As you know by now, we are celebrating all things bookish by recognizing the 12 days of Bookmas, that most wonderful time of the year. This year I’m going to profile a small selection of favourite things on a theme, based on what I’ve read and enjoyed in 2015. To me, Bookmas goes beyond Christmas Day until the end of the holidays themselves. If you have suggestions or recommendations for topics, please leave them in the comments.
Today’s theme is Readers in Love with Love.
Everyone wants to be loved. It’s a basic fact of life. Sometimes it’s the comfort and love of childhood, and sometimes it’s that first crush in public or high school. As we get older, what we look for in love becomes more complicated – physical attraction, interests, sense of humour – but the basic element is the same. We want someone to love us for who we are, right now, without hesitation.
Like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and Raymond Briggs’s The Snowman,this gorgeous and imaginative 100-page graphic picture book is utterly transporting and original.
A little girl—lost and alone—follows a mysterious stag deep into the woods, and, like Alice down the rabbit hole, she finds herself in a strange and wondrous world. But… home and family are very far away. How will she get back there?
In this magnificently illustrated—and wordless—masterpiece, debut artist Guojing brilliantly captures the rich and deeply-felt emotional life of a child, filled with loneliness and longing as well as love and joy.
Wordless picture books saw a resurgence in popularity this year, with recognition for the divine Sidewalk Flowers and Float respectively. This sleeper hit has all the timeless qualities you would want from a quality picture book – beautifully rendered images, an easy to navigate storyline and enough emotion to make you tear up repeatedly. Comparisons to Shaun Tan’s work are justified, as this reads much the way of Tan’s The Arrival with a overreaching narrative that hits every emotion.
For adults, this won’t be an easy story to tell. Based on the loneliness garnered by China’s (former) one child policy, it tells the story of a little girl who is left behind on a outing, but rescued and cared for by a majestic stag. The emotions are rich and run deep, but younger children will still pick up on what the story has to say. The detail in the illustrations will capture imaginations, both young and not-so-young, and there is easily hours of images to review. If you aren’t cuddling your favourite little one a bit closer after reading this one, then you need to re-read it.
The Only Child is available now from Schwartz & Wade. ISBN: 9780553497045, 112 pages.
When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.
Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster mega-pharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime?
And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news.
No big deal, then.
Madly was a surprise this fall in the best possible way. Sam is a talented young alchemist who works in the family business and desperately wants to restore her family’s good name. The Princess has taken a love potion that has gone horribly wrong, and the world is watching as alchemists from all over try to find the ingredients to recreate the potion in order to find a cure.
I really enjoyed the different perspectives of love that appear throughout the book. Sam’s love for her family (and their love for her) gives her the strength and determination to keep going, and the bond between Sam and her parents is a wonderfully positive representation in a genre that often kills off parents as a plot device. Sam’s crush on Zain is also normal, although Zain is the too-slick guy I would have been cautioning my nieces to watch out for in real life. The Princess in love with herself would seem to be a trope, but in actual fact turns out to be something very, very different, and I applaud Alward for being able to turn this into something very interesting.
While some may refer to this as an “Amazing Race with magic”, I was happily surprised to find that it’s a book about finding strength in yourself in times of need, and understanding what is truly important in your life. Madly is the first in a series, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where Alward takes us next.
Madly is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781481443784, 384 pages.
Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.
This has been a ‘buzz book’ for a number of months, and I actually put off reading it because I wasn’t sure I bought into the hype. Thankfully, I did end up moving it up the pile, because while not every part of the book worked for me, it has a remarkable honest and realistic portrayal o a young man in high school that is rare in today’s YA books.
While this book received a lot of buzz for the honest portrayal of Simon, the real heart of the book for me lies in the falling head over heals crush that Simon has on Blue. That, right there on the pages, is what it’s like to fall in like/lust/love with someone for the first time. It forever changes you, and it’s not something you ever really forget.
“It is definitely annoying that straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold. Straight people really should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better. Awkwardness should be a requirement.”
Simon & the Homo Sapiens Agenda is published by HarperCollins Canada and is available now. ISBN: 9780062348678, 320 pages.
On the cusp of her first London season, Miss Madeline Gracechurch was shyly pretty and talented with a drawing pencil, but hopelessly awkward with gentlemen. She was certain to be a dismal failure on the London marriage mart. So Maddie did what generations of shy, awkward young ladies have done: she invented a sweetheart.
A Scottish sweetheart. One who was handsome and honorable and devoted to her, but conveniently never around. Maddie poured her heart into writing the imaginary Captain MacKenzie letter after letter … and by pretending to be devastated when he was (not really) killed in battle, she managed to avoid the pressures of London society entirely.
Until years later, when this kilted Highland lover of her imaginings shows up in the flesh. The real Captain Logan MacKenzie arrives on her doorstep—handsome as anything, but not entirely honorable. He’s wounded, jaded, in possession of her letters… and ready to make good on every promise Maddie never expected to keep.
The release of a new Tessa Dare book is worth a squee of delight every time. Her latest, When a Scot Ties the Knot, is no exception – strong and well developed characters, witty dialogue, enough angst to send you reeling and some crazy hot romance between the two main characters. Maddie is delightful. Scared at the thought of a London season and much preferring to be at home, she creates a fictional love interest. Imagine her shock when he appears on her doorstep, ready to be married!
My dear imaginary Captain MacKenzie, you are not real and never will be. I, however, am a true and eternal fool.
Here, have a drawing of a snail.
Logan is complicated and devoted to his men. There’s a lovely and somewhat heart-wrenching back story for him, and Dare allows him be just as complicated as Maddie – there are no cardboard cut-out heroes in her books, and he is no exception. I also appreciated that Dare allowed Logan’s men to be as damaged as their leader. Their war-time experiences were horrible, and it affected them physically and mentally; coming with Logan to the castle allowed them to heal in their own ways, and for them to find a new community.
What else can I tell you about this book that I loved so fiercely? The building relationship between Logan and Maddie is one of friendship as much as love, and when they do finally realize how they feel about each other it’s positively swoonworthy. Maddie is smart and talented and so painfully shy in public settings that she surely would be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in present day times. There is laughter – much laugher – between characters, in the dialogue, from the lobsters (!), and in the situations. There is just enough angst to make you worry, and a happily ever after that will make you sigh.
When a Scot Ties the Knot is available from Avon Books, distributed by HarperCollins Canada. ISBN: 9780062349033, 385 pages.
For years, Jared has existed on the fringes of both Eden society and Dallas O’Kane’s Sector Four gang. He travels between these worlds, protected by his money and power–money he earned selling his body, and power that comes from knowing secrets. He’s untouchable—until he starts a new life gathering intelligence for the O’Kanes.
Lili Fleming walked out of Sector Five with a gun, the bloodstained clothes on her back, and an icy determination to survive. She finds herself in a world where people live hard and love harder, and nothing’s more terrifying than how much the O’Kanes wake her up, make her feel—especially Jared.
Emotion is a risk he can’t afford, and a complication she doesn’t need. But neither can resist the lust simmering between them, and the sparks that could either melt the ice around both their hearts…or get them killed. Because the only thing more dangerous than loving an O’Kane is loving a spy.
If you’ve followed Kit Rocha (aka Bree and Donna)’s Beyond series, then you will know that Jared and Lili have been enigmas in previous books. Jared is a smooth talking spy, and Lili was the oppressed and numbed wife of a competing Sector’s boss. She’s managed to walk away from her life, but she still hasn’t found herself – in fact, her journey to figure out who she wants to be may be one of my favourite parts of this book.
Lili isn’t confident in herself at all -she doesn’t believe that she’s strong, competent, capable and desirable, mainly because she’s never had the chance to prove that to anyone, let alone herself. By taking drugs and removing herself from life with the O’Kane’s, she thinks she’s keeping herself safe; instead, she’s only extending her time in a self-imposed prison. It takes Jared and his innate knowledge of what Lili must have gone through to break her barriers.
Jared is pretty amazing. We’ve had glimpses of him as a smooth-talking friend/ex-lover, but we’ve never really learned much about his back story. He’s loyal to Dallas and the O’Kanes, but doesn’t wear their ink, and can’t if he’s to remain a successful spy for them. He’s been watching Lili for a while, and you can’t help but feel that he connects with her like no one else in the Sector Four compound. They are both outsiders – welcomed into the Sector, but never really part of it for obvious reasons.
At the beginning of the story, Lili has no agency. She does not affect the story, just floating along. It’s when she begins to direct her own life, her own story that Lili came alive for me, and I appreciated the detail that went into her journey back to herself. Add to that her chemistry with Jared, and how he enhances her sense of self by welcoming all that she has the potential to be, and their time together creates some of the intimate scenes of the series (a strange thing to write about a narrative that includes a five-way sex scene, but so true).
The series is known for the strong dystopian flavour and the crazy hot sex scenes, and both are in full evidence in this book, but I think I may have enjoyed it even more because the characters had to find their place within themselves and each other as much as within the Sector. If nothing else, they learned how to belong to themselves before they belonged to each other, and that’s a pretty awesome thing.
The Beyond series is self-published by Kit Rocha, and is available all fine e-book retailers, including Kobo and Amazon. ISBN 9781942432005.