Review | All the Wrong Places, Joy Fielding

40712004All the Wrong Places is an entertaining, engrossing read.

It’s billed as a thriller and in some ways, it is. There’s certainly an undercurrent of menace throughout with the presence of the serial killer (who gets his own chapters so we see his schemes unfold in terrifying detail. There are also red herrings galore and an unexpected, violent twist.

But despite all that, the novel didn’t feel as if it focused on the thrillerish aspects so much as on the three women (Paige, her mother Joan and best friend Chloe) all trying to rebuild their lives after traumatic experiences. Even though the blurb teases about the dangers of online dating, only one of the characters ever actually seriously tries it out. The rest dip their toes into it, but their stories ultimately take them in a different direction.

I liked that. I was expecting a pretty standard thriller but got something else entirely, which kept me off-balance throughout. I also like how Fielding delves into issues of domestic violence and emotional abuse (with enough detail to merit a content warning), and the harsh realities thereof.

One thing I didn’t like is that the subplots about Joan’s trips to the hospital got a bit repetitive after a while. The first time was horrific, but by the last visit’s reveal, it just felt like an unnecessary element to add artificial drama rather than anything real. That being said, I do like that Joan gets her own romance, and that Fielding makes Paige, and likely many readers as well, confront and critically examine our assumptions when it comes to dating for senior citizens.

I also really didn’t like how Heather’s story turns out. Fielding does a good job of making her sympathetic despite all the crap she pulls. And possibly because all the other main characters hate Heather so much, I genuinely found her one of the most sympathetic characters. I thought she at least deserved more sympathy than she was given, and I wish her story could have been resolved differently.


Thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Bloodleaf, Crystal Smith

1328496309I loved Bloodleaf! The title comes from a plant that plays a huge role in this book: a flower whose petals can bring someone back from the brink of death, and yet that requires someone else’s death to bloom. Crystal Smith has created a complex, compelling world where magic is very strongly linked to sacrifice, where the use of magic is a highly politicized subject that has divided nations, and where, in order to save two kingdoms, a princess disguised as a commoner must learn to harness the abilities she’s had to suppress her entire life.

I was hooked immediately by this book and couldn’t put it down. I loved Princess Aurelia, how she possessed powers she was barred from understanding and so could never quite control, and how she developed through the story into a young woman who is finally coming to terms with the incredible range of her potential. There was a subplot involving a horse that I hated, just because I hate reading about animal cruelty and death in general, but I do appreciate how every single decision the characters make have consequences. Later, this unfolds in an even more tragic way when Aurelia wields her most significant magical act at the climax of the story, and it really brings home Smith’s theme of what exactly you’d be willing to give up in order to wield magic for a greater good.

The love story between Aurelia and Zan was fun to read. I loved their chemistry together, and how they challenged each other to become better. I also liked how Smith treated Zan’s disability — it was always a factor in their adventure — at several points, Zan gets winded during a physical activity, and at a couple of moments, Aurelia uses her magic to absorb his pain into herself and so experiences it first-hand. But unlike the way disability is portrayed in other books, it’s neither a point of pity (none of the characters ever tell him how sad it is that he has to deal with that) nor is it a source of supreme heroism (no one ever treats him like a superhero for simply existing with a heart condition). Zan does experience self-doubt at times because of his condition, but significantly, Smith makes it very clear that it’s not the condition itself that causes this but rather growing up with a father who keeps berating him and putting him down for his “weakness.” I loved that about this story.

Finally, I also love how the schism between Aurelia and Zan’s nations stems from their respective society’s having a different interpretation of the same origin story. Both their nations agree that generations ago, a woman dies at the hands of one of her brothers, and that magic is somehow involved. But specifically which brother kills her, and what role magic plays in her death is in dispute, and as a result, a very different version of the story gets handed down through generations depending on which nation you’re born into. I thought this was a particularly potent metaphor for the ways in which stories define us, and the way that facts are often distorted for political goals.

Bloodleaf is a thought-provoking and entertaining book, and wonderful to lose oneself in. I loved it, and am excited about the rest of the series.



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

Review | Somewhere Only We Know, Maurene Goo

40864866I absolutely loved Maurene Goo’s Somewhere Only We Know. On one level, as I used to say as a teenager, it’s totally kilig to the bones! (“Kilig” is a Tagalog word that refers to a rush of sheer joy and giddiness because of romantic love.) This story of a K-pop superstar who falls in love with an undercover tabloid photographer during a day of exploring Hong Kong is, quite simply, the kind of cheesy, feel-good romance that takes me back to my childhood. It’s such a delight to read, and I was rooting for these characters all the way through.

I also love all the little touches that really make Hong Kong come to life in this story. As much as this is about the love story between Lucky and Jake, Somewhere Only We Know is equally also a love story to Hong Kong. Goo takes her characters through a wide range of Hong Kong attractions, from major tourist attractions like a spot that overlooks the entire city to an independent bookstore tucked away by a movie theatre. I haven’t been to Hong Kong in years, but this book makes me wish I was there.

Both Lucky and Jake are Korean-American. (Both are born to Korean parents who immigrated to America. Lucky’s family is still based in LA and Jake’s family moved to Hong Kong for his father’s job.) And I also love how Goo includes little details that make this feel so real throughout the story. For instance, Jake initially recognizes Lucky’s Korean heritage when she inadvertently blurts out a Korean expression. Their conversations also reveal how being Korean-American has impacted their lives, in some ways fairly similarly but in other ways also very different from each other. I love that both feel somewhat displaced in Hong Kong, and how both are also fairly fluid in their perspectives of home.

Beyond the kilig factor, the story does also tackle some important issues. Some are pretty standard YA themes of figuring out one’s identity and following one’s passion, and despite both teens’ fairly glamorous experiences of this, Goo makes them both feel very relatable. For example, Lucky’s success in K-pop means she needs to focus a lot more on her brand than on the actual singing, and despite her fame, she’s beginning to feel disengaged from what brought her to this career in the first place. And Jake wants to be a photographer, but is too afraid to tell his parents he doesn’t want to join his father in a bank, so he has to pursue his passion in secret through his tabloid work.

But Goo also includes some more serious themes that I didn’t expect. For example, Lucky lives with anxiety, and manages this with medication. I thought this aspect of her life would have played a larger role throughout the story, but I liked the way it turned out in the end. Through Lucky, Goo also reveals some of the darker realities of K-pop stardom — eyelid surgery, unhealthy diets, and so on — in order for these stars to appeal more to a Western / Westernized standard of beauty. There’s a part where Lucky says that once in a while, someone does an expose, and their fans are horrified for a while, but then move on pretty quickly. I thought that was a sad and unfortunate truth about the reality of stardom, and I like that Goo includes this in her story.

But overall, Somewhere Only We Know is an utter delight of a book. It was so much fun to read. I loved Lucky and Jake (and wouldn’t mind a sequel about Jake’s cab driver friend!), and I enjoyed seeing their story unfold.


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