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 | Twice in a Blue Moon, Christina Lauren

TwiceInABlueMoonI absolutely love stories that take the reader behind the scenes on the making of a movie or TV show, so the second-chance romance Twice in a Blue Moon definitely hooked me in. It’s about an actress, Tate Jones, whose big career break happens to be a starring role in a movie written by Sam Brandis, the man who’d broken her heart fourteen years ago when she was eighteen.

I loved the relationship between Tate and Sam, and how the authors managed to make Sam do something that’s both utterly unforgiveable yet also completely understandable. As Sam says at one point, the worst thing he ever did was for the best reason he ever had. While that kind of statement often strikes me as a pathetic excuse, this is one situation where it’s actually true. Up until Sam and Tate meet again, I honestly thought that the incident that broke them up years ago would turn out to be a big misunderstanding, because I couldn’t imagine how Tate would be able to trust Sam again after such a major betrayal. I’m glad the authors decided to keep Sam truly responsible for that betrayal, because it made for a much richer, more emotionally complex romance.

There’s a point where Tate states that she hates what Sam did to her in the past because it completely changed the trajectory of her life and made it impossible for her to trust anyone again, Yet, she also admits in frustration that after knowing why he did it, she can’t completely hate him anymore. I absolutely love this emotional tension within her, because it feels so true, and it really puts up a somewhat insurmountable-but-maybe-not hurdle that the hero and heroine have to make a conscious decision to move past in order to achieve their happily ever after.

There’s also a subplot about Tate’s father, who’s both a total asshole and a sad little man struggling to remain relevant. I hated him as much as I loved the role his character played, because he gave both Tate and Sam a common villain to band against. He belittled Tate’s talents in such a passive-aggressive manner that it took a while to realize why something he said was actually an insult, and he constantly took credit for her accomplishments. He was basically riding her coattails to reclaim his own fading stardom, and it’s a testament to the strength of Tate’s relationships with her friends that her confidence wasn’t more affected than it was.

The movie making itself was fantastic. I loved the story Sam wrote, and how it was connected to the story of his own family. I thought the awkwardness of the filmed sex scene felt true-to-life, as I can imagine just how unsexy it must be to film something like that. I could have done without the red herrings of other love interests (Tate’s co-star and a woman Sam speaks to on the phone), especially since those plot threads were dismissed fairly quickly. But most of all, I loved the secondary characters, especially Tate’s co-star (hot and charming, but totally professional and friendly), her best friend (funny and fiercely loyal — TBH, I was hoping for a romance between her and the hot co-star), and her manager (smart and savvy, but he also genuinely cares for Tate’s welfare — I wanted much more of him).

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

 

Review | The Queens of Animation, Nathalia Holt

QueensOfAnimationThe Queens of Animation is the fascinating history of women animators and storytellers who worked at Disney at a time when most women were relegated to inking and colouring men’s work. Nathalia Holt has a vibrant and engaging narrative style, which delves right into the minds and hearts of the women she writes about, and makes their experiences come to life.

As a lifelong Disney fan, it was troubling to see how sexist Walt Disney and his company were. Holt shares the story of Brenda, a talented artist and animator who went to school with Walt, and whose soft-spoken demeanour made it especially challenging to survive as the sole woman in a story department filled with loud and sometimes obnoxious men. For example, story development meetings were designed for extroverted staff members, where ideas are shared and everyone shouts down everyone else to give their unfiltered opinions on the idea.

Once, during a particularly intense meeting where co-workers critiqued Brenda’s idea, she ran to her office to escape — and instead of giving her the space she clearly needed, her male co-workers, including Walt, actually ran after her to demand she return to the meeting. It’s a horrifying experience, and it’s a sign of Brenda’s strength that she made it all the way to her office before breaking down. Worse, Walt is then quoted as saying that this display of emotion (read: weakness) was a prime example of why he didn’t like hiring women. Not because his other staff were unable to adjust their approach to Brenda’s gentler personality, but because Brenda (and presumably other women) ‘couldn’t handle it.’ Even worse, years later for reasons that I don’t think we ever learn, Brenda comes back from a holiday to find someone else in her office, and that’s how she learns she’s been fired. As Holt points out, her old schoolmate Walt didn’t even have the decency to fire her to her face.

Even more extroverted women found the work environment challenging. One, who was young, often had to fend off unwanted advances from co-workers, and coped by sketching herself running away from an oversized, leering Mickey Mouse. When the second woman (after Brenda) was hired to join the story department, the guard refused to let her in, and even after she entered, her co-workers refused to sit with her. When she looked for Brenda, hoping to find a friend in the only other woman in the department, Brenda was nowhere in sight — because she’d come to hate story meetings and did her best to avoid them. And later, even as more and more women came to work in Disney animation, their efforts were often unacknowledged, so that each new generation of women came to think they were among the first.

Holt also shares the story of Mary, a talented artist known for her watercolour style work. She managed to get a job at Disney because her husband worked there, but her talent made her a favourite of Walt’s, which then led to jealousy and resentment from her co-workers, including her husband. At one point, Walt personally invites her to a highly coveted work trip, and her husband practically throws a tantrum because his wife got to go and he didn’t. Mary’s one of the few women in this book where we get a much deeper sense of her life beyond her work at Disney, and Holt paints us a heartbreaking portrait of Mary’s unhappy marriage.

I love how Holt highlights how important female friendships were for the women who worked at Disney, and how challenging it was sometimes when broader issues challenged those friendships. One example is the animators’ strike in the mid-20th century, where a pair of animators who were close friends found themselves on opposite sides on the strike. They also happened to be roommates, and so went in to work together every morning, with one of them joining the picket line and the other crossing it. Holt does a good job in showing how even those who didn’t strike were likely aware of the injustices the strikers were fighting against, but they were too scared of losing their jobs to join the picket line.

It’s a troubling, at times rage-inducing, history, and I’m just happy that this book finally turns a well-deserved spotlight on these women’s work. Thankfully, the book ends on a happy note, with the story of Frozen, which was the first Disney animated feature film written, directed and led by women. I loved reading about the sister summit that the film’s team organized, where women throughout the company came together to share stories about sisterhood and their loving-and-complicated relationships with their sisters. I remember watching Frozen with my sister, and how much we both related to Elsa and Anna’s relationship. Thanks to this book, I know now that that’s largely because of the women of Disney sharing their own experiences of sisterhood, and more importantly, because of the team of Frozen listening to these experiences, and bringing them to life in Elsa and Anna.

There’s likely a long way to go for Disney — and to be fair, lots of other companies — to be truly inclusive for women. Hopefully, books like this help begin to bridge that divide, and raise awareness of how much women have been doing for years, and how much their accomplishments have been minimized in favour of their male colleagues.

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Thank you to the publisher for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

Favourite Books of 2019

 

2019 was a good year for books. Long-time faves Andrew Pyper and Sandhya Menon hit it out of the park again with their releases this year. I finally got around to trying N.K. Jemisin, and was completely blown away by The Broken Earth trilogy. And a couple of books I got as gifts last Christmas (Bibliophile and Brother) were so good they made it on my Best-Of list all the way back in January.

So, in the order I read them, the books that I absolutely loved this year are as follows:

1. Bibiliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount

A beautiful, illustrated love letter to books and the people who love reading. There are lists and illustrations of beloved novels, and through it all is just an underlying sense of a shared love for reading and for the sheer loveliness of books.

2. Brother by David Chariandy

Such a beautiful, heartwarming and heartbreaking book, about a pair of brothers from a Trinidadian immigrant family in Scarborough. I absolutely loved the relationship between Francis and Michael, and it was heartbreaking to see the harsh realities they had to deal with.

3. The Homecoming by Andrew Pyper

I came for an Agatha Christie-style mystery about an estranged family dealing with the family patriarch’s will, I stayed for the truly creepy, messed up twists that Andrew Pyper is known for. I love that the story turns out to be more science fiction than supernatural. And I especially love that at the heart of all its truly scary plot threads is a drama about family, and our very human need to love and be loved.

4. The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth Trilogy # 1) by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin has created such a rich, layered, complex world that I don’t even know how to begin talking about this trilogy. On the surface, there are beings made of rocks and humans with the power to manipulate the earth, and the trilogy is about one woman’s quest to find her daughter.

But beyond that, there’s also so much about family, friendship and survival, and the very contemporary reality that we humans are really messing this planet up and now have to contend with the consequences. The Fifth Season was my personal favourite of the trilogy, I think because the world was still so new to me, and every page was a discovery, but throughout all three books, N.K. Jemisin blew my mind over and over again.

I came into this trilogy completely cold, and I recommend doing the same. It can feel confusing at times, but it’s so worth sticking with it. Trust the author to bring it all together in a way that’s messy and raw and so incredibly good.

5. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

N.K. Jemisin is a tough act to follow, but when the library only has so many copies of her Broken Earth trilogy and you’re super impatient for a fantasy fix, the good news is, you discover authors like Guy Gavriel Kay.

Tigana is about a land so oppressed that even their name is erased from public knowledge. Former residents are the only ones who can say the name, but outsiders are unable to understand it when they do. Cultural erasure is a violent act, and I love that Kay drills it down all the way into the level of generational memory.

6. There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

Sweetie is the YA romance I wish I could have read when I was younger. Menon finds the perfect (to me) balance with her plus-size heroine, where Sweetie is kick-ass and confident in her body but still has to contend with fatphobia from others, including her own mother. Her romance with Ashish is just adorable, and I loved seeing them fall in love with each other.

7. How to Hack a Heartbreak by Kristin Rockaway

A fun, feel-good, kick-ass, girl power romantic comedy. I thought Mel’s romance with Alex was sweet, but more importantly, I absolutely loved how Mel’s women friends all banded together to help her get the app she developed off the ground. It’s pure hell to the yeah girl power energy, Sex and the City for the #MeToo era. It’s a great read for women in tech and women longing for change in the online dating world, and just overall a fun read.

8. The Farm by Joanne Ramos

I thought this was going to be another Handmaid’s Tale-type dystopia, but it’s really more a character study than anything. Unlike many dystopias that have a direct call to action, The Farm invites us to linger with these characters and immerse ourselves in their experiences.

I love that the main character Jane is a Filipina immigrant to America, and a single mother. This leads to her joining what is basically a baby-making farm for rich white people to make a better, more financially stable future for her daughter. The novel explores realities like how white surrogates are perceived to have more value than brown or Black ones and how even among surrogates there are inequalities of privilege. I also love that the villain, the farm’s Chinese-American director Mae, is also constrianed by racism and sexism in her climbing of the corporate ladder.

9. What a Woman Needs by Caroline Linden

The chemistry between the leads is fantastic. I love their constant battle of wills before they get to know each other better. The mystery subplot is a bit less fleshed out, but Charlotte and Stuart are incredible together, and I love how their relationship progressed.

10. SLAY by Brittney Morris

So powerful, about a Black teen who develops an online game that celebrates Black culture and becomes a safe space for Black gamers around the world. I love Kiera and 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).

This book was incredibly powerful to me, an adult 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.

11. Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc

I’m not disabled, but I’ve always been a chubby kid and am now a plus-size woman, and I related SO HARD to Leduc’s thesis that fairy tales allow only certain types of bodies to be granted happy endings. Leduc also raises many good points on the trope of transformation in fairy tales and superhero stories, and the message therein that you must “overcome” your less-than-“perfect” body to get your happily ever after. There’s a lot of emphasis on “overcoming” your own obstacle, and considerably less emphasis on the role that a supportive community can play in making your world better overall.

I read the e-galley, and wished so hard that I could mark the e-galley up, because there were so many brilliant passages throughout. I can only imagine the impact this book could have on disabled readers who’ve grown up with the same fairy tales. It’s out in February 2020.

12. The Awakening of Miss Henley by Julia Justiss

I love the way Emma and Theo’s relationship developed, and the witty dialogue reminded me a lot of Jane Austen’s writing.

13. Pride, Prejudice and other Flavors by Sonali Dev

I love the Raje family and the relationships amongst the “Animal Farm” cousins, I love the complex emotional stuff Sonali Dev brought into the characters’ back stories, and I love how real both Trisha and DJ are. I also love the descriptions of Trisha’s reactions to DJ’s cooking — *I* want to taste his cooking now!