Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 444
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins)
First published: February 28, 2017
First Line: "I shouldn't have come to this party."

Book Description from GoodReadsSixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Rating: 5 stars

My Review: I now understand why The Hate U Give is so popular. It is a story that ticks all the right boxes -- it is powerful, engaging and timely. It is well-written with a main character readers will root for and it doesn't shy away from confronting big issues.

Through her story, Thomas educates her readers about issues such as prejudice, police brutality as well as black culture, racism (both intentional and inadvertent), white privilege and cultural appropriation. The discussions of these issues aren't always comfortable to read (nor should they be) but the story is compelling and sadly, these issues continue to be prevalent today.

The story revolves around Starr Carter, a black teenager who witnesses her friend being gunned down by a white police officer. The effects of this tragedy are shown through Starr's eyes but readers also see how the tragedy affects Starr's community and family as well as the disparate views of her classmates in the mainly white private school she attends. These reactions vary from emotionally charged and shocked to apathetic, ignorant and censured. Through these differing viewpoints, Thomas reveals a social and political commentary of these issues.

The writing is strong, and the characters are diverse and well fleshed out. Starr is a resilient young woman and the reader witnesses how she learns to harness her inner strength and find the power of her own voice. The story addresses many of Starr's relationships - some of which are quite complicated. From her family life, to her friends at home and at school, Starr struggles to figure out where she fits in. Her family is a huge source of her strength and their bonds, humour and fierce devotion to each other show where Starr gets much of her strength and tenacity.
The Hate U Give is a book that needs to be read. It educates its readers within a compelling, raw and eye-opening story filled with characters you'll swear are real. It's a book about family, community, friendship and loyalty as much as it's a book about racism, fear and abuse of power. 

Favourite Quotes:
“What's the point of having a voice if you're gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn't be?”

"Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right"

"Funny. Slave masters thought they were making a difference in black people's lives too. Saving them from their "wild African ways". Same shit, different century. I wish people like them would stop thinking that people like me need saving"

Saturday, 30 December 2017

A Treacherous Curse

Author: Deanna Raybourn
Type: Historical Mystery
Series: #3 in the Veronica Speedwell series (read in order)
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: January 16, 2018
First Line: London 1888 - "I assure you, I am perfectly capable of identifying a phallus when I see one," Stoker informed me, clipping the words sharply. 

Book Description from GoodReadsLondon, 1888 -- As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.
But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. 

My Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

My ReviewIf you're looking for a historical mystery series that features a female protagonist who is smart, determined, fiercely independent, speaks her mind and has a penchant for getting in the middle of police investigations then let me introduce you to Veronica Speedwell.  

Veronica is a modern woman whose disregard for societal rules raises some eyebrows in Victorian England and her complicated family history adds an intriguing element. But it is her close, yet complicated relationship with her friend and colleague Stoker, their witty banter, and knowing I'll get a solid mystery that keep me coming back to this series. 

In this third book in the series, the mystery surrounds a supposed curse surrounding an Egyptian expedition which has brought its relics to England for display. The mystery has twists and turns but I'll be honest - I was more intrigued about getting a better look at Stoker's mysterious past. 

As with her other works, Deanna Raybourn combines beautifully crafted prose, a healthy dose of humour and a twist-filled mystery that will keep readers glued to their books. I highly recommend this series for people who enjoy well written, engaging historical mysteries with a protagonist who stands out from the rest.

Tip: Read this series in order 

Friday, 29 December 2017

This Is How It Always Is

Author: Laurie Frankel
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, LGBTQ
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 336
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Flatiron Books
First Published: January 2017
First Line: "But first, Roo was born."

Book Description from GoodReadsThis is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.

This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.

This is how children change…and then change the world.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.

When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.

My Rating: 2.5 stars ("just okay")

My Review: I'm going to start this review by applauding the author for bringing the topic of raising a transgender child to her readers. But while the subject matter is important, and the author brings some of her personal experience to the story, this book was a struggle for me.

I think it's important to have books that focus on LGBTQ issues and I went into this book wanting a bird's eye view of what it's like to raise a transgender child. I wanted to understand the different perspectives of various family members - their frustrations, fears etc for their child/sibling. But I didn't get that connection to the characters. Instead, we're given a family who was too perfect to be believable. There wasn't enough hesitation, fear, doubt, concern etc by Claude's family members and any complications were easily solved without major outbursts but with a quick discussion, sometimes leaving readers with hard to believe results. A lot of focus was on their day-to-day family dialogue which didn't give readers better insight into the characters but was used to spoon feed readers on the issues surrounding gender dysphoria/transgender which gave the book a teachy, artificial feel. 

This book has a lot of heart and will instigate discussion, but I can't help but feel that this isn't 'how it always is' when a family has a transgender child. It lacked the tension, emotion and real struggle that I think many transgender people face. It focuses on a weak main story line with several smaller tangents (the 'trip' story line didn't work for me at all) and readers are left with everything neatly wrapped up in the end.

This was a sweet read that has a fairy tale quality to it but I was hoping for a more realistic portrayal of a family and child who are struggling with the issues surrounding gender dysphoria.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

The Chalk Man

Author: C.J Tudor
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Crown Publishing 
First Published: January 9, 2018
First Line: "The girl's head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy little English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code; little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he's put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank... until one of them turns up dead. That's when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: C.J Tudor has written an impressive debut novel that gives readers a dose of small town creepy as she reveals the twists to her readers. The plot includes a selection of culprits and victims and some of the twists include chilling and gruesome moments that will keep readers on their toes as they try to figure out what really happened that summer.

The story begins in 1986 with 12-year-old Eddie and his group of friends who are eager for their summer holidays to hang out, ride their bikes, leave secret messages for each other in chalk and wreak mild havoc in their small town. But after a chalk figure leads them to a dead body their idyllic summer comes to a quick halt. The story jumps back and forth from 1986 to 2016 as readers become privy to how their lives were irrevocably changed after the events in 1986. 

I was impressed by Tudor's writing which was descriptive and has a touch of humour to balance the sinister feel. Her characters are well flawed and add their own baggage to the plot in varying degrees. I enjoyed the camaraderie of these boyhood chums which immediately reminded me of childhood movies, Goonies with a strong, and obvious, nod to Stand By Me.

But I had a few issues with the book. First, it felt like the reader is kept at arm's length from the characters, so I didn't feel a connection to them (who honestly weren't an overly likable bunch anyway). I also found the book was more creepier than it was suspenseful and while the book started out strong, the middle section quickly ran out of steam. Things pick up at the end but it's a bit of a rushed ending.

Overall, this was a good (not great) thriller and a different kind of suspense read. Readers who enjoy a creepy setting with a group of culprits and a small town feel should enjoy this book. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

Author: Annie Spence
Genre: Non-Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 241
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Flatiron Books
First Published: September 26, 2017
First Line: "Dear Reader, welcome to Fahrenheit 451."

Book Description from GoodReadsA Gen-X librarian's snarky, laugh-out-loud funny, deeply moving collection of love letters and break-up notes to the books in her life.

Librarians spend their lives weeding--not weeds but books! Books that have reached the end of their shelf life, both literally and figuratively. They remove the books that patrons no longer check out. And they put back the books they treasure. Annie Spence, who has a decade of experience as a Midwestern librarian, does this not only at her Michigan library but also at home, for her neighbors, at cocktail parties—everywhere. In Dear Fahrenheit 451, she addresses those books directly. We read her love letters to The Goldfinch and Matilda, as well as her snarky break-ups with Fifty Shades of Grey and Dear John. Her notes to The Virgin Suicides and The Time Traveler’s Wife feel like classics, sure to strike a powerful chord with readers. Through the lens of the books in her life, Annie comments on everything from women’s psychology to gay culture to health to poverty to childhood aspirations. Hilarious, compassionate, and wise, Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the consummate book-lover's birthday present, stocking stuffer, holiday gift, and all-purpose humor book.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: As a devoted lover of books and someone whose work and private lives pretty much revolve around books this book is right up my alley. Spence is funny, ridiculously well-read and clever making this romp through her favs (and not so favs) an enjoyable ride.

The first three-quarters of the book are filled with wee snippets of break-up/love letters to the books in Spence's life as a public librarian. The last quarter is a Reader's Advisory nirvana where Spence offers up book suggestions in various groupings like, "Menage a Livre" (you and two books), Books About Girls and Romance That Don't Make Me Wince Like Twilight, Books for the Lazy, the Lively, the Long-Winded, and the Lethargic etc. 

Had I read all the books she mentioned? Oh hell no. I read over 100 books/year and I felt like I needed to up my game. Did we bond over liking all the same books?  Nope again. I didn't like some of the books she mentioned and probably would have enjoyed it even more if I had read most of the books discussed but she did broaden my horizons and you've gotta appreciate that. 

The style of the book has a 'girlfriend chatty' vibe which I enjoyed. I also liked that she shows that library staff aren't a bunch of support hose-wearing, pinched-faced shushers who only wear cardigans. Library staff are witty, engaging, love to share their knowledge and love of reading. And they wear cardigans because they're cool!!

Spence is funny, engaging, irreverent and sarcastic. She is my patronus (if you have to look up what a patronus is we can't be friends). I'd find myself snickering out loud during my lunch break and wanting to share the funny tidbits with my fellow library staff. Some of the funniest moments are when she's discussing the Harlequin Romance Spinner Rack, or helping her fellow book nerds by offering "Excuses to Tell Your Friends So You Can Stay Home With Your Books" (I'm going to ask my friends and family to not read that section). Or "Turning Your Lover into a Reader" - I almost inhaled that page since my husband is unequivocally a *whispered* non-reader. Gasp!

Annie Spence, you and I are kindred spirits. We are unabashedly book nerdigans who eat, breathe and sleep books. Whether you are a voracious or occasional reader yourself, or whether you agree with Spence's book choices or not, you will be entertained by her comments. Your TBR list will grow exponentially, you will have a deep desire to visit your local library and, quite possibly, give your library staff a big 'ol thumbs up for the great work that they do.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Between Me and You

Author: Allison Winn Scotch 
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
First Published: January 9, 2018
First Line: "I told myself that if she showed, that would be the sign I needed."

Book Description from GoodReads: From New York Times bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch comes an honest, touching, and funny exploration of falling in and out of love, told from two perspectives—one rewinding history, one moving it forward—and each with bias and regret.
When their paths first cross, Ben Livingston is a fledgling screenwriter on the brink of success; Tatum Connelly is a struggling actress tending bar in a New York City dive. They fall in love, they marry, they become parents, and they think only of the future. But as the years go by, Tatum’s stardom rises while Ben’s fades. In a marriage that bears the fallout of ambition and fame, Ben and Tatum are at a crossroads. Now all they can do is think back…
A life of passion, joy, tragedy, and loss—once shared—becomes one as shifting and unpredictable as a memory. As the pieces of their past come together, as they explore the ways love can bend and break, Ben and Tatum come to see how it all went wrong—and wonder what they can do now to make it all right.
Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: My feelings for this book were all over the place. There were moments in this story about a faltering relationship that rang true and I was rooting for Ben and Tatum through their issues of infidelity, insecurity and jealousy. But I had some issues with how the story was told.

I give marks for the author using a creative way to tell her story - with Tatum's story being told forward and Ben's being told backwards in time. But I didn't feel that it worked well. There was a lot of time shifting and POV changes (causing some confusion) and when Tatum and Ben shared their sides of the story many situations are rehashed for the reader.

This was a quiet read about a couple in trouble but there was no big wow moment in the book. Ben and Tatum's 'thing' was saying 'I see you' to each other but I didn't feel like I got to see who they really were. I wanted to crawl inside their relationship and get to the deep, dark places but it never felt like we got there.  

Winn Scotch understands that love is messy, amazing, confusing and requires honesty, commitment, forgiveness and the safety to be able to feel vulnerable. This is what I liked about this book. I just wish there was more depth and that the story was told in a simpler format. 

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Agony of Bun O'Keefe

Author: Heather Smith
Genre: Teen, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Penguin Teen
First Published: September 5, 2017
First Lines: "She yelled, "Go on! Get out!". So I did."

Book Description from GoodReadsSet in 1980s Newfoundland, The Agony of Bun O’Keefe is the story of a 14-year-old girl who runs away to the city and is taken in by a street musician who lives with an eclectic cast of characters: a pot smoking dishwasher with culinary dreams; a drag queen with a tragic past; a Catholic school girl desperately trying to reinvent herself; and a man who Bun is told to avoid at all cost.

My Rating: 5 stars

My ReviewSet in 1980's St John's Newfoundland, this story follows the life of Bun, an endearing and quirky character who quickly wheedled her way into my heart. After living with a mother who ignored and berated her her entire life, 14-year-old Bun leaves home and is found by a young street busker who brings her to his home and the gaggle of people he lives with. 

These misfits are a bunch of lost souls themselves, each with their own issues that readers will learn about. But together they become her family and give her the love, attention, compassion and support that she needs (and that often they didn't have in their own pasts). Through them Bun is taught what it's like to belong, to be loved and to be supported.

Bun is as endearing as she is odd and outspoken. She's damaged by years of neglect, malnutrition and ignored most of her life by her mother. So it should come as no surprise that Bun is naive and not up on social norms. She also doesn't 'do' jokes and sarcasm but she's honest, has an eidetic memory and some of the innocent comments that come from her mouth are priceless and often on point. 

Smith's writing is simple yet powerful and I was wonderfully surprised by how deep the book was able to go with its relationships, emotions and the issues it addresses which include sexual abuse, racism,neglect, prejudice and grief. While some scenes were hard to read, overall this book is very uplifting and filled with lessons about compassion, acceptance, hope and love within a family that Bun built herself. 

In a mere 224 pages, Smith pulls together a touching story, endearing characters and evokes emotion I wasn't expecting for such a wee book. The Agony of Bun O'Keefe packs a big punch.

Highly recommended.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Believe Me: My Battle with the Invisible Disability of Lyme Disease

Author: Yolanda Hadid (with Michele Bender)
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 302
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: Sept 12, 2017
First Line: "Gigi - For a whole year when I was sixteen years old, I watched my Mom struggle to understand the pain, confusion and symptoms she was experiencing, but that no doctors seemed to have answers for."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills comes an emotional and eye opening behind-the-scenes look at her descent into uncovering the mystery of chronic Lyme disease.
In early 2011, Yolanda was struck by mysterious symptoms including brain fog, severe exhaustion, migraines and more. Over the months and years that followed, she went from being an outspoken, multi-tasking, hands-on mother of three, reality TV star, and social butterfly, to a woman who spent most of her time in bed. Yolanda was turned inside out by some of the country’s top hospitals and doctors, but due to the lack of definitive diagnostic testing, she landed in a dark maze of conflicting medical opinions, where many were quick to treat her symptoms but could never provide clear answers to their possible causes.
In this moving, behind the scenes memoir, Yolanda Hadid opens up in a way she has never been able to in the media before. Suffering from late stage Lyme, a disease that is an undeniable epidemic and more debilitating than anyone realizes, Yolanda had to fight with everything she had to hold onto her life. While her struggle was lived publicly, it impacted her privately in every aspect of her existence, affecting her family, friends and professional prospects. Her perfect marriage became strained and led to divorce. It was the strong bond with her children, Gigi, Bella and Anwar, that provided her greatest motivation to fight through the darkest days of her life. Hers is an emotional narrative and all-important read for anyone unseated by an unexpected catastrophe. With candor, authenticity and an unwavering inner strength, Yolanda reveals intimate details of her journey crisscrossing the world to find answers for herself and two of her children who suffer from Lyme and shares her tireless research into eastern and western medicine. Believe Me is an inspiring lesson in the importance of having courage and hope, even in those moments when you think you can’t go on.
My Rating: 3.5 stars
My ReviewThe reason I picked up this book wasn't due to Yolanda's celebrity (I've never seen her TV show, Housewives of Beverly Hills) but because my niece, who is now 17 years old, has suffered from Lyme disease for 4 years. I saw much of my niece's story in Yolanda's -- medical professionals not taking her symptoms seriously, misdiagnosing, various treatments (including both going to the Sponaugle clinic in Florida) and some people thinking it's all in their heads. I'm talking about severe joint and muscle pain, brain fog, sight problems, fevers, losing the ability to walk, debilitating migraines ... It's one thing to be sick, but to add people doubting your daily pain is a whole other level of suffering.
One of Hadid's goals was to raise awareness about Lyme's Disease. Many people have heard of Lyme, may even know someone with it, but still don't have a good understanding about the different symptoms, the severity of the symptoms or treatment options. With this goal in mind, Hadid has done wonders for the Lyme community bursting open the door on this invisible, and often, life-altering illness. She has put a face to the illness and, with the help of her TV show, has shown the devastating, crippling, painful and sadly, long-lasting effects of Lyme disease. Lyme isn't a simple disease and is often accompanied by other ailments which often makes diagnosis difficult.
Throughout the book it was obvious that Hadid is a doting and loving mother who puts her children's lives first. They adore her and she them and that was touching. Her husband David Foster didn't fare so well in her recounting of events and if they are accurate (he didn't share his POV in the book) he should be ashamed of himself.
I give this book high marks for bringing much needed awareness and for Hadid bravely sharing her ups and her low, low, lows with her readers. But where my rating falters is in the length. Much of the book is about the numerous treatment options that Hadid went through - most not financially feasible for regular people without Hollywood bank accounts. Some treatments were sketchy, some were odd, and others helped but with each passing year you could see just how desperate she was to get well. This is where the book was overly long for me, but I can see how people suffering from Lyme may get more out of the many treatment options.
Overall, I applaud Yolanda Hadid for informing the public about the severity of this disease and how it is all-encompassing for those afflicted and their loved ones. My hope is that the medical communities (and insurance companies) will see the necessity to focus on successful diagnosis and better, long-term protocols to beat this invisible epidemic.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Feeding My Mother

Author: Jann Arden
Genre: Memoir, Cookbook, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Random House Canada
First Published: November 21, 2017
First Line: "I remember the first day it happened."

Book Description from GoodReadsBased on her hugely popular Facebook posts and Instagram photos, Feeding My Mother is a frank, funny, inspirational and piercingly honest account of the transformation in Jann Arden's life that has turned her into the primary "parent" to her mom, who is in the grip of Alzheimer's.

Jann Arden moved in to a house just across the way from her parents in rural Alberta to be close to them but also so they could be her refuge from the demands of the music business and a performing career. Funny how time works. Since her dad died in 2015, Jann cooks for her mom five or six times a week. Her mom finds comfort in her daughter's kitchen, not just in the delicious food but also just sitting with her as she cooks. And Jann finds some peace in caring for her mom, even as her mom slowly becomes a stranger. "If you told me two years ago that I'd be here," Jann writes, "I wouldn't have believed it. And yet we still fall into so much laughter, feel so much insane gladness and joy. It's such a contrast from one minute to the next and it teaches me constantly: it makes me stronger and more humble and more empathetic and caring and kind." 

The many people who are dealing with a loved one who is losing it will find inspiration and strength in Jann's wholehearted, loving response and her totally Jann take on the upside-down world of a daughter mothering her mother. Feeding My Mother is one heck of an affirmation that life just keeps on keeping on, and a wonderful example of how you have to roll with it.

Disclaimer: This book was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: When I think of Jann Arden I think of one of my favourite singer/songwriters who also has an awesome sense of humour. She seems like a regular Canadian gal who just happens to have a cool job. I have enjoyed seeing her perform live twice, currently have her Christmas album on repeat and continue to be entertained by her funny tidbits on social media. 

As a songwriter Jann is used to sharing her feelings but this time she makes it even more personal. With this memoir/cookbook, she takes us into her home and opens up about her relationship with her parents, especially her mother as she struggles with Alzheimer's. Jann is candid about her feelings and anyone who has had a loved one with Alzheimer's will empathize with Jann's feelings of helplessness, frustration, fear and sadness. But Jann (and her mother) also show their unrelenting spirit to persevere and find love and laughs in even the smallest of moments. Hopefully readers who have experienced Alzheimer's in their families will find a sense of healing, validation and comfort reading this book.  But it is equally important for those not yet touched by dementia/Alzheimer's as it gives a candid look at how this disease encompasses the entire family.

Feeding My Mother is a touching and inspiring read that chronicles the Arden family's journey with Alzheimer's. Along with some of her favourite recipes, this book is filled with hope and the importance of perseverance and is told with heart, honesty and her signature Canadian humour. 

Favourite Quotes: "I corrected her once and then caught myself when she was talking about it again: why do I need to tell her where she is and what she is on? I have to stop being the memory police, stop needing to be right all the time. It's exhausting and completely selfish." 

"Mom said to me the other day, "You always seem mad at me, Jann. .. " I died a little inside after she let that sentence fall out of her mouth. I told her I wasn't mad, that I was just caught off guard with this new version of her."

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Next Year in Havana

Author: Chanel Cleeton
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: February 6, 2018
First Line: "Elisa - Havana, 1959: "How long will we be gone?" my sister Maria asks."

Book Description from GoodReadsAfter the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution...

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

DisclaimerThis digital ARC was generously provided to me by Penguin Random House Canada via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

My ReviewNext Year in Havana follows the lives of two women – Elisa Perez, a nineteen-year-old Cuban debutante in the 1950’s and Marisol Ferrera, her American granddaughter who, decades later, travels to Cuba for the first time to fulfill Elisa’s dying wish.

The author draws from her own family’s experiences as Cuban expatriates (her own family fled Cuba in 1967) and her deep connection with Cuba is evident by her vivid descriptions of settings, culture, Cuba’s turbulent history and its people. The story is told with dual timelines and while both story lines have romantic elements, it was the political uncertainty and strength of the Cuban people that made the biggest impression on me. I found the romantic side of things sweet but less compelling (mainly due to a mild case of Insta-Love).

The descriptions of life in Cuba in both eras will be eye-opening for many readers. The actions of Batista and Castro were violent and merciless, and life was often harsh for Cubans - which included regular food shortages, strict governmental control and violent retribution for those who didn't follow the rules. Readers will also see that life continues to be a struggle for many Cubans today. There is a shocking dichotomy between the Cuba that tourists experience and daily life for Cuban citizens and I appreciate that this issue was addressed in this book. 

Next Year in Havana is an impressive debut and a beautiful tribute to Cuba. Cleeton has blended historical facts within a compelling fictional story that is both atmospheric and evocative. This sweeping sage will engage readers with Cuban history, romance and a touch of suspense as it deals with issues of identity, family and sacrifice making it a perfect choice for fans of Historical Fiction.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Little Broken Things

Author: Nicole Baart
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 368
Source: TLC Book Tours
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: November 21, 2017
First Line: "The little girl's hair is fine as cornsilk."

Book Description from GoodReads“If you liked Big Little Lies, you’ll want to crack open this new novel by Nicole Baart.” —Southern Living

An engrossing and suspenseful novel for fans of Liane Moriarty and Amy Hatvany about an affluent suburban family whose carefully constructed facade starts to come apart with the unexpected arrival of an endangered young girl.

I have something for you. When Quinn Cruz receives that cryptic text message from her older sister Nora, she doesn’t think much of it. They haven’t seen each other in nearly a year and thanks to Nora’s fierce aloofness, their relationship consists mostly of infrequent phone calls and an occasional email or text. But when a haunted Nora shows up at the lake near Quinn's house just hours later, a chain reaction is set into motion that will change both of their lives forever.

Nora’s “something” is more shocking than Quinn could have ever imagined: a little girl, cowering, wide-eyed, and tight-lipped. Nora hands her over to Quinn with instructions to keep her safe, and not to utter a word about the child to anyone, especially not their buttoned-up mother who seems determined to pretend everything is perfect. But before Quinn can ask even one of the million questions swirling around her head, Nora disappears, and Quinn finds herself the unlikely caretaker of a girl introduced simply as Lucy.

While Quinn struggles to honor her sister’s desperate request and care for the lost, scared Lucy, she fears that Nora may have gotten involved in something way over her head—something that will threaten them all. But Quinn’s worries are nothing compared to the firestorm that Nora is facing. It’s a matter of life and death, of family and freedom, and ultimately, about the lengths a woman will go to protect the ones she loves.

My Rating: 3 stars

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided to me by TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.

My ReviewLittle Broken Things is a domestic drama that reveals secrets and angst-filled drama within a dysfunctional family.

I enjoyed the tension surrounding the identity of a certain character and how the story was told by multiple points of view. But for a book that's deemed a suspense read, Little Broken Things was weak with its predictability (right up to the expected ending). 

This family drama has darker subjects, complete with a nefarious 'baddie', but even with these issues it continued to feel like a 'lighter family drama with a side of suspense'. While the topics were interesting, I didn't feel that the issues were explored enough and the writing suffered from the dreaded 'too much telling and not enough showing' issue. It's in the showing that I connect with characters.

Overall, this domestic drama was an easy read that brings up serious familial issues but I didn't find it as suspenseful as I was expecting based on its blurb (which likened it to Liane Moriarty's work). For readers who enjoy a lighter read that still approaches some big issues fraught with family drama this may be a book for you.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Cottingley Secret

Author: Hazel Gaynor
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 416
Publisher: William Morrow
First Published: August 1, 2017
First Line: "Cottingley, Yorkshire - August 1921 - Fairies will not be rushed."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe author of The Girl Who Came Home turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

My Rating: 3 stars

My ReviewThis light, character-driven read is based on the 1917 true story of two English girls who had photographic proof that they had seen fairies near their home. When you add in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's involvement (which sadly ends up being minimal) you have an intriguing idea for a book!

The story is told via dual narratives - Frances Griffiths in 1917 and Olivia Kavanagh one hundred years later - and I had mixed feelings about both. Olivia's story was overly saccharine at times and predictable, especially with her fiancĂ© who was a one-dimensional caricature of a shallow guy. What saved her part of the story for me was the used bookshop setting (swoon!) and how her story line connected with the fairy plot. Frances' side of things had an interesting premise, but I don't feel the fairies aspect and how easily everyone believed in the story was explored enough. Overall, I found the telling of both sides of the story long-winded.

I was initially interested in the magical aspect of this book, but I was also eager for a historical mystery surrounding the alleged sighting of fairies. Unfortunately, readers are privy to the real story from the beginning so the 'mystery' aspect fell flat. 

This is a hard book to rate. I liked the premise but didn't love this book nearly as much as other readers. It had a lot of promise but I wasn't fond of the execution of the story, nor did I feel as engaged in either the story or characters as I thought I would be. This story is about the magic people needed to believe in during and after the devastation of WWI and while I liked that it was based in fact and well researched, overall this was just an okay read for me.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

If There's No Tomorrow

Author: Jennifer L Armentrout
Genre: Teen Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 376
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
First Published: September 5, 2017
First Line: "I couldn't move and everything hurt -- my skin felt stretched too tight, muscles burned like they'd been lit on fire, and my bones ached deep into the marrow."

Book Description from GoodReadsLena Wise is always looking forward to tomorrow, especially at the start of her senior year. She's ready to pack in as much friend time as possible, to finish college applications and to maybe let her childhood best friend Sebastian know how she really feels about him. For Lena, the upcoming year is going to be epic—one of opportunities and chances. 
Until one choice, one moment, destroys everything. 
Now Lena isn't looking forward to tomorrow. Not when friend time may never be the same. Not when college applications feel all but impossible. Not when Sebastian might never forgive her for what happened. 
For what she let happen. 
With the guilt growing each day, Lena knows that her only hope is to move on. But how can she move on when her and her friends' entire existences have been redefined? How can she move on when tomorrow isn't even guaranteed?
My Rating: 3 stars
My Review: This was my first Armentrout read and I wasn't sure what to expect. If There's No Tomorrow quickly dives into some weighty subjects but is balanced by a sweet (at times, leaning towards cheesy) relationship between Lena and the boy she's had a crush on pretty much her whole life. 
While I liked the 'Dawson's Creek-esque' relationship, the depth of emotion and the general story line fell a little flat for me. I applaud Armentrout for bringing up emotional and timely subjects but I'm not sure they were handled as well as they could have been.
What I particularly liked was how Armentrout focused on the idea of 'good people making bad decisions' and the impact one small decision can make. But I felt that Lena (and the reader) got tangled up in her feelings of guilt, loss and grief for too long with issues being rehashed over and over. Once Lena understood her feelings better, the ending was rather quick, leaving the reader without enough closure. An epilogue would have been a great addition.
Overall, this was a sweet love story that is surrounded by big issues. This was a good book, but it didn't reach the 'great' level for a few reasons. This story will hopefully give readers important food for thought and has some emotional impact as readers see Lena struggle with her feelings. I guess I just wanted a little bit more.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk

Author: Jennifer Kincheloe
Genre: Historical Mystery
Series: #1 in the Anna Blanc series
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 306
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
First Published: November 14, 2017
First Line: "Los Angeles, California 1908 - Anna Blanc was the most beautiful woman ever to barrel down Long Beach Strand with the severed head of a Chinese man."

Book Description from GoodReadsLos Angeles, 1908. In Chinatown, the most dangerous beat in Los Angeles, police matron Anna Blanc and her former boyfriend, Detective Joe Singer, discover the body of a white missionary woman, stuffed in a trunk in the apartment of her Chinese lover. Her lover has fled. If news gets out that a white woman was murdered in Chinatown, there will be a violent backlash against the Chinese. Joe and Anna plan to solve the crime quietly and keep the death a secret. So does good-looking Mr. Jones, a prominent Chinese leader who has mixed feelings about helping the LAPD and about Anna. 
Meanwhile, the Hop Sing tong has kidnapped two slave girls from the Bing Kong tong, fueling existing tensions. They are poised on the verge of a bloody tong war that would put all Chinatown residents in danger. 
Joe orders Anna out of Chinatown to keep her safe, but to atone for her own family's sins, Anna must stay to solve the crime before news of the murder is leaked and Chinatown explodes.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the author's publicist in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: Ever since I read the first Anna Blanc book two years ago I've been itching to read the next book in this historical mystery series. Anna set herself apart from other main characters - she was sassy and ahead of her time in terms of women's right to choose what they want to do with their lives. This series is a mystery, with sides of humour and romance, set in 1908 Los Angeles. But 1908 wasn't a good era to be Anna Blanc, an impulsive debutante who wasn't satisfied to follow the expected plan for a woman of her standing. She didn't want to be a man's wife if it meant that she couldn't follow her dream of being a police matron.

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk is the second book in the Anna Blanc historical mystery series and it opens with an amazing, attention-grabbing first line 

"Anna Blanc was the most beautiful woman ever to barrel down 
Long Beach Strand with the severed head of a Chinese man."

This time around, the humour is downplayed slightly but readers will still see Anna's spunky personality as she and Detective Joe Singer try to figure out their relationship and solve the murder of a young woman found in a trunk in Los Angeles' Chinatown. 

Within the story, Kincheloe addresses the racial tensions and outright discrimination against the Chinese population and continues to show the restrictions set upon women of the time. Her descriptions were eye-opening, and I appreciated the research involved to bring this era and setting to life.

While I enjoyed this book, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first book. The romance element lacked tension and the mystery, while detailed and twisty, wasn't as intriguing as I had expected (especially their romp in the wilderness).  

Overall, this was a solid follow-up to one of my favourite debut mystery series. It is well researched with a unique setting and main character.  Anna's signature sass and compunction to get into trouble are in the forefront and I look forward to seeing what new scrapes she can get herself into.  

Note: I highly recommend starting this series with The Secret Life of Anna Blanc.

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