bleeped out. He also changes details mid-story and they get confused as to why they’re saying one thing when they wanted to say another. I thought the narration and breaking the fourth wall was extremely clever and entertaining.

I also enjoyed how dynamic and fun the characters were to read. I didn’t feel like any of them were particularly flat or conventional, which was refreshing for a comedy. And on a bit of a deeper level, I really liked the way the play addressed the topic of sex. Each character had their own viewpoint that wasn’t right or wrong. Sex wasn’t just meaningful, and it wasn’t just a meaningless act.  It was dependent on the situation and the individuals involved, and I thought that was a really great approach to the topic.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

Honestly, there wasn’t any part of reading this play that I didn’t enjoy. The only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 is because I wasn’t totally blown away (pun intended?). It was funny and I had a great time imagining the staging of this production, but it isn’t going to go down as one of my all-time favourites. And that is what a 5-star rating is reserved for, in my books.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You’re looking for a great, live comedy;
  • You’re open to learning about various opinions on sex;
  • You have an hour to kill and want to laugh.

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

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: Book Review

Image result for when dimple met rishi

Obtained: Simon & Schuster Canada, ARC
Pages: 380
Publish date: May 30, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

SUMMARY

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

First of all, I loved the diversity in this book. I love reading about different cultures and traditions, and this book actually gave me a great insight into a culture that isn’t my own.

The story was also super adorable. It was so sickly sweet that I found myself d’awww-ing out loud. I find a lot of YA romances feel interchangeable and eventually I begin to mix them up in my head, but you just know right off the bat that When Dimple Met Rishi is going to be a rom com to remember. All of the little details in the novel – Insomnia Con, Dimple and Rishi’s separate dreams and passions in life, the Bollywood dance routine – are ones that will make this YA romance stand out against all of the other ones for me.

Dimple and Rishi were great, and I actually really loved Dimple as a strong female lead. I could imagine her perfectly in my head, and I related to her quite a bit.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

Honestly, I felt the ending to this book was kind of rushed. There was only 100 pages left and Insomnia Con still had three weeks to go. I kind of wished all of the plots had more time to wrap up; it was literally the halfway-point of Insomnia Con and then the next paragraph was “we’re announcing the winners”.

My other issue with this book is that I didn’t particularly like the secondary characters – Celia and especially the Aberzombies – seemed very flat. The “bad guys” were so over-the-top “bad” that I just couldn’t believe them. I wish they’d had more redeeming qualities to make them more well-rounded.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You love cheesy romantic comedies;
  • You crave some diversity in your reading;
  • You want a read that will keep you smiling the whole way through;
  • You’d like to gain perspective about social privilege.

When Dimple Met Rishi is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Huff & Stitch by Cliff Cardinal: Book Review

Huff & Stitch

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 112
Publish date: March 27, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

SUMMARY

Huff is the wrenching, yet darkly comic tale of Wind and his brothers, caught in a torrent of solvent abuse and struggling to cope with the death of their mother.

Wind’s fantastic dream world bleeds into his haunting reality, as he’s preyed on by the Trickster through the hallways at school, the abandoned motel he loves more than home, and his own fragile psyche.

-from Native Earth Performing Arts

Kylie Grandview, single mom, and one of the nameless faces that blip across the screens of internet pornography is seduced by her dreams of starring in a main stream movie. In a twisted, turning series of self-sabotaging decisions ultimately resulting in the loss of her child, Stitch is Kylie’s last ditch effort to tell the truth about what happened to her face.

-from Native Earth Performing Arts

WHAT I LIKED

I’ll say right off the bat, I enjoyed reading Stitch more than I enjoyed reading Huff. They evened out to four stars because one earned 3 stars from me, while the other was a 5. Both plays utilized the idea of characters that were personifications of things (in Huff, a character represented smell, while in Stitch, there was a character representing a yeast infection – yup). Which I really liked – I love that theatre has the ability to make visual things that typically aren’t visually accessible.

I found that Stitch was a more interesting read for me, because it addressed a lot of feminism and gender issues. It was really disturbing to think about Kylie’s daughter stumbling upon the porn starring her mother and even reenacting the scenes with her friends, but it also made me feel sad that women kind of fall into the expectation that their worth is dependent on their appearance and their sex appeal. There are many more things I could write about regarding this play, but for now I’ll leave it at this: if you’re interested in reading about women’s issues, this is a great read.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

I don’t think I particularly didn’t like anything about either play, I just don’t think I related much with Huff, so I felt more disconnected reading that one. I think I’d like to see it on stage before coming up with a final opinion on the play.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You like reading theatre; and
  • You can stomach reading disturbing scenes.

Huff & Stitch is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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Black Dog: 4 vs the Wrld by Matthew Heiti: Book Review

Black Dog: 4 vs the wrld

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 112
Publish date: March 14, 2017
Rating: ★★★★

SUMMARY

A darkly comic story of four teenagers struggling with death, depression, and the shadow of a black dog.

Two is fraught. While dealing with the impossible expectations of her parents, she is trying to understand why her brother has taken his own life. It’s not until a fateful school detention that she meets three other students as lost as she is.

-from Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

I loved the fact that this play breaks the fourth wall. Heiti doesn’t invite the audience to think about mental illness, but forces them to. The play begins with the cast members in the audience. People who suffer mental illness aren’t “those people over there”, they’re everyone and anyone. The characters don’t even have names: they’re Two, Three, Four, and Five. It allows the reader to relate to them, rather than distancing them with a name that isn’t their own.

I’m sorry, when I read theatre, I automatically go into “essay” mode. Because to me, theatre is just smart and much more fun to analyze. Which I definitely did the entire time I was reading this piece.

I loved the realism of the characters. I loved the way that Heiti incorporated technology and the screen into the play; I thought that was particularly interesting.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

My only complaint is my usual complaint about what happens when I read theatre: it was too short. I wish I could have seen a production of the play to see how it was interpreted from page to stage, but I guess reading it gave me the freedom to come up with my own ideas of what this story looks like.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You liked The Breakfast Club;
  • You like literature that breaks the fourth wall; or
  • You are interested in stories about characters who have to overcome intense internal struggles.

Black Dog: 4 vs the Wrld is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi: Book Review

The Gauntlet

Obtained: Simon & Schuster Canada, ARC
Pages: 298
Publish date: March 28, 2017
Rating: ★★★

SUMMARY

A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.

When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.

-from Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

I loved the diversity in this book. I don’t know about you, but I’m so sick of reading about white people doing white people things and eating white people food and having any POC feeling very white-washed to make them “digestible” and “easier to read”. So reading a book where the protagonist wears a hijab was pretty awesome. I liked taking a dive into a new perspective and getting a taste (quite literally) of a culture different than mine.

I also really enjoyed the storyline. I thought it was original, and I was interested to see what would come next.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

I wish there was more. I expected a super developed fictional world, but I felt as though a lot of the plotlines weren’t developed as much as they could have been. I only got a handful of pages in before these characters I barely knew or cared about yet were being swept up into a board game. I think it would have been better if Farah’s life had been a little bit more developed before tossing her into this situation. On the other hand, if the Gauntlet world was also more developed and given more detail, I could have forgiven the lack of context. But I didn’t feel particularly attached to either world.

Also related, the author compares instances Farah encounters in the Gauntlet to instances in her past, but they were moments that we as readers didn’t get a chance to read about first. Some foreshadowing or ability to make connections from one world to the other would have made it a lot more meaningful to the story. I understand this book is for young readers, but it felt a little too “young”.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You’re looking for a diverse book;
  • You enjoy fantasy and books for young readers;
  • You like stories that move fast and don’t look back.

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

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You Are Happy by Rebecca Deraspe: Book Review

You Are Happy

Obtained: Playwrights Canada Press
Pages: 128
Publish date: October 11, 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

SUMMARY

Bridget finds her brother Jeremy in a closet attempting suicide. Again. Determined to help him find some kind of happiness, she searches grocery stores looking for his potential wife, which affirms what she already thinks: there are couples practically everywhere. Eventually she meets Chloe, and her plans to stage a happily-ever-after are finally set.

-from Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

You Are Happy was the first piece I’ve read in a while that blatantly makes a statement. It was honestly really dark, but I just kept laughing at the absurdity of it all – the absurdity that I realize surrounds us, but we take for granted as normal. There are not couples everywhere. Being in a relationship isn’t the one thing that will save you from being depressed. It won’t change your life and give you purpose. But that is the premise of this play.

I also laughed at how fast Jeremy and Chloe fall for each other. Bridget just decides that the two of them should be together, and immediately, they just are. As though deciding to be together equates to falling in love. It was uncomfortable to see how the couple goes from just having met to full-blown long-term relationship in a matter of seconds. I loved the comment on how our society expects relationships to be one thing, when really a partnership should be built on the two personalities involved.

AND WHAT I DIDN’T

I loved everything. If I had one complaint, I’d say I wish it was longer. I wish I could see it on stage.

RECOMMEND IF…

  • You enjoy satires;
  • You want to read something short but powerful;
  • You don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy.

You Are Happy is available online at Chapters Indigo, Book Depository, and Kobo.

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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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