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 | Design Your Next Chapter, Debbie Travis

DesignYourNextChapterBookCoverDesign Your Next Chapter includes some nice, inspiring stories about women who pursued their dreams (their “next chapter”), some nice advice about pursuing your own.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t connect at all to this book, and while her advice was mostly unobjectionable, the disconnect between the book’s apparent intended audience and my own life circumstances left me just dreaming of a Tuscan vacation.

Travis’ message is inspiring and inoffensive enough: pursue your dreams, even when it scares you. To Travis’ credit, she also admits it’s not easy, and gives some good advice on being practical about it, e.g. keeping your day job if you can’t afford to live without a steady income, putting together a solid business plan to get a bank to loan you money for your passion project, deferring/modifying your dream if you need to care for a sick spouse, etc. But for the most part, the examples she gives are those of women whose experiences were similar to her own: middle / upper middle class women who’ve built successful careers, achieved financial stability, and raised children to adulthood, and are now feeling empty and wondering what else there is to life.

In Travis’ case, after years of career success with decorating shows, she falls in love with Frances Mayes’ writing and dreams of opening her own Tuscan villa. So she and her husband combine savings, take out a loan and now operate a women’s retreat in Tuscany. Good for her, and to be honest, her Tuscan retreat sounds like a fun time. The thing is, many of her stories about other women came from women she met at her retreat, which means these are often women who can already afford a Tuscany retreat in the first place. Often, they have a strong support system in place — a supportive spouse, a healthy savings account, money already saved for a large purchase like a house, a large and supportive community of friends, and so on.

I don’t mean to minimize Travis’ accomplishments, nor the accomplishments of the women whose stories she told. Regardless of your life situation, it does take courage to pursue your passion and embark on a “next chapter.” But such a life situation feels so far out of the realm of my own possibilities that I couldn’t quite get inspired.

Again, to Travis’ credit, she acknowledges finances can be a barrier. But she also often glosses over these barriers. She may say that having no savings can be a detriment, but then immediately follows up with how it shouldn’t be a deterrent because it’s a solveable problem. You just need to beg, borrow or barter with your friends, or create a business plan to take to the bank. And fair, you can certainly do that, but because Travis glosses over these barriers so smoothly, I wonder how much of a consideration they actually are / were in how she envisioned this book. It almost felt like an afterthought, a pro forma acknowledgement that there are some legitimate difficulties to pursuing one’s dreams, which is immediately followed up by a fairly simplistic solution. The result is that the book felt like a very Pollyanna — and yes, privileged — approach to pursuing one’s dreams.

The other reason I found it hard to connect with the book is that many of the examples Travis uses involves starting an entrepreneurial business, which isn’t and has never been something that interests me. I wish she’d included examples of people who pursued next chapters that didn’t have to do with going freelance or starting a business.

Overall, the book isn’t bad; it just didn’t resonate at all with me.

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

Review | SLAY, Brittney Morris

Slay-coverSLAY is such a powerful book. It’s about a teenage girl Kiera who develops an online game that celebrates Black culture and becomes a safe space for Black gamers around the world. Until a teen gets killed over the game. SLAY hits mainstream media, and is immediately labeled a racist, violent, exclusionary space for thugs and gang members. And an anonymous troll infiltrates the game and threatens to sue Kiera for discrimination.

I love Kiera and her co-developer and game moderator Cicada. I love that the Black culture references within Slay are international and not just American (e.g. Fufu – look it up). I love that the game is played by such a broad diversity of people from around the world (e.g. Cicada is French). I love how the author gives some of these players a chapter of their own to really show the incredibly varied impacts this game had on their lives (e.g. a trans teen still in the closet, a man in Hong Kong constantly being asked for selfies, the children of a political commentator).

I also love that within Kiera’s family and friends, the author shows a broad range of experiences with Black culture, from Kiera’s super political sister, to Kiera’s boyfriend with his super rigid views on being the “right” kind of Black person, to Kiera’s well-meaning but at-times cringey best friend (who asks Kiera if she’s allowed as a white person to get dreadlocks), to the best friend’s definitely cringey and feeling-woke-but-really-racist brother (who straight up harasses Kiera for her opinion on the dreadlocks question).

The book tackles some heavy issues (e.g. a boy is killed over the game, Kiera and her sister Steph have a conversation about police brutality), but the overall feel is one of hope and joy. Partly that’s because Kiera, Cicada and Steph are just incredibly kickass young women. And partly because each scene that takes us into the world of the game Slay is a straight-up celebration of Black culture. There’s an almost overwhelming joy in how the players approach the game, and in how they inhabit the space that Slay provides, that this feeling positively spills over from the page. So when a troll infiltrates the game and threatens everything Kiera and Cicada have worked so hard to built, I found myself furious at the possibility, and cheering with all my heart for the troll to be vanquished. No spoilers, but there’s a scene when players from around the world all shared a bit of their reality within the virtual world of the game, and it just pulled hard at my heartstrings.

There’s a section where Kiera reflects on how all the references to Black experiences within the game Slay (e.g. a card called “McDonald’s money”) won’t mean as much to non-Black people. They may learn the abilities / powers of each game card, but the nuance and significance of what the cards represent will be over their heads. I get that. And all I can say is, this book was incredibly powerful to me, an Asian-Canadian woman.

I can only imagine how much more this book will resonate with Black readers, and especially teen girls who can see themselves in Kiera’s shoes.

Read it.

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Thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Grace Year, Kim Liggett

43263520._SY475_Just when I thought I’ve already read any YA dystopia formula there could ever be, comes a book that just blows me away. The Grace Year is Handmaid’s Tale meets Hunger Games meets Mean Girls with a touch of Twilight, and it all comes together in a breathtaking way.

I love the touch of mysticism mixed in with hard reality. And I especially love the little touches of impending rebellion, signified by a flower, that lead to a wonderfully thrilling reveal about the usurper’s identity, and to an absolutely heartwarming revelation at the end. While most YA dystopias focus on the revolution, The Grace Year explores how the seeds for revolution are planted in the first place, and is all the stronger and more powerful for it.

The novel is about a tomboy named Tierney, who just turned 16 and is about to enter her grace year. Along with other 16 year old girls in her village, Tierney is off to live in the woods for a year, in order to ‘purify’ herself of all the magical powers in her system. The girls who return from their grace year are haunted by their experience, and some girls never return at all. And before they leave, the boys and men in their village decide each girl’s fate when they return — some will be selected for marriage, and the remainder will spend the rest of their lives doing hard labour.

The social commentary in this novel is not at all subtle, but I love how Liggett manages to weave in fairy tale elements with some horrific and downright criminal explanations. The girls are clearly victim to the larger forces of the society they live in, yet when separated from their home, some of them turn on others with the ferocity of people who know all too well how fleeting this taste of power will be. It’s both cruel and tragic, and even though queen bee mean girl Kiersten definitely goes far over the line in her quest for dominance, I still found myself feeling for her as the story unfolds.

Probably my favourite part of this book were the glimpses we got into the outskirts, where girls have been banished and a somewhat impoverished but free community has developed. I love how the rebel leader’s identity was revealed, and how it tied into the entire story overall.

There’s an unlikely romance as well, between Tierney and a hunter named Ryker. It was a Twilight-like predator and prey pairing that was sweet in some ways but also didn’t fully sit right with me. Partly, it’s because I prefer Michael, Tierney’s best friend who’s waiting for her back in the village, and by the end of the book, he does something that made me love him even more. But also partly because while the novel provides context for Ryker’s situation in a way that somehow makes us understand why he and others like him are hunting girls in their grace year, what the hunters do to the girls is just disturbing, and whatever Ryker’s situation, I couldn’t quite cheer him on. So I’m not sure how I feel about how this particular subplot turns out, but I do like how things are all tied together in the end.

Overall, The Grace Year is a thrilling and feminist dystopian. Its social commentary is fairly obvious, but its form of rebellion is surprisingly subtle. It ends not with a happy resolution, but rather with the promise of one, and one that won’t come till long after the story ends. Paradoxically, this offers an ending that in today’s world feels both more realistic and more hopeful at the same time. It acknowledges that evil doesn’t always live in particular despots, but rather in social systems that will take generations to overturn. And even if we don’t get to witness this overturning ourselves, we can at least be assured that it will come someday, and that we played a small but integral part in making it happen.

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Thank you to Raincoast Books for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.