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 | The Good Luck Girls, Charlotte Nicole Davis

36381842Aster is a Good Luck Girl, one of many sold by her family to a “welcome house” to earn her keep by having sex with men from the time she turns 16. On her younger sister Clementine’s 16th birthday, Clementine accidentally kills the man who’d purchased her services for the night and turns to Aster for help. Along with their friends Tansy and Mallow, and the welcome house’s best Good Luck Girl Violet, Aster and Clementine go on the run. They are pursued by the family of the man Clementine has killed and by men with powers similar to the dementors from Harry Potter. They are also in pursuit of the Lady Ghost, a figure out of children’s bedtime stories who allegedly has the power to remove the magical tattoos that mark them as Good Luck Girls.

The Good Luck Girls is a fast-paced and thrilling western. I love the focus on the girls’ friendships and I love the fierceness of Aster’s love and protectiveness towards her younger sister. I like that the book talks about the power imbalance between genders (girls are valued for their sexuality and men clearly hold much of the power in the society) and class (it’s mostly girls from poor families who are sold to welcome houses, and the lack of money becomes a major plot point in the girls’ escape). I also like that the book talks a bit about how drug addiction can be used by those in power to maintain their position — the Good Luck Girls are given a dose of a drug called Sweet Thistle every night. I thought Violet’s withdrawal could have been handled more realistically, such that it affected her more throughout the story, but overall, I like that the book tackled it at all, and showed how much it affected Violet to miss her daily dose.

Aster and Violet were the main characters, and I loved how complex their personalities were and how much they complemented each other. Along with Aster and Clementine’s sister bond, I also love Violet’s back story, and how the girl whom Aster had always thought of as spoiled and snobby actually turns out to be a lot more vulnerable and in a lot more pain than Aster realized. I do wish that Tansy and Mallow’s characters were fleshed out a bit more, and I hope we get that chance later in the series.

The story talks about a lot of heavy subjects, but it’s told in a fast-paced western / action-adventure style that’s a lot of fun to read. It was awesome seeing the girls kick ass throughout their journey, and I love that so much of their adventures had to do with overturning the power dynamic. For example, when they needed to steal money, they focused on stealing from the rich men they often saw at the welcome house, and Aster often reflected on how it good it feels to see the welcome house clients tasting the fear that the Good Luck Girls had to deal with every night.

The novel ended on a note that’s both hopeful and empowering, yet with a major plot point still unresolved that could potentially end badly. It’s a great set up for a sequel, and I’d be interested to see where Davis takes this series next.

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

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.