Review: The Familiars - Stacey Halls

“If the Devil is poverty, and hunger, and grief, then yes, I think they know the Devil.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (Pendle witches), Fantasy, Paranormal

Reading Challenge: 16 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Then Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft.

Is there more to Alice than meets the eye? Fleetwood must risk everything to prove her innocence. As the two women’s lives become intertwined, the Witch Trials of 1612 loom. Time is running out; both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

Rich and compelling, set against the frenzy of the real Pendle Hill Witch Trials, this novel explores the rights of 17th-century women and raises the question: Was witch-hunting really women-hunting? Fleetwood Shuttleworth, Alice Grey and the other characters are actual historical figures. King James I was obsessed with asserting power over the lawless countryside (even woodland creatures, or “familiars,” were suspected of dark magic) by capturing “witches”—in reality mostly poor and illiterate women.

My Thoughts —

Following my trend of only reading historical fiction novels (seriously, will I ever steer from this genre?!), I picked up this book after reading a bit about it on Goodreads. I’ve never really learned much about the history of witchcraft before, all though I knew about as much as the average person knows and after taking a recent course on the Stuart rule in England, I got the gist that James I wasn’t a big fan of witchcraft (or what he perceived to be witchcraft) in his kingdom. Despite my lack of knowledge, I picked this book up as sort of a beginner’s crash course on the topic. And it ended up doing the trick - I’m officially ready to learn more about this fascinating period of history!

I really liked how Stacey Halls flipped the perception of witches on its head completely by suggesting that the witch hunt was more of a fight for power and an attack on the poor than a reaction to an actual threat of danger. In this book, Fleetwood Shuttleworth - a young noblewoman - finds herself smack-dab in the middle of the Pendle witch trial when she believes someone to be wrongly accused and takes it upon herself to try to uncover the truth. What she finds is a world unlike her own, especially in regards to funds - those accused of witchcraft are disproportionately poor. Through her search, she discovers not only the truth about those involved in the alleged crimes, but also about those closest to her. The idea that the accused were not actually witches, but poor women who were unable to defend themselves is extremely eye-opening about the witch trials in general and how we perceive them today. In that time, what was unusual was considered evil, and the innocent were often persecuted.

Additionally, the way that women were portrayed in this novel was especially interesting. In the early 17th century, women had no rights and no position in the home or in society. They were silent figures that followed their fathers and their husbands - whether those men were good and right, or not. Fleetwood, our main character, has had significant hardship in her life as a young woman. At only 17 years old, she has endured horrors worst than most have in a lifetime. But these things have not broken her down - in fact, they have only made her stronger. And her friendship with her midwife, Alice, only empowers her more. But it is the witch trials that really sends her into full-force. She knows what she believes in and she follows this, regardless of if it is what her husband or society expects of her. Because of this, she becomes a full-fledged heroine. Through her journey, she highlights the greatest abuses against women in the early modern times and it is immensely inspiring.

Perhaps what I found most intriguing about this book, however, was what came after the novel - the Author’s Note, in which it was explained that the characters were real people who lived in 17th century England. That Alice Gray was accused and (perhaps more bogglingly) acquitted of witchcraft. The reason behind this acquittal has not been determined, even now, several hundred years later. Being a history nut myself, I found this mystery completely gripping and had even more appreciation for Stacey Halls, who gave a story to a woman whose life is an enigma.

Are you interested in the witch trials?

Felicia x

Review: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald - Therese Anne Fowler

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“Won’t we be quite the pair? - you with your bad heart, me with my bad head. Together, though, we might have something worthwhile.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (1920s/Lost Generation), Fiction

Reading Challenge: 15 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

A dazzling novel that captures all of the romance, glamour, and tragedy of the first flapper, Zelda Fitzgerald. 

When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the "ungettable" Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn't wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. 

Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner's, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick's Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.

My Thoughts —

My opinion completely changed over the course of this novel, in a way that has literally never happened to me before.

To me, it seemed like this book started off kind of slow. We see Zelda Sayre, young and fresh-faced southern girl, very naive about the world around her and even more full of spunk - much to her family’s dismay. In the final moments of the Great War, Zelda meets F. Scott Fitzgerald, a northerner that introduces her to a whole new world. The two fall in love and then embark on their lives together, first in Manhattan and then across the world. The early years of their lives are not nearly as tumultuous as the later years, so it’s sort of monotonous in the beginning as F. Scott Fitzgerald becomes quickly successful and the two ride on the money and fame that came along with it.

It’s not until about halfway through the book that things really start to take a turn and that the book begins to earn the 4-star rating I gave it in the end. The Fitzgeralds are not a couple to aspire to be, that’s for sure. In reality, if you’re familiar with the couple’s ill-fated romance, you’ll know that they both died quite young in the 1940s with Scott first dying of a heart attack and then Zelda dying of a fire in a mental hospital nearly ten years later. Zelda’s mental health condition during their marriage is well-known, with her going in and out of mental hospitals for years. But this book reframes her mental illness entirely. Diagnosed with schizophrenia after suffering from a mental breakdown, Zelda is constantly badgered by her husband and by psychiatrists to give up her aspirations of being a writer and ballet dancer, as these will inevitably be her downfall - it is only be accepting her role as wife and mother that she will be truly happy. But Zelda recognizes this as being wildly misogynistic and unfair. Despite the women’s rights movement being in its very early stages at that time, she knows women deserve a better place in society than what their predecessors were relegated to.

The tortured love between Scott and Zelda is absolutely fascinating throughout the novel as you wonder constantly if the two really loved each other or if they found comfort in each other and mistook that for love. Seeing the deterioration of their marriage and the unequal standards to which they held one another was entirely intriguing to read and I was completely roped in. And, last but certainly not least, I loved that this book focused on a real female figure who is so often overlooked in history because of the success of her husband - even though, as we learn in this novel, she was very much a part of his writing process and success.

Are you a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work? Did you know anything about Zelda’s story?

Felicia x

Review: Dear Evan Hansen - Val Emmich

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“I looked up once more, at the whole world; it was beautiful, I knew it was, but I wasn’t a part of it. I was never going to be a part of it.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction

Reading Challenge: 14 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today's going to be an amazing day and here's why...


When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family's grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn't invisible anymore--even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy's parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he's doing can't be right, but if he's helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He's confident. He's a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.

My Thoughts —

So, just a disclaimer right off the bat here that I’ve never seen the musical Dear Evan Hansen - yet. I’m seeing it on June 12 in Toronto, which I’m very excited about! My only knowledge of the musical going into this novel was the general plot and the soundtrack. With that in mind, this is a review only about the novel, Dear Evan Hansen, not the musical.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s jump right in!

I enjoyed this novel immensely. I thought it was a very well-crafted Young Adults novel that dealt with a very important contemporary issue that effects teens. Right off the bat, I connected to Evan Hansen. Although they don’t outright say it, Evan clearly suffers from very severe social anxiety which I also suffer from. I know what it’s like to feel isolated and alone because of mental illness. It’s an all-consuming restriction on your life, especially before you learn how to manage it, and this novel shows Evan really having a hard time coming to terms with his anxiety. I also thought it was cool that they normalized therapy. Yes, he was initially reluctant to try the methods of the therapist but coming from someone who went into therapy telling everyone who would listen that it wasn’t going to work for me, that was definitely something I could relate to. As the book progressed, I think he really learned how important it was to follow through with the methods his therapist was giving him to cope and manage his anxieties, which was great. I got a very similar feeling from Under Rose-Tainted Skies, which I reviewed last year.

I thought it was really interesting how the creators chose to have Evan deal with the death by suicide of his classmate. I think it’s really easy to see Evan pretending to be Connor Murphy’s friend and creating a web of lies, and think he’s just a massive jerk or that the authors dealt with subject insensitively. But I didn’t see it that way. I saw it instead as a kid with limited social skills just completely making a disaster of a situation. What’s interesting about that is that you don’t have to view Evan Hansen as an incredible hero with zero flaws. If all characters were built that way, books would be extremely boring. I liked that he made a massive mistake, I liked that he did the wrong thing. It’s important for people to see characters make the wrong choices so that we can learn a lesson from it. At least, that’s my personal opinion!

Lastly, I just want to say that the real villain of this story was Alana Beck. I won’t spoil the story, but her influence on The Connor Project in the second half of the book left me fuming. I hope to god she’s not that insufferable in the musical.

Have you read Dear Evan Hansen? Or have you seen the musical? What are your thoughts?

Felicia x

Review: The Lost Girls of Paris - Pam Jenoff

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“The truth is sometimes the very opposite from what you expect it to be.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (WWII), Fiction

Reading Challenge: 13 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

My Thoughts —

Personally, this book wasn’t one of my favourites of all the historical fictions that I’ve read. I picked it up because it had a very similar premise to The Alice Network, in that it revolved around women who were sent undercover to Nazi-occupied Paris during WWII. While The Alice Network was about women who worked directly as spies, The Lost Girls of Paris was about women who were sent out as primarily radio operators. But I figured it would be quite similar in giving me the feeling that The Alice Network gave me.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. And there’s a couple of reasons why this book just didn’t really work for me.

Right off the bat, I had a really hard time getting invested in the characters. The story didn’t just focus on one character’s story, but instead several. So I couldn’t really get the characters straight at the beginning, especially as two of the character’s stories paralleled in time whereas the third character’s story was a couple years later. So mentally, I was having a difficult time discerning who was who and what plotline was going on when - if that makes any sense. Once I finally got a grip on that, the story had already long kicked off and so I wasn’t fully invested in the characters.

Also, I found it frustrating how simple things were and how easily things came to the characters. Obviously, yes, there was significant conflict which you can imagine in a story about women operating in Nazi-occupied territory. But for example, within three pages, a minor conflict was presented and solved. THAT. EASILY. It was really unsatisfying. As crazy as it sounds, I prefer to have a complex conflict that requires a lot of effort and time to resolve, rather than a knot that can be easily untied in a few paragraphs or pages.

Overall, on the surface, the book was entertaining! I enjoyed it for what it was. I think the main downfall here for me personally was that I read The Alice Network before this, and I unintentionally held Lost Girls to a higher standard because of it.

That being said, if you want to read my review of The Alice Network, you can find that here!

What historical fictions have you been loving recently?

Felicia x

Review: Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival | 2019

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Springtime is here y’all! The sun is out, the weather is warming up, flowers are a-bloomin’…

Well, at least, that’s true for Florida. Ontario hasn’t gotten the memo yet apparently.

I haven’t visited Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival in 3 years. For me, that’s a long time! Considering I’m at the parks several times a year. It just so happened that I didn’t really have an opportunity to go. In the past, I would visit the Festival during March Break in high school or I would visit during the Cheerleading Worlds, like I did once when my boyfriend’s brother competed. But once I got to uni, I no longer had a March Break and school went to May. In first year, we visited New York City as our spring trip and then last year, we just stayed home until our summer trip to Orlando in June. But this year, we specifically planned a trip around the Festival because truth be told, we all missed it a lot! If you’ve never been, I would highly recommend it. It’s absolutely the loveliest.

While at the Festival this year, we tried quite a few treats. If you’ve ever been to an Epcot festival before, you’ll know how they set up numerous booths around the World Showcase which feature delectable treats from different countries around the globe. It’s a really great way to try some new food and experience the cultures of other nations. I’ve done multiple posts on the International Food and Wine Festival which I visit every year, including last year. So I thought I would review what I tried for the Flower and Garden Festival as well!

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Frozen Desert Violet Lemonade

I feel like it’s absolutely necessary that I start off this post with perhaps the most beloved of all the Flower and Garden treats - the violet lemonade. To this point, I had never tried the violet lemonade. The last time I visited the festival, the lemonade was either not offered or just wasn’t as popular as it is now. Obviously, it’s grown massively in popularity over the years, as this year they even had merchandise devoted to this sweet drink! So I figured I had to give it a try. I love lemonade and this was absolutely no exception. I was genuinely obsessed with this!! It was really refreshing and tasty, although it is quite sweet so if you’re not into sweet drinks this may not be for you! I had this on two separate occasions because I loved it so much. Also, it was quite lovely that they tell you where the flower on top of your drink came from!

You can find this at the Pineapple Promenade booth near the Refreshment Port!

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Watermelon Cucumber Slushy

Staying on the topic of drinks, my boyfriend and I shared one of these bad boys. I was actually quite nervous to try this! I’m not an adventurous person at all when it comes to food or drinks, and the idea of cucumber in a drink seemed like it wouldn’t really be my sort of thing. But I made it my goal to try new things on this trip! And I ended up loving this slushy! And so did my boyfriend, for that matter. The cucumber wasn’t overpowering at all and the bit of it that you could taste was really lovely and refreshing. I always love a good watermelon juice as well, so that part of it was definitely down my alley. I’m already trying to figure out how to make this on my own at home!

You can find this at the Florida Fresh booth between the France and Morocco pavilions!

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Beef Tenderloin Tips

One of our first stops on our first trip to the Festival this year was Canada. I’ve recently learned that it’s actually “proper” or whatever to follow the World Showcase by doing Mexico first and ending in Canada, but we’ve always done the opposite! I think that it’s because we’re Canadian, we are automatically drawn to our own pavilion. My boyfriend wanted to try the Beef Tenderloin Tips from the booth so we ended up sharing a plate and it was so delicious!! It felt sort of reminiscent of the Wild Mushroom Filet that is served during Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival during the fall, except this one didn’t have the creamy gravy/sauce on top. It was really tender and cooked well (which is a blessing as I can’t eat any meat that isn’t cooked well). And the mashed potatoes underneath were wonderful!

You can find this at the Northern Bloom booth at the Canada pavilion!

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Tri-Coloured Tortellini

First off, please take in how the pasta is literally almost falling out of the bowl smh. This is what happens when you try to take creative photos in ridiculous Florida heat and get a little dizzy lol. I’ve only recently gotten into tortellini as picky eater me thought it was weird. And even with dipping my toe in the tortellini world, I refused to eat multi-coloured tortellinis because I’m weird. However, we’re trying new things right?! So I tried this tri-coloured cheese tortellini and LOVED it. Like honestly this might have been my favourite dish at the festival. The sauce was a chicken veloute with sage butter which was really light and lovely, but oh-so-tasty. I’m already searching up how to cook this one at home, too!

You can find this at the Primavera Kitchen booth at the Italy pavilion!

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Toasted Pretzel Bread

Let me preface this by saying that I absolutely adore pretzel bread. I love bread as it is, but pretzel bread is even better. Soft pretzels just rock, don’t they? So when I saw that Germany was offering some sort of pretzel bread sandwich, I was all in. This pretzel bread was sort of in the shape of a roll and toasted with black forest ham and melted gruyere cheese. It was so melty and savoury and delicious! It sort of reminds me of the Croissant Jambon Fromage at Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie in the France pavilion - which is ham, cheese and bechamel in a croissant. It was really well done and I think it would be an excellent treat for if you wanted something more sustaining to get you through a long park day, as opposed to the sweeter options around the Festival!

You can find this at the Bauernmarkt at the Germany pavilion!

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Grilled Street Corn on the Cob

This was more so something that my boyfriend wanted to sample, and that I decided to try and ending up really enjoying! This corn on the cob is coated in a savoury garlic spread, which makes it absolutely so delicious that I can’t even put it into words. The corn itself was also very sweet which made it a really interesting mix of flavours - in the best way! I was sort of skeptical about just chomping down on a corn on the cob in the middle of a theme park but it was really tasty and I liked that they provided you with an aluminum foil covering at the bottom so you could hold the corn without touching it with your bare hands! Regardless, this was a super messy treat. The garlic spread got all over our faces lol so I would definitely recommend having plenty of napkins on hand if you decide to try this!

You can find this at the Trowel and Trellis booth near the Mexico pavilion!

Frushi

Lastly, we tried the famous Frushi. I’ve seen a ton of Instagrammers snacking on Frushi over the years at the Flower and Garden Festival, so I just had to know what was so great about it. I have NEVER eaten sushi before, in my life. I don’t even think I’ve seen anyone eat sushi in front of me before, unless maybe my dad did once upon a time. I’m not a seafood-eater at all so sushi isn’t in the cards for me. But fruit sushi is! Frushi is comprised of fresh pineapple, strawberry and melon rolled with raspberry coconut rice and sprinkled with toasted coconut, accompanied by whipped cream on the side (with some sort of raspberry sauce on it I think). I had no idea how to go about eating this lol my dad had to tell me to eat it in one bite which is hilarious because I only ever eat things in small bites. But it was good! I don’t know that I loved it, but it was refreshing and the fruit was so so tasty! I think the only thing that put me off might have been the raspberry coconut rice. But I’d try it again in the future!

You can find the frushi at the Hanami booth at the Japan pavilion!

And that’s a close on my 2019 Flower and Garden Festival adventures! It was so lovely to be back at this beautiful festival, enjoying the wonderful treats and sights. I love how they integrate flowers in their sweets and how they keep everything fresh and themed to the season. We tried sooo many things this year but there were still so many things I wish I had time to sample! If you tried anything that I didn’t feature in this post, let me know what it was and what you thought of it!

Felicia x

Review: Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

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“Some blows fall too heavy upon those too fragile.”

My Rating: ★★★

Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction (19th c.), Fantasy

Reading Challenge: 11 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices—living and dead, historical and invented—to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?

My Thoughts —

Okay, so this book didn’t really work for me. I KNOW, I’m like the only person who’s read this book that didn’t like it.

Not that I didn’t like it per se, but I just didn’t love it. Not as much as everyone else seems to enjoy it. I think the problem for me laid in the structure of the novel. There were essentially two types of chapters. The first was a chapter written sort of like a script, where the characters talked in both a dialogue and in a narrative format. The second was a selection of quotes that appeared to be from different sources that discussed Abraham Lincoln and his son, Willie’s death. Each chapter was so fast-paced and short that I just couldn’t get into the story enough.

I also found the style of the writing to be eerily similar to that of Samuel Beckett. If you’ve ever read Beckett and you’ve also read Lincoln in the Bardo, I’m sure you see what I’m talking about. I’m not a fan of Beckett at all so the similarities in the writing were not great for me.

Honestly, I’m not sure what more there is to say! I thought that the writing itself was well done. It’s just that this style of novels doesn’t particularly work for me. But considering the accolades that the book has been getting, I can tell I’m one of the few who sees it this way so don’t let this review deter you from reading it if you’re interested in it!

Felicia x

Review: Daisy Jones & the Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid

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“I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse. I am the somebody.”

My Rating: ★★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (1970s), Fiction, Adult Fiction

Reading Challenge: 12 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

My Thoughts —

You know when you pick up a book, read the first couple chapters, and just know you’re in for something good? That was this book.

Daisy Jones & The Six has easily become my favourite book of the year so far. It’s so exciting, and multidimensional, and just absolutely fascinating. I love ‘70s music so much. Some of my favourite bands and artists are from the ‘70s, including Fleetwood Mac. So when I started reading this, I immediately noticed the similarities between Daisy Jones and Stevie Nicks, and I think that made it all the more interesting for me.

I really liked how the book started off by already telling you that the band would break-up and when. You knew that the whole book would be a culmination of the tensions which would lead to this massive split in Chicago. I thought that was pretty interesting as then I spent the rest of the book trying to guess who or what would break-up the band. There was a lot of problems for and amongst the band members, so it was a massive guessing game trying to figure out what would be their ultimate demise!

There are so many topics covered in this novel. Overall, it’s about a band making music, bumping heads, and then eventually breaking up. But underneath it all, there’s addiction, love, heartbreak, family, grief, loss, abuse, abortion, and feminism. All wrapped up into one. The author touches on all these topics, weaving them into the storyline and using them to explain why the characters behave in certain ways. Everyone has a story behind their shiny surface. It was particularly interesting how when, for example, the author would have a character describe some event from the tour that shaped their lives forever, the other characters wouldn’t even know it ever happened. It goes to show how you can see someone every single day and think you know everything about that person, but you really don’t know them at all.

I absolutely believe this needs to be adapted into a film or a limited TV series. It’s all set up to be a mockumentary and the album lyrics are there, just waiting to have music added to them and be turned into an incredible soundtrack. It just seems to perfect to not be adapted. Plus, it’s a fairly original concept, different from the typical things you read or watch. Above all, I need the soundtrack to this more than I need air.

CW: drugs/addiction, abortion, abuse

Felicia x

Review: The Gown - Jennifer Robson

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My Rating: ★★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction

Reading Challenge: 10 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.

“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.

My Thoughts —

I do genuinely love me a good historical fiction. Lately, as in the past six months, I’ve been reading a ton of WWII books. I don’t think I ever set out to specifically find WWII books, but they sort of always end up in my lap and I always devour them. I’m not sure what our fascination with wartime stories is, though I did read once someone said that it’s us trying to suffer vicariously through somebody else’s pain which I don’t think is it at all. If I had to guess, I’d say we enjoy reading wartime stories because we like to hear stories of resilience, courage, and love. Yes, there’s heartache, but that’s the reality of life. Seeing the bravery of those who fought in the war, even in fictional form, is inspiring.

Anyway, The Gown is a WWII story but in an inconspicuous way, in that it’s set a few years into the post-war era and the war isn’t the premise nor backdrop of the story. The title gives away the plot of the novel, in fact. It’s about a bridal gown, Queen Elizabeth II’s to be exact (although, back then, she was just a princess). But the novel is just so much more than just the embroidery on a dress. It’s about the friendship among women, the bond between family, grief, loss, heartbreak, betrayal, and the difficulties many people faced in the post-war years.

I thought this book was all around perfect. I enjoyed the storyline and I liked hearing about the lives of these three women, how their lives both paralleled and completely opposed one another, even across different generations. If you read my review on The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, you may remember me mentioning how I wasn’t a fan of the use of dual-narratives in that book. In this case, however, I actually thought it was really well done! And Jennifer Robson actually wrote three different storylines/narratives in this book… Triple-narrative??? I don’t know, haha. But anyway, it was very, very good!!

However, don’t expect there to be anything about royalty in this novel. There’s really nothing about the royals except for a) the fact that the dresses are made for them and b) a chapter or two where they discuss the royal wedding, but from the perspectives of the characters who in no way shape or form come into contact with any royal. So, if you were hoping for some Queenie action, sorry! This might disappoint you lol.

TW (spoilers ahead!!) — there is a scene which depicts rape. Please be cautious of this if/when you decide to read this book!!

Are you into WWII novels? If so, why?

Felicia x

Review: The Quintland Sisters - Shelley Wood

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My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (1930s), Fiction, Adult Fiction

Reading Challenge: 9 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

In Shelley Wood’s fiction debut, readers are taken inside the devastating true story of the Dionne Quintuplets, told from the perspective of one young woman who meets them at the moment of their birth.

Reluctant midwife Emma Trimpany is just 17 when she assists at the harrowing birth of the Dionne quintuplets: five tiny miracles born to French farmers in hardscrabble Northern Ontario in 1934. Emma cares for them through their perilous first days and when the government decides to remove the babies from their francophone parents, making them wards of the British king, Emma signs on as their nurse.

Over 6,000 daily visitors come to ogle the identical “Quints” playing in their custom-built playground; at the height of the Great Depression, the tourism and advertising dollars pour in. While the rest of the world delights in their sameness, Emma sees each girl as unique: Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Marie, and Émilie. With her quirky eye for detail, Emma records every strange twist of events in her private journals.

As the fight over custody and revenues turns increasingly explosive, Emma is torn between the fishbowl sanctuary of Quintland and the wider world, now teetering on the brink of war. Steeped in research, Quintland is a novel of love, heartache, resilience, and enduring sisterhood—a fictional, coming-of-age story bound up in one of the strangest true tales of the past century.

My Thoughts —

So I first learned about the Dionne quintuplets in a women’s history course in university. If you’re not familiar with the case (which you probably aren’t), basically in the 1930s, a woman in Ontario, Canada gave birth to quintuplets. Her and her husband were poor, lived in a farmhouse without electricity, and already had a number of children. Having quintuplets was extremely rare in that time. What was more rare was that all five babies, born two months premature, survived infancy. Shortly after Elzire Dionne gave birth, a doctor named Allan Roy Dafoe who effectively took control over the babies and even created a hospital and nursery nearby where the girls grew up for many years, with a viewing window through which visitors could watch them play (no, I’m not joking). They were massively exploited, used to sell products and advice to mothers. It was all crazy and honestly pretty gross.

This novel is highly fictionalized, which I think is the most important aspect to be pointed out in this review. Please don’t go into reading this novel with expectations of an honest representation of the controversy of the early lives of the Dionne quints, ‘cause you ain’t going to find it here. What you will find, however, is a pretty basic idea of the quintuplets’ story and an entertaining historical fiction about a little bit of Canadian history. Hurray for Canadian representation! We get so little of it, honestly.

The story’s lead character and narrator, Emma Trimpany, is a fictional character who was portrayed as a nurse to the girls in their first few years. Her story is told through diary entries and letters, which I think was an interesting and effective way to format the novel. I think for the most part, this story focuses on Emma’s life rather than the story of the quints. I mean, the quints are a major aspect of the story, however, it’s more about Emma’s personal growth, I believe. At the beginning of the novel, she’s this extremely naive, sort of lost young girl, and her time working with the quints forces her to mature and face some really terrible aspects of the real world.

All in all, it was an entertaining story! I think it was a good story about a piece of Canadian history, with the backdrop of the pre-WWII years. But in terms of being a good fictional retelling of the Dionne quints specifically… meh.

Had you heard of the Dionne quintuplets before?

Felicia x

Review: My Life on the Road - Gloria Steinem

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“If you travel long enough, every story becomes a novel.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Non-Fiction, Feminism, Memoir, Biography

Reading Challenge: 8 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.

My Thoughts —

Last term, I took a Women’s History course in uni which focused on the women’s social movements in North America from the late 19th century to the early 21st century. The content of the course got me really into feminism. I mean, I was already a feminist prior to, but it sort of ignited in me a desire to learn more about the efforts of women in these movements. So I have set myself on a mission to read more books - fiction and non-fiction - by female authors, about female stories.

My Life on the Road is a book that I’ve wanted to read for a while, but didn’t really know much about. I just knew that a) it was apparently a great book, and b) Gloria Steinem was a feminist. Now that I’ve actually read the book, I’ve looked into Gloria Steinem more and am completely blown away with all the activism she has done for the majority of her life. She has spoken up on a ton of issues pertaining to women and equality, and has advocated for women’s control over their own bodies. Truly, she’s inspirational.

I was completely in awe of Gloria’s stories. This is a woman who has literally lived on the road. She has seen so much, experienced things that most people never will. And most of what she has seen was in most American’s backyard - they just haven’t bothered to look for it. I think one of the main messages I took from this book was that there is a whole world out there. There’s so much to see and do and, most importantly, there’s people living lives we could never fathom. We need to seek these things out. Spending our whole lives in a tiny, isolated corner of the world isn’t living at all.

Have you read Gloria Steinem’s book? What were your thoughts?

Felicia x

Review: Emma - Jane Austen

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“I may have lost my heart, but not my self-control.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Classics, Fiction, Romance

Reading Challenge: 7 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

‘I wonder what will become of her!’

So speculate the friends and neighbours of Emma Woodhouse, the lovely, lively, wilful, and fallible heroine of Jane Austen's fourth published novel. Confident that she knows best, Emma schemes to find a suitable husband for her pliant friend Harriet, only to discover that she understands the feelings of others as little as she does her own heart. As Emma puzzles and blunders her way through the mysteries of her social world, Austen evokes for her readers a cast of unforgettable characters and a detailed portrait of a small town undergoing historical transition. 

My Thoughts —

This was the final Jane Austen novel that I read for my third year Austen course in uni last term. As I had literally a million things to do by the time my exam rolled around, I never got to finish reading Emma before the exam and left something like 50 pages for myself to read after I came back from winter break. (In case you’re wondering, I did well on the final!). Well, procrastination at its finest, I didn’t get around to finishing this until mid-February.

Emma is easily one of my favourite Austen novels, now that I’ve gone and read them all (but Persuasion). I really hadn’t heard much about Emma before, as it's not one of the more talked-about Austen novels, at least not in the way of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. It’s sort of underrated in that regard. I found it to be wonderful.

Emma is an unlikeable character in a few ways. She’s petty, naive, and extremely selfish. She tries to control situations so that they benefit her, which is clear through her convincing her best friend not to marry a man she so obviously is attracted to because Emma looks down upon his social-standing. But I think beneath it all, she does have a good heart and good intentions as well. Throughout the novel, she does the necessary learning to grow as a person which I think is incredibly important. And honestly, it makes for a better story.

In terms of the story itself, I think this is such a perfect example of Jane Austen’s wit. I love the humour in this novel!!!! I find that some of her novels, like Northanger Abbey, don’t really hit the mark for the wit that she’s known for - and that made me love her writing. This one, however, is so clever and just downright funny. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be saying I was giggling while reading a book that was written in the 1800s haha. But, here we are!

In case anyone’s curious, my ranking of the Austen novels (excluding Persuasion) is as follows:

1. Pride and Prejudice

2. Sense and Sensibility/Emma

3. Northanger Abbey

4. Mansfield Park

What do you think about Emma? In your opinion, is it one of Austen’s best novels?

Felicia x

Review: The Royal We - Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

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“I fell in love with a person, not a prince; the rest is just circumstance.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Romance, Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Contemporary

Reading Challenge: 6 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it's Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain's future king. And when Bex can't resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.

Dating Nick immerses Bex in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace with him and his charming, troublesome brother, Freddie. But the relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick's sparkling and far more suitable ex-girlfriends, and a royal family whose private life is much thornier and more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he's fated to become.

Which is how she gets into trouble.

Now, on the eve of the wedding of the century, Bex is faced with whether everything she's sacrificed for love-her career, her home, her family, maybe even herself-will have been for nothing.

My Thoughts —

Warning: prepare yourselves for what might be my longest review yet!

If you know me, you know I’m massively into the British royal family. Or any royal family, for that matter. It’s not that I feel some intense loyalty to the royals, although I do think that as a Canadian, you sort of have an inherent respect for the monarch anyway. No, I just find monarchical rule utterly fascinating, especially now in the 2010s. It’s all so glamorous and yet you know how unglamorous it all truly is. It’s wild to me that as a society, we get so wrapped up in the romanticization of royalty. How we wake up in the middle of the night to watch Princes William and Harry get married, we follow their lives through the Internet or newspapers, we cling to their every move - even those of us who aren’t fans of the royals. And most of all, we all secretly want to know what exactly is going on behind the gates of the palace.

The Royal We actually bring us behind those gates and into the darkest, grittiest shadows of the palace. Mind you, it’s not quite the Windsors but it’s as close as any of us will probably ever get at guessing what their version of reality is.

I think this book’s cover alone tells a lot about our fascination with the royal family. Just by glancing at the cover, you recognize the faceless figures as William and Kate. Easily, too. Anyone who has seen anything about the 2011 wedding would recognize Kate’s gorgeous bridal gown and William’s scarlet uniform. The novel closely replicates the story of William and Kate, however with succinct differences. Namely that Bex - our novel’s complicated heroine - is an American student who has a hell-raising twin sister.

I completely devoured this book. It was dishy and romantic, including just the right combination of royal tradition and modern-day elements to make it realistic. In the past century, royals have truly become celebrities rather than divine rulers, and the authors really incorporated that cultural change. There isn’t a moment of Bex’s life with Nick, the handsome English prince, where she isn’t a subject of the nation’s fascination - and criticisms. I think the pressure of the paparazzi on Bex was hugely important, as that is a very real aspect of the lives of the women who have recently become romantically involved with the royals, from Diana to Kate and now Meghan.

One of the things I thought was most well-done was the timeline. The novel stretches over quite a long period of time, much like the real-life love story of William and Kate did. It follows the main characters through their final years of university, to their early adulthood and then to their mid-to-late twenties. For a novel that’s under 500 pages, it was an ambitious move but I think the authors nailed it! I was pleasantly surprised in that regard. I didn’t find it stretched on too long, or that it was choppy, or anything. It flowed very well and kept me captivated the whole way along.

The ending really took me by surprise. I won’t give anything away, but I didn’t see the ending coming and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think it was effective but I’m not sure it’s the kind of ending I expect or prefer in a novel. It didn’t quite tie up the strings well enough for me. But for another reader, I think it’d be the perfect sort of ending.

Are you a fan of the royal family?

Felicia x

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo - Taylor Jenkins Reid

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“Don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction (20th c.), Fiction, Contemporary, Adult Fiction

Reading Challenge: 5 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Reclusive Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant to write her story, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. 

Determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career, Monique listens in fascination. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s - and, of course, the seven husbands along the way - Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. But as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Written with Reid's signature talent for creating "complex, likeable characters" (Real Simple), this is a mesmerizing journey through the splendour of Old Hollywood into the sobering realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means - and what it costs - to face the truth.

My Thoughts —

I loved this book!!

So first and foremost, I love how Taylor Jenkins Reid made me believe in the story. Often, I had to remind myself that it was a fictional story and that Evelyn Hugo wasn’t actually an actress. I got incredibly invested in Evelyn’s story. But, interestingly, I was extremely conflicted in how I felt about her character. I loved her and I hated her. I was rooting for her and simultaneously not. She was a massively complex character which made her that much more interesting. If she’d been wholly good, there wouldn’t have been much of a story haha.

One of the only aspects of this novel that fell a bit short for me was Monique’s storyline. Honestly, I find that dual narratives are really a hit-or-miss for me. In some cases, the dual narrative is really well done. However, this one didn’t really do it for me. I found that Monique’s storyline was sort of lacking. She has a little bit of a plot twist in the end, a surprise element that kind of brings the stories of the two ladies together, but I found that throughout the first 3 quarters of the story, I didn’t really care about Monique’s story. She seemed more like a vessel for Evelyn’s story. I think this was especially a problem because her chapters were only a few pages filled with prompts for Evelyn’s story.

All in all, this was a really incredible novel. Everyone was talking about how good it was for awhile (which is why I picked it up), I can honestly say that I believe it lived up to the hype.

Have you read it yet? Do you think it lives up the hype?

Felicia x

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling

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“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Fantasy, Young Adult, Fiction

Reading Challenge: 4 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Harry Potter's third year at Hogwarts is full of new dangers. A convicted murderer, Sirius Black, has broken out of Azkaban prison, and it seems he's after Harry. Now Hogwarts is being patrolled by the dementors, the Azkaban guards who are hunting Sirius. But Harry can't imagine that Sirius or, for that matter, the evil Lord Voldemort could be more frightening than the dementors themselves, who have the terrible power to fill anyone they come across with aching loneliness and despair. Meanwhile, life continues as usual at Hogwarts. A top-of-the-line broom takes Harry's success at Quidditch, the sport of the Wizarding world, to new heights. A cute fourth-year student catches his eye. And he becomes close with the new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, who was a childhood friend of his father. Yet despite the relative safety of life at Hogwarts and the best efforts of the dementors, the threat of Sirius Black grows ever closer. But if Harry has learned anything from his education in wizardry, it is that things are often not what they seem. Tragic revelations, heartwarming surprises, and high-stakes magical adventures await the boy wizard in this funny and poignant third installment of the beloved series.

My Thoughts —

It feels very odd to be reviewing a Harry Potter book. I actually debated whether or not I was going to go ahead with this review at all. Technically, yes, I did read it this year and it will be counted towards my annual reading goal. But I’ve read it quite a few times and it just feels weird to be reviewing a book that I haven’t read for the first time in, what, 15 years?? Well, here we are. I’m doing it anyway!

For as long as I can remember, Prisoner of Azkaban has been my favourite book. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the full Harry Potter series since I was like 9 or 10 years old, so my opinions might have changed now (I’ll let you know once I re-read it all!). I still see why I loved it so much as a kid. Unlike the first couple books, which are obviously geared towards young children, Prisoner of Azkaban starts to delve into the older YA category, at least in my opinion. I think it’s not really until around Order of the Phoenix or Half-Blood Prince that the books go fully into mature themes, if memory serves me right. At this point, there is a serious plot line throughout the novel, but you still get a lot of that cozy, Hogwarts everyday magic that makes the books so warm and endearing for me.

A huge part I love - and have always loved - about this book is the introduction of the Marauders. I love that storyline so much. Much like pretty much everybody, I would have loved to read a spin-off series that focused on that Marauders in their Hogwarts years. Is there still hope for this to happen?! God I hope so, lol. I have a soft spot for Remus, always have, as I think he was a really important male figure for Harry throughout the series, especially after Order of the Phoenix (no spoilers just in case any of you have not read the series yet).

I just find it so interesting to go back and reread the series as an adult, as it’s such a different experience from when I was young but still, the magic of it is still alive in the words. I’ve been very slowly making my way through the series, but I hope to get through at least a few of them this year!

Is Prisoner of Azkaban your favourite? If not, which Harry Potter book is your favourite?

Felicia x

5 Broadway Original Cast Recordings I Love

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Musical theatre is incredibly important to me. It always has been. Ever since I was a little girl, I was completely enamoured by the bright lights of marquees, the heart-stopping numbers, and the emotionally evocative (not to mention catchy) show tunes. I was practically born to love musical theatre - when my mum was pregnant with me, my parents saw a bunch of musicals including Les Miserables and Rent. Actually, it was at Rent that my parents guessed what gender I’d be and my dad wrote on a receipt that I’d be a boy (clearly he was wrong!). As I’ve grown older, musical theatre has stayed with me and become an even more important part of my life. Not a day goes by where I don’t listen to at least one Broadway tune or badger my boyfriend with a million different facts about my favourite production.

Today I thought I’d go over one of my favourite theatre-related topics and that is the beloved Original Cast Recording - or, as it’s often referred to, the OCR. These 5 soundtracks are some of my absolute favourites, ones that are on a constant repeat while I’m showering or commuting to school. I know every lyric, every inflection, every bit of dialogue to a T. While I haven’t seen these musicals live yet (I know, it’s a tragedy but I’m broke and Toronto gets minimal love), they have still found a place in my heart and I am so excited to share them with you!

Disclaimer: As I’ve not seen these productions live, I can’t comment at all on the actual visual performance. I can only share my opinions on what’s included in the soundtrack!

HAMILTON: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL

Favourite Lyric: “And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m a compel him to include women in the sequel.”

Surely nobody is surprised that I kicked off this list with Hamilton. It is, after all, my favourite OCR of all time - and will likely end up being my favourite production of all time once I see it in 2020. For those who don’t know, this musical’s all about the American founding father, Alexander Hamilton, and how he fits into the story of the American Revolution and the inception of America as an independent nation. Prior to this soundtrack, my knowledge of the American Revolution was minimal at best. But Hamilton has actually made me more interested in learning about the Revolution! Each and every member of this cast is incredibly talented. They bring their own style to the characters, transforming historical figures into multi-dimensional people who you might sometimes hate or love, depending on the musical number. Lin-Manuel Miranda did a phenomenal job with this musical, as it’s so innovative and original. I love how diverse the cast is as well. The history of the war is not diverse at all, so I think that this representation was a crucial addition!

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DEAR EVAN HANSEN

Favourite Lyric: “All we see is sky for forever. We let the world pass by for forever.”

Wow. Just, wow. This soundtrack is AMAZING. Ben Platt’s voice is angelic in every sense of the word. I cannot believe that he was only in his early twenties when he played Evan Hansen (he’s still only 25!!). I remember seeing him in Pitch Perfect, honestly I never expected that he was this talented from that role. This musical discusses teen suicide and mental illness, which is an extremely serious topic and I think they handle it quite well. I’m completely dying to see this live, as it’s currently in Toronto, but it’s so expensive so I’m living vicariously through other people seeing it and through the OCR lol. I think it’s really interesting how a play with such a serious subject matter can have an equal measure of serious tunes, light-hearted ones, and straight-up fun jams (like Sincerely, Me which is one of mine and my boyfriend’s favs).

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

Favourite Lyric: “My cold dark tower seems so bright, I swear it must be heaven’s light.”

I’ve loved Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame since I was a teeny tiny little girl. It was always one of my favourite Disney films, although it is highly underrated and not all that talked about. I’ve always thought the movie was exceptional, visually and musically. So it’s really not a surprise that I love the musical soundtrack as well. Here we’ve got Patrick Page, an absolute treasure, playing the nasty Frollo and doing the part so much justice (even going above and beyond the original film) and Michael Arden being utterly fabulous as Quasimodo. Everyone in this musical is fantastic and the additional songs that weren’t in the film are really really well done, they felt like they fit in perfectly and were well justified. Of course, my favourite song is Out There because duh but also Heaven’s Light/Hellfire is AMAZING as well!!!

HADESTOWN: THE MYTH, THE MUSICAL

Favourite Lyric: “Orpheus, all the pretty songs you sing ain’t gonna shelter us from the wind, the wind, the wind.”

ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS A RAILROAD LINE. This soundtrack is incredible. I listen to it so often that my boyfriend automatically assumes this is what I’m listening to when I say I’m jamming to musicals. I ain’t even mad. I love everything about this - the mythology, the jazz-inspired tunes, the storyline, EVERYTHING. And Patrick Page is once again in this!! He plays a phenomenal Hades, I really can’t see anyone doing such an incredible job. I love how they modernized the story of the gods and turned hell into “Hadestown,” this neon factory under Hades’ control. On the whole, Hadestown is so lyrically and musically beautiful, I’m absolutely in love with it. And, most of all, I have to mention how completely shocked I was to find out that Chris Sullivan (who plays Toby on This Is Us) plays Hermes in Hadestown!! I’ve said non-stop to my boyfriend for months now how much I adore Hermes’s voice in this OCR and to find out it’s Chris Sullivan really surprised me. Who knew he had such an incredible voice?

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HEATHERS

Favourite Lyric: “I wish you’d come with me… I wish I had more TNT.

If you’ve ever seen the 1988 cult classic film Heathers, you’re probably doubtful that it could ever be adapted into an effective let alone entertaining Broadway musical. I get it. I was a non-believer too! But give the soundtrack a listen, and you’ll realize the impossible is extremely possible when put into the right hands. The OCR of Heathers has easily joined the ranks of my favourites in the last month or so. Barrett Wilbert Weed is the perfect Veronica Sawyer and her voice is amazing. And, of course, we cannot leave Jessica Keenan Wynn out of the mentions, because she’s absolutely incredible as Heather Chandler. Every song of this soundtrack is perfectly done (although Dead Girl Walking does sit a tad bit above the rest!).

What Broadway OCR do you absolutely adore?

What Feminism Means to Me

“You want a revolution? I want a revelation.” - Hamilton: An American Musical

A lot of women - or people in general - have specific reasons why they choose to identify as a feminist.

I never really had a moment where I decided that I was a feminist. It was always a part of my identity, whether I knew the term or the history or the reasons why I should be one. I was raised by a strong woman to be a strong woman myself. My mum has never taken crap from anyone, much less a man insisting their dominance over women. She worked in an all-male warehouse and she was their manager. I think that growing up and seeing her in her office sort of solidified who I was meant to be. I’ve always thought girls had every right to be taken as seriously and treated the same as boys. Thankfully, that’s not something I ever had to wrestle with and I’m so grateful to have had a role model like my mum in my life.

It wasn’t until high school that I really came to grips with what it was that I was really standing for. Until then, I hadn’t been introduced at all to the concept of feminism. Funny enough, it was Tumblr that introduced me to feminism. Actually, it introduced me to a lot of human rights movements. The more I saw posts about this concept ‘feminism’, what it meant, and most importantly, why it existed, the more angry I got. Why were women subjected to this treatment? Why had women been fighting for so long and yet nothing had changed?

Simultaneously, I was reading about the Black Lives Matter movement and the mistreatment of POC. I was 13 years old when Trayvon Martin was murdered, so I was introduced to that at a very young age and it stuck with me ever since. Feminism has always been intersectional to me. I read once this quote in an essay by Flavia Dzodan that said, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.” That’s exactly how I’ve always viewed feminism. I didn’t know what the term “intersectional” was until I took a women’s history course in university, but I understood that feminism is not for just white, straight women. It’s for POC women, lesbian women, trans women, EVERY woman out there, no matter what.

In recent years, being a feminist has become a more important part of me. Being a teen and then entering adulthood in the midst of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements made it crucial for me to recognize who I am, and what I expect from this world and other people. As much as I hate that women are still fighting all these years later, after the suffrage movement and the women’s liberation movement, I’m slightly grateful that I’ve been able to witness it firsthand as it’s given me opportunity to take a stand. Every woman out there has had some experience where they’ve been sexually harassed and that’s just ridiculous to me.

Feminism has evolved over the years, and has come to include all women from all walks of life and all backgrounds. As a white, cisgender woman, I don’t experience nearly half the pain that other women do. I never will. However, I think it’s up to me and other women like me to bring attention to these women and their suffering, and to make the world pay attention. We have to be allies. If we’re out here only protecting ourselves, or women who look like us, then what is it all for? I take every opportunity to learn more about women’s history, paying particular attention to those who weren’t white, middle-class women. Being only 20 and having only spent about a quarter of my life aware of what’s going on in this world, it’s been a massive learning process but I’m happy to do it.

While my influence on the world might be very minimal, at least I’m doing something. If everyone out there did the same, it would make a massive difference.

Read my other Women’s History Month posts: 10 Inspirational Quotes by Women || 5 Must-Read Books By Women, About Women || 5 Incredible Films with Female Leads

Happy International Women’s Day!

Felicia x

Girls On Film: 5 Incredible Films with Female Leads

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It’s Day 3 of my Women’s Day posts y’all!! This one’s coming in a little late, oops. But a gal’s got to put school first, am I right?

Today’s post is all about my favourite women-led films. These films all showcase courageous women, either actively fighting for equality or just living their day-to-day lives. All of these films pass the Bechdel Test (i.e. two women speak to each other at some point and the convo is not about a guy) which is obviously a super important consideration when it comes to crafting a list of films for Women’s Day! All of these films have left their mark on me in some way, and I hope that they do the same for you.

Without further ado, here are my 5 favourite female-led films!

MONA LISA SMILE

This is one of my favourite female-led films of all time. A graduate student from UCLA comes to the conservative, all-female Wellesley College to teach art history. She quickly realizes that the majority of the students in her class are primarily interested in finding husbands, rather than getting an education and a career. Slowly, their professor starts to show them a different life, one where they aren’t relegated to housewife and motherhood roles which was, at the time this movie is set, considered very dangerous and threatening to the social order. It’s a fantastic film all about sisterhood and strong women.

SUFFRAGETTE

Let’s throw it all the way back to the early 20th century, long before “feminists” was even a term for women’s activists and in fact, women’s activism wasn’t really a thing. Suffragette is a historical period drama that tells the story of a woman who finds herself involved with the women’s suffrage movement in Britain in the 1910s. I stumbled upon this film sort of by accident and just throw it on out of curiosity but boy was I glad I did. It shows the horrific conditions these suffragettes had to face (such as incarceration and force-feeding), being isolated by their loved ones, and facing danger and discrimination all because they were fighting for justice. It’s extremely interesting, and I highly recommend watching it to get an idea of the severity of the suffrage movement.

MAMMIA MIA! & MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN

Yes, I included both the first and the second Mamma Mia films. In their own ways, they are absolutely chock-full of girl power and sisterhood and all the things you’d love to see in a film about women. The first film, of course, focuses on Sophie trying to find her father. However, it’s really about the relationship between mother and daughter, and the power that comes from that sort of love. In the second film, you can see generations of strong women and how they interact with each other which is amazing. Donna Sheridan is one of the strongest female characters in the world. It also puts emphasis on single motherhood and positive female friendships, as well as slams down any kind of slut-shaming because it’s 2019 and we ain’t about that anymore.

PRINCESS AND THE FROG

While this one might put some people off because it’s Disney and an animated film, please don’t let that deter you from watching it! It’s one of the most underrated Disney films out there. This film has an awesome positive message!! First off, it’s got a POC female lead, the first African-American star of a Disney animated film which is huge. Not only that, but Tiana is extremely ambitious, confident, and self-dependent. As a young woman in the 1920s, she defies the strict gender norms of that time that insist she settles down with a guy and has kids, and instead decides to open her own restaurant! #GIRLBOSS. I absolutely love this film so much and wish everyone would give it a chance.

LEGALLY BLONDE

Y’all had to have seen this one coming. What is a women’s empowerment post without mentioning the phenomenal Elle Woods? Elle Wood is incredible. While she appears at the start to be a selfish, snobby rich girl with no brain or determination (an overused film trope), she’s actually everything but all of those things. This film hits the nail on the head. It puts intelligent women at the forefront, gives icky men what they deserve, and highlights the importance of female friendships. Hallelujah. Also, this film gets extra points just for the “You got into Harvard?”- “What, like it’s hard?” scene. Iconic.

What female-led film has left a lasting impact on you?

Felicia x

5 Must-Read Books By Women, About Women

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Hello friends, welcome to Day 2 of my International Women’s Day (or, rather, week) posts! Today’s post is a condensed list of my favourite books about women that are written by female authors. Although there are many, many books out there about women’s stories that I adore, I thought that listing them all off would be a bit much. So I narrowed it down, even though it was very painful to let some of my favourites go. I’ll do another post someday with a list of more of these sort of books… Maybe for next Women’s Day!

With that being said, here are 5 must-read books by women, about women…

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Out of this list, this might be my favourite (though, with these contenders, it’s extremely difficult to pick one favourite). The Alice Network tells the story of two strong women from the two World War eras of the 20th century. The first, Eve Gardiner, is desperate to help the Great War efforts in a way that counts and her wishes are granted when she’s recruited as a spy. The second is Charlie St. Clair, a young American who became pregnant out of wedlock and is on a search to find her missing cousin in the aftermath of World War II. The two women reluctantly join together to embark on a search for the cousin, bringing their stories (and hardships) to light. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking story and I just love how brave each of the women are, in their own unique way.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

This is actually a book I’ve not quite finished (only about 15% left to read!) but have absolutely loved every second of. You may recall Gloria Steinem from yesterday’s post. My Life on the Road is her memoir about her years of travel, both globally and domestically. In her stories, she recounts incredible tales that you wouldn’t imagine have all happened to one person. Her journeys brought her face-to-face with remarkable women and really opened her eyes to different walks of life, not only across the world but in the very country where she was raised. I loved hearing about the people she met, the things she experienced firsthand, and most of all, her activism for women’s rights and equality. If you’re interested in women’s history and/or feminism, this is definitely one of the first books you should read!

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

I only just read this book at the beginning of this year, but it has left such a lasting impression on me, that I had to include it here. This book is unfortunately based on a real-life incident which occurred in Bolivia. In the fictionalized retelling, a group of Mennonite women gather in the wake of a series of assaults on the women by the men of the community. The assaults occurred while women were drugged, and they were told that they had been visited by demons. Women of all ages, including children and the elderly, were affected. Now, they face a decision: do they flee, do nothing, or fight back? The novel is told through the minutes taken during their meeting by a man who has returned from excommunication. The experiences of the women were so hard to read and it’s even harder to imagine that it really happened in our world, not very long ago (the 2000s). It’s an excellent book that I highly recommend!

A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead

Yet another very difficult read, sorry! This one is a non-fiction about a group of female resisters during the German occupation of France in World War II. The women engaged in actions against the Germans that were highly dangerous, including the distribution of pamphlets and information to other resisters. Eventually, they are imprisoned and not long after, transferred to Auschwitz. It’s disgusting, and painful, and disturbing. But the point of this novel is not to showcase the horrors of concentration camps, although it does do that very well; it is instead to show the determination and the sisterhood of the women who were captured and arrested. They were all by each other’s sides from the start to the very end, as many became ill or even died. Their heroism was incredibly impressive, especially given the circumstances.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Last, but certainly not least, is a far less gruesome or horrific novel. This actually takes a really depressing real-life story, and makes it far less tragic and even makes it quite funny! Lady Jane Grey had a tough life. She was only sixteen when she was executed, after being Queen of England (maybe not even officially Queen) for all of nine days before Mary I came in and had her - and her hubby - imprisoned in the Tower of London. Her story is short, and sad, and pretty violent. But these ladies decided to change her fate. What if she never died? What if she actually escaped? What if her husband was…a horse? Yeah, it sounds bizarre but you have to take my word for it. This book is phenomenally funny and entertaining, a perfect YA spin on a terrible mark on English history. After all, it wasn’t even Jane’s fault that she was Queen. Why should she punished? This novel primarily features a bunch of strong women, including the not-so-nice Mary I.

Do you have a novel written by a female author that you’d like to share? Drop it in the comments!

Felicia x

10 Inspirational Quotes by Women

Some of you may not know this, but March is Women’s History Month! This month is meant to celebrate and draw attention to the contributions of women throughout history, a primarily overlooked component of our shared history. It also perfectly aligns with International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8 every year and has been ever since the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference.

Since this Friday is International Women’s Day, I thought I’d do my own celebrating through a week (well, four days - I had a pre-scheduled review on Monday!) of posts related to women. For my first post, I wanted to share 10 of my favourite quotes by women, from either distant or near history. These women are often noted as being “powerful” women, although I think it must be said that all women are powerful. These are just the ones who history has noted, though so many stories and influential figures have been left to slip through the cracks over time. With each of the quotes, I’ve put a little sentence or two about the woman who was quoted, so that maybe you might learn something new about women in history today that might just encourage you to look deeper into the lives of these fascinating women!

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“I ask no favour for my sex; all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” - Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (b. 1933) is currently serving as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As one of few women in her class, she attended first Harvard University and then Columbia University for law school, where she graduated first in her class. Her career has been marked by significant advocacy for the rights and equality of women, perhaps most controversially supporting abortion rights in a time where abortions were particularly scandalized. She has been a justice on the Supreme Court since 1993.

“The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn. We are filled with the popular wisdom of several centuries just past, and we are terrified to give it up.” - Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem (b. 1934) is a journalist, feminist, and activist who has spent the majority of her life on the road. Creator of the liberal feminist magazine, Ms., she has spent her career actively fighting for gender equality, travelling across the nation in order to speak to and learn from a wide variety of American groups. She has also been involved in a number of political campaigns, from the late 1960s onwards.

“Here’s what I think. Feminism is not here to dictate to you. It’s not prescriptive, it’s not dogmatic. All we are here to do is give you a choice.” - Emma Watson

Emma Watson (b. 1990) is mostly known for her decade-long role as young witch Hermione Granger in the popular Harry Potter movie series. After filming the final instalment of the series, she continued her education at Brown University where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. She has since been appointed a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, has travelled globally to promote education for girls, and has spoken at the UN Headquarters to launch the HeForShe campaign.

“I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” - Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 - 1797) was an English writer and early women’s rights advocate. Her most well known work is her feminist writing, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) in which she opposed the presumption that women have a natural inferiority to men. This position was extremely controversial in an era where women had prescribed roles in society which placed them below men. She was also mother to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of the Gothic novel Frankenstein (1818) and another boundary-pushing woman of her time.

“No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.” - Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai (b. 1997) is a Pakistani woman who is an activist for education of girls. In 2012, while on a bus after an exam, Malala was shot in an assassination attempt by a Taliban gunman who opposed her activism. Although she was hit in the head with a bullet, she recovered fully and now continues her activist work, despite further threats from the Taliban. She has since written a bestselling memoir called I Am Malala and in 2014, she became the youngest Noble Peace Prize laureate at 17 years old.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.” - Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë (1816 - 1855) was an English novelist and a third of the famous Brontë sisters. Charlotte lived a short life plagued with tragedy - she watched her sisters pass away before succumbing to a pregnancy-related illness herself. While she wasn’t outspoken about women’s rights or equality, her famous novel Jane Eyre was driven by progressive ideas, such as the right for women to have an occupation and inner beauty. This quote from Jane Eyre is quite personal to me, and I think it really embodies women’s independence.

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” - Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (1928 - 2014) was an American poet and civil rights activist. Her work, particularly her autobiographies, have raised awareness of racism and sexism, through her own experiences of both throughout her lifetime. In 1993, she became the first female poet (and second poet ever) to recite poetry at an inauguration of a president. Her writings displayed the importance of intersectionality - she was not a feminist, nor a civil rights activist, but rather a combination of both.

“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes.’ They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes.’” - Clare Boothe Luce

Clare Boothe Luce (1903 - 1987) was an American author and politician who was the first woman to be appointed as a U.S. Ambassador to another country. While she was not entirely feminist in her thinking, expressed most prominently through her belief that all women must marry and have children, her determination in progressing in her career, despite possible discrimination against her gender, made her a strong female role model in that sense.

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” - Jane Austen, Persuasion

Jane Austen (1775 - 1817) was an English novelist who wrote six main completed novels in her lifetime, two of which were published posthumously. Her novels analyzed and critiqued the English landed gentry, as well as place importance on a marriage for love rather than marriage for financial purposes. In her novels, she portrays women as being strong, independent and often courageous, which has led many scholars to view her writing as early feminism.

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” - Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde (1934 - 1992) was an American writer, feminist, and civil rights activist. Throughout her career, she brought issues of race, sexuality, and gender to light through her writing, most specifically her poetry. She simultaneously attended Hunter College and worked to fund her education, and then after her graduation in 1959, she got her master’s degree in library science at Columbia University.

Review: Dumplin' - Julie Murphy

“I guess sometimes the perfection we perceive in others is made up of a whole bunch of tiny imperfections, because some days the damn dress just won’t zip.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Fiction

Reading Challenge: 3 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

My Thoughts —

I’m a sucker for a good fluffy romance. (New drinking game: take a shot whenever I say that in a review).

Last December, I saw that the film adaptation of Dumplin’ had been put onto Netflix and because I have no impulse control, I watched it before reading the book. Big literary no-no, I know. But here we are. I really enjoyed the film but I had to wait until after final exams to read the book. So, finally, I got to read it and no shock, it’s SO much better than the film.

Dumplin’ has all the key elements of a great YA romance: an authentic female lead, a dreamy love interest, a complicated but enduring friendship, and of course, Dolly Parton, hero to all. To be honest, Dumplin’ really hit the mark for me. It pulled me in, got me invested in all the characters, and it just seemed authentic to me. I believed that these characters could be real teenagers, which I find is really difficult for some YA authors to capture perfectly. Being not so far off from a teen, I can still understand teen characters fairly well. Mind you, I feel like every day I feel less and less connected to teens these days lol.

I really liked how this book strayed from the reliance on stereotypes like a lot of YA novels do. Not only in terms of Willowdean, either. I thought it was really interesting that Bo could have easily been made into another mysterious, handsome, obnoxious private school kid. But instead, they made him into a multifaceted character. They also avoided having Willowdean desperately chase after Bo to the point that pining over him would be her only personality trait (I’m sure this sounds familiar). In fact, Bo actually chased Willowdean throughout the book. Willowdean is a strong, complex character with ambitions and goals, who happens to also have a crush on a boy. And I loved that about her.

Did you like the movie adaptation or the book better?

Felicia x