Review | 84K, Claire North

3551197584K has an interesting concept, and one that will certainly resonate with a lot of readers. Unfortunately, the execution fell short for me. I gave it a month and several attempts because it was an ARC for review, but then ultimately decided it wasn’t for me at all. I found the shifts in timelines to be confusing, and I found myself quickly irritated by the coyness around the main character’s true identity. His name is Theo, but he wasn’t born Theo. He actually took on his college friend’s identity at some point for some reason I never bothered to find out, but what irritated me was how all this character was so often referred to as ‘the man who wasn’t born Theo.’ We get it; just assign him a name already and be done with it. I DNF’d (did not finish) at page 92 out of 480 — to be fair, this is around the time the action started picking up, but I realized I no longer wanted to read further.

That being said, I also realize other readers may likely enjoy it more than I did. It’s very high concept dystopian / social satire / speculative fiction, and certainly tackles very relevant issues. In the world of 84K, crimes literally come with a price tag. If you’re rich enough to afford the fine ($84,000 for murder), you can literally get away with murder. North drives this point home with chilling precision when an assassin-for-hire calmly calls 911 to confess to a murder, and waits for the police to pick them up because they know their employer will pay the fine. Conversely, if you’re too poor to pay the fine, you could get a heavy sentence for shoplifting.

Theo works at an agency that processes the fines for crimes. I thought this was compelling — I can see how soul draining such a job can be, and there was a strong passage where Theo had to process the payment for a murder while at the same time process the sentencing of a woman convicted of shoplifting something petty from a store. North often depicts Theo’s workday in terms of costs, listing the amounts for the various types of crimes, and while this felt tedious to me at times (possibly part of North’s point?), it’s also a chilling reminder of how dispassionately crimes are viewed in this world.

The story picks up when a woman is murdered and leaves behind a daughter she claims is Theo’s. The daughter is lost somewhere in the foster care system — similar to North’s rather pointed take on the justice system, the foster care system in 84K is similarly hellish. Foster children can be used by parents to make profit, mostly by selling off their services for entertainment purposes. This is what happens to this daughter, and part of why the mother, before she was killed, was so invested in trying to find and rescue her.

Conceptually, it’s very compelling, and I think readers who enjoy more cerebral speculative fiction may enjoy it. It just really wasn’t for me.


Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Tin Man, Sarah Winman

TinManTin Man is, quite simply, a beautiful book. The story, about a friendship between two boys that blossomed into a form of unfulfilled love as they grew older, has a lovely, languid feel. It reminds me of Call Me By Your Name and other Merchant Ivory type films — where deep emotions are subtext barely glimpsed beneath a serene veneer.

Winman’s writing is quiet and deceptively restrained. There are moments throughout with the tone of a whisper and the emotional charge of a shout: Dora’s painting that kicks off the entire story, Ellis being forced to punch his father’s hands and join the car company, Michael dealing with his partner having AIDS, and so on.

I absolutely love the imagery of van Gogh’s sunflowers, and the copy that Dora won at an auction. In my absolute favourite passage, Ellis contemplates the contrast between the painting and its creator:

The original was painted by one of the loneliest men on earth. But painted in a frenzy of optimism and gratitude and hope. A celebration of the transcendent power of the color yellow. [p. 89]

The physical book as well is a thing of beauty, and a definite collector’s item. The sunflowers on the cover are streaked with goldleaf that makes the cover glimmer in the light. Strokes of gold literally gleam on the page, and create a feeling of transcendence.

The beginning (Dora’s painting) and the end (Michael’s section) were the strongest parts of the book for me. The middle confused me a bit, with the shifts in timelines and the fairly large cast of characters.

But overall, this is a beautiful, and beautifully written, book. It’s a great gift for a book lover, and a lovely story to lose yourself in on holiday.


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

Review | It Takes Two, Jenny Holiday

36551306When Noah Denning stands her up on prom night, Wendy Liu decides to transform herself from shy wallflower to total badass. She also decides to avoid Noah at all costs — not too difficult when he moved to New York to become a public prosecutor. But when Jane, Noah’s younger sister and Wendy’s best friend, gets married, Wendy has to deal with being around Noah again. Worse, even after seventeen years apart, even with her kickass career as a high-powered Toronto attorney and her determination to stay romantically unattached, Wendy realizes that her childhood crush never really went away, and that her feelings for Noah are stronger than ever.

There are so many things I love about this novel. First, I have a soft spot for any romance with an Asian heroine, and I have an even softer spot for short Asian heroines who don’t always wear towering heels. (At one point, Noah notes that their bodies don’t quite mesh perfectly by book and movie standards — rather than her chest meeting his chest, her chest met his sternum, which I found cute and relatable.)

I also love that both Noah and Wendy are super successful lawyers, and that a lot of their sexy banter comes from discussing court cases. There’s a great scene where someone asks Wendy how she can be a defence lawyer and sleep at night, and Noah jumps to her defence by pointing out how, as a prosecuting attorney, he’s grateful whenever a defence attorney reveals a crucial piece of evidence that proves the client’s innocence and prevents Noah from inadvertently sending an innocent person to jail. Along with their obvious physical attraction to each other, they also very clearly respect each other’s intelligence, and I love that about their story.

Finally, I love how their relationship makes them confront their own personal issues — Wendy’s fear of being left alone, and Noah’s inability to let go of his role of responsibility within his family. While the romance was nice, the parts that really made the book for me were Noah’s relationship with Jane and Wendy’s relationship with Jane, Gia and Elise. I love the scene where Wendy confesses her misgivings about Jane’s fiance Cameron, and her further confession that her feelings had little to do with Cameron himself and more to do with her own fears of how Cameron may take over her spot in Jane’s life. I also love the banter between Jane and Noah, and I especially love the emotional scene later on when she tells him something she’d never shared before about her own feelings over their father’s death, and Noah realizes he hadn’t been as responsive to his sister’s needs as he thought he’d been.

The one snag for me is partly due to how strong these secondary relationships were in the story, and how I sometimes felt Wendy and Noah’s feelings for each other were getting in the way of these other relationships. A huge part of their romance is their intense rivalry — Wendy offers to pay for pre-wedding drinks and Noah insists on being the one to pay; Noah and Wendy fight over who gets to pay for Jane’s dress; Noah and Wendy make a bet about who throws the best bachelor/ette party. It was likely meant to be cute, but so many times, I wanted to tell both of them to grow up, stop bickering, and think about Jane for once. The bachelor/ette party weekend was particularly annoying, as they executed plans based on their rivalry more than based on what Jane and Cameron actually want. At one point, Noah’s jealousy over a stripper has him sabotaging Wendy’s plans in a horribly awkward way, and good on Jane for calling him out. Holiday does a great job of contextualizing their actions, so I understand why they acted the way they did, but it was still annoying.

Overall though, I did enjoy this story. Wendy and Noah have great chemistry, and I love how Holiday shows the progression of their feelings for each other — and their realization of these feelings. I also loved the scenes involving fake New York backdrops and Pez dispensers — gestures that were (to be honest) cheesy and over-the-top actually meant something to this couple. They contained inside jokes and childhood icons, and so scenes that could’ve just been silly and fun balls of cheese were actually full of heart, and showed why this couple was so perfectly right for each other. It’s a fun and fantastic story, and I loved it.


Thank you to Forever Romance for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.