Review | How to Hack a Heartbreak, Kristin Rockaway

41887423How to Hack a Heartbreak is a fun, feel-good, kickass girl power, romantic comedy. It stars Mel Strickland, a help desk tech at start-up incubator Hatch, where all the entitled techie dudebros make her work life a living hell. Her romantic life isn’t much better, filled with unsolicited dick pics and online dating misadventures that many single women today will find all too relatable.

Enter JerkAlert, an app Mel designs as a fun act of self-care one evening that goes viral overnight, thanks mostly to Mel’s PR maven BFF Whitney. A single woman’s answer to dating app Fluttr, JerkAlert allows women to post about harassers and abusers in the online dating sphere.

Enter as well Alex, the only non-dudebro at Hatch who is also handsome and sweet and very much attracted to Mel. She’s falling for him as well, but also cautious — after her father’s infidelity and her own string of dating disasters, she fears Alex is too good to be true, and often jumps to worst case scenario conclusions when they’re together.

The romance between Mel and Alex is sweet, and Alex is a Prince Charming type hero straight out of a heartwarming romance, but this part of the plot almost took a backseat to the subplot about Mel’s career. She is clearly underemployed at Hatch, and the success of JerkAlert pushes her to realize that she’s worth so much more professionally than her current role and work environment lead her to believe. The environment at Hatch is horribly sexist yet also sadly realistic, and I can imagine Mel’s story resonating with a lot of women in tech.

Most of all, I love how much of a focus there was on Mel’s friendships with other women. All of her BFFs, and even her roommate, are talented professionals in various fields, and when they all banded together to help Mel achieve a triumphant victory, I felt like cheering out loud. It was like the Avengers of career women, and so incredibly heartwarming, especially in contrast to the dudebro toxicity of Hatch. Hell yeah to girl power and to the power of female friendships!

Overall, How to Hack a Heartbreak is an empowering and immensely satisfying read. It’s pure hell to the yeah girl power energy, filled with strong women and strong female friendships, and all wrapped up in a fun and lighthearted women’s fiction romantic comedy. It’s Sex and the City for the #MeToo generation, for women in tech and women looking for change in the online dating world. And above all, it’s a helluva fun read. I highly recommend it.


Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Hideaway, Nicole Lundrigan

42957309Hideaway is not an easy read. It’s the story of an abusive mother, Gloria, from the perspectives of her children, Rowan (13) and Maisy (7). Heartbroken after her husband Telly leaves, Gloria takes out her anger on her children, at times sending them out into the woods overnight over misbehaviour, and at other times using them as pawns to try to get Telly to return.

Maisy’s chapters were particularly difficult to read. Her desire to do the right thing (please her mother, keep her brother’s secrets, figure out how to be a good girl when obeying her mother meant betraying her brother) is heartbreaking. And her sincere bewilderment over the truth after all the gaslighting Gloria puts her through makes me want to just call Child Protection Services and take Maisy away to safety.

Rowan’s chapters were somewhat less emotionally painful, probably because he’s a bit older than Maisy is and therefore a bit more aware of how wrong Gloria’s actions are. His story is still sad — he tries to reach out to his father for help, but gets rebuffed and thereby loses part of his innocence. He also befriends a homeless, mentally ill man with a dog, and forms a strong bond with him, which gives him a nice chosen family, albeit one that causes complications in other ways.

Full disclosure: I didn’t finish the book. Not because it’s a bad book. On the contrary, I found Maisy’s chapters too emotionally difficult to keep going. The action does drag a bit, which also kept my attention wandering, but it’s done in a way that feels deliberate. There’s a claustrophobia to the story, a feel that Gloria’s influence will continue to close in on these children. There’s also a sense of hopelessness, a sinking inevitability that life will continue on this way and nothing — not the cops who come to visit nor the father who drops in for dinner — will do anything to change it. On one hand, this lends a feeling of sameness to the chapters, such that I got tired of waiting for a major shift. On the other hand, I can imagine that this is exactly how it feels for the children, who want to escape from Gloria’s tyranny, but can’t quite manage to.

Hideaway is a well-crafted, emotional novel about adult cruelty told through the eyes of children. It’s not an easy read (TW: child abuse, gaslighting, mental illness — schizophrenia, I think?), but for some readers, it would be a powerful one.


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

Review | The Stationery Shop, Marjan Kamali

42201995._SY475_The Stationery Shop is a sad story about lost love, and invites the reader to ponder the question of what could have been. I liked that about half the story takes place in 1950s Tehran, which I don’t often see featured in historical women’s fiction. I also found the set-up sweet: teenagers Roya and Bahman meet in Mr Fakhri’s neighbourhood stationery shop and fall in love over a shared passion for poetry. Their romance is sweet, almost Romeo and Juliet-like in its innocence and inevitable tragedy.

The tragedy in this case is that a coup breaks out on the day of their planned elopement, and Bahman never shows up. He then breaks up with Roya through a letter, before disappearing from her life completely. Sixty years later, Roya, now a married woman in America, has the opportunity to see Bahman again and finally ask the questions that have haunted her all those years.

While The Stationery Shop is a lovely story and a quick read, it didn’t quite grab me. The early parts, about Roya and Bahman’s romance in Tehran, were very strong. I also felt for Roya after the breakup. I thought it was sweet that the sister agreed to go to America as well, just to help Roya move on, and I wish we’d seen a lot more of the sister’s story. And I loved the romance with Walter, the Tintin lookalike whom Roya meets in America and ends up marrying.

But the actual climax of the book — the present-day encounter between Roya and Bahman — fell flat for me. Possibly it’s because it felt more like closure than an actual rekindling of their earlier relationship. Because at this point, Roya had already built up an entire life separate from Bahman, her need for closure no longer felt as urgent to me. Or possibly it’s because I loved Roya’s relationship with Walter a lot, and thought that as sweet as Roya’s romance with Bahman had been, he was best left in the past. All the cynic in me could think about was that the Bahman in these present-day scenes was already very different from the Bahman whom Roya had loved. Walter as well was remarkably understanding about Roya’s desire to reconnect with her first love, so overall, the stakes of the encounter itself felt fairly low.

Still, The Stationery Shop is a beautifully told story with a somewhat old-fashioned feel. It will move readers who believe in the idea of one true all-overpowering love, and will likely move some readers to tears.


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