Thursday, 12 September 2019

Ellie and the Harp Maker

Author: Hazel Prior
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Viking Books
First Published: August 6, 2019
Opening Lines: A woman came to the barn today. Her hair was the color of walnut wood."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the rolling hills of beautiful Exmoor, there’s a barn. And in that barn, you’ll find Dan. He’s a maker of exquisite harps - but not a great maker of conversation. He’s content in his own company, quietly working and away from social situations that he doesn’t always get right.

But one day, a cherry-socked woman stumbles across his barn and the conversation flows a little more easily than usual. She says her name’s Ellie, a housewife, alone, out on her daily walk and, though she doesn’t say this, she looks sad. He wants to make her feel better, so he gives her one of his harps, made of cherry wood.

And before they know it, this simple act of kindness puts them on the path to friendship, big secrets, pet pheasants and, most importantly, true love.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Ellie and the Harp Maker is a light, romantic read that builds slowly as it tells the story of two lost souls who find each other in a unique setting - the barn of a harp maker.

This was a sweet read with lyrical writing that tells the story of Dan and Ellie who, through alternating POVs, tell the story of their budding relationship and features a bit of a mystery. Unfortunately, I was expecting a bit more from this book. I found the plot overly simplistic and didn't buy into the romantic connection between Dan and Ellie. A friendship, I could see but a romance? No. I didn't sense any sexual tension between them. Not one little spark.  

I thought Dan was a sweetie, whose world view, comments, obsession with sandwiches and his pet Phineas were endearing but he was too child-like and na├»ve for a romantic lead. Ellie, on the other hand kinda got on my nerves. She finds herself stuck in a monotonous and increasingly abusive marriage until one day she rebels by taking secret harp lessons. Yup, harp lessons. For me, she was too gullible, and her reactions and decisions were often frustrating. 

I was hoping to love this book, but I think we're better off as friends. While this was a 'good but not wow' read for me, it would be a good pick for people looking for a sweet, predictable, feel good story kind of story where the pieces fall nicely into place by the end of the book. 

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Viking Books for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 9 September 2019

The Silent Patient

Author: Alex Michaelides
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 323
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Celadon Books
First Published: February 5, 2019
Opening Lines: July 14 - I don't know why I'm writing this. That's not true. Maybe I do know and just don't want to admit it to myself.

Book Description from GoodReadsAlicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him ...

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: This debut has received an enormous amount of hype and since I'm an avid reader of suspense, I thought I'd see what the fuss was about. 

The Silent Patient begins with an intriguing premise - a woman is accused and charged with the murder of her husband. She remains silent for years afterwards, living at The Grove, a mental health institution for dangerous offenders. Did she do it? If not, who did? Theo Faber, a psychologist at The Grove, is determined to find out. 

This book easily falls into the slow burn kind of suspense read - admittedly, not my favourite style. It was a quick read but the journey to that answer was a bit tedious. The twist, which happens at the very end of the book, is a doozy and I hadn't predicted it (high five to the author). But a great twist doesn't make up for a drawn-out story where not a lot happens to a bunch of characters who are hard to sympathize with and are generally a forgettable and unlikable bunch. And don't get me started on all the menfolk being described in positive terms like handsome and brilliant while the women were described in mainly negative terms (crazy, overweight, a shrew of a boss …) - what was with that?!?

So, where do I stand on this book? I'm going right down the middle with three stars. Did it live up to its hype? No. Did it have a good twist? Oh yes. This is a good debut but not a great one that will, I suspect, not stay with me long. 

Sunday, 8 September 2019

The Body in Griffith Park

Author: Jennifer Kincheloe
Genre: Historical Mystery
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 304
Series: #3 in the Anna Blanc mystery series
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
First Published: July 16, 2019
Opening Lines: Anna Blanc searched the officers' kitchen for her kipper tins, but her kipper tins were gone. "Biscuits," she swore under her breath.

Book Description from GoodReadsLos Angeles, 1908. Anna Blanc is a former so-so socialite, a flailing police matron, and a killer detective.

Ex-heiress, Anna Blanc, is precariously employed by the Los Angeles Police Department, reforming delinquent children and minding lady jailbirds. What she really wants is to hunt criminals and be alone with Detective Joe Singer--both no-nos that could get her fired. On a lover's tryst in Griffith Park, Anna and Joe discover the body of a young gambler. Anna can't resist. She's on the case.

With a murder to solve and her police matron duties piling up, a young girl shows up at Central Station claiming to have been raped by a man from Mars. The men at the station scoff, but Anna is willing to investigate. Meanwhile, Anna begins getting strange floral arrangements from an unknown admirer. Following the petals leads her to another crime--one close to home. Suddenly pitted against Joe, Anna must examine her loyalties and solve the crimes, even if it means losing the man she loves.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I became smitten with Anna Blanc when I read The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, the first book in this historical mystery series, four years ago. Anna was, and continues to be, a refreshing protagonist and a woman ahead of her time who was equally smart, determined and sassy.

This third installment of the mystery series, set in 1920's Los Angeles, provides wonderful descriptions of the era and setting. I love that Anna continues to be fearless, fiercely independent and quite impetuous. While her naivete and reactions to Joe were sometimes frustrating, I continue to enjoy their banter but hope that the finally decide their relationship status soon.

This is a solid whodunnit kind of mystery with several plot threads that, occasionally felt a bit muddled, but overall, I feel this is a good addition to the Anna Blanc series. If you're looking for a new series with that blends a historical setting, a bit of sass, a good mystery and an intriguing heroine, you'll want to meet Anna Blanc.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to the author and Seventh Street Books for providing me with a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Well Met

Author: Jen DeLuca
Genre: Romance
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Berkley Books
First Published: Sept 3, 2019
Opening Lines: "I didn't choose the wench life. The wench life chose me."

Book Description from GoodReadsAll's faire in love and war for two sworn enemies who indulge in a harmless flirtation in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author, Jen DeLuca.

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon's family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn't have time for Emily's lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she's in her revealing wench's costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they're portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can't seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I'm not an avid romance lover but have started to dip my toes into the shallow end of the Romance pool. So far, I've found some entertaining, light reads with memorable characters and a side of sass.

Well Met, the debut novel from Jen DeLuca, has a few things going for it. First, it has a unique setting. The small-town Renaissance faire is described in detail bringing readers into the heart of the festival - its food, fashion and entertainment. There's also a bookstore (always a plus!), complicated family dynamics and a will-they-won't-they kind of romance.

But there are a few things that I didn't love. There is too much 'telling versus showing', the plot was predictable, and the cast were a bit bland. I wanted to see the budding relationship between Simon and Emily build. Instead, we're given weak reasons for their dislike for each other (based on misinterpretations of each other's actions/words) and when we do get to the big moment, the change in their feelings for each other pivoted too quickly without explaining this drastic change of heart.

While I prefer my romances with a bit more depth and realistic tension between the characters, this is a decent debut for readers who enjoy a light, predictable romance that takes place within a unique setting.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Berkley Books for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

The Help (Audiobook)

Author: Kathryn Stockett
Genre: Historical Fiction (US Civil Rights)
Type: e-audiobook
Narrators: Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer
Publisher: Penguin Audio
First Published in Print: 2009
Opening Lines: Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August 1960. A church baby we like to call it."

Book Description from GoodReadsThree ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid, Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her 17th white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women - mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends - view one another.

My Rating: 5 stars +++

My Review: I first read The Help in 2009 when it was initially published. Its engrossing story, well-developed characters and the issues it raised, solidified this book as one of my all-time favourite books evah. I still think about it ten years later. It's that good.

When I heard that Octavia Spencer (who played Minnie in the 2011 movie) would be reprising her role in the audiobook version, buying this e-audiobook was a no-brainer. Spencer is joined by two narrators who are equally gifted in bringing the characters and the story about civil rights in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi to life for the listener. Through the eyes of three main characters, Minnie, Aibileen and Skeeter, each with vastly different POVs, listeners become privy to their relationships and feelings about intolerance, racism, hardships and the limitations they face as women.

Stockett's writing is top-notch and the characters are imperfectly perfect and so richly developed, that you can't help but connect with them. The story focuses around an unlikely alliance between two Black domestic workers and a young white socialite/would-be author who risk much to tell the story of what life is really like for Black help working in white homes as maids and nannies, raising the white children of these families who gradually become more ingrained in a system that sets strict boundaries based on race. 

This is a well-written story that shows the fortitude and resilience of a group of women who have lived through overwhelming intolerance and ignorance. Their struggle to be heard and to break through the racism that has been perpetuated by the old school 'it's always been done this way' mentality (and the irrational and false scientific claims that maintained the status quo) is told with a perfect blend of humour and heart. 

Admittedly, this is a totally gushy, swoon-fest of a review but this is a must-read story that I highly recommend in paper, digital and especially, in audiobook format. This is an insightful read that is the perfect book club pick since it encourages readers to examine their own prejudices and assumptions and would instigate great discussion.

Favourite Quotes

'We are just two people. Not that much separates us. 
Not nearly as much as I'd thought'

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Fade Away

Author: Harlan Coben
Genre: Suspense
Type: Mass Market Paperback
Pages: 368
Series: Myron Bolitar #3
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Dell
First Published: 1996
Opening Lines: "Just behave." "Me?" Myron said. "I'm always a delight."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn novels that crackle with wit and suspense, Harlan Coben has created one of the most fascinating heroes in suspense fiction: the wisecracking, tenderhearted sports agent Myron Bolitar. In this gripping third novel in the acclaimed series, Myron must confront a past that is dead and buried—and more dangerous than ever before.
The home is top-notch New Jersey suburban. The living room is Martha Stewart. The basement is Legos—and blood. The signs of a violent struggle. For Myron Bolitar, the disappearance of a man he once competed against is bringing back memories—of the sport he and Greg Downing had both played and the woman they both loved. Now, among the stars, the wannabes, the gamblers, and the groupies, Myron is embarking upon the strange ride of a sports hero gone wrong that just may lead to certain death. Namely, his own.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: The Myron Bolitar series is one of my favourites, but I had originally started it in the middle of the series. To help clear up some of Bolitar's earlier exploits, I've been leisurely re-reading the series from the beginning. I love this series because Coben gives readers a solid mystery but it's the banter between Myron, Win and Esperanza that keep me coming back. Snappy dialogue gets me every time.

This was a good addition to the series but not my favourite. I liked getting background info on a pivotal part of Myron's past but felt that the banter just wasn't up to par. The mystery was good, if a little convoluted at times, but various elements come to a head resulting in a satisfying ending. 

Overall, it was fun to read a book that was written in the 1990's. I enjoyed being brought back to that decade with mentions of the older electronics, TV shows, celebs etc. I'm eager to read the next book in the series to see how things pan out with this book's ominous ending.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The Most Fun We Ever Had

Author: Claire Lombardo
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Family Saga
Type: Large Print Trade Paperback
Pages: 840
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Random House Large Print Publishing
First Published: June 25, 2019
Opening Lines: Sixteen Years Earlier: "Other people overwhelmed her. Strange, perhaps, for a woman who'd added four beings to the universe of her own reluctant volition, but a fact nonetheless: Marilyn rued the inconvenient presence of bodies, bodies beyond her control, her understanding; bodies beyond her favor."

Book Description from GoodReadsWhen Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that's to come. By 2016, their four radically different daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator-turned-stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt when the darkest part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she's not sure she wants by a man she's not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects. Above it all, the daughters share the lingering fear that they will never find a love quite like their parents'.

As the novel moves through the tumultuous year following the arrival of Jonah Bendt--given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption fifteen years before--we are shown the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons' past: years marred by adolescence, infidelity, and resentment, but also the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.

Spanning nearly half a century, and set against the quintessential American backdrop of Chicago and its prospering suburbs, Lombardo's debut explores the triumphs and burdens of love, the fraught tethers of parenthood and sisterhood, and the baffling mixture of affection, abhorrence, resistance, and submission we feel for those closest to us. In painting this luminous portrait of a family's becoming, Lombardo joins the ranks of writers such as Celeste Ng, Elizabeth Strout, and Jonathan Franzen as visionary chroniclers of our modern lives.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: As the eldest of three sisters, this book got my attention. Family drama with a bunch of sisters and ensuing familial issues? Sounds delightful, relatable and kind of cathartic. 

But my feelings for this dysfunctional family drama weren't quite so clear. Early on, I was intrigued by the complex dynamics in the Sorenson family and felt that Lombardo understood the messy, loving, frustrating and complicated dynamics between sisters. Oh m'word, so complicated. Within this hefty tome, there's lots of page time to delve into the nitty-gritty of family life and character development but I don't feel these aspects were executed as well as they could have been. 

There's a lot of jumping between timelines and POVs which confused things and there were several spots where I felt the plot languished. I kept reading because so many people waxed poetic about this book, but I found the characters dull, emotionally stunted and unlikeable (except Jonah - him I liked). It was frustrating to see these grown daughters maintain toxic issues with each other, not learn from them but continue to whine that their lives were horrible because their parents' relationship was so 'perfect'. Poor, poor rich girls. 

This wasn't a bad read, it just wasn't all that great. I ended up skimming quite a bit in the last half to see how things panned out, only to find the ending frustratingly anticlimactic. While I appreciate the topics that Lombardo addresses, this book needed a hefty edit to whittle down the long-winded plot and to tighten up character development. 

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Nothing Ventured

Author: Jeffrey Archer
Genre: Historical Fiction (UK)
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: September 3, 2019
Opening Lines: "You can't be serious."

Book Description from GoodReadsNothing Ventured heralds the start of a brand new series in the style of Jeffrey Archer’s #1 New York Times bestselling Clifton Chronicles: introducing Detective William Warwick. But this is not a detective story, this is a story about the making of a detective . . .

William Warwick has always wanted to be a detective, and decides, much to his father’s dismay, that rather than become a lawyer like his father, Sir Julian Warwick QC, and his sister Grace, he will join London’s Metropolitan Police Force.

After graduating from university, William begins a career that will define his life: from his early months on the beat under the watchful eye of his first mentor, Constable Fred Yates, to his first high-stakes case as a fledgling detective in Scotland Yard’s arts and antiquities squad. Investigating the theft of a priceless Rembrandt painting from the Fitzmolean Museum, he meets Beth Rainsford, a research assistant at the gallery who he falls hopelessly in love with, even as Beth guards a secret of her own that she’s terrified will come to light.

While William follows the trail of the missing masterpiece, he comes up against suave art collector Miles Faulkner and his brilliant lawyer, Booth Watson QC, who are willing to bend the law to breaking point to stay one step ahead of William. Meanwhile, Miles Faulkner’s wife, Christina, befriends William, but whose side is she really on?

This new series introduces William Warwick, a family man and a detective who will battle throughout his career against a powerful criminal nemesis. Through twists, triumph and tragedy, this series will show that William Warwick is destined to become one of Jeffrey Archer’s most enduring legacies.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Jeffrey Archer is a favourite among many of my library patrons and I've enjoyed the first book from his popular Clifton Chronicles series. Now, Archer is back with a new series which stars Detective William Warwick, one of London's Metropolitan Police Force's newest officers.

Nothing Ventured focuses on two art-themed schemes and readers are given a brief background on Warwick's family life. Art fans will enjoy the mentions of famous art pieces/artists and the ensuing art fraud, but those topics didn't quite hold my interest and I felt the tension was lacking just a bit. 

There is a romantic aspect, but their connection happens quite quickly leaving readers to be told about their relationship but not actually witnessing it. The author's blurb states that this book is "not a detective story, but a story about a detective" but I came away feeling that I didn't get to know Warwick as well as I would have hoped. The good news is, this is a series so I figure readers will get to know Warwick better as the series progresses.

While I'm not overly enthusiastic with this first book in the series, this was a good read and I appreciate that Warwick is a smart and eager good guy. He's a breath of fresh air and I'm hopeful that we'll get to know Warwick (and his family who added wit) better in future books.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to St Martin's Press for my complimentary digital copy of this book, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

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