It’s finally September, which means I am this close to soft blankets, a big mug of tea, and socks! I put on socks the other day for the first time in months and it felt so weird. It’s been a scorcher in Toronto this summer, which is not my jam, so I am really looking forward to my cozy time right about now. Fall also means a slew of exciting new books to cuddle (or have my cat sit on them). I’ve been to a number of fall preview events in the last couple weeks, and perusing Goodreads and such, so I’d like to share what I’m looking forward to this fall so you can add them too! Then we can message each other from our couches about how much we love the books, k?
I’ve got another round-up of a pile of books I’ve read recently! Here we have The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, Spinning by Tillie Walden, Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga, This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis, and Top Ten by Katie Cotugno, which all feature young female protagonists. That’s kinda my genre, if you haven’t noticed!
This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis
I fell for Mindy McGinnis’ contemporary writing with last year’s The Female of the Species, so I was super excited to get my hands on her next dark story. Sasha Stone is an over-achiever, the straight-laced it girl at her school. But when the resident bad boy starts acting like he’s been dating her for a while, Sasha senses something’s off. Around the same time, she discovers a secret her family has kept from her: she had an identical twin that she absorbed in the womb. Things click and Sasha realizes she’s being taken over by her scorned sister, and things get super disturbing from there. I was not disappointed with the story – I was hooked by Mindy’s storytelling and Sasha’s detached yet earnest voice. I can’t say much else without giving it away, but I can say you might raise your eyebrows at the ‘she absorbed her twin in the womb and now that twin is getting revenge’ thing, but just go with it. If you’re looking for a good YA psychological thriller this fall, check this one out.
The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
This one took me longer than usual to get through, purely because I was reading it around the time the Harvey Weinstein allegations came out. It was so real, I needed to take it at a slower pace lest I really bum myself out. If you love Moxie, you’ll love The Nowhere Girls — it’s about a group of girls that decide to take justice into their own hands for a girl who was gang-raped and bullied out of town for speaking up about it. They call themselves the Nowhere Girls and anonymously invite girls from school to form this feminist task force to show the school administration and the boys that they can’t put up with the abuse they’ve all had anymore. Amy does a good job at showing us many of the girls throughout the school besides our three protagonists (I loved them all by the way – one overweight girl goes from being put down to gaining her strength, one Hispanic lesbian punk fights with her family for freedom, and one girl with Asperger’s faces her darkest moments and learns how to be vulnerable to caring again) – I found it jarring to read at first but once I figured it out, I fell into it. I wanted to be in the Nowhere Girls, I wanted to fight stupid boys next to them. I wanted to punch their school principal in the face. She also does a good job in showing how people can learn how to be feminist and how they’ve been conditioned to be otherwise. This is a fantastic, necessary read, though tough, so take that as you will. I’m so glad this book came out.
Spinning by Tillie Walden
I haven’t really read a graphic novel in a while, so I was excited to check this out, especially because it’s categorized as YA. It’s a graphic memoir, actually — Tillie crafted Spinning to show how her coming-of-age story spins between being a hardcore figure skater, coming out as gay, and finding a new love in making art. I liked the book, and really like her artwork, especially the more single panel detailed pages. I found the story to be a bit jumbled, but when it comes to a real story, it’s rare that someone’s life pans out in a smooth way. There wasn’t as much in there about becoming an artist as I’d hoped, and I was left with wonder and concern when she touches on some serious abuse stuff but doesn’t go into it. But overall, I like what the book represents, and how it can pave the way for similar books in the genre in the future.
Top Ten by Katie Cotugno
As I’ve mentioned before, this was my first Katie Cotugno read and I felt pretty meh about it. I know people who are hardcore fans of hers, though none of her stories have ever appealed to me. I liked the concept of this one – a guy and a girl go through ten big moments of their high school years together, and the big question of can they just be friends or will they fall into something more? And I gotta say I was disappointed with how it played out. The memories are all out of order in the book, so it got kind of confusing, and felt pretty unnecessary to the story. There were times that I’d have to go back and re-read parts to make sure I was remembering things right. I also found the characters pretty annoying, mostly the girl (Gabby) – she was kiiind of a jerk. I am all for real characters in fiction, but she got on my nerves. I was here for the portrayal of her bisexuality, but I was put off by the portrayal of her anxiety, though there’s not much I can say to that as I have my own anxiety and the author has hers, everyone is different. But Gabby was that person who uses her anxiety to make excuses. And Ryan is just stubborn and lost. Honestly, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve read this one and I don’t remember much besides these points, but hey, I tried! I feel like if you’re already a KC fan, you’ll probably like this one, but it doesn’t fit into my preferences.
Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga
I remember liking My Heart and other Black Holes when it came out, so I was interested in checking out Jasmine Warga’s next book about a girl who finds out her father is a famous rock star. One day Taliah’s father shows up on her doorstep to say hey and oh yeah your grandpa’s dying, so you should come meet him before he passes away. She goes and has a father-daughter bonding experience. I liked the concept, but it fell flat for me and I don’t think I can really explain why.. I think I expected more from it and didn’t get enough or something. I’m also pretty over reading books about people who write music, because it’s always so painful to read, haha. I can see people liking the book, but it didn’t end up being one for me.
What have you guys been reading lately?
It’s Curi-oh-sa, not Curio-sah!
Get ready, friends. The store of our dreams has suddenly materialized in Toronto and it is epic.
It’s hard to write about this store without basically typing ‘asldkfja;lkdsfjasldkjf’ forever.
I was lucky enough to catch the opening party for this magical new spot and man, you guys are going to LOVE. IT. I exploded as soon as I set foot in there.
Owned by the lovely and genius Sauer family behind The Paper Place, Curiosa is a gift/stationery shop that firstly specializes in all things Harry Potter, but if you are a fan of Fantastic Beasts, Edward Gorey, classic literature, vintage games and toys, apothecary soaps/candles, tarot cards/magic, letter-writing, and basically all things cool, you will find at least five things in this store that you can’t leave without. It’s basically somewhere that you can both gush over your love of Harry Potter but also live like you are going to Hogwarts, with your fancy notebooks, quills, wax seals, and decor. But besides having all the cool things, the Sauers have really put so much detail into the entire place. There are even magical cauldrons. Here, see it all for yourself.
Gosh do I love it when books cater directly to me. I’m such a sucker. Anything about books, mail, anything papery, well, you know that’s my jam. So when I heard about new YA novels Words in Deep Blue and Everything All At Once, I was like ummm give them to me now. And I was not disappointed! Here are short reviews of the two books, and by the end of the post, if you are like me, you’re going to race to go get your own copies.
Ever since the enamel pin craze started a year or two ago, I’ve always understood their appeal, but never did I feel obsessed with having them until now. Realistically, I don’t have great places to put them on my clothing but somehow I just have to have them. I will make it work. I felt myself catching the addiction yesterday as I attended Toronto’s first ever Pin & Patch Show – basically a room full of awesome pins. At least I know I’m not alone – my friend and I were 144th in line waiting to get in! I bought four, bringing my current collection up to 16, and yet that feels small. I’m doomed (and so impressionable).
Last night I spent a gross amount of time searching for all kinds of enamel pins on Etsy, Pinterest, and Instagram. I can’t decide which ones to get first! I have to represent myself in pin form – Books! Mail! Crafts! Cats! Harry Potter! Napping! Everyone must know that I enjoy things in a cute way!
Head below the jump to see sooo many nice pins.
It’s back!! I know it’s been a while, but it’s back, and I am excited. It’s once again time to send someone a nice notebook & cool pen!
We all love a good notebook and pen. New tools like these are a great way to refresh creativity, find comfort, or take notes of opportunities. I know a lot of you are like me, in that we hoard pretty notebooks and pens, but I am of the mind that there’s no wrong in adding another pair to the collection here and there. 😉
In the past, the swap has been a round robin style, but this time around, it will be matched, and you will know who your partner is.
Want to join in? Just fill out the form below! But first, please read these notes:
- Keep shipping costs in consideration. The heavier the notebook, the more you could pay in shipping.
- Keep your notebook purchase to around $20. Pens usually vary but $5 is a pretty good cap, I’d say. No need to go out and buy someone a quill!
- The notebooks and pens need to be new and unused.
- It’s preferred if you can get tracking on your package, but understandable if you can’t afford it.
- Only sign up if you know you can commit to the timeline and costs. It is super frustrating when someone joins and gets a package, but doesn’t send their partner one.
- Sign up closes on Wednesday, July 19. It will then take a few days for me to match everyone and send out emails. Please do not message me saying you signed up and haven’t heard back before then.
- You should pop your swap in the post by Monday, August 7. Please email your partner if you cannot do so by then.
Remember to share on social! Use the hashtag #notebookpenswap (there you can see more photos, too)!
Thanks for signing up!
When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon, out now
If you follow any YA readers (and not just YA) anywhere online, no doubt you’ve seen the cover of When Dimple Met Rishi flow through your timeline a number of times in the last six months. The longlasting excitement for this book has been impressive and telling of how needed it is to the contemporary YA genre. While at its core, it is another cute teen romance, it’s not just any other cute teen romance, because the teens that are falling for each other are Indian, and they’re dealing with issues in their families that have to do with their race. This is huge, because this is part of YA publishing growing up and becoming more inclusive. When Dimple Met Rishi falls alongside of the Lara Jean Covey books in that the story includes POC characters at the forefront, and it’s just about their normal kinds of teenage lives, rather than a tough story about society vs their race (don’t get me wrong – those books are super important, too). I was thrilled every time I saw someone tweet about how they finally see themselves on a book cover/in a book. And all the build-up and talk about how important this book is proved more than worth it, when it cracked onto The New York Times bestsellers list for YA hardcover fiction in its first week of publication. Huzzah!
Here’s a quick gist of the book: Dimple has just graduated high school and is thrilled to be going to university, but she can’t get her mom off her back about needing to have an arranged marriage. When her parents quickly say OK to letting her go to a summer camp for coding, she’s skeptical as to how fast they’re letting her go, but too excited to care about it. But when she arrives on campus, she’s soon greeted by a boy that shouts “hello, future wife!” This is Rishi – he’s been signed up for the camp, too, except he’s 100% aware that his parents planned with Dimple’s parents to sneakily set them up there, and more than aware, this is what he wants, whereas Dimple doesn’t want to think about marriage until she’s much older. So of course things start out tense and uncomfortable, but soon enough, the two are paired together in class, and Dimple starts to let her guard down, falling for Rishi, even though she still doesn’t want to marry him.
I had fun reading When Dimple Met Rishi. The two of them are fantastic characters and enjoyable to follow through their awkward situation, and on their own. We’ve got an ambitious girl and a guy who respects his elders. They feel pretty real, and their family relationships do, too. They’re responsible but still have fun. The interaction between the two is electric, adorable, and sexy. I liked how Rishi won Dimple over, and how he thought about her; he makes the perfect book boyfriend being all feminist, respectful, and all that. He was quick to pick up on when classmates were treating her wrongly and would defend her without a beat of thought. (Not saying Dimple needed that, but as she’s shy and grew up not used to defending herself, it was nice to have someone there for her.)
There were a few things that bothered me, though, and I just want to point them out. I understand that this story is a love story, but, it made me really wish for a story about an ambitious girl that doesn’t include her falling in love and thus distracted. A girl that wants to go to college for a specific career and works her way there. I could still enjoy this book while reading, but I did have that thought in the back of my mind the whole time. And even though Dimple came for coding camp, it’s a rare mention in the book, and it doesn’t read like the author did any research on the topic – there’s nothing specific, and I felt like that could have been a great addition. And then the camp story gets totally sidetracked by a weird talent contest that doesn’t feel like it fits, but it serves as a way for the couple to get even closer as they learn how to dance Bollywood together (bow wowwww). I just felt disappointed in that.
Overall, I’m so happy this book is here and doing so much for the teens who need it. It’s an sweet, light story, perfect for summer, and will continue to be a big heavyweight in the camp of adorkable YA contemporary romance for a long time.
An advanced reading copy of the book was provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster, in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion.
We took a few months off, but Barb and I are ready to bring you another round of the book lover postcard swap! We’re very excited for this one, and think there will be lots of opportunity for super cool postcards.
This round’s theme is summer reads — you’re to write on your postcard about a book (or two, or three, etc) that you’re excited to kick back with in the sun!
Here are the dates:
Sign up by Sunday, June 11. We’ll then send you an email with your match information within a few days.
Send the postcard by Monday, June 26.
For sign up and more info, keep reading:
Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han, out now.
Everyone was surprised when Jenny Han announced that her Lara Jean duology would become a trilogy, even Jenny herself. But she made a really good decision when she started typing up Lara Jean’s life again, providing a conclusion readers (and herself included) could be satisfied with. I’m satisfied, as P.S. I Still Love You never quite felt like an ending to me, and it gave me another few days with the delightful Covey/Song family. When Jenny was recently in Toronto on her book tour, she said how writing this book felt like getting another round of drinks (or desserts), like she was having that last sweet taste, and then saying goodbye, and that she’s happy with the way things went.
Always and Forever, Lara Jean brings our charming protagonist into a cycle she’s been familiar with as an observer. Now she’s experiencing it first hand. In the first book, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean watches as her big sister Margot breaks up with her long-term boyfriend Josh when she goes away to university. The girls’ late mother had always told them, ‘don’t be the girl that goes to college with a boyfriend.’ Which is kind of harsh, but it does have some truth to it. Lara Jean couldn’t understand why Margot would cut ties with the one she loved, but never really thought about what she would do in the same situation. Which is where we are for book three: Lara Jean is inches away from university, but her and Peter are closer than they’ve ever been. Lara Jean and Peter have planned that they would both go to UVA, and life would be grand, full of pastel colours and sunshine and wind through their hair. But something happens, and those plans are turned into painful dreams. Lara Jean’s faced with difficult decisions for the future.
Lara Jean doesn’t really ask for help when her normally strict composure unravels. She distances herself, tormenting herself with uncomfortable thoughts, and doesn’t talk it through with those who could provide advice. Instead she takes her stress out on baking and hyper-planning her dad’s wedding to their neighbour Trina. There are times when she doesn’t listen to what her sister, dad, and Trina have to say about cooling off (because they can at least tell something is wrong) and it’s frustrating to read, because we’ve all been there. I know I’ve been that stubborn teen who doesn’t know how to process stress or take advice without being a brat about it. Lara Jean can be immature and selfish, she makes mistakes, and she doesn’t think clearly. These are the kinds of characteristics that could bug you about a main character in a book, but with Lara Jean it feels just fine, because it’s so real, it’s endearing. I appreciated the way that Jenny made sure Lara Jean wouldn’t be the picture of perfection, and have her face some true tough choices.
Peter and Kitty are back in their wonderful characteristic forms, sweet and sassy respectively, and we get to see more of Margot, which is nice. We also see the introduction of Trina into the family, and how the Covey/Songs handle such a big change. This book carries along the awesome sisterly dynamic that Han’s readers enjoy so much. I was interested to see how things would develop with Peter, and how the relationship could be tested. Lara Jean has these moments where she sort of looks at Peter as if she’s in the future, and she assumes a lot about how he acts or will react, which if you’ve ever been in a relationship, you know that can cause some problems! But overall, I had lots of swoons over their cute and loving interactions, and how sweet Peter was to Lara Jean. They’ve definitely come a long way since the first book!
Since it’s been a while since P.S. I Still Love You came out, I have had a hard time remembering most of the first two books. While I know I really liked them, only the big plot points stuck. So I felt a little fuzzy going into this book, even though there were lots of references of ‘remember when this happened?’ Which were probably there for exactly this reason. This didn’t hinder me at all but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I read it closer to the others, or had time to re-read them. This book was meant to be a conclusion, and it’s obvious. Sometimes it reads slow and other times, too rushed, as it feels like it’s being fast-forwarded through the school year to get to what has to happen. Lara Jean’s life isn’t as exciting as lots of other YA protagonists, but that’s okay. It’s quieter, so sometimes it feels like not much is happening. But then I remind myself that again, this is more realistic.
The Lara Jean Covey books also mean having more books with Asian girls, and with their representation on the cover, something Jenny was really conscious about. She was also conscious that so many books that have to do with a teen’s race have to do with their racial struggle, but she didn’t want to do that. It’s not that she’s not interested in speaking up about that stuff – she definitely does do that on her own – but I’m thinking it’s just as influential for teens to see representations of themselves having normal teenage experiences in love, family, and going to university. She mentioned on her book tour that the first book was the first YA contemporary book to have an Asian girl on the cover in North America (or at least I think that’s what she said, feel free to correct me).
While I’m sad we won’t get any more Lara Jean Covey books, I feel a warmth in how the series came full circle, and they have a special touch as this cute set all tied up in a pretty bow. Lara Jean has so intricately woven her way into so many readers’ hearts, and will continue to do so, so really, she’s not going anywhere.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Ramona Blue, by Julie Murphy, out now, via Balzer + Bray
Ramona Blue brought me so much joy. Not only is this story an important one about a girl figuring out her sexuality, but it’s also about friendship, family, race, class, and societal standards. Julie Murphy, author of Dumplin’ and Side Effects May Vary, has yet again crafted a novel that will be a source of power and comfort to so many teens for many years to come. You can practically feel the sighs coming from all the adults reading Ramona Blue around the world wishing they had something like this when they were a teen.
Ramona lives in a tiny town in Mississippi in a trailer park with her sister Hattie and her dad. It’s been the three of them for a while; the parents divorced, and both daughters stayed with their father. Ramona is used to taking care of her overworked dad and her sweet but dependent sister. But now Hattie is pregnant, and since the baby daddy doesn’t seem like he will be in the picture forever, even though he’s moved into the crowded trailer, Ramona assumes that she will have to forgo college in order to help raise the child. She works hard at her two jobs delivering newspapers and working at a restaurant. One day, on her delivery route, as she throws a paper onto a yard, she hears someone call her name, which ended up forever changing her life: it was Agnes, an old neighbour from when they lived in Baton Rouge. Ramona finds out that Agnes’s grandson Freddie (of course her childhood best friend) still lives with her, and the two reconnect their friendship quickly.
The idea that I’m someone’s best friend fills my rib cage with summer.
Ramona is strong and has a good sense of herself – she is completely fine with being one of the two out lesbian teens in the town, and nobody seems to bother her about it. Over the summer, she fell for a vacationer named Grace who still had a boyfriend and wouldn’t come out of the closet. When Grace goes back home, Ramona is heartbroken, but not weak. Ramona finds solace in her friendship with Freddie as they spend more and more time together, and soon enough, Freddie is going through a breakup of his own. Eventually, Freddie reveals his feelings for Ramona, even though he knows she likes girls. Things get confusing for a while, as they would, but Ramona knows she feels something for Freddie, too, and it freaks her out at first because Freddie isn’t a girl. When they kiss, Ramona’s doubts float away, leaving her to enjoy her moment and just feeling good before the unnatural-for-her questioning of self begins.
My first thought isn’t that I’m gay or that Freddie is a boy or that he’s one of my best friends. His lips are lips. They’re soft and they taste like pumpkin pie and whiskey.
When I first heard of the plot for this book, I figured some people would get upset, because it’s a girl who likes girls, and yet now she likes a boy. (I was right, it did kind of blow up for a bit, but we’re not going to put any more attention on that.) I can see how it can come across as offensive if one was to briefly read the description and not think about it for a second. But this book is not offensive. Ramona’s story is very real. It’s totally acceptable to worry that a book would put out the idea of a girl not being gay ‘anymore,’ but also, bi-erasure is a thing, and bisexuality is something that the young adult community is trying very hard to put more attention on these days. This kind of situation has happened to many people. And in this case, just because Ramona gets with a guy after thinking she was a lesbian doesn’t mean she’ll never like girls again. And because she labeled herself as a lesbian in the past doesn’t mean she must forever call herself a lesbian. In fact, Julie has been vocal about how she identifies with Ramona as a bisexual person and that she put a lot of herself into Ramona. While Julie labels herself, Ramona does not, and I admire both of their decisions. It means the reader can’t label Ramona either, that Ramona is still figuring things out but knows it doesn’t have to happen right away, that acknowledges that you know what, she doesn’t need a label.
Life isn’t written in the stars. Fate is ours to pen. I choose guys. I choose girls. I choose people. But most of all: I choose.
I did really like Ramona and Freddie together. They had a good jive, and yes, those make-out scenes were hot! But they also just understood each other, and Freddie never pressured Ramona to label herself or their relationship. I enjoyed reading their dynamic. I also must note that Ramona’s friends – the queer brother and sister duo Saul and Ruth – were great secondary characters, and though flawed, I liked reading of Ramona’s relationship with her sister. One thing that I thought was a bit odd was that it’s mentioned a couple times that Ramona and her family moved after Hurricane Katrina. I thought this would factor into the story more, but it barely did. I don’t think that’s wrong, but it kind of felt like ‘why mention it, then.’ There’s an opportunity to write about a family that escaped a terrible hurricane, but that went nowhere in the story, which is just as well, because the plot would probably feel crowded.
Here are three of my other favourite quotes from the book. Oh Julie, I love your dreamy style.
“I hate this idea that boys are thinking about sex nonstop and girls are thinking about – what? Stationery and garden gnomes? No.”
“Because just the feeling of being touched – being held – is the release of a pent-up sigh.”
“I feel like I’ve sprouted a magic seed, causing flowers to sprout up in my belly, and now they’re swelling against my rib cage.”
An advance review copy of the book was provided by HarperCollins Canada in exchange for an honest review.