WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS: A Book Review

This may be the most dreamy book I have ever read.

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Reading When The Moon Was Ours feels exactly like falling into a dream. It took my what felt like ages to read this book (it didn’t. It took me 3 days.) but that was only because it was a story I wanted to fall asleep into it. It reads like a lullaby, gently taking you off into a far away, but familiar, world.

Reasons to read this book:

  1. You like magical realism
  2. You like trans love stories that aren’t all about being trans

I really don’t know what to say about this book. I really liked the atmosphere; I found that to be the strongest part of the novel. It really did feel like falling into another world, one where dreams and magic are possible (but who says they aren’t in this world?). I love the way McLemore incorporates legend into the story of Miel (side note, but I love her name). I love her prose, and how full of nature it is without feeling overwhelming. It just feels… magical. But most of all, I love her delicate treatment of Samir.

Samir is a boy who was born under the name Samira, but soon decided to live as a boy in order to be the man of the house to support his mother. Samir, or Sam, believes he is expected to resume living as female once he is an adult, which he is fast approaching at age 17. This is Sam’s main plot, but Sam is also deeply involved in Miel’s plot: this is a love story.

And oh, what a beautiful love story it is. McLemore is very honest and open about her own life, and that of her trans husband, and this makes the entire story feel very personal and intimate and beautiful. The love between Samir and Miel is so soft and is treated so gently. I love that Sam is allowed to unapologetically be the male romantic lead, and I love that the fact that Sam is trans does not hinder their love in the least. The love between them is love, pure and complicated and beautiful. Nothing more and nothing less.

There are so many love stories in this book: the love between family members, the love for one’s self, the love shared between souls. Each one is so gently told, it’s hard not to fall in love yourself.

What a beautiful, soft story this is.

3 roses out of 5.

MORE HAPPY THAN NOT: A Book Review

My heart hurts.

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More Happy Than Not is Adam Silvera’s first novel, but I read his latest, History Is All You Left Me first. I’m kind of disappointed I did, because History is a masterpiece and I don’t know if it’s a story Silvera can ever surpass. Happy is not History, but it’s still a story that surprised me and hurt me in the best way possible.

More Happy Than Not is clearly inspired by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (my favourite movie) but it isn’t a replica, and because of that, the twists and turns still left me breathless. Without revealing anything, I will say that I should have seen the plot twists coming, but I didn’t, and that is what ended up leaving me with tears in my eyes at the end. The seeds of History are planted deep into this novel, and there are a lot of similarities not in plot, but in tone and format. The biggest similarity is the feeling of deep sadness is that drips off of every page of the text, and stabs you in the chest right when you least expect it to.

I really don’t know what to say. I finished reading about an hour ago, and the wound is still raw for me. The thing is, I knew I would be sad, and I knew it would make me cry, but that didn’t stop it from hurting. What’s even worst is that despite how much everything hurts right now, I wouldn’t change a thing about this story. There was no other possible outcome, and nothing else would have been satisfying. It is masterfully told.

The thing about this sadness is that it’s a needed sadness. It isn’t a book that is sad to be sad, or that gives you a sugar-sweet happy ending just to satisfy that desire in all of us for happiness. It’s a book about finding happiness within yourself, and how sometimes, we have to hurt to find out what happiness is.

And boy, oh boy, do I hurt.

It’s clearly a novel that leaves a message to the reader, and I do hope that all those who read it understand what is being said. I don’t mean to scare you away by talking about how sad I am: my intention is to show you the affect Silvera is able to evoke in me. It hurts because it feels real, and it feels real because it’s a story we can all relate to.

The pursuit of happiness is difficult, and it’s a journey we all take. And sometimes, just sometimes, we achieve it, but it takes a lot of pain. I just hope that we can all find ourselves more happy than not.

5 memories out of 5. 

SOMETIMES WE TELL THE TRUTH: A Book Review

This author has Talent with a capital T.

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Everyone knows it takes a lot of talent to write a novel, but what takes even more talent is writing a novel that modernizes one of the most important stories in the English language and doing so in a way that makes every character feel unique and special. Because that’s right: when Kim Zarins wrote Sometimes We Tell The Truth, not only did she modernize the Canterbury Tales by giving the stories to a bunch of high schoolers, but she also wrote 24 unique character voices. And the best part? She does it flawlessly. 

Brief Premise: On a bus trip to Washington, DC, Mr. Bailey, the civic’s teacher, proposes that each student tell a story to the class. It doesn’t have to be true, but it has to be made up on the spot. The winner with the best story gets an automatic A. Our narrator, Jeff Chaucer, leads us through the stories, offering insight into his own life, and we get this beautiful character development arc in this 6 hour bus trip where we see Jeff completely evolve, thanks to the stories he hears– and tells himself.

If you’ve ever read the Canterbury Tales, the stories are very familiar, but they’re all modernized to suit those telling them: teenage kids. They’re just as raunchy as Chaucer’s originals– and let me tell you, Zarins nails teenagers and teenage humour– and although each story is “fictional,” it’s very apparent that each story actually reveals a lot of truth about the person telling it. Hence, the title– even if fiction, sometimes we do tell the truth.

As I mentioned before, the great feat of this novel is not the stories, but the character voices. Each one shines through, completely different from the last. Sure, some are similar, and yes, there are a lot of voices which means a lot of characters get lost or forgotten, but there are many voices that come through loud and clear again and again, shining bright in their teenage imperfections. You will recognize yourself and people you knew in high school in each of these characters, but let’s face it: we are all Jeffs.

Jeff is rather unlikable, but it’s his unlikability which makes your root for him. And I have to admit, the reason why I didn’t like it is because I saw my own mistakes in him. He messes up, a lot. Like, yell-at-your-book-what-are-you-doing-Jeff messing up. But it’s all for the character development, which is great, even if it’s rushed and a crash course. But a novel needs an arc, and if the novel happens in 6 hours well… the arc is going to be fast paced.

There is so much representation for minorities in this book, and for voices that are rarely heard. If you don’t fall in love with Pard by the end of this novel, then you are doing something wrong. Alison was the type of girl I hated in high school, but she comes off some genuine that I couldn’t help but love her (or maybe it’s just because I love the Wife of Bath, who Alison is based upon). Sure, sometimes the characters are melodramatic, and yeah, the “everyone’s got a story that could break your heart” theme can get tiresome, but the good characters and plots outweigh the bad ones. I don’t think there was any character I didn’t love and understand and feel in my heart by the end of this.

Also, no spoilers, but the romance arc…….. is actually kind of beautiful. I’d read an entire book about that, yes please. It warms my cold little heart.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I love this book and everything it brings to the table. I know it’s faults, but I can’t help singing its praises. I never wanted to stop reading it. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this gem, and I urge everyone to read it. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll make you want to tell a story of your own.

4.5 bus trips out of 5.

(Did I mention there’s an intersex character? SO COOL.)

 

EAST OF EDEN: A Book Review

If you’ve read this book, then it’s probably your favourite book.

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East of Eden is Steinbeck’s masterpiece, and I would say it’s one of the most beautiful books the English language has to offer. I don’t have much to say about it, because it’s a book you must experience to understand. The prose is stunning, filled with lavish descriptions of the landscape and of characters that make them feel so incredibly alive.  Like most good works, the setting is a character, influencing others and the lives they live.

East of Eden tells the story of the Trask family and the Hamilton family. I call it a family epic, because that’s what it is: you follow generations of these families, and you follow some characters from birth until death. Within the Trask family, the story of Genesis is told and retold, particularly the story of Cain and Abel. It is Genesis, but it’s not Genesis: it’s a modern retelling, where Eve is a heartless whore and the Cain characters are full of too much.  It’s the story of falling, but it’s also a story of getting back up: as long as there is land, and as long as there is love, there is hope.

What I loved most, other than the beautiful prose, is the theme of family and generations. You follow these characters, and you see how they become who they are, and how they change, and the influence of parents– fathers especially– affects our choices and who we are. Sins of the parents are passed down to the children, but the novel makes sure to emphasize choice as well: our family and our history does not have to be our future. There is always a choice, a choice to be mean, or a choice to be good. Your history can shape you, but it doesn’t have to define you.

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

There is so much to say, but I fear I cannot say enough. Everything this book is boils down to one word: Timshel.

And you’re going to have to read it to understand why.

But let me just assert: this is a beauty of a novel, and you should do yourself a favour and read it.  It has easily become one of my favourites, and I look forward to reading it again and again and again…

5 stars out of 5. 

LEGEND: A Book Review

To summarize my feelings of this book: “thoroughly meh.”

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Legend by Marie Lu is one of those books that I didn’t read when it first came out because it felt too popular, and that I only decided to read now because I miss dystopia trilogies (seriously…. where did they go? Hello? Where are you all hiding?).  It didn’t take me too long to read, but I can’t say that I’m impressed with it. I found it to be absolutely nothing special.

Brief summary: June is a military prodigy. Day is a street rat and criminal that the government is desperate to seize. June gets the opportunity to go undercover to gather intel about Day.  Along the way, both June and Day discover some governmental secrets and begin to piece together the reality of their society.

Sounds just like every other dystopia, doesn’t it? And it is: but that’s not a fault. It follows the tropes of the genre, and introduces one of the few governmental weapons of mass destruction that dystopias often have (no spoilers, but it’s not that hard to figure out). The plot itself isn’t outrageous– you won’t be rushing through it– but it’s interesting enough.

My major problem is that… it feels like nothing happens.

I get that this is the first book in a series, and it’s setting up for the rest that follow, but it’s really rather dull. The reason my summary is so basic is because I don’t know what else to say: even while reading it, I felt like nothing was happening. I suppose “dry” would be the best word to describe my reading experience. When action did happen, it was confusing to follow, and over in a flash.

And don’t get me started on the “romance.”

Maybe I’m just a slowburn-or-bust kind of gal, but I found the romance to be incredibly rushed while everything else was slow, slow, slow. Is it even romance? “Lust” is a better word. It’s the crappy lust/love-at-first-sight kind of relationship too. Ugh. I didn’t like it, and I also didn’t really like them as individuals either. They fell flat to me, but at least they were interesting and unique enough to keep the plot going.

As I stated at the beginning, I found Legend to be “meh.” It’s nothing special, and I’m not reaching for the sequel. I haven’t decided if I’ll give the sequel a shot or not yet, but I really hope it steps up its game.

2.5 plagues out of 5. 

TRUE LETTERS FROM A FICTIONAL LIFE: A Book Review

This book feels like a blast from the past.

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So anyone who has ever stumbled upon this blog can probably tell that I read a lot of LGBT YA fiction, and I have, for a very long time. Long enough to see how the genre has changed, and how it continues to change to reflect society at large. True Letters From a Fictional Life was only published last year, but it reads like something from 10 years ago. The reason for this is the amount of internalized and externalized homophobia present in the text which just reminds us all that we still have a long way to go.

Brief summary: James is living a double-life: while he lies to his friends and family, only the letters he writes (but never sends) reveal his truth. He’s sort-of-dating his childhood best friend, Theresa, but when he meets a boy at a dance, he’s finally forced to merge the truth in his letters with the reality he lives in.

So yeah. Not the most original plot, and I bet you can already guess what’s going to happen from my very vague summary. There are some interesting side-plots, and a simple plot does not make a bad novel, but it’s not exactly a book you have to pay a ton of attention to.

Now onto James. I found him to be rather unlikable, when he wasn’t being dumb. He makes a lot of stupid choices that don’t make much sense to me, and he lies…. a lot. About really dumb things. Some of his lies I get, since he is really struggling to accept his sexuality, but he also lies about things he doesn’t need to lie about for no good reason. Maybe this is to emphasis the difference between the “fictional” life James lives and the reality in his letters? I don’t know, but he’s dumb either way.

What I did like about James is his narrative voice: he is very masculine and sounds exactly like every boy I knew in high school. He brushes over the romance and his love life in favour for talking about beer and the woes of his life (which, for the most part, aren’t that bad). He hates having heart-to-heart conversations, and is quick to anger, or make a joke to change the subject. He is every jock you know. So while he isn’t likable (his love interest, no spoilers, is much more enjoyable in my opinion), he is very, very real, which is what counts in the end.

True Letters from a Fictional Life is a nice, easy read that feels almost too late; but at the same time, it’s a nice reminder that homophobia still exists in the world today, and (I know you’re tired of hearing it but…) things do get better, when you find those you can call you own.

2.75 letters out of 5. 

(I know, that rating is weak, but giving it 3 stars seems too much and 2.5 seems like not enough. I liked it! But it was meh. Ya feel me?)

AND I DARKEN: A Book Review

Historical rewritings are where it’s at.

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I’ve been in the mood for some YA fantasy lately, and while this doesn’t quite fit the bill, it’s close enough. And I Darken is a historical rewriting, where Vlad the Impaler is a woman named Lada. Now, you are not going to get that vibe from this first book, because all it does it establish the scene, which includes the relationships between Lada, her brother (Radu), and the Ottoman sultan’s son (Mehmed). Now everyone knows love triangles are exhausted, but I found this one to be entirely captivating and realistic. The relationships between the three of them are complex, and cannot be pined down with a word, not even the word “love.” And that, my friends, is what makes this book worth reading.

Yes, okay, the plot can be slow, but that’s because this book is building up to something. It is setting down the stones for the sequel, which I can only imagine is going to be heart-wrenching and brutal. We’ve met Lada. We know her stormy heart. We’ve met Radu. We know his stormy heart. And we’ve met Mehmed, who can only spell trouble for them all in the end. Sign me up, we’re in for a ride.

Personally, I didn’t find the plot that slow, and I thought it was a perfect balance between character development and plot activity/action. The prose is very easy to follow, and I really appreciated the modern dialogue, which makes it so easy to slip into the story and lose yourself in this fictional-historical world. It maintains the old-timey/fantastical feel while still being accessible and relevant.

Now, I picked up this book because I wanted to fall in love with a fierce, independent, and badass woman. What I ended up doing was falling in love with her brother. Radu appears to be everything Lada is not: he is soft, and sweet, and handsome while Lada is ugly and all sharp edges. While they are foils in many ways, they are united in their love for Mehmed and, I believe, we’re going to find out that they’re a lot more similar than they first appear. And boy oh boy, am I ready for it.

Lastly, I’d like to take a moment to thank Kiersten White for actually following through on the ~gay vibes~ that I was feeling early on. I was pleasantly surprised (read: ecstatic) to find a book that takes a gentle approach to historical homosexuality in a way that feels very genuine and real. Plus, it adds such a nice layer to the story that would be lost if it was discarded as just “brotherly affection.” People are gay, Steven!

And I Darken is a great read and I am EXTREMELY excited for the sequel that’s out in July. If this series is heading where I think it is (google “Vlad the Impaler” if you don’t know what I’m talking about) then buckle up your seat belts, kids, we’re in for a wild ride.

(me, whispering in the author’s ear, kill them off…. do it….)

4 stars out of 5