Meet You There by Jessica Wallace (@jdewstewart)

We drown our lives in prescribed certainty. Certainty that there is a single way to live correctly. A guidebook, as Wallace says. A book that makes lives small. And when things don’t follow the designated path, we encounter crisis. This is exactly what Meet You There focuses on. The danger of trying to fit into a mould that isn’t yours. It’s something I’ve talked about it in other reviews (specifically this one for Broken Harbour). This idea that specific material items or life events make us more or less worthy of social acceptance. And the stigma of not falling in line.

Much like Robin, I was raised on a small town mentality (No need to get defensive. Small towns work for some people. Maybe these things are also learned in cities. I don’t know; that wasn’t my experience). Communities where there is an acceptable way to go from teenager to grown up. You meet the perfect someone (or usually, more accurately, simply someone from the appropriate social circle). You date. You get married. You buy a house (usually outside your means, but hey, it looks like the kind of house that holds happiness). You have children. These are the expectations for both men and women. If you follow these steps, you will be happy. Or that’s what you’re told. At the very least, you’ll look happy from the outside. Robin is leading this exact life. She’s done everything she’s been told will make her happy. That will make her life what it’s supposed to be. It works for everyone else, so why isn’t it working for her. Now, I don’t want to say that this life is a bad choice. Hell, it’s probably the perfect life choice for some people. But there’s a key word in that sentence that’s missing from Robin’s life – choice. Her husband’s life has been guided by his mother, who is positive that the designated path is the only one. Anything else is deviant. It going to spoil future good. And he believes her. So Robin just follows along, cause he has a good life, so it must work. Robin has never felt like she’s been allowed to make a choice. Never learned to make decisions. She doesn’t know how to make a choice. She’s sure there is a book she’s supposed to follow. And without her guide, she doesn’t know what to do. So she simply follows along, desperate for a comfort and security she can never find. Continue reading

Head Over Heart by Colette Victor – @chickenhsebooks

My YA tendencies usually lean towards books aimed at older teens that contain a bit of grit, but occasionally, I’ll pick up one aimed at the younger side of the YA spectrum. Head Over Heart is one of these books (I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review). The story focuses on the life of Zeyneb, a young Muslim girl going through the challenges of becoming a teenager in a busy and diverse London school. She is now of an age where she needs to make lots of big decisions – between family, friends, and boys. It’s a book a lot of young girls will be able to relate to, even if they don’t have to make the exact same choices as Zeyneb.

Family is very important in Zeyneb’s life and culture. Family comes first – at all times – at least according to her parents. But Zeyneb has other things pulling her attention. First there’s her best friend, Kelly, who comes from a single parent home and doesn’t understand the extreme demands put on Zeyneb by her family. Then there’s school and where that’s going to take her in just a few short years. Will she go to university for an education or follow in her sister’s footsteps and get married and have children. And then there’s Alex – the boy that sends her heart a flutter. The boy she is most definitely not allowed to have fluttery feelings about. And her decision about a headscarf. What she chooses in each of these scenarios is going to directly influence each of her other decisions. Continue reading

Black Apples Edited by Camilla Bruce and Liv Lingborn

I’ve mentioned several times that I don’t love short stories. I usually don’t gravitate towards them in stand alone or collection form. The one exception is fairy tales. They are, by their nature, short stories. And they are typically sold in collection form. And this brings us to Black Apples – a collection of 18 modern fairy tales. Many of these stories borrow from historic tropes or pull classic stories into modern settings. I received this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. And honestly, I’m pretty down with this book – and it’s pretty, pretty cover! This book will most likely find its way into some stocking this Christmas.

These aren’t your Disney fairytales. These are much more in line with the original tradition of fairy tales. Dark and Grimm (see what I did there – yup). There are no pretty princesses being saved by dashing princes. There are no singing crabs or rabbits with waistcoats. Original fairy tales were often folklore and cautionary tales for citizens within certain communities. While there were many similar stories, they morphed with specific values and culture of a given community. Fairy tales were not necessarily meant for children – especially not in the way we think of children now. This book – probably not for your kids. Unless you’re awesome. There’s research out there about how children who are read the original Grimm’s tales develop better rational decision making skills. How credible are these studies? I don’t know, but I can see the logic. You raise a kid to only believe that someone else will always pop up to save them and that everything has a happy ending, it’s probably going to take them longer to realize that that’s not how this whole real world thing works. Teach them early that sometimes things take a turn for the dark and twisty and they might be able to apply these ideas to situations they find themselves in. However, you may also want to cushion these stories with – cutting out the heart of someone who is prettier than you is probably not your best problem solving path. Anyway, I’m finding myself falling down the rabbit hole of not relevant. Continue reading

Terwilliger’s Tombstone Terror: A Novella by Edward Petty

I find reviewing novellas and short stories a difficult task, especially when they’re very short. Terwilliger’s Tombstone Terror was a requested review, so I’m going to do my best. For the first half of the book, it seemed like a fairly decent read for young boys – perhaps 8-10 years old. Unfortunately, the second half of the book lost some of its steam.

The idea is solid. Two young boys meet at school and quickly become fast friends. Set in the 1950’s it’s got that wholesome vibe of books of that time. They have sleep overs, go to movies, band together against the school bully, and get a job at a cemetery. There’s good potential here but it’s missing the connecting thread. If the story had focused on the boys, it could have been really good, but these adult stories keep popping up for no apparent reason. The relationship between the butcher and his lady friend seems so out of place. It doesn’t fit with the flow of the story and it won’t appeal to the target audience. An omnipotent perspective doesn’t really make sense within the story. Third person is fine, but it should focus on the boys. The young boys I know would be turned off by this weird romantic story between two adults. The boys aren’t part of this scene. It completely threw me and I couldn’t get back into the flow of the book.

It also feels a little piecey. There’s a part of a story here and another part there and it doesn’t totally come together. Especially towards the end. I don’t understand the focus on specific to the exact minute time that was always used. The use of italics throughout the novel also didn’t make sense. Why are these words being highlighted? It feels like maybe there should be illustrations throughout the book, with these words highlighted in the images. That might work. I actually think this would work better as a chapter book sprinkled with illustrations.

I know I’m not the target audience, but I have that audience in my life. I’m not sure this is a book I would buy for them. It feels like a really good start to a book, but needs a little more focus with regards to the plot.

Beneath the Blossom Tree by Laura Bailey (@laura_bailey1)

I’ve recently started receiving requests from authors to review their books. I think this is awesome. A lot of these are new, lesser known authors who are trying to get word out about their book(s). So, I jump into each book with both feet and hope for the best. Unfortunately, sometimes their best doesn’t fit with my reading preferences.

Before I start reading a new author (new to me, not necessarily new to writing) I do a little research. What else have they published? I read a couple reviews- good, bad, middling? Who’s publishing them? What does their author summary say? Sometimes, this means nothing to my reading. Sometimes, it gives me insight into their novel. Sometimes, it influences me to keep reading beyond where I would normally stop. With requested reviews, I often end up with books I may not have otherwise picked. This is the case with Beneath the Blossom Tree.

Bailey’s author profile and the novel’s blurb both indicate that this story is deeply linked to her personal experience. Knowing that, I gave it a little extra time. Unfortunately, that didn’t help me finish the book. I only got through about the first 10%. Is it fair to judge a book from reading just this little bit? I normally try to get through at least a third of the book, but it has taken me weeks to get this far. I gave it my time, so it gets a review. I am just not a fan of the writing.

BtBT is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl who has lost both of her parents in just a few years. We begin with the mandatory therapist visits she and her sister are required to attend. And here’s where my problem with the book begins. It’s too wordy but misses the important information. It took me pages to figure out that Laylla was the younger sister. One sentence – One word – could have resolved this, but instead, I kept flipping between pages. The events don’t feel realistic. I think this is a result of the author being too close to the story. She knows every little detail about these characters, and has forgotten that her readers don’t. That details are more important in the long run than metaphors.

Laylla has extremely crappy grades but a school that rejected her academically gifted friend accepts Laylla because they feel bad for her? More time needed to be spent developing this. I have to assume that because the story is based on true events, this actually happened, but I’m having such a hard time believing it. Did she have really good grades before? Does she have some connection to the school? Did her teacher pull some strings? And she got into a law program straight out of high school? Maybe it’s a British thing, but here you need to have an undergraduate degree before you can even enter the law program. And Laylla alludes to this when she talks about being nervous about the first day of classes. She says most of the other students have come from other programs. Why is she getting special treatment? It’s hard to say that someone’s personal experience doesn’t ring true, but that is a fault of the writing, not of the story.

There’s just too much telling happening in the story. And at a breakneck pace. In ten pages, Laylla arrives at university, goes from being so depressed she can’t even speak to laughing uproariously with her roommate, and we learn that her best friend hasn’t contacted her for three semesters. Maybe the story pulls back, but it’s bouncing around so much I can’t find my footing with my characters. The scene that broke my reader’s back is the scene where Laylla meets her roommate Genaya and we get pages of the author telling us about their first meeting without actually showing it to us. There’s almost no dialogue and what’s there is spotty and shallow – not shallow like the characters are flighty, but shallow like lacking information.

And the scene where Laylla shows up for her first lecture… She hides in the bathroom to find her composure and ends up late for class. She walks in late to a squeaky door and a girl yelling her name and everyone looking at here. The professor pointing this out? Making her nightmare come true? Promising, right? Nope. Laylla takes her seat and goes into a conversation with her dormmates – in which one of them is said to yell quite a bit – about boys. And still the prof says nothing. And then, after we’ve already been told that she walking in during the lecture, the prof introduces them to the law program… What was he saying for the first few minutes before Laylla walked in?

When I read something written in a different country, I always give a little leeway for strange little differences. Especially when it comes to slang and colloquialisms. Does homely mean something different in England than it does in Canada? I think the word she was looking for is homey -someone/thing that gives you that feeling of comfort and peace. Homely means someone who is so unfortunate looking that you have to point it out. It’s a polite way of saying ugly. It’s used more than once, so maybe the meanings are different across the pond.

There are some great reviews of this novel, and for some people, it might be great. I’m sure it’s a very touching coming of age story, but for me, it feels unfinished. It feels like a manuscript. It needed someone who doesn’t know the author to come in and point out the flaws. To explain that there needs to be more character development. To help polish the passive voice. It needs to be edited by someone who isn’t connected to the story at all. Tightening up the story would have helped dramatically.

I really want to like it. I want to support new, young authors, but this book just wasn’t for me.