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