About Jaclyn

I'm a total bookaholic! Fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, YA, science fiction, I read practically anything and everything. I also love talking about books, and chatting about books with people who love them as much as I do!

Review | You Have a Match, by Emma Lord

YouHaveAMatchCoverThe Parent Trap with fewer hijinks and more teen angst, You Have a Match is ultimately a sweet, feel-good book about sisterhood and friendship. When a mail-in DNA test reveals that avid photographer Abby Day and Instagram influencer Savvy Tully are sisters, both teens are understandably upset that their families have lied to them all their lives. Family photos reveal that Savvy’s mom used to be friends with Abby’s parents, and the girls decide to go to the same summer camp to get to know each other better and try to suss out the truth.

I love the relationship between Abby and Savvy, and the way their sisterly bond developed over the novel. Abby’s 17 and Savvy’s 18, which means both girls have almost two decades of trying (and failing) to live up to parental expectations to fuel a sibling rivalry. The novel is told through Abby’s perspective, so we get a strong sense of how much pressure she feels from her parents to improve her failing grades, and how little she feels they care about her photography. Her jealousy over Savvy — by all appearances the rule-abiding, academically inclined daughter her parents have always wanted — is relatable, and it isn’t until later in the book that we learn Savvy has her own insecurities about living up to her parents’ expectations for her.

One of my favourite passages is from when Abby realizes she no longer feels weird hearing Savvy refer to her as ‘sister’:

Maybe it’s hearing it like this, mid-rant with a tinge of annoyance, that finally makes it fit — she throws out the word sister like I throw out the word brother, with the carelessness of someone who’s allowed to be careless because they know that sister or brother isn’t going anywhere. [79%]

I love this, because it encapsulates so perfectly the secret ingredient that signifies the deepest relationship: the ability to be careless because you know the other person is always going to be there. What better way to sum up sisterhood?

The novel also has a couple of best friend / mutual pining type romances that were sweet, but not as prominent a feature of the story as I’d expected them to be. There was also a couple random attempts at love triangles that, to me, felt shoehorned in, and weren’t really necessary. And there’s a rather selfish act done by one of the side characters to their two best friends, which I thought should have been dealt with a bit more than it was. (We see this character apologize to one of the friends, and that friend accept the apology, but given what was done, I feel like bringing all three friends together to hash it out would have been more fitting, and a more meaningful apology.)

Beyond that, I love the characters of Leo and Mickey, who are both Filipino, and both avid chefs. Leo and his bio-sister Carla are adopted, and it’s Leo’s search for his birth family that sends Abby to doing the DNA test in the first place. Leo’s DNA test is a bust, but he manages to find family anyway with Mickey and her parents and cousins, which was just really sweet. I love how Leo and Mickey bond over food, and particularly Mickey’s skill at cooking Filipino dishes (her parents own a restaurant). There’s a fun scene where Mickey’s cousins teach Leo Tagalog and trick him into saying “eat shit” instead of “good morning”. It threw me off at first, because the Tagalog phrase used was a literal translation of “eat shit” instead of an actual Tagalog colloquialism. But on the other hand, I can also imagine kids doing it as a prank, since the joke isn’t to get Leo to actually curse but to say something silly.

I also love the Filipino food featured! Leo and Mickey cook up dishes like turon, pochero, and mechado, which I absolutely love, because these aren’t dishes I see often in North American media. The few times I’ve seen Filipino food onscreen or on the page, it’s typically lumpia or adobo, so the fact that Leo and Mickey make other dishes got me excited. That being said, Leo put crushed Hot Cheetos into the mechado, which okay, gives it a nice kick, and I appreciate that the author did put thought into the flavour and colour of the dish. But also: as big a fan I am of Leo himself, I’m less keen on his cooking. 🙂 

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Thank you to Raincoast Books for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Revenge of the Sluts, by Natalie Walton

RevengeOfTheSlutsCoverRevenge of the Sluts begins with an email sent to the entire student body at St Joseph’s High School: nude photos of seven girls in the graduating class, with a promise from the sender, the self-named Eros, that this email was only the beginning. School reporter Eden Jeong and her editor-in-chief Ronnie Greer decide to cover what students have begun to call ‘Nudegate’ in the school newspaper, and give the girls in the photos a chance to have their stories told. Except all the school administration wants to do is forget about the incident, and local laws say that unless any of the girls are under 18, having their nudes circulated against their will is not technically a crime. Cue the ‘Slut Squad’, the group formed by the girls in the photos to support each other and fight for justice even if the laws and their school won’t support them.

Despite the fraught subject matter and the slut-shaming the girls in the photos are subjected to, even from their own families, ultimately, I found Revenge of the Sluts to be a satisfying, sex-positive, feel-good novel. Revenge porn / Non-consensual pornography is a terrible crime that’s sadly become more common and easier to perpetrate with so much of our lives going digital. While this novel is fiction, I have no doubt that what Sloane, Alice, Claire, and the other members of the Slut Squad went through happens in real life high schools. And as horrified as I am by the book’s revelation that, in some states, this kind of act is technically legal unless the victim is a minor, I have no doubt that that’s true as well.

The author doesn’t shy away from the terrible effects the email had on these girls and their classmates (Eden learns about group chats among the boys in her school where nude photos of girl classmates are regularly exchanged, and she worries about nudes she’d sent her ex-boyfriend when they were still together). However, rather than focusing on the girls’ victimhood, the story highlights the girls’ heroism in fighting back, and the strength the girls find in banding together.

I loved Sloane and the Slut Squad, and the care the author took in showing the range of reactions among the girls, and the helpful therapist who offered resources for anyone who wanted to talk. I did cringe when one of the girls invited Eden to the first Slut Squad meeting, which I understand was necessary for the plot, but it still felt like a violation of the safe space Sloane had set up. Some of the Squad’s activities also felt a bit too rah rah — for example, I’m surprised Claire was okay with a particular gathering of the Squad that impacted something she worked hard on. I also wish we’d gotten more insight into how the girls’ families and loved ones responded to their activism, which, given the principal’s desperation to sweep things under the rug, I presume posed material risks to the girls’ graduation and college admission. But ultimately, the thought of these girls rising up together and reclaiming their stories felt too good to begrudge, and I was happy the Squad fought strong.

I also loved the insight into investigative journalism at a high school level. We see Eden and Ronnie deal with school bureaucracy, conscientious journalism practices, and the excitement of knowing you’re sharing important stories that need to be told. I also love that both Eden and Ronnie are BIPOC, and that this shared experience partly shapes their friendship. Ronnie is one of only four Black students at the school, and when she assigns the Nudegate story to Eden instead of writing it herself, because other students are turned off by her political activism, it’s easy to imagine that her Blackness played a role in her classmates’ discomfort as well. Eden is first-generation Korean-American, and I love the little details that show how her family stay connected to their Korean heritage. Even when it’s something as simple as her father cooking Korean food or her mother watching K-dramas with Eden, the author shows us how Eden actively uses these touchpoints to connect to her Koreanness.

The ending fell a bit flat for me, only because I was disappointed with the reveal of who Eros actually was. The perpetrator and their motivations seemed to counter, for me at least, the messages of strength and solidarity that I loved in so much of the story. The story’s strength, for me, was seeing how these girls from disparate social groups, and some of the guys in their social circles banded together and supported each other. I thought the story’s trajectory was hopeful in a fist-pumping, tear-down-unjust-systems kind of way, and while I admit Eros’ identity did make sense, I also felt like the reveal detracted from that hope a little bit.

Still, I found it an engaging book overall, and I love how some of the characters really came through for each other to fight the system and ensure that justice is done.

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Thank you to Raincoast Books for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Such a Quiet Place, by Megan Miranda

SuchAQuietPlaceCoverFourteen months ago, Ruby Fletcher was convicted for the murder of her neighbours Brandon and Fiona Truett. The evidence against her contained security cam footage and testimony from her neighbours, including her roommate Harper Nash. Now, Ruby’s conviction has been overturned, and she’s back at Harper’s house, claiming her innocence and vowing to uncover the real guilty party. 

From the blurb, I expected a page-turning domestic thriller. The title refers to the perceived peacefulness of the setting, a neighbourhood called Hollow’s Edge where the local homeowners’ association maintains a neighbourhood watch and enforces social mores. Such settings are always ripe for thrillers, since the genteel veneer often masks intra-community drama and simmering resentments.

On one hand, Such a Quiet Place does deliver such a thriller. There’s a sense of menace in Ruby’s return, with all the neighbours still convinced of her guilt and stressing over what kind of revenge she has planned. Harper, the narrator, also begins to receive mysterious, threatening notes, which threaten to reveal something she’s tried to keep secret. And about halfway through the novel, another death occurs, and new suspicions flare up. It’s a page turner, and Miranda is a skilled writer who keeps you guessing.

But mostly, to my surprise, I found the book sad. The truth behind the murders does hold menace, but the reasons actually turn out to be sadder and more ordinary than I anticipated. Beyond the central mystery around the murders, the novel delves into all the drama stirred up by the local homeowners’ association (HOA), led by neighbourhood queen bee Charlotte Brock. Still fully convinced of Ruby’s guilt, they decide she’s not welcome in the neighbourhood, snub her at the Fourth of July barbecue, and peer pressure Harper into evicting her from their home. Ruby is far from a likeable character — she does some shady things, and pretty much strong-arms her way back into Harper’s house — but I still felt bad for her with how much bullying she had to face from the HOA. 

Because the HOA drives so much of the action in the novel, the story feels not so much a thriller as pointed social commentary wrapped up in thrillerish elements. Through her characters, Miranda prompts us to reflect on what and who we consider our home and community, and how complicit we become in maintaining an exclusionary social order.

For example, the neighbours all participate in an online message board, but the message board is open only to homeowners, and not renters. At one point, Harper reflects that all the renters got out as soon as they could after the Truett murders destroyed the sense of safety in the neighbourhood, while homeowners had invested too much equity to be able to leave so easily. But, while the murders likely did play a part in it, I can’t help but wonder how many of those renters moved out simply because they were treated as second-class citizens.

Another telling example is the Fourth of July barbecue, where Charlotte decides only residents are allowed to come, because they’re the ones who pay the HOA fees that fund the event. She gets pushback from neighbours who want to bring guests, and eventually caves, but not before snarking that with guests allowed, there may not be enough food to go around. 

While Charlotte is the queen bee, all the neighbours are in some form or other complicit in the toxicity that sets them apart from ‘outsiders’. Miranda does a great job with Harper’s perspective on this, as the author manages to convey how much the HOA fosters a sense of belonging and close-knit friendships in the community while still exerting subtle pressure on residents to abide by their social norms, or else be outsiders in their own homes. 

By the end of the novel, I realized how terrifying the story was in its mundaneness. We often see thrillers with taglines like “it can happen anywhere”, and with this book, Miranda succeeds in crafting just such a thriller, and in challenging us to consider how we engage with where we live.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.