Saturday, 19 May 2018

The Alice Network

Author: Kate Quinn
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 494
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
First Published: June 6, 2017
First Line: "May 1947 - Southampton: The first person I met in England was a hallucination."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.
1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.
1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.
Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the matter where it leads.
My Rating: 3.5 stars
My Review: The Alice Network falls into the 'I liked it but didn't love it' category. I can see why heaps of people wax poetic about this book, but I found it to be longer than it needed to be with one perspective overshadowing the other.
The story is told in two different eras using two perspectives -- Eve, a WWI spy in France and Charlie, a young American socialite in the aftermath of WWII. Eve's story line from her time as a spy was interesting and at times hard to read. But it was Charlie's part of the story that failed to hold my interest. Her story took time away from Eve's and that would normally be okay, but her part of the book had a whole different feel. Gone were the energy and danger of Eve's life as a spy, leaving readers with Charlie's POV with its trite dialogue, Charlie's immaturity and a cliched romance. The saving grace in Charlie's story was elderly Eve's caustic comments.
The era and the subject matter (female spies in World War I) will remind readers of Kristin Hannah's book, The Nightingale, which also focused on the bravery and sacrifices women made during the World Wars, even though they are often left out of historical texts.
I enjoyed this book which highlights one of the roles women played in the war effort, their bravery as well as their lack of rights and recognition. I applaud Quinn for including some real-life French war heroes and events in her story, but overall, The Alice Network was a lighter read and lacked the grit and emotion I come to expect from a book centred around a war.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

A Breath After Drowning

Author: Alice Blanchard
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 437
Source: advanced copy from Publisher
Publisher: Titan Books
First Published: April 10, 2018
First Line: "Kate Wolfe's 3pm appointment stood in the doorway wearing a jaw-dropping miniskirt, a light blue tee, plaid knee socks, and chunky platform heels."

Book Description from GoodReadsChild psychiatrist Kate Wolfe's world comes crashing down when one of her young patients commits suicide, so when a troubled girl is left at the hospital ward, she doubts her ability to help. But the girl knows things about Kate's past, things she shouldn't know, forcing Kate to face the murky evidence surrounding her own sister's murder sixteen years before, bringing Kate face to face with her deepest fear.

My Rating: 3.5 stars (a really good read)

My Review: A Breath After Drowning is a psychological thriller that kept me guessing and made for an enjoyable weekend read. The first part of the book is character driven as Blanchard guides her readers through Kate's past, her current job as a psychiatrist and her personal life. As the book progresses, twists are thrown in and a fair number of subplots and themes are explored in varying degrees.  

While I enjoyed the impressive number of culprits who kept me speculating about how it would end, I can't say I was equally enamoured with Kate. Her profession lends itself to interesting story lines, but her many insecurities often get the best of her and I couldn't believe that a highly educated woman would make so many rash and immature decisions. When you add in her super saccharine dialogue with her boyfriend (and fellow psychiatrist) James, Kate was the weakest part of the book for me.

But I did enjoy this book, really! I liked the premise and loved the twists. This was more of a mystery than a suspense read for me, so I'd recommend it to readers who like slow building tension that concludes with a nail-biting and action-packed ending.   

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

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Educated: A Memoir

Author: Tara Westover

Genre: Biography, Memoir
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Harper Collins
First Published: February 20, 2018
First Line: "I'm standing on the red railway car that sits abandoned next to the barn".

Book Description from GoodReads:
 An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag.” In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: This book is about a girl who, despite her parents' lack of support and encouragement for formal education, manages to start her academic journey at the age of seventeen. With perseverance, dedication and help from people outside her tight knit, dysfunctional family, she is rewarded years later with her PhD.

Raised by her fundamentalist parents on a secluded mountain in Buck Peak, Idaho, her childhood was not a typical one. Her family situation was dire, brutal and heartbreaking. Her parents, especially her father, were suspicious of the government and determined to keep their children away from its influence, which included attending school. Their days were spent working in their family's metal scrapyard with shockingly little concern for their safety, but it was the mental abuse and control that her parents wielded over the children, that was the scariest and had the longest lasting effects.

Much of the book focuses on this dysfunctional bond with her family and how it conflicted with her deep-seated desire to educate herself. I'll admit that I found the first third of the book slow, but after that point I had a hard time putting it down. For a book where you already know the outcome going in, I was amazed at how riveted I was by Westover's life, her decisions and her repeated struggles to find out who she is, despite her childhood and family's pressure to conform. 

This is a well-written and impressive memoir that doesn't hold back. It has its touching moments but often it's a heartbreaking story about a girl who struggles to find her way in the world despite her family's hold on her. Many scenes were hard to read, and I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn't a work of fiction. Westover's childhood was appalling but her story becomes one of perseverance, healing and strength.

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

Monday, 30 April 2018


Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 394
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Lee Boudreaux Books
First Published: April 10, 2018
First Line: "When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child--not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power--the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: Madeline Miller's Circe is a very hot (I'm talking Helios hot!) commodity for book lovers, and especially fans of her previous book The Song of Achilles. While I unfortunately can't boast about reading Achilles, I was eager to dust off my knowledge of Titans and Greek gods.

Circe, the daughter of the Titan sun god, Helios, is mentioned in quite a few myths but choosing a woman who is banished to an island made her a unique choice for a main character. Not a lot happens to Circe which leaves much of the book relying on other characters (gods, goddesses, heroes) to retell the adventures and exploits they've had or have heard of second and even third-hand.  

The cover is striking, and I figured the knowledge I gained from my Mythology course in university would finally come in handy. I enjoyed getting reacquainted with famous characters but particularly liked the underlying theme of female strength as we witness Circe's transformation to a wiser, stronger and more confident woman.  

But, I can't ignore the fact that this was a hard book to stick with, mainly due to the languid pacing. There were exciting bits (mainly with Scylla, Pasiphae and Daedelus) but overall, the story didn't have enough going on to keep me glued to the pages. Not much happens when you're on an island, usually alone, with a bunch of wild pigs. Just sayin'.

While it didn't quite get to the level of an 'epic' read for me, it was still enjoyable to get wrapped up in the myths and their famous characters. I think this is a good pick for people who enjoy Greek mythology and a slower paced read.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Sometimes I Lie

Author: Alice Feeney
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 258
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Flatiron Books
First Published: March 13, 2018

First Lines: “I’ve always delighted in the free fall between sleep and wakefulness.”

Book Description from GoodReads:
My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:
1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.

Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it's the truth?

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review:I was drawn to this book because of the premise of the main character being in a coma, the secrets, lies that ensue and the unreliable narrator aspect.  People are buzzing about this book so I added it to my stack.

This is a dark read that has outrageous twists -- slap you in the face, make you wonder if you read it right, kind of twists. But the story in between the twists is a little lackluster, has a choppy feel from jumping back and forth in time (as well as the inclusion of diary entries) and I didn't connect with any characters. They are an unlikable bunch.

I understand why this book is so hyped and talked about. It gets most of its marks from me for the twists (especially the initial twist which I had to stop and wrap my head around). The premise is unique and the twists are supersized but I felt the rest of the story was weakly executed with the ending feeling overly ambiguous. It left me feeling irritated and unsatisfied with more questions than answers ... but not interested enough to spend more time figuring things out.

Overall, Sometimes I Lie is a good read but not one that will stay with me.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The Summer of Broken Things

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Genre: Young Adult
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 387
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada
First Published:
First Line: "We need to talk," Dad says.

Book Description from GoodReadsFourteen-year-old Avery Armisted is athletic, rich, and pretty. Sixteen-year-old Kayla Butts is known as “butt-girl” at school. The two girls were friends as little kids, but that’s ancient history now. So it’s a huge surprise when Avery’s father offers to bring Kayla along on a summer trip to Spain. Avery is horrified that her father thinks he can choose her friends—and make her miss soccer camp. Kayla struggles just to imagine leaving the confines of her small town.

But in Spain, the two uncover a secret their families had hidden from both of them their entire lives. Maybe the girls can put aside their differences and work through it together. Or maybe the lies and betrayal will only push them—and their families—farther apart.

My Rating: 3/5 stars (aka 'a good read')

My Review: The Summer of Broken Things is a coming of age/family drama about two very different teen girls who are forced to spend the summer together in Spain.

The descriptions of Spain will transport readers to this beautiful country and I enjoyed that the focus is on the family dynamics instead of teen romance.  The story is told with the alternating points of view of the two teens, Avery and Kayla. These two are like night and day - Avery is the spoiled and trendy, yet sheltered ‘city mouse’ and Kayla  is the lackluster, not as cool ‘country mouse’. 

While the premise was intriguing, the character development was lacking leaving the two girls as one-dimensional characters. And while I liked the family dynamic with a side of mystery, I didn't find the secret that big of a deal unlike the characters who seemed to have over-the-top, long-winded reactions which didn't feel believable and slowed the pace of the book. 

Overall, this was a light, entertaining but the plot was predictable and the characters too clich├ęd for my liking.  It would probably be a better choice for people who want a light, clean read (no swearing or sex) and would be a good beachy read for readers in middle school to early teens.

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

Friday, 20 April 2018

Seven Fallen Feathers

Author: Tanya Talaga
Genre: Nonfiction, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 376
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
First Published: September 30, 2017
First Line: "Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn 1966, twelve-year-old Chanie Wenjack froze to death on the railway tracks after running away from residential school. An inquest was called and four recommendations were made to prevent another tragedy. None of those recommendations were applied.

More than a quarter of a century later, from 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The seven were hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to leave home and live in a foreign and unwelcoming city. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below a sacred Indigenous site. Jordan Wabasse, a gentle boy and star hockey player, disappeared into the minus twenty degrees Celsius night. The body of celebrated artist Norval Morrisseau’s grandson, Kyle, was pulled from a river, as was Curran Strang’s. Robyn Harper died in her boarding-house hallway and Paul Panacheese inexplicably collapsed on his kitchen floor. Reggie Bushie’s death finally prompted an inquest, seven years after the discovery of Jethro Anderson, the first boy whose body was found in the water.

Using a sweeping narrative focusing on the lives of the students, award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga delves into the history of this small northern city that has come to manifest Canada’s long struggle with human rights violations against Indigenous communities.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Seven Fallen Feathers examines the little talked about past and present horrors, abuse and neglect facing the Indigenous peoples of Canada. It also reveals the hubris and inertia of the Canadian government regarding present inequities and the atrocities of past governments as they attempted to eradicate the Indigenous cultures from Canada.

This is a work of nonfiction, but it is as shocking and frightening as anything you'll read in fiction. It is a heartbreaking and shameful part of Canada's past and sadly, continues today. Things are not better for many of our fellow Canadians and through our actions (and particularly inaction), this book brings Canadians to task about our failure as a country to support all Canadians.

As a Canadian I've learned some of the history regarding residential schools but obviously not nearly enough. Talaga throws off the blinders and reveals one of our darkest truths - that our country, for generations, attempted to eradicate Indigenous cultures, even using our respected RCMP to rip children out of the arms of their parents, taking them hundreds and thousands of kilometers away from their family, language and culture to 're-educate' them. In essence, get the 'Indian out of them'. The physical, sexual and emotion abuse that was endured, the eradication of some languages, culture and separation from family, has shaped generations of families.

I was brought to tears several times and readers will be shocked by the actions and inertia of government officials regarding missing and murdered teens. Readers should be shocked by the lack of professionalism by the Thunder Bay police force whose disrespect for Indigenous residents and victims, and blatant failure to follow basic laws was appalling. The fact that some parents request for information was ignored and some found out about their children's deaths via the media, instead of directly from law enforcement or the coroner, is inexcusable and utterly disrespectful.

For the content and Talaga's ability to bring these issues back into the Canadian and world consciousness, I'd give this book five stars. While there is no doubt that meticulous research went into the writing of this book, the writing itself isn't strong and often repetitive and my rating acknowledges that. 

Every Canadian should read this book to have their eyes opened to what has happened and shamefully continues to happen in our own country. Whole communities continue, in 2018, to live without safe drinking water, reasonable services like education, accessible health care and to simply be seen as equals by fellow Canadians. This is the Great White North and never before has the shame of such blatant racism and governmental inertia been so glaringly revealed. We are better than this.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Broken Girls

Author: Simone St James
Genre:  Suspense, Supernatural, Canadian
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: March 20, 2018
First Line: "Barrons, Vermont - November 1950. The sun vanished below the horizon as the girl crested the rise of Old Barrons Road."

Book Description from GoodReadsVermont, 1950. There's a place for the girls whom no one wants--the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It's called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it's located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming--until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . .

Vermont, 2014. As much as she's tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister's death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister's boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can't shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past--and a voice that won't be silenced. . . .

My Rating: 5 stars (aka You've gotta read this!)

My Review: In The Broken Girls, Canadian author Simone St James, has written a deliciously, dark and eerie novel that is part mystery, part ghost story and a hint of gothic suspense that will have readers looking over their shoulders in case the ghost of Mary Hand is lurking nearby. 

“Mary Hand, Mary Hand, dead and buried under land… Faster, faster. Don’t let her catch you.
She’ll say she wants to be your friend…
Do not let her in again!”

The story is set in a small Vermont town, in two different eras. In 1950, readers are given back stories to four roommates, who are some of the 'broken' girls at the Idlewood School, a school where girls deemed 'troublemakers' by their families were sent away. It is a harsh and lonely place, but the four fifteen year old girls find friendship and strength in each other .... until one of them goes missing.

In 2014, someone has plans to renovate the long abandoned Idlewood school which locals have always thought to be haunted. Fiona, a local journalist, is still troubled by her sister's murder, which occurred on the grounds of Idlewood twenty years before. The impending renovation brings up many feelings and theories about what really happened to her sister. The more Fiona digs into her sister's murder, the deeper she becomes enmeshed in Idlewood's questionable history.

The Broken Girls is a well-written and chilling tale that will keep readers riveted and may have them believing in ghosts by the final pages. With wonderfully placed twists and characters who show the importance and strength of friendship and family bonds, this atmospheric ghostly mystery is filled with secrets in both story lines that finally converge into a spine tingling, yet very satisfying ending.

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

Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Good Liar

Author: Catherine McKenzie
Genre: Suspense, Canadian
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
First Published: April 3, 2018
First Line: "I'm late again."

Book Description from GoodReadsCan you hide a secret with the whole world watching?

When an explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of three women are forever altered.

A year later, Cecily is in mourning. She was supposed to be in the building that day. Instead, she stood on the street and witnessed it going down, with her husband and best friend inside. Kate, now living thousands of miles away, fled the disaster and is hoping that her past won’t catch up with her. And Franny, a young woman in search of her birth mother, watched the horror unfold on the morning news, knowing that the woman she was so desperate to reconnect with was in the building.

Now, despite the marks left by the tragedy, they all seem safe. But as its anniversary dominates the media, the memories of that terrifying morning become dangerous triggers. All these women are guarding important secrets. Just how far will they go to keep them?

My Rating: 3 stars (aka 'a good read')

My Review: The Good Liar is based around a fictional, 911-type tragedy set in Chicago that devastates the city. The story is told via the alternating narratives of Cecily, Kate and snippets from the interview that Teo, a documentary maker, has with Franny, a young woman trying to find her birth mother. This tragedy links these three women and as their stories progress, readers see the truth revealed.

This book has good bones - solid premise, emotional situations and part of it is set in the beautiful city of Montreal (I love it when Canadian authors keep their stories in Canada). But the three women were hard to keep straight in the beginning and I can't say I was connected to any of them. Too much time was spent on their daily lives and not enough time spent developing and maintaining the tension.

Overall, The Good Liar is well written and kept my interest, but I was expecting more suspense and a bigger build-up. Readers who like domestic drama with a side of suspense will enjoy this book and the ending will make readers question who really is the Good Liar.

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

Friday, 13 April 2018

Force of Nature

Author: Jane Harper
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 326
Series: #2 in the Aaron Falk series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Flatiron Books
First Published: February 6, 2018
First Lines: "Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russell. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you."

Book Description from GoodReads: Five women go on a hike. Only four return. Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry, asks: How well do you really know the people you work with?

When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.

But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: I wasn't sure what I was in for when I picked up this book because I hadn't read the popular first book in the Aaron Falk series, The Dry. There's just simply not enough hours in the day to read all the books. Instead, I jumped right into this second book in the series because it was available at the library. Carpe librum.

Force of Nature is aptly named and has an eerie, sinister feel where the desolate, merciless wilds of Australia play a major role. When a woman goes missing on a work-related retreat in the bush, everyone is a suspect. Tensions are high, and the lies are flying. Harper gives detailed back stories for the five women (who were an unlikable bunch) but unfortunately (and surprisingly), left Falk as a peripheral character. 

This was a slow burn kind of read that had a more straightforward plot than I was expecting. Harper maintains tension by alternating between what really happened with the five women in the bush and Falk's investigation, but the revelations and resolution of the case weren't as complex or as strong as I had expected.

In the end, I liked the premise, the red herrings (one of which could have been used more) and the tidbits of tension but would have liked more twists and a chance to know the main character better. I still plan to read The Dry at some point to see what all the fuss was about.

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