Review | The Charmed Life of Alex Moore, Molly Flatt

9781509854530_cflSix months ago, Alex Moore is stuck in a dead-end job and surviving life more than actually living it. Then she wakes up with a brilliant idea for a business and suddenly, it’s as if every doubt she’s ever had about herself is gone. She’s become a supercharged version of herself, and creates an incredibly successful company from the ground up. Except her stratospheric rise is actually a symptom of something gone wrong with the way the world is set up, and when she is invited to the Orkney Islands for a research project, she realizes her recent experiences have far-reaching implications for the lives of many other people.

The Charmed Life of Alex Moore has a fascinating concept, and Molly Flatt has a lovely storytelling style. It did take me a while to get into the story — the somewhat frantic events of the first few chapters felt a bit disjointed and there was a lot of exposition that didn’t really make me connect to Alex at all. Still, once she gets to the Orkney Islands and the author reveals why Alex was brought there, things get a lot more interesting and all the disparate bits feel more cohesive.

I won’t go into detail about what’s going on at Orkney Islands, as I don’t want to spoil the reveal, but I will say that I think it’s a beautiful way of looking at life. And the idea that there are people like the Orkney Island residents who do what they do is also beautiful. At the risk of giving too much away, I admit that this bit of world-building appealed to my book-loving heart.

Where the book does fall short for me is near the end. A romantic subplot is introduced that perhaps the author had been building towards all along but that just felt really random to me. Alex also makes a decision at the end that, okay, I can kinda see the hints the author built in earlier, but also still felt disappointing to me, given the way the rest of the story was set up.

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Thank you to Publisher’s Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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.