Tuesday, 29 August 2017

My Sister's Keeper

Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 423 
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: Washington Square Press
First Published: April 6, 2004
First Line: "In my first memory, I am three years old and I am trying to kill my sister."

Book Description from GoodReadsAnna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate -- a life and a role that she has never challenged... until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister—and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.

A provocative novel that raises some important ethical issues, My Sister's Keeper is the story of one family's struggle for survival at all human costs and a stunning parable for all time.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: My Sister's Keeper was one of those books that I had always meant to read but just never got around to (I never even saw the movie). But as part of my 2017 Read What I Own challenge I finally picked up the copy of this book that has been sitting on my bookshelves for years.

This story has all the aspects one expects from a Picoult novel. Emotionally charged issue, family drama and a court case. But where the book falters is with emotion. As a mother myself, you'd think I'd be a mushy mess picturing myself in the shoes of Sara but I didn't connect with her at all and found her to be quite wooden.

I liked Campbell, the ornery lawyer, whose one-liners about his service dog brought some levity to the story but I figured out the 'mystery' surrounding why he needed the dog immediately. And while I didn't predict the twist at the end, it felt added on for one last hit of emotion. After all that drama you end the book like THAT?? It felt contrived and a bit of a cop out.

Overall, I'm glad I finally read this book. Picoult, as usual, raises some interesting ethical issues which this time out include a child's right to her own body and the idea of creating 'designer babies'. This would be a good book for Picoult fans or anyone who likes a book centred around some emotionally charged issues.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

A Stranger in the House

Author: Shari Lapena
Genre: Suspense, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 423
Source: Publisher
First Published: August 15, 2017
First Line: "She doesn't belong here."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the New York Times bestselling author of The Couple Next Door, a new thriller featuring a suspicious accident, a wife who can't account for herself and unsettling questions that threaten to tear a couple apart.

You come home after a long day at work, excited to have dinner with your beautiful wife.
But when you walk through the door, you quickly realize that she's not there.
In the kitchen, there is a pot on the stove, and vegetables on the counter, abandoned.
Her cellphone and her purse are still in the house, in the bedroom, exactly where she keeps them.
It looks like she's left in a blind panic.
You fear the worst, so you call her friends to see if they know where she is.
Then you call the police.
The police tell you that your wife's been in an accident. They found her in the worst part of town, after she lost control of the car while speeding through the streets. But why would she go to that neighbourhood? And why was she driving so fast? Was she running toward something? Or away from something?
The police think your wife was up to no good.
You refuse to believe it, at first.
Then, as the stories and facts don't line up, and your wife can't remember what happened that evening, you start to wonder. You've been married for two years and you thought you knew her better than anyone else in the world . . . but maybe you don't. 
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to DoubleDay Canada for providing me with a paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Last year I found Shari Lapena's debut novel, The Couple Next Door, gripping, intense and filled with twists that messed with my head. Oh ya, it was that good and easily became one of my favourite summer reads of 2016.

Lapena is back with her sophomore novel and once again there are twists and suspicions run rampant but, unfortunately, I can't say that it lived up to my expectations. My expectations were, admittedly, rather high based on how much I loved her first book but this time around the intensity was lacking and a few of the twists were predictable.

The book started off very strong with an interesting premise but I hesitated to up my rating to four stars for a few reasons. First, I wasn't a fan of the characters. While you get their points of view I still didn't feel like I knew them and none were very likable. I need to be able to get behind a character and I just didn't have a connection to any of them. I also thought the writing style/dialogue felt a little awkward this time around and I wasn't a fan of the ending.

While this wasn't quite as explosive of a read as I had been expecting, it did keep me guessing and was a quick read which would make it a good summer pick. Fans of slow simmering suspense filled with mystery, fear, obsession and some intrigue, who enjoy a long list of suspects to keep them guessing should enjoy this read.  

Monday, 7 August 2017

Close to Home

Author: Robert Dugoni
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Series: #5 in the Tracy Crosswhite series
Publisher: Thomas and Mercer
First Published: September 5, 2017
First Line: "D'Andre Miller pushed open the glass doors of the Rainier Beach Community Center and stepped out into the frigid night."

Book Description from GoodReadsWhile investigating the hit-and-run death of a young boy, Seattle homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite makes a startling discovery: the suspect is an active-duty serviceman at a local naval base. After a key piece of case evidence goes missing, he is cleared of charges in a military court. But Tracy knows she can’t turn her back on this kind of injustice.

When she uncovers the driver’s ties to a rash of recent heroin overdoses in the city, she realizes that this isn’t just a case of the military protecting its own. It runs much deeper than that, and the accused wasn’t acting alone. For Tracy, it’s all hitting very close to home.

As Tracy moves closer to uncovering the truth behind this insidious conspiracy, she’s putting herself in harm’s way. And the only people she can rely on to make it out alive might be those she can no longer trust.

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

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: The Tracy Crosswhite series is one of my go-to series when I want edge-of-your-seat scenes and a solid main character who has just enough baggage, humour, stubbornness, courage and back-up to get the job done.

The series features Tracy Crosswhite, a homicide detective in the Violent Crimes division of the Seattle police force. Close to Home, the fifth installment of the series, is a multi-layered story that focuses on the hit-and-run of a child and the heroin epidemic. 

Dugoni gives readers a lot to think about and balances the emotional affects of losing a loved one to drugs with a no-holds-barred look at street drugs. He brings up several interesting, and sometimes controversial, topics including the benefits of free clinics as safe injection sites for addicts to decrease the risk of overdosing and how the legalization of marijuana has caused drastic change in the drugs that are readily available on the street. These issues add much to the plot and their ramifications are far more complicated than I had ever imagined. 

This gritty plot line gets personal as readers witness how the overdosing of his niece has greatly affected Del Castigliano, one of Tracy's fellow homicide detectives. Del takes the reigns for much of the book and his grief over his niece was touching and gave his character depth. I also enjoyed the introduction of Celia McDaniel - she's an intelligent, strong woman who adds much to Del's story line. While Tracy shares the spotlight this time out, her personal life, though touching, didn't grab me quite as much and I fear how this plot line will influence future books.

I wouldn't say that this book grabbed me as much as others in the series but it was still a solid read. I'm not a big fan of military story lines and while the view into the Navy and JAG added something different, the military legal plot line fell a little flat for me. I also had issues with the fact that Del would be allowed to work on his niece's case - I can't see that ever happening, staffing issues or not, buuuut it's fiction and Del's story line was my favourite of the bunch.

This is a twisty, multi-layered suspense read that brings the issue of addiction and drugs to the forefront while giving readers a look into the Navy's hierarchy and its JAG system. If you're looking for a great series with strong characters and some edge-of-your-seat, twisty action then I highly recommend this series.

Note: While these books can be read as stand-alones I'd recommend reading them in order or at least reading My Sister's Grave first to understand where Tracy's emotional scars come from.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

What To Say Next

Author: Julie Buxbaum
Genre: Teen, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 292
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Delacorte Press
First Published: July 11, 2017
First Line: "An unprecedented event: Kit Lowell just sat down next to me in the cafeteria."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the New York Times bestselling author of Tell Me Three Things comes a charming and poignant story about two struggling teenagers who find an unexpected connection just when they need it most. For fans of Sophie Kinsella, Jennifer Niven, and Rainbow Rowell.

Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.

KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.

DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her. 

When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Delacorte Press for providing me with a hardcover copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: This book is about the unexpected relationship between two teens - a popular girl and a boy with Asperger's. 

Kit is struggling over the death of her father and while her friends have been supportive, they are ready for her to move on. But Kit isn't ready. Frustrated, she eats lunch with David, a boy known for his quirky behaviour, and finds his direct honesty refreshing and much needed.  

David is a unique character and, like Kit, I enjoyed getting a look at the world through his eyes. Kit and David are polar opposites on the social spectrum; he's a loner and Kit is popular but they seem to fill in the spaces that the other person lacks. Secondary characters are used well in the story and I appreciated that they
 aren't just fluffy sidekicks. Instead, they add a lot to helping the reader to better understand Kit and David.

This book has a lighter feel but still tackles some big issues and I liked seeing the underlying theme of diversity. Whether it's cultural diversity (Kit is half East Indian/half white) or social diversity in the school cafeteria, I appreciated how that theme was woven into the general story.

Overall, this was a good read but it wasn't until the twist at the end that this book garnered an extra star from me. I love it when authors can surprise me and Buxbaum's revelation made me view some relationships/events in a different light. This Teen read has its unique characters as well as cute, awkward, sad and uplifting moments making it a great pick for a summer read. 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Movie Review: Gifted (2017)

Actors: Chris Evans,  McKenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Family Drama
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Run Time: 100 minutes

My Review: I don't think I've ever reviewed a movie on my blog but there's a first time for everything.

And I reaaaally loved this movie.

Gifted is a touching story about family (in all its many, complicated forms), loss, forgiveness and helping children reach their potential in the various aspects of their lives. It's the story about a young girl named Mary whose uncle is dedicated to raising her to be a normal child.  But Mary isn't normal.  She's a math prodigy whose family has more than their fair share of baggage.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this movie but picked it up at the library because, let's be honest, Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer are in a movie together. Did I mention Chris Evans?  But I digress ... I knew very little about this movie before popping it in my DVD player but was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I became engaged in the lives of Frank and Mary. 

This film has got a lot of heart, a touch of humour and, like I mentioned, a truly stellar cast. We have Chris 'Captain America' Evans as Frank Adler, the uncle who is trying to do his best to raise his young and brilliant niece so that she leads a normal life. I enjoyed seeing a new, tender side to Evans and I liked that he got to exercise his acting chops more than his biceps in this movie. 

Then you have Oscar winner Octavia Spencer who is always captivating and could play a potted palm that would leave me slack jawed in awe of her. The only person in this film who can hold a candle to Ms Spencer may be young McKenna Grace who plays Mary Adler, the 7-year-old child at the heart of the movie. Wow, can this girl act. Grace is as talented as her eye lashes are long. Her portrayal of the precocious, brilliant young girl is wonderfully natural, touching and believable. She vacillates between childish innocence, a spunky attitude (and a wee case of potty mouth) and shows viewers Mary's extraordinary brilliance which is well beyond her years. The deep connection between Evans and Grace comes through to the audience and I recommend that viewers keep some Kleenex handy.  

The cast of characters also had a complexity to them that I wasn't expecting. This is a complicated family situation filled with emotion, power struggles and grief. You'll feel for Frank as he struggles to figure out what is best for Mary in the wake of family upheaval that threatens to damage the bond between them. 

Overall, this is a wonderful little movie that is endearing, poignant and shows the complexities of family. You will quickly become wrapped up in the lives of Frank, Mary and even Fred, their one-eyed cat. I highly recommend this movie.

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