Book Review | Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

Young adult fiction, Bronte family

Warning: This post contains a lot of fangirling.

Once in a while a book will come along and check off all of your readerly boxes and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to read an advanced copy of it. Lena Coakley’s Worlds of Ink and Shadow was such a book for me. Like, (please excuse the casual tone – I love this book too much to be formal about it) I feel like this book was tailor-made for me: it’s a little magical, it’s about sibling relationships, and it’s about the Brontës.

If you’re a fan of Victorian literature, you might know that the Brontë siblings had a pretty tough life. They were not rich and thus were sent to an inexpensive school where the two eldest siblings (Maria and Elizabeth) fell ill with tuberculosis, passing away weeks after returning home. The death of their siblings was, unsurprisingly, difficult for Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, Emily, and Anne. I can’t confirm whether this is true or not, but it’s said that the remaining Brontë siblings would write to escape their dark reality, creating their own worlds such as Verdopolis, Glasstown, Angria, and Gondal. Some of the stories written in those worlds have been published (See: Tales of Angria).

The Brontës’ lives have always fascinated me but I never got around to reading any in-depth biographies. That’s why I appreciated Worlds of Ink and Shadows so much. It’s still considered fiction (especially when you get to the more magical parts), but Coakley draws inspiration from real events experienced by the family, making it almost like an intro course to the Brontës. Of course, readers should take the biographical details in the novel with a grain of salt, but I found that the book did teach me things about the family that I didn’t know before.

Aside from the biographical details of the Brontës, Worlds of Ink and Shadow is really just a well-written, well-plotted book, so even if you’re not specifically interested in the Brontë family, I think you’ll still enjoy the story. In the book, readers learn that Charlotte and Branwell have tried to resist the lure of writing but have failed, and it is only until later that you start to suspect that there may be a reason for it. Coakley expertly blends the in-universe reality with the stories the characters write, making the readers question what is real and what is not. This is a story about the price of art, but it’s also a story of family, and how far we would go to save one another.

If what I’ve said so far appeals to you, then you should definitely read Worlds of Ink and Shadow. (I really, seriously, cannot love this book enough.)

Verdict: A book that I can’t stop raving about. It gripped me from start to finish, and even had me excitedly explaining the biographical details of the Brontës to my friends. It was a fun read and reignited my interest in learning more about the Brontë family. LOVE.

Read if: You’re a fan of literary biographies with a fictional twist, you are a Brontë fan like me, you want to lose yourself in an imaginative story with well-developed characters that you’ll grow to love.

Are you a fan of the Brontës? Do you have a favourite Brontë novel?

Monday Musings | Will Twitter Stories Be The New Trend in Fiction?

David Mitchell Twitter Story The Right Sort

I know you’re probably tired of hearing me talk about David Mitchell and his newest book Slade House, but I promise this post isn’t just about that. Instead, it’s about his Twitter story, “The Right Sort”, and whether releasing serialized texts will become a new trend in fiction.

Before we get into predictions, I have to admit that even though I’d consider myself a Mitchell fan, I didn’t follow “The Right Sort” as it came out. Something in me just felt like it was too disjointed when it appeared on my timeline. However, I did enjoy going back and reading Sceptre Books’ collection of Tweets (click the photo to see the collection!). This leads me to wonder if maybe Twitter’s 140 character limit is a hindrance to popularizing serialized Twitter fiction.

That being said, I feel like there is something exciting about reading something new in a serialized way. Just like we crave the next episode of our favourite TV shows, waiting for the next installment of a text is terribly exciting (and agonizing). I almost wished I had followed “The Right Sort” more closely when it was being done so I could comment more accurately on what that experience would be like.

As for whether I think Twitter stories will be the new trend in fiction? I think that there’s something really interesting in the idea, but I find it hard to read in 140 character bursts. Perhaps this would work better on a different medium? What do you think, friends?

Do you think Twitter stories will become more and more popular? Did you follow “The Right Sort” as David Mitchell tweeted it? Would you follow a new Twitter story if someone was to release one?

Book Review | Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon Book Cover Review

[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher Penguin Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

“Love is worth everything. Everything.”

I first heard about Everything, Everything at the wonderful #RHC Blogger Preview the ladies at Random House Canada hosted back in February. Everyone was super excited about it, and I couldn’t wait to read it! So, was Everything, Everything like the title suggests?

Everything, Everything is the story of Madeline Whittier, who has been confined to her house her whole life due to a sickness that makes her allergic to the outside world. She lives a sterile life inside her house with only her mom and her carer Carla to interact with. Then, one day, a new family moves in to the house next door. Suddenly, Maddy is tempted to risk everything, everything…

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It’s a quick read, the story is captivating (in fact, I read the whole book in only a few sittings), and it features illustrations that Yoon’s husband created (so cute!). It was a lot of fun, if you can call it that, getting to know Maddy and learning more about her situation as the book went on. I can hardly imagine not being able to go outside for something as simple as fresh air. Her friendship with the boy next door was exciting and dangerous and it reminded me how falling in like was like as a teenager (rare disease excepted).

That being said, it has been a few months since I read the book, and besides remembering all of the excitement I had for the first half of the book, I also started rethinking how I felt about the second half. It’s really hard to talk about it without revealing any essential information, but it did end up being quite unrealistic and over-dramatic, if I can say that. (Although, one could argue that the premise is unrealistic to begin with.) When I was reading the book I was completely swept away by it, and I guess what I’m trying to say is that after thinking about the book for a few months, I wish that there was more of a resolution at the end. I’m sure this paragraph has been terrible to read as I’m kind of beating around the bush, but I’d love to talk to anyone who’s finished the book already!

Verdict: I’d recommend this book if you’re looking for a quick teen read with a unique plot (and adorable illustrations), but be prepared that the second half (while incredibly fascinating) may not be as strong as the first half.

Read if: You’re looking for a quick read to get you out of a slump, are intrigued by how someone might live without ever going outside, want to read something created by a husband and wife team!

Book Review | Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Sophie Kinsella Finding Audrey Book Review Cover

Oh, how do I love Sophie Kinsella? Let me count the ways… Finding Audrey is Kinsella’s first venture into the young adult demographic and it is so, so good.

Being a teenager is hard enough, but being a teenager who suffers from anxiety and depression is even more difficult. That’s what Audrey faces every day. After a traumatic experience, Audrey is finding it extremely hard to go outside or even make eye contact without feeling anxious. She’s dropped out of her regular school, enrolled in another, and hides her eyes behind dark sunglasses. As she waits for her new school to start, she stays in at home, limiting her contact to her family members and Dr. Sarah. But when Audrey unexpectedly comes face to face with her brother’s friend Linus in her house, she starts feeling things she’s never felt before…

One of my favourite things about Kinsella is her uncanny ability to create distinct characters that transcend the page. In Finding Audrey in particular, she takes special care to characterize Audrey in an honest way, never reducing her to a stereotype or forcing her to do anything that would make her feel uncomfortable (for example, the details of the traumatic event isn’t revealed until Audrey is ready to tell her readers). The supporting characters are just as expertly written. They all read as real people, and I was pleasantly surprised by how on-the-nose Kinsella is in nailing teenage voices. (Audrey’s gamer brother Frank comes to mind here. I loved that his story took up a significant part of the text and it didn’t seem like Kinsella was trying too hard to emulate “teenager speak.” Let’s face it: very few young adults actually text “C U L8ER” anymore.) When paired with Kinsella’s signature humour, Finding Audrey becomes a novel bustling with energy and heart.

Unsurprisingly, one of my favourite things about the novel was Audrey’s friendship/relationship with Linus. Linus is incredibly understanding and sensitive, creating many swoon-worthy moments. It really highlights how important having great friends is. Audrey is buoyed by Linus’ friendship, and it’s so heartwarming to see.

In a time where mental illness is starting to gain more mainstream attention, Finding Audrey is a thoughtful addition to the dialogue. It approaches mental illness in a non-judgemental way, helping to destigmatize and demystify the experience of having anxiety without claiming to speak for anyone but its characters. I think Kinsella approached the topic in a considerate way, and I think that Finding Audrey, beyond being a wonderful story, will prove to be a great companion to readers who are experiencing or have experienced similar emotions.

Verdict: Finding Audrey tackles a difficult topic with understanding and tact while balancing it with other teenage experiences to create a heartfelt novel that is perfect for teen and adult readers alike. I admired its approach and think it’s an important addition to a larger conversation surrounding mental illness. On top of that, it adds family matters and romance, making it truly a book for everyone.

Read if: You are a fan of Sophie Kinsella, you are interested in reading about a teenager dealing with depression and anxiety, enjoyed All The Bright Places and want to read something similar, want a light young adult read with a swoon-worthy romance.

Are you a fan of Sophie Kinsella? Do you think you’ll give Finding Audrey a try?

Book Review | Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Our Endless Numbered Days Claire Fuller Book Cover

[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher House of Anansi. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

When Cindy from House of Anansi (hi!) emailed me about this book, I was extremely excited. The premise of the books is so fascinating and one that I haven’t heard of before: Peggy, whose survivalist father takes her into the woods and tells her that the world has disappeared, has returned home 9 years later. What happened to her and her father in the woods? Why has she suddenly come back?

The book came with a survival pack with maps and lists poking out – so cool!

I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed with the book. In fact, it exceeded all of my expectations and threw me into an adventure that I wasn’t sure I was ready for (which is the best type of adventure, isn’t it?). I was initially worried that reading about Peggy (or Punzel, as her father calls her) and her father’s 9-year experience in the woods would become monotonous and boring, but Fuller manages to add extremely compelling scenes – such as the piano with no sound – into the mix. I loved reading the inventive ways Peggy and her father came up with to pass the time while they were living in the cabin all by themselves, and subsequently panicked with them as they realized they were under-prepared for the coming winter. I was really impressed with the pacing of the book, and how Fuller expertly follows quiet scenes with action-packed ones. Our Endless Numbered Days is smartly structured too, starting with Peggy’s readjustment to “real life” and slowly revealing to readers what happened to her and her father in the past nine years.

When reading the book, I often wondered what was happening to the secondary characters. The novel is told from Peggy’s point of view, but I couldn’t help imagining what her father was thinking the whole time. Why did they go on this “holiday”? What was his true motivation behind it? Did he really buy his story about the world disappearing? As the book went on, I had less and less sympathy for him as he struggled with Peggy, but I felt terrible for Ute, Peggy’s mother. Can you imagine how traumatic that would be for her? Luckily, Fuller does fill us in eventually on what happens to the rest of the family, so I was completely satisfied. The only issue I had – and this might just be my own problem – was that I felt like the word “whilst” was used just often enough to be a little distracting. It’s such a unique word that I kept noticing it and felt that it slightly disrupted the flow, but honestly, that’s a small nitpicky thing in a wonderful reading experience about love, family, and most of all, survival.

Verdict: I couldn’t put this book down. It’s so good. I was completely invested in the plot, and needed to know why and how Peggy came back from the woods after all those years. I wasn’t expecting to love so many parts of the book – or be so stunned in others – but I guess little surprises like these are what makes great literature great.

Read if: The concept of a mysterious disappearance and reappearance intrigues you, you’d like to read a fascinating piece of literature, and/or you’d like to go on a wild adventure that will sweep you off your feet.

Monday Musings | The BAILEYS Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2015

Baileys Prize Long List 2015

[Photo courtesy of The Baileys Prize/Twitter]

Just as I was wondering what I should muse about tonight, I saw this tweet in my Twitter feed:

Perfect timing! (And so exciting!) Here is the full list:

I’m actually very excited about this list. There are so many great books on it! I’ve read some of the books listed (click the hyperlinks for my reviews) and there are some that I’ve been wanting to read for a while (see italicized titles). I hope I’ll be able to read a few titles before the winner is announced!

Have you read any of these titles? Are you happy with the list or did a favourite book get left out? Is there a title that I should go read right now?

February 2015

February 2015 One More Page Reading Wrap Up

Books read:

*Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
*A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install
*Boo by Neil Smith
*The Half Brother by Holly LeCraw
*Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
*Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny
*We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Man, did February fly by or what? I can’t believe it’s already March. (I also can’t believe how cold it still is in Toronto! There are flurries coming down as I type this. Brrr.)

I had a great month. From attending the Random House Canada Blogger Preview to celebrating my first blogiversary, it was filled with bookish fun and excitement! Plus, I read some pretty incredible books. Anne of Green Gables is always a fun book to revisit; A Robot in the Garden will have everyone falling in love when it comes out; Boo took me on a roller coaster ride of emotions; The Half Brother had a great setup even though I was disappointed with its resolution; Hausfrau touched on everything that interests me as a reader; Single, Carefree, Mellow reminded me that I do like short stories when done a certain way; We Should All Be Feminists was a powerful read that should be passed on to everyone you know.

Right now I’m reading Kevin Kwan’s China Rich Girlfriend, his follow up to Crazy Rich Asians, as well as finishing up Kazuo Ishiguro’s newest novel The Buried Giant. They are very different books but have their merits all the same!

What are you reading right now? How was your February?

Book Review | The Half Brother by Holly LeCraw

The Half Brother by Holly LeCraw

[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

Ohhhhh, The Half Brother. What can I say about this book? It gave me a lot of conflicting feelings, that’s for sure. I haven’t read too many prep school books, but I found this to be a fun introduction, albeit my disappointment with its ending.

The Half Brother follows Charlie Garrett’s life at Abbott School, a private prep-school where teaches English. Straight out of university, young teacher Charlie soon falls in love with the champlain’s daughter May – and her with him – and all seems to be going well for them. That is, until he resolves to break it off. Charlie thinks he’s in the clear when May moves away, but when she comes back, Charlie tries to set her up with his half-brother Nick. Will everything work out for everyone in the end? Or will this love triangle create more pain?

I have to say that I was transfixed by the first half of the book. I seriously could not put it down. Charlie’s reason for breaking up with May was intense, and I was completely invested in the Charlie-May-Nick love triangle. This continued right until the end, even though I felt like the book was slowly losing steam. Still, I was enjoying the book enough to keep reading any chance I got. (Plus, there are some genuinely great moments in the book; I especially loved watching Charlie teach and thought his unexpected reaction to reading the final lines of The Great Gatsby to his English class (as was his tradition) to be perfectly heartbreaking.) The big problem for me was the resolution. I don’t want to go too deep into my explanation as I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone (if you’ve read this book, let’s talk), but I was incredibly disappointed with how everything played out. It was just a little too perfect for me, and it was quite unsatisfying as far as endings go. Will others enjoy it? Sure, but for me, I wish it had ended just a little differently.

Verdict: An engrossing book that had me captivated early on, but delivered what I think was an underwhelming resolution.

Read if: You love prep school novels, enjoy books with love triangles, want to learn more about the Half Brother.

Have you read The Half Brother? What did you think?! (I’m itching to talk to someone about this!)

Book Review | Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny

Single Carefree Mellow Katherine Heiny Book Cover Review

[I received a copy of Single, Carefree, Mellow from its Canadian publisher HarperCollins Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the book]

When I opened the package containing Katherine Heiny’s first book Single, Carefree, Mellow, I instantly knew that it was the perfect read for Valentine’s Day and that I would want to devour it for the occasion. (Never mind the fact that I actually had a Valentine’s date.) The novel has been blurbed by Lena Dunham, who calls it “magical,” and for some reason I knew that this was going to be the book for me. I wasn’t wrong.

In Single, Carefree, Mellow, the complexities of relationships and hook-ups are expertly explored through a series of short stories. These stories are all focused on the point-of-view of women (amazing!), and reminded me of shows like Sex & the City and Girls for its honest and blunt portrayal of the ups and downs of love (or lust, in some cases). There’s no sugar-coating to be found here, and it’s refreshing and fun to read.

What made this collection especially interesting was the fact that these women are not perfect. In some ways, they are also not very nice. Infidelity is not an uncommon theme in this collection (so beware, if you aren’t a fan of reading that kind of stuff), but I personally love reading about women who are unabashedly flawed. Did I cringe in some parts? Yes. Did I yell “nooo!” at parts? Yes. But I secretly thanked Heiny for writing characters that are so real that by the end of the book I felt like I had just had a long chat with some girlfriends.

On top of that, these short stories are funny. Sure, the women may not always be in great situations, but the stories sneak in a lot of observational and subtle humour that had me chuckling as I read. In one story, a woman secretly nicknames her next-door-neighbour Chicken Pox. Chicken Pox!

Verdict: Overall, this is a very strong collection of well-crafted stories that I enjoyed. (Warning: there is a story that is a bit darker than others near the end of the book, but hopefully the payoff satisfies you in a way that it did for me.) I loved how Heiny was able to capture how messy and fickle the human heart can be, and loved it even more for how it kept the tone and pacing interesting by playing with tenses and injecting humour into the stories.

Read if: You love female-focused books, are a fan of shows like Sex & the City and Girls, want to read a collection of stories that is realistic, funny, and fresh.

Book Review | Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Vanessa and Her Sister Priya Parmar Book Review Cover

[I received a copy of Vanessa and Her Sister by its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinions on the book.]

If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about Vanessa Stephens (or, Virginia Woolf’s older sister) before reading Priya Parmar’s wonderful novel Vanessa and Her Sister. In fact, I hardly knew anything about Virginia Woolf (née Stephens) either, other than the fact that she is a well-regarded writer, famous for works such as Mrs. Dalloway and A Room of One’s Own. Because of this, I was extremely excited to pick up this book and learn more in a fun, non-academic way.

Vanessa and Her Sister covers the life of the Bloomsbury Group — an intellectual group that came together in the Stephens’ house in Bloomsbury — from 1905 to 1912. As the book’s title suggests, the story is mostly focused on Vanessa’s point of view, though it does do a great job of narrating the other group members’ stories as well in the form of letters and Vanessa’s second-hand accounts via her diary. These letters and diaries are tied together by a third-person narration, which gives Parmar space to check in with certain characters while keeping Vanessa at the forefront.

When the novel begins, the Stephens family has just moved into their new house in Bloomsbury. The Bloomsbury group has just been formed, and the Stephens sisters are still unmarried. A portion of the novel focuses on various courtships, where other parts explore the relationship between the members of the Stephens family and their friends.

As someone who doesn’t know a lot about this particular set of people, (I read Mrs. Dalloway in university but that’s about it), it was interesting to find out that I recognized some of the names that made up the Bloomsbury group, like John Maynard Keynes and E. Morgan Forster. It was also eye-opening for me to see Virginia Woolf cast in a sort of temperamental, showy light, as I had never imagined her to be that way. Even more intriguing was the relationship between Vanessa and Virginia; it was riddled with intense love, but also jealousy and competition. I really admire Parmar’s understanding of each character; she must have done a lot of research as everyone seemed completely believable to me. Soon after I began the book, I could picture Vanessa Stephens clearly in my head and anticipate her reactions to certain events. I also grew attached to the characters extremely quickly, and admired their quirks and personalities as they were presented to me.

That being said, I was reminded by a friend that this is, ultimately, a fictionalized story that is rooted in truths. So, while I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I still have to remind myself that parts may not be one hundred percent true (though, this is obviously expected in a work of fiction). For me, my need to remind myself to take everything in the book with a grain of salt was less of a detractor from the book than it is a nod to its ability to make me believe in the writing. Vanessa and Her Sister was an extremely fun read, and it has definitely pushed me to want to learn more about these famous intellectuals.

Verdict: A fabulous introduction to the Bloomsbury group, and of Vanessa Stephens and Virginia Woolf in particular. You don’t need to have previous knowledge of the characters to be able to enjoy the book – the drama and plot really pushes the book forward – but having an interest in the group doesn’t hurt. The book is well-paced and captivating, and I was sad it had to come to an end. Bonus: It made me want to learn more about the Stephens sisters, which speaks to its effectiveness in drawing me in and painting a realistic picture that was both intriguing and gratifying.

Read if: You are in any way interested in Vanessa Stephens, Virginia Woolf, or the Bloomsbury group; simply want to read about two sisters and their group of intellectual friends; want a touch of romance and family matters mixed into your reading.