Monday, 17 July 2017

Walking With Miss Millie

Author: Tamara Bundy
Genre: Middle School Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 227
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books (imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)
First Published: July 4, 2017
First Line: "The day we pulled into Rainbow, Mama was pulling out all her tricks to distract us, trying to pretend we hadn't just left every one of our friends ten hours behind."

Book Description from GoodReadsA poignant middle grade debut about the friendship between a white girl and an elderly black woman in the 1960s South.

Alice is angry at having to move to Rainbow, Georgia—a too small, too hot, dried-up place she’s sure will never feel like home. Then she gets put in charge of walking her elderly neighbor’s dog. But Clarence won’t budge without Miss Millie, so Alice and Miss Millie walk him together. Strolling with Miss Millie quickly becomes the highlight of Alice’s day, as she learns about the town’s past and meets a mix of its catty and kind residents. As the two become confidantes, Alice is finally able to express her heartache over her father’s desertion; and when Miss Millie tells her family story, Alice begins to understand the shameful history of Segregation, and recognize the racism they need to fight against. Navigating the neighborhood with Miss Millie gives Alice new perspective, the wisdom to move on from her anger, and even enables her to laugh again.

Tamara Bundy’s beautifully written story reminds readers that there is nothing like friendship to lighten one’s load, and make anyplace a home.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Walking With Miss Millie is a Middle School novel about Alice, a ten-year-old girl who finds herself in a new town with her mom and brother as they uproot their lives and move south to help Alice's ailing grandmother in 1968 small town Georgia. Alice is angry and didn't want to make the move. She misses her absentee father and eagerly awaits the day that he'll finally show up and take them home. Alice finds herself initially forced to take daily walks with her elderly neighbour (and her curmudgeonly dog) but what she didn't expect was the touching and much needed bond that resulted.

At the heart of this book is the poignant relationship between Miss Millie, a 92-year-old African American woman and Alice. They are a unique pair and their bond highlights the importance of friendship, multi-generational influences on our kids and the notion that people are far more alike than they are different.  

Bundy gets into the mindset and vernacular of a ten-year-old girl as she raises several big issues -- abandonment by a parent, forgiveness, loss, friendship, bullying, the effects of Alzheimer's etc. I liked the inclusion of a Deaf secondary character (based on the author's own brother) and how Bundy shows how Deaf people were/are treated and misunderstood by the hearing world. While there are many issues raised, the focus is on racism. Readers will witness how some townspeople treat Millie and understand more about her as she shares stories from her earlier life. These are touching scenes that approach Civil Rights and racism at a Middle School level.

My only criticism is that there may have been too many issues within one wee book. The issues are handled well but the 227 pages weren't enough time to go into much depth in terms of issues or characters. There's a lot going on in this book but parents/teachers can look at it as a starting point for discussions on the various topics raised.

This is a book about the friendship between an unexpected pair who enter each other's lives at the right moment. Alice provides Millie with friendship and Millie is a calming force in Alice's turbulent life. She helps Alice navigate the adversity in her life, shows the importance of kindness and shares some wonderfully quotable tidbits of wisdom to her young neighbour.  

"But maybe the most important thing is for people to just be kind."

Walking With Miss Millie is a touching coming of age story about a friendship that defies age and race and would be a good read for children Grades 4 and up.

Favourite Quotes:
"Poor Grandma. On her bad days, she couldn't remember things. But on her good days, she couldn't forget not remembering." ~ Alice

"I learned it's okay to get mad. It's okay to get sad, but after all that gettin' mad and sad, ya gotta get smart. Ya gotta take a step back, away from all your hurtin', and figure out what ya can change and what ya can't." ~ Miss Millie

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 390
Source: Personal copy
Publisher: Atria
First Line: "Evelyn Hugo to auction off gowns."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom Taylor Jenkins Reid, “a genius when it comes to stories about life and love” (Redbook), comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950's to her decision to leave show business in the late '80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Written with Reid’s signature talent for “creating complex, likable characters” (Real Simple), this is a fascinating journey through the splendor of Old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it takes—to face the truth.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: This is an utterly engaging look at a Hollywood icon - her trials, tribulations, successes and multiple marriages - as she struggles to make her way in life, love and career within the confines of Hollywood and those she creates for herself.

Evelyn is a complex character. She's stunningly beautiful, head strong and confident in some aspects of her life. As a young woman, she doesn't always make the right choices but she's a compelling character that readers will gravitate towards. Readers will become engrossed in Evelyn's life as she struggles to find love, accept love and find her true self - unabashedly and totally. Personally, I loved the older Evelyn who had paid her dues, made her mistakes and came out of it all with a quiet confidence, strength and self-awareness.

Evelyn isn't a character that I'd normally enjoy ... and yet, I liked her. I really liked her. She's exceptionally flawed but she's aware of many of her flaws - she accepts some, regrets a few and is unashamed of many. She has used her body and played the Hollywood game to further her career in an industry that didn't value strong, independent women. She made horrible choices, betrayed loved ones and even ignored parts of her own identity to further her career. But underlying it all there was always a glimmer of a woman I could get behind as a main character and I wanted to see her succeed, despite herself. 

The story is told with two different time lines with Reid dropping juicy tidbits to keep her readers attention. The first time line follows Evelyn as a young starlet in Hollywood and the other, decades later, focuses on an elderly Evelyn as she tells her life story to Monique, a young, unknown journalist. There are some twists thrown in and the mystery of why Monique was chosen to write the memoir added mystery to the book. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a mesmerizing read that gives readers a bird's eye view into Hollywood and touches on some bigger issues, including sexism, sexuality, owning up to one's choices and even has its touching and romantic scenes too. 

Your emotions will get a work out with this book. You'll laugh, feel exasperated, cry, get all mushy with true love and even enraged! And through it all you'll find yourself cheering on this unique, sassy and flawed character who persevered, lied, loved and betrayed to achieve success at the box office and in her personal life as she struggled to know herself. This is some wonderful storytelling that would make a fantastic summer read if you want to delve into old Hollywood with a truly unique and flawed character that you can't help but root for.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Sparks of Light

Author: Janet B Taylor
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Teen
Series: #2 in the Into the Dim series
Type: e-book (PDF)
Source: NetGalley
PublisherHoughton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers
First Published: August 1, 2017
First Line: "Decapitation."

Book Description from GoodReadsFor the first time in her life, Hope Walton has friends . . . and a (maybe) boyfriend. She’s a Viator, a member of a long line of time-traveling ancestors. When the Viators learn of a plan to steal a dangerous device from the inventor Nikola Tesla, only a race into the past can save the natural timeline from utter destruction. Navigating the glitterati of The Gilded Age in 1895 New York City, Hope and her crew will discover that high society can be as deadly as it is beautiful.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: I have read Into the Dim twice (so far) and loved it both times. In this second book of the series, Taylor brings her readers back to the amazing world she created which includes time travel, historical settings and a diverse cast of characters.  

Sparks of Light picks up two months after Into the Dim and I liked that things weren't all rosy for Hope and her friends after returning to present-day Scotland. They had lived through hell and the repercussions were believable and, for some, long lasting. 

With the threat of Celia still lurking, the group is sent to late 18th century New York City to destroy a device invented by none other than Nikola Tesla. While I was slightly less captivated by this setting (compared to 12th century England in Into the Dim), this book is a solid follow-up that gives readers quite a ride. Taylor continues to weave historical elements and people into her plot seamlessly and while the book starts off slow she ramps up the pace with some edge-of-your-seat scenes. The plot has a much darker feel, is sprinkled with twists and focuses on big issues that influenced late 19th century New York - specifically racism, homophobia and the often horrific and gruesome treatment of people with mental health issues. 

I'm always on the lookout for strong, interesting, well-rounded female characters and Taylor provides a group of women with a wide range of appeal - from the sassy, to the learned, to the loving, to the take charge kind of gal, Taylor shows that female strength comes in many shapes, sizes and personalities. The secondary characters continue to shine and add much to the plot and overall feel. I love Phee, Collum, Doug, Moira and Mac but, truthfully, Bran and Hope seemed to lose some of their luster in this book. Readers get more information about their shared past but the jumping back and forth between present and past interrupted the flow of the main plot and didn't add much insight.

There continues to be an element of romance but I liked that it doesn't overpower the plot. Is it odd that I'm not a fan of the Hope/Bran pairing? Perhaps. But, for a couple in love they haven't spent a lot of time together and it seemed that more page time was spent with Hope's friends telling her how much Bran loved her instead of showing the readers their bond. Truth be told, I still want to see Hope with another Viator.

Readers are left with a slightly abrupt ending as well as a few unanswered questions that will make them eager to read the third book in the series. I strongly recommend reading these books in order. Overall, a great follow-up to a series that I regularly recommend to my library patrons, friends and family.

Note: This book has one of the most intriguing and funny beginnings that I can remember reading. You got me, Janet B Taylor.  You totally got me!

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers for providing me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Two Nights

Author: Kathy Reichs
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 320
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada
First Published: July 11, 2017
First Line: "My right-hand neighbor thinks I'm crazy, so she brings me cheese."

Book Description from GoodReads#1 New York Times bestselling author Kathy Reichs steps beyond her classic Temperance Brennan series in a new standalone thriller featuring a smart, tough, talented heroine whose thirst for justice stems from her own dark past. 
Meet Sunday Night, a woman with physical and psychological scars, and a killer instinct. 

Sunnie has spent years running from her past, burying secrets and building a life in which she needs no one and feels nothing.
But a girl has gone missing, lost in the chaos of a bomb explosion, and the family needs Sunnie s help.
Is the girl dead?Did someone take her?If she is out there, why doesn't she want to be found?
It s time for Sunnie to face her own demons because they just might lead her to the truth about what really happened all those years ago. 

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Kathy Reichs is known for her popular Temperance Brennan series but in this new standalone Reichs focuses on a new protagonist -- an ex-military, ex-cop named Sunday Night. Sunnie is a strong and defiant woman with a tortured soul, numerous physical and emotional scars and is shadowed by a past that continues to haunt her. She's a tough gal with a lot of baggage that she attempts to keep in check with the support of her twin brother and her dry sense of humour. Sunnie's one-liners had me cracking up and was easily my favourite part of the book.

Two Nights fell somewhere between a 2.5 and a 3-star rating for me, which was disheartening. The book starts off about a missing teen but that plot is quickly sidelined by a story that focuses on a terrorist plot. I found the terrorist tangent much less compelling and never felt fully invested in it. A secondary story line is scattered throughout the book and focuses on the point of view of an unidentified woman. All the reader knows is that she's living a nightmare at the hands of a sadist. 

The main plot is told through Sunnie's perspective but it felt like Reichs kept readers at arm's length when it came to getting inside Sunnie's head. I had a hard time sympathizing with her because, as a reader, I wasn't privy to her past until very late in the book. As the story continued, my attention began to falter due to very dialogue-based writing, over-descriptions of settings and clues that were scattered too far apart. 

This was my first book by Reichs and I quite enjoyed her humour and the final twist. But, while I give kudos to the author for stepping out of her comfort zone with this new protagonist, this book fell a little flat for me. Sunnie continues to be an intriguing character and I assume Reichs has a lot planned for her in future books which will hopefully show more depth to Sunnie's character now that readers know where she's coming from.

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

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Mrs Saint and the Defectives

Author: Julie Lawson Timmer
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: Publicist via NetGalley
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
First Published: August 1, 2017
First Line: "It was only when Markie saw her husband's hands clasped around another woman's breasts that she finally acknowledged their problems weren't ones she could hide any longer."

Book Description from GoodReadsMarkie, a fortysomething divorcée who has suffered a humiliating and very public fall from marital, financial, and professional grace, moves, along with her teenage son, Jesse, to a new town, hoping to lick her wounds in private. But Markie and Jesse are unable to escape the attention of their new neighbor Mrs. Saint, an irascible, elderly New European woman who takes it upon herself, along with her ragtag group of “defectives,” to identify and fix the flaws in those around her, whether they want her to or not.

What Markie doesn’t realize is that Mrs. Saint has big plans for the divorcée’s broken spirit. Soon, the quirky yet endearing woman recruits Markie to join her eccentric community, a world where both hidden truths and hope unite them. But when Mrs. Saint’s own secrets threaten to unravel their fragile web of healing, it’s up to Markie to mend these wounds and usher in a new era for the “defectives”—one full of second chances and happiness.

Rating: 5 stars

My Review: Readers will be drawn to this book initially by its eye-catching cover but what will keep them reading is Lawson Timmer's heart-felt vision of family, second chances and redemption.

After a failed marriage and the public humiliation that accompanied it, Markie moves herself and her teenage son to a new town to start over. Her goal? To blend into the background, keep her head down and make some money.  

But she didn't anticipate Mrs. Saint.

Mrs. Saint is a force to be reckoned with. She's an elderly whirling dervish of good intentions but how she puts those intentions into practice aren't for the faint of heart. Resistance is futile. Sure, she can be abrasive, she's a know-it-all and pushy but she's the grand dame of the neighbourhood who has her hand in everyone's lives for various reasons. She is drawn to help (whether they want it or not) the lost, the lonely and those who need someone in their corner.

I went into this book knowing I'd get a story that centered around family because that's what Lawson Timmer writes best. Not necessarily the traditional family unit because family isn't always born. Sometimes family emerges from the people we choose as family - friends, neighbours etc. The cast is made up of a melange of lost souls that Mrs. Saint has pulled into her small universe for different reasons. They are a diverse bunch and their interactions are sometimes quirky and humorous as well as poignant and touching.

Markie was slow to warm to Mrs. Saint (and outright hated her at times) and I was slow to warm to Markie. Some of her reactions felt over-the-top but even when I didn't agree with her behaviour there was always an inkling of her that I liked. The more she came to understand herself the more I could get behind her as a protagonist.

This book hits many of the 'great read' check marks. It's got an interesting premise, two important themes (family and the strength one gains from helping others) and is filled with heart, a bit of humour and even an intriguing mystery. What more could you ask for?

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Lake Union Publishing for providing me with an e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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