Review of ‘Do You Follow’, by J.C. Bidonde (Audiobook)
I don’t think I’ll get the hang of audiobooks for quite some time, but I’m really happy to have finally started training myself to listen to a book. I am definitely going to continue as well as improve my capacity to review audio books; I just have to develop the vocabulary and appreciation for narration to do so. “Just”, lol.
So I listened to this one at 1.25 times the speed; somehow the narration seemed too slow for me. However I have a feeling this is a personal preference rather than a problem with the narration; I just read really fast, and this book was well-written, so it wasn’t hard to follow the plot at 1.25 times the speed. The book starts with the shadowy understanding that something pretty bad happened to Alexa that had a big effect on her relationship with her twin, Beth. This something also made their father very protective of Alexa and dismissive of Beth. There are enough clues to develop at least three theories; the brilliant part of this book is that all three remain pretty solid throughout most of the book, with one of them being correct but with a pretty big twist. It’s an easy listen which I would assume makes for a quick read.
Review of ‘That Summer’, by Jennifer Weiner
Based on the title, the cover, and the blurb, I was expecting a witty, insightful, and uplifting mystery by Jennifer Weiner. But it is a story about a sexual assault that happened “that summer”, hence the title. So the first thing I would advise is to go into this book expecting more of a heavy Jodi Picoult vibe rather than a light summer read vibe.
While this book wasn’t in itself a mystery, there is a question as to what happened “that summer” and who was involved; this is however used more as a device to make the truth, revealed at the end, more impactful. In short: Diana was sexually assaulted as a teenager which completely changed her life trajectory. Daisy married her husband and became a mother at a very young age which also affected her life trajectory in an unanticipated way. Their lives connect when Daisy starts getting Diana’s emails by accident because of a typo.
The story really digs into both women’s lives and helps paint a thorough picture of who they are, how they got there, and how it affects their life trajectory onward. It was more thorough than Jennifer Weiner usually is; I am not sure if it’s to make the story more impactful or if it was just a stylistic choice. The characters are quite likeable and that makes even the slower sections engaging, as I wanted to know more about them. And thanks to this choice, to make the book longer, there is a lot to think about or to talk about in a book club setting: consent, revenge, male, white and cis privilege, and gender equality, to name a few. The story was written in alternating POVs, most either Daisy or Diana’s. Daisy’s daughter’s POV made an appearance a few times; however, I’m not sure why. Beatrice’s POV would have been more impactful if her activism, which clashed with her own mother’s choices and lifestyle, was explored more.
I still loved this book, but I really wish the marketing had been done better. It was neither a thriller, nor a general women’s fiction book; it was more of a dark, edgy women’s fiction.
Review of ‘You’ll Be The Death Of Me’, by Karen M. McManus
Cal, Ivy, and Mateo used to be close friends. But like it often is, they drifted apart and now have only school in common—barely. But on a particularly bad morning, Cal convinces Ivy and Mateo to ditch school to hang out together, just like old times. Mayhem ensues, as a complex, interconnected web of lies and deception unravels, in what has become a recognisable McManus style.
The plot was intriguing and complex, with each of the three main characters wanting to keep a secret from the other two: a forbidden romance, an entanglement with drugs, and a plot for revenge that brought down the wrong person. I did struggle a little at the beginning of the book, as I felt that a lot of information about each character was included in a couple of initial dense chapters. Thrillers are not really a place where social commentary is often presented; yet McManus seamlessly slips in an interesting commentary on gender and predatory behavior, which I will leave at that for fear of spoiling.
Review of ‘Fat Chance, Charlie Vega’, by Crystal Maldonado
Charlie has been mistreated a lot because of her weight, but it didn’t bother her as much as it did after her father died and her mother shed a lot of her weight, going from being Charlie’s food-enjoying companion to yet another fat-tormentor. Books that feature fat characters are so hard to read when they include fat shaming—but this is why they are important books to read. Fat phobia is real and slipping into someone’s skin as they navigate the world in a fat body is a great way to gain empathy and contribute to eliminating prejudices about this body type.
I really liked the core message of the book: we need to change both the perception of society and the individual when it comes to fat. While Charlie Vega was mistreated because of the way she looks, she also (understandably) was expecting it. I went through this when it came to the equality of men and women; while I believe that men and women are equal, society is still very much a patriarchy, and I continue to have to clean up my perception of the roles of men and women and to clarify the meaning of true equality. I kept expecting to be treated a certain way and still have to make a big effort to undo years of indoctrination into a sexist and misogynist society.
This core message is delivered through the extremely loveable Charlie Vega, whose friends with her bestie Amelia will make you miss your own bestie. I also loved the subtle but clear and unapologetic ways that Charlie’s Puerto Rican heritage was shown throughout the book.
Charlie’s dad died. Her Mom shed a bunch of weight and went from being Charlie’s food-enjoying companion to giving her not-subtle hints that Charlie should also lose the weight.
Review of ‘My Sister’s Big Fat Indian Wedding’, by Sajni Patel
I’m not Indian, but I am an ethnic person living in North America, and I loved reading about characters who went though experiences so much like mine. The entire book revolves around the main character’s sister’s wedding (I know, shocker, right?), which offers the opportunity to the author to weave in the many traditions of an Indian wedding. And weave in she does, expertly and quite naturally. I learned so much about traditions related to Indian weddings without even knowing about it – and I realised this when, shortly after finishing this book, I had a conversation with an Indian friend about her upcoming wedding and I realised I knew what she was talking about. And this is one of the beautiful parts of fiction; we enter into a world that welcomes up with open arms and, if we let it, allows us to experience new things without ever leaving our reading chair. Patel’s book is a charming read with an obvious ending that makes it possible to relax and enjoy the ride in all its glorious details.
Review of ‘The Lost Dreamer’, by Lizz Huerta
I’ve previously consistently stated that I do not read that many fantasy books. But the team at Raincoast Books keeps sending me books like this one that are starting to chip away at my non-fantasy-reading belief. Lizz Huerta’s debut novel is one of these books. Saya has never been formally trained as a Dreamer and her gift is being exploited by her mother. Saya’s life is very controlled, from the lack of a permanent home to a necklace she has been wearing as long as she can remember that she is not allowed to wear. But when she loses the necklace, a whole new world opens to her. Not only is the plot fascinating and the characters well rounded and intriguing, the entire novel is immersive in the way it describes the land of the Dreamers, inspired by ancient Mesoamerica. I especially appreciated the way the Dreamers kept the entire community in mind, and found many parallels between their struggle to keep the powers of greed and envy at bay and the work of community-building in light of the culture of individualism that permeates so much of our culture today. It was a little difficult to keep track of all the characters at the beginning of the book but things become easier as the story moves along. I also had not understood that this is the first book of at least two, if not more, so the ending left me hanging.
Thank you to Raincoast Books and Simon & Schuester Canada for ARCs, to Orca Book Publishers for review copies, and thank you to all the publisher who sent me electronic ARCs through Netgalley!