by Elizabeth Bear

3 Stars

Do you happen to like steampunk or historical science-fiction, murder mysteries, lesbians, sapphic relationships, amazing writing, or Jack the Ripper retellings?

Well, if so, I recommend Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. Just to be upfront though, there are some racial slurs in the book and Elizabeth Bear is a white woman and it was published in 2015, so that’s something to be aware of.

Now, a really quick summary of the book: Karen Memory is a prostitute working in the late 19th century and like all prostitutes, she tries to live an uneventful life and stay out of trouble. That all changes when two runaway prostitutes from a rival brothel show up on the door steps of Madame Damnable’s bordello. Things only erupt further when a dead woman shows up in their trash. Soon, it becomes a deadly race to find out who is killing women — before they end up dead too.

As mentioned, I found the writing absolutely stunning. I adore writing set in the earlier centuries that was written in modern times and it helps that Elizabeth Bear is a phenomenal world builder. I also enjoyed the characters: Karen was such a unique and refreshing character to read the perspective of and the other characters were equally as interesting. The plot, however, disappointed me. It was very basic and the ending was rushed and frankly a let-down. The murder wasn’t someone whom I expected but it also wasn’t someone who shocked me that much, so that sucked. Taking all those factors into consideration, I rated this book 3 / 5 stars.

Representation: Lesbian main character, Asian, Indian and Black characters, transgender character.
Make sure to look up the trigger warnings!

Jazleen H.

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by Rainbow Rowell

In the novel Carry On, written by Rainbow Rowell, Carry On dives into the world of wizardry, magic, and mages. Carry On is a part of a series that Rainbow Rowell has created. In this magical world, Rowell has created its main protagonist as a young eighteen-year-old wizard named Simon. Simon is a talented wizard who is a little famous for his special magical arts and does he had vanquished. Simon shares a strong love for magical art as he encounters many other very powerful wizards such as Penelope, who Simon stated “Is much more powerful than me” and the Mage who is a master in the arts of magic. This Mage casts spells with ease, such as the “clean-up spell” that as the name suggests takes impurities off of your clothes and body. 

In Carry On, Simon acts as the narrator telling his own story, mentioning his childhood and some of the heroic things he did in the past. Simon is going to a magic school where he meets some friends such as Baz, his roommate. Readers that enjoy the Harry Potter series might like this novel as it involves magic, spells, and mystical creatures. Carry On mentions many mystical creatures such as vampires, dragons, a face mimicker, and more.  

I really liked the spells and magic, no matter how silly or unrealistic they may be, such as the “clean-up spell” Alas, I found the book a little boring as Simon, as the narrator, usually talks about his adventures in the past and when he does talk about events in the present Simon’s pace is a little slow from the beginning to around the fifth chapter. In the fifth chapter, he talks about the sword in his possession named “The Sword of mages”. This is when I started to get interested in the book when it added a little bit more magical items. In all, I liked this book even though it had a slow start. I feel like other people will love this book and all the magical aspects of it.

Leo S.

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by Laurel Fantauzzo

5 Stars

My Heart Underwater by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo is written about a Filipino-American girl named Corazon Tagubio, living in California with her parents, who she calls Mama and Papa. She’s young and figuring herself out, specifically her sexuality in regards to her crush on Ms. Holden, the AP European History substitute teacher. Corazon, or “Cory” for short, has conflicting feelings about her queerness and her religion. Cory’s morality class says that her feelings are “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to Natural Law.” One day, her secret is uncovered. Cory’s Papa goes through something that seems like it will change him forever. Everything seems to crumble; to make it worse, Cory is sent to the Philippines to live with unknown relatives. She seems afraid of these unfamiliar people, unfamiliar mannerisms, and an unfamiliar country. Readers may appreciate Fantauzzo’s wonderful ability to understand how to give the readers a proper look into the intensity or sadness of a moment. My Heart Underwater features the integration of Tagalog and Taglish (Tagalog & English), which adds to the genuineness of its Filipino perspective. This added aspect can help other Filipino readers to feel seen in a way not commonly found in books or any media before. Personally, its authenticity in speaking to the Filipino perspective in North America really spoke to me and made me feel heard, warm and sad in all the right ways. One quote that really resonated with me that made me pause and think was this, “‘Some men,’ she begins, ‘Sometimes… all they know how to do, is control. If you try to be away from their control, in any small way, they punish. I was not like my sister, ready to please, ready to obey. If you must reshape yourself, contort yourself, for their love, anak, it is not love.'” The banter between parent and child really brought joy to my heart, and seeing how Cory’s relationship with her parents evolve and change with many surprises was truly lovely to read through.

Though the story felt so perfect, there were some flaws. Some writing techniques felt a little repetitive and boring at times. For example, the use of continual commas that might have indicated Cory’s worry repeated so much that it was uninteresting to read. There were also some parts within the book that was a little dull such as her arrival in the Philippines. Some parts of the plot seemed too rushed to fully take in, for instance, Cory’s romances throughout the book.

Overall, even with some minimal imperfections, the book was so worth reading. All the fierce scenes of emotional rollercoasters or happy little moments were so amusing and entertaining to read. As a queer Filipino living with immigrant parents, in a North American country, it depicted my life almost perfectly. It made me feel seen and important, which is crucial and major to literature now. My Heart Underwater, for me, was a 9/10. It’s definitely a must-read for anyone looking to see a different cultural perspective you may not be used to, and it is very enjoyable to absorb yourself into.

Leo V.

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by Kalynn Bayron

4.5 Stars

It has been 200 years since Cinderella and the Prince found each other, but that fairy tale has been twisted into a nightmare. Teenage girls now have to attend an annual ball, where the men choose their brides based on the finery the girls display. Sixteen-year-old Sophia rather marry her childhood best friend, Erin, than be paraded at the ball in front of a group of suitors. On the night of the ball, Sophia decides to run, and she finds herself in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, who is the last known descendant of the original Cinderella and her stepsisters. Together they vow to bring down the king, and during that process, they find out much more to Cinderella’s tale than they ever knew. 

This book is a retelling of the story of Cinderella. It is a fantasy novel with a dystopian theme mixed into it. This book was very fast-paced (although too fast at times), and there was always something going on to keep the reader’s attention. I personally did not want to put this book down! The protagonist, Sophia, is a very strong protagonist to follow. Through her eyes, the reader sees this gruesome, wicked world that she lives in and sees how Sophia longs for an escape from it. I liked how this was a very different take on Cinderella and how the author incorporated a dystopian society into the novel. I also liked the relationship between Sophia and Erin because you got to see how the world that they live in impacted them. Overall, I would very much recommend this book, especially to the people who like to read fairy tale retellings!

Emily W.

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by Kiera Cass

5 Stars

The Selection follows the story of America Singer, a 16-year old girl who lives in Illéa. The story is set in a dystopian world, and the people of her country are divided into castes that have strict rules about what they can and cannot do. America belongs to the Fifth caste, which is made up of artists who perform in order to earn money. Every year, the Selection ceremony is held where 35 randomly chosen girls compete to marry the Prince and become the Princess. America, among many others, receives an invitation from the palace to run for a position in The Selection. America’s secret boyfriend, Aspen Leger, who is a caste below her, pressures her to enter. For many girls, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. But for America, being Selected is a nightmare. America is determined not to like Maxon, but soon they develop a special bond. Gradually, America starts to question the life she planned for herself as she compares it with a future she never imagined. 

I read this book a while ago, and I absolutely adored it. The writing style of the book is a little juvenile since it is targeted towards young adults. I would recommend this book to anyone who is 12+ and is looking for a cute and light romance. This book has all your classic tropes: the “she’s not like other girls”, the “mean, popular, rich girl who wears lots of makeup”, the “love triangle”. The book does get a little slow at times, but overall it is well-paced. If you are looking for a cute romance and a beautiful series, then this is the book for you.

Harnoor S.

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by Tui T. Sutherland

5 Stars

Wings of Fire: The Lost Continent tells the story of Blue, a 6-year-old dragonet and his sister Luna. Like other silk wings, Luna has her metamorphic day. During the day, Blue and Luna have fun as they go to Luna’s favourite restaurants and areas until her metamorphosis begins, except she’s a SilkWing. SilkWings are taken away by the wasp queen to be used for fire, and thus, she is taken by hive soldiers, and her brother is chased after possessed HiveWings in case he may be a SilkWing too. He and his friend, Io, escape while Swordtail tries to fight the HiveWings, but he is defeated and taken to Misbehaver’s Way. Io and blue are forced to split up, leading to Blue meeting Cricket, a HiveWing who isn’t possessed like the other HiveWings. The two then work together to find the prison swordtail is being held in. Once they find Swordtail, they end up making a deal with a group of LeafWings. LeafWing Sundew then tags along with Cricket and Blue, and the three successfully save Luna, steal the Book of Clearsight, and escape the Hive Queen promising to come back and save the rest of the dragons under her rule. This book is phenomenal. It constantly uses great descriptive words, and it never fails to keep a reader engaged. I would rate this a 10/10.  

Siji

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by Ashley Herring Blake

5 Stars

A coming of age and magical book, Ashley Herring Blake has managed to capture the feelings of a young girl and the trauma she must live with. Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea is beautifully written, expressing the exact thoughts of a pre-teen. 

Hazel Bly and her family had what you could call, a perfect life. Her 2 moms, Mum and Mama, were the perfect example of a fairytale couple. Peach, her little sister, is a ball of energy who loves the water, and so does Hazel – so did Hazel.

After a terrible accident where Mum dies, Hazel has been left with a scar across her cheek and a deathly fear of water. Mama decides it is best to pack up and move… eight times. Hazel finds herself struggling with anxiety and PTSD, feeling like the world has a vendetta against her.

But while she stays in Rose Harbour, Mama re-connects with an old friend, and Hazel makes new ones. She learns of the tale of Rosemary Lee and starts to see the magic in everyday life.

The book covers the abundant troubles that young children face, such as identity crises’, feeling alone, not understanding the world, etc. It is a great book for children who need a reminder that what they are feeling is okay, and sometimes you are going to need a bit of help. It plays a positive note on queer relationships and identities, explaining that it is okay, not unholy. It explains the effects of losing a loved one, and how it is okay to move on.

A world where mermaids such as Rosemary Lee are real, doesn’t feel insincere because of the characters, who are written as though they are genuine. It pulls you into its own oceans, letting you feel as the characters do.

Sarah B.

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by Jen Calonita

4.5 Stars

Set after the ending of the original 1997 animated Disney film, Hercules, this book explores the twist of “What if Meg had to become a Greek god,” to stay with Hercules in Olympus. Zeus opposes the match of Megara and Hercules. With both of them heartbroken, Hera approaches Meg with a mission, and once Megara completes this mission, her reward is to become a God, which would solidify her future with Hercules on Olympus. The mission Hera assigns Megara is to save her ex-boyfriend’s wife from the Underworld. The ex-boyfriend who abandoned Megara when she sold her soul to Hades to save him. Can Meg put her feelings aside and use her wits to defeat the monsters and Gods that stand in her way, or will she run away from Godhood and Hercules due to her fear of commitment? 

This book is a part of Disney’s Twisted Tales Series. It is book 11 of the series, but you don’t have to read this series in order (as they are separate tales from separate films). As someone who loves retellings and liked the original movie, I was so excited to read this book, and it did not disappoint! All the characters adapted well to the text, and Megara was such an interesting character to follow. In the original movie, the audience mainly follows Hercules and his quest to become a God to join his parents (Zeus and Hera) in Olympus. It was nice to change the perspective onto Megara, who was already one of my favourite characters in the film. This book expanded on Meg’s character, and I thought the backstory was fitting. I also love what the author did to change the story between Meg and her ex-boyfriend. The only qualm I had with this novel was that I thought there was too much intervention from the Gods, which I thought took away from the original purpose of the mission given by Hera (Megara had to earn immortality by completing the mission). Overall, I would highly recommend that you check this novel out!

Emily W.

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by Adrienne Kress

Based in the setting of 1946, New York City, seventeen-year-old Buddy is trying to escape the Lower East Side slums. Working as a delivery boy to help support his family, Buddy realizes that he wants to be an artist. A dream that seems to be impossible. That changes when his delivery boy job leads him to a Mister Joey Drew, who is the owner of an animation studio. Buddy starts working his new job in the studio and meets Dot, a writing intern for the animation studio. Buddy starts believing in what Joey Drew says about dreams coming true. But Buddy discovers that Mister Joey Drew’s animation studio is not as simple or perfect as it seems. Buddy and Dot team up to discover the secrets of the animation studio and find something they probably never expected to find, lurking in the studio.

This novel was based in the universe of the video game Bendy and the Ink Machine. As I did play the video game and enjoyed it as well, I was drawn to read this novel. Dreams Come to Life does a wonderful job translating the universe of Bendy and the Ink Machine into it. If you have played Bendy and the Ink Machine, some characters that do appear in that game such as Mister Joey Drew himself, are very similar to who they were in the video game personality wise. Even if you have no experience or prior knowledge of the original video game, this is still a great novel! It has a great plot, good pacing, interesting settings, and a wonderful cast of characters. I would, however, add on to Buddy’s grandfather’s backstory a little more. It seemed very brief. Despite this little flaw, I would highly recommend you check out this novel!

Emily W.

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by R. J. Palacio

5 Stars

Wonder: Palacio RJ: 0780537302395: Books - Amazon.ca

The book Wonder explains an incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman. His nickname is Auggie. Auggies mother’s name is Isabel Pullman, his father’s name is Nate Pullman, and he has an older sister named Via Pullman. Before beginning school, he used to be home-schooled.

In school, Auggie’s best friends are Jack Will and a girl named Summer.

Auggie is a boy with some facial differences who is beginning fifth grade. On the first day, kids around him were judging him by his look and were staring at him too. Everyone thought that he was dumb and not smart. He was also getting bullied by a kid named Julian.

All Auggie wants is to be normal and fit in with the other kids. But everyone is always trying to avoid him. At the end of the book, it turned out to be that Auggie was one of the smartest kids in his class, and at the end of the year he won the Henry Ward Beecher award.

In my opinion, this is a great book. It really teaches an inspiring lesson. It teaches us that it does not matter if we have some disabilities. We are all the same and should be treated equally, and everyone is smart you just have to put in some effort. Out of 10, I would give this a 9 because this book inspires me to work harder each day like Auggie, even though my back is against the wall. I would recommend this for ages 10 to 15.

Ahmed Q.

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