To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Review

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What a ride.

I’m a biracial woman—my mom is Chinese Jamaican, and my dad is about as white as they come. When I was younger, there weren’t a lot of biracial kids in school or in daycare. For the longest time (as far as I know), I was the only mixed-race child. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen more and more mixed-race kids out and about and with that comes more representation in the media.

However, I can count on a single hand the number of half-white, half-Asian actors that are decently high-profile—I can’t even recall seeing a half-Asian character in a movie until Emma Stone played one in the disastrous Aloha.

So seeing a young half-white, half-Asian female lead in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was groundbreaking for me.

As soon as I realized Lara Jean Song-Covey was half-white and half-Korean, I immediately texted my mom. She’d been bugging me to read this book for the past three years, but I never bothered with it because other books interested me. With the Netflix movie coming out soon, I decided to take the plunge and start reading.

After Mom finished her “I told you so” dance (I assume), I told her how this was the first YA book I’ve ever read with a half-Asian female lead—until that moment, I’d never read about a character who looked like me and shared some of my experiences. I could relate to Lara Jean on a level I couldn’t relate to my other favourite female characters, and I related to my mother on a level I hadn’t been able to before.

I don’t want this review to be entirely about Lara Jean’s race, but I wanted to mention it to highlight how important representation is in the media, especially in YA fiction. These are the books tweens and teens are reading right when they start to become their own person—showing different backgrounds can only help young people as they grow and develop. Exposing readers to diverse main characters broadens their horizons and expands the way they view the world.

Anyways, back to our regularly scheduled book review.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the first YA book I’ve read in a long time, and it made me remember why I love reading books in this genre. The characters were relatable and realistic (especially Jamie Fox-Pickle, who’s a Wheaten Terrier—just like my Shelby and Charlotte!), yet the situation was not something I’d ever experienced before. I’ve never been in love, and until I find that person, books like this are as close as I’m gonna get.

The thing I loved the most about this book is how unpredictable it was. I was sucked into the story right from page one—I wasn’t comparing it to other YA books as I read through Lara Jean’s coming-of-age tale. It was only as I started thinking about what I would write for this review when I realized I couldn’t have anticipated anything that happened. It was such a refreshing experience—I only cared about the story, not about when Lara Jean overcame the odds to date her crush.

It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of major points got resolved in the last 30 pages, and none of it felt rushed. As a reader I didn’t feel cheated, and that takes major skill—mad props, Jenny Han.

All the relationships between the main characters were painfully accurate—complex, but never over the top or unrealistic. Margot and Lara Jean’s relationship was beautifully developed, even though Margot was away for most of the book. Plus, I have a soft spot for Lara Jean’s sweet father.

Overall, this is easily one of my favourite books of all time. It’s fast-paced, beautifully written, and so relatable. Jenny Han has become a top author in my books—I’ll definitely have to check out her other books soon.

Now, Mom and I can watch the movie when it drops on Aug. 17!

Unsinkable: A Memoir Review (Audiobook Version)

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God, I love Debbie Reynolds.

Initially, I was only vaguely aware of Debbie as an actress. I knew she did Singin’ in the Rain, and I knew she was a respected actress from the golden age of Hollywood. I liked her but other than that, I had no real frame of reference for who she was as a person.

I started becoming more familiar with her in early 2016 when I became a big Star Wars and Carrie Fisher fan. As I read through Carrie’s books and watched her interviews, I saw Debbie through Carrie’s eyes: a kind yet eccentric woman she loved very much.

After Carrie’s death and her death, I began to read more about Debbie—a remarkable woman in her own right. I read her first memoir, Debbie: My Life, and I was amazed by her life and how she carried herself. But that book barely scratched the surface of her story.

The beginning of Unsinkable picks up where Debbie: My Life left off: she and Richard Hamlett were, she thought, happily married. Unsinkable does a deep dive into the entire saga of her marriage and how the man she called “the devil” brought her into financial ruin again. But this book isn’t a sad story—it’s about resilience and survival.

Aside from her third marriage and her Las Vegas hotel, Debbie also talks about her efforts to create a Hollywood memorabilia museum. As she recounts each step in the road, you can hear the hope she had in her dream. She never gave up on building a museum until it was close to leaving her destitute. With every high and low, you wanted Debbie to succeed. When you realize it ultimately wasn’t meant to be, you feel Debbie’s heartbreak.

The second half of the book features Debbie going through each of her movies and talking about her experiences making some of Hollywood’s classic films. Listening to her tell stories about Bette Davis, Tony Curtis, Tony Randall, and Shelley Winters (among others) made you feel like you were sitting with her for lunch or coffee. Debbie’s delivery was that of a close friend who’s always happy to see you—her stories were funny and clever, making you feel like you were right there with her.

Overall, Debbie’s second memoir is a home run. Hopefully I can listen to or read her final memoir, Make ‘Em Laugh, soon—her stories and her personality are simply delightful.

The Force Doth Awaken Review

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I wanted to have this review up on May the Fourth, but I was slacking a little too hard yesterday. So I’m just going to pretend today’s another Star Wars holiday—Revenge of the Fifth, anyone?

When I was in high school, I was the freak who actually loved Shakespeare. My favourite play is Othello, but I always enjoyed the Shakespeare unit in English class. My classmates rarely agreed with me, but I didn’t care. I loved the language and the stories—I understood the tragic, flawed characters.

So when I discovered the Shakespeare and Star Wars crossover books a couple years ago, it was a match made in heaven. The stories and characters from Star Wars, plus the beautiful Shakespearean language? Sign me up.

Now, a disclaimer: I’m not a fan of Disney canon and how the new films treat the original characters. In a nutshell, I believe TPTB regressed Leia, Han, and Luke to who they were before the original trilogy—making any of their character development completely null and void. In my heart of hearts, Disney canon is not my canon.

However, unless I never want to see another new Star Wars movie or enjoy another book or piece of merchandise, I’m gonna have to accept that I will have fundamental disagreements with the way things are handled in the sequel trilogy, and I need to just enjoy the films for what they are—someone else’s interpretation of my beloved franchise and characters.

With all that being said, I won’t be reviewing the actions and plot line of The Force Awakens—I’ll just be discussing the interpretation of that plot in the eyes of Shakespeare. If I were to dissect what I disliked in The Force Awakens, it would distract too much from the main review. I’ll save those thoughts for another post.

As usual, Ian Doescher perfectly captures Shakespeare’s voice while still remaining true to the characters and the spirit of Star Wars. The internal monologues and soliloquies really help to develop the new characters in a way the movies were unable to do. I fell more in love with Rey, Poe, and Finn when I read their inner thoughts and I despised Kylo Ren, especially after reading his thoughts during Han’s death scene.

But my favourite interactions were between Han and Leia (is anyone really surprised?). They had more scenes together than in the movie, and their “new” relationship was better developed and explored—I felt like I understood these new versions, whereas I was just plain confused in the theatre. I still don’t agree with the direction they’ve taken, but I understand it better in this book.

Overall, if you’re a Star Wars fan and you love Shakespeare, you need this book (and all the others) in your life. It’s not really a parody—it’s a faithful adaptation that’s fun to read.

Debbie: My Life Review (Abridged Audiobook)

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Debbie Reynolds is a remarkable woman—there’s no other way of saying it. If anyone else had accomplished what she had before she turned 30, they’d consider it a successful life. But if you’re Debbie, you’d only be just getting started.

In the first of three memoirs, “Debbie: My Life” provides an overview of Debbie Reynolds’s life from birth to the late 1980s. It goes through her early life, her time at both Warner Bros. and MGM, and through her marriages, ending with her happily married to Richard Hamlett (although that didn’t end well in real life).

Two of the standout sections focus on her marriage to Eddie Fisher and her time filming “Singin’ in the Rain.” It’s fascinating to hear her perspective on the relationship with her first husband—how he was the man she lost her virginity to, how he became a different person after they married, and how she grew as a person during the experience. As for “Singin’ in the Rain,” I won’t spoil too many of her stories—many of which feature Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor—but let’s just say she wasn’t kidding when she later said the hardest things she ever did were childbirth and “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Overall, it was a great book and Debbie read it in a way that only Debbie could. However, I felt like it was more of an extended Wikipedia article rather than a personal story. I don’t believe she was lying or anything, but it felt a lot less personal than what I might expect from someone’s autobiography. This might be because I listened to the abridged version of the book, but I thought she could have gone deeper than she did.

Even though we didn’t learn that much from this book, it was still enjoyable to listen to. I can’t wait to listen to her other two memoirs!

The Year of Magical Thinking Review

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This book has taken me a long time to get through, not because it was a bad or poorly written book, but because it forced me to deal with the grief that I’d been burying for a long time.

Let’s go back in time for a minute. Right after Christmas, I was out shopping with one of my best friends when I felt . . . drawn to “The Year of Magical Thinking.” I can’t tell you exactly how I felt, but it was almost like something or someone was pushing me towards this book. After carrying it around the store for a little while, I decided to bite the bullet and buy it.

I’m a huge Carrie Fisher fan—she’s one of my biggest inspirations and one of my heroes. She came into some of my group chats on Twitter and talked to us, and she liked one of my tweets once. Other than that we never interacted, but I felt connected to her through our shared struggles with mental illness.

When she passed, I was shattered. I may have appeared to keep it together, but inside I was a mess—and I’m not even sure I was aware of how deep I was in grief. For a full year, I was grieving but I never started the mourning process.

Enter Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.”

Written in the year after Joan’s husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, passed away, it examines Joan’s grieving process and what was going through her head in the aftermath of losing her husband of 40 years while also dealing with her daughter’s illness. She’s somewhat linear when describing the timeline of the year with Quintana’s illness and John’s memorial, but it’s often scattered with memories and reflections—much like my own grieving process.

While reading this book, I often found myself agreeing with her observations on losing a loved one: reconstructing the moment of collision, hoping and planning for the loved one to somehow come back, not really anticipating the blow of the loss, thinking your crazy thoughts will only be isolated to the weeks after the death. In many ways, it felt like reading my own thoughts.

I could go on forever highlighting poignant passages, but there is one thing I wanted to address. Near the end, Joan talks about how she didn’t want that year to end because it took her further from John. Once the year anniversary passed, whatever had happened the year before no longer included her husband. He started becoming softer and more fuzzy in her mind—whatever she needed to deal with living life without him.

Yet she comes to the conclusion that we, the left-behind, must let the loved one go. Let them be the picture on the mantle or the memory. It’s not easy, and for a long time I didn’t really think it was necessary—then I looked at my weight gain and overall blanket of emptiness and realized that yes, it was necessary.

I can’t say that I’m completely letting go of Carrie, but Joan helped me start the process. And for that, I’m in her debt.

My Mother Was Nuts Review (Audiobook Version)

Before I get into my review for this book, I have to tell you why I love audiobooks.

Way before I got into journalism, I’ve always been a fan of people telling their own stories—you get to hear a really interesting perspective that you might not have considered otherwise. Audiobooks are a perfect form of that. My favourite kinds of audiobooks are memoirs/autobiographies read by the authors—reading them in print is one thing, but listening to fascinating people tell incredible stories breathes life into them in a way you otherwise wouldn’t experience.

So naturally, I loved Penny Marshall’s audiobook of “My Mother Was Nuts.”

You may know her as Garry Marshall’s sister or Laverne in “Laverne and Shirley,” but this book introduces you to Penny the person and makes you fall in love with her almost immediately.

Penny brings her trademark dry humour and wit as she reveals intimate details of her professional and personal lives—anyone who loves behind-the-scenes stories from their favourite movies and TV shows will enjoy all her anecdotes from “The Odd Couple,” “Laverne and Shirley,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Big,” “A League Of Their Own,” and “The Preacher’s Wife.” Yet she can make you cry just as easily when she describes losing her mother, her abortion, and her lung cancer and brain tumour diagnosis.

A lot of famous faces make appearances in her memoir—particularly Garry and her “partner in crime” Carrie Fisher—but this is without a doubt her story, and she tells it beautifully. Her voice is unique, and no one’s lived a life quite like hers.

Near the end of the book, Penny talks about bucket lists and how she never had one—yet she managed to cross off everything she could have ever had on it. She’s a remarkable, accomplished woman who’s done everything anyone could hope to do and more.

She may have stumbled into fame, but she has most certainly earned her place among other Hollywood legends.

The Christmas Train Review

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Trains have always been a big part of my life. I grew up in the Greater Toronto Area, and my parents—along with thousands of other people—took the GO Train into the city every day for work. And when I left to study journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa, I always took the train back to visit my family at every school break.

I enjoyed trains and appreciated the comfortable, affordable way to travel, but I never thought of them as being magical.

The Christmas Train, as cheesy and schmaltzy as it is, made me fall in love with them all over again.

Christmas is my favourite holiday—I love everything, from the tree to the cookies to the predictable Hallmark movies. Every holiday season, I read one Christmas book that captures all of these elements into one read.

This year, the Hallmark Channel adapted the David Baldacci novel into one of their Hall of Fame movies—you know, the better version of their regular movies—and I decided to download the novel and read it in December.

Overall, it’s a better version of what I expected it to be—it has all the elements of a traditional fun Christmas romance novel, but it’s more well-done than most Christmas novels on the market.

However, better doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” While it’s a pretty good book in my eyes, if you aren’t a fan of cheesy Christmas made-for-TV movies, you won’t like this. And Hallmark movies are rarely “good.”

The book does have its faults—Baldacci prefers to tell, rather than show, and that usually means there’s a lot of exposition coming at you at once. It weighs down the story some, especially in the first few chapters.

But the way the book portrays overnight train travel had me looking up cross-country train trips as soon as I finished the last chapter—although I quickly closed the browser window once I saw the $1,000 price tag.

Train travel is a relaxed way to get around and something I took for granted for a long time, but this book made me fall in love with the more laid-back approach all over again.

Shockaholic Review

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I actually finished this book at least six weeks ago, but it’s taken me a while to get the courage to put my feelings down in words—this is my first Carrie Fisher book review since she passed.

Fisher is a gifted writer. All of her books carry her signature wit and wisdom served in equal doses. So far, I’ve only read Shockaholic, Surrender the Pink, and Wishful Drinking, but the common thread of sur-thriving is something that keeps me both laughing and crying—and anxious to read more.

It’s hard for me to pick an overall favourite book because so far, at least, there is no book that is lacking. Each of her books is a favourite for different reasons. As many in the beauty community say, it all comes down to personal preference: what plot point sticks with you the most, what journey can you truly relate to.

With that in mind, I have to say my favourite Carrie book is Shockaholic.

Her detailing her struggles with manic depression, ECT, and her relapse after her friend Greg’s death spoke to me—especially how she was going through all this when she was performing Wishful Drinking. Reading, in her own words, about how she overcame each setback over and over again gave me hope for my own, ongoing recovery.

There are also some amazing, hilarious chapters nestled in there on Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor—things you might think would seem out of place in the book, but they end up all working together as a whole, and I enjoyed every second I was reading them.

However, the final chapter—on her father’s final months—was what spoke to me the most. She wrote about caring for her father until his death, which she was not present for. From there, she discusses death in general: accompanying your friend until they go to the place where you can’t follow, and living your life afterwards.

With Fisher’s too-soon passing, I’ve found myself reading and re-reading and listening to the audiobook version of this chapter, trying to cope with her loss. As ridiculous as it might sound, it feels like she’s speaking to me, telling me what I need to hear when I need to hear it. It’s given me the courage to try and move on—live my life because she can’t.

Overall, I can’t recommend this book enough, especially to people who are living with mental illness and addiction.

Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind Review

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Since I’ve wrapped my undergrad, I’ve been itching to get back into the reading game—and I have a bookshelf full of (mostly) Star Wars books to prove it.

I got Star Wars Psychology with a gift certificate from Singing Pebble Books I won in an auction. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to spend the gift certificate on because the bookstore seemed to be more focused on spirituality, health, and healing—but when I saw this book, it was like a match made in heaven.

First things first: if you’re looking for a book to escape from the world, don’t pick this up. Part of the reason why this took me so long to finish was because I needed to stop and reflect on what I’d read—it’s a psychology book, after all.

That being said, I absolutely loved it. Star Wars Psychology is filled with thought-provoking essays all analyzing the Star Wars universe through a psychological lens. Some standouts for me were “A Distressing Damsel: Leia’s Heroic Journey” by Mara Wood, “Lando’s Choice: Anatomy of a Moral Dilemma” by Jay Scarlet, “Shooting, Striking, Returning: The Universes in Our Heads” by Donald F. Glut and Travis Langley, “A Symphony of Psychology: The Music of Star Wars” by Jim Davies and Joe Kraemer, and “Droids, Minds, and Why We Care” by Jim Davies.

When I read these essays, I felt myself challenging my previously held beliefs about characters and situations—particularly with Jim Davies’s droid essay. Reading books like this one about something you hold so dear helps you think more critically about the thing you adore and in turn, gives you a greater appreciation for the storytelling behind each facet of the whole.

This book also helped me reflect on why I’m so invested in this universe and why so many people connect to this space opera. The science behind each mental and emotional element is absolutely fascinating and makes me think more critically about the choices we make outside the ones the Star Wars characters make.

It’s a belief-challenging wild ride from beginning to end that I cannot recommend enough, especially for Star Wars fans.

Plus, it was nice reading Star Wars essays written by Jim Davies—my former prof!

Tribute: Carrie Fisher Book Review

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Okay, when I first heard Carrie Fisher was getting a tribute comic book, I was insanely excited. FINALLY someone else appreciated her humour, talent, wit, intelligence, and contributions to the film industry enough to make a comic based on her life—even though it’s released after her death.

Well, I finished reading it today—and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it.

The cover artwork is incredible. The interior artwork leaves something to be desired.

It’s not bad by any means, but some of the likenesses only vaguely look like the people they’re meant to illustrate—the When Harry Met Sally section is a good example of this.

As for the content . . . I appreciate how detailed the writers were in profiling her entire career—they even referenced her 1978 TV movie Leave Yesterday Behind with John Ritter (which I love and watch at least once a month). But they also mischaracterized or misinterpreted a lot of things, like saying acting was Carrie’s passion (not necessarily true) and implying Eddie Fisher simply “moved on” from Debbie Reynolds with Elizabeth Taylor (that’s DEFINITELY understating what happened and its impact on Hollywood culture at the time).

I can understand why the writers didn’t want to emphasize the Debbie/Eddie/Elizabeth thing, but it was a pretty big deal at the time, and it impacted Carrie and her brother Todd. At the very least, it should have been mentioned accurately.

The factual misrepresentations and slightly odd artwork aren’t dealbreakers, but they definitely stopped me from fully enjoying the book. Every few pages, I’d cringe at least a couple of times and think, “well . . . not really.”

However, the epilogue was beautifully done—framing it as a conversation between Carrie and Daisy Ridley on the set of The Force Awakens while Carrie gives Daisy advice was perfect. If the epilogue was published on its own, I would have been happy.

Overall, I enjoyed it, and I’m happy it exists. However, I wish it had been a little more accurate—both in its story and art.