Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Bullet

Author: Mary Louise Kelly
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Gallery Books
First Published: March 17, 2015
First Line: "My name is Caroline Cashion and I'm the unlikely heroine of this story."

Book Description from GoodReadsCaroline Cashion, a professor of French literature at Georgetown University, is stunned when an MRI reveals that she has a bullet lodged near the base of her skull. It makes no sense: she has never been shot. She has no entry wound. No scar. When she confronts her parents, they initially profess bewilderment. Then, over the course of one awful evening, she learns the truth: she was adopted when she was three years old, after her real parents were murdered in cold blood. Caroline had been there the night of the attack, and she was hit by a single gunshot to the neck. Buried too deep among vital nerves and blood vessels, the surgeons had left it, and stitched up the traumatized little girl with the bullet still inside. 

That was thirty-four years ago.

Now, Caroline returns to her hometown to learn whatever she can about who her parents were and why they died. Along the way she meets a cop who worked the case, who reveals that even after all these years, the police do not have enough evidence to nail their suspect. The killer is still at large. Caroline is in danger: the bullet in her neck could identify the murderer, and he'll do anything to keep it out of the police hands. Now Caroline will have to decide: run for her life, or stay and fight?

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

My Review:  The wonderfully intriguing premise is what got me to request this book immediately.  A woman not only finds out that she was adopted but learns that she has had a bullet in her neck since the age of three and doesn't remember ever getting shot nor does she have a scar?  Tell me more.

This novel is by Mary Louise Kelly, a former journalist, and while the premise was great I think that the execution needed a little work.  What I loved were the short chapters and the suspense of who the murderer was kept me reading for the first half of the book.  There's one action scene that I finished and I'm pretty sure I didn't have any fingernails left but overall I think the book lacked the tension I was expecting for a suspense read.

Caroline was an okay main character.  Her predicament put her in an unusual situation but overall I can't say that she's a character that will stay with me.  She's a smart woman, a university professor no less, but after learning she's adopted and the reason why she was adopted she suddenly becomes very erratic and makes some potentially dangerous choices.  Knowing that the bullet could put the murderer away why would you tell your story repeatedly to a newspaper?  Why wouldn't you set your security alarm on your house if you think you're in danger?  It just didn't sit well with me and made Caroline come off as silly.

I'm also not a fan of suspense reads who slip in a romance 'just cuz' and that's what Caroline's romance felt like.  It happened too suddenly for me could have been left out all together without hindering the main story line.

Overall, this was a decent read.  There were some good moments and some twists that I didn't see coming.  I enjoyed the beginning of the book and the build-up but in the last half of the book my interest started to wane a bit and unfortunately I didn't find it nearly as compelling as I was hoping.  This was a decent suspense novel and I'm intrigued to see what her future books will be like.  I think this would be a good book for people who enjoy lighter suspense reads.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, 27 April 2015

Red Queen

Author: Victoria Aveyard
Genre: Teen, Fantasy
Type: Hardcover
Series: 1st book in the Red Queen series
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 320
Publisher: Orion
First Published: February 10, 2015
First Line: "I hate First Friday."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of
those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

My Review:  I admittedly have gotten a little blase about YA dystopian books because I went through a period of reading too many of them in a short space of time.  But after again being strongly encouraged by a 17 year old Shelver at the library where I work (she's given some great recommendations in the past) I decided to try Red Queen.  I'm happy to report that I really enjoyed it. 

Readers of the YA dystopian genre will definitely see some similar themes from other popular series.  There's strong similarities to The Hunger Games and Red Rising and a little Divergent thrown in for good measure.  That said, Red Queen held its own and gave its unique twist on a the blood feud, fighting thang.

Red Queen is set in a world where a person's blood type (either red or silver) determines their status in society with the silver blooded Royals holding all of the power.  The Royals each have a unique power which could include being able to control metal, speed, reading minds, control water or air etc as long as their element is near them to manipulate.  Then there's the lowly red blooded population who are used as soldiers and workers to pad the coffers of the Silvers.  It doesn't make for a happy society.

The main character, Mare is a Red whose only future is to be conscripted into the army to fight an on-going 100 year war with a neighbouring country.  When her best friend Kilhorn is going to be conscripted she takes a risk in order to save him but suddenly she finds herself thrown into the world of the Silvers.  When knowledge of her unique powers surfaces (which is even a surprise to Mare) it throws a wrench in the Royals' plans who will do anything to keep this information from reaching the masses especially as a new rebellion is brewing with the Scarlet Guard at the helm.

This was a book that pretty much grabbed me from the beginning but there were, admittedly, some inconsistencies and situations that didn't sit well with me.  For example, I had to wonder why these Silvers didn't just use their awesome powers to end this long running war. Why use Reds as soldiers who die easily when you could read the minds of the other army and annihilate them by sending a cyclone or drowning the lot of them?  And if I'm being picky I truly hated Maven's name.  It sounded so feminine that I had a hard time picturing him in a romantic way with one of the female characters.  It may be a petty comment but it really did distract me and when the author has carte blanche to choose names I just wonder why she chose that one.

If you let these inconsistencies take over you may not enjoy the book.  I chose to go with the flow and read the book for what it was - a good story with some strong, memorable characters and good twists.  Mare is a solid main character with a strong sense of right and wrong so it was easy to get behind her.  There is a romantic element to the story and even a love triangle (possibly a quadrangle) of sorts but it isn't the focus of the story and I liked that the action took the front seat for this first book. There were also a few twists -- some I saw coming and others I was happily surprised to read - that kept the pace of this book steady.  The last quarter of the book is filled with action and for those who are a bit squeamish there are quite a few rather violent actions scenes.

Overall, I really enjoyed this debut novel. While it borrows some themes from other popular YA books it definitely stands on it's own with it's unique twists and plot.  With a major cliffhanger at the end of this first book in the series you'll want to pick up the next book.  And, you have to admit, it's got a great cover.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Sunday, 26 April 2015


Author: Ruthie Morgan
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Print Length: 449 pages
Source: directly from author
Publisher: Ruthie Morgan
First Published: July 2014
First Line: "The keyboard gleams as she poises herself on the edge of the seat, hands hovering, ready to transcribe the key paragraph she knows must come soon."

Book Description from GoodReads"When he asked me to forgive him for everything I thought I could. I said yes and I meant it. But I didn't realise that night, everything was what he'd take away." When Billie May Worthington falls for Evan Skylark she believes she'd do anything, be anything and give everything for him. But can she forgive him when he asks for her world? 

Everything twenty one year old Billie knows about life, love, beauty and art are challenged after graduation when she meets Evan, an enigmatic Irish artist with a dark side. Suddenly immersed in Evan's intense world of artistic brilliance, flying sculptures and sexual obsession, Billie's carefully planned future is quickly unrecognisable. Spanning London, Paris, Scotland and finally St. Cloud, the South Pacific island they make their home, the young couple chase Evans dreams and run from their past. But what happens to young obsessive love when unplanned pregnancy reshapes the future? As Billie struggles to cope with the demands of motherhood Evan is forced to deal with the repercussions of a previous mistake that rock their world altering the future forever. 

Emotionally gripping and darkly humorous Skylark is an unconventional love story. A novel about what we do for love, of beauty in imperfection, betrayal and the weight of obsession.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to author Ruthie Morgan for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  My devoted blog readers know that I am not a big romance reader. I have a heart (trust me) but in the past I've found the books that I've read from this genre brimming with one-dimensional, unbelievable characters with their cheesy, raunchy love life put well before the plot.  

Thankfully author Ruthie Morgan has written a very different kind of romance novel.

This is Morgan's first book and it is impressive. Her wonderful humour shines through in the dialogue and her prose struck me immediately as being much more developed and engaging than I would expect for a first time author.  But it's her detailed and intricate characters that hooked me.

Billie and Evan were so believably human -- love, flaws, demons and all. What impressed me was that there were several aspects of both of them that I loved and others that I absolutely hated.  You know you're sucked into a story when you want to shake the character for making such a stupid decision.  It was sad and frustrating to see how much Billie sacrificed to be with Evan.  How she continued to give and wait for him only to be repeatedly let down.  It was all cut and dry for me until we start to see Evan's side of things.  

I didn't like Evan.  He's not someone who'd I'd be drawn to personally.  Sure he's enigmatic and devoted to Billie (in his own way) but his actions spoke louder to me.  I thought he was self-centred, dark, volatile, moody and an absentee husband and father.  I hated many of his choices but, as the book progressed, I also saw how and why he came to make those decisions.  He was a tormented soul and I felt for him and even found myself supporting his side during some marital spats.  I wasn't expecting that. 

Not surprisingly I easily related to Billie as a mother.  Her need to connect with others, her fears of being able to raise her children well and the time, emotion and energy it takes to care for young children.  I felt bad that she was so alone in her marriage and, if I'm being honest, many times throughout the book I wanted her to take the kids and leave Evan.  But she also had her own issues to deal with and some of her decisions I didn't like. I wanted her to be stronger. I wanted her to stand up to Evan and not give in just because she loved him. I wanted her to stop enabling him and get him the help he so obviously needed.  

I'm impressed that Moran got me to see both sides of Billie and Evan.  She was able to balance the good and bad aspects of both of them and make me support each of them at different points in the story.  Their love was imperfect, messy and very complicated but you got the sense that it was real.  As with many romances there were several sex scenes in the book and instead of being written for shock/raunchiness (aka the 'Fifty Shades Factor') they instead show the deep connection and tenderness between Billie and Evan.

Even the secondary characters and the vivid descriptions of St Cloud were well fleshed out and vividly described.  You felt like you could easily imagine a typical day on the island.  No one (except perhaps for a spectacularly evil woman) is one-dimensional.  They all felt authentic and added to the story line and sense of community on St Cloud.

The only beef I had with the book (and it's but a wee 'moo') was that in a few spots I felt like the pace got a little bogged down in the details.  I found myself wanting to get back to the story instead of hearing about life on a Scottish farm or what songs everyone sang at karoke.  But again, these lags were far and few between.

Towards the end, Morgan kept me on the edge of my seat wondering how I wanted it to end.  Did I want Billie and Evan's relationship to self-destruct so Billie could move on?  Did I want them to stick it out?  In the end, I was surprisingly happy and sad with how things ended.

Skylark is a modern love story about two people whose love began quickly. Unfortunately they weren't ready for what life was going to throw at them nor the consequences of their actions. It is a realistic, romantic and tragic love story.  

It's emotional, raw and I loved it.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Caraway Rye Bread

It is no secret that I love bread.  I have two bread machines that both get used regularly which puts me firmly in the group of carb addicts.  Today I'm sharing a bread that my sister Jennifer is famous for in our family.  The flavour that the caraway seeds give this bread is amazing.  It's light, airy and oh so hard to stop eating. 

I've included two methods of making this bread using a bread machine.  If you want to give it a whirl without using a bread machine, hats off to you.  I used the first method below so I could bake it in a loaf pan.  Just beware ... the dough is extremely sticky so have some flour on hand to dip your fingers into.

I hope you and yours enjoy this bread as much as we do.  I think this would make a spectacular base for a Reuben sandwich.  Enjoy!

1 1/4 cups lukewarm water (100F/38C)
2 tbsp dry milk powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp butter
3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cups bread flour
3/4 cup rye flour
1 1/2 tbsp caraway seeds
1 3/4 tsp active dry yeast

Put ingredients into your bread machine pan in the order suggested by the manufacturer (usually wet on the bottom, dry in the middle and yeast on top not touching any liquid).

Method One: Set bread machine to Dough cycle (usually around 2 hours long).  Grease the bottom of a large loaf pan.  Remove dough (it will be really sticky) and place in prepared pan.  Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise for about 1 hour (see tip below).  Preheat oven to 350F.  Bake bread for 30 minutes or until you can knock on the top and it's darker than golden brown.

Method Two: Set bread machine to Whole Wheat/Grain Setting for a 2lb loaf.

Allow bread to sit in the pan for about 10 minutes.  Using a spatula or knife, gently move knife around the edge of the pan to separate the bread from the pan.  Remove bread from pan and allow it to cool on a wire rack.  Serve that day or keep leftovers in an air-tight container for a day or two.

Source: My sister, Jennifer care of

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Inside the O'Briens

Author: Lisa Genova
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Pages (Hardcover): 352
Publisher: Gallery Books
First Published: April 7, 2015
First Line: "Huntington's Disease (HD) is an inherited neurodegenerative disease characterized by a progressive loss of voluntary motor control and an increase in involuntary movements."

Book Description from GoodReads:  From award-winning, New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Lisa Genova comes a powerful new novel that does for Huntington’s Disease what her debut Still Alice did for Alzheimer’s.

Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.

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

My Review:  Genova's first book, Still Alice, was one of my very first blog posts.  I adored it and have read and enjoyed Left Neglected and hoped that Inside the O'Briens would wow me again.  

As with her other books Genova, who has a degree in Biopsychology and a PhD in neuroscience, focuses on a family dealing with a debilitating and devastating disease.  I do not personally know anyone afflicted with Huntington's but after reading and adoring Five Days Left by Julie Timmer Lawson I knew what I was getting into with this new book in regards to the disease symptoms etc.

The difference with this book is that Inside the O'Briens deals with how this genetic disease can affect an entire family.  Since HD is a recessive disease only one parent needs to have the HD gene to pass it on which means their children have a 50/50 chance of getting HD too which means that large portions of families can be afflicted with HD.  The symptoms don't start appearing usually until around 35-45 years of age.

There is no treatment.  No cure.  No escaping HD.
Inside the O'Briens focuses on Joe's HD diagnosis and his increasingly devastating symptoms as well as the uncertainty of Joe and Rosie's four adult children's futures with the disease. It showcased how an HD diagnosis or potential diagnosis affects relationships within a family as well as the loved ones we choose outside the family.  
While I didn't find this book quite as tearful or powerful as I was expecting it did hit the old heart strings a time or two but with a much softer tone.  It was sad to see how HD affected Joe's job, future and family life.  Seeing Joe's children struggle with the decision to be tested for the HD gene and how their individual choices affected how they chose (or didn't choose) to live their lives was touching.  How will knowing or not knowing affect how you live your life?  How do you live with the guilt if you don’t have the gene but your sibling(s) do?  After a positive gene test do you continue to live your life to the fullest knowing that you will get HD in the future or do you cut ties with boyfriends and girlfriends to shield them from future pain?  Does this twinge or that memory lapse mean the beginning of HD symptoms?
In a book dealing with such a sensitive topic I expected to be pulled emotionally into the lives of the characters.  Unfortunately, overall I found Inside the O'Briens to have a weak character development and I felt disconnected to the characters and their decisions.  They felt flat to me especially Joe who came off as a stereotype.  It was only his realization of his mother's past that brought some depth to his character for me. 

Genova focuses mainly on the points of view of Joe and Katie, Joe’s youngest daughter. I wish that some of the other siblings and especially Joe’s wife, Rosie had their feelings and points of view brought to light.  Rosie, as the sole person in the family who doesn't have the possibility of having the gene, has a lot to deal with, including the possibility that she could lose everyone she loves.  Unfortunately she was a very tertiary character.
My biggest beef with this book was the ending ... or lack thereof.  Gah!!  Let's just say it left a lot to be desired and was highly frustrating.  I can understand why Genova wrote it the way she did but it didn't make it any easier to swallow.

Overall, I think this book was a decent read but not the tear-jerker I was expecting.  It will enlighten readers to the cruel and unforgiving effects of Huntington's Disease on the individual as well as the entire family.
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, 20 April 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread

Author: Lori M Lee
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 368
Publisher: Knopf
First Published: February 2015
First Line: "Late one July evening in 1994, Red and Abby Whitshank had a phone call from their son, Denny."

Book Description from GoodReads:  From the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning author--now in the fiftieth year of her remarkable career--a brilliantly observed, joyful and wrenching, funny and true new novel that reveals, as only she can, the very nature of a family's life.    
"It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon." This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family--their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog--is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red's father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler's hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.

My Review:  A Spool of Blue Thread is a thorough look at family dynamics - the joys, the sorrows and the dysfunction. The reader witnesses the messiness of three generations of Whitshanks including sibling jealousies, marital conflicts, family secrets, loss and ultimately love.

While Tyler's characters have a quirky and eccentric feel to them, you can see yourself (and your family) in her characters.  I wouldn't call them cliched ... just honest, real and relatable and they are well drawn out.  Probably one of the most detailed, well-rounded cast of characters I've read actually.  The reader is taken into the Whitshank household and the relationships between the characters, especially the siblings, felt quite authentic to me.  Even reading about their chaotic family suppers felt like Tyler was taking a page out of my extended family meals together.

Tyler tells the story of the Whitshanks, not through an extensive story line, but instead via their conversations with each other.  I will admit that several times in the book it felt like the plot got bogged down in the details - specifically with grand descriptions of their family home, renovations etc.  The truth was, I was much more interested in the characters than the crown molding in the parlour.  I also wasn't a fan of the haphazard way Tyler told the story by jumping back and forth in time which was clunky in its execution.

It took me awhile to adjust to the tone and slower pace of the book.  In the end it was a decent read but I definitely had my favourite parts (specifically the beginning as we meet Red, Abby and their children and grandchildren).  As the book progressed and we learn about how Red and Abby met I was less enthusiastic about the book.  I found that the section on Junior and Linnie Mae was my least favourite by far.  It had a different feel to it and due to one issue between them it had an 'ew' factor to it that I just couldn't shake.
 This is definitely not a fast paced read but a slower character analysis of a family with all of their dysfunction, love and humour laid out on the table.  The Whitshanks aren't a remarkable family but I think readers will be able to see some aspects in their own family dynamics through witnessing the ups and downs of the Whitshanks.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Wednesday, 15 April 2015


Author: Jen Calonita
Genre: Children's, Supernatural
Series: #1 in the Fairy Tale Reform School series
Type: e-book
Hardcover Page Count: 256
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Source Books - Jaberwocky
First Published: March 3, 2015
First Line: "

Book Description from GoodReads:  Would you send a villain to do a hero's job? An exciting new twisted fairy tale series from award-winning author Jen Calonita.

Full of regret, Cinderella's wicked stepmother, Flora, has founded the Fairy Tale Reform School with the mission of turning the wicked and criminally mischievous into upstanding members of Enchantasia.

Impish, sassy 12-year-old Gilly has a history of petty theft and she's not too sorry about it. When she lifts a hair clip, she gets tossed in reform school-for at least three months. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there's more to this school than its sweet mission. There's a battle brewing and she starts to wonder: can a villain really change?

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

My Review:  This is the first book in a new fantasy series aimed at tweens.  It is filled with magic, mischief and evil characters that readers will recognize from popular fairy tales.  It has an interesting setting (a boarding school for fairy tale misfits) and I'd say it's a combination of the popular TV series 'Once Upon a Time' with its strong fairy tale references and a strong 'hey there' to Harry Potter with it's unique boarding school for magical kids and its strange gaggle of teachers.

The book centres around Gilly, a spunky 12 year old who's easy to root for. She's not a villain but she's not perfect either and since the reader gets to see where Gilly comes from (her family isn't well off since her father's cobbler business lost a major contract) it's easy to connect with her. She's like Robin Hood - she has a heart of gold as she steals from the excessively rich to give to the poor (her family). Her family is very important to her so the reader quickly realizes why she has such a hatred for the Royals -- namely Rella, Rapunzel, Snow White and Beauty -- who run the kingdom in all their finery while her family struggles to put bread on their table.  Gilly is the kind of character that tween readers can get behind and root for and I appreciated that her decisions and actions felt authentic for her age.

Unfortunately Gilly's method of helping her family gets her into trouble and sent away to be 'reformed' at FTRS, Fairy Tale Reform School - a boarding school for misfits where a whole host of former nasty, now reformed, fairy tale characters who try to teach the wickedness out of these kids in order for them to be better citizens of Enchantasia.  

I think that tweens will enjoy recognizing various fairy tale characters and seeing how the author gives her own unique twist on them.  Some of my favourite bits of the book were the little news briefs between chapters about the various teachers at the school, including the infamous step-mothers of Cinderella and Snow White, the Wolf and a sea witch.  It helped give me insight into them without bogging down the story but I will admit that I was a little let down to see how little the former villains were used in the book.

While this is the first book in a new series, Flunked could also easily be a stand alone book in its own right.  The book has a good dose of humour and I enjoyed seeing how the various fairy tale characters were incorporated into the storyline.  There were also a couple of really good action scenes involving unique creatures that brought some suspense to the read.  

Unfortunately I did have some issues with the book.  I found that the book lagged a bit in the middle and the ending felt rather rushed.  I wish I would have gotten a little bit more world building too.  We get the gist of the castle and how things are generally run with the Royals at the helm but I would have liked to have been immersed in their world to get a better feel to it.

While I enjoyed this book, I found that the plot lacked depth but I'll chalk that up to the author focusing on setting up the world and characters for her readers in this first installment of her series.  But for Potter fans expecting something along the lines of Rowling's infamous series, they may feel there's a little lacking in depth of characters and storylines.  I would suggest it's more appropriate for fans of book series such as Sisters Eight and the like. 

Overall this was a good start to a new series.  It has it's issues to work out but I think that these issues could easily be resolved in future books.  By using fairy tale characters I believe it opens up a lot of possibilities for future story lines and I'm eager to see where the author takes her readers next.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Gates of Thread and Stone

Author: Lori M Lee
Genre: Fantasy, Dystopian, Young Adult
Series: #1 in the Gates of Thread and Stone series
Type: Paperback
Pages:  333
Publisher:  Skyscape New York
First Published: 2014
First Line: "Death lived in a glass tower at the center of the White Court."

Book Description from GoodReads:  In the Labyrinth, we had a saying: keep silent, keep still, keep safe.

In a city of walls and secrets, where only one man is supposed to possess magic, seventeen-year-old Kai struggles to keep hidden her own secret—she can manipulate the threads of time. When Kai was eight, she was found by Reev on the riverbank, and her “brother” has taken care of her ever since. Kai doesn’t know where her ability comes from—or where she came from. All that matters is that she and Reev stay together, and maybe one day move out of the freight container they call home, away from the metal walls of the Labyrinth. Kai’s only friend is Avan, the shopkeeper’s son with the scandalous reputation that both frightens and intrigues her.

Then Reev disappears. When keeping silent and safe means losing him forever, Kai vows to do whatever it takes to find him. She will leave the only home she’s ever known and risk getting caught up in a revolution centuries in the making. But to save Reev, Kai must unravel the threads of her past and face shocking truths about her brother, her friendship with Avan, and her unique power.

My Review:  My first impression of this book was that it had a very Julie Kagawa 'The Immortal Rules' feel to it.  Strong, young female protagonist, bleak setting and power hungry bad guy.  But even though this book initially felt reminiscent of Kagawa's series (one of my favourites) it took on its own feel but unfortunately I didn't love the story line or characters as much as I was hoping.

Kai is a fighter.  She's lived a hard life and is strong willed but very naive (going off to save her brother with no plan in place) but extremely devoted to her brother Reev.  The other characters kind of blended into the story with no one, except maybe Avan, standing out for me.  Unfortunately, I didn't feel a deep connection to anyone. 

There was a strong romantic story line which felt like it had more play time than the fantasy element.  At times it was sweet with the two of them dancing around the fact that they like each other.  There was definite chemistry between them but after awhile I wanted something to happen.  Stop with the back and forth 'will they won't they' because it quickly felt wishy-washy.  Either be together or don't but enough with the misunderstandings.

The beginning of the book had a great pace.  I easily slipped into Kai's world and her concern for her missing brother.  But the momentum faltered shortly after Kai and Avan leave the city of Ninurta (an awkward name to be sure).  It's at this point where the world building fell flat.  I wanted to read about this big journey in a dangerous land.  I wanted tension, energy, cool creatures and descriptions of life outside the city walls where all kinds of evil and danger dwell.  But what I got was a pretty dull 'journey' (considering all the hoopla about going into the Outlands) and was over much too quickly.  It was frustrating that the hideous, ferocious gargoyles roaming the desolate Outlands around the city were barely in the story.  That felt like it was a missed opportunity for more action scenes.  

There were also some issues regarding Kai's training that just didn't gel with me.  First of all, you expect this teen girl to train for two weeks and then be able to take on people in a competitive ring who have been training for years and not use her powers?  Um, no. This story is centred around Kai's special ability and yet she hardly ever used it and it was practically unacknowledged throughout the book.  As a reader I found this as surprising as it was frustrating. Plus the mythological element, which was vague at best, wasn't executed well and with the ending feeling rushed it had a very messy feel to it.  Not a great way to end things.

In the end, I felt disappointed with the lack of energy and tension in this book.  The thing that kept me reading was wanting to find out more about the mystery surrounding Kai's past.   I think the author had an interesting premise and a beautiful book cover but unfortunately I found the world building, characters and the execution of the story line too weak to be enjoyable.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Rebel Queen

Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Touchstone
First Published: March 2015
First Line: "1919 - Seventy-five years' worth of diaries are spread across my bed, nearly covering the blanket Raashi sewed for me last winter."

Book Description from GoodReads:  When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the 1850s, it expects a quick and easy conquest. After all, India is not even a country, but a collection of kingdoms on the subcontinent. But when the British arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, expecting its queen to forfeit her crown, they are met with a surprise. Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male, one female—and rides into battle like Joan of Arc. Although her soldiers are little match against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi fights against an empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the perspective of Sita, one of the guards in Lakshmi's all-female army and the queen’s most trusted warrior, The Last Queen of India traces the astonishing tale of a fearless ruler making her way in a world dominated by men. In the tradition of her bestselling novel Nefertiti, which Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, called “a heroic story with a very human heart,” Michelle Moran once again brings a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction to rich, vibrant life.

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

My Review:  I will start off this review by stating that Michelle Moran is one of my all-time favourite historical fiction authors.  I'm going to try not to gush but Moran is where it's at if you want a historical fiction read with vividly described, well-rounded characters and a plot and pace that just won't let up.  Didn't quite accomplish that 'non-gushing' promise, did I?

Moran has a unique ability to write character driven historical fiction that engages her readers right from the beginning.  From Nefertiti and Madame Tussaud to Napoleon's second empress,Marie-Louise and Cleopatra's Daughter, Moran brings her readers into the tumultuous lives of famous women. She also teaches her readers more about various cultures and eras but not in a way that bogs down the pace of the book. 

The Rebel Queen is set in India in the mid 1800's and follows the life of Sita, a young woman from a small village who has lived in purdah (or seclusion from men outside her family) her entire life.  In order to change her fate of marrying at a young age she instead trains and applies to be one of Durga Dal, an elite group of female guards trained to protect Rani (Queen) Lakshmi of Dhansi.  The story then follows Sita to Dhansi where her life in the palace is far from the small town she grew up in but the dangers are far worse. With the invasion of the British the Rani's kingdom is in jeopardy but she is a strong monarch and does everything she can, including raising a male and female army, to defend her country from the British.

This is the kind of book where you find yourself sneaking off to read 'just one more page' which really turns into 5 or 10 pages which means you might as well just finish the chapter and leave the laundry for tomorrow.  If you're looking for a great book to get lost in I'd definitely suggest picking up anything from Michelle Moran.  She writes about strong female historical characters, brings the rich culture of her characters and era to the forefront in vivid detail and engages her audience from the beginning and doesn't let up until the final page has been turned. 

As one of my all-time favourite authors I highly recommend this wonderful read.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Thursday, 2 April 2015

El Deafo

Author: Cece Bell
Genre: Children's, Graphic Novel, Autobiography
Type: Paperback
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 233
Publisher: Amulet Books
First Published: 2014
First Line: "I was a regular little kid."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece's class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends. 

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school--in the the teacher's the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it's just another way of feeling different... and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.

My Review:  I brought this book home from the library for three reasons.  First, I need to read more children's books in order to properly advise young readers at the library where I work.  Second, I wanted to read a graphic novel.  Yup, I never have.  I live under a rock.  And lastly, it was about deafness and with my background as a Sign Language Interpreter I was interested to see how deafness was portrayed in a children's book.

I sat down yesterday afternoon and proceeded to read three-quarters of the book in one sitting (and finished the rest a few hours later).  Needless to say I found this book to be a very easy and delightful read.   The book is based on the author's childhood growing up deaf and she touches a lot on the feelings of growing up deaf in a hearing world (living in the 'bubble of loneliness', being referred to as 'my deaf friend' instead of just 'my friend') and situations that she found frustrating (turning out lights at sleepovers while the other girls continued to chat, turning away when she's trying to lip read, watching TV before Closed Captioning ...).  There's a lot of information given to the reader but it in no way has a 'preachy' feel to it.  Far from it, in fact.  Instead the reader gets a very heartfelt look at how Cece dealt being the only deaf child on her street and in her school.  She shows the reader her transformation from viewing her deafness and being different as a disability to seeing her differences in a much more positive light.

Along her journey Cece meets a whole range of characters - from supportive and unsupportive teachers and loving parents, to extremely pushy friends and friends who overcompensate for her deafness.  It's a whole cast of colourful characters that children can relate to.  This book is written with humour and a lot of heart which helps the reader get inside Cece's head as she navigates through the hearing world as a deaf child.  But she also touches on many universal issues that kids face - being the new kid at school, learning to fit in, dealing with bullies and first crushes which I think makes it relatable to hearing children too.

I love the author's note at the end of the book that goes into a little more detail about what it means to be deaf.  It's a different experience for different deaf people.  People become deaf for different reasons (genetic, illness, physical trauma ...) and they live with their deafness very differently.  

Some consider themselves hard-of-hearing, some choose to wear hearing aids, cochlear implants and may communicate verbally and/or lip read.  There is another large group of the deaf who consider themselves culturally Deaf (yes, that's a big D) where they are heavily immersed in Deaf culture and are proud to be Deaf.  They don't see their deafness as a disability, just one {positive} way that they are different (this is sometimes hard for hearing people to understand).  Many of these people proudly use American Sign Language (which, I will add, is a complete and complex language, distinct from English.  It is not a physical way to communicate English).  As the author states, 'there are lots of different ways to be deaf' and I love that she brought that message to her readers.

I loved this book.  It was easy to read, Cece was a unique character that took readers on a roller coaster of emotions and by using her vivid imagination turned her deafness into a 'superpower'.  The graphic novel format, with it's unique 'bunny-like' characters will engage readers, especially reluctant young readers to pick up a book.  My hope is that it will inspire compassion for being the new kid and a better understanding of the deaf.  For this reason I'd recommend it for readers age 7 to adult.

Favourite Quote'Our differences are our superpowers'

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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