Thursday, 27 October 2016

Not Dead Yet

Author: Phil Collins
Genre: Autobiography
Type: Paperback
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Crown Archetype
First Published: October 25, 2016
First Line: "I can't hear a thing."

Book Description from GoodReadsPhil Collins pulls no punches—about himself, his life, or the ecstasy and heartbreak that’s inspired his music. In his much-awaited memoir, Not Dead Yet, he tells the story of his epic career, with an auspicious debut at age 11 in a crowd shot from the Beatles’ legendary film A Hard Day’s Night. A drummer since almost before he could walk, Collins received on the job training in the seedy, thrilling bars and clubs of 1960s swinging London before finally landing the drum seat in Genesis. Soon, he would step into the spotlight on vocals after the departure of Peter Gabriel and begin to stockpile the songs that would rocket him to international fame with the release of Face Value and In the Air Tonight. Whether he’s recalling jamming with Eric Clapton and Robert Plant, pulling together a big band fronted by Tony Bennett, or writing the music for Disney’s smash-hit animated Tarzan, Collins’s storytelling chops never waver. And of course he answers the pressing question on everyone’s mind: just what does Sussudio mean?

Not Dead Yet is Phil Collins’s candid, witty, unvarnished story of the songs and shows, the hits and pans, his marriages and divorces, the ascents to the top of the charts and into the tabloid headlines. As one of only three musicians to sell 100 million records both in a group and as a solo artist, Collins breathes rare air, but has never lost his touch at crafting songs from the heart that touch listeners around the globe. That same touch is on magnificent display here, especially as he unfolds his harrowing descent into darkness after his “official” retirement in 2007, and the profound, enduring love that helped save him. This is Phil Collins as you’ve always known him, but also as you’ve never heard him before.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:  I was a big fan of Phil Collins' in the 80's and 90's, even seeing him perform in Toronto three times (an awesome performer, in case you're wondering).  I still enjoy his older music but I admit that I had lost track of what he'd been up to over the past decade or so.

With Not Dead Yet Collins' has written a no holds barred look at his life. He starts with his beginnings in England with his family and goes into great detail about his early connections with some famous stars (which totally shocked me), his desire to be on stage and shows his readers where his fear of letting people down stems from.  He takes his readers through his early years on stage and in music - both as a child performer and later as part of Genesis and as a solo artist. 

The book also focuses a lot on his marriages and most especially his children.  Going into this book I really didn't know much about his personal life except that he's the father of actress Lily Collins.  What I got from this book is a look at a man trying to be a devoted father. While he is often absent from his children's daily lives due to his hectic professional schedule, for the most part, he is quite successful as a dad of five.  As a husband?  Not so much.

As a songwriter Collins' has proven he has the chops to hold his own with the big dogs of music so it should come to no one's surprise that he can write a mean autobiography too. His cheekiness comes through every so often in his writing (which goes hand-in-hand with his awesome cover picture) and readers will get a real feel for Collins as a person. However, as much as it pains me to say this there is, at times, a whiff of conceitedness on his part.  He's done a lot, he knows a lot of people so I'm not sure how he could have written this book without being 'showy' but I wanted to acknowledge the wee big of arrogance that peeks through at times.

And perhaps that's part and parcel with Collin's brutal honesty with himself and his fans. Throughout the book he opens up about some weighty issues as well as theories surrounding his life.  I admit that I went into this book looking for the back story involving his song "In the Air Tonight" and a better look into his personal life.  I found this book enlightening regarding his recent personal and professional struggles (of which I knew next to nothing about). And yes, he even sheds some light on the inspirational catalyst of In the Air Tonight.

For mega fans of 80's/90's music they'll love the stories involving Genesis and other big name groups of the time.  Personally, I found it a little heavy in the naming of 'who played what, on which track and with whom' at times.  I was in it for more of the personal look into his life and not who played bass for which recording of a specific song. But that's a personal preference and doesn't influence my rating.

Collins' talent as a song writer, percussionist and eventually as a lead singer is known the world over but it was nice to be reminded of all that he has accomplished and struggled with personally as well. He has had some huge moments in his life, with others being more infamous in nature, but he uses this book to tell his story with blatant honesty and heart.  He lays everything out for his readers to witness - his sometimes poor decisions, his monumental successes and rise to fame, his regrets and his love for his family. If you're wanting to get to know Phil better, both on and off stage, you'll want to pick up this book.

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

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Madame Presidentess and book giveaway!!

Author: Nicole Evalina
Genre: Historical Fiction (US)
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 400
Publisher: Lawson Gartner Publishing
First Published: July 25, 2016
First Line: "By the time I was three, I had learned to fear the dark - that was when Pa came home smelling of sharp, unpleasant odors and vented his day's worth of rage on us."

Book Description from GoodReadsForty-eight years before women were granted the right to vote, one woman dared to run for President of the United States, yet her name has been virtually written out of the history books. 

Rising from the shame of an abusive childhood, Victoria Woodhull, the daughter of a con-man and a religious zealot, vows to follow her destiny, one the spirits say will lead her out of poverty to “become ruler of her people.”

But the road to glory is far from easy. A nightmarish marriage teaches Victoria that women are stronger and deserve far more credit than society gives. Eschewing the conventions of her day, she strikes out on her own to improve herself and the lot of American women.

Over the next several years, she sets into motion plans that shatter the old boys club of Wall Street and defile even the sanctity of the halls of Congress. But it’s not just her ambition that threatens men of wealth and privilege; when she announces her candidacy for President in the 1872 election, they realize she may well usurp the power they’ve so long fought to protect.

Those who support her laud “Notorious Victoria” as a gifted spiritualist medium and healer, a talented financial mind, a fresh voice in the suffrage movement, and the radical idealist needed to move the nation forward. But those who dislike her see a dangerous force who is too willing to speak out when women are expected to be quiet. Ultimately, “Mrs. Satan’s” radical views on women’s rights, equality of the sexes, free love and the role of politics in private affairs collide with her tumultuous personal life to endanger all she has built and change how she is viewed by future generations.

This is the story of one woman who was ahead of her time – a woman who would make waves even in the 21st century – but who dared to speak out and challenge the conventions of post-Civil War America, setting a precedent that is still followed by female politicians today.

Winner of the US Women's History category in the 2016 Chaucer Historical Fiction Awards

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: As soon as I heard Nicole Evalina had written a book about the first woman to run for president of the United States I was intrigued.  As a Canadian I don't have extensive knowledge about American politics but I trust Evalina to weave a good fictionalized story around historical settings with a strong woman front and centre.  In light of the current political climate in the US it was very apropos that she take on Victoria C Woodhull, the first woman to run for US President (decades before women won the right to vote) and the early years of the fight for equality for American women.

Immediately I was pulled into Victoria's humble and often abusive upbringing at the hands of her parents and husband.  This first third of the book was quite a page turner for me as we learn about Victoria's background as the daughter of a con artist who had no qualms about using his various children in order to make a buck. This was an emotional part of the book but when the story, about midway through, turns to more political fare my interest started to waiver just a bit. I know that this book centres around politics (and financial prowess) but all of a sudden there were a lot of names to keep track of as Victoria meets various big wigs in NYC.  While I recognized several of these famous names including the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, poet Walt Whitman, Cornelius Vanderbilt and even President Grant, I'm not an avid follower of politics in general, let alone early American politics, so I found this aspect a bit of a slow go for me.

Victoria was a dynamic, yet flawed, character.  She's a strong minded woman who had endured much abuse at the hands of those who were meant to love her and her spiritual abilities were an unexpected, yet interesting, aspect. She was determined, stubborn and knew first hand of the struggles that women face on a day-to-day basis which was the great impetus for her fight for the rights of women.  She was also controversial, conceited and could be quite ruthless in her business and political dealings.  And yet there were several moments when I found it very frustrating to witness how weak-willed she is with her family, many of whom felt clichéd in how they acted and routinely disrespected her.  These interactions with her family gave the book too much of a melodramatic feel that I wasn't fond of.

The pace picked up for me in the last third as the tension of her fight in the political arena comes to a head.  Woodhull has many detractors and much to lose as she continues to fight.  Readers will find the Author's Note at the back of the book an interesting addition and epilogue to this story.

Overall, this was an interesting look at a long forgotten historical leader. Evalina shines a light on an almost forgotten historical figure in Victoria C Woodhull and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to learn more about this woman whose life was filled with much success, just as much loss, all stemming from a truly deplorable upbringing.  She was not only a gifted spiritualist but had the courage to go where no woman had ventured before in the financial world and the stubborn streak and heart to fight for the rights that had continued to be denied half of the American population merely based on gender.  My hope is that more stories like this will be told and that Victoria C Woodhull, aka 'Notorious Victoria', will be added to American history books so that younger generations can learn about a woman who fought for the rights that so many now take for granted.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway
NOTE: Giveaway open only to Canadian and US residents.

Nicole Evelina is an award-winning historical fiction and romantic comedy writer. She has a trilogy featuring Guinevere and the Arthurian legend that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view. 

Her debut novel, Daughter of Destiny, the first book of the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, took first place in the legend/legacy category of the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Women’s Fiction/Romance, and was short-listed for the Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction. Her upcoming novel, Been Searching for You (May 10), a romantic comedy, won the 2015 Romance Writers of America (RWA) Great Expectations and Golden Rose contests. Later this year, she will release Madame Presidentess (July 25), a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, America's first female Presidential candidate, which was the first place winner in the Women’s US History category of the 2015 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.

Nicole is one of only six authors who completed a week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness. Nicole has traveled to England twice to research the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, where she consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon.

Nicole is a member of and book reviewer for the The Historical Novel Society, and Sirens (a group supporting female fantasy authors), as well as a member of the Historical Writers of America, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Romance Writers of America, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Women Writing the West, Broad Universe (promoting women in fantasy, science fiction and horror), Alliance of Independent Authors and the Independent Book Publishers Association.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A Whole Latte Murder

Author: Caroline Fardig
Genre: Light Mystery, Cozy Mystery
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Series: #3 in the Java Jive Mystery series
Publisher: Random House Canada - Alibi
First Published: November 8, 2016
First Lines: "Sinclair's? Wow. I certainly wasn't expecting this," I said as Ryder opened the passenger door and helped me out of the car."

Book Description from GoodReadsCoffeehouse manager and reluctant sleuth Juliet Langley returns in a gripping novel from the bestselling author of Death Before Decaf and Mug Shot. Just as things are perking up in Nashville, a serial killer sends tensions foaming over.

Juliet's personal and professional lives have recently received an extra jolt of energy. Her romance with the hunky detective Ryder Hamilton continues to simmer, and business at Java Jive has never been better. But her good mood quickly turns as stale as day-old espresso when she finds out that Ryder has been promoted to his precinct's homicide division. With him risking his life to catch the worst kind of criminals, Juliet's growing sense of unease ignites when a local college student goes missing.

Suddenly every Nashville resident is on high alert, especially Juliet's neighbor Chelsea. Juliet does her best to calm the girl's nerves, but her worst fears are confirmed when she finds Chelsea dead. Even though she tries her best to stay out of it, Juliet's involvement puts a strain on Ryder's first homicide case. The situation soon becomes even more personal for Juliet and her best friend Pete Bennett when one of their employees disappears during her shift. As a killer lurks in the shadows, Juliet, Pete, and Ryder seek out a double shot of justice.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: This is the third book in the Java Jive cozy mystery series and my first book by this author.  While I'm not an avid 'cozy' reader, in the past I have enjoyed the genre once in awhile.  While readers could, like myself, jump right into this book, I'd advise reading the first two books before picking up this mystery.  While I got the gist of things I felt like I missed out of having a solid sense of the connections between the characters.  You understand who is who but miss out a bit on why they have such strong feelings - good and bad - for each other.

The mystery aspect of the book was strong and kept me guessing throughout the book.  There were good twists and a gaggle of potential baddies to choose from. I also liked how a mystery in a previous book was solved within this story line tying in the two books. It gave closure and stirred up some new issues too. That's awesome! 

Juliet stands out as a spunky gal who needs that sass to deal with all of the issues in her life.  She has the requisite penchant for getting into trouble and the ability for some funny banter.  Unfortunately, she had a very frenetic feel to her and her decision making abilities were often bad and unbelievable. I also wasn't a fan of Juliet's soap opera-esque problems with the various men in her life. It's not a love triangle, it's a rectangle of romantic angst.  That's too much romantic mayhem for me. I'm in it for the mystery and felt that too much time was spent focused on her relationships. 

I also have to admit that I didn't like Ryder. At all. The issues/fights between him and Juliet felt immature, seemed to come out of nowhere and became tiresome fast.  One minute they're getting cozy and the next minute one of them picks a fight over something silly and they're screaming at each other.  Plus, there's Ryder's issue of Juliet interfering with police business - at one point he's adamant that he doesn't want Juliet anywhere near his case and then soon after he's asking her to help get info from people she knows.  Wha?!  I didn't understand why they wanted to be together except that Ryder has an amazing body which is referred to several times.

This book was hit and miss for me. I really enjoyed the mystery and felt that Fardig threw great red herrings at her readers to keep us guessing.  But too much time was spent on Juliet's love life for my liking. With more focus on the mystery and more likable characters this book would have garnered a higher rating from me.

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

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The German Girl

Author: Armando Lucas Correa
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII), Young Adult
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: October 18, 2016
First Line: "I was almost twelve years old when I decided to kill my parents."

Book Description from GoodReadsA stunningly ambitious and beautiful debut novel, perfect for fans of Sarah’s Key and All the Light We Cannot See, the story of a twelve-year-old girl’s harrowing experience fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany with her family and best friend, only to discover that the overseas asylum they had been promised is an illusion.

In 1939 before everything changed, Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. Her family moved in Berlin’s highest social circles, admired by friends and neighbors. Eleven-year-old Hannah was often taken by her mother for an afternoon treat at the tea room of the beautiful Adlon Hotel, both dressed in their finest clothes. She spent her afternoons at the park with her best friend Leo Martin. But, in an instant, that sunlit world vanished. Now the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; their fine possessions are hauled away, and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. The two friends make a pact: come what may, they promise to have a future together.

As Hannah and Leo’s families desperately begin to search for a means of escape, a glimmer of hope appears when they discover the Saint Louis, a transatlantic liner that can give Jews safe passage to Cuba. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart from Hamburg on the luxurious passenger liner bound for Havana. Life aboard the ship is a welcome respite from the gloom of Berlin—filled with masquerade balls, dancing, and exquisite meals every night.

As the passengers gain renewed hope for a bright future ahead, love between Hannah and Leo blossoms. But soon reports from the outside world began to filter in, and dark news overshadows the celebratory atmosphere on the ship; the governments of Cuba, the United States, and Canada are denying the passengers of the St. Louis admittance to their countries, forcing them to return to Europe as it descends into the Second World War. The ship that had seemed their salvation seems likely to become their death sentence.

After four days anchored at bay, only a handful of passengers are allowed to disembark onto Cuban soil, and Hannah and Leo must face the grim reality that they could be torn apart. Their future is unknown, and their only choice will have an impact in generations to come.

Decades later in New York City on her eleventh birthday, Anna Rosen receives a mysterious envelope from Hannah, a great-aunt she has never met but who raised her deceased father. In an attempt to piece together her father’s mysterious past, Anna and her mother travel to Havana to meet Hannah, who is turning eighty-seven years old. Hannah reveals old family ties, recounts her journey aboard the Saint Louis and, for the first time, reveals what happened to her father and Leo. Bringing together the pain of the past with the mysteries of the present, Hannah gives young Anna a sense of their shared histories, forever intertwining their lives, honoring those they loved and cruelly lost.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

My Review:  WWII fiction is one of my favourite genres so when I saw this book I knew that it was right up my alley.  The story is told via two 12-year-old narrators in two different eras.  One follows Hannah, a Jewish girl living in Berlin in 1939 and modern day Anna, a descendant of Hannah's, who lives in New York City.

The first half of the book briefly introduces us to Anna but most of the page time is given to Hannah and her family's escape from Germany just before war breaks out.  Living in Germany under the increasing power of what Hannah calls 'the Ogres' is hard. While Hannah has the unique experience of being a Jew yet looking more Aryan in complexion, this does not make her life easier and causes discord within her Jewish community.  As Jews they are constantly denigrated by their neighbours and fear that their lives are in danger.  This abuse, as well as the mood in Berlin at the time, is vividly portrayed to the reader.   

Surprisingly I didn't find myself invested in Hannah's (or Anna's) hardships.  The setting and the plot were screaming for an emotional connection but it felt like Correa didn't delve deep enough into the emotions of his characters.  Add in the very slowly paced plot and unfortunately I didn't feel like I had much of a connection to either of the girls whose personalities were so similar that they seemed to blend together.  Personally, I would have preferred for Anna's story line to be omitted entirely with more focus on Hannah's family.  

After reading this book I questioned whether or not this is supposed to be a Historical Fiction for young teens instead of adults.  The writing itself, while descriptive to a point, felt geared to a younger audience.  It felt like the effects of this horrific war were toned down for the reader.  If this book is written for a younger audience (and I could find no mention of it being specifically a YA read) I suppose it could be said that Correa was making his book age appropriate.  Personally, if this is written for adults I don't think the devastation of WWII and the horror that was inflicted on Jews by the Nazis is something that should be glossed over. I also don't understand why, except for one instance I can recall, the author chose to not use the terms Jew, Nazi or Holocaust in his book.

What I will take away from this novel is the fact that I enjoyed learning about the S.S St Louis, the trans-Atlantic ship that Hannah and her family took with almost 1,000 other people to Cuba to escape the horrors of war.  I had previously no knowledge that there were refugees who escaped the Nazis only to be turned away by Cuba (who suddenly decided not to honour the visas that the passengers had procured earlier). ** Note: The US and Canada were also among the countries who also turned away these refugees. **  That was an aspect of WWII, in all of my reading, that I had no knowledge of and I'm grateful that I now know more about that aspect of the war.

A plot focusing on the plight of Jewish refugees during WWII gave The German Girl all the makings of a unique, touching and wonderful WWII fiction read.  Unfortunately, I don't think that Correa, an award winning journalist and author, delved deep enough into the issues or the emotions of his characters to make it a truly gripping and emotional read.

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

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Echoes of Family and a Book Giveaway!

Author: Barbara Claypole White
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 428
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
First Published: September 27, 2016
First Line: "If purgatory exists, it comes without sound."

Book Description from GoodReadsSometimes the only way through darkness is to return to where it began.

Marianne Stokes fled England at seventeen, spiraling into the manic depression that would become her shadow. She left behind secrets, memories, and tragedy: one teen dead, and her first love, Gabriel, badly injured. Three decades later she’s finally found peace in the North Carolina recording studio she runs with her husband, Darius, and her almost-daughter, Jade…until another fatality propels her back across the ocean to confront the long-buried past.

In her picturesque childhood village, the first person she meets is the last person she wants to see again: Gabriel. Now the village vicar, he takes her in without question, and ripples ofwhat if reverberate through both their hearts. As Marianne’s mind unravels, Jade and Darius track her down. Tempers clash when everyone tries to help, but only by finding the courage to face her illness can Marianne heal herself and her offbeat family.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: Mental illness, dysfunction, forgiveness, turbulence, wit, love and, at the heart of it all ... family.  This book runs the gamut when it comes to emotions and breaking down the walls surrounding, the often not talked about, stigma and issues of living with mental illness.  Claypole White bravely explores the inner feelings, anxiety and fears of a person struggling with mental illness in an honest and respectful way.

The book includes the viewpoints of various characters including main character, Marianne, her childhood friend, Gabriel, her 'almost daughter', Jade and her husband Darius.  While this seems like a lot of cooks in the kitchen, the transition between characters is smooth and the reader gets a very personal look into how mental illness not only affects the person afflicted but also their loved ones.  Characters are vividly drawn, each with their own flaws, dysfunction, insecurities and problems.  Readers will get a clear picture of what life is like for someone with bipolar disorder, from the frenetic manic periods to the other end of the spectrum when they're properly medicated and yet nervously awaiting their next manic period.

"There is no reprieve when you have a broken mind; cease-fires are rare. 
Even on good days, you know everything could change on a dime. 
Fear is your constant shadow"

While the book focuses on Marianne, each of the other characters have their own varying degree of adversity, struggles and demons from their past to contend with. I may not have always liked the characters, nor agreed with their behaviours, but they were believable and I respect how they would come together, despite their issues, to support Marianne - the glue that bound them all together.

The focus on mental illness shares the spotlight with the notion of family.  This is a story about the resiliency of a family facing ongoing, complex issues that could easily rip them apart.  But while they have their hardships they love each other.  They are a band of misfits who don't fit into the mold of a traditional family - they have no blood ties yet are bound to each other.  They are a family in every sense of the word.  They love each other and that feeling comes across to the reader.

"You're never truly lost if someone cares enough to 
come find you. Lost is waiting to be found."

I had only a few issues that didn't sit well with me.  First, Jade.  She's spunky, funny and forthright but comes across, not as an almost 30-year-old, but more of a woman in her late teens/early 20's.  I wish her story, specifically regarding her brother, was dealt with in more detail.  I also wasn't a fan of how things end with Jade - sorry but it gave me an icky feeling. Finally, I felt like the ending tied up loose ends much too neatly for everyone. Those are nit-picky issues but they niggled at me as I read.

This is a story about secrets, mental health, regret, redemption, heartbreak, loss, healing and even a wee bit of humour to balance these weighty issues. Claypole White has written a sensitive and eye-opening book that sheds light on the often misunderstood and stigmatized issue of mental illness.  She doesn't hold back as she details the challenges of living with mental illness for those afflicted as well as the effect on their loved ones.  

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

The publisher has graciously given me one copy 

of Echoes of Family to giveaway! 

(Please note this giveaway is only available to Canadian and US residents)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Connect with Barbara

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Our Chemical Hearts

Author: Krystal Sutherland
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 311
Publisher: G.P Putnam Sons Books
First Published: October 4, 2016
First Line: "I always thought the moment you met the great love of your life would be more like the movies."

Book Description from GoodReadsHenry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can't-eat-can't-sleep kind of love that he's been hoping for just hasn't been in the cards for him—at least not yet. Instead, he's been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything's about to change.
Grace isn't who Henry pictured as his dream girl—she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys' clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It's obvious there's something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn't your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland's brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: I went into this book thinking that it would be a teen romancy kind of read. Cue the witty banter, a cute love story and some teenage angst.  But instead I got something quite different.  Sure, there's awesome banter which is delightfully dry and made me laugh out loud a few times.  There's a love story and definitely teenage angst but it went a lot deeper than I had anticipated and really gave me some things to think about.  

The book centres around Henry Page who is 17 years old and lives in his own universe with a tight knit group of family and his best friends Lola and Murray perpetually by his side. Henry is humble, sweet, very witty and generally a good guy.  It's not until Grace, a new girl at school, shows up that his universe is thrown into a tailspin.

What immediately hit me was the depth of the characters.  Henry had bonds with so many people and I felt like they were each given a good amount of page time for the reader to really get a sense of how they affected Henry's daily life.  This was especially clear in his relationship with his two best friends - Lola and Murray - who are quirky in the best possible sense of the word.  These three love and 'get' each other, their banter is hilarious and you know that they will be there for support through the good, bad and the utterly disastrous. 

The same could be said for Henry's older sister Sadie and his more than than quirky-cool parents (whom I immediately pictured as Dill and Rosemary Penderghast from the movie Easy A).  These two are delightfully funny with a healthy dose of dry wit.  They adore Henry and give him the space to make decisions for himself.

Henry's parents remind me of Olive Penderghast's
parents from Easy A, Dill and Rosemary.
My feelings for Grace were a little more complicated.  I struggled to understand her and I liked how the author revealed why she is the way she is. But I still never fully trusted her. I was pretty firmly on Team Henry and didn't want to see him hurt.  But at the same time, I could understand why Grace struggled with her own demons.  Like Lola, I wasn't always a fan of their relationship and it was hard to witness when it became toxic and painful.  

Sutherland paints a very realistic picture regarding relationships.  They're intricate, complicated and can be viewed through different lenses depending on who's looking.  Do we love the person standing before us or just the idea of what we want them to be?  Can we just love certain aspects of people?  Do people show us their whole selves?  Do they have to?  Does true love last?

“Love doesn't need to last a lifetime for it to be real. 
You can't judge the quality of a love by the length of time it lasts. 
Everything dies, love included. 
Sometimes it dies with a person, sometimes it dies on its own. 
The greatest love story ever told doesn't have to be about two people 
who spent their whole lives together. It might be about a love that lasted 
two weeks or two months or two years, but burned brighter and 
hotter and more brilliantly than any other love before or after. 
Don't mourn a failed love; there's no such thing. 
All love is equal in the brain. ”

To balance out the heavy themes in the book Sutherland employs humour, complete with some great one liners.  My inner geek also loved the great book and movie references that were, for the most part, easy to get.  My favourites were, of course, the Harry Potter references which included the shock and outrage that some people still haven't read the series.  And then there's Henry's "Why You Should Date Me" Powerpoint presentation which made me giggle and fall for his character even more.
This book is a whole lot of things wrapped up into one nice package.  It's about friends, family, finding yourself and the feelings of first love in all its obsessive and astounding bliss.  But it also deals with loss and the struggle to live with all-consuming grief which people deal with in very different ways and on varying time lines.  These are heavy, sometimes messy, potentially disturbing and heart-breaking topics but I think that Sutherland balances the deep and somber moments with episodes of light, laugh-out-loud banter which made this book a roller coaster of a ride and hard to put down for any length of time.  I also liked the realistic ending where things weren't wrapped up nice and neatly in the end. Life, love and loss are messy.  Let's not sugarcoat it.

Krystal Sutherland has written a very impressive debut novel. It's beautifully vivid cover will entice you but its characters, honest portrayal of the complexity of relationships and its humour make this book is a truly wonderful read.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to G.P Putnam and Sons Publishing for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Other Einstein

Author: Marie Benedict
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Sourcebooks
First Published: October 18, 2016
First Line: "The end is near."

Book Description from GoodReadsA vivid and mesmerizing novel about the extraordinary woman who married and worked with one of the greatest scientists in history.

What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.

In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.

A literary historical in the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe,The Other Einstein reveals a complicated partnership that is as fascinating as it is troubling.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

My Review:  I was drawn to this book for two reasons: the beautiful cover and the premise that this famous scientist plagurized his own wife's work. In the past I had given little thought to who Albert Einstein was as a person.  I knew him only as the brilliant E=MC2 scientist with the crazy white hair so I was eager to learn more about him and the woman he married.

Unfortunately, from the get-go this book had a different feel than I had expected with too much time spent focusing on the courtship of Albert and Mitza.  If I'm being honest, I didn't buy into their connection. Albert plies her with silly nicknames that turn this brilliant young woman into a gushing, silly girl eager to look past all of his rude behaviours.  Albert starts off as a quirky, yet highly intelligent, young university student who is lacking in social graces and a clue when it comes to being invited to events.  But the reader quickly sees, via Mitza's first person account, a change in his personality as their relationship progresses.  He goes from awkward geek to an absolute scoundrel - arrogant, power hungry, misogynist and self-centred to a shocking degree.  I couldn't see why she would want to be with (and stay with) this annoying man who even her close friends and parents outwardly disliked.  In this author's view, besides his brain, Albert didn't bring a lot to the table.  As I said, I knew next to nothing about Albert Einstein going into this book but I'm not sure portraying him as a total jerk was respectful or substantiated in fact.

Mitza, on the other hand, is shown as being a brilliant young woman who sees her future in academia due to a limp (that is mentioned repeatedly) which immediately labels her as unfit for marriage by her culture's standards.  She is sweet and smart yet increasingly and astoundingly meek as her relationship with Albert continues.  She is portrayed as frustratingly compliant for a smart woman who was raised by a father who believed in higher education for his daughter.  In contrast, Albert is portrayed as sneaky and egotistical as he repeatedly does things to undermine Mitza and put himself first.  Sure, at first she's furious when he does these things but if you wait a beat she'll back off and ultimately do nothing but accept her fate. This circle of dysfunction and Mitza's ongoing meek behaviour got on my nerves fast.  The plot focuses so long on this ongoing dysfunction that the characters are left with no time for development until too far in the book.  By that point I had lost interest in what happened to her.

There has been conjecture that Mitza contributed to many of Albert's theories and it's this thread that the author chose to follow and assume it for fact for her fictionalized story.  I'm willing to entertain the idea that Mitza contributed her skills in mathematics in some way to her husband's scientific discovery but I think Benedict went too far when she decided that Mitza suddenly came up with The Theory of Relativity.   

Benedict's writing is standard fare but lacked any emotional quality to help me sympathize with the characters which resulted in me not having any connection them.  Benedict freely admits that science isn't her area of expertise and that comes through in the writing since that aspect was glossed over with a general idea of certain scientific theories given to the reader but not in depth enough to give the reader a clear idea. 

My thoughts of this book are in the minority compared to other readers.  I realize that this is a work of fiction but I think the author took too many liberties with the personality of Einstein and the premise that Mitza had major input into many of his famous theories.  Ultimately, this was a dysfunctional romance with a side of science.  I was left expecting and wanting so much more out of this novel. 

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

Monday, 10 October 2016

Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame

Author: Mara Wilson
Genre: Memoir
Type: Paperback
Pages: 272
Source: Penguin Random House Canada
Publisher: Penguin Books Canada
First Published: September 13, 2016
First Line: "A few years ago, I found a video of myself on YouTube."

Book Description from GoodReadsFor readers of Lena Dunham, Allie Brosh and Roxane Gay, this funny, poignant, daringly honest collection of personal essays introduces Mara Wilson—the former child actress best known for her starring roles in Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire—as a brilliant new chronicler of the experience that is growing up young and female.

Mara Wilson has always felt a little young and a little out of place: as the only child on a film set full of adults, the first daughter in a house full of boys, the sole clinically depressed member of the cheerleading squad, a valley girl in New York and a neurotic in California, and one of the few former child actors who has never been in jail or rehab. Tackling everything from how she first learned about sex on the set of Melrose Place, to losing her mother at a young age, to getting her first kiss (or was it kisses?) on a celebrity canoe trip, to not being “cute” enough to make it in Hollywood, these essays tell the story of one young woman’s journey from accidental fame to relative (but happy) obscurity. But they also illuminate a universal struggle: learning to accept yourself, and figuring out who you are and where you belong. Exquisitely crafted, revelatory, and full of the crack comic timing that has made Mara Wilson a sought-after live storyteller and Twitter star, Where Am I Now? introduces a witty, perceptive, and refreshingly candid new literary voice.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review: I wouldn't say that I'm a huge fan of Mara Wilson's.  I've only ever seen her in one movie that I can remember (the mega-hit Mrs Doubtfire with Robin Williams) and I've read many of her humorous Tweets but that's about all I knew about this actor who used to be the wee mite with the adorable lisp.

Going in I was expecting the book to be fairly humorous and give an insider's look into the life of a child actor.  Fairly standard fare with a former child star author.  You know, the usual pitfalls of The Business for a child, a few behind-the-scenes snippets (I personally hoped there'd be a bit on Robin William's) and, of course, her family life.  And yes, all of these things are in the book but overall it's much more of a coming of age book featuring Wilson's struggle with the death of her mother, her teen years as a student and actor, her personal struggles with mental illness and ultimately finding who she really is.

This is a wee book but Wilson packs quite a bit into its pages.  While I found different aspects of the book compelling I can't say that I was captivated throughout.  It is a hodgepodge of her life experiences written in an essay-like format.  This gives readers a glimpse into her life by focusing on different aspects but also made the book feel rather choppy.  I enjoyed learning about behind-the-scenes aspect of Hollywood, her desire to be seen as more than just the actress who had played Matilda but it was her struggles with anxiety and OCD that were truly impressive, raw and eye-opening for me.  I also loved her tribute to Robin Williams ('Writing Robin') which I found to be heart felt. That said, her essays about her struggles as an adult actor and her personal life I found much less compelling.

Wilson has written an honest, no holds barred look into her life.  While she can have a fairly, and admittedly, bitter tone at times (her name means 'bitter' after all) I applaud her for not being afraid to be vulnerable to her readers as she reveals her fears and struggles.  She's a strong young woman who can be quite witty and sarcastic but unfortunately her humour was much less part of the book than I was expecting (I do so love some well written 'sarc' and dry humour). 

Overall, this is a good book if you'd like insight into where this former child actor is now in her life.  It's a heart-felt and honest commentary on her life as a child actor and now as a young woman.  She's honest with her struggles and you can't help but respect her fighting spirit. 

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

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Claiming Noah

Author: Amanda Ortlepp
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Center Street
First Published: July 5, 2016
First Line: "She has your eyes."

Book Description from GoodReadsThis riveting debut novel of psychological suspense explores the dilemmas that arise when motherhood and science collide. 

Catriona Sinclair has always had a well-developed sense of independence--in fact the one sore point in her otherwise happy marriage is her husband James's desire to take care of her. As she's often tried to explain to him, she took care of herself before she met him, and did a good job of it. But James has been especially attentive lately as they struggle to have a baby. They succeed at last through in vitro fertilization, but unwilling to risk the heartbreak of another miscarriage, they decide to make their "spare" frozen embryo available to another family. 

Diana and Liam Simmons are desperate for a child. Unable to conceive, they are overjoyed to learn that as the closest genetic match to the Sinclairs they are the recipients of the embryo donation. Diana's only concern is her mother's disapproval of IVF, but any doubts raised are quickly eclipsed by Diana's joy of being pregnant. 

As Diana is finding delight in every aspect of motherhood, Catriona keeps waiting for the rush of adoration she knows she is supposed to feel, but instead slips into a deep depression. Just as Catriona begins to find her way back to normalcy, one of the babies is kidnapped. Suddenly, all of their lives begin to unravel and intertwine, and none of them will ever be the same.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review:  I picked up this book based on the premise of two couples fighting over who are the rightful parents of a young boy who was adopted as an embryo.  The write up had a very Picoult-esque vibe to it so I was expecting an emotional legal drama with some twists (and possibly tears) thrown in for good measure.

The book is told from the points of view of the two mothers, Catriona, the embryo donor and Diana, the woman who adopted her son as an embryo and carried him to term.  Readers are privy to the inner thoughts of these woman (and a lot of back stories) but unfortunately the men in the book didn't fare so well.  They were given hardly any page time except to show the bulk of them as shallow, insensitive and even nefarious. 

I loved the premise of the book but there is a overly long and unnecessary build-up to the main issue which isn't addressed until very late in the story arc. I was in it for the suspense but I got a very different kind of read. That said, I applaud the author for bringing various issues including the legal and ethical issues surrounding embryonic adoption, legal rights of adoptive vs biological parents, kidnapping, postpartum psychosisinfertility etc to her readers in varying degrees of depth.  

Yet, even with this plethora of important issues the plot remained predictable and the writing lighter and not as engaging as I had expected.  It shouldn't be touted as psychological suspense since there is no twits or suspense to be had.  Instead, it reads more like a lighter Women's Fiction read with the ending being overly sweet and tied up much too neatly to be believable.

Overall, this was a decent read but not nearly what I had expected in terms of suspense and twists. But if you're looking for a lighter read that delves into some big issues you may enjoy this quick read. 

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

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

It's Fall y'all!  This is, hands down, my favourite time of year!  Sweaters, hiking in crunchy, colourful leaves, hot chocolate on the porch and soups and stews make a come back on dinner tables.  It is my bliss. Even though here in south-western Ontario we've been experiencing a rather warm Autumn so far it's time to get out the soup pot and start making homemade soup!

Yesterday I whipped up this soup for supper and it was utterly delicious!  It was as smooth as Barry White, had a nice kick of spice and even a wee bit of heat.  

This soup is Fall in a bowl!  

It's also pretty healthy because it not only has a hearty dose of veg but it only has two tablespoons of butter in it.  That means your daily butter quotient is lower so you can slather more of it on the homemade Honey Whole Wheat Bread you'll whip up along side this soup, right?  Isn't that how it works? Gosh, I hope that's how it works.

This soup is easy enough to whip up on a week day night for you and yours and if you prep your bread maker ahead of time and have wee hands helping with a salad dinner is on the table in no time.  Happy Fall!

2 tbsp butter
1 small onion - finely chopped
2 1/4" piece of fresh ginger - peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves - minced
2 lbs butternut squash - peeled and diced into 3/4-inch cubes
3 cups water
1/2 cup orange juice
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp brown sugar

Garnish - sour cream and/or a dash of cinnamon

In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter.  Add onion and cook for 2 minutes.  Add ginger, garlic and squash.  Cook for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the squash has softened.

Remove from heat.  Using an immersion blender, blend the soup in the pot until smooth.  Stir in orange juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and brown sugar.  Blend again briefly to allow spices, especially the cinnamon, to blend well with the soup.

Serve immediately with homemade bread and a green salad.

Note: If you don't have an immersion blender, use your regular blender and carefully blend in two batches.  And then go buy yourself an immersion blender.  You deserve it.

Related Posts with Thumbnails