Monthly Archives: February 2018

Blog Tour – A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena (Review + Q&A)

A Girl Like That was a book that caught my eye at the latest #TeensReadFeed preview hosted by Raincoast Books Canada. It was a book that piqued my interest given the bright pink cover and the fact that it dealt with tougher issues. This is a book that explores prejudice, religion, slut shamming, and it’s tied together in a beautifully written package. I was sad that I missed out on having the chance to chat with Tanaz Bhathena at the OLA Super Conference back at the beginning of the month, but I was so happy when Raincoast approached me to ask Tanaz a question and review her book.

So without further ado…


Title: A Girl Like That

Author: Tanaz Bhathena

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school.  You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This was a difficult book to read. It has a very unique set up and one I feel like readers might have a hard time with at first. I want to say, very clearly: STICK WITH THIS STORY. Zarin’s story is heartbreaking, hurtful, and it will make you angry. I found myself feeling a roller-coaster of emotions going through this book, and I think it’s because it reminds me how cruel people can be.

In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of Jennifer Mathieu’s The Truth About Alice, except we actually get the points of view from the deceased characters. Many of the perspectives we get talk in depth about Zarin and Porus during their time alive and even in death. As the reader you start to question what is fact and fiction from many of the perspective characters. Reading from certain characters at times were so uncomfortable, because you get a sense of ugliness that is hiding in them. You also see how much of a role family can play in fact and fiction as well.

Zarin’s story is hard to read because it looks at not only a girl who may be breaking cultural practices, but she wants to be her own person and everyone has assumed the worst about her. That she is a slut, that she’s unpredictable, that she has the wrong agenda. A lot of my favourite chapters were when I got to be inside Zarin’s head and get a sense of what she was thinking and feeling. She takes so much abuse in this story, and yet she is so strong at the same time.

And the topics discussed hurt. You see religious prejudice, you see sexism, you see displacement, but there is also hope in this story. It’s a twinkle, but it’s there, and it feels so unexpected and so important. There are just so many complicated parts to A Girl Like That, and I feel not knowing too much about this story is what makes it such a compelling read. Beautifully written, heartbreaking and painful, this is a must read debut that offers so much insight into one girl’s existence, and if you can juggle the points of view, it’s a rewarding novel.

Note: A Girl Like That released on February 27th, so it is out now as of this post!


Q&A with Tanaz Bhathena!

Thanks to the wonderful folks at Raincoast, I was given a chance to ask Tanaz a question regarding A Girl Like That.  Here’s her response to my question!

SM: Zarin, like many women, face a lot of discrimination. Based on what happens to Zarin in the story, are these issues based on your own personal experience fighting discrimination or are her issues encompassing a lot of different issues on a whole?

TB: A few of the issues Zarin faces are my own—coming from a minority religion in a Muslim majority country, and the hypocrisy and double standards with which women are treated compared to men. But Zarin also encompasses a lot of different issues based on things I saw happen to people around me—Muslim and non-Muslim—and stories I heard that were swept quietly under the rug.

I began A Girl Like That by writing what I knew, and eventually discovered that there was a lot that I didn’t. I began researching by reading the Arab News and the Saudi Gazette again. I also read candid first-person blogs by people who lived in Riyadh and Jeddah, and reports by organizations like Human Rights Watch, MEMRI and Amnesty International. I watched videos. You can live for fifteen years in a country, but sometimes you need to have that physical and mental distance to really make sense of the things that happened to you while you lived there.


I want to thank Tanaz for stopping by and answering my question on this stop of the blog tour. I also want to extend a thank you as well to Raincoast Canada for allowing me to be a participant! A Girl Like That is out NOW! And while you’re at it, please check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour!

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Blog Tour – The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

I love stories about gender. I think there are such a wide variety of stories that still need to be told, and I think Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker fills a void. There a lot of deconstruction of gender, there’s cross dressing, romance, and Sebastian and Frances will easily win your heart over. I was so happy to be approached by First Second to talk about this title with all of you, from doing a review, to sharing my favourite panel from the graphic novel. I sincerely hope that many of you reading this blog post will check out this heartwarming book.

And while you’re at it, consider checking out the rest of the blog tour hot spots for more goodies related to The Prince and the Dressmaker!


Title: The Prince and the Dressmaker

Author: Jen Wang

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

Huge thank you to First Second for this ARC!

This graphic novel is important and wonderful. It offers an amazing discussion regarding gender identity, labels, and what it means to stand up and be who you are. It’s heartwarming, fun, but it is also very dark and emotional.

The story follows two characters: Prince Sebastian, a young prince whose parents want him to get married to a princess, and Frances who dreams of making beautiful gowns and one day having a fashion show. Their lives collide when Prince Sebastian sees one of Frances’ designs and hires her on to be his dressmaker. Frances and Sebastian form a beautiful friendship, and it’s one that is memorable as it is sweet. Frances accepts Sebastian for who he is, and in turns tries to help him gain the courage to tell his parents that he enjoys wearing dresses.

There is so much beauty in Jen Wang’s artwork and storytelling. Her characters are expressive, gentle, and have such strong desires to be loved and accepted by others. Sebastian and Frances are characters that are easy to love, you want them to succeed and be loved, and you want them to see worth in themselves. They get such fantastic growth throughout the story, and I found myself getting emotional during certain parts given their was such shocking moments.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a wonderful graphic novel full of heart. It’s a read where you’ll cheer the characters on, fall completely in love with them, pick them up when they fail, and give them all the encouragement to keep going. This is one beautiful story that deserves to be read, and reread. I can only hope more people love and give this book a chance, because it will warm your heart and shatter it at the same time.


A BIT ABOUT MY FAVOURITE PANEL:

Part of this blog tour required participants to choose a favourite panel in The Prince and the Dressmaker. One aspect I love about this graphic novel is the transformation of Sebastian’s family after they learn his secret. This panel shows his father embracing his inner sexy at Frances’ fashion show. It’s a wonderful scene because it shows the change of heart that Sebastian’s family goes through, and their desire (in their own way) to support the person he wishes to become.


Jen Wang is a cartoonist and illustrator currently living in Los Angeles. Her works have appeared in the Adventure Time comics and LA Magazine. She recently illustrated Tom Angleberger’s Fake Mustache.  Her graphic novels Koko Be Good and In Real Life (with author Cory Doctorow) were published by First Second. jenwang.net

Book Chat: KonMaring My TBR Shelves & Letting Go of Books

This was a long time coming, but I have reached the stage where I am frustrated by the amount of books I own. As my husband and I prepare to move and paint the house we are currently living in, we have been going through all of our stuff and trying to figure out what is staying and what is going. It’s been taxing, emotionally draining, but it needs to be done.

Going through my books has been an eye-opening experience. I am starting to see how much my reading tastes have changed and more over, how I have less of a desire to keep most of the books I own anymore. The reality I am facing is that I don’t do a lot of rereading, and I tend to simply keep books that have left an emotional impression on me or something I know I want to loan to friends. I used to be a huge fantasy reader, and as I’ve aged, I’ve become more of a contemporary reader now. I still love fantasy and I still read it, but it used to be 80% of what I would read for the longest time.

I used to feel this need to keep every book I received over the years, only to realize that it wasn’t viable. Space for books is always at capacity and sometimes finding space for more book shelves isn’t exactly an option. It also doesn’t help that my husband is as much a book hoarder as I am.

Story of our lives.

Frankly, I am realizing I have less desire to own books unless I like them. I’d rather get a book from the library I work at and if I truly love it after reading it, then at least I can go and buy a copy after the fact. The more I work for the library system I am in, the more I realize how much stuff we have and how accessible a lot of the stuff I want to read is. So I’ve been going through books I “kinda want to read” (the ones that still make me curious) and seeing if my work has them. If we do, I put it on my “For Later Shelf” and get rid of the physical copy, and if we don’t, I keep it in case that inkling is there.

Supporting the library has become more important to me as I’ve gotten older because circulation numbers matter and taking stuff out from the local library and showing the demand means a better chance for a budget increase, and frankly it just means that the books I am borrowing are “vacationing” at my house and are not staying with me indefinitely. When I teach books that way, I have less of a desire to hoard them and more of a desire to have less, which is my ultimate goal here.

Having a lot of stuff has become an exhausting thing. I want to just keep having less if I can keep at it. Once we move, I am going to take a picture of my Shelf of Shame for you all again to give you an idea of how much was purged/read. I’m excited to see if I’ll have actual space on shelves that will be less for TBR and more for other things. We shall see!

ARC Review – Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Title: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

Author: Kelly Robson

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted pass.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Walking around the Ontario Library Association Super Conference, I tend to pick up a lot of random titles. While I was stopping over at Raincoast, Kelly Robson was beginning to sign her latest, Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach. I had zero idea what it was about and I had to know what tis “lucky peach” was. I also didn’t realize that Kelly Robson was married to a sci-fi author I love, A.M Dellamonica.

This delightful piece of candy reading is about time travel, octopus, and an ecological crisis. Minh, our protagonist, is tasked with reclaiming humanity’s ancestral habitat, Earth. Earth is no longer as habitable as it once was, and her group of merry companions are the last hope in changing the world for the better. For such a short novel, I loved how it was written. It had a great pace, the characters were fairly entertaining given how little time is spent on each one. The story next felt confusing or bloated, and it moved at such a brisk pace.

I liked that there were two stories at work and I enjoyed how they both connected in the end. The story at the beginning of each chapter with the battle between gods and monsters was just so interesting, and part of me wishes we had that story on it’s own as well. The other half, Minh’s story is very technology focused, and Robson’s take on time travel is a lot of fun.

I am crazy glad I read this, and knowing that Robson has other short stories to check out as me very excited. There was a lot to love in this story given how short it was, and the journey to finding out “the lucky peach” was pretty fun in itself. I would highly recommend checking out this novella, especially if you like time travel stories, when it releases in March.

ARC Review – Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll

Title: Speak: The Graphic Novel

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: “Speak up for yourself-we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless–an outcast–because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. With powerful illustrations by Emily Carroll Speak: The Graphic Novel comes alive for new audiences and fans of the classic novel.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Speak is one of my all-time favourite young adult novels. It’s a book that has stuck with me for so many years, offering a raw and open look at what it means to be a victim of sexual assault and the challenges of speaking up. This graphic novel version by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll transplants this powerful story using a whole new medium.

This graphic novel version of Speak has such breathtaking artwork throughout, and I feel like Emily Carroll did an amazing job capturing Melinda’s story through her art, showcasing the torture and sadness in a way that readers will easily be able to relate to. I loved the way the art captures the sections where Melinda is working on her trees for Mr. Freeman’s class, or how demonic Andy Evans is portrayed in the artwork. The artistic layering is woven perfectly with the story, and you can feel the passion of both the writing and the art working together.

I also appreciate how well the story translated into a graphic novel. I loved how well condensed the story was from the original. The writing was constantly on point, never missing a beat, and for such a large graphic novel, it’s not bloated in any way. You can sense all of Melinda’s emotions, you feel her pain, and that is why Speak is still relevant years later.

If you’ve never read Speak before, I implore you to do it. Read the original, watch the movie, read this version. Speak is such an important story that has continued to stay relevant, and I love that this graphic novel exists, if only to add a new layer to this already powerful story. Definitely check this out.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Greatest Gift (Heartwood Hotel #2) by Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Title: The Greatest Gift (Heartwood Hotel #2)

Author: Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Mona the mouse has finally found a place to call home, the cozy Heartwood Hotel, where she works as a maid and sleeps snuggled up in a room with her best friend. Following the festive St. Slumber celebration, most of the guests have settled in to hibernate, and the staff is looking forward to a relaxing winter. But disruptions abound, from a difficult duchess to a mysterious midnight snacker. As the snow stacks higher, Mona will have to gather friends both old and new to keep the peace, finding help in some of the most unexpected places.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read Heartwood Hotel books one and two back to back. This sequel, The Greatest Gift is a much more gentle book compared to the first one. Mona has now found a place to call her own, and the true villain of this story is winter. I think we can all relate to that, at least here in Canada!

I think The Greatest Gift continues to show the strengths of the first book, focusing on themes of friendship and learning to rely on others for help. This book read so quickly, and compared to the first book I thought the story wasn’t as strong here. It’s enjoyable, but it also just felt like it ended too fast? I’m not sure.

This series is sweet, adorable, and fluffy. I am really happy I read this sequel just so I could read more about Mona and Tilly’s adventures. This continues to be a great middle grade series, and I hope more people will check them out.

Late to the Party ARC Review – A True Home (Heartwood Hotel #1) by Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Title: A True Home (Heartwood Hotel #1)

Author: Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Mona the Mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes they’ll let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But the Heartwood Hotel is not all acorn souffle and soft moss-lined beds. Danger lurks, and as it approaches, Mona finds that this hotel is more than a warm place to spend the night. It might also be a home.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Heartwood Hotel is such a cute series, and this first book was such a delight. Mona is such a sweet little heroine who starts out homeless and then stumbles open a beautiful hotel in the forest. I wanted to cuddle Mona throughout the story because she is so kind, but is full of determination. She’s a great role model character for younger readers. Each character is so charming, though! I LOVED bossy Tilly, though she somewhat reminded me of my own mother.

This first book is just so comfortable, warm and cozy. It’s the kind of book that you want to snuggle with a warm blanket and a hot drink. While there is some danger in the story, it’s nothing too frighting, but it teaches children about finding strength in unlikely situations and how friendship can help solve bigger problems.

I also want to praise the illustrations by Stephanie Graegin, which I feel accompany the story so beautifully. I loved having the pictures side-by-side with the text, and I can only imagine how beautiful the artwork looks in the finished edition. This first book is so charming, and it’s definitely one I will be recommending to younger readers when the opportunity arises.