Review | If the Dress Fits, Carla de Guzman

32328505If the Dress Fits is a fun, body positive romance and a delight to read. I love the realism of Martha’s complex relationship with her body. I like that she is fat, and not just ‘pleasantly plump’ or ‘curvy’, how she is happy about her weight but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t sometimes lie in bed and wish she was big like a plus-size model, whose curves always end up in the right places.

The sweet, bookish, animal-loving hero Max is just perfect. He’s a veterinarian, which made my animal loving cat mom heart go into a full-on swoon. He never goes anywhere without a book, he has a dog, and he even helped a giraffe give birth. How much do I love the sex scenes where Max worships her body kinda like Joe Manganiello does in that scene from Magic Mike XXL! (Okay, maybe it doesn’t quite happen exactly like that and my fantasies may have blurred together somewhat… 😉 ) While the sex scenes were hot, they also felt realistic. I like that Martha braces herself on her elbows and worries about collapsing her full weight on Max, and I absolutely LOVE how smoothly Max shifts their positions while still keeping their rhythm going.

I have all empathy as well for Martha’s long-ago crush on theatre guy Enzo, because who doesn’t love a theatre guy? Seriously, part of why I loved reading this book so much is that Martha has exactly the same taste in guys I do.

My main gripe is with the ending. After such a deliciously slow burn building up the relationship, the last 10% or so rushes through a series of plot points just to wrap things up. In contrast to the emotional complexity of Martha’s relationship with her body, there are a lot of emotional issues woven into her relationship with Max that were never quite given the space to resolve organically. A romantic rival for Max’s affections appears, disappears and reappears seemingly at random throughout the story, and while this did add tension in the beginning, a reappearance near the end was just confusing, as it did nothing to the plot.

A particularly frustrating scene near the end involved the discovery of an object, but its significance was barely even unpacked. As with the romantic rival, I just didn’t see the point of this plot device, and wish that the ending had been allowed to unfold with the same slow burn as the rest of the book. When a romance pulses with as much real emotion as Max and Martha’s, quick fix endings just don’t work.

There are other minor plot points as well that are brought up, but barely developed before being resolved somehow (e.g. the tensions in Regina and Enzo’s relationship, the emotional fallout of Tita Flora’s news for the whole Aguas clan).

Despite my frustrations with the ending and some of the minor plot points, I absolutely enjoyed If the Dress Fits. I’m always on the lookout for contemporary Filipino fiction, and am thrilled to have discovered this one. I love the build up of Max and Martha’s relationship, and would love to read more of their story.

Giveaway | The Sinner on Showcase

TheSinner_S1_Vert_Tag_TT_Credits_KeyArt

Based on the international bestselling novel of the same name, The Sinner follows a young mother (Jessica Biel) who, when overcome by an inexplicable fit of rage, commits a startling act of violence and to her horror has no idea why. The event launches an inverted and utterly surprising crime thriller whose driving force is not the “who” or the “what” – but the “why.” An investigator (Bill Pullman) finds himself obsessed with uncovering the woman’s buried motive. Together, they travel a harrowing journey into the depths of her psyche and the violent secrets hidden in her past.

The eight-episode crime thriller premieres Monday, August 21 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Showcase in Canada. To watch the trailer, please click here.

I love the trailer — I think Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman are fantastic in it and I can just imagine how masterfully they’ll bring this grip lit psychological thriller to life. As a fan of mysteries, I’m also intrigued by the whydunnit element of the story and the comparison of the author on Goodreads to ‘Germany’s Patricia Highsmith.’

Giveaway (Canada only)

IMG_2525

Read the book that inspired the show! Thanks to Showcase, I’m giving away a prize pack to my Canadian readers that includes:

  • A copy of The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr
  • Showcase tote bag and swag

Three ways to win:

One (1) winner will be chosen from all three platforms.

Contest ends at midnight on August 21.

+

Thank you to Showcase for the opportunity to host this giveaway!

Review | Fierce Kingdom, Gin Phillips

33155777Fierce Kingdom has a tense premise — gun men take over the zoo right before closing time — but most of the execution was less nail-biting thriller and more a depiction of how fiercely a mother would protect her son. It’s not that the danger didn’t exist but that the focus was more on how Joan kept Lincoln safe as they hid from the bad guys.

I love that the question of how far a mother would go to protect her son wasn’t just the usual one of how much she’s willing to sacrifice herself but also how far she’s willing to suppress her own humanity and instinct for kindness. Joan makes some tough decisions to protect Lincoln (a particularly damning one involves a baby), but we can understand why. At one point she thinks that to protect her son, she’d ‘splatter brains’, and many readers can likely think of a loved one they’d go to that extent for.

I’m also glad that Joan’s devotion to her son is tinged by a touch of resentment at having to protect him. Often, she thinks of how much easier it would be for her to escape/stay safe without a 40 lb 4 year old at her hip demanding food and toys, and I like how realistic and human this feels. She isn’t just a heroic mom who does super heroic feats, but rather also a woman who wants to survive herself.

The secondary characters Mrs Powell and Kailynn added texture to the novel. I wish we’d learned more of their back stories and spent more time with them as they’re at least as interesting if not more so as Joan and her son. More importantly though, it’s Joan and Lincoln encountering them that makes the pace pick up considerably in the latter half. As the bad guys’ plan nears its completion and things like Mrs Powell’s age and Kailynn’s nervous chatter heighten the danger for Joan and Lincoln, the book becomes more like a traditional nail-biter and difficult to put down.

+

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Shade, the Changing Girl, Vol. 1, Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone

33233008In Shade, the Changing Girl, an alien takes over the body of a high school bully in a coma and learns how utterly despised this girl is. It’s part of DC’s Young Animal series, which gives a fresh take on classic DC characters.

The best part of this book is the artwork. Marley Zarcone’s psychedelic panels are absolutely beautiful and create the impression of a feverish dream. The story itself feels a bit thin and unnecessarily complicated, but the artwork alone is worth obtaining a copy of this book.

The story started off really confusing. An bird alien named Loma who idolizes a poet named Rac Shade puts on his colourful cloak, and it somehow allows her to possess the body of a young girl, but also will eventually cause her to go mad. Bad guys on her home planet want the coat back and so capture her best friend (who is secretly in love with her) to track her down. The story is based on a character called Shade, the Changing Man, and likely readers who are familiar with his story would appreciate the references a lot more. I was just confused, and it took me a while to figure out what was happening. For example, the cloak makes its wearers go mad, and both the bad guys and Loma’s best friend are very concerned about its impact on her sanity, but I can’t quite figure out how long it’ll take for her to be mad, or if the way she acts in Megan’s body is already symptomatic of her madness.

The heart of the story lies in the human elements. Loma inhabits the body of a girl named Megan, who was the bitchy head of a high school clique. Megan’s classmates react mostly in dismay that she seems to have recovered from her coma, and Loma-as-Megan needs to figure out how to navigate this world being so utterly despised. In that way, the story is a wonderful metaphor of high school — how does it feel to realize how unpopular you really are?

A lot of high school stories that deal with being unpopular drive a sharp divide between the popular and the unpopular girls, so it’s a bit of a karmic twist to have someone who started as a powerful figure suddenly have to come face-to-face with the consequences of her actions. If the story had been about Megan coming to terms with this reality, it would have been an absolutely emotional, heart-wrenching tale. Unfortunately, this story makes it clear that Megan’s spirit experiences no remorse for her actions nor growth from her experiences, and it’s only Loma’s alien possession that accounts for her apparent change of heart. I figure Megan’s spirit is kept evil because it’s Loma who’s the heroine of this series, but I couldn’t help thinking that Megan deserved her body back, even if it meant she’d end up dead. The story does somewhat address this moral ambiguity, with Megan basically saying it’s her right to inhabit her body for better or worse, but it’s done only in passing and I hope future volumes delve deeper into that.

+

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Marriage of a Thousand Lies, S.J. Sindu

32077959Marriage of a Thousand Lies is a moving, beautifully written story about family and love, and the difficult choices we must make to honour both. The narrator, Lucky, is gay, as is her husband Krishna. Theirs is a marriage of convenience, appeasing their families’ marital aspirations for their children while allowing both the freedom to continue enjoying same-sex relationships on the side.

Lucky is forced to reexamine her life when she learns that Nisha, her childhood best friend and first lover, has announced her engagement. Family expectations forced them to break up when they were younger, but now that they’re adults, Lucky feels compelled to save both Nisha and herself from loveless marriages and pursue their own happy ending. But does Nisha even want to be saved?

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is a beautifully written book that just draws you into Lucky’s life and immerses you in her world. More than the love Lucky feels for Nisha, it’s the love she feels for her family that reverberates from the page, as well as the painful tension between what Lucky wants and what her duty to her family dictates. I absolutely love the nuances in the relationships between the characters; Sindu’s writing makes Lucky feel real, and we want her to find happiness.

I also love the character of Lucky’s husband Krishnu. While Lucky scoffs at her grandmother’s desire for them to have a baby, Krishnu admits it’s something he’s been considering. Unlike Lucky, who’s longing to free herself from the constraints of tradition, Krishnu is perfectly happy with their arrangement, and values the stability afforded by the facade of their marriage as much as he does the freedom to go out partying with other men. There’s also a very real power dynamic in play here, as his residency in the US is dependent on his marriage to Lucky, and so his desire to remain married to Lucky is also in part a desire to remain in America.

The book presents no easy answers, but rather gives us family and tradition and love in all its glorious messiness. It’s a fantastic debut, and with so many contemporary LGBTQ books with diverse characters on my radar being YA, this adult novel about a lesbian of Sri Lankan descent is a much welcome addition to my shelves.

+

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy

32388712It seems almost blasphemous to admit I didn’t like Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. I absolutely adored her earlier novel The God of Small Things when I read it for university years ago, and I was looking forward to reading the story that compelled her return to fiction after twenty years.

In many ways, Ministry of Utmost Happiness feels like an important novel — it spans multiple generations and touches on some significant points of India’s past. There are parts where freedom fighters are imprisoned by a corrupt government and must negotiate their way back to freedom, and I found these chapters particularly strong. These chapters reminded me a bit of Martial Law novels from the Philippines, and I can only imagine how much more impactful they would have been on me if I were more familiar with India’s history. This also happens to be one of several subplots in the novel, all of which depict individual lives within the context of a broader socio-cultural milieu.

Roy is a tremendously talented writer and her language throughout the novel is simply beautiful. Even at sections where my attention flagged, I had to appreciate the cadence of her prose.

Despite all that, I found the book a struggle to read. The review on the blog Sukasa Reads notes that “the onus is on the reader to care but it’s akin to wading through the flora and fauna of a wild jungle without a machete,” and I think that encapsulates much of the problem I had in reading this book. It just felt heavy throughout, likely deliberately so given the significance of the subjects Roy covers, and to Roy’s credit, the novel feels important without feeling self-important. But it is a slog to get through.

There’s a quote on the back cover of the book:

How to tell a shattered story?

By slowly becoming everybody.

No.

By slowly becoming everything.

That’s what the story feels like. The interactions and scenes with the characters all feel momentous, and likely other readers may care enough to pick through the threads and find a wealth of insight beyond the surface. I tried, but there was just so much going on and so many disparate pieces of plot that didn’t quite seem to connect that it just ended up not feeling worth the effort.

There are some lovely moments throughout. I love the character of Saddam, how he was blinded by the glare of the sun’s reflection all because his boss made him work long hours and wouldn’t allow him to wear sunglasses at work nor look away. I love that he chose his name because he admired and was inspired by Saddam Hussein’s dignified pride at his own execution without knowing, or really caring much about, the broader circumstances that led to this execution. I love the activism of Tilo and how her romantic history influenced her political life. I liked the scene of groups of protestors convening at a single plaza, and the idea of someone being hired to ensure people pay the fee to use the single toilet.

I don’t quite understand the story of the two babies nor the story of Anjum, and there were parts I ended up just skimming over, so there are likely large chunks of the story I don’t understand. I also don’t quite know how everything intersects.

I’m glad I finished the book because my favourite parts involving Tilo’s story are near the end, but it was a struggle to get through. There may be readers who’ll find themselves caught up in the language, and able to parse through the various threads to find the brilliance of what Roy is trying to say. Then there are readers like me for whom it just ends up not worth the effort.

+

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Lying Game, Ruth Ware

32895291The least Agatha Christie-ish of Ruth Ware’s books, The Lying Game is an entertaining psychological thriller about the secrets from the past coming back to haunt us. The Lying Game isn’t quite as tense as In A Dark, Dark Wood, nor as gripping as The Woman in Cabin 10; rather it touches on a more subtle emotional tension.  It all begins with a text message, stating simply “I need you,” that brings together old friends Isa, Kate, Thea and Fatima back to the town of Salten, where they all attended boarding school almost 20 years ago.

I’m a sucker for boarding school stories, and I love the strong bond between the characters even after so many years apart, which reminds me a lot of the friendships I formed back in high school. The title comes from a game the girls played in school, where they gave each other points for making people outside their circle believe the most outrageous lies. It’s a silly game that backfires, and when the girls are expelled in their final year of school, the reputation they’ve built through the game comes back to haunt them.

The reason behind the expulsion is teased throughout the story, as are the circumstances behind the mysterious death of Kate’s father, who also happens to be the school’s art teacher. Something the women did while they were in school is now under threat of being exposed, and puts the lives they’ve since built at risk. There are a lot of Ware’s signature twists and turns. I found that the big reveal wasn’t as hard to figure out as in her previous novels, but it was still a fun ride.

I also liked a lot of the characters, and seeing how whatever happened in school impacted all of them. Group leader Thea turned to alcohol for comfort, and her vibrancy as a teen turned into an almost bitter desperation in adulthood. Fatima became a doctor and started a family, but as Thea rightly points out, there’s a rigidity to Fatima’s perspective now, a loss of the innocent fun she had as a girl. Kate was the only one in the group to remain in Salten after the expulsion, and her decision to stay in a town where everyone knew and gossiped about her history reveals the depth of her story far beyond what even her friends know.

My big frustration was with the main character Isa. First, she has a super sweet and supportive husband in Owen. He is curious and interested without being pushy and I often wanted to give Isa a stern talking-to and demand she just tell him the truth already. Even if she can’t reveal her friends’ secret, she could at least give him some innocuous details about her visit to Salten without being super defensive every time he brings up the subject. At one point, she receives flowers from Kate’s brother, and when Owen asks who they were from, Isa clams up and gets angry, when it would have been so simple to just say the truth: that Kate’s brother was apologizing for something he did over the weekend.

Worse, Isa constantly puts herself and her baby in danger, and not just because she is forced by circumstances, but because she makes illogical decisions. For example, in one scene, she is with her baby about to take a train out of Salten when she learns something major and potentially dangerous. Instead of taking the train back to safety and regrouping from there, she decides to go stay in Salten and confront the very source of the potential danger. It’s like those characters in horror movies who see a scary house and decide to enter and everyone watching is screaming at them to leave, except in this case, the character has already escaped the house and left the neighbourhood and is deciding to go back. It makes sense for the story, because it eventually led to the big climax, but it was a seriously stupid decision, especially since she had her baby with her.

Overall, it was a fun read, and I look forward to Ware’s next book.

+

Thank you to Simon Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.