Friday, 22 June 2018

The Forgotten Ones

Author: Steena Holmes
Genre: Suspense, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 348
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
First Published: April 1, 2018
First Line: "I always knew I was headed for hell; I just never expected it to happen like this."

Book Description from GoodReadsElle is a survivor. She’s managed to piece together a solid life from a childhood of broken memories and fairy tales her mom told her to explain away bad dreams. But weekly visits to her mother still fill Elle with a paralyzing fear she can’t explain. It’s just another of so many unanswered questions she grew up with in a family estranged by silence and secrets.

Elle’s world turns upside down when she receives a deathbed request from her grandfather, a man she was told had died years ago. Racked by grief, regrets, and a haunted conscience, he has a tale of his own to tell Elle: about her mother, an imaginary friend, and two strangers who came to the house one night and never left.

As Elle’s past unfolds, so does the truth—if she can believe it. She must face the reasons for her inexplicable dread. As dark as they are, Elle must listen…before her grandfather’s death buries the family’s secrets forever.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: The Forgotten Ones is a compelling, complex and haunting family drama that has a wonderful tension throughout, well-drawn characters and emotionally charged issues such as tragedy, loss, secrets and a family dealing with generations of mental illness. Steena Holmes has set her story within her childhood hometown of Kincardine, Ontario and I enjoyed the local touches she sprinkled throughout the story.

This was a highly addicting read as Holmes slowly unravels the secrets of this complicated family and fills the pages with wonderful tension making readers just as eager as Elle to find the truth about her family - their secrets, lies and omissions. I had my guesses about what really happened, and, in the end, I was correct but the journey to get the answers was wonderfully suspenseful and expertly paced. The only reason I shaved off half a star from my rating is due to the ending because it didn't feel as strong as the rest of the book. I was hoping for one last twist. 

This is a compulsive, hard-to-put-down, wonderfully Canadian read that is filled with tension and illustrates how mental illness impacts entire families. I'm so glad I've found this new-to-me author and look forward to reading more of her work.  

Note: Due to the issues raised, as well as the complicated bonds between the characters, The Forgotten Ones would make an excellent book club selection.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

All We Ever Wanted

Author: Emily Giffin
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
First Published: June 26, 2018
First Line: "It started out as a typical Saturday night."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the midst of a scandal that threatens a perfect life, how far are you willing to go to protect the ones you love?Nina Browning married a third-generation Nashvillian, enjoys a newly lavish lifestyle thanks to the sudden success of her husband's tech business and has a son, Finch, who just got accepted to Princeton.

Thomas Talone is a single dad, works multiple jobs and has a daughter, Lila, who was recently accepted to Nashville's most prestigious private high school on a scholarship.

They couldn't be prouder.

Then scandal strikes, and the worlds of these very different families collide. Lila passes out at a party, drunk and half-naked. Finch snaps a picture, types out a caption and click--sends it out to a few friends. The photo spreads quickly, and soon heated reactions bubble throughout the already-divided community. Before long, the families find themselves in the midst of an ethical war as their community takes sides, throws blame and implodes. The gray area between right and wrong grows thick, and Nina and Tom are forced to question every assumption they've held about love and family loyalty. Emily Giffin tells a riveting story of characters who face impossible choices--but emerge to live a life truer to themselves than they ever had before.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: All We Ever Wanted is a good, escapist summer read that touches on issues of privilege, negative effects of social media, its consequences and other pressures that teens face in today's world. 

This is an entertaining, lighter read with a twist or two to keep readers on their toes but overall, this book is comfortably predictable. While Giffin introduces big topics, she doesn't jump into the deep end with them leaving readers with only a shallow examination of the issues, equally unexplored depth to her characters and an ending that was tied up too easily, swiftly and wasn't as satisfying as I would have hoped.   

Overall, this book was still a page-turner, but was a lighter read than expected. If you're looking for a gritty exploration of sexual exploitation, entitlement and teen issues, this probably isn't it. If you're looking for a lighter look at some modern issues, this would make a good beach read this summer. 

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

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Before and Again

Author: Barbara Delinsky
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: June 26, 2018
First Line: "Mackenzie Cooper had no idea where she was or, more critically, why she hadn't already arrived."

Book Description from GoodReadsMackenzie Cooper took her eyes off the road for just a moment, but the resulting collision was enough to rob her not only of her beloved daughter but ultimately of her marriage, family, and friends―and thanks to the nonstop media coverage, even her privacy. Now she lives in Vermont under the name Maggie Reid, in a small house with her cats and dog. She’s thankful for the new friends she’s made―though she can’t risk telling them too much. And she takes satisfaction in working as a makeup artist at the luxurious local spa, helping clients hide the visible outward signs of their weariness, illnesses, and injuries. Covering up scars is a skill she has mastered.

Her only goal is to stay under the radar and make it through her remaining probation. But she isn’t the only one in this peaceful town with secrets. When a friend’s teenage son is thrust into the national spotlight, accused of hacking a powerful man’s Twitter account, Maggie is torn between pulling away and protecting herself―or stepping into the glare to be at their side. As the stunning truth behind their case is slowly revealed, Maggie’s own carefully constructed story begins to unravel as well. She knows all too well that what we need from each other in this difficult world is comfort. But to provide it, sometimes we need to travel far outside our comfort zones.

My Rating: 2 stars

My Review: I picked up this book because I had never read Barbara Delinsky before and wanted to see what the fuss was about. Many readers loved this book, but I struggled for weeks to get through this book. 

From its blurb it sounded like a good fit for me, but the execution was weak. First, too much page time was spent describing actions or scenes (like pottery making or make-up application) that didn't propel the story forward. Second, the characters, especially Maggie, could have had a lot more depth. Third, there was a definite lack of emotion for a book that dealt with big issues and readers aren't given enough time to buy into the reasons for much of the emotional discord and hurt. 

This book had a good premise, but I think it was trying to be too many things - women's fiction, a book about grief, a crime novel and a story about a woman struggling to rebuild her life. It was too melodramatic with characters who lacked depth, a story that lacked focus (but made up for it in predictability and convenient coincidences) and too many pages were spent describing scenes that pushed me away from the story instead of into it.

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

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. 

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