Friday, 15 June 2018

Leah on the Offbeat

Author: Becky Albertalli
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQ
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 343
Series: #2 in the Creekwood series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
First Published: April 24, 2018
First Line: "I don't mean to be dramatic, but God save me from Morgan picking our set list."

Book Description from GoodReadsLeah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: After loving and gushing about Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda a few months ago, I was eager to read this follow-up book which focuses on Simon's friend, Leah. Fans of Simon will enjoy getting back into the lives of the Creekwood gang, who are a deliciously diverse bunch, now in their final year of high school.

While this was a good read, some of the Simon magic was missing. I didn't feel the same connection with the characters and this was even more noticeable when it came to Leah. She wasn't likeable this time out and felt like she was in a bad mood most of the book. I like that she's brash, sarcastic, funny and flies her Potter geek flag high, but it felt like her inner Mean Girl took over so much of the story that we didn't see the real Leah beneath the layers of snark.   

Once again, I applaud Albertalli for delving into different issues influencing teens today (I loved Abby's story line) but Leah had some big shoes to fill coming on the heels of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and, unfortunately, I was left wanting a bit more. While I didn't love this book as much as I had expected, I'm still glad I read it and enjoyed seeing where the characters have progressed to since the last book.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

A Steep Price

Author: Robert Dugoni
Genre: Suspense
Series: #6 in the Tracy Crosswhite series
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
PublisherThomas and Mercer
First PublishedJune 26, 2018
First Lines: "It had been more than a year since Seattle homicide detectives Del Castigliano and Vic Fazzio had worked a case in South Park, but the reason for their visits hadn't changed.  Someone had been murdered."

Book Description from GoodReads: Called in to consult after a young woman disappears, Tracy Crosswhite has the uneasy feeling that this is no ordinary missing-persons case. When the body turns up in an abandoned well, Tracy’s suspicions are confirmed. Estranged from her family, the victim had balked at an arranged marriage and had planned to attend graduate school. But someone cut her dreams short.

Solving the mystery behind the murder isn’t Tracy’s only challenge. The detective is keeping a secret of her own: she’s pregnant. And now her biggest fear seems to be coming true when a new detective arrives to replace her. Meanwhile, Tracy’s colleague Vic Fazzio is about to take a fall after his investigation into the murder of a local community activist turns violent and leaves an invaluable witness dead.

Two careers are on the line. And when more deadly secrets emerge, jobs might not be the only things at risk.
My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: In this sixth installment of the Tracy Crosswhite series, readers get a wonderful mix of police procedural, emotional connections to the characters and a few twists along the way.

There are two crimes being investigated by Tracy's team of detectives as well as a mystery surrounding a new detective who has suddenly appeared. But this time around, things also get personal as Dugoni weaves not only Tracy's personal life into the story, but readers get a better look into the lives of Tracy's fellow detectives Castigliano and Fazzio.

In A Steep Price, Robert Dugoni leads his characters through new life changes, provides some great suspense with two different story lines and introduces a few timely social, cultural and socioeconomic topics into the mix. 

This is one of my favourite, 'go-to', 'not-going-to-disappoint' police procedural/suspense series. If you're looking for a series with a strong female character, great twists, on-going character development, good banter and a group of characters you'll look forward to seeing again and again, you need to get your hands on this series.

Note: this book can be read as a standalone but if you want to get the most out of this compulsively readable series, read it in order (start with My Sister's Grave).  You won't regret it. 

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Home For Unwanted Girls

Author: Joanna Goodman
Genre: Historical Fiction, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: HarperCollins
First Published: April 17, 2018
First Line: "1950 - He who plants a seed plants life."

Book Description from GoodReadsPhilomena meets Orphan Train in this suspenseful, provocative novel filled with love, secrets, and deceit—the story of a young unwed mother who is forcibly separated from her daughter at birth and the lengths to which they go to find each other.

In 1950s Quebec, French and English tolerate each other with precarious civility—much like Maggie Hughes’ parents. Maggie’s English-speaking father has ambitions for his daughter that don’t include marriage to the poor French boy on the next farm over. But Maggie’s heart is captured by Gabriel Phénix. When she becomes pregnant at fifteen, her parents force her to give baby Elodie up for adoption and get her life ‘back on track’.

Elodie is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system. It’s a precarious enough existence that takes a tragic turn when Elodie, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, is declared mentally ill as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages. Bright and determined, Elodie withstands abysmal treatment at the nuns’ hands, finally earning her freedom at seventeen, when she is thrust into an alien, often unnerving world.

Maggie, married to a businessman eager to start a family, cannot forget the daughter she was forced to abandon, and a chance reconnection with Gabriel spurs a wrenching choice. As time passes, the stories of Maggie and Elodie intertwine but never touch, until Maggie realizes she must take what she wants from life and go in search of her long-lost daughter, finally reclaiming the truth that has been denied them both.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: This book is going to get people talking. Is it a riveting story about a horrible time in Canadian history? Yes. Does it deal with sensitive and emotional subject matter? Yes. Will it give readers a lot to talk about in their book clubs.  Undoubtedly.

The story is told in alternating points of view of Maggie and Elodie, as they each struggle within the confines that society has placed on them in the hope that they'll be reunited with each other one day. But Goodman also incorporates other issues that permeated Quebec in the 1950's, like the blatant animosity between Anglophones and Francophones. But it was another event in Canada's history that hit me the hardest.

That event -- Quebec orphanages being turned into mental asylums merely for financial gain -- is one that I, embarrassingly, knew nothing about. Also showcased is the flagrant abuse of power of the Catholic church, the apathetic actions of the Quebec and federal governments as well as the swift and unwavering judgement by society which, together, lead to devastating consequences for thousands of young Quebec girls over the course of many years.

While this is a story about family bonds, loss and perseverance, it is also an eye-opening story about the abuse of power and a society whose judgement is more important than the welfare of its children. With issues like those, it's not surprising that this book has emotional scenes but, if I'm being honest, my feelings for the book faltered a bit towards the end. Around two-thirds of the way through I felt the book loses momentum and after all of the emotion and anguish throughout the book, the ending felt weaker than I was expecting. 

Overall, this is a wonderful read that confronts a horrible time in our history within an emotional story that will bring lively and heated discussion to any book group.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

A Walk Across The Sun

Author: Corban Addison
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 437
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: HarperCollins
First Published: January 2012
First Line: Tamil Nadu, India - "The sea was quiet at first light on the morning their world fell apart."

Book Description from GoodReadsCorban Addison leads readers on a chilling, eye-opening journey into Mumbai's seedy underworld--and the nightmare of two orphaned girls swept into the international sex trade.
When a tsunami rages through their coastal town in India, 17-year-old Ahalya Ghai and her 15-year-old sister Sita are left orphaned and homeless. With almost everyone they know suddenly erased from the face of the earth, the girls set out for the convent where they attend school. They are abducted almost immediately and sold to a Mumbai brothel owner, beginning a hellish descent into the bowels of the sex trade.

Halfway across the world, Washington, D.C., attorney Thomas Clarke faces his own personal and professional crisis-and makes the fateful decision to pursue a pro bono sabbatical working in India for an NGO that prosecutes the subcontinent's human traffickers. There, his conscience awakens as he sees firsthand the horrors of the trade in human flesh, and the corrupt judicial system that fosters it. Learning of the fate of Ahalya and Sita, Clarke makes it his personal mission to rescue them, setting the stage for a riveting showdown with an international network of ruthless criminals.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Going into this book I knew that it wouldn't be an easy read. The subject matter, young girls forced into the sex trade and international human trafficking, aren't topics for the faint of heart but the topic is an important one that needs to be addressed.

From the beginning, I was invested in the lives of sisters Ahalya and Sita. Their lives were idyllic until a tsunami took away everything they held dear. Sold into the sex trade in Mumbai, their lives are changed forever but their sisterly bond would remain.

The other story line is from the point of view of American lawyer Thomas Clarke who takes a sabbatical to help an NGO in Mumbai. To be honest, I wasn't a fan of 'the white American male swooping in to save the day'. Thomas was a nice guy and had lost a lot personally but I felt his story line took up too much page time that I would have preferred have focused on the sisters.

This was a pretty compulsive read. While the last third felt a little long and the outcome was predictable, overall I found this book compelling. Hopefully it will open people's eyes to the issue of human trafficking and that it isn't something that happens in 'other countries' but is a world-wide issue as young people all over the globe are sold into sexual slavery.

(Note: There are no explicit sexual scenes described but readers will be given enough information to understand the dire situations the girls live in on a daily basis).

Similar Reads: 

Fifteen Lanes by Canadian author S.J Laidlaw. (4.5/5 rating)

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The Ever After

Author: Sarah Pekkanen
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: June 5, 2018
First Line: "So this is how you discover your husband is having an affair, Josie Moore thought".

Book Description from GoodReadsIn this intricate and enthralling domestic drama the author of the “gossipy page-turner” (Glamour) The Perfect Neighbors goes deep into a marriage in crisis, peeling back layers of secrets to discover where the relationship veered off course—and whether it is worth saving.

Josie and Frank Moore are happy… at least Josie thinks they are. As parents of two young girls in the Chicago suburbs, their days can be both busy and monotonous, and sometimes Josie wonders how she became a harried fortysomething mother rather than the driven career woman she once was. But Frank is a phenomenal father, he’s handsome and charismatic, and he still looks at his wife like she’s the beautiful woman he married more than a decade ago. Josie isn’t just happy—she’s lucky.

Until one Saturday morning when Josie borrows her husband’s phone to make a quick call—and sees nine words that shatter her world.

Now Josie feels as if she is standing at the edge of a sharp precipice. As she looks back at pivotal moments in the relationship she believed would last forever, she is also plunging ahead, surprising everyone (especially herself) with how far she will go to uncover the extent of her husband’s devastating secret.

My Rating: 2 stars (meh)

My Review: I picked up this book after a quick glance at the blurb and the knowledge that it was from Sarah Pekkanen, the author of The Perfect Neighbors , a book which I loved two years ago. 

The book has an intriguing premise about a marriage in crisis. Since it deals with a marriage unraveling and imploding, I expected lots of emotion and issues raised as Josie peeled away the layers of her husband's deceit. But as Josie unearths his secrets, the focus is on her obsession with his lies and not much happens with the information she finds, leaving readers with many overly wordy passages that didn't seem to have direction. I wanted more from the story, some kind of twist, some momentum and energy but after the first couple of chapters it's clear that this will be a quiet read about a broken marriage filled with distrust  ... and that's about it.

This is a domestic drama that focuses on a broken marriage and readers who connect with the issues raised may enjoy the book more than I did.  While I enjoyed reading how the author came up with the concept for this book, overall this book wasn't my cuppa tea.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Here and Gone

Author: Haylen Beck
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 287
Publisher: Broadway Books (Penguin Random House)
First Published: June 5, 2018
First Line: "The road swayed left then right, the rhythm of it making Audra Kinney's eyelids grow heavier as each mile marker passed."

Book Description from GoodReadsHere and Gone is a gripping, wonderfully tense suspense thriller about a mother's desperate fight to recover her stolen children from corrupt authorities.

It begins with a woman fleeing through Arizona with her kids in tow, trying to escape an abusive marriage. When she's pulled over by an unsettling local sheriff, things soon go awry and she is taken into custody. Only when she gets to the station, her kids are gone. And then the cops start saying they never saw any kids with her, that if they're gone than she must have done something with them...

Meanwhile, halfway across the country a man hears the frenzied news reports about the missing kids, which are eerily similar to events in his own past. As the clock ticks down on the search for the lost children, he too is drawn into the desperate fight for their return.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: The blurb on this book sounded intriguing and I'm always up for a great thriller. But I had no idea Here and Gone would grip me so soundly that I'd read it in two sittings (with my inability to stay awake into the wee hours of the morning being the only reason I didn't finish it in one sitting).  

This book is filled with 60 short chapters that keep the pace high, the twists plentiful and a constant tension throughout. In the first half of the book, readers will question what they've been told especially when they're left hanging with exquisitely griping final lines of the short chapters. The story is told using multiple POVs as well as emails interspersed throughout the story. Readers will feel for many of the characters, including Audra's helplessness as a mother desperate for someone to help her find her children before its too late.

This is a thrilling, compulsive, twisty read that isn't a mystery per se but readers will be eager to see how things unravel and the unrelenting tension within the fast-moving plot with keep readers glued to the pages. I eagerly await Haylen Beck's next book.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

They Come In All Colors

Author: Malcolm Hansen
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Published: Atria Books
First Published: May 29, 2018
First Line: "I only have to close my eyes to see that son of a bitch Zukowski, passed out like he was on the dining hall floor".

Book Description from GoodReadsMalcolm Hansen arrives on the scene as a bold new literary voice with his stunning debut novel. Alternating between the Deep South and New York City during the 1960s and early '70s, They Come in All Colors follows a biracial teenage boy who finds his new life in the big city disrupted by childhood memories of the summer when racial tensions in his hometown reached a tipping point.
It's 1968 when fourteen-year-old Huey Fairchild begins high school at Claremont Prep, one of New York City’s most prestigious boys’ schools. His mother had uprooted her family from their small hometown of Akersburg, Georgia, a few years earlier, leaving behind Huey’s white father and the racial unrest that ran deeper than the Chattahoochee River.

But for our sharp-tongued protagonist, forgetting the past is easier said than done. At Claremont, where the only other non-white person is the janitor, Huey quickly realizes that racism can lurk beneath even the nicest school uniform. After a momentary slip of his temper, Huey finds himself on academic probation and facing legal charges. With his promising school career in limbo, he begins examining his current predicament at Claremont through the lens of his childhood memories of growing up in Akersburg during the Civil Rights Movement—and the chilling moments leading up to his and his mother's flight north.

With Huey’s head-shaking antics fueling this coming-of-age narrative, the story triumphs as a tender and honest exploration of race, identity, family, and homeland.

My Rating: 2 stars (ie. 'meh')

My Review: As soon as I read the blurb on this book I was eager to get my hands on a copy. It's a coming of age story about a bi-racial boy who witnesses and experiences prejudice in his hometown in Georgia in the 1960's (although not quite understanding what he was witnessing), and later, in the 1970's, as a teen in NYC as he attends an all-white prestigious high school. 

Unfortunately, I struggled on and off for two weeks to get through this book. I didn't connect with the story or the main character and found the author's method of telling the story disjointed, hard to follow and the lack of quotation marks didn't help matters. While I think the author was trying for a look at civil rights and racism through the eyes of a child (kind of like John Boyne looked at the Holocaust through the eyes of young Bruno in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), I don't think that was achieved here. I felt it lacked emotion, connection to its characters and fluidity in the storytelling. 

While others may enjoy this book more, They Come In All Colors just wasn't for me. 

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Friday, 25 May 2018

Curse the Day

Author: Annabel Chase
Genre: Supernatural, Cozy Mystery
Type: e-book
Series: #1 in the Spellbound series
Source: Reedsy
Series: #1 in the Spellbound paranormal cozy mystery series
Publisher: Red Palm Press
First Published: January 7, 2017
First Line: "Four point seven miles to go."

Book Description from GoodReadsWelcome to Spellbound, where paranormal is the new normal. 
The only magic Emma Hart believes in is caffeine and the power of the dryer to lose one sock per load. A public interest lawyer buried under a mound of student debt, Emma’s whole life has been one turn of bad luck after another.

Her streak seems to continue when she gets lost on the way to see a client in the remote Pocono Mountains. A chance encounter with a suicidal angel lands her in Spellbound, a town where supernaturals have been cursed to remain for centuries--probably not the best time for Emma to discover that she's actually a witch.

Between the recent murder of the town’s public defender, a goblin accused of theft, remedial witch classes, and the attention of one smoking hot vampire, Emma struggles to navigate this unfamiliar terrain without losing her mind...or her life. 

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: Curse the Day is a cozy mystery set within a supernatural world and features some rather unique inhabitants. One doesn't have to believe in fairies, wereferrets, witches or gnomes, but it can't hurt!

Emma Hart, finds herself stranded in Spellbound, a cursed town where various supernaturals have been stuck for centuries. Fans of magic and the supernatural, who enjoy a lighter read will enjoy getting to know the residents of Spellbound and seeing how Emma tries to fit in and find her way in this strange new world. 

Since it is the first book in a series and has a unique location, a lot of page time is spent describing Spellbound, and its quirky residents. Thankfully, the author helps readers keep track of who's who. But there's a lot going on in this little book and, if I'm being honest, a little too much. There are several story lines (Emma going to witch school, becoming the town's public defender, solving a murder ...) but they weren't given enough page time, resulting in a lack of depth for most of them.

Overall, I enjoyed Curse the Day for what it is --a light, quick, cozy supernatural read. While the mystery played second fiddle to the world building, this new cozy series with a supernatural twist has good bones, wonderful humour which is sprinkled throughout like a healthy dose of pixie dust and has lots of potential for future story lines. 

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me by Reedsy in exchange for my honest review. I was compensated for this review.

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