Book Review: Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

chaotic good review via paper trail diary

Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner, out now

It’s been a while since I finished reading Chaotic Good and I still feel hungover. I wish I had more time with Cameron, Cooper, Why, and Lincoln. Chaotic Good will easily make it as one of my favourite books of 2018!

I loved Whitney’s first book You’re Welcome, Universe that came out last year so I was firm in my mind that I would read anything Whitney writes. When I found out her next book had to do with D&D, I laughed. D&D is in my life, but I don’t play, my partner does. And as much as I wish it was something I could share with him, it is not for me at all. I teased Jack about how he can’t get me to play but Whitney can get me to read about it, and he just lovingly said he’d read the book sometime. (He’s too good.) D&D isn’t a huge part of the book, but it does work as a crucial turning point in the plot, which worked well for me. :p

Chaotic Good is basically a nerdy She’s the Man (which then Jack said ‘which is basically Twelfth Night‘) and I am all here for it. Cameron has just moved to a new town after living in Portland, and finding herself friendless, she heads to a place that should be able to give her comfort: a comic book store. But it’s there where she runs into the pretentious and misogynistic employee Brody, who immediately questions her nerd status because she is transparent about her love of costumes, the fact that she hasn’t already read everything in all the universes, and that she has her own opinions. She’s still reeling from the continuous slew of trolling after she admitted at a Con that she didn’t know something about a character she was cosplaying, so Brody’s words sting. Unable to accept not being able to return to the only comic book store in town, Cameron lets her twin brother Cooper convince her to don his clothes and return as a guy, which of course completely convinces the guys at the store and lands her an invitation to their D&D game, and she accepts. Further complicating things, she develops a huge crush on the group’s adorable Dungeon Master, and she becomes distracted from preparing a portfolio of costume ideas that she plans to present to a university later in the summer.

Besides really admiring Whitney’s writing style, which just feels so effortless and careful (even though I know it’s hard work) I also love the characters she creates. I want to be friends with everyone (except Brody) and I want to help and protect them because they’re so precious. I admired Cameron for pushing herself and others, Cooper for his support as a brother and friend, Why (another comic book shop employee) for his sweetness and inclusivity, and Lincoln for his creativity and honesty.

Chaotic Good is a wonderful read that challenges nerd culture and shows the reader that you don’t have to know every single thing about something in order to love it. It shows a girl who knows what she wants and that she takes steps to follow her dreams, embrace her creativity, and kiss a cute boy in between. It still appeals to those who don’t know or like D&D. It has more than one delightful budding romance. Seriously, I could go on forever with words and mostly squee-type noises about how much I loved this book. So add it to your TBR, friends!

This entry was posted in Books.

Join the mail edition of the Book Lover Postcard Swap!

book lover postcard swap mail edition

In honour of April being National Letter Writing Month, Barb and I knew it was only fitting/obvious that our next Book Lover Postcard Swap theme be mail 😉

So sign up to be matched with someone – you’ll write each other postcards about books you’ve enjoyed that involve mail in some way! I have so many I could write about… 84 Charing Cross Road, The Lost Art of Letter Writing, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societyetc etc etc. Even my first favourite letter writing book, The Jolly Pocket Postman!  I’m swooning just thinking about them! (If you have not read them, OMG READ THEM.)

So go on, follow the form!

Book Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

tyler johnson was here via paper trail diary

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, out now

“Who do you even call when the cops are the ones being the bad guys? Who do you even beg to protect you?”

I am so glad that Black Lives Matter-inspired books continue to be published and break grounds. Tyler Johnson Was Here is a worthy addition not just to the subject but to YA in general for the character of Marvin Johnson.

Marvin and his twin brother Tyler are used to going quiet when the cops bang on their door, but they are still terrified. They’re terrified when they see a cop threaten another black kid down the street. They’re terrified when a cop goes off on them for no reason in the convenience store. When Tyler goes missing after a party, and then a video goes viral of his death by police brutality, Marvin is thrown into chaos and 100% justified frustration.

The thing about Marvin is he cries. He cries A LOT, and he talks about crying. And I think that’s SO important to show in YA lit – a boy crying. In the beginning of the book, Marvin mentions how his father, who is in jail for a wrongly accused crime, told him ‘men don’t cry,’ but he still cries. And then he gets a letter from his dad, which says “Crying can free you, son. Crying can make you see past it, past the pain that hurts your growing heart. The best time to cry is, weird enough, at nighttime — when all the lights are out, and it’s dark, who no one is around to see.” He starts on a good point, but I don’t agree with his ending sentiment. And thankfully those are not words Marvin lives by. It’s obviously tragic that he cries so much because he’s living through hell, but it’s important to show his tears. In public. It’s real.

This book will break your heart. This is from the convenience store scene:

…in this very moment I’m starting to really hate myself, really feel sorry for myself, because I’ve been black for too long, because I’ve been such a menace to society because of this skin, because of the words that come to mind when some people see me.

Another thing to point out is that Tyler was falling into a gang. And, like one of my new fave TV shows On My Block, this book does a solid in pointing out that those who are in gangs are worth caring about, they’re more than the throw-away news story.

Is Tyler being a gang like a pass to not look for him? Just because he fell for the gang life doesn’t mean he’s not saveable, that he’s not worth risking everything for.

I’m glad I read Tyler Johnson Was Here. It made me uncomfortable, and it should’ve. If it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you have some thinking to do. You’ll want to wrap Marvin and his mom in the hugest hug and wish that you could bring Tyler back for them. From the grand scape of the real issue to the zoomed-in grief, Tyler Johnson Was Here gives a delicate, strong, and important story. Plus, Jay Coles is a new voice in YA that’s worth investing in. I look forward to what else he’ll bring to literature.

This entry was posted in Books.

Book Review: Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Emergency Contact review via Paper Trail Diary

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi, out now

I must have read the description for Emergency Contact a handful of times and it never stuck. So how did it become one of my favourite books of the year so far? This was a good recurring lesson of ‘don’t always judge a book by its description’ (though as someone who writes book descriptions as part of her job it still nags me). Then I get into the black hole of ‘what if all the bad description books are actually amazing?’ And things go all haywire. Anyways. A combo of things happened to get me to pick it up and buy it: blogger friends reading and saying they’re loving it, seeing it everywhere, and feeling a need for a new kind of book and being in the bookstore at the right place and right time. The power of marketing! And I’m so glad all of those things came into play, because Emergency Contact was exactly what I needed and then some.

Emergency Contact falls into New Adult genre but definitely has YA crossover, as the main character Penny has just started university. I really liked that it took place in her first year at university, because a) it showed how Penny grows once she’s taken out of her comfort zone and dropped in the real world and b) it includes her pursuing her passion/career. But the story is mainly an adorable love story, and I’m a sucker for a good one, no matter how much I push against the concept.

The story is told by two characters: Penny, an awkward and uncomfortable aspiring writer, and Sam, a self-aware lost pup/barista/documentary filmmaker. Now reading that might make some people chuckle, but just go with it. Penny first meets Sam when she goes to his cafe with her roommate Jude, who is Sam’s former step-niece. Jude makes Penny agree she won’t fall for Sam, but obviously that won’t stop someone. Penny meets Sam a second time when she sees him fall over at a park while he’s having a panic attack. She becomes his emergency contact as she’s driving him to the hospital, and away we go on a cute but forbidden texting relationship, as these two awkward ducks find comfort in their new confidants. It starts as a simple friendship, and builds into something even more. While both going through their own very real stuffs, they need to figure out what exactly they’re doing, and what their feelings are trying to tell them. Both are in desperate need of having someone who understands them in their life, and they run with it.

What made this story set itself apart from the description and the somewhat simple idea was Mary’s writing. She’s got a dry humour that will come out of nowhere and tap you on the forehead. It’s real, weird, and silly. It had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions. Mary throws herself into Penny’s and Sam’s voices, giving them exactly what they need to be damaged but pure, adorable yet cringe-inducing, into each other but still focused on their lives, etc etc. Occasionally the writing would feel a little disjointed, and the ending was rushed, but it was rare and not a big deal, so I’d say this was fantastic for a fiction debut from a journalist (not knocking, I used to be one – it’s very different writing styles). I very much look forward to future books by Mary.

Emergency Contact faced my challenges and still became one of my new favourite books. If you’re looking for a fresh voice with a slightly more grown-up angle from YA while still getting an adorable fix, I’d highly recommend picking this up.

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Call for contributors: the Chain Letter Short Story Project #3!

Chain Letter Short Story Project 3 paper trail diary

Want to be a part of something that makes its way around the world? Are you into creative writing? Do you like sending mail? Well do I have the project for you!

The Chain Letter Short Story Project is quite literally a short story that is written as a chain letter by folks all over the world. I start and finish the story, and then compile everything into a zine. You can check out the first story and the second story now!

The first story was written from 2014 to 2015, with contributors from Malta, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, and the US. The story starts with a guy and a gal meeting in a cafe, and turns into a crazy tale of undercover detectives, arson, and lies. The second story was written from 2015 to 2016 with contributors from Australia, India, Pakistan, Spain, the Czech Republic, England and the States. This story starts with a woman in a group counselling session, just about to open up about her story, and it spirals into a dark tale of vices, anxiety, the Olympics, a haunted past, and letting go.

So now I’m ready to do #3, and I’m looking for 6 or 7 contributors! Please note that this really does take about a year to make its way around the globe, so this is a long term project and you should keep that in mind when signing up.

As a contributor, you must be willing to:

  1. Write a page of the story. (Like, basic notebook size.) It must be in relation to what came before it. You can handwrite, type, stamp, whatever. As long as it’s legible and in English. I re-type them for the zine, but it’s really need to see all the pages together.
  2. Include an accompanying illustration on a separate sheet of paper no bigger than 8.5″ x 5.5″. Do whatever you’d like! But please note the zine is printed in black and white.
  3. Include any web links you’d like on your page in the zine. (Blog, Instagram, etc)
  4. Have it in your possession for no more than 2 weeks.
  5. Email me when you get it and when you’re done with it to get the address of the next participant. And then mail it to them.
  6. If you’re posting about it online, please tag @papertraildiary and #CLSSP3. We want to see its’ progress!


  1. I reserve the right to pick contributors out of everyone submitted.
  2. Participants from the last round are disqualified, to be fair.
  3. The letter will be sent as the straightest line of destination-to-destination that I can see.

If you are interested, please email me at by April 15. Please include the city/country you live in, as well as links to your website or a social media account if you have any. You don’t need to be a professional writer to take part in this!

Post-a-Letter Sundays

to get a letter you must send a letter, at toronto's first post office

So, fun news, my local pal / pen pal (yes we live in the same city and still write letters to each other why not) Andrea (@dreyray) and I have taken over the monthly Post-a-Letter Sundays at one of my favourite places, Toronto’s First Post Office!

We had our first one last week, and it went really well. Some friends came, and we made new acquaintances, and got to talk to tourists passing through as they tried out the Post Office’s quills and ink. I wrote a couple letters, too 😉 We’re really looking forward to continuing to do these! April is National Letter-Writing Month, so you know that day will be full of fun.

Post-a-Letter Sundays are just a few hours for people to relax with a letter or writing project and socialize with other mail nerds. You can bring your own supplies, or use ones that are provided.

letter writing supplies at torontos first post office, via paper trail diary

Here are the upcoming events, which are (mostly) every second Sunday of the month, and 1-4 pm:

April 8
May 6
June 10
July 8
August 12

The Post Office is located at 269 Adelaide Street East.

RSVP on Facebook!

Hope to see you there 🙂