A humble little blog about books, information, and other things that are good to know.

Posts tagged ‘friendship’


Perfect by Natasha Friend

Image via Library Thing.

Title: Perfect

Author: Natasha Friend

Year of Publication: 2004

Genre Keywords: appearance, bulimia, death, depression, eating disorders, family, friendship, grief, parents, popularity, psychology, sisters, teen, young adult.

Summary: When Isabelle gets caught making herself throw up, she gets sent to a therapy group for people with eating disorders – and to her overwhelming surprise she finds Ashley, the most beautiful and popular girl at her school, also in attendance. The two become friends, bonding over binges and purges and the relief of finding somebody else who understands what they’re going through. But Ashley can’t help Isabelle deal with what’s really wrong: the unhealed grief she still carries from the death of her father nearly two years ago. How can Isabelle heal if she and her sister have been taught to pretend it isn’t there?

Who’ll Love It: Often fun and light-hearted in tone for such heavy subject matter, this quick read will appeal to anybody interested in the emotional lives of teenagers. The rags-to-riches fantasy element of an unpopular girl invited to the “popular table” in the lunchroom is a fun exercise in fantasy, but the story really drives home the point that popularity, prettiness, and seeming perfection doesn’t guarantee happiness, and can conceal some pretty painful demons. It’s a very readable study on the difference between appearance and reality.

The Real Story: Isabelle may be a fictional character, but bulimia is more common than many of us might imagine, with between one and six of every hundred people affected, depending where you are and which study you take seriously. You can get a good general overview of the sickness here. Lots of people believe that bulimia happens primarily to young girls who think they’re too fat, but anybody can be bulimic, and the link between eating disorders and stress or emotional trauma (as with Isabelle’s grief or Ashley’s family issues) is very real in situations where people don’t feel they can deal with their problems directly.

By A Lady


By A Lady

Image via Powells.


Title: By A Lady: Being the Adventures of an Enlightened American in Jane Austen’s England

Author: Amanda Elyot

Year of Publication: 2006

Genre Keywords: drama, friendship, Georgian England, historical, Jane Austen, marriage, nineteenth century, romance, social mores, time travel.

Summary: Twenty-first-century aspiring actress C.J. Welles has never felt like she belonged in this time and place. But just as she’s on the verge of winning the on-Broadway role of her literary heroine Jane Austen, she finds herself transported through time and space to Bath, England, circa 1801. Despite her better-than-average knowledge of period social mores, she finds herself in dire straits almost immediately, until a chance meeting lands her in the role of a lifetime: posing as Lady Dalrymple’s unfortunate niece, Cassandra. Suddenly doors are opening for her, and she finds herself connecting with all the most important people in Bath, including the intriguing Earl of Darlington, Owen Percival, and his sharp-witted cousin – Jane Austen herself! Could this nineteenth-century world be where C.J. really belongs? And if that’s true, can she keep her liberated, modern self from humiliation when the rules of polite society tolerate no deviation from a moral code as strict as it is unfamiliar?

Who’ll Love It: Fans of Jane Austen and similar period literature will eat this up. The writing style is just the right combination of modern and old-fashioned to set the tone without becoming hard to follow, and the concept is creative and well-executed. But you don’t have to know Jane Austen to enjoy this as a dramatic and somewhat sultry romance novel. A few scenes are pretty racy, though – some readers may wind up reaching for the smelling salts before the end.


Regency gown with kidskin shoes.

Image via Dragonfly Formals.


Fashion Backward: There’s a veritable cottage industry online for Jane Austen enthusiasts, and if you’re fascinated by any aspect of the story, information is just a Google search away. Personally, I recommend an image search for “Jane Austen dresses” or “Regency gowns” to get a firsthand look at the fashions, which play a fascinating role in the book. The author’s commentary on very revealing gowns designed to denote virginity (because they’re white!) really piqued my interest. And our time-traveling heroine eventually finds herself in a great deal of trouble when her enemies notice that she wears the same outfit all day long, never bothering to change from a morning gown to a tea dress!

Anne Frank and Me

Anne Frank and Me

Image via Fantastic Fiction.

Title: Anne Frank and Me

Author: Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld

Year of Publication: 1997

Genre Keywords: coming of age, culture, family, friendship, high school, history, Holocaust, Judaism, religion, self-expression, teen, time travel, war, World War Two, young adult.

Summary: Teen blogger Nicole Burns is far too busy avoiding her homework, adoring the class hottie, and wishing she could get her kid sister out of her hair; she doesn’t have time to think about things that happened in generations-ago Europe. So she’s not particularly invested in her teacher’s guest speaker, a Holocaust survivor, or their trip to a nearby museum’s Holocaust exhibit. But then the sound of gunfire erupts in the museum, panic ensues, and Nicole awakens to find herself living the life of a Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied Paris. Her new life isn’t so very different from her old one – a gorgeous classmate she adores, an annoying little sister called Liz-Bette, friends and family and all the rest. But she’s also got a yellow star sewn to the front of her coat, and as she watches her freedoms dwindle as the war progresses, Nicole starts searching for a way to make her voice matter.

Who’ll Love It: Who wouldn’t? I recommend it to any reader. If you didn’t find Anne Frank particularly moving or wondered why all those musty old historical stories mattered, this book has the answer: because people who lived those historical experiences are not so different from us.  Conversely, if you’re acutely aware of the lingering evil effects of the Holocaust and the suffering it caused, you’ll find this book deeply moving and hard to put down.

Beyond Books: The novel Anne Frank and Me is based on a play with the same title. Look out for it! Even if there’s no local theatre company bringing this story to life on stage, it would definitely be interesting to consider your own life in light of Nicole’s story. If you traveled back in time to Holocaust-era Europe, what would your life look like? Who would be your parents, teachers, friends, and neighbours? How would you survive? Or would you survive at all?

A community theatre performance of Anne Frank and Me.

Image via Zona Gale Young People's Theatre (ZGYPT) at the Portage Center for the Arts.

Does My Head Look Big In This?

Does My Head Look Big In This?

Image via Journey Online.

Title: Does My Head Look Big In This?

Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah

Year of Publication: 2005

Genre Keywords: coming of age, culture, family, friendship, high school, identity, Islam, multiculturalism, popularity, religion, teen, women’s issues, young adult.

Summary: Amal is an Australian teen like any other . . . except that she’s a Muslim of Palestinian extraction who’s decided she’s ready to wear the hijab full-time. She knows it won’t be easy, attending a posh private school away from her Muslim friends while sporting such a hotly-contested marker of her Muslim identity, but she feels passionately about it. Now she’s dealing with all the usual trials and tribulations of high school – crushes, mean girls, friends with body-image issues, and more – but also with the judgments of teachers, friends, and strangers trying to identify what the hijab says about her life and placing her in the role of a full-time apologist for Islam, even in its most twisted and horrifying iterations.

Who’ll Love It: If you’re open to walking a mile in the shoes of a young Muslim woman, this book is a great way to do it. The central character is one of those rare gems – strong and smart and (mostly) confident, yet still believable. Readers who like a good relationship story that centers around friendships and family relationships (as opposed to romantic ones) will find an added bonus in the wide range of people supporting Amal as she tells her story.

Food For Thought: Does My Head Look Big In This? investigates some of the key assumptions many Westerners make when confronted with a Muslim, particularly a Muslim woman. For instance, when you see a woman in the hijab (or niqab, burqa, or what-have-you), do you assume she’s been forced to wear it by some man in her life? Do you stop to wonder how your assumption affects her or makes her feel? It’s worth spending some time with the idea.

Found Wanting

Cover art for "Found Wanting" by Robert Goddard

Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction UK.

Title: Found Wanting

Author: Robert Goddard

Year of Publication: 2008

Genre Keywords: action/adventure, corporate thriller, corruption, espionage, explosions, financial thriller, friendship, politics, revenge, suspense, travel.

Summary: Richard Eusden has a dull and predictable civil servant’s life, until he discovers that his estranged best friend is dying. As part of Marty’s last wish, Eusden finds himself tracking a briefcase across Europe – a briefcase containing evidence that could prove or disprove the survival of Anastasia, daughter of Russia’s last tsar. Apparently, it’s information worth a large amount of money to the right people, even information worth killing for. He never intended it, but Eusden’s life is about to get a lot more interesting.

Who’ll Love It: Anybody with an affinity for stories of corporate wheeling and dealing. There are a lot of characters to keep straight and a lot of double-crossing, lying, and game-changing to track. The story reads like an action-packed film; be ready for high-speed travel, bullets flying, and explosive death scenes. Literally.

Bookshelf Cameo: Surprise! This isn’t the first time Found Wanting has appeared on this blog. It came up in passing when I talked about Book Crossing; it was the book my uncle-in-law’s girlfriend gave me that prompted me to reflect on how books get shared between reading fans.

Here’s A Book: Pass It On!

Sharing is caring, they say.

So when I met my uncle-in-law’s girlfriend this weekend, and we discussed our favourite books and authors, she thought it was appropriate to go beyond mere discussion. She left behind a copy of the latest from one of her favourite writers, Robert Goddard. It wasn’t her favourite of his storylines, she said, but she thought I’d like his style and she wanted to introduce me to his work. And it’s not a book I probably would have picked up in a store, maybe not even in a library, but I’m thrilled to death with the opportunity to try it out.

It brought me back to my high school days, when my close friends and I traded books back and forth – recommendations, sure, but also hard copies of ones we’d recently read and enjoyed. My recent maid-of-honour was my main book-trading partner, and she was my direct supplier for the sorts of supernatural romances I would’ve been too shy to check out from the library. (Am I dating myself if I admit that was pre-Twilight supernatural romance? No, surely I’m not old enough yet to be dating myself.)

Hopefully I gave her something to read in return; I can’t quite remember. But I know I remember and value the stories we shared . . . and they gave us common cause for conversation, too. Who says reading is antisocial?

The truth is, if books were never meant to be shared, they should’ve been. Sharing a book can be a great bonding experience, an overture towards friendship, or just a general human kindness to bestow upon an unsuspecting world. Hoard books to yourself and they’re trapped on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust and inspiring no one. Heaven knows that’s never what they were meant to do. But the book that you’ve long forgotten, maybe even never liked in the first place, could be the one that ignites somebody else’s life, inspires their mind, or rocks their world.

So why not set them free?

Which brings me to the brilliant idea of BookCrossing, the website that combines books with serendipity and tracks each volume to see what happens. The basic idea is this: after reading a book, register it with BookCrossing and set it free in the wild, wherever you happen to be. Try being creative – maybe leave it at the zoo or a museum, or on a bench in a park, or on the subway. Then, when somebody else picks it up, they can go to the BookCrossing website and learn about where it came from and who had it before.

A book from Book Crossing available in the mountains.

Image courtesy of ABC's "The Book Show".

Let’s talk about books in the wild in Canada. There are more than 1,000 out there at current numbers, with 192 of these roaming my home province of Ontario. (British Columbia is the country’s haven for wild books with a whopping 384 volumes living in the wild.) Toronto makes us look good with nearly 60 wild books on its streets, but I know how big Toronto is. Personally, I’m more impressed by the fact that there are 14 books on the loose in Oshawa, 10 in Barrie, and 20 in Shakespeare – not huge cities by any stretch of the imagination.

What a thrill to follow the stories of each of these books as they travel through the wide world and encounter reading fans across space and time! But there are more stories, untold stories, of books like my new Robert Goddard paperback – books that aren’t being tracked online but still have a story to tell. And who can appreciate a good story more than a book lover?

I wonder what stories I’ve participated in without knowing about it. Where do my books go when they leave my home? Sometimes they get lost or left behind. Other times they’re donated, usually to a shelter for battered women. Whose lives are they touching? Or maybe they’re providing a welcome distraction . . . but a distraction from what? And where will they travel next?

I only know that, if reading can change the way a person views the world, then BookCrossing.com is absolutely right. Whether or not you’re tracking the book in its travels, it definitely qualifies as “serendipity in action”.

Prom Dates From Hell

Cover art for "Prom Dates from Hell"  by Rosemary Clement-Moore.

Image courtesy of Teens at Random from Random House.

Title: Prom Dates from Hell

Author: Rosemary Clement-Moore

Year of Publication: 2008

Genre Keywords: demons, friendship, girl power, high school, horror, mystery, popularity, prom, suspense, teen, young adult fiction.

Plot Summary: Maggie Quinn, a sharp-tongued  and strong-minded journalist for her high-school paper, has no great love for the petty dramas of high school, especially those manifested by her school’s popular clique, the Jocks and the Jessicas. (Yes, all the pretty, perfect cheerleaders at Avalon High are actually named Jessica.) Then, in the last few months of school, she starts noticing strange things happening to her popular classmates – bad things. And the cause seems to be supernatural. Maggie has always been told she might have some of her ancestors’ fabled second sight, but it will take more than just strong intuition to battle what looks like a demon from Hell. With the help of a clever science teacher and a particularly good-looking local university student, and of course with her own clever wits and powers of observation, can Maggie rescue the Jocks and the Jessicas from disaster? And if she can . . . should she?

Who’ll Love It: Anyone who loved the brains and bravery of Nancy Drew, but always wished she had a bit more of an attitude . . . and that the ghosts in her mysteries actually turned out to be ghosts. Maggie Quinn even compares herself to Nancy from time to time, and the parallels are definitely apt, but Maggie is definitely an updated form to appeal to modern readers in an age of wisecracks and girl power.

Fun Trivia: This is just the first book featuring fearless demon detective and journalist-in-progress Maggie Quinn. Follow her through the college sorority scene in Hell Week, then on to spring break in Highway to Hell. Apparently, unlike Nancy Drew, this girl detective actually ages over time!

Look at some of the spiritual and supernatural issues in Prom Dates from Hell at my paranormal blog, The Shadow Side.

Zombie Blondes

Cover art for "Zombie Blondes" by Brian James

Image courtesy of fantasticfiction.co.uk.

Title: Zombie Blondes

Author: Brian James

Year of Publication: 2008

Genre Keywords: friendship, high school, horror, mystery, popularity, suspense, teen, young adult fiction, zombies.

Plot Summary: Hannah has spent her whole life moving from town to town, and she’d love the chance to fit in somewhere – but for the new girl, that’s almost always impossible. In her new town, though, she might have a chance; the popular cheerleaders are taking an interest in her. Unfortunately, her uncool friend Lukas wants her to believe that the cheerleaders and football players – even some ordinary townsfolk! – are actual zombies, the kind he reads about in his horror comics. Hannah figures that’s crazy . . . although it’s true that the identical cheerleaders will ask her to alter her appearance, devote herself to the squad, and even change her name. But is that really too great a sacrifice when Hannah will finally get a chance to fit in?

Who’ll Love It: Anyone who remembers what it’s like to yearn for popularity and acceptance. It’s easy to see that Hannah is walking into trouble, but Brian James does a great job portraying the way Hannah’s desire to be popular overrides her critical thinking, so she finds herself making excuses and rationalizing whatever sets off warning flags in her head.

When I picked up this book I wondered whether Brian James, being male, could pull off writing about the world of high-school girl-fighting. After all, female social arrangements don’t really work the same as male ones. But either he has an inside source or he’s extraordinarily observant: I thought he nailed all the hidden cattiness and manipulation that comes with girl-bullying.

Fun Trivia: If you Google “Zombie Blondes”, theresult that comes up under ‘image search’ is pretty unusual – it features the same title-page image over and over again. It’s positively creepy . . . but I think it goes with the subject matter of the book perfectly. Try it and see what you think.

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