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 | Killing Monica, Candace Bushnell

22675867The author of Sex and the City returns with a spoof of the lifestyle she’s built. Killing Monica is about best selling author Pandy Wallis who would like to write a serious historical novel inspired by her ancestor Lady Wallis, a great feminist. Unfortunately, she’s built her career on a character called Monica, who has spawned a line of novels, movies and merchandise, and her agent, publisher, friends and fans all couldn’t care less about Lady Wallis and instead demand more Monica. Worse, her ex-husband is after her money, and she’ll need to write another Monica novel to pay him off.

Bushnell explores a question that likely haunts many writers — at what point does the creator lose control over their work? As this novel shows and Bushnell can probably attest to herself, there are times when it’s the creation that takes over, and the writer becomes a mere cog in its machine.

A friend to whom I lent this book described it as “Sex and the City turns Harold Robbins,” and I couldn’t have said it better. Through flashbacks, we meet Pandy as a young woman, attempting to break into Hollywood life — there’s a great line about partying with “displaced New Yorkers,” including “a couple of disgruntled literary writers who were determined to show New York, mostly by drinking too much, that they didn’t give a shit about it.” (page 53) I enjoyed reading about her friendship with SondraBeth Schnowzer, who plays Monica onscreen. There’s a total party girl vibe but there are also hints of the jealousy and selfishness that will soon cause friction between them. As a boyfriend points out, Monica is all who SondraBeth is at this point in her career, yet SondraBeth can never truly be her, because the real Monica — Pandy — is still around. Bushnell steers clear of the obvious Single White Female plot directions, which is a bit of a shame, because the novel could have gone much darker, and also much more interesting, with this material.

We see Pandy’s rise in Hollywood, coupled with the diminishing of her personal life, where her marriage becomes a trap and her friendships become more shallow. A fire at her ancestral home gives Pandy a chance at a new life, yet comes too late in the plot to feel much more than a frantic denouement. Bushnell squeezes as much dialogue about women empowerment as she can in the last few chapters, where Pandy — and to an extent ShondaBeth — fight to reclaim their identities beyond the patriarchal Hollywood machine, and in a way, it’s a fitting third act in a story about both women essentially having their actions controlled by powerful men. But it also feels slapdash, and the execution — while never intended to be realistic — still feels too much a strain on credulity to make its impact.

The third act does provide a response to the question Bushnell raises, about the author’s control over their work, and it was really well done. In some of the book’s most powerful moments, we see how people respond to Pandy after the fire, and it’s a haunting, almost terrifying look at the cult of celebrity, and how much the real person actually matters.

A final note, and without giving anything away, I must say that I absolutely hate how Bushnell treats the big reveal about Pandy’s sister Hellenor. The impetus behind Monica’s creation, who later begged to have Monica killed, Hellenor is away in Amsterdam for most of the book. We aren’t told why she left, and while we receive hints that Pandy is no longer in contact with her, we don’t know why until the last few pages. Bushnell keeps it under wraps until the very end for effect, and the actual reveal plays no role beyond, possibly, surprise expected on the part of the reader. Given the general suppression of these kinds of stories, and the lack of representation of this community, I hate that this reveal was played as a cheap trick. It feels disrespectful, and equally important, it feels like a wasted opportunity, considering that Hellenor’s story could have tied in thematically with other points in the plot.

Otherwise, it’s an entertaining story, and if it turns into a TV show, I’ll have the utmost sympathy for any actress who has to wear the gorgeous, but torturous, Monica shoes.

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Thanks to Hachette Book Group for an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | China Rich Girlfriend, Kevin Kwan

22674105There’s rich, then there’s crazy rich. And then there’s China rich. As Eleanor Young explains to her son Nick, “Aiyah, these people aren’t just everyday rich with a few hundred million. They are China rich! We’re talking billions and billions.” And in this spectacular sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan takes us into an even more deliciously decadent, ostentatiously opulent world.

I absolutely adored Crazy Rich Asiansso when I saw that a few ARCs of the sequel were available at the Random House Canada Spring Blogger Preview, I immediately dove for a copy like Carrie Bradshaw at a Manolo Blahnik sample sale. I then pushed the rest of my reading pile off to the side and settled in for an escape into the glitzy glamour of the 0.0001%.

China Rich Girlfriend brings back a lot of the beloved characters from the previous book. Rachel Chu and Nick Young are all set to marry. Singapore’s It Girl Astrid Leong is slowly discovering that her husband’s recent financial success has gone to his head. Former soap opera star Kitty Pong is unable to climb to the upper echelons of Hong Kong society, despite her billionaire husband and efforts to fit in. We also meet new characters, billionaire bad boy Carlton Bao, his girlfriend celebrity fashion blogger Colette Bing, and the catalyst that sets this novel’s plot in motion: Rachel Chu’s birth father.

China Rich Girlfriend has a more soap operatic feel than Crazy Rich Asians. While the first book focused on Rachel’s relationship with Nick and her introduction to his world, their story almost takes a back seat in this sequel. Instead we get drawn into an almost dizzying array of subplots, and I strongly suggest reading/re-reading Crazy Rich Asians before this book. Getting acquainted/re-acquainted with the large cast of characters felt confusing at first, but once you’re settled in, it’s an exhilarating ride.

My favourite plot thread by far is that of Astrid and her friendship with Charlie Wu, who I see from my review of Crazy Rich Asians also stole the show for me in that book. He still holds a torch for her, yet manages to maintain a respectful distance and provide emotional support while she struggles with her husband’s personality shift. The affection between them is beautiful, and after some particularly jerky behaviour by Astrid’s husband, I was on Team Charlie all the way.

As with Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend skewers the materialism of the super upper class. The sequel has a bit less affection and therefore a bit less bite than the original, but is just as much a pleasure to read. A Paris shopping spree scene made me yearn so badly for a shopping trip myself, and only -40 degree weather (I’m writing this on a February day in Toronto) saved me and my credit card from doing anything we regret. This scene of course was closely followed by a luxurious spa scene, which again made me long for all the treatments the characters describe. Despite his satirical treatment of the characters’ behaviour, Kevin Kwan does for high end shopping what Devil Wears Prada does for fashion, and it’s hard to read all those brand names and celebrity mentions without wishing you could experience such a lifestyle, even for just a day. Reading Kwan’s fiction allows us to live vicariously through these characters, lampooning their excess while imagining ourselves in their Louboutin heels (presented personally by their dear friend Christian, of course). That being said, the truth behind a much lauded white linen dress gives hope to us all and makes for one of the funniest moments in the book.

The food is just as gloriously described here as in the first book, and I’m not ashamed to say I ordered Chinese takeout for dinner after finishing the book. Sweet and sour pork may not quite compare to the delicacies described in these pages, but again, a fantastic scene featuring ramen in Paris shows us that at times, the rich really aren’t so different from you and me.

I’m so glad Kwan decided to write a sequel to Crazy Rich Asians. This is such a fantastic world to visit, and his writing is just hilarious. Reading it feels like watching a particularly glittery soap opera, where the jewels are ten times as large and the outfits a thousand times more expensive. Look beyond the glitz and glamour though, and at its heart, this novel is about love and family. How does a young woman deal with finding her birth father? How does a sudden increase in income change a man? And how can a privileged young man deal with having caused a terrible tragedy? Kwan refrains from delving too deep into the sad aspects of the plot, but they add some measure of reality to the story, and remind us of the human beings behind the dollar signs.

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

Review | The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, Sam Maggs

22926684Are you a fangirl? Do you geek out over Star Trek, know every YA novel headed for the big screen, or wish Sherlock and John Watson would just hurry up and get it on already? Let’s be real: when you heard the title of this book, you either squealed with joy or said “meh” and moved on. If you are a fangirl in any way, shape or form, this book is for you.

Here’s a quick proviso: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is not an in-depth analysis of all things geeky. Rather, it’s a light-hearted primer into how awesome geekdom can be. Did you know that Disney fans are called “Disnerds”? Me neither, but Maggs’ description of them having “big dreams, big eyes, big hair” made me laugh. I also wish I’d read this book before going to my first convention — the tips on bringing water, a charger, and cash would’ve come in handy. (“Sure, cons have ATMs, but the lines typically stretch all the way back to Narnia.” And worse, by the time you get to the front, the machine may already be out of cash. I’m never making that mistake again.)

I especially love the informal Q&As with celebrity geek girls — and my own fangirly little heart skipped a beat when I saw Kate Beaton was included! Maggs also includes some girl power type chapters on contemporary feminism, which in the light of things like Gamergate, is particularly relevant to any geek girl. Maggs’ message is simple: don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re not geek enough. And that’s a message worth hearing.

Maggs includes a variety of geeky topics in this book, which is particularly useful for anyone who wants to try out another geekdom. For example, I’ve been intrigued by superhero comic books, but I never knew where to begin. I’ve always found comic book stores pretty intimidating. It’s hard to ask for advice about where to start, when everyone around you appears to know exactly what they’re looking for, and even when you find a series you’d like to try, it’s hard to find a good issue to start with. Fortunately, Maggs includes some book recommendations in her introductions to Marvel and DC fangirls, so maybe I’ll give those a try.

She also includes a chapter on kickass heroines to check out in various media, as well as a list of geek girl-type websites. There are a lot of books, movies, TV shows and websites I haven’t tried out yet, and I can’t wait to get started!

It’s a wide galaxy for fangirls out there, and Maggs provides us with a fun roadmap into what we can do with our fandom.

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

Review | Lost Boi, Sassafras Lowrey

23129755There are books that provide a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Then there are books that surprise and delight and make you glad you took a chance on it. And then there are books that completely suck you in, plunge you into a world of the author’s making, and refuse to let you go until you turn the last page. Sassafras Lowrey’s Lost Boi is just such a book. Rarely have I been so blown away by an author’s talent, or so immersed in the act of reading that I look up at the real world and have to take a moment to re-orient myself. Much like Lowrey’s lost bois enmeshed in the pirates’ ropes, I found myself held captive by Lowrey’s words, and while it wasn’t necessarily a wholly pleasurable experience, it was certainly a memorable one.

Lost Boi is a queer punk reimagining of Peter Pan, where the choice to never grow up is a choice to adopt a particular kink lifestyle. The conflict between the lost bois and the pirates is a conflict between two particular approaches to kink — the bois rejecting the rigidity of the pirates’ rules and rituals. Battles are consensual play and the enmity between Hook and Pan is much more complex than even they can explain.

Lost Boi contains layers upon layers of metaphor. I love the contrast between the lost bois choosing to live as children, and the pirates adopting an adult lifestyle yet, as Lowrey’s narrator Tootles points out, not quite completely giving up their childhood either. I love how Lowrey translates the various elements of the Neverland mythology into an urban environment, and somehow makes it all seem real. And I love how Lowrey manages the reverse as well — there’s a rough enchantment to the urban landscape and even pigeons can appear to possess some magic.

Kink is a world unfamiliar to me, and to be honest I don’t quite understand the appeal of a D/s lifestyle, especially beyond the bedroom, yet when the bois call Pan “Sir” and agree to wear his cuff, somehow it all just makes sense. And perhaps that’s part of Lowrey’s genius – ze so completely immerses you in Neverland, and is so subtle about explaining the bits and pieces of this world, that you too feel like an insider, like you are just as much part of Neverland as the characters are.

Lost Boi also stands out for me in being possibly the most gender fluid novel I’ve read. It’s tempting to, as I initially did, impose a sense of gender binary on the characters (“bois” are male and “grrls” are female), yet Lowrey’s characters defy such binaries. John Michael is a tomboy who lived with Wendi in a foster home for girls and at least one lost boi is referred to as “she”. Pan himself is referred to as “he” throughout the book but when he meets an adult outside Neverland, the narrator refers to the adult being unsure if he were a man or woman. True to the Neverland ethos, even age is fluid — the bois are referred to as children yet we have no idea how old they really are, and Pan appears a biological adult with muscular forearms, tattoos, and near the end of the story, grey in his hair.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would like this book. It’s described as “punk” and I don’t quite understand what punk is. It’s based on Peter Pan, and while I well understand the desire to remain a child forever, it was never really a childhood favourite for me. Still, I was somewhat intrigued, so I decided to borrow it from the library. I say all this to urge you to give it a chance, even if it isn’t the type of book you usually read. Within the first chapter, I was hooked, and by the end of the book, I was ready to pick up my own copy. It’s that good.

Review | Off the Page, Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

23278280Off the Page by mother and daughter team Picoult and Van Leer, is a sequel to their earlier collaboration Between the Lines

If, like me, you haven’t read Between the Lines, here’s a quick overview (spoiler warning): shy and bookish Delilah falls in love with a prince, Oliver, in a fairy tale book. It turns out Oliver wants to escape the monotony of fairy tale life himself (he and the other characters have to act out the story each time someone opens the book). They track down the author of the fairy tale, who modelled the character of the prince on her own son Edgar, and by the end of the book, somehow manage to have Oliver and Edgar switch places.

Off the Page takes place a couple of months after. Delilah is thrilled to have her fairy tale prince as a real life boyfriend, until she realizes that the traits she finds so charming about him are also making him the most popular boy in school. The high school queen bee wants him for herself, and Delilah is beginning to wonder if bringing him into her world is worth having to share him with everyone else.

Other complications arise as well. The fairy tale begins sending Oliver messages to return home. Other real life and fairy tale characters accidentally switch places. And Edgar’s mother reveals something that may mean Edgar needs to return to the real world.

This is a fun, lighthearted read. It was entertaining to read about Oliver’s reactions to ordinary things in the real world, and it was easy to see why he was so immediately well-liked. Delilah was a bit more annoying. It seemed selfish of her to be jealous of Oliver’s social success, and her pouty jealousy over an on-stage kiss seemed petty. That being said, I do remember bouts of irrational insecurity as a teenager, so her responses are likely realistic.

What I loved the most was the relationship between Delilah’s best friend Jules and Edgar. They bond over zombies and oddball references, and while Jules’ prickliness could at times be over the top, I did find myself pulling for them even more than I was for Delilah and Oliver.

This is a great book for younger readers. I can imagine myself at ten swooning over the idea of a fairy tale prince coming to life and head over heels in love with me, and then getting all worked up about the circumstances that may keep us apart. The storytelling has a bit of a fairy tale feel as well — a straightforward, simple story line, beautifully illustrated, and featuring a flying dragon, a string of words taking physical form in the air, and a special star you can hold in the palm of your hand. The ending too has a nice, family friendly feel, with a son’s love for his mother being the driving force. There’s an almost Disney-like feel that sets this apart form the grittier, more realistic YA that are very popular these days.

It’s not a Jodi Picoult read by any means — if you’re a fan of her in-depth tearjerkers, this is more an escape from real life than a dive into it. Nor does it completely transport you into the idea of literature as magic — for that, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart is far more magical.

But it’s a nice read, a great way to spend a lazy afternoon. And if you happen to know a ten or eleven year old bookworm who is a true blue romantic, this would be a great gift.

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

Review | Luckiest Girl Alive, Jessica Knoll

22609317Ani FaNelli appears to have the perfect life – a glamourous job at a glossy magazine, a gorgeous figure, and a handsome blue blood fiance. But beneath the facade are scars that she has worked for years to keep hidden, and a team of documentary filmmakers may very well bring the truth to light.

When I began Luckiest Girl Alive, I thought it was going to be just like Gone Girl. Ani reminded me of Gone Girl’s Amy in many ways — beautiful, cold and calculating. And right on the very first page, Ani is contemplating slipping a knife blade into her fiance’s stomach. So I figured, it was like Gone Girl, but  we know the woman is a psychopath from the beginning.

Fortunately I was wrong. Luckiest Girl Alive wasn’t the straightforward psychological thriller I was expecting, and it was a much better book because of that. Knoll takes great pains to make Ani seem like a coldhearted bitch, but slowly peels back the layers of her past to reveal a very vulnerable young woman. There are a couple of big reveals about her past, and we realize why doing the documentary is so important to her. I found the flashback scenes powerful, and I was impressed with the contrast between Ani at fourteen and the much more guarded, faux confident Ani in the present day.

As a whole, the novel doesn’t quite come together completely. Perhaps it’s partly because her supposedly “perfect” adult life never really feels perfect. As well, Ani the adult just doesn’t quite add up — she seems more a wannabe rich bitch than an actual one, yet doesn’t quite show the vulnerability that could make the wannabe aspect work. Ani as a teenager felt more real, and I’m wondering if the personality shift could have been better integrated.

I also wish we knew more about Ani’s fiance. As it was, I didn’t quite understand why doing the documentary was such a big deal. And later on, I was mostly confused about his responses to various situations. At times, it felt like he was there more as a prop for the plot than an actual character.

The ending as well seemed really sudden. Elements of it made sense, but the shift to get to that point seemed to happen really quickly, and there was a minor tidbit that was left hanging for some reason. Perhaps the author felt she didn’t have to explain how that tidbit turned out, but it felt like such an important part of the story that I wish it had been closed off more neatly.

Overall though, the segments about Ani’s past really made the book for me. These raised some powerful, timely and highly relevant issues, and I thought the author did a great job in presenting teenage Ani as a complex, multi-layered character. At one point, remembering a particularly traumatic moment, Ani confesses to some really dark thoughts, and to me, that bit of darkness is far more interesting than the bitchy facade the author uses to make her character seem evil and unlikeable. These are the most powerful moments of the book, and the ones that make the slow start very much worth it.

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

Review | Fatal Affair and Fatal Justice, Marie Force

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If you love romantic thrillers, check out this awesome series by Marie Force. Nine titles are already out in ebook, but only the first two have been released in print so far (Book 3 Fatal Consequences and Book 4 Fatal Flaw hit shelves June 2015).

FATAL AFFAIR (BOOK 1)

The series begins with the death of a US Senator. DS Sam Holland, just coming off a tragic assignment that jeopardized her career, is assigned to the case. The man who discovered the body is Nick Cappuano, the Senator’s Chief of Staff, and also the man with whom Sam had spent a memorable evening with years earlier. Their sexual chemistry is still off the charts, and Sam learns that what she’d perceived then as Nick’s loss of interest was actually the result of scheming by her controlling roommate and now ex-husband to keep them apart.

The mystery about the Senator’s killer is interesting, but it’s the chemistry between the leads that really propels this book forward. I love their bantering, and I especially love how they both respect each other’s boundaries given their respective careers. Nick sometimes tries to be alpha male and protective of Sam, but in this context, Sam is a trained police officer and Nick is a civilian, so she naturally pushes him out of harm’s way and is the one to chase after the bad guys. I love that, and while Nick at times has trouble accepting it, I love that he makes the effort.

I also really like the cast of secondary characters. Sam’s father in particular provides a rich story arc for the series, a former police chief who had been paralyzed by an unknown assailant while on the line of duty. Boyishly handsome straight-laced Catholic Freddie, Sam’s eager young partner, is probably my favourite — I love his mentor-mentee relationship with Sam, and I especially love seeing him get all flustered when one of the leads they have to interview turns out to be a beautiful woman heavily into kink.

This print edition also includes the novella One Night with You, which is about Nick and Sam’s first meeting and fateful night together. The chemistry in this was sizzling, and I felt bad thinking about how they would then be kept apart for years afterwards.

FATAL JUSTICE (BOOK 2)

In the second book a highly controversial Supreme Court nominee is killed. Sam has been promoted to Lieutenant, Nick is now a US Senator, and their relationship is in the media spotlight, which means that both are even more embroiled in this case than in the previous.

I found the mystery in this book more compelling — the victim had family issues that added some interesting angles to the investigation. Sam and Nick’s relationship deepens, and despite some snags where one tries to keep some information from the other for whatever reason, I love the overall openness of their communication. Finally, Freddie gets his own romantic subplot, which I found very sweet and that I look forward to reading more about later on.

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Overall, these are a promising beginning to the series. The author gives us enough of the characters’ lives beyond the mysteries to make them feel real, yet never meanders too far off course. The chemistry between the characters is fantastic, and I’m sure it will continue to propel the series forward.

More titles are available in ebook format, but if you prefer print and are willing to wait a bit, print versions will be rolling out later in the year.

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Thanks to Harlequin Books for a copy of these books in exchange for an honest review.