Review | Comics Will Break Your Heart, Faith Erin Hicks

34506913Comics Will Break Your Heart is a sweet, coming-of-age story that I think will resonate with a lot of teen readers. From the description, I had expected a star-crossed Romeo and Juliet type romance with lots of comic book geekery mixed in, but I thought the romance actually took a backseat in the plot. Mir and Weldon are indeed attracted to each other, and with the lawsuit between Mir’s grandfather and Weldon’s father over the rights to the TomorrowMen comic book series does indeed create a barrier to their relationship, it isn’t quite as prominent as the questions of what Mir and Weldon want to do with their lives beyond what their parents want or expect them to do. In romance, the happily ever after often spotlights the main characters getting together, but in this novel, I felt that the happily ever after had more to do with the decisions Mir and Weldon had to make about their respective futures.

Living in a small town is all Mir has ever known, and yet she secretly dreams of leaving for university in Toronto. She yearns for the freedom to figure out what career she wants to pursue without having to deal with people who’ve known her all her life. For Mir, her resentment over the TomorrowMen drama stems from the money she wishes could have stayed in her family, so she wouldn’t have to worry about how she’d pay for university. I love how her mom gives her a reality check for this attitude, and basically tells her that lots of other people have to get jobs and take out loans as well to pursue their own dreams.

I also like how Mir’s desire to leave impacts her friends and family. I love how realistic it felt that her dad uses humour to disguise his fear of Mir never coming back home and her best friend pushes her away to disguise her fear of their friendship dissolving once Mir leaves. There’s a scene where Mir confronts her best friend, and realizes that she never once considered if her friend also dreamed of leaving their small town. I loved that, because it shows that Mir isn’t perfect, and that while her dreams are relatable, she can also be somewhat self-centred in her pursuit of them.

I liked the insight the book gave into the comics industry, and how an event like Comic Con looks to people actually working in comics. I’d always known Comic Con as a big celebrity extravaganza, so it was interesting to learn that it started out as a small gathering of comic book fans — and recently enough that a teenager like Weldon was already old enough to go to such cons and remember the difference. I also enjoyed learning about the different roles of the storyteller, the writer and the illustrator on a comic book. These roles may seem fairly obvious, but I didn’t quite realize how much I didn’t know about the process until I saw Mir and her friend Evan collaborate on a comic book script based on Evan’s story idea, and then discuss the possibility of Mir’s mom, an artist, drawing the actual comic.

Later on, Evan’s mother shows him some original TomorrowMen comic pages, and I don’t think I quite realized until then how an original comic page was different from an artwork (like what Mir’s mom creates) and was still different from the page that’s actually printed. And again, this may all seem really obvious when written down, but it’s something I didn’t realize that I hadn’t fully understood until I saw it in the story. It’s all really fascinating, and as Faith Erin Hicks is a comic creator herself, I figure this is how the comics world really is.

There are also a lot of Canadian references (Farley Mowat, of all things!) and comic book shoutouts that may make readers smile. This book wasn’t quite as romantic or star-crossed as I’d hoped, but I think a lot of teens will relate to the decisions and dilemmas Mir and Weldon have to face.

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

Review | Crown of Feathers, Nicki Pau Preto

35715518I love stories about sisters, and I think phoenixes are awesome, so I was definitely very much into checking out Crown of Feathers. I love the world Nicki Pau Preto has created, where magic means the ability to communicate with animals, and history is filled with powerful women, including warrior queens and mighty phoenix riders.

I especially love that the present-day phoenix army (who are ostensibly the good guys out to battle a magic-hating and corrupt government) are actually outright sexist and don’t allow women into their ranks. There is also a rejigging of the world’s history, such that many of the characters talk about gods rather than goddesses creating the world, and men rather than women performing heroic feats. It’s a not-too-subtle but all-too-relevant critique of how religious institutions have historically suppressed the role of women, and a pointed reminder that even the good guys can have problematic beliefs.

The story is told in three perspectives: Veronyka, who can communicate with animals and wants to become a phoenix rider; Tristan, the son of the phoenix army’s leader who wants to prove himself worthy of stepping into his father’s shoes yet is afraid of fire; and Sev, a soldier who must hide his magical abilities and is recruited to join the rebellion. I was hooked by Veronyka’s story from the start, possibly because I loved the tension between her and her sister Val, who is super protective but also super controlling. But the story overall takes a while to get going, and it took until about halfway through the book for me to care about Tristan and Sev’s stories.

That being said, once the story picks up, it really takes off. There are awesome phoenix training scenes and an absolutely epic battle that made it almost impossible for me to put down the book. I was also really intrigued by the history of the two sister queens who ended up dividing the country, and splitting people along ideological lines with respect to their regard for phoenixes. I love how the relationship between Veronyka and Val is hinted to mirror the dynamic between the historical sister queens, and how this in turn hints at a much larger scale destiny for the present-day sisters.

The jumps between chapters was a bit confusing. The story goes from present-day events to historical documents to the first person reflections from one of the historical sister queens, and I sometimes lost track of what it was I was reading. That being said, I was reading the egalley, so possibly it’ll be fixed by the final copy.

Also, content warning about animal death fairly early on. That scene broke my heart, and while I see its purpose in the overall story (fortunately at least, it wasn’t a senseless death), it was still really hard to read.

Crown of Feathers is the first in a duology, and after that ending, I’m very excited to see where the author takes the story next!

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

Review | The Matchmaker’s List, Sonya Lalli

40061992I made the mistake of starting Sonya Lalli’s The Matchmaker’s List after dinner on a weeknight. I’d planned to reading a few of chapters before bed, then saving the rest for another day. Instead, I found myself so completely engrossed in the book that I was still reading past midnight and had to force myself to stop just so I could get enough sleep before work the next day.

The Matchmaker’s List is such a compelling story, and so beautifully told. I was hooked by the characters and their lives. Nani in particular is a star, and I want so much for this to be turned into a Netflix movie, if only so I could see Nani brought to life on screen.

The titular list is one that Nani creates for her granddaughter Raina, who is still single at 29, earning their family censure from the rest of their close-knit Indian-immigrant community. Determined to have Raina married by 30, Nani sets her up on a series of blind dates, but doesn’t realize that Raina still secretly holds a torch for an ex-boyfriend. When Raina tells a lie to get her grandmother off her case, the lie unexpectedly blows up much larger than Raina anticipates, with far-reaching consequences for Raina’s family and friends.

From the cover and the blurb, I had expected a Bridget Jones Diary-type romantic comedy, filled with hilariously horrific blind dates and an unexpected one-true-love who will be part of Raina’s happily ever after. There is a love story, and bits of red herring romances, but the book is really more women’s fiction than romance. The love story is almost a subplot, as the story is much more about Raina struggling to balance her grandmother’s traditions and expectations with her own more modern and more North American desires.

I love Lalli’s writing, and the characters she has created. The novel has such a rich and complex cast of characters that we can understand and sympathize with them even when we see how some of their decisions hurt others. Raina in particular makes a number of questionable decisions throughout the story, and because Lalli’s characterization is so rich, I almost found my loyalties divided in my response. For example, with the lie Raina tells Nani, each time the lie gets bigger and more out of control, I felt an almost physical pain at the thought of how hurt Nani would be when she inevitably learns the truth, and yet I can also understand Raina’s choices and sympathize with how she herself is trapped in a spiral of her own making.

And even with the judgemental mother of Raina’s best friend, I can understand where she and the other, more traditional members of Raina’s community are coming from. Inspite of the effect on Raina and her friends, I can also understand these older adults’ desire to maintain traditions from their own childhoods and how scary and somewhat hurtful it must feel to have their children show considerably less interest in these traditions. There’s a beautiful moment at the wedding of Raina’s best friend that illustrates how this struggle between generations can reach a compromise, and possibly begin to create new traditions out of the old.

I especially love the subplot about Raina’s mother rebelling against Nani’s strict rules, then causing shame for the family by being a single parent, then by leaving her child to be raised by grandparents. This resulted in their family’s social standing being diminished in their community, and I love how this subplot helps explain why Nani is so desperate to have Raina married by 30, and conversely why Raina is so reluctant to tell her grandmother about her true feelings. I also love how, as this subplot develops, we gradually realize that the story isn’t quite as simple as we may have once thought, and that no matter how lovable Nani is as a character, she may be just as culpable as her daughter in causing the rift.

In brief, I absolutely loved The Matchmaker’s List. It’ll definitely resonate with many second- and third-generation Canadian or American women who are trying to define their own identity while continuing to respect the traditions of their parents and grandparents. And it’s a wonderful, heartwarming story of love and family as well, and sure to keep many readers up past their bedtime and, like me, having to struggle to break away from Raina and Nani’s world.

Raina’s (Not So) Romantic Tour of Toronto

Check out some of the Toronto neighbourhoods featured in this book!

matchmaker's list - toronto

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