Introducing the Toronto Letter Writers Society

toronto letter writers society

I’ve been running a monthly letter-writing drop-in with my friend Andrea aka the snail mail queen @dreyray over at Toronto’s First Post Office for a year now! To celebrate, we’ve completely rebranded :p We are now the co-runners of the Toronto Letter Writers Society, and our events are Letter Writing Socials! We’re so happy with this update and are feelin’ real fancy.

Follow us on Instagram or join the Facebook group.

You should also so totally write to us. We’ll write back!

Toronto Letter Writers Society
P.O. Box 174
260 Adelaide St. E.
Toronto, ON M5A 1N1

We meet every second Sunday of a month (unless it’s a holiday), from 1-4 pm. You can bring your own supplies or use ours. No cost to attend.

We’re incredibly grateful to the Post Office for letting us have so much fun, and to the friends we’ve made through the events.

We will be celebrating one year of awesome letters and pen pals on Sunday, March 10 – come on out!

toronto letter writing social

Book Reviews: Slayer and Watch Us Rise

slayer and watch us rise - paper trail diary

I’ve started out 2019 by reading about some real badass girls and I dig it! Check out these reviews of Slayer – a continuation of the Buffyverse – and Watch Us Rise – about two girls who make some noise.

Slayer by Kiersten White

*Please note this includes minor spoilers about Buffy*

A lot was working against me and this book. I’m a big Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. I don’t read fan fiction and not really into that side of things. I didn’t know what happened in the comic seasons between the tv show and this book. I had a hard time with the writing style. I almost put this book down so many times but I did finish it! It did get better for me, but it was a bit of a painful process.

This isn’t fan fiction, I will clarify, and I know it’s accepted as canon, but it just felt so different to me. Nina is part of the Watchers world – the people who were once tasked with protecting the Slayers. But the Watchers have had a rough go of it since Buffy dismissed herself from their stead. Their headquarters were blown up in the last season of the show, and the few remaining Watchers and their families have been on the run ever since. Now in Ireland, they live in their castle and wonder what to do with themselves without being able to protect the hundreds of slayers that were activated at the end of the show. Nina’s father was Buffy’s first Watcher – the one who told her of her destiny in LA. But he was killed on duty. And then Buffy ended all of magic in order to save the world in one of the comic seasons. All of these happenings mean that Nina really hates Buffy. Like a lot. So much so that she repeats it constantly. So for someone who enjoyed Buffy, to come right into this was kind of off-putting in a way. But it was the repetition that really bugged me.

Anyways. Nina’s been feeling weird lately, but hasn’t told anyone. When she surprisingly took down a hellhound on castle grounds, her worst fears are confirmed: she is a slayer. The last one, in fact, to be activated before magic disappeared. There’s a ton of angst around this, which is to be expected, but it did grate on me after a while. Then there’s Nina’s relationship with her twin sister Artemis and their mother, full of so much tension and confusion. Nina spends the book constantly questioning everything that it gets a little out of control. Everyone expected Artemis to be the star – she’s strong, smart, and a natural leader. Their mother even saved Artemis first when their house was on fire, so that’s left Nina feeling traumatized for sure. With her new slayer power, the dynamic in the family has shifted. I liked this aspect since in the Buffy show, Joyce (<3) was just a lovely regular person, and Dawn was a whiny ball of light. So for a whole family to be involved in this way was interesting to me. Even when Nina starts suspecting her mom has been up to something.

The story continues involving more demons, a fight club, creepy dreams, and a lot of backstabbing. I wasn’t fully invested in all of it, especially the fight club stuff because it just felt so unoriginal. There’s a cute guy too of course, and I liked his role in the story.

I’m not sure if I’ll continue with the series. I am not someone who usually does, especially when years pass between books. I had to do a bunch of Wiki-ing to remember details or find out what happened in the comics. I’m not sure if the writing style will change. I’m very thankful to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for the advance reading copy, and I’m glad I read the whole thing, but I think I might be too much of a purist for these revamps! (Pun intended.)

Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan

I didn’t end up reading a lot of girl power type books last year. Most of the new books that seemed to fall in that category included sexual assault, and I just couldn’t handle that in 2018. I don’t want to diss books like that because they are incredibly important. Watch Us Rise doesn’t start with assault but it does deal with the topic at one point, in a different way. This book is all about girls standing up for themselves, making noise, and not stepping down when faced with being silenced.

Jasmine and Chelsea are angry. Angry at everything. Jasmine’s father is dying of cancer, she can’t stand shopping and the limitations for a fat girl, and she’s being racially pigeon-holed into upsetting roles in her theatre group. Chelsea rages against media’s role in the concept of beauty and how it affects girls, how her poetry club doesn’t seem to take modern poetry seriously, and sexist expectations on the women around her.

Both Jasmine and Chelsea are writers – Jasmine tends to write more free form prose, and Chelsea writes poetry (the author who wrote this character is a poet, so the poetry is actually really good!), but sometimes I got confused on which character I was reading because they could sound quite similar. The girls end up dramatically quitting their clubs at school, and decide to start a new club for feminists with a blog, called Write Like a Girl.

Then for a good chunk of the book the girls are put in a series of situations you know will piss them off, from a gross encounter on the subway to a shopping trip to a family dinner, so in that sense it got a little predictable, but I don’t think it was terrible. Unfortunately these situations are real. It just felt kind of crammed together. Each situation prompts a new post on the blog and then they go viral. But for being at a social justice focused high school (those exist now?), their male principal is considerably far behind, and threatens to cancel the club when he thinks the girls have stepped too far over some invisible boundary. I can understand a school not wanting to be responsible for the actions of some kids rioting against universal issues, but you’d think for a social justice school they’d stand behind their students. A-nope. (Well the teachers do. Yeah teachers!)

It was awesome to see the impact the girls made on their loved ones, classmates, and neighbours. It was also kind of great to see them put in their place sometimes. There’s a moment when Chelsea remarks to her teacher that it’s sexist she needs to go home and make dinner for a man, to which the teacher replies that she actually likes cooking and is in fact married to a woman. Context! This shows that it’s good to be angry but it’s also good to look at things from multiple angles. The times we live in are complicated.

I really felt for Jasmine, and had a bit of a hard time feeling for Chelsea but I think that was kind of intended. Jasmine is precious and hurting, while Chelsea is loud and excitable. But they work together well, and they even teach each other lessons, which I think was one of the best things to show in the book.

I think the authors did a really good job with this idea, and it’ll be an awesome read for teens. I wish I had something like this when I was a teenager. I think if it had a bit more tightening up (it was a lot longer than it could’ve been), it would be stronger, but there is so much strength in there it’s like a month’s worth of protein. Get em, girls!!

This entry was posted in Books.

Book Review: The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

the field guide to the north american teenager via paper trail diary

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

Norris Kaplan is not a Canadian, not yet an American… he’s somewhere in between, if that. He’s Black (of Haitian immigrant parents), but was born in Quebec (that’s French Canada) and now he’s living in Texas, where all he does is sweat and grimace at his fate. He had friends and a life in Montreal, but his single mother got a job as a professor at the University of Texas (in Austin) and his father has no “room” for him in his new family, so off he went to the South in his junior year of high school. He promised his mom he’d give it a chance, but begrudgingly. When the school guidance counsellor hands him a notebook to jot his thoughts down during his acclimation to American life, Norris uses it to put his classmates into their stereotypes on paper, especially his sworn enemies: jocks and cheerleaders. Norris slowly finds a friend, a coworker, and a sort-of girlfriend, but it isn’t until he screws things up with everyone that he realizes how good his life got in Texas.

Everyone’s got a judgemental bone in their body, big or small, don’t even try to deny it. Norris’s voice taps into that. It’s familiar. He is vulnerable, trying to protect himself from feeling lonely and getting hurt, so he hides behind his notebook and salty snark. Whether you think it funny or annoying or both, he is real, and it is endearing to have this displaced character welcomed into today’s YA. Perhaps I felt more connected to his story as I moved from the States to Canada at age 18 (though of my own decision) and recognized some of the differences that Norris does (Canada barely cares about football, for example). Norris often mentions how what he knows about American high schools are from movies, and it made me think about my high school a lot. The lunch table thing is real, although I assume that happens in places besides the States. I thought his observations were so keenly detailed, especially at the beginning when that’s all he has. He goes through all the typical high school stuff, like bullying:

“It occurred to Norris at that moment that Hairy Armpits probably would never give this moment a second thought, whereas, for Norris, it was already congealing into something rock-hard in his chest. It would definitely be one of those repressed high school wounds that only decades of living on a yacht made of nachos would someday come close to healing.”

I really enjoyed reading along as Norris settled into friendships with an odd duck named Liam and a cheerleader named Maddie. They both had great chemistry with Norris and I have a soft spot for people who understand and notice others when nobody else seems to. I liked being on the ride of Norris’s growth, and the way author Ben Phillippe ironically framed his story to mirror the American movie cliches.

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is endearing and entertaining, and proves debut author Ben Philippe has some serious storytelling chops!

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This entry was posted in Books.

Join the Valentine’s Book Lover Postcard Swap!

Book Lover Postcard Swap Valentine's Day 2019

It’s back! Barb and I took a little fall/winter snooze as we were busy with other things, but we’re back with everybody’s favourite round of the Book Lover Postcard Swap: Valentine’s! Swoon. Read on below for all the information and the form to sign up!

Want to see some fantastic postcards people sent and received? Check out the hashtag #bookloverpostcardswap on Instagram!

Banner sale!

Happy 2019, everyone!

I’m planning some improvements to the Paper Trail Diary for this year, which includes a big step-up in the banner department. Before I release Banners 2.0, I’m having a sale of what’s up in my Etsy shop! All the pre-made banners are currently $5, which is half off!

Your walls could look real good with these… just sayin’.

send more mail banner - paper trail diary cute as a button banner - paper trail diary make stuff banner - paper trail diary make stuff banner - paper trail diary fries before guys banner - paper trail diary

Check out these and many more over on Etsy!

And stay tuned for what’s to come 🙂

This entry was posted in Crafts.

My Top 10 Books of 2018

paper trail diary top 10 books 2018

Here we are at 12:30 pm on December 31st, 2018, and I’ve finally decided on my top 10 books of 2018.

It’s been a bit of a weird year, reading-wise, for me. Only a few books really knocked my socks off. I spent a lot more of my free time watching TV and crafting. I steered clear of really tough subject books in favour of lighter, happier stories. I did still read a ton of books (66!), but a lot of them were just alright. Still though, these top 10 stuck with me in some way and for that they made my year, personally, a good one!

Without further ado, here is my top 10 reads of 2018!

  1. Learning to Breathe by Janice Lynn Mather 
    For a pure story full of heart and a journey that had to be taken.
  2. Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner
    For its strong female character and a quest that I could’ve read for many more pages.
  3. Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce
    For just being absolutely lovely and setting the bar higher for future reading.
  4. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    For giving me Stella and Michael and their steamy story.
  5. Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern
    For knowing this feel-good story of chosen family is going to stick with me for a long time, even though I finished it an hour ago.
  6. Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
    For being the book I probably hugged the hardest this year, and for giving YA not only a story of a sensitive boy and a new friendship but also taking him outside of the States.
  7. Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
    For being ridiculous and still relatable, funny and still serious, and just lovely.
  8. Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi
    For its sweetness, being set in college, and its dry humour.
  9. Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
    For its supreme power, feeling like it could be a post-apocalyptic war but knowing it was all too real.
  10. The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Philip Gabriel
    For making me blubber like a baby, snot down my face and everything, and giving a wonderful voice to the bond that is between a human and their cat.

Now, I also read a few books that I absolutely adored this year that weren’t published in 2018. Those were Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett and The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag.

I leaned into more adult women’s contemporary fiction this year, searching for the stories that would leave me feeling warm, and I am A-OK with this development. Not a lot of YA excited me this year, but that doesn’t worry me, seeing as 2019 is going to be ace for YA contemporary (more on that in the new year). While I still can’t really get into non-fiction, I am at least happy with how many diverse stories I read this year compared to previous years.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

Now I must jet off to prepare for tonight’s festivities – see you in 2019, paper people! <3 

This entry was posted in Books.

Book Reviews: Dear Mrs. Bird, The Kiss Quotient, and Ayesha at Last

kiss quotient dear mrs bird ayesha at last

Hello hello, another disclaimer of ‘yikes it’s been a while,’ insert here. But let’s just quickly move past that, shall we? These three adult books (I know, shocker) are some of my favourite reads this year!

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

If you loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you’ll love this. Set during WW2 in London, Emmy Lake is trying to figure out how to become a journalist, or as they call it, a Lady War Correspondent. She volunteers answering the phones at a fire station and adores living with her longtime best friend Bunty. When she sees an ad for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, she goes in head-first, gets the job, and then realizes that it wasn’t what she thought it was. It’s actually an administrative job for the partner women’s magazine to the paper — Emmy has to read the letters from women coming in looking for advice and decide which are acceptable for the publisher to answer, which is no easy feat, since it was shameful for women to admit they need help while the men were off doing honourable fighting. She feels for all of these women writing letters and decides to take the answers into her own hands.

Despite its sad context, the best word to describe this book is ‘delightful.’ I had a grand old time reading it — I really wormed my way into Emmy’s life quite easily. I loved learning more about what it was like to live in a major city during a major war (sometimes things felt eerily close to current day, though). I was so interested in the concept of the book, and how it came to be. I liked Emmy as a main character, her best friend Bunty, and her colleagues Kathleen and Mr. Collins. A lot of time while reading I was picturing this as a movie. But I wanted more letters! There wasn’t as much letter-writing to the readers as I felt was promised, it was more about living in London during WW2, which is fine, but I felt misled. I also wasn’t fully comfortable with the ‘is Emmy a good person or bad person’ sort of direction it was going with the moral ideas with the letters, and I felt the ending was rushed. Don’t let this deter you, these were just things that nagged at me. I actually read this in June and I’m still thinking about it, which is the mark of a good book for me!

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The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

2018 is the year that I gave in to the fun of sexy books, and The Kiss Quotient is a big proponent in that. I’d seen this book all over all my feeds for weeks, and I finally caved at the urges of friends, and I’m so glad I did. Stella Lane is a genius with Asperger’s with a whole lot of money for inventing an algorithm used for online shopping. But she is lacking in the romance department. When her parents start pestering her about having grandchildren, Stella panics at the thought of a relationship, and decides she needs practice. So she hires an escort to help her feel more comfortable with sex. She didn’t expect that the escort would be a gorgeous and sweet Vietnamese-Swedish hunk named Michael Phan. Michael is equally stunned that his client isn’t a middle-aged crazy-eyed mom. When he realizes her roadblocks with intimacy, he immediately adapts and tries to help her at her own pace. Stella finds herself so comfortable with him that she proposes to hire him for weeks, and then months, with not just intimacy but as a pretend boyfriend. So of course they soon fall in love while eventually having perfect sex, and they have to admit their feelings to themselves and each other before they lose one another to “reality.”

This book left me with a solid hangover when I was done! Helen’s writing was so good, and I adored Stella and Michael. At times Stella felt a bit like a cliche, but I was fine with that because how often have you read a romance story about a woman on the spectrum? Michael was such a good egg to her that it melted my heart. The book has been in the beginnings of becoming a movie these days and I am SO. EXCITED. And coming in 2019 is The Bride Test which focuses on a side character of the novel!

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Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

I don’t read a lot of retellings but this one caught my attention as it’s a Pride & Prejudice story of two Muslim characters that takes place in a suburb outside of Toronto. It took me a little while to get into the book but once I did I was hooked! Ayesha is used to floating in the background of her younger cousin Hafsa’s life. Hafsa gets all the attention but does none of the work for it. Ayesha is shy, with some deep-rooted anger, and is trying to make it as a substitute teacher and spoken-word poet. Khalid is traditional, conservative, and frustrated at how his appearance hinders him at work with his racist boss. He’s also incredibly soft-hearted and just wants to find a partner – except in an arranged marriage. Ayesha and Khalid have two odd chance encounters in which they clash, but eventually feelings get messy and adorable! Things get even more complicated when Khalid’s mother sets up an arranged marriage with Hafsa…

This was super fun and at times so ridiculous, all the while being swoony and sweet. I think there’s also talk of a movie for this one, which I’d love to see. This book has everything but it’s not crammed or anything like that. I’m excited for what’s next to come from Uzma as well!

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Have you read these books? Are they on your TBR/wishlist?

This entry was posted in Books.