Thursday, 29 September 2016

Dark Matter

Author: Blake Crouche
Genre: Sci-Fi, Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 340
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Crown
First Published: July 26, 2016
First Line: "I love Thursday nights."

Book Description from GoodReads“Are you happy with your life?” 
Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. 
Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. 
Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”  
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.
Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:  Dark Matter is a 'fast-paced, unrelenting, mind bending Sci-Fi, edge of your seat suspense with a healthy dose of romance and familial love' kind of read.  Yup, that is an ODD mash up of genres and descriptions ... but it works.  My regular readers will know that Sci-Fi isn't a genre I'm drawn to.  In fact, I have read but a small handful of Sci-Fi books in my entire life. But after hearing praise from other readers, and specifically my friend Beth (who has similar literary tastes as yours truly), I knew that I had to give it a try.

Crouch has written a very compelling plot and his writing is solid yet has a simple feel to it.  He pulls readers into Jason's life/nightmare as he desperately tries to figure out what has happened to him and his family.  From the get-go readers will be itching to find out what's going on.  If you take the time to think about it this book could also be seen as a fairly deep read and may make readers think about who they are, what they were and what they want and could become.  Sounds deep and it kind of is ... if you want it to be.

The one thing that has always concerned me about Sci-Fi is the world building and the Science-y (totally not a word but you get my meaning) aspect.  While there were some uneasy instances where I felt like I 'sorta-kinda but not really' grasped the science behind the plot, overall the Sci-Fi aspect wasn't as convoluted as I was expecting.  Is it odd that Sheldon Cooper and his Big Bang posse had helped me understand some of the scientific theories like the thought experiment/paradox of Schrödinger's cat or string theory before I even read this book?

My only criticisms on this book stem from the fact that A) you have to suspend belief a fair bit in order to believe that Jason (and other characters) were able to, from all the options presented, find himself in exactly right place and right in the nick of time.  B) Jason is a little too good to be true with his perfect life, wife and child.  But that's just the cynic in me talking. And C) I wish that the reader had been privy to what happened to another character who was by Jason's side for a good chunk of the book.  Leaving her fate out of the plot was a disappointment to me (although I could also understand, based on Crouch's explanation of the scientific theories why this may not be feasible).  I just wanted to know what happened to her.

I don't say this often but this book is worthy of the hype.  I will not even try to describe the plot due to the risk of divulging too much.  But, suffice it to say, this is a clever, multiple world-building suspense read that is not only edge of your seat but thought provoking as well. I applaud Crouch for being able to take a very complex idea and bring it down (for the most part) into layman's terms. 

Dark Matter is a unique, unnerving and twisted read that will make you think outside the box (I'm so punny), think about how small decisions could have drastic repercussions and maybe even hold your own family a little tighter tonight. 


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Promise Kitchen

Author: Peggy Lampman
Genre: Women's Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
First Published: Sept 27, 2016
First Line: "In the cemetery tucked back behind First Baptist Bible, next to the broad-leaf tobacco patch twelve miles south of town, scrawled out writing on a buckled tin sign reads 'No Burials Without Written Permission."

Book Description from GoodReadsFood, friendship, family, and a fresh start. Shelby Preston, a young single mother, is at a crossroads. She feels suffocated by her hardscrabble life in rural Georgia and dreams of becoming a professional chef. Lord knows her family could use a pot of something good. 

In Atlanta, Mallory Lakes is reeling from a bad breakup. The newspaper food columnist is also bracing for major changes at work that could put her job at risk. Determined to find the perfect recipe for how to reinvent herself, she gets involved in the growing farm-to-table movement. But an emotional setback threatens to derail everything she’s worked for.
Shelby and Mallory couldn’t be more different. But through their shared passion for food, they form an unlikely friendship—a bond that just might be their salvation.
This heartwarming and lyrical tale reminds us that family isn’t necessarily whom you’re related to—it’s whom you invite to your table.
This is a new release of a previously published edition titled Simmer and Smoke; it contains twenty delightful recipes.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

My Review: This is a down home Southern read about family, making one's way, food and a whole host of other issues.  The book centres around two women - Shelby, a small town, young single mother who dreams of becoming a chef so she can make a better life for herself and her young daughter and Mallory, a well-to-do and recognized food blogger who wants more out of life.  These two very different women's lives intertwine as the book progresses.

Lampman is a very descriptive writer regularly bringing her readers into the mindsets of her two main characters, Shelby and Mallory and even occasionally into the thoughts and feelings of Shelby's daughter, Miss Ann. But readers don't always have to be privy to every emotion a character feels in order to have a connection with them.  In this case, the excessive inner dialogues and descriptions bogged down the pace of the book so much that I was left to gloss over these exceedingly detailed sections in search of the story line.  I'm all for descriptive imagery and getting into the mindset of a character but surprisingly this in-depth look into their emotions didn't help me to connect with any of them.

What this book does have is a foodie's dream of vividly depicted foodie delights with the end results being quite tempting to the reader's palate.  But one cannot live on food descriptions alone.  The main issue that I had with this book is that there were 'too many cooks in the kitchen'.  Lampman addresses so many different, and often weighty and emotional, issues within her story that it quickly became convoluted and lacked direction.  I'm talking about issues such as racism, struggles of single parenting, vast discrepancies between social and economic classes, cheating spouses, the organic farm-to-table movement, bullying, drugs, humane slaughtering of animals, alcohol and prescription drug abuse, drinking and driving, discrimination against Mexican immigrants ... That's a lot of issues in one small book.  The inclusion of all of these issues didn't give Lampman enough time to delve into any of the issues with any depth and resulted in a rather lackluster read.  

While I enjoyed that a food blogger was one of the main characters and that this book focused on the strength and power of women, this book suffered from having too much yet not enough going on.  I think the premise was interesting and I thought that I'd devour this book but in the end I left Lampman's literary table hungry.  

Note: Some readers who enjoy good ol' southern cooking will enjoy that the recipes mentioned in the story are included at the back of the book.  

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

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Triple Love Score

Author: Brandi Megan Granett
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Type: Paperback
Pages: 304
Publisher: Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing
First Published: September 1, 2016
First Line: "Even at eleven years old, Miranda knew better than to dissuade her mother from orchestrating her own funeral."

Book Description from GoodReadsA poetry professor stumbles into fame and fortune as an anonymous online Scrabble(r) poet. Miranda lives a quiet life among books and letters as a poetry professor in a small upstate town. When two snap decisions turn up the volume on her life, she must decide whether or not her best laid plans actually lead to where her heart wants to go.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:  This is a contemporary tale with a sweet romance and a board game thrown in for good measure.  But it's more than just a 'girl + boy = true love' kind of read. Granett has included some rather bold choices by adding some tough current issues into her romantic mix. We still have a love triangle and the 'Will they? Won't they?' aspect (which is to be expected).  But there's also illness, death, the often complicated and varied step-parent/step-child relationships as well as finding the personal strength to stand up for what you need in your life despite what others want for you.

The book centres around Miranda who lives a rather quiet and solitary life.  She has a steady job as a poetry professor at a small New England college (albeit not as a lawyer like her parents), her love life has stalled and her best friend lives overseas. Her quiet life is thrown for a tailspin when she begins posting her poems online as pictures on a Scrabble board.  Suddenly her site The Blocked Poet is going viral.

While I'm not typically a reader of romance, the social media aspect and, quite frankly the Scrabble angle intrigued me.  I loved the idea of Miranda being a sudden online sensation with her Scrabble poetry.  And while I liked that Miranda's journey wasn't easy and that she stumbled along the way, both personally and professionally, I found some of her choices and indecision rather grating after awhile.  Her connection to Scott was sweet and believable and yet sometimes they'd blow up at each other for something that could have been solved easily with another sentence or two of explanation.  

There are a few aspects in this book that I quite enjoyed.  I loved seeing Miranda overcome her struggles, gain confidence and stick to her guns about what she wanted and needed in her life.  I also loved being introduced to wee, spunky six year old Lynn.  She shined in this book and it was heartening to witness how she brought the people around her together.  This book also highlights the various roles women can play in children's lives, both negative and positive, and I think that Granett dealt with these relationships in a realistic way.  She also added some twists that I thought I had sorted out only to find that, while I was close, I wasn't quite on the money.  Well played Brandi, well played.

This is a sweet modern romance that shows that the path to love often isn't a straight line nor is it always clean-cut or obstacle free.  It has a good story line with some tough situations thrown in to spice things up and the characters are quite a diverse lot. I think that readers will not only root for the main couple but may dust off the ol' Scrabble board for some friendly competition.

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

Tuesday, 20 September 2016


Author: Kate Braithwaite
Genre: Historical Fiction (France)
Type: e-book
Source: Author
Publisher: Fireship Press
First Published: September 15, 2016
First Line: "Paris 1676 - The naked woman lie on her back on a thin mattress supported by two sturdy wooden chairs."

Book Description from GoodReads1676. In a hovel in the centre of Paris, the fortune-teller La Voisin holds a black mass, summoning the devil to help an unnamed client keep the love of Louis XIV.

Three years later, Athenais, Madame de Montespan, the King's glamorous mistress, is nearly forty. She has borne Louis seven children but now seethes with rage as he falls for eighteen-year old Angelique de Fontanges.

At the same time, police chief La Reynie and his young assistant Bezons have uncovered a network of fortune-tellers and prisoners operating in the city. Athenais does not know it, but she is about to be named as a favoured client of the infamous La Voisin.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My ReviewWith vivid descriptions of the glamour and opulence of 17th century France, author Kate Braithwaite has written an impressive novel that brings her readers into King Louis XIV's court.  It is a place filled with deception, carrying favour, scandal and intrigue.  When new revelations come to light concerning the use of Dark magic, panic ensues within the court as certain people are threatened to be prosecuted for witchcraft.

Police attempt to figure out who is dabbling in the Dark Arts and will not stop at mere interrogations but have resorted to torture and even public executions in order to remove any suspicion or threat of sorcery from the king's court. When they focus their investigation on Catherine Montvoisin, a woman known for providing Dark solutions, it has a rippling effect among not only the nobility but those further down the social food chain.

This is a time of greed, corruption and climbing the social ladder where being in or out of favour with the King of France brings different kinds of danger.  There is mystery, intrigue, sinister plots and a rather large group of characters.  The story lines are reasonably intricate without being too fussy or overly verbose but seem to have a rather narrow scope.

At the heart of the book there are two different story lines. One follows Philippe Bezons, the young assistant to the chief of police who is eager to prosecute Montvoisin but not if it puts the woman he loves at risk.  The other story line follows Athenais, the aging mistress of the King, who is suspected of using Dark magic to maintain the King's attention.  It is her story that I found most compelling and to whom I was most sympathetic.

I will admit that it took me a little bit to get into the story but once it got rolling I was quite engaged.  The one criticism I had was that there were so many characters, many of whom are secondary, within the two story lines that it was sometimes difficult to remember the specific traits, history etc of different characters and to keep track of who was who.

Readers will be impressed with the writing in this novel.  Braithwaite's writing is so descriptive that you can clearly imagine the beautiful gardens and ornate surroundings of the grand palaces as well as the truly decrepit and fetid conditions of the Chateau de Vincennes, the overpopulated prison where some rather graphic torture takes place. 

There is a lot going on in this book but Braithwaite has woven an intriguing story.  It is clear that she has done a lot of research on this era.  Since I typically don't read much historical fiction centred in France I was pleased to learn that many of the characters in her book were based on real historical figures with a touch of fiction to bring it all together. Might as well learn a little while enjoying a suspenseful read, right? 

This is a book that focuses on what people will do in order to achieve their deepest, and sometimes, darkest desires.  It's a book about maintaining power at any cost as well as the impact of fear and jealousy.  Fans of Jane Johnson (Pillars of Light) and Sally Christie (The Sisters of Versailles) should enjoy this book.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to author Kate Braithwaite for providing me with a complimentary copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Not My Father's Son

Author: Alan Cumming
Genre: Autobiography
Type: e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Harper Collins and Blackstone Audio
First Published: October 2014
First Line: "You need a haircut, boy!!"

Book Description from GoodReadsDark, painful memories can be like a cage. Or, in the case of Alan Cumming, they can be packed away in a box, stuck in the attic to be forgotten. Until one day the box explodes and all the memories flood back in horrible detail. Alan Cumming grew up in the grip of a man who held his family hostage, someone who meted out violence with a frightening ease, who waged a silent war with himself that sometimes spilled over onto everyone around him. That man was Alex Cumming, Alan's father.

When television producers approached Alan to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, he enthusiastically agreed. He hoped to solve a mystery that had long cast a shadow over his family. His maternal grandfather, Tommy Darling, had disappeared into the Far East after WWII. Alan's mother knew very little about him—he had been a courier, carrying information between battalions on his motorbike. The last time she saw her father, Alan's mother was eight years old. When she was thirteen, the family was informed that he had died by his own hand, an accidental shooting.

But this was not the only mystery laid before Alan's feet. His father, whom Alan had not seen or spoken to for more than a decade, reconnected just before filming for Who Do You Think You Are? began. He had a secret he had to share, one that would shock his son to his very core and set into motion a journey that would change Alan's life forever.

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as the celebrated actor of film, television, and stage. At times suspenseful, at times deeply moving, but always incredibly brave and honest, Not My Father's Son is a powerful story of embracing the best aspects of the past and triumphantly pushing the darkness aside.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: I have a gaggle of celebrities who I'm, for one reason or other, drawn to.  I may not have seen all of their work but I'm fascinated by them.  Alan Cumming is one of those celebrities.  I've seen his work on The Good Wife as Eli Gold (truly awesome) and in a few movies like Spy Kids and as Nightcrawler in X-2: X-men United but it's not like I'm a crazy fan. 

Well ... until now.

I decided to listen to Cumming's book because I prefer to listen to non-fiction and with his Scottish accent it was a slam dunk for this gal who goes weak in the knees for a Scottish burr.  I had no idea what to expect, hadn't even read the book synopsis and yet I was immediately taken by his writing style, his honesty, humour and how he bared his soul to his readers.  I was in for a much deeper read than I had imagined.

Cumming is an excellent narrator (that cannot be said for all authors) and tells his story via two alternating story lines.  The first is his description of his childhood in Scotland which was, sadly, not a happy one.  The second story line deals with Alan uncovering, via a celebrity genealogy show called Who Do You Think You Are?, the mystery surrounding his maternal grandfather who had died under mysterious circumstances in Malaysia many years before Alan was born.  Both stories are intriguing in their own ways and make for quite an edge of your seat read.  

When I see an actor on screen I see the character they're portraying and don't typically think about them as a person with a history, family etc.  Listening to this e-audiobook, and especially with Cumming speaking the lines, I was sent through a whole gamut of emotions as he told his readers about his turbulent upbringing at the hands of his abusive father who took most opportunities to publicly flaunt his marital cheating as well as belittle and brutalize his two sons.  Cumming vividly describes his father as a violent man who was unpredictable and cruel as he routinely gave his sons impossible tasks in the hopes that they'd fail and he'd be able to punish them. The heartfelt and shocking descriptions of how he felt at the hands of the very man who was supposed to love and protect him are tough to read and broke my heart.  But his early life had some golden moments which mainly included his brother Tom and his mother who he sweetly refers to as Mary Darling. 

In order to survive and endure, Cummings' mind suppressed the abusive memories of his childhood and these memories wouldn't reveal themselves until after his nervous breakdown in his 20's while playing none other than Hamlet on stage.  Years later, Cumming slowly comes to terms with his abusive past, his relationship with his father and the emotional bombshell the man put at Cumming's feet.  At this point he begins to heal with the help of his husband, friends, mother and brother at his side.

This book is much more of a personal revelation and discovery than a Hollywood tell-all but does include some funny tidbits from Cumming's early acting days, particularly the one from Cannes with Patti Smith, Mary J Blige and Marion Cotillard as well as a little bit from his more current roles on The Good Wife etc.

I loved this book and was totally and utterly taken with Cumming's humour, candidness and insight as he genuinely shares his joy and his pain with his readers.  Ultimately this is a story about survival, resilience, inspiration and finally success and happiness despite a horrific childhood.  He shows his readers how his revelations about his past abuse from his father have strengthened the relationships he now holds most dear.  

See, I knew I liked this guy.

Highly recommended.

Note: The only downside to listening to the e-audiobook is that I missed out on the wonderful pictures sprinkled throughout the paper copy so you may want to check out that option as well.

Favourite Quotes
“Sometimes people do you a favour when they drop out of your life.” 
― Alan CummingNot My Father's Son

“Finally, the scariest thing about abuse of any shape or form, is, in my opinion, not the abuse itself, but that if it continues it can begin to feel commonplace and eventually acceptable.” 
― Alan CummingNot My Father's Son: A Memoir

“It’s hard to explain how much that feeling of the bottom potentially falling out at any moment takes its toll. It makes you anxious, of course, and constant anxiety is impossible for the body to handle. So you develop a coping mechanism, and for us that meant shutting down. Everything we liked or wanted or felt joy in had to be hidden or suppressed. I’m sad to say that this method works. If you don’t give as much credence or value to whatever it is that you love, it hurts less when it is inevitably taken from you. I had to pretend I had no joy. It will come as a shock to people who know me now, but being able to express joy was something it took me a long time to be confident enough to do.” 
― Alan CummingNot My Father's Son: A Family Memoir

Thursday, 15 September 2016


Author: Thomas Mullen
Genre: Historical Fiction (Civil Rights)
Type: Paperback
Pages: 371
Source: Simon and Schuster Canada
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: September 13, 2016
First Line: "It was nearing midnight when one of the new lampposts on Auburn Avenue achieved the unfortunate fate of being the first to be hit by a car."

Book Description from GoodReadsResponding from pressure on high, the Atlanta police department is forced to hire its first black officers in 1948. The newly minted policemen are met with deep hostility by their white peers and their authority is limited: They can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they can’t even use the police headquarters and must instead operate out of the basement of a gym.

When a black woman who was last seen in a car driven by a white man turns up fatally beaten, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust the community has put in them, and even their own safety to investigate her death. Their efforts bring them up against an old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run the neighborhood like his own, and Dunlow’s young partner, Rakestraw, a young progressive who may or may not be willing to make allies across color lines.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Review: This fictionalized story is based around the first Black officers on the Atlanta police force in the late 1940's.  Mullen weaves a crime thriller around these officers and this tumultuous time which was rife with racial tension and blatant bigotry.

I was immediately impressed with the strength of Mullen's writing, the scope of the book and how well he incorporated the main characters and their lives into the plot. He peels away the societal layers of Atlanta in 1948 and brings his readers into the lives of a few officers, both Black and White, and how their views and beliefs affect their work and home life.

What readers will immediately notice is that corruption of power is rampant among the White police officers. They set up innocent Black people for crimes, rape, kill and abuse the people they've sworn to protect with impunity and it's gut-wrenching and infuriating to witness. Many of these officers would do anything to put an end to the Black unit which they feel was foisted upon them.  After the murder of a young Black woman the lives of three police officers become entwined as they try to figure out what happened even as some people continually put obstacles in their way.   

In contrast, the eight Black officers feel a deep sense of commitment to their community but have been given little to no authority. They cannot drive a squad car, cannot make arrests on their own, cannot wear their uniform unless on their shift or even walk into the police headquarters due to the colour of their skin.  Instead their precinct is relegated to the basement of the YMCA in Darktown, a name give to the Black neighbourhood in Atlanta by the White populace. Like the rest of the Black population, they are degraded daily, always seen as less than and face open hostility and blatant bigotry.  

Candid descriptions are given of the racism that was commonplace and so ingrained in much of the White population.  It was often hard to read and I admit to feeling quite uncomfortable with the regular use of the "N" word.  But I appreciate that Mullen didn't hold anything back and exposed what life was like back then.  Mullen's description is so vivid of that time that readers can feel the stifling heat of Georgia, the societal tensions and hear the vitriolic epithets spewed regularly at the Black officers and citizens.  It was a harsh and brutal time which was rife with ignorance.  It was distressing to read these words and feel the hate and ignorance behind them ... and it should be.

While I'd consider this a slow burn kind of read it is also quite compelling and I was utterly fascinated by it.  It kept me on the edge of my seat, made me sad that people had to live in constant fear due to the pigment of their skin and very angry to witness how one human being can treat another due to their own issues with ignorance and bigotry. 

This is a page-turner crime drama in a city clearly divided by race.  It was filled with suspense and injustice as readers witness basic human rights being denied to some and even outright hostility.  While these issues happened in post-WWII Georgia, sadly it appears from what we seen in the current news, that some of the issues raised are still relevant today.

Note: This book has already been optioned as a TV drama with Jamie Foxx as executive producer.

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

Friday, 9 September 2016


Author: Affinity Konar
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Paperback
Pages: 337
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Random House Canada
First Published: Sept 6, 2016
First Line: "We were made, once."

Book Description from GoodReadsPearl is in charge of: the sad, the good, the past.

Stasha must care for: the funny, the future, the bad.

It's 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.

As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele's Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.

That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks--a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin--travel through Poland's devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them, motivated by equal parts danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. As the young survivors discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within it.

A superbly crafted story, told in a voice as exquisite as it is boundlessly original, Mischling defies every expectation, traversing one of the darkest moments in human history to show us the way toward ethereal beauty, moral reckoning, and soaring hope.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: This book is about the bond between twin girls and the monster who tried to tear them apart.  It is narrated by Stasha and Pearl, the twin Jewish girls who are so close they are almost two halves of a whole.  When they arrive at Auschwitz their blonde hair gives them an Aryan appearance.  They are referred to as 'Mischling' (of mixed blood) and are brought to the attention of Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death, who is infamous for experimenting on twins and multiples in Auschwitz.  Being a multiple and part of Mengele's 'Zoo' gives them a higher status in the camp and yet puts them in a very different kind of danger.

Josef Mengele was portrayed as a sinister man who treated his young subjects as 'pets', and had them refer to him as 'Uncle' but, at the same time, forced them to be part of gruesome and horrific medical and genetic experiments for the sake of his amusement and interest.  Despite the constant threat of the gas chambers, for Pearl and Stasha an even greater fear would be to lose each other - their other half.  

What struck me almost immediately was the tone of the writing.  It was beautiful yet oddly lyrical for such a heavy book with 12-year-old narrators.  I liked that Stasha and Pearl were given very distinct voices but often I'd feel like their inner thoughts and way of speaking was much older than their 12 years.  What Konar does showcase is the unique bond and perspective of twins and I found that fascinating.

Going into a book about Auschwitz I expect to be emotional and while I found some of the scenes very hard to read I found that this book didn't evoke a lot of emotion in me.  It dealt with such inhumane, violent and sadistic treatment of children and yet I felt like the very lyrical prose prevented the reader from getting a feel for the truly dark nature of what daily life was like for these children.

The book is written in two parts: Part 1 shows what life was like for the twins in Auschwitz and Part 2 shows the chaotic aftermath when the camp was liberated.  I found the first part of the book quite slow with the second part more interesting due to the faster pace and the fact that the story line had more of an objective.  The ending was tied up too neatly with much of the resolution being dependent on coincidences that didn't seem plausible yet if it had ended differently I would have been disappointed. 

This was an interesting and dark look at life in Mengele's world and is a study in opposites - hope vs despair, love vs hate, life vs death, power vs determination and perseverance but unfortunately I wasn't as taken with it as I had hoped to be.  Still, it shines a light onto the horror of Josef Mengele's 'Zoo' and the experiments he performed on the multiples and whatever he considered to be a human oddity.  It was a devastating and horrible time in history and yet Konar also provides her readers with an inkling of hope and illustrates the power of love and perseverance. 

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

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The Underground Railroad

Author: Colson Whitehead
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 306
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: DoubleDay - Random House
First Published: August 2, 2016
First Line: "The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no."

Book Description from GoodReadsCora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her of the Underground Railroad and they plot their escape. Like Gulliver, Cora encounters different worlds on each leg of her journey. 

Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors of black life in pre-Civil War America. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: This book has gotten quite the boost on social media especially with Oprah touting it as her latest book club read.  Even though Oprah and I have had a tempestuous (albeit one-sided) bookish relationship in the past I thought I'd give this book a try because the slavery era in the US is one of my favorite eras to read about.  It showcases the dichotomy of the indomitable spirit and resilience of human beings despite the most horrific, vile and degrading actions that one person can inflict upon another.

Even with all the hype and Oprah's seal of approval I wasn't a fan of this book. There was a lot of good description of the era, some emotional scenes of abuse which are vividly detailed and many diverse characters but it lacked a complexity to the plot and an emotional connection to the characters. Cora, and especially Caesar, felt underdeveloped with their inner feelings muffled to the reader. I also found the flow of the plot to be choppy as readers are repeatedly taken from the main plot into subplots and there were vast sections, mainly towards the end, where the plot would lag and my interest faltered.

But my biggest beef has to be the author's fictionalized idea of the Underground Railroad. He described it as an actual subterranean railroad which brought slaves to freedom.  I realize that his concept of the real Underground Railroad was stated on the cover and that it's a historical FICTION read.  But this subway of sorts is too far fetched and I feel that the author took too many liberties moving the book into the historical fantasy genre. My first issue is that it confuses people who already know about the Underground Railroad (I had to reread several sections when it was first introduced because I thought I had misunderstood his intent).  There was no actual railroad with tracks, engines and conductors.  Instead it was a vast, intricate network of people who risked their own lives to hide and help slaves escape to the north, many of which came here to Canada.  I've recently seen people posting pictures online of underground rail tracks in relation to this book.  Now I'm concerned that people who didn't know much about the actual Underground Railroad will now mistakenly think there was a train to carry people who were fleeing torture and death at the hands of the people who claimed that they owned them. I don't think that addition to this story does the real underground railroad justice.

There were a few things that I did enjoy about this book.  It details a different side to the era for me, specifically how former slaves were treated in the northern states and some of the racism that was still running rampant.  It was sad how the white population viewed and treated former slaves and their fear that this growing group would gain in power resulting in some white people proposing sterilization of the black populace.  This was all new information to me.

For someone like me who has read a lot about this era I felt this book was lacking in a few areas.  I tried not to compare it to books like Roots by Alex Haley (my favourite book), The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom and The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (all stellar books) but, honestly, how can you not?

I feel like I'm supposed to wax poetic about this book and shout my love for it from the rooftops.  Everyone and their brother adores it but it just didn't do it for me. While it had great intentions this book didn't live up to the hype nor the vivid and engrossing books about slavery and the underground railroad that have come before it.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

A Deadly Affection

Author: Cuyler Overholt
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: SourceBooks Landmark
First Published: September 6, 2016
First Line: "The first Sunday of 1907 was so bitterly cold that icicles were hanging from the watering trough spouts in front of Mr. Fuller's house, and the sanitation men had resorted to chipping, rather than scooping, the manure from the street."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn 1907 New York, a psychiatrist must prove her patient's innocence...or risk being implicated in a shocking murder

As one of the first women practicing in an advanced new field of psychology, Dr. Genevieve Summerford is used to forging her own path. But when one of her patients is arrested for murder-a murder Genevieve fears she may have unwittingly provoked-she is forced to seek help from an old acquaintance.

Desperate to clear her patient's name and relieve her own guilty conscience, Genevieve finds herself breaking all the rules she's tried so hard to live by. In her search for answers, Genevieve uncovers an astonishing secret that, should she reveal it, could spell disaster for those she cares about most. But if she lets her discovery remain hidden, she will almost certainly condemn her patient to the electric chair.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: I'm always game for a great historical fiction mystery so I was eager to read author Cuyler Overholt's debut novel set in early 1900's New York City.  The story follows a young female psychologist, Miss Genevieve Summerford, as she tries to prove the innocence of one of her patients following a brutal murder.  

NYC in 1907 is brought to life with vivid detail which includes the conflict between the social classes and the restrictions placed on women, especially within the field of medicine.  As a female in medicine and with sexism being the norm, Genna has an uphill battle to gain recognition from her colleagues and the general population in the relatively new discipline of psychology.  But Genna is a force to be reckoned with - she's smart, spunky, stubborn and has her patients' best interests at heart.  She is compelled to help other women overcome their issues after having suffered a great tragedy early in her own life.

Overholt has written a fairly intricate mystery and left the door open for many characters to be the culprit.  Red herrings abound and while I can say that I predicted the ending I have to admit that along the way I predicted several other characters to be the villain so perhaps I'm not quite the sleuth I thought I was.

Along with a great, twisty mystery there is also some occasional humour, some familial turmoil and wee bit of romance.  I liked that there was some history and chemistry between Genevieve and another character as well as conflict between Genna and her father but that the focus firmly remained on the mystery.  

I only have two wee criticisms.  First, while the various plots all have their own sense of conclusion some of the issues felt like they were too easily remedied.  And secondly, while I have a Psych degree I admit that sometimes when the focus was on psychological aspects the story line got a little too heavy and slowed down the pace of the book.  While I was mainly interested in this book for the mystery I also quite enjoyed seeing the beginnings of the group therapy dynamics and how psychology was portrayed in that era. 

With a dash of humour, multiple red herrings and a spunky and smart young psychologist with a penchant for standing up for the underdog this was an impressive debut.  Yes, I enjoyed this historical mystery very much.

Favourite Quotes
"You can't keep someone completely safe," I said.  
"You only keep them from living if you try."

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

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Goodbye Year and Book Giveaway!

Author: Kaira Rouda
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: TLC Book Tours
Publisher: Sparkpress
First Published: May 3, 2016
First Line: "Melanie Bronson needed to sit down."

Book Description on GoodReadsMelanie, a perfectionist mom who views the approaching end of parenting as a type of death, can t believe she has only one more year to live vicariously through her slacker senior son, Dane. Gorgeous mom Sarah has just begun to realize that her only daughter, Ashley, has been serving as a stand-in for her traveling husband, and the thought of her daughter leaving for college is cracking the carefully cultivated facade of her life. Will and his wife are fine as long as he follows the instructions on the family calendar and is sure to keep secret his whole other life with Lauren, the woman he turns to for fun (and who also happens to have a daughter in the senior class). 

Told from the points of view of both the parents and the kids, The Goodbye Year explores high school peer pressure, what it s like for young people to face the unknown of life after high school, and how a transition that should be the beginning of a couple s second act together empty nesting is often actually the end."

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My ReviewMy oldest child will be starting his last year of high school next week.  It boggles the mind how fast time flies and with so many emotions swirling in me this book is right up my alley.

In her latest book, Kaira Rouda explores the issues that face both parents and teens alike as the almost-adults venture into their last year of high school.  She includes points of view of both the teens and their parents as they struggle with issues of stress, body image, substance abuse, marriage/divorce, peer pressure and worries about the future. On top of all that, some of the parents are dealing with the impending empty nest syndrome better than others with a few struggling to find out who they are after their long-held title of parent is about to change into a new kind of relationship.  Rouda also shows the stress and competitive parenting some parents experience as their emotions toggle precariously between pride and worry about what the future holds for their children. 

There are five families at the heart of this book which means there's a lot of characters to keep straight.  Luckily Rouda provides a listing of the families at the beginning of the book which I regularly used until the characters and their issues were solidly in my mind. This varied group of characters allowed Rouda to bring several timely issues and perspectives to the forefront for her readers.  While I found a few characters to be clichéd and not all that likable I still found watching them deal with their issues quite interesting. Surprisingly, I found the teens had a better handle on the changes than their parents.

Note: I thought it a slightly odd choice that Rouda used the name Jud Nelson for one of her characters.  My 40-something mind immediately went to images of the actor Judd Nelson from cult classics such as The Breakfast Club and St Elmo's Fire.  But I digress ....

There are a few twists that I could see coming but there were a couple that surprised me. With its secrets and revelations this book has a Desperate Housewives meets Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies with a side of suburban soap opera.  There are many issues and secrets that will keep readers eager to see how things will end for both the teens and their parents. Overall this was an entertaining read about the changing dynamics in the parent-child relationship.  It's about figuring out your own place in the world, learning to say goodbye and welcoming in a new chapter in our lives as parents and young adults.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Sparkpress and TLC Book Tours for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Giveaway!!

I'm giving away one copy of The Goodbye Year to one of my blog readers!  Sorry, only residents of Canada and the USA are eligible.  Just follow the link below for details and spread the word.  Everyone loves a free book, right?

About the Author:

Kaira Rouda is a USA TODAY bestselling, multiple award-winning author of contemporary fiction that sparkles with humor and heart including HERE, HOME, HOPE and IN THE MIRROR. Her latest novel, THE GOODBYE YEAR, will be released in May of 2016. Her modern romance novels are set on beaches, including the Laguna Beach series, the Indigo Island series and coming soon, the Malibu series.

She lives in Southern California with her family and is at work on her next novel. After living in Columbus, Ohio, for most of her life, she now enjoys the beach whenever possible.

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