About Jaclyn

I'm a total bookaholic! Fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, YA, science fiction, I read practically anything and everything. I also love talking about books, and chatting about books with people who love them as much as I do!

Review | Summer Sisters, Judy Blume

Judy Blume will always remind me of my childhood. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret was one of my favourite books growing up, and while a recent re-read didn’t quite affect me as I’d hoped, I still remember getting caught up in Margaret’s concerns about filling out a bra and getting her period and all sorts of rites of passage young girls go through. Fellow Blume fans, say it with me: “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!”

Great news for all of us who grew up with Judy Blume: she has a new adult novel coming in June! In the Unlikely Event hits shelves June 2.

820100I was fortunate enough to have attended the Random House Canada Spring Bloggers Event, where they told us about the upcoming novel. There were no ARCs available, but they generously provided us with copies of Judy Blume’s previous adult novel Summer SistersIf you’ve ever read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s EyeSummer Sisters reminds me somewhat of that novel, being about the strong bonds formed in female friendship when young, and how these can last in some form or another all through adulthood. And like Cat’s Eye, Summer Sisters took me right back to my childhood.

The novel is about best friends Vix Leonard and Caitlin Somers, who go to Caitlin’s family house in Martha’s Vineyard every summer. Caitlin’s family becomes somewhat a surrogate family to Vix, and helps her out with scholarships to the best schools. Over the years, the girls grow apart — having grown up with money all her life, Caitlin can’t understand why Vix would choose to spend her summers working at a restaurant rather than travel with her to Europe; Vix on the other hand finds it difficult to explain why she feels uncomfortable accepting Caitlin’s parents’ offer to pay for her ticket to Europe. Vix sees a degree from Harvard as a necessity for a stable life; Caitlin thinks it’s settling for an ordinary one. And as the novel opens, Caitlin invites Vix to be maid of honour at her wedding to Vix’s ex-boyfriend, whom they both met during a summer at the Vineyard.

The novel dips into the girls’ stories once a year, at first during the summer season, and then later on, during Vix’s school year. Even though the novel begins with Caitlin’s wedding, the romantic angle is secondary to the story of their friendship, and the boyfriend is as secondary a character as the girls’ parents. I love this glimpse into the girls’ lives, and their adventures in the Vineyard remind me of the unbridled fun summers were as a teen, when they were breaks from the school year, and where even a menial job like cleaning houses could be fun because you were doing it with your best friend.

Blume tells the story mostly from Vix’s perspective, and while various characters are given a chapter or two to tell their side, Caitlin’s voice is notably absent. This adds to her mystique as a character — we see her only as others do, and while Vix may know her more than most, even Vix eventually realizes that there are many layers to Caitlin that she will never know. I actually wasn’t a big fan of hearing from the other characters — with the exception of Caitlin’s stepmom Abby, none of the other interludes really interested me, and I would have rather stayed with Vix the entire time.

I hesitate to call this novel simple, because there is a lot that happens, and so much more in terms of family dynamics that remains unsaid. But in a way, there’s a wonderful simplicity that marks this story, and a forthrightness in Blume’s narration that again takes me back to childhood, to a time where summer friendships meant something, and the potential of the future appears limitless. This is a lovely read, and I can’t wait for Blume’s new novel in June.

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Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

TIFF Books on Film Returns March 2 to June 22

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Remains of the Day | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

TIFF’s Books on Film series returns for its fifth season on March 2nd with an exciting line up of great cinema that began as outstanding literature. This seems especially timely after a year that’s been fantastic for film adaptations of books — recent box office hits (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Fifty Shades of Grey, any number of superhero movies) also began as books, as did at least half a dozen of the top contenders this awards season. The TIFF series celebrates the translation of the page to screen, with film screenings followed by CBC host Eleanor Wachtel (Writers & Company) interviewing filmmakers, authors and experts about the art of adapting a book for the screen.

TIFF Books on Film 2015 Schedule:

Monday, March 2, 7 pm
James Shapiro (Professor of English at Columbia University) on Coriolanus

Coriolanus. Credit: Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library.

Coriolanus | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library.

Trailer:

Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler and Shakespeare — need I say more? Fiennes also directs this modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, about an exiled Roman general who allies with his sworn enemy to take revenge on the city that spurned him. 

Esteemed Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro will discuss the perennial challenges of bringing the Bard to the screen.

Monday, March 16, 7 pm
Kazuo Ishiguro on The Remains of the Day

This is the one I’m seriously geeking out over. Kazuo Ishiguro is an amazing writer, and The Remains of the Day is, bar none, my favourite among all of his works. He will be at TIFF Bell Lightbox (in person!) to talk to Eleanor Wachtel about the film adaptation. The film itself stars Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, so really, how can it be anything but spectacular?
Monday, April 13, 7 pm
Lynn Barber on An Education
An Education | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

An Education | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

Trailer:

I’ve heard a lot of great things about this film starring Carey Mulligan and adapted from a memoir by English journalist Lynn Barber about her teenage love affair with a dashing con man. It will be great to see how it plays out on screen, and then to hear from Barber herself on the adaptation of her life.

Monday, May 11, 7 pm
Allan Scott on Don’t Look Now

Don't Look Now | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

Don’t Look Now | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

Trailer:

Daphne du Maurier had a gift for atmosphere in her writing, and this film, adapted from one of her short stories, sounds decidedly creepy. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play a married couple who is haunted by a series of mysterious occurrences after the death of their daughter. Best part? Screenwriter Allan Scott, who will be discussing his adaptation with Eleanor Wachtel, is also known for creating the stage musical adaptation of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which just makes him more awesome to my inner theatre geek.

Monday, June 1, 7 pm
Irvine Welsh on Trainspotting

Trainspotting | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

Trainspotting | Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

Trailer:

To be honest, I’ve never watched this classic based on a book (also a classic!) by Irvine Welsh. The film stars Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller though, so I’ll definitely have to give it a try. The author himself will be speaking with Eleanor Wachtel after the screening of this film.

Monday, June 22, 7 pm
Phillip Lopate on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie | Courtesy of Photofest

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie | Courtesy of Photofest

Essayist, poet, novelist and film critic Phillip Lopate speaks with Eleanor Wachtel about this classic 1969 adaptation of Muriel Spark’s world-famous novel. The film adaptation stars Maggie Smith — Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series, the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey, among many other legendary roles, with Jean Brodie being among her most famous. I also loved Muriel Spark’s book, and look forward to hearing it discussed at TIFF.

How to subscribe:

Series subscriptions to Books on Film include all six events and are on sale now. Subscription pricing as follows (regular price subscribers save $30 off the cost of single tickets): adult member $153, adult non-member $180, student/senior member $122.40, students/senior non-member $144.

Single tickets available starting on Wednesday, February 25: adult member $28, adult nonmember $35, student/senior member $24, student/senior non-member $29.75, groups of 20+ $31.50.

Purchase tickets online at tiff.net/books, by phone from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET daily at 416.599.TIFF or 1.888.599.8433, or visit the Steve and Rashmi Gupta Box Office in person from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET daily at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Reitman Square, 350 King Street West.

Review | When Everything Feels like the Movies, Raziel Reid

24043806When Everything Feels like the Movies is an unbelievably raw, powerful book. Reading this book is a visceral experience, and I almost didn’t write this review because there is no way I can express the power of Raziel Reid’s writing. He plunges us deep into the mind and heart of his narrator Jude, and creates such a rich, textured voice for his character that Jude will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

Jude is a hilarious narrator whose humour belies the depth of his experiences and pain. A young teen bullied for being gay, Jude copes by imagining himself a movie star. Boys chase him and call him Judy because they are rabid fans. Graffiti about him on bathroom doors are notes from secret admirers. Classmates stare at his outfits and made-up face because the school hallways are actually red carpet premieres and he’s the star. It’s a comforting fiction that crumbles with the first punch, even as he desperately attempts to cling to it. In a particularly heart-wrenching moment, he scrambles to his feet and races away from a group of bullies, describing all the while how he is really acting out a lush, beautiful scene from a movie.

The reason this book is so powerful is the language. Take this passage about bathroom graffiti for example:

They made portraits of me, too. They were my graffiti tabloids. I was totally famous. I’d imagine that the drawing in the handicap stall of my alleged crotch with “Hermafrodite Jude/Judy” scribbled next to it was the cover of the National Enquirer. Misspelled headline included. I was addicted to them. I’d look all over the bathroom and on all the walls in the hallway, and if there wasn’t one waiting for me on my locker for Jim to paint over at the end of the day, I was crushed. I wanted them to hate me; hate was as close to love as I thought I’d ever be. [p. 18]

Passages like that just blow me away. I mean, wow. The studied casualness of stating a desire for this graffiti, contrasted with the subtle dig at the spelling error, and then wrapped up at the end with an almost off-hand remark. Reid manages to pack more sincerity in that final sentence than in the rest of the paragraph, yet the emotion in that last line can be felt throughout, even as Jude pretends otherwise. Bravo, Raziel Reid, is all I can say.

Then Jude falls in love, with a popular boy who happens to be straight. If you know the author’s inspiration for this story, then you already know how that turns out. If you don’t, then I urge you to avoid spoilers at all costs. The ending seemed sudden to me and I thought it came out of nowhere. But I can imagine that’s how it would have seemed in real life as well, especially as Reid keeps us firmly locked within Jude’s perspective.

The controversy around the content of this book has brought it to the attention of many more readers, but it has also almost eclipsed discussion about the book itself, which I think is a shame. Read it to take a stand against censorship, if you like, but also read it just because it’s a very, very good book. Jude is a star, and his story will pull you right in and never let you go.

Review | Something Wiki, Suzanne Sutherland

20860645Something Wiki is about a shy twelve year old named Jo, who has three brainy friends and edits Wikipedia for fun. When two of her friends suddenly decide they’re too cool for her, Jo has to deal with a situation unfortunately all too familiar with many young girls. Add to the mix a twenty-four year old brother moving back home with his pregnant girlfriend, and Jo’s dealing with quite a bit to handle.

Sutherland does a great job of capturing a young girl’s voice, and her writing took me right back to my days as a tween. I remember being like Jo — Wikipedia wasn’t around back then so I had to scribble my feelings in an actual paper journal, but I can certainly relate to her worries about bad hair cuts, monstrous zits, and not quite fitting in with friends who are finding new interests. Kudos to Sutherland for giving Jo a real acne problem, rather than the usual trope in movies of otherwise beautiful girls freaking out over a single pimple. The story feels real, and Jo is a sharp, witty narrator. Her sardonic asides give way to real pain though, and it’s almost painful to read about how cruel young girls can be.

I lent my copy to my sister after reading, and about halfway through, she asked me if Chloe (Jo’s best-friend-turned-kinda-mean-girl) ever gets her comeuppance. Unfortunately, Sutherland ends the story before the girls enter high school, which means we never get to see if Chloe gets major zits before the prom or ends up unable to land her dream job after university. There is some closure, but as in real life, things aren’t completely wrapped up in a tidy little package. The book does give a glimpse of hope, however — J, the girlfriend of Jo’s brother, is the cool older sister type who wears awesome outfits and is beyond caring what others think of her. Attitude-wise, she’s who Jo can grow up to become, and both provides emotional support and a reminder that things do get better.

Despite being in the title, the Wikipedia angle almost seems unnecessary. Perhaps it will resonate on a different level with contemporary tweens, but it  mostly just reminds me of those Baby-sitter Club notebook chapter introductions.

Something Wiki is fantastic realistic YA. It’s much tighter — plot-wise and style-wise — than Sutherland’s first novel, and is sure to resonate with many young girls and women who remember all too well the pains of growing up.

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Thank you to Dundurn for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Black Dog Summer, Miranda Sherry

23574104When Sally is brutally murdered on her farming commune in South Africa, her spirit remains tethered to this world and the people she left behind. Similar to The Lovely Bones, Miranda Sherry’s debut novel Black Dog Summer is about a family dealing with grief and, more significantly, with all the issues left unresolved before death. Sally watches as her teenage daughter Gigi falls into a deep depression alleviated only by drugs. Her estranged sister Adele, her brother-in-law and unrequited love Liam, and their daughter Bryony are all struggling to come to terms with Sally’s death, and with the addition of a silent, troubled teen into their home.

Sherry’s writing is beautiful, and I love how she describes her characters’ lives as threads of stories that Sally must follow before she can move on. Sherry also weaves in a bit of a supernatural feel — the darkness Bryony senses in the aftermath of her aunt’s murder takes the form of a black dog out to harm her and her cousin. Bryony’s next door neighbour Lesedi is a reluctant sangoma, someone in touch with the spiritual realm and can communicate with the dead, and anchors the story’s shifting between both worlds.

My favourite passage in the novel comes early on, almost immediately after Sally is killed. She hears a noise, a “whispering, humming, singing, screaming awfulness.” She soon realizes that

The noise comes from Africa’s stories being told. Millions upon millions of them, some told in descending liquid notes like the call of the Burchells’ coucal before the rain, and some like the dull roar of Johannesburg traffic. Some of these stories are ancient and wear fossilized coats of red dust, and others are so fresh that they gleam with umbilical wetness…

[My family’s story is] just one story amongst millions, and yet it has become so loud now that it drowns out the others. It is howling at me, raging, demanding my attention. I look closer to find that this small, bright thread of story weaves out from the moment of my passing and seems to tether me to this place. Perhaps this is why I have not left yet. Perhaps I have no choice but to follow the story to its end.

Isn’t that beautiful? From that passage on, like Sally, I too felt compelled to follow this story to its end.

I also really like how Sherry connects the spirit world with the elemental one. Sally feels her being a spirit most keenly when Lesedi looks at her, and ironically, she is both most disconnected from the physical world and intimately connected to its elements. She has become an Ancestor, one with the millions upon millions of stories of the past and connected as well somehow to the potential of the future. What a beautiful way to think of the afterlife!

Black Dog Summer is a very emotional book. Much of the story within the physical world is told through Bryony’s point of view, and as a tween, she is barely able to cope with what has happened to her aunt. She looks up the term “massacre” in the dictionary, and repeats this definition several times. And indeed, when faced with something as incomprehensible as murder (not just murder, but mass murder), when having to deal with the overwhelming grief of a cousin you barely know who is now your roommate, when unable to comprehend the rising tensions between your parents, how can anyone cope?

This is a beautiful, heartbreaking, page turner of a book. Like Sally, we as readers are invested in the story while necessarily being detached from it. And like Sally, all we can do is hope it all works out for this family.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Please note that the passage quoted above is from the ARC, and may be edited prior to publication.

Review | The Damned, Andrew Pyper

damned-9781476755144_lgAndrew Pyper does it again with The Damned. Creepy, atmospheric and with more than a touch of existential tragedy, the book is signature Pyper. I raced through the book in a couple of days, and ended up not quite knowing how to feel at the end.

“I have a talent for dying,” protagonist Danny Orchard admits. “It’s the one thing it seems I can do, not just once like everyone but over again.” Danny is a middle aged man who had narrowly escaped death at 16, in a fire that ended up killing his beautiful, psychotic twin sister Ashleigh. Now a bestselling author who’d penned an account of his experience in the “After” (Danny’s term for the afterlife), Danny has lived his entire life haunted by Ashleigh’s spirit, who appears determined to take Danny back into the After with her.

Just like my favourite Pyper novel The GuardiansThe Damned focuses on the intensely personal, small scale, individual type of horror. Danny’s attempts at a normal life, foiled by his sister’s spectre appearing at inopportune moments illustrate a very personal kind of hell on earth. Pyper includes other characters who are undergoing similar experiences with their own departed unloved, and these incidents are both chilling and tragic. On one hand, The Damned is a freaky horror story (a scene with a washing machine almost gave me nightmares); on the other hand, it’s also a potent metaphor for how we can never really escape the people who have touched our lives. An abusive father may die, but his daughters will never completely escape the effects of his abuse. Ghosts, whether corporeal or psychological, are real. Even Pyper’s version of the After is based on reality — a bit of earthly life stretched out to eternity. This grounds the unknown of death in something tangible, and makes the idea of hell even more within our grasp.

What elevates this straightforward horror story into something much more troubling is that Pyper resists comfortable, easy characterizations. For example, it would be easy to paint Ashleigh as purely evil. Just like the abusive father who haunted another character, Ashleigh’s cruelty lives on and impacts upon Danny’s life for decades afterwards. However, Ashleigh’s explanation of her nature, rooted in a near death experience the twins had in their mother’s womb, raises questions about good and evil, and the justice of her damnation. Questions that go far beyond a novel, and possibly into our own concept of heaven and hell, right and wrong.

The Damned is a fairly quick read, mostly because you just keep wanting to find out what happens next. But much like Pyper’s ghosts, the disquieting questions his novel raises linger on long after you turn the last page.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The King of Shanghai (Ava Lee # 7: The Triad Years), Ian Hamilton

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read Two Sisters of Borneo (Ava Lee # 6), this review includes a major spoiler in the first paragraph about that book and the Ava Lee series in general.

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King of Shanghai begins about a month after Uncle’s death in Two Sisters of Borneo. Ava is just coming out of grieving and ready to begin a new life as a partner in the Three Sisters investment business she runs with friends May and Amanda. She still feels the loss of Uncle’s mentorship, but is somewhat looking forward to a quieter life, with a steady income and without the violence that resulted from her previous work.

Unfortunately for Ava, her old life seems determined to catch up to her. Uncle’s friend and mentee Xu, the head of the Triad in Shanghai, is seeking the chairmanship of all Triad Societies, and he wants to recruit Ava as his adviser. The rest of the story unfolds in classic Ava Lee fashion — other Triad bosses don’t get along with Xu, Ava gets sucked into their conflict, various characters get kidnapped/beaten up/shot.

King of Shanghai does focus a bit more on Ava’s strategic thinking rather than her martial arts prowess, which I liked. She ends up having to strategize about the Triad, and that’s a scale beyond what she’s had to deal with in the past, I think. That being said, one of my concerns with this series is that Ava’s always been more than capable so I haven’t really seen much character growth in that regard over the series. Because she has been practically superhuman all along, there was never any doubt that she could come up with a good strategy, nor that she could strong-arm negotiations in her favour. More significantly, there isn’t much difference between the Ava working for Uncle and the Ava left without a mentor. She does mourn Uncle’s death, and there’s a great scene where she dreams about him, but in terms of character development, I didn’t really feel how Uncle’s death changed her in any way.

The appeal of any mystery and thriller series is familiarity — there’s a set structure and there’s a certain set of expectations of how the main character would react in a given situation. So in a way, I can’t fault Ian Hamilton for giving us the Ava Lee story we’ve come to expect. I think however that the story arc about Uncle’s health in previous books raised the emotional stakes in such a way that enhanced the series, and that is missing in this book. Ava’s concern over Uncle’s declining health added heart to the series and depth to Ava’s character, and perhaps it is in contrast to that that the language in this book feels oddly detached. Even moments of emotion, such as Ava’s emailing “I love you” to her girlfriend felt clinical in execution, added to the story just to remind us that Ava has a girlfriend before then going on to the business at hand.

There is also a subplot about PO, a fashion line the Three Sisters consider investing in. To be honest, I enjoyed that subplot more than the Triad part, mostly because I like fashion, but as the Triad story took off, this story was pushed to the sidelines, and it made me wonder why we spent almost half the book building up this storyline.

King of Shanghai is a solid addition to the Ava Lee series. If you enjoyed the earlier books, this has many of the elements that make the other books great, and Ava is as powerful and brilliant as ever.

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Thank you to Anansi for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.