Review | Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club, by Roselle Lim

SophieGoSophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club is super charming and sweet. I love all the Old Ducks and their respective romances. I had a major soft spot for Mr Wolf the cat lover and his eventual match. By the end of the novel, they’re planning a cruise with the cats, which is just super adorable. Gay BFFs Mr Dolphin and Mr Durian are also absolutely adorable; their respective matches are absolutely *chef’s kiss* perfect. Mr Sorrow’s story, and how he eventually meets his match, is heartbreaking and heartwarming; their first meeting is simply beautiful. And of course Mr Regret the baker, with his choice between two lovely potential matches. Amongst all the Old Ducks, he’s the one I just really want to hug. The source of his regret runs deep, and when he tells Sophie the women she’s helped him meet make him feel loved, how absolutely wonderful it feels to see him so happy. Honestly, this story has a charming hook and a super loveable cast of characters; for most of the story, I kept thinking about how I would love to see this made into a movie. The nicknames Sophie gives her clients are also super charming…who wouldn’t cheer on an elderly man named Mr Regret in his quest for true love? Sophie’s own romance was a bit underdeveloped, but it was still pretty charming.

I also love the detail about the red threads and how each person’s thread acts when there’s a potential love match nearby. I especially love how the red threads respond differently depending on the particulars of the match. In one, relatively straightforward match, the ends spark and immediately twine around each other. In another, where both parties are slightly more cautious, the ends begin to move in unison, close to each other but not quite twining around. And in a third, where the connection runs a bit deeper, the threads fuse together almost immediately, turning into a full-on rope with multiple knots. This is such a beautiful visual of how love works, and how it feels when we find our person, and I absolutely, absolutely love this part of the book.

I do wish Sophie had had a bit more backbone in standing up to her parents — her growth in this area felt a bit too late but also abrupt for me. I recognize the super toxic circumstances she grew up in — her mom is super abusive and her dad super cowardly — so I can understand why she would bite her tongue. Her mom’s cruelty is just so ridiculously over the top, and honestly just so one-note, that it’s a bit surprising it worked on Sophie for as long as it did. And given how much validation she was getting from people around her, I wish I’d seen a bit more of an internal progression within her.

For example, the confrontation at a birthday dinner comes fairly late in the book, at a point where Sophie does already show some growth by calling out her mom on a lie. When the mom fights back, hard, I wasn’t super surprised that Sophie eventually backs down, but I WAS surprised that she still internalized her mom’s insults so fulsomely. Still, I don’t want to underplay the effects of trauma, particularly the kind inflicted from childhood, so I can imagine this part of the story is sadly realistic.

Most of the novel for me was a solid 5 stars. But then something happens at the 90% mark that just shifts the tone and ruins the book for me, dropping it down to a 3-star read. I recognize the author has the right to end the book however she wants, but given how lovely and feel-good the novel had been to that point, this part of the ending felt unnecessary and just left a sour taste in my mouth. If this novel were to be made into a movie, I truly hope the filmmakers change this part of it.

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Thanks to Berkley for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

Review | In the Dark We Forget, by Sandra S.G. Wong

InTheDarkCoverA woman wakes up on the side of a highway with no memory of who is and how she got there. The mystery of her identity is solved pretty quickly: with the help of a local RCMP officer, she learns her name is Cleo Li and she has a younger brother named Cass. But then a bigger mystery arises: their parents are missing, last seen close to where Cleo regained consciousness, and their mom’s winning $47M lottery ticket may have something to do with the disappearance. As the investigation progresses, Cleo learns of some recent strains on her relationship with her parents, and she has to figure out, how much does she really want to remember about what actually happened?

In the Dark We Forget is a twisty and fascinating mystery. I loved learning along with Cleo about who she was before the attack, and why someone may have motive for wanting to harm her. Cleo is an unreliable narrator, partly because of the memory loss, but also partly because she hides things from other characters and there are hints that she may also be hiding things from us, the readers. The ending, and particularly the last couple of pages, seem to hint at a final reveal, but then the book ends without actually confirming anything. I admit I’m not a fan of ambiguous endings in general, but this one in particular annoyed me. Given the languid, meticulous pacing and intricate detail of most of the book, something about the narration made the last few chapters feel vague and the reveals challenging to pin down. So when the final two reveals were told with such narrative distance that it’s even harder to grasp what they actually meant, I just found it frustrating.

The book does shine in how it explores the Lis’ family dynamics, and the experiences of being an Asian woman in Canada. I love how the author explores the instinctive trust and recognition of shared experiences between Cleo and Aoki, a Japanese-Canadian RCMP officer assigned to the case. Cleo feels an immediate comfort with Aoki even before she remembers her own heritage (Chinese). There are a few wonderful scenes exploring the racism the two women face, like when Aoki is assigned to be a liaison because of their “shared heritage” and Cass rightly snarks that he and Cleo are Chinese and Aoki is Japanese. Or when another RCMP officer asks Cleo about witnesses saying Cleo often had an angry tone when speaking to her mother, and when Cleo points out none of the witnesses speak Cantonese and may have misinterpreted the tone, the officer retorts, “Isn’t Cantonese a tonal language?” which is a total misunderstanding of what ‘tonal’ means in that context.

Probably my favourite is how the novel calls out the stereotypes faced by Asian women. In an early scene, when speaking of other (likely white and male) RCMP officers taking on the case, Aoki tells Cleo,

Once any of those big strapping lads gets one look at pretty little Chinese you, they’ll be falling all over themselves to help you. I mean, even I feel protective, and I should know better than to jump to conclusions. No, I mean it. They’re conditioned to see us as vulnerable and helpless, right? That’s how Asian women get…fetishized in our society. Demure and meek and all that. [6%]

Later, the dark side of this stereotype plays out in real time, when a suspect in Cleo’s attack accuses her of faking sweetness and innocence and putting on a ‘damsel in distress’ act. First, it’s patently untrue in that scene, where Cleo is in genuine distress at being in the same room with this person. But also, this is incredibly loaded language to describe Asian women, and when it happens, one can almost hear the echo of Aoki’s words from earlier in the novel.

I also love the relationship arc between Cleo and her brother. It’s complex, emotional, and messy… in short, just like a real family relationship, and I love how they pull through for each other even when they fight.

One snag in the character development piece for me is that by Cass’s own admission, Cleo’s personality seemed to have done a complete 180 after the attack. From her conversations with Aoki and Cass, it seems implied that she can choose to keep this new and improved version of herself moving forward. Which, fine, that’ll be nice. But it also felt unrealistic to me. People in her workplace literally feared and hated her before the attack, because she was super shady in her dealings. And while the attack may have rocked her enough to make her a bit more open about her vulnerability, it seems unlikely that whatever caused her behaviour before the attack would have gone away completely. It seems more realistic that we would have seen more glimpses of that side of Cleo throughout the novel. There were hints of more assertiveness in her, to the point that Cass sometimes calls her out on reverting to old Cleo, but nowhere near the level that would inspire such dislike, so even with her slip-ups, she still comes off being like a totally new person.

Still, overall, this was an entertaining novel. I wish the ending had been less ambiguous, and that Cleo’s personality development had felt more realistic, but I loved the family dynamics and explorations of Asian women’s experiences.

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Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Metropolis, by B.A. Shapiro

MetropolisCoverMetropolis is a compelling page-turner about the lives of six people all connected to the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We see how their lives intersect, and then for the most part, come apart at the seams when someone falls down an elevator shaft.g

The most compelling parts of the story for me had to do with three of the renters: Marta, a grad student and undocumented immigrant on the run from ICE; Liddy, a woman trapped in a marriage to an abusive man who uses her storage unit for escape; and Jason, a corporate lawyer turned immigration lawyer who takes on Marta’s case. I thought all three characters were very richly drawn; I was sucked into their lives and their various troubles. I sympathized heavily with Marta’s dealings with ICE, and I full-on hated Libby’s monster of a husband, Garrett. I just wanted both women to find happiness, and even though Jason’s troubles were fairly mild in comparison, I absolutely love him as a character, and love how much he genuinely cares about helping people in need.

I also found Rose, the building’s office manager, an interesting figure that straddles the lines between heroine, anti-heroine, and outright villain. She takes kickbacks to allow renters to live in their storage units (Libby, Marta, a photographer named Serge) or use them as office spaces (Jason), and she lets Serge go into other people’s units to take photos without their permission, which is all pretty shady, but she’s also genuinely interested in the renters and their lives. Later on, she makes a decision that’s just morally wrong on so many levels and has a truly terrible impact on another character’s life, but her reason for doing so is relatable.

Zach, the building’s owner, is also an interesting figure. We meet him at a low point in his life; the contents of the storage units are being auctioned off. Zach’s dealing with the huge financial losses and legal ramifications of the person’s fall in his building, and trying desperately to turn his life back around. He mostly acts for purely selfish reasons, for example, wanting to sell the photographs in Serge’s unit just to set himself up in a new career as an arts taste maker, never mind if he can’t find Serge to share in the profits. But there’s something scrappy about him that also makes him easy to like. He’s an anti-hero brought low, and it’s hard not to root for him to climb his way back to the top.

Ironically, even though so much of the story hinges on Serge’s photographs, both plot-wise and in terms of giving the book its literary feel and at-times poetic tone, Serge himself turns out to be a fairly minor figure. We get a few chapters from his perspective, and there’s hints of a more complex tragic backstory, but he mostly just fades into the background of the story. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I actually found the subplot about his photographs to be the least interesting amongst the various characters, but given the vulnerable and transient nature of the character himself, it’s perhaps sadly fitting that his story too ends up fading into the background.

In terms of the big turning point in the story — someone falls down the elevator shaft — I found the scene itself and the resulting fallout to be very well done. That moment really ramps up the pace of the story, and creates some truly villainous moments for some of the characters. And even when I thought I knew where the story was heading, there were enough surprises along the way to keep me hooked.

Overall, I found Metropolis to be compelling, moving, and exciting. I devoured it in a weekend; I ended up caring a lot for some of the characters; and for the most part, I’m deeply satisfied with how some characters’ stories turn out.

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Thank you to Thomas Allen Ltd for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.