Friday, 25 November 2022

The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Genre: Historical Fiction 

Published: January 1, 2003 

Pages: 848 

Rating: 4/5 stars 

CW: child sexual assault, graphic depictions of murder 

In the middle of the Cold War, eight-year old Madeleine and her family move to a military base by the Canadian/American border. She starts at a new school and meets new people, and life at the base seems quiet for a moment. That is, until a shocking murder frightens the town, and leaves residents pointing fingers and gossiping as to who could be responsible. Soon, the connections to the murder come close to Madeleine's family, and she struggles to recount what she knows about the events that happened on the night of the murder, and what life has really been like for her since she moved to the base. 

This book, like most of MacDonald's books, is long, graphic, and disturbing. You may remember my previous review of Fall On Your Knees by this author. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad book. MacDonald is a prolific Canadian author known for writing from the perspective of children, and she often likes to depict children from either marginalized or out casted groups. In this book, Madeleine is a young girl filled with curiosity about her new surroundings and the new people she will now call her friends. However, this curiosity soon shields itself in repression as she struggles to piece together what happened the night one of her friends died. Her father is also holding secrets, and pretty much most of the adults in this book are genuinely awful people, as are most of the adults in MacDonald's books. However, what I think MacDonald does particularly well, is build an atmosphere. She truly does historical fiction so well, and this book is filled to the brim with 1960's nostalgia and pop culture references. You really do feel like you entered a time capsule through this book, which is an important element to historical fiction.

I did find the characters well-rounded throughout the text. Most of the book is from the perspective of Madeleine, who goes for most of the book knowing more than the adults around her give her credit for. However, seeing that she is a kid, she also isn't always aware of the dangers around her, which puts her and her classmates at great risk. I won't go into too much detail surrounding what kinds of threats exist for Madeleine and her classmates, but I will say to pay attention to content warnings and tread lightly. Ann-Marie MacDonald often writes about child sexual assault in her texts, and while I do think this topic is handled sensitively and not glazed over, it also can be pretty difficult to get through. Still, you can tell that a book that deals with such heavy-handed topics such as these is well-researched, to the point where I wondered if MacDonald had consulted with child psychologists before writing the book. I think that she perfectly captures how an eight year old might react when put into certain situations, so I can definitely tell that she gives care to the subjects and subject matter of her texts. 

The book is loosely based off of the trial of Stephen Truscott, who is a man who was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of his classmate Lynne Harper in 1959. If you know anything about the case, then you can definitely see hints of the events within the story. This case stayed with the residents at the base for a long time, and Truscott was only acquitted after being on death row in 2007. This case and the depiction of it in the text is yet another example of MacDonald paying attention to detail and calling back to historical elements within her text. I have to say that I really appreciate an author who depicts Canadian historical fiction, as oftentimes I am pulled to read historical fiction from the US or England. But, I often find that reading MacDonald's books helps me to learn something new about the history of the country I live in. I had no idea about the Truscott case until reading this book, but it did help me in learning more about the Canadian justice system and its failings during times passed. 

Like I mentioned before, this book is long. At almost 848 pages, you'll need a minute to read it. And what I will say about MacDonald's books, is that I often don't find that they need to be as long as they are. MacDonald does not write short books, and sometimes I just want to desperately take a pen and edit some scenes down. I just tend to gravitate more towards short books than long books, and I really do often think that books do not have to be as long as they sometimes are. This was my only real issue with the text, but is a significant one because I find the longer the text I read, the more likely I am to get bored or just simply wanting it to be finished already. So, if you're like me, definitely keep that in mind. 

Overall, this book was good. I found it for free at a rummage sale in the city last summer, and I'm glad that I picked it up. It's interesting to read up on what Canada was up to during the Cold War, as well as to educate myself on important trials of the 1960's. However, definitely do practice self-care when reading such a text, and don't feel like you have to push through if it's too uncomfortable. MacDonald tends to not hold back, and this text was no exception.

Have you read The Way the Crow Flies? What did you think? 

(I'm going on vacation for a week, so I'll see you guys at the beginning of December!) 

Emily @ Paperback Princess 

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Paperback's Pondering's: Finding "Perfect" Romances

Romance is one of my favourite genres. I used to love YA contemporaries, and that love as I got older quickly evolved into liking new adult and adult romances. I love romances that are fluffy, light-hearted, but also with a relationship that seems realistic, one that I can root for. 

My favourite romances to date have all been written by Helen Hoang, and that is her Kiss Quotient series. The three books in that trilogy have the perfect amount of light-hearted humour, some seriousness in the stakes of the relationship, and a healthy, slow-burn romance that develops over time. They also have sex-positivity, which is a major important element in my opinion as a lot of romances can portray toxic sexual relationships and therefore reinforce an unhealthy representation of sex. My problem now is, that I have yet to find a romance that matches Helen Hoang's writing. All romance recommendations that I see on Booktok currently have been really spicy erotica, which isn't personally my thing, or Colleen Hoover books. I don't want to turn this post into my problems with Colleen Hoover, but I'll just say that her writing is not my thing, and I don't think she portrays relationships in the healthiest of ways. I will scan through blogs, book twitter, and bookstagram as well for romance recommendations, but those books haven't necessarily given me what I'm looking for either. Which leads me to wonder: am I being too picky with my romances? Will anything ever top The Kiss Quotient? Is Helen Hoang's writing just an anomaly? I now write this post to plead for someone to give me the romance recommendations I need. 

The Kiss Quotient and its accompaniments were so special because they weren't just romances, but they were also big on representation of a number of marginalized groups. All of the books have East Asian representation, as well as very accurate autism representation. Helen Hoang is very vocal about her autism, and so she seeks to portray various characters on the autism spectrum throughout her books. So, what we get in her books are really unique representations of autistic characters who navigate sex and relationships in ways that don't overstimulate them or make them meltdown. These are characters that I don't think I would ever get to read about in any other romance book, and that's what makes her books stand in categories all on their own. 

In my quest to find books like the Kiss Quotient, I often look for romances that have representation of some kind, especially representation of non-white characters. And these books are okay, albeit not my favourites. I have enjoyed in the past the Chloe Brown series by Talia Hibbert, but I don't necessarily find myself as engrossed in these books as I was with Hoang's books, for reasons I still am unsure of. There's just something about Hoang's books that are the perfect melting pot of what makes a good romance: the right balance of spice, fluffiness, serious elements, realistic characters, awkwardness, and diversity. I think the trouble I'm running into is that while I have uplifted Hoang's books as the pinnacle of romance, I keep comparing every romance I read afterwards to them. Perhaps, I am not letting these books exist on their own as I keep searching for that "perfect" romance book. 

I went to twitter a few days ago to say that I don't think any romance book will ever top Hoang's books for me. While I don't necessarily want to proven wrong, I need new romance recommendations that have the same vibe as The Kiss Quotient and won't make me want to throw the book against a wall. Or maybe, they can make me throw the book against a wall in a good way? Anyways, if you've read The Kiss Quotient and books like it, please send me all the recommendations you have. I am trying to find "perfect" romances here, or at least, what's perfect in my eyes, and it's proving to be a difficult task. 

Do you have books you consider to be "perfect?" Do you like Helen Hoang's books? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Tuesday, 8 November 2022

Scarborough by: Catherine Hernandez

Genre: Fiction

Published: May 2, 2017 by: Arsenal Pulp Press 

Pages: 272 

Rating: 5/5 stars 

CW: white supremacy, Islamophobia, graphic depictions of poverty, parental neglect 

Scarborough follows the often intertwining lives of some of the fourth-largest city in North America's diverse residents. Hina is a Muslim school worker who runs breakfast programs for lower income students, however she faces a lack of support from the school board and racism from some of her student's parents. Alongside Hina, we follow Winsum, a West Indian restaurant worker struggling to keep his business afloat, and Victor, a Black street artist who faces harassment from police. These characters and more feel proud to be from their city, but social stigma and gentrification threatens both their lives and the lives of some of the city's youngest residents. 

This book has been an anticipated read of mine for a long time, and it did not disappoint. For those of you not from Ontario or Canada, Scarborough is a neighbourhood in Toronto known for being culturally diverse, but also impacted by crime and gentrification. The neighbourhood has grown a reputation for being unsafe, despite having a vibrant art and food scene. My mother and most of her family grew up in Scarborough, and I would say that most residents feel protective of the neighbourhood and wish for it to thrive despite gentrification and stigma trying to force its way in. I know the neighbourhood mostly for its delicious Indian/Pakistani restaurants, but I have to admit that since I never grew up in the Scarborough myself, I have been able to remain ignorant to the struggles that some of the residents face. In this book, Catherine Hernandez depicts Scarborough during the early 2000's, when many people were immigrating to the neighbourhood and trying to adjust while lacking support from the city and the wider province.  

I really loved how Hernandez chooses to follow multiple perspectives within this text, as opposed to just one character. She really captures how diverse Scarborough is by displaying characters from all walks of life. I would say that the character who resonated with me the most was Hina, who really tried to connect with her students and their parents despite not always receiving respect in return. In particular, one of her students is Laura, a little girl who faced neglect from her mother and now lives with her father Cory who is a white supremist and also an alcoholic. Cory never shows Hina any respect, and says the most horrific things behind her back and to her face. However, despite all of this, Hina holds onto hope, and she always helps Laura and provides resources to Cory on how best to care for her. What is even more unique, is that despite Cory holding such horrible prejudices, we get little glimpses of him genuinely caring for Laura's wellbeing and trying to keep it all together despite lacking any resources himself to help his daughter have a good life. Is Cory a good dad? The answer is an easy no. However, Hernandez makes it clear that he too faces the affects of poverty in the neighbourhood, and he tries (though often fails) to keep Laura at the very least cared for. Capturing this duality between characters such as Cory was a very unique choice on Hernandez's part, that ultimately made the book all the more impactful. 

Hernandez also chooses to follow Bing, a young Filipino boy who is coming to terms with his sexuality, and Sylvie, an Indigenous girl who moves from shelter to shelter with her mother and disabled brother. Hernandez adds another layer to the story by choosing to explore the affects of growing up queer in a poverty-stricken city, alongside Sylvie who faces anti-Indigenous sentiments and perhaps even the affects of inter-generational trauma. These are children, and yet they are forced to grow up too fast and fail to get the childhoods they deserve because of the systems that have failed them. While the book also portrays adult characters such as Victor and Winsum, I found myself most interested in the perspectives of the young characters as they begin to learn how the world around them views them and how they need to act and look a certain way in order to be accepted into their flawed society. Hernandez knows that these kids are aware of the prejudices they receive, and she gives them such developed personalities despite them being so young. 

The ending of this book is shocking, sad, but also somewhat hopeful. I don't want to spoil anything at all, but I will say that I did not see the ending coming and was very upset with the result. However, I understood why the ending occurred, and how it reinforces the book's overall commentary on the social stigma within Scarborough. However, we also do see glimmers of hope within the end of the text, to show that despite it all, this neighbourhood will continue to thrive and its residents are integral to its survival. I would encourage folks from Toronto, folks from Canada, and folks from beyond to experience this well-crafted book for yourself. 

Have you read Scarborough? What did you think?

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Month in Review: October

It's November, which means Christmas will be fast approaching and before we know it, it'll be 2023! Wow, time flies when you're having fun, or maybe just trying to get by. Either way, here's what happened in October. 

What I Read: 

Heat Wave by: TJ Klune: 3.5/5 stars 

How To Be Perfect by: Michael Schur: 4/5 stars 

Nick and Charlie by: Alice Oseman: 4/5 stars 

The Maid by: Nita Prose: 2/5 stars 

Dating Dr. Dil by: Nisha Sharma: 3/5 stars 

Solitaire by: Alice Oseman: 3/5 stars 

Favourite book: It was an okay reading month, but a rare month with no five star reads! I guess you can't win them all, but no book really blew me away in October. I suppose if we're going from ratings, How To Be Perfect was my favourite. It's a humourous non-fiction about morals and ethics by the tv writer Michael Schur, and it was fun! 

What I Blogged: 

My favourite post that I wrote this month was my discussion on how Changing Your Mind is Ok. It was great to get some things off my chest and share with you all some life updates! All of the comments left by y'all were so wise and useful as well. 

Favourite Blog Posts of the Month: 

It was Cee's 8th Blogiversary! 

Konna shares a Book Playlist for the Midnight Library 

Lais shares her All-Time Favourite FanFics

Life Stuff: 

October had me discovering what I want to do with my life. For more information, see my favourite blog post! But other than that, it was a fun month full of spooky happenings and being hard at work preparing school applications. I'm very excited for November, because not only do I feel ready to begin Christmas festivities, but I will also be going to Italy at the end of the month with my family! I'm so excited as I haven't travelled since before the pandemic and I am thrilled to be going back to Italy. My dad still has family in Italy, so I'm sure there will be some emotional reunions. 

Other than that, stay tuned for festive posts in the coming months and maybe even more life updates! Who knows at this point. 

That was my October? How was yours? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 28 October 2022

As The Wicked Watch by: Tamron Hall

Genre: Mystery/Crime 

Published: October 26, 2021 by: William Morrow 

Pages: 384 

Rating: 3.5/5 stars 

Jordan Manning is a star reporter in Chicago, and she continues to be a voice for the voiceless. After she covers a string of murders of young Black girls, Jordan becomes frustrated with how soon these girls are forgotten. When Masey James, a 15-year old girl is murdered, Jordan knows that she can turn her anger into action, and she seeks to use her reporting skills to solve the case. She quickly gains contacts within Masey's inner circles. But, solving a crime will prove dangerous, especially when the killer may be closer then she believes. 

I've never really watched Tamron Hall on tv, as she's not as popular in Canada as she is in the States. However, the name recognition definitely did make me intrigued to pick up this book, as a reporter writing about a reporter interested me. I knew that Hall would definitely use her skills to produce a factually accurate piece, especially one that provides the reader with an inside look at how newsrooms work. This book didn't disappoint, though there were some issues with it that I couldn't shake. So, let's get into it: 

First things first, I really appreciated Hall's sensitivity when writing a crime novel. As true crime becomes such an oversaturated market, full of insensitive portrayals of serial killers and disrespecting victims, I am always weary of reading crime books. Despite this book being fictional, I knew it would play off of the tropes of true crime. However, Hall handles the story with as much respect as possible, as these victims mirror the lives of real-life victims. Hall does well to show Manning's anger with the current justice system and how she seeks to correct it. I also appreciated how Manning slowly begins to learn how to deal with victim's families, and she seeks to teach others, especially the younger interns in her newsroom, how they too can be respectful towards grieving families. At no point did I feel like this book was just profiting off of people's interest in crime content, and I think Hall's expertise in the subject of news reporting really came through in that aspect. 

I also think that each character in this book was well-written. Of course, we hear everything from Jordan's point of view, but I actually liked learning about Masey's family the most. Her mother, in particular, is a frightened, obviously very shaken individual, who walks a fine line between wanting to fight for justice for her daughter but also wanting to be at peace. Jordan's interactions with Masey's mother were the most interesting to me, as I think Hall accurately portrayed a grieving mother who has to make some tough decisions, and whose opinions change based on new information she is given. Hall did a good job at showing how victim's families go through a range of emotions and opinions during an investigation, and that their grief is not a one and done process. 

I think Jordan was a strong character, and I didn't mind at all reading from her point of view. The problem I had with her, however, is not necessarily a reflection on her character, but how Hall writes about the investigative system as a whole. Manning is given free-reign to interview suspects, investigate neighbours, and head into crime scenes with not so much backlash at all. In real life, I can't imagine that a reporter would be allowed to be as involved in an active investigation as she was, as she was not a detective and yet knew more than the detectives did. It just didn't strike me as realistic that Jordan had as much freedom as she did and didn't experience any repercussions for clearly crossing boundaries in an investigation. In real life, I would imagine that detectives and police would be quite secretive towards reporters, and it seemed in this text that everything was an open book. 

I also found the ending to be slightly underwhelming. As I discussed, I really loved Masey's mother's character in this book. However, by the end of the book, once the crime is solved, we do not get to see her reaction to the events that unfolded. She just kinda fades into the background as an unanswered question, while Jordan experiences relief that the crime is solved. For someone who played such a big part in the ongoing build up in the book, to have her not be at the end to see the crime be solved really confused me. I wanted to know her reaction, and I was left guessing. 

Overall, this book left me conflicted. It wasn't awful, and had some strong points. But, I didn't leave it feeling fully fulfilled by the ending, and some things just struck me as unrealistic despite Hall being a reporter. I wouldn't not recommend it to people, but I also think that the mixed reviews are valid. 

Have you read As the Wicked Watch? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Friday, 21 October 2022

Paperback's Pondering's: Changing Your Mind Is Ok

If you've read my past few month in review posts you'll know that I've been job searching with little to no success. I decided very early on into my masters degree that I didn't want to pursue a PhD like some of my peers. I firmly stated that I was done with school, that stepping foot into a university again would not be for me, and that I wanted to go right into the job market. I knew finding a job would be difficult, but I stayed determined and found contacts despite nothing really going through. 

Then, I was having a conversation with a few colleagues and some old professors, who were casually mentioning how great it is to be an academic, as you get to keep learning. I began pondering how I had so many unanswered questions from my major research paper for my MA, questions that had to be reduced to footnotes because they just simply couldn't be answered in a paper of forty pages. I began to consider how I had left my paper hanging, that I wouldn't get the chance to revisit it again should I choose to head into the job market so soon. It felt silly to let that learning side of me fall away so quickly. So, I changed my mind. I want to get a PhD. 

I told some friends at first who are currently doing their PhD's and they were extremely supportive. They gave me resources and helped me narrow things down to a few schools that would suit my project best. I met with professors at schools I was interested in and established contacts. Everyone at the schools I'm applying to have been so nice and supportive, and while I didn't really feel confident that I would be able to get a position in the job market, I feel confident that I can do a PhD. And that feels great. 

When I went to talk with an old colleague about my recent future shift, they sarcastically stated how indecisive I am. I was a bit offended, as I had gone to them for help and they immediately started judging my character based on the fact that it takes me a little bit longer to firmly decide what I want to do. I was like this when choosing to do a masters degree as well. I didn't think I wanted to pursue a masters, but after some suggestions by a few professors I jumped into the opportunity, perhaps a little bit later than some of my other friends who knew off the bat that they wanted to continue learning, and I ended up being very successful in the MA program. While it may take me a little bit longer to decide things, I can firmly say that I have never regretted a decision I made on my future after it was finally made. 

I think people forget that indecisiveness and changing your mind is often a symptom of mental illnesses. With my OCD and intrusive thoughts, I tend to overthink every decision before it is set in stone, worrying about every possible outcome and every pro and con. Something that I am constantly working on in therapy is the idea of accepting uncertainty, that I may not be certain about the outcome of every decision I make, but accepting that uncertainty will help me make decisions faster and focus less on the worrying. The point is, I don't need people besides my therapist pointing out how indecisive I am. I know this, and I'm working on it. I need them to know that even if I don't have a decision made before I've even finished what I was previously doing, that doesn't make me any less of a smart person, any less of a successful person, or a person undeserving of new opportunities. It just means that I need a little bit of extra time to come to those conclusions, and I am aware of this extra time I need and will adjust myself accordingly. 

I haven't yet submitted my PhD applications as they are due in the new year, but I know that whatever the outcomes of the applications will be, I want to continue to apply to PhD programs until I get in. I feel happy to stick with this decision. I'm here to tell y'all that changing your mind on anything in your future is ok. It is not worth sticking with a decision that makes you unhappy simply because you are embarrassed of how you'll be perceived if you decide on something else. If you're not confident in your decision, then the final decision hasn't been made yet. This post goes out to my fellow folks who just need a little extra time. Take your time on making that decision, and you'll find yourself much more successful in the long run. 

Are you indecisive? Have you ever changed your mind on an important life path? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess

Monday, 10 October 2022

Four Aunties and a Wedding (Aunties #2) by: Jesse Q. Sutanto

Genre: Contemporary, Mystery 

Published: March 29, 2022 by: Berkley Books 

Pages: 293 

Rating: 4/5 stars 

Meddy Chan is engaged to her handsome college sweetheart Nathan, and wedding plans are in full swing. Of course, Meddy's meddling aunties and her doting mother have made their opinions on the planning known, especially since Meddy doesn't want the aunties' wedding catering business to cater the wedding, but instead have the aunties just enjoy the day as guests. The aunties propose that Meddy hire another wedding catering company run by a Chinese-Indonesian family just like themselves, and Meddy is immediately charmed by the company's photographer, Staphanie, who reminds Meddy of herself. However, things quickly turn devious when Meddy learns that Staphanie and her family are connected to the mafia, and they intend to use Meddy's wedding day to get some revenge. Soon, the aunties and Meddy become tangled into another criminal mess, all while Meddy tries to keep her big day, and her family, under protection. 

This is the second book in the Aunties series, the first one being Dial A for Aunties, which I absolutely loved. I adored the quirky humour of the book and the fact that Sutanto was able to weave a criminal mystery into a hilarious story of immigrant aunties and their antics. I knew I had to give the second book a try. I was delighted by the setting of a wedding, as I just love wedding-centred books, and the charm from the first book remains. I definitely think this book falls into the category of not outdoing the original, but overall, I found it to be a satisfying accompaniment. 

Like I mentioned before, I thought the setting of this book was fabulous. I thought that the aunties' occupations as wedding vendors in the first book made for a very entertaining story, as wedding settings can prove to be full of chaos, especially when opinionated family members are involved. But this time, the wedding that the aunties are preparing for is Meddy's, and we got to see how each aunty truly wanted Meddy to have the best day ever, even if sometimes their intentions could have been a bit overbearing. Sutanto makes it clear that although the aunties are meant to be a bit embarrassing and quirky, they truly do mean well, and the family dynamics of this book are meant to highlight the eccentrics of aunties in a lot of Asian families, as opposed to readers simply making fun of the aunties. I appreciate the aunties because they remind me a lot of the aunties on my Pakistani side: very much into gossip, heavily opinionated, and a little too obsessed with British culture. Still, I think whether you can relate your aunties to these aunties or not, you will find this story to be deeply joyous. 

I enjoyed getting to learn a bit more about Nathan in this book. We meet him in the first book as an accomplished businessman who has a heart of gold. Nathan and Meddy have such a sweet relationship, and he treats her aunties with so much respect. While the aunties try a little too hard to win over Nathan's British family, he never once disrespects them or pokes fun, he truly sees how much they care about Meddy and that's all that matters to him. I loved Meddy's and Nathan's positive relationship and seeing it flourish in this book was so awesome to read. 

I thought the mafia plot to this book was interesting. Meddy and Staphanie start by really connecting due to their family's similarities, and at first you think that a unique friendship is forming. Of course, very quickly it is revealed that Staphanie's family are into some shady business, and I thought the mystery plot of this book was handled with intense organization and well development, so that no plot holes were left. While it's hard to believe how the aunties could get into such an absurd situation again, part of the charm of this series is the absurdity of it all. It's supposed to be over the top, and I can appreciate that. 

I've read a lot of reviews of people saying that while they enjoyed this book, they didn't feel as wowed by it because the personalities of the aunties is already known at this point. And I could definitely agree. Since I already know the aunties are opinionated and eccentric, it was a bit more difficult to be surprised or engaged with their antics as I was in the first book. I don't know if Sutanto will ever be able to top the entertaining aspect of getting to know the aunties for the first time. While I will definitely read the third book, I wonder if eventually, the personalities of the aunties will wear off simply because I already expect what they're going to do. I suppose I'll have to wait and see. Still, if you have yet to explore the world of Meddy and her aunties, please do so! You won't be disappointed. 

Have you read Four Aunties and a Wedding? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess