Monday, 17 July 2017

Walking With Miss Millie

Author: Tamara Bundy
Genre: Middle School Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 227
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books (imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)
First Published: July 4, 2017
First Line: "The day we pulled into Rainbow, Mama was pulling out all her tricks to distract us, trying to pretend we hadn't just left every one of our friends ten hours behind."

Book Description from GoodReadsA poignant middle grade debut about the friendship between a white girl and an elderly black woman in the 1960s South.

Alice is angry at having to move to Rainbow, Georgia—a too small, too hot, dried-up place she’s sure will never feel like home. Then she gets put in charge of walking her elderly neighbor’s dog. But Clarence won’t budge without Miss Millie, so Alice and Miss Millie walk him together. Strolling with Miss Millie quickly becomes the highlight of Alice’s day, as she learns about the town’s past and meets a mix of its catty and kind residents. As the two become confidantes, Alice is finally able to express her heartache over her father’s desertion; and when Miss Millie tells her family story, Alice begins to understand the shameful history of Segregation, and recognize the racism they need to fight against. Navigating the neighborhood with Miss Millie gives Alice new perspective, the wisdom to move on from her anger, and even enables her to laugh again.

Tamara Bundy’s beautifully written story reminds readers that there is nothing like friendship to lighten one’s load, and make anyplace a home.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Walking With Miss Millie is a Middle School novel about Alice, a ten-year-old girl who finds herself in a new town with her mom and brother as they uproot their lives and move south to help Alice's ailing grandmother in 1968 small town Georgia. Alice is angry and didn't want to make the move. She misses her absentee father and eagerly awaits the day that he'll finally show up and take them home. Alice finds herself initially forced to take daily walks with her elderly neighbour (and her curmudgeonly dog) but what she didn't expect was the touching and much needed bond that resulted.

At the heart of this book is the poignant relationship between Miss Millie, a 92-year-old African American woman and Alice. They are a unique pair and their bond highlights the importance of friendship, multi-generational influences on our kids and the notion that people are far more alike than they are different.  

Bundy gets into the mindset and vernacular of a ten-year-old girl as she raises several big issues -- abandonment by a parent, forgiveness, loss, friendship, bullying, the effects of Alzheimer's etc. I liked the inclusion of a Deaf secondary character (based on the author's own brother) and how Bundy shows how Deaf people were/are treated and misunderstood by the hearing world. While there are many issues raised, the focus is on racism. Readers will witness how some townspeople treat Millie and understand more about her as she shares stories from her earlier life. These are touching scenes that approach Civil Rights and racism at a Middle School level.

My only criticism is that there may have been too many issues within one wee book. The issues are handled well but the 227 pages weren't enough time to go into much depth in terms of issues or characters. There's a lot going on in this book but parents/teachers can look at it as a starting point for discussions on the various topics raised.

This is a book about the friendship between an unexpected pair who enter each other's lives at the right moment. Alice provides Millie with friendship and Millie is a calming force in Alice's turbulent life. She helps Alice navigate the adversity in her life, shows the importance of kindness and shares some wonderfully quotable tidbits of wisdom to her young neighbour.  

"But maybe the most important thing is for people to just be kind."

Walking With Miss Millie is a touching coming of age story about a friendship that defies age and race and would be a good read for children Grades 4 and up.

Favourite Quotes:
"Poor Grandma. On her bad days, she couldn't remember things. But on her good days, she couldn't forget not remembering." ~ Alice

"I learned it's okay to get mad. It's okay to get sad, but after all that gettin' mad and sad, ya gotta get smart. Ya gotta take a step back, away from all your hurtin', and figure out what ya can change and what ya can't." ~ Miss Millie

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 390
Source: Personal copy
Publisher: Atria
First Line: "Evelyn Hugo to auction off gowns."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom Taylor Jenkins Reid, “a genius when it comes to stories about life and love” (Redbook), comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950's to her decision to leave show business in the late '80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Written with Reid’s signature talent for “creating complex, likable characters” (Real Simple), this is a fascinating journey through the splendor of Old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it takes—to face the truth.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: This is an utterly engaging look at a Hollywood icon - her trials, tribulations, successes and multiple marriages - as she struggles to make her way in life, love and career within the confines of Hollywood and those she creates for herself.

Evelyn is a complex character. She's stunningly beautiful, head strong and confident in some aspects of her life. As a young woman, she doesn't always make the right choices but she's a compelling character that readers will gravitate towards. Readers will become engrossed in Evelyn's life as she struggles to find love, accept love and find her true self - unabashedly and totally. Personally, I loved the older Evelyn who had paid her dues, made her mistakes and came out of it all with a quiet confidence, strength and self-awareness.

Evelyn isn't a character that I'd normally enjoy ... and yet, I liked her. I really liked her. She's exceptionally flawed but she's aware of many of her flaws - she accepts some, regrets a few and is unashamed of many. She has used her body and played the Hollywood game to further her career in an industry that didn't value strong, independent women. She made horrible choices, betrayed loved ones and even ignored parts of her own identity to further her career. But underlying it all there was always a glimmer of a woman I could get behind as a main character and I wanted to see her succeed, despite herself. 

The story is told with two different time lines with Reid dropping juicy tidbits to keep her readers attention. The first time line follows Evelyn as a young starlet in Hollywood and the other, decades later, focuses on an elderly Evelyn as she tells her life story to Monique, a young, unknown journalist. There are some twists thrown in and the mystery of why Monique was chosen to write the memoir added mystery to the book. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a mesmerizing read that gives readers a bird's eye view into Hollywood and touches on some bigger issues, including sexism, sexuality, owning up to one's choices and even has its touching and romantic scenes too. 

Your emotions will get a work out with this book. You'll laugh, feel exasperated, cry, get all mushy with true love and even enraged! And through it all you'll find yourself cheering on this unique, sassy and flawed character who persevered, lied, loved and betrayed to achieve success at the box office and in her personal life as she struggled to know herself. This is some wonderful storytelling that would make a fantastic summer read if you want to delve into old Hollywood with a truly unique and flawed character that you can't help but root for.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Sparks of Light

Author: Janet B Taylor
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Teen
Series: #2 in the Into the Dim series
Type: e-book (PDF)
Source: NetGalley
PublisherHoughton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers
First Published: August 1, 2017
First Line: "Decapitation."

Book Description from GoodReadsFor the first time in her life, Hope Walton has friends . . . and a (maybe) boyfriend. She’s a Viator, a member of a long line of time-traveling ancestors. When the Viators learn of a plan to steal a dangerous device from the inventor Nikola Tesla, only a race into the past can save the natural timeline from utter destruction. Navigating the glitterati of The Gilded Age in 1895 New York City, Hope and her crew will discover that high society can be as deadly as it is beautiful.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: I have read Into the Dim twice (so far) and loved it both times. In this second book of the series, Taylor brings her readers back to the amazing world she created which includes time travel, historical settings and a diverse cast of characters.  

Sparks of Light picks up two months after Into the Dim and I liked that things weren't all rosy for Hope and her friends after returning to present-day Scotland. They had lived through hell and the repercussions were believable and, for some, long lasting. 

With the threat of Celia still lurking, the group is sent to late 18th century New York City to destroy a device invented by none other than Nikola Tesla. While I was slightly less captivated by this setting (compared to 12th century England in Into the Dim), this book is a solid follow-up that gives readers quite a ride. Taylor continues to weave historical elements and people into her plot seamlessly and while the book starts off slow she ramps up the pace with some edge-of-your-seat scenes. The plot has a much darker feel, is sprinkled with twists and focuses on big issues that influenced late 19th century New York - specifically racism, homophobia and the often horrific and gruesome treatment of people with mental health issues. 

I'm always on the lookout for strong, interesting, well-rounded female characters and Taylor provides a group of women with a wide range of appeal - from the sassy, to the learned, to the loving, to the take charge kind of gal, Taylor shows that female strength comes in many shapes, sizes and personalities. The secondary characters continue to shine and add much to the plot and overall feel. I love Phee, Collum, Doug, Moira and Mac but, truthfully, Bran and Hope seemed to lose some of their luster in this book. Readers get more information about their shared past but the jumping back and forth between present and past interrupted the flow of the main plot and didn't add much insight.

There continues to be an element of romance but I liked that it doesn't overpower the plot. Is it odd that I'm not a fan of the Hope/Bran pairing? Perhaps. But, for a couple in love they haven't spent a lot of time together and it seemed that more page time was spent with Hope's friends telling her how much Bran loved her instead of showing the readers their bond. Truth be told, I still want to see Hope with another Viator.

Readers are left with a slightly abrupt ending as well as a few unanswered questions that will make them eager to read the third book in the series. I strongly recommend reading these books in order. Overall, a great follow-up to a series that I regularly recommend to my library patrons, friends and family.

Note: This book has one of the most intriguing and funny beginnings that I can remember reading. You got me, Janet B Taylor.  You totally got me!

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers for providing me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Two Nights

Author: Kathy Reichs
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 320
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada
First Published: July 11, 2017
First Line: "My right-hand neighbor thinks I'm crazy, so she brings me cheese."

Book Description from GoodReads#1 New York Times bestselling author Kathy Reichs steps beyond her classic Temperance Brennan series in a new standalone thriller featuring a smart, tough, talented heroine whose thirst for justice stems from her own dark past. 
Meet Sunday Night, a woman with physical and psychological scars, and a killer instinct. 

Sunnie has spent years running from her past, burying secrets and building a life in which she needs no one and feels nothing.
But a girl has gone missing, lost in the chaos of a bomb explosion, and the family needs Sunnie s help.
Is the girl dead?Did someone take her?If she is out there, why doesn't she want to be found?
It s time for Sunnie to face her own demons because they just might lead her to the truth about what really happened all those years ago. 

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Kathy Reichs is known for her popular Temperance Brennan series but in this new standalone Reichs focuses on a new protagonist -- an ex-military, ex-cop named Sunday Night. Sunnie is a strong and defiant woman with a tortured soul, numerous physical and emotional scars and is shadowed by a past that continues to haunt her. She's a tough gal with a lot of baggage that she attempts to keep in check with the support of her twin brother and her dry sense of humour. Sunnie's one-liners had me cracking up and was easily my favourite part of the book.

Two Nights fell somewhere between a 2.5 and a 3-star rating for me, which was disheartening. The book starts off about a missing teen but that plot is quickly sidelined by a story that focuses on a terrorist plot. I found the terrorist tangent much less compelling and never felt fully invested in it. A secondary story line is scattered throughout the book and focuses on the point of view of an unidentified woman. All the reader knows is that she's living a nightmare at the hands of a sadist. 

The main plot is told through Sunnie's perspective but it felt like Reichs kept readers at arm's length when it came to getting inside Sunnie's head. I had a hard time sympathizing with her because, as a reader, I wasn't privy to her past until very late in the book. As the story continued, my attention began to falter due to very dialogue-based writing, over-descriptions of settings and clues that were scattered too far apart. 

This was my first book by Reichs and I quite enjoyed her humour and the final twist. But, while I give kudos to the author for stepping out of her comfort zone with this new protagonist, this book fell a little flat for me. Sunnie continues to be an intriguing character and I assume Reichs has a lot planned for her in future books which will hopefully show more depth to Sunnie's character now that readers know where she's coming from.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Mrs Saint and the Defectives

Author: Julie Lawson Timmer
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: Publicist via NetGalley
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
First Published: August 1, 2017
First Line: "It was only when Markie saw her husband's hands clasped around another woman's breasts that she finally acknowledged their problems weren't ones she could hide any longer."

Book Description from GoodReadsMarkie, a fortysomething divorcée who has suffered a humiliating and very public fall from marital, financial, and professional grace, moves, along with her teenage son, Jesse, to a new town, hoping to lick her wounds in private. But Markie and Jesse are unable to escape the attention of their new neighbor Mrs. Saint, an irascible, elderly New European woman who takes it upon herself, along with her ragtag group of “defectives,” to identify and fix the flaws in those around her, whether they want her to or not.

What Markie doesn’t realize is that Mrs. Saint has big plans for the divorcée’s broken spirit. Soon, the quirky yet endearing woman recruits Markie to join her eccentric community, a world where both hidden truths and hope unite them. But when Mrs. Saint’s own secrets threaten to unravel their fragile web of healing, it’s up to Markie to mend these wounds and usher in a new era for the “defectives”—one full of second chances and happiness.

Rating: 5 stars

My Review: Readers will be drawn to this book initially by its eye-catching cover but what will keep them reading is Lawson Timmer's heart-felt vision of family, second chances and redemption.

After a failed marriage and the public humiliation that accompanied it, Markie moves herself and her teenage son to a new town to start over. Her goal? To blend into the background, keep her head down and make some money.  

But she didn't anticipate Mrs. Saint.

Mrs. Saint is a force to be reckoned with. She's an elderly whirling dervish of good intentions but how she puts those intentions into practice aren't for the faint of heart. Resistance is futile. Sure, she can be abrasive, she's a know-it-all and pushy but she's the grand dame of the neighbourhood who has her hand in everyone's lives for various reasons. She is drawn to help (whether they want it or not) the lost, the lonely and those who need someone in their corner.

I went into this book knowing I'd get a story that centered around family because that's what Lawson Timmer writes best. Not necessarily the traditional family unit because family isn't always born. Sometimes family emerges from the people we choose as family - friends, neighbours etc. The cast is made up of a melange of lost souls that Mrs. Saint has pulled into her small universe for different reasons. They are a diverse bunch and their interactions are sometimes quirky and humorous as well as poignant and touching.

Markie was slow to warm to Mrs. Saint (and outright hated her at times) and I was slow to warm to Markie. Some of her reactions felt over-the-top but even when I didn't agree with her behaviour there was always an inkling of her that I liked. The more she came to understand herself the more I could get behind her as a protagonist.

This book hits many of the 'great read' check marks. It's got an interesting premise, two important themes (family and the strength one gains from helping others) and is filled with heart, a bit of humour and even an intriguing mystery. What more could you ask for?

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Lake Union Publishing for providing me with an e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017


Author: Meg Gardiner
Genre: Suspense, Psychological Thriller
Type: e-book
Series: #1 in the Unsub series
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Dutton
First Published: June 27, 2017
First Line: "The yelling woke her, the rough voice of her father, shouting into the phone."

Book Description from GoodReadsA riveting psychological thriller inspired by the never-caught Zodiac Killer, about a young detective determined to apprehend the serial murderer who destroyed her family and terrorized a city twenty years earlier.

Caitlin Hendrix has been a Narcotics detective for six months when the killer at the heart of all her childhood nightmares reemerges: the Prophet. An UNSUB—what the FBI calls an unknown subject—the Prophet terrorized the Bay Area in the 1990s and nearly destroyed her father, the lead investigator on the case.

The Prophet’s cryptic messages and mind games drove Detective Mack Hendrix to the brink of madness, and Mack’s failure to solve the series of ritualized murders—eleven seemingly unconnected victims left with the ancient sign for Mercury etched into their flesh—was the final nail in the coffin for a once promising career.

Twenty years later, two bodies are found bearing the haunting signature of the Prophet. Caitlin Hendrix has never escaped the shadow of her father’s failure to protect their city. But now the ruthless madman is killing again and has set his sights on her, threatening to undermine the fragile barrier she rigidly maintains for her own protection, between relentless pursuit and dangerous obsession.

Determined to decipher his twisted messages and stop the carnage, Caitlin ignores her father’s warnings as she draws closer to the killer with each new gruesome murder. Is it a copycat, or can this really be the same Prophet who haunted her childhood? Will Caitlin avoid repeating her father’s mistakes and redeem her family name, or will chasing the Prophet drag her and everyone she loves into the depths of the abyss?

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: UNSUB is an eerie, gritty Criminal Minds-type book about a serial killer that puts the tension and twists front and centre. The characters are a mixed bunch and while I can't say they stood out for me, I appreciated that the focus was more on the criminal profiling, multiple twists and nail-biting scenes. Some of the killer's methods of displaying his kills were imaginative to say the least and some verged on almost too gory for little old me. Almost.

The plot was fairly complex and was sprinkled with pockets of tension. The twists and red herrings had me guessing and second guessing my theories about the identity of the elusive Prophet. I was certain that one of my suspicions would be right and held on to that idea until near the end (I'm nothing if not stubborn) but I will have to admit defeat on this one. And while some of Caitlyn's epiphanies stretched the realm of plausibility it was still an enjoyable and very engaging read.

The only issue I had was that once they figured out the killer's cryptic code things got a little murky. There were a lot of victims and I found it a hard remembering each of them and how they fit into the killer's grand scheme. This scheme was complex, dark and is based on something that some people may be well versed in but I'm not one of them. I struggled a bit remembering the various levels in his nefarious plot. 

The book ends with an intense scene while also giving readers a hint about the future of this fledgling series. I can see why this book has been optioned for a TV program. It's got all the makings for a solid criminal profiling-type show.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Dutton and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Snape: A Definitive Reading

Author: Lorrie Kim
Genre: Fantasy
Type: e-book
Source: Personal copy
Publisher: Story Spring Publishing
First Published: July 4, 2016
First Line: "The Harry Potter series may be named after The Boy Who Lived, but if you want to know the story, keep your eyes fixed on Snape."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe Harry Potter series may be named after the Boy Who Lived, but if you want to know the story, keep your eyes fixed on Snape. This hook-nosed, greasy-haired, grumpy character is one of J.K. Rowling’s enduring gifts to English literature. He’s the archetypal ill-tempered teacher: acerbic, yet horribly, deliciously funny. Every time he opens his mouth, he delivers. When he’s in a scene, you can’t take your eyes off him. Snape is always the story.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: This book is a thorough dissection of the Harry Potter books with a focus on Severus Snape, one of the all-time best, most complicated and polarizing characters of modern literature.

Each chapter focuses on one of the seven books in the series. They begin with a detailed account of the book's plot and includes long quotes of the original text. As someone who has read the series four times, I felt that the rehash of each book went into too much depth and I ended up skimming much of it. As a Potterhead I knew all this! And, while some may say the plot summary is for HP newbie fans, I honestly think that this book will only be bought by the die-hard fans of Harry Potter.

While there were some good points made, many of the insights would be fairly obvious to a Potter fan. But the points that were based on pure speculation by the author, that weren't supported in Rowling's text, made me cringe a bit. She made too big of a leap in quite a few of her points. I had assumed I'd devour this book but admit to picking away at it for weeks.

Don't get me wrong, Kim makes some great points and I appreciate the amount of research that went into this book. And while I didn't agree with all of the author's points it is always nice to slip into the Potterverse again. 

Snape is a complex character who forced me to run the gamut of emotions during the seven HP books. He's complicated, heartbreaking, mysterious, devoted, hateful and obsessive. I liked how the author shows the conflicted nature of Snape and how his past formed who he became. Reading this book has reminded me that it's time to pull out my Potter set and re-read it this summer.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Every Last Lie

Author: Mary Kubica
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Harlequin
First Published: June 27, 2017
First Line: "They say that death comes in threes."

Book Description from GoodReads"The bad man, Daddy. The bad man is after us." 

Clara Solberg's world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon. 
Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick's death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit. 
Told in the alternating perspectives of Clara's investigation and Nick's last months leading up to the crash, master of suspense Mary Kubica weaves her most chilling thriller to date—one that explores the dark recesses of a mind plagued by grief and shows that some secrets might be better left buried.
My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Every Last Lie is accurately named because there's a whole lotta lyin' going on in Kubica's latest book. I have read two of her previous books, Pretty Baby and Don't You Cry -- with Pretty Baby being my favourite. Kubica is a good writer with some cool ideas but I will admit that with her latest book, Every Last Lie, I wasn't quite as enamoured.

This time around I found the pacing to be sluggish and repetitive and while some may call it a slow burn I'd say it was more of a low smolder. There was a slight jump in energy towards the end but I had expected more action and twists. 

Kubica uses dual narratives of Nick and Clara to tell the story which gives readers an inside look into their lives and how the lies began and continued to build. Kubica provides some possible culprits and red herrings that had me guessing but I wasn't a fan of the big twist at the end which wasn't a twist?! Huh?

Unfortunately, I had a hard time connecting to the main characters. I just didn't like them. I understand that life throws people hard balls but when smart characters repeatedly make silly decisions I have a hard time getting behind them. Both Nick and Clara keep making decisions which ultimately throw their lives, and the lives of their family, into turmoil. I had more sympathy for their young children and Harriet, the dog.

What Kubica does well is show the dark and all-consuming side of grief. Clara is drowning in her despair and I felt for her. She's overwhelmed, frenzied and out of sorts much of the time which makes sense when you think of what she's gone through. But she also lacks common sense -- like leaving her kids in a hot car while she frantically tries to piece together what happened to Nick and holding off telling her daughter what happened to Nick for an excruciatingly long time. While Clara makes for a good unreliable narrator she was just too flawed for me.

Overall, I think Kubica's die-hard fans will enjoy this book. It's got a good premise and touches on some big issues but was lighter on the suspense and character development than I had expected. I still consider myself a Kubica fan and look forward to her next literary offering. 

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

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Sunshine Sisters

Author: Jane Green
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Berkley Books
First Published: June 6, 2017
First Line: "All those years when Ronni thought she was sick, all those years convinced that every mole was melanoma, every cough was lung cancer, every case of heartburn was an oncoming heart attack, after all those years, when the gods finally stopped taking care of her she wasn't scared."

Book Description from GoodReadsRonni Sunshine left London for Hollywood to become a beautiful, charismatic star of the silver screen. But at home, she was a narcissistic, disinterested mother who alienated her three daughters. 

As soon as possible, tomboy Nell fled her mother's overbearing presence to work on a farm and find her own way in the world as a single mother. The target of her mother s criticism, Meredith never felt good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Her life took her to London and into the arms of a man whom she may not even love. And Lizzy, the youngest, more like Ronni than any of them, seemed to have it easy, using her drive and ambition to build a culinary career to rival her mother's fame, while her marriage crumbled around her.

But now the Sunshine Girls are together again, called home by Ronni, who has learned that she has a serious disease and needs her daughters to fulfill her final wishes. And though Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy are all going through crises of their own, their mother s illness draws them together to confront old jealousies and secret fears and they discover that blood might be thicker than water after all.

My Rating: 3 stars

My ReviewRonni Sunshine spent years as a B-list actress and enjoyed the fame that came along with it. Unfortunately, she'll never be nominated as Mother of the Year by her three daughters. Ronni was narcissistic and often cruel to her daughters which has caused a long estrangement between the four women. Now that Ronni has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, she is adamant to end this estrangement and calls her girls home to patch things up.

While this book addresses serious issues I'd still call it a light, beachy-type of book. It was enjoyable enough to keep my interest and was a quick read but I felt it was too predictable and didn't go deep enough into the issues it raises. I also wasn't a fan of the loose ends in the plot that leave readers hanging (What happened to Nell's first love?, How does the most important person in her life react to her new love?).

The book had a good premise and had the potential for an emotional family drama.  Unfortunately, I found the plot to be contrived and the characters one-dimensional with the self-absorbed, nasty Hollywood mother and her three daughters --- Nell, the people pleasing, serious older sister, Meredith, the insecure middle child and Lizzy, the baby who can get away with anything. People reacted as expected and events unfolded as anticipated - there are no surprises here, folks.

If you're looking for an escapist kind of read then you'll probably enjoy this book because it's light and has a good pace. But if you're looking for a book that surprises you with family secrets and twists, and gives you 'all the feels' with some gritty family turmoil then Sunshine Sisters may not feel substantial enough for you. 

Overall, this is a good light read if you're looking for something in the easy-breezy category that touches on some big issues but is fairly predictable and has a conclusion that is nicely wrapped up. 

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Berkley Books for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Strawberry Rhubarb Coffee Cake

Spring is one of my stomach's favourite times of the year because it's the start of rhubarb season!! Those beautiful red stalks are packed with a lip-twisting tartness that I simply adore. I have two large plants in my garden and there's something about being able to walk into your backyard to pick something you've grown with your own two hands that's pretty awesome. The best part is baking it into something truly yummy and sharing it with family and friends.

One of my popular (and oldest) recipes on my blog (hence the sad lack of pictures) is my Sour Cream Coffeecake. It's moist and has a wonderfully buttery taste that is made even better with the brown sugar-cinnamon topping.

This past Sunday it was hotter than the hubs of H-E-double-hockey-stick but that didn't stop the culinary wheels inside my head from turning. I had an idea and my stomach was on the sidelines cheering me on. Heat or no heat I wanted cake, and cake I shall have!

So, with rhubarb in hand and some strawberries that were on their last legs, I decided to combine my favourite coffeecake with some strawberry-rhubarb goodness.  The oppressive heat was worth it because this cake was awesome! It's like my favourite coffeecake and strawberry rhubarb pie had a love child. And it was glorious.

So, if you're looking for ways to use your rhubarb bounty you've got to give this recipe a try.  It's seriously good eats.

Strawberry Rhubarb Coffee Cake
Yield: 1 - 9x13-inch pan

3 cups rhubarb, cut into small 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups strawberries, hulled and cut in quarters
2 tbsp water
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cake Batter
1 cup butter, softened (no substitutes)
2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9x13" baking pan. Set aside.

Prepare filling: In a large saucepan, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, water, cornstarch and sugar.  Mix well and cook for about 5 minutes, over medium-low heat, stirring often. Mixture will appear thick but fruit will still retain much of their shape. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare topping: In a medium bowl, combine all topping ingredients and mix well.  It will have a moist crumb texture. Set aside. 

Prepare batterIn a large bowl, cream together 1 cup of butter and white sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in the sour cream and vanilla. Mix in 2 cups of flour, baking powder and salt, just until combined. Spread half of the mixture into the prepared pan.

Pour fruit mixture over the batter.

Spread remaining batter onto the fruit and sprinkle with the topping.

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  

Cool on a wire rack.  Once cooled, store in an airtight container or cover well with plastic wrap.

Last but not least, be prepared for lots of kudos. This cake truly rocks!

Other rhubarb-inspired creations:
Moist Rhubarb Cake (one of my all-time top recipes)
Lemon Rhubarb Squares
Rhubarb Custard Crumble Pie

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