Monday, 30 October 2017

Parting Shot

Author: Linwood Barclay
Genre: Suspense, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 447
Series: Companion book to the Promise Falls series (** Recommended that readers read it after the third book, Twenty-Three)
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
First Published: October 31, 2017
First Line: "I ran into someone on the street in Promise Falls the other day, a woman who knew me back when I was a cop here, before I left for Griffon, near Buffalo, and became a private investigator."

Book Description from GoodReadsA gripping thriller packed with scandal in a small town, from the master of the twist you never saw coming - international bestseller, Linwood Barclay.

When a young girl from Promise Falls is killed by a drunk driver, the community wants answers.

It doesn't matter that the accused is a kid himself: all they see is that he took a life and got an easy sentence. As pack mentality kicks in and social media outrage builds, vicious threats are made against the boy and his family.

When Cal Weaver is called in to investigate, he finds himself caught up in a cold-blooded revenge plot. Someone in the town is threatening to put right some wrongs...

And in Cal's experience, it's only ever a matter of time before threats turn into action.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: Confession: I'm a huge fan of Linwood Barclay's Promise Falls series.  Huge. Ha-uge. 

So far, I've only read the first two books in the series (I own the third - I just need more hours in the day to read) but I easily, and quite happily, slipped back into the small, terror/secret-laden town as I read this companion book which slips into the series after the third book -- a 3.5, if you will.

Fans of the earlier books will enjoy seeing two prominent characters return but Parting Shot could easily be read as a standalone. Barclay does a good job giving his readers little plot reminders if they've read the previous books, but new-to-this-series readers won't be missing out if they're jumping in and I'm predicting these newbies will be enticed to read the first three books. Barclay's plot reminders from the previous books are few and usually not so detailed that they give away too much of the previous plots. 

As usual, Barclay provides twists and turns and just when I'm feeling like a Suspense hotshot and think I can predict what's going to happen, he pulls the proverbial rug out from under me with a big ol' twist. Well played, Mr. Barclay! Well played!

I highly recommend picking up the Promise Falls series. It's fast-paced and twisty, with intricate plot lines that aren't fussy yet intersect smoothly with each other.  The story is told via the POVs of several interesting characters and a touch of humour brings it all together for an entertaining and unputdownable book series. 

Put this book and series on your 'gotta read now' list.  You won't regret it. 

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

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Sleeping in the Ground

Author: Peter Robinson
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 372

Series: #24 in the Inspector Banks series
Source: Publisher
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart
First Published: Oct 24, 2017
First Line: "If the incident had been a scene in a film, it would have looked beautiful."

Book Description from GoodReadsAt the doors of a charming country church, an unspeakable act destroys a wedding party. A huge manhunt ensues. The culprit is captured. The story is over.

Except it isn't. For Alan Banks, still struggling with a tragic loss of his own, there's something wrong about this case — something unresolved. Reteaming with profiler Jenny Fuller, the relentless detective deeper into the crime... deep enough to unearth long-buried secrets that reshape everything Banks thought he knew about the events outside that chapel. 

And when at last the shocking truth becomes clear, it's almost too late.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: This is my first book by Peter Robinson so, admittedly, I'm a little late coming to the Inspector Banks party since this is the twenty-fourth book in the popular series.  This book starts out with an impressive bang - actually, many bangs as several guests are gunned down at a wedding. Inspector Banks, along with some of his law enforcement cronies, are brought in to figure out the identity of the shooter.

The mystery itself was good, with twists and culprits sprinkled liberally throughout, but the momentum of the mystery was hampered by the constant inclusion of numerous side stories. I realize that these characters have pasts and side stories help to flesh them out to readers but I think it was to the detriment of the mystery. Granted, I didn't have the background of these characters since I haven't read the previous books but with so much time devoted to relationships and mouth-watering descriptions of the food they ate, I felt like the mystery was being interrupted too often and I was unable to invest myself into it as much as I wanted to. As the pages were dwindling, the tension suddenly ramped up to an intense, nail-biting ending but this conclusion felt too swift leaving me feeling a little put out at its abruptness. 

Overall, this slow burn suspense read will probably be viewed more favourably with fans of the series. The mystery aspect was wonderfully twisty but with less interruption from side stories the tension would have been higher and I would have given it a higher rating.

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

Thursday, 26 October 2017

The Secrets She Keeps

Author: Michael Robotham
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Scribner
First Published: July 11, 2017
First Line: "I am not the most important person in this story."

Book Description from GoodReadsEveryone has an idea of what their perfect life is. For Agatha, it's Meghan Shaughnessy's.

These two women from vastly different backgrounds have one thing in common - a dangerous secret that could destroy everything they hold dear.

Both will risk everything to hide the truth, but their worlds are about to collide in a shocking act that cannot be undone.

The Secrets She Keeps is a compelling psychological thriller that delves deeply into the psyche of the human mind, by internationally bestselling author Michael Robotham.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: The blurb for this book doesn't give much away but it enticed me all the same. It starts off strong with the reader getting a bird's eye view into the lives of two very different women who are slowly revealed to the reader. Robotham paints interesting characters in Agatha and Meghan, each of whom have varying degrees of good, bad, sympathetic and even sinister. As the story progresses, things that seemed black and white being to take on more of a grayish tone as readers become privy to the rationale behind their decisions. Yup, Robotham had me hooked. 

And then I kind of wasn't. 

Unfortunately, even though the characters and plot started off with a suspenseful bang, it started to run out of steam about half way through with the characters and plot becoming less and less probable. There is a big reveal early on which surprised me but after that, the story continued as predicted with a quiet, expected ending instead of a build-up to something shocking. 

This was an enjoyable read but had its bouts of predictability and will probably be a book that won't stay with me long. That said, I did like enough of his writing style and plot that I would definitely pick up another book by Robotham (whose name I cannot seem to see as anything other than Robot-Ham).

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Ghostwriter

Author: Alessandra Torre
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: DCA
First Published: October 2, 2017
First Line: "A gentle pull on my hand."

Book Description from GoodReadsFour years ago, I lied. I stood in front of the police, my friends and family, and made up a story, my best one yet. And all of them believed me. 

I wasn't surprised. Telling stories is what made me famous. Fifteen bestsellers. Millions of fans. Fame and fortune.

Now, I have one last story to write. It'll be my best one yet, with a jaw-dropping twist that will leave them stunned and gasping for breath.

They say that sticks and stones will break your bones, but this story? It will be the one that kills me.

This book is not a romance. It is contemporary fiction, but very suspenseful in nature. It is about a famous romance author and a dark secret she keeps. 

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: The Ghostwriter has an enticing blurb. It's chilling and taunting so I expected a sinister, suspense read set within a contemporary story. And it kind of was, but it kind of wasn't.

Most of the focus was on the relationship between two writers and their struggle to work together. Their banter and issues were nothing out of the ordinary but sprinkled throughout were Helena's chilling utterances like "I killed my husband and now I want to come clean". Those teasers were great and kept me reading (and I was impressed with one early twist) but it isn't until more than three-quarters of the way through the book that the tension finally gets going. Until then there's a lot of them writing, re-writing, arguing and a cow. Yes, a cow.

The story centres around Helena who is a complicated character. And man, was she ever a hard gal to like. She's prickly, rude and loves things done her way but, for a woman in her early 30's, her dialogue felt like she was much older -- more like an old curmudgeon. But she's also a complicated character who goes through a metamorphosis and if readers are patient, Helena will share snapshots of her earlier life to give reasons why she is the way she is.

I liked this book - it had a good premise and creepy one-liners but it needed a better building of suspense throughout, a stronger contemporary story and a better blend of the two genres. It was more focused on the writers' relationship with most of the suspense ramping up right at the end yet leaving readers with an ending that some readers will be able to predict. 

This story is about a woman who has lost everything and wants to finally confront her demons and come clean. While it's focus was different than I had expected, it had its moments - both suspenseful and touching.

Disclaimer: This Advanced Reading Copy was generously provided by the publisher, DCA, in exchange for my honest review. 

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Crows of Beara

Author: Julie Christine Johnson
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 316
Source: Author
Publisher: Ashland Creek Press
First Published: September 1, 2017
First Line: "March 2012 - It is that nervous time between seasons, when chill winds skirr across faces upturned to the sun."

Book Description from GoodReadsAlong the windswept coast of Ireland, a woman discovers the landscape of her own heart

When Annie Crowe travels from Seattle to a small Irish village to promote a new copper mine, her public relations career is hanging in the balance. Struggling to overcome her troubled past and a failing marriage, Annie is eager for a chance to rebuild her life.

Yet when she arrives on the remote Beara Peninsula, Annie learns that the mine would encroach on the nesting ground of an endangered bird, the Red-billed Chough, and many in the community are fiercely protective of this wild place. Among them is Daniel Savage, a local artist battling demons of his own, who has been recruited to help block the mine.

Despite their differences, Annie and Daniel find themselves drawn toward each other, and, inexplicably, they begin to hear the same voice--a strange, distant whisper of Gaelic, like sorrow blowing in the wind.

Guided by ancient mythology and challenged by modern problems, Annie must confront the half-truths she has been sent to spread and the lies she has been telling herself. Most of all, she must open her heart to the healing power of this rugged land and its people.

Beautifully crafted with environmental themes, a lyrical Irish setting, and a touch of magical realism, The Crows of Beara is a breathtaking novel of how the nature of place encompasses everything that we are.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: The Crows of Beara is a romantic tale of two lost souls set in the beauty of Ireland. With Johnson's vivid descriptions of the Emerald Isle, readers can easily picture the cliffs, the small town feel and imagine the brogue of the residents as they sit down for a pint of Guiness in the local pub.

This is very much a character driven novel with the story focusing around Annie and Daniel - two damaged and flawed characters who have lived through much and lost even more. They were a likable pair but my favourite leading lady was Ireland, with her beauty, culture, folklore and people. Similar to Johnson's first book, In Another Life, there is a mystical element and I felt it blended well with the setting and vibrant Irish culture.

The Crows of Beara is a slower moving, quiet tale. It didn't have shocking twists in its plot and had less conflict than I was expecting but it kept my interest and I easily rooted for Annie and Daniel. I also applaud the author for making an important social message part of her story. 

Overall, this is a well-written story about battling your demons in order to find your true self. It will leave you wistfully hoping that you'll be able to experience Ireland and all her beauty soon yourself.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to author Julie Christine Johnson for providing me with a complimentary copy of her second book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Yum & Yummer: Ridiculously Tasty Recipes That'll Blow Your Mind, But Not Your Diet!

Author: Greta Podleski
Genre: Cookbook, Non-Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Source: via one of my jobs
Publisher: Granet Publishing Inc.
First Published: Oct 5, 2017
First Line: "This book is a labor of love."

Book Description from Want healthy recipes that actually taste great? DONE! With plenty of gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options, as well as good ol’ fashion comfort foods with a healthy twist and “splurge-worthy” treats, YUM & YUMMER is packed with “ridiculously tasty recipes that’ll blow your mind, but not your diet!” + how-to videos for EVERY recipe.

Watch the recipes come to life! From LOONEY SPOONS recipe creator and four-time #1 bestselling cookbook author, Greta Podleski, YUM & YUMMER is the first cookbook EVER to include a stunning, full-page food photo PLUS a fun, fast-paced, 60-second how-to video for every single recipe!

Take your meals from ho-hum to OH YUM!

Using common, easy-to-find ingredients available at your local grocery store, YUM & YUMMER makes healthy eating delicious and fun for everyone!

My Rating: 5 stars

My ReviewIf you’re a home cook, know a home cook or have aspired to be a home cook, this is the book for you. Greta Podleski, co-author of the super popular Looney Spoons cookbooks, has ventured out on her own (as her partner-in-culinary-crime, sister Janet, follows new dreams) and has created this beautiful and impressive cookbook. Not only does each recipe have a colour picture but this book has the distinction of being the first cookbook ever to have a 1-minute video for every recipe. Every single one. Using the QR code provided at the bottom of each recipe, home cooks (even those technologically challenged) can follow Greta’s easy instructions and watch these how-to videos on their smartphone, tablet or online at

Greta believes cooking should be enjoyable, easy and delicious and if it’s a little healthier too? Well, that’s just a bonus. While the recipes in this book lean towards healthier eating, great taste is always front and centre. Greta isn’t out there to preach for people to diet or follow her idea of what healthy living means. Instead, she has created a cookbook that brings people into their kitchens to make tasty, easy-to-follow recipes using easy-to-find ingredients from their local food store.

Over the weekend I tried two recipes - Roasted Tomato Pesto and Beef Bowlito. Both recipes were easy to make, delicious and impressive. 

Beef Bowlrito
After making the pesto (with the last of my garden's bounty) my house smelled like heaven! I have frozen (aka hoarded) most of the pesto so I can pull out some garden-fresh goodness when the snow banks are high.

Roasted Tomato Pesto
Yum and Yummer has something for everyone. Greta has listened to her eager readers and has included many Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free and Vegan options which are easy to find with icons at the top of those pages. She has also included sugar content and complete nutritional analysis for each recipe so people who follow Weight Watchers can calculate their points. 

As you look through this 300-page book Greta’s passion for food is obvious. At the beginning of the book she shares a bit about herself - how she fell in love with food, what it means to her and how she gained a love and appreciation for food made from her own hands, in her own kitchen. Her recipes are sprinkled with a healthy dose of her signature, quirky humour and her down-to-earth writing and clear descriptions make the transition easy for timid new home cooks while providing new culinary inspiration for those of us who have more experience in the kitchen.

This cookbook is a must-have for home cooks. The only issue you’ll have is deciding which recipes to try first.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from my employer in order to do an honest review for the company. All opinions and yummy noises are my own.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Seven Days of Us

Author: Francesca Hornak
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 355
Source: won from GoodReads giveaway
Publisher: Berkley Books
First Published: October 17, 2017
First Line: "Olivia knows what they are doing is stupid."

Book Description from GoodReadsA warm, wry, sharply observed debut novel about what happens when a family is forced to spend a week together in quarantine over the holidays... 

It's Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew's elder daughter--who is usually off saving the world--will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she's been told she must stay in quarantine for a week...and so too should her family.

For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity--and even decent Wi-Fi--and forced into each other's orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while Olivia deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.

As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.

In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who's about to arrive...

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My ReviewSeven Days of Us is a family drama that focuses on the dysfunctional Birch family who are thrown together under quarantine for a week over the Christmas holidays. Nothing says holiday fun like being stuck with your family who have festering secrets and old resentments plus the threat of a deadly plague and a new family member!  Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!! Pass the cranberries!

This was a good read but it wasn't a great read for a few reasons. While this is a family drama, it was more melodramatic than dramatic. It was Family Dysfunction: Light. There were pretty big coincidences readers are asked to accept and while several secrets were revealed, the family's reactions weren't quite as shocking as I had expected. I wanted emotional family turmoil balanced with humour and I only got a wee bit of each. 

And yet, I enjoyed this book. It's an easy read and addresses some big topics (albeit superficially) and I found myself wanting to know how things would end for this chaotic family. The characters themselves were somewhat relatable but didn't have enough depth to the point of being cliched - the repressed mom who does everything, the spoiled younger sister, the over-achieving, hard-hearted older sister ... No one, except maybe Jesse, was overly likable.

Overall, this was a good debut novel. With some more tension and depth to her characters I can see Hornak's next literary offering being a better fit for me.

Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book through a giveaway on GoodReads.

Saturday, 14 October 2017


Author: Eliza Robertson
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 229
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (PHRC)
First Published: September 5, 2017
First Line: "On the first morning, Kenneth slept in: Joan buttered toast soldiers for Luke in the kitchen; Patrick and I slurped cornflakes at the table."

Book Description from GoodReadsA bold debut novel for those who loved Emma Cline's The Girls and Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers--a story of love, lust, and the spaces in between, from a "captivating" (NYTBR) new voice in fiction.

It is 1950, and nine-year-old Willa's sheltered childhood is about to come to an end when her two new stepbrothers arrive at her family's summer home in British Columbia. As Willa's older sister pairs off with the older of these boys, Willa finds herself alone in the off-kilter company of the younger, Patrick. When, one afternoon, Patrick lures Willa into a dilapidated rowboat, Willa embarks upon an increasingly damaging relationship with Patrick, one that will forever reconfigure her understanding of herself and her place in a menacing, male-dominated world.

Demi-Gods traces the tumultuous years of Willa's coming-of-age, as she is drawn further into Patrick's wicked games. Though they see each other only a handful of times, each of their encounters is increasingly charged with sexuality and degradation. When Willa finally realizes the danger of her relationship with Patrick, she desperately tries to reverse their dynamic, with devastating results.

Daring, singular, and provocative, Demi-Gods explores a girl's attempt to make a life of her own choosing in a world where woman's independence is suspect, a world that threatens to claim a woman's body as a mere object for men's pleasure. A sensitive, playful, and entirely original evocation of the dualities within ourselves and our history, Eliza Robertson's debut novel announces the arrival of one of the most exciting new voices in contemporary literature.

My Rating: 2 stars

My Review: Oookay. This is going to go down as one of the most bizarre and uncomfortable books I've ever read. I struggled a lot with Demi-Gods and never felt invested in the slow-moving plot or any of the characters' lives. I did not care one whit for these people. Not a one. 

The focus of the book seemed to be the strange and sexually charged scenes which felt like they were added for shock value to give the book that edgy feel that people will talk about. All that did was left me with an uncomfortable, icky feel and it didn't feel like these scenes even advanced the narrative.

I was also frustrated by the book's lack of focus. Was it Willa? Was it Patrick in relation to Willa? Why don't we get an explanation about why Patrick is the way he is? Why do we miss so much of Willa's life? In the end I was left with so many questions. It felt like readers were only given snapshots into the characters' lives but without any sort of character development or explanation as to how they got to be so messed up. My frustration had me repeatedly putting the book down and taking a breather from it. Not a good sign.

While there were moments of beautiful, descriptive writing about the era and landscape of Western Canada, overall, I was disappointed with this book. It was an odd read, that I continually struggled to get into (never actually attaining that feat). The subject matter was extremely uncomfortable and with its slower pace, anticlimactic ending and characters and events that I couldn't relate to, this just wasn't a book for me.

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

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Young Jane Young

Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Viking
First Published: August 29, 2017
First Line: "My dear friend Roz Horowitz met her new husband online dating, and Roz is three years older and fifty pounds heavier than I am, and people have said that she is generally not as well preserved, and so I thought I would try it even though I avoid going online too much."

Book Description from GoodReadsYoung Jane Young's heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.

How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For in our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you’ve done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it’s only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: If you don't love books that pull you head first into them, with interesting characters, humour and the author's ability to turn what you thought on its head and make you see things in a different light then this isn't a book for you.

If you enjoy all those things then I have a feeling you'll love this book as much as I did. Going into this book I was expecting a funny, Women's Fiction kind of read. Enjoyable but light. What I got was a different experience.  

Young Jane Young has its funny, chuckle to yourself, bits but also addresses big issues like shame, forgiveness, strength and about not running from your past but facing issues head-on so they must get out of YOUR way. 

"How did you ever survive that scandal?"

She said, "I refused to be shamed."

"How did you do that?" you asked. 

"When they came at me, I kept coming," she said.” 

But what truly shone for me was the idea that the assumptions we make greatly influence our understanding of what we've experienced and our reactions to those events. I admit to catching myself assuming things about characters and the plot and we all know what they say about assuming. I loooved that aspect of the book and it gave me a lot to think about.

The story is told by four women - Aviva, who is at the heart of the scandal, her mother Rachel, Ruby, Aviva's daughter and Embeth, the senator's wife. These four women have made mistakes, have complicated relationships with each other but together they tell the many facets of the story. These women have moxie. You can't deny it. They're fighters and I loved seeing the strength and diversity in the female cast. 

My only teeny-tiny issue with the book was the voice of Ruby.  As a mother of a recently turned 14-year-old teenage girl (and two teen boys) I believe I have been schooled in the fine art of 'Teenager' and Ruby's dialogue and reactions felt more in line with a 9 or 10-year-old. It was a little distracting, to be honest.

Readers will easily see strong correlations to the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal but Zevin brings her own perspective and shows how one perception of an issue isn't the only one. Scandal has a domino effect and impacts those around it in varying degrees. I applaud Zevin for confronting the blatant double standards put on women that are still prevalent, sadly tolerated and even encouraged, in our society today. This is a story about the complex relationships between women, it's got humour, heart, food for thought and a fighter's spirit.  What more could you ask for?

Monday, 9 October 2017

The Night Garden

Author: Polly Horvath
Genre: Mystery, Middle School, Gothic
Type: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Puffin Canada
First Published: September 12, 2017
First Line: "This is the story Winifred, Wildred and Zebediah; Crying Alice; and Flying Bob."

Book Description from GoodReadsIt is World War II, and Franny and her parents, Sina and Old Tom, enjoy a quiet life on a farm on Vancouver Island. Franny writes, Sina sculpts, and Old Tom tends to their many gardens--including the ancient, mysterious night garden. Their peaceful life is interrupted when their neighbor, Crying Alice, begs Sina to watch her children while she goes to visit her husband at the military base because she suspects he's up to no good. Soon after the children move in, letters arrive from their father that suggest he's about to do something to change their lives; and appearances from a stubborn young cook, UFOs, hermits, and ghosts only make life stranger. Can the forbidden night garden that supposedly grants everyone one wish help them all out of trouble? And if so, at what cost?

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: This is a strange and funny tale with quirky characters. Going into it I had expected a Gothic Middle-School mystery with a hint of paranormal but got something quite different. Let's put it this way, if Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden and Lemony Snicket were mixed together out would pop The Night Garden as their bookish concoction. 

Franny (ie. Anne) is our wayward orphan who speaks her mind and is left with Sina and Old Tom (Marilla and Matthew). We have the eerie Night Garden (a dark, murky, supernatural version of Mary Lennox' famous garden) and a mishmash cast of peculiar characters (a la Snicket). The off-beat and often funny dialogue made this book for me. It had the right amount of sarcasm and great one-liners that had me, quite literally, chuckling out loud.

But ... I was surprised and more than a little let down that the Night Garden, the title 'character', barely made it into the book and was underutilized. I had expected less of the missing plane mystery (which just wasn't riveting) and more focus around the eerie goings on in the garden.

In the end, this is a strange tale with some memorable, quirky characters and solid writing.  There's a lot going on and for the most part it worked but more focus on the mystery and the Night Garden would have made this a better read for me.

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

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood

Author: Pauline Dakin
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 324
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Viking Books
First Published: September 5, 2017
First Line: "I was running along the Upper Blandford Road this morning, watching the little islands emerge from the morning mist, when I came upon a fisherman stacking lobster traps by his shed."

Book Description from Amazon.caAn unforgettable family tale of deception and betrayal, love and forgiveness

Pauline Dakin spent her childhood on the run. Without warning, her mother twice uprooted her and her brother, moving thousands of miles away from family and friends. Disturbing events interrupt their outwardly normal life: break-ins, car thefts, even physical attacks on a family friend. Many years later, her mother finally revealed they'd been running from the Mafia and were receiving protection from a covert anti-organized crime task force.

But the truth was even more bizarre. Gradually, Dakin's fears give way to suspicion. She puts her journalistic training to work and discovers that the Mafia threat was actually an elaborate web of lies.  As she revisits her past, Dakin uncovers the human capacity for betrayal and deception, and the power of love to forgive.
Run, Hide, Repeat is a memoir of a childhood steeped in unexplained fear and menace. Gripping and suspenseful, it moves from Dakin's uneasy acceptance of her family's dire situation to bewildered anger. As compelling and twisted as a thriller, Run Hide Repeat is an unforgettable portrait of a family under threat, and the resilience of family bonds. 

My Rating: 3 stars

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

My Review: This memoir looks at the life of Pauline Dakin as she, along with her brother, were whisked to different parts of Canada by their mother who feared for their lives. The book initially has a true crime feel to it but turned out to be something quite unusual and my feelings about it were all over the place.

Initially I was saddened by the life Dakin left behind to go on the run and the fear she lived with. That quickly lead to my skepticism and finally to my "Say wha!?!?" moment at the revelation as Dakin learns the truth. As I read I kept having to remind myself that this is a Non-Fiction read and that this actually happened to Dakin here in Canada because as a Fiction read it would be too far-fetched to be believable. It's sad when you think of why it happened and yet, for a book that deals with some big issues, I felt that Dakin kept her emotions and her readers at arm's length.

This wasn't a riveting read but it is a unique, strange memoir. I applaud the author for bringing the issue of mental health to her readers but felt that much of the 'on the run' story could have been whittled away. This is less of a true crime kind of read and more of a family drama filled with lies, deceit and a revealing look at mental health. 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celeste Ng
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: Large Print Trade Paperback
Pages: 482
Publisher: Random House Large Print Publishing
First Published: September 12, 2017
First Line: "Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the RIchardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned - from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren - an enigmatic artist and single mother - who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood - and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Little Fires Everywhere is a character-driven novel that looks at complex family dynamics, specifically mothers and their children. Some of these bonds are close, others strained and you know that secrets will flourish and be revealed.

The story takes place in Shaker Heights, a well-to-do suburb of Cleveland, where one must always follow the loooong list of what one can and cannot do. The book begins, quite literally, with a fire. A house fire, to be exact and a missing teen. The story quickly jumps back in time and we see how the large Richardson clan meet Mia and Pearl Warren, a mother and daughter who are renting an apartment in a house the Richardsons own. It doesn't take long for their lives to become enmeshed and when you add in a court case involving the adoption of an abandoned Chinese-American baby and long buried secrets, it's no surprise that sparks fly as these 'little fires' start igniting everywhere. Yes, the book is aptly titled.

Many POVs are used to tell the story and readers will feel their sympathies being pulled in different directions as the stories unfold. But there's so much going on, with so many POVs, that what we're left with in character development and plot felt diminished and lacking in depth. If I also tell you that there weren't big, surprising twists in the plot and I found the ending to be weak and unresolved you'd assume that I didn't enjoy the book.  And yet, I did!  This was a page-turner that I had a hard time putting down even with those issues! Go figure that one out. 

Overall, this is a good domestic drama that delves into the complicated mother/child relationship. This would make a good book club selection and ensure some lively discussions on the topics raised -- nature vs nurture, familial bonds, bi-racial adoption and yes, even those uppity, busybody housewives who stick their noses into other people's business. If it had more depth to the characters and a stronger ending it would have been an amazing read.

Favourite Quote: "Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way."

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