Friday, September 23, 2016

Kay's Lucky Coin Variety by Ann Y. K. Choi | Book Review

TITLE: Kay's Lucky Coin Variety
AUTHOR: Ann Y. K. Choi
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Touchstone / 2016
SOURCE: Library

Goodreads / Author's Website

A bittersweet coming-of-age debut novel set in the Korean community in Toronto in the 1980s.

This haunting coming-of-age story, told through the eyes of a rebellious young girl, vividly captures the struggles of families caught between two cultures in the 1980s. Family secrets, a lost sister, forbidden loves, domestic assaults—Mary discovers as she grows up that life is much more complicated than she had ever imagined. Her secret passion for her English teacher is filled with problems and with the arrival of a promising Korean suitor, Joon-Ho, events escalate in ways that she could never have imagined, catching the entire family in a web of deceit and violence.

A unique and imaginative debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety evocatively portrays the life of a young Korean Canadian girl who will not give up on her dreams or her family.

Thoughts and Reactions
Every once in awhile I come across a book that I want to share; that I want to talk about even though I've basically given up on this blog. I haven't posted in over a year! The issue is that I don't want to review books. I don't want to send my opinion out into the ether. I want to discuss them. I want to share the stories that have touched my life and hear about the ones that have touched yours. I haven't been posting here because that's not what this blog turned into for me. I was worried about numbers and comments and writing the right kind of review and posting about every book I read. That wasn't fun and I had to step away. All that having been said, Kay's Lucky Coin Variety made me want to post again. It's a book that moved me and one that tells a story that not only deserves, but needs to be told. It's a book I want everybody else to pick up and read. 

Kay's Lucky Coin Variety is set in Toronto in the 1980s and explores the life of a Korean Canadian teenager's, Mary (born Yu-Rhee but renamed by an elementary school principle), coming of age, balancing two cultures and sets of expectations and trying to find herself within them. I read this book slowly, it wasn't one I wanted to devour all in one sitting and I think that's a good thing. I had to put it down , walk away and think every once in awhile. Trying to put why I love this book into words is proving to be a challenge right now actually. 

Choi's writing is so captivating. I, as the reader, could feel Mary's struggle. Sure there were times I couldn't help but think something along the lines of my god you are such a petulant child right now, but she was; she was a teenager trying to carve out her own place. I could empathize so easily with Mary, being caught between two cultures and wanting to succeed in each in some way. She immigrated from Korea as a young child and remembers very little of the country; Toronto is her home, but she stands out. She isn't white, her parents run a convenience store and the values she is raised with at home are at times at odds with what she hears in the dominant culture. There's a constant push and pull within Mary wanting something else for her life, something outside of the convenience store her family owns, but also feeling trapped by her obligations and knowledge that her parents have worked so hard and moved so far, in part for her. 

Choi also renders such a realistic mother daughter relationship that there are points that I definitely low key wept while reading. Mary wants different things in life from her mother and sees her mother as an impediment to her dreams at times. Watching their relationship evolve and gain new understanding as she matures is both beautiful and heartbreaking. 

I know I haven't expressed all that I should or all that this book made me feel. I really think everybody, especially those in Canada, should read it. There has been a lack of Asian Canadian literature for far too long, as pointed out by Mary's longing in the book to read something not by an Asian Canadian and to learn about Asian culture, science, history in school. It's a theme carried through the book, the invisibility of Asian culture in Canada despite there being such a large Asian Canadian population, and it is true today. This is the first Korean Canadian book I have come across and Ann Y. K. Choi is a voice that should be heard. Her writing is captivating and I look forward to reading any future novel she writes. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Landline by Rainbow Rowell | Book Review

TITLE: Landline
AUTHOR: Rainbow Rowell
PUBLISHER/YEAR: St. Martin's Press / 2014
SOURCE: Purchased

Goodreads / Author's Website

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn't expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts...

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Thoughts and Reactions

I was afraid to read Landline. I was afraid for months. I loved Eleanor & Park and Fangirl spoke to me, but what if all this Rainbow Rowell love went away when I read an adult novel that dealt with marriage and children and all those big, scary, grown up things. So I put it off... for a really long time. Then, one fateful day I was browsing my local bookstore and saw that they had one copy left and it was on sale and nothing else was screaming buy me so I left with a copy. You guys, it was such a good decision and I have no idea why these adult topics scared me so much. I love Rowell's writing and her characterizations and that didn't change; she still creates smart, funny characters and relationships that just make sense.

Georgie McCool (don't you just love the name) lover her husband Neal and family, but has always put work first. She's a comedy writer and the hours are crazy, the people are crazy, but she loves her job. When she chooses to stay at home in L.A. over Christmas instead of travelling to Omaha with her famaily it seems like it could be the last straw for her marriage. Totally distraught, she tries calling Neal on her childhood bedroom's phone and reaches the Neal from 1994, the young, pre-marriage, pre-kids, pre-everything Neal and she has to figure out what to do with her past while everything is seemingly  crumbling in her present.

I loved Georgie; I understood Georgie. We work in very similar fields and while I most definitely do not have  a husband or children I can almost understand that pull in two different directions. There's the you who has put everything into your career, who's struggled for so long and wants to be the best and the you who loves and cares about your partner and wants to see them equally as happy and fulfilled. I may have read this book at the right time, personally. She was obviously torn and I understood that and I like to think that even if I wasn't relating to the character so much her characterization would stand on its own.

I also really loved the relationship between Georgie and Neal. Flashbacks are mixed in with the present day to show how their relationship evolved and they added so much to the story. Yes, their marriage is currently strained, but you can understand them and how they got to that point. Plus, I think some of the flashback scenes are just really cute. I also just loved the description of the 90s. These two people are clearly in pain and hurting each other at the moment, but somehow I could still sense the love and was rooting for them to work it out the whole time.

I adored this book. I loved the characters; I loved the relationships. Even the friendships, which were at times a little...line crossing, felt real and developed. The magic phone is less realistic, but I love things like that; I have a weakness for any and all time travel. Sure it's never explained, but I didn't care. The relationships and characters drove the story and the time travel was just a nice addition on the side. I really should just go with my gut and read everything and anything Rainbow Rowell writes.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson | Book Review

TITLE: Since You've Been Gone
AUTHOR: Morgan Matson
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Simon & Schuster / 2014
SOURCE: Purchased

Goodreads / Author's Website

It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Um... 

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane's list. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go skinny-dipping? Wait...what?

Thoughts and Reactions
Any day I can curl up with a Morgan Matson book is a good day. I put off reading Since You've Been Gone because my library seemed to be sorely lacking and missing it, but I came across it at my local bookstore at the beginning of the summer and couldn't resist. Just look at the cover. Perfect book to read on the deck with an iced coffee. I basically love everything Morgan Matson has written and Since You've Been Gone is no exception. I love the remarkably normal and wonderful characters Matson creates and I can barely collect my thoughts because of all the love. 

Okay let's start with the friendship aspect of the book. Emily is this totally normal teenage girl, into a couple of things, but not super popular and feels like she just kind of blends in, but her friend Sloane is all over the place, out there and lovable. When she disappears Emily feels completely lost, but slowly begins to find herself over the summer. It's a really wonderful journey to watch. Emily never discounts Sloane or their friendship and wants to find her, but she also begins to see herself as worthwhile. 

Emily's whole journey, finding not only herself, but a new group of friends who recognize just how wonderful she is is amazing. This new group of people slowly forms around her and supports her, just as she supports them. I like reading about the formation of new relationships (that's probably one of the reasons I love books with romance so much) and this just checked all the boxes. The tentative first steps, the getting to know yous, but for friends. It also helped give Emily perspective on her relationship with Sloane and herself.

I also just love reading about adventures and the list bit of the adventure just added to it. Dancing until dawn, skinny dipping? They kind of sound like a great time. They're these crazy things, but also totally doable, totally down to earth tell your friends the story the next day and remember for a lifetime kind of adventures. It made me want to be there with this group doing these things. It's the kind of I can't stop smiling even if I look like a crazy person on the bus kind of writing. 

Things on the side that made me love this book. Theatre is included! Emily's parents are playwrights and I think that's just so cool. Sure they're a little distracted by their new play, but anytime theatre is worked into a novel I am so there. The playlists included are also fantastic and I definitely added some of them to my spotify to listen to while reading. 

So there you have it, another absolutely wonderful engaging novel by Morgan Matson. I am so in love with this book and know that it's going to be one I revisit in the coming years. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Distance Between Us by Kasie West | Book Review

TITLE: The Distance Between Us
AUTHOR: Kasie West
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Harper Teen / 2013
SOURCE: Purchased

Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers studies the rich like her own personal science experiment, and after years of observation she’s pretty sure they’re only good for one thing—spending money on useless stuff, like the porcelain dolls in her mother’s shop.

So when Xander Spence walks into the store to pick up a doll for his grandmother, it only takes one glance for Caymen to figure out he’s oozing rich. Despite his charming ways and that he’s one of the first people who actually gets her, she’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last. Because if there’s one thing she’s learned from her mother’s warnings, it’s that the rich have a short attention span. But Xander keeps coming around, despite her best efforts to scare him off. And much to her dismay, she's beginning to enjoy his company.
She knows her mom can’t find out—she wouldn’t approve. She’d much rather Caymen hang out with the local rocker who hasn’t been raised by money. But just when Xander’s attention and loyalty are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn’t a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she’d ever realized. And that Xander’s not the only one she should’ve been worried about.

Thoughts and Reactions
I love contemporary romance. Love it. Even if I hear a book isn't great or has something lacking I'll probably pick it up at some point. I rarely regret it and even if I didn't love the book I can say I genuinely enjoyed my time reading it. I finished The Distance Between Us last night and I upon some reflection I think this book falls into that category for me. I didn't love the story, but it was an enjoyable way to pass my commute and I found the hour I was on the bus going by a lot more quickly than it normally does. 

Caymen works in her mom's doll store and lives above it in a town that's very divided between rich and poor. She is most definitely poor. She's smart, funny and sarcastic and has a lot going on for her. I enjoyed reading about her life and liked that she had some backbone even in the face of some pretty cute guys. Xander was charming and sweet and crazy rich and there were moments between them that stole my heart, cute, little moments. So the characters and romance kind of won me over from the beginning.

That having been said, The Distance Between Us was kind of lacking for me. It was in the story, the plot itself more than anything else. It was thin. There were these great characters who I wanted to know about, but the details were glossed over, the things that made them into people I could really care about. It was very much about rich vs poor and little else. We know Caymen is sarcastic and poor and Xander is rich, but I can't say I know much else about them. Caymen distrusted Xander because of how much money he has. She was worried about her mom and the store because of how much money they didn't have. We're told she likes science but rarely get to see that. It felt shallow. 

The family dynamics also felt shallow and a little unbelievable to me. Caymen is supposedly super close to her mom, a single mom who raised her after the teenage father ran off, but they argue and hide things from each other constantly. Again, this could be believable and dynamic, but it felt like we only saw the surface of their relationship. Between that and the ending I couldn't help but roll my eyes a couple of times. 

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It had a sweet premise, amazing cover and I love romances. It just didn't quite live up to my expectations. I wanted more depth. I didn't care about the characters and breezed through the book quickly. Nothing really stuck with me. It was the perfect book for me to read on my commute and I think it would be a fun beach read or something to take with you on vacation when you want light, fun, and fast. I can see why others would like this book even if it's not the perfect story for me. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

TITLE: Saint Anything
AUTHOR: Sarah Dessen
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Viking Juvenile
SOURCE: Purchased

Peyton, Sydney's charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion's share of their parents' attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.
The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

Thoughts and Reactions
You guys, I know I haven't written anything in ages. Again. I'm terrible at consistency, but I've also felt like I haven't had a lot to say. I've read sporadically for the past little while, but between work and some personal things no book has jumped out at me and said Hey You Have to Talk About This! I don't know if that's changed for awhile or just for now or maybe just for this one book, but after putting down Saint Anything I knew I wanted to post. I don't have anything revolutionary to say, but I wanted to chat. I miss just talking about books sometimes, you know? 

Sarah Dessen books and summer just go to together; a porch, iced coffee and one of her books are all you need on a hot day. I love the characters and towns she creates and even though the characters are flawed and have problems, you know that things are going to work out for them in one way or another at the end of the day. Sydney is a pretty average girl whose brother has some major issues that have caused her family and others a lot of pain and her trying to figure herself out within that mess was captivating. Family dynamics in a book are so important to me and Dessen creates realistic, if sometimes painful, families to read about. The lack of perfection, the mistakes; it felt all to real sometimes, but in such a good way. 

A lot of times the perfect summer book has to be filled with swoons and romance, but with this one, I don't know that was my favourite part. Mack was a great book boyfriend, so down to earth and reliable and I was totally rooting for them the whole time. It's just not what really drew me to the book. The way friendship was portrayed, both good and bad, was spot on and just so good. Losing touch with good friends because of physical distance or a new boyfriend or whatever; the friendships were so relatable. 

I basically buy every new Sarah Dessen novel as soon as it comes out because I know I'll devour it. I love the way she writes characters and mixes, serious and real problems with lightness. Saint Anything proves yet again that this is just the type of novel I need in my life. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Top Ten 2014 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn't Get To

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish

There are seriously so many books that I wanted to read but didn't over this past year. A selections of ten is hardly enough to cover them all, but here are a few that are high priority for this year. Hopefully I'll manage to read most of them.

1. Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (Goodreads)
I own Blue Lily, Lily Blue and I've loved the other books in the series. In fact, as soon as I finished Dream Thieves I was dying to read this one. However, it remains sitting on my shelf. I should really fix that soon. 

2. Landline by Rainbow Rowell (Goodreads)
I love Rainbow Rowell and just finished Fangirl and basically devoured Eleanor & Park on trains while travelling. I want to read Landline and the premise sounds fantastic, plus I haven't read Rowell's adult fiction yet which seems like an absolute shame. 

3. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Goodreads)
I actually know very little about this book as the blurb is purposefully vague, but a few bloggers who I love raved about it so I clearly need to read it.

4. To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han (Goodreads)
I love Jenny Han's writing. I haven't necessarily loved every book, but I love her style.  Plus a box of love letters that are never meant to be sent are; I love that premise.

5. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Goodreads)
Post-Apocalyptic books aren't typically my style; I don't really go for the earth was ravaged and there are only a few surviving camps left. Again though I've heard such amazing things about this one that I really do want to read it eventually. 

6. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira (Goodreads)
Name Kurt Cobain and Janis Joplin and you've got me hooked. But really, it sounds heartbreaking and oh so good. 

7. Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson (Goodreads)
Both of Matson's previous books have been close to perfect in my mind. I can't believe I haven't read this yet. 

8. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Goodreads)
Again, I've heard AMAZING things. This is one is only on my radar thanks to some brilliant bloggers. It's sitting on my shelf and should be read soon. 

9. The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith (Goodreads)
This sounds like a fairly light contemporary and so my style.

10. Open Road Summer by Emery Lord (Goodreads)
I love a good road trip book, I've heard amazing things, it's a contemporary and it has a musical element. Count me in!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson | Book Review

TITLE: Second Chance Summer
AUTHOR: Morgan Matson
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing/2012
SOURCE: Local Library

Goodreads / Author's Website

Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains.

Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.

As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love.

Thoughts and Reactions
I loved, loved, loved Morgan Matson's debut novel Amy & Roger's Epic Detour and had high expectations for her follow up. I wasn't worried about being disappointed since I had heard amazing things and I'm glad to say that it lived up to all of my expectations. Morgan Matson has created a touching and heartbreaking story that really touched me on a personal level. 

Taylor Edwards loves her family even though they've never been that close. Everybody has their thing; her dad is a workaholic lawyer, her little sister a ballet prodigy and her brother a genius who's planning on going to an ivy league school. Taylor's always felt average in comparison to everybody else, but she's been mostly okay with it even if she does have a tendency to run when things get difficult. Everything changes for Taylor and her family when her father is diagnosed with terminal cancer and they only have one summer left together. The entire family packs up to spend time together at their lake house in the Poconos and Taylor is forced to face old mistakes and problems as she is struggling to come to terms with what is happening to her family. 

I'm pretty sure that from the time I opened the first page of this book tears started falling. It's not that the entire novel is sad so much as I was anticipating the ending and was remembering all too similar moments in my own life. Matson actually does a really good job finding those joyful moments mixed in with the grief; it was really beautifully done. I'm honestly not sure how I'm going to review this book as so much of it felt so real to me so please bear with me as I fumble through this one. 

The thing about cancer is that it's always there, but it doesn't dominate every moment until it does. There are moments when it doesn't feel real, when everything feels like it can carry on as it always has, but you also know that something has fundamentally shifted and are trying to enjoy all the time you have. It's this balance that struck such a chord with me because it was all there. The moment that Taylor's parents tell the family what's happening is the part that really struck me. It's that sit down, you know something is wrong, but don't know what and then everything changes, but you're still sitting around the table and maybe you're not reacting in the right way moment. It's a moment I know. Everything about that moment stuck with me until the end. 

So many books that deal with cancer focus on the grief, the anger, the sadness and that was at times present, but it didn't dominate the story. I tend to avoid books with parents with cancer because they can, in my opinion, turn towards the maudlin, but I didn't find that with Second Chance Summer. Taylor taking the time to really get to know her father while she still had the chance was touching and so positive. Reconnecting with old friends and trying to learn from past mistakes, even imperfectly, was a wonderful addition to the story. 

I think the thing that I love is that this isn't a book about cancer, it's a book with it. Taylor has a life; she's reconnecting with people and trying to figure out who she really is. I just love how well written this is and how well life is balanced with grief. The things that tore me apart were so real that I could not stop crying. I have not faced anything as difficult as watching my mother get sicker and sicker and I didn't always know how to deal with that or what I should be doing. This is a character who embodies that process. 

Matson deserves all the credit she's received and more for such a beautifully written and poignant story. It touched me on so many levels and while it took me back to some very difficult times I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. This was a book that that was heartfelt in its writing and provided comfort  while it inspired tears. If you haven't already read Second Chance Summer  please do. I cannot recommend it highly enough.