Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Library Book


Author: Susan Orlean
Genre: Nonfiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
First Published: Oct 16, 2018
First Line: "Even in Los Angeles, where there is no shortage of remarkable hairdos, Harry Peak attracted attention."

Book Description from GoodReads: On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.


My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: This is a book for library lovers. Based on the book’s blurb, I expected a true crime type of read with a big love letter to libraries. And it is. Orlean’s clearly describes the 1986 fire that decimated the Los Angeles Public Library - a fire that reached 2000 degrees, ruined 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 others. She also touches on the mystery of the culprit’s identity (although I was hoping for more) but ultimately, it's a book about the history of libraries and the important role they play that gave this bookworm all the biblio feels.



I could have read all day about libraries and their pivotal role in society, but a fair bit of the book is spent veering off on smaller tangents. Some of these side stories were interesting but others focused on people who were loosely related to the LAPL and these stories often started to ramble. These tangents gave the book a choppy feel and personally, I just wanted to get back to the LA library main story!   


But, if readers can be patient and wade through these extra bits, there are some hidden gems that library lovers (and especially library personnel) will relate to and enjoy. These bits will evoke feelings of nostalgia in library lovers and a deep need to visit their local library.  While the focus was different than I had expected, I applaud Orlean for shining a spotlight on the importance of libraries, the vast array of services they provide as well as their constantly evolving roles in communities big and small.

My sincere thanks to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The Girl They Left Behind


Author: Roxanne Veletzos
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books (Simon and Schuster)
First Published: Oct 30, 2018 (Canadian release)
First Line: "The girl sits alone in impenetrable darkness."

Book Description from GoodReads: A sweeping family saga and love story that offers a vivid and unique portray of life in war-torn 1941 Bucharest and life behind the Iron Curtain during the Soviet Union occupation -- perfect for fans of Lilac Girls and Sarah's Key.

On a freezing night in January 1941, a little Jewish girl is found on the steps of an apartment building in Bucharest. With Romania recently allied with the Nazis, the Jewish population is in grave danger, undergoing increasingly violent persecution. The girl is placed in an orphanage and eventually adopted by a wealthy childless couple who name her Natalia. As she assimilates into her new life, she all but forgets the parents who were forced to leave her behind. They are even further from her mind when Romania falls under Soviet occupation.

Yet, as Natalia comes of age in a bleak and hopeless world, traces of her identity pierce the surface of her everyday life, leading gradually to a discovery that will change her destiny. She has a secret crush on Victor, an intense young man who as an impoverished student befriended her family long ago. Years later, when Natalia is in her early twenties and working at a warehouse packing fruit, she and Victor, now an important official in the Communist regime, cross paths again. This time they are fatefully drawn into a passionate affair despite the obstacles swirling around them and Victor’s dark secrets.

When Natalia is suddenly offered a one-time chance at freedom, Victor is determined to help her escape, even if it means losing her. Natalia must make an agonizing decision: remain in Bucharest with her beloved adoptive parents and the man she has come to love, or seize the chance to finally live life on her own terms, and to confront the painful enigma of her past.
 


My Rating: 5 stars

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

Roxanne Veletzos has written a engaging, informative and heart-felt story based on her mother's early life during WWII and later during the Soviet occupation of Romania. During the 1941 Pogrom in Bucharest, Veletzos' grandparents made the difficult choice to leave their three-year-old daughter, Natalia, on the steps of a building hoping to give her a chance to survive. Sent to an orphanage, she was quickly adopted by a wealthy couple who were devoted to her and gave her life of privilege.

Veletzos provides vivid descriptions of Bucharest during WWII and afterwards when the Soviets took control, a time when life for many Romanians continued to be fraught with uncertainty and danger - especially those who didn't support the Communist regime.  She includes the lesser known history of Romania during these times and blends her personal family history into a riveting, fictional read.

This is a captivating, sometimes heart-wrenching story about family bonds, resilience and hope. I highly recommend The Girl They Left Behind to fans of Historical Fiction that enjoy getting a different perspective in the popular WWII Historical Fiction genre.  

Monday, 15 October 2018

In Pieces


Author: Sally Field
Genre: Autobiography
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 416
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
First Published: September 18, 2018
First Line: "There was no proscenium arch, no curtains or lights to create an illusion, no proper stage at all."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn this intimate, haunting literary memoir, an American icon tells her story for the first time, and in her own gorgeous words--about a challenging and lonely childhood, the craft that helped her find her voice, and a powerful emotional legacy that shaped her journey as a daughter and a mother.

One of the most celebrated, beloved, and enduring actors of our time, Sally Field has an infectious charm that has captivated the nation for more than five decades, beginning with her first TV role at the age of seventeen. From Gidget's sweet-faced "girl next door" to the dazzling complexity of Sybil to the Academy Award-worthy ferocity and depth of Norma Rae and Mary Todd Lincoln, Field has stunned audiences time and time again with her artistic range and emotional acuity. Yet there is one character who always remained hidden: the shy and anxious little girl within.

With raw honesty and the fresh, pitch-perfect prose of a natural-born writer, and with all the humility and authenticity her fans have come to expect, Field brings readers behind-the-scenes for not only the highs and lows of her star-studded early career in Hollywood, but deep into the truth of her lifelong relationships--including her complicated love for her own mother. Powerful and unforgettable, In Pieces is an inspiring and important account of life as a woman in the second half of the twentieth century.


My Rating: 4.5 stars


With In Pieces, Sally Field has written a soul-bearing, engaging and heartfelt memoir as she recounts her tumultuous childhood, quick rise to fame as a teenager, her rocky love life and her struggle to be seen as a serious actor.  She is brutally honest about her childhood as well as her struggle to find her own voice and her complicated relationships as a daughter, wife and mother. Some of these experiences are hard to read and some will, no doubt, shock many of her fans – especially the disparity between her public persona and her often dysfunctional private life. 

Throughout her career, Field wanted to be seen as a serious actor. Readers will see her continually trying to hone her craft as an actress in the male-dominated world of Hollywood that only thought of her as the ‘cutsie’ TV actor due to her early roles as Gidget and The Flying Nun.  While some of her roles in big movies were unfortunately glossed over in the book, she doesn’t skimp on details about her romantic relationships and provides insight into her tumultuous relationship with Burt Reynolds (he may have called her the ‘love of his life’ but she tells a very different story).

This is a brave and heartbreakingly candid memoir about a gifted and resilient woman. Well-written with humour and heart, readers will witness her difficult path to finding self-worth, maturity as a daughter and mother, and fulfillment as a respected, serious actor. Sally Field, we like you, we really, really like you.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

The Clockmaker's Daughter


Author: Kate Morton
Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery
Type: digital e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books (Simon and Schuster Canada)
First Published: October 9, 2018
First Line: "We came to Birchwood Manor because Edward said that it was haunted."

Book Description from GoodReads: A rich, spellbinding new novel from the author of The Lake Hose -- the story of a love affair and a mysterious murder the cast their shadow across generations, set in England from the 1860's until the present day.


My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery, and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river, is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.


My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Kate Morton is one of my go-to Historical Fiction authors. When you pick up one of her books, you know you're going to get a well-written story with accurate historical details that pull you into the plot and lives of the characters. After hearing her speak a couple of years ago on her The Lake House tour about how she comes up with her book plots and characters ideas, I became an even bigger fan.

In The Clockmaker's Daughter, Morton once again has beautiful, descriptive prose and you can tell she's done her research on the era. But, unfortunately, this wasn't my favourite Kate Morton book. 

I enjoy books that have two different time frames but in this book, there is an overabundance of jumping back and forth (WWI, WWII, 1850-1860's) making the book feel disjointed. There are also several subplots, different narrators and loads of characters - some of whom don't play a big role but their addition muddles things up when you're trying to keep track of who is who and which time frame you're dealing with.

I loved the premise and the mystery involved but, in the end, it was just an okay read for me. It pains me to give an average rating for this book, but I will always highly recommend Kate Morton for anyone who adores Historical Fiction with wonderfully evocative writing. If you're new to this author, try starting with a few of my favourites: The Forgotten Garden, The Secret Keeper or The Lake House. I eagerly look forward to her next book.

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

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

One Day in December


Author: Josie Silver
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Crown Publishing
First Published: Oct 16, 2018
First Line: "It's a wonder everyone who uses public transport in winter doesn't keel over and die of germ overload."

Book Description from GoodReadsA love story about what happens after you meet, or rather, don't meet the one.Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic...and then her bus drives away.

Certain they're fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn't find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they "reunite" at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It's Jack, the man from the bus. It would be.

What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.


My Rating: 4.5 stars

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


My Review:

This romantic dramedy is perfect for fans of When Harry Met Sally, Me Before You and Notting Hill.  Readers heart strings and funny bone will be equally pulled/tickled as they witness the sometimes tumultuous and complicated love life of Laurie James and her ‘bus boy’ – a man who catches her eye and heart in one brief encounter on a December afternoon.  They experience love at first sight but are unable to meet in person at that moment, so their connection haunts both of them until they are suddenly thrown together and unable to act on their feelings.

The story has likeable, believable characters and is a slow-burn kind of read since the story is told, via different points of view, over a decade. The timeline and POVs are woven together well and I enjoyed getting a bird’s eye view of the interconnected relationships of these friends and lovers.  Normally, I’m not a huge romance reader – I find them often to have quite an ‘ode de fromage’ feel but this light-hearted romance touches on some serious topics and how it handles its complicated relationships makes it more than a simple romance.

One Day in December is a wonderful, escapist-type read that I read in just over one day. While it is a romantic dramedy, the addition of its deeper moments about friendship, love, loss, regret and missed opportunities make it a book that will appeal to many different readers.

Favourite Quote: "You tread lightly through life, but you leave deep footprints that are hard for other people to fill."


Saturday, 6 October 2018

Vox


Author: Christina Dalcher
Genre: Dystopian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 326
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: August 21, 2018
First Line: "If anyone told me I could bring down the president, and the Pure Movement, and that incompetent little shit Morgan LeBron in a week's time, I wouldn't believe them.

Book Description from GoodReadsSet in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can't happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

This is just the beginning.

Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

But this is not the end.

For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.
 


My Rating: 3 stars

This book has gotten a lot of press. Its premise is quite similar to the new resurgence in popularity of Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale which also looked at women's rights and oppression. Vox has a simple, yet powerful cover picture and I liked that it's kept the conversation of female rights, equality and the prevalence of misogyny going.

Unfortunately, while it approached big issues, they weren't explored in enough depth.  Dalcher herself is a Linguist and her inclusion of this aspect, at first, was quite an interesting addition to the dystopian realm. But the writing isn't strong and wavered between feeling too scientific and surprisingly melodramatic. The characters didn't hold their own either since they felt insubstantial, were generally unlikable and their actions often felt predictable.

Overall, I'm glad that I read this popular book. While it could have had a stronger ending and more depth, I liked that it introduces some (unfortunately) timely topics regarding equality, oppression and what happens when people don't challenge the powers that be. While this was just an okay read for me I still think it would make for interesting discussions for book clubs. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir


Author: Elizabeth Hay
Genre: Memoir, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart (Random House Canada)

First Published: September 18, 2018
First Line: "Their lives came tumbling down during that Indian summer in 2008 when Obama won for the first time and the world seemed bright with second chances".


Book Description from GoodReadsElizabeth Hay, one of Canada's most beloved novelists has written a poignant, complex, and hugely resonant memoir about the shift she experienced between being her parents' daughter to their guardian and caregiver.

As the daughter takes charge, and the writer takes notes, her mother and father are like two legendary icebergs floating south. They melt into the ocean of partial, painful, inconsistent, and funny stories that a family makes over time. Hay's eloquent memoir distills these stories into basic truths about parents and children and their efforts of understanding.

With her uncommon sharpness and wit, Elizabeth Hay offers her insights into the peculiarities of her family's dynamics--her parents' marriage, sibling rivalries, miscommunications that spur decades of resentment all matched by true and genuine love and devotion. Her parents are each startling characters in their own right--her mother is a true skinflint who would rather serve up wormy soup (twice) than throw away an ancient packet of "perfectly good" mix; her father is a proud and well-mannered man with a temper that can be explosive.

When Icebergs Melt is a startlingly beautiful memoir that addresses the exquisite agony of family, the unstoppable force of dementia, and the inevitability of aging.

My Rating: 3.5 stars (a good read)

This was the first time I had read a book by Canadian author Elizabeth Hay. In All Things Consoled, she writes about her complicated relationship with her parents growing up as well as the changing dynamic between herself and her parents as they aged. 

Hay's writing is frank, especially when she discusses her turbulent childhood and the complicated relationship she had with her parents. Through the ups and downs, her love for her parents is the focus of the book and there are some emotional scenes. There were some issues which were hard to read, and others were emotional so readers who can relate to dealing with aging parents may want to keep the Kleenex handy. 

I couldn't relate as much to Hay's experiences and that may have influenced my feelings for the book. The vast majority of reviewers have raved about this book and while I feel odd rating someone's life experiences, I didn't feel as connected to the book as I had hoped.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to the publisher for my complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

A Spark of Light


Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Penguin Random House)
First Published: October 2, 2018
First Line: "The center squatted on the corner of Juniper and Montfort behind a wrought-iron gate, like an old bulldog used to guarding its territory".

Book Description from GoodReadsThe warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Jodi Picoult—one of the most fearless writers of our time—tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.


My Rating: 3 stars

In her latest book, A Spark of Light, Jodi Picoult focuses on a hostage situation in an abortion clinic. Using a large number of characters, each with varying connections to both sides of the abortion issue, Picoult has written a well-researched book on a timely, controversial and important topic.

I have to be honest - Jodi Picoult is an author who is hit and miss for me. Some of her books (The Storyteller, Small Great Things) were ah-mazing and others (My Sister's Keeper …) fell flat for me. Unfortunately, A Spark of Light falls into the latter category.

Picoult gives a well-rounded and well-researched story about the abortion issue and I appreciated that she doesn't push her readers in any specific direction. Unfortunately, it was how the story was told that greatly influenced my feelings for the book. The story is told in reverse order going back one hour in time for every chapter. I strongly disliked this method of telling the story. It was confusing, lacked tension because you already know how things will pan out, disrupted the flow of the story telling and the characters are unable to develop. I just didn't care for it.

When you add in the multiple points of view to the confusing way of telling the story and my inability to connect with the characters, I found this book underwhelming. There is a twist towards the end but it wasn't enough to up my rating and I think many readers will be able to see it coming.

Overall, this would make a great book club selection with its timely and contentious issues. And while this isn't one of my favourite Picoult books, her in depth research about the issues she addresses, as well as her confidence to tackle big issues will continue to make her an author I'm eager to read.


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

Friday, 28 September 2018

The Exe's Revenge


Author: Jo Jakeman
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: September 11, 2018
First Line: "I expected to feel free, unburdened, but when the curtains close around Phillip Rochester's satin-lined coffin all I feel is indigestion."

Book Description from GoodReadsA wickedly dark debut thriller about three women who've all been involved with the same man and realize the one thing they have in common is that they all want revenge against him...

Divorces are often messy, and Imogen's is no exception. Phillip Rochester is controlling, abusive, and determined to make things as difficult as possible. When he shows up without warning demanding that Imogen move out of their house by the end of the month or he'll sue for sole custody of their young son, Imogen is ready to snap.

In a moment of madness, Imogen does something unthinkable--something that puts her in control for the first time in years. She's desperate to protect her son and to claim authority over her own life.

But she wasn't expecting both Phillip's ex-wife and new girlfriend to get tangled up in her plans. These three very different women--and unlikely allies--reluctantly team up to take revenge against a man who has wronged them all.
 


My Rating: 2 stars

It's always nice to get free books so when this book was sent to me, unsolicited by the publisher, and sounded right up my alley with its suspenseful blurb I was thrilled. We have one nasty ex-husband and three women (a la First Wives Club) who want revenge on this misogynistic, abusive man who made their lives miserable.  Sounds good but it fell flat for me.

First, this isn't a suspenseful read because readers know what's going to happen early on. It started out fairly strong but as the plot progressed it lost focus while the story got sillier and sillier to the point of being ridiculous. 

The characters didn't fair better.  They are lackluster and one-dimensional, especially Phillip who came off so villainous that I wouldn't be surprised if he was seen twisting his moustache while cackling evilly. He had no redeeming qualities. None. Imogen was ridiculously na├»ve, made some stupid decisions and generally not someone I could get behind. 

While I applaud the author for bringing domestic physical and mental abuse to the forefront of the story, overall, I struggled with too many issues to enjoy this book. I ended up skimming to get to the end faster. Other people seem to have enjoyed this book so I'm in the minority with this one.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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