Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk


Author: Jennifer Kincheloe
Genre: Historical Mystery
Series: #1 in the Anna Blanc series
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 306
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
First Published: November 14, 2017
First Line: "Los Angeles, California 1908 - Anna Blanc was the most beautiful woman ever to barrel down Long Beach Strand with the severed head of a Chinese man."

Book Description from GoodReadsLos Angeles, 1908. In Chinatown, the most dangerous beat in Los Angeles, police matron Anna Blanc and her former boyfriend, Detective Joe Singer, discover the body of a white missionary woman, stuffed in a trunk in the apartment of her Chinese lover. Her lover has fled. If news gets out that a white woman was murdered in Chinatown, there will be a violent backlash against the Chinese. Joe and Anna plan to solve the crime quietly and keep the death a secret. So does good-looking Mr. Jones, a prominent Chinese leader who has mixed feelings about helping the LAPD and about Anna. 
Meanwhile, the Hop Sing tong has kidnapped two slave girls from the Bing Kong tong, fueling existing tensions. They are poised on the verge of a bloody tong war that would put all Chinatown residents in danger. 
Joe orders Anna out of Chinatown to keep her safe, but to atone for her own family's sins, Anna must stay to solve the crime before news of the murder is leaked and Chinatown explodes.


My Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the author's publicist in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: Ever since I read the first Anna Blanc book two years ago I've been itching to read the next book in this historical mystery series. Anna set herself apart from other main characters - she was sassy and ahead of her time in terms of women's right to choose what they want to do with their lives. This series is a mystery, with sides of humour and romance, set in 1908 Los Angeles. But 1908 wasn't a good era to be Anna Blanc, an impulsive debutante who wasn't satisfied to follow the expected plan for a woman of her standing. She didn't want to be a man's wife if it meant that she couldn't follow her dream of being a police matron.

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk is the second book in the Anna Blanc historical mystery series and it opens with an amazing, attention-grabbing first line 

"Anna Blanc was the most beautiful woman ever to barrel down 
Long Beach Strand with the severed head of a Chinese man."

This time around, the humour is downplayed slightly but readers will still see Anna's spunky personality as she and Detective Joe Singer try to figure out their relationship and solve the murder of a young woman found in a trunk in Los Angeles' Chinatown. 

Within the story, Kincheloe addresses the racial tensions and outright discrimination against the Chinese population and continues to show the restrictions set upon women of the time. Her descriptions were eye-opening, and I appreciated the research involved to bring this era and setting to life.

While I enjoyed this book, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first book. The romance element lacked tension and the mystery, while detailed and twisty, wasn't as intriguing as I had expected (especially their romp in the wilderness).  

Overall, this was a solid follow-up to one of my favourite debut mystery series. It is well researched with a unique setting and main character.  Anna's signature sass and compunction to get into trouble are in the forefront and I look forward to seeing what new scrapes she can get herself into.  

Note: I highly recommend starting this series with The Secret Life of Anna Blanc.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A Murder For The Books

Author: Victoria Gilbert
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Type: e-book
Series: #1 in the Blue Ridge Library series
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
First Published: December 12, 2017
First Line: "Anyone who claims there are no stupid questions has never worked in a public library."

Book Description from GoodReadsFleeing a disastrous love affair, university librarian Amy Webber moves in with her aunt in a quiet, historic mountain town in Virginia. She quickly busies herself with managing a charming public library that requires all her attention with its severe lack of funds and overabundance of eccentric patrons. The last thing she needs is a new, available neighbor whose charm lures her into trouble.

Dancer-turned-teacher and choreographer Richard Muir inherited the farmhouse next door from his great-uncle, Paul Dassin. But town folklore claims the house’s original owner was poisoned by his wife, who was an outsider. It quickly became water under the bridge, until she vanished after her sensational 1925 murder trial. Determined to clear the name of the woman his great-uncle loved, Richard implores Amy to help him investigate the case. Amy is skeptical until their research raises questions about the culpability of the town’s leading families... including her own.

When inexplicable murders plunge the quiet town into chaos, Amy and Richard must crack open the books to reveal a cruel conspiracy and lay a turbulent past to rest in A Murder for the Books, the first installment of Victoria Gilbert’s Blue Ridge Library mysteries.
 

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: This is the first book in a new Cozy Mystery series and as a Library Assistant myself I enjoyed that the main character is a librarian. I appreciated that Gilbert realistically showed what life can be like for library staff -- quirky patrons, the library as a community space where library staff aren't pinched-faced shushers but instead love books and want to share their knowledge of researching and the library's numerous services with the public etc. Libraries are cool, y'all!!

There is a good mystery here and it was more complex than I was expecting. Actually, there's not one but three mysteries, in two time frames, that are being solved! This raised this book up to a Cozy Mystery 2.0 designation - it has all the makings of a typical Cozy but with the additional mysteries and the tension at the end it gives readers a little something more.

The writing was good (if overly descriptive at times) and I think this was a solid start to a new series. There are a lot of characters to keep track of which became a little messy and convoluted figuring out how people were related to each other. But within this group, Gilbert gives her readers a gaggle of shady characters, each of whom could plausibly be the culprit, to keep her readers guessing. There is a romance (but of course!) but I wasn't quite as smitten with it as the characters were with each other. It had an Insta-Love vibe and smelled strongly of fromage. I think the story could have easily done without it.

While the book felt a little sluggish in the beginning the energy ramps up considerably in the end for a solid conclusion. Overall, this was a good start to a new series with a solid community of characters, a nice small town feel and a main character who can get into enough scrapes to keep things interesting. Readers are also left with some questions regarding certain secondary characters which could prove to be good fodder for future story lines.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Upside of Unrequited

Author: Becky Albertalli
Genre: Young Adult, LGBTQ
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 336
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
First Published: April 11, 2017
First Line: "I'm on the toilet at the 9:30 Club, and wondering how mermaids pee."

Book Description from GoodReadsSeventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. 

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?



My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: The Upside of Unrequited focuses on teenage Molly who feels that she's constantly struggling not be left behind by her twin sister and friends when it comes to the teenage experience. Not all teens sail through those years unscathed and it was refreshing to see how her anxiety and insecurity wasn't handled by those around her with derision or shame. Molly is how she is and they accept her but encourage her to step out and try new things.

The story itself is simple and focused on the relationships, which ranged from quirky and humourous to compelling and heartwarming. Molly is blessed with a good support system of friends, co-workers and family who are a lovely and diverse bunch in terms of race, age and sexual orientation. 

I loved that LGBTQ relationships aren't highlighted for their uniqueness but because they represent many friends and families out there. Albertalli shows a regular ol' family who just happens to have two moms and these moms aren't relegated to the far reaches of the story but are an important support system for their kids. How unique! Molly's relationships with her moms, outspoken grandma and twin sister were wonderfully complicated and I think that Albertalli handled the sister bond well. As the older of three sisters I can attest to the fact that the sister bond can be complicated, awesome, frustrating, hilarious, sprinkled with jealousy and competition and be supportive - sometimes all within the same day. It's a lovely, messy and important bond and it felt authentic.

Along with the teen angst and relationships, many issues are addressed such as teen sex, body image (yay Molly for being a 'bigger girl' and still enjoying food!), underage drinking and mental health (albeit not in a great amount of depth). 

The teenage years can be confusing and overwhelming and Albertalli focuses on the anxiety that some teens feel. But, sometimes Molly's low self-esteem was hard to read and it her inability to speak up for herself was frustrating when a little conversation could have cleared things up. But I'm speaking as someone who is a couple decades removed from teenage angst and while I think her anxiety explained some of her inability to speak up for herself it felt like her 'should I?/shouldn't I?' went on for a little too long.  

Overall, this was an enjoyable and entertaining read. It has a nice amount of quirkiness (I do love me some quirk), sweet romances, a relatable character, humour and focuses on various relationships and issues facing teens. And it also features the life-altering importance of Cadbury Mini Eggs. You gotta love that. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Pumpkin Pie Trifle

For Canadian Thanksgiving a month ago, I decided to bring a dessert to share with the 20 of us. But I wanted something different. Something everyone would like. 

And something easy.  

Growing up we always looked forward to my Aunt Jean's trifle.  Mmmm.  Cake, pudding, whipped cream and fruit.  Deeelish.  Sounds perfect!

It feels like there's an unwritten rule that a certain percentage of all food/beverages made/consumed within September to November must contain pumpkin spice (or at least it feels that way).  If this is the case, then at least I could rest easy because this Pumpkin Pie Trifle fit the bill. Phew!

Since we were celebrating Thanksgiving at the family cottage I didn't want to be baking while everyone was having fun hanging out so I baked the cake at home. This left me with only having to make the pudding and putting it all together at the cottage surrounded by all the family chaos fun time. Putting it all together was easy breezy, but I was left with quite a bit of leftover pudding and even some cake. Luckily, I had some help from the kids and we were able to polish off some of the excess in our post-trifle building glory. Kids are always great helpers, aren't they? The next time I make this I may try with only one box of pudding.

This trifle was a hit from the 8-year olds to the oldies because you can't go wrong with something that tastes like pumpkin pie.  You just can't.

With American Thanksgiving soon upon my American readers I thought I'd post this recipe in time for your long weekend but honestly, this is something that can be enjoyed year-round and tweaked according to your tastes, cake/pudding flavours/fruit that are available.





1 (515g) spice cake mix (and ingredients to make it)
4 cups milk
2 pkgs (99g/4oz -- 4 servings) butterscotch instant pudding mix
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
15 oz pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 (12oz) carton of frozen whipped topping, thawed

Garnish - pumpkin pie spice

Prepare spice cake in a 9x13-inch pan according to package instructions. Remove to a wire rack and cool completely.

Cut cake into small, bite-sized pieces. Crumble enough cake cubes to make 2 tbsp of crumbs and set aside the pieces and crumbs.

In a large bowl, combine pudding mix, milk and pumpkin pie spice and mix with an electric mixer for 2 minutes or until pudding begins to thicken.  Fold in pumpkin.

In a 3.5 quart trifle bowl complete the following layers:
- 1/3 cake cubes
- 1/2 pudding mixture
- 1/3 cake cubes
- 1/2 of the whipped topping
- 1/3 cake cubes
- 1/2 pudding mixture
- 1/2 of the whipped topping

Sprinkle with the reserved crumbled cake crumbs and lightly sprinkle, if desired, with some pumpkin pie spice.

Refrigerate until serving.  Store uneaten portions (who's kidding who, there will be no leftovers) in the fridge.

Yield: 10-12 servings

Inspired by: Pumpkin-Butterscotch Gingerbread Trifle Recipe

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

The Weight of Silence

Author: Heather Gudenkauf
Genre: Mystery, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 373
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: Mira
First Published: August 1, 2008
First Line: "Louis and I see you nearly at the same time."

Book Description from GoodReadsIt happens quietly one August morning. As dawn's shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.

Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler.

Calli's mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband. Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter's voice.

Petra Gregory is Calli's best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered. Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor.

Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.
 


My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Going into this book I had expected a mystery about two missing girls and while it does have its moments of suspense it was much more of a lighter character study of a group of broken souls. The book starts off with a good amount of tension and I was easily pulled into the life of Callie, a seven-year-old selective mute who goes missing along with her best friend, Petra.

The story is told via several different points of view and you're not going to like all of the characters who are quite flawed but most of whom have some redeeming quality. But I wish more time was spent fleshing out the characters - Antonia, Griff especially - and I was disappointed that Petra didn't share her POV with the reader. Instead, and surprisingly, she is a very tertiary character. 

There was a lot going on in this book - abuse, abduction, small town life, broken marriages, first loves ... and the book was entertaining but if more depth and page time was given to these issues I think the book could have been much better. The Weight of Silence (awesome title, by the way) had good tension to keep me interested but this tension falters considerably at the end of the book which is tied up too neatly and includes an epilogue that doesn't add much.

Overall, this is a good beach read that will give the reader a healthy dose of tension to keep the pages turning but remained a lighter read for me even considering the subject matter that is addressed.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Badlands

Author: Melissa Lenhardt
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Series: #3 in the Sawbones series
Publisher: Redhook
First Published: June 27, 2017
First Line: "The train lurched to a stop and let out a long sigh, exhausted from its trek across the featureless plains of Nebraska."

Book Description from GoodReadsLaura's worst fears have been realized: Kindle has been taken into custody and she is once again on the run. The noose awaits her in New York, but Laura is realizing that there are some things worse than death. Finally running out of places to hide, it may be time for Dr. Catherine Bennett to face her past.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: The Sawbones trilogy will appeal to many different readers because it's a whole lot of genres rolled up into one adventure series. It's part gritty western, part romance and part mystery. 

Sawbones, the first book in the trilogy, remains my favourite with the books losing some of that special 'somethin' somethin' as they go on. Badlands still had that grit that I enjoyed but it didn't grab me as much as the previous books. The plot was definitely slower, we're stuck mainly in one small, podunk town in the western fringes and sadly, we miss out on the connection between Kindle and Laura. When you add in an abrupt ending (and an obvious bad guy) it just wasn't the ending I was expecting after the amazing start to the series.

Overall, this is a good series that has a strong female lead, a wonderfully varied and diverse cast of characters and I appreciate that Lenhardt doesn't hold back on the atrocities, violence and grit of the Wild West. While this wasn't as strong of an ending as I had hoped, I still recommend this series (my Mother is quite a fan of it too!). I strongly encourage readers to read these books in order, and not too far apart, because there's a lot that goes on and the author doesn't offer her readers many hints about previous plot lines.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Parting Shot


Author: Linwood Barclay
Genre: Suspense, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 447
Series: Companion book to the Promise Falls series (** Recommended that readers read it after the third book, Twenty-Three)
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
First Published: October 31, 2017
First Line: "I ran into someone on the street in Promise Falls the other day, a woman who knew me back when I was a cop here, before I left for Griffon, near Buffalo, and became a private investigator."

Book Description from GoodReadsA gripping thriller packed with scandal in a small town, from the master of the twist you never saw coming - international bestseller, Linwood Barclay.

When a young girl from Promise Falls is killed by a drunk driver, the community wants answers.

It doesn't matter that the accused is a kid himself: all they see is that he took a life and got an easy sentence. As pack mentality kicks in and social media outrage builds, vicious threats are made against the boy and his family.

When Cal Weaver is called in to investigate, he finds himself caught up in a cold-blooded revenge plot. Someone in the town is threatening to put right some wrongs...

And in Cal's experience, it's only ever a matter of time before threats turn into action.
 


My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: Confession: I'm a huge fan of Linwood Barclay's Promise Falls series.  Huge. Ha-uge. 

So far, I've only read the first two books in the series (I own the third - I just need more hours in the day to read) but I easily, and quite happily, slipped back into the small, terror/secret-laden town as I read this companion book which slips into the series after the third book -- a 3.5, if you will.

Fans of the earlier books will enjoy seeing two prominent characters return but Parting Shot could easily be read as a standalone. Barclay does a good job giving his readers little plot reminders if they've read the previous books, but new-to-this-series readers won't be missing out if they're jumping in and I'm predicting these newbies will be enticed to read the first three books. Barclay's plot reminders from the previous books are few and usually not so detailed that they give away too much of the previous plots. 

As usual, Barclay provides twists and turns and just when I'm feeling like a Suspense hotshot and think I can predict what's going to happen, he pulls the proverbial rug out from under me with a big ol' twist. Well played, Mr. Barclay! Well played!

I highly recommend picking up the Promise Falls series. It's fast-paced and twisty, with intricate plot lines that aren't fussy yet intersect smoothly with each other.  The story is told via the POVs of several interesting characters and a touch of humour brings it all together for an entertaining and unputdownable book series. 

Put this book and series on your 'gotta read now' list.  You won't regret it. 

Disclaimer: This book was generously given to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Sleeping in the Ground


Author: Peter Robinson
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 372

Series: #24 in the Inspector Banks series
Source: Publisher
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart
First Published: Oct 24, 2017
First Line: "If the incident had been a scene in a film, it would have looked beautiful."

Book Description from GoodReadsAt the doors of a charming country church, an unspeakable act destroys a wedding party. A huge manhunt ensues. The culprit is captured. The story is over.

Except it isn't. For Alan Banks, still struggling with a tragic loss of his own, there's something wrong about this case — something unresolved. Reteaming with profiler Jenny Fuller, the relentless detective deeper into the crime... deep enough to unearth long-buried secrets that reshape everything Banks thought he knew about the events outside that chapel. 

And when at last the shocking truth becomes clear, it's almost too late.


My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: This is my first book by Peter Robinson so, admittedly, I'm a little late coming to the Inspector Banks party since this is the twenty-fourth book in the popular series.  This book starts out with an impressive bang - actually, many bangs as several guests are gunned down at a wedding. Inspector Banks, along with some of his law enforcement cronies, are brought in to figure out the identity of the shooter.

The mystery itself was good, with twists and culprits sprinkled liberally throughout, but the momentum of the mystery was hampered by the constant inclusion of numerous side stories. I realize that these characters have pasts and side stories help to flesh them out to readers but I think it was to the detriment of the mystery. Granted, I didn't have the background of these characters since I haven't read the previous books but with so much time devoted to relationships and mouth-watering descriptions of the food they ate, I felt like the mystery was being interrupted too often and I was unable to invest myself into it as much as I wanted to. As the pages were dwindling, the tension suddenly ramped up to an intense, nail-biting ending but this conclusion felt too swift leaving me feeling a little put out at its abruptness. 

Overall, this slow burn suspense read will probably be viewed more favourably with fans of the series. The mystery aspect was wonderfully twisty but with less interruption from side stories the tension would have been higher and I would have given it a higher rating.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

The Secrets She Keeps

Author: Michael Robotham
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Scribner
First Published: July 11, 2017
First Line: "I am not the most important person in this story."

Book Description from GoodReadsEveryone has an idea of what their perfect life is. For Agatha, it's Meghan Shaughnessy's.

These two women from vastly different backgrounds have one thing in common - a dangerous secret that could destroy everything they hold dear.

Both will risk everything to hide the truth, but their worlds are about to collide in a shocking act that cannot be undone.

The Secrets She Keeps is a compelling psychological thriller that delves deeply into the psyche of the human mind, by internationally bestselling author Michael Robotham.


My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: The blurb for this book doesn't give much away but it enticed me all the same. It starts off strong with the reader getting a bird's eye view into the lives of two very different women who are slowly revealed to the reader. Robotham paints interesting characters in Agatha and Meghan, each of whom have varying degrees of good, bad, sympathetic and even sinister. As the story progresses, things that seemed black and white being to take on more of a grayish tone as readers become privy to the rationale behind their decisions. Yup, Robotham had me hooked. 

And then I kind of wasn't. 

Unfortunately, even though the characters and plot started off with a suspenseful bang, it started to run out of steam about half way through with the characters and plot becoming less and less probable. There is a big reveal early on which surprised me but after that, the story continued as predicted with a quiet, expected ending instead of a build-up to something shocking. 

This was an enjoyable read but had its bouts of predictability and will probably be a book that won't stay with me long. That said, I did like enough of his writing style and plot that I would definitely pick up another book by Robotham (whose name I cannot seem to see as anything other than Robot-Ham).

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Ghostwriter

Author: Alessandra Torre
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: DCA
First Published: October 2, 2017
First Line: "A gentle pull on my hand."

Book Description from GoodReadsFour years ago, I lied. I stood in front of the police, my friends and family, and made up a story, my best one yet. And all of them believed me. 

I wasn't surprised. Telling stories is what made me famous. Fifteen bestsellers. Millions of fans. Fame and fortune.

Now, I have one last story to write. It'll be my best one yet, with a jaw-dropping twist that will leave them stunned and gasping for breath.

They say that sticks and stones will break your bones, but this story? It will be the one that kills me.

This book is not a romance. It is contemporary fiction, but very suspenseful in nature. It is about a famous romance author and a dark secret she keeps. 


My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: The Ghostwriter has an enticing blurb. It's chilling and taunting so I expected a sinister, suspense read set within a contemporary story. And it kind of was, but it kind of wasn't.

Most of the focus was on the relationship between two writers and their struggle to work together. Their banter and issues were nothing out of the ordinary but sprinkled throughout were Helena's chilling utterances like "I killed my husband and now I want to come clean". Those teasers were great and kept me reading (and I was impressed with one early twist) but it isn't until more than three-quarters of the way through the book that the tension finally gets going. Until then there's a lot of them writing, re-writing, arguing and a cow. Yes, a cow.

The story centres around Helena who is a complicated character. And man, was she ever a hard gal to like. She's prickly, rude and loves things done her way but, for a woman in her early 30's, her dialogue felt like she was much older -- more like an old curmudgeon. But she's also a complicated character who goes through a metamorphosis and if readers are patient, Helena will share snapshots of her earlier life to give reasons why she is the way she is.

I liked this book - it had a good premise and creepy one-liners but it needed a better building of suspense throughout, a stronger contemporary story and a better blend of the two genres. It was more focused on the writers' relationship with most of the suspense ramping up right at the end yet leaving readers with an ending that some readers will be able to predict. 

This story is about a woman who has lost everything and wants to finally confront her demons and come clean. While it's focus was different than I had expected, it had its moments - both suspenseful and touching.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy was generously provided by the publisher, DCA, in exchange for my honest review. 

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