Book Review: Like A Love Story by Abdi Nazeman

At the Spring Frenzy Presents event that I attended, I received a copy of Like A Love Story by Abdi Nazeman. The description of the novel sounded interesting and I looked forward to going back to the time of my adolescence.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Romance

Blurb:

It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.

My thoughts:

Like A Love Story flashes back to the AIDS activism of the eighties and when many news items in the media were on the AIDS crisis. The novel takes us back to a time that many have forgotten: a time of fear and of uncertain knowledge; a time when people fought for the rights of those that had been struck with the disease. So many procedures and access to medication is a result of the people who boldly protested for the right (not privilege) to receive treatment.

I enjoyed the flashbacks to the music of Madonna and my love of her songs when I was a teen. As I was reading the references to the rebellious singer, the songs would play in my mind. While reading this novel, I learned how important she was in the gay community – something I had not realised before when living as a teenager in Apartheid South Africa.

Nazeman has written a beautiful story that embraces what a person is born to be. It is a story about a young man who comes to accept who he is despite the fear that surrounds him. It is a story about fighting for what you believe is right, no matter what is being reported in the media or how people treat you. It is a story that describes the fear of being different to expectations. It is a story about the courage to be yourself. It is a story about friendship and of love; and of supporting the people that you love.

Like A Love Story is one that has touched my heart. It is a read that takes you back to the past and encourages you to connect with characters that will remain with you long after you have completed the book. Be warned, though. You will feel emotional when reading this story – have a kleenex on hand!

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars with no reservation.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 76th in my book pledge for 2019)

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Book Review: This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

At the Frenzy Presents event held by Harper Collins in Spring, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura. My daughters are excited to read this one and will grab it from my hands as soon as I have reviewed it! 😀

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Romance

Blurb:

Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop.

She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of.

Then her mom decides to sell the shop—to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for.

My thoughts:

I love seeing the diverse reads that young people have the opportunity to read today – the type of reads that I did not have growing up. This Time Will Be Different is one such read. The story describes the experience of a girl of Japanese descent who is being raised by a single mom. Her experience as a minority in her school is also referred to.

Even though she is a minority, CJ’s experience as such is not focused on in the story. Instead, the writer shares with us the character’s personal growth as she determines what it is that is important to her; and how she will go about fighting for what it is she wants. CJ also learns about the importance of family and friends – lessons that teens of diverse cultures need to learn.

Sugiura shares with us a story that describes the progression of a seventeen year old finding her own voice; and learning about the voice of her family members. This Time Will Be Different is also a tale of romance and of family relationships. The novel is an enjoyable and light read with a message that will touch the heart of its readers.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 73rd in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: My Ideal Boyfriend is a Croissant by Laura Dockrill

When at the OLA Super Conference in February this year, I managed to get an ARC of My Ideal Boyfriend is a Croissant by Laura Dockrill. The title captured my attention and the blurb encouraged me to pick it up.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult

Blurb:

It’s a food diary. I have to tell the truth. That’s the point.

Sixteen-year-old Bluebelle, also known as BB or Big Bones, lives her life unapologetically. She loves life! She loves food!

When BB has a worse-than-usual asthma attack, her mom insists she go to the doctor. There, she is told that she is overweight (no surprise) and prediabetic (big surprise) and must lose weight, move more, and keep a food diary. To get out of this immediate health crisis, she agrees to make an effort.

Then a tragedy occurs in the family, and things get seriously complicated. Suddenly, losing weight and moving more are the least of her worries. As for the food diary, though, BB doesn’t just document what she’s eating, she documents what she’s feeling–and she has a lot to say!

My thoughts:

Our society is focused a lot on looks and on weight and what I love about the main character in this book, BB, is that she is happy with her size. It is so important for teens to hear that message and understand it; to understand that it is important to be comfortable in your own skin.

The food diary that BB keeps shows that she has a healthy relationship with food. She eats good food that she savours. Food is also eaten with others and encapsulates family and friendship. The diary shows that the food she eats has certain connotations and memories for her. Through her food diary, the reader is reminded that food is not an enemy. Instead it is meant to be enjoyed and feted – often in the presence of others.

What is shown in BB’s story is that eating needs to be paired with exercise. I love how this teen is shows others that exercise is hard but, once started, it can become a part of a lifestyle. Exercise is necessary to be healthy and having a medical condition such as asthma should not stop a person on their journey to fitness. The food diary documents her journey towards a healthier lifestyle.

I loved the main character in My Ideal Boyfriend is a Croissant. She is sassy, determined, and loyal. I see her as being a good model for teens because she shows the importance of loving your body for what it is. Dockrill won me over with her story. It is humorous and yet deals with a serious issue that affects so many teens in our society today. This is a book I would recommend highly to any person who is trying to figure out who they are.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 69th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Red Vengeance by Margaret Stohl

While browsing in Indigo, our local bookstore, I came across Red Vengeance by Margaret Stohl on the sale table. I love superhero stories and my daughter is a huge Marvel fan so I picked up the book knowing that I would pass it onto her after I had read it.

Genre: Young Adult, Superheroes, Marvel

Blurb:

Emotions are dangerous, which is why the graduates of Moscow’s famed spy school the Red Room are taught to keep their enemies close and their loved ones at a distance. Black Widow and Red Widow, also known as Natasha Romanov and Ava Orlova, forgot that lesson once, and they won’t forget it again.

But the Widows have inherited something else from their shared Moscow past: a relentless need for vengeance—Ivan Somodorov is dead, but his network of terror remains.

While the Widows search South America in order to extinguish a smuggling operation with ties to their old nemesis, their own Red Room not only attempts to assassinate them both but also hacks their secure S.H.I.E.L.D. network. As a result, Ava and Natasha find themselves thrust into a trying mission of international intrigue that takes them throughout the world and back to New York City, where their friends Dante and Sana become unlikely targets as well.

Once again, nothing is as it seems, no one can be trusted, and no one is safe—not unless the Widows can stop a conspiracy involving stolen nuclear warheads, mind-altering chemical weapons, and ultimately, betrayal by old friends and enemies alike.

My thoughts:

If you have watched any of the recent Marvel films, you will know that the stories are fast-paced and filled with action. Reading Red Vengeance reminded me of those characteristics as I turned the pages quickly in this novel. As I was reading the story, I could not help but picture the Black Widow as portrayed in the Avengers stories. 😀

Even though this story is a sequel, at no time did I feel lost in the story. Stohl effectively fills in any blanks that may have occurred due to not having read the first book. It helped, too, that I know a little about the main character having watched all the Marvel movies.

The telling of the story in the past tense is interspersed with the recorded conversation in the present tense between Agent Natasha Romanov (the Black Widow) and Phillip Coulson (the agent in command). As the novel begins with a scene near the end of the story, Stohl’s technique slowly brings the reader to an understanding of how the events evolved. The gradual release of information to the reader helps with the tension in the story as well as the readers’ understanding of events.

This read is perfect for those who enjoy superhero stories. It is a well-written novel that is fast-paced and immerses one in the Marvel universe. I would love to see this story as a film.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 61st in my book pledge for 2019)

Teaser Tuesday: Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Today I am sharing an extract from Pride by Ibi Zoboi. I picked up this Young Adult novel last year when I heard that it was a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I loved reading Zoboi’s perspective. Not only did she incorporate references from one of my favourite classic novels, she also added the viewpoint of a culture far removed from that of Austen’s England.

The novel is set in Brooklyn and is told from the POV of Zuri Benitez, a woman who has pride in her Afro-Latino roots. The wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, the epitome of those who are slowly gentrifying her neighbourhood. Zuri wants nothing to do with the Darcys but as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial shifts into understanding.

“I don’t smile when Mrs. Darcy greets us. Her eyes immediately drop down to our shoes. So I look down too, to see Mama wearing her leopard print platform stilettos that she bought for her fortieth birthday party at a small club in Bed-Stuy. My face gets hot with embarrassment because I knew that this wasn’t the kind of party for those kinds of heels.” (108)

(2018, Balzer + Bray, Harper Collins Publishers)

Pride is definitely worth the read for those who enjoy Pride and Prejudice retellings, or diverse reads.

Do you enjoy reading Pride and Prejudice retellings? 

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2016

(This post is linked to Ambrosia’s Teaser Tuesdays at The Purple Booker)

Book Review: The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

I received an ARC of The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven when I attended the Frenzy Presents event held by Harper Collins Canada in Spring. The blurb sounded interesting and relevant for young girls today.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult

Blurb:

Eighteen-year-old Izzy O’Neill knows exactly who she is—a loyal friend, an aspiring comedian, and a person who believes that milk shakes and Reese’s peanut butter cups are major food groups. But after she’s caught in a compromising position with the son of a politician, it seems like everyone around her is eager to give her a new label: slut.

Izzy is certain that the whole thing will blow over and she can get back to worrying about how she doesn’t reciprocate her best friend Danny’s feelings for her and wondering how she is ever going to find a way out of their small town. Only it doesn’t.

And while she’s used to laughing her way out of any situation, as she finds herself first the center of high school gossip and then in the middle of a national scandal, it’s hard even for her to find humor in the situation.

Izzy may be determined not to let anyone else define who she is, but that proves easier said than done when it seems like everyone has something to say about her.

My thoughts:

The novel centres on a theme that is so important for teens to think about. It is so easy for one to trust that the person receiving private photos will treat them with respect. The book recounts how easy it is for a moment of thoughtlessness and trust to snowball into something bigger. Izzy trusts that her nude selfie, for example, will go no further than the recipient of her text – but her moment of impulse leads to events that affect her life in ways that she did not consider.

The female protagonist in The Exact Opposite of Okay is a strong person – she is able to control the bullying and the finger-pointing that results when her actions are exposed to the world. I cannot help but think of those teens who do not have the strength to continue on and stand tall despite what their peers and others are saying. Izzy does not do it alone, however, and Steven shows that her character does have the support of others to get her through a difficult time.

The Exact Opposite of Okay explores the development of shame one begins to feel when an action taken is regarded by society as unacceptable. From the start, Izzy has no problem with her sexual behaviour but slowly she begins to feel shame for her actions. The change in her perspective is powerfully written and had me thinking of how much society pressures a person to feel shame for something that is natural.

A secondary thread that runs through the book is Izzy’s relationship with her friend Danny. Danny wants the focus of the relationship to change, but Izzy doesn’t. The dynamics between the two young people change and it is interesting to read what Danny’s expectations are, and how he expects Izzy to reciprocate. His actions are to control and manipulate Izzy and he gets angry when she does not respond as he feels she should.

Steven has written a novel that touches on an important issue for modern girl teens. The issues brought up in the book are ones that young girls are aware of, and deal with, at high school. The Exact Opposite of Okay is written in the form of a set of blog posts, which creates another link with the reader as the writing style is informal and more personal. This novel is an enjoyable read which, I believe, will touch the hearts of many young women.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 56th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh

At the Frenzy Presents event earlier this year, I received an ARC of Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh. I was excited to read this novel as it was a retelling of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, a story that I know and love.

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary, Retelling

Blurb:

For two sisters as different as Plum and Ginny, getting on each other’s nerves is par for the course. But when the family’s finances hit a snag, sending chaos through the house in a way only characters from a Jane Austen novel could understand, the two drift apart like they never have before. Plum, a self-described social outcast, strikes up a secret friendship with the class jock, while Ginny’s usual high-strung nature escalates to pure hysterics.

But this has always been the sisters’ dynamic. So why does everything feel different this year? Maybe because Ginny is going to leave for college soon. Maybe because Plum finally has something that she doesn’t have to share with her self-involved older sister. Or maybe because the girls are forced to examine who they really are instead of who their late father said they were. And who each girl discovers—beneath the years of missing their dad—could either bring them closer together…or drive them further apart.

My thoughts:

I expected a retelling of Sense and Sensibility and I was a little disappointed – the connection to Austen’s novel is very slim as there is too much that has been changed. Yes, the story describes the relationship between two sisters who are trying to find themselves in the world but that is about it.

The novel, however, does stand out in its own right. My favourite character was Plum. I enjoyed her snarkiness as well as her independence. She is a girl who realises what the problems are and seeks out to solve them – even though sometimes her attempts fail. She is definitely a girl after my own heart. Unlike her sister Ginny who can be annoying (which was, I am sure, the author’s intention).

There were moments in the novel that I could not help but smile – definitely enjoyable moments. Plum grows in inner strength – a facet which I always appreciate in young adult novels. Ordinary Girls is a book that will be enjoyed by young readers; it is a story that will show them that your own inner strength can help you get by. And that even though, at times, your sibling annoys you, you will do anything for them. This novel is an easy read that focuses on the relationships between siblings and how they support one another.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 52nd in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Last year I had the opportunity to hear Miriam Toews speak. I had never read any of her books but the one she was to speak about sounded interesting so I bought a copy for her recent novel, Women Talking, to sign for me. I kept shifting the book down my TBR pile as the subject matter promised to be heavy but I have finally read it as I believed myself to be in the correct head space.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Feminism

Blurb:

Based on actual events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite community where more than 100 girls and women were drugged unconscious and assaulted in the night by what they were told (by the men of the colony) were “ghosts” or “demons,” Miriam Toews’ bold and affecting novel Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events.

The novel takes place over forty-eight hours, as eight women gather in secret in a neighbour’s barn while the men are in a nearby town posting bail for the attackers. They have come together to debate, on behalf of all the women and children in the community, whether to stay or leave before the men return. Taking minutes is the one man trusted and invited by the women to witness the conversation–a former outcast whose own surprising story is revealed as the women speak.

By turns poignant, witty, acerbic, bitter, tender, devastating, and heartbreaking, the voices in this extraordinary novel are unforgettable. Toews has chosen to focus the novel tightly on a particular time and place, and yet it contains within its 48 hours and setting inside a hayloft an entire vast universe of thinking and feeling about the experience of women (and therefore men, too) in our contemporary world. In a word: astonishing.

My thoughts:

I was right to have saved this book for a time when I could fully appreciate the content – it has so many talking points and issues for the reader to think about. The issues are raised through ordinary conversation between a group of women. At no time did I feel that Toews was pushing her beliefs onto me. Instead, the points she wanted to raise were subtly woven within a discussion on how the women would react to the rapes that had occured within their community.

Even though Women Talking is a relatively short novel at 216 pages, it is a novel filled with women’s issues. Yes, it is a book on feminism. And no, it is not one of those ‘shouty’ books that aggressively denounces men. Instead, it centres around ordinary women who come to realise that they have the power to make their own decisions and be the navigators of their own lives. The Mennonite women described in the novel live in a staunch patriarchal society in which the men have absolute power over them. It is a norm which, up until then, had been accepted by the women with no question.

I love how the women talk through their decision – each one making a valid argument. The narrator and recorder of the discussion, August Epp, is seen as being different from the other Mennonite men. Unlike them, he has lived in the outside world; and has not the strength to till the fields as the other men do. He shows respect towards the women and, as such, is trusted by them.

Reading this novel brought home to me that, even though we have progressed so far as a society with women’s rights, there are still women out there who do not have the freedom to do what I take for granted. It saddens me to think that there are still groups of people who see women as being the lesser gender and who have taken away their right to bloom. Not that the society I live in is perfect – but at least I have the opportunity to make my choices; and the freedom to read and learn.

Women Talking by Mirian Toews is a book that digs into the experience of the Mennonite women. It is an eye-opening account of a group of women living in a patriarchal society that, unfortunately, still exists in the modern world. This skillfully written discussion is one that will leave you in a thoughtful mood and reflecting on your own personal experience.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 51st in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Beholder by Anna Bright

It was time for some Fantasy so I picked up the ARC I received at the Frenzy Presents event held by Harper Collins Canada. I love the cover of Anna Bright’s novel, The Beholder, and settled in for what promised to be an interesting read.

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb:

Selah has waited her whole life for a happily ever after. As the only daughter of the leader of Potomac, she knows her duty is to find the perfect match, a partner who will help secure the future of her people. Now that day has finally come.

But after an excruciatingly public rejection from her closest childhood friend, Selah’s stepmother suggests an unthinkable solution: Selah must set sail across the Atlantic, where a series of potential suitors awaits—and if she doesn’t come home engaged, she shouldn’t come home at all.

From English castle gardens to the fjords of Norge, and under the eye of the dreaded Imperiya Yotne, Selah’s quest will be the journey of a lifetime. But her stepmother’s schemes aren’t the only secrets hiding belowdecks…and the stakes of her voyage may be higher than any happy ending.

My thoughts:

I enjoy reading Fantasy novels and this one promised to be a coming of age story. And it delivered on its promise. As Selah continues on her journey and meets a variety of people, the experiences she goes through help her come to certain realisations about herself and of others. The journey helps her to grow up as she is no longer sheltered from certain experiences by her upbringing.

I love that the main character in The Beholder is one that is learning and growing. The experiences she has are what one would expect of a young woman venturing out into the world. She learns to be strong, and to find the answers to her questions within herself. She slowly breaks down her fears – fears which make her a relatable character to the reader. In the novel, Selah is learning to find her own voice; and to discover what it is exactly that her journey needs to entail.

Even though I enjoyed the book and look forward to the sequel (yes, it is a duology), I did find the story hard to get into in the beginning. The Beholder is written as an alternate history to our world – and has many references to mythology. I personally found these references to be overdone at the beginning of the novel. In addition, some of the references may not be understood by many readers thus rendering the imagery less powerful than intended. As the book progresses, the mythological references become less frequent and more subtle – and I definitely preferred this.

Bright has written a story that does not contain some of the expectations of a fantasy novel: there are no dragons, magic, and mystical creatures. The novel includes a budding romance as well as disappointments that are experienced in a young life. This story is an enjoyable read for those who enjoy reading books with a sense of adventure and a protagonist who is growing into herself.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 50th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Nocturna by Maya Motayne

I love reading Fantasy novels and was extremely pleased when I received Nocturna by Maya Motayne in my swag bag at the last Frenzy Presents event that I attended. I opened the ARC that I received in anticipation of a good story.

Publication Date: May 2, 2019

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb:

Set in a Latinx-inspired world, a face-changing thief and a risk-taking prince must team up to defeat a powerful evil they accidentally unleashed.

To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her…and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.

As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.

After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.

But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power—which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts. 

My thoughts:

As you know, I enjoy reading Fantasy fiction – and this tale did not disappoint. The magic described in the novel was not over the top, and the characters were realistic. The social strata described in the novel are as one sees in our modern world today: the wealthy and the ones in charge, the ones with enough money, the ones who wield power through force, and the poor. The two main characters come from the opposite end of society: the Prince born into wealth and power, and the Thief born into poverty and hardship.

What I enjoyed most about Nocturna were the two main characters: Alfie and Finn. Their banter made me smile, and I could not help but like the way they slowly lowered their guard with one another. Both characters grow during the novel and come to know more about themselves. Not only are they on an adventure to save the world as they know it, but they are also on a journey to learn about how they can defeat a strong magical power in but they are also on a journey to discover the strength they have within themselves.

Motayne wrote this book to share a story featuring diverse characters who are Latinx. Noturna is a wonderful addition not only to fantasy fiction, but also to books featuring a different race/culture group. If you love the world of magic, a story filled with adventure, and a tale that features young people growing into their own sense of self, then you will enjoy this novel.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 37th in my book pledge for 2019)